January 29, 2009

Feeder Teasers

I'm getting my blog-habit under control - usualy 2 or 3 days a week, I catch up. Here are a few of the more sharable items. (Or you can link to all below, under "Need More Cowbell?")

James Spinti quoted a man who says the weekly sermon isn't scriptural, which is true. On the same day, Ken Schenck begins reviewing Pagan Christianity. Schenck's smart and a good reviewer. I can hardly wait for the rest. In the random ancient history category, several bloggers are picking up the xinhua item about ancient Chang'an being much bigger than Rome - it's interesting, but for NT era research, China's just a red herring. (You may groan now.) Henry Poole looks interesting. Tom [Somebody] keeps excerpting Tacitus on historical figures who also appear in the New Testament - a very cool series. Lots of other pieces were worth a good quick think, including Nick Norelli's Quote of the Day, which made me wish I knew what a "systematician" might be. All that, plus my brilliant, gorgeous & oh so artistic wife wrote a very moving poem during a difficult time. Yes, to all who may wonder, her dad is now safe at home.

One last thing, for anyone who's my facebook friend, I posted my "25 things about me". "Friend me" if you want to read it. ;)

January 28, 2009

Define "Spirit"?

There's an odd conversation going in the Biblical Studies Discussion Group this week, sparked by an article that took a faith-based look at the Gospel of Mark. Overall, I liked the article. As far as the discussion goes, I'm just reading along (as usual) and this time (as often) I wouldn't know how to respond if I wanted to!

What seemed to be an honest question about the article, "Can anyone tell me what being "spiritually ready" means?" got a mixture of responses, including some ridicule. To be fair, it's a tough question. (Even if I'm accurate in surmising the author's intended meaning, how do I explain what he meant?) Anne Sullivan was able to teach Hellen Keller how to say "water", but you can't teach a person born blind what to think about the word "blue". Can you? (There are shades of blue, too.)

If "the spirit" is just a lot of talk, then the phrase is meaningless. But if "the spirit" is actual mystical encounter with God Himself, then it's real and it matters. In the second case, scholarship without spirituality is fine, but ultimately under-potent. Anyway, the whole thing reminds me of this Scott McCloud piece (book excerpt) which I'm re-posting, just because I like it a lot.

In order to truly understand most things in life, words alone will never be enough. They never have been.

Josephus on 9/8/7 BC (3)

It is commonly attested by scholars that Herod the Great executed his sons, Alexander & Aristobulus, in the year 7 BC. I do believe this date is solid, but how do we know?. In post #1 of this series, I agreed with Daniel Schwartz who said it gets repeated blindly too often. At face value, I admitted, it could have been late 8 BC. But in post #2, I began a closer look at the travel logistics involved. As it turns out, the old estimate seems to hold up extremely well.

What follows is an awful lot of work, but it may produce unexpected benefits. Read on, and we'll see...

Herod's man Olympus sails to Rome in 8 BC, but Augustus left to make war in Germany some time before June. Olympus also went the long way, stopping at Cilicia en route, so there's no way Olympus catches the Emperor in time. (Let alone, whether Nicolas could have done so first - on which, see post #2.) So Olympus has to wait until after the campaign - July stretches the imagination, but for argument's sake, let's pretend Caesar quit half way through the season. There's a lot else that still has to happen, before Herod can kill A&A.

After Nicolas AND Olympus get their hearings with Caesar, the Emperor sends a letter to Herod with advice about A&A. (~48 days) Then, Herod has to call a council of important men, including the Governor of Syria. Assuming everyone confirms the first suggested date, and comes right away, the fastest possible gathering is about two weeks out. (The absolute minimum time now is ~60 days, total.) The council meets at Berytus, after which Herod himself went to Tyre. (another two days) And now we come to the critical point. At Tyre, Nicolas arrives by ship from Rome, a bare minimum of 62 days after Olympus met Caesar, but probably much more.

Can this reunion at Tyre happen in 8 BC? It's conceivable, but not likely. For Nicolas to arrive at Tyre before November, Augustus would have to be back in Rome before September. That would be odd for a campaigning season, especially since we have no particular reasons for suspecting Augustus quit Germany early this year. Far from it - the campaign has to be reconstructed from several ancient sources (H/t Peter Swan). It doesn't sound like it was extremely quick.

Velleius [who, granted, always exaggerates in praise of Tiberius] says Tiberius traversed and subdued "every part of Germany". Suetonius & Dio Cassius tell us Augustus & Tiberius [together] relocated 40,000 Suebi & Sugambri tribespeople, settling them on the Gaulish side of the Rhine. Tacitus says it was "policy, more than force" that won the settlements with these tribes, but whatever Tiberius did won him a Triumph, which was not celebrated until the following Spring. No time for an Autumn parade suggests Tiberius stayed almost until winter, but evidently the Emperor himself stayed at least long enough to direct the settlements of the Sugambri into Gaul. Finally, Dio adds that Augustus, back in Rome, accepted the permanent commemoration of his birthday, September 28th, but preferred that the month of Sextilis be re-named as "August" because he had won so many battles in that month.

