THE ROMAN OCCUPATION (Procurators) Jews under Rome
From 6 AD, except for the brief rule of Agrippa I (41-44 AD), until the outbreak of the First Jewish War in 66 AD, a series of fourteen Roman governors ruled Judea.
The governor of Judea, known as a 'praefect' or 'procurator', came from the Roman equestrian class, and was subordinate to the legate of Syria at Damascus. Judea was considered a minor province; its governor had at his disposal only a small force of about 3,000 auxiliary soldiers, mostly stationed at Caesarea. On festival occasions, such as the Jewish Passover, a cohort of about 500 soldiers would be stationed in the Fortress of Antonia in Jerusalem, overlooking the temple grounds.Pontius Pilate governed from AD 26 to 36, under the Emperor Tiberius. He was a protégé of the powerful Sejanus, head of the praetorian guard in Rome. Pilate outraged the Jews by several tactless actions. For instance he used temple funds to build an aqueduct, and introduced military standards bearing the emperor's image into Jerusalem, which offended Jewish religious traditions. He met opposition with ruthless force. On the other hand, he yielded to Jewish pressures to have Jesus crucified as a royal pretender. This occurred either in 30, or as some writers have argued, in 33 after the fall of Sejanus, when Pilate's own position became insecure.
As his name Felix (Latin for 'fortunate') indicates, the governor of Judea from 52 to 60 AD was a freedman, or former slave. His brother Pallas was the secretary of the Roman treasury under the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD).
The historian Tacitus says of him: 'With every sort of cruelty and lust he exercised royal functions in the spirit of a slave.'
It was his hope for a bribe which kept the apostle Paul imprisoned in Caesarea. When Festus (60-62) succeeded Felix as governor, Paul took advantage of his right as a Roman citizen to appeal direct to Caesar, who at that time was Nero.
THE ROMAN OCCUPATION THROUGH JEWISH EYES.
The greatest blow felt by the Jews was to their national pride. They believed that God had chosen them to be his special people. They looked forward to the day when the nations of the world would come to worship God in Jerusalem. Instead, the Romans and their puppet rulers desecrated their holy places, and insulted their laws and customs.
Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus in Caesarea. Inside it were statues of the emperor depicted as Zeus and Rome personified as Hera, statues the Jews considered idolatrous. In Caesarea andin Jerusalem Herod built theaters and amphitheaters. Games were held in both places every fourth year in honor of Augustus. The naked competitors greatly offended the Jews, as did the religious customs linked with the games. Worst of all, over the great gate of the temple in Jerusalem Herod placed a massive golden eagle- the symbol of Roman dominion.
Roman soldiers were stationed in Judea to keep in check the Parthians who came from an area north-east of Syria. They were never completely conquered by the Romans. The soldiers also kept the peace in Judea, prevented riots and ensured the safety of trade routes.
The army's headquarters was at Caesarea but a detachment was kept as a garrison in Jerusalem. Soldiers were always on duty in the outer temple area, and more were sent to Jerusalem at Passover time when pilgrims flocked to the city.
The Jews were left under no illusion as to who controlled their country. Uniformed soldiers were an everyday sight in their streets. The Jews were, however, exempt from military service because their law forbade the carrying of weapons on the Sabbath, and because soldiers were expected to take part in pagan religious ceremonies.
One of the most hated aspects of Roman domination was the heavy taxation. The provinces were expected to bear most of the cost of administering the empire. In the province of Syria income tax was 1 per cent of a man's income per year, but there were also export and import taxes, taxes levied on crops one-tenth of the grain crop and one-fifth of the wine, fruit and oil - purchase taxes, taxes payable on the transfer of property, emergency taxes, and so on.
A Roman official called a censor was responsible for collecting the revenue but he sold the right to extort it to the highest bidders. These TAX COLLECTORS demanded more money than was due and kept the difference for themselves. It is likely that they took bribes from the rich so it was the poor people who really paid for the Roman government.
There were frequent Jewish revolts against the Romans, triggered by ill treatment of the Jews. In the time of the procurator Ventidius Cumanus (48-52 AD) a Roman soldier threw a scroll of the Law into the fire. The Jews were so incensed that Cumanus was forced to have the soldier executed. Under Judas the Galilean the Jews revolted against the excessive taxes but the revolt was put down with great cruelty and all the rebels were executed (Acts 5:37). Because they longed to be free of Rome sects such as the Zealots openly rebelled, and the Essenes opted out of normal citizenship in their self-supporting community.
The occupation had some benefits. The Romans secured peace and built a good system of roads. This in turn encouraged trade. They often respected local customs, allowed religious freedom and a certain degree of self government. They built baths and government offices.
The Sanhedrin, (the Jewish council of seventy elders and the high priest which met in Jerusalem) had control of religious affairs and also administered government and justice under the authority of the Roman procurator. Although it tried certain criminal cases it does not seem to have had the right to enforce capital punishment, which is why Jesus had to be executed by Pilate, the Roman governor.
WHO WAS PONTIUS PILATE?
- Outside the New Testament, references to Pontius Pilate and his 10-year procuratorship in Judea are rare.
- The Roman historian Tacitus mentions him only in passing when noting "the execution of Christus, author of that sect, by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius."
- But the Jewish historian Josephus recounts three incidents involving his rule:
First , Pilate deliberately offended Jews by sending soldiers into Jerusalem carrying images of the Roman emperor, but called them back after an angry crowd demonstrated in the streets.
Second, he sought to win favor by improving the Holy City's water supply, but Jews were outraged when he tried to use temple funds for the project. In the rioting that followed, several citizens were killed because Pilate's soldiers disregarded his orders to use batons rather than swords.
Third, Pilate was ordered by his superior Lucius Vitellius, the governor of Syria, to go back to Rome for an investigation after his forces ambushed and killed a gathering of religious fanatics in Samaria. According to tradition, he was tried and condemned to exile in France at Vienne-sur-Rhone, where he committed suicide during the reign of Caligula.
- The New Testament's authors were not unsympathetic to Pilate, and early Church fathers even thought of him as "a Christian by conscience."
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