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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: February 2016


from Part I - CONTEXTS

Ambition sighed: she found it vain to trust

The faithless column and the crumbling bust, …

Convinced, she now contracts her vast design,

And all her triumphs shrink into a Coin.

A narrow orb each crowded conquest keeps,

Beneath her palm here sad Judaea weeps.

Alexander Pope, To Mr. Addison, Occasioned by his Dialogues on Medals ll.19–26

Of all the scents, the balsam is the best. The only land to which it has been given is Judaea, where formerly it grew in two gardens. … This tree was displayed to the city [of Rome] by the imperators Vespasian and Titus. … This tree is now enslaved, and pays tribute along with the nation to which it belongs. … The Judaeans used to vent their fury on this tree, just as on their own lives. The Romans defended it against them, and battles were fought on behalf of a tree!

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 12.111–13

A provincial revolt in Roman Judaea and the campaign that suppressed it in A.D. 67–70 received unprecedented publicity. The modest achievements of Vespasian and Titus in Judaea came at an unusually dangerous period for the capital. In the domestic turbulence that followed Nero's suicide (June 68), their claim to have conquered a foreign enemy gave them unique bona fides as men capable of uniting Rome in peace. Their supporters promoted this narrative with tireless energy. In the eighteenth century still, Alexander Pope could assume his readers’ familiarity with the coins issued to celebrate Jerusalem's defeat: Iudaea Capta!

The Flavians and their backers left no stone unused in publicity. But was any of this meant to help people understand what had happened over there? Soon after he arrived in Rome, Pliny's younger contemporary Flavius Josephus began complaining about an inverted fame-to-ignorance ratio: so much fuss, so little truth (War 1.1–8). The remaining chapters of this book will explore what lay beneath the fuss: what really happened in the war. In this first chapter we need to understand the fuss itself. It began in Josephus’ day and has continued well into modern times.

The outcome of the Judaean-Roman war affected the course of Western history in three quite different ways. Jewish responses were the most complex, because the loss of mother-city and temple required the reshaping of Judaean culture with a vitality that would enable its survival, eventually as Juda-ism, through the centuries ahead.

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A History of the Jewish War
  • Online ISBN: 9781139020718
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