January 28, 2010

Love one another, my Friends

On that Thursday night, according to John, Jesus told his disciples the greatest agape was to die for one's philoi, and that if they showed agape for one another they would be his philoi and remain in his agape. Then, a couple of weeks later, the resurrected Jesus asked Peter, "Agapao me?" Peter replied, "Lord, you know philw you."

Therefore - according to Jesus, according to John - the philos is the bearer of the agape. Therefore - according to Peter, according to John - 'phileo' is a good way to respond if you're asked to verify your 'agape'. The words are complimentary, but not interchangeable. There's a reason why each one was used.

The philos is the foremost bearer of agape. That means Peter's (initial) response was an emphatic YES. There's certainly more than just that going on between John's 15th and 21st chapters, between Jesus and Peter, but I think that's the main part of the meaning behind these two "loves".

For the rest of my thoughts on John 21, scroll through my June archives for 2009. Or check out this summary. And remember, we are his philoi. Let's abide in his agape.

January 26, 2010

Brad Bird (Pixar) on Excellence and Inclusion

It makes sense that Brad Bird wrote and directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille because both movies deal with similar themes about talent and social dynamics. These themes are also dear to my heart, and I've wanted to write this post for many, many moons. Here's my brief analysis, which will eventually touch on both church and education.

In The Incredibles, the powerful supers must hide their gifts and pretend to be normal. Fitting in causes them many frustrations, but exercising their true abilities brings out negative reactions from others. Of course, their own isolating elitism is partly to blame. Mr. Incredible works alone.

But Syndrome and Helen aren't the only ones who castigate Bob for his isolationism. Bob's focus on helping each customer of Insuricare does indeed injure the needs of the company's corporate shareholders. Stupid red tape inhibits individuals, but it's also there for a reason. If the company goes down, no one gets helped anymore.

Bob's meltdown at work is a failure, and he goes back to working alone. Near the end, he gets another good lesson at teamwork - but only with other supers. His future status with the public at large remains very much up in the air, and the film's final sequence offers a disappointing compromise: hold back around normal folks, and fulfill your true potential under the mask, when they don't know you're the one doing all those incredible things.

Brad Bird said some years ago he's struggled to find a story idea worth making into an Incredibles Sequel. In some ways, however, that sequel has already been made.

It's called Ratatouille.

Once more, an exceptional talent must hide their true identity for the sake of keeping up appearances. At the restaurant, Remy is the powerful super-chef behind the scenes. He can create meals on his own, but to share them with others he has to partner with the most untalented member of the kitchen, the garbage boy, Linguini.

In his earlier life, Remy also struggled as the outstanding achiever, misunderstood by his peers. His life was communal, however, so he naturally submitted his powerful sniffer to be poison checker for the good of the group. He did it willingly, but not joyfully. The group's own idea of his best contribution was far below what Remy dreamed of bringing to their (actual) table. Falling into a literal fortune, later on, Remy became able to feed them in ways he enjoyed more, which they also appreciated. His special talents were the gift that he offered in service to his whole community.

If Brad Bird ever does write an Incredibles 2, it will be quite a challenge. Violet just wants a regular life. Bob and Dash want to do great things. Helen enjoys both worlds as long as her family's together. What their family does not have, compared to Remy, is a natural community. It is difficult to assert one's superior talents AND to continue being treated as equal unless one is already among those who have known them since childhood.

A quick point on that last statement: Jesus returning to Nazareth is not an exception. It was precisely his insistence that he was very special (and his stated desire to include Gentiles in God's great mission) that infuriated his friends and relatives so severely. If his desires had been subservient to local interests, Jesus would absolutely have been accepted as Nazareth's healer and teacher; but he was rejected because he suddenly proclaimed himself a visionary worthy of following. A unique Man, Jesus was an Island, unto his Father, and he needed to be, and he knew it. Thankfully - mercifully for our sakes - we do not all need to be Jesus.

Getting back to the cartoons: Bob Parr was exceptionally talented, but his partly snobbish self-isolation was tragically met with anxiety, fear and distrust on the part of the populace. Frustrated by those whose own insecurities seemed to require him to act normal, Bob failed to see his own selfishness. By the end, Mr. Incredible learned that the only way to rejoin the world's normals was indeed to hold back. Again, disappointing, but one cannot manufacture instant bonds when entering someone else's community.

