The Gospel writers and the Herods of the Galilee

By John Miller

Thursday the 5th of April 2018

 

Each Gospel is in its own way the greatest, and each adds something important to the one that came before it.

For this reason many of us linger in the Gospel of John, who was with Christ from the very beginning of his ministry in the Galilee, and was the youngest of the Apostles. John gives us the most intimate account not only of the deeds and words of Christ, but also of their intent and meaning.

John was the disciple most beloved of Jesus, for his utmost childlike faith, and in the end he not only wrote the definitive Gospel but he was accorded the honour to not die until he had witnessed the return of his Lord in glory.

This he witnessed as a vision while upon Patmos, after he and Mary went to live in Asia, which is nowadays called Western Turkey, while Asia means something else altogether.

The final warning of John to the Seven Churches of Asia resonates strongly in our own age of wickedness, but his Gospel is full of the hope of his youth, when he walked with Christ in Galilee.

John was the little brother of James, and both sons of Zebedee and Salome left their nets to become fishers of men, and Apostles of Christ. In this they only were outdone by the earliest followers, the brothers Peter and Andrew , who were also fishermen brothers from the Sea of Galilee, then better known as the Lake of Tiberias, its largest city.

Whereas Peter was the most senior of the Apostles, and the rock upon which Christ would build his Church, it was youthful John who first truly heard what Christ the Lord was saying, when all the disciples were gathered around to hear Christ preaching in the Galilee.

The only evangelist who had no firsthand knowledge of Christ was the Greek physician Luke, who was an intimate acquaintance of the prolific proselytiser and writer of Epistles, Saint Paul. His Gospel is complemented by his Book of the Acts of the Apostles, and often reads as a hagiography of the first elders of the early Church, many of whom like John were still alive.

Luke’s paramount concern was fastidiously collecting the fullest account available from all the elders of the Church about the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. He emphasises the primacy of the Jerusalem Church, which had not yet been destroyed along with the city of Jerusalem during the Jewish Wars of AD 66 – 73.

If one only reads the Gospel of Luke, perhaps written while Luke and Paul were in Rome in the early 60s, then it seems like all the Apostles faithfully stayed on at Jerusalem after the crucifixion of their Lord. There is no mention at all of any of them going back to the Galilee. This may not have been a problem before the invention of the printing press, but since then it has caused no small amount of confusion to Bible readers.

It is only natural when writing an account of such revered men that nobody would have a bad word to say about any of them, but we know from the Gospel accounts which the Apostle Matthew and Mark the Evangelist had already written that after the Resurrection of Christ the disciples returned to Galilee.

By the earliest account in Matthew, both Marys told the followers of Christ that an angel had met them at the empty tomb and instructed them to return to Galilee, where they would meet their Lord again.

Writing after Matthew and before Luke, Mark reveals that the Magdalene had told the disciples she had seen the risen Christ with her own eyes, and they did not believe her. All perhaps apart from the young Apostle John, but the disciples were obviously shaken and deeply grieving. Many of them were probably afraid for their lives.

Peter was martyred at Rome in the early 60s, and if Luke had heard of this he would have mentioned it. Luke renders an account that complements the existing Gospels of Matthew and Mark in most regards, except for elevating the Church of Jerusalem much higher than it was in the earlier Gospels. He ignores altogether the return of the disciples to the Galilee immediately after the Resurrection.

Had Luke never seen the Gospels of Mathew and Mark? Clearly he had, but some things are a little awry. His intended audience was obviously deferential to James the Just, who had been bishop at Jerusalem and was martyred in 62 AD. Luke mentions this James quite often, who had become a major figure in the Church before his death.

The Jerusalem Church had still not been destroyed in the Jewish Wars when Luke wrote, and Luke is at pains to emphasise that Peter, then bishop of Rome, had been tarrying at Jerusalem as long as any of the disciples before Pentecost.

In the Gospel which Saint Mark had already written the Church was informed that two unnamed disciples were the second to be visited by the arisen Christ, and this occurred while they were walking in the countryside, evidently back towards their homes in the Galilee. When they told the others they also were not believed.

