Monday, June 8, 2020



The Roman rulers and the Herods seem always to be somewhere in the background of the gospel stories. But for a better understanding of the NT one must have a deeper knowledge of the rulers of Palestine even before the Romans. This study throws light to the political environment of  the New Testament from the time of the ancient Israel to the time of the Apostles.

Palestine under Ancient Israel

According to Hebrew Scripture, Moses led a group of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt in the wilderness. After Moses’ death, his assistant Joshua led the people into the land of Canaan or Palestine, which they began to take over from its former inhabitants. These Hebrew people, traditionally divided into twelve tribes, called themselves as ‘Hebrews’ and their land as ‘Israel’. Eventually the Israelites established a monarchy, and the second king, David, subjugated the entire land. The people of Israel believed that their God, Yahweh, had promised this land to their ancestors – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob- and Yahweh had brought them out of Egypt to possess it. The kingdom of Israel reached its peak under David’s son Solomon. During this period was a period of peace and prosperity and Solomon built a temple for Yahweh in the capital city, Jerusalem. After the reign of Solomon, in 922 B.C. the kingdom split in two. The northern kingdom consisted of ten tribes retained the name ‘Israel’ and Samaria as its capital. The northern kingdom continued in existence until 722 BCE when the Assyrian empire conquered it and deported much of its population. The northern kingdom never again existed as an independent state.  The southern kingdom consisted of primarily the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had its capital in Jerusalem. The land of Judah or ‘Judea’ gave its inhabitants the name ‘Judeans’, from which comes the term ‘Jews’.

Palestine under the Babylonian Rule

The Jewish exile in Babylon is one of the most important landmarks in the history of the Jews. They were religiously shocked and politically shattered. But it served as fiery furnace in their religious thought. Therefore it is indispensable to study Babylonian exile to understand the NT and its background.

The southern kingdom maintained its independence until Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Babylonian Empire, brought it to an end. He captured Jerusalem and exiled many of the skilled and educated Jews within three or four consecutive deportations to Babylon:

·         The Babylonian army surrounded Jerusalem for three months and defeated the king of Judah on March 16, 597 BCE. The king, the queen mother, high officials and the leading citizens together with an enormous booty were taken to Babylon. He also robbed the Jewish temple of its golden vessels.  Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Zedekiah- a puppet king to rule over Judah. There were 3023 people were deported to Babylon in the first deportation (Jer. 52:28-30).

·         The second deportation happened when Zedekiah made a secret alliance with Egypt in order to overthrow the Babylonian Empire.  When Nebuchadnezzar discovered this, his commander’s guard, Nebuzaradan led the Babylonian army and captured Jerusalem on July 587 BCE.  The most important part of this invasion was the destruction of the city and the Jerusalem temple and deported a group of 832 people (Jer.52:29).

·         The third deportation took place in 582 BCE when the people of Judah were under the governorship of Gedaliah and exiled 745 people to Babylon.[1]

·         Some scholars are of the opinion that there were four deportations not three during the Babylonian rule. According D J Wiseman, the Babylonians marched to Palestine in the year of 604 to 603 BCE and captured many prisoners including Daniel and were sent to Babylon. If this is reliable, then there were four deportations to Babylon.[2] The Babylonian captivity lasted approximately 70 years and is discussed extensively in the Book of Jeremiah. It is believed that during this time of Babylonian exile, the synagogue was instituted.  The synagogue was very important in the New Testament, but no background is given there.

Palestine under the Persian Rule

The Persian Empire under the leadership of Cyrus the Great, took control away from Babylon.  In 539 BCE Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to return to Judea. Though many thousands of Jews that had been deported to Babylon, but only about 40,000 wanted to return to their homeland.  They were comfortable in Babylon, having built houses, started businesses, and raised their families.  To return to Judah meant to work, because the land that had been devastated had to be rebuilt. So a relatively small number returned and rebuilt a new temple and the city. In fact, Cyrus used the funds of the Persian Empire to assist in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. He retrieved the golden vessels that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar and restored them to the Temple service. The period of Judaism during which this temple existed is designated as Second-Temple Judaism (516-70 BCE).

There are three important figures who led the people from the exile to Judah at this time.  The first personality was Zerubbabel, who was responsible for leadership in rebuilding the Temple, which was finally completed by 516 BCE.  Ezra was the second one whose responsibility was primarily reestablishing the priority of the Law of Moses. And the third person was Nehemiah whose responsibility was to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem.

