May 31, 2008

Jesus was born in 7 BC

Let me see how succinct I can be:

Matthew says Joseph was afraid to take Jesus into Judea because of Archelaus. Luke says Joseph left Jesus in Galilee every year at Passover time, until he was 12. I say these two things have got to be related! Archelaus left Judea forever in the middle of 6 AD. Therefore, Joseph took Jesus to Passover in March, 7 AD. Jesus might have turned 13 the day they got back from that trip, but he was "12" while they stayed at the festival.

This is a new place to start all chronological work on the Lord's life... If true, then Jesus was born somewhere between April of 7 BC and April of 6 BC. The year 7 BC is also when Saturninus governed Syria (and held a census, according to Tertullian). The year 7 BC also fits Kepler's theory on the star of Bethlehem. AND, if 7 BC is Jesus' first calendar year on the planet as a human being, then 33 AD was his 40th! Finally, if Jesus was born in May of 7 BC, then it's possible the ascension took place very near his 39th birthday, which of course would be the very first day of his 40th year. (Not to put too much weight on numerology, of course!) ;)

I get emotional thinking that God needed to "prove" his Son's humanity for 40 years, but the Father brought him home at the start of that 40th year. Enough was enough. One day of that year counted as much as the whole year. ("Part of an omer is all of an omer.")

In May of 33 AD, after 39 years and at least one more day, the Father simply couldn't stand to be that apart from his son any longer.

Now, that's deeply touching to me. But numerology isn't why I believe this is true. I believe it because of the Math. If Matthew 2:22 explains Luke 2:41-42, then that puts Luke 2:41-51 in 7 AD, which puts Jesus' birth sometime less than 12 months prior to March of 6 BC. So Jesus was born as early as April of May of 7 BC. And then, yeah, his 40th year started as early as April or May of 33 AD.

I still can't believe nobody else ever said this before... but I'm saying it now.

I believe this gives us a new beginning for chronological work on the Lord's life, and perhaps the entire New Testament.

Now, somebody...

Ask me a question! :)

May 26, 2008

The Temple Courtyard

Herod’s Temple was nearly finished in 4 BC, when it burned (mostly) down - though it seems clear that Jerusalem finished rebuilding that Temple by Jesus’ day. Obviously, he walked in it and talked about it. But some books say it wasn't finished until 30 years later. I disagree. Strongly! Well, sortof. :)

I believe the Temple was completed by 29 AD and Jesus saw the same Temple Josephus saw 30 years later... only with one key exception. In Jesus' day the Courtyard was made completely of dirt.

That is, I believe the Temple courts weren't PAVED until King Agrippa II sent workmen to do it in the late 50's to early 60's AD. That final upgrade was "completed" about 62/63 AD – which explains how writers can say the whole project took over 80 years to "complete". (And of course, we know the whole thing came down for good when Rome burned it down a second time in 70 AD.)

Now, that’s my reconstruction. Here’s the evidence and thought process that led me to it:


Major second-hand sources on Herod’s Temple sometimes point out it took 83 years to finish the [entire] project, but they don’t go into details. Yes, Josephus says it was “completed” in the 60’s AD under Agrippa II, but how could construction work on an unfinished temple have remained ongoing for 83 years? That never seemed right.

For one thing, the gospel accounts all read just as if Jesus was walking around in a completed Temple complex. For another, Josephus also says the covered walkways (porticos) all burned down in 4 BC, along with (most likely) the inner-court structures as well. Burned down in 4 BC, finished around 29 AD, but not “finished” until 62/63? Something just doesn’t add up.

The common sense solution seems (to me) that the later work under Agrippa II was only a project to put paving stones down in the courtyard. In fact, those same lines in Josephus say that Agrippa’s workmen wanted more work, so he let them pave the main street through Jerusalem. So they were pavers. And that is probably all they were.

My reconstruction starts by supposing that Temple reconstruction began in 4/3 BC on the comparatively shoestring budget of the Sanhedrin. Archelaus’ likely refusal to help (which I strongly suspect because all of his actions were selfish, because his main pastime seemed to be feasting and because Caesar cut his initial revenues by more than half) was just another reason the Jews tried so hard to get rid of him. Their construction speed must have been about half that of Herod (whose resources enabled him to be virtually finished in less than 16 years) because the Sanhderin seems to have just finished about the same time as Jesus walked into town, in 29 AD. Otherwise, how could he threaten to tear down what was only half-way built?

Back to paving. Easily 99% of the ancient world (apart from carved or tiered, layed steps) remained unpaved in those days. The fact that it was Jerusalem’s main street getting paved proves the novelty of it. But there are more specific clues that the Temple itself stayed unpaved before Agrippa. When Jesus “drew in the dirt”, doesn’t that show the court was a courtyard? And the pilgrims of 4 BC threw stones at Archelaus’ troops (who tried to enter the temple at that Passover). Doesn’t that show the courtyard was unpaved? You can easily kick stones loose out of packed earth, but who would let hundreds of loose stones remain on a smooth, paved surface? Especially on their busiest day? What a hazard! It must have been dirt.

By the way, even if the project had gone on continuously for 83 years, wouldn’t paving just naturally have been about the last priority that could possibly make the list? So the court was a courtyard for all that time, either way! But it seems far more likely that the finished Temple Complex merely remained unpaved for 30 years.


Now, with all of that said... I can think of just three possible applications, of Biblical interest.

