Re-Imagining Jesus: The Urantia Book Film About Jesus

Production script for the feature-length film based on The Urantia Book

Shot on location in Israel and Jordan, Re-Imagining Jesus provides a unique overview of the social, political, religious and ecological environment in which Jesus lived and taught. The film includes seldom seen footage of ancient synagogues in Israel and the Greek cities of the Decapolis in Jordan. Beautiful drone footage provides dramatic perspectives on the landscape.  78 minutes

View the film online: Vimeo  YouTube



The view we have today of the physical and cultural environment from which Judeo-Christian religion emerged is expanding rapidly.

New imaging technologies, massive databases and online services now link the work of countless researchers in real time, enabling collaboration and coordination on an unprecedented scale.

From the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, to the present day, field archaeology in Israel continues to expose new strata of our story. Not just confined to land, exploration continues in the Sea of Galilee and in the Mediterranean.

Two thousand years ago Jesus invited people to begin the exploration of a spiritual domain which he called "the kingdom of heaven." He taught that if we gave priority to discovering this one reality, all the essentials for a progressive civilization would fall into place.

But in today's world, his concept of the kingdom is understood as little more than a socialist utopia or a metaphysical abstraction of the afterlife.

The historical Jesus cannot be fully understood without an assimilation of the meanings and values of his life—a re-imagining of the story which has profoundly influenced the art, literature, and ethics of the world for more than two thousand years.

Scene 1: Melchizedek and the Development of Monotheism

It is difficult to establish a starting point for a story whose origins are lost in the mists of past eternity.

We'll choose a time at the end of the last ice age, when a vast savannah covered the Arabian peninsula, extending across what is now Jordan and into southern Israel. Suspended between the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was a paradise for nomadic hunters and herders.

They built structures extending great distances into the savannah for the trapping of wild animals. They built stone corrals for their domesticated herds. They build habitation sites, perhaps precursors to villages. In the high mountain passes they arranged stones to assure safe passage. They maintained altars for remembering their ancestors. They constructed sanctuaries for honoring their totemic animals. Here it was the Arabian leopard. Now nearly extinct, Arabian leopards ranged into northern Galilee and the slopes of Mount Hermon in Jesus' time.

Perhaps it was among these hunters and herders that a blood sacrifice was first thought to be an appropriate gift to win the favor of their gods. But with the progressive desertification of the Arabian peninsula, many of these people migrated north to the region west of the Jordan River in search of grazing lands for their herds. They encountered the early cities of the Canaanites. Herders were mixing with agriculturalists. Desert nomads were mixing with urban dwellers.

It was here in this dynamic milieu, astride the major communication routes of the time--around 2,000 BC-- that one of the most significant events in human history occurred -- the incarnation of Melchizedek, the "King of Salem," the "Angel of the Lord."

Melchizedek's purpose was to stimulate a transition to monotheism. A culture based on a monotheistic deity concept had to evolve before Jesus could incarnate to reveal the personal character of that deity. Melchizedek spent a hundred years teaching at his Salem headquarters. He taught the worship of a universal deity, a God which responded to faith, not the offering of sacrifices or the shedding of blood.

It was in Ur of Mesopotamia where Abraham heard about the mission of Melchizedek and traveled to Salem to meet him. The descendants of Abraham kept alive the teachings of Melchizedek until the times of Moses, a thousand years later. Moses ignited the embers of Melchzedek's teachings in the desert tribes under his influence, giving birth to Hebrew monotheism.

Today the remnants of the Melchizedek teachings provide sustenance for more than half of the people in the world--"the people of the book."

Circles of stone in the desert gave way to tabernacle and tabernacle gave way to temple -- and a growing priesthood. By the time of Solomon, Hebrew religion had assimilated much from Canaanite, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian religious beliefs. Monotheism only gradually evolved in Hebrew culture, fostered by a sequence of prophets, many of whom suffered greatly for their efforts to keep people oriented to the god of Melchizedek and Moses.

But these prophets achieved the greatest feat in the history of religion--the conceptual evolution of a universal deity from a background of pagan polytheism. They gradually transformed the barbaric concept of the jealous and wrathful spirit god of the Sinai volcano, into the exalted concept of the supreme Yahweh, creator of all things.

These people had begun to realize that Yahweh was far greater than the god of a tribe, a nation, a race, or even an entire world. And thus did the process begun by Melchizedek some 2,000 years earlier prepare the stage for the appearance of Jesus, who would be a revelation of the personal character of this universal God.

Scene 2: En Gedi and John the Baptist

At the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was dominated by the temple and its politics. The ancient Zadokite priesthood had broken up a century and a half earlier as a result of corruption. The temple rulers had preserved Hebrew religion in spite of the Greeks, Parthians, and Romans, only by making it into a rigid system of ritual, tradition, authority, and nationalism.

The north-west shore of the Dead Sea had become a refuge for devout believers fleeing the politics and corruption in Jerusalem. An oasis in a barren landscape, the numerous springs of En Gedi provide the only source of fresh water for miles around. En Gedi had provided a place of political and spiritual sanctuary for more than 3,000 years. In Jesus' time it was a gathering place for itinerant religious ascetics and herders of the desert.

It was here, among these spiritual refugees, that John the Baptist had begun to build a following. John was a living summary of the best of the Hebrew prophetic tradition. His teaching echoed Melchizedek's promise that when the time was ripe, another messenger would be sent. In John's view, that time had arrived.

The caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found are a short distance to the north of En Gedi. Perhaps it was this Isaiah scroll, found at Qumran, in which John the Baptist read of a coming Deliverer who would be as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; who would comfort those who mourn and bring the joy of salvation to the place of sorrow and despair, who would set the spiritual captives free; who would hear the cry of the needy and save the souls of the poor who seek him; who would bind up the brokenhearted; one by whom all his children on earth would be blessed; a deliverer who would be the desire of all nations.

Northern Israel is dominated by the majestic presence of Mt Hermon, rising some 10,000 feet above the Sea of Galilee. Her waters begin their flow from springs and streams emerging from the mountain at its lower elevations. They coalesce into the Jordan River, entering the Sea of Galilee just east of Capernaum. At the southern end of the lake the waters continue their journey on through the Jordan Valley, finally emptying into the Dead Sea nearly 200 kilometers from their mountain source.

Since the times of Moses, immersion in water had been used to establish the ritual purity thought necessary to enter the presence of Yahweh. But according to the law, the water had to be living, alive. It had to come directly from a natural source such as fallen rain, a spring, or a flowing stream. John's baptism was something new; a ritual for repentance of sin and preparation to encounter the coming Deliverer--one who would declare, "I am the living water."

Scene 3: Baptism of Jesus

In March of AD 25 John the Baptist departed from En Gedi, never to return. He journeyed north to the ancient Jordan ford over which Joshua and the children of Israel had crossed when they entered the promised land. Here he began preaching and baptizing people, exhorting them to prepare for the coming of the promised Deliverer. Over the following nine months, he worked his way up the river to the vicinity of Pella. Thousands submitted to his baptism. His fame had spread throughout all of Palestine and his work had become the chief topic of conversation in all the towns about the Sea of Galilee.

On January 14, AD 26, Jesus of Nazareth presented himself to John for baptism in the Jordan near the Pella crossing. It is significant that Jesus chose to identify with the prophetic context of John's work rather than the established structure of the temple cult in Jerusalem. His submission to the baptism of John was symbolic of his submission to the evolutionary stream of human religious concepts which he would seek to expand. The spiritual illumination and the voice heard in the water at the time of his baptism affirmed to his human mind the reality of his divinity. This day of baptism ended his purely human life. He was now fully conscious of the nature of his divine pre-existence.

Jesus immediately sought solitude in the hills east of Pella. He wanted to develop a strategy for how he most effectively might use his remaining time on earth for the long-term spiritual welfare of the world. He journeyed several kilometers to the east. He settled on a location not far from the ancient village of Beit Adis. Here, in a hillside, he found a cavern he could use for shelter. A nearby spring provided fresh water.

Far from the barren wilderness of the traditional story of the forty days, this region is almost park-like at this time of the year. The Master would have experienced the beauty of early Spring in the Perean hills where local villagers grazed their animals among the almond, pistachio and olive trees. This was the place where Jesus undertook the most far-reaching, soul-searching deliberations of his incarnation. John had already begun to talk about a kingdom of God and had built up a body of believers. Should he integrate his mission with John's ministry? How should he organize his followers for teaching and co-operation?

Jesus finally came to the conclusion that there was no way to launch his message of the kingdom except as the fulfillment of John's prediction and as the one for whom the Jews were looking. Though he was not the Davidic type of Messiah, he was the fulfillment of the prophetic vision of the more spiritually minded of the olden seers. He would coordinate his efforts with the outworking of what John had begun. He knew that spiritual ideals and lasting moral values could never be derived from dazzling displays of superhuman power. He would build upon concepts already present in existing religious culture.

And he decided he would not use his superhuman powers to save himself or his followers regardless of any repercussions that might follow upon his efforts. He had no interest in the material, economic, or political kingdoms of this world; he had come to tell us something about his kingdom-- a vast civilization that extends from the portal of time to the threshold of eternity. He had come to welcome us, and to tell us who we are -- children of the father of universes with a destiny at eternity. And when he had settled these matters in his mind he returned to the world in which he would undertake his mission.

Scene 4: Roman Cities, Early Work of Jesus

In 63 BC a far different power entered the region -- the Romans.

They were invited in by two Jewish rivals for the Hasmonean throne, each entertaining the illusion that the Romans would support his bid for power. And with the Romans came the massive building projects of the Herodian dynasty which would forever change the Jewish homeland.

In Palestine, Hebrew theology was coming into contact with Roman political order and Greek philosophy – a unique evolutionary confluence within which Jesus would attempt to plant an advanced religion.

By 4 BC Herod's son Antipas was rebuilding Sepphoris as the administrative center for Galilee. The inland trade routes crossed near Sepphoris making it a regional economic power. Four miles away on an adjacent ridge is the Nazareth hilltop.

Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee was well under construction by the time Jesus began his public work. It was strategically located just across the lake from the harbor of Hippos, one of the Greek cities of the Decapolis. Josephus reports great rivalry between these two cities.

Galilee is a distinct region with geologic features forming boundaries with its neighbors. It was more Gentile than Jewish when he was born. Josephus describes Galilee as "surrounded by foreign nations." It was a province of agricultural villages and thriving industrial cities. The adjacent region consisted of small provinces, each under different political rule. The dynamics between their rulers and the temple authorities in Jerusalem formed the political backdrop against which Jesus undertook his proclamation of a spiritual kingdom. This was the world Jesus entered when he left the hills near Pella and returned to Capernaum to begin developing infrastructure to support his projected ministry.

In Jesus' time, Capernaum spread across a flat area on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was here among the common folk that he made his home while he waited for the outworking of John's situation. Here he began the organization of his administrative team – twelve men he would train to be teachers and ambassadors of his kingdom.

