The Roman governor (Acts 25)

Six Roman governors are mentioned in the New Testament: Quirinius (Syria; Luke 2:2), Pilate (Judea; Matthew 27:2-65 etc.), Sergius Paulus (Cyprus; Acts 13:6-12), Gallio (Achaia; Acts 18:12-17), Felix (Judea; Acts 23:23-24:27, 25:14) and Festus (Judea; Acts 24:27-26:32). They administered their provinces from a capital city and lived in a palace-fortress called a praetorium. In Judea the Roman administrative centre was at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast; there Paul was held prisoner (Acts 23:33-35). There was also a praetorium in Jerusalem where the governor would stay when he was in residence there; there Jesus was tried and mocked (Matthew 27:27, Mark 15:16, John 18:28, 19:9).

When Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, was stripped of his power in  A.D. 6, the governance of the territory of Judea was transferred to the ruler of Syria, Quirinius. Coponius was chosen as the new governor of Judea and was given the title of praefectus (prefect). The prefect controlled the appointment of high priests and retained the prerogative of capital punishment. In cases in which the sanctity of the temple had allegedly been violated, the Sanhedrin may also have been able to exercise the right to impose the death sentence, but even then the governor had to give his consent. After A.D. 44 the governor’s title was changed to procurator, an equestrian rank. Although the procurator continued to exercise full judicial powers, he lost the right to appoint and depose high priests.

Felix, a freed slave of the family of Emperor Claudius, was governor of Judea from A.D. 52 to 60. During his tenure Felix married Drusilla, the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great (Acts 24:24). His rule was  marked by unrest, and he was ultimately recalled to Rome and tried for his misgovernment, resulting in banishment. Paul was confined at Caesarea for two years, until Festus replaced Felix in A.D. 60 (Acts 24:27). Festus speedily acted upon Paul’s case and granted his request to be tried in Rome (Acts 25:12). Festus’ term was cut short when he died unexpectedly two years after his appointment. According to Josephus (Antiquities 20.9.1), before Festus’ successor arrived in Judea, the high priest Ananias usurped the procurator’s sole right to impose capital punishment and had James the brother of Jesus executed, along with several others whom he claimed had broken Jewish law.

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