Just as I finished reading Steve Mason’s A History of the Jewish War, AD 66-74 an article Why Did Vespasian and Titus Destroy Jerusalem? by David Gurevich appeared in TheTorah.com (h/t Jim Davila’s PaleoJudaica). Gurevich’s views make an interesting comparison with Mason’s.
Both align with the view that the emperor Vespasian presented the destruction of Jerusalem as a major victory against a most significant threat to the Roman imperium in the East so that both he himself and his successor son Titus would be feted as the preservers of Roman glory and even as the ones who expanded her empire. The year 69 is infamous as the “Year of the Four Emperors”, being blighted by civil war in the wake of Nero’s suicide, and since Vespasian was from a social class lower than the aristocracy he was not the obvious choice for the one who would restore order and stability to the empire. But by presenting his and his son’s destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, and by his subsequent establishment of Judea as a brand new province, Vespasian was able to present himself as not only the restorer of a stable peace but even as the pair who expanded Roman power and grandeur.
In reality ….. well, let’s not dwell upon the reality at this moment of the excitement of restoration of peace and expanding imperial fame.
Before CNN, Al-Jazeera and Twitter emperors relayed their messages through public displays, monumental constructions and coinage.
Triumphal marches through the city of Rome were not awarded for the mere police-duty of bringing a few wild dogs to heel. But if such a police-duty could be presented as something much more than that, as even an expansion of imperial boundaries and the defeat of an existential threat from the barbaric Orient, then one would have to be supra-human to resist such a temptation. Triumphal processions displayed graphic images of the mighty Roman armies destroying the cities, homes and persons of the aliens; they displayed the vast wealth of treasures captured; and the displayed prisoners, including the enemy leader who was doomed to be executed at the end of the Triumph.
There was the Triumphal arch, towers and monuments, dedicated temples and other vast monuments. The grand Colosseum begun by Vespasian contained relief carvings commemorating the Judean “conquest”.
Everyone needed money and the “emperor” had the power to convey whatever messages he wanted through this medium.
Rome’s operation against Jerusalem was nothing more than the elimination of a local rebellion. Such actions were not the sort of thing that earned generals or emperors Triumphal marches and honours. There never was a threat to the empire’s borders. There was no expansion of imperial territory. Apart from a few “mopping up” actions to remind the population of the terror of Roman power and to keep the troops fit there was no other fighting. (The only exception was a detour to help King Agrippa bring a couple of his wayward cities back into his fold.)
Why the destruction of Jerusalem?
According to Steve Mason Jerusalem became the refuge for renegades who had every reason to fear falling into the hands of the Romans. They were wanted for previous attacks on Roman forces. Once they took control of Jerusalem, having murdered the leadership who had expressed willingness to submit to Rome, Jerusalem was doomed.
Rome had been quite content to let Jerusalem be until certain frustrated groups sought their own violent solutions to neighbourhood problems. Once Rome intervened to restore “the peace” certain Judeans felt Rome was unjustly favouring the “wrong” side and retaliated against the military.
Nero at this time was desperate to raise money and sent Florus to extract whatever he could by any means from Judea, including its temple treasures. Understandable but unwise reactions led to Vespasian being sent with a few legions to put Jerusalem rebels back in their place.
Once a campaign is under way and contact made with the enemy original plans are commonly thrown to the winds as events themselves take control with a mind of their own. Galilee on the whole followed Sepphoris in quickly submitting to Rome, but once a similarly minded leadership in Jerusalem was removed by those who had nothing left to lose no such option was possible for that city.
Gurevich’s take is somewhat different in that he argues that Vespasian deliberately chose to destroy Jerusalem and its Temple to give himself and his son a display of power — images of brutal conquest — that could be exploited for its propaganda value back in Rome and throughout the empire.
Mason, on the other hand, suggests that we cannot know the inner motives of such actors and the nature of the evidence is most economically explained by Vespasian making the most of the opportunity that the destruction of Jerusalem presented to him. (There is no reason to introduce other factors such as widespread messianic hopes, by the way. But that’s another post.)