These were the men who would provide logistical support and crowd control as the numbers of people coming to see Jesus steadily grew. They were the men who would continue his work after he left. And they were the men who would be among the first to lay down their lives in the effort to spread his teachings to the world. During the day they labored with their nets on the Sea of Galilee and began setting aside funds to support their future work. At night they studied with Jesus at the synagogue library where he taught them about the kingdom and illuminated their understanding of the Hebrew scriptures. He intended to spread his message by building upon concepts already present in the minds of his listeners.

Scene 5: Taking Over the Work of John the Baptist

On June 12, AD 26, just a few short months after the baptism, word came that John had been arrested by Herod Antipas. He was being held at Herod's fortress at Machaerus in southern Perea; he had been cast into a dungeon where he would spend the remaining eighteen months of his life.

Jesus swung into action and on the Sabbath of the following week, delivered his first public address in the Capernaum synagogue. He laid out the fundamentals of the kingdom of heaven, accessible here and now, through the exercise of simple faith.

By August, Jesus felt the Apostles were ready to begin their experience of taking his message to the people. During the following five months they visited major towns in Galilee and made initial contact with the Gentiles in the Decapolis-- the cities of Hippos, Gadara, Abila, and Gerasa. During this time increasing numbers of people had been coming to see Jesus. Word about him had spread far from the Sea of Galilee; inquirers had come from cities as far away as Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea, Damascus, and Jerusalem.

Initially Jesus had greeted these people and taught them concerning the kingdom, but the Master gradually turned this work over to the twelve. Andrew would select one of the apostles and assign him to a group of visitors, and sometimes all twelve of them were so engaged.

On Sunday, January 12, AD 27, in the hills above Capernaum overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus ordained the twelve as ambassadors of the kingdom, in what would become known as "The Sermon on the Mount." He charged them with going into the world to begin the task of orienting people to the adventure of progressive citizenship in a spiritual universe.

Capernaum was not far from Tiberias. Jesus knew that Herod would soon begin to take notice of his work; so he decided to focus his efforts on Judea and Perea, a region containing many believers in John's teachings. There was considerable tension between the followers of John and those of Jesus. Why didn't Jesus use his power to free John from prison? Why didn't the followers of Jesus baptize new believers? Why didn't Jesus teach fasting and self-denial? Through tactful and patient personal effort, Jesus and the twelve spent most of AD 27 quietly taking over John's work. And John, from prison, encouraged his followers to give full alliegance to Jesus.

By April Jesus and the twelve had made their way down the Jordan valley to the vicinity of Jerusalem. They spent the entire month talking with people attending Passover, many of whom hailed from distant provinces of the Roman Empire.

This was the real beginning of public preaching. Jesus or one of the apostles taught daily in the temple. Jesus taught one single precept -- love the Lord your God with all your mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself--and he taught this in place of the 613 rules of living expounded by the Pharisees.

When the crowds grew too great to find entrance to the temple teaching, the apostles taught outside the sacred precincts. It was their first contact with such enormous crowds and they learned many valuable lessons which proved of great assistance in their later work.

The most radical element of Jesus' teaching was his insistence that there was nothing man needed to do to win God's love beyond the exercise of faith. He taught about a kingdom accessible right here and now; a world of creative personal relationships between God, ourselves, and each other.

By the end of April the opposition of the religious leaders and temple rulers had become so disruptive that Jesus left Jerusalem with the Twelve and went south into Judea. They may have walked this very road which dates from Roman times. They did no public preaching but went from house-to-house talking with people about the kingdom. And this was a pattern that came to characterize much of their work--they would work in a particular area until the interference of the religious authorities became too distracting. Then they would revert to personal ministry until the situation stabilized. Then once again they would initiate a period of aggressive public teaching.

In Judea today, sheep and goats are still grazed in the hills. Herds of camels roam the desert. Ibex dominate the canyon walls in the Dead Sea region. Olive trees may be found that have nourished people for hundreds of years. Farther to the south, Judea extends into the Negev desert. Here we find Kerioth, the birthplace of Judas Iscariot, the only Judean in the apostolic group.

A short distance from Kerioth lie the ruins of the ancient city of Arad, which contain the oldest Yahweh sanctuary yet discovered. Its altar for burnt offerings is constructed around a large uncut stone. Close by is the Holy of Holies, containing two standing stones--one for Yahweh and one for Asherah, his divine feminine consort--perhaps a faint echo of the ancient Mesopotamian stories of a divine couple who came to earth to teach humankind the arts of civilization.

This month Jesus left the apostles to work in Judea, crossing the desert to En Gedi with Abner. The walk from Hebron to En Gedi is almost 15 miles with a 4,360' elevation change.` Jesus wanted to spend some time with the followers of John who congregated at the oasis. Abner was the chief of John's disciples and the acknowledged head of the Nazarite colony at En Gedi.

The tension between the leaders of John's disciples and the apostles of Jesus grew worse with the increasing number of believers in Jesus' teachings. Integrating his message with John's and fostering productive relationships between the two groups were perhaps the biggest challenges facing Jesus during his early ministry.

In June they returned to Jerusalem. They did no public preaching. They set up camp among the olive trees in Gethsemane and engaged in personal work. But by the end of the month opposition had grown once again and Jesus decided to take the apostles north into Samaria.

Here was Jacob's well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman--and to her made the first direct pronouncement of his divine nature. He told her about the living water, the water which would quench the thirsting of the soul. The enthusiastic reception of the Samaritans greatly encouraged the apostles in their work. It also helped them overcome their strong cultural prejudices against the Samaritans.

