Monday, October 7, 2013

The History of the Bible: A Brief Overview

1500-1200 BC: Settlement

In the second half of the second millennium BC, the land of Canaan (a region comprising modern Israel, Palestine and parts of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) was comprised of a series of loosely affiliated city states, distantly overseen by the Egyptian Empire. The culture was relatively homogeneous, and closely related culturally to other ancient near-Eastern polities. At some time in the 13th century BC, the entire region was thrown into chaos by a series of migratory movements originating (likely) somewhere to the north-west. Exactly what caused this upheaval of population is not known for certain, but we know from Egyptian records that a mass of immigrants (deemed "sea people" by the Egyptians) landed periodically all around the Mediterranean coast sometime in the 13th century BC, attacking many key Egyptian outposts - as well as key centres of other empires - in the process. The on-going battle between the Egyptians and the sea people needn't concern us further, but the importance for Israel and the subsequent Biblical narrative lies in what happened as a consequence on the modern day Gaza strip.

The "sea people" who landed here immediately embarked on a wave of destruction and displacement, a pattern attested to today by the archaeological record. This period marks a severe decline in the size and strength of the greater empires in the region (especially Mesopotamia and Egypt) and allowed for the emergence of smaller states. The sea people came to settle the Gaza strip (and became known to subsequent generations of Israelites as "Philistines") and the previous settlers were forced off this relatively fertile land by the coast into the more desolate, arid, mountainous region to the east. The land appears to have been largely uninhabited prior to this, so the new settlers - refugees from all over the Levant - were able to create settlements with relative ease. At this early stage we can't yet properly speak of an "Israel" (though we know from Egyptian records that there existed a people called "Israel" by around 1200) because the material culture of the region was still indistinguishable from the wider Canaanite material culture. Well, indistinguishable it so happens with one important difference: the almost total absence of pig bones in the proto-Israelite sites.

1200-1000 BC: Tribes and Judges

Little is known for sure about this part of the region's history. We know that the Egyptians were forced to withdraw their influence from the region due to their on-going battles with the "sea people", various states and other internecine conflicts, so we can imagine that the loose coalition of city states that existed in Canaan likely fragmented during this time. According to the Biblical accounts, this was a period of general lawlessness, violence, and competing tribal chiefs (or "judges" in the Biblical terminology). Although the historicity of most of the narratives in Judges have long been questioned by scholars, we can probably say that the Biblical account probably has more than an element of truth to it: as closely related as all the "tribes" in the region were (in terms of religion, language and culture) there can be little doubt that this was a period in which they jostled violently for land and power in the vacuum of Egyptian influence.

With respect to religion, we know that these proto-Israelites continued to believe in at least aspects of the Canaanite pantheon of gods: namely in El (the "head" god) and his 70 children. That El was integral to the religious culture of the proto-Israelites can be determined by his presence in theophoric titles (Isra-el, El-ijah etc.) and that it continued to be the name of "God" in the northern kingdom for centuries later. In the part of the Torah that is suspected to have been penned in the northern kingdom (that is, the E Source"), "Elohim" is the name used for God in the narrative until he reveals his name to be "YHWH" in Exodus (in truth, this appears to be a later attempt to conflate two different gods under the same name: even relatively late Biblical texts appear to suggest that YHWH was originally a member of a divine council of gods (elyon) - Dt. 32:8-9). In the south, however, the use of theophoric titles involving the name YHWH from a relatively early date suggests to us that YHWH was the patron god of Judah from the very beginning.

We are told that the land (or at least, it's northern part) was ruled by a man named "Saul" in the later part of this period, though exactly what territory he might have laid claim to is not clear. The Bible tells us of the continued presense of foreign tribes in the land nominally claimed by Saul, and we also know from Egyptian records that the land was terrorised during this period by large, well-organised groups of bandits known as "Hapiru". So, if the legitimacy of a state truly rests in its capacity to impose a monopoly of violence in the region under its control, we probably can't yet call the Israel of Saul a true state just yet. Scholars once tried to make a etymological link between the word "Hapiru" and the word "Hebrew" - which would raise the possibility that the Hebrews entered the land originally as marauding bandits - but this explanation seems to have fallen out of favour.

1000 BC - 930 BC: David and Solomon

Sometime in the late 11th century BC, it appears that a tribal chief named David achieved prominence in the southern regions, uniting enough of the population to take over Jerusalem and to establish a state there known as "Judah". According to the Biblical accounts, he was once in the employ of Saul, and after Saul's death found himself in control of a "united monarchy" - that is, both the northern and southern parts of the region (or Israel and Judah). Exactly how seriously we can take these Biblical accounts is unclear, and a matter of acrimonious debate among scholars. At one end there are those who suggest the Biblical account is almost entirely trustworthy, and the other end are those who would deny David ever existed (although the latter are now in shorter supply after the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele). I'm obviously not qualified to resolve this issue here, so I'll give you the facts as I see them and let you make your own mind up.

In the Biblical account, it has long been noted that David comes across as a very flawed and (consequently) a very human figure. Despite the reverence with which he was treated in later periods, the Biblical accounts are scarcely unequivocally positive in their descriptions of him. One potential explanation is that the material (in the Book of Samuel anyway) comes from two different sources: one from the north and one from the south, that were later redacted into a single narrative. The southern account is predictably more positive, because this is where David was based and where the majority of his support came from. The northern account is rather less effusive in its praise because there may have been a residual tendency to see David as something of a violent usurper: he did, after all, apparently murder Saul's son to end the northern monarchy and to stake his claim to the entire region. If this interpretation of the Biblical texts is correct, then it would seem to lend some support to the general historicity of the accounts because they have been preserved down two independent sources. That this is the case, though, is far from clear.

What we do know is that David was remembered for (firstly) siding with the Philistines against Saul and then fighting off and subduing the Philistines. Again, there is no inherent reason to suspect the truth of these accounts. Kings and states do not just appear from thin air: generally in history, the rallying of a people around a central leader - and their granting him the authority and resources to lead them - doesn't happen for no reason. Frequently, such centralising tendencies can occur in response to perceived threats, as happened in Greece, Rome, China and doubtless many other places. The emergence of David as the sole leader of once disparate groups of people may well have been a response to the perceived threat which emanated firstly from the northern kingdom of Saul and - subsequently - from the Philistines. That David switched allegiances should also not be a surprise: this was a frequent tactic employed by kings in the ancient world (to side with the more powerful force, regardless of past relationships with other powers) and it happened frequently in the subsequent history of Israel and Judah. The Biblical account has the benefit of explaining the emergence of a monarchy in the southern region and its subsequent history, so again, I see no reason to doubt it.

One question mark lies with just how "unified" the northern and southern parts of the kingdom were under King David. In fact, many scholars will deny (quite credibly) that there was ever a unified kingdom of Israel at all. They would argue that it was merely a work of theologically inspired propaganda created by later Judahites to justify their claims to the northern lands after the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. This might be taking it a little too far, but what can probably be said with confidence is that the south simply didn't have the resources to bring the north reliably under its control. Archaeologists put the population in Judah at the time of David at perhaps no more than a few thousand, and given the relatively poor agricultural conditions in the region it seems difficult to believe that Judah could have produced the economic surplus necessary to produce an army capable of subduing and occupying the much larger, much wealthier region to the north. In other words, whatever claims David might have had on the northern kingdom were surely somewhat tenuous, and the idea of a unified kingdom may well have been more an ideological claim than one realised in practice. That the unified kingdom lasted no longer than 70 years (according to the Biblical account) would surely be evidence of this.

Solomon is another enigmatic figure. In the Bible he was remembered for producing books of great wisdom (i.e. the Book of Proverbs) and incredible building feats, but it now seems likely that he produced neither. The Biblical wisdom literature probably dates (for the most part) to the post-exilic period (that is, four centuries after Solomon at the earliest) and the major building projects in the northern kingdom that the Bible attributes to Solomon were likely built during the time of the divided kingdom, when the the northern half was comparatively rich and powerful. The possibility remains that Solomon constructed the first Temple in Jerusalem (as tradition maintains), but the relevant archaeological site currently lies under the Al-Aqsa mosque so it is not possible to confirm for sure. What else we can say about Solomon with any certainty is unclear, but what is apparent is that after his death whatever fragile unity there was between the north and south fractured, and the next period of history is one that of the "divided monarchy".

930-734 BC: The Age of Israel

After the fracturing of the (potentially) once united kingdom of Israel, the two kingdoms went down quite separate paths. The northern kingdom (Israel) grew rapidly, developing a rich and relatively advanced material culture, as well as developing strong military and economic ties with neighbouring powers. Beginning perhaps with the great king Omri in the early 9th century BC (foreign powers referred to the northern kingdom as "the House of Omri"), the archaeological record tells us that this was a period of exorbitant building projects and extensive trade for Israel. We also know from the rather severe admonitions of the prophets active at the time - such as Isaiah, Hosea and Amos - that such plenitude also produced gross inequality and economic exploitation in the kingdom. The influence of foreign trade and diplomatic ties also brought the unwelcome (for these prophets) influence of foreign religious practices. The accounts of the northern kingdom in the Book of Kings (written by unsympathetic southern scribes some centuries later) paints a picture of abject moral depravity in the region at the time. Whatever the truth, the population in the north may have been as much as 8 times greater than that in the south, and the wealth of the regions are almost incomparable.

In the south at the time, this marks a period of almost total obscurity and lack of development. There is little evidence of literacy in the region (which would be a sign of economic development and a strong central state) and the land was likely populated almost exclusively by small, marginal agriculturalists and nomads. Although it seems that Judah was able to remain an independent state during this period - and there is no indication that they were required to pay tribute to their northern neighbours, despite the late attempt by the north to enforce one - there is simply no doubt that Judah was the little brother in this partnership. But for the intervention of foreign powers, it likely would have stayed this way, and Judaism, Christianity and the Bible - at least in any recognisable forms - would never have had to chance to emerge.

734 - 592 BC: Assyria and The Fall of Israel

At the peak of their strength, the Israelites made the ill-fated decision to stand with the city of Damascus against the now powerful Assyrian empire. The Assyrians - led by the infamous King Tiglath-Pileser III - reacted swiftly in anger, invading Israel, deposing the king and replacing him with a leader of their own choosing. After the death of King Tiglath-Pileser III, Israel again rebelled, hoping to use the resultant power vacuum as a chance to pursue their freedom from the empire. Again, though, the Assyrian response was swift and brutal. After a prolonged siege of the capital Samaria, Israel finally fell in 722 BC. The royal house of Omri was completely destroyed, and its population was either sent into exile or forced to flee for safer territory in the face of the advancing Assyrian army.

For many of those who took flight, Judah was the most logical destination. They shared nearly identical cultures, afterall, and Judah - under its king Ahaz - had signed a suzerain treaty with the Assyrians, sparing them from direct conquest in exchange for the provision of onerous tributes. (It's worth mentioning that in the decade or so before the fall of Israel, this technically made Judah and Israel enemies at war.) And the refugees did indeed flood into Judah in great numbers: the archaeological record suggests that the population of Jerusalem may have increased almost 12-fold in little less than a century. Quite apart from the population boom in Judah that this migratory influx obviously caused, there were a number of other important effects as well. Firstly, the religious traditions of Israel and Judah - which had been diverging for at least two centuries by this point - were brought back into contact. This may well have been when the J/E conflation took place (i.e. the penning of the majority of Genesis and Exodus) as religious scholars sought to reconcile the sometimes minor differences between the two mythical traditions.

Another important effect was the rise of literacy in Judah during this period, another fact attested by the archaeological record. Normally literacy only enters a society once a certain level of economic complexity has been reached, thus necessitating the creation of more complex forms of accounting and record keeping (it does appear that the majority of the earliest instances of written language performed exactly this function). Judah, prior to this point, was an almost entirely rural region, with very little (it seems) in terms of political centralisation or urbanisation, and literacy therefore was not a pressing need prior to the 8th century. Israel in the 8th century, by contrast, was a large, heavily urbanised society that engaged routinely in foreign trade, thus necessitating an institutionalised scribal culture to keep track of trades, contracts, inventory and so on. After the fall of Israel, these scribes - and other instruments of complex government - were brought south to Judah and would have made possible the creation of texts used in religion and government. In other words, it is probably at around this time that we can finally imagine that the material and intellectual resources necessary for the construction of complex texts finally arrived to Judah, and it is probably around this time that some of the Biblical texts we are familiar with today were first penned.

Perhaps the most important development during this period was the ascension of King Josiah, who - with the exception of King David - is probably the most important king in the history of Judah and the religious traditions it came to produce. He came to the throne as an 8 year old in 640 BC, and in approximately 622 BC introduced a serious of religious and social reforms that would forever shape the nature of the Hebrew religion. His most important move here was in the centralisation of the religious faith, so that all religious practice would now be centred on the Temple in Jerusalem, and all other outlets of religious expression - the so called "altars" and "high places" - would be destroyed, their priests slain and their practise forever suppressed. 2 Kings 23 gives us some great detail about just how thorough, violent and wide-spread the enforcement of this edict needed to be. The shear scale of the "abominable" religious practices present in Judah prior to Josiah's reforms should, however, give us a clear indication of just how pluralistic and variable Judahite religion was prior to Josiah, and puts lie to the fact that the Hebrew religion was ever an inherently monolithic / monotheistic one.

Another important move made by Josiah during his reign was the empowerment of the priestly caste (specifically the Levitical caste) and the reduction in the power of the King. Penned some 1800 years before the Magna Carta, the book of Deuteronomy represents an extraordinary concession of power on behalf of the King of Judah, including the promise to follow piously the "Laws" of scripture (i.e. the king was now a follower of law rather than a prescriber of it) and to not "exalt himself above other members of the community" (Dt. 17)! This diminishing of the power of the king and the strengthening of the power of the priests would have a number of important consequences in the post-exilic period and future of the Hebrew religion.

592 BC - 539 BC: The Exile

After the fall of the Assyrian empire at the hand of the Babylonians in the late 7th century BC, Judah was faced with a problem. To the north they now had the Babylonian Empire, one that was probably more aggressive and expansionist than the Assyrian Empire they replaced. To the south they had the still large (though perhaps declining) Egyptian Empire. To make matters worse, the two empires were open enemies, leaving Judah in the middle and needing to choose one side to protect it from the other. For a period of two decades, it seems as though the kings of Judah vacillated almost capriciously from one side to the other, as the fortune of each empire grew and waned. Eventually, though, after abandoning a recently-penned treaty with Babylon to side with the Egyptians, the Judahites were left to face the full brunt of the Babylonian army. They expected the support of the Egyptians, but the Egyptians never arrived. In three successive waves of invasion, concluding in 582 BC, Judah was smashed by the Babylonians: its cities were destroyed, its population scattered and its elite members carried off into exile.

The human scale of this drama is preserved in unnerving detail in the Bible. The siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC was, like all other military sieges in history, a event which imposed almost imaginable strains on endurance and suffering. With access to outside food sources closed off by the Babylonian army, the people of Jerusalem were "pierced by hunger", the "women... boiled their own children":
Even the jackals offer the breast
and nurse their young,
but my people has become cruel,
like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the infant sticks
to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
but no one gives them anything.

Those who feasted on delicacies
perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
cling to ash heaps.

In truth, the aftermath was little better for those who stayed behind. Agricultural production ground to a halt, cities were abandoned and many fled the land permanently, Egypt becoming a particularly popular sanctuary. Those who were carried into exile (including the royal court, the priests and members of the aristocracy) bemoaned their fates in moving Psalmic elegies for their lost land, the most famous being that of Psalm 137 ("By the rivers of Babylon..."). In truth, the conditions faced by those exiled to Babylon (exact numbers are difficult to gauge by the way, but 10% of the Judahite population would be as good a guess as any) were perhaps not so bad: they were, after all, apparently free - at least in certain cases - to continue their religious practices, to perform trades and to marry into the local populations. In addition to certain Psalms, important prophetic works such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah and deutero-Isaiah were likely written (at least in part) during the exile, the first two notable for their almost complete lack of hostility towards the Babylonians, and their correlated disdain towards those Judahites who remained in Judah or (much worse) who had fled to Egypt.

Theologically this marks an important time for the Hebrews, so much so that many scholars use the terms "pre-exilic" and "post-exilic" theology to denote the significant changes the forced exile imposed. Firstly, the Jerusalem Temple - literally the dwelling place of their God - had been destroyed, leaving serious questions about their proper mode of worship and practice in its absence. Secondly, the unimaginable suffering heaped on the Judahites so soon after the enactment of the supposedly pious reforms of Josiah was difficult to explain: why was God so angry at us? The first problem likely contributed to the growth of belief in a universal deity (that is, a deity who could be with one even in a foreign land) and - eventually - unequivocal monotheism (the first unambiguously monotheistic Biblical passage was likely written during this time: Isa. 44:6). It also contributed to the centrality of the Law in the Hebrew religion, because it could still be followed even where the possibility of worship and sacrifices - the central praxes of the old religion - were no longer possible. The second problem was explained by the reality of deferred judgement - that present-day generations could be punished for the inequities of past generations. This was an important development in the conception of sin, and would eventually lead to the idea of "original sin" so important to later Christian theologians.

539 BC - 323 BC: The Persian Period

Following the over-running of the Babylonian Empire by the Persians, the Judahites in exile were finally free to return to their homeland. For his role in this - and his relatively tolerant and liberal attitude towards the expression of religion - Cyrus was deemed to be a "Messiah" by the author of deutero-Isaiah (Isa. 45:1). In truth the return to Judah was little more than a slow trickle initially: the archaeological record seems to indicate only a slow growth in population during the century or so after the fall of Babylon. In reality, it's not difficult to understand why: the majority of the Hebrews living in Babylon had never seen Judah, had their own families and trades in Babylon, and there was little to go back to in the now destitute and economically backward hinterlands of Judah. But they did make their way back slowly.

The first to come (including Zerubbabel, the governor and Haggai the prophet) were shocked by the conditions they found there. The so-called "people of the land" had fallen into a state of apparent moral degradation, abandoning the religious practices instituted by Josiah (and further refined by the Babylonian exiles), adopting gods and wives from neighbouring tribes. The land was destitute and unproductive, the cities lay in ruins, completely undeveloped from the time of the Babylonian invasion more than four decades prior. The first task involved the rebuilding of the Temple, a project that seems to have run into many difficulties along the way. (These interruptions are blamed partly on the Samaritans - refugees from the Assyrian invasion of the northern Kingdom who had returned along with the Judahites. This enmity between the Hebrews and the Samaritans would continue until the time of Jesus, hence the "Good Samaritan" story.) It was eventually built, though, and this period through to 70 AD is therefore referred to as the "Second Temple Period". Strangely, while many facets of pre-exilic life were resumed in Judah during this period, the re-establishment of the monarchy doesn't seem to have been one of them. While members of the royal court form part of the narrative in the earliest period of the return, they henceforth disappear without explanation, with royal titles, ceremonies and functions passed onto the high priest. The Davidic monarchy was never to be restored, the powers of government now resting for the majority of the Second Temple period with the priests and governors appointed by foreign powers.

It was during this period that the texts of the Hebrew Bible reached essentially their modern form - few of the major texts from the Tanakh can be dated reliably to after this period, though the texts themselves did continue to evolve. The Torah and the Deueronomic histories (that is, the first 9 books of the Bible) were likely edited / composed into their definitive form during the 5th century BC (perhaps by the prophet Ezra) and the theology of the time is perhaps best represented by the "Priestly (or "P") Source" within the Torah. The theology of this source evinces evidence of the universal god developed during the exile (in contrast with the more parochial god of earlier texts) and the centrality of assiduous priestly procedure to the religion, in keeping with the realities of post-monarchical Judah.

323 BC - 63 BC: The Hellenistic Period

This was an extremely complex time politically in the region, so it will be difficult to do justice to it in just a few paragraphs. It started with Alexander the Great's defeat of Persia, and the transfer of the lands of Palestine into the hands of his armies. With Alexander's death in 323 BC, however, the inheritance of his nascent empire was fought-over by his generals, a squabble which took a long time to reach a definitive conclusion. The land of Palestine was contested between Ptolemy I and his neighbouring rival Seleucus, with the former eventually laying definitive claim to the land in around 301 BC. Almost immediately he set about Hellenizing the region, introducing a complex governing bureaucracy and other cultural institutions in line with Alexander's earlier desire to introduce homonia (that is, a universal Hellenistic culture) to the lands he brought under his control.

As a consequence of Ptolemy's reforms (and those of his successors), the period marks one of relative peace and prosperity in the region, as evidenced by the growth in populations, agriculture and trade in the region. It wasn't however, a happy period for everyone. Those in the upper-classes tended to benefit more from Hellenism than the rural classes did, so they tended to adapt to Greek thought and institutions much more readily. As a consequence, an internal rupture emerged among the Jews (and it is here that the word Jew first came into use: it was a Greek title for the population of Judea) during the Greek and Roman period. Generally, we can now speak of the privilaged classes (merchants, priests, royalty etc.) supporting (or at least acquiescing to) the occupiers and patronising their institutions (including gymnasia and so on), with the less privileged classes rebelling against the imperial forces and holding zealously to their religious traditions. The latter would eventually become radicalised, and it is in such an environment that the ministry of Jesus - and subsequent developments in the history of Judaism must be understood.

The Ptolemies eventually lost control of the region to the Seleucids in 223 BC, and this marks the beginning of a period of great instability. The Seleucids were involved in ongoing conflicts with the growing Roman empire, and needed to extract higher and higher tributes to support their war efforts. This involved further exploitation of the already disenfranchised rural poor and the raiding of the sacrosanct Jerusalem Temple for its treasures. When the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (with the help of his lackey high-priest) established an "abomination" (namely Pagan worship) in the Jerusalem Temple in the year 167 BC, and outlawed certain other Jewish practices, the impoverished population revolted under a religious banner in an event known as the "Maccabean Revolt". After 3 years of often gruelling guerilla warfare, the Maccabeans emerged victorious and established an independent Jewish state for the first time in over four centuries, an event celebrated down to the modern day in the festival of Hannukah. This new Hasmonean dynasty struggled to definitively secure a grip on power, however, due predominantly to Roman influence and internecine conflicts, resulting in a century of further relative instability. The independence of the kingdom was officially ended when Pompey invaded in 63 BC and established the territory as a Roman client Kingdom.

The restlessness of this age gave rise to some relatively new ways of thinking within Jewish circles. For the impoverished and disenfranchised, the dismay they felt over their constant subjugation at the hands of foreign powers was channelled into eschatological thought: namely, the idea that God would shortly intervene to put an end to the evils of the present age. This is most prominently displayed in the Book of Daniel and the books of Enoch / Ezra. This is another important indication of the influence that historical events can have over the trajectory of theology. Many other people - particularly in the upper-classes - were heavily influenced by Greek thought during this period, as demonstrated in the Book of Ecclesiastes and other so-called "Wisdom" literature. This also marks the first point at which we can identify a belief in the afterlife (or resurrection, more specifically) amongst some of the Jewish population. It seems to have emerged in reaction to the perceived iniquity of the fact that those who died gloriously during the Maccabean revolt would not live to see its fruition. All of these new theological developments would be important in the development of early Christian thought.

63 BC - 70 AD: The Early Roman Period

The early periods of Roman rule were overshadowed by developments in Rome, including the battles waged between Pompey and Caesar, and later between Antony and Octavian. The Romans did stamp their authority on the region, however, with the installation of Herod the Great as a puppet king in 37 BC. Herod was a prolific builder - most prominently his massive additions to the Temple complex - and enjoyed a close relationship with the Romans, neither of which ingratiated him to the local population. He is remembered as a brutal and capricious ruler by later authors, though much of this reputation can probably be attributed to the politically motivated polemic of his later detractors. Matthew's claim that he killed every firstborn child in Judea (as the Romans called it) can be safely dismissed as theologically-driven fiction. Shortly after Herod's death, Judea went from being a client kingdom to being absorbed as a Roman province.

As in the earlier Greek period, the Jews of the Roman period found themselves split between those who acquiesced to the Roman occupation and those who actively opposed it. On the pro-Roman side, we have the Sadducees, those of the ruling priestly caste who ran the Temple and actively co-operated with their Roman overseers. On the other side we have the Pharisees, a distinct priestly caste who were legal traditionalists and enjoyed a much closer relationship with the Jewish people. Finally we have the Essenes, a shadowy group about whom little is known. It seems that they were originally a disaffected priestly caste, who left (or were excluded from) their regular priestly duties at some point in the Hellenistic period, perhaps due to disagreements with the occupying powers. It seems they produced strange, almost unclassifiable religious literature (including likely the Dead Sea Scrolls) and lived an ascetic lifestyle at the fringes of society.

Groups like the Essenes likely gave rise to movements such as those of John the Baptist in the Roman period, who preached an eschatological message and railed ceaselessly against the powers-that-be. Jesus, likely originally a disciple of John, can be placed in the same category. Although the Gospel authors tend to soften any potentially obvious anti-Roman sentiments in their texts, Jesus is best understood in the historical reality of Roman Judea: that is, one of imperialism and social disenfranchisement. The Romans (and their backers among the Jewish ruling classes) imposed often onerous taxes on the rural population of Judea, and many of the latter were left destitute as a consequence. Many could no longer turn to traditional religious sources for consolation, because those who represented such sources (namely the Sadducees) were seen as being complicit in the Roman occupation. Many therefore turned to more exuberant and rebellious religious alternatives, which generally promised liberation from the strife of the present period in the form of some future cataclysmic act of divine intervention, which would deliver the world from the hands of the powerful into the hands of the downtrodden. Such eschatological beliefs were the basis of Jesus' teachings.

Others had different solutions to the problems of Roman occupation, however, and organised themselves into militant groups. Most prominent among these were the "Zealots", who could apparently count one of their number among the disciples of Jesus. The Zealots aggressively targeted Greek and Roman interests in Judea, using tactics that would probably be described as "terrorism" in the modern parlance, including the targeting of otherwise innocent Greek and Roman civilians. Perhaps even more bold were the "Sicarii", named for the daggers they carried, who terrorised those Jews who dared to co-operate with the Romans. Such movements emerged, Josephus tells us, at least partly in response to the tax reforms enacted by the Romans at the beginning of the 1st century, though religious factors must surely have been a pertinent factor as well.

Such divisions were in some way mirrored in the early Christian sects. The only surviving Christian texts we have from this period are those of Paul, and much of his writing is devoted to attempting to bridge the gap between the Jews, Gentiles and their various subgroups in the nascent faith. The duties one faces to the empire, the concern for the poor and the eschatology of marginal Jewish groups are also major pre-occupations of Paul, which all serve to place early Christian theology firmly as a continuation of late-Second Temple Judaism. Until 70 AD, Christianity was just one of its many branches.

After 70 AD: The Late Roman Period and Diaspora

Eventually, the militant groups described in the previous section led a fateful revolt against the Romans in 66 AD. The violence was initially ad hoc and indiscriminate, before gradually escalating into a full-blown war against the Roman Empire. After 4 years of fighting - including another horrific siege of Jerusalem - the revolt was quashed and the Temple was destroyed, creating a crisis within the Jewish faith. The Temple had for so long stood at the centre of Jewish religious practice, and its absence created the need to innovate new theological solutions to keep the faith going. Essentially, from the first century onwards Judaism became a faith centred around the Torah (that is, "the Law") and its scholarly exegesis. With the Sadducees dislodged from power, the opportunity fell to Pharisees (or, at least, their successors) to lead this reinvigoration of the faith and they came to produce what is now known as Talmudic Judaism (derived from the name given to the body of scholarly interpretation produced by Rabbis), a critical step in the development of the Judaism with which we are familiar today.

Within Christianity, the fall of Jerusalem likely marked the first of its many significant fractures with Judaism. To begin with, the Jerusalem Church - hitherto probably the centre of the Christian missionary movement - simply disappears from history. The apostles at the head of this church - most notably James, "the brother of the Lord" - were extremely important in maintaining the Jewish influence within the early Christian movement, and insisted upon the continued observation of dietary laws and circumcision. For this position they ran into constant arguments with Paul and other early evangelists who insisted that gentiles should not be required to observe these central requirements of Judaism to be admitted into the faith. With the destruction of the Jerusalem Church (or at least its inability to retain its earlier influence) the gentile-friendly Christianity of Paul and his successors became dominant, and would remain normative for the rest of Christian history. While Jews previously tolerated the evangelising of proto-Christians in synagogues, the crisis caused by the destruction of the Temple created a rather less tolerant attitude and these proto-Christians now found themselves excluded from synagogue services. This situation is anachronistically depicted in the Gospel of John, which - together with the anti-Jewish polemic in other NT texts - suggests quite clearly that Judaism and Christianity were already starting to go their separate ways by the end of the first century.

The Judean province remained a politically restive region, however, and after several periodic skirmishes the situation again boiled over into full-blown war in 132 AD with the famous Bar Kokhba revolt. Under the leadership of Simon bar Kokhba - a self-proclaimed Messiah - the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire and for a short period were seemingly successful in establishing Israel as an independent state. The Roman response was typically ruthless, however, and the revolt was quashed in an orgy of violence by the year 135 AD. The majority of Jews in the region were likely to have been killed, sold into slavery, or - if they were lucky - sent into exile. Hadrian forbade them from entering Jerusalem (except for specially sanctioned ceremonies) and this marks a critical stage in the Jewish diaspora. The Jews would from this point have no homeland until the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1947.

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