October 22, 2006

Year-by-Year: 5 BC

Antipater tries to kill Herod, Quirinius comes to Galatia, and Caesar's adopted son Gaius becomes an adult.

At the beginning of 5 BC, Jesus Christ has been on Earth for 19 months. His cousin John is six months older, living with his parents in Judea of Israel. At the moment, it seems that God above is biding his time.

Little Jesus, the promised Messiah, is toddling around his home in Alexandria, Egypt, living with Joseph and Mary of Nazareth (in Galilee). But they won't have to live in Egypt much longer. . .

Because Herod the Great has barely a year left to live!


Speaking of Herod, King of Israel...

Last year, Herod sent his oldest son, Antipater, to Rome for the winter. But while Antipater was away, the King discovered that he'd been plotting to kill him, and take over the Kingdom!

This is the same Antipater who framed Herod's next oldest sons (in 8 BC) for the same crime. Those two sons - Alexander & Aristobulus - were actually innocent, but Herod believed the fake evidence and executed them in 7 BC.

So last year, in 6 BC, Antipater began the same plot he'd accused his brothers of doing. He had partners in his plot: his mother, (Herod's first wife, Doris) his uncle (Herod's brother Pheroras) his aunt (Pheroras' wife) and his aunt's mother and sister, too! Several members high-up in the royal family were plotting together against Herod.

First one of them got caught, then all of them got caught.

Here's how: (Take a deep breath!) Pheroras was suspected and banished, then died. His wife tried to have Herod poisoned, and it didn't work, so she tried to kill herself, and that didn't work either! Her servants told Herod she'd poisoned her husband Pheroras, and Herod tortured her until she confessed it. Herod tortured the servants, too. All together, they confessed a lot of things. (Wphew! )

So last year, before all that was over, King Herod knew Antipater was against him.

But Antipater won't find out what Herod knows. . . until it's too late!


Now, at the start of 5 BC, Antipater is in Rome. He had several good excuses for going, but his true reason was to be far away when his uncle Pheroras killed Herod!

As of January, 5 BC, Antipater has been in Rome for about 4 months, waiting to hear the good news from Pheroras! As of March or so, there's still no word, and he's getting antsy! (He doesn't know yet that his uncle Pheroras died late last year.)

Antipater just can't leave it alone. He has to mess with his own plans, long distance!

First, he sends his freedman, Bathyllus, from Rome back to Israel. Antipater gives Bathyllus a stronger poison to give to Doris and Pheroras - just in case the first one didn't work. But right after Bathyllus leaves Rome, Antipater worries that the plot could fail, totally!

So then, just in case both poisons fail, Antipater decides to take out the rest of his competition for the throne!

He wants to frame some more of his brothers!


Herod had nine wives, and lots of sons.

Antipater was the oldest, now about 40 years old) and the most capable. He had been virtually running the kingdom as co-ruler the past 2-3 years.

At this time, Herod has four other living sons. One is not a concern. This one, called "Herod-Philip", was virtually disowned last year, along with his mother. (This minor "Philip" will not appear again until 27 AD, when he has a small role to play.) That leaves three who might challenge Antipater for Herod's throne.

Antipater's three possible rivals are much younger. Their names are Archelaus (18), Antipas (16) and Philip (15).

Quick Point: Philip the rival, age 15, is not the same man as the minor son "Herod Philip". Also, keep in mind that Antipater is the oldest son, who is plotting, and Antipas is the young one, who will become important very soon.

Overall, we have five different brothers, from four different mothers, with two sets of similar names.

But don't worry! It gets easier to keep up next year, because one of the "Antip" brothers is going to die! (Can you guess which one?)

Anyway, all four of the brothers who matter - Antipater, Archelaus, Antipas and Philip - are in Rome this spring, at the same time!

The three young ones have been getting their education there for the past few years, which is now just about finished. They are scheduled to come home this summer.

So that's a quick review of Herod's living sons, as of 5 BC.


Now back to the story!

We just said that Antipater decided to cover his bets. In case his plot to kill Herod fails, he now wants to start accusing his brothers. He decides to pick on Archelaus and Philip, for starters. And as usual, he gets other to do the dirty work!

Antipater gets some of his Roman friends to write letters to Herod that say Archelaus and Philip are complaining about their father the King. The letters claim the two sons are upset about the execution of their brothers (in 7 BC).

The letters are sent to King Herod by overland messenger. Then Antipater decides to write his own letter. In it, he tells his father worse things about Archelaus and Philip, but (to be convincing) he "blames" their youth, and asks Herod to forgive them! (Antipater wants to look gracious, while making Herod believe it even more.

Antipater sends a messenger overland with this final letter, and waits another month or so in Rome until the start of sailing season.


There's one more thing from Rome, this year, that affects Israel.

Syllaeus the Nabatean was dead!

That should be good news - but it's not, totally.

We reviewed, last year, how Antipater (in Rome) helped oversee the execution of Syllaeus, who had caused lots of problems for Herod. So it was good news for the King of Israel, that Syllaeus was dead.

But Syllaeus had caused even more problems for Aretas IV, the new King of Nabatea (since 8 BC). As a young king (mid-20's) still building up his authority, Aretas is positively thrilled to be rid of Syllaeus, who'd killed many of the best men in Nabatea, and who'd tried to take the throne since 9 BC.

So the reason this is bad news for Israel, is because it's such good news for Aretas! This young king - who will prove to be Nabatea's greatest king ever - begins to concentrate his energy on improving his kingdom - which includes building up its capital city of Petra (__ miles from the Red Sea) and strengthening his army.(That army is going to see some action next year, when Herod dies.)

But the main reason a strong Aretas is bad news for Israel is because Aretas hated Herod!

Aretas was a young boy when Herod "cheated" Nabatea out of the region called Trachonitis. (See 27-10 BC.) That land was strategic for Herod, but most of the people in it were Nabatean! Aretas still remembered what his people all said, and how they all felt, when that happened.

Actually, Trachonitis was the focusing point for a lot of built up Nabatean hatred against Israel. The two kingdoms had been enemies since a long time ago. But Trachonitis made it worse.

Soon, and again through the decades, Aretas is going to prove that he has a long memory!

A very long memory!

Do not forget the name: Aretas, King of Nabatea.


Now, back to the plot to kill Herod!

In Israel, Herod gets the lettersa about Archelaus and Philip. These letters are going to make Herod change his will!

Herod leans toward believing the first batch of letters, because they were sent by Romans of decent reputations who seemed to have no reason for lying about Herod's young sons. But the letter from Antipater himself is what convinced him.

Since Herod knows that Antipater is against him, the part where he asks for his brothers' forgiveness seems suspicious.

Herod begins to believe he should not trust Archelaus or Philip, and he begins to believe that Antipas is the only one still loyal to him.

Meanwhile, the new poison arrives with Bathyllus.

Bathyllus tries to get the poison to Antipater's mother, Doris. But Bathyllus gets caught! Herod puts his torturers to work on Bathyllus, who admits everything - giving Herod even more evidence against Antipater!

Gee! So far, it's been a very busy spring!


Some time in May, Antipater sails from Tarentum, Italy, heading for Syria.

Before he leaves, someone in Tarentum - somehow - gives him the news that his uncle Pheroras is dead.

And Antipater wonders if Pheroras had time to poison Herod.


At that same time, Herod - unpoisoned, of course - is writing a letter of his own!

Herod writes to Antipater, trying to convince him that all is normal. Herod tells him to hurry back because the Kingdom needs him. He said he was upset with Doris, but promised to fix it when Antipater arrived. And Herod made sure to tell Antipater how much he cared about him. All of this, of course, was just to get the traitor to come home

In fact, it works beautifully!


Antipater's ship stops in Cilicia, east of Syria. Somehow, Herod's messenger finds him there, and delivers Herod's letter.

Antipater realizes that Herod is very much alive - which worries him even more, since he knows that Pheroras is dead. So Antipater decides to stay there awhile in the town of Celendris, considering what to do next.

Some of his friends (who were travelling with him) said he should wait longer for more news. But Antipater made the decision that showing up right away would end any rumors about him.

He still thought the accusations against him were only rumors, and unproven!

Herod had done a good job of keeping Antipater in the dark.


Meanwhile, Herod has sent another messenger to Antioch in Syria, to the Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus.

Herod's messenger explains the situation, and urges Varus to come down to Jerusalem and advise Herod there.

Varus sets out for Jerusalem around midsummer.


Also about midsummer, Antipater and his friends landed at the seaport of Sebastus (which Herod had built years before in honor of Augustus Caesar). (Sebaste is the Greek word for "Augustus".)

As soon as they got off the boat, Antipater began to realize he was in trouble. Everyone recognized him, but no one saluted him. In fact, some hurled curses at him - which they should have been afraid to do, in normal times.

Antipater figured something was wrong, but he still thought his best hope was to show confidence and pretend innocence.

So they went on to Jerusalem.


In Jerusalem, Antipater goes straight to Herod's palace.

He actually showed up wearing purple! The door men kept his friends outside, but brought Antipater into the throne room where he saw Herod sitting with the Governor Varus. Antipater saluted Herod, who didn't salute back.

Right away, Herod called his son the murderer of Alexander & Aristobulus, and he said Varus was there to be his judge at a trial - tomorrow!

Antipater was very confused - and taken to a room where his wife and mother found him, and explained everything.

So he got ready for his trial.


The next day, Varus and Herod sat together as co-judges.

Witnesses came in. Evidence was given. And Antipater began to beg for a chance to defend himself! But when he said that, Herod put him in the middle of the room, and began his own speech.

Herod made a long, emotional speech about what a tragedy this was, what a great son Antipater had been, and what a great successor, too. Herod also said he wasn't sure whether Alexander & Aristobulus were guilty or innocent - but he said Antipater had either followed their bad example or framed them unjustly. Herod said that - either way - Antipater had now made them innocent, by attempting the crime they were killed for.

Then Herod cried.

The merciless, ruthless, 68 year old conqueror, who had ordered hundreds of babies killed to keep his throne safe - that Herod the Great broke down in tears, fell on the floor and couldn't speak anymore.

So Herod's friend and cheif advisor, Nicolas of Damascus, stood up for Herod, then. He reviewed the evidence and the charges against Antipater.

Next, Antipater himself made an impressive defense of himself, that almost fooled everyone, including Herod. (The details of which we will skip, because it was all baloney, anyway!)

When he finished, Nicolas stood up again, and argued the facts, from the evidence. Nicolas proved so firmly to everyone that Antipater was guilty that no one else had anything to say.

So the Governor Varus, having listened to everything, asked Antipater if he had anything to say that could actually save him.

Antipater fell on his face, crying out to God and all men for help - still swearing his innocence, but praying for some miracle to prove it. (This went on for some time!)

Varus could see that Antipater had nothing worthwhile to say, so he got up and walked out.

And with that, the trial was over.


The next day, Varus met with Herod for a while. Then he went back to Antioch.

That same day, Herod put Antipater in chains. Then he sent letters and messengers to Caesar, about Antipater.

Herod had to get Caesar's permission to kill his heir.

Herod also needed Caesar's blessing on his new will.


The main purpose of the will was to name an heir.

Now, Herod had already changed his will at least four times before now! Augustus Caesar had given Herod the right to name his own heir, but that was before their personal trouble (in 9 & 8 BC) and the census (in 7 BC) which Caesar knew Herod resented.

Herod knew he'd better run things past Augustus, to be safe. But the real problem wasn't Caesar - it was who to choose!

Herod never did find out for sure whether or not Antipater had framed Alexander & Aristobulus. (He was pretty sure - he just couldn't prove it.) And he still believed that Archelaus and Philip were against him - though he was starting to doubt it was true. He simply wasn't sure who to trust!

The only son with nothing against him was young Antipas.

Herod was growing deathly ill, and needed a new will as soon as possible, to keep Antipater from ruling (if Herod died suddenly). So Herod had to name a new successor right away. So he chose Antipas.

Herod sent the new will to Caesar for approval, while he kept on trying to find out whether Archelaus & Philip were truly guilty or innocent.

And while he kept on getting sicker and sicker.

By the end of 5 BC, Herod has less than four months to live.


Now, what else was happening around the Empire, this year?


This year, around July 1st, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius arrived in Galatia as the new Governor there. Quirinius takes command of two legions (V and VII) from the old Governor, Cornutus Arruntius Aquila.

Quirinius is here with a specific purpose - to fight a war against the Homanadensian tribes in the Western Taurus Mountains (between Pisidia and Lycaonia).

(For more background on these parts of the Galatian Province, see last year again.)

Like a good Roman General, Quirinius will spend his first six to nine months in the province planning for the war. He begins getting to know the legions and their commanders. He spends a lot of time getting their input and advice, and learning all about his new province.

Quirinius doesn't just leap into action. He plans and prepares!

The Homanadensian War... begins next year!


Meanwhile, less than 200 nautical miles east from the coastline of Southern Galatia (which was called Pamphylia), the Emperor's step-son Tiberius is still living alone on the island of Rhoads.

Last year, the Roman Senate gave him Tribunican Power for a mission to the east. Tiberius left with his staff, but didn't go to Syria. (So Varus went instead, and took Saturninus' place - in the middle of last year!)

With incredible authority and a large Roman staff, Tiberius does very little! He has a town house and a country villa. He spends time walking alone - without bodyguards - in some parts of the main city (also called Rhoads). And he meets an astrologer named Thrysallus, whom he hires as his personal fortune teller.

Tiberius' main motivation for leaving Rome was to get out of the way for (or from) Caesar's grandsons (his own step-sons, Caesar's adopted sons - oh heck, see 7 BC again!) Simply put, the boys out placed Tiberius in Augustus' eyes. So he left. He's going to be on Rhoads for six more years.

Mainly, Tiberius lives a simple, decent, quiet life on Rhoads. But he keeps an ear out for news about Rome.

Naturally, Tiberius listens hardest for news about his three step-sons.


In Rome this year, one of those step-sons turns 15.

According to Roman culture, young Gaius Caesar (Augustus' grandson, Marcus Agrippa's oldest) has become a man! So this year, by custom, Augustus himself presents Gaius with the Toga Virilis of manhood. (Gaius is also Caesar's adopted son.)

This same year, the Senate also voted that Gaius should be consul of Rome in five more years. (He just got appointed consul for 1 AD, five years early!)

Caesar gives Gaius other honors and tasks to perform. The Emperor is actively grooming Gaius to be the next Caesar of Rome!

Slowly but surely, Augustus' oldest grandson, adopted son and heir, is making his way up the ladder.


By the way, what did Caesar tell Herod, about Antipater?

It was around August when the Emperor finally heard about Herod's new mess. And then a short while after that, he heard more about it! And then later, still more! Herod kept sending new letters... and new messengers... and then a new will, for Caesar's approval. (See above.)

So Caesar kept hearing, and kept waiting to hear more.

In time, Caesar read all the letters and heard all the messengers. (It took a few months!) At one point, while Caesar was thinking about what to do, he said something about it that became famous.

Caesar told someone: "I'd rather be Herod's pig than his son!"

But another famous saying of Augustus - one of his own favorites - was, "Make haste slowly!" So he kept on thinking. Caesar decided he would probably let Herod do whatever he wanted... but he kept considering things, on into the winter.

(And, of course, he was busy running the rest of the empire, too!)

The point is - Caesar sent no decision back to Herod before the end of 5 BC!

And Antipater stayed locked up, but alive, in Herod's palace.



At the very end of this year, Herod's oldest son is in chains, Caesar's adopted son is in line to rule the world, and God's own Son is in the Jewish ghetto of Alexandria!

As promised, Jesus, Mary and Joseph won't have to live in Egypt much longer, because Herod the Great finally dies, early next year!

And that's very good news...

But it's going to make a very big mess!

October 15, 2006

Year-by-Year: 6 BC

Joseph and Mary settle in Egypt, Tiberius runs away from Rome, and Herod's family troubles go from bad to worse!

In January, Joseph and Mary are still travelling south, on the road to Egypt. They fled Bethlehem last year, in early December, to save the baby Jesus from King Herod the Great.

Here's one last thing we didn't have space for in 7 BC (but it fits here quite well):

The main road south from Judea into Egypt goes just through the city of Gaza, on the coast. It was the first major town outside of Judea where Mary and Joseph could rest. It also happened to be the number one place in the whole Roman Empire for selling incense!

Joseph and Mary rest for a night and a day. They feel safe for the moment, because Gaza is mostly an Arab city, sitting at the start of the road to Nabatea and Southern Arabia. They fall asleep not knowing that ships from all over the Roman world come to Gaza's port to buy Arabian incense... but they find out in the morning, when they go to the market for food!

Since there were many buyers to choose from, Joseph sells their frankincense for a good price. The money from the sale gives them enough to keep going.

They had plenty of reasons to keep going. First of all, God told Joseph to go into Egypt. But even if they'd wanted to stay, Gaza was a Greek town, and the large Arab population wasn't very friendly to Jews. On top of all that, Gaza was actually still part of Herod's kingdom!

So Joseph and Mary kept heading south.

Now, that all happened in mid-December of 7 BC. (A very busy year!)

And now it's January of 6 BC!

Throughout January, Joseph and Mary kept walking towards Egypt, like God told Joseph in his dream.

Joseph and Mary both knew that Alexandria, Egypt, had a lot of Jewish people there. They also knew there were few Arabs in Egypt. The city was mostly Romans and Greeks, with some light-skinned Africans. Also, the strong Jewish community of Alexandria was over 200 years old. It was naturally the best place to go.

Bethlehem to Alexandria is a 350 mile trip, which takes them at least 18 days on foot.

Sometime in February, Joseph and Mary finally arrive in Alexandria and find out that as much as a fifth of the city was Jewish! Joseph easily finds a synagogue and some honest men he can trust to help him sell the rest of their treasure.

