July 28, 2008

"Zealots" from 29 to 61 AD

Yeah right I'm not gonna post everyday! (Sigh.) Seriously, I could not escape this fascinating set of observations by Chris Spinks on the greek word "Zealotes" in Luke-Acts. I had no idea that was the Greek, and it got me to thinking. My reply turned into a whole post, so here it is.


First of all, Chris, thanks for telling me the Jews in Pisidia and Thessalonica were not "jealous"! I guess the NASB guys figured rhyming words get bonus points for translation. ;)

I've been puzzling over Simon the Zealot for a while. First of all, there's no evidence of an organized "Zealot Party" until the 60's - until the revolution, really - but then again, we have Judas' two sons from Gamala getting crucified 14 years after Jesus. The best I can guess, Simon was personally interested in philosophies that were trickling downstream to Bethsaida, but he was one of the first/only ones. (Judas' sons were at least 25 years old when Simon began following Jesus but they obviously weren't being outspoken enough to get into trouble yet.)

Point 1: It looks like the "no lord but god" philosophy was being whispered about by a few as early as 29 AD, based on Luke's naming of Simon.

What puzzles me more is that James and Paul each use the word "zealot". (Again, thanks for pointing that out!) Notice, however, that Luke's portrayal of James' entreaty is dubious if not tacitly negative. In turn, Paul's claim to 'zealotry' is clearly, strictly and explicitly given in the past tense.

Point two: Whatever "zealot" means to Luke, it is something that Simon and Paul abandoned or at least moved beyond, and the fact that James vouches for it is not much commendation, coming from Luke.

It could be that Luke was going out of his way to show Paul was not a "zealot". That may be his basic purpose in these lines.

But - again - what puzzles me is that the word is actually "zealot". We know there was a dramatic increase in brigandage under Felix, including the rise of the Sicarii, but the sicarii were not necessarily "the Sicarii" yet just like the zealots were not actually "the Zealots" yet. Check out David M. Rhoads, Israel in Revolution: 6-74 CE, for a thorough examination of the evidence on the preliminary stages of these movements during the 50's and 60's.

I'm still inclined to take Rhoads' overall view, but Luke's language may suggest that the term 'zealot' was known to his audience as a political epithet for individuals and unorganized demographic subsets (at least). It may also tell us that by 57 AD that term was common as far as Jerusalem, and that by 61 AD it was known terminology as far away as Rome.

I do not, however, see any reason to believe Luke was painting Paul as a "zealot" in a deliberate or positive way. I think the whole purpose in including that term must have been another subtle tack to help exonerate Paul before Caesar. In other words, the word "zealot" must have come up in Rome and Luke had to work in a quick bit to show Paul was NOT associated with that budding phenomenon.

Of course if this is true then Luke really wasn't doing James any favors either, was he? Although I don't think for a second that James' words here mean the church in Jerusalem was taking any strong political stand against Rome. They might have been legalists and some of them may have been false believers who denied the resurrection - but this one word would be the only indication that they were considering political insurrection.

It was probably just Luke adding in a word to show Rome Paul wasn't attached to the growing revolutionary whispers. And since Rome didn't bother James until the Sanhedrin killed him, I'm guessing Luke's risk on James' behalf was calculatedly minor.

Hope that's not too speculative for you, Chris. Check out Rhoads and let me know what you think!

Same goes for anyone else! :)

UPDATE: Rhoads addresses just these topics on pages 86-7. Looks like I internalized without memorizing - so good for me! But Rhoads didn't try reconstructing from the NT's pov. And also, I'd never caught the word "zealot" in Acts 21. Dang NASB. ;) But footnote 89 could have cited the Acts verse. Ah, well.

July 21, 2008

Agrippina (Draft Bio/Intro)

How does one write (or read) 79 Year Books that take thousands of pages to cover hundreds of real-life characters? What kind of planning does that take? Now, add that we'd like for each Year Book to be a fairly accessible starting point for any new reader. And yet we'd also like to use the start of each "Volume" as jumping on points for those who will be reading straight through.

Among other things - such as a character glossary and hyperlink-style footnotes - there will be occasional character introductions. I haven't done this much since the early Year Books of Volume One, but I believe I've got to do this for 14 AD, Part Two. In other words, it will be partly a Year Book and partly an introduction to the 'cast' of major players.

Today I drafted an intro to Agrippina "the Elder" at the time of Augustus' death. As usual, in recent months, I'm posting it here to get feedback from anyone so inclined. At least, before long, some professor or Ph.D student will probably google it. Here's hoping they (or you) are inclined to post helpful, challenging or inquisitive comments...

Here, now, is my intro to Agrippina in 14 AD. Please note, this is still a draft! But isn't it all? ;)


Vipsania Agrippina (“Agrippina the Elder”) was a granddaughter of Caesar Augustus. If she had been born a man, she’d have become emperor instead of Tiberius. Then again, if Agrippina ahd been born a man, she might have died mysteriously or gotten exiled like her three brothers, Gaius, Lucius & Posthumous.

