November 2, 2008

Galilee and other Pocket Regions

As far as I can tell, Rome never *started* a war in Asia (Minor OR Major). (Makes them one step smarter than Vizini's Rule, imho.) They finished a few wars, settled a few, and avoided a few. They made quick strikes and left. They stepped in when the King died or was easy to depose. They did what they had to, but no more than they could afford to. They held onto a few key spots and kept control of the rest with intimidation, mostly. Rome took Ephesus ~150 years before they claimed all Anatolia (Turkey). And Pompey took Antioch ~170 years before all parts of Syria and Palestine were annexed officially into the Provinces. (It was the same way in other regions they conquered, naturally. The Romans were good at this!)

I'm pretty sure the Eastern rulers knew what was coming. I'm positive Herod Antipas had deep personal concerns after the fall of Cappadocia and Commagene in 18 AD, which came just 12 years after his brother lost Judea. But I need to get a broader picture of the region at large. I need to find some academic ways to confirm or reject these strong impressions of mine.

So now I'm wondering: How much was Galilee really just Sepphoris and it's region, which happened to include half the Lake? In that sense, would Antipas take any comfort from the ongoing security of the "Kingdom" of Emesa (a dynastic city-state north of Lebanon)? I still think it's far more likely the wealth and size of Galilee make Antipas feel like a bigger target for an Empire whose European conquests had dried up, but whose need for new revenues had not. However, I'm trying to be thorough and cautious. To what degree can I reasonably suggest that Antipas must have lived constantly with these concerns? And how strongly would these things have motivated Herod Antipas to make his inevitable entreaty to Sejanus in the late 20's? Finally, how much can the situation (as just given) be viewed as evidence in support of personal conclusion that Antipas DID in fact make that purported alliance with Sejanus (even if it wasn't a plot to kill Tiberius, as Josephus tells us Agrippa later claimed)?

So - for starters - it all boils back to Geography. How does Galilee really compare with Emesa? Or with Cappadocia? And what about the tetrarchy of Abilene? Not that it's easy to reconstruct tetrarchial Abilene with much certainty, but the timing and geography suggests it's dissolution was part of the territorial dispute between Damascus and Sidon. (Before or in 32 AD.) And what can we surmise about Antipas' view of the Decapolis cities? Mainly, what really made Galilee different, if anything, from those other pocket regions within the Roman Near East?

For one thing, I'm finally reading ALL the way through Fergus Millar's The Roman Near East 31 BC - AD 337. And I'm finally digesting the whole region, including cities I never once cared to know this much about. The cities of the Phoenician coast, Lebanon and the Decapolis had their own history in the region and their own relationships with Rome. The client kingdoms of Arabia and Anatolia had their own ways of trying to maintain imperial favor. And meanwhile, Herod Antipas was really just ONE of those client rulers. Galilee was just ONE of those pocket regions. He didn't only compare himself with his brothers in Judea and Trachonitis (like we often do).

Antipas must have naturally compared himself with other client rulers and city-regions. Right?

Human beings learn how to behave by watching others. The desire to stay independent made Herod Antipas just like all the other Middle Eastern rulers in that era. So I expect he had his eyes on them, to see how they were keeping up. And I expect to learn more (by looking at them all) about all of these questions.

Galilee was one of the regions Rome would eventually want direct control of in the Middle East.... and even if they wouldn't *start* "a land war in Asia" in order to get it, I still figure Antipas had to know what was coming. I intend to show that his goal was to prevent it... just like his father Herod the Great successfully prevented it... and that even up to the moment his career ended, in 39 AD, Herod Antipas thought he was still succeeding.

I think the basic view here is simple and obvious, but I'm trying to NOT be overly simplistic about it. And I'm trying to be thorough. As always, any help would be appreciated...


Peter Kirk said...

Rome never *started* a war in Asia

Right. And nor has the USA. "They finished a few wars, settled a few, and avoided a few. They made quick strikes and left. They stepped in when the King [or President] died or was easy to depose. They did what they had to ..."

Believe that, and McCain just might get elected.

Sorry to go off topic, but I couldn't resist it!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for writing about this topic which is important for understanding NT's social, economical and political settings.

Would you recommend "The Roman Near East: 31 BC-AD 337." I'm looking for a few books to purchase on Graeco-Romans History in the time of NT Writings.


Bill Heroman said...

Peter - It may not be for nothing that America has worn the sword. If the Lord tarries, History (and He) may judge. But I believe EVENTS may determine the next president's reactions far more than his own currently high-minded rhetoric. Ideals aren't so enforceable when you have to REACT. Still, it should be interesting...

Lou - You're welcome, and thanks for the encouragment. Here's my (long) reply:

My whole approach was to start with the Oxford Classical Dictionary and then follow their footnotes. Fergus Millar is absolutely a key OCD citation, but that book doesn't exactly focus on the NT era alone, so I only skimmed it until I recently had to really dig on the more obscure parts of Syria, Phoenicia and Lebanon. Aside from the OCD, my real favorites are the Loeb 'originals'. Now then, if you need one good history survey, you might look for a used copy of Cambridge Ancient History Volume X, the Augustan Empire, 44 BC to 70 AD. The first edition (1934 or 1952) is better on basic info than the 2nd edition (1996) which has more analysis. After that, Peter Green's Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age happens to be my favorite work on the Pre-NT Era, which I personally consider to be a better classical "background" to the NT than whatever the Caesars were doing at such-a-time. Not to disparage the importance of current events which have their own significance to the NT setting, as you know I do strongly believe. ;)

Hope some of that helps...

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