The First Century World
by Steve Hale
'Little, children, it is the last hour...' ( I John 2:18a, (NKJV).
Providentially, God sent His Son at the perfect time -( Galatians 4.-4). Syhagogue worship was the vehicle of much of our Lord's and the apostles' preaching ( John 6:59; Acts 13-.5).
The first century world, under Roman rule, had adopted Persian law and order ( Daniel 6:14-1 5; Acts 25: 1 1). The entire world had been Hellenized, and Greek had become the world language. Thus, the New Testament was written in Koine Greek.
All of this plus free travel throughout the known world was culminated in the Roman Empire ( Daniel 2:44). The gospel was preached everywhere ( Colossians 1:6, 23).
It's exciting to know some -of the basics of the first century world, and the context against which Scripture was written. For this, and the next several weeks, we want to share some basics of the first century world.
1. Rome By the first century, Rome had more than a million residents. It was the world's largest city in the first century, enormous when you calibrate the world's population then (less than 200,000,000) to now (about 5 billon). Archaeologists tell' us that one-fifth of the population of Rome were Christians. This would mean the church had about 200,000 members just in the city of Rome! Gibbon's estimate'of 1 out of 20 is believed to be highly flawed due to archeology in the catacombs.
With the Tiber River forming much of its western boundary, the city was built on seven famous hills. Roman power was centered in the city. Cosmopolitan to the core, Rome was viewed by native Italians as being filled with 'foreign rabble.'
2. Alexandria -- The first century's second largest city was Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria served as the grain port for Rome. It had the world's finest merchant ships, which in good weather, sailed straight to Puteoli. In severe weather, they would sail under the shelter of Asia Minor (Acts -27:6)-.- -
Jews, Greeks, and Egyptians were the three prominent elements of its population. its library was the world's largest containing some 900,000 books and scrolls! Alexandria, as a center of leaming is evidence by the Septuagint being translated here in about 270 B.C.
3. Syrian Antioch -- This, writer. had a detailed article about Syrian Antioch in the:' October 22nd edition of The Messenger. The world's third largest city in the first century, Syrian Antioch was the center of first century missionary activity. It was the greatest of the 16 Antiochs founded by Seleucus Nicator. More next week.
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, January 28, 1996.
by Steve Hale
Last week, we took a brief look at the first century with Steve Hale world's three largest cities: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch (Syrian). Let's continue this week with a tour of some other significant cities in the first century.
Ephesus was the capital, and at one time, the largest and most important city in Asia. Its harbor, and that of Miletus, silted over and both were replaced by Smyrna as the outlet of the Maeander Valley trade route.
It was built near the shrine of an old Anatolian fertility goddess named Artemis (Diana, Acts 19). Diana was quite grotesque, with its images including a turreted head and many breasts. The goddess and her cult were served, as was Aphrodite's in Corinth, by priestesses who where nothing more than prostitutes.
As Acts 19 infers, much trade was centered around images of Diana. As the prosperity waned with its silting harbor, more of Ephesus's economy was dependent on this idol trade. In its early days, Ephesus was the trading rival of Syrian Antioch and Alexandria. As true with Corinth, the gospel had amazing success in Ephesus. Paul and Timothy were its most noteworthy evangelists.
Corinth was strategically situated on the narrow isthmus separating the Greek peninsula from the mainland. Due to the severe wind in the winter, trade from Pome to Syrian Antioch and even Alexandria came through Corinth. Corinth was served by three harbors: Lechaem, 1 1/2 miles to the west; Cenchreae, 8 1/2 miles to the east, and little used Schoenus, also to the east, but least in significance.
Land trade between the Greek peninsula and the mainland, going either way, had to go through Corinth. Therefore, the city was large, wealthy, and prominent primarily because of its location. Its Acrocorinthus rises beautifully, about 1886 feet above the harbor below. This is where Aphrodite's Temple was located.
At its greatest, Corinth had about 200,000 free people, plus about 500,000 slaves! Modem Corinth is a relatively insignificant town of 9000. The incredible success of the gospel there ( Acts 18:8) makes sophisticated Athens look foolish by comparison!
The troubled church at Corinth was a direct reflection on the decadence of its culture (1 and 2 Corinthians).