During this time of captivity, many of the Jews who had remained in Judea intermarried with pagan peoples.  The Jews who returned from Babylon would have no interaction with them.  In fact, they did not even allow them to assist in rebuilding the Temple and the city. So, there were two very distinct groups of people living together in Judah.  One of them could be called the pure Jews, those who had returned from Babylonian exile and the other group was a mixed race. The mixed group located mainly in the central part of Palestine and was known as the Samaritans.

Palestine under the Greek Rule

  • Alexander the Great
In the fourth century BCE the kingdom of Macedonia gained mastery over Greece through the military organization and diplomacy of Philip II. After the death of Philip in 336 BCE, his son Alexander the Great took control of the kingdom of Macedonia. At the age of 13 he became a pupil of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, from whom he acquired the art of ruling, liberal arts, philosophy, ethics, politics, science and medicine.  He then controlled the southern and northern parts of the Macedonia. After that Alexander continuously approached and conquered Persia (334-331 BCE), Phoenicia, Sidon, Tyre, Palestine, Gaza and Egypt (332 BCE) and ruled over them efficiently. He established Macedonian colonies and new Greek cities all over his great empire.  But unfortunately he died in 323 BCE at the age of 32.

The Origin and Development of Hellenism

Alexander not only conquered most of the known world, but sought to unite it by spreading Greek culture to other lands. He introduced Greek as the common language[3] (‘Konie’ means “common Greek”) throughout his empire. Since the Greeks called themselves ‘Hellenes’, such Greek influence on oriental civilizations is called ‘Hellenization’ and produced a culture known as ‘Hellenistic.’ The first scholar to use the term Hellenism was J.G. Droysen. He understood Hellenism to be a mixture of the world Greece with that of the Orient.[4]  According to the archaeological discoveries, Greek culture had been widely known in the western Asia before the time of Alexander, as early as the seventh century BCE. Greek mercenaries and traders entered Egypt, Syria and Palestine and then spread to farther east. But Alexander accelerated this process into full swing.[5] The Hellenistic period lasted from Alexander into the third or fourth century CE.

The Hellenistic Kingdoms

After the death of Alexander all his legal heirs were murdered and his vast kingdom was divided, and the power came into the hands of the Diadochi (successors). The term Diadochi denotes his Generals who proportioned all his kingdoms. The Diadochi which finally stood after their war were: Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria-Palestine and Antigonus in the European part of Alexander’s former empire. Antigonus became the governor of Asia Minor and drove out Seleucus in 317 BCE to Egypt. Demetrius, son of Antigonus was killed by the two united force of Ptolemy and Seleucus in Gaza on 1st October, 312 BCE. After this battle, Seleucus captured Babylon and the so-called Seleucid chronology began, forming the beginning of the so-called Seleucid dynasty.[6] After the war between Antigonus and Seleucus and his ally Ptolemy in 301 at Ipsus (in Phrugia), Alexander kingdom was divided into the hands of Seleucus and Ptolemy, in which Seleucus was assigned Syria and Palestine. But Palestine became a bone of contention between Ptolemies and Seleucids throughout the whole of the third century BCE.[7] During the period of these Hellenistic kingdoms, the cultures of Western Asia underwent further Hellenization as they adopted Greek language and commodities, and eventually Greek customs, ideas, art, and literature.

  • The Ptolemies
Ptolemy arrived in Egypt in 322 BCE and won his power there in 322 BCE through military means and formed the Ptolemaic dynasty. The dynasty of Ptolemy in Egypt came to be known as the Ptolemies. The Ptolemies felt themselves called to be apostle of Hellenism throughout their dominions, and encouraged the use of the Greek language and the adoption of the Greek customs.[8] Their chief means of propagating Hellenism was founding the Greek cities. The greatest was Alexandria in Egypt with the famous library and museum. Though Palestine was within the portion of the Seleucus, the Ptolemies captured and ruled it for more than a century (301-198 BCE) but came to an end in 198 BCE after Ptolemy V.

  • The Seleucids
Seleucus, one of the successors and generals of Alexander, assigned Syria and Palestine. The dynast of Seleucus is come to known as the Seleucid dynasty which lasted continuously from ca. 312-64BCE. The Seleucids rule over Palestine, using Antioch as the centre of their administration. They also followed the same policy, sometimes taking over old-established cities and converted them in to Greek standards. Within Palestine itself they were to be found particularly along the Mediterranean coast and in Transjordan. Such characteristic was found in the so-called Decapolis. Hellenistic influences were probably less in the rural areas while the upper classes in cities were greatly affected. The severe most imposition of Hellenism upon the Jews happened during   the reign of Antiochus IV.

  • Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE)
Antiochus IV was the younger son of Antiochus III. Antiochus called himself ‘Epiphanes’ (‘the manifestation of god’). This claim to be God reveals a great deal of egotism on the part of Antiochus, and was very repulsive to the Jews who believed in one God. He instituted a policy of enforced Hellenization in order to unify the diversity of the Seleucid Empire. . In 169 and again in 168, he looted the Temple in Jerusalem to finance his military campaigns. Antiochus IV issued a degree in 167 BCE (1 Macc.1:54)[9] within his whole kingdom that all should be one people and that all should give up their particular customs. In 167 BCE, Apollonius, his chief tax collector with 22,000 men attacked Jerusalem on Sabbath. Most of the men were killed and women and children were enslaved. The city walls were also destroyed.

He outlawed all Jewish religious practices, such as circumcision and abstinence from impure foods. He renamed Yahweh’s Temple to the Greek god Zeus, prostitution was practiced there and animals unfit for sacrificed were also offered. Jews were forced to eat the impure sacrifices on the celebration of King’s birthday and many were put to death for refusing to touch unclean food. They were compelled to participate in the festival of the Greek god Dionysus.[10]A monthly check was made in which, everyone found with a copy of the Book of the Law or a child who was circumcised was put to death (1 Mac.1:60; 2 Mac.6:10).  Scholars assumed that Antiochus IV did not aim to suppress the worship of Yahweh and to substitute for it the cult of another god, but only to bring the God of the Jews into identification with the high gods of the Grecian pantheon and to make the Jewish religion a vehicle of the national policy.[11]

  • Jewish Reaction Against Hellenization

While many Jews were attracted to the Greek culture, there were others in Jerusalem who refused to accept it. The conservative Jews could not tolerate it and it became the harshest and apex of Hellenization, causing the Jews roused against the authorities in whatever way possible. One of the outstanding reactions against Hellenism was done by Joshua ben Sira who wrote his great book called    Ecclestiasticus” (also called Koheleth) in the apocrypha, around the year 180 BCE. In his book, he sets himself the task of educating the Jewish youths in the tenets of the Hebrew wisdom which is to be found in the fear of Lord, and finds expression in manners and morality.[12] The core resistance to the royal policy was formed by a group known as Hassidim. They took a firm stand against Hellenism and played a vital part in the religious and the national life of the Jewish people.  The Essenes also vigorously rejected gentiles and Hellenistic civilization.[13] The main reaction against Hellenism was taken up by the Maccabees, leading to the Maccabean Revolt. Mattathias and his family were later known as the Hasmonean dynasty.

q  The Maccabean Revolt

In fighting against this religious oppression and defilement, a priestly and kingly family, under the leadership of Mattathias and his five sons rose up and declared war against the Seleucid ruler. They were prominent in Judea from 165 until 37 BCE and controlled it as rulers between 142 BCE and 63 BCE. The name Hasmonean is derived from that of the great-grand father of Mattathias Hasmon.[14] They regarded themselves as the successors of the great leaders of past- the judges and the kings of First Temple times.[15] The father, Mattathias, refused to follow the dictates of the Syrian leadership and revolted. Mattathias died soon after and was only moderately successful; however, his son, Maccabeus, was much more successful. The name Maccabeus is derived from Judas whose surname is ‘ho Makkabaios’ from which the whole party has received the name of Maccabees. It seemed to be derived from the Heb. Maccabah means “the hammer.”[16]He and his outlaw band hammered the Syrians for a significant period of time, in what might be called guerilla warfare today.  This revolt was both patriotic and religious in nature.  In 164 BCE Judas was able to defeat the Syrians and recapture the Temple. They were able to purify the Temple from its foreign worship and rededicate it. This rededication called for a major festival, the Festival of Dedication, sometimes called the Feast of Lights.  This same celebration is called Hanukkah today and runs concurrently with the Christian Christmas season. After Judas’ death, leadership passed to his brother Jonathan and subsequently to a third brother Simon. Under Simon’s leadership, the Jews won complete independence in 142 B.C.E. For about eighty years, until 63 B.C.E. the Jews maintained their independence under the rule of Mattathias’ descendants, known as the Hasmoneans.[17]

Palestine under the Hasmonean Rule

The severe-most imposition of Hellenism upon the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes caused the rise of Hasmonean dynasty. After being under the foreign control for a long period of time, the Hasmonean rule came up and tasted the self-government once again.

