Monday, January 08, 2007

A New Historical Theory

In An unholy mess, Mary Beard reviews ROME AND JERUSALEM: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations, a new book by Martin Goodman. What's it all about?

The Romans quashed the revolt of the Jews, between 66 and 70 CE, with a brutality that was dreadful even by the usually low standards of ancient warfare. Under the future emperor Titus, the city of Jerusalem was besieged and ruthlessly starved into submission...Once the city fell, the Temple was burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt...

A key theme in Martin Goodman’s wide-ranging and impressive new book, Rome and Jerusalem, is the background to this revolt and its terrible suppression. It is an instructive story. Goodman shows that there had been no consistent animosity between Romans and Jews before the 60s CE...On their side, the Romans mostly found the Jews puzzling and weird rather than dangerous. According to one Jewish writer who came on a delegation to the Roman imperial court, the idea that the Jews would not eat pork prompted peals of laughter rather than disgust.

Goodman carefully explains that the revolt was the consequence of systemic deficiencies in the Roman government...the problem was the calibre of the governors on the ground...

Most significant of all perhaps, this stand-off between Romans and Jews had its effect on the small but ambitious Jewish sect of Christians, who wanted to establish their own foothold in the Roman world. Increasingly they took pains “not only to deny their own Jewishness but to attack Judaism altogether”. And so it is that in a bold final chapter Goodman wonders whether the origins of anti-Semitism are to be found in the events of 66-70 and their aftermath.

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