In the Incredibles' world, this may be the best they can do until Bob & Dash find some folks who can interact with their talents without feeling threatened or being impressed by them. (See also: Cars.) Helen and Violet, more suited for subtleties of human interaction, will face other challenges. If Brad Bird ever does write an Incredibles' sequel, I would love to see Bob and his family interact more with the wider world, with and without their masks. (The female side of this could be particularly interesting.) Speaking of masks, it would be nice also to see Brad mix Identity/Achievement with themes of Service/Community.

One more point - and it involves public schools. The Incredibles touched on how school systems ask talented kids not to show out too much, which (at least in the USA) is driven by twin desires: treat everyone equally, provide opportunities for all to excel. In the end of Ratatouille, Anton Ego learned what Chef Gusteau "really meant": not everyone can be great, but great ones can come from anywhere. The challenge then becomes - and this applies to Brad Bird's characters, to our schools, to large communities, and in my personal experience to small churches - what does a group do with its exceptional ones? For the good of all, how do we encourage both excellence AND inclusion?

For one sampling, Brad Bird, Ayn Rand, the USA and Communist China offer various answers. Paul's letters also touch, sometimes, on similar topics. Jesus, I think, mainly talked about sacrifice. But as I've discovered, and as Ratatouille illustrates, it doesn't matter what you want, what you think, or what you attempt to do. How we treat one another remains paramount, but the tipping point for these issues may simply depend on who it is that you're knowing... and on how well they know you.

January 25, 2010

True Skepticism

I wish I had time to dissect Mark Goodacre's latest podcast on the Historical-Critical approach. I'm all for critical thinking, but the "rules" of the H-C viewpoint always get presented so dogmatically. One impression I get is that Mark's anti-faith, which I know isn't true. But it is true that historians often have to chose whether to trust their sources, and I don't think I heard that get mentioned.

That replacement of one dogma with another is common, and it must be a big part of what frustrates and confuses so many believing undergrads who pick up a New Testament course. That struggle itself may be worth something, but the sad irony is that professors present themselves as being fair-minded, and the students detect a very real bias. Towards doubt.

A true skeptic doubts their own doubt as much as anything else. So, Professors: Assert, and you'll be contra-asserted against. Push and you'll get pushed back upon. Offer to trust, and you might be more trusted. Present a willingness to believe, and you'll probably get more openness to question.

At the end of the day, critical thought mixed with faith should be a very good thing. So I believe.

Update: Mark linked to the podcast from his main site. Sometimes that sparks added conversation...

January 20, 2010

Corinth's 4+ years without Paul

When the Emperor Claudius died, in October of 54 AD, Paul was at Ephesus. A teenage kid, Nero, was now officially Emperor. Perhaps unofficially, the more peculiar of Claudius' local decrees (Acts 18:2) became ignore-able. Thus, in Ephesus, Paul quickly realized that Jews could get back into Rome.

From the moment Paul heard Nero was ruling (not long after 1st Corinthians, and shortly before Acts 19:21), all his travel plans changed completely.

Unfortunately, poor Corinth had been waiting for a return visit from Paul since mid-52. In early 53, they'd heard about wisdom from Apollos. Later that same year they learned all about tongues and healing - and Jerusalem's three restrictions on gentiles - from Peter. The church also met Barnabas somehow, at least briefly, but Silas had the responsibility of two Macedonian churches AND Corinth.

Troubled Corinth, confused and divided, had sent letters to Paul around spring of 54, and Paul responded later that summer: having received further input from certain Corinthians, Paul sent Timothy and a letter. At that time, Paul planned to give Corinth only one more winter and spring before seeing his face. He would wait to sail, he promised them, until after Pentecost.

But then Claudius died, and Paul's promise was immediately postponed. From winter of 54/55 until winter of 56/57, among other things, Paul stayed busy by helping to coordinate a multi-church mission to plant a new church in Rome. Saints from Ephesus (Aquilla & Priscilla), Antioch (Rufus and his mother), and from other churches - everyone Paul names in Romans 16:5-15 - began making their various ways toward Rome. In 55/56, Paul and his co-workers even traveled as far as Illyricum (Dyrrrachium, at the western edge of the Via Egnatia) to plant a church (inscription found in Durres, Albania) as a half-way station.