In 4 AD, while Rome whispered that Livia (Caesar's wife, Tiberius' mother) had somehow killed Gaius & Lucius, Agrippina found favor with Livia by marrying her grandson Germanicus. In the first four years of her marriage, Agrippina had two sons. She also saw her brother Posthumous and sister Julia both get exiled. The infants made Agrippina the mother of great-grandbaby Caesars. The exiles made Agrippina the last of her family in Rome, lonely, but glad to survive.

Agrippina’s father, Marcus Agrippa, had died when she was two. Her mother, Julia, got exiled when Agrippina was only twelve. She lost her siblings in a span of six years, from age 15 through 21. Married by age 17, mother by age 19, Agrippina had been playing her role. But she left Rome whenever her husband did. And she steered clear of Tiberius.

Agrippina did not want to suffer cruel fate like the rest of her family. She stayed far from Rome, as much as she could. She kept having babies to keep herself on Livia’s good side. And she aimed for the very top.

For Agrippina, ambition was not merely in her blood. It was a matter of survival. So was having lots of children. Agrippina was working toward the day when her husband Germanicus and/or one of her sons would be Emperor. Personal history had already assured her: the only other options were exile or death.

Agrippina’s half-sister, Vipsania, and her mother, Julia, had each married Tiberius once. The old man was her former half-brother-in-law, former step-father, now father-in-law by adoption. He was currently unmarried. Agrippina’s mother-in-law, Antonia, was Marc Antony’s daughter. Antonia had survived a long time being the sister-in-law of Tiberius and the daughter-in-law of Livia. So Agrippina took notes from watching her mother-in-law, Antonia.

There were only so many strong women role models to learn from. Agrippina was determined to make her own mark, her own way.

It will be interesting to watch how she does that… especially after her husband dies! (But we'll get to that.) And decades from now, after her own death, a son and a grandson of Agrippina will both become Emperor. Yet, one of Agrippina's daughters will prove far more impressive than any of them.

What kind of a mother produces such offspring? Stay tuned. These are the years when Agrippina (“the elder”) comes into her own.

We’ll keep up with her progress from this point on, Year by Year.


Hope y'all enjoyed that. Any help? Any mistakes? Anyone?

July 12, 2008

Read: Pagan Christianity

So many reviews of this book have been biased on both sides, so I was thrilled to see this well balanced review today. I highly recommend it. Howard Snyder is not only well-educated enough to know the early church was very different from today's traditional forms. He's also confident enough in his own faith and practice that he doesn't mind saying so! I wish all reviewers were this honest, this even handed and this much unafraid about God's people. I say, "Speak the truth. Hang the consequences. And trust the Lord."

For the record, I think I totally agree with nearly every bit of Synder's review. No educated person should say or imply that traditional forms of church today are based just on the bible. Also, nobody should say that we *must* do church in any one certain way. And all groups of christians should do their best to live out God's life among one another whatever their context. Yes, all habitual patterns of behavior are "ritual" - that's fair to say. And any group rituals are in fact 'institutions'. Neither ritual nor institution *automatically* inhibits the moving of the spirit of God among a group of people. That is, not necessarily. Not always. But Snyder himself agrees that it does happen, often. Indeed, far too often.

I have only one thought to add of my own: The problem I see with "institutions" comes only when men attempt to establish *permanent* institutions. The goal seems to be that "THIS must outlive us." The belief seems to be that we can make it so. But "THIS" is just God's Life in People. And no ritual or institution will ever outlive the moving of the spirit of god within contrite human hearts. Nor should it. Because Christ in "us" is THE hope of glory. But the surprising thing is, establish-ers actually know all this. They constantly remind themselves to put more emphasis on people than they do on programs. They pray to God and exhort one another that each new generation of their congregation must revitalize the institution.

My questions are: 1) how long can that last? And 2) will the vitality outlast the institution?

So let's take Howard's "third view" - renewal. First of all, praise the Lord! For as long as the Lord dwells among you (y'all) that institution will be a living one. But the moment the spirit departs - or the people in touch with the spirit depart - you (y'all) will have left behind an empty, dead institution which will continue to go on without you. It might keep on pretending to be the house of God on earth. It might even get revitalized again, at times. But at all other times it will stand there, regardless. I simply suggest that such an empty 'christian' institution, left for dead - if it keeps on going - will be or have the potential to become the very enemy of God on this earth.

Frank Viola and George Barna may or may not attempt to establish any *permanent* institutions of their own. I hope not, but time will tell. I am rooting for them, but I am not in their corner. I am in God's corner. I stand for the church. I stand for any group of God's people who wants to get together and try to know Him together. Failure will come. Faith must persist. And the family of God must adjoin to her Head!

Christ in an "us" is THE hope of glory. The rest is just details.

