May 17, 2009

The Judean War of 4 BC and Two Small Boys, Whose Names You Know

The summer of 4 BC saw revolt all over Judea. The Herodian family had sailed for Italy by May, at which point a Legion of Rome put down one rebellion but sparked two more by their mere presence. The recent memory of 3,000 trampled at Passover was replaced by thousands more killed in the streets during Pentecost, by Roman swords. The Legion burned down the Temple Complex and left hundreds of corpses there in the Courtyards. Retreating to its fortified camp, just outside Jerusalem, the Legion was besieged by a partly spontaneous army of up to 10,000, which declared itself to be fighting for Israel's independence.

Essentially, chaos now ruled Judea. Mob rule set in to the south and the east. The Sanhedrin was temporarily powerless. So the Roman Proconsul Quinctillius Varus brought down two more Legions from Syria, obliterated Emmaus, routed Israel's army and reclaimed Jerusalem. Then the Governor sent out his cohorts to scour Judea's villages for rebel instigators. Before it was all done, Varus crucified 2,000 instigators and sent dozens more in chains to Augustus. The Pax Romana reasserted itself in Judea with some weeks left before the autumn festivals.

Varus did his work so well, Judea would not revolt again for 69 more years. But for that summer, thousands of men all over Judea were joining the rebellion - either swept along in the fury of the moment, being coerced to by their neighbors. Thirty-seven years under King Herod the Great stored up a lot of hostility that erupted for one summer, killing many thousands of Judean men.

So what of the Judeans whom we know by name, from the Gospels?

Somewhere in the hill country of Judea at that time was a very small boy named John. We don't know for sure how long his parents lived, but Zechariah & Elizabeth probably had several years left in them when their only son was born - the one God charged them to take care of. If we assume they lived until John was at least ten to thirteen, because God wanted them to, then what I'm about to say is still an interesting footnote. In a way, it's even a special grace.

One of the factors keeping John's family safe during that horribly dangerous summer was simply that his father was elderly. No one was likely to drag an old man into the fighting, a priest, whose only son was so small. I like to think this is one way God used to make sure John could grow up with a dad.

It's a nice little touch, in my opinion. With a war coming soon, John was born to an elderly priest. Say "praise the lord" if you want to.

Now, this next part is fairly certain, historically.

We also know three special, displaced Judeans, who came home this same year. Since Joseph, Mary & Jesus left Egypt the night King Herod died - according to Matthew, whose testimony I simply accept - then the Lord's family would not quite have reached Bethlehem when the news went out about the Passover massacre, caused by Herod-Archelaus. Joseph's natural fear of the younger Herod began that day, but God's instructions came that night. Move to Galilee.

If Joseph & Mary kept a steady pace, resting at least on the Sabbaths, then they reached Nazareth about the same time Rome's Legion was making camp outside Jerusalem's walls - some weeks between Passover and Pentecost. In other words, the Lord's family landed safely in Galilee just before Judea erupted.

We know all of this because King Herod died about three weeks or so before Passover. The timing is virtually certain... not to mention absolutely perfect. Since Herod the Great died a week or so after Purim, Joseph, Mary & little Jesus just missed the massacre and the revolt.

How about that? Yeah. Say praise the Lord on that one.

That's Bible/History.

Word. :-)

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