Monday, September 2, 2013


This script is inspired by the mixed feelings I had about “Gladiator”: enjoyment of the atmospherics of ancient Rome, coupled with some disappointment at the ending, which felt contrived. It occurred to me that the genuine story of how Commodus met his end (drunk at a New Year’s Eve costume party, killed to stop him from raping a girl) would have made a better story. But instead of ending there, I decided to begin there, telling the story of the tumultuous year which followed. This presents certain narrative difficulties: there cannot really be a “lead” character as the focus shifts among Pertinax, Didius Julianus, Clodius Albinus, Pescennius Niger, and Septimius Severus; the eventual victor (Severus) does not even appear onstage until late (to keep the number of simultaneous subplots down); two invented characters, Senator Tullius and his daughter, are followed in order to maintain some continuity throughout (most characters are real, although their traits must be fleshed out from a sparse record). Necessarily, there is a lot of exposition, but the talking is generally done against some action background; the history must be somewhat streamlined, and choices have to be made about uncertainties in the record. For example, why is Pescennius called Niger “black”? We are told that Clodius is Albinus “white” because he was very pale, but one source (late, with many errors) says Pescennius only had a black mole on his neck. Who knows? For our purposes, Pescennius is just black, with Nubian ancestry, part of the ethnic diversity which is a taken-for-granted part of the atmospherics in the story. He is known to have been governing Syria at some point under Commodus, but although he started and ended his bid for the Empire in Syria, it is also said he had a post in Egypt sometime. For our purposes, Pescennius had been transferred from Syria to Egypt sometime before Commodus was killed, so that an invented character with a revealing back-story can be governor of Syria instead. Variant versions of the history are treated as rumors: the time-lag and distortions as news propagates in the Empire is also part of the atmospherics.


scene 1. Tullius and Tullia Minor, dressed as a poet and his muse, go to the imperial palace for a New Year’s Eve costume party. She is nervous, and her father stresses to her that her duty is to attract a husband. Inside they meet senators Pertinax and Julianus. The emperor’s majordomo is insistent that they share the emperor’s wine, which Pertinax is reluctant to do. We hear, but do not see, that emperor Commodus is roaring drunk and dressed as Hercules. Tullius stammers out some odes to Hercules.

2. The same night, governor Clodius Albinus of Britain is perched on top of the northernmost wall, so that he can look down on a tribe of Caledonian barbarians while he engages them in tense negotiations, designed to bring the rest of Great Britain into Roman allegiance. The Caledonians act as if they are savages, but their chief is far more savvy than he lets on. Clodius is interrupted by an urgent messenger. The news causes him to break off abruptly and tell his men that he must depart for Londinium and then Gaul with greatest possible speed, leaving his son and his loyal retainer bewildered, and the Caledonian wondering how much advantage he can take.

3. The same night, governor Pescennius Niger of Egypt has a quiet meeting with the prefect of Alexandria, head of the city’s Greek community, and the exilarch, head of the Jewish community. He insists that they nip an incipient inter-ethnic riot in the bud, and help to squelch false rumors that Commodus is dead. He warns that a crisis is brewing in the west, reading a letter that Clodius Albinus sent to Rome some weeks earlier, copies of which are now circulating everywhere. Clodius had written the letter believing Commodus to be dead, and denouncing his record strongly. Pescennius worries that there will be uproar, urges that everyone in the East try to set all quarrels aside, and invites the prefect and exilarch to go with him on a peacemaking mission to Syria.

4. Back in Rome, Commodus is taunting everyone at the party for being unmanly, and demanding that someone screw a woman in front of him, to entertain him and demonstrate virility. He turns on Laetus, the head of the Praetorian Guard, and demands that he do it with his fiancee Popilia, who had been chatting with Tullia. Commodus rips off her clothing and Laetus tells him to stop it. He says no-one would dare stop him, and starts assaulting Popilia until Laetus cuts his throat. Tullia gives her outer robe to cover the sobbing Popilia, while Laetus calls on all the shocked senators to be witnesses of why he did what he did. Tullius takes him into custody in the name of the Senate, asking Laetus to trust him.

5. In the morning, a crier with a troupe of hired mourners tells the Romans that Commodus is dead.

6. In the Senate house, the Eldest laments that the Haruspex finds ill omens and that the young generation lacks decorum, during a raucous meeting. Julianus and his father-in-law Manlius nominate Pertinax to be the new Emperor. Senators Falco, angrily, and Sempronius, meekly, oppose this. Pertinax acts reluctant, but is elected. He will not let them vote his wife the title of Augusta.

7. The crier announces that Pertinax has taken the throne and that he pledges eighteen sesterces to every soldier. The amount is derided by passing soldiers, who point out that Commodus paid twenty a man when he took the throne.

8. Tullius comes home to find Popilia leaving. His daughter explains that Popilia has been begging her to use any influence she has, with Tullius or any other Senator, that the life of Laetus be spared. Tullius assures her that Laetus is not likely to be executed anyway, but tells her that she should pretend to Popilia that only her pleading brought about this result, so that she may be perceived as influential.

9. On the coast of Britain, loyal retainer Servilius rushes aboard ship to rejoin Clodius, who is anxious to set sail. Servilius apologizes that he advised Clodius to write the now-infamous letter denouncing Commodus, under the mistaken impression that Commodus was dead. Clodius tells him that a respected officer, Junius Severus, has been dispatched with orders to relieve him as governor of Britain and send him back to Rome. Clodius plans to intercept him in Gaul, since the appointment of Severus to replace him will not be effective until Severus is in Britain. Servilius assures him of undying loyalty.

10. Pertinax, in a lavish throne-room in the palace, receives Urbanus, former deputy to Laetus and now head of the Guard; Tigellus, prefect of Rome; and Sempronius, a Senator who opposed his election. He wants to know whether his position is safe. Sempronius says he is loyal, though Falco is trying to hatch conspiracies, but says none of the soldiers are satisfied with the monetary offer, neither the Guard under Urbanus nor the regulars under Tigellus. Urbanus and Tigellus admit that this is so, and Tigellus blames the Senate for choosing Pertinax without consulting the troops, and inadvertently insults Pertinax’s father, in the course of explaining why the troops want more. Pertinax pleads that Commodus left the treasury low, and promises to raise more money as quickly as he can. Then Urbanus and Tigellus nearly come to blows over the case of Laetus. The Guards are still loyal to him and demand his freedom. The regular troops resent that the killer of a Caesar should go unpunished, when they have all seen harsh punishments dealt out for much lesser insubordinations. Pertinax demands that Tigellus control his troops. He replies that his term as prefect ended with the New Year, and that he would prefer not to be re-appointed, seeing as he has lost the Emperor’s trust. Pertinax chooses his father-in-law Sulpicianus as the new prefect.

11. At a post-road station in northern Gaul, Clodius nervously meets Junius Severus. Junius relieves him greatly by telling him the news that Commodus is dead, for real this time. Since Pertinax has no son, and an elderly wife he dare not divorce, he will be looking to adopt an heir. Clodius boasts of his ancestry and begins scheming how he can make Pertinax adopt him. Junius commits to his cause, and impulsively burns the scrolls he has brought, that is, the summons to Clodius, an arrest warrant if Clodius was non-compliant, and his own appointment as governor of Britain. Clodius promises to put Junius in line for another governorship.

12. Outside of Antioch, governor Octavius Emesianus of Syria receives Pescennius and his two companions in a makeshift set of bleachers, to watch green troops war-game with a small contingent of veterans playing the role of Parthians. Pescennius has heard that Commodus is dead, but has not heard much else since he has been travelling, so Octavius shares all the latest gossipy versions of what might be happening in Rome. They agree that most of these stories are implausible. Pescennius returns to Octavius a contingent of troops he had taken with him when he transferred to Egypt; demands for their return had been the subject of a quarrel he wishes to end. He urges Octavius to stop ripping off the Jews and the merchants of Alexandria, which has also been causing ill feelings. Octavius explains that he seized money from the Jews and Greeks under dubious pretexts only because he must have extra funding this year, to raise local troops for his proposed attack on Parthia. The Parthian Empire is crumbling, and he wants to strike immediately before they choose better leaders. The Roman Empire has not been sending him enough troops, taking his revenues but frittering away the money on bread and circuses in the capital city. Pescennius says that he had also tried to assemble a Parthian expedition, and was probably relieved in Syria for precisely that reason: Commodus would not have wanted anyone else to achieve such glory. Octavius, increasingly drunk, laments that he too will probably be prevented from achieving glory. Pescennius and Octavius swap family histories, commiserating about the difficulty of rising through the ranks with an undistinguished background. Octavius had a tenuous link to Commodus, worthless now. On the field, the Parthian team defeats the Roman team, giving Octavius excuse to drink more. Pescennius proposes a united front between Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, whose governor is a friend of his, conveniently travelling nearby. They should jointly write the Senate asking for the appointment of a co-Augustus, a separate Emperor for the East so that revenues would no longer be diverted to the West at this time of opportunity. Octavius is agreeable, but slyly wonders if Pescennius wants that job for himself. Pescennius guesses that if the Senate went along, they would probably choose Septimius Severus, commander on the Danube, for the eastern connections his Syrian wife might bring. Octavius knows her, and disparages the religious cult she belongs to.

13. Pertinax, in the throne-room again, congratulates Laetus for the pardon the Senate has given him, and welcomes him back to his old post as commander of the Guard. Urbanus congratulates him too. All the time that they are speaking, however, angry soldiers can be heard outside, and finally burst through the doors, demanding that he explain how Laetus can possibly be pardoned. Pertinax replies that Commodus had been committing a foul crime, worthy of death. When a soldier asks if he means that sometimes it is right to kill the Caesar, he says yes, so the soldier runs him through. Guards and city troops engage in a running swordfight, the guards successfully driving the soldiers out of the palace.