First, this is important simply for the sake of our general attention to detail. All those pictures of Jesus walking on paved stones in the courtyard now need to be changed. Boo! Old books are inaccurate. Yea! New jobs for the illustrators! ;)

Second, someone whose Greek grammar is far beyond mine should go look at John 2:20 again, with this reconstruction in mind. I'd love to know if their verbiage suggests at all that work was just recently completed: “has taken… to build” – hmmm. And some translations say "was in building" using "was" - may I presume - as strictly past tense? Again, hmmm.)

Third, if those Jewish elders said what I think they were saying... then that means the Sanhedrin finished rebuilding their Temple just in time for God's Living Temple (Jesus) to walk into it. Wow! Personally, I think that's remarkable just from a coincidental point of view, but it may be even more significant from God’s own viewpoint. Yes, perhaps even the timing. No, I can't guess at God's reasons (yet) but I'm sure HE had at least one.

Anyway, please note that I don't have a theory right now driving this whole thing. This all started for me when I was working on 4 BC and at the Passover fight scene I said to myself, "Where'd they get all the stones?" Because I had my image of all the story-bible art with the smooth pavers, see? :)

A fourth point: sometimes, this is just so much fun! ;)


So this is my work on the subject to date. But I need scholars to chime in…

Anyone? Please?

For all I know, this has been pointed out long ago. I hope it’s just a detail that editors have chosen to gloss over for simplicity’s sake. But then again, most readers & writers value such attention to detail…

Is it possible this has simply been overlooked?

May 25, 2008

Prep Work plus 46 Years

Jesus stood in Jerusalem in April of 29 AD and said, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up." (He was talking about getting killed and coming back, which was still 96 months away.) Then some Jewish guys shouted back, "It took us forty-six years to build this temple! How are you gonna blah-de-blah blah?" (Or something like that.)

Now, for me to say that was in 29 AD I have to deal with those "46 years". Or, more accurately, those 46 years plus the prep-work that happened before that.

Here's what I've got so far...

Note: Tonight's post is full of things I've wanted to say for over two years. I've just recently decided to start airing it all on this blog, hoping for feedback. At least, that's the plan for now, or until I have time to start writing Year Books again!

Okay, then. "It took us 46 years to build..."

When you start digging, the first bit you might find is that "Herod began building his Temple in the year 20 BC." But 20 BC is NOT when Herod the Great began to BUILD his Temple in Jerusalem. The year 20 BC is merely when he ANNOUNCED that he wanted to, but the Jews said [basically] - what if you tear down and then are unable to rebuild? So, in 20 BC, HTG said [in about so many words] - fine, then I won't tear down any old stones until all the new stones & beams have all been hewn & cut & gathered AND until all the new construction workers have been fully trained. Only THEN will I begin tearing down. [That's my paraphrase, of course!]

And of course, all that prep-work was followed a period of time spent tearing down Zerubbabel's Temple... and only THEN did Herod's building project actually begin, um, BUILDING anything!

My point? Ask any contractor. Prep-work can be murder on your job schedule!

Now, why does this matter? Because those Jewish guys said "It took 46 years to BUILD..."

I repeat - they said, "to BUILD". That is NOT including prep work. (If you include prep-work in their statement, you go 46 years from 20 BC and put John 2:20 in 27 AD, which is too early. But that might help explain some early, incorrect scholarship.)

Now, I have four critical points to make about this.

Point one:


Excuse me for shouting. I just get so worked up sometimes! :)

Point two:

I was a small-time contractor for four years in Atlanta, Georgia. I worked with many residential contractors during those years. And I daresay any contractor who's ever been in business for any length of time will tell you they don't like to bid unusual jobs, extra-large jobs or jobs that fall outside their area of knowledge. By the same token, many rookie contractors go belly up because they UNDERESTIMATE the amount of time involved in doing just those kinds of jobs. Even veteran contractors with decades of experience who run large outfits will tell you they feel uncomfortable estimating jobs of that nature. Many of the most successful ones will tell you they bid high (that is, they grossly OVER-ESTIMATE) on purpose because they'd by far rather lose the job than go broke over one large, unusual job.

(Blog readers, you may at this point draw your own conclusions as to what my second point has to do with the prep-work that BEGAN in 20 BC. But see point one again.)

And now, for the record, I include myself in point three.

Point Three:

No scholar should feel comfortable estimating the length of time Herod's Prep-Work actually took. We cannot assess. We cannot surmise. We cannot add up. We cannot imagine. We cannot spatially visualize or account for the sheer vastness of scope involved in what Herod promised to do BEFORE even beginning to BUILD.

No scholar without contracting experience should feel casual, comfortable or confident to estimate how many months or years that prep-work might have taken. And no decent contractor with any experience at all would feel that way, either. Not even if he was standing on the site itself, back in the day.

And therefore, no scholarly estimate in print should go un-questioned UNLESS they've got 40 years of contracting experience AND they've examined the quarry Ehud Netzer just dug up AND the forests of Lebanon (in detail) AND felled a few trees there... AND probably much more.

So where does that leave us? The same place all scholars stood BEFORE they all came up with their ever-so-convenient estimates in the first place! That is...

Point Four:

All we can do is work backwards from the crucifixion, use the gospel texts to determine how many years Jesus' ministry covered, conclude the year John 2:20 got spoken, and THEN work backwards some more... to estimate how much time the prep-work (evidently) must have taken.

From Cheney's chronology, I've got Jesus first adult Passover visit to that Temple in 29 AD. Subtract "46 years" from 29 AD and you get something like 18 BC. That gives about two years of prep-work, give or take several months, depending.


Sure. As far as I know! Or as far as you know, either. Yeah, two years. Why not? Think about it... Huge job. Very unusual situation. No one there at that time had ever built anything remotely so large. It's very easy to think their own estimates streeeeeetched somewhat longer than what Herod hoped for at first. Heck, for all we know, if we actually could size it all up, two years might turn out to seem kind of amazing!

So two years of prep-work on a project like that sounds just right... for all I can guess! But don't take my word for it... go ask any experienced, major contractor.

(No, seriously. Go ask! Please! And then come back and tell me what they said!) :)

But remember - the end result of all this is that we have to go back to the gospels themselves to determine how long Jesus' ministry was, and what YEAR that event took place in.

Which means I need to defend Cheney's chronology...

Some other time!

May 17, 2008

Mental Files

I just noticed today there were Arabian Jews at the Day of Pentecost (in 33 AD) and wondered if any of them met Paul (Saul) when he lived in Nabatea (North Arabia) for 21/2 years. There's probably not much we could do with that, but it's interesting. It's also interesting to note another example of skimming over a detail in one passage that my brain doesn't associate with other topics. But Acts 2:11 says: "...and Arabs..." Hmmmm....

Of course, the rest of Acts is no help because Luke avoids Paul's Nabatean years entirely. Luke was trying to show that Jewish leaders everywhere had a pattern of accusing Paul unfairly. So if Luke shows Paul had a criminal record in Nabatea, it simply doesn't help Paul's case! This is also _a_ reason why Luke blurs his chronology in the 30's & 40's. Just like Luke also forgets to mention Paul & Silas each broke their exile from Thessalonica! Or that Titus jumped ship at Fair Havens! But now I digress... :)

I wonder - how likely is it that Paul found believers in Bostra or Petra? And I wonder what other information we have about Arabia/Nabatea that might apply to Paul's time there?

May 13, 2008

Saying Goodbye

In the early spring of 34 AD, Saul of Tarsus slipped through the cracks of Damascus one night and hurried away... going south. Saul did not go north towards Tarsus. He did not go southwest on the road to Jersualem. Saul went south. Due south.

He was heading for Northern Arabia.

Saul (later Paul) knew Jesus Christ had called him to go to the Gentiles. But Saul was a Jew. Saul still felt loyal, still felt LOVE for his people! There had never been anything in Saul's human self that had wanted to see, touch, speak with or live anywhere close to the gentiles... let alone preach salvation to them. Let alone share his GOD with them!

But now Saul had changed. Totally. And somewhat. Completely. A little.

God rarely changes a man all through all at once. So while we can only guess how much Saul (Paul) had changed in a very short time... some parts of him... at the very least, Saul's MEMORY... was still longing and wishing his call was to Israel. Perhaps even desperately, at least one part of Saul the human being just wanted to go home and save his own people.

We do know Saul never lost touch with this strong personal desire to see all of Israel enter God's NEW Kingdom. At least 23 years after he met Jesus Christ, Paul (Saul) was still talking about how much he wished he could go to his OWN people. Saul was a Jew to the core. Loyal to the death. Longing for Hebrew redemption.

And yet the Lord had asked this man to go in another direction. South, apparently.

And yet... in the spring of 34 AD, Saul was a very new christian.

What would he do? Would he obey?

Three days south, on the road from Damascus (however fast he actually got there), Saul must have spent at least one night in Bostra. A truly Arabian city, Bostra was the northernmost tip of what the Romans called "Northern Arabia". At that point, Saul found himself in the Kingdom of Nabatea.

For all we know, Saul spent the next 30 months there in Bostra. (See Redating Post.) We can only guess at this point, but Saul probably went further south. So...

Whenever Saul left Bostra, (IF he left Bostra), the main road cut through the Decapolis. Two days later, Saul would have come to a crossroads. A MAJOR crossroads. Yes, in more ways than one.

Behind this young Hebrew, the road back to Bostra. To his left, more Gentile Arabians. This road thru heart of the Nabatean Kingdom went to its capital, Petra, and ended at the tip of the Red Sea. Saul (Paul) was barely a christian, and yet, Jesus Christ had called him to the Gentiles. Surely, Saul would obey. Surely, he would go deeper into Arabia.

But then again, on Saul's right stood the road back to Israel! Five days south of Damascus, this homesick Pharisee could almost see the Holy City itself. It couldn't hurt anything to walk just a bit down that road. Just to look.

Perhaps to say a last goodbye?

A mile down that road (IF Paul took that road), Saul (Paul) could practically see Jericho. The land fell below him. The road stretching into the Jordan valley. He could not see the river, but he could see the curve of its line by the tops of the trees on its banks.

Two miles down that road (IF Paul took that road), Saul (Paul) could see more than before. But not quite enough. If Paul had walked a full day from the last city back (Philadelphia), then the sun was getting ready to set. In the west.

Saul would have - could have - watched the sun set over the Jordan. As a farewell.

Five miles down that road (or less), Saul (Paul) probably saw a footpath leading up the small mountain to his left. With enough daylight, Saul might have climbed up that hill. Up the mountain. Up to its top. Then around to the west side overlook.

From the top of that Mountain, (IF Paul climbed it) Saul could see everything! Below to his right, the Jordan River running down from Galilee on the horizon. Directly ahead, the Dead Sea, stretching out to the left, towards Petra. From the south overlook, Saul (Paul) could have seen where he was about to go, down thru the rest of Nabatea.

