Tag Archives: Emperor Augustus

Pilate promoted the Imperial Cult by setting up shields in Jerusalem

In addition to the use of coins, Pilate used other means to promote the Imperial (Emperor) Cult in Roman Palestine.

In the previous post we called attention to the article by Prof. Joan E. Taylor who said that the coinage of Pilate and the Pilate inscription from Caesarea,

“indicate a prefect determined to promote a form of Roman religion in Judaea.”

The residence of the governor of Judea was at Caesarea Maritima, but he came to Jerusalem for special events. Pilate would likely stay at Herod’s place. This is where he would have set up shields in honor of the Emperor Tiberius. Both Josephus (JW 2:169ff.) and Philo of Alexandria (Legatio ad Gaium) record this episode.

What were these shields? This coin that was minted later by Felix, prefect of Judea about AD 52-59 (Acts 23-24) might give us an idea. The obverse of the coin shows two oblong shields and two spears.

Coin of the Prefect Felix showing shields and spears.

Coin of the Prefect Felix showing two oblong shields and two crossed spears.

The actors involved in the RACE show at Jerash, Jordan, show us what the shields of the 6th Roman Legion might have looked like.

Enactment of soldiers of the 6th Roman Legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Enactment of soldiers of the 6th Roman Legion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A denarius bearing the image of Augustus was struck in Lyon between 2 BC and AD 4. The reverse shows Gaius and Lucius standing, facing, holding shields and spears. In this case the shields are round, and are shown in association with the lituus and simpulum, symbols of the Imperial Cult. (I think you can easily find larger images of this coin on the Internet.)

Coin of Augustus showing shields, lituus, and simpulum.

Coin of Augustus showing shields, lituus, and simpulum.

Our point in all of this is to show that when Pilate erected the shields in Jerusalem it was in fact a symbol of the Imperial cult.

Next we plan to discuss the tiberium built by Pilate at Caesarea.

Pilate used coins to promote the Emperor Cult

After the death of Herod the Great, his son Herod Archaelaus (Archelaus, Matthew 2:22) ruled over Judea until AD 6. His misrule prompted Rome to appoint a series of prefects or governors over Judea. There were 15 governors appointed from Coponius (AD 6-9) to Gessius Florus (AD 64-66).

Pontius Pilate served as Governor of Judea from AD 26-36 (Matthew 22:7; Luke 3:1).

Carl Rasmussen called my attention to an excellent article by Joan E. Taylor in New Testament Studies dealing with the part played by Pilate in promoting the Imperial Cult. Taylor, now Professor of Christian Origins and Second Temple Judaism at King’s College in London, says that the coinage of Pilate and the Pilate inscription from Caesarea,

“indicate a prefect determined to promote a form of Roman religion in Judaea” (Taylor, Joan E. “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52. 2006: 555-582.)

Pilate minted two types of coins. The first coin, minted in AD 29, shows three bound ears of barley on the obverse. The inscription reads “Julia, of Caesar.” After the death of Livia, wife of Augustus, and mother of Tiberias, she was given the name Julia. One ear of barley is standing and two are drooping. On the reverse we see a libation ladle (simpulum) used by Roman priests to pour wine over sacrificial animals. The inscription reads, “TIBEPIOY KAICAROC (of Tiberius Caesar) and date LIS” (Hendin).

Coin minted by Pilate in A.D. 29.

Coin minted by Pilate in AD 29.

The second coin, struck in AD 30, shows a lituus, a wooden staff or wand used by Roman augures to signify their authority. The inscription on the obverse reads TIBERIOY KAICAROS (Tiberius, Caesar). The reverse shows a wreath with the date.

Coin minted by Pontius Pilate showing a lituus.

Coin minted by Pontius Pilate in AD 30 showing a lituus.

Taylor describes the coins of Pilate’s predecessors as showing primarily agricultural images. She says,

Pilate’s coins, by contrast, depict two key items of specifically Roman religious spiritual use: the lituus and the simpulum. In depicting these instruments on the Judaean coinage Pilate advertised particular rituals of exclusively Roman cult. These instruments were not generic to all cults in the Empire, which now embraced the Hellenistic world, let alone to Jewish or Samaritan rituals, but had emblematic and ritual uses within Roman rites alone. The ritual instruments themselves are described by terms not used for profane utensils, even when these utensils are quite similar (see Arnobius Adversus Nationes XXTV.1-6). They were entirely sacred implements, and they were cared for and stored in sacred space. (558-559)

Carl Rasmussen discusses Pilate’s coin showing the lituus here.

Roman coins and the Imperial Cult

Coins were important in the time of Jesus, and were more significant than their face value. On one occasion the Pharisees plotted against Jesus in an attempt to entangle Him in His words. They sent some of their disciples to Jesus to ask, “is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Tiberius in the Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Bust of Tiberius in the Louvre.

When Jesus asked them to show him the coin used for the tax they brought Him a denarius. The denarius of that time would likely be one minted by the Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37). Jesus asked, “Whose likeness [eikon] and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Jesus responded, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Read the full account in Matthew 22:15-22).

The photo below shows a Denarius with the image of the Emperor Tiberius. The inscription on the obverse (heads) reads “TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AUGUSTVS” (Tiberius, Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus).

Denarius minted by Emperor Tiberias.

Denarius minted by Emperor Tiberius.

David Hendin (Guide to Biblical Coins, 1st. ed, 170-171) describes the reverse (tails) of the coin: “Female figure sits on a plain chair to right, she holds olive branch in her left hand and long sceptre in her right.” The inscription PONTIF MAXIM means High Priest, which Hendin says is “another of the emperor’s titles and later a title of the Bishop of Rome.”

This coin clearly demonstrates the Emperors’ claim to being the son of the divine Augustus, and to being High Priest in the Imperial Cult.

Florence Aiken Banks says,

It is not surprising that this Tiberius denarius–popularly known as the “tribute penny”–is of all coins the one most in demand by collectors who cherish their New Testaments. (Coins of Bible Days, 99)

In the next post I plan to discuss Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, and what we can learn about the Imperial Cult from his coins and the inscription bearing his name at Caesarea Maritima.

Special Note About Coin Images. For many years I have included several links to coin and coin collectors under the Bible Places page at the Biblical Studies Info Page. I have found that these web sites come and go. If I use the image of a coin that rightfully belongs to another photographer I will be pleased to give credit if you will point me to the site.

Herod built a temple to Augustus at Samaria

Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was well known in Old Testament times. In New Testament times the term Samaria seems to be used of a region rather than a city. See Luke 17:11; John 4:4-7; Acts 1:8; 8:1,9,14; 9:31; 15:3.

The city of Samaria had been rebuilt by Herod the Great and named Sebaste in honor of the Emperor Augustus. The modern name of the small town of Samaria is Sebastia.

Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus with a monumental staircase over the palace area of the Israelite kingdom. The temple was destroyed, but later rebuilt along the same plan by Septimius Severus (Roman emperor, A.D. 193-211). The monumental staircase still stands at the top of the tell.

Monumental steps mark the site of Herod's Temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Monumental steps from the time of Septimius Severus mark the site of Herod’s Temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some remnants of column capitals rest at the top of the steps.

Remnants of some of the columns rest at the top of the staircase. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Remnants of some of the columns rest at the top of staircase. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This was the second of three temples erected by Herod in honor of Augustus. In two previous posts we have discussed the temple at Caesarea Maritima and the one in the district of Caearea Philippi (perhaps Omrit).

Carl Rasmussen wrote about the Imperial Cult a few months back on his Holy Land Photos’ Blog here. He says,

IMHO we also need to give emphasis to the fact that Herod the Great had built  three Imperial Cult Temples — all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry these Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  had been in existence for over 40 years!

In my recent lecture at the Florida College Lectureship I discussed two texts from the ministry of Jesus that may be understood in the light of the Emperor worship prevalent in the country. One was the location of Peter’s confession of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). See a discussion here. The second text I used was the one involving the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). More about that in a post to follow.

Herod’s temple to Roma and Augustus at Caesarea Maritima

We began this theme in the previous post with the temple Herod the Great erected to the emperor Augustus in the region of Caesarea Philippi. We pointed out that Herod had already built temples to the Emperor at Caesarea Maritima and at Sebaste (= Samaria).

Caesarea Maritima was built on the site of Strato’s Tower and became a center of Roman provincial government in Judea. It was located on the main caravan route between Tyre and Egypt. The harbor at Caesarea was built by Herod and named Sebastos (Greek for Augustus) in honor of the Emperor.

Our photo below shows the harbor and the location of the Imperial temple indicated by a red oval. The inner harbor extended over the grassy area, almost to the steps of the temple. When we first began visiting Caesarea it was thought that another building, north of the inner harbor, marked the site of the Augustus temple. It is now identified as a nymphaeum.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Aerial view of Caesarea Maritima showing the Sebastos harbor and the site of the Augustus temple. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The excavation of the Temple Platform began in 1989 under the direction of Kenneth G. Holum of the University of Maryland. Holum says the temple of Augustus was torn down about 400 A.D. with most of the stone being used in others buildings. The scant ruins enable the archaeologists to determine that the temple measured 95 by 150 feet. He says it towered “perhaps 100 feet from the column bases to the peak.” The temple was made of local sandstone, called kurkar, and coated with a white stucco.

The Temple Platform was covered by an octagonal Byzantine church in the 6th century. Those are the ruins we see today within the Crusader city.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The 6th century Byzantine church was erected over the earlier temple to Augustus. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A sign at the site of the Temple, already stained in 2005, provides some indication of the appearance of the building.

An artists' reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An artists’ reconstruction of the Temple of Augustus at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Like the Temple Mount [in Jerusalem], Caesarea’s Temple Platform would have been enclosed at least on the north, east and south by columned porticoes marking the sacred precinct (the termenos). and in the center, uipon a high podium, would have risen the temple that Herod dedicated to the goddess Roma, embodiment of imperial Rome, and to the god-king Augustus. (Kenneth G. Holum)

The article by Kenneth G. Holum appeared in an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2004) devoted to “Herod’s Fun City.” His article is entitled “Building Power: The Politics of Architecture.” There are numerous photographs and diagrams.

Charles Savelle left a comment to the previous post in which he called attention to a few additional sources here. I was especially pleased to see a reference to Caesarea Philippi: Banias the Lost City of Pan by John Francis Wilson. Speaking of the temple at Paneion, he says that the building itself would be scandal enough from the point of view of the Jews in the area.

Wilson states that Herod set the course for Imperial Worship in the east.

“Herod’s strategy in erecting this temple extended far beyond the symbolism represented by the structure itself. He was among the first of all provincial rulers in the empire to commit to the cult of Augustus. His Augustan temples, and the elaborate priesthood they required, may even have been influential in setting the course of imperial worship throughout the Eastern empire. While ostensibly the act of erecting these temples represented loyalty and commitment to Rome, it also furnished a basis for the social and political organization of diverse populations such as those in Herod’s kingdom. At the same time, because the new cult left the traditional local cults intact, it represented no threat to them. In fact, it symbolized an interest in protecting the local culture.” (p. 13)

When we think of Caesarea we recall the major events recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The residence of Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea (A.D. 26-36), though there is no reference to this fact in the New Testament.
  • The visit of Peter to preach the gospel to the Roman Centurion Cornelius (Acts 10-11).
  • The visit and death of Herod Agrippa I (A.D. 37-44; Acts 12).
  • Paul’s return from his preaching journeys (Acts 18:22; 21:8)
  • The imprisonment of the apostle Paul (A.D. 58-60; Acts 23-26).

We plan to say more about Pilate and his role in upholding the Imperial Cult in Roman Palestine in another post.

Following the Blogs

Available today only in Kindle format: How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot. This is not the only book you need on this subject, but it is a good beginning source.

Todd Bolen’s Bible Places Blog is the best source for keeping up with news and recent materials related to Bible Places. I am a fan of the Weekend Roundup, with links to a variety of helpful materials. Today’s post reports that that rooms of Emperor Augustus on the Palatine Hill in Rome are now open to the public. Read here.

House of Augustus on the Palatine Hill, Rome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

House of Augustus on the Palatine Hill, Rome. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Charles Savelle provides a regular flow of links to helpful tools for serious Bible teachers and students at his BibleX (Bible Exposition). He recently pointed us to material on the Didache, The Dating of Deuteronomy and the Suzerain-Vassal Treaty Forms, and The Importance of Biblical Geography. I check this site regularly.

I enjoy following Bible Lands Explorer, the blog of Mark Ziese. Mark is a unique writer. His most recent post points us to a Brazilian newspaper for which he provided photos of the Jesus Trail. You may not be able to read the Portuguese newspaper, but there is a nice slide show of Mark’s photos.

Reading Acts. The blog by Phillip J. Long has some helpful articles for Bible students. Check some of these recent posts:

Ancient History Encyclopedia. This is a nice site including an encyclopedia that is primarily intended for high school level. Includes Index, Timeline, Maps, Photos, Videos, etc. Check the article on Roman Roads here.

ePlace. Research materials provided by Asbury Theological Seminary. Includes TREN collection of professional conference papers, dissertations, et al.

The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies. This journal is built on the well-known work of Kuist, Traina, and others who wrote on Inductive Bible Study.

Daily Dose of Greek. Sign up for a 2-minute video Daily Dose of Greek by Rob Plumber, professor of Greek and New Testament at Southern Baptist Seminary.

Mark Hoffman, Biblical Studies and Technological Tools, recently posted two helpful lists of Greek lexical forms. Click here.

Resources to Help You Defend the Deity of Jesus. A list of resources by J. Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity.

HT: Brooks Cochran

North of the Sea of Galilee

Most of our visits today were north of the Sea of Galilee. Here are some of the stop we made.

The fishing port of Tiberias, where we saw fishermen bringing in some large fish. One of the owners of the Ron Beach Hotel told us these large fish were used for fish oil.

Hazor.

Senir (Hasbani) River. One of the sources of the Jordan.

Dan. To photograph the Middle Bronze city gate (19th-18th century B.C.).

Beit Ussishkin Museum at Dan. The museum is mostly about the flora and fauna of the region, but there are a few pieces from the Dan excavations.

Hermon Stream Nature Reserve (or Banias River). To see the waterfall.

Omrit. Site of possible Herodian temple to Augustus. The road is horrible, and there is still a long walk to visit the site. It is really not prepared or intended for the casual visitor. Someday it should be.

Abel-beth-maacah (or Abel of Beth-maacah). A city called “a mother in Israel” (2 Samuel 20:19). We had a view of Mount Hermon with a small amount of snow still on the top.

Abel-beth-maacah and Mount Hermon. View toward east. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Abel-beth-maacah and Mount Hermon. View toward east. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Metula. This Israeli town is on the border with Lebanon. We looked over into Lebanon.

Hula Lake/Agamon Lake. This is the restoration of a portion of Hula Lake that had been drained in the mid-20th century. Birds from Asia and Europe travel through the Great Rift and their way to Africa and back. This lake is a favorite stopping place for many of them.

It was a hot day, but an enjoyable one.