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27 thoughts on “How the Roman World Received the News of Jerusalem’s Destruction”
Just been reading “Histories” by Herodotus written 5BC. Instead of anecdotal accounts & vignettes he wrote a chronology of how things came to be as he found them. In the process he mentioned the Palestinians 7 times. Not Philistines but Palestinians. He also failed to mention any Jews. Obviously Jews/Judaeans had not differentiated themselves from their fellow Palestinians in the 5th c. BC.
On page 318 in Book Four he wrote: “Between Persia and Phoenicia lies a broad and ample tract of country, after which the region I am describing skirts our sea [Mediterranean], stretching from Phoenicia along the coast of Palestine-Syria till it comes to Egypt, where it terminates. The entire tract contains but 3 nations [Assyrians -among whom the Palestinian Syrians were included- the Arabians & the Phoenicians]. The whole of Asia west of the country of the Persians is comprised of these 2 regions.”
Book 3 pg 227 : “Now the only entrance into Egypt is by this desert: the country from Phoenicia to the borders of the city Cadytis [Gaza] belongs to the people called Palaestine Syrians.” [From the footnotes: Palestine Syria means properly “the Syria of the Philistines,” who were in ancient times by far the most powerful race of southern Syria.]
Book 7: “The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine, according to their own account, dwelt anciently upon the Erythraean Sea, but crossing thence, fixed themselves on the seacoast of Syria, where they still inhabit. This part of Syria, and all the region extending from hence to Egypt, is known by the name of Palestine.”
Ditto for any other writers. Nothing in the meticulously kept Egyptian historical records as well. The strange thing about the ‘Kingdoms of Israel’ is that its not mentioned textually by anyone else – the only evidence we have is from Jewish religious writings written after the fact.
You might be interested in what we can know about the “biblical Israel” from the archaeological evidence that I have set out at IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT ISRAEL.
There was a Kingdom of Israel in the north of the present day Galilee and West Bank region up until the time of the Assyrian invasion towards the end of the eighth century. A kingdom of Judea based around Jerusalem did not become a power of any sort until after the demise of Israel, and that only lasted until the sixth century Babylonian conquest.
With the Persians we have a continuation of the mass deportation policies as people were moved to establish new colonies for both strategic and economic reasons, and sometimes to restore temples. The Judean colony was one such. People who were moved like this could be told that they were in fact returning to the land of their ancestors to restore their original worship customs. Myths would be created to justify their new place in the world.
As you indicate, Herodotus is talking about people in the “region…. skirts our sea”. Israel and Judah were located in the hill country, away from the sea.
The people in the plains were called ‘Philistines’ in the Bible, and “Palaistinē” (Greek – Παλαιστίνη) by Herodotus.
The Philistines were an Aegean people, related to the Greeks and with no connection ethnically, linguisticly or historically with Arabia, as also Herodotus describes in Book 7: “the Syrians of Palestine ….. lived….anciently upon the Erythraean Sea, but crossing thence, fixed themselves on the seacoast of Syria, where they still inhabit”.
Hence, Herodotus doesn’t talk about Jewish kingdoms or populations, because he is discussing the region to the west of these kingdoms.
Herodotus tells us that he did not travel personally to either Egypt or Israel and relied upon second hand accounts. We can only speculate why Herodotus doesn’t mention Jews at all. But we certainly can’t draw any historical conclusions from his silence.
The term ‘Palestinians’ has evolved over the centuries: starting with Philistines in Gaza (5th century BCE):
in the 2nd century CE, the Romans crushed the Bar Kochba revolt, and the whole area of Judea was renamed ‘Palaestina’ in an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the lands of Israel.
