November 22, 2007

Year-by-Year: 12 AD

Jesus turns 18. Rufus 3rd Procurator of Judea. The future Emperor Caligula is born. And Augustus increases Tiberius’ powers to secure his future takeover.

In 12 AD, Jesus was 17, going on 18.

(Read more about the Lord in a future draft.]


In the summer of 12 AD, Southern Israel got a new Procurator. A Roman named Annius Rufus replaced his fellow Italian Ambiblius as Caesar’s personal agent over Judea, Samaria & Idumea.

Rufus settled into his headquarters at Caesarea-by-the-Sea. Before long, he’d met the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, too. Wisely, Rufus allowed Annas to stay on there as High Priest. And so the southern Jews passed another quiet year under Rome’s new peace.

By the way, 12 AD was a “Preparation Year” in Israel. This spring and summer, the Jews expected to gather a double yield harvest. This Autumn, the Sabbath-Year would begin. As usual, for a resting year, the fall planting in November was officially cancelled.[1]

Aside from these details, Jewish life in Israel kept on as usual.

Speaking of details… a future Emperor was born this year in Rome, on August 31st.

The baby boy was a son of Germanicus and Agrippina. The father was Augustus’ adopted grandson, and the mother was the Emperor’s natural granddaughter. So this infant was Caesar’s great-grandson, twice-over!

Germanicus & Agrippina named the baby Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, but history will remember him as the murderous psychopath named Caligula![2]

At this time, Germanicus Caesar was in line to rule Rome, and more popular than ever. The 26-year old held the consulship all year long, and stayed in Rome.

Overall, Caligula’s birth year was a quiet year in the capital.


Meanwhile, up north, Tiberius Caesar spent the summer patrolling the Rhine River. At times, the General crossed into West Germany, but his Legions didn’t fight any major battles.

The 52-year-old Emperor-to-be was even more careful than normal. Mainly, Tiberius wanted the Germans to see his forces at full strength. He knew Augustus still wanted to re-conquer Germany to the Elbe River. But for now, the old General was just happy to make sure that Gaul stayed secure.

Tiberius basically made the Rhine the new boundary. To his credit, the Germans didn’t cross it. Which was a very good thing…

Other problems were building up elsewhere, around the Empire.


Far away to East, across the Euphrates, the Parthians started messing with Armenia again.[3] At the same time, in southeast Europe, the King of Thrace died without choosing an heir. Augustus called in the Princes of Thrace and settled that issue[4], but had no way to do anything but ignore Armenia. Parthia now controlled the whole East bank of the Euphrates! Meanwhile, much closer to Italy, Illyricum was proving it still needed constant attention during its rebuilding phase. Suddenly, it looked like half the Eastern Empire might need military attention at any time.

With all this going on, Augustus realized two things. First, it was probably the wrong time to start any new efforts in Germany. And second, if Tiberius wasn’t going to attack the Germans anyway, it was probably time to bring the future Emperor home.

The King of the World was getting ready to let someone else rule it.


In Autumn of 12 AD, at age 74, Augustus now began the final stages of passing on his throne.

First of all, the Emperor asked the Senate to increase and expand Tiberius’ powers over all the Legions & Provinces. This way, the General could rush back North OR East, if a new conflict broke out.[5] The son was now his father’s equal in many ways – but not in Rome![6]

Now, Augustus kept up almost all his regular duties, all year – with one exception. Once Tiberius was settled back in Rome,[7] Augustus quit going to the Senate!

The Emperor claimed he was too old to get there, especially with winter coming on. But really, he just wanted another way to slide Tiberius gradually closer to absolute power.

So, sometime before winter, the Emperor appointed Tiberius as “guardian” of the Senate.[8] Tiberius began sitting in the Emperor’s seat at Senate meetings. The Senators were getting used to the face of their new ruler.[9] And everyone knew what was really going on.

Augustus was phasing in his successor.

With Tiberius all set up to gain the Empire, Augustus could now spend the winter on final things. Caesar still had to finish his will, write his memoirs, coach Tiberius and record some final instructions. In every way now, the Emperor was getting ready to die.

There was much to write, and much to say.


That’s all for 12 AD, but notice this carefully.

As winter came on, Tiberius was 53 years old and he still wasn’t Emperor yet! [10] But that was okay…

Tiberius was used to moving slowly…

Next Year Book: 13 AD!

Begin Footnotes:
[1] We don’t know for sure if the Jews observed the Sabbatical Years at this time, but it’s likely they did. For one thing, we know they were doing it as recently as the days of Julius Caesar, when Josephus says he exempted them from tribute in the 7th year. For another, one of the things Archelaus did that got him in trouble (at least with the Essenes) was reaping ten harvests in a row. This year (12/13) was the first chance South Israel had to observe the Sabbath Year without Archelaus’ influence affecting things. All in all, there may have been some landowners who planted, but the religious leaders probably pushed most folks into holding back.

Of course, this year without agriculture affected national revenues, and Jerusalem was no exception. This means the Sanhedrin’s annual budget would have been affected – yet another factor delaying their already slow progress in rebuilding the Temple (that burned in 4 BC). And on that note – in case we’re keeping count – it’s now been 15 years since the burning, and there are 17 years to go until Jesus opens his ministry at Passover in 29 AD. So the temple reconstruction is just almost half-way done!

[2] In “future” years (from 37 to 41 AD), Caligula is going to earn every bit of his infamy. But “now”, in 12 AD, the baby Gaius is simply the adored child of a national war hero.

[3] The Parthians had been keeping to themselves for a decade, but not anymore. A strong new ruler, named Artabanus dethroned the King of Armenia (Artabazus, a Roman ally since __ AD) and replaced him with the pro-Parthian Tigranes V. This move restarted the old tug-of-war over Armenia, which continues between Rome and Parthia from now until Germanicus goes East in 18 AD.

[4] King Rhoemetalces, Roman ally since 11 BC, was the last in the line of the Kings who united the Thracian tribes (for over 50 years). This year, Augustus gave Rhoemetalces’ first son, Cotys, the urbanized coastal areas, and the second son, Rhascuporis, got control over the inland regions. In years to come, the inland brother is going to get very jealous and upset with his coastal brother. We’ll see these two again in 19 AD.

By the way, the Thracian coast is the last piece of the Agean coastline not as yet Romanized or fully pacified, practically speaking. At this time, Roman highways stopped just outside Thrace, too. Not coincidentally, this region is the same stretch of land Paul of Tarsus skips past when he first sails from Troas to Philippi, at the crack of Autumn in 50 AD. At that time, Thrace had only been Roman for 6 years, officially! That said, we’ll take a closer look at Thrace’s development under the Emperor Claudius, when we get to 46 and 50 AD.

[5] Without suffering any political delays, like what happened in 6 AD. This reasoning helps place the expansion of powers in this year. (See next note.)

[6] Tiberius already held Tribunican Power and Proconsular Imperium, but the Imperium was limited to Northern Europe, before this time, so Augustus simply had the Senate remove those territorial restrictions. While he was at it, Augustus had the Senate specify that Tiberius’ powers were equal to his own as Emperor – but only in the Provinces and armies, NOT over everything! Tiberius was not yet Augustus’ equal in Rome itself, so there was still only one Emperor!

Scholars disagree on the details of this decree, on whether this happened in 12 or 13, and on just what exactly it meant. The legal technicalities are/were complex – officially, Tiberius’ rise to power didn’t have to happen all at once – whereas the practical realities (naturally) stood out above all political language and appearances. The fact is Augustus was phasing Tiberius into his new position bit by bit, securing the intended succession but keeping it as smooth as possible politically. A lack of consistency in the sources (Tacitus, Dio, Suetonius & Velleius) may merely reflect a lack of clarity evident in the times themselves. (Only Tacitus calls Tiberius a “colleague in Imperium”, without date or context, in a sentence that sums up a decade of time!) In a whirlwind of transition, the legal and/or practical details may have seemed unclear even to those involved, but they knew what was coming… and we know the result.

So was it 12 or 13? A nuanced explanation is necessary, and Levick’s is probably best – namely, Tiberius’ preexisting Proconsular Imperium was expanded geographically this year (for good reason, see note above), but Tiberius was not able to exercise it in the city until 13 or 14. Other powers were added or expanded along the way, over the following 18 months. Throughout this critical period there were various events that took place and different aspects of power that took effect at different times. (We will cover each in turn; keep reading.)

The key point here is that the purpose of all this was not to install a partner for Augustus, but to accelerate all momentum toward an increasingly inevitable succession. (Believing his death wasn’t far away, Augustus wanted to leave absolutely no chance at all for the Senate to contest Tiberius’ takeover.) Therefore, the old style of calling Tiberius a “co-regent” is oversimplified to say the least, and seems misleading and inaccurate, given the facts. Besides, Augustus kept on doing most of his normal duties, while Tiberius’ one urban task – sitting in for the Emperor at Senate meetings – was added just before that task became meaningless. (See notes on the Consillium, next year.)

One thing we know most certainly is that Augustus was still “Princeps” – the “first man in Rome”. (Romans didn’t actually use the term “Emperor” the way we do today.) Since there can be only one “first man”, Augustus was Princeps as long as he lived, meaning Tiberius was no better than number two. That was true practically to an absolute degree, and that was true legally, even if it must be taken to a more nuanced degree. Therefore, to say Tiberius now begins “ruling together with” Augustus, that statement would only mean as much as it means, whatever that might be! The realities, more complex by far, are too vague to oversimplify conclusively – except in one detail.

The bottom line is this: Tiberius did not begin to rule as Princeps until 14 AD.

[7] The Senate, in turn, voted to give their future Emperor another honor. The General finally got his old Parade put back on the schedule! Remember, in 9 AD the Senate had voted a Triumph for Tiberius’ victory over Pannonia (of 8 AD), but the General had postponed it because of things in Dalmatia & Germany.

