1. Herod’s Will.—So ill brought-up a family as Herod’s naturally took to quarrelling about his property after his death. His will was characteristic. It left much of his wealth to Rome, and divided his dominions. The crown, with Jerusalem and the greater part of the kingdom, was bequeathed to a son named Archelaus; another son, Herod Antipas, was to have Galilee and Petræa; and to a third son, Philip, was given the northern provinces. But as Herod himself was only a tributary king, the whole will had to receive the approval of Rome before it could be carried into effect. The Emperor Augustus did not decide quickly, and meanwhile the rivals indulged in endless rioting. The country endured all the miseries of civil war, with no motive to lend it dignity. Beside the regular rivals named in the will, impostors and pretenders to the crown arose, and each claimant had his own little set of adherents, and each behaved as if might were right. The only point on which there was any approach to agreement was the very general desire to share all round in Herod’s treasures. Of all the deputations which waited on him, the Emperor Augustus must have inclined to receive most favourably the one which brought to him a humble petition to abolish altogether kingly rule in Judea. At last the Roman Emperor gave his decision, and in all important points Herod’s will was confirmed.
2. Judea sinks into a Roman Province.—Under the title of ethnarch instead of king, Archelaus ruled Judea and Samaria for nine years. He imitated in a weak sort of way the vices of his father, and in the year 6 of the new era he was deposed and banished by Roman decree to Gaul. His dominions were declared forfeit to Rome, and Roman governors of Judea were appointed and given their head-quarters in Cæsarea. These procurators, as the Roman governors were called, were subject to the Syrian proconsuls, and these, in their turn, to the supreme power of Rome. Each procurator, during his term of office, was given the right of nominating all Jewish officials, including even the high priest. The responsibility of signing death-warrants was vested solely in the Roman governor for the time being, and the authority of the Sanhedrin was reduced to the limits of an active synagogue council. In view of a subsequent charge brought against the Jews of this period, it is well to bear in mind this fact concerning the strictly defined judicial power of the Sanhedrin. The Roman court alone could pronounce, or carry out, the sentence of death. The procurators followed each other in rapid succession. Their oppressions had a terrible sameness, and the many revolts and riots caused by their extortions differed but little in character.
3. Jesus of Nazareth.—In every direction Rome was tightening that iron grasp of hers, and each new tax and each fresh restriction was an occasion for revolt. The miserable, impatient people were longing for a leader, for another Judas Maccabeus to raise the standard and ‘break their bonds asunder.’ And if such a hero had arisen, and had dealt with the Romans as Judas Maccabeus had dealt with the Syrians, he would assuredly have been hailed by the Jews as Messiah, the anointed of the Lord. The restlessness and rioting, which had their centre in Jerusalem, prevailed throughout the whole of Palestine, and nowhere more strongly than in Galilee, the northern province, in which Jesus, the son of Joseph a carpenter, first attracted attention. When Jesus was a tiny child a certain Judas of Galilee, a very ordinary hero indeed, only just escaped the perilous distinction of being altogether believed in by his countrymen. Judas the Galilean had headed a frantic outburst of passionate patriotism. It had been locally successful. Led by him, the Galileans had revolted and the Romans had retreated, and, like his great namesake, this Judas conquered for a while. But it was for a very little while; and his followers had not time to turn this leader of theirs into Messiah before he was crucified by the Romans as a rebel. The enthusiastic reception which was given to this poor straw of a hero shows the tendency of the time and the temper of the people. The very stones seemed crying out for a Redeemer and Deliverer to come unto Zion. Under the circumstances a Messiah was almost bound to appear. And just in proportion to his pretensions and to their own wild hopes would be the rage of the populace if their Messiah disappointed them, which, if quite true and honest, he could scarcely fail to do. In all their dire need Jesus of Nazareth was never recognised as Messiah by the Jews. His title came to him in the Greek form. Christ means Messiah, or anointed; but it means it in Greek, and not in Hebrew. Jesus of Nazareth never got any real hold upon his own people. His followers in his lifetime were few, and of an unimportant and illiterate sort. The Jews of the time took little notice of his existence and his doings. He lived and worked just as many other Jewish teachers then lived and worked. He went about from place to place, healing, helping, and exhorting, and rousing in the hearts of those who heeded a sense of better things. But many of the Essenes preached and tended the sick, and the virtues of humility and charity, and contempt of worldliness, were virtues common to all honest Pharisees. It was chiefly in Galilee, among the heathen and among such Jews as had wilfully or heedlessly gone astray, that Jesus attracted attention. The bulk of the nation were not so much hostile as indifferent. Yet, though the sympathies of Jesus were avowedly with the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel,’ the wholesale and indiscriminate denunciations reported in the New Testament as made by him against the Pharisees are the inventions of a later time, when Christians had begun to take up a hostile attitude towards their mother religion. There were, doubtless, shams and hypocrites among the Pharisees, who well deserved to be denounced; but also we know there was a whole class of them—they must have been pretty numerous to be classified—who ‘did the will of their Father which is in heaven, because they loved Him’ (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachoth, ix. 5). Jesus himself probably never denounced Pharisees nor Judaism. But of Jesus himself very little that is trustworthy is known. It was not till long after his death, perhaps fifty years, that even the first of his biographies, which are contained in the various books of the New Testament, came to be written.
The Jews readily admit that Jesus of Nazareth, an enthusiastic preacher of their own race, was good and virtuous. They regard the morality he preached as identical with the morality which forms the basis of Judaism. They look on it as pure to the point of unpracticality, on which point it differs from the Jewish ethics which were its inspiration. They consider ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Old Testament) a sufficient injunction. The command, ‘If he ask thy coat, give him thy cloak also’ (New Testament), they venture to think excessive. They trace the text of the Law, which Jesus declared he ‘came not to destroy,’ in all the discourses of Jesus; they find the influence of the prophets in his parables, and they read Hillel between the lines of the famous sermon on the mount. But at the same time Jews reject altogether the divine pretensions of Jesus; they deny the possibility of the Law, revealed by the Almighty, being abolished, and they abhor every deviation from the pure doctrine of the absolute Unity of God. As to the death of Jesus, the Jews disown all religious responsibility for it. They look on it as a Roman execution, and one due to political, rather than to religious, causes. Jesus was brought before the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate in the year 29, and was, by him, condemned to die, on the charge of provoking revolts against Roman authority. On the cross was inscribed ‘King of the Jews,’ which goes far to show that it was as a pretender against Rome, and not against Heaven, that Jesus was crucified.
4. Jews in Egypt and Syria.—Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, and Antioch, the capital of Syria, at this period took rank with Rome in all the arts of civilisation; and in science, and in philosophy, and in commerce, the Jews were in no wise behind their neighbours. Egypt had at this time a great number of Jewish inhabitants, perhaps a million altogether. They were artisans and merchants for the most part, but there was a goodly sprinkling too of soldiers and of scholars. And to the capital came, as it were, the cream of all the cultivation of the country. The Alexandrian philosopher Philo, who has so wide a classical reputation, was a Jew, not only by race, but by conviction and sympathy. He was born about the year 1 C.E. Both in Egypt and in Syria the civilisation was wholly Greek, and the Greeks were what is called pagans or heathens. Now there are pagans and pagans. The cannibals who murdered poor Captain Cook were one sort; these were not at all of that kind. The Greeks were cultivated, delightful, attractive heathens, and the science and philosophy, and the charm and polish, that the Jews of Egypt and of Syria gained from their intercourse with the Greeks was of distinct benefit to them. The drawback of it all, the weak point, was of course the paganism, which proved almost as catching as the polish. Greek Jews grew to be different from Palestinian Jews. To the Palestinian Jews, the Law, in sober truth, was ‘a light,’ and the commandment ‘a lamp.’ They hungered after no other ‘wisdom;’ and although its paths were no longer ‘the paths of peace,’ its ‘ways’ to them were ‘ways of pleasantness,’ and often the only ways of pleasantness they knew or cared to know. Greek Jews would have said, perhaps, that they took broader views of Judaism. They certainly took views broad enough to overlook a good deal, and their wide way of regarding things made them a trifle inexact about ancient landmarks. To Grecianised Jews the rigid practices of Judaism had become a little irksome, and the mystical rites of paganism a little attractive.
5. Birth of Christianity.—Christianity, as a new religion in opposition to Judaism, was founded by Paul of Tarsus, who proclaimed the abolition of the Mosaic code of laws. Paul had not known Jesus. He had been at first an opponent of his doctrines, but he was converted about the year 37, and soon went much further than his master. What Jesus preached was scarcely a religion, and Christianity is something perhaps a little different even from the so-called religion of Christ which Paul formulated. Paul became the apostle to the Gentiles, who, in a sense, were ready for him. The cultivated heathens were wanting, by this time, a more spiritual religion than their own, and they were used to worshipping so many gods, that to require belief only in three was a great simplifying of their faith. To strict Jews the Trinity would have been unthinkable. What Paul taught was in effect a new faith—new in dogma, and new, to some extent, in doctrine. Jesus had distinctly said ‘not one jot nor one tittle of the Law should pass away.’ Paul disregarded this, and definitely and deliberately cast aside the obligations of ‘the Law.’ Strict Mosaic observance was a burden which the pagan would not have taken upon him, and was one from which the lax Jew was glad to be relieved. Antioch and Alexandria were the cradles of the new faith, and, stripped of its Jewish swaddling clothes, the infant Christianity was soon strong enough to run alone, and pagan images, like Dagon, fell before it.
6. Reign of Herod Agrippa.—In the year 36 the procurator Pontius Pilate was recalled to Rome, and in the person of a grandson of Herod’s there came about a restoration of the Herodian dynasty, which lasted for seven years. When, some five-and-forty years before, Mariamne’s sons had been put to death by order of their half-mad father, there had been a mother and a tiny baby left desolate by the execution. The wife of the murdered Aristobulus had fled with her little orphan boy to Rome, and the Emperor Tiberius’s sister-in-law, who was also a widow, had formed a strong friendship for the poor Jewish lady. The Emperor had a young son called Drusus, of about the same age as Herod Agrippa, and the two boys were constantly together at court. When Drusus died the Emperor found it at first too painful to see Herod Agrippa, as it reminded him so much of the loss of his son; and later on, when an intimacy sprang up between the pleasant young Jewish prince and Caligula, the Emperor’s grand-nephew and probable heir, Tiberius seemed to find this new affection as trying to his feelings as the memory of the old. Perhaps he was jealous of his heir, and grudged him his friends. At any rate, Herod Agrippa, who had been a court favourite, became a court prisoner, and iron chains took the place of golden ones. In the year 37 Caligula became Emperor, and one of his first acts was to take his friend Agrippa out of prison and to find a throne for him. Herod’s son Philip, who had been ruling the northern provinces of Judea as tetrarch since the year 4, when the Emperor Augustus had confirmed Herod’s will, just at this juncture opportunely died. His uncle Philip’s possessions were given to Herod Agrippa, and presently the dominions of Herod Antipas were added, and the title of king conceded. The Roman governors were withdrawn, and a Herod once more reigned over Judea. Herod Agrippa was a very different man from the original Herod, his grandfather. Prosperity and adversity are each, in their different ways, sharp teachers, and Agrippa was an apt pupil. He hung up in his palace his iron and his gold chains side by side; and the iron that had entered his soul, and the gold that had gilded his circumstances, put rivets and framings to a very complete life. Herod Agrippa was a good Jew and a good king. He ‘strengthened the foundations’ in a double sense. He built a third wall round Jerusalem, and he began to build up in his people a sense of comradeship and of self-restraint which would have been to them as a triple line of defence against their enemies. But he had so little time. He died in 44, in his fifty-third year, and only seven years after his accession.
7. Caligula and the Jews.—Such influence as his friendship gave him, Herod Agrippa exercised over Caligula for the good of his Jewish subjects. But it is impossible to put into a quart vessel gallons of water. Caligula could only appreciate Herod to the extent of his capabilities, and these were not great. He was his own hero, so, necessarily, his power of hero-worship was low and limited. He believed in himself, this Caligula, and it was such a poor self to waste belief upon. His vanity drove him mad. He had his statue cast in gold and put up in his own heathen shrines, and then he gave orders to have the like erected and worshipped in the Jewish temples of Jerusalem and of Alexandria. To a man the Jews resisted. From Alexandria they sent a deputation to Rome, and the philosopher Philo left his Greek studies to head this deputation and to plead for his fellow-Jews. In Jerusalem Agrippa made a grand banquet, and introduced the appeal to the Emperor after dinner. Both temples gained a reprieve from this impious insult. How long it would have lasted we cannot tell; but Caligula was assassinated in 41, and under his successor, Claudius, the religious liberty of the Jews was not interfered with.