It should be easy to imagine how doing all that wound up taking them about two whole years. Again, think about poor, struggling Corinth. They'd even lost Silas when Peter left, presumably visiting Paul before heading into North Asia Minor.

Before Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia/Illyricum, however, he asked Titus to visit Corinth on his behalf. Apparently, Titus went around Pentecost of 55, because Paul stayed in Ephesus a while longer, left after the riot, and expected to find Titus [back from Corinth] on his way north through Troas (2Cor.2:12-13).

Paul found Titus somewhere in Macedonia instead, and got a full report about the visit. From then, it was another year or more until late 56 when Paul wrote to Corinth again [Paul having gone down the length of the via Egnatia and back, while Timothy "stayed there in Ephesus", returned to find Timothy had arrived in Thessalonica, after leaving Ephesus to get help from Paul; in other words, Timothy's signature on 2nd Corinthians puts the letter after Illyricum, not before].

In that winter, late 56 AD - a year after Titus' report and fifty-something months since he'd set foot in southern Greece - Paul wrote a new letter to Corinth. From Macedonia, he sent a co-worker or two ahead with the letter (2Cor).

The state of Paul's concern for Corinth's well being makes more sense in this context. He really didn't know if the church would be (had been) able to hang together, or if it was about to (had already) fall(en) apart.

Coming soon: Did Corinth split? (the church in Cenchrea)

January 18, 2010

Sprinkle me, BW3

The "house church" at Dura-Europos is hardly news, but the number of unsubstantiated assertions Ben Witherington tacks onto the existence of that which (for all we know, as far as I can tell) could very well be no more than one exquisite bathtub is - well, frankly, it's breathtaking.

I'm no expert on Dura-Europos, so if there were someone - who knows more about archaeology, and has access to scholarly publications about D-E - that might want to pick through this one carefully and help the rest of us sort the facts from Ben's claims, I'd appreciate it. Until then, I'm going to ignore it. It should be obvious enough to an intelligent reader that Ben's making very broad assumptions about the facts - whatever their precise details or most likely implications might actually be.

What's really interesting, however, is how much energy Ben's putting into (1) defending non-immersion style baptism and (2) attempting to show that ancient house churches were formally structured and hierarchical in nature. How very reactionary...

A Century's Change

Every time I think about Martin Luther King's speech, in 1963, I remember that Abraham Lincoln freed the southern slaves in 1863. Amazing. It took a hundred stinking years of "freedom" before the March on Washington could even have an impact. And that, folks, is history.

The next two things I think about are MLK's namesake and his own predecessors. The original Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses in 1517, but John Huss had been burned alive for much more radical things in 1415. Likewise, John Wycliffe preceded Huss by less than fifty years and Tyndale by almost one-fifty.

Sometimes change takes a long time to occur. Sometimes, for us radical visionaries, that can actually be very encouraging. Not that I'm being Utopian at all - God's Kingdom is not of this world. Still, even in the church, the change that we work towards is usually going to take time.

Time. Ah, my good friend and enemy time.

January 16, 2010

War Stars: Vader & Hans

This is absolutely hysterical. Someone should do one like this called, "The Bible, retold by someone who's never read it." (h/t Jim Getz)

Nuancing Institutionalism(s)

The debate about "institutionalism" in the life of the church shouldn't be treated as a black or white, all or nothing issue. I thus deny the common argument which basically says: "We all have institutions, so let's just accept it and deal with it."

Yes, any organic church that develops patterns of group behavior has adopted its own "institutions". That's one level of institutionalism. My question is: can those habitual practices be interrupted for a time, stopped or even replaced periodically?

No, "institutionalism" isn't necessarily any different from other things which can sometime help, sometimes hinder. What I'm suggesting, however, is that typical institutionalism is a whole different problem once it becomes *permanentized*. Sacrosanct practices, purposely established to be unchanging and everlasting, are automatically untouchable even to God. THAT is what should NOT be okay.

Par for the course: Heroman insists upon a temporal nuance! Still, it may just be the key. As I said elsewhere: We're all trying to build the Taj Majal. I think we should build sandcastles. We're all trying to build Solomon's Temple. I have good reason to think God prefers living in Tents.

