December 29, 2008
The Baptist & Sejanus (3) - Political Risk
The three year chronology requires that Sejanus be dead for several months before Salome does her dancing. But even if Antipas feared a public backlash over John’s death, the politics of 32 AD might make him more likely to go through with it anyway (as opposed to less likely, as I’d thought). The distinction depends on whether Herod would have more to fear from an unhappy rabble or an unhappy upper class.
After all, it was the upper classes of Judea, complaining to Rome, that eventually upended Herod’s brother Archelaus; the ethnarch’s guilt for 3,000 dead pilgrims in 4 BC had been forgiven immediately [by Rome]. With Sejanus dead, Antipas’ biggest fear wasn’t the odds of creating a riot, it was the odds of giving his upper classes any reason to smell weakness. The way Rome had been prosecuting accusations of disloyalty, Antipas had a lot to lose if a group of wealthy opportunists [who somehow uncovered his connection with the fallen prefect] had any sudden reasons to prefer direct Roman rule.
At least, that might be the case if the three year chronology were true. For now, I’ll still hold to Cheney, in which case Antipas can kill John in early 31 with little fear of political impact whatsoever. But I’m going to have to drop the argument that 32 is unlikely because of political risk. If the question is about going through with a regrettable promise, the risky season after Sejanus’ death could possibly have given Antipas more incentive to stick with it, instead of less.
I’ll continue to look at other aspects of this seemingly neglected distinction: was Sejanus dead or alive when Antipas killed John the Baptist? Stay tuned…
December 28, 2008
Ancient Greek was Heathen
Sadly, I never expected a lot of christian scholars to agree with this. So it was wonderfully refreshing to see Eric Sowell and Esteban Vasquez (along with several of their commenters) celebrating the "buried footnote" of someone named Moises Silva, who said: "Ideally, students learning biblical Greek should do so only within the context of learning Hellenistic Greek generally..." Esteban agrees we should get away from the idea NT Greek "is some kind of "Holy Ghost language." Amen! This also reminds me of something Doug Chapin said to Mike Sangrey in August, which I loved: "Oh dear, those pesky native speakers just won’t stick to the dictionary definition."
On a related note, John Hobbins wondered last week why the Chronological Study Bible is currently outselling all the most popular translations. I don't know if it'll last, but for now I'm guessing it might be because ordinary believers feel like they need about as much help trusting God for one translation as another, but what they're most hungry for (that they're NOT getting) is CONTEXT.
Sorry for shouting. This just gets me excited. ;)
December 26, 2008
Which Star of Bethlehem?
Of course the astronomy matters, but the gaggle of interpretative possibilities is precisely what tells us it *could* have been any of them. How, then, should we choose? My money’s on the triple convergence in 7 BC, but I didn’t pick that one because I liked its interpretative scenario better than other ones. I settled on the triple convergence only after I was convinced that a lot of significant historical data strongly suggests a census and birth in 7 BC. Without building arguments in this post, here are the key points of that data:
If the historical data was more in favor of another year I’d have no problem changing my pick on the "star”, but we have to start with history. Herod’s deathday is the movst vital issue, though I’ve made the case that Archelaus’ exile is actually the best starting point. From those two points, the most important task is to identify specific evidence for the contextual details of a Roman-Herodian census. Historically speaking, the question of how, when and why hundreds or thousands of Roman soldiers were mobilized in Herod’s territory is infinitely more significant than the question of what esoteric particulars inspired the mobilization of a few wealthy, knowledge obsessed individuals.
1) Herod the Great died after an eclipse on a festival day, Purim, in 4 BC
2) Tertullian cited Saturninus as the census taker at Christ's birth
3) Saturninus was Governor of Syria from 9 to 6 BC
4) Herod got in major trouble with Augustus late in 9 BC
5) Event planning for the bizarre logistics of this unusual census must have required significant lead time with advance notification given for local scheduling
6) This special registration did not evaluate property (unlike in 6 AD)
7) Joseph’s fear of Archelaus in 4 BC was irrational, centered on protecting Jesus, and thus unlikely to abate while the Ethnarch was in Judea
8) Any birth date between April 7 BC and March 6 BC makes Jesus 12 at the first Passover after Archelaus was exiled, 7 AD, allowing Joseph to feel safe taking Jesus into Jerusalem
Note: From these points we may conclude that Caesar must have told Saturninus to count Herod’s people, but not to value their property. To preserve the integrity of scripture, we must then also conclude that Luke 2:1 refers to Augustus' provincial registration decree in 27 BC; and that Luke 2:2 should be translated, “this was the census before [the one in which] Quirinius was governor”; and finally that Luke 2:3 refers only to this unique and isolated event, as opposed to all Roman censuses since 27 BC. (See Hoehner and Finegan for more on the greek text of Luke 2:2.)
In short, if we get the history right, the proper “star” should present itself. So this year, my Christmas Wish is that well meaning amateurs (and certain scholars) would spend less time going on about astronomy & astrology, and work a bit harder to learn classical history & geography. On these issues, we definitely need all the help we can get!
December 24, 2008
The Word Became Flesh
Forgive us again, Lord, and save us from false-good. The Kingdom is You.
Merry Christmas 2008, Y'all! :)
December 23, 2008
Antipas' "Birthday" after Purim
At that party, Antipas quoted the Old Testament! When Salome pleased him with her dancing, the tetrarch of Galilee offered her anything she wanted “up to half my kingdom”. As I was recently reminded, these were the words of Xerxes to Esther. Was the old, Hellenized, Arabian/Idumean/Samaritan tetrarch really quoting Hebrew Scripture? How likely is that?
Hoehner thinks it must have become a proverbial saying by then, but Hoehner also discounts the timeline at this point with an uncharacteristically a-historical view of the passages in question. I think the timeline of Mark 6 (and parallels) is clear at this point. (See note at bottom.) More importantly, preserving the obvious timeline here gives us a much better, perfectly reasonable explanation for Herod’s sudden expertise at Old Testament citation.
Nothing we know about Herod Antipas suggests the old Fox was much given to quoting scripture. But a party two weeks before Passover was a party held two weeks after Purim! Surely Herod had also taken the excuse to throw a similar party on the second night of Purim, which was the Feast of Esther, and surely that night’s entertainment would have included a professional oration on the dramatic tale of Esther in Persia. Furthermore, not only is the quotation at issue the climax of that story, but the exact wording gets repeated three times.
Not only does that quotation make a memorable part of the story, but Antipas and all his guests would have been extremely familiar with the story, having heard it once a year for all their lives. As a parallel example, modern secular people who may or may not care much for Christ still know the Christmas story. And while that story may not come to their minds a whole lot in April or June, they find their memories refreshed throughout the month of December. Many people, especially upper class folks, pay respectful attention to official holiday traditions, and it's common for Christmas references to linger on up to a week or two later. (In many places, Baby Jesus gets put inside “King Cakes” until at least February.) In this same kind of way, I believe Herod Antipas was unlikely to be thinking of Xerxes and Esther at any time other than the weeks before and after the Purim holiday.
So then, one to three weeks after Purim, Antipas throws another party. He probably threw it in the same palace, with many of the same guests, with some of the preparations being the same and some different. Attending two parties like this, upper class guests would no doubt have in mind the previous one, looking forward to a repeat of certain delights while anticipating some changes as well. In this case, it seems, that feeling must have extended to the entertainment.
At Herod’s birthday feast, Salome probably danced during a certain part of the evening, at which his guests would expect entertainment. The most natural time for this would have been the same part of the evening the Purim storyteller filled with his speech just a week or two before. In that case, not only would the words of Xerxes be fresh in everyone’s mind, the timing of Herod’s quoting them would have paralleled the recent party. This gives Herod even more reasons to reference the memorable quotation. Given this extra context, it seems the tetrarch was simply playing to the crowd and reminding them pleasantly of his last party. Quoting scripture had nothing to do with it, and the timing of the seasonal citation would have perfectly underscored the sense that his exact wording wasn't meant at all literally.
For a complementary twist, it has been suggested that Herod’s party wasn’t about his birthday at all. The Greek word in Mark & Matthew can refer to the birth of his rule over Galilee. The earliest Antipas could possibly claim to have begun that rule was on the death day of his father, Herod the Great. By the Hebrew calendar, that day (in 4 BC) fell not less than five days after Purim and not less than 16 days before Passover. (That last figure is by my own calculation of Ptolemy’s ride to Antioch and back. See this post.) In other words, Herod died about one or two weeks after Purim. Obviously, that fits perfectly into our range.
So – whether to celebrate his birthday or the birth of his rule – it seems extremely certain that Herod Antipas held this party a week or two after Purim. The following two or three weeks gives just enough time for the events of Mark 6:27-44, Luke 9:7-17, Matthew 14:10-21 and John 6:1-14.
A few final notes, for the record: The timeline of these passages is not compared to the sequence of text, but the sequence of events. Herod sends the executioner to Machaerus. John’s disciples receive a headless corpse, bury it, walk up to Galilee, find Jesus and tell him the news. Then Jesus withdraws, finds his disciples, relocates to a grassy slope outside Bethsaida, and the crowds find him there. That unbroken chain of action must take place in-between the party and a time which was still not yet Passover. By all reasonable estimates, those logistics require one to three weeks. Obviously, that fits perfectly into our range.
This is another example of what I mean by text centered versus event centered. Biblical Scholars have discussed the textual parallels at length. We ought to discuss things like WHY Herod Antipas was thinking about Xerxes & Esther at that event, or even – and here’s a thought for another day – whether Herodias was inspired by Esther’s story to come up with her plan in the time in-between these two parties!
Generally, Classical Historians seem more balanced at this – they critique the text, but they keep in mind the overall goal is to reconstruct actual events. Indeed, why Christian and Biblical scholars have been so purely text driven may be a historical question of a whole other sort. But I’m way over my word quota for this post… ;)
December 22, 2008
Joseph of Nazareth, died 30 AD
The question is, when did Joseph die? I think it was sometime around the "who is my mother" visit from Mary (30 AD in Cheney's Chronology, 31 in Hoehner's). This is the only time on record where Mary comes to interrupt Jesus. He was in the middle of his work, surrounded by large crowds, teaching them difficult things, and yet Mary didn't wait for him to finish. What could have been so pressing, unless it was Joseph on his deathbed? Besides, we know Mary still treasured in her heart the fact that Jesus had to be about his father's business. She must have thought Jesus would make an exception to come home to see Joseph one last time.
Another point in favor of this view - the text suggests Jesus' sisters might have been there as well. The greek plural 'adelphos' is gender neutral - it means "brothers" or "siblings". In other places, this word has been translated "brothers and sisters", and that rendering should be considered here as well. When Jesus responds to the phrase 'adelphos' he says "whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." So it's at least possible the word "sister" here implies the Lord's own sisters were waiting outside the crowd with Mary and the boys. Combined with the other considerations above, and assuming Mary would want the girls to see Joseph one last time also, I'm thinking it's not just possible, but in fact more likely.
So here's the picture. Mary takes one to three brothers and leaves Capernaum to find Jesus, leaving one or two brothers back home to take care of Joseph. Mary and her sons go through Nazareth first, pick up the girls, and use that travel time to listen for reports about where Jesus is. They find him in one of the towns on the Lakeshore's west side, somewhere south of Capernaum. And then... he doesn't go with them! Is that cold? Not necessarily.
The next thing Jesus does (after the storm and the pigs) is tell the ex-demoniac, who was begging to come along, to go back to his family. Evidently, Jesus felt there were times and seasons for "who is my mother?". Then, immediately after that, Jesus healed Jairus' daughter. A dead girl,
Whatever the case, we have to trust Jesus had his reasons for letting Joseph die without even going to see him. But there is one final detail. This had to be some time later, but the next event on record after Jairus' daughter is the occasion of Jesus' second trip back to Nazareth. (This time the disciples are there, so nobody tries pushing 13 men off a cliff!) Last time, the crowds said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" But this time they leave Joseph out of it. This time, they call him the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon, and they point out his sisters are there with them. Evidently, the sisters have come back from Capernaum and the small town Nazarene folks all know why they were away. Their father just died.
So this Nazareth trip is our last piece of evidence to suggest when Joseph died. But what I think is so very touching - assuming this is all accurate - is that Jesus did go back home to console his sisters. Even if he couldn't make it up to them, even if he couldn't explain and even if they wouldn't understand, the Lord did at least try to go visit his own sisters after their father had died. Okay, he did also preach while he was there, and the visit might not have gone well (at the end, he said a prophet had no honor among his own relatives.) but I do think it's sweet that he went.
At any rate, Joseph of Nazareth must have died in-between the move to Capernaum and Jesus' second visit to Nazareth. Joseph was in Capernaum long enough to have been known by the Jews of that Synagogue, but probably died about a year after the move, around the same time Jesus was healing Jairus' daughter, if not just before. This adds a whole new dimension to the episode in which Jesus told his disciples and the crowds, "Who is my mother?" It might even give us new sympathy for the level of sacrifice the Lord was making, just at that moment, in order to keep on doing the will of his father in heaven.
December 19, 2008
Best Advice of 2008
1) I don't want or need to become a professional scholar to do what I'm doing. 2) I can still aim to write with an accuracy that should impress scholars and satisfy my own ambitions. 3) I can still strive to be conversant with scholarly issues and debates while mainly doing my own thing academically. 4) People in my position can sometimes make important, helpful contributions that professional academics can't make directly - but the contribution can enter and influence scholars' ongoing research and discussions.On that same June day, Dr. McMahon also quoted by heart to me some famous lines by Samuel Johnson, which I quoted here in July, so I'll paraphrase this time:
Enough 'bait' for now. Get to 'fishing'. Do what you can do. Dragging this thing out might not make it better. People spend lifetimes looking for evidence they just can't find, even if it exists. One question always leads to another. Every new book cites another new book. A lot of endless trails aren't much better than dead ends. In short, research isn't always helpful, searching isn't the same as finding, and finding doesn't always mean I've got it. Therefore, trying to complete a perfect work is like trying to catch the sun. You just can't.Doctor Johnson's 'advice' seems impossible, but I'm determined to follow it because, after all, eventually I must! And naturally Dr. McMahon's good advice is a lot easier to embrace than to execute well, but I'm working on it. So far, Bibliobloggers have been both kind and patient. Far beyond that, my Lord has been much more so. Who knows? At length, I may be finding my place...
December 18, 2008
Wallace on Hoehner
For more illustrations of Hoehner's exacting scholarship on NT History and Chronology, and some personal stories, have a look at what Dan Wallace posted today - evidently one of multiple celebrations in honor of the professor's eventual or impending retirement. I may disagree with several of Hoehner's points, in small and large ways, but I feel I owe the man a great debt. If I'm lucky enough to meet Dr. Hoehner before long, the first thing I ought to do is thank him profusely.
We need more Christian Historians like Harold Hoehner. God help me, I won't be one of them. But I'm keeping my eyes out for whoever is...
December 17, 2008
Early Writings Just as Likely
Yes, communities of people pass on stories by oral tradition, but writing isn't done by "communities". Writing is a solitary endeavor. The writings of ONE GUY could find an audience (especially if his pages were from God) because Jewish communities valued writings. A reader stood at every Synagogue meeting to exclaim the Hebrew scriptures. Parents would tell children stories about Abraham, Moses and David, but they also took those children to hear those stories read out loud, every Sabbath. Of course, each passage they heard read had been written by ONE GUY.
If there was ONE GUY who could write (who had practical and/or professional reasons to think about writing) he'd have noticed elements of writing in the Synagogue readings. On certain days, the reader would have explicitly reminded such a writer that God told Moses to write. God told Isaiah to write. God told Jeremiah and other prophets to write. And surely God had something to do with all those other Hebrews who wrote down the rest of the Scriptures, too.
Now, if you were that ONE GUY with some practical or professional reason to think about writing on a regular basis, and if you were a follower of Jesus... wouldn't you think Jesus' story and sayings deserved to be written down and read aloud as much or more than the writings of Moses and the Prophets? And wouldn't you get started right away... or would you suddenly become like a common man, like a non-writer? Would you just talk about it for decades like everyone else, recording a final memoir sometime before you died?
If you were that [rare but probable] WRITER, I daresay you'd write. Right away.
There are bad writers and there are good writers, but both kinds just can't keep from writing. All bibliobloggers should know this! ;)
December 14, 2008
Searching for Nazareth
One of these days I'd like to start a group blog to look at the Gospels and invert possible views/clues as to the Lord's growth and development in Nazareth. On such a group blog, every post would begin with a passage of scripture, suggest a perspective, and/or offer a couple of questions about the passage. In the comments and follow up posts, we'd try to find out IF there ARE any solid, reliable conclusions we can draw - based on the Gospels - as to the details of what Jesus' private life was like in "the hidden years". (Inspirational sharing would also be welcome.) Knowing me, it should go without saying that liberal deconstructionism is NOT on the agenda. ;) Still, since it's such a subjective approach, the value could wind up being mostly as an interpretative exercise... or we could wind up producing some valuable, reliable aspects of a valid reconstruction (in limited detail). You just never know till you try!
I'll give one example here. If you're interested, reply in the comments. If I get ten people, we'll definitely do it. Here goes:
Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17. (Yup, the Geneaology. May as well start at the start!) Spark/questions: How many of these names would Jesus have known, growing up? How important were names like Abraham and David to the Jewish community of Nazareth? How many times did Jesus hear the stories, whether at home or the Synagogue? And at what age might Jesus have recalled the fact that he, himself, was "before Abraham"?As I said, that's just an example, but feel free to respond in the comments. Without a doubt, there must be millions of pages in print that could help address these questions, and those writings would absolutely belong in the conversation. But I'm personally unaware of any study that has attempted to go through all four Gospels with the sole perspective of "mirror-reading" for clues to Jesus' life in Nazareth. (If there is such a study in print, please let me know.)
I'm hopeful to think ten of you out there might be interested. You don't have to be scholars. You just have to be - well - interested! :)
December 8, 2008
Matthew 2:22 explains Luke 2:42
Without a doubt, there are plausible explanations to account for the many chronological ramifications of this conclusion. (Especially in 7 BC.) But it should be strongly considered that analysis of Luke 2:42 in the light of Matthew 2:22 grants us a historical basis for positing the age of Jesus during one actual point in time, which is a far sight better than basing estimates of the Lord's birth on pure speculation, sketchy astronomical interpretations or (the ever popular) "sometime before 4 BC".
If scholars come to consider this a solid historical connection, then it should prove helpful as an improved starting point for New Testament Chronology. The alternative is to continue working from "about 30" and the "fifteenth year of Tiberius", data about which (unfortunately) there is far too much 'wiggle room'. Theories on the census and star of bethlehem will always require speculation, but the only resistance from what we know of Jesus' ministry years will be some unnecessarily staunch definitions of the word "about". Surely, all christian doctrines and views of scripture are flexible enough to swallow a 4 to 6 year difference in Luke 3:23. (Also, we'll never know when the "46 years" of John 2:20 began, because we don't know how many years of prep-work was needed before the Jews would allow Herod to begin actual construction! See Josephus' Antiquities' 15:388-390.)
For all these reasons, I hope scholars will begin giving extra attention to the historical view of Luke 2:42 in connection with Matthew 2:22. Besides, May of 7 BC begins a count of forty years (inclusively) up to just before Pentecost of 33 AD. Not that numerology has anything to do with history, but I hope it might inspire some to take a closer look. ;)
December 6, 2008
The Baptist and Sejanus (2) - Half My Kingdom
Here's one aspect of the issue, just for starters - why did Herod Antipas say "up to half my kingdom"? Does that only prove he was drunk? Does that simply mean he assumed she wouldn't ask for so much? Or is the truth more complicated? Giving away territory, if the offer was serious, could hold a different significance politically if it happened in early 32 AD. It seems impossible to tease out any solid implications, but we ought to ask these questions anyway.
Is there anything about Antipas' statement that makes it seem Sejanus was alive or dead? "Take half my kingdom" could be the brash statement of a confident ruler secure that Rome would never approve it. Or - if Sejanus was dead - it could be the tortured brinksmanship of a man in the throes of depression at the very peak of anti-Sejanus reactionism, slipping out because of the alcohol? Or - again - was it just a safe bet she wouldn't bite?
Clearly, we don't know, but we can't even venture to guess because we don't know how drunk Antipas actually was! Does it require sobriety to feel political peer pressure in the matter of keeping an oath? (The request, regret and decision came "immediately" and "in a hurry" according to Mark; Herod's following-through is another issue entirely. But at the moment, we're just talking about the promise.) Or was Herod an accomplished drinker who felt few effects? Without knowing his blod-tox levels or their practical effects, we have zero ground to interpret any political context from Herod's promise that night.
Chronological work in other areas can tell us whether Sejanus was alive or dead when Salome did her dance, but we won't get very far from the political phrasing of Herod's promise, "Up to half my kingdom."
Stay tuned for blog posts on other aspects of this question and it's implications for New Testament Chronology.
December 4, 2008
Some Readers' Favorites
Stories: Saying Goodbye, The Damascus Story, Knowing the Lord, Sunrise in Thessalonica
Poems: Life Spent Preparing, My Spirit, Completely Different
Btw, in case anyone's curious: these were written in '97, '03, '05, '06, and '08. Five of the seven came here in Texas. I wrote "My Spirit" in Grant Park (Atlanta, GA) and "Saying Goodbye" in Orange Park (Jax, FL). The one about "Driving the Car" is still the most linked to post of mine ever, I think. Over the years, I've (re-)written [the lyrics of] a few well known songs for house church meetings, too, but I never blogged any of the good ones. Maybe some other time...
December 1, 2008
Life Spent Preparing
The head of John the Baptist bent low when he baptized the Lamb./ The sight of his Lord and the sound of God’s voice put a thought in John’s head./ He must increase. I must decrease.
The head of John the Baptist pressed hard against the wall of his cell./ Disconnected from the body of his followers, a sense of doubt grew in his mind./ Was his cousin really the One?
The head of John the Baptist hung from a saddle, bouncing inside a wet sack./ Up the Jordan a hundred miles, from prison to palace – first time in Galilee./ Then it went to a girl on a platter.
The head of John the Baptist was an outrage all over Israel./ The people’s disfavor made their leaders slow to repeat that same crime./ For a time, Christ was safe in Judea!
John’s head, once again, had prepared the Lord’s way.
November 30, 2008
Abilene - Index & Update
All three posts went up in November. Here are their links:
And now I have one update to include: In the first two posts, I'd left out any consideration of Abilene after 32 AD. In fact, Josephus tells us that in 37 AD, Caligula gave "the tetrarchy of Lysanias" to Herod Agrippa [along with the recently embattled Gaulanitis and the rest of the late Philip's tetrarchy; no doubt Caligula in early 37 was heavily influenced by his chief advisor Macro, by the way]. [Note: Contrary to a common misconception, Macro & Caligula did NOT give ANY territory to Aretas the Nabatean in 37.]
