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Violent Opposition to the Romans in the Days of Jesus (or Brian)?

This will be my last post on the conference dealing with the Life of Brian and the historical Jesus.   Here I would like to summarize one paper that I thought was unusually insightful, to give you an idea of the kind of thing that could be done on a topic like this.  As it turns out, it was the opening paper of the conference, and it was delivered by Martin Goodman, professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford.

I should begin by saying that scholars have their own internal ranking systems for who the really good scholars are, who the pretty good ones are, who the OK ones are, and who the rather miserable ones are.   It’s like most fields: outsiders have trouble knowing which is which.  (I couldn’t tell a mediocre physicist from a top-flight one if my life depended on it.)   With that said, Professor Goodman is at the top of the heap, a world-class scholar who is unusually gifted and knowledgeable about both Jewish and Roman antiquity.  He is the real item – and there aren’t, frankly, that many real items out there.

His paper, “The Life of Brian and the Politics of First-Century Judaea,” was short and to the point, and it wasn’t until near the end that I realized just how brilliant it was.   His overarching point was that the Life of Brian was remarkably on-target in its portrayal of first century Judaism as composed of various sects of highly militant Jews eager for the overthrow of the Roman empire; but this portrayal was true NOT for the days of Jesus around 30 CE, but only for the later period immediately before the Jewish uprising of 66-70CE.

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New Thread on the Burial of Jesus
Brian and the Apocalyptic Jesus Part 3

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    SidneyFinehirsh  July 27, 2014

    One of the pleasures on being at the Brian conference in London last month was the opportunity to ask questions directly to the host of great scholars in attendance without being a scholar oneself. So after Martin Goodman presented his thesis that Judea was pretty quiescent during the first century CE until 66, I asked him how a country under occupation could be peaceful — there must have been at least a high degree of resentment against the Romans among the Jewish population.

    I thought his response was a profound description of how historical analysis should be done. He said, “There may have been discontent, but we have no evidence for it.”

  2. Avatar
    Ethereal  July 28, 2014

    Haha. Right.!
    Well, isn’t it possible that the reason may have been because the Herodians, who lead from mere position- a position that was not acquired by the favor of Judean people [but rather as beneficiaries to Roman curia/rule], may have felt threatened by the heavy leadership of John who had greater influence & consent amidst freely willing masses. How do you think all those people felt when their venerable leader was put down?

    A kind of grass roots type of movement- which are phenomenal occurrences throughout history.

    Despite John’s remark about the the unacceptable behavior of the Herodians [Josephus gives his remark about it] ruling in violation to Torah was not consensual- at least not before adherents.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 29, 2014

      They were probably devastated.

      • Avatar
        Ethereal  July 30, 2014

        Ha ha… But of course. Very insightful & empathetic Professor Ehrman. Do you ever pause to think whether your speculative conjecture is overly excessive?

        Isn’t it possible that this could have been a veritable excuse for insurrection- violent unrest- etc? Or been one of the straws [can’t say it was the last] that broke the camels back?- as their Faith & loss of religious leadership may have been the indicative reason for resistance & revolt, I.e. “revolutionary theology”- star prophecy, etc- or w/e theological dictum that may have required/implored humans to take an active role as having means to participate- whether in a battle of military might, or of Spiritual Will?

        Isn’t it perfunctory scholarship to assert, that just because there was little record of violence, that by default there was peace- complacent tolerance- or at least timid passivity from 6-60 C.E.?

        Suppression is a conspiratorial aspect of history, not to say that suppression has not or does not phenomenally occur. We may never know what happened to all those documents that were accessible to Eusebius. Or why we do not know or have any accessible source copies of Hegisepus for instance- if copies were made. Except what reason may there have been to copy those documents deemed heretical?

        Is there any evidence- or reason to suggest- that such such vital, historical documentation may have been intentionally disposed of, edited, excised, or obfuscated in attempt to suppress the critical opposition impertinent, according to the impetus of the “orthodox” agenda?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

          Like most historians, I *constantly* question my views, assumptions, claims, views, and conclusions. Would that more people did! My view is that if you want to put forward a theory — such as that there was a lot more violence in 6-66 CE than we have a record of — you need either to cite evidence or give an argument.

