The period covered in this chapter, from the death of Herod the Great, King of the Jews, in 4 BCE to the end of the second Jewish war with Rome in 135 CE, is a period of lingering and terminal crisis in the history of Israel. Within it and from it arose two of the world’s religions, Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Both had, in a sense, foreseen what was to come; and both responded in different ways to the same basic problem, of how a people who believed themselves to be specially chosen by God could live with a past but with no earthly future.
A few days before his death, Herod altered his will. He nominated Archelaus to the throne, the son most like his father in brutality, but ensured that even in the grave he would not be outshone by making provision for other possible claimants, his sons Herod Antipas and Philip. Amid threatened rebellion in Palestine, the Roman Emperor on appeal partitioned the kingdom between them. The northern territories were secure, but in Judea, Archelaus lasted only ten years. At the request of the Jews themselves, Rome deposed him and annexed his territory to the Empire as a third-rate and underfunded province.
The tax census which followed sparked off a new movement of uncompromising opposition. The rebellion of Judas in 6 CE, though unsuccessful, was to inspire a succession of Zealot uprisings. From a Roman perspective, the Judean problem at first appeared settled. ‘Under Tiberius, all was quiet’ commented one historian. But the local perception was rather different. Pontius Pilate, the fifth and one of the longer serving prefects in charge of the province, deliberately offended Jewish scruples by a