  •  Simon (142-134 BCE)
The history of the Hasmoneans as a dynasty in an independent Jewish state may be said to begin from the time of Simon, although the shadow of the Seleucid regime was always present.[18] In the year 142, “the yoke of gentiles was taken away from Israel.” In the next year (141 BCE) he expelled the foreign troops from citadel in Jerusalem, thus removing the heart of the Seleucid presence from the capital.[19] The year 140 BCE saw another great moment: the assembled people declared Simon high priest, commander, and ethnarch (head of the nation) of the Jews, “forever, until a trustworthy prophet shall arise” (I Macc. 14:41). Simon’s death in 134 BCE indicated the end of a remarkable set of bothers who led their own troops and eventually nation for more than 30 years. They transformed Judea from a temple state to a semi-independent nation and greatly extended its holding and military power.[20]

John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE)

John Hyrcanus was the third son of Simon. He was already the governor of the important ortified towns of Gezer and assumed the high priesthood on his father’s death. This suggests that the later post was designated as hereditary by the “forever” of Simon’s investiture decree.[21]He continued his father’s conquest and took Medaba, a fortified city in Transjordan. Originally the Hasidim supported the Maccabean brothers in the battle against Hellenism; but they soon realized that the policies of the Hasmoneans were taking a Hellenistic turn. This too resented the Pharisees against Hyrcanus although he was the supporter of the Pharisees.[22] John is described as the nation’s secular authority as well as the high priest; and his regime is named an arche, or “rule.” John issued an independent coinage, although limited to bronze, is considered as the first coins by any Hasmonean. [23]

  • Aristobulus I (Judas) (104 – 105 BCE)
Aristobulus succeeded John Hyrcanus. He was a great supporter of Hellenism and even changed his name from Judas to Aristobulus in order to show his allegiance to the Hellenistic culture.  Josephus called him Philhellene (a lover of Greeks) because he changed the form of national government to that of a kingdom and took title of king, the first of the Hasmoneans to do so.[24] The most important event of his reign for religious and political history was his conquest of Galilee. He conquered Iturea and forced its inhabitants to be circumcised and lived in harmony with Jewish law.  Although the larger cities remained Hellenistic, the general population kept the Jewish laws that Aristobulus had forced upon them.[25]

  • Alexander Jannaeus (105-76 BCE)
Alexander Jannaeus became the leader of the Hasmoneans after Aristobulus I. He also received a Greek name, Alexander. Jannaeus called himself king, as well as high priest, which is not supported by Jewish tradition; and he feasted in public with his concubines in a manner perhaps not totally alien to David and Solomon, but quite unacceptable in the Jewish high priesthood.[26]He was hostile to Pharisees because they insulted him by saying that he was descended from captive and was unfit to hold office and to sacrifice. Furthermore, once at the festival of Tabernacle, as he stood beside the altar preparing to sacrifice, the people pelted him with fruits.[27] He crucified 800 Pharisees and their families killed before their eyes. This was the first such punishment was carried out by a Jew to other Jews.[28] Jannaeus was the next after Hyrcanus to issue a major coinage. He used his Hebrew name, Jonathan, rather than his Greek name on the coins.

The Decline of the Hasmonean Dynasty

Alexander Jannaeus was succeeded by his widow Alexandra Salome (76-67). Following the advice of Jannaeus, Alexandra appointed his older son John Hyrcanus II as high priest. After the death of his mother Hyrcanus came to the throne but Jannaeus’ second son Aristobulus chased him and took the throne. He thus became king as Aristobulus II from 67 to 63 BCE.[29]Very soon after Aristobulus’ reign he was disturbed by a serious conflict by Antipater, the governor of Idumaea with the help of Nabataeans of southern Transjordan. Antipater promised them that the territory taken from them by Alexander Jannaeus would be restored. He tried to enlist Hyrcanus II in his cause, inciting him among other things to revoke his abdication. He persuaded Hyrcanus for this and gains some military success and laid siege to Jerusalem. However, Hyrcanus appealed directly to the Roman General Pompey, who had arrived in Damascus in 63 BCE. At the same time, a delegation also arrived from Jerusalem, which asked the Romans to put an end to the rule of the corrupt and incompetent Hasmoneans. The delegation proposed a hierocratic solution: politically the country would be under the sovereignty of Rome, but internally it would be governed by the temple priesthood.[30] John Hyrcanus II was nominated high priest and ethnarch but title, king, was dropped.

