Roman Love, Roman Hate

(A partial rewrite from the sci-fi blog,to eliminate the sci-fi references.)

From Before Jerusalem Fell, by Kenneth L. Gentry

One legal pillar that secured this peace was Augustus’s Law of Associations that prohibited any association that did not seek state sanction. By refusing to acknowledge the divinity of the Genius of the emperor, Christians were suspect. At this point some historical background as to the political relationship of Israel to Rome will prove helpful in countering a potential objection that might arise, i.e., “How did Israel co-exist with Rome?” It is most interesting that since the times of Julius Caesar Israel had benefited from certain special privileges from Rome that were not allowed to other of its subjects.[1] For instance, Jerusalem’s walls, which were destroyed by Pompey, were allowed by Julius in his “league of mutual assistance” to be rebuilt by Israel’s Hyrcanus.[2] Also contrary to Roman policy since the Bacchanalian Conspiracy, the Jews were allowed to gather freely for their special meetings.[3] Another example is that the Romans generally were careful to not parade their standards in Jerusalem, out of (largely pragmatic) respect for the Jewish sensitivity to “graven images.”[4] As Bruce notes, “imperial policy respected the sanctity of the city” of Jerusalem.[5] Another significant tolerance was in regard to the standard Roman requirement over its conquered peoples “that the votary of the new religion should extend an equal tolerance to all those who did not share his views, and should add the conception of Rome’s Imperial Divinity to his Pantheon at least nominally.”[6] Contrary to common Roman practice in a polytheistic world, Israel was allowed to maintain its strict monotheism. Indeed, from Julius’s times a number of other concessions were made to the Jews that were favorable to Israel.[7]

The Jews responded to the favors of Rome (as varying as these were under different local procurators) by offering “sacrifices twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people.”[8] This was doubtless regarded by Rome as “a very fair equivalent”[9] to the imposition of the Imperial Divinity’s inclusion in the Pantheon of Rome’s subjects. In other words, it appeased the emperor’s expectation for some form of religious veneration by the Jews.[10]

At the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt (which became a full-fledged war from Rome’s perspective when Nero commissioned Vespasian to suppress it), however, this protective offering in honor of Caesar was stopped. Josephus records the event:

And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war, made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans: for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account: and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon.[11]

The effect of this decision as it reflected upon the Roman emperor was that “its termination in the summer of A.D. 66 was tantamount to official renunciation of his authority.’’[12] This was the focal event that highlighted the extreme seriousness of the revolt of the Jews and that brought Roman imperial forces into the picture. In a real sense, the cessation of the Jewish sacrifices for the emperor resulted in the death of those in “the land,” for a most gruesome and protracted war was waged against rebellious Israel.[13]

But another matter arises in consideration of these affairs. The very fact that the cessation of Israel’s religious honor of the emperor (through daily sacrifice) determined Rome’s destructive response is indicative of the very seriousness with which the emperor conceived of emperor worship. In Rome’s eyes, emperor worship may well have been deemed a purely political and symbolic act, and not a truly religious act.[14] But it was a deadly serious symbolic statement, one of such magnitude as to eventuate in war. Even symbolic actions are of serious historical consequence among most peoples; surely even early emperor worship, even if merely symbolic, had serious political implications that could result in the persecution and war of Revelation.

[1] Interestingly, Julius Caesar so affected the admiration of the Jews that they mourned his death according to Suetonius, Julius 845.

[2] Josephus, Antiquities 14:10:1,5.

[3] Josephus, Antiquities 14:10:8.

[4] See Josephus, Wars 2, for one occasion on which this sensitivity was scoffed at with disastrous results by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. Another example of a similar event is found in Philo, To Gaius.

[5] Bruce, History, p. 35.

[6] Henderson, Nero, p. 347.

[7] Ibid., p. 13. See Josephus, Antiquities 14:10:2-8.

[8] Josephus, Wars 2:10:4. See also his Against Apion 2:5.

[9] Henderson, Nero, p. 348.

[10] One example exists of at least one emperor who felt it was not enough. The emperor Gaius complained: “You offered sacrifices for me, it is true, but you offered none to me,” in Philo, To Gaius 357.

[11] Wars 2:17:2.

[12] Bruce, History, p. 139.

[13] This seems to be the idea involved in the second Beast’s killing those in the Land who did not worship the image of the Beast (Rev. 13:15).

[14] Except, of course, in the cases of the madcap emperors Caligula (Gaius) and Domitian, and surely that of the insane Nero.

The Roman Empire has no problem making certain tailor-made concessions to insure the loyalty of unique populations and cultures.

But woe betide you, if, AFTER you have received the affections of Rome, you then decide to fling that affection away in contempt.

Expect consequences.

Note that the cause of formal Roman hostilities with Judea was formalized by the end of sacrifices for the Emperor in the Temple. This was understood – by both sides – as a declaration of war.

A keen eye would note that the Emperor was not the only one cut off from any relationship with God: all foreigners were cut off. “Only those of the blood of Abraham can ever have forgiveness of their sins, or ever gain a right relationship with God!”

The Roman response to that claim was quite emphatic.

Naturally, I reject the claim of the long-dead Temple priests of the long-shattered Temple to bar all outsiders from gaining forgiveness from God. For one thing, they had no right to simply rewrite the Law of God to meet their political goals – priest or no priest.

I remember Someone talking about “rejecting the commandments of God, to keep the traditions of men.” A warning for the blood’n’soil guys to keep in mind, regardless of their particular nationality.

Now, or in the far future.

Or even in the distant past.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.