ASK Commentary
December 31, 2004 

Aions, Earthquakes, the Sanhedrin, and Fraud

Commentary for December 31, 2004 — Newsy Items ...

First the good news. At the end of the year it is common to reflect upon the past year and the future. This month’s Newsletter and article actually reflect on the far future, but a future that you (and all mankind) will participate in. That future will — eventually — involve the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. That plan involves groups of time called aions or ages. The January Newsletter and Article “The Doctrine of the Ages in the Bible” explain the Plan of the Ages, giving a further perspective than the prior two articles for November and December 2004.

One thing is clear, even though there are several meanings of the word aion in the full mass of Greek literature (as discussed in the article “Aiώn” in G.W. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961] and as analyzed in Heleen M. Keizer’s Life, Time, Entirety [Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1999]), the Bible has a more limited meaning of the term. Rather than giving the sense of “eternal” or “everlasting,” the meaning of aion is limited (in both singular and plural), as is the adjective aionian. As the great 4th century Greek Father, Gregory of Nyssa, believed, Aion designates temporality, that which occurs within time.” (G. Florovsky, The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century [vol. 7 in Collected Works, Belmont, MA: Nordland Pub. Co., c1972–1987], pp. 209–210.)

As explained in Marvin R. Vincent’s, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1864]), pp. 58–59 (underline emphasis mine DWS):

Aιών, transliterated aeon, is a period of time of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself. Aristotle (περι οuρανοu, 1:9, 15) says: ‘The period which includes the whole time of each one’s life is called the aeon of each one.’ Hence it often means the life of a man, as in Homer, where one’s life (αιών) is said to leave him or to consume away (Il. v. 685; Od. v. 160). It is not, however, limited to human life; it signifies any period in the course of events, as the period or age before Christ; the period of the millennium; the mythological period before the beginnings of history. The word has not ‘a stationary and mechanical value’(De Quincey). It does not mean a period of a fixed length for all cases. There are as many aeons as entities, the respective durations of which are fixed by the normal conditions of the several entities. There is one aeon of a human life, another of the life of a nation, another of a crow’s life, another of an oak’s life. The length of the aeon depends on the subject to which it is attached. ... The word always carries the notion of time, and not of eternity. It always means a period of time. Otherwise it would be impossible to account for the plural, or for such qualifying expressions as this age, or the age to come. It does not mean something endless or everlasting.”

I strongly recommend you read the Newsletter that accompanies each monthly article. The Newsletters introduce and complement the articles, and add additional information to be kept in mind when reading the articles.

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

The future was also frighteningly brought into focus by the occurrence of the massive 9.0 Richter scale earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. It was the largest earthquake on earth in some 40 years. It is all the more frightening because such earthquakes are predicted in the Bible to happen in the future.

Three verses that refer to coming earthquakes before the Second Coming of Christ in the King James Version are: Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8, and Luke 21:11. The first two verses use the same words “earthquakes in [diverse] places.” However, the word “diverse” is not in the Greek. The phrase in the Greek could also be translated “earthquakes every place[s] (“places” is plural) which all translations seem to ignore or avoid. (See “kata” in J.H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Accusative case, II.3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1889.)

Luke 21:11 further describes “earthquakes” (plural) with the word “the great” (from Greek, megas) with the definite article:

[the] great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.”

Luke 21:11 KJV

Things will be exciting. Young’s Literal translates the passage thus:

“Great shakings also in every place, and famines, and pestilences, there shall be; fearful things also, and great signs from heaven there shall be.”

Luke 21:11 Young’s Literal Translation

The total impression one gets from these passages is that many large earthquakes shall be most everywhere just before Christ’s return. Anticipate them. Get used to hearing about them. There shall be more earthquakes, not simply in “diverse” places meaning scattered about, but everywhere. However, not only will there be "great earthquakes" but there shall also be "great signs," along with the other evils of the future. One good thing to note, however, these events will not occur until shortly before Christ's Second Coming. Other events will be involved. Read and study the full contexts of the passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

The common idea is that the word “diverse” has the meaning of various and varied, which is certainly true and likely to be the case. However, as always, the focus of prophecy is in the Middle East, and the reference likely focuses on the area of Palestine and Israel, where Jesus spoke. Yes, the signs Jesus talked about in Matthew chapter 24, Mark chapter 13 and Luke chapter 21 will certainly be worldwide, but the effects will be mostly focused in Israel.

