February 26, 2011

Confession of the Month

With some trepidation, I quote my 11 year old, from his blog (to which I shall not link):
"Last night I had a wonderful time singing and listening to the brothers and sisters of the house church I have recently begun to re-experience since my early childhood. I think that it's amazing to sing together and be with the lord, and that there is no one better to do it with than the people I grew up around for my four year old, to six year old life. I am thrilled to be able to spend time with them again and to sing in the lords name!
Reports of her demise had always been somewhat exaggerated. Resurrection may be a bit premature, even now. But this boy, he may not let me out of it this time. And that might be a God thing.

It's a gift to see one still so simple.

Come what may...

February 25, 2011

Tilling on Bauckham on Jesus and Testimony

The first lecture from my last post has me re-reading Richard Bauckham's 2006 book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - or at least the most intelligible parts of it, which being the Intro and Concluding chapters.  And naturally, when I opened the book last night, I found my folded up print out of Chris Tilling's 35 page "Summary and Short Critical Reflection" of that work.

From that summary, here's one great quote, of very many:
Significantly, modern scholars now focus heavily on extracting evidence from the testimony of witnesses in spite of themselves, which is an important insight (c.f. M. Bloch and especially R.G. Collingwood). 'But', Bauckham proceeds, 'we should also note that nothing about modern historical method prohibits us from reading the explicit testimonies of the past for the sake of what they were intended to recount and reveal' even if some deny that the 'past voluntarily "gives" the historian anything'.  This is all the more true as this denial tends to lead to the unsustainable assertion that 'whereas in everyday life we treat testimony as reliable unless or until we find reason to doubt it, in scientific history testimony is suspicious from the outset and can only be believed when it is independenly verified'.  But at this point 'it ceases to be testimony'.  Testimony, despite the attitudes of much modern Gospel scholarship, invites to be trusted; comprehensive doubt is impossible. (p.30)
One might add that the modern "science" of Psychology also depends often on subject testimonials.  Good psychologists qualify and disclaim their data, of course, but they also go forward and build towards conclusions based on that data.  In many areas of that particular field, they can hardly do otherwise.

I don't mean the scare quotes around "science" like you might think.  It's just that some fields of study can be more scientific than others.  Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology and History - each in it's own right - can be no more restrained by controlled testing than their own nature allows.  And no less, certainly.

More anon...

February 24, 2011

How'd I miss this?

Richard Bauckham on the Gospels as History* - video & audio from 1 week ago - HERE.

* Play List:  "The Gospels as Histories:  What sort of history are they?"

Vid 1 - The Gospels as Historical Biography
Vid 2 - The Gospels as History from Below, Part 1
Vid 3 - The Gospels as History from Below, Part 2
Vid 4 - The Gospels as Micro-History and Perspectival History

Glad I caught these.  Hope to watch them - and possibly comment here - soon...

UPDATE:  RB's giving the same talks in Waco next week.  I might even be able to get there for some or all of it.  Stay tuned...

February 21, 2011

Mis-Dating Herod's Temple

In John 2:20, Jerusalem's elders cite 46 years for the building of Herod's Temple. That number is not in dispute here, but in calculating its significance to history and chronology, scholars often claim Josephus tells us precisely when Herod began to build. The common statement is something to the effect that "Josephus tells us the rebuilding began in Herod's eighteenth year, 20/19 BC." All such statements are inaccurate, because Josephus nowhere tells us any such thing.

Everyone catches the revision of "fifteenth" to "eighteenth" from Josephus'Jewish War (1.401) to his Antiquities (15.380). No one seems to catch the significance of the other revisions. In War, Josephus literally said Herod restored (epeskeuasen) the Temple that year. Obviously no one thought that was true, but in correcting himself, Josephus also takes pains to convey a more nuanced process. Now he says Herod "undertook (epebaleto) an extraordinary work, (namely) the reconstructing (kataskeuasasthai) of the temple of God".

Note that Wikgren's Loeb translation made an infinitive into a gerund. Interestingly, Whiston did not: "undertook a very great work, that is, to build". If we isolate this sentence, Whiston seems awkward and Wikgren's decision is justifiable, but in the larger context, Whiston underscores a key point, and Wikgren, although inadvertently, has misled us.

The other critical detail here is that "undertook" does not exactly mean "began". The verb (imperfect passive form of epiballw, taking the accusitive case) more literally means Herod had it thrown upon him, which suggests something like Liddel & Scott's alternate glosses for "undertook", which are, "took (or put) it upon himself". Essentially, the desire has taken firm root, but there is no implication that the intended action has necessarily been embarked upon, as of yet.

In the War, Josephus told us one year in which Herod built. In the Antiquities, Josephus corrects this with exacting qualification. He now tells us only what year Herod devoted himself to the building project. Every detail of the narrative following bears this out. Herod's offer to begin the project was met with skepticism by Jews who feared he might tear down and not build up again. So the King promised "he would not pull down the temple before having ready all the materials" (15.390) and Josephus concludes that Herod indeed, "began the construction [note the same root in kataskeuhs] only after all these preparations had diligently been made by him."

The materials included "a thousand wagons to carry the stones" and the preparations included the training of "a thousand priests" as masons and builders. There is no telling how long it took to train a thousand priests into skillful laborers. There is no telling how many trips the thousand stone wagons took, before enough stone was piled up at the site to begin tearing down... which tearing itself may not even have been considered as the beginning of "reconstruction".

The only thing we can date to 20/19 BC, according to Joesphus, is the speech in which Herod promised to build. The actual building must have begun quite some time later. One or two or even three years is not an unthinkable amount of time for the immense amount of preparations that had to take place before reconstruction could begin. The tearing down would probably have been very quick, so the rebuilding could have begun in 19, 18, or perhaps early 17 BC.

Josephus later says the Temple sanctuary was completed in "a year and six months" (15.421) but this by itself does not contradict anything else. We still do not know how much time passed after the speech before work on that new sanctuary was actually begun. However, we also know that shortly after this eighteen month period Herod visited Caesar in Rome (16.6). Since Caesar went north into Gaul in 16 BC, Herod can only have sailed to Italy in 18, 17 or early 16. The latest possible date for sanctuary construction to begin would therefore be winter of 18/17 BC. The earliest, we should think, not before 19. Most feasibly, it could have been anywhere in the 24 month window of 19 to 18 BC.

The point of all this - for New Testament chronologists - is that these references from Josephus are not enough, by themselves, to inform us precisely about what year the Jerusalemites were speaking in when they told Jesus, "This Temple was under construction (oikodomhthe) for forty-six years". Without inventing a time span for the prep-work, that "46 years" could have ended in 27, 28, 29 or even early 30 AD (counting strictly or inclusively).

Therefore, John 2:20 does provide us with a tight range of dates, but not one so restrictive that it should have daunted apologetic concerns in the past. Naturally, these considerations renders moot a vast chunk of everything that has been written by apologists about John 2:20 and Josephus' Antiquities 15, before now.

Repost from October 2009

Malcolm Gladwell

simultaneously takes a hit and a high five from xkcd:

Personally I couldn't finish Tipping Point, and I never bothered picking up Blink, but I tore through Outliers in two days and I think it's a phenomenal book that everyone in America (yes, especially America) should read ASAP.


February 17, 2011

Did this get your attention?

Title included, the feed line cuts off before the 90th character.  Twitter gets maybe 120, with the 'goo' link.

I mention this because I just caught up in my Google Reader for maybe the third time since Christmas.  And yes, I skim headlines.  So, bloggers, give me a good head's up quick on what I *might* get to read.

I thank you all, in advance!  :^)

[Update:  Okay, in my reader, this one's headline made 96 characters total.  And yes, of course I subscribe to my own blog.  Don't you?  Gotta see how it looks in the feed, dont'cha know!]

February 16, 2011

Shepherds without Sheep (= All Shepherds, nearly)

In the ancient world, as a rule, wealthy landowners hired shepherds to take care of *their* sheep. In other words, a shepherd could talk about "his sheep", but he wasn't their owner. In that sense, not even Jesus strictly claimed to possess his own (metaphorical) sheep, because even though he was Lord, and even though he did call them "my" sheep, he was also the Righteous Man who did everything on behalf of Another.

In the ancient world, if someone ever died to protect sheep, it probably wasn't the sheep's owner. Instead, the one who might have to die while protecting the sheep is a shepherd, who was hired by the owner. The owner who hired a good shepherd would expect that good shepherd to protect *His* sheep with his life. And the shepherd would risk everything right up to death, because the shepherd owed his own life to the owner whose sheep brought them both of their livelihoods.

In Jesus' case, especially, the only reason the Good Shepherd would lay down his life for "his" sheep, was because they belonged to the One whom the Good Shepherd most cared about pleasing.

All sheep need shepherds, but - and I'm talking about churches now - christian shepherds should never think of "their" sheep as *theirs*. If there's anything at all scriptural about the way someone might pastor one of God's flocks, that shepherd should only feed and protect sheep on behalf of Another.

(H/T - this post was sparked by a FB thread underneath Alan Knox's latest post.)

February 14, 2011

The NT has a Story?

I'm teaching at a private school now, and Homeroom is for "Christian Studies".  We're supposed to be discussing the New Testament, but a vigorous debate started up about Comic Book movies, mainly centering on whether aspects of the characters' personalities and origins were portrayed faithfully on the screen adaptations.  (Obviously, that's my summary, but that's what they/we were talking about.)

It was a fun discussion, and rapport building too, so I let the discussion go throughout HR (20 min), and with two minutes left, I asked, "Hey.  What would it take for us to be able to have this kind of a discussion about the New Testament?"

Silence.  Finally, one kid said, "I'm just not that comfortable talking about philosophy."

"Aahh!" I said, "Is that what the New Testament is to you?  Philosophy?"  (pause)  "That's certainly what it is to a lot of people..." I added, trying to balance my challenge with some encouragement.  It's okay to be honest.

"Well, yeah.  I guess."

Then I said to the class, "But aren't there characters and stories in the New Testament?  Aren't there people who DO things?"

Silence.  Pondering.  Quizzical looks.

Hmmmm.  What to offer them next?

February 12, 2011

Phileo beats Agape

at least, in Pre-Christianized Greek, which sometimes includes the New Testament.

One major reason Paul wrote "the love chapter" into 1st Corinthians was to recondition those native Greek speakers as to what "agape" could indicate, in the new Christian usage.  If the word already meant such things, that chapter would not have been so radical.  And as for the popular rendering, "unconditional love", excuse me, but what heathen Greek, before Jesus, ever conceived such a thing?  When Jesus said, "Agapate your enemies", that was radical even for Jews!  Not even Septuagint uses of Agape had conditioned this word for the meanings that Jesus and Paul brought to God's people.

"Love" may have always been the most excellent way, but- it had not yet been stated in so many words.

Meanwhile, in the minds of the people whose tongues gave us Greek, Friendship was the highest form of devotion.  Period.  Plato and Aristotle did no better than suggesting that "helping someone else is a way of serving oneself". The best one could aspire to was great personal loyalty, idealized by the legend of Damon & Pythias.  Even non-idealized, loyal friendship was the greatest "love" any Greek speaking soul ever knew, before Christ. (That's not to knock loyalty, which remains pretty fantastic in it's own right.)

Back to proper linguistics, search the Liddell-Scott Lexicon some time for phil- stems and agap- stems, and see which word was more highly though of, not to mention more commonly used, in the classical age.  Agape meant something else, like caress[ing], affection, contentment, or perhaps general positive regard.  However, to be remarkably fond of something, or someone, you would be called a phil-something. In English also, Philosopher and Philharmonic are but two cognates the OED lists in its ten full pages of phil- words, to say nothing of suffixed loans such as audiophile. In both Greek and English, the phil- stem stands tallest.

Which brings us back to the reason you're still reading.

In the Gospel of John, agap- forms outnumber phil- forms (33 to 16), although the noun forms balance out (6 to 6), and there are admittedly times when the meanings may seem interchangeable. But while chapter 17 leaves no doubt that God's most Enduring Love, in the author's opinion, is "agape", there are only two chapters where the agap- and phil- forms appear together with significant contrast or interplay. On this comparison, chapter 21 usually gets all the (erroneous) attention, but less noticed (sadly) is that Chapter 15 had already set up a semantic relationship between phil- and agap- words.

In that chapter, the Friend is the one who Loves, and the one who loves is the friend (v.13,14,15). And while the world loves "like a friend" (15:19), so had the Father loved Jesus "like a friend" (5:20); so had Jesus loved Lazarus (11:3,36); so had Phillip's supplicants been challenged (12:25); and so (once) is called the beloved disciple (20:2). And in John 16:27, Jesus tells Peter and the rest of his disciples "the Father Himself philei you, because you pephilekate me". Thus, if Christian Linguists must think of phileo as "love like a friend loves", they must also admit this type of love gets contextualized with a very High pedigree, in John's Gospel.

So, then what's going on with Peter and Jesus, in chapter 21?

