In 63 BC Rome took control of Palestine and made it a province of the Roman Empire. In those days Palestine was known as Judea, meaning ‘land of the Jews’. The name was used sometimes for Palestine as a whole, as for example when Herod the Great governed the region (Luke 1:5). But in general people thought of Palestine as consisting of three sections, the northern known as Galilee, the central as Samaria and the southern as Judea (John 4:3-4). When Herod died in 4 BC, his former territory was divided among his sons, the central and southern parts going to Archelaus (Matt 2:22). Archelaus was so cruel and unjust that in AD 6 the Jews in Judea asked Rome to remove him and rule over them directly. From that time on, the combined Judea-Samaria section was governed by Roman governors and was officially known as the Roman province of Judea.

The administrative centre was Caesarea. Judea had a brief period without Roman governors from AD 41 to 44, when Herod Agrippa I was allowed to rule (Acts 12:1-4,18-23). Apart from that, Roman governors controlled Judea till the destruction of the Jewish state in AD 70. Roman governors of Judea mentioned in the Bible are Pontius Pilate (Luke 3:1; 23:1), Felix (Acts 23:24,33) and Porcius Festus (Acts 25:1-5). The people of Judea were, on the whole, true Jews. They were fiercely proud of their national and religious purity and were devoted to the traditions of their forefathers.

They despised the Galilean Jews, who lived in a region of mixed Jewish-Gentile population (Matt 26:69,73; John 7:41,52), and they despised the Samaritans, who were people of mixed blood and mixed religion (John 4:9; 8:48). Above all they despised Jesus. They never accepted him as many in Galilee did, and finally they crucified him (Matt 23:37). Some of the towns of Judea that feature in the story of Jesus are Bethlehem, Bethany, Bethphage, Emmaus, Jericho and Jerusalem (Matt 2:1; Mark 11:1; Luke 10:30; 24:13). (For further details see separate entries under the names of these towns. For details of the physical features of Judea see PALESTINE.)

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