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!