November 4, 2007

Year-by-Year: 10 AD

Jesus turns 16. Hillel the Elder 'retires'. Gamaliel takes over Hillel's teaching circle. And Tiberius guards the Rhine for Augustus Caesar.

In 10 AD, the Lord Jesus was 15 years old. In May, he turned 16. All year long, nothing else happened that people would have mentioned. But Jesus was busy.

The Lord was living life as his Father’s Son. As a man, Jesus was doing what needed to be done. In fact, the Son of God was doing what no man on Earth had ever done properly, before him.

He was living unto God.

Jesus was living his life in a way that was pleasing to God. That was his primary mission. That’s all Jesus was doing. It was worth doing right.

It was worth several years.


There was no action in Israel this year (to speak of)[1]. But something historic happened that has to be mentioned this year. By 10 AD, if not before, a certain Jewish Pharisee became a Legend.

Hillel the Elder was the most famous Rabbi born in Israel, up to his time. This great teacher lived during the reigns of Herod and Augustus, but ended his career by 10 AD, at the latest.

Hillel became a well respected leader among the Pharisees. He started a school where his students learned milder views of Jewish law. In time, Hillel’s teachings became the most popular among Israel’s Pharisees & common people. The Hillel “School” lived on after his death. Some of the Rabbi’s famous sayings were actually written down and saved – which of course was a very rare thing, in ancient times.

Now, what did Hillel actually do, during his life? As far as we know, nothing but talk! And this is important. We have to note that this man lived and taught in Jerusalem for all of the years we have covered in these Year Books. But he doesn’t show up in any accounts of any events!

The Teacher (as he was later called) was present in the Holy City in 9 BC, when Zechariah came out of the Temple mute and wild eyed. Hillel was there in 7 BC, when a prophetess named Anna went all over Jerusalem telling devout people she’d seen the Messiah. But as far as we know, neither event affected Hillel in the least.

Hillel was either a member of the Sanhedrin or at least had great influence among its members. In every practical sense, he was an “Elder” of Israel. But somehow, we don’t see him involved (at least, not by name) when the Elders of Israel were active. In every event from 4 BC to 6 AD – when Herod, Varus, Caesar, Archelaus & Quirinius met with the Sanhedrin and/or the Elders of the Jews - Hillel is not named.[2]

In all those events, Hillel simply did nothing! At least, he did nothing important enough to write down into history.

All we know says that this great Rabbi did nothing but teach.

It’s just interesting, no matter how you look at it.

Hillel saw war, tyranny, terror, rebellion, and the first total takeover of Rome in Judea. This great man was present at the coming of the Messiah, and surely heard the rumors that went with his birth, as well as many rumors of false messiahs. And yet, through all that…

The Rabbi Hillel kept his full focus on nothing but the Hebrew Law, and teaching it.[3]

Oh. Hillel did one other, very key thing. At some point, near the end of his career, Hillel trained a young Pharisee who actually will influence a major event in history, in 33 AD.

Hillel trained the Rabbi Gamaliel.


By 10 AD, Gamaliel was the leader of Hillel’s teaching circle. And Hillel was gone.

Now, all we know about Gamaliel is that he was a Pharisee, a Rabbi, and he taught in the school of Hillel. But one day in the future, Gamaliel is going to train another young Pharisee. And this future student of the law will grow up to become more famous than even Hillel himself – and that’s saying something!

Sometime in the next 20 years, Gamaliel is going to take Saul of Tarsus into Hillel’s school. Saul, of course, will become Paul, the Apostle of Christ to the Gentiles.[4]

The first time we’ll actually get to meet Saul the Pharisee is in 33 AD, which is also the year when Gamaliel does his one bit for history.

Only 23 Year Books to go, as we eagerly await those events…


What else was going on, in 10 AD?

In Rome, Augustus was still depressed about Varus and afraid that Germany would invade. Four new Legions had marched to defend the Rhine River, and no German tribe had crossed it… so far.

