Five women and one man turned up for the Muslim-Jewish walk advertised in Heaton Park yesterday afternoon. But we were all Jewish! A number of possible reasons was given for this: Sunday being a family day (but we had decided to meet at the playground), shyness, cultural norms, etc etc.
In the event, we had a lovely walk, during which the secretary of the Greater Manchester Muslim-Jewish Forum told us something about the organisation and their plans for the forthcoming year.
Then, in the evening, Professor Martin Goodman FBA of Oxford University
addressed the Manchester Jewish Historical Society on why the Romans ended up being brutal to the Jews:
First we met at the home of the Society's organiser, Frank Baigel. About twenty years ago, I had invited Martin to give a talk at Harold House in Liverpool. On that occasion he had been met by a rather vociferous audience, which he had enjoyed.
So it was great meeting up again and exchanging news.
The talk, which took place at the Jewish Museum in Cheetham Hill
attracted around 80 people, which was terrific, although being given the task of collecting payments from the audience, which was already seated, proved a bit difficult, the container being a narrow glass jar which objected to parting with change!
Martin's talk was based on his book, Rome and Jerusalem, which has received tremendous reviews:
Martin started out by stating that the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE was one of the most tragic events in Jewish history. But the puzzle is why the Romans did not allow it to be rebuilt, as they did in other cases.
Part of, but not the whole answer, was Roman Judeophobia. As in modern times, ideas are there, but it depends if they are picked up or not. Roman behaviour, rather than words, should be the key. The treatment of Jerusalem was an anomaly in Roman practice.
What were the cultural differences between Rome and Jerusalem? Were they of the order of Birmingham compared to Manchester, Calcutta compared to Washington DC, or San Francisco compared to Mecca? In the third case, all the inhabitants may use e-mail, but they have completely opposed ways of thinking and living.
Entertainment and sports enjoyed by the Romans were frowned on by Jerusalem. Romans depicted human and animal forms in their art, whereas Jerusalem did not. Rome did not have many sexual taboos, whereas Jerusalem did. Rome allowed abortion and infanticide to which Jerusalem was opposed. Rome had political leaders: Jerusalem regarded their priests as leaders. The Jewish historian, Josephus (who went over to the Romans) invented the word theocracy to depict the way the Jews ruled themselves.
Philosophically, Rome regarded the world as eternal, whereas Jerusalem regarded it as created and liable to come to an end. Rome regarded itself as the empire, whilst the Jews saw Jerusalem as the navel of the world. Rome was great through conquest, and Jerusalem through the Temple.
In the 1st century BCE, the Roman poet, Horace, found the Jews silly and funny, because of peculiar customs, such as having a day of rest and circumcizing sons:
But the Jews were not yet regarded as a threat. Rome had an insignificant number of troops in Judea, mainly in Caesarea. Its governors were very junior in rank.
To start with, the Romans treated the Temple as a respectable cult, which, until 66 CE, they encouraged. They also permitted mass pilgrimages on the three pilgrim festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succot. According to Josephus, during Pesach of 65 CE, over 250,000 Passover lambs were sacrificed. This statistic implies that two and a half million people had visited the Temple at that time. Some modern scholars think that this was not possible. Whatever the truth of the matter, modern TV footage of crowds at Mecca has recorded for us the inevitable tragic deaths through crushes which huge pilgrimages may entail.
It could be argued, however, that the clash of civilizations was not inevitable, but was the result, rather than the cause of the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.
Why did the attitude of the Romans change between 70 and 135 CE? Writing in hindsight, Josephus describes certain small disturbances - 12 between 6 and 66 CE.
A series of minor events was very badly handled by the local Jewish aristocrats. These aristocrats were held to account in Rome, by being crucified. At this, the Jewish aristocracy rebelled en masse, seeking independence from Rome, as they had experienced under both the Hasmoneans and Herod.
A brutal Roman governor left his rearguard open to attack and thus lost half a legion to the Jews. This was the worst disaster ever to hit a Roman legion within a province in the entire history of the Roman Empire.
Emperor Nero sent Vespasian to sort things out - ironically because the latter was unimportant and therefore no threat to Nero. However, due to his own paranoia, Nero eventually committed suicide and was followed by four successors, the last being Vespasian. In order to be acclaimed, Vespasian had to do something quickly. The Temple was actually destroyed by mistake. Vespasian's son Titus, tried to stop this happening, but failed to curb the Roman generals.
For the Jews, this destruction of their Temple was a disaster, but they hoped to rebuild it, as in the case of the First Temple. In order to save face, Rome did not allow this to happen. Instead, the Temple utensils were paraded through Rome. Diaspora Jews, who had taken no part in the struggle, were also held to blame and made to pay a special tax to the Temple in Rome.
So, a minor insurrection ended up with the defeat of - in Roman eyes - a terrifying foreign enemy (the Jews) because of their own civil war in Rome. Vespasian died in 79 and Titus in 81. Why could the Temple not be rebuilt at that time?
No other people defeated by Rome had this defeat commemorated on coins. There were 193 rebellions which took place throughout the Roman Empire until 200 CE, but no other such commemorations can be found in either Greek or Latin.
Between 115-117, huge revolts took place in parts of the Jewish diaspora, which - incidentally - are hardly mentioned in rabbinic sources. Hadrian took over. He had a tidy mind and scuppered - once and for all - any notion that the Jews would ever regain their Temple. The disastrous Bar Kochba revolt took place from 132-135. Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city, named Aelia Capitolina and Judea was renamed Syria-Palestina.
What was the effect of all this? Many people gave up being Jewish. In rabbinic thought Rome became identified with Edom, the wicked kingdom:
All this coincided with the spread of Gentile Christianity, which dissociated itself from the Jews. To be considered as a legitimate new religion, Christianity needed an anicent history, so they appropriated Jewish history for themselves. The term 'Jew' had negative connotations, so 2nd and 3rd-century Christianity attacked the 'Jews'. This approach has continued in Christian anti-Judaism down to the present day.
What are the implications of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple?
1) There are implications for the history of the early Church
2) There are implications for Jewish history, with diaspora Jewry being caught up in attitudes to Jerusalem, as so often in the history of the Jewish people. In addition, the destruction of the Temple led to rabbinic Judaism as we know it today, with prayer and charity replacing sacrifice.
3) There are implications for the history of antisemitism. 'Judaism' came to be regarded as 'bad' (see the 4th-century Christian writer, Eusebius) and forms of Christian antisemitism have continued in Europe and elsewhere up to the present day.