Here's how I put it a couple of years ago:
having breathed in the Holy Spirit and learning to practice the Lord’s presence during His periods of physical absence, Peter was simply itching for some more active type of occupation, besides being just spiritual. [Which is why he went fishing.]  So when Jesus sounded like he wanted a favor, Peter sounded eager to please, but then he clammed up at the favor that was requested. Finally, Jesus challenged Peter’s confident claim to be such a friend... if he didn't want to go [where God wanted him to].
Jesus' question, "Agapete me?", was an obvious prompt for a favor. Peter's "Yes, Lord, philw" was an affirmative, both times. "You want agape? A friend loves."  In other words, Peter was saying, "I'm your man, Lord, what do you need?"

In Peter's mouth, "Phileo" wasn't less than Agape. It was more.

From the upper room to the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus needed his best friends to prepare for a new mission - to love one another, yes, but to do so in Jerusalem; not heading back to their former vocations, not to feed their own families, but to trust God's provision for fish and bread, and to come provide food for God's family.

And so they did.  Because that's what Friends do.  They Love.

For a more Story-based investigation, incorporating Luke 24:34, and to see how I initially formed this opinion, peruse my series from 2009:
A New Take on John 21
preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 summary

February 11, 2011

Tiberius the Wannabe Non-Leader

Rome's Senate wanted him to be Augustus, but the successor was hoping to be a kinder, gentler overlord.  Tiberius was a delegator, not a micromanager, and he was hoping the Senate would take up more initiative.  Of course, this only makes it sound like the new Emperor was being noble, as if Tiberius genuinely wanted to exert less control.  But nope.  In truth, Tiberius was merely hoping for less day to day burden, less responsibility, and the Senate saw right through it.

Barbara Levick does a masterful job of explaining the Senate's debate with their new Emperor, on 9/17/0014. From Tiberius the Politician:
They should not refer everything to one man, but take responsibility themselves.  ... [but] What Tiberius wanted was impossible because power was indivisible.  Once gathered into one pair of hands it could not be redistributed throughout the body politic; the sway of the Princeps extended far beyond his legal prerogatives and it was useless to pretend that it did not...

The debate petered out, and Tiberius stopped protesting that he was not going to be Princeps as Augustus had been, that he was not stepping into Augustus' shoes.  He had failed to get the Senators to acknowledge that the burden of government lay ultimately on them and so he seemed tacitly to accept the responsibility that they had fallen on their knees to avoid....

At the end of the debate, he must have had to content himself with a private resolve to educate his peers into their responsibilities... (end of Ch.5)
His very first day on the job, Tiberius Caesar wanted to surrender all the initiative, but maintain his veto power.  Naturally, that would only result in everyone guessing and second guessing themselves before initiating only those things they'd be sure their new overlord would ultimately favor.

It just goes to show, you cannot both BE in power and be NOT in power.  If you take the position as chief over all peons, don't start making speeches as if you want the peons to behave as if you're not the chief.  You're the chief.  And, as the chief, you're the only one you can temporarily fool into thinking you're not.

This is Roman Government.  Tiberius nearly ruined the Empire because he spent two decades trying to sit back and let others take initiative, and yet he always came back in at the end, awkwardly casting non-assertive non-judgments on whatever he found unacceptable.  It paralyzed just about everyone.  Thus, in a way, the very odd case of Tiberius' overlording is an exception that proves the rule.

Hierarchy is overlordship.  Period. Do it right, or else quit altogether.

But, Jesus told his Apostles, don't be like the overlords of the Gentiles...



February 8, 2011

Pharisees vs. the Poll-tax

Caesar's Image on that coin might not have been their main issue, in actuality.  Here's why:

To begin with one representative sample of Pharisaism, the historical Hillel school dates from an era when Julius' Caesar's famous tax exemption still applied in Judea - that Jews would pay no tribute in the seventh year.  While King Herod seems to have challenged that custom, and his son Archelaus infamously gathered ten harvests in ten seasons, the direct Roman poll tax did not come into Judean experience until the registration of Quirinius.

At any rate, before the year 6 AD, Pharisees who were sticklers about the Mosaic Sabbatical custom had an easy scapegoat for that custom's latest demise - it was all because of the Herods.  However, in 6 AD, the newly established Government under Quirinius introduced a new poll tax (tributum capitis) which, distinct from the land tax (tributum soli), was not agriculturally based.  But one thing the poll tax was, obviously, was perennial.

Whatever else changed about Judea's tax situation, in this sudden transition to direct Roman rule, the poll tax (by itself) was probably seen by many Pharisees as the first Roman reversal of Caesar's famous decree.  And in that, I suspect, certain Pharisees may have taken the poll tax as an affront in itself, in all years, from the standpoint that - from where they sat - this new tax seemed deliberately contrived as a method of sidestepping controversy about Judea's traditional sabbatical laws.

One caveat:  I'm not certain Quirinius actually instituted the land tax, or that one had yet been levied on Judea to this point.  But even if it had, any Pharisee who wanted to be strict about the year of rest could store up his own grain supply for six years.  As long as he was not a farmer, then (1) the debate was largely on principle, if not merely academic, (2) the land tax would not affect him directly, and (3) the poll tax would still come to him in the seventh year, and thus could still feel like an affront.

Of course, I'm not suggesting all Pharisees were concerned about this, and I'm sure that on a more common level of outrage the Image of Tiberius on that coin had to be the most [or, rather, least] popular sticking point with any traveling Rabbi's constituency.  I admit, that aspect of the poll-tax issue probably had become a very common complaint, but was it really a significant problem?  There's no record of grass roots non-payment across Judea, and anyway, practically speaking, isn't that why Judea had money changers?

Point:  As long as Roman tax collectors took shekels, a Pharisaic complaint about Roman imprinting seems more like empty rhetoric.  The more I think about it, empty rhetoric may really be all that it was.

We now have to consider that maybe this trap-question, as laid out in Mt.22, Mk.12 & Lk.20 (but also assuming historicity, here) was nothing more than a really weak effort to trap Jesus, which then turned into a good story for the Gospel writers, largely because it makes Jesus' response look more brilliant by comparison.  On balance, all of that seems quite plausible; but there's another side to this *coin*, also, which requires more thought.

What if, instead, we consider that maybe the trap set for Jesus on that day invited him into a slightly more complicated debate, one involving more than just moral shagrin for the imprinted face of Tiberius, on a coin no Judean was ever required to touch.  It should occur to us that - even though the graven image aspect may have played best with the crowds, and may still be what plays best in repeating the story - a more entrenched kind of dispute appears to be what we ought to expect from the larger historical context.  That is:

Both Mark and Matthew* frame the trap as a "choose sides" demand, as if the Pharisees and Herodians have been fiercely debating the poll tax issue for quite some time.  However multi-faceted that debate might have been, I don't see the Herodians giving it much time or respect if the Pharisees' major case could have been overturned with the quick response, "Well, they take shekels, don't they?"

To modern readings, the Gospel writers seem to suggest the main coin issue was about graven images.  But our 'impression' here may only be due to the fact that we've lost hold of what everyone knew, back then.  When Mark and Matthew say, "Pharisees", "Herodians" and "κῆνσον" (poll tax) in the same sentence, I suspect there were some in their original audience who knew much better to what larger political conflict those three elements alluded.  So, each writer wisely included that data, but overall managed to play to the crowd.  Just like the Pharisees did... and just like Jesus, as well.

By the way, just to clear up one side point, from above:  Jesus' response in the Gospels is most brilliant NOT because it overturns the tax trap so effectively, but because the Lord steered his way through a divisive contention by turning it into a challenge for all souls to acknowledge the centrality of God.

Because, naturally, we all have been formed in the image of God.

*I don't want to distract from this post here, but I find it characteristic for Luke-Acts to avoid repeating negative views of the Herodians, as often as possible.  I've always suspected this had something to do with Agrippa & Bernice being on Paul's side before his voyage to Nero, but I've not worked through that arugment yet at all.  Something else someone (else) should work on, someday. (!)

February 6, 2011

Did John preach in a Sabbatical Year?

And if so, would that mean anything?  One question at a time.

According to Zuckerman & Blosser, the year AD 26/27 was a Jewish year of rest.  (According to Wacholder, it was 27/28.)  But we also have competing dates on John's ministry.  If the two year chronology of Jesus' ministry were correct, then John's public phase began at some point in AD 27, likely overlapping with the year of rest (whether early or late that year).  If Hoehner's three year chronology were best, then John's preaching began in AD 29, farther out of this question.  And if Cheney's four year chronology is correct, John started preaching in AD 28, early enough to intersect with Wacholder's year, but a handful of months after the end of Zuckerman & Blosser's.

First point:  it's worth considering some possible connections here.

In one scenario, assuming anyone still observed Moses' law on these things, it might have raised John's profile to deliberately coordinate his public splash with a Year 7.  Furthermore, if some agricultural workers had time off, his crowds might have grown somewhat, and though most farmers seem to have ignored the Sabbatical by this era, it may have been precisely such people - the sacrifically observant, the 'radically orthodox', the 'Essene like' among Israel - whom John most wanted to draw.

In a different scenario, John - or perhaps, rather God - waited until just after the Year of Rest to begin this new work.  This theological supposition may not be historically scrutable, but it would fit the chronology beautifully.  In fact, with Cheney's chronology and Zuckerman's years, the ministries of Jesus and John - together - would fill up the six year period in between Sabbath Years, with some spare months left over at either end.  A six year run for the first man of a new race, in the sixth of six Sabbath-Weeks during Jesus' 38 years on the Earth...  *Ahem* (???)

I repeat:  Numerology and Theology do NOT serve as historical evidence.  For completely separate reasons, however, I happen to prefer scenario two.

But none of this is my point.  This is:

These are merely examples of questions, both theological and historical, of the kind that simply cannot be asked until after chronological work has been done.  So, the fact that most New Testament Chronology work tends to stop asking questions - usually at whatever point it 'concludes' for some dates over others - says something about what NT Chronology may have been all about, in the past.  And maybe that was just fine, for the past.

Moving forward, NT scholars who work with Chronology should attempt to do much more than assign dates.  In my humble opinion, chronological investigation has no point - no purpose whatsoever - unless it's the launch pad for doing actual History... and yes, maybe even Theology.

February 4, 2011

Quirinius is Fascinating

Forget that census controversy.  I mean the man's whole life!

Born in the years around Caesar's assassination; the first of his bloodline to become Senator (a 'novus homo'); commanded Legions in Africa, Galatia, Armenia and Judea; granted at least one (minor) Triumphal parade (an 'ovatio'); Governed Crete, Cyrene, Galatia and Syria twice (once solo, once by proxy); befriended Tiberius during his exile; guided Augustus' first grandson to an early death; married the bereaved fiance of Augustus' second grandson; handpicked again and again for the most difficult assignments; his Proconsular career alone lasted for two decades; retired wealthy; lived to old age; and was honored in death with a state funeral, receiving high praise in a personal eulogy from the Emperor Tiberius.

The biography of Publius Sulpicius Quirinius would be riveting history.  He's famous for something he didn't do, and yet somehow escaped infamy for what may have been willful neglect in the young Caesar's fatal accident.  If Quirinius doesn't fail to protect Gaius in Armenia, the next thirty to fifty years of Imperial rule could have been drastically different.  The delicious rivalry of two grandstanding incompetents (Gaius vs. Germanicus) might have led to a stunning political struggle between their mother and wife, respectively (Julia vs. Agrippina the Elder).  There might have been no Sejanus, and perhaps no Caligula.  Of course, this is just speculation, but Gaius' death absolutely has that level of significance.  And Quirinius was (or should have been held) responsible for it.  Why wasn't he!?!

What Quirinius did accomplish was pleasing two Emperors and seizing a grand life of power for himself.  He pacified difficult regions on two continents and nipped off the bud of Judean Zealotry (for a few decades, at least).  Perhaps most impressively, Quirinius managed to retain the favor of both Augustus and Tiberius during the very time of their most aggravated feud.

There have been full length academic treatments done on historical figures with much less to work from.  It must be the darn controversy that cheats us from having such a treasure.  Of course, any scholar who attempts the work could spend easily half of her time on the history of opinions on Luke 2:2.  As soon as someone's that bold, they should read what Stephen Carlson has written, here.  And my Timeline, along with the other 34 posts on this site that mention Quirinius (or at least this onethis one, and perhaps this one).  In the end, however, the focus of such a project should be the man.  Not the minutae.

A critical biography or some such work on Quirinius is extremely overdue.

Won't you take on this challenge as your life's work, dear current or prospective grad student?

Yes, that's right.  I mean YOU.

February 2, 2011

Between the Testaments

The angel Gabriel appeared twice to Daniel in Babylon. In the years 539 & 537 BC, God's messenger predicted the rise of Persia, Greece and Rome. The angel also told Daniel to write everything down, because a very long time was going to pass before everything happened the way he was saying.

Gabriel's biggest prediction was about the Messiah. He said Jerusalem's Temple and wall were going to be rebuilt, and then, a little less than 500 years after that, Israel's Messiah would appear. Of course, no one was exactly certain just how to interpret Daniel's writings while the events were still going on. Nevertheless, Gabriel's predictions continued unfolding.

Around 480 BC, the Persian King Xerxes tried and failed to conquer Greece. Back in Babylon, Xerxes found comfort in a new wife from the Hebrews, named Esther. Twenty-two years later, Xerxes' son Artaxerxes decreed the Jews could go home to rebuild the entire city of Jerusalem.

In the Autumn of 458 BC, returning exiles in Jerusalem heard Ezra read the law. Israel recommitted themselves to their Lord and dedicated the next twelve months as a Sabbath to the Lord. This renewed the Weeks of the planting cycle. From then on, every seventh Autumn began a new resting year for the land.

Near the middle of the second Week, in 445 BC, the King of Persia decided to let Jerusalem rebuild their wall. This marked the Week as the first of the sixty-nine predicted by Gabriel to Daniel.

The last Old Testament Prophet, Malachi, finished speaking around 430 BC, while Socrates was still a young man in Athens. But another hundred years passed before Alexander the Great came from Greece to take the Mid East away from Persia in 332 BC.

Another century passed, as Alexander's Successors who took Egypt and Syria kept fighting each other for Israel. For all of the 200's BC, these Eastern Dynasties battled back and forth. Meanwhile, Italy had conquered the Western Seas and began moving East.

From the 190's to the 160's BC, while the Maccabees were fighting against the Syrians, the Romans were claiming dominion over all of Greece and Macedonia. In the 140's BC, Israel proclaimed itself independent thru the Hasmonean Dynasty. By the 120's BC, Rome began claiming portions of Asia Minor. Gabriel's fourth Empire kept stretching farther into the east.

The Hasmonean Dynasty was sovereign in Jerusalem for eight decades, until Rome conquered Syria in the 60's BC. The Roman General Pompey took Jerusalem but left the young prince Hyrcanus in charge. From then on, Israel sent its annual payments to Rome in order to remain officially "Independent".

In the 50's BC, Pompey lost to Julius Caesar in the Italian Civil War. Caesar was killed in 44 BC and his nephew Octavian was ruling by 42 with his partner, Marc Antony.

In 40 BC, Parthia (no longer Persia) conquered Israel and a young Governor fled to Italy whose name was Herod, son of Antipater. In 37 BC, Marc Antony helped Herod re-conquer Judea and the two became fast friends. The Romans proclaimed Herod King of Israel and Herod rewarded Antony richly for the privilege.

Antony joined Cleopatra of Egypt and fought against Octavian Caesar in the second Civil War. Caesar defeated Antony & Cleopatra, who died a year later, in 30 BC. From Israel, King Herod quickly transferred his valuable loyalty from Antony to Octavian. Caesar accepted, and Herod developed a strong, lasting friendship with the new Emperor of the civilized world.

In 28 BC, the Roman Senate granted Octavian the title "Augustus" which means "Revered One". In 27 BC, the new Augustus expanded the Roman Census for the first time to include all provinces outside of Italy. Each province renewed its census records every ten to fourteen years, but independent "Client-Kingdoms" like Herod's Israel never had to submit to the practice. Italy simply continued accepting the annual tribute sent in each year by such Kings.

By this point, the Senate had essentially conferred ultimate power on Augustus for life. During these decades, the Empire was generally peaceful. So Herod spent many years maintaining his friendship with Caesar. The King gave Rome’s Emperor expensive gifts and built pagan temples in Caesar's honor. Herod spared no expense and took all pains to keep Augustus pleased.

In 20 BC, Caesar granted Herod territories east of the Jordan River which were hotly coveted by the Nabateans of Northern Arabia. In the same year, Herod promised Jerusalem's Jews he would enlarge their Temple. But the Jews made Herod promise to lay up every beam and stone before tearing down the old building, so the actual construction did not begin until 18 BC.

In 12 BC, the Nabateans stoked rebellion in Herod's East, which the King was unable to put down easily. Herod couldn't prove Nabatea was involved without evidence, but Rome's Governor in Syria wouldn’t give the King permission to cross the boundary with armed support. So the fighting dragged on, over the Jordan River, until a new Roman Governor arrived, in the year 9 BC.

That same year, after 528 years, the angel Gabriel finally reappeared on the Earth, to an old priest in Jerusalem...


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