All these clues put together suggest the Emperor was still in Germany during at least part of August, becoming victorious at yet another campaign in that month. It also sounds like Caesar must have been in Rome early enough to accept the plans for celebrating his birthday, and if Tiberius himself stayed longer in Northern Europe that could explain why the Triumph was postponed until after winter. Leaving Germany after early August would put Augustus back in Rome by mid-September - but not before September.

The probable timeline for Augustus makes impossible even the fastest conceivable timeline for Nicolas-to-Tyre. And faster than plausible timelines for Augustus still require the fastest conceivable timeline for Nicolas-to-Tyre, and/or a very late arrival date, stretching the bounds of sailing season beyond practical reasonability. "The Fast" when Luke sailed to Rome [59 AD] fell on October 6th. For Nicolas to beat that date, Augustus would have to leave Germany around late June!

If there were any other reason to believe the execution of Alexander & Aristobulus happened in 8 BC, we might be bound to stretch plausibility on these considerations - but there is not, so we are not. The sequence of events in Josephus falls into the calendar more neatly the more we include events from other sources. As often happens, travel-time and sailing season offer the most restrictive data, which is therefore the most helpful.

Nicolas of Damascus must have waited in Rome during the winter of 8/7 BC. There are too many variables for things to happen any faster. It seems Herod, for whatever reasons of his own, drug his feet a bit in getting the council together. Maybe, in Rome, Olympus hadn't gotten to see Augustus right away after his return. And surely Augustus, as would have been extremely characteristic for the Emperor, deliberated a while before writing his letter of advice on such a weighty matter. Whenever Herod finally did call the council, it's likely the Governor, Sentius Saturninus, didn't have a free moment in his immediate schedule, or perhaps not for a while. On top of all this, maybe Herod just couldn't make a final decision, emotionally, without his chief advisor's personal input - and scheduled the council for a time near his arrival. At the very least, the King of the Jews did decide to coordinate with Nicolas one more time, sending word to him at some point that Tyre would be their meeting site. Any or all of these additional factors add significant amounts of extra time to our considerations. In sum, based on all of this evidence, there's simply no way Nicolas could plausibly sail back from Rome in 8 BC.

Therefore, Nicolas arrived at Tyre in the spring of 7 BC. Some weeks after his arrival [May/June?], Herod gave the order to execute his sons, Alexander & Aristobulus. Not only is the old estimate solid, but those scholars should be totally vindicated for whom this date has been "accepted as canonical".

On a personal note, I'm grateful for the footnote of Daniel Schwartz. This has been fantastic exercise. And it's not over yet...

January 25, 2009

Living Rituals

I was raised Episcopalian. Reading Aloud from a Prayer Book can be just like singing a song. Sometimes the words are alive. Sometimes you’re just mouthing the words. A lot of evangelicals who fill pews on Sunday probably aren’t feeling every verse on the projection screen, but they’d probably bristle before reading pre-written prayers. Ah, well. Some people think spontaneity equals spirituality.

When I lived in Lithia Springs, I used to say I wished we had more sayings. Or poems. Or prayers to repeat (the same way each time). Somehow, I never wrote any. Sometimes we’d quote lines from songs, sometimes as prayers. One day I used the word “liturgy” with the brothers in Arlington and I think it scared a few people. But any time we made a plan for a meeting, that was a “liturgy”. That’s all the word means.

I can’t stand pews or sermons, but once again tonight I feel drawn to the memory of reading from that prayer book. I felt the same way my junior year of college, when I’d burned out on trying to create my perfect “quiet time with the Lord” every morning. I quit listening to everything the evangelicals were telling me and I went back to St. James downtown. For most of the hour, I heard a gaggle of voices directed at the Lord, not one preacher’s voice directed at my head.

In all of my house church years, I continued to fail, mostly, at quietism. Maybe I’m just too ADD. But I realized recently that making everything still was to feel the Lord moving inside me. (I always thought he was supposed to be very still, too.) Maybe that’s why the thing that always meant the most to me was brothers meetings. When I stood arm in arm with a few other men, and we joined our voices together in singing, then amen-ed each other when talking to Him… there has yet to be anything else on earth that draws me into His presence like that did. I almost always felt the Lord moving in brothers meetings.

Aside from the details of my daily crap, which very much is worth sharing with him, I don’t have much to say to the Lord that I haven’t told him before. There are phrases my wife and I use – not all the time, but at times – that are full of meaning, and they get richer each time even though we say them almost the same way every time. I’d like to have some prayers that are like that, with the Lord.

Aside from that, I miss brothers meetings. The joining of our voices primes the joining of our spirits. And I long to pursue the Lord once again, with some others…

Josephus on 9/8/7 BC (2)

Herod the Great sent two emissaries to Rome in 8 BC. Determining what month they each saw the Emperor tells us not only which year Herod killed his sons, it also tells us how long the King remained a “subject” of Augustus instead of a friend.

