THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN Rome and Jerusalem was complicated by the fact that a Roman could be Jewish and a Jew could be Roman. Thus, according to the Acts of the Apostles, in the late 50s CE the apostle Paul, a Jew from the city of Tarsus in Cilicia, could ensure (at least temporarily) his physical inviolability when arrested in Jerusalem by letting slip his status as a Roman citizen:

The tribune commanded him to be brought into the barracks and ordered that he should be examined by flogging so that he might find out why they cried so much against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion that stood by: “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard that, he went and told the tribune, saying, “Be careful what you do: for this man is a Roman.”1

A few sceptics have doubted the story, but without justification: the whole narrative of the last section of Acts hinges on this status of Paul, as a result of which he ended up being sent as a prisoner to Rome to plead his case before the emperor. The account by the author of Acts of the reaction of others to Paul's revelation about himself is instructive. They are much surprised: it is not to be expected that a diaspora Jew who has got himself into trouble, as Paul has done, will turn out to be a Roman. On the other hand, it turns out that Paul is not the only Roman present. The tribune informs him that he too has Roman citizenship, “bought with a great sum.” Paul, by contrast, affirms that he was born a Roman citizen.

Roman identity depended ultimately on recognition as a citizen by the Roman state. There were clear rules. A male Roman citizen could only produce legitimate citizen offspring if his spouse was either herself Roman or from a community within the empire which was specifically acknowledged by the Roman state to have the right of conubium, intermarriage, with Romans. A female Roman citizen could not secure citizen rights for her newborn children if her husband was not Roman. But senior Roman magistrates could, and did, grant citizenship to individual non-Romans in the provinces of the empire as a privilege, either for services rendered or (less respectably) in response to a bribe (such as had evidently been offered for this purpose by the tribune who spoke to Paul). In a cosmopolitan city like Jerusalem, one never knew who was Roman and who was not. Neither appearance, nor dress, nor language, nor name was a certain guide. There were many strange Romans about. Their number, and the variety of their origins, were more than ever in a state of change at the time of Paul's arrest.2

The liberality of Romans with their citizenship was very unusual in the ancient world. Despite the physical expansion of Rome by the first century CE, only a very small proportion of the total population of the empire could ever be housed there. No matter: although the main way to become a Roman citizen was to be born one, already in the earliest days of the Republic, in the fifth century BCE, the Romans incorporated some of their Latin neighbours into their polity. By the early first century BCE the process of incorporation included all of Italy. Once the step had been taken to accept as citizens people who had no physical or familial connection to the city of Rome, it was easy to extend citizenship further, first to privileged individuals among the subject communities, then to whole peoples and regions. Legally, the process required in each case the approval of the political organs of the Roman state, but, in practice, by the mid-first century BCE the power to grant citizenship was often devolved to the most powerful magistrates. The advantage gained by particular politicians as patrons of new citizens, or the unsuitability of specific individuals for citizen status, occasionally caused controversy, but the general principle that Romanness might spread indefinitely does not seem to have been doubted by anyone. In a speech in 62 BCE on behalf of the poet Archias, whose right to Roman citizenship had been questioned on technical grounds by political enemies, Cicero could urge in aid of his client's (legally dubious) claim even the nebulous achievement that he had written poetry “to celebrate the fame and glory of the Roman people.”3

Among the most remarkable demonstrations of this liberality was the acceptance as citizens of ex-slaves. The enormity of the transfer of status this entailed is hard to grasp. Slaves of Roman citizens were not legally persons. They were things, property, like animals or inanimate objects in the modern world. But even they could become Roman citizens. All that was required was a formal ceremony before a Roman magistrate to mark liberation from servile status and incorporation into the Roman people. Sometimes the procedure could be even simpler, with freedom, and full citizen rights, granted by the will of a deceased owner.

Romans were well aware of the value of such grants of citizenship, and some slaves might be manumitted informally without citizenship rights, either because the owner wished to regain control over whatever the freed slave earned or because the owner deemed him or her unworthy. It remained true, and astonishing, that decisions about which slaves should become Roman citizens lay to such an extent in the remit of the individual owner, male or female. A Roman woman, who could not herself vote, could give that right to her male slave, by the simple procedure of granting him his liberty in the presence of a magistrate. In the time of Augustus a series of laws was passed to try to regulate the freeing and enfranchisement of huge numbers of slaves at one time by the testaments of exceptionally wealthy owners wishing to deprive their heirs of this part of their property, and the granting of citizen rights to slaves who had previously been punished as criminals either by their owners or by the state. A century later, Suetonius interestingly attributed such laws to a desire “to keep the people pure and unsullied by any taint of foreign or servile blood,” which was not at all their effect: only criminal slaves were totally debarred from citizenship, and there remained no limit to the number of slaves a man or woman could free in his or her lifetime. The ethnic diversity of the slave inhabitants of the city of Rome in the late Republic and early empire thus, within only a few generations, transformed the ethnic composition of the citizen population. Quite a few of these freed slaves were Jews.4

Outside Italy, grants of citizenship to favoured individuals were more common in the western part of the empire than in the east during the first century BCE, but over the following two centuries eastern provincials benefited increasingly, until finally, in 212 CE, the emperor Caracalla granted citizenship to all the inhabitants of the Roman world. Caracalla's immediate motivation was said to have been to increase the tax revenues of the state, but the universal grant of citizenship was the culmination of a process that had taken many centuries. The dialogue of Paul with his captors, as recorded in Acts, suggests that, for these provincials, Roman citizenship was worth acquiring for its practical benefits, rather like a passport, rather than as a statement of Roman identity, but such benefits, tangible enough in the case of Paul when he was arrested, do not seem to have involved much more than the right to appeal to the emperor against arbitrary action by the Roman and provincial authorities, and the value of such a right was diluted as citizenship spread. By the time of Hadrian, the state was making distinctions about the entitlement to legal protection of Roman citizens from different levels of society. More lenient penalties were to be applied to those who were richer, “more honourable”; a humbler person convicted for the same offence could expect more degrading, often corporal, punishment. It is not clear how “Roman” any of these humbler citizens came to feel—or, indeed, how clear a notion they had of what it meant to be Roman. Plutarch, as we have seen, became a Roman but stayed a Greek. Such continuing loyalty to a non-Roman identity was common. But attitudes in any one region or group could change over time. Some inhabitants of the Apennine mountain ranges had felt sufficiently opposed to Roman culture to set up their own state of Italia in 90 BCE, but within less than sixty years of their defeat in 87 they were to be fully embroiled as citizens in the purely Roman civil conflict between Antony and Octavian: many of the supporters of Octavian in the wars of the 30s, and beneficiaries of the reconstituted Roman state he proclaimed in 27 BCE, were just such Italians.

A proportion of the inhabitants of the city of Rome in the first century CE were foreigners or slaves, and thus not Roman citizens, and their attitudes and social relations in many respects were distinct from those of citizens and to a large extent unknown, but even in trying to establish the attitudes of citizens this fluidity of Roman identity creates problems for historians trying to establish Roman attitudes to their world. It is not just that in any complex society there are bound to be varied opinions and thus discovering a majority or standard view is necessarily impressionistic without the evidence of opinion polls. The more intractable problem is that opinions expressed by a Roman writer may not reflect his views as a Roman so much as (one of) his non-Roman identities. The letters of Paul constitute a notable example. They are in some sense Roman literature, expressing the point of view of a Roman author, but to extract from them generalizations about Roman religion and culture would be patently absurd. The same can be said, to a greater or lesser extent, of all Roman texts written in Greek in the early empire. It is probable that Cassius Dio, author, in the early third century CE, of a multivolume history of Rome, thought of himself as a Roman if only because he was a senator and twice consul, even though his history was composed in Greek; but the same cannot be said with confidence of his Bithynian namesake from over a century earlier, Dio Cocceianus (later called Chrysostom, “golden-mouthed”), despite the length of time he spent as orator and philosopher in Rome under the Flavians and his later friendship with the emperor Trajan. Citizens might feel their Roman identity more strongly at some times in their lives, less strongly at others. Context was crucial. In the army, where Latin was the language of command, but also the language used on the tombstones of soldiers, a legionary might identify more fully with Rome, regardless of his place of origin, than did his non-military relatives. Latin-speaking legionaries settled in Phoenicia by Augustus in 15 BCE to create the new Roman colony of Berytus (modern Beirut) might see themselves as bastions of Roman culture in an alien world: it was not accidental that Berytus became in the third century CE a great centre for the study (in Latin) of Roman law, attracting Greek-speaking provincials from all over the Roman Near East. Conversely, a Greek-speaking Roman citizen in the city of Rome might feel all the more strongly his Greek origin because of the Italian sea in which he found himself swimming.

