Swaddling Cloths

Recently, I saw a video of a supposed Messianic Jewish rabbi talking about Luke 2:12. After declaring Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, the angelic host tells the shepherds:

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

This rabbi goes on to say that the Mishnah teaches about “Levitical shepherds” who would take their birthing ewes to special caves and when their lambs were born, they would wrap the lamb in “swaddling cloths” to prevent them from injury so they could be presented as “spotless” for the sacrifice.

It is a nice little story, and it sounds so good that I found it quoted all over the internet. I decided to look into it; and SURPRISE, SURPRISE the entire thing is based on conjecture.

The entire idea evolved from a passage in Alfred Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (vol 1, p 186) which discusses the presence of sheep in December around Bethlehem and concludes that only flocks destined for the passover sacrifices could be kept close to the cities. His argument is indeed based on the Mishnah (Baba K 7:7, 80a); but nowhere in Edersheim or the underlying Mishnah passages is there a reference to swaddling the lambs.

In my research, I could not find a single reference in the rabbinical tradition to swaddling lambs, even those destined for the passover. There are LOTS of blogs and Christian websites reciting the statement as fact; but no one seems to be able to provide the source of this.

What seems to have happened is a confusion between the practice of swaddling infants and binding sacrificial animals, which was itself connected to the binding of Isaac (Gen 22:9). According to some sources, the binding of sacrificial animals was indeed to prevent them from harming themselves on their way to slaughter. This practice has been somehow mixed up with swaddling an infant to produce an image that has no connection to history.

So, what was the “swaddling cloths” all about?

The most obvious answers is that all babies get swaddled, especially in this culture. There is no reason to leap to the conclusion that this swaddling was meant as a sign to the shepherds and that they immediately recognized it and connected it to the image of Christ as the Lamb of God (especially since that image appears in John, not Luke).

There may also be a strand of Luke’s focus on the Gentiles here. In some of the Homeric Hymns about the birth of the Greek god Apollo, there are references to him being swaddled before being suckled.

And as soon as Eilithyia the goddess of sore travail set foot on Delos, the pains of birth seized Leto, and she longed to bring forth; so she cast her arms about a palm tree and kneeled on the soft meadow while the earth laughed for joy beneath. Then the child leaped forth to the light, and all the goddesses raised a cry.

Straightway, great Phoebus, the goddesses washed you purely and cleanly with sweet water, and swathed you in a white garment of fine texture, new-woven, and fastened a golden band about you.

Now Leto did not give Apollo, bearer of the golden blade, her breast; but Themis duly poured nectar and ambrosia with her divine hands: and Leto was glad because she had borne a strong son and an archer. But as soon as you had tasted that divine heavenly food, O Phoebus, you could no longer then be held by golden cords nor confined with bands, but all their ends were undone.

When I taught through Luke’s gospel several years ago, I highlighted some of the good evidence that Luke casts Jesus’s Virgin Birth as the reality of divine birth which is also seen twisted and broken in the pagan traditions of Greece. Luke calls his readers to see the TRUE Son of God in Jesus, of whom all other stories are only fractured shadows. He is savior of the world, not just Judaism.

If this is the case, then once again we see the subversive nature of the gospels, undermining Greek tradition to show true divinity.

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Herod and the Magi

Herod and the Magi

Herod the Great

It is important to understand that Herod was not just “a king.” He had been declared the “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate, a title which had been confirmed by Octavius Caesar when he became the First Man of Rome. Herod was an Idumean convert to Judaism who had ruled over the client kingdom of Judah since 37 BCE. During that time, he had built his kingdom into a trade powerhouse. It was deeply, deeply integrated into the Roman management of the eastern portion of their empire; and in many ways, he was the voice of Roman power at the time of Jesus’s birth.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of articles on Herod the Great, and I’m linking back to them if you want to read some background on Herod’s reign and its significance to Matthew’s narrative of Christ’s birth:

Herod the Great, Introduction

Herod and Rome

Herod’s Architectural Ambitions

Herod and the Jews

Herod – the End of His Life

And the Magi?

The Greek word ὁ μάγος (οἱ μάγοι, plural) was originally the name of one of the Median tribes which was integrated into Persian society. Magi first appears in the Behistun Inscription, which commemorated the coronation of Darius the Great in 522 BCE.

King Darius says: These are the men who were with me when I slew Gaumâta the Magus, who was called Smerdis; then these men helped me as my followers… (Column 5, line 68)

It is also used in the Avesta, the sacred literature of Zoroastrianism, the religion of pre-Islamic Persia.

Come hither to me, O Ye Best Ones, hither O Mazda, in your own person and visible, O Right and Good Thought, that I may be heard beyond the limits of the MAGI. (Yasna 33:7)

By the time of Herodotus, the name was associated with a group of interpreters of dreams and astrologers rather than an ethnic identity.

…The sun left his place in the heaven and was invisible, although the sky was without clouds and very clear, and the day turned into night. When Xerxes saw and took note of that, he was concerned and asked the Magi what the vision might signify. (Herodotus, The Histories, 7.37)

Herodotus uses the term as an ethnic identifier (1.101) as well as a type of religious leader (1.132), so it seems that he understood both meanings. Certainly Xenophon undersood them to be authorities in religious matters and writes about their role in determing means to appease the gods. Describing a royal process of Cyrus, he wrote:

There were led out at the head of the procession four abreast some exceptionally handsome bulls for Zeus and for the other gods as the magi directed; for the Persians think that they out much more scrupulously to be guided by those whose profession is with things divine than they are by those in other professions. (Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 8.3.11)

So, who were the magi? There’s no reason to think that Matthew was not familiar with this term deriving from Persia. As such, he identifies these men as Persians, or more specifically Parthians, as they were known at the time. Specifically, they were divines and seers, who were trained in the vocation of divining the heavenly signs.

The Subversive Message of the Magi

And here is the real rub of the presence of the magi in Jerusalem, as Matthew describes it. Persian divines come looking for “he who is born the King of the Jews.”

Herod was not born the King of the Jews. His reign had been granted to him by Rome. He was a client of the world power. These Persian magi are looking for the one born king; and his birth is connected with the astrological signs.

You can take that for what it is worth, but there can be no mistake of Matthew’s message.

Jesus is the rightful king; and Herod is the usurper.

People want to focus on the gifts of the magi, and they are certainly significant; but that is not Matthew’s focus. He focuses instead on the divine declaration of Jesus’s kingship – in the stars to the Persian magi and in the face of the ruling caste.

Yahweh’s HESED to Abishag the Shunammite

Three weeks ago, I began a teaching series at Bedford Road on Solomon: The Tarnished Crown. Yesterday, I taught on Adonijah, the son of David who attempted to usurp the throne from Solomon.

There is never enough time to talk about all the people who pass through the biblical narrative. I would never finish a series if I looked at everyone’s life in-depth. That being said, there is one character that really only flits through the narrative of 1 Kings 1-2 who I think gets ignored.

As David lay shivering and dying, his advisors bring a young woman to him. She lies in the bed with him, serving as a human hot water bottle to keep him warm. Her name is Abishag, composed of two words – Avi, “my father,” and Shag, “the wanderer.”

In the Hebrew Scriptures, names mean something. The God of the Scriptures is revealed to be Yahweh – “the one who is.” The great leader of the Exodus is Moses – “drawn out.” When Solomon was born, the prophet Nathan called him Jedidiah – “the beloved of Yahweh.” What does Abishag’s name tell us?

“My Father Is a Wanderer”

Shag is not wandering in the sense of just meandering. It is often used to reference straying and getting lost. The Psalmist prays, “With my whole heart I will seek you; let me not wander (SHAG) from your commandments!” (Psalm 119:10)

This at least hints that Abishag’s father was not faithful to her mother, perhaps a wayward, drunkard husband or a soldier who used her and then went off to the arms of other women during other campaigns.

If this is true, then what does it say about Abishag’s role in David’s last days? A fatherless young woman seeking to make her way in a harsh world where women were often mistreated and regarded as little more than livestock? We can only imagine.

“The Shunammite”

Abishag was from Shunam, which appears only occasionally in the biblical narrative. But during the Philistine wars which found David serving the Philistines against Saul, the Philistines encamped there (1 Sam 28:4). The town was on the border of Israelite and Philistine lands. It was on the edge of the lands of Issachar, a frontier town if you will.

