Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why Did Irenaeus Identify Pontius Pilate as the governor of Claudius'? [Part One]

I know that this question will inevitably bring comments like 'the writings of the Church are all forged' but I ask anyway with the hope that someone might have some insight I don't possess. The reference comes from Irenaeus's Proof of the Apostolic Preaching which is only completely preserved in Armenian. It preserves the passage as:

And again David (says) thus concerning the sufferings of Christ: Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people imagine vain things? Kings rose up on the earth, and princes were gathered together, against the Lord and his Anointed. For Herod the king of the Jews and Pontius Pilate, the governor of Claudius Caesar, came together and condemned Him to be crucified. For Herod feared, as though He were to be an earthly king, lest he should be expelled by Him from the kingdom. But Pilate was constrained by Herod and the Jews that were with him against his will to deliver Him to death: (for they threatened him) if he should not rather do this than act contrary to Caesar, by letting go a man who was called a king ... Again He says in the Twelve Prophets: And they bound him and brought him as a present to the king. For Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, and he had at that time resentful enmity against Herod the king of the Jews. But then, when Christ was brought to him bound, Pilate sent Him to Herod, giving command to enquire of him, that he might know of a certainty what he should desire concerning Him; making Christ a convenient occasion of reconciliation with the king.[Proof 74, 77]

Every commentator has noted that this fits with Irenaeus statement in Book Two of Against the Heresies that Jesus was almost fifty when crucified. Since Irenaeus knows that Jesus was thirty in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (29 CE) the last possible year of the reign of Claudius that Irenaeus could have thought that Jesus was crucified would be 49 CE (assuming his birthday was later that same year).

Yet there is another wrinkle - the reign of Herod. It is difficult enough to imagine that Pilate was governor for Claudius but how did he reconcile the idea that Herod remained king of Judea for so long too?

A possible clue - Irenaeus's language sounds eerily reminiscent of Acts throughout especially:

For of a truth in this city, against thy holy Servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate were gathered together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass. [Acts chapter 4]

We take it for granted that the 'Herod' of Acts was 'Agrippa I.' But did Irenaeus believe that? I don't think so.

As such could Acts chapter twelve's description of Herod's death have been thought by Irenaeus to be a description of the end of the king who persecuted Jesus? 

Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the Church in Judaea. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And when he saw that his laying hands upon the faithful pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And those were the days of unleavened bread. And when he had taken him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to guard him; intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was kept in the prison: but much prayer in earnestness about him was made by the church to God about him. And when Herod was about to bring him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with |66 two chains, and guards before the door were keeping the prison. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by Peter, and a light shined in the cell; and he nudged Peter on the side, and awoke him, saying, Rise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And he did so. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee and follow me. And he went out and followed; and he wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; for he thought he saw a vision. And when they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth into the city, which opened to them of its own accord, and they went out, and went down the seven steps, and passed on through one street; and straightway the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a truth, that the Lord hath sent forth his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark: where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to answer, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for joy, and ran in and told that Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she confidently affirmed that it was even so. And they said Perchance it is his angel. But Peter continued knocking. And when they had opened and saw him, they were astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, came in and declared unto them how that the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison. And he said, Tell these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed and went to another place. Now as soon as it was day, there was a |67 [no small] stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and tarried there.

For he was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they with one accord from both the cities came to the king, and having persuaded Blastus the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country was fed from the king's country. And upon a set day Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel, and sat on the throne, and made an oration unto them, after being reconciled with the Tyrians. And the people shouted, saying, The voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory. And he came down from the throne, and while he was still living he was eaten of worms, and thus gave up the ghost.

I guess Irenaeus couldn't have used our received copies of Josephus (even though there is a catena reference that claims he knew Josephus). His timeline seems out of whack. But what's the solution? How could Irenaeus have thought that Pilate and Herod were ruling Judea during the reign of Claudius?

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