Herod’s successors and relations between Rome and the Jews (Mark 4)

Herod’s successors

When Herod died in 4 B.C., the predominantly Gentile area northeast of the Sea of Galilee, known as Iturea and Trachonitis, was given as a tetrarchy to Philip, the half brother of Antipas (Matthew 14:3, Luke 3:1). Philip ruled his territory well from his newly constructed capital, Caesarea Philippi. When he died in A.D. 34 his tetrarchy was incorporated into the Roman province of Syria, Galilee and Perea were assigned to Philip’s half brother Antipas (also known as Herod the tetrarch; cf. Matthew 14:1, Luke 3:1). Herod Antipas ruled from Sephoris, near Nazareth, and later from Tiberias until his banishment by the Roman emperor Caligula in A.D. 39. He is often remembered for his illegal marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias, and for his imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3, Josephus Antiquities 18.5.1-2).

Judea and Samaria were placed under the control of Herod’s son Archelaus (the full brother of Antipas and half brother of Philip), who was given the title of ethnarch (cf. Matthew 2:22). Archelaus began his reign by slaughtering 3000 people during the Jewish Passover, and he was eventually banished for incompetence by Augustus to Gaul in 6 A.D. (Josephus Antiquities 17.13.2). At this point Judea became a Roman province, ruled directly by a series of Roman prefects (A.D. 6-41) and then procurators (A.D. 44-66), who maintained their residence in Caesarea and the Fortress of Antonia near the temple in Jerusalem. The most important prefecture for early Christianity was that of Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26-36).

The uneasy relations between Rome and the Jews

The first act of direct Roman rule was the taking of a census by Quirinius, legate of Syria, in order to determine the amount of tribute owed by Judea (cf. Luke 2:1-3, Acts 5:37). The census itself and the paying of tribute provoked great animosity within Judean society. Under the prefects, internal Jewish affairs were governed by the high priestly aristocracy and judicial cases were determined by the Sanhedrin, or court of seventy-one. The prefects reserved the power of the sword, or the right of capital punishment. However, Jewish leadership seems to have retained this power in cases that dealt exclusively with religious crimes, especially those having to do with the sanctity of the temple. It is for this reason that Jesus, Paul and Stephen were tried on the accusation of “speaking against” or “defiling” the temple (Matthew 26:61, Acts 6:13-14, 21:28). The prefects further maintained their authority over the high priests through the power of appointment and by their authority to control custody of the high priestly garments (Josephus Antiquities 20.1.1).

After a brief return to Herodian rule under Agrippa from A.D. 41-44 (cf. Acts 12:20-23), Judea, Samaria and Galilee were ruled by a series of procurators until the outbreak of war in A.D. 66. Agrippa’s son reigned over a small kingdom in the north from A.D. 48-66 (Acts 25:13), and several later procurators are known from the New Testament, including Marcus Antonius Felix (A.D. 52-59; Acts 23:24) and Porcius Festus (A.D. 59-62; Acts 24:27), under both of whom Paul was imprisoned.

The reality of Roman control during the time of Jesus produced various reactions within Israelite society. Archaeology has revealed the large extent to which the upper classes adopted Greco-Roman customs and welcomed this new relationship. Evidence for such Hellenization can be observed in both public and private architecture, civil institutions and the widespread use of the Greek language. At the same time, Roman control generated widespread animosity and concern for the vitality of traditional Jewish values and expectations.


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