Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Herod, the Construction of the Jewish Temple and the Samaritan Jubilee Year

We have already mentioned what it does for our understanding of when the temple was built.  Josephus uses the strange dates of his 'fifteenth year' for its completion in Jewish Antiquities but the 'eighteenth year' in Jewish Wars for its commencement.  These dates are very difficult to reconcile with one another especially if we incorporate the additional layer of Josephus's claim that Herod was proclaimed 'king of the Jews' in 40 CE.  The only way it can make sense is if we imagine that two separate reference points are being used.  The first is the commencement of work on the temple dated from Nicolaus's claim that Herod was made 'king of the Jews' in 39 CE (= 39 - 18 = 21 BCE), the second being the date for the actual completion of the temple in the fifteenth year of Augustus, not Herod.

The original context in Jewish War might be useful for our consideration.  The statement about Herod's building of the temple occurs as part of a longer discussion of how happy he was to be favored by Augustus:

He (Augustus) also made him (Herod) a procurator of all Syria, and this on the tenth year afterward, when he came again into that province; and this was so established, that the other procurators could not do any thing in the administration without his advice: but when Zenodorus was dead, Caesar bestowed on him all that land which lay between Trachonitis and Galilee. Yet, what was still of more consequence to Herod, he was beloved by Caesar next after Agrippa, and by Agrippa next after Caesar; whence he arrived at a very great degree of felicity. Yet did the greatness of his soul exceed it, and the main part of his magnanimity was extended to the promotion of piety. Accordingly, in the fifteenth year of his reign (= Augustus), Herod rebuilt the temple, and encompassed a piece of land about it with a wall, which land was twice as large as that before enclosed. The expenses he laid out upon it were vastly large also, and the riches about it were unspeakable. A sign of which you have in the great cloisters that were erected about the temple, and the citadel which was on its north side. The cloisters he built from the foundation, but the citadel he repaired at a vast expense; nor was it other than a royal palace, which he called Antonia, in honor of Antony. He also built himself a palace in the Upper city, containing two very large and most beautiful apartments; to which the holy house itself could not be compared [in largeness]. The one apartment he named Caesareum, and the other Agrippium, from his [two great] friends. [Jewish Wars 1.20,21]

The very same thing is reported in the Latin Hegesippus narrative save only for the fact that 'Samaria' is added to the list of things given to Herod - perhaps deliberately:

With which services he infused a great love for himself into everyone, so that it was thought he deserved more than he had received and that the rule of a kingdom was less than the liberality of his kindness deserved. Therefore Caesar from this opinion, things having been accomplished in Egypt, Antonius and Cleopatra having died, returned to Herod not only what had been taken away, truly even beyond those things which Cleopatra had stolen, he granted to him Gadara, Ipponen, Samaria. He bestowed also at the same time the maritime cities, Gaza, Anthedon, Joppa, and Strato's Tower; also four hundred bodyguards from Gaul, surrounded by whom Cleopatra traveled, he granted many other things for the protection of the body of the king. But from all these things the king considered most important that above all he was loved, by Caesar below Agrippa only, by Agrippa below Caesar only. And so in the fifteenth year of his reign, that he should respond to his blessed condition and favor, having been lifted up by such a great success of favorable things, he strained for goodness and so that he might demonstrate himself grateful to the heavenly gods for the favors flowing to him without limit, he adorned the temple, and he surrounded with a wall all that circuit of space about the temple and the space having been doubled he enclosed it at great expense of building and with exquisite beauty. For evidence there were great covered walks about the sanctuary, which he raised up from the foundations. Nor was his purpose less of guarding than of beautifying, accordingly he strengthened the fortress lying to the north, which he named Antonia in honor of Antonius, not at all inferior to the higher palaces. He added even in the citadel of the royal home twin residences of great extent of wonderful beauty, to whose grace you would think nothing should be added. One of them was named Caesarium, the other Agrippium, so that in his dwellings the lasting memory of such great friends would be celebrated. [1.34 -35]

The Yosippon, the translation of Josephus into Hebrew odd departs here from the short account of Herod's building of the temple shared by Jewish Antiquities and Hegesippus and incorporates instead the longer narrative from Antiquities 15, 380 with some variations due to difficulty of the Latin text author followed. Flusser's edition ch. 50 has 117 lines re-building of the temple in Herod's eighteenth year with construction lasting eight years not as Antiquities 15, 421 one year and six months.

We will get to what the Slavonic text in due course but for the moment at least it is worth noting that contemporary scholarship basically accepts the account of the Yosippon.  One recent study which basically sums up the accepted opinion notes:

As for the beginning of the work on the Temple Mount reconstruction, we have used the date of 23/22, and supposed that the construction of the Temple itself began in 20/19 BCE.  As noted, the date for the dedication of the Temple building is given by some scholars as 18 BCE. Assuming a synchronism of the dedication with Herod's annual coronation festival, we place this late in that year. After 18 BCE, construction work probably continued only in the precinct surrounding the Temple (the largest temenos in the ancient world), in which—Josephus reported (Ant. 15.420)—Herod took a personal interest. That precinct was completed by 12 BCE, as is made clear by the following: when, in 13 BCE, Herod returned from his journey to Ionia and Pontus, he called an assembly (in which, among other things, he remitted a quarter of the past year's taxes). Josephus only noted that this occurred “in Jerusalem” (Ant. 15.62). In the following year, however, Herod assembled the people in the Temple to speak to them (Ant. 16.132). This anecdote from 12 BCE could only refer to the Temple precinct. [source]

The reality then is that the author of the Yosippon - no less than modern scholarship - have ultimately reconstructed the events as spanning the eighteenth year of Herod's reign to the fifteen year of Augustus's reign even if they aren't aware of the implications of their research.

The unusual thing however as we have already noted, is that the two dates of 21 BCE (= 39 - 18) and 12 BCE (27 - 15) also happen to fall in the Samaritan cycle of sabbatical years.  21 BCE is certainly a forty ninth year and 12 BCE.  But the calculation of 12 BCE specifically is a rough approximation on the part of scholars.  It represents a certainty that the temple was built sometime between these two statements in Jewish Antiquities:

but the king determined to sail from Samos to his own country; and when he had taken his leave of Agrippa, he pursued his voyage, and landed at Cesarea in a few days' time, as having favorable winds; from whence he went to Jerusalem, and there gathered all the people together to an assembly, not a few being there out of the country also. So he came to them, and gave them a particular account of all his journey, and of the affairs of all the Jews in Asia, how by his means they would live without injurious treatment for the time to come. He also told them of the entire good fortune he had met with and how he had administered the government, and had not neglected any thing which was for their advantage; and as he was very joyful, he now remitted to them the fourth part of their taxes for the last year. Accordingly, they were so pleased with his favor and speech to them, that they went their ways with great gladness, and wished the king all manner of happiness.[Ant 16.2.4] 


They also made one another such presents as it became kings to make, From thence Herod came to Judea and to the temple, where he made a speech to the people concerning what had been done in this his journey. He also discoursed to them about Caesar's kindness to him, and about as many of the particulars he had done as he thought it for his advantage other people should be acquainted with. [Ant 16.4.6]

The point here is that the completion of the temple occurred sometime between the return from Herod's trip to Ionia in early 13 BCE and his return from foreign travels in 12 BCE.  The fifteenth year of Augustus's reign would have lasted from the equivalent of September 13 BCE to August 12 BCE - most of which being covered by the Samaritan Jubilee.

We should begin to see now that there is a strange synchronizing of the dates of the Jerusalem temple - both construction and completion - which correspond to the traditional Samaritan sabbatical cycle.  Josephus of course never mentions specifically that this detail but he does - as noted earlier - make reference to the fact that Herod forgave a large portion of people's taxes in the immediately period preceding the beginning of construction.  What is perhaps more significant is the fact that Slavonic Josephus has inserted the beginning of the gospel in the year this temple was completed.  As we read (italicized text represents additional material found in the Slavonic text see above):

He (Augustus) established him [as ruler] over the governors of Syria and as senior over all [their] commanders [instructing them] to do nothing without his bidding. And Caesar (held] Herod in his affection foremost after Agnppa. And Agrippa [held him] in his affection after Caesar. And so wealth untold came in to him day by day [and] he distributed it for his good works. .." [Lacuna]

Having so spoken" [Herod] sent them off to the innkeepers, escorting them with guards who knew the Persian tongue to listen to what they said. When they were closeted with a Persian who was [there] they began to grieve, saying: "Our fathers and our children [manuscript A has marginal note 'How Herod released the Persian seers, the astronomers] have been excellent astrologers and, watching the stars, never lied. And we too. taught by them, have never distorted the message of the stars. What can this be? Deceit or error? The star image appeared to us signifying the birth of a king by whom the whole world would be preserved. And gazing on that star, we have been making our way for a year and a half to this city; and we have not found the son of [a] king. And the star is [now] hidden from us. We have indeed been deceived! But we shall send the gifts we had prepared For the infant to the king and ask him to let us (return] to our fatherland." And while they were thus speaking, the guards came to the king and told him everything. And he sent for the Persians. But while they were on their way, that remarkable star appeared to them [again]. And they were filled with joy. And they went by night to Herod with boldness. And he said to them [confidentially], away from everybody (else]: "Why do you sadden my heart and distress my soul by not speaking the truth? Why have you come here? " They told him: "King, we have no double-talk. But we are sons of Persia. Astronomy. which is our science and our craft, our ancestors took over from the Chajdaeans. As we gazed on the stars we have never been wrong. And a star [of] ineffable [beauty] appeared to us, separated from all [the other] stars. For it was not one of the seven planets, not one of the spearmen, not one of the swordsmen, not one of the archers, not one of the comets, but it was exceedingly brilliant like the sun, and it was joyful. And by observing it we have reached you. And while we were here, the star disappeared right up to the present [moment]. But now, as we were coming to you. it appeared [again]." And Herod said: "Can you show it to me?" And they said: "We reckon the whole world sees it." And they said: "We reckon the whole world sees it." And they stepped out on to an open porch and they showed him the star. And when Herod saw it. he marvelled greatly. And he worshipped God for he was a devout man. And he gave them an escort [composed of] his brother and [some] nobles, to go and see the one born. But as they were on their way the star disappeared once more, and they came back again. And the Persians begged him to let them go on [promising] that having sought out, they would come back and tell him. And they swore him an oath, believing that the star would tell them to return by that road. And they followed the star. And after waiting a year for them they did not even come to [see] him. And he was furious and summoned the priests (who were his] advisers and asked if any of them understood [the meaning of] that star. And they answered him: "It is written: 'A star shall shine forth from Jacob and a man shall arise from Judah'. "And Daniel writes that a priest is to come, but we do not know who this is. We reckon that he will be born without a father.? Herod said: "How can we discover him? And Levi said: "Send throughout the whole land of Judaea: 'how many male infants have been born since the Persians saw the star right up to the present day,' kill them all, and that one will also be killed. And your kingdom will be secure for you and your sons and even for your great-grandsons? And immediately he sent forth heralds throughout the whole land that all the male sex born from now and to the third year are to be honoured and to receive gold. Enquiring whether any had been born without a father, they were to pretend that [Herod] would adopt him as his son and make him king. And since they did not discover a single such, he gave orders to kill all 6 myriad and 3000 infants. When all were weeping and wailing at the shedding of blood, the priests came and begged him to release the innocents; but he threatened them all the more to keep silent. And they fell prostrate and lay to the sixth hour at his feet. And the king's rage prevailed. Later, they rose and told him: "Listen to your servants, so that the Most High may favor you. It is written that the Anointed One is born in Bethlehem. Even if you have no mercy on your servants, kill those infants of Bethlehem and let the others go? 

And he gave the order and they killed all the infants of Bethlehem. In the »fifteenth« year of his reign he [re]built the temple and renovated its walls, enclosing double the ground and spending wealth untold. embellishing it with beauties ineffable: The great monuments, the porticoes and fortress which stands towards the north side all of them he gilded and called Antonia in honour of Antony. In his own court he built palaces and erected two buildings, beautiful and gilded. calling one of them Caesareum and the other Agrippeum. Not only did he give their names and memory to buildings but his munificence extended to all cities. [Slav. Jos., 1.20.4]

Our point here is not to suggest that the real Josephus believed in any of these details from the gospel but rather the editor of the Slavonic text is clearly helping us see how the gospel was originally understood to have started in a Jubilee year.  The signs here (= the star, the slaughter of the infants etc.) are clearly demonstrating that the messiah has appeared and that expectation was inevitably connected with the Jubilee in the early period.

The unusual thing in this case of course is that the gospel is timed according to the Samaritan system ...

UPDATE - In addition to my own theory about the 'fifteenth year' = 12 BCE, Ariel (2005) has published a recent paper arguing for a 30 BCE dating system on Herodian coins.  From the abstract:

Herod’s large diadem/table coin, minted in 30 BCE (or soon thereafter) may have been a congiarium celebrating Octavian’s reconfirmation of Herod’s rule at Rhodes in the spring of that year, as well as a commemorative coin, celebrating his decennalia .Herod’s year-three coins may also have been minted for a congiarium . If they dated, as is generally accepted, to around 37 BCE, they celebrated Herod’s conquest of Jerusalem.  However, some of the iconography on Herod’s year-three coins suggests Augustan connections, raising some doubt regarding the 37 BCE date for these coins.One hypothetical solution to this conundrum is considered. Calculated by a possible,otherwise undocumented, era fixed by Octavian’s 30 BCE reconfirmation of Herod’s rule, the Samaria-minted year-three coins may have been struck in order to celebrate Samaria’s refoundation as Sebaste, in spring/summer of 27 BCE.

Of course we could use the same evidence to make what may be considered a stronger case for a 27 BCE dating the coins.  After all, if Sebaste is used as the chronological marker we should consider the ample evidence outside of Palestine of the 'anni augustorum' which as McLean notes (Introduction to Greek Epigraphy p 173) "was counted from the third year {reckoned from 31/30 BCE)." It was adopted by Macedonia after 27 BCE., by which time the title Sebastos had been bestowed on Augustus."  The convergence of a system connected with Sebaste, a Samaritan city founded on this exact date seems to have a lot merit.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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