September 24, 2009

Event Sequencing: John's Beheading

John tells us Jesus fed 5,000 just before Passover. Matthew tells us Jesus had just heard about John's beheading earlier in that day. Mark tells us that Herod Antipas made a reference to Purim when his stepdaughter tricked him. This really can't be a coincidence, because Purim always falls about a month before Passover. Therefore, if all three writers are to be trusted on these points, the reconstructed event sequence should absolutely be taken as historical.

[Dating these events is another matter, but in 31 AD, while Sejanus was still alive, the Feast of Purim was Saturday night, February 24th, and the Passover night was Tuesday, March 26th.]

With this added perspective, we should approximate that Antipas' birthday celebration was held around or shortly after Purim. Most likely, Antipas invited the same guests from the earlier Feast of Purim, guests who would undoubtedly have expected a recitation of the Esther story by a professional or court speaker, in keeping with the Tetrarch's high status. In any such context, Antipas' birthday promise, "Whatever you ask... up to half my kingdom" can be recognized as an artful nod to the recent event's entertainment, with a clever wink to his guests.

Far more importantly, this all goes to show that the sequence of events in all four Gospels, at least at this stage of their narratives, was very much non-arbitrary. Three different Gospels offer three separate details that allign perfectly into one historical sequence. Luke's Gospel confirms the sequence and adds that the 5,000 were fed at Bethsaida. Point: all four writers had a stronger historical sense for relating events than they are sometimes given credit for.

John's beheading is clearly the most significant event during Jesus' ministry, so it makes sense that each writers' event sequence would sharpen in focus around that point in each narrative. The same holds true for the Lord's Passion week. So while there are many other challenges for Event Sequencing the content of the Gospels, this particular chain of events is encouraging because it shows the need for (and the validity of) using all four Gospels in reconstruction.

Sequence is the first step in chronology, providing perspective to history.

Event sequencing in the Gospels is vital to any historical view of Jesus' ministry years.


Peter Kirk said...

Is the "reference to Purim" just "up to half my kingdom"? This is indeed one of very few NT quotes from Esther, but it is a bit weak as a "reference to Purim", especially as we don't know if the book of Esther was read at that feast at that time.

But Mark also tells us that the grass was green at the feeding of the 5000 (6:39). So there is confirmation that this was springtime.

We have now determined the month of Antipas' birth. Do you have a take on the year, and whether that was before or after the birth of Philip, Herodias' former husband? I ask because this issue came up on a Bible translation list. In some languages it is important for the translation of 6:17 etc to know which was the older brother.

Bill Heroman said...

I'm suggesting Antipas quoted a memorable bit of the oral tradition. Even if they had the document at court, a storyteller would be much more entertaining for the guests. A drunken feast is not a Synagogue. ;-)

Thanks for the green grass reference I forgot to mention- another confirming detail.

I've never studied out Herodian birth years from Josephus, but Peter Richardson notes some ambiguity on dates in his HEROD (KotJ&FotR). His family tree lists birth years (BC) for Herod-Philip I as "22?", Antipas as "21?", and Herod-Philip II as "20?"

Forgive me if you know this next part, but a lot of people don't - there were two "Herod-Philips". Only Matthew and Mark call this older brother "Philip", and Josephus calls him "Herod", the one King H. disowned about 5 BC. (Hoehner has a great review of the problem and its solution & supporters, in Herod Antipas, 131-136.)

In short, since Philip the Tetrarch later marries the daughter of Herodias, it must be the older of the three brothers who had first married Herodias herself. Not even Herod the Great would have been that sick!

Glad I can help a bit in return for a change! :-)

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