November 30, 2009

Best of November, 2009

Since Google and Blogger archive my posts by the month, the page you're looking for is probably somewhere below. Instead of scrolling down, try these links. These are the pages you ought to be looking for, anyway! :^)

Naturally, this one got most of the attention: *** Pauline Chronology ***

Wow, what a chronological month! I also posted about ETS, IBR & SBL in New Orleans (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and added three pages to my list of posts working Towards a Historical Nativity. Then again, feel free to just scroll through all 37 posts from November, 2009.

See you next month, tomorrow!

November 29, 2009

Dating the Crucifixion, Despite Lunar Details

(Original Subtitle:  "Possible Friday Passovers")  I reviewed Beckwith's limitations here, recently. Today, I only want to show that the lack of an officialized Metonic Cycle does not cause total chaos for historical investigation, even on Beckwith's most dubious estimations.

First, let's tighten the scope. Pontius Pilate ruled Judea from mid-26 until mid-36 AD. Jesus' baptism dates to 28 or 29 AD. Jesus' public ministry ran between 2 and 4 years. Saul of Tarsus met Jesus Christ on the road in early 34. Challenge any of those points if you dare, but accepting them all leaves four possible years for the crucifixion.

Granting that Passover Night is still going to fall on or within one day of the full moon, in March or April, the options for the Passover Night between 30 and 33 AD are as follows:

30 AD: March 8th, Wednesday (+) or April 6th, Thursday (+)
31 AD: March 27th, Tuesday (+) or April 25th, Wednesday (+)
32 AD: March 15th, Saturday (+) or April 14th, Monday (+)
33 AD: March 5th, Thursday (+) or April 3rd, Friday (+)

All dates as found on the Julian Calendar; Source: Time and Date AS (Stavanger, Norway)

At first glance, we have four of eight full moons that fall within one day of Friday. Now, we begin to eliminate. First, we note that 31 AD is completely out. Second, we note that March 5th and 8th are almost certainly too early for the Sadducees to have scheduled in advance, as they would have been in the lucrative habit of doing. This leaves three years to reckon with.

The year 30 AD only works if we posit a two year ministry for Jesus, which is extremely implausible. The year 32 AD is very doubtful because either moon date was viable, and the Sadducees would have been much more prudent event planners to select the April moon many months in advance.

That leaves April 3rd of 33 AD, with a Passover Feast on Friday, suggesting that the careful night sky observers really must have been doing their jobs well - as they most likely should have been. Perfectionists can protest all they want, but the balance of evidence and all our best reasoned considerations very strongly suggest that this year is the start of chronology for Jesus Christ's ministry.

Working backwards, Luke's date on the Lord's baptism (28 or 29) is best fixed by determining whether Jesus' ministry was more likely three or four years in length. On that note, search this site for "28 AD", and also review my post on Chronology of the Gospels.

I should so be charging you people money for all this. ;-)

Note: Obviously, these are not absolute, airtight arguments. Historical ones rarely are. However, I contend these are good arguments, presenting the most likely conclusions. They are probably correct. Anyone willing to proceed with historical reconstruction of Christ's public life should begin here. But any faith-based scholarship which refuses to start somewhere, or which prefers an ahistorical view for some reason, is being an irresponsible caretaker of scripture's facticity. IMHO. History is what it is. Reconstruction is worth what it's worth. Let's work with it.

November 27, 2009

Fifteen Word Story

The latest meme: "Summarize the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people." My contribution:

Uh. Oh.
Jacob, Jacob, Jacob...
Second Adam, New Beginning.
God's Hope of glory persists.
Peter tagged everyone. That includes you.

November 25, 2009

48 Hrs in BR, LA

If any of my Baton Rouge friends actually read this blog, I'm at Mom & Dad's until Noon-ish on Friday. My wife, kids and doggie are missing me back in Texas but I was too close not to squeeze in a visit.

Speaking of Minnie Moon, I keep expecting Mom's dog to come around the corner at odd moments. Pixie the Shi-tzu has been dead a couple of years, at least. I miss Sarah, Bo and Emma terribly, of course, but apparently I also miss the dog.

We are creatures of habit. Lord, inhabit my habits today.

November 24, 2009

Opinions? I got 'em.

"Jim's minions" at the BibTop50 asked for input tonight, about returning the "conservative/liberal" labels to the BibTop50 site. Here's what I offered:
“Some people cheat at cards, but not on their wives, and vice versa.”

Some of the previous labels were more helpful than others. None of them told you what to expect from a blogger on all topics. Other topics are problematic themselves. Is minimalism “conservative” because it’s cautious or is it “liberal” because evangelicals tend to side against it? Furthermore, if all maximalists or Marxists are automatically placed at one far end of the spectrum, why do those issues receive more weight than any others? And are these the issues that *have* been most distinctive, or the ones that *should* be more distinctive, or both, or neither? I’m just thinking out loud here…

You might do just as well with less controversy to list organizational memberships: SBL, ETS, IBR, etc, or nada. That’s factual information that also, to some degree, lets people speak for themselves. On the other hand, I am admittedly “very conservative” in many areas but thus far in life I still cling to anti-denominational ideals, so to date I have refused to even read anyone’s doctrinal statements, much less sign them. (I’ve never shared this position online, before now.) Point: You can’t always judge why someone holds what they hold, denies what they deny, or joins what they join.

A formal rubric would be a nice start towards clarity, at least, but unless you’re soliciting voluntary opinions on an exhaustive questionaire, you might consider expressing somewhere that you’re really only labeling the blog’s content generally, which may or may not reflect the larger views of the blogger themselves. (Not to mention that it may not even reflect the blog overall.)

In the end, if it’s just for fun, do whatever you guys want to do. I’ll probably enjoy it. Be as subjective as you like. But in that case, it’s probably going to bring up a different issue.

After Crossley’s SBL paper on N.T.W. and the Bibliobloggers this morning, a well known biblioblogger raised a question about whether anonymous bloggers face different obstacles in expressing personal opinions as opposed to pseudonomyous bloggers. (I also noted that point on this site, during a recent debate.) If a distinctive personality takes responsibility for subjective labels, they are valid opinions everyone should at least respect. But if it appears to new visitors on this site that these labels have some vaguely officialized legitimacy, some might begin to suspect the endeavor as an unfair attempt to poison the well of public opinion. This site is becoming more and more well known by the day, and will soon be linked (officially or not) with SBL itself. That could potentially make all this become a more serious issue.

Personally, I’m copacetic. I fully embrace(d) my former label as a “very conservative”. I never tire of repeating that I enjoyed interacting with N.T. Wrong. I would still prefer that you all (whomever you are) identify yourselves individually in some capacity or another, but if you choose not to do that, you might prepare to expect more backlash once you start expressing opinions. In any case, you won’t get much backlash from me. Via con gusto. I got more fish to fry.

In summary, y’all (Jim and Jim’s minions, NTW, or whoever wrote this post), I have no concerns whatsoever for anything you all decide to do. I hope it’s clear my cautions are merely directed at the manner in which you decide to do it.

Thanks for specifically soliciting this advice. I just love spouting off. ;-)

I hope you find these thoughts helpful.
If you're interested, you can follow the continuing conversation here.

N'awlins Day 7

It's almost noon and it's totally over. James Crossley's paper on N.T. Wrong and the Bibliobloggers was entertaining. Then Neil and I hit the book fair and I ordered a few more at half-off. Now we're heading out to go goof around in the city.

It was lots of fun. I've got lots to reflect on. All in all, a very profitable and promising week. I'm convinced all I need to accomplish my goals are infinite amounts of money and time. Instead, I'll gladly settle for an infinitely gracious and loving Father. We'll see what else develops meanwhile. Stay tuned...

This is Bill Heroman, signing off from the Biblical ScholarPalooza.

Let's Split the Academy!

On the very encouraging heels of Derek’s post:

Science and Historiography can never confirm nor deny the totality of scripture’s claims. Therefore, we need to go ahead and officialize two separate presuppositional tracts in scholarship.

Skeptics have every right to disbelieve parts of the scripture. If I thought the Bible was all a big bunch of crap, I would absolutely spend the rest of my life trying to figure out why the heck things got to be the way that they are. This is just one of many reasons I have total respect for honest Skeptics and for Skepticism properly applied.

On the other hand, Believers are dying for lack of contextual rationalism context and rationality in doing the other things that we do while "trusting" the scriptures. We should accept the claims of the NT at face value, for the sake of argument, and then proceed with a semi-critical historical analysis.

What, from all this, could emerge?

Imagine Believers and Skeptics working together from one side, then the other. Trusting or Doubting the entire NT “for the sake of argument” is an awfully big presupposition, but professionals should be able to pull that off, at least in theory.

What I’d really love to see is a group of honest, logical, historically minded Skeptics with truly suspended judgment approaching the NT from the standpoint of faith “ftsoa”. Which of our traditional interpretations would they question more? Which post-enlightenment conclusions would hold up or fall down?

I would LOVE to find out...

Francis Watson on Historical Criticism

Derek Leman just blogged about the SBL's section on Historical Criticism. This is the one Mike & Rob mentioned the other night, as I said. Here's the most relevant part of Derek's review.
Francis Watson of Durham University gave a provocative lecture. He said we should abandon the term historical criticism altogether for the following reasons:

(1) Biblical scholars are not historians and should not imply that we are.

(2) Historical criticism is not a neutral characterization. In its origin the term referred to textual criticism, which is about restoring texts. Historical criticism, by contrast, has been about doubting them. The historical critical movement has had an agenda to criticize, in the harsh sense, other views of the Bible.

(3) Historical criticism has claimed that its methods are objective, neutral, and not about dogma. This has been shown to be a farce.

(4) The real issue has been modernity and rationalism versus tradition.

(5) Historical approaches to a text are far from the totality of the work we do. Much Biblical scholarship is not historical but interpretive.

(6) The distance historical critics claim to put between themselves and the text is illusory.

(7) Therefore, we should talk about biblical studies or scholarship and make the term historical criticism defunct.

I was pretty jazzed after Watson’s presentation and the room was buzzing. But things only got better as Michael Legaspi gave a stinging critique of the whole enterprise of historical criticism...
Read the rest here.

November 23, 2009

N'awlins Day 6

Things I learned today, at the Big Bible Rodeo:

The Tchoupitoulis Omelet at the Sheraton is abso-food-ly divine.

The SBL website has a page on the Bible and Public Schools Initiative that I really wish my local districts would get into. I could definitely get into that.

Michael Halcomb is a snazzy dresser from head to toe.

After almost a week, it's difficult to walk through the hotels without at least saying hi to several people I've spoken with already during the conference(s).

Ken Brown and John Hobbins are nearly always smiling.

The difference between male scholars and female scholars is that male scholars tend to gesticulate more aggressively during personal conversations.

James McGrath has an incredible amount of energy.

I am really super impressed by Classical Historians. Just being in the same room with Tessa Rajak, Helen Bond and Erich Gruen (at the Hellenistic Judaism section) was the most humbling experience of the entire week.

Neil Carter still laughs at all my dumb old jokes like they're new ones.

Jesus loves me even if my chronology's wrong. ;-)

November 22, 2009

N'awlins Day 5

Nearing the end of the Biblical Studies ScholarPalooza in NOLA. The Bibliobloggers' Dinner was tonight and about 30 or 40 of us wound up getting there, I'd guess. Every moment was absolutely delightful. The other best moment of the day was around lunch when my old friend, neighbor and house church compadre Neil Carter drove in for the rest of the conference. New friends and old. Silver and Gold. Both are priceless. Now here's the rest of the news.

Words that I find equally helpful and ridiculous, which I learned at the Johannine Literature section, today: "figuration", "enplotment", "refiguration", "anachronies", "achronistic". (I'm shocked the spell checker actually knows "figuration"!)

Authors I was encouraged to go read on John's Gospel and Lit-Crit, today: Culpepper, Koester, some others, and Ricoeur.

Most honest Q&A I shared, today: Me (Q), "Is anyone trying to use Lit-Crit as a stepping stone to historical analysis?" New Friend (A), "No, because they all want to keep their jobs."

Most helpful insight I heard about the positive aspects of Lit-Crit, today: It allows a holistic analysis of the entire Gospel, as opposed to the Hist-Crit which always chops it up into tiny pieces. Plus, believers and skeptics can actually have a conversation about the material.

Major reservation I still hold about Lit-Crit, today: Sidestepping Ignoring the entire issue of historicity essentially & implicitly demeans the value of truth itself.

Presentation I absolutely could not have afforded to miss, today: John's Rhetorical Use of Narrative Time, by Mark A. Matson

Bad bowls of Gumbo I ate because Jim West booked us at an Italian place and I felt duty-bound as a native Louisianian to order something both affordable and cajun style: one

There are some memories money can't buy. Seven days at a hotel in New Orleans isn't what I'd call cheap. But it's priceless.

Girl Meets Lord

I am so proud. This is so moving to me. My wife told me this story tonight and I asked her to blog it. It might help you to understand that this little girl has not been to institutional church or sunday school more than twice in her 8 years of life until the past month or so. Here's the scoop from Sarah's blog:
Emma: "They asked me today if I was a Christian, and I said 'no'."

Me: "Why did you say 'no'?"

Emma: "Because I don't know what Christian means."

Me: "Well, if they had asked you if you had invited the Lord into your heart, what would you have said?"

Emma: (big smile) "I would have said 'YES I HAVE!!!'"
My eyes just welled up again. What a beautiful Lord. What a wonderful girl. Thank you, Jesus.

November 21, 2009

N'awlins Day 4

I slept in a little this morning. I keep telling myself, "It's not a sprint. It's a marathon." Two and a half days to go. Today was packed with highlights. In chronological order...

(1) Some Bibliobloggers and Yahoo B.S. Group(ies) had a flash mob in the middle of the book fair, which was really a delight and a thrill. I met so many blog friends for the first time in person. We took a picture. I've run into so many bibliobloggers in the halls the past two days I can't even begin to start listing them. Eighteen months of blogging and I know a lot of people at this thing. Wow.

(2) What I've been looking forward to all week - meeting with Jared Compton about Quirinius investigation into the Lukan Census that gets beyond the bog of Quirinius. Plus, I gave him some very old research I'd dug up on Greek grammatical constructions that may or may not parallel Luke 2:2. I hope Jared and his connections can suss it out further for us. (See my recent post and link to his article, here.)

(3) Continuing to dialogue with random strangers at the conference and - not really surprisingly - finding that skeptics are consistently more intrigued by my faith based ("for the sake of argument") non-theological approach to event reconstruction than most of the more institutionally aligned christians tend to be. Btw, if you don't know why that doesn't surprise me, you must be fairly new to this blog. ;-)

(4a) A New Question: We believe Jesus lived without sin, but did people in his world perceive him as sinless? PSA of the day: That intriguing topic is apparently the focus of a new book with a [misleading] deliberately provocative title, Sinners: Jesus and his Earliest Followers. I didn't know that until I got there, but I saw Dale Allison was moderating and Craig Blomberg was on the panel.

(4b) The session ended early, and I was able to approach Blomberg about my recent frustration with two of his books. He was gracious and engaged with me on the topic but in the end his reservations, as expressed, still seemed to boil down to skepticism that any particular chronology will ever be demonstrably more certain than other possibilities. I wasn't entirely satisfied, of course, but I'm grateful he was willing to engage.

(4c) Incidentally, Dale Allison was sitting alone three seats away from Blomberg when I saw they were both available. I really wanted to thank Allison for his most recent book and tell him why I enjoyed it so much, but he left shortly after he heard the beginning of my convo with CB. Cause and Effect? I may never know. ;-)

(5a) The John, Jesus and History section was really enjoyable. I wish I could describe what that conversation was like in full detail, but I guess it's a bit like a cook going into somebody else's kitchen. All the normal historical tools and the Gospels' ingredients were on the table, and it was just fun to watch what the panelists did with it all. (See next point.)

(5b) One panelist in particular - Ann Graham Brock, in the process of comparing John to the other Synoptics - drew out some fascinating things about Luke that might bind him closer to Paul in an awful lot of people's eyes. I'm not spoiling her big surprise here, but I'm telling you now: watch for her future work. The implications are very exciting.

