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:

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