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Israel, Palestine, and Women in the Roman Empire

Learning about the territory of Herod the Great, a Jewish King who died in 4 BC, can help us understand some of the long animosities of today's Middle East and how to show love for both Palestinians and Jews. In ancient times, Palestine was the region known as the land of Cana. Canaanites are descendants of Canaan, son of Ham, grandson of Noah, and traditionally followed the Seven Laws of Noah. Beginning in the 5th century BC, the term Palestine was used for the region. Now the area has people with heritages of Canaanites, Samaritans, Philistines, Syro-Phoenicians, Idumeans, and Judeans. As Christians, we oppose racism or any discrimination or favouritism based on a person's racial or ethnic group.

As I was writing Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold (published 2022), I developed a backstory for Susannah as a seamstress who bought flax from Palestinian suppliers who lived on the coast, on the fertile Plain of Sharon. In book 2, Susannah is imprisoned for her faith and I imagine her fleeing to Caesarea and finding help from her Palestinian suppliers. I thought about how Jesus commissioned his followers to go to all nations and how he healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman in Syro-Phoenicia, and I imagined Susannah advocating for her Palestinian friends to be accepted in the early church. She not only has to convince Philip the Evangelist that it is right to adopt Palestinians into the family of faith, but that it is her right and responsibility to teach and baptize them.

“I have had a good day, too,” said Susannah. “I explained The Way to Jamila and Fallah. They believe, and I baptized them.”

“You explained the way of God to them? But they are Palestinians!”

“Jesus told us to make disciples of all nations,” said Susannah.

“No, he said to speak to Israel’s descendants in all nations,” said Philip. “I told Romans about Jesus but that just caused a street fight.”

“Jesus said to go and make disciples of all people in the world. Don’t forget Jesus commended Longinus’s faith and healed Griffin, and they are both Romans. Maybe you weren’t in Syro-Phoenicia with us when Jesus healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman. Jamila and Fallah are also Canaanites.”

“You taught both her and her husband? How can a woman teach or tell a man what to do?”

“They decided for themselves what to do. You heard me teach before—in the desert, remember? I told women and men about Jesus as living water, able to give them a fresh start. When they believed, I baptized them.”

“When we were in the desert together, I was able to supervise you and what you taught,” said Philip. “And what about baptizing? I told you only those who are authorized can perform baptisms.”

“And I told you that Jesus equipped and authorized me for this work.” Susannah took the pan off the fire and slammed it on the table. “Jesus is coming back, and he will ask me to report what I have done. I am accountable to him because he called me.”

“The apostles chose me as a deacon and evangelist. You have ignored my authority.”

“Philip! Haven’t you read the scriptures about women of Israel who God called as prophets, judges, and military leaders?”

“Yes, sure. A few women in our history did those things as an exception. That doesn’t mean you can. It’s not an example of how God wants us to live. It is natural for men to rule.”

“It is natural for men to want to rule,” Susannah snapped. “God warned Eve that Adam stopped letting God reign in his life and instead ruled himself and would want to rule over her.”


"You are getting overexcited," said Philip. "Men are obviously in charge of the world. I can see you are sensitive about this.”

“I am not!”

“Look, you’re caught up in some kind of female hysteria. When you cool off you’ll see you’re taking offense for no reason. I will report to the apostles that you have been teaching men and women—Palestinians, no less. They will say which of us is right.” Philip appeared calm and confident.

Susannah let out a groan. “I’m going out for a walk. I hope you’re gone when I get back.” The door slammed... (excerpt from chapter 13, Because She Was Called)

How was Herod the Great's Kingdom Divided?

Herod the Great had expanded the Jewish nation to its largest extent since the time of David and Solomon. He reigned as King of Judaea (37 BC - 4 BC), but he was a client-king in the Roman Empire. Herod was known for building the great harbour of Caesarea Maritime and rebuilding the Second Temple of Jerusalem. As he aged, he became paranoid and dangerous. Herod ordered the death of baby boys under the age of two when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:16), which is why Jesus's ministry can be dated in any three-year period between AD 27 and 34.

Herod the Great had changed his will several times, and since Judea was a Roman client kingdom, Emperor Caesar Augustus had to approve of the distribution. Since an earlier will had given the full territory to Herod Antipas, he challenged the will. However, Augustus approved the distribution according to Herod the Great's final will:

  1. Salome, his sister, Toparch (ruler of a place) ruling the cities and the areas in the Gaza region including Jabneh (Jamnia/Yavne) and Ashdod, as well as the Phasaelis on the west bank (60 talents annually).

  2. Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch (ruler of a people) of Judea, Samaria, Idumea (400 talents annually)

  3. Philip, tetrarch (ruler of a fourth) of Gaulanitis, Batanea and region (100 talents annually)

  4. Herod Antipas, tetrarch (ruler of a fourth) , Galilee and Perea (200 talents annually)

  1. Salome I

Salome I inherited land and income from her brother. The Emperor approved her title as Toparch (ruler/governor) and her inheritance. Emperor Augustus also gave Salome a palace at Ashkelon (near Gaza). Please do not confuse Salome I, sister of Herod the Great, with Salome, the young daughter of Herodias who danced before Herod Antipas.

Salome was the most powerful woman in Herod's court, with more status than Herod's wives. Salome took an active role in her brother's reign. She influenced Herod the Great's decision to execute his wife Mariamne I and their two sons, as well as Herod's son Antipater. She took the initiative to divorce her husband Costobarus, though women did not normally initiate divorce. Herod the Great made his sister a major beneficiary of his will. When Herod ordered Jewish elders to be executed so that Jews would appear to mourn his death, Salome disobeyed his orders and freed them.

