Monday, October 26, 2020

Did Jesus know John the Baptist?

Did Jesus know John the Baptist before and after the baptism?

Jesus and John were relatives. Their mothers were cousins. Jesus was baptised at the Jordan River, where John had suddenly appeared dressed in a camel-hair garment. This was an event that brought people from far and wide, including the Jerusalem elite.

Did Jesus know John before this event? How much did they meet afterwards? Both suffered violent deaths.
What is the background to this relationship in the turbulent times of Israel?
Context is important. This includes religious history, dates and politics. 1. Dating So it is important, vital, to understand the priestly and political events of the time and also the dates of the writings. Luke’s gospel was clearly written during the period of the high-priesthood of Theophilus, son of Annas, son of Seth. He reigned from 37 to 41. Luke addresses him as ‘kratiste,’ Most Excellent, using the title applied to governors etc. Theophilus was then in office. As high priest recognized by Rome, Theophilus was the ethnarch, ruler of the people. When Luke wrote the book of Acts for him, he was no longer in office and therefore not called ‘Most Excellent’, as this would be a slur and even be seen as a treasonous act to the high priest then in office. Luke reminds Theophilus of the facts. John had a miraculous birth as his mother was ‘in old age’, beyond the age of normal childbirth. Miriam the mother of Jesus was ALSO post-menstrual, Luke 1:36. Furthermore Jesus rose from the dead and there were many witnesses of it including Romans, Luke 1:1. See Jesus, James, Joseph and the Temple on 2. Why the shock of John? John’s appearance on Jordan was a shock event for the priestly dynastic family of Annas. The Jerusalem elite came to the banks of the Jordan. It brought up the nightmare, earlier events of the past, of which they were clearly guilty. What was the scandal? John and Jesus were born at the end of Herod’s despotic life. Two political events are important here. First, two scholars made an attempt to purify the Temple in anticipation of the prophesied coming of the Messiah. They pulled down a pagan eagle at the entrance to the Temple. It glorified the goddess Victory and the Roman legions. Then came a broader revolt which ended in armed Roman intervention and the bloody War of Varus. Thousands of the faithful were crucified. Sepphoris, the reclaimed northern capital in Galilee, was burnt and its inhabitants sold into slavery. 3. Murder in the Temple The Seth dynasty of priests seized power and supplanted the Boethusean priesthood by force and bloodshed. John’s father, Zacharias, was probably killed then ‘between the altar and the Holy Place.’ A subservient high priesthood was set up in Jerusalem as the Roman controller to keep a lid on religious revolt. Then Annas and the other sons of Seth changed some of the festival calendar and introduced other foreign Temple customs. 4. What’s in a name? The mothers of John and Jesus knew each other. Their fathers too. Troubles began with a religious dispute, escalated to civil war then bloody Roman destruction. How were John and Jesus affected by this bloody war and what were religious backgrounds of John and Jesus? History shows they left Israel in two different directions. Why? Safety and to provide double security for continuing the priestly line. Both John and Jesus derived their priestly prominence because of their high Aaronic pedigree. The names of their mothers show it. They were cousins and both ‘daughters of Aaron’ Luke 1:5. John’s mother was named Elizabeth (Hebrew Elisheva, the same as the name of Aaron’s wife) and Jesus’s Mariam in NT Greek (Hebrew Miriam, the name of the prophetess and sister of Aaron and Moses). Names were not, as today, chosen at random. They recalled verified genealogy. The women were cousins descended directly from Aaron (Luke 1:5). When the son was named Jechoniah and not Zacharias like his father, it caused shock and surprise. 'Fear came on all that dwelt round about' Jerusalem and Judea, Lk 1:65. Why? because it reflected back to the genealogy of Elisheva’s line, recalling Onias, the high priest in Jerusalem who fled to Egypt for safety when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple, Josephus War, bk 1. Onias built a duplicate of the Temple at Heliopolis and taught priests the rituals so they would not be lost. John’s birth and naming revealed many secrets and exposed the guilty.
5. Herod initially tried to control the priesthood Note that, when Herod took power, there was no true Aaronic priest in office. Initially Herod, an enthusiastic pagan, had put into priestly office those without genealogical right to the Holy Place, says Josephus. The male Aaronic line had been killed off. But a son of a ‘daughter of Aaron’ could claim office because the grandfather was an Aaronic priest. When the NT stresses that Elizabeth and Mariam were both ‘daughters of Aaron’ it casts a slur on the genuineness of the priests that had seized office (Joshua son of Seth and Annas of Seth). It also implies that all the authentic sons of Aaron had been killed or were in hiding. 6. What family, what person was the last true Aaronic priest? Go back further. Two decades before their birth, Caesar Augustus had agreed to a peace treaty with its main enemy, Parthia, which was ruled by the Hebrew-speaking Arsacid dynasty, favourable to Israel and the Jews. It insisted on religious restoration too, including that of the high-priest dynasty. That treaty reshaped the world, till then divided in two. Parthia had trading relations as far as China and controlled parts of India. Under this historic pact, Rome agreed on the reconstruction of the Temple under the legitimate Aaronic priesthood of Sim(e)on Boethus. Herod was forced to concur. Simon returned from Egyptian exile to the shock of the nation. Simon had authenticated Aaronic pedigree. He wasn’t rich but he became the lever that broke Herod’s grip on power. Herod had married into the previous priestly dynasty, the Hasmoneans, hoping this would ensure loyalty of the population. He had forced a marriage to the daughter of that previous priestly house, even though priestly daughters were forbidden to marry outside the tribes of Israel. The Hasmonean priestly line had died out. The last one, Aristobulus, was killed by Herod’s Gauls. Herod put in place people who had no genealogical right to the office. The contrast was stark. Now it was clear that these fraudulent priesthoods had nothing to show compared to Simon’s. It was also obvious that they had become corrupt and Hellenised. Herod divorced this wife, Mariamne I, the last daughter from the Hasmonean/ Maccabee dynasty. Herod forced a further marriage. The daughter of Simon became his queen, Mariamne II. Who were these legitimate Boethusean priests who had taken shelter in Egypt during the wars and syncretic paganisation of the Maccabees? John’s naming showed he was part of the family. 7. Simon Boethus Simon remained high priest and reconstructed the Temple until he was retired by Herod just before the birth of Jesus. Boethus is probably not a name but the crude Greek version of his dynastic claim. It was also useful for this not to be too obvious as the priests that got killed first were those with the most authentic genealogy. What does Boethus signify? It is probably the Greek for Beth Yesse. That would imply that the Simonian priesthood were intermarried with the Davidic line. David was the son of Yesse. 8. Where did the child, Jesus, go? Forty days after his birth Jesus was presented in the Temple where he was received by Sim(e)on. He is described as righteous, the term used often for the authentic high-priestly family. He prophesies. Simeon praises God for the coming deliverance of the country through this child as Savior. Simon met the family in the Temple at the time of their purification ceremony and no doubt recorded the genealogical details in the archives as we see it in Matt 1 (Greek and Hebrew). The beginning of Matthew’s gospel dates from this time. Having disclosed in Bethlehem that he was of the family of David and heir to his throne, Joseph could no longer stay in Israel. Herod was becoming more and more crazed with acute disease, conspiracies and killing potential rivals. Jesus was taken to the same place where Simon had found safety against persecution. His father and mother took him to Egypt when he was a toddler, paidion. 9. Where did John go? What happened to John? Luke tells us diplomatically that he went East and 'dwelt in the desert' Lk 1:80. Matthew is more specific. At thirty he returned from exile dressed in the costume of that country. He wore a camel-hair garment and Hebrew Matthew adds a black leather belt (Roman leather was brown). See Why did John wear a camel-hair garment and a black belt? Parthia, the super-power in the East, had vast resources of camels and horses. They often went into battle with multiple thousand camels, the general himself having a baggage train of a thousand, according to Plutarch: Crassus #21 in Rawlinson’s Parthia. John’s dress implies he came directly from Parthia. (Hebrew Matthew is more specific.) It is unlikely that he previously met Jesus though he would obviously know of his relatives, equally under death threat, especially on the important topic of priestly succession. Jesus clearly came from a senior branch of Aaronic priests, although he was younger. ‘It behoves him (Jesus) to increase, but me to decrease,’ Jn 3:30. It was a matter of precedence and prophecy. 10. Why did John’s appearance on the Jordan make such an impact? Firstly he came out of exile from Rome’s hereditary enemy. Secondly he denounced the pro-Roman Quisling priesthood that displaced by force and bloodshed that of Simon the righteous. Thirdly, his own father Zacharias was probably killed by this clique, Matt 23:35. Fourthly, he preached repentance not revenge. He led the people to baptism as a sign of their already changed lives to virtue: burial of the past in the waters. Josephus Antiq 18,5,2 (117). Baptism signifies burial and resurrection to a new spiritual life. This was like the mikva a personal process in front of witnesses, not a dunking by a preacher to wash away sins. It is possible therefore that this was the first meeting of Jesus with his cousin since infancy. Their parallel lives came to the same conclusions and similar actions, reinforcing that God’s covenant with Israel demanded virtue and obedience to his laws. 11. Only 2 Rabbis in NT. In the Hebrew Yosippon – which may reflect the Hebrew version that Josephus says he sent to Parthia and Scythia before writing the Greek ‘Jewish War’ – John is called ‘Rabbi John the Baptist High Priest’. Yes, high priest.
He had right to this office through Elizabeth/ Elisheva not his father Zacharias. John is also called ‘Rabbi’ in the NT but it did not mean leader of a synagogue in the first century. All the documents and epigraphical remains of the period call the leader of the synagogue an archisynagogos or archon, as does the NT. ‘Rabbi’ means ‘anointed’ in Aramaic. Jesus is the only other person called Rabbi in first century literature. He is referred to more than a dozen times as priest or high priest in the book of Hebrews. He is also called Great Priest, Faithful High Priest (= Chief Priest) and Teacher, that is, the despotes of the Temple. The teacher was the controller of the Temple and it was off limits to Romans and non-Israelites. The Teacher is teaching high priests. He catechized priests like Theophilus in the Temple, Luke 1:4 Gk, katechethes. After his resurrection, James / Jacob, his brother, was in control of the Temple rituals. All early writers, like Hegesippus, Eusebius, Jerome and others, confirm that James as Sagan or Teacher was permitted to enter the Holy Place and pray there for Israel on a daily basis. 12. John as Family Defender, Goel. When Herod the Tetrarch seduced the wife of Herod (Philip) the son of Mariamne II, John risked and lost his life to defend the honor of the family. This incident is described in Josephus Antiq 18.5 (109) and in the NT in Matt 14. It was the duty of the goel, or Redeemer, as head of the family to right the wrongs of relatives and if necessary buy back a relative from slavery. In this case, Herod imprisoned him. The wife is named Herodias and Josephus names the daughter who requested the head of John the Baptist on a charger as Salome. This incident shows that John was indeed a high priest and related to Mariamne II, the daughter of Simon Boethus. 13. Seniority Thus we have two high priests of the authentic Aaronic family, John and Jesus, who grew up separately. John was raised in Parthia. Jesus in Egypt where Simon Boethus retained the true faith. He was then in Nazareth – the genealogical center of northern Israel, the Yeshana of Sepphoris. Why did John cede to Jesus? Firstly Jesus was anointed possibly by Simon in the Temple after his birth when Simeon declared he was the Messiah, then by John at the baptism with the heavenly signs and divine voice, Hebrew: bat kol. Secondly, Jesus had both high priestly pedigree through his mother and his father, and also royal blood through Joseph as the genealogy of Matt 1 shows. A king has the right over a high priest, for example, to dismiss him. 14. The ‘Essene’ incident Did John and Jesus meet much after the baptism event? There is little to say they did. The incident of Mt 11 where John in prison sends two disciples to enquire whether Jesus was definitely the Messiah, ‘the one to come’, suggests that they did not meet previously to discuss this. Jesus replies that the sick were being healed; the blind were given back their sight; lepers are cleansed, deaf hear and the dead are raised. That seems an extraordinary list ending with the dead being raised. But it does not end there. Jesus adds what to materialists may seem incongruous: ‘the poor have the Gospel preached to them.’ This is clearly more important than all the rest. It speaks of the coming Kingdom of God. What is also remarkable is that this unusual order of events is repeated in what is considered an Essean document among the Dead Sea Scrolls, 4Q521 called ‘Redemption and Resurrection.’ It says ‘The Eternal shall do glorious things that have not been done, just as he said. For he shall heal the critically wounded. He shall revive the dead. He shall send good news to the afflicted.’ This implies that both were in communication through this group who represented the combined royal line and priestly line in Israel.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Why did Matthew write that Jesus was called Nazarene and thus fulfilled prophecy?

