Roman Provinces
in the New Testament

Judea - Syria

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Roman Provinces of Syria and Judea

Judea (Judaea)

Judea ("Judeae" in the KJV), formed from much of the land given to ancient Israel, is the most frequently referenced Roman province in the New Testament (Matthew 2:1, Mark 1:5, Luke 1:5, John 3:22, etc.). When it was originally formed in 6 A.D., it was composed of the regions (districts) named Samaria (mentioned thirteen times in the N.T.), Judea itself (where Jerusalem is located) and Idumea (which is not named in the Bible). The regions of Galilee (mentioned sixty-six times and located just south of Syria) and Perea (not named in Scripture) were added to the province in 44 A.D. under Emperor Claudius.

Cities within the Judea provincial area include Antipatris (Acts 23:31), Azotus (Acts 8:40), Bethabara (John 1:28), Bethany (Matthew 21:17, 26:6, etc.), Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1, 5 - 6, 8, 16, Luke 2:4, etc.), Caesarea (Acts 8:40, etc.) and Cana (John 2:1, 11, 4:46, 21:2). Additional cities of Israel in this province include Capernaum (Matthew 4:13, etc.), Chorazin (Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:13), Emmaus (Luke 24:13), Gaza (Acts 8:26), Jericho (Matthew 20:29, etc.), Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1, etc.), Joppa (Acts 9:36, etc.), Lydda (Acts 9:32, 35, 38), Magdala (Matthew 15:39), Nain (Luke 7:11), Nazareth (Matthew 2:23, etc.) and Sychar (John 4:5).

The most well-known Roman ruler over Judea is Pontius Pilate, who governed as a Prefect from 26 to 36 A.D. Mentioned more than fifty times in the New Testament (Matthew 27:2, Mark 15:1, etc.) he was the person who had the legal authority to put Jesus Christ to death (John 18:31, 19:10). Proof that Pilate governed for Rome at the time of Christ was found in 1961. A carved limestone block called the Pilate Stone was found in Caesarea, the provincial capital, that not only listed his name but also labeled him the Prefect of the province.

Judea was a tumultuous province to govern. In 66 A.D., it began a war against Rome that ultimately resulted in the total destruction of Jerusalem's temple in 70 A.D. and ended with the taking of Masada in 73. In 132 A.D., another rebellion was started known as Bar Kokhba's revolt. It brought a short-lived independence from the Empire that was ended in 135 and cost the lives of more than half a million Jews. Emperor Hadrian, after the rebellion, expelled all Jews from Jerusalem and combined the provinces of Syria and Judea into a new provincial territory called Syria Palaestina.

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Important Cities of Ancient Israel Map

Roman rulers over Israel


Syria became a province of Rome in 64 B.C. It is referenced at least eight times in the KJV (Matthew 4:24, Luke 2:2, Acts 15:23, 41, 18:18, 20:3, 21:3 and Galatians 1:21). Within its boundaries is the region known as Phoenicia (called Phenice or Phenicia in the KJV), which is mentioned three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:19, 15:3, 21:2).

Cities within provincial Syria included Damascus (Acts 9:2 - 3, etc.), Ptolemais (Acts 21:7), Seleucia (Acts 13:4), Sidon (Matthew 11:21 - 22, etc.), Syrian Antioch (Acts 6:5, 11:19 - 20, etc.) and Tyre (Matthew 11:21 - 22, etc.). Syrian Antioch, the capital city, is one of the earliest locations where Christianity rapidly spread after the death of Jesus.

The Phoenicians were known for their fabrics of wool, silk, cotton and linen. They were also considered the most skilled seamen of the ancient world.

"That the Phoenicians took to the sea at a very early date and became the most skillful mariners of the ancient world is certain . . . They exhibited a boldness and audacity in braving the perils of the sea in their little ships, which, for the age, demands our admiration. They were the first who dared to push out of sight of land in their voyages and sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the ocean." (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, section on Phoenicia)

It was the Phoenicians who produced a script that became the forerunner of the Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew and other alphabets.

"Their written characters were the same as the Samaritan or Old Hebrew; and from them the Greek alphabet, and through it most of the alphabets of Europe, were undoubtedly derived; hence they were regarded by the Greeks as the inventors of letters. Other inventions in the sciences and arts are ascribed to them, such as arithmetic, astronomy, navigation, the manufacture of glass, and the coining of money." (A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography by William Smith, section on Phoenice)

Existing far from Italy, Syria proved to be a challenging area to govern yet it proved beneficial to the Empire.

"As the eastern province of the Roman empire, and with its great desert frontier, Syria was constantly exposed to the irruptions of the Parthians, and, after them, of the Persians; but it long remained one of the most flourishing of the provinces" (ibid., section on Syria)

Non-provincial New Testament areas

Decapolis and Mesopotamia

The Roman region named Decapolis ("ten cities") is mentioned three times in the New Testament (Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20, 7:31). Biblical references to places within this region include "the country of the Gadarenes" (Mark 5:1) and "the country of the Gergesenes" (Matthew 8:28). The Decapolis is one of the few areas Jesus traveled to where Gentiles composed the majority of the population. It did not become a part of a Roman province until the reign of Emperor Trajan (98 to 117 A.D.).

Mesopotamia is an area referenced in the New Testament (Acts 2:9, 7:2) that was controlled by the Parthian Empire. It became, under Trajan, a short-lived province of the Empire from 116 to 117 A.D.

Additional Study Materials
First Century Churches in Israel
Palestine under the Maccabees Map
How many times did Rome attack Jerusalem?

Roman Provinces in
the New Testament
Asia - Bithynia - Galatia
Cappadocia - Cilicia - Lycia
GreeceJudea - Syria

Series Primary Sources

A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and
Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography

Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody
Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting
The church in the Roman empire before A.D. 170
Holy Bible a Faithful Version (HBFV)
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Life and Epistles of Apostle Paul

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