Dateline: Palestine

by Ed Gallagher

Bonus Material for Luke Lesson 1, “John the Baptist in Luke

Before Luke tells us about John’s ministry, he situates his narrative in a historical context. 

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Luke 3:1–2

Tiberius was the second Roman Emperor, after Augustus, who had died on August 19 in the year AD 14. So the fifteenth year of Tiberius would be about 29. Pontius Pilate was the governor or prefect of Judea during the years 26–36. The Herod that is mentioned here is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. It was Herod the Great who had been king when Jesus was born, when the Magi came to visit, and who had slaughtered the children of Bethlehem (not narrated in Luke; see Matt 2). After Herod the Great died in 4 BC, his kingdom was divided among his sons, as explained below. Two of the sons are mentioned here by Luke: Herod (Antipas) and Philip. Lysanias was a relatively unimportant ruler of a relatively unimportant location, Abilene. And the priests mentioned here, Annas and Caiaphas, were related: Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas. There would have been only one high priest at a time, which at this time was apparently Caiaphas, but Annas, who had early been high priest, retained considerable power. 

Now let’s take a closer look at the Herods. Herod the Great had ten wives and fifteen children, but he killed several of his sons due to his (perhaps justified) fear that they were plotting against him. After his death (4 BC), the Roman emperor Augustus divided Herod’s territory among three of his sons. Josephus describes the situation this way. 

[Caesar Augustus] gave half the kingdom to Archelaus, with the title of ethnarch, promising, moreover, to make him king, should he prove his deserts; the other half he divided into two tetrarchies, which he presented to two other sons of Herod, one to Philip, the other to Antipas, who had disputed the throne with Archelaus. Antipas had for his province Peraea and Galilee, with a revenue of two hundred talents. Batanaea, Trachonitis, Auranitis and certain portions of the domain of Zeno in the neighbourhood of Panias, producing a revenue of a hundred talents, were allotted to Philip. The ethnarchy of Archelaus comprised the whole of Idumaea and Judaea, besides the district of Samaria.

Josephus, Jewish War 2.93–96 (trans. LCL, pp. 357–59)
  • Archelaus, born 27 BC, oldest son of Herod’s wife Malthace. He was made ruler of half of his father’s kingdom, and received the title Ethnarch (“ruler of the nation”). His territory included Judea, Idumea and Samaria. He was deposed in AD 6, after only a decade in power, and banished to Vienne in Gaul (according to the first century Roman writer Strabo, Geography 16.765). Archelaus was replaced by direct Roman rule (i.e., a Roman prefect—eventually Pontius Pilate). 
  • Philip, born 26 BC, son of Herod’s wife Cleopatra of Jerusalem. He was appointed by Augustus “Tetrarch” (“ruler of a fourth [of the nation]”). His territory included Iturea, Panias, Gaulanitis, Batanea, Trachonitis, and northern Auranitis. Reigned for 37 years. Died in 33 or 34 without an heir. 
  • Antipas, born 25 BC, a son of Malthace, thus a full brother to Archelaus. He was appointed Tetrarch over the territories of Galilee and Parea (which do not touch each other). He adopted the title “Herod” as a dynastic title (like Caesar became a title; cf. Josephus, Jewish War 2.167). He reigned for 43 years. His marriage to Herodias, his own half-niece and the former wife of his half-brother Herod II (called Philip at Mark 6:17 // Matt 14:3, but not the same person as Philip the tetrarch) is described by Josephus (Antiquities 18.110, 136). The marriage between Herod and Herodias produced a daughter (named Salome, according to Josephus, Antiquities 18.136), who danced for Antipas at his birthday party (Mark 6:21). In AD 39, Antipas was deposed by the emperor Caligula and exiled to Spain, while his territory was added to that of his nephew, King Agrippa I (the “King Herod” of Acts 12). 
Wikimedia Commons

The blue area is the territory of Archelaus that became a prefecture in AD 6. The brown at the top right is the territory of Philip. The two purple spots are the territories of Antipas.

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