November 8, 2008

Abilene in 32 AD

I'm not out to speculate. I'm not doing apologetics. I'm simply (merely) hoping to reconstruct one plausible most-likely scenario for the historical context of the entire New Testament. (!!) Sure it's ambitious, but it's not unreasonable. Not as long as I avoid "cool ideas" (among other things).

For example, I will NOT be staking any strong claims about Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene. He isn't important. Abilene doesn't link to anything that needs explaining. No other events depend on that bit of Luke 3:2. And that one extra historical reference isn't necessary for fixing the chronology, especially since Lysanias is such an obscure reference to begin with. BUT... even though it's nonessential business, I'd still like to say as much as feasible. Which ain't much:

Abilene streteched around the northern foot of Mount Hermon, straddling the pass from the Golan to the valley of Lebanon. Luke's reference tells us Abilene had its own Tetrarch when John began baptizing (in 28 AD, according to Cheney's chronology) but history records no such Lysanias after that date. So we might speculate that the tetrarchy was dissolved sometime soon after, if we also suppose that Luke's purpose for including Abilene in the first place was to place these events nearly prior to that dissolution. Such speculation seems even more tempting in light of the following details from Josephus' Antiquities.

It so happens the new governor of Syria in mid & late 32 AD, L. Pomponius Flaccus, had to settle a dispute between Sidon and Damascus over the boundaries of their territory (probably late that summer). Now, the territories of Sidon and Damascus seem to end at Mount Hermon, at Philip's tetrarchy below there, and at Abilene above there. Since Philip was still alive in 32 AD (and we should doubt the two cities suddenly wanted to jockey for position on the inconvenient side of a mountaintop), is there any other geographic option than to consider they were fighting over Abilene? I don't think there is.

The temptation, then, is to assume "Abilene" dissolved in 31 or 32. And something similar to this does seem to be apparent but it could have been sooner, especially considering there had been no Roman Governor in Syria for a decade to that point! Clearly, we can only imagine whether Lysanias was still tetrarch up to that point, and what kind of personal circumstances he might have felt in conjunction with this supposed dissolution. So without evidence or at least solid reasoning in support of any particular conclusion, I've got no cause or need for going any further. It just doesn't matter in any significant way.

This is unfortunate, because Jesus passed through (or at least very near) Abilene right about that time.

According to both Cheney AND Hoehner's chronologies, it was early in 32 AD when the Lord took his disciples on a tour outside North Galilee. Scholars have suggested different routes, and one of the likely paths would have taken Jesus right through the Lebanon valley and around Mount Hermon... through Abilene.

Again, I won't be inventing things. If there were some other data here, I'd be more likely to speculate. I still say the Gospels' claims of a census are grounds that demand reconstructing a plausible scenario for it, from 9 BC, thru 8 BC, into 7 BC. But there are no claims or extra details allowing/requiring me to reconstruct any details of Abilene in 32 AD. (Gladly. And sadly.)

Whether or not Jesus walked through Abilene in early 32, or passed just south of it... Whether or not the tetrarchy of Lysanias actually dissolved in 32 AD or some time before then... Whether or not Lysanias himself was related to the line of Zenodorus, as his name suggests... Whether or not Jesus' travels in 32 were impacted (or enabled) by the political situation (or void) in the Lebanese region formerly known as Ituraea... Regardless of all that, the most I can/will say about Jesus and Abilene is probably going to be something like this:

In early 32 AD, Jesus and his disciples toured the lands north of Galilee, around the territory of Tyre and Sidon, from the Sea to Mount Hermon. In mid 32 AD, C. Pomponius Flaccus had to settle a territory dispute between Damascus and Sidon. As it happened, these were the same regions Jesus had just been through a few months before. (And then a footnote will mention that the dispute likely involved the lands formerly known as Abilene, which probably indicates that the tetrarchy of Lysanias had ended somehow in the previous three years, due to unknown circumstances.)

I wish I could say more. I always love finding extra details. But I'm not inventing stuff. I'm just putting big puzzle pieces together. I'm only filling in blanks that absolutely need and deserve to be filled in. There will be disclaimers that talk about lack of certainty on specific issues. But the task is to put together one plausible reconstruction of everything we CAN say did happen and/or most likely happened. Abilene just isn't solid enough to say much more about than I've said here. Sadly.

And now I have a point.

I'd LIKE to find something about Lysanias to support my view of Eastern Rulers under Tiberius. I'd LIKE to find something in the dissolution of Abilene to support the idea that Herod Antipas was getting just a bit more nervous about Roman annexation of eastern lands leading up to the time of the crucifixion. Gee, I'd LIKE to find anything about Abilene OR Lysanias that would connect with ANYTHING in 32 AD, if not previous and future years as well. I'd LIKE that. But it doesn't look like-ly. And though I don't get bonus points for admitting what I totally have to admit anyway, I'm just saying it.

And that's the whole reason I made this post.


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