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.]


Anonymous said...

Consider that Jesus was a "Nazarene."
This does not necessarily mean he was from Nazareth. Four of the disciples were from Bethsaida. Consider that both John the Baptist and Jesus may have grown up together in Bethsaida. Renaming the village Julias and building a Roman Temple was Philip's way of humiliating and punishing the growing Nazarene movement.

Bill Heroman said...

Sorry, Nony, but no.

It's fine with me if you don't accept Luke and Matthew's testimony about Jesus' residence in Nazareth... but after rejecting those you don't gain much to invent a theory that isn't necessary. Nothing about the Bethsaida situation demands a connection with Philip and "the growing Nazarene movement". Besides, if you mean Jesus' movement, your timeline is all wrong.

Thanks for playing, though. We all start somewhere. ;-)

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