Judea during Roman Rule

63 BCE - 135 CE

The Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. This brought the region under Roman control, though they used local leaders to govern. The most famous was a ruthless military commander named Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.E.). Herod transformed the country. He built the port of Caesarea on the coast and a temple to Augustus in Samaria. He remodeled the Jerusalem temple and next to it built the Antonia fortress, a Roman military installation.

After Herod’s death in 4 B.C.E., his son Herod Antipas ruled Galilee in the north. He is the Herod mentioned in accounts of Jesus’ ministry. Another son ruled the south until 6 C.E., when the Romans began sending their own governors to Judea. Pontius Pilate was one of these. The Romans used local agents to collect taxes. The agents made a profit by adding their own fees, which made most people resent them.

The Jewish people administered their own internal affairs. The high priests oversaw worship in the temple and the council or Sanhedrin adjudicated matters of Jewish law. Pilgrims throughout the empire came to worship in the Jerusalem temple.

One Jewish group was the Pharisees, who adopted the highest standards for purity in their homes. Devoted interpreters of Jewish law, they also valued the prophets, other writings, and oral tradition. They believed there would be a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees were a priestly group that used the law but not the other writings and did not believe in resurrection. Essenes lived in separate communities, including the one where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. They followed distinctive standards for purity and considered the temple leadership to be corrupt. Zealots sought to regain Jewish independence from Rome.

Resistance to Roman rule led to open conflict in 66 C.E. War raged for several years until the Romans recaptured Jerusalem and destroyed the temple in 70 C.E. Afterward, some Jews formed an academy near the Mediterranean coast. They developed interpretations of the law that allowed Jewish life to continue even though temple sacrifice was not possible. By the second century C.E., they identified the books in the current Hebrew Bible or Protestant Old Testament to be authoritative Scripture. A second Jewish revolt against Roman rule occurred in 132-135 C.E. under the leadership of Simon “bar Kochba.” This also resulted in Jewish defeat, and Roman rule over the region continued in subsequent centuries.

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