So Damascus remained autonomous in 37, under the Governor of Syria, but evidently it lost its recently granted territory in Abilene. Perhaps Governor Flaccus' settlement in 32 AD didn't achieve the desired effect, perhaps the Sidonians and the Damascenes quarreled even more with a common border, or perhaps Macro & Caligula had some other reason for giving the city and region around that key mountain pass to Agrippa instead. Whatever the case, the fact that Abilene went to Agrippa in 37 does not mean it stayed with Lysanias up to that point.
Therefore, as in earlier posts, I stand by the logic that Damascus and Sidon must have been disputing over the territory of Abilene, which means Lysanias was dead or gone by that time (but not before 28 AD). Also, as I said in earlier posts, if the Damascenes & Sidonians were somehow fighting over the very peak of Mount Hermon, then all this would be incorrect, but as much as that seems highly unlikely, I stand by my conclusions for now. :)
November 29, 2008
Abilene and Herod Antipas
Whatever details of history led to the apparent annexation and dissolution of Abilene in 32 AD, the fact of it probably had at least one small impact on the New Testament Story. The event must have served as one more reminder to Herod Antipas that Rome was always prepared to seize direct control over eastern territory, whenever conditions were right. In fact, Antipas already knew this very well, because Rome had claimed three other kingdoms in Syria's orbit since their failure to control Armenia after 2 AD. (The Empire annexed Judea in 6 AD and Cappadocia & Commagene in 18 AD.) Granted, Abilene was not a major territory, but neither was Galilee, relatively speaking. Therefore, even though the end of Lysanias' Tetrarchy was a minor event in history, it had greater significance to Herod as part of the larger pattern.
In short, Abilene reminded Antipas (age 53 in 32 AD) how important it was to govern well, maintaining local & regional stability. Ironically, this reminder came one year after the trouble of 31 AD, when the executions of John the Baptist and Aelius Sejanus had already left Herod with a bit more local unrest [not to mention much more personal uncertainty] than usual. And that unfortunate timing, in turn, makes the memory even more likely to have lingered, in some sense, until Good Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD. To say the very least - but emphatically, given the context - Herod's fairly recent thoughts about the former tetrarchy of Lysanias could not have diminished his cautiousness that morning in deciding what to do with Jesus.
In other words, while Herod Antipas certainly had many good reasons for smartly declining Pilate's offer of jurisdiction over the controversial, potentially insurrection-sparking trial of Jesus Christ, one of those reasons, perhaps not the absolute least, was the recent loss of Abilene.
November 21, 2008
Why I'll Never Go Pro (Scholar That Is)
Finegan's Handbook of Biblical Chronology draws some conclusions I agree with and some I do not. I believe I know which are right and wrong. And I honestly think that I'm right. But to WRITE any paper explaining that, I've got to master his whole thought. Specifically, for one example, I've got to figure out WHY he denied Josephus' years on Archelaus' reign and argued for variant textuality on Josephus' statements about Philip's reign. It won't do, in a paper, to assume this attempt was merely a sloppy convenience poorly justified. Instead, I have to examine his evidence for the second claim and then point out that, even if we accept it as such, that only gives us a contradiction in Josephus' accounting and no reason to accept one over the other. But THEN, if I actually (properly) go THAT far, I've got to go on to consider, seriously, whether any other solutions exist to the problem as he laid it out.
And all I realy WANT to do is go over that which seems to work far, far better. Like so:
Philip cannot have died when Finegan says he did because of the other issues going on in the region in those extra two years. If Philip wasn't dead, Aretas would have fought PHILIP for Gamala, not ANTIPAS as he did. [More to the point, if Philip wasn't dead, Aretas probably wouldn't have gone into Trachonitis or the Golan. Philip governed the Arabs in his tetrarchy very well.] I'd have to find some appropriate way to say that Finegan included less than one paragraph about Aretas in his entire Handbook and a regurgitated non-contextualized summary without any analysis or consideration of consequence, at that. Sigh. BUT THEN I'd probably have to go on to justify my feeling that the Nabatean history is so absolutely vital to the whole situation. And so on.
I'd probably have to close with a complimentary statement about Finegan such as that he should easily be forgiven because he bit off more than any one man could possibly hope to chew. And I'd WANT to add: I bet I know how he felt.
ANYWHO... I MAY or MAY NOT ever get as far as defending these Year Books formally. Time will tell. Fish or cut bait. Reconstruct? Or defend? What would Doctor Johnson advise me to do? ;) In some ways, however, these weaknesses of mine are also strengths. How would I ever have built my own reconstruction if I'd spent twelve years absorbing, rehearsing, adopting and merely adapting or modifying the mindset and opinions of other scholars?
By the way, SBL is in Boston this week. I actually wish I was there. But at the same time, I don't. I've got a lot of work left to do...
November 16, 2008
Repeating Predictions Beforehand
Recently, Barack Obama gained extra momentum because so many people were saying, "I think he will win." In fact, a lot of great political and religious movements, historically, became great because a Leader made promises and predictions beforehand... which later also happened to come true. When the leader's predictions did become true, the belief of the followers became that much more resolute. Their faith in the leader became stronger and more fanatical.
Watch TV interviews with any championship team in sports and they'll tell you about the moment their coach got them to believe in themselves (actually, something greater than themselves - themselves collectively, as a team). Of course, that's also the moment they increased their faith in their coach.
As I say, this happens all the time, mainly in successful movements and group endeavors. But Mark Goodacre (and most of critical scholarship along with him) doesn't think the followers of Jesus - who watched him fulfil one set of predictions in dying and rising again - would have published another set of their Lord's predictions (that I gather Mark may believe Jesus DID make) about the destruction of Jersualem before it had happened. To his great credit, Mark says the issue is NOT about whether Jesus made the predictions. Mark says,
[The issue] is about observing the literary function of successful prophecy in the narrative in which it appears. The prediction only gains traction because the reader is saying, "Hey, yes! I know what that's about!"Well, actually, Mark, History shows that a lot of predictions gain plenty of traction before they come to pass. As I've tried to show, examples from everyday life positively abound. :)
Such waves of anticipation uniformly lose all traction when hopes get destroyed. But the movement crescendos triumphantly when the Leader's predictions, published and repeated for months or years beforehand, are consummately fulfilled. And then the real bandwagon swell begins. At that point, even former detractors say, "Yes, look. It happened. Let's get behind this." (Been watching the news this past week?)
Clearly, therefore, I feel there's no reason to doubt whether Matthew and Mark could have written their versions of the Olivet Discourse decades before 70 AD. In fact, I think it's far more likely, given the increasing success of the christian movement afterwards, that they each spent a decade or two publishing and repeating the Lord's predictions about Jerusalem's destruction beforehand.
This isn't purely a matter of faith. This is logic with a different set of premises. :)
Update: Mark posted again about this issue on 12.23.08.
November 10, 2008
Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene
Luke's Gospel tells us a man named Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene when John started Baptizing (which I take as 28 AD, the 15th calendar year of the rule of Tiberius). Aside from Luke's testimony, we have nothing else to date the rule of Lysanias, except that it must have begun after the death of Zenodorus in 20 BC, and it seems to have ended no later than 32 AD (based on historic and geographic considerations I mentioned in the previous post). If the name itself is any indication, Lysanias may stand at the end of the dynastic line that ruled Iturea and Trachonitis, ending with Zenodorus, the greater part of whose kingdom was given to Herod the Great in 20 BC by Augustus himself - though other parts of Iturea were given at that time to Syria, under the territorial care of Berytus, Sidon and Damascus. Abilene, at this time, seems to have remained independent, but we do not know why.
There is plenty of room for speculation, and some value in considering it briefly:
If Lysanias was the son of Zenodorus, that may have been one reason for Augustus to leave the tiny stretch of Abilene under his care. Or Herod could have let him keep it, since the North side of Mount Hermon was otherwise inconvenient to Israel. In any case, Abilene was essentially the sole east-west pass through Lebanon’s mountains. As such, it was a small, high traffic area without any natural boundaries for defense. Leaving it to be managed as an independent unit may have seemed more expedient for all involved, at the time. Besides, the land was desirable, as the dispute over it (between Sidon and Damascus in 32 AD) would later show. In that light, giving Abilene to a small independent dynast could have been the best way to stave off that controversy in dividing up Iturea.
Whatever the case, it is possible, if just barely, that such a dynastic Lysanias could have inherited the management of Abilene and kept it from 20 BC until 32 AD. Any relative of Zenodorus, claiming the tetrarchy by age 20 or so, would have to last 47 years to reach the time of John the Baptist – an audacious stretch in longevity for the ancient world, but not impossible if there was some decent amount of revenue in the situation. Further, if the dispute in 32 AD was fresh, and presuming it was based on Lysanias’ removal (by natural death or otherwise) the tetrarch would need to have reached the very ripe age of 71 (more or less). Again, this is all mere speculation, but it shows the case to be possible, if not overwhelmingly plausible. However, it may also be the case that Lysanias was related to Zenodorus but very young indeed at his death in 20 BC. In that situation, an older relative may have served as regent of his tetrarchy until the lad came of age, and Lysanias could die in 32 AD being possibly as young as 52. Finally, it's possible the dispute of 32 AD may not have been fresh when Flaccus finally arrived to mediate. If Abilene had lingered in dispute for a year or three before (while Syria's Governor Lamia was still ruling the province in absentia), then Lysanias could have gone as early as 29 AD (when John the Baptist was arrested), in that case dying or leaving as young as 49.
Of course these are merely boundaries for our consideration. We can’t reconstruct very much at all (with certainty) about Lysanias, but we don’t need to. Lysanias has extremely slight importance to the New Testament text, or it's story. As stated above, believers only need to suppose that he must have been tetrarch of Abilene for at least a year or so around 28 AD. But the above speculation shows a much longer career is possible, at the very least. The variables and uncertainty which defy our desire for more specifics do, at least, also defy any attempts to claim Lysanias himself was unhistorical. Therefore, academic work on Lysanias, whether faith based or critical, must ultimately rest in uncertainty.
In all this, however, we do find a few minor points that can be stated with some measure of confidence:
Based on Luke’s testimony, we may accept that there was a man named Lysanias who governed the tiny crossroads area called Abilene at least by the time of John the Baptist. This Lysanias may or may not have been related to the earlier [albeit intermittent] dynasty over Iturea whose line ended with Zenodorus. Whatever his identity, personal status, or length of his rule, there is one detail of Abilene as a tetrarchy that history does seem to confirm [with the aid of geography]. The removal of local authority over Abilene must be judged as the most likely cause for the land dispute between Sidon and Damascus in 32 AD. Therefore, although we cannot date the beginning of Lysanias' tetrarchy over Abilene, we may conclude that it lasted no later than 32 AD. Whether Lysanias died or was otherwise removed, control over Abilene reverted to the Empire, and it's management was entrusted to local and provincial authorities in Syria.
My next post will briefly address why I believe all of this was somewhat significant to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee.
November 8, 2008
Abilene in 32 AD
For example, I will NOT be staking any strong claims about Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene. He isn't important. Abilene doesn't link to anything that needs explaining. No other events depend on that bit of Luke 3:2. And that one extra historical reference isn't necessary for fixing the chronology, especially since Lysanias is such an obscure reference to begin with. BUT... even though it's nonessential business, I'd still like to say as much as feasible. Which ain't much:
Abilene streteched around the northern foot of Mount Hermon, straddling the pass from the Golan to the valley of Lebanon. Luke's reference tells us Abilene had its own Tetrarch when John began baptizing (in 28 AD, according to Cheney's chronology) but history records no such Lysanias after that date. So we might speculate that the tetrarchy was dissolved sometime soon after, if we also suppose that Luke's purpose for including Abilene in the first place was to place these events nearly prior to that dissolution. Such speculation seems even more tempting in light of the following details from Josephus' Antiquities.
It so happens the new governor of Syria in mid & late 32 AD, L. Pomponius Flaccus, had to settle a dispute between Sidon and Damascus over the boundaries of their territory (probably late that summer). Now, the territories of Sidon and Damascus seem to end at Mount Hermon, at Philip's tetrarchy below there, and at Abilene above there. Since Philip was still alive in 32 AD (and we should doubt the two cities suddenly wanted to jockey for position on the inconvenient side of a mountaintop), is there any other geographic option than to consider they were fighting over Abilene? I don't think there is.
The temptation, then, is to assume "Abilene" dissolved in 31 or 32. And something similar to this does seem to be apparent but it could have been sooner, especially considering there had been no Roman Governor in Syria for a decade to that point! Clearly, we can only imagine whether Lysanias was still tetrarch up to that point, and what kind of personal circumstances he might have felt in conjunction with this supposed dissolution. So without evidence or at least solid reasoning in support of any particular conclusion, I've got no cause or need for going any further. It just doesn't matter in any significant way.
This is unfortunate, because Jesus passed through (or at least very near) Abilene right about that time.
According to both Cheney AND Hoehner's chronologies, it was early in 32 AD when the Lord took his disciples on a tour outside North Galilee. Scholars have suggested different routes, and one of the likely paths would have taken Jesus right through the Lebanon valley and around Mount Hermon... through Abilene.
Again, I won't be inventing things. If there were some other data here, I'd be more likely to speculate. I still say the Gospels' claims of a census are grounds that demand reconstructing a plausible scenario for it, from 9 BC, thru 8 BC, into 7 BC. But there are no claims or extra details allowing/requiring me to reconstruct any details of Abilene in 32 AD. (Gladly. And sadly.)
Whether or not Jesus walked through Abilene in early 32, or passed just south of it... Whether or not the tetrarchy of Lysanias actually dissolved in 32 AD or some time before then... Whether or not Lysanias himself was related to the line of Zenodorus, as his name suggests... Whether or not Jesus' travels in 32 were impacted (or enabled) by the political situation (or void) in the Lebanese region formerly known as Ituraea... Regardless of all that, the most I can/will say about Jesus and Abilene is probably going to be something like this:
In early 32 AD, Jesus and his disciples toured the lands north of Galilee, around the territory of Tyre and Sidon, from the Sea to Mount Hermon. In mid 32 AD, C. Pomponius Flaccus had to settle a territory dispute between Damascus and Sidon. As it happened, these were the same regions Jesus had just been through a few months before. (And then a footnote will mention that the dispute likely involved the lands formerly known as Abilene, which probably indicates that the tetrarchy of Lysanias had ended somehow in the previous three years, due to unknown circumstances.)
I wish I could say more. I always love finding extra details. But I'm not inventing stuff. I'm just putting big puzzle pieces together. I'm only filling in blanks that absolutely need and deserve to be filled in. There will be disclaimers that talk about lack of certainty on specific issues. But the task is to put together one plausible reconstruction of everything we CAN say did happen and/or most likely happened. Abilene just isn't solid enough to say much more about than I've said here. Sadly.
And now I have a point.
I'd LIKE to find something about Lysanias to support my view of Eastern Rulers under Tiberius. I'd LIKE to find something in the dissolution of Abilene to support the idea that Herod Antipas was getting just a bit more nervous about Roman annexation of eastern lands leading up to the time of the crucifixion. Gee, I'd LIKE to find anything about Abilene OR Lysanias that would connect with ANYTHING in 32 AD, if not previous and future years as well. I'd LIKE that. But it doesn't look like-ly. And though I don't get bonus points for admitting what I totally have to admit anyway, I'm just saying it.
And that's the whole reason I made this post.
November 7, 2008
House Church Confession
I long for more someday.
November 3, 2008
John the Baptist and Sejanus - 1
If Hoehner and Finegan are right about the Gospel’s chronology, then John the Baptist died several months into the winter that followed the violent death of Sejanus [in Rome, October 18, 31 AD]. But if Cheney (and I, myself) are correct, then Herod Antipas executed the depressed prophet about eight months before Sejanus went down. [If I’ve somehow missed previous discussion on this point, please let me know. Where is it?] Either way, John died soon before the third Passover of Jesus' ministry (when he fed the 5,000). But was that 31 or 32 AD? Was Sejanus alive or dead? Those are two very different scenarios, with all kinds of potential implications, depending on many things.
Questions abound. Just how much had Herod Antipas actually invested into the future prospects of Sejanus maintaining power? To what degree were Antipas & Sejanus actually “allies”? How much local instability was Antipas risking from the public backlash about John? How much political danger would a secret ally of Sejanus fear he was in so far away from Rome, and yet (on the other hand) how concerned would such an ally have been throughout the first several months of backlash, regardless of the distance? How much had Antipas already worried about the Eastern policies of Tiberius up to that point? And finally (unfortunately) the whole thing may also depend on just how drunk Antipas might have been when Herodias & Salome tricked him into a really dumb promise, whether he was thinking soberly when he offered "up to half my kingdom", and what he actually meant by that. So altogether, as these things usually go, the whole thing may be ultimately be improvable. For which, Praise the Lord, cause you still got to have faith!
But we should still reconstruct the one most plausible scenario. Therefore, aside from general academic interest, I believe these are worthwhile considerations about questions which may not have been asked before now. There may be some details and angles in this to surprise us all. Naturally, as a supporter of Cheney’s Four Year Chronology, I’ll be arguing that Herod was far more likely to have executed John in early 31, before Sejanus was gone, than in 32, when there was much greater uncertainty. Up to this moment, I actually continue to find this scenario to be most convincing, but the opposing view will only disappoint me if I don't give it a good, hard shake as well.
For more about the death sequence of the Baptist and Sejanus, watch this space…
November 2, 2008
Galilee and other Pocket Regions
I'm pretty sure the Eastern rulers knew what was coming. I'm positive Herod Antipas had deep personal concerns after the fall of Cappadocia and Commagene in 18 AD, which came just 12 years after his brother lost Judea. But I need to get a broader picture of the region at large. I need to find some academic ways to confirm or reject these strong impressions of mine.
So now I'm wondering: How much was Galilee really just Sepphoris and it's region, which happened to include half the Lake? In that sense, would Antipas take any comfort from the ongoing security of the "Kingdom" of Emesa (a dynastic city-state north of Lebanon)? I still think it's far more likely the wealth and size of Galilee make Antipas feel like a bigger target for an Empire whose European conquests had dried up, but whose need for new revenues had not. However, I'm trying to be thorough and cautious. To what degree can I reasonably suggest that Antipas must have lived constantly with these concerns? And how strongly would these things have motivated Herod Antipas to make his inevitable entreaty to Sejanus in the late 20's? Finally, how much can the situation (as just given) be viewed as evidence in support of personal conclusion that Antipas DID in fact make that purported alliance with Sejanus (even if it wasn't a plot to kill Tiberius, as Josephus tells us Agrippa later claimed)?
So - for starters - it all boils back to Geography. How does Galilee really compare with Emesa? Or with Cappadocia? And what about the tetrarchy of Abilene? Not that it's easy to reconstruct tetrarchial Abilene with much certainty, but the timing and geography suggests it's dissolution was part of the territorial dispute between Damascus and Sidon. (Before or in 32 AD.) And what can we surmise about Antipas' view of the Decapolis cities? Mainly, what really made Galilee different, if anything, from those other pocket regions within the Roman Near East?
For one thing, I'm finally reading ALL the way through Fergus Millar's The Roman Near East 31 BC - AD 337. And I'm finally digesting the whole region, including cities I never once cared to know this much about. The cities of the Phoenician coast, Lebanon and the Decapolis had their own history in the region and their own relationships with Rome. The client kingdoms of Arabia and Anatolia had their own ways of trying to maintain imperial favor. And meanwhile, Herod Antipas was really just ONE of those client rulers. Galilee was just ONE of those pocket regions. He didn't only compare himself with his brothers in Judea and Trachonitis (like we often do).
Antipas must have naturally compared himself with other client rulers and city-regions. Right?
Human beings learn how to behave by watching others. The desire to stay independent made Herod Antipas just like all the other Middle Eastern rulers in that era. So I expect he had his eyes on them, to see how they were keeping up. And I expect to learn more (by looking at them all) about all of these questions.
Galilee was one of the regions Rome would eventually want direct control of in the Middle East.... and even if they wouldn't *start* "a land war in Asia" in order to get it, I still figure Antipas had to know what was coming. I intend to show that his goal was to prevent it... just like his father Herod the Great successfully prevented it... and that even up to the moment his career ended, in 39 AD, Herod Antipas thought he was still succeeding.
I think the basic view here is simple and obvious, but I'm trying to NOT be overly simplistic about it. And I'm trying to be thorough. As always, any help would be appreciated...
November 1, 2008
Top 50 Bibliobloggers Team Results
This very day, on All-Saints Day, 2008, the 63% Good Bishop N.T. Wrong told us the results of a Blog-race we didn't know we were having! Teams were set according to Bishop Wrong's homemade Liberal/Conservative classifications and the "runners" finished in order of our Alexia ranking for unique blog visitors in October. Individual results and links have been posted. (Yours truly managed to come in 49th.)
Here are the team results:
The "Fairly Conservative" team dominated the race with 23 Bloggers out of 50. Their top five, Mark Goodacre (#3), Jim West (#6), Claude Mariottini (#7), "Bibbiablog guys" (#8), and Michael S. Heiser (#10) scored a very impressive 34 points. (Remember, in team racing, the low score wins!)
The "Liberal" team was a distant second with 54 points, but scored impressively pound for pound. With only six runners in the 50 Blog race, their top five all placed in the top 20! James McGrath (#1), Airton Jose da Silva (#5), Jim Davila (#11), Phil Harland (#18), and Iyov (#19) each contributed to earning their hard fought "first loser" status.
Third place went to the "Very Conservative" team (on which I placed, but did not score). Managing a respectable 90 points with ten runners, the "VC" were led by their top five of Ben Witherington (#4), Nick Norelli (#13), the Ev.Text.Crit. team (#22), Rod Decker (#23) and Jin Yang Kim (#28). Seriously, how did I get put with these losers!?! ;)
Finally, in a dramatic tie for third, the "Very Liberal" team also scored 90 points, led by the Guild of Biblical Minimalists (#9), N.T. Wrong (#14), James Crossley (#16), Antonio Lombatti (#17) and Roland Boer (#34). But the Very Liberals beat the Very Conservatives pound for pound, with only seven runners on their team in the top 50.
There was almost controversy when the British judge tried to have the Guild disqualified for keeping a "Fairly Conservative" Blogger as their C.E.O. But when the Bishop pointed out that their C.E.O. was our Godfather, we all kissed his ring and genuflected, leaving him to congratulate his fellow Liberals - er, I mean Minimalists. ;)
In other Top 50 Race news, crowds wondered why nearly half the 50 runners were "Fairly Conservative". Scot McKnight (#2) qualified as an independent runner for being unlabled in the directory. And David Ashford (#27) was unable to help any team as the lone "Conservative Liberal" in today's race. Amazing! Somehow, the qualifiers kept him from joining any of the Conservative or Liberal teams. Poor David was seen after the race comiserating with a used Jack O'Lantern.
After the race festivities included a tour through the 35th Monthly Biblical Studies Carnival, courtesy of Duane Smith.
Bibliobloggers take your mark! November's "cross country race" has just begun! :)
October 27, 2008
Friday is "Reformation Day"
In honor of "Reformation Day", George Barna is offering a sale on copies of Pagan Christianity. Barna helped Frank Viola revise the book, which says that most of what Protestants do, that they claim is purely based on scripture, has other origins. Once again, it may take a hundred years before institutional christendom is able to deal with this. So why not be ahead of the curve? :) Get the book, if you haven't already. And share it with your friends.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. It's fine with me if christians stay in organized religion. But believers should at least find out the truth about why we all do what we do... because it just isn't honest or true to say certain things are "scriptural" (when they're not).
And now, with that said, I return you to your costume carnivals and candy fests. ;)
October 23, 2008
Gadara & Gerasa: Text & Geography
Okay, maybe the word "Gerasenes" shows up in more manuscripts of Luke and Mark. But if you believe the account is factual (which I assume most translation committees do) then it seems silly to go with the word that's by far the least likely to be accurate IN FACT! From all I can tell, Biblical scholars agree on the geography, but it seems the translators go with the textual critics for their text and leave the practical scholarship for their footnotes. And all I'm saying is, why can't that be the other way around? (partial hat tip to jps on the footnote reversal idea) Oh, well. The rest of the Biblio-world can argue about translations. I'll just keep doing my Synopsis! :)
Oddly enough, classical scholarship once had it's own controversy over Gadara & Gerasa. Josephus said Aretas the Nabatean attacked Herod Antipas at "Gamala". Many scholars thought that didn't work, and suggested emending the text to "Ga"-something. Gadara & Gerasa were leading candidates until Glen Bowersock pointed out that Gamala was actually the most likely situation to have happened IN FACT... for reasons which previous scholars had apparently overlooked. That's almost a fairly similar situation. But, to be fair, I don't recall if there was much manuscript divergence on the Josephus text.
(Hat Tip to Michael Halcomb for nudging me into "Gerasene" waters tonight!)
October 22, 2008
Faith and History
However, I will say this. You can't find a diamond ring in a cracker jacks box. You can't get to China by digging a hole. And you can't find Faith through the historical critical method. At best, you can only find "probably". On this, James and I agree. But here's where I think we may differ.
Although the limits of "probably" should absolutely bind our scholarship, those limits should not always bind our belief. There are many things I cannot prove that I will always believe. For believers, scholarship compliments faith. For unbelievers, scholarship alone will never produce it.
Why I Am A Believer
Sure, my faith has been challenged. But mostly, it's been encouraged. I've been encouaged by history, by apologetics and by the incomplete logic of athiest arguments. I've been encouraged by church members, when I was fortunate enough to be part of a healthy church family. But most of all, more than anything else on this list, I've been encouraged by God.
Yes, you read that right. I said my faith has been encouraged by God Himself. In countless ways, some big some small, some common, some rare. He encourages my faith in Him. In some way, if not always the same way, I find God every day. And along the way, I've had enough really powerful experiences to know for certain that God IS.
Some things God uses to encourage my faith don't seem to do it for others. Some of the things God has done to encourage my faith are things I dearly wish everyone could experience. But it doesn't work like that. I sometimes wish it did, but it just doesn't.
Faith doesn't usually come from a few meetings or from a few conversations or (especially not) from a few good arguments. Faith comes when someone tells you the truth and you believe it. That's it! That's all that has to happen. You hear and you believe.
The moment of faith seems to come differently for people. It may or may not include historical evidence. It may or may not include rational argument. It may or may not include spiritual encounter. But it came, and you believed. And then - many days, weeks, months and years later, when you struggled to believe, you rememberd something (or felt something) that helped you continue to believe.
The best of all is when you can feel GOD every day, but that doesn't always happen. Some days, all I've been able to find is the memory of faith... but at that point, I believe again!
For whatever reason, for better and for worse, God has seen fit to make MAN the authority on Earth... and - God help us - like fools, we listen to each other! So in some ways, I admit I've simply been blessed to know men and women who believed. And I believed them. And I sought out more like them. And they encouraged my faith.
Not only do I sincerely believe, but I want to believe! And so I seek out believers. With them, because of them, despite them and sometimes even IN them... I find God. And thus, I continue to believe.
October 17, 2008
Annas & Gamaliel
It's a fascinating contrast. Here’s Annas the wealthy Sadducee, jockeying for power and keeping it, through his sons, for nearly all of 30 years. Meanwhile, Gamaliel spends that entire time just like his mentor Hillel – almost entirely away from the pages of history but famously devoted to the study and teaching of God’s Law.
Christians tend to like Gamaliel because he stood up for God’s will after Pentecost. Also, we know he was Paul’s teacher. But we never think of Gamaliel being on the same Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus! And long-term, we never think of Gamaliel being around since 10 AD or so, which is about when his mentor Hillel retired (or died). For another thing, I just realized how interesting it is that Hillel’s protégé outlasted him by over 23 years. If Gamaliel was the top Rabbi of all Hillel’s following from the year 10 onward, then he probably sat on the Sanhedrin for all those years, not just in 33 AD.
I seriously doubt Annas would have minded. On the contrary, Hillel and Gamaliel were both so laissez faire about politics and events, they were probably the model Pharisees any politically minded chief Sadducee would naturally prefer to have as head of the minority party in Jerusalem’s Council. All of which leads me to one more fascinating consideration:
Was it Gamaliel’s providential attitude that helped him survive in that mix with such prestige for so long? Or was it the need to survive under Annas (& his sons) that helped Gamaliel hold onto that attitude? With no disrespect at all to the laudible law-lover, I’d have to guess it was at least a little of both.
What else can we glean by considering Annas & Gamaliel togther, from 10 to 33 AD?
October 12, 2008
14 AD (part B)
Jesus lives in Nazareth. Tiberius begins his rule as Emperor.
In August of 14 AD, Jesus Christ was 20 years & 3 months old. He was a young single man in Nazareth of Galilee. The Son of God was living life as a Man in his prime.
But what was he doing?
Jesus was working with Joseph, doing jobs around town. He was building furniture and repairing homes. At their family home, Jesus sometimes helped his mother Mary with her young children. There were always chores to be done.
The Lord of heaven was acting like nobody special.
Around Nazareth, people knew him as "Joseph & Mary's son". Jesus did his work, stayed honest in trade, and treated others kindly. The Nazarenes liked Jesus, even though he didn’t stand out in any notable way.
In Nazareth, Jesus didn’t seem very pious or holy. He went to their Synagogue sometimes. But whenever he went, he never stood up. He never spoke out. Since childhood, Jesus developed an astonishing depth of knowledge about God, life and the scriptures. But he kept it to himself.
Despite his low profile, Jesus left good impressions on everyone. He honored his Father God by loving his neighbors. He acted justly, but he loved mercy too. He forgave debts. He repaid debts. He did what was right.
Every. Single. Time.
No one had ever lived so perfectly before. No one has ever done it since. And – perhaps most amazing – nobody even noticed at the time!
That is, nobody but One.
Jesus wasn’t just living blamelessly in the sight of all Nazarenes. Jesus was living righteously in the eyes of his Father. He was growing in favor with God just precisely as he was growing in favor with man.
In all the generations since Adam, this was the first time a Man lived a life that was perfectly pleasing to God. The Father was enjoying it. In fact, the Father was impressed!
Another way to put it is that Jesus Christ had to live a full life without sin before he could die for all sin. So he did. But what is a life without sin? It’s total devotion to God. And that’s what Christ did in Nazareth! In fact, Jesus didn’t have to think about sin at all. He focused on his Father. He walked with, talked with, listened to and – most of all – loved his Father. Fully and truly, Jesus loved his Father God in thought, word and deed.
This was the primary mission of Jesus on Earth – for 40 years, from 7 BC to 33 AD. It was simply and purely one simple thing.
Jesus Christ was living to please his Father.
Of course it was easy for Jesus, in Nazareth, to grow closer to his Father, God. Why? Because God the Father lived inside Jesus Christ! The time had come for a Man to worship the Father in Spirit – and he now did!
In every way, then, the Lord and his Father were One. Without his Father’s indwelling, Jesus could not have succeeded in living such a divine life. His ultimate secret was that the Son of God and his Father were living this perfect life in Nazareth together.
To some degree, they did everything together. Of course, they were used to this. The Father and Son had loved one another since before Eternity. And now twenty years into his earthly experience, Jesus was growing each year more into remembering that heavenly past. In other words, Jesus the Man, fully Son of God, was growing MORE into being who he already WAS.
But let’s repeat the most important thing of all.
The Father and Son loved one another in Nazareth, in 14 AD. And God – through Jesus – walked quietly among his people in Nazareth, loving them.
This Life of Jesus was the seed of what God wanted on Earth. And God was pleased to let Life keep growing in Galilee, for several more years. The rest of the world, outside Galilee, would just have to wait.
The rest of the world was distracted, anyway...
On August 19th, 14 AD, the Emperor of Rome died. That same day, his adopted son began ruling the Empire.
Before we get into this year’s events, let’s mention how these two Emperors affected the Lord Jesus.
The dead Emperor, Augustus Caesar, made the decree that caused Jesus Christ to be born in Bethlehem, in 7 BC. The new Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, is going to make several decisions that will affect the timing and method of Christ’s death. Events in Rome and Israel were definitely connected during Tiberius’ rule. But they unfold so slowly...
This is the first year of Tiberius’ reign as Emperor. We have 14 more Year Books until John begins Baptizing.
The year 14 AD is the 21st calendar year of Jesus on Earth. His death and resurrection come in 33 AD, at the start of his 40th year.
There’s so very much to tell, until that happens...
We’d better get started!
Augustus Caesar died at his father’s country house in Nola, South-Central Italy. The Emperor died in the arms of his trusted wife, Livia.
Augustus had ruled the Roman world for 57 years. He was 75 years old. Born “Octavian Caesar”, Augustus was the nephew of Julius and thus the second man named Caesar to rule the world. The third Caesar, Tiberius, was about to begin.
On August 19th, 14 AD, Tiberius and his widowed mother Livia were at Nola, near Mount Vesuvius. They came out of Augustus’ room and announced that the Emperor was dead.
Letters went out from Nola, and then from Rome. Messengers rode to every Governor and Legion Commander in every Province of the Empire. The letters announced the good news that Tiberius’ rule had begun.
The Roman world knew that Tiberius already held the ultimate power since 13 AD and was now the sole Emperor. But Tiberius had not acted like a ruler while Augustus was alive. So no one was sure what the new Emperor would actually do... or how the world would respond!
Augustus himself had been worried that rebellion might break out when he died. Tiberius, however, did not appear to be worried about his position at all.
The new Emperor did not rush into action of any kind. Instead, the 54 year old Caesar took a long slow walk that lasted for two weeks!
