Lucius Aelius Sejanus' bearing on church history is not immediately apparent to the church historian. He is well known among Roman historians as the man who almost succeeded in overthrowing Tiberius Caesar. However, his relationship with Pontius Pilate has an important influence on what year one dates the death of Jesus. The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of Sejanus' life, to examine his relationship with Pilate, and finally to understand the impact of this information on the date of Jesus' death.
An Overview Of Sejanus' Life
Birth and Youth
Sejanus was born sometime between 4 BCE and 1 BCE in Etruria.1 He was born into an equestrian family and thus was not part of Roman nobility. Virtually nothing is known about his youth.
Shortly after Tiberius became emperor in 14 CE, he made Sejanus' father Strabo commander of the Praetorian Guard, the elite corps of Roman soldiers responsible for protecting the city of Rome and the emperor himself.2 Strabo was one of Tiberius's most trusted administrators. He was awarded this post because of his life-long loyalty and service to Tiberius.3 The earliest reports of Sejanus' adult life place him in Rome with Strabo at this time. Thus, Sejanus almost definitely grew up knowing Tiberius personally and had easy access to him, an advantage which he was to later exploit.
In 16 CE, Sejanus was appointed Commander of the Praetorian Guard by Tiberius when he made Strabo prefect of Egypt.4 Sejanus distinguished himself by significantly improving the organization of the Guard. Whereas they had previously been quartered haphazardly with friends and neighbors, Sejanus built barracks for them so that they could be more quickly mobilized in time of need.5
In 17 CE, Sejanus was sent by Tiberius to accompany Drusus to suppress the mutiny of the Pannonian legion.6 Drusus was the son of Agrippina and Germanicus, who was seen as the heir-apparent to Tiberius. Again, Sejanus distinguished himself in this assignment and was rewarded for it by Tiberius. This may have been interpreted by Drusus as a lack of confidence in him by Tiberius and thus contributed to Drusus' enmity and rivalry toward Sejanus. Certainly this attitude toward Sejanus emerged after Drusus' father Germanicus died in 19 CE and Drusus became the heir-apparent.7
In 23 CE, a fire broke out in a theater in Pompeii which ravaged the city. Sejanus was assigned to handle the situation and restore the city. He did such an effective job that Tiberius ordered a statue of Sejanus in his honor be erected at the site of the new theater.8
Thus, Sejanus's early career gave clear evidence of excellent administrative ability. Always looking for someone who could ease the burden of administration, Tiberius evidently was impressed by Sejanus's work. Tiberius thus continued to depend more and more on Sejanus and take him into his confidence.9 This set the stage for Sejanus's rise to power.
The Rise of Sejanus
In 23 CE, Drusus died after a short, violent illness. Most Roman historians state that Drusus' death was actually due to being poisoned.10 This explanation is based the testimony of Sejanus' wife shortly before she was executed in 31 CE. She stated that Sejanus and Drusus' wife Lavilla had become lovers and that they had conspired to kill Drusus so that Sejanus could take his place as heir-apparent to Tiberius. Both the goal of Sejanus' ambitions and the real cause of Drusus' death is ambiguous and much debated by modern historians.11
At any rate, with Drusus dead, Tiberius was in an unenviable spot. Now 64 years old, he had for years wanted to retire from public life, leaving the leadership of the empire to his successor and the Senate. Now he was unable to do so. The oldest male family members were Drusus' children (Drusus, Nero and Gaius), and they were too young to be appointed co-emperors.12 In presenting these children to the care of the Senate, Tiberius lamented his situation and even expressed a longing for the return of the Republic.13 Tiberius knew that his desire for the Senate to take a more active role as they did in the Republic was unrealistic. Therefore, he knew he would be unable to retire until one of these children grew to adulthood and demonstrated competence, unless he had an administrator so competent and trustworthy that he could safely leave the government in his hands as his regent in Rome. It was to this position that Sejanus immediately aspired. In Tiberius, he found a man strongly motivated to let him attain that role.
