History Articles

History of the Players

April 16, 2006 /
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SO WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO OLD…

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?

HEROD ANTIPAS

You may remember that I had said Antipas’ taking to wife his brother’s wife Herodias led to his ruin. Actually it led to his death. Her ambition pushed him where he would not have otherwise gone. Antipas’ nephew, and Herodias’ brother, Herod Agrippa (who we meet in 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. He lived much of his time in Rome and was a close friend of the future emperor Gaius (Caligula). While riding in a chariot with Caligula, he 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 thrown into prison.

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 certain areas of Palestine. 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 boon. 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 Antipas of treason against Rome, having entered into alliances with Sejanus, the Parthians (current enemies of Rome), and of gathering a large number of men and arms. When questioned about this army, Antipas admitted to having collected this militia. Caligula promptly confiscated all his property and exiled him for life to Gaul, though allowed Herodias, since she was the sister of his beloved Agrippa, to go free. To her credit, she accompanied her husband into exile, where he died shortly thereafter. He had ruled from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, longer than any tetrarch in Palestine, save Agrippa II, son of his enemy, Agrippa.

PONTIUS PILATE

Three years after the affair with Jesus of Nazareth, in A.D. 36, after having served 10 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 has supposedly buried on their sacred Mt. Gerizim. The multitude that gathered 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 proconsul of Syria, who ordered Pilate to return to Rome to answer the charges against him. However, the emperor Tiberius died before Pilate reached Rome. Whether he was tried by the emperor Caligula, we do not know. Nor do we know what ultimately happened to him. Perhaps he was banished to Gaul. Some medieval legends have his restless corpse, accompanied by squadrons of demons, disrupting localities of France and Switzerland, causing storms, earthquakes, and other havoc. The early church father Tertullian claimed that Pilate “was a Christian in his conscience”, and the Greek Orthodox church canonized his wife, while the Ethopian church even recognizes a 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.

THE SANHEDRIN

The Pharisees had two main schools of thought, those that followed the 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, who ultimately fomented the rebellion against the Romans in A.D. 66 leading to the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70. It was the school of Hillel that was able to survive and modern Judaism traces its roots back to this school.

The Sadducees did not proselytize as did the Pharisees, and as they only drew their membership from the aristocracy and the high priesthood, their party did not survive the destruction of A.D. 70.

Joseph, called Caiaphas was high priest until A.D. 39, when he was deposed by the imperial legate of Syria, Vitellius, (who had removed Pilate). The emperor Caligula eventually became jealous of Vitellius’ success in the East had had him removed from office. It was only through much grovelling 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 lives of the disciples 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 raised from the dead and appeared to many. As they spread the good news (Greek: euaggelion “good report”, 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 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 the emperor Nero. A number of persecutions under various later emperors as well did not destroy this faith but seemed to refine and purify it as its martyrs became witnesses (for the word martyr in Greek means witness). In the early part of the 4th century the Roman emperor Constantine, before a battle was impressed to fight under the sign of Christ, and was victorious. Later, he made Christianity the state religion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

In part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Good Friday

April 13, 2006 /
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GOOD FRIDAY

For centuries, pilgrims have walked the Via Dolorosa, “the way of sorrow” in Jerusalem, following the path Jesus took from the judgement seat of Pilate at the Antonia in the eastern part of the city through several “stations of the Cross” to the ultimate location at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the crucifixion and burial.

Following Pilate’s sentence, Jesus was led away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution practiced by many of the ancient societies, including Persia, Carthage, India, Scythia, Assyria, and Germanic tribes. The Phoenicians were probably the first to use a transverse cross beam rather than just an upright stake in the ground. From the Phoenicians the Romans adopted this practice as the primary means of execution of rebellious slaves and provincials who were not Roman citizens. During the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66 for example, the Romans crucified 3,600 Jews, many of them of the aristocracy.

The victim was first scourged with a ‘flagellum’ to weaken them before he was hung on the cross. Near the top of the cross was affixed the ‘titulus’ or inscription identifying the criminal and the cause of his execution. Above Jesus’ cross in Greek, Hebrew (Aramaic), and Latin were printed the words “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews”. The Latin acronym INRI comes from this; “Iesus Nazarethis Rex Iudaeorum”.

