Where Were the Romans and What Did They Know? Military and Intelligence Networks as a Probable Factor in Jesus of Nazareth’s Fate



Roman Palestine, Gospels, Jesus of Nazerath, Roman Army, Intelligence networks, collective crucifixion


In the wake of the Gospels’ accounts, modern scholars do not pay much attention to the role Romans played in Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest, and are prone to give credit to manifestly biased sources. Besides, some misconceptions (e.g. that the military in pre-War Judaea was exclusively confined to its largest cities) prevent them from seriously weighing up the possibility that the role of the Romans in Jesus’ fate was more decisive than usually recognized. In this article, we reconsider a number of issues in order to shed light on this murky topic. First, the nature and functions of the Roman military in Judaea are surveyed (for instance, Palestine before the Jewish War had a robust network of fortlets and fortresses, which Benjamin Isaac has argued largely served to facilitate communication into the hinterlands). Second, we track some traces of anti-Roman resistance in the prefects’ period (6-41 CE), Third, the widely overlooked issue of the intelligence sources available to Roman governors is tackled. Fourth, the extent of the problems of the Passion accounts is seriously taken into account. The insights obtained are then applied to the Gospels’ story, thereby rendering it likely that Pilate had some degree of “intelligence” regarding Jesus and his followers before their encounter in Jerusalem that led to the collective execution at Golgotha.