III. Defendant’s Counselor

The merchant’s home was quiet and Joseph was almost worried that his friend had died. Still he worked up enough courage to knock on the gate. The door was opened by one of the servants who instantly recognized the rich man from Arimathea.

Shalom, Master Joseph, come in,“ the servant said with a bow and the man entered.

“Is your master at home?“

“Yes, sir, he is on the roof of the inner court. Shall I announce you?“

“No, no, I know the way. I need to talk to him privately anyway.“ The servant bowed and disappeared into the shadows of the house. Joseph slowly walked through the atrium, as always marveling at the beautiful architecture of the house that Nicodemus’ father had constructed. It was built according to Roman style, but there was nothing unclean to be found here. The hovels that had stood here before were cleared away and the people who lived there had been generously given a plot of land to farm in the hills of Judea that once belonged to Nicodemus’ family. Joseph shook his head. The old man had almost been too generous with his money, so that much of the fortune was gone by the time his friend had inherited it. Oh well, it was still more than enough to exist comfortably.

He climbed the stairs and walked along roof to where he saw a figure leaning on the balustrade, looking down into the courtyard. The man heard Joseph’s quiet footfall and turned suddenly.

“Joseph!“ A smile slid across Nicodemus’ face. Joseph’s portrayed shock.

“Nicodemus, what happened to you?“ The once almost black beard was now fully gray, his hair had also turned quite gray and was nearing white.

“Oh, its those things that Jesus said to me, Joseph. I can’t get them out of my head and the more I ponder them, the less I sleep and the older I get.“ The rabbi smiled again. “It is an intriguing story about what happened. I already told you about the long talk I had with Jesus. Since then I sent Stephen to check out his background and I have been studying the Scriptures. There are many interesting things there, that I hadn’t noticed before about the Messiah. Could it be that the rabbis were wrong...?“

“Wrong about what?“

“About Isaiah. The Son of Joseph, the rejected Messiah.“ Nicodemus shook his head. “If only I knew. But listen to what I found out: Stephen reported to me that Jesus wasn’t even born in Nazareth, but in Bethlehem, and according to his mother Joseph Bar-Jacob wasn’t even his physical father. She claims that an angel appeared to her announcing Jesus’ birth and that she would be pregnant as a virgin.“ The rabbi pulled on his beard and shook his head again. “I can’t understand it. I wonder if Isaiah was pointing towards something like that when he said that the virgin would be with child. Still, my friend, I shouldn’t worry you with these things. How have you been?“ Joseph then told about the last years since he’d seen his friend. Much of what he told was of Jesus.

“So you have been following him,“ Nicodemus surmised.

“Yes and no. I am impressed with his teaching.“

“So am I, so am I. It is strange. I have tried keeping some of what he spoke of and it has transformed so many things about my life. I almost feel that I have found peace.“

“One of the most interesting things about him is his attitude towards women.“ Nicodemus looked up curiously. “It — he — he treats them like they were equals. They have worth to him, even the prostitutes.“ The rabbi began stroking his beard as his friend continued, “I have tried acting that way toward my wife — and it has changed everything between us. At first we just talked, now we speak to each other. I am amazed, but after all these years I’ve realized that I don’t know her. She has so much understanding even in things of the law. God was right when he called her a helper.“ Nicodemus shook his head incredulously.

“That can’t be. You can’t give the law into the hands of a woman. She was tempted first. It — it can’t be. And after all, this Jesus, he doesn’t keep the law and the traditions, does he?“

“He keeps the law all right, but not the traditions. I see you have been away too long, Nicodemus. You should have heard what he said about the traditions the other day! He said that we annul the law through our traditions.“

What?!?

“Yes, for him the traditions don’t have the same position as the law. You know I remember him once saying the he would fulfill the law.“ The redness had drained from Nicodemus face again and he suddenly looked very thoughtful.

“I think perhaps you and I should go to the Sanhedrin,“ he finally said. “I want to speak with Gamaliel. He often has good insights into things like this.“ Joseph nodded and the two men left for the Council chambers.

• • •

The whole place was in an uproar as the two men entered, the members of the High Council loudly discussing among themselves. Joseph and Nicodemus took their places without being noticed and Nicodemus bent towards Gamaliel, the only one who was silent.

“What is going on here?“ he wanted to know.

“It’s that Jesus of Nazareth again,“ his friend answered. “He has been claiming to be the Almighty himself.“ He shook his head. “Preposterous! The things he’s said. Of course you wouldn’t know, you weren’t at the temple yesterday. Caiaphas sent some soldiers to arrest him and bring him here for questioning — and here they come.“ Sixteen soldiers marched into the room. Caiaphas leaned forward.

“Well, where is he? Why didn’t you bring him with you?“

“Nobody ever spoke like this man does!“22 the commander answered, staring the high priest into the face.

“What?!“ the shriek came from Caiaphas’ father-in-law Hannas. “Have you, too, been deceived? Have any of the authorities believed in him?“23

“Have any of the Pharisees?“ demanded one of them called Elikam24. “This mob that doesn’t know the law at all is cursed!“25 The color began to rise in Nicodemus’ face. What is going on here? Are they all possessed? What about the law? He suddenly stood up.

“Does our law judge a man before first giving him a hearing and learning what he is doing?“26 he thundered into the crowd. He paused for a moment to take a breath. Elikam spun around and leveled a withering gaze at the rabbi.

“You aren’t from Galilee, too, are you?“27 he demanded with biting sarcasm in his voice. “Look into it — no prophet has ever come from Galilee.”28 That made all of the members of the council begin yell at Nicodemus. He stood there, like a sore thumb, face red with anger and eyes flashing. He wanted to tell them that Jesus was right about them, but no — now wasn’t the time.

“Council is adjourned!“ Caiaphas thundered over the din. Nicodemus spun around and strode towards the exit. As he passed through the hall to the court, someone pulled on his sleeve. He turned to see Gamaliel. A look of worry was on the face of his friend.

“Are you sure that was so wise, Nicodemus?“ he asked.

“Yes.“ He was still seething. “Jesus is right. We are all hypocrites. We don’t know the Scriptures. Look at what Elikam said to me,“ he mocked the nasal voice of his party compatriot, “‘Look into it — no prophet has come from Galilee.’ And what about Jonah and Nahum? ‘Look into it’ indeed.“ He shook his head disdainfully.

“Don’t judge them too hard, my friend,“ Gamaliel warned. “They were angry.“

“What do you think I am? I wanted to tell them to their faces what I just told you. I’m just too ashamed of being one myself, Gamaliel. I am a hypocrite. I keep the minute details of the law and I don’t care about the people. That is going to change right now, and if it costs me my place in the Sanhedrin. Jesus is right!“ With that he shook the other rabbi’s hand off his sleeve and stormed out of the courtyard.

  • 22. Cheney and Ellisen, op. cit., p.123
  • 23. Ibid.
  • 24. Elikam means “My God has arisen”.
  • 25. Cheney and Ellisen, op. cit, p. 123
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Ibid.