Jews under Roman Rule - W. D. Morrison

The Roman Procurators
(A.D. 6-37.)

The deposition and banishment of Archelaus deprived Judaea of the external appearance of an independent state, and the humblest peasant in the country could now clearly realize that the land which had been promised to his fathers, and for which the Maccabees had so heroically shed their blood, was once more in possession of the Gentiles. For about one hundred and fifty years Judaea had possessed the outward semblance of an independent existence. Although the nation was for a portion of that time in a position of vassalage to the great empire of the West, that position was but slightly felt by the vast body of the people, and was to some extent obliterated by the outward brilliancy and enterprise which illustrated the long reign of Herod the Great. As long as the Herodian family reigned in Jerusalem it was possible for the population of Judaea to cherish the illusion that they were a free people; but with the disappearance of the ethnarch and the advent of a Roman governor, the eyes of all were opened to the fact that the era of liberty had come to an end. Still, the change was of their own creation; the new order of things was not forced upon them from without. For many years it had been the ardent wish of the popular leaders to get rid of the Idumaean dynasty, and they must have known that when this desire was gratified the pressure of Roman rule would be felt in every corner of the land. The deputation which asked Augustus to depose Archelaus was anxious to be placed under the immediate jurisdiction of Rome; and it is possible that Augustus would have satisfied Jewish feeling at an earlier date if he had not been bound by a pledge to Herod to the effect that he would carry out the provisions of the king's will with respect to the succession. The tyrannical conduct of Archelaus absolved him from further obligations to the dead king, and he now possessed a free hand in dealing with Jewish affairs. Strangely enough the wishes of the Jewish delegates coincided with the drift of imperial policy. Augustus was discovering the inconveniences connected with the existence of vassal states within the empire, and their extinction was only a matter of time.

In all probability the men who had succeeded in obtaining the deposition of Archelaus anticipated that Judaea would be incorporated with the neighbouring province of Syria, and that the Jews, except in the matter of taxation, would practically possess the management of their own affairs. Augustus, however, quickly dissipated all such expectations. The territories of Judaea were too extensive to be left without strict imperial supervision; the population was too turbulent; the strategic importance of the country as a highway between Syria and Egypt was too great. Besides, the pro-consulate of Syria was already the most important in the whole empire, and it was against the principles of the administration to put additional power in the hands of the great military governors, as they might be tempted to use it for the purpose of opposing Caesar himself. Augustus accordingly decided to form the territories of Archelaus into an independent province of the second rank, and to place an imperial procurator at the head of civil and military affairs (A D. 6). Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, Governor of Syria, was charged by Augustus with the task of constituting Judaea into an imperial province, and of re-organizing the administration upon Roman principles. Quirinius did not belong to an ancient family; but the tendency of the empire was to abolish all privileges of birth, and to throw open the highest offices to every citizen. Quirinius, by the exercise of soldierly talents, and by his zeal in the service of the state attracted the attention of the emperor, who raised him to the rank of senator and consul, and finally promoted him to the governorship of Syria. Before his nomination to this important position he had repeatedly served in the East, and possessed a large and varied experience in the conduct of affairs in this part of the Roman dominions.

The first business of Quirinius on his arrival in Jerusalem was to make preparations for taking a census of the population, with a view to ascertain the wealth of the province and the extent of its capacity for taxation. The Roman method of arriving at this result consisted in dividing the country into a certain number of districts; each district had to furnish a return of the population and property contained within its limits, and to submit it to the governor. On the basis of this return taxation was afterwards levied. The principles upon which taxation was imposed were founded on the nature of the relations which the Romans considered to exist between themselves and the provincials. According to Roman ideas, when a people had been overthrown and made incapable of further resistance to Roman arms, both the people and their possessions became the absolute property of Rome. But it was found impracticable to carry out this theory after the conquerors had become masters of large portions of the globe.

