Herod, The Builder

Herod the Great is one of the well-known historical figures from the New Testament. Although he dies just after Jesus is born, his influence continues well after his death.  His sons rule the region of Palestine until the Jewish War in A.D. 66.   He was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47 B.C., and King in 37 B. C.   Since  Herod was only half-Jewish, and was hated by the Jews because he was an “outsider.”  He was an excellent administrator and politician. Since he ruled with the ruthless efficiency respected by Roman Empire he was left to run his kingdom with no interference from Rome.  He began an aggressive building campaign throughout the region, but especially Jerusalem.

Despite marrying an Hasmonean princess, Mariamme, he was never accepted by the Jewish people as a Jewish king.  His family was Idumean, forcible converts to Judaism, and therefore not really Jewish. Perhaps in an attempt to win favor with the Jewish people he expanded the Temple mount and re-built the whole complex, making it one of the most beautiful temples in the ancient world.

Herod was increasingly paranoid with a well-documented history of cruelty toward family and friends. This included the execution of his wife, whom he appears to have truly loved and his brother, whom he suspected of plotting against him.   Because of his cruelty, Augustus is reputed to have said “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”

Herod wrote a will that divided Palestine between three of his sons (he had ten wives, all of whom wanted their child to succeed him.)  The three remaining sons, each took the title “Tetrarch” (ruler of a fourth) or “Ethnarch” (ruler of people).

Herod is usually remembered as the madman who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Messiah. This is true, Herod was a brutal and paranoid man who killed his own wife and children in order to prevent them from rebelling against him.  It is true that Herod was a evil person who ruled with an iron fist.  But early in his reign he was a skillful administrator who was able to control a rebellious province.  What is more, he initiated many building projects which brought Judea respect in the Roman world.

Herod built several fortress-palaces, included Masada and the Herodium.  Masada is a well known desert palace built by Herod, although the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus was the first for fortify the mountain. The Herodium is near Bethlehem and was designed by Herod as a fortress and burial site.

Perhaps Herod’s greatest achievement was this renovation of the Temple in Jerusalem.  When it was finished, it rivaled Solomon’s Temple in glory.   He began in 19 B.C., and finished the temple in 18 months, but took another 8 years to build the courtyards.    Although the complete Temple complex was not finished until A.D.  64,  Herod doubled the size of Zerubbabel’s temple.  Since the design of the Temple is found in scripture, Herod expanded the buildings around the Temple, enclosing the original mountain in a rectangular box and expanded the buildings associated with the Temple area.

The port-city of Caesarea Maritima was marvel of architecture and engineering. Herod built a thoroughly Roman city which was a tribute it his power and wealth.  The artificial port at Caesarea is one of the more amazing structures built by Herod.   Caesarea was built as a Roman city included a theater and hippodrome.

The best text on Herod’s building projects is Ehud Netzer, The Architecture of Herod the Great Builder (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008).  This is an excellent description of Herod’s projects.  It is technical, but still readable.

First Century Judaisms?

Some of the classic works of Judaism (Strack and Billerbeck or their predecessor Lightfoot) are based on the idea that Mishnah and Talmud can be mined for “background” for the teaching of Jesus or Paul.  Gabriele Boccaccini has this older scholarship in mind when he begins his book on the Roots of Rabbinic Judaism with the observation that “the idea that already during the Second Temple period Rabbinic Judaism was normative or mainstream belongs to the history of scholarly research.” This is a point with which virtually all of scholarship would agree, yet the average pastor still uses tools that have not quite caught up to scholarship.  It is easier to read Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah than to wade through E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism!

One of the biggest mistakes Christians make when they read the New Testament is to imagine that the Jews of the first century had a single set of unified beliefs and practices, something like a Creedal Statement or a “doctrinal statement” found in the later Christian church.  This is simply not the case, although there were certainly a few doctrines which made the Jews unique and practices which set them apart from the Gentile world.  For the most part, Judaism at the beginning of the first century was a fractious as Christianity was by the end of the century.

A second mistake most Christians make is thinking that modern Judaism is a good representation of how Jews lived in the first century.  Unfortunately Fiddler on the Roof may not be a good guide to how Jews lived in first century Galilee.  The Mishnah was not developed until A.D. 250 and the Talmud several hundred years later.  Many of the things Christians say about “all Jews” are drawn from these documents but may not reflect the practice of the first century at all.

Having made these two caveats, the main theological doctrines which “all Jews believed” in the first century were basically monotheism and the election of Israel. Each of the “parties” within first century Judaism believed that there is only one God, and he is the God of Israel.  Each of these parties equally affirmed that God has chosen Abraham and his family to be the recipients of his Law.  While the relationship of God and his people will vary, that God has specially chosen Israel is foundational.