Acknowledgement of fuzzy boundaries does not make the search for Roman attitudes impossible, just more difficult. There is always a danger of describing ideal types rather than real people, but that may not be altogether a bad thing. Societies need ideal types by which to judge their own performance. Even if many Romans, like Paul and Josephus, usually judged themselves by criteria culled from far outside normal Roman assumptions, it will still be worthwhile trying to find out how they may have thought of themselves in the interludes when the personas they adopted were Roman.*

“WHO IS A JEW?” The question was as difficult to answer in the early Roman empire as it is now. Indeed, the lack of clear boundaries to define Jewishness makes the contemporary world—or, more accurately, the world in which European and American Jews have lived since the emancipation of European Jews began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—more similar to the multicultural society of the pagan Roman empire than to any intervening period of Jewish history. Throughout the Middle Ages, under both Christian and Muslim rule, the limits of Jewish communities were generally agreed both by the Jews themselves and by the states in which they lived. In the Roman world in the first century CE, there was no such clarity. Jewish identity was then, as now, both religious and ethnic, and the root cause of uncertainty was, for Jews as for Romans, the liberal extension of this identity to outsiders. Precisely when and why Jews began to believe that gentiles who came to join them and took up their customs should be treated not just as tolerated strangers but as Jews in their own right is uncertain. However, the notion of such proselytes was well entrenched in the text of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and it is therefore reasonable to suppose that gentile conversions to Judaism were taken for granted by Greek Jews in the third and second centuries BCE, when the Septuagint was completed. There is much in favour of the hypothesis that this Jewish concept was adopted in response to the universalism of Hellenism. Just as anyone who wished to do so could become Greek by behaving in a Greek fashion, so too anyone who wished to do so could become a Jew by following the customs of the Jews.5

Conversion to Judaism was not just a theoretical possibility. The names of individuals identified as proselytes are preserved on inscriptions from different parts of the Jewish world of late antiquity. For most such converts, the precise mechanism by which they became Jewish is not known, but in the unique case of the conversion of Izates, king of Adiabene in northern Mesopotamia, and of his mother Helena, a quite full and illuminating narrative was preserved by Josephus—partly, no doubt, because Helena (as we saw in Chapter I) became a well-known personality in Jerusalem in the years when Josephus was a child and teenager.6

The story as told by Josephus has elements of romance. Izates, offspring of an incestuous union between siblings, was marked out in advance by a divine voice which spoke to his father while he was still in the womb: the baby “by the providence of God had had a fortunate start and would also attain a fortunate end.” Already thus his father's favourite, Izates was sent off to the court of a neighbouring king, Abennerigus of Spasinou Charax, which lies near the mouths of the Tigris and the Euphrates. While he was there a Jewish merchant named Ananias visited the royal harem and “taught them to worship God after the manner of the Jewish tradition. It was through their agency that he was brought to the notice of Izates, whom he similarly won over with the cooperation of the women.” On Izates' return to Adiabene, Ananias accompanied him home. “It so happened, moreover, that Helena [his mother] had likewise been instructed by another Jew and had been brought over to their laws”—a fact unknown to Izates when it happened, but “when he learned that his mother was very much pleased with the customs of the Jews, he was zealous to convert to them himself.” At this point in the story there was an impasse:

Since he considered that he would not be securely a Jew unless he was circumcised, he was ready to act accordingly. When his mother learned of his intention, however, she tried to stop him by telling him that it was a dangerous move. For, she said, he was a king; and if his subjects should discover that he was devoted to rites that were strange and foreign to themselves, it would produce much disaffection and they would not tolerate the rule of a Jew over them. Besides this advice she tried by every other means to hold him back. He, in turn, reported her arguments to Ananias. The latter expressed agreement with the king's mother and actually threatened that if he should be unable to persuade Izates, he would abandon him and leave the land. For he said that he was afraid that if the matter became universally known, he would be punished, in all likelihood, as personally responsible because he had instructed the king in unseemly practices. The king could, he said, worship the Divine even without being circumcised if indeed he had fully decided to be a devoted adherent of the ancestral practices of the Jews, for it was this that counted more than circumcision. He told him that God Himself would pardon him if, constrained thus by necessity and by fear of his subjects, he failed to perform this rite.

At the time, the king was apparently convinced by Ananias' arguments, but it did not last:

Afterwards, however, since he had not completely given up his desire, another Jew, named Eleazar, who came from Galilee and who had a reputation for being extremely strict when it came to the ancestral laws, urged him to do the deed. For when he came to him to pay him his respects and found him reading the law of Moses, he said: “In your ignorance, O king, you are guilty of the greatest offence against the law and thereby against God. For you ought not merely to read the law but also, and even more, to do what is commanded in it. How long will you continue to be uncircumcised? If you have not yet read the law concerning this matter, read it now, so that you may know what an impiety it is that you commit.” Upon hearing these words, the king postponed the deed no longer. Withdrawing into another room, he summoned his physician and had the prescribed act performed. Then he sent for both his mother and his teacher Ananias and notified them that he had performed the rite. They were immediately seized with consternation and fear beyond measure that … they themselves would be in jeopardy since the blame for his action would be attributed to them. It was God who was to prevent their fears from being realized. For although Izates himself and his children were often threatened with destruction, God preserved them, opening a path to safety from desperate straits. God thus demonstrated that those who fix their eyes on Him and trust in Him alone do not lose the reward of their piety.7

In the eyes both of Josephus and of the later rabbis, Izates and Helena thus became not just gentile worshippers of the Jewish God, “Godfearers,” but authentic Jews. This is all the more impressive because the conversion narrative itself gives no indication at all by whose authority they had become Jewish. It was not apparently through either Eleazar (who plays no further part in the narrative after his uplifting speech) or Izates' teacher Ananias, who expresses horror at the news of the king's circumcision. The act of circumcision is carried out in private, by the court physician, who is not described as a Jew. Stories of the mass conversion to Judaism of the Idumaeans in the 120s BCE, or of Ituraeans in Galilee in 104—103, presuppose that the High Priest, who was responsible for the proselytization of these gentiles, had the power to turn them by fiat into Jews. One can imagine that a local Jewish community, or its leaders, or a learned Jewish sage, might do the same. In later periods of Jewish history, the task has fallen to a tribunal of rabbis. But no priest, rabbi, sage or local Jewish community seems to have been involved in Adiabene when Izates was circumcised in a secluded part of his palace. Unlike Roman identity, Jewish identity was, it seems, to some extent a matter of personal self-identification. In essence, Izates was a Jew primarily because he thought of himself as a Jew.8

The lack of any single external authority to define who was a Jew had most impact in such cases of conversion from gentile to Jewish status, but it also affected some of those Jews—the vast majority—whose Jewishness came not from choice but from birth. Most Jews, in antiquity as now, were born Jews, and for most of them their status was unequivocal. The offspring of a legal union between Jewish spouses was a Jew. But the position was more complex if only one parent was Jewish. For Jews in the first century CE there was no clarity like the rules for Roman citizenship. On the contrary, it appears that over the course of centuries from the third century BCE through to the third century CE, a general assumption that only the Jewish status of the father mattered gradually gave way to a belief that the maternal one is decisive. The early biblical narrative told of Jewish heroes marrying non-Jewish women and producing with them legitimate Jewish offspring. The births of Manasseh and Ephraim to the patriarch Joseph are celebrated in the book of Genesis without the slightest evidence of embarrassment that their mother was Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest of On. At the end of the first century CE, Josephus still noted specifically the conversion of the gentile men who married Herodian princesses, but he had nothing to say about the Jewish status of the gentile women who married Herodian princes, which should have counted for more if the Herodian family thought that the matrilineal principle was what mattered most. By contrast, a discussion in the Tosefta, a collection of rabbinic legal opinions, similar to the Mishnah, which was compiled in the mid-third century CE, can be read to imply that the child of a Jewish woman and a gentile father is a Jew, and this view became standard in rabbinic law by the fourth century CE. A period of uncertainty during the shift from a patrilin-eal to a matrilineal system may be reflected in a mixed marriage recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. When Paul came to Derbe and to Lystra in Asia Minor, “a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren of Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”9 “Ambrosi-aster,” an anonymous commentator on the Pauline epistles from the mid-fourth century, argued that the author of Acts implied in this passage that Paul must have thought that Timothy was a Jew because his mother was Jewish, since Paul was famously adamant that non-Jews did not need to undergo circumcision.10 It is worth imagining the difficulties faced by the priests in the Temple confronted by crowds of pilgrims eager to enter the Court of the Israelites. It was their duty to exclude those who were not Jews, but how were they to tell?

At least it could be taken for granted that those who went up to Jerusalem for the festivals wanted to assert their Jewish identity. Outside Jerusalem, Jewishness was not always of prime significance in the way Jews saw themselves and the world any more than their Roman identity was always central to the lives of all Romans (or than Jewish identity is central to all Jews now). When revolt broke out in Jerusalem in 66 CE, the Jews of Scythopolis (Beth Shean, just south of Galilee) chose to side not with their compatriots in Jerusalem but with their fellow Scythopolitans. The story told by Josephus was of dual loyalties at a time of crisis brought to a head by events in Judaea over which the Scythopolitan Jews had no effective control:

Thus far the Judaeans had been faced with aliens only, but when they invaded Scythopolis they found the Jews there in arms against them; for the Jews in this district ranged themselves on the side of the Scythopolitans, and, regarding their own security as more important than the ties of blood, met their own countrymen in battle. However, this excess of ardour brought them under suspicion: the people of Scy-thopolis feared that the Jews might attack the city by night and inflict upon them some grave disaster, in order to make amends to their brethren for their defection. They, therefore, ordered them if they wished to confirm their allegiance and demonstrate their fidelity to those of a foreign nation, to betake themselves and their families to the adjoining grove. The Jews obeyed these orders, suspecting nothing. For two days the Scythopolitans made no move, in order to lull them into security, but on the third night, watching their opportunity when some were off their guard, and others asleep, they slaughtered them all to the number of upward of thirteen thousand and pillaged all their possessions.

