currents fed the Jesus myth, like streams and tributaries joining
to form a major river. In order to compete with rival gods Jesus
had to match them point for point, miracle for miracle. Jesus
the Christ, King of Kings, Light of the World, High Priest forever,
Good Shepherd, Judge of the quick and the dead, and the Saviour
of Mankind is nothing less than – nothing other than – an
of all that had gone before, the final product of ancient
In essence Jesus
Christ is like every other ancient god, a personification of Principals and Forces.
More than anything else, the figure of Jesus symbolized and personified Just Law, Divine
Punishment and Reward. The myth did not
require the happenstance of a genuine human life to
going – which
is one reason why, as a human
superhero is at best only partially formed, even after passing
revisions and re-workings.
every pronouncement and every micro-drama of the godman's supposed
ministry can be
to be a midrashic creation,
teased out of Jewish scripture and a handful of supplementary
Not a scrap
of an authentic human story is to be found. And why
would there be? Jesus the man did not exist. He
is a collective work of fiction and the culmination of two centuries
of pious aspirations.
Wars I – "Judgement Day"
With the death
of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC), the first Maccabee
to openly take the title king,
a bitter conflict arose between his two sons John Hyrcanus II and
II. John sought help from an
Arab chieftain of Idumea named Antipater, head of the Herodian family.
claimants to the Hasmonean throne appealed to Rome and in 63
BC the Romans arrived and resolved matters by by imposing a
mosaic of client kingdoms and self-governing cities in the region
(Philistia, Phoenicia, Israel, Judah, etc.). Pompey, having captured
Jerusalem and strolled around the inner sanctum of the Temple – he
famously remarked "It was empty" – gave
the High Priesthood to Hyrcanus. Thus ended a century of Jewish
In Pompey's Roman triumph of 61 BC, Aristobulus
was compelled to march in front of the conqueror's chariot in
Five years later
the captive prince escaped his Roman prison and fled to Judea,
only to be recaptured and returned to Rome. His erratic fortunes
turned again when Julius Caesar found a role for him in his
campaign against Pompey, at that time ensconced in Syria. But the
was poisoned on the journey east.
recorded with satisfaction the "divine punishment' dished
out to Aristobulus in the so-called Psalms of Solomon.
Disillusioned with Jewish kings yet again (for the Maccabees had
begun by restoring "righteousness") the Pharisees shifted
the focus of their hope to a messianic deliverer, more priestly
than kingly, who would judge
sinners and reward the righteous.
proclaimer of God's dawning kingdom was now identified with
the image of an apocalyptic judge.
War II – An Apocalyptic Age
years later, the victor of Rome's own civil war, Caesar, also
support Hyrcanus but appointed the Arab Antipater as epitropos ('regent').
This left out in the cold a dissatisfied claimant to the
Jewish throne Antigonus, second
son of Aristobulus II. He appealed to the other power player in
the region, Parthia, promising the Parthian king 500
wives of his enemies for his intervention.
A Parthian invasion
followed, triggering renewed civil
war among the Jews in which Hyrcanus was taken prisoner (40
BC). Antipater's son Herod (the 33-year-old
governor of Galilee) rescued him, but Hyrcanus was a spent force.
Herod, on the other hand, had already made a name for himself
by executing ‘bandits’ (Galilean nationalists led
by Ezekias) who had been causing trouble on the borders of Roman
His renewed loyalty to Rome would assure his future.
But in the short
term the situation looked bleak. Parthia rapidly occupied most
of Judaea and installed Antigonus as king in Jerusalem. Herod's
patron, Mark Antony, ruler of the eastern provinces, was at this
time dallying in Egypt with Cleopatra, a monarch with
designs on Palestine.
Herod fled to
to Rome and appealled directly to Octavian, himself now locked
in rivalry with Antony. With the Senate's blessing, Herod was
made King of the Jews and after a 3 year campaign at the
head of two Roman legions, he was finally able to enter his capital.
But the situation remained volatile.
Romans Execute a 'King of the Jews'
there's an idea ...
ambitions required heavy taxation of Judaea and this exacerbated
hatred towards Rome and Herod himself. Antigonus languished
in Herod's gaol but worryingly he retained both popular and religious
support. There was an obvious solution: his execution.
when Antony had received Antigonus as his captive, he determined
to keep him against his triumph; but when he heard that
the nation grew seditious, and that, out of their hatred
to Herod, they continued to bear good-will to Antigonus,
he resolved to behead him at Antioch, for otherwise the
Jews could no way be brought to be quiet.
Strabo of Cappadocia
attests ... 'Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought
to Antioch, and there to be beheaded. And this Antony
seems to me to have been the very first man who beheaded
a king, as supposing he could no other way bend the minds
of the Jews so as to receive Herod, whom he had made king
in his stead;
by no torments could they be forced to call him king, so
great a fondness they had for their former king; so he
thought that this dishonourable death would diminish
the value they had for Antigonus's memory, and at the same
time would diminish the hatred they bare to Herod." Thus
– Josephus, Antiquities, 15.1.2.
"These people Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern;
but Antigonus he bound to a cross and
flogged — a punishment
no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans — and afterwards slew him."
– Cassius Dio, Roman
History, 49. 22.
death of a Jewish king at the hands of Rome would
shortly be overshadowed by the Battle of Actium and the
downfall of Antony himself.
Herod, the consummate
political survivor, promptly
ingratiated himself into the train of Octavian and went on
to rule his turbulent realm for another quarter of a century. With
a tally of ten wives and at least 15 children he developed
healthy phobia that his throne might be usurped from within
his own extensive family (though
it's rather unlikely he worried about a carpenter's son).
their hopes of deliverance from iniquity dashed more thoroughly
than ever before – an upstart, sacrilegious Arab as king and rapacious Roman overlords
– the cohorts of piety turned with delirium to dreams of a Messiah,
figure who would arrive to judge the world.
the 1st century BC as the Israelites saw less and less prospect
of any human being bringing their oppression
to an end, it came to be increasingly felt that only a superhuman
figure and a superhuman act could be powerful enough to rescue
Grant, Jesus, p97.
and Fall of the House of Herod
want a Davidic King"
I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants
of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they
shall look upon me whom they have pierced."
scarcely a Jew (his mother was a princess
his father, Antipater, Idumean) and of doubtful faith, Herod's
rule, nonetheless, benefitted greatly both the Jewish people and
the sullen priesthood. Octavian
(Augustus) rewarded Herod with a greater slice of Palestine than
Jewish kings had ever enjoyed, and exempted Jewish males from Roman
The priests gained Roman recognition of their sabbath and of Jewish
eventually won the support of a majority of the Sadducees, partly
by the creation of an Herodian aristocracy of
his own placemen and partly by rebuilding the rather lacklustre
built by Zerubabel. This so-called "Second
Temple" had been desecrated by Antiochus in 168 BC and had been "re-dedicated" by
Judas Maccabeaus a few years later.
for the Temple exceeded the dimensions of the fabled 'Temple
of Solomon' found
only within the pages of the Book of Chronicles. Most
of the grandiose construction was completed between 20-10 BC,
though work continued on peripheral areas almost up until its destruction
later. The massive project was not equalled in the city
for more than
It was the most impressive abattoir ever built.
Even so, Herod
won few friends among the pious, who were delighted by his death in 4 BC. The Pharisees – loosely divided into two
factions, the "liberal" house of the rabbinic sage
Hillel (30 BC -10 AD) and
the harsher, more conservative house of Shammai – remained
hostile to the Herodian princes who inherited their father's realm.
territories allotted to the "tetrarchs" ("rulers") – Panias
and Batanaea, ruled by Philip until his death in 34 AD; Galilee and
Peraea, under Antipas until his exile in 39 AD – passed
to Herod's grandson Agrippa I (son of the executed Aristobulus).
his grandfather, Agrippa remained
on good terms with both Caligula and Claudius. As a loyal Hellenistic
client-ruler he was rewarded with further territory and the restored
title of "King of the Jews".
He died suddenly in 44 AD.
