Living in Truth:
Archaeology and the Patriarchs

Supplement 4   Book Navigator   Lesson 1

by Charles N. Pope
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Supplement 5
Saints and Apostles
Herodian Identities of New Testament Characters

Enemies in the Household of Herod

In 14 A.D. Caesar Augustus died and was succeeded by Tiberius who ruled until spring of 37 A.D. Also in 37 A.D. Herod Antipas was deposed after being accused of conspiring with Rome's archenemy the Parthians, and also of stockpiling armor in Jerusalem. These allegations were made by a cousin of Antipas named Agrippa, the youngest son of Hasmonean Aristobulus. They also appear to have been true. Agrippa was named for the Roman general and patron of Herod the Great, Marcus Agrippa. The Herodian Agrippa was well liked in Rome for his magnanimous personality and extravagant living. However, after the death of his mother, he lost all restraint and fell from favor in Rome for running up enormous debts. He was thereafter publicly humiliated by Herod Antipas for his bankruptcy and also held in greater contempt by his older brother Aristobulus, especially after Agrippa accepted a bribe and Aristobulus found out about it. Agrippa eventually found himself imprisoned by Tiberius for showing favoritism toward one of his younger rivals Gaius.

Ironically, when a dying Tiberius agonized over his choice of successor he appointed none other than Gaius (Caligula), even as Agrippa had wanted. Gaius promptly exonerated Agrippa of all charges and gave him kingly status in Israel. It was then that Agrippa must have become aware of the activities of Antipas and blew the whistle on him. Of course, this only further ingratiated Agrippa with the new Caesar, and he was rewarded with additional domains. On the other hand, the lion of Judah, Antipas, was exiled to Lyons, part of extensive Herodian possessions in Gaul (modern day France). Mary Magdalene and other Gospel figures also left definite memories of travel to France, and for the same reason. They were Herodians.

Herod Antipas as the Wide-Wandering Joseph of Arimathea

Antipas had undoubtedly come to the south of France at various times during his reign to look after his interests there, as well as those of Rome. However, from about the time of his exile there, he was remembered in this region by his Gospel name "Joseph of Arimathea." The alias Joseph of Arimathea was derived from pharaoh Aye in the Egyptian New Kingdom. After the early death of his true father Thutmose IV (Judah), Aye had been adopted by Yuya (Joseph). Throughout his long career Aye (Ephraim/Ahab) was considered to be a member of the House of Yuya (Joseph/Omri) and was made successor of Yuya as a king in Israel and Syria/Aram. One of his Biblical identities, Ahab of the Kings/Chronicles history, is also strongly associated with Aram and Ramoth-Gilead, hence the epithet Joseph of Arimathea.a

We are told in the Gospels that it had been Joseph of Arimathea who boldly petitioned Pontius Pilate for the "body" of Jesus. It can now be recognized that it was also Joseph of Arimathea, in the historical person of Herod Antipas, who staged the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and also ensured his "resurrection" in careful accordance with ancient traditions.

Antipas, a.k.a., Joseph of Arimathea, did not stay in exile for long. Another deposed Herodian king Archelaus had earlier been exiled to Vienna, but he seems to have come and gone under his own recognizance, perhaps using an alias such as Zebedee. Tradition has Joseph of Arimathea traveling widely, probably using one or more pseudonyms, or by faking his death in 39 A.D. He is said to have visited Britain in order to establish new Christian churches, and as we may now discern, also meddle in local politics. However, according to Revelation 2:13, Antipas was ultimately martyred in Pergamum (of modern day Western Turkey).

Divided Loyalties in the Reign of Agrippa

Caesar Gaius (Caligula) ruled only 4 years before his assassination in 41 A.D., leaving only a single male descendant of Augustus, a handicapped and cowering prince named Claudius. Agrippa once again distinguished himself by rallying support for this childhood friend of his. Claudius in turn entrusted Agrippa with a kingdom as large as that of Herod the Great or the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus. One of Agrippa's first acts was to install a new High Priest, Simon Cantherus son of Boethus, the probable father of the betrayed betrayer Judas Iscariot.

Agrippa placated his brother Herod of Chalcis by offering him his daughter Berenice in marriage. By her Herod of Chalcis was able to have royal children of his own in his old age. And it was also at this time that Agrippa lobbied Claudius to give his brother the kingdom of Chalcis.

After the birth of Jesus, his adoptive father Joseph does not appear again in the Gospels. It is assumed that he had been an old man and died not long afterwards. On the contrary, Herod of Chalcis was barely a teenager when he became both husband to Mariamne IV and father of her "holy" child. He did not die until 48 A.D. Although he did agree to make Aristobulus III his successor in Chalcis, there must have been times when he was ambivalent toward his adopted son or even opposed to him. The omission of Herod of Chalcis in the Gospels downplayed what may have been a strained relationship, even as the relationship between Aye and his adoptive father Yuya had been in the Egyptian New Kingdom. It also served to suppress the later polyandry of Mariamne and to emphasize that the true father of Jesus was supposed to have been "God."

Saul as Phasael son of Pallas, Persecutor of the Church

With the addition of the fiery-natured Saul, Agrippa's "axis of evil" against the Herodian freedom fighters was complete. In the Book of Acts, Saul, later known as Paul, is said to have been from Tarsus, which was one of several important Seleucid cities referred to as "Antioch." He grew up however in Jerusalem and claimed to possess Roman citizen from birth. The Book of Acts (26:10) also implies that he was a voting member of the Sanhedrin.b Later in Acts, the Roman governor Felix repeatedly induces Paul to bribe him, presumably because Paul was a man of great wealth and influence.c However, although Paul had the means, he did not have the inclination to buy his own release.

This above set of characteristics uniquely identifies Saul as a member of the Herodian royal family. Paul claimed to be a Pharisee, however his words and actions before and after conversion were certainly not typical of contemporary Pharisees.d Like all Herodian princes, Paul's education would have been eclectic and he would have been allowed to identify with any Jewish sect of his choosing.e

The Hebrew name Saul (or Saulus as he was called by Josephus) was adapted from his given Herodian name of Phasael. This Phasael, as explained above, was born to Antipater ("Reuben/Benjamin") by Pallas ("Isis/Athena"), a minor wife ("concubine") of Herod the Great ("Jacob"). The nature of Paul's birth within the royal family also lends an amusing twist to 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul denounces a man who was living with his father's wife. It was still a do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do imperial world.

The well-versed Phasael had perhaps functioned as a tutor in the house of the higher-ranking prince Agrippa, who was about his same age. But now Agrippa was instructing Phasael in persecuting the nascent Christian Church. The first high-profile (Herodian) victim is called Stephen in the Gospels. This name derives from the glib Egyptian New Kingdom pharaoh known variously as Setnakhte and Tefnakhte (and Stephanites by the Greeks). This name also designates him as a prince in the Herodian House of "Merari," which logically corresponds to Pheroras the younger brother of Herod the Great (Jacob/Kohath) and King Phasael I (Esau/Gershon). New Testament Stephen is also characterized by his eloquence. However, unlike his role model, his silvery tongue was used to incite an attack rather than avoid one.

The tone of Stephen's monologue reveals a deep frustration and bitterness against the Pharisees in particular and Jews in general for not accepting the Idomean kings as ordained by God to rule over them and champion their cause in the Roman yoke. Hatred and guilt would continue to be heaped on the Jews for this in later Christian times. By and large, the Jews of Palestine objected to the dubious pedigree of the Idomeans. The Pharisees, on the other hand, virulently rejected the very idea of kingship. The Pharisees first rose up as a sect in opposition to Hasmonean kingship and continued during the Herodian hegemony. This included the highly understated kingly ambitions of Jesus, for the leading Pharisees certainly knew his true identity as a royal prince.

