August 30, 2008

The Ambitions of Amateurs

Condensed snippets from the Oxford Classical Dictonary on Strabo, the ancient geographer:
In the debate over how to do geography… he is inclined to be amateurish… preferring the practical… [and] the particular… [which] leads him to call his work ‘chorography’.
But the entry concludes, of Strabo's exhaustive "Geography":
The work is an extraordinary achievement… [like] a colossal statue whose detailing is less significant than the overall effect… [and it] justifies his more ambitious claim to have fused the disciplines to produce out of a historical and chorographical framework a philosophy of geography.
Hmmmm. Can anybody give me a better term for "New Testament Chorography"?

August 29, 2008

Farrer Logic

The man's name is pronounced "Fair-er". Or so I'm told. Austin Farrer was a christian philosopher and anglican minister who's probably most famous among Biblical Scholars for this one piece he wrote on Gospel Source Theory, called "On Dispensing with Q".

One of two philosophy courses I took at LSU was "Christian Philosophy", taught by an old family friend who happens to be a leading Farrer scholar (a fact I only recently learned). The other course was "Introduction to Philosophy", PHIL 1001, which was also officially known by another, one-word name - "Logic". So it is with some sense of divine serendipity and personal appreciation for Austin Farrer (and Dr. Ed Henderson) that I post this quote I've been saving for a while from the Philosopher's most famous article (emphases mine):
It would certainly be impertinence to suggest that the scholars who established the Q hypothesis reasoned falsely or misunderstood their own business; no less an impertinence than to talk of the great Scholastics so. St. Thomas understood the business of being an Aristotelizing Augustinian, and if I am not his disciple, it is not because I find him to have reasoned falsely. It is because I do not concede the premisses from which he reasoned. And if we are not to be Streeterians, it will not be because Dr. Streeter [56] reasoned falsely, but because the premisses from which he reasoned are no longer ours.
Please note the mind of the philosopher on display, and never forget: Logical arguments always depend on whether we accept their first premisses.

Thus, christian and non-christian scholars have something in common - they both have to decide at what point to start from. :)

August 24, 2008

Tiberius Impossible?

About 14 AD (Part Two): I finally sat on my first complete draft long enough. Percolated on it's difficulties long enough. I finally sat down and attacked it today and began a full revision. The more I study Tiberius, the more I feel sorry for the poor guy. But I also feel sorry for me! It's not easy to write about a man who had such complicated reasons for doing so very little. It doesn't make this job very easy.

I have to keep the 'mind-reading' in my narrative to an absolute minimum, but explain enough to keep the action [what little there is] from seeming pointless and absurd. I also have to show the complexity of the actual situation, according to leading classical scholarship, but I've got to do it in simple words for all readers, and try to keep it brief. This may be impossible.

It takes a long time to understand complicated things well enough to explain them simply without explaining them poorly. The difficulty is ONE of the reasons why this has never been done. But it needs to be done. It needs to be done well.

And so, I continue. Impossible is nothing.

August 23, 2008

Titus & Epaphroditus

On Monday, over at the Better Bibles Blog, David Ker asked for debate-worthy questions from the BBB audience about Bible translation issues. So I responded:
How come Paul gets to be a "minister" and us regular peons are always "servants" or "deacons"? How come no major translations are willing to call Titus & Epaphroditus "Apostles"? (2Cor.8:23 & Php.2:25) How come Paul "preached" all night in Troas, when the Greek word means "held dialogue"? In short: is there a clergy-bias in our NT translation? And more importantly, when will it end?
Later I added,
I'll withdraw and revise that final question, because I'm honestly looking for some help here. Whether or not those things are examples of what I call "clergy bias", how do bible translation teams actually justify such decisions? Is it tradition? Or do they have some specific reasoning to support the decision?
Now this morning, I'm thrilled to discover two worthy responses considering the verses I cited about Titus & Epaphroditus. First, Suzanne McCarthy expanded the data significantly. Then, Mike Sangrey offered strong theological opinions about studying the word "apostle".

I dearly hope this conversation keeps on growing! Update: Doug Chaplin, the admirable anglican, points out tonight that words aren't quite as tame as some might like. :)

Full Disclosure: My dog in this fight is in the area of church practice. Regular readers know I'm not dogmatic about it, but I think brave participants in "experimental forms of church life" deserve to claim a biblical basis for the extension of extra-local, intenerant church workers beyond the days of Paul and the Twelve. I wouldn't say everyone needs to be doing it, but I wish more would try, because those who are trying it now seem to have lost much of the art - and I think much remains there worth regaining...

August 21, 2008

15 Posts on Matthew's Notes

James McGrath kindly put out the word on my Ancient Journalism, Part 1 post. Since that post is attempting to support a larger hypothesis I worked on all summer, I wanted to make a links list here just in case anyone becomes interested and motivated enough to dive into the whole thing. Naturally, and especially with a brand new hypothesis, the most I'm trying to claim (for now) is that it's conditionally plausible and worth further consideration. :)

Note: These are all in reverse order, blog style.

Posts from August:

Matthew: Object Permanence - The 30 years of Matthew’s life before he composed his Gospel are a more important piece of the Synoptic puzzle than any textual variances. We shouldn't just let Matthew's life "not exist", despite the difficulty of attempting to reconstruct it.

Rethinking Matthew’s Notes - If we assume Matthew took notes during Jesus ministry, then my recent theory on the Synoptic composition still seems the most natural, plausible chain of events, to me, six weeks later. This is the one that sparked all the recent conversation.

Posts from July:

Gospel Origin Sequence - The comparative sophistication of Mark, Luke and Matthew, as literary compositions, seems like good evidence of the sequence in which they were ‘published’.

Paul and the Gospels - The apostle to the Gentiles influenced Matthew indirectly through Mark & Luke, and may have influenced Matthew in person (or by proxy) during his Caesarean imprisonment.

