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on May 13, 2004
This book is worth reading. The index is pretty poor, although there certainly are a lot of entries in it. There are a few genealogies in the back that are helpful in the first 100 pages or so. There are a number of different ISBNs for this title, but it's all the same book. It's hard to believe it has not previously received an Amazon review.

Grant begins with a one-chapter overview of Jewish traditions before the Romans, follows with two chapters on the Maccabaean revolt against Hellenic rule, and wraps all of it up in 49 pages. As the scars of Greek occupation persist today in the anti-Jewish hate crimes perpetrated in the name of a fictional "Palestinian people", which are in fact rooted in the intolerance of ancient Hellenism (most notoriously, the Roman emperor Hadrian).

Part II deals with the early Roman period. In this we glimpse the early success of Pompey and the reason for his later popularity. The Roman Senate was forced to deal with Caesar after he drove Pompey out of Italy, but continued to back Pompey financially through what we'd call back channels nowadays. Pompey was called on to settle a dispute over supreme power in the stillborn independent state, wound up having to besiege Jerusalem, then desecrated the Temple, and set the tone for Roman-Jewish relations.

Though Rome already had a Jewish community, Pompey's battles introduced Jewish POWs in some quantity. They wound up ransomed by the free Jews and the synagogues and entered the Roman world as citizens. The dishonorable but articulate lawyer, Cicero, harped in an anti-Semitic way against these new Jewish citizens, in court no less, but supported Pompey against Caesar in the eventual civil war.

Grant's discussion in the rest of Part II of the last quasi-independent years of Roman Palesine are fascinating, bringing to life such often heard but little known names as Herod the Great and Pontius Pilate, as well as a number of other factions from that time of struggle. I couldn't help but think of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" in which the factions were fighting each other for the privilege of being the ones who would defeat the Romans, rather than actually fighting the Romans.

The factions did however fight the Romans. The Romans referred to the struggles as the Jewish Wars, and the Jews referred to them as the Roman Wars. Josephus emerged from these as a pro-Roman Jewish writier, while Vespasian emerged as the eventual successor to Nero after the "Year of Four Emperors".

Grant describes the sometimes crazy approach taken by various emperors, including Caligula, and the behind the scenes political and diplomatic activity that can be reconstructed from surviving writings. The constant atrocities carried out against the Jews both by Rome and by the Greeks -- including the massacre of the Jewish community of Alexandria -- as well as the Apostle Paul's attempt to transform Judaism, are discussed.

Grant talks about the intrigues (as perceived by the Romans) between the thriving Jewish community in the Parthian empire and the much better treatment enjoyed under the much earlier Persian rule. Cyrus the Great ended the Babylonian captivity and granted religious tolerance, something denied Jews under both Greek and Roman rule, either through official policy (Rome's abuse of the special tax on the Jews for example) or mob violence (desecration of synagogues, murder of priests and other Jews, destruction of written material).

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