Agrippa adopted a zero tolerance policy for insurrection against Rome, especially within the Herodian royal family. He had gained his kingship by selling out his family in their plan for independence, and seemed committed to maintaining that course. After the stoning of Stephen, some Christian conspirators fled for their lives to Damascus, which was then under control of the king of Nabatea. Agrippa's hit man Saul interpreted their action as proof of crime and determined to covertly bring them home to Jerusalem for prosecution. However, as the story goes, Saul was confronted by Jesus himself on the road to Damascus. This was actually quite reasonable since Jesus (Aristobulus III) was still very much alive and ruling in nearby Chalcis. In fact, judgment may have been passed on Saul (for his illegal operation) when he traveled through a region under Jesus' own jurisdiction!

Paul and Barnabus

The smitten Saul was directed to enter Damascus and wait for direction. After his sight was restored, literally or figuratively, Saul was renamed Paul. Immediately, he began to testify for Christ in Damascus until receiving a death threat of his own. Back in Jerusalem, it was Barnabus who encouraged the other disciples to accept Paul's transformation as genuine. According to Paul's own testimony (Galations 1:11-20), he did not go directly from Damascus to Jerusalem as indicated in the Book of Acts, but first spent three years in Arabia learning the customized Gospel of Jesus Christ that he was to preach. The name Barnabus seems to have been adapted from "son of Nedebaeus" (Bar-Ne'baeus). The notable Nedebaeus was later appointed by Herod of Chalcis as High Priest and enjoyed a relatively long term of 12 years in that office (47 A.D - 59 A.D.).

The "Road to Damascus" conversion of Saul is patterned specifically after the ordeal of "divine Lugalbanda," which was the Mesopotamian name of Horus the Younger. The hero Lugalbanda, while on the road between the sister-cities of Erech and Aratta, and specifically while trying to pass Mount Hurum, became gravely ill and could not continue. His comatose body was abandoned by his traveling companions in the darkness of a cave, but miraculously he survived. Upon awakening he prayed to be restored and was then shown what he should do next. Instead of returning to his people he instead remained for a time in the wilderness. This is of course the basic outline of Saul's conversion, albeit in a different setting - Mount Herman near Damascus perhaps stands in for Mount Hurum. The renaming of Saul to Paul is also a significant allusion to the story of Lugalbanda. The Mesopotamian name of archetypal Benjamin/Horus, that is, Lugal-banda, means "little big man." Therefore, the name Paul ("little") was not a putdown but confirmation of his role as Benjamin.

From then on, Paul did not claim to be from the "tribe" (line) of Herodian Reuben or Naphtali, but emphasized Benjamin. (Saul of the Old Testament was also given the honorary status of Benjamin. His repentance however was rejected.)  In Egyptian terms Paul was a "Horus son of Isis." Indeed, all of the disciples/apostles had been sent out in the name of Jesus and specifically as Horus figures with immunity against snakes and other deadly poisons.f As a child, Horus endured a near-fatal poisoning and was nurtured back to health by his adoptive mother Isis in the seclusion of the Nile Delta marshes.g The status of Paul as a Horus-Benjamin is also established in the New Testament not by any genealogy but his presumed power over the deadly poison of a serpent.h However, the commissioning of Paul was actually an admission by the master craftsman Jesus that he and his cabinet members had failed to win a large following among Jews much less the obedience of Gentiles, and needed help in this Messianic capacity. A deal was struck to bring the abrasive but effective prince Phasael son of Pallas (Isis) into the fold.

Paul and Timothy

One of the early associates of Paul was Timothy, who is described in Acts (16:1) as an initially uncircumcised disciple living in Lystra, and the son of a Greek man and a Jewish-Christian woman. Royal genealogist Laurence Gardner documents that Herod son of Aristobulus III and Salome was also called Herod-Timothy.i He might also be one and the same as "Herodion," whom Paul refers to as his relative in Romans 16:11. If Timothy had actually been a son of Jesus himself, then this would have naturally required a more delicate cloaking of his identity. Luke may have done this by calling Timothy's father (Aristobulus III) a "Greek." Paul himself however called Timothy his own son "in the faith." Herod-Timothy as the son of Aristobulus III would have been Paul's actual nephew in that Phasael and Aristobulus III were both the true sons of Antipater son of Herod the Great.

