Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. The Sons of Herod the Great:

              Herod Philip II.





                                          Herod Antipas






              2. Immediate Roman Domination over Judæa:

              When imposed?





                            How exercised?

              Under Augustus.


                            Under Tiberius.




              3. The Internal Divisions:
















              1. The Temple of Jerusalem:

              Situation and general aspect.


                            Description of enclosures and of Temple proper.




              2. The Aaronitical Priesthood:

              The simple priests.


                            The high priest (social and religious influence).




              3. The Synagogues:

              Origin and development.


                            Organization and authority.




              4. The Scribes:

              Who they were and how divided?


                            On what did they rest their traditions?




              5. The Sanhedrim:

              Origin, constitution and authority.


§ 1. Social Condition

1. The Sons of Herod the Great. The last will of Herod the Great having, after a time, been confirmed by Augustus, Palestine was divided between three of his sons:

(1) Herod Philip II., a son of Herod and Cleopatra of Jerusalem, became tetrarch of Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanea, and the district of Panæas. He was a just and moderate ruler, entirely devoted to the duties of his office. He rebuilt Panæas, near the sources of the Jordan, and called it Cæsarea, in honor of the emperor. As he left no children, at his death his dominions were annexed to the Roman province of Syria. He ruled thirty-seven years, from B.C. 4 to A.D. 34.

(2) Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a Samaritan, was appointed tetrarch of Galilee and Peræa. In character he was unscrupulous, tyrannical and weak, cruel and cunning,| though not remorseless. He was a truly Eastern despot, capricious and sensual. In defiance of the Jewish law he had married the wife of Herod Philip—his brother, who was then living as a private citizen in Rome—and this led him to the murder of John the Baptist. It was before this prince that Our Lord appeared at the time of His passion.

His greatest architectural work was the erection of a city which he called Tiberias, in honor of the emperor. After his banishment to Lyons, in Gaul, his territories were given to Herod Agrippa I., his nephew. He was tetrarch forty-one years, from B.C. 4 to A.D. 38.

(3) Archelaus, like Herod Antipas, was a son of Herod and Malthace. He did not enter upon his possessions without opposition and bloodshed, but Augustus confirmed the will of Herod in its essential provisions. Archelaus received the title of ethnarch, with the promise of that of king if he should rule to the satisfaction of Augustus. His territories included Idumæa, Judæa, and Samaria. By his tyranny and cruelty he roused his subjects to appeal to Rome for redress. He appeared before the emperor, and after his cause was heard he was banished to Vienna, in Gaul. After a rule of ten years (B.C. 4 to A.D. 6) his territories were annexed to the Roman province of Syria, and thus Judæa was placed under the immediate Roman domination.

2. The Immediate Roman Domination over Judæa. The Jews had asked for this direct government of Rome at the death of Herod the Great, in the hope that the Romans would allow them to manage their national affairs after their own customs, under their high priests. This hope was revived by the banishment of Archelaus, but it did not last long. Judæa and Samaria were united to Syria, of which Publius Cyrinus was made president or proprætor, while the immediate direction of affairs was given to a procurator, residing at Cæsarea. The powers of this inferior officer cannot be exactly defined. In general, he was subject to the president of the province; yet, in districts lying far from the main province, he seems to have had a large discretionary power, a considerable number of troops at his disposal, and, in certain cases, the power of life and death.

The immediate Roman domination was exercised over the various provinces of the empire in an irritating, vexatious, and oppressive manner, but it was particularly so in Judæa, on account of the peculiar character of the Jews, which contrasted so much with that of the Romans.

It must be said, however, that under Augustus the rule of Rome over the Jews was fairly tolerable; but the exercise of the Roman power required chiefly two taxes: a poll and a land tax, the latter tax amounting to one-tenth of all grain and two-tenths of fruit and wine. To establish these taxes a second census was necessary. The fiercer spirits in Judæa rebelled at the idea that the fruits of a land consecrated to Jehovah should be given to pagan strangers, and that tithes to be paid to God alone should henceforth be paid to a heathen lord. Judas, the Galilean, led the insurrection against the census: he perished, and his followers dispersed.

Towards the close of the reign of Augustus the procurators of Judæa succeeded one another rapidly; but his successor, Tiberius, pursued a different policy. During his long reign Judæa had only two procurators: Valerius Gratus (A.D. 15–26) and Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26–36).

Under Gratus things went from bad to worse. He changed the high priests five times in eleven years, and the load of public taxes became so unendurable that the Jews appealed to Rome for relief; but in all probability their entreaties did not bring them any alleviation of misery. The successor of Gratus was Pontius Pilate, the very type of the rich and corrupt Roman of his age. He was a worldly-minded statesman, conscious of no higher wants than those of the present life, yet by no means unmoved by feelings of justice and mercy. But all his better feelings were overpowered by a selfish regard for his own security.

As specimens of his administration we may notice the four following facts:

(1) He transferred the winter quarters of the army from Cæsarea to Jerusalem; hence the soldiers introduced into the Holy City the Roman standards, on which were the image of the emperor and the imperial eagle. No previous governor had ventured on such an outrage and Pontius Pilate had sent his men in by night. The Jews poured down in crowds to Cæsarea to obtain from him the removal of the odious symbols. Pilate yielded after five days of resistance, and the standards were withdrawn.

(2) On another occasion he hung up in his palace, at Jerusalem, some gilt shields which were simply inscribed with the names of the donor and of the deity to which they were consecrated. This the Jews so resented that they appealed to Tiberius, and they obtained the removal of the shields objected to.

(3) On the appropriation by Pilate of the revenue arising from the redemption of vows to the construction of an aqueduct a riot ensued. It was suppressed by means of soldiers sent among the crowds, armed with concealed daggers, and who slew not only rioters, but also casual spectators. The aqueduct was completed without further hindrance.

(4) Later on he slaughtered certain Galileans at some great festival at Jerusalem. This apparently took place in the Outer Court of the Temple, since the blood of the worshippers was mingled with their sacrifices.

The conduct of Pilate was equally tyrannical towards the Samaritans; and on their complaint to Vitellius, then president of Syria, he was ordered to go to Rome, whence it seems Caligula banished him to Vienna, in Gaul.

3. The Internal Divisions. The Pharisees formed the most prominent party or guild among the Jews during the lifetime of Our Lord. As their name indicates, they originally arose as champions of the separateness of the Jewish people from other nations. They consequently held fast by the distinctive beliefs of the Jewish race, as, for instance, the hope of a great national deliverer in the person of a Messias, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, of a divine Providence, of an oral tradition equal in authority with the written law. Nor were they less zealous in carrying out the external observances of their ancestors, such as fasts, prayers, tithes, ablutions, sacrifices, etc. They were ardent patriots, ever willing to lay down their lives for the national independence, and hating the foreign yoke with a bitterness mingled with scorn. The multitudes, although not actually enrolled among the Pharisees, were under their sway, and zealously adhered to a party so intensely national in politics and orthodox in religion. To the Pharisaic party belonged also most of the scribes. Finally, although there were found noble characters among the leaders of the party, self-conceit, arrogance, and hypocrisy had become the general characteristics of the sect.

The origin of the Sadducees is probably to be traced to a natural tendency opposed to that which gave birth to the Pharisaic party, viz., the desire to tide closely with the ruling power. Their opposition to the Pharisees extended both to religious tenets and to social customs. They notably denied the immortality of the soul, the existence of a divinely revealed oral tradition, etc. They ridiculed Pharisaic exclusiveness, affected Greek culture, enjoyed foreign amusements, and thought it useless to fight for the freedom of their country. They belonged chiefly to the upper and wealthy classes, and formed a kind of priestly aristocratic party in close alliance with the ruling power; an extreme section of them were the Herodians.

The origin of the Essenes is very obscure. In the time of Josephus, the Essenes lived in small colonies or villages at long distances from the towns, principally in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea. The differences between them and the Pharisees lay mainly in rigor of practice and not in articles of belief. Those who wished to join them had to pass through two periods of probation. They employed themselves chiefly in agriculture and were devoted to silence and contemplation. Some of them lived in ordinary society, as, for instance, Menahem, a friend of Herod; but they generally formed an exclusive and isolated community. Their organization resembled closely that of our monastic orders.

For centuries the Samaritans had been despised by the Jews, as a mixed race descending from the Assyrian colonists who had settled in the land of Israel when the northern kingdom was destroyed in the eighth century before Christ. At the time of Our Lord, the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans had reached its climax; and this is explained by several contemporary events: notably, by the connivance of the Samaritans with Herod the Great before his accession to the Jewish throne, by the favor which that prince ever showed to them, by their willing submission to the census and their ready adoption of Roman usages, and finally, by their daring violation of the Temple of Jerusalem during a Paschal festival.

§ 2. Religious Condition

1. The Temple of Jerusalem. The great centre of the religious life of the Jews during the lifetime of Our Lord was the Temple of Jerusalem. Herod had rebuilt it on its original site, Mount Moria, east of the Holy City. He had, however, considerably enlarged its enclosure to the south; and it is very probable that the present enclosure of the so-called Mosque of Omar represents that of the Temple as enlarged by Herod the Great.

When we think of the Jewish Temple, our impulse is to picture to ourselves some building like a classical temple or a great cathedral. But the first effort of our imagination should be to picture to ourselves a system of structures, one quadrangle within another, the second standing upon higher ground than the outermost, and the Temple proper upon a position highest of all. We should imagine the appearance of a wide open space spoken of by the prophets as “THE COURT OF JEHOVAH’S HOUSE,” while “THE HOUSE” itself, or Temple proper, was erected on the highest of a series of successive terraces, which rose in an isolated mass from the centre of the Court, or rather nearer to its northwestern corner.

The Outer Court—the first to be entered when approaching the Sacred Mount—was called “the Court of the Gentiles,” not because it was set apart for them, but because Gentiles rigorously excluded from every other portion of the Temple enclosures were permitted, with all others, to enter there. In form it was a quadrangle, surrounded by a strong and lofty wall, with but one gate to the east, one to the north, four to the west, and two to the south. On the inner sides of this wall extended porticoes or cloisters of white marble Corinthian columns: the ceiling was flat and finished with cedar. On three sides there were two rows of columns, but on the southern side, the cloister (the Royal Porch) deepened into a fourfold colonnade, and its axis was in a straight line with the axis of the colossal bridge which spanned the Tyropœon valley. These porticoes or porches around the Court of the Gentiles were most convenient places for friendly or religious intercourse, for meetings or discussions. The open court was paved with stones of various colors, and in it the buyers and sellers congregated.

From near the middle of the Court of the Gentiles arose the series of enclosed terraces, on the summit of which was the Lord’s house. This more sacred ground was fenced off by low balustrades of stone, along which, at regular intervals, stood pillars with inscriptions in Greek and Latin, warning Gentiles not to proceed farther, on pain of death. Besides this barrier, a separation was formed by a flight of fourteen steps leading up to a platform or narrow terrace, beyond which arose the wall of the Inner Court with its four gates to the north and to the south, and one to the east.

The eastern portion of this second quadrangle or Inner Court was called the Court of the Women, not because it was set apart exclusively for their use, but because they were not allowed to advance beyond it. This court covered a space of more than 200 feet square, and its eastern gate—which formed the principal entrance into the Temple—was the Beautiful Gate. All round the court ran a simple colonnade, and within it was the Treasury; finally, in each of its four corners were chambers, one of which was for the performance of the vows of the Nazarites.|

From the western side of the Court of the Women fifteen semicircular steps led through the Gate of Nicanor into the narrow Court of Israel, reserved for the men who had accomplished certain acts of purification. Two steps led up from the Court of Israel to the Court of the Priests, with which it practically formed but one court, divided into two by a low balustrade one and one-half feet high. A colonnade ran around three sides of the Court of the Priests; and among its many chambers we may notice the hall Gazith, the meeting-place of the Sanhedrim. The Court of the Priests surrounded the Temple proper, and contained the great Altar of Burnt-offerings, together with the apparatus required for its service.

The House, or Temple proper, remains to be described. Its form was that of an inverted T (^), and it was divided into three parts: the Vestibule, the Holy Place, and the Holy of holies.

The Vestibule was reached by a flight of twelve steps, and was wider than the rest of the House by 30 feet on each side. Its entrance was covered by a splendid veil, and within it a number of dedicated gifts were kept. Folding doors, plated with gold and covered by a rich veil, formed the entrance to the Holy Place, and above it hung a gigantic vine of pure gold, a beautiful symbol of Israel. In the Holy Place were, to the south, the golden candlestick, to the north the table of “the loaves of proposition,” and beyond them the altar of incense, near to the entrance to the Holy of holies, or Most Holy Place. The latter was now entirely empty, a large stone, on which the high priest sprinkled the blood on the Day of Atonement, occupying the place where the Ark had stood. A wooden partition separated the Most Holy from the Holy Place, and over the door hung the “SECOND VEIL.” The Holy Place was but 60 feet long from east to west, and 30 feet wide; and the Holy of holies was 30 feet long and as many wide. On three sides of the Temple proper there were side buildings three stories high, and so arranged that the Temple proper rose above them like a clear-story rising above aisles, and bearing aloft a gabled cedar roof with golden spikes on it, and surrounded by an elegant balustrade.

At the northwestern corner of the Temple enclosure stood the fortress Antonia, ever reminding the Jewish worshippers of the hated Roman yoke.

2. The Aaronitical Priesthood. The persons who had charge of the Temple, and a large number of whom were always in residence, were the priests, whose duty it was to mediate between Jehovah and His people. They formed a sacred order, to which no one could be admitted who did not belong to it by birth; for according to the legislation of the Pentateuch, “THE SONS OF AARON” were alone entitled to the rights and privileges of the Jewish priesthood. Physical defects, however,—amounting to 142 at the time of Our Lord,—disqualified a descendant of Aaron, not indeed for the priestly order, but for the exercise of its functions. So that, before being selected for the discharge of the sacred duties of the priesthood, a man had to prove (1) that he was a legitimate descendant of Aaron, and (2) that he was exempt from all disqualifying bodily blemishes.

If a young man had duly established this to the satisfaction of the Sanhedrim, he was set apart for the priestly ministry by a special consecration, which originally lasted seven days, and consisted in sacrifices, purifications, the putting on of the holy garments, the sprinkling of blood, and anointing with oil. It is probable, however, that the anointing with oil was no longer in use in Our Lord’s time.

For the service of the Temple, the numerous descendants of Aaron had been divided by David into twenty-four courses, which would officiate in regular succession, changing every Sabbath, so that each course would be in attendance at the sanctuary at least twice a year. It is true that only four of these courses came back from the Exile, but they were divided afresh into twenty-four courses, each of which formed a distinct body, with presidents and elders at its head. After the return, the number of priests rapidly increased in the Holy Land: and yet, however numerous, they must have been comfortably provided for. They had a considerable share in the victims which the Jews of all nations offered in sacrifice in the Holy City; and even independently of these sacrifices, dues of various kinds were paid to them, such as first fruits, tithes of the products of the ground, the redemption money for the first-born of man and beast, etc.

Although in some cases the priests exercised judicial functions, and were in charge to preserve and expound the Law, their duties were mainly sacrificial. They had to prepare and offer the daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices, and such as were brought by individuals at the great festivals or on special occasions, and in general they conducted the public service of the sanctuary.

At the head of the whole Jewish priesthood was the high priest. He was to be a person especially sacred, hence any bodily imperfection or blemish excluded him from the office. There were, besides, other disqualifications, such as illegitimacy, idolatry, etc. Under the Romans this office was too often entrusted to persons who had neither age nor learning nor rank to recommend them.

The services of the consecration, which originally lasted seven days, consisted in sacrifices, anointing with oil, and putting on of the sacred garments. But in Our Lord’s time the anointing had long ceased to be in use, and a simple investiture was gone through, together with the offering of the sacrifices. We have already noticed that under the Roman domination the high priests had become mere puppets in the hands of the Roman procurators, and that Gratus and Pontius Pilate were famous for the rapid deposition and substitution of high priests which they effected.