Peter Swan says the funeral of Drusus in 9 BC was held in November or December. After my recent review of those events, I take early November. Since Augustus learns about Herod during the funeral week (or thereabouts) he might send his letter to Herod by mid-November, and the King can read its bad news as early as January 1st (ish). But then, even if Herod sent Nicolas of Damascus to Rome immediately, the ambassador couldn’t possibly arrive (overland including Asia Minor in Jan/Feb) any sooner than April 1st. The problem is that Augustus most likely left for Germany that April, and possibly as early as March. Further calculations make any overlap of these itineraries extremely unlikely. (If you trust me, skip the small print!)

In his commentary on Dio Cassius’ Year Book for 8 BC, Swan points out that Augustus left early enough to win an acclimation from his Legions “in the first half of the year”. (An inscription puts it in 9/8 BC.) That acclimation probably didn’t happen just because Caesar showed up, but Dio’s chronology and geography of German campaigns is sketchy to say the least, so it’s practically impossible to calculate the progress of the campaign itself. Still, the travel alone took at least a month, so we’d have to figure Augustus left Rome before mid-May at the absolute latest – and almost certainly sooner.

But how much sooner? Of course March was the traditional time for the start of campaigning, and Caesar could have left as soon as the Alps were passable so the German Legions could begin their campaign in March with him present. Then again, Augustus was 54, this particular campaign wasn’t necessarily the most urgent one he ever planned, and the Emperor might have simply preferred to leave in April. We just can’t say for sure.

In all, there’s a chance Nicolas saw Augustus in April. On the other hand, it’s more likely he did not. The odds may be even that Caesar left before or after April 1st, but there are plenty of factors which might have made Nicolas arrive late. It would have been characteristic of Augustus to sit on the news for a short time before writing the letter, and perhaps especially this year considering the funeral. Given the extra assumption (which I make unapologetically) that the demotion of Herod included ordering a census of Israel, the Emperor is even more likely to have weighed that decision for some days or weeks. The later Herod gets Augustus’ letter, the later Nicolas can depart – assuming Nicolas goes over land at all.

Also, once Herod sends Nicolas, many things can happen to delay the advisor’s trip. The mountains and snows of Turkey, crossing the Bosporous and the Adriatic in winter, built up fatigue, and the possibility that Nicolas himself was advancing in age – all these are possible factors which could easily cause the ambassador to reach Rome after April 1st. And none of this is to mention the other possibility that Herod allowed Nicolas to wait until sailing season. In that case, the ambassador absolutely misses the Emperor.

As a quick aside, when Herod sent Olympus to Rome the King was concerned that Nicolas might not have had a chance to see Augustus yet. But Olympus was sailing. That could mean that Nicolas sailed slightly earlier – but it could also mean merely that Herod knew how long it could sometimes take to get an audience with the Emperor. Either case is a point in the favor of time, not expedience.

There is more. Besides arriving before Caesar’s departure, Nicolas had to gain an audience, almost certainly by first securing an appointment. And Josephus’ narrative strongly implies Nicolas had some down time in Rome before seeing the Emperor. The Nabateans who turned against Syllaeus heard Nicolas was in town, found him and gave him not only ammunition for winning his case, but also the very excuse Nicolas needed before Augustus would even admit him. This meeting probably happened between setting and keeping an appointment with Caesar, but there’s a slight chance it means no appointment was granted until the stated purpose became agreeable.

At any rate, there was some downtime, so the window of opportunity had to be more than a few days. Nicolas can’t just catch Augustus on the way out of town! And we haven’t even begun to consider whether the Emperor even took new appointments in the weeks before a departure. (Not that I can think how to even begin researching that particular question!) The more factors we consider, the smaller the springtime window begins to look. And remember, the odds are greater that the Legions would acclaim Augustus after some length of time had gone into the campaign, not in the very first weeks of one.

Therefore, it seems far more likely that Nicolas did not see Augustus until after summer in 8 BC. Either way, we know Olympus definitely did not, because no matter how early his boat left Caesarea, it couldn’t possibly have arrived in Rome before June (especially not with a stop at Cilicia to go visit King Archelaus of Cappadocia).

Those are the basic conclusions. The ramifications for dating related events will come next...

January 24, 2009

Josephus on 9/8/7 BC (1)

In 7 BC, Herod the Great executed two of his sons for treason – Alexander and Aristobulus. At least, it happened in 7 BC according to major scholars on the subject as far back as 1885. [For the record, I agree, but there's more going on here. Keep reading.] Some of them admit the date is an approximation, which is technically correct. Daniel R. Schwartz went further, stating with more precise vagueness that it could have been 8 or 7 BC, and pointing out, “the dates von Gutschmid offered as approximations have all too often been accepted as canonical.” (Agrippa I, p.39.n.4; p.206,n.15) Fair enough. So let's do better.

The passages in Josephus are not his most helpful, for chronological precision. A good starting point is the accession of Aretas IV, King of Nabatea, which happened in the winter of 9/8 BC according to various sources, including [if memory serves] coinage. That puts the visits of Herod’s ambassadors, Nicolas and Olympus, squarely in 8 BC, but more precision is needed. Estimating their separate travel itineraries leaves a range of possibilities, and it is admittedly (if barely) possible that the double execution might conceivably occur as early as October of 8 BC.

Schwartz, then, has good grounds for his rigorous skepticism (at least in this case). On the other hand, none of our evidence requires an expedient timetable and so 7 BC remains - statistically alone - far more likely than 8. But statistics isn't argument. As far as I can tell, one early justification for the consensus position was originally that Saturninus disappears from Josephus’ narrative shortly after the double execution [and Saturninus leaves mid-6] so Herod's sons were more likely to die in 7 than 8. This doesn’t seem like a very strong case, and I’d like to see better.

But of course, I'm not merely trying to be thorough. The question at hand depends on the travel itineraries of two embassies from Herod to Rome, which also determine whether Augustus reinstated Herod's friendship in early 8 or late 8, and give us a better picture of just how long Herod the Great was officially a "subject" of the Emperor.

To be honest, I'd never looked at the logistics of 8 BC quite this closely until I found Schwartz's footnote. So hooray for footnotes!

More later…

January 22, 2009

Luke's Written Sources (2)

Continued from earlier this month...

Taking Luke 1:1 as reliable means we must place it somewhere within Luke's autobiographical details as given in Acts. If the final draft of Luke's Gospel (as he himself composed it) came from sources procured during those two years in Palestine, then the best and the simplest Synoptic Solution may have as much or more to do with reconstructing events as with purely textual issues.

For a long time, leading minds have been busy reconstructing [or deconstructing] an imaginary mother text. As long as that's kosher, I humbly, once again, suggest a competitor. In my view of early christian history, Matthew's Notes fit into these schemes with a lot more plausibility than "Q". But of course, I take the Gospels' reliability as a given.

I'm sure liberal scholars will continue using their theory of synoptic origins to undergird their unorthodox views of early christianity. So what? I mean my fellow conservatives absolutely no disrespect, but the problem with debunking Q isn't a need to falisfy it. Austin Farrer showed that was possible over 50 years ago! Evidently - according to N.T. Wright in the preface to Mark Goodacre's Questioning Q - the real problem is that there has been no impressively compelling alternative theory. Clearly, I'd like that to change.

What I'm actually proposing is that conservative scholars might best oppose liberal theories not by being oppositional, but by being their opposites. Instead of using a theory to build history with, let's boldly use the NT scriptures as history to build our source theory upon. A reasonable reconstruction of New Testament Era events should be what properly, initially, informs all considerations of who wrote what when.

January 15, 2009

Luke's Written Sources (1)

From 57 to 59 AD, while Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea, Luke was (I believe) traveling around Palestine doing the research for his Gospel's first draft. It's the simplest possible solution, bar none. The only questions are how did Luke compose his text? And from what sources did he work? In answering these questions, the other "Synoptics" may be the solution, instead of the "Problem".

Luke himself knew Mark in Antioch, and Luke relied on Mark's Gospel during his writing process. That much is safe enough. But to go further, Luke had every opportunity [from 57 to 59 AD] to meet Matthew as well. If my theory about Matthew's notes is correct (that Matthew was both the alpha and the omega of the historical composition process for the synoptics) then Luke absolutely would have made sure to procure a copy of those early pages as well. After all, about thirty years after these notes were first made, there naturally would have been many copies. To the early christians, they'd have been famous.

To present hindsight, of course, they'd also have been an unfinished work. In that light, if Matthew's composition was stuck in an early phase for 30 years, and Luke's composition was barely underway during the research phase, then Matthew and Luke would have crossed paths at a time when both men's literary work was ongoing, but not fully developed. At such a time, they would most likely have exchanged source material - oral, written or both. At the very least, we should say Luke copied portions of Matthew's text which Matthew himself would later revise only slightly. (It's also conceivable Matthew picked up fresh research from Luke that Luke wound up discarding.)

Along with Mark and Matthew, who were Luke's other sources? The most likely person to have information about Jesus' early life would be James in Jerusalem. Early-church-politics aside, James should have been at the top of Luke's list for interviewees, and unique details in Luke's Gospel about Nazareth suggests the two men did sit down at some point. Mary, most likely no longer alive, would have been about eighty. Did James report orally, from memory? Perhaps not merely. James may have been writing.

Luke told Theophilus that MANY had attempted to write about Jesus' life and ministry. Luke did not say many succeeded, or finished. Strictly speaking, Luke 1:1 shows that various and multiple writing projects were circulating or underway at that time. Mark's Gospel was finished, but who were the others? As more of an unfinished collection than a cohesive composition, Matthew's notes would be one fitting explanation for Luke's deliberately vague description. Some kind of project by James, yet unfinished, would also make sense. There could even have been some minor 'teachings-only' gospelettes, written by christian pharisees in Jerusalem, probably drawn almost entirely from copies of Matthew's original notes. At any rate, these are possibilities for Luke's literary contemporaries. There may have been more, even if they did not all become sources.

