The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Mar 10, 2020

Hebrew History: three fascinating facts I learned from Adrian Goldsworthy's biography Caesar

Bible teachers should constantly study history, especially that of the Ancient Near East. To fail to do so is to deny oneself an important tool of biblical interpretation. Since both God's written word and the Incarnate Word located themselves within specific times and places, ignorance of ANE history equals ignorance of the very context of God's Word.

Here at BCM, every Fall I have the privilege of teaching Hebrew History (from Abraham to AD 70 according to the syllabus, though I also feel the necessity of briefly lecturing on the Bar Kokhba Revolt), and the class has grown on me! Slowly but surely over the years I have been adding more information and different angles to how I tackle the subject (e.g., inspired by the work of Larry Hurtado, I now also discuss the uniqueness of early Christianity and Judaism in the midst of the Greco-Roman pantheon of religions).

Now, Adrian Goldsworthy (PhD, Oxford) is one of the foremost scholars and experts on the ancient Roman Empire, and an excellent writer (not quite on the level of David McCullough or Neil Bascomb, but more measured and thorough). I recently finished reading Caesar: Life of a Colossus, his excellent biography of Caius Julius Caesar. In addition to much improving my general knowledge of the rise of the Roman Empire, the book provided me with three key points that have assisted me in revising my Hebrew History notes:

1. Although I knew that Pompey had basically waltzed right into the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem (not a good omen of future Jewish-Roman relations!), I had assumed this was due to mere curiosity. Goldsworthy explains it better, situating this act within the ambition of Rome's commanders and politicians: ". . . the gesture, as was intended, provided a new tale to tell at Rome of the unprecedented deeds of Rome's great general" (p. 186).

2. I had no idea that Jewish forces actually fought for Julius Caesar against Pompey. When pinned down in Egypt, a relief force came to Caesar's aid, but "It was a force of allies rather than Romans, and included a contingent of 3,000 Jews contributed by the High Priest Hyrcanus II and led by Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, as well as various Syrians and Arabs. The involvement of Hyrcanus encouraged the Jewish population of Alexandria to become far more sympathetic to Caesar" (p. 539). In addition, "Hyrcanus the high priest and Antipater were both rewarded for their part in the Egyptian campaign" (p. 543).

I knew, of course, that during the early stages of the Roman Empire (before it was technically an empire) there were some strong pro-Roman sympathies among Jews--thus the highly ironic eighth chapter of First Maccabees (highly ironic in light of our knowledge of 1st century events!). Nonetheless, I did not know that:

3. There was a significant number of Jews in Rome who publicly expressed grief over Julius Caesar's death (p. 621).

In addition to these three points, I also benefited from a deeper understanding of the Roman army and politics, the Imperial Cult, and the rivalry between Caesar and Pompey, all of which touches on both Hebrew History and New Testament Introduction. I reiterate my opening point: Bible teachers should be history readers!

Hardcover Caesar : Life of a Colossus Book

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