The Parthian army invaded Rome’s East provinces in 40 BCE which brought a Parthian army into Jerusalem. John Hyrcanus was taken prisoner and had his ear mutilated to disqualify him from the high priesthood, while Herod fled to Rome. Mattathias Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II, was installed as the king. In 37 BCE Jerusalem fell to Herod together with Sosius, the Roman general and Antigonus was beheaded at Antioch at the orders of Emperor Antony.[31]The Hasmonean family disappeared totally in the year 7 BCE.   

Palestine under the Roman Rule

The history of Rome can be traced from 2000 BCE where Indo-European tribes were settled in Italy. Etruscans, the indigenous group, and the Latins were prominent during this period. The city of Rome, built on seven hills in central Italy, had gained sovereignty over most of Italy by the middle of the third century BCE. Traditionally Rome had been a republic, governed by a Senate composed of wealthy men of the highest social class. The transition to an empire, ruled by an emperor, began with a civil war, in which Pompey was slain, and from which Julius Caesar emerged victorious. He was made dictator in 46 BCE but was assassinated in 44 BCE. Another period of struggle ended in 27 BCE, when Caesar’s adopted son Octavian became the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Octavian took the name Augustus Caesar, and thus the name Caesar became a title adopted by all subsequent emperors.

The Rise of Roman Empire  

The power and influence of the Romans were mounting throughout the Mediterranean world by the military intervention. After defeating Carthage in North Africa in the Punic Wars, the Romans expanded her presence to eastward. In 148 BCE, they made Macedonia a Roman province and added most of Greece to it in 146 BCE. The consul of Pompey completed the conquest of the Seleucid Empire in 64 BCE, making Syria a Roman province. The following year, two rivals for power in Jerusalem both appealed to Pompey for support. Pompey thus entered into Jerusalem and made Judea subject to the Roman province of Syria. The control of Roman on Palestine that started in 63 BCE continued throughout the New Testament period. By 49 BCE Julius Caesar, who succeeded Pompey, appointed[32] Herod as a puppet king over Judea.


              Roman Emperors of the New Testament Period

Augustus reigned from 27 BCE to 14 CE. After him, Roman emperors who ruled during the formative period of Christianity were the following.










Galb, Otho, Vitellius













The Herodian Dynasty

The Herodian dynasty is named after Herod the Great, who was recognized as king of the Jews by the Romans in 40 and to rule until 4 BCE. In these years, he created a powerful vassal kingdom, with Caesarea and Jerusalem as splendid capitals.

·         Herod the Great

Herod[34] was born 73 BCE as the son of a man from Idumea named Antipater and a woman named Cyprus, the daughter of an Arab sheik. Antipater was an adherent of Hyrcanus, one of two princes who struggling to become king of Judaea. His father made him the governor of Galilee in 47 BCE. On the death of his father, there followed a turbulent period of fighting, involving his brother and various Roman factions. In 40 BCE the Parthians attacked both Syria and Palestine, taking Jerusalem in the process. Herod’s brother was taken captive, and he committed suicide shortly after. Herod was thus forced to flee to Rome, and Antigonus of the Hasmonean dynasty was installed as ruler at Jerusalem.

In Rome, Herod gained the favor of Octavian and Mark Antony, with whose support the Senate was persuaded to install Herod as the king of Judea. In practical terms, though, this did not solve the problem of Antigonus and the Parthians. Mark Antony was therefore dispatched to the region and he swiftly cleared it, forcing the Parthians back to the eastern side of the Euphrates River. Meanwhile, Herod, with the aid of the Roman general Gaius Sosius, defeated Antigonus, and retook Jerusalem in 37 BCE. Herod secured the continuity of the line of Hyrcanus by marrying his daughter Mariamme.  Of course, the young man was not blind to the fact that this marriage greatly enhanced his own claim to the throne. Although Hyrcanus was unfit to become high priest again, Herod kept his father-in-law in high esteem. The support of the old monarch gave an appearance of legality to his own rule. Then between 23 and 20 BCE he expanded his realm into northern Galilee and repopulated certain areas with sympathetic settlers. Finally, he began what would be a long and prosperous 33-year reign as king of Judea. Herod ruthlessly destroyed any possible rival, including his own wives and children.

Now firmly established in his kingdom, Herod embarked on a series of grand building projects. Perhaps the most ambitious of Herod’s projects was the Herodium fortress, 11 km south of Jerusalem, to commemorate his victory over Antigonus and the Parthians in 37 BCE. But Herod’s crowning achievement was a splendid new port, called Caesarea in honor of the emperor (the harbor was called Sebastos, the Greek translation of “Augustus”). This magnificent and opulent city was built to rival Alexandria in the land trade to Arabia. The most famous project was a lavish refurbishment of the temple of Jerusalem. This is why during the New Testament period; the Temple is referred to as Herod’s temple. Herod also expanded the same city’s fortification walls and added a theatre and amphitheater. On top of the gate of the new Temple, a golden eagle was erected, a symbol of Roman power in the heart of the holy city resented by all pious believers. The Sadducees hated Herod because he had terminated the rule of the old royal house to which many of them were related; their own influence in the Sanhedrin was curtailed. The Pharisees despised any ruler who despised the Law. And probably all his subjects resented his excessive taxation.[35]

Herod died in 4 BCE and was buried in a tomb that built on the slopes of the Herodium. After the death of Herod, his kingdom was divided by the Romans between Herod’s three sons: Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip.   

Herod Archelaus

Herod Archelaus was full brother of Herod Antipas and a half-brother of Philip. With these brothers, he was sent as a hostage to Rome, where he received his education. In his father’s testament, Herod Archelaus was appointed king, but the Roman emperor Augustus wrote him that he had to contend himself with the title of ethnarch (“national leader”) of Samaria, Judaea and Idumaea. Immediately after his accession in 4 BCE, things went wrong. When Herod had fallen ill, two popular teachers, Judas and Matthias, had incited their pupils to remove the golden eagle from the entrance of the Temple. After all, according to the Ten Commandments, it was a sin to make idols. The teachers and their pupils had been burned alive. The new king had to face an angry crowd that demanded rehabilitation of these martyrs; some three thousand Jews were killed during the celebration of Passover. For a moment, all seemed quiet, and Archelaus traveled to Rome, to have himself crowned by the emperor Augustus.

In his absence, there were fresh riots under different leaders, perhaps, all were messianic claimants. With the help of the Roman governor of Syria, Publius Quinctilius Varus, Archelaus stopped the riots and crucified two thousand protestors. Herod Archelaus ruled so badly[36] that the Jews and Samarians unitedly appealed to Rome to request that he should be deposed. Subsequently the Romans deposed him for cruelty and placed Judea under Roman governors. One of these, Pontius Pilate, governed Judea from 26 to 36 BC, during which time Jesus was crucified.


·         Herod Antipas

Herod Antipas, a nickname derived from Antipatros, was appointed tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (the east bank of the Jordan). In 17 CE, he founded a new capital, which he called Tiberias, to honor the Roman emperor, Tiberius. Unfortunately, it was discovered that he was building this city on top of an old Jewish graveyard. This caused great unrest among his subjects. For a long time, no pious Jew would enter Tiberias, which was populated by Greeks and Romans. Jesus of Nazareth compared him to a fox, an animal that was ritually unclean (Lk.13:32). He was first married to Phasaelis, daughter of an Arab leader. Later, he divorced her in order to marry Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. According to the Gospels, John the Baptist criticized the king Herod because of his new marital alliance with Herodias was consequently killed (Mtt.14:6-12; Mk. 6:14-29; Lk.9:7-9).

  • Philip the Tetrarch

Philip the Tetrarch [37]inherited the northeast part of his father's kingdom and is mentioned briefly by Luke (3:1). He married his niece Salome, the daughter of Herodias and the grand-daughter of Herod the Great and Mariamme II.[38] This Salome appears in the Bible in connection with the execution of John the Baptist. The evangelist Mark (6:17) writes that Philip was her father, which seems an odd mistake until one realizes that the older half-brother of Philip the Tetrarch is also sometimes named Herod Philip. Like Antipas, Philip honored his Roman patrons by founding cities dedicated to the imperial family. He rebuilt the city of Caesarea, calling it by his own name Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the sea-coast which was the seat of the Roman government. Another city founded by him was Julias, named after Augustus' daughter Julia, on the site of the village of Bethsaida, on the north of the Sea of Galilee. Philip died in 34 CE without heirs and later his domain was given to Herodias' brother, Agrippa I.

