The Tax Revolt in 6 A.D.
October 25th, 2001
Received by H.
Hello, my dear brother.
I see you have followed my suggestion and read a little about the tax revolt. But before considering this topic, we need to analyze briefly the situation in Galilee in those times.
As you know, Joseph, Mary, and their children had returned from Egypt. In Galilee they found guaranteed prosperity, mainly due to the construction activity of the regent, the tetrarch Antipas, who took great pleasure in calling himself King Herod Antipas. It is the same Herod who is also mentioned in the Bible, because he had John the Baptist killed, and Pilate had sent Jesus to him for his interrogation when he found out that Jesus was a Galilean.
Galilee’s capital Sepphoris had been destroyed, and the reconstruction gave employment to many people, and among them was Joseph. Joseph had also thoroughly studied the Hebrew Scriptures, because the events in Bethlehem, where Antipas’ father, Herod the Great, had murdered the children, had led him to the conviction that his first-born son would be the true Messiah for the Hebrew people.
Joseph’s understanding and his nationalism, which was part of Jewish culture in those days, blinded his eyes to many hints in the Scriptures of the Messiah’s true nature. To him, like the great majority of the people the Messiah was to be a political and military leader who would expel those hateful foreigners who dominated their country, and he would re-establish Israel’s ancient glory. Many even thought that the Messiah would make Israel the ruling nation over the whole world.
That is why Joseph, in a sincere intent and without bad intentions, tried to instruct his son, to guide him in his development and in his vision of the world. But he found some unexpected resistance. Jesus didn’t react as meekly as Joseph had anticipated. Jesus was still a boy, but in spite of it, he could already feel, although he could not understand, that his father was mistaken. This led to a serious conflict. He was a very obedient son, but although he was still of a very young age, something within him prevented him from accepting and sharing his father’s opinions.
Instinctively Jesus withdrew a little from his family. Frequently he retired to the adjacent hills, and in the ancient forests of Galilee he meditated and meditated. His mother called this his “mysticism,” but in fact, Jesus was already receiving teachings and instructions.
Another very important issue is that Herod the Great certainly had depended on Rome, but at least he had been a king, and nominally independent. He was not a Jew, but an Idumean, but that did not matter so much, since the Idumeans were legally considered the equals of the Jews.
But with his death the king’s title had been lost. Instead of a king, now a tetrarch reigned, Rome’s puppet, a vassal who officially was a subject of the Roman Empire, a citizen of a foreign empire. In Judea, the situation was even worse according to Jewish opinion. There, the ethnarch Archelaus had been exiled by the emperor because of his obvious inability to govern the country. But the Romans had not replaced him with another member of the Jewish nobility. Instead had subjected the country to direct administration by Rome. Now the foreign sovereignty was openly demonstrated.
It seems to be part of human nature to prefer a bad government by members of one’s own people over a good government by foreign people. But if this foreign government is not better than the domestic one, or is even worse in its brutality, if it also expresses their scorn openly against the people, a type of racism, although this word is not exactly correct, because racism is a more modern invention, then the dissatisfaction of the people knows no limits.
Galilee had always been a hotbed of revolutionaries and bandits. It was sometimes very difficult to distinguish between crime and politics. You can understand this very well as the same problem persists today. And in the year 6 A.D., an event took place that exceeded the patience of many.
The emperor had decreed a tax census to be carried out in Palestine. That region was under the supervision of the Roman legate in Syria, and in the year 6 A.D., Augustus named Publius Sulpicius Quirinius governor of Syria, and he put him in charge of the census. And so, this was the census that the Gospel of Luke refers to. As you see, it happened many years after Jesus’ birth.
Augustus had chosen Quirinius because he was a very capable military commander, and also because he knew the area. Many years before he had commanded the Roman armies in Syria, when Sentius Saturninus and later Quinctilius Varus were the governors of this important Roman province, the border bastion against those feared Parthians. But at that time, Quirinius carried out military operations in what is today’s Anatolia in Turkey, breaking the resistance of the nomads there. But in those days he did not perform any census. There are historians who suppose that the presence of Quirinius in Syria or in that region in the year when Jesus was born, indicates that the New Testament is right, and that Joseph and Mary’s journey is in fact due to a census, but this is not true. I have already stated this. We will continue now with the revolt.
A census meant the registration of people and of their estates for imposing taxes upon each and every one, and also for the recruitment of soldiers. Both things were not, and are not, very popular. And a fierce resentment arose against Rome, like a spark in a powder-house, and the people rose in rebellion.
The leader of this revolution was Judas the Galilean, but this name is not correct. He was not from Galilee, but from Gamala, a Gaulonite from the Golan Heights, an area that didn’t belong to the Antipas’ territory, but rather was under Philip’s domain. But of course, this town was only seven miles from the Lake of Genesaret.
He found support in a popular character called Tsaduk or Zadduc, a member of the House of Shammai, a powerful house of the Pharisees. In fact it is a nickname, “Zaddik,” meaning “the Righteous One.” The historian Josephus explains that then the fourth sect or fourth force of Judaism was born, the zealots, but this is not true. In fact these radical forces already existed, and they were always ready to fight against foreign oppression from a long time before Rome came, as in the case of the resistance against Antiochus Epiphanes. What really was new was that part of the Pharisees joined the extremists and fought shoulder to shoulder against the legions. And they lost. There were mass slaughters, destruction, misery, in short an experience which left deep marks on Jesus. If previously he was perhaps unsure of himself in his appreciation of a peaceful Messiahship, he now had no more doubts.
This rebellion also caused certain cracks in Joseph’s family. Joseph was a peaceful man, but in those days he wondered if he should join the Pharisee movement officially, the House of Hillel. Although he had some sympathy for the terrorists, he didn’t support them actively. His children, except for Jesus, called out in favor of the zealots, as most of the Galilean Jews did, but Jesus expressed his opposition. His role as the future Messiah became ever more uncertain (in their eyes), and his brothers even made fun of him. They were youths, or rather still children, without adult perceptions. They didn’t understand him, but they would understand him in the future.
Both the leaders, Judas and Zadduc, died in the confrontation with Rome. The two legions which came from Syria decimated the ranks of the rebels without mercy. Two thousand zealots were crucified and six thousand young people from Galilee were sold as slaves in order to serve in the western parts of the empire.
The Romans had put an end to the rebellion and they had even killed the leaders. But the chapter didn’t end there. The sons of Judas would have a decisive impact in future revolts, dying on the cross, and other descendants inscribed their names with blood in the history of Masada.
The zealots were like today’s terrorists, religious fanatics whose ideology mixed religious fundamentalism with political ambitions. There was the terrible empire, which they saw as the source of all evil, and whose destruction was justified by any means. There was the harsh reaction, and the death of the terrorist leaders.
In the historic past, the zealots became “assassins,” men hiding daggers in their clothing and secretly murdering their enemies. They sowed terror amongst the whole population, they abused their power, even murdering people who had nothing to do with their objectives, but simply to benefit themselves. And now, it is not daggers anymore that serve this purpose.
The severe reaction of Rome didn’t solve the situation, it hardly mitigated it. Rebellions broke out repeatedly, because in reality nothing had changed. Finally it led to the destruction of the Hebrew society in Palestine.
There is much to learn from history. But it seems that men prefer to learn from their own errors, repeating what their ancestors have already lived through and suffered.
But we won’t turn this message into a sermon on politics. I am glad that you have followed my advice, updating yourself on the historical facts as they are known. It has made it much easier for me to deliver this message.
With this, I will say good-bye. I pray that God may shed all His blessings over you and over all those who wish to receive them. And always count on me.
Your brother in the spirit,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013