B416 -- The History of the Levant from Paul to Bar Kochba

ASSIGNMENT: Read the Biblical books of Hebrews through Revelation.

The execution of Paul by the Roman Emperor Nero was the beginning of the end of the earliest expansion of the Church. With Paul's death the church went underground -- in fear of Neronic persecution. The death of Nero brought the end of the period of fear -- but it would soon resurface.

From Nero's death in 69 until the Bar Kochba revolt of 132, the Roman Empire was governed by nine emperors.

Emperors After Nero
Galba 68-69
Otho 69
Vitellius69
Vespasian69-79
Titus79-81
Domitian81-96
Nerva96-98
Trajan98-117
Hadrian117-138

The Jewish state was in turmoil from the year 66 onward. The aristocrats in Jerusalem and the Zealots in the Galilee were fomenting rebellion -- and Rome could not ignore the danger. Vespasian ordered his son Titus to mobilize a legion in Egypt and two legions in Syria. This gave Titus an army of 60,000 men to squelch the Jewish rebels.

By 67 the Romans controlled Galilee, Perea, and West Judea. The rebels controlled only Jerusalem and the region around the Dead Sea.

The chief proponents of the rebellion had been the Zealots. This was a militia group that had been founded in 6 AD by Judah of Gamala. Their tactics were simple -- strike the Romans and run. They had been a thorn in Rome's side for many years, and Titus was ready to eliminate them completely.

One of the Zealots, in the year 66, Menehem, was in command of the garrison at Masada -- a fortress built by Herod decades earlier. The disaster at Masada is well known, and will not be repeated here.

Another group of rebels called by the Romans the "Sicarii", were led by one John of Giskala. These rebels carried small knives (sicari) under their robes and would walk up to isolated Roman soldiers and stab them to death. They were, in their day, what terrorists are today.

All of these groups did their very best to overthrow the Romans -- but to no avail. The Romans besieged Masada and took it; and they laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed it in 70. They from thenceforth forbade the Jews to live in or near the city and turned it into a pagan temple mount until the time of Constantine.

The Church was not a party to the rebellion -- as by that time the center of Christianity had moved to Antioch and Asia Minor, and the Church and the Synagogue had completely severed ties. The Christians were not, however, exempt from Roman wrath. By the time Domitian took the throne, the Church was being persecuted mightily. The tolerance of Vespasian gave way to wrath in his descendants, so that the Church was bloodied and bruised. The book of Revelation was written during this time -- and it reflects the dreadful persecution of Domitian. He was, after all the "beast" who opposed the Church and killed its members.

The mad emperor erected statues of himself in many temples and cities and ordered that he be worshipped. When the Christians refused, their property was seized and their lives were taken; or they were exiled. Nevertheless, the Church continued to expand. Before the year 66 there were around 40,000 Christians in the empire. By 100 AD there were 80,000 in Asia Minor, and 320,000 in the empire. An incredible growth rate that has never been surpassed or even equaled.

The history of the Jews in Palestine, however, was not brought to an end in 70. There was a second rebellion in 115 and the third and final rebellion took place in 132 and was led by Simon bar Kochba. Both of these rebellions were quickly squelched by the Romans, and the Jewish state was brought to an end (until the 20th century).

The Church continued to expand, so that by the time of Bar Kochba, it was found in every part of the empire and had even sent missionaries as far as India, England, and Spain. The tandem history of the Jews and the Christians would continue to the present, and will no doubt continue in the future.