All institutions are not established congruently. It is possible to build for a season, tear down, and rebuild. More shocking still, God may want us to do just that... at least some of the time.

January 15, 2010

The Lord-Lord-Lord Prayer

My ten year old is exploring the weeknight youth group at the Baptist Big Box nearby. He enjoyed it, which pleased me, but he also reported the leader's closing prayer was (1) a speech repeating the lesson to the kids and (2) a Lord-Lord-Lord prayer. Yes, he's observant because he's been prepped by me. Thank God it took.

Anyway, you know the Lord-Lord-Lord prayer. It goes something like: Dear Lord, we thank you, Lord, for all your blessings, Lord, and we ask you Lord, to come, Lord, and bless us, Lord, with your presence, Lord... (The speech-making version is an advanced technique, to be attempted by professionals only.)

Seriously, what explains people who pray like this? Are they trying to remind themselves who we're talking to? Or their audience? Are they trying to focus? Or do they just not feel like they've really got his attention? In other words, do they think they're like Stewie, here, crying mom, mom, mom, mommy?

As it so happens, Bo and I had seen this clip together recently (yes, just the clip). And we both laughed pretty hard when I mentioned it during our conversation. Then I started thinking harder, which prompted this post.

By the way, our conversation ended with me encouraging Bo to keep making the most of it. With a hopefully-not kind of tone, I asked him, "Did you roll your eyes?" And he said, "No, but I wanted to sigh sooo bad." There's a good boy. :-) If nothing else, while hopefully learning a bit more about God and exploring the world of religion for himself, at least he gets to hang out with kids who believe in the Lord. And the Lord-Lord-Lord-Lord. We love both kinds.

Welcome to the wider world of christendom, my boy. God help us all.

Abusing a metaphor...

When I said God can use our "crap" to fertilize his garden, I didn't expect anyone to stretch the skubala metaphor quite as far as some did. Realizing our human limitations should not be an excuse to mistreat others or justify bad behavior. Mercy and grace should always be aimed at positive, constructive goals.

When I said church life is messy, I wasn't referring to emotional pain caused by sin and suffering in our group-lives. Primarily, I just meant that folks who are uneducated in theology and untrained in church ministry are *going* to make some mistakes whenever they attempt to function in greater capacities, whether that means speaking in meetings or caring for others. Furthermore, since we're always supposed to be growing, there should be a fair amount of mistake making going on at all times.

No mistakes? You're probably not learning. No learning? You're probably not growing. No growth? You might not be alive.

My main point is that we need to embrace such imperfection, not avoid it. As I said recently, we are all defective robots. Pretending otherwise is internally destructive, and dealing with it more publicly is an opportunity for God to rip out more of our individualism.

For example: a church group experiments with an open microphone one day, and someone says something stupid that hurts someone else's feelings. That kind of honest mistake is something to learn through and improve upon, although several are bound to go home and say, "See, that's why you don't do that sort of thing." Don't do what? Allow people to expose their own thoughtlessness? Relationship fissures that don't get exposed, can't get worked on, and won't be improved.

We could post lots more examples. Anyway, I learned one thing above all else this week: putting the word "crap" in a post title sure does generate hits!

January 13, 2010

Organic Church = Full of Crap

The work God needs to do within a local body of believers will always be messy, but Institutional Christendom keeps peons & yokels from participating precisely because they make messes. The shift is: who says messes are bad? Antiseptic works well for hospitals and elementary schools, but not in gardens or forests. After all, crap makes good fertilizer, and God is a gardener.

This week, the so-called "organic church" movement was just called out to deal with it's own inevitable mortality. Mark Galli wants the radicals to come home and help keep the institution fertile. Neil Cole hopes that when we die out we'll leave an example for others. I say, let's do better than that. Let's embrace the importance of death, in the cycle of life. I say, let's figure out how to deliberately compost ourselves.

The challenge, you see, is sustainability. Human systems last a long time mainly by suppressing the human element that challenges established traditions, but that same human element also provides authenticity and vitality. Thus, the best way to survive for a long time is to be nearly dead. Nature, naturally, sustains itself quite differently.