So what happens next?

Protestant ministers are used to relying on the Bible as their source of authority. Poorly educated men (and dishonest men) are used to saying (or implying) that today's form of church is based just on the Bible. This is false. Such voices should at least be more careful with their claims. For their own sakes, they should read Howard Snyder's review AND take his advice to read Pagan Christianity.

Simple groups of believers should be free to continue experimenting. There are many ways for christians to pursue Jesus Christ. Also, Snyder's questions about contextualization are not to be answered in theory alone, but in practice. Professional clergy members should know in their conscience they must let God's people GO! Speak the truth. Hang the consequences. And trust the Lord.

Finally, any believers who want to constantly revitalize their institutions should continue to do so as well. A group of christians living out the life of the church is a wonderful thing to behold, no matter how it's organized. Personally, I wish we had NO permanent institutions. The picture Moses got of God's house was a Tent! But whatever. God will be God. And I trust Him to move in his people wherever they meet. There are challenges in both views of these things.

Frank Viola and George Barna have written a book that all christians should know the truth about. I desperately hope many will be inspired to try new forms of 'church'. But I also agree with Snyder's hope that many will revitalize the institutions they are part of. (At the very least, it's far better to have them stand alive, rather than dead, though expecting constant revitalization seems daft to me. I'd rather dismantle things into a movable "tent" status. But I don't expect all to adopt that odd view.)

Honestly, I deeply hope and pray, as Snyder said, that many things may change.

But I only have two predictions:

1) I predict the main impact of Pagan Christianity will be to force many within the 'institutional church' to grow up, religiously, and claim authority from their traditions - instead of to keep trying to claim things that aren't true about the Bible. In fact, this ought to happen eventually anyway.

2) I predict God will continue to work within any body of believers who will let Him work and work with Him. And Praise His Name for doing so!
If you haven't yet, please read Howard Snyder's review.
And then go buy and read Pagan Christianity.

March 20, 4 BC

Here's a rewrite of another old piece from the files, which I felt like posting on tonight:

In my reconstruction of 4 BC, which I worked on from Nov.'06 to June'07, I gave the day of Herod's death as March 20. Even though I might have been the first one to suggest a specific date of death, I am/was fairly confident about it, give or take 1-2 days. But someday I'd like to work with a team of scholars to help strengthen the corroborating details of my reasoning. Until that day, here's a very simple record of what I considered at the time:

1) PTOLEMY:First of all, Ptolemy has to ride from Jericho to Antioch and back to Jerusalem before April 12th, when he leaves Jerusalem with Archelaus. The typical reading of Joesphus' lines about Varus coming to Caesarea overlooks the overlapping nature of Joesphus' constant flashbacks, flashforwards and asides which run heavily through his accounting of events in this busy, busy year. Such readings also ignore the logistic and chronological requirements of other events that must culminate by Pentecost on June 3rd, requirements which make it impossible for Varus to arrive so late in Caesarea.

2) EGYPT:Josephy & Mary have to "hear" about Archelaus ruling in Judea in such a way that causes them to be afraid. And the fear came before God "warned" Joseph in his dreams. So Joseph, Mary & Jesus cannot arrive in Judea before the slaughter on April 11. (Before that, there was no reason to fear Archelaus.) And according to Matthew, Joseph, Mary & Jesus have to leave Egypt the same night Herod dies.

Considering the travel requirements of each point leaves us with similar, overlapping ranges of dates or "windows of time" during which Herod's death could fall. But a final consideration simplifies the process of combining it all together.

Herod has to die early enough for Ptolemy's travel to end before April 11th, but Herod has to die late enough for Joseph's travel to end after April 11th.

When I figured all plausible travel times against this last consideration, only four dates seemed possible, and I felt like March 20th was the most likely, of the four.

If any scholars or graduate students want to research this further, my laptop holds dozens more pages of notes, calculations, worksheets and personal thoughts about these paramaters. I'd love to discuss the possibilities for further scholarship with someone who's interested. In fact, there is much more to say about Sabinus, Varus, Ptolemy & Caesarea alone. As far as I can tell, the year Four BC had never been reconstructed month-by-month and event-by-event before I did it. I stand by my efforts, but I'm sure they could use refinement. It's a complicated year. It deserves fuller scholarly treatment. And YOU, dear reader, may be or become the person who can do it. And I hope my work helps... so contact me, please! :)

Without help in this area, my online reconstruction may be as far as I can go... for now.

Check it out!

And yes, hopefully it will also be in print... someday. :)

July 11, 2008

Keep At It, Y'all

The Society of Biblical Literature always seemed like an odd mix to me in years past. My first college degree was a "BS" in Literature - actually a "B.A." - that's an old English Major joke. And it's just as old of a joke for Biblical Studies scholars to point out their field has the same initials. So the first time I scanned the topics of the SBL convention sessions I was pretty sure I saw both kinds of BS - in spades. But now after wading into the 'biblio-blog-o-sphere' a bit, reading a LOT more and interviewing some seminary people I'm starting to get the lay of the land a little bit better. And in at least one way, I can tell I was right from the start. It's a mix. That said, here's one awesome quote from a PhD student blogging from the International SBL in Aukland, NZ:

"...the kinds of differences in wording between gospel accounts could not be the result of copying errors, but could quite easily be the result of oral transmission..."


