Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Andy the "Cultured"

Part 2 in this story series ....

His name in Greek was "Andreas," and, roughly translated, it meant, "manly."

By contrast, his older brother, named "Simon" by his parents (and who later received the name, "Peter" from Jesus), had a distinctive Aramaic name.

You may not think that signifies much, but the parents' naming choices for their sons reveal a lot about the two disciples' upbringing and world views before they met Jesus for the first time. And before we can get into the type of disciple that Andy was to, with and around Jesus, we first have to get our brains around his family and hometown.

His parents' choice of his name shows that this was a very culturally open family. Andy's birthplace was a prominent city in Galilee -- BethSaida. This mysterious place has recently been discovered after hundreds of years of searching, and archaeological excavations have uncovered some fascinating revelations about it:

It was very strategic in Roman-Empire-era Israel, at the tip top of the Sea of Galilee. An earthquake had disrupted the topography of the region, shortening the length of sea from 14 miles to 11 miles. As a result, today the site of the original city is further inland than it would have been 2,000 years ago. During Jesus's day, BethSaida was at the center of trade routes. It flourished with a year-round supply of water, fish and game and fertile soil.

As a result of its robust fishing industry, this seafaring community became a thriving, bustling place, attracting a diverse community. The Greek culture and language sat right alongside the Judaic culture and language. Anyone in the fishing industry like Andy would have been fluent in Greek and savvy and sensitive to Greek and Roman cultural nuances and differences.

But there was another over-reaching aspect to BethSaida: Its attractiveness to the Roman Empire, particularly Herod the Tetrarch.

Dr. Elizabeth McNamer is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Montana State University. Each summer, she participates in an archaeological dig in BethSaida. McNamer writes that excavators in 1996 uncovered a Roman temple in BethSaida.

She says, "Along side it  (the temple), there were incense shovels, the statue of a woman (Livia Julia), and coins depicting Philip and Livia. The temple is dated to the year 30 CE. ( Livia had died the previous year). That same year, we learn from Josephus, Philip raised Bethsaida to the status of 'polis,' a city, and renamed it Julia. By doing so he was promoting the observance of the Imperial cult and the embracing of all things Roman in this Jewish community. (He had already established Caesarea Philippi as a city dominated by the Imperial cult). It was a political act intended to curry favor with the Emperor." 

Think about this:

You're living in Roman-era Israel, specifically BethSaida, a hot spot for Roman pagan worship and culture, thanks to King Herod. And God has been silent for the past 400 years. And you're waiting for the promise of a Messiah to deliver you and your people from this Roman occupation and oppression.

That's where Andy was. 

He's an established pillar of the business community. He's been brought up in a home environment where Jews and Gentiles co-exist (even his name is Greek). He's living in a thriving metropolis on a major trade route in the Roman Empire. And his hometown also happens to be a favorite spot for King Herod, who likes the place so much that he eventually builds a Roman temple there. 

Like many other Jews at the time, Andy was on the lookout for a Savior. And at the same time, we've already established that Andy was no slouch. To borrow one of my favorite expressions, he was probably one of the sharper knives in the drawer. 

Andy, in short, was cultured and hungry -- hungry for freedom.

So it should be no surprise that when we first meet Andy in the Bible, he's hanging out with a guy that made King Herod pretty nervous. 

We now know him as ...

John the Baptist.

Tune in for part 3 of the story ....

(Research and background information has been provided by these Web sites:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Andy the Businessman

About 2 1/2 years ago, I started this story series for a dear friend of mine who is an agnostic. He'd called saying he was troubled, because someone (a believer) had compared him to the disciple Andrew. Not knowing anything about Andrew, he did some digging and discovered a couple of stories in the Gospels. And he was chagrined. It seemed to him that Andrew was like a "spare wheel," the guy who was "there" but just sort of one of those side-kicks who doesn't do anything of note. Why was he compared to this disciple? He wanted me to explain it.

I honestly didn't know the answer, so I did some of my own digging, and the results of what I was finding prompted me to start this story series here on this blog. But about two days after I posted this entry, I was hit by some personal unforeseen circumstances that really threw me under the bus. I sidelined the entry and didn't return to it.

Recently, though, as things have settled down in my own life, I have been reminded that I never finished this piece.

So here is Part 1 of the tale. In the next few days, I will post the rest of the story parts.

For my friend who originally asked the question ... this is really for you. And for anyone else who wonders whether you have a significant role in life .... this is for you, too.

Thanks for taking time to read, and now on to ...

Part one.

(Research for this story was provided by "Cast Your Nets: Fishing at the Time of Jesus," by Elizabeth McNamer)

When I was 12, a teacher assigned a family tree project. We were to interview our grandparents about their memories and get any information they could recall about ancestors.

My paternal grandfather, who I called, "Pop," had immigrated from Newfoundland to New England in the 1920s. I knew he'd been in the British Navy in World War I. And I knew he loved the sea. But other than that, I had nothing.

I remember sitting at a breakfast room table, notebook paper at the ready, and calling Pop to find out about the family's past.

"What did your father do?" I asked Pop.

"He was a fisherman." Pop replied shortly in a raspy voice.

I wrote that down.

"And do you know what his father did, my great-great grandfather?"

"He was a fisherman," Pop replied.

"OK. Well, this is going back a lot, but what about my great-great-great grandfather?"

"He was a fisherman."

My dad, who was listening on another line, chuckled when he heard me sigh.

"Pop, was my great-great-great-great grandfather a fisherman?"

"Yes. He was a fisherman."

We went on like this a few more times until Pop finally said, "Well, I don't know that far back, but I'm pretty sure that everyone else was a fisherman."

Today, as I read the story about Andy's life before he met Jesus, I can't help but recall that long-ago conversation with Pop.

See, Andy's family was in the fishing business, too. Now you might have heard sermons at your church about the lowly lives of fishermen. More than once, I've heard pastors wax poetically about Jesus hanging out with the stinky smelly men of the sea and how great it was that He gave them His attention.

But that description, quite frankly, is condescendingly incorrect.

In fact, fishermen were integral to the economy in First Century Palestine. And the men who owned fishing operations were savvy and successful businessmen. Think of them as active Chamber of Commerce members or pillars of your local community.

Consider the skills that the average Galilean fisherman needed. They weren't just sitting around in a boat. They had to be skilled at marketing their product. Israel's population at the time was about 500,000, and fish was a staple food. Not only that, dried fish from the Sea of Galilee was a "gourmet" menu item for Roman aristocracy. And in Jerusalem, fish was in high demand during religious festivals and seasons. So this required the fishermen to travel a lot.

And with travel during the era of the Roman Empire came along the need to know more than one language. The native tongue would have been Aramaic. But to converse with those who were buying the fish? You would've needed to know other languages like Hebrew, Greek ... and Latin, if they were selling to the Romans.

Are you getting the picture?

Andy was no dummy.

Fishing business owners also had to be skilled organizers in the running of their operations. They hired sailors and other fishermen to do labor (fish, mend nets, count fish). They were engaged in legal partnerships with each other. They had to maintain their equipment (nets and boats), deal with tax collectors and be skilled bargainers with their workers and buyers alike.

Andy and his brother Pete were in a partnership with two other guys, Jim and John, and their father, Zeb (a really wealthy fish business owner).

And it is against this highly successful backdrop of the business world that Jesus entered the picture and met Andy for the first time.

Tune in for part 2 of our tale ...