Luke names one of these disciples as Clophas,  a name used by the early Church for Saint Joseph, who had seen Christ born miraculously to the virgin Mary, and who had cared for the Lord since childhood. Joseph and the Holy Family were resident at Nazareth in the Galilee.

Was Joseph walking with his son James, who later became the martyred bishop of Jerusalem? Or was the unnamed disciple the Apostle John, the ever humble youth? John it was alone amongst the Apostles who believed unflinchingly in the return of his Lord, even in those darkest days. Yet in Luke all this is glossed over, the return to Galilee which Matthew and Mark have already written about.

An elderly Saint John writing after Luke would set the record straight, recalling without fear or favour the doubt of his fellow Apostles, most notably Saint Thomas, who even poked his fingers in the wounds of Christ. Such was the humanity of the disciples, who apart from John and the women entirely failed to comprehend the divine nature of Christ, until he came back and stood amongst them.

Yet Saint John was also a notable admirer of Thomas, his elder. It is from John that we learn the great bravery of Thomas, the disciple of Christ who rallied the others to return to Judea with their master after certain Jews had attempted to stone Jesus. The words of Thomas then were “Let us go, that we may die with him”. (John 11:16)

John makes it quite clear though that Thomas and the others never entirely comprehended the full nature of Christ while he was with them. Thomas appears in the 14th chapter of John with Philip and Judas all questioning Christ, who speaks to them in parables which they fail to understand. John knew and understood, for he always believed in Christ with childlike faith.

Before either John or Luke wrote their Gospels there were already two Gospels written, and both by men who had known and followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord. If Luke wrote in the 60s, when Jerusalem and the Temple was still standing, then Mark most likely wrote in Alexandria in the late 40s or the 50s, after he and Peter had parted ways.

Saint Mark was another Greek, like Luke. Unlike Luke he was an intimate of the Apostles, yet not himself an Apostle. He was one of two other Galilean evangelists apart from John. One was the Apostle Matthew, and the other Mark the evangelist. Both Matthew and Mark encountered Christ at Capernaum, which was then the most important city on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, overshadowed only by Tiberias to the south.

John and Peter arrived with Jesus in Capernaum, and as fisherman who lived by the Sea of Galilee it would hardly have been their first visit to the city. They were rustics though, speakers of Aramaic, and then illiterate.

Jesus bought together Jews such as they with well educated and important Jews like Matthew. The Galilee was home to Jews and Syrians and Greeks who all spoke the Syrian language, Aramaic. Another common language was Greek, which was used in the Greek cities of the neighbouring Decapolis.

Galilean Jews knew at least enough Hebrew to visit Jerusalem with on holy days, yet most Jews who lived in the Greek cities of Egypt, Syria, and Asia had been exposed to almost four centuries of Hellenisation. The Jews of Alexandria where Saint Mark would establish his Church had even composed a translation of the Old Testament in Greek. The Holy Septuagint was widely used and relied upon by the early Christians.

In old age both Saint Peter and Saint John learned to speak and write in Greek, which was far more familiar to most Christians and even many Jews in Rome, Asia and Egypt than Hebrew. Their rustic Aramaic was left behind in Galilee, or perhaps at Antioch.

Mark was a Greek, but he was just as Galilean as Peter and John and Matthew. We first encounter Saint Mark in the Gospel of Matthew, an unnamed scribe who devotes his life to following Christ at Capernaum.

After Christ arrives at Capernaum he tells Matthew the publican to follow him, and Saint Matthew obeys. Just after this the scribe is introduced to Christ, and he too is overwhelmed with a desire to serve his new master.

Jesus and the priestly family of Saint Joseph, including John the Baptist, spoke both Hebrew and Aramaic fluently. They were able to recite the Scriptures of Moses and the Prophets just as they had been written, and yet the first-hand account of the life of Christ we owe mostly to an intrepid Greek evangelist who followed Christ everywhere and wrote down what he said.

The other Greek evangelist only heard from others what occurred in those early days, and John was still a simple fisherman, not far removed from boyhood. The other Galilean evangelist, the Apostle Matthew, was a more than capable writer of Greek, but he relied heavily upon the sayings of Christ that Mark collected.

