Saturday, January 27, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Diarmaid MacCulloch reviews Martin Goodman's latest on ancient Jews and Romans for the Guardian. MacCulloch opens with a bit of alternate history and maybe belabors the modern applications a bit. But the book sounds interesting.
Original spin

Diarmaid MacCulloch lauds Martin Goodman's compelling account of two crucial centuries in Jewish history, Rome and Jerusalem

Saturday January 27, 2007
The Guardian

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilisations
by Martin Goodman
656pp, Allen Lane, £25

History which never happened both comforts and tantalises by hinting how we might have avoided present miseries. What if Rome had never grown to be more than a small, undistinguished Italian city-state? It is unlikely that any other Mediterranean empire would have obliterated the Temple of Jerusalem, as did the Roman emperor's son Titus in 70CE - at least, it is very unlikely that the temple would not have been rebuilt or redeployed for a new sort of faith. Total destruction was not the way in the ancient Near East: witness the seventh-century struggle over the ancient holy place of Mecca, which Muhammad transformed into the focus of a newly conceived religion. Without the Romans, temple worship would have continued in Jerusalem, with thousands on thousands converging on it yearly, ecstatic to end their pilgrimage in a centuries-old sacred city, as still happens on the hajj to Mecca.


Martin Goodman's massive new treatment of two crucial centuries of Jewish history should be read by anyone seeking seriously to understand modern Middle Eastern tangles. His subtitle might suggest that he is a believer in Samuel P Huntington's theory of an inevitable "clash of civilisations", that malign banality underlying American neo-conservative meddling in Middle Eastern affairs. In fact, the message of the book is entirely the reverse: the ghastly sequence of events after 66CE was in no way inevitable. The previous century had been one of the most glorious and happy in the holy city's history: the temple, magnificently rebuilt by the somewhat unconvincingly Jewish king, Herod the Great, attracted more pilgrims than ever before. Jewish client kings might be cosmopolitan figures closely linked to powerful Romans: one of them, the ebulliently bisexual Agrippa II, was first a dissolute intimate friend of the Emperor Caligula, and afterwards the man most responsible for frogmarching Caligula's uncle Claudius to the imperial throne. A mark of how little the Romans expected real trouble from the Jews before 66 was the low calibre of the governors sent to this politically insignificant area, and the small numbers of troops thought necessary to govern it.

UPDATE: The Scotsman also has a review:
Sacrifice at the altar of empire

Rome & Jerusalem - The Clash of Ancient Civilisations
Allen Lane, 656pp, £25

ARE CENTURIES OF ANTI- Semitism really just based on ancient political spin? According to Martin Goodman's provocative and closely argued thesis, the answer is yes. If you want to trace the roots of the Holocaust, he argues, you have to dig deep in Roman domestic politics. And while you're digging, you'll find something perhaps just as shocking: that Christians promoted Jew-hating almost from the earliest days of the religion.
Click to learn more...

Goodman, a professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford and a distinguished historian of Rome, has written a magnificent, luxuriantly detailed book of revelations and connections, the implications of which will take time to absorb. Much of what it says about the origins of the Jewish diaspora has a bearing on the modern Middle East, where ancient events remain fresh in the mind.

His book's facility of narrative, wry appreciation of human nature and its clarity and authority in arbitrating on widespread mutual resentments, make it an important addition to studies of the roots of anti-Semitism.

Goodman wears his intimate knowledge of the first few centuries of the Christian era lightly, even jauntily. His confidence comes from the historian's understanding that the politics of the Roman Empire are the politics of all empires, formal and informal. It's a matter of seeing the patterns, and knowing how the tribes related and interacted, philosophically and politically.


No comments:

Post a Comment