Matthew Kept Notes - This is the big one – a concise summary of my working hypothesis on Synoptic origins. Matthew took notes from 30 to 33. Around 50/51, Mark used those notes and eyewitness testimony to compose a simple, compact account. From 57 to 59, Luke gathered several written and oral sources during Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment, including Matt’s notes and Mark’s Gospel. Finally, Matthew collected new material and included parts of his original notes that Mark and Luke had picked over, enhancing it all to fit his new literary vision.

Posts from June:

Gospel Strategy (?) - Does Matthew's content arrangement specifically show his aim to challenge those interested in the "sayings only” version of christianity? (Extension from previous post, below.)

Jewish (Un)Believers - The possibility of James' Epistle as “seeker friendly” outreach to unbelieving Jews, who became persuaded to a point and overtook his constituency without converting to faith in Christ Himself. If so, this contributed to the ongoing trend which eventually provided the inspiration for Matthew’s Gospel.

Problems with Brainstorming - Embarrassing corrections I refuse to cover up. As if I could pretend. Life IS working without a net - so I'm willing to take my lumps while learning.

Little Q’s in 57 AD - A conceptual breakthrough in developing my hypothesis: seeing a christless, crossless Christianity growing in Jerusalem around 57 AD - and partially converted Pharisees using Matthew’s Notes to create literary collections of Jesus’ sayings only. Note: I posit here that very early "sayings gospels" would have used Matthew’s writings as a source, instead of the other way around, as the Q theory claims.

More Brainstorming - The meaning of “undertaken to compile an account” (Lk.1:1) and James the Just as one possible instigator of an unfinished writing project.

Growing in Literacy - The naturally slow expansion of relative competence in literacy explains Matthew’s 26 year gap between note taking and gospel composition. This post also expands the ideas of ancient “developing literacy” I’d been working on in other posts - for which, check my blog index.

Luke and Matthew – Process (?) - Many questions related to Matthew’s whereabouts from 57 to 59 AD and other thoughts related to my brand new thoughts on practical source theory. Mostly, more first steps and brainstorming.

Space Time Parameters - Advice on Source Theory from a seminary-grad & friend intersects with my personal way of thinking about it all.

Imagining Literacy in 52 AD - My very first steps towards a practical (not primarily textual) Synoptic hypothesis.

Can I See Your Notes? - The spark of my whole idea, despite one major flaw. Many thanks, once again, to Mark Goodacre for his eye opening 5th post on Orality & Literacy, which I continue to go back and re-read even still.

August 20, 2008

Ancient Journalism, Part 1

Professor James McGrath challenged me the other day to come up with parallel examples of "live" [okay, nearly live] "note-taking" or "journaling" in antiquity. Time's precious since I reported to school this week, but this one's been building in my head for a day or two.

Note: "Journalism" is often called the first draft of history, but not all of it has to get written down in real time. A "Journalist" can write today about events that happened yesterday or a week ago. (This past spring, Newsweek Magazine did a whole issue on the year 1968! But I won't stretch it that far.) Anyway, for this post, my definition of "Ancient Journalism" is any historian who wrote about events in his own lifetime, IF he recorded those events within a year or less after they happened, or finished happening. Last Note: Tonight, I'm also going to look at whether a King commissioned the writing of the "Journalist" in each case.

Okay, here's what I've got so far (in reverse-historical order):

Nicolas of Damascus - chief advisor to King Herod the Great, Nicolas also wrote the history of those days during Herod's life. (The work is mostly lost, but Josephus relied on it as a source.) Nicolas wrote from 14 to 4 BC, relying on his own current, ongoing experience and Herod's memoirs. (Bonus Question: Do you think Herod wrote those memoirs, or did he dictate them to someone?)

Horace, Virgil & Livy - this is a stretch, but I'm going in order. Scholars have debated how much these three "worked for" Augustus, but their writings included events in their own day (poetically, poetically & allegorically, and historically - respectively). To whatever degree Augustus [either directly or subtly] influenced their work, it's interesting that they most praised Rome and roman values; the fact that this debate can even happen goes to show that Augustus did not commission outright flattery. He was building something greater than himself.

Julius Caesar - not a king (yet) and he wrote it himself, but he chronicled his Gallic Wars and Civil Wars in true journalistic fashion. Also, Caesar did it deliberately to provide source material (along with, naturally, his own p.o.v.) for future historians. "Real time"? No. Nightly? Evidently yes, at times.

Polybius - skipping 150 years or so a hundred plus years, Polybius does NOT count... or does he? Polybius MIGHT have kept a journal of the Macedonian and Punic Wars he took part in, and more probably did than didn't, but we can't say so for sure. (Though he was at least writing habitually before 167 BC.) Polybius mentions note taking as part of bookish research and contrasts it with actual experience, but this doesn't rule out note taking based on actual experience. Also, Polybius' feelings on "pragmatic history" are something I should post about another time, but his eventual composition was published years after the events, whether or note he built up private journalistic archives for his own sake, beforehand. Finally, Polybius' friendship with Scipio helped inspire his work - Scipio a General and proconsul was like-a-king, but didn't commission the work. Polybius was personally motivated.

Callisthenes - skipping again, this nephew of Aristotle went with Alexander the Great's entourage and kept a complementary account of their ongoing events. The work was in finished form up to about two years (or less) behind "real time" - when Callisthenes suddenly made a mistake or two and got executed in early 327 BC. As a very experienced historian, Callisthenes was absolutely commissioned by the young King and brought along deliberately as a chronicler.

Ptolemy - Alexander's General, who claimed Egypt, wrote a history of those days long after they passed, but likely had his own journals from the campaign to use along with his memories and these other sources.

Nearchus - a subordinate commander under Alexander, his memoirs became popular when he published them years later, but it's unclear whether he worked from personal journals or simply recalled events years later.

Aristobulus - of Cassandrea, a minor officer of Alexander. Like the last two, his history wasn't published until after 301 BC, but the wealth of detail he gives on chronology, geography and botany strongly suggests he kept personal records of such information along the way.