This post wound up majoring on details of my own suggested reconstruction. The next post will be more general, but to the same point.

January 11, 2009

Football, Faith & Dating Mark's Gospel

The NFL Playoffs are in full swing and news articles are starting to post, building up hype with predictions, as they always do. That makes it a good time to revisit what I said in November about Repeating Predictions Beforehand.

Three nights ago, the Florida Gators (S-E-C) fulfilled a lot of predictions in beating the Oklahoma Sooners. There were predictions in Gainesville all season, mostly below-the-radar of national press. There were growing predictions thru December, all over the country, alongside competing predictions that the Sooners would win.

The failed predictions will not be republished, but they were published previously. The winning predictions will be immortalized in celebratory print media. The write-ups in Florida will invariably include some detail about how the team kept the faith all year.

The fact that it's being published widely, openly and visibly tells you it already happened. But it was in fact being published much earlier, before it came true - but quietly, for a smaller audience. Months ago, for the Gator faithful. Today for the world.

This is merely an illustration of my point. But I think it's a good one. The Gospel of Mark was published and circulated from whatever time he wrote it [around 50 AD]. When Jesus' predictions in Mark's Gospel came true, the publication surely gained momentum and increased its 'circulation'. But it had been around already. Since the resurrection fulfilled predictions made by Jesus himself, Mark and the early christians had every reason to repeat the rest of their risen Lord's predictions AND publish them within their own circles, long before they actually came true.

January 9, 2009

Jesus = God (Incomprehensible)

The first half of this post is about Math and the Trinity. Don't quit reading! Near the bottom, it's all about Jesus Christ and His Father. Wait for it...

In Mathematics, "equal" means "exactly the same as". Strictly speaking, no two things (or persons) on the earth are equal because they would have to be exactly the same. One. Not two. Down to the last physical atom and neural pathway, I am precisely and absolutely the same as no one else, except for me. Even if I had an "identical" twin, we would be different in many ways. Two. Not one.

In total contrast, however, numbers can actually be "equal". Two plus Two actually does equal Four, because numbers are abstract. There are not two "fours". Two plus Two is just another way to think about what is - actually - "four". If you didn't get that, here's two more simple examples...

Fourth Graders learn that "point-five equals one-half". Those don't look the same, but they are. Tenth Graders learn that two angles can be "congruent" (same shape and size) but not "equal". While the measurements of two angles might be equal in degrees, we cannot ever say two angles are "equal". They are two angles. Not one. They are not absolutely the same. (Not even in the Euclidean plane.)

However, God in his spiritual realm breaks all of these rules. He is One. He is Three. All of our earthly experience says this ought to be incomprehensible. And it is... if we'll only admit it!

Officially, I’ll stand with those who say Augustine got as close as any human being is likely to get on understanding the Trinity. Actually, that’s probably true. Pragmatically, I’ll stand with people like Suzanne McCarthy and Frank Viola (both “laymen” like me, who also happen to stand with Augustine) who say the nature of the Godhead does NOT justify male domination of women OR ministerial hierarchy over the church. (That’s what my heart says, too.) But that’s not the point of this post.

Since Nicaea, and on through today, people have debated HOW God and Jesus are "equal". Equal in substance. Equal in essence. Of one being and substance. Begotten not made. I've never studied Augustine, but any time I see someone writing about the Trinity a part of me just checks out. You can't nuance precisely what no human being can comprehend. You can't explain how they are equal. You simply cannot wriggle around or away from the implicit impossibility of the word "equal" itself.

Only two New Testament passages use this word [in English] about Jesus and God. Neither man tried to explain. John tells us: He said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. It doesn't say HOW they were equal. Just that they were. Two. Yet one. It doesn't say "kind of the same". The Jerusalem Jews didn't try to kill him because he was arguing homoousion versus homoiousion. Equality in essence or being was not his crime. It was simple equality.

Now consider Paul’s tumultuous saga of the Godhead's equality in Philippians 2. Jesus Christ, in the form of God, had equality with God, but lowered himself to live as a man and die, in obedience. Then God raised Him up with a name that is higher than any other name. (Did you catch all that?)

Jesus Christ was equal to God. He became lower. He followed in subjection. Then the Father raised him. At the end, Jesus Christ had a name higher than all other names. Higher than Yahweh. Higher than Jehovah. Higher than Adonai. Equal. Lower. Still Equal. Higher. Yet still giving up all the Glory. Yet still Equal. Two. Yet One. Utterly Incomprehensible.

So throw out your hierarchies and anti-hierarchies. Admit you're as bad as I am at living up to Philippians 2. Pray that some of us can remember in living and active ways that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. And most of all, pray for a people who remembers that simple fact as a group, together! If we find such a people, they may only shrug and say, Glory to God!

