Biblical People, Places and Time-Part 3

The major kingdoms, provinces and peoples of the first century that we need to be familiar with included Judea, Idumea, Samaria, Galilee, Perea and the Nabateans. There were ten major cities to the east of the Jordan and southeast of the Sea of Galilee called the Decapolis. They were a major part of the economy in the Middle East. Yeshua will minister around these cities, but never in them, because these were Gentile cities and he was sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and the 18 Edicts of the school of Shammai were in force, limiting contact between the Jews and Gentiles. The political situation at the time saw Samaria avoided since the time of Ezra, and Judea was avoided by the Samaritans. In Galilee there was the Sea of Galilee, and it was known as Galilee, Geneseret, the Sea of Tiberius and Kinoret. The Jewish section in in the north was from Magdala to Gamla. Yeshua will minister in Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin mainly. Jews from Galilee would take a boat to the Gadarene coast, through some Decapaline cities, travel down the east side of the Jordan and cross the Heshbon valley up to Jerusalem to avoid Samaria. The Nabateans were businessmen from Petra in the spice trade to Mesopotamia. Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, marries the queen of the Nabateans, then divorces her for the wife of Phillip, his brother. John the Baptist (Yochanon ha Matvil) was against this marriage and was arrested. He is taken to a fortress called Macherus on the east side of the Dead Sea. So, what do we have so far. Rome has evolved from a city state, conquers Italy, Carthage and controls the Mediterranean Sea. They conquer the Greeks and they are now the most powerful influence in the Mediterranean. They become an empire after Julius Caesar, and the Idumean Antipater begins his influence. He has a son named Herod and he comes forth with the help of his father. There is a constant threat from the Parthians. Israel is divided into provinces with many “puppet” rulers and this results in a real soap opera. Here is one example. In the years 68 to 63 BC, Queen Salome of Judea has died. She was a Hasmonean ruler married to King Alexander Jannaeus. She had two sons named Aristobulus and Hyrcannus. Aristobulus is influenced by the Pharisees and Hyrcannus by the Sadducees. Hyrcannus rules three months according to Salome’s will, but Aristobulus fields a large army against him and they meet near Jericho. Aristobulus wins, and Hyrcannus is provided for after peace is made. Antipater, the father of Herod, provokes him to re-enter the war. King Aretas, a Nabatean ruler, enters into the picture with them. He hates Aristobulus. They cross the Jordan to Jerusalem. The supporters of Hyrcannus are outside the city and they open the gates. Aristobulus withdraws to the Temple and isolated. Hyrcannus brings up Honi the “circle-maker” and they want him to put a curse on Aristobulus. Honi had a reputation already. During a drought, he drew a circle around himself and told the Lord he would not come out till it rained. When he began to pray, it rained for many days. It rained so long that he had to draw another circle to make it stop. He is brought forth and prays that God answer neither side because they were brothers. Rome enters the scene at this time because of all the turmoil. They want Israel as a buffer against the Parthians and this was getting out of control. There was a triumvirate in Rome, made up of Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus. Both brothers appeal to Pompey’s proconsul in Damascus, but Aristobulus offers a bigger bribe. King Aretas is ordered to lift the siege in Jerusalem. Both brothers are called before Pompey. Aristobulus argues that he is more qualified to rule, which was true. Hyrcannus has Antipater speak for him, saying his mother willed that he take the throne in her will. But Pompey, and Rome, didn’t care about all that. The only thing he cared about was how this could best serve Rome, in other words, which one of the two brothers was easier to control. And in this case, it was Hyrcannus. Pompey declares him King and High Priest. Aristobulus surrenders, but his men don’t. Rome attacks the city and the brothers refuse to unite against Rome. The men of Hyrcannus see Pompey as an ally and open the gates of the city to him. The men of Aristobulus go into the Temple again. Now, the Temple can only be attacked from the north because of the deep valleys on the other sides. The end was inevitable. The officiating priestly course (they changed courses every Sabbath) carried on with the daily service as long as possible. When one kohen (priest) fell, another took his place. This blood bath continued for a whole day, with 12,000 kohenim (priests) and defenders killed. Pompey enters the Sanctuary building, but did not desecrate anything. The following day, the Temple services resumed after the area was cleansed ritually. Pompey leaves Hyrcannus in charge as High Priest. Aristobulus and two of his sons are taken to Rome. Gaza, Joppa, Dor, Ashdod, Yavneh and Trans-Jordan are taken out of Jewish hands. All that remains of the Jewish state now is Judea, Idumea, a small part of Galilee and a small strip of Trans-Jordan. These will be under the proconsul in Damascus until 57 BC, when this position changes hands. In 57 BC, the proconsul Gabinius divided Israel into five provinces. Why? To destroy the authority of the Sanhedrin and divide and conquer. Coastal cities were turned over to its Greek inhabitants. All of this changed the political climate in Israel. These Greek cities were rebuilt, and non-Jews were placed in them. Soon, they would take over the land by simply outnumbering the Jews. Meanwhile, Aristobulus had a son named Alexander, and he escaped Rome. He returned to Israel and the bitterness against Rome was very high. 10,000 rally around him to break off the foreign “yoke.” They were no match for Rome, and Alexander surrenders. From 57 to 37 BC there were other attempts but they all failed, too. Alexander was sent back to Rome, but escapes again. He starts another uprising. There was a major battle at Mount Tabor, and 10,000 died and Alexander was captured again and shot with arrows. This was 49-48 BC. Gabinius knows that the spiritual center of the Jews was the Sanhedrin, so he attempts to destroy its power. Antipater advises Gabinius to strip all authority from the Sanhedrin and transfer the power to Hyrcannus. Antipater controlled Hyrcannus, so that meant Antipater would control whatever power the Romans left in Jewish (Hyrcannus) hands. Because of the success and power of Antipater, his son Herod enters into the picture. He becomes governor of Galilee and his rise to king followed soon after. But that is another “soap opera.” This is the world that Yeshua was born into. All of this gave birth to the zealots, and people were either pro-Rome or anti-Rome, pro-Herod or anti-Herod, pro-Sadducee or anti-Sadducee, pro-Pharisee or anti-Pharisee, a traditional Jew or a Hellenistic Jew, and so on. There was no such thing as “Judaism” in the first century. It would be better described as the “Judaisms” of the first century. That is an important thing to remember when reading the Gospels and Epistles. Just because a sect of the Pharisees took issue over something, or believed a certain way, doesn’t mean that all Jews believed that way. Not even the Pharisees agreed with each other because there were different schools within the Pharisees that disagreed with each other, like the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, for instance. Yeshua seems to have had a cross-section of all these. He had wealthy, poor, zealots, Sicari, businessmen, tradesmen, scholars and priests follow him as talmidim. Shimon (Peter) and Andrew were wealthy fishermen, with boats and employee’s. Yochanon and Jacob (James and John) were wealthy fishermen also. Matatiyahu (Matthew) was a Levite. What we are discussing right now happened around 35 BC and some of the characters we read about in the Scriptures are alive at this point, such as, Zechariah and Elizabeth (parents of John), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2.25-38). The stage for the Messiah is being set, with the characters getting ready to take the stage. In 10 AD, the noted scholar Hillel died, and his descendants became the “nasi” of the Sanhedrin. Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, was his grandson. Yeshua began his ministry in 27 AD and dies in 30 AD. In 66 AD, the first Jewish revolt against Rome begins, and in 70 AD Titus destroys the city and the Temple. This will change the “Judaisms” at that time. The Sadducees lost their platform (the Temple) because they were priests, and their God-given right to serve in the Temple services was gone. The Pharisees were also faced with a crisis in 70 AD. During the siege of Jerusalem, Yochanon Ben Zakkai was a sage who arranged a secret escape from the city and predicted that Vespasian would be emperor someday. He asked Vespasian for the city of Yavneh in order to preserve the traditions of the Pharisees. Vespasian consented and many sages were rescued. They formed a Sanhedrin and the teachings of the Pharisees was the rule and power of the day from then on. They didn’t need to worry about the Sadducees, Boethucians or any other sect now because they were gone, thanks to the Romans. Ben Zakkai forms what is called “Rabbinic Judaism.” It was there before, but now it is without any competitors. Now, Judaism must change. The people are now scattered all over the Roman Empire as slaves. You could buy a slave for less than a loaf of bread. The people had no hope, were scattered and lost. Judaism must change from an “aggadic” (storytelling, parables) system to a “halakic” (how one walks) system. All of this occurred between the years 70 to 135 AD. The Jewish people had a way to exist. For Jewish believers in Messiah, they struggled also after Jerusalem fell. Anti-Jewish sentiment (anti-Semitism) was almost equated with patriotism to Rome, and yet the Basar (good news, gospel) was to go out among the non-Jews. What were they going to do. For Jewish believers, the faith was changing also. Many fled the conquest of Jerusalem to a valley near Pella, obeying the words of Yeshua in Matt 24.16-21. There was no such thing as “Christianity” at this time (Sunday, Christmas, Easter, etc). The term “Christian” is the Greek form of the Hebrew “Mashiachim” and it was considered an insult by believers. They did not go under that name. They were known as “ha Derek” (the Way) or “Netzerim” (Nazarenes). There will be differences between these groups, just like there were differences between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai among the Pharisees. In Part 4, we will begin to talk about the Messianic faith, both among the Jews and non-Jews, in the first century. This faith was Jewish, with Jewish concepts, and these teachings were to go out to the non-Jews. We are going to define many concepts and give you a good picture of what the Apostles and the first century believer knew, and how that faith was understood. This will help when reading the Gospels and Epistles, putting what is taught into its proper context.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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