Mark 12 – The Parable of the Husbandmen & The Lost Cities of Africa: Meroe (3 of 5)

The first amendment of the United States Constitution gives us freedom of religion.  The Roman Empire was the same, sort of, tomorrow we’ll look at…

Mark 12
The Parable of the Husbandmen

Statues of the Nubian kings of Eygpt, known as The Black Pharaohs”.

1 And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

12:1-12 – most of Jesus’ parables make one main point.  This one is rather complex and the details fit the social situation in Jewish Galilee in the 1st century. 

Large estates, owned by absentee landlords, were put in the hands of local peasants who cultivated the land as tenant farmers.  The parable exposed the planned attempt of Jesus’ life, and God’s judgment on the planners.

2 And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.

3 And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

4 And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled.

5 And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

6 Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son.

An Egyptian wall carving showing Nubian slaves.

7 But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.

“The inheritance shall be ours” – Jewish law provided that a piece of property unclaimed by a heir would be declared “ownerless,” and could be claimed by anyone.  The husbandmen assumed that the son came as heir to claim his property and that if he were slain they could claim the land.

Which is exactly why the crucified Jesus, they thought if he was dead then they could rule.

8 And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

9 What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.

10 And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:

Nubians bringing payments of food and valuable objects to the Egyptian Pharaoh. These payments are called tribute.

11 This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?

12 And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

13 And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.

14 And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?

15 Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.

16 And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s.

17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marveled at him.

18 Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,

19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.

20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.

21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.

22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.

23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.

24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

Meroe pyramid, Nubia – Kush kingdom

26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?

27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

“Which is the first commandment of all?” – Jewish rabbis counted 613 individual statutes in the law, and attempted to differentiate between “heavy” (or “great”) and “light” (or “little”) commands. 

To God, a sin is a sin while we live on earth.  The level severity of sins committed on earth change if you go to hell, see Lk12:47-48),

29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

After Hrihor and Smendes had split-up Egypt, it was now governed from two separate capitals, Thebes in the south and Tanis in the north; this begins the third intermediate period.

For a time, relations between the two halves of the country were amicable and cooperative. However before long, Smendes (Nesbanebded), asserted his claim to the throne, thus begins the Twenty-first Dynasty, which appears to be in truth, a theocratic dynasty of priests, some of whom were even pious.

32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:

33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

35 And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?

36 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.

“The LOD said to my LORD” – God said to David’s Lord, i.e., David’s superior – ultimately the Messiah.  The purpose of the quotation was to show that the Mesiah was more than a descendant of David – he was David’s Lord.

37 David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

38 And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,

39 And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:

“Chief seats in the synagogues” – a reference to the bench in front of the “ark” that contained the sacred scrolls.  Those who sat there could be seen by all the worshipers in the synagogue.

40 Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

“Devour widows’ houses” – since the scribes were not paid a regular salary, they were dependent on the generosity of patrons for their livelihood.  Such a system was open to abuses and widows were especially vulnerable to exploitation.

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

“Two mites” – the smallest coins then in circulation in the Holy Land.

43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

The Lost Cities of Africa (3 of 5) 

Meroë /ˈmɛroʊeɪ/ (also spelled Meroe) (Meroitic: Medewi or Bedewi; Arabic: مرواه Meruwah and مروى Meruwi, Ancient Greek: Μερόη, Meróē) is an ancient city on the east bank of the Nile about 6 km north-east of the Kabushiya station near Shendi, Sudan, approximately 200 km north-east of Khartoum. Near the site are a group of villages called Bagrawiyah.

This city was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries. The Kushitic Kingdom of Meroë gave its name to the Island of Meroë, which was the modern region of Butana, a region bounded by the Nile (from the Atbarah River to Khartoum), the Atbarah and the Blue Nile.

Meroe

Location: Sudan
Date of Construction: c 750 B.C.
Abandoned: c 350 C.E.
Built By: Kushites
Key Features: Pyramids; Temples of Amun and Apedemak; Royal Baths; Bronze Head of Augustus.

Beyond the borders of ancient Egypt another civilization rose and fell and rose again, lasting almost half as long as that of the Egyptian pharaohs and producing fabulous arts and crafts and distinctive architecture of its own, yet it has kept very much below the popular historical radar.

Meroe’s distinctive pyramids. In their very steep angle they were inspired by Egyptian private tombs of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.), rather than by the classic royal pyramids of Egypt’s Old and Middle Kingdoms (27th to 17th centuries B.C.).

The Kingdom of Kush had, for much of its history, its capital at ancient Meroe, a city fabled by ancient authors and marked by its distinctive pyramids and exotic tomb treasures, but which met its end in an industrial-ecological crisis that offers a stark warning to our modern world.

The Land of Kush

The kingdom to the south of ancient Egypt has gone by many different names, but is best known as Kush (sometimes Cush), in the land of the Nubians.

Here along the upper reaches of the Nile, from the First Cataract down to the far south, in what is now Sudan, Africans built a long-lasting civilization that both drew inspiration from and contended with the mighty Egypt in a relationship characterized by constant struggle and occasional fruitfulness.

The first Kushite kingdom from around 2400 B.C. centered on Kerma, relatively far down the Nile (i.e. to the north, nearer ancient Egypt).

It was able to flourish during a period of relative instability and weakness in its powerful neighbor, but when new dynasties reestablished control over Egypt they also regained their dominance over the lands to the south.

Kush was a valuable source of agricultural products and, crucially, gold. New Kingdom (1539-1075 B.C.) pharaohs took hundreds of kilograms of gold in tribute from Kush each year.

Relief of a ruler, a Candace of Meroë named Kandake Amanitore

Later phases of Kushite development saw its center shift further away from Egypt and towards sub-Saharan Africa, initially geographically when the Egyptians reasserted control and moved the capital south to Napata, and later culturally as well, when the capital eventually moved to Meroe.

The collapse of the New Kingdom and the disarray of Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period once again allowed Kush to develop as an independent kingdom, with its capital at Napata and a dynastic cemetery established at the nearby site of El-Kurru.

The power of this Napatan kingdom grew until Nubian kings were dictating terms to the Egyptians, culminating in Kushites taking complete control of Egypt and establishing the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty, which ruled, at first in tandem with northern dynasties and later in sole power, from 747-656 B.C.

The Rise of Meroe

Invasion by the Assyrians and later, re-establishment of native Egyptian dynasty, forced the Kushites back into their own lands and attempts by Kushite kings to reconquer territory to the north were repulsed.

From around 750 B.C. the city of Meroe (on the east bank of the Nile, about 124 miles northeast of modern-day Khartoum) had become an important administrative center for the south of Kush and when the Egyptian pharaoh Psametik II raided far into Kushite territory in 591 B.C., sacking Napata, its strategic benefits became more obvious.

Bas reliefs at the Mero pyramids, showing a procession of figures personifying the produce of the royal estates.

The Kushite King Aspelta relocated the royal court to Meroe, although the royal burial ground remained at Nuri, close to Napata, where it had been established around 690 B.C. Eventually, around 270 B.C., the royal burial grounds were also relocated to Meroe, and it remained the capital of Kush until around 350 CE.

A rich and powerful city far to the south of territory familiar to the Egyptians and the successive masters of Egypt – the Persians, the Greeks and eventually the Romans – Meroe became a fabled land.

The Persian emperor Cambyses sent a huge expeditionary force up the Nile, lured by the promise of great booty, but it turned back, defeated by the harsh terrain. Classical writers such as Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus spoke of Meroe in terms of wonder.

It was said to sit on a great island in the Nile, possibly reflecting the fact that in reality it was surrounded on three sides by water.

The Ptolemies managed to maintain the integrity of Egypt’s borders and keep Kush at bay. They were succeeded by the Romans, with whom the Kushites enjoyed a relationship rivalled only by the Parthians for longevity.

The two empires got off to a bad start in 23 B.C., when the brutal suppression by Rome of a rebellion of mainly Nubian subjects triggered a Kushite raid in which a statue of Augustus was torn down, its bronze head removed and buried beneath the entrance to a temple in Meroe, so that everyone crossing the threshold would symbolically trample upon it.

The Kingdom of Kush or Kush was an ancient African kingdom situated on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan.

Established after the Bronze Age collapse and the disintegration of the New Kingdom of Egypt, it was centered at Napata in its early phase.

After king Kashta (“the Kushite”) invaded Egypt in the 8th century BC, the Kushite kings ruled as Pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt for a century, until they were expelled by Psamtik I in 656 B.C.

The head was recovered in 1912 by British archaeologists excavating Meroe and now sits in the British Museum in London, testament to Kushite ability to match Rome in force of arms.

To avenge this insult a force under the prefect Gaius Petronius penetrated deep into Kush, sacking Napata and taking thousands of slaves, but Kushite resistance eventually forced the Romans to retreat behind their borders and they never threatened Meroe again.

City of Industry

The pre-eminence of Meroe was largely economic. One of the economic foundations of Kush was its iron industry. It was rich in ore and manufactured iron for export as well as domestic use.

For instance, iron tools helped increase agricultural productivity, allowing Kush to develop a mixed farming economy that made full use of the tropical wet season, as well as providing weapons to its formidable armed forces.

Meroe was the center of iron smelting, supplied with water from the Nile and, crucially, a rich source of wood for charcoal production in the form of dense acacia groves. It has been described as the “Birmingham of ancient Africa,” attested to by ancient slag heaps, such as the one on which Meroe’s Lion Temple sits.

Trade in iron but also gold, domestic products such as cotton textiles, and commodities from far-flung parts of Africa was another source of wealth.

Ruins of the Merotic temple at Musawwarat es-Sufra. This temple complex, called the “Great Enclosure”, lies south of Meroe near the Sixth Cataract. It may have been a pilgrammage center or a royal palace.

A number of towns were located on the banks of the Atbara, Blue Nile and White Nile, in which lived craftsmen who met local needs and exported along the trade route that ran from Red Sea port towns in the East to beyond Lake Chad in the West. This route eventually connected to the major center of iron production in Jenne Jeno.

In the early days of Kush, trade depended on passage up the Nile to the Mediterranean and thence to the rich markets of the ancient world, but as its center shifted south, so new trade routes independent of Egypt opened up.

The north-south trade route was superseded by an east-west axis. The growth of trade routes along the Red Sea, mediated by Greek and Nabatean merchants cut out the need to travel via the Nile, while the increasing use of camels from the 2nd century B.C. opened caravan routes extending across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

Meroe became part of a lucrative trade network stretching from West Africa to India and China.

Pools and Pyramids

Meroe may have been home to up to 25,000 people. Excavations have revealed the remains of a quay by the river, several palaces and a number of temples, including both Egyptian ones (the biggest temple was to the chief Egyptian god Amun) and indigenous ones, such as the lion-headed Apedemak.

One notable find – a brick-lined pool 23 feet square and 10 feet deep with lion-headed spouts around the sides – was labelled the Royal Baths by the colonial era archaeologists, and although aspects of Meroitic Kushite culture were influenced by the Hellenistic powers to the north.

This description may reflect typical colonial chauvinistic attitudes i.e. the assumption that an African culture must have borrowed or copied European models. It is now thought that the ‘baths’ may actually have been a water shrine of some sort or even a swimming pool.

The primary cultural and religious influence on Kush was undoubtedly Egyptian. The most notable expression of this influence was in the adoption of pyramids for the royal tombs.

Ancient Kush

Although the very steep angle of Kushite pyramids was inspired by Egyptian private tombs of the New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.), rather than by the classic royal pyramids of Egypt’s Old and Middle Kingdoms (27th to 17th centuries B.C.).

