Rome and Jerusalem

Rome and Jerusalem

The Clash of Ancient Civilizations

Book - 2007
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A magisterial history of the titanic struggle between the Roman and Jewish worlds that led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

In 70 C.E., after a four-year war, three Roman legions besieged and eventually devastated Jerusalem, destroying Herod's magnificent Temple. Sixty years later, after further violent rebellions and the city's final destruction, Hadrian built the new city of Aelia Capitolina where Jerusalem had once stood. Jews were barred from entering its territory. They were taxed simply for being Jewish. They were forbidden to worship their god. They were wholly reviled.

What brought about this conflict between the Romans and the subjects they had previously treated with tolerance? Martin Goodman--equally renowned in Jewish and in Roman studies--examines this conflict, its causes, and its consequences with unprecedented authority and thoroughness. He delineates the incompatibility between the cultural, political, and religious beliefs and practices of the two peoples. He explains how Rome's interests were served by a policy of brutality against the Jews. He makes clear how the original Christians first distanced themselves from their origins, and then became increasingly hostile toward Jews as Christian influence spread within the empire. The book thus also offers an exceptional account of the origins of anti-Semitism, the history of which reverberates still.

An indispensable book.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2007.
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9780375411854
Characteristics: xiv, 598 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps, geneal. tables ; 25 cm.

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Jan 08, 2018

In 66 AD, Jewish rebels seized control of the city of Jerusalem and declared the foundation of a new state of Israel free from Roman control. Four years later, the armies of Rome recaptured Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children died by violence or starvation, tens of thousands more were enslaved, while thousands of real or suspected rebels were crucified, sometimes as many as five hundred at a time. The Temple, the center of Jewish life and worship, was completely destroyed, never to be rebuilt, its treasures carted off to adorn the triumph of the victorious general, Titus, son and heir of Emperor Vespasian.

This "Jewish War", described in detail by Josephus, is the centerpiece but not the subject of Martin Goodman's Rome and Jerusalem. His focus is not the conflict itself, but its causes and consequences. Through a detailed analysis of the societies and cultures of the Jews and Romans, he dissents from the conventional view that the bloody showdown was inevitable, while contending that it was responsible for a seismic shift in Roman attitudes towards Jews that would resonate for millennia. Unfortunately, in order to reach these conclusions, Goodman is forced to stretch the evidence to the breaking point. He often writes as if people are only allowed a single motivation for any action, so that attacks by poor Jews against their wealthier coreligionists can be dismissed as class warfare without any component of opposition to Roman power or influence, despite the obvious parallels with the Maccabean revolt, which was as much a struggle of poorer rural Jews against the Hellenizing urban elite as with the Syrian king. Another problem is his tendency to selectively generalize from the acknowledged diversity of social groups - for example, since many Jews were comfortable with certain aspects of Hellenism, Goodman concludes that first century Hellenism and Judaism were essentially compatible, effectively papering over the existence of large numbers of Jews and Gentiles who passionately believed that they were fundamentally incompatible. This reaches absurd levels in his treatment of the early Church, when he dishonestly elides the early Jewish persecutions of Christians in order to mystify the break between the two communities, then imagines that those same Christians would voluntarily disassociate themselves from Jews in order to escape from Roman antisemitism despite themselves being under an imperial death sentence. Then, too, he sometimes slides into the error of evaluating a period with the full benefit of hindsight, so that he imagines the inhabitants of Herodian Jerusalem, not as chafing under a corrupt alien dynasty with the knowledge that the security of their holy place was dependent upon the unpredictable whims of distant pagan emperors and their functionaries, but as enjoying a golden age of peace and prosperity which was cut tragically short by war precisely because that is how it appears in retrospect.

This overreach is a considerable and unnecessary flaw. Goodman's exploration of the Roman and Jewish cultures of antiquity is excellent, not in spite of but precisely because of his recognition of the heterogeneity of each and his awareness of their broad similarities as well as their particular differences. Likewise, he generally avoids the trap of imagining that even the most authoritarian of ancient societies much resembled modern totalitarianism. It would be a far stronger book if it was not driven by the author's overriding determination to discover a single source for all of European antisemitism. Goodman succeeds as a historian of fact but ultimately fails in his analysis.


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