September 29, 2008

Not a Strong General

Fall Semester at a new school with a new curriculum is always demanding. I'm learning the new ropes. I'm learning how to say a few extra Spanish words. I'm learning how to skim through my Reader a lot quicker than I did over the summer! And this weekend I spent a dozen hours learning (again) where the boundary markers are on my topics for 14 to 19 AD - especially Germanicus and his German campaigns from 14 to 16.

The more I study the movements and decision making of Germanicus Caesar, the more I start to think the guy shouldn't have been leading a cub scout troop. Okay, that's exaggerating a bit. But honestly! Augustus dies, Four Legions with bad morale are camped together in one spot, winter's coming soon and they aren't ready for it - nor have they been paid all year - and what does Germanicus do? He takes all his top officers away from camp and rides around Gaul & Belgium sizing up grainfields and schmoozing with local officials!

Then, after almost dying twice during the mutiny, and surviving only because his wife trick his soldiers into repenting, Germanicus leads his troops on a six day hike into late October (that's about six weeks into a harsh early winter) so they can massacre a German tribe during the full moon, just to save face and restore morale, and then almost freeze to death going home in the mud. And they still had to make winter camp! (And so much more.)

Going through all that today, I remembered a line Tiberius was heard to say when Caligula stood to inherit the empire. And I wondered if the line ever crossed his brain when Germanicus was making his inept decisions in Germany, when Germanicus was next in line to become Empire: "When I am gone, let fire o'erwhelm the Earth!"

Alas - or thank God, actually - my job is not to read Tiberius' mind. My job is just to size up what happened and tell it in order. Hopefully, it'll all be interesting. But man, that Germanicus! It's nice to have a change from focusing on Tiberius & the Senate. And I guess the guy was just out of his poor little league. But sometimes I just think, Dude, what a pozer...

September 23, 2008

Luke 3:1 - The Fifteenth Year

Note: This is part two of a two-part series on issues relating to Luke’s statement that John the Baptist began his ministry “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1).

In my last post, I concluded that New Testament Chronology on this issue should proceed by assuming Luke considered the Rule of Tiberius to have begun in August 14 AD. Naturally, the next critical issue is to consider whether Luke counted chronologically or inclusively. Depending on many considerations, the end result will be that John the Baptist must begin his ministry in the spring of either 28 or 29 AD.

First, these many considerations can all be kept simple. We can set aside jargon like “accession year” or “non-accession year”. We don’t need to list any names of the Syro-Macedonian Months or the Hebrew Months. And we don’t have to discuss whether Jews in first-century Judea considered their traditional New Year (before Passover, in the spring) to be more or less significant than their civic and agricultural New Year (before Yom Kippur, in the autumn). Instead of dealing with all that directly – and partly just to prove it can be done – I’m going to simplify things in a very practical way, using terms as plain as possible.

Here is the problem. It is possible Luke counted using a strictly chronological method, OR using an inclusive calendar based method. If Luke counted with strict chronology, the issues of Lunar calendars and alternate New Years Days are irrelevant. But if we somehow determine Luke counted inclusively, then the extra issues can be dealt with at that time. In fact, they will be easy to deal with.

Many things, then, can be sidestepped. Some scholarship in the past has attempted to use these various calendars in considerations of which counting system Luke “would have used”, but this is inconclusive at best. If we consider that Luke lived in Antioch Syria and spent time with Paul (a Hebrew of Hebrews), we might suppose Luke used a lunar calendar and also, perhaps, inclusive counting. But if we consider that Luke spent several years in a Roman Colony, traveled the Roman Empire and wrote his two Letters to a Roman official, then we might suppose Luke used a Roman calendar and also, perhaps, strict chronological counting. Unfortunately, of course, we just don’t know. Therefore, all such attempts to find correlations, while clever, are ultimately invalid. In short, we have no way to know which calendar system Luke would have been most likely to use. Even if we could determine that, we still have no way to know if Luke would have calculated using his own “most natural” methods, or adopted those of his audience (who, debatably, may or may not have been Roman).

So then, all that matters is what we began with – that we simply have two options.

The first option is that Luke counted just like Tacitus & Cassius Dio counted, many decades after Luke’s time. That would mean strict chronological accounting, so that the fifteenth year of Tiberius would begin on August 19th, 28 AD. With chronological counting, there is no need to consider which calendars Luke “would have” used.

The second option is that Luke counted inclusively. (This is sometimes called the “non-accession year method”.) That is, Luke counted the remaining portion of 14 AD as Year One and considered Year Two to begin on January 1st, 15 AD. With inclusive counting, the fifteenth year of Tiberius would begin on January 1st, 28 AD.