As Tiberius gave Sejanus more and more authority, Sejanus used his position to eliminate those who were obstacles to his goal of ultimate power. In 25 CE, he had Cordus, a historian, condemned, ostensibly for justifying Brutus' assassination of Julius Caesar. Roman historians state that the real reason was that Cordus was an outspoken enemy of Sejanus.14
In 26 CE, Tiberius retired to the remote and almost inaccessible island of Capri, never to return to Rome again.15 Sejanus had played a major role in convincing Tiberius to do this.16 He also "proved" his total loyalty to Tiberius by shielding Tiberius with his own body during a cave collapse that year.17 While still retaining his full imperial authority, he left Sejanus in Rome as his regent. From this point on, Sejanus' power increased dramatically. He was not only Tiberius' spokesman, which made the senators curry his favor; he also carefully controlled all communications to Tiberius on Capri.18 In this way, Sejanus was able to prey on Tiberius's fears of revolt and use him to eliminate the legitimate successors of Tiberius. Whether Sejanus was actually aspiring to become emperor, or only seeking to eliminate possible heirs so that he would not be eliminated by them when they came into power is not clear.19 What is clear is that he used his position to eliminate them.
Immediately after Tiberius left Rome, Sejanus attempted to set Agrippina and her grandsons against each other. Through his own agents, Sejanus tried to convince Agrippina and Nero to leave Rome for their safety.20 Through the same agents, he was sending a steady report to Tiberius of their activities, attempting to convince him that they were plotting revolt and should be executed. For the rest of 26 CE, neither plan worked. Agrippina and Nero did not flee Rome, and Tiberius was not yet convinced that they constituted a serious threat to his power.
In 27 CE, Sejanus had Sabinus, a supporter of Agrippina, condemned for sedition.21 In the same year, he asked Tiberius for permission to marry Lavilla, Drusus' wife.22 This would have gained him greater legitimacy with the Roman nobility and improved his chances of actually becoming emperor. Tiberius refused to grant permission, seemingly out of deference to Roman etiquette, while promising Sejanus much greater honor and fame and power in the near future:
"What projects I have turned over in my mind; by what further ties I am preparing to bind you to myself, I will forbear for the present to disclose. This only I will permit myself to say, that there is no place too high for your merits, and your devotion to myself; and when the proper time shall come, whether in the Senate, or before the public, I shall not fail to speak."23
Historians disagree on Tiberius' motives for his reply. Some think that Tiberius should be taken at face value, and that he still fully trusted Sejanus.24 Others think that Tiberius was suspicious of Sejanus by now, but also realized that he was in a precarious position since he was in Capri and Sejanus was in control.25 If this was the case, Tiberius' reply was calculated to block Sejanus' power move, without arousing Sejanus' suspicions that Tiberius suspected him of revolt.
The Peak of Sejanus's Power
Sejanus reached the peak of his power in 29 CE. Tiberius' mother died during this year, yet he refused to come to her funeral in Rome. This is probably because he had begun to believe Sejanus' charges that Agrippina was actively seeking to assassinate him.26 Later that same year, Tiberius accused Agrippina (by letter before the Senate) of adultery and Nero of "vices".27 Both were exiled, where Nero eventually committed suicide and Agrippina, after being ill-treated by her guards, starved herself to death.28 He also got Tiberius to condemn and imprison Drusus, where he committed suicide.29 Only Gaius (now seventeen but with no administrative experience) and Gamellus, a boy of ten, remained alive as heirs from the Julio-Claudian line.30 Gaius lived with Tiberius on Capri at this time, making him inaccessible to Sejanus.
In early 30, Sejanus had Gallus, another supporter of Agrippina, condemned for sedition.31 When Sejanus got permission from Tiberius to marry Livia Julia (Gaius' sister), he was in a seemingly very advantageous position. With a marital claim to nobility, he was in a better position to be accepted by the nobility if he attempted to seize imperial power. If that route was deemed infeasible, he could persuade Tiberius to appoint him Gaius' supervisor when Tiberius died and thus still retain full control over the Emperor.32
During 30, Sejanus also began to consolidate his power over the Roman armies in foreign lands. He probably realized that in the event of a revolt they could crush him if they did not want him as emperor. So he replaced many of the commanders with men loyal to him, and he deposed many who were loyal to Drusus and his family.33
During the period from 29 to 30 CE, Tiberius made it clear that he regarded Sejanus as his exclusive representative in Rome. The Senate voted that his birthday be honored publicly. Public prayers and sacrifices were offered on behalf of "Tiberius and Sejanus" and oaths were sworn "by the Fortunes of Tiberius and Sejanus".34 Twice previously during his reign, Tiberius had held the consulship of the Senate with his acknowledged successor: in 18 CE with Germanicus, and in 21 CE with Drusus. Now in 30 CE, Tiberius declared his intentions to make himself and Sejanus consuls the following year.35 All indications were that soon Tiberius would confer the tribunician power on Sejanus, making him a de facto joint-emperor and successor of Tiberius after his death.36
The Fall of Sejanus
Probably in early 31 CE, Tiberius received a letter from his widowed sister-in-law Antonia.37 Perhaps because she had always remained above the intrigues of Roman politics, Tiberius trusted her. She told him that Sejanus was plotting a revolt and detailed many of the ways in which he was doing this. Whether or not this was the first time Tiberius suspected Sejanus is debatable.38 However, from this time forward, he acts in such a way that makes it clear (at least to us in retrospect) that he knew of Sejanus' treason.
First, Tiberius began to send a "mixed message" about Sejanus to the Roman senators. On the one hand, he continued to lavish praise and power upon him. He referred to Sejanus as "my Sejanus". He fulfilled his promise to make Sejanus a consul of the Senate, and minted coins and erected statues in his honor. On the other hand, he began to speak in a mildly critical way of Sejanus and his allies.39 He also refused to condemn Arruntus against Sejanus's wishes, and thus prevented Sejanus from gaining full control over the Senate.40 Later that same year, Tiberius resigned his consulship, thus forcing Sejanus to do the same41. Tiberius then made Gaius consul, thus indicating that he had now chosen Gaius as his successor.42 He forbade all sacrifices to living humans, thus stopping public homage to Sejanus.43
While Tiberius was thus keeping Sejanus off-balance, he was testing the loyalty of other quarters of leadership in Rome. He ascertained that the senators strongly disliked Sejanus even though they had curried his favor. He also found that the Praetorian Guard was loyal to Sejanus only as his (Tiberius') regent.44
Thus satisfied of his security, Tiberius hatched a brilliant and elaborate plot to depose Sejanus.45 He made Macro the new commander of the Praetorian Guard. He then sent Macro to Rome with a letter to be read before the Senate. Macro intercepted Sejanus on the way and told him that the letter gave him tribunician power - virtual imperial authority. Once Sejanus went inside, Macro presented proof of his Praetorian authority over Sejanus' guards. He then sent them back to the barracks and surrounded the Senate with his own loyal soldiers. While the purposefully long, rambling letter was read, Macro went to the barracks to assure that no uprising would take place among the troops.
Tiberius' rambling letter ended with a scathing denunciation of Sejanus and demanded his arrest. Stunned, Sejanus was led out. When the senators saw that the common people and the Praetorian Guard rejoiced at Sejanus' arrest, they condemned and executed him the same day - October 18, 31 CE.
After Sejanus's Fall
Tiberius then launched an investigation into the conspiracy. All of Sejanus' family were killed, as was customary.46 Though Tacitus describes this period as a reign of terror and a blood-bath, Seutonius and others disagree.47 Tarver says that Tiberius moved in to check the indiscriminate persecution of Sejanus' friends.48 Tiberius evidently made a real effort to be just in his investigation. Over the next three to four years, many people were tried. Some were convicted and executed; some were allowed to turn state's evidence; some were acquitted. All in all, several dozen people were executed.49 Satisfied that the conspiracy had been sufficiently rooted out, Tiberius dropped the matter around 34 CE. He died shortly thereafter in 37 CE.
The Relationship Between Sejanus and Pilate
The available evidence indicates that Pilate was appointed to the office of prefect of Judea by Sejanus. This evidence consists of two bases.
The Date Pilate Was Sent to Judea
No ancient record dates the beginning of Pilate's rule in Judea exactly, nor do they specifically say that Sejanus appointed Pilate. The only chronological record of Pilate's appointment is found in Josephus who says:
"(Tiberius)...sent Valerius Gratus to be procurator of Judea, and to succeed Annus Rufus...When Gratus had done those things, he went back to Rome, after he had tarried in Judea eleven years, when Pontius Pilate became his successor...So Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome...but before he could get to Rome, Tiberius was dead."50 (italics mine)
Josephus infers (and the subsequent chronology demands) that Tiberius sent Gratus very soon after becoming emperor. Tiberius became emperor on September 17, 14 CE.51 Pilate was removed from office to appear immediately before Tiberius, but Tiberius died while Pilate was en route. Tiberius died on March 16, 37 CE.52 Therefore, Pilate was removed no later than late 36 CE.
Gratus therefore assumed his post in 15 CE at the latest. If he ruled for approximately eleven years, then he was removed in 26 or 27 CE. If Pilate ruled approximately ten years, he must have begun his rule in 26 or 27 CE. Therefore, both agree that Pilate was sent to Judea in either 26 or 27 CE.
Tiberius retired to Capri sometime in 26 CE.53 The exact date is not known, but because of the above data, it is very likely that Pilate was sent after Tiberius retired. In that case, he was appointed by Sejanus.54 Even if he was appointed slightly before Tiberius retired, it is likely that Sejanus was still the main influence behind the appointment, since Tiberius had granted considerable authority to Sejanus in these kinds of matters by this time.
Sejanus' and Pilate's Anti-semitic Policies
Josephus details Pilate's hatred and baiting of the Jewish people, which will be elaborated upon below. Philo claims that Sejanus was anti-semitic and planned to destroy the Jewish race completely.55 Though Tiberius was probably also anti-semitic, he realized after Sejanus was exposed that many of the charges brought against the Jews were fabricated by Sejanus, so in 32 CE he issued a decree throughout the Empire not to mistreat the Jews.
It is likely that Pilate was simply carrying out Sejanus' anti-semitic policy. Philo does not actually say this; rather, this is inferred from what Philo says in the following passage.
"Therefore everyone everywhere, even if he was not naturally well disposed toward the Jews, was afraid to engage in destroying any of our institutions, and indeed it was the same under Tiberius though matters in Italy became troublesome when Sejanus was organizing his onslaughts. For Tiberius knew the truth, he knew at once after Sejanus' death that the accusations made against the Jewish inhabitants of Rome were false slanders, invented by him because he wished to make away with the nation, knowing that it would take the sole or the principal part in opposing his unholy plots and actions, and would defend the emperor when in danger of becoming the victim of treachery. And he charged his procurators in every place to which they were appointed to speak comfortably to the members of our nation in the different cities, assuring them that the penal measures did not extend to all but only to the guilty, who were few, and to disturb none of the established customs but even to regard them as a trust committed to their care, the people as naturally peaceable, and the institutions as an influence promoting orderly conduct."56 (italics mine)
It is clear from this passage that Sejanus was propagating anti-semitic policies while he was in power. It is also clear that procurators with jurisdiction over Jewish communities practiced those policies under Sejanus' authority. Finally, it is clear that Tiberius told those procurators that such policy was no longer permissible.
What prefect would have had more policies concerning the Jews than Pilate? Certainly Pilate's treatment of the Jews prior to the fall of Sejanus conforms to Sejanus' policies, as we will see. Pilate must have received Tiberius' edict after Sejanus' execution, for his treatment of the Jews changes after 32 CE, as we will also see. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Pilate was either appointed to his position by Sejanus, or at least that he was a willing executor of Sejanus' policies toward the Jews.
Eusebius, almost quoting Philo, clearly makes the same inference:
"...Sejanus, who was then in great favor with Tiberius, had made every effort to destroy the whole nation of the Jews from the foundation, and that in Pontius Pilate under whom the crimes were committed against our Savior, having attempted everything contrary to what was lawful among the Jews respecting the Temple at Jerusalem, which was then yet standing, excited them to the greatest tumults."57 (italics mine)
These quotes, together with the chronological data supplied above, indicate that Pilate was probably sent to Judea by Sejanus and that he actively pursued Sejanus's policies with the Jews. Pilate held his post by the favor of Sejanus and he was identified with Sejanus by those over whom he ruled.
The Effect of Sejanus on Dating Jesus' Death
Before one can meaningfully assess the effect of Sejanus on the dating of Jesus's death, certain facts must be first understood.
The Possible Dates of Jesus' Death
Since Jesus died while Pilate was procurator of Judea, he must have died roughly between 26 and 37 CE. Furthermore, the New Testament states that he died on a Passover which fell on a Friday.58 Astronomical calculations ascertain that this occurred possibly on 27 CE, and almost certainly 30, 33 and 36 CE.59 27 and 36 CE can both be discounted because of Lk. 3:1,2.60 Therefore, Jesus died either on 30 or 33 CE.
If one assumes that Pilate was appointed by Sejanus and was actively carrying out his policies, two important aspects of the gospel narratives of Jesus' trial make perfect sense if the date is 33 CE, after Sejanus' downfall. However, the same aspects are very problematic if the date is 30 CE, before Sejanus' fall.
Pilate's Change in Behavior Toward the Jews
As was noted above, Pilate had a consistent record of hostility toward the Jews - even to the point of baiting them several times. Soon after arriving in Judea, he had ordered Roman standards brought within the city of Jerusalem under the cover of night, knowing that it would infuriate the Jewish people's beliefs about the sanctity of the city. When they protested he threatened to kill many of them and not until they bared their throats to be cut did he realize that the move was not worth the trouble.61
On another occasion, Pilate used money from the Temple treasury to construct an aqueduct. When the Jews assembled outside his quarters to protest, he ordered soldiers to dress like the Jews and mingle among the crowd. On his signal, the soldiers drew clubs hidden in their clothes and beat and killed many of the Jews.62
Later, possibly in 29/30 CE, Pilate introduced coins engraved with a symbol of Emperor-worship.63 In Lk. 13:1, Jesus is asked about the "Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices", a reference to the murder of some Jews coupled with purposeful desecration of Jewish worship.
