November 3, 2008

John the Baptist and Sejanus - 1

In my last NT Chronology post, I showed the year of John’s ministry can be narrowed down between two possible years. The Baptist started preaching in 28 OR 29 AD. Harold Hoehner and Jack Finegan took 29. I follow Johnston Cheney in taking 28. There are lots of connected issues to consider at this point, which I listed but haven’t posted about (yet). But the one major issue that I’ve not seen addressed by anyone before now is the questionable sequence of two famous deaths: John the Baptist and Sejanus the Prefect.

If Hoehner and Finegan are right about the Gospel’s chronology, then John the Baptist died several months into the winter that followed the violent death of Sejanus [in Rome, October 18, 31 AD]. But if Cheney (and I, myself) are correct, then Herod Antipas executed the depressed prophet about eight months before Sejanus went down. [If I’ve somehow missed previous discussion on this point, please let me know. Where is it?] Either way, John died soon before the third Passover of Jesus' ministry (when he fed the 5,000). But was that 31 or 32 AD? Was Sejanus alive or dead? Those are two very different scenarios, with all kinds of potential implications, depending on many things.

Questions abound. Just how much had Herod Antipas actually invested into the future prospects of Sejanus maintaining power? To what degree were Antipas & Sejanus actually “allies”? How much local instability was Antipas risking from the public backlash about John? How much political danger would a secret ally of Sejanus fear he was in so far away from Rome, and yet (on the other hand) how concerned would such an ally have been throughout the first several months of backlash, regardless of the distance? How much had Antipas already worried about the Eastern policies of Tiberius up to that point? And finally (unfortunately) the whole thing may also depend on just how drunk Antipas might have been when Herodias & Salome tricked him into a really dumb promise, whether he was thinking soberly when he offered "up to half my kingdom", and what he actually meant by that. So altogether, as these things usually go, the whole thing may be ultimately be improvable. For which, Praise the Lord, cause you still got to have faith!

But we should still reconstruct the one most plausible scenario. Therefore, aside from general academic interest, I believe these are worthwhile considerations about questions which may not have been asked before now. There may be some details and angles in this to surprise us all. Naturally, as a supporter of Cheney’s Four Year Chronology, I’ll be arguing that Herod was far more likely to have executed John in early 31, before Sejanus was gone, than in 32, when there was much greater uncertainty. Up to this moment, I actually continue to find this scenario to be most convincing, but the opposing view will only disappoint me if I don't give it a good, hard shake as well.

For more about the death sequence of the Baptist and Sejanus, watch this space…

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