By the way, Jesus’ middle name was not “H”, as in “Jesus H. Christ”. Rather it comes from a misunderstanding of the letters “IHS”. This is an abbreviation of Jesus in Greek, “IHSOUS”, and should properly be written with a line above the ‘h’ signifying an abbreviation.

Death by crucifixion was painful and protracted. It seldom occurred before thirty-six hours, sometimes took as long as nine days, and resulted from hunger and traumatic exposure. If it was decided to hasten the death of the victim, his legs were smashed with a heavy club or hammer. However, Jesus died within just a few hours. The New Testament, rather than dwelling on this painful death, simply recounts that “they crucified him”.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

In part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of the Trial of Jesus

April 13, 2006 /
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THE TRIAL OF JESUS

HOUSE OF ANNAS

Jesus was brought before the powerful ex-high priest for a hearing prior to formal arraignment before the son-in-law Caiaphas. Jesus knowing this to be essentially a lower court inquiry blunted Annas’ questions by answering that what was known about him was “…public record”.

PALACE OF CAIAPHAS

As it was after dark and the gates of the Temple were locked, certain members of the Sanhedrin met in the south west quarter of the city at tthe palace of the high priest Caiaphas, whose name means “inquisitor”. It was difficult to find a solid charge to stick on Jesus as the witnesses that were found could not agree, and according to Jewish Law, a minimum of two witnesses had to concur on a charge. A number of charges and questions were put to Jesus, but he refused to answer. Since no proven evidence had been introduced, Jesus was not legally obligated to answer, and Caiaphas knew it. If Caiaphas could not introduce a proven charge the case would collapse and Jesus would be more popular with the people while the Sanhedrin would be embarrassed. The high priest devised a plan that would create seventy witnesses. He prefaced his final question with the dreaded “Oath of the Covenant”. A reply of silence would be criminal, a false answer would be damnable. He said, “I adjure you, by the living God, that you tell us whether are you the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus not only answered affirmatively, but added that he was the Son of Man, an Old Testament title for God’s vice-regent on earth, a peer as it were, a divine being.

The high priest, hearing what he believed was blasphemy in his presence, tore his garments. He asked the assembled members of the Sanhedrin, seated in a semicircle around him, for their vote. The vote proceeded from the youngest to the oldest, so the elders might not unduly influence the younger members. The Temple police then beat the prisoner, which was standard operating procedure for the condemned. One problem remained; night trials by the Sanhedrin were illegal except in monetary cases. Therefore, the full council met again the next day, shortly after dawn for a roll call vote. A final complication arose. To avoid hasty convictions, the Jewish law postponed sentencing until the day following the trial. But this was illegal as the next day was the Sabbath, when only acquittals could be returned. However, in this emergency situation, this could be disregarded.

The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that forty years before the destruction of the Temple (A.D. 70) the right to inflict the death penalty had been taken from Israel. As it was now Friday, April 3, 33 A.D., the Sanhedrin had to have the judgement ratified by the Roman provincial ruler, Pontius Pilate, who reserved the ‘jus gladii’, the law of the sword.

PILATE’S PRAETORIUM

The Roman prefect’s usual residence was in the Roman capital, Caeserea, on the coast. As it was the time of the Jewish Passover, and the numbers of people in Jerusalem grew, Pilate journeyed to the Jewish capital to keep an eye on things. In front of the governor’s Jerusalem residence, Herod’s Palace, the members of the Sanhedrin gathered. As it was the beginning of the Jewish holiday, they remained outside the Gentile residence so as not to defile themselves. Pilate asked, “What charges do you bring against this man?” If the Sanhedrin were expecting the governor to rubber-stamp their judgement, they were disappointed, for this was the ‘interragatio’, the opening formula of a Roman trial. Pilate began to try Jesus himself. Since the Jews could not tell the governor that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, a religious charge that would make no difference to a Roman, they produced three charges: subverting the nation, forbidding tribute money to Tiberius Caesar, and claims of Messiah.

