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.


Stephen C. Carlson said...

You can also take the chronological data from Paul into account. The Aretas incident can be dated to 36 (see Campbell's article) and back up 3 years according to Gal 1, so Paul became a Christian in 33. This tends to make the 33 crucifixion rather tight, too tight in fact.

Stephan Huller said...
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Bill Heroman said...

Stephen, on Aretas I absolutely agree with Cambell, who followed G.W.Bowersock (1983).

However, I assume you'd agree the "three" of Gal 1 doesn't have to mean 36 months precisely. Thirty months or more works well enough, especially if that period included three major festival cycles.

Specifically, I've got Paul on the Damascus Road in Jan/Feb 34, and Paul's second flight from Damascus around August 36. That means Stephen can be stoned around Autumn of 33 and the Damascene Jews can be fussing about things to the Sanhedrin by Channukah.

Have you any objections to Acts 1-9 as a summer long launching pad?

Bill Heroman said...
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Stephen C. Carlson said...

I haven't considered Acts 1-9 in the way you propose, so I don't have any objections to it (at the moment).

Anonymous said...

Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

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