The Gospel of Matthew says that Joseph, Mariam and Jesus came to live in Nazareth. That fulfilled the words spoken by the prophets that 'He shall be called a Nazarene (Nazarean, Greek: nazooraios).'  So says Matt 2:23. 

What was the prophecy and where is it? Bible sceptics say that nowhere in the Bible is there such a prophecy written. They say that shows Matthew made up false stories. But these sceptics do not tend to point out that Matthew says the prophecy was spoken, not written.

But there is another grave error, a humongous one. In fact the prophecy encompasses more or less every prophecy ever written or spoken by Israelite prophets. 


There is a key factor that such commentators willingly leave out. They are too often microscopically concentrated on not only the letters of the text, (not even the meaning of the words). They become victims of unsubstantiated theories about how and when the gospel of Matthew was written. 

Let's first deal with the historical facts.    


What most commentators leave out is the historical context – Herodian despotism. Herod killed his own sons because he merely suspected them of disloyalty. How do you think he would react to everyone calling Jesus: Jesus the Messiah, the king, the rightful son of David, and only legitimate heir to rule Israel? 

Herod's Massacre of the Innocents (Kerold)

Herod's record was as clear as red blood on a white linen cloth. When it came to Jewish pretenders to what he considered his throne, given him by Rome, he wiped from the face of the earth anyone who could claim Davidic heritage. 

He burned the family archives and the city of Bethlehem. 

When Parthian Magi announced that the Davidic Messiah was born he ordered a baby genocide. He killed all children under two in an area from Bethlehem in the south to the northern suburbs of Jerusalem.

No one even dared to name a child David in Herod’s time.  

Joseph, Jacob, Simon, Judas, yes. 

David absolutely not.

What has this to do with Nazareth?

Imagine someone who supported the Czar in the time of Stalin’s USSR. Would they call the group, the ‘Czarist’ group? Would they proclaim: ‘I am a Czarist’?

They would be dead men. 

Subtly and truth are required. The prophets referred to in Matt 2 most obviously include those such as Isaiah, Ezekiel and Micah that refer to the Davidic Messiah – the Branch (Netzer) of David.

Why is Nazareth mentioned frequently in the NT and Nazarene describes the followers of Christ? The answer is the same to the question: why is the capital of Galilee, Sepphoris, not mentioned at all? 

Nazareth in Ceasarea inscription
of priestly courses

Sepphoris became a pagan Roman town. Nazareth was a suburb of the capital. The name of the town, Nazareth, was found on a stone tablet in Caesarea in 1962. It lists the priestly courses or mishmarot and their geographical assembly points. It is clear from the spelling Nazareth has nothing to do with the Nasarites of Num 6. 

Nazareth was holy. Sepphoris was unholy and Roman.  It was previously a center of rebellion. It had been the center of Israelites and Jews reclaiming their hereditary land after the return from Babylonian captivity. In a revolt against Roman oppression of their religious beliefs, the population had been slaughtered or sent into slavery. It had been rebuilt. Now it was ultra loyal to Herodian Rome.

Jews and Israelites still returned. According to Josephus, millions of the faithful attended the annual festivals in Jerusalem. Only those who could prove that they were legitimate Israelites with proven genealogy could attend. 

Talmudic sources say the genealogical history of all legitimate Israelites (and a few non-Israelites too) was found in the archives of the Depository (Jeshana) of Sepphoris.  It had pedigree records (copies or originals) of material Herod tried to destroy in the family archives in Jerusalem to assure his dominance. 

For priests and Israelites, 

             ‘If his father’s name was found in the archives at Sepphoris, no further inquiry was made.’ 

