Julius Caesar played a major role in the life and death of Jesus Christ. He was of prime importance in the existence and preservation of the Temple, even though Julius Caesar was long dead by the first century CE!
While the Temple existed, the Romans were unable to destroy Judaism and the Nazarenes. Why? Because in the period of one of the Roman civil wars, the Jews chose to help Julius Caesar against his rival Pompey.
It turned out to be crucial for Rome and for the ruling Jerusalem priesthood that put their soldiers at Caesar's disposal. At this time the government in Israel had gained an unstable measure of freedom under the Hasmoneans and they then threw their weight on Caesar's side. Why? Their motivation makes the outcome a vital factor in NT history.
Jewish support was effective. Caesar, from an unsure situation where he shared power and then fought his former allies, gained unchallenged supremacy. He was grateful to his helpers in Jerusalem. He gave his thanks to receiving Jewish arms at a critical time. He made certain pledges to the Hasmoneans and the Jews when the Romans later occupied the land of Israel as a military power. They were not mere words that blew away with the wind.
Caesar's decrees had the support of the Roman Senate. They were so important they were engraved on bronze plates and exhibited in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Bronze plates with written law or declarations were used for millennia to show international agreements that must stand throughout time. Abraham was said to have made an agreement with the Jebusites about the future of Jerusalem and immortalized it on bronze plates. (See Jesus, James, Joseph, p580).
Without an understanding of these Roman bronze plates, much of the New Testament does not make sense. Happily we have an exact transcript of what they said.
|A Roman bronze law plate|
You will find these bronze plates described in detail in the fourteenth book of the Antiquities of Flavius Josephus.
It is quite extraordinary that so many Bible commentators have not understood the significance of these plates. They represent fully-fledged legal pledges of the Roman military Dictator and his Senate into the future. The whole of the history of Israel in the first century BCE and beyond into the persecution of the early Nazarenes depends on them. Not least because the Senate also pledged to their continuance long after Caesar was deceased. It had international powers. The Senate was the body that sent and received ambassadors and appointed governors to provinces abroad.
While the plates stood, the Senate and Rome where obliged to follow its words as law. Their destruction brought about the demise of the entire city of Jerusalem. It resulted in its disappearance as the capital of the Jews, not for a few years, or a few centuries, but for a millennium or more.
The story of the Roman bronze plates is a question of law but also of greed, cheating and international chicanery.
In the first century BCE, the Maccabees (the Hasmonean dynasty) had gained Israel's independence from the Hellenistic empire of the Seleucids of Syria. In the last days of the Hasmoneans, a struggle broke out between two family factions, brothers Hyrcanus II versus Aristobulus II. When both sides sought help and arbitration they made a foolish mistake which cost the Israelite nation dear. They turned to Rome's general Pompey to arbitrate. He was then warring against the Armenians, to the north.
Instead of acting as a peacemaker, he seized on the opportunity to gain control of Israel. He conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE. And then he entered the Temple's Holy of Holies to see if it was really empty. This sacred place is entered only by the High Priest on one day in the year, on Yon Kippur. The sacred ornaments including the Ark of the Covenant had long disappeared in previous wars.
Hasmonean independence was ended. Rome, not the Seleucids, was the master. Israel was again a land occupied by foreign armies.
Rome was then led by three men, the triumvirs. Pompey was the rival of super-rich Crassus. Julius Caesar was a military hero in Rome but he was in debt to Crassus. While it is said that Pompey did not steal riches from the Temple or further desecrate it, his act horrified the Jews who had fought tooth and nail to gain freedom from the Syro-Grecian empire of the Seleucids that had tried to wipe out Judaism by forced Hellenization.
Gold-mad Crassus, already possessing the equivalent of more than 200 tonnes of gold, planned to invade the Parthian Empire in the East and pillage its treasures. He wanted more gold. On his way east, he arrived in Jerusalem. He pillaged the Temple of an equivalent amount of gold plus silver. Antiq 14, 7,1, (105).
He thought he would seize more gold in Parthia. It was a huge, rich empire that rivalled Rome's. Alas! In Parthia he met his fate. Both he and his legions were destroyed.
So when Pompey and Caesar struggled for ultimate power, the Hasmoneans threw their support to Caesar, not the Temple-defiler, and promised to help. Pompey died in Egypt in 48 BCE. Caesar then chose Hyrcanus as high priest and leader of ethnic Jews.
Embossed on Bronze
Caesar then made the following legal promulgation according to Josephus book 14 chapter 10,2 (190).
2. "Caius Julius Caesar, imperator and high priest (Pontifex Maximus), and dictator the second time, to the magistrates, senate, and people of Sidon, sends greeting. If you be in health, it is well. I also and the army are well. I have sent you a copy of that decree, registered on the tables, which concerns Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, the high priest and ethnarch of the Jews, that it may be laid up among the public records; and I will that it be openly proposed in a table of brass, both in Greek and in Latin. It is as follows:
I, Julius Caesar, imperator the second time, and high priest, have made this decree, with the approbation of the senate. Whereas Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander the Jew, hath demonstrated his fidelity and diligence about our affairs, and this both now and in former times, both in peace and in war, as many of our generals have borne witness, and came to our assistance in the last Alexandrian war, with fifteen hundred soldiers; and when he was sent by me to Mithridates, showed himself superior in valor to all the rest of that army; - for these reasons I will that Hyrcanus, the son of Alexander, and his children, be ethnarchs of the Jews, and have the high priesthood of the Jews for ever, according to the customs of their forefathers, and that he and his sons be our confederates; and that besides this, everyone of them be reckoned among our particular friends. I also ordain that he and his children retain whatsoever privileges belong to the office of high priest, or whatsoever favors have been hitherto granted them; and if at any time hereafter there arise any questions about the Jewish customs, I will that he determine the same. And I think it not proper that they should be obliged to find us winter quarters, or that any money should be required of them."
- Their word must be obeyed by all the people;
- none should gainsay their words or else they would be punished;
- the Hasmoneans should be clothed in purple and wear a gold buckle.
And there it was he heard the causes of the Jews, and of their governors Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, who were at difference one with another, as also of the nation against them both, which did not desire to be under kingly government because the form of government they received from their forefathers was that of subjection to the priests of that God whom they worshipped; and [they complained], that though these two were of the posterity of priests, yet did they did they seek to change the government of the nation to another form, in order to enslave them.
- Was it money? Was Simon super-rich? No.
- Did he have an intimate political relationship to Caesar? There is no evidence of any relationship.
- Did he blackmail Herod in some way? Not at all. Simon was known for his piety and adherence to the laws of God.
There was one Simon, the son of Boethus, a citizen of Alexandria, a priest of great note there; this man had a daughter who was esteemed as being the most beautiful woman of her time ... Herod was stricken with her beauty. Antiq bk 15, 9, 4 (320).