Yes, Salome was a powerful woman in Herod the Great's court and a beneficiary in his will. Salome I also exercised her power to bequeath her assets, and on her death, Salome I chose to give her lands to Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus.

On Livia's death, the places Salome ruled in the Gaza and West Bank areas became Roman provinces. They were not part of Judea during the Roman Empire.

Why do so many historians claim that Herod the Great's territory was divided among three of his sons, ignoring his sister?

Why do some historians who acknowledge Salome's inheritance suppose she was a governor in name only?

Here are a few guesses:

Perhaps it is because Salome inherited her places in 4 BC and passed away in AD 10. Perhaps it is because her areas were smaller and generated lower annual revenues for her.

Perhaps it is because she continued to live some of her life in Rome.

Perhaps some historians are not accustomed to seeing women inherit land.

What is your guess?

map of Gaza
Salome I inherited from Herod the Great

2. Herod Archelaus became an Ethnarch, which means ruler of a people, or ruler of an ethnic group. His territory continued to fall under the authority of Rome. Archelaus was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a Samaritan, having Idumean and Samaritan heritage. It was on hearing that Archelaus became ruler of Judea that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Galilee (Matthew 2:22-23). He seemed to oppress his Jewish subjects and after repeated complaints, Herod Archelaus was ordered to Rome for trial.

In AD 6, Emperor Tiberius removed him from office and exiled him to Gaul and his land was made a Roman province. During the time of Jesus, Rome named Pontius Pilate as governor over Judea, Samaria, and Idumea.

Gaza and the West Bank were not part of this Roman province.

Judea map
Herod Archaelaus inherited from Herod the Great

3. Philip son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem, became the Tetrarch (ruler of a fourth) of Golan Heights (Gaulanitis), Batanea, and what is today a southern part of Syria.

He is sometimes called Herod Philip II to distinguish him from Herod Philip, son of Mariamne II and the first husband of Herodias.

He reigned successfully for many years, travelling mainly within his territory and serving his subjects. He built the city of Caesarea Philippi and rebuilt Bethsaida. There were few Jewish subjects in his territory, and he had a policy of Hellenization, building on the Greek patterns, and allowing his coins to carry the emperor's image. Later, he married Salome, the young daughter of Herodias who danced before Herod Antipas (Matthew 14).

On Philip's death, Rome gave Philip's territory to Herod Agrippa.

Gaza and West Bank areas remained separate Roman provinces, not under Herod Agrippa.

Golan Heights map
Philip the Tetrarch inherited from Herod the Great

4. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a full brother of Herod Archelaus and a half-brother of Philip the Tetrarch. He aggravated border disputes by his divorce of Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas of Nabatea. He also alienated Jewish subjects by marrying Herodias who had formerly been married to his half brother. Herod Antipas is known for building the cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias. He is also known for killing John the Baptist and allowing Jesus to be killed. After complaining because Emperor Caligula named Herod Agrippa ruler over Philip's territories, Caligula banished Antipas to Gaul.

When Antipas was exiled, Rome gave his territory to Herod Agrippa.

The map below shows Phasaelis, on the west bank, and Jamnia and Azotus, near Gaza, as Salome's territory and Gaza city as part of the province of Syria.

Palestine Galilee Perea map
Herod Antipas inherited from Herod the Great

Herod Agrippa became the king of Judea until AD 44. He was the son of Aristobulus, who was the son of Herod the Great and Mariamne. After his grandfather, Herod the Great, killed his mother Mariamne and his father Aristobulus. He made friends with Caligula, who made him king of the former realm of his uncle, Philip the Tetrarch, and later king over most of Herod the Great's territories. Herod Agrippa pursued orthodox Jewish policies, opposing Christians. He imprisoned Peter and executed James, son of Zebedee.

The Gaza area and the West Bank remained a separate Roman province.

map of Judea
Herod Agrippa became last king of Judea

Did the Lord give the promised land to the Israelites?

God instructed the Israelites to take the land promised to them and push out its inhabitants.

Some of the tribes of Israel were successful while others were not. On the map below, I placed an x on the areas the Israeli tribes did not overtake. The book of Judges explains that God decided to leave the Israelites and the other people groups living together to test them so that they could prove they would follow the God of their ancestors.

What was possessed in the promised land?

For more on what the Bible says about the land in the Middle East, please tune in to:

"Peace In the Middle East: A Christian Perspective", an episode of the podcast A Third Way, where Keri Ladouceur talks to Scot McKnight about how a dispensationalism view of Revelations has led Christians to support the state of Israel. He suggests that Revelations is about a spiritual battle, where justice wins over evil, and that we need to recognize and resist empires like Babylon in each generation.

"Peace in Israel and Palestine "Understanding the Biblical Israel and the Land today with Dr. Yohanna Katanacho, a production of Regent College. This episode interviews a Palestinian Christian who has looked deeply into what the Bible says about land, God's promises, and God's vision for humans working together.

What is Our Calling as Christians?

"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3).

Does this mean supporting the state of Israel regardless of its behaviour? God gave Israel consequences when they disobeyed God's command. All nations are to be blessed through Israel. That includes Canaanites and Palestinians.

Churches from several denominations across Canada are mobilizing for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel. There cannot be peace and an enduring ceasefire without justice, which means the release of all captives, the flow of food and humanitarian assistance, and a diplomatic settlement of disputes over occupied territories. Find out more here:

dove with twig
Kairos Canada Ceasefire Piligrimage

"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4)

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

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