Evidently this vital history of Israel and material for its future was not in the city center where pagan riots could burn them. It was on a defendable hill as the NT describes for Nazareth. 

Israel a society ruled by pedigree.

It is no coincidence that the first words of the New Testament are a genealogical listing of Jesus Christ's family back to Abraham. In the Hebrew Scriptures the last book is that of Chronicles, which lists the genealogies of kings and priests.

Proof of genealogical pedigree was essential in all levels of Israelite society. Israel was probably the strictest and most prominent genealogically-centered society on earth. 

It was impossible to enter the Temple without proof of descent – legitimate descent reinforced at least by 2 or 3 honest witnesses– from one of the twelve tribes. 

Priestly pedigree had even stricter rules. They had to marry virgins from a tribe of Israel. Israelites were allowed to marry virgins of converted gentiles.

Thus protecting the identity of an authentic descendant of David from Herod required subtlety and ruse. Hence the term 'Nazarene' was used. It meant the Messiah who fulfilled the Tanakh prophetic promises from Genesis to Chronicles. 

But it was camouflage for Romans and Herodians. To foreigners and gentiles it meant a man from a small town near the Rome-loyal city of Sepphoris. That is evident in the varieties of describing a man from Nazareth. How did these Nazarene variations arise and by whom?

There are variations of the term of Nazarene: nazooraios or nazarinos. The town of Nazareth itself is spelt in several ways, ending with -a, -ath, -eth or -et. These may be due to local use or in the case of non-believers like the servant girl who accused Peter as understanding it to refer to a geographical location of a suburb of the Galilean capital Sepphoris.  ‘His speech betrays him.

For the faithful Hebrew-speakers the name Nazareth could mean the city of Genealogies or Branches. The Hebrew word 'Netzer' means branch or off-shoot or descendant. 

Jesus the Nazarene means Jesus of the Branch of David. It encompasses the main prophecies of the whole Bible. 

Centuries of Regicide

The term ‘Nazarene’ derives from Netzer, an off-shoot or branch, someone who was a legitimate Davidic descendant or part of this Davidic group. That is Hebrew. Few gentiles knew Hebrew and even less had access to the records. 

In Herod’s time anyone saying ‘I can prove I am a Son of David’ outside the Temple (where gentiles were not allowed) would be killed by Herod’s men. Nazarene or ‘Branchist’ implied a Davidic descent without being overt. 

The Helenistic Syrians under the Seleucids did their level best to eradicate the Davidic line. The Maccabees or Hasmoneans liberated the land from this pagan oppression. But they did not want a Davidic king to replace their military power based on their high priests. Instead they claimed to be 'ethnarchs' or rulers of the people. And then they succumbed to self-pride and made themselves kings. 

The Hasmoneans were not able to resist the intrusion of Roman power. But in the Roman civil wars they allied themselves to Julius Caesar and won recognition 'for ever' as rulers of Israel. They had no interest in seeing a Davidic king. Then Rome decided to make Herod king of Judea. The high priest was demoted to be a Quisling of Roman power. Herod was ruthless in wiping out any opposition.

Herod the Great Despot

In all these centuries of the post-exile world up till Joseph, father of Jesus, the identity and even the existence of the Davidic line was obscured to the point of its assumed non-existence. The rigidly enforced Herodian/ Roman ‘registration’ of the Bethlehem property forced Joseph to courageously step forward and reveal his royal lineage. He had been able previously to distract attention because he also held priestly (Levitical) lineage.

There was one place on earth were Herod's men could not enter. That was the Temple.

The danger without

Jesus would be killed, if, outside the Temple, he openly proclaimed that he was the Son of David. But the death sentence would also apply to those who Herod thought would support this assertion. Outside the Temple the people took their life in their hands to call Jesus, Son of David. That would be deadly for Jesus and anyone who was seen concurring with the title. He told people bluntly not to say this title.

Desperate people sometimes make desperate moves. 

In Matt 9:27 two blind men cried out: Son of David, have mercy on us! 

He asked them whether they believed he could heal them and did so. Then he charged them: 'See that no man know it.' v30. It was dangerous for the newly sighted men and anyone who agreed with them. Later other blind people used the same psychological technique to be cured because they knew he could heal them, Matt 20:30. In Mk 10:47, Bartimeus, after regaining his sight, stuck with him as the safest place. In Luke 18:39 the crowds rebuked the blind man, for crying out, Son of David, -- before he was healed. 

After the Resurrection

After the Resurrection, it was different. It was witnessed and affirmed officially by Romans.  

In the 60s, decades after the Resurrection, believers were all normally referred to as Nazarenes. Paul was called a Nazarene in Acts 24:5. It was proof of Christ's future active kingship of the planet. 

He wrote: 

Jesus Christ (=Jesus the anointed king) came from the seed of David according to the flesh.’ Rom 1:1-3. 

When, in John 1:46-9, Nathanael acclaims ‘Jesus the son of Joseph who is from Nazareth’ to be ‘Son of God and king of Israel’ it was completely verified in the most authentic genealogical archives of Israel and unchallengeable.

The early ekklesia was Nazarene, not Christian

Paul was not a Christian. He was a Nazarene. 

Once Jesus had proved his Messiahship, by the resurrection and the Romans acknowledged it, it was more easy to overtly identify as Nazarene followers, like Paul and the early ekklesia.  

The Hebrew term, Nazarene, was the normal name for Christ’s followers. 

Around the time of Caligula in 41 CE, when he was trying to destroy all Judaism, the term ‘Christian’ was first invented. It was used as an insult by gentile Greeks of Antioch, Acts 11:26. This belittles the prophetic resonance of Nazarene, the legitimate Davidic King, destined to rule the world, to a mere leader of a movement. The significance of holy oil and anointing was lost on pagans. ‘Christian’ became the official term for the imperial Roman syncretic religion. 

The faithful Nazarenes were excluded and persecuted.

Further Proof that Nazarene meant Davidic genealogy 

The Messiah fulfilled genealogical prophecies. He was to be the Son of David, however unlikely that appeared to be in the early first century. There was no movement called the Davidics. The three main groups, according to Josephus were the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes. The NT speaks a lot about the first two groups and condemns many of their practices. It does not condemn any practice of the Essenes. Why? It does not even mention them by name! That too was a camouflage name.

The other deadly exposure of linguistic Davidism was also relieved after the resurrection. Those who supported Davidic legitimacy and purity across all Israel were known as Essenes or more correctly Esseans. Josephus uses both terms. 

Essene comes from the Latin usage. Where does the term Essean come from? It relates to Yesse or Jesse, the father of David. As late as the 400s CE Epiphanius, the bishop of Constantia of the imperial church, a converted Jew who knew Hebrew, wrote a list of the origin and beliefs of early Christian groups. He wanted them eliminated.

On the Nazarenes he said: 

‘These people did not give themselves the name of Christ or Jesus’ own name, but that of Nazoreans. They also came to be called ‘Jesseans’ for a short while, before the disciples began to be called Christians at Antioch. But they were called Jesseans because of Jesse, I suppose, since David was descended from Jesse…’ Panarion 2.29.

This shows that 'Nazarene' relates directly to the genealogical prophecies of the whole Bible. The parallel name of Esseans is also of genealogical origin. Both have significance for the prophecies of the Messiah made over the many centuries of Israel’s history. 

The real meaning of Nazarene is a topic of no trivial importance but a major one in the history of the world. It uncovers the prophetic nature of the coming of God's Messiah or Christ. It also describes those, like Paul before Agrippa, who were convinced by Christ to follow him, even to death. 
It encapsulates the truth of God Christ revealed by his resurrection to Jew and Gentile, the entire world.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Why did John the Baptist wear a black belt and camel hair garment?