Mark faithfully recorded the Aramaic words of Christ to the Galilean multitude. He wrote in Greek, but like everybody else in Galilee he could speak Aramaic, which he freely translated. Aramaic was the common language of Herodian Galilee, but the Greek speaking cities of the neighbouring Greek Decapolis were close by.

Mark was perhaps first an employee of Matthew, whose job it was to levy taxes upon Greek, Syrian and Jew alike for Herod. This would explain why a Greek was travelling around with a band of Jews. Before he became indispensable as an evangelist, Mark was first an indispensable aid to Matthew the publican, who was quite an important fellow in the Galilee of Herod Antipas, the ruler who had John the Baptist killed.

Saint Mark after the death and Resurrection of Christ became for a time the personal amanuensis of Saint Peter, teaching the former fisherman who was to establish the universal Church for Jesus how to write Greek letters, thus helping Peter to write his Epistles to the early Church.

Mark’s Gospel reveals an early collegial rivalry between the Churches of Galilee and Jerusalem, unlike the complete dominance that Luke affords Jerusalem when writing later.

The persecution and martyring of Christians by certain zealous Jews was ever present in Jerusalem, and the Church elsewhere provided support mostly in the form of money, but the best support of all came initially from the Galilee, whose large number of Christian Jewish converts could be relied upon to come to the Temple in Jerusalem which Herod’s father had adorned and support the Christian faith.

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark both rely upon the sayings of Jesus which Mark faithfully collected, but even the Apostle Matthew and Mark the Evangelist have their subtle differences.

Matthew, who was one of the Twelve Apostles, was first the Publican of Capernaum, well known to Mark and possibly his patron. Both had a keen interest in collecting all the sayings of Christ, and keeping them for posterity. Naturally this would be in Greek, the language of high culture and wisdom.

Matthew and Mark agree the angel of the Lord informed the women at the Sepulchre that Christ had risen and was waiting for his disciples in the Galilee. The Matthew who carefully wrote these words down in Greek in the late 30s AD for the first Gospel of the risen Christ was both an Apostle and an erudite man.

His interest in the entire life of Christ and intimate knowledge of our Lord in the Galilee are fundamental to the success of his testimony, and his Gospel is both a fine history and a remarkable literary accomplishment.

Matthew eventually wrote his Gospel in Greek, although by some reports he wrote it out in Aramaic first. Greek was the language used by Greek speaking Jews who supported the Sadducean faction, who were the original Levite Temple priests, but displaced by the faction of Pharisees in the pre-Herodian era for being too philhellenic.

The fortunes of the Sadducees rose again with Herod and his descendants, but were eventually dashed by the Jewish Wars.

Clearly Matthew was proficient in both Greek and Aramaic, or he would have been a poor publican in the Galilee. For in the Galilean lands of Herod Antipas in the 20s and early 30s AD, when he was called by Christ to follow him and become his Apostle, his duty had been to collect money from Greek and Jew and Syrian alike, and from whoever else conducted business or lived in Capernaum.

As publican he naturally belonged to a Publican Society, which collected revenues for the local ruler, but ultimately for Rome. Herod Antipas was ruler, but Antipas had no crown, and even if he did he would have only held it by virtue of the grace of the Roman Emperor.

Publican Societies were organisations run by Roman citizens of the class of Knight, but they were often owned and heavily invested in by the Patrician class, even Senators and local rulers. The Herodian family was most interested of all in maximising their revenues, both to keep Rome happy, and to enrich themselves.

Matthew was a Jew, and clearly not a Roman Knight with a horse paid for by the Widows and Orphans tax, but he was the most trusted henchman of his Publican Society in Capernaum, and ultimately he worked for the Herodian regime and for Rome, tax farming his city.

His ruler Herod Antipas needed to raise a lot of revenue, and not just to satisfy the rapacious and ever-changing emperors, but also to pay for his own army. Rome was not always to be relied upon, being subject to perpetual internecine civil wars of succession and to external threats that often called its forces to places far away from where they might also be needed.

The most ominous threat of all was from the mighty imperial power in Parthia, and Galilee was not far removed from Mesopotamia where Rome and Parthia often clashed.