The Jerusalemite Josephus, who at this stage of the revolt had been firmly on the side of the Judaean rebels, expressed no understanding of the dilemma of these Scythopolitan Jews. He blamed them for putting their own security first, and he showed only little sympathy for their eventual fate. Their behaviour shows with tragic clarity that the political attitudes of the Jews of Jerusalem were not shared by all Jews elsewhere, even in the land of Israel.11

What evidence, then, can we use to understand the attitudes of Jews in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus? Whatever Josephus wrote was obviously possible for a Jerusalemite Jew to think, although, as we have seen, his views may have been slanted to reflect his own tortuous career and to appeal to his non-Jewish readers. The writings of Philo can be used, but only with care, since he lived in the diaspora and may have visited Jerusalem only once. The earliest texts in the corpus of rabbinic literature date to the early third century CE and most were copied down much later, so there is a danger that they reflect a world much changed from the first century, while there is no way of knowing for certain whether the Psalms of Solomon (written in the mid-first century BCE) and the apocalyptic prophecy of 4 Ezra (composed in the late first century CE) and other such Jewish religious texts preserved only through the Christian tradition reflected mainstream Jewish opinion or only minority attitudes which happened to be useful for Christians as they developed their own distinctive theology. The danger that evidence has been selected to fit the agenda of later religious movements, whether rabbinic or Christian, does not apply to the Jewish writings discovered by chance in manuscripts unearthed in the Judaean desert, such as the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran and the private legal documents found in caves in Wadi Murraba'at and elsewhere, but the very fact that they were found in isolated places may suggest that they were produced by Jews from outside the mainstream.12

So can we at least regard the injunctions of the Hebrew Bible as a solid foundation of the lives of all Jews in the first century CE? Not entirely. All Jews agreed that the Bible, and particularly the Pentateuch, incorporated the law which should govern everything they did and thought, but that did not mean that in practice they did exactly what the biblical text enjoined. On the contrary, Jews varied in their ways of interpreting the Bible more in the first century CE than in any other time in Jewish history until the emergence of Reform and Liberal Judaism in Europe in the nineteenth century. One example will suffice to illustrate this variation, even if the biblical law in question may strike us as not entirely central to the Jewish lifestyle. The biblical book of Deuteronomy explicitly requires all Jews to carry with them at all times a spade for excavating a latrine: “And you shall have a place also outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. And you shall have a stick among your weapons, and it shall be, when you will ease yourself outside, you shall dig with it, and shall turn back and cover up your excrement. For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy.”13 One Jewish group, the Essenes, evidently did exactly what the Torah commanded in this respect, as Josephus reports:

Those desiring to join the sect are not immediately admitted. For one year, during which the postulant remains outside the fraternity, they prescribe for him their own rule of life, presenting him with a small hatchet … They dig a hole a foot deep with a mattock—such is the nature of the hatchet which they present to the new disciples—and, wrapping their mantle about them … squat above it. They then replace the excavated soil in the trench. For this purpose they select the more retired spots. And though this discharge of excrement is a natural function, they make it a rule to wash themselves after it, as if defiled.14

Since this particular aspect of the Essene lifestyle was, unlike others, no more than an acceptance of the plain meaning of the biblical text, it is disconcerting to find that Josephus describes it as a bizarre idiosyncrasy. Evidently other contemporary Jews did not carry shovels with them as the Essenes did. Philo, rather than keeping the ruling literally, extracted an allegorical meaning from the biblical passage: “ ‘Let there be to you … a shovel upon your girdle, and you shall dig with it,’ that is to say, reason shall be in control of passion, digging it out, tucking it up, not suffering it to clothe you about. For God would have us gird up our passions, not wear them flowing and loose.”15 Two rabbinic teachers of the first half of the second century CE were reported to have raised the law in the context of the nature of the manna eaten by the children of Israel in the wilderness: if manna is angelic food, and angels do not excrete, why did the Israelites who ate manna need spades to dig latrines with? (The answer: they must have bought other foodstuffs from travelling merchants of other nations.)16 A different rabbinic reading of the biblical text elicited, in the context of a homily against rumour-mongering, a message for modern readers by wilfully altering the vocalization of the Hebrew text to read “Let there be a plug in your ears,” with the implication that the law was required “so that you cannot hear tittle-tattle.”17

First-century Judaism was thus very varied, but one assumption shared by all types of Jew was that Jerusalem was the ideal sanctuary for the worship of God. It was denial of this one tenet that ensured that Samaritans were not Jews, either in their own eyes or in the eyes of other Jews. On the Samaritan side, the issue was simple. They never called themselves Jews (ioudaioi in Greek, yehudim in Hebrew). They were the “Israelites who worship God on Mount Gerizim.” For them, yehudi meant “Judaean,” and denoted someone from the province of Judaea, Yehud, which was distinct in the Persian and Hellenistic periods from Samaria to the north. But for Jews, it was their devotion to their rival sanctuary on Mount Gerizim in Samaria that put Samaritans beyond the pale. The issue seems to have been that the Samaritans were believed to be breaking biblical commands by preferring to offer sacrifices to God in places other than Jerusalem. Jews knew that fellow Jews might have other temples without thereby seceding from their Jewish identity, and Josephus indeed describes in some detail a Jewish temple in Heliopolis in the delta in Egypt, which was used by Jews from the mid-second century BCE to its closure by the Romans soon after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE—Josephus, a Jerusalem priest, was not exactly enthusiastic about it, but neither did he condemn it as un-Jewish.

The Samaritans, however, were excluded from being Jews by their claim that their temple should be seen not as an addition to the Jerusalem cult but as its legitimate replacement: in their eyes, Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, was the place where God had chosen to be worshipped. The sense of hostility and suspicion between the two peoples, and the mutual feeling that, despite their similarities, they had separate destinies, emerges well from a snide aside written by Josephus about the Samaritans: “They alter their attitude according to circumstance and, when they see the Jews prospering, call them kinsmen … but, when they see the Jews in trouble, they say that they have nothing whatever in common with them, nor do they have any claim of friendship or race, and they declare themselves to be foreign settlers of another race.”18 Acceptance of the pre-eminence of Jerusalem was an essential part of being a Jew.


IN A DIFFERENT way the city of Rome was as central to Roman identity as Jerusalem was for Jews. Romans were to be found all over the empire in the first century CE, but what mattered to them above all were events in the city, in Rome itself. On a political level, emperors demonstrated the cen-trality of the city by parading there, before the Senate and people, the public face of their power and through investing much of the surplus wealth of empire in the glorification of the city. The city's population was privileged: Rome was the capital of the world.

And from the time of Augustus the world itself was thought of as Roman, tamed by the might of empire. Cicero, a generation earlier, had popularized among Romans the Greek notion that the orbis terrarum, “the circle of the countries”—in Greek, theoikoumene,“the inhabited region”—was “only a small island surrounded by the body of water which you on earth call either the Atlantic, or the Great Sea, or Ocean.”19 In the early empire both Strabo and Pomponius Mela tried to show that by their day this world had been completely circumnavigated. Very few places remained for exploration and conquest, northwards from Germany, or southwards from Egypt, where the Nile rises, or the semi-mythical land of “Thule,” said to lie six days' sail to the north of Britain. Thule was the place on earth furthest from civilized life, but even this remote country was seen (so they claimed) by a Roman fleet towards the end of the first century CE.

“Ocean” was an endless mass of water in which currents of frightening force were generated by the huge ebb and flow of the unchecked sea. The image doubtless reflected the perceptions of Mediterranean peoples confronted by the awesome size of the Atlantic. Navigation so close to the edge of the earth was unpredictable: around Thule, “the sea is sluggish and heavy to the oar and does not rise with the wind as other seas do.”20 All the more striking that Augustus claimed as one of his great achievements that his fleet “sailed through Ocean from the mouth of the Rhine to the region of the rising sun as far as the borders of the Cimbri.”21 How much the Roman populace understood of the geography of these distant places is uncertain, but the rhetorical meaning of the emperor's boasts was easier to interpret. Ovid obligingly expressed it succinctly: “The land of other nations has a fixed boundary; the space of Rome is the space of the world.”22

But the centrality of Rome in this Roman geography was contingent on the fact of Roman power. The centrality of Jerusalem for Jews, by contrast, was a fact of religious certainty. Already in the Septuagint Jerusalem was described as the world's navel (as Delphi was for Greeks). Jewish behaviour and law both confirmed an understanding of the world in which the most pure, holy and important place is the Holy of Holies in the Temple, into which only the High Priest was permitted to enter, on just one day each year, and even then only after intense ritual purification over a week. Less holy than the Holy of Holies was the Court of the Priests, then the Court of the Israelites, the Court of Women, the Court of Gentiles, Jerusalem outside the Temple, the land of Israel outside Jerusalem, and, finally, the rest of the world. Such notions had real consequences. There was a riot in c. 26 CE when Pontius Pilate brought into the holy city of Jerusalem military standards which Jews had received without concern while they were kept elsewhere in Judaea. Gentiles, welcomed into the outer courts of the Temple, were threatened with instant death if they ventured closer than permitted to the Holy of Holies.23 Declaration of the borders of the land of Israel likewise had practical consequences because some commandments, notably those regarding tithing of agricultural produce and the observance of the sabbatical year, applied only in the land and not in the rest of the world.

