Luke’s Context

We’re studying the Gospel of Luke.

Scholars don’t know exactly when it was written. In reality, it was probably composed over a period of time. Luke traveled with Paul until Paul’s arrest and death in Rome just before 70 AD. Luke may have started writing then. Parts of Luke’s Gospel were added later, basically adding new material on the front. It matured and eventually became the only gospel included in the first canon of scripture used by the Church (with Paul’s first five letters).

Jews had wanted to repel the Romans since they occupied Israel in 63 BC. Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, whose chief responsibility was to collect and deliver taxes to the empire. Whatever the tax collectors got over and above their quota, they could keep. Rome also took over appointing the High Priest.

Luke refers to all these issue indirectly, by naming rulers or contrasting genealogies; Jesus’ and Herod’s. About the time Luke reports Jesus’ birth a group arose among the Jews: the Zealots. Some people think John the Baptist was a Zealot. They were active until about the same time Paul was killed.

The anti-Roman feelings reached a peak during the reign of Emperor Caligula, who in the year 39 AD declared himself a deity and ordered his statue in every temple in the Roman Empire. The Jews, alone in the empire, refused his command; First Commandment stuff.

Caligula threatened to destroy the Temple. A delegation of Jews was sent to pacify him, to no avail. Caligula raged at them, “So you are the enemies of the gods, the only people who refuse to recognize my divinity.” Only Caligula’s violent death saved the Jews from wholesale massacre at that time (it would come soon enough).

In the decades after Caligula’s death, Jews found themselves subject to gross indignities, Roman soldiers exposing themselves in the Temple and burning a Torah scroll. Ultimately, the combination of financial exploitation, Rome’s unbridled contempt for Judaism and the favoritism extended to gentiles living in Israel brought about open revolt.

In the 66 AD, Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast quantities of silver from the Temple. The outraged Jewish masses rioted and killed the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. Cestius Gallus, the Roman ruler in neighboring Syria, sent in a larger force of soldiers. The Jewish insurgents routed them, too.

The Romans returned with 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional troops. They launched their first attack against the most radicalized area; Galilee. An estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem did almost nothing to help.

The refugees who succeeded in escaping the Galilean massacres fled to the last major Jewish stronghold: Jerusalem. There, they killed anyone in the Jewish leadership who had not helped. All the moderate Jewish leaders who headed the Jewish government at the revolt’s beginning in 66 AD were dead by 68 AD; not one died at the hands of a Roman. All were killed by fellow Jews.

Roman troops prepared to besiege the city camped outside. Inside the city, Jews were engaged in a suicidal civil war. The Romans would have won the war in any case. The Jewish civil war both hastened their victory and immensely increased the casualties. In expectation of a Roman siege, Jerusalem’s Jews had stockpiled a supply of dry food that could have fed the city for many years. But one of the warring Zealot factions burned the entire supply, apparently hoping that destroying this “security blanket” would compel everyone to participate in the revolt. The starvation resulting from this mad act caused suffering as great as any the Romans inflicted. Either way, there was great starvation. As Luke put is “he was very hungry.”

During the summer of 70 AD, the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem and initiated an orgy of sadistic violence and destruction. They destroyed the Second Temple. It is estimated that as many as one million Jews died.

Around that time, Luke wrote.

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