Accordingly the conquered nations were allowed to retain their liberty subject to the payment of a capitation or poll tax (tributum capitis), and also their property subject to the payment of a tax on the produce of the soil (tributum soli). Other taxes, chiefly for local purposes, such as the maintenance of roads and bridges, were also levied, but the largest part of the revenue was derived from the land and the poll tax. The poll tax was regarded as a most degrading form of impost, and was considered to emphasize the fact that the people who paid it were no longer in possession of liberty. The poll tax was not, however, so burdensome as the land tax, which ranged in amount from a tenth to a fourth of the whole harvest, if it was not, as frequently happened, commuted to a fixed sum, which the provincials agreed to pay to the imperial treasury.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


In the days of Herod and Archelaus the Roman system of taxation was not in operation in Judaea, and it is very unlikely that the Jews had any payments or returns to make to the imperial treasury as long as these princes conducted their affairs. The leaders of the disaffected who waited upon Augustus were undoubtedly aware that one of the first consequences of incorporation would be an alteration of the existing fiscal system, and its assimilation with the fiscal arrangements which were in force in other parts of the empire. But this important fact was unknown to the bulk of the population, and when the news spread throughout the province that every Jewish householder would have to render a complete account of his property to Gentile officials, the greatest consternation immediately ensued. It was certainly not the intention of Augustus to act harshly towards a people that had just been imploring him to take them under his immediate protection and control, but the administration of the new province had to be carried on; for this purpose taxation had to be imposed, and in order to make it equitable it was indispensable to have a census of the population and an accurate return of their property. In carrying out the instructions of the emperor, Quirinius, with his experience of the East and its peculiarities, would no doubt take Jewish susceptibilities into consideration as far as this was practicable, but he appears to have overlooked, or been unaware of, the fact that a census taken after the Roman manner involved a violation of the Mosaic Law. It was from this point of view that it was regarded by the masses, and the punishment which Jehovah inflicted on David for numbering the people would not be forgotten. Besides, if it was absolutely necessary to obtain a census of the population, why should it be taken in conformity with heathen custom? why were the regulations which the Law laid down to be discarded, and the people exposed to the chastisement of God for their neglect? These were questions which must have deeply agitated multitudes in Judaea, when the time came for filling up the required returns, and it needed all the authority of the High Priest Joazar to induce them to comply with the demands of the Roman governor.

Although the census was in the last resort submitted to as inevitable, the enforcement of it created a widespread spirit of discontent, and led to the formation of an intransigent party, whose one rallying cry was irreconcilable hatred of Rome. This new party was mainly recruited from the ranks of the Pharisees, and the program of its leaders consisted in a determination to carry out in the political domain the Pharisaic principle, that the payment of taxes to the foreigner was an act of dishonour to the God of Israel. The Scribes shrank back from the practical application of their doctrines, and contented themselves with holding up the collectors of taxes (the publicans of the New Testament) to the moral reprobation of their co-religionists; but the Zealots, the name adopted by the new party, were not satisfied with these paltry and ineffective methods; they were resolved to resist Roman domination by force of arms. According to the teaching of the Zealots, Jehovah was the only and supreme ruler of Israel, His elect people; to Him alone was tribute due, and in order to maintain this doctrine they were prepared to stake their lives and shed their blood. Both the Zealot and the scribe believed that the dominion of the Gentiles over God's chosen people was a transitory disaster which must come to an end. But while the scribe resigned himself to heathen supremacy in the full conviction that God would speedily deliver Israel, and lift His people into an exalted position among the nations, the Zealot became impatient of this passive attitude, and proclaimed the principle that God would deliver them when He saw them making exertions to deliver themselves. Many diverse elements entered into the composition of the party of the Zealots. Its higher forces consisted of patriots, enthusiasts, and exalted visionaries; but by its proclamation of war to the knife against Rome and every friend of Rome, Zealotism also enrolled under its standard a class of men who, in the guise of religion and patriotism, were playing the vulgar part of robbers and assassins. It was a party which grew in popularity as the inexorable character of Roman rule became better understood, and it is a remarkable circumstance that Simon, a disciple of Jesus, was at one time a Zealot.

The man who stood at the head of this new movement, and to some extent originated it, was a certain Judas, called the "Galilean," a native of Gamala, in Gaulonitis. He was a passionate enthusiast, whose sole idea was to propagate the great cause he had in hand. The fiery intensity of his convictions exercised a marvelous fascination over the masses, and numbers of young men placed themselves under his leadership. It is probable that Judas was in Jerusalem when Quirinius arrived and proclaimed his intention of instituting a census, and that this announcement kindled his slumbering patriotism into flame. At all events he forthwith set himself in opposition to the new government, and inflamed the passions of the ignorant and fanatical population by declaring to them that the proposed census was nothing but the first step towards slavery. In exalted tones he adjured them to uphold their liberties, and repudiating the passive doctrines of the Pharisees, he declared that none but cowards would pay tribute to Rome. The passionate exhortations of the Galilean met with a warm response; an insurrection broke out, Judas perished, and his followers were dispersed. But the Zealots did, not die, as Gamaliel imagined, with the fall of their first leader; the flame of his teaching still burned in the hearts of the people, and when at last the terrible war broke out which terminated in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Zealots became the soul of the resistance, and Rome had no rest till they were utterly exterminated.

When the revolt of Judas was quelled, and Quirinius had completed the arrangements connected with the formation of Judaea into an imperial province, the duty of carrying on the government fell into the hands of Coponius (A.D. 6-9), a Roman knight who was appointed by Augustus administrator of the country. As Judaea was constituted into a province of the second rank, the head of the administration was not chosen from the same class, and did not hold such a distinguished position as the senatorial proconsuls and the imperial legates. In order to mark the difference between him and these high officials, he was known by the title of Procurator, but he performed substantially the same functions as the imperial legates. Like them he was entrusted with full military and judicial powers. The troops at the disposal of the procurator of Judaea never amounted to more than three thousand men; the main body was stationed at Caesarea, which now became the capital; the rest, consisting of a small detachment, formed the garrisons of Jerusalem and Samaria. On the recurrence of the great Jewish festivals, and especially at the feast of the Passover, the garrison of Jerusalem was strengthened in order to overawe the tumultuous multitudes that then crowded into the Holy City from all parts of the empire.

On these occasions the procurator generally went up to Jerusalem at the head of the reinforcements, and resided in one of the Herodian palaces, where he administered justice and transacted affairs. The procurator also visited every part of the province at least once a year, and in the principal towns heard the complaints of the provincials and redressed their grievances. For these services the procurator received an annual salary from the imperial treasury, and was forbidden to accept bribes or presents from the people over whom he ruled. He had to superintend the collection of the taxes, but he had no power of increasing them. These measures were adopted by the emperors for the protection of the provincials from the terrible extortion to which they were frequently subjected in the days of the Republic; and if a governor went beyond the limits of his authority it was in the power of the people whom he had oppressed to call him to account for his misdeeds at Rome. But the habit of extortion had taken deep root among the official classes, and in spite of all the regulations of the Caesars some of the Judaean procurators committed gross acts of tyranny and corruption, and had no small share in fostering the disaffection which led to the downfall and destruction of the Jewish state.

It is difficult to say with certainty whether the procurators of Judaea were in a position of subordination to the governor of Syria, or whether they were entirely independent of him. It seems more probable that they occupied a position of official independence, and were responsible for the administration of affairs within the province to the emperor alone. In certain cases the legate of Syria did undoubtedly interfere in Judaea, but these interferences only took place when he was invested by the emperor with extraordinary powers. As a rule the functions of the two officials appear to have been quite separate and distinct, and the fact that the governor of Syria required to be armed with special authority from Rome before he could take legal action in Judaea, goes far to show that the heads of the two provinces, although different in rank, were completely independent of one another in ordinary circumstances. The procurator was, like the Syrian legate, appointed directly by the emperor, and acted as his immediate representative in accordance with strictly defined instructions. He had to keep his imperial master regularly informed of everything of importance that occurred within his jurisdiction, and was not allowed to act on his own initiative in matters of serious moment till he had received instructions from Rome. These arrangements produced a most salutary effect upon the government of the provinces, and went a great way towards holding in check the hereditary instincts of rapacity which characterized Roman officials.

During the ascendency of the Romans Judaea was divided for administrative purposes into ten or eleven districts or toparchies. Local councils consisting according to the extent of the locality, of from seven to twenty-three members, were in existence throughout the province, and these councils enjoyed considerable authority both in criminal and administrative affairs. Over these local bodies stood the Senate or Sanhedrin of Jerusalem as a kind of superior council for the whole province. This council, besides exercising a spiritual authority which was co-extensive with Judaism, was also empowered to give legal decisions and to frame administrative regulations within Judaea in all matters which lay beyond the competence of the smaller provincial councils. All criminal offences committed by Jews were within the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin, but when the punishment decreed against an offender involved his execution, this extreme sentence required to be confirmed by the procurator before it could legally take effect. Charges of blasphemy and of transgressing the Law were heard by this tribunal, and even Roman citizens accused of profaning the Temple had to appear before it.

The Sanhedrin also maintained a police force; and in all matters of faith, custom, and law, where Roman interests were not at stake, this council, as well as the inferior provincial councils, possessed a wide-extending and effective power. The procurator, however, was not in any way bound by the decisions of the local bodies, and he could nullify their action, when such a course seemed to him expedient. As the representative of Caesar, he had power to nominate or dismiss the high priest, a power which was frequently exercised. He alone possessed full jurisdiction over Roman citizens, and a sentence of death had no legal force till it was confirmed by him. But notwithstanding these restrictions, the Jewish authorities enjoyed more local liberty under Roman rule than they had done under their own princes, for it was a fixed principle with the imperial government to leave the enforcement of local laws and the management of national institutions as much as possible in the hands of the subject races.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


For some length of time the Roman system of administration appears to have worked with comparative smoothness. The deep-seated opposition to Gentile rule was so promptly checked by the defeat of Judas the Galilaean that it did not dare to manifest itself in open acts of hostility. Under Coponius the old feud between the Samaritans and the Jews acquired fresh life. Certain Samaritans, wishing to be avenged on the Jews for the calamities which they had inflicted on Samaria, came to the Temple at dead of night and scattered dead men's bones in the sacred edifice. It is not said that the desecrators were brought to justice, but Coponius, Lasing that a repetition of such acts might bring popular passion to a dangerous height, took care to have the Temple more closely guarded for the future. Shortly after this disagreeable incident a new procurator was appointed Marcus Ambivius (A.D. 9-I2),but his administration proved uneventful; and, whilst his successor, Annius Rufus (A.D. 12-15), an equally unimportant personage, was at the head of affairs in Judaea, the long reign of Augustus came to an end.

In the course of his reign Augustus had steadily displayed a friendly interest in the Jews, and although he had no love for Judaism, or indeed for any foreign religion, he adopted a conciliatory attitude towards every form of faith, and allowed perfect liberty of worship to the Jewish communities which existed among the heathen populations of the empire. In Judaea itself he exhibited the same consideration for the religious ideas and customs of the inhabitants the imperial family sent presents of sacred vessels for the use of the Temple, and a burnt sacrifice of a bullock and two rams was daily offered up at the emperor's expense in honour of the God of Israel. On the other hand, the Jews, after the incorporation of the province, had to offer sacrifices for Caesar and the Roman people, and, as far as the Law permitted, to invoke the Divine blessing upon them in the services of the synagogue. These obligations were no doubt irksome to many of the rabbis, but the performing of them was lightened by the consciousness that the emperor was a generous benefactor and protector of the Jewish race.

Augustus was succeeded in the cares of the empire by Tiberius (A.D. 14-37), the eldest son of his wife Livia by a former marriage with the Senator Tiberius Claudius Nero. The new emperor was a man of great experience both in civil and military affairs, and had reached the mature age of fifty-six when he began to reign. In the course of his previous career Tiberius had filled with success the most important offices of state. He was equally fortunate as a general and an administrator, and although Augustus disliked his sombre and intractable temper, he cast aside personal feeling, and in the interest of the commonwealth adopted Tiberius as his successor. For the first ten or twelve years of his reign Tiberius conducted the affairs of the empire with much mildness and moderation, but after the death of his son Drusus (A.D. 23) the plots and intrigues of an ambitious aristocracy aroused his fears, and the fierce, implacable elements of his nature spent themselves in mercilessly decimating his political adversaries. If we look only at the summary and terrible manner in which Tiberius got rid of his opponents, it must be admitted that he played the part of an atrocious tyrant; it has, however, to be remembered that he was surrounded by a network of conspiracies and had no alternative but to kill or submit to be killed.

These bloody proceedings of Tiberius, although they rightly shock the conscience of mankind, only affected the higher personages in Roman society and did not touch the great mass of the people, for the emperor was in other respects an excellent ruler and made the public welfare the supreme object of his solicitude. He continued the humane policy of Augustus with regard to the provinces, and watched over their interests with assiduous care. Capable governors were appointed to rule the provincials; and after giving proof of their fitness for the task Tiberius allowed them to remain for a long period in the exercise of their functions; the incapable and extortionate, on the other hand, were immediately dismissed and punished. He also prevented the provinces from being weighed down with new burdens, and took care that the old ones were collected by the officials without avarice or cruelty.= All his laws, except the statutes against treason, were framed simply with a view to promote the public good. He made it one of his most important duties to attend to the complaints of the provincials, and they appreciated his efforts in their behalf.

The Jews had at first no reason to be dissatisfied with the new occupant of the imperial throne. Tiberius continued, with respect to them, the mild and conciliatory policy of his predecessor Augustus. Shortly after his accession, the procurator, Annius Rufus, was replaced by Valerius Gratus (A.D. 15), who remained for eleven years at the head of affairs in Palestine. Gratus was no doubt an experienced and trustworthy official, for Tiberius was very careful to select competent men as his subordinates; and the fact that Gratus retained his position so long proves that he discharged the duties it involved to the satisfaction of his imperial master, and in accordance with the humane principles which Tiberius endeavoured to infuse into the administration of the provinces.

The new procurator experienced considerable difficulty in finding a high priest with whom he could co-operate harmoniously, and in the space of four years he had four times to change the religious head of the community. But these frequent changes were of secondary importance to the masses, and in no way disturbed the tranquility of the land. Public attention was at this moment (A.D. 17) concentrated upon material interests; the burden of taxation was becoming irksome, and in concert with the Syrians, the Jews of Palestine begged the emperor to diminish the tribute. In response to this appeal and in order generally to place Eastern affairs upon a more satisfactory footing, Tiberius entrusted his nephew, Germanicus, with extraordinary powers, and sent him to Syria to inquire into the grievances of the provincials. Whether Germanicus considered it necessary to lessen the amount paid by the Jews to the imperial treasury or not is unknown. He died amid suspicious circumstances before his mission was completed (A.D. 19).

About this period Tiberius banished the Jewish colony from Rome (A.D. 19), because four of their number, under the guise of religion, had succeeded in defrauding a Roman matron, named Fulvia, a woman of high position who had embraced the Jewish faith. In accordance with a decree of the Senate, four thousand Roman Jews fit to bear arms, were drafted into the legions and sent to repress brigandage in the inhospitable island of Sardinia; the rest of the community were allowed a certain time to quit Italy, or abjure their faith. These harsh proceedings did not materially affect the policy of the emperor towards the population of Palestine, but they show that he had no predilection for the Jewish race, and was not sorry to find some plausible pretext for driving Jewish settlers from the capital. In fact, it was not the intention of the Caesars to allow the Jews to establish themselves in the Latin-speaking portion of the empire, where their race peculiarities would inevitably stir up the same antipathies as existed in the Greek cities of the East. Accordingly they lost many of their privileges when they migrated westwards, and the immunities which they were permitted to retain, such as permission to plead before their own tribunals and exemption from military service, were granted them as matters of favour and not of right.

Seven years after the expulsion of the Jews from Italy, Pontius Pilate (A.D. 2635)—a name inseparably associated with the most momentous events in Christian history was appointed to succeed Valerius Gratus as procurator of Judaea. No authentic information exists respecting the previous career of this official, and he probably owed his appointment to his success as a soldier and administrator in other parts of the empire. In Judaea his procuratorship was a failure from the commencement; the cause of his insuccess consisting for the most part in a profound disdain for the people over whom he ruled. He apparently made no effort to understand the new world of ideas into which he was placed, or if he did apprehend the import of Jewish feeling and conviction, he acted on the principle that they were to be as far as possible frustrated or ignored. He conducted the government of the province simply with a view to secure the approbation of Tiberius, and as the drift of imperial policy, when Pilate was made procurator, seemed to be adverse to Judaism, one of his first official acts consisted in an attempt to get the people of Jerusalem to tolerate the presence of heathen symbols in the Holy City.

It had been the custom of former procurators to respect the susceptibilities of the population in the matter of graven images, and the imperial standards were divested of all such ornaments when Roman troops had occasion to enter Jerusalem, in order to take up their quarters in the citadel. Pilate believed the time had now come for setting this custom aside, and probably considered that it would advance his interests with the emperor if he succeeded in his design. Accordingly, when a change took place in the Jerusalem garrison, Pilate commanded the fresh troops to enter the Holy City by night and to retain the silver busts of the emperor on the ensigns. On the following morning the people were horrified to find that the Holy City was being profaned, and that heathen rites were being celebrated in sight of the Temple.

The whole population was struck with consternation and dismay, and a feeling of intense indignation flew through the city and communicated itself to the fanatical peasantry of the province. At any moment the excitement might have ended in an outbreak of rebellion, for the party of Judas the Galilean had many devoted adherents who would have gloried in resorting to extremities at once. Fortunately, the counsels of extreme men were not adopted, and it was decided to send an imposing deputation to the new capital, Caesarea, to implore the governor to respect their ancient laws and remove the ensigns. On their arrival, the supplicants discovered that they had to encounter a man who was totally out of sympathy with the Jewish race, and was determined before yielding to put the strength of their convictions to the test. Pilate spoke of their request as an indignity to Caesar, and refused to listen to it. The petitioners, on the other hand, were resolute; they would not accept the procurator's answer, and for five days and nights hung around his footsteps reiterating their request in attitudes of abject humility. Pilate, wearied with their persistent entreaties, adopted fresh measures and tried to stop their clamour with intimidation. He invited the complainants to meet him in the circus, and when they came forward to renew their petition, his soldiers, who lay in concealment, surrounded them at a given signal and threatened the hapless Jews with instant death if they still persisted in their demands. But death had lost its terrors for this pertinacious band; instead of dispersing, as the procurator had hoped, they bared their necks to the Roman weapons and professed their willingness to perish rather than outlive the profanation of their laws. Pilate, who did not anticipate such a display of resolution, at once gave way, and the standards were ordered back to Caesarea.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


