Tag Archives: Imperial 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 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.