14. At night, by a section of a wall, regular troops and praetorian guards meet under a flag of truce. Laetus greets Sulpicianus wearily, asking if both sides have had enough. Sulpicianus agrees, and leads his men in reciting an oath to forget the events of the day and never seek vengeance. Laetus swears his men to the same, especially adding that even the killers of Pertinax must be forgiven, if he himself is to be forgiven. Servants arrive carrying a litter, from which emerges Senator Falco. He asks if they have forgotten the twenty gold per man, which they had been pressing for so recently. He promises to get it for them, if they hail him Emperor. Horrified, Sulpicianus promises twenty-five. Falco laughs, saying he could never raise the money. They argue until Didius Julianus appears on top of the wall and promises thirty. Falco and Sulpicianus tell the soldiers he could never pay that much, but he says he owns the Senate, and will squeeze the money out of them or kill them all. The soldiers begin hailing him.

15. Tullius and Tullia are at home, and hear screams as a mob pursues and assaults a woman, who manages to bang on their door. Servants grab weapons, open the door, and chase the mob away. The woman is Popilia, who has been beaten and stabbed. She laments that everyone blames her for what has happened, and dies. Tullia is greatly upset.

16. Julianus is in the wrecked throne-room, watching servants undertake repairs. The majordomo hands him a letter, saying that he supposes it is up to Julianus to answer now. It is from Pescennius and Octavius, and Julianus is outraged to read its content. He summons Laetus, and asks if he knows of a messenger who is strong and skilled with a dagger. Laetus says he knows just the man for the job. He asks if the sons of Pescennius Niger are still at school in Rome, and tells Laetus to arrest them. Then Julianus asks where his wife is, and is further angered to learn that she refuses to join him in the palace and has returned to the house of her father Manlius instead.

17. The crier announces that Didius Julianus is Emperor. The crowd stones him to death.

18. At the house of Manlius, Tullia is admitted and falls into the arms of Scantilla (daughter of Manlius and wife of Julianus), who calls her daughter and comforts her. Tullia says that her father is afraid to leave the house for fear of being recognized. Senators are being attacked by mobs in the streets. She had decided that she was anonymous enough to venture out in search of news, but saw some dreadful scenes. Scantilla denounces her husband as a fool, saying no-one will accept a so-called Emperor who bought his title at an auction. Julianus comes, demanding that Scantilla come with him. She says he has disgraced himself. He pledges to make the Senate give her the title of Augusta. She says to give the title to their daughter instead, if he must have some hostess at his parties, but she will have no part in it.

19. In front of a field tent in Syria, Pescennius and Octavius are reviewing troops and greeting governor Asellius Aemilianus of Asia, who asks if they have heard of the latest strange doings in Rome. A messenger arrives, and says that his message is only for the eyes of Pescennius. The two go inside, where the messenger breaks the seal on his scroll and unwraps it to reveal a dagger dripping with poison, with which he attempts to stab Pescennius, but Pescennius outmaneuvers him. His shouts bring in some soldiers, and Pescennius says that they know what to know. Octavius and Asellius enter, learn the situation, and leave. Pescennius takes a minute to compose himself, and when he goes outside Octavius and Asellius lead the troops in hailing him as Emperor. Pescennius asks if this is not premature, but they say there is little choice now. The three go back into the tent to confer. Pescennius advises Asellius to sail back to Asia Minor immediately and put troops across the water as fast as he can, as he would rather fight in Europe; he himself will lead all the troops assembled to Asia Minor, gathering allies on the way. As he returns outside to address the troops, he sees that the messenger has already been nailed to a pole and disembowelled, and gives him a mercy killing.

20. At Sirmium on the Danubian front, Septimius Severus holds a staff meeting. Noisy conversations are going on outside. He asks his chief of staff if everyone has heard about Julianus claiming to buy the imperial throne, and if the men accept him for thirty gold apiece. He is assured that all of the troops think the behavior of Julianus is dishonorable, and that they would rather hail Severus as Emperor instead. He asks his intelligence officer for a threat assessment, and is told that the situation is good: the hostile German tribes are fighting with each other, a weapons-smuggling operation has been stopped, the friendly Dacians are holding their own, and some Sarmatians are looking to immigrate. Severus is satisfied that it will be safe to withdraw half the troops from the Danube for a march on Italy, and gives his chief of staff permission to let the men hail him. He basks in the hailing only briefly, then tells the men they will march on Aquileia and Mediolanum, but not Rome until they are invited there.

21. At the encampment in northern Gaul, Clodius is entertaining governor Placidius of Gallia Belgica. A young boy comes running up, saying he is the fastest runner in the town and that the men in town told him lord Clodius would give him a penny for his news. Clodius asks what news, and the boy shouts that the Emperor has been killed. Clodius tells him that happened months ago, but the boy shouts confusingly that the Emperor died again. Eventually it is established that it is Pertinax who is dead this time, and Clodius gives him a penny for each member of his family. Junius rides up, and adds the story that Julianus bought the throne at auction. Clodius thinks the rumor must have been garbled on the way, but Junius says he has a reliable message through the post straight from Rome. Clodius wonders if anyone in Rome could accept this, and Junius confirms that the whole city is in uproar about it. Placidius adds that no-one in the Empire will accept it, or at least, he is sure Belgica will not. Clodius says he must make a move. Men have been clustering around, and now start hailing Clodius as Emperor. Clodius said it would sound more impressive if he had more men. He tells Placidius to solicit the help of the legions on the Rhine, informing the men in Belgica along the way; Servilius to go to Lugdunum and ask for the support of Gaul proper, and then to proceed to Spain where they have old friends; and Junius to ride as fast as he can to ask the help of his cousin Septimius Severus on the Danube; while he himself returns to Londinium to assemble the British troops.

22. Pescennius is in Byzantium, directing the construction of fortifications. Asellius waxes garrulous about the history and lore of the place. Pescennius keeps returning to the practical task of establishing a base there, but is finally drawn into describing his vision of building a grand city in what has been a small provincial town, making it a capital for the Eastern Empire that might even outshine Rome someday. Asellius asks whether Troy would not be a more emotionally resonant capital for the East. Pescennius points out pragmatically that Troy is most famous for having been captured and burned to the ground, and asks whether this has ever happened to Byzantium. Not yet, Asellius tells him.

23. At a post-road station outside Mediolanum, Septimius Severus confronts Junius Severus. Junius praises Clodius Albinus as the best man to be Emperor, and Septimius slaps him hard, knocking him back, demanding to know why Junius has not considered his own cousin to be a better candidate. Once Junius realizes that Septimius is already making a bid for the imperial throne, he says that of course he will be in support. Septimius says that he may need to make a truce with “the white one”, since “the black one” is also trying for the throne (he never refers to his rivals by name). Junius volunteers to be a messenger. Septimius asks whether Junius would assassinate “the white one” if he got an opportunity, and is disgusted when Junius refuses.

24. In the Senate house, Didius Julianus enters to find only the Eldest, Tullius, Sulpicianus, and Manlius. He asks why the Haruspex is not there to take omens before the session. The Eldest informs him that this is not a session of the Senate, merely a gathering of friends, to ask him to do the right thing. The fasces-bearing guards of the Senate begin to file into the house. Julianus asks the meaning of this. Manlius stammers, but manages to say that everyone needs Julianus to commit suicide now. Julianus is enraged, saying that the last session of the Senate confirmed his position and that he has the right to call them into session now, however few they are. He demands that they vote to condemn, and execute as soon as they can apprehend, the traitor Septimius Severus. The Eldest formally announces that the Senate is in session, and calls the question, but changes the name of the “traitor” to Didius Julianus. The handful of Senators solemnly moves to the Aye side of the house. Julianus asks if this is some kind of joke, until a fasces beheads him at a nod from the Eldest.

25. At night, the soldiers on the wall of Antoninus Pius are ambushed by the blue-painted Caledonians. The Romans are caught unawares and the wooden ramparts are set afire. When the chief has broken through to the other side of the wall, another group of Caledonians rides to meet him. His brother dismounts and says they have also breached the wall, and can surround the Romans on a long stretch. The chief tells his brother not to surround the Romans but to leave them an out, so that they can withdraw to Hadrian’s wall. The Romans promised money and did not pay, so they know they are in the wrong; the Caledonians should not put themselves in the wrong by slaughtering soldiers without need.

26. The Senate house is full this time, as Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna enter. Sempronius protests the presence of a woman in the house. Julia says she only wishes to add her god to the altar, brushes the Haruspex aside, and places a crude stone statue of a phallus at the head of the altar. Sempronius protests, but gets no support from the other Senators. Julia flashes him a murderous glare as she leaves. The Haruspex pronounces the omens good, the Eldest calls the Senate into session, and there is a quick unanimous vote to proclaim Septimius Severus princeps of the Senate and Augustus, and Julia Domna the Augusta. The hesitancy with which Sempronius moves to the Aye side is noted by the other Senators with sidelong glances.

27. Septimius receives Tullius in the throne room. The door is ajar and the throne has been shoved aside to make room for large counting tables, on which treasurers have been making calculations. Tullius is not sure if Septimius regards him as an enemy. Septimius expresses admiration for his financial acumen, and says he is seeking advice about the current situation. He unrolls a large map on one of the tables, and uses the counter chips to mark which provinces are committed to the “white”, to the “black”, or to himself. He poses the question of which provinces he really needs to hold, to make a financially and politically viable Empire, if the division into three pieces is permanent or long-term. Tullius speaks knowledgeably about the economic and political consequences of various eventualities. They decide where a plausible border between the realms of Clodius and Severus could be, and Severus is of a mind to propose mutual recognition if Clodius will accept the terms. Tullius thinks that a line through the Straits separating Europe from Asia would be a good border with Pescennius, and Severus asks if the black one could be allowed to hold Byzantium as well. Tullius describes all the reasons why this would be strategically disastrous, and asks why Severus would even consider allowing Pescennius to hold Byzantium. Severus reveals that “the black one” is already there, and dug in. So, based on what Tullius has said, the choice is clear: truce with “the white” until “the black” is destroyed. Severus proposes besieging Byzantium while sending an amphibious expedition to Lycia, in the black one’s rear flank. He notes that this will be costly, and asks if Tullius can find a way to shake loose enough funds. Tullius promises to do so, and Septimius asks what he wants in return. Tullius reveals his inner sorrow at having lost all his family in recent years. He has only Tullia Minor, and if Severus can arrange for her to be well-married, so that Tullius might see grandchildren before he dies, that would be all he would wish. The toddler Geta, carrying a little hoodie, rushes in screaming for his father to stop his brother from killing him. The slightly older Bassianus comes in shouting loudly for his “caracalla” (the hoodie) and threatening to kill Geta. His father rebukes him, gives him back the hoodie, and tells him to go somewhere else. He comforts Geta, and explains to Tullius the origin of Geta’s name, and that a caracalla is a Gaulish cloak, which some soldiers gave to Bassianus, who never wants to be without it.

