The centurion


#1

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 8:5-17.

"When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven,”

My question: from what nations did Herod recruit his centurians?


#2

Centurions were not chosen by Herod. They were part of the Roman army. Why would Herod have any say?


#3

Well actually, the Herods did have centurions. We know Herod the Great based his own army on the Roman military structure, and it’s likely his sons did likewise.

In fact, the centurion or hekatontarch in Capernaum is actually more likely to be an official in Antipas’ army (cf. John’s story of the royal official) rather than a Roman one: the Galilee was ruled by Antipas, who had his own troops. Roman presence in the Galilee (in the form of soldiers) was minimal, maybe even close to non-existent in rural areas like Capernaum in Jesus’ day.

To answer the OP: the Herods recruited their soldiers from a variety of peoples, usually from the region. There were likely a few Jewish soldiers, but they mainly would have been Samaritans, Greeks from the neighboring areas. Herod the Great even had Gaulish (modern France), Thracian (the southeastern Balkans) and German mercenaries as part of his royal bodyguard.

As for the province of Judaea: the Roman governor in Jesus’ day was a prefect of the equestrian order. As an equestrian, the prefect did not have the legal authority to command legions - he could only command auxiliary troops mainly drawn from natives who were not Roman citizens (although citizens could become auxiliaries as well). Just like the Herodian armies, the Judaean prefect’s soldiers would have been mainly made up of non-Jews - Samaritans and/or Greeks - from the area. (The Jews were once granted exemption from military service by Caesar Augustus - something which was also re-affirmed in other areas - which explains why there were almost no Jewish Roman soldiers.)


#4

Speaking of soldiers, I always wondered what “strong bulls of Bashan” meant in Psalm 22.


#5

A centurion was simply a leader of 100 in the Roman army (hence cent).

So he was a Roman citizen, but potentially from anywhere.

ICXC NIKA


#6

Good question.

Bashan was a region east of the Jordan (i.e., non-Israel) and the locals had bovine-looking idols, so this may originally have been an idolatrous reference. In connection with our LORD, maybe the Roman legions had a bull symbol of some kind?

ICXC NIKA


#7

Psalm 22:12 *Many bulls encompass me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 22:13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. * I always think of those bulls as Satan and his minions.
Peter describes Satan as a “roaring lion” seeking “someone to devour” - ravening.
1 Peter 5:8 … Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.

Also, after Jesus’ temptation in the desert, Scripture tells us " And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time." (Luke 4:13)
What time could have seemed more opportune to satan than when Our Lord was in agony on the cross.


#8

Oh yeah. Patrick457 is of the opinion that the soldiers who crucified Jesus were of Syrian and Samaritan origin so… I’m not being offensive to Syrians.


#9

Perhaps the centurion was a Samaritan.


#10

Herod was the Roman client king of Galilee.


#11

Technically, Antipas and Philip were tetrarchs - “rulers of a fourth.” Archelaus was of a higher rank, an ethnarch (a ruler of a common ethnic group or a homogeneous district - but not exactly a basileus or ‘king’).

Officially, there was no ‘king of the Jews’ after Herod the Great until Herod Agrippa (AD 41-44) came and reunited his grandfather’s former territories.

And technically, Antipas was semi-independent. There were four conditions for client territories: pay tribute, defend the borders, prevent civil unrest, contribute military aid should the need ever arise. As far as we know, Antipas was an able ruler, meeting all the conditions for most of his rule, and Rome basically left him alone to do what he wanted. In other words, nearly everything in the Galilee - the soldiers, the tax collectors, the currency - was Antipas’.


#12

So did the Israelites. Bovine imagery was common in Semitic cultures after all (cf. the golden calf). In fact, as far as we can tell from artifacts, in folk Israelite/Judahite religion one of the ways Yhwh is portrayed in ‘graven images’ is as a bull / ox.

Bashan was known for its rich pastures - seriously, the land was fertile: abundant rainfall, volcanic soil - and cattle. It was a breadbasket. In the OT there are references to the “bulls of Bashan,” the “cows of Bashan,” (Amos 4:1) and the “fatlings of Bashan” (Ezekiel 39:18)

In connection with our LORD, maybe the Roman legions had a bull symbol of some kind?

ICXC NIKA

There were no Roman legions in Judaea at the time. The nearest ones were up in Syria, and as far as we know, they never went to Judaea during Pilate’s ten-year prefecture. Pilate seems to have been able to deal with any trouble in the area using his own auxiliaries. That suggests that during the 30s, Judaea was still a relatively peaceful area. (That legions came down during the Jewish-Roman War thirty years later is an indicator of just how serious things had become by that time.)

In fact, the fact that Pilate managed to govern Judaea for ten years is a feat in itself. Many other governors before and after him only governed for 2-3 years on average. He is the second-longest governor.


#13

The centurion at Capernaum, or the centurion at the cross?

In Luke, the elders who come to Jesus say that the Capernaum centurion “loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” I doubt that Jews would have been accepting of Samaritans and vice versa, so he’s more likely of some other ethnicity.


#14

Even the Egyptians for that matter, IMS?

There were no Roman legions in Judaea at the time. The nearest ones were up in Syria, and as far as we know, they never went to Judaea during Pilate’s ten-year prefecture. Pilate seems to have been able to deal with any trouble in the area using his own auxiliaries. That suggests that during the 30s, Judaea was still a relatively peaceful area. (That legions came down during the Jewish-Roman War thirty years later is an indicator of just how serious things had become by that time.)

In fact, the fact that Pilate managed to govern Judaea for ten years is a feat in itself. Many other governors before and after him only governed for 2-3 years on average. He is the second-longest governor.

Correction taken. Pilate clearly had a Roman army unit with him, and I had thought they only came in “legions,” but presumably a legion was so large that it deployed only in warzones, which in the 3700s (Jewish), Judaea had not yet become.

That’s what’s great about these threads, someone will always have a fresh insight on the Word :slight_smile:

ICXC NIKA


#15

Yes.

Correction taken. Pilate clearly had a Roman army unit with him, and I had thought they only came in “legions,” but presumably a legion was so large that it deployed only in warzones, which in the 3700s (Jewish), Judaea had not yet become.

That’s what’s great about these threads, someone will always have a fresh insight on the Word :slight_smile:

ICXC NIKA

Well, the average size of a legion in full strength was about 5,200-5,400 men (exact numbers varied). See here.

There were three or four legions in Syria, which would make for more than 15,000-20,000 men.

By contrast, the Roman governor in Judaea controlled only around 3,000 auxiliaries. Which would yield about five or six cohorts.


#16

This is a scholarly inquiry. I suppose we understand biblical theology at its moral core. The actuality depends on the level of the primacy of our soul based on divine law.


#17

Patrick, the centurion who said his house was not worthy of a visit by the Son of Man, and was praised for the depth of his faith.

“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven,”


#18

I should add: the fact that both Antipas and Philip were not ‘kings’ (yeah, Mark does call Antipas ‘king’ and Matthew eventually slips into that, but that’s not his official rank) makes Pilate’s “King of the Jews” sign more biting: in effect, He is making it appear as if Jesus is claiming a title Rome did not even grant to any of the sons of Herod (the last official ‘king of the Jews’).


#19

Thing is, even if you say ‘Syrian’ that’s still not one ethnicity, because ‘Syria’ was a big place and was home to a darn lot of ethnicities. There’s Aramaeans, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Arabs, and Greek (and maybe Roman) colonists.


#20

Herod at this time was a Roman Client King - meaning that while technically independent, he still acted as a Puppet for Rome’s Whims in exchange for the Kingdom of Israel’s continued existence.

So it is reasonable that Rome would have some people there to protect it’s interests, such as by preventing a popular rebellion against Herod’s rule (and thereby preventing an anti-Rome government from taking power).


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