Conclusion

In this chapter we have considered the life of Jesus and the spread of his new religion, later called Christianity, against the political unrest in the territory ruled by Herod the Great and his successors, client kings of Rome. Their rise to power coincided with the birth of the Roman Empire and their appointments were solely at the discretion of the emperors, whose interests they obligingly served. Inevitably, the secular and political interests of the Romans whom they served conflicted with the religious priorities of the Jews whom they governed. Forced to negotiate between what was politically expedient and what was permissible under religious law, the Herods were often at odds with their Roman rulers or their Jewish constituents. The life and ministry of Jesus, the self-proclaimed new Messiah, has implications for both sides of this conflict. As their long-awaited Messiah, the Jews hoped that Jesus would not only free the Jews from their Roman oppressors but also restore their nation to the golden days when devotion to Mosaic law was unequivocal.

Jesus was born under Herod the Great. He was baptized, and he preached and taught in the territory of Herod's son Antipas. By order of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate he was crucified. Evident in all the events of Jesus' life and in the reactions of the Herods and the Romans is the same tension between cultural secularism and religious orthodoxy that had characterized the conflict between the Maccabeans, the Jews, and their Hellenized rulers. Herod's extensive secular building program—"Roman" basilicas, theatres, and colonnades—was balanced by the construction of the most extravagant and splendid Temple ever built in Jerusalem. Yet the question of his orthodoxy always haunted his title and surfaced anew during the succession intrigues among his heirs. His order to slaughter all male children younger than two years of age aimed to prevent a new King of the Jews with a stronger claim to orthodoxy from claiming his throne. Likewise, when Antipas delivered the head of John the Baptist to his stepdaughter Salome in gratitude for her graceful dance at the banquet celebrating his birthday, he was ensnared in a similar struggle: whether to embrace the secularism that would have sanctioned his marriage to his brother's wife Herodias or the orthodoxy that prohibited it.

During the reigns of the two Agrippas, the same tension widened the divide between the Hellenized Christian Jews and the Hebrew Christian Jews in Jerusalem. One belonged to the intellectual and cultural environment of the Greco-Roman world, the synagogue, and the Septuagint while the other thought in terms of Jewish nationalism and a strict devotion to

Mosaic law and Temple cult. The persecutions under the Agrippas in these early years of the church illustrate the increasing resentment of the Jews who felt the oppressive hand of the Romans as they watched their religious traditions undercut by these new Christian Jewish sects.

More than any other cause, the shifting balance between cultural secularism and religious orthodoxy among the Jews, Romans, and Christians in Judea finally caused the incipient church to separate from Judaism and focus its missionary activities upon the gentiles and beyond the borders of Palestine, as far west as Rome.

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