Tiberius carried out Augustus’ wishes for a dramatic funeral procession from Nola to Rome. Citizens carried the body by night, from town to town, stopping 13 times. The closed coffin was displayed during the day. Then that city’s chief officers carried Augustus to the next town by night.
On September 3rd, Tiberius finally reached Rome with his father’s body. The Senate cancelled all business and the coffin was placed on guarded display. There was nothing pressing that needed to be done. All the important men of Rome had already taken an oath of allegiance to their new Emperor.
On September 4th, Tiberius met with the Senate. Caesar’s son, Drusus, read Augustus’ will, memoirs and final instructions. Next, the Senators worked out every last funeral detail until Tiberius ended the meeting.
Tiberius and the Senators knew the funeral events would take a while. They knew Tiberius had absolute power. They knew Rome’s future was secure and stable.
There was only one question on everyone’s mind.
What was Tiberius actually going to DO???
For several days, Tiberius didn’t do much at all.
The funeral lasted all day on September 8th. They burned Augustus’ body and Livia sat with the bones for five days, surrounded by Roman noblemen. Citywide mourning ended on Friday the 14th.
Somewhere during this time, Tiberius did have to deal with one minor crisis. The Roman Army in Pannonia was in full revolt!
The news came sometime before the funeral. Three Legions in North Illyricum were demanding higher pay & earlier retirement. The mutineers took hostages and sent their threats to Rome with their Governor’s son.
In Rome, Tiberius held a private meeting with his son, Drusus Caesar, and two other very important men, who deserve a brief introduction.
The first man was Seius Strabo, an Italian nobleman who was currently head of the Emperor’s bodyguard, also known as the Prefect of the Imperial Guard.
The other man at this meeting was Seius Strabo’s son, his new co-prefect, Aelius Sejanus.
Remember that last name. Sejanus is going to be very important in years to come.
At this meeting Tiberius decided to keep Strabo in Rome with 7 of 9 Praetorian Cohorts. But their sons, Drusus & Sejanus, would go to Pannonia with a large military escort. The Emperor hoped 2,000 men would be enough to protect Drusus & Sejanus (against 15,000 or more) if they needed to escape during negotiations!
At any rate, Drusus & Sejanus had plenty of time to talk strategy. Their tiny force needed about two weeks to march into Pannonia.
Some days after this task force left Rome, Tiberius met with the Senate again. He’d waited for their next regular meeting, on Monday, September 17th.
When the Caesar entered the Senate, all 600 Senators stood up out of respect for their New Emperor.
Everyone knew the old man was fully in charge. But the Senators still wondered – how was Tiberius planning to USE his supreme power? And exactly how would their new Emperor expect the Senate to play along?
Basically, Tiberius & the Senate just had to settle their practical boundaries. It all boiled down to – Who would do what? There was no need for the Senate to confirm the Emperor’s position. But there were still lots of things to discuss.
First of all, Tiberius & the Senate declared Augustus was a god! They voted for a golden statue, a temple, shrines, priests, priestesses, officials and annual festivals – all in the honor of their dead ruler.
The common, pagan people of Rome had plenty of reasons to worship Augustus. Tiberius & the Senators had many good reasons for honoring Augustus. In the Senate, on September 17th, every man in the room knew just how terribly they were all going to miss their political savior, Augustus.
The Empire had grown too big, now. Even the Senators knew Rome had to be ruled by one man. Every Roman hoped Tiberius would be able to fill the shoes of his dead ‘divine’ father.
These thoughts led to the next order of business.
The Consuls put forward a motion, in some form or another. Basically, they proposed that Tiberius should rule them in the very same way and every bit as much as Augustus had ruled them.
Oddly enough, Tiberius had different ideas.
The new Emperor wasn’t about to give up any power, but he’d been secretly hoping to avoid bearing most of the responsibility. This was partly due to his nature, partly due to his old age (55 this November) and partly due to his extensive army experience.
Tiberius had never really entered politics. He’d been Consul, but not stood as Senator. He’d been a General since 20 BC. Tiberius was a pure soldier and he couldn’t help but think with a military mind.
Simply put, the old General wanted to delegate all his actual duties. Tiberius wanted to let the Senate run things, but veto whatever he didn’t agree with. But the Senators – no fools – wanted Tiberius to tell them what he wanted before they made decisions.
The Senate was so used to being ruled, they liked it!
So – at first – they were more than a bit surprised by the Emperor’s negative reply to the consuls’ flattering proposal.
Tiberius made a short speech to argue his point. The Caesar said that his year of sharing power with Augustus had shown him something. Tiberius now believed the Empire was too much for anyone other than Augustus to rule alone.
The Senators were so shocked, they were actually confused. But they knew what they wanted. A dramatic debate lasted all day long. Tiberius and the Senate argued over various points. And still, the Senators just wanted to know what their new Emperor was willing to actually do!
Tiberius thought just holding his position would be enough to maintain security. He wanted the Senate to do the business of government. But the Senate wanted their ruler to actively rule them. They knew the Empire Augustus built had to have an Emperor.
The irony is as rich as the debate was confusing.
Finally, Tiberius gave in. Already Emperor, the son of Augustus Caesar agreed to govern just like his father, as the Senate requested. But the promise didn’t mean much. For one thing, the whole ordeal had just reminded the old General how much he hated politics.
So Tiberius tied his promise to one small request. The Caesar asked the Senate to offer him a permanent rest as soon as it was possible.
The Senators had never heard anything like this. Right at the start of his rule, the new Emperor said he was eager to step aside!
This begins a rather odd period in Roman history.
Tiberius had all the power in the world. And the only thing he wanted to do was retire.
Tiberius & his Senators made one other decision on September 17th.
At the Emperor’s request, the Senate renewed the special Imperial powers of Germanicus Caesar!
Germanicus got total power over Gaul and Germany back in 12 AD. For the third year, now, Germanicus was campaigning with eight Legions on both sides of the Rhine River. The young General was still securing Rome’s Boundaries in Europe, since the disaster in 9 AD.
Augustus himself had named Germanicus as next in line to Tiberius. Loyal without limits, Tiberius even dis-inherited his natural son, Drusus, to adopt Germanicus, his nephew.
Germanicus was extremely popular, but still extremely unfit to be Emperor. Tiberius didn’t like him. But Tiberius needed him. The old General wanted the new General to grow up as quickly as possible.
So Tiberius sent a group of Senators to see Germanicus, to console him on the loss of Augustus, and to inform the young Caesar on the renewal of his special powers in Gaul & Germany.
Actually, on September 17th, Rome was still a week or two away from finding out that Germanicus was already fighting a full scale mutiny in Gaul, just like the one going on in Illyricum!
But we’ll get to that soon enough...
This Year Book can only put down one mutiny at a time!
A week after the debate, the Emperor’s son Drusus Caesar reached Pannonia. On September 25th, Drusus and Sejanus the Praetorian Prefect marched into the rebellious Legion camp with their 2,000 bodyguards.
The Rebel Leaders of the Three Legions let Drusus and Sejanus come inside the camp to negotiate. The Mutineers made demands while Drusus listened. But when Drusus began to talk about Tiberius being in charge, things broke down.
The main Rebel Leader shouted that Drusus needed to pay their demands or shut up. Then the Rebels stormed out of the meeting tent. But they let Drusus stay in camp, hoping he’d give in.
Naturally, this was their big mistake.
Drusus stayed awake with his advisors late into the night. About 3 AM, the moon went into eclipse!
Drusus sent Sejanus and their men around the camp to spread doubt about the rebel cause. Common soldiers woke up to see the eclipse and believed the gods were against them!
By dawn, the Legions had repented and turned in their ringleaders. The men were spared and the Rebel Leaders were executed! With that, Rome’s authority returned to every flagstaff and every heart. In a matter of hours, Drusus and Sejanus had restored perfect obedience.
Finally, Drusus Caesar promised the Legionaries that his father the Emperor would consider their need for more pay and fewer service years. Over the next few days, the Three Legions broke up and headed for their separate quarters to make winter camps.
Of course it didn’t hurt Drusus’ cause that winter had come early that year. And it was coming in hard.
By the way, the same eclipse Drusus saw in Pannonia also appeared in Israel at about 2 AM. Almost nobody saw it, at that time, but the watchmen reported it.
That morning of September 26th happened to be the first day of Tabernacles in Israel. So the Feast of Temporary Dwellings began with an eclipse that came about three weeks after they got the news that Augustus was dead. So many symptoms of change seemed to be coming all at once – even in the sky!
We can only wonder whether Jews in Israel felt superstitious about these coincidences, this year. But one man in Jerusalem already knew he had reasons for concern.
In Jerusalem, Annas the High Priest knew that Tiberius would probably replace Judea’s Governor. And Annas knew the Governor would probably consider replacing the high priest.
This was going to be a problem!
Annas liked being high priest. He’d done a lot to help keep Southern Israel stable since 6 AD, when Archelaus got exiled. As the chief Sadducee, Annas had no trouble dealing with the Pharisees and did a fine job leading the Sanhedrin in running Jerusalem. They’d kept up the restoration project, still going on around Herod’s Temple (which burned nearly down in 4 BC). Overall, there were no major conflicts to speak of.
But change was in the air...
Annas the High Priest had to wonder if this was his last chance to preside over the Festival of Booths. For seven nights, he ate dinner in tents. But Annas had seven months, at least, to wait and wonder who Tiberius would send to govern Southern Israel.
Annas also used that time to consider his options.
While we’re in Southern Israel, let’s not forget about the North. Even though Judea, Samaria & Galilee were being ruled by a Roman Governor in 14 AD, Northern Israel was still ruled by two sons of King Herod the Great.
Now beginning the 18th year since their dad’s death, Herod Antipas was still ruling Galilee and the Jordan Valley, while his brother Philip still held on to the heavily Arab region of Trachonitis and the Golan Heights.
Antipas and Philip had their own natural reactions to the start of Tiberius’ rule as Emperor. But this Year Book is long enough as it is.
We can catch up with North Israel in 15 AD. For now, let’s go up to the Far North of Europe!
Germanicus Caesar had been guarding the Rhine River without Tiberius for about 24 months now. Both Legion Commander and Proconsul, the 29 year old Caesar governed Gaul on his left and raided Germany on his right. But the young General was no military equal to his adopted father, Tiberius – a fact he was getting ready to prove.
Germanicus was riding around Gaul and Belgium on minor business when Augustus died. The General took his top officers along as well. Foolishly, none of them went to be with the Legions when the sad news came.
Half-way up river, the four Legions of the Lower Rhine were grumbling. September brought on the start of a harsh early winter while they waited for Germanicus. About 19 thousand soldiers were stuck in one summer camp, waiting for orders, and they hadn’t even been paid yet for the year!
Then two more weeks passed.
Germanicus was busy becoming more popular when the news came to Belgium. Legions I, V, XX and XXI were in full revolt! Their long wait for winter quarters and the annual payments had grown into bigger demands. When the Caesar finally reached them, the men had killed 240 Centurions and locked up all their higher officers!
Germanicus tried to address the Legions en masse, but the young Caesar’s charm failed him. Talking about their past loyalty to Tiberius didn’t work either. The Legions just shouted they’d rather Germanicus be their Emperor – as long as he’d pay them! And when Germanicus replied he’d rather kill himself than turn traitor, the soldiers told him to go ahead!
The General’s officers stopped his fake suicide attempt and rushed him to safety. The next day, Germanicus produced a fake letter from Tiberius claiming all their demands had been met. No one really believed it, but they were happy to get paid. The General caved in to all their demands and sent them to separate winter quarters. So the revolt was over.
