We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Ruling in the Shadow of Greatness: The Reign of Tiberius

In the institutions he had created and supported, Augustus left little doubt that the precedent of a single omnipotent ruler would continue. But it was unclear who the successor would be, and how the transition from one ruler to another would take place.

Augustus's relationship with his successor Tiberius had been tumultuous. They shared in glorious military successes and together mourned the death of an infant born to Tiberius and Augustus's daughter, Julia. But in the end there were suggestions that Tiberius was at best Augustus's reluctant choice as successor. The second-century historian Suetonius is aware of these reports, but his comments on Tiberius include quotations from Augustan correspondence that indicate a more positive attitude: “I beseech the gods that they will preserve you for us and allow you good health now and always, unless they despise the people of Rome” (Lives of the Caesars, Tiberius 21.6). Tacitus, who also wrote in the early second century, claims that Tiberius was chosen only because Augustus had “observed in him pride and ferocity, and sought to reflect honor to himself by the comparison” (Annales 1.10).

Whatever his motivation in choosing Tiberius, once Augustus died, his authority was transferred with relative ease. Tiberius had received a share of imperial power before the death of Augustus, and thus was the apparent successor. Both Suetonius and Tacitus speak of Tiberius's supposed reluctance to accept power, but after observing the proper rituals for the death of Augustus, the senate proclaimed Tiberius emperor. Opposition came from several of the northern legions, whose soldiers put forward their own general, Germanicus. Apparently Germanicus chose not to take advantage of his troops' support and pledged loyalty to his new emperor, thereby stemming the uprising. The incident did highlight the dependence of the emperor's power on control of the Roman army, and foreshadowed the significant role that the legions would play in choosing future rulers.

Tiberius took power amid expressions of joy and hope across the empire. So great were the accomplishments of Augustus that there was a naturally high level of expectation for his successor. In some provinces, that expectation was translated into spectacular divine honors. The Athenians honored Tiberius by rededicating to him a large monument in their central market (agora). An inscription on the monument base refers to the emperor as “the god Augustus” and “a benefactor of the city” (Inscriptiones Graecae II2 4209). For his part, Tiberius appears to have refused such honors for himself, but he did emphasize his divine connections by minting coins to the divinized Augustus that highlighted his own status as “son of god.”

Unfortunately, Tiberius did not fulfill these hopes. He succeeded in the sense of continuing the office and the practices of Augustus, but accomplished little on his own initiative. Suetonius describes him as a reluctant ruler who began by making sincere attempts to appease all his constituencies. But gradually, he succumbed to the pressures of governing such a vast empire. By the end of his reign, Tiberius was so obsessed with himself and his power that he reportedly engaged in all manner of immoral and depraved activities. At the same time, like Herod in Judea, he suffered from a destructive paranoia and ordered that all potential successors be put to death, including members of his own family. Eventually, Tiberius retreated permanently to the island of Capri.

Tiberius is also remembered for his cruelty toward religions outside the Roman mainstream. According to Suetonius, he went to great lengths to suppress Judaism and the Egyptian mystery rites, “ordering any who held such superstitious beliefs to burn all their religious vestments and instruments” (Tiberius 36). This opposition reflects a long-standing Roman suspicion of unusual religious activity, especially toward groups whose religious views tempered their enthusiasm toward the various expressions of piety that made up Roman religion. In this case, Egyptian cults eventually became a widely accepted part of the diverse religious practice in the empire, but the monotheistic Jews continued to be suspect.

The movement of Jesus followers that grew out of Judaism was in its infancy during Tiberius's later years. Tiberius and his representatives would have had neither the ability nor the desire to distinguish between Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah and the vast majority of Jews who did not. Any suppression of Judaism would have been felt equally by Jewish believers in Jesus, unless they had withdrawn from all of their traditional practices, which is unlikely at this early stage in the movement.

On the other hand, later Jesus followers were anxious to place their accounts of the early movement within the historical and chronological context of the Roman Empire. The Gospel of Luke was probably written around 90 CE, but the author was careful to detail the Roman power structure of an earlier age: Augustus as emperor and Quirinius as governor of Syria at the time of Jesus' birth, and Tiberius ruling when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 2.1–2; 3.1 ).

Whether Tiberius was as harsh with the Jews as Suetonius indicates, he and his advisers no doubt deliberately selected Pontius Pilate as governor in Judea. A governor's main duty was to oversee the emperor's interests in the territory, which included maintaining order and dealing with potential sources of sedition. Whatever else Jesus might have been saying and doing in Pilate's domain, his ability to keep a regular group of followers and to attract large crowds warranted close scrutiny. Although the New Testament condemns the Jewish authorities as responsible for Jesus' death, Pilate as the local voice of Roman authority would have needed little encouragement to eliminate any source of potential insurrection. Pilate's role in the execution of Jesus is recounted in vivid detail by the Gospel writers, but it is unlikely that a Roman governor would have become so directly involved in the execution of a criminal. Possibly, Pilate's deputies dealt with Jesus and notified their superior. In any case Pilate would have noted the elimination of a potential revolutionary and included Jesus' death in a regular report on activity in Judea. Tiberius, for his part, might have noted with satisfaction that the governor in Judea was doing his job.

Immediately after the death of Jesus, his followers must have been in a state of confusion and shock. Although the expectations for his mission differed, none could have anticipated the failure and death of their leader. Luke's portrayal of two disciples on the road to Emmaus captures this mood of disappointment. For Luke this disappointment is ironic, since the disciples are discussing their uncertainties in the light of Jesus' death, all the while talking with the resurrected Christ but not recognizing him (Luke 24.13–35 ). The belief that Jesus had risen served as the catalyst for the disciples to recover from their grief and begin spreading the good news throughout the Mediterranean world.

Luke also provides the only known record of this early mission in his second volume, Acts of the Apostles. Like the Gospels, Acts was written at least forty years after the death of Jesus, and decades of development within the movement influenced its account. It is impossible to know exactly what took place in those first years after the death of Jesus. Luke himself admits that he was not reporting as an eyewitness, but conveying oral tradition (Luke 1.1–2 ). What is clear is that the spreading of the message about Jesus was immensely successful. The combination of intentional proselytizing by individuals like Paul and the natural movement of believers meant that by the middle of the first century churches had been established in most of the major cities of the empire, including Rome.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2019. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice