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Roman Emperor at the Time of Jesus

Updated on January 19, 2015

How well do you know history.

On your honor, who did you believe was the Emperor at the time of Christ?

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Roman Emperor Tiberius

When it comes to early church history, the Roman Emperor Tiberius usually takes second stage to other well known Roman emperors such as Nero, Caligula, or Nero. Truthfully, not much attention is paid to that of Emperor Tiberius. Even though he ruled the Roman empire at the time of John the Baptist's beheading (as mention in the Gospel of Luke), and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

In recent years, the reign of Tiberius has been re-evaluated to that of a more favorable opinion. It was not until the later half of the twentieth century that historians, abandon the conclusion that Tiberius was a weak ruler. Nowadays, we know a much different Tiberius. One who was much like that of his stepfather Augustus Julius Caesar, formally named Gaius Octavius Thurinus, and one worthy to be called the great-grandnephew of Julius Caesar.

History has revealed that there are many parallels between the adoptive father (emperor) and his stepson. We now know that they were both absolute rulers, taking little advice from the Senate. They both believed in the ideals of a strong family unit, and enacted laws that were thought to strengthen the bonds of family values. It is written though that later in Tiberius' reign, he gave into the seedy world of sexual deviancy and debauchery.

It is worth noting that these findings have never been proven or supported, by any sort of historical or archaeological evidence. Because of this reason, I have a hard time believing there is much truth, in what was written about Tiberius, of his later years. It appears by all standards that Tiberius, has been the victim of a two thousand year smear campaign. The findings support a much different story. In truth he was a firm ruler, and to some groups of people, a cruel ruler.

The Roman Emperor at the Time of Christ

Tiberius | Source

Notes and Queries...

In "El Dichoso Desdichado, Poncio Pilato", Tiberius is looking for a miracle because he's dying. He hears about the miracle work of Jesus Christ, and summons Pontius Pilate to find Jesus, and too personally escort him to Rome. That is when Tiberius soon discovers that Jesus Christ was already dead, and that Pontius Pilate was the one responsible for having Christ crucified. This of course outrages the ailing Emperor, and so he sends for Pilate instead. The exact publish date of the play is unknown (to me) however, I think it was sometime in the year 1739 ce. The play was eventually introduced to a mass, English audience through a booklet published by Oxford University's press department in 1855 titled; "Notes and Queries".

Secret Meeting between Tiberius and Pontius Pilate

I found an interesting bit of information from the Catholic Encyclopedia website, about the Emperor Tiberius, and I quote:

"Shortly before his death, Tiberius recalled the procurator Pontius Pilate from Judea... Tiberius received a report concerning Christ ,and that he called upon the Senate to place Christ among the Roman Gods. The Senate rejected the request; Tiberius then threatened the accusers of Christ with punishment."

The text goes on to say that the story is not worthy of belief but, that the famed Roman historian Tertullian possibly knew of a document that may have supported this theory. Nobody of course knows for sure.

So what does the supporting evidence tell us?

Well..., from what I know I think the author of the article found on the Catholic website, must have fallen victim to some benign fictional history. In researching for this article, I discovered that in the eighteenth century the Spanish playwright, ade Don Juan de Espinosa Malagon y Valenzuela writes a comedy, about a supposed meeting between Emperor Tiberius and Pontius Pilate, after the crucifixion of Jesus. The play is titled, "El Dichoso Desdichado, Poncio Pilato."

The Outing of the Jews

It is also worth noting that this particular outing event has been linked to an embezzlement scheme, which involved the wife of nobleman who was a personal friend of Tiberius, and had nothing to do with the death of Jesus Christ at all, like the play suggests. However, the embezzlement scheme helped to form, Tiberius' tyrannical hatred of the Jewish community.

What Little History We Do Know

According to a historical account authored by the American and Latin scholar Elmer Merrill (1860—1936):

  • In the year 19 AD, Tiberius takes a drastic stance against the Jews, Egyptians, and Astrologers living in Rome. It is at this point in time, when Tiberius commissions a directive that forces tens of thousands of Egyptian cult members, Astrologers, and Jewish settlers to leave the city of Rome, and disbands all Egyptian cult activity, Astrology readings, and Jewish activity in Rome.
  • He even goes so far as to outlawed the Jewish faith within the city.
  • Some 4,000 Jewish men were forced into the military, and eventually sent to the pestilential island of Sardinia, overrun by diseased. Those that chose not to serve or refuse to renounce their faith and remain in the city, were gathered up and either sold into slavery, tortured, and killed.
  • All other Jewish sects were forced out of the city, and to my knowledge, the Hebrew historian Josephus, was the first to record the historical event in 97 AD. Although there are several different accounts, written by other known historians of this event.


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