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63 BC- AD 135 - Roman Judea

In 64 BC, dynastic contenders for the throne appealed for support to Pompey, who was then establishing Roman power in Asia. The next year Roman legions seized Jerusalem, and Pompey installed one of the contenders for the throne as high priest, but without the title of king.Pompey carried the last Hasmonean king off to Rome. Eighty years of independent Jewish sovereignty ended, and the period of Roman dominion began.

During the rule of John Hyrcanus II (63-40 BCE), an Idumaean convert to Judaism - Antipater - was appointed by Julius Caesar as the administrator of Judaea. The Idumaeans were descendants of Esau, living in Edom, a country bordering Judaea in what is now southwest Jordan, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Antipater chose his younger son, Herod, who was still only a boy, as governor of Galilee. When the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus Mattathias, was defeated and executed in 37 BCE by order of Mark Anthony, Herod became the undisputed ruler of Judaea.

Herod was confirmed by the Roman Senate as king of Judah in 37 BC and reigned until his death in 4 BC. Herod's father, Antipater, had shared power with the last Hasmonean king, Hycranus II. After the time of the Hasmoneans, king Herod erected a bigger and more magnificent Temple, of which the Western and Southern walls are still standing. Nominally independent, Judah was actually in bondage to Rome, and the land was formally annexed in 6 BC as part of the province of Syria Palestina.

Galling as this yoke became to the patriotic and ambitious race, it was of inestimable significance for them, multiplying many times their effectiveness. Eome stood for peace and order, for safe and speedy transportation, for the growing unity of the world. Rome's capacity for administration promoted the rapid spread of the language and culture of the Greeks, thereby awakening decadent peoples to new life and fresh enterprise. The subjection of the Jewish people was, therefore, a mere incident in their attainment of a broader opportunity for impressing the world.

The religious concord of the world was principally supported by the implicit assent and reverence which the nations of antiquity expressed for their respective traditions and ceremonies. It might therefore be expected, that they would unite with indignation against any sect or people which should separate itself from the communion of mankind, and claiming the exclusive possession of divine knowledge, should disdain every form of worship except its own, as impious and idolatrous. The rights of toleration were held by mutual indulgence : they were justly forfeited by a refusal of the accustomed tribute. The payment of this tribute was inflexibly refused by the Jews, and by them alone.

Rome did grant the Jews religious autonomy and some judicial and legislative rights through the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin, which traced its origins to a council of elders established under Persian rule (333 BC to 165 BC) was the highest Jewish legal and religious body under Rome. The Great Sanhedrin, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, supervised smaller local Sanhedrins and was the final authority on many important religious, political, and legal issues, such as declaring war, trying a high priest, and supervising certain rituals.

Scholars have sharply debated the structure and composition of the Sanhedrin. The Jewish historian Josephus and the New Testament present the Sanhedrin as a political and judicial council whereas the Talmud describes it as a religious, legislative body headed by a court of seventy-one sages. Another view holds that there were two separate Sanhedrins. The political Sanhedrin was composed primarily of the priestly Sadducee aristocracy and was charged by the Roman procurator with responsibility for civil order, specifically in matters involving imperial directives. The religious Sanhedrin of the Pharisees was concerned with religious law and doctrine, which the Romans disregarded as long as civil order was not threatened. Foremost among the Pharisee leaders of the time were the noted teachers, Hillel and Shammai.

In addition to the three groups identified by Josephus (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), Judaism was further divided into numerous religious sects and political parties. With the destruction of the Temple and the commonwealth in 70 CE, all that came to an end. Only the Judaism of the Pharisees -- Rabbinic Judaism -- survived.

Chafing under foreign rule, a Jewish nationalist movement of the fanatical sect known as the Zealots challenged Roman control in AD 66. After a protracted siege begun by Vespasian, the Roman commander in Judah, but completed under his son Titus in AD 70, Jerusalem and the Second Temple were seized and destroyed by the Roman legions. The last Zealot survivors perished in AD 73 at the mountain fortress of Massada, about fifty-six kilometers southwest of Jerusalem above the western shore of the Dead Sea.

During the siege of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yohanan Ben-Zakki received Vespasian's permission to withdraw to the town of Yibna (also seen as Jabneh) on the coastal plain, about twenty-four kilometers southwest of present-day Tel Aviv. There an academic center or academy was set up and became the central religious authority; its jurisdiction was recognized by Jews in Palestine and beyond. Roman rule, nevertheless, continued.

The destruction of the temple and city was accompanied and followed by every circumstance that could exasperate the minds of the conquerors, and authorize religious persecution by the most specious arguments of political justice and the public safety. From the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious massacres and insurrections.

Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives ;' and the severe retaliation was exercised by the arms of the legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but of humankind.

The enthusiasm of the Jews was supported by the opinion, that it was unlawful for them to pay taxes to an idolatrous master; and by the flattering promise which they derived from their ancient oracles, that a conquering Messiah would soon arise, destined to break their fetters, and to invest the favourites of heaven with the empire of the earth. It was by announcing himself as their long-expected deliverer, and by calling on all the descendants of Abraham to assert the hope of Israel, that the famous Barchochebas collected a formidable army, with which he resisted during two years the power of the emperor Hadrian.

Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-38) endeavored to establish cultural uniformity and issued several repressive edicts, including one against circumcision. The edicts sparked the Bar-Kochba Rebellion of 132-35, which was crushed by the Romans. Hadrian then closed the Academy at Yibna, and prohibited both the study of the Torah and the observance of the Jewish way of life derived from it. Judah was included in Syria Palestina, Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden to come within sight of the city. Once a year on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple, controlled entry was permitted, allowing Jews to mourn at a remaining fragment on the Temple site, the Western Wall, which became known as the Wailing Wall.

Notwithstanding these repeated provocations, the resentment of the Roman princes expired after the victory; nor were their apprehensions continued beyond the period of war and danger. By the general indulgence of polytheism, and by the mild temper of Antoninus Pius, the Jews were restored to their ancient privileges, and once more obtained the permission of circumcising their children, with the easy restraint, that they should never confer on any foreign proselyte that distinguishing mark of the Hebrew people. The numerous remains of that people, though they were still excluded from the precincts of Jerusalem, were permitted to form and to maintain considerable establishments both in Italy and in the provinces, to acquire the freedom of Rome, to enjoy municipal honours, and to obtain at the same time an exemption from the burdensome and expensive offices of society.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2012 18:43:10 ZULU