Jews as the Romans saw them.

Author:Wilken, Robert Louis
Position:Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations - Book review



Knopf, 624 pages, $35

WHEN I FIRST SAW the title of this book, I thought of Tertullian's famous question: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? But Goodman did not have Tertullian in mind when he chose his rifle. He was thinking instead of Moses Hess, a Jewish writer born in Germany in the early nineteenth century who wrote a once famous book called The Revival of Israel: Rome and Jerusalem, the Last Nationalist Question.

Moses Hess grew up in the orthodox Jewish home of his grandfather, from whom he received a solid formation in Jewish religious texts. As a young man, however, when he took up the study of philosophy he came under the influence of Hegel and turned against his upbringing. He believed that religion was a thing of the past and that the Jewish people would eventually disappear. But more than two decades later, when he was fifty years old, he wrote The Revival of Israel and announced that he had returned to the "House of Israel." In the book he argued that the Jews could never live a normal life without a home of their own, and that home could only be the Land of Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital.

The Revival of Israel was inspired in part by the revolution taking place under Garibaldi. Hess saw the establishment of an Italian state as a model for the future of the Jewish people. The "Rome" of his title does not refer to ancient Rome, but to Italian Rome freed from the shackles of the papacy. Though Hess identified with the Jewish people, their customs and traditions, his Jewishness was not religious. For him the religion of the Jews was their national identity--their "patriotism," as he called it.

With all this in mind, I was puzzled as I read through Goodman's Rome and Jerusalem, a masterful account of the decades leading up to the war with the Romans, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and Temple in A.D. 70, and his illuminating description of the aftermath, particularly the years leading up to the revolt of Simon bar Kokhba in 132. The story is usually told within the framework of ancient Jewish history, but Goodman appears to have a contemporary agenda as well. The final paragraphs of the book take up, however briefly, Hess' "visionary tract" suggesting that the future of the Jewish people today is a piece with their fortunes in the Roman Empire of old. How ancient history relates to the present is neither developed nor explained, yet the plot of the book seems informed by Hess' essay.

Goodman, a historian at Oxford, has served as editor of the Journal of Roman Studies and also of the Journal of Jewish Studies, and he moves effortlessly between both worlds, drawing on Josephus the Jewish historian on one page and Tacitus the Roman historian on another. Though his subject is Jewish history, he gives as much attention to events in Rome as he does to what was happening in Judea and Jerusalem--all of which makes for stimulating and rewarding reading.

Goodman shows that, before the onset of the war, Jews in the cities of the empire went about their lives and the practice of their religion without interference and enjoyed good relations with their neighbors; and in Judea and Jerusalem, with a few exceptions, a modus vivendi had been worked out with Roman...

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