The Odyssey: Homer

A little background:

With a lyric flow and colourful hue, Homer’s epic tales twist and turn with great heights of dramatic anticipation, plausible character depth, and morsels of mythic fantasy that have dazzled readers since the days he composed his poetry. Very little is known of the Greek poet called Homer, and yet his works, which were said to have been cradled by the side of Alexander the Great during his campaigns, have never failed to ignite the imagination with dreams of one-eyed monsters, beautiful goddesses, adventures over the ocean, bitter fighting at the walls of Troy, and love which reaches the abyss of Hades. It is about hate, friendship, revenge, honour, pride, self-gratification, love, pity, remorse, heroism, and the strength of mortal man in the face of bickering gods and their enticing will to interfere in the affairs of mankind.

Historians set Homer in his native land of Ionia, which is located in the eastern Aegean. This is where ancient tradition places the poet, in which nothing else is known of his life. The era of Homer is generally considered to be during the late eighth or early seventh century B.C. His composition is framed around the life of a Greek hero, Odysseus (one of many mentioned, i.e. Achilles), who sets sail from his home upon the island of Ithaca, leaving behind his lovely wife, Penelope, to take part in the largest sea borne invasion of the great walled city of Troy, mostly outlined in The Iliad. But for this article, we will work backward in time (like a Quentin Tarantino film), beginning with the absence of Odysseus, his unruly house filled with sniveling suitors for Penelope’s hand in marriage, and the stirring of his son Telemachus to search for his lost father.

Setting aside all the complicated and dramatic tales and relationships of Sparta and Greece, the Trojan Princes Hector and Paris, Helen, Priam, Agamemnon, and Menelaus all boiled together in a feud that brought 50,000 Greeks to the shores of Troy, we shall dive into the world of The Odyssey. The war with Troy will come in “The Iliad: Homer Part 2″, so keep your eyes peeled.

In all fairness, The Odyssey gives the reader in the 21st century a detailed glimpse into how the early Greeks thought, felt, conceived of the world around them, interpreted the nuances and phenomenons of nature, and interacted with themselves. Greece was ruled by city fiefdoms, or known in Koine as “polis“, which made up warlike clans and kingdoms that clashed and strove for power. The two strongest, with a feud that would last for centuries, was the democratic polis of Athens and the land-trampling, heavy hoplite soldiers of Sparta. Sparta would rule the land with its ferocious fighters and stubborn attitude on the battlefield, while Athens would roar across the waves with its seasoned navy.

Homer would write his poetry at the dawning of these powers as their strength grew, and he would dictate his thoughts and imagination based upon how he saw the world through Greek eyes and man’s role under the gaze of the gods. To the Greeks, life was about glory, heroism, and living the Greek life through literature, philosophy, education, personal hygiene, due respect of ancestors, the gods, art, and nature. Two things could sum up Greek life: beauty and the veneration of the body. In one word, Hellenism! This term, derived from the word “Hellas“, means all things Greek in life, and was the central aspect of the quality of life that was expressed through hedonism, which is the worship of pleasure.

While Homer sticks mostly to the adventure and strength found in men and the bonds that are formed through comrades-in-arms, he also pays close attention to Greek qualities: worship of gods, mythology, lore, sex, passion, and exploring the unknown with the belief that all life is ruled by the fury of the gods and man must always act in such a way to appease them. Therefore, Odysseus offers customary sacrifices to Zeus, showing his thanks for being victorious over Troy, and yet offers prayers to Poseidon to guide and guard him on his journey home, although past offenses to the god of the sea will render his voyage much more difficult than he could imagine.

Excerpts in light of Greek thought:

The following excerpt is taken from line The Odyssey lines 294-302, 307-308, translated by Robert Fagles. This section covers the arrival of the goddess Athena with her bronze spear and how she conceals herself to talk with the son of Odysseus, Telemachus. The son, who is observing the pathetic sight of the suitors in his house, watches with disdain as they feast and drink to his father’s “believed” demise, as they appeal to wed his mother and the bereaved wife of Odysseus, Penelope. This is just to give you a taste, you must read, The Odyssey for yourself.

Athena declares to Telemachus about the horrid behaviour of the suitors:

“Shameful!”- brimming with indignation, Pallas Athena broke out. “Oh how much you need Odysseus, gone so long- how he’d lay hands on all these brazen suitors! If only he would appear, now, at his house’s outer gates and take his stand, armed with his helmet, shield and pair of spears, as strong as the man I glimpsed that first time in our own house, drinking wine and reveling there… just come in from Ephyra, visiting Ilus, Mermerus’ son…If only that Odysseus sported with these suitors, a blood wedding, a quick death would take the lot.”

The Character of Odysseus:

Odysseus is the main character and the celebrated hero. Where so many men die at the gates of Troy or under the cruel hands of monsters and sirens, Odysseus is portrayed as a king with value, strength, and most of all, honour. He is a hero in the Greek world of Homer’s time and for centuries to come. He is uplifted as a symbol of virility and manhood, a model to live after. Odysseus is willing to sacrifice everything and anything to get home to his wife, who he has been separated from for ten years, and is best known for two things: being a great hunter and a man of cunning deceit.

Odysseus was a man who knew when and how to use his stealth and power of manipulation to see his will accomplished. He was a survivor, but also someone who was willing to do anything through his laborious journeys to find peace and safety back among his lands as king on the quaint island of Ithica. His cunning nature is best demonstrated in Homer’s account of what Odysseus does to the unruly suitors when he finally does return, to everyone’s surprise. At first coming off as understanding and hospitable, Odysseus has all the suitors distracted, locks them in his feasting hall, strings his bow, and slaughters them all in a bloody and horrific scene.

This fulfills the words of Athena to the son of Odysseus, that if he (Odysseus) were to return, there would be “a blood wedding” to befall the suitors. Thus, designed to be something of a prophetic fulfillment, Athena’s words ring true at the end and Odysseus restores order as Homer leaves us with the sense that finally the mighty heart of a warrior will at last find rest.

By, Peter J. Fast

Dagon and the Ark of the Covenant

A look into the history of the Philistine god Dagon and the Ark of the Covenant of Israel

A glimpse into the past:

Like Greece and Troy, Rome and Carthage, or Norman and Saxon, the clash between the tribes of the Israelites and that of the Philistines has been one that has captured the fascination of Biblical scholars, historians, archaeologists, and professors. Historically, this clash found itself playing out along a narrow strip of land set against the shores of the eastern Mediterranean Sea and into the heart of Eretz Yisrael in the days of the Judges (i.e. Samson), and later during the time of King Saul and King David.

Biblical accounts of this struggle are well documented. For the players in this conflict, the Bible provides us a picture of what type of people the Philistines and Israelites were, where they lived, names of their kings and cities, how they fought, their military strategies, and what deity/deities they worshiped.

Looking closer at the Philistines:

Looking throughout scripture we see early examples of the Philistines settled in parts of the coastal plain and southern regions, as early back as Abraham (Gen. 21:34), and the Philistine King Abimelech who was operating around the region of Beer-sheva (Gen. 21:32). Later, when we see them in the Bible as a formidable enemy during the period of the Judges and King Saul, we see the Philistines established in five major coastal cities: Gaza, Gath, Ekron, Ashdod, and Ashkelon. Intense excavations have been done in some of these places, particularly recently at Gath which has uncovered incredible findings on Philistine pottery. You can read my post on the excavations at Gath : https://peterjfast.com/2011/07/11/in-israel-diggers-unearth-the-bibles-bad-guys/

Although many historians and archaeologists commonly believe the Philistines to be the illustrious “sea peoples” with their arrival from Crete or other parts of the Aegean, this brings about major complications and does not fit with scripture or realistic possibilities in those days.

Common misconceptions regarding Philistines and the “Sea People”

The “sea people” are seen as a “loose confederation” of people who originated either from the Aegean or Asia Minor and essentially sailed south due to famine and drought. This is depicted in reliefs in Egypt (i.e. Karnak, Medinet Habu, etc) and records that show a people invading northern Egypt, bent on conquering it. But who were these people? Many ideas and theories have been pitched around, but one of the most common is that the “sea people” (or a large segment of them) are unanimous with the Philistines who left Crete/Asia Minor in the 11th-12th century B.C. (time of Merenptah and Ramses III) and tried to settle in Egypt. The belief is that after Merenptah halted them in a bloody conflict, Pharaoh Ramses III finally blocked their way and engaged the sea people in a massive sea battle which the sea people eventually lost and therefore settled along the north coast and established Syro-Palestine (Land of the Philistines) and added their five major cities. This has been the idea of the settling of the Philistines into the land.  This theory has a number of major issues though which bear some holes. Although I am not debating the origins of the “sea people” I merely seek to start off upon their intended invasion of Egypt and the problems that arise once one attempts to explain them in terms of being Philistines.

First, the original reliefs are really divided into three major ones which are the most popular. One depicting the “sea people” engaged in a bitter sea battle with Egyptians (from Ramses III period), the second showing war-carts on land, and the third revealing prisoners of the “sea people” being led away. The first and third relief mentioned, are pretty self-explanatory, a battle happened, one side lost and was led away in chains. However, the complicated issue is in the second relief of the war-carts drawn by oxen.

This relief depicts the “sea people” as having many war-carts that are drawn by large animals as they gather on land for battle, yet the actual battle was fought at sea. The relief however, shows carts deployed for war and “sea people” filed into rank as they advance. So, this naturally begs the question of how did they get the carts over to Egypt? There are two possibilities. #1 They either would have had to try to sail them across, or #2 they simply crossed hundreds of miles of hostile land with all their carts as they headed for Egypt. Both are very difficult to swallow. Given the amount of ships needed for such an undertaking, the “sea people” would have had to double their fleet just to carry the carts, livestock, and supplies needed, especially animal feed. Along with this, if they were looking at resettling they would have had wives and children with them in the thousands. These people could never have been present for such a battle and so would have had to be left somewhere until after the battle, unless the army sailed without them intending to return to collect their populace once the battle had been won. Whatever the reason, major complications arise. Thus, the only explanation for ships and war-carts being depicted on different frescoes, of the same people in the same time period and supposedly during the same event is possibly that there were two battles: one at sea and the other at land. Another hypothesis is that the “sea people” engaged the Egyptians at sea with a land contingent that never actually fought due to the defeat. However, the presence of the war-carts does raise issues in still explaining their presence to begin with as they would have been brought by the “sea people” or possibly provided by an allied contingent. But this begins to change the story of people sailing across the sea to find new land in Egypt. Although this does not in fact disprove the “sea people” from being Philistines, this however demonstrates the difficulty in placing this people into the developed world of the Philistines, or make it plausible to forgo such an undertaking as settling the land after the near destruction at the hands of the Egyptians.