Most trees in winter appear to be dead, but their vibrancy is merely dormant. Attack birds that carve holes into evergreens also protect them from damaging insects. There are caves in the amazon so deep, the primary foodsource for their subterranean organisms is guano. A more familiar example, but never less shocking, is to remember all grains of wheat must die, or else remain alone.

Dear saints, our Lord is both Life and Resurrection. At his eternal throne, there is no death. Here and now, at his footstool, we daily die. Observing that contrast, it seems that choosing institutional christendom may be a matter of confusing two realms. We are not called to make Earth more like Heaven. We are called to bear Heaven within earthen vessels. Crappy, messy, natural, organic, problematic - and yet increasingly holy - vessels.

Update: I just saw Frank Viola responded today also, to Galli & Cole. IMHO, It's some of Frank's best writing. All three posts are at Christianity Today.

January 12, 2010

on the Supposed Infrequency of Jesus' Homecomings

Jesus' Nazareth homecoming(s?) are retold in Luke 4, Mark 6 and Matthew 13. Today, instead of discussing whether the Lord took one or two trips home, I just want to make a side point.

From his baptism until Palm Sunday, Jesus spent three or four years in the public eye. More than half of that time was spent in Galilee. Therefore, the question is not - did he go home one time or two? The question is - why should we think he would go back only once or twice?

Nazareth was about 20 miles from the Lord's new home in Capernaum. That's a one day trip for a fit, thirty-something on foot. His sisters were still there, probably raising his nieces and nephews. His father died at some point (see John 6:24,42,59) and that may have deserved a visit. Besides those details, Jesus was traveling all over, all the time, anyway. Why would he NOT go back to Nazareth at least once a year? (Yes, I know what Jesus said about prophets in hometowns and the importance of "hating" one's family, but he also spoke of honoring them as well.)

Obviously we'd be speculating to suppose that he went back a lot, and I wouldn't try to claim more than two trips for certain, at most. Examining the details of the Gospels may convince some more than others, but Luke does tell a much different story than Matthew and Mark. At any rate, my point today is merely that one or two homecomings (in a two, three or four year ministry) is just not all that much.

From a historical perspective, we must realize he could have gone home as frequently as he so desired.

January 10, 2010

Lecture, Discuss, Engage

Alan Knox linked to a preacher/blogger who's experimenting with Discussion in lieu of Sermons. Says the blogger, "One-way communication is just not that effective."

This reminds me of an oft-quoted educational statistic urban legend that goes like this: "We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we see, 30% of what we hear, 70% of what we say, and 90% of what we do." These and other similar numbers are complete bunk, but they still get passed on because they feel true. Educators who don't track down the citations still know from experience that a combination of experiences is what's effective. For instance: seeing, hearing, reading AND writing, while collaborating with a group to re-present the information to others - that really reinforces a lesson. The bottom line is that learning takes root best when the learners are fully engaged.

Mega-Pastors with more resources have been working the audio-visual gimmicks for years, one reason I suspect Alan's friend Eric must be a small church preacher. Still, if the goal is to transfer meaningful information in a memorable experience, and perhaps even to inspire, then why on earth would you ONLY lecture? I quickly add that gimmicks can be just as boring as anything else, but a discussion is always more likely to engage the participants on a deeper and more intimate level. So, Eric, I definitely think you're on to something.

Personally, of course, I see all this as completely apart from the myriad of other good reasons to give up traditional sermonizing. I'm just saying. ;-)

January 7, 2010

Ancient Synagogues Varied

Long time readers have heard some of this here before. Over at Bible and Interpretation, Stephen Catto provides a wonderful essay summarizing much of his academic research into first century 'Synagogue' structure and practice. I recommend it most highly.

The study of Synagogues provides our strongest evidence for reconstructing the childhood and community life of Jesus in Nazareth, before he was famous. If Luke is right that Jesus grew in favor among people, then Jesus was part of that Synagogue, week in and week out, for three decades. That means the "silent years" are not completely silent.

For more, see my fourteen part series from August 2009:
The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

January 5, 2010

Job (Perk) Hunting

When Babe Ruth pitched for the Boston Red Sox, he only got up to bat every third or fourth game. Traded to the Yankees, who didn't need pitching, the Great Bambino began playing outfield, which meant he now batted in every game. Thus, Babe Ruth became famous. He'd never have hit all those home runs as a pitcher.

While Albert Einstein was conducting the independent research which, once published, changed the world many times over, the great thinker was also earning day wages as an office clerk. He certainly had the intelligence to be employed more gainfully, but his mind had to be more free after hours. Few besides Einstein have showed just what a powerful combination those two things can be: 'mind' and 'free'.

I myself am not yet so great and have not yet changed the world greatly, but Babe Ruth and Einstein are on my mind today for one reason. My half-year research sabbatical is officially over, which means I'm job hunting in earnest again - substitute teaching, and networking through next year's hiring season. Whatever contract I take next will affect what kind of time I'm able to keep in my office, and how much mental energy I've got left at the end of a day.

Archimedes said leverage is more crucial than power. My track coach said relays are won on the efficiency of team exchanges. Brief stops on road trips cut time much better than speeding. It's all transition. It's all margin. I'm budgeting energy.

We shall see. Work is work, but I'll keep writing (and blogging) as much as I'm able. Meantime, if you know anybody with pull in the teaching world, around here, I wouldn't mind hearing you've put in a good word. High School Honors Geometry is my first choice, but then, whose wouldn't be? ;-)

January 4, 2010

Herod Antipas' Army

When Herod Antipas divorced the Arabian princess who was his first wife, about 28/29 AD, she went home to her father, Aretas, King of Nabatea. Evidently, the divorce prompted both Antipas and Aretas to build up their military strength. Aretas' army defeated Antipas' army at Gamala in 36 - the first use of Nabatean force on record since 4 BC, and the only known instance of Galilee having an army!

Three years later, Herod Agrippa got his uncle Antipas exiled with three accusations before Caligula: an ongoing conspiracy with Parthia, a past conspiracy with Sejanus, and the possession of arms for 19,000 troops. The alleged conspiracies aren't necessarily credible, but Josephus tells us that Antipas couldn't deny having the cache of arms. Including defensive walls around Sephoris and Tiberias, this completes our knowledge of Galilee's military situation under Herod Antipas. Many questions remain.

Was the Herodian army illicit or sanctioned by Rome? Officially, Gamala had become Roman territory after Philip's death in 33/34. Given Antipas' high level of communication and Cooperation with Syria and Rome, it's hard to suppose the Tetrarch was trying to possess the Golan on the sly. His defeat there also suggests, quite strongly, that the force holding Gamala was much smaller in size than the cache could have equipped. Antipas' own appeal to Tiberius is the final clincher. Galilee must have been holding Gamala on Rome's behalf, and Galilee's army was fully sanctioned by the Empire.

We turn again to Agrippa's accusations. An alliance with Parthia is conceivable if Antipas' was recruited during the treaty he helped broker at the Euphrates in 36 (while his army was under attack). Antipas' continued dealings with Rome and Syria would have been good cover for treachery, and it still makes sense for Antipas to seek a crown from Caligula (in 39) after the Parthian King Artabanus died in 38.

If the cache was commissioned or supplied by Parthia beginning in 36, it explains why Gamala was taken so easily. Artabanus' death would explain why the cache remained unused, but it does not explain how Agrippa was able to discover all this. He only arrived in his territory in 38 and had little by way of immediate resources. Some Herodians could have defected to Agrippa, with intelligence, but that still doesn't make any of this true. We have no evidence to confirm or deny that Antipas was allied with Parthia.

We do, however, need to explain the cache of arms. That many units could have supplied Syria's four legions in most years or three at full strength. Either way, that's enough weaponry to challenge for total supremacy over the Region. By himself, Herod Antipas had neither the need nor the manpower for such a large force. Therefore, Parthia probably did commission the weapons, simply because no one else could have.

The only other candidate would seem to be Aelius Sejanus but I'm now prepared to discount that possibility. In 2008, I suggested that (1) Tiberius' keeping Governor Lamia away from Syria left the Eastern Legions with no central command from 23(?) to 31/32 AD, (2) Sejanus could have traded favors to allow Antipas' divorce in exchange for a military build up, and (3) the cache could have been kept on the sly simply to work around Tiberius, not to work against him. Sejanus was planning a regency of Tiberius' heir and had no need to plot against the Emperor himself until late in the game (31). He could have commissioned the cache benevolently, for Rome's protection, but I no longer think that he did.

It's still true that Agrippa's time with Antipas in Galilee (between 29 and 32 AD) gave him access to know things about Galilee, but if the cache was for Sejanus, why would it remain unused at Gamala, five years after Sejanus' death, and why would it still exist three more years after that? If it were Sejanus' cache, its purpose would be defunct in 31 and Antipas could have done any number of things with the materials. (Unless he was saving it to offer to Parthia - a third possibility is worth noting as strictly plausible, perhaps, but far less likely.)

In summary and conclusion, the cache itself makes the most sense if commissioned by the Parthians, and thus not existing until after Aretas' capture of Gamala. Any secret alliance between Antipas and Artabanus would have become defunct some time in 38, but Agrippa would have been back in the region in time to learn about it and report it (a year later) as if still current. The cache was the important accusation, and Caligula wasn't extremely astute at keeping up with developments abroad. In the end, it looks like Antipas probably did have some tentative alliance with Parthia, which must have been spurred by the growing instability in the East throughout that decade.


Altogether, this calls for another look at Agrippa's least credible accusation. The payoff here may bring us full circle, back to Antipas' divorce and the origins of his first army.

Neither Sejanus nor Antipas had any reason to plot against Tiberius, but that doesn't mean they had no dealings together at all. The years after Sejanus fell were dicey for anyone open to accusations regardless of whether they were true, and especially dicey if they were. Still, 39 was a long time after 31, and so Option One is that Agrippa made it up just for icing on the cake, to concoct a history of treachery, to secure Antipas' denunciation. This is probably at least partly true.

However, Option Two is that we recall Agrippa lived in Galilee from 29 to 32, the very years of Sejanus' political zenith and catastrophe. Yes, the joint treachery was probably concocted, but the best lies are built on a basis of truth, and Agrippa may well have been building on top of something he witnessed about Antipas' responses to news about Sejanus, during those years.

To review: Antipas' betrothal-agreement with Nabatea (c.1 AD) must have been smiled on by Augustus and he would have been unwise to end it (around 28/29) without some assurance or blessing from Rome. Josephus tells us the Tetrarch picked up his new wife Herodias (his niece) in Caesarea, took her with him to Rome, and returned as a couple before his Nabatean [soon-to-be-ex] wife made good her escape.

If Antipas had no more than this from Sejanus, we may wonder forever what Sejanus had from Antipas. But Herodias was well connected with Antonia, the last of three powerful matrons Sejanus could not control (after Livia died and Agrippina was banished). Antonia, in fact, is the one who eventually brought about Sejanus' downfall. Perhaps Sejanus only hoped Herodias would add persuasions in Antonia's ear. Or perhaps it was something else we know nothing about.

Whatever the case, Herod Antipas had reason to worry after 31 AD. Sejanus had not sent him an army, or commissioned a cache of arms in Galilee, but Sejanus most likely HAD assured Antipas of a peaceful divorce. With Tiberius now in his 70's, on Capri, with reports of political turmoil in Rome, with no Governor in Syria (Flaccus came in 32, the first in almost a decade, at which Agrippa left Galilee for Antioch), and now with no assurance of protection against Aretas' wrath - and all of that not to mention the Galilean backlash because of a beheaded prophet and the threatened insurgency for the new prophet drawing thousands to his side - the years 31 and 32 must have showed a very haggard side of Antipas from Agrippa's perspective. It was eight or nine months after Sejanus' fall that Agrippa decided to leave Galilee.

If the death of Sejanus caused at least that much stress to Antipas, and if his nephew and brother-in-law Agrippa noticed the Tetrarch's mood shift dramatically (more than others noticed, by his family connection), Agrippa might have been justified to merely assume the two rulers had been allies.

Again, we have no reason to think Antipas ever joined any plot against Tibeirus, but his divorce alone shows that he must have been allied with Sejanus to some slight degree. In 31 and 32, that one dealing was very much enough to be very concerned about, even for a client ruler abroad. On the one hand, Antipas had to worry about the heads rolling in Rome. On the other, Antipas had an Arabian ex-wife and her militant father biding their time, waiting for their opportunity. The divorce had reopened the need for vengeance on everything Herod the Great had done to Nabatea, also.

Whatever assurance let Antipas take Herodias back from Rome, it disappeared in 31 AD. In other words, Sejanus did not give Antipas an army, but Sejanus' death was probably what caused Antipas to begin gathering one.

