Religious Authorities in Palestine


The Roman Occupation

The Romans took over the territory of Palestine after the defeat of the Hellenist Empires in the 1st and 2nd Centuries BC. In the early stages of occupation, Palestine was viewed as an independant nation state and so the Romans did not impose their religious practices upon the people. There was even support of some Roman rulers such as Herod the Great in the years before Jesus' birth since he was a half Jew. The Romans worked hard to ensure peace across the empire (Pax Romana). However, when Herod died, the territory was split among his 3 sons and in AD 6, the territory of Palestine was 'downgraded' to a Roman province. Palestine was henceforth under the authority of a Prefect.

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The Prefect

Prefects were under the authority of Rome and were overseen by a governor. The Prefect of Palestine would have an army of auxiliaries which would increase in size at a time of tension or population growth within Jerusalem (for example - Passover). 

Pontius Pilate was appointed prefect in AD26. During his early years in office, he acted provocatively and so many Jews opposed him. However, at the time of Jesus' trial, his position in Palestine was increasingly weak. 

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There was heavy taxation during Jesus' lifetime. The Jews had to pay religious tax however, F.F. Bruce suggests that since this was seen as an act of devotion, the Jews did noit resent this tax. 

Bruce describes the Roman taxation as "an unwelcome impost... and the harsh and rapacious methods by which it was collected made it all the less tolerable." He also suggests that Roman taxation would have amounted between 30 and 40% of a person's income. 

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Jesus and the Political Authorities

When the Magi ask King Herod where they may find the 'King of the Jews', Jesus is presented as an immediate threat to the Romans from birth. (Matthew 2:2)

Interaction between Jesus and the prefect? 

  • Jesus famously interracted with Pontious Pilate who assisted in his trial and crucifixion 
  • this interraction was significant since it fulfilled Jesus' prophecies about his own death
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Political and Religious Authorities

The High Priests within the Temple were appointed by and therefore answerable to the Roman authorities. 

The High Priest was the head of the Jewish ruling council (Sanhedrin) 

  • The High Priest was prepared to let Jesus die
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