And last, but oh, so definitely not least:

Thucydides - his History of the Peloponnesian War is a case study in what to make of a historian whose process and sources are virtually unknown. And yet... Thucydides is also a case study of an author who [undoubtedly must have] combined personal experience with eyewitness accounts and whatever rare & relevant documents he could find. Thucydides was not commissioned by any King to write and his work was only published after his death, but the last 'book' found in in was a semi-organized collection of notes. He was still at work, and it is highly probable at least some of his notes came from the battles he himself fought in and the events he himself witnessed - though of course we can't say how quickly he put down those events.

But Thucydides is also a model for understanding early historiography. I confess, it's been years since I read through Michael Finley's amazing introduction to the Penguin edition (1972). This was almost the first college text I had to read as a freshman (1992) and Finley's intro probably deserves a post of it's own. As I said some weeks ago, if Thucydides & Herodotus get "bonus points" for being primitive historians, so the Gospel writers should get a lot of slack for being amateur biographers. I really may have to do a whole post just on Finley's treatment sometime fairly soon.

For tonight, that's my list. Who best fits the "Journalist" label? Nicolas of Damascus, Julius Caesar, at least one if not all four of the Alexandrian chroniclers mentioned, and POSSIBLY Polybius & Thucydides, though we can't say for sure about those two. That's not too shabby for starters...

Of course, there's a lot left to consider... Part Two & Three coming "soon".

Comments so far?

August 18, 2008

Matthew: Object Permanence

When my son was very little, his Grandaddy loved to play "In the pocket, out of the pocket." Psychologists tell us that infants & toddlers love this game (and "Peek-a-boo") because to their limited perceptive abilities, the object (or person) really, actually disappears! In other words, it takes us time to discover, as children, that things don't cease to exist just because we can't see them.

This is what I meant in my last post about Matthew. Scholars talk about Matthew in the days of Jesus' ministry. And scholars talk about Matthew writing his Gospel some decades later. But how often do scholars attempt to reconstruct what Matthew was doing in between those occassions? Most (by far) mentions of the word "Matthew" in scholarly writing simply refer to the text, or if the reference is to the man himself, it is almost always purely as the author of his text.

Certainly scholars know he lived for the decades in-between. But the impression is that he's just a label or a vessel or a scribe for his writing. "Matthew" is timeless. "Matthew" wrote a gospel. You get the impression MATTHEW the man didn't actually exist. He was born, he collected taxes, he followed Jesus, and years later, at some point, he suddenly wrote a gospel.

That view - whatever else it is - presents a tremendous lack of object permanence.

Enough about scholars for a minute; let's pick on preachers! One really great example of this tendency is Philip "the evangelist". Preachers who want to promote evangelism use Philip as a prime role model. He preached in Samaria. He baptized the Etheopian eunuch. Oh yeah? Yeah... and then the spirit took him up to Caesarea where he settled down and raised a family! We have no record at all that Philip ever "evangelized" anyone again, after those two occasions. But we DO have a record that Philip raised four very impressive young girls. Twenty-four years had passed, since the eunuch, when Paul & Luke came to Caesarea.

Did Philip evangelize in Caesarea? Maybe. But it never gets mentioned. "Philip" dissappears from the text, so he ceases to exist in our awareness and discussion of the ongoing events.

Whatever else it is - it's a lack of awareness about object permanence.

So what will it be? In the pocket? Or out of the pocket? Does Matthew exist in 37 AD or does he not? Howabout in 44 AD? 50? 52? 57? Does it matter? Can we even know? Well... it does matter, and we can only know so much, admittedly. But leaving this question all alone is unacceptable. Matthew was somewhere. And his actual life is a much bigger piece of the puzzle (to solving the "Synoptic Problem") than any textual variance.

For whatever reasons, NT scholars are predominantly text-centered.

We need more historical reconstruction of the events.

Rethinking Matthew's Notes

We can't trust Eusebius. But fortunately, we don't need Papias. We have the Gospels. The internal evidence shows Matthew is the most likely suspect by far to have kept some journals about what Jesus did and said during his ministry. The rest is logical extrapolation. IF Matthew took notes, WHAT would most likely have happened next? How would Mark and Luke make use of Matthew's notes? And finally, when and why did Matthew decide to revise his collection of writings into a mature literary composition? My own working hypothesis is already on record.

This is realistic thought experimentation. This is logistical plausibility, reconstructed in chronological sequence. This is natural consequences, strictly postulated. This is practical analysis. In other words, this is good common sense!

This is what would have probably happened... IF... IF Matthew took first-hand notes, live, during Jesus' ministry. But don't take my word for it. You tell me. Start from that premise, and what do YOU think would have happened?

Remember, Matthew was alive, in Israel, for about 30 years after the cross. He was in Israel when Mark wrote. He was in Israel when Luke began writing. These are basic facts, not extra assumptions, no matter how much people overlook TIME and object permanence in the New Testament.

Admittedly, we can't prove this hypothesis. But it works. It works far better than that silly "Q" mess. And it's based on what we DO have. I don't care that it's not provable. Praise the Lord! We don't have to claim certainty over such a nonessential area as Gospel Origins (aka, "Source Theory"). BUT... BUT... BUT...

But since we DO have this effective, common sense, plausible hypothesis, we should state it as such. I can't believe it strongly enough to fight over it. But I can believe it until God himself reveals something better. It fits. It's beautiful. It's simple. And it just makes perfect sense.

For the moment, I still think this is pretty close to exactly what happened. :)

August 16, 2008

Group Dynamics

The continuing conversation over at Peter Kirk's blog reminded me of something I read a year ago. In a 2003 speech called "A Group is it's own Worst Enemy", Clay Shirky said: "Constitutions are a necessary component of large, long-lived, heterogeneous groups." Judging purely from Shirky's statement, we might suppose Constitutions are NOT necessary in the following types of groups:

1) Large, short-lived, heterogeneous (Big AND different? Boom.)
2) Large, short-lived, homogeneous (This happens during Retreats.)
3) Large, long-lived, homogeneous (Not this side of heaven, I suspect.)
4) Small, short-lived, heterogeneous (Uh, why are we together? Bye.)
5) Small, short-lived, homogeneous (Uh, why did we ever break up?)
6) Small, long-lived, homogeneous (Tiny, happy special interest clubs!)
7) Small, long-lived, heterogeneous (For most people, this is your family.)

