Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

Herod's Successors.

The selfish Herod had split up his kingdom among his three sons—Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. Before Rome had yet confirmed the succession, and while a procurator was placed in temporary charge, already the sons were intriguing against each other. Rome carried out Herod's wishes, only that his sons were made tetrarchs instead of kings. How steadily Rome moved toward its purposed end!

Archelaus was made tetrarch of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. The realm of Antipas was Galilee and Perea, the Jordan dividing the two districts. To Philip was given the remaining provinces of Batanaea and Trachonitis in northern Palestine. Look at the map in front of this book.

A word on each of these principalities in the inverse order of importance. Philip held a mild sway for thirty-seven years. There is nothing to record in these outlying provinces, partly because they were far removed from the Jewish centre of gravity.

Antipas and John the Baptist.

The realm of Antipas, often mentioned in the New Testament, was a little nearer. His recognition of Judaism was only formal. He inherited all his father's vices and like his father, too, he was a great builder. He built Sepphoris in Galilee, and Tiberias on the Lake of Gennesaret. In his reign and realm flourished John the Baptist of Perea, and also Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee. As this term, Baptist, was applied to the Essenes, because of their frequent ablutions, John may have been a leader of that party.

We know that John preached in the wilderness in the neighborhood of the Jordan, the centre of the Essenes. His bold words, in which he denounced the king, led to his imprisonment, on political grounds, as an agitator. His influence on the people was feared by Rome, for it was hard then to separate religion and politics. It is sometimes hard now. It is said he was finally put to death at the wish of a dancer, Salome, but really to please her mother, Herodias, a wanton woman, to marry whom Antipas had divorced his wife, the daughter of an Arabian king. This not only involved him in a disastrous war, but Herodias caused him eventually the loss of his government and his freedom. For, aiming at a kingship at her instigation, he was banished, and his tetrarchy given to Agrippa, of whom we shall hear later on.

The Last Herodian.

To come now to Judea proper; together with Samaria and Idumea, it was entrusted to the unfit Archelaus; like his father he, too, had to secure his throne through bloodshed. Plots and counterplots with the appearance of pretenders for the thrones of Judea and Galilee, characterized this unhappy time. The Jews were disgusted with the rule of Rome and its creatures, and some began open rebellion. The Syrian governor finally quelled the revolt, but thousands were slain. Had the Jewish malcontents been organized under trustworthy leadership, something might have been achieved. As it was, it ended in their more complete subjection.

There is little else to tell of the reign of Archelaus. Serious charges were brought against this tyrant; so serious that the emperor recalled him to Rome and deposed him. He had reigned ten years, 4 B.C.E. to 6 A.C.E., thus crossing the dividing line of what is called the Christian Era, from the tradition that it marked the birth of Jesus of Nazareth; he was actually born four years earlier than this date.

Herod had brought Judea so completely under Roman control, that bit by bit all the old vested rights, privileges and local powers had been taken from its Sanhedrin, its High Priest and its royal family. Herod had practically sold Judea to Rome for the privilege of subserving as its king. Its fate was now wholly in Rome's hands.

Judea Part of a Roman Province.

Leaving the outlying provinces under the rule of tetrarchs, Rome now decided to govern Judea absolutely as a part of the province of Syria. It sent out governors or, as they were called, Procurators, to administer its affairs under the more immediate direction of Syria. The Jews were now to be ruled by strangers who had no understanding of their religion and no sympathy with their traditions or social needs; by men possessed in fact, for the most part, of an ill-concealed antagonism to the rites and obligations that entered into the lives of conscientious Jews.

At its best Judea had been a Theocracy, i.e., a kingdom in which religion, represented by the priesthood and the Sanhedrin, directed the affairs of the nation. Roman rule, therefore, would be revolutionary, even had the procurators been good men and had sought to administer the province in kindness and equity. As a matter of fact, they were nearly all tyrants, lustful for gain at any price and absolutely indifferent to the welfare of the people under their charge; even as we shall see, in many instances wantonly wounding Judea's sensibilities to gratify their cruel pleasure. No wonder the Jews were eventually goaded into a war of desperation.

As to the Jews in other lands under Roman sway, we find Augustus Caesar well disposed to them. He placed the harbors of the Nile under Judean Alabarchs (same as Arabarch). His kindness to the Alexandrian Jews was in marked contrast with his severity toward the Alexandrian Greeks. In the city of Rome he allowed the Jewish settlers—Libertini—to observe their religion undisturbed, and to build synagogues.

So in the deepening shadows there was a glimmer of light too.


For the relation of Baptism to the Essenes, read articles on those topics in vols. ii and v, respectively, of the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Tetrarch:—Literally, governor of a fourth part of a province.