  • Herod Agrippa I

Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great and son of Aristobulus IV. His original name was  Marcus Julius Agrippa, and named "Herod" in the book of Acts, while his son Agrippa II is called "Agrippa." For the greater part of his live, Agrippa lived in Rome. Here he met his wife Cyprus, a distant relative, and here his five children were born. He was a close friend of Emperor Caligula and he made Agrippa the governor of the territories of Batanaea and Trachonitis. He was then appointed to the tetrarchy of Lysanias, with the title of "king." In 39, Agrippa’s uncle Herod Antipas tried to “steal” Agrippa’s royal title. Agrippa then went to Rome and secured the banishment of his uncle Antipas, whose tetrarchy of Galilee and Peraea he was then granted. When Caligula was assassinated in 41 CE Agrippa supported Claudius, who in gratitude granted him the entire kingdom of Judea. Agrippa’s territory, thus, included all of Palestine which equaled in extent that held by Herod the Great. Jerusalem was again the capital of Palestine as a whole and received new city walls.

 Agrippa seems to have been highly popular among the Jews and was careful to observe Jewish customs as king. His zeal for Judaism is recorded by JosephusPhilo of Alexandria, and the ancient rabbis. Like his uncles and grandfather, Agrippa was both a Hellenistic and a Jewish ruler. His building program was essentially Greek. On the other hand, he did a lot for the temple in Jerusalem, repaired several buildings, and finished an aqueduct that had been ordered by Herod the Great and continued by Pontius Pilate. To the Christians, however, Agrippa became an enemy because of his repression of the new faith's leaders. He imprisoned Peter the Apostle and beheaded James, son of Zebedee – who was said to be the first of the apostles to be executed. Some Jews will have appreciated how he took measures against the Christians.

There are different accounts concerning Agrippa’s death. Both Luke and Josephus agree in Agrippa’s early death in 44 CE. However, Acts implies divine retribution, while Josephus sees the death as an act of fate. In Acts, we read that "the angel of the Lord smote him," and shortly afterwards he died, "eaten of worms" (Acts 12:19b-23). While Josephus says that Agrippa saw an owl perched over his head and immediately smitten with violent pains and accepted his imminent death. He experienced heart pains and a pain in his abdomen, and died after five days.[39]But other Jewish traditions hold the Romans responsible for his death, due to their jealousy of Agrippa's popularity and fear of a possible rebellion.[40] At his death, Palestine reverted to Roman governors until his son, Herod Agrippa II, came of age.

  • Herod Agrippa II

Herod Agrippa II was the eighth and last ruler from the Herodian dynasty. He was only seventeen  when his father died. He was in Rome at the time and was favored by Emperor Claudius. Claudius kept Agrippa II in Rome for a few more years and then made him tetrarch of the Syrian kingdom called Chalcis and gave him the responsibility to supervise the temple in Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa II eventually gave up the territory of Chalcis but was granted the title of king and given more territory, including all that had been ruled by Herod Philip. Nero later added to his territory, including some of Galilee. Late in his career, Agrippa II saw that tensions were rising between Rome and the Jews, and he tried unsuccessfully to prevent war. Between 52 and 60, he appointed several high priests and earned the enmity of the conflicting parties. Though he supported the rights of the Jews at Alexandria, he avoided politics in Judaea, where the Zealots, a terrorist group, were active. In 66 the procurator Gessius Florus permitted a massacre of Jews in Jerusalem, and the Zealots there rose in revolt. When Agrippa supported Florus, urging moderation, the Zealots gained the upper hand, and the case became hopeless. Some troops he had sent to Jerusalem capitulated in the summer of 66, and the rebels massacred the Roman garrison. Vespasian arrived in Judaea in 67, and Agrippa assisted Roman operations. In 70 he aided Vespasian’s son Titus in the final conquest of Jerusalem itself which resulted in the destruction of the temple and the city. Herod Agrippa II makes a brief appearance in Acts 25 and 26, when Paul the Apostle appeared before him to plead his cause at Caesarea in 59 CE and found him innocent.

[1] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), 275,330-331.

[2] D J Wiseman and E M Yamauchi, The Archaeology and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan P House, 1979), 50.

 [3] So people by Jesus’ day were at least bilingual.  They knew the language of their locale, but more than that, they knew the Greek language.

[4] Hans Dieter Betz, “Hellenism,”in The Anchor Bible Dictionary,ed.David Noel Freeman (New York: Doubleday,1992),127.

[5] D.S. Russel, The Jews from Alexander to Herod (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), 2.

[6] H Jagersma, A History of Israel from Alexander the Great to Bar Kochba (London: SCM Press, 1985), 17.

[7] Jagersma,  A History of Israel, 17.

[8] Bruce Manning Metzger, The New Testment: Its Backgroung, Growth and Content (London: Lutterworth Press, 1965), 19.

[9] The apocryphal books of 1, 2 Maccabees give the details of this period. Apocryphal books are not the part of the canon of Holy Scripture.  But some churches consider it as authorative and have included in their canon.  The word apocryphal means “hidden,” and from that word, doubtful or spurious derive their meanings. The books of Maccabees are not considered canonical Scripture, but they are very important for certain matters of historical information, as is evident in this situation.

[10] Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ vol. I (Peabody: Hendrickon Publ., 1988), 208.

[11] Bright, A History of Israel, 423.

[12] Russel, The Jews from Alexander to Herod, 29.

[13] Martin Hengel, Jews, Greeks and Barbarians:Aspects of the Hellenization of Judaism in the Pre-Christian Period (London: SCM Press, 1980), 124.

[14] Jagersma, A History of Israel, 58.

[15] Hershel Shanks, ed.  Ancient Israel: A Short History from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple (London: SPCK, 1988), 188.

[16] Jagersma, A History of Israel, 58.

[17]Flavious Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15:16, 67.

[18] James C Vanderkam,  An Introduction to Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Company, 2001), 24

[19] VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism, 25.

[20] VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism, 27.

[21] Tessa Rajak, “Hasmonean Dynasty” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary vol.3, ed. Noel Freedman, (New York: Doubleday,1992), 3.  

[22] Bo Reicke, The New Testament Era: The World of the Bible from 500 BC to AD 100 (London: Adam& Charles Black, 1964), 66f.

[23] Rajak, “Hasmonean Dynasty,” ABD vol.3, 70.

[24] VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism, 28; (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13: 301).

[25] Reicke, The New Testament Era, 68f.

[26] Rajak, “Hasmonean Dynasty,” ABD vol.3, 70; (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13: 380).

[27] VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism, 29; (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13: 327).

[28] J. Alberto Soggin,  A History of  Israel: From the Beginning to the  Bar Kochba Revolt, AD 135 (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1985), 310

[29] Soggin,  A History of  Israel, 310.

[30] Soggin,  A History of  Israel,310f.

[31] Rajak, “Hasmonean Dynasty,” ABD vol.3, 76.

[32] This appointment caused a lot of resentment among the Jews. After all, Herod was not a Jew. He was the son of a man from Idumea; and although Antipater had been a pious man who had worshipped the Jewish God sincerely, the Jews had always looked down upon the Idumeans as racially impure. Worse, Herod had an Arab mother, and it was commonly held that one could only be a Jew when one was born from a Jewish mother.

[34] There are four different men called Herod in the New Testament. Herod the Great, son of the founder of the dynasty, made procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47BC, ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Married Herodias and executed John the Baptist. Herod Agrippa I, friend of the emperors Caligula and Claudius, killed James and imprisoned Peter. Herod Agrippa II heard St Paul’s case and said he should be acquitted.

[35]Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19:343-348.

[36]Jesus’ parents Joseph and Mary were afraid to go to the territories ruled by Archelaus, and therefore settled in Galilee (Matt. 2:22).

[37]He was sometimes called Herod Philip II by modern writers and not to be confused with Herod II, whom some writers call Herod Philip I.

[38]Mariamme (I), daughter of Hyrcanus, was the second wife and Mariamme II, daughter of Simon the High Priest, was the third wife of Herod the Great. After the execution of Mariamme (I), Herod met Mariamme II and fell in love with her because of her beauty. In order that their social status match, he appointed her father—a certain nobleman of Alexandria, of priestly descent—to the high priesthood (Josephus,

Jewish Antiquities, 15:319–322).

[39]Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19:345-350.

[40] Wesley O Allen, The Death of Herod: The Narrative and Theological Function of Retribution in Luke-Acts (Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press, 1997), 108. 

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