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, every sentence of which 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 even though they were a determining factor on three occasions: Jesus and his revolutionary forces retreated to Tarichaeae because the Romans had captured Tiberias, Mark obfuscates the Roman army besieging Tarichaeae by using the word ὄχλος, and he fails to mention that Jesus rebuked 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 on the shores of the lake, not mentioned.
  3. Mark refers to the multitude following Jesus and where it came from, but fails to specify that they were Jewish revolutionaries and/or refugees.
  4. He alludes to Jesus’ reputation but does not clarify he earned that reputation through his rebellious activities.
  5. He suggests that an evacuation boat was being prepared for Jesus’ benefit while in fact this was part of a broad military evacuation effort for the defenders of Tarichaeae.
  6. He uses the code phrase ‘unclean spirits’ for the Syrians, the ethnic opponents of the rebellious Jews.

This is how Mark turned a violent war story with Jesus as a rebellion leader into a peaceful Galilean countryside story portraying Jesus as a miracle healer helping many. 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 chronologically.

Similarly, the Matthew fragment, of which the working method and the tone are very similar to that in Mark – which leads me to believe it was written by the same author – uses the following techniques:

  1. It does not identify the threatening crowds as the Roman army.
  2. The state of being surrounded is not correlated with the end stage of a siege.
  3. The name Tarichaeae as the place of events is omitted.
  4. There is only a vague reference to the destination of the crowd of revolutionary soldiers and refugees. Εἰς τὸ πέραν (eis to peran – ‘to the other side’) is a veiled way to say that they were headed to Jerusalem via Samaria.

The authors’ (or author’s) effort to dehistoricize focuses on the omission of three elements:

  • 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 adjacent non-Jewish territories, together a large group of destitute people,
  • the Syrian inhabitants of Tiberias and Tarichaeae,
  • o the Roman army;
  • The mortal fear of both ethnic groups involved: the fear of the Syrian inhabitants of Tarichaeae of the multitude of Jewish revolutionaries concentrated in the city, and the Jews’ fear of the reconquering Roman army.

Based on Josephus’s information on the Tarichaean episode of the war in The Jewish War books II and III, my chronological theory, my translation emphases and my analysis in part I of this article we are now able to place these gospel fragments in the correct historical context. Below the reinstated historical information is in bold and my translation choices are underlined. I have put the Judea/Jerusalem/Idumea phrase in Mark between square brackets as I see it as redundant.

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 the city with their unclean spirits 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.