Or so it seemed.
Two or three weeks later, in early October, a small group of Senators rode into the winter camp at Ara Ubiorum. They’d finally arrived with their message from September 17th. The soldiers of Legions I and XX were convinced these Senators would overrule the fake letter so they started a new uprising.
This time, Germanicus thought all was lost. At this point, the young General had to be saved by his wife, Agrippina!
This granddaughter of Augustus and daughter of Marcus Agrippa had been in Germany most of the year. Every bit as bold as her bloodline, Agrippina came up with a plan to put herself on the front line of danger!
Agrippina and her children took a carriage out of the city, pretending to flee. The other officers’ wives went along, weeping and wailing to attract attention from the Legion’s camp (just outside Ara Ubiorum). When the soldiers took them all into the camp as hostages, Agrippina went to work!
Using all her considerable feminine wiles, the General’s wife quickly made the soldiers ashamed for threatening four members of the Imperial Family – and women and children no less! Very soon the Legionaries all felt guilty enough to quit revolting. But secretly, Agrippina was so sure this would work she never worried about her little sons, Drusus, Nero and Gaius.
It didn’t hurt that the soldiers all loved the littlest Caesar, who she always dressed in a tiny soldier’s uniform. This year, the Legions had even nicknamed the two-year old “Little Boot” - Caligula. So it was thanks to Agrippina and her “Little Boot” that the new uprising ended in less than a day.
Then it broke out again.
By mid-October, Legions I and XX were still at peace at Ara Ubiorum, but Legions V and XXI were back in revolt, sixty miles downriver. So Germanicus told Legions I and XX to prepare for Civil War! Then he sent a threatening letter ahead that made the rebel camp up north tear itself apart.
When Germanicus got down river to that camp (at Castra Vetera) he found such a massacre he wept openly. Thanks to his letter, the disloyal troops had all been killed, but many loyal ones died in the battle. As a result, the surviving soldiers were so charged full of fury they didn’t know what to do with themselves!
It looked like the mutiny might spark back up anytime.
It was past the middle of October, over a month into a harsh early winter, and Germanicus had only 12,000 men left alive and still serving the four Legions that had boasted more than 19,000 just six weeks earlier. But – again – this horrible disaster still wasn’t over!
To wash away the guilt and stain of Roman blood, Germanicus now took all four Legions over the Rhine for a chance to spill some German blood!
Forcing a march for several days through thick German forests, the Legions found their target. Several villages of the Marsi tribe were holding a festival under the full moon on October 24th. The Romans waited until they were all drunk and sleeping and spread out into their four Legionary divisions again. Then Rome wiped out the tribesmen, burning everything in a fifty mile radius. Germanicus and his soldiers murdered every last Marsi man, woman and child.
The guilty Legionaries made this one memory horrible enough to drown all the recent ones. Then they turned back for the Rhine.
Some other German tribes nearby tried to trap the Legions in the woods on their march back. It almost worked, but Germanicus rallied his troops to stay on the move and fight their way through it.
The four Legions made it back to Castra Vetera not much larger than two normal sized Legions should have been. Exhausted, but still calling themselves four Legions, they all spent a cold, peaceful winter at Castra Vetera.
Of course, Germanicus went back up river to Ara Ubiorum, to be with his family.
The trouble on the Rhine was finally over now, nearly at the start of November.
Back in Rome, Tiberius knew all about the Rhine Legions and Germany before December.
The old General was horrified. Tiberius campaigned with Germanicus in Illyricum and Germany when the young man didn’t quite know what to do, but this whole disaster was a new low for the young Caesar.
The Emperor must have thought, “This is the man who’s going to rule Rome after I’m gone?”
The old Emperor wanted to stay loyal to the wishes of Augustus, but Tiberius was also desperately longing for an early retirement. The masterful ex-General was wise enough to know he wasn’t going to retire any time soon if it meant letting Rome depend on Germanicus! At least, not at this stage...
To make things worse, Tiberius had to spin the report in Rome to make it sound like a great victory over the Germans! In all Rome’s history, of all Rome’s enemies, Rome’s people held no greater fear of any barbarians than the Gauls and the Germans. Therefore, to comfort everyone in the city, Tiberius Caesar had to make his incompetent nephew even more popular than he already was among the common people of Rome.
This was a bad combination, bound to get worse.
Tiberius had to believe Germanicus would be the death of Rome, if the young Caesar ever got to rule it.
Besides all this, the Emperor still had one other major irritation. Tiberius was secretly furious that Agrippina – a mere woman, in his view – had been able to stop the mutiny when the use of the Caesar’s Imperial name had failed.
By this time, Drusus and Sejanus were back from Illyricum. Drusus, the natural son of Tiberius, did a far better job this year than Germanicus, the adopted Caesar. But Tiberius couldn’t say so in public.
And this is when the prefect Aelius Sejanus begins his long, slow power play.
Sejanus, as co-leader of the Emperor’s personal bodyguard, began to spend lots of time near the old Caesar. Sejanus would compliment the family of Drusus and criticize the family of Germanicus. Soon, the Emperor discovered Sejanus shared Tiberius’ particular loathing against aggressive royal women.
(Yes, that included the 71 year old Livia, perhaps most of all. But Tiberius was loyal to her as his mother, and he needed her as Empress!)
Anyway, for this and many other reasons, Caesar and his chief bodyguard began to be friends. In a few years, this friendship between Sejanus and Tiberius is going to affect every corner of the Empire. But not just yet.
Another thing Tiberius and Sejanus had in common was the patience to pursue ambitious projects...
This is 14 AD. The major pieces are all in place, now, for the next twenty years. The Imperial Family is going to go through a great deal of trouble.
As if it hadn’t already!
For example, Augustus wasn’t the only member of his family who died this year. The Greatest Caesar had worried for years that some rival Senators would try to use his exiled daughter, Julia, or her last living son, Posthumous Agrippa, as the rallying points of an uprising. So Augustus added two cruel decisions to his legacy, outside his official papers.
A year before Augustus died, while writing his will, the Emperor decided his grandson would have to go. But the Great Emperor didn’t want to live with the pain or the guilt of killing his grandson. So Augustus planned for Posthumous Agrippa to just barely outlive him!
Shortly after August 19th, 14 AD, on the island of Planasia, the soldiers guarding Agrippa got word that Augustus was dead. Their commanding Centurion had a standing order to kill the Exile at that point. So he did.
Tiberius did not know about Agrippa’s death until the Centurion reported to him in Rome. The new Emperor told the Centurion he hadn’t given the order. Then the Emperor told the Senate it must have been Augustus’ order.
Tiberius promised an investigation, but never ordered one. The Centurion was never punished. And rumors spread that Tiberius had ordered the killing. The true facts were never proven, but everyone knew Agrippa’s death made Tiberius’ position more secure.
Most people in Rome simply believed the rumors. And nothing else was ever done about it. But Tiberius was actually innocent of that death.
Just not of the next one.
After swearing he did not murder his former step-son, Agrippa, Tiberius turned right around and killed Agrippa’s mother Julia, the Emperor’s own ex-wife!
Actually, here’s what happened. When Augustus deliberately left Julia’s allowance out of the will, Tiberius simply stopped her payments. So Julia must have gone broke about the same time she heard her son Agrippa was dead. The depression and poverty, together, probably made Julia stop eating. But just to make sure, Tiberius also sent soldiers to keep Julia trapped in her home with no new supplies or visitors!
From all three causes, Julia starved to death before 14 AD ended. Her father’s will – which failed to mention her allowance – specifically commanded that Julia was not to be buried in the family tomb. Augustus Caesar was gone forever and so was his bloodline... almost.
Only Agrippina and her children still survived to carry on the Julian line.
So the Imperial family was now almost all from the bloodline of Tiberius.
Now, before we close this very busy Year Book, we must return to the most important question of all.
How does all this affect a certain 20 year old Nazarene Carpenter and his very Jewish world?
Actually, the answers to that are a little surprising.
First of all, the politics of Rome always affected the politics of Israel. Judea is now run by Rome and Galilee remains free at Rome’s pleasure. The High Priest, the Sanhedrin and Herod Antipas – in different ways – all rule under the constant risk and fear of incurring Rome’s wrath. Therefore, if anything happens in Israel, the powers that be don’t make a move without thinking about how Rome would take it. That means they paid close attention to how Tiberius was acting at all times.
Successful rulers made it their business to be familiar with the moods and whims of their Emperor. And those whims could change! Especially in the case of Tiberius, as we will see...
Furthermore, Rome also affected the common Jews of Israel, in variously big and small ways, over time. The decisions an Emperor makes always affect all his subjects, eventually. And Tiberius is going to make several decisions that affect the Jews in particular.
Finally, Roman events will begin to affect Jesus much more directly in 29 AD, once the Lord goes public. Certain dramatic events that happen in Italy from 29 to 31 are going to be very distracting for the Tetrarch of Galilee. And a large part of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee gets to happen (the way it does) specifically during the time when Herod Antipas gets so distracted!
What are those dramatic events? Oh, just wait. We’re building to all that...
Ultimately, of course, Rome is going to rule over the climax of all history when Pontius Pilate crucifies Jesus. And in many ways, all these years lead up to that event. The decisions Tiberius makes in Rome... the political pressure that builds up for Herod Antipas... the combination of factors that forces the Sanhedrin to have to go to Pilate at all, in the end...
These are the reasons Jesus winds up getting crucified instead of stoned, burned or beheaded! In many ways, it all comes back to the next 19 years in Italy!
It’s amazing, actually, to watch it unfold. Along the way, you might almost swear Someone was behind it all, directing events, building them into a useful climax for the Fullness of Time.
You might even decide what you think God “did” and what you think “just happened”. But that’s not for these Year Books to say...
All we can say is what happened.
You decide for yourself whether God made it happen. But keep Him in mind as we lay it all out...
Begin Footnotes to 14 AD (Part 2):
 See Year-by-Year, Volume One, 9 BC, 8 BC & 7 BC.
 We can reconstruct the year and month of Jesus’ baptism by study of the Gospels. Explaining how and why Luke (3:1) counts 28 AD as the “fifteenth” year of Tiberius is a whole other issue. There are at least two ways that work. Either Luke counted inclusively by calendar years, making 14 AD “year one” and 28 AD “year fifteen”, or else Luke counted chronologically from mid-13 AD when Tiberius accepted the Imperium on par with Augustus. We don’t know which method Luke used, but Luke’s statement gives us a window of possibilities for the date of Jesus’ baptism, which allows other evidence to settle the issue more precisely. For more on this, see footnotes to 12, 13 & 14 AD in Volume One and 28 AD in Volume Two.
 This same count works with both the Roman and the Hebrew calendar. Jesus’ birth in 7 BC came some weeks or months after Passover, the start of the festival year. So the Passover of the Lord’s Crucifixion began the 40th festival cycle of Jesus’ earthly life. (To check the math, remember that there was no “year zero”.) So we could say his 40th year had begun, even though he was just shy of his 39th birthday. Further, if Jesus’ birthday came on or just before his ascension (before Pentecost in 33 AD) – and remembering that the 39th birthday is the start of one’s 40th year – then this would mean Jesus had just begun his 40th chronological year on Earth when he left the planet physically.
Any of these counts suggests God gave his New Man a full forty years of proving before bringing him home. (Forty being the biblical time of testing, and a single day of the 40th year counting as a full year in Hebrew thought.)
