SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש





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Creation

Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50
(Messianic)



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The massacre of Alexandria

(3798 AM - 38 CE)

Marullus and Caligula
(3798 AM - 38 CE)

Claudius
(3801 AM - 41 CE)

Agrippa, king of Judea
(3801 AM - 41 CE)

Claudius' letter to the people of Alexandria
(3801 AM - 41 CE)

Agrippa II, king of Judea
(3804 AM - 44 CE)

The great famine
(3805 AM - 45 CE)

Queen Helena of Adiabene
(3806 AM - 46 CE)

Death of Rabban Gamaliel
(3810 AM - 50 CE)

Shimon ben Gamaliel
(3810 AM - 50 CE)

Felix, procurator of Judea
(3813 AM - 530 CE)

Emperor Nero
(3814 AM - 54 CE)

Death of Queen Helena
(3816 AM - 56 CE)

Assassination of Jonathan the High Priest
(3816 AM - 56 CE)

Paul the Apostle
(3818 AM - 58 CE)

Stoning of James the Just
(3822 AM - 62 CE)










 Previous <<   Generation 32   >> Next

Hebrew years 3720 to 3840 (40 BCE - 80 CE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ Part III ~~~ Part IV ~~~ Part V ~~~
  

Year 3798 – 38 CE – The massacre of Alexandria

When Flaccus Avilius was appointed by Tiberius to rule over the Egyptian province at the beginning of his reign, the city of Alexandria in Egypt counted about one million Jews. Tensions were frequent between them and the Greeks. This situation was a matter of concern for all Roman prefects. But Flaccus maintained order during the first five years of his rule. His attitude however changed after the death of his protector, Tiberius, in 37, when Flaccus learned that the next emperor, Gaius Caligula, was seeking revenge against Tiberius’ clan and close friends. Flaccus was among them and expected public trial followed by death. He consequently lost the spirit of managing public affairs in Egypt.

During the first few months of his reign, Caligula was considered as a moderate ruler, but he was sexually pervert and was suspected of having intercourse with his sisters. There was surely some truth in it, as he became cruel and extravagant at the death of his preferred sister, Drusilla, in 38 CE. It was at this time that Flaccus was convinced by Egyptian advisers that his personal affairs would get better if he would show severity against the Jewish population of Alexandria. His designs were reported by Philo, an Hellenistic Jew of Alexandria who had endeavoured to reconcile Greek philosophy with Jewish tradition. First, pretexting a lack of respect from the Jews to the new Emperor, Flaccus ordered the synagogues to be destroyed. He soon directed his decrees against the people themselves:

Since, therefore, the attempt which was being made to violate the law appeared to him to be prospering, while he was destroying the synagogues, and not leaving even their name, he proceeded onwards to another exploit, namely, the utter destruction of our constitution, that when all those things to which alone our life was anchored were cut away, namely, our national customs and our lawful political rights and social privileges, we might be exposed to the very extremity of calamity, without having any stay left to which we could cling for safety, for a few days afterwards he issued a notice in which he called us all foreigners and aliens, without giving us an opportunity of being heard in our own defence, but condemning us without a trial; and what command can be more full of tyranny than this? He himself being everything--accuser, enemy, witness, judge, and executioner, added then to the two former appellations a third also, allowing any one who was inclined to proceed to exterminate the Jews as prisoners of war.
So when the people had received this license, what did they do? There are five districts in the city, named after the first five letters of the written alphabet, of these two are called the quarters of the Jews, because the chief portion of the Jews lives in them. There are also a few scattered Jews, but only a very few, living in some of the other districts. What then did they do? They drove the Jews entirely out of four quarters, and crammed them all into a very small portion of one;[1a] and by reason of their numbers they were dispersed over the sea-shore, and desert places, and among the tombs, being deprived of all their property; while the populace, overrunning their desolate houses, turned to plunder, and divided the booty among themselves as if they had obtained it in war. And as no one hindered them, they broke open even the workshops of the Jews, which were all shut up because of their mourning for Drusilla,[1b] and carried off all that they found there, and bore it openly through the middle of the market-place as if they had only been making use of their own property. And the cessation of business to which they were compelled to submit was even a worse evil than the plunder to which they were exposed, as the consequence was that those who had lent money lost what they had lent, and as no one was permitted, neither farmer, nor captain of a ship, nor merchant, nor artisan, to employ himself in his usual manner, so that poverty was brought on them from two sides at once, both from rapine, as when license was thus given to plunder them they were stripped of everything in one day, and also from the circumstance of their no longer being able to earn money by their customary occupations.
--- Philo, Flaccus, VIII, 53-57