When the tombs were excavated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, no mummies were found (they may not have survived or the Kushites may not have practiced mummification), but rich troves of grave goods were uncovered.

Most spectacular of all were the finds of the treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini in 1834, who destroyed many pyramids in his hunt for loot, but successfully uncovered the tomb treasures of Queen Amanishakheto, including much exquisitely crafted jewelry.

After the capital moved to Meroe, Kushite culture became increasingly African and the tomb treasures of Meroe help to illustrate this cultural evolution. According to Dr. Salah el-Din Muhammed Ahmed, director of fieldwork at the National Museum in Khartoum:

Sudan: An Exploration of Ancient Kush

From the graves and from the images painted on tombs we can see that people looked much more African than Mediterranean.

The jewelry is really of an African nature – like anklets, bracelets, ear studs and earrings – and you can still find the style of the jewelry used by the Meroites on tribes of the savannah belt south of Khartoum.

The Line of Queens

One of the most intriguing features of ancient Meroitic Kush was the importance of its queens, known via the Greeks as kandakes, which in turn was mistaken as the personal name “Candace” by some ancient writers.

The kandake shared power with a qore, or king, but he was often a purely ceremonial figure, while his consort was commander-in-chief, prime minister and chief priestess. She might even lead the armies of Kush into battle.

Candace of Meroë is a legendary queen of the Kingdom of Kush, with capital in Meroë. The legend says that she defeated Alexander the Great when he tried to conquer territories South of Egypt.

References to this warrior queen are among the earliest made to the Nubian Kentakes.

The name “Candace” is actually a form of the title “Kentake” (“Queen”), and not the actual name of a person.

According to legend, a person called “Candace of Meroë” was the queen of Nubia at the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Alexander allegedly encountered her when he invaded Nubia.

In fact, Alexander never attacked Nubia, and never attempted to move further south than the oasis of Siwa in Egypt.

One famous legend tells of how Alexander the Great led his armies to the walls of Meroe but halted and turned back when confronted by Queen Candace and her legions.

Probably the most famous kandake was Amanirenas, who ruled from c 40-c 10 B.C. and led numerous campaigns against the Romans, eventually forcing them to limit their ambitions for conquest and guaranteeing Kushite independence for another three centuries.

The End of Meroe

Exactly what happened to Meroe is unclear. Traditionally it was thought that the rising power of the kingdom of Aksum (also Axum) in Ethiopia led to the decline of Kush and that Meroe fell to the invading Akumsite king Ezana c 350 CE.

A stele erected at Meroe bears testament to his triumph. But it is now generally believed that Meroe was already largely abandoned by this time and that by then the region was mainly inhabited by the pastoral Noba tribe.

So what had happened to the glories of Meroe and its thriving population?

The rise of Aksum may well have contributed to the decline of Meroe, by cutting its access to the lucrative trade routes of the Red Sea, but historians now suspect that Meroe’s iron industry was the true culprit.

Extensive deforestation to produce the charcoal needed to fire the furnaces may have led to ecological collapse. Top soil eroded, rainfall declined and the region became arid and unproductive.

In combination with the failure of the trade routes and pressure from the Noba, this was too much for Meroitic Kush and it collapsed. Ancient Meroe stands as one of the world’s first examples of a civilization destroyed by untrammeled industrial development. 

Amanirenas

The Kushite kandake Amanirenas was a formidable queen and a courageous general. When the Romans imposed their control on the stretch of the Nile between Egypt and Kush, Amanirenas and her son led an army north to capture the territory, enslave the populace and carry off the statue of Augustus.

In defending Kush against Gaius Petronius’s punitive expedition she lost an eye, but succeeded in halting the Roman advance. Eventually the Romans were forced to sue for peace, the emperor Augustus himself meeting with her representatives.

According to legend, they presented him with a bundle of arrows and the message:

“The kandake sends you these arrows. If you want peace they are a token of her friendship and warmth. If you want war, you are going to need them.  

…the Imperial Cult.