December 29, 2008

The Baptist & Sejanus (3) - Political Risk

There are lots of reasons I continue to stand by Cheney’s four year Chronology of the Gospels. One side benefit, as I’ve perceived it, is that it shows Herod Antipas executing John the Baptist in early 31 AD, while Sejanus was still alive. I’ve long felt this is a more likely scenario, but I’ve been trying to see the other point of view and I have to admit – on this issue, they have a case.

The three year chronology requires that Sejanus be dead for several months before Salome does her dancing. But even if Antipas feared a public backlash over John’s death, the politics of 32 AD might make him more likely to go through with it anyway (as opposed to less likely, as I’d thought). The distinction depends on whether Herod would have more to fear from an unhappy rabble or an unhappy upper class.

After all, it was the upper classes of Judea, complaining to Rome, that eventually upended Herod’s brother Archelaus; the ethnarch’s guilt for 3,000 dead pilgrims in 4 BC had been forgiven immediately [by Rome]. With Sejanus dead, Antipas’ biggest fear wasn’t the odds of creating a riot, it was the odds of giving his upper classes any reason to smell weakness. The way Rome had been prosecuting accusations of disloyalty, Antipas had a lot to lose if a group of wealthy opportunists [who somehow uncovered his connection with the fallen prefect] had any sudden reasons to prefer direct Roman rule.

At least, that might be the case if the three year chronology were true. For now, I’ll still hold to Cheney, in which case Antipas can kill John in early 31 with little fear of political impact whatsoever. But I’m going to have to drop the argument that 32 is unlikely because of political risk. If the question is about going through with a regrettable promise, the risky season after Sejanus’ death could possibly have given Antipas more incentive to stick with it, instead of less.

I’ll continue to look at other aspects of this seemingly neglected distinction: was Sejanus dead or alive when Antipas killed John the Baptist? Stay tuned…

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