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Between Rome and Jerusalem: 300 Years of Roman-Judaean Relations

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Between Rome and Jerusalem
300 Years of Roman-Judaean Relations. By Martin Sicker. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2001. Pg. 201.) ISBN: 0-275-97140-6.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - June 4, 2001

The relationship between Rome and Judea was an interesting one. Judea was, by all standards, just a small player in the broader political arena, yet it seems to have an inordinate impact on the Rome and the ancient world in general. When studying Ancient Judea, one is faced with a number of problems because not only do you have the political and historical issues to deal with, but it is also impossible to separate out the religious aspects of the region.

Often, the interaction between Rome and Judea is studied primarily from a religious perspective - either Jewish or Christian. A few studies have concentrated solely upon the Roman viewpoint. In Between Rome and Jerusalem, Martin Sicker has taken another approach. In this book he studies the interaction between Rome and Judea from a geopolitical perspective, while incorporating both the Roman and the Judaean viewpoints. As well, Sicker demonstrates how, and why, Judea played such a large role in Roman Politics, in Rome's expansionist goals, and why it was important that Rome subjugate Judea.

Between Rome and Jerusalem begins with a historical overview of the region. This overview covers the period between 721 B.C.E. through the Seleucid occupation. In many ways this overview illustrates why modern day Israel is still a source of so much political wrangling.

"The special importance of the nation of Israel...lay not only in its singular religion and cultures...but also in the unfortunate geographical position of its homeland." (Pg. 1)

Sicker takes great pain to explain his theory about why the geographical position of Judea had more of an impact upon its history than did any other source. Beginning with the Hasmonean Revolt against the Selucids and ending with Bar-Kokhba Revolt against the Romans in 135 C.E., Sicker explores how Judea came under Roman influence and how that influence grew to the point that Judea became merely another appendage of Rome.

While Judea was very important to Roman geo-strategic interests in the region, as a country, Judea may have retained its position as a client state had it not been for the divisiveness that exist within Judea. Instead of presenting a united front, Sicker shows how the Judaean political and religious apparatus worked to effectively prevent the Judaeans from acting as a unified force. This lack of unity made it difficult for the country to be governed properly, and it made it impossible to fight against the machinations of the Roman political structure. Sicker also warns that the same problems faced, politically, by the Ancient Judaeans still face the Modern State of Israel.

Between Rome and Jerusalem is a compelling book, if for no other reason than the implications it has for the current Middle East situation. However, it is also significant in that it provides another standpoint from which to view Roman and Judaean History. It also serves to explain why such a mighty civilization such as Rome would expend so much time and energy to smother a seemingly insignificant state such as Judea.

Throughout, the writing is clear and unambiguous. The text is lightly footnoted and it contains a short bibliography. This book is suitable for use in an undergraduate course in geopolitics or Middle Eastern or Roman History, or for background information for graduate students in these areas. General readers, with an interest in Judaean or Roman History, will also find this book informative.

Related Reviews:

The Roman-Jewish Wars and Hebrew Cultural Nationalism, By Moshe Aberbach and David Aberbach.
This book covers two interrelated subjects - the Roman-Jewish wars and the development of Hebrew cultural nationalism. This is accomplished via a discussion the short and long term causes of the three revolts that erupted between the Jews and the Graeco-Romans, which occurred in 66-70, 115-17, and 132-35 C.E.

Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, Edited by Martin Goodman.
Unlike other minority groups which became intertwined with the Roman apparatus, the Jews not only maintained their own cultural identity and practices, but they also left behind written and archeological records of their existence and life under Roman rule. In Jews in a Graeco-Roman World, Goodman, has brought together a series of essays on the topic of Jewish life in the Graeco-Roman world.

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