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The Real Occupiers: Judea, Circa 50 CE


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He ordered the Syrian proconsul Petronius to march his imperial troops to Jerusalem and force the Jews to erect a statue in the Temple.

Petronius led two Roman legions southward, stopping in Ptolemias (Acco) for the winter. There, he was met by a large Jewish delegation, numbering in the tens of thousands, which begged him not to carry out Caligula’s orders. If, however, he insisted on moving forward, they asked to be killed rather than have to witness such a travesty.

Petronius was greatly moved by their courage and determination. He realized that for his mission to be fulfilled much blood would have to be spilled; the Jews would simply not give in. At great personal risk he sent a letter to the emperor, describing the Jews’ resistance and Rome’s folly in persisting.

Interestingly, the aforementioned unrest also spurred a great deal of factionalism among the Jews of Judah. A variety of groups, each with distinct religious, political, and social agendas, competed for the attention of the Jewish people. This list included a number of small sects whose members believed the Messianic Era was at hand. They preached to all who would lend an ear that the ultimate battle of good versus evil would soon be fought, a struggle that would quickly be followed by the prophetically foretold redemption of humanity.

These teachings did not capture the interest of most Jews. Nevertheless, some were susceptible to the arguments, particularly at such a tumultuous time. And while the Judean countryside was filled with numerous charismatic healers and preachers, only one man would achieve a meaningful following. That man was Yeshu (or Jesus) of Nazareth. Through his teachings, as well as those of his apostles, or followers, a new religion, Christianity, was born. The religion would have an immense impact on the Jewish people, and the world as a whole, for the next two millennia.

While we can argue over the veracity of the claims made by the current “occupy” movement, or wonder what ultimately will come from this grassroots ferment, it is certainly not the type of uprising experienced by our people almost two thousand years ago.

For the Jews of Judah, class warfare did not drive their rebellion, nor were they after increased economic opportunities. The Jews were agitated over something far more significant – the ability to live without harassment in their homeland.

In this instance, alas, their efforts failed to bear fruit, and actually accelerated the destruction of the Second Temple and the onset of the present exile.

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