Gospels

Decoding the Synoptic Apocalypse part I: Mark 13:1-12 and parallels

The gospels are encrypted texts describing Jesus’ revolutionary activity in the years before and during the war against the Romans, including the extraordinary event which led Jesus’ messianistic Essene companions to proclaim him as the long-awaited messiah. The encryption technique of the synoptic Apocalypse consists of a writing style that obfuscates the reported events from the enemy but is comprehensible to insiders.

In my attempt to decode this apocalyptic chapter of the synoptic gospels I have put the versions of Matthew and Luke beside Mark’s, because by doing so they could reveal any historical references present. I have divided the fragment into different sections for ease of discussion. Introductory or less relevant verses have been omitted.

Section

Matthew 24

Mark 13

Luke 21

A

(1) Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. (2) But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.

(1) And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” (2) And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”

(5) And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, (6) “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.

B

(4) And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. (5) For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.

(5) And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. (6) Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead you astray.

(8) And he said, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.

C

(6) And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

(7) And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet.

(9) And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.

D

(7) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: (8) all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

(8) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

(10) Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; (11) there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

E

(9) Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death.

(9) But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them.

(12) But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.

F

(10) And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another.

(12) And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.

(16) You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death.

Discussion

  1. Jerusalem under Roman threat
    According to the chronology theory I am suggesting, Jesus’ famous prophecy of the destruction of the temple 40 years beforehand is not a prophecy at all. It is an obvious extrapolation, presented by a man trapped in Jerusalem, who sees that the stranglehold of the Romans on Judea is becoming ever tighter. In other words, Jesus is expressing his concrete apprehension of the destiny of the Temple in the near future. This comment can be dated to 69 CE or the first months of 70 CE.

  2. World dominion for the Christ, not for the emperor
    This section defends the claim of universal rule for the Jewish messiah against his Roman opponents. World dominion will be the messiah’s and not the emperor’s: κυριος Χριστος (kurios Christos) against κυριος Καῐσαρ (kurios Caesar). A series of emperors is opposed to the one and only Christ.
    Words from the πλαν-(plan-) stem (‘to lead astray/to deceive’, ‘deceitful’, ‘deceiver/imposter’) are conveying an anti-Roman sentiment in the New Testament and in other early Christian writings. In Didache XVI:4 for example, Titus is called κοσμοπλανης (kosmoplanès - deceiver of the whole known world), and in 2 John 7, the πλανος (planos) is referred to as one and the same as the antichrist, the Roman emperor.
    This subject is reminiscent of Josephus’s War VI:310-315 about the equivocal oracle “announcing that at that time a man from their country would become leader of the world”. Josephus suggests that the oracle wasn’t referring to a Jewish messiah but to Vespasian who was on Jewish soil when he was proclaimed emperor by his troops. To the authors of the synoptic Apocalypse this is a deceptive interpretation of the oracle.
    In its discussion of the antichrist, 1 John 2:19 also warns against this pro-Roman deception: “They [Vespasian and Titus] came out from amongst us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.”

  3. Wars as a sign of the end of times
    These excerpts breathe a general atmosphere of war and disorder throughout the world. Conflicts that were going on at the time include the Roman civil war and the rebellion of the Batavi. In the eschatological world view of the Essenes this kind of catastrophic warlike upheaval announced the final stage of the present – Roman – era of world history. This ‘end of the present era’ (τἐλος - telos) is mentioned in all three versions of the synoptic Apocalypse. Matthew also mentions ‘the end of the era’ (συντελεἰας τοῡ αἰωνος – sunteleias tou aiōnos) in verse 3 of his apocalyptic chapter.

  4. The war against the Romans with an emphasis on the siege of Jerusalem
    This section describes a war between peoples and nations, more particularly between the Jews and the Romans, with an emphasis on siege warfare: the trembling caused by the impact of siege engines(ballista and battering ram) and the effects of prolonged sieges, famine and the accompanying epidemics. Luke adds φὀβητρἀ (phobètra – terrible sights or terrors) and great signs in the sky. With this last element he seems to anticipate the ‘signs in sun and moon and stars’ of verse 25, which describes the gigantic column of smoke above Jerusalem after the burning of the Temple and the city (some weeks after the Temple).

  5. Paul’s fate
    In Mark and Luke this section describes the hostility Paul had to endure at the end of his mission to preach about the messiah to the gentiles (around 60 CE).

  6. Civil war
    This verse describes the disruption of families during a civil war. Josephus describes the civil war of 67-69 CE in similar words in War IV:131-133: Every town was seething with turmoil and civil war, and the moment they had a respite from the Romans they turned against each other. Contention raged fiercely between the advocates of war and the lovers of peace. First of all in the homes this party rivalry disrupted unity among those who had long been bosom friends; then the nearest relatives severed all former ties, and, attaching themselves to men who shared their respective views, lined up on opposite sides. Factionalism reigned everywhere; the revolutionary and militant party with the boldness of youth silenced the old and prudent.

This analysis shows that the war of the Jews against the Romans, with world dominion at stake, is the dominant subject of the first part of the synoptic Apocalypse. In summary, we discern the following six elements:

  1. Jesus is present in Jerusalem under Roman threat (69-70 CE).
  2. World dominion of the Jewish messiah is the intended result of the war.
  3. A general atmosphere of war characterises the final period of the Roman era.
  4. Section D gives a general description of the war against the Romans and a specific description of some important elements of the siege of Jerusalem (70 CE).
  5. This section describes the hostility against Paul’s messianistic mission amongst the gentiles (around 60 CE).
  6. Section F describes the social disruption caused by the civil war in Palestine (67-69 CE).