Matthew-John

MATTHEW

MATTHEW 2:1 ~ Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea. He was born during the time when Herod was king.

Herod the Great was around 70 years old when Jesus was born, and at the height of his power.  After a few murders and bribes, Herod succeeded in getting the Roman senate to appoint him king of the Jews.  But when he arrived, Jerusalem had closed their gates and refused to let him in.  He forced his way in and took control.

HEROD THE GREAT’S Jericho palace


MATTHEW 2:2, 7 ~ After Jesus was born, some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem. The wise men [magi] asked people, “Where is the child that has been born to be the king of the Jews? We saw the star that shows he was born. We saw the star rise in the sky in the east. We came to worship him”…. Then Herod had a private meeting with the wise men [magi] from the east. Herod learned from the wise men [magi] the exact time they first saw the star.

At this time there was a Magi Tribe in western India according to Bhavishya Purana and it was considered the priestly tribe.  There was a Magi Tribe in Media according to Herodotus i. 101, but they were not as influential after Media united with Persia.  When Babylon eventually merged with Persia, the Chaldeans were considered to be magi.  The term “magi” eventually came to mean mystic incantations, astrology, etc. Although the religious writings of India and Medio-Persia do not include significance of a single star as associated with kingship, the writings of ancient Daniel who lived in Babylon and Persia do.

Relief showing a Median MAGI, 
from Gur-Eshagh, Iran

MATTHEW 2:16 ~ Herod gave an order to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and the whole area around Bethlehem. Herod had learned from the wise men the time {the baby was born}. It was now two years from that time. So Herod said to kill all the boys that were two years old and younger.

Historian Flavius Josephus, who lived during the time of Herod and Jesus, tells in his “Antiquities of the Jews” of Herod killing his favorite wife Mariam, his brother-in-law, his father-in-law, two of his sons and others ~ all out of jealousy and fear they would take his throne from him and kill him.  He even killed another son while on his deathbed because that son thought his father was dead and declared himself king of the Jews.

Ancient historian FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS


MATTHEW 2:19  ~ After Herod died, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream. This happened while Joseph was in Egypt.

In 2007, a Hebrew University archaeologist uncovered Herod’s tomb at Herodium, a massive white-stone complex  near Jerusalem, Herod‘s desert retreat.  It housed a fortified palace, administrative buildings, gardens, and ritual baths.  It was surprisingly found halfway up the mound.  There they found a slab of high-quality, highly ornamented pink limestone. They also found Herod‘s regally ornate sarcophagus.

HEROD the Great’s sarcophagus

 

The remains of a huge staircase leading up to the burial site have been uncovered, as well as an enormous area set up for Herod’s funeral procession.

HEROD the Great coins

MATTHEW 2:22a ~But Joseph heard that Archelaus was now king in Judea. Archelaus became king when his father Herod died. So Joseph was afraid to go there. Joseph was warned in a dream.

According to Roman records and contemporary historian, Josephus, Herod the Great’s son, Herod Archelaeus was to become the next king of the Jews upon his father’s death.  He was even more cruel than his father.  Two years after the beginning of is reign, he put down a riot of the Jews against him by killing 3000 of them there in Jerusalem.  Therefore, Augustus Caesar named him ethnarc and parts of the kingdom to his brothers, Herod Philip and Herod Antipas.  But Archelaeus‘ cruelty continued.  After further complaints to Caesar by the Jewish leaders, in 6 AD he was banished to Gaul.  Then Augusta made Samaria, Idumea and Judea a Roman province to be ruled by a Roman governor.

Relief of Roman SOLDIERS from 
around 50 AD, now on display at 
the Louvre, Paris

MATTHEW 8:5- 9~ The [Roman] officer answered, “Lord, I am not good enough for you to come into my house. All you need to do is command that my servant be healed, and he will be healed. I myself am a man under the authority (power) of other men. And I have soldiers under my authority. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes. I tell another soldier, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and my servant obeys me. {I know that you also have power like this.}”

In 63 BC, Roman Proconsul Pompeius Magnus (“Pompey the Great”)  secured Judea for Rome. When Queen Alexandra Salome died around 63 BC and a civil war broke out between her sons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, Proconsul Pompey laid siege to Jerusalem to get it under control and make the high priest, Hyrcanus, the leader of Judea.  It took three months to break through the gates of the city and put Hyrcanus in power.

Eventually political rule passed to the Herod the Great’s father as a Roman prelate and later to Herod the Great as a client king appointed by Rome. A couple years after Herod the Great’s death, Judea came under direct Roman rule as a province of Rome. It was common to see Roman soldiers on patrol in all cities.

Excavations of CAPERNAUM


MATTHEW 8:9; 17:24 ~ Jesus went to the city of Capernaum…. Jesus and his followers went to Capernaum. In Capernaum some men came to Peter. They were the men that collected the two-drachma tax. They asked, “Does your teacher pay the two-drachma tax?”

In 1838, the American achaeologist, Edward Robinson discovered the ruins of the ancient Capernaum.  Excavations began in 1905.  They uncovered two public buildings and a Jewish synagogue.  More building foundations have been uncovered since then.  Artifacts and building foundations reveal that the town was build in the second century BC.

MATTHEW 9:9; 17:24 ~ When Jesus was leaving, he saw a man named Matthew. Matthew was sitting at his place for collecting taxes. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Then Matthew stood up and followed Jesus.

Relief of TAX COLLECTOR’S booth

Although Jewish tax was collected by Jewish priests or Levites, Roman taxes were necessary also in order to pay for the support of the soldiers and Romans leaders.  Pictured is a relief depicting a tax collecting scene on display at Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany.

MATTHEW 11:20-21 ~ Then Jesus criticized the cities where he did most of his miracles. Jesus criticized those cities because the people there did not change their lives and stop sinning. Jesus said, “It will be bad for you …Bethsaida.

Excavations of Bethsaida

In 1987, Israeli archaeologist Dr. Rami Arav found 2 km from the north coast of the Sea of Galilee what he believed to be the site was Bethsaida.  In 1990, Rami and several colleagues from around the world joined together to form the Consortium of  the Bethsaida Excavations Project, which since then has been housed at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  This site has been confirmed to be that of Bethsaida.

The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius, said that around 30 AD, Phillip, the son of Herod the Great, improved the village of Bethsaida so that it became a Roman city, then renamed it Julias, after Livia-Julia, the wife of the late Emperor Augustus. Four years later, Phillip died and was buried at Bethsaida.

MATTHEW 14:3 ~ Before this time, Herod [Antipas] had arrested John. Herod [Antipas] had tied John with chains and put him into prison. Herod [Antipas] arrested John because of Herodias. Herodias was the wife of [Herod] Philip,Herod’s brother.

Herod Antipas was brother of Herod Archelaeus and Herod Philip.  Their father, Herod the Great, divided his kingdom among his three sons.  Herod Antipas was given Galilee, a province in the north, and Perea, a province east of the Jordan River, and given the title “tetrarch” (ruler of one fourth).  His brother, Herod Philip, was given all the provinces east of the Jordan River except Perea (southern Jordan today).  Although Herod the Great’s will was contested before Tiberius Caesar, Caesar decided to honor it as written.

Excavation of Caesarea Philippi built by Philip and named after Caesar


Herod Philip, the tetrarch, built a city in northern Palestine at the site formerly dedicated to the Greek god, Pan.  He named it Caesarea in honour of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.  It was often called Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, a few miles west of Jerusalem.

MATTHEW 14:1 ~ At that time Herod [Antipas], the ruler {of Galilee}, heard the things people said about Jesus.

(LUKE 23:6-7 ~ Pilate heard this and asked if Jesus was from Galilee. Pilate learned that Jesus was under [Governor]  Herod’s authority. Herod [Antipas] was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him.)

Herod Antipas built the city of Tiberius in Galilee on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and named it after the emperor.  (SEE ABOVE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HEROD ANTIPAS.)

Amphitheater in TIBERIUS built by Herod Antipas and named after Caesar


MATTHEW 15:21-22 ~ Jesus left that place and went to the area of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that area came to Jesus.

Sidon has been inhabited since at least 4000 BC.  It was one of the most important Phoenician/Canaanite cities,  Being on the Mediterranean Sea, it developed into a city with many skills in creating glass, embroidery, etc., and a world-wide trade.  Homer praised Sidon.  It is said that Sidon later had a hand in founding the city of Tyre south of it.  It has been fought over and controlled by Egypt starting in 1450 BCE, then Assyria 900 BCE and Persia around 539 BC.  It is part of Lebanon which used to be called Phoenecia.

Statue of a goddess found in Phoenecia

Pictured is an alabaster Phoenician figure probably of the Canaanite goddess Astarte, dated the 7th century BC and now at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain

MATTHEW 16:13 ~ Jesus went to the area of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus said to his followers, “I am the Son of Man.

Caesarea Philippi was built in a region called Panion/Banias after the Greek god Pan.  It included shrines close to the spring called “Paneas”. Also it had a temple, courtyards, a grotto and niches for rituals, all dedicated to Pan. It was constructed on a cliff which towered over the city.  In the past, a giant spring gushed from a cave set in the limestone bedrock and flowed in a waterfall down to the valley.  Caesarea Philippi was at the foot of Mount Hermon.

Pagan alcove shrines at Caesarea Philippi


In 1988 Pepperdine University, in association with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, began excavations in the center of Caesarea Philippi, a few hundred metres south of the cave. Here they discovered what they believe to be the palace of Herod Agrippa II built with fine Roman architectural design.

Excavations at Caesarea Philippi


MATTHEW 20:29 ~ When Jesus and his followers were leaving Jericho, many, many people followed Jesus.

Tell es-Sultan is ancient Jericho.  It was first excavated in the very early 1900s and periodically since then.  The city is many thousands of years old, but was destroyed around 1550.  It remained uninhabited until  the 9th century BC. In the 8th century BC, the Assyrians invaded it.  Later the Babylonians did.  Around 550 BC, the city was emptied of people, which was during the period that the Jews were exiled to
Babylon.  Cyrus the Great of Persia repopulated the city when he allowed  the Jews to return to their former homeland.

Excavations of ancient JERICHO

However, they settled a mile southeast of the former site of Jericho (Tel es-Samrat).  Between 336 and 323 BC, Alexander the Great made it his personal estate.  Around 30 BC, Rome gave Jericho to Herod the Great.  He built there a hippodrome-theatre and new aqueducts to irrigate the area below the cliffs and reach his winter palace built at the site of Tulul al-Alaiq.  Remains of both still survive.

MATTHEW 21:1 ~ Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem. But first they stopped at Bethphage at the hill called the Mount of Olives. There Jesus sent two of his followers into the town.

Some of the elite sepulchers in the cemetery on Mount of Olives


The more important citizens of Jerusalem were traditionally buried on the Mount of Olives.  Near the modern village of Silwan, is where important citizens during the times of the Judean kings were buried, including some of the prophets of the Bible.  There are an estimated 150,000 graves on the Mount.  Roman soldiers camped on the Mount during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The religious ceremony marking the start of a new month was held on the Mount of Olives after the Second Temple was built by the Jews who returned from Babylonian captivity.  The mountain is 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount and offers a panoramic view of the Temple site.

MATTHEW 22:17-2 ~ So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Yes or no?” But Jesus knew that these men were trying to trick him. So he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me saying something wrong? Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” The men showed Jesus a silver coin [denarius].

Silver denarius depicting Tiberius Caesar

An early form of the silver denarius was first minted in 269 BC with an average weight of 6.8 grams or 1⁄48 th  of a Roman pound.   Rome standardized its coinage around 211 BC.  It began to experience slow deflation of value toward the end of the rule of Augustus Caesar,  At that time, its silver content fell to 3.9 grams, 1⁄84 th  of a Roman pound.

MATTHEW 22:20-21 ~Then Jesus asked, “Whose picture is on the coin? And whose name is written on the coin?” The men answered, “It is Caesar’s picture and Caesar’s name.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. And give to God the things that are God’s.”

Tiberius Caesar

 

Tiberius Caesar was one of Rome’s most famous and successful generals, conquering much of Europe, but never really wanted to be emperor.  In BC 4, Augustus Caesar adopted him, and made him co-regent in AD 13.  Augustus Caesar died the following year at age 75.  Tiberius Caesar sometimes put himself in exile to brood, or was suspicious and jealous.  There was much confusion during his reign.  He was the Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD.  Upon his death, Caligula became Caesar.

MATTHEW 24:1-2 ~ Jesus left the temple area [in Jerusalem] and was walking away. But his followers came to him to show him the temple’s buildings. Jesus asked the followers, “Are you looking at these buildings? I tell you the truth. They will be destroyed. Every stone will be thrown down to the ground. Not one stone will be left on another.”

The triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome was built soon after the death of Titus at the order of his brother, Roman Emperor Domitian.  It commemorated the triumph of Titus, especially the destruction of Jerusalem including the temple in AD 70, nearly 40 years after Jesus’ prediction.   In AD 66 Jewish Zealots began an outright war against the Romans who had controlled their country for decades.  Titus went to Jerusalem to quell the rebellion.  Finally in the early autumn of AD 70, a fire was begun in the temple and spread to the rest of Jerusalem.  Titus took advantage of the situation and broke through the walls.  One significance of the Arch of Titus is that it depicts the seven-branched menorah and trumpets used in Jewish temple worship.

Relief on Arch of Titus depicting 
the capture of candlestick and 
trumpets from temple in Jerusalem


MATTHEW 26:3, 57 ~ Then the leading priests and the older Jewish leaders had a meeting at the palace  where the high priest lived. The high priest’s name was Caiaphas…. The men that arrested Jesus led him to the house of Caiaphas the high priest. The teachers of the law and the older Jewish leaders [Sanhedrin] were gathered there.

Joseph, son of Caiaphas, was a Roman-appointed high priest of the Jews AD 18-36 ~ 18 years, and went by the name of Caiaphas.  He was the highest Jewish leader of the Jews since, at that time, Rome appointed Romans governors to rule the Jews.  He was leader of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews.  His power among the Jews was ultimate.  In AD 36, Vitellius, the Syrian governor, removed him from office, partly because of his cruelty.

High Priest CAIAPHAS’ bone box


In 1990, an ornate limestone casket (“bone box”) was found while paving a road in the Peace Forest south of the Abu Tor neighborhood two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was in a family tomb and contained the bones of an elderly man.  On the side of the box, written in Aramaic was this:  “Yehosef bar Kayafa” (Joseph son of Caiaphas).  It is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Sanhedrin burial cave is also called “the tomb of the judges” in Arabic and has 71 burial niches.  The caves are surrounded by a forest planted by the Jerusalem municipality.

SANHEDRIN burial cave


MATTHEW 27:1-2, 11-13, 19, 24 ~ Early the next morning, all the leading priests and older leaders of the people decided to kill Jesus.  They tied Jesus with chains. Then they led him to Pilate the governor. They gave Jesus to Pilate.  Jesus stood before Pilate the governor. Pilate asked him questions. He said, “Are you the king of the Jews?”Jesus answered, “Yes, I am.” When the leading priests and the older Jewish leaders accused Jesus, he said nothing. So Pilate said to Jesus, “You hear these people accusing you of all these things. Why don’t you answer?”… Pilate said these things while he was sitting in
the place for judging. While he was sitting there, his wife sent a message to him. The message said, “Don’t do anything with that man (Jesus). 
He is not guilty. And today I had a dream about him, and it troubled me very much.”… Pilate saw that he could do nothing to make the people change. And he saw that the people were becoming upset. So Pilate took some water and washed his hands so that all the people could see. Then Pilate said, “I am not guilty of this man’s death. You are the ones that are doing it!”

Image result for pontius pilate
PONTUS PILATE


Pilate was prelate (governor) of Judea from AD 26 to AD 36, the fifth Roman prelate, or procurator, of Judea. Historians of his time described him as cruel.  He even Temple treasury funds to build an aqueduct for Jerusalem, and then mercilessly suppressed the protest that erupted in response. In AD 36, he massacred a large number of Samaritans, so was removed from office.  

Pontus Pilate inscription

In 1961, an inscription was discovered in a staircase of the Roman theater at Caesarea, the Romans seat of government for Judea.  It is on display at the Israel Museum.  It reads:

…]S TIBERIVM
…PON]TIVS PILATVS
…PRAEF]ECTVS IVDA[EA]

MATTHEW 27:27 ~ Pilate’s soldiers brought Jesus into the governor’s palace. All the soldiers gathered around Jesus.

Ancient historian, Josephus, reported that Herod the Great’s palace was on the western hill of Jerusalem.  In 2001 parts of it was found under a corner of the Jaffa Gate citadel. Archaeologists state that in the 1st century, the Praetorium – the palace of the governor (prelate) – was on the western hill of Jerusalem.  Procurators/governors of Judea resided in Herod’s palace.

Image result for herod's palace jerusalem
Herod’s palace in Jerusalem


MATTHEW 27:32 ~ The soldiers were going out of the city with Jesus. The soldiers forced another man there to carry the cross for Jesus. This man’s name was Simon from Cyrene.

Cyrene was founded in the 4th century BC by Greeks in today’s Libya.  The city spontaneously submitted itself to the rule of Alexander the Great and, at his death.  Ptolemy III Euergetes bequeathed it to the Roman people in 96 BC.  Cyrene became a Roman province in 74 BC, and was given by Mark Anthony to Cleopatra.  Temples, monuments, an agora and a forum still survive today.

Temple to Jupiter in Cyrene


MATTHEW 27:33-34 ~They came to the place called Golgotha. (Golgotha means “The Place of the Skull.”)

There is a hill at the northeast side of old Jerusalem, just outside its walls, that has the shape of a skull on it. A cemetery is nearby.   It is just outside the Jaffa gate and opposite the temple and fortress of Antonio.

Thought to be Golgotha (place of the skull)


MATTHEW 27:35a ~ The soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross.

An Ossuary (small casket only for the bones] was found in Northern Jerusalem in an area called Giv’at ha-Mivtar.  The tombs were part of a huge Jewish cemetery of the Second Temple period (second century
BC to 70 AD), from Mt. Scopus in the east to the Sanhedran tombs in the northwest.  It dated to around 10 AD and contained the remains of a young man by the name of Yehohanan [Jonathan] son of Hagkol.
Among his bones was an ankle bone with a 7 inch nail through it.

Ankle with spike through it

It is on display at the Israel Museum.  Details of the archaeologist who explored the tomb are here: http://cojs.org/cojswiki/Crucifixion_Bone_Fragment,_21_CE

MATTHEW 27:35b-36 ~ Then the soldiers gambled with dice to decide who would get Jesus’ clothes.  The soldiers sat there and continued watching Jesus.

The Alexamenos graffito is the earliest known image of the crucifixion and is dated around 85 AD. It was discovered when a building called the domus Gelotiana was unearthed on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It had
been the emperor Caligula’s personal house, his palace.

Ancient drawing of a crucifixion


The rough drawing  shows a man looking at the person on the cross with one arm raised, and with this caption in Greek:  “Alexamenos worships [his] God”.  It is on display at the Paletine Museum, Rome.

MATTHEW 27:36-37 ~ The soldiers put a sign above Jesus’ head with the charge against him written on it. The sign said: “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”   Two robbers were nailed to crosses beside Jesus. One robber was put beside Jesus on the right and the other was put on the left.

At first, crucifixion was a punishment for slaves.  Then it became common execution of criminals and enemies of the government.  Unless it was a mass crucifixion, the name of the condemned man’s crime was on a plaque attached to the cross.

Crucifixion was used to punish foreign captives, rebels and fugitives, especially during times of war and rebellion. Captured enemies and rebels were crucified en masse. Accounts of the suppression of the
revolt of Spartacus in 71 B.C. lined the road from Capua to Rome with 6,000 crucified rebels and 6,000 crosses. After King Herod’s death, Quintilius Varus, the Roman Legate of Syria, crucified 2,000 Jews in
Jerusalem. During Titus’s siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Roman troops crucified some 500 Jews.

MARK

MARK 1:21~ Jesus and his followers went to Capernaum. On the Sabbath day Jesus went into the synagogue and taught the people.

In 1838, the town of Capernaum was discovered by American archaeologists.  The pictured synagogue was discovered in 1866 by British archaeologists.  In 1894, Italian archaeologists
purchased the land.  In 1905, German archaeologists began excavations.  In 1926, restoration work of the synagogue began, and was continued in 1976.  Although the synagogue was built around 400 AD with white blocks of calcareous stone, archaeologist Loffreda found an older foundation of basalt dating to the first century. He concluded this was the foundation of a first-century synagogue.

Ancient synagogue in Capernaum


MARK 2:7-8 ~ Jesus went away with his followers to the lake. Many people from Galilee followed him. Many, many people also came from Judea, from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from the area across the
Jordan River, and from the area around Tyre and Sidon. These people came because they heard about all the things Jesus was doing.

Idumea is another name for Edom.  Edomites were descendants of Esau, grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac.  Even though who converted to Judaism were not always accepted fully by Jews who
descended from Esau’s brother, Jacob (Israel).  

Idumean inscription from 4th century BC

Assyrian inscriptions called Edomites Udumi” or “Udumu”.  Egyptian inscriptions called them “Aduma”.  After the Babylonian captivity of the Jews in the early 600s, the Greeks and Romans called them
“Idumeans”.  After Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, mention of the Edomites disappeared from worldwide writings.  Pictured is an ostracon (written on pottery chard) of a receipt for flour dated to the
4th century BC in Idumea.  It is number MS 2060/1 in the Schoyen private collection in London.

MARK 5:1-2 ~ Jesus and his followers went across the lake to the area where the Gerasene people lived. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man came to him from the caves where dead people are buried.

Gerash was one of the ten important cities of the Decapolis on the east side of the Jordan River (see below).  It was established 2000-3000 BC. Three decades after Jesus, this city was annexed by the Roman province of Syria.  It has been nicknamed the city of 1000 columns because so much of the ancient city has been preserved.

Excavation of ancient Gerash with modern city behind it.


MARK 5:20; 7:31 ~ So the man left and told the people in the Ten Towns [Decapolis] about the great things Jesus did for him. All the people were amazed….Then Jesus left the area around Tyre and went
through Sidon. Jesus went to Lake Galilee. Jesus went through the area of the 
Ten Towns [Decapolis].

Decapolis SE of Galilee See with its ten cities

Jesus traveled from Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterannean Sea to the Decapolis east of the Jordan River in today’s Jordan  The cities and “suburbs” had similar political structure and language, and were
considered centers of Greek and Roman culture.  They were (1) Gerasa (Jerash) in Jordan; (2) Scythopolis (Beth-Shean) in Israel; (3) Hippos (Hippus or Sussita) in Israel; (4) Gadara (Umm Qais) in Jordan; (5) Pella (West of Irbid) in Jordan; (6) Philadelphia, modern day Amman, the capital of Jordan; (7) Al Husn in Jordan; (8) Capitolias (Beit Ras) in Jordan (Dion, Jordan); (9) Canatha (Qanawat) in SyriaArabella (Irbid), in Jordan; (9) Raphana in Jordan; (10) Damascus, the capital of modern Syria.

MARK 15:46; 16:2-4   ~ Joseph bought some linen cloth. Joseph took the body {from the cross}and wrapped the body in the linen. Then Joseph put the body in a tomb (grave) that was dug in a wall of rock. Then Joseph closed the tomb by rolling a large stone to cover the entrance….Very early on that day, the first day of the week, the women were going to the tomb. …The women said to each other, “There is a large stone covering the entrance of the tomb. Who will move the stone for us?”….Then the women looked and saw that the stone was moved. The stone was very large, but it was moved away from the entrance.

Typical cave tomb

Archaeologist Hershel Shanks explains that typical tombs in that area and period were carved out of rock and had a stone at the entrance.  “Like most of the tombs of this period…a cave-like cutting
into the soft limestone that abounds in Jerusalem….typical Jewish tomb….On the outside, in front of the entrance to the tomb, was a forecourt….the entrance itself  blocked by a stone slab and led to a
large, carved-out chamber.”

Hundreds of tombs in Jerusalem alone have been hewn in the slopes mostly of the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopas.  Typically they had a square stone covering a narrow opening.  Bodies were
placed in niches or on benches cut into the walls of the burial chambers.

 

LUKE

LUKE 2:1 ~  At that time, Augustus Caesar sent out an order to all people in the countries that were under Roman rule. The order said that all people must write their name in a book (census).

Augustus Caesar ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC to 14 AD.  In 27 BC, the Roman Senate awarded him the esteemed title “Augustus”. During his reign, he enlarged his empire by annexing several countries and establishing “client kings”.  He also established a standing army called the Praetorian Guard, created a network of roads, and revised the tax system. 

Augustus Caesar

He wrote a record of his accomplishments in his Res Gestae Divi August Deeds of the Divine Augustus.  Copies were engraved on pillars and temple walls throughout the empire.  The entire text has survived on a temple to Augustus in Ankara, Turkey.

LUKE 3:1-3 ~  It was the 15th year of the rule of Tiberius Caesar. These men were under Caesar: Pontius Pilate, the ruler of Judea; Herod, the ruler of Galilee; Philip, Herod’s brother, the ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis; Lysanias, the ruler of Abilene.  Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At that time, a command from God came to John, the son of Zechariah. John …went through the whole area around the Jordan River. He told the people {God’s message}. John told them to be baptized to show that they wanted to change their hearts and lives. Then their sins would be forgiven.

Excavation of Abila, capital of 
Abilene where
LYSANIAS was Tetrach.


Tiberius, Pilate, Herod and Philip were discussed above.  Lysanias ruled Abilene from about 40-36 BC.  His tetrarchy of Abilene was also called Chalcis and Iturea.  Coins from his reign call him tetnarch and high priest.  A temple inscription found at Abila, named Lysanias as the Tetrarch.  It reads:

For the salvation of the Au[gust] lords and of [all] their household, Nymphaeus, free[dman] of Ea[gle],  Lysanias tetrarch this street and other things.

LUKE 6:13,15 ~ The next morning, Jesus called his followers. He chose twelve of them. He named these men “apostles.” They were….Simon (called the Zealot)…

The Zealots were a political/religious sect of the Jews made up of religious terrorists.  They fought for freedom from control by Rome.  The Zealots were often feared even by their own people.  Their aim was the return of the land to Jewish religious and political rule and traditions.  They led skirmishes and sometimes wars against the Romans.  It continued for decades.  In 70 AD when Titus destroyed Jerusalem with its temple, they took Masada from the Romans; it took the Romans three years to get it back.  Rather than surrender, 936 Zealots committed suicide.

MASADA

LUKE 10:33; 17:15-16 ~ Then a Samaritan man traveled down that road. He came to the place where the hurt man was lying. The Samaritan saw the man. He felt very sorry for the hurt man. The Samaritan went to him and poured olive oil and wine on his wounds. Then he covered the man’s wounds with cloth. The Samaritan had a donkey. He put the hurt man on his donkey, and he took him to an inn. At the inn, the Samaritan cared for him….When one of the men saw that he was healed, he went back to Jesus. He praised God loudly. He bowed down at Jesus’ feet. The man thanked Jesus. (This man was
Samaritan.)

Samaria was originally the capital city of the northern kingdom, but later it referred to a large around  that city. After the nation of Israel had a civil war, the northern 10 tribes were called Israel, and the southern two tribes were called Judah.  Eventually the northern Israelites were taken as captives to Assyria.  There they assimilated with the local population until their identity was fused and forgotten.  Sargon, the king of Assyria sent people from his towns to live in Israel and farm it so it wouldn’t turn into
a desolate desert.  (Think A-sam-ria)

SAMARIA was between the provinces of Judea and Galilee in the middle of Palestine.

The imported Assyrians brought their own idols to worship, but decided to add the local Yahweh to their other gods.  They became “mixed breed” of both Assyrian and Jewish, and their religion did also. They were so despised that, by the time of Jesus, the pure-bred Jews would go out of their way and travel completely around Samaria to travel between northern Israel (in Jesus’ day known as Galilee), and southern Israel (in Jesus’ day called Judea).  Even today, DNA of people whose ancestors lived in Samaria shows their father’s side as Mesopotamian (area of Assyria) and their mother’s side as Jewish.

LUKE 19:1-2, 6-8 ~ Jesus was going through the city of Jericho.  In Jericho there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a wealthy, very important tax collector….Then Zacchaeus came down quickly. He was happy to have Jesus in his house. All the people saw this. They began to complain, “Look at the kind of man Jesus stays with. Zacchaeus is a sinner!” Zacchaeus said to the Lord (Jesus), “I want to do good. I will give half of my money to the poor. If I have cheated any person, I will pay that person
back four times more!”

House of a typical RICH 
Roman (uncovered in Pompii)

In the Roman system of taxation, they appointed a procurator to serve as governor and chief tax collector of each province.  Every few years, the Roman government would put up the office of Publican (public tax collector) for auction.  Those who won their provincial bid would pay the required taxes in advance, and the government would promise to repay it with interest, once the publican was actually paid the taxes by the citizens.  The publican was allowed to charge whatever he wanted for taxes and pocket the overage for himself.  The government always protected the publicans, and they always became rich.  During the first century, a popular phrase was “publicans and sinners”.  

LUKE 19:15-16 ~ “But the man became king. When he came home, he said, ‘Call those servants that have my money. I want to know how much more money they earned with it.’ The first servant came and said, ‘Sir, I earned ten bags of money [ten minas] with the one bag [one mina] you gave me!’

Silver coin minted by Tiberius Caesar


Both Hebrews and Babylonioans had minas in their coin system.  A mina of silver weighed 1.26 lbs.In 2011, US silver was worth about $35/ounce which is $560/pound.  Add another 26th of a pound @ $90, and the value of one silver mina would be $650 in US dollars.  Ten minas, then, would be worth $6500 in US dollars.  (One US ounce equals 28.3 grams.)

LUKE 21:1-4 ~ Jesus saw some rich people putting their gifts for God into the temple money box. Then Jesus saw a poor widow.  She put two small copper coins [mites] into the box. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth. This poor widow gave only two small coins [mites]. But she really gave more than all those rich people.  The rich people have plenty; they gave only what they did not need. This woman is very poor. But she gave all she had. And she needed that money to help her live.”

Copper MITES worth
3/100s of a US penny


A mite was a lepton.  The lepton is probably the lowest denomination coin ever struck by any nation in all of history.  It was minted by Pontius Pilate between 29 AD and 32 AD.  A lepton was worth 1/100th of a drachma.  A Roman drachma was 3.4 grams or about 1/8 of an ounce.

