March 13, 2009

The Baptist & Sejanus - 6

Series History: Posts 1, 2 & 3 were late last year. Post #'s 4 and 5 were earlier this month.

If the three-year chronology of Jesus’ ministry were correct, we would probably have to suppose (as did Harold Hoehner, rather astutely) that Herod Antipas was essentially trying to chase Jesus out of Galilee after John's death - and all the more urgently because Sejanus was already dead. I admit, that's a plausible argument, assuming a three-year chronology. But after much examination, I do see a couple of problems with this scenario.

Forgetting chronology for a moment, the key point is Judea. When John got arrested by Antipas, Jesus prudently fled into Galilee. That only makes sense if the Judeans were planning to arrest Jesus and extradite him to Antipas. (And Jesus somehow heard, knew, sensed or guessed it - take your pick!) At the start of his ministry, Jesus had Jerusalem enemies, but it was their hearing of Herod's involvement with John that ran Jesus out of Judea.

Now, fast-forward to Sejanus’ death. All of a sudden, the Judeans can’t extradite Jesus to Antipas anymore. With Sejanus dead, the cagey tetrarch doesn’t want anything to do with condemning a popular messianic figure - not if he could avoid it. December 31 was no different than April 33. In those dangerous times, Antipas could not be too careful.

Yet the three-year chronology shows Herod acting dramatically – one might argue recklessly – by killing John and hunting for Jesus after Sejanus was dead. Still, that’s not the key point. Much more problematic is that the three-year chronology shows Jesus ignoring Judea for over nine months after Sejanus was dead! That is, the three-year chronology shows Jesus trying to stay away from Herod for seven months while also keeping far away from Judea. If Sejanus was dead, that just doesn’t line up.

Though we definitely should believe Jesus went where his Father led - which may only have happened to include the Decapolis, Syro-Phoenicia, and the northwestern limits of Philip's lands, during this time - the periodic withdrawals after John’s death still give the impression that Jesus was heading for safety in places Antipas could not get to him. If Sejanus was dead, then Judea would have already been such a safe zone. But Jesus doesn't go down until Tabernacles that September, suggesting Sejanus was not dead yet.

The Gospel of John shows Jesus gets some support from the crowd because of John's recent martyrdom. The threats of certain Jerusalem authorities shows Jesus needed that support. It is during this same trip to Judea that Jesus stays nearby (probably laying low, most likely in Bethany) for most of two months, until Chanukah. In the four year-chronology, this is early December, of 31 AD, about which time everyone learned that Sejanus was dead. That was the game changer.

I'll pause for reaction, if any. Is this sounding at all clear so far?

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