As soon as the Alps were thawed out (enough to cross), Tiberius Caesar rode north. When he got to the border of Germany, the General did… well, next to nothing!

This was not only true to his nature. Tiberius was playing it safe after Varus’ mistakes.

For the rest of this year, Tiberius did nothing else but hold the line at the Rhine. He built bridges, but he did not cross them. He got to know the situation on Rome’s side of the river. He sent scouts to learn what the Germans were doing. And he let his troops rest after several busy years at war.[5] Besides, General Tiberius was about to turn 51. Moving slow worked better for him, now than ever.

So the Emperor-to-be picked up the same slow-working strategies that served him so well in Pannonia. Wisely, the old General stuck to the plan. Even though Augustus was furious, all year long, back in Rome.

The Emperor was frustrated with his son. Augustus wanted Germany back!

At the same time, Germanicus was in Rome, now a successful conquering General. Tiberius’ adopted son and next-in-line was growing more popular every day. Germanicus often stood up for people in need. The city began to love him like they’d once loved his father, Drusus (see 9 BC). And the young man (age 25, this June) didn’t mind at all!

So. Germanicus was winning the hearts of Rome’s people, gaining power & influence. Tiberius was marching around Germany, sleeping in a tent. And Augustus was trying very hard to settle his mind.

When Caesar wasn’t upset about Varus, he was impatient with Tibeirus. Sometimes, out of nowhere, Augustus would just scream out loud. Often, he would bang his head on doors, over and over.

Yes, this was the ruler of the world!

Sometime in 10 AD, the Emperor actually (finally) shaved! But he took no other action, himself. He turned 72 in September.

Meanwhile, Arminius the German chief was still building up his forces, East of the Rhine.

But there was no fighting in Germany… at least, not this year!

Next Year Book: 11 AD!

Begin Footnotes to 10 AD:

[1] Salome, sister of Herod the Great, died and left all her fortune to Caesar’s wife Livia. Her main reason for doing this was that the two had been friends. Salome outlived her big brother by 13 years! She was 73.

[2] One factor, of course, is that Hillel was a Pharisee while the most powerful men in the Sanhedrin were always Sadducees. The Sadducees worked towards political control of Jerusalem and competed to get next in line to become the High Priest. The Sanhedrin was mainly wealthy Sadducees who represented the upper class, but the Pharisees held the ears of the common man. This partly explains why, as a well respected Law teacher, Hillel could have influence among the Elders, but never take an active role in leading the Council.

[3] Actually, when you think about it, Hillel’s single-minded focus – when viewed in the context of such a particularly volatile era, in all possible respects – that may be the biggest reason of all why Hillel was so revered in his lifetime, and to this day. The record strongly suggests he truly kept his whole public focus purely on the Law. No matter whether we find this impressive, regrettable, or understandable, it’s absolutely remarkable.

[4] Saul, or Paul, was either a small child or infant in Tarsus, at this point – or else he wasn’t yet born. Naturally, we only know birthdays of Emperors and other key figures of history. But Saul must have been in his 20’s at Stephen’s stoning, in 33 AD. And Paul lived until 64 AD, so he couldn’t have been born much before this. Most likely, Paul was born sometime this decade – in the “teens” AD. If we guess 15 AD, give or take a few years, he could be about 18 at Stephen’s stoning, roughly 32 when he and Barnabas start traveling, and close to 49 when Nero burned Rome and killed most of Rome’s Christians. Those numbers (give or take a few years) are as close as we’re likely to get for Paul’s age. In any event, there’s no way Paul lived to age 70, which puts his birth date some time after the death of Herod, to say the least.

[5] Three of the eight German Legions had just come from Dalmatia or Pannonia. And up to half of the other five may have sent detachments to those wars. So it’s possible as much as 70% of his soldiers were simply exhausted! This fact is worth considering. So is the point that Augustus didn’t seem to care, but at this point somehow expected them to press into Germany.

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