This second option is the one that must consider lunar calendars and alternative New Year’s Days – and yet we find quickly that the difference is virtually negligible. With inclusive counting, Year Two could begin on September 13th, 14 AD, or January 1st, 15 AD, or March 9th, 15 AD. True, this is a six month difference but it centers on January 1st and the span of time enfolds the winter when less activity was likely to take place. Likewise, with inclusive counting, Year Fifteen could begin on September 20th, 27 AD, or January 1st, 28 AD, or March 15th, 28 AD. Again, the difference seems significant chronologically, but actually seems negligible in all practical sense. (The idea that John the Baptist began his preaching just before or during winter doesn’t fit well with the picture given by the Gospels’ testimony.)

Therefore, we may simplify again. If Luke counted chronologically, the fifteenth year begins on August 19th, 28 AD. But if Luke counted inclusively, the fifteenth year begins several months earlier, on (or very near) January 1st, 28 AD.

The two options – and all that is above – can be summed up in these two dates.

This is a very nice, tight window.[1] However, without further evidence, we cannot tell which method Luke used. The simplest method is to assume strict chronological accounting from August 19th. This would place the beginning of John’s ministry in the spring of 29 AD, which is the date preferred by leading evangelical chronologists Harold Hoehner and Jack Finegan. Not coincidentally, this date also fits well with their reconstruction of a three year chronology for the ministry of Jesus, and naturally they have other considerations as well.

The simplest method is not to be preferred, however, if things have been forced into more simplicity than seems necessary. Without further evidence, we should still consider the other option – to assume inclusive counting – which produces a date for the beginning of John’s ministry in the spring of 28 AD. This is one year earlier than the date preferred by Hoehner & Finegan, but it fits perfectly with the reconstruction of a four year chronology for the ministry of Jesus, worked out by Johnston Cheney. Naturally, other considerations also apply.

The issue then, as it stands, must be determined against these other considerations:
· the birth year of Jesus and his age when baptized by John
· the statement “it took 46 years to build this temple” (John 2:20)
· whether the gospels record four or five Passovers
· reconstructing one coherent sequence of Gospel events
· whether Antipas would be more likely to kill John before or after Sejanus died
· which reconstruction lines up better with Roman History in other ways

Obviously, these are issues for another day. Interestingly, each of them (except the last) can be considered independently. Only after we have done so will we be able to choose between the two options presented here for the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry.

If Hoehner and Finegan are right, John began his ministry in the Spring of 29 AD.

If Cheney (and Heroman!) are right, John began his ministry in the Spring of 28 AD.

Assuming Luke counted the years of the Rule of Tiberius from August 19th, 14 AD, these are the only two options for Luke's estimation of that Emperor's fifteenth year. The choice between them, for any New Testament Chronology, depends on the other considerations listed above.

I will address these other issues in future blog series.

[1] These same considerations applied to a “joint rule” scenario, beginning from 13 AD, result in a larger window, spanning from January 1st, 27 AD (counting inclusively) to mid-27 AD (counting chronologically). This view would begin John's ministry in early 27 or early 28. But, as previously noted, there are no good grounds for accepting or refuting this position.

September 21, 2008

Luke 3:1 - The Rule of Tiberius

Note: This is part one of a series on issues relating to Luke’s statement that John the Baptist began his ministry “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1).

In the past, New Testament Chronologists have argued that “the rule of Tiberius” began in October of 12 AD, the middle of 13 AD, or August of 14 AD. History does give us enough facts to judge the merits of each case, and decide for ourselves. But knowing which date Luke chose to count from is a whole other issue. First, then, we must begin with the facts of Roman History, as succinctly as they might be stated:

Tiberius came home from Germany to a Triumphal parade in October 12 AD. At that time, the increased powers he’d held over Gaul & Germany were expanded geographically to include all the provinces. But it seems most likely that none of his special powers extended to Rome itself at this time.

In mid-13 AD, Augustus had the Senate increase Tiberius’ special powers to equal those of Augustus. This most likely is when Tiberius’ “imperium” was expanded to include the city of Rome as well. Effectively, for legal purposes, Rome had two Emperors at this point. Practically, however, Augustus was still calling all the shots. Legally, you could say Tiberius was “ruling”. In all practical fact, however, he was not.

