You have probably heard of Spartacus, the Thracian prisoner-of-war turned gladiator, who in 73 BCE escaped from a camp in Capua and raised a slave army over 100 000 strong which marched on to terrorize the Italian peninsula. It was General Crassus with some late help from General Pompey who finally defeated the slaves in battle in 71 BCE. They symbolically crucified the 6 000 surviving slaves along the Appian Way between Capua and Rome. They did not allow the bodies to be taken down so that birds and other animals could pick the corpses clean. Travelers on the road were reminded of the price to pay for defying Rome. 

After spending several years campaigning against Rome's greatest and most dangerous competitor, the Parthian Empire and her proxies, General Pompey besieged Jerusalem in 63 BCE. In the coming decades thousands were imprisoned, tortured and crucified before Jesus was born or started preaching. More Jews died by the sword. Many thousands were sold into slavery. The fittest became gladiators and they fought in arenas throughout the empire.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.



The eastern Mediterranean was strategic for Rome and Pompey secured both Syria and what later became Judea province. Procuring new bases for Roman legions in the east was a coup. Rome, however, was overextended and could not afford to have the Jews revolt and therefore Roman rule was not heavy-handed at first. Rome was busy expanding into Gallia, Britannia, Germania and the parts of the Mediterranean closer to Rome. Besides, fighting so far from Rome presented a logistical challenge for the legions and they needed time to build new roads and upgrade ports. It took decades for Rome to tighten the screws on the Jews.


By the 1st century CE Rome had vanquished the Gauls, the Iberian tribes, the Carthaginians, the Cilicians, the Greeks and the Thracians, among others. Rome had become a seasoned master of total war and a specialist in propaganda, including religious propaganda. With the enemies closer to Rome vanquished, the improved Roman navy and the legions turned their attention to Judea.

During the occupation Rome was a republic from 63 to 27 BCE and thereafter an empire. The transition from republic to empire meant that the relatively democratic Roman senate ceded much of its power to the first Roman emperor, Augustus. In 7 or 6 BCE he appointed General Varus as governor of Syria in charge of four legions. Varus was known for his harshness and for high taxation. When Herod died in 4 BCE, there was a messianic uprising in Jerusalem. Varus quelled it and crucified 2 000 rebels. 

In 6 CE Augustus appointed Quirinius as governor of Syria. That same year Judea was made a Roman province and Quirinius was ordered to conduct the first Judean census. The census meant that the Roman authorities wanted to find out and record where every person lived, their age and physical traits, what their vocation was, who they were related to and so forth. In this way they could maximize taxation and more easily find those they suspected of tax dodging, criminality, trouble-making and organizing revolts. If they could not find a suspect they could still burn down his house, confiscate or kill his animals, and imprison or murder his relatives. Censuses were against Jewish law. Judas of Galilee and Zadok the Pharisee refused to accept Romanization or to pay Roman taxes.

According to Encyclopedia Judaica “Zadok the Pharisee and Judas the Galilean founded the fourth philosophy (Sicarii zealotry) among the Jews of the late Second Temple period. This philosophy was, in effect, the theoretical basis and justification of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, and according to Josephus was first introduced by Zadok and Judas during the assessment of Jewish property by the Syrian governor Quirinius. This assessment, claimed the two rebels, amounted to no less than the enslavement of the Jewish people, and in as much as God alone is their leader and master there was no alternative but to make a bid for independence. Josephus stresses the zeal which Judas and Zadok inspired in the young, and attributes to them the subsequent strife leading up to the rebellion.”

Judas and Zadok must have been a source of pride and uncompromising symbols of resistance to the people who preferred to fight Rome rather than submit to Rome' terms. Life became progressively worse for them. Judas of Galilee’s sons, other relatives and supporters verifiably continued the struggle against Rome at least until the 66-70 Jewish war and many were caught and crucified.

Given that Rome was a master of propaganda and manipulation it is an interesting coincidence that the betrayer of Jesus (even if it was meant by God to happen that way) was also called Judas and that Jesus’ worst antagonists were the Pharisees. Perhaps the Roman censor thought that by associating that generation’s rebel leadership with the betrayers of the Christian prophet would decrease their appeal as role models for the sect's followers.

A thorough and oppressive occupier like Rome was aware of the messages holy men wrote and spoke, even if the god in question was not part of the Roman pantheon. Various texts were censured on order of the Roman censor, because that was one of his jobs. One can imagine a Roman censor practically give the order to “let this cult preach what they will but there must be condemnation of the enemies of Rome”. He could easily have ordered that certain verses be removed, added or altered to minimize criticism of the occupier and maximize that of the occupied.

There was likely Christian self-censure, as well, since those who crossed Roman red lines became candidates for imprisonment and crucifixion. Christians too suffered under Roman occupation. As with all other sects of Judaism, Christians did not accept for their god to be placed in the Pantheon nor worship a living emperor as a god. Antipathy towards Christians would not have kept Rome from meddling in their sermons and religious texts. Rome had a network of spies and performed surveillance on the people whose land they occupied. While contemptuous of monotheism, it was in Rome's interest to promote a sect with a more accepting and pacifist streak that preached “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek “and “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's”. Such utterances were totally unacceptable to the likes of Judas and Zadok.

Much is made of Jesus’ overturning the money changers’ tables next to the Temple. At that time, however, it was not unusual for commercial transactions and money deposits to take place on temple grounds. The second Temple was the safest fortress in Judea and hard to break into. To keep wealth in and around a holy place provided additional security because anyone stealing from there had to worry about a god’s or gods’ retribution. There were Levite guards at the Temple, and other guards hired by those who engaged in commerce around the Temple. Pagan temples had been used extensively as a place to accept offerings and contributions, to conduct business and to store money and precious metals by the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans themselves even as Pompey’s legions landed on Judea’s shores.

The second Temple was strengthened and rebuilt by Herod starting in 19 BCE and Roman military garrisons were located nearby. There were also several legions in the area, notably in Syria. Herod knew the Romans coveted the Temple’s riches. It was the Romans who stole whatever they could from Judea, taking its wealth and the people’s freedom by selling them into slavery. Many were sent to quarry huge quantities of stone and to repair and build new infrastructure like roads, monuments, as well as buildings like fortresses, prisons and amphitheaters. 


Crucified Jewish rebels


Pagan Rome’s occupation of that area lasted for roughly 400 years followed by Christian Rome's and then Constantinople’s occupation for 300 years. 

The first 100 years from Pompey’s conquest in 63 BCE to the end of Pontius Pilate's governorship in 36 CE were terrible. The next 100 years were worse and produced the genocide of millions in the Jewish War 66-74, the Kitos War 115-117 CE and the Bar Kochba revolt 132-135 CE. That revolt was immediately followed by the Roman exile of Jews from their ancestral lands. Later in history, various leaders directly and indirectly murdered several million more Jews with the help of Christian scripture.

The New Testament describes events that occurred at a time when Rome had already occupied the land for decades and it was written down when Rome was consolidating its grip on Judea, but had not yet vanquished it. Rome had every motive to slander the Jews as part of its usual policy of divide-and-conquer. New Testament verses critical of Jews laid the foundation and justification for the later prejudice, pogroms and genocide inflicted upon the Jewish people within the Roman and Byzantine empires, and later in other lands which adopted Christianity.

Christian texts blame the Jews for many transgressions, especially the killing of Jesus. They allege the occupied Jews and not the occupying Romans murdered a troublesome rabbi from the Galilee in a typical Roman-style execution. Preaching the victorious Romans' version of events has made it possible to drive the believing masses into religious frenzies when needed and to translate their self-righteous anger into prejudice and violence against Jews. With hindsight, such blame amounts to a conscious shift of moral responsibility from the perpetrators to the victims for the countless crimes - including crucifixion - committed by the Romans against the Jews. Such is the power of propaganda. 

 

 


Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

Think others should know about this? Please share