02.03.07 Government. In 63 B.C., the Roman General Pompey took control of Judaea, and the Jewish people came under Roman control. Their method of governing was to give their subjects limited autonomy, a tradition begun by the Persians centuries earlier (Ezra 7:25-26; 10:14). The Romans had three desires:
- That the people pay tribute (taxes).
- Peace of Rome and quiet in the provinces
- The statue of the Roman emperor is to be erected in the temple. However, after much argument, the Romans rescinded this requirement, but the taxation was tantamount to that of slavery.
Therefore, the Jews had limited self-governmental powers that functioned through the high court known as the Sanhedrin. But the Sanhedrin was under the control of the provincial king, Herod the Great, who in turn, was a puppet king of Rome who also had to report to the governor of Damascus. When General Pompey took control, he permitted the high court to rule all three Jewish provinces of Galilee, Judea, and Perea. But Herod restricted Sanhedrin control to Judea and Jerusalem. He also removed the right to inflict capital punishment except in the event a Gentile entered the sacred area of the temple. In such cases, the temple police were given authority to enforce the law.
The position of high priest was not occupied in accordance to biblical protocol, but by an appointment by the Roman government. In this manner, Rome had control of the people who also had limited government and religious freedom. This freed Herod and other Roman officials from the petty problems of the common people. Rome was the central seat of government. The provinces throughout the empire had various classifications and, hence, the rulers had different titles. A procurator ruled a province that was second-class to a province ruled by an ethnarch. In the case of Archelaus, when his province was re-classified, he came under the direct rule of neighboring Syria. This insured that Rome would receive its taxes and peace was maintained.
The Romans were hardly the ideal slave masters. But while considerable negative press has been given to them, credit should be given to them as they made some feeble attempts to be fair to their subjects. For example, coins minted for use in Judaea did not have any images that were offensive to the Jews.
Another example was the census that was taken every fourteen years. This was not only to count the number of persons in any given district, but the information was also used to build a form of equity or equality in taxation.
Taxes were collected by Jewish men who contracted for the position of tax collector. Any sense of fairness or equality failed at this point because the tax collector could collect as much as he desired so long as he gave the Romans what they had initially requested. The remaining funds were his personal property. Consequently, tax collectors used the power and authority of the Roman government to increase their personal wealth. The Jews considered tax collectors, such as Matthew, to be the worst of the worst of all humanity.
. This phrase is the definition of Pax Romana. Lee, The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. 72-73; Mellowes and Cran, Executive Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 1; See “Pax Romana” in Appendix 26.
. Thompson, “Sanhedrin.” 3:1390.
. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus. 37; Josephus, Antiquities 20.6.2.
. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1-3.