“A Young Woman, Very Beautiful”

The word “young woman (na-‘a-reh) is used to refer to a woman of marriageable age, usually a virgin (Gen 24, Deut 22). Because of the way the word is used, it is likely that she was not bethrothed to be married, which means Abishag was probably a teenager. Growing up in a home without a father as her protector (which means her mother may have had a less than savory occupation), it is likely that she was destined to spend her life either married off to someone she would not love so that her family could be provided for or plying her beauty as a prostitute.

What is more, Abishag is very beautiful (yepeh ‘ad-m’od). In fact, when David’s counselors search the kingdom, she is the most beautiful woman they can find. That she is both young and beautiful but unattached is again an indication of just how low her mother’s status must have been.

HESED Even Here?

With all that Abishag may have been destined to endure on her border town home, with her checkered parentage and great beauty, how extraordinary that she is lifted to the bedroom of King David? And how extraordinary that although she lies in the bed with him and serves him, David never sullies her sexually? This young, beautiful woman (and presumably her mother and family) were brought to Jerusalem and made part of the royal household.

Then, when Adonijah wanted to use her to rise to power, Solomon’s wisdom protects her. She is spared a marriage with a selfish, malevolent prince by Solomon’s decree.

We never know what happens to her after that. Historical precedence is probably that she remained in David’s house and was cared for as one of his widows, even though they never consummated a relationship. This was not uncommon in ancient kingdoms.

So, Abishag receives from both David and Solomon a grace she could have never hoped for. She deserved nothing from them; but they (whether they even knew it or not) became agents of Yahweh’s HESED toward her.

Parts of the United States Most People Don’t Even Know Exist

Parts of the United States Most People Don’t Even Know Exist

The United States has fifty states, right? We tend to think of the United States only in terms of these states. And if we’re being honest, a lot of Americans even forget about Alaska and Hawaii because they are not contiguous with the other forty-eight. But there is far more to the United States than just these fifty states.

Did you know that at one time Cuba and the Philippines were also part of the United States? Or that the US military fought a pretty bloody series of conflicts in the Philippies in the early 20th century?

How Do States Come into the USA?

The Northwest Ordinance is an important piece of US legislation, passed in 1787 by the Congress of the Confederation of the United States and then reinstituted in 1789 after the US Constitution was ratified. The Northwest Ordinance guaranteed that any US held territory could enter the union as a state on equal footing with the other states once it met the minimum requirements of statehood. Eventually, the implications of the Northwest Ordinance contributed to the causes of the US Civil War, and it took a while for the United States to sort out everything; but it has been the law of the land for the entirety of our nation’s existence and has been one of the fundamental instruments of guaranteeing that US territories are always treated equally.

Until the mid-19th century, the United States was uninterested in acquiring territory beyond North America. Even then, there were serious debates raised in Congress over the acquisition of land like the Louisiana and Alaska Purchases in 1803 and 1867, respectively. Still, as Americans moved into these newly acquired lands, they carved out states which were readily admitted to the Union under the Northwest Ordinance.

Unfortunately, during the late 19th and early 20th century, the United States government began to develop increasingly imperialistic tendencies, and the nation began to acquire territories far beyond the North American continent. Worse still, many of these lands were populated by people with different colors of skin who spoke languages other than English. This was the nadir of race relations, when xenophobia and rabid nationalism gave birth to segregation. It was also the time of ruthless commercialism, when large and powerful corporations dictated much of government policy with an aim at greater profits.

As the tentacles of US power spread over these territories which were either claimed for commercial reasons or given to the US through international treaties, the questions of how to administer them and whether they should be permitted statehood became serious concerns.  Essentially what happened was that the United States stopped adding states in 1912 once Arizona completed the statehood of the continental area.

Only two other states – Alaska and Hawaii – have been added in the last century; and these were added because of the enormous economic boon they provided to private business. The outlying territories, some of them just a short trip away from the continental holdings, were placed in a bewildering array of relationships with the nation. They were basically placed in a subservience to the federal government through a different interpretation of the “Territorial Clause” of the US Constitution:

The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State. (Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2)

Since the jurisdiction of these territories is not placed in the hands of the populace of the territories but rather in the hands of Congress, appeals for statehood are often denied. Congress simply refuses to allow them into the union.

Still, the people born in these territories are United States citizens, and as such are supposed to enjoy all the privileges and rights of US Citizens. They pay federal taxes (although Puerto Ricans are generally exempt from federal income tax because of their status as a “free associated state”) and partake in federal programs.

Here then are the territories of the United States and a little of the story of why they are US territory.

1856: The Guano Islands

Because guano was a vital component of fertilizers, the US Congress passed the Guano Islands Act, which stated:

Whenever any citizen of the United States discovers a deposit of guano on any island, rock, or key, not within the lawful jurisdiction of any other Government, and not occupied by the citizens of any other Government, and takes peaceable possession thereof, and occupies the same, such island, rock, or key may, at the discretion of the President, be considered as appertaining to the United States.

Under this legislation, the US claimed over 100 islands, although they have rescinded most of the claims. The remaining islands are mostly small and uninhabited, but they remain US territory.

  • In the Pacific Ocean: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnson Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Midway Atoll
  • In the Caribbean Sea: Navassa Island, Bajo Nuevo Island, and Seranilla Bank

1898: The Spanish-American War

The United States acquired virtually all Spanish-held territories in the Pacific and Caribbean, including the Philippines and Cuba. Cuba almost immediately declared their independence in 1902. While the Philippines were granted their independence in the wake of World War II, many of these territories remained in US hands:

  • In the Pacific: Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands
  • In the Caribben Sea: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Under the Treaty of Paris, the Spanish retained the Northern Mariana Islands while ceding Guam, which is the southern island of the same archipelago, to the US. Then they sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany. After World War I, the islands went to the League of Nations, who handed them over to the Japanese. During World War II, the Japanese then invaded Guam. After the war, all the Mariana Islands were given to the United States, but Guam remains separate from the rest of the chain. The Mariana Islands are a good example of a territory which could easily be a state. The total population of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands is over 200,000; and the people are considered US citizens.

While Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are considered organized territories, their governments operate wholly under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Free Associated State (or as it is commonly called, Commonwealth) of Puerto Rico is technically an independent government even though it is US territory and populated by US citizens. The citizens cannot vote in federal elections and are not represented in Congress. The people of Puerto Rico have repeatedly called for statehood and been denied the right by the US Congress.

1899-1900: Pacific Islands

In 1899 and in the wake of the Spanish-American War, the United States simply annexed Wake Island as a telegraph station. Although one of the most remote places on earth (nearly 600 miles from the next island), the island became a major stopping point first in shipping and then in aviation. When commercial aviation stopped needing fields in the Pacitic, the United States Air Force took over operations and uses it for missile testing.

Also in 1899, the United States and Germany split the islands of Samoa between them. This was in the wake of armed conflict between vessels of the two nations’ navy during the Samoan Civil Wars. With a population of nearly 55,000 US citizens, American Samoa consists of five volcanic islands – Tutuila, Aunu’u, Ofu, Olosega, Ta’u – and two coral atolls – Swains Atoll and Rose Atoll.

In 1900, the United States annexed the archipelago of Hawaii and formed it into a territory. When the territory was organized into a state in 1959, the Palymra Atoll was excluded and became a territory. It has no permanent inhabitants, but since it remains an incorporated unorganized territory, Palymra is the southern most US territory.

1917: The Treaty of the Danish West Indies

The US Virgin Islands were originally administrated by Denmark, but the United States had been attempting to purchase at least two of the islands for their Caribbean naval base since the US Civil War. In 1916, the US finally purchased the three large islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John –  for $25,000,000. The deal was finalized in 1917, only five days before the United States entered World War I.

 

 

The Conceit of Convenience

Technical fields that deal in the past – such as history and archaeology – have a necessary compression that takes place. It is an unavoidable conceit of convenience. (As far as I know, this is a new term I thought of in the car this morning.)

What do I mean by conceit of convenience? 