    • Avatar
      SidneyFinehirsh  July 29, 2014

      Ethereal

      The reason we have no evidence of discontent before 66CE, is simply that George Gallup wasn’t born yet.

      We have no way of knowing the sentiment of the masses of Jewish farmers and tradesman because they were illiterate. They did not record their thoughts and discontents as did the small circle of scribes and elite commentators such as the authors of the Gospels. The best we got is some papyri from the 2nd century that tell us that some ordinary Jews used Roman rather than Jewish courts. Christian writers may not have cared for the Herodians, but Jewish writers of the Mishna looked back on them rather fondly — glorified the Temple that Herod built and considered Agrippa I as a pious King. But all that tells us nothing about what the Jew in the streets (and the fields) thought in 1st century until they actively, en mass, engaged in revolution.

      Your generalization, “A kind of grass roots type of movement- which are phenomenal occurrences throughout history” is just that, a generalization. We can never know if it applies to any specific period of time in any historical period without evidence.

      Reading your own beliefs into history is precisely the error committed by Christian Fundamentalists and ideologues of all strips.

      • Avatar
        Ethereal  August 1, 2014

        Generalization, yea- perhaps I am internalizing a bit. But definitely not in favor of Rabbinic or Christian or Islamic view point. I think there is a paradox. It may be difficult to Understand the development of doctrines & theology without knowing History. It will be difficult to fully appreciate the value of Historical phenomenon without sympathizing or empathizing with what people believed. That is doing our best to Understanding their perspective- perhaps enabling one to discern from the lesson- what a person got right, or what that same person may have gotten wrong. That’s the question for me, when taking on a devotional observation- What is the lesson- what is relevant?

        John the Baptist: is a historical figure- & a significant grass roots leader. All that Im saying, is that such devastation subsequent to unjust punishment of such pietistic leaders may have been significant reasons for insurgence, or uprising.

  3. Avatar
    Ethereal  August 1, 2014

    I was just kidding Ehrman, from what I can tell, which is obviously very limited- I sense conservative scholarship, shrewd & precise- very understandable & palatable for lamens like myself. Coming from me, it is likely the least of commplements. Why I can appreciate your scholarship.  I was only responding to your laconic response.

  4. Avatar
    Ethereal  August 1, 2014

    Plus- what about Josephus, Philo, & the Dead Sea scrolls? What about the patterns preceding- before and after that mysterious time from which there is so little to extract [6-66 C.E.]? Or Roman records- Archelaeus was removed from Judea- so was Pontius Pilot- why? Cruelty? Jews were removed from Rome during the reign of Claudius. Why? Anti-Semetism- or because they were being trouble makers- oor? Its just simply interesting to me.

  5. Avatar
    Ethereal  August 5, 2014

    Couldn’t you presume just the inverse: “There may have been complacent peace, but we have no evidence for it”?? Tacitus was not the only witness. History is hardly empirical- it has even been said that “poetry is history”- the record- the literature & iconic art is history. History is a matter of probability- as Ehrman has mentioned before- especially when one is not generalizing. Probability is like statistical reliability. Even trust- in source, reputation & credibility, no?

    The stats precede the latter. The Roman Centurions did not have a reputation for being all too “nice”. Of course they did not want “widespread slaughter”- as much as they probably wanted to annex- farm taxes, & complacent submission.

    Ex. Josephus, TheJewish War 2.224, describes how in 53 CE a Roman soldier caused a riot in Jerusalem- by bending over- bare ass mooning & farting at a crowd of Jews gathered around the Temple during Passover.
    Procurators in Judea were removed, in the instance of Archelaeus- son of Herod- Pontius Pilot- Cumanus. Why? (A question of probability). Vespasian, later, [probably] could not wait to pull Roman Centurions out of Judea. Probably because they were ill mannered bullies looking to antagonize. I mean the Jews are only human. You think they were willing to tolerate such blatant indecency on one of their great venerated festivals- often still venerate
    d in the Christian tradition today? Times were much more hostile. After a riot ensued- so many were put down [Josephus-perhaps emphatically- estimated that 10,000 were massacred]. It did not take long before the feast became a cause of mourning for the whole nation [Jewish Wars 2.227]. An estimation 2,996 died on 9/11- which is stated on stickers- “we will never forget!”- so to put in comparative perspective- a death toll significantly less- which does not make it any less heinous or tragic.
    Not to mention the looting [2.228]. They tore up their sacred book of Torah- & burned it [2.229].
    So maybe it is a mistake to view Judea in the time of Yeshua as a chronic, “seething pit of desperate Jews eager to rise up in violent insurrection against the Romans”- but it would be just as perfunctory, to assert there was pervasive peace. That is to say, that- shephards were merrily feeding their flocks on the hillside. Wouldn’t it be naive to suggest that Jews were all handing out daisies to Roman Centurion- welcoming their occupation?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2014

      Newspapers, magazines, and historians — ancient and modern — tend to report events (wars) rather than non-events (peace).

      • Avatar
        Ethereal  August 5, 2014

        Given the account in the Wars 2.226-229- peace, certainly would be an anomaly worth recording- as it is a matter of religious/political/foreign relations.

        I’ll reaffirm– Perhaps it is a mistake to view Judea in the time of Yeshua as a chronic, “seething pit of desperate Jews eager to rise up in violent insurrection against the Romans”- but it would be just as perfunctory, to assert there was pervasive peace. That is to say, that- shephards were merrily feeding their flocks on the hillside. Wouldn’t it be naive to suggest that Jews were all handing out daisies to Roman Centurion- welcoming their occupation?

        • Avatar
          Ethereal  August 5, 2014

          Both are phenomenal. Which is probably more natural? Especially when the forces have such vitriolic potential. When there is a clash of standards. Clash of values.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 6, 2014

          I don’t know anyone who suggests that!!

  6. Avatar
    Ethereal  August 7, 2014

    Of course not! The last suggestion is just as ridiculous as the 1st suggestion that this post is basically disputing, refuting, or debunking.

    That whole epistemology of knowing what is, by eliminating what it is not- is not free from assertion. We are still left with a historical vacuum- without the supplement of resolution. If all that critical scholars can do here is arbitrarily tell us what probably is not historical- without telling us what is historical- then why don’t you quit your job? Aren’t you finished with the deconstruction? Next subject- next book? If the sources are all the same- discounting the human faculty of imagination & where we place our trust; discounting Osmosis of Faith & Hermetic speculation- scholars arbitrarily set the boundaries for what we can & cannot know- given all the sources available to usual- yet distinct people that are all subject to the natural limitations of human intelligence.

    • Avatar
      Ethereal  August 7, 2014

      I was saying Roman standards & Jewish standards of this time were obviously opposing. Roman Centurions were obviously patronizing, condescending, indecent- yet secular & tolerating. The forces at play had such vitriolic potential. It was not one extreme or the other- both opposing forces phenomenal- yet we are left with a paradoxical interlude! A vacuum of historical despondency! What’s the point!? Believers are only left to reconcile with Faith in G+d. It should not bother an agnostic to abandon the topic altogether. What does it mean but scoff, scorn, folly, or rubbish?

  7. Avatar
    Ethereal  August 7, 2014

    I was saying Roman standards & Jewish standards of this time were obviously opposing. Roman Centurions were obviously patronizing, condescending, indecent- yet secular & tolerating. The forces at play had such vitriolic potential. It was not one extreme or the other- both opposing forces phenomenal- yet we are left with a paradoxical interlude! A vacuum of historical despondency! What’s the point!? Believers are only left to reconcile with Faith in G+d. It should not bother an agnostic to abandon the topic altogether. What does it mean but scoff, scorn, folly, or rubbish?

  8. Avatar
    WadCheber  January 15, 2015

    Yes, Galilee and Judea 35 years before the revolt was peaceful and calm, just like France showed no signs of an impending revolution in the 1770’s, such as, I don’t know, many Frenchmen joining a revolution in the American colonies of their own accord. And America itself was totally at peace with no tension between north and south in the 1830’s.

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