Great Moments in Stupidity VI: The Jewish Revolt

If your country happens to find itself occupied by the dominant nation in the neighborhood and, for some reason, decides to stage a revolution in order to remedy the situation it must try very hard not to make the same mistakes that were made by the rebels during the First Jewish Revolt if it is to have anything close to a chance of meeting its stated goals.
The Revolt itself wasn’t even planned as such. It began with a doctrinal dispute among two groups of practitioners of the Jewish faith in the form of the traditionalists (who spoke Hebrew and declared that everything God had desired mankind to know was contained within the pages of the Torah) and the Hellenists (who spoke Greek and claimed that God gave mankind credit for at least a semblance of common sense). The Christians, an offshoot of the traditionalists who found most of their converts among the Hellenists and were therefore on everyone’s shit-list, tried to sit this one out but were found guilty by association and dealt with according to the custom of the eventual victors (being used as organic and biodegradable lion-food in the Coliseum).
The Romans, despite the best efforts of both their critics and supporters, were not interested in actually governing their conquered territories but were content to let their subjects govern themselves, worship as they pleased, and go about their daily business with a minimal amount of Roman interference as long as they:
1) Paid their taxes
2) Obeyed the various Roman laws applicable to the situation and
3) Didn’t fight among themselves to the point that the Roman legions had to restore the status quo
In all fairness to the eventual losers of this revolution the Romans themselves or, more accurately through their own arrogance as well as that of its succession of certifiable nut-case Roman Emperors, actually had set the stage for an uprising years earlier when the Emperor Caligula had somehow convinced himself that he was a new species of Roman God and ordered that his statue be erected in all the local temples and further ordered that the local priesthoods offer it prayers and sacrifices appropriate to such a being as himself. The Jewish High Priest refused to desecrate (according to their opinion) their temples in general and the Great Temple of Herod in particular. Things got pretty hot for a few years until the Roman’s, in an act of temporary sanity, assassinated Caligula and thus temporarily defused the crisis. Until religious differences among the Jews spilled over into a generalized civil war.
The Traditionalists and the Hellenists went to war (over the above-mentioned doctrinal disputes) in 66 CE in, of all places, the province of Caesarea; which had been named in honor of Julius Caesar and was thus seen by the currently-reigning nut-case Nero as a direct affront to Roman dignity and honor. Nero responded by ordering his military governor of the province of Syria to gather up the troops, head over to Caesarea, deal with the problems, and then go back home. That was mistake number one because the Governor of Syria, a generalized incompetent by the name of Gessius Florus, was more interested in diverting taxes due Rome to his own pocket and was thus not quite up to facing an organized resistance; which was what the two sides of the civil war became when the Romans decided to intervene.
As is often the case when incompetent commanders lead otherwise good armies into battle, the Romans were soundly defeated. In fact they were even subjected to the humiliating loss of the 12th Legion’s battle symbol, a golden eagle, to the rebels. This of course did not sit well with Nero who responded by sending in the First Century equivalent of Erwin Rommel, the most competent (and ruthless) general in the Roman Army, Vespasian, to deal with the matter.
Thanks to the 60,000 battle-tested soldiers under his command, it took Vespasian less than 2 years to put an end to the better part of the temporary rebellion. The theater of combat then shifted to the area of Jerusalem, where the rebels ordered the execution of any Jew that advocated surrender while the Romans put to the sword anyone that did not immediately surrender. Following the assassination of Nero, Vespasian, with the backing of both the Senate and the army, was proclaimed emperor and left to his son Titus the mopping-up of Jerusalem and a few other pockets of resistance. Junior was even more enthusiastic than his father when it came to defending the honor of Rome and, after a successful siege of the former Jewish capital, razed it and its temple before executing everyone that wasn’t fit for slavery.
The Second (115-117 CE) and Third (132-135 CE) Jewish Revolts against the Roman Empire were nothing more than the actions of a few suicidal survivors. There would not be another Jewish state in the region for nearly 2,000 years.
There are several points that, if future revolutionaries had studied the First Jewish Revolt more carefully, could have saved numerous lives and prevented no less than half the wars fought since the fall of the Roman Empire. We will now examine each point briefly.
1. Keep your intramural, or intra-anything else, arguments to yourself
Had the Jews been content just to fight among themselves, the Romans would never have paid the slightest attention to the matter. But both sides, claiming to be the favorites of God, managed to piss off the Romans. This would be the modern day equivalent of Puerto Rico instigating a war with the : it might sound good until half the Marine Corps and the US Navy showed up and began a generalized ass kicking.
Imagine what the course of world history might have been had the rest of Europe kept their noses (and their armies) out of the internal affairs of and . Sure, some Archduke who wore an atrociously bad hat might have gotten himself and his wife shot in downtown Sarajevo but it wouldn’t have directly led to what we now call World War I, the Russian Revolution of 1917, Adolph Hitler’s rise to power, World War II, the “Cold War,” a few dozen minor regional conflicts, and Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe into a desk at the United Nations.
2. If you have to kill someone, make sure it’s the enemy.
The laws of mathematics clearly state that when you are faced with an enemy of some 60,000 combat veterans, the last thing that you should do is start killing your own fellow revolutionaries, regardless of what side of the local political fence they are from. The object lesson here is “strength in numbers!” All Vespasian had to do was sit back and have an extended tailgate party outside the walls of Jerusalem while waiting for the Jewish rebels to kill each other rather than take any chances with his own men.
3. Religious (or political) zealotry is to be avoided at all costs.
As commented upon in the preceding paragraphs, the whole Jewish Revolt thing started out as Jews arguing among themselves, which led to the Romans having to get both sides to shut up and start paying their taxes again. The Romans, having a plethora of Gods (and adding new ones as each new emperor promoted himself to the rank of deity), could have cared less about the intricacies of Judaic philosophy and theology. All that Roman wanted from Palestine was that they pay their damned taxes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 − eight =