We should never underestimate the ability that people have to adapt to new situations. The Romans made a calculated attempt to destroy the Jerusalem temple with the idea that it would, at the same time, also destroy the religion. They knew just how important the temple was in the worship of those who acknowledged YHWH as the God of Israel.
Moses had collected the Law on Sinai or Horeb, we don’t know which is was or if it was the same place by a different name, and these holy relics were placed in a box or ark to be carried wherever the people were to be. In this way they could guarantee that God would be with them, as they believed that his power and magic and his person was attached to the stones.
When King David became the ruler of Judah he brought all this to Zion, a hill just outside Jerusalem that he named as his capital. His son Solomon was to build the first temple there. From then on it would be to Zion that the people traveled because it was here and here alone that God dwelt with his people.
The first temple burnt down and was replaced by another and then Herod, a king appointed by the Romans but who actually was an Edomite (that is modern Jordan) who was anxious to promote both his own prestige and his acceptance by the people he was trying to rule started the biggest building project since the pyramids; the building of the Second temple. A temple that was to be built in stone, not wood as its predecessors had been. It was a massive project, employing nearly 20,000 builders and craftsmen. Like Matupishu, no mortar was used. Instead, they employed vast interlocking blocks of stone. Its area was so big, you could have put six football pitches inside, and to have walked around it would measure a mile.
It took nearly a century to complete and within ten years of its completion it lay in ruins. The reason was the symbolic power it gave to the worshippers who used it. In an attempt to control them, the Romans felt they had to destroy it, and in destroying it they thought that the religion would be finished. If there were to be no place to meet God, then the religion would be starved and it would die.
Two things changed that.
One was human resilience and the other was ingenuity. Of the people who remained, who desired to continue worshipping the God of Abraham and Isaac, they divided into two groups. One group wanted to remain separate from the gentiles. They were dominated by the Pharisees. Before the destruction of the temple, they had been a small but powerful and influential minority. Now, they became the core group, who had a vast number of members who had lived outside Israel for generations, and who had never had access to the temple. They had learned to live without the need for the temple. Instead of Levites in the temple, they appointed local rabbis and made the head of each household responsible for the spiritual welfare of the members of the house.
The second group collected an array of denominations … Essenes, Zadokites, Gnostics and Nazarenes … and joined them with an increasing number of gentiles, and those interested in the worship of the God of Abraham, but had not been born in Israel.
The founder of one of these groups, a man called Yeshua, from an insignificant village in Galilee, who had been executed by the Romans for treason forty years before the temple was destroyed, became the spiritual leader of the whole movement based on the claim of his closest followers that he had been raised back to life after the execution.
Although early on in the movement’s history, the temple had been important to them, they devised a replacement spiritual temple made up of the congregations.
What had looked like a decisive blow to the fundamental core of the religious belief turned out to be no more than a hiccup in the separate developments of two strands of the religion.
The Pharisaic movement, picking up its adherents in the Israel communities across the Roman empire, continued and changed and adapted as it competed with it rival, so that by the middle of the second century, they had became fairly stable and it was accepted as Rabbinic Judaism and its members became known as Jews because they had originated from Judah. The spelling looked different but the pronunciation is the same.
The rival group mutated as it digested the various forms and developments within its structure, but, by the time that the opposition was being called Jews and Judaism, they were being called Christians after the man Yeshua who, in Greek, was being referred to as the Anointed One or Christos. Claims were also being made that he was the Son of God. In Greek that meant calling him the son of Zeus, Jesus. His Hebrew name of Yeshua was dropped and his followers names were also changed in their Greek forms.
Of course, it had come out of the very heart of Israel, and stories about Yeshua abounded in oral form and maybe some written accounts as well. The Romans, when they destroyed the temple in the year 70, also destroyed much of the city. Later Hadrian was to rebuild the city of Jerusalem but call it by another name.
The people of Judah were fond of books and writing, and so the Romans destroyed as much as they could find.
The books, scrolls and papers of the emerging sect of Nazarenes was, more than likely, destroyed though we live in hopes that one day we will discover where someone hid a cache of them. So just after AD70 a gentile Greek-speaking man who had never lived in Israel, collected what he could and wrote it down. A generation later another Greek speaker used this writing as the base for his own story, and followed the classic narrative form of the day for famous men.
This ancient biographical form included an extra-ordinary birth sequence in which the gods were involved, one or two childhood stories and then the outstanding events of his life that would compete with the best of the stories of the gods and of men. The first writing is called the Gospel of Mark and the second is the Gospel of Luke. Neither are actual biographies in the modern sense but both may contain true facts about Yeshua.
The story of the visit to Jerusalem in his childhood is possible but unlikely because of the cost.
The story about Anna and the old man Simeon is based upon a promise to Abraham in Genesis (22:18). However, just because it may not be factually true does not mean it has no value. We can be sure that Yeshua, on the fortieth day after his birth would have been taken to a synagogue and the ceremony for his presentation would have been made.
Does it matter if it is in Jerusalem or no?
Only for those who needed the central place of the temple in their religious thoughts.
The second part is that the theological and spiritual truth remains whatever the actual physical history that Christ came to us at Christmas …and now we have returned to ask that we keep the light that has come into the world.