Lecture 12 – (11.1) Roman Jerusalem

Today, we discussed the arrival of Romans in Jerusalem and the Roman influence on Jerusalem, particularly on their influence on  the rise and reign of Herod the Great and his traits and legacy as a ruler over Jerusalem. We also covered the (lack of) real evidence for the existence of Jesus.

The man who brought Jerusalem to Rome in 63 BCE was a general named Pompey. However, although Roman rule of Palestine did begin as a result of his conquests in the region, it was made much simpler and didn’t take long due to the intense infighting between different Jewish sects (Pharisees and Sadducees primarily) that was already tearing the region apart. Pompey, in a way, “settles” the dispute between the brothers Hyrcanus II (favored Pharisees) and Aristobulus II (favored Sadducees), appointing Hyrcanus as “ethnarch” and the Idumean Antipater as procurator, with his songs installed as local rulers (Herod in Galilee). An Idumean was appointed by the Romans, as would be sympathetic to Roman interests, as they were already on the “outs” (the so-called “half-breed” Jews that were “judaized” by the Hasmoneans). From the chain of Idumean appointed rulers arose Herod, who took revenge upon his fathers murder and is backed by Romans to become king of judeau, and he subsequently takes control of Galilee, Samaria, and Idumea. Finally, he takes Jerusalem from the Parthians. Herod was a classic example of a “client king” employed by the Romans. He was (1) good and showed favor to Rome in order that he is not replaced and (2) was much more sensitive to the Jews than his Hasmonean predecessors and thus kept the chances of the revolt to a minimum. His knowledge of the Jewish tradition (as he was from Idumea, an area that had been forcibly “Judaized” by the Hasmoneans) allowed him to rule without as strongly provoking the Jews to rebel. He was a paranoid and impulsive king that ruled meticulously and was effective as a client ruler for Rome and although he was sensitive to their religious traditions and ideals, he was generally hated by the Jews. However, what Herod is most remembered for (due to their longevity, with many still standing today), is his massive building projects, which actually were appreciated by many Jews, as it gave them labor and a wage to live on. These projects included the construction of the Temple Mount itself (the entire retaining platform, including the cherished WesternWall, that covered >172,000 sq. ft. and was made with huge stones – a MASSIVE undertaking), a refurbished Temple (along with a “miqvah” – Jewish ritual bath), a Herodian Palace and Theatre, the Jerusalem Hippodrome (place for racing horses), the Antonia Fortress (place for Romans to stay on the Temple Mount), the Herodian Theatre (at Caesarea; far from Jerusalem – built to please Romans and had symbols that were far enough from Jerusalem to not anger sensitive Jews), the Caesarea Hippodrome, the Herodian aqueduct at Caesarea, and even the Herodian port at Caesarea Maritima. This last monument was built with new technology that allowed concrete to harden underwater. What we see from all of this is that Herod was a harsh dictator who was paranoid and ruled with an “iron fist” and way constantly balancing his favor with Rome and his subjects, but also in the meantime built some pretty cool monuments (which actually did help quell many of his subjects, who were happy to have work). The last monument we covered was the “Dr. Evil”-esque volcano layer of Herod, known as the Herodion.  This giant fortress embedded at the top of a mountain/hill he built was his ultimate get-away when things got hard in Jerusalem. Finally, we basically just went over the fact that there basically is no evidence for the presence of Jesus, and that current relics only hint at his existence and showed that people believed he existed.  The debate is to whether this absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The real answer, as we have mentioned in previous lectures, is that absence of evidence is evidence of nothing – we keep searching until we find something and meanwhile call things inconclusive.

Also discussed, and which I found interesting, was the idea of whether Herod was a good or bad king. Despite being paranoid, slightly impulsive, only “half Jewish” and ruling over a Jewish people, and showing a clear divide in morality between pleasing the Romans and pleasing his actual subjects, I think overall I agreed with the side of Herod being a mostly good king. Relative to other kings of other eras, maybe not, but relative to the previous Hasmonean kings I think Herod shines and it becomes clear why Herod was considered “Great”. Here are some thing that made him seem good and which mostly rest on his accommodation of the Jews: he did NOT defile the temple, allowed Jews to select their high priest, married Hasmonean princess (married into Jewish line), offered relief during famine, was sensitive to only put inanimate objects on the coins (not people/faces), he did not build any pagan shinres/temples in Jewish areas, and he also, most importantly, benefited the people by providing them with labor as builders on his various construction projects. Despite the down-turn of Jerusalem since the conflict of the Hasmonean kings and factions, I would argue Herod gave Jerusalem relative relief and some growth that was needed.

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~ by Andru on February 27, 2011.

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