John the Baptist and the Black Belt business

John the Baptist,
by Brueghel the Elder
Among the score of surviving manuscripts in Hebrew of the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 3, all manuscripts are unanimous about describing John the Baptist.
He wore a black belt.
Thanks to the tireless work of Nehemia Gordon and his team, some 21 Hebrew manuscripts have been found and checked in Museums like the British Museum, Israel and even in the recesses at the Vatican. Those derived from the Hebrew Matthew manuscript of Shem-Tov, known as 'the Ancient', a fourteenth century Jewish polemicist, repeat one word:

The Greek and the Latin Vulgate do not say that. Nor do other translations. The Greek Matthew and the KJV say that John wore a coat of camel hair and was girded with a leather belt. It says nothing of the color.
So why are the Hebrew versions so adamant on the color being black?
History records that Matthew wrote his gospel first in Hebrew. What we have today are a variety of documents, but none of them are originals from the first century. They are either copies of copies etc of the originals with variations and mistakes or some may be translations from the Greek for use in the grand and dangerous debates between Jews and Roman Catholics. In these debates the Jews had to maintain a position without contradicting Catholic doctrine. A difficult and sometimes lethal game of words.

But whoever wrote these multiple documents, whether free or persecuted, careful or not, they all wrote a word that is not found in Greek: black.

What is the significance of the black belt? Black belt has a special connotation today: martial arts. Obviously this black belt does not relate to Judo. What about Judah? Hebrew descriptions must have something to do with Jews!  Why do all the Jewish scribes writing over several centuries and in different countries and cultures, emphasise black? How could it be coordinated so widely and accurately?
But does it really even relate to Jews? Is there a deeper, traumatic story about Israel that no one could forget? Why was the 'black' belt not relevant for Gentile/ Greek Christians who had the Greek NT?

Rabbi John the Baptist
John is called a Rabbi in the Greek NT, John 3:26. This has nothing to do with a modern Jewish synagogue rabbi – the NT and other writings use another term for the ruler of the synagogue, ‘archon’. ‘Rabbi’ in the first century meant a member of the Council of the Temple, or perhaps the Great Council (sanhedrin). It was most likely the anointed head of the Temple Council. Only two people in all the NT are called rabbi: John and Jesus. Paul is not called a rabbi.
This restricted sense of Rabbi as an anointed post is confirmed by the Hebrew version of Josephus’s ‘Jewish War’ known as the ‘Destruction of Jerusalem’ by ‘Josephus ben Gorion’. Flavius Josephus said he wrote his first account to his countrymen, that is Israelites, and identified them as Scythians, Parthians and Kelts. They spoke many languages with Hebrew and Aramaic as a common tongue. Despised and feared by Romans, Latins and Greeks, who called them ‘the Upper Barbarians,’ they lived and roamed across the whole earth North of Rome from the Steppes to Northern Europe.
With the rise of biblical scholarship, this Hebrew Destruction of Jerusalem was translated and first printed in English in 1558 by Peter Morvyn. Many reprints followed. Thus it predates the English translation of the Greek Flavius Josephus. It was much better known until Whiston's translation of the Greek became a standard in Christian homes alongside the Bible.
The Hebrew version, known as Josippon, has some surprises.
In it John is not only called Rabbi but ‘Rabbi John Baptist the High Priest.
High Priest!
The real Rabbi
First what did Rabbi mean? Historically the word ‘rabbi’ appears in writing first in the NT. At that time it may have been an Aramaic title—it means ‘anointed’ in Aramaic.
It is not in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In the first century it was later confused by Christ's enemies with Hebrew for ‘my master’, as Jesus says, Matt 23. The scholars  'have sat down on' or placed themselves falsely on 'Moses's seat' (took it over). They act holy but are hypocrites. They prostrate themselves in the streets, then shout ‘my master’ to each other in the market place, hoping the common people would understand it as Aramaic ‘Anointed One’.  (The scholars were NOT anointed.)
Jesus told the disciples not to call each other Rabbi = Christos or Messiah.
Did the false scholars stop? Obviously not.
Rabbi’ became a common term in the Talmud, (2nd/3rd century) synagogues or among Jewish scholars of the Pharisaic persuasion. Some Jews including Karaites objected to this title. They dismissively called such people ‘rabbinites’.

Black Belt
So what of the black belt? Why do the Jewish MSS insist on it? Simply because the high priest did not wear a black leather belt. He does not wear any leather. In the Temple he wore linen and no leather, not even sandals. In the synagogue pious Jews do not wear leather, especially on fasting days such as the Day of Atonement. They don't even wash. Yet the Torah scrolls themselves are made of leather.
As for camels, a single camel hair might render a priest ceremonially unclean.
The High Priest’s dress is specified in the Bible, Ex 28. No camels, no leather!
The Jewish versions are trying to insist that John was not a regular high priest. The NT is also shouting this out.
Why did John have a black leather belt? A priest has a white linen girdle. The Pharisees might say:

Imagine that! Black leather! Is he really an Aaronic high priest?

Yes, he was.
An additional fact supports the case. The Romans' economy required leather in large quantities. Their tanning process produced brown cow leather in large amounts, but outside towns and cities. The tanning process caused bad and persistent smells.
This leather was not only for belts and clothes but for military tents. If leather was tawed with alum it became softer and had a lighter tone but could then be dyed. Sheep leather is also softer; goat leather may be tougher. Softer leather is not best for a testing environment like a desert. So if it was dyed black by the Roman process it would be too soft for a sturdy belt. Roman leather was typically brown. A brown belt would be normal in a Roman context.
Black was unusual for Romans. Did it identify the wearer as coming from Parthia? Methods of curing leather vary with social cultures. East of the Roman Empire smoking and the use of special green leaves and fats would have produced a different-looking product.

This character, Rabbi John the Baptist the high priest, was wearing clothes that were not typical of Jews, certainly not of high priests like Annas, and not of Romans.

The Camel Superpower
The further clue is in the other part of his dress: a garment of camel hair. This was even more removed from the Torah's byssus, sparkling white linen, from the flax plant. More so, camel hair was foreign and, to some, inappropriate and even unclean.  The camel was not a sacrificially pure animal. Moreover it was so basically foreign, no Jew in Israel would wear it.
Camels today are associated with regions like Arabia. In the first century they were a symbol of powerful lands further East like Parthia and Bactria. (The Bactrian camel famously has two humps.)
Parthia was the great superpower rival of the Romans. Compare the rivalry to that of USA and USSR. But Parthia was not a military dictatorship like Rome, but a freer mercantile confederation, run by a royalty that had been formerly transported as slaves under the Assyrians. It had links as far away as China.
It was mighty in battle too. It had defeated Roman legions several times and even liberated Israel from Rome. It installed its own high priest there.
Parthia, under its Semitic kings, the Arsacids, with major populations of Israelites and Jews, was intimately involved with the priesthood.
So the NT is saying that John came from those many worshippers in Parthia (as mentioned in Acts 2:9, and the Parthian Magi of Matt 2).
Phraates IV, defeated Mark Antony.
Augustus made a peace treaty with him.
Parthia had made a peace treaty with Rome around 20 BCE so the Temple could be rebuilt and glorified in peace. The Magi were the powerful priestly class of Parthia who selected, elected and deposed their kings. The commander, the surena, traveled with a personal entourage and personal baggage train of 10,000 camels, Rawlinson's Parthia, p94.

Who did John proclaim to?
The KJV says that John proclaimed the coming of God's ruler, the Messiah, and his Kingdom of the Heavens at the Jordan river. Why not Jerusalem? Why not elsewhere?
Those who came to him came from 'Jerusalem and all Judea and all the country around about the Jordan.' KJV. 'All the adjacent region' is somewhat vague in Greek and may have been so phrased with political sensitivity as the Greek text was read by Romans and Gentiles.
But the Hebrew says much more. It is not just the countryside that is mentioned in the Hebrew, or the cities.
It says they came from 'all the kingdom around about the Jordan.'
Legally speaking only Herod had been proclaimed a king, that of Judea, by the Romans. Is that what is meant? Judea is already mentioned without the name of the hated Herod. So 'kingdom' must be elsewhere.
The Hebrew Malkhut can be translated 'kingdom' but also 'Empire'.
For those in the East of Israel that was an unmistakable reference. Israel was living next to the big superpower of Parthian Empire and its satellite kingdoms. These were part of the Israelite 'family business' -- members of the Arsacid dynasty as distinct from Rome where the most powerful military leader became the Caesar. Israel was a small State captured by Rome next to a huge empire. Imagine being occupied by the Soviet Union with a major superpower just across the borders!
So those who came to hear John herald the coming Kingdom of Heaven would know that
(a) John was speaking about a regime change of both Rome and Parthia and everyone else.
(b) John's dress showed he knew what he was talking about when it came to Parthia and military power.
(c) the Roman-Parthia peace treaty and the Temple was the start of something really BIG. 