Then, ‘Palestinians’ changed to mean (mainly) Jews in Judea (2nd Century CE). Later, (Ottoman empire, 16th Century CE), the term Palestine lost its official use, but was loosely used to describe the land south of Syria. In the early 20th Century, ‘Palestine’ indicated the territory that was placed under British Mandate; this area included not only present-day Israel but also present-day Jordan. Until the independence of Israel (1948), it was common use to refer to Jews in that area as ‘Palestinians’. Only after Israel’s independence did the modern understanding of ‘Palestinian’ take shape.
Even the biblical account testifies that there was no Jewish kingdom or kingdom or colony known as Israel in the time of Herodotus. This was the time of the stories of Nehemiah and Ezra. Mason further points out that though we speak of ancient Jews, people in ancient times would have referred to them as Judaeans.
Given Herodotus’s interest in reporting on different customs it is surprising that the colony of Judea is omitted — the moreso given that we would expect its neighbours who are said to have felt antipathy towards the Judeans to have passed on some hostile mention of them to Herodotus.
But those with an interest in salvaging the Bible as a historical document are on safest ground attributing Herodotus’s silence to the insignificance of this Persian colony in the early Second Temple era.
(I was unaware Herodotus did not indicate that he visited Egypt.)
Does Mason dwell on the “Jewish messianism” mythos in his book?
Mason writes (with my own emphasis):
Of another historian, Martin Goodman (Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations) he writes:
On the facts as presented here, as you said , the Mason account presents the more economical version of the end of Jerusalem…it seems preferable . I won’t say Occam’s Razor.
Mason is very conscious of how little we can be truly confident of knowing for certain.
I was too hasty in saying that Herodotus doesn’t claim to have visited Egypt. He gives mixed messages, such as “So far the Egyptians themselves have been my authority; but in what follows I shall relate what other people, too, are willing to accept in the history of this country, with a few points added from my own observation.” (Histories 2.147). But on various other occasions, he does claim to have actually visited the places in Egypt.
I didn’t see any speak of ‘ancient Jews’ here, and – indeed- I wouldn’t advocate its use. It is more customary to speak of ‘Hebrews’ or ‘Israelites’ for the ‘ancient times’. Btw, ‘Jew’ and ‘Judean’ are the same word ( Ἰουδαῖος) in classical and biblical Greek literature.
The area of Juda was a province (Judah Medinata) in the Persian empire. There is significant archeological evidence for the continuous presence of a Hebrew/Judean population there, all the way through Babylonian and Persian times. On the basis of archeology, it is estimated that – at the very most – 25% of the population was deported to Babylon. There is no evidence for a significant influx of population (Judean or otherwise) in the Persian period – as far as I’m aware of-.
If you have evidence for your understanding of the period (“the mass deportation policies” in/out during Persian times), then I will be interested to read them.
I don’t find the absence of Judeans in Herodotus’s Histories very surprising. His aim is prevent that “the works great and marvellous, which have been produced some by Hellenes and some by Barbarians, may lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.” (I, 1-2). The Judeans don’t seem to fit that bill.
I have responded recently to a similar question @ hhttp://vridar.org/2015/02/12/the-rhythms-of-palestines-history/#comment-69950
The point about Judeans as distinct from Jews was intended to convey the equivalent term that was in use in ancient times. People spoke of people in relation to their main cultural centres, — Athenians, Tyrians, Aramaeans, Judeans.
You appear to be heavily invested in making all evidence and arguments support a certain ideological narrative. I personally think ideological arguments only get in the way of doing real history. If you think that makes me a member of an opposing ideological camp then I invite you to read http://vridar.org/2012/02/11/ouch-my-own-beliefs-undermined-by-my-own-historical-principles/
I hope we both deplore the antisemitism accusations that have been leveled at scholars like Keith Whitelam and Thomas L. Thompson.
I’ve looked at the references (thanks), and could trace a few of them. Most of these discuss the Babylonian period (not the Persian). Some also include the Persian period: they say that there was considerable movement of people in/out the coastal regions and Galilee, but not in the Juda province. Hence the “continuation of the mass deportation policies” does not seem applicable to the Juda province.