By the way, I almost cut #3 because I can't think of anyone that got Large AND Long-lived without creating a great deal of rules and structure for themselves. But I suppose if people were like-minded enough, size and time could grow irrelevant. Still, this just shows how much these terms, "large/small" "long/short-lived" and "hetero/homogeneous" are all very relative.

So, for the sake of argument, go ahead and set your own limits on all this. But here's my question: Which, if any, of these Eight categories do you think sounds most like the church?

(And why?)

August 14, 2008

Proof Is Relative

Sometimes I wonder how well certain Biblical Scholars did in school at Math and Science. None of us is perfect, but academic logic isn’t always as consistent (or as honest) as it ought to be. Anyway, here’s my two cents on “Proof” from a Mathematical and Scientific point of view. As a High School Math Teacher, I’ll start with an example from Basic Geometry.

When doing a Formal Proof in Euclidean Geometry – and doing it properly – it’s okay to say, “Angle A is congruent to Angle B.” And a similar sounding statement, “The measure of Angle A is equal to the measure of Angle B.” is also okay. But you cannot say, “Angle A is equal to Angle B.” The mathematical reasoning behind this simple difference is to observe that shapes and objects may be nearly identical, but only values can be “equal”.

Now, most High School students rightly feel like this is nonsense, a pointless technicality. But it’s not; at least, not in proper theoretical terms. But it’s easy to see why Geometry Teachers at the High School level have different approaches on this point. Some teachers teach the difference and hold their class accountable for making both statements. (Technically, one must prove congruent angles and then also claim equivalent measures.) For convenience, many teachers allow one statement to assume the other. A case can be made for either practice, educationally, depending on the class population and postsecondary goals.

So, technically, a student has to write both statements in a formal proof. Technically, a proof without both statements is inadequate, leaving the point under debate to remain remain unproven… technically. But a student who writes one statement assuming the other IS still correct in their conclusion. They’ve just not not proved it yet… technically… because they’ve left a gap in their argument. The student’s logic requires an additional, unstated assumption.

Wphew. Got all that? Okay. Now I have two points.

One – this is just an illustration to illustrate a deeper truth, which is as follows. It is an underlying assumption of all propositional Logic that to some degree, all arguments rest on assumptions. The number of allowable assumptions is a subjective decision. We – frighteningly – WE have to decide what to assume! And oddly enough it seems there’s always someone who’s willing to question anything.

An extreme example is the always hysterical, “Do we really exist?” But everything in between that and “Yes we do!” is a sliding scale that depends purely on how much proof an individual examiner decides to require. The fact that Rene Descartes opinion was weighty and influential does not change the fact that the unpersuaded few remain so by some subjective (voluntary or involuntary) determination to demand stronger evidence.

Scientists will tell you, when pressed, that any solid theory relies on some small measure of good faith. In fact, the underlying Philosophy of Science actually suggests even basic causality is, strictly speaking, technically improvable. (Ask a Physicist sometime whether or not we can conclude that the cue ball caused the eight ball to move.)

Likewise, Integral Calculus – the practical applications of which work perfectly in the real world when accounting for all variables – is based partly on a mathematical absurdity called “The Limit”. Oh, strictly speaking in pure theory the Limit may not be considered “absurd”, but then again its existence as a concept sortof-almost-notreally requires dividing by zero, which cannot be done and therefore IS absurd. (Ask a Math Professor if you really want the details. And for real fun, ask a group of Math Professors “Does the Limit exist?” and see what happens!)

These examples bring me to my second point.

Any conclusion we draw about anything, to some degree, is based on a combination of proven and unproven “facts”. We know how chemicals react to one another, but we don’t know WHY. We know how gravity works but we don’t know WHY. We’re pretty sure (most of us) that we actually do exist, but Science cannot tell us WHY we exist.

At some point, on some aspect of any topic or debate, for whatever reasons or causes, with or without being influenced by arguments… at some point, every individual person has to eventually decide what to believe about things.

Strictly speaking, every fact and opinion one agrees with is based at least partly on faith. Objectivity is a nice ideal. But personal experience usually wins most opinions. It’s not for nothing that the saying goes, “seeing is believing.” That is, if you trust what you see! Therefore, despite the fervent desires and ostensible positions of many academics, experience remains subjective.

Oh, make no mistake – actual facts CAN be proven. It just depends on what kinds of “proof” you’re willing to accept. The Truth is not subjective, but our perceptions of it are.

Truth is not relative. But proof is.

Now, what about Christian Faith?

When the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he appeared to those who were ready to believe in him. He did not appear to the Sanhedrin. But even if they had seen him, would they have believed? Or would they have called it a hallucination? We could guess but we’ll never know. We might imagine no one could doubt their own eyes, but people see the same things all the time and make different judgments about it.

To some, the rocks and the trees are enough proof that God is. To others, no arguments will ever exist that can overcome their genuine doubt, despite their seemingly heartfelt desire to believe. I don’t know why this happens. It just does. For whatever deep, hidden and possibly even self-unaware reasons, individual human beings each hold a different standard of proof for believing in God. There is no consensus. And there is too often very little point in arguing. (Though I’m all for arguing with the right attitudes!)

Biblical Scholars ought to be more consistently logical. We both CAN and CANNOT prove the existence of God. We both CAN and CANNOT prove the reliability of certain particular statements in scripture. Just like the photon particles change direction depending on whether or not anyone’s watching, our arguments gain and lose merit depending on who’s listening. Mainly, in purely logical terms, it depends on what we allow ourselves to assume, which covers a vast sliding scale of unprovable “facts”.

All I’m saying is, we ought to acknowledge this more explicitly and give weight to respective assumptions as such, in our scholarship.

I believe God is real and the Scriptures are reliable. I choose to begin with those assumptions when reconstructing the History of New Testament Era Events. But I may or may not ever attempt to prove the truth of those assumptions to you. Why not? Because I don’t have to! Logic declares that I can merely state those assumptions as such, from the start. Everything else is still argumentatively valid.

All propositional logic relies on a certain number of assumptions. Geometry Proofs always start with a “Given”. And therefore, although Truth is not relative, proof is.

August 11, 2008

A Tiny Bit of 2nd Century Paving

...was found in Sepphoris, near Nazareth. But not in a Temple.

I saw this news out of Hebrew University today, via Rogue Classicism, natch. The entire article about this 2nd century temple in Sepphoris shows an awareness of the actual ground beneath the temple, and some details. The temple (build after 100 AD) was plundered. Only the footings under the walls remain. Note the word "foundation" refers to footings. The ancients did not pour a slab and the 'floor' was dirt. If there had been any other 'flooring' the report would have mentioned it. Also note the word "courtyard". There was no paving in the sacred court around the building either. The last several lines of the article refers to a different building nearby with a central courtyard which was paved. There was no paving in the temple.

Regular readers will know why I mention all this.

Josephus says the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem was paved, when completed. Scholarship should be devoted first of all to the extreme uniqueness of this case, especially in the first century, and second of all to the question of when precisely this pavement was put in. It remains my contention that Agrippa II commissioned the pavement as a renovation project in the late 50's/early 60's AD. This theory explains the often made (but vaguely absurd) statement that the temple took over 80 years to complete. But I - a poor, simple "layman", really wish some well trained professional scholar would do a proper study on these things.

Until then, I continue to rant. ;)

And remember, there are reasons why this matters.

August 8, 2008

Logistics of Famine Relief in 43 AD

I'm so glad to see someone blogging about the historical aspects of Galatians. I've been enjoying Ken Schneck's blog (and about a hundred others this summer). And he's pressing to finish a series before Fall Semester. If Ken doesn't have time to respond to me there, I hope someone will here - eventually! He's fast! Anyone else? These are some of many, many thoughts I'll keep saving (for now) about Galatians and History.

See Ken's post over there. And his kind reply.Then here is my comment:

Thanks for that great overview, Ken. There's so many points I'd love to ask about and discuss with you. Since I know you're busy, I'll just venture to interject on one little point. If you have time to respond at some point, that'd be great.

I think the "gift trip" was in 44 43*, when Agrippa died. (Update: Agrippa died in very early 44, before Passover, so Paul & Barnabas must have come in 43.) Here's why:  
Since Agabus predicted the famine years in advance, somewhere after late 33 AD, then the church in Antioch would not have to wait until 46 - when the famine actually hit - to get the relief to Jerusalem. They would have been far more faithful and prudent to make an early delivery so that Jerusalem could be prepared.

Furthermore, since it defies imagination that two men could haul that much grain over 300 miles of terrain - or even sail it to Joppa and haul it from there - the "relief" must have been money, not material food.

And therefore, since money is far more likely, it would be least helpful if delivered when the famine actually hits... when prices are soaring and material is scarce. (By the way, can you imagine two guys coming in at the middle of a famine with multiple wagons wagons full of grain and a starving population? They'd never make it to the gates of town.)

Paul and Barnabas didn't wait until the famine hit. They brought money ahead of time.

One year? Oh I'd say at least, and more likely two. The elders in Jerusalem didn't want to make a conspicious run on the market at the last minute. They'd want to store up extra gain over time.

When you size up the logistics involved, it makes perfect sense that Paul and Barnabas came into town during the Passover of 44, just before the grain harvest, after which was obviously the best time of year to stock up.

All the scholarship I've checked on Galatians usually misses it, but it's an obvious point. They came before the famine. Not during it.

Luke's slippery text notwithstanding. ;)

Naturally, if you think I'm in error, I'd love to know why. Thanks for letting me 'play'.

August 7, 2008

First Century Calendars

About 2 or 3 years ago I made calendars (like the ones here and here) showing the Jewish Holidays over the Roman Calendar. I've got print outs from 9 BC to 70 AD that I'd like to scan and post online, but it's a lot of busy work. If anyone wants to help, let me know. Or can anyone tell me how to make a one page Word Doc directly into a jif or jpeg image? (As of now, all I know how to do is print and scan. Thus, the long postponed busy work.) However we do it, and whoever has the time and desire to get this done, we can post them jointly. Let me know...

Again, I have 79 Calendars ready for web publication. Got time to help get that done?

Academic Full Disclosure: The source for my calendars were the websites and Hebcal used fake-Gregorian dates, easily convertible for the years 1 to 70 AD. (Hebcal also doesn't go into "BC" years, which seems odd for them.) I also double checked my pages against the impressive interface at (No idea what the rest of that site is about; I haven't read it.) These are the only three sources I used to make my calendars. Hebcal and Timeanddate seemed extremely reputable and you can find more info on those sites on the methods/sources for their calculations.

Here is what I can tell you about how I put the sites' info together: Timeanddate gives the dates of lunar phases straight up, which of course correspond to the Festival dates shown by Hebcal. Hebcal had the holidays on the proper day of the week, but the Roman date was "off by two" because their computer program used the Gregorian formula. Yes, the Julian Calendar was off by more than two when Gregory revised it in the 1500's. But it took a while to get so badly off. The only reason the program is off by two is because it retroacts Gregory's revision which, after enough centuries of going backwards, results in an increasing "over-correction". But again, these concerns only affect our understanding of computer programs such as the one used by Hebcal. Incidentally, Timeanddate (and the abdicate site) will give you Julian OR Fake-Gregorian dates for the first century so you can verify what I'm talking about here.

As a side note - I have (over the years) noticed some discrepancy in uncited references to Kepler's dates for the 7 BC triple-conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn. I wonder what sources they were using. But I can't say too much yet - it's still on my way-back list (in order to double check what I put in the Year Book for 7 BC) to somehow find a real scholarly citation by actual astronomers for those dates. At any rate, the Star of Bethlehem is a whole other issue. Completely aside from that, I believe the calendars I want to post online are solid.