Although the procurator was baffled for the moment by the determined attitude of the Jews, he did not abandon his purpose of forcing the people of Jerusalem to admit heathen symbols into their midst. His next attempt in this direction was of a milder character, and took the form of introducing into the old palace of Herod on Mount Zion the governor's residence during his stay in Jerusalem votive tablets dedicated to the emperor. These tablets only contained the names of the emperor and the person who had dedicated them, but the rabbis saw in them a dark design on Pilate's part to familiarize the people with Caesar worship, which had become general in other parts of the empire. It is not at all unlikely that this was the procurator's real intent. The empire was a vast agglomeration of different nationalities possessing no common bond of union, and the aim of Roman statesmen was to create such a bond by lifting the emperor out of the ordinary rank of mortals, and making him a common object of adoration for all his subjects to whatever race they might belong. In the other provinces of the Roman world this policy had met with a gratifying measure of success; in Judaea alone it had not even been tried, and Pilate, who had probably just left some region where the cultus of the Caesars had grown into an established institution, was evidently animated with the desire of placing it ultimately on a similar footing in Palestine.

It is hardly to be supposed that the procurator, in the prosecution of his religious policy, was merely gratifying a feeling of personal animosity at the cost of adding immensely to his difficulties as a ruler. Such is not the course which a man of Pilate's experience was likely to adopt. It seems more reasonable to believe that he was acting in the character of a Roman official anxious above all things to augment the strength of the empire by promoting its internal unification. Among polytheistic populations, where the dividing line between gods and men was but indistinctly traced, the apotheosis of the emperor had no religious or intellectual difficulties standing in the way of its acceptance; to the Jews, on the other hand, it was a blow aimed at the fundamental principle of their faith the unity and majesty of Jehovah. The commotion which Pilate's action immediately created among all classes plainly shows that the affair of the votive tablets was regarded in this light by the entire Jewish community. Even the sons of Herod, princes whose devotion to Rome was above suspicion, joined in the outcry, and implored the procurator to retrace his steps. It was impressed upon him that he was driving the people into rebellion. He was asked to show the imperial edict which empowered him to act as he was doing. He was threatened with the exposure of all the misdeeds he had committed since he became governor, but neither threats nor entreaties nor expostulations produced the slightest effect on Pilate's determination, and Tiberius was finally appealed to. Although the emperor was probably not displeased as the Jews imagined at the experiment made by his subordinate, he perceived that in the present temper of the people it was destined to fail, and Pilate accordingly received orders to remove the obnoxious symbols from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

Twice had Pilate been defeated in his attempts to override the religious feelings of the Jews, but he was evidently a man possessed of great tenacity of purpose, for his previous failures, instead of being a source of discouragement, had the opposite effect of stimulating him to fresh efforts. In order to maintain the worship at the Temple in all its dignity and splendour, large offerings of money were sent to the Temple treasury from every Jewish community throughout the world. Pilate believed that a portion of this money might be usefully expended in providing the Holy City with a pure and abundant supply of water, which would also be of much service to the Temple itself, where the refuse arising from the sacrifices must necessarily have been great. It does not appear that he consulted the Sanhedrin or the priests as to the expediency of this great undertaking, but whether he obtained the acquiescence of these important bodies or not, his scheme met with a determined resistance from the population. The fanatical masses were roused to a high pitch of fury by the thought that money dedicated to sacred uses should be expended at the will of a heathen on objects of a secular character.

Pilate , when he made his appearance in Jerusalem, was assailed by the abuse and clamour of a multitude numbering many thousands, who were bent on repeating the pertinacious tactics which had succeeded so well at Caesarea. Pilate, perceiving this, skillfully distributed a number of troops disguised in Jewish garments among the crowd, and, as soon as the clamour was renewed, the soldiers began to beat the agitators with their clubs, and so disconcerted them that they lost heart and fled. He was afterwards able to go on unhindered with the work which, when completed, formed a magnificent aqueduct several miles in extent. Nevertheless, if the Tower of Siloam, which fell and killed eighteen people, formed a part of Pilate's undertaking, it is certain that the rabbis looked upon the whole structure as lying under the curse of God.

