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The Real Occupiers: Judea, Circa 50 CE


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This act aroused popular anger; many of the soldiers were stoned. At that, Archelaus moved against the people. He unleashed his soldiers upon the crowds, killing 3,000 people in the ensuing clash. With this last outrage, Archelaus’s true character became painfully apparent.

The people took quick and decisive action to have the new ruler removed.  They dispatched a delegation of fifty delegates to Rome to “petition for the right to live by their own laws” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews). They implored the emperor to abolish the Herodian regime and annex Judah to the Syrian province. Some 8,000 Jewish residents of Rome supported the delegation. The Herodians also sent a delegation, with the hope of transferring the throne to Antipas. Archelaus reached Rome around this time. Despite the numerous calls for his removal, he managed to have his position secured by Augustus.

* * * * * For nine long years Archelaus governed the Jewish people. He ruled with a strong hand, suppressing rebellious elements in the country with the utmost cruelty and brutality. He also twice replaced the High Priest. Throughout, the Jews persisted in their complaints to Rome. Finally, in 6 CE, when the Samaritans joined in this effort, Augustus listened. He banished Archelaus to Gaul and confiscated his property; a Roman procurator based in Caesarea replaced him.

Beginning with Pompey’s eastern conquests, a Roman proconsul appointed by the emperor and approved by the senate sat in Damascus. From there he governed the region. Though officially a part of this province, Judah was granted a degree of autonomy; it was never fully annexed by Syria, nor was it viewed as a colony. With its particular religion and value system, Judah needed to be dealt with independently.

Following the end of the Herodian regime procurators were installed in Judah. They established their official residence at Caesarea, and were directly responsible to the proconsul. The procurator managed the military, judicial and civic matters of their area, and maintained jurisdiction with regard to capital punishment. The Sanhedrin exercised influence in civil affairs.

For the Jewish population, this arrangement had both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, the procurators were representatives of Rome; they had no personal ambitions for independent rule. Yet they were motivated by intense greed. These rulers were rewarded by their appointment for past civil service. Now was their opportunity for wealth and exploitation. They had to act quickly; procurators generally served brief terms.

The procurators did little to meet the needs of the Jewish populace. Sometimes they were outright hostile to their constituents, provoking open resistance. However, they never followed the same destructive path of Herod and Archelaus; the fact that they would ultimately answer to a direct overlord in Syria curtailed such activity.

Augustus died in 14 CE and was succeeded by Tiberius Caesar. During his twenty-three year reign as emperor, Judah would know four procurators: Rufus Tineus, Valerius Gratus, Pontius Pilate, and Marcellus. Gratus frequently replaced the High Priest as a form of generating personal wealth. “Because money was paid for the purpose of obtaining the position of High Priest, they were changed every 12 months” (Talmud, Yoma 8b).

After Pilate’s removal from office, Vitellius, the Roman proconsul in Syria, visited Jerusalem during Pesach. The people received him warmly. He immediately released the city’s inhabitants from paying taxes relating to the sale of produce, and restored the special garments to the jurisdiction of the High Priest. (From the days of Herod the garments were kept under the watch of the Temple guard, undoubtedly as a means of exacting a regular payment. The High Priest would only receive them a week before each festival.) After replacing the current High Priest, he returned to Syria.

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