And yet the position of the high priest combined in one and the same person both a civil and a sacred dignity. To him alone belonged the right to officiate on the great day of Atonement. He alone could enter the Most Holy Place; he was also the supreme administrator of sacred things and the final arbiter of all religious controversies. At the same time he presided over the Sanhedrim; and in all political matters he was the supreme representative of the Jews in their relations with the Romans.

3. The Synagogues. During the captivity of Babylon the sacrificial services of the Temple were, of course, discontinued; hence, it is most likely to this period that we must ascribe the origin of a religious institution which at the return of the Jews was transplanted into Palestine, and which in Our Lord’s time was spread everywhere, viz., the institution of the synagogues. No sacrifices could be offered in these meeting-places; but public prayers were put up, and Holy Writ was read and practically expounded. The synagogues often consisted of two apartments: one for prayer, preaching, and public worship; the other for the meetings of learned men, for discussions concerning questions of religion and discipline, and for purposes of education.

In the audience chamber of a synagogue we might notice the first chairs; a desk for the reader; a chest in which the rolls of the Sacred Book were preserved; and perhaps some lamps for use at the evening worship. Over every synagogue there was a ruler whose duty it was to attend to the external affairs of the synagogue, and to maintain order in the meetings. Elders were associated with him in the management; while the inferior duties connected with the synagogue were discharged by servants or ministers.|

The rulers of the synagogue had the power to inflict excommunication or exclusion from the synagogue, a most important act of religious discipline, whereby those under excommunication were looked upon as no better than the heathen.

4. The Scribes. The chief interpreters of Holy Writ in the synagogues were the Scribes, who, far more than the priests, guided and shaped the religious life of the people at large. They belonged to different tribes and families, and also to different sects, although most of them, while being Scribes by office, were Pharisees by religious and political profession. In the time of Our Lord they were spread everywhere, and because of their special skill in the Law and in the other Sacred Writings, they were reputed as men of great learning. They loved the title of Rabbi, and required the greatest honors not only from their pupils, but also from the public at large.

By their theoretical and practical interpretation of Holy Writ they had gradually laid a most heavy burden upon the people, for it was their aim to apply the Law to all imaginable circumstances of daily life, and their work in that direction was characterized by slavery to the letter, and by subtle casuistry. Moreover, through their great attachment for the “traditions of the elders,” they had gone so far as to “make void the commandment of God,” and to teach the people to neglect some of the most fundamental principles of the moral law.

The origin of the divine authority they ascribed to these traditions is to be referred to their theory that Moses himself had delivered to Israel an oral Law together with the written Law. This oral Law was as old as the Pentateuch, and had come down in an authentic form, through the prophets to Esdras, the first and greatest of the Scribes. Hence they inferred that the whole Law, written and oral, was of equal practical authority. Through this conception of a traditional law the Scribes were led into many a departure from the spirit of the written Word, and indeed were betrayed into looking upon all their traditional customs and interpretations—however recent—as no less authoritative than the revealed precepts of the Law.

5. The Sanhedrim. It was in one of the halls of the Temple that, up to about A.D. 30, the Sanhedrim, or highest council of the Jews, made up of chief priests, elders, and Scribes, met under the presidency of the high priests. Its origin is unknown; and the view of the Jewish rabbis which identifies the Sanhedrim with the council of seventy elders on whom the Holy Spirit was poured to assist Moses in the administration of justice, is without serious grounds. This supreme tribunal of the Jews counted seventy-one members of pure Israelite descent and was governed by a president and two vice-presidents; besides, there were secretaries and other officers.

During Our Lord’s lifetime the power of the Sanhedrim extended to matters of the greatest importance. Among others, we may notice that it superintended the ritual of public worship, regulated the Jewish calendar, enforced the exact fulfilment of the Law, punished false prophets, and even exercised judicial control over the high priests. However, its privilege of carrying into effect a sentence of death it had pronounced had been taken from the Sanhedrim and reserved to the Roman procurator. The supreme authority of the decrees of the Sanhedrim was acknowledged by all the Jews dispersed throughout the world.

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