The best evidence for concluding that Tiberius did not receive imperium over Rome itself until mid-13 AD is the fact that Tiberius immediately left the city at this time (to oversee a census of Italy). This principle of separation was enacted during the first and second triumvirates – the basic idea being that “co-Emperors” were likely to disagree and therefore should carry on separate duties in separate parts of the Empire as much as possible. And since Tiberius had been in Rome with Augustus all winter and spring, it looks strongly as if the full imperium “equal to that of Augustus” and as “colleague in the Empire” was not begun in late 12, but in mid 13.

Finally, Augustus Caesar died on August 19th, 14 AD. At this point, Tiberius began to exercise full Imperial powers as Emperor. Actually, at first he didn’t do much, but what little he did shows clearly that the Imperial power was already fully his. Scholars agree that Tiberius was Emperor on August 19th, and that the Senate debate of September 17th must be explained in other ways.

These facts of Roman History are mostly and fairly straightforward. The only question is how to label them. From our current vantage point, it appears Tiberius began legally “co-ruling” with Augustus in mid-13 AD, but only began ruling in all practical factuality on Augustus’ death in August, 14 AD. Scholars today naturally acknowledge the subtleties of this complex situation, but ancient writers took more simplified views. Our leading sources, Tacitus & Dio Cassius simply counted from the death of Augustus.

Our final fact is that Luke’s Gospel refers to “the rule of Tiberius” without telling us whether Luke chose to count from Augustus' death in 14 AD or from the joint rule of 13 AD. The second option would be fairly unique, but any comparison with other ancient writers suffers slightly because they wrote many decades after Luke's heyday in the 50's & 60's AD. This uncertainty about Luke's annalistic frame of reference is a key pivot point for New Testament Chronologists.

Past efforts to claim Luke placed the joint rule in late 12 AD should probably be credited merely as the overstretching of hopeful apologists – which they were at the very least. Although classical scholars have admitted that 12 AD cannot be ruled out entirely, it seems extremely unlikely (as shown above). Besides, it’s enough of a stretch to even suppose that Luke counted from the joint rule at all (even placed more securely in 13 where it probably belongs). Counting from the joint rule would be a unique standpoint among ancient writers which, although it cannot be ruled out, is far from the strongest likelihood.

The most likely option is to believe Luke began counting from August 19th, 14 AD, like the later ancient writers also did. The less likely option that Luke counted from 13 AD can neither be ruled out or accepted on any solid grounds. But there are strong reasons to discount the option of 12 AD on the balance of evidence from Roman History. Therefore, until some new evidence appears, New Testament Chronology should proceed as if Luke began counting the years of the Rule of Tiberius from 14 AD.

My next post will deal with the question of whether Luke counted chronologically or inclusively.

September 17, 2008

September 17, 14 AD

Augustus Caesar shared power several times from 44 BC to 14 AD, but no Emperor after him felt the need or desire to do the same. This made the situation of 13-14 AD unique in history – all later Emperors had a “day of accession” when the Senate awarded them the Empire, but Tiberius was already Emperor on the day Augustus died, which was August 19th, 14 AD.

However, a month later on September 17th, there was a complicated debate between Tiberius and the Senate over the expected usage of Tiberius’ powers. The ancient historians struggled to explain this unique event but 20th century Classical Scholars seem to have made sense out of the different accounts. So, after 9 months of studying their opinions on this complicated Senate meeting, here’s my own explanation in one sentence: Tiberius wanted to keep all the power but defer most of the responsibility, while the Senate was (ironically) arguing that he had to actively rule them, like Augustus had done.

This was not an “accession debate” as it used to be called. This was a practical debate. But the hardest part to grasp is probably the basic irony of the situation. Why was Tiberius trying to get out of actively ruling? And why was the Senate so eager to be ruled?

The Empire had grown so big that one man had to be in charge, and no one in that Senate meeting doubted which man was really in charge. Therefore, in every practical way, the September 17th debate was merely about division of labor. Tiberius had hoped it might be enough to hold the post along with full veto power, but the Senators wanted Tiberius to take full responsibility for that which he was already the absolute master of.

The Senators knew they were going to be ruled, so they wanted to feel secure about it. They were too smart to leave themselves open to an Emperor’s second guessing. On the other side of things, Tiberius was ready to retire and he wished the Senate could be run more like an Army.

In fact, one reason Tiberius gives more and more way to Sejanus over the next 16 years is because the old General naturally felt comfortable delegating authority through a chain of command. If his number two could organize things well enough, leaving the Emperor as a less involved ‘number one’, that suited Tiberius perfectly. This later chain of events shows in retrospect the heart of all that Tiberius wanted on September 17th: to hold all of the power with as little of the direct burdens of actual responsibility as possible.

That’s my personal conclusion, which I believe is basically a simplified synopsis of the views of Barbara Levick & Robin Seager (more on them in just a minute.) Now, as a summary of past scholarship, here’s a passage from Anthony Barrett’s Caligula. It’s especially worth quoting because Barrett didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak, and simply felt it necessary to sum up academic views on the matter succinctly while moving briskly onward. Here is Barrett’s summary:
“There was a key meeting of the Senate on September 17, shortly after the funeral. Augustus was declared a god, and exceptional honours voted for Livia. Then the senate entreated Tiberius, though whether to accept or continue the principate is not made clear (there is no specific report of the substance of their motion). Tiberius for his part expressed great reluctance, pointing out that the burden of rule was too great for a single person. The purpose of these proceedings has been much discussed. It has been argued [by E.Hohl] that Tiberius was seeking the moral authority of the senate, or [by D. Tiempe] that he relinquished his powers to have them re-confirmed by that body, or [by Seager] that the senate confirmed not Augustus’ powers (which Tiberius already had) but his provincia, or [by Levick] that he asked the senate to devalue the enormous provincia that had befallen him. [The footnote here supplies the scholars’ names.] Whatever the true sequence of events, Tiberius in the end yielded. As will be made clear, his successor Caligula would assume the principate under quite different circumstances.”
I’ll add my own note to this: Throughout each of their discussions on the subject, Levick and Seager seem solidly to agree on the pragmatics of the situation but state it in different terms. So I’m astonished that Levick failed to recognize the distinction made by Seager in his simple statement: “It was not powers that Tiberius lacked, but a province.” Three times in her footnote critiquing that statement (ch.V,n.13) Levick uses the term “powers” when she ought to be referring to the “province”. At any rate, despite their semantic differences (and despite their different proposals on the precise nature of that consular motion), Levick & Seager actually agreed in all practical sense that Tiberius never let down his full powers and that the debate was over what type of duties those powers obligated him to perform. Tiberius wanted all of the power and none of the burden, but the Senate expected him to be all that Augustus had been.

The new Emperor’s failure to be like Augustus – and his determination to rule his own way – help explain the next thirty-six years of Roman history.


Personal Notes: After nine months of studying these two on this topic, I feel confident in this assessment. Of course, if anyone has any comments to add, I’d love to see them. And don’t forget to look for a very short synopsis of the September 17th debate, with surrounding events, to post soon on Year-by-Year, under the title 14 AD, Part Two.

Last but not least, by the way, this all has absolutely nothing to do with Luke’s statement about “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius”. September 17th wasn’t the starting point of Tiberius’ reign and I’m not aware of any NT Chronologists who’ve suggested it should be considered as such, when discussing Luke 3:1. No, this is purely a Classical Studies issue I felt it was important to master and explain simply.

Understanding the relationship between Tiberius and the Senate is a basic foundation for understanding what happens later on during his rule.

'Nuff said.

September 9, 2008

Church and Community

Yeah, I have to post this. I left this comment on Michael Spencer's blog, iMonk. Michael's NOT into "house church" but his (Aug 27th) post was titled, "The Frank Viola Project (And Why You Should Take It Seriously)". I really enjoyed reading it and then, around comment 28 or so, Michael himself confessed how individualistic catholic and protestant services are, and asked for input about anyone who's really living out COMMUNITY. So here's what I said:
iMonk, thanks for a great post and conversation. Your question about mass and community is what I’d like to respond to. [Btw, I grew up Episcopalian and then did house church for ten years.]

The commenter who said Knights of Columbus gave a perfect example. My Catholic grandfather was born in the 1920’s when you could literally walk around the city in a day. He’s been a lifelong member of Kiwanis too. I saw somewhere recently an article about how community service organizations have been replaced by ‘activity groups’ like the Sierra Club. Wealth and sprawl seem to multiply individualism, and I think a lot of the present day emphasis on “community” is because the natural American experience of it has genuinely faded away over the past 50 to 100 years.

Then you have my parents, who still attend an Episcopalian service but their “community” as they see it is their lifelong friends and family members, nearly all of whom happen to be at least nominal christians of various (high church) protestant denominations. Then of course they have the network of local connections that not only bring so much assistance to an upper-middle class lifestyle, they also generate mutual good feelings besides. To them, that’s community.

My brother and his wife attend an evangelical, non-demoninational service and keep an active social life among their friends, most of whom are in the same congregation with kids the same age. They’re basically conservative yuppies, career and family oriented, who love the Lord and help their friends & family often. I don’t know if that’s community, but it’s definitely a network of close and not-so-close relationships.

As for myself, I left town and set out looking for a neighborhood full of Jesus Freaks for whom God and church far outranked personal connections and/or civic associations. For ten years, I found what I longed for, and I was glad. It was much like what Frank Viola is promoting. I wish I’d been able to stay there and I hope I can experience something like it again.

But iMonk, I have to say it’s possible none of these four puts the others to shame in the way you asked. It depends on who’s asking, for it seems there are many different definitions - and degrees - of “community”.

Still, what I want - and I think, you as well - is community IN the church. If I could find that, I might even put up with mass once a week. Maaaaaybe. ;)
Yup, that's how I feel. Any comments?

September 2, 2008

WHEN Would Jesus Do?

Jesus didn’t do any service projects in Nazareth. He didn’t evangelize, either. He wasn’t teaching or preaching. He wasn’t doing any of the things we’d expect to see serious minded young Christians engaging themselves in, these days. It’s not that those things were wrong, or somehow beneath him or beneath us.

It’s that they weren’t everything. And it wasn’t time.

You want a service project? How about healing everyone in the entire town of Bethsaida, in one day? How about feeding between 5 and 25 thousand people, in an hour? How about that?

You want evangelism? How about spending three days with an entire town of Samaritans, all by himself? How about telling a former demoniac to stay with his family, so that whole area could hear about the Lord? How about sending out 35 teams of apostles-in-training for 6 months, including all winter? How about lots of other examples?

Just not in Nazareth.

You want preaching? There are plenty of examples. Teaching? Same thing, just not during his first 34 years. Just not in Nazareth. And one more key “not”.

Not all the time.

Jesus never tried to institutionalize the working of his Father. He never tried to systematize the things he did. Jesus simply followed the leading of his Father, God.

He understood time. He understood seasons.

Yes, the Lord did what was right, according to principle. And yet he also depended on the living Spirit of God that was within him and upon him. He didn’t do the same thing every day. He didn’t fill out a “Christian checklist” of all the things God expected him to do.

He did what he did. He lived. Stuff happened. What he did... well, it depended.

This is one of the reasons I believe we need Year-by-Year.

Today, young people read the New Testament and see Jesus doing all of these things. And they get all fired up to do what Jesus did. But they don’t see the context. They don’t see the changes.

I strongly believe that blind spot is at least partly because we come to the New Testament with a very low sense of time and space and a very light sense of reality. As if it's merely words and principles and ideas to apply... instead of real life. And my sense of things is that many believers get the idea that we’re supposed to apply all the ideas, all the time, as much as we can, all at once, on top of one another.

Especially young believers.

(And we wonder why so many burn out and drop out.)

You can’t set out to imitate the Lord’s actions in every detail, not even in full context. That isn’t the goal, anyway. You set out to follow the Lord. You follow the spirit. If you imitate the Lord – imitate the way he followed his Father. Jesus did nothing he did not see his father doing. He did nothing by himself.

The truth is, we learn to trust God over time. We learn seasons or else we burn out. We learn mystery, wonder and faith... unless we're caught using a human perspective to systematize what we think we must do.

Christianity is, by its very nature, non-systematizeable and non-institutional.

Now for those who care to defend and stick with Christian institutionalism… okay. Have your institutions. Honestly, you’ve got my best wishes for constantly renewing them. In Christ, in your spirits, keep at it my brothers and sisters. And in that light, please note: all I’m actually talking about in this post is the practice of daily, yearly and lifelong christian living.

I'm talking about christian behavior. And all I'm saying is just: please do not try to institute personal patterns of special behavior, one time for all.

In nature, Living things move. If something doesn’t move, it’s not alive.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not totally against order and principles and planning and structure. Not at all. I’m really not a “follow your bliss” guy who says “do only what you feel inspired to” either. I’m actually pretty left brained and extremely conservative.

I’m just in favor of Living Faith.

Again, one of the top qualities of life is that it moves. Therefore, Christians might not want to try SO hard to nail things down completely. Change is not automatically an enemy. If you take any living thing and freeze it solid, you usually kill it.

Like God’s Tabernacle, and the Pillar of Fire before it, Jesus Christ moved across the Earth. Sometimes he stopped. Sometimes he went. He followed his Father God.

I believe Christians are called to follow. Not to freeze.

And I think one way to see Living Movement in the New Testament is to put the ongoing, constantly changing status of time and space back into our view of it as much as possible...
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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