 Rumors come out later that she poisoned him, but no ancient historian says she actually did it.
 Ancient counts differ, for example: Dio Cassius counted from the battle of Actium on September 2nd, 31 BC, to get 13 days shy of 44 years. This is an accurate count. Josephus counted from the death of Julius Caesar on March 15th, 44 BC, to get 57 years, six months & 2 days. This includes Augustus’ years of rule as Octavian with Antony & Lepidus. Josephus is off by about 28 days, but odder still, he ignored the “inclusive method” (see next note). This only proves Josephus’ counting is inconsistent, which is at least helpful to know.
 Born on September 28, 63 BC, Augustus died at age 75 years, 10 months and 23 days. (Though somehow, Dio Cassius counted 26 days.) Josephus’ report that Augustus was 77 years old is typical of Jewish inclusive counting – and compare this with the above note about counting Jesus’ years on Earth – so that if each year from 63 BC to 14 AD counts as “one”, then Augustus was in his 77th calendar year. This tendency will come up again at other points during Volume Two. (But see previous footnote on Josephus’ inconsistency.)
 Josephus at this point calls Augustus the second emperor (autokratos) of the Romans. Julius Caesar was never called “Emperor” (princeps) but he did become dictator for life, and all ancients considered him first in the line of Caesars. Any debate is semantic. See back matter.
 Augustus Caesar shared power several times from 44 BC to 14 AD, but no Emperor after him felt the need or desire to do the same. This made the situation of 13-14 AD unique in history – all later Emperors had a “day of accession” when the Senate awarded them the Empire, but Tiberius was already Emperor on the day Augustus died.
 Tiberius turns 55 this November, so he’s 54 now. Authors shouldn’t forget to count months.
 The procession averaged between 10 and 15 miles a day. Meanwhile, the news of Tiberius’ accession to sole power was spreading by relay in 8 hour shifts, covering 150 miles a day!
 The continuance of this tradition with later emperors may be what caused Josephus to mis-time the funeral procession of Herod the Great when he wrote his first account of it. (But compare Josephus’ Wars versus his Antiquities.) This remains an important issue to the chronology of 4 BC. (See 4 BC in Volume One.)
 Augustus left five lengthy documents in all: (1) his will, (2) his funeral instructions, (3) his memoirs of all the great things he’d gotten done, (4) his personal account of the Empire’s military and financial status, and (5) final personal commandments for Tiberius and the people.
 This could have happened as early as September 3rd, if the revolt broke out quickly and news came to Rome right away. We’ll cover these Pannonian events a bit more later on in this yearbook. Still, there’s no way to tell how long Tiberius deliberated before responding.
 Legio VIII Augusta, IX Hispania & XV Appolonia were stationed at Poetovio, Siscia & Emona, respectively, but had come together at some central place for their summer camp. Their Governing Proconsul was Q. Junius Blaesus, the uncle of L. Aelius Sejanus, who we meet now.
 There was no more “Provincia Illyricum” since 9 AD, but the Romans continued using the term to refer to both Dalmatia (South I.) and Pannonia (North I.) in general.
 Not to be confused with the still living, but very elderly Strabo, the famous Geography writer.
 The Praetorian Guards were the Emperor’s personal bodyguards and special enforcers at Rome. Augustus established nine Praetorian Cohorts of 500 (or possibly 1000) men each, stationed (at this time) just outside the city of Rome.
 According to Tacitus, Tiberius sent “a staff of nobles” with two Praetorian Cohorts, some Cavalry and selected men from the city guard. Rome also held three Urban Cohorts of 500 men each, the local police force. Even if Tiberius had wanted to challenge the mutineers in battle, the whole city had no more than 10,000 troops. For now, diplomacy would have to do.
 There is some possibility Drusus stayed for the Senate meeting of the 17th and then caught up by making double-time. Either way, scholars agree that the troops left Rome some days before September 17th, and Drusus was either with them at that time or else he caught up to them quickly after the 17th.
 This is a unique situation that never repeated itself. After Tiberius, no one ever received full imperial powers until after the prior Emperor was dead. The uniqueness of Tiberiu’s “non-accession” (combined with the overwhelming prevalence of every succeeding Emperor, each of whom had one official “date of accession”) has confused historians from ancient time until recent decades. For more on this, see back matter.
 Scholars suggest this may be the central thesis of Dio Cassius’ whole History.
 The exact wording of this consular motion is lost. Levick borrows the language of Velleius Paterculus (“succeed to the position of his father”) and calls the motion complimentary and formal. Seager suggests the motion was an official renewal of Tiberius’ “province” (his particular and official duties). Whatever the exact wording, both Levick & Seager agree that the purpose of this consular motion was to formally invite Tiberius into actually wielding the full responsibilities of his already limitless authority. Of course, the aged & stoic Tiberius had a very different idea, as we are about to see.
 Fifty-five is VERY old in the ancient world. Common men didn’t live that long. Wealthy kings and emperors could make it past 70, but imagine going through what we call “middle age” without modern comforts! Augustus at age 55 was settling down to groom his successor. But Tiberius at 55 had to gear himself up for a much greater and – more critically – a much different challenge than anything he was used to.
 There are various and complicated reasons why historians – for centuries – misunderstood this debate, wrongly declaring it to be about Tiberius’ Imperial powers and position as Emperor. The biggest problem was that every Emperor after Tiberius had a specific day when the Senate proclaimed him and issued his powers. Even the ancient historians (beginning 102 years later with the Annals of Tacitus) misunderstood the “accession” of Tiberius by interpreting the records through their own familiarity with later traditions that stood from 37 AD on. It was not until the 20th century that classical scholarship finally showed a convincing way through the maze of conflicting ancient interpretations. See Bibliography (especially Levick & Seager) and other back matter for much more on this.
 Most Emperors had a mixture of military and political experience, but Tiberius was a pure soldier at heart who spent most of his adult life with the Legions. Tiberius never served more than a year of magistracy at Rome (3 other times he got called away) but he’d spent nearly all of the past 33 years commanding troops. Tiberius Caesar was unskilled at speaking and had trouble giving clear instructions in civilian life. Close, loyal subordinate commanders like Velleius Paterculus had always been there to help him relay orders on campaign – whereas Tiberius was bound to find no such compatriots in the Senate.
Frankly, Tiberius wasn’t cut out for Augustus’ job and he knew it, but somebody had to fill the position. The only way Tiberius is going to master politics is going to be when he turns it into a traitor hunt, almost like a wartime campaign, a few years from now. As a matter of fact, certain Senators named in the September 17th debate seem to have been secretly marked as enemies by Tiberius from this moment on, although Tiberius slow-played his hand, as he always preferred to do in any military campaign. The new Emperor surveyed the challenge like the expert military tactician that he was, measuring his advantages, noting all obstacles, calculating variables and considering his targets strategically. In all this, the old General was biding his time! When you consider these things together with the typical but incredible slowness of Tiberius’ preferred methods on campaign, the next 13 years begin to look like Tiberius decided to wage politics as war. Whatever the case, the new Emperor is going to play things very close-to-the-vest, so to speak, which was also very characteristic of Tiberius.
However, since his motives are so debatable, we will focus on his actions!
 Legions VIII Augusta, IX Hispania and XV Appolonia were camped together somewhere near the junction of the Balkans and the Alps, probably near the flats of Siscia (Segestica) on the Save River. Their usual winter quarters were at Poetovio, Siscia and Emona, respectively.
 We should wonder if Tiberius’ personal astrologer Thrysallus predicted this and led Drusus to consider the superstitious potential in advance. Otherwise, what was Drusus banking on, going up against Three Legions with nothing but 2,000 men and his father’s good name? Thrysallus might not have been at the strategy session in Rome, but he would certainly have known in advance about the eclipse, so it’s a plausible consideration.
 Approximately, I presume, as Israel is approximately one time zone East of NW Pannonia.
 It was the morning when they awoke before the festival was set to begin that night.
 The Feast of “Booths” or Tents was the third major feast after Passover and Pentecost. One major theme of the week was to remember the times of wandering and exile (by both the patriarchs and the nation) when the promised land or its restoration was still being expected. Since many Jews in 14 AD were waiting for an end to Roman occupation, the festival was pregnant with extra meaning to begin with. And since everyone in Israel remembered the Purim eclipse that preceded the death of Herod the Great, it’s likely there was some discussion about this Tabernacles eclipse that followed the death of Augustus. (Author’s note: Personally, I don’t think either eclipse means anything. But I bet some of them did, at the time.)
 Germanicus and his officers surveyed Gaul’s harvest for tax purposes, a menial chore which someone else should have been doing, and then he inducted the Belgian tribes into friendship with the empire, which gave Rome free access to the mouth of the Rhine. True, the North Sea was a key gain, but it could have been postponed.
 That harsh early winter hit the North Balkans, much further south, by late September. So how much earlier would it have hit the lower Rhine in North Gaul and Germany?
 History will record this woman as “Agrippina the Elder” and her daughter Agrippina will be more famous in her day. For now, we note that this present Agrippina was born to Augustus’ daughter Julia in her first marriage to Augustus’ top General, Marcus Agrippa. Her three brothers and her sister (Gaius, Lucius, Posthumous & Julia-the-younger) met death and exile in Volume One, but Agrippina sealed her fortune by marriage to Germanicus, grandson of the Empress Livia. This winter, Agrippina begins proving herself to be a powerful woman in her own right – a fact we will begin to explore more fully next year.
 Roman Imperial Family names repeat themselves often. This is the third Drusus in our Year Books. His grandfather Drusus died in 9 BC and his uncle Drusus we’ve followed this year. Secondly, this Nero is not the famous Emperor – not born until 37 AD – but “Nero” was actually the original surname of Tiberius’ family. And thirdly, this Gaius was named after his mom’s oldest brother (not to mention Gaius Julius Caesar the Dictator), but this Gaius IS a future Emperor-to-be, who we know better by his nickname, “Caligula” (on which, see above).
 I presume the German nocturnal festivals were always under the full moon, as in other cultures. This fits the timeline perfectly, but underscores how late in the season this was, and that being over six weeks into an early winter!
 Julia was exiled for adultery in 2 BC and Agrippa for various reasons in 8 AD.
 It’s unclear whether Augustus left the order himself, beforehand, or whether Augustus told a loyal nobleman to send the order as soon as he died. A leading theory is that the nobleman, one Sallustius Crispus, sent the order and somehow copied the Imperial Seal, which convinced the Centurion it was actually Tiberius’ order. Ancient sources split and qualified their judgments but leaned toward blaming Tiberius. Few present day scholars disagree, however, that Augustus instigated the order, either directly or indirectly.
 There was one beside Agrippina and her children – the separately exiled Julia-the-Younger. Sister of Agrippina and Mama Julia’s other daughter, this younger Julia was still in exile on the island of Trimerus, east of Italy. (See 8 AD in Volume One.) Although Tiberius killed mama Julia, younger Julia’s step-grandmother (Livia) had enough mercy to personally send the poor woman an allowance to live on. So the surviving Julia lives in exile until 28 AD. After that, Younger-Julia’s only daughter will one day have four children, three of whom will eventually die (under the Emperor Nero) simply for being in Augustus’ bloodline. Those deaths, under Nero, will end the line of Julia the Younger, in history, but none of these people become significant in and of themselves.
 For a rundown of family members at this time, skim this Year Book again, check the Character Glossary, or see the Bonus Material.