The biblical boundary texts, such as the description in Numbers of the borders of Canaan given by God to Moses just before the conquest of this land, provided a framework for later Jews to use, but they were contradictory, some encompassing much more territory than others, and reconciling them with the real world required ingenious interpretation. In the Genesis Apocryphon, an elaboration of Genesis composed probably in the second century BCE and preserved among the Dead Sea scrolls, God showed Abraham the land as defined to its greatest extent, from the Nile to the Euphrates: “The next morning I went up to Ramath Hazor and from that high place I beheld the land from the River of Egypt to Lebanon and Senir, and from the Great Sea to Hauran, and all the land of Gebal as far as Kadesh, and all the Great Desert to the east of Hauran and Senir as far as the Euphrates. And He said to me, ‘I will give all this land to your seed and they shall possess it for ever.’ ”24 By contrast the rabbis formulated a series of less ambitious definitions of the boundaries of the land. In a discussion of Deuteronomy n 124, “Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours; from the wilderness, and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the hinder sea shall be your border,” the midrashist in Sifre on Deuteronomy, redacted probably in the third century, came up with a list of “the boundaries of the Land of Israel as seized by those who came up from Babylonia,” which encompassed a much smaller area: “The Ashkelon junction, the walls of Strato's Tower, Dor, and the walls of Acco … upper Tarnegola of Caesarea [Philippi] … the Garden of Ashkelon, and the great road leading to the wilderness.”25 These seem to be the names of real places surrounding the areas in which Jews were, or had been, a majority of the inhabitants in recent centuries. In this world-view, the land of Israel had a special status and required to be treated with the respect due to its holiness as if in itself it possessed a personality: “Defile not yourself in any of those things, for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you … that the land vomit not you out also, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.”26

Unlike Romans, whose ethnographical interests were stimulated by the needs of imperial rule, Jews were not much encouraged to speculate about the geography of the rest of the world, which was often lumped together in rabbinic thought as simply “abroad,” “outside the land.” The world of the gentiles (goyim, “peoples”) was largely undifferentiated, and rabbinic ethnography of other peoples rarely rises above the level of caricature: Persians “eat and drink like a bear, their flesh is swollen like a bear, they grow long hair like a bear, and they are restless like a bear.” Jews in this period did not apparently produce a geographical literature like that in contemporary Greece and Rome. The geographical excursuses in the histories of Josephus provided, in the manner of Polybius, sufficient geographical information for the reader to follow the historical narrative, but did not survey the geography of the world for its own sake, as Herodotus, the father of Greek historiography, had done.27

What did sometimes lead Jews to formulate their own notions about the geography of the world was the need to interpret the biblical texts in the context of their day. Sometimes literal reading of the biblical texts led to geographical nonsense: because Jews seeking justice are urged in Deuteronomy to “arise, and go up to the place which the Lord your God will choose,” the author of Sifre on Deuteronomy deduced that the Temple must be the highest place in the land of Israel, and the land of Israel higher than the rest of the world.28 But other Jews succeeded in correlating the biblical texts to the prevailing geographical notions of the Greeks. The base biblical text for interpretation was the list of the nations of the world to be found in chapter 10 of Genesis, “the families of the sons of Noah, after this generation, in their nations; and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.”29 The author of Jubilees in the mid-second century BCE pictured the world, as Romans did, as a roughly circular land mass surrounded by Ocean, but for him the centre was Zion, the extreme east the Garden of Eden, and the extreme west the Straits of Gibraltar. The relative positions of all the peoples mentioned in the Genesis account were delineated with care. The notion that the sons of Noah had solemnly agreed to these land-divisions implied that all conquest of territory was counter to the divine will. The conquest of the land of Israel by the Jews, which might therefore seem of dubious morality, was justified (tacitly) by the assertion that Canaan, to whom North Africa had been assigned, had violently seized the Levant, which had been allotted by God to Arpachshad, the ancestor of Abraham.30 The geographical rationalization of the same biblical text by Josephus concentrated more on an antiquarian effort to match up the biblical names with modern equivalents: “Chethi-mos [biblical Kittim] held the islands of Chethima, the modern Cyprus, whence the name Chethim given by the Hebrews to all islands and to most maritime countries; here I call to witness one of the cities of Cyprus which has succeeded in preserving the old appellation, for even in its Hellenistic form Cition [on the site of Larnaka] is not far removed from the name of Chethimos.” Josephus' geography may of course have been atypical for a Jew because he was writing for sophisticated non-Jewish readers within the Greek tradition of investigating the origins of people. He had to note for his Greek readers that in Hebrew the termination of proper names is always the same, unlike in Greek, so that “Nochos is called [in Hebrew] Noe [Noah].” He was well aware that identities had been imposed on many native peoples in the Hellenistic period: “It is the Greeks who are responsible for this change of nomenclature; for … they appropriated even the glories of the past, embellishing the nations with names which they [the Greeks] could understand.”31

Neither Josephus nor other Jewish authors have as much to say as Romans about the edges of the earth. When Jews, like the author of 1 Enoch, did speculate, they seem to have thought that at the outer limits of the world beyond Ocean lay chaos and darkness, although just on the edge was paradise: “And from there I went to the ends of the earth and I saw there large animals, each different from the other, and also birds (which) differed in form, beauty, and call—each different from the other. And to the east of these animals, I saw the ends of the earth on which heaven rests, and the open gates of heaven. And I saw how the stars of heaven come out, and I counted the gates out of which they came, and wrote down all their outlets …”32


SHARED IDENTITIES are the product of shared history, not in the unverifi-able sense that the genetic ancestors of all members of a community played a part in remembered past events, but in the present reality that everyone in the community thinks of those past events as relevant to themselves. So too among both Romans and Jews.

Knowledge of the very distant past of Rome was embarrassingly hazy by the early empire, despite the efforts of historians since the third century BCE to fill in the lack of memory, if necessary by ingenious and learned invention. The origins of the city were traced back to two main legends. The common story of Romulus told of his childhood suckled by a she-wolf; his quarrel with his twin Remus over the site of the city; the slaying of Remus when he leaped over the wall that Romulus had marked out; and the transformation of Romulus into the guardian god of the city, under the name of Quirinus. A rival legend linked the foundation of the city to the travels of Aeneas, a Trojan warrior thought to have come to Latium after traversing much of the Mediterranean following the defeat of Troy by the Greeks: in earlier versions of the story, Aeneas founded Rome itself, but, in what became the canonical account, Vergil's Aeneid, he was portrayed as founder of a different city, Lavinium, from whose ruling family, his descendants, Romulus in time would spring. The two legends were both separately well entrenched by the third century BCE but by the late Republic were often combined. Romulus came to be reckoned the first of a series of Roman kings, and, using inherited stories about the number of kings and the length of their reigns, the learned Varro was enabled in the first century BCE to assign the city's foundation to a date equivalent to 753 BCE.

When Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, re-established peace in Rome after the turmoil of the late Republic, “some expressed the opinion that he ought to be called Romulus as if he too was the founder of the city,”33 but the Aeneas story was to have greater impact on the early empire, not least because of the power of Vergil's poem, which had become vastly popular by the time of the poet's death on 20 September 19 BCE. “Pious Aeneas” became a type to emulate: always devoted to duty, serious and determined, he had battled against great odds to win through in the end with the help of the gods. Such stories presupposed that the distant past had been glorious, a view encouraged by the contrast with the uncertainties and crises of the late Republic. The rustic simplicity of earlier generations was a recurrent theme in the imagination of the historian Livy, Vergil's contemporary. Ancient Romans had been straightforward, honest farmers, who had rushed to war only to defend the fatherland when it was in peril, like the hero Horatius, “the one-eyed,” who, five centuries before Livy wrote, had held the bridge over the Tiber into Rome against the invading army of the Etruscan Lars Porsenna, until the bridge was destroyed and the city was safe.

Every Roman schoolboy knew the exploits of these distant heroes. In the political maelstrom of the late Republic, reference in political speeches to glorious episodes in past epochs could be guaranteed an audience able to appreciate the significance of the examples selected. When Cicero sought to refer in the course of a speech to the best possible case of a religious act carried out by a totally responsible politician, all he had to do was to mention Marcus Horatius Pulvillus, who “though many men were moved by jealousy to interfere with his actions on false pleas of religious hindrances, still stood his ground and with unfaltering resolution dedicated the Capitol.” The whole story, believed to have taken place in the first year of the Republic nearly five centuries before, was known to all: according to Livy, as Horatius was in the act of dedicating the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, his enemies announced to him the death of his son, but “he was only so far distracted by the information as to order that the body should be buried.”34

References more specifically to family and ancestral achievements were a normal part of political discourse, and presupposed general awareness of the history of Rome's rise to greatness. The obstinacy of the younger Cato, who committed suicide at Thapsus in Africa in April 46 BCE rather than fall into the power of his political opponent Julius Caesar, was based in part on the reputation of his great-grandfather, Cato the Censor, who was famous (or notorious) for his image of unbending rectitude. The communal memory of wars and political struggles over centuries had partly been preserved by the adoption in the middle Republic of Greek notions of historiography, but also partly by precisely this assumption by politicians that ancestral achievements provided inspiration, justification, and sometimes warnings of value in the maelstrom of contemporary politics. Such appeals to the distant past are not uncommon in other societies, however artificial they may seem when the political quarrels of earlier centuries have little in common with modern problems.35

This high evaluation of the achievements of past heroes encouraged politicians to seek commemoration of their own. Cicero, eager to ensure that the memory of his heroism during his consulship in 63 BCE be preserved for posterity, offered to send the raw material to a friend contemplating composition of a history of the period. Agreement that history mattered encouraged falsification, or at least tendentious emphasis, in the way politicians portrayed their own careers. Julius Caesar's account of his actions in the civil war which brought him to supreme power in 46 BCE was designed to exculpate him from accusations of illegality and overweening ambition. The histories of his contemporary Sallust, whose own political career had ended in ignominy on charges of malpractice as governor of Africa, were designed to bring to light the moral decline of the venal nobility who had rejected him. These political stories enabled Romans to populate the past with figures and achievements which made sense of the present. Schoolboys did not learn lists of dates, but the history of Livy was organized in the form of annals, each year dated by its consuls. Much information had been culled originally from the annales maximi, the annual record of the names of magistrates and of public events such as eclipses, although by Livy's time the annalistic tradition of historiography had been established in Rome for two centuries and he could use the earlier annalistic narratives of Fabius Pictor, Cato and others. These lists of the consuls for each year gave a basic chronology—even if it was not foolproof, since sometimes consuls of the same name could hold the consulship many years apart.