"...Jesus may well have used some of the techniques employed by rabbis to transmit oral tradition to train his disciples to pass on his teachings... "

Those are the parts I like, anyway. They're also the parts my longtime readers should appreciate the most. But folks who want details should see Judy's whole post, here.

Keep at it, Biblio-Scholars. It's always good to know at least some of y'all are doing some really good work! ;)

July 6, 2008

The Point

Why is the previous post (on Herod's Temple Pavement) so important? Because I don't feel like I see enough "nuts and bolts thinking" in New Testament studies, generally. Everything in this whole "BS" world is "theological" based on IDEA centered thinking. One world-renowned star of the field recently put out a book he titled simply, "Paul" and yet it's really all about interpreting Paul's thinking.

Which is fine. But then, why not call the book "Paul's Thinking"?

I know. I taught English once. It's called "Synechdoche" - like the phrase "head of cattle". You mean 20 whole cows, but you say "20 head". I get it. To save space, the theologians just say "Paul". I know, I know.

But still... it's a hugely telling point.

The fact that the word "Paul" is available for use as a TERM says a lot about what it is NOT being used for. In fact, a book written today about Paul's life would be called "Paul's Travels" or "Paul's Life".

That just seems backwards to me.

Is it me?

No Temple Pavement

Here's another great book I won't have time to read. If I'm lucky, I'll get far enough down my checklist to go find this one and at least skim the index. I'll look for the words "paving" or "pavement" or failing that, "floor", "earth" or "ground". I'll be weirdly excited if there's any attention paid to this at all.

Sigh. The questions we ask determine the studies we pursue. But the questions I like to ask tend to get met with silence, which always means one of two things: Either yes, I'm the idiot, or else yes, I really may be onto something that's been overlooked. Sigh. Such is the task...

But here's what Wycherley said about Greek Temples: "To preserve the place inviolate the limits had to be defined by simple marks or boundary stones, or more effectively by a fence or wall, making an enclosure. If the cult was to be regularly carried on, an altar was necessary. Altar and boundary were the essentials; an image of the deity might be set up, and a temple might be built; and in large shrines a great variety of buildings were ultimately added."

This sums up the whole heart of my view on Herod's Temple: paving was just not a priority. Wycherley says even the temple and statue weren't priorities, for the Greeks, so how could paving be? If boundary stones around an altar is all it took, then most temples in antiquity had grass or dirt floor courtyards, as everything else had a greater priority. I still want more evidence, but the conclusion seems sound...

Paving the courtyard was, in fact, the absolute last priority as it was the least necessary of all constructions that could have conceivably been built. More, paving stones would require sandals for walking on in the sun, whereas packed earth or grass would be cool enough for bare feet. So a paved courtyard just naturally ought to be the height of sophistication in terms of expansion options. In the ancient world, it was the least natural, least needed, least conceivable thing you could even think about adding to your temple.

Here's another argument. In Jerusalem in the early 60's AD, if a brand new pavement is NOT what Agrippa Junior's workmen were putting in then WHAT, pray tell, was so much less important that the paving got finished before it? The walls? The covered walkways? The storage closets and side rooms? The giant covered pavilion on the south side? None of that could possibly have seemed less of a priority than the extremely novel, primarily aesthetic, *somewhat impractical* insertion of a smooth, flat surface for walking on.

(*How impractical? Aside from burning all the bare feet in the summer, especially at that elevation, it would now have to be swept and not just for dirt. Now, rocks and solid objects would offer absolutely zero "give" beneath them when stepped on. Ankles could be broken, especially in a crowd. But even a hard, packed earth floor would give way to some degree. Also, falling on pavement is much more dangerous than falling on even very rocky earth.*)

See? When I talk myself into a fury, I get all convinced again! ;) But who else has opinions on this? I can't find anyone asking these specific questions.

So here's my conclusion, again:

The Temple of Herod had packed earth courtyard. The pilgrims of 4 BC found enough stones sticking out of it's surface to run off a small army. Jesus drew in the dirt. ("Earth" is the greek word in John 8:6.) And when Agrippa Junior needed a new project for these particular skilled workers he let them go on paving the main street through the Tyropoean Valley.

There's no text or archaeology that confirms this. But the collection of facts as a whole simply demands that this must be the case.

It's plausible. It fits chronologically. It makes more sense of all pertinent texts than as if it were otherwise. And finally, it's realistic and logistically sound.

This is nuts and bolts thinking.