Yet, Paul called them to a higher way of life in the face of its immorality ( I Corinthians 6:9-11). With all her troubles, Paul never once advises the Corinthians to leave the church, but rely on the Lord to solve their many faceted problems! More next week...
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, February 4, 1996.
by Steve Hale
It would be impossible to take a survey of the first century world without a look at the Roman Emperors. Fulfilling the remarkable. prophecies of Daniel (chapter 2, 7, 8, and 9), the great and most dominant empire was Rome. During the days of these kings, God set-up His Kingdom (church) which would never be destroyed. But, who were these kings ( Daniel 2:44)?
Augustus 37 B.C. - A.D. 14
Tiberius A.D. 14 - 37
Caligula A-D. 37 - 41
Claudius A-D. 41 - 54
Nero A.D. 54 - 68
Galba, Otho, ViteUius A-D. 69
Vespasian A.D. 69 - 79
Tinn A.D. 79 - 81
Domitian A.D. 81 - 96
Nerva A.D. 96 - 98
Trajan A.D. 98 - 117
Hadrian A.D. 117 - 138
Three of these Roman Emperors thought they were deity: Caligula, Nero, and Domitian. All three of them were cruel, ruthless, and persecutors. The worst of the three is debatable.
The most insane was Caligula, the most politically astute Nero, and the naughtiest was Domitian. It was Nero that started the awful rurmors about Christians, and in July of A.D. 64, blamed the burning of-Rome on them. Nero's rumors were that Christians were:
1. Atheists -- They would not worship the emperor as god.
2. Arsonists -- They claimed the world would end in fire, and thus blamed Rome's burning on them.
3. Cannibals -- They ate the body and drank the blood of Christ. We know this is a memorial feast, but Nero perverted it for his own purposes. Of the first fifteen Roman Emperors, the only one who was 'straight' was Claudius, and his wife was a prostitute. The other fourteen were either bisexual or homosexual. After the death of Nero's first wife, he castrated a young man, who he named Sporus, "married' him in a public ceremony in Rome, and used him everyway as a woman. Roman society was very irnmoral.
The gospel laid down a clear challenge to this immorality. Morals are not cultural, but absolute. We must challenge our world like the apostles challenged the first century world! Everybody needs Jesus!
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, February 11, 1996.
by Steve Hale
So far, we've reviewed some of the more significant with Steve Hale cities in the ancient world, along with an overview of the first century Caesars. in this article, we want to take a brief look at the Herods' significance in the New Testament story.
The Herods were a dynasty of Roman rulers in the Palestinian area leading through the life of Jesus, and even beyond the time of His resurrection.
This dynasty came to Palestine through Antipater, who was actually Idumean. The Idumeans were descendants of Esau, and were actually Edomites! Julius Caesar, in about 47 B.C., appointed Antipater as procurator of Palestine. In turn, Antipater eippoi 'nted two of his sons to rule under him. One of these was 'Herod the Great.'
Herod The Great (37-4 B.C.)
He was called 'the Great" because he was Antipater's oldest son. Nonetheless, in purely political terrns, this Herod was very abld, ruthless, and cunning. He was the grandest builder of all the Herods.
At first, Herod was appointed the governor of Galilee, but his successes catapulted him to be appointed 'king of Judea.' This will be important when Jesus is born.
His direct control of the Jews was a delicate matter since Herod was Mt Jewish, but Idumean. They automatically saw him as a threat to their nationalism. So, at first, Herod was very diplomatic and conscious of the national and religious feelings of the Jews. The Jews were even grateful to Herod when he stopped Romans from raiding the Temple.
Herod, though grew into a state of paranoia. His mighty fortresses, like Masada, were a result of that paranoia. He hired foreign soldiers to guard him, and slaughtered any possible opponent, including his wife, Mariamne.
This paranoia becomes important to us in the birth episode of Jesus. Pretending to want to pay homage to the Child ( Matthew 2:7-8), Herod commanded the magi to search for Him. God warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, to escape Herod ( Matthew 2:13-15). Even this was a fulfillment of Bible prophee ( Hosea 11:1)!
Enraged, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the male children in Bethlehem and its area who were two years old and younger ( Matthew 2:16). This fulfilled Jeremiah's prophecy (Jerimiah 31:15; Matthew 2:17, 18). Finally Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus returned when Herod died and Archelaus was reigning over Judea ( Matthew 2:22-23).
More next week...
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, February 18, 1996.
by Steve Hale
Mercifully, the tyrannical reign of Herod the Great came to an end.
Though he failed when attempting suicide twice, he died an excruciating natural death. To describe some of Hero&s maladies would be too graphic and offensive to some.
Joseph Klausner summed up Herod's career like this: 'He stole to the throne like a fox, ruled like a tiger, and died ae a dog.' Augustus Caesar approved Herod's will, changed just four days before his death. In his will Herod left the following: Antipas was to be tetrarach of Galilee and Perea; Archelaus was to be king of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; Philip was to be tetrarch of Gaulonitis Trachonitis, and Paneas. Herod's sister, Salome, was ieft some cash, some groves, and two cities.
So, grossly irnmoral Herod, who had ten wives (two of them his nieces), who had affairs with his own eunuchs, was dead. He had, at first, married Mariamne (who he later murdered), the beautiful granddaughter of John Hyrcanus 11, who was the High Priest! His demise equalled his corruptionand godlessness. His successors were nearly as evil!
The rule of the remaining Hereds looked like this:
Name Time Demise
Herod Antipas 4 B.C. -A.D. 39 Banished Herod
Archelaus 4 B.C. -A.D. 6 Banished Herod
Agrippa I A.D. 41 Natural Death Herod
Agrippa 11 A.D. 50-70 Natural Death Phflip the
Tetrarch 4 B.C.-A-D. 34 Natural Death
Felix A.D. 52-60 Recalled
Festus A.D. 60-62 Died in office
He was the son of Herod the Great by his Samaritan wife, Malthace. He is mentioned more often in the New Testament than any of the other Herods. He's the one Jesus called "that fox' ( Luke 13:31, 32).
He was named as tetrarch of Galilee in his father's will. He was never popular, but sank to a new low when he rnarried his niece, Herodias. Herodias was the former wife of Philip, the son of Cleopatra. Herodias was the daughter of another half-brother by the name of Aristobulus.
Hence, John told him it was not lawful to have her, which led to his murder ( Matthew 14:1ff.). He was also was involved in our Lord's mock trial ( Luke 23-.8).
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, February 25, 1996.
by Steve Hale
B.C. 4 - A.D. 6
Archelaus was Herod the Great's son by Malthace, a Samaritan woman. ' Herod willed him Judaea and Idumaea, by far the best of the inheritance. Archelaus was as wicked as his father, minus his ability.
He took the title of king, and put down disorder in Jerusalem by bloody means. This resulted in a general uprising, that had to be put down by Varus, the governor of Syria. This is why Matthew tells us: "But when Joseph heard that Archelaus was reigning as king over Judaea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there ... but withdrew to Galilee and came to a town called Nazareth" ( Matthew 2:22).
Archelaus maintained his tyrannical reign for ten years. Finally and mercifully, a Jewish embassy secured his banishment to Gaul.
Herod Agrippa I
Agrippa was overwhelmed by the fact that his grandfather, Herod the Great, was not a real Jew. Scribes comforted him with the fact that his grandmother, Mariamne, was a full-blooded Jew, the granddaughter of the great John Hyrcanus. Scholars believe this conflict in Agrippa's heart may have been why he was so cruel.
He put James, the son of Zebedee to death ( Acts 12:1-2). When he saw how this pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter and had him imprisoned ( Acts 12:3-16). Had angels not come to Peter's rescue, he would no doubt have died as evidenced by James's death.
Agrippa had gone to school and become a close friend to Caligula. Like Caligula, he was inclined to arrogance. This arrogance and blasphemy against God led to his horrible death: "...he was eaten of wonns, and died" ( Acts 12:23). Josephus validates this description of his death, and then tells us that Agrippa died in his fifty- fourth year.
Herod Agrippa II
Herod Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I, and was a full brother to Bernice and Drusilla. His grandfather was Herod the Great. He's the one Paul appeared before at Caesarea ( Acts 25-26).
Bernice, Agrippa's sister, was very wicked, and was living with her brother incestuously. In addition, she was married twice and was later the mistress of Titus in Rome! As evil as Agrippa was, Paul almost persuaded him to become a Christian ( Acts 26:28). More next week...
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, March 3, 1996.
by Steve Hale
Herod Agrippa II
A.D. 50-70 (continued)
Agrippa was living in Rome at the time of his fathees death in A.D. 44. He was only 17, and Claudius thought he was too young to accept his fathees throne.
In A.D. 48, when his uncle, the king of Chalcis died, Claudius gave him this throne. Having pleased Claudius, he was given the past tetrarch of Philip which included Batanea, Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis.
As war broke out between the Jews and the Romans, Agrippa tried to persuade the Jews not to rebel. Unsuccessful, Agrippa fought with Vespasian and the Romans. He was wounded at the siege of Gamala.
After Jerusalem was destroyed (A.D. 70), Agrippa and Bernice moved to Rome where he was promoted to a praetor. Agrippa 11 died in A.D. 100. Another most memorable statement by him about Paul was.- 'This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed to Caesar' ( Acts 26:32).
Philip the Tetrarch
4 B.C. - AD. 34
Herod the Great had two wives named Mariamne. And, he had two sons named Philip! The first Philip was the son of Mariamne II and the second Philip was the son of Cleopatra.
This first Philip is called a tetrarch because his father's will made him ruler over Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, and Paneas. He's mentioned once in the New Testament ( Luke 3:1).
He founded the city of Caesarea Philippi, located about 50 miles southwest of Damascus. This becomes significant in Matthew 16. Philip died in A.D. 34, and his lands were assigned to Syria by the Romans. Historians claim he was, by far, the best of the Herods.
Philip of Rome
This second Philip was the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra. He is noted for only three things: (1) He was the first husband of Herodias who later married Herod Antipas ( Matthew 14:1ff.).; (2) He was the father of Salome, who by her wicked dance enticed Herod to order the execution of John the baptizer; (3) His father, Herod the Great, in a fit of anger, removed him from his will.
This Philip had not lands to rule, and died in obscurity in Rome.
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, March 10, 1996.
by Steve Hale
Pilate was the fifth procurator of Judea, Samanra, and Idumea. After Herod Archelaus was deposed in A.D. 6, the Roman started appointing procurators.
Governors of distant places like this were not allowed to take their wives along, but Pilate was an exception. His wife, Claudia, was the granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, and considerable pull back in Rome.
Pilate was determined to turn Jerusalem into a Roman city. At night, he ordered images of Caesar be placed next to the Temple at the Tower of Antonia. Because it was a fortified area, he reasoned the Jews would not dare protest too much, fearing the might of Rome.
His reasoning was wrong! At the urging of Caiaphas, 7000 Jews poured into Caesarea to protest! Pilate would not budge, but the Jews would not leave, and for six days they protested. Finally, Pilate told them to leave or be massacred. To his surprise, they threw themselves on the ground and laid their necks bare! Pilate, deeply moved, ordered the images moved to Caesarea.
But, Pilate was no Saint in his efforts to make the Jews more Roman,' Luke says: 'At that time some were telling him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices' ( Luke 13:1).
Yet, when it came to the crucifixion episode, Pilate was absolutely convinced of our Lord's innocence. To top it all off, his powerful wife warned: 'Having nothing to do with this just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him' ( Matthew 27:19).
As we all know, Pilate, fearing the Jews and reprisals from Rome, caved in. His words ring through the centuries: 'I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it' ( Matthew 27:24). As Jesus was led away to be crucified, after the merciless scourging, Pilate wrote: 'Jesus of Nazareth, scourged and crucified A.U.C. 784.' According to our modem calendar, this would be April 7..
Pilate was recalled to Rome by Vitellius, following yet another blood-sbaked incident. with Samaritans. Before he arrived in Rome, Tiberius died (March 16, A.D. 37). No one knows what happened to Pilate after that.
Some claim Pilate was beheaded by Caligula. Others say he was beheaded by Nero. Some claim he committed suicide. One tradition says that his head is buried on Mount Pilatus above Lake Luceme in Switzerland. Another tradition claims his wife, Claudia, became a Christian!