January 2, 2010

Overlording: Inherently Non-Jewish?

Jesus said: The rulers of the gentiles Lord it over their subjects. It shall not be so with you. According to some, that leaves room for rulers can "rule" without "lording over". Really?

According to some, Jesus may as well have said, You know how some of the rulers of the gentiles are gracious and some of them are too authoritarian? Don't be like the bad ones.

Or maybe he elaborated, off the record: Some rulers of the gentiles lord it over their subjects. Pontius Pilate, for instance, has caused nothing but trouble. But that Tetrarch Philip, now, he's alright. All his people like him and they're mostly Arabs! So you guys be like him.

Or maybe Jesus meant: The rulers of the gentiles are really mean and unloving in the way they govern their people. So when you guys govern our people, make sure you do it graciously and with love.

Some imply that's what Jesus meant. But that's not what he said.

Jesus said, "The rulers of the gentiles..." As in all of them. So what did they all have in common? Top-down, hierarchical, executive authority. It may also help to note whom Jesus excluded - the Rulers of the Jews. I know it's shocking to imagine that Jewish government might be more in line with the ideas God himself had about Government, but it just might be true.

Moses instituted Judges, and Samuel tells us God didn't want Israel to have a King. The second Temple institution of Jerusalem's High Priest was more Hellenistic than Jewish, and while Annas & Caiaphas are technically excluded from what Jesus said about overlords, they moved and functioned in an extremely Hellenized matrix. Therefore, I'd still argue that Jesus was contrasting pecking-order hierarchy with the traditional plurality of elders, consistent in Jewish culture from before Moses all the way up to first century Synagogues.

The record about Synagogue leadership is difficult to interpret, and seems to have varied in practice especially in the diaspora. There is evidence of evolution towards more hierarchical structure in some places, but it is still clear that neither Roman republicanism nor Greek oligarchic democracy is reflected at all by a Synagogue community where every local countryman was automatically enfranchised. By the way, the organization of most christian congregations has mirrored this same enfranchisement in theory, but not always in practice.

The Corinthian Synagogue replaced one Synagogue leader with another. Capernaum and Antioch-near-Pisidia had a plurality of officials. As with most elements of Jewish law and custom, I'd bet Jesus had a simplified, purified version of a traditional view on congregational government. If we go waaaay back in the Jewish wayback machine, Jesus' instructions about ruling also mirror God's desire, as stated to Samuel to avoid giving Israel a King. Like the Gentiles had.

Jesus said: The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects. They get put individually "over" their people. Thus, they are "lords".

It shall not be so with you.

January 1, 2010

New Decade or No?

Most people say today marks a new decade. A few say it doesn't. What matters isn't who's right. What matters is that we understand there will always be two ways of counting these things. And that's really no big deal.

As it so happens, this is a perfect example of what we have to do in New Testament Chronology. Ancient methods of counting time could be just as confused. Were Luke, John and Paul counting with strict chronological reckoning or inclusively, by years? Were they referring to Roman or Hebrew calendar conventions? For that matter, were they always consistent? Naturally, we ask these same questions about Josephus, Dio, Tacitus, etc.

Mathematically, decades should end with years that have zeros on the end. Culturally and linguistically, it makes much more sense to discus the 80's, the 90's, the 00's, etc. Technically, by mathematical standards, the decade isn't over yet. Technically, by other standards, it very much is. Normal folks will take the convenient method. Educated folks know both methods, and that should be enough. Base-Ten numeric counting is arbitrary anyway, and terminology is merely what we make it.

All that's left to say is that - whichever counting method you prefer - don't get yourself all in a tizzy about it. Please.


First, here's a few you might have actually googled:

dating herod's temple

sejanus and aretas

famine 44 AD

agrippina banished

psychology and pneumatology

peter swan rule of tiberius

pauline chronology fair havens

I've coined or re-coined a few phrases, too:

ancient journalism

faith based historiography


Of course, I can also cherry pick a few peculiar strings:

pharisees extradite jesus

phileo trumps agape

nicodemus gospel source

1st timothy at troas

Finally, just for kicks, I've got at least three unique results: here, here and here.

Thanks, James and Joel. That was fun.
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