On the slopes of Mt Gerizim they set up camp. They taught in the Samarian cities each day. In the evenings they would gather at camp where Jesus would continue to instruct them in the ways of the kingdom. The Samaritans believed Yahweh had designated Mt. Gerizim as the location for the temple, not Jerusalem. The Samaritans had worshipped in a temple here for hundreds of years, a temple which had been destroyed by the Hasmoneans in the previous century. In later years, following the resurrection, the apostle Philip taught on this site.

But the religious authorities were becoming more aggressive and relentless in their harrassment of Jesus. Herod Antipas was in a turmoil--afraid to release John and afraid to execute him. Accordingly, Jesus took the apostles south to a secluded area of Mt Gilboa. He wanted more time to teach and train them and perhaps do some quiet work in the nearby cities of the Decapolis. He was reluctant to undertake any further public work until John either should be executed or freed to join them in a united effort.

Mt Gilboa was in the territory of the Decapolis – conveniently located outside the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas and the Jerusalem temple authorities. Pella and Magadan park became important locations in Jesus' public work for the same reason. From bases of operations set up in these locations, Jesus and his followers could launch evangelistic missions into neighboring territory and then return to safety when the hostility of the religious authorities became too great.

The encampment on Mt Gilboa became a turning point in the work of the kingdom. John the Baptist--working from prison--had appointed twelve apostles. And these twelve, led by Abner, met in conference on Mt Gilboa with the apostles of Jesus, led by Andrew. They camped here and worked for three weeks to coordinate divergent efforts, to compose differences of opinion, to plan joint preaching tours, to establish financial strategy, and to socialize their personal religious practices.

Jesus refused to participate, insisting that he was the representative of the Father to the individual, not the group. He encouraged the two groups to work out their differences as best they could. Neither could they get Jesus to comment on the ritual of baptism, a matter of great contention between the two groups. Baptism was the price which the followers of Jesus paid to keep the followers of John with them.

In early November, the two groups moved across the Jordan Valley to Pella. They set up a headquarters for joint operations. By now, Jesus had successfully taken over the infrastructure of John's movement. Abner had become a devout believer in Jesus, and a tireless worker for the kingdom. Pella is located in a tiny valley with a perpetual spring between two hills. In the first century, the Romans had begun a slow rebuilding of the urban center. The town itself appears to have occupied the northern hill at the time.

To the southwest, less than a mile from the city center, is a large open space with a natural amphitheater. This space opens onto the Jordan valley and the place where the Roman road crossed the Jordan River, connecting the Mediterranean coast with the inland route to Mesopotamia. This was the route over which thousands traveled from distant lands to meet Jesus and hear his message.

From Pella, the twenty four quietly worked the northern Decapolis. They went in pairs, the apostle of John baptizing while the apostle of Jesus did the teaching. They worked for ten weeks until that day when word came to the Pella camp that John had been executed by order of Herod Antipas. Jesus called the twenty-four together and said, "John is dead. Herod has beheaded him. There shall be delay no longer. The hour has come to proclaim the kingdom openly and with power. Tomorrow we go into Galilee."

Scene 6: Introduction to Galilee

When Jesus arrived back in Capernaum he was accompanied by his administrative group of twelve well-trained teachers plus twenty-five of the former disciples of John. They immediately began a tour of central Galilee, preaching in all the major towns as well as the small villages in between. The effort lasted for two months.

The world in which they worked has changed in many ways over the past 2,000 years. Ancient roads the early evangelists traveled have been transformed into modern transportation routes. Herod's capitol of Tiberias has become a bustling modern city. Nazareth has become a major urban center spread over the hills that surrounded the first century town. The Nazareth hillside likely contained agricultural terraces in addition to structures. Today, just below the crest of the highest hill is a Catholic school and the Church of the Adolescent Jesus. At the top of the hill is a small park. The Rector of the church, thought there was no way any active boy growing up in Nazareth would not have climbed this hill and played on it.

To the south lies the fertile Jezreel valley. Here were towns such as Meggido, Nain, Endor. At Magdala, a major new tourist center is under construction. The excavations here are uncovering what likely was the largest city on the lake in Jesus' time. Here, a narrow street runs through a residential area. On either side are homes, many of which had ritual baths. One of the few synagogues clearly dating to the first century is being excavated here. This small, simple synagogue may be representative of the synagogues encountered by Jesus and the Twelve in many of the Galilean cities and towns.

A newly excavated square reveals the port of Magdala and the first century level of the lake. The lake level today is about 10 feet lower. A line of trees reveals an earlier shoreline. Several years ago during a drought, the level of the lake dropped sufficiently to reveal a boat from the first century embedded in mud and silt. The boat was said to have been built by a master craftsman and based on its size most likely was the type which would have been used by Jesus and the twelve.

Jotapata may be taken as an example of many other Galilean cities of the period. During the times of the Hasmonean conquests a century before Jesus, its population had become increasingly Jewish. Some fourteen kilometers north of Nazareth, the site of Cana occupies another abandoned hilltop.

Gamla, the Machu Picchu of Israel, was on a remote mountain peak just to the east of the lake. It was destroyed following a brutal siege by the Romans in 67 AD and never resettled. It is one of very few locations left undisturbed since the first century. From the city the Sea of Galilee could be seen some seventeen kilometers to the west with Capernaum on the northern shore.

Scene 7: Teaching in Galilee

At the end of March, AD 28, Jesus, Abner, and the entire group made their way south to Jerusalem for Passover. Jesus intended to keep a low profile and do no public teaching. He set up headquarters at Bethany in the home of his childhood friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. But the number of people coming to see him quickly grew so large that they moved to the Garden of Gethsemane, setting up a camp just outside the city. Here they met and talked with hundreds of inquirers from distant lands.