But from this side, looking west, Saul could see home.

In the waning rays of late afternoon, just a bit to the left, was the mountain of Olives. Behind it's peak, Saul knew, was the shadow of Jerusalem. Staring at that mountain, Saul could imagine Herod's Temple, on the city's east side. He knew where the Temple sat. It sat facing him. In fact, it sat...

Not far from the spot where he'd watched them stone Stephen. Stephen the gentile. Stephen who spoke of Saul's forefathers, Abraham & Moses. Men who wandered...

Homeless men. Like Saul. Suddenly.

Let's not try too hard to imagine how much emotion Saul might have felt. How much devotion he had to his people. And yet, Saul's devotion for his God was far greater. Saul's devotion to his LORD would trump anything.

Let's not try too hard to picture what an intimate, sorrowful, tender, crushing, bittersweet struggle Saul must have had there, that night, with His Lord. But IF that evening happened, wow. That must have been something!!

And yet, even more. Because at some point, if he hadn't already, Saul would have realized one more tiny detail.

This was Mount Nebo.

This was where God spoke to Moses, just before Israel crossed over Jordan. Just before Joshua followed the Ark of God's Testimony into the Promised Land. Just before Moses went down to tell them all it was time. Just before God fulfilled what he'd promised to do for his Name's sake... For his Testimony... For his people...

For Israel.

This spot - where Saul (Paul) now stood, looking at Israel. Leaving for the Gentiles.

This was the spot where God brought Moses, just to look at the promised land, one time before he died. Because God had told Moses,

"Moses, you will not be going in."

And (if or) when God reminded Saul that they were sharing this moment in that very spot...

Just imagine how Saul must have wept.

May 11, 2008

Redating Paul in Damascus

This was almost a comment/footnote under the last post, but it turned into a post of its own! So now call it Part Three in this Series on Damascus.

I wrote "The Damascus Story" over two years ago, and dated it as posted, "February, 36 AD". I have since felt the need to revise that, but not before I can do intense scrutiny of the years 34-38.

Now, since I have been reviewing my notes on all this recently, I'll just have to take a stab at this redating project now, while I'm thinking about it!

It does seem like the most likely date for the battle of Gamala (if a full scale battle is even what it was) is still summer 36 AD, because it happened while Antipas was away at the Euphrates with Vitellius & the Parthians. So if Paul fled Nabatea AFTER that attack (see May 3rd post), then he couldn't be in Damascus again until late summer or early autumn, 36.

As I said, I'll look at that later. This summer maybe. But for now I'll make a few key points towards a tenative conclusion on this date.

Point One: Aretas' military forces can't be anywhere near Damascus after spring of 37 at the latest. News of Tiberius' death arrives at Pentecost that year, and by that time Vitellius was already near Jerusalem with a Legion or two. The Nabateans had, of course, retreated...

Point Two: I firmly believe Paul may have seen the Lord and gone blind as early as February of 34 AD. (Details I'll have to share someday, based on events in 33. But not yet.)

So these are the boundaries. Paul's time in Arabia has to take place between February 34 and February 37. Of course, that might be the "three years" right there. Maybe... But that brings me to...

Point Three: Saul(Paul) has to sail from Caesarea to Tarsus BEFORE Jerusalem hears the news about the christians in Antioch. Now, I've got a strong hunch that it was Vitellius' servants - who naturally shared all kinds of gossip with Herod Antipas' servants when the Governor was the Tetrarch's guest at his Jerusalem Palace [or townhome] - that it was THOSE SERVANTS at Pentecost in 37 AD who first brought the news that Antioch had a gentile christian church.

((See, Jerusalem didn't get a whole lot of DIRECT contact with Syria, generally! Ancient grudges ran that deep and there were no needs for going that far. But if just anyone, anytime could have delivered that news to Jerusalem, then why did it take more than three years to get that news down there? That's why I think it had to be Vitellius' visit that brought the news.))

To be more specific, then: if Saul leaves Damascus AND sails from Judea (both) BEFORE Pentecost [May 12] of 37, then Saul has to sail in September 36 or April/May 37. And I have a hard time imagining Saul lasting all winter long in Jerusalem when he was surely quick to make enemies. Not to mention Saul couldn't have spent so many months in Jeru when years to come would prove Paul was so little known by the saints there.

And finally, Point Five: It was still most likely LESS than three full, chronological "years". (IE, less than 36 months.) Therefore, I still like the general point made in the story about months and "years". I might revise the dialogue someday, but FOR NOW, it does still show the possibility that Paul COULD have been in Arabia for a mere 25 months and still called it "three years". Not that I'm trying to preserve "wiggle room"! ;)

Now let's see, can we put all that together?


If I had to guess tonight, I'd say Saul got saved before Passover in 34, fled Damascus and spent two Passovers in Nabatea, fled TO Damascus in August of 36, and almost just as quickly fled FROM Damascus for the second time in the same month, 36 AD! After that, I'd guess it didn't take Saul very long at all to get in major hot water in Jerusalem... so he can still sail out of Caesarea by mid to late September and easily make it to Tarsus before the end of sailing, mid-October. (Lots of ships sailed that direction so late in the season. Going up the coast in August/September was much safer and easier, weather wise.)

By the way, this scenario gives Paul three Passovers AND three summers, for as much as 32 months in Arabia, total. Hmmmm...