The “sea people” are also depicted in the frescoes as having feather head-dresses fixed to helmets, and unique sword styles. They are beardless and are fierce as they slaughter many Egyptians before eventually being outnumbered and overwhelmed. Although nobody has been able to state with absolute certainty where they actually originated from, it is possible they held alliances with the Libyans and also made up many small tribes from the north. There is a possibility they may have influenced Philistine culture along the coast, but nothing substantial as Philistine culture was firmly planted and we will explore that a little further. Yet, I do not wish to rule out future developments and cultural changes through trade, merchants, etc in Philistine culture as this evolution is prevalent through pottery discoveries and art (i.e. Cypriotic pottery at later dates).

The final evidence that the “sea people” cannot be the Philistines is that these theories do not take into account the Biblical history which places Philistine tribes already living in the land as natives. This is seen in scripture as Abraham interacts with them, Samson fights them, Saul is slain by them, and David joins them for a time before becoming King of Israel. More than likely they had Semitic roots, like the Canaanites, with linguistic similarities, and over time bands of them settled along the western coast and established their cities. We know they where there at the time of Moses (Ex. 13:17) as the Children of Israel were not to go the easier route through “the land of the Philistines.” Therefore, the Philistines were a nomadic, native, tribal people who dwelt in parts of the land and eventually settled en-mass along the coast to become Israel’s sworn enemies as they contested over land and power.

Looking closer at the Israelites:

The Israelites are a unique nomadic people who after the exodus from Egypt and the forty wandering years enter the land under their new commander Joshua ben Nun. The Israelites trace their ancestry through their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and are divided into twelve tribes (named after Jacob’s sons), have specific marching orders, a leadership system of elders and priests, roll calls for eligible military service among the men by tribe, worship one God, follow the same religious worship, and circumvent a tent like structure which is called the Tabernacle, when they set camp. As nomads, the Tabernacle is able to be packed up and transported to its next spot where it will then be set up again. The Tabernacle is like a mobile temple and bears sacred furnishings and specific calculations in how it was to be made, appear, set up, and taken down. The Tabernacle becomes the focus and center of the Jewish faith as priests form the tribe of Levi preside over it, and it is to contain the Ark of the Covenant (mercy-seat) which is where God’s glory resides in the camp.

However, throughout time the tribes of Israel invade the land that is promised to them by God, and through years of hard warfare, become experienced in war. Pagan kings, cities, tribes, and armies are crushed and the Israelites settle the land. But, after the death of Joshua ben Nun, it is clear that some of the tribes do not follow God’s commandments to fully conquer the land and they allow enemies to live, take slaves and seize possessions when they are to kill and destroy them, and over time begin to feel the backlash as those enemies become powerful once again. Thus enters the great rival and enemy of Israel in her early days, the Philistines of the eastern coastal plain. Despite similarities between the two, there is still a major difference and that is the idea of, who is God?

Dagon, god of fish and deity of the Philistine pantheon:

Like I mentioned, the Bible is an excellent tool in exploring who the Philistines were and who their gods were. In scripture we see one Philistine god rise above the others, Dagon the chief god. In Judges 16:23 we see the victorious Philistine lords and nobles take the captured Samson to place him as a human trophy before Dagon. It says, “Now the lords of the Philistines gathered together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and rejoice.” Moving ahead in the story we come to verse 27 which states: “Now the temple was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there – about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed.” They had gathered to mock Samson, but more importantly to present him to their god, Dagon, as a war trophy and proof that Dagon was stronger than the God of Israel. We see they brought Samson to the temple of Dagon and states in verse 25 that their hearts were merry, meaning they were drunk. In paganism it was common to drink and eat to the gods and toast them before a spectacle or offering. We see the same idea in 1st Chron. 10:10 where they put the suits of armor from Saul into the temples to their gods and fastened Saul’s head in the temple to Dagon as an offering which was a very common thing to do in those days. Yet, in this case of Samson, he was the offering and they were praising Dagon for defeating their enemies. Samson, however, ended up praying to God, receiving his strength back and collapsing the temple by pushing out the pillars.

Who was Dagon? Originally, Dagon had Assyro-Babylonian background as a fertility god that later spread into the Semitic west. The promotion of gods and goddesses was rampant in those times and easily spread through conquests, trade of goods, slaves, and other means of traveling people. We also see the locality of gods over certain areas and cities, like Baal and Asherah. Dagon eventually became such a locale deity of the Philistine people and in the Bible we see the effects and widespread worship of Dagon, not just in one or two cities, but as a national expression throughout the Philistines as a people group. Finally, as a fertility god, Dagon most likely had purpose in crops and as a provider of food and nourishment. Dagon also came to be expressed as a god of fish, although this tradition developed later as at the time of the Philistines we see in 1st Samuel 5:4 that when the god Dagon fell, “The head of Dagon and both palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it.” And what fish has palms and a torso? Although some say the image of Dagon may have been part man-fish (like a Centaur) there is nothing which says this was the belief held by the early Philistines until the fish-god adoption by later maritime Canaanites.

Ancient Israel’s Ark of the Covenant, a sacred symbol of holiness:

Setting Indiana Jones aside, the Ark of the Covenant was real and the most holy object in the Tabernacle (and later Temple’s) furnishings. It was built of a specific type of wood called Acacia wood, was inlaid in gold, with a lid that sealed the box. Upon the top were two shaped images of cherubim (angels) covered in gold, and through rings that were built upon the side of the ark were poles that would slide through for carrying. These specific instructions were given for the construction of the ark, including its exact size as seen in Exodus 25:10-22. It was also to be carried only by priests of the tribe of Levi (Deut. 10:8, Josh. 3:3). The ark was a holy, sacred symbol (Josh. 3:17, 4:9, 4:18) which represented God’s glory (shekinah) amidst the people of Israel, and this was not to be treated lightly. This explains the purpose of the ark to be separate and treated differently, and symbolized God’s judgment and mercy upon His people.

Some common Biblical facts about the Ark of the Covenant. #1 It was to be carried ahead of the people (Josh. 3:6, Num. 10:33). #2 The Ark of the Covenant also had the role as a military icon standing for God fighting the battle for Israel (Josh. 6:6-8). #3 Some of the Israelites came to see it as a magical charm in war because its presence terrified the Philistines, thus they treated it lightly and incurred God’s wrath (1st Sam. 4:3-5). #4 The Ark of the Covenant contained sacred items to the Jews and part of their history (Deut. 10:25, 1st Kings 8:9, Heb. 9:4). #5 The Ark of the Covenant was in Shiloh for 369 years before being moved to Jerusalem (Judges 20:27, 1st Sam. 3:3; 4:3, 1st Kings 6:19, 8:6). #6 King David wanted to build a Temple dedicated to God to place the ark inside it (1st Chron. 17:11, 28:2) and before this the ark was kept inside the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:33; 31:7).

Dagon and the Ark of the Covenant

Now, lets examine one of the most famous stories in the Bible where Dagon and the Ark of the Covenant meet. However, keep note that the Philistines, at this point, had grown to fear the Ark of the Covenant (1st Sam. 4:6-9) as they believed it to be a powerful, supernatural weapon the Israelites carried into battle. As accustomed in those days, often times before a battle, armies would bring their gods, charms, or hold sacrificial ceremonies in honor of their gods. So in the case for the Israelites to do the same, it was completely normal. Except that in the case of the ark, it was not to be paraded around like a good-luck charm or some trophy and because of the arrogance and recklessness of the Israelites we see in 1st Samuel 4:11;4:17-22 that the Philistines end up defeating the Israelites and capturing the ark.

After defeating the Israelite army we see an interesting play of events. The Philistines first take the ark as a trophy and seek to dedicate it to their god, Dagon. This was a typical thing to do in that day as a symbol of dominance, for as much as people were fighting against themselves, they also believed that the gods in the heavens were in constant competition. Thus, for Dagon in the eyes of the Philistines, he was tougher and mightier than the God of Israel.

So, we see the Philistines bring the Ark of the Covenant first to the city of Ashdod (1st Sam. 5:1) and they set it in the “house” or temple to Dagon. But, in this case they did not just put it in the temple, they placed it directly beside the image of Dagon as a superiority complex and boasting as the victors (1st Sam. 5:2). What happens next would have been a terrible shock to the Philistines for in verse 3 it says, “And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning , there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set it in its place again.” The interesting way this is recorded does not show the people’s shock and surprise at first, although it most definitely would have existed. Most likely the first ones to stumble upon this would have been priests or magicians of Dagon. These men would have held sway over the minds of the locals and no doubt would have perceived this as a bad omen.

The gods in ancient times, were seen as rulers of the earth, nature, wildlife, and actual sustenance for humans. They conducted the affairs of man and ruled the vast stars and planets, which to humans at that time was a very mysterious realm. So, to see the image of their god lying upon the ground would have been terrifying. Yet, the story only tells us that they simply stood Dagon back up and put it in its place. The “place” where Dagon most likely would have been was either on a pillar or stand of some sort, or possibly in a carved out niche in a wall (in verse 5 it calls the place a “threshold of Dagon” and a place to tread upon). Nonetheless, this was not the end of the story for we see that the next morning the people arose and this time find not only Dagon upon the ground, but broken and ruined. We see in verse 5 that this was such a terrible shock to them that “Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor any who come into Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

What happens next is stunning. A plague breaks out in Ashdod as described in verse 6 as “the hand of the LORD was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.” So plague and suffering broke out beyond the borders of the city and people were affected by this. God was judging the pride, arrogance, wickedness and folly of the Philistines for treating Him lightly and scoffing His name. God had already judged the Israelites for treating Him lightly as they were hugely defeated in battle, but now it was the Philistines turn. As we continue we see the Philistines get absolutely desperate. They know and feel the power of the God of Israel, yet at first they think it is a local power that burns against them, as if perhaps it was the sacred ground and region of Ashdod that somehow insulted the Jewish God, and by moving the ark will solve the problem. So, they send it to Gath in verse 8b, yet the same thing happens there. Here we see the pride of the Philistines and stubbornness to relinquish the ark for it is not only their war trophy, but by surrendering it is them saying that the Jewish God is more powerful than Dagon. So, they send the ark to Ekron, yet the people there, who have no doubt heard of all the tragedy in the other cities, cry out to send it away but it is too late and many are stricken and die (1st Sam. 5:10-12).

The opening of 1st Samuel 6:1 gives us a time frame to work with of how long the Ark of the Covenant was in the hands of the Philistines. It states, “Now the ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.” Obviously the hand of the Lord burned upon them and plague continued to spread and devastate the people for we see in verse 2 of chapter 6, that the Philistines finally call for the priests and ask of them what they should do with the ark. Here we see the priests finally coming to grips with the power of the God of Israel and their fear. They know it has to be sent away, but to their understanding, appeasing the gods is always a smart move and so in verse 3 it states, “So they said, ‘If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but by all means return it to Him with a trespass offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known you why His hand is not removed from you.” This loaded passage gives us a glimpse into the understanding of the pagan Philistines and pagan culture of that time. The priests have attributed their suffering to the relic of another God, a common superstitious belief in those days. They therefore naturally wish to appease the deity and send it back, not just to the people, but to God! They misconceive the purpose of the ark and no doubt believe it to be an idol of the Hebrews. They also identify the land with the deity (God of Israel) as His domain and believe that once the sacred relic is united with the land and people then it will cause the deity (God of Israel) to relent on His anger and heal them. The priests and Philistines realize this is a matter of life or death and actually believe that they will be healed once they send it back, and so, with much haste the Ark of the Covenant is safely delivered to the Israelites at Beit Shemesh.

