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In AD 70, after a war that had flared sporadically for four years, three Roman legions under the future Emperors Vespasian and his son Titus surrounded, laid siege to, and eventually devastated the city of Jerusalem, destroying completely the magnificent Temple which had been built by Herod only eighty years earlier. What brought about this extraordinary conflict, with its extraordinary consequences? This superb book, by one of the world’s leading scholars of the ancient Roman and Jewish worlds, narrates and explains this titanic struggle, showing why Rome’s interests were served by this policy of brutal hostility, and how the first generation of Christians first distanced themselves from its Jewish origins and then became increasingly hostile to Jews as their influence spread within the empire. The book thus also provides an exceptional and original account of the origins of anti-Semitism, whose history has had often cataclysmic reverberations down to our own time.
The Jewish revolt against the Romans, ending with the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in A.D. 70, marked an irreparable breach between the pagan and later Christian worlds and an outcast Jewish minority. Yet the first two-thirds of this absorbing historical study explores the harmony of Roman and Judaic civilizations before the revolt. Goodman, a professor of Jewish studies at Oxford, finds many similarities in a far-ranging comparative analysis of their religions, cultures, economies and governments, though he gives more space to the worldly, extravagant Romans than to the relatively austere and parochial Jews. Before the revolt, he contends, Romans considered Jews unobjectionable, despite their eccentric monotheism; Jerusalem prospered under Roman rule and Jews living in diaspora were well integrated into Roman society. Goodman argues that the cataclysm could have been avoided (the burning of the Temple was accidental, he believes) but for the politics of the imperial succession, which prompted a needlessly hard line against the revolt and then Judaism itself. Drawing on Josephus's firsthand narrative, Goodman fleshes out his lucid account with archeology, numismatics and commentary from Roman and Jewish sources. The result is a scholarly tour de force, a resonant story of a tragic conflict caused by political miscalculation and opportunism. 16 pages of photos, 8 maps.