Again, who wants to help get that done?

The History of History

Retired historian Michael Ensley mentioned this sortof recent article yesterday on the Biblical Studies Group. I'll be thinking about this one for a while. If my book budget wasn't already shot for the year, I might be picking up these two as well. I really need to drive to the library more often. There's just never enough time! ;)

August 4, 2008

Jesus & Herod Antipas

[Note - This is the combined, revised version of two pieces I posted seperately in January. It's longer, but it's better. This is a preview of the central parts of Year-by-Year, Volume Two.]

If anyone other than Tiberius Caesar had been Emperor in those days, the Lord Jesus Christ might not have been crucified! He might have been beheaded.

Here’s why...

[We have to back up a bit first, to 4 years before the cross.]

In May of 29 AD, Jesus was in Judea, preaching and watching his disciples baptize people. At that same time, John the Baptizer was not too far away, in someplace with a lot of water, baptizing and preaching to others. John’s ministry was just over one year old. Jesus’ ministry had just begun. People were flocking to both men.

And the Jewish authorities were powerless to stop it.

In Judea, Pontius Pilate would not let the Sanhedrin execute anyone. They could have arrested Jesus, but what then? If they held him for no good reason, people might start to protest. They didn’t want to make him MORE popular. So they left him alone.

Until John popped off at the mouth.

John the Baptizer accused Herod Antipas of adultery – which was true. But Herod’s fling (his niece, Herodias) had become Herod’s new wife, and she was furious! So Herodias got Herod to arrest John… which gave the Sanhedrin an idea!

Herod Antipas DID have the power to execute prisoners – in Galilee!

The Sanhedrin figured out that if they arrested Jesus, they could give him to Herod. And then (as long as there was a justifiable charge) Herod could kill him. The Romans wouldn’t know or care.

Jesus, of course, knew this was a danger. So he got out of Judea, fast.

From June of 29 AD until September of 31 AD, Jesus stayed around Lake Galilee. The Judean Jews couldn’t get him there. He became very popular with the Galileans. And somehow, Herod Antipas didn’t even know who he was!

Still – just to be safe – Jesus spent most of his time close to the border of Philip’s tetrarchy. It wasn’t just a safety/exit plan. Making lots of trips across the sea was one more way to stay beneath Herod’s notice.

In all that time, a few Pharisees came around. But mostly, the Sanhedrin was happy enough to see Jesus staying in Galilee. The Judean Jews were especially happy that Jesus basically stayed away from Jerusalem for two whole years…

But all of that changed the day John died.

That night came in early March of 31 AD. Herod threw a party. His stepdaughter danced. And somehow, John got beheaded. Herodias had her revenge. And then, the news got out.

People everywhere were outraged.

Over the rest of spring and summer, that outrage spread. All of the common people thought John was a Prophet. Even in Judea, most Jews were upset with Herod Antipas for killing the Baptizer. And the Sanhedrin couldn’t say anything about it.

For Jesus, this was an opening.

John’s death was fresh on people’s minds. The Sanhderin didn’t want to give the people a second martyr in less than a year. So, Jesus waited until the Fall Festival of Tabernacles, in September of 31. Then he finally got down to Jerusalem again. (He'd actually snuck into the fall festival of 30 AD, but only for a day or so; he healed one guy and got out of there - quickly and safely!)

This year, Jesus stayed around Jerusalem for over two months, through Chanukah, in early December. More than once, he was almost stoned or arrested. (John’s death made that less likely, but not impossible!) Still, each time, Jesus escaped. And when tempers died down, the arrest plans were cancelled again.

The Jews of Judea were just too enamored, this time, with the One John had spoken about.

This was really important. It had been three years since his baptism. The people of Judea hadn't had much of a chance to see the Lord until now. They deserved his time, too.

After those two months, from the Tabernacles to Chanukah, Jesus made one more trip thru Galilee - mostly North Galilee. And after that trip, the Lord spent most of his final year in Judea – from May 32 until April 33, when they crucified him.

But that cross was almost a beheading. The Jews first option for killing the Lord SHOULD have been the axe-man of Herod Antipas. And that’s where we (finally) come back to Tiberius Caesar, again.

In 31, 32 and 33 AD, things were happening in Italy that made it impossible for Antipas to execute Jesus...


To explain the last bits of Part One, we have to back up in time a few decades...

It was 6 BC when Tiberius Caesar retired... the first time! He was only 35 years old, but he had to get away from Rome. Nine years later he was back, and next in line to be Emperor. But it was another ten years after THAT before he actually took power!

Tiberius Caesar was nearly 55 years old when Augustus died. On the day he “accepted” his power, he made a speech to the Senate, hoping they’d let an old man have some rest, before long. And he meant it. He was eager to “retire” again.

Unlike other men, Tiberius really didn’t want to rule the world.

In 26 AD, the old Army General finally found a way to step down – sort of. By that time, Tiberius had a strong right hand man, named Sejanus, the Prefect. Sejanus had been running things for Tiberius, like a manager runs a shop for an owner. It was going well. So Tiberius left Rome… forever.

The Emperor of Rome moved to the Italian Isle of Capri, and stayed there.

For five years, Sejanus managed Tiberius’ Empire. But the more time went by, the more Sejanus began to want power for himself. His official status rose quickly, up the ranks. He commanded the city guards, and controlled powerful senators. He was openly living with Livilla (the mother of Tiberius’ pre-teenage grandson).

Sejanus thought this connection to the Imperial bloodline would make him Emperor.

By late 30, AD, Sejanus had a plot underway to kill Tiberius and seize the Empire for himself. But Livilla’s mother (Antonia, Mark Antony’s daughter) told Tiberius about the plot. And the old Emperor (now 71) had Sejanus caught and executed by the Senate.