Preserving the Aaronic line
John as an infant may have been taken in Parthia for safety after the turmoil around the death of Herod and the bloody civil and religious war and the subsequent Roman war of Varus against Jews, which devastated the country. Two thousand people were crucified. Jesus was taken to Egypt for safety.
Later in the same condemnation of Matt 23, Jesus denounces the cultic high priests (the sons of Annas, the son of Seth) and Pharisees who had taken over the high priesthood. He says they were hypocrites taking control of holy things while being responsible for the death of Zacharias (the father of John?), slain between the Holy Place and Altar.
The key fact that is often forgotten is that John’s mother and Mariam, the mother of Jesus, were cousins, Luke 1:36. Both were registered in genealogical archives not only as being of the priestly Levitical tribe but direct descendants of Aaron, Luke 1:5. That made their sons far more legitimate than Annas, Caiaphas and the later sons of Annas, who claimed the office.
Both women gave birth, one to John, and Mariam to Jesus, in their old age (Greek, gera. Luke 1:36 Elizabeth has ALSO conceived a son in her old age.) There is no evidence that Mariam was 14 years old. The NT says the opposite. These names reflect back to Miriam, the sister of Moses, who also gave birth in her old age, and Elizabeth = Hebrew Elisheva, the Jewish wife of Aaron.
John became the true Aaronic priest at 30 years.
Outside the Temple, authentic high priests do not have to wear white linen garments, as some Pharisees might have said. He can wear a black leather belt and also camel hair garments like the Magi from Parthia.
If John had been living in Parthia, he would have known from the Magi that they had proof that the Messiah of royal David descent had been born in the Davidic city of Bethlehem. His genealogy was confirmed not only in the Jewish archives but by the Roman authorities who had demanded the registration of families.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Where did God come from?

Where did God come from?


Physical reality can really exercise your mind!

To answer the question, let's start with the solid world of physics. At the start of the Universe there was INFORMATION, lots of it. Some people think of this beginning as a 'Big Bang'.
That implies an explosion where information and order is destroyed in a BANG. 
All physicists now recognize that a different process took place. A vast amount of information was brought into effect  (laws of mathematics, laws of physics, constants of physics, and constants of mathematics like Pi, and laws of morality of good and not-so-good etc).
That BEGINNING was the most ordered part of the history of our universe. The second law of thermodynamics is about decay of order. It shows that order, form and shape fall apart. Things decay. Iron rusts. Houses collapse to ruins. Hot and cold mix to form a uniform lukewarm temperature. Unless there is a sustainer.... For us photosynthesis and the sun's energy stop us from becoming cold and dead.
We on the Earth, that was formed only 4 1/2 billion years ago, are not the most ordered part of the universe but part of what we have after the passage in time of the universe formed about 14 billions of our years ago. Materially we are decay products -- if no further input has been given to the Universe in those years as we count them and imagine have past.
What does Physics tell us? Information cannot be destroyed. Laws of Physics remain the same. However, -- wait for it -- there are massively disturbing consequences for this. Order, shape and form can be destroyed Big Time in a Black Hole.

With a Black Hole we move from changes of shape as might happen in a car crash or composition as might happen in a chemical reaction, or even the effects of an atomic bomb to something beyond violent destruction. A Black Hole makes mincemeat of atoms and even atomic particles and its most intimate substructures, crushing them to seeming oblivion.
Can information be 'done in' too? 

When matter is pulverized in a Black Hole, where does the information go? After some controversy among physicists they came to a common understanding. Information can't be lost. (Crushing does not go on forever. Matter and radiation is eventually spewed out in devastatingly powerful beams.)
So what happens to the information?
The information relating to shape and form of a theoretical space ship falling into it is held at the 'event horizon' . That is the border where we see object around or crashing into a Black Hole and them disappearing to be crushed to pieces and where light cannot leave the hole because the gravity is so strong.
This event horizon or border can be considered to be like a two dimensional sheet wrapped around the Black Hole. It has no thickness. It is more than a two-dimensional spherical map. Think of it as a hologram. A plain sheet hologram can project a three dimensional reality as we move and observe it. The mathematical data is the same. But curiously those looking from the outside at the Black Hole and those on the space ship plunging into it see the event horizon in slightly different places!
In fact everything can be considered in the same way as a hologram.
Longer amusing video at World Science Festival with top physicists including ex-plumber Prof Leonard Susskind (who has a separate presentation on this on the Net.).
He says the permanence of information is more sure than, in effect, the physicality of the universe (such as what happens inside a black hole). All the information inside the Black Hole can be converted to information in (bit-like) information units on its surface area.
This led to the broader principle that all the information could be recorded on its surface with bits of Planck cube size (1.6 x 10 to minus 35 meter). All information about you materially could be written on your surface. (Caution: this 'information' that scientists talk of is the material universe, its atoms, substructure plus such effects as light photons. It does not refer to the conscience spirit of man or the existence of a non-material spirit world. That can't be measured by the best of scientists.)

All the material information in the universe can be written on its surface. What is the surface of the universe? Where does it end? It is not only expanding but accelerating in the expansion.  
Information is eternal as far as physicists can tell. Information is the true track to understand about God. Solomon wrote: 
Great is God above all 'gods'. The heaven and heaven of the heavens cannot contain him.
We cannot hide ourselves anywhere in the Universe from God. It is like trying to hide on a flat plain where we would stick out. Jeremiah 23:24 records:
'Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?' says the Eternal.
'Do I not fill heaven and earth?' says the Eternal.'
So 3-D information in our universe can be seen as a two dimensional hologram.

What about TIME? Four dimensions of Space-Time of Relativity can be considered to be like a graph paper. In effect, we can move our finger to a point in the graph but the line of the graph exists of itself.
A satellite around the earth has a different clock than a clock on surface. Why? Because it is moving at speed. We all have a different clock. The universe too. It started as a huge expansion with small space and compressed time.
Gerald Schroeder showed that the expansion of the universe could be considered as Six Days of a Creation doubling in size and expanding the notion of time from an earth point of view. The process of expansion of the universe doubles the four dimensions of space-time. Time expands! If someone sent a pulse of light out every second at the start of the universe, it would take longer to reach us because both the distance and the time frame is expanding.
How much?  A million million seconds!
The God-perspective of the Creator sees it as six days. The factor of expansion is a million million, and six times a million million DAYS equals around 15 billion years. This must be the only way to look at it if time is relative. Recent discoveries found the cosmic microwave radiation background temperature to be around 2.73 degrees Kelvin (from the 3.03 it would be otherwise) and astoundingly that the universe is accelerating in its expansion. Schroeder is able to correct the age of the universe in our terms to be about 14 billion years.
Viewed from God's angle as Creator, the days of the universe would measure in our years:
Day 1       7.1 billion years
Day 2       3.6 billion years
Day 3       1.8 billion years
Day 4       0.89 billion years
Day 5       450million years
Day 6       230 million years
The Greeks thought of the standards of length and time as absolute. The Hebrews didn't. Days were measured from sunset to sunset, not by a mechanical clock. The movement of the earth around the sun was another clock for the Hebrews. But that is not mechanical and varies because the earth moves in an ellipse not a circle and it 'wobbles' and is influenced by the moon and other planets.
It is quite different from the system scientists use today which is Caesium isotope decay.
We live in a culture dominated by the false Hellenistic world view. That makes it harder for us to grasp some of these concepts. Schroeder shows that the Jews had a long tradition about a view of the Six Days of Genesis that is entirely in harmony with modern physics, and our understanding of the age of the universe as we see it. It also provides material for further scientific investigation.   
How should we consider time? What does the four-dimensional map of space time look like? Philosopher Huw Price (no relation) talks to Robert Kuhn about this substratum of time in the following video.
Physicists have also identified an area of information that humans cannot access. When I was at university it was called the Absolute Elsewhere.
All the above assumes physics is dealing with materialism. (Materialism is a false theory that has led to both Communism and Fascism.) The idea of LIFE -- that is only found on Earth -- having a spiritual existence lies far beyond this present discussion. 
So we are left with the conclusion from the most down-to-earth people, physicists, that
Real Reality lies outside our experience.  We may be creations in the mind of God. Physics shows us that we are in some ways imaginary in a greater mind.
This real reality begins with an Information-giver. That is the Being I worship. The logical linkage shows he is the God of the Bible.   

