March 6, 2014

Herod Antipas And John The Baptist

As our pastor has been in the Book of Matthew for over a month now, I was doing some research on the circumstances regarding the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist. John was related to Jesus; Mary being a "kinsman" of John's mother Elizabeth as seen in Luke, chapter 1:
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”
In Matt. 11, John is in prison for speaking against Herod Antipas, King of Galilee - well, parts of Galilee and Perea. Things got kind of rowdy in the royal line and you can blame some of it on Alexander the Great who made the terribly inconsiderate mistake of dying at an early age. His generals got greedy...

And Herod Antipas (Herod is a title that means hero or heroic) was not really a king, he was a tetrarch - ruler of a quarter - due to his father, Herod the Great, changing his mind about his succession just before he died in 4 BC. Also terribly inconsiderate.

But first, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade...

Look familiar? This is where the Holy Grail was hiding out for all those centuries until Indie and his father found it.

Actually this was the tomb of King Aretas IV Philopatris of Nabataea, a former Edomite kingdom which abutted Herod Antipas' kingdom on the south. Aretas had a daughter, Phasaelis, who as a teenager married Herod Antipas . The marriage lasted for thirty years.

And they were joyfully married right up until Antipas got a look at his brother Philip's wife, Herodias, who was actually their niece. Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus IV, son of Herod the great, and his wife (also his cousin) Berenice.

Aristobulus IV and his brother, Alexandros, were both strangled as punishment for unspecified treachery (rumors of which were initiated by their half-brother Antipas). Just days before his death Herod also has his oldest son, Antipater, executed. His mother was Herod's first wife, Doris.

Herod the Great had five wives: we already met Doris, who Herod divorced in order to marry Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess possibly related to the Maccabees. As mentioned previously, her sons Aristobulus and Alexandros, were strangled; Herod also had her executed.

Herod Antipas' mother was Malthace who also had another son, Herod Archelaus. Philip's mom was Cleopatra (no, not that one! Cleopatra of Jerusalem).

Herod the Great also had a sister,  Salome, whose granddaughter was Herodias, who married Philip, then his brother, Antipas. Oh well.

When Herod the Great died, Antipas wanted the whole kingdom as his father's previous will (written after he killed his two sons by Mariamne) had stated. The Roman Emperor Augustus decided against that and insisted that the later will and testament stay in effect.

So the kingdom was divided among the three surviving sons - therefore Herod Archelaus became ethnarch (ruler of a kingdom but not a king, he was subject to Rome) of Judea, Herod Antipas became tetrarch (literally ruler of a quarter of a province)  of Galilee and Perea (this was land west of the Dead Sea and extended south to Nabataea), and Herod Philip became tetrarch of a good chunk of land east of the Jordan River which included parts of Syria but north of Nabataea.

But before we go back to Herod Antipas, who still has a real bad case of happy pants for Herodias, let's visit with Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great died suddenly in  323 BC at the age of 33. He did not name a successor to his vast Macedonian kingdom; instead, murder, intrigue and war was to be his legacy for many years. Two generals were murdered outright. Another commander, Antigonus, became ruler of what is now Turkey and Syria; Antipater had control of  Thrace (Bulgaria) but he was getting on in years and died in 319 BC. Antigonus was killed by two other generals, Ptolemy (he got Egypt) and Seleucus (controlled much of Asia). Seleucus got most of Antigonus' land holdings and established what we now call the Seleucid Empire. It lasted until about 64 BC. These are the people who really pissed off the Jews (not a hard thing to do, they were a contentious lot to begin with)and helped set the stage for John the Baptist's beheading and even the crowd greeting Christ's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The Seleucid rulers were Hellenistic to the bone. They were everything Greek and loved it. They also sought to impose Greek culture on their subjects which did not endear them  to the Jews. But the Jews kept a wrap on it ... until Antiochus IV, or Antiochus Epiphanes as he liked to be called.

