Friday, August 24, 2007

Of Rome, Plutarch, Judaism and Christianity

It is from the later Roman writers such as Tacitus that our almost universal modern disgust for the Empire derives -- for they wrote of the Eternal City as a cesspool of blood, filth and horror the likes of which the world had never seen.

Thus writes Edith Hamilton, famed Classical scholar -- then She drops the bombshell: One man was different. One revealed that not all Rome was lechers, leeches and lunatics. That one was Plutarch.

I shall of course learn more of this man as I wade into his "Moralia."

But instead tonight, I read another chapter in "Constantine's Sword, the Church and the Jews," by James Carroll.

Interestingly enough, both of my choices in reading tonight touched upon the same subject: Rome.

Rome, Carroll writes, may have been the world's first true totalitarian state -- and in the century-long war it fought against the Jews, it may have killed nearly an equal percentage of them per capita as Hitler's Final Solution.

Rome's political genius was to exploit the existing tensions within a conquered people -- a strategy used millenia later by the British Empire. Carroll blames modern inter-Irish tension, Pakistani-Muslim tension and even the Arab-Israeli tension upon this strategy. (I might add the Sunni-Shiite hatred in Iraq.)

This Rome did within the religious-political landscape of the land of Israel, in which Essenes, Saducees, Pharisees and Zealots -- Jews all -- contended against each other.

Into this mix was born another Jewish sect, the followers of Christ. The apparent anti-Semitic slant of their early writings, the Gospels, is actually, Carroll says, anything but. It is simply Jews contending against a different faction of their fellow Jews, as Pharisees might have written against Saduccees. From that seething kettle stirred by Rome to its own advantage, two groups have survived -- and they are, Carroll says, siblings, of the same womb: today's Judaism and Christianity.

After the Christian-Jewish breach was complete, and these facts were forgotten, the consequences would be tragic.

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