After a month of work, it was decided that Abner and the disciples of John would go south and work in the towns and villages of Judea. Jesus and the twelve would return to Galilee.

The response to the first preaching tour of Galilee had been so great that Jesus now set up a training camp on the lakeshore near Bethsaida just to the south of Capernaum. Here he and the Apostles trained more than one hundred evangelists between May and October of AD 28. It was from this group that the "seventy" mentioned in the gospel of Luke eventually were drawn.

The first public preaching tour of Galilee had focused on the central part of the region. The second tour focused on the major towns and countless villages of the southern and eastern parts. This mission lasted for three months.

Out over the roads and trails of Galilee, Jesus sent the apostles and more than 100 graduates from the Bethsaida training school in teams of two. David Zebedee, brother of James and John, had set up a messenger service employing more than forty runners who kept the various teaching groups in contact. These runners traversed these rugged roads as well.

In all his teaching, Jesus focused on the basics of the kingdom; Yahweh is best understood as a loving, caring father of a large family who loves each of his children with an infinite love. Every human being lives within this extended family, this living organism.

Increasing numbers of people were coming to the encampment on the northern shore--many of them women. Much to the amazement of his apostles, Jesus established a corps of women disciples -- a group of women who would teach and minister to other women. These women in turn trained a group of more than fifty additional women to do home ministry and care for the sick. Some of these women were at the foot of the cross while the men were in hiding; a number of them were counted among the early martyrs in the work of the kingdom.

Entire civilizations have come and gone but the Sea of Galilee today remains much as it was when Jesus walked along her shore. Perhaps in no other place is it possible to see, hear, and feel the same things the Master experienced in daily life.

Scene 8: Ancient Synagogues of Galilee

The synagogues of the towns and villages were the venues in which Jesus' early work was undertaken. Largely hidden from view today, they are monuments to one of the most remarkable periods in religious history—the births of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. This Judean synagogue discovered in 2001 dates to the time of Jesus and his preaching tours of the region. Some early synagogue sites are little more than a few exposed rocks and a record number in a catalog.

The synagogue at Gamla dates to the times of Jesus. Destroyed by the Romans in 67 AD, Gamla and its synagogue were left undisturbed until rediscovered by Israeli archaeologists in 1967. We can imagine people sitting on these benches, listening to Jesus here in this magnificent setting. We can imagine them lingering after a meeting, gathering in small groups to talk with the apostles about the kingdom.

The Gamla synagogue contained elements common to many synagogues built from the first through the fifth centuries. Rows of stone benches, usually on three sides of the interior, provided seating. Interior columns supported a roof and a second story which let in light. A special niche provided storage for scrolls. Nearby would be found a mikveh or other source of water for ritual purification.

The word "Synagogue" originally referred to an assembly of the community. Gradually special buildings were constructed in which the Synagogue would meet. It is not unreasonable to imagine Jesus and the Twelve visiting and teaching in synagogues that looked very much like these, which date to the following few centuries. These synagogues were the centers of social and religious life in the towns and villages in which they were constructed.

They were the places where Sabbath services were held—where people came to pray, to hear the law read and discuss its implications for the life of the community. They provided a venue where visiting rabbis and scholars would address the community. Some contained extra rooms used as hostels for travelers. They were the educational and social centers of their communities. Unique decorative motifs at each synagogue bear testimony to their relative independence and local autonomy.

The synagogue seen by the majority of visitors coming to the Holy Land today is the monumental structure at Capernaum. Every day some two thousand people come here and reflect on the Jesus story. Is this the synagogue in which Jesus spoke? The synagogue seen today was reconstructed from ruble early in the twentieth century. Coins were found beneath the floor from the late fourth century; but signs of an earlier structure were found as well.

The question is further complicated by a comment in The Urantia Book that Jesus, speaking in the Capernaum synagogue, referred to grape clusters and a pot of manna carved on a lintel of the new synagogue to illustrate a point in his sermon. Is this a lintel from the first century synagogue? The story of the Capernaum synagogue remains unfinished.

By Fall of AD 28, the fame of Jesus had spread far and wide primarily as a result of the many healings which took place in his presence. The crowds coming to see him continued to grow. But as the crowds grew, so did the hostility of the temple rulers in Jerusalem. They were increasingly alarmed at the public response to Jesus and began to look for a way to kill him.

But Jesus was moving so fast and mobilizing so many teachers that it seemed impossible to stop him. Increasingly he used parables to describe the kingdom, enabling him to get around the harrassment of the Pharisees who now followed him everywhere.

Knowing that their ability to teach publically could end at any time, Jesus didn't stop. Two weeks after the completion of the second Galilean tour the most ambitious effort of his Galilean ministry was launched. The first preaching tour had covered central Galilee. The second had extended the reach of his message to the Galilean periphery.

Now he began a third tour. Every location visited on the first two was revisited along with all the villages and towns between. Some one hundred and fifty teachers, including Abner and his followers thus worked in teams of two for seven weeks.

By the end of this tour the hostility of the temple rulers in Jerusalem had become so great that Abner moved his headquarters from Hebron to Bethlehem, where he could be closer to unfolding events in Jerusalem. David Zebedee had overnight runners leave Jerusalem each evening, relaying at Sychar and Scythopolis, arriving in Bethsaida by breakfast time the next morning – a distance of 90 miles.