I admit to having an ideological view. And you have an ideological view too. I think this is inevitable, everyone has some ideas about the word he/she lives in.
Your view appears to imply that the people of the Persian province Judah were not descendants of the earlier Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. (migrant people …”could be told that they were in fact returning to the land of their ancestors.”). I’m interested in testing that view against the evidence, and against the argument. And I’m willing to adjust my views on the basis of such evidence.
I do not have an ideological view. Why do you think I do? What is there in my argument that has suggested this to you? I am not the least interested in proving or disproving the Biblical narrative or contemporary historical-nationalist stories. I hope I can clarify what my interest is once more when I discuss Steve Mason’s new book in more detail. His own methods and interests are what I have been talking about and following in other historians for some time now.
I know some people assume such authors are ideologically motivated to attack the Bible or national stories because their methods produce results that undermine them. But that’s inevitable. If you are ideologically minded of course you will assume contrary views have to be confronted and rebutted. But that’s not doing valid historical inquiry. That’s doing the sort of ideological history we associate with Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.
I don’t recall all my past comments but I have no problem with the view that descendants of earlier inhabitants of Palestine returned there under the Persians. Nor do I have problems with others also migrating there. I really don’t know who they were, although there are probably some clues I could turn to when I return to a serious study of this time period once more.
What I think is the point of significance, however, is the emergence of the canonical texts from the time of the Persian era, and the emergence of “biblical Israel” from that time on.
I was speaking of ideology as a set of opinions or beliefs. We all have them. There is nothing wrong with having an ideology. But you do need to recognize it as a belief, and be prepared to adapt basis evidence or experience.
You ask for an example of one of your ideologies; from your post of 17/8:
“I could not bring myself to believe that Muslims parents lacked the parental devotion to their children that we find throughout the human race, indeed among probably all mammal species.”
A video has been posted on YouTube 2 weeks ago about a Palestinian father who tries to sacrifice his son for Palestinian Propaganda.
Now I don’t believe that Muslim parents are any less caring than any other parents; I think what is at play here is human behaviour in extreme conditions, in particular in a violent environment. The violence that hardened the stance of the Israeli soldier in your blogpost, also distorted the Palestinian father’s care for his son.
The same extreme conditions could have hardened the behaviours of the refugees you talked about. It is only fortunate that it didn’t happen in that case.
Ideology does not mean a set of opinions or beliefs. It is quite different from that.
But of course we all have beliefs and opinions that we inevitably bring into any study. But what we do when pursuing a scholarly or professional inquiry into something is put our opinions and beliefs on the table and use methods that will help us escape distortions in our findings as a result of our bias. Serious scholarship does not come down to a mere matter of conflicting opinions. Your single case study does not counter a general experience that points in an opposite direction. Rather, it invites a study to understand why the single case appears to contradict the norm.
You say you believe what is at play is such and such, but that’s not serious research. That’s just opinion. Research into the data is necessary; it needs to be amassed, evaluated, questioned, tested ….
And what we can generally call “scientific methods” are used in our data analysis.
I certainly have no ideology guiding my historical studies, and as for opinions, I try to be very conscious of my biases and compensate for them. That’s why my posts are generally informed by a lot of deep and widespread reading. That’s the only way I know of to avoid allowing mere opinions of any variety from influencing the outcome.
If anyone can show me how my mere opinion has skewed my interpretation of the data then I would welcome it. That’s called a serious exchange over the methods and data we use. Usually I find that people who are the most hostile against my views are those who simply do not bother to inform themselves of the nitty gritty of challenges to their own opinions, or who attempt to deflect attention from the data and the methods and to dwell on emotive (opinion-influencing) arguments instead.
I don’t want to digress too much, but just to illustrate that there is more to the parent-child relationship than the “single case study” that I gave as example: FBI homicide data show that – on average – 450 children are killed every year by their parents in the US alone(http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/10/parents-kill-children-fbi-data/15280259/). And child abuse is – regrettably- orders of magnitude more widespread than that.
