July 31, 2010

Timeline Update: AD 43, 44

Dating events around Acts 12 and Agrippa's death - in segmented fact sections as usual. Click here, and scroll down through the big date numbers.  I guess I've had Agrippa on the brain because of my series on Herodias, and because of Todd Bolen's great piece this week at B&I on the location of Agrippa's death. A couple of important notes:

First, the years of Herod Agrippa's rule (37 to 44) are one area I still need to do a lot of work on, but the timeline here just hits the basics, so it should be completely solid.  There's also an awful lot in Daniel R. Schwartz's book that I haven't worked through as of yet, so it was nice to remember how much I still have to look forward to there, in terms of future research.

Second, one of the details I'd overlooked in Schwartz was the death date of Herod Agrippa.  The consensus says early March, 44 AD, which means Peter can't get arrested at Passover that same year.  Thus, the events of Acts 12 must belong to the Passover of 43 or 42.  (This also holds just the same for Schwartz's own alternate date of autumn 43.)  Since the church in Antioch needed plenty of time to save up enough money, and the church in Jerusalem still had plenty of time to start buying up extra bread with Antioch's relief money.

The standard conservative view has traditionally dated the persecution of Acts 12 to 44, and concludes Agrippa died in August of that year.  That now seems like a stretch to me.  It doesn't matter to much else, however.  The standard conservative view also says that Barnabas & Paul didn't get down to Judea with Antioch's relief funds until during the famine - which is ridiculous.  Why send money when grain quantities were already scarce?  And why not send early if the prophet had truly predicted things much in advance?

These logistical facts really ought to prevent us from concluding that Galatians 2 might even possibly refer to the famine relief trip, and therefore nothing else vital in Pauline Chronology can be attached to the date of this relief visit.  Even if Agrippa died in late 44, the Antioch mission can arrive for the Passover of 44, 43 or 42 - all years when Agrippa ruled Judea in the spring time.  It really doesn't much matter.  If the temporal transition in Acts 12:19 can account for a difference from April to August, then why not April to March?  Why not April to 2nd March?

To me, now, it makes the most sense if Jerusalem got it's extra grocery money at the Passover of 43 - that's an additional year to buy grain in advance of the famine, and (as opposed to 42) 43 gives Antioch an additional year to store up their finances in the first place.  So now I've got it like this:
AD 43:  Barnabas & Paul deliver money to Jerusalem during the same Passover season where Agrippa executes James and imprisons Peter.

AD 44:  Agrippa dies in early March.  Signs of famine possibly already appearing at Tyre & Sidon.
Finally, The prayer meeting of Acts 13:1 can now go as early as 43.  Since there's money raising involved after that revelation takes place, also (we know this because Paul & Barnabas couldn't have worked for their own living, in Cyprus or Asia Minor, and because the Holy Spirit commissioned all five men as responsible for the sending), I prefer 43.  But for the most likely date of their voyage to Cyprus, wait and ask me on some other day!

July 30, 2010

Belated Status Report

Last October I'd gotten 81,200 words (about the years 9 BC to AD 14) into a 240 page manuscript (somewhere between a 3rd and 13th overall draft). It was structured about 20% research summary and 80% reconstruction (story).  It both was and wasn't good enough to send for professional editing, but the tough thing was - what I couldn't get away from - I decided I just wasn't satisfied with the project still being what it was at that stage.

So I set it aside. As of now, that's where it still is. Aside.

Since then, however, it keeps threatening to split into two separate works, which is what I'd originally intended,  four years ago.  I hope it will.  Until then, I'll just keep blogging here.

Stay tuned...

Kindle DX

Yup. Took the plunge. And it's worth every penny. Sharing with my family, we've already downloaded two dozen free classics of English literature. Those would have cost hundreds in paperback alone, not to mention the benefits to my kids' future SAT scores! As for my part of the e-library, I'm saving my money and building my wish list. If you'd like to help, buy a Kindle through this link, and I'll get a cut.

Btw, if you hadn't heard, Amazon now sells more e-books than paper books. Looks like the wave of the future is here to stay. On a related note, it's also starting to look like my first published book may be an e-book. More on that later today...

Six Announcements

1 - Wa-hoo!  I got a Kindle DX.  Report coming soon.

2 - I have a tentative job offer from the #1 High School on my list.  They're trying to build a position for me, personally.  If their budget works out, it's a go.  I won't ask you to pray about this unless it really means something to you. But it would mean an awful lot to my family.

3 - Herodias pt. 5 is now becoming pts 5 & 6, to be posted next week, with perhaps a short summary of all six parts, posting the week after that.  A lot of the content in the series so far focuses on Herodias' husband.  That's necessary, because of the record, but my hope was to end things by refocusing more precisely on her own (apparently) dynamic contribution.  Expect three more posts sometime next week.

4 - I'm once again hoping to put up another monthly recap of links (from my Reader) on Sunday.  West will be having 'the' Biblioblog Carnival, Aug.1st, but it's always nice when folks put up extra-noteworthy links.  For instance, Bitsy did a very nice post of links just the other day.  Come back Sunday for more.  Better yet, do your own links post on Sunday as well.

5 - Yesterday, Alan Knox (now home from Ethiopia) blogged about my recent post The Original 'Old Wineskin'.  What Alan had to say was very fitting, because I'm going to be starting a very long series on Monday called The Movement of God.  BUT... instead of posting on consecutive days, like my series usually do, I'm going to space this one out through the whole month of August.  Maybe longer.  It's about ten posts so far (still being tweaked) and not half done.  (So, about every three days?)

On this series:  I think you're all gonna like it.  Stay tuned.

6 - I'll be in Baton Rouge a few days, sometime over the next two weeks.  If anyone wants to sit down, hit me up.

That's all.  Look for my Kindle post and another bit of very belated publishing news, later today.  Or just check back later this weekend.

Enjoy summer, all summer.

July 29, 2010

Herodias, Queen of Galilee - 4

Why did Antipas risk angering his FIL, the powerful King Aretas, by divorcing the man's daughter?  Why rekindle the North Arabian grudge of the Nabateans against the Herodians?  For love?  For lust?  For money?  No, not even for money.  Wealth means nothing without security, especially back then.

Herodias must be the key.  Herodias and her patron Antonia, that is.  If Herodias desperately wanted to be "Queen" of all Galilee, it's plausible she could have prevailed upon her childhood patron Antonia, her own mother's dear friend, for a reasonable dowry, at least.  To assure peace in Palestine, however, was more than Antonia could peform... at least directly.

What Antonia did have the power to do, however, was get Antipas invited to meet with the Prefect Sejanus (in Rome) and/or Tiberius (on the Isle of Capri).  Antonia may or may not also have called in some favors (or promised some) to request that the Emperor and/or his right hand man listen favorably to what Antipas would ask.  And though we may not know what Antipas might have asked for, we absolutely do know what he got.

Antipas simply must have left Rome with assurance from someone that his marriage treaty with Arabia (which Augustus had been so pleased about) could be officially dissolved with Imperial favor.  The premature flight of the princess may have upset the timing somewhat, but the peace evidently did hold.  It was not until seven years later, when the Syrian province was in chaos, with Tiberius virtually on his deathbed (at age 69), that Aretas would finally take his revenge.  The revenge was short lived, and Aretas himself died a few years after that, but the peace lasted at least three years after Sejanus fell.

Only Tiberius through Sejanus (or Sejanus alone) could have offered such a benefit to Antipas.  But why would either of them give such a benefit?  What did Rome stand to gain, from allowing Herodias to become "Queen" of Galilee?

We can point to a few possibilities.

To be concluded...

Read the Whole Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6, Conclusion

July 28, 2010

Herodias, Queen of Galilee - 3

The "Queen"'s only connections, that we know of, are her husband, Antipas, her brother, Agrippa, and her patron, Antonia.  We don't even know if she met her uncle Philip, the Tetrarch, but in any event he'd owe nothing to her that he wouldn't already have given to his half-brother.  Finally, we can trust there was nothing left to be gained from Herodias' other uncle, the ex-husband.  Therefore, unless there's someone else we know nothing about, that means we have to look hard at Antonia.