(6) Shortly after leaving that particular historical mish-mosh, I ran into Michael Whitenton & Rob Kashow who told me about a session I missed, where some scholar(s?) pronounced the historical-critical method ITSELF to be a MYTH. As far as I understood, the point is that everyone still finds ways to insert their own presupposed theology or ideology into the text, so the whole thing may just be a push.

Meanwhile (5.5) I'd just come from engaging a prominent skeptic about my proposed methodologies. See point 3 above. After his gracious but rigorous challenges, I believe I succeeded in genuinely intriguing him. At the end, he - not I - asked to dialog more with me in the future.

Maybe skeptics just like to hear christians questioning institutional christendom. I don't know. But for the moment, this phenomenon continues to motivate me to keep on suggesting this "faith-based, for-the-sake-of-argument" approach to believers and skeptics alike. I genuinely believe it is in ALL of our best interests to see what happens when we expose our own agendas and come to the New Testament afresh - not with pure objectivity, which doesn't exist, but with an openness to consider as factual that which the text itself actually claims... so far as we can determine what the text is actually claiming, and trusting it for the sake of academic argument, to begin with... and then to ask, what from this should we rightly conclude*?

You just never know what might happen from there. But I'd love to find out! Wouldn't you?

By the way, I trust nobody reading this post committed the positivist fallacy. You may trust that I did all the things I just told you I did, but none of you would assume that was all the things that I did. If all the things I've done, said and thunk in this week could be put into words, there might be no end to the blog posts that I'd have to write. ;-)

[*conclude, consider, begin to investigate, etc...]

November 20, 2009

N'awlins Day 3

ETS ended today and SBL/IBR began this evening. I just had a fifteen hour day, plenty of conversations, great sessions, and heavy yawns here in my room at the moment.

My new favorite word of the day is "monolithic". My passion for the NT Story is because I want to challenge the standard christian view of the NT, which I find monolithic. If everything happens at no particular time then we're working from a hodge-podge or from one giant blob. A sense of time passing lends perspective and depth, besides which it can also show development, which is more true to the way God actually works in our lives as his people, just like it's how He worked in their lives at that time.

My new favorite scholar of the day is Kevin Vanhoozer. In the panel on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology, Kevin critiqued himself in the third person (both effectively and hysterically) and what impressed me most was the overwhelmingly natural (my word) approach of what he calls the "Drama of Redemption" model. My synopsis of Kevin's view, compared with the others: Our Life Together relies at least as much on improvisation as it does on principle, procedures or plans. In the end, I saw a lot of overlap in the panelists' four approaches. I believe it was the traditional Calvinist on the panel who said, "What's important is that the improvisation is faithful to scripture." Amen, amen!

My PSA of the day comes especially for Nick Norelli, in case he's unaware (as I was) about this little factoid. At the SBL workshop on academic publishing, we were told that end notes are cheaper to print than footnotes, and that we should expect more and more academic publications to trend in that direction. So there you go, Nick. So sorry. But don't hate the playa, baby. Hate the game. ;-)

My first lonely moment of the entire trip came at the IBR reception. Everyone I knew was connecting with old friends and I didn't want to be (not feel like, but actually be) a fifth wheel anywhere, for their sakes. I continued making new friends for a little while, but I left early anyway. But that's okay. My brief loneliness was completely natural. My experience at these annual meetings is only beginning, so I shouldn't take a monolithic view. Developing valuable relationships takes TIME.

Speaking of time, I put in a fifteen hour day. YAAAAWN. Scholarpalooza Day 4 starts bright and early.

G'night, y'all.

November 19, 2009

N'awlins Day 2

Oh, the gift to give us - that we should see ourselves as others see us.

Hilights today: (1) meeting bibliobloggers David Stark of New Testament Interpretation and Todd Bolen of the Bible Places Blog. (2) hearing a delightful and wonderful presentation by Randolph Richards entitled (Mis)reading Paul through Western Eyes. Honestly, if I could reproduce the entire speech here, I would do so right this moment. (3) Meeting with Ched Spellman from SWBTS who was kind enough to engage me about Evangelicalism's varying levels of (dis)interest in Historical Reconstruction. (4) The intense challenge of attempting to sympathetically process Bruce Ware's message on how Jesus was able to resist sin as a human.

This is just really worth putting online.

In all fairness, Bruce's presentation completely assumed that Jesus' activity took place within the context of his relationship to the Father. Unfortunately, Bruce rarely presented Jesus' activity of resisting sin with any reference to God. In fact, in my estimation, his presentation was almost entirely negative. Again, Bruce may have assumed the context of Jesus' desire to please God, but his remarks themselves were 90% focused on "sin", "temptation" and "ability". Resisting is a negative activity.

The main issue, according to Bruce, is that "it was hard work" for Jesus to resist temptation, which became more and more difficult through his life, and that Jesus accomplished this great task by (1) prayer (2) focusing on God's Word and (3) the power of the Spirit. Strictly speaking, I don't technically disagree. In fact, I'll affirm the basic thrust of each point he made. However, I'm much more comfortable with a relational presentation.

In my opinion, it's not that Jesus was trying hard to NOT anything. It's that there was something else Jesus cared about more - pleasing the Father whom he genuinely loved with all his heart, soul and strength. IMHO, if you force yourself to keep the discussion in those terms, there's no way Jesus could have sinned because the relational bond underscores all other activity. (As a matter of fact, this point could have been included in Randolph's paper.) It's a very unsophisticated philosophy I'm presenting here, but it makes a whole lot more sense in real life terms. Besides which, it's positive.

If SIN, by definition, is disobedience to God, then avoiding sin is avoiding disobedience; but that double-negative should be turned around into a positive. Avoiding sin is simply obeying God... which comes from loving God... which implies knowing Him in the context of relationship. When pressed, Bruce said that Jesus' relationship to the Father was implied by "the power of the Spirit". I said I agreed. But I also said my concern is that after his message trickles down through the pulpits to the pews - people hear "power of the spirit" like it's a magic energy source. As a result, many people in the pews go home and (1) pray (2) read their Bibles & (3) say, "Okay, now God give me strength to be good." And the rest of all their Christian lives is negative ("resisting sin") and aside from asking for strength and remembering no-no's it may as well be virtually Godless.

Here's what I did not say to Bruce. Of course, he was in a hurry.

The shameful indictment of all this could be that people like Bruce present this sophisticated construction precisely because it boils down to something do-able. Christians can (1) pray (2) read and (3) beg for power. I honestly don't presume to judge the quality of Bruce Ware's spiritual life - or that of the hundreds if not thousands of preachers who communicate this very same message to their pepole. But I do absolutely know that such a message translates automatically into human effort, for anyone who's not already developed a deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

Worse yet, I wonder if these preachers really believe the christian life IS prayer, bible and power. It contains those things. It should not and cannot be reduced to those things.

Jesus Christ never sinned because he was deeply connected to his Father. He was loved by Him. He loved Him. He desired to please Him. He found that obeying Him brought him more of Him. He obeyed Him all the more. So they loved each other all the more.

In stark contrast, if we struggle so, and if our emphasis is entirely fixed on "sin" and "resisting"...

Dear God, what does that reveal about our true apprehension of You?

November 18, 2009

N'awlins Day 1

I do not understand Theology or Theologians. I'm essentially Evangelical but I think Evangelism (via Apologetics) has way too much influence on faith based New Testament Studies. I'm wonderfully social with strangers. Altogether, I suppose that scores me about one-point-five out of three here at the Evangelical Theological Society. Oh, well. Nobody's perfect. ;-)

In all seriousness, I had a great first day. To kick it off this morning I listened to an all-star panel on Theology in the New Testament that focused more on how to write books about the topic than they focused on how to investigate the topic itself. Actually, that was apparently the point (launching a new book series) but I still enjoyed listening in. (Joel Willitts asked a question in that meeting. Maybe he'll offer some more informed impressions some time. If he does, maybe I'll become smrater. Ya think?) Later on, I got to meet fellow bibliobloggers James Spinti at the Eisenbraun's booth and Charles Savelle of Bible X fame, who emphasized the centrality of GOD in the ethical urgings of James' Epistle. I also made a handful of new friends from Texas, Oregon, Wisconsin and right here in New Orleans.

