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How Important Were the Views on Money in Ancient Judaism in Opposition to Rome?

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The Jews in Roman Palestine had no shortage of reasons to oppose Roman rule. Hyam Maccoby in his seminal work Revolution in Judea (1973) paints a vivid picture of the atrocities and brutality of Roman power in ancient Palestine: "Varus's crucifixion of 2000 Jews in the very year of Herod's death showed the Jews with sickening plainness the kind of brutal treatment to which they were now exposed. In one year they had seen their holy places defiled and robbed and the best men of their nation...contemptuously tortured to death."(Maccoby, 1973: 45) This is not to mention the appallingly high rate of tax with which the Jewish people were burdened with as rapacious officials of Rome (as well as there Jewish underlings such as Herod) looked to fill their pockets with land tax, income-tax, water tax, taxes on meat and salt, poll tax, city tax, a road tax, house tax, boundary tax, a market tax and many other taxes besides. In addition to this it must be remembered that the entire Hellenistic world was viewed with a great deal of suspicion among large swathes of the Jewish people (this is not to say that some did not find Hellenistic culture attractive, as some clearly did) partly because of the memory of rulers such as King Antiochus Epiphanies who attempted to enforce the Jews' adoption of Hellenistic culture including the worshiping of himself in the place of Yahweh. However this essay will attempt to show that money both as a physical thing and as a concept was of central importance in the peculiarly restless and rebellious reaction of Jews to Roman rule.

Rome was undoubtedly linked in the minds of many people of the time Jews and non-Jews alike with money and all that money represents. The famous adage that "in Rome everything's for sale" is a particularly famous example of this fact. The following parable also illustrates the close association which Rome and trade had in the minds of many people, particularly Jewish people during this period. Allan Cutler writes "according to Simlai when the Messiah comes, God will judge all the nations...first to come before God will be Rome. God will ask Rome: 'Wherewith have you occupied yourselves?' Rome will answer: 'we have established many market places, built many bath-houses, gathered much silver and gold'."(Cutler, 1969:277) This feeling was not restricted to sayings and ideas but was clearly reflected in actions as well. One of the clearest examples among non-Jewish peoples is that of the Parthians pouring molten gold down the throat of Crassus in retaliation and mockery of his (and by extension Rome's) insatiable greed. It is easy to see where this view of Rome came from: not only did Rome (especially in its earliest phase) use the most outright forms of imperial theft and plunder - it was also the most commodified and capitalistic society known in history until this point. Importantly, it was under Roman society that the amount of people who depended on the markets for their food and sustenance (the 'proletariat') became a significant social grouping; it was this class which provided the main source of support for 'revolutionary' groups such as the early Christians or 'Jesus movement' (this term has been taken from Barrie Wilson because it differentiates between what eventually became Christianity and the much more Jewish original teachings and followers of Jesus). The existence of this 'proletariat' in Roman Palestine is attested to by many scholars including Hyam Lapin, when he differentiates between those who "rely on markets because they can and those who do so because they must, that is, between people who maintain themselves-at least with basic commodities such as grain- on the rents or direct produce of land or from other sources and those who cannot support themselves in that way, notably the urban working population."(Hyam Lapin: 2001. Pg151)

It is extremely difficult to put together a thoroughly accurate description of the views of 'everyday people' in the ancient world for many reasons, the least of which is the fact that such people did not often record there views in clear and precise ways as the members of religious sects and intellectual members of the elite of society, such as Philo and Josephus. it must also be stressed the dichotomy between 'ordinary' people on the one hand and radical groups on the other is not entirely accurate; this is true for many reasons. Primarily this is true because it was precisely among the so called 'ordinary people' that these radical groups found the core of their support and from where their members themselves emerged. Therefore it is necessary to use the texts of sects and other teachers around at the time to reconstruct a clearer understanding of what the attitudes towards both money and Rome were. This essay will focus primarily on the teachings of two groups from the period of the Roman occupation of Palestine, the Essenes and the 'Jesus movement'. Studying these groups is illuminating for numerous reasons; firstly they were both staunchly opposed to Roman rule and both had strong communistic tendencies. The communistic nature of many groups to oppose the Romans in this period (the Zealots for example also had communistic elements) clearly expresses something important about these groups' oppositional stance towards Rome and shows a striving for a more just and equal society than the one they inhabited as well as the Roman world more generally. It should also be kept in mind that though these groups may seem somewhat separated from 'ordinary people' and everyday life, it is precisely these radical groups which most consciously express many of the underlying tendencies and feelings of the mass of people, as can be seen particularly clearly when the mass of people become involved in revolts themselves.

Judaism in General

It is necessary to ask at this point: what is the general Jewish attitude towards money? Obviously Judaism does not have a homogenous view of money, as the many contradictory sentiments in the Torah alone can attest to. Even at this time in history a large proportion of Jews were engaged in trade, scattered around the Roman Empire. The plethora of rabbinic texts citing rules and guidelines for trade and commercial actions show that Judaism was far from being 'anti' trade or money. However there are two important facts to remember before the view of Judaism as friendly to or unconcerned by trade and money is put forward. Firstly the amount of rules and regulations concerning the ethical way to take part in such activities shows a great awareness that commercial transactions are fraught with moral problems and dilemmas. This is made clear by the incredibly intricate and precise

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