But the territories
that passed to Herod's senior son Archelaus as "ethnarch" ("prince") – Judaea,
Samaria and Idumea– were more problematic. For
a decade Archelaus confronted continuous internal dissent and
a frustrated Emperor Augustus deposed him in 6 AD. His territories
were reorganised into a minor Roman province with a permanent
Roman garrison in Jerusalem and a military "prefecture" installed
in Caesarea. The first Prefect,
Coponius, under instructions from the Governor of Syria,
Greek "Cyrenius"), began by conducting
a tax census.
a Romanised youth, was given the short straw – the
Jewish heartland, suffering heavy unemployment with the end of Herod's
ambitious public works program. He fell from favour after heavy-handed
treatment meted out to the Jewish aristocracy and a series of rebels
His brother Antipas was
more fortunate, ruling Galilee for more than 40 years. Astute and
capable – despite the infamy
for beheading John the Baptist – Antipas won the backing of
Even the author of Luke is
generous towards Antipas, introducing a third "trial" for
JC not found in Matthew:
when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous
to see him of a long season, because he had heard
many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done
by him. Then he questioned with him in many words."
The erudite and profound response from the co-creator of the universe? Luke clearly
couldn't think of anything clever to put in the mouth of his hero:
"but he answered him nothing." – 23.8,9
The more capricious Caligula exiled Antipas to Gaul.
Pressure Cooker of Dissent
Throughout the 1st century of the common era, while the Herodian
aristocracy happily danced to the tune of the caesars, the exploitation
backs now weighed the priesthood, the landowning elite and the Romans.
The stage was set in which rabbis, radicals and rebels would appeal
to the despised and neglected masses. On offer was a hero of the
Decapolis – Greek civilisation confounds the
and Hellenization of the Levant followed in the wake
of Alexander the Great. The era of the Ptolemies
and Seleucids saw many Greek-style cities established
along the eastern side of the Jordan river valley.
the 2nd century BC Maccabean revolt these city-states
of the Decapolis (as many as 18 of them,
despite the name) came under repeated attacks by
the Jewish Hasmonean kings. But then the Romans arrived.
Pompey reorganized the towns into a semi-autonomous
federation (coins note the 'year of liberation' – 63
being on the imperial frontier and the continued
hostility of religious zealots, the federated cities
flourished for over three centuries, thanks to the
proximity of one of the great trade routes – later
rebuilt as the Via Nova Traiana – and
abundant local agriculture.
Nympheum at Jerash (Gerasa).
Impressive ruins include 3 theatres,
several temples, 3 bath houses and a hippodrome.
Scythopolis (Beth Shean/ Beisan)
'City of the Scythes', an Iranian people
from the Crimea. According to Josephus the
largest city of the Decapolis.
Gadara (Umm Qais).
Renowned for its artists and poets and
cynic philosophers. Seven miles from the
Sea of Galilee but those suicidal
pigs sweated out the distance.
Provincia Judaea circa 60 AD
civilisation was firmly established in the coastal
cities and in towns across Galilee and into the Decapolis.
first Roman road ran from Caesarea to Scythopolis – built
in 69 AD by the legion X Fretensis during the
Jewish war. Both Trajan and Hadrian extended
the road network.
Judaean highlands remained a backwater of peasant
farming, Jerusalem itself a centre of religious
Jewish kings built cities to honour their Roman
masters: Herod built Caesarea and Sebaste (Greek
rendering of "Augustus");
his son Antipas built Tiberias.
Ancient capital of the Ammonites, Roman
ruins include a 5000-seat theatre and a Temple
of an extensive underground aqueduct system
that brought water to the bath house
2002 archeologists found a 6000 seat amphitheatre.
Much of the city remains under
a blanket of olive trees and 20 meters of
Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion,The Weight of Three
Thousand Years (Pluto, 1997)
Michael Grant, Herod the Great (McGraw-Hill, 1971)
Neil Faulkner, Apocalypse-The Great Jewish Revolt Against Rome AD66-73 (Tempus,
Michael Grant, Jesus (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977)
N. Page, The Bible Book (Harper Collins, 2002)
J. Packer, D. Williams The Bible Application Handbook (Eagle, 1999)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
a friend e-mail this page
Copyright © 2005
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and
no material herein is sold for profit.