28. At the home of Tullius, Tullia looks outside and begins shrieking that the Emperor is coming, telling all the servants to hurry and prepare something. Septimius and Junius Severus enter. Septimius apologizes for disrupting the household, and says that he will not stay. He has only come to introduce his cousin, but then he leaves without making the introduction, so that Junius must introduce himself. Tullius reminds him that they have met a couple times before. Junius is awkward, but admits that he has been sent to court Tullia Minor. He explains that his career prospects are blighted, that Septimius will never forgive him for his dalliance with Clodius, that he will never hold any high office again. But, he still has country estates, and could promise her a comfortable life. She says that would be delightful. Tullius remarks that officeholders are not likely to live very long in the years to come. Tullia asks if everyone has heard what happened to poor Sempronius, and Junius says there are likely to be many more. Tullius describes meeting young Bassianus and his devotion to coat the soldiers gave him, remarking that it reminds of a young son of the imperial family long ago, to whom the soldiers gave a pair of little boots.

29. A voice-over narrator takes us out. We see a map of Anatolia and Syria, and are told that Byzantium held out for over two years (arrows from Salonika and from the Danube show the moves to Byzantium) even after Pescennius went to south Anatolia to face Severus and was badly defeated (an arrow crosses the sea from Salonika to Lycia and moves in, another comes down from Byzantium, a crossed-swords symbol appears where they meet), even after he was chased back to Antioch and defeated again (arrows across Anatolia into Syria, another crossed-swords symbol), even after he tried to flee to Parthia and was captured (an arrow eastward ending at a skull-and-crossbones symbol). So Severus burned Byzantium to the ground (flames spreading out make the wipe, as we dissolve to a shot of the Hagia Sophia), and yet a century later Constantine would revive the dream of building a great capital there, remnants of which can still be seen (shots of the Theodosian Walls with modern traffic).

30. Shift to a map of Gaul and Britain. Clodius had no hope of holding out with the rest of the Empire unified. He fought against the invasion (arrows from the southeast and from Lugdunum meeting at crossed swords), then offered to surrender, knowing it meant his death (the crossed swords turn to a skull and crossbones) on condition that the lives of his sons and faithful retainers be spared. Severus agreed, but when he had everyone in hand, he changed his mind (more skull-and-crossbones symbols appear). Severus did admire the plan of Clodius to conquer the rest of Britain, and marched men north of Hadrian’s wall (an arrow from there to the Antonine wall) but could not hold the line (an arrow going back). The Romans never tried to go north again.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Is the 2012 Game Already Over?

It's still 2011, but the 2012 election has been going on a long time. Nate Silver's "fivethirtyeight" blog hasn't yet made an attempt to count the "538" electoral votes, but that, and not the national polls, is how the points will be scored. The national disapproval rating for Obama or the GOP, or the national head-to-head matchups of Obama vs. some particular Republican, don't really matter if they are averaging an intense rejection of Obama in the Ozark-Appalachian belt with an unenthused but positive margin for him in most of the rest of the country. How does the state-by-state game look now? I have adjusted the numbers to the 2010-census reapportionments, and "colored" my map based on the past three cycles. Here are my seven colors:

NAVY BLUE, 17 states, 2 districts for Gore and Kerry, and for Obama by mostly double-digits. Pacific: California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii. Upper Lakes: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan. Mid-Atlantic: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, DC. New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Portland Maine. Assume that even if the GOP narrowly picks off Bangor Maine, the greater margin in Portland will give the state bonus to the Dems, and this is 241 electoral votes.

BABY BLUE, 3 states, 1 district for Gore or Kerry, Obama by single-digits. New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Bangor Maine for 16 votes.

PURPLE, 2 states disputed by Gore or Kerry, narrowly for Obama but sure to be hot again this time. Florida and Ohio for 47.

INDIGO, 3 states, 1 district for Bush twice but flipped by Obama. Virginia, Omaha Nebraska, Colorado, Nevada for 29.

GRAY, 3 states within 1% of a tie last time, enough 3rd-party that no-one had a majority. North Carolina (barely Obama), Indiana (very barely Obama), and Missouri (very very barely McCain) for 36.

PINK, 3 states for McCain under special circumstances. Montana (McCain by plurality only, due to Ron Paul votes; Obama a few percent back, but led the polls at one point), Arizona (McCain's home, but Hispanic anger on the immigration issue puts this in play this time), and Alaska (Palin's home, but "Palin fatigue" has injured the GOP brand) for 17.

CRIMSON, 17 states, 2 districts that are deeply Red. Deep South: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina. Upper South: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia. Mormon West: Utah, Idaho, Wyoming. Great Plains: North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Lincoln and Rural Nebraska, for 152.

Now, it's not impossible for the GOP to invade Navy territory: McCain's late efforts for Pennsylvania only got the margin just below double digits (about 9.9% IIRC) but were not out of the question (there is a lot of "north Appalachia" in the state that gave us Senator Santorum, although Santorum is disdained enough in Philly and Pittsburgh that he would be of negative use there as either candidate or running mate); the Upper Lakes, aside from Obama's unassailable home-base of Illinois, were only single-digit margins and offer possibilities. Minnesota gave us Michelle Bachmann as well as Al Franken; Wisconsin is home to governor Walker's voters as well as those trying to recall him (very polarized and delicately balanced right now); and while Michigan (home of the original "Reagan Democrats" of Macomb County) has some gratitude to Obama for rescuing GM and Chrysler, it also fondly recalls Romney's father as one of the last competent governors. Nor is it impossible for the Dems to invade Crimson: holding the convention in Charlotte is not just a bid to retain North Carolina, but also reflects a "New South" strategy that aims to flip states like Georgia. Gingrich as nominee might retain enough hometown sentiment to take Georgia off the table, but one poll showed him trailing Obama in South Carolina, of all places: a solid black vote for Obama would need to be countered by more of a solid white vote than Gingrich is accomplishing.

But, we can take 241-152 as roughly the "starting score", more or less in the sense that the 1967 boundaries are a starting point for an Israeli-Palestinian solution: yes yes, of course we know there can be adjustments in either direction, but it is the ballpark. And it is very unfavorable ballpark for the GOP: they would need 118 out of the 145 votes available in the states of intermediate "color"; while Obama would need only 29, and let us subdivide Obama's possibilities by how the Purples go:

A. Obama takes Florida: that's 270, game over.

B. Ohio but not Florida: then any one of North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, or Colorado, or any two out of Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire, or Montana+Alaska makes at least 268; Obama would only need Bangor or Omaha if the "one" was Missouri or the "two" included New Hampshire, or both if the "one" was Colorado or the "two" was NH+NM.

C. No Purples: then holding all the Indigos makes 270; or some Baby Blues (easier for Obama) could substitute, Iowa for Nevada (both 6), or Bangor for Omaha (1), or NH+NM for Colorado; if he failed to hold Virginia, holding North Carolina (the most realistic Gray) or picking off Arizona and another Pink would be required.

This is a lot of options. The Republican candidate would need stop all of them. This puts them in a dilemma:

Play D? If the idea of picking off any Navy states is abandoned (and, let's face it, any candidate who drinks too much "Tea" is going to have a very hard time doing that), then Florida is an absolute must. The Ryan budget proposing to kill Medicare as we know it seriously damaged the GOP with the long-memory retired voters (attempts to say that Ryan's "coupon" program could still be called "Medicare" of a sort have not sold well). That is why Gingrich (who may be crazy but is definitely not stupid) has broken the commandment "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican" to blast Ryan; and why he tried to out-Likud Netanyahu with his "invented Palestinians" remark, playing to older Jews in Florida; and why he will need to rally the Cubans (who are harder to rile up now that Castro is fading), perhaps with Rubio (despite the baggage) or Jeb Bush (despite the poisonous name) for a running-mate. But it's not enough: it is also necessary to nail down Ohio, or be forced to "run the table" on the rest of the swing states. God-gays-guns themes have played well in Ohio, and we may hear more of that, but in an economy-dominated year, the juice may have been nearly squeezed out of that orange; so we will see more efforts to tank the economy and push the blame for it onto Obama. But both Purples are not enough either: the GOP must also retake North Carolina and Virginia, or at least one of them and almost all of the Rocky Mountains. The divisive strategies required to nail down Florida and Ohio are not going to be helpful against an "Indigo" strategy for Obama in the New South and Southwest: pitting "NoVa" against "Real Virginia" as Palin tried last time would be counter-productive again; the interests of the Cuban Floridians are not the same as those of Hispanics from Mexico or Central America in the Southwest, who may have been irretrievably alienated already. There seem to be a few too many plates to juggle here, when not a single one can be dropped.

So, go on O instead? The GOP establishment would prefer something like a Romney/Christie ticket, making plays for Michigan, New Jersey, and Massachusetts (though Massachusetts probably knows Romney too well), and putting the Dems on defense in Minnesota (though Pawlenty's endorsement is probably a net minus there), Wisconsin (a plausible pick-off), and Pennsylvania (but it is hard to rouse rural Pennsylvania with "moderate" candidates, as McCain found). They could make a good game out of it, if 30-ish Navy votes (say, Michigan and Wisconsin with a close race in New Jersey) were flipped. Then Obama would not have a choice of A, B, or C above, but would have to accomplish two of them: still doable, with Florida and the Indigoes, or both Purples and "one" or "two" more, but more uphill. The problem is that the Republican base will not play this game: if Romney can still be nominated and get the party faithful to campaign for him, it will only be in conjunction with a Michelle Bachman or someone equally Palinesque as a running mate. At best, this will make Navy pick-offs less likely and offsetting losses elsewhere more likely. Or the GOP could end up with the "worst of both worlds" where a running-mate choice scares off independents but fails to appease the Tea Partiers, who defect to a third candidate or just stay home. It is not enough for Romney to be more charming than McCain, when he is also more wobbly: he needs more than a minor improvement on the 2008 results.

