Jews in the Early Roman Era

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Roman Aqueduct near Jericho
The Romans took over what is now Israel in 63 B.C. They named the region Judea Palestine after the earlier coastal inhabitants (the Philistines). Julius Caesar allowed the Jews to practice their religion and collect a tax for upkeep of their temple. However, subjects from all religions were expected to make sacrifices to the Roman gods and worship the Roman emperor as a god.

Major Dates at the Beginning of the Roman Period in Israel
63 B.C. Rome (Pompey) annexes the land of Israel.
66-73 C.E. First Jewish Revolt against Rome.
69 C.E. Vespasian gives Yochanan ben Zakkai permission to establish a Jewish center for study at Yavneh that will become the hub for rabbinic Judaism.
70 C.E. Destruction of Jerusalem and the second Temple.

What is nowadays called the 'Current Era' (C.E.) traditionally begins with the birth of a Jewish teacher called Jesus. His followers came to believe he was the promised Messiah and later split away from Judaism to found Christianity, a faith whose roots are firmly in Judaism. “Current Era” used to be — and still is by many people — called anno Domini (A.D.) The term anno Domini is Medieval Latin and means "in the year of the Lord". It is taken from the full original phrase "anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi", which translates to "in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ". [Source: BBC, Wikipedia ]

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; Bible and Biblical History: ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Bible History Online Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Jewish History: ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook

Roman Rule in Palestine

The great Roman general Pompey at the Temple of Jerusalem

Jews and other tradition-rich monotheistic cultures in the Middle East were more resistant to Romanization that other parts of the empire. The fiercely nationalistic Jews bristled at the thought of worshiping the Roman emperor and as a consequence perhaps received among the harshest treatment of all Rome's subjects.

According to the BBC: For a period the Jewish people governed themselves again and were at peace with the Roman Empire. But internal divisions weakened the Jewish kingdom and allowed the Romans to establish control in 63 B.C.. In the years that followed, the Jewish people were taxed and oppressed by a series of "puppet" rulers who neglected the practice of Judaism. The priests or Sadducees were allied to the rulers and lost favor with the people, who turned increasingly to the Pharisees or Scribes. These were also known as Rabbis, meaning teachers. [Source: BBC]

Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian magazine: After the Assyrians conquered Israel seven centuries earlier, Jews lived under a succession of foreign rulers: Babylonians, Persians, Greeks. They tasted self-rule again only in the second century B.C., when the Maccabees vanquished the Greeks in one of history’s biggest military upsets. But autonomy was brief; in 63 B.C., Pompey the Great sacked Jerusalem, yoking the Land of Israel to Rome. [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2016]

“The Romans venerated idols, imposed heavy taxes and dealt ruthlessly with the meekest of Jewish rabble-rousers. (Antipas beheaded John the Baptist on the whim of his stepdaughter.) Even more galling, perhaps, was Rome’s meddling in what had always been a Jewish perquisite: the appointment of the temple’s high priests. Among those selected by Rome was Caiaphas, the high priest who would accuse Jesus of blasphemy and plot his execution.

“A sense of siege deepened the divisions among the Jews, who decades earlier had splintered into sects. The Sadducees became collaborators with the Roman elites. The Pharisees, who clashed with Jesus, according to the Gospels, believed in to-the-letter observance of Jewish law. The Essenes, dissident separatists, withdrew into caves above the Dead Sea, where their writings — the Dead Sea Scrolls — would be discovered 2,000 years later. Another group, whose slogan was “No king but God,” was known simply as “The Fourth Philosophy.”

Romans Take Over Palestine

The Romans took over Palestine between 63 and 37 B.C. The Jewish Hasmonean Kingdom of Judea, which had been established with Roman help, lasted from 140 to 37 B.C.. During that time Judea’s territory was expanded to include nearly all of present-day Israel. The leadership of the Pharisees was solidified under the rule (76–67 B.C.) of Queen Salome Alexandra, the widow of King Alexander Yanai (103–76), whose father, Aristobulus I, had assumed the title of king (104–103).

Upon Queen Alexandra's death her sons waged a struggle for the throne and the high priesthood, and the resulting civil war rendered Judea vulnerable to invasion. The Romans were called in to help settle a dispute between two sects vying for the Jewish throne. The Roman general Pompey took advantage of the chaos and took over Jerusalem and installed Idumean Antipater, a Jew of the Idumean tribe from Edom, as governor of the region.

The Roman conquest brought an end to the independence of Judea. For a time the Hasmoneans and Romans ruled together but for all intents and purposes the Jewish state once again became a province of an empire. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s]

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: “In the 60s CE a struggle for the priesthood, this time between Hasmonean brothers, destabilized the region and provided the pretext for Rome and Pompey’s siege of Jerusalem. The irony here, is that Roman influence and military might had bubbled in the background of Judean history since the beginning of the Maccabean revolt a century beforehand: “The alliance with Rome that had sponsored Judean independence in 168 B.C.E eventuated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE.” [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, November 29, 2021]

Timeline of the Roman Period in Palestine

Rule of Rome
(230 BCE-400 CE)
ca. 230-146 B.C.: Coming of Rome to the east Mediterranean.
142-129 B.C.: Jewish autonomy under Hasmoneans.
63 B.C.: Rome (Pompey) annexes the land of Israel.
37-4 B.C.: Herod the Great (Jewish Roman ruler of the land of Israel).
34 B.C.: Mark Antony deeds the city of Gaza to his lover, Queen Cleopatra.
37 B.C.: Herod captures Jerusalem, has Antigonus II executed, and marries the Hasmonean princess Mariamne I.
20 B.C.: Herod creates Temple Mount and begins to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Project continues until 72 C.E..
ca. 4 B.C.-ca. 30 C.E.: Joshua/Jesus “the Christ.” [Source: Jewish Virtual Library, UC Davis, Fordham University]

model of Antonia Fortress, which was located near The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem

6 C.E.: Rome establishes direct rule of prefects in Judea.
ca. 13 B.C.- 41 C.E.: Philo Judaeus of Alexandria.
ca. 30 C.E.: Jesus is crucified.
36-64 C.E.: Paul “the apostle” (Jewish “Christian”).
ca. 37-100 C.E.: Josephus (Jewish leader, historian).
ca. 40 C.E.: Gamliel/Gamaliel I (Jewish leader-scholar).
ca. 50-125 C.E.: Christian Testament (NT) writings.
66-73 C.E.: First Jewish Revolt against Rome.
69 C.E.: Vespasian gives Yochanan ben Zakkai permission to establish a Jewish center for study at Yavneh that will become the hub for rabbinic Judaism.
70: Destruction of Jerusalem and the second Temple.
December 21, 72: Thomas the Apostle is murdered by Hindu priests of Kali.
73: Last stand of Jews at Masada.
ca. 90-100: Gamaliel II excludes sectarians (including Christians) from the synagogues.
ca. 90-150: Writings (third and last division of Jewish Scriptures) discussed and accepted as sacred scripture.

114-117: Jewish Revolts against Rome in Cyprus, Egypt and Cyrene. The Great Synagogue and the Great Library in Alexandria are destroyed as well as the entire Jewish community of Cyprus. Afterwards, Jews were forbidden on Cyprus.
120-135: Rabbi Akiva active in consolidating Rabbinic Judaism.
132-135: Bar Kokhba rebellion (Second Jewish Revolt). Roman forces kill an estimated half a million Jews and destroy 985 villages and 50 fortresses.
136: Hadrian renames Jerusalem Aelia Capatolina and builds a Pagan temple over the site of the Second Temple. He also forbids Jews to dwell there. Judea (the southern portion of what is now called the West Bank) was renamed Palaestina in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel.
138-161: Antoninus Pius, Hadrian's sucessor, repeals many of the previously instituted harsh policies towards Jews.

Antonia Fortress Gate in 1906

193-211: Roman emperor Lucious Septimus Severus treats Jews relatively well, allowing them to participate in public offices and be exempt from formalities contrary to Judaism. However, he did not allow the Jews to convert anyone
ca. 200: Mishnah (Jewish oral law) compiled/edited under Judah the Prince.
200-254: Origen (Christian scholar, biblical interpreter).
203: Because of his health, Judah HaNasi relocates the center of Jewish learning from Beth Shearim to Sepphoris.
212: Roman Emperor Caracalla allows free Jews within the empire to become full Roman citizens.
220: Babylonian Jewish Academy founded at Sura by Rab.
Amoraim, or Mishna scholars, flourish. The Amoraim's commentary, along with the Mishna, comprises the Talmud.
Emperor Alexander Severus allowed for a revival of Jewish rights, including permission to visit Jerusalem.

240-276: Rise of Mani/Manichaean World Religion synthesis.
ca. 250: Babylonian Jews flourish (as does Manichaeism) under Persian King Shapur I
250-330: Early development of Christian monasticism in Egypt.
263-339: Eusebius (Christian author, historian)
303: Violent persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian.
To 311: Sporadic persecution of Christianity by Rome.
306: One of the first Christian councils, the Council of Elvira, forbids intermarriage and social interaction with Jews
312/313: Emperor Constantine embraces Christianity, announces Edict of Toleration
315: Code of Constantine limits rights of non-Christians, is Constantine's first anti-Jewish act.
368: Jerusalem Talmud compiled.

Roman Governors of Judea

Administration of Judaea
Herod the Great, 37-4 BC
Archelaus, 4 BC-AD 6
Roman Prefects, AD 6-41
Coponius, 6-9
Marcus Ambibulus, 9-12
Annius Rufus, 12-15

Jesus brought before the Roman official Pontius Pilate

Valerius Gratus, 15-26
Pontius Pilate, 26-36
Marcellus, 36/37
Marullus, 37-41
Agrippa I, 41-44

Roman Procurators, 44-66
Cuspius Fadus, 44-46?
Tiberius Iulius Alexander, 46?-48
Ventidius Cumanus, 48-52
Antonius Felix, 52-60?
Porcius Festus, 60-62?
Albinus, 62-64
Gessius Florus, 64-66
Roman Legates, 66-135
Sextus Vettulenus Cerialis, 70
Sextus Lucilius Bassus
Lucius Flavius Silva, 73/4-81
Cnaeus Pompeius Longinus, 86
Sextus Hermetidius Campanus, 93
Atticus, c100
Caius Iulius Quadratus Bassus, 102/3-104/5
Quintus Roscius Coelius Pompeius Falco, 105-7
?Tiberianus, 114
Lusius Quietus, 117
Quintus Tineius Rufus, 132
Caius Quinctius Certus Publius Marcellus
Sextus Iulius Severus, 135
[At Internet Archive, from Trinity]

Jewish High Priests, from Herod to the destruction of the Temple Ananelus
Jesus, son of Fabus
Simon, son of Boethus
Marthias, son of Theophilus

Antonius Felix

Joazar, son of Boethus
Eleazar, son of Boethus
Jesus, son of Sic
Ananus (Annas), son of Seth [NT]
Ismael, son of Fabus
Eleazar, son of Ananus
Simon, son of Camithus
Josephus Caiaphas, son in law of Ananus [NT]
Jonathan, son of Ananus
Theophilus, son of Ananus
Simon, son of Boethus
Matthias, son of Ananus
Josephus, son of Camydus
Ananias, son of Nebedus [Acts 24]
Ismael, son of Fabi
Joeseph Cabi, son of Simon
Ananus, son of Ananus
Jesus, son of Damneus
Jesus, son of Gamaliel
Matthias, son of Theophilus
Phanias, son of Samuel

Jews, Judea and the Roman Empire

Holland Lee Hendrix of the Union Theological Seminary told PBS: “The Roman Empire grew over a long period of time from basically a political unit in Italy to the entire Mediterranean basin, but it took a lot of time.... It really grew out of a number of different dynamics, certainly through invasion, through conquest, but also through invitation and one could be say bequest; certainly the eastern part of what became the empire actively solicited Rome's presence and were looking for, a firm, stable political authority and found, in Rome, that authority.... [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union, Theological Seminary Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“The spearhead, one could say, of Roman expansion I think most certainly was as much economically based as it was militarily based. We have a lot of evidence that tells us about Roman venture capitalists out there on the fringes of Roman economic spheres, beginning to build their small economic empires, and in some cases rather larger economic empires, that brought with [them] Roman rule. In fact, in some eastern Mediterranean cities Roman business men formed actual social units, political units within the Greek cities. These then became the networks by which political power then followed. So from economic and military activity spreading out from Italy, the empire spread through North Africa, through the West all the way through Great Britain, to the East all the way to eastern Syria, and that embraced all of Greece, all of Turkey, the Syral Palestinian area. The complete Mediterranean basin was effectively Roman.”

L. Michael White at the University of Texas told PBS: “The way the Roman Empire developed, was gradually to take over more and more territories in the eastern Mediterranean. Some of these were governed as provinces. You can imagine the Roman Empire gradually taking over more and more areas as they conquered and progressively moved to the east. North Africa, Egypt, Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, Syria. And gradually, they also conquered Judea. In the process, they set up some as provinces, and some as client kingdoms. Judea happened to be one of these client kingdoms run by its own independent, or semi-independent, King. This is the person we know as Herod the Great. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program, University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998]

“For the ordinary people of the Jewish homeland, Rome was a kind of dominant political factor. Although they might not have seen Romans on a day-to-day basis, the imposition of Roman power was certainly there. In the case of the client kingdom, Judea, Herod's rule and Herod's forces would have been the political entity. But everyone knew that Rome was the power behind the throne. Everyone knew that Rome was the source of both the wealth and also the source of some of the problems that occurred in the Jewish state. So the political reality of the day was of a dominant power overseeing the life on a day-to-day basis.”

Roman Middle East

Jews lived all over the Roman Empire. Jason Urbanus wrote in Archaeology magazine: “An unexpected new find from a Roman villa in Portugal has archaeologists reassessing their knowledge about the early Jewish population in Iberia. While excavating one of the villa's rooms, a team from Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany discovered a stone slab with what appears to be a Hebrew inscription. Carbon dating on material associated with the find indicates that the inscription dates to the fourth century A.D., though it may be even older. "We never expected such a strange piece in the context of a Roman villa," says excavation leader Dennis Graen. "It tells us that Jews and Romans were living together during this period." Experts are still analyzing the inscription, but the name "Yehiel" can be identified, and perhaps the phrase, "The Jew/Judean is blessed by heaven." Graen says, "This is still to be verified, but we are certain that we have found one of the oldest Jewish relics from the Iberian Peninsula." [Source: Jason Urbanus, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 5, September/October 2012]

Strabo on the Geography of Judea

In the middle of the A.D. first century, Strabo wrote in “The Geography”: “These districts (of Jerusalem and Joppa) lie towards the north; they are inhabited generally, and each place in particular, by mixed tribes of Egyptians, Arabians, and Phoenicians. Of this description are the inhabitants of Galilee, of the plain of Jericho, and of the territories of Philadelphia and Samaria, surnamed Sebaste by Herod; but though there is such a mixture of inhabitants, the report most credited, among many things believed respecting the temple and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, is that the Egyptians were the ancestors of the present Jews. An Egyptian priest named Moses, who possessed a portion of the country called Lower Egypt, being dissatisfied with the established institutions there, left it and came to Judea with a large body of people who worshiped the Divinity. He declared and taught that the Egyptians and Africans entertained erroneous sentiments, in representing, the Divinity under the likeness of wild beasts and cattle of the field; that the Greeks also were error in making images of their gods after the human form. For God, said he, may be this one thing which encompasses us all, land and sea, which we call heaven, or the universe, or the nature of things. Who, then, of any understanding would venture to form an image of this Deity, resembling anything with which we are conversant? On the contrary, we ought not to carve any images, but to set apart some sacred ground as a shrine worthy of the Deity, and to worship Him without any similitude. He taught that those who made fortunate dreams were to be permitted to sleep in the temple, where they might dream both for themselves and others; that those who practiced temperance and justice, and none else, might expect good, or some gift or sign from the God, from time to time. [Source: [Source: Strabo, The Geography, Book XVI.ii.34-38, 40, 46, c. A.D. 22, trans. H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer (London: George Bell & Sons, 1889), III:177-178]

“By such doctrine Moses persuaded a large body of right-minded persons to accompany him to the place where Jerusalem now stands. He easily obtained possession of it as the spot was not such as to excite jealousy, nor for which there could be any fierce contention; for it is rocky, and, although well supplied with water, it is surrounded by a barren and waterless territory. The space within the city is 60 stadia in circumference, with rock underneath the surface. Instead of arms, he taught that their defense was in their sacred things and the Divinity, for whom he was desirous of finding a settled place, promising to the people to deliver such a kind of worship and religion as should not burden those who adopted it with great expense, nor molest them with so-called divine possessions, nor other absurd practices. Moses thus obtained their good opinion, and established no ordinary kind of government. All the nations around willingly united themselves to him, allured by his discourses and promises.

“His successors continued for some time to observe the same conduct, doing justly, and worshipping God with sincerity. Afterwards superstitious persons were appointed to the priesthood, and then tyrants. From superstition arose abstinence from flesh, from the eating of which it is now the custom to refrain, circumcision, cliterodectomy, and other practices which the people observe. The tyrannical government produced robbery; for the rebels plundered both their own and the neighboring countries. Those also who shared in the government seized upon the property of others, and ravaged a large part of Syria and of Phoenicia. Respect, however, was paid to the Acropolis [Zion, or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem]; it was not abhorred as the seat of tyranny, but honoured and venerated as a temple. . . .Such was Moses and his successors; their beginning was good, but they degenerated.

Tacitus on the Origin and Early History of the Jews

Roman Jerusalem

Around 110 B.C., the Roman historian Tacitus wrote in The Histories, Book V: Some say that the Jews were fugitives from the island of Crete, who settled on the nearest coast of Africa about the time when Saturn was driven from his throne by the power of Jupiter. Evidence of this is sought in the name. There is a famous mountain in Crete called Ida; the neighboring tribe, the Idaei, came to be called Judaei by a barbarous lengthening of the national name. Others assert that in the reign of Isis the overflowing population of Egypt, led by Hierosolymus and Judas, discharged itself into the neighboring countries. Many, again, say that they were a race of Ethiopian origin, who in the time of king Cepheus were driven by fear and hatred of their neighbors to seek a new dwelling-place. gods. [Source: Tacitus, The Histories of Tacitus, A.D. 110, trans. A. D. Godley (London: Macmillan, 1898)]

“Others describe them as an Assyrian horde who, not having sufficient territory, took possession of part of Egypt, and founded cities of their own in what is called the Hebrew country, lying on the borders of Syria. Others, again, assign a very distinguished origin to the Jews, alleging that they were the Solymi, a nation celebrated in the poems of Homer, who called the city which they founded Hierosolyma after their own name. Most writers, however, agree in stating that once a disease, which horribly disfigured the body, broke out over Egypt; that king Bocchoris, seeking a remedy, consulted the oracle of Hammon, and was bidden to cleanse his realm, and to convey into some foreign land this race detested by the gods.”

“The people, who had been collected after diligent search, finding themselves left in a desert, sat for the most part in a stupor of grief, till one of the exiles, Moses by name, warned them not to look for any relief from God or man, forsaken as they were of both, but to trust to themselves, taking for their heaven-sent leader that man who should first help them to be quit of their present misery. They agreed, and in utter ignorance began to advance at random. Nothing, however, distressed them so much as the scarcity of water, and they had sunk ready to perish in all directions over the plain, when a herd of wild asses was seen to retire from their pasture to a rock shaded by trees. Moses followed them, and, guided by the appearance of a grassy spot, discovered an abundant spring of water. This furnished relief. After a continuous journey for six days, on the seventh they possessed themselves of a country, from which they expelled the inhabitants, and in which they founded a city and a temple.