Such a body would be just like Him who cannot have an Equal. Incomprehensible!

Glory to God.


**For a more academic conclusion, here's one last bit of Math. It's common for many Fourth Grade Teachers to teach that "anything divided by zero equals infinity". Actually, that's false. "Infinity" is a concept. It's just an idea. Valueless and limitless, "Infinity" cannot "equal" anything. So Ninth Grade Teachers teach that "anything divided by zero gives an answer that is undefined". So Ninth Graders learn to write down that the answer is actually "Undefined".

Remember that, all you who seek to define the undefinable. Limitless in every aspect, Equal to no one but Himself, God breaks all rules of human thought. Academically, does Jesus = God? Scholars venture to say yes, then they glide into "yes-and-no". There's a beautiful dance, if you look with your spirit, but with your brain it's truly incomprehensible. Therefore, once again, see my first conclusion, above the asterisks.

January 4, 2009

Recent Shared Items

Adrian Murdoch continues discussing the 2000th anniversary of Varus' defeat. Dorothy King's ongoing research on Gaius Marius reminds me this stuff takes forever. Roger Pearse asks if "6-10 sesterces" was expensive or not, for an ancient book. David Ker says I'm Emily Dickinson, not Oprah. (What a relief!) Like him or not, George F. Will is awesome. Every single time. Chris Tilling likes books I might like, but wants to do weird things to them. Nick Norelli quotes people too brainy to say such wonderful things more simply. (The scriptures were God's word to people. Now how hard was that? ;) My dear wife, Sarah, sums up 2008 with her hopes for 2009. Ferrell Jenkins, my favorite virtual travel guide, posted a cool photo of a Jordan River waterfall! John Hobbins fooled me (too) with a very clever fake post about Wikipedia. (Can you say ironic?) Lou's giving away free books, but we keep crossing wires on getting together. Alan Lenzi reminded me (darn him) why I can't seem to ever follow Dr. Johnson's advice. James Spinti had a great comment on finding the Lord in our studies. (Amen.) Todd Bolen did a top 8 list for Bible-related archaeology finds of 2008. Frank Viola introduced me to an iconoclastic seminarian? (Dare we dream?) And last but oh-so-not least, Ken Schenck keeps writing uber-long posts like this really good one on how the Protestant Reformation eventually led to a new "priesthood of Biblical Scholars". Absolutely fascinating. Makes me feel like I need to be involved. Or at least, somebody does! ;)

Wish you had time to read them all? So do I. And then some...

January 1, 2009

Dio & Josephus on Drusus & Herod

I really hope some Classical Scholar picks this up. Forgive me, the rest of you! ;)

Josephus says Syllaeus the Nabatean accused Herod before Caesar in late 9 BC. Cassius Dio says Augustus was barely in the city at all during that time, except for his stepson's funeral, briefly. As far as I can tell, no historian has yet published considerations about the potential impact of Drusus Nero's death on the Emperor's decision - which he evidently must have made during the funeral week - to turn Herod the Great from "a friend" into "a subject". My September 2006 draft-reconstruction of 9 BC still has it's flaws, so I've done a bit of closer scrutiny on it this week. Part One deals with Syllaeus, Part Two deals with Drusus, and Part Three ties them together, concluding with thoughts on the important question at hand.

Seriously now, I'll leave it to some seasoned professional to tighten my arguments and strengthen my conclusion, if such can be done. Until then, these rough sketches of someone else's future (possibly groundbreaking) scholarship really need to be here, online. (Click the links or scroll down through today's previous posts.)

Happy New Year, Y'all. :)

Did Drusus' Death Hurt Herod in 9 BC? (3)

In the last post, I tentatively concluded that Drusus’ funeral in 9 BC fell between mid-August and November. Prior to that, I showed that Syllaeus’ arrival by sea must have fallen between late August and mid-October. Unfortunately, these overlapping ranges don’t tell us the actual event dates. However, other details from Josephus and Cassius Dio can help us build a reasonable sequence of these events.

Dio tells us Augustus did not officially end his campaign when he entered the city with the funeral procession. And later, Dio strongly implies that Augustus went back outside the city after the funeral, to remain in mourning until January. [For the reason, see post #2.] But Josephus strictly says that Augustus was at his palace at least once, to meet with Syllaeus and the envoys of Herod, regarding the invasion of Nabatea. According to Josephus, Caesar was aware of Syllaeus and allowed him at court.

Obviously, if Augustus was in Rome with Syllaeus, then so was Drusus’ coffin. It may have been some days before the funeral, or the Emperor might have stayed a few days after before leaving Rome again, but Syllaeus definitely saw an Augustus who was officially in mourning.

Evidently, then, Syllaeus arrived in Rome at least a couple of days before Drusus’ funeral. But Josephus also tells us that Syllaeus had time, while in Rome, to receive messengers from Nabatea telling him details of what happened in the invasion. This makes it more likely still that Syllaeus arrived some weeks before Drusus’ funeral. Without more specific data, we can still conclude that both events happened during the autumn, and Drusus’ funeral came last, closer to winter than to summer.