The Iowa caucuses are supposed to be the "opening pitch" of the game, but the unusual amount of early action has already contributed to a "bottom of the ninth" feel. The Republicans are a few runs behind: can they catch up? Of course it's possible, but in my opinion it is later than they seem to think.

Is the Game Already Over? (cont.)

Just after I wrote my first-draft mapping, state-by-state maps came out from Axelrod on the Democratic side and Rove from the Republican side. Axelrod crows about how many alternative winning maps there could be for Obama, outlining multiple strategies that can be pursued simultaneously. Rove acknowledges that much of what Republicans need to do is already locked in: he agrees that both Florida and Ohio, and both Virginia and North Carolina (along with Indiana, which Obama would have to be very lucky to hold), are absolute must-flips, and assume that every McCain state is a must-hold. Leaving Obama with the Navy and Baby Blues, plus Indigo minus Virginia, still makes 273, however, so Rove needs to identify one more pick-up. He targets Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire, saying any one would do. Technically, unless New Hampshire comes along with the Bangor district, alone it would only reach the dreaded 269-269 tie: media uproar, recount litigation in the closest state(s), dusting off constitutional tie-breakers last seen in Andy Jackson's day, perhaps ending with the House picking Gingrich but the Senate picking Biden.

But I would most strongly disagree with Rove about Pennsylvania, which I think is a microcosm of the national problem. The legacy of the Bush years has been polarization: people on the two sides do not look at the same news source, often know few people on the other side, and have largely given up arguing politics with those they do know, or don't get anywhere with such arguments. Who will people blame if the economic recovery remains anemic? Will they say "Obama inherited W's mess, and the GOP obstructs every attempt to fix it" or "He owns the economy by now, and his money-squandering, anti-business ways are killing us"? Mostly, whoever is saying one or the other now, next November will be saying the same; only a sharp dip back into recession or a growth spurt denting unemployment would shift this much. Nor will other issues: foreign policy is a minor plus for Obama, but only something ultra-dramatic (an Iranian nuclear test on the downside, or Israeli-Palestinian peace on the upside) would make many people care much. And on religious and social questions, nobody really changes their minds: the old die and the young take their place, and that's about it. So that leaves intangibles about candidate character and national mood: the messianic glow of Obama 2008 is long gone, but the Republican urgency to "take the country back" peaked in 2010; Obama would have to be very lucky to do as well as last time, but a few percentage points of "enthusiasm gap" are not going to shift many states. Pennsylvania is polarized between the deep-blue urban areas of "Phillyburgh" in the corners vs. "The T" elsewhere, deep-red to Confederate levels: statewide races have often been won by middle-of-the-roaders like the Caseys (former governor and current senator), Democrats but pro-life, or Republicans like former govenor Thornburgh and senator Spector, denounced as "RINOs" by Tea Partiers, with Spector defecting to the Democratic party at the end of his career. In the national race, however, there is going to be no middle, and most people who would say they are "undecided" are really only undecided about whether they will bother to vote at all, not which way they would go. A red-meat Republican candidate might spike turnout in The T, but equally draw more Phillyburghers to vote against him. The built-in edge for Obama is surely less than the 10% of last time, but would be extraordinarily hard to shift.

Note that Rove leaves Minnesota and Michigan off his target list: neither of those would be impossible, but the Republicans are only going to pick those up if they are already doing very well and picking up lots of others; similarly, Indiana and Missouri despite their razor-edge margins last time are not worth spending much time on, since Obama will only get those if he gets back to 2008 levels and is running away with the race. So, let me re-color the map, classifying with an eye to the upcoming race rather than the history. Move Wisconsin from Navy to Baby Blue, and New Mexico from Baby Blue to Pink; merge Gray into Purple, and divide up the Indigo regionally. Virginia belongs with the Purple, which now means the must-take states for the Republicans (96 votes), along with the Crimson must-holds (152). Omaha belongs with the Baby Blues: Iowa+Omaha, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire+Bangor are the plausible targets (22). Nevada and Colorado belong with Pink: that is the Rocky Mountain belt (if we call Alaska's mountains honorary Rockies, and delete the Crimson heart of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming) where former Republican strength has ebbed (37). The GOP has to juggle every single Crimson and Purple plate, and not do too badly in Pink, in order not to need too much "offense" in Baby Blue.

This means, first of all, making up with retirees in Florida and Arizona, and Hispanics in the West generally. The GOP cannot win as the party which will throw Medicare grannies to the dubious mercy of the insurance companies, or as the party which pulls over brown people to ask if their papers are in order; to the extent they have already acquired those reputations, the candidate needs to spend time walking it back. To appeal to at least part of the Jewish vote in Florida, the GOP has already locked itself into opposing a two-state solution, although more and more are in favor of that: this is symptomatic of their problem with appealing to shrinking blocs of older voters while turning off the younger; Cubans whose primary concern is attacking Castro are an even more rapidly-vanishing breed. They have the same problem with their need to rouse the evangelics with some gay-bashing and abortion references. They must somehow combine this with some renewed appeal to "New South" voters, who are tired of hearing about social issues and are dubious about trickle-down economics. Nothing has so far been heard from any of the candidates which would really advance the must-accomplish goal of winning back both Virginia and North Carolina.

And a "Pure D" strategy which counts on recovering in Pink to the extent of one state (Colorado or Nevada; New Mexico is trending heavily against them) looks very unlikely for them (even assuming the Crimson+Purple assembly) given Pink regional trends. "Frontier libertarians" of the sort who only grudgingly allow that a government needs to exist are not necessarily reliable for the GOP anymore: Ron Paul on a 3rd-party ticket could peel away even more votes than last time, and if there is no such ticket, a lot of those votes may just stay home. Meanwhile, hostility from Hispanics, from voters who are not ultra-environmentalist but have seen worrisome amounts of clear-cut forest and poisoned trout streams, and from those who are repelled by the Colorado Springs fundamentalist broadcasters, are continuing negatives. Rove envisions at least holding more-or-less steady in the Pink (if no pick-up, at least no change; picking up Colorado or Nevada at the cost of dropping Montana, Alaska, or both has the same effect) so that only one Baby Blue is needed. But there are several minor-erosion scenarios in which neither Iowa nor New Hampshire would suffice, only both together or Wisconsin at least: dropping Montana, or Alaska, or both; or picking up Nevada at the cost of losing Arizona; or succeeding with North Carolina and Virginia but dropping a little oopsie from the Crimsons, like South Carolina or North Dakota, all make the arithmetic come out that way. Anything worse than this could only be compensated for with more "O" than is realistic to expect.

If some "offense" in the North is a must, can the GOP come up with a ticket and platform which blue-staters could view like, "OK, they're Republicans, but not *those* Republicans that have gummed everything up, and Obama hasn't really panned out, so let's give them a shot"? That doesn't seem to be in the cards anymore, because the red-staters have already decided to insist on one of *those* Republicans, even if it means forcing Romney into some of the most painful flip-flops of his whole career.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Is the Game Over? (concluded)

Rove's map appears to be based on "uniform swing", the model used by pundits in the UK to translate national polls to projected seats in Parliament (polls in each constituency are impractical) assuming that the parties' vote-shares will change from one election to the next by the same amount everywhere, any mis-predictions in one direction due to local variations cancelling with those in the other. Since Obama won the national vote by 7% in 2008, a swing in the -8% range, if exactly uniform (enough to flip Virginia, which had +6.3% for Obama, but not Colorado at 8.6), would create the situation of the Republican winning the popular vote but Obama getting 273 electoral votes (with all the uproar that would cause). Rove's list of targetted states are the ones that would flip with a swing about -10 for Obama, and presumably he hopes that if the national swing is about -8, local variations in at least one of the targets would flip it (but Virginia must not vary in the opposite direction). Obama's approval-minus-disapproval is at -4 recently, a swing of -11, but "disapprovers" might still turn in to "lesser-of-two-evils" voters: Obama is still at +2 over Romney (a -5 swing) or +11 over Gingrich (a +4 swing). The "approval" question is inherently volatile (often heard by the audience as "do I approve of what he has done most recently?") but that is not the whole problem: as with polls about the health-care bill, "disapproval" messily combines those who think the President has gone too far with those who think he has not gone far enough. Real Clear Politics shows some sub-tabs indicating that much of the "swing" away from Obama is among Democrats, blacks, self-identified liberals, the young; in short, among those who would never consider voting Republican; whether they will show up at all is the question, but a sufficiently scary opposing candidate might provide the motivation if Obama cannot. Obama is holding his own among retirees, Hispanics, and Jews, all groups the Republicans wish they could turn.

Axelrod by contrast looks at the map in a very "granular" fashion, thinking of which particular local swings would suffice: making the effort to peel off Omaha's 1 electoral vote is archetypal of what Axelrod did in 2008. It can be assumed that Obama will not do as well this time, but in some places the negative can be kept down low enough to hold, or a positive generated for some "offense". His five alternatives are: going all-in on Florida while playing "Pure D" with the hard-Blues; holding Ohio and one or two related soft-Blues; concentrating on holding in the New South; or on the Rocky Mountains, with either some Baby Blue defense or Pink offense. So, this raises the question of whether "uniform swing" is a reasonable model in the US (in the UK, Nate Silver and others attempted to find a more predictive model, with poor results) or whether the regional variations are crucial. There is the famous "net-Red" map in which counties are colored Blue or Red not based on Obama's margin, but on his margin minus Kerry's; so almost everywhere is Blue (where Obama lost, he generally lost less badly than Kerry) but a band from the Ozarks to the Appalachians was actually net-Red, stronger for McCain than for Bush (or rather, more strongly against Obama). On the other hand, the change from the 1980 Reagan-Carter map to 1984 Reagan-Mondale is a disastrous case of uniform swing: Mondale did not do very much worse than Carter, but he did so consistently, not-quite-carrying a lot of states for a memorable electoral-college wipeout. So I have analyzed not just the state-by-state swings, but the variations among them.

The case-studies were the swings from 2000 Bush-Gore to 2004 Bush-Kerry, and from 2004 to 2008 Obama-McCain. The net-Blue swing 2000-to-2004 had a mean of -2.1, standard deviation 4.5, while 2004-to-2008 had mean +9.9, standard deviation 7.3. It is a little odd that the mean swing +9.9, averaging over the 51 cases (including DC) treating small and large states as of the same weight, is rather higher than the national swing +9.2 (from Kerry's negative margin to Obama's positive); one outlier, the +26.6 in Obama's birthplace of Hawaii, accounts for about 0.4 of it (DC, consistently a run-away for the Democrats, is an outlier in raw margin, but not atypical in terms of the swing) but the rest reflects the campaign's strategic focus on turning out votes where it mattered. The higher standard deviation is also significant: there was wider variation from state to state in how people reacted to the very novel candidacy of Obama; the Republican ticket and platform were also changed, which could contribute to wider variability in how McCain-Palin, likewise, were received in one state or another. By contrast, 2000-to-2004 was more uniform as it shared features with 1980-to-1984: same candidate on the Republican side (true, incumbent-Bush or incumbent-Reagan, with some track record, was not perceived the same as candidate-Bush or candidate-Reagan; and likewise, incumbent-Obama in 2012 will not be identical to candidate-Obama of 2008), and rather similar candidates on the Democratic side (Kerry was not identified with Gore, as Mondale was with Carter; but both were perceived as bland personalities lacking in firmness). I suggest therefore that the degree of uniformity depends upon how "familiar" the electoral choices are: if we get not only the same candidate on the Democratic side, but also a Republican ticket that feels similar to McCain-Palin, with Romney still suspect to the evangelicals and hard-line conservatives but choosing a firebrand running-mate to compensate, we can expect the swing to be fairly small and fairly uniform. A very different ticket could shake things up, but cut both ways from one part of the country to another.

Looking at the raw Blue margin, some states are fairly "rigid" and disregard national swings (in Massachusetts, the margins for Gore, Kerry, and Obama were +27, +25, and +26; in Oklahoma, Kerry and Obama at -31.2 were indistinguishable even to the tenth of a percent) while others are "national microcosms" whose swings are within a percent or two of the average (Iowa and Pennsylvania, notably). Moving to the net-Blue shifts in 2004-to-2008, opposite from the five net-Red states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Lousiana, Tennessee, West Virginia) where the shift was actually negative against the national current, the six states with highest net-Blue are an odd collection: Hawaii (outlier), Indiana (a surprise victory), Nebraska (the Omaha pick-off), Montana (McCain by plurality only), North Dakota and Utah (neither were any threat to go for Obama, but he did surprisingly well). It is instructive to look at "net-net-Blue", that is, the difference between the local swing and the national swing (where a candidate over- or under-performed compared to his average performance). To see if there are any real underlying regional trends, divide states by whether the net-net-Blue was positive two times in a row (in 2000-to-2004 and again 2004-2008) or negative two times in a row; each should happen one-fourth of the time, so finding 15 double-positives and 13 double-negatives looks like random chance.

Except: there is distinct clumping. The 13 double-negatives include a contiguous block of the 5 net-Reds (OK-AR-LA-TN-WV) and 3 neighbors (Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky) tenuously reaching through Pennsylvania (but its net-net-Blue is negative only by <1% and then 2%) to New York; disconnected are Florida, Rhode Island, and Arizona. The 15 double-positives include a contiguous block Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota; and a little block of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, not touching North Carolina or the strongest double-positive, Vermont. In the Northeast, then, it does appear to be just statistical noise. The continued rightward drift of the Interior South (weakly reaching into The T in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, though not enough to tip either state) is of course very well known. But the leftward drift of the West (not just the Left Coast, where any increase in the Blue margin is irrelevant to the electoral college, but deep into Pink territory) is a less-noted trend. The Western branch of the Republican Party does not seem to be getting any attention from other branches: three former governors from the West are running, with Huntsman of Utah unable to break out of single digits, Johnson of New Mexico only getting enough attention to be invited to a debate just once, and Roemer of Colorado not even a blip. It is hard to say why this disconnection is happening, but my sense is that the Republicans have little chance of retaking any Western states, and a good chance of dropping one or two.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Who and what were the 12 disciples? The gospels are rather vague and confusing, given that this was evidently supposed to be an important group. Part of the problem is that many Jews shared the same few names: about three-quarters of the population in 1st century Judea had either one of six male names Yehudah (rendered "Jude" or "Judas"), Shimon ("Simon"), Ya'aqov ("Jacob" or "James"), Yochanan ("John"), Yoseph ("Joseph"), Yeshua' ("Jesus" or "Joshua") or one of only two female names Maryam ("Mary" or "Miriam") or Shelomith ("Salome"). They would be distinguished by family-names or patronymics, or by nicknames or alternate Greek names. It is difficult to sort out who is the same as who, but this is how I see it:

The number 12 has been considered sacred in many cultures (consider the 12 Olympian gods in Greece), doubtless originally because it is the best integer approximation to the number of lunar months in a solar year, as in the 12 signs into which the Mideasterners and (independently?) the Chinese divided the Zodiac (for purposes of naming the months by the position of the sun). The "12 disciples" are often thought of as reminiscent of the "12 tribes" of Israel, but certainly their expected role was not to procreate whole new nations. Probably the best analogy is to the 12 thesmothetae of Athens.

Athens was ruled by "archons", three of them elected: the basileos ("king", who had ritual roles in opening their festivals, but no political power) who could only be chosen from the royal family; the polemarch ("commander-in-chief" of the armed forces) who could only be chosen from the strategoi (general officers); and the eponymos ("name-giver", since years were named and numbered by his "reign") who could be any citizen (usually the incumbent was re-elected; if not, he was banished). Then there were 12 lesser archons, the thesmothetes chosen yearly by casting lots: the eponymos would assign them "Cabinet portfolios" (if he didn't like one of them, he didn't have to give him an important job). Why 12? It was a convenient, and resonant, number for a moderate-sized panel; 12 is the number on our juries (chosen randomly again) similarly because that has just become the standard number for such a group. The council of 12 disciples was an administrative body for the nascent church: I am impatient with Catholics who think the whole structure of the Church goes back to the very beginning (I met one Catholic who insisted Peter's successor Linus was elected by a "college of cardinals" chosen by Peter, who doubtless gave them all red hats), but equally impatient with those who think Jesus didn't intend to start an "organized religion" at all. Judas Iscariot was the treasurer (and it is insinuated that he embezzled), in charge of a fairly sizable stream of donations, and outflows for charity and travel expenses. Simon Peter was a kind of prime minister. In one episode, the wife of Zebedee, mother of John and James (typically, we are not told her name) asks Jesus to give her sons the highest-ranking posts once he has taken over the world, and Jesus rebuffs her. My cynical take is that the reason for including this in the gospels (whether it is a true story or not; impossible to tell and not very relevant) is to emphasize to second- or third-generation Christians that John, however venerable, was not #1 and therefore, that successors of Peter outrank successors of John.

"Matthew" (Matthaios from Aramaic Matthat which is another fairly common name) is in my view the same person as Mathias, who was "elected" (by casting lots) to replace Judas Iscariot after his treason and suicide. My reasons for thinking they are the same will appear as we go on. The reason for editing the "gospel of Matthew" to make its author one of the original 12, rather than a late "second choice", would be to boost the authority of the book. The reason for identifying him with Levi the tax collector (an identification I think impossible: it would be common for a Jew to have one Semitic given name and also a Greek name, but not to have two Semitic given names) would be that Matthew was still remembered as having been the "chief financial officer" of the early church. Iscariot had to be replaced, because the group needed a treasurer; but afterwards there was no continuing effort to keep the membership at 12.

There were three among the original 12 named Yehudah distinguished as "Judas Iscariot" (ish-keriot is "man of the villages" but thought to be a code-word for Latin sicarius "dagger-man; assassin", a derogatory name for the Zealot sect), "Jude of James" (this would mean "son of" James, not "brother of" as many interpreters have wanted to make it; the word "son" would be omitted and understood in such a context, but not "brother"), and "Thomas Didymus" (Aramaic thoma and Greek didymos both mean "twin", sometimes more specifically the younger-by-minutes of a pair of twins). The given name underlying the nickname "Thomas" is not in the canonical texts, but the Gnostic texts all call him "Judas Thomas"; most of these are quite unreliable (some say or imply that he was the twin of Jesus, which I do not take seriously) but "Acts of Thomas" has good data (and some very dubious stories; but places and rulers in India are given correctly, spelling garbled no worse than usual) which would have been hard for a late forger in the Roman Empire to come by. So I accept Yehudah as his given name.

There were two named Shimon, one give the nickname "Rock" (Aramaic Kepha or Greek Petros "Peter") and the other usually called Zelotes, but in the gospel of John called Simon Iscariot and the father of Judas Iscariot. The Zealot sect followed a different family that also claimed to be the rightful heirs to the Davidite kingship: many are cynical about the Davidite claims, thinking "Oh, nobody knew anymore, and anybody could have called themselves descendants of David", but I don't think that's true, in such a genealogically-conscious society. Few of the pseudo-Messianic "people who claimed to be somebody" of that time actually said they were heirs of David; I don't believe anybody could have gotten away with that, unless his father (and his father before him, and so on) were already known as Davidite heirs. The first of the Zealot line that we hear of is Hezekiah, who was hunted down and killed by Herod years before Herod became king, when he was governor of Galilee under his father Antipater (whose only title was "collector of the tribute" for the Romans). Indicted for murder, Herod appeared before the Sanhedrin with a large armed guard; the Sanhedrin, seeing they could not actually arrest Herod, resolved never to indict any Jews on capital crimes until they could operate without foreign intimidation. This is referred to in the gospels: when Pilate asks Caiaphas and Annas why they are bothering him with an internal Jewish dispute, they say "We have no law to put a man to death". Hezekiah's son Judas of Galilee revolted during the census of 6-7 AD (when Judea was reduced from tributary kingdom to ordinary province; gospel of Luke says Jesus was born then). Judas and his son Simon were crucified, and his home-town of Tzippuri levelled, the whole populace killed or sold into slavery, and rebuilt as the wholly Greek town of Sepphoris (very close to Nazareth).

Some of his family escaped, however: in the late 40's grandchildren of Judas were crucified as a warning to Zealot troublemakers; and in the 70's the resisters at Masada had an heir, Yeshua' of Ginnosaur (another Galilean town not far from Nazareth). Now, Jesus had brothers Judas and Simon, probably born a little after Judas of Galilee and his son Simon were crucified; and Yeshua' of Ginnosaur was born apparently a little after the crucifixion of Jesus (Yeshua'). Those names were hyper-common, yet it is possible the two families did name children after each other's recent dead; it suggests that despite their rival claims, these two families were on mutually respectful terms. My speculation is that the two claims to be "rightful" heir are analogous to a modern split among the Romanovs, who have two claimant to be the "true" tsar now. The senior heir (by primogeniture principals) is disparaged by some Romanov loyalists as the product of an "unequal marriage" (an insufficiently noble wife). Zerubbabel, the Davidite who led the Jews back to Jerusalem, left children back in Babylon, whose descendants were the "exilarchs" (sometimes-important Jewish leaders of the Middle Ages); Chronicles traces them down to a senior heir Hattush, who moved from Babylon to Jerusalem about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Chronicles says nothing about Zerubbabel remarrying in Palestine and having another family, but it would be expected: prophet Haggai dangerously pushed Zerubbabel to assume the title "king" (so he would need heirs); Zechariah is dark about what happened then, but apparently he was assassinated (to keep the peace with Persia) and the prophets told to shut up. I think Joseph and Jesus were from Zerubbabel's Palestinian family, junior in primogeniture terms to the "Zealot" line from Hattush, but regarding them as the result of an "unequal marriage" (assuming Zerubbabel's first wife was Babylonian, not Jewish).

There were two disciples named Ya'aqov, "James son of Zebedee" (brother of John), and "James son of Alphaeus" (father of one of the Judes) who is called by the nickname Mikron "little", generally rendered "James the Less" (if it is about relative rank within the 12), sometimes thought to mean "the Younger" (but he had a grown son), but maybe it simply means "the Short". Alphaeus (a sacred river in Greece, which vanishes into the underground for part of its course, like the Sarasvati in ancient India) is thought to be the Greek name of someone named Chlopha in Aramaic. There were three women who watched the crucifixion to the end: Mary mother of Jesus, "her sister Mary the wife of Clophas", and Mary Magdalene. Then perhaps three women went into the tomb to do as much embalming as they could before sundown: Joanna is not always listed (perhaps the same as the rich patroness Joanna, wife of a "steward" in the household of Herod Antipas), but there is Mary Magdalene and "Mary the mother of James". Then perhaps three women went back a couple days later to finish up, and found the tomb empty: Salome is not always listed (perhaps the same as a sister of Jesus by that name; certainly not the strip-teasing head-demanding stepdaughter of Antipas!), but there is Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary". This is aggravating, but it is a conventional and sensible interpretation that, although the mother was spared the embalming duties, the "other" Mary and Mary "wife of Clophas" and Mary "mother of James" are all the same person. "Sister" of Mary the mother of Jesus means, we hope, "sister-in-law" (would parents really give two daughters the same name, without any distinguishing nicknames?) so that Alphaeus/Clopha is the uncle of Jesus, and James the Little is his cousin. Catholics want him to be the same person as "James the brother of Jesus" nicknamed Tzaddik "the Righteous" so that the Virgin Mary never had more children, making "brother" mean "cousin"; an alternate excuse is that James the Righteous was a half-brother from a previous marriage of Joseph. Neither of these work: James the Righteous by all accounts was lifelong celibate and had no children, unlike James the Little; and he was the next in line after Jesus, not an older son of Joseph who would then be senior; besides, the gospels say the brothers of Jesus were not believing in his mission and "asked whether he was out of his mind" at a time when the 12 disciples had already been chosen. No, James the Righteous was the heir, not one of the "Cabinet ministers" in the "administration".

There was one with the common name Yochanan "John son of Zebedee", and four with less-common names. Thaddeus, according to "Doctrine of 'Addai", had the Aramaic name 'Addai. The orthodox don't like that book (his reported "Doctrine" is rather heretical), but the story it tells has some historical confirmations: Thaddeus converted king Abgar of Osroene (a tributary to the Parthian Empire, in northern Mesopotamia) and made himself High Priest, and then Regent when the old king passed; Abgar the younger, when he came of age, resented the role of Thaddeus, killed him, and reconverted to paganism. The orthodox view is that the Semitic name of Thaddeus was "Jude" and that he was the same person as "Jude of James": the lists of 12 which include Jude of James omit Thaddeus, and vice versa; but I explain this as arising from the need to find room for Matthew/Mathias, and differing decisions about which forgettable disciple to push out. Many manuscripts also have that Thaddeus was "called Lebbaeus" with a number of scribal variants: perhaps a nickname Libbai "my heart"? There is certainly some confusion here, and I will not pretend to be certain I have straightened it out correctly. "Bartholemew" would seem to be Aramaic bar-Tolmai "son of Ptolemy"; the Ptolemies were the Greek dynasty in Egypt, and "Ptolemy" became a common name even among the lower classes in Egypt, if not so much elsewhere. It is puzzling that he would only be called by the patronymic, without his given name (perhaps he was a descendant of an illegitimate branch of the Ptolemies, and proud of it?) but Nathanael in the gospel of John might be that given name: he was supposed to be one of the very first disciples, so it would be unusual for him not to be in the 12. Simon Peter's brother "Andrew" is only called by the Greek name Andros "the man" which sounds a little odd; but a century later there was a Jewish rebel in Cyrenaica (after Hadrian destroyed Judea, many Jews elsewhere rose up) called "Andros" whose Hebrew name was Adam, and that makes sense. For "Phillip" there is not a clue what name besides Philippos "horse-lover" (name of Alexander the Great's father, and a Herodian king of the Greek-speaking Decapolis) he might have had, but surely he had a Semitic name; maybe it was Yeshua' and it is omitted to avoid confusion? The other "finalist" besides Matthew/Mathias for Iscariot's replacement was "Jesus called Justus" (interestingly, Justus is Latin rather than Greek) who is subsequently called Justus bar-Sabbas, by the nickname and patronymic to avoid the confusing given name, whereas his brother Joseph is called by his given name.

The disciples were supposed to travel in pairs for safety and companionship. There were two pairs of brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, or perhaps three, if Thomas was the younger twin and Thaddeus his older-by-minutes brother, although they might have been just unrelated friends (I would like to construe "Lebbaeus" as a word for the older of a pair of twins, but cannot find any such etymology). There were two father-and-son pairs, Simon and Judas Iscariot, and James the Little and Jude. Phillip and Bartholemew were the other pair, not related but very close friends by all accounts (strengthening the identification of Bartholemew with Nathanael, a friend of Phillip's from before they became disciples). Curiously, in the Middle Ages this was given a homoerotic spin: in the same-sex wedding-liturgies (among the Greek and Celtic churches, but never the Roman!) collected by Boswell, the couples are urged to imitate David and Jonathan, Phillip and Bartholemew, and Sergius and Bacchus. The last two were a pair of lovers in the Roman army, Bacchus a Christian but Sergius a pagan until, when Bacchus was about to be martyred, Sergius insisted on declaring himself a Christian so that he could be martyred too and join Bacchus for eternity. The Greek church has since become quite as homophobic as the Roman, but in medieval times this was an acceptable martyrology story, and Sergei remains a common name among the Russians (many of whom would be horrified to be told of its origin). But although it might suit my propagandistic purposes to believe that Jesus sanctioned a same-sex couple among his disciples, I cannot take it seriously. In Acts, Phillip has been married for a long time, with several daughters who could all prophesy, Luke assures us.

A digression on Acts: the second half of the book is called by scholars the "We Document" from its unself-conscious habit of shifting between "we" whenever Luke the physician is present and "they" whenever he is absent. The "We" book appears to be well-preserved 1st-century material (there are variant texts of Acts with extra material, as much as 40% longer, but the canonical text has been faithfully pruned of such accretions) and genuinely by Luke the physician. The first half of Acts I call the "Bridge Document" and believe to have arisen in two stages. Some sections are notoriously out of chronological order: the executions of Theudas, purported successor to John the Baptist, and then some Zealot followers of the line of Judas of Galilee, date to the late 40's but are mentioned early in Acts, well before Herod Agrippa and the Great Famine of the mid-40's; Ananias is introduced when he shelters the blinded Paul, but his death is described much earlier (if this was a different Ananias, there should have been some introduction about who he was). If the chapters are rearranged in chronological order, I discern a chiasma structure, an ancient narrative framework in which events in the beginning of the story receive symbolic echoes in reverse order at the end of the story. This would indicate that the whole thing was written at one time, which I date to the reign of Trajan (the centurion converted by Peter is said to be of the Italica regiment, as if we should care what unit he was from; but the colony of Italica in Spain was the home-town of emperor Trajan, who expresses a don't-ask-don't-tell semi-tolerance of Christians, as long as they don't make trouble, in correspondence with Pliny); and that it was composed to fit precisely where we find it, as a "bridge" to span from the Resurrection to the beginning of the We Document. But then it was edited, to the injury of its chronology and structure (the second imprisonment of Peter was supposed to be a late symbolic echo of the first one; it is clumsy as well as historically inaccurate to put them one right after the other), at some time when the sequence of historical events had faded from memory.

In the We Document, Phillip is introduced (the first time he appears in that document; of course the Bridge Document which had already talked about Phillip a lot was not present when the We Document was written) as one of "the seven". The author of the Bridge Document is puzzled by this and invents a new list of "seven" who supposedly liaise between the Jewish and Greek Christians, at a time when Greek Christians did not yet exist, and they all have Greek names only. This gives rise to some questioning in the orthodox literature about whether the Phillip in "the seven" was or was not the same person as the Phillip in "the twelve". I think this was all just a misunderstanding: by "the seven" Luke simply meant the surviving members of "the twelve". By that time, evidently, six of the twelve were gone, with Matthew/Mathias the only replacement. We know that Judas Iscariot was dead, and Simon the Zealot reportedly went off to Egypt after what happened to his son (maybe he had died of natural causes, being from the older generation, or maybe he had cut off all contact with the Christians); James son of Zebedee had been executed by Herod Agrippa, and while Acts does not mention it, Thaddeus had been executed by Abgar the younger by this time. The other two who seem to have disappeared are James the Little and his son Jude the Obscure (who has become the patron saint of Lost Causes, on the theory that he must have a lot of untapped Divine Grace at his disposal, as the most neglected of the 12). My guess is that they just died, perhaps during the Great Famine of the 40's, during which few groups of Jews would have failed to take some casualties. There is a very late story in which they were martyred in lower Mesopotamia, but it was never widely circulated and has little credibility.

The shrine of Campostella in Spain has a very old skeleton, from someone who was burned alive, kept in a deep-underground crypt and purporting to be James the Little, identified at Campostella with James the Righteous (brother of Jesus). Oddly, when this shrine started advertising itself as a holy pilgrimage site (it was enormously popular in medieval times), the monks did not exhibit the skeleton and were coy about whether they had it; rather than any story about how St. James (Santiago or San Diego in Spanish) had gotten there, the story was that the abbot had seen St. James in a vision of a field of stars (hence Campostella) telling him that anyone who visited this holy place would be blessed (multiple miraculous healings of course followed). But a crusader brought back from the Mideast the purported skeleton of St. James, embarrassing the monks who had to admit that they already had a skeleton. The knight hadn't meant to make trouble: his understanding had been that the vision of Campostella revealed where St. James wanted to be buried, not where he already was. No matter: the new skeleton was a victim of beheading, and therefore must be James the Greater (son of Zebedee, beheaded by Herod Agrippa), while the old one was James the Little (it had not previously been clear which St. James they were claiming), so now Campostella was doubly blessed. A popular theory, which I incline to believe, is that the original skeleton was actually that of Priscillian, a highly-revered Spanish monk of the 4th century who became the first Christian burned for heresy, not by order of the Church but by a usurping emperor Magnus Maximus (from Britain, also ruled Gaul and Spain for a while) who did not like his preaching of communism (Maximus was battling the Bagaudae, a proto-Marxist movement who thought the rich should be forcibly dispossessed of their wealth). This would explain why the remains were so deeply concealed.

The "seven" were paired differently than the "twelve" had been: Phillip and Bartholemew were inseparable, but Peter was now paired with John, staying put in Jerusalem with James the Righteous as the central administration, and Andrew was now with Matthew, while Thomas was the odd man out, travelling alone (tsk, tsk) to India where he came to a bad end. The community Thomas founded in India was mostly out of touch with other Christians, though briefly reported as being in communion with the heretical Nestorian church of the East in medieval times. By the time the Portuguese re-discovered them, they were rather thoroughly Hinduized, seeing Jesus as one more avatar of the God they did not hesitate to address as Rama. The Jesuits burned thousands of them as heretics, and burned as many of their books as they could get; Portugal only held the small enclave of Goa, but neighboring rulers learned that they could curry favor by turning over people or books from this sect. Some modern Christians in India now claim to be descended from the Thomas Christians, describing them as Protestants of the sola scriptura type; this is obviously fictional, and I for one would dearly love to see what the "gospel of Thomas" actually looked like in India.

According to "Acts of John" (though all non-canonical "Acts" of this apostle or that need to be taken with a grain of salt), John accompanied Peter to Rome, but then went back (smart move!) and lived deep into his eighties, dying peaceably in Ephesus. We have three accounts of what happened to Andrew. "Acts of Andrew and Matthew" has those two going to Ethiopia (following up on Phillip's contact with an official there, specially mentioned in the canonical Acts because it was so successful, the church becoming a state religion in Ethiopia long before it did in Rome) and then into darkest Africa, where they were boiled alive and eaten by cannibals. "Acts of Andrew and Mathias" (the names "Matthew" and "Mathias" treated as interchangeable) has them going instead to Scythia and then into the wildest steppes of central Asia, where they were boiled alive and eaten by cannibals. These appear to be the same story, despite the confusion about which way they went. But later, the story was that Andrew went alone (tsk, tsk) to Byzantium where he was crucified, asking as a last favor that he be nailed to an X-shaped cross because he did not deserve to have his death be exactly like that of Jesus. This is supposed to explain the flag of Byzantium, which actually arose because it was the merger of four smaller villages (later called the Red, Blue, Green, and White quarters of Constantinople from the colors of their teams in the Hippodrome, symbolic of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air). Scotland had the same flag, again because it arose as a fourfold merger (of Dalriad, Pictavia, Strathclyde, and Lothian), but re-explained as invoking Andrew as their patron saint. This story, however, is purest propaganda: the bishops of Byzantium had been minor back-woods prelates, but were now the Patriarchs of Constantinople, and needed an apostolic founder to compete with the Patriarchs of Rome, successors to Peter.

The oldest story about Phillip is that he died of a broken heart at Hierapolis in Asia Minor, having heard of the death of Bartholemew and praying to be re-united with him. Subsequent generations decided that it would be a better story if he was martyred. But how did Bartholemew die? He was the most martyred of all disciples, killed a dozen different ways in a dozen different places if you believe the stories. Eisenman found a surprising solution: Josephus mentions a bar-Tolmai as a respected general among the Jewish rebels, who died valiantly fighting the Romans. This is the only other known occurrence of someone going by that patronymic. It is plain why the Christians would want to forget about any connection between them and the Zealot rebels, but why wouldn't some of them have fought on that side? The commander of Yeshua' of Ginnosaur's forces at Masada was Eleazar bar-Ya'ir "Lazarus son of Jairus" and, although Eisenman's view that these are the "Lazarus" and "Jairus" of the gospels is not a popular one, I am inclined to accept it.

It would help to explain the four very different versions of the story in the canonical gospels. In John we get the famous scene of Jesus miraculously raising Lazarus from the dead. In Luke, however, Lazarus is the name of a character in a parable about the afterlife, in which resurrection only comes up as a hypothetical; no other character is named in any other parable. In Mark, there is an erasure "And they came to Jericho... And as they were leaving Jericho" which we can now fill in. Morton Smith discovered a letter from Clement of Alexandria (the Patriarchs of Alexandria were successors of Mark) responding to an inquiry about a version of the gospel of Mark among the Carpocratians (Carpocrates taught communism and sex-magic; we should probably think of "typical cult with exploitative guru" more than of "hippie-dippie free-love commune"), in which Lazarus is sealed in a tomb, dressed in a white robe, by Jesus, who comes back days later to bring him out and give him secret teachings-- and then take his robe off and lie with him "skin to skin". Clement says the original Mark did have that Lazarus story, except for the "skin to skin" part which he angrily denies, and says that this is why the passage is omitted from the public text, "for not all things are for all ears". Smith was accused of forging "Secret Mark", but this appears impossible, and arose because Smith was cantankerous and made a lot of enemies; he was gay, and wanted the "skin to skin" verse also to be genuine, despite Clement's denial. I cannot take that seriously: why wouldn't Clement have just denied the whole thing if he was going to lie? Similarly, if Smith had forged this, why the extra complication of having Clement accept one part and deny another? The Ockham's Razor explanation is that Clement is being straightforward about what Mark's version of the Lazarus story was and was not; the parable in Luke would be a slightly garbled version of the teachings Jesus gave him before the tomb ritual (the garbling is that “Eleazar” in the parable was surely not the name of the poor beggar, rather, that of the spoiled rich boy who repents too late). In Matthew there is no Lazarus, just Jairus "the head of the synagogue", whose daughter Jesus raises from the dead. That sister of Eleazar is surely Mary Magdalene; elsewhere Jesus cures her by "casting seven devils out" (i.e., curing a severe mental illness) or redeeming her from a life of prostitution (surely not out of economic necessity, if her daddy was that rich). These are different ways of saying the same thing: her "insanity" was an unacceptable sexual libertinism; she was as good as dead in her brother's eyes until Jesus changed her, perhaps with the same ritual of burying the old Mary and raising up a new one, which her brother then also wanted to undergo. There is more here than meets the eye.


Who and what were the 5 Patriarchs? Early Christianity had a huge variety of splinter sects, many of them teaching ideologies that modern Christians would hardly think of as "Christian" at all, but most of the "Gnostic" sects were quite small, a teacher and a handful of disciples, and this was by design. The Gnostic marketed themselves as for the elite, imparting secret wisdom beyond the grasp of most people. The katholikos "for everybody" Christian sects (the term orthodox "right-believing" did not start to be used until the 5th century) aimed at the masses, and indeed were often criticized for appealing to the vulgar and the gullible. Communications were sporadic, and significant regional differences in beliefs as well as practices did emerge. But five units more-or-less recognized each other's legitimacy, and were formally declared administrative divisions of the Church by Justinian (but the Pope at this time already refused to accept a Church council ratifying this, claiming that he was not just one of five co-equals). Roughly in order of age, these were: the Ebionite church of Jerusalem; the Gentile church of Antioch; the Pauline churches headed by Rome; the Johannine churches eventually headed by Constantinople; and the Coptic church of Alexandria.

The church in Jerusalem, despite its obvious seniority, did not maintain a leading role because it early went off in a very different theological direction from the others. Once Peter and John had left, it was under the sole direction of James the Righteous, brother of Jesus, and after his murder the succession passed strictly to the next-of-kin for a century or so. They were called the Desposyni "royal heirs" (despos "king" in Greek did not have the derogatory overtone that "despot" has since acquired), each of them in turn being not just a "bishop" but a "Messiah", that is, anointed rightful king. However, Jesus to them was not just one king among the others in the lineage, but the "king of kings" (a Persian-derived title) who would judge all kings, as well as all other men, at the end of time. He was, however, the most-exalted human, not a God: in particular, the Ebionites denied the "virgin birth" story, which was somewhat embarrassing (who would know the facts better than the family?) The "Protevangelium of James", a late forgery purporting to tell about the life of Mary and the virgin birth, is ascribed to James the Righteous for the propagandistic purpose of claiming that even James believed that story.

The Ebionites had their own version of the "Gospel of Matthew" in Hebrew, which was seen by Jerome and Epiphanius, who note some of the major differences between it and the Greek gospel (unfortunately, we don't have a good text of it). It contained the "Q" material (in the original Hebrew; this is what I think Matthew actually wrote) combined with the Markan narrative (translated into Hebrew), but none of the "F" material (the opening genealogy and nativity story, and other insertions with scriptural quotes and their "fulfillments") or "P" material (a couple stories emphasizing that Peter was #1 plus the ending with the "guards at the tomb"). Instead there is an ending where the risen Jesus meets brother James and shares a meal of bread, fish, and wine with him. This appears intended to emphasize not just the primacy of James, but also that the risen Jesus was just as corporeal as before, not a "glorified" body of some spiritual substance as in the Pauline epistles.

Eisenman has written an informative and highly irritating book "James the Brother of Jesus". He dumps a huge amount of enlightening data about the historical context, in a jumbled order because he keeps losing the thread of his argument to chase down tangents. He filters everything through an intensely Jewish-nationalist and anti-Pauline lens. He wants James and Paul to have been mortal enemies; more accurately, it seems that their relations were often strained but generally polite and correct. He wants the Ebionites to be the same thing as the Zealots, but while there were clearly connections, info that Eisenman himself brings out tends to show that James was very averse to creating any trouble with the Romans. He is even more cynical than I am about the canonical NT, always asking what propagandistic purpose is being served by any piece of text and speculating about what less-pleasant truth might lie underneath; but takes the Ebionite literature (of which he shows that we have more surviving than you might expect) at face value, without any of the same kind of scrutiny. He does make it clear, however, that James was seriously de-emphasized by the NT, and was actually a very prominent figure in mid-1st-century Jerusalem.

His sermons were called the "ascents of James" because he would climb up to the ramparts of the Temple, to address as wide a crowd as possible in a booming voice, wearing a high-peaked white crown (we now associate such a miter with "bishops" but it was the Mideastern style for a "king"). His focus was largely on Jesus, reminding the crowds of how his brother had been executed for no crime but speaking truth, how he had meekly submitted to show that he knew that what is truly of value is not in this world, and how he had risen from the dead as a sign of God's singular approval of him. He called for "righteousness" by which he meant thorough observance of the Torah; but always interpreted Torah as serving the twin principles of honoring God and serving the needs of our fellows, rejecting any legalisms which did not serve such purposes. In this he was not alien to the teachings of Hillel. The Epistle of James in the NT is written in better Greek than it is plausible for him to have known, but may have been written by a secretary at his dictation, against an extreme "salvation by faith alone" interpretation of what Paul was teaching at the time; even if it is actually from a later follower, however, it seems to be true to James' position.

One cannot help but ask how he got away with this, for decades. The priests in the Temple cannot have liked constant reminders about the Jesus case, and you would think the Romans would be alarmed by a "king" openly appearing in a crown. But unlike Jesus, who often made trouble (disrupting the animal sales at the Temple, flouting Sabbath rules), James was a punctilious observer of the Law and gave no excuse for accusations, and he seems to have had sympathy from the people, even among those not inclined to convert to his beliefs about Jesus. And he made plain that his kingship was a "spiritual" one, that is, that his role was to call people to righteousness, not to compel them. And, he acted "as if he owned the place" because, technically, he did: David's purchase of the Temple grounds was recorded in scripture; Zerubabbel had built the second edifice there; and the property had never been alienated from the family of which he claimed to be the heir (and nobody seems to have disputed him on that).

He was at his gravest danger, not from the Romans, but from Herod Agrippa, whose double descent from the Hasmonean and Herodian lines led him to think he could break off from Rome, forming a middle-state between Roman and Parthian Empires. Agrippa's negotiations with Roman and Parthian vassals were well advanced, and apparently he was about to proclaim himself as an emperor (of a realm including Egypt, Palestine, Phoenicia, Syria, and Mesopotamia) when he mysteriously died (struck down by God, or maybe just poisoned). During this time, Flavius Josephus reports that Stephanos "Stephen" was stoned to death by a mob of lestae "bandits" for being "a servant of Claudius Caesar"; lestae is a common derogatory term for Zealots, used also in Josephus for the young bucks who attacked Pontius Pilate's new aqueduct ("what have the Romans ever done for us?") to deface the Roman eagles Pilate had dared to decorate it with, and it is possible that the Barabbas released instead of Jesus, described in the gospels with the same derogatory term, was one of the ringleaders of the aqueduct raid. If this is the same Stephen, which seems a reasonable assumption, the Jewish nationalists were offended at the Christians principally because they opposed Agrippa's project of breaking away from Rome. Around this same time, according to the Ebionite literature, James was knocked down off his perch, twisting his ankle so that he could not resume preaching for a while, by a mob incited by someone who is vaguely described, but one manuscript flat-out says in a marginal note that it was Saul of Tarsus. The canonical Acts says James son of Zebedee was beheaded by Agrippa, and Peter arrested, although he doesn't seem to have dared to arrest James the Righteous.

James survived twenty more years. Jewish/Roman relations got worse and worse: one year a soldier guarding the Temple during the Passover rush mooned the crowd, who threw stones at him, starting riots in which many lost their lives; a group of radicals repeatedly obstructed the delivery of Rome's offerings to the Temple (the imperial government donated to all religious institutions) which they thought the priests should never have been accepting; then the Roman governor was assassinated, with the rumored connivance of the High Priest. On Yom Kippur, James went into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of Israel; this should have been the High Priest's role alone, but it was the High Priest's sin above all others which needed atoning for, and James apparently felt that in such a case it was up to the King. The symbolic repudiation of the High Priest's legitimacy was a step too far: taking advantage of the vacuum in the Roman administration (the replacement governor was still en-route; it had taken time for word to get to Italy and back), an irregular Sanhedrin was convened, condemned James to death (they were not supposed to do that while foreigners still occupied), and a mob knocked James down and beat him to death with clubs. Later authors sometimes said that this murder (not the killing of Jesus) was the particular sin which called down on Judea the wrath of God; the spiral of violence that ended with the destruction of the Temple escalated from this point on.

Under Domitian, two young Desposyni were captured and questioned about being the heirs to David; they played dumb, saying they were just humble peasants, and got away with their lives. Under Hadrian, the second Jewish Revolt, under Simon bar-Kochba (who "claimed to be somebody" but not an heir of David), led to a ban on Jews living anywhere within a wide radius of Jerusalem, renamed "Aelia Capitolina" with a temple of Venus (complete with sacred prostitutes) on the Temple Mount. The Ebionite headquarters was mostly at Pella in Transjordan for a while; Christianity remained a "Jewish sect" in the eyes of the authorities of "Syria Palestina" as Judea was now called, so they were doubly illegal there, regardless of the fact that the Jews now reckoned the Ebionites among the minim (precise meaning of this word not known) who were not to be allowed to enter any synagogues. But much as Christians elsewhere in the Empire were not actually persecuted full-time, the enforcement of the law against Jews in Judea was very spotty; by the time of Constantine there were large communities of Jews and Ebionites right in Jerusalem.

According to Epiphanius, by the 3rd century the Desposyni were extinct, and there was a division between "Ebionites" who rejected the virgin birth and the Pauline epistles, versus the "Nazarenes" who accepted both (the two words had earlier been used as synonyms). There was also a Gentile Christian church in Jerusalem, but the leader called himself the "bishop of Aelia" using the official name of the city (rather than the name that just about everybody still called it), and was answerable to the metropolitan of Caesarea ("metropolitan" is used for "archbishop" in the East; Caesarea was a Roman-founded port, majority-Greek even before the first Jewish Revolt), who answered to the patriarch of Antioch. It is unclear when the line of bishops of Aelia started, because they had to be even more underground than most Christians at the time. So, after Constantine one of them, named Makarios, "discovered" that actually his line stretched all the way back to James the Righteous, and they became "patriarchs of Jerusalem". They had difficulty with their congregants: a successor to Makarios, Melito of Sardis, complained that even those with no Jew in their ancestry were mostly Ebionite in sympathies. But the Muslim invasion (bloodless here; the Byzantine government had lost support thoroughly, and the Muslims were welcomed) solved this, Christians of Ebionite leanings simply converting to Islam (whose view of Jesus was not alien to their own), leaving the patriarch with only the orthodox.

During the Crusades, a new line of patriarchs of Jerusalem loyal to the Pope was appointed, and the Armenians who had a lot of monasteries around Jerusalem did not see eye-to-eye with either Rome or Constantinople and have their own patriarch. Saladin welcomed all the varieties of Christians and Jews back to Jerusalem (not just enlightened tolerance, but also sound business: the pilgrimage trade was a big money-maker). The Latin, Greek, and Armenian patriarchs were constantly at odds over the Holy Sepulchre, and begged Saladin to appoint a neutral party (Muslim, of course) to hold the keys. The descendants, the Nusreibah family, still have "the keys" (the physical keys of course are totally symbolic now, the locks to which they went having long since rusted away). The current key-holder tried to run against Hamas and Fatah in the ill-fated Palestinian elections, but got only a small share of the vote. He is reviled by Palestinians as "collaborationist" for urging a renunciation of violence, and by Israelis as "intransigent" for continuing to demand that East Jerusalem be the Palestinian capital. The best example of the kind of nonsense his family has had to put up with over the centuries is a ladder left behind when someone tried to do some overdue repairs, causing a furore because all factions had not been consulted, and since no agreement could be reached over which faction had the right to remove the ladder, it remained for centuries until finally removed by natural processes of decay.