The Exaltation of Jesus and Others - Thirty Exalted Others


4.   Other Middle-Easterners Exalted Within the NT

Jesus Christ was clearly the most highly exalted man in the NT, but other NT men were also exalted in lesser ways.  Here are fifteen other Palestinians, or groups of Palestinians, who were exalted within the NT, in the times of Jesus.

Each name is followed by the dates (or approximate dates) of their religious activities, such as (28-67 CE).  The dates are then followed by the codes defined in Section 1.2 showing the form(s) of their exaltation, such as PF (prophet with followers), H (healings), DG (deemed great) etc.  The last code(s) is/are the sources of the information, namely NT, Jos, Jew or Hist.  The list is in chronological order.

4.1       Theudas I    (ca 3 CE)    PF KM    NT Hist

This Theudas is listed in the same NT passage as Judas the Galilean, namely Acts 5.35-39, as presented in the following Section 4.2.  Since the passage says he preceeded Judas the Galilean, we estimate that he may have been active ca 3 CE.   Josephus tells of another Theudas; we call him Theudas II and present his story in Section 4.12.

4.2       Judas the Galilean    (6 CE)    PF     NT Jos

In Acts 5:35-39, the respected Pharisee Gamaliel spoke against harming Peter and other apostles:  “Then he [Gamaliel] said to them, ‘Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men.  For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared.  After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census* and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered.  So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’ ”

* the Bible footnote says “Judas the Galilean led a revolt against the census of Quirinius ca. 6 CE.”  According to Josephus he was also known as Judas of Gamala (AJ 18.1.1#4; JW also) [CE2, 175], [ZIBD, Judas (2), 782]. [Bdict, Theudas, 1038]   [JDC1, 161-2 ].

4.3       John the Baptist    (28-29 CE)    PF DG R*    NT Jos

Before the birth of John, his father Zechariah, a priest, saw the angel Gabriel in a vision.  Gabriel said to him that his wife Elizabeth would bear him a son, who “will be great in the sight of the Lord… even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and will have the spirit and power of Elijah.”  Lk 1.11-17 (DG) .

John preached ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,’ and offered baptism for the remission of sins.  All four evangelists depict John as a popular figure with disciples of his own and heard by ‘all the country of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem’ (Mk 1.5) or by ‘multitudes’ (Lk 3.7, 10).  Josephus’ history of the Jews (AJ 18.116-19) gives a little more text to John than to Jesus [PF2, 152-3].

There were stories that after King Herod Agrippa had John beheaded, he was resurrected:

Mk 6.14b reads “Some were saying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead;”  Then Mk 6.16 continues “But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

4.4       Peter    (28 – 67 CE)    PF H M* DD* R KM    NT

St. Peter, St. Peter’s Square, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1 Cor 1.12 Peter has his own following. (PF)   Peter healed a crippled beggar at the temple (Acts 3.1-10) and a paralytic in Lydda (Acts 9.32-34) and others elsewhere; his healings were done in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. (H)  In Acts 5.19-20 he is freed from the High Priest’s ‘public prison’ when an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors; and in Acts 12.7-11 Peter is delivered from Herod’s prison by an angel, who released his chains and led him to safety.  (M*)

Chapter 10 of Acts tells the story of how Peter was summoned to Caesarea by the centurion Cornelius.  When he arrived, Cornelius,  “falling at his feet, worshipped him.  But Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal.” (vv.25-26).  (DD*)  In Acts 9.36-43 he resuscitated Tabitha from her apparent death (R).  Peter was martyred by crucifixion in Rome, under Emperor Nero, ca 67 CE [Bdict, 784] (KM).  Peter also had a vision from God (Acts 10.10-20).  Finally, he also made a significant contribution to bringing the word to the gentiles. (Acts 10.44-48; 15.7-9).

4.5       The Twelve Disciples    (28ff CE)    H X    NT

Luke 9.1 reads “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”   Mark 6.13 says “They [the twelve] cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  Similarly, post-Easter, the apostles continued to perform many healings and exorcisms (ex: Acts 5.12-16).

4.6       Sons of the Pharisees    (29 CE)    X    NT

In Mt. 12.27, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists [Greek sons] cast them out?

4.7       Stephen    (31-33 CE)    H DG KM    NT

Stephen was a Hellenistic Christian apologist and the first Christian martyr.  According to Acts 6.8, “Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Later on, he was stoned to death because of his teachings about Jesus (Acts 7.54-60).  Saul (later St. Paul) watched and approved of the stoning, which was done before he had his conversion experience [ZIBD, Stephen, 1392-3].

4.8       Paul    (34-67 CE)    PF H X M* DG DD* KM    NT

St. Paul by Ludwig Moroder. Wikimedia Commons.

As the greatest promoter of Christ to the gentiles, Paul had many followers (Ex: Barnabus, Titus, Silas, Timothy, etc) (PF).  He performed many healings (Acts 14.8-10; 28.8-9) and exorcisms (Acts 16:18) (H & X).  Paul and Silas were released from prision in the city of Phillipi by a miraculous earthquake (Acts 16.23-27) (M*).  “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19.11-12)  (H&X & DG).

Acts 28:3-6 records Paul’s viper-on-the-hand incident on Malta.  Verse 6 says “They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.”  (DD*).  See also Section 4.13 which tells the story of Paul and Barnabus both being seen as gods (DD*). He was martyred in Rome ca 67 CE (KM).

4.9       Philip    (ca 35 CE)    PF H X M*    NT

The story of the apostle Philip is told in Acts 8.4-40.   In the city of Samaria, Philip had an enthusiastic following (vv. 6-8), performed both healings and exorcisms (v.7), and baptized Simon Magus (v.13).

Philip also preached to an Ethiopian eunuch whom he then converted and baptized (vv. 26-39).  Amazingly “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.  But Philip found himself at Azotus, …” (vv.39-40).  The Bible footnote says that Azotus is a city twenty-two miles north of Gaza near the Mediterranean coast, so this instantaneous transportation should be called a miracle (M*).

4.10     Simon Magus, the magician    (ca 40 CE)   PF DG    NT

The story of Simon Magus, the magician in Samaria, is told in Acts 8.9-24.  Simon was a magician with a following (vv. 9-11), they said ‘this man is the power of God that is called Great (v10).  Simon converted, but perhaps only nominally (v.13), and he offered money to be given the power of bestowing the Spirit by the laying on of hands (vv.18-19).  [ZIBD, 1366], [Bdict, 964].

4.11     Herod Agrippa    (ca 42 CE)    DD*    NT

The story of Acts 12:20-23  says that Herod Agrippa was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon – two coastal cities north of Galilee.  So they came to him in a body, asking for reconciliation.  He put on his royal robes and addressed them, and “The people kept shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!’” They were acclaiming him as a god.

4.12     Theudas II    (44 CE)    PF KM    Jos

Josephus tells the story of Theudas II  in AJ 20.97-98 (i.e. AJ 20.5.1 ##97-98).  “A certain imposter named Theudas persuaded the majority of the masses to take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan River.  He stated that he was a prophet and that at his command the river would be parted and would provide them an easy passage.  With this talk he deceived many.  Fadus [ca 44-46 CE] , however, did not permit them to reap the fruit of their folly, but sent against them a squadron of cavalry.  They fell upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many prisoners.  Theudas himself was captured, whereupon they cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem.”

Comments on the two different men named Theudas:  There are two references to a ‘Theudas’ who took his many followers to the river Jordan and promised he would part the waters.  Acts 5 has a Theudas who preceeds Judas the Galilean of 6 CE; and Josephus has a Theudas with the same story, but executed by the Romans ca. 44 CE, well after the time of Judas the Galilean and after the time of Gamaliel’s speech about Peter.  Here are three different comentaries on the contradictory dates: (1) The Bible footnote to Acts 5.36 says “Either Luke and Josephus refer to different persons which seems unlikely, or one of them is incorrect.”  (2) The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary [Bdict, Theudas, 1038] says “This discrepancy in the date for Theudas (NT: prior to 6 CE; Josephus, 44 CE) remains unresolved.” (3) The alternative explanation, that there are two different prophets named Theudas at different times, is argued by the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary [ZIBD, Theudas, 1451].  They also note that Josephus (AJ 17.10.4) mentioned “ten thousand other disorders” in Palestine, so that a second Theudas is likely [CE2, 440].

We believe there were two different prophets named Theudas and present Theudas I the Galilean in Section 4.1 and Theudas II here in Section 4.12.

4.13     Barnabus    (46+ CE)    H DD*    NT

During his first missionary journey (46-48 CE [Bdict, 758]) Paul healed a cripple at Lystra, in Asia Minor (Acts 14:8-13).  “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabus they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.”

The footnote says that this misunderstanding is based on Ovid’s Latin masterpiece, Metamorphoses 8,611-727, where the Gods Zeus and Hermes (equivalent to Ovid’s Roman Jupiter and Mercury) appear in the guise of two men.  Paul and Barnabas strongly opposed this interpretation of the healing, declared themselves to be mortal, and taught about Jesus Christ.  Verse 18 finishes the story with “Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”

4.14     Itinerant Jewish exorcists    (51 CE)    X    NT

According to Acts 19.13-14, while Paul was in Ephesus, “some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.”  These attempts failed.  Paul first visited Ephesus during his second missionary journey, in 50-52 CE.  These are similar to the ‘sons of the Pharisees’ in Section 4.6 but those were competing with Jesus while these were trying to co-opt the power of Jesus.

4.15     A Jew from Egypt    (ca 56 CE)    PF    NT Jos

Josephus also described “Another who ‘gained for himself the reputation of a prophet,’ a Jew from Egypt, who led a multitude to converge on Jerusalem.  He met his followers at the Mount of Olives.  At his command, he promised, the walls of the city would collapse.  Felix’s soldiers slew four hundred of them and took two hundred prisoners, but the Egyptian himself escaped.  (AJ 20.8.6#168-72; BJ 2.13.5#261-63).”  This Jew from Egypt is the one mentioned in Acts 21.38, when a tribune talking to Paul says “Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?”  Crossan thinks that this association with the Sicarii (‘assassins’) is a conflation [JDC1, 165].  The Bible footnote says “The Egyptian, the leader of a revolt against Rome ca 52-59 CE; although the rebellion was quelled, the Egyptian leader escaped.” [CE2, 440-41] [ZIBD, 394]

5.   Other Middle-Easterners Exalted Outside the NT

These eight middle-easterners were exalted in texts outside the Bible, mostly in Josephus’ two books: Antiquities of the Jews (AJ), and the Jewish Wars (JW) also known as Bellum Judaica (BJ).  All of his books are online at  https://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/j#a1050 .  Josephus describes many of these men as false prophets; some of them wanted to be the kingly messiah.  Most had followers and were seen by the Romans as trouble makers.  Our main sources for this Section are Crossan [JDC1] and Evans [CE2], who give the references to Josephus.

5.1       Samaritan Prophet    (36 CE)    PF    Jos

Josephus, in JA 18.85-87, tells the story of the anonymous Samaritan prophet [JDC1, 160-1].   The short version is: “A man who made light of mendacity and in all his designs catered to the mob, rallied them [the Samaritans], bidding them go in a body wih him to Mount Gerizim (their sacred mountain).  He assured them that on their arrival he would show them the sacred vessels which were buried there, where Moses had deposited them.  ….before they could ascend the mountain, Pilate blocked their projected route up the mountain with cavalry and infantry.  Many were killed and Pilate put to death the principal leaders.”  Pilate’s overreaction was reported to Vitellius, the Syrian legate, who sent Pilate to Rome in 36 CE, where he was never heard from again [CE2, 439] [JDC1, 160-1].

5.2       Prophets under Governor Felix    (ca 55 CE)    PF DG    Jos

Paula Fredriksen [PF2, 150] describes how Josephus said that “Under Felix [the Roman governor of Judea] (52-59 CE) prophets arose – ‘deceivers and imposters’ in Josephus’ view – who agitated Jerusalem by ‘fostering revolutionary changes’ under ‘false claims’ of divine inspiration.  Attracting large crowds, these prophets led their followers out into the desert to receive from God ‘tokens of deliverance.’ ”  (BJ 2.259; cf. AJ 20.168) [CE2, 440 bottom].

5.3       Hanina ben Dosa    (ca 65 CE)    PF H M* DG    Jew

Hanina ben Dosa was a miracle worker who lived a generation after Jesus but prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.  Because of his miracles he was called a rabbi, though he never was one.  His miracles included prayer which: helped a number of sick people to live; revived the sick son of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai (with whom he was studying); and revived the sick son of Rabban Gamaliel.  Another story is of the lizard that bit his foot and died.  People said “woe to the lizard which R. Hanina b. Dosa meets!”  He was compared favorably to Elijah.  Once again the story underwent several retellings and reinterpretations.  He is said to have made the rain start or stop through prayer.  A tradition calls Hanina a ‘man of rank’ who had the favor of heaven.  His story has many parallels to the story of Jesus.  The rabbis turned the ‘magic’ into ‘prayer’ and the ‘magician’ into a rabbi.  [CE2, 425-7]  [JDC1, 148-56] [Sage, 97]  [Talmud & Jewish sources].

5.4       The false prophet at the burning of the Temple    (ca 70 CE)    PF    Jos

In his Jewish Wars (BJ 6.283-286) Josephus describes the death of 6000 people in the final stages of the burning of the temple in 70 CE: “Of that vast number there escaped not one.  Their destruction was due to a false prophet who that very day had declared to the people in the City that God commanded them to go up into the Temple to receive the signs of their deliverance.” [JDC1, 166] [PF2, 275]

5.5       Apollonius of Tyana    (ca 70-90 CE)   PF H DG DD* R A*

Probably Apollonius of Tyana; marble, ca 200 CE, from Gortys.  Wikimedia Commons.

Apollonius of Tyana, ca 15-97 CE, was a real historical figure, born and raised in Tyana, an ancient city in Cappadocia, a region within modern Turkey.  His story, the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, was  written by Philostratus the Elder and finished ca 225 CE.  Parts of the story are considered either exaggerated or fictitious.

Here is what four sources say about him.  The applicable exaltation codes ((PF), (H) etc.) are included in parentheses.

(1)  Apollonius is discussed by the historian, Jona Lendering, in a series of nine short articles found online at  https://www.livius.org/articles/person/apollonius-of-tyana/  .  Lendering’s critical evaluation of the strength of the evidence for each claim leads to this summary:  “Stated briefly, it is almost certain that Apollonius lived in the second half of the first century, was a magician and cured several people (H).  Probably, he adhered to the neo-Pythagorean philosophy, and published the books On astrology and On sacrifices. This may have brought him into conflict with the institutionalized religion and philosophy.”
(2)   From the Wikipedia article on Apollonius of Tyana [W/ApoT] we learn that he was born circa 15 CE at Tyana, Cappadocia, into a respected and wealthy Greek family.  He died circa 100 CE in Crete.  He was an orator, Neopythagorean philosopher and mathematician.  A statue of him is in the Heraklion Aechaeological Museum in Crete (DG).  His primary biographer, Philostratus the Elder, wrote the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, ca 225 CE in eight volumes – that book says his dates are ca 3 to 97 CE.   Julia Domna, the wife of  Emperor Septimius Severus (193 to 211), sponsored the book and popularized Apollonius and his teachings in Rome.  Julia’s son, the Emperor Caracalla (198-217 CE) worshipped Apollonius (DD*).  The Roman emperors Severus (222-235 CE) and Aurelian (270-275 CE) also revered him as divine [BE3b, 14]. The contents of the book were based on Philostratus’ interviews with eyewitnesses and the memoirs of Damis, one companion to Apollonius.  Philostratus describes Apollonius as a wandering teacher of philosophy and miracle-worker who was mainly active in Greece, Asia Minor and Rome.  Apollonius had students in his own school (PF).  Philostratus implies that upon his death, Apollonius of Tyana underwent heavenly assumption (A*).  Collections of his letters exist and some of the letters are considered authentic and some forgeries or fiction.
(3) Bart Ehrman describes the life of Apollonius in a manner that shows many parallels to the story of Jesus [BE3a, 11-12] [BE3b, 9-18].  His version has extra details not found elsewhere, such as raising someone from the dead (also mentioned as part of the legend by Fredricksen [PF2, 113]) (R) a birth accompanied by unusual divine signs in the heavens, and his alleged ascension to heaven (A*).
(4) Oxford historian Diarmaid  MacCulloch points out that church historian Eusebius of Caesarea wrote an attack on Apollonius a century later, since Apollonius was seen as being in competition with Christ [Chr, 169].  Ehrman agrees, saying that both groups of followers could point to the authoritative written accounts of their leader’s life to win the argument.  “Hierocles, one of the main instigators of the persecution of Christians in 303 AD, wrote a pamphlet where he argued that Apollonius exceeded Christ as a wonder-worker and yet wasn’t worshipped as a god, and that the cultured biographers of Apolloniius were more trustworthy than the uneducated apostles.”

5.6       Jonathan the Refugee and Weaver    (ca 73 CE)    PF    Jos

Jonathan the refugee and weaver persuaded many of the poorer jews to follow him out into the desert, ‘promising to show them signs and aparitions.’  (JW.7.11.1.439-442; JW 6.437-450.  Life 76.424-425) [CE2, 441]

5.7       King Lukuas-Andreas of Cyrenaia    (115-7 CE)    DG    Hist

When Emperor Trajan was occupied fighting the Parthinians, 115-117 CE, a wave of rebellion led by the Zealots swept through Cyrenaica, Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia.  The Cyrenaican rebellion was led by the Cyrenian “King” or “Messiah”, Lukuas (or Andreas), who regarded himself as the true messiah.   He attacked several cities before the Romans defeated and executed him.  [Bency, 161] [CE2, 436] [EH]

5.8       Simon Bar Kochba (Kosiba)    (131-5 CE)    PF DG    Jew

A Jewish guerrilla warfare rebellion against the Romans began quietly in 131 CE under the leadership of Simon bar Kosba.  Alternative spellings of his name are Shimon/Simeon/Simon   bar/Bar/ben   Kochba/ Kockba/Kokhba/Kosba/Kosiba/Kusiba.  The rebels conquered Jerusalem and ruled there for two years.  The leader made sure all able-bodied farmers had land, and took measures against both profiteers and slackers.  From 133 to 135 CE the Romans slowly took back one area after another.

The Jewish sages, headed by Rabbi Akiba, the leading Jewish luminary of the day, saw him as the messiah who would restore their national independence.  They changed his original name to the Aramaic Bar Kochba, ‘son of a star’, following a tradition of Numbers 24.17, which says “a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.”  Some Rabbis and Eusebius opposed him, saying he was a murderer.  The Talmud, for instance, refers to Bar Kokhba as “Ben-Kusiba,” a derogatory term indicating that he was a false Messiah.   Most Jewish and Christian leaders did not accept his messianic claim, and the few relevant documents extant do not support the claim either.  [IG1, 110-13] [CE2, 437-8].  [Bency, 162, 166]
Craig Evans notes that “Following the defeat of Simon in 135 CE it would be three centuries before the reappearance of messianic fervor.” [CE2, 442].  This messianic period was truly over!

6.   Exalted Caesars of the Times

6.1       Introduction

In our previous Section 1.4, we showed how the distinction between mortals and men who were seen as gods was not a strong distinction in the thinking of those ancient peoples.       Thus, turning qualified and worthy emperors into gods would be acceptable in the Greco-Roman world.

The word ‘emperor’ comes from the Latin imperator, one who gives orders.  Starting with Augustus Caesar, the words ‘emperor’ and ‘Caesar’ were nearly synonymous.   Though the Caesars were not from Palestine, these Roman Emperors did have a religious influence there, through temples and requirements for sacrifices to be made to them by all citizens.  Their dates of reigning are taken from two sources: [Bible, Table of Emperors, 2107] and [SPQR, Timeline, 563-72].

The list below includes nine Caesars pre- and  post-Easter: the six who were made divine are numbered (ex: 6.2) and included in the above table; the other three are also of some interest.

Here are a number of facts about divine Roman emperors:

  • The usual process was for the Roman senate to confer divinity on sufficiently meritorious emperors at the time of their death.
  • Official deification entitled one to to a temple and priests and the receiving of sacrifices.
  • Historian Mary Beard puts it more precisely, saying that it was usually the numen, or the ‘power’, of the living emperor that received sacrifice, not the emperor himself [SPQR, 431].
  • Apart from the performance of token rituals and the bestowal of grandiose titles, no real ‘religion’ ever developed around the emperors; acts of ‘worship’ were seen as acts of patriotism. [Bdict, 241].
  • Craig Evans reports that there is one ancient papyrus that lists the sacrifices and celebrations throughout the year for several deified emperors, including Augustus, Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Antonius [CE2, 307].
  • Evans also presents a list of Greco-Roman Regal Inscriptions, which were displayed in public places. Some of them praised and honoured the Roman emperors who were called Gods.  These are more than mere flattery; they are meant to underscore the legitimacy of absolute rule.  [CE2, 311-12].
  • “In 112 CE, Pliny, Trajan’s legate in Bithynia and Pontus, required Christians, as a test of loyalty, to offer wine and incense before a statue of Trajan.” [Bdict, emperor cult, 240].
  • A number of female relatives of emperors were also deified by the senate, including the wives of both Augustus and Nero [SPQR, 428-9].

6.2       Julius Caesar    (49-44 BCE)    DD*   Hist

Julius Caesar was a virtual dictator in Rome from 49 to 44 BCE.  [Bdict, Caesar, 112].  Although he was assasinated in 44 BCE, he was only poshumously deified by the Roman senate in 42 BCE.  [Bdict, 240].   He was given the status of a god, with his own temple in the Forum.

6.3       Augustus Caesar    (31 BCE – 14 CE)    DD* A*   NT Hist

Augustus Caesar of Prima Porta.  Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.  Wikimedia Commons.

Octavian, the grand nephew of Julius Caesar, was adopted by Julius at age 18 in his will.  Since Julius was a god, Octavian was considered divi filius, the son of a god.  After 27 BCE, he adopted the new title Augustus, which has a meaning similar to ‘revered one.’  [SPQR, 340]

He is called the first of the Roman Emperors; from his rule on, the titles Caesar and Emperor were virtually synonymous.  After a brutal start, he became a much better ruler, and a model for future rulers.  He is credited with establishing the Pax Romana.  The NT only mentions him once, as the emperor under whose reign Jesus was born (Lk 2.1).

The Roman Province of Asia had inscriptions refering to his “benefaction of mankind,” and for his being “a savior who put an end to war and established all things.”  They also said “the birthday of the god [Augustus] marked for the world the beginning of good tidings through his coming.” [BE3b, 34].

A praetor swore under oath that he had witnessed Augustus’ ascent into heaven, but he was rewarded by Augustus’ wife, Livia, with a large cash reward. [SPQR, 432].  Ehrman’s version of the same story only says the claim was that he saw “Augustus’ image ascending to the sky.”  Augustus’ influence is indicated by the fact that for the next century all the emperors included ‘Augustus’ as one of their imperial titles, and they inherited his personal signet ring, passed down through the line of emperors.  After death, he was deified by the Roman senate [Bible, table of emperors, 2107].

Tiberius Caesar (14-37 CE)  the adopted son of Augustus, was the next emperor, one who was not made divine.  His name is included in this list only because the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus both began “in  the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” (circa 28 CE)  (Lk 3.1).  Tiberius appointed and later removed Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea.  When the Pharisees’ questioned Jesus about paying taxes (Matt 22.15-22; Mark 12.14-17; Luke 20.20-26) they showed him a denarius.  The Bible footnote says the coin would have born an image of the emperor’s head, and if recent, would have borne the title Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus.”  Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees was “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Emperor Gaius Caligula (37-41 CE) was callous, violent, and politically foolish to the point where his assassination after only four years of rule was welcomed by other leaders [SPQR, 395].  He insisted on being worshipped during his reign [PF2, 86].  He offended the Jews in 40 CE by ordering his Syrian legate Petronius to erect a huge statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple.  Petronius’ stalling tactics sufficed to delay the installation of the statue until after Caligula’s death, when the issue was dropped. [PF2, 174].

6.4       Claudius Caesar    (41-54 CE)     DD*    NT Hist

Two of his early edicts, ca 43 CE, granted the Jews religious toleration, exemption from military service, and partial self-government [ZIBD, 291].  The Roman historian Suetonius reports that Claudius “banshed from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.” (Life of Claudius).  Many scholars think that ‘Chrestus’ could be a misspelling of the Latin ‘Christos” [Bdict, Claudius, 139].   At Corinth, Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla, Jews who had come there ‘because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.’ (Acts 18.2)  He was deified by the Roman senate [Bible, table of emperors, 2107] and “he had priests and a temple, the remains of which have been excavated.” [SPQR, 433].

Emperor Nero (54-68 CE)  appeared on coins as a ‘god’ wearing the crown of a deified emperor.  [Bdict, 241]

6.5       Emperor Vespasian    (69-79 CE)    H DG DD*    Jos Hist

Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty, in his campaign to become Emperor, produced eyewitness accounts for his miracles performed at the Temple of Serapis in Alexandria. These miracles of healing a blind man and the withered hand of another man, were intended to prove he was also a god, which was later confirmed by the Senate after he became emperor [SPQR, 417].  In 67 CE, he started to subdue the Jewish revolt, but was called to Rome to be the new Emperor, in 69 CE.  His son Titus finished the job of  subjugating the Jews.  According to Josephus, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem both Vespasian and Titus were proclaimed Jewish Messiahs by some people [ZIBD, 1507].  “On his deathbed he said ironically, ‘I suppose I am becoming a god.’ [SPQR, 432]  At his death he was deified by the senate. [Bible, table of emperors, 2107].  His two sons, first Titus and then Domitian, succeeded him as Emperor.

6.6       Emperor Titus    (79-81 CE)    DD*    Hist

Titus, the son of Vespasian, completed his father’s war with a victory over the Jews in Jerusalem in 70 CE.  This victory is honored by the Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome, and is illustrated in our Greco-Roman Influences page.  Rome’s Colosseum was mostly built by Vespasian over ten years, but finally it was dedicated by Titus.   He was deified by the Roman senate at his death [Bible, table of emperors, 2107]

6.7       Emperor Domitian    (81-96 CE)    DD*    Hist

He was the second son of Vespasian to become emperor, after his brother Titus.  He was deified by the Roman senate at his death, but claimed divinity while living [Bible, table of emperors, 2107].

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