Thursday, December 19, 2019

How modern historians got confused over the year of Christ's birth

What year was Jesus born? Today a reader will find a range of dates but this was not always the case. In the time most close to the actual birth there was little doubt as to what year Jesus was born. Everyone, with hardly any exception, was unanimous. What was that year? When and why did all the confused scholarship about the date arise, so that today few people really can put a finger on the year?

No year Zero!
Most people know that it wasn't a Year Zero. Why? Because the year zero does not exist in the system of BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini= year of our Lord).
The system of dating goes from one BC and then directly to one AD. It does not pass by year Zero. It is not like mathematics where a graph has an origin of zero and to the left is -1 and to the right is +1.

That is why most historians nowadays use the system of Common Era where no implications about the year of the birth of Jesus are involved. That's because the BC/ AD system was introduced in Rome by a learned, multilingual Scythian monk, Dionysius Exiguus, (c470-c544) who got his arithmetic slightly wrong.
However the CE system makes little difference to the dates as 1999 AD = 1999 CE and 444 BC = 444 BCE (Before the Common Era).
The Astronomer Johannes Kepler is generally credited with starting the system of Common Era as it was necessary for years to be properly identified without ambiguity when scientists were discussing the years when planets and comets approached the earth in their orbits.

When was Jesus born?
It would have been simpler for scientists and historians to correct Dionysius's mathematics and leave it at that. However there was still a slight disagreement among specialists about which year that was.

All the early chroniclers and historians were in agreement that the birth happened within a very few years of around 2 or 3 BCE.  There are slight variations as various calendar systems were used in different locations. Some calendars begin in January, others in August or October. The Hebrew calendar begins in the autumnal month of Tishrei, based on a 19 year cycle that is automatically adjusted to the seasons.
Here's what the various authorities said, adjusted to our calendar:

Irenaeus (late 2nd century)        41st year of Augustus =                Aug 3 to Aug 2 BCE
Tertullian   c 200                        41st year of Augustus   =              Aug 3 to Aug 2 BCE
Origen (early third century)       41st year of Augustus  =               Aug 3 to Aug 2 BCE
Clement of Alexandria (c 200) 28 years after Cleopatra's death =  Aug 3 to Aug 2 BCE
Julius Africanus (c 200) .           2nd yr 194 Olympics . =                Oct 3 to Sept 2 BCE
Hippolytus of Rome                   2nd yr 194 Olympics . =                Oct 3 to Sept 2 BCE
Eusebius (c 300)                         42 year of Augustus from 44  =                           2 BCE
                                                    28 yrs after Cleopatra's death =                           2 BCE
                                                     3rd yr of 194 Olympics         =                            2 BCE
                                                     42 yr from 43 BCE                =                            2 BCE
Epiphanius  c400                         3rd yr of 194 Olympics         =                            2 BCE
                                                     42 yr from 43 BCE                =                            2 BCE
Dionysius Exiguus early 500s                                                                                  1 BCE
Appolinarius of Laodicea                                                           =                            2 BCE
Paulus Orosius                              end 42 yr Augustus               =                            2 BCE
                                                      752 AUC                               =                            2 BCE
Hippolytus of Thebes 9th century 42 yr of Augustus     
                                                       43 yr of Augustus                =                          2/3 BCE

These dates are all fairly consistent but a year or two off from the date of Dionysius. He had translated from Greek to Latin the canons of the synods from Nicea (325) to Chalcedon (451) giving the new doctrines of the centralised Gentile church based in Constantinople. The computation of the Easter Table was a central part of his work. It was based on Egyptian calculations.
The annual date for Easter was a sensitive matter for the Roman church. The pagan Roman Pontifex Maximus had authority over the calendar and public festivals of the gods. From Julius Caesar on, it was passed on as part of the powers of all Roman emperors. In the late fourth century Emperor Gratian, now nominally Christian, refused the title as being too pagan. The bishop of Rome (pope) Damasus took up the title.
Easter was the church's alternative to the biblical Passover. One of the directives was not to make the Christian festival coincide with the biblical date but exactly the opposite. To make sure that it didn't! Eventually the Easter calculation became the standard one of today, although the Orthodox retain a difference because of the Gregorian calendar adjustment.
The chronology of Dionysius had to fit in with what was Constantine's now centuries-old, well-established but falsified doctrine of Sunday-worship. His aim was to overturn the Hebrew calendar and apply one that allowed both Sunday worship and the pagan Easter tradition to replace the biblical Passover.
A harmony of the Gospels shows that Jesus was crucified on the Preparation Day of the Festival Sabbath of Unleavened Bread, that is Wednesday. The biblical holy days do not fall on the same days each year. It was obviously not the Preparation for the weekly Sabbath, Friday. He rose after three days and three nights in the tomb. The Resurrection is recorded as happening as the (weekly) Sabbath ended towards the first day of the week. These dates can be calculated to show the year with these characteristics. Hence the year of the Crucifixion is fixed mathematically. Then it is simple Hebrew mathematics to work back to the year of Christ's birth.
As the Dionysius Easter Table was also based on a mathematical 19-year cycle, it could be calculated which years coincided exactly with the new Easter doctrine (with its Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection, itself difficult to reconcile with a three days and three nights period of the NT) around 30s CE.
Dionysius also tried to simplify the complicated system of dating that existed in Rome, based on the consulates in power each year. Dionysius also made a revolutionary innovation that few of his contemporaries probably understood. He used the term zero (Latin nulla or nihil). There was no zero in the Roman mathematics system. It was not until the Middle Ages that the idea of zero (originating from India) came into use.

These may be the main reasons why his dating was a little bit off. It is significant that his dating system was the one that was used by the Roman Catholic 'missionaries' in Britain after the arrival the pope's emissary Augustine around 400 CE. In Britain the Roman churchmen who attempted to convert the Anglo-Saxons found that the native Britons were keeping their Christian festivals on a different day. Passover was kept like Jews and Nazarenes on the fourteenth day of the first spring month. The Britons had been doing so for hundreds of years before Augustine arrived. With the spread of the Roman doctrines, the Easter computation, reinforced by the work of Bede, became that recognised from East to West.
The Dionysius system of dating was common during the thousand years of Roman control of books and learning.
With the onset of printing and the publishing of the Bible in native languages people began to question intensely why this date was taken as correct.
Science and historical research began to probe the facts and offer other solutions.

The 4 BCE error
How did Christian scholars move from the dates of both Dionysius and just about all early writers and historians of the first centuries to what is found in many Bibles? According to the King James version, Christ was born in 4 BCE. An even broader range of dates is now proposed and the dates of all the early writers is treated as error. Why?

Firstly, let us explore why the KJV came up with 4 BCE. This was a predominant date around the time the Bible was published in English. How was the earlier date eliminated?
The answer is a mixture of good science and bad history.
This date derived from one of Europe's greatest scientists, Johannes Kepler, the astronomer and a Polish historian.  By careful observation and mathematics Kepler was able to deduce the conjunction of major planets such as Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. He thought that this close visual encounter of the planets might have accounted for the Bethlehem Star. His calculations gave him a date of around 22 June in 7 BCE.
If the star appeared in the East, he argued, the birth might have occurred a year or two later, 6 or 5 BCE.  He ruled out the theory that it could have been a comet, as Origen had surmised. In his book he argued that the Magi came from pagan Chaldea and applied Chaldean techniques for interpreting the heavenly phenomenon. God provided the material events for the Chaldeans to this conclusion. he said it must be a conjunction of the major planets.
This rested on two or more bits of guesswork: what did the gospels mean by a star? How could a star seen in the East in Parthia then stand over a house in Bethlehem? What principles of astronomy did ancient Parthian Magi use? Isaiah 47:17 and other scriptures make clear there is a right and wrong interpretation of 'astrology'. How were the stars tied into biblical prophecy? Was what was mentioned related to the movement of the planets, the usual focus of such studies?
While he was observing a conjunction in 1605 a bright new star appeared, a nova stella. Maybe this Nova was a solution.
If the mechanics of the solar system showed a different date from 2/3 BCE, how could this be justified? Kepler relied on a Polish historian Laurentius Suslyga.
While reflecting on the problem, Kepler found his book, calling for a revision of the datings, in a shop in Graz. Examining secular history, he challenged the traditional dating of Dionysius. Suslyga came up with a date of 4 BCE or earlier. But Kepler went further.
First, how did Suslyga come to the date of 4 BCE?

