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.


Anonymous said...

What are your sources for Agrippa in Galilee with Antipas?

What are your sources for Antipas' marriage ca 1 CE and divorce ca 29/30 CE from the Nabataean princess? What was her name? I have not found anything with any dates in multiple sources I've looked into, and I am uncertain if Phasaelis is the name of Aretas' daughter.


Anonymous said...

Oops, typo! Make that divorce date for which I asked about your sources to be ca 28/29 CE. I've seen speculation/conclusion that more or less it must have been before John and Jesus came on the scene, but no attribution from a source.


Bill Heroman said...

Hi, Rick. (Rick who?)

The marriage itself could have been any time in the 00's or teens (or 20's, I suppose, but that'd be pushing it). The marriage treaty (the betrothal, merely) is what I actually dated to around 1 CE. I did so based on Bowersock's reconstruction of Nabatea's temporary demotion until that time. (See Roman Arabia, 1983)

In addition to Bowersock's work, I actually posit that the marriage treaty is likely one way Aretas got back into Augustus' good graces, after his war crimes of 4 BC. At any rate, the most likely time for Antipas to make the treaty was early in his reign. Based on Aretas' year of death (39 AD) and beginning of rule (9/8 BC), it's likely the princess was very young when the betrothal was agreed to, but of course that wouldn't be unusual for such things.

On the divorce, we do indeed depend on a chronology of John the Baptist and Jesus' ministries. Luke 3:1 and John 2:20 are the key data, if you are willing to accept them, and from those I put John's arrest after Passover of 29 AD. (On John 2:20, see especially this post here.)

Finally, Josephus suggests the separation/divorce was in effect for some time before it became public knowledge, with the princess leaving on her own before Antipas made it official. This also makes good sense because Herod & Herodias would have sailed back from Rome relatively late in the season (a return sea voyage home in the same year as their departure).

With the Baptist's arrest in spring/summer of 29, that puts the separation and divorce over the fall/winter/spring of 28/29.

Most of this is original work, btw, but I'm looking for professionals willing to examine these arguments with me (or against me, for that matter; so, again, who are you exactly?)

Anyway, thanks for asking. I hope that helps.

Bill Heroman said...

PS: The only place I've seen Aretas' daughter named Phasaelis is from one uncited mention on Nabatea.net, a website by Dan Gibson, an independent scholar who chose not to use the name in his published book, The Nabateans.

I suppose it's possible Dan may have inscriptional evidence for that name, from his many travels. Unfortunately, like myself, he has not (yet?) cited everything on his website.

I used the name a couple of times here in the past, but have quit doing so until I come across a better source for the name.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Well, in email you've already figgered out who I am, but for the (blog)world, I am Rick Carpenter of Huntsville Texas. Like Redford as Joe Turner in Three Days of the Condor, I am just a reader on the periphery of the big boys (the scholars).

Thanks for the info on Bowersock, I was not aware of his work you cited. The Gospels put the divorce and remarriage as faits accomplis when John first finds himself in trouble for this. Given that the characterization of Antipas' first marriage was described as a long one, that does indeed make it somewhat recent vis-vis the Gospel events. What I'm trying to find now is when Herod made that fateful voyage to Rome; not much luck so far, perhaps I'll have to tackle it from the angle of Herodias and Philip.

In your Common Error link you've given, you make a statement towards the end "Without inventing a timespan for the prep-work, that "46 years" could have ended in 27, 28, 29, or even early 30 AD...." I've read that Dean Alford notes that the Greek word hosei, about, indicates an imprecise starting point, a leeway afterwards if you will. I would guess that same philosophy of usage might apply to other passages/words that could give a 21st century American an expectation of a precision that never existed. So your 27+ seems ironically accurate.

Thanks again,
Rick Carpenter

Bill Heroman said...

What I'm trying to find now is when Herod made that fateful voyage to Rome

Ah. Check out Harold Hoehner's Herod Antipas, around p.128-131. Hoehner lists dates of Antipas' initial coinage to 29 AD and suggests Antipas won the right during that Italy trip.

Hoehner, however, puts Jesus' first public passover (and thus John's arrest) in 30, and thus tacitly supposes Antipas produced coins in the final months of 29, after his return home. Contrary to Hoehner, for various other reasons, I date that Passover to 29, and suppose that (if Antipas did win the right during that trip) Antipas needed some months to set up a mint and produce his first coins. Thus, 28 seems more reasonable for the trip, imho, and 29 for the arrest.

In any event, I do think we can be confident putting the return from Rome in the autumn before John's arrest. The departure? It's certainly possible that Antipas stayed for over 12 months, putting the departure two summers before John's arrest instead of one.

Personally, I lean toward it being a one summer trip - simply because we have no known reasons to expect Antipas' business in Rome would have required such a long stay.

Still, you've got a good question worth hunting down: was Antipas & Herodias' departure for Rome more one or two summers before John's arrest?

Let me know if you find anything more conclusive.

Anonymous said...

I like your many considerations given to Sejanus. I always thought he played a more important role, via influence, on Herodian and Roman actions in and about Judaea and the theoretical thought processes behind them, than traditionally thought.

Rick Carpenter

Anonymous said...

What other/additional/new/etc documentation might you have on the discussion we had in Jan 2010 please?

I think when Antipas married Herodias is one key to the dating of John's and Jesus' ministries. It looks very "recent" in Luke 3. Additionally, W. M. Ramsay in "Luke the Physician" wrote of (Sir Isaac) ‘Newton’s principle,’ in his “Commentary on Daniel,” which according to Ramsay states that Jesus used seasonally present imagery. I'll assume John did as well when he mentions the wheat threshing.

Rick Carpenter

Bill Heroman said...

Hey, Rick. Good to hear from you again.

What other/additional/new/etc documentation might you have on the discussion we had in Jan 2010 please?

Nothing much, I'm afraid. You may have seen that I did revisit these topics last July and August in Herod Antipas' Mint and in my 7 part series on Herodias (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & Conclusions).

The mint post is subtitled "Why Herodian coinage helps date John the Baptist's arrest", so that's my latest effort on the topic you seem most intrigued by, and I do hope you find it helpful.

I think when Antipas married Herodias is one key to the dating of John's and Jesus' ministries. It looks very "recent" in Luke 3.

Generally, I think it's the other way around. We can't guess when Antipas married Herodias unless John's ministry can be dated somehow based on Luke 3. To some extent, that's true even when given the coinage, because it's still somewhat circular. Personally, I do think it all holds together fairly well, but the historical interpretation of each piece still relies on the others. (Though I may be discounting the coinage somewhat, perhaps. Hmmm.)

...that Jesus used seasonally present imagery. I'll assume John did as well when he mentions the wheat threshing.

I'd advise against assuming such things. Imagery that is so universally accessible [such as seasons, weather and wheat] certainly *could* have been somewhat more poignant when uttered at certain times of the year, but would absolutely remain powerful at any time regardless.

If Jesus says, "It's four months till the harvest..." then we might have some worthwhile discussion on that. But if Jesus uses seasonal imagery in a general way, it's no evidence of timing. In the same way, you and I could talk about "winter" as a spiritual metaphor just as well during our actual summer.

Looking forward to your replies...

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton