August 27, 2013

The Top 4 Mistakes in NT Chronology

They're all sins of omission. In example after example, scholars have failed to take account of the following four things:

1. Event planning
2. Prep work
3. Sailing season
4. Travel time

For examples, scan the index tabs above. Today, all I can say is that the greater sin of Positivism is not trusting the sources, but failing to imagine the real world referenced by those texts.

The real world is always four dimensional.

Sometimes, apparently, defending "inerrancy" has been more economical in two dimensions. But we ought not defend the letter of the law, so to speak. If words describe things, we should cut some slack on description, and concern ourselves more with determining what was being referred to.

And that, in a nutshell, is why conservatives, more than anyone, need to study the New Testament historically.

Anon, then...

August 23, 2013

The Dramatic Ironies of "Galilee" in Matthew 2:22

Commentators routinely point out what the text leaves unstated, hidden meanings which become obvious to those "in the know". In retrospect, the reader is to recognize that Archelaus held Judea and his brother Antipas received Galilee. Also, Jesus went on to live safely in Galilee before his eventual doom in Judea. Both sets of contrasts impregnate Matthew's juxtaposition with a foreshadowing of things to come. However, one set of these contrasts has been regularly misinterpreted, anachronistically, and its literary effect at this precise point in the narrative has thus gone unrecognized.

The problem isn't with Jesus. The foreshadowing of Jesus' geographical life-arc is fulfilled clearly and consistently as the narrative proceeds on from 2:22. Over and over, Galilee is good for Jesus and Judea is bad. The implied reader does not even have to be spoiled in advance to find this contrast being repeated as the story goes on, and most any reader/listener should begin to 'catch on' sooner by the second or third reading/hearing. Of course, it was probably the case for many of the earliest Gospel readers/listeners, that if they had heard anything at all about Jesus, they probably heard he was: *the popular Galilean teacher crucified in Judea*. That is to say, it's hard to imagine a more succinct or direct way to identify Jesus among his immediate posterity. There were other Galileans, other teachers, other messiah figures, others killed in Judea, and others whose popularity climaxed up north, but there is no major figure known to history, other than Jesus, whose basic life story includes each and all five of these points. It is therefore not speculative, but in fact tantamount to a definition, that if anyone knew who Jesus was, they knew these five points. 

In terms of dramatic irony, the plot thickens further. For readers who did already know these most basic identifying details about Jesus, the synoptics do not so much create a spin on Jesus' story so much as they play against that popular knowledge somewhat ironically. With prior knowledge of the famous Passover crucifixion, the readers' big surprise is not that Jesus dies in Jerusalem. It's that he goes there willingly and deliberately in order to be killed. In a similar way, this Judea/Galilee contrast in Matthew 2:22, which has so often been called foreshadowing, is more helpfully recognized as a knowing aside to the audience, as an historically based use of dramatic irony. With one nod from the text, an initiated reader recognizes that she knows more than the characters do at this point, about where this Judea/Galilee aspect of Jesus' story is going to wind up, and that dramatic tension is allowed to keep building as the story goes on.

Now, compare this view with scholars' treatment of the implied Archelaus/Antipas contrast. What typically appears in the commentaries and introductions is a synopsis of the way Augustus settled Herod's will, after which Archelaus was officially demoted to "ethnarch" over his territories and Antipas was allowed to claim Galilee independently as "tetrarch". This material is usually presented as interesting background information, an explication of the reference for the curious student, but rarely as something that impacts the narrative or its observable literary effects. No one calls this contrast an instance of "foreshadowing", which makes sense on one level, because these background currents aren't carried forward as threads in the ongoing narrative. Significantly, the character of Antipas isn't explicitly mentioned in 2:22 and the character of Archelaus is never mentioned again. But that's precisely the problem. What happens to Archelaus?

To the knowing reader, the juxtaposition of "Archelaus" with "Judea" and "Galilee" is unmistakably intended to imply safety for Jesus specifically under Antipas' jurisdiction. As many commentators do note, the implied contrast of safety/danger fits well with general knowledge about Archelaus, who was reckless and caused horrifying problems in Judea during his first weeks of power, versus Antipas, whose rule over Galilee was generally prosperous and benign. But this compares 40 years of Antipas' rule to less than 10 years of Archelaus' in Judea. And there, again, is the problem. 

The commentaries on these aspects is generally transhistorical and ana-chronistic, as opposed to the commentary on that so-called "foreshadowing", which was chronologically nuanced. In other words, the commentators generally recognize that Jesus' thread keeps going, but they treat the Herodian point as if it sits here with no extended impact. To the contrary, however, both sets of contrasts are presented by the text as an ongoing part of Jesus' own lived experience and both sets of allusions reference events known to the educated reader, events which take place (explicitly or implicitly) within the Gospel's developing sense of it's own narrative time.

Recall that the allusion to Jesus' geographical life arc at 2:22 qualifies as foreshadowing for the uninformed reader, who only begins to catch on as the narrative pattern goes on to repeat itself, but that same allusion works more powerfully as dramatic irony for the clued in reader, evoking the reading community's collective recall of famous historical events. Properly taking their cue, the knowing reader supplies historical knowledge about the narrative's background details and proceeds to apply that knowledge in apprehending certain implications about the world of the narrative.

Now, observe that this same dual literary function is exactly what's happening with the allusion to Archelaus' and Antipas' opposing characterizations and inverse fortunes. It is foreshadowing if the uninformed reader needs time to figure out that Galilee winds up being ruled by another person, this Antipas (introduced later), and to figure out that Archelaus must have been disposed with somehow before Pilate showed up. However, for the reader who already knows about Archelaus' exile, and Galilee's independence, and Rome's eventual direct takeover of Judea, the reference works as dramatic irony based in historical knowledge. The reader knows something Joseph does not know. And this becomes more significant with closer examination.

Critics generally allow that when Matthew does not explain who Abraham is, or Herod, (etc), this illustrates a writer's assumption of particular reader knowledge. By this token the commentators have written that Matthew 2:22 clearly evokes retroactive knowledge about Galilee and Judea, regarding Jesus' career, but they have not seen the similar evocation about Galilee and Judea, regarding the Herodians' changing fortunes. Or, rather, they have observed this rather ana-chronally, as noted above, but the passage requires a sharper measure of chronological awareness. 

On closer examination, the background material at 2:22 evokes no settled state of affairs, but a chaotic (and thus, memorable!) transitional phase in between one famous status quo and the next. Specifically, by juxtaposing the name "Archelaus" with the words "Judea" and "Galilee", a clued-in reader is prompted to recall that Archelaus lost Galilee and Antipas took Galilee, but the truly knowledgeable reader should also know that this change of fortunes did not happen quite all at once - contrary to what some commentators appear to suppose, simply judging by their synopses in print. But since the allusion to Jesus' geographical fortunes is chronologically nuanced to a particular duration of the narrative, interpreters should have seriously investigated the possibility that Matthew's allusion to these Herodian princes may be chronologically nuanced as well, to some extent or another. 

At this point in the narrative, if Archelaus is still ruling, then Archelaus is not yet deposed. But when did Antipas claim Galilee independently? What was the historical sequence, and what did Matthew expect readers to know about the historical background of his story, at this precise moment?

It will be argued here that Matthew 2:22 presents a second evocation of dramatic irony by evoking a precise chronological period of time, after Herod died but before Augustus had settled his disputed Herodian inheritances. That is, the reader is supposed to recognize this narrative background as the brief period of Archelaus' first weeks in power, when everyone expected him to inherit the whole Kingdom, and before it was known that Galilee had become independent. With such a context, in the world of Matthew's story, the character of Joseph should not feel overly secure about moving to Galilee, because at that moment of the narrative time - the precise historical setting - Joseph should have thought Archelaus ruled Galilee also. The narrative effect, therefore, is to enhance Joseph's brave obedience to God's strange instructions, and to glorify God's prescient ability to send Jesus and his earthly parents into a place that did not yet appear to be safe, but which soon would be safe, from the horrifyingly dangerous Archelaus.

To be continued, with...

An explanation of the Chrono-Geographical dynamic, of the timing in that transition during 4 BC
     A draft of this section has been posted here: The Surprising Independence of Galilee

A literary and philological examination of the narrative time and historical description in Matthew 2:22
     Watch the index The Herodians for posting information.

A three-level historical reconstruction of likely posterity (aspects of social memory): 
     (1) from the Josephan narrative to a micro-history of 4 BC, 
     (2) from that micro-history to its reflection of the most commonly lived experience during those months
     (3) from that lived experience to estimating the relative memorability of various experiences
     Watch the index The Herodians for posting information.

A plausibility comparison of the reconstructed posterity against Matthew 2:22
     Watch the index The Herodians for posting information.

And finally:

A summative literary analysis of possible reasons why the Gospel writer chose to write with such a chronologically precise background, and with such particular ironies.
     Watch the index The Herodians for posting information.



Anon, then...

August 22, 2013

The Surprising Independence of Galilee

The first Tetrarch of Galilee was Herod the Great, who held that title as a regional governor under his father, Antipater and King Hyrcanus. The second Tetrarch of Galilee was Herod's son, Antipas, whose position was equally subordinate to a King based in Judea. At least, it was supposed to be. In Antipas' case, the intended king was Antipas' brother, Archelaus, who while not yet confirmed as king did hold the kingdom in anticipation of such. For that brief time, which officially lasted for approximately six to eight months during the year 4 BC, the Tetrarchy of Galiliee was not independent of the larger Judean Kingdom.

This surprises us today but it followed established precedent and should have been what was expected at that time. What must have been surprising, actually, was the announcement (whenever it came) that Rome's Emperor had split the kingdom and made Galilee independent.

Augustus Caesar was a genius, a political progressive and a natural innovator who left his creative and re-organizational mark on virtually every aspect of Roman government, culture and life, including overseas policy. The provincial government was reorganized, taxation was reformed, the army was permanentized and creatively financed, colonization and road building was expanded, and client kings were aggressively courted and groomed, their potential heirs being shipped into Italy for formal education in the ways of Imperial control. In settling dynastic disputes overseas, Augustus was basically ad hoc, showing no fear of imposing whatever situation seemed most workable from his vantage point, whether precedented or not.

In contrast to the Emperor, while Herod the Great was progressive in foreign relations and ambitious about economic development, the King of the Jews had remained conservative domestically, where he nurtured his constituencies among very traditional people. Politically, Herod made it quite clear for decades that he intended to establish his own dynasty in some form or another, following Hellenistic and Hasmonean precedent, a thoroughly conservative ambition.

It should stand without question that Herod intended his kingdom to go on with his descendants in power because it was not until late in the game that he became so famously volatile in favoring or disfavoring his various sons as chosen heir, and disowning or executing the most recent offender/s. These sins were anomalous from the larger continuity. As late as 6 BC, Herod was sharing rule with family members in subordinate positions, his eldest son Antipater and his brother Pheroras. Further, each late dynastic crisis was immediately patched with a new heir, and there were both early and later versions of Herod's will inclusive enough to name subordinate heirs, while the revision of 12 BC called for joint rule among three, an anomaly towards the other extreme, which was probably misguided. In all this, by and large, the family succession remained an unchanging assumption, with absolutely no mention or the faintest hint of a notion about dividing the kingdom politically.

The radical adjustment in 4 BC was entirely due to Augustus. The circumstances which compelled him to it probably involved the increased difficulty of governing greater Judea after such chaos and rebellion had erupted, and certainly had to do with the increasingly bitter contentions among the royal family as they waited for Caesar's decision. One also might speculate that Augustus also had one eye looking forward to claiming Judea directly, but the bottom line was probably that Antipas and Archelaus were fighting so venomously in Rome. How could the Emperor deliberately confirm one as subordinate governor under his rival? But whichever aspects of the situation were most responsible for inspiring Augustus decision, the critical point to observe is that Caesar innovated this solution autocratically, and that it was unprecedented.

The narrative of Josephus offers two details which indicate this with particular clarity.

The first point he puts as a thought into the head of P.Q.Varus, Governor of Syria during the conflict that year. Undoubtedly following the account left by Nicolas of Damascus at this point, Josephus has to explain how and why the youngest Herodian prince, Philip, winds up so suddenly in Italy for the judgment, late in sailing season, when Philip had been left in Judea by the family so many months earlier, before the fighting broke out. Whatever caused Philip's travel in fact, Josephus puts it down to the advice of his new friend, Governor Varus, who supposedly "saw a partition coming" (Loeb, AJ 17.303, Cf. BJ 2.83).

Now, while we obviously don't know what Varus may have begun to foresee, the more helpful perspective is that Josephus himself has shared this conception with us, and it expresses the author's account of those days somewhat directly. In using Varus' impressive and unique foresight to get Philip to Rome, Josephus takes no pains to defend or explain the content of that contrived vision, the not-yet-in-effect and the uncommonly-foreseeable nature of the "coming" division. Rather, the narrative completely assumes what ought to be evident by now, that in fact the kingdom had not yet been divided at that time. Therefore, since Josephus' narration shows that Herod's will had not effected such a division, even tentatively, it seems impossible to understand how Josephus' earlier description of Herod's will could be taken as evidence that Herod had been the one to stipulate such a division.

The second and more practical set of details involves finance. There is a point at which it becomes indisputably clear that Augustus' problem was not merely something political, like the assigning of jurisdictions to a proconsul or any other official. No, the real world implications of Josephus' narrative swing dramatically at the point when Augustus transfers control of the real estate, by permanently redistributing the direct receipt of all property-based revenues. Again, note that Josephus introduces this as the personal decision of Augustus, which of course it could only have been, but the key point is to recognize that these revenues must have been assigned differently before Augustus' surprising solution. In other words, the most dramatic change that the Emperor caused was not for Archelaus to lose a mere title or prestige, but for Archelaus to lose control of the revenues which accrued directly from half of his previous territory, which meant that Archelaus lost control of those territories. This, in turn, implies that Archelaus had possessed them all previously, which obviously requires that Antipas' original position in Galilee, as inherited, must have been a merely subordinate tetrarchy.

From first analysis, it should have been difficult to think the Great King had proposed an independent Galilee for the sixteen year old Antipas, even during his swelling psychopathy in those final days. For all of these reasons, Antipas' original position must be understood as a subordinate tetrarchy, as indeed the Galilean tetrarchy had always been previously, and certainly as it had been, both exclusively and explicitly, in Josephus' Antiquities, prior to King Herod's death.

The Augustan settlement therefore must have come as a surprise to everyone in Judea and Galilee, whenever it was finally announced, late in 4 BC or perhaps early in 3 BC. In the final experience of those people, it may not have been Archelaus' demotion to "ethnarch" that was seen as the  most humbling consequence of his earliest mistakes as a ruler, but it was probably Archelaus' loss of Galilee - the shocking, near-unthinkable dissolution of the Kingdom, no less - by which later posterity would come to associate most strongly with its cultural memory of the Herodian princes' return from their voyage to Rome.



Briefly, now. Why does any of this matter?

Postscript One:

If Matthew's Jewish readership in the mid to late first century brought this contextual understanding to its reading of the background referenced in verse 2:22, then the literary effect of that verse becomes much more significant. Recognizing that Galilee's independence from Judea was neither immediate nor immediately known to the general public, the text now appears to glorify God in unstated retrospect, for his divine foreknowledge, as it therefore also lifts up Joseph's bravery in following God's strange advice. In the world of the story, with chronological precision, God is telling Joseph to choose Galilee at a time before Galilee became independent of the infamously horrifying Archelaus, whom Joseph purportedly worked to avoid.

Postscript Two:

The implications for reader knowledge will be discussed at a future time. After reconstructing history from Josephus' narrative, we can further reconstruct some details about what the lived experience must have been like, for the common people. Finally, it is from that second reconstruction that we may observe some connection between which experiences were most likely to have lingered in the cultural memory, and thus informed Matthew's readership. At least, if Josephus' Italian readership in the late first century was aware enough to appreciate this distinction without too much authorial assistance, then how much more easily might a Judean readership have remembered it, possibly in the mid-first century?

Although it may be anticipated that this work will be able to find (or easily be tempted to "produce") a substantial connection between the textual phrasing with and whatever posterity is supposed to have developed (perhaps, skeptically, however much this literary reading needs the text to evoke?!), it could, nevertheless, be profoundly interesting to see how plausibly such a case can be made, and how likely it could seem - in the final analysis - that Matthew's original readers may have actually known (or rather, remembered!) this particular context, which, I very firmly believe, Matthew 2:22 was originally composed to rely upon.

In the end, it may not be the reconstructed reader memory that supports said reading of the text. It may be that a compelling reading of the text can transform into equally compelling evidence for particular reader knowledge, at least, that assumed by the author. Maybe! ; - )

Anon, then...

August 19, 2013

History as Fertilizer (some very personal reflections)

Years ago, my favorite preacher laid down a challenge one night by saying, "I've never heard anybody teach Life." A few months ago I found myself reflecting again on that challenge, scrawling notes on a paper placemat. Instead of trying to turn them into a full essay now, I'll just transcribe them as was, and then comment below.


How does one "teach Life"? How does one instruct, didactively issuing propositional truth, without imposing a fixed immobility of ideals, without quenching the desire for creativity, for dynamic expression, for ...

Tell stories. Fiction & Non-fiction...

This is History, not as blueprint, not as exemplar, but as fertilizer for the imagination. It is the very particularity of History (when properly done) and the infinite variability of context (contexts gone by in the past). This is precisely what tells us that History cannot be preached, as if it's triumphs bear repeating and its failures bear avoiding. History cannot be repeated and History cannot be avoided. (Ignored, certainly, but never avoided, as all that has gone before now has indeed founded this moment.)

Thus, instead of shaping history as a mold for contemporary actions...

What if History is most productive in our present day experience only when re-composted.

George Washington is long since food for worms, and cannot save us now. More importantly, no amount of lionizing via any perspective can ever make us... [? inspire us to be something we're not ?]

Instead of saying, "This is what the past was like and so, too, should our future be" the most we can honestly achieve is to learn the infinite powers of sometimes and maybe.

The only sure lesson of History is that nothing ever works out as anyone intended. If, therefore, you and I do not know what our efforts may achieve, then why toil, why LIVE? Why present a History of any sort at all?

For Heritage. For Fertilizer.

Imagine the past, as it was, as it was, as nearly as we can know it to have been, as it was. Not as we might wistfully suppositionally hope it to have been. See what worked & what didn't. Acknowledge the world's infinite variabilities. And then boldly try something new!


As much as anything, I suppose this sums up how completely my changed feelings have cemented themselves since the days when "The New Testament Story" was our model for church life, in Georgia and Florida. There is no single model of doing church in the NT. There never was. And yet, there is much that has been overlooked that may yet inspire, that is worth re-viewing for it's own sake, as it was, as it was, as it was.

This also touches on some aspects of how I feel about these "Social Memory" theories I've begun studying. Although I appreciate more and more the value of understanding how communities shape and mold their preferred version of past stories, the field has enflamed my insecurities about writing anything that comes across as *my* own preferred version of things. And, worse, in studying Irony this year I've realized that whatever *I* publish will, by definition, stand *as* my own preferred version of things. Unavoidably.

For all practical purposes, I become more and more completely antiquarian, except that eschewing agendas is, itself, technically, an agenda. At any rate, none of this seems likely to attract much of an audience. At least, not as of yet.

I know, I know. Many of you have encouraged me to just keep doing my thing. And yet I keep on chasing this horizon of greater literary ambition, and here's hoping even that hasn't all been for naught.

Something should shake out here before long. Especially now that I'm settling in (again) at work. Fourth new job in as many years. First one with a future. Promoted after six months. Finally starting to find time to re-focus on all this. We may find out if it's really as simple as that.

Thanks for reading.

Anon, then...

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