So now, on October 23rd, Rome finally celebrated Tiberius’ victory over Pannonia. It was only three and a half years late! By the way, Bato the Desidiatian (captured leader of the Southern Illyrian rebels) had been kept alive all this time to be displayed in the parade. After the triumph, Bato was given some money to live on and banished to Ravena in North Italy. The former rebel leader was either fully pacified, crippled, kept under guard, or just plan broke, because we never hear from this Bato again.

[8] In the same decree, Augustus also made the Senate the “guardian” of Germanicus. Whatever the political or symbolic truth of this act was, supposedly, it certainly didn’t mean the Senate had as much power over Germanicus as Tiberius now had over the Senate! Once again, Augustus used a nuanced legality to increase the acceptability of his succession plans. Basically, the 2nd part of this decree was to soothe the Senators with nominal honors while making it clear (one more time) that Tiberius was next in line, ahead of Germanicus.

[9] The Senate “stewardship” was another coup. Let’s sum up the progress so far. Tiberius now had power equal to Augustus over armies & provinces, plus some degree of control over daily meetings of the Senate. Beyond that, he still held Tribunican Powers (most recently granted in 4 AD for a ten year term). Altogether, he was still a solid “number two” below Augustus in rank. (Tiberius still didn’t have power over the city, let alone over the Emperor Augustus himself!) The overall purpose and effect, still, was to put Tiberius in a position to be easily confirmed as Emperor whenever Augustus finally died.

By the way, 12 AD was too early to renew Tiberius’ Tribunican power (set to expire July 1st, 14 AD) but Augustus knew at this point that if he lived another year they could renew early at that point. For now, all was secure.

[10] Again, Tiberius was not “co-Emperor” or anything like that. The years of his “rule” did not begin until 14 AD. But that brings us to the reason this is all such a big issue in the first place: because of Luke 3:1. Luke’s gospel ties the public ministry of John the Baptist to “the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”. At issue, therefore, is what year John began preaching. Scholars suggest anywhere from 26 to 29 AD, but it’s time to fix things once and for all.

Here are the facts. One: Tiberius began his “rule” when Augustus died in 14 AD. Two: John the Baptist started his public preaching in the spring of 28 AD. Three: Luke [we deduce] must have counted inclusively, so that 14 AD was “year one” and 28 AD was “year fifteen”. And Four: The only reason we can deduce Fact Three is by first proving Facts One and Two. (There is no other way to deduce fact three, beforehand.)

Proof of all this will come later. (See also bonus materials.) For now, back to 12 AD.

The reason 12 AD is such an issue is because Biblical scholars used to place Christ’s crucifixion in 30 AD. (It has been soundly revised to 33 AD by many scholars since the mid to late 20th century, most notably Hoehner – again, see Bonus material.) For a long time, and quite understandably, scholars working backwards from 30 AD felt a need to try squeezing things back a year or two. If Jesus’ public ministry lasted more than two years, they needed another explanation of Luke 3:1. This led to theories about Tiberius’ years of “rule” having begun in 12 or 13, which then positioned John’s ministry around 26 or 27. Naturally, this was all wrong, but sadly, many chronologies in popular and Christian publishing still use this outdated scholarship. As goes along with people of faith, many opinions have long been entrenched, and therefore… to the point at hand… the debate over the actual start of Tiberius’ “rule” has remained a major issue.

Again, Tiberius’ political status before Augustus’ death is one issue. John’s year of ministry is another. They must be settled independently of one another. (John’s dates are simple when we work back from 33 AD, using the Gospels. Hoehner was close, but Cheney is correct; see Bonus Material.) Only when those two separate issues are separately settled can we begin to assess the accounting method in Luke’s statement.

And regarding Luke 3:1 itself – we don’t have to prove that it makes more sense for Luke to use any particular method of counting. Luke’s own point of view may not even matter! He probably copied that detail from another source anyway. (Christians, then, may believe that the correctness of his source was a matter of Luke’s diligence, combined with the Lord’s providence. But that point is not an argument here.)

All we have to prove about Luke is that his number fits, and that there’s no evidence suggesting he [or his unknown source] couldn’t or wouldn’t have used this method of counting. Nothing else needs to be shown.

Maybe Luke simply copied a line from a Jewish source that he found in Caesarea. (See 57-59 AD.) We know the Jews counted years of rule inclusively. Josephus did it. Nicolas of Damascus did it. Paul of Tarsus did it. (See 50 AD.) Even a Jew counting by the traditional Hebrew calendar (spring to spring) would find Tiberius’ fifteenth year beginning in the spring of 28 AD – which is when John began preaching. The Hebrew civic calendar (fall to fall) works too. Or Luke is also correct if he was using the Roman calendar, as long as it was inclusively. Simply put, it doesn’t matter which of those it was, as long as it was inclusive.

Now once again, finally, here is the actual point at hand. Luke 3:1 has been a factor in past considerations of Tiberius’ status in 12 and 13 AD. At times, this was covert, if not overt, but it happened. It needs to stop.
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