But Jesus was exhausted. He sought to slip away from Capernaum by boat to the eastern shore for rest--but the crowds followed on land. Within one day day some five thousand people had gathered near his encampment at Magadan Park, just south of Bethsaida-Julias. This was the multitude that Jesus fed with five barley loaves and two dried fish. The crowd was stunned by this display of superhuman power and wanted to make him king.

Jesus used the opportunity once again to draw a clear distinction between the political kingdoms of this world and the spiritual kingdom he had come to reveal. His refusal to become their king greatly dampened public enthusiasm for Jesus. But from this time on, a new following grew which was better grounded in spiritual faith and true religious experience rather than miracle seeking.

Knowing it might be his last opportunity, Jesus made arrangements to speak that Sabbath in the Capernaum synagogue. In attendance was a large group of Pharisees and Sadducees constituting the orthodox vanguard sent by order of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. Their task was to inaugurate open warfare on Jesus and his followers.

Jesus read from Deuteronomy and the prophet Jeremiah. He reminded his listeners how the leaders of Israel had treated the prophets in the past. He made it clear that he had been sent to earth on a mission to reveal the true character of God—a generous, loving father who wants the very best for each of his mortal children.

At the end of this meeting, at the insistence of the Jerusalem Pharisees, official action was taken by the rulers of the Capernaum synagogue closing it to Jesus. Two days later the Sanhedrin passed a decree closing all the synagogues of Palestine to Jesus and his followers--an unprecedented intrusion into the autonomy of local synagogues.

Before the end of the month Herod Antipas had relented under pressure from the temple authorites and had authorized the arrest of Jesus in Galilee. This was the figurative moment when the veil in the temple was torn asunder. The two thousand year effort to foster a monotheistic religious culture from which an advanced religion could be taken to the world had reached a dead end.

From the blood and ashes of the first century, Hebrew religion would be transformed into Rabbinic Judaism, and the simple teachings of Jesus would be transformed into a religion about his death and resurrection.

Scene 9: The Domain of Philip the Tetrarch and Phoenicia

A few days after the closing of the synagogues, David's messengers arrived at Bethsaida with news that agents of the Sanhedrin were on their way to arrest Jesus. The Master made it clear that he was not ready for an open clash with the religious authorities. Neither was he interested in becoming a martyr. He told his apostles to prepare to depart immediately for a preaching tour of the Phoenician cities on the north coast.

Accordingly they left Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. They traveled north through the territory of Philip, following the canyon of the Jordan River. At the north end of the canyon is the beginning of the marsh country. Ecologists say this was one of the most complex ecosystems anywhere in the Levant at this time. This vast wetlands habitat is fed by the Waters of Merom on the west, and the Jordan river on the north. It provides resting places for the more than five hundred million birds that migrate twice a year between Africa, Asia and Europe, using the great Jordan Rift Valley as a flyway around the barrier posed by the Mediterranean Sea.

This was a significant turning point in Jesus' public ministry. The work of the kingdom was breaking free from the confines of Hebrew religion; from now on it would spread and take root in the world of the pagan Gentiles and the Greeks.

Slowly working their way up the northern coast, Jesus, the Twelve, and a group of the evangelists from the Bethsaida training camp spent six weeks teaching in the Phoenician cities. Their message was eagerly received by these people. Many Phoenicians responded to the teaching that God is no respecter of persons, races, or nations. Jesus was revealing a new religion to these pagan gentiles, a religion based solely on cultivating a personal friendship with God. And many of them dared to believe his message.

The interest in the city of Tyre was so great that the Melkarth Temple was opened to Jesus and his teachers. The enthusiastic reception of their message in the Phoenician cities revitalized the Apostles and the evangelists after the discouraging developments in Galilee.

Six weeks into this tour David's messengers brought word to Jesus that remnants of the believer community in Capernaum and some of the teachers were attempting to reorganize. Within a week, Jesus, the Twelve, more than one hundred believers, the women's corps, the evangelists, and others interested in the establishment of the spiritual kingdom on earth had assembled at Magadan Park.

Here Jesus began the reorganization of his scattered, tested, and depleted forces in preparation for the work of his last year on earth. If the religious authorities were going to make it impossible for him to work in Galilee or Judea, he would build upon the work begun by John the Baptist in Perea and the Decapolis.

But in the meantime Jesus had received a summons to a conference on Mount Hermon to discuss with his celestial associates the rapidly changing context within which he was carrying out his mission on earth. Accordingly, he and the Twelve departed immediately for Caesarea Philippi which was located at the foot of the mountain.

Caesarea Philippi was built around a sacred spring in the suburbs of the ancient Israelite center of Dan. Water from the spring feeds the Jordan River. This was Herod Philip's capital, located in a Gentile region far from the influence of Jerusalem temple politics. It was during a conference in the garden of a wealthy Greek convert in Caesarea Philippi, that the Apostles first acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God in response to his question, "Who say you that I am?"

From this point on, Jesus did not hesitate to fully and openly acknowledge his divine nature.

Scene 10: Mt Hermon and the Decapolis

Mt Hermon is a cluster of three distinct ridges. It's ancient limestone, broken by faults and erosion, captures melting snow which emerges in countless springs at the lower elevations. In the heart of the mountain is a secluded valley with fresh water springs and shelter from the harsh winds that sometimes ravage the higher altitudes.

The Sea of Galilee speaks of a complex ecosystem and the human communities it suports. But Mount Hermon speaks of things ancient and mythological. It is located in a place where the difference between history and mythology can no longer be distinguished.