By: Peter J. Fast

If you have any insights on this article, please leave your comments.

The Four Stooges: The Year of the Four Emperors of Rome

From Nero to Vespasian

68 C.E. – 69 C.E.

The purpose of this article is not to be exhaustive in any way, but to embark on one of the wildest years throughout the ages of Roman history. It was a year that dragged the empire into civil war, assassination and betrayal which nearly destroyed the massive, widespread empire. Although typically historians do not count Emperor Nero as part of the four, since he was already emperor at the time, we shall begin this journey by starting with the tyrant, both loved and hated by the people of Rome.

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (54 C.E. – 68 C.E.)

Nero was known in the annals of history as a lot of things. The fifth emperor of the Roman Empire, tyrant, obsessed musician and poet, the man who crushed the Boudicca Revolt in Britain, started the fire of Rome (64C.E.) and blamed it on the Christians, and a man who did not possess the most favorable view of his mother as he had her executed, and most likely poisoned his stepbrother, Britannicus. Nero was a man driven by lust, grandeur, madness, paranoia, and in the end was betrayed by the very men dedicated to protect him, the Praetorian Guard of Rome, as documented by the Roman historian, Suetonius. Nero had extreme bouts of sadistic, morbid wanes, a great example being that he used captured Christians, as human torches by covering them in pitch and lighting them on fire to illuminate his gardens during feasts and parties.

Nero was of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and so was fifth in line, after Emperor Claudius, to rule the empire of Rome. He loved to travel and perform the arts, often times where he would force people to listen to his poetic rants, sometimes under pain of death if they were to fall asleep (which nearly happened to Vespasian). Nero also was a man of war. He conducted campaigns against Parthia from 55 C.E. until a peace deal was brokered in the year 63 C.E. Nero also crushed the Boudicca rebellion of Britain (60 C.E. – 61 C.E.), the Pisonian Conspiracy of 65 C.E., and was ruler during the majority of the First Jewish Revolt of 66 C.E. – 73 C.E. In the Jewish Revolt, we see Nero’s sense of paranoia come to fruit, (as if executing his mother, and poisoning his stepbrother was not enough evidence). At the failed attempt of Syrian Governor Cestius Gallus to crush the Jewish revolt and take Jerusalem, Nero elected a nobody in the political realm to lead the newly raised Judean Army, and that was Titus Flavius Vespasianus (known as Vespasian). Vespasian, a veteran and master in the art of warfare, lacked incredibly, at the time of his elected command in 67 C.E., in the political arena. Thus, for Nero, he saw Vespasian as a harmless puppet to conduct the affair in the east and crush the Jewish uprising. However, the vice grips would suddenly close on poor Nero’s life as betrayal and treason would occur in his own ranks.

In March of 68 C.E., Gaius Julius Vindex, who was the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled against the taxation and policies that Nero had set up. Needless to say Nero was not pleased. Being the type of man who may jump at the sound of a door closing, Nero sought out to crush the rebellion. Thus, Nero made his first attempt to crush the rebellion in his own camp, and he dispatched Lucius Verginius Rufus, who was the governor of Germania Superior. Vindex tried to rally his own forces and build them up to face off against Nero’s general, Rufus, however, Vindex was defeated at the Battle of Vesontio in May of 68 C.E. and seeing defeat, Vindex committed suicide. Following in the wake of this victory, Rufus’ own troops saw him as a potential emperor and decided to declare him as Imperator. Rufus declined but the die had been cast as the thought of Nero’s demise had no doubt been planted into the minds of other powerful men in the empire. With the discontent of the legions in Germany, and the rumblings in Spain, one such man quickly rose to the seat of treason which would not bode well for Nero, and that was the Governor of Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba. Although Nero had Galba declared a public enemy, his support was unstoppable as he was proclaimed by his own troops as representative of the Senate and the people of Rome, SPQR. Once the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Gaius Nymphidius Sabinus had abandoned Nero and declared allegiance to Galba, it was now clear that Nero was in grave danger, so the young emperor fled Rome, perhaps intending to rally legions to his side to face Galba in battle.

But, unfortunately Nero did not get far. Nero had sent a general to northern Italy hoping to raise an army and watch Galba’s coalition collapse, but this was not to be. Thus, paranoid that he had lost control, Nero made plans to flee to Egypt. The Praetorian Guard used this as an excuse to desert him, since in their minds, he had deserted Rome. So, like he had declared Galba a public enemy, the Praetorian Guard declared Nero a public enemy. In a coup d’etat they sent soldiers to arrest Nero. However, they would not get the satisfaction. As the Praetorian located and approached the deposed emperor on the outskirts of Rome, Nero took his own life following an argument with his servant to kill him. This would all be done in a grisly manner as Nero would end up ramming his own knife through his neck, thus bringing his tyrannical reign to a swift end.

Servius Sulpicius Galba Augustus (8th of June 68 C.E. – 15th of January 69 C.E.)


