JEWS, ROME and JESUS – continued)
Qumran caves by the Dead Sea
An anthropological reconstruction
of a typical man in Galilee at the
time of Jesus, as opposed to the
imagination of artists during the
After Judea lost its independence in 63 BCE, some Jews there turned from hope in a great new Israel ruled by a king such as David and began to look toward individual salvation. Among them were the Essenes. They were offended by the acceptance of foreign ways by their fellow Jews and by the collaboration with Roman rule by aristocrats and their priests, the Sadducees. The Essenes were offended by strife among the Jews. They saw Satan at work, and they denounced the Jewish majority as apostate and described temple worship in Jerusalem as polluted. In likeness to Zoroastrian thought, they described the majority of Jews as the "sons of darkness" and themselves as "the sons of light." They spoke of their hatred for "the sons of darkness," and their love for "the sons of light." They saw themselves as following a strict observance of Jewish law – so rigid that they might let a man drown on the Sabbath rather than make an effort to save him. Disappointed over their expectations about the coming of the Messiah, and wishing to separate themselves from the unholy, the Essenes moved to desert caves that overlooked the Dead Sea. They avoided what they saw as impure food and impure thoughts and acts, including sexual intercourse. They held their property in common, practiced magic, believed everything was in the hands of God and looked forward to Armageddon: God's day of judgment.
In caves overlooking the Dead Sea, where the Essenes are said to have dwelled, scrolls were stored that were to be found in the twentieth century. Thirty-three of the scrolls were in Hebrew, which, in the times of the Essenes, was considered the holy language of Moses. And seventeen of the scrolls were in Aramaic, the language common in Judea.
The scrolls expressed a Judaic expectation of a king, a "messiah," and "a son of god" – the latter a designation for heroes and kings in numerous ancient societies. The scrolls described the Messiah as having the powers of magic, as intending to "uphold the fallen, heal the sick, release the captives" and to resurrect "those asleep in the dust." The Messiah described in the scrolls was to appear in an apocalypse in which there would be a "swallowing of all the uncircumcised." In other words, only God's chosen people, the Jews, were to survive.
Rome reduced Judea's territory and installed the Arab chieftain, Antipater, as its vassal over the whole of Palestine. In 43 BCE, Antipater's son, Herod, succeeded him. Herod became a good friend of Marcus Agrippa, the closest companion of Rome's emperor, Augustus Caesar, and this friendship helped Herod expand his rule. Herod oversaw and profited from copper mines in Cyprus. He built great fortresses and cities. And he was called Herod the Great.
A practicing Jew, Herod observed Jewish laws, and he tried to mollify his many unhappy Jewish subjects. In 20 BCE he began rebuilding Jerusalem's temple. But the bigger landowners continued to prosper more than did small farmers, and some small farmers became impoverished and fell to beggary or brigandage. Common Jews, especially those from rural areas, continued to detest Herod for being a foreigner and for his extravagant palaces and luxurious entertainments, paid for by heavy taxation and bribes. On the other hand, upper class Jews, including the Sadducees, feared disorders by the poor and accepted Herod and the presence of Roman soldiers.
Among those opposed to Herod and to foreign rule were devout Jews called Zealots. The Zealots saw Roman occupiers as greedy and lustful, and they looked forward to the day when God would rescue his people and send them the Messiah. From positions in the wilderness the Zealots resorted to small-scale guerrilla warfare against Herod and the Romans, and the Romans increased the number of their troops in Judea and watched more closely for subversion.
Late in his life, Herod found in his family the scheming and deception that was common among royalty concerned with succession. He executed family members who had plotted against him. He executed Jewish priests who had criticized his lapses from Jewish law, and this turned the Sadducees against him.
Herod died in 4 BCE, twenty-six years into the rule of Augustus Caesar. His death raised the hopes of Jews wishing independence, and, believing they could prevail with the help of Yahweh against the power of Rome, they revolted. Rome was able to restore order, and Augustus divided what had been Herod's domains among three of Herod's sons. Then in the year CE 6, after hearing complaints from Jews about the son of Herod who ruled from Jerusalem, Augustus ruled him incompetent and sent in his place a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate.
Copyright © 1998-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.