Whatever motivated Herod Antipas, in the first moment he seriously considered switching into a new marriage - whatever mysterious assets the cagey Tetrarch was angling for, Herod Antipas was angling for, as he weighed that decision - those potential benefits must have been due to Herodias' relationship with Antonia.

We don't know how they got along in years past, but we don't know how Agrippa got along with Antonia, either, until the moment (in 32 AD) when she loaned him a king's ransom to pay off several bad debts.

It was worse than that, actually.  In pure desperation, at age 44, and having been gone from Italy for nine years, Agrippa asked his childhood matron for a boatload of money, and he got it.  He had no prospects, other than riding her social coattails around Rome.  He had creditors hounding him, albeit outside Italy.  He had a wife and two very small children who were waiting for word and paid voyage to Italy.  On top of all that, Tiberius had refused to lay eyes on Agrippa! And yet, despite all that, Josephus tells us:
he entreated Antonia [for 300,000 drachmas] and she lent him the money
That's some patron! Understandably, Josephus chooses this point to explain that Antonia was motivated by "regard to the memory of Berenice his mother, (for those two women were very familiar with one another,) [and] out of regard of his and Claudius' education together". Still, that's some patron.

Since Herodias had grown up with that same patron, and presumably had some education with Antonia's daughter Livilla, we might expect Antonia to have held at least almost as much regard for Herodias as she had for Agrippa.  Since Agrippa expected Antonia to be good for the money, Herodias must have grown up with that same expectation.  And since we are looking for reasons why Antipas married Herodias, we absolutely must make Antonia's money our primary consideration.

The political aspects are more complex, however.  When Agrippa returned to Rome asking for money, in 32, the terrible years of the Emperor's prefect Sejanus had just ended.  When Herodias ran off with Antipas, in 27/28, the right hand man of Tiberius had not yet begun to ascend the full heights of his power, in Rome.

Who was this Sejanus?  What was Antonia's relationship to him?  And what does the timing of Roman politics have to do with the marriage between Herodias and Antipas?  As it turns out, probably quite a bit.

To be continued...

Read the Whole Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6, Conclusion

July 27, 2010

Grace, Mercy & Peace

Paul amended his usual greeting when writing to apostles.  Not for nothing, either.  If you had to do all the things Paul instructed Timothy to do (and advised Titus about), you'd need mercy too!

Herodias, Queen of Galilee - 2

Ancient historians too often, too easily, blame wives for the worst of their husbands' misfortunes.  Although it is definitely true that even powerful men can easily lose their heads over a woman, careful readers really must stop and reflect on what's being said and what's most likely true, about Royal women in antiquity - especially about such a forceful, aggressive princess such as this infamous wife of Herod Antipas.

In all fairness, Herodias was not the sole reason Antipas arrested the Baptist.  Also, Herodias and her daughter were probably not the determiners of John's final fate, either, but they probably sped it up.  Herodias did, however, cause scandal.  Instead of letting the Baptist starve or die of pneumonia, so he could blame natural causes, Antipas was tricked into making a very public promise to murder.  Tragically, Herod's powerful guests at that banquet could not have been allowed to smell weakness.

Another point for Herodias - she probably did not brow beat her husband into demanding a crown.  Antipas had governed tolerably for nearly forty-three years.  He was a big boy, he had played for Imperial favor before (most notably against Vitellius in 36/37 AD), and he knew the risks.  It may as well be true that her jealousy sparked him to thinking, but that decision was always Antipas' to make.

Finally, she was not picked up by Antipas as some lusty boy-toy.  In the late 20's AD, Herod Antipas was pushing 50.  So while it's reasonable to think that a new flame could definitely have ignited his (undoubtedly flagging) passions, the trip to Italy could have let that novelty run its course.  In other words, we can believe Josephus' claim that Antipas "fell in love", but that alone doesn't explain why a man of so many resources would have gone so far as to make his niece into his new wife.

Herodias would surely have proven more capable as a would-be-Queen than the nameless Arabian princess, who was probably a child when betrothed to Herodias, around 2/1 BC.  But the Tetrarch of Galilee didn't need a ruling partner.  That's pure anachronism.

There must have been some political and/or financial benefit to this marriage.  And it must have been big.

Please return to the questions we asked at the end of part 1, and then come back tomorrow.  As promised, this remains to be continued...

Read the Whole Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6, Conclusion

July 26, 2010

Herodias, Queen of Galilee - 1

In 7 BC, Herodias' father, Aristobulus, a son of Herod the Great, was convicted of treason and executed by strangling. It would later turn out he'd been innocent. But, having orphaned his own grandchildren, King Herod then sent them to be raised in Rome. This was probably to please Augustus, and not for the children's welfare. Augustus liked to indoctrinate foreign royalty into the Roman ways while very young, and several princes from other kingdoms were being raised in Rome also. But the children's mother, Berenice, Herod's niece, the King gave to a brother-in-law.

Herodias' big brother was about six years old. She might have been nearly an infant.

In Rome, Herodias and Agrippa were placed under the patronage of a woman who was at that time the third most powerful woman in Rome - Antonia, niece of Augustus, daughter of Mark Antony, widow of Drusus (the son of the Empress Livia), and mother of 2 of the Empress' 3 grandsons (Germanicus & Claudius). Little Herod Agrippa was smack between those two boys in age, but Herodias was the same age as Claudius. Antonia had one daughter, Livilla, a few years older than Herodias.

Over forty years later, Claudius would prove that he trusted Agrippa. Both children received many benefits of an upbringing within the Imperial house.  However, we don't know what kind of loyalties Herodias may or may not have engendered while growing up under Antonia.

What we do know is this. By her mid-thirties, Herodias had moved back to Judea and married an uncle, an obscure disinherited son of Herod the Great (named Herod, or 'Herod-Philip'). Herodias & her Herod lived quietly with some means in Caesarea-by-the-sea, until another one of her uncles came for a visit. Falling in love and stealing her away, Herod Antipas took Herodias on ship, straight to Rome. (This was about one year before John the Baptist began preaching, which puts it most likely in AD 27.)

What happened during that year in Rome is a mystery.  We'll leave that for part two.

Returning from Rome, probably in AD 28, Antipas let his first wife slip away. Evidently he no longer cared about that marriage treaty with the North Arabians in Nabatea, because his Arabian princess ran home and complained to her dad, King Aretas, who was angry, but prudent enough to wait several more years until taking revenge.  Meanwhile, John the Baptist embarrassed Herodias, who demanded his arrest (29).  Two years later (31), her daughter secured the man's head on a plate.

Herodias ends her somewhat spoiled career with a showing almost as fine.  In 38/39 AD, having heard that her brother, Agrippa, was named "King" (over Philip's NE territories) by Caligula, the granddaughter of Great Herod demanded of her husband Antipas that he become "King" also.  So the couple left Galilee, sailed to Rome again, and stood before the mad Emperor.  Unfortunately, they'd long since made an enemy of their nephew/brother the new King.  So Agrippa sent a letter by the Imperial Post, and Caligula read weighty accusations against Herod Antipas just before he and Herodias came in to ask for their crowns.

'Queen Herodias', instead of a crown, received banishment.  Actually, she chose to be banished along with her husband, instead of remaining in Rome or returning alone to the land of the Jews.

That's the basic synopsis of what ancient history tells us, about Herodias.  As always, that's if you can believe it.  What we don't know, of course, is what's most intriguing.  Why would Herod Antipas risk regional instability for this woman?  What happened in Rome when they went there together?  Did they ever go back, in between AD 28 and 39?  And what, if anything, does all this bring to bear on the years in which Jesus was walking around in Herodias' Queendom?

Come back in two days, and I'll share a few clues that might help us to answer these questions.

Before that, however, we ought to shake some of these claims a bit harder.  Tomorrow.

To be continued...