My favorite paper of the day was on Theology and Chronology in John's Gospel - an excellent survey of the issue with some helpful observations by Roland McMillan of NOBTS. Roland's opinions weren't entirely conclusive, but his paper was well attended and his review of the "Tennis Match" that turns our heads back and forth when viewing John's Chronological data (Is it Theologically motivated? Is it Historically motivated?) deserves to be turned into a full length article in the near future. It is my fondest wish tonight that Roland gets his chance to start more conversations in social sciences among faith-based academics... and that he continues to be intrigued by Chronology in the Gospels.

By the way, we had Shrimp Po-Boys for lunch and for dinner I the best seafood gumbo I can remember in a long time. Unless you're allergic or kosher (like Jim West, apparently), when you're here, try the seafood. Avoiding seafood in New Orleans is like avoiding the Eiffel Tower in Paris. If anybody wants to eat well without blowing a wad, come find me this week. Mother's Restaurant is just down the street from the Sheraton. Ooooh-eeeee!

One last point - I've never spent more than an hour in my life studying Revelation but I'm naturally intrigued by a pre-70 viewpoint on its provenance. On that impetus alone, I spent ten minutes in the Preterists' booth today. Apparently, even they feel theology is more important than history. Something about proving that heaven is now.

Oy vei. And I'm not even Jewish!

November 17, 2009

Academic Agonistes

Given enough time, most competitive markets become dominated by the two largest competitors. There's Coke & Pepsi, Burger King & McDonald's, Macs & PC's, Lowe's & Home Depot, Democrats & Republicans. There were even Pharisees & Saducees, back in the day. So this week, I'm heading to ETS & SBL... and wondering if IBR is the Dr.Pepper, Subway, Linux, Ace, Libertarians, or Essenes of the Annual Biblical Scholar Palooza.

In most markets, top competitors routinely build off one another's best ideas, and I know that to some degree this happens here also. Still, I wonder how much Historicism I'll find at ETS just like I wonder how much Faith I'll find at SBL. Sadly, it doesn't look like there's much going on at IBR that involves the New Testament. That's understandable. It's a lot harder to compete as the little guy.

The games begin tomorrow. Let the best ideas win. ;-)

November 16, 2009

N'awlins Schedule

In less than 48 hours, I'll be making my first trip to the Annual Biblical Studies ScholarPalooza. I'll be in N.O. for seven days and then B.R. for two, eating Turkey. At the conference(s), my main goal is to be a fly on the wall at all major events related to NT and Historical topics, to understand better how and why the various species of Biblical Scholars interact the ways they do in their scholarship.

Of course the highlight by far will be meeting online friends for the first time in real life. That never gets old. For old friends and Blog friends on Facebook, my cell #'s on my FB profile. For others, send an e-mail or look for me in the halls. If we've never met in person, here's a large pic of me in a tie! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

November 14, 2009

Top 25

As of tonight, here are the 25 most frequent key terms on this blog, and the number of posts in which they appear. The sidebar index has now been updated.

Augustus and Apollo and the Jews

In late 4 BC, 50 Judean Jews brought along 8,000 Roman Jews to witness Augustus' hearing of their complaints before Herod's will could be settled. I presume it was at least partly to accommodate this large crowd that the Emperor moved the location of the hearing. For one day, the Temple of Apollo became a large courtroom. Two questions are: (1) Where did the crowd stand (my guess: in the courtyard, with the Emperor presiding from the steps; I don't suspect the interior was large enough for so many) and more importantly (2) Why choose a Temple for the gathering? More specifically, why that particular Temple?

Maybe the occasion simply required more formality than a different venue, but Caesar may also have wanted to emphasize Rome's religious hegemony, which Herod himself had always been too happy to acknowledge. Still, why Apollo's Temple, of all places? Was it simply the site's proximity to the Trans-Tiber district where most Roman Jews lived? Or was Augustus subtly delivering a message? If so, what was that message? I have no idea.

A new book just out from Cambridge by Ovid Scholar John F. Miller is entitled Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets. From the publisher's description:
Apollo’s importance in the religion of the Roman state was markedly heightened by the emperor Augustus, who claimed a special affiliation with the god. Contemporary poets variously responded to this appropriation of Phoebus Apollo, both participating in the construction of an imperial symbolism and resisting that ideological project. This book offers a synoptic study of ‘Augustan’ Apollo in Augustan poetry...

• The only comprehensive treatment of the reflections by Augustan poets on Apollo as an imperial icon • Discusses the presentation of Apollo and Augustus by all five major Augustan poets as well as minor poets • Carefully situates the literature about Augustan Apollo within the broader culture, as known from numismatic, epigraphical, artistic, and archaeological evidence
The book's index does cite Josephus on the 4 BC hearing but and I won't get to read it real soon, but my main question would be what might Augustus have expected the Jews of Rome and/or Palestine to understand about "the Augustan Apollo"? Unfortunately, this is way down there on my list of research topics these days. Maybe someone else will go read Miller and ask these kinds of questions. I hope so.

Was Agrippina Banished Twice?

In Anthony Barrett's 2002 biography of the Empress Livia, on pages 335 and 336, the author's nineteenth appendix is devoted to a controversy over apparent contradictions in the ancient record. Just to get you up to speed, here's a cast of characters, their interrelations, and their ages on January 1st, 29 AD:
Tiberius (69) - still Emperor of Rome, unofficially retired at Capri
Livia (85) - Tiberius' mom, Augustus' widow, Agrippina's step-grandmother but Germanicus' biological grandmother, and so also great-grandmother of Agrippina's children
Germanicus (dead ten years) - Tib's nephew and adopted son, Liv's grandson, Agrippina's husband (the couple themselves were of no blood relation)
Agrippina (41) - 'Agrippina the elder' - widow of Germanicus, Aug's granddaughter, Livia's step-granddaughter, Tiberius' neice-in-law (formerly also daughter-in-law), mother of Nero (22, not the future Emperor) and Caligula (16, yes the future emperor)
Sejanus (40's?) - Tiberius' Praetorian Prefect and all around proxy ruler in Rome
Got all that? Great! Now, the list of ancient sources: Tacitus' Annals 4.68-70 & 5.3.1, Suetonius' Caligula 10.1, Dio Cassius 58.1.1-3, Pliny's Natural History 8.145, and Velleius Paterculus 2.130.4-5, plus a couple of inscriptions. Barrett also lists an extensive bibliography of scholarship on the controversy, which we might say essentially boils down to one question - When was Agrippina banished?

As a last point of reference, understand that Sejanus was not necessarily trying to become Emperor himself, but his immediate aim was definitely to remain as the power behind the throne. That, precisely, is why Agrippina herself was Sejanus' chief obstacle. Obviously, at least one of her children was poised to succeed the rapidly aging Tiberius. Livia and Agrippina were hardly close allies, but both women supported the children. That's the thick of the plot.

Okay, now to the sources... and thus to the controversy.

Tacitus says that when Livia died, Sejanus took that opportunity to publicly denounce Agrippina and Nero (her oldest; a middle son, the 3rd Drusus of this era, now age 21, was supporting Sejanus' attack on his mother and brother). The Senate responded by banishing them to the island of Pandateria. Note well: this puts Agrippina's banishment firmly after Livia's death.

Suetonius, however, says that Caligula went to live with his great-grandmother Livia after Agrippina's banishment. Thus, how could Livia be dead before this banishment? The simplest solution is that there were two banishments. But is this at all likely? Fortunately, we don't have to judge. We have further evidence.

Pliny speaks of the trial of one Titius Sabinus, a friend of Germanicus' family. Sabinus was convicted and executed of something treasonous, but that's not the story here. Pliny mentions that Sabinus' trial "came about ex causa Neronis - as a consequence of Nero's case". Barrett continues:
Because the trial of Sabinus belongs to 28, Nero must have been charged at least by that date and thus before Livia died... the most satisfactory explanation is probably [that] Sejanus' attack was broken into two stages...
Barrett concludes the 'banishment' (ea relegata) mentioned by Suetonius must be a phrase used loosely to refer to a house arrest at Herculaneum, probably in 28, before the final banishment from the mainland was pronounced in 29. Suetonius' narrative, says Barrett, "is very condensed at this point" and "events might well have been telescoped". (A phrase that reminds me emphatically of Luke 2:1-5, but now I digress.) Finally, we also note that Velleius Paterculus, whose work was published in 30 AD, mentions on his last page the grief of the Emperor at the loss of his daughter-in-law and grandson, the sorrow of which Velleius then says "was crowned by the loss of his mother". Velleius' flattery aside, he would have no reason to twist the sequence of these three references against such a recent and well known chronology.

In summary, Agrippina was "banished" before she was actually banished.

Now, a few observations.

Barrett's two-page appendix is incredibly tight, and a masterful illustration of how to deal with such a seeming contradiction in sources. As a historian, Barrett inclines to trust his sources as far as he reasonably can. There may seem to be a trace of apologetic for Suetonius, but I would argue that Barrett's focus remains strictly on the facts. It is more likely Caligula would have needed a matron at age 15 than at any time afterward. The toga of manhood could be presented as early as age 15. (Caligula's birth date: Aug.31.0012) Suteonius has that much going for his claim, at the very least.

On a separate note, it may seem at first that Barrett has a great advantage here in his number of sources. Of course this is relatively true. At least: "One witness is no witness." On the other hand, we should note that nowhere does Barrett's argument actually appeal to or depend on the number of witnesses. It is the sheer number of facts in this case which prove most helpful to straightening out the necessary details. Had Suetonius provided the information that Pliny provided, the same conclusion should have been reached, assuming we have cause to believe Suetonius' report is trustworthy.

Finally, why am I posting all this? For two reasons.

Secondly, the story about Agrippina's fall and Livia's death helps to enhance a suggestion I made in my post on the Chronology of the Gospels. This is only a guess, but if GOD needed Herod Antipas to get out of Galilee just before Jesus began to gain serious fame, and if Livia's death (and thus the Tetrarch's need to get face time with Sejanus during the ensuing power shift) was indeed the occasion that drew Herod to Rome, then I don't mind speculating on one point. Did you notice how OLD Livia was? Queens in Antiquity often lived even longer than Kings, but 85 is getting way on up there for that day and age. Not to be superstitious - especially because it probably cannot be proven that Antipas even left Galilee at all - but if GOD was involved in the historical details around Christ's public years, it sure looks like Livia could be a female Methuselah. It's worth noting, at least.

But firstly, of course, this is a further step in my preliminary response to Tim's question on Thursday, about Nazareth, fishermen and money changers. As I then said on Friday, these are sidebar issues on which Gospel Chronology does not depend. That said, the question of their historicity is still important - though I may not get to covering these points right away. Whenever I do, however, I want it to be known that Barrett's investigation of facts and details in his sources will be my model for looking at whether it "seems likely" that Jesus had two Nazareth homecomings, had to call Peter twice (three times, actually), and whether he cleansed the Jerusalem Temple twice.

If I was a better general historian, I could probably name more examples of things that may or may not have "happened twice". I'm only guessing there are some, but in so vast a field as history, there simply must be. Barrett's happens to be one that I know of, and I daresay it's a good one.

Hopefully, this was worth putting online for many reasons. Enjoy. And stay tuned...

November 13, 2009

Did Some Things Happen Twice?

Tim asked yesterday, "Isn't it more likely that there weren't two instances of the fishermen calling, two homecomings, and two cleansings?" (emphasis mine) My answer yesterday was basically - maybe yes, maybe no, but the chronology of the Gospels doesn't really depend on those points anyway. I wrote a lot more in that comment you might want to take a look at too, and referenced my "Pre-Chronology" post from this past Sunday.

I do find it more likely there were two instances of these particular incidents. I hold the same position on Paul's escape(s?) from Damascus. In fact, the only thing that gives me pause at all is the fact that I find myself motivated to take this same strategy four times! Can they really all be more likely? Well, yes. For many different reasons in each of these four particular cases, I really think they are.

Of course, the reasons in each case will require individual treatment in the future. I'll get to it soon. (God willing, of course.) What's more interesting to me today is - why did I start the argument with those three assumptions, if they're not really necessary? And the answer is - because I think most people informed on the subject are more willing to accept the Synoptics as Chronological only if those three points were granted as being true. In fact, highly reputable conservative scholars have presented them as being make-or-break issues to show that there is no reliable chronology in the Synoptic Gospels, at least during the middle stage of each writers' account.

In that regard, starting yesterday's post the way I did was partly to engage with that thought being out there, but it was also a little bit like the trial scene in A Few Good Men, when Lt. Daniel Kaffee brought in the two airmen as witnesses to something they had absolutely no recollection of whatsoever.
Jack: Strong witnesses.
Danny: It added a little something, don't you think?
All kidding aside, I will happily admit having an apologists heart for a good story, and I happen to find the four points at issue here (including Paul & Damascus) increase the believability of the story (stories) in each case, for me personally. But it is also true that I happen to find good historical reasons for my position in each case. What are those reasons? Watch this space for future reports.

Today, I just want to emphasize again (and again, evidently) that any chronology of Jesus' ministry does not depend on preserving perfectly chronological sequencing within Mark and Luke's narrative. It depends on counting the number of Passovers. First, even without two fishermen callings and two Nazareth homecomings, the sheer amount of travel and activity that must be accounted for (during the Lord's Galilean itinerary) strongly suggests John the Baptist was in prison for an extra Passover, which is accounted for in the grain plucking incident. Second, even without two Temple cleansings, the first several chapters of John's Gospel revolve around the (more substantially historical) claims that Jesus made his first public appearance at a Passover in Jerusalem, and was with his disciples in Judea a while before returning to kick-start his Galilean period of ministry.

Therefore, the questions of two fishermen callings, two homecomings and two Temple cleansings must stand as isolated issues. If their historicity were to remain in doubt, we should still find a four year stretch between five Passovers of Jesus' ministry. Apologetics (for Faith or for Story) should not get in the way of proper historical judgment.

I will, however, put it high on my list to get back to these separate issues in the future. If the anti-historicist critics (who often tend to be christian theologians, just so we're clear) of the Gospel's chronology someday come to believe what I'm saying, maybe their academic descendants won't try so hard to deep-six these three non-doublets. Hey, I'm a hopeful guy!

Once more, a historical investigation of each incident (pair?) is absolutely warranted. Thanks again to Tim for asking the question. Hopefully the size of my response doesn't scare off more questioners. ;-)

Perhaps we shall see...

November 12, 2009

Chronology of the Gospels

First of all, forget harmonizing the entire text. I'm talking about reconstructing the Gospels' events into historical sequence. Succinctly, here's how that can be reasonably done.

If we posit two Nazareth homecomings and two fishermen callings, the sequence of major events in Mark and Luke suddenly finds complete harmony, even if minor details continue to diverge. Matthew's sequence differs only between chapters 5 and 13. After John the Baptist's beheading, Matthew's narrative sequence shows no contradictions with Mark and Luke. If we also posit two Temple cleansings, the sequence in John's Gospel also blends perfectly with the rest. (**There are other ways around this little problem, but for time's sake, at the moment, we begin by simply assuming those three points.** Update: see my response to Tim's question in the comments.**) So stipulated, we begin.

The first event to harmonize is Jesus feeding the 5,000. This dates JTB's beheading to the middle Passover of John's Gospel. The first Passover of John's Gospel comes just before JTB's arrest. Jesus left Judea when he heard about that arrest, and that the Pharisees were now more concerned about Jesus than about John. This brings us to a critical point of consideration.

Herod Antipas probably captured the Baptist somewhere in the Transjordan region, which Antipas controlled. Why, then, did Jesus leave JUDEA when he heard about this arrest? The only possible danger for Jesus was if he suspected the Sanhedrin might begin to consider arresting him for extradition to Galilee. At this point, it seems, the Pharisees just wanted Jesus to go back to 'Hicksville'. Wisely, he obliged their desire before they could hatch any plans.

For all of John's imprisonment, Jesus stays in Galilee (except briefly, in Jn.5). After Herod Antipas notices Jesus, the Lord withdraws from Galilee repeatedly, slipping into every neighboring country at some point except in the direction of Judea. After some period of these 'withdrawals' had passed, Jesus made plans to go back south. What had changed? The Pharisees would still want to extradite Jesus back to Antipas, and now the Tetrarch was actually looking for him! Why was it suddenly safe?

Sejanus must have died. Antipas must have had some kind of agreement with Sejanus for the Tetrarch to divorce his Arabian wife, effectively ending the treaty with King Aretas and jeopardizing peace in the region while Tiberius entered his 70's. Herod Antipas would not have risked everything for Herodias, unless he really did have a deal with Sejanus. So the caution Antipas [and Pilate also] displayed at Jesus' trial really must have been because of the climate in Rome. Heads of Sejanus' old allies were still rolling with the slightest provocation.

The point at the moment is that Antipas' caution did not begin at Jesus' trial in early 33. Antipas' caution began at Sejanus' death in late 31. Therefore, if the period of Jesus' withdrawals reflects a time after John's death when Judea was still unsafe to enter, then John must have died before Passover of 31. That makes the second 'half' of Jesus' ministry two years long. The missing Passover of 32 is most likely locatable around the time of the Temple Tax (Matthew's coin in-the-fish episode).

Incidentally, Jesus' visit to Tabernacles and Hanukkah could arguably go in 32 because that was after Sejanus had died, but 31 is not impossible, because Tiberius spread rumors all year long in 31 that Sejanus' life could be in danger. If Antipas got wind of what was coming, the Father - yes, we're getting spiritual now - could have told Jesus it was safe. That is a valid spiritual-historical consideration, especially if we take the word "sent" in its most immediate sense (Jn. 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; in contrast, Jn.10:36, "sent into the world", reads very differently.) The dubious level of safety could partly explain why the disciples do not join Jesus on this trip. However, it remains less than perfectly clear at the moment whether John 7-10 could belong in 31 or 32. The earlier date fits better with the overall structure of events and even with the development of Jesus' public discourse, but it requires Jesus to have special confidence that he would remain safe. However, this does fall several months into his period of withdrawals, and on the balance of all considerations the timing does seem to work. Cautiously, then, we should prefer 31 for these two months in Judea.

The last major question is whether John's imprisonment lasted the better part of one year, or two. The sabbath grain plucking incident occurs well in the middle of John's imprisonment in all three Synoptic Gospels. The fact that grain was ripe points to another missing Passover. Therefore, the first Passover mentioned in John's Gospel belongs in 29 AD, and the sabbath grain plucking must have occurred in 30. (Incidentally, the "harvest" Jesus mentioned in Samaria must have been the fall harvest. His reference to "white fields" was merely a mixed metaphor - not so uncommon for him, really!)

We now see a total of five Passovers - 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33 AD. Jesus' ministry in-between those Passovers was four years long. John was in prison for most of the first two years, and Sejanus died in the third autumn. This completely aligns most of the historical landscape for Gospel events. The rest falls into place very quickly.

One other incidental issue, first, is to consider that the death of the Empress Livia in 29 (most likely late winter in early 29) could have called Herod Antipas out of the country to pay his respects in Rome (and most likely also to firm up his relations, whatever they were, with Sejanus, because Livia's death was the start of the Prefect's big power play, and that fact was apparently obvious to everyone but Tiberius at the time). In any event, if Antipas did leave for Rome in 29 it would explain perfectly why Jesus gained fame all over Palestine without Herod noticing, and why the Pharisees went "to the Herodians" in Mark 3:6 instead of "to Herod". (That Antipas was in Rome has been suggested before, but considered implausible because there was no cause for the trip in 30 AD, in Hoehner's chronology.)

Our final task here is to work backwards from the first Passover. We need to account for at least 40 days after the Lord's baptism, plus some recovery time after such an ordeal, plus even more. There had to be some travel time - another trip to and from Transjordan and then to Cana and Capernaum - all before the Passover of 29 AD.

Regarding John's ministry, Luke tells us that "all the people were baptized" before Jesus came to be baptized. Of course we assume Luke means all the ones who-were-going-to-be-baptized, and obviously not every solitary soul in the land, but his phrase still suggests that everyone in Israel had a chance to hear about John that year, and to go to him. Because the 15th year of Tiberius can plausibly refer to all of 28 AD (by more than one method of reckoning, and we must admit we have no way to know which method Luke 'should' have preferred), it seems likely that John preached and baptized through all three festival seasons of that year.

Altogether, this means Jesus most likely came to be baptized around the turn of October in 28 AD. His wilderness trial filled out the rest of 28, leaving three months for recovery, recruiting, moving his family to Capernaum, and final personal preparation before his first public Passover, at which he essentially declared himself the Messiah by cleansing the Temple.

That concludes the entire skeleton of what I contend must be the one, most likely, most plausible reconstruction of the Gospels' events, in chronological order and with full historical context.


Event Synopsis/Timeline:

28 AD - In the fifteenth year of Tiberius' rule, John the Baptist begins his ministry in the wilderness. John baptizes all spring and summer, preparing the way for Jesus. In Autumn, Jesus comes to be baptized. He is 33 years old. (Luke says "about" 30.) Jesus spends the first half of winter alone, fasting and being temped in the wilderness.

29 AD - Jesus recovers from his testing at home in Nazareth. John begins baptizing again in early Spring. Jesus’ disciples begin to follow him. Passover: Jesus visits Jerusalem and clears the temple. Herod Antipas divorces his Nabatean wife (the daughter of King Aretes). John the Baptist is imprisoned by Herod for criticizing the divorce. Herod (possibly) sails for Rome after hearing of Livia's death. Jesus and his disciples flee Judea after John's arrest. Briefly, they visit Samaria on their way back to Galilee. Peter and Jesus' disciples go back to normal life after their trip, as anyone would. Jesus calls the fishermen the first time and invites Peter to go to other towns, but Peter stays in Bethsaida. Jesus travels alone the rest of the year, and rests for some time during winter.

30 AD - Spring: Jesus calls the fishermen the second time and they begin follow him. Jesus calls Matthew. The disciples pick grain on a sabbath. Jesus officially selects his twelve apostles, some weeks before Passover. They travel all over Galilee together, living on fishing profits and free heads of grain. Jesus' fame spreads far and wide. Soon, a few wealthy women begin to travel with the group, providing for their needs financially. Jesus stays in Galilee all year - he does not go down to Judea. Before autumn, Jesus takes his disciples along on his second Nazareth homecoming. As the fall harvest approaches, Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs to many cities. Herod Antipas (possibly) sails back from Rome by October. Again, Jesus appears to be less active during the winter. He is probably resting.

31 AD - Herod Antipas has John the Baptist beheaded sometime before Passover. Shortly after, Herod realizes the reports he's been catching up on are about Jesus, not old news about John. Herd begins trying to see Jesus. Jesus' disciples, having traveled through the winter, find Jesus in some town (Tiberias or Capernaum?) just before Passover. Jesus feeds the 5,000. The people in Judea hail John as a martyr, and condemn Herod for his death. In Autumn, Jesus finally visits Jerusalem again, and stays through December. In October, Sejanus is finally killed, in Rome. This news is confirmed in all Palestine some weeks later. Antipas and Pilate begin ruling with additional caution. Jesus remains safe in Judea for two months, from mid-October to mid-December. He does not seem to rest much this particular winter.

32 AD - Jesus travels up towards Syria, near Tyre and Sidon. On their journey, Jesus begins preparing his disciples for his death. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain with Moses and Elijah. Around Passover time, Peter obligates Jesus to paying the Temple-Tax. After Passover, Jesus leaves Galilee and begins a year-long tour around Judea. They visit at least 35 cities all over Judea. Jesus repeats teachings in Judea which he'd been giving in Galilee since two and three years ago. Jesus and his disciples find a second home in Bethany, with their friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Three things prevent the Jews from laying hands on Jesus all year long: He keeps avoiding Jerusalem, the people are still upset about John's martyrdom, and Herod Antipas refuses to allow extradition. Because of the current political climate, Antipas cannot risk causing more unrest in his kingdom/tetrarchy.

33 AD - Jesus has become so popular the Jews have no choice but to plot against him. At what is only the second Jerusalem Passover of his five Passovers in public activity, Jesus cleanses the Temple again. The Pharisees and Herodians try to trap him with a coin, but the Sadducees finally have to strong arm Pontius Pilate into using Rome's garrison to arrest Jesus. Jesus is tried, crucified, buried and ascends. Then he appears to the disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit... and THAT is only the beginning of the next chapter in Jesus' Story!

on Tradition and Scripture

Church Tradition can't always be bad. Otherwise, we'd have no Bibles! Think about that. How did each of us first learn to value the scriptures?

Tradition is like anything else on Earth. It can bow before God or it can become his enemy. We all enjoy certain traditions... just not forced, hollow, pointless ones, demanded by others.

I was taught long ago to believe that the scriptures have great value. I maintain that tradition because I continue to find, by experience, that my God lives inside of its pages.

Christian love for God's Word is a perfect example of what Living Traditions should look like. Tight, domineering control of God's Word is something else altogether.

The challenge is not about choosing to be Radical or Traditional. The challenge is always about Life and Death.

November 11, 2009

Pauline Chronology

As of now, this is merely a rough sketch of where the most important key points in Pauline Chronology happen to lie. Someday I'll start writing this all out more appropriately, with supporting research and more sequential arguments. Until then, feel free to have a go at researching and publishing on this arrangement yourself. Just be sure to mention my name. :-)

The three points that will chiefly distinguish this chronology are as follows:
Antioch's relief gift had to be money (not grain) and so had to be early
Paul's plans changed to include Rome when the Emperor Claudius died
The best place to put Paul's execution is after the great fire of Rome
Fixing those three points amidst all the other significant data requires essentially one specific alignment of all other major events. Furthermore, this process compels us to make only one creative decision - to put Titus at Fair Havens with Paul, thereby concluding Paul had no part in Titus' earlier mission on Crete. To be sure, this offers a reading of Titus 1:5 which is far more economical and less speculative, historically, than all other suggested reconstructions for Titus' travels.

As a package, these points comprise my original contribution to the field of Pauline Chronology, which is simply a new set of boundaries for all other considerations. Based on solid historical judgments, those boundaries happen to be very tight. This is fortunate. The overarching framework of arguments and possibilities, of course, we all owe to many, many scholars and researchers who have gone before. Therefore, beyond the above points, all other evidence should be well established and easily locatable in standard reference manuals.

Note: In the rough sketch that now follows, many points are referred to ahead of time, and again after the fact. To anyone who has studied these issues, the overall argument should (hopefully) come across best if you read straight through this post, without skipping around at first.


Conversion - early 34 AD - No Roman Emperor ever "gave" Damascus to Nabatea but King Aretas sent the Ethnarch to get Paul at a time when Aretas was still active north of his own territory, which must have been before Tiberius died. It could not have been after. Among other reasons, we know this because the prefect Macro (successor to Sejanus) was essentially running the empire all year long in 37 AD, so Caligula was highly unlikely to reverse policy on Nabatea after Herod Antipas' letter. For more details, see here.

Antioch's relief commission - 44 AD - Because they could not have sent hundreds of ox carts with grain from the coast, especially in the middle of a famine, the church in Antioch must have sent Paul and Barnabas with money. That money was no good unless it came early enough that the church in Jerusalem could begin surreptitiously building a stockpile. (Even if they were going to give it away, the food bank had to built up in secret. Otherwise, what was the point?) Therefore, Paul and Barnabas did not wait until the famine itself (46/47 AD) and therefore Acts 11:30 and 12:25 cannot be extracted from Acts 12. If we leave Acts 12 just as it is written, then the relief visit happens in 44 AD and thus Galatians 2 cannot apply to an inclusive 14 year difference between Paul's conversion and this visit. Therefore, Galatians 2 most likely refers to the Council of Acts 15, despite those who still attempt to suppose an additional visit before the Council. For more on famine relief logistics, see here.

[***UPDATE (7/31/10):  If Agrippa died in March of 44, as holds the consensus, then the relief delivery and that traumatic Passover in which Luke sets it, both, belong to 43 AD.  Since Galatians 2 cannot refer to any year that's actually before the famine, anyway, this update is a moot point chronologically speaking, as far as affecting the rest of this timeline.  Update 2:  Red color added to text in paragraph above.  For more, see this post. ***]

Galatians - 50 AD - Writen to the four South Galatian churches of Acts; before the Epistle of James, but after the council; it was carried by Titus & Luke, who visited all four churches and went on to wait for Paul at Troas (the one city everyone knew how to find, in West Asia Minor); that Titus' circumcision *was even an issue* and *could have been* "compelled" strongly suggests that this visit was part of the council occasion and virtually confirms that Galatians 2 refers to Acts 15. Further, the fact that Paul expects the Galatians to know who Titus is most likely means Titus himself was the letter carrier. As a witness to the events in Jerusalem, Titus was the perfect one to send, and he could easily have been holding Jerusalem's letter in reserve, as additional support for Paul's position. Thus, Paul had no need to mention the shorter letter because Titus was probably carrying it also - presumably on loan from missionally-minded Antioch. (For even more on Galatians and the Council, see here, here, here, and (again) here.)

1st & 2nd Thessalonians - 51 AD - standard view easily dated by Gallio's time in Corinth. We should note here, for later, that Timothy seems to have trouble sticking with his assignment, and keeps running to Paul for assistance. He's going to do this again, 6 years later, in Ephesus.

Departure from Corinth - 52 AD - Paul must have talked with Peter in Jerusalem, about Corinth, somewhere in the middle or the end of sailing season in 52. At least, that is necessary in order for Peter to have sailed to Corinth here in 53 and caused so much trouble (53/54) in unfortunate preparation for a summer of letters going back and forth between Corinth and Paul, in 54. (On which date, see note at top, and see below.) Incidentally, many of the controversies that arose in Corinth around the time of Peter's visit bear striking parallels to the letter of Jerusalem, which suggests Paul had not shown it to Corinth, but that Peter had. Controversies over tongues and healing are also, most likely, symptomatic of Peter's visit.

Epistle of James - c.52 or 51 AD - Paul's visit to Jerusalem in 52 also means James' letter had probably been written by 52, because there is no chance James and Paul did not see each other during this visit, and that makes this the first chance they had to sit down and iron out their perceived differences [over things they didn't really disagree about, except perhaps semantically]. Circumcision was not argued in James' Epistle, and we have no record that James ever heard Paul say the things written in Galatians, before Galatians was written. James must have been responding, in part, to things Paul wrote in his first letter. (Church Councils are not magic cure-alls. They just aren't.)

1st Corinthians - 54 AD, before October - This is an especially critical point for aligning the rest of Paul's dates, and it is based on the fact that Paul talks about travel plans but does not include Rome. The Jews weren't allowed back in until Claudius died, and Paul's trip to Illyricum (Western Provincia Macedonia) must have been planned as part of preparations for going to Rome. Ephesus is also when Paul began speaking of Rome, according to Acts. Further, this letter must be 54, and could not be 53 because Claudius' death also best explains what interrupts Paul's stated plans to sail after Pentecost (which generally assured safe sailing weather; by the way, Paul's also had all of his first three shipwrecks by now).

2nd Corinthians - 56 AD, around November - Aristarchus, Secundus and Sopater evidently knew how to get through the Greek hinterland (Acts 20:4a). This letter mentions Macedonians currently visiting Corinth and Paul sounds as if he is following them there shortly. This must be at the end of Paul's Macedonian trip, for two reasons. First, the trip to the Adriatic and back (Acts 20:1-2 & Romans 15:19) must have taken over a year, and second, Timothy must have intercepted Paul in Thessalonica on Paul's way back from Dyrrachium, before Paul headed to Corinth. Timothy, of course, had been struggling in Ephesus since Paul left him there to go into Macedonia, and must have spent the winter of 54/55 building up enough angst & frustration to make Timothy, desperately, flee Ephesus to go seek out Paul's help (just as Timothy had done at least twice before, in Thessalonica). All of this means 2nd Corinthians cannot have been written until after Paul's trip to Illyricum, probably only a month or two before Paul himself returned to Achaia. Timothy simply had to leave Ephesus in time to be in Macedonia with Paul, in time to co-sign this epistle. (See also discussion on 1st Timothy, below.)

Romans - 57 AD - the turnover from Felix to Festus in 59 (not 60) is made necessary here by one of our three key starting points (at top) - that Paul was most likely executed in connection with the great fire of Rome. Again, confirming this point removes the need for those often but ill-conceived (and certainly purely contrived) later itineraries of Paul, Timothy and Titus. In fact, scholarship through the ages has generally considered Paul's death in 64 to be the first and most likely option. The only real obstacle to this has been an over-rigidity of interpreting Titus 1:5, as if Paul himself shared the work of the Cretan mission. (On this point, see above and below.)