At least one more detail from Josephus deserves attention now. Syllaeus “changed into black dress” to express his own mourning over the Nabatean losses. Although Josephus did not tell us about the death of Drusus, we can now see there was probably an ulterior motive in this wearing of black. Syllaeus’ tears and his clothes both displayed an emotional sympathy for what Augustus was going through personally. This is the first aspect in which we might say the death of Drusus gave an advantage to Syllaeus in his accusations against Herod. There is one more.

In Syllaeus’ day at court, the friends of Herod were already there. (Having left somewhat later, this is yet additional confirmation that some time had passed since Syllaeus’ arrival.) After listening to the Nabatean’s long, emotional report, Augustus was so upset he only allowed those envoys one word – yes or no, was it true that Herod took an army into North Arabia? Of course, they said yes. But this last question may be important to ask:

If Drusus had not been dead, if Caesar had not just lost his best General (and the joint-heir with his grandsons), if Syllaeus had not been able to connect in personal commiseration with the Emperor, if it had been a normal season and Augustus was having a great year instead of a terrible one… would things have gone differently? Would Augustus have been more patient, if the bad report hadn’t come within days of a devastatingly tragic state funeral? Would the Emperor have inquired more if he had time? Or if he hadn’t been officially in mourning? Or, if Syllaeus hadn’t used the angle he did, would Augustus even have entertained an audience that was merely for a personal grievance, while the whole city and Caesar himself were in mourning?

Is it possible that one reason the Emperor limited his inquiries was out of respect to Drusus and to the moment? And if we consider that such lack of care for thoroughness was uncharacteristic of Augustus Caesar, how much more could this anomaly be explained by the Emperor’s emotions over Drusus, and by the formality of the occasion for official mourning? Or financially, if Augustus was already weighing his diminishing chances of securing Germany without Drusus, is it possible the Emperor suddenly changed his opinion about letting the 64 year old Herod continue to remain unsettled on the future rule of Israel, among his many sons? In other words, was the loss of Drusus a reason for Caesar to move up his timetable for annexing Judea? It’s possible.

The answer to all of these questions might possibly be yes. To say the least, the death of Drusus had a profound effect on Augustus’ life and his plans for the imperial succession. Dio Cassius essentially tells us the Emperor stayed outside the city all winter, in official mourning. That makes it all the more remarkable that Syllaeus and Herod’s envoys were even able to see Augustus at the palace, for the brief days or weeks that Caesar was actually in Rome.

The timeline says this might have happened in September, October or November, but it happened this way. Finally, then, to answer the question: Did the death of Drusus hurt Herod’s temporary and immediate fortunes as Augustus responded to Syllaeus in mourning? Of course we can only guess how much this turn of events helped cause Augustus to make Herod his "subject". But it's not a big leap to say that Drusus' death did hurt Herod's cause. At least, from all we can see, it sure didn’t help!

Did Drusus' Death Hurt Herod in 9 BC? (2)

The fatal injury incurred by Claudius Drusus Nero happened after the General had already been campaigning for some time – midsummer will be a good first estimate to start working from. Whenever it was, precisely, Augustus was in North Italy “on campaign” and Tiberius was at Rome celebrating his Pannonian victory. Within the thirty days after Drusus’ injury, the news and Tiberius each had to travel a thousand miles, so the older Nero brother was able to see his wounded sibling before he died. These thirty days make our first estimate of the death date something close to August 1st, perhaps.

The funeral procession began in Germany, crossing the same thousand (or so) miles up the Rhine riverbank and over the Alps. Soldiers and townsmen carried the coffin while Tiberius led the way on foot. Since thirty miles a day is a generous estimate, the procession needed over a month to get Drusus’ body to Rome. This puts the starting point for this estimate in early to mid September. Funeral activities themselves are somewhat more difficult to measure in time. The body laid in state in the Forum, two orations were given, and the burial itself – perhaps a week, total? So if Drusus fell off his horse July 1st, he’d be buried by late September or thereabouts.

However, none of that is the point. The real question is – where was Augustus during all this time and when did he know for certain that Drusus was dead? If we can trust Tacitus (for now, despite the fact he seems to get the season wrong) Augustus waited in North Italy for the funeral cortege. None of the other evidence contradicts this, and it lines up well with Dio’s repeated comment that Augustus – apart from the funeral – avoided spending time inside Rome until January 1st. [The formal return from a campaign required celebratory rites that Augustus refused to perform under the circumstances.]

Again, if Drusus was injured midway through campaigning season, it looks like the Emperor remained away from Rome until about mid-September. Dio’s general account of the German campaign makes it impossible to calculate the date of Drusus’ injury with anything close to precision, but conquering “with difficulty” the lands of the Chatti, Suebi and Cherusci peoples, plus pillaging everything up to the Elbe River – that must have taken more than a couple of months, at least. Trusting the army absolutely didn’t start before March – we might guess the injury couldn’t happen before June 1st, suggesting a funeral no earlier than mid-August. Searching for the other extreme, we might take Suetonius’ statement that Drusus died at summer camp to put the death no later than mid-September, with a funeral as late as early November.

A final consideration may be the seemingly dismissable words of Tacitus, “In the bitterest of the winter”. Granting the sensationalism of the passage, and even that its import is of the popular grievance in 19 AD, not necessarily to be given as fact about 9 BC… Even so, we might still consider the word “winter”. That is, the summer camp may have been left up late since its commander had not yet returned. If Drusus’ body left Vetera (or Mogontiacum) as late as October 1st, it would be close to November when the cortege met Augustus at Ticinum – a reasonably practical sense for the start of “winter”, especially since Tacitus elsewhere says an early winter once fell in late September (14 AD).

At any rate, if Tacitus’ words fit the popular memory some 27 years later, this might at least suggest a funeral closer to the later end of our range than the earlier – a conclusion that also gives Drusus’ summer campaign more time to do all that Dio claims it accomplished. Finally, Dio himself says the funeral cortege passed the army’s winter quarters along its route. (Suetonius is the one who mentions Drusus’ summer camp.) Altogether, this range gives us a funeral sometime in Autumn, with a much better chance of it being closer to winter than summer.

In the third and final post of this series, I’ll compare the range of dates for Drusus’ funeral with those for Syllaeus’ arrival. A couple more details from Dio and Josephus may help us fix the funeral date a bit more precisely in order to help consider the question, “Did the death of Drusus affect Caesar’s response to Herod’s invasion of Nabatea?”

Did Drusus' Death Hurt Herod in 9 BC? (1)

***This is the first of three posts about the chronology involved with blending Josephus’ Antiquities 17:278-299 and Cassius’ Dio’s History 55:1.1-5.1. This story is what leads Augustus Caesar to declare Herod the Great as his “subject”, at which point I believe the Emperor also commissioned plans for the first Roman census of Herod’s Kingdom [that likely took place in 7 BC]. What follows here has no direct bearing on my census theory, but will simply consider the relative timing of Roman and Eastern events in regard to the question, “Did Drusus’ death in 9 BC have any effect on Augustus’ response to the Nabatean affair?”***

For Syllaeus the Nabatean to reach Rome before sailing closed for the year (not to mention for Herod’s emissaries to do so as well, a bit later on), that first meeting between Herod the Great and Governor Saturninus must have been in early July at the absolute latest. And for Syllaeus the Nabatean to find Augustus that Autumn in the palace at Rome, the corpse of Claudius Drusus Nero must have been back in Rome by mid to late October. These are rough estimates, but the windows for activity are fairly tight.

The logistics are as daunting as any situation I’ve studied, and the sources don’t drown us in chronological details. First the East: Herod has to meet with Saturninus, schedule both the Governor and Syllaeus for a summit at Beruit, wait thirty days after that summit, meet with Saturninus again, invade North Arabia, and return home to send envoys with enough time to reach Rome by sea. Even if we grant November 10th as the far outside limit for arrival, Syllaeus must have been on ship by early September, leaving August as his 30 day grace period and July for the first meeting, Herod's scheduling and everyone's travel to the summit. So when did Saturninus arrive in Syria?

The normal arrival time for a new Proconsul is about midsummer, which is why I’d previously assumed Herod must have asked the prior Governor (Marcus Titius) for help and been turned down. If the Great King was so eager in early July, three years into a frustrating rebellion, he probably felt the same way a month or more earlier. In my reconstruction of 9 BC, I wrote that this is precisely what must have happened, but now I see there is another option: Maybe Titius wasn’t around at all when Saturninus came.

Unfortunately, the record is silent on Marcus Titius’ actual departure date. If he left early or died in office, it would not only prevent Herod from seeking his help earlier that year, it could also have caused Saturninus to arrive early in the province, leaving more time to fit in the daunting logistics outlined above. However likely this conjecture may be, we might give it extra weight because it makes both sailing parties more likely to arrive at a reasonable time. Even against the August northwesterlies (Etesian Winds), ships from Caesarea can reach Rome in less than two months by sailing under cover (like Paul did in Acts 27).

In short, the absence of a Governor in early 9 BC would explain Herod’s eagerness to see Saturninus just as well as the replacement of an uncooperative Governor. Either way, Herod has to see Saturninus in May, June or July to make the rest work. Of course, the downside to this new range of options is that it leaves a much looser set of parameters for placing the visit of Syllaeus to Augustus at Rome. Sailing west during August makes a six week trip a bit longer, so if Syllaeus embarked between July 1st and September 1st, he’d reach Rome somewhere between late August and mid-October. Assuming Herod caught on quickly, the party he sent would have been close behind. This rough estimate may be the best we can do, but it might be good enough.

In my next post, I’ll address chronological details in Dio Cassius and look for evidence of any overlap in the timing of Drusus’ death & funeral and Syllaeus’ travel & audience before Caesar.
Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget