Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome; the Census; and Quirinius, Governor of Syria

LUKE 1 The Reign of Augustus. Caesar Augustus was ruler of the Roman Empire when Jesus was born (Lk 2:1). He ruled for 45 years, from 31 B.C. to A.o. 14. Born Gaius Octavius, he was adopted by his maternal uncle, Julius Caesar (100 —44 a.c.), and, as was common, assumed the name of his adoptive father. Thus, he was known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian. The name Augustus, "revered one," was bestowed upon him by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C.

Augustus put an end to the civil wars that had raged since the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and established the Pax Romana ("Roman peace") throughout the empire. For this, he received lavish honors in Rome and around the Roman world. Herod the Great built the city of Caesarea Maritima and rebuilt Samaria (the former capital of the northern kingdom)4 in Augustus's honor.The Greek name of Samaria, Sebastos, means "Augustus."

The peace that characterized Augustus's reign was marred only by the disaster of the loss of three Roman legions in a battle with German tribes at the Teutoburg Forest in *.o.9. Otherwise, Augustus used the stability of the times to carry out extensive building projects in Rome. Some of his structures have been excavated and can be seen today, such as the Forum of Augustus, the beautiful Altar of Peace and the Mausoleum of Augustus, where his ashes were placed.

Quirinius and the Census. At the time of Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem to be counted for a census. Luke recorded that the census taken when Jesus was born "was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria" (v.2). Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was a well-known Roman military and political figure who was appointed to serve as governor of Syria in A.D. 6.At this time he carried out a census in Syria and Judea.This census is documented in the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, 18) and is mentioned in Acts 5:37. An obvious problem is that this census is too late to be related to the birth of Jesus, since Jesus was born prior to the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. How might one resolve this difficulty?

  • It may be that Luke was aware of Qui-rinius's A.b.6 census and that Luke 2:2 means that there had been an earlier census during the reign of Herod, which was also supervised by Quirinius. Some scholars believe that a fragmentary inscription called the Lapis Tiburtinus implies that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria, so that the A.D. 6 census was in fact his second census.This interpretation of the Lapis Tiburtinus is open to question, however; we do not know with certainty that this inscription actually dealt with Quirinius at all.

  • It may be that this verse should be translated as,"This census was before the one made when Quirin-ins was governor."This would be a somewhat peculiar translation of the Greek, but a number of New Testament scholars nonetheless support it.

  • The church father Tertullian believed that the census of Luke 2:2 took place during the governorship of Sentius Saturninus (8-6 B.c.) rather than that of Quirinius. It may be that the text of 2:2 has suffered some kind of corruption, although, except for Tertullian, there is no evidence for this.

The Birthplace of Jesus

LUKE 2 Bethlehem, of Judah ("Map 9"), located at modern Bethlehem, was already an ancient habitation during Old Testament times. Genesis 35:19 and 48:7 mention that the site was also called Ephrathah (or Ephrath), a name preserved in the prophecy of Micah 5:2.This town is the principal setting for the book of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, as well as the home of David (1 Sa 16). During David's lifetime the city was sometimes under Philistine control (2Sa 23:14), although Rehoboam fortified it after the secession of the northern tribes (2Ch 11:5-6).

The archaeology of Bethlehem has focused almost entirely upon historical tradition surrounding the Church of the Nativity. Justin Martyr in the second century identified a cave near the village as the place of Jesus' birth, and the church was built over this grotto. Emperor Constantine constructed the first basilica there in approximately A.D.326.2 While this building was badly damaged in a Samaritan revolt (529), the church was rebuilt by Justinian (r. 527 —565).The Christian population of Bethlehem severely declined after the Muslim conquest, although the church building was restored to some of its former glory during the Crusader period. It fell into near ruin again during the period of Turkish rule, but repairs were made beginning in 1670.To this day the church continues to be at the center of religious and political tensions.

Disease and Medicine in the Ancient World

LUKE 4 Ancient doctors were few in number, expensive, lacking in knowledge of effective treatments and, although learned for their time, still quite ignorant and superstitious.Temples to Asclepius, the Greco-Roman god of healing, were found all over the Mediterranean world. These temples were somewhat like the spas of today; therapy consisted more of rest, massage and a modified diet than of what we would call medicine. Religion also played a major role. A common healing method was "incubation," whereby the sick person would sleep in the confines of the temple of Asclepius in the hope of receiving a dream-revelation from the god. Those who had been healed made special contributions to the temples, which often included plaster reproductions of whatever parts of their bodies had been healed. These were set on display as testimonies to the healing power of the god.

The second-century orator and chronic invalid Aelius Aristides, in his Sacred Tales, gives us an insight into the need people had for healing and the methods employed to that end.? After falling ill on a journey to Rome and enduring brutal surgery at the hands of Roman doctors, Aristides became a devotee of Asclepius. The cures prescribed for him in the dreams included bathing in a churning river during winter, pouring mud on himself before sitting in the courtyard of the temple, walking about without shoes all winter and blood-letting from various parts of his body.

It was in such a world that Jesus performed his ministry of healing. Unlike many doctors connected to temples, Jesus healed without charge or fanfare. Also, he did not follow any specific ritual that might have been regarded as the key to tapping into magical, healing power., Sometimes he would touch a person; in other instances he might place a daub of mud on a blind man's eyes (in 9:6) or simply speak a word (Mt 8:13),In short,Jesus' healings pointed to the power of God that dwelled within him; they did not encourage people to seek out rituals for magical healing but were part of his proclamation of the kingdom. Physical healing pointed always to the restoration of creation.

Fishing in New Testament Times

LUKE 5 Fishing was an important part of the Galilean economy, as reflected in place-names like Bethsaida ("House of Fish") and Taricheae ("Preserved Fish Town"). The major types of fish in the Sea of Galilee would have been tilapia, carp and sardines.Much of the catch would have been dried for sale or manufactured into fish sauce and imported throughout the Mediterranean world. Fishing was thus embedded in the larger economy of the Roman Empire.

In 1986 a fishing boat from the time of Jesus was discovered on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.2 Largely made of cedar and oak, the boat measured 26.5 feet (8 m) long, 7.5 feet (2.3 m) wide and 4.5 feet (1.4 m) deep. It could hold approximately one ton—either five crew members and the catch or the crew and ten passengers. The fishermen could have used a large dragnet, which might have been hundreds of feet long, or a circular casting net approximately

6.3-8.8 yards (5.7-8 m) in diameter. A hook and line might also have been employed.Galilean fishermen were most often employees or partners in small, family-run business cooperatives. Storms were a real danger in that they could come in quickly off the Mediterranean through the wind tunnel formed by the Arbel Pass.

Qumran and the New Testament

LUKE 6 The Dead Sea Scrolls (found at Qumran) are the texts of a Jewish religious community now called the Qumran community. Numerous scholars have pointed out that there are similarities between the beliefs and practices of the Qumran community and those of New Testament Christians. Some have gone so far as to view Christianity as an offshoot of the Qumran community. There is no doubt that the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a unique window into the world of early Judaism and that their value for understanding the New Testament is great, but it is possible to exaggerate the similarities and overlook the differences between the Qumran community and the early Christians.

To be sure, we can find significant examples of how the Qumran community parallels the New Testament church:

    • The Qumran community saw itself as the remnant of Israel that had entered into a new covenant with God in the end times.

    • The community relied on revelations given to the "Teacher of Righteousness," who had been persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for his unorthodox beliefs.

    • Community members made a sustained effort to read the Old Testament Scriptures in light of the realities of the "last days" that had now come upon Israel.

But these similarities should not be allowed to mask some crucial differences:

    • Unlike the Qumran community, the early Christians did not withdraw into the desert. Instead, they remained within the Jewish communities in the Holy Land and in the Diaspora.2 Even more radical was the willingness of the early Christians to bring the Good News to the Gentiles, an idea completely absent from Qumran.

    • The Qumran community abandoned the Jewish mainstream largely because of perceived defects in their calendar and in their interpretation of purity laws., The early Christians, meanwhile, made it clear that such matters should not be allowed to become sources of division (cf. Mt 7:19; Col 2:20-23).

    • Finally, while the instruction of the Teacher of Righteousness remained foundational for the Qumran community, this concept pales beside the Christian belief that Jesus has risen from the dead and sits exalted to reign at the right hand of God.

In sum, the Dead Sea Scrolls give us information on the kinds of issues of concern to Jews during the New Testament era: the identity of God's true people, questions of ritual and purity and the search for a fresh word of revelation in troubled times. But the community that emerged from Jesus' teaching was radically different from that of Qumran. in many ways Qumran depicts for us "the road not taken" by the early Christians.

The Jewish Custom of Kissing

LUKE 7 In the Biblical world, kissing could be either erotic or nonerotic in nature, but the nonerotic variety is most commonly mentioned in the Bible. In Old Testament narratives, relatives often kissed one another as a greeting, especially following a long absence (Ge 27:26-27; 29:11,13; 33:4; 45:15; Ex 18:7). Kissing was also a sign of farewell prior to a prolonged departure (Ge 31:28; Ru 1:9; 1Ki 19:20). Close, nonfamilial friends also greeted one another with a kiss, such as in the case of David and Jonathan (1Sa 20:41), and it was not uncommon to kiss a guest as a sign of hospitality. This ritual could also demonstrate homage or submission. In 1 Samuel 10:1, for example, Samuel anointed David king and kissed him as part of the ritual. Likewise, in Psalm 2:12 the kings of the earth are commanded to "kiss the Son" as a way of expressing homage to the Messiah.

By contrast, kissing for sexual pleasure is mentioned in Proverbs 7:13 and Song of Songs 1:2. In Biblical times public kissing was always of the nonerotic nature and was either between friends or relatives of the same sex or relatives of the opposite sex. Kissing one's lover—or even one's spouse—in public was taboo, because such an action might easily cross the boundary between nonerotic and erotic (SS 8:1).

Extrabiblical literature of the time also 'eters to both erotic and nonerotic kissing. gyptian love poetry written from the thir-eenth century B.C. speaks of the pleasures young men and women take in each other's kisses. Greco-Roman narratives contain many examples of the use of the kiss as a greeting but also suggest that the Greeks and Romans were uncomfortable with public kissing.

The custom of kissing remained common among the Jews throughout the New Testament period. Early Jewish sources suggest that there were three kinds of acceptable public kisses: those for greeting, for farewell or for expressing devotion. In Jesus' parable, a father greets a long lost son with a kiss (Lk 15:20).Judas's act of kissing Jesus (Mt 26:49; Lk 22:47) connoted affection, as well as, most likely, devotion to him as a teacher (thus Judas called out,"Greetings, Rabbi!"); it was therefore darkly ironic that this was the sign of his betrayal of Jesus. A distinctive case is that of the sinful woman in 7:36— 50, who repeatedly kissed Jesus' feet, though she was neither a close friend nor a relative. Nevertheless, her kisses were not erotic but were a sign of devotion and repentance. Even so, her actions made some of the guests uncomfortable.When Simon criticized the woman's actions, Jesus pointed out that his host had failed to offer even the traditional kiss of greeting,whereas the woman had not ceased offering kisses of devotion.

Paul regularly called upon Christians to greet one another with a "holy kiss," a term that appears to have been a Christian innovation (Ro 16:16; 1Co 16:20; 2Co 13:12; 1Th 5:26). It is possible that the qualifier "holy" was added to make clear that such kisses were to be given in such a way that they had no erotic connotations. It is conceivable that such a kiss was given in concert with the celebration of the Lord's Supper and thus was holy by virtue of its association with that sacrament. At any rate,the gesture was clearly intended to reinforce the bond of love between believers.

Synoptic Problem and 16Q

LUKE 8 The bulk of the material recorded in Luke 8 also appears in Matthew and Mark.At times the authors used language that was nearly identical (cf. Mt 8:27 with Mk 4:41; Lk 8:25).They displayed further similarities in the order in which they arranged their material (cf. Mk 4:1-25 with Lk 8:4-18). Observations of this sort have prompted reflection on the precise relationship that exists among the Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke). How are the similarities in wording and arrangement to be explained? The"Synoptic Problem"is the name that has been given to the question of these relationships.

Some explain the parallels in the synoptic accounts with appeals to historical accuracy or inspiration by the Holy Spirit. However,two accounts of the same incident may both be historically accurate without employing identical or nearly identical wording. Furthermore, as the Synoptic Gospels were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so was the Gospel of John, yet John's word choice and ordering of material are quite different from that of the synoptic authors.' Inspiration need not require or even imply precise agreement in wording or similar arrangement of material.

The stories of Jesus' life and ministry circulated widely in the first century, forming a body of oral tradition. Undoubtedly the evangelists all drew upon this common body of tradition in writing their Gospels. Although the role of common oral tradition should not be underestimated, it seems likely that the Synoptic Gospels share some sort of literary relationship and that the later Gospel writers used one or more of the earlier writings as a source for their works. Several hypotheses attempt to explain the precise literary relationship of the Synoptic Gospels, although no single proposal solves all of the difficulties. One widely held solution to the Synoptic Problem is the Two-Source Hypothesis.These two sources are identified as Mark and "Q" (an unknown source).

    • This theory claims that Mark was the first Gospel written (an idea referred to as"Markan priority") and that Matthew and Luke both independently used Mark as a source, often polishing its literary style and making editorial changes. Matthew and Luke also added material that is absent from Mark's Gospel.

    • Sometimes Matthew and Luke referred to the same or similar events, suggesting that they were drawing upon a second common source. This hypothetical source for Matthew and Luke has been given the name "Q source" (from the German Quelle, meaning"source"). No copies of"Q" exist, but by definition it is a source containing material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark.Therefore"Q" is said to include such passages as the temptations of Jesus by the devil (Mt 4:2-11; Lk 4:2— 13),the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23) and the Lord's Prayer (Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4).

Still,the very existence of "Q"is purely hypothetical and much debated,and alternative explanations for the history of the writing of the Synoptic Gospels have been proposed. Not all New Testament scholars believe in Markan priority, and some insist that more attention needs to be given to the fact that Matthew was an eyewitness to many of the events he recorded.

Jewish Burial Practices

LUKE 9 In the New Testament era, the death of a relative required immediate attention, along with a period of mourning after burial) Be-cause Jewish law prohibited dead bodies from remaining within the city walls of Jerusalem overnight, it was necessary to bury a corpse on the day of death. This tradition was practiced throughout Judea. Corpses were immediately washed, anointed with perfumes or oils and wrapped in linen. The linen was typically in strips, though there is evidence that some bodies were wrapped in single garments.

The dead were carried to the place of burial on a bier (Lk 7:14), typically accompanied by a large procession. A eulogizer might have preceded the body, while dirge singers and pipers typically joined the mourners. Depending upon the degree of wealth of the deceased, the body was either laid in an earthen grave to be covered with dirt and stones or placed within a tomb hewn from rock. Such tombs were often, but not always, sealed with rocks or millstones. Interment often involved ossuaries, chests in which the bones of decayed corpses were collected and later reburied.

After burial, mourning continued for seven days (though it could last up to 30 days), as the family and community participated with dirge singing, weeping,the application of dust or ashes upon the head and/or fasting.Within the context of such burial customs, Jesus' words were radical; he insisted that pursuing and joining the advancing kingdom of God takes precedence even over family loyalty and social convention.

The Historical value of Luke-Acts

LUKE 14 The historical accuracy of the Luke-Acts two-volume work is frequently challenged. Scholars dispute such issues as the dating of the reign of Quirinius (Lk 1:5; 2:2) and references to Palestinian geography (4:44; 17:11) and raise additional historical questions regarding the numerous speeches in Acts (e.g., Ac 2:14-36) and the harmonious portrayal of the early church (Ac 4:32-35). The most critical historical objection to Acts concerns the details of Paul's ministry. Although certain passages suggest that Luke was traveling companion of Paul (Ac 16:10-17; 27:1- 28:16), some scholars deem this tradition untenable on the basic of perceived difficulties in harmonizing the life and perspective of Paul as presented in Acts with details about his life found in his letters.

Many of these perceived difficulties are lessened when we recall the purpose of Luke's accounts. In composing his volumes Luke did not intend to record a comprehensive history but to offer a selective historical account to meet a pastoral need for assurance of faith (Lk 1:4). Luke acknowledged his use of sources (1:2), which he investigated thoroughly in order to compose an orderly account (1:3). Where it is possible to verify Luke's uses of sources, we find that the Gospel writer followed them meticulously. Furthermore, Luke was precise concerning the titles of officials and municipalities in various towns (Ac 13:12; 17:6; 18:12; 19:31, 35), details that reveal the author's commitment to accuracy

Coins and Numismatics

LUKE 15 Although silver and gold were highly valued in commercial exchange from very ancient times,throughout much of the Old Testament period precious metals were measured by weight and were not struck into coins.' The first coinage probably came from western Anatolia (Turkey) around the seventh century B.c. The practice may have been initiated by commercial traders rather than by governmental authorities, but most experts suggest that the Lydian kingdom was the first to coin silver and gold.

The use of coins gained widespread acceptance when the Persian Empire issued standardized coinage., Kings and emperors soon realized that coins were an effective propaganda tool; the image of the king's face was stamped onto them, after which they were disseminated throughout his territories and beyond. Coinage was especially useful for the Phoenicians, since their economy was based on trade.

Coins were introduced in Jerusalem by the fifth century B.C. Early Jewish coins of the Persian and Hellenistic periods often bear the inscription Yehud ("Judah") and are called "Yehud coins." It is surprising to observe that some of them also bear an image of the head of Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess, on the obverse and that of an owl, the sacred bird of Athena, on the reverse side.

After the Maccabean revolt,the success of which allowed the Jews to throw off Greek rule in Jerusalem, the Jews developed a more native coinage that reflected their religious sensitivities. There is debate as to whether Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.c.) or John Hyrcanus I (135 —104 B.c.) was the first Hasmonean ruler to strike coins. For the most part Jewish rulers from this period avoided stamping an image of the ruler's face on coins since such coins were not well received by pious Jews.

Hasmonean rule ultimately gave way to Herodian governance.The coins of Herod the Great and his sons made use of a number of symbols (the pomegranate, grape cluster, ship's prow, helmet or tripod) but usually respected Jewish custom in not exhibiting the images of their faces.

A number of different coins were in use in the Holy Land during the New Testament period. The shekel was indigenous to the area. The mite, a copper coin of \ little value ("mite" is an Old English translation of the Greek lepton), may have been the copper prutah, a cheap coin minted during the Hasmonean period but still in use during Jesus' lifetime.

The silver denarius from Rome was circulated throughout the empire, due in large part to the universal presence of the Roman army., The coin given in tribute to Rome in Jesus' day had the image of the emperor Tiberius Caesar on the obverse and of his mother Livia on the reverse side.6 Therefore, when Jesus asked whose likeness was on the coin, the obvious answer was"Caesar's" (Mt 22:20-21).