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, March 17, 1996.
by Steve Hale
Perhaps more useful than talking about all the complex economies is a breakdown of the various coinages in the New Testament. Here, then is a brief survey of these:
Dramchme ( Luke 15:8, 9). This was a Greek, silver coin worth about 18 cents. The Greeks equated it to the cost of a sheep, and thus, to them, it was very valuable.
Didrachmon ( Matthew 17:24, 25). This was worth two drachmas, or about 36 cents. The Jews used this coin to pay their annual Temple tax. The tradition for this was 'interpolated' from the atonement money spoke of in Exodus 30:11-16.
Stater ( Matthew 17:27). This is the coin Peter found in the mouth of the fish. It is only mentioned here in the New Testament, and was worth about 80 cents. It was ample to pay the Temple tax for both Jesus and Peter. It was a large, silver coin. Some scholars surmise that staters were the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas betrayed Jesus. In the Old Testament, this was the price of a slave (Ex. 21:32).
Denarius ( Matthew 20:2ff.; John 6:7; 12:5, 6). This is a common coinage of the New Testament, mentioned at least fifteen times. It was worth about 18 cents, and was the average daily wage for the working man. Much more could be said about the denarius, from Mary's gift to Jesus ( John 12:3), to the Samaritan's payment to the innkeeper for the wounded traveler ( Luke 10:35), to the total sum the disciples had to feed the multitude ( John 6:7; Mark 6:37).
The Assarion ( Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6). This was a small, Roman copper coin, worth 1/16 of a denarius. God is not unmindful of the super cheap sparrows. Therefore,
how great is His love for us!
The Kondrantes ( Matthew 5:26; 18:30, 34). This is the smallest of coins in the Roman economy. It was worth about 1/4 of one cent.
The Lepton ( Mark 12:42; Luke 12:59; 21:2). This is a Jewish coin, even smaller than the kondrantes. It is worth about one half of a kondrantes, and was engraved by religious symbols or something agricultural. Roman coins had the inscriptions of Caesar or some pagan god.
Roman coins, because of their paganism, could not be deposited into the Temple treasury. This is why there were moneychangers at the Temple. The lepton could be deposited directly into the treasury, hence the poor widow of Mark 12:42-44.
Talanton ( Matthew 18:24; 25:15, 16, 20). This is where we use the word "talent' in the New Testament. It was a measure of money. More next week...
The above article appeared in the Mt. Juliet Messenger, March 17, 1996.
by Steve Hale
The Economy (continued)
Talanton ( Matthew 18:24; 25:15, 16, 20). This is where we use the word "talent' in the New Testament. It was a measure of money. Its value was dependent on whether it was weighed out in silver or gold.
During the New Testament times, the common 'talent' was the Roman- Attica talent, which measured-out gold. It was extremely valuable, which presses the points of the parable of the talents ( Matthew 25:14-30) and the parable of the unmerciful servant ( Matthew 18:21-35).
Measured-out in gold, this talent was worth about 6,000 drachmas: a little more than $1000. If you calibrate the common day's wage (18 cents), it would take a lot of days to make one talent. The unmerciful servant would have had to pay all of his salary for over 200,000 years to pay his debt (over $10,000,000)!
The Romans and the Jews liked taxes about as much as we do, yet, as we do, they had to pay them! Having already spoken about the Temple tax, let's concentrate here on the Roman taxes.
Statutory Tax -- The statutory tax was set, and so little corruption was possible with, it. It was still despised by almost everybody! There were taxes on: grain crops (10%); income (1%); annual poll (a denarius for everyone ftom ages 14-65); ground (20% on wine, fruit, and oil).
Custom Tax -- This was on almost everything, and so, it was easy to extort money, and corruption was high. This is why Jews hated the publicans (Jews who collected taxes for the pagan Romans). Its amazing how Jesus was able to include Matthew ( Luke 5:27, 28) as an apostle, and persuade the others to accept him.
There were custom taxes on: import, exports, use of markets and harbors, products bought and sold, bridge and road tolls, and about anything else you could name. Need sometimes dictated the extortion! This was far more resented than even the statutory tax, and publicans were viewed as traitors because of it.
We've barely scratched the surface of New Testament economics, but maybe this will help set the context of the first century world. It's my hope that this ten part series has been helpful in your personal study.
March 31, 1996
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