After throwing many drunken parties and minting his face upon coins decorated with quotes such as, “Liberty of the Roman People”, Galba suddenly became the sixth emperor of Rome. However, like the following list of people to come after him, his rule was not long at all. His mistake started at the beginning of his reign, for he did not react quick enough to flex his Roman muscle around the empire, as it was important him, once stealing the empire through anarchy and treason, to prove to everyone else that he still had it. However, what came next was undoubtedly a bad move. The first thing Galba did was on January 10th 69 C.E., he presented to the Senate a man named, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Frugi Licinanus. Lucius had no political achievements, an obscure family, and had just spent a couple of years in exile. Regardless, Galba adopted Lucius as heir to the throne.  Having done this, Galba naturally made political enemies out of the people who had just thrust him into power. So, Galba’s right hand man, Otho, who had been by Galba’s side since Spain, acted quickly. Out of shock and jealousy of not being made the heir, Otho rallied the disgruntled Praetorian Guard, whom Galba had failed to pay, and made a mad dash for the throne of the empire. Otho bribed all the praetorian commanders to help him take down Galba. Otho would deliver!

On January 15th 69 C.E. Otho went with Galba to sacrifice at the Temple of Apollo, only to slip away from the imperial entourage and be taken by 23 soldiers to the Praetorian Camp where he was welcomed and greeted warmly. Following this, Otho rallied the guard and killed Galba as he went through the Forum. Suetonius describes this well as they slaughtered Galba and Piso and any associates he had that were loyal to him, but miraculously there was no great slaughter. So was the end of Galba, lets continue. (Score for the Emperors 0/1)

Marcus Salvius Otho Caesar Augustus (15th of January 69 C.E. – 16th of April 69 C.E.)

Right from the beginning of his reign, Otho was a smooth-talking, double tongued man who sought, in an underhand way, to gain popularity and explain his succession to the throne as Romes seventh emperor. Obviously everyone knew he had deposed Galba from his seat of power by having the man killed, but Otho made it his mandate to try to relate with the people, appealing to a strange logic by stating that he had murdered Galba in order to avenge Nero. A little odd since Otho had been Galba’s right-hand man from the beginning. However, in Rome a man’s career was of the utmost importance, and true power came at the helm of as many legions as one could muster. So looking closer, before his rise to power, Otho had been a man confined by Nero to Lusitania as governor from 58 C.E., thus he had no real military reputation, had never been a consul, and had no great following among other provincial commanders and armies.

Otho came from Germania of all places, where the illustrious Aulus Germanicus Vitellius Augustus (a generation of Otho’s senior and consul of more than 20 years previously) fixed his eye on Otho’s throne, and preferred himself, instead of Otho, to sit on it. Vitellius was a man of war and the commander of the legions stationed on the Rhine and allowed his troops, rather in a charmed way, to convince him that he should be emperor. Like any legion, they wanted to profit from Vitellius smashing Otho in battle and removing him from the throne. Otho was young, he was only 36 which was considered by Romans to be an age that consisted of a natural lack of experience in war and politics, especially aligned next to a war-dog like Vitellius. It was simple, Vitellius and his troops refused to declare loyalty to Otho and then crossed the Alps with incredible speed in order to march on Rome. This was done to stop Otho from being reinforced by troops from other provinces, most particularly in the Balkans. So, without haste Otho was smashed at the Battle of Cremona in the Po Valley on April 14th 69 C.E. and committed suicide two days later. (Score of the Emperors 0/2)

Aulus Germanicus Vitellius Augustus (16th of April 69 C.E. – 22nd of December 69 C.E.)

After the war-dog, Vitellius had refused to declare loyalty to Otho, and met him near Cremona, he summarily trounced his enemy in a single day, and threw a party two days later as Romes eighth emperor. Once the road had been opened and Rome stood before Vitellius, naturally the Senate declared loyalty to Vitellius and deemed him emperor, honouring him with the title, Augustus, which he graciously accepted.  However, this was a recipe for disaster, as the man at the time who was engaged in an attempt to crush the Jewish Revolt, was a political enemy of Vitellius and had a legions of soldiers at his disposal. His name was Vespasian. It was obvious what would happen next and on the 5th day of the Ides of July, Vespasian was given the title of, Imperator, by his troops and numerous governors, generals, and legions hailed their allegiance to the man whom Nero had believed to be of no political rivalry or threat…which was why he chose Vespasian in the first place to lead the war in Judea. Lines were drawn, names were hurled at one another, and plans were made as Vitellius observed a host of legions, loyal to Vespasian, advance on Rome. Vitellius reacted swiftly, assembling a massive army to meet his enemies, and ironically, at the second Battle of Cremona on 24th of October 69 C.E. the forces loyal to Vespasian, killed 50,000 of Vitellius’ men. But, this was not the end for Vitellius. The scared and petrified emperor, fled back to Rome and barricaded himself in the city. It was not until the 21st of December that a general named, Primus forced his way into the city, sacked it. In the sacking, Primus captured Vitellius, had a rope placed around his neck, and then proceeded to drag him, half-naked to the Forum, all along the Sacred Way. Then at the Stairs of Wailing in the Forum, Vitellius, with a sword at his throat, was murdered. (Score for the Emperors 0/3)

Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (1st of July 69 C.E. – 23rd of June 79 C.E.)

