Magazine article The Spectator

Rome and Jerusalem

Magazine article The Spectator

Rome and Jerusalem

Article excerpt

ROME AND JERUSALEM by Martin Goodman Allen Lane, £25, pp. 656, ISBN 9780713994476 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

'Hep, Hep, Hep!' was the smart yell in dear old Vienna whenever a Jewboy was spotted. 'Hep' was the acronym for 'Hierosalym est perdita'.

Nearly two millennia after the Temple and the city were razed by Titus, son of the Roman general and later emperor Vespasian (C-in-C of the campaign), Jews could still be put down as losers by reference to their lost capital and pride. 'You're not singing any more' has been a perennial taunt.

The Second Temple was built by Herod the Great on the site of the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock now stands on ground conveniently, because exclusively, 'sacred' to Islam. Jews have regularly been relegated by both of the monotheistic religions which owe much, in conception, morality and practice, to the 'fossil faith', as Kant, Hegel, Arnold Toynbee and other refined persons have chosen to describe Judaism. The Aztecs (not renowned for their meekness or mildness) were more deferential to the Toltecs, whose power they had usurped but whose oracle they continued to consult with hopeful piety.

As Martin Goodman's monumental study shows, the Middle East was always a turbulent region, with natives and conquerors savagely at cross purposes. The Persians had had trouble controlling it, and the Babylonians before them.

Alexander the Great had less: once he had crucified some 2,000 brave defenders of the city of Tyre, collaboration became an attractive option. After Alexander's death, his generals divided the new empire along the dotted lines of their own fiefdoms and exacted what respect and treasure hired muscle could recruit. The first great Jewish effort to revive a separate state, under the Hasmonaean kings, in the first century BC, foundered principally because a fraternal dispute over the succession gave the Romans in adjacent Syria their assetstrippers' opportunity to step in, restore 'peace' and exact fat tribute.

The Jews nevertheless prospered during the next century and more. Herod's Jerusalem was a magnificent city, enriched by many thousands of pilgrims. With their single, invisible God and their pious priggishness, the Jews were a peculiar and fractious people, but the Romans were tolerant of provincial oddities. Augustus was tactful in paying for daily sacrifices for his safety in the Temple. The disasters of 66-70 ADwere, once again, the result more of internal stresses and furies among the Jews themselves than of any 'inevitable' clash between peoples or civilisations.

Jews made up something like 10 per cent of the inhabitants of the Roman world;

assimilation suited the rich and the ambitious, who often had careers in public service. The fanatics who precipitated the revolt of 66 did so against the fervent advice of King Agrippa II. He and his sister, Titus' love, the beautiful Berenice, stood on the palace roof and begged the people not to provoke the vengeance of Rome. The casus belli was a young priest's refusal to continue to sacrifice in honour of the Roman emperor. He found popular support more because Gessius Florus was a conspicuously clumsy governor than because Jerusalemites were united in zealotry.

Parochial vanity gave Jerusalem Jews a militant confidence not shared by those elsewhere. In Scythopolis, local Jews demonstrated their wish to be loyal to the multi-racial city by jettisoning their arms, after which they were massacred ('double loyalties' is an antique charge). …

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