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Customer Review

26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial - with all that can imply!, January 5, 2008
This review is from: Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations (Hardcover)
You can be sure that any book which includes on its cover the words "magisterial" (twice), "monumental" and "massive" is not going to be a quick read. Martin Goodman's 550 plus page analysis of the relationship between the Jews and Rome is clearly a work of scholarship. His knowledge of both Rome and the Jews during the Roman Empire is prodigious.

His conclusion is not new that the Jews, prior to the destruction of the temple in 70, had actually been treated relatively well under the Romans and given, in many ways a privileged position compared to other conquered people. The Romans, like most world powers (the British and now Americans) were arrogant and sure that their ways must be the best - the God or Gods must be on their side! However, he shows convincingly that the strength of the Roman response to the various Jewish revolts and the subsequent opprobrium were driven more by political needs of Vespasian and his successors in Rome then any underlying prejudice to the Jews. He also clearly shows how the longer term anti-Jewish sentiments were created more by the Christians as they tried to separate from what were now the "impious" and "malodorous" Jews and establish that the destruction of the temple was God's punishment for the Jews' murder of Jesus, as he had prophesied.

In its Prologue ("The Destruction of Jerusalem") and its Epilogue ("The Origins of Antisemitism"), Goodman shows his ability to write succinctly and clearly. Many parts of the rest of the book can be more of a struggle as he includes multiple quotes and diverts off the main theme. Just one example of this is his section "Diversity and Toleration". It is important to understand how tolerate Rome was, however he goes on at great length about Spanish, Greek and other examples - about half way through I would have been happy to take his word on some of this.

The final couple of paragraphs of the book give me some concern as he tries to project this forward to today. It seems his inclusion of Moses Hess's vision for a Jewish state in Palestine (called "Rom and Jerusalem" - just like Goodman's book) as a test of tolerance towards Jews is an oversimplification of the issue of the creation of a Jewish state by Christian countries in the middle of Islamic lands. However, this is a minor variation from an otherwise balanced and objective analysis of a complex situation. This book is worth reading but with a little more editing it could have been a great book.
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