Vespasian’s tale is the easiest to tell. He had a lot of strong support, paid off the right people, pretty much kept his word, was a great liar, was known as a charmer, had a hilarious sense of humour, and had the biggest army. After the second Battle of Cremona, Vespasian renewed the war against the rebellious Jews from the comfort of Alexandria in Egypt, and sent his son Titus (who had the same name) to mop up the rest of the mess and destroy Jerusalem along with the three remaining Jewish strongholds, the most popular being Masada by the Dead Sea. Prior to Jerusalem’s fall, Vespasian departed for Rome. In Rome he eventually got word that his son was successful in destroying Jerusalem in the summer of 70 C.E., with the Fretensis 10 Legion eventually conquering Masada by 73 C.E. in a hollow victory. Vespasian had proven to the empire that he could deliver, and for many Romans, he had restored the glory of Rome which had been devastated by the last 12 months. Vespasian, therefore, was able to lived out his days in pomp and splendour with his two sons to follow in the rule of succession. The oldest son, Titus the conqueror of Jerusalem and womanizer, ruled until 81 C.E. and then died mysteriously, most historians believing that his younger brother, Domitian, poisoned him. Once Titus had died, Domitian, the man who really did not like Christians, seized the throne…but that is another story. (Score for the Emperors 1/4)

By, Peter J Fast

In Israel, diggers unearth the Bible’s bad guys

Peter’s Comments:

First, I would highly recommend you click on the hyperlink and take a peek at the official article and the great pictures of the excavation that is going on as we speak in Israel. Secondly, this is always exciting because once again it brings into light the validity of the Bible (against skeptics who would believe otherwise) as the scriptures are grounded in history, geography, and people groups that existed. Then it is also an incredible thing to unearth a city that has laid dormant since the 9th century B.C.E. and which is home to the illustrious people of the Philistines. This is a true gem to be able to excavate here as issues in the Middle East have prevented a lot of digging to go on in certain areas and the amount of things we could find out would be endless.

The Philistines are interesting people, most likely the “Sea People” we read about in history that warred with Egypt before settling upon the western shores of Canaan where they established the five cities of the Philistines: Gaza, Ekron, Gath, Ashdod, and Ashkelon, thus, becoming one of Israel’s most dreaded enemies. We know they were dwelling in this region during the time of Moses as it says in Exodus 13:17 when the Children of Israel left Egypt that God would not direct them via through the Land of the Philistines so they would not change their minds and want to return to Egypt having seen and experienced war (there is also an interesting Jewish Midrash on this subject which sometime I may write about:).  Anyway, most likely the Philistines would have come from the Aegean Sea region, as the Philistines are believed to be an Indo-European, seafaring, war-like tribal people. This is really proven by their pottery, much of which matches pottery from Greek settlements around the Aegean. Another interesting thing about the Philistines, was they were never fully conquered by Israel and always caused problems, especially in the days of King Saul and on which we read much about in the Biblical books of 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings. Anyway, a fascinating people, shrouded in mystery and question, which is why this dig is all the more vital and precious. I can’t wait to read about the findings, we can always learn so much.

In Israel, diggers unearth the Bible’s bad guys

By MATTI FRIEDMAN – Associated Press | AP – Fri, Jul 8, 2011

TEL EL-SAFI, Israel (AP) — At the remains of an ancient metropolis in southern Israel, archaeologists are piecing together the history of a people remembered chiefly as the bad guys of the Hebrew Bible.

The city of Gath, where the annual digging season began this week, is helping scholars paint a more nuanced portrait of the Philistines, who appear in the biblical story as the perennial enemies of the Israelites.

Close to three millennia ago, Gath was on the frontier between the Philistines, who occupied the Mediterranean coastal plain, and the Israelites, who controlled the inland hills. The city’s most famous resident, according to the Book of Samuel, was Goliath — the giant warrior improbably felled by the young shepherd David and his sling.

The Philistines “are the ultimate other, almost, in the biblical story,” said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation.

The latest summer excavation season began this past week, with 100 diggers from Canada, South Korea, the United States and elsewhere, adding to the wealth of relics found at the site since Maier’s project began in 1996.

In a square hole, several Philistine jugs nearly 3,000 years old were emerging from the soil. One painted shard just unearthed had a rust-red frame and a black spiral: a decoration common in ancient Greek art and a hint to the Philistines’ origins in the Aegean.

The Philistines arrived by sea from the area of modern-day Greece around 1200 B.C. They went on to rule major ports at Ashkelon and Ashdod, now cities in Israel, and at Gaza, now part of the Palestinian territory known as the Gaza Strip.

At Gath, they settled on a site that had been inhabited since prehistoric times. Digs like this one have shown that though they adopted aspects of local culture, they did not forget their roots. Even five centuries after their arrival, for example, they were still worshipping gods with Greek names.

Archaeologists have found that the Philistine diet leaned heavily on grass pea lentils, an Aegean staple. Ancient bones discarded at the site show that they also ate pigs and dogs, unlike the neighboring Israelites, who deemed those animals unclean — restrictions that still exist in Jewish dietary law.

Diggers at Gath have also uncovered traces of a destruction of the city in the 9th century B.C., including a ditch and embankment built around the city by a besieging army — still visible as a dark line running across the surrounding hills.

The razing of Gath at that time appears to have been the work of the Aramean king Hazael in 830 B.C., an incident mentioned in the Book of Kings.

Gath’s importance is that the “wonderful assemblage of material culture” uncovered there sheds light on how the Philistines lived in the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., said Seymour Gitin, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and an expert on the Philistines.

That would include the era of the kingdom ruled from Jerusalem by David and Solomon, if such a kingdom existed as described in the Bible. Other Philistine sites have provided archaeologists with information about earlier and later times but not much from that key period.

“Gath fills a very important gap in our understanding of Philistine history,” Gitin said.

In 604 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and put the Philistines’ cities to the sword. There is no remnant of them after that.

Crusaders arriving from Europe in 1099 built a fortress on the remains of Gath, and later the site became home to an Arab village, Tel el-Safi, which emptied during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. Today Gath is in a national park.

An Israeli town founded in 1955 several miles to the south, Kiryat Gat, was named after Gath based on a misidentification of a different ruin as the Philistine city.