A single denarius was equal to a day's wage; thus the loss of a single coin was significant (Lk 15:8). Other coins, such as the copper shekel, dated from an earlier period but still may have been in circulation in Jesus' time.Coins from the Hasmonean and earlier Herodian rulers also remained in circulation.The variety of coins and the inconsistency of their weights made the money changer a practical necessity of economic life.

Numismatics,the scientific study of coins, is one of the archaeologist's most useful tools, due to the particular advantages offered by coins as artifacts:

    • Coins often bear the name and sometimes the likeness of the ruler of an area at the time of production.Therefore,they can be dated with a high degree of precision and can aid in the dating of surrounding structures.

    • Coins tell much about the official propaganda of a particular period. By studying their portraiture and imagery, scholars gain insight into the persona a ruler attempted to create. 44 Coins generally exist in large numbers, a fact that allows scholars to undertake highly accurate comparison and analysis of the numismatic evidence.

Still, scholars need to exercise caution, since some coins supposedly from the ancient world are actually modern forgeries.

The Jewish Priesthood and Religious Life in the First Century A.D.

LUKE 18 According to Biblical tradition the priesthood was entrusted to the hereditary, Levitical descendants of Aaron.' During the Solomonic age the high priesthood belonged to the family of Zadok (2Sa 15:24), which, together with the other anointed offices of prophet and king, exercised leadership over the nation. In the Persian period Judea was reconstituted as a temple-state under the exclusive political and religious hegemony of the high priests, who were themselves subordinate only to the king of Persia. The house of Zadok, from which the name Sadducees probably derived,, con-trolled the office until 174 B.C., when Jason effectively purchased the high priesthood from the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who at that time controlled Judea.This accomplished a fundamental shift away from hereditary succession to the unprecedented situation of having a pagan ruler appoint the high priest in Israel, usually in return for pledges of loyalty and outright payment of money.

As a result of the Maccabean success against the Seleucid dynasty, the Hasmonean family established itself as a clan of priest-kings, even though they were descendants of neither the Zadokite family nor the royal line of David. Their questionable status produced tremendous strife among certain factions within Judaism, especially the Pharisees, who appealed for them to relinquish the high priesthood and to be content with governing the people. The Romans eventually prohibited the Hasmonean leaders from using the title of king and restricted their influence to political control of Judea and religious authority over all Jews everywhere.

In 37 B.(. Herod the Great received Judea as a client kingdom from Caesar Augustus., He promptly murdered Aristobulus, the last Hasmonean high priest, and transferred the office to the family of Boethus. From the inauguration of Herod's reign to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70,, 28 different high priests were appointed.The only one to serve for any length of time was Joseph Caiaphas (A.D. 18-36), who is known from the Gospel accounts (Mt 26:57; Lk 3:2; Jn 11:49;18:13).

Despite considerable fluctuations in the priesthood during the Second Temple period, the office continued to enjoy tremendous prestige and influence. The high priest served as the supreme religious functionary in the temple liturgy,and he alone was granted access to the Most Holy Place on the annual Day of Atonement! He also presided as the president of the supreme judiciary council, the Sanhedrin, comprised of members of the leading aristocratic members of society (cf. Ex 24:1; Mt 5:22; Mk 14:55; Lk 22:66; in 11:47;Ac 4:15;5:21;6:12; 22:30).

Under the direct authority of the high priest were the chief priests, temple treasurer and the remainder of the common priests and Levites. During the first century n.o. there were approximately 7,200 common priests, divided into 24 courses or divisions. Members of each course were called from their homes to serve in the Jerusalem temple for one ; • •, week at a time (Lk 1:8; Josephus, Antiquities, 7.14.7).The remainder of the temple duties were fulfilled by approximately 9,600 Levites,who were also divided into weekly courses (Antiquities, 7.14.7). The religious life of first-century Jews was oriented around the temple, which was admired by pagans and a source of pride for Jews (Lk 21:5).While the great pilgrimage festivals demarcated the liturgical year,9 individual piety was both cultivated and demonstrated through daily observances,such as morning and evening prayers,tithing,parti.. cipation in public and private fasts, study and the keeping of the Sabbath.Jews maintained their unique identity through circumcision, dietary laws and an abiding determination to avoid mixed marriages. Synagogues also served as centers for communal prayer, study and the rehearsal of Jewish lifestyle obligations. Although their importance expanded after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, their origin dates from a much earlier period. Jesus spoke frequently in synagogues (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 1n 18:20), as did Paul (Ac 9:20; 17:10; 19:8). According to the Talmud there were some 480 synagogues in Jerusalem prior to the temple's destruction.

Miracle Workers and Magicians in the First Century A.D.

LUKE 19 Some historians have argued that Jesus was just one among many miracle workers operating during the first century n.o. While Jesus himself admitted that there were effective Jewish exorcists, and we have a few scattered reports of rabbis performing miracles, the evidence for miracle workers on a par with Jesus is minimal. For example, Apollonius of Tyana, a first-century sage, is sometimes claimed to have been Jesus' equal in this regard. In the fullest account of his life (published long after his death), Apollonius is credited with only a few amazing feats, generally involving his ability to foresee the future or to perceive demonic activity. His most striking "miracle," raising a girl from her funeral bier, was doubted even by his most loyal followers, who suspected that the young woman was not actually dead but that Apollonius had revived her from near death.

There were certainly "magicians" both within and outside of Judaism during the first century.' Archaeologists have discovered numerous papyri and amulets with magical formulas for gaining the love of a man or woman, exacting vengeance on an enemy or even winning at the horse races. Frequently these magicians would use natural objects in the course of performing their magical acts. Some critics have suggested that Jesus' use of saliva and mud in a few of his healings (Mk 8:33; Jn 9) points to magical rituals. But this conjecture misinterprets what Jesus was doing. For example, the use of mud in John 9 was intended to recall God's creation of humankind from the dirt:Jesus was symbolically recreating this man's eyes. In terms of the number and magnitude of his miracles,Jesus undeniably stands alone in the ancient world.

Tiberius Caesar, the Caesar of Jesus' Ministry

LUKE 20 Tiberius Caesar is generally referred to simply as "Caesar" in the Gospels. Ruling from A.D. 14 until 37, he was emperor during Jesus' adolescence and adulthood. In A.D.18 Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and governor of Galilee, founded the city of Tiberias ("Map 9") in honor of the emperor. It was located at the site of hot springs at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee and remains there today. 1 In A.D. 26 Tiberius appointed Pontius Pilate governor of Judea, a position he held until Tiberius removed him from office in 36.2 The beginning of John the Baptist's preaching, and thus the beginning of Jesus' ministry, is given by Luke as "the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (Lk 3:1).There is disagreement over the exact

interpretation of this chronological notice, resulting in dates ranging from A.D. 25 to 29.

The most famous Biblical reference to Tiberius is in regard to payment of the Roman tax (Mt 22:15-21; Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20— 26). When the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus over the matter of paying taxes, Jesus, referring to a silver denarius coin, gave his familiar answer: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (v. 25). The coin bore the image of Tiberius and was inscribed as "Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus" (Augustus being the former emperor).4 Jesus' point was that people, who bear the image of God, ought to give themselves to God alone.

The "Benefactor"

LUKE 22 In Luke 22:25 Jesus spoke of how Gentile rulers loved to call themselves "benefactors."The Greek word for"benefactor" is euergetes, and classical scholars speak of"euergetism,"a social phenomenon of the Greco-Roman world in which rulers and wealthy people would gain a reputation for themselves as philanthropists on behalf of the people through acts of public generosity.This became extremely important during the Roman Republic, when senators struggled for success in the cursus honorum ("the path of honors"), the career track that took a citizen through various public offices to the height of Roman power, the rank of consul. In order to win popularity and votes, a senator would sponsor public games and spectacles, build parks and temples and perform other works of public service. Julius Caesar, for example, was lavish in his public beneficence during his rise to power. Roman rulers would also gain the support of the provinces by sponsoring public improvements around the Roman world.The Mediterranean region contains thousands of inscriptions commemorating the public generosity of such individuals.

Jesus' use of the word "benefactor" was obviously intended as irony—and for good reason. Although there are examples of real generosity from such donors,the practice was often inspired by political self-interest or financed by ruthless taxation of the provinces or other corrupt practices) In addition, such benefactors often demanded the submission of those whom they had allegedly helped.

Pontius Pilate

LUKE 23 Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea from A.D.26 to 36., Ruling from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, he was primarily responsible for maintaining the peace and collecting taxes.' A number of artifacts remain from Pilate's governance of Judea:

    • In 1961 an inscription bearing Pilate's name was found during excavation of the theater at Caesarea) The surviving portion reads,"Tiberium [of the Caesareans?], Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, [ ... has given ...1." The inscription was most likely part of a building called a Tiberium, possibly a temple, dedicated to the emperor Tiberius.While the Tiberium fell into disuse, the stone bearing the inscription was used, ironically, to repair a stairway during a fourth-century remodeling of a theater built by Herod the Great.4 It was in the stairwell that the Italian excavators discovered the inscription.

    • Pilate built an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem from south of the city. Remnants of this structure can still be seen in Bethlehem.

    • A number of coins struck during Pilate's tenure have survived. As with coins of other Roman governors, they do not bear Pilate's name but instead carry the names Tiberius Caesar and Empress Julia.Pilate's coins incorporated symbols that would have offended the Jews. One was the fittus, or augur's wand (augury or divination was forbidden by Mosaic Law; e.g., Dt 18:9 — 14).The other was the simpulum, a small ladle with a high handle used to make libations during sacrifices,a common symbol of the Roman priesthood.

The trial of Jesus was probably carried out at Herod's palace, the Praetorium (Mt 27:27; Mk 15:16; Jn 18:28,33; 19:9), portions of which have been excavated.The only mention of Pilate in the New Testament apart from the trial of Jesus is in Luke 13:1. There Jesus was told about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices," evidently a reference to an incident in which a number of Galileans were killed while offering sacrifices at the temple. This accords well with what we read about Pilate in the works of the ancient Jewish writers Josephus and Philo, who portrayed him as cruel and corrupt. Pilate was recalled to Rome after having massacred a group of Samaritans.


LUKE 24 The problem of uncertainty over the location of Emmaus is compounded by a textual difficulty in Luke 24:13 that reads"60 stadia" in some Greek manuscripts but "160 stadia"in others (a stadium was 625 Roman ft, or about 190 m). Thus, 60 stadia was about 7 miles (12 km), while 160 stadia was roughly 18.4 miles (29.7 km).The reading of "60 stadia" in verse 13 is almost certainly correct and is the rendering adopted by all modern versions. Patristic readers (church fathers), however, preferred "160 stadia" and located Emmaus at Emmaus-Nicopolis (modern Khirbet lmwas), about 20 miles (32 km) west of Jerusalem. But Luke 24 indicates that the disciples walked with Jesus from Jerusalem to Emmaus, had a midday meal and then returned to Jerusalem that same afternoon. If Emmaus were Emmaus-Nicopolis, this would have been a 40-mile (64.5 km) trek within a single day!

Adopting the figure of 60 stadia, a good candidate for the location of Emmaus is el-Qubeibeh, located about 7 miles (11.3 km) northwest of Jerusalem. The crusaders favored this site,and the remains of a first-century village have been excavated there.There is no scholarly consensus, however, and the actual location of Emmaus remains open to question.