When an archaeologist says that a piece of pottery is from such-and-such a century BC, that is a conceit of convenience. There are assumptions and extrapolations made about materials lying above and below the strata in which the pottery was found, as well as the style and fashion of the pottery itself. There is no way to be absolute about the date of the pottery, but a date can be asserted in a general, speculative way.

When a historian says that one event led to another event, the historian probably does not know the complete chain of related events that occurred to result in this single event. Many times, the participants in these events are unaware of the repercussions of their actions. History is a long chain of butterfly effects. Very few people know the implications of their actions beyond the immediate circumstances. (Read more Bradbury if you do not know what that means). So, historians must concede to convenience. We describe events in terms and sequences that were not readily apparent to the participants of those events.

The danger of the conceit of convenience is that many times readers do not realize the necessity of this kind of shorthand. Readers assume that the historian or archaeologist has the omniscient perspective of a fictional narrator. Therefore it is tempting to come to an incomplete conclusion based on what is written or presented. Readers draw analogies – if such-and-such caused this, then this must always be true – but the conceit of conveniences deals in probabilities, not certainties. Just because a piece of pottery looks like another piece of pottery, that does not mean their is no chance that they are from very different times.

Think about trying to describe something as 20th century American. In 1909, 20th century meant telegraph messages, the gold standard and horses stabled in Manhattan. Men still wore jackets with tails on them, and Britain ruled most of the planet. In 1999, 20th century meant emails, faster-than-sound airliners and the burst of the dot.com bubble. We fought wars with bayonets in 1913 and laser-guided bombs in 1991.

Time moved no slower in the 3rd century BC than it does now. People’s minds were just as capable as they are now. Therefore, we must be careful not to fall into a modernist trap and believe that things change quickly now but they did not change quickly in the past.

In reality, history and archaeology are very imprecise by their very nature. Both writers and readers need to acknowledge the conceit of convenience as they dialogue.

Herod – the End of His Life

Herod negotiated the complex relationship of the various Jewish groups, his Roman masters and the nations surrounding him with cunning, if not with ease. Herod’s cities and Temple complex attempted to bridge the gaps among these various groups, but there were simply too many moving parts and fissures appeared, especially among the rural Jews of Galilee. Later generations of Jews would not see his works. They would instead look back on Herod as “an insolent king…bold and shameless” who used fear and violence to oppress the faithful because of their sin.

The inevitable destabilization of Herod’s kingdom came not from outside, but from inside. In the last decade of his life, Herod’s personal and physical stability became compromised. “In just the last ten years of his life (i.e. 13–4 BC), Herod wrote at least five separate wills, each one naming a different individual or individuals who should be his heir.”

Three Treacherous Sons

Early in his reign, Herod had executed both his father-in-law Hyrcanus and his wife Mariamne to secure the throne. Two of Herod’s sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus, became extraordinarily rebellious during his last years, thanks to the machinations of an Arab named Syllaeus. Syllaeus betrayed Herod at every opportunity, even attempting to poison Herod’s relationship with Caesar. Had it not been for Herod’s capable friend, Nicolaus of Damascus, Herod would have lost his kingdom in 7 BCE. At Caesar’s urging, Herod assembled a council in Berytus (Beirut) to try Alexander and Aristobulus. After a long trial, Herod had their followers and a number of those who had allied with Syllaeus publicly executed. His sons he had strangled in private.

Herod then established his oldest surviving son Antipater as his co-ruler, only to have Antipater conspire against him as well. When a plot to poison Herod was brought to light by the Roman governor of Syria, Quintilius Varus, Herod broke down in tears. Again, Nicolaus of Damascus, stepped in and deftly prosecuted the case against Antipater. In the end, Antipater was remanded to Varus and a message was sent to Caesar asking for a final determination. Caesar placed Antipater’s fate in Herod’s hands, and days before his own death, Herod had him killed. The body was thrown into a beggars’ grave.

Generations later, the Roman writer Macrobius wrote a series of puns he attributed to Caesar Augustus. Among them is a reference to this period. When told about Antipater’s plot, Augustus reportedly quipped, “It is better to be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons.”

The Aquila Revolt

The knowledge that Herod’s health was failing began circulating in 4 BCE. Two popular Galilean teachers, Judas b. Sepphoris and Matthias b. Margalus, fomented a movement to remove the Roman Aquila (eagle) from the Temple complex. Somehow their followers heard false rumors that Herod was dead. About forty of them rushed to tear down the Aquila, but they were quickly rounded up by the guards and brought to Herod. Although quite sick, Herod flew into a rage. He had the leaders of the revolt publicly burned alive and then executed the rest of them.

The Fatal Illness

After the executions, Herod’s health took a turn for the worst. He developed a low fever, itching all over his body, inflammation of the colon and some kind of infected tumors on his feet. On top of this, he developed necrosis in his genitals. His body was racked by a terrible cough and he was unable to eat. The pain became so great that he even attempted to kill himself.
What was Herod dying of? This was not the first time Herod had experienced some of these symptoms. Nikos Kokkinos reviewed the symptoms with Dr. Walter Y. Loebl of the Royal College of Physicians in Londond, and in a 2002 article for Biblical Archaeology Review Kokkinos reported:

Dr. Loebl finds four of Herod’s symptoms particularly diagnostic. The intolerable itch can be attributed, he says, to kidney failure, which causes waste chemicals to accumulate in the blood. This would have been the end-stage of a number of processes, including “diminished oxygen to the kidneys due to arteriosclerosis [hardening of the arteries].”
Dr. Loebl interprets the transparent swelling around Herod’s feet as edema, a build-up of fluids that often occurs in older people, especially in their ankles and legs. Bedridden people can also get it in their lower back and genitalia, he says. The commonest causes are “heart failure, renal [kidney] failure and dilution of the blood in anemia.” Another type of edema—pulmonary edema, or edema of the lungs—may have contributed to his demise.
The related putrefaction in Herod’s private member, Dr. Loebl sees as “myiasis.” He explains that “the moist skin with edema and the hot climate would have attracted flies who laid eggs, developing larvae looking like worms—[like] maggots used by fishermen!”
Dr. Loebl regards Herod’s inability to breathe unless in an upright position (orthopnoia) as “the most reliable part of the description.” As used in clinical medicine, “orthopnea is a typical sign in heart failure, renal failure or anemia.”

His conclusion is that, most likely, “Herod died of age-related failure of his heart and kidneys with terminal edema of the lungs.”

Loebl’s theory is not the only one that has been put forward, but it does explain all of Herod’s symptoms. Herod must have been experiencing some of these symptoms before the execution of the revolt leaders, but Josephus does note that Herod probably pushed himself harder than he should have during the revolt. This would have accelerated the effect of the disease.
Josephus tells us that Herod lived only five days after the onset of these symptoms. His condition was made worse when he tried to seek relief through a visit to hot springs near Jericho. His doctors attempted to bathe him in warm oil, which triggered additional symptoms. He began to lose his sight and slip in and out of consciousness. After ordering the execution of Antipater, Herod’s torture body failed and he died. Two of his remaining sons, Archelaus and Antipas, arranged his funeral.

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Herod and the Jews

Herod had seen the greatness of Rome. His sons were educated in Caesar’s household. His kingdom had a substantial, urban Gentile population which formed a substantial power block. Early in his reign, Herod even minted coins with Roman helmets on them, showing his reliance on (or at the very least, admiration of) the Roman system. His new cities not only provided wealth. They also helped keep the Jewish population in check.

All the time, however, Herod seems to have considered himself a Torah-observant Jew. He reveled in his Jewish identity and viewed his kingdom as a Jewish state, even while acknowledging his indebtedness to the Romans. He attempted to maintain the tension of the ancient east and the new, growing west.

It is difficult to quantify the Jewish population of the Roman world in Herod’s day. Essentially, there were three self-identified groups of Jews. The Hellenic Jews lived throughout the Roman world, and they wielded substantial power. They were not particularly involved in the affairs of Herod’s kingdom, although their faithful payment of the temple tax probably financed much of his rebuilding of the Temple complex. The religious elites among the Jews – chiefly the Sadducees – were concentrated around Jerusalem. By far the largest proportion of Jews in the Levant were rural and, led by the Pharisees, often religiously conservative. Because they bore the majority of the tax burden, Herod courted their favor and good will, sometimes even reducing their tax burden when it served his purposes, but wary of the potential threat they posed.