Now as horrible and dramatic as all that was – it’s not the main point. This is:

Sejanus died on October 18, 31 AD. But the rumors of Sejanus' destruction began at the beginning of that year. Now, those rumors that started in Rome would not have reached Galilee before March.

Now, Herod Antipas killed John just before he learned Sejanus was in trouble. Otherwise, Antipas might not have done it. Promise or no promise, Antipas relied on Sejanus' support. They had an understanding.

If Sejanus was about to go down, that was a major concern for Herod Antipas. But we'll come back to Antipas.

Jesus was still at Chanukah in November/December when all Israel learned of Sejanus' death. Up until that point, Jesus was safe from Herod because of John's martyrdom alone. But after this point, Herod Antipas has two good reasons to let Jesus live!

When Sejanus died in Rome, that October, Tiberius seized direct power again. But everyone guessed the old man wouldn't stay totally active for so very long. The world watched all winter and spring, but Tiberius never even left the Isle of Capri. He just sent orders to Rome.

So the main question was, "Who would take Sejanus' place as the true power in Rome?" But for those who'd been close with Sejanus, there was another question: "Will I be punished and killed for my alliance with the fallen Prefect?"

Herod Antipas had to worry about both questions.

This is what really tied Antipas’ hands, in Israel.

Sure enough, Tiberius stayed in Capri. A man named Macro had taken Sejanus' place as Praetorian Prefect.

So the Emperor put his trust in the hands of his new Prefect, Macro.

Officially, Macro was in charge. But practically, there was still some doubt.

Tiberius was notoriously fickle. Actually, he wasn't, but he made himself seem to be fickle so no one could ever tell what he was going to do. There was no immediate guarantee Macro was going to keep his position. So Herod Antips didn't know whether to pursue good relations with Macro or whether he needed to wait and see, for now, if Macro stuck around awhile, politically.

For that matter, almost no one in Rome had a secure position at that time. The new bloodbath was against former allies of Sejanus. As mentioned, Herod Antipas had to worry about this in particular. If anyone in Rome knew of Antipas secret alliance wtih Sejanus, the parties could have all been over for the tetrarch of Galilee.

In 32 and 33 AD, each of these two concerns - Macro's viability and Antipas' past alliance - had a specific problem element, making it worse.

Macro’s biggest threat in 32 was a granddaughter of Augustus – Agrippina (“the elder”, widow of Germanicus, mother of Caligula, and Caligula’s older brothers). Basically, Agrippina was a mighty woman to have to deal with, and there were powerful Senators willing to support her, to get her son (named “Nero-Julius”) on the throne.

Caligula was younger than Nero-Julius, so Caligula took up with Macro. By mid to late 33 AD, Macro & Caligula had secured their own future. By then, Nero-Julius and Agrippina were both dead. But until then, Nero-Julius and Agrippina were still a major threat, if only a potential one.

Senators were getting skewered all the time. Any of them could have rallied around Augustus' great-grandson Nero-Julius.

Macro & Caligula played it well, but it took them some time.

For over two years, the general political situation in Rome was still somewhat unstable.

Now, as for Herod's secret alliance with Sejanus, there was also one specific problem. It wasn't just a general fear. There was one potential leak in particular - Herod's brother-in-law!

Less than six months after Sejanus' fall, Herod Antipas got into a fight with his wife's brother, Herod Agrippa. Agrippa left Israel and made his way to Rome. Agrippa was crafty, but broke. He borrowed money to get to Rome and he only had one friend there. (Antonia, his mother's good friend from decades past.)

Agrippa is a whole other story, really, but he was a threat to Antipas for one reason alone.

Agrippa knew about Antipas' secret alliance with Sejanus. Antipas knew Agrippa knew. And they both knew that people in Rome were falling all over each other to inform on each other.

In 32 AD, Agrippa went to Rome planning to inform on Antipas. Agrippa had everything to gain. Antipas had everything to lose. But Antipas couldn't do anything but wait. Agrippa was either going to tell or he wasn't. The only thing Antipas could do was hope to make a good defense, if he got accused. So he waited.

In early 33 AD, Antipas was still waiting to hear whether Agrippa had said anything.

By mid to late 33, things would be clear. Caligula teamed up with Macro against his own mother and brother! Macro held onto power. Agrippa got to Rome but Antonia took care of all his financial needs, so Agrippa found out he could afford to keep the info against Antipas for a later time. Herod Antipas' worries turned out to be nothing. But it took time for that to become clear.

By mid to late 33, Herod Antipas would know all this. But for the better part of three calendar years (31, 32, 33), things were hazy.

Herod Antipas didn’t know who would win out. He didn't know if he'd be on the blacklist.

The Tetrarch did know he would need to earn his way into the winner’s good graces, whenever it was over. And he'd need to have a good defense if he got accused as Sejanus' ally. Now that all meant a lot of things… but mostly just one thing. Every overseas Governor or Tetrarch knew there was only one way to earn or keep the good favor of Rome.

He had to govern well.

This is the major point. For two years, Antipas had to make sure he governed well.

Extremely, cautiously well.

That meant no riots. That meant no uprisings. That meant no chaos. That meant that Herod Antipas had to be very careful to run a clean, tight, tribute-paying region. He had to keep Galilee peaceful and profitable. He had to make sure he looked like an asset… to whomever came out of those hazy days in Rome with all the power.

But it was actually twice as bad as all that, for Antipas, in this case. Remember, in early 31 AD, when Antipas got the news about Sejanus… John had just died!

The timing is remarkable.

One day, Herod stirs up popular outrage by killing John, and a short while later, he finds out his main ally in Rome was on the hot seat! Six months after that his ally was dead, and for the next almost-two-years after Sejanus was dead, Herod Antipas was hamstrung for prophet killing!

It was rotten timing for Antipas. It was wonderful timing for Jesus.

Things may or may not have been building towards rebellion… but Antipas couldn’t risk anything that was anywhere close to an uprising.

So Antipas couldn’t risk getting involved with the Jesus drama in Judea.

So Jesus was finally able to go back into Judea, after 28 months away! In fact, Jesus was finally able to spend about thirteen months in Judea, altogether.

Remember, the Jews could arrest Jesus. But they needed Antipas to kill him. Rome’s Governors never let City Councils use the death penalty, but Antipas was technically independent, in his Tetrarchy. Without Antipas, the Sandedrin was going to need a perfect storm to accuse Jesus before the Romans.

That storm took two years to develop. (Then it came to a head in one week!)

In Autumn 31 and May of 32, Jesus made trips to Judea. The first time, he stayed two months. The second time, about 11 months. Since John was a martyr, the people flocked to the Lord more than ever. For a long time, the Sanhedrin did their best to hold themselves back, for fear of the people. But that wasn’t the only reason…

If Antipas had been willing to help, the Sanhedrin could have given Jesus to Herod. The people would have been outraged, but at least Herod could have drug Jesus over to his fortress on the Dead Sea – Macherus, where John was beheaded. The people could be dealt with. It might just have worked…

If Antipas hadn’t been worried about Rome, Jesus could have been beheaded!

But that wasn’t how it was meant to be.

Shortly after dawn, very early on Friday, April 3rd, 33 AD, Jesus Christ stood before Herod Antipas. It was the only time the two men ever met, face to face. Herod asked all kinds of questions, but got no answers. He let the priests and lawyers threaten and accuse. He let his soldiers tease and make fun. But Herod knew he'd better not do anything. And Herod knew that Pilate felt the same way!

Pontius Pilate was in the same boat as Antipas. Neither one of them wanted to be held responsible if trouble broke out, over this. Both men were still being cautious, while the political drama was trying to work itself out in Rome. (Soon after, their shared problem actually drew Pilate & Herod into a friendship. But that’s another story.) Pilate tried to give up jurisdiction. But Herod basically said, “It happened here, man.”

Herod Antipas wanted nothing to do with the execution of Jesus. So Jesus was crucified. Not beheaded.

If Sejanus had still been in power, protecting his ally Antipas, the Tetrarch might have done a quick favor for the Sanhderin, some time in 32. But then Jesus would have died much too soon.

If Macro had no potential rival in Agrippina (and her allies) – that is, if Rome had been perfectly and clearly stable – or if Agrippa hadn't been in Rome with a threat to expose Antipas - then Jesus might have been beheaded. Or burned. But that wasn’t how it was meant to be.

If Tiberius had never retired to the Island of Capri, Jesus might not have died on a Roman Cross.
But that wasn’t what the Father wanted.

This stuff may not matter, but then again, it may.

History happens very slowly. Most big things usually take years. In Italy, Tiberius retired. Sejanus plotted and died. Agrippa learned about a secret alliance. Macro & Caligula plotted against Caligula's brother and mom. Meanwhile, in Israel, a teenager danced for Antipas. The old Tetrarch beheaded the Baptizer. And Jesus got to spend the better part of two years in Judea, which had stayed closed to him for so long. But that’s far from all…

Because of all this, Jesus was not beheaded. Because of Sejanus and Macro, Antipas and Tiberius, Agrippa, Agrippina and Caligula, the Sanhedrin and Salome… the Lord Jesus Christ died on a Cross.

This is what the Father wanted.

When the timing was just right, Jesus went to Jerusalem and got executed, Roman style. He was not beheaded. He was crucified. It was not in a dungeon. It was public. People saw the sky go dark. They saw how unjust it all was. The World system AND Religious system worked together, to kill him. And the death was unendingly memorable. But the main thing about it... was simply one thing.

God got what he wanted.

The Son of Man was lifted up.

August 1, 2008

The Christ of History!

This is what I’ve been able to gather, so far, about Scholars. Aside from generalizing, please tell me to what extent any of this is actually wrong. I hope it’s at least a little wrong. This is one time I would especially LOVE to be wrong. (NOTE: I wrote this some days ago.)

Christian Bible Scholars don’t want to blend the Gospels into one story. They prefer to see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as individual documents with their own unique “theological” message. They say things like, “The Bible is not a History Text.” Basically, Christian Bible Scholars view the New Testament as a Sourcebook of information we can study, from which we can build teachings about God, faith and how Christians should live.

Non-Christian Bible Scholars don’t believe the Gospels tell one true story. They prefer to see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as religious propaganda that was sprinkled with non-credible events to create an elaborate picture of who they (wish) Jesus of Nazareth truly was. They say things like, “How can we find the historical Jesus?” Basically, Secular Bible Scholars view the New Testament as a Religious-Dogma Sourcebook, which needs to be discredited and exposed as a fraud, for the good of all mankind.

Christian Bible Scholars believe Jesus rose from the dead. They know the Gospels don’t perfectly agree with each other. They prefer to keep these facts under control so they can protect the innocent minds of poor, simple believers.

Non-Christian Bible Scholars believe Jesus just lived and died. They deny any possibility that miracles might have actually happened. They like to say the imperfections and oddities of the Gospel texts are evidence that the whole thing is full of made-up lies.

Christian Bible Scholars engage their opponents on their opponents’ ground. Here they can do little more than criticize and attack. Arguments and discussions go in circles. The two sides do no better than agree to disagree.

Non-Christian Bible Scholars refuse to assume any tenants of faith for the sake of argument. They hold the high ground in University Departments on the political principles of “Separation of Church and State”.

Non-Christian Bible Scholars are trying to reconstruct (or re-invent) “The Historical Jesus”. Christian Bible Scholars are left with having to speak about “the Christ of Faith”.

And now for my favorite:

Classical Scholars (both Christian and Non) avoid study of the Bible for its own sake. Classical Scholars write about every other text from the ancient world, except the Bible. WHY IS THIS, REALLY?

To Sum Up: Christian B.S. avoids Historical thinking. Non-Christian B.S. denies the whole truth about Jesus. Ancient Historians avoid the Bible altogether.

And me? I’m trying to put the True Jesus in Historical Context.

Sometimes it feels like I’m very alone in this quest. I sure hope that’s not true.

So who else is with me on this?
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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