03.06.05 4 B.C. Jews Revolt at Passover; Thousands Killed
The death of Herod immediately inspired great hope of Jewish nationalism and independence. That hope was connected to a long-standing opinion that the messiah would appear at Passover to defeat the Romans. In the year 4 B.C., while Caesar Augustus and the Roman senate were evaluating Herod’s last will and Testament, the Jews began a rebellion. It was started by a shepherd known as Athronges, and with his four brothers, they led a revolt at Passover against the Romans and their sympathizers. Passover was believed to be a key to their victory. They had a common belief that God would intervene if they went to war in faith, believing God for the victory. To be assured of victory, Athronges claimed to be the king of the Jews, wore a crown, and served in a self-appointed judicial capacity. During this revolt, two scholars at the temple were covered with oil, set on fire and called “Roman torches,” and burned to death.
While Jews were uprising in Jerusalem, there was another revolt only three miles from Nazareth in Sepphoris which was led by a Zealot named Judas ben Ezechias. According to Josephus, the news of the uprising spread quickly, and just as quickly the Roman legate of Syria, Quintilius Varus, sent the Roman army into Galilee.  At the same time Aretas, king of Arabia, sent infantry and cavalry to assist the Romans. Together they not only crushed the Jewish rebellion, they also burned Sepphoris and sold many residents into slavery. Under the command of Varus, in the Jerusalem area thousands were slaughtered and 2,000 crucified. Any suspected revolutionaries were captured and quickly crucified.
Another revolutionary was Simon, a former slave of Herod the Great. He placed a diadem on his head, then gathered discharged soldiers and attempted to overthrow the Herodian dynasty. He attacked the Romans and Roman sympathizers, burned down a palace in Jericho, and a number of other royal facilities. After causing havoc throughout Judea, Herod’s cousin, Achiab, and his loyal army captured and beheaded him and his rebel soldiers.
The religious, cultural, and political tensions, underscored by the rebellions and subsequent widespread slaughter and crucifixions when Jesus was a child, are clearly indicative of a social environment that was far more explosive than the Middle East is today. This was the tension-filled environment in which Jesus grew up.
While the death of Herod brought increased passion for national sovereignty, there was a restless mood for independence. As was stated previously, from the time the Romans arrived in 63 B.C. until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, there were thirteen rebellions and sixty claimants to the title of messiah but only one of them, Menahem ben Hezekiah, claimed to be a descendant of David.
. The Romans had to contend with several minor Jewish revolts and four major ones in 4 B.C., A.D. 66-74, The Kitos War of A.D. 115-117 , and Bar Kokhba Revolt of A.D. 132-135. Historians, however, refer to the revolt of A.D. 66-74 as the “First Revolt” and to the Bar Kokhba Revolt of A.D. 132-135 as the “Second Revolt.” These two conflicts (First and Second) had a major impact upon Jewish and Christian lives. The Jews who lived in the districts of Galilee, Judah, and Perea revolted thirteen times between the years 63 B.C. and A.D. 132. Little wonder then, that when the Second Revolt started, the Romans wanted to eradicate them.
. A partial listing of an estimated 60 messianic pretenders is found in Appendix 25 “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”
. Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.7 and Wars 2.4.3.
. At this time Sepphoris was the capitol city of the District of Galilee. Later the capital was moved to the new city of Tiberias along the Sea of Galilee.
. Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.5.
. Batey, Jesus and the Forgotten City. 53-54, 76.
. Josephus comments on the Jewish Revolt of 4 B.C. in Antiquities. 17.9.6-7 and in Wars 2.1.1; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 167.
. Neusner and Green, eds., Dictionary of Judaism. 65.
. Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.6.
. 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.
. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:114.
. Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhoth 2.4, 5a.18. Menahem ben Hezekiah was a major leader in the revolt of A.D. 66 (Josephus, Wars 2.17.8). For more than a hundred years the Hezekiah family was involved in various revolts, and mutinies. This has given credibility to some that they were of royal lineage as they claimed.