The presence of the mountain permeates the mythology of the ancient Levant. Gilgamesh takes cedars from its slopes to build his city. In the Book of Enoch it is the place where the "Watchers," the fallen angels of the Lucifer Rebellion, held their meetings. Ruins of the highest temple in the ancient world lie at its summit.

Prior to his baptism and full awareness of his universe identity, Jesus had ascended this mountain to meet with Satan, emissary of Lucifer, to conclude certain matters related to Lucifer's rebellion against the universe government. The Master's struggles on the mountain had nothing to do with the kingdoms of this world but with the sovereignty of a universe--a matter forever settled on Mount Hermon by Jesus, the heroic mortal, Joshua ben Joseph.

In August of AD 29, Jesus ascended these slopes with three of his Apostles. He had been summoned to a meeting to discuss repercussions of a more focused planting of his message into the context of Greco-Roman paganism. Jesus had come to release the spiritual potentials in Hebrew religion which Melchizedek had planted. But centuries of resisting repeated Gentile incursions had taken its toll; Hebrew religion had been successfully fortified against any further development.

And so it was that Peter, James and John witnessed a conference between Jesus, Gabriel and Father Melchizedek, here on the slopes of Mt Hermon. If his message was to be planted in the world of the pagan Gentiles, it quickly would become buried in mystery and superstition. It would become heavily influenced by the beliefs in the magic power of sacrifice and blood which characterized the religions of the ancient world. The funeral would last for centuries. It would be at least two millenia before his resurrection from a tomb of pagan ritual and belief might begin to take place.

He would take his message to the Gentiles. But he would continue to do everything possible to establish the Jewish people as torchbearers of the kingdom; And he would force the religious leaders in Jerusalem to make a clear and final choice regarding the part they would play in his mission.

By now it was the late Summer of AD 29. Abner was sending out teachers from his Bethlehem headquarters to the cities of Judea and Samaria, and as far away as the Jewish communities in the Nile delta. Jesus and the Twelve had returned to the camp at Magadan Park. David's messenger service kept these scattered working groups in contact with each other.

At Magadan Park, the kingdom aristocracy had gathered and plans were made to begin an extensive mission to the Greek cities of the Decapolis.

In Jesus' time these Greek cities and the roads connecting them were recovering from the destruction wrought by the Hasmoneans a century earlier. The Romans had begun an economic revitalization of the entire region. Jesus sent the Apostles and evangelists out into these cities in small groups. He then went from city to city to encourage and coach the various groups while they were engaged in teaching.

These were grand cities, strategically located on the main highways of the ancient world. They were far more cosmopolitan than the towns and villages of Galilee.

Humanity had embarked on a journey to an unknown destiny which Jesus had come to illuminate. He taught that our real destiny lies in the potentials of our relationship with God and the network of relationships we share with each other. Personal relationships are the context in which the fruits of the spirit appear, the badges of citizenship in his spiritual kingdom.

The excavation and reconstruction of Gerasa has been ongoing for more than 70 years. It was a rising economic power in Jesus' day. It was a mileu in which his teachings about cultivating a personal relationship with a loving God were widely accepted. It was here that the Pharisees asked Jesus if many or few really would be saved. In response Jesus pointed out that salvation was a matter of personal choosing. He told them, "The door to eternal life is wide enough to admit all who sincerely seek to enter, for I am that door."

Remains of agricultural terraces in the nearby hills help us appreciate the scale of the urban center they supported. Gerasa was one of the Decapolis cities most visited by Jesus and the Twelve.

Just south of the Yarmouk river canyon lies the site of Abila. Blessed with copius springs and fertile soil, the city lay on the strategic route from Arabia to Damascus. Ruins of Byzantine churches and Roman temples lie amidst olive groves, wheat fields, and grazing sheep. Most of Abila remains unexcavated today. As in other Decapolis cities, there is an abundance of early Christian architecture. Abila was one of the cities in which Jesus and the Twelve labored during that period when they were taking over the work of John the Baptist, perhaps entering the city on this road which comes from Gadara, some twenty kilometers to the west.

Just south of the Sea of Galilee, Scythopolis lay at the crossroads of the routes connecting Asia Minor with Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea with Arabia. A short distance from this urban center was an amphitheater in which the Greeks held games and sporting events that would have been offensive to devout Jews. Another five levels of wooden seating extended above the stone rows, providing seating for five to seven thousand spectators. Scythopolis was a relay point for David Zebedee's runners. It's proximity to Galilee made it one of the most frequently visited of the Decapolis cities.

Hippos was spectacularly located on a diamond shaped mountain that rises 1,000 feet above the Eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was the smallest of the Decapolis cities due to limited rainwater storage on the site. It had panoramic views of the lake. Simon Peter was in charge of the work here during the Decapolis mission. Eight churches dating to Byzantine times provide testimony to yet another active early center of Christianity. The city was destroyed by the great earthquake of 749 AD which killed tens of thousands of people. Fallen columns point in the direction of earthquake forces.

The city of Gadara had its own port on the Sea of Galilee, ten kilometers away. These were city-states, each controlling the surrounding territory. Gadara linked two major highways of the time—the King's Highway connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia, and the Great Trunk Road from the Phoenician coast. The city was distinguished for its cosmopolitan atmosphere. It attracted writers, artists, philosophers, poets and scientists of the day. It became known as "the city of philosophers." The apostle Thomas had worked here as a carpenter and stone mason several years before becoming one of the apostles.

Philadelphia is the only Decapolis city which has continued to play a major role in the region up to contemporary times. Today it is surrounded by Amman, the capitol of Jordan. Of all the cities of Perea, in Philadelphia the largest group of Jews and gentiles, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, embraced the teachings of the kingdom. It was at Philadelphia that Jesus talked about the positive nature of the kingdom. His was a religion of positive action. A church eventually was built on the site of the synagogue of Philadelphia. The synagogue on this site had never been subject to the supervision of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin and therefore had never been closed to Jesus and his followers. By the time of Jesus' last three months on earth, Abner was teaching there three times a day.

The Decapolis mission did much to prepare the way for Abner's work of spreading Christianity to the east; Christianity would absorb, exhalt and integrate much of Hebrew theology, Hebrew morality, and Greek philosophy.

Scene 11: Perean Mission Through the Resurrection of Jesus

By mid-September of 29 AD, everyone had returned to the camp at Magadan Park. Here more than one hundred kingdom workers had gathered to plan for the future extension of their work.

But Jesus wanted to make a quick trip into Jerusalem for Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. There would be thousands of interested persons from distant lands and Jesus wanted a chance to speak with them. Abner's work had created a favorable view of Jesus in the region. Jesus even taught in the temple precincts during this trip and personally met with hundreds of people. Scores of believers came to see him at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. The Sanhedrin assumed he had appeared only because the Romans had guaranteed him security.

That Autumn, Jesus, the Twelve, the Women's Corp, and Abner with his core followers all had gathered at Magadan Park to plan the next steps in the work of the kingdom. On the nearby shore of the Sea of Galilee, following two weeks of intensive training, Jesus ordained a dedicated group of seventy as ambassadors of his kingdom. Abner was placed at the head of this group and immediately launched a six week mission. He sent these teachers out in teams of two. They preached in all the cities of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.

In the meantime, Jesus and the Twelve moved their tents south to a place near Pella and established a new teaching headquarters. Nearly 300 believers followed them.

Jesus no longer had to go to the people with his message; they were coming to him in great numbers. Daily pilgrims arrived at Pella from all parts of Palestine and remote regions of the Roman Empire--some from as far away as Mesopotamia and the lands east of the Tigris.

In December Jesus decided to make another quick strike into Jerusalem for Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication. He had gone to Sukkot to proclaim his teachings to the gathered pilgrims. He now made one last attempt to convince the leaders of his father's people of his divine mission and message, taking with him only Nathaniel and Thomas.

It was on this trip that he restored the sight of Josiah, the blind beggar, on the Sabbath, near the temple, as an open challenge to the Sanhedrin and the temple rulers. When Jesus tried to communicate to the temple rulers that he had been sent by God with a message for them, they accused him of blasphemy. When he did things that appeared to be miraculous, they said he was in league with devils.

And thus did Jesus leave Jerusalem, not to return until his fateful trip to Passover a few months later. When he arrived at the Pella camp he found that Abner was ready to launch an ambitious preaching tour of Perea projected to last for three months. Abner's first mission had been to all the cities of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Now he was mobilizing a similar effort to all the cities of Perea and the Decapolis. This work was undertaken by the Seventy and the women's corps which now numbered sixty-two.

No other part of Palestine was so thoroughly worked by the apostles and disciples of Jesus. They proclaimed the simplest and most far-reaching religion every proclaimed; the faith-acceptance of citizenship in the spiritual civilization that pervades our universe. By the end of January AD 30, the Sabbath afternoon multitudes coming to hear Jesus at the Pella camp numbered almost three thousand.

In late February one of David's runners brought him news that his childhood friend and faithful supporter, Lazarus, was near death. Jesus had a deep affection for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It occurred to him that the situation provided an opportunity to give the scribes and pharisees in Jerusalem yet another chance to accept his teachings.

And thus it was that he traveled into Judea, to Bethany, arriving several days after Lazarus had succumbed to his illness. His body had been placed in the family tomb. The resurrection of Lazarus, the most dramatic exhibition of superhuman power of his entire career, only served to infuriate the Jerusalem temple rulers. A few weeks later the Sanhedrin ordered the arrest of Lazarus, forcing him to flee to Philadelphia where he became a chief supporter of Abner's work.

The Sanhedrin declared that Jesus was a menace to the stability of all Israel and must be put to death; and they set about trying to determine what the charges should be.

But Jesus returned to the Decapolis before they could apprehend him. Here the interest in his teachings was at the highest point of his entire public career. And he continued to teach and train new messengers of the kingdom until it came time to go up to Jerusalem for Passover. By this time close to 5,000 people were attending the Sabbath gatherings at the Pella camp.

The tragic events in Jerusalem during Passover week, AD 30, are well known. Today, some two thousand years later, the story is still retold countless times every day in virtually every country of the world.

When his arrest finally occurred it was away from the crowds and witnessed by few mortals—but an entire universe looked on in shocked disbelief as the incarnate creator was arrested as a common criminal.

The world would never be the same again.

Something new had begun to precipitate from the milieu of Greek philosophy, Hebrew morality, and Roman law, catalyzed by stories about the miracles, death, and resurrection of a celestial visitor.

Three days after his execution, he began to appear among the people. And thus it was that a few mornings after the resurrection, as the Apostles came ashore from a night of fishing, they encountered Jesus waiting for them on the lakeshore by a fire.

He greeted them as friends, and once more urged them to go into the world and introduce people to their destiny as citizens of an eternal spiritual kingdom.

In the forty days following his resurrection he appeared to almost one thousand of his followers, always urging them to continue the work for which he had trained them – taking his message to all people.

It's an unfinished task that passes into the hands of each generation of those who have discovered his presence.

He is waiting for us,

on the shore,

by the fire.