But all these proceedings sink into insignificance in comparison with the part played by the procurator at the trial of Jesus. The influence of Jesus at this period was fast becoming a power among the masses, and both the rabbis and the priestly aristocracy, whose system He was menacing, were anxious on religious grounds to see Him put to death. But they knew it was futile to charge Him with blasphemy before a Roman judge, who would certainly have told them, like Gallio, that he would be no judge of such matters.

Still, these men believed it necessary at all hazards to compass their ends; the real charge against Jesus was left in the background, an accusation of a political character was substituted for it, and at the Feast of the Passover—a time when the procurator always made his appearance in Jerusalem for the purpose of maintaining order Jesus was arraigned before him as a seditious demagogue who was plotting against the authority of Rome. Pilate, however, was well aware from his previous experience of Jesus' accusers, that they would regard any movement hostile to Rome as a virtue and not as a crime, and he no doubt listened to their evidence with the utmost skepticism. In fact, all the proceedings of that fatal day conclusively show that Pilate was convinced of Jesus' innocence. Why the procurator did not immediately release Him is incomprehensible: His conduct in pronouncing a sentence of condemnation against One whom he knew to be guiltless cannot be accounted for on the ground of Pilate's deference to Jewish feeling, for the whole period of his procuratorship clearly shows that he paid no regard to it whatever. It is not, therefore, likely that he would do so in this instance alone. Neither can it easily be explained on the principle that he feared the representations the Jews would make against him to Tiberius. He was not the man to quail before such threats. In short, his condemnation of Jesus appears to have been pronounced in a moment of inconceivable weakness, when the ordinary motives which influence and control human judgment were in abeyance. This, however, does not lessen his responsibility for the crime in reality a judicial murder the guilt of which will forever rest on Pilate's head.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


The procuratorship of Pilate was brought to a termination in consequence of certain repressive measures which he deemed it necessary to adopt in Samaria. The Samaritans were thrown into a state of intense excitement by the appearance of a religious impostor in their midst, who said that he would show them the vessels of the Tabernacle which, according to a Samaritan tradition, had been buried by Moses on Mount Gerizim. As the finding of these sacred vessels was regarded as a prelude to the advent of the Messianic kingdom, and as Messianic hopes were at this moment running high in Palestine, great multitudes of Samaritans made their way to Gerizim, the holy mountain of their people, in the full conviction that a mighty transformation of the world was at hand. But the movement was not merely religious, it evidently possessed a marked political character as well, for the people assembled in arms, and a widespread discontent existed against the Roman government. Pilate, whose eye was fixed on the doings of the Samaritans, was afraid lest their excitement should culminate in a revolt. Troops, probably drawn from the garrison of Samaria, were dispatched to Mount Gerizim to overawe and disperse the excited crowds. A conflict took place between the Roman soldiers and the people. Many of the Samaritans were killed, and several of the ringleaders who were taken prisoners were afterwards executed by order of the governor.

These events took place while Vitellius was pro-consul of Syria (A.D. 35-39), and as he had been entrusted by Tiberius with extraordinary powers in the East, Pilate lost the independent position usually held by the procurators of Judaea, and became a subordinate of the Syrian governor. The members of the Samaritan provincial council were aware of the change that had taken place in the procurator's status, and being much incensed at the manner in which he had dealt with their countrymen, they sent a deputation to Vitellius, and accused Pilate of murdering loyal and peaceable subjects of the empire. As the Samaritans had always enjoyed the reputation of being faithful vassals of Rome, Vitellius considered that their charges against the procurator were worthy of serious examination. He was suspended and sent to Rome to justify his conduct; but before his arrival in the imperial city Tiberius had died, and Pilate at the same time disappears from the pages of authentic history (A.D. 37).