The Armenian crisis in 35 – 36 AD, a conflict between Rome

Jerusalem, Shrine of the Book
Jerusalem, Shrine of the Book

and the Parthians about the kingdom of Armenia, meant that Jesus was back in the race for political power in the Jewish territories.

The Armenian king Artaxias, linked to Rome by a friendship agreement, died in 35 AD. The Parthian king Artabanus III, anticipating the decline of Rome under the ageing emperor Tiberius, conquered the Armenian capital city Artaxata and established his eldest son Arsaces as king there.

The Armenian crisis in 35 – 36 AD led to a brief phase of weakness in Roman power in the east and fuelled hopes of independence from Rome in the Jewish provinces: Tacitus, Annals, 6.31ff; Ant. 18.4.4; Karl Christ, Das römische Kaiser­reich, Munich, 3rd ed. 1995, p. 205f.


IV  8   The completion of the Old Testament after 70 AD

The destruction of Jerusalem and of the Yahweh temple in Jerusalem

Capernaum, Church of the Multiplication, mosaic
Capernaum, Church of the Multiplication, mosaic

seemed to many Jews to be the end of an era.

The individual Old Testament writings were revised, expanded and completed after 70 AD.

The cut-off point of the Old Testament canon came after the end of the Bar Kochba rebellion (after 135 AD) and under the influence of the formation of the Christian canon.


The Jewish Revolt was unsuccessful in the end, in that it did not achieve the longed-for independence. In the Old Testament accounts

Capernaum, Church of the Multiplication, mosaic
Capernaum, Church of the Multiplication, mosaic

of the rebellion. However, we can perceive its significance for Judaism’s search for its identity.

In the brief period of the rebellion, Judaism was able to develop autonomously while not under foreign rule, and to evolve criteria for its own religious culture that still define Jewish life even today.


IV  7   The great revolt

The great Jewish Revolt of 66 – 70 AD is depicted in the last part of the books of Moses: in the book of Joshua it is shown as the time of Moses’ successor Joshua

Capernaum, Church of the Multiplication
Capernaum, Church of the Multiplication

(= Hebrew form of the name Jesus) and in the books of the Kings as the reign of King Josiah (name not confirmed by archaeological documents).

The rebels’ aims are discernible in the Biblical accounts of Joshua and King Josiah. Joshua conquers the land of Israel, circumcises the Israelites, celebrates the Passover, makes sacrifices and proclaims the law.

King Josiah does not have to endure foreign rule, finds the law and follows it, purifies the temple from non-Jewish gods and non-Jewish religious symbols and celebrates the Passover in its pure form (2 Kings 22f).


The Jewish poet-prophets did not get involved in the military, or in love, but transposed the metaphors of love

Capernaum, ancient synagogue
Capernaum, ancient synagogue

from Ovid and other poets to the religious level. In Ovid’s poems the lover, the literary first-person narrator, laments the beloved woman’s unfaithfulness.

In the works of the Hebrew poet-prophets the Jewish God laments the unfaithfulness of his beloved people in the same images and verses; see Hez. 16 and 23.


Ovid and other poets of the Augustan period recommended the service of courtly love to replace military service or service to the state.


In several literary works, Ovid described how the young man who had no opportunity to serve his country, or who found this service distasteful, should devote himself to the service of courtly love, dedication to his lover. The poet also gave tips on how to go about this.

The young men of Judea and Galilee were in the same position as those in Rome: the period of peace under Augustus and his successors denied them a military career; the monarchy of Herod’s successors or Roman governorships prevented them from gaining the influential political posts that had previously been available in the small independent states.

Ovid’s alternative, the service of love, was also denied to the religious young men in Judea and Galilee.

However the Augustan poets not only suggested courtly love as an alternative occupation; they also spoke out against the social and religious conditions in Rome. And the Jewish poets discovered this option as a new field of activity.



IV  5   The prophets

The traditional master narrative about the origins of Old Testament prophecy are closely based upon the Biblical accounts.

Jordan, boat trip
Jordan, boat trip

It states that the prophets were spiritually gifted men in ancient Israel who proclaimed a new concept of God and spoke out against social injustice.

The same objections that were raised above in theses 4.0.2 – 4.0.5. against the pre-Roman origin of Old Testament writings in general also apply to the traditional master narrative in this case.

These are my theses on the origin of Old Testament prophecy:

The Jewish and Israelite written prophets are the equivalent of Roman poet-prophets, the vates. In republican times young aristocrats had served in the army and applied for political positions; under Emperor Augustus’ rule they lost their central function.

Military service was no longer attractive in peacetime and under Emperor Augustus, politics no longer provided real participation in power; it offered purely representative duties.


The most significant argument against dating the origin of the Old Testament writings in pre-Roman times:

Gerizim, ancient sacrificial rock
Gerizim, ancient sacrificial rock

the Old Testament text genres are Greek inventions that did not exist in pre-Hellenistic times in Palestine.

The Greeks invented the epic, tragedy, philosophical dialogue and novel: all new literary forms that did not previously exist in literary history.

The Greek love of narrative, the art of rhetorical expression and literary forms were completely innovative. They were widespread in Hellenistic times and copied by the Romans in particular, but also by the Jews. Romans and Jews each used their own languages: the Romans wrote in Latin, the Jews in the revived language of Hebrew.

The Old Testament should be read as a roman à clef about the time of Herod.


None of the conditions for the origin of the Old Testament existed in pre-Roman times. There was insufficient material prosperity;

Gerizim, ancient Samaritan temple
Gerizim, ancient Samaritan temple

there was no audience trained in literary reading; there was no freedom of opinion or atmosphere of constructive debate; the references to the history of Herod’s time would be inexplicable; the intertextual references to Greek and Roman literature would be incomprehensible; Judaism was not yet unified.


The Jewish elite’s solution resulted in a national Jewish literature, written in Hebrew, the ancient Jewish language,

Caesarea Maritima, arched gateway
Caesarea Maritima, arched gateway

but expressing ideas taken from Rome. Like Aeneas fleeing Troy, Moses is forced to flee Egypt from powerful enemies.

Many kings’ names were known from Jewish history, as well as relationships with Assyrian and Babylonian kings. But there were no narratives that could have been shaped into a literary form.

The Old Testament narrative history used contemporary themes and social conflicts, so that the literary production appeared very modern to contemporaries in the 1st Century AD. The division of the kingdom, temple construction, and conflicts between individual states played a part both in the literature and in current events.

The problem with the national solution: the national state religion for Galilee that favoured the Jewish elite excluded the large non-Jewish sections of the population. It created a hierarchy of belonging and graded levels of civil rights in the new city that contradicted the idea of a Galilean identity for the whole population.


In his 2006 postdoc thesis, Markus Schauer examined the figure of Aeneas dux in Vergils Aeneis. The subtitle of the published thesis

Caesarea Maritima, foot of a god
Caesarea Maritima, foot of a god

in 2007 calls Virgil’s poem Eine literarische Fiktion in augusteischer Zeit [A literary fiction in Augustus’ time). Schauer writes (p. 279):

“The epic is much more than an examination of the current ruler… it contributes to giving an identity to the Roman people, that incidentally was still the true ruler in Virgil’s eyes …

The Aeneid is a parallel world, like Virgil’s pastoral world; an ideal spiritual world in which the people and their ruler are still one and the ruler still communicates with the gods. Just as the Aeneid is a parable of order and chaos on the cosmological level, on the political level it is a parable for discord and harmony.

These statements could be applied in every detail to Moses and the Moses narrative. The following statement equally applies to the Moses narrative:

“(it is) a parallel world… an ideal spiritual world in which the people and their ruler are still one and the ruler (Moses) still communicates with the gods”.


III  3  The Jewish elite and the national solution

The Jewish elite favoured a national solution for the reorientation and the search for an identity in Galilee,

Caesarea Maritima, water pipeline
Caesarea Maritima, water pipeline

looking back to the great figures of Jewish and Samaritan history and how they were embedded in the history of the Middle East.

The national solution recalls the solutions represented by the poet Virgil and his great epic, the Aeneid, written a generation previously in Rome. Virgil found the great Roman past in the Roman tradition, but followed Rome’s origins even further back into the past.

According to this narrative, the heroes of Troy, whose downfall Homer narrated, were the true ancestors of the Romans. One of them, Aeneas, was the forebear of the Roman kings.


Under Augustus’ imperial rule, the view widened beyond the city of Rome to include the empire, peace within the empire,

Caesarea Maritima, water pipeline
Caesarea Maritima, water pipeline

and the participation of all inhabitants, even including slaves, in the political and religious life of the city of Rome and the empire.

After achieving prosperity, the cities of Asia Minor in Hellenistic and Roman times looked for myths that linked their own past with Greece’s great past.

The pattern was the same everywhere: prosperity created the search for each city’s own significance; its own greatness was explained and idealised through a mythical past and the link to an even older culture.

In her doctoral thesis Mythische Vorväter, published in revised form as a book in 1993, Tanja Susanne Scheer describes many interesting examples of cities outside the Greek mother country.


III  2  The models

Rome provided two models for the search for an identity:

Iraq, Aqar Quf, palm tree
Iraq, Aqar Quf, palm tree

(1) Augustus’ imperial rule and (2) the formal restoration of the Roman republic.

The Roman republic emphasised the national role of the city of Rome and the rule of the Roman senate, that was formally restored and that set down the privileges of the Roman aristocracy and citizens.


The contemporary solution to the legitimacy problem at the time, as was practised both in Rome and in many Hellenistic cities,


was not to found a new religion, but to create a new gallery of ancestors by means of a fictional literature. This gave the citizens the sense of being descended from great forebears, justifying the cultural standards and material prosperity they enjoyed.

The wide dissemination of Jewish settlements, the spread of the Jewish population beyond Judea and the increasing prevalence of reading and writing in Roman times all meant that the Jewish culture was already half-way to becoming a written culture. Only the holy texts had not yet been written down.