The main practices which defined Judaism included circumcision, food laws, purity laws, and Sabbath.  With respect to theology, you either believe the Lord God is one, or you do not.  You either believe God has chosen Israel to be his people or not.  But with respect to practice, various groups struggled to find a balance between living as a Jew and living in a Greco-Roman world.  How much effort was put into keeping the Law varied depending on one’s commitment or even one’s proximity to the Land.  A Jew living in Ephesus may not have considered the purity laws as important as someone in Galilee, or Judea, or in Jerusalem itself.  The closer to the Land, the closer to the Temple, the more likely ceremonial purity was an issue.  Keeping Sabbath in Ephesus was much more difficult than in Jerusalem.

It is therefore little wonder that when we read Paul in Galatians, for example, food and circumcision are the two biggest issues between Paul’s Gentile mission and the so-called Judaizers.

Preaching the Maccabean Revolt

As many of you know, in addition to teaching Bible in a Bible College, I am the regular Sunday Evening teacher at Rush Creek Bible Church.  I have just finished a long series on the prophets, arranged chronologically, so I thought I would try something a bit unusual for a Bible church. Last weekend I taught on the Maccabean Revolt, this Sunday I am teaching on the development of “Judaisms” during the Second Temple Period.  There was a great deal of interest in the Maccabean Revolt and I had several supportive comments from people who attended.  There were a number of excellent questions asked after my presentation and (as far as I know) no real criticisms of spending a Sunday evening studying 1 and 2 Maccabees.  I am thankful for a congregation that is interested enough in the Bible to want to know more about the history of Israel after the close of the Hebrew Bible.

Why bother with the intertestamental history if it is not biblical history?  This is a good question given my teaching was in a regular Bible Study situation.  As I see it, there are several reasons which make a study of the intertestamental period important for the Christian.

First, much of what we read in the New Testament assumes the four hundred years of history between the testaments. Politically, everything has changed since we left Ezra and Nehemiah as representatives of the Persian government.  By the time we read the Gospels, the Land of Israel has been ruled by the Persians, Greeks and Romans.

Second, the struggle of Jews to live as Jews under foreign domination is a major factor in the New Testament. How can a Jewish person live like a Greek and maintain his identity as a Jew?  What are the boundary markers between Jew and Gentile?  What are the key behaviors or beliefs on which there cannot be compromise?  This question alone was so volatile in the first century that the suggestion that a Gentile could be right with God without keeping the Law caused riots.

Third, much of the messianic hope we encounter in the Gospels is based on the history of the Second Temple Period. The Jewish people faced oppression from the Greeks and Romans, but also from inside Judaism itself.  Many longed for a time when God would break into history and defend his people and his Land, renewing the promise he made to David in 2 Sam 7.  This hope for the coming messiah grew steadily during these years, as the Gospels show.

For me, this is all very “preachable” since the Christian church in the west is moving into a period of time where we are no longer the dominant cultural force.  The church will face very similar tensions to the Jews in the Maccabean period since we will have to decide what is important and non-negotiable with respect to doctrine a practice.  Like the “Judaisms” which came out of the Maccabean period, some Christians will include very little in their list of essential items and become virtually indistinguishable from the dominant secular world.  Others will have a lengthy detailed list of non-negotiable doctrines and practices and withdraw from secular society entirely.
On which issues will the Christian church “be zealous” when the day of persecution comes?

Sad News: Clark Pinnock Has Died

Christianity Today reports that Clark Pinnock has died at 73.  Pinnock was one of those scholars who could always be counted on for a thought provoking, radical quote.  When I taught Systematic Theology, I often used his statements on Hell or the knowledge of God to stir up discussion in class.  One of my students referred to Pinnock as “my whipping boy” since assigned the students to respond on exams to some radical statement he made.  For a while, the Open Theism question burned rather hot (although not too bright) and I needed to deal with the issue in several classes.  Pinnock naturally came up often as my straw man.

Some time later I met Clark Pinnock at the national ETS meeting in Colorado Springs.  After a plenary session which saw John Sanders affably defense of Open Theism against Bruce Ware’s Nuclear Assault defending the traditional view, I boarded a shuttle bus for parallel sessions.  The bus was packed, only the seat next to me was open as Pinnock  boarded the bus.  He sat next to me and we chatted about the weather in Colorado Springs.  He then asked me what I thought of the session.  I simply said that both papers were excellent but they probably didn’t change any minds.  I opined that since both sides subscribed fully to inerrancy so there was nothing that ETS could really do about Open Theism.  He smiled and agreed, which was encouraging to me since I was very much a “junior scholar” at the time.  He was quite gracious and appreciative of my comments.  We returned to chatting about the weather and went our separate ways.

As for me, when I returned home I removed the radical Pinnock quotes from my quizzes and promised myself not to use people like I had in the past.  Pinnock really was a man who was seeking God and the truth of scripture.  Even though we disagreed on the details, we were still brothers in Christ and I have no business treating anyone harshly in an academic setting.