It's the start of Passover week. In the next few days Jerusalem will more than double in size as thousands of pilgrims come to celebrate the most important festival in their religious calendar. For their Roman masters, it is the tensest time of the year. Palestine is an unruly province at the best of times, prone to insurgency and driven by an ancient religion that the Romans neither understand nor appreciate. Indeed, for most of the year the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, and his force of 3,000 legionaries base themselves by the sea in the city of Caesarea, where they can enjoy the pleasures of civilisation well away from the perils of Jerusalem's narrow streets.
But for the festivals, and particularly for Passover with its undertones of resistance to imperial power, they move back into the capital city and prepare for trouble. For the High Priest Caiaphas and his Temple priests too, Passover is not an easy time. The Temple in Jerusalem is the epicentre of the Jewish religion, and during Passover their workload will be immense – on one day alone, some 10,000 lambs will have to be ritually sacrificed in the Temple in the space of a few hours to ensure that every family has its lamb for the Passover meal.
And there is pressure on Caiaphas in other ways. As High Priest, civil unrest is also his responsibility. His Temple guards are the local police force, and it is their job to keep order amongst the civilian population. Any trouble and the Romans will swiftly move in. And everyone knows what that means.
As Pilate and his wife move rather reluctantly back into their Jerusalem apartments, and Caiaphas and his colleagues review known troublemakers and insurgents who might be on their way to the city, no-one gives much thought to a local preacher from the backwaters of Galilee, who is also making his way to Jerusalem with a gang of followers bonded by two years on the road – a tough, resourceful group whose loyalty is absolute.
Then news is brought that the Galileean is approaching the city on a donkey's colt, and will be entering Jerusalem through the East Gate – thus fulfilling two of the most powerful religious prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. The one who many believe will lead them to military victory or spiritual salvation.
On the streets a crowd is beginning to gather. And the week has only just begun... (Source: BBC Press Office)