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Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

14

GOD’S HONOUR AND ROME’S TRIUMPH

Responses to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in three Jewish apocalypses

Philip F. Esler

ROME, WAR AND IDEOLOGY

Von Clausewitz, the great military tactician, considered that war was politics conducted by other means. Michel Foucault inverted this to assert that politics is war conducted by other means (Rabinow 1986:64-65). This inversion was in accord with Foucault’s abiding view that ‘The history which bears and determines us has the form of war rather than that of a language: relations of power not relations of meaning.’ 1 Foucault’s perspective, that conflict lies at the heart of the matter, emerges in the following statement from his 1971 essay ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’:

Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination.

(Rabinow 1986:85)

In this essay I wish to deal with one particular domination—that of ancient Rome—and the responses to one particular Roman victory, that over the Jews in the revolt of 66-73 CE. War came naturally to the Romans. Throughout much of the republican period, Rome sent its legions out to war with neighbouring states nearly every spring. C. Nicolet has accurately remarked that there was almost a biological necessity to this annual event (cited in Harris 1979:19). War was also a game the Romans played with more determination and ferocity than other peoples of their time, as their Greek contemporaries observed (Harris 1979:51-53). There was something of a pathological dimension to the extreme violence practised by Rome upon its defeated enemies which seemed extreme even to the Greeks. Thus, Polybius, in the course of writing about the First Punic War, but speaking in the present tense, says that it is characteristic of the Romans to use violent force, bia, for all purposes (Harris 1979:50-53). That Roman proclivities in this regard persisted into the imperial period can be seen

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