They money Joseph makes from selling the gold and myrrh lets them buy a house, in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria, and Joseph starts finding carpentry work where he can, to buy them food.

Mary has a nine month old in a new house in a strange city. She makes a few connections with some women from the synagogue they attend.

Mary and Joseph live this way, in Alexandria, for the rest of the year.

(They are going to stay in Egypt for almost three years, total.)


Back in Israel, in 6 BC, Herod manages to avoid criticism for the massacre of Bethlehem, simply because everyone is too afraid to cross him by saying anything about it.

Herod instructs his chief adviser and official historian, Nicholas of Damascus, not to make any record of the visit from the Magi, or of the events in Bethlehem.

(Later, Nicolas will write about the death of Alexander and Aristobulus (Herod's two sons) after they find out that Antipater (Herod's oldest) was to blame. But at this time, they don't know that yet. But Nicolas never writes about the Bethlehem massacre.)

(Roughly eighty years from now, a Jewish rookie-historian named Josephus is going to use Nicholas' official history of Herod's rule to write his own account of the Jewish people and their wars. And basically, whatever Nicolas didn't write, Josephus will not write. And that includes Bethlehem.)

Meanwhile, Herod continues to pleasure himself in whatever ways he desires. He is growing very, very old by this time, and has begun to come down with some serious diseases.

Later this year, he'll find out that he shouldn't have killed his two sons. But right now, he's just busy taking care of their families.


At the start of 6 BC, Herod still believed that Alexander and Aristobulus were guilty of treason and deserved to die. He was glad that he'd executed them (last year).

Aristobulus left behind one very young son, and King Herod wanted to make sure the little boy was raised properly. So, before summer, the King sent his three-year old, royal grandson to live in Rome.

The boy's name wasJulius Marcus Agrippa. (He was named after Caesar's old friend, Vipsanius Marcus Agrippa, who was also King Herod's close friend.)

(This little prince is going to become King of Israel someday, for a few years, and he's going to kill one of Jesus' apostles! In those years, he'll be known as "Herod Agrippa". But at this time, he's barely pot(ty)-trained!)

Anyway, it was in this year, 6 BC, that King Herod sent his grandson to Rome with a large grant of money, to provide for his care and his education. The woman who agreed to take him in and raise him was Antonia - daughter of Marc Antony, widow of Drusus (who died in 9 BC) and mother of Germanicus (now age 10), Livilla (now 7) and Claudius (now 4).

They all lived in the palace, and the Royal Family began to call Agrippa, "Little Herod".

For many years to come, the future King of Israel (Herod Agrippa) and a future Emperor of Rome (Claudius) are going to be childhood buddies, growing up in the palace of Augustus!


So, what was happening in Rome, at the start of 6 BC?

The Roman Senate granted Tiberius "tribunican power" (which was basically a level of authority second only to Augustus), but for a specific purpose. The Senate wanted Tiberius to go into the East for five years to restore Rome's control over the "client-kingdom" of Armenia. The Senate also granted Tiberius "imperium" over the East, making him the temporary equal of Augustus, during his trip.

It was a great way to meet a pressing need, and an honor for Tiberius.

But Tiberius didn't want the honor.

Remember, Tiberius was Augustus' step-son. His mother, Livia (Augustus' wife) had recently forced Tiberius to divorce his own beloved wife Vipsania in order to marry Augustus' daughter, Julia. Tiberius had done so, for the good of Rome. But he hated his new wife, Julia... for many reasons.

Julia had already been married to that great Roman General, Marcus Agrippa (just mentioned, above; Agrippa was Augustus' closest friend and ally until he died in 12 BC). And Julia had three sons by Agrippa, named Gaius, Lucius & Postumus.

These boys were now Tiberius' step-sons, but they were Augustus' grandsons, first! Augustus acted like their father, and he favored them over Tiberius. Poor Tiberius (!) had divorced his true love, lost his brother Drusus, and now his own step-sons were beating him out with his step-father, the Emperor!

At the very start of this year, 6 BC, the Senate had just tried to make the older boy, Gaius, a consul of Rome - to please Augustus - even though the boy was only 14. And while the Senate was making the boy more admired in Rome, they were trying to get Tiberius to go away for several years... to fight a long war... in the East!

Hmm, let's see... How will the jealous step-father, Tiberius, respond?

For whatever reason/s, Tiberius refused the Senate's offer, but decided to leave Rome anyway, on his own terms!

That summer, Tiberius left his mother, his Emperor, his legions and his whole city behind him. He left all alone, too, and began living as a retired citizen, on the Greek Island of Rhoads (near Asia Minor)!

Tiberius is going to live in the East, on Rhoads, for seven years.

Grave things are going to have to happen, to bring him back.


By the way, here's what Tiberius missed out on, by not going to Armenia!

At this time, the Parthian Empire was Rome's strongest enemy (besides Germany). One of the things Rome and Parthia struggled over - constantly - was Armenia (east of Galatia & Cappadocia, and north-east of Syria).

In this year, the Parthians set up a King who would be loyal to Parthia, a man named Tigranes IV. Next, Tigranes IV was appointed to marry his sister and rule with her, a woman named Erato. (It wasn't the creepy, icky marriage the Romans had a problem with. It was the strong Parthian control over Armenia!)

So that was the situation Tiberius was asked to go deal with. But of course he didn't go, and - at least in this year - no one else did either!

Therefore, this Parthian loyalist, Tigranes IV is going to stay in power in Armenia until 1 AD. And the Roman who finally goes and defeats Tigranes will be one of Augustus' grandsons. (Tiberius' step-son, Gaius.) And it's going to be a very big event...

But that's about six years away!


Augustus did make one small move in the East, when Tiberius wouldn't go.

The Emperor had wanted Tiberius to attack Armenia. But without Tiberius, Caesar's plans shifted from offense to defense.

Augustus sent orders for his 12th Legion to move to Syria.

So Legio XII Fulminata (Thunderbolt Carriers) marched over 700 miles from Alexandria to Antioch, and began guarding Syria.


Let's go back to Israel again.

In the spring of 6 BC, Herod's oldest son, Antipater, is basically running the country together with his dad. His wealth and power are increasing like never before. And it's all due to the fact that he framed his two younger brothers for treason, and had them executed... which is starting to worry him.

There are rumors going around, about their deaths, and who caused it.

Antipater feels like he needs to get out of the country for a while. So he writes to friends in Rome (he lived there, for a while) and says, "Send for me." (A messenger carries the letter directly to Rome.)

A couple of months later, a letter arrives for King Herod, asking the King to send Antipater to visit Rome. So Herod agrees to send Antipater for the winter. (It was always a good idea to keep up good relations with Rome!)

Besides, Herod had another reason for sending Antipater to Rome.


Syllaeus the Nabatean had to be punished!

Remember, Syllaeus went to Rome in 9 BC to accuse Herod, but he wound up getting himself into trouble with Caesar, instead! So then, in the summer of 8 BC, the Emperor sent Syllaeus back to Arabia to make up for his crimes.

In the past two years, Syllaeus has not done what Augustus told him to! As a matter of fact, he was worse than before! He actually murdered several important men of Nabatea and plotted to take the throne of King Aretas there. This year, in Israel, Syllaeus bribed one of Herod's own bodyguards to kill him!

Herod discovered the plot and tortured the bodyguard (whose name was Corinthus). When he found out about the bribe from Syllaeus, he contacted King Aretas, who captured Syllaeus and sent him to Herod.

Now Herod had two people to send to Rome together - his son Antipater and his enemy Syllaeus!

Herod sent some men with Antipater to guard Syllaeus, and their first stop was Antioch.

It is now June of 6 BC. The Governor of Syria, who is still Sentius Saturninus, had closed the books on his census of Israel and was waiting for his replacement from Rome. (New Governors usually arrived in their Provinces around July 1st.)

Saturninus heard the evidence from Herod and Aretas. Then he sent Syllaeus to Rome under Antipater's guards.

It was nearly the last official act Saturninus made in Syria.


Around July 1st, a new Governor came from Rome to Antioch. After a brief turn-over of power, Saturninus sailed back to Italy.

The new Governor's name is Publius Quinctilius Varus.

Varus doesn't do much this year, but we'll see him again, very soon...


Meanwhile, Antipater was about to arrive in Rome any day.

He's going to be gone for a little over seven months - which he doesn't know are going to be the final happy months of his life.

On the journey to Rome, Antipater is thinking about his reasons for going. He's hoping the rumors about him will die down in Israel. He's hoping to build up his Roman connections and make his own claim to Herod's throne even stronger.

He's also thinking about his Uncle Pheroras, who had promised to kill Herod while Antipater was away!


Pheroras was Herod's brother. Now, Pheroras, his wife, her mother, and her sister - all four of them - hated Herod and wanted to kill him. So did Antipater, and so did Antipater's mother Doris, one of Herod's nine wives! In public, these people all acted like they hated one another - to throw off suspicion - but they were meeting and plotting together in secret.