The first charge was serious, but needed proof, and Jesus had seemed to avoid politics. The second Pilate knew to be a lie, as the Pharisees themselves protested the tax. The third was the gravest. It was “maiestas”, high treason, the most heinous in Roman law (see earlier historical note on Pontius Pilate). After questioning the accused, Pilate could not get to the truth of the matter, and as it was now after dawn the crowds outside who were aware of the proceedings were getting noisy and ugly. Pilate heard someone mention something about Jesus being from Galilee. This would be to Pilate’s advantage, for Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee was in town and Pilate could easily and legally transfer the venue from the ‘forum delicti’, the place of offense, to the ‘forum domicilii’, the place of residence.

HEROD ANTIPAS’ HASMONEAN PALACE

The Sanhedrin could expect a more favorable decision from Antipas since he had aided them before in affair of the votive shields. And Antipas was genuinely pleased to see Jesus, about whom he had heard much. However, Jesus would provide him with no sport. Although he appreciated that Pilate would do him this boon, he could not suffer the unpopularity of putting to death another prophet after killing John the Baptist. So after allowing his troops to give Jesus a gorgeous robe and then mock him, he sent the accused back to Pilate. The gospel writers tell us that after this Antipas showed his gratefulness to Pilate in friendship.

PILATE AGAIN

At this point, the gospel of St. John tells us, Pilate took the initiative and suggested flogging Jesus as an object lesson and releasing him. This practice of ‘fustigatio’ was to serve as a warning against further wrong doing. This did not satisfy the Sanhedrin, who were beginning to see Pilate equivocate and suspected an actual release. It was at this point that they pulled out their trump card, the ace up the sleeve. “If you release this man you are no friend of Caesar, everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” This was the key that would link the religious and the political. Pilate’s status as ‘amici Caesaris’ was in danger. His political career would be over, if not his life as well. He had already been warned once by the emperor himself. Pilate then passed sentence against this “king of the Jews”: constructive treason – implied maiestas.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Passover

April 13, 2006 /
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HISTORY OF PASSOVER

This evening at sunset marks the beginning of Passover. Exodus 12 in the Bible tells the story of Passover from the life of Moses. Ten plagues were visited upon the Egyptian pharaoh (starring Yul Brenner, but much better in “The King and I”) to get his attention to release the “children of Israel” from bondage. The final plague was the death of the first-born son. The Jews were to smear the blood of a lamb upon their door posts, so that the angel of death would “Passover” them unharmed. Pharaoh relented and released the Israelites.

In making their hasty exit, the Jews did not have time to let their bread rise, so in commemoration, they celebrate the Passover Seder (“order”) meal with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and roast lamb to be eaten in traveling garb. This Feast of Unleavened Bread is a major holiday in the Jewish when Jews from all over the world return to Jerusalem. During Passion Week, which was at Passover, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time would have tripled from its population of about 50,000.

Could “The Last Supper” (made famous by da Vinci’s painting) that Jesus had with his disciples in the Upper Room have been a Passover meal? It seems likely. It was at about the right time in the calendar. Some churches commemorate this meal by using unleavened bread for their Communion Eucharist.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of Maundy Thursday

April 11, 2006 /
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MAUNDY THURSDAY

Amid the bustle of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, Maundy Thursday is easy to overlook. Few calendars label it, and some churches don’t observe it at all, though it may be the oldest of the Holy Week observances. It’s worth asking why, and how, generations of Christians have revered this day.

The Middle English word “Maundy” comes from the Latin “mandatum,” meaning “command.” The reference is John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper, which took place the Thursday before Easter.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, Maundy Thursday Evening marks the beginning of Easter Triduum. A triduum is a space of three days usually accompanying a church festival or holy days that are devoted to special prayer and observance. Maundy Thursday is followed by Good Friday, Holy Saturday and concludes with evening prayers on Easter Sunday.

Protestant churches that do observe Maundy Thursday may offer a dramatic re-enactment of the Last Supper or another special Communion service. Foot-washing services and adapted Passover Seders are also fairly popular, especially in Anglican, Lutheran, and other liturgical Protestant churches. Not surprisingly, Protestants generally stick close to biblical texts when constructing a special service. Catholic and Orthodox traditions add a few other elements to the observance.

In the Middle Ages, Maundy Thursday was sometimes called Shere Thursday, “shere” meaning “pure” or “guilt-free.” (“Shere” also had something to do with shearing, as it was customary for medieval men to cut their hair and beards on this day.) Medieval Christians believed they could achieve purity by performing penance throughout Lent. The Catholic church recognized the achievement by formally reconciling penitents and, in some areas, giving them a green branch. New converts who had prepared their hearts, and memorized their creed, during Lent were taken through baptism at the Thursday service.

