The Roman Effect

Seven insights into the life and culture of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus.

It is difficult today to imagine life in the ancient Roman Empire. We are far removed from the first century, and the motion picture industry has molded the way we perceive Roman society. However, here are some biblical insights based on facts that have been revealed to us:

(1) Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 26:15), was possibly motivated by political ambition. The apostle John called him a “thief” who stole from the disciples’ treasury (Jn. 12:6).

But 30 pieces of silver was not much money. According to Exodus 21:32, it was the value of merely one slave.

Judas may have hoped to use Jesus to spark a revolt against Rome. For more than three years, he observed Jesus’ miraculous powers and saw how the crowds adored Him. Judas may have wanted Jesus to use His powers to fight.

(2) The word Iscariot normally would refer to either Judas’s father or the city where he was born, yet there are no good candidates for those two traditional associations.

However, Iscariot is similar to the Latin word sica (plural sicae), which means “curved dagger.” It is also extremely similar to the Latin word sicarius, which means “assassin” or “murderer.” The Sicarii (plural) were a group of assassins dedicated to throwing off  the yoke of Rome. This fact might explain Judas’s sudden remorse. He may not have intended Jesus to die; and when He did die, Judas thought his hope of political victory over Rome was gone.

(3) Archaeologists have discovered game boards etched into the paving stones in the Fortress of Antonia, where the Roman soldiers abused Jesus during His trials. The boards were for a game called The Game of the Kings. It involved moving pieces through the various positions on the game board, with the winning soldier mocking the prisoner as a king. This might be the cultural background behind the mocking of Christ, the crown of thorns the soldiers pounded into Jesus’ head, and the substitute scepter given Him.

(4) It is clear in Scripture that the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, did not have the authority to execute Jesus. The Talmud affirms that the Sanhedrin lost the right of execution 40 years prior to the destruction of the second Temple.1 So God had His Son die a blood-soaked death after being “pierced” (Zech. 12:10) by Roman soldiers and “lifted up” (Jn. 3:14) on a Roman cross.

(5) The New Testament uses the proper word for Pontius Pilate’s position in the Roman government: governor (“prefect”), rather than procurator, which was a later development in Roman leadership. Historians Josephus and Tacitus, by way of contrast, got it wrong.2

(6) Jesus was not considered a Roman citizen, as the apostle Paul was. Historians explain that Pilate’s “governorship” would have given him absolute control over all non-Roman citizens.3

(7) As civilized as Rome may have appeared superficially, its callousness and cruelty to non-Romans were epitomized in the barbaric gladiator spectacles.4 In fact, Rome’s extreme paganism made followers of Jesus stand out.

ENDNOTES

ng>ENDNOTES

  1. Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, ed., Soncino Babylonian Talmud, trans. Jacob Shachter and Rabbi Dr. H. Freedman, Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 41a  <come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_41.html>.
  2. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1961), 6.
  3. Peter Connolly, Living in the Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Tel Aviv: Steimatzky, 1988), 48.
  4. Roland Auguet, Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games (New York, NY: Routledge, 1994), 16.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Features

From the Editor Nov/Dec 2015

Christmastime is my favorite time of year. Perhaps it’s because I never celebrated Christmas when I was growing up. I was probably 10 before I even learned Jesus was Jewish.

Who Has a Hold on Hope?

Atheists chalked up another win in August when the Freedom From  Religion Foundation (FFRF) forced the Royster Middle School in Chanute, Kansas, to remove a print of Warner Sallman’s famous 1941 painting...

When the Time Was Right

The Hebrew Scriptures provide inklings of God’s special preparations for His Son. Abraham and his descendants were to live in a specifi c place, the “Promised Land” (Gen. 12:1).

Beyond the Manger

Even at this time of year, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, most people don’t know who Jesus is. The Bible has much to say about the One who was born in a manger in Bethlehem.

Waiting for His Shout

It is not difficult to picture the scene Jesus’ disciples witnessed when the resurrected Lord ascended from the surface of the earth, rising higher and higher. Their squinting gaze no doubt focused...

With Justice for All

Imagine a world where all nations are at peace, and there is no war and no threat of deadly terrorism; all politicians and government officials are honest, trustworthy...

Subscription Options

1 Year Digital Subscription

  • *Free PDF Book Download - What on Earth is God Doing? by Renald Showers
  • *Free Full-Issue PDF Downloads

$9.99 every year

1 Year Digital with Archive Access

  • *Free PDF Book Download - What on Earth is God Doing? by Renald Showers
  • *Complete Access to Our Growing Archive—Eventually Back Through Our Inaugural Issue In 1942
  • *Free Full-Issue PDF Downloads of Current Issues and Select Archives

$19.99 every year

2 Year Digital Subscription

  • *Free PDF Book Download - What on Earth is God Doing? by Renald Showers
  • *Free Full-Issue PDF Downloads

$19.99 every 2 years

2 Year Digital with Archive Access

  • *Free PDF Book Download - What on Earth is God Doing? by Renald Showers
  • *Complete Access to Our Growing Archive—Eventually Back Through Our Inaugural Issue In 1942
  • *Free Full-Issue PDF Downloads of Current Issues and Select Archives

$39.99 every 2 years

3 Year Digital Subscription

  • *Free PDF Book Download - What on Earth is God Doing? by Renald Showers
  • *Free Full-Issue PDF Downloads

$29.99 every 3 years

3 Year Digital with Archive Access

  • *Free PDF Book Download - What on Earth is God Doing? by Renald Showers
  • *Complete Access to Our Growing Archive—Eventually Back Through Our Inaugural Issue In 1942
  • *Free Full-Issue PDF Downloads of Current Issues and Select Archives

$59.99 every 3 years

Free 1 Year Digital Subscription

Unlimited Articles

Unlimited Posts

Free