Jesus received the classical education of the Roman upper class in Rome from 8 to 4 BC, along with

Jerusalem, Via dolorosa
Jerusalem, Last Supper Room

Herod’s sons Archelaus, Antipas and Philip: Ant. 17.1.3; Luke 2:41ff.; cf. Acts 13:1. The Herodian princes were sent to Rome to continue their education around 8 BC. I assume that Jesus was also sent to Rome to study with them.

Herod and his sons needed capable administrators and diplomats who were loyal to the king and his family. A good education would have been the prerequisite for Jesus’ later career.

The story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple shows that traditions suggesting that Jesus was well-educated already existed.


Jesus was the son of an upper-class Jewish family: 1 Sam. 16; 1 Kings 19:19ff.; Luke 2:1ff. If Jesus had advanced from the lower class,

Jerusalem, Via dolorosa
Jerusalem, Via dolorosa

there should be stories about his social rise like those by Aesop, the Greek writer of the fables: see Wolfgang Müller (ed.): Das Leben Aesops, Leipzig 1974.

Jesus was brought up at King Herod’s court: 1 Sam. 16:14ff. The account of how David comes to King Saul’s court is a story about Jesus.

From his youth onwards, Jesus was friends with Herod’s son Antipas: 1 Sam. 18:1-4. The stories about David and Jonathan relate to Jesus and Antipas.


Antipas appears in Christian tradition in the accounts of the star and the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem,

Israel, St. George's Monastery
Israel, St. George’s Monastery

though his name is not mentioned.

It was Antipas whose future kingship was indicated by the appearance of the star, according to the astrologers, and Antipas who escaped the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem.

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5.1.3.Antipas was the natural candidate for the title Messiah. Messiah is a Jewish title for king, and after his brother Archelaus was banished


Galilee, date palm
Galilee, date palm

Galiläa, Dattelpalmein 6 AD, Antipas was the highest-ranking member of Herod’s family, the ruling dynasty, so he had a claim to the highest title, that of king or Messiah.

Antipas was an educated monarch: he had studied in Rome; he had diplomatic skills; he brought prosperity and civil rights to Galilee and Perea, the areas that he ruled.

His subjects’ lives were much better than those of their parents – an important benchmark – and they lived in a community ruled by a Jewish king; the Roman Empire did not weigh on the citizens.


In thesis 2.2.1 the first part of the story of Joseph was interpreted to depict Jesus’ life up to his death. Joseph

Nablus, Joseph's tomb
Nablus, Joseph’s tomb

(= Jesus) was killed by his brothers and buried. Under Agrippa the story continues: the next episode states that Joseph (now to be taken as representing Agrippa) was not killed; instead he was simply imprisoned and must now travel to a distant country, Egypt (= Rome).

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In the Old Testament writings, Antipas’ achievements are depicted in a positive light in three narrative threads. (1) The Moses narrative

Gerizim, modern place of sacrifice
Gerizim, modern place of sacrifice

from Exodus 1 tells of how Antipas (= Moses) frees the people of Israel (= Galilee) from the rule of Pharaoh (= Herod) who was active in building on a large scale and demanded enforced labour. Pharaoh also hoped to kill Moses. The parallels to the narrative of the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem are very clear.

(2) 2 Samuel describes the period of David’s (= Antipas) rule. Antipas’ concern to create a religious focal point for his princedom is documented in the narrative about the Ark of the Covenant and brought to a positive conclusion.

(3) An essential feature of a stable government at that time was that the succession should be regulated. In 2 Sam. 7, Yahweh speaks through the prophet Nathan to assure David (= Antipas) that his rule will continue through his biological descendants.


III  1 Looking for a state religions

After Herod’s death in 4 BC, the Emperor Augustus divided the kingdom among Herod’s sons. Antipas was allocated

Mosul, Jonas mosque
Mosul, Jonas mosque

Galilee and Peraea, an area with a large Jewish population. However, the Yahweh temple in Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish religious practice, was outside his princedom.

To weld his princedom together, Antipas required an ideology, either a religion or a cultural idea to legitimise his claim to rule and to give a sense of community to the mainly Jewish population.


Herod is presented in the Old Testament in several ways, always at the start of the actual story. He is Jacob the ancestor


with the many sons representing the tribes (= regions or successor states to Herod’s kingdom); he is Solomon, builder of the temple, after whose death the kingdom fell apart into a northern and southern kingdom, as it did after Herod’s death.

However, Herod is also the Pharaoh in Exodus 1f, who compelled the Israelites to forced labour on his great building programme (Exod. 1:11), as Herod did in reality, and who was out to kill Moses, as Herod killed both the children in Bethlehem in Matt. 2, and his own sons.

Herod is also Saul, the first king of Israel, chosen by God and later rejected, whose dynasty failed and who lost the kingdom to David (= Jesus).


Roman rule denied Herod the chance to expand his power by military means; the money he saved


through not building up armies and going to war was invested in great buildings in Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima and other locations in Palestine. The most significant of these projects was the construction of the Herodian temple in Jerusalem, including the expansion of the temple plateau.

Herod was an absolute monarch. He was bound to Rome as a client king in foreign policy terms, but within his kingdom he had absolute power. His historical image is initially based on the positive depiction of him as an active ruler by Nikolaos of Damascus, whose writings are partly preserved as copies in Josephus’ account of The Jewish War. (Bell. 1, 31-2, 116).

When the situation in Rome changed and Emperor Nero appeared as a tyrant, Herod was also presented as a tyrant by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews) and in Matt. 2.


II  5  The Jewish family: Herod the Great

The traditional narrative portrays Herod

Iraq, Mar Behnam monastery
Iraq, Mar Behnam monastery

as a tyrant in relation to the massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem, and mentions the construction of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem.

My theses about Herod the Great: with his kingdom in Palestine, Herod the Great (39 – 4 BC) created the basis for Jewish unity and the Jewish advance as a cultural power.

Before Herod’s kingship, only individual Jewish regions existed. Herod united the Jewish regions in Palestine within his kingdom, as well as paying attention to the Jews in the Diaspora in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

After Herod’s death the political union collapsed, but the cultural unity was maintained.


II  4   The Jews’ secret love: the Parthians

In the traditional narrative about Judaism and early Christianity, the Parthians

Hatra, camel statue
Hatra, camel statue

are only mentioned in passing. In my theses on Judaism and early Christianity, the Parthians have a significant role as opponents to the Romans.

In the 1st century AD the Jews lived under Roman rule but the influence of the Parthians, their powerful Eastern neighbours, was always felt. The Parthians had collaborated with the Jewish nobility in 40 BC to drive out Herod and support his rival Antigonos the Hasmonean. Herod was forced to reconquer his kingdom in 39 – 36 BC.


In pre-Roman times, Judaism was shaped

Hatra, arched gateway
Hatra, arched gateway

by Eastern cultures; it was the encounter and exchange with the superior cultural power of Rome that gave it the cultural and religious dimensions we know today.

The Romans are presented in the Old Testament in various ways. Genesis 32f, the account of how Jacob reconciled with Esau, is a literary treatment of Herod’s subjection to Augustus. Herod had supported Mark Antony in the civil war with Augustus. After Augustus’ victory in the sea battle of Actium on 2 September 31 BC, Herod was forced to offer himself to Augustus as a reliable partner (Ant. 15, 6, 6f).

In the narrative of Samuel’s hunt for a king for Israel in 1 Sam. 8ff, Samuel appoints kings and deposes them. In the political reality, this role was taken by the Romans Pompey and Augustus. In this way, 1 Sam. 8ff shows that the Jews accepted Roman power as being installed by God.


Roman rule over the Middle East resulted in a unified political, economic and cultural area that can only be compared

Ctesiphon, ancient palace
Ctesiphon, ancient palace

to globalisation in modern times. The ban on maintaining a military capacity for the defence of their country resulted in a considerable improvement in living standards in Palestine. Herod the Great’s massive construction programme is typical of this effect.

Initially the new cultural opportunities opened up by the Romans were also eagerly used. This prosperity and cultural boom later led to Jewish nationalism, resulting in the Great Revolt that ended in disaster. In the first decades of the 1st century AD, however, this was far in the future.



The traditional narrative about the origin of Old Testament writings states that the Old Testament texts were written

Cairo, old synagogue
Cairo, old synagogue

during the pre-Hellenistic period of the kingdoms of Judea and Israel, with later additions, and were mostly complete by the time of Jesus. Parallels between Jesus’s story and Old Testament texts occurred because the New Testament writers applied the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament to Jesus.

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Public buildings: Herod the Great competed with the Romans in the field of public buildings. He had fortresses, cities, harbours,

Thebes West, Hatshepsut
Thebes West, Hatshepsut

temples and theatres built all over the country. He had the temple area of the Jerusalem temple enlarged to match the dimensions of the Forum Romanum, the inner-city temple district in Rome.

National Literature: During the time of Herod’s successors, the Jews started to compete with Rome in the field of literature. Up to then, they had no written cultural tradition; now they created a new national literature, the writings we know as the Old Testament. They oriented their writing on Roman texts of the republican period that were still much admired in the imperial period.