The importance of the name Timothy derives from the period immediately following the conquest of Alexander the Great. It had been one Timotheus, along with the Greek priest Manetho, who constructed the Serapis faith for Ptolemy Soter, the successor of Alexander the Great in Egypt. Serapis was aimed to please Greeks and Egyptians, and was evidently adopted eagerly by both. However, the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt were now defunct. The family of Herod had risen to take their place as cultural innovators in the Roman world. The Seleucid prince Paul with the help of his own Timothy created a neo-Serapis religion that would appeal, so they hoped, to the entire spectrum of Jews from Hellenes to Hasidim and also attract Gentiles.  Like the Serapis of Ptolemy, Paul's faith was exported throughout the Mediterranean states and especially to Rome. Converts included the servants of Caesar himself.

Paul and John Mark

John Mark is thought to have been the nephew of Philo ("Beloved") of Alexandria. Paul was initially paired with John Mark as an evangelical team. Paul however became impatient with this young prince and found a new partner in Silas. The name Philo is curious in that it might have been a male persona of Mary Magdalene in Egypt, who as noted above was also known as John the Beloved.

Paul and Silas

Silas, or Silvanus ("of the forest") as he is also called in the New Testament, is described as one of the leaders of the "Christian brothers." (Acts 15:22) He was also a Roman citizen and therefore in all probability a Herodian brother of Paul as well. Silas was the main companion of Paul in his later years. However, Luke does not specifically mention in Acts 21 that Silas was with Paul on his final visit to Jerusalem where he was arrested. In the writings of Josephus, Saulus (Saul/Paul) is accused of creating a disturbance in Jerusalem at that time with the Herodian prince Costabar. Josephus writes, "Costabar, also, and Saulus, did themselves get together a multitude of wicked wretches, and this because they were of the royal family." j Therefore, it seems likely that Costabar was the Herodian identity of Silas or perhaps even Luke (Lucas). This Costabar was the son of Cypros daughter of Herod the Great by Hasmonean Mariamne, and therefore a very high-ranking prince. His father was the son of Nabatean ("Gentile") Costabar, husband of Herod the Great's sister Salome. (Another leading Silas of the era was a friend and steward of the first Herod Agrippa, but was later killed by Agrippa. His death, prior to 44 A.D., occurred too early for him to be associated with the Silas of Acts.)

The Deaths of Jesus and Paul and the Jewish Revolt

Aristobulus III (Jesus) passed away about the time of Paul's journey to await trial in Rome. In his final years, Aristobulus had been made king in Armenia and one of his sons, also named Aristobulus, evidently lived in Rome where he was addressed by Paul (Romans 16:10; 2 Timothy 4:21).  Despite continued good standing with Rome, Aristobulus III perhaps died in India as reports indicate.  Founding churches with the help of Thomas was one thing. Convincing Indian kings to ally themselves against Rome and inspiring "believers" to lay down their lives in a foreign war proved to be another. The grand plan to "take the kingdom by force" would go on regardless. When full-scale revolt did begin in 66 A.D., Jewish nationalists may have looked to the mountains from whence their help was to come, but a mighty army from the east did not appear. Neither did the Parthians enter the conflict on the side of the Herodians. For several years the zealots of Israel courageously took on the Roman legions, but were brutally crushed in the end.

Publicly, Paul had urged acceptance of Roman rule until his own death about 66 A.D. However, the Book of Revelation indicates that many Herodian leaders privately remained committed to bringing an army of astronomical proportions from the east against Rome. Some attribute the Book of Revelation to John the brother of James who was beheaded by Agrippa. James and John, as the sons of Zebedee, were "twins" of Phillip II and Aristobulus III in the roles of Elijah and Elisha. After the death of Jesus, John may have been called upon to take his role as the conquering Joshua. We know that the other brothers of Jesus, namely James and Simon, also accepted leadership roles.

Herodian Bloodlines

Despite the loss of Jerusalem, Herodian kingship and beliefs marched on. What's more, the rival Herodian lines of Joshua (Jesus), Benjamin (Paul), Judah (Peter) and Joseph (Jesus and John) followed the classic Egyptian New Kingdom pattern.

The title of Benjamin was ceded to Paul. And he achieved supremacy within the Church even as the House of Benjamin (Ramses) had seized the throne in the Egyptian New Kingdom. However, it seems Paul did not or perhaps could not produce a royal heir. His main legacy was his Gospel to the Gentiles, which became the dominant form of Christianity. As a Benjamin figure without a qualified heir, Paul identifies with a more tragic Benjamin figure from olden days, specifically Jeremiah. In the Book of Galations (1:15-16) Paul compares his calling with that of Jeremiah (found in Jeremiah 1:5). The historical Jeremiah (Pinudjem II of Egypt) had a daughter, but apparently no royal son to establish a natural dynasty.

Jesus himself represented the Herodian line of Joseph. According to Grail legend, Jesus and Mary Magdalene had only two sons, Jesus Justus and Josephes, who each had a prominent son of their own, Jesus III and Josue, respectively.k However, according to history of Josephus, Salome actually had three sons, Herod, Aristobulus, and Agrippa. Aristobulus likely corresponds to Jesus Justus. Josephes would then be Agrippa. Therefore, the firstborn son of Salome may not have been the son of Aristobulus III but of Herod-Phillip II (John the Baptist). It is also possible that Phillip II had other children by other wives that carried forward his kingly claims.

Joseph of Arimethea was head of the Herodian "House of Judah." Peter was heir to this royal line, and there were many other prominent princes of "Judah" as well, including Andrew and the half-brothers of Jesus, namely Jose and James (Justus). According to Grail legend Joseph of Arimethea also had a daughter Anna that married and founded a dynasty with the Celtic king "Bran the Blessed."

Rome is Fallen

Prophetically speaking, when Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, Rome assumed the identity of Babylon - for it had been the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar that destroyed the first temple that Solomon built. The prophets warned of this event and also declared that Babylon would be destroyed and abandoned forever on account of it. After destroying Jerusalem, Babylon as a country had been conquered by Persia. The city of Babylon fell into ruin, largely due to sustained economic neglect. Therefore, far from demoralizing, the destruction of Jerusalem and Diaspora of Jews by Rome resulted in a marked increase in Messianic fervor among Jewish Christians and Gentile sympathizers abroad. Rome had sealed its own fate and Jesus himself was credited with predicting it. The Christian Church had all the ammunition it needed to recruit (convert) more lost souls and redouble its efforts against Rome.

When John wrote to the fledgling Christian churches in the Book of Revelation he purposely refrained from mentioning Rome due to threat of persecution. Nevertheless, his work still must be interpreted entirely within the context of the Herodian struggle with Rome. John could however safely refer to Rome as "Babylon," and this metaphor also fully conveyed the prophetic denouncement of Rome to informed Jewish readers.

Despite Herodian infighting they ultimately wrestled Rome to at least a draw.  And the Christian Church eventually did prevail over the oppression of Rome, but not as quickly or in the manner John anticipated. Rome was not destroyed or abandoned as Babylon. Instead, Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire and Rome itself became the capital and "New Jerusalem" of Christendom!

  1. See Chapter 20 of Living in Truth: Archaeology and the Patriarchs.
  2. Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, p 10.
  3. Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, p 162.
  4. Hyam Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity, Chapter 6.
  5. This aspect of Herodian education is brought out by Josephus.
  6. Mark 16:18
  7. In Greek myth the infant Herakles (Horus) is attacked by snakes but survives. In Egypt, the poison is injected by a "scorpion."
  8. Acts 28:1-7; Romans 11:1; Phillipians 3:5. Paul also said that he was appointed Apostle last, and as "one born out of due time" (1 Cor. 15:8), again alluding to his archetype Benjamin/Horus.
  9. Laurence Gardner, Bloodline of the Holy Grail, p 20.
  10. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter IX, William Whiston translation.
  11. See: Laurence Gardner, Bloodline of the Holy Grail and The Magdalene Legacy.
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