Archaeologists should be able to tell me about the soil under that pavement, today. Is it extremely rocky? (I'm guessing that's a safe bet.) Then that fits with Josephus' account of the passover riot in 4 BC. Here's another question, layman style: You know how streets in Europe look like they're newer than the houses they run up against? You know, because the street looks as if it overlaps the building above its foundations?

Is the Temple Pavement extant at all to the point where we can see similar positioning? That is, was the pavement built before the walls or after? And does the pavement appear to be pre-planned or as an afterthought? I suggest that if the pavement comes "up high" like the streets of Rome today come "up high" on their buildings - then that pavement was an afterthought.

The Temple was complete by 29 AD. Agrippa II just had the courtyard paved, 30 years later. But in 33 AD when Jesus said, "Not one stone will be left upon another" he was indeed looking at the whole complex, entirely completed.

Except for the pavement. :)

July 5, 2008

Antipas and Sejanus

I've been going thru Tacitus & Dio backwards, looking for two things. One, I feel like I get a better view of developing trends with the benefit of hindsight. So the first 'thing' I'm looking for is just that - development in the situation. Ongoing 'plotlines' so to speak. The second thing I'm looking for is anything that could have affected Herod Antipas' level of confidence or apprehension about his own position. Here are my conclusions, so far:

Generally, I'm finding there were lots of reasons for powerful people to fear Tiberius. Even knowing that Tacitus pumps up the negativity on such things, the overall train of events is fairly overwhelming. Under Augustus, most powerful people weren't stupid enough to cross him. But under Tiberius, the Emperor's entire attitude, actions and style gave every Roman person of status a serious reason to fear for their lives - though of course, at times, some had more cause to fear than did others.

Even an eastern 'client ruler' like Antipas had to take serious notice, especially when Tiberius took over Cappadocia and Commagene (17/18 AD) and continued raising Rome's influence over Armenia & Thrace (18/19 AD). Antipas knew the history of the region and could see the general trend was ongoing assimilation, usually leading to takeover. The general trend in Rome seemed to be that Tiberius could put men down for any excuse whatsoever, and the sources are in agreement that people of that day - with few exceptions - saw no consistent way to assess whose position would or would not remain secure. Away from Rome, apparently, it was the same.

This brings me to my first simple conclusion, purposely understated (for now). If everyone of status was cautious about Tiberius to some degree, then Herod Antipas was cautious about Tiberius to some degree. The only real room for debate here should be the question of whether we can tell, practically speaking, just how cautious Antipas was - or should have been. This issue will require some work, to say the least.

The next important question is this: was there a change in the 'caution level' displayed by Herod Antipas during the rise to power of Aelius Sejanus? This question, of course, is similar (perhaps related) to studies of Pontius Pilate in the past 60 years to the point - was there a change in Pilate's governing behavior over Israel after Sejanus' fall? (Scholars generally agree that there was, but differ as to the details of why.) Now, asking this same question of Antipas is similar in some ways, but free from the debate about accusations of antisemitism leveled at Pilate & Sejanus since 1948. (For more, see the wonderful Introduction to Helen Bond's work on Pilate.) Either way one judges Pilate on antisemitism, he does seem to be more cautious after Sejanus' fall. (This is based largely, but not totally, on his behavior during the trial of Jesus in 33 AD.)

So Pilate gets more cautious after October, 31 AD. In my personal opinion, so does Antipas.

Therefore, the next series of questions must review scrutiny about Antipas' alleged relationship with Sejanus. Harold Hoehner (who wrote Herod Antipas) credited the accusations by Agrippa, but Dieter Hennig (who wrote in German on Aelius Seianus) gave them extremely slight regard. Of course, Hennig gave the complex system of allegations extremely slight attention, as well. So I'm inclined to feel that much more study should be done. (I can't read German, but I can read his index and scan the page, which shows that Antipas gets barely one whole paragraph in Hennig's entire book! A friend translated that paragraph for me, and I'm hoping to get a professional rendering soon. But without knowing German, I'll have to forgo saying much more on Hennig. Any help here, from folks "out there" would be hugely appreciated.)

The issues surrounding Agrippa's accusations (against Antipas, regarding Sejanus, reported to Caligula, in 39 AD, for personal gain, all of which is told by Josephus) are indeed complicated. They may defy mastery, but they shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. The fact that Antipas couldn't deny one part of it suggests that it may not have been all false, at least. For now, my only strong suggestion on this important topic is that it absolutely deserves much more attention by serious scholars - hopefully those much more qualified than myself to make valid assessments on the matter. But I'll definitely continue trying to spark their interest with my personal ideas! ;)

Because I'm just blogging here (and because of the obvious difficulties just mentioned), I'm going to also forgo further discussion of Agrippa's accusations (for now) and just introduce my own big thought on the larger issue at hand. I'm not even going to try and make this next statement well-refined, either. This is my gut.

Herod Antipas had to have some kind of alliance or personal agreement with Sejanus at least by 27/28 AD, because otherwise he never would have made such a boneheaded move as to break his marriage alliance with Nabatea at the risk of creating an instability which could infuriate Tiberius - and all merely for a newer or a younger wife!

No way. Instead, Antipas had to believe he was safe from whatever vindictive entreaties King Aretas would surely have sent to Rome on behalf of his poor rejected daughter. Why else could Antipas possibly decide this was a good, wise or safe move unless he believed Sejanus would protect him from Tiberius and put off any complaints from Aretas?

That is my basic hypothesis. There are yet more considerations.

What were the specific benefits or political advantages for Antipas in his decision to marry Herodias? It wasn't just so John the Baptist could have something else to yell about! It wasn't only (though I personally believe it was partly) so that God Almighty could manipulate Herod into getting John off the stage. And most of all, it can't possibly have been pure lust. That's the most ignorant idea of all. Antipas surely would not have switched marriages simply for physical passion, unless she held some special power to excite an old tetrarch, just pushing 50 in those years (which is conceivable, but unlikely). Herod wasn't that stupid, and as even the worst chauvinist would probably say, nobody's that good in bed, to throw away your whole kingdom. So the lust argument doesn't add up. Rather, since Herod Antipas' first marriage had been for political advantage, we should expect his second marriage to include the same consideration. To say the least, marriage to Herodias must have held some greater promise for the aging Antipas than a merely physical entanglement.

Far more likely, the motivation to wed Herodias must have been motivated at least partly because of Herodias' strong family connection to Antonia [through her mother, Bereniece]. Of Roman women at the time, none were more well connected at the very highest levels, and it could be argued no man either, including Sejanus, had a more secure position than Antonia's, given that Antonia was Augustus' niece, Tiberius' sister-in-law and mother of the widely beloved, departed Germanicus. Her grandsons were still greatly favored by the people of Rome, and even if their mother Agrippina ('the elder') was in jeopardy, Antonia herself remained above reproach regarding her daughter-in-law's various personal offenses.

Now, it's a bit odd to think someone in 27/28 AD could ally themselves with both Sejanus AND Antonia, especially as many already suspected that Tiberius' prefect was plotting to kill the royal matron's grandsons [Caligula's older brothers, who lasted until 30 and 33]. But despite the unlikelihood that anyone in Rome could forge both alliances, Antipas was based overseas! And the method of arranging one alliance by marriage and the other by the promise of mutual benefit was a uniquely crafty strategy, especially if the alliance with Sejanus was kept a secret (as Agrippa's revelation suggests that it was).

There is plenty of evidence to suggest Antipas was just cagey enough to pull this off.

The rest of Herod Antipas' political record is spotlessly impressive, and his 42 year rule holds no consequential mistakes. (None, that is, other than alienating his brother-in-law/nephew Agrippa in 32 AD. In fact, asking Caligula for the title of "King" is not what brought Antipas down - it was the letter from Agrippa that just happened to show up when Antipas was there with the Emperor.) Antipas' fatal error only came by underestimating a mooching, down-on-his-luck nephew, who was probably fighting depression and seeming very unimpressive - and this error took seven years to bear its bad fruit. There are no other mistakes in Antipas' entire career that came at any significant cost. To the point, Herod Antipas was very good at what he did, ruling longer even than his Great father. He would never have divorced the Nabatean without some insurance.

There is much more to say to extend Antipas' great credit as a governor. The tetrarch's major decisions and actions known to us through history show us a man who knew how to play the game of maintaining stability AND staying on the Emperor's good side. Two strong examples of cultivated stability are Antipas' constructions at Sepphoris and Tiberias, which were built as cosmopolitan enlargements to appease, keep occupied and make proud his own landed gentry - not merely for Antipas' pride or imperial flattery. Antipas knew unhappy upper class citizens were the downfall of his brother Archelaus and that happy, busy ones produced a good, steady tax flow and earned positive favor from Rome. In terms of Imperial favor, Antipas' later efforts to earn Tiberius' praise (in 36 AD) were set to pay dividends at the minor cost of losing Vitellius' good will - and that cost was only delay, until Tiberius suddenly died. [The Syrian Governor was dallying at Jerusalem just before Pentecost - not Passover - when word came of Tiberius' death, releiving Vitellius of his duty to attack Nabatea for Antipas, as ordered by Tiberius.] In perfect fact, Antipas would still have gotten his way perfectly, if slowly, if Tiberius had only lived a bit longer. So the point remains. Antipas knew how to manipulate things well enough at the highest levels to help ensure his own position.

In fact, the very beginnings of Herod Antipas' career - in the year's worth of events surrounding his father's death (5/4 BC) - required subtle and deft manipulation of tenuous and constantly changing dynamics. That Antipas in time proved to be vastly more successful than his brother Archelaus is not only foreseeable by Herod the Great's initial decision (6/5 BC) to give Antipas all Israel, but the talents and strategies Anitpas would use to effect his 42 years of success were already on display in the interplay of events between Jericho and Caesar's final audience in October of 4 BC. The fact that Antipas played his cards not only well but masterfully, and to maximum possible effect, is clearly evident if one but looks carefully.

In all these ways, Antipas proved himself again and again to be a wise, capable ruler, totally in control during all stages of his career. Barring that final surprise by the constantly unsatisfied Agrippa (whose rise to status was of such complex circumstances as to be unforseable), Antipas literally never made a single wrong move, spanning five decades of considerable change, both in Rome and the east. That no other ruler west of Parthia save Tiberius himself accomplished even nearly such a feat is incredibly impressive.

To even consider that such a man made one huge mistake by thinking with his groin - this not only defies all reasonable expectations, it may also betray a lack of focus on the situation. True, many writers assume Antipas and Sejanus were allied, but serious scholarly justification has yet to be produced, since Hoehner. And given Hennig's near dismissal of the relationship, further treatment seems to be very necessary. As far as I can tell, it has not been done. But if any reader has access to articles or other works I've somehow overlooked, please let me know.

It should also be noted that the argument attempted here, which advances beyond the conclusions of Hoehner's essential volume, is based primarily on the assumption that Antipas' first marriage was in fact an alliance with Nabatea, but this should be undeniable. How often does the ruler of a country marry the neighboring king's daughter and NOT forge a treaty from such an alliance, unless the action sparks a war instead?

My whole contention, then, is that there is no other reasonable way to explain Antipas' divorce of his longtime Arabian bride UNLESS the tetrarch has assurances from Sejanus that King Aretas would have no success in prosecuting the divorce and breach of treaty in Rome. Whether or not Aretas DID make such attempts [which of course, we have no record of] or MIGHT have made such attempts is not actually within the question. The only pertinent fact is that Aretas COULD have made such attempts, and so Antipas would have known to be prepared for that eventuality - especially during the political turmoil of those years, when Tiberius absolutely COULD have been expected to use any complaint as a pretext for claiming all of Galilee. We've already seen that the times were extremely dangerous for Roman nobles and foreign client rulers, equally. Without a deal before his divorce, Herod Antipas would have risked everything against the very large probability that Tiberius - sooner or later - WOULD take it from him.

Simply put, Herod Antipas was not such a man to take such a risk. Therefore, he must have felt there was no risk. Naturally, the only reliable barrier to any complaints from Aretas would have been Sejanus.

That is why Antipas simply must have made a deal with Sejanus.

The question of what Sejanus expected to get out of that deal is another issue for further study, but it may have something to do with (1) the military situation in the East [Tiberius was already keeping Lamia from the Syrian Legions and would not have allowed Sejanus anywhere near the Egyptian ones], (2) the proximity of Galilee to Rome's breadbasket (Egypt) and (3) the enormous cache of armor and weaponry Agrippa cited. So this armor - which Antipas did not deny the existence of, which Agrippa had the greatest opportunity to observe during his 'mooching' years from 29 to 32 AD, and which no one of Antipas' meager resources could have assembled (secretly) in any short period of time - may be precisely what Sejanus expected to receive from Antipas.

Of course, this final question must rest until a fuller treatment may be given. In fact, it may not be possible to conclude what, if anything, Sejanus would have expected from Antipas. It's even possible Sejanus would make such an alliance merely for unspecified favors to be named at some future time. But the armor creation as one step toward a military contingency plan is not entirely implausible, showing at least one reason why that the whole alliance is far from implausible from Sejanus' perspective.

Again, we may never know entirely all the reasons WHY Sejanus or Antipas made their alliance, but for all the reasons discussed here above, they simply must have done so.

Now, hopefully, someone more qualified than Bill Heroman will eventually level their scholarly efforts towards examining these claims and considerations with more academic rigor. But this is my contribution.

In the meantime, I will of course continue striving to improve my own efforts...

July 1, 2008

BS Carnival #30

My thanks to Tyler Williams who was gracious enough to include me in his round up of Bibliobloging from May. You can check out the entire "Biblical Studies Carnival XXX" over at Tyler's site.

Now if I can just get some serious feedback on what I wrote, it'll be worth it! :)

Many thanks again to Tyler and to all who blog about Biblical Studies.

Matthew Kept Notes

After a month of investigation, here is my working hypothesis on what's called "the synoptic problem". This is how I suspect the Gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew were composed.

In one sentence: Matthew took notes during Jesus' ministry, which Mark and Luke used to write their gospels (in turn) before Matthew finally used his own notes (and other sources) to compose his full Gospel.

Now here is the shortest summary I can write about how that might have happened in real life:

From 30 to 33 AD, Matthew took notes during Jesus’ ministry and filled in earlier details by interviewing Jesus and the other disciples. Matthew held onto his notes as a collection for many years and several copies were made. The collection was never well organized, but Matthew felt like it was a good record of the events. He did not modify the form of the collection for nearly thirty years. Matthew did, however, begin to keep private notes about his personal studies of scripture.