The memory of the Philistines — or a somewhat one-sided version — was preserved in the Hebrew Bible.

The hero Samson, who married a Philistine woman, skirmished with them repeatedly before being betrayed and taken, blinded and bound, to their temple at Gaza. There, the story goes, he broke free and shattered two support pillars, bringing the temple down and killing everyone inside, including himself.

One intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars. Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath have also found shards preserving names similar to Goliath — an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites. These finds show the Philistines indeed used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.

The findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period, Maeir said — the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him, but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time,” Maeir said.

PETER J. FAST

I invite you to explore the dark corridors of ancient history and see it come to life.

The study of ancient history has always fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Whether it be the image of Greek hoplites crammed together in a phalanx, or legions marching stoically across the battlefield I believe it has the power to ignite the imagination of the unknown. The ancient world, particularly around the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, which is what I focus on, was a world very different then what we know today and has stirred poets, politicians, researchers, archaeologists, geologists, and many others to document their findings, write about history seen through their eyes, and try to grasp an understanding of how the ancients thought, behaved, and interacted with one another. This is the beginning of what it means to look into history.

We, in the 21st century, can only look through a key hole back through thousands of years of history and unearth what we believe happened based on evidence, be it archaeological and primary written sources. I believe that the study of history is tantamount to understanding how we have ended up where we are. It involves the exploration into our political society, how we function in society, make war, live our lives, and much more which is mostly based on Greco-Roman ideals. To understand the past can open up that key hole further in how we should and should not live our lives and what choices we should or should not take. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I seek not only to remember and study the past, but to bring it to life through my writing and hopefully, God willing, give people a glimpse into ancient history of how the people of those times may have worshiped, thought, loved, ruled, fought, suffered, succeeded, died, and lived. We even see the fascination in culture and history taking place in the ancient world with figures such as Alexander the Great or Roman Emperor Hadrian (to just name a few).

“It is the echoes of the past that turn our ear to what may have taken place, and this curiosity, intrenched in so many people, is something we cannot run from.”

Peter J. Fast

Documenting ancient history, why bother?

Battles, sieges, generals, suffering, and victory has always been the price tag of ancient civilizations as they struggled together in a changing world as empires and kingdoms marched on leaving many in the dust. Whether it was Spartans and Athenians, Macedonians and Persians, Carthaginians and Romans, or Seleucid’s and Ptolemies, all shook the earth, all changed history, and all were documented and recorded. To understand the ancients, we must turn to the witnesses and people living at the time and what they wrote. Often, we must understand that much of the ancient records of those days were intertwined with their mythological stances, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, or The Epic of Gilgamesh, there is still much to learn outside of these boundaries however, once we explore the ancient writing or what is known as primary sources. I personally have focused my time and studies on ancient Greece, Rome, and Israel.

However, there is also a greater picture of the people’s and nations living before and after these times which also have piqued my interest over the years which has deepened a desire to broaden my knowledge and appreciation for the complex and diverse world in the B.C.E. years. The timeline is long and the list even longer but the ample amount of rich stories, history, battles, governments, and search for power has never escaped the essence of mankind. I have enjoyed studying such people as the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Etruscan’s, and many more. The fascinating thing regarding the wealth of knowledge that has been compiled in libraries and universities throughout the world is that even if you had a dozen lifetimes it would not be enough to fully grasp and master the ancient world. Thus, the primary sources are priceless as they offer one of our best ways to glimpse back through time at what life was like and how it happened.

For me, over the years I have amassed a collection of such sources in which I have studied to better aid my own writing and research as I work towards publishing and establishing myself as an author. Sources that were indispensable for my study were: Polybius, Livy, Caesar, Appian, Cicero, Xenophon, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plutarch, Homer, Virgil, Herodotus, Thucydides, Flavius Josephus, Plato, Socrates, Philo of Alexandria, and of course all other ancient texts (i.e. Dead Sea Scrolls, Book of the Dead), be they on papyrus, or chiseled into stone.

To grasp an understanding of Jewish history (whether it be pre-temple period or later) the Bible is by far my favorite source. Not only does the Bible shed light on the history of ancient Israel, it also builds an excellent picture for the nations surrounding it as this picture also corresponds with extra-biblical sources, archaeology, and geography. The Bible is vital in understanding the journey for the Jewish people, from Mount Sinai right up into the Second Temple period (with the Christian scriptures/New Testament). It shows their struggle against paganism, worldly pursuits, and how God called them to be a separate people and a light to the world. This is essential in understanding how the Jews would have thus perceived the Greeks and Romans (in later years) and why they reacted the way they did or rebelled, such as in the age of the Maccabees (167-160 B.C.E), or with the two Jewish revolts against the Romans in 66-73 C.E. and 132-135 C.E. The Babylonian Talmud and other Jewish texts such as the stories of the Midrash can also bring to light much of how the Jews thought, practiced their faith, and resisted the pressures from the outside world, mainly Hellenism, which is Greek lifestyle and hedonism in a nutshell. Also, 1st and 2nd Maccabees of the Apocryphal writings can assist in gathering together a picture of what transgressed and how things played out.

I hope I have been able to touch on a few interesting subjects, and I invite you to join me as I move towards publishing my first historical-fiction novel based on the events surrounding the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and the destruction of the Jewish Temple at the hands of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the son of the Emperor and commander of the legions of Judea. For a synopsis of the novel, character list, and further information, just select the tab, “70 A.D.” and journey back in time. Also, join the group “70 A.D. A Novel about the Jewish War with Rome” on Facebook and stay connected as I move towards the completion and publication of the book.

Cheers,

Peter J. Fast