1st Timothy - 57 AD - handed off in person, in Troas, giving Timothy one week to appoint the Ephesian Elders Paul met at Miletus. This most natural conclusion has been frequently put off without justifiable cause, and only requires 2nd Corinthians to be written in late 56 AD. (Look again at the discussion of Illyricum, Timothy and 2nd Corinthians, above.) On the need to explain who qualified as elders, Paul had only now formed his own personal stance on the issue of how to appoint/recognize them, since his separation from Barnabas. Timothy had not seen Gentile Christian Elders since the Judaizers so easily overcame the "elders" appointed mainly by Barnabas, in Galatia. (For more on this point, see here.)

Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians - 60 to 62 AD - The turnover from Felix to Festus in 59 puts Paul's arrival in Rome in early 60 and his release at 62. Somewhere during this imprisonment, these four "Prison Epistles" went out in two waves. Tychicus took the first three to cities near Ephesus because Colosse's own Epaphras came down with a serious illness. Then Epaphras (Epaphroditus) took Paul's thank you letter back to his new friends in Philippi. Most of this affects nothing else in Pauline Chronology, of course, but we note that after 11-ish years, Philippi now has elders. They were most likely appointed by Paul at his last visit, when Luke left, just while Paul was composing 1st Timothy, on his way to Troas.

Titus - 62 AD - This letter was probably written from Illyricum, which strongly suggests that Paul must have planted a church in Dyrrachium in 55/56, as a sort of a rest stop/half-way point for those from the churches who were heading to Rome after Claudius' death. (Again, see discussion on 2nd Corinthians above.) In any event, the cheapest and most efficient itinerary from Rome to Nicopolis was taking the Appian Way to one of the ferries at Brindisi (Brundisium) that sailed directly over to Dyrrachium. From there, the road south leads to Nicopolis. Later on, Titus winds up north of Dyrrachium, heading to Dalmatia. (A church in Dyrrachium is also attested by inscription, cited by the Jesuit scholar Farlati centuries ago - on which, look up Edwin E. Jacques.) Finally, a church in Dyrrachium could also explain where Erastus spent all his time after Acts 19:22, before heading to Corinth (2.Tim 4:20).

T.2. Titus, we presume, had remained on Crete since Paul left him there, at Fair Havens. The only question is, where had Titus been before? Obviously, considering this involves some conjecture, but it is probably necessary if we stick to the natural conclusion that Paul died in 64 AD. Besides, in what follows, only the details require conjecture, which is far more reasonable than inventing four years worth of additional travels.

T.3. We know Paul was at Crete at least once and we know Luke avoids mentioning Titus at least once. Putting these two points together with Titus 1:5 suggests Titus was present at Fair Havens. He must therefore have been part of Paul's sailing party, and he must have abandoned that party - probably because Paul knew from experience that their odds of shipwreck were high, and so one of them had to survive so the churches could know what had happened in case Paul really did die at sea. Besides that, Titus had been on Crete recently, after which he must have visited Caesarea and gotten on board with Luke and Aristarchus.

T.4. Now, if Luke intended Acts at least partly as a defense of Paul for his trial at Rome, and if Paul's three companions were also somehow under the centurion's special jurisdiction (perhaps as witnesses being shipped in at state's expense?) then Titus disappearing at Fair Havens could also explain why Luke deleted Titus from the record. Since only citizens or their slaves were allowed to testify in Rome, Paul (seriously) could simply have 'enslaved' his three friends (a loophole that Roman Law could not have anticipated!) planning to 'free' them later.

T.5. In any event, we know Paul was at Fair Havens and we know Luke avoids mentioning Titus. Somehow or another, Titus must have been at Fair Havens, at which point Paul told him to continue the work which he (Titus only, not Titus with Paul) had already begun. Paul also told Titus to appoint elders in every church before he left the island. This point evidently failed to get through to Titus, probably because the church in Antioch made crisis-level decisions without elders (Acts 15:2). Therefore, Paul had to explain to Titus what elders were because (like Timothy from 50 to 57 AD) Titus had never been part of a church that had elders. (As mentioned above, for more on Paul's evolving opinions about elders, see this post.)

T.6. It should be clear now what I meant that only the details require conjecture. The bottom line on dating Titus should be, in my humble opinion, that IF Paul died under Nero in 64 AD (which has always been the most natural conclusion to draw from Tacitus' report on the great fire and from Paul's second letter to Timothy) then Titus must have been at Fair Havens. It's the only time we know for certain that Paul was there, and educated guesswork to get Titus there with Paul is far more reasonable than inventing entirely new travels for both of them.

T.7. Note well: The only necessary conclusions on this point are that Titus was with Paul at Fair Havens, had previously begun the mission there without Paul's assistance, nevertheless received instructions from Paul at Fair Havens (about how to finish what Titus had begun), and remained on Crete when Paul sailed away. For all we know, Titus could have just wandered onto the beach at the right time, simply by divine providence - but of course, this is not my argument. This is only to make clear that all suppositional details in the previous paragraphs were included merely to show at least one very plausible scenario which might have occurred. Most of Titus' itinerary will simply have to remain a mystery, but again (for the last time) this is far better than inventing four years worth of additional travels.

2nd Timothy - early 64 AD - before the fire, and with enough time for Timothy to receive the letter and still have a chance to reach Rome "before winter". Tacitus' account of events in this year are a much more convincing explanation for the tradition that Paul was considered worthy of execution.

Spain - N/A - Paul's plans didn't always materialize. The trick is to realize, there is no Spain. ;-)


There you go. That's Pauline Chronology in a nutshell, according to me. Someday, of course, I really must write this up properly, supporting these dates and arguments to the strongest extent possible. Until then - or if I never get around to it - this is pretty much the basics of everything I've got to say on the subject.

If anyone wants to start working on this before I get to it, please feel free. I've got enough else to do for the next several years writing up everything that goes from 9 BC until 37 AD. I don't mind sharing at all.

Personal Observations: A lot of the difficulties that get ironed out in this treatment happen to reveal, I believe, strong institutional/religious biases in previous faith-based scholarship on Pauline Chronology. I deeply wish I didn't have to bring it up, but it really does need to be noticed. Certain aspects of the traditional, ecclesiastical dogmas about the Jerusalem Council and the lateness of the so-called "Pastoral Epistles" seem to be partly responsible for what has kept Pauline Chronology in dispute for so long. If all three "Pastorals" get to occupy an extra four years of vague, non-contextual space-time, then Titus and Timothy look more like permanent local preachers. This may seem shocking, but it must be considered.

Since my own past experience and outspoken preference for house churches is well known, I must admit this sequence could alter (or cleanse) our view of Pauline ecclesiology somewhat. That may be debatable but Paul's ecclesiology does not have to be ours, at any rate. No christian assembly that I know of is currently following Paul's pattern precisely. Besides this, the "Descriptive/Prescriptive" argument is a much more impenetrable defense than pre-emptive gerrymandering of dates (whether or not that is even partly what has been going on).

In any event, the historian's (or exegete's) job is to judge based on facts in evidence, and not to consider potential relevance of any conclusions beforehand. Given the evidence (as laid out above) I would contend that Pauline Chronology seems to have been unfairly beset by institutional biases, although much of it is undoubtedly subconscious. Of course, if it is fully aware, such cheating simply must come to an end.

I would also contend - and here is why this all had to be said - that this mostly explains why no one has solved Pauline Chronology more efficiently or sufficiently than this, before now, and why I myself (an untrained, if unashamed amateur) managed to happen upon it. In any case, if I've put together the argument I think I have, it deserves to be looked at. And no matter who looks here, none of us should allow ourselves to manipulate the data to support our church government practices. Pauline ecclesiology was primitive.

It is a simple historical fact that nobody in the New Testament performed the job duties of a medieval priest or a protestant "pastor". That's really not a big deal, unless we feel the need to pretend otherwise. It's really not even a problem, unless we let tradition or dogma inhibit us from viewing the full context of Paul's letters, as they properly ought to be viewed.

I've been going over this and over this for five years, and unless I'm missing something very significant, I believe I can make the following statement with all confidence.

This really must be the most likely solution to Pauline Chronology, period.

Your comments, questions and challenges are warmly invited, as long as this post remains online.
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