Therefore, the early years of Pilate are characterized by an almost complete disdain for the Jews. He purposefully baited them into reacting and then punished them for reacting. It would be very consistent for him to do this if he was Sejanus' appointee.
Yet the gospels, though clearly cognizant of Pilate's past behavior, present Pilate during the trial as a man fearful of the Jews and eager to please them. He knows Jesus is innocent64, but gives into condemning him in order to please the Jews. One would expect exactly the opposite reaction from Pilate: that he would insist on Jesus's acquittal because the Jewish leaders wanted him condemned. Instead, the gospels say that Pilate tried to release Jesus because the Jewish leaders delivered him up out of envy65 (i.e., to bait them), but that when they threatened him with an appeal to Rome, he backed down and granted their wish.66
How is this discrepancy to be explained? Such behavior is simply not tenable before Sejanus' demise. As was noted above, Sejanus was executed on 31 CE. From 31 to 34 CE, Tiberius was investigating and prosecuting Sejanus's co-conspirators. If Jesus's trial was after this time, especially if it was after Tiberius's 32 CE decree against mistreating the Jews, Pilate would be very uneasy about any report getting back to Tiberius. Being Sejanus' appointee, he may well have been under suspicion already as it was. However, if Jesus' trial occurred in 30 CE, there would be no reason for Pilate to not continue his policy of baiting the Jews, since Sejanus was in control and would back him up.
Thus, the drastic change in Pilate's behavior toward the Jews in Jesus's trial is very consistent after 31 CE, but very inconsistent before that time.
The Jews' Use of "Amicus Caesaris"
During the trial of Jesus by Pilate, Pilate several times tells the Jewish leaders that Jesus is innocent. On his final attempt, John records:
"...Pilate made efforts to release him (Jesus), but the Jews cried out, saying 'If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.' When Pilate therefore heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat...And so he then delivered him up to them to be crucified."67 (italics mine)
The term "friend of Caesar" (Latin: amicus Caesaris) is a technical term reserved for senators, knights and administrators who were meritorious and thus favored by the emperor.68 To lose this title was to lose not only one's post, but also to possibly complete ostracism from Roman life, as illustrated by Gallus in 26 BCE under Augustus.69
Therefore, the Jews were uttering a threat to Pilate. They were claiming to have the power to potentially have Pilate stripped of this title. This threat is highly significant for two reasons. First, it is inconceivable that the Jews would utter it as long as Sejanus was in control. They knew that all communication to Tiberius was controlled by Sejanus, and they also knew that Pilate's anti-semitic policies were in accordance with Sejanus' policies.70 Such a threat makes sense only if Tiberius is back in control of the empire and if Pilate is under imperial censure or warning because of his association with Sejanus.
Second, even if the Jews did utter such a threat, Pilate would have had no reason to respond to it while Sejanus was in control. Pilate's response becomes intelligible only after 31, when Sejanus was deposed.
The fact that Sejanus's downfall came in 31 CE has a very significant impact on dating the death of Jesus. Only 30 or 33 CE are tenable years for Jesus' death. Pilate was probably Sejanus' appointee who actively carried out his anti-semitic policies, and thus was in danger after Sejanus was executed. The behavior of Pilate and the Jews during the trial of Jesus makes sense only after Sejanus' demise. Therefore, 33 CE is the preferable date for the death of Jesus.
1.Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1942), p. 116.
2.Evidently, Sejanus held this position with his father Strabo already at this time. See Robin Seager, Tiberius (London: Eyre Methuen Ltd., 1972), p. 178.
3.J. C. Tarver, Tiberius The Tyrant, p. 385.
4.Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 117.
5.Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 178.
6.Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 117.
7.Augustus designated his step-son Germanicus to be his successor. Tiberius was seen as an emperor-regent for Germanicus until he came of age. This is why after Germanicus' premature death, his wife Agrippina began to clamor that her son Drusus was the rightful successor. See Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius (London: Oxford University Press, 1931), p. 160.
8.Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 179.
9.J. C. Tarver, Tiberius The Tyrant, p. 391.
10.Tacitus, Annals (hereafter Tac. Ann.) 4.8; Dio 57.2.2f.; Seutonius, Tiberius (hereafter Seut. Tib.) 62.1.
11.Seager seriously doubts this explanation of Drusus' death (see Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 184,185). Marsh seems to take the story at face value (see Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 164). Smith thinks this is a possibility, but sees Sejanus motivated by self-preservation more than imperial ambition (see Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 122).
12.Nero was about seventeen at this time. Drusus and Gaius, twins, were about fourteen years old. See Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 164.
13.Tac., Ann. 4.9.
14.Tac. Annals 4.34f; Seut. Tib. 61.3. cited in Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 194.
15.The exact date of Tiberius' departure from Rome is not stated in any of the extant histories.
16.Sejanus did not persuade Tiberius to make this move; he only played upon this desire that Tiberius already had (see Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 202).
17.Tac. Ann. 4.59 cited in Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 133.
18.J. C. Tarver, Tiberius The Tyrant, p. 402.
19. Smith believes that Sejanus hoped at the most for becoming guardian of an under-age heir, and that he was motivated by self-preservation to do away with Drusus. See Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, pp. 121,122.
20. Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 135,136.
21. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 207.
22. Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 177.
23. Tac. Ann. 4.40.
24. Marsh sees it as clear intention that Tiberius was going to confirm Sejanus as his successor (see Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 175,176).
25. Seager quotes Dio in contending that Tiberius knew at least by 30 CE of Sejanus' designs and used such flattery to keep Sejanus off guard until Tiberius could safely eliminate him (see Robin Seager, Tiberius, pp. 217,218).
26. Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 137.
27. Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 185.
28. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 211. This was the first instance of Roman nobility being beaten while under imperial exile.
29. Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 187.
30. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 213.
31. Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 141.
32. Smith calls this the attainment of Sejanus' long cherished goal of a marital alliance with the Julian House.
33. Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, pp. 189,190.
34. Dio, 58.2,7ff, cited by P.L. Maier, "Sejanus, Pilate and the Date of the Crucifixion", Church History 37 (1968), p. 10.
35. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 214.
36. P.L. Maier, "Sejanus, Pilate and the Date of the Crucifixion", p. 11.
37. J. C. Tarver, Tiberius The Tyrant, p. 411.
38. Marsh correctly says it is impossible to say at what point Tiberius began to suspect Sejanus (see Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 192).
39. Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 144.
40. Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 146.
41. Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 195.
42. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 218
43. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 219.
44. J. C. Tarver, Tiberius The Tyrant, p. 411.
45. This plot is detailed in Dio, 53.8-12; Seut., Tib. 65.1; Tac., Ann. 6.48 and Josephus, Antiquities (hereafter Jos. Ant.) XVIII.6.6.
46. Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 222.
47. Seager believes Tacitus' report, though says it was embellished by his rhetoric (see Robin Seager, Tiberius, pp. 229-233). Smith maintains that "the number of prosecutions was not large, however, in view of the fact that the emperor apparently was convinced of the actual existence of a conspiracy" (see Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 150). Marsh agrees, saying, "The number of prosecutions is much smaller than might have been expected after what had passed, and the proceedings seem to show that a real attempt was made to secure justice; in short the whole of the Tiberian Terror is a product of imagination and rhetoric quite unsupported by evidence" (see Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 200).
48. J. C. Tarver, Tiberius The Tyrant, p. 413.
49. In an effort to get the whole ordeal behind him, Tiberius in 33 CE had all those still imprisoned for conspiracy executed on the same day. Twenty people were killed (see Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 207).
50. Jos. Ant., XVIII, II,2; XVIII,IV,2.
51. Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), p. 261.
52. Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, p. 261.
53. Frank Burr Marsh, The Reign of Tiberius, p. 181; Robin Seager, Tiberius, p. 200; Charles Edward Smith, Tiberius and the Roman Empire, p. 133.
54. Maier' language is very strong on this point. He says, "It seems more than probable that in 26 AD, Pontius Pilate was nominated to succeed Valerius Gratus as praefectus Judaeae by L. Aelius Sejanus...Undoubtedly it was Pontius Pilate's implementation of Sejanus' policy in Palestine which caused the familiar imbroglios with the Jews..." (see P.L. Maier, "Sejanus, Pilate and the Date of the Crucifixion", pp. 8,9). Hoehner is almost as strong. He says, "It is probable that when Pontius Pilate succeeded Valerius Gratus as prefect of Judea in AD 26 he was appointed by the equestrian Lucius Aelius Sejanus" (see Harold W. Hoehner, "Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Part V: The Year of Christ's Crucifixion", Bibliotheca Sacra 131 (October-December, 1974):341). These authors are trying to establish a 33 CE death date for Jesus, so their views on this issue may be somewhat biased. However, other sources not biased in this area also agree that Pilate owed his appointment to Sejanus. See, for example, The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Co., 1911), Vol. 12, p.614.
55. Philo, In Flaccum i,1; and Legatio 24,159-161.
56. Philo, Legatio 24, 159-161.
57. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History ii, V.
58. Mk 14:12 makes it clear that Passover began the night of the Last Supper. Jn 19:31 makes it clear that the evening following Jesus' death was the beginning of the Sabbath (Saturday). Therefore, Jesus died on a Friday which was also Passover Day.
59. J. K. Fotheringham, "The Evidence of Astronomy and Technical Chronology for the Date of the Crucifixion", Journal of Theological Studies XXXV (1934):146-162.
60. Luke states that John the Baptist commenced his ministry "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar", which would be 28/29 CE. This cancels out 26 CE. Since no one can make a case for Jesus' public ministry lasting more than four years, this would also cancel out 36 CE.
61. Jos. Ant. XVIII, 3.1.
62. Jos. Ant. XVIII, 3.2.
63. Ethelbert Stauffer, Jerusalem und Rom (Bern and Munchen, 1957), pp. 17,134 n. 7, cited in Harold W. Hoehner, "Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Part V: The Year of Christ's Crucifixion", p. 343.
64. Lk. 23:14,15; Mk. 15:14; Mt. 27:23; Jn. 18:38; 19:6
65. Mt. 27:16; Mk. 15:10
66. Jn. 19:12-16
67. Jn. 19:12-16
68. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), p. 47n. "The connotation, originally political rather than personal in Republican usage, becomes markedly official in imperial documents, with the suggestion that so and so is the official representative of the Princeps (Emperor)."
69. Ethelbert Stauffer, Jesus and His Story (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), p. 133.
70. P.L. Maier, "Sejanus, Pilate and the Date of the Crucifixion", p. 11.
Clearly the Jewish population and heirarchy had considerable political clout in the Roman imperial system. The Priesthood quite clearly had the ear of Tiberius and Sejanus was looking to break them. It’s always been a suspicion I had that Jesus was consciously being used by Pilate to troll the Jews. “What is Truth” Or “I wash my hands of this.” Obviously factions of the Roman authorities would have seen him as a useful tool to foil an aristocratic priesthood allied and funding Tiberius. This also explains how the gospels become an anti-Semitic polemic.
Very nice article although, if you don’t mind my saying, your genealogies are a little off. If I may offer some of my knowledge: The Drusus Sejanus accompanied to Pannonia/Illyricum was Tiberius’ son by his first marriage to Vipsania Agrippina. The Nero, Drusus, and Gaius stated above were the sons of Germanicus and Agrippina - not their grandsons. Sejanus did not marry the sister of Gaius as she would only have been about 8 to 9 years old. Some historians think Sejanus married Livilla (widow of Tiberius’s son and also sister of the late Germanicus) while others claim it was to Tiberius’s granddaughter by Drusus and Livilla to whom he married. And her name happened to be Julia Livia.
But apart from that, the climb and rise of Sejanus is pretty on-point. My alternative view on Pilate’s behavior toward the Jews, however is less about him being anti-Semitic ( though he may very well have been) and more about trying to gain control of the powerful Eastern legions for the man whom he owed his new position. The governor of Syria (which included Judea) was Lamia. And Lamia was a close and reliable friend of Tiberius. While Sejanus did his best to stack the Empire with as many governors loyal to him as possible, Tiberius wouldn’t budge on Lamia. It seems more likely that Sejanus encouraged Pilate to make as much upheaval as possible so that Sejanus might use the chaos of an offended people to blame Lamia’s mismanagement of the province to Tiberius, and allow Sejanus to replace him.
But Tiberius wasn’t having it. He needed one military camp he absolutely knew he could flee to if there was a coup. So while Pilate deliberately provoked the Jews, placing golden shields with Tiberius’s name stamped on them, high taxation, etc, he earned the ire of Tiberius instead who, in no uncertain terms, made it clear that Pilate was to repair this damage and appease the Jewish people at all cost. So when Jesus was brought before him, Pilate was already in bad trouble with Tiberius and was instructed to quickly and quietly settle any and all matters with as little uproar as possible. So while the Sanhedrin was calling for Jesus’s execution, Pilate demurred and allowed it to happen as part and parcel of his Rome-instructed apology to keep the Jewish people happy and placated.
The reason I feel this is more believable is because Sejanus, for all his trust from Tiberius, was still not a member of the Imperial Family and didn’t have the support of the old Patrician families (Like Lamia). The old patricians were willing to tolerate him so long as it benefitted them, but he was never one of them and never would be. So with a party that existed primarily of New Men, and not enough of the ancient nobility, the likelihood that Sejanus could dictate Empire-wide policy such as “destroy the Jewish people” was not yet within his power - and especially knowing that the governor of that province was a man from an old family and one of Tiberius’s closest friends. I think that’s what it was all about. Sejanus trying to remove someone who wasn’t a supporter of him, and using a low level politician from whom favors were owed to try and manipulate events into that direction.
That’s my two cents worth :-)
Thanks much for your very helpful response to my essay on Sejanus!
After reading e book: "The Jesus Papers," by Michael Baigent, the author wrote that he believed that General Sejanus made a deal with Jesus that if he gave Jesus the position of the High Priest of Israel in exchange for not allowing the people to revolt, he would not have him arrested, as the Zealots wanted because of Jesus telling the people to pay the Roman taxes....Pilate and King Herod were also in on this deal. However, two months after Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus having not yet been crucified, news reached Jerusalem that the General had been killed and Pilate then had Jesus crucified.
That’s a very interesting theory, and I admit I have not read this book. But, for me, the idea that Sejanus made a deal with Jesus pre-supposes that Jesus was someone important to the Romans before He entered Jerusalem....before even the Sanhedrin knew who Jesus was. Considering the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus executed for Blasphemy to spare Judea the potential wrath of Rome suggests that false prophets were a problem of this time period....otherwise the Sanhedrin wouldn’t have been so quick to label Jesus one. So why would Jesus, of all the poor prophets walking around Judea spreading strange (to the Romans) religious theories suddenly become important to Sejanus’s attention, all the way back in Rome?
I would never say it’s impossible however, that’s the point of history, we just don’t know all the facts. But during the period leading up to Christ’s execution, Sejanus was very busy trying to build up his power base in Rome by tearing down the supporters of Agrippina and her son, Nero. Except for securing those governors who controlled armies as support, methinks little that went on in the provinces would have been terribly important to Sejanus. Rome was fighting wars on multiple fronts. It just seems unlikely that Sejanus would have made a deal with the son of a carpenter from Galilee at a time when Jesus wasn’t yet widely known of throughout Judea.
But I would definitely be interested in more information on this theory.
This article says Sejanus was born in 4 BC. But other articles say he was born about 20-24 BC.
June 3, 20 BC is found in many sources.
Thanks for this well-reasoned review of historic evidence for the possible link between Sejanus and Pilate, and the light that may throw on dating Jesus' death. I appreciate very much your honest handling of real historical sources, and your drawing from them an honest, and persuasive, interpretation.
Rick, Also supporting AD33 is the accurate dating of a lunar eclipse ascending before the people in Jerusalem on April 3, AD 33. This Sabbath-Passover reconciles with the Joel prophecy of a blood moon, which was quoted by Peter in his sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost. In light of the Sejanus/Pilate circumstances and the Passover lunar eclipse, the case for an AD 33 crucifixion would seem to be "proven beyond a reasonable doubt". sag firstname.lastname@example.org
Are you a published author, especially your article " Sejanus and the Chronology of Christ's Death"? Please tell me when and in which academic journals, if so. Your arguments on when the cry of denial of Amicus Caesaris status would have been made and when this would have been feared by Pilate, therefore strengthening a crucifixion date of 33 CE, are very compelling.
If 33 CE is the year of Christ's death, what theories do you have on the beginning date if His ministry? I had always assumed Jesus' ministry took place over the course of three and one-half years, starting at Tabernacles 27 CE and ending at Passover 30 CE. Many 'multi-year ministry' scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries want(ed) to date the beginning of His ministry from anywhere sometime vaguely after 25 CE to dates narrowing on or about Tabernacles 27 CE.
Let me present a challenge, however, to the 33 CE crucifixion in favor of 30 CE taking into account full well your concluding arguments. What if the crowd's threats of denial of Pilate's Amicus Caesaris could have been seen as a challenge to *Sejanus* (rather than the effectively exiled Tiberius) at the peak of his power in Rome had he heard it? Thus, the crucifixion could have taken place at 30 CE if Pilate was afraid of upsetting his status with a seemingly all-powerful Sejanus. How would you argue against that? Please copy any response you might make here also to my email at nohurricane_at_gmail_dot_com.
Thank you and have a blessed Easter!
Rick Carpenter, Huntsville, East Texas