In 2011, copper was worth about $4/pound or 25 cents/ounce US currency. A lepton was worth 1/100th of a drachma.  A Roman drachma was 3.4 grams or about 1/8 of an ounce.  Therefore, a Roman drachma of copper would be worth a little over 3 cents/pennies US currency.  With a lepton being worth 1/100th of a drachma, the lepton would be worth .0003 of a US cent/penny or 3/100s of a cent/penny.  (One US ounce equals 28.3 grams.)

JOHN

JOHN 5:1-7 ~ Later Jesus went to Jerusalem for a special Jewish festival. In Jerusalem there is a pool with five covered porches. In the Jewish language it is called Bethzatha [Bethesda].  This pool is near
the 
Sheep Gate. Many sick people were lying on the porches {beside the pool}….So Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered, “Sir, there is no person to help me get into the water when the water starts moving.”

A portion of the healing
POOL OF BETHESDA


The pool of Bethesda was built during the time of the first temple and was a reservoir with a dam to control release of the waters when needed.  Since it was by the sheep gate, it may have been used to
wash sacrificial sheep.  After the second temple was built, a second pool was created to increase the water supply for the temple.  The two pools were separated by a central dyke.  The water was very deep
(15 M, c.45 feet).  The pools combined were 50 M (about 150 feet) by 120 M (about 360 feet).

Herod the Great, who died shortly after the birth of Jesus, built a new water system for the temple, so it no longer was needed for that. So gradually it was turned into a popular healing center with Roman
baths; hence the name Beth (house of) Hesda (graceful waters).  Around the pools were columns.  Five porches have been excavated at the site.

JOHN 6:23 ~ But then some boats from Tiberias came. The boats landed near the place where the people had eaten {the day before}. This was where they had eaten the bread after the Lord (Jesus) gave thanks.

Image result for tiberias, galilee
South gate of TIBERIUS on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee.


Herod Antipas, tetrarch of the province of Galilee and son of Herod the Great, built the city Tiberias around 20 AD.  It became the capital of Galilee, and he also built a palace there.  It was on the shore of
the Sea of Galilee which then began to be called the Sea of Tiberias.  At first, Herod brought in many non-Jews to populate his new city.  Within a few decades it had became the largest city in Israel.  In 2009, an amphitheater was discovered in Tiberias that could seat 7000 people.  Even today it is a sprawling metroplex.

JOHN 9:7,11 ~ Jesus told the man, “Go and wash in the pool Siloam.” (Siloam means “Sent.”) So the man went to the pool. He washed and came back. Now he was able to see….The man answered, “The
man that people call Jesus made some mud. He put the mud on my eyes. Then Jesus told me to go to 
Siloam and wash. So I went to Siloam and washed. And then I could see.”

Related image

An early description of the Pool of Siloam by a Major Conder reads, “There is nothing picturesque about it, certainly. The crumbling walls, and fallen columns in and around it, give it an air of neglect.” It is a parallelogram about fifty-three feet long and eighteen feet wide. . . . Dr. Thomson says he has seen this pool nearly full, but that now the water merely passes through it. “The intermittent flow is supposed to be due to a natural syphon, but the natives’ explanation is that a dragon lives below and swallows the water when he is awake, but that when he sleeps it wells up freely. ”  Much of its large surroundings with broad steps and columns had already been covered over through the centuries, and eventually the pool itself was; but it was rediscovered in 2004.

Read in our History section under Nehemiah 2 for an explanation of the Dragon Well and Gihon Spring connected to the Pool of Siloam with its intermittent flow,

JOHN 19:31-33  ~ This day was Preparation day. The next day was a special Sabbath day. The Jewish leaders did not want the bodies to stay on the cross on the Sabbath day. So they asked Pilate to order
that the 
legs of the men be broken {to make them die sooner}. And they asked that the bodies of the men be taken down from the crosses. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man on the
cross beside Jesus. Then they 
broke the legs of the other man on the cross beside Jesus.  But when the soldiers came close to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead. So they did not break his legs.
But one of the soldiers stuck his spear into Jesus’ side. Blood and water came out.

 

Image result for crucified foot with nail through it
Remains of ancient foot with a nail through it.

 

Hershel Shanks, prominent archaeologist who discovered in a tomb in Jerusalem a chest with bones of a crucified man inside, explained that the man’s legs had been broken.  “We may conclude that the
executioners broke his legs on purpose in order to accelerate his death and allow his family to bury him before nightfall in accordance with Jewish custom.”

 

Crucifixion was in use
particularly among the
Seleucids, Carthaginians, and
Romans from about the
6th century BC to the
4th century AD.

In the year 337, Emperor
Constantine I abolished it in
the Roman Empire (Europe
and Middle East).