HISTORY OF EASTER: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PLAYERS AFTERWARD
You may be asking yourself,
“Self,” you ask, “where are they now?“
And well you might ask. What happened to our players AFTER the events in the Easter story?
You may remember that I had said Antipas‘ taking his brother’s wife Herodias as his wife led to his ruin. It led to his exile and death. Her ambition pushed him where he would not have otherwise gone. Antipas’ nephew and Herodias’ brother, Herod Agrippa (who we meet in the New Testament book the Acts of the Apostles as one of the early persecutors of the new church) had spent and borrowed much money while he was in Palestine.
Herodias suggested that her husband Antipas help her brother Agrippa financially, but they argued. Agrippa lived much of his time in Rome and was a close friend of the future Emperor Gaius (the infamous Caligula). While riding in a chariot with Caligula, Agrippa commented that he could not wait until the then Emperor Tiberius was no longer Caesar so that Caligula might have his rightful place. A loyal slave overhearing this relayed it to Tiberius, who had Agrippa imprisoned.
However, when Caligula finally did become emperor, he released his friend and replaced his chain with a gift of one equal in size made of gold. He also made him a king of some regions of Palestine, including the tetrarchy of his former brother-in-law Herod Philip. When Herodias learned that her undeserving brother had been made a king, she pushed her husband to go to Rome to appeal for the same title.
The tetrarch Antipas was mellowing with age and was unwilling. However, after much prodding from his wife, he began his journey. At the same time that he was appealing before Caligula, the emperor was reading a letter from Agrippa, accusing his uncle Antipas of treason against Rome, having entered into alliances with Sejanus, the Parthians (enemies of Rome at that time,) and of gathering 70,000 men and arms.
When questioned about this army, Antipas admitted to having collected this militia. Caligula promptly confiscated all his property, giving it to Agrippa, and exiled Antipas for life to Spain. However, he allowed Herodias, since she was the sister of his beloved Agrippa, to retain her property and go free. She accompanied her husband into exile to her credit, where he died shortly after that. He had ruled from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, longer than any tetrarch in Palestine, except for Agrippa II, son of his enemy, Agrippa.
Three years after the affair with Jesus of Nazareth, in A.D. 36, after serving ten years as military and political prefect of Judea, a revolt started in Samaria. An obscure pseudo-prophet with Messianic ambitions had promised the Samaritans that he would uncover some sacred temple utensils that Moses had supposedly buried on their sacred Mt. Gerizim. The gathered multitude came armed with weapons, and Pilate ordered his troops to block the ascent. It came to a pitched battle. Pilate, having won, executed the leaders of the uprising.
The Samaritan Senate complained to Pilate’s superior, the Roman legate of Syria, who ordered Pilate to return to Rome to answer the charges against him. However, Emperor Tiberius died before Pilate reached Rome. Whether Emperor Caligula tried him, we do not know. Nor do we know what ultimately happened to him.
Perhaps he was banished to Gaul. Some medieval legends describe that his restless corpse, accompanied by squadrons of demons, disrupted localities of France and Switzerland, causing storms, earthquakes, and other havoc. A later tradition I came upon while traveling through Switzerland claims that he was ultimately buried in a mountain lake, still called Pilatus (pilatus or “cloud-capped”), overlooking Lucerne. Each Good Friday, the body is said to reemerge from the waters and wash its hands.
The early church father Tertullian claimed Pilate “was a Christian in his conscience,” and the Greek Orthodox church canonized his wife. In contrast, the Ethiopian church recognizes St. Pilate and St. Procula’s Day on June 25. Saint or sinner, Pilate probably spent the rest of his days as a retired government official, a pensioned Roman magistrate emeritus, enjoying a less-than-sensational fate.
Among the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees had two leading schools of thought, those that followed Rabbi Hillel, who stressed moderation and a certain amount of compromise, and those who followed the stricter Rabbi Shammai, who would allow no cooperation with the foreign overseers.
The school of Shammai eventually found expression through the Zealots. They ultimately fomented the rebellion against the Romans in A.D. 66, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. The school of Hillel survived, and modern Judaism traces its roots back to this school.
The Sadducees did not proselytize as did the Pharisees. Because they only drew their membership from the aristocracy and the high priesthood, their party did not survive the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
Joseph, called Caiaphas, was the high priest until A.D. 39 when he was deposed by the imperial legate of Syria, Lucius Vitellius (who had removed Pilate). Emperor Caligula eventually became jealous of Vitellius’ success in the East and had him removed from office. It was only through much groveling and servility before the emperor that his life was spared. Pilate would have been pleased.
THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS
Two historical facts remain; the tomb was empty, and the disciples’ lives were changed. It should be added immediately that an empty tomb does not prove a resurrection, although a resurrection would require an empty tomb. Its occupancy, indeed, would effectively disprove it. Nevertheless, the disciples claimed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many.
As they spread the good news (from the Greek: eu + aggelion “good message” or “good news,” to the Latin: evangelion, to the English: “evangelical”), this brought them into conflict with the Sanhedrin who were amazed that these unlearned men had filled Jerusalem with their teaching. The faith spread to all points, and in Antioch, they were first called “Christians.” This name comes from the Latin christiani, like the word caesariani, meaning slaves or members “of the household of Caesar.”
The faith eventually arrived in Rome and first came into disfavor under Emperor Nero. Several persecutions under later emperors did not destroy this faith. Instead, they refined and purified it as its martyrs became witnesses of this changed life (the word martyr in Greek means “witness.”) In the early part of the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine, before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, was impressed to fight under the sign of Christ and was victorious. In A.D. 313, he made Christianity a legal religion. In A.D. 390, Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official state religion of Rome.
And the rest, as we say, is history.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Inspired in part by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time