Judea Under Roman Rule

The Roman army arrived on the shores of the Holy Land in 63 BCE. About 135 years later, the Temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins and the third and most enduring expulsion of the Jews from their homeland was underway. If the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles had been traumatic and even cataclysmic events, the Roman exile was all that and more: for the first time, perhaps, Jews moved outside their land with no real prospect of having a ‘home’ to return to. This lesson will explore the legacy of the failed revolts against the Roman occupation and the lessons this presents for Jews to this day.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. What was the name of the Roman General who invaded Judea in 63 CE?
    • Julius
    • Pompey
    • Andrew
    • Titus
  2. Which of these structures did King Herod build or renovate?
    • Temple Mount
    • Herodium
    • Caesarea Port
    • Masada Fortress
    • All of the above
  3. Name the strategic fortified Jewish settlement that was destroyed by the Romans in the year 67
    • Gamla
    • Golan
    • Galilee
    • Givatayim
  4. Who became Roman Emperor in 69 CE during the siege of Jerusalem?
    • Titus
    • Vespasian
    • Claudius
    • Nero
  5.  In what year did the Roman Empire finally fall?
    • 70
    • 476
    • 1492
    • 1881
    • 1948
  1. Many of the most visited archaeological sites in Israel to this day were constructed by King Herod. It’s not clear whether he built these palaces, ports and temples for the people or to win the good graces of the emperor by promoting Hellenistic culture. How does this impact how you view these ancient structures? If someone builds a magnificent building for the wrong reason, should it change the way we use it long after they are no longer with us?
  2. Why do you think King Herod put a roman eagle on the facade of his magnificent renovation of the Second Temple?
  3. The Fiscus Judaicus (Latin for “Jewish tax”) was an agency instituted to collect the tax imposed on Jews in the Roman Empire after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70. Revenues were directed to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in Rome. Of all the punishments imposed on Jews throughout history, this was one of the more humiliating. In what way do you think this act has shaped the way some Jews view the obligation to pay tax for programs that go against their values to this day?
  4. After crushing the Judean rebellion, the Roman Empire, which had the strongest military in the ancient world, went all out to celebrate the defeat of the Jews, an irregular, small army that lacked sophisticated weaponry, but managed to hold out for four years in a war that cost many Roman lives. Judea was the most rebellious province in the Roman empire for a reason: the Jewish sense of national unity and their devotion to the one, true God would not allow them to submit to the Roman pagan beliefs and way of life — even if they could not agree on how to best oppose it. In hindsight, do you view this spirit of rebellion against all odds as a weakness or strength of Jewish identity to this day?
  1. Use a ready-made lesson plan on “Judea Under Roman Rule” HERE.
  2. Herod’s Buildings — Read about the architectural legacy of King Herod and design four stamps that depict each of his creations and their significance today.
  3. How should Jews respond to political oppression?

Micha Josef Berdyczewski (1865-1921) was a Russian-born writer of Hebrew, a journalist and a scholar. He appealed for the Jews to change their way of thinking, freeing themselves from dogmas ruling the Jewish religion. Berdichevski mocked the rabbinic culture that began in Yavneh and elevated the Zealots of Jerusalem who fought the Romans in 66-70 CE. His polemics were fierce and his rejection of the religious past angered many.

The last generation of Jews and the first generation of Hebrews

Berdyczewski called on his contemporaries to cease being the “last Jews,” to prefer the sword over the book and to become the “first Hebrews.” He formulated other mottos, expressing his demand for a change of values. These mottos also became popular sayings, making him one of the founders of secular Jewish nationalism. Among these was his elevation of “actual Jews” over “abstract Judaism,” his declaration that “the living man had an advantage over his ancestors’ heritage,” and his radical pronouncement that “We are Hebrews and we worship our hearts.”

Some argue that the writings of Berdichevsky carry within them the ethos of the Jewish revolt that began in 66 and continued through the fighting spirit that led to the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

Your Task:

Research three Jewish pacifists who favored compromise or zealots who sought to fight Jewish oppression and articulate which political approach you find most compelling.

4. Give your students our Kahoot on Herod the Great!

  1. Josephus was born in Jerusalem in 37 C.E. and, in the 2,000-plus years since then, he has become a sharply controversial figure, based on the belief that he abandoned his Jewish brothers and joined the Romans as the revolt wound down in 67 CE. Moreover, some historians have accused Josephus of embellishing his histories and inflating his importance. One difficulty in establishing his reliability, Josephus’ critics charge, is that he is the only source on his part in the Jewish-Roman war. Another is that he wrote after the events, with the foreknowledge that war would end in disaster for the Jews, culminating in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. In light of these facts, reflect on how the political realities of the times we live in today shape the way we write and remember history.
  2. There are many theories as to why the Second Temple was destroyed.These include Jewish infighting and sectarianism, Roman cruelty and greed or a punishment from God. Write a letter to Josephus articulating all the questions you have about the circumstances that led to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.
  3. Imagine the Roman Emperor Vespasion came back to life in the year 2020. He would see a strong State of Israel, respect for Judeo-Christian values in many countries and thriving diaspora communities where Jews are mostly free to practice their faith without sanction around the world. How do you imagine he would view the state of the Jewish people today given all he did to make us nothing more than a footnote in history?

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