In other respects, Romans were fascinated by the measurement of time. The original annual calendar in Rome, which ensured regular performance of religious rites at particular times each year, required intercalations to ensure synchronicity with the seasons, but this was done incompetently in the second and first centuries BCE to such an extent that when Julius Caesar, as pontifex maximus (“chief priest”), reformed the system in 46, he had to intercalate such a long period that the year totalled four hundred and forty-five days. Within each month some days were lucky and others most definitely not, but taboos on action on bad days could be ignored if inconvenient without incurring censure (except for rashness). Inscribed calendars, of which a number survive in Italy from the early imperial period painted on plaster or inscribed on stone, distinguished days on which official law court business could be done from those on which such activity should not take place: “The festivals are days dedicated to the gods; on the working days people may transact private and public business; and the inbetween days are shared between gods and humans.” So wrote the learned Macrobius in the fifth century CE, attributing this distinction between days to Numa, the legendary second king of Rome.36

The public display of calendars suggests that these divisions of time were important in structuring Roman lives, but the great test of the strength of calendrical taboos lies in time of war. Macrobius wrote of days, such as those during the festival of the Saturnalia, when it was religiously forbidden (nefas) to make war, but he also noted specifically that, in a crisis, anything could be done to defend the state or individual on a forbidden day. If events turned out favourably, that proved that the decision had been right. If everything went wrong, that was evidence of the gods' displeasure. When, in the late Republic, the general Lucullus engaged the Armenian Tigranes in battle on such a day, “some of his officers advised him to beware of the day, which was one of the unlucky days, which they call ‘black.’ For on that day Caepio and his army were destroyed in a battle with the Cimbri. But Lucullus answered with the memorable words: ‘Indeed, I shall make this day, too, a lucky one for the Romans.’ ”37

SUCH TABOOS were paid far more attention by the Jews of Jerusalem. Indeed, the seriousness with which Jews took the demands of their calendar was notorious in the ancient world. Josephus reports the ridicule their scrupulous observance of the Sabbath during the defence of their city attracted from the historian Agatharchides of Cnidus in the mid-second century BCE :

Those called Jews, who inhabit the most strongly fortified of cities, which happens to be called by the natives Jerusalem, have a custom of abstaining from work every seventh day; on those occasions they neither bear arms nor take any agricultural operations in hand, nor engage in any other form of public service, but pray with outstretched hands in the temples until the evening. Consequently, because the inhabitants, instead of protecting their city, persevered in their folly, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, was allowed to enter with his army; the country was thus given over to a cruel master, and the defect of a practice enjoined by law was exposed. That experience has taught everyone else, except those people, the lesson not to resort to dreams and traditional fancies about the law, until its difficulties are such as to baffle human reason.38

The same issue was picked up in the treatise On Superstition attributed to Josephus' younger contemporary Plutarch: “But the Jews, because it was the Sabbath day, sat in their unwashed clothes, while the enemy were planting ladders against the walls and capturing the walls, and they did not get up, but remained there, bound fast in their superstition as in one great net.”39 For Jews, the calendar was not just a means for men to organize their activities and their relationship to the gods. It was a divine instruction, given by God to Israel. Changing it, or ignoring its requirements, would be a gross infringement of God's law. The Jewish calendar gave a precise shape to life day by day, week by week, and month by month. Worship must be performed within certain specified time-constraints each day, as is illustrated by the opening sentence of the Mishnah, which concerns the time in the evening when the Shema, the declaration of the unity of God, should be recited: “ ‘From the time when the priests enter [the Temple] to eat of their heave-offering until the end of the first watch.’ The words of Rabbi Eliezer. But the Sages say: ‘Until midnight.’ ” And the whole institution of the week was a side effect of the Sabbath, when total rest from labour was ordained. Naturally enough, there was much dispute over what precisely constituted total rest, but the principle of the Sabbath and its concomitant timetable were unquestioned.40

This weekly pattern was superimposed on an annual calendar, based for most Jews on the lunar cycles, whose timing dictated the regular festivals, in particular the three great pilgrim feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Passover marked the beginning of the barley harvest and commemorated the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt; Pentecost celebrated the conclusion of the barley and the beginning of the wheat harvest; Tabernacles, during which worshippers were required to dwell in temporary booths, marked the final ingathering of the crops. It is remarkable, in the light of the importance of the calendar, that at least two different calendrical systems existed among Jews in the late Second Temple period, during the last two centuries BCE and the first century CE : the sectarians who produced the Dead Sea scrolls used a solar calendar at variance with the lunar system used by the Temple authorities and later by the rabbis. The rabbinic texts themselves reveal the calendar as an issue of intense debate, particularly over the date of Pentecost, which was fixed, according to the Bible, fifty days after the first omer (the ceremonial offering of a sheaf of the first fruits of the harvest), which in turn took place following the celebration of Passover: “And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven weeks shall there be complete.” How then to interpret “the morrow after the Sabbath”? Different religious groups came to different conclusions. One such group, the Sadducees, took the view that the day of the omer should be the Sunday after the first Sabbath following the Passover offering: “Sabbath” meant “Sabbath.” Other groups, including Pharisees and the rabbis, understood “the Sabbath” to be the day of the Passover offering itself, a reading also presupposed in the Septuagint and by Philo and Josephus. Since Pharisees and Sadducees shared the one Temple, some of them will often have found themselves being required to celebrate Pentecost on what they believed to be the wrong day. Unlike other issues of biblical interpretation, which might be a matter for private conscience only, the correct computation of the calendar had major public impact. If in the eyes of some Jews, like the members of the Dead Sea sect, the High Priest in Jerusalem ate and drank on what they believed to be the Day of Atonement, the most sacred fast day of the year, they could not consider him an appropriate religious leader of his people.41

Discussion, dispute and disagreement about the divinely ordained divisions of the annual calendar contrast to Jewish vagueness about longer-term chronology. The biblical text divided time into periods of seven years, of which the last, the sabbatical year, was to be marked by the cessation of agricultural work on the land. After seven sabbatical year cycles, the fiftieth year was to be a Jubilee: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants … You shall return every man to his property, and you shall return every man to his family.” In a document cited by Josephus, Julius Caesar, reiterating privileges granted by previous rulers, refers to the exemption of Jerusalem from tax “in the seventh year, which they call the sabbatical year, because in this time they neither take fruit from the trees nor do they sow,” and there are scattered references to the seven-year cycle as a recognized method of dating in later Jewish writings. An Aramaic text written on a papyrus found in the Judaean desert records an admission of a debt incurred in “the second year of the emperor Nero,” 55 or 56 CE, with the proviso that “I will pay it to you with an added fifth, and that will be until I have repaid it entirely, even if it is a sabbatical year.” A whole tractate of the Mishnah was devoted to expounding the practical issues which arose from the need to avoid working the land during this year or profiting from produce grown in defiance of the law.42

The Jubilee cycle formed the chronological base of the rewriting of the biblical book of Genesis by the author of Jubilees, which was composed probably at some time in the second century BCE, and Josephus writes enthusiastically about the Jubilee as part of “the code of laws which Moses … learnt from the mouth of God and transmitted in writing to the Hebrews,” without any hint that this example of Jewish dedication to social justice is any different from the institution of the sabbatical year. It is therefore surprising to discover that by his time the Jubilee, unlike the sabbatical year, seems to have fallen into disuse—if, indeed, it had ever been put into practice. No extant source from the late Second Temple period dates any particular year by its place in the Jubilee cycle, which was forgotten as a way of shaping memories of the recent past. Indeed, Josephus' reckoning of long periods is often inconsistent, so that what he wrote about the number of years in one part of his history is incompatible with his assertions elsewhere. It seems that Jews had a good sense of the passage of time over the past decade or so, but that earlier history, except for what was written in the Bible, was less differentiated.43

Thus Jews of the first century CE ended up strikingly less well informed about the past three hundred years than their Roman contemporaries, despite knowing, or thinking that they knew, far more about the distant past and the origins of their people. From the second century BCE a few Jews, under the influence in part of Greek models of historiography, wrote recent political history, much like their Roman contemporaries, although the author of I Maccabees preferred to follow a sober narrative style in imitation of the historical books in the Hebrew Bible, perhaps in the hope that this would make his account appear more portentous to Jewish readers. Most other Jewish writing about the past in the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods concentrated on rewriting the biblical narratives for religious edification or rhetorical effect. Occasionally the story of more recent events might be narrated in dramatic tones to illustrate the role of divine providence in protecting the Jews, either in the “pathetic” history of 2 Maccabees, which invited readers to imagine and empathize with the emotions of the leading characters, or in the tales of tyranny defeated and punished to be found in Philo's writing and rewriting of the traumatic struggle between Jews and Greeks in Alexandria in which he himself had participated. Biographical narratives like the Gospels, which present insights into the psychological dramas and complex motivations of ordinary people set against the background of wider political events, were not standard among Jews any more than among Greeks or Romans; the popularity of the genre among early Christians as a way of spreading the word about Jesus' life and teaching may be ascribed in part precisely to the novelty of this sort of writing. The only Jewish historians specifically known to have tackled recent history with (at least in large part) the aims of Greek and Roman historiography, to explain the causes of political events and especially of wars, were Josephus and Justus of Tiberias, who both wrote about the great revolt against Rome.

The claim that Jews in general did not write history of the Graeco-Roman type is of course vulnerable, as are all arguments from silence, and the fragments which survive in Greek of rewritings of biblical stories by Jewish writers show that they, like the Roman annalists, tried to reconcile native traditions with the “scientific” historiography of the Greeks. Around the mid-second century BCE Moses was equated by the historian Artapanus with Musaeus. A contemporary of Artapanus, known only as Pseudo-Eupolemus, asserted that “Atlas and Enoch are the same.” Another contemporary, Cleodemus the prophet, “also called Malchus,” a writer quoted by Josephus from the learned compilation of Alexander Polyhistor in the mid-first century BCE but himself of unknown origin, claimed that the offspring of Abraham colonized Assyria and Africa. The fact that the subject matter of all these fragments was biblical rather than more recent history partly reflects the limited interests of the authors, but partly also the concerns of those who preserved what they wrote: most of the extant passages of these writers survive because they were cited by Christian authors, particularly Clement of Alexandria (in the late second and early third century) and Eusebius of Caesarea (in the early fourth century), and both these Christian theologians had a far greater interest in the biblical stories than in the later history of the Jews.44

In any case, it is striking that the authors cited by Josephus in his narrative of the previous three hundred years in the last eight books of his twenty-volume Jewish Antiquities tended to be gentile, and that he relied heavily on the gentile historian Nicolaus of Damascus for his account of the end of the second century and most of the first century BCE. Nicolaus presumably had more to say about Jews than other Greek intellectuals of his time because he served at the court of Herod the Great. It seems that Jews themselves had little more to go on than oral traditions. The rabbinic texts of the second century CE and later reveal an extraordinary ignorance about events between Ezra and Nehemiah in the fifth century BCE and the great rabbinic sages of the first century CE. The historical outlook encapsulated in the classic account in the Mishnah of the transmission of tradition from Moses down to the present shows neither knowledge of, nor interest in, the postbiblical centuries, except for names of (a very few) sages:

Moses received Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, and Joshua to elders, and elders to prophets; and prophets transmitted it to the men of the Great Assembly … Shimon the Just was of the remnants of the Great Assembly … Antigonus, a man of Sokho, received [Torah] from Shimon the Just … Yose b. Yoezer, a man of Zeredah, and Yose b. Yohanan, a man of Jerusalem, received from them … Joshua b. Perahyah and Nittai the Arbelite received from them … Judah b. Tabbai and Shimon b. Shetah received from them … Shema-iah and Abtalion received from them … Hillel and Shammai received from them.

Some have suggested that rabbinic reticence about the Hasmonaeans reflects political or religious hostility to the dynasty, but ignorance is a better explanation: some Hasmonaeans, notably Salome, who ruled from 76 to 67 BCE, were treated by the rabbis with approval.45

It seems likely, then, that Josephus' attempt in the late first century CE to write a detailed account of postbiblical Jewish history in his Antiquities was pioneering. The books of the Hebrew Bible provided him with information for a more or less coherent narrative of the fortunes of the Jews from the beginning to the fifth century BCE, but for the fourth and for much of the third century he could rely on almost no evidence at all from Jewish sources, so he wove what narrative he could out of the minimal material at his disposal, such as the story in the Letter of Aristeas about the translation of the Septuagint in Alexandria. Great swathes of the history of Judaea in the not very distant past were simply unknown—a fact that Josephus was at pains to hide because he felt it did not reflect well on the Jews. Josephus knew that the biblical account finished long ago in the reign of Artaxerxes in the Persian period, before Alexander the Great, but, he asserted, “from Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written, but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records because the exact succession of the prophets has not happened.” About the diaspora even less was known. Josephus was aware that Jews had been in Babylonia since the exile of 586 BCE, but he could provide only an occasional vignette of what had happened to the Babylonian Jews since then, such as the success of a robber state ruled by the Jewish brothers Asinaeus and Anilaeus in the region of Nehardea on the Euphrates in the time of Tiberius, when they broke away from Parthian rule for several decades.46

Ignorance about more recent centuries contrasted with Jewish certainty about the distant past, since, as Josephus states, the surviving accounts were believed to be full, coherent, consistent and divinely inspired:

It therefore naturally, or rather necessarily, follows (seeing that with us it is not open to everybody to write the records, and that there is no discrepancy in what is written; seeing that, on the contrary, the prophets alone had this privilege, obtaining their knowledge of the most remote and ancient history through the inspiration which they owed to God, and committing to writing a clear account of the events of their own time just as they occurred) that we do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly trusted, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time.

For Josephus, lack of disagreement could be taken as evidence of veracity. Jews could point to a long native written record of their origins, with detailed stories of glorious (and less glorious) kings and other leaders. For Jews, as for Romans, these narratives of distant figures could be taken as lessons for present behaviour. Philo explicitly interpreted the life of each patriarch as a symbolic allegory of a moral lesson: “ ‘And the Lord said unto Abraham, Depart out of thy land, and out of thy kindred, and out of thy father's house’ … ‘Land’ or ‘country’ is a symbol of body, ‘kindred’ of sense-perception, ‘father's house’ of speech.” The Dead Sea sectarians took the prophecies of Habakkuk as ciphers for the travails of the Teacher of Righteousness to whose leadership they ascribed their own special relationship to God: “ ‘Because of the blood of men and the violence done to the land, to the city, and to all its inhabitants.’ Interpreted, this concerns the Wicked Priest whom God delivered into the hands of his enemies because of the iniquity committed against the Teacher of Righteousness and the men of his Council.” Biblical names were frequent choices for Jewish boys in the Second Temple period: there were many men called Shimon, Judah, Joseph, Joshua and Jonathan (although it is curious to note that Aaron, David, Solomon and Elijah, names popular in other periods of Jewish history, were rarely used, and that for girls, only the biblical names Salome and Mariamme were common). It was a remarkable fact, equalled by few other ancient peoples, that Jews possessed a continuous historical account of their past from the creation of the world down to c. 400 BCE.47

Despite Jews' pride about their ancient history, there was a curious timelessness about their attitude to the past. Events were rarely dated by a common Jewish era. Jewish legal documents used secular, gentile dates: the year of the emperor's rule, the names of the consuls for the year in Rome, the Seleucid era which continued to be popular in the Near East until the Middle Ages. No Jewish era was used in chronological writings like Jubilees or Seder Olam, which gave lengths of time between events from the creation of the world to the revolt of Bar Kokhba. What interested these chronographers was the relationship of events to each other, not any sense of absolute time. It may well be significant that rabbinic discussions of the right time for religious ceremonies treat always of the time of day as experienced by everyone (such as the time in the morning when “one can distinguish between blue and white”). Jews do not seem to have had much use for precise measurements of time, such as was provided by the great sundial of Augustus in the Campus Martius at Rome. For Jews, what mattered, after all, was that, through Moses on Mount Sinai, Jews had received the Law by which they lived their lives. What had happened between Moses and now might be of interest, particularly in discussions with gentile critics who cast doubt on the antiquity and therefore the value of Jewish customs, but in itself it was not very important.

It has indeed been plausibly argued that those Jews who thought and wrote in Hebrew and Aramaic in this period had no notion of time as an entity which might be spent or wasted, or which might flow, fly or pass slowly, as it does in English and Greek, and as it did in early imperial Rome.48 Vergil could write that “time flies and cannot be repaired” and Seneca wrote a whole letter on the value of time: “Time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.” By contrast, the idea of time as a flow, agent, resource or commodity, as opposed to specific points in time when things happen, is hard to find in the Hebrew Bible, early rabbinic literature, or the Dead Sea scrolls. The Jewish writings in which the personification of time does appear are those composed in Greek with Greek literary pretensions, like Josephus in Against Apion, writing for a Greek and Roman readership: “Now, since time is reckoned in all cases the surest test of worth, I would call time as witness of the virtue of our lawgiver [Moses] … [Critics] reviled our lawgiver as an insignificant person, but his virtue has found a witness of old in God, and after God, in time.”49

Jews in the first century CE shared with Romans a nostalgia for the distant past. Earlier generations had been better men than the present, as a story in the Tosefta neatly expressed:

When the latter prophets died, that is, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel. But even so, they made them hear through an echo [a bat kol]. It once happened that the sages gathered together in the upper room of the house of Guria in Jericho, and a bat kol came out and said to them, “There is a man among you who is worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, but his generation does not deserve such an honour.”

The prophets no longer functioned as they used to. The oracular Urim and Thummim no longer revealed the divine will by the way they sparkled on the High Priest's breastplate: according to Josephus, they “ceased to shine two hundred years before I composed this work because of God's displeasure at the transgression of the laws,” although the Mishnah dated their cessation to “when the first prophets died.”50

But it is striking that most nostalgia after 70 CE was precisely for the last years of the Second Temple, not for a past whose memory was lost in the mists of antiquity: “Since the day that the Temple was destroyed there has been no day without its curse; and the dew has not fallen in blessing and the fruits have lost their savour.” The theory that history consisted in the unfolding of God's plan for his people, and that Israel would be rewarded for obedience and punished for sin, made sense of the sufferings of the distant past, notably the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in 586 BCE and the exile to Babylonia, but Jews did not feel themselves to be suffering in any such way before 70 CE. Far from being deprived of a Temple in the reign of Herod and in the early years of Roman rule, Jews could bask in the glory of the sanctuary rebuilt to a magnificence equal to the time of Solomon himself. The notion that Jews in the late Second Temple period saw themselves as sinners permanently punished by God and in need of salvation from the sufferings of exile and Roman domination is a myth expressed particularly by New Testament scholars in order to provide a theological grounding for the mission of Jesus to Israel. The most that can be said is that some wicked actions, like the internecine struggles and other sins of the Hasmonaeans in the 60s BCE, could be interpreted, as in the contemporary Psalms of Solomon, as having brought about specific national disasters such as the capture of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE:

God exposed their sins to the sun; the whole earth came to know the righteous judgements of God … There was no sin they left undone in which they did not surpass the gentiles. Therefore God mixed them spirit to mislead, and gave them a cup of undiluted wine to make them drunk. He brought one from the end of the earth, one who smites mightily; he declared war against Jerusalem, and her land … He took possession of the fortified towers and the wall of Jerusalem, for God led him in securely while they went astray. He killed their leaders and every man wise in counsel, he poured out the blood of the inhabitants of Jerusalem like unclean water.

To be sure, the end of the Hasmonaean dynasty had been a time of disasters, as had the capture of Jerusalem in 37 BCE by Herod, but it was hard to say the same of the next hundred years to 70 CE, during which, despite occasional alarums, the city prospered and grew.51


NO ONE KNOWS where it is all going to end, either for the nation, or, indeed, for all humanity. Speculation may seem worthless or worse, agnosticism the only sensible policy. The Epicurean Lucretius (c. 94–c. 51 BCE) offered the consolation that nothing matters: “Some peoples increase even as others diminish, and the generations of living things are changed in a brief span of time; and like runners, they pass on the torch of life.” So too the Jewish author of Ecclesiastes, probably in the third century BCE : “Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What profit has a man of all his labour at which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides for ever.” But none of these pessimistic philosophical musings prevented the growth of doctrines of hope in both societies.52

Philosophical Romans like the Stoic Seneca might imagine a time when Rome would disappear, noting that “of all the cities that have ever held dominion … men will some day ask where they were, and they will be swept away by various kinds of destruction: some will be ruined by wars, others will be destroyed by idleness and a peace that ends in sloth, or by luxury, the bane of those of great wealth,” but others, like Vergil, might imagine that the golden age of the distant past would return, and, already in the time of Augustus, both Tibullus and Ovid referred to Rome as the “eternal city.” A silver denarius minted under Vespasian bore the legend ROMA PERPETUA, and ROMA AETERNA appears on imperial coins from the time of Hadrian. The general assumption in Roman society was that the city and its empire would be around for ever.53

Confirmation of this assumption about the future lies in the steps taken by individuals to preserve the memory of themselves and their achievements for future generations to admire. Such steps presupposed both that there would indeed be such future generations and that the values and assumptions of those to come would resemble those of the present. Many Romans in the early imperial period demonstrated confidence in the future by an extraordinary explosion of the epigraphic habit: the inscription on stone of many thousands of honorific texts and epitaphs showed an expectation among ordinary Romans that their descendants, or others with whom they had once been connected, would read the words in hundreds of years' time.

By contrast, most Jews in the first century CE had a clear notion of the end of history. At some time, of God's choosing, the world would come to an end. Quite what that would be like, and when it would happen, were matters for speculation, but that it would happen in some form was widely accepted. It would not always be tactful to spell out for gentiles the implications of this belief for the eventual fate of the Roman empire. Josephus recounts in his Antiquities the prophecy of Daniel to Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylonia from 605 to 565 BCE, that his dream, about a statue made of different metals, meant that his Babylonian realm would fall to the Medes and Persians, who in turn would be conquered by Alexander the Great, whose power would finally be ended “by still another, like iron, that will have dominion for ever through its iron nature.” Daniel's knowledge of the future was remarkable and proves

how mistaken are the Epicureans, who exclude Providence from life and refuse to believe that God governs its affairs or that the universe is directed by a blessed and immortal Being to the end that the whole of it may endure, saying that the world runs by its own movement without knowing a guide or another's care … For if it were the case that the cosmos goes on by some automatism, we should not have seen all these things happen in accordance with his prophecy.54

All the more striking, then, that Josephus elected not to explain for his readers the prophecy of Daniel that the statue of different metals was crushed to pieces by a stone: “Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found.”55 Daniel interpreted this to refer to the setting up of God's kingdom which shall never be destroyed. But Josephus was reticent:

And Daniel also revealed to the king the meaning of the stone, but I have not thought it proper to relate this, since I am expected to write of what is past and done and not of what is to be; but if there is anyone who has so keen a desire for exact information that he will not stop short of enquiring more closely but wishes to learn about the hidden things that are to come, let him take the trouble to read the Book of Daniel, which he will find among the sacred writings.56

Jews seem to have envisaged this forward progression of history less as a straight march to a known final destination than a spiral towards a summit always (so far) out of sight. The spiral progress of history explained the repetition of significant events on particular days of the year. The Mishnah recorded the events which had befallen Israel on specific days: “Five things befell our fathers on … 9 Ab [July or August, depending on the year] … On 9 Ab it was decreed against our fathers that they should not enter into the Land [of Israel], and the Temple was destroyed the first and the second time, and Bethar was captured and the city was ploughed up. When Ab comes in, gladness is diminished.” Josephus dated the destruction of the Temple in his own days to 10 Ab, a day later, but he too saw this later date, “the fated day, the tenth of the month … the day on which of old it had been burnt by the king of Babylon,” as significant:

Deeply as one must mourn for the most marvellous edifice which we have ever seen or heard of, whether we consider its structure, its magnitude, the richness of its every detail, or the reputation of its holiness, yet may we draw very great consolation from the thought that there is no escape from Fate, for works of art and places any more than for living beings. And one may well marvel at the exactness of the cycle of Destiny; for, as I said, she waited until the very month and the very day on which in bygone times the Temple had been burnt by the Babylonians.57

Before the last days there would be a struggle between good and evil, although about its precise nature Jews had no consensus. A nineteen-column scroll from Cave I at Qumran described “The war of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.” The Sons of Light, recruited from the tribes of Levi, Judah and Benjamin, and aided by angels, will confront the army of Belial, led by the Kittim and their allies (Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites and Philistines) and “the ungodly of the covenant,” that is, bad Jews. The War Rule lays down details of the battle timetable, the standards to be carried by the troops, the regulations for battle divisions and clothing, the need to ensure the purity and holiness of the army: “All these shall pursue the enemy to destroy him in an everlasting destruction in the battle of God.” Fragments of copies of the same text from Cave 4 suggest that speculation on these bloody preliminaries to the final victory of Israel was common within the sect.58 But other Jewish texts suggest a variety of quite different images hard to reconcile with this rather down-to-earth military account. So, in 4 Ezra, composed soon after 70 CE:

Sown places shall suddenly appear unsown, and full storehouses shall suddenly be found empty; and the trumpet shall sound aloud, and when all hear it, they shall suddenly be struck with fear. At that time [friends shall make war on friends like enemies], and the earth [and those who inhabit it] shall be stricken with fear, and the springs of the fountains shall stand still, so that for three hours they shall not flow. And it shall be that whoever survives after all that I have foretold to you shall be saved and shall see my salvation and the end of my world. And they shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death. Then shall the heart of the earth's inhabitants be changed and converted to a different spirit. For evil shall be blotted out, and deceit shall be extinguished; faithfulness shall flourish, and corruption shall be overcome, and truth, which has been so long without fruit, shall be revealed.59

The seer in 4 Ezra envisaged a hostile multitude gathered together from all over the world to attack Mount Zion. The destruction of such hostile powers will sometimes be inflicted directly by God himself, sometimes by an intermediary. Victory will be followed by the establishment of a new and glorious Jerusalem. The dispersed of Israel will travel from all over the diaspora to return to Jerusalem, as envisaged in the Psalms of Solomon in the mid-first century BCE:

Sound in Zion the trumpet to summon the saints; announce in Jerusalem the voice of one bringing good news, for the God of Israel has been merciful in watching over them. Stand on a high place, Jerusalem, and look at your children, from the east and the west gathered together by the Lord. From the north they come in the joy of their God; from far distant islands God has gathered them. He flattened high mountains into a plain for them; the hills fled at their coming. The woods shaded them as they passed by: God made every fragrant tree to spring up for them; so that Israel might pass by at the visitation of the glory of their God. Jerusalem, put on the garments of your glory, prepare the robe of your holiness, for God has spoken well of Israel for ever and ever. May the Lord do what he has spoken about Israel and Jerusalem; may the Lord lift up Israel in his glorious name. May the mercy of the Lord be upon Israel for ever and ever.60

Finally, the kingdom of heaven will be established in the holy land, as the daily prayers preserved in the rabbinic tradition request: “Take from us sorrow and sighing, and reign over us, you Lord alone, in grace and mercy.” This new kingdom will be full of joy and happiness for the righteous and disaster for the wicked, as the book of Jubilees proclaimed:

And they will drive out their adversaries, and the righteous will see and give praise, and rejoice for ever and ever with joy, and they will see all of their judgements and all of their curses on their enemies. And their bones will rest in the earth, and their spirits will have much joy, and they will know that the Lord is an executor of judgement; but he will show mercy to hundreds and to tens of thousands, and to all who love him.61

In the special feast to celebrate, the dishes to be served will include the mythical beast Leviathan.62

It is not at all a matter of chance that the composite picture of Jewish beliefs about the last days given above has been compiled from a variety of sources composed in different times and places. There is no evidence of an agreed coherent eschatology within any ancient Jewish group. It is, however, striking that expectation of some dramatic change in the world was so widespread. Even the philosopher Philo, whose interpretation of the Torah generally focused firmly on the psychological need of the individual worshipper to concentrate on the higher meaning of the laws, still let slip an uncharacteristic hope that God would one day bring to an end “the enmity of wild beasts which is activated by natural antipathy” and produce an age in which nature will be at peace: “When that time comes I believe that bears and lions and panthers and the Indian animals, elephants and tigers, and all others whose vigour and power are invincible, will change their life of solitariness and isolation for one of companionship, and gradually in imitation of the gregarious creatures show themselves tame when brought face to face with mankind … Then too the tribes of scorpions and serpents and the other reptiles will have no use for their venom.” Philo did derive a moral message from the analogy between these wild beasts and the wild beasts within the soul, but it seems likely that this idealized picture, so close to the prophecy in Isaiah of the lion lying down with the lamb, owed more than a little to popular conceptions of the perfect time when the last days arrive.63

In some Jewish texts the central figure in these events of the last days is called the Messiah, “the anointed.” Some texts, like the Psalms of Solomon, describe the Messiah as a human figure, descended from David:

Behold, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to reign over your servant Israel in the time which you did foresee, O God. Gird him with strength to destroy unrighteous rulers, and purge Jerusalem from the nations who trample her down to destruction … And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the anointed Lord.64

In other texts, however, the Messiah is described as a supernatural figure, as befits the events in which he is involved. So the author of 2 Baruch, a description of a series of visions alleged to have been experienced by Baruch, amanuensis of the prophet Jeremiah, but in fact composed by a Jew, probably in Hebrew, in the late first century CE and now preserved only in Christian translations into Syriac and Arabic:

And it will happen after these things when the time of the appearance of the Anointed has been fulfilled and he returns with glory, that then all who sleep in hope of him will rise. And it will happen at that time that those treasuries will be opened in which the number of the souls of the righteous were kept, and they will go out and the multitudes of the souls will appear together, in one sole assembly, of one mind … The souls of the wicked, on the contrary, will waste away completely when they shall see all these things.65

Among the Dead Sea sectarians are to be found varied and conflicting ideas about the nature of the Messiah. Sometimes the scrolls envisage just one royal, Davidic, triumphant Messiah, but sometimes a Messiah of Israel was contrasted to a Messiah of Aaron, who in turn was differentiated from “the Prophet”: “They shall depart from none of the counsels of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their hearts, but shall be ruled by the first precepts in which the men of the Community began to be instructed until there shall come a prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.”66 In the Assumption of Moses, an address said to have been delivered by Moses to Joshua just before the former's death, a description is given of the last days in which no Messiah appears at all. The same is true also of the detailed battle described in the War Rule from Qumran—there victory is achieved not through a royal Messiah but by the intervention of the archangel Michael. The Mishnah, the foundation document of early rabbinic Judaism, has so little to say about the Messiah that it has been described as presenting “Judaism without Messiah.” That is an exaggeration, since in fact a few mentions are found—and the scarcity of messianic references may owe more to the genre of the Mishnah, a compilation of legal opinions, than it does to the wider outlook of those who compiled it. It is hardly surprising that the concept of the Messiah is assumed rather than elaborated in such a work.67

Despite the eventual emergence of Christianity from late Second Temple Judaism, the figure of the Messiah is either missing or unimportant in many Jewish religious texts of this period. Christian interest in messianism may explain why much more is to be found about the figure of the Messiah at the end of days in the early Jewish literature preserved by Christians than in the Jewish literature of the second and third centuries CE preserved by the rabbis. However, the eschatological emphasis of some of the writings produced by the Dead Sea sect, all of which survive through chance alone, and the appearance in many different Qumran documents of references to a Messiah or to messianic qualities (“son of David”), demonstrate that messianic speculation was also common among groups of Jews about whom the later Christian tradition was apparently ignorant. What remains significant is the lack of coherence in the picture of the expected Messiah which emerges even from the Jewish writings which Christians used as texts of religious value. One would have expected the early Church to emphasize all the literature they could find which showed Jews to be engrossed in messianic speculation, since the only Jewish group in the first century CE which came to define itself by its devotion to a Messiah was the Christians themselves, whose name “Christians” means “enthusiasts for Christos, Messiah.” The fact that the picture of the Messiah which emerges from all the literature they did preserve is so confused, fragmentary and contradictory indicates that this confusion was indeed standard among Jews.

Expectation of the end of history discouraged the creation by Jews of monuments for later generations. Unlike the impressive funerary markers and honorific inscriptions favoured by those Romans who could afford it, the ossuaries used by many Jews in Herodian Jerusalem to contain the bones of relatives are marked with the name of the deceased but provide no information on his or her achievements in life. Inscriptions recording donations and honours are almost unknown in first-century CE Judaean society, where the epigraphic habit never became popular (as it did among diaspora Jews in later centuries). Much Jewish literature in the Second Temple period, including all the Dead Sea sectarian texts, is presented either anonymously or in the name of a fictitious author, usually a figure from the distant past: the real authors of these works were presumably more interested in disseminating their ideas than in recording anything about themselves as individuals. The early rabbis, by contrast, professed a concern to preserve a record of the name of the originator of each of the legal traditions they passed on, but in the first two centuries CE they rarely preserved much more than the name: the record of the character and achievements of individual rabbis in the earliest stratum of rabbinic literature is so scanty that it is impossible to write even a bare biography of most of them.

One exception to this lack of interest in the preservation of memory was Herod the Great. Josephus attributed explicitly to Herod's concern for his reputation with posterity his huge expenditure on the rebuilding of the Temple. Just before his death Herod summoned before him the Jewish leaders and recounted “all his strenuous efforts on their behalf, and told them at what great expense to himself he had constructed the Temple … He had also, he said, adorned [the Temple] with notable dedicatory offerings, and for these reasons he cherished the hope that even after his death he would leave behind a memorial of himself and an illustrious name.” Herod's tomb at Herodium was intended to impress and preserve his memory, just as the tombs of the biblical patriarchs in Hebron, which he himself beautified by the erection of a magnificent new enclosure which still stands, kept alive the memory of their significance to the Jewish people. Some other wealthy Jews also spent money on impressive tomb markers in the vicinity of Jerusalem, particularly in the Kidron valley. But most seem to have been satisfied with a final resting place in a discreet stone ossuary hidden away within a warren of corridors and ledges excavated into the Judaean hillside. It is tempting to ascribe the attitude of Herod to the Roman side of his identity—or, more specifically, to emulation of his Roman patron Augustus.68

If most Jews were more concerned with a divinely engineered change in the world order than they were with the views of future human generations, this was because the main human story in which they were interested, in the future as in the past, was the drama of Israel's relationship with God. Just as in the past national fortunes had been shaped by the attempts of Israel to fulfil the covenant with God, so too in the future. As Josephus wrote at the beginning of his monumental Jewish Antiquities, “the main lesson to be learned from this history by any who care to peruse it is that men who follow the will of God and do not dare to contravene all the laws that have been excellently laid down, prosper in all things beyond belief, and happiness is their reward from God; but in so far as they depart from strict attention to those laws, what was possible becomes impossible, and whatever good thing they are eager to do is turned to irretrievable disasters.”69

MUCH JEWISH eschatology was thus otherworldly, and could be understood by sympathetic Romans as a return to the lost golden age, as when Jews hoped for a time when gentiles will pay homage to the Messiah because they will recognize that God has given him power: “[The Lord] shall have mercy on all the nations who reverently stand before him,” according to the eschatological vision of the author of the Psalms of Solomon in the mid-first century BCE.70 At other times Jewish expectations for the other nations of the world were more black, particularly in the shadow of recent disaster:

When the nations are troubled and the time of my Anointed comes, he will call all nations, and some of them he will spare, and others he will kill. These things will befall the nations which will be saved by him. Every nation which has not reigned over Israel and which has not trodden down the seed of Jacob will live … All those, now, who have ruled over you, or have known you, will be delivered up to the sword.71

But this all lay in the distant future. In any case, some of the eschatological hopes of some Jews included a role for good gentiles, with the prediction that in the end times all humanity would recognize the sovereignty of the Jewish God. Isaiah had long ago written:

It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it. And many people shall go and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”72

The New Jerusalem for which Jews yearned was a heavenly city only loosely related to that on earth. It would be revealed by God when he deemed fit. In the meantime Jews could only describe visions about its remarkable appearance: the report of an angel's detailed measurements of the gates, avenues and houses of the eschatological city, found in a first-century-CE Aramaic writing of which fragments were discovered in five different caves at Qumran, follows the same pattern as the vision recorded by the prophet Ezekiel many years before. Jews continued to harbour such hopes over the centuries after the end of antiquity during which they lived in peace while they were ruled by other peoples. In principle they could have retained their eschatological expectations while living in peace also under Roman rule.73

Since my aim is to describe in the following chapters what was specifically Roman about Roman culture, I shall be conservative in the use of evidence produced by those with dual identity. I shall use writings composed in Greek only when they emanated from individuals who can be shown to have thought of themselves as Roman, and, as far as possible, my analysis will depend either on evidence from or about the city of Rome itself, or on the literature and inscriptions of the Romans who used the distinctive language of Rome, namely Latin.

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