Gaining the throne in 175 BC, Mr. Call Me Epiphanes was a solid gold jerk.  Antiochus forbade the observance of Jewish religious rituals and instituted animal sacrifices to Greek gods in public places.. Circumcision became punishable by death.  Then on December 25, 168 BC, he rededicated the Jewish Temple to the Greek god Zeus  Quite a few Jews had become Hellenistic by now; the Seleucid rulers encouraged and rewarded those who did. But there were still many, many Jews who were infuriated by this. Enter the Macabees.

Starting in 167 BC, the five sons of a Jewish priest named Mattathias followed their father's example and raised a bit of hell for the Seleucids. So much in fact that their followers routed various armies sent by The Seleucid and Ptolemaic Emperors to defeat them. The sons of Mattathias were given the title "Maccabee" which means Hammer or Extinguisher. The name stuck.

The Jewish festival, Hanukkah, commemorates the cleansing of the Temple in 164 BC. When the Maccabean soldiers entered Jerusalem, the crowds cheered their saviors "with a chorus of praise and the waving of palm branches" (1 Macc 13.51). Even the praise "Hosanna!" means literally "Save us now!" and it is the same praise that was used to welcome Jesus.

But when the Maccabee brothers died, their successors were not as enthralled of their Jewish traditions as their fathers. The rebellion's strength was in their conservative Jewish following which slowly turned against them. The Maccabees turned into the Hasmonean dynasty which ruled Judea. The Hasmonean rulers did not adhere to the strict Jewish doctrine of the ultra conservative Jews who originally supported them. These conservative Jews became an opposition party to the Hasmoneans. Ultimately this opposition became the core of the conservative Pharisee sect who hated Jesus and plotted His death.

The Seleucid Empire collapsed in 129 BC and Israel was an independent nation under the Hasmoneans. Israel became a vassal state again in 63 BC when the Romans became dominant in the region and things got even worse when Herod the Great began his kingship in 37 BC.

Herod was an incredibly cruel man who would not hesitate to destroy anyone he perceived as a threat. Modern psychologists have examined his public actions as recorded by Josephus and other contemporary historians and concluded that he was a psycho. He was also enamored of Greek culture which was reflected in his architecture and dealings with the Jews.

The Jews welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem expected the same kind of deliverance that the Maccabees had delivered. They completely ignored His teachings and the Old Testament prophesies. This is just my opinion, but when they saw Jesus standing before Pilate, bound, beaten and bloodied, they were completely disappointed and perhaps even angry, reasoning that He had deceived them into believing that He would be their king. The pathetic mess before them was not worthy of consideration. So the cry "Give us Barabbas" echoed through the courtyards. Barabbas was a notorious criminal, a fierce rebel who fought against the Romans. He was the type of man the crowd was looking for, not some meek, forgiving carpenter from Galilee.

Herod the Great became ruler over Judea because of his father, Antipater, a powerful government official from Idumaea (Edom) who assisted Julius Caesar in the civil war against Pompey, 49 to 45 BC. Antipater was given Roman citizenship and appointed regent in 47 BC. Eventually he appointed his sons as governors in the region; Herod becoming Governor of Judea. Herod was elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate seven years later in 40 BC. It was as King of the Jews that Herod ordered the slaughter of Jewish children (more of that here) shortly before his death.

Returning to the execution of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas marries Herodias and John loudly proclaims that it is evil for a Jew (Herod considered himself a Jew, most likely of the Sadducee persuasion) to divorce and remarry and that it was an incestuous relationship as Herodias was his niece. It is reported in the Gospels that Antipas did not want to execute John, but reluctantly did so after he promised his step daughter, Salome, that she could have anything she wanted after dancing for him at his birthday celebration (Mark 6:14-29). Herodias wanted John dead for obvious reasons and seizes this opportunity. She prompts her daughter to ask for John's head. This occurs circa 28 AD.

So who was this murderous woman?

