03.05.17 63 B.C. – A.D. 312 Roman Period
From this point on the Romans controlled Israel for more than four centuries with the exception of a brief Parthian conquest of Jerusalem in 40-39 B.C. During most of this time, the Roman prefects who ruled the provinces of Galilee, Perea, and Judah were loosely supervised by governors in Damascus, Syria. It was Roman policy to give captured people religious freedom and limited self-regulation so as to prevent uprisings and war. This policy was effective throughout the empire, with the three Jewish provinces being the only constant exception in that there was always tension of a possible revolt.
The Jews interpreted the fourth empire described in Daniel 2 and 7 as the Roman occupation of their land. It was their understanding that the Messiah would come in the days of the last empire. They looked upon the prophetic words of Daniel and Ezekiel and realized that Jerusalem was rebuilt, many Jews had returned from captivity and Antiochus had desecrated the temple with an idol and the sacrifice of a pig. Therefore, it was obvious to them that the Messiah was about to come. Furthermore, they looked upon the “sevens” of Daniel’s prophecies as meaning “perfection” rather than a literal interpretation, so the ideal time for the Messiah to come had arrived. Never were they so wrong, and never were they so right. They were correct in reference to his first coming, but the prophecies that supported their interpretation are in reference to His second coming. They failed to distinguish between the two prophecies.
However, the Romans were generally kinder to them than was their own Alexander Jannaeus. Pompey installed the Hasmonean king Hyrcanus II as a puppet king who was under the control and domination of the regional governor in Damascus. This is a significant point, as the leadership of Judah was in question during the time of the census prior to the birth of Jesus. Pompey had only two demands of the Jews:
- Pay taxes to Caesar, and
- Place a statue of Caesar as god in the temple.
Little did they realize what kind of people their Jewish subjects were. When they made a huge outcry against the demand of a statue in the temple, Pompey rescinded it, but it cost them an additional taxation rate. To insure a stabilized government, he installed Hyrcanus, the second ruler by that name, as high priest-ruler of Samaria and the three Jewish provinces. He also appointed Antipater to be the vizier or senior officer for Hyrcanus. Antipater had a son, Herod the Great, who would eventually become a central figure at the birth of Jesus. The Romans who endorsed Greek culture expanded it further than Alexander the Great ever dreamed possible.
Pompey secured a military frontier zone with the strong Roman Tenth Legion in Damascus. He also made Hyrcanus II high priest in the temple. Equally significant was that Pompey liberated the Samaritans from the Jewish – Hasmonean rulership. He then marched east and liberated the Greek cities from Jewish rule, and placed them into a league known as the Decapolis. They were then under the same jurisdiction of the governor of Damascus. This improved trade and commerce.
Since the Parthians had conquered a massive territory from the Euphrates to the Indus Rivers, the Romans feared that if they acquired access to the Mediterranean Sea, then Rome and the Empire would be severely threatened. Therefore, the Romans built more roads throughout Israel than in any other part of the empire for the sole purpose of moving troops quickly in the event of a major military conflict on the eastern front. Throughout the life of Christ, there was a constant threat between these two superpowers.
The Roman Empire belted the Mediterranean Sea and extended into Europe. Israel was a land bridge between the three continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe. To the east was the Arabian Desert and to the west was the Mediterranean Sea. For the Romans, the nearby strategic cities were Alexandria in Egypt for grain, Antioch in Syria for international commerce, and Athens in Greece for cultural values. The empire eventually included twelve language groups and became so huge that Rome could hardly administer it.
Finally, historians generally have given the title of Pax Romana, meaning the peace of Rome and quiet in the provinces, to the period of 27 B.C. to about A.D. 180. The Roman peace was possible only because of the mighty Roman sword, and yet, in the three Jewish provinces that made up Judaea/Israel (Judea, Perea, and Galilee) there were some 13 serious revolts between 63 B.C. and A.D. 70, and many more riots. Pax Romana was not present and that constantly infuriated the Romans. Aside from that issue, the imperial government introduced safer highways – free from bandits, established a stable coinage, and removed trade barriers. Soon manufacturing and international trade blossomed.
In the meantime, a nationalistic Jewish guerrilla movement known as the “Zealots” was getting established in the northern Galilee area to fight the Romans. These young freedom fighters expected the same Divine results as their forefathers enjoyed fighting the Syrian-Greeks. Little wonder then that the Romans were constantly worried about a “messiah” who would attempt an uprising.
. See Appendix 15 concerning Daniel’s prophecy.
. Blaiklock, “Herod.” 7:815.
. Neusner and Green, eds., Dictonary of Judaism. 646; Barclay, “Mark.” 125-26.
. Pellett, “Decapolis.” 1:810-12.
. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 87-88.
. For a study of historical maps of this region, see Nebenzahl, Kenneth. Maps of the Holy Land. New York: Abbeville Press. 1986.
. 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.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 423.
. The so-called “First Revolt” of A.D. 66 – 73 resulted in the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, was not the first revolt per se, but the first significant revolt that eventually resulted in the destruction of national Israel and the separation of Judaism and Christianity. The Second Revolt that further separated Christianity from Judaism was in A.D. 132-35.
. See Appendix 25 for a listing of false prophets who had messianic expectations and for a partial listing of revolts and social disturbances from 63 B.C. to A.D. 70.
. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 181.