March 16, 2009

Josephus on 9/8/7 BC (3.5)

This post is a bridge between the first and last halves of this series.

Post #1: Traditional scholarship on the date of Alexander & Aristobulus' execution (by their father, Herod the Great) has been rightly held up as accurate but perhaps without stringent examination. A face value reading of Josephus' Antiquities shows events during the Governorship of Saturninus (mid-9 to mid-6 BC) are difficult to date with precision. Working on this issue may also help us determine how long Herod the great remained a "subject" of Augustus Caesar, after the accusation of Syllaeus the Nabatean (which occured about November of 9 BC).

Post #2: A review of events in Dio Cassius shows Augustus moving back and forth between Rome and Germany in 9 and 8 BC. The logistics of communication between Caesar and Herod (including the weight of Caesar's decision and the travel itinerary for Nicolaus of Damascus) must be weighed against various factors, including the possible lengths and end points of the Emperor's 8 BC campaign. On balance, Nicolaus probably missed Augustus in the spring and had to wait until Autumn. Herod's other envoy, Olympus, absolutely waited in Rome for Caesar's return because Olympus sailed. (Whereas Nicolaus may have gone over land.)

Post #3: A generous attempt to put the execution of Alexander and Aristobulus at the end of 8 BC is shown to stretch the limits of plausibility to a very high degree. It would also require Nicolas to sail back to Palestine during October-November. Without other evidence to demand further consideration of this scenario, it must be abandoned. The only alternative is to show that Nicolaus and Olympus both stayed in Rome over the winter of 8/7 BC. Therefore, Herod does not execute Alexander and Aristobulus until shortly after Nicolaus sails home from Italy in 7 BC.

Point One: The traditional date holds up - with a strengthened position, if I have examined these things fairly enough. This was worth investigating thoroughly and great exercise for me, besides.

Point Two: My ulterior motive in all this is to more closely consider what I believe are solid grounds for the plausible reconstruction of an actual Roman Census in Judea under Governor Saturninus in 7 BC.

Preview of Future Posts in this Series: If Nicolas did in fact miss Caesar in the spring of 8 BC, as seems likely, then Augustus remained cold to Herod for nearly one full year - and Herod remained a "subject" of Caesar (and thus essentially of Rome as well) for the same span of time, plus a seven week courrier delay. Herod's demotion in status is usually not addressed as such an extended situation, partly because Josephus scholars don't necessarily include Dio Cassius' accounts of the same time period among their published considerations. It leads to an important consideration, namely - Which is more difficult? To imagine Augustus making an empty threat with no consequences that lingered for almost one full year? Or to speculate on what significance the demotion to "subject" had in practical matters, and to what extent it was able to take effect during the (almost entire) year 8 BC?

Preview of my Conclusion: Herod's punishment in late 9 BC is often treated as both brief and trivial. It was almost certainly not brief. Examination of other evidence will strongly suggest it was also very far from being trivial.

Related Topics also to be Covered: (1) The confusing details of Luke's testimony about this census and the extent to which those details may or may not be used as a source for Roman history. (2) Reconstruction for the sake of argument - assuming Saturninus did receive that order. (3) Examining the date and provenance of the oath of loyalty to Caesar and Herod. (4) Josephus' use of the term "subject" and similar usage in Strabo and elsewhere. (5) Others - TBA.

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