Enter Philip and Julias
Suslyga was among the first to suggest that the date of Herod's death must have been no later than 4 BCE.
His argument revolves around a son of Herod called Philip, born of his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem.
Suslyga's argument involved the town of Bethsaida. Philip had renamed Bethsaida as Julias after Julia, the daughter of Augustus, Suslyga maintained. But Augustus exiled her in 2 BCE so Philip would have had to come up with the idea well before that, when she was in favour.
So Herod must have died well before that so his son Philip could reign in part of his territory afterwards. This seemed a good argument for Kepler at the time. But modern scholars now believe this scheme of things is not necessarily so. Augustus also gave Julian honours to his wife Livia, and renamed her Julia to emphasise a connection with Julius Caesar and the imperial family. So Philip could have renamed the town of Bethsaida, Julias, at any time up to the time of her death in 29 CE. In the second century the geographer Claudius Ptolemy identified the town of Julias with Livia.

Conclusion: We can conclude that Suslyga and Kepler were most probably wrong. There is no evidence that the Julias argument is correct. Rather the reverse. There is no evidence that Kepler's idea of a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is correct. Two planets can always be seen separately; over a period of a day or two it is even more obvious. A conjunction of several planets does not look like a single star. Kepler was basing himself on pagan Chaldean astrology and there is no evidence that this (usually condemned system in the Bible) is relevant here. Nor does it take a year or two for a caravan of Magi to travel from Chaldea to Jerusalem. The Nova idea is also a theory without evidence, because it presupposes the Bethlehem star was a nova. 

Search for the eclipses
A new line of argument revolves around eclipses in history at the time of Jesus. This helped to solidify what is a common belief that the date was 4 BCE.
But this includes several errors that logically would eliminate them from consideration.
Eclipses of the moon are also predictable both into the future but back in the past.
Why are eclipses important?
This is where the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, enters the scene. He describes how Herod was in Jericho suffering and dying from an atrocious disease. He also describes quite a number of events including killings of Jews that fought for the purity of the Temple, in expectation of the Messiah. All these events need to be taken into consideration as they mark temporal dates in sequence.
He died and then his body was brought in a solemn procession from Jericho. to Jerusalem That year was marked by a remarkable eclipse of the moon over the land of Israel.
Which was it?
The New Testament also gives a quite clear timing of events in the Gospels. Christ was born during the reign of Herod the Great. So if we have the exact dates of his reign, we know they must include the birth of Jesus. But some while after his birth Herod ordered the massacre of infants from the north of Jerusalem to the south. This happened soon after the Parthian Magi arrived to celebrate the birth of Israel's Messiah. The Greek NT text says they visited Jesus in his Bethlehem home when he was then a toddler (paidion), that is, a year or two old.
So the birth of Jesus was a year or two before Herod died.
When did he die? When was the eclipse?
From the work of mathematical astronomers like Kepler, we now know the exact days when eclipses happened in the Holy Land from 7 BCE to 1 BCE.

The dates are:

  • 23 March 5 BCE
  • 15 September 5 BCE
  • 13 March 4 BCE
  • 10 January 1 BCE.
By collating all facts and events that Josephus mentions the two early dates can be eliminated. These facts include killing of pious Jews, the dates of the Hebrew festivals, Herod's death and when it was reported in Rome (a distance of 3400 sea mile round trip) and the time taken for the long royal mourning procession to move from Jericho to Jerusalem. A closer examination points to a winter eclipse: Jericho would not be too fiercely hot for the dying king. He would not reside there in summer. Temperature in winter was moderate.

Conclusion: Taking together all the reported events of Josephus and the Gospels, together with a biblical interpretation of the astronomy of Revelation 12, one date is the inevitable candidate above all others. Revelation describes the birth of Christ in astronomical terms that people at the time could understand.

Eternal God, creator of the Universe
Humans are subject to error and tempted by deliberate deceit. Humans cannot muck with movement of the planets, comets and stars. That was the reason that Kepler, Newton, Whiston and other believing scientists tried to determine what, when and where was the Star of Bethlehem.
The heavens have an extraordinary, clear and unambiguous message. But what is it? We should not seek it in pagan, Chaldean astrology.
What does the Bible say? What is the configuration of the heavens in the autumn of 3/2 BCE?
Astronomers in the past could work this out. Many people in the early centuries were far more skilled and literate in astronomy and its real significance than people today -- in spite of so-called popular astrologers.
They looked at the sky at night and knew the stars and the movements.
But how do you see what was happening way back in the past?
You can also this ancient stellar display in the heavens at a planetarium when they set the mechanism back 2000 years.
Now with the help of the computer and software it is possible for anyone at home to see exactly the movement of the planets back into the distant past.
What did the night sky look like in 3/2 BCE?
It is an extraordinary fact, as Dr Ernest L Martin points out, that
  • on only one day in 3 BCE was the moon under the feet of the constellation of Virgo, the virgin and the sun 'clothed' her. 
  • It was when it was the first crescent of the New Moon. 
  • It occurred on 11 September. 
  • It remained there for only a few hours. 
Click the link here to have a description of the Ancient Astronomy of this time by Dr Michael Heiser.

One reason people observed the stars was that it was religiously significant because observation of the New Moon was essential to define months and proclaim the New Year. What is even more extraordinary is that 11 September was the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets in the Hebrew calendar. Revelation 12:
'And there appeared a great wonder in the heaven; a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.'
This year is also confirmed by Luke's statement that Jesus was 'about thirty years old' when he began his work as chief priest and teacher in the Temple. This has to be understood in relation to the Hebrew inclusive arithmetic system and the Jewish secular new year (common through the eastern Roman Empire). It is also defined by the known dates for the reconstruction of the Temple by Simon Boethus under Herod the Great.

The date of the birth of Jesus is 1st Tishrei in year 3 BCE in the autumn.
This fits all the criteria of
  • historical events in the NT and Josephus
  • Hebrew chronology
  • Hebrew festivals
  • Hebrew interpretation of the movement of the planets in 3 BCE,
  • The near unanimous report of nearly all early writers of the first centuries.
The heavens don't lie.

Why do Historians reject 1 BCE?
The scholars, have however, rejected the eclipse of January 1 BCE and plumbed for 4 BCE.
They are convinced (or have convinced themselves) that Herod's death took place in 4 BCE. That would eliminate any recourse to the eclipse of 1 BCE as the one mentioned in Josephus. It would also cause problems with the chronologies about Jesus's thirty years and many other events in order in Josephus. It flies in the face of both secular and religious writers of the early years.
However historians today are often adamant (and sometimes aggressively supportive) about the idea that Jesus must have been born in or before 4 BCE.

Herod and Philip
Did Herod die after the spectacular total eclipse of the moon in 1 BCE or after the partial one of 4 BCE? Why does historians' choice of the year for Herod's death fall nowadays on 4 BCE? That eliminates the 1 BCE date as Jesus was born when he was alive. But is this correct? How do scholars come up with the date? Josephus mentions only one eclipse in all his long and detailed writings of history. (Hundreds took place in the course of centuries that he describes.) So it must be significant.
Is Josephus's eclipse a partial one with the shadow of the earth covering barely a third of the moon, just 37%, or a total one blacking it out? How do we decide?
The simple answer is to see how today's historians take it from a passage they read in Josephus's Antiquities book 18 about Herod's son Philip. He reigned in the eastern part of the Holy Land, the Tetrarchy of Batanaea and rugged Trachonitis (modern day Golan, parts of Syria and Jordan).
Josephus says, in the English translation of Antiquities, that Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius after ruling 37 years. The twentieth year of Tiberius is 34 CE. Therefore 37 years back would be the start of his reign, the year thatHerod died. Remembering there is no year zero, that should be 4 BCE.