Remember Aristobulus IV? The one strangled by Herod the Great? Herodias was his daughter; her mother was Berenice, daughter of Salome, Herod's sister.
Yes, Herodias' parents were first cousins.
Her grandfather was Costabarus, governor of Idumea - also executed by Herod the Great in 28 BC.
She was also the sister of Herod V (king of Chalkis), Herod Agrippa (king of Judea), Aristobulus V, and Mariamne III (who was engaged to her uncle Crown Prince Antipater who was killed by Herod the Great, she later married another of her uncles, Herod Archelaus).
What a family.

Herod Antipas' first wife, Phasaelis, moved back to Nabataea before the divorce. Antipas' brother, Philip, dies in 34 AD and his tetrarchy is no longer under his control.

Jump ahead to 36 AD; Phasaelis' father, Aretas IV, is angry over the mistreatment of his daughter and there are some other issues with Herod Antipas, territorial disputes. War ensues. Herod gets his ass kicked by Nabataea and implores the Roman Emperor Tiberius for military assistance. Emperor Tiberius authorizes his Syrian legate to provide an army, but then dies in March of 37 AD. The Roman legate, Vitellius, hates Antipas, is slow to provide assistance and then completely withdraws his troops upon hearing of the death of Tiberius.

The next Emperor, Caligula, is persuaded by Antipas' nephew, Agrippa, that Antipas is plotting against him. In 39 AD Caligula removes Antipas as tetrarch of Galilee. All his possessions and his tetrarchy are given to Agrippa. Now it gets cloudy as to Herod Antipas' fate. A few sources state he dies in 39 AD at the hands of the Emperor, but most reliable texts indicate that he is exiled to Gaul (France) with his wife Herodias. Born sometime prior to 20 BC, at his exile he is at least 60 years old.

I know have omitted Herod Antipas' role in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. That is deliberate.

March 4, 2014

North New York? New Texas? Works For Me.

Although small, the secessionist movement in various states across the Union is growing. Voters have disconnected from their previous political ties and want new states in which they may exercise their rights as guaranteed under the Constitution.
GREELEY, Colo. -- If you mention the word "secession" most people think of the South during the Civil War. But today, a new movement is gaining steam because of frustration over a growing, out-of-control federal government.

A number of conservative, rural Americans are taking about seceding and creating their own states, meaning a new map of the United States of America could include the following:

A 51st state called Jefferson, made up of Northern California and Southern Oregon
A new state called Western Maryland
A new state called North Colorado

These are real movements gaining traction with voters across the country. Jeffrey Hare runs the 51st State Initiative in Colorado, an effort to fight an out-of-control legislature trying to ram big government policies down the throats of voters.
Here in New York there are murmurs of a secessionist movement. Many people have had it with Cuomo and the Albany liberals who have driven almost twenty Congressional seats out of the state due to residents moving away. What was once a beautiful state is gradually turning into another liberal wasteland. Detroit, here we come.
Creating a new state isn't easy. The last time a state actually gave up territory was in 1820, when Maine split from Massachusetts. Since then, additional efforts have been unsuccessful.

The first step is getting it passed by the state legislature and then the U.S. Congress.

"This is a valid constitutional process that our founding fathers specifically wrote into the Constitution," Hare said. "Well, if they didn't write this into the Constitution to be used, then why did they write it in?"
More here.

March 3, 2014

Putin: Bring It! -- Obama: Fore!

Apparently the Poles are paying attention; they know what it's like to get mauled by the Russian Bear.. Obama, the wanker, can't even be bothered to attend his own security meetings.

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea – After blocking Ukrainian military bases in Crimea on Sunday, Russia issued ultimatums to the Ukrainian army and two ships on Monday to surrender or face a “military storm.”

“If they (Ukrainian troops) do not give up by 5 a.m. tomorrow (March 4), there will be a real storm of subdivisions and units of Ukraine's military forces all over Crimea,” Russian Black Sea Fleet Commander Aleksandr Vitko was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied information about ultimatums as “utter nonsense.” The Ukrainian defense and foreign ministries insisted that ultimatums were, in fact, real, and part of psychological warfare against Ukraine.

Poland took the threat seriously enough to call an Article 4 meeting of NATO. This article is used when one of the military alliance members feels that its security or territorial integrity is under threat.

More here.