The land of Judea has a major fault line called the Jordan Rift Valley that extends from Syria in the north, through the Sea of Galilee, down the Jordan River Valley, by Jericho, through the Dead Sea, proceeding to the Red Sea, down to the east coast of Africa. This fault line extends for some 5,000 miles. In Judea, Israel and Jordan share the area currently, and it has great potential for dangerous quakes, and there is a history of large earthquakes along the fault line.

Evidence of that earthquake history can be seen in Dr. Martin’s article from March 2001, “Earthquake.”

Another feature of the Indonesian earthquake on Christmas day, 2004 was the horrible tsunami that caused massive destruction and over one hundred thousand deaths on the coastal lands of the Indian Ocean. Such a tsunami will also occur in the future for lands on the eastern coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea. This is also prophesied to occur as Dr. Martin discusses in his article “The Damascus Phase of End-Time Prophecy.”

A New Sanhedrin?

In a largely unannounced and unpublicized move a group of rabbis formed a Sanhedrin in Israel, according to articles in the Israeli press and websites. Clearly this move will excite great interest in affairs in Israel for many people in the Jewish and Christian communities.

One article published in Arutz Sheva for December 9, 2004 is titled “Members of Reestablished Sanhedrin Ascend Temple Mount.” The purpose for reestablishing the Sanhedrin is to make judgments about how to proceed with the rebuilding of the Temple. One major problem will be that they all likely believe that the Haram esh-Sharif is the true site of the Jerusalem Jewish Temples. They are wrong. The proper location is above and west of the Gihon Spring.

The Sanhedrin was the chief judicial and legislative body for ancient Israel. It was the supreme court of the land and was composed of 71 elders of the community. In the New Testament the Greek term sunedrion (translated “sanhedrin” in Josephus and Philo) is consistently translated as “council” in the King James Version, in Matthew 5:22, 10:17, 26:59; Mark 13:9, 14:55, 15:1; Luke 22:66; John 11:47; and Acts 4:15, 5:21, 27, 34, 41; 6:12, 15, 22:30, 23:1, 6, 15, 20, 28, 24:20. In fact you can write into your Bibles “Sanhedrin” wherever the word “council” appears in those verses.

Local sanhedrins in regions and cities have always been in place (the term “sanhedrins” is plural in Matthew 10:17; Mark 13:9). Technically a “sanhedrin” (not capitalized) is a Jewish term meaning simply a consultative and judicial body. This is certainly how Josephus uses the term:

“Now, when I had settled the affairs of Tiberias, and had assembled my friends as a sanhedrin, I consulted what I should do as to John ...”

Life of Josephus 1:368

In New Testament times Jews around the world acknowledged the religious authority of the Sanhedrin (Acts 9:2, 22:5, 26:12), composed of the High Priest plus 70 other religious leaders. In Judea their political authority was limited, although their religious authority was supreme. Some time in the 2nd century B.C.E. the lay teachers (later called Pharisees) gained entry into the Sanhedrin. See Jacob Z. Lauterbach’s Rabbinic Essays (Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College Press, 1951), pp. 105–108. Both Sadducees and Pharisees made up the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem (Acts 23:6). After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., only Pharisees made up the Sanhedrin.

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 1.6) talks about a greater Sanhedrin made up of 71 judges, and a lesser Sanhedrin made up of 23 judges. Any city that had 120 men could convene a lesser Sanhedrin.

Jesus acknowledged the authority of the Sanhedrin, which was included in His usage of the phrase “Scribes and Pharisees.” This can be known because of the phrase “sit in Moses’ seat” which indicates religious authority and rulership:

“Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.’”

Matthew 23:1–3

For the Sanhedrin’s role in the trial and death of Jesus from the Jewish point of view, see Dr. Martin’s article “The Strange Ending of Sotah.” The Sotah is a portion in the primary Jewish oral law called the Mishnah, which deals with religious, social, and legal observances.

Sanhedrin police arrested Jesus (Matthew 26:47 and Mark 14:43). Stephen was put to death specifically on the orders of the Sanhedrin which were carried out by Saul of Tarsus who later became the apostle Paul (Acts chapters 6 and 7). Saul was further commissioned by the Sanhedrin to seek out and arrest Christians. Saul was on such a commission traveling to Antioch he when had his encounter with the risen Christ.

Later, the Sanhedrin was also instrumental in condemning James: the brother of Jesus, to death:

“... when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or some of his companions]; and, when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Antiquities of the Jews 20:200

For the story of the development of the Sanhedrin, see “ The Intertestamental Period.” One major responsibility of the Sanhedrin was the establishment of the Jewish calendar to determine the beginning of the year and the dates of the religious festivals. Dr. Martin wrote in his article “The Jewish Calendar and Biblical Authority.”

“Though there is no Sanhedrin (the biblical Supreme Court) at the present, there was a Sanhedrin in the fourth century that made the decision to accept the present Jewish Calendar as official and that the Holy Days positioned on that calendar should be those that all adherents of the Law of Moses should follow. If a further Sanhedrin is ever raised up (that is, another "Seat of Moses"), then what that official body of Jewish authorities decides is what all keepers of the Law of Moses ought to observe.”

• Underlining mine, DWS

After the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. a Sanhedrin was reestablished in Javneh in Galilee under Gamaliel. It later moved to the city of Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. See Michael L. Rodkinson, The History of the Talmud: from the Time of Its Formation, about 200 B.C., up to the Present Time, vol. 1 (Boston: The Talmud Society, 1918) p. 8. It later disappeared from history.

This “new” Sanhedrin is self-appointed, and it is unclear if they will have any authority or even be acknowledged by other Jewish leaders or the people. From the public sources thus far, the members of this Sanhedrin are mostly orthodox Jews, with an unknown quantity of Levites or priests.

Perhaps the authority of this new Sanhedrin will be recognized. Time will tell. This Sanhedrin appointed themselves. This is not unusual because most political and religious power and authority in the world is assumed and not delegated by other "authorities." Only later does power and authority receive general acknowlegement by people and other power brokers. Only then do such power groups back up their authority with threat and force.

Whatever the case, some day a Sanhedrin or other governmental authority will need to contend with the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11:1–13, two Jewish men who will have power and authority not of their own assumption, but given to them by God. They shall wield it powerfully.

Fraud Charges

A December 29, 2004 Associated Press article, “Police Indict Four Israelis for Running Huge Antiquities Fraud Ring” tells of law enforcement actions by the Israeli government against fraudulent antiquities dealers.

One of the items purported to be bogus is the James Ossuary so highly acclaimed in some popular archeology magazines. (See the ASK article: “The ‘Bone Box’ Ossuary.”) Another item is a stone tablet with an inscription mentioning repairs on the Temple by King Joash, the last “righteous” king of Judah.

In November 2004 I attended a session titled “The Forgery Crisis” at the annual AAR/SBL conference. Uri Dahari, an official of the Israeli Antiquities Authority spoke on “The Current Forgery Industry” during which he presented dramatic and convincing visible evidence that the James Ossuary was fraudulent, that the perpetrators would soon be indicted (which has now happened), and that anyone associated with this fraud should distance themselves immediately from both the objects and the individuals involved.

This direct warning was quite stinging because the chief promoter of the James Ossuary, Hershel Shanks (publisher of the well-known Biblical Archaeology Review and head of the Biblical Archaeology Society) presided over this session. Dahari's warning (and implied threat) was both dramatic and personal.

Besides the physical evidence of the artifacts themselves being fraudulent, the Associated Press article cited above notes that:

“Uzi Dahari, a top official in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a recent lecture that some of the forgeries were done by an Egyptian artisan who has worked in Israel for the past 15 years. The Egyptian went out drinking in a Tel Aviv pub from time to time and would brag about his exploits, Dahari said, adding that some of the pub-goers alerted the police.”

This led to investigation of the physical evidence, which further led to indictments and arrests.

The last speaker of the session, Prof. David Noel Freedman said, as he discarded his prepared comments, that he prepared to speak on the fact that the artifacts (even if genuine) offered the world no new information that was not already known from the Bible. They contained nothing new. Now he knew why. He then went on to say that seeing the evidence presented that evening convinced him that both the James Ossuary and the Joash Tablet were frauds.

Someday there may be artifacts that yield new information beyond what the Bible gives at present. We can rest assured that the new information will only confirm the Bible and will not contradict it because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).

David Sielaff

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