Sunday, October 16, 2016

Christians, Jews, and divine judgment on Pompeii

CANDIDA MOSS: The Christian Myth Still Haunting Pompeii. Modern technology is now able to transport people onto the streets of ancient Pompeii. But it hasn't solved one of the city's greatest controversies (The Daily Beast). Excerpts:
Almost as interesting as the site itself, though, is why early modern and modern Europeans care so much about it. Since the city’s rediscovery Christian novelists and theologians have consistently cast the destruction of Pompeii as an example of divine punishment. The licentious and immoral Romans, they argued, were persecuting the Christians and, as a result, God destroyed them in a rain of fire analogous to the destruction of the Biblical Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Pompeii, in other words, is an archaeological testament to God’s vengeance.


But even if there were no Christians in Pompeii there may well have been Jews. And Jews have been labeling the disaster divine justice for nearly two millennia. Only nine years before the eruption of Vesuvius, the Romans had sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. For some Jews, Vesuvius was just deserts. The Sibylline Oracles, a compilation of Jewish, Christian, and Greek prophecies written and assembled after the events, predicts that “an evil storm of war will also come upon Jerusalem from Italy, and it will sack the great Temple of God...” and adds that “when a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth [Vesuvius] in the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven it will burn many cities and destroy men. Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky and showers will fall from heaven like red earth. Know then the wrath of the heavenly God.”

There’s some debate about whether or not there were Jews in Pompeii at the time of its destruction. The presence of what might be kosher garum (fish sauce) in Pompeii suggests that there were Jews living in the city. And at least one person, arriving at the site after the eruption, has scratched “Sodom and Gomorrah” onto the side of a house. The graffiti is a clear indication that, for some, the destruction of the two Roman cities was an echo of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius. Start here and follow the links. For possible indications of a Jewish presence in Pompeii, see here, here, here, here, and here. Also, David Meadows's comments noted at the third of the links in the previous sentence lead me to infer that the "Sodom and Gomorrah" graffito at Pompeii may have been scratched by an inhabitant of the city before its destruction and thus may refer to the debauchery of the city in the eyes of the graffitist rather than to its (later) destruction. If so, the comparison was prophetic.