Historic Detectives
Simple and concise! What could be wrong with this arithmetic? Facts are not always obvious. The detective work of David W Beyer started to reveal some hidden or rather buried clues. The first trace was published by W E Filmer in an article in 1966 in the Journal of Theological Studies. Filmer reported that divergent chronologies about the reign of Philip were noted in the nineteenth century. They had disappeared from scholarly view. In a 1798 dissertation, a monk, Molkenbuhr, reported seeing several Josephus manuscripts where the text read 'the twenty-second year of Tiberius.' Filmer remarked that this was the last remaining obstacle for the acceptance of Herod's death in 1 BCE. The existence of such manuscripts would make it difficult to argue that Herod died in 4 BCE.
Beyer went on the hunt for the manuscripts.
The evidence was in a fairly obvious place. In the British Library Beyer found 46 editions of Josephus published before 1700. Of these the majority -- twenty-seven -- had the reading of 'twenty-second year of Tiberius.' Of these 27, not a single edition published before 1544 had the reading 'twentieth year of Tiberius.' This is of crucial importance.
In 1994 Beyer examined the copies of Josephus in the Library of Congress. Five more editions were found having 'twenty-second year of Tiberius'. Among the others none published before 1544 supported the reading 'twentieth year of Tiberius.'
Beyer realised that the year 1544 was of some importance. It was the date of the first printing of the Greek text of Antiquities. Froben working in Basel accomplished the monumental task of printing the Greek text. Unfortunately for the understanding of Philip's reign, it became the universal standard. Four years later a Latin version based on it was published reinforcing the reading. By 1550 any alternative reading to 'twenty years' were almost non-existent. In 1605 Laurence Suslyga published his dissertation on chronology, opting for the date of 4 BCE or earlier. But an edition in the British Library of Venice dated 1608 shows that some printers followed Greek manuscripts and not the printed Froben works.
Writing in the Festschrift study, Chronos, Kairos Christos II, Beyer says the cover argument for 4 BCE is no longer tenable. These early more authoritative manuscripts show Philip reigned to 36 CE. With a reign of 37 years, he must have begun his rule in 1 BCE. And this must be the year Herod died.

Manuscript mentions
Beyer lists a dozen manuscripts from the 12th century up to the period of printing. All of them have the 22 years of Tiberius. There is some variation about the length of Philip's rule. His accession to the throne was in troubled times. Most say that his reign was 32 years -- indicating that his reign was not established until some years after he was legally made the ruler. But the point is clear from these manuscripts and four early printed books in the British Library: Herod did not die in 4 BCE but in 1 BCE.

Early Manuscripts all with 22 years and 32 years for his reign
Royal 13 D VII                          12th century
Additional 22, 860                     13th century
Additional  15, 280                    13th century
Harley 5116                                ?
Harley 3883 1                             ?
Harley 4962                                14th- 15th century
Harley 3699                                 1478/ 1469?
Arundel 94fl                                 ?

Printed Editions (first stage) all with 22 years of Tiberius and 32 years for his reign
IC 50150                                       1475
IC 9806                                         1480?
IC 9807                                         1480?
4515 f9                                          1511 (Paris)

Printed Editions (second stage) with 22 years of Tiberius and 35 years of Philip's reign
C 13 d9                                          1470
(G) 8333 .                                      1470?
IB 20662                                        1481 Venice
IB 23112                                        1486 Venice
IB 23201                                        1499 Venice
C 55 hl                                           1510 Venice
L 22 b5                                           1514, 13

Third and fourth stage. Eight other editions printed in various locations like Basel, Strasbourg and Venice give 22nd year of Tiberius and various durations for Philip's reign from 22 to 32 or 35 years.

In the fifth stage, Beyer lists two dozen printed editions from 1544 to 1701. Three Venice editions have the 22nd year of Tiberius. All the rest have the 20th year.

In the Library of Congress, five editions from 1470 to 1481 (Augsburg and Venice) give the 22nd years of Tiberius. Four from 1559 to 1597 give the 20th year of Tiberius.

In the Renaissance and early Reform period Greek manuscripts became the treasures of the libraries of Venice and Florence where a free press was allowed. Many printers from Germany and northern Europe set up their presses there.

In 1726 the Oxford scholar John Hudson published his translation into Latin and his notes of the Greek text of Josephus by Siegbert Havercamp. The text has the 20th year of Tiberius but with an extensive note that some versions had 22nd.
The Latin translation attributed to Rufinus (who lived at the time of Jerome around 400) has the translation 'twenty-second year of Tiberius'. This clearly used the Greek texts extant at the time.
However the main text has that of Froben 'twenty years'.
This is the text that all English translators use -- with the 20th year implying that Herod died in 4 BCE.
William Whiston, author of the most widespread version of the Works of Josephus, goes along with this text. He even adds a note supporting it.

Beyer says that a proper dating of Herod's death date is essential for understanding the events in the Holy Land around the time of Jesus. Augustus received a special title Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland) around the time of the 750th anniversary of the founding of the city of Rome. It celebrated the fact that in 2/3 BCE the Roman empire was at peace.
However, it is clear that after the death of Herod a vicious civil war erupted in Israel. Herod had killed Jewish scholars who had defended the Temple. He planned to kill one member of each Jewish family so the whole nation would mourn his passing.
That did not happen but later that year a civil war broke out. One great issue was the correct dates and celebration of Passover and Pentecost. Two great Jewish scholars, Judas and Matthias, knowing that Herod was dying, pulled down the massive golden eagle, symbol of Rome, that defiled the Temple.
Herod was alive enough to deprive the high priest (also called Matthias but of Boethus) of his office and burn the other Matthias, son of Margalothus and many of his colleagues alive.
'And that very night,' says Josephus, 'there was an eclipse of the moon.' Antiq 17.167.
At the Pentecost after Herod's death of that year of 1 BCE, the righteous high priest of Simon of Boethus and his family (related to Mariam (Mary), Joseph and his son Jesus) were all removed. (Joseph had officiated once as a Mishnah High Priest (cohen moreh) at a previous Day of Atonement.) The Boethusian family was replaced by the 'sons of Seth' whose offspring included Annas and Theophilus of the NT. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas.
The Jewish people rose in rebellion once Herod was dead and demanded Archelaus that the purer high priesthood be restored. In vain. Archelaus's position had not been confirmed by Rome. Jerusalem was in turmoil and fighting. 'Ten thousand' other disturbances broke out in Judea, Antiq 17.269. Robber bands roamed the country as it fell into disorder.
Varus was president of Syria with supreme powers in charge of Rome's eastern possessions.
The Pentecost, after Herod's death, saw increasing disturbances.
That is when Varus acted. There was one legion in the country. He brought in two others and four troops of horsemen. He also drew on several auxiliary forces that were supplied by kings and tetrarchs (286). The capital city of Galilee, Sepphoris, of which Nazareth is a suburb, and several other cities were burnt to the ground. Two thousand Jews were crucified and 30,000 Jews sold into slavery (17.295) before order was restored.
This major war with the Jews could not have happened when Augustus was being celebrated as bringing peace to the whole empire. It is known as the War of Varus (Antiquities bk 17.10-11 250-). It is also known that Philip received the title of Tetrarch after this war had ended. That accounts for the some of the doubts about when he started his reign, either legally (de jure) or in practice (de facto).
But it also renders impossible the supposed 4 BCE chronology with Philip taking over immediately Herod died.
'Ernest L Martin has solidly demonstrated that the conclusion of that major conflict occurred in late 1 BC,' Beyer wrote. 'Thus Philip's appointment as tetrarch most likely took place shortly thereafter, in 1 AD. This is the de jure date referred to by the twenty-two/thirty-five chronology. The tremendous political instability of the entire region very likely prevented Philip rom assuming full administrative authority for some of the period of time. This is by no means unusual for it was also the case with his own father. Herod the Great was declared king by Caesar Augustus in 39 BC but assumed de facto control with the capture of Jerusalem in 36 BC. The thirty-two year tenure provided by the twelfth- to fifteenth century texts mark the de facto date of Philip's reign beginning in AD 4.
Coins of Philip show that his de jure date of accession is antedated to 1 BCE just after the death of Herod.

Let's hope that the penny drops more widely in the scholarly community and for the public in general. The year of the birth of Jesus was 1 Tishrei in the autumn of 3/2 BCE.