Historical context of the New Testament

In the 2nd of our Bible Studies on the context of the events recorded in the New Testament, we take a look at the historical background to The Bible Journey.


The Historical context of the New Testament


We're going to look in more detail at the page entitled The Rulers of Palestine in The Bible Journey  @ www.thebiblejourney.org.

1. Read the opening paragraph of The Rulers of Palestine (below) and look at Map 2 (which follows the opening paragraph).

The Rulers of Palestine

In New Testament times, Palestine was divided into ten regions forming the Roman province of Syria. Palestine became a ‘puppet’ kingdom allied to Rome after being conquered by Pompey in 63BC. Over twenty years into his reign, the Roman emperor Octavian Caesar (who was given the title Augustus, meaning ‘more than human’, in 27BC) ordered a census to be taken in Judaea. This census was organised by Quirinius, the Roman governor of the province of Syria .


Map of Rulers of Palesrtine

Map 2  Palestine at the time of Jesus


2. At the time of Jesus's death and resurrection in 30AD, Jerusalem (in Judaea) was part of the Roman province of Syria, under the direct rule of the Roman procurator (governor) Pontius Pilate. But the earlier history of Judaea (as part of Palestine) is quite complicated.

When did Palestine become a 'puppet kingdom' allied to Rome?

3. Read the next paragraph.

Immediately before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth in 5 or 6 BC, Herod the Great had been ruling Palestine for over thirty years. Herod ruled as a ‘client king’ under Roman patronage. Herod was the first foreigner to become king of the Jewish nation, his father being from Idumaea (Edom) and his mother from the Nabataean Kingdom of Arabia Petraea. He ruled for thirty-three years (37BC – 4BC) as a friend and ally of Rome and was given the title ‘King of the Jews’ by the Roman senate.

4. When did Herod the Great begin to rule Palestine as a 'client king' under Roman patronage?

Look up Matthew 2:1-4. Why do you think King Herod needed to consult the Jewish priests and teachers to discover where the Jewish 'Messiah' (or 'Christ') would be born?

Herod's mother came from the neighbouring kingdom of Arabia. Where was the secret 'rock capital' of Arabia Petraea? (Clue: it means 'rock' in Greek!)

5. Read the next paragraph about Herod's bodyguards.

Herod had a personal bodyguard of four hundred Gauls – formerly belonging to Cleopatra – given to him by Octavian in appreciation of his loyal support. He built Herod’s Palace and the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem, and reconstructed the Temple in 23BC, building new colonnades and enlarging the temple courtyards to accommodate more Jewish pilgrims.

6. Herod wasn't a Jew, so why do you think he rebuilt the Jewish Temple?

The Temple was sparkling new when Jesus began his 3-year ministry in 27AD. Look up Matthew 24:1-2.

What do you think the disciples were saying to Jesus in v.1?

Why would Jesus's words in v.2 have sounded particularly incredible?

How many years did Herod's Temple stand before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD?

7. Read the next paragraph about the astrologers from the east.

After the birth of Jesus, astrologers from the east arrived at Herod’s palace searching for the baby who was born to be the ‘King of the Jews’. In a jealous rage, Herod ordered a massacre of the infants in Bethlehem.

8. Look up Matthew 2:1-2.

Why do you think Herod flew into a rage and ordered the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem?

9. Look at Fig.2 (Herod's Family Tree).


 Herod's Family Tree

Fig. 2  Herod’s Family Tree

10. How many sons did Herod have?

How many of his own sons did he execute?

Does this help us to understand Herod's massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem?

11. Read the paragraph about Herod Antipas.

When Herod died in 4BC he left his kingdom to three of his sons:

Herod Antipas became ruler (‘tetrarch’) of Galilee and Peraea (4BC – 39AD). He ruled from his capital at Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He divorced his first wife (the daughter of Aretas, the Nabataean king of Arabia Petraea) in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Herod Philip.  He imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist in 28AD for criticising his marriage, and Pilate sent Jesus to him for judgement in 30AD.

12. Look up Mark 6:17-19.

Why did Herodias nurse a grudge against John the Baptist, and plot his death?

13. Read Luke 23:6-9.

Why did Pilate send Jesus to Herod Antipas?

14. Read the paragraph on Archelaus.

Archelaus reigned (as ‘ethnarch’) in Judaea, Samaria and Idumaea (Edom) taking the place of his father Herod from 4BC to 6AD. This prompted Mary and Joseph to move to Nazareth, in Galilee – outside his jurisdiction. Archelaus was deposed by the Romans in 6AD, and Judaea (together with Samaria and Idumaea) became a Roman province administered by a procurator – who resided in the Roman capital at Caesarea. Pontius Pilate, the fifth procurator, appointed in 26AD, condemned Jesus to death in 30AD.

15. Look up Matthew 2:22.

What does this verse suggest about the character of Archelaus?

How many years did he reign before the Romans deposed him (for incompetence) and imposed direct rule?

16. Read Matthew 27:37.

What was the charge placed above Jesus's head?

Why did the Romans regard this charge as treason against the Roman state?

17. Read the paragraph about Philip.

Philip (Herod Philip II) ruled as tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis to the north east of the Sea of Galilee from 4BC to 34AD. His capital, Caesarea Philippi (‘Philip’s town named in honour of Caesar’) was the site of Peter’s recognition of Jesus as the ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’ in the summer of 29AD.

18. Look up Matthew 16:13-16.

The Romans recognised the 'divine' emperor Tiberius Caesar as 'Lord' & a god. Why was it so significant that Peter recognised Jesus as the 'Messiah' or 'Christ' at Caesarea Philippi?

19. Read the paragraph on Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great.

Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, became king of Ituraea and Trachonitis in 37AD, following the death of Philip (Herod Philip II), his uncle. In 41AD, the Romans extended his kingdom to include Judaea and Samaria. On his death in 44AD, Judaea and Samaria once more came under direct Roman rule under the procurator, Felix. Shortly before his death, Herod Agrippa executed the apostle James (the brother of John), and arrested Peter, who had a miraculous escape.

20. Look up Acts 12:1-4.

Why did Herod Agrippa I execute the apostle James and imprison Peter?

21. Read the paragraph about Herod Agrippa II.

Herod Agrippa II (who was only a child when his father Herod Agrippa I died in 44AD) became King of Ituraea and Trachonitis in 53AD. He ruled for over forty years. In 59AD, he interviewed Paul about his religious beliefs.

Why did Judaea & Samaria come under direct Roman rule when Herod Agrippa I died in 44AD?

22. Look up Acts 25:13-22 & 26:1-3.

Why do you think Herod Agrippa II was so interested in hearing Paul? (Acts 26:27 may help)  

Do you think Emperor Nero found Paul guilty when he heard his appeal in Rome? (See Acts 26:32 for a clue!).

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