Because of the Maundy Thursday connection with baptism, it has long been a Catholic custom to consecrate the year’s supply of holy oils for baptism, anointing the sick, and Confirmation on this day. Orthodox clergy take time during the liturgy to prepare the “Amnos,” the Communion elements that will be given to the sick throughout the year.

A few European countries have added cultural observances to the list of church traditions. In England, the monarch distributes small purses of Maundy Money to elderly residents of the town selected for each year’s service. The practice dates back to 1210, when King John gave garments, knives, food, and other gifts to poor men on Maundy Thursday in accordance with Christ’s mandate to love others. Germans, who call the day “Gr√ľndonnerstag” (“Green Thursday”), eat green vegetables, especially spinach. The association with green may come from the gift of green branches to penitents or from a confusion of the old German words meaning “green” (grun) and “to weep” (greinen), connected to the English word “to groan.”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

History of the Sanhedrin

April 10, 2006 /
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SANHEDRIN

The Greek word ‘sunedrion’, translated council is referred to in the New Testament as “the Great Law-Court”, “the Court of Seventy-One”, and “the rulers and elders and scribes”. It was the supreme theocratic court of the Jews and reflected the local autonomy which the Greek and Roman powers granted the Jewish nation. Its origin can be traced back as far as 200 B.C. The council had 70 members plus the ruling high priest. Three professional groups composed the council: high priests (the acting high priest and former high priests) and members of the chief-priestly families; elders (tribal and family heads of the people and the priesthood); and scribes (legal professionals). At the time of Jesus two religio-political parties within Judaism were represented in this membership: the Sadducees of the majority and the Pharisees of the minority. Caiaphas the high priest was a Sadducee. Most of the scribes were Pharisees. The presiding officer of the council was usually the high priest.

The council was connected with the minor courts, being the highest court of appeal from these. The Sanhedrin’s authority was broad and far-reaching, involving legislation, administration, and justice. There was religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction. However, during the time of Jesus, the council had lost to the Roman governor the power of capital punishment. The council met daily, except on Sabbath and feast days, in a session room adjoining the temple. In extraordinary cases, the council met at the house of the high priest. One of the responsibilities of the Sanhedrin was the identification, and confirmation of the Messiah. The gospel writers identify a delegation from the council going out to question John the Baptist as to whether he was the Messiah. There were about a dozen false Messiahs running around during the first part of this century deceiving the people, and it was the responsibility of the council to identify and denounce them. This is why Jesus had to eventually come into conflict with them.

Although the minority party within the council was the Pharisees, they were the majority party outside the council. During the first century, Philo tells us they numbered six thousand. They were highly respected among the people, operating principally in the synagogues. The typical Jewish boy would have received his religious training from a Pharisee. Their name meant “separated ones” and they kept themselves pure of any corrupting influence, including Greek or Roman influences. They first appeared more than a century before Jesus though by this time had little interest in politics. They had a highly developed system of rabbinic tradition which sought to apply the Biblical Law to a variety of circumstances. They held to three doctrines that the Sadducees did not: the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and angels and demons. This they had in common with Jesus, and it should be noted that these were devout laymen, not priests. Where they conflicted with Jesus was the charge that in their over attention to the tradition of men concerning the minutiae of the Law, they had largely neglected the real intention of the Law. Numbered among the Pharisees were Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, the great teacher Gamaliel, and his student Saul of Tarsus, also named Paul.

The Sadducees seem to have gotten their name from “zaddikim” the righteous ones. They had little in common with the Pharisees except their antagonism toward Jesus. They represented the Jewish aristocracy and the high priesthood. They had made their peace with the political rulers and had attained positions of wealth and influence. Temple administration and ritual was their specific responsibility. Being well educated and wealthy, they held themselves aloof from the masses and were unpopular with them. They were externally religious and were very political, seeing Jesus as a threat to the status quo. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees held only to the written Law, specifically the first five books of Moses, the Torah.

