Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman - review by Jeremy Paterson

Jeremy Paterson

Eternal Cities

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations


Allen Lane / The Penguin Press 624pp £25 order from our bookshop

At the top end of the Sacred Way, as it runs up from the Forum in Rome, stands the Arch dedicated to Titus, who in AD 70, as son of the new emperor Vespasian, brought the war with the Jewish rebels to a bloody conclusion and razed the Temple in Jerusalem. Within the arch are reliefs representing the Roman triumphal procession, with soldiers carrying as spoils the paraphernalia of the Temple: the seven-branch candelabrum, the shewbread table, the incense cups, and the trumpets, which along with a copy of the Torah were eventually to become prize exhibits in Vespasian’s ironically named Temple of Peace. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple was a defining moment in the history of Judaism. It was also an exceptional act of the Romans, who normally did not treat foreign cults in this way. Far from it – their basic principle was that all the peoples included in the empire should continue to worship as their ancestors had done. Indeed, the incorporation of new gods was a strengthening of empire, like adding to one’s insurance policy; getting ever more gods on one’s side was a vindication and bolstering of Rome’s right to rule.

Should this be seen as the inevitable culmination of a clash of cultures? Were ‘all men either Jews or Hellenes’, as Heine claimed in his lifelong struggle to reconcile his conversion to Christianity with his Jewish origins? In the first half of his splendid book, Martin Goodman argues powerfully that

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