Anyway, that's what I'd guess tonight. ;)

But like I said... I need to look at it more closely this summer! :)

May 7, 2008

Paul Fled Damascus Twice!

Since I'm posting old notes, here's an old story. I never posted this and I only showed it to a few people, maybe. It's fictionalized, which is unique for me, but notice I've added historical notes and scripture references at the bottom. Hopefully, the story that comes before makes a more entertaining point than my usual blogging these days... Enjoy!

The Damascus Story
February, 36 AD
(More likely August 36. See Next Post.)

[This is Saul’s SECOND trip to Damascus, after living in Arabia for “three” years.]

Ananias stepped into the room where Saul had been hiding for several days. “Saul, are you here? It’s me, Ananias.”

Saul sat up from where he had been laying, on the ground, behind a cot that was covered in blankets.

“Hi, brother. I’m here. What’s up?”

Ananias came in, closed the door, and sat on a stool. “Saul, one of the disciples here who is a servant in the council chamber just heard some news. You know that guy who came up with the soldiers from Arabia? The one you said chased you up here from Petra?”

“The Ethnarch.” Saul said. “How could I forget?”

“Well, hold onto something, Saul. Your Etnarch met with the council today and asked them for permission to hunt you down here in the city!”

Saul’s face went a touch pale. “I was hoping he wouldn’t get access to me, here in Syria. Is this still a Roman Province with a Roman Governor?”

“Yes it is, Saul,” Ananias continued. “But you know as well as I do that Damascus sits right on the edge of the Syrian border with King Herod’s old lands. As a matter of fact, when Herod’s son Philip died two years ago, all the lands south up to Nabatea were supposed to become part of Syria too. But you know, that doesn’t mean much at first – except a different tax collector comes around each year.”

“What’s new?” Saul groaned. (Tax collection officers were frequently replaced.)

“Anyway, Saul, you know there’s not much of Rome here in Damascus, generally. The Ethnarch brought a large enough garrison of troops that he could probably take the city if he wanted to – not that he could hold it for long. But the point is, he’s here, and he’s still hunting for you.”

Paul jumped in, “Are they going to let him stay?”

“Normally, they would do so with no problem. To them, it’s just a simple extradition, and a way to earn a favor from a neighboring King. But in this case, they really weren’t sure about helping this Ethnarch, since his King, Aretas, is in quite a bit of trouble right now with Tiberius himself!”

Saul’s voice filled with passion as he suddenly exclaimed, “Good for Tiberius! He ought to be in trouble! Aretas invaded Peraea near the East Bank, just to get back at Herod Antipas for divorcing his daughter – which happened eight years ago!” Paul was clearly reliving some recent and strong emotions. He nearly spat out his words, “The reason I’m in trouble is for speaking out about it in public, when I was down there.”

Ananias was not surprised at Saul, but he half-covered his own amusement for Saul’s sake.

Stoicly, he said, “Saul, this is so ironic – I happened to be in Judea that year when Herod divorced his wife. Did you know the reason John the Baptizer was arrested is because he spoke out publicly against that divorce?”

Saul slapped his head, “No!” He frowned and looked at the dirt floor beneath him.

Moving some blankets and climbing up onto the cot, Saul said, “Well, now I’m positive that will be the last time I am so careless when speaking about a ruler in public.”

Ananias smiled. “Like the proverb says, Paul, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it!”

“Well, I sure did!” Paul shook his head in silence for a moment.

Ananias said, “maybe Aretas is not the only man who knows how to get in trouble with others more powerful than he is.”

Saul harrumphed. Then he said, “But Ananias, what about the Ethnarch?”

“Oh yes,” Ananias replied, remembering. Then he grinned, “you mean the one who’s hurried here to kill you? Oh yes! How could we forget? Where was I?”

Saul reminded him, “The council wasn’t sure…”

“Oh yes,” Ananias continued. “The council wasn’t sure they wanted to let him in, since Aretas is in so much trouble. I’ve heard that if the Syrian Legate Vitellius wasn’t so busy in Parthia right now he’d probably be marching through here already with his four legions from Antioch! Come to think of it, you know that King Aretas is a sly one, waiting until Vitellius was too busy to…”

Saul cut him off. “Yes, yes. What about the council HERE?”

Ananias stopped. “Right. Well, they weren’t sure about helping him hunt for someone here in their city – the Damascene Council is pretty tight about controlling their own affairs, you may remember – but when they heard it was YOU he was after, well, THEN they were only too happy to accommodate

“Well, I’ve been hiding for three days!” Saul seemed slightly offended that no one knew he was there.

Ananias laughed hard, “Saul, that pride of yours is too much! I’m glad I won’t be around to watch what it takes for the Lord to soften you, brother!”

Saul grumbled, “I think he’s already begun, Ananias. Maybe I shouldn’t have been preaching down there, anyway. Maybe I needed to be up here quietly learning from you brothers in the assembly.”

Ananias smiled, “Saul, I think the Lord has called you to a great adventure, and you don’t have to hurry up to make it happen. He’s big enough to make it happen – in His time.”

Saul’s whole body relaxed a bit. He sighed, and was quiet for a moment, with Ananias.

Then Saul wondered out, quietly, “Maybe I need to head for Jerusalem and learn from the apostles there.”

Ananias’ eyes were sparkling. “It’s an idea.” He grinned slightly and remained silent for a while.

Then Anaias said, “Saul, we still have a problem here. The Damascus City Council just gave this Ethnarch permission to guard the city gates AND to take you into his custody if he finds you.”

