The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

By Andrea M. Berlin; J. Andrew Overman | Go to book overview

15

The First Revolt and its afterlife

Neil Asher Silberman

In this chapter, I intend to discuss the Revolt not as a distant historical event but as a searing human nightmare that has-despite time, social transformation, historical distance, and coldly dispassionate scholarship-simply refused to fade away. Its image of brute force triumphant, despite ancient apocalyptic hopes to the contrary, has served for two thousand years as a central theological - historical argument for Christian supercessionism and as a basic source of the sense of angst that lies at the heart of Jewish existence, even today. For the outcome of the Revolt was not a mere instance of unusually intense ancient brutality, genocide, imperialist warfare, or even just the callous, pagan destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The Romans themselves saw it as a metaphysical happening, validating their imperial destiny. Indeed, had the Revolt somehow turned out differently, perhaps with a political settlement, a unilateral declaration of victory, or a strategic withdrawal, it is hard to say how effectively the Empire would have been able to govern its other far-flung and occasionally rebellious provinces. And who knows what that might have meant for the subsequent course of Western history. But Rome did survive in its desperate determination, in a ruthlessly efficient war of pacification in Galilee and Judea that was, in its own way, a precursor of countless later campaigns of imperial housecleaning: the wars of the Hapsburgs in the Low Countries, the British suppression of revolts in India and Ireland, and the various struggles of more modern powers against fundamentalist - nativist insurgencies all over the world. The surprising thing is not that the ancient Judeans rose to roar against the mighty Roman Empire, but that the mighty Roman Empire invested so much to bring the Judeans' revolt to a completely decisive and violent end. I want to stress my belief that the Roman War in Judea was not merely the isolated suppression of a nationalist uprising; it was an essential building block of the world in which we live.

Imagine the sheer horror of the Roman campaign to restore peace in Judea during the reign of Nero. After almost seventy years of direct rule by imperial administrators, marked by famine, mass protest, growing gang warfare in the cities and social banditry in the countryside, an explosion of ethnic tension between Jews and Greeks in the seaside city of Caesarea led to

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