Then, on the birthday of Caligula, at the end of August, a general massacre was carried out in the portion of the city were the Jews had been crammed in:

Some persons even, going still great and greater lengths in the iniquity and license of their barbarity, disdained all blunter weapons, and took up the most efficacious arms of all, fire and iron, and slew many with the sword, and destroyed not a few with flames. And the most merciless of all their persecutors in some instances burnt whole families, husbands with their wives, and infant children with their parents, in the middle of the city, sparing neither age nor youth, nor the innocent helplessness of infants. And when they had a scarcity of fuel, they collected faggots of green wood, and slew them by the smoke rather than by fire, contriving a still more miserable and protracted death for those unhappy people, so that their bodies lay about promiscuously in every direction half burnt, a grievous and most miserable sight. And if some of those who were employed in the collection of sticks were too slow, they took their own furniture, of which they had plundered them, to burn their persons, robbing them of their most costly articles, and burning with them things of the greatest use and value, which they used as fuel instead of ordinary timber. Many men too, who were alive, they bound by one foot, fastening them round the ankle, and thus they dragged them along and bruised them, leaping on them, designing to inflict the most barbarous of deaths upon them, and then when they were dead they raged no less against them with interminable hostility, and inflicted still heavier insults on their persons, dragging them, I had almost said, though all the alleys and lanes of the city, until the corpse, being lacerated in all its skin, and flesh, and muscles from the inequality and roughness of the ground, all the previously united portions of his composition being torn asunder and separated from one another, was actually torn to pieces. And those who did these things, mimicked the sufferers, like people employed in the representation of theatrical farces; but the relations and friends of those who were the real victims, merely because they sympathized with the misery of their relations, were led away to prison, were scourged, were tortured, and after all the ill treatment which their living bodies could endure, found the cross the end of all, and the punishment from which they could not escape.
--- Philo, Flaccus, IX, 67-72

With such demonstrations of support to Caligula’s orders, Flaccus thought to escape from trial and death. But he was mistaken. He was eventually taken prisoner to Rome and executed there.

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Year 3798 – 38 CE – Marullus and Caligula

Caligula appointed Marullus as prefect of Judea in 38 CE with orders to turn the Temple of Jerusalem into a Roman shrine and to place a statue of him, Emperor Caligula, in it. The statue was prepared but, wisely, Marullus decided to save more time and waited for the Emperor's order to take it to Jerusalem. 

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Year 3801 – 41 CE – Claudius

Caligula was assassinated in 41, and the plan of his statue in Jerusalem was swiftly abandoned. Caligula was the first Roman emperor to be assassinated (Julius Caesar was assassinated too, but was not Emperor at the time but a dictator). He was replaced by his uncle Claudius.