The New Testament calls two men high priest, Annas and Caiaphas. It turns out that Caiaphas was actually the current high priest at this time, though there are a number of reasons why Annas was called high priest. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas and had been high priest from A.D. 6-15, when he had been deposed by the Roman governor, Valerius Gratus, shortly after the governor took office. The governor tried three more high priests within the next three years until he appointed Caiaphas, in A.D. 18, a man he found cooperative. Nevertheless, Annas was the patriarch and real power behind the high priesthood. While the title was used later for Annas as an honorific, the Jews still saw the high priesthood as an office for life, whether the Romans felt that way or not. He was the senior ex-high priest and may have presided over the council at times. This is why Jesus was first brought to him during his trial.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Herod Antipas

April 9, 2006 /
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HEROD ANTIPAS

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (whom we met in the Christmas story) and Malthake. After his father’s death in 4 B.C. he was made tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea in Trans-Jordan. Like his father, he was a great lover of great and artistic architectural works, and built the beautiful Tiberias (named after guess who), as capital of his kingdom on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (which was renamed Sea of Tiberias).

He was married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, but afterwards divorced her to the wrath of her father. Antipas found himself at war with the king and was saved only with the help of Rome. He took away from his half-brother, Herod Philip, his wife Herodias. Her influence over him led to his utter ruin. As you may recall the story of John the Baptist, the prophet denounced Antipas’ breaking the Jewish law by taking his brother’s wife. The historian Josephus further tells us that Antipas feared the prophet’s popularity with the people, and subsequently imprisoned him. Herodias did not like the Baptizer and after her daughter Salome pleased the ruler by her dance, after which he promised the girl anything up to half his kingdom, the head of John was requested. This execution did not make Antipas any more popular with the people.

This is the Herod that Jesus called “that fox”. Jesus was not referring to personal pulchritude. From a study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew literature it can be seen that the fox is both crafty and inferior in its position. The fox is an insignificant or base person, in contrast to the lion. He lacks real power and dignity, using cunning deceit to achieve his aims.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

Inspired in part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

History of Pontius Pilate

April 7, 2006 /
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PONTIUS PILATE

His name provides two valuable clues to his background and ancestry. The family name, Pontius was that of a prominent clan among the Samnites, hill cousins of the Latin Romans. They had almost conquered Rome in several fierce wars. The Pontii were of noble blood, but when Rome finally absorbed the Samnites, their aristocracy was demoted to the Roman equestrian or middle-class order, rather than the senatorial order. It is Pilate’s personal name Pilatus that proves almost conclusively that he was of Samnite origin. Pilatus means “armed-with-a-javelin”. The pilum or javelin was six feet long, half wooden and half pointed iron shaft, which the Samnite mountaineers hurled at their enemies with devastating effect. The Romans quickly copied it, and it was this pilum in fact, that made the Roman Empire possible.

Some historians feel that Pilate rose to prominence and perhaps gained the governorship of Judea under the sponsorship of Sejanus. Lucius Aelius Sejanus was, like Pilate, of the equestrian order. He was the prefect, or head of the Preatorian Guard, the personal body guard of the emperor. Sejanus was an ambitious man. He had the complete trust of the emperor Tiberius, who at this time was living in self-exile on the island of Capri while engaging in various debaucheries. It is quite likely that at this time Pilate was admitted to the inner circle of ‘amici Caesaris’ or friends of Caesar, an elite fraternity of imperial advisors open only to senators or equestrians high in imperial service. This fact would play a part in the later trial against Jesus. The emperor was getting old and paranoid. Sejanus took advantage of this and offered up to Caesar the names of senators he claimed were not loyal to Rome. Tiberius would convict them of maiestas, or treason. Their property and wealth were forfeit, and they usually committed suicide to avoid bringing public shame upon their name. Sejanus hoped to consolidate his power as well as advance himself in the confidence of the emperor, hoping perhaps to become co-consul with Tiberius. However his boldness did not go unnoticed and through the efforts of the future emperors Caligula and Claudius, the plots of Sejanus were made known to the emperor, and Sejanus himself was convicted of maiestas. His allies as well became suspect.

It is unlikely that Pilate was an incompetent official, for he ruled Judea from A.D. 26 to 36. It is doubtful that the emperor Tiberius, who insisted on good principal administration, would have retained Pilate for so long, the second longest tenure of any first-century Roman governor in Palestine. Never the less, the governorship of Judea was a most taxing experience and, aside from Good Friday, it seems from our sources Philo and Josephus that there were a number of other incidents in which Pilate blundered.

In what came to be called “the affair of the Roman standards”, Pilate’s troops once marched into Jerusalem carrying medallions with the emperor’s image or bust among their regimental standards. This provoked a five-day demonstration by the Jews at the Provincial capital, Caeserea, which protested these effigies as a violation of Jewish law concerning engraven images. Pilate finally relented and ordered the offensive standards removed.

Later, he built an aqueduct from cisterns near Bethlehem to improve Jerusalem’s water supply, but paid for it with funds from the Temple treasury. This sparked another riot, which was put down only after bloodshed, even though Pilate had cautioned his troops not to use swords.
On another occasion, Pilate set up several golden shields in his Jerusalem headquarters that, unlike the standards, bore no images, only a bare inscription of dedication to Tiberius. Nevertheless, the people protested, but this time Pilate refused to remove them. The Jews, with the help of Herod Antipas, formally protested to Tiberius. In a very testy letter, the emperor ordered Pilate to transfer the shields to a temple in Caserea, and ominously warned him to uphold all the religious and political customs of his Jewish subjects. This last episode occurred just five months before Good Friday.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

 

from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

 

P.S. An excellent historical novel is available by Paul L. Maier, history professor at Western Michigan Univesity called Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel

History of Palm Sunday

April 6, 2006 /
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PALM SUNDAY

The week we now call Holy Week, started with Palm Sunday. Why was this week so important that three of the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) devote a full third of their contents to reporting this week, and The Fourth (John) dedicates its entire last half? Jerusalem, which had a normal population of about 50,000 at this time, had at least tripled in size because of the influx of pilgrims celebrating the Jewish holiday Passover. Early Sunday morning Jesus made his baldly public entry into the city. This was the end of all privacy and safety, and the beginning of what would be an inevitable collision course with the religious and political authorities. Crowds began to gather to see the rabbi from Galilee. The procession began accompanied by shouting and singing from the throngs as they threw down their garments on the pathway to cushion his ride – an Oriental custom still observed on occasions – as well as palm fronds, the symbol of triumph. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold the arrival of the Messianic king in Jerusalem via the humble conveyance of a colt. Here the crowd hailed Jesus as “the son of David”, a loaded name used at a loaded time. The priestly establishment was understandably disturbed, as the palm was the national emblem of an independent Palestine. These were Jewish flags. What if Jesus should claim to be the heir of King David? (Recent archiological excavations have turned up Roman coins, which have the head of Tiberias (idolatrous to the Jewish subjects) but overstamped with a palm.)

The “conspiracy” against Jesus had been building for at least 3 years, and the sources record seven instances of official plotting against him, two efforts at arrest, and three assassination attempts before this time. This intrigue was no spur of the moment idea. A formal decision to arrest Jesus had in fact been made several months earlier. The Jewish religious officials were afraid that if Jesus were to continue performing his signs, he would win over the people and the Romans would come in and destroy the Temple and nation. According to legal custom at that time, a court crier had to announce publicly or post an official “wanted” handbill in the larger towns of Judea about forty days prior to a trial. Small wonder that there was some debate over whether Jesus would dare appear in Jerusalem for the next Passover. This discussion ended abruptly on Palm Sunday.

There were political reasons for dealing with Jesus. There had been a dozen uprisings in Palestine in the previous 100 years, most of them subdued by Roman force. Another Messianic rebellion under Jesus would only shatter the precarious balance of authority, break Rome’s patience, and might lead to direct occupation by Roman legions.

Religiously, Jesus was a dangerous item. The people were hailing the Teacher from Galilee as something more than a man, and Jesus was not denying or blunting this blasphemous adulation. Personally, the Pharisees had been bested by Jesus in public debate, being called vipers, whitewashed tombs, and devourers of widow’s houses. Humiliated, they would be only too happy to conspire with the scribes, elders, and chief priests. There were economic motives for opposing Jesus as well. Seeing the commercialization of the Temple, Jesus had driven the dealers and animals out, as well as turning over the tables of the moneychangers causing a major disruption in business. There were many reasons for dealing with Jesus.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com

from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time