Read the Whole Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6, Conclusion

July 25, 2010

The Original 'Old Wineskin'

The Disciples of John the Baptist were on THE cutting edge of what God was doing on Earth, for about a year, tops.  They not only believed that they were, and then not only were, but they KNEW that they were.  They were involved in God's premier work with humanity, for that window of time.

John himself apprehended fairly quickly that he had to decrease, and Jesus had to increase.  But, did John's disciples catch on as quickly?  John struggled with this dilemma a bit later on, but did they even get it?  Ever?

After several months of rotting in prison, John began questioning.  But John's disciples had visited him.  Did they simply relay John's doubt or had they been the ones feeding John's doubt?  For certain, the baptizer himself absolutely had every reason to doubt.  But, bereft of their leader, John's disciples had reasons all the more.  A question:  Whose idea was it to go offer Jesus that challenge?  Most assume it was John, but John may have been talked into it.  We don't know.  What we do know, at least, is that John's disciples marched in and issued their challenge with vigor.

It takes guts to stand up to the Man of the Hour.  John's guys walked up to Jesus at the peak of his Galilean campaign, with the crowds all around, and directly called into question his own central claims.  Point:  These were not timid men!  They had hung in with John for a year or so, eating bugs, facing down Sanhedrin inquisitors, fasting, and staying loyal long after support had dried up.  They were doubters as much as their leader - and in all probability, perhaps more so.

Whatever its origin, Jesus answered their question without answering it.  Then they left.  With that, Jesus declared them the old wineskin.  They clearly did not want to stick around and see what God might be doing through someone else.  They simply wanted to go back to John.  Even imprisoned, their loyalties and memories were easily held onto, and difficult to let go of.

We do know of one person for sure who was able to move on from that glorious work of God - Andrew.  But then, Andrew left early, jumping from nearly the crest of John's ministry right into the earliest segment of Jesus' new movement.  He made his choice to leave while the fire was still hot, which may explain why he felt no responsibility for care taking over the embers.  There's a whole other lesson here, I suspect, but for some other time.

(By the way:  I seriously doubt Peter ever left home and fish-roasting hearth long enough to be John's disciple; it seems far more likely that Peter stayed home to subsidize Andrews religious commitment; however, if Peter was John's, then Peter left John when Andrew did, also.  The same point would apply.)

The last thing we hear of John's guys is when they come by to tell Jesus.  He's dead.  After that point, the gospels are silent as to their doings.  Did they ever let go?  Did any of them come back long enough to see Jesus' true glory revealed?  Wishful thinking won't cut it.  Perhaps some did.  Perhaps not.

What we do know is this.  Twenty-two years after John's death, someone in Alexandria Egypt had spent time teaching someone - at least one Jew, Apollos - all about John the Baptist, and less than the whole story about Jesus.  Thus, it would seem at least some of John's guys left Judea, probably not very long after his beheading.  They would then have spent the following years giving faint ear to whatever news came from Palestine about the new Jesus people.  That means they spent over twenty years in Egypt, tending the fire of their own memories from one year in Israel.

Amazing.  Astounding.  But... does it seem so uncommon?

People who get involved with a new work of God these days often ask, How do we avoid turning into an old wineskin, eventually?  Well, maybe you can and maybe you can't.  But if you think you can, then you probably can't.  And you ought to know why, already.  Really.

John's disciples didn't do anything to become part of the cutting edge of God's work in their time.  They just happened to be in the right place when God moved there, and they were smart enough to join in with what God was there doing.

Two years later, it wan't because they had changed in some way, that John's disciples became 'the old wineskin'.  It was because they had not.  Their problem was never that they got distracted in some way from their 'first love'.  It was that they did not.

They loved being part of God's movement.  What they missed was that God's movement... moves.

July 23, 2010

Timeline Update

Still skipping around - AD 6 & 7 posted last night. Archelaus gets exiled, Jesus turns twelve, and Joseph & Mary finally stop leaving God's boy in Nazareth during Passover. Click here, and scroll down.

July 22, 2010

Hoehner's Unhistorical Aspects

One major problem with the 3 year chronology of Jesus' ministry, as constructed according to Harold Hoehner's Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, is that Hoehner puts Jesus at the well of Sychar in January/February.  This dating, based on one interpretation of John 4:35, falls almost a year after the Passover of John 2.

The first problem is, it's not plausible that Jesus and the disciples could or would have stayed in the Judean countryside for nine months.  At this point in their relationship, that simply doesn't fit the trajectory.  But Hoehner didn't address any sense of connectedness between John 2 and John 4.  He spent two pages and six footnotes discussing the history of exegetical debate over which harvest could be referred to by the Greek of Jn.4:35?  Those two pages, of course, are fine work. The end result, however, is nothing but words and weather.  If Hoehner's chronology were a historical enterprise, then the larger context ought to be the activity of the players involved in the action, and this did not get addressed.

The second problem is, Hoehner's timeline after Sychar now (again, tacitly) requires too much activity be squeezed into Feb/Mar/Apr, before the grain-plucking incident, which marks a new spring.  Most significantly, Hoehner ignores the seaside calling(s?) of the disciples.  Luke's version indicates that some period of separation has gone on between Jesus and Peter, and Luke strongly implies that Jesus traveled extensively after healing Peter's MIL.  Is 8-12 weeks plausible for this activity?  Perhaps.  But there's no discussion at all of events and their course.  Hoehner's focus is purely exegetical, restricted to established key verses, those which make overtly chronological claims.

This exegetical investigation of the Gospels, however, is less than thorough.  Matthew 12:1 (ἐν ἐκείνῳ τῷ καιρῷ) chronologically ties the grain plucking incident fairly close to the time of Jesus' famous denouncements (11:20ff).  Is it plausible that Jesus returns to Galilee in February, travels to all towns and cities in Galilee, and then declares himself done with Capernaum, Chorazin & Bethsaida?  In 8-12 weeks?  And if so, what of all the other activity we find in Capernaum?  Can all this, too, be squeezed into less than three months?  Or - failing that - is Matthew 12:1 not as tied to these 'woes' as it appears to be?  For Hoehner, these questions are not even on the radar, because there is no complete reconstruction of chronological happenings.  There is merely thorough exegesis of established 'key' verses.

A broader problem is that this whole timeline basically squeezes Hoehner's "Three Year Chronology" into barely more than two.  Historically speaking, the least credible thing about any two year chronology ought to be the rapid pace of developments.  But Hoehner's objection to the two year view - his entire stated critique of it, actually - was that the two year view requires transposing John 5 & 6, which Hoehner finds to be unacceptable.  Apparently, John's narrative is chronological, whereas the Synoptic narratives are eminently transposable (see above).  Most problematic, however, is that - once again - there is no consciousness paid whatsoever towards events and their connectedness.  Hoehner's focus is entirely literary and grammatical.

On this point, I find it tragic-ironic that Hoehner's preferred methodology for Aspects was known as the "historical-grammatical" method.  This particular book is strong on grammatical interpretation, but weak on historical sensibility - which is odd, because Hoehner had earlier displayed a fine historical sensibility in his great work on Herod Antipas (1972) - but as much as anything else, this shows that Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (1978) was an exegetical, apologetic enterprise.  It was not an historical chronology.

July 21, 2010

Does translating scripture beget theological fixation?

It's the problems in anyone's work that most naturally tend to absorb one's attention. This can't be any different for translators. Plainly factual claims - Joseph took Mary, Jesus went up to Jerusalem, Paul fell off his donkey - must be far more easily gotten through than whatever Paul said in each chapter of Romans.

Now, many young Christian scholars in training are told to put great emphasis on learning how to translate from the original languages - and that seems proper to everyone - but I'm starting to wonder if this doesn't have natural side effects.

Christian scholars spend so much time on translation and meaning, so much time working through ancient language, one word, one sentence, one thought at a time. If the bulk of that time necessarily veers towards wrestling through the more esoterically problematic portions of scripture's content... can a young mind avoid getting stuck in those ruts?

I'd especially love to hear comments from the seminary grads, students & professors who keep up with this blog. Does this happen? Does this explain as much as I suspect it might? Is it even a problem? If not, why not? If so, what might be done about this?

July 20, 2010

Chronology of the Nativity

Herod the Great died in late March of 4 BC no matter how much some stubborn people keep wishing that wasn't the case. If you must know why 1 BC doesn't work for Herod's death, read this post. Now, let's move on quickly to something that actually matters.

If we accept the miraculous elements of Matthew's Nativity, then Joseph left Egypt the night Herod died - and Herod died less than one month before Passover.  Coming on foot from Egypt, Jerusalem was about 3 or 4 weeks away, so Joseph was almost certainly still en route to Judea when he heard about Herod Archelaus causing the massacre of 3,000 people on the Day of Preparation.

Leaving to avoid one Herodian massacre, returning only to hear of an even more horrible one, Joseph must have felt fear for his young charge.  In fact, Matthew tells us Joseph felt fear before God instructed (not "warned") Joseph in a dream.  "Galilee."  After that point, History tells us that Herod Archelaus spent nine more Passovers in charge of Judea.  A question:  how soon before Joseph was willing to take Jesus into Judea again?  Answer:  Considering Joseph was taking his foster-parent mission quite seriously, he would likely NOT have taken Jesus anywhere near Jerusalem until that Herodian prince was far, far away.

And now we get back to chronology.  If Joseph's fear of Archelaus is what explains Jesus staying at home from the Passover for so many years, then Jesus must have turned twelve around 6 AD, the year Archelaus was exiled.  Specifically, for Jesus to be 12 in March of 7 AD, his birth date would have to fall somewhere between April of 7 BC and March of 6 BC.

These dates correspond well with the Governorship of Saturninus (9-6 BC), whom Tertullian names as the Census taker of the nativity.  Re-interpreting Luke's uncertain or misunderstood statement about Quirinius is another issue entirely.  This twelve month window follows hard on the year (9/8 BC) when Herod fell out of favor with Augustus, and briefly became Rome's "subject".  If Saturninus began the census (early 8 BC) before Herod was reconciled (late 8 BC), and if the census dragged on into 7 BC (as it likely must have, due to the difficulty of staggered scheduling for host cities; it couldn't be simultaneous fruit-basket turnover, if Luke 2:3 is correct) then Jesus could have been born around late May, the time when astrologers would have noted the first of three conjunctions between Saturn and Jupiter.

The second conjunction in early October, and the third one in early December, would have brought those Magi to Herod's court, where their report of a 7 month old was swelled by Herod to "toddler" for caution's sake.  The King's soldiers went on to kill dozens of infants, if that many, but Joseph, Mary & Jesus were safely en route to Egypt before 7 BC ended.  This, at top, is just where we came in.

Finally, all the weight of this reconstruction leans heavily on the language and syntax of one verse - Luke 2:39.  If the entirety of Matthew's 2nd chapter is true at all, the flight to Egypt and the return must belong in the span of Luke's "after...".  Exegetes must decide if the grammar supports that (and from there perhaps wrestle with what they can or can't claim absolutely about grammar elsewhere) but Luke was either fudging on purpose to leave Egypt out of his story OR he was ignorant of Matthew 2.  Take your pick.

This chronological reconstruction should be recognized as the single most-comprehensively plausible on record.  IMHO.  Again, Jesus was most likely born in 7 BC, around May, moved to Nazareth before his 3rd birthday, and turned twelve in AD 6, just before Archelaus was exiled.  That, btw, makes him 34 when John baptized him around autumn of AD 28, and 38 on the cross in April of AD 33.  By the ascension, he's have just touched the start of his 40th year on the earth.  FWIW.

Update:  Links to related posts can be found here.

July 19, 2010


Seth Godin:  "Organizing tribes around a book is selfish, because it's all about you and your book.  The best tribes are organized around the people in the tribe, and the book is just sort of a souvenir."

Independent book publishers, and other interested parties, click here for audio.

Formatting Text & Story


So, if it's okay to add space between words, verse numbers between sentences and chapter numbers between sections in order to understand the text - then it should also be okay to add

large amounts of white space

between lines of dialogue

and to help illustrate

the passing of time

or movement, over distance.

Obviously, paper costs are still the main strike against doing this. Then again, paper costs were probably a key reason why PEOPLEUSEDTOWRITELIKETHIS. The whole world was so poor that they couldn't even afford to leave 'white space' between words! But today, by ancient standards, we're all luxuriously wealthy. So let's take advantage of that wealth, plant more trees, and print thicker Bibles.

Bible printers have started experimenting with these facets a bit more in recent years, but I'd love to see more. Effective use of white space makes text much more readable... especially when that text tells a story.

July 18, 2010

Jesus Christ Keeps Moving On

tune: "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone"

Every day that's come and gone/ Makes me reach out into space/ And ask the Lord to make me stro-ong/ 'Cause I know I don't belong/ In this world, any-a-ways.

Now, today I've found a home/ I sure hope this home will stay/ But the Lord's still moving o-on/ And I wonder just how long/ Till he moves in me a-gain

Yes the Lord keeps moving on/ Straightly forward every day/ Jesus Christ keeps moving o-on/ Cause He knows just what He wants/ And he wants it here today

His old house was here so long/ Then it strangely went away/ But the Lord keeps moving o-on/ Cause his House' been gone too long/ And He wants it back to stay

And I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know/ Yeah, I wanna be part of His Home/ Cause ain’t no sunshine when He’s gone/ (And th’aint no place else I belong)

Saints, let's make this place His home/ Let Him MOVE US every day/ And when Jesus Christ moves o-on/ Well I pray we'll move along/ And follow him, day after day/ And follow him, day after day/ And follow him/ Day after day

lyrics in Jacksonville, FL (June, 2007)
partly inspired by
1 Kings 6 and Acts 7

Jesus' Temptations: Conclusion

IF the story is factual, it requires reconstruction. Leaving the story untouched creates more doubt than a sympathetically critical reassessment. Such things should be presented conditionally. IF these purported events were part of Jesus' actual experience, then how must they have transpired, four dimensionally?

The narrative as is cannot fully contain its own content. Matthew says the fast was over when Satan tempted Jesus about eating. Jesus must have walked to Jerusalem, and could never have stood on the "pinnacle" of the Temple. Any mountain between Jerusalem and Nazareth would be a suitably dramatic site for the devil's mysterious projection show, but Matthew's emphasis on height can't have had anything practical to do with it.

Mark's synopsis is chronologically dubious, condensing everything to 21 words in Greek. The syntax may suggest a progression, but the geography is unclear. If the second clause corresponds with the first clause, then the devil was also testing Jesus during his fasting experience. But does that mean tempting? Or taking his measure in preparation for the three temptations to follow? And when do Mark's angels minister to Jesus? During the fast? Or after the temptations? If the latter, then when were the wild beasts? Keeping wild beasts in the trandjordan probably means Satan tempted (or 'tested') Jesus BOTH during AND after the 40 day fast; and Mark's angels may have come down at any point.

All things considered, if the devil is real, and if Jesus found these brief exchanges startling enough to remember, and reported them accurately to someone who wrote them down - then - it is plausible enough to reconstruct the historical picture of what must have happened. My own fledgling attempt just posted: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5.

Preliminary reasonings had also been posted, beginning in June: Allison on Jesus' Wilderness Temptations, Did Jesus really debate Satan?, Did Satan teleport Jesus?, Situating Jesus' Diabolic World Vision, Sequencing Jesus' Temptations, Situating Jesus' Temptations.

In the end, no one has to believe these things transpired. But IF we believe they transpired, and yet we make no attempt to work out HOW they transpired, then - to the ears of many of our listeners, and perhaps to our own selves - we may as well be declaring them not-to-have-happened. That is, if we forcibly keep scriptural stories only within the realm of literature, then we tacitly label them fictional literature. The content of non-fiction literature, of its course, must eventually come into, and be held up against, the concrete faculties which make up 'the real world'.

Believe that a man walked on water. Or not. I'd be willing to suppose that the devil 'beamed' Jesus to the Temple's roof. But the scripture does not say that. What it does say must be matched with the real world. That is, IF, we intend to declare it as real.

Timeline Update

It's out of order, but I felt like writing up 28 AD. John spends all year baptizing and Jesus spends late Autumn fasting in the wilderness. Once again, I'm sticking with the three layer format of Historical Facts, Probable Facts, & Scriptural Facts. Click here, scroll waaay down to the large print "28 AD", and enjoy!

July 16, 2010

Bethsaida Temple?

Apparently, Philip the Tetrarch made a goddess out of the Empress Livia, and worshiped her in the city where Jesus fed 5,000 people. I'd not heard of this before, but professor Elizabeth McNamer has a post up at The Bible & Interpretation today which says:
At Bethsaida in the 1996 season of excavation was uncovered a Roman temple. Along side it there were incense shovels, the statue of a woman (Livia Julia), and coins depicting Philip and Livia. The temple is dated to the year 30 CE. ( Livia had died the previous year). That same year, we learn from Josephus, Philip raised Bethsaida to the status of “polis,” a city, and renamed it Julia. By doing so he was promoting the observance of the Imperial cult and the embracing of all things Roman in this Jewish community.
I'd love to know more. The University of Omaha seems to be in charge of the ongoing dig, and I've so far perused their their website about it. (HT, Todd Bolen) Unfortunately, both McNamer and the team from Omaha seem to have misstated at least one key detail. In hopes of getting more info, I submitted a comment at the B&I post which reads, in part:
"Actually, Josephus said: "He also raised [Bethsaida] to the status of city... [and] named it after Julia, the emperor's daughter." (Antiquities 18.28, Loeb trans.)

Now, three times in the Wars of the Jews, Josephus refers to a city (which must be Bethsaida) as Julias, but he never explains its name in those passages.

...it's plausible to suggest Philip re-renamed the city after Julia-Livia (although the date of the naming did not have to coincide with the date of the temple founding)... but it seems a bit much to say "Josephus tells us" the city was named after the Empress.
On all points, both sites offer little more than assertion, and I'm looking for footnotes/arguments/evidence.  In all sincerity however, despite this quibble, I am deeply intrigued.

 If the conjecture of 30 AD is valid, it could be very interesting to consider the bulk of Jesus' ministry (AD 29-33) taking place in the shadow of that temple.  What of Jesus' denouncement of Bethsaida?  What of Jesus' movement away from Galilee during the later portion of his ministry?  What of Peter's fishing by 'the Sea of Tiberias' after Easter, instead of going all the way north?  Like McNamer said, these are mysteries worth pondering.

Also, since the sons of Judas the Galilean were living right up the road in Gamala, and were at least 24 years of age in AD 30, this probably strengthens the view that their arrest by Alexander the Procurator was due to no major action of their own. I'd always suspected their father's "no Lord but God" philosophy sparked them to begin making noise, at least, after Agrippa died in 44. But if this Temple was there all the while, they must not have been too bothered by Roman propaganda.  Then again, maybe they'd been protesting mildly for twenty years and Alexander was simply the first to decide they were worth picking up.

Lots of questions. If anyone has answers, please don't hesitate to provide them below.

[Update (7/17):  Todd Bolen reports that the Carta Atlas has previously "demolished" this claim about a Temple in Bethsaida.  I'm still intrigued, though.  I'd still like to know more.]

on Creatio-volution

If you believe God made the world, you can believe he made humans from apes a common ancestor to apes.  Easy hop.  What bothers *me* though, is that scientists are supposed to be skeptics, not believers, and yet Evolution is taken on faith.

It never offends me if someone wants to blend science with faith.  What perturbs me is the hypocrisy of those who should be our guardians of knowledge.  (I'm resisting a contradictory sidebar about Genesis 1-3 and 'knowledge' here.)  By definition, Scientists ought to be agnostic about everything, but in practice they're atheists.  And maybe that much is fine.  But declaring that theories are facts - well, that's just downright unscientific!

Assuming there is no God, I'd agree that bazillions of years would be needed to balance out the insanely long odds of macro-evolution actually happening.  Yes, that's somewhat plausible.  If there were no God, I'd agree Evolution must be what explains life today.

But assuming God *is*, and even assuming a very old earth, I have heard of no evidence to show that one kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus or species evolved from another.  Thus, reversing the first sentence of this post - if you can believe God directed evolution through bazillions of years, then you can believe God brought life forth from thin air, dirt and water.  Easy hop.

Skeptics ought to be skeptical.  Believers, believe whatever seems most believable.  I just want to go on record that what bothers me most is when this tide turns one way or the other from social pressure, more than anything else.  I don't like when clerical authorities pronounce (and enforce) unfounded dogmas, and I feel just the same with these high priests of "science".

The earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it.  That may just be all that we know.

Jesus' time with Satan, Pt.5

The mountaintop worship-dare is the most dramatic, most audacious, most blasphemous temptation accounted to Satan in all of scripture.  Apparently, it was also the worst part of all the testing he'd given Jesus since before the fast ended.  Without question, it was this final suggestion which prompted Jesus, at last, to rebuke Satan and banish him from his presence.

Leave, Enemy.  It is written, You must worship the Lord your God and Him only will you serve.

With that, Satan left.  At that point, each Gospel narrative moves on.  But was that the end of the story?

We have no account in the Gospels that Satan ever came near Jesus again until the week of the Lord's death, four years later.  But since Mark's Gospel says there was testing of some sort going on during Jesus' fast (that is, before the three notable temptings) there is every chance the devil may have tried other temptations on Jesus at other times also.  Then again, he may not have.  We don't know.

For obvious reasons, these three temptations were memorable and dramatic enough to record.  I do wonder if Jesus debated telling the story, before it got passed along.  I also wonder what Jesus and/or his disciples may have left out.  Apparently, this much will have to be enough.

So, to finish the story...

When the devil departed for good, Jesus stayed on that mountain top for a while and received ministering angels.  That, also, may have come as a major surprise.  Whatever comforting service and counsel they offered him, Jesus must have been most comforted simply from knowing that God his Father had sent them to him, to reassure him.  He must have recalled the same comfort he'd felt when the Father had spoken aloud to him and his cousin the Baptizer, back there at the river, over six weeks before.

So, after spending some time on that mountain, with the angels, and surely doing whatever it is Jesus did when he was simply alone with the Father - the son of God set out from that mountain and finished his long journey home.  

Back in Nazareth at last, after such an ordeal, Jesus very much needed to rest more completely.  Soon he would begin making new preparations for all that he would soon embark upon, at the upcoming Passover.

July 15, 2010

Jesus' time with Satan, Pt.4

The temptation to power may have been simple reconnaissance, but the suicide dare from Mount Zion seems a bit extreme from all angles.  Had the devil somehow anticipated - in his own simplistic and perverse way - that God would later have Jesus die and return to live, as a witness to Israel?  Probably not, or not quite.  Still, the rocks-to-food bit was a 'prove it to me' kind of dare.  This suicide bit was a 'prove it to Israel' dare.

From Jesus' response to the suicide dare, the devil may have surmised that Jesus seemed particularly disinterested in proving himself to Israel.  Knowing the long history of God's involvement with them, Satan may then have leaped to suppose God's new plan for this 'Son of Man' was to expand his foothold on the Earth.  Although anciently God declared himself pleased to hold Israel, originally, Satan knew God had claimed all the world, and given it to Man.  (On the question of "Adam", see post #3.)

Now faced with a divine one who stood as a man, Satan must have thought twisted thoughts.  We'd be ill advised to try reconstructing those thoughts (for a number of reasons!) and unlikely to succeed (at any rate), but what that process evidently came to, for Satan, was a very odd conclusion that this Jewish Divine Man might very well be interested in accepting the reigns of earthly dominion.  (Whether the offer was valid or not is irrelevant to Satan's apparent hope that Jesus might say yes.)

The peculiar nature of all this may even have struck Jesus as odd.  We don't know if the Father had yet brought Jesus to anticipate that he'd inherit all things, that he was meant to become "King of Kings", that he'd die and be resurrected, or - even - that he'd be transmogrifying bread, fish and wine, in as soon as a few months.  We don't know if Jesus had imagined himself doing these things.  (John's commentary on Cana at least strongly suggests that he'd not done such things before now.)  

What we're told is that Satan suggested these things.  The question is, was Satan the first one suggesting these things to Jesus?  In some ways, not at all, because certainly Jesus had heard the miraculous stories from scripture.  Stones to bread was as reminiscent of manna as it was a new trick.  Resurrection was performed once or twice in the presence of prophets.  

In another way, though, Satan must have been first.  Unless some human being had actually said to Jesus, You can do such-and-such, and even if the Father had somehow hinted, or Jesus had somehow imagined, there would still have been a fresh, startling quality to the devil's suggestions.  Make stones into bread?  Jesus' response was exemplary, but in some part of his mind, he must have been wondering, could I?  More likely, perhaps, he was praying, Father, can I do that?

Side Point:  the stark freshness of Satan's words may have caused Jesus to remember them extra vividly.  As with all notable quotes, especially considering more than half of what got recorded came from Deuteronomy, the memory of a powerful one liner is more accurately reported, and should be judged as more credible, than long speeches, which ancient historians normally reconstructed from various sources.

Please note, I do not mention this freshness as a way of concocting support for the story's veracity.  Far more compelling, to me, is this realization that Jesus was probably somewhat startled by these three temptations.

The last one, however, exceeded his tolerance.

To be concluded...

July 14, 2010

on Finding Community

Alan Knox posted about "Finding Community" the other day, because people send him e-mails asking "How do I find community like you describe?"  They should know they can't, unless they go to where Alan is, because the community Alan describes only exists where Alan lives.  And yes, that's a pity.  Then again, you can do better.  Yes, you can.

Later in the same post, Alan said something of terrible importance.  "Many of our friends have moved, and when they move, they often struggle with finding community.  Even though they have been part of a close relational group (and perhaps partly because they have been part of a close group), they struggle finding believers interested in sharing their lives in a similar way."

While I do know from experience, it is very tough, having been spoiled, to go settle for less -- at the same time, this testimony reveals a lack we all share, which is not very helpful.  And that lack is, this:  Unless you're extremely fortunate, you don't just stumble into the type of church experience that we're talking about.  In other words, there is no such thing as "finding community".

You can't find anything.  You make it.  And that is the scary, the difficult, and the impossible part.

But all things are possible with God.

Jesus' time with Satan, Pt.3

At some point on Jesus' walk home from Jerusalem's Temple, the adversary appeared to him once again.  Like before, Satan either called to Jesus or somehow beckoned for Jesus to follow.  We're not sure just where they wound up, on this final excursion, but given the almost certain assumption that Jesus was walking, they can't have been going to far.

After some length of time with Satan surreptitiously guiding Jesus down roads and up hills, the devil eventually led him to the top of a high mountain.  (Gerizim?  Carmel?  Tabor?)  Whichever peak they ascended, the roads Jesus had been walking on wound north, through Samaria and Galilee.  So, as this mountain was most likely outside Judea, it was fitting for Satan to now offer Jesus a vision of all the world beyond Israel.

With or without conversation, Jesus made clear his willingness to accept whatever style of image transferral the devil was offering.  So then, perhaps telepathically, the devil shared images of all the kingdoms he'd traveled to, while wandering over the earth.  I will give you all this, if you will fall down and worship me.

With this, we must pause.  Bread made perfect sense.  Healed suicide would have been a way to indeed prove his identity.  But what reason would Satan have to act as if Jesus would want all the earth?  The only answer suggesting itself, to this point, is Jesus' prior response, "Man..."  In the Hebrew Bible, it was one of God's first injunctions to Man that he possess the land and rule over it.  Thus, we have sudden and undeniable allusions to Eden, and Satan is playing the serpent.

However, for our purposes here we don't have to decide if Genesis is historical or allegorical.  Whichever the case, Satan-if-historical would have known that story well, and Satan-if-everlasting would have been an original party to whatever event that story referred to.  The theme in the Hebrew Bible of possessing the land runs from Eden to Babylon, and back to Israel.  That's not surprising.  What is striking here, ultimately, is that Satan now offers God's Man all the world!

We don't know what kind of logic the devil was playing with, but a pattern may just have emerged.

To be continued...

July 13, 2010

"Designed for laypeople"?

I'd consider that a warning label, and expect it to wear like a leash.  Blech.

Jesus' time with Satan, Pt.2

After fasting, either on day 41, or perhaps some time on day 42, Jesus would have begun traveling west, towards the Jordan, and then on home to Nazareth.  He also must've begun eating regularly if he was hoping to make more than one or two miles a day.  Fasting can be very healthy, but it doesn't give someone the calories to walk for six days.

It was therefore some time after Satan's temptation about stones that Jesus engaged with the devil again, in the story we know.  Reappearing at some point, because he probably hadn't been visibly hovering for so much down-time, the devil now made it clear that he wanted Jesus to follow him.  So he called out, or he motioned, and then Jesus began walking after his adversary.  Whether Satan stayed visible or appeared at each turn in the road, the enemy made it clear that he wanted Jesus to walk to Jerusalem.

Whatever the meta-mechanics, Satan led Jesus up to Jerusalem.  This may have gone on for several hours at least, if not more than a day.  (For comparison, Jericho near the Jordan was one full day's walk from Jerusalem, but Jesus would more likely have been further north to begin with, and perhaps further east.)

After reaching Jerusalem, Jesus made his way up to the tops of the colonnades, to the 'parapets' which surrounded Jerusalem's Temple courtyard.  Looking down from this 'pinnacle' of Mount Zion, far down to the ground level below (the Tyropoean valley, if to the east, or the Kidron valley, if to the west), nearly anyone would have experienced a brief dizzying moment.  Either fall would have meant instant death for a man.

At this opportunity, the devil challenged the Lord once again.  If you are really the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written that he will give his angels orders about you, to protect you, and you won't even stub your foot on a rock.  This time, instead of suggesting a direct use of divine power, Satan insinuated that God and his angels could prove Jesus' identity for him.

Once again, Jesus calmly recited a scripture he'd learned long ago, again from Deuteronomy.  This time, Jesus let a bit more of his own mysterious identity peek through.  It is written, you must not tempt the Lord your God.

Once again, Satan probably left Jesus for a while, at this point.  Not long thereafter, Jesus would naturally have climbed down from Jerusalem's balcony, made his way down from the Temple, and begun walking north, back to Nazareth.

He was still recovering from a forty day fast, walking as much as twenty miles a day.  He must have been exhausted, and he must have passed moments of wondering if the adversary would show up again.

As it turned out, Jesus would see the devil at least once more - that we know of - during this journey.

To be continued...

July 12, 2010

Jesus' time with Satan, Pt.1

During his forty day fast, Satan tested Jesus.  How, we know not, but Mark tells us he did.  Then, on day 41, according to Matthew, God's Adversary tried a new trick.

On day 41 it was finally the right time for Jesus to eat something, but he was still in the wilderness.  He must have been looking for food, or nibbling on something like leaves or tree bark, because the devil showed up and essentially said to him, 'Can't you do better?'

Matthew tells us this 'first' testing took place after Jesus had fasted.  So of course he was hungry, but the temptation here was not to eat food.  The devil's gambit here was to make Jesus exercise power.  If you really are the son of God, command those stones to become bread.  No one will see, and you'll fill up your stomach with better food, faster.

Jesus' response both confirmed that he intended to keep living his human life as a human and affirmed what he'd heard from the Voice at the River, about six weeks before:  Man lives by every word spoken by the Father.  Yes, Enemy, I really am God's son.  But you're going to have to deal with me as God's man.

At this point, it seems most likely the devil vanished for a while.  Shortly thereafter, Jesus found food and ate.  He must've.  He needed the energy for the long walk ahead of him, because it would take several days on foot alone to get all the way back to Nazareth.

He may have rested for a long while, too, before traveling on.

To be continued...

July 11, 2010

I ain't forgot

about Jesus, or the devil.  My 5 part historical reconstruction on "The Wilderness Temptations" begins posting tomorrow.

Previous posts:

Situating Jesus' Temptations

Sequencing Jesus' Temptations

Situating Jesus' Diabolic World Vision

Did Satan teleport Jesus?

Did Jesus really debate Satan?

Allison on Jesus' Wilderness Temptations

The Battle for History

Here are my three favorite paragraphs so far from The Purpose of the Past, Gordon S. Wood's 2008 compilation of essays.  Commentary after the quote:
To be able to see the participants of the past in this comprehensive way, to see them in the context of their own time, to describe their blindness and folly with sympathy, to recognize the extent to which they were caught up in changing circumstances over which they had little control, and to realize the degree to which they created results they never intended -- to know all this about the past and to be able to relate it without anachronistic distortion to our present is what is meant by having a historical sense.

To possess a historical sense does not mean simply to possess information about the past.  It means to have a different consciousness, a historical consciousness, to have incorporated into our minds a mode of understanding that profoundly influences the way we look at the world.  History adds another dimension to our view of the world and enriches our experience.  Someone with a historical sense sees reality differently:  in four dimensions.  If it is self-identity that we want, then history deepens and complicates that identity by showing us how it has developed through time.  It tells us how we got to be the way we are.  And that historically developed being is not something easily manipulated or transformed.

We have heard a lot over the past several decades about the cultural construction of reality:  the so-called postmodern sense that the world is made by us.  Historians have little quarrel with this notion of the cultural construction of reality -- as long as this is understood as the historical construction of reality.  Too often postmodernists think that by demonstrating the cultural construction of reality, they have made it easier for men and women to change that reality at will.  If culture and society are made by us, they can be remade to suit our present needs, or so it seems.  But anyone with a historical sense knows differently, knows that things are more complicated than that.  History, experience, custom -- developments through time -- give whatever strength and solidity the conventions and values by which we live our lives have.  Those conventions and values, however humanly created, are not easily manipulated or transformed.  They, of course, have changed and will continue to change, but not necessarily in ways that we intend or want.

(from the Introduction, p.11-12)
Yes. History adds to our remembered sense of self. History shows us ways in which we might live. AND Historical writing must be an effort to show WHAT WAS, as opposed to what we can spin it into.

Wood is writing about US History, and Historians' place in the US' ongoing culture wars.  When I look at Wood's words, I think of the cultural wars within Christendom.  Were the first century Christians more like liberal protestants or conservative evangelicals?  Neither.  Did they exude magnificent tolerance in diversity?  Hardly.  Had they secured peaceable unity through doctrinal agreement, by Acts 15?  Hah!

The Battle for New Testament History currently has two sides.  Liberals reinterpret and redefine what the scripture says.  Conservatives support and defend what tradition tells them it says.  One side misses the truth by not trusting the text.  One side covers the truth by controlling the text.  Both sides savor their pockets of victory, but a new day is coming.

In the information age, it's getting harder and harder to build upon spin.

One of these days, History may start to fight for itself...

July 8, 2010

Honesty, on Prayer

I fancy myself humble enough not to ask God for much. I'm honestly grateful that he's blessed me already in so many ways. Aren't I so enlightened? ;-)

The truth is, I deeply believe that I do not know what I should ask for. Sometimes I know what I want, but I'm not always sure what I need.

However, I do know several things God wants. I might even say I know several things God needs. And the sad truth - the simplest fact of this matter - is that I'm normally far too afraid of what it might cost me to pray for those things.

July 7, 2010

The Four Jesus Timelines

The Gospels note 3, 4 or 5 springtimes during Jesus' ministry.  For all those concluding that Jesus died on a Friday, that leaves only four plausible timelines that fit all other data together.  In numerical order:

Those who posit only three Passovers must place them in AD 28, 29 & 30.
Those who posit four Passovers may place them either in AD 27, 28, 29 & 30...
... or in AD 30, 31, 32 & 33.
Those who posit five Passovers must place them in AD 29, 30, 31, 32 & 33.

Again, if Jesus died on a Friday, then *all* scholarly argument about textual details *still* boils down to these four options.  No assessment of the chronological data that we have (Jn.2:20, Lk.3:1, Lk.3:23, etc) has ever been settled absolutely.  In the end, NT chronologists give their reasons for preferring one set of dates to the others, and from there, almost always, they leave things alone.

What I have not seen, as of yet, is anyone fleshing out on actual calendars what kind of a tempo these competing timelines would dictate, for the action the Gospels attest.  Likewise, I have not seen anyone considering how these various options might fit into what else was going on in Rome and Palestine in those particular years.  (I've seen a suggestion or two as to timing that pits 30 against 33, but I've not seen those same thoughts applied across all four timelines.)

Many questions could be examined more carefully only after laying out all four timelines to the fullest extent possible.  How much rest does Jesus get, between travel?  Did the fishermen he recruited get any time off to spend with their families?  How quickly would news have to travel?  Can we note any seasonal (recurrent) timing as to when the multitudes might have peaked?

Where should we date the controversial actions of Pontius Pilate, in these various timelines?  How might that have affected the timing of local politics, between Pilate and Antipas?  What year did Herod divorce and remarry?  How long was his father-in-law Aretas' wait for revenge?  What year did John get beheaded, what else was going on in the Empire at that time, and what was Antipas' political situation when he finally became aware of Jesus?

If we take 30 AD for the cross, we should ask if John died before or after the Empress Livia (whose departure speeded Sejanus' rise, which affected Antipas).  If we take 33, we must ask if the Baptist beheaded before or after Sejanus had fallen?  In other words, how does the timing of John's forced execution play into (or against) Antipas' variable fortunes, given whatever was going on at that same time in Italy?

Many more questions might be asked.  What remains is to flesh out these timelines.  A thoroughly historical comparison of four competing reconstructions may or may not prove conclusive.  But how can we know?  Instead of endlessly debating interpretations of data, methods of reckoning and general impressions, let's acknowledge such methods have been inconclusive.  Let's also, however, take a new step forward with as much as we've gotten so far.

Let's not just argue over when Tiberius may or may not have been Emperor, and then drop it.

Let's figure out what we're really choosing between, in all this.

July 6, 2010

Situating Jesus' Temptations

Trust the scripture, but then ask - What actually happened?  Affirm all that is there, but maintain full awareness of all that is not there.  Finally, try to imagine - but imagining only within the constraints of historical sense and with critical reasoning - what else, if anything, can we conclude must be true about the events which these passages purport to have really occurred?

First, notice how much is missing.  Matthew and Luke tell their brief story with matching succinctness.  Six weeks pass, in one sentence, followed by three quick bursts of dialog that take up the bulk of each passage.  But how long did that conversation take?

*** I mean -- assuming that Matthew & Luke's differing representations of that conversation are fairly accurate reconstructions [of what was actually said between Jesus and Satan], how long did that historical conversation actually take? ***

Did the historical dialog represented by those three bursts all take place during one single encounter?  Apparently not.  Examined in detail, our information requires some time for travel from east of the Jordan all the way to the Temple.  The river alone, going by major roads, was at least 20 miles from Jerusalem - which means at least one full day of walking.  Likewise, it can easily take hours to walk up a short 'mountain', let alone one described as being 'very high'.  If we trust all this data, then our scripture is actually reporting a chain of events which must have taken vastly longer to happen than they now takes to summarize, or to read about.

Besides travel, Jesus must have eaten something at some point, after the first temptation.  Otherwise, walking up to Jerusalem and up a mountain in an undoubtedly weakened condition would seem unlikely.  That eating, like the walking, requires some time.  What did Satan do?  Sit there?  While Jesus ate something?  Maybe.  It might seem more likely the tempter made recurring visits to Jesus in a short span of time.  Then again, for all we can tell from the scripture, they might have been joined at the hip - so to speak - for as many as three days, or more. Three days after the fasting, that is.

A question, for those of us who believe these twin accounts to be factual - Don't we usually read them as if the encounter took up no more time than the dialogue?  That - to me - is infinitely more damaging [to our integrity as proponents of scripture] than is our lack of ways to support the supernatural elements of the passage, academically.  We say we trust that the story is real.  We refuse to reconstruct it in four-dimensions. THAT is why it lacks realism.

Most English speakers, at least, self-report a belief in the devil.  Most could also be willing to accept Jesus talking with him, if we'd only put shoes on the feet of this story and walk it on into the real world, a bit.  Instead, when Christians read scripture without four-dimensional sense, they invent things like Satan transporting Jesus magically, in an instant.  That's not helping anyone.  But that's not my point.

Point:  If these events truly happened, they demand reconstruction.  Without doubting a word of the scripture, we owe it to ourselves to consider what they do and don't tell us, about what really happened.  The travel involved suggests one of two things.  Either, Satan accompanied Jesus as he walked down the road, and uphill.  Or, Satan appeared to Jesus at three separate but nearly concurrent occasions.  The later seems more likely, imho.

So now, without further ado... come back tomorrow for my own attempt at an historical summary:

Next:  Jesus' Temptations, in 4-D

July 5, 2010

Sequencing Jesus' Temptations

The hunger temptation came first in both narratives, and Matthew says Satan took Jesus up to the Temple, then to a very high mountain.  But Luke reverses that order.  Or did Luke un-reverse it?  Was Matthew the re-arranger because he really likes mountains?  Or did Luke arrange things to foreshadow conflict in Jerusalem, at the end?  We don't know, but these are all literary questions.  Narrative sequence does NOT necessarily imply an historical event sequence.

What about history?  Do we even know for sure that the hunger temptation came first?  Yes, and not because it opens both narratives.  We know this from details in the narratives - especially Matthew's.

"Having fasted..." Matthew says, "he afterwards hungered."  But no one needs to read "afterwards" to know hunger follows a fast.  What that word does is to clarify that the hunger temptation did not take place during the forty days.  That requires some immediacy.  In other words, assuming Jesus broke his fast on the 41st day, the hunger temptation would have to occur some time on day 41, before Jesus ate.

We also have Matthew's τότε ('then').  Without going into an in depth adverb study right now, let's just say it is most likely that tote denotes actual event sequence in Mt. 4:5, 10 & 11.  The most helpful of these are the last two, where Jesus dismisses the devil (up on the mountaintop) and "then" Satan departs.  This comports well enough with Luke's more general "having ended every temptation, the devil departed" (4:13).  (This also requires that Matthew's source was aware of the actual sequence, and my own guess is that Jesus was Matthew's direct source.)

So it seems the mountain was last and the bread was indeed first.  Still, one question remains.  Was the Temple episode "second"?

To assume historicity of the passage is not to assume it has all the details.  To assume these three temptations actually happened is not to assume they are all that happened.  Maybe Satan was the one who decided on using the the rule of three in his efforts to tempt Jesus, but there could have been more than three - in which case, Jesus or his earliest archivist simply left something out, or Matthew and/or Luke did.

For whatever reason, the Gospel writers only tell us of these three temptations.  What they do tell us cannot be all that happened, but it is what we know.  Even that much, however, requires some unfolding to get it from its present narrative forms into something more four-dimensional.

Next:  Situating Jesus' Temptations

July 4, 2010

"Hooray, we're not British!"

That's what I like to yell when the fireworks end, every year. No offense, to my friends 'cross the pond. I just enjoy keeping things in perspective. :-)

Enjoy your families and barbecue hot dogs, American friends. God bless everyone.

July 3, 2010

Timeline Update

The succinct guide to 7 BC has now taken its place as a part of my Timeline page.

That first link is the old, super-long story version, from 2006.  Try the new page, and let me know what you think...

Irony of Sunday being the 4th

Fussing about flags in Sunday service is a little bit like 'take your government hands off my medicare'. In other words, there are larger problems here that we've acquiesced to already, and folks are just battling about where the appropriate boundaries are.

No one country holds a special place in God's heart. Neither does any one day. But go ahead, take the red, white and blue idols out of your tax-exempt once-a-week church building. More power to ya...

July 2, 2010

Situating Jesus' Diabolic World Vision

Did Satan really SHOW Jesus "all the kingdoms of the world"? (Mt: kosmos, Lk: oikoumene)?  How?  And where?  Luke says this happened in one moment in time.  Matthew says it was up on a mountain.  That's no contradiction, but Matthew's version is troubling:  εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν. Not just mountain. Not just high mountain. Matthew uses three words to say "very high mountain".  Any intelligent reader would think this writer was trying to emphasize height.

If Jesus and Satan (the latter in spirit or within a host-body) began traveling from some transjordanian wild spot towards Jerusalem, the most natural senic bypass (of significant altitude) would most likely have been Mount Nebo - which certainly has some impressive vistas, but I'm pretty sure they stop short of Abilene, let alone the oikoumene, let alone the kosmos.  For that matter, no mountain in Palestine (or on Earth) would be "very high" enough to serve much better.

Thus, wherever they went, if they went, it wasn't height that produced whatever Jesus saw.

Therefore, logically, IF this event is historical, THEN Satan must have shown Jesus a vision in his mind's eye.  That's not too far afield from what Matthew and Luke give us toward angel-ology.  For instance, we've already discussed the likelihood of non-audible talking, aka telepathy, as perhaps also with Gabriel to Zechariah & Mary.  More importantly, Matthew says angels spoke directly into Joseph's mind through his dreams.  So, apparently, Satan offered Jesus some sort of visual download, and Jesus accepted the imaging transfer.  All plausible enough, as I say, so far as we know.

Anyway, the situation is either fictitious OR ELSE we have to conclude Satan somehow gave Jesus a vision.  Fine, you say.  Fair enough maybe.  But that still doesn't explain Matthew's insistence about this "very high" mountain!

Right.  Now we come to the rub.

A skeptic might say that it looks like Matthew expected his readers to take the direct implication quite literally, and therefore Matthew himself must have had an unrealistic view of his own purported event, which makes it impossible, and thus fictitious.  A liberal believer might say Matthew intended the story to be taken as fiction.  An evangelical apologist might defend Matthew's text on some technicality, and then shift the conversation as quickly as possible toward Luke's version of this same event.  But now _I_ find myself looking for _my_ way of looking at these sorts of things.  And so, what do I think?

I suspect Matthew himself was a little unclear on the precise geography or mysterious mystical aspects of what might have been going on here.  I think Matthew had heard the original story from Jesus himself, but probably not all the details.  In other words, I assume Matthew mentioned the mountain because the vision had actually happened up on some mountain, but I suspect "very high" was a phrase that had grown up over time in retelling the story.  I think "very high" just made people more comfortable accepting the story.

I honestly think most first century common folks were at least smart enough to understand that you can't see the whole earth from a mountaintop, but at the same time I think many of those same folks found the setting more suitable, and found the incredible vision more credible, after hearing it had been experienced from "very high" up a mountain.

Now, skeptics point out that Biblical stories often show holy men finding God up on mountains, and skeptics claim this parallels things like Olympus in Greece - that a primitive mind finds it easier to imagine God touching Earth where it's still nearer to Heaven.  I agree with all of that, actually.  Skeptics, however, go on to conclude that such primitive leanings mean all such stories were probably made up.  I don't agree with that in the least.

Yes, of course, primitive people must have found it easier to envision divine activity taking place up on mountaintops, but that hardly means all such stories are false, or should even be suspect.  To the contrary, the simplistic nature of this convention might only (merely) help to explain why such stories were more popular with everyone - and perhaps more quickly accepted as credible with the simplest of folk.

So, how and where did Satan tempt Jesus by showing him all the kingdoms of Earth?  On a mountain, with a vision.  In my humble opinion, Matthew's style of presenting the story does not make its basic claims any less credible.

Next:  Matthew vs. Luke - Sequencing Jesus' Temptations
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