TETRACHS AND PROCURATORS
by Roger Wyatt | 19th May 2021 | more posts on 'Intertestamental Studies'
Photograph: Roger Wyatt - Sunset over the Judean Hills
The political events that fashioned the world of the New Testament are known, largely, through the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. His works reveal a degree of political and religious fragmentation in first century Palestine that resonates with the gospel narratives. In both The Jewish War (JW Book 1) and Jewish Antiquities (ANT Book 14), Josephus provides an authoritative account of the arrival of Rome, the end of the Hasmoneans, and the rise of the Herodian dynasty.
According to Josephus, Pompey who had been campaigning in the East, arrives in Damascus (ANT 14 § 34) where his attention soon turns to Judea where the brothers Aristobulus and Hyrcanus were disputing the Hasmonean throne. The treachery and arrogance of Aristobulus (ANT 14 § 48) resulted in Pompey’s attack on Jerusalem in 63 BC and the slaughter that followed would, no doubt, live long in the cultural memory of the Judeans: ‘Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand, but of the Romans very few’ (ANT 14 § 71). Furthermore, Josephus despairingly writes, ‘we lost our liberty, and became subject to the Romans’ (ANT 14 § 77). The sacking of Jerusalem had far reaching ramifications, but the loss of territory (Galilee and Samaria) to the now Roman province of Syria was particularly galling for the Judeans, moreover, the heavy tribute exacted upon the populace would be a hallmark of the coming years. All that remained of the Hasmonean kingdom, Judea and Idumea was soon divided up into five territories, each governed by a council and Hyrcanus, although allowed to serve as high priest, was king no longer; ‘So the Jews were now freed from monarchic authority, and were governed by an aristocracy’ (ANT 14 § 91). During this time, Antipater the Idumean rose to prominence, largely through his manipulation of a weak Hyrcanus.
After the death of Pompey, Antipater supported Caesar’s war against Egypt for which Caesar ‘honoured Antipater greatly’ (ANT 14 § 137). Furthermore, Josephus informs his readers that Caesar ‘appointed Hyrcanus to be high priest’ (ANT 14 § 143) and made Antipater ‘procurator of Judea’ (ANT 14 § 143). When Caesar departed for Rome, Antipater seized the opportunity to extend his influence and appointed his two sons into positions of power; Phasael was made governor of Jerusalem, and Herod, who was only fifteen years old, he put in charge of Galilee (ANT 14 §158). However, the rise of the Herodians did not go unnoticed by the ‘principal men among the Jews’ (ANT 14 § 163) and opposition to Herod’s murderous actions in Galilee gained pace. It was, however, the Parthian seizure of Syria in 40 BC that precipitated a return of the Hasmonean monarchy under Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus – he would be the last Hasmonean king. As the Parthians made a move on Jerusalem Herod fled the capital and headed for Masada, ‘setting out at night with those to whom he was most attached, in the hope of reaching Idumaea undetected’ (JW 1 § 263). Phasael and Hyrcanus were, however, captured and handed over to Antigonus - Phasael killed himself and Hyrcanus was carried off ‘in fetters to Parthia’ (JW 1 § 273). Meanwhile, Herod went from Masada to Petra where he hoped for, but never received, help from the Arabs. Eventually he reached Egypt and, after a perilous sea journey, arrived in Rome where he was received by Mark Anthony who convened the Senate. Once the details of the Parthian incursion and Antigonus’ accession were relayed to the Senate there was widespread anger and unanimous support for Herod; ‘These revelations angered the Senate, and when Mark Antony rose to suggest that the Parthian war was an added reason for making Herod king, they all voted in favour’ (JW 1 § 285). Herod was king of Judea, albeit a client-king, the year was 37 BC.
Whilst Judea was transitioning, rather tumultuously, towards its new form of political existence under the Herodian dynasty, the Roman Empire had come to an end as a republic. Events precipitated by the crossing of the Rubicon by Julius Caesar in 49 BC led to the evacuation of the Senate from Rome and Caesar’s appointment as dictator. In 44 BC, after the appointment of Caesar as dictator for life, he is famously murdered on the Ides of March - this did not however prevent his deification in 42 BC. A new order gradually emerged under Caesar’s successor and grand-nephew Gaius Octavius, who on the Ides of March 27 BC became Augustus and Princeps (first citizen). Despite his claim that the Republic had been saved, and despite the laying down of his powers, in truth, he was handed the empire to the cheers of the Senate. It is this Caesar Augustus who is made mention of in Luke’s gospel; ‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world’ (Luke 2:1).
The census followed the death of Herod the Great and was accompanied by a bitter rivalry between two of his sons, Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus. The matter is taken to Augustus, who, Josephus records; ‘appointed Archelaus, not indeed to be the king of the whole country, but ethnarch of one half of that which had been subject to Herod. . . as for the other half, he divided into two parts, and gave it to two other of Herod’s sons, to Philip and to Antipas’ (ANT 17 § 317-318). Josephus records that Philip the Tetrarch would rule over Batanea, Trachonitis as well as Auranitis, whilst Herod the Tetrarch would rule Galilee and Perea. Caesar gave Judea and Samaria to Archelaus – who, nine years later, would be deposed on account of his cruelty by the emperor himself (ANT 17 § 344). Rome took direct control of Judea, appointing a series of governors, of whom Gratus, and Pontius Pilate were the most renowned.