The Tarichaean episode of the rebellion – Part II: Reinstating the historical context

The Tarichaean episode of the rebellion – Part II: Reinstating the historical context

The Markan fragment, of which every sentence describes a different element of the Tarichaean episode of the war of the Jews against the Romans, sheds light on its author’s working method to conceal the real circumstances of this story:

  1. Mark does not mention the Romans while they were important on three occasions: Jesus and his revolutionary forces retreated to Tarichaeae because the Romans had captured Tiberias, he obfuscates the Roman army that was besieging Tarichaeae behind the general word ὄχλος, and he fails to tell that Jesus reproved the Syrian inhabitants of the city not to make him known to the Romans.
  2. The destination of Jesus and his following was not just the lake, but a specific city at the shore of the lake that is not mentioned.
  3. Mark mentions the multitude following Jesus and its provenance, but fails to tell that they are Jewish revolutionaries and/or refugees.
  4. He alludes to Jesus’ reputation but does not make clear that this is due to his messianistic rebellious activities.
  5. He singles out Jesus in the preparation of boats for evacuation that was part of a broad military evacuation effort of the defenders of Tarichaeae.
  6. He uses the code word ‘unclean spirits’ for the Syrians, the ethnic opponents of the rebellious Jews.

This way Mark turns a violent war story with Jesus as a rebellion leader into a peaceful Galilean countryside story with Jesus miraculously healing many ill people. Under Mark’s dehistoricizing veil this fragment discusses several significant aspects of the Tarichaean episode of the war against the Romans and it does so in chronological order.

The Matthew verse, of which the working method and the tone are very similar to the fragment in Mark, and therefore in my opinion is written by the same author as the Markan passage, uses the following techniques:

  1. It does not describe the threatening crowds as the Roman army.
  2. The encircling from all sides is not overtly mentioned as the end stage of a siege.
  3. Tarichaeae as the place of action is kept silent.
  4. The destination of the crowd of revolutionary soldiers and refugees is mentioned vaguely. Εἰς τὸ πέραν (eis to peran – ‘to the other side’) is a veiled way of saying that Jesus and his following headed to Jerusalem via Samaria.

The dehistoricizing effort of the authors (or author) is centered around three themes:

  • The location of the events (Tiberias and Tarichaeae) and the regions involved (Galilea and Samaria).
  • The different groups involved:
    • Galilean rebels and Jewish refugees from non-Jewish adjacent territories, together a large group of destitute people
    • the Syrian inhabitants of Tiberias and Tarichaeae
    • the Roman army.
  • The emotion of mortal fear: the Syrian inhabitants of Tarichaeae were terrified of the Jewish revolutionaries, and the Jews of the reconquering Romans.

Based on Josephus’s information about the Tarichaean episode of the war between the Jews and the Romans in his War and on the discussion above and in the first part of this article, we are now able to present a restored version of the fragments in Mark and Matthew. Reinstating the historical context comprises three elements: to mention again information deliberately omitted by the author, to decode encrypted information, and to make translation choices adjusted to the context. Below the first category is in bold, the second (only ‘Syrian inhabitants’ for ‘unclean spirits’ in verse 11) upright and the third underlined. I have put the Judea/Jerusalem/Idumea phrase in Mark between square brackets as I see this as an aggrandizing addition.

Mark 3: (7) When the Syrian inhabitants of Tiberias submitted the city to the Romans, Jesus retreated with his disciples to Tarichaeae at the sea, and a great multitude of Jewish revolutionaries from Galilee followed; also [from Judea (8) and Jerusalem and Idumea and] from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude of Jewish refugees, hearing all that he did, came to him. (9) And just like the other defenders of Tarichaeae he ordered his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the vulgar mass of the Roman army, lest they should oppress him; (10) for he had taken care of many destitute people, so that all those who suffered from torments pressed upon him to touch him. (11) And whenever the Syrian inhabitants of Tarichaeae beheld him, they fell down before him in agony and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” (12) And he sternly reproved them not to make him known to the Romans in case he would be taken prisoner.

Matthew 8: (18) Now when Jesus saw the vulgar mass of the Roman army all around him, the lake side of Tarichaeae included, he gave orders to go over to Samaria, the country at the other side of the Galilean border.