The Post-exilic period of the Old Testament – The Roman and Herodian period (Nehemiah 7)

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Illustration: Roman ransacking of the Temple ca. 70 A.D. 

The period of Hasmonean rule marked the last time that Jews would be under the governance of their own people until the modern state of Israel was established in 1948. Indeed, when the Hasmoneans were at the height of their power, Roman power was already growing in the region and would soon encroach upon the Hasmonean state. By the time the Roman Pompey arrived at Jerusalem with his legions in 63 B.C., Roman conquest was virtually a foregone conclusion. The Romans were quite merciful and did not destroy Jerusalem or punish the people of the region. They respected the antiquity of the Jewish faith and permitted its observance to continue unabated, so long as the Jews did not threaten  the Roman state.

Pompey’s successor, Gabinius, governor of Syria from 57 to 55 B.C., attempted to divide the Jewish territory into five administrative units. When the people reacted violently, Gabinius abandoned his plan. From this experience the Romans learned that Judea had the potential to be a powder keg. Indeed, rebellion would prove to be the norm, not the exception, throughout the period of Roman rule.

In 39 B.C. Herod the Great was appointed vassal king over Judea by Octavius Caesar and the Roman senate. He quickly granted the high priesthood to members of the Jewish Dispora, men who shared his Hellenistic tendencies (in contrast to the more conservative Jewish priests) – an act that angered many Judeans. He also ruled the region with a heavy hand, believing that rebellion was best discouraged by making examples of those who challenged the peace. Matthew 2, in the account of the slaughter of the innocents, illustrates Herod’s cruelty.

On the other hand, Herod could be quite sympathetic to the Jewish people. On one occasion he lobbied the imperial court in Rome on behalf of certain Jews who had revolted. He also undertook the restoration of the temple in 20 B.C. Following Herod’s death in 4 B.C. Archelaus became king but proved unable to maintain order. After ten years of uprisings, Rome designated Judea a Roman province and placed it under the direct oversight of the imperial capital. Nothing, however, could coerce the Jews into being satisfied under foreign rule. It was precisely in this difficult environment that Jesus embarked upon Hid public ministry.


 

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