The historical setting (Lk 3:1-3:1)

“In the fifteenth year,

Of the reign

Of Emperor Tiberius,

Pontius Pilate was

Governor of Judea.

Herod was the ruler

Of Galilee.

His brother Philip

Was the ruler

Of the region

Of Ituraea,

And Trachonitis.

Lysanias was the ruler

Of Abilene.”

 

Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος καὶ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Γαλιλαίας Ἡρῴδου, Φιλίππου δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας, καὶ Λυσανίου τῆς Ἀβιληνῆς τετρααρχοῦντος,

 

Luke tried to set the public activities of John and Jesus within a larger historical context.  Thus, here he said that it was the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius (Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος).  Pontius Pilate was the Governor of Judea (Ἐν ἔτει δὲ πεντεκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς ἡγεμονίας Τιβερίου Καίσαρος).  Herod was the tetrarch ruler of Galilee (καὶ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Γαλιλαίας Ἡρῴδου,).  Herod’s brother Philip was the tetrarch ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis (Φιλίππου δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ τετρααρχοῦντος τῆς Ἰτουραίας καὶ Τραχωνίτιδος χώρας), while Lysanias was the tetrarch ruler of Abilene (καὶ Λυσανίου τῆς Ἀβιληνῆς τετρααρχοῦντος).  Who and what is this all about?  Tiberius was the Roman Emperor from 14-37 CE.  15 years into his rule would be the year 29 CE.  Pontius Pilate was the Governor of Judea, but also Samaria to the north, and Idumea to the south, from 26-36 CE, so that this time frame is consistent.  Herod Antipas and Philip were the sons of Herod the Great (37-4 BC).  Herod Antipas ruled as tetrarch of northern Galilee and Perea that was east of the Jordan River from 4 BCE-39 CE.  His brother Philip ruled Ituraea and Trachonitis that were north of Galilee from 4 BCE-34 CE.  Finally, some unknown leader named Lysanias ruled as the tetrarch of Abilene that was north of Damascus, but included Lebanon.  Thus, these were all the rulers of the area where John and Jesus might have traveled within this time frame

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Everlasting kingdom of Jacob (Lk 1:33-1:33)

“Jesus will reign

Over the house

Of Jacob forever.

There will be

No end

To his kingdom.”

 

καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος.

 

Luke indicated that this rule of Jesus would be over the whole house of Jacob (καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ) forever (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας).  No longer would it just be Judah or Judea, but all the tribes of Israel, or the sons of Jacob, would be reunited.  This sounds like a political and religious unification of Israel.  However, there would be no end to his kingdom (καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος), since this was not a temporary rule, but an eternal one.  The house of Israel would be united under Jesus forever.  It did not exactly work out that way.

Zechariah the priest (Lk 1:5-1:5)

“In the days

Of King Herod

Of Judea,

There was a priest

Named Zechariah.

He belonged to

The priestly order

Of Abijah.

His wife was

A descendant

Of Aaron.

Her name

Was Elizabeth.”

 

Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας ἱερεύς τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά, καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλεισάβετ.

 

The first person that Luke introduced was Zechariah.  None of the other gospel writers mentioned Zechariah.  However, Luke placed him within a historical context.  This all this took place during the reign of King Herod of Judea (Ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡρῴδου βασιλέως τῆς Ἰουδαίας).  Matthew, chapter 2:1-12, had mentioned King Herod and the intriguing story of the Magi.  King Herod the Great (74 BCE-1 CE) was the Roman client king of Judea.  In fact, the Roman Senate named him King of the Jews in 40 BCE.  He built many things during his reign, including expanding the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  At his death, his kingdom was divided among his children.  There was a prophet and book of Zechariah, chapter 1:1, who lived around 520 BCE.  However, this Zechariah here (τις ὀνόματι Ζαχαρίας) was a priest (ἱερεύς), probably in Jerusalem.  He belonged to the priestly division of Abijah (ἐξ ἐφημερίας Ἀβιά), which was the 8th of the 24 divisions of priests that served in the Temple as laid out in 1 Chronicles, chapter 24:7-19.  His wife was also a daughter or descendant of Aaron (καὶ γυνὴ αὐτῷ ἐκ τῶν θυγατέρων Ἀαρών), a Levite or part of the priestly class.  She was called Elizabeth (καὶ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς Ἐλεισάβετ).  Thus, the action of his gospel begins with the unique story of the Jerusalem Temple priest Zachariah and his Levite wife Elizabeth.  Some biblical scholars think that this infancy story, like the infancy story of Matthew, chapter 1:18-2:23, are later additions.  They are here, so I will deal with it.

The release of King Jehoiachin (Jer 52:31-52:31)

“In the thirty-seventh year

Of the exile

Of King Jehoiachin

Of Judah,

In the twelfth month,

On the twenty-fifth day

Of the month,

King Evil-Merodach

Of Babylon,

In the year

That he began to reign,

Showed favor

To King Jehoiachin

Of Judah.

He brought him

Out of prison.”

This once again is similar to 2 Kings, chapter 25. However, the date is off by 2 days. Here it is the 25th and the not the 27th of the 12th month. The death of King Nebuchadnezzar about 562 BCE led to the reign of King Merodach who is also known as King Evil-Merodach or Merodach-Baladan. Merodach was also the name of a Babylonian god. This new king of Babylon freed King Jehoiachin of Judah, who was now 55 years old, from jail, after being in jail for 37 years.

Against Elam (Jer 49:34-49:35)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to the prophet Jeremiah

Concerning Elam,

At the beginning

Of the reign

Of King Zedekiah

Of Judah.

Thus says Yahweh of hosts!

‘I am going to break

The bow of Elam,

The mainstay of their might.’”

Elam was an ancient pre-Persian society, east of Babylon, in what is now present day Iran. There is very little mention of Elam in the biblical works. From the text, this oracle can be dated to the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah (598-597 BCE) of Judah. Whether this was an attack of the king of Babylon or a hint at the later Persian attack is not clear. Yahweh was going to break the bow of Elam because the Elamites were famous for their strong use of the bow and arrow. Although most of the preceding parts of this chapter were translated as chapter 30 in the Greek Septuagint, this section on Elam was translated as chapter 25, not chapter 30 or chapter 49 as here.

The breach in the wall (Jer 39:2-39:2)

“In the eleventh year

Of King Zedekiah,

In the fourth month,

On the ninth day

Of the month,

A breach was made

In the city.”

After a little over a year and a half of the siege of Jerusalem, we have an exact date, the 4th month on the 9th day, in the 11th year of the reign of King Zedekiah, when there was a breach in the wall around Jerusalem. This would be in 587 BCE. You have to know what calendar they were using to know the exact date. In 2 Kings, chapter 25, there was a severe famine but there is no mention of that here. However, the date is the same.

The covenant about future kings and Levites (Jer 33:19-33:22)

“The word of Yahweh

Came to Jeremiah.

Thus says Yahweh.

‘If any of you could break

My covenant with the day,

If any of you could break

My covenant with the night,

So that day and night

Would not come

At their appointed time,

Only then could

My covenant

With my servant David

Be broken.

Thus he would not

Have a son

To reign on his throne.

My covenant is

With my ministers,

The Levites.

Just as the host of heaven

Cannot be numbered,

Just as the sands of the sea

Cannot be measured,

So I will increase

The offspring

Of my servant David.

I will increase

The Levites

Who minister to me.’”

Once again this is an oracle of Yahweh to Jeremiah. Yahweh seems to say that if you can make day and night not appear at the correct time, then he would break his covenant with David. Otherwise, David would have a son to reign on his throne. It was very clear that no one could become king without a Davidic background. He also includes the Levite ministers, when he compares the numerous heavenly hosts and the immeasurable sands of the sea that cannot be measured or counted. Thus there would be offspring of David and Levites to minister to him.