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

Zechariah on duty (Lk 1:8-1:8)

“Zechariah

Was serving

As a priest

Before God,

Because his section

Was on duty.”

 

Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἱερατεύειν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ τάξει τῆς ἐφημερίας αὐτοῦ ἔναντι τοῦ Θεοῦ,

 

Having described Zechariah and his wife, Luke turned to the action around Zechariah.  This happened (Ἐγένετο) as he was serving as the priest (δὲ ἐν τῷ ἱερατεύειν αὐτὸν) before God (ἔναντι τοῦ Θεοῦ).  His section or division of Levite priests were on duty (ἐν τῇ τάξει τῆς ἐφημερίας αὐτοῦ).  Apparently, his group of Abijah priests served for 2 weeks at the Temple each year.  Not bad, instead of 2 weeks off for vacation, they served for only 2 weeks a year, since there were 24 groups of priests with various tasks.

The Early Growth of Christianity

Under the leadership of the apostles Peter and Paul, who both died around the year 64 CE, the early Christian community grew from Jerusalem to Rome, from a Palestinian Jewish sect to a more universal group that included Gentile non-Jewish people, all around the Mediterranean area.  The travels of Paul as found in the Acts of the Apostles and his letters give a glimpse into what was happening back then.  The followers of Jesus Christ began to differentiate themselves from the Rabbinic Judaism that was developing at the same time.

The two-source theory

Dating an ancient document is never an exact science.  However, today general scholarship about the New Testament books holds that the short Gospel of Mark was the oldest Gospel.  The first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians was the oldest document, from around the year 50 CE.  Mark, with a hypothetical other source (Q=Quelle) that is now lost, became the source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  The Gospel of John was generally considered to be the last of the gospels, around 90 -100 CE.

Criteria for the sacred Christian books

The first collection of these Christian books (biblia) was the Pauline letters and the Acts of the Apostles around the year 100 CE.  The collection of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was present by the year 200 CE.  By 367 CE, Christians had arrived at a consensus about the twenty-seven books of the New Testament that we have today.  The criteria for the sacred books of the biblical New Testament were a connection with the apostles and one of the major Christian communities, while being orthodox in its views.

Should they continue to mourn (Zech 7:2-7:3)

“Now the people of Bethel

Had sent Sharezer

And Regem-melech,

With their men,

To entreat

The favor of Yahweh.

They were to

Ask the priests

Of the house of Yahweh of hosts,

With the prophets,

‘Should I mourn?

Should I practice abstinence

In the fifth month,

As I have done

For so many years?’”

The people of Bethel, from the old northern kingdom of Israel sent a couple of representatives to Jerusalem.  The two men were Sharezer and Regem-melech, both with Assyrian sounding names.  They had come to Jerusalem to find favor with Yahweh.  Thus, they went to his priests and prophets.  They wanted to know if they still had to mourn and abstain in the 5th month of the year as they had done for many years.  Apparently, the 5th month was when the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 587 BCE.  Was the time of mourning for the old Temple over?

A new vision (Zech 1:7-1:7)

“On the twenty-fourth day

Of the eleventh month,

The month of Shebat,

In the second year

Of King Darius,

The word of Yahweh

Came to the prophet Zechariah,

The son of Berechiah,

The son of Iddo.”

This apparently is the first of 8 visions that Zechariah had.  This oracle of Yahweh took place on the 24th day of the 11th month in the 2nd year of King Darius, either late 520 BCE or early 519 BCE.  This month was called Shebat.  Once again, there is a mention of Zechariah’s lineage, via Berechiah and Iddo, with Iddo the most well-known.