Saul couldn’t resist a grin, “Well, at least I’m popular here. This is the second time men have been watching the city gates night and day to capture me!”

“I know,” responded Ananias, “has it really been two whole years?”

“I believe it’s been three,” said Saul.

“Three? Saul, we let you down two Februarys ago, and this month is also February.”

Saul replied, “February? Are you a Roman, now, brother?” He smirked.

“Well I am a Hebrew!” Paul continued. “Passover is the start of the Hebrew year and we have had two Passovers since I was here. That makes this the third year. See? Three years.”

“No, Saul. It’s two years.” Ananias argued. “February two years ago until now is exactly twenty-five months. Two years.”

“Twenty-five months?” Exclaimed Saul. “I can’t count by months! To a Hebrew, some years have eleven months and some have twelve. Three of the months have an extra day whenever the chief priests tell us they do! That gives us six different sized years! Who can keep track of that? The only thing I have ever been able to do is to just count by Passovers.”

Ananias repeated quietly, “Fine, but it’s been two years, Saul.”

“You say two. I say three. I can’t help it – I will always have the mind of a Hebrew, plus all that religious training by the Pharisees.”

“And I have been too long among the Goyim, I suppose!” teased Ananias.

Both men shared another good laugh.

Then Saul’s face turned serious again as he asked, “Now, back to today – what are we going to do, Ananias?”

Ananias said, “Well, Saul, the brothers are coming over here this evening to talk about that. But I think we all know one successful way to get a Saul of Tarsus out of a city like Damascus! We have been here before, you know!”

Saul laughed and groaned all at the same time. “You mean I get to be grain again?”

Ananias laughed with him. “No, Saul. THAT basket was a fig basket. This time, it may be wool!”

“Baaaaaah” went Saul, and they laughed some more.

Finally, Saul said, “Alright, Ananias, we’ll wait for the brothers to talk about it. But just make sure you guys pull that basket back up again. They didn’t spot us the first time. If this city is so easy to escape from I may have to flee here more often!”

Ananias chuckled. “And yet I fear I may never see you again, brother Saul. I’m really convinced the Lord has great plans for you.”

“I just hope I live that long,” grumbled Saul.
[the end]

And now, some Scriptures about Saul in Damascus and Arabia:

Each of these “verses” below was a stand-alone scripture, one piece of the whole story. Each one was told extremely briefly, in its turn. Each piece was told to a different audience, for a different purpose. They do not fit together like building blocks. They overlap in many places. They must be WOVEN together, like threads in a tapestry. The story above shows how. Now, read the scriptures once again, and see how the threads can be blended so smoothly…

Galatians 1:15-17a – But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but…

Acts 9:19b-20,23-25 – Now for several days [Saul] was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” … When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

Galatians 1:17b,18 – …I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus.

2 Corinthians 11:32 – In Damascus the Ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.

Notice how it does NOT say that DAMASCUS was “under Aretas the king”. It only says that the Ethnarch himself was personally “under Aretas”. It also says that the Ethnarch happened to be “guarding the city.” But the city does not belong to Aretas. Clearly, Paul says the city belongs to the Damascenes themselves! So the Ethnarch and his garrison were simply a guest-guardian. 

Acts 9:26-30 – When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. … And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.


Galatians 1:17b,18,21 – I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. … Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

The Greek here says, “Then after three years…” which is inclusive of the whole story. Inclusive counting is generally the way a Hebrew mind thinks and talks about time.

One last note:
It should not seem unusual to imagine Saul escaped twice by the same method. After all, we know for sure it worked the first time! And we know Saul had help escaping, which means he relied on the men in the primitive Damascus church for advice on escaping. And what is a primitive church but a bunch of guys! And what do a bunch of guys ALWAYS do in a situation when they've been there before and something worked the first time? They go with the same solution again! (Typical men, right? Like the old school, smashmouth football philosophy: "Drive it down the middle till they stop ya.")

It's the most natural thing in the world. As long as there's reason to believe Saul returned to Damascus (see the scriptures above), then it's not a stretch in the slightest to imagine he escaped by the same method again.

Au contraire! It would be shocking to think they abandoned such a tried and proven successful escape method! :)

May 4, 2008

Tiny Correction

I was right even though I was wrong. [Previous post edited on May 4th (for content) and again (for clarity) on May 11th.] Yes, Flaccus became Governor in 32, but he died in 33 and there's no record he was replaced before Vitellius came in 35. So Aretas still saw ~10.5 of 12 years where Syria had no Governor.

Bowersock says: "When Philip died in 34, there was probably no governor at all in Syria, and if there was, he was probably no great threat to Aretas... Tiberius had, for reasons best known to himself, kept the governor of Syria out of his province for ten years.* Aretas can have had no great reason to think that the Romans would worry excessively about the newly acquired and difficult terrain in the south of the Syrian province." (I'd even hilighted the long footnote under "ten years" which mentions Flaccus and explains the record from 32 to 35.)

So I knew about the footnote on Flaccus, but my memory held onto the text "no governor" and "ten years". How about that? ;)

Point one: Flaccus shouldn't have surprised me, but that's what this job is like. TONS of info to keep track of. My post last night is still a good example of what happens when two pieces of information are kept in different mental files, topically... even though they also belong together! (Sure, it's a hard tendency to fight, but we don't have to dwell there.)

Point two: it still looks strongly like there WAS in fact NO governor of Syria when Philip died in 33/34. So maybe nothing was really substantially off about my summary, two years ago.

One new thought this weekend, however. We should consider that Aretas was shrewd enough to ape Syllaeus' methods during the Trachonite rebellion of 12-9 BC. That is, the old King remembered what his first rival had done the last time their nation made a serious play for Trachonitis. Perhaps, instead of encroaching on Trachnonitis with his own military, Aretas was using agents to stir up the heavily Arab population in the region to do their own thing.

So then the question is: why did Aretas make a full military assault on Gamala?

Much more left to suss out...

May 3, 2008

Aretas and Damascus - Discussion

[Post revised on 5-11-08. New text in red.]
[For Paul and Damascus, see also THIS recent post.]

Here's the text of an old e-mail I sent to a friend in August '06. His short question is followed by my (long) response. I just decided to put this online in case somebody googles it in the future and actually cares to discuss it with me ;) Please leave a comment, no matter what YEAR you may find this! :)

...Without further any ado, then, here's my old, very full mouthful [with a few inserts] about Aretas and Damascus. (1st Corinthians 11:32). Proper homage must also duly be given to the great G.W. Bowersock, as mentioned below:

On 8/16/06, Neil Carter wrote: ...I'm still somewhat interested in how Bowersock argues that IF Aretas ever had the city, it was before 37. Ogg and Jewett argue that certain political rivalries would have precluded Aretas having much welcome in that region prior to that time, in which case I wonder how he was allowed to post guards all over a city like that. Was Damascus just a kind of independent little place, fairly immune to these riffs?

[All of what follows was my response:] Zenodorus died in 20 BC, having "sold" the rights to half his kingdom (Trachonitis and the Golan heights) to the Nabateans. (They didn't "buy" Ituraea.) BUT Augustus hadn't been consulted, and happened to be in Syria in 20 BC. Herod came to visit and Augustus gave the region to Herod. (This is all in Josephus' Antiquities.)

Now, Herod's mother was Nabatean, and there was peace between the two nations, but now there was a dispute. In 12 BC, while Herod was in Rome, the Nabatean King's minister stirred up the arabs living in Trachonitis to rebel against Herod. Then this minister (one Syllaeus, mentioned by both Strabo and Josephus) continued to "secretly" harbor and supply bands of the rebel-brigands from Trachonitis, while they raided Judea. Herod invaded Nabatea in 9 BC, and Caesar punished him by removing the Census-exemption he'd held for 18 years! So now there was lots of bad blood between the two nations... including a defaulted loan, and a broken engagement. Odobas the King was getting old and Syllaeus was plotting to take the throne when he died. There's lots more fascinating stuff about this in Josephus.

THE POINT IS... that Israel and Nabatea each felt they had a claim to Trachonitis, and the dispute lingered - especially since the majority of the people in that land were arabs, even after Herod the great settled a couple of new towns there with Babylonian Jews... ANYWAY... the land remained in dispute, albeit unofficially, despite Augustus' ruling.

Now, Aretas comes to the throne in winter 9/8 BC and Syllaeus is deposed. Aretas, cagily, establishes his own ties with Herod's regime, and makes a betrothal of his young daughter to Antipas (who was maybe 10 years old at the time; so it was a long betrothal.) [This happened later. Perhaps by 1 AD.] Then, a year before John the Baptist was arrested, Antipas met his new wife in Caesarea and sailed with her to Rome. They came back and he removed the Arab woman (her name started with a P, but it escapes me at the moment). She left Macherus, in Peraea beyond the dead sea, about the time John was arrested, in May 29 AD.

We just zipped through 50 years, so let's sum up: Nabatea held a HARD grudge about Trachonitis for 11 years. Then Aretas made nice, largely out of expedience, to shore up his diplomatic ties and strengthen his claim to power at home. The bethrothal was the lynchpin of a treaty that kept the "boundary dispute" out of contention for 29 years (from 1bc to 29ad). BUT NOW... Aretas begins to consider Herod as an enemy once again.

HERE IS THE NEXT KEY POINT: you have to realize that Trachonitis (and especially the Golan Heights, on the western end of Trachonitis) is strategically vital to the interests of both Israel AND Nabatea. If the two nations are allied, then it doesn't matter so much who holds the land. But when the two nations are opposed to each other, it becomes a major issue once again.

So Aretes is aware that Trachonitis is more dangerous to him, than it used to be. AND, he knows that if he could somehow control Trachonitis (and the Golan), that he would hold a strong upper hand over Antipas in any future trouble. Kind of a "offense is a good defense" kind of situation.

BUT... from 29 to 33 AD, Philip the Tetrarch was ruling Trachonitis. (Josephus says he did an incredible job, by the way, of keeping stability during his years there).

AND THEN... in early 34 AD, Philip the Tetrarch died!

Of course, Tiberius immediately "annexed" his tetrarchy to Syria... BUT this was another "official" decision that held little bearing on actual events... because... there was another problem.

Tiberius had been semi-retired and ruling by proxy from Capri since 26 AD. His prefect of the guard, Sejanus, was his proxy from 23 to 31, when he was executed. Then the next prefect, Macro, took his spot. BUT DURING THE DAYS OF SEJANUS, the governors of certain provinces were not actually required to GO to their provinces! The governors of Spain and SYRIA (!!!) held their posts under Tiberius' proxies for NINE years, during which time they followed Tiberius' own example and ruled by proxy (!!!) THE POINT IS that the governor of Syria sent his praetors to the province as his own personal legates for nine years [23 to 32.] And conditions around Syria began to deteriorate.

Actually, a new Governor named Flaccus arrived in Syria in mid 32 AD (about 9 months after Sejanus died, natch). But Flaccus himself died in 33 and was not replaced until 35. So Syria still went more than 10 years out of 12 with no Governor.

So there still was NO Governor in Syria when Philip the Tetrarch died... and thus no one to enforce Tiberius' nominal annexation of Trachonitis. And just across the border in Nabatea (Northern Arabia), Aretas KNEW it... but we'll get to that in just a moment.

During this decade of laxity, major problems developed on all sides of the Syrian Province - in Parthia, Armenia, Cappadocia (the Taurus mountains north and NE of Tarsus) and... to the point... Trachonitis.

Lucius Vitellius was sent to Syria in spring (which was early) of 35 AD. And he got VERY busy VERY quickly leading his four legions all over the trouble spots previously mentioned. Josephus, Tacitus and Dio all give accounts of his activities. Of course, it was during this time that Aretes destroyed the army of Antipas... in "Gamala". [Actually, that battle was in summer of 36 AD, near the end of Vitellius' two years of campaigning - which was mostly around the Euphrates.]

Now, Josephus says this battle happend at "Gamala". But most historians have struggled mightily to believe that this could be true, since Gamala sits E-NE of Bethsaida, on the southern slopes leading to Mount Hermon, at the start of the Golan Heights. Historians have suggested it was inconceivable that Aretes pushed so far north, since no one else mentions such a thing. [Their main objection has actually, usually been that no "boundary" or "border" exists so far north on the limits of Nabatean territory.] There is quite a long parade of suggestions for a substitute location, or, "what Josephus meant to write was"... and they give various places beginning with "G"! (!!!) :)

And now, at last, we come to Bowersock...

Bowersock says, essentially: 1) let's take Josephus at face value and believe they were fighting over Gamala. 2) this makes sense if you go back to the old dispute over Trachonitis, since the days of Zenodorus. [So that must be the "boundary dispute" Josephus was referring to.] 3) it is actually easy to believe that Antipas AND Aretes BOTH began moving into parts of Trachonitis after the death of Herod. (Antipas probably focused on the north-west portions of Ituraea, at least around Caesarea Philippi, and the Golan. Aretas probably took most of Trachonitis, up to the Golan.) 4) And so the conflict now CAN center on the Golan. And it happens at "Gamala".

And now, what Bowersock says about Damascus...

This is very simple. If we see that Aretes made movements into Trachonitis and the Golan during this time (BEFORE 37) and that he was forced to retreat in 37, and that Agrippa was given ALL of Trachonitis (and the Golan) by May of 37........ THEN............ THIS IS THE HIGH WATER MARK OF ARETES' NORTHERN PUSH............... and, therefore, this is the best opportunity for Aretes to move into Syria, if such a thing ever even occured. And if not, he was still the furthest north he ever went, to have relations with Damascus and to send an Ethnarch there who would be readily respected and cooperated with.

The only question is: "Why did the Ethnarch want Paul so badly, even badly enough to pursue him as far as Damascus?"

And I still think the best answer is: "Because Paul ran his mouth off one day about Aretes' immoral invasion of Gamala." (And this helps explain why Paul was so careful later on about not speaking ill of the emperor in public, or in his letters!)

Now... that's all my answer to why it had to BE before 37.

But there's a whole other list of considerations as to why it can NOT be AFTER 37. The main thing is that Caligula gave Trachonitis to Agrippa. (After all, no one had really been governing it for three years!) And it does not make any sense - politically, economicly, geographicly, culturally, or practically - for him to give Aretes ONE little city ON THE OTHER SIDE of the sizeable district of Trachonitis. How would he even manage it? And why wouldn't Caligula have given it to his uncle Claudius' best buddy, who showed strong personal loyalty to Caligula and went to prison for it (under Tiberius)? WHY would Caligula "give" Damascus to Aretes, who was under Roman assault just a month before, INSTEAD of giving it to Agrippa?

The truth is that the gift to Agrippa wasn't just a nice favor to a friend, or an arbitrary whim of the man who would soon become mad with encephalitis. The gift to Agrippa was all about Caligula's advisers (Macro, the prefect of Tiberius, being the chief among them, at the start) telling him they had a problem in Trachonitis... and Caligula happened to have the perfect man for the job of keeping it straight!

One final point. The continuity of Macro ALONE should be enough to upend a lot of the traditional arguments. In other words, not that much really changed, immediately, in 37 AD, when the empire passed from Tiberius to Caligula. At least, not in the provinces or foreign policy. Caligula's changes were all made by lavish expenditures which nearly bankrupted Rome itself, and his actions affected Rome - but the "foreign policy" of the empire wasn't really something that Caligula ever showed very much interest in (except for putting up statues of himself, and the trip to Germany was an abberation). MACRO'S CONTINUED PRESENCE, ALONE, in 37 and 38, should be enough to see that the Empire had not forgotten Aretas' sins and suddenly, magically, decided to reward him.

Therefore, Aretas' Ethnarch would be far LESS likely to be accepted in Damascus AFTER 37. And it is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to think that Caligula ever "GAVE" Aretas ANYTHING... let alone the city (and environs) of Damascus, the largest city in Southern Syria.

Capice? :)

A final note: can you imagine what it must take for Neil to put up with me?

If you actually read this far, I guess you can! ;)

And if you actually enjoyed it, feel free to let me know...

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