An Interesting Observation of a Roman Historian

This is a quick post, but one that I couldn’t help but notice. The following Account is given by the Roman historian Tacitus, who was born in 56 A.D. and died in 120 A.D. WE have two of his works. The first is “the Annals.” The second is “Histories.” The following comes from his second work:

The first Roman to subdue the Jews and set foot in their temple by right of conquest was Gnaeus Pompey; thereafter it was a matter of common knowledge that there were no representations of the gods within, but that the place was empty and the secret shrine contained nothing. The walls of Jerusalem were razed, but the temple remained standing. Later, in the time of our civil wars, when these eastern provinces had fallen into the hands of Mark Antony, the Parthian prince, Pacorus, seized Judea, but he was slain by Publius Ventidius, and the Parthians were thrown back across the Euphrates: the Jews were subdued by Gaius Sosius. Antony gave the throne to Herod, and Augustus, after his victory, increased his power. After Herod’s death, a certain Simon assumed the name of king without waiting for Caesar’s decision. He, however, was put to death by Quintilius Varus, governor of Syria; the Jews were repressed; and the kingdom was divided into three parts and given to Herod’s sons. Under Tiberius all was quiet. Then, when Caligula ordered the Jews to set up his statue in their temple, they chose rather to resort to arms, but the emperor’s death put an end to their uprising. The princes now being dead or reduced to insignificance, Claudius made Judea a province and entrusted it to Roman knights or to freedmen; one of the latter, Antonius Felix, practised every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of king with all the instincts of a slave; he had married Drusilla, the grand-daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, and so was Antony’s grandson-in‑law, while Claudius was Antony’s grandson. (Tacitus, Histories, 5.9.1)

If you’d like to read the full story of Pompey entering the Temple in Jerusalem, then see my other post here.

Funny Things to Notice

But let’s note how ironic it is that after he looked into the Holy places of the Temple, it became “common knowledge” that “there were no representations of the gods within, but that the place was empty and the secret shrine contained nothing.”

As we know from Scripture, the place he entered was the Tabernacle, where the presence of God was among his people. What was that to Pompey? “Nothing.”

Additionally, we see the following tid-bit:

“a certain Simon assumed the name of king without waiting for Caesar’s decision.”

This is given further explanation by Josephus:

There was also Simon, who had been a slave of Herod the king, but in other respects a comely person, of a tall and robust body; he was one that was much superior to others of his order, and had had great things committed to his care. This man was elevated at the disorderly state of things, and was so bold as to put a diadem on his head, while a certain number of the people stood by him, and by them he was declared to be a king, and thought himself more worthy of that dignity than any one else. He burnt down the royal palace at Jericho, and plundered what was left in it. He also set fire to many other of the king’s houses in several places of the country, and utterly destroyed them, and permitted those that were with him to take what was left in them for a prey; and he would have done greater things, unless care had been taken to repress him immediately; for Gratus, when he had joined himself to some Roman soldiers, took the forces he had with him, and met Simon, and after a great and a long fight, no small part of those that came from Perea, who were a disordered body of men, and fought rather in a bold than in a skillful manner, were destroyed; and although Simon had saved himself by flying away through a certain valley, yet Gratus overtook him, and cut off his head. (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.10.6)

The reason this is important is that the gospel of Matthew has a strange shift in language that not many people notice. First, Joseph is told in a dream to flee to Egypt because “Herod” is about to seek to kill Jesus. But after Joseph is in Egypt, the second dream tells Joseph that “those” (plural) who are seeking to kill Jesus are dead. Why does it switch from singular to plural? We now have a good historical candidate for this shift of language: Simon the slave of Herod the Great who made himself a king after Herod the Great’s death.

Finally, let’s note the hilarious oversight on the part of the Roman historian:

Under Tiberius all was quiet.

Tiberias was the emperor in Judea when Jesus preached, was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into the clouds. It was the most significant event in all of history. And what does this historian who also thinks that “nothing” is in the Temple of Jerusalem say about this time? “All was quiet.”

Yeah….    Right.

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