On which data did you base your opinion about “the parental devotion to their children that we find throughout the human race, indeed among probably all mammal species.”?
. . .
I think it’s an important question to discuss.
Child abuse is a crime punishable by society that deems it to be criminal. Surely I don’t need to explain the biological basis for humans having a natural impulse to care for their young, even to sacrifice for their wellbeing. Exceptions don’t disprove the rule. Look at the human universals I linked to. One of these is the unthinkability of incest between mother and son, yet that does happen. The exceptions do not invalidate the universal.
The existence of the studies of psychology or anthropology or sociology or political science and animal behaviour demonstrate that there are universals of some kind existing in reality.
Society has rules and methods of punishing violations. That does not mean people are all just as likely to kill or abuse children as not.
In cases of child abuse studies are conducted to understand why it happens, and we have a pretty good list of factors explaining why we see such actions contrary to the grain of what we find is natural and universal.
Those exceptions don’t mean that child abusers are not human, or that it is not human to naturally care for our children. They demonstrate that there are many variables involved in how humans turn out. We know what happens for the most part in all societies — even among all animal societies.
We were talking about a boatload of people said to be threatening to drown their children if they were not taken to Australia. The closest I can think of to that happening in reality in history is where groups of people are besieged by enemies and they are about to be taken by their enemies. But in those cases the reports are not that they kill their children as a threat but that they kill themselves along with their children to escape their enemies.
Unless we find it unproblematic to assume that a boatload of Muslim refugees all happen to be clinically insane then I suggest it is unlikely in the extreme and contrary to all human experience that they really did start to toss their children overboard to drown as a way of threatening Australian naval crews to take them to Australia.
As for your linked article, notice that it says the very thought of a parent killing a child “fascinates” the public because it is “an unthinkable concept”.
But there is indeed an exception I have overlooked. Infanticide — the exposing or killing of an infant at time of its birth or certainly before it has time to develop its individual personality — has not always been universally condemned the way it is today in our Western societies. But once a bond is formed that bond does govern parental care. The boatload of Muslims were not accused of throwing over newborns into the sea. They were accused of trying to drown the children they were bringing with them to share a better life.
I think it is not good scientific practice to go by ” Exceptions don’t disprove the rule. ” It is widely accepted that a scientific hypothesis should be falsifiable by evidence. If you treat all evidence to the contrary as ‘exceptions’, then your hypothesis becomes in falsifiable.
It seems is a fallacy to me that it would be necessary for the refugees to be insane for them to hurt their children. The fact that you can’t think of an instance where sane parents would kill their children, doesn’t mean that those conditions can’t exist. For instance, child sacrifice was a widespread practice in the Near East and Latin America. Were all these perpetrators necessarily insane? Or was something else driving them?
Exceptions to one rule do indeed have very relevant explanations that cohere with that same rule and align with well-known specific contexts — and the article you linked to explains just that very point in its conclusion. It points out that what appear to be exceptions do indeed conform to the rule on closer inspection.
As for child sacrifice, I highly recommend an anthropological study by Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings.
Can you imagine Jewish parents doing what the those Muslim refugees are said to have done? How would you (quite rightly) react if the accusation had been leveled at Jewish parents?
And as I mentioned in the previous comment, do keep in mind that an official inquiry into the claims that parents had acted this way established that they had not.
The only claim that I have ever hear of accusing parents of acting in this way proved to be false.
You will notice that in my responses I have not spoken about Muslims in particular; my comments are about the method by which you derive your hypothesis that “the parental devotion to their children that we find throughout the human race, indeed among probably all mammal species” would render it impossible that these parents would sacrifice their children.
For your peace of mind: I do not argue, nor do I believe, that in this particular incident any parent threw his child overboard.
But Muslims are indeed the subtext. It was Islamophobia that the government exploited to win an election. That is the reason for the discussion being raised in the first place. Do you think we would be having this conversation if those accused had been Jews?