Herod found out about Pheroras and the women, but didn't suspect Antipater. He told Antipater and Doris not to see Pheroras or the other women. (Herod thought Antipater would be okay, if he was safe from the influence of his uncle!)

But while Herod was deciding what to do with Pheroras and his wife, Antipater had one last secret meeting with his old uncle. In that meeting, Pheroras promised Antipater he would kill Herod while Antipater was away. Right after that meeting, Antipater left for Antioch & Rome.

A short time later, the King banished his own brother, Pheroras, who died soon after!

Too bad for Antipater that he was on the boat, and didn't know what happened!


In Rome, when Augustus heard the evidence about Syllaeus, he had him beheaded.

Actually, some soldiers took Syllaeus up to a high point somewhere and threw him off, head-first! When he landed, it smashed his head so totally, they said he'd been beheaded. (This explains the two accounts of his death.)

Here's two points to remember, about Syllaeus' life:

Point One: It might be said that Syllaeus the Nabatean died without ever knowing his purpose in life! That is: Syllaeus went to Rome in 9 BC and made Augustus so angry at Herod that he started the first-ever census in Israel... which is how the Lord Almighty got Mary to Bethlehem, so the Messiah could be born there!

Now that is a meaningful coincidence!

Point Two: Syllaeus died about the same time as Pheroras.

Which is merely a segue (!) . . .


Soooo, anyway . . .

In late Autumn, some time after Pheroras died, two of his freedmen (ex-slaves) went to Herod about the death. They claimed Pheroras was poisoned by his wife!

Herod wanted to know more! So he tortured the two freedmen (and some of Pheroras' wife's slaves) until he got the whole story. (We're skipping a bunch of non-essential details, here! And yes, you're welcome! Let's just say Herod tortured a lot, and he found out a lot!)

This is how Herod found out that Antipater was plotting to kill him.

By now it was nearly winter, and Herod began to plan what he would do, when Antipater came home in the spring.

There's gonna be a nasty homecoming, next year!


That's all for this year, about Joseph & Mary, about Herod, and about Rome.

But there's one more big event, elsewhere in the Empire.


In the middle of 6 BC, there was big news from Galatia - which is another Roman Province, east of Syria. This year, the Roman Legions of Galatia finished building a major Road, called the Via Sebaste!

Golly, Gee, a road?

Yes, but wait! It's a military Road, through a wild, dangerous region, with a very dramatic story!

Here's a little background:

Thirty years before 'now', in 36 BC, Marc Antony gave King Amyntas of Galatia some extra lands to rule - Pisidia and Lycaonia were added to Amyntas' Kingdom. Nine years after that, in 25 BC, Amyntas died while fighting the wild people of the mountains down there. That tribe of people was called the 'Homanadensians' (Homa-nad-en-sians).

In that very year (25), Augustus Caesar claimed the Kingdom of Galatia (including its new southern lands) and called it the Province of Galatia. And then the Romans went to work there!

Now, it's fascinating to see what Romans do with a brand new province! First of all, they usually like to send in an army or two! In Galatia, Legion Five and Legion Seven were sent in right away. (Legion Five was made of Gauls, so they were almost at home there in Gaul-latian lands!) (See note.)

The next thing Romans often do is send a bunch of older soldiers to live there and help keep order. So in 25 BC, thousands of veteran troops were given land for their retirement nearby six cities in the new province. (The land had previously belonged to King Amyntas.) Some soldiers settled into old cities and some actually built new towns. Either way, the cities they moved to were called Colonies of Augustus!

There were six colonies of 25 BC. One old city that got re-founded was called Antioch-near-Pisidia. One of the brand new cities was called Lystra in Lycaonia. (We will visit these cities again, in 47 AD!)

Finally, in a new Province, the Romans really like to build a Road! And usually, the Road becomes their boundary!

Augustus knew the same tribes who fought and killed Amyntas were going to be trouble for Rome as well. So he set out a long-term strategy, from the beginning. Legions Five and Seven (about 11,000 men altogether) worked on building the cities and the Road. They also made their presence known in the province at large. The Road laid out the boundary, and the Colonies were laid out on that Road.

But here's the trick! The dangerous Homanadensian tribes were surrounded by that Road! It actually circled around the mountains of Pisidia where they lived. Another hostile tribe, called the Isaurians, were also trapped inside the horse-shoe shaped Road!

Such clever, hard-working, patient, devious Romans!

It was only a matter of time, now... about 19 years, actually...

Which brings us back to 6 BC.

In this year - 6 BC - the Governor of Galatia and his two legions finally finished the Road! (They named it the Via Sebaste in honor of Caesar, because the Greek word for "Augustus" was "Sebaste"; both words mean "honored" or "reverend".)

Now the army could use the road for moving men and supplies quickly, before and after a battle.

So now it was time to prepare for a war!

And the Romans take their time when they prepare...

This year's Governor - a man named Cornutus Arruntius Aquila - needs this whole year to finish his task. His troops had finished the Road, put his name on the mile stones, and earned themselves a well-deserved rest!

It is the next Governor of Galatia who will be coming to begin the war.

You know, sometimes you gotta do things one at a time!


By the way, that next Governor, next year in Galatia - the guy who's coming to start the war? He's a man with a famous name.

He was consul in 12 BC, and he won't become really famous for another ten years (until 6 AD), but lots of readers are going to recognize his name, right now.

Next year's Governor of Galatia is going to be Publius Sulpicius Quirinius.

And Quirinius is going to become very important...

Very soon!

Next Chapter: "5 BC"

October 9, 2006

Year-by-Year: 7 BC

Both Herod and Caesar have heir issues. In May, Joseph and Mary register for the Census in Bethlehem, where Jesus is born! And in December, "star scholars" visit from Babylon.

At the start of 7 BC, Mary and Joseph are newlyweds living in Nazareth of Galilee. Mary is four and a half months pregnant, but still a virgin. Joseph, who is naturally about ten or so years older than Mary, has a small carpentry business.

Early in the year, some visitors come into Nazareth.

Sentius Saturninus, governor of Syria, has sent his ambassadors out again with a new message for all the cities and rulers of Israel - the governor has decided how they are going to run the census.

The ambassadors explain that since this is the first census ever taken in Israel, the governor Saturninus wants to make absolutely sure that every man is counted. He does not want to find men skipping from town to town, staying three steps ahead of the census teams. Furthermore, Saturninus has learned how strongly the clanish Jews hold onto their family and heritage. Therefore, he feels, the best solution is to have every man return - at a set time - to the city of his fathers' family. The governor feels sure the old men in each city will know who is missing, if anyone tries to avoid them!

The ambassadors explain that this plan will require a very firm schedule. Each city in Israel has a set of dates for its registration, when it must prepare to host many visitors. And each man in Israel has a set of dates when he must travel to his ancestral home, to be registered. The census is set to begin at the start of spring, in March.

The ambassadors leave Nazareth and continue on through other cities of Galilee. (Many other messengers have been sent out at the same time, to Samaria, Judea, and Herod's other territories.)

The elders of Nazareth call a town meeting and explain the details to everyone. Every man in Nazareth (not descended from the Nazarenes) learns his travel dates. Joseph's family home is in Bethlehem (just south of Jerusalem). Joseph learns that the census in Bethlehem is set to begin in late May.

Mary talks to her midwife about her due date. The midwife says Mary is probably going to give birth in late May (late Iyyar).

It is still January. Mary has some time to decide what to do.

Meanwhile, the city of Nazareth begins planning to host a census team and the many visitors who may come to be registered, later in the year. The town scribe consults the records of the synagogue to make a list of all the families expected.


In Rome, on January 1st, Tiberius and Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso are consuls. (Tiberius, the step-son of Augustus Caesar, was already consul once before, in 13 BC.)

In the beginning of the year, Tiberius held feasts, dedicated buildings and celebrated a parade in his own honor for his actions in Germany (last year).

Soon after, Tiberius had to leave for Germany again because of some minor problems there. Augustus was returning from Germany at the same time, and Piso held a festival in honor of his return.

A few months into the year, Augustus held gladiator fights in honor of his old friend, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa - that is - to mark the fifth anniversary of Agrippa's death. Everyone who attended (except Augustus) was required to wear black, even Agrippa's sons.

This is a good place to mention Agrippa, briefly, because his sons are going to be very important, very soon.

Here is some background on Agrippa and his sons.

For over three decades after the death of Julius Caesar, Marcus Agrippa had been a great general and Augustus' own right hand man. Agrippa married Augustus' daughter, Julia - even though he was about her father's age - and Julia gave Agrippa three sons. They are called Gaius, Lucius and Postumus. Through Julia, these boys are Augustus' own grandsons.

In 17 BC, while Agrippa was still alive, Augustus legally adopted Gaius and Lucius (the younger was then a newborn). This made both boys his legal heirs and successors.

In 12 BC, Agrippa died. A year later, Augustus and his wife Livia arranged that Julia should get remarried - to Tiberius! (Tiberius was ordered to divorce his beloved wife Vipsania so he could marry Julia. He obeyed, for the good of Rome, but hated his mother Livia for making him do it.)

Now, just try to keep these family-ties straight! Tiberius is Livia's son and Augustus' step-son. Julia is Augustus' daughter by his first wife, Scribonia. And Julia's three sons by Agrippa are both Augustus' grandsons and his adpoted sons!

So that means that . . . Tiberius married his step-sister! He and his wife have the same father! And legally, the sons of Agrippa are brothers, sons and nephews (all three) of Tiberius!

But it's not really that funny. Tiberius' step-sons outrank him, both in line for the throne, and in Augustus' eyes, personally. Tiberius knows (and so does his mother) that Gaius, Lucius and Postumus would all have to die, before Tiberius could ever become Emperor! (Cue dramatic fore-shadowing music!)

But for now, in 7 BC, Agrippa's three boys are still very young. Gaius is 13, Lucius is 10, and little Postumus (born the year his father died) is only five years old.

Tiberius, who is now 35, can see how all three of them are growing more and more into Caesar's favor as they get closer to manhood. Everyone in Rome knows that the boys are very close to their grandfather, and not very close to their step-father.

This is going to begin causing problems, as soon as next year.


One other thing, while we're in Rome.

This is the year Rome was famously re-organized into fourteen districts. It's worth listing them, just because they have interesting names! (And we will hear about some of them later.)

The 14 districts are called: (1) Capena Gate, (2) Coelian Hills, (3) Isis & Serapis (two famous temples to the Egyptian gods were there), (4) Temple of Peace, (5) Built-up Area, (6) High Semitic district, (7) Via Lata ('Via' means a great road), (8) Great Roman Forum, (9) Flaminius' Circus (a "circus" was a chariot stadium), (10) Palace, (11) Great Circus, (12) Public Pool, (13) Aventine Hill, and (14) Beyond Tiber (the west side, across the Tiber River).


Let's come back to Mary.

It is April in Galilee.

Passover comes late this year, because of the Jewish leap year. As always, Joseph attends the festival in Jerusalem (which most men are required to attend) but this year, Mary stays home because of her condition.

All over Israel, Saturninus has put the entire census on vacation for two weeks, because of the Passover. (Proving he had done his research well!) One group of cities finished their census in the month before Passover, and the schedule is set to resume with another group of cities, after Passover.

Returning from Passover in Jerusalem the 4th week of April, Joseph finds Mary's belly is getting really big! They are a month away from their time for going to Bethlehem. And Mary is about a month away from delivering her baby.

In late May, it is time for Joseph to go to Bethlehem. (Bethlehem is in the third group of cities being registered.) Mary is not required to go with Joseph, but they decide to travel together, anyway.

As they leave Nazareth, Mary is just about 39 weeks pregnant!


Bethlehem is almost 100 miles from Nazareth - at least a 5 day walk! Mary rides a donkey and Joseph walks by their side.

They pass by the west-side walls of Jerusalem about six miles before coming to Bethlehem.

Now, it's the last week of May, and Bethlehem is full of people coming in for the census. Every man in Israel whose forefathers came from Bethlehem is staying in the city, and so are the Roman officials from Syria. Every day, the Jewish men wait in line to be called and counted. Every night, the inns are overflowing with visitors. There is no room to spare, anywhere.

Joseph and Mary have just walked in to town. It is Tuesday, May 26th. Evening is approaching. Somehow, Joseph finds a man who lets him use a spare stall in his stable to sleep in. As they settle in, finding places in the straw, Mary goes into labor.

Mary labors late into the night. Finally, in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, May 27, Mary gives birth to a pefectly healthy baby boy!

Jesus Christ is born on the Earth!


At this moment, the Word
Who was in the beginning with God
Came into the world He'd created
And became part of all that He'd made

His human body, conceived by the spirit
Was born of a woman, and born of God
He was born of God's blood, God's desire
And born without sin, by God's own seed

Inside this little life
Was God's own Life and Spirit
To Heaven's eyes, He shined
With the Light of Mankind!

His Glory broke into the darkness
A Light to enlighten the world

That night, the world did not see Him
The world did not know the Glory of the one and only Son

Someone had to come see Him!

The Father desired the Glory of His Son... to be seen!


The moment He came, several thousand angels were nearby.

One of the angels flew to a nearby field where he saw some shepherds, awake, watching their sheep. The angel landed, became visible, and spoke to the shepherds. (As usual, the humans were terrified!)

The angel told the men not to fear. Then he told them the good news - that their Savior had just been born, there in Bethlehem. The angel didn't even ask the shepherds if they wanted to go see! He just told them where to go, and how to find the baby boy.

At first, the men didn't know how to react. But the angels knew what they wanted to do! Suddenly, the shepherds looked at several thousand angels, surrounding them, singing and shouting and praising the Lord! After shouting His praises, the angels rose high into the skies above the fields and turned invisible again.

And now the men knew what they wanted to do!

The shepherds ran to the city. They found Mary, Joseph and the baby in their stable. (Jesus was lying in a feed-stand, called a manger.)

The shepherds stood there a while, and just looked at God's Son.


A couple of hours later, it was dawn.

That day, the shepherds told everyone they knew in Bethlehem what the angels said about the baby. Everyone they told was amazed! But no one could find them, because the stable was empty.

After dawn, Joseph had moved his small family to another place. (Joseph knew his job was to keep these two safe! He was a good man for the job, and he took it seriously.)

So nobody else in Bethlehem saw Jesus, or knew which baby in town was the one the shepherds had spoken of. (This simple fact is going to help save their lives, in a few months!)


One more thing, about the birth:

At the moment Jesus was born in Israel, it was two hours from sunrise. At the same moment, hundreds of miles away in Babylon, the sky was glowing with the soft light of before-dawn.

There in Babylon, some astrologers were standing on a rooftop, looking westward into the darkness. During those first rays of pre-dawn, they saw something that looked like a new star!

They knew it was just Jupiter and Saturn crossing paths, but it was happening inside the constellation Pisces! (Now, by itself, maybe this meant nothing - but they thought it was really something special!)

The Babylonians thought Pisces was a sign of the west, including Israel. Jupiter was a sign of good luck (and royalty). And Saturn was a sign of Chronus, the father of all gods (in Greek Mythology). Pagans figured that if Jews only worshiped one god, it must be Chronus/Saturn!

Right or wrong, this is just what the star gazers were thinking, as they looked up that morning. All put together, to them, it meant that a great King had been just born in Israel. (See note.)

The star-scholars (some called them magicians) were also very wise men. They were part of the famous Sippar School of Astrology. So they studied their star-charts and all the scrolls to learn more about this rare event. (As scholars, of course, they had to triple-check their conclusions!)

This "new star" (the rare crossing of Jupiter and Saturn) took first place in their studies for several months. Some time during the summer, they calculated that it was going to happen two more times this same year! This made the rare event even more remarkable!

They began to talk more and more about what they thought it all meant.


Now, Jesus was born on a Wednesday, before dawn. It was May 27th. (In the Hebrew calendar, it was Iyyar 28th.)

Jewish law said a newborn baby boy had to be circumcised on the eighth day. That is, exactly one week after his birth. So, on Wednesday, June 3rd (Sivan 6th), Joseph found a rabbi and a mohel to circumcise Jesus. (A 'mohel' is a hebrew trained to circumcise infants.)

Exactly fifty days after the first day of Passover, Sivan 6th was the day given by the laws of Moses for the celebration called "Pentecost" - or, as Moses called it - the Feast of First Fruits.

So Jesus, the firstborn of a new race, was circumcised on the Feast of First Fruits.


Now, the "official" day of Pentecost was always Sunday, but the proper day was actually Sivan 6th. The difference was basically a political issue.

This difference was because of the Pharisees and Saducees.

There were two political gropus among the priests and rabbis - the Pharisees and the Saducees. The Pharisees were the strict interpreters of Moses' laws, and they celebrated Pentecost every year on Sivan 6th. Now, the Pharisees had the correct interpretaion, but (at the time) they had less power and influence than the Saduceees.

The Saducees were the conservative group - which means they had more influence over the wealthy, the powerful, the Temple services, and the official calendar. The Pharisees had more influence over the common people.

The common folk didn't care much about the Saducees, and the Saducees didn't care much about the common folk! On the other hand, the common folk didn't always like the Pharisees, either. But the common folk were definitely influenced by the Pharisees! (What else can you say? That's politics!)

Anyway, the Saducees felt it was more convienient to celebrate Pentecost on Sunday every year - since it was only a one-day festival. So they counted fifty days after the Saturday of Passover Week. It was good planning to keep the "official" day of Pentecost as the day after Sabbath. (A one-day festival could be stretched into two. And the city could make more money renting rooms and feeding travelers!)

So the Saducees were clever and shrewd, but the Pharisees were correct! (See note.) According to Moses, the Feast of First Fruits (Pentecost) was on a Wednesday this year.


At this point, 7 BC is only half-way done!

It is early June. Jesus Christ is eight days old.

A few more things are just about to happen.


Joseph found a better place to keep Jesus and Mary, where they rested while Joseph took care of the census. Jewish law said a new mother had to be kept isolated until she was fully clean, after giving birth. And the law said she wasn't "clean" until 40 days had passed.

So Mary and Jesus waited in Bethlehem until July 5th (Tamuz 8th), when Jesus was 41 days old. By that time the Roman census team had finished in Bethlehem, and the spring festival season was all over in Jerusalem. In both cities, all the crowds had gone, and daily life had settled into normal mode for the summer.

During their 40 days of waiting, Mary and Joseph made one other decision. Joseph had kin there in Bethlehem, and Mary had been scandalized back home in Nazareth. After six weeks in town, they'd decided they both kind of liked Bethlehem - or at least, they liked it well enough to stay put!

Joseph and Mary found someone going north into Galilee, and asked them to deliver a letter to Nazareth. The letter told Mary's family that the baby was born, and they were all staying put.


On Friday, June 26th, during that 40 days of waiting, Joseph went to the rabbi again to fulfil another law of Moses. On the 31st day of life, a first-born male required a payment of silver to redeem the child, because the first born was sacred, and because the Jews believed the first (and the best) of all things belonged to God.

Joseph gave 5 silver shekels to the rabbi in town. The ritual was called pidyon-ha-ben, "Redemption of the Son".


In early July, Joseph and Mary took a day to go into Jerusalem and dedicate Jesus in the Temple. (With twelve miles of walking, there and back, this makes for one very long day!)

Joseph bought a pair of doves in the market to sacrifice at the Temple, and they began walking back to the east side of the city.

When they came into the Temple Court, a devout man named Simeon was waiting there. Simeon was an old man who had prayed to see the Lord's Messiah, and the Holy Spirit had led him into the Temple that day.

Simeon came up to Mary and took the baby out of her arms. (Joseph was still holding the two live birds.) Simeon stood there, amazed at the child. The look on his face made Mary and Joseph stop. And Simeon praised and thanked God out loud, saying now he could die in peace!

Joseph and Mary heard him call Jesus the Lord's salvation, a light to the Gentiles, and a glory to Israel. Even with all that had happened, they were still shocked!

While Simeon was still holding the child, an old woman named Anna came up to them.

Now, Anna was a female prophet whose age was an extreme miracle. Most people in the ancient world did not live to be 50 or 60. Kings and Emperors with the best of everything in life were doing well to make it to 70. But Anna was over a hundred years old.

Anna had married young, became a widow after seven years, and then lived there at the temple for 84 years as a widow! That means she was at least 104 years old! Anna lived at the temple, fasting and praying almost constantly.

So Anna, this amazing old woman, walks up to them without saying much. She looks at the child. And she, too, begins praising the Lord.

They all stood there together, for a while, until Joseph (still holding the two doves) excused themselves to carry on with business.

Before they left, Simeon blessed them both. As he handed the baby back to Mary, he warned her that the child would have enemies, which would be very difficult for her, but that it was destined to be so.

Joseph and Mary presented the birds to the priests, paid for the sacrifice, and got out of town as quickly as they could.

Now, Anna knew all the people in town who were really hoping for deliverance. (These people used to see her often in the Temple.) For the rest of that day, this very old woman went around Jerusalem talking to all of those people, telling them the Messiah was born. (She must have died soon after, from the strain of the task.)

But Joseph and Mary took Jesus straight back to Bethlehem. (See note.)


Meawhile, all summer long, in Israel, the census stays in full swing.

And far away in Syria, as summer grows longer, Saturninus is getting good reports that the census is going well.

By late summer, the Governor decides he finally has some time to deal with Herod's one-year-old request.

Remember, Herod's two boys, Alexander and Aristobulus were framed by his oldest son, Antipater (last year, in 8 BC). They have been kept in chains, now, for a whole year. Herod believes they were plotting to kill him and take over his Kingdom. And Caesar advised Herod to have a trial with the Governor present. Herod had put in his request for a trial last autumn, and Saturninus had put him off on a date for it, until the census could be taken care of. (All of that happened last year.)

And now, about early August of 7 BC, Saturninus can see that the census should wrap-up on time. This means he can finally schedule the trial.

The governor sends word to Herod with a time and a place: November, in Lebanon. They will meet half-way, at the city of Berytus (modern Beirut).

And Herod begins to prepare.


The rest of the summer and fall pass quietly.

In Bethlehem, Joseph is starting a new carpentry business while Mary takes care of Jesus. Like most people in the ancient world, they are very poor and living with relatives.

All over Israel, the Roman officials finish their census.

By the way, none of the Jews liked having to sign Roman papers, but they were all too afraid of Herod to resist! Everyone knew that Herod was Caesar's friend. (Herod hadn't made Caesar's letter public in 9 BC, of course!) And everyone knew what Herod would do, if there was resistance.

By the end of Autumn, Herod watched the Roman officials leave with a silent defiance of his own. He was determined to show that his authority was still supreme in Israel. And his thoughts turned more fully towards his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus.

It was now just a month until the trial in Berytus.


On October 6th, in Babylon, the star-scholars were up on the roof again, before dawn. As they had predicted, Jupiter crossed Saturn's path for a second time!

The two planets overlapping each other slightly made them appear to be one, brighter, larger star. The second joining made this rare event twice as special, and the superstitious astrologers were twice as awed. They believed even moreso now that something truly impressive was happening.

What made them even more convinced, this time, was the date. This second joining happened to fall very near to the Jewish Day of Atonement! (They had predicted this, that it would fall on that date; but when it acutally happened it confirmed their calculations! THAT was when they got really excited!)

They now predicted that a third joining would happen in less than two months! Expecting a triple-version of an event that normally happens less than once per century made it the rarest of the rarest events... and that was the tipping point, for the pagan scholars. The timing of the second, and the expectation of the third appearance, made this "star" the most important thing these magi would ever experience.

Yes, it took just that much to push these bookish watchers into action!

The leaders of the Astrology school selected three men to make the journey, with some servants. The school leaders also decided to send some expensive gifts to the new king, as a sign of their respect, and because a mighty king would expect such favors.

So on this day, October 6, 7 BC, three astrologers from Babylon begin preparing for their trip to Israel.

Their plan is to arrive some time before the third appearance of the "star".


About a month later, the Magi are making their way across the desert towards Israel. Crossing through old Persia and Northern Arabia (Nabatea, the Kingdom of Aretas), the whole trip takes approximately ____ days, on horseback. They are heading to Jerusalem.

When they arrive, sometime in mid-November, Herod is way up north, at the trial in Berytus. He is not in Jerusalem.

The astrologers begin walking around Jerusalem, asking people, "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose, and we've come here to bow before him."

(Clearly, these men were experts in astrology, not politics!)

Everyone in Jerusalem knew that Herod was not going to be happy to hear about these strangers and what they were saying. The whole city was worried about what he might do.


Herod himself had left for the trial sometime in October. It took his royal caravan about a week to make the journey, by horseback and chariot.

In Berytus, Saturninus was in charge of the trial. Herod prosecuted the case. And, basically, nobody ever really defended the two sons. In fact, Alexander and Aristobulus were not even allowed to attend!

The whole thing was really more of a small council, and not at all what the Romans would have properly called a "trial". Anyway, the meeting was held on time, in early November. A few important men and their advisors just discussed the situation.

Herod argued vigorously against his two sons. Saturninus thought they were guilty, but shouldn't be killed. Volumnius, the military commander under the Governor, argued for harsh penalties, and others agreed. The meeting was over.

The group made no official decision because Herod was free to do whatever he wanted to do, anyway! Caesar never said otherwise - he just said, 'have a trial'.

So Herod left Berytus and went to Caesarea-by-the-Sea, his political capital, where the princes were being kept. Herod's men took Alexander and Aristobulus to the city of Sebaste, in Samaria.

Herod ordered his men to strangle his sons there, in Sebaste. Alexander was about 31 years old, and Aristobulus was 29.

But Herod was still very upset by these recent threats to his authority.


One more thing happened in Berytus.

Saturninus reported to Herod that the census was over. Then the Governor reminded the King that Caesar wasn't planning to take over tax-collection just yet.

Saturninus told Herod he could keep collecting taxes, and sending tribute to Caesar.

Only now, because of the census, Caesar would finally know whether Herod was sending enough. Because now, Caesar really knew what Herod's kingdom was worth. To the man, to the field, to the ox, to the very last denarius.

And Saturninus told Herod he COULD keep collecting taxes. It was a permission and a command, all at once. It was a reminder to Herod that Caesar could take his kingdom whenever he wanted.

To Herod, it felt insulting and degrading. Even though it was privately, he'd been put in his place.

It made the king want to lash out at the people who feared his authority. And as the Romans all marched back to Syria, Herod felt free to do so.

The king's foul mood is going to mean big trouble for one small town... very soon.


That same month, a messenger from Herod's palace staff in Jerusalem found him in Caesarea. The messenger told Herod about the astrologers from Babylon, who were walking around Jerusalem asking people how to find the newborn King of the Jews.

Herod got really worried, really fast! He hurried down to Jerusalem to see the magi.

As soon as Herod got to his Jerusalem Palace, he called the priests and law teachers together and asked them, "Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?" They looked in the scroll of the prophet Micah and told Herod, "in Bethlehem of Judea".

Herod sent someone to find the three magi, who were still in Jerusalem.

On December 3rd, Herod's man found the astrologers, and snuck them into Herod's palace secretly. When Herod asked what they were doing there, they explained about the star.

Herod's only other question was, "What time did the star first appear?"

The magi told Herod it had been just over six months since they saw the star. They also told him this could mean the baby King might have been born at any time during that year. (The Jewish and Babylonian calendars each began in Autumn.) So, they expected, the child could be six months old, or there was a chance he could possibly be a year and three months.

In fact, Jesus was just over six months old. But they didn't know. They were guessing!

Herod told the astrologers to go to Bethlehem and then come back to him. Herod promised the magi that he, too, wanted to bow down before the newborn King.


The next morning before dawn, on December 4th, the magi found a rooftop in Jerusalem to stand on. They looked at the western sky again, and saw the "star" again! The third joining of Saturn and Jupiter was happening, just as they'd predicted. This time, the joining appeared more to the southern part of the sky - in the exact same direction as Bethlehem!

The magi followed the star, on horseback, to the place Herod had sent them.

Making the six miles in about an hour, the star was moving up in the sky, as the sun rose. At the last moment the star was still visible, it seemed to be directly over the house they had come to. So they knocked on the door.

Like most ancient workers usually did, Joseph and his male relatives had all gone to work before dawn. And on this day, the women of the house had all gone into the market for water or supplies. So the star-gazers found Mary alone with the baby.

They walked in without knocking! Mary was surprised, but even more surprised when they bowed low to the floor, and then offered rare, expensive gifts to the six-month old Jesus!

They stayed a short while, and then left. But they found a room there in Bethlehem for one night. They had accomplished what they'd set out to do, and it was over. Their task was done. Now they had to rest, and talk about it some more. This was the best their adventure was going to get. (Resting and talking was their scholarly way of celebrating their success!)

Mary hid the treasure until Joseph got home, and didn't show it to anyone else in the household. Late that night, Mary revealed the treasure to Joseph, who fell asleep more amazed than ever, wondering what on earth they would do with their new riches.

That night, the wise men were awakened by a dream. God told each man, seperately, in each of their dreams, not to return to Herod. They woke up, compared dreams, and left in the early morning. They went south through Judea and around the Dead Sea, to get home - just so they could avoid Jerusalem.

God also spoke in Joseph's dreams that same night. God told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt, because Herod was coming to kill the baby. (And Herod hadn't even decided this yet!)

Joseph woke up and knew what the treasure was for. It was going to be an expensive journey.

That same morning, before noon, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were heading south, out of Bethlehem, in the direction of Egypt!

Their long journey began on December 5th.


A day or two later, Herod realized the magi weren't coming back.

Infuriated, he ordered a group of his soldiers to go down into Bethlehem. He was determined to save his authority from this new threat without wasting any time. And he wasn't taking any chances.

Herod ordered the soldiers to kill all male babies less than two years old! This was based on the time the astrologers had told him, plus another few months for safe measure!

So Herod's soldiers massacred the innocents of Bethlehem in the same year he killed his own sons, who were also innocent. (Herod is going to find out who framed them. And that will cause new trouble... next year!)


Joseph and Mary are going to make a quick stop at Gaza, in mid December, on the way down to Egypt.

But it's been a long enough year!

We'll start with that brief story next year!

Next Chapter: "6 BC"

October 1, 2006

Year-by-Year: 8 BC

Saturninus prepares for a Census, Elizabeth and Mary get pregnant, and John the Baptist is born.

Before the end of 9 BC, Augustus Caesar had just sent a message overland to Sentius Saturninus, the Roman Governor of Syria. The message simply said, "Prepare to take a census of Herod's Kingdom." And Saturninus began to prepare.

But before we get to Saturninus, let's go back to Rome for a bit!


In Rome, Augustus Caesar begins the year outside the city. He is still mourning the death of his step-son Drusus, the great army General. While Caesar grieves, Syllaeus the Nabatean and Herod's friends are still waiting in Rome to speak with him again, about Herod's "invasion" of Nabatea.

Caesar returns in January. Some time later the waiting advisors all get in to see him, but it turns out they are not alone. Two other groups of advisors have arrived, coming urgently overland through the winter.

One group is Herod's chief advisor, a man named Nicolas of Damascus (with his aides). Herod sent Nicolas when he got Caesar's letter, at the end of last year (see 9 BC).

The second group came from the new King of Nabatea!

All at once, Augustus, Syllaeus, Herod's friends and Nicolas discover that King Odobas III has died during the winter! A new King, Aretas IV, has sent a team of men with presents for Augustus. Aretas' men want Augustus to allow and bless Aretas' claim to the Nabatean throne.

Caesar meets with them all. This time, the Emperor asks more than one question! Nicolas and the men from Aretas all testify that Syllaeus is lying in order to grab more power back home. The Nabateans also accuse Syllaeus of trying to poison Odobas to get his throne!

Nicolas takes his chance to explain the "invasion" of last year. Caesar listens, softens towards Herod, and makes some decisions.

Augustus announces that Syllaeus deserves death, but that he must go back and make ammends for his actions. Augustus commands Syllaeus to return in three years, having paid his debts, and performed other tasks.

Augustus tells Nicolas that Herod is forgiven, but that he has already given orders for a census in Israel, which is still going to happen.

Finally, Augustus is upset about how Aretas declared himself King in Nabatea, without waiting for his Imperial blessing. Briefly, Augustus considers deposing Aretas and giving all of Nabatea over to Herod!

But before he can decide, a fifth group of ambassadors arrives!

To understand this fifth group, we cut back to Israel for a moment...


Herod the Great was not having a very good year!

The Nabatean conflict still wasn't settled. His friendship with Caesar was basically over. Saturninus was coming down to take a measure of his Kingdom. And he was still waiting for his advisors to come back and report what else Caesar might decide.

On top of all this, he had to lock up two of his sons... for treason!

Herod's three oldest sons, in order, were called Antipater, Alexander and Aristobulus. Herod's last will (approved in Rome in 12 BC) said that these three would inherit and rule the Kingdom together, with the younger two as "sub-Kings" below Antipater. No one liked this idea, but Herod thought it would keep them from fighting each other. Instead, the opposite happened.

Antipater framed his younger brothers for planning to kill Herod and take the throne! Antipater did a good job, so it truly seemed they were guilty. Herod believed the fake evidence, and put his two best sons in chains.

Herod wanted to execute them right away, but he couldn't. They were still heirs in his will, which Caesar had approved. So he had to get Caesar's advice... and, of course, with everything else going on this year, the timing was terrible!

Herod asked a personal friend, named Olympus, to go to Syria and Rome with special instructions. Olympus carried a personal letter, written from Herod to Caesar, and Herod told him not to read the letter until the other trouble was cleared up.

Olympus first went to Antioch, in Syria. There, Olympus convinced Saturninus' chief military commander, Volumnius, to go to Rome with him. And the two men sailed from Selucia, Syria, as soon as the weather was good.

These two men are the fifth group of advisors, mentioned earlier.


So, now we go back to Rome!

Olympus and Volumnius arrive in late spring/early summer, when Augustus is trying to decide what to do with Nabatea. They can tell the "invasion" business is all cleared up, so Olympus and Volumnius show Herod's letter to Caesar, and ask for his advice about Alexander and Aristobulus.

Caesar considers things and suggests that Herod should have a trial, with the Governor of Syria and others present, and then decide himself what to do with the accused traitors.

But Caesar is disturbed that Herod's family is in so much conflict. He wanted to give Herod Nabatea, but Israel suddenly seems too unstable. [Herod was 65 and not far from death. Antipater, 37, had only one infant son.]

So Caesar calls the Nabatean advisors back and tells them that King Aretas may keep his throne, with Caesar's blessing. (Because of this, conflict between Israel and Nabatea will go on for many decades to come. We are going to see more of Aretas and Nabatea, in the future.)

With everything settled (for now), Augustus dismisses the advisors, and they all go home.

Then Augustus continued the business of running the empire.


That same summer, Augustus and his step-son Tiberius took some legions north into Germany.

Augustus stayed on the southern side of the boundary (the Rhine River) while Tiberius went across, fighting the Sugambri, and other tribes. That season, Augustus promoted Tiberius to Commanding General (his brother Drusus' old position) and gave him the title "Imperator".

Later in the summer, and back in Rome, Caesar gave Tiberius another parade and made him Consul for the next year.

Tiberius is becoming more important in Rome, but it's important to remember that he was still only the step-son of Caesar. He is not in line for Caesar's throne yet.


Another small event in Rome worth mentioning this year is the death of the poet Horace, still considered one of Rome's greatest, ever.

This is also the year when the Roman senate voted to rename the 8th month as "August", after the Emperor.


Back in Israel, around the end of summer, Nicolas of Damascus returns with Olympus and Herod's other friends. They tell Herod that Augustus forgave him, but the census is still on.

They also tell him that Caesar's advice about Alexander and Aristobulus is to have a trial with the Governor of Syria present. Caesar also advised Herod to invite Archelaus, King of Cappadocia (north of Syria), but Archelaus was Alexander's father-in-law, so Herod ignored that idea. (We will see Archelaus again, in 4 BC.) Still, Herod wisely decided to hold a trial, just to please Caesar.

So, sometime in Autumn, Herod sends a request to Syria to set up the trial. But the Governor of Syria is very busy at the time, and has to schedule the trial for next year.

Let's go back to Syria, now, and see why the Governor was so busy this year!


Let's go back to January again, and re-start this very long year from Syria's perspective.

It took Sentius Saturninus an entire year - all of 8 BC - just to get ready for the census of Israel! This isn't really surprising, when you think about what was involved.

Augustus wanted every man, animal, town, city, farm and field to be counted, recorded, and measured - in size and/or in value. That was a huge undertaking! Besides that, not only had no Roman officer ever taken a census in Israel before, but no Roman officer had ever taken even a general survey of Israel itself! They didn't even have a list of the towns and cities that were supposed to be part of Herod's lands, to begin with.

At least, not yet.

It was a lot to organize, but if the Romans were anything, they were good at getting organized. In fact, Romans famously prided themselves on careful planning, so that things could be performed well and quickly, when it was time. Moreso than anyone, the Romans are people who take time to plan!

So Saturninus spent all of 8 BC preparing for a census that he scheduled for 7 BC.

During the preparation year, Saturninus didn't only spy out the Kingdom and size up the task. He studied census-taking methods. He found soldiers and officers with census experience, and consulted them. And he began the selecting and training the hundreds of men he would need to take the census of an entire Kingdom in one single year.

Also during this preparation year, Saturninus sent ambassadors to Herod, and to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and to the city councils or village elders in all the other cities. The ambassadors themselves spent most of 8 BC letting everyone in Israel know what Caesar wanted, and what they all could expect. They put out the word that the census was set to be taken in the following spring, in 7 BC.

Truly, it would be very hard to over-estimate the size of this task!

So Saturninus spent the whole year just preparing for this census. He organized the whole thing through subordinates, from his headquarters in Antioch, Syria.

(By the way, this was the FIRST census that took place in Israel, years before the census of Quirinius that became so famous. For more on that, see the notes.)


But that STILL isn't ALL that happened in 8 BC! (This is one of our busiest years!)

One more time, let's re-start this year again. From January, again!

This time, we start from Judea in Israel. Remember, we left a mute, doubting priest in the hill country last year.

So then, it is January, and Zechariah has been home with Elizabeth, in the hill country, since November. Without a voice, he can't explain to his wife what it is they're supposed to be doing.

Being a priest, Zechariah actually knows how to write a few simple words, but he doesn't know how to spell the words he needs for this! Even if he'd known how to spell them, Elizabeth was not a priest, and so - like almost everyone alive in the ancient world - she doesn't know how to read!

So he can't speak to her. He can't write to her. And every time he tries using his hands to "talk" about the angel Gabriel, the people he's with wind up thinking he's crazy - including Elizabeth!

Now, Zechariah's been doubting things a bit himself, too. He didn't believe it before he was mute, and he still isn't sure he believes that the angel was from God. More to the point, he doesn't really believe that what the angel said can even come true.

So Zechariah has just spent a couple of months at home, doing nothing, feeling crazy, and doubting God.

And then, something happens.

Sometime in January, Elizabeth bleeds.

For the first time in her life, an old woman experiences her menstration. Naturally, both of them are terrified. Zechariah runs to get help from some women of their village. After a little while, they figure out that it's just her monthly cycle - which is scary and odd enough, for her, but at least it's a normal, healthy event.

Elizabeth calls it a miracle, and Zechariah finally believes.

That night, when they are finally alone, and recovering together from all of the shock, Zechariah finds a way to communicate with Elizabeth at last.

He points to her tummy, pretends to cradle a baby in his arms, and points to the sky. He waves his pointing finger back and forth between them both, cradles a baby again, and points to the sky. From the look in his eyes, Elizabeth finally understands. Then she asks him questions about Jerusalem, and he starts to nod.

This is how they were finally able to agree to start trying to get pregnant.

They have no idea what they're doing, and they're a little embarrassed to ask for help. They don't understand the fertility cycle, either. But, again, they don't ask anyone for help.

Still, in about six weeks, they manage to conceive. Sometime in early March, Elizabeth starts having morning sickness, and they go into seclusion.

In that same month, March, Zechariah is excused from Temple duty at Passover, because his muteness is considered a defect that makes him unfit - "ceremonially impure". He is excused again, for the same reason, at four other times during Elizabeth's pregnancy. (Pentecost, Tabernacles, and the duty-time for his family, Abijah, in May and November.)

Excused from all temple duty, Zechariah is able to stay in seclusion with Elizabeth, and take care of her during her entire pregnancy.

By the first week of August, Elizabeth has been pregnant for just over five months pregnant.

This August is her sixth month of pregnancy.


Now, still in August, we move from Judea to Galilee.

In the middle of the month, the angel Gabriel makes another appearance on Earth! (It's been nine full months since his last one!) This time, Gabriel appears to a young girl named Mary, a cousin of Elizabeth whose family was from Nazareth in Galilee.

Gabriel tells Mary that God's spirit is going to make a baby in her virgin-womb, that her child will be the Son of God, and that his kingdom will have no end! (Gabriel also told Mary about her cousin Elizabeth's pregnancy.)

That very night, the Holy Spirit entered Mary and she conceived a child.


The next day, Mary hurried into the Judean highlands to visit Elizabeth.

Mary went to see the proof of what Gabriel said, and also because she was suddenly in a very awkward spot, in Nazareth. Mary believed everything the angel said, but she was worried about the town's people, because she was already engaged to a young man there in Nazareth, named Joseph. She hoped she could buy a little time, by staying with her cousin for a while.

After travelling for four days (alone and relying on the kindness of strangers), Mary came to Zechariah's house. Mary and Elizabeth rejoiced, and so did the baby John, in Elizabeth's stomach! (When John leaped, his mother was actually filled with the Holy Spirit!)

They talked and shared the Lord together for a while. Then Mary, pregnant and quite naturally terrified, settled in to stay awhile.

Mary stayed in Judea with Elizabeth for about three months. Mary helped Zechariah care for Elizabeth, during their seclusion.


In mid-November, when the baby is about to arrive, Elizabeth, Zechariah and Mary decide that it's time for Mary to leave. (She's been gone about as long as possible.)

Mary isn't excited about leaving Judea, because now she's three months pregnant, and showing. She realizes everyone in Nazareth will know that she hasn't seen Joseph in about three months!

Again, Mary has about four days of traveling before she gets home.


Mary gets home to Nazareth, and breaks the news to Joseph, who is stunned. Joseph seriously thinks about calling off the wedding.

Joseph sees an angel of the Lord in a dream. The angel tells Joseph to keep Mary, that the baby is God's son, and to name the child Jesus.

Joseph wakes up, and obeys.

In order to lighten the cloud of scandal they're living under, Joseph agrees to an early wedding. Preparations for a small wedding begin quickly.


Back in Judea, in late November, Elizabeth gives birth.

Her neighbors and relatives are excited about the miracle. Many of them came around on the 8th day for the child's circumcision, and started calling the baby "little Zechariah". Elizabeth said, "That's not his name. We're calling him John."

At this, their guests all complained that John wasn't a family name. But Zechariah reached for a stick and a wax tablet, and carved out four simple words. "His name is John."

Everyone was shocked that Zechariah chose the name John. A moment later, they were even more shocked as he began to get his voice back.

Zechariah praised God with his new voice, but everyone else was afraid. They were all saying, "What kind of kid is this going to be?" But the Lord's favor was resting on baby John.

Zechariah prophesied about the Lord's greatness and mercy. Then he made blessings and predicted John's future paths. Zechariah said his infant son was going to be like God's sunrise, showing the path to the way of peace.

Meanwhile, The Way of Peace Himself was growing in a womb about 80 miles away.


Back in Nazareth of Galilee, Mary and Joseph have their wedding in December. (Mary is four months pregnant.) They begin living together, but Joseph keeps her as a virgin until the birth.

They settle into their new life together and wonder what God will do next.


So now, at the very end of 8 BC, two of Herod's sons await trial in chains, Zechariah's only son has just been born . . .

And God's only Son is growing in Mary's belly.

The central drama of all human history is about to begin.

Next Chapter: "7 BC"
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton