Judas was one
of the inner circle of disciples that followed Jesus as he traveled around the
country, teaching and preaching. Judas was in charge of the finances of the group:
he kept account of the money and worked out how to spend it to best
advantage. Something worth noting is that the men and women who traveled with
Jesus trusted Judas with the money.
Then, in that fateful Passover week, Judas did the unthinkable. He colluded with
the authorities so that they could arrest Jesus - and what's more, did it for
But is it that simple? Did he do it just for the money? Surely that's
unlikely. Someone trusted by everyone and exposed to Jesus' magnetism and ideals
couldn't have done what Judas did just for money.
So why did he do it? Was there some connection between the event immediately
beforehand, when Jesus attacked the money-changers in the Temple? Was there some
dreadful quarrel about the way that money ought to be used?
And did Judas act with Jesus' consent? The gospels and Acts are frustratingly
short on motive, and even worse on factual detail. They don't even agree on how
Judas died - was it by hanging, as Matthew says? Or in a horrible accident that
saw him crushed and disemboweled, as Acts describes? Judas' story raises more
questions than it answers.
(Matthew 10:4; 26:14ff; 27:3ff; John 12:4-6; 13:21-30; Acts 1:18-19)
'Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said "What will you give me if I betray him to you?"'
Pilate, Roman governor
Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea, appointed by the emperor Tiberius in 26AD. He lived in an official residence at the port of Caesarea, but went to Jerusalem at festival time - that is why he was there at the Passover festival when Jesus was arrested, put on trial, and crucified.
It was a difficult, combustible time, and Pilate was not a diplomat. The Roman letter-writer Philo describes him as 'a man of inflexible disposition, harsh and obdurate'.
Pilate's behavior towards the Jewish population was if anything designed to
encourage unrest and resentment. Jewish law forbad images of any kind, but when Pilate entered Jerusalem for the first time, he ordered the soldiers to carry their military standards, which bore the emperor's image. There was such an
outcry against this tactless action that Pilate eventually had to back down and remove the images from Jerusalem.
The gospels present him in a more favorable light, suggesting that he knew
that Jesus was innocent but was forced to condemn him. This may be true, but it is also a fact that the gospel writers were bending over backward, as they
told the story, to show the Romans in a good light. At the time they were writing, it was politically expedient to do so.
Pilate's brutal dispersion of a crowd of Samaritan pilgrims at Mount Gerizim
eventually brought about his downfall. The Samaritan leaders protested to his supervisor, Vitellius, and Pilate had to return to Rome to answer for his conduct. The emperor Caligula banished Pilate to Vienne in Gaul, where he died in 41AD.
'Pilate asked him "So you are a king?" Jesus answered "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him "What is the truth?"
Great, paranoid ruler
Herod the Great was full of
contradictions. He was shrewd, clever, far-sighted, but also cruel, paranoid,
and barbaric. He murdered his beautiful royal wife, the princess Mariamme, and
the two handsome sons he had with her, strangling them with a silken cord. But
he also kept 1st century Palestine out of trouble with the Romans, something
very few people could have done, and built cities, palaces and fortress whose
ruins still impress.
Did he order the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, at the time of Jesus'
birth, as Matthew narrates? There is no other evidence for this event, but it
would have been quite in character for Herod to do something like this. He saw
plots against him everywhere, and given the number of people he put to death
there were probably a fair few plots for him to fear. Certainly he was hated by
a great many people.
His greatest achievement - apart from switching sides at the right moment from
Mark Antony to Augustus - was the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This
mammoth task began in 19BC and took many decades to complete - Jesus, Mary and
Joseph saw a work in progress when they visited the Temple, and it is even
possible that Joseph may have worked on this or one of Herod's other mammoth
As Herod lay dying in terrible agony, he ordered that as soon his soldiers were
to execute several hundred popular officials, so that there would be a public
lamentation throughout the city at the moment of his death. Fortunately, his
sister countermanded the order - but the incident gives some idea of just how
his crazed mind worked.
For Herod's story, see 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous' at BIBLE PEOPLE: HEROD
Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated,
and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were
two years old or under.....' (Matthew 2:16)
of the Innocents', from the extraordinary artworks at Sacro Monte of Varallo
Antipas, 'the fox' as Jesus called him
Herod Antipas ruled over
Galilee for over 40 years, during the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He is famous as
the ruler who killed John the Baptist, and who slid out of trying and possibly
saving Jesus when he was on trial in Jerusalem.
Herod Antipas was one of the few sons of Herod the Great who survived his
father's paranoia, and he did this mainly because he was lazy or clever, or
possibly both - Jesus, an excellent judge of character, called him 'that
fox'. Jesus may have been referring to Herod's cunning, but foxes were
hated because they were needlessly destructive, killing more than they needed
When his father died, the Romans made Antipas ruler of Galilee and the
neighboring state of Perea, where the Baptist lived and preached.
Antipas' first wife was the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea. This marriage
lasted for a number of years, but then Antipas fell passionately in love with a
very unsuitable woman - the daughter of his dead half-brother Aristobulos who
had once been married to his half-brother Herod Philip. Marriage to the widow of
your brother was unlawful according to Jewish practice, and Herod and Herodias
were roundly condemned when they married - notably by John the Baptist. In the
volatile political situation of the time, John's criticism was seen as
potentially rebellious, and Herod and his wife and step-daughter Salome
engineered John's execution. They probably saw it as a relatively trivial
A few years later, when Antipas was in Jerusalem for Passover, a trouble-maker
called Jesus of Nazareth was sent to Antipas for assessment - since the man was
from Galilee, he fell under Antipas' jurisdiction. When Jesus refused to answer
his questions, Antipas mocked him and then returned him to Pilate. This was
typical of his reluctance to make any decision that could be potentially
dangerous to himself.
Antipas and Herodias were miffed when the Romans made her brother Herod Agrippa
a king - Herod was a ruler but not formally called 'king'. Antipas applied to
the current Roman emperor, Caligula, to be named a king, but Caligula responded
by stripping Antipas of everything he owned, exiling him to Gaul and giving all
his possessions to Herod Agrippa instead. To her credit, Herodias volunteered to
go with her husband Antipas into exile.
'But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her
whatever she might ask.
For Herod's story, see Bible