From Caesar’s Death to Jesus’ Birth
By Scott Rohter, July 2012
Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and Caesar Augustus all had something in common. What is it that unites all of these prominent historic figures?… They all lived during a very brief but important period of time just before the birth of Jesus Christ. So many things happened during those forty short tumultuous years between the death of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. and the birth of Jesus Christ roughly around 4 B.C. No other time in history is quite as significant. So many world changing events that altered the course of history unfolded during those critical years between the murder of Rome’s first emperor, and the birth of God’s only son and the world’s only Savior. So much human history was pre-determined between the royal assassination of Julius Caesar in Rome and the humble beginnings of a child born to a young Jewish woman in a little manger, in a remote town of a distant Roman province.
It was a pivotal time in the development of western civilization. It was also a pivotal time in history. In less than forty years, in just the span of one man’s lifetime, within a single generation Julius Caesar was murdered and Rome was plunged into a bloody civil war, a war which lasted over ten years and one which took Rome very far from its early Republican moorings. This long struggle for control of the far flung Roman Empire became a bitter personal fight to the finish between two military strongmen who were both former allies of the assassinated king. One of them was Julius Caesar’s friend and trusted military commander Mark Antony, and the other was Caesar’s own nephew Octavian.
Mark Antony quickly formed a strategic alliance with the mother of one of Julius Caesar’s sons and the official heir to the throne. She was Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. Her real name was actually Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra was the name of an entire dynasty of Egyptian Queens . But this particular Cleopatra, the one who Mark Antony fell in love with was actually the last Cleopatra to rule Egypt. She was the last in a long line of descendants of General Ptolemy who was one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemys to rule over the land of the Nile and with her death by suicide in 30 B.C., the rule of Egypt by the descendants of Ptolemy came to an abrupt end. Cleopatra VII was the last in a long line of Greco-Macedonian rulers who sat upon the throne of Egypt after Alexander the Great‘s armies defeated their Persians overlords.
Young Alexander the Great’s death came unexpectedly. He left no specific instructions as to how his vast territories were to be administered after his untimely demise. Ptolemy was one of Alexander’s strongest generals. He seized Egypt. He also continued Alexander’s plans to build a great new capitol city for Egypt on the shores of the Mediterranean which he named after his beloved leader. So Ptolemy finished building the city that Alexander started. He built it on a grand scale to be the finest city of its day and he named it Alexandria. Today it is still referred to in Arabic as El Iskandaria, the City of Alexander.
Ptolemy founded a dynasty of Greek-Macedonian rulers who would go on to rule Egypt for over three hundred years. This dynasty culminated in the death by suicide of Cleopatra VII in 30 B.C. She was the same Queen of Egypt who made that strategic alliance with Mark Antony who become the father of three of her four children.
Here is a little additional background about the last Cleopatra to rule Egypt. She was the daughter of Ptolemy XI. After a bitter family rivalry between her and her younger brother had broke out into a full-fledged family feud and a corresponding struggle for power between herself and Egyptian forces aligned with her brother, Julius Caesar had to intervene and have her restored to the Egyptian throne. But for two years between 46 B.C. and 44 B.C. Cleopatra lived in Rome with Julius Caesar where she gave birth to his son. The only child of Caesar and Cleopatra was a bone of contention for the Roman people who didn’t want any child of an Egyptian queen to rule over Rome. So after Julius Caesar’s death by assassination in 44 B.C. Cleopatra returned to Egypt where she had her own brother put to death in order to ensure that her son by Julius Caesar would become joint ruler of Egypt with her.
Just two years later in 42 B.C. Cleopatra met Mark Antony in Tarsus of all places which was in present day Turkey. Tarsus wi the birthplace of another influential person, namely the Apostle Paul who is credited with writing much of the New Testament that changed the world. He was also one of the principle leaders of the early Christian Church. Paul was born in Tarsus only a mere twenty or thirty years after that fateful meeting between Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
Mark Antony immediately fell in love with the enticing and persuasive Egyptian Queen and together they formed a strategic alliance to challenge Octavian’s right to rule Rome. She was the mother of Caesar’s apparent heir, and Mark Anthony was his ambitious friend and trusted military commander. Together they hoped to defeat the combined forces of Octavian, who was Caesar’s nephew. They hoped to jointly rule Rome. Anthony needed Egypt’s help in order to do this. Egypt furnished his army with ships and grain to feed his soldiers and money to pay them. In return Cleopatra wanted a stronger role for Egypt in the re-organized Roman Empire. Her long term goal was exactly the same as it always had been. She had hoped to jointly rule Rome as Julius Caesar’s Queen, but now that he was dead she wanted to rule together as co-regent with Marc Antony for her son. To make matters even more complicated Mark Antony was already married to Octavian’s sister. He jilted her for Cleopatra.
It was the shrewd and wily Cleopatra who turned Mark Antony’s eyes away from his wife Octavia and lured him to form a strategic alliance and a personal relationship with her. Octavia was the sister of the man who would eventually go on to rule Rome one day, but hat the moment he was locked in a struggle to the death with Mark Antony over Rome’s future. The abandonment of his sister by Mark Antony did nothing to assuage the animosity or calm the tensions that already existed between these two fierce rivals. The tensions between Octavian and Antony eventually culminated in the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. where the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra were completely destroyed.
After hearing rumors that his beloved Cleopatra had died Mark Antony took his own life by the sword before the advancing legions of Roman soldiers that were led by Octavian. However just before his death he learned that Cleopatra was still alive and he asked to be taken to her where it is said that he actually died in her arms.
Now with Mark Antony gone, the wily Cleopatra sought to entice the victorious Octavian by offering herself to him in very much the same way that she had done with Mark Antony and Julius Caesar before him. She used her considerable charm to try to forge an alliance with Octavian, but her advances were unsuccessful so rather than suffer humiliation at the hands of her enemies she decided to really commit suicide this time before Octavian’s advancing armies could find her. She committed suicide about ten days after Mark Antony had taken his own life.
When Octavian finally entered the royal Egyptian city and the royal quarters in August of 30 B.C. he found that both Antony and Cleopatra had committed suicide, one by the sword and the other by poisoning. The last Queen Pharaoh of Egypt and the last of the Ptolemys to rule over the land of the Nile was only 39 years old at the time of her death. The year was 30 B.C., only a mere twenty five years before the birth of Jesus Christ in the little Jewish town of Bethlehem only a few hundred miles away.
The tumultuous events of those forty years between 44 B.C. and 4 B.C. when Jesus was born in Judea set the stage for even greater cataclysmic upheavals during the next seventy years. Jesus would be crucified by Roman soldiers and his life and death and subsequent resurrection would go on to give birth to one of the world’s three great faiths. The ancient Jewish Kingdom of Judea would be destroyed in 70 A.D. by Roman Legions under the command of Emperor Octavian’s successor who was Titus, and the surviving Jewish inhabitants of the land would be scattered all over the Greek and Roman world. In the absence of any significant numbers of Jews in the Middle East the world stage was set for the spread of another Abrahamic religion, Islam.
The expulsion of the Jews from their homeland in 70 A.D. resulted in a worldwide Diaspora of millions of displaced persons and set the conditions for the following world wide events.
1) The Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century led to the confiscation of Jewish property by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain which provided a financial way to finance the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Those voyages resulted in the discovery of America.
2) The subsequent maritime competition between England and Spain for supremacy on the high seas led to the eventual formation of the far flung British Empire.
3) The Nazi Holocaust.
4) The centuries long hostility that has always existed between Islam and the other two Abrahamic faiths which has resulted in the current War on Terror.
The origin of all of these events can be traced back to the events that occurred between about 4 B.C. and 70 A.D.
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