From the Resurrection to the Council of Jerusalem (17 years) the early church did not experiment with literary opportunities, other than making some copies of Matthew's notes. Basically, they all thought that was more than enough. But when Jerusalem decided to send a letter to all Gentile churches, at least three men were suddenly inspired to think about the power of literature. One of them was Mark.

Between 50 and 53 AD, Mark got a copy of Matthew’s notes and sat down with Peter. Peter gave Mark extra details and supplied the basic sequence of events. Mark chose to keep things tight and skipped over many of the longer sections on Jesus’ words and teachings. But Mark also put in anything Peter wanted to add, including a few stories from Peter's own memory.

In the mid-50's AD, certain Pharisees had been persuaded to believe in Jesus’ teachings, but not his sacrifice or resurrection. Some of these men used copies of Matthew’s notes AND copies of Mark’s Gospel to begin composing their own “sayings gospels”. A few copies of these were being passed around Israel by 57 AD or shortly after.

In 57 AD, after Paul’s arrest, Luke decided to write a defense of Paul and of Jesus, “whom Paul was preaching”. Luke quickly learned that many others had begun to write accounts of Jesus’ life and/or teachings – though not all who began such a task had completed it.

Luke got a copy of Matthew’s notes AND a copy of Mark’s Gospel. Luke found and read the “sayings gospels” but they did not significantly impact his work. If anything, these collections may be what motivated Luke to expand his writer’s purpose beyond a simple defense of Paul. Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a basic framework but chose to include pieces from Matthew’s notes that Mark had left out, picked over or modified.

Luke also interviewed many eyewitnesses and included snippets about them. Luke’s second “book”, of course, rested almost totally on personal and eyewitness testimony, although Matthew’s notes may have had bits on the very early church in Jerusalem. Luke also made many other decisions about what to include or leave out that each suited his peculiar ambitions for the complex purpose of this unique undertaking.

In many ways, Luke was far more dynamic as a writer/editor than Mark had been. But Matthew was about to prove himself somewhat dynamic as well.

Matthew finally converted his own notes into a complete Gospel sometime after Luke sailed from Caesarea (59 AD). Matthew's main source was his own notes and some new research, including three decades of personal study in the 'Old Testament' scriptures.

Matthew did not rely on Mark's Gospel because it was secondary to his original notes. However, Matthew had certainly seen Mark's gospel and may have been influenced by it in some ways. For one thing, Matthew probably made the deliberate decision to compose a different sort of work. (Otherwise, why publish at all?)

Matthew did not use Luke's Gospel as a source because it wasn't complete yet when Luke sailed out of Judea. But Matthew must have met with Luke at some point. During the two years Luke vigorously sought out both written sources AND eyewitnesses, Matthew was the one man who ranked most highly in BOTH categories! Therefore, assuming Matthew was anywhere in Israel from 57 to 59, he absolutely had to be Luke's chief "get".

So Matthew and Luke got to exchange new research and information not found in Matthew's original notes, such as details about the Herods and the early life of Jesus. They met together at least once. Matthew and Luke could easily have swapped much research on the same topics when certain details were more fitting to one man's goals-in-writing than the other's.

Matthew also had access to some "sayings gospels" but he did not use them as a source. Like Mark's Gospel, they were largely based on Matthew's own notes anyway. However, Matthew did use them as a reference for certain things he wanted to address in specific ways.

Matthew chose to alternate sections of Jesus’ teachings with sections on his life events. The long teachings sections were opportunities to draw in the interest of certain Jews while emphasizing the points Matthew wanted to make. But the sections on Jesus' life were crafted together thematically, to emphasize challenging points about Jesus Himself. Therefore, Matthew was careful not to use too much time-specific language in sections where he knews he was not being chronologically accurate, or where he just wasn't sure.

Matthew had finished his Gospel as early as 60/61 AD. By that time, he was easily more than 50 years old. Old age was partly what gave him the time to finally write and edit such a focused, carefully arranged composition.

Practically speaking, most copies of Matthew's original notes were thrown out as obsolete whenever the copies' owners got copies of the new and improved Gospels. But any surviving copies of Matthew's original notes were probably cannibalized for new "sayings gospels" in years to come, which continued to be popular in certain circles for quite some time.

But the Gospels were and are the best original sources on Jesus Himself.

This is my entire working hypothesis for the Origins of Matthew Mark and Luke's three Gospels, so-called as the "Synoptic" Gospels because they share the "same view" of Jesus in many ways.

There are many other considerations, but this is the simplest form I can put these ideas into, today. I'm hoping for some feedback, but I'll continue to do what I can if nobody wants to offer me any.

This is a hypothesis. It must have some problems. Or it might well be perfect.

Either way, now the real work can begin…
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton