Thursday, November 16, 2023



I wonder whether you remember a big event (global politics, sporting, royal) that took place when you were eleven or twelve years old?

Jesus was most likely born in 6 BCE (Before Common Era) (Obviously, Jesus could not be born BC, but those who first calculated that date got it wrong). At some point, this came to the attention of Herod I (the Great) and Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fly by night, seeking refuge among the Jewish diaspora community in Alexandria. In 4 BCE, Herod I died. At this point, it is time to return home; but Joseph hears that Herod Archelaus is now ruling in Jerusalem, and is afraid; so, they go to Galilee instead.

Galilee is under another of son of Herod I, Herod Antipas. But Antipas is not as dangerous a prospect as Archelaus. Archelaus has a reputation for bloodshed and provoking bloodshed; moreover, his position on his throne is contested by his own brothers. Though the emperor is persuaded to back him, his position as ethnarch is contested for most of his reign, from 4 BCE to 4 CE. He then reigns, less contested, for a further two years, before the emperor himself deposes him and imposes direct Roman rule over the Province of Judea from 6 CE.

Jesus is around twelve years old when the emperor deposes Archelaus, who goes into exile in Gaul. Twelve is old enough to be aware. Twelve is old enough to be apprenticed, as a house builder, to his adoptive father, Joseph. Twelve is old enough for conversations between Jesus and Joseph, as they walked back and forth between Nazareth and Sephoris, a new town being built, where there was work to be found: Dad, tell me again why you were so afraid of Archelaus?

Later, when Jesus is around forty (33 CE) (the Gospel According to John is full of irony; John records some opponents of Jesus stating that he is not even forty years old: I would bet against them.) his disciples ask him about big geo-political events. When will the Romans be pushed out? When will there be a king in Jerusalem who was not a client of Rome?

Jesus tells a story about a man (the emperor) who distributes his property between three slaves (Archelaus, Antipas, Philip) before occupying himself overseas; who returns, dispossesses one of his slaves, and redistributes his property (this happened when Jesus was twelve; it will happen again, when Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod I, successfully petitions the emperor to remove his uncle Herod Antipas, in favour of Agrippa). This is how Rome works.

Of course, Jesus will triumph over Rome. Not by raising an army, or inspiring a rebellion, but by a revolution of the heart; by men, women, and children, mostly slaves, coming to trust that Jesus (not the emperor) was Lord, and serving their neighbours; and in the submission of the Roman emperor (however murky his own motives) to the risen Christ who had defeated death.

The first disciples will not be around to see it, but it will happen, nonetheless.


No comments:

Post a Comment