Was witness to a fairly disturbing argument IRL today:
Two of my female associates had an argument about male circumcision. The debate became heated (as debates are want to do) and soon this line came out: "Emperor Hadrian illegalized circumcision on pain of death, I think we should bring that back."
The response: "...as part of a pogrom against the Jewish people you anti-semitic #$^&! You are actually agreeing with that genocidal maniac?!"
So I put it to you all: Writers from Gibbon to Machiavelli have claimed that Emperor Hadrian was one of the "Five Good Emperors" (rulers of the Empire who were men of not only Roman virtue, but were exemplars to all leaders everywhere). But can we, persons of the 21st century still claim this?
Was he a Good Emperor, a Tyrant, or a just practical leader? Does Hadrian's characterization in history need to be reevaluated? What do you learned fellows think?
But, intellectual though he was, he was no ditherer. He realised that Rome could no longer support an empire without limits, and within hours of entering office had abandoned as impractical Rome's imperial interests east of Syria. He would do the same to Scotland a few years later, and build the limes, a wooden palisade, across the northern German frontier. When Judaea revolted, seriously threatening the stability of Rome's difficult eastern provinces, he ruthlessly put it down. A decisive, pragmatic man was Hadrian.
In the end, Hadrian's forces had to resort to the most ruthless form of ethnic cleansing, constructive starvation and mass slaughter of the enemy that went far beyond the casualties inflicted by the Jews. In Rome, and among generations of antisemitic ideologues up to the 20th century, the victory was hailed a triumph over religious fanaticism and political insurrection.
Personally, I think there is a danger of retrojecting modern concepts and susceptibilities into the past. Was Hadrian anti-Scottish for building his wall? Was Claudius anti-semitic for expelling the Jews from Rome? The one thing the Romans really detested was any hint of rebellion or even tendency toward civil disturbance? On the whole (prior to AD 70) they were remarkably tolerant toward Judaism (perhaps even rather fascinated by it?).It had special dispenasations (from which early Christianity also benefited by portraying itself as a Jewish sect).
Perhaps in our own time there is a tendency on the part of some religious minorities to construe limits being put on the extent of indulgence toward them as being victimisation?
Post by ignorantianescia on Aug 23, 2014 8:22:56 GMT
First of all, sandwiches is on the money with his warning against forcing modern concepts into the past. Antisemitism is a development from the nineteenth century (Renan, Bauer). As racism (de Gobineau) is an important aspect of the ideology, it is anachronistic to use it before either of those existed. That said, there obviously was virulent hatred against Jews in Antiquity (Tacitus, Apion), the Middle Ages, early modern times and also in the Enlightenment.
Whether Hadrian banned circumcision is the subject of legitimate debate. There are a great many extraordinary notices about the Bar Kokhba revolt in the Talmudic texts and it isn't always clear whether an emperor who is mentioned has even been intended as a historical reference. One thing mentioned is that circumcision had been banned at some point. The Historia Augusta also writes that the war was caused by a ban on circumcision, but there are issues with the reliability of the Historia Augusta as well while the part about Hadrian isn't completely unreliable. I think there was another, later emperor who explicitly mentioned that Jews had the right to circumcise. So whether it was or wasn't banned seems sketchy.
Non cultri, sed cultores homines interficiunt.
Latest lesson for Mythicists: Est extra textum nulla salus.
This was an interesting question (I am surprised there are not more replies). I did do a quick flick around the internet (including academic sources)(and even consulted a book!). The gist seemed to be that Roman Emperors were reasonably indulgent on occasion toward Judaism but Jews were not generally popular (that monotheist, anti-idolatry approach when most welcomed lots of Gods and some made a good living from idolatry). Augustus (according to Suetonius), referred to himself as fasting on the Sabbath "like a Jew" - he seems to have confused the Sabbath with the Day of Atonement - but interesting that he had a vague idea of Jewish customs. Caligula took offence at Jews as they seemed to have a God other than him (but he was insane) and tried to install his own image in Jerusalem (but fortunately got assassinated before it got there, it having being delayed by wiser heads). Claudius expelled Jews from Rome in AD 49(?) but that may have been due to attempts by early followers of The Way to introduce Jesus ("Chrestus") into the synagogues, resulting in disturbance, when early Christianity was still seen as a Jewish sect. Claudius previously gave a favourable ruling to Jews in a dispute between Greeks and Jews in Alexander? (Herod Agrippa was a mate of Claudius). Josephus received imperial indulgence and got a chance to write a history of the Jews? Hadrian was not initially anti-Jewish (there was even discussion of rebuilding the Temple) but was then influenced by admirers of The Hellenistic tradition to build the Aelia Capitolina in place of Jerusalem which was the real cause of the second Jewish revolt? (If there was one thing the Jews could not stand it was a monument to a foreign God on their holiest site?) It is doubtful Hadrian banned circumcision, though a succeeding Emperor forbade circumcision of non-Jews, either because Rome was afraid of the rate of conversion to Judaism or because there was concern that Jews were circumcising slaves against their will (making slaves do things against their will seems a curious idea?). Emperors were much influenced by their advisers and favourites? Most of all they were influenced by any idea of disloyalty, disorder or subversion?