Tag Archives: Emperor Cult

Pilate erected a Tiberium in Caesarea Maritima

An inscription bearing the name of Pontius Pilate was found at Caesarea Maritima June 15, 1961 during the excavation of the Roman theater. The stone on which the inscription is found had been reused in the theater. The photo below shows a replica of the inscription displayed in the building described by Murphy-O’Connor as the Palace of the Procurators. The original inscription is in the Israel Museum.

Pilate inscription displayed in the Palace area at Caesarea Maritima. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pilate inscription displayed in the Palace area at Caesarea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It is the inscription that has bearing on our current study relating to the Imperial Cult in Roman Palestine. Murphy-O’Connor gives the following translation:

Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, made and dedicated the Tibereieum to the Divine Emperor. (The Holy Land, Fifth Ed., p. 243)

The top line has the word for Tiberium. The second line has [Pon]tius Pilatus, and the third line seems to be the title of Pilate. Only one letter remains on the fourth line.

Joan Taylor, whose 2006 New Testament Studies article we have mentioned before, reads the inscription as follows:

  1. [_ _ _] S TIBERIÉUM
  2. [_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
  3. [PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
  4. [_ _ _ _ _] É[_ _ _ _ _ _ _]

She translates the inscription as,

  1. [. . .] Tiberieum
  2. [.Po]ntius Pilate
  3. [Pref]ect of Judaea
  4. [. . .] e [. . .]

If you use Logos, you will be able to locate a suggested reconstruction of Pontius Pilate’s Inscription in the Faithlife StudyBible Infographics.

Taylor’s interpretation of the inscription is significant.

The word ‘Tiberieum’ is found nowhere else in the corpus of Latin inscriptions or literature and, given the relatively small size of the inscription and its terse quality, this Tiberieum should probably be understood as something of modest proportions. Possibly this small structure was attached to the theatre of Caesarea, located in the southern part of the city, which would explain its existence as a step in the remodelled theatre later on. (566)

Taylor describes the Tiberieum.

A dedicated structure in honour of the emperor Tiberius, a res sacra, would easily be called in Latin a ‘Tiberieum’. The most natural thing in terms of the Latin word would be to consider this to be not some secular lighthouse for the help of sailors or any other profane building, but an edifice or annex associated with the Roman imperial cult. (567)

Taylor’s excellent article covers Pilates coins, the shields he erected in Jerusalem, and the tiberium he built at Caesarea. This allows her to conclude that Pilate “does seem to have been purposively determined to maintain, if not advance, the Roman imperial cult in Judaea.” (582)

Once more, for those who wish to follow up on this subject, here is the bibliographic reference to Taylor’s article.

Taylor, Joan E. “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52. 2006: 555-582.

Other helpful materials include:

Bond, Helen K. “The Coins of Pontius Pilate: Part of An Attempt to Provoke the People or to Integrate Them into the Empire? Journal for the Study of Judaism XXVII 3. 1996: 241-262.

Carl Rasmussen has written about this topic on his Holy Land Photos’ Blog here. In a post here, Rasmussen emphasizes that Herod’s Imperial Cult Temples were “all less than 40 miles from Nazareth/Capernaum,” and that the temples “had been in existence for over 40 years!”

We may add that Pilate’s activities were closer to the time of the ministry of Jesus and the beginning of the church.

Note to Those Who Heard My Florida College Presentation. While I was working on this series of articles I noticed that I had misspelled the name of the Roman Emperor Tiberius throughout the presentation. I used the spelling of the town Tiberias. I am sure that all of my former students will agree that there should be no counting off for misspelled words. 🙂

I am also aware of the different spelling of the structure credited to Pilate. Tiberieum is the more typical British-type spelling; Tiberium is often used by American writers.

Emperor Worship in Asia Minor. I have been asked if I will discuss Emperor Worship as it relates to the book of Revelation. At this time the answer is no. Perhaps later on. I always presented material on this when I taught Revelation, and I have included a chapter on the subject in Studies in the Book of Revelation which is available at the Florida College Bookstore.

Herod the Great and the Emperor Cult

Herod supported Mark Antony against Augustus in the Roman civil war. When Augustus was victorius at the battle of Actium (31 B.C.), Herod convinced Augustus that he was loyal to him. Herod, who already ruled Judea, was granted authority over Galilee and Iturea.

 “In turn, Herod ingratiated himself to Augustus by building monuments and temples in the emperor’s honor. Temples dedicated to the emperor in the early Roman period (20 B.C.E.–120 C.E.) were part of an empire-wide phenomenon known as “the emperor cult.” This Roman imperial institution played a pivotal role in spreading imperial propaganda and encouraging allegiance to the emperor, who was portrayed as a god, or imbued with the spirit of a deity. (Overman, Olive, and Nelson,“Discovering Herod’s Shrine to Augustus.” BAR 29:02).

Herod erected three temples to Augustus: (1) Caesarea Maritima; (2) Samaria, which he named Sebaste, Greek for the Latin Augustus; (3) Near Paneion (Caesarea Philippi; Banias] at the fountain of the Jordan (JW 1:404).

Josephus says,

So when he had conducted Caesar to the sea, and was returned home, he built him a most beautiful temple, of the whitest stone, in Zenodorus’ country, near the place called Panion. This is a very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth, and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and full of a still water; over it hangs a vast mountain; and under the caverns arise the springs of the river Jordan. Herod adorned this place, which was already a very remarkable one, still further by the erection of this temple, which he dedicated to Caesar. (Ant 15:363-364)

We are concerned here with the third temple near Panion (Paneion). We know the same site as Caesarea Philippi because the city was built by Herod Philip and named to honor Caesar and himself. Excavators at Caesarea have identified a structure there, at the entrance of the cave, as the temple to Augustus. Other scholars suggest that this is part of a monumental entrance to the cave of Pan.

Josephus’ expression “near the place called Panion” [Banias, later Caesarea Philippi] indicates a place closer to the Pan temples. However, the Greek term used in Matthew 16:13 (meros) can be translated district, region, or geographical area.

In the drawing below we see an artistic reconstruction of the Pan temenos at Panias (Banyas). The Temple to Augustus is the building on the left that backs up to the cave.

Reconstruction of the Pan temenos at Panias. From Archaeological Sites in Israel, published by the Israel Information Center, Jerusalem, 1998.

Reconstruction of the Pan temenos at Panias. From Archaeological Sites in Israel, published by the Israel Information Center, Jerusalem, 1998.

Archaeologists from Macalester College and Carthage College, working since 1999, have suggested that the third temple was built at Omrit, about three miles southwest of Banias on a bluff overlooking the Hula Valley from the east. If this is correct, then this may be the site of Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16:13; Mk. 8:27).
Currently the site of Omrit is practically impossible to reach by car, but you can reach the area and then walk to the excavation.

View of the site of Omrit from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the site of Omrit from the south. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

If we look West from Omrit we have a good view of the northern end of the Hula Valley.

A view NW to the Hula Valley from Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A view NW to the Hula Valley from Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

According to the excavators, a total of three ornate Roman temples were built at Omrit over a period of about 120 years. The steps we see below belong to the third temple erected near the end of the first century A.D.

Temple steps at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Temple steps at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below looks below the ground level to the earlier temples or monumental buildings that are now covered to protect them.

The earlier temples at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The earlier temples at Omrit. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A brochure, Omrit A Unique Archaeological Site in the Upper Galilee, is available in PDF here. Note that it presents the viewpoint of the excavators that this is the site of Herod’s Augusteum (p. 5).

In “Debate: Where Was Herod’s Temple to Augustus” BAR 29:05 (Sept./Oct. 2003), Andrea Berlin argues that Banias is still the best candidate for the Augustan temple. Overman, Olive, and Nelson reply and reaffirm their preference for Omrit.

A third suggestions is made by the late Ehud Netzer that an opus reticulatum (latice-type stone work) building at Banias is the site of Herod’s temple to Augustus. This site is about 100 yards west of the Cave of Pan.

Carl Rasmussen calls Omrit his favorite site in Israel here.