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Jensen, Morten Hørning
Herod Antipas in Galilee. The Literary and Archaeological Sources on the Reign of Herod Antipas and its Socio-Economic Impact on Galilee.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2006. XV, 316 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 215. Kart. EUR 59,00. ISBN 978-3-16-148967-9.
In modern historical Jesus study, Jesus’ Galilean context – and the rule of Herod Antipas – has taken on an increasingly prominent role. Was Antipas the ruler of a stable and prosperous land, a buffer against direct Roman rule and exploitation? Or was he a tyrant, demanding heavy taxes for his extravagant cities, and plunging his territory into economic upheaval, debt and social banditry? And if the latter, can Jesus’ movement be seen as a reaction to the tetrarch’s misrule?
In this excellent, thoroughly-researched and thoughtful study, J. aims to steer a path between these divergent views, and to provide a way out of what has become a scholarly impasse. Thus, the work is not a biography of Antipas (as for example H. Hoehner’s well known study from 1972, which J. rightly notes is rather dated nowadays); there is no attempt to settle matters of chronology, nor to discuss historical events in detail. Rather the work attempts (successfully in this reviewer’s opinion) to answer one clearly defined question relating to the tetrarch’s rule: what was the socio-economic impact of Antipas’ reign on Galilee?
The work is particularly strong on methodology. J. notes that those scholars with a positive view of Antipas tend to rely heavily on the archaeological record, while those who see a state of conflict rely rather on sociological models. J. is suspicious of models and prefers what he calls a ›contextual source-orientated approach‹ (34). He insists that all sources (both literary and archaeological) need to be examined and understood on their own terms before we can attempt to put our own questions to them. Basically, the approach is historical-critical, but a sophisticated appropriation of the method which rightly stresses that all material must be understood first in its context. This is worked out in the second part of the book which turns to sources, first written, then archaeological.
The most important and extensive of the written sources is Josephus. In line with modern assessments of the Jewish aristocrat, J. sees Josephus as an intelligent and creative writer. He is aware of the difficulties of using Josephus’ narratives to extract historical information, and advocates an approach which concentrates not so much on contradictions and discrepancies within the works, but on the broader narrative framework. Looking at the presentation of the Herodian house in its entirety, J. notes that Josephus presents us with two extremes: those who are insensitive towards Jewish religion, law and tradition (Herod I, Archelaus, Pilate), and those who are too hostile to Rome (Judas, the fourth philosophy). Like other Herodians, Antipas has his faults, but his presentation is much less negative than several other members of the family. He is insensitive towards his subjects on several occasions, though Josephus cannot provide any real examples of cruelty or tyranny. Overall, the tetrarch is presented as a ›fairly unremarkable ruler‹ (100).
Other written sources are grouped together, first Greek and Latin writings, then the New Testament. J. finds suggestions in Greek and Latin writings that imply that the relationship between Antipas and the Jewish nation was rather better than Josephus might have us believe. In the New Testament, he detects different perspectives on Antipas, though the consistent element, he argues, is ›his ambivalence and indecisiveness toward John and Jesus‹ (124). (The fact that all three synoptics are linked by some kind of literary dependence, however, makes this consistency less significant than J. maintains.) Overall, the literary sources suggest that Antipas was ›mild and modest‹ in his approach, that he managed to avoid violent confrontations with his subjects, and that he had a constructive relationship with the Jerusalem leaders.
Chapter 5 turns to the second major source for Antipas’ reign: the archaeology of Galilee. After a number of useful preliminary comments on the complexities of archaeological theory and method, J. offers a detailed discussion of the archaeological remains in Antipas’s two cities: Tiberias and Sepphoris. Most of what can be seen in the archaeological record, he argues, dates to a later period. Under Antipas, both were in their ›urban infanc[ies]‹, exhibiting what J. Reed has called a ›second tier‹ of urban style and quality. Intensive urbanisation and building activity occurred between and after the wars against Rome, not under Antipas. Next J. turns to rural Galilee, studying four villages in depth. Once again, the findings are suggestive: all show evidence of thriving rural communities, evidence of industry and regional trade, and no sign of economic decline in the first century. In order to put these findings into perspective, J. compares Antipas’ cities with those nearby – Scythopolis, Hippo and Gadara (all in the Decapolis) and Caesarea Maritima. Antipas’ cities turn out to be minor urban centres with few public amenities, built from only local materials. Antipas’ urbanisation programme, therefore, was not an isolated innovative phenomenon, but an attempt to bring Galilee up to date with surrounding territories. He engaged in only a ›modest urbanisation‹ (185), with no dramatic impact on local towns and villages.
The final chapter in this section considers Antipas’ coins. After an initial introduction to numismatics, J. once again endeavours to consider these fairly rare and poorly struck coins in their wider Second Temple context. The fact that they avoided the emperor’s name and image, and used only floral decoration (including the reed, which J. argues connoted positive images of water, durability and wisdom) suggests Antipas was sensitive to the Jewish ban on graven images. They were not a statement of the tetrarch’s political ambitions or messianic dreams (as some have argued), but ›modest, carefully adapted, and slightly insignificant‹ (216).
Part III contains J.’s assessment, synthesis and conclusions. ›From a Roman point of view‹, he writes, ›Antipas was a minor client ruler, unremarkable in both greatness and cruelty (in contrast to his father)‹ (227). He ruled for 43 years without any serious upheavals, seems to have been reasonably sensitive towards his people, but was never promoted, despite opportunities when his brother’s kingdoms were reorganised. He showed himself a mediocre politician in Rome’s eyes, a poor general (he lost his army in his one campaign!) and did not do a great deal to ingratiate himself with the emperors. J. notes that for a situation of conflict to occur, sociological models require a period of rapid change, increasing pressure on the lower classes in terms of monetisation, urbanisation and so on. None of these have been found, so the picture of conflict advocated by some cannot be substantiated. In the end, Antipas was an unremarkable ruler whose reign, though long, had little impact on the socio-economic conditions of first century Galilee. The book ends with 29 drawings and photographs, mainly from excavations (and also has an accompanying website with extra pictures).
J.’s study is a model of sober scholarship. Although it can be a little repetitive in places, it is clearly and cautiously argued. Of course, not everyone will be entirely convinced by all of his suggestions. He notes, for example, that following Archelaus’ deposition Rome did not think highly enough of Antipas to transfer the right to appoint high priests or custody of the sacred vestments to him. But these privileges were not given to Philip either (despite Josephus’ praise of his reign). More importantly, these duties were not disentangled from the political ruler until after the death of Agrippa I in 44, and may be better seen as examples of Rome gradually relinquishing control of religious elements later in the first century rather than a snub of Antipas in 6 CE. And it seems doubtful to this reviewer that Pontius Pilate’s coins were part of an attempt to compete for the emperor’s attention, as J. (following F. Strickert) suggests; although innovative in their use of cultic vessels, these coins are of poor quality, and it is highly unlikely that the emperor would take an interest in copper coins struck by an insignificant prefect. The chapter on the New Testament, too, may be a little disappointing to some. The discussion here is thinner than elsewhere (as J. himself admits, 110) with very little analysis of Antipas’ trial of Jesus. Of course, the New Testament evidence does not contribute much to our understanding of the socio-economic aspect of Antipas’ rule, and so J. is right not to dwell on it too much, but readers should be warned that many of the interesting questions raised by Antipas in the gospels will not be addressed. Overall, though, this is a fine study that will undoubtedly become the standard discussion of Antipas for some time to come.