Around the time that John the Baptist and the Son of God were stirring up the common man of Herodian Galilee and Pereia, Herod was getting sick of his wife, and in 28/29 AD he incurred the wrath of his father-in-law by divorcing her and sending her back home to the wilderness kingdom of Nabataea. This enraged her father, the King of the Nabatean Arabs.

This personal slight caused the King of the Arabs to declare a vendetta on Herod Antipas, and both men began raising large armies. The Herodians also began fortifying Sephoris, their original palace city in the Galilee, as well as the city of Tiberias in Galilee, which Herod transformed into his new capital. Tiberias was the main city upon the Sea of Galilee, and Herod lavished it with great walls and other modifications in line with his ambitions.

Despite there being four Roman legions in Syria, one in the Transjordan and one in Judea, Herod expected the vengeful Nabatean king to break the Roman Peace at the first opportune moment.

The Herodians still had to kick all their regular payments up the chain to Rome to pay for Roman protection, but the legions were liable to march off and fight the Parthians at any time, so Herod Antipas began an arms and fortifications race with the Nabateans that required an extraordinary level of taxation.

No wonder the common man was at his wits end when Jesus and John and Baptist were preaching in the Herodian realm.

There were taxes on land, on goods and services (except for physicians, teachers, and farmers), a customs excise, a poll tax on citizens, a second poll tax on widows and orphans, a levy on unmarried men and women, an inheritance tax (exempting immediate family), an auctions tax, a sales tax on slaves, a tax on manumission, and rents to be paid for using Roman land.

And if you didn’t pay your taxes. Well, you were not of much use to Herod.

If you lived in Capernaum, at the time the second largest Herodian town on the Sea of Galilee, the jerk who was extracting your money for Herod was Matthew the publican. Before he became an Apostle, he was a local bigshot Tax Farmer for his Publican Society cartel.

This made Matthew not only very influential, but also quite rich. It also necessitated quite a lot of correspondence and paperwork, which brings Mark into the picture. The Publican Society enquiring about Herod’s monies, and Matthew politely replying when Herod will be getting his moneys, and so forth.

The Apostle Matthew gave this all away to follow Christ, but there can be no doubt that he was of a social class above the fishermen and other followers, and that he retained influence and connections in Galilee.

In 33/34 AD Christ had risen and appeared to the early Church in Galilee, but for Herod Antipas life went on. The Romans and the Parthians were going to war, and Herod was still taxing everything that moved. His relative Philip had died and left his lands to Rome, and Herod gleefully garrisoned Philip’s old lands in Syria with his troops for Rome.

He had long coveted Gamala, which controlled the Golan heights on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, across from Tiberias.

By 36 AD the Romans and the Parthians were fighting bloody battles in Mesopotamia, and with the legions away, Aretas also seized his chance. The Arabs attacked the Herodians, first besieging them at Gamala, and then defeating a relieving army.

Herod was not present, being fortuitously at the time with the King of the Parthians, where he was negotiating on behalf of the Romans, who were getting sick of their Iraq War. The treaty Herod brokered between the two imperial powers meant that Aretas after his victory at Gamala simply went back home to Nabatea, and the Roman Peace returned, with no Arab invasion of the Galilee after all.

As it later turned out, Herod Antipas had done more than negotiate peace. He had also concluded a secret alliance of his own with the Parthians.

Herod kept taxing the heck out of Galilee right up to the end, and secretly gathered a massive arsenal of weapons. His secret alliance with Parthia came undone with the death of the Parthian king in 38 AD, and in the following year Antipas was exiled by Caligula and replaced by his nephew, Herod Agrippa.

The haul of weapons seized by Rome was enough to arm 19,000 troops, which was more men than Rome then had available in all its four Syrian legions.

Clearly the former friends of Matthew in the Publican Societies of Galilee were kept quite busy by the scheming Antipas, who was taxing his small state like a madman.

Herod Agrippa II came to power in Galilee in 39 BC, and it was this Herod that Paul appeared before.

He had been away for several years currying favour with the Romans, but had spent the years from 29 to 32 living in Galilee at the new court of his uncle at Tiberias. These were the same years when Christ was also present in the Galilee, but Herod Agrippa II was not in the region when Christ was crucified.

Nazareth where Mary and her family lived was a satellite town of the old Herodian capital, Sephoris, which was still the second most important city in Galilee.

Rulers came and went, but the class of Roman Knights who administered the Publican Societies endured in Roman society. While Agrippa may not have known Matthew, he certainly knew the high-ranking members of the Publican Societies who tax farmed the Galilee that Matthew must also have known, being their former henchman at Capernaum.

Agrippa had left the Galilee for Antioch in 32 AD, when Flaccus arrived as governor of Syria from Rome. This was the first time Rome had sent a governor to Syria in 10 years, and Herodian intriguing at the regional hub of Roman power was only to be expected.

The road to Antioch from the Galilee became a well-worn one by Christian refugees during the Jewish Wars of 66 – 73 AD, and after the Sack of Jerusalem the Church at Antioch was for perhaps the next century the greatest Church in the world just by virtue of how many of the Church Fathers moved there, albeit Rome had via Saint Peter the Apostolic Succession, and Alexandria had Saint Mark, and Ephesus got Mary, John, and Saint Luke.

There can be no doubt though that before the Jewish Wars the Galilee was central to the early Christian world, and initially as important as Jerusalem itself. The Son of God and John the Baptist both spent almost all of their ministry in either Galilee or Pereia, the regions controlled by the Herodian family.

Both Matthew and Mark are clear that the women were informed that Christ was going to return to the Christians again in Galilee. The only women named by Matthew are Galilean women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.

Mark not only identifies Mary as the mother of James of the Just of Nazareth, but also informs us that Salome was with the two Marys when they inspected the empty sepulchre. Salome was the mother of the fishermen bothers James and John. The Apostles as a group failed to heed the words of Mary, though young John must have believed them to be true.

John was amongst the first to comprehend that Jesus was not only the Messiah but also the Son of God. Apart from his Gospel, he wrote three Epistles and a Book of his Revelation upon Patmos.

Saint John confirms that Christ appeared to the Apostles twice at Jerusalem after the Resurrection, and at least once in Galilee. Salome’s sons were with Peter and his brother when Christ goes to the Galilee to visit them after his Resurrection, and they are back at their nets.

In Mark after the angel appears to Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James, and Salome, the women do not inform the men.

That Mark bothers to identify Mary as the mother of James the Just is telling. Without getting into a debate about the perpetual virginity of the Holy Mother of God, James the Just was the maternal relative of the Holy Family who become bishop of the Church at Jerusalem.

By Matthew’s Gospel Christ had appointed not his maternal relative James as next leader of the Church, but rather his first follower Peter. By every account except that of Luke, who was not there, Peter and the others go back to Galilee after the crucifixion. The testimony of John in his Gospel also later confirms that Peter and the others went back initially to the Sea of Galilee, where Christ appears to them after the Resurrection.

James the Just was from a family descended from King David and a prominent line of Sadducean Levites, which made him the perfect Christian to represent the faith at the Temple, but Christ had already overthrown the Temple. It was for a humble fisherman from Galilee to build the Church that would replace it.

In both Matthew and Mark’s retelling of events at the Sepulchre, the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples to go meet Christ in the Galilee. Clearly there was some controversy about who went home to Galilee and who stayed in Jerusalem to await the return of Christ though.

Mark does not specifically mention where the Eleven Apostles were when Christ appeared to them, and neither does he mention that Christ appeared to only ten of them the first time, as John later recounts.

I will end then with the various accounts of Matthew the Apostle who wrote the first Gospel, and then with Mark the evangelist who wrote things down as they happened, both faithful witnesses to the Life and Resurrection of Christ.

Matthew Chapter 28

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at the sepulchre

1 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:

4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

Hostility in Jerusalem

11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.

12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,

13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.

14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

The Church in Galilee

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.

17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Mark Chapter 16

Mary Magdalene and Mary and Salome at the sepulchre

1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

4 And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

6 And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

7 But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

8 And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene

9 Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

Appearance of Christ to two of them

12 After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country.

13 And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them.

Appearance of Christ unto the Eleven

14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.

Amen.

Full disclosure: John Miller’s IRL name is Frank Faulkner. I’m an Aussie who’s keen on Conservative politics, Trump, and the Anime Right. I enjoy investigating the lives of the early Christians.

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