What was society like at the time of Jesus?

Jesus of Nazareth, when assuming human nature, shared with the human race his story. This was marked by religious, political and cultural aspects. Thus, the Eternal enters time in a place marked by conflicts and turbulence on religious and political levels.

The chosen environment was ancient Canaan or Roman Palestine, which, at the time, had lived under the dictatorship of the Roman Empire since the 1st century BC, when it was invaded by General Pompeu. This empire oppressed the population through numerous impositions arising from various taxes, as well as through the culture of violence, making many Jews as slaves and accomplices of its corruption. The empire was aided by a well-formed army, which terrified the population even more. His worst tool was not the sword, but the crucifixion.

Thus, in Jesus’ time, brutality was part of everyday life. This was the geographical place where Jesus of Nazareth was born, lived and died, becoming a participant in the hopes and sufferings of His people.

For most of His earthly life, Jesus lived under the rule of Emperor Tiberius Caesar (14-37 AD). The functions of the local authorities in Roman Palestine were distributed as follows: Pontius Pilate ruled Judea; Herod Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee; and his brother, Filipe, tetrarch of Itureia. The high priests were Annas and Caiaphas.

Illustrative Photo: Wesley Almeida / cancaonova.com

Jewish existence was characterized mainly by religion. The presence of divergent political and religious groups was a reality arising from lasting conflicts between the religious authorities that made up Israel’s history.

What were the religious currents?

In the time of the Maccabees, around the year 152 BC, the religious currents that lasted during Jesus’ time arose, it was in this context in which He was born.

What is clear at the level of principles for those who, with Matatias, ‘are zealous for the Law and support the Alliance’ (1Mc 2.27), is less clear in practice: does fidelity to the Law require absolute fixism? And if a possible evolution is admitted, how far can it go? That is where the groups will diverge ”(cf SAULNIER; ROLLAND, 1983, p. 53).

Such religious currents operating at the time of Jesus are known as: Sadducees, Zealots, Pharisees, Essenes, Herodians and Baptist Movements. In summary, they are characterized as follows:

Sadducees – Centered on the Pentateuch, they despised the writings of the prophets. They denied the resurrection and relied on immediate and material retribution. They also acted in politics;

Zealots – Known for orthodoxy and conservatism. They were based on the Law and considered the Temple as a divine institution. They believed that the extermination of the wicked made the coming of the Messiah imminent;

Pharisees – They believed that they could achieve the salvation of the Jewish people through the experience of written and oral law, a law that should be deepened in order to provide them with greater piety. They were Jesus’ worst opponents in the field of doctrine;

Essenes – They were characterized as a group that sought to dedicate themselves entirely to God and were strict to the rules of purity. For them the sanctity of life was more important than holocausts. There are indications that most of them lived in Qumran;

Herodians – They were the supporters of the dynasty of Herod the magnum. They were on the lookout for any Messianic group that opposed Herodian power;

Baptist Movements – Known as followers of John the Baptist and also of Jesus, as his disciples also baptized. They understood that salvation was for everyone.

Read more:
.: The village of Nazareth in the time of Jesus
.: Reflect on the political-religious dimension in the time of Jesus
.: Continue reflection on the political-religious dimension in the time of Jesus
.: Other articles on the Bible

Samaritans did not belong to Judaism and do not form a religious current, however, they were part of Roman Palestine. In addition to observers of the Law of Moses represented in the Pentateuch, but do not accept the other books of the Old Testament . They do not recognize Jerusalem as a religious capital or the Temple as the central place of religion. For them, the expected Messiah is not a descendant of David, which contributed to further increase tension among the Jews.

In this political-religious context, the highest religious court in Israel, known as the Sanhedrin, stands out, composed of the high priest as president and his assistants: the elders, the destitute high priests, the Sadducee priests, the scribes and the Pharisees. It was intended to judge transgressions against the law, establish doctrine and control religious life. This Sanhedrin, with a larger number of participants, lived in Jerusalem.  However, it appears that in other locations in Palestine there were small Sanhedrins and, among its members, a judge.

The Jerusalem Temple stood out as the religious center of Israel, rebuilt by Herod the great, opened in 515 BC, after the return of the Israelites’ exile. Its architecture, more sober than that of Solomon, was divided into compartments intended for sacred functions and in a hierarchical manner.

In the participation of the celebrations the division of people was according to the classes: high priest, priests, Levites, men, women and pagans. On certain occasions, especially at Easter, Pentecost and Tents, Jews from all regions used to make pilgrimages to the Temple, to commemorate the great deeds of God, the liberator of his people.

The gospels show us some of Jesus’ visits to the Temple. Let us see: Mary and Joseph take him to the Temple to present him to the Lord (cf. Lk 2,22); on Easter, when Jesus is twelve, he is found by his parents instructing the doctors of the law (cf. Lk 2,46); Jesus expels the vendors from the Temple, too, on Easter  (cf. Jn 2: 13-15); on the occasion of the Feast of the Tents, through the Feast, Jesus goes to the Temple and begins to teach (cf. Jn 7: 1-14).


On the economic level, the Temple was a source of commerce, since they sold animals for sacrifices, objects of great value, in addition to being the place for money changers. The high priest kept most of the profit. This commercial reality has become a means of corruption mainly for the highest authorities in Israel.

As these means did not always satisfy the appetites of the high priest and those of his family, he sometimes used others: he appropriated himself by the strength of the skin of the beheaded animals that should belong to the other priests; he went to the sites to steal the tithe that is also destined for them. Or he used intrigue, blackmail and even murder. (cf SAULNIER; ROLLAND 1983, p. 39).

Synagogues stood out in the cities of Roman Palestine. They were built by the Jews after the return from Babylonian exile, and they also had their importance because it was the place where Israelite conscience and piety was formed.

In terms of agriculture, wheat; fig trees; olive trees and vineyards formed the basis of food. With regard to the industrial scope, buildings stood out; spinning and weaving; the leather industry; ceramics; bitumen and luxury crafts.

Jesus brings a new proposal to the people

It was in this context that Jesus of Nazareth lived, in addition to beginning His ministry, presenting them with a new life proposal based on love for the Truth. To meet Him, the Nazarene attracted people from all walks of life and hierarchy, as he carried the seal of Truth in His doctrine. He constantly faced adversity on the part of the Jews, mainly through the Pharisees, and always overcame them by the force of the Truth, thus coining the doctrinal separation with his fellow citizens.

According to the film “The Passion of the Christ”, by Mel Gibson, for the Jewish authorities of that time, the new way of life presented by Jesus of Nazareth, meant a great threat. The veracity of this film shows that this new way of improving Jewish laws (cf. Mt 5,17-18), ignited the “people” as “Doctors of the Law” who, overcome with envy, did everything to offer him the maximum degree of the humiliation offered by the Romans through their executioners: the crucifixion.

It appears, therefore, that Mel Gibson demonstrated the Passion and Death of Jesus, too, from the historical point of view. For he faithfully portrayed, through the violence of the executioners, the culture of the Roman Empire, which was characterized by its harshness, cruelty, violence and political and religious instability.

Still in the aforementioned film, it can be seen that the Jewish authorities took advantage of this violent culture to cause the death of Jesus, since they were unable to silence His voice or destroy His doctrine with their machinations.

Thus, under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the pragmatist who washed his hands in the face of this crime for fear of losing his high rank, through the tormentors of his empire, after hard scourging and other torments, crucified Jesus of Nazareth.

Therefore, it is concluded that this was the most unfounded and unfair judgment in human history, since Jesus was the most innocent man who has passed through the face of the earth. History shows us that His voice still resonates today, and that even the “cries” of modernity cannot silence it. Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth leaves historical time and enters Christ.


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