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Year 3801 – 41 CE – Agrippa king of Judea

Claudius replaced Marullus by Agrippa, a Jewish prince from the Herodian family, who had been educated in Rome and who, owing to his earlier friendship with Caligula, had already been named king of some parts of Herod kingdom (Philip's tetrachy in 37 CE and Galilee in 39 CE). In 41, Claudius, who had also befriended with Agrippa, extended his kingdom to Judea as well. In Rome, Claudius also adapted the rules regarding the Jewish population:

In the matter of the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city, he decided not to drive them out, but ordered them to follow that mode of life prescribed by their ancestral custom and not to assemble in numbers.—The clubs instituted by Gaius [Caligula] he disbanded.—Also, seeing that there was no use in forbidding the populace to do certain things unless their daily life should be reorganized, he abolished the taverns where they were wont to gather and drink and commanded that no dressed meat nor warm water should be sold.[2] Some who disobeyed this ordinance were punished.
--- Cassius Dio, Roman History, volume 60

The Jews in Rome were not the only ones to have increased in great number. In Judea, Agrippa carried out a census in an indirect fashion because, since the days of King David, censuses were considered as bad omen:

Our Rabbis taught: King Agrippa once wished to cast his eyes on the hosts of Israel. Said he to the High Priest, Cast your eyes upon the Passover sacrifices. He [thereupon] took a kidney from each, and six-hundred-thousand pairs of kidneys were found there, twice as many as those who departed from Egypt, excluding those who were unclean and those who were on a distant journey; and there was not a single Paschal lamb for which more than ten people had not registered; and they called it, ‘The Passover of the dense throngs.’
--- Talmud, Pesachim, 64b

Agrippa was well received by the Jewish people because of his kind character and attention to the faith:


Agrippa's temper was mild, and equally liberal to all men. He was humane to foreigners, and made them sensible of his liberality. He was in like manner rather of a gentle and compassionate temper. Accordingly, he loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure; nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 19,328

In his times, the Judean province was quiet and Jerusalem attracted scores of pilgrims or visitors. In 1913, in Jerusalem, a slab of limestone with the following Greek text was found. It is known as the Theodotus Inscription, which mentions an ancient synagogue, probably built at the time of the Maccabees, that was also used as a hostel for foreign visitors and pilgrims:

Theodotus, son of Vettanos, a priest and
an archisynagogos, son of an archisynagogos
grandson of an archisynagogos, built
the synagogue for the reading of
Torah and for teaching the commandments;
furthermore, the hostel, and the rooms, and the water
installation for lodging
needy strangers. Its foundation stone was laid
by his ancestors, the
elders, and Simonides
--- Theodosus Inscription, translation K.C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman (source: web site)

Theodotus Inscription
Theodotus Inscription (Diaspora Museum, Tel Aviv)

This inscription proves that, already in the 1st century BCE, and probably earlier since the restrictions imposed by the Greeks against the Temple service, the Jews were used to meet in synagogues for Torah reading (the synagogues were not used as praying halls at this time). This fact is also confirmed in the New Testament:

For Moses of old time has in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
--- New Testament, Acts, 15:21
 
Another synagogue was identified on the archaeological site of Umm el-Umdan near Modi'in, birthplace of the Maccabean revolt. The synagogue, which is probably the earliest found in the world, dates from the late Hasmonean times (1st century BCE). It was a small public building, with two pillars to support a roof, probably stone bench all around the walls, and an entrance towards the East. In this period, there was not yet the custom to build the synagogues towards Jerusalem, as the Temple was still standing. And the synagogues were not places of prayer but places to meet and read the Torah in front of the community.

The synagogue plan at Umm el-Umdan
The synagogue plan at Umm el-Umdan
(Source: Israel Antiquities Authority)

 
Agrippa was favourable to more Jewish independance from Rome. He always acted in this direction but ruled for too short a time to make a lasting effect. In Jerusalem, he started to build the so-called "Third Wall", which extended the defense walls of the city more north, about 100 meters north from present-day northern walls and Damascus Gate.

Jerusalem's Third Wall
Remains of Agrippa's Third Wall of Jerusalem (photograph: Albert Benhamou)

But Claudius, having been made aware of these works, ordered to stop the construction of this wall: Roman's concept of security relied on the presence of troops, not on the erection of walls. This wall was however to be completed a few years later, during the Great Revolt of 66-70 CE.

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Year 3801 – 41 CE – Claudius' letter to the people of Alexandria

Following the anti-Jewish riots in Alexandria, Claudius endeavoured to restore quiet by peaceful means when he declared:

Since I am assured that the Jews of Alexandria, called Alexandrians, have been joint inhabitants in the earliest times with the Alexandrians, and have obtained from their kings equal privileges with them, as is evident by the public records that are in their possession, and the edicts themselves; and that after Alexandria had been subjected to our empire by Augustus, their rights and privileges have been preserved by those presidents who have at divers times been sent thither; and that no dispute had been raised about those rights and privileges, even when Aquila was governor of Alexandria; and that when the Jewish ethnarch was dead, Augustus did not prohibit the making such ethnarchs, as willing that all men should be so subject [to the Romans] as to continue in the observation of their own customs, and not be forced to transgress the ancient rules of their own country religion; but that, in the time of Caius, the Alexandrians became insolent towards the Jews that were among them, which Caius, out of his great madness and want of understanding, reduced the nation of the Jews very low, because they would not transgress the religious worship of their country, and call him a god: I will therefore that the nation of the Jews be not deprived of their rights and privileges, on account of the madness of Caius; but that those rights and privileges which they formerly enjoyed be preserved to them, and that they may continue in their own customs.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 19,279

He also agitated the threat to those causing agitation againt the Jews among the Greek population:

As for the question , which party was responsible for the riots and feud (or rather, if the truth be told, the war) with the Jews, although in confrontation with their opponents your ambassadors, and particularly Dionysios the son of Theon, contended with great zeal, nevertheless I was unwilling to make a strict inquiry, though guarding within me a store of immutable indignation against whichever party renews the conflict. And I tell you once and for all that unless you put a stop to this ruinous and obstinate enmity against each other, I shall be driven to show what a benevolent Prince can be when turned to righteous indignation. Wherefore, once again I conjure you that, on the one hand, the Alexandrians show themselves forebearing and kindly towards the Jews who for many years have dwelt in the same city, and dishonor none of the rites observed by them in the worship of their god, but allow them to observe their customs as in the time of the Deified Augustus, which customs I also, after hearing both sides, have sanctioned.
And on the other hand, I explicitly order the Jews not to agitate for more privileges than they formerly possessed, and not in the future to send out a separate embassy as though they lived in a separate city (a thing unprecedented),[3] and not to force their way into gymnasiarchic or cosmetic games, while enjoying their own privileges and sharing a great abundance of advantages in a city not their own, and not to bring in or admit Jews who come down the river from Egypt or from Syria, a proceeding which will compel me to conceive serious suspicions. Otherwise I will by all means take vengeance on them as fomenters of which is a general plague infecting the whole world.
--- Letter of the Emperor Claudius to the Alexandrians, published in 1912, to access text online, click here

This letter is interesting because it gives a pattern about what antisemitism is all about (although the term did not exist until the 19th century), and the dangers of assimiltion of the Jews into their hosts' culture. What did Claudius ask from the Jews? To live according to their traditions and refrain from forcing their way into their hosts' culture and traditions such as gymnasiarchic or cosmetic games. The latter is about assimilation into the Greek culture, which was rejected -violently- by the Alexandrians. With the Emancipation of the 19th century in Europe, the same themes will surge again against the Jews who will be accuse of taking away the culture of their hosts, whether in Germany, France, Poland or elsewhere.

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Year 3804 – 44 CE – Agrippa II

Agrippa invited to Tiberias the rulers who wanted to gain more independance from Rome. The Roman Pro-Consul in Syria had learned about it and started to act against Agrippa. He invited him to a meeting in Caesaria and there Agrippa died, aged 44, of sudden abdominal pain, probably caused by poisoning. He had only reigned about 3 years over Judea, and was succeeded by his 17 years old son, Agrippa II. But Judea was excepted from this realm and entered again an era of Roman representatives for the second time.

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Year 3805 – 45 CE – The great famine and false prophets

In year 45, the 4th year of Claudius, a famine started in Judea, and lasted two to three years.[4] It was a time of great distress which favoured the ones who preached repentance, cleansing from ther sins, and so on. One of them is mentioned by Josephus:

Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea,[5] that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,97

The Roman authorities would take no chance with those who would disturb public quiet and they knew that this would cause these people to rebel against Rome. The same way they executed Jesus, whom they saw as a person able to gather people and cause public unrest, they also executed the false prophets of these times.
 
Fadus was soon after replaced by Tiberius Julius Alexander, a former Jew from Alexandria whose family was assimilated and had embraced Roman culture and had even obtained Roman citizenship. He would frequently show extra zeal to act against his former brethren as a proof of his allegiance to Rome. Both him and Agrippa II will take part in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, as they sided with the Romans against their fellow Jews....


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Year 3806 – 46 CE – Queen Helena of Adiabene

In Adiabene, a province of the Armenian empire, the king had his sister Helena as one of his wives. They had a son called Izates. Josephus narrated the following:

About this time it was that Helena, queen of Adiabene, and her son Izates, changed their course of life, and embraced the Jewish customs.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,17

Following the influence of some Jewish person in their kingdom, they converted to Judaism after the death of the king. When Izates’ reign was secure, his mother Helena decided to move to Jerusalem. When she arrived there, she found the people oppressed by a famine:


Now her coming was of very great advantage to the people of Jerusalem; for whereas a famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food withal, queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of corn, and others of them to Cyprus, to bring a cargo of dried figs. And as soon as they were come back, and had brought those provisions, which was done very quickly, she distributed food to those that were in want of it, and left a most excellent memorial behind her of this benefaction, which she bestowed on our whole nation. And when her son Izates was informed of this famine, he sent great sums of money to the principal men in Jerusalem.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,49

The mention of the famine is helpful to determine the time when Helena came to Jerusalem, which would have been around year 46. Like in the time of the patriarchs, Egypt was the saviour of the region as it continued to produce the much needed corn.


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Year 3810 – 50 CE – Death of Rabban Gamaliel

Rabban Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, and the nassi (President of the Sanhedrin) in these days. He was a respected Pharisee scholar who greatly contributed to the discussions that will be consigned in the Talmud. His death marked a turning point of the righteous life in Judeah:

Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the law, and purity and piety died out at the same time.
--- Talmud, Sotah, 15:18

This text from the New Testament is confirmed by Jewish tradition:


Our Rabbis taught: From the days of Moses up to Rabban Gamaliel, the Torah was learnt only standing. When Rabban Gamaliel died, feebleness descended on the world, and they learnt the Torah sitting; and so we have learnt that ‘from the time that Rabban Gamaliel died, [full] honour ceased to be paid to the Torah’.
--- Talmud, Megilah, 21a

According to the New Testament, Paul the Apostle was a student of Rabban Gamaliel before he became a follower of the early Christian sect. (New Testament, Acts, 22:3)

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Year 3810 – 50 CE – Shimon ben Gamaliel

Shimon ben Gamaliel succeeded his father as nassi. His key teaching was:

Rabban Shimon son of Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: on justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: judge you truthfully and a judgment of peace in your gates.
--- Talmud, Avot, 1:18

This statement is extracted as an application of divine commandments given to the prophet Zechariah:

“These are the things that you shall do: Speak you every man the truth with his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates; and let none of you devise evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord.
--- Zechariah 8:16-17

Shimon remained nassi until the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. He was killed during that Judeo-Roman war but he was already in old age at the time. His tomb in Kfar Kanna in Galilee is a site of pilgrimage to this day.[6]

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Year 3813 – 53 CE – Felix, procurator of Judea

In the 12th year of his reign, Claudius appointed Felix as procurator for Judea. When he arrived to Jerusalem, he fell in love with Drusilla, the daughter of defunct Agrippa I, and sister of Agrippa II. The woman was of great beauty but had been promised to Azizus, the king-priest of Emesa (now Homs in Syria) who accepted to convert to Judaism for her and be circumcised for this marriage. As Felix was not Jewish, he had to use a subterfuge:

And he [Felix] sent to her a person whose name was Simon, one of his friends, a Jew he was, and by birth a Cypriot, and one who pretended to be a magician, and endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry him; and promised, that if she would not refuse him, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she acted ill, and because she was desirous to avoid her sister Bernice's envy, for she was very ill treated by her on account of her beauty, was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix; and when he had had a son by her, he named him Agrippa. But after what manner that young man, with his wife, perished at the conflagration of the mountain Vesuvius [in year 79], in the days of Titus Caesar, shall be related hereafter.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,141

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Year 3814 – 54 CE – Nero

Claudius proved to be an able ruler but he was assassinated in 54. He was succeeded by his adopted son, Nero. Nero was the son of Aggripina the Younger, one of the sisters of Caligula. The official father of Nero was the husband of Aggripina but, in reality, he only accepted paternity. It is more likely that Aggripina had been made pregnant by her brother who would be accused of having incestuous relationship with his sisters. H eultimately preferred his sister Drusilla and got insane when she died. Nero was therefore a member of the ruling Julia-Claudia family and was even the first cousin of Messalina, the first wife of Claudius, who was executed for cheating on her imperial husband.

Nero
Nero (Antiquarium of the Palatino)

Nero was also a good ruler but his rreputation was later tainted by rumours that he set fire on Rome, in year 64, although Roman historian Tacitus stated Nero’s efforts to relief the unfortunated Romans, and that the fire destroyed his own palace:

Nero at this time was at Antium, and did not return to Rome until the fire approached his house, which he had built to connect the palace with the gardens of Maecenas. It could not, however, be stopped from devouring the palace, the house, and everything around it. However, to relieve the people, driven out homeless as they were, he threw open to them the Campus Martius and the public buildings of Agrippa, and even his own gardens, and raised temporary structures to receive the destitute multitude. Supplies of food were brought up from Ostia and the neighbouring towns, and the price of corn was reduced to three sesterces a peck. These acts, though popular, produced no effect, since a rumour had gone forth everywhere that, at the very time when the city was in flames, the emperor appeared on a private stage and sang of the destruction of Troy, comparing present misfortunes with the calamities of antiquity.
--- Tacitus, The Annals, XV, 39

The fire was most probably caused by accident. But, in order to divert the anger of the Roman people from rumours involving him, Nero accused the Christians to have set the fire. And persecutions ensued:


As a consequence, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians [or Chrestians] by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but, even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.
--- Tacitus, The Annals, XV, 44

Josephus had warned his readers that some historians had told lies about Nero:


Nor do I wonder at such as have told lies of Nero, since they have not in their writings preserved the truth of history as to those facts that were earlier than his time, even when the actors could have no way incurred their hatred, since those writers lived a long time after them.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,154


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Year 3816 – 56 CE – Death of Queen Helena

In year 56, Izates was fatally ill after 24 years of reign:

But when Helena, his mother, heard of her son's death, she was in great heaviness, as was but natural, upon her loss of such a most dutiful son; yet was it a comfort to her that she heard the succession came to her eldest son. Accordingly, she went to him in haste; and when she was come into Adiabene, she did not long outlive her son Izates. But Monobazus sent her bones, as well as those of Izates, his brother, to Jerusalem, and gave order that they should be buried at the pyramids which their mother had erected; they were three in number, and distant no more than three furlongs from the city Jerusalem.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,92

Helena and her son’s ashes were buried at a small distance north of Jerusalem in a place known today as the “Tombs of the Kings”. Her sarcophagus had been found in the 20th century.

Tombs of the Kings in Jerusalem
Entrance to the Tombs of the Kings in Jerusalem, David Roberts, 1838

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Year 3816 – 56 CE – Assassination of Jonathan

Felix had a grudge against Jonathan the High Priest and decided to get rid of him. To do so, he managed to hire a close friend of Jonathan called Doras  to allow assassins to get close to him and carry out their deed:

Doras complied with the proposal, and contrived matters so, that the robbers might murder him after the following manner: Certain of those robbers went up to the city, as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under their garments, and by thus mingling themselves among the multitude they slew Jonathan 1 and as this murder was never avenged, the robbers went up with the greatest security at the festivals after this time; and having weapons concealed in like manner as before, and mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew certain of their own enemies, and were subservient to other men for money; and slew others, not only in remote parts of the city, but in the temple itself also; for they had the boldness to murder men there, without thinking of the impiety of which they were guilty. And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred of these men's wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery, as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,160

Without knowing it, Felix actually used Sicarii to carry out his design. They were formed into a secret faction and started to be active in Jerusalem during Felix' rule. They  then started to carry out assassinations of Romans and also of people who were perceived of being favourable to Rome.Josephus had little opinion of them, stating they were driven by motives of robbery. This may however be a simplicist view of the historian who tried to blame all the disasters that fell upon the Jewish nation upon themselves, and not much the Romans:

And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,167

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Year 3818 – 58 CE – Paul the Apostle

Felix is know in the New Testament for having emprisoned Paul the Apostle for two years before the end of his post as Procurator in year 60. Paul had returned to Judea in 57 after a mission in the communities in Asia Minor in order to bring them to the belief of Jesus as having been the Messiah. This mission was given by the "church" of  Jerusalem, which was led by Jesus' brother James the Just. But when Paul tried to gain support from the Jewish community in Asia and Greece, he met with refusal to believe that the Messiah had already come and died. But when he attempted to enroll Gentiles, he obtained much better result. His method was to please everyone who would follow his preaching, even if it meant to deceit people. He explained his method himself in a letter to the Corinthians:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
--- New Testament, I Corinthians, 9:20-22

Paul then returned to Jerusalem to meet with James and tried to convince him to put their efforts towards the Gentiles. But, James and his followers were pious Jews who remained in the Jewish faith: they only thought that Jesus was the Messiah. So they rebuked Paul. He also attempted to convert Jews in Jerusalem but it resulted into public outrage and trouble that got to the attention of the Romans who wanted to maintain order.


These times were times of great distress for the Jews and many sects believe that the end of the world would come soon (the Apocalypse). These were mere eschatological movements, to which the Essenes sect belonged too. In their case, they were not followers of Jesus and continued to expect the venue of the Messiah. So, in a sense, it is wrong to talk about "early Christians" or "church of Jerusalem" because these people were no different from the rest of the Jewish community, and they did't create a new religion or faith: they were only Jews who believed that the Messiah had come. Other Jewish movements in the future also adopted the belief that such or such person was the Messiah, such as the known case of Sabbatai Zvi (1626-1676) which will be discussed in this site in the right period.

The contention with these "early Christians", and all Jews in fact, was that Paul was admitting Gentiles to the faith by telling them they did not need to follow the Jewish Law, nor be circumcised. His mission was thus considered unlawful in the eyes of the Jewish Law, and this put him at odds with Jesus’ brother, James the Just. As his attempts caused public unrest in Jerusalem, Paul was arrested in 58 CE there by the Romans when he tried to defend himself in front of a hostile crowd of Jews who viewed him as an apostate in the eyes of the Jewish Law:


I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem]. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors.[7] I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.
--- New Testament, Acts 22:3

Paul was sent to Caesaria where he appeared before Felix, in the presence of Drusilla, before being emprisoned:

But after some days, Felix arrived with Drusilla his wife, who was a Jewess, and he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus.
--- New Testament, Acts, 24:24

Paul before Felix
Paul before Felix and Drusilla (William Hogarth, 1751)

When Felix was called back to Rome two years later, in year 60, Paul was brought for retrial by the new procurator of Judea, Porcius Festus. Paul asked that, being a Roman citizen, he would appeal to the Emperor himself. So he was sent to Rome for trial. History lost track of what happened to him in Rome but it is believed that he was condemned to death and executed, maybe in the general reprisal following the great fire.

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Year 3822 – 62 CE – Stoning of James the Just

The case of Paul brought the attention of the Jewish authorities upon this new sect, the "church of Jerusalem", who declared that the Messiah had already come. There were already several attempts to declare someone of being the Messiah. A false prophet, or a predicator, who came from Egypt was also mentioned by Josephus:

Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,167

The church of Jerusalem thus got into trouble for accusations of false prophecy which is punishable by death according to Jewish Law. Under normal circumstances, a condemnation was however extremely hard to obtain, due to the strict rules imposed by Jewish Law to convince a person of guilt. But, at the time, Festus the procurator who replaced Felix had died and a replacement was on his way from Rome. Agrippa II took this opportunity to change the High Priest by a Sadducee called Ananus son of Ananus. The latter wanted to make a show of authority and took the complaints about false prophecy to make an example. He brought James to trial and managed to condemn him to public stoning by the Sanhedrin (the religious court) in 62. This however was blameful and a delegation was sent to meet the new procurator, Albinus, for Ananus’ abuse of power (because conveying the Sanhedrin and pronouncing a death sentence required the prior approval of the Roman procurator):

But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority].
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Joshua, the son of Damneus, high priest.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,197

The church of Jerusalem felt they were in danger if they would remain in the Holy City so they moved to Pella, a city in the Decapolis,[8] which is now in Jordan. Ananus will only remain in his post for three months, due to the opposition of the Pharisees. The bad choices of Agrippa II for the role of high priest, favouring his aristocratic acquaintances from the Sadducees, made him unpopular among the Jews and in Jerusalem in particular.

Ruins of Pella in Jordan
Ruins of Pella in Jordan (photograph: Tania Tours)

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Notes:


[1a] This was in essence the first “ghetto” in Jewish History, although Jews would always seperate themselves from the Gentiles in their exiles, and the first ghetto may be considered to be the land of Goshen when Jacob and his family settled in Egypt

[1b] At her death, her brother Caligula ordered that divine honours should be paid to her in all the Roman Empire

[2] As they were signs of luxury

[3] The Jews of Alexandria had sent a deputation to Caligula to seek protection against the Alexandrians; among them was Philo, who accused the Alexandrian Isidorus and his companion Lampo of agitating hatred against the Jews during the tenure of Flaccus; Claudius will ultimately sentence both Alexandrians to death; an anti-jewish pamphlet, called The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs (otherwise known as The Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs), had been written in these times and told about these details

[4] This great famine is also mentioned in the New Testament, Acts 11:28

[5] Cuspius Fadus was procurator during two years, from 44 to 45-46 CE

[6] The tomb has been vandalized by Arab residents in April 2006 during the Passover Jewish festival

[7] Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel and nassi until the year 50 CE

[8] The Decapolis was a set of ten cities assigned or created at the time of the Greeks where Gentiles could live inside the Judean realm; nine of these cities were located on the Eastern side of the Jordan River while one of them, Scythopolis, the ancient Beth-Shean, was located on the western side of the river; Damascus and Amman (then called Philadelphia) were cities of the Decapolis; at the time of Herod's death, and during the partition of his kingdom between his heirs, the Romans encompassed all these ten cities into one single autonomous region they also called the Decapolis (see map of Herod's kingdom in previous section)

The Decapolis



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