The method is based on an understanding of everything we understand about the biological impulses of living creatures and everyday observation that is entirely consistent with everything we understand in our culture about how parents feel and act towards their offspring. The human species would not have survived without this innate impulse to protect our young at great cost and sacrifice to ourselves.
The exceptions that we see do not invalidate the general rule and nature of the human species. The explanations for these exceptions do not invalidate one of the fundamental laws of biological impulses. I understand male crocodiles eat their hatchlings but that does not invalidate the rule, for example. If human mothers could produce a thousand babies every year then no doubt fathers would be busy feasting, too — again for the survival of the species so that overpopulation does not lead to a catastrophe that destroys us all.
The same article concludes:
None of those five categories match the motivations that our government officials were trying to tell us were those of the Muslim refugees. Our leaders and much of our media were appealing to the dehumanizing impulses of a large chunk of our population.
I doubt very much if refugees in a boat, about to drown, were subject in the studies of those psychiatrists and criminologists. Hence the conclusions can’t be applied to this group of parents.
It should be taken into account that major psychological trauma can occur prior to their flight by boat (in a war zone) and the anxieties of the boat trip itself could harm mental health as well.
Can you point to any other verified instance of parents behaving that way? Keep in mind that an inquiry into what happened did indeed find that the parents had not behaved as claimed by the government officials and much of the media a the time.
NB: I’m not linking these behaviors to any religion, I think they are consequences of traumatic experiences and conditions.
And so the media splashed reports across Australia, complete with photographic evidence!, of refugees attempting to drown their children. I did not believe the reports nor the explanations of the images.
I do not take any single media report as a complete explanation of the whole story. Ever. I suspect you don’t, either — hopefully not even if it is a story with a negative slant towards Arabs and/or Muslims. I prefer to dig in to the research findings. When I see your article addressed by specialist researchers then I might have a clearer idea of what it was all about.
As for a single incident (not a mass group action), I can well understand a father (or a mother) calculatingly planning and carrying out the murder of their children — and then usually following this with suicide. Read again the conclusion of that first article you linked to, the one that explains how this itself is not a rebuttal at all of the power of love of a parent for a child. Quite the reverse — though twisted in its expression in a way we never want to see. (But again, we only have a media report claiming to have the true interpretation of that photo.)
I should also add that it is not hard to imagine the stresses and traumas facing refugees from war zones and certain countries. We are (and always have been) given abundant opportunities to learn of the conditions from which they are fleeing, and to learn about the lives, fears and aspirations of the refugees themselves — all of this information has been readily available both through the media and community contacts.
There is no need to conjure incomprehensible traumas that might propel them all to act like no other group has ever acted in known human experience. Both the unimaginable trauma and the unprecedented acts are both forms of dehumanization.
Successive governments have also done their best to lock reporters away from these refugees to make it as difficult as possible to report their human stories, to show their human images. It is harder to maintain their dehumanizing myths and exploit dehumanizing attitudes if reporters are allowed free rein to report “human interest” stories in this context.
The reports of the refugees threatening (and even beginning) to drown their children to pressure officials to let them come to Australia were just hearsay. They were not verified events.
I have heard some pretty far out reports people swear to me they have experienced or seen — UFOs are one of the least far out — but I don’t take them as actual facts.
In the case of the children overboard affair we are not even talking about an exception to the rule. We are talking about a lie, a false report, about how these people behaved. A serious enquiry to establish the facts concluded that the Muslim refugees had not behaved as government officials wanted the public to believe.
I find it difficult to understand how you seem to be saying that it is not “human nature” or even the nature of most animals to care for their young above all else.
People do not attempt to kill their children in order to pressure a government to let them enter their country. That just doesn’t happen. If they are stressed to the point of fearing for their lives they are known to choose to die with their children.
To suggest that a group of people would kill their children so they, the parents, could get entry into a first world country is surely to suggest something about them that is not human and that does not even rise to the level of many animals.