“Moses, wishing to secure for the future his authority over the nation, gave them a novel form of worship, opposed to all that is practiced by other men. Things sacred with us, with them have no sanctity, while they allow what with us is forbidden. In their holy place they have consecrated an image of the animal by whose guidance they found deliverance from their long and thirsty wanderings. They slay the ram, seemingly in derision of Hammon, and they sacrifice the ox, because the Egyptians worship it as Apis. They abstain from swine's flesh, in consideration of what they suffered when they were infected by the leprosy to which this animal is liable. By their frequent fasts they still bear witness to the long hunger of former days, and the Jewish bread, made without leaven, is retained as a memorial of their hurried seizure of corn. We are told that the rest of the seventh day was adopted, because this day brought with it a termination of their toils; after a while the charm of indolence beguiled them into giving up the seventh year also to inaction.”

Tacitus on the “Vile” Customs of the Jews

Mattathias and the Apostate

Tacitus wrote in The Histories, Book V: “All their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful.

Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. Hence a passion for propagating their race and a contempt for death. They are wont to bury rather than to burn their dead, following in this the Egyptian custom; they bestow the same care on the dead, and they hold the same belief about the lower world.

“Quite different is their faith about things divine. The Egyptians worship many animals and images of monstrous form; the Jews have purely mental conceptions of Deity, as one in essence. They call those profane who make representations of God in human shape out of perishable materials. They believe that Being to be supreme and eternal, neither capable of representation, nor of decay. They therefore do not allow any images to stand in their cities, much less in their temples. This flattery is not paid to their kings, nor this honor to our Emperors. From the fact, however, that their priests used to chant to the music of flutes and cymbals, and to wear garlands of ivy, and that a golden vine was found in the temple, some have thought that they worshiped father Liber, the conqueror of the East, though their institutions do not by any means harmonize with the theory; for Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean.:

Early Involvement of Rome in Judea

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Judea enjoyed a political independence, of sorts, from the revolt of the Maccabees against Seleucid (Syrian) domination beginning in 166 BC. Interestingly, it was in the initial stages of the revolt that the Jews had their first diplomatic contact with Rome; in 164, the Jewish leaders appealed successfully to the Romans for help in arranging a temporary armistice with the Seleucids (2 Macc. 11:34-38, where the initiative for the intervention is falsely ascribed to the Romans). Three years later, in 161, after the Maccabean revolt had succeeded, a treaty was concluded between the Romans and the Hasmoneans; subsequently there were sporadic renewals of or appeals to the treaty; an important instance was in 142, when the Roman consul L. Caecilius Metellus wrote to Ptolemy in these terms: “The envoys of the Jews have come to us as our friends and allies to renew our ancient friendship and alliance .... We therefore have decided to write to the kings and countries that they should not seek their harm or make war against them and their cities and their country. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

ruined Roman bridge in Israel

“This is not to say that the Romans had a protectorate over Judea, of course; what they had was merely the standard agreement of philia, and this did not always translate into active Roman assistance when the Jews were in trouble with the Syrians or Egyptians. The pattern in the late second and early first centuries BC is for the Romans to warn or admonish enemies of the Jews, but not to back it up with troops. /+/

“In any case, it took over forty years for the Jews to firmly establish their independence from Syria (141 BC). The Hasmoneans had shortly before been collaborators with the Seleucids and their representatives in Judea, but when the Hasmonean Simon came to power he broke from the Seleucids. The Hasmoneans then held power in Jerusalem until 37 BC: Simon, 142-134; John Hyrcanus I, 134-104; Aristobulus I, 104-103; Alexander Jannaeus, 103-76; Salome Alexandra, 76-67; Aristobulus II, 67-63; John Hyrcanus II, 63-40; Mattathias Antigonus, 40-37. Prior to the Hasmonean dynasty, the political and religious leadership of the Jews had always been separated: there was a king and a high priest at the same time. The Hasmoneans combined the two titles in the person of the king, and used the expanded power to conquer a good deal of neighbouring territory, such that by the end of their line Judea encompassed all of modern Israel. Curiously, the Hasmoneans were purists, rigorously anti-pagan (whereas throughout most of the Hellenistic period it had been fashionable to be Hellenized, and a Hellenized Jew was considered a moderate). Now, in the 1st century BC, there begin to appear in pagan authors the strains of anti-Semitism, the same kinds of accusations which would later be turned against the Christians. /+/

Rome Takes Over Judea

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Rome became directly involved in Jewish politics in the years 66-63 BC, when two Hasmonean brothers (Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II) were engaged in a civil war over the throne, and each appealed to the Roman legate in Syria for support. The Romans eventually decided in favor of Hyrcanus, and it was he who greeted the Roman troops in Jerusalem in 63. They were under the leadership of Pompey, who at the time was engaged in exercising his extraodinary command to free the Eastern sea of pirates. Pompey's disposition of Judea is interesting: he greatly reduced the number of territories then subject to the high priest in Jerusalem, in effect reversing all the hard-won gains of the expansionist Hasmoneans. Why? The probable answer is that Pompey was annoyed because he had to spend some months rooting out a pocket of Aristobulan loyalists who had barricaded themselves in the Temple; the alternative answer, that Rome now perceived the Jews as a potential rival in the Middle East, much of which they (the Romans) were only now getting around to formally annexing, is unlikely. Hyrcanus ruled (under Roman supervision) until 40 BC, when he perished in the Parthian invasion of Syria. The Parthians installed a puppet. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College]

Roman governor of Judea

Strabo wrote in “The Geography”: “When Judaea openly became subject to a tyrannic government, the first person who exchanged the title of priest for that of king was Alexander [Alexander Jannaeus]. His sons were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus. While they were disputing the succesion to the kingdom, Pompey came upon them by surprise, deprived them of their power, and destroyed their fortress first taking Jerusalem itself by storm [63 B.C.]. It was a stronghold situated on a rock, well-fortified and well-supplied with water within, but externally entirely parched with drought. A ditch was cut in the rock, 60 feet in depth, and in width 250 feet. On the wall of the temple were built towers, constructed of the materials procured when the ditch was excavated. The city was taken, it is said, by waiting for the day of fast, on which the Jews were in the habit of abstaining from all work. Pompey, availing himself of this, filled up the ditch, and threw bridges over it. He gave orders to raze all the walls, and he destroyed, as far as was in his power, the haunts of the robbers and the treasure-holds of the tyrants. Two of these forts, Thrax and Taurus, were situated in the passes leading to Jericho. Others were Alexandrium, Hyrcanium, Machaerus, Lysias, and those about Philadelphia, and Scythopolis near Galilee. [Source: [Source: Strabo, The Geography, Book XVI.ii.34-38, 40, 46, c. A.D. 22, trans. H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer (London: George Bell & Sons, 1889), III:177-178]

“Pompey curtailed the territory which had been forcibly appropriated by the Jews, and assigned to Hyrcanus the priesthood. Some time afterwards, Herod, of the same family, and a native of the country, having surreptitiously obtained the priesthood, distinguished himself so much above his predecessors, particularly in his intercourse, both civil and political, with the Romans, that he received the title and authority of king, first from Antony, and afterwards from Augustus Caesar. He put to death some of his sons, on the pretext of their having conspired against him; other sons he left at his death [in 4 B.C.] to succeed him, and assigned to each portions of his kingdom. Caesar bestowed upon the sons also of Herod marks of honor, as also upon their sister Salome, and on her daughter Berenice too. The sons were unfortunate, and were publicly accused. One of them [Archelaus] died in exile among the Galatae Allobroges, whose country [Vienne, south of Lyons in France] was assigned for his abode. The others, by great interest and solicitation, but with difficulty, obtained leave to return to their own country, each with his tetrarchy restored to him.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, Live Science, Archaeology magazine, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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