The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

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

6

Power vacuum and power struggle in 66-7 C.E.

Richard A. Horsley

The Great Revolt, whether in Judea or Galilee, was a complex series of events. It requires a multifaceted critical approach, a consideration of many factors and their interrelation. I will focus on three principal aspects: (1) our main sources, Josephus's histories, which must be read suspiciously and critically; (2) the political and economic structure of the Roman imperial order, particularly the fact that Rome worked initially through indirect rule in Judea and Galilee; (3) the developments and differences within the districts of Judea and Galilee. In sum, we must consider the interactions and effects between the distinct and various political and economic structures and particular histories of Roman Judea and Galilee as part of the contingent dynamics of key actors and unfolding events.


First principles: key structural and historical factors

The structure of ancient societies was such that religion was embedded in all aspects of daily life, including political and economic activities. Since the fundamental social forms were the household and village communities, it is difficult to identify structures that provided inter-village or regional coherence. While some peoples may have had a certain common awareness as ethnoi, “nationalism” is a modern concept that is anachronistic when applied to ancient societies. I understand the specific case of the Revolt, therefore, as a conflict rooted in a society with an interlocking religious-political- economic structure, which was under stress because Judeans and Galileans had experienced Roman conquest and reconquest three times in the sixty years from 63 to 4 B.C.E. In response to the severe Roman practices of scorched-earth slaughter and devastation, people fled to any place that seemed more secure (Yodefat, Yaffo, Gamla, Jerusalem); and rather than simply be slaughtered, some attempted to resist.

Some factors are pertinent particularly to the Revolt in Galilee. First, Galilee had been independent of Jerusalem and/or under a separate division of imperial administration for over 800 years prior to its takeover by the Hasmoneans and its rule by Herod. Significant aspects of Judean society and history, such as the centuries of interaction with the Temple and high

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