THE NATURE OF MAN
DID JEWS and Romans just see the world differently? And, if they did, did such contrasting perspectives matter? Attitudes to birthdays may provide an enigmatic clue. Among the more domestic documents preserved among the incised wooden tablets found at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall was a letter, written c. 100 CE, from a Roman woman inviting a friend to a birthday party: “On the third day before the Ides of September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable to me by your arrival.” Romans took birthday celebrations seriously. They were occasions for gifts and banquets, but also for prayers, vows and offerings to the gods. From the time of Augustus there began a fashion for the composition of speeches and poems as birthday presents, like that of Propertius to his girlfriend: “I wondered what omen the Muses had sent me as they stood before my couch in the red sunlight of dawn. They sent me a token that 'twas the birthday of my mistress, and thrice with propitious sound they clapped their hands. May this day pass to its close without a cloud, may the winds be motionless in heaven, and may the threatening wave sink to calm on the dry shore.”1 Throughout the Roman empire the birthdays of emperors and members of the imperial family were celebrated by millions of their subjects. By contrast, Jews had no special ritual at all to mark the anniversary of births. The only birthday marked as such in the Hebrew Bible is that of Pharaoh in Egypt. The difference in practice does not seem to reflect different attitudes to the passing years. As already noted (in Chapter 4), Jews could make great play on the significance of events recurring at the same date on different years. The difference, on which ancient writers are not known to have remarked, may reflect rather different conceptions about the import of getting older, and making progress through the career of life.
THE EFFECT of different perspectives began already before birth. Most Roman women married young, soon after puberty, sometimes even before. Despite the use of contraception techniques—not all of them wholly ineffective—they could expect frequent pregnancies. The result, however, was rarely a large family. Mostly this resulted from a very high rate of infant mortality, but it may also in part have depended on conscious choices. Romans did not write much about birth control. The topic belonged, with sewage disposal, among the necessary but unpleasant aspects of life that people took for granted. The elder Pliny mentions contraception in his voluminous Natural History “only because some women are so fertile and have so many children that they need a respite.” Not that the information he provides, culled from the writings of Caecilius, will have been very helpful: he writes of a “type of spider, called a hairy spider, which has an enormous head. If this is cut open, one finds inside, it is said, two small worms. If, before sunrise, these are tied on to women with a strip of deer hide, they will not conceive … This contraception retains its force for one year.”2 Abortion was treated in the medical literature as, in effect, late contraception. The poet Ovid berates his fictional lover Corinna for aborting her child for cosmetic reasons, but this was a work of erotic elegy, and it is unlikely that ancient abortions were undergone frivolously: “No lioness dares to destroy her unborn young, yet tender girls do—but not unpunished, for she who destroys her own children in her womb often dies herself. She herself dies, and is carried to the funeral pyre with hair unloosed, and everyone who sees her pyre shouts, ‘She deserved it.’ ” Despite the strong likelihood of physical damage, there is little evidence that mothers, or indeed fathers, were psychologically disturbed by the practical measures advocated in the medical handbooks. The physician Soranus of Ephesus, who practised in Rome, and wrote in the time of Trajan and Hadrian a valuable treatise on gynaecology and obstetrics which is still extant, discussed the various possible methods in a quite matter-of-fact fashion: “A woman who intends to have an abortion must, for two or three days beforehand, take long baths and eat little food and use emollient pessaries and abstain from wine. You then need to open a vein and extract a good deal of blood.” The Roman Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus, who taught in Rome under Nero and the Flavians (except for the periods when he was banished by the regime), is said to have forbidden the induction of abortions, but his concern may have been more for the welfare of the state than for the welfare of either the foetus or the mother.3
Up to this point many in secular Western society would find the Roman attitude easy enough to recognize (if not always to approve). A (free) woman's body was her own; she had the right to choose. But the actions of Roman parents when the pregnancy came to term strike the modern observer as more alien. Like the embryo and the foetus, the treatment of the newborn infant, just emerged from the womb, was also left to the discretion of the parents. The point at which a child was accepted into Roman society was not its first breath but the ceremony in which its father, by lifting it up, formally acknowledged its legitimate existence. A baby not vouchsafed such recognition could be killed, left to die by exposure or sold as a slave. In all such cases the infant was treated as not fully human.
The fate of newborns not so acknowledged aroused distress which Romans felt more able to admit in public than the trauma of abortion. Ovid narrates the myth of the girl Iphis, disguised as a boy by her mother because, before she was born, her father told her pregnant mother that they did not have the money to pay for the upkeep of a girl: “if you should bear a girl—I say this with great reluctance; may I be pardoned for the impiety—if you should bear a girl, let her be killed.” It is probable that active infanticide, by suffocation or some other method, was less common than exposure of the baby to die of neglect. At any rate, exposure was common enough to raise issues about the legal status of children found abandoned, as we have seen, and for fiction to capitalize on the romantic possibilities of an exposed child reared by others and reunited in adulthood with its family. This theme had been incorporated into the plots of Latin comedy in the middle Republic, and was still found in the later Ethiopian Story of Heliodorus, in which the heroine, Charicleia, was exposed by her mother, the Ethiopian queen, because she had been born white. Such stories suggest a certain ambivalence about the relative influences of nature and nurture. The abandoned infant of an aristocrat both was and was not a potential aristocrat. The pervasive sense of glory as a quality inherited from ancestors was here in conflict with the real practice of disowning unwanted offspring, and the real practice of adoption of children from one family into another.4 Notwithstanding such romantic fictions, the effect of exposure was presumably usually intended to be a moderately rapid death, although a healthy newborn might survive for quite some time in the open air in the warmer periods of the year, and the application of direct force would probably have been more merciful.
In contrast to Romans, Jews abhorred abortion, except in extreme circumstances, and in all cases infanticide. According to Josephus, “the Law orders all offspring to be brought up, and forbids women either to cause abortion or to destroy the foetus; a woman convicted of this is regarded as a child-killer, because she destroys a soul [psyche] and diminishes the race.” Tacitus, less sympathetically, also notes that Jews “take thought to increase their numbers, for they regard it as a crime to kill an undesired child.” This Jewish attitude was not wholly different from that of Musonius Rufus, but it was strange enough in the ancient world to have come to the notice of the Greek author Hecataeus of Abdera in the early third century BCE: “[Moses] required those who dwelt in the land to rear their children.” Procreation was the first commandment in the Bible: “Be fruitful, and multiply,” and there was a general assumption that, since man was made in the image of God, human life was sacred. The attitude expressed by Josephus inAgainst Apion,that to kill a foetus is to destroy a soul, marked a difference between Jews and Romans, even if real life often involved complications and compromises.5
The Jewish texts do not have much to say about contraception— unsurprisingly, in the light of the commandment to procreate—but they show awareness of various devices in use. The death of Onan after he “spilled his seed on the ground” while having intercourse with his wife was generally interpreted as a prohibition of coitus interruptus, but Hiyya, a rabbinic sage of the late second and early third century CE, is cited in the Babylonian Talmud as having envisaged the use of female contraception when the woman's health is an issue: “Judith, the wife of Rabbi Hiyya, having suffered … agonizing pains in childbirth, changed her clothes and appeared before Rabbi Hiyya. ‘Is a woman,’ she asked, ‘commanded to propagate the race—[or does the law apply only to men]?’ ‘No,’ he replied. And she went and drank a sterilizing potion.” Nor were attitudes to abortion entirely clear-cut. The rabbis could envisage cases in which even very late abortion might be permitted, in contrast to the total ban asserted by Josephus inAgainst Apion and the strong line taken by many early Christians. In the Mishnah, the killing of a child already born is treated as murder, but abortion is not: a foetus only becomes a person when the “greater part of the head” emerges from the womb. From this rule emerged clear rules about the permissible use of abortion if the mother's life is in danger during pregnancy: “If a woman is in hard travail, they cut up the embryo while it is in the womb and bring it out member by member, since the life of the mother has priority over the life of the embryo; but if the greater part of it has already emerged, it may not be touched, since the claim of one life cannot override the claim of another life.” Philo, on the other hand, seems to have treated the killing of a foetus once formed into human shape as murder:
If a man comes to blows with a pregnant woman and strikes her on the belly and she miscarries … if the offspring is already shaped and all the limbs have their proper qualities and places in the system, he must die, for that which answers to this description is a human being, which he has destroyed in the laboratory of Nature who judges that the hour has not yet come for bringing it out into the light, like a statue lying in a studio requiring nothing more than to be conveyed outside and released from confinement.6
On the other hand all Jews, it seems, took for granted that killing the child once born was out of the question. There was nothing in the Bible that explicitly prohibited the most common method of dealing with unwanted children in the early Roman empire, which was exposure, but Philo made an impassioned effort to claim that exposure, as practised by gentiles, was implicitly forbidden by Moses:
As to the charges of murder … of their own children in particular the clearest proofs of their truth is supplied by the parents. Some of them do the deed with their own hands; with monstrous cruelty and barbarity they stifle and throttle the first breath which the infants draw or throw them into the river or into the depths of the sea, after attaching some heavy substance to make them sink more quickly under its weight. Others take them to be exposed in some desert place, hoping, they themselves say, that they may be saved, but leaving them in actual truth to suffer the most distressing fate … [In contrast] Moses implicitly and indirectly forbade the exposure of children, when he pronounced the sentence of death against those who cause the miscarriage of mothers in cases where the foetus is fully formed … When the child has been brought to the birth it is separated from the organism with which it was identified and being isolated and self-contained becomes a living animal, lacking none of the complements needed to make a human being. And therefore infanticide undoubtedly is murder, since the displeasure of the law is not concerned with ages but with a breach of faith to the race.
It is probably reasonable to assume in the light of such comments that Jews were less likely to abandon unwanted infants than other people, but the Mishnah may suggest that the practice was not wholly unknown, even if Jewish parents made the baby's survival more probable by leaving it somewhere where it was likely to be found, rather than exposing it in a “desert place.” In a discussion of the parentage of Jews which might make it illegitimate for them to intermarry with other Jews, the Mishnah refers to a category of individual termed asuji, which is taken to mean “any that was picked up from the street and knows neither his father nor his mother.” In other words, a foundling.7
The grief of parents who exposed their babies must have been assuaged in part by the hope that the infant might be picked up and saved to be a slave in another family, but to be a slave was itself considered by many Romans to be not fully human. The life of a slave was envisaged in Roman law as equivalent to that of an animal put to work by its owner, sometimes as a pet, or for display, more often simply for the benefit of its physical labour. When the novelist Apuleius imagined the life of his hero changed into an ass, with no control over his own person, he was describing what it was like to be a slave who could be beaten, raped or moved from one place to another whenever his master desired. As we have seen, a slave was property in the same sense that animals were property. The elder Cato advised the prudent landowner to dispose of worn-out oxen, poor cattle and sheep, and old and sickly slaves, as superfluous. It should not be his concern what might happen to these living beings once they were off his estate. Not that this general depersonification of slaves was altogether unchallenged in Roman antiquity. Like the killing of infants, treatment of slaves as less than human inevitably evoked a certain unease, if only because, just as infants could grow, so slaves could “become” fully human on achieving their freedom, and even the grandest Roman might one day become a slave. In his mid-twenties Julius Caesar had been captured by pirates in the Aegean and kept by them for nearly forty days before his travelling companions succeeded in raising the fifty talents required for his ransom; if the money had not been forthcoming, he would have been sold as a slave. Aristotle's assertion that a slave is “by nature” servile was difficult to reconcile with such changes of status in their own society. Some eminent intellectuals, like the Stoic Epictetus, who numbered senators among his distinguished pupils, had once been slaves. Stoics in particular worried that degrading treatment of slaves demeaned their owners, since all men are equal citizens of the universe: “Some people say, ‘They're just slaves.’ But they are fellow human beings! ‘They're just slaves.’ But they live with us! ‘They're just slaves.’ In fact, they are our fellow slaves, if you stop to consider that fate has as much control over us as it has over them.” So wrote Seneca, the immensely rich tutor and friend of the emperor Nero, whose own household depended on the work of many slaves. He could encourage them to be satisfied with their lot in life, as he was with his, as all Stoics at least tried to be. But the Stoic appeal to treat slaves as human was a reaction to a society which generally did not. Some Roman slaves wore collars with identification tags, such as “I have run away. Capture me. When you have returned me to my master, Zoninus, you will receive a reward.” All slaves could expect appalling punishment if they tried to escape, from beating to crucifixion or being sold to fight as a gladiator, which meant almost certain death.8
Jews as much as Romans took slaves for granted primarily as domestic workers, but once in the ownership of a Jew a slave could expect much more humane treatment. Biblical law treated a slave as a chattel, fully owned by the master, to whom compensation was to be paid if the slave was injured by a third party, but the master's power to maltreat the slave was limited by the law. If a slave was permanently maimed as a result of a beating, the slave must be compensated with freedom: “if a man smite the eye of his male slave, or the eye of his female slave, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake.” If the slave died as a result of a beating by his or her owner, the owner was to be punished. Occasional comments in postbiblical Jewish literature suggest that many laws requiring humane treatment were in practice ignored, such as (perhaps) the rabbinic aphorism that “the more female slaves, the more lewdness,” which may reflect an assumption that slaves could be sexually abused with impunity in Jewish society as in Roman. But underlying the Jewish attitude to slaves as humans was a principle which it is impossible to imagine in the social consciousness of Romans. The Bible urged that, in treating slaves well, and in particular in giving them their freedom, “you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” The haggadah, the narration of the Exodus performed by all Jewish families before the Seder meal on the first night of Passover, already existed in roughly its present form by the time of the Mishnah in c. 200 CE. It begins with the personal reminder: “We were slaves in Egypt. …” The identification with past slavery must have made a greater impact in a household where domestic slaves themselves participated in the ritual and poured the four cups of wine to each of those present as they reclined on couches in celebration of their present freedom.9
It is less easy to see a clear distinction between Romans and Jews in their ideas about exactly what a human being is. Both were very confused, not least as a result of incomplete and incoherent adoption of Greek ideas about the soul (in Greek, psyche; in Latin,anima), which, among Romans, cohabited uneasily with notions inherited from earlier times, such as the Roman concept of the genius, the “self” which made a man what he was. Such confusion emerged in Rome most starkly in attitudes to the dead. Postmortem existence was not itself a major preoccupation of the Romans, in marked contrast to the Egyptians and, closer to home, the Etruscans, whose influence on Roman culture in other respects had been considerable in the archaic period of the city. Romans espoused quite radically varied ideas about what would happen to them when they died. Epicureans defiantly denied the possibility of any immortal soul or afterlife, as in the tombstone which declares NFFNSNC (non fui, fui, non sum, non curo, “I was not, I was, I am not, I care not”). Vergil writes movingly about the shadowy Stygian realm inhabited by “shades of the past, even as light winds, and most like a winged dream.” There was widespread belief in ghosts, lemures, as frightening shades of the unburied departed, to be appeased at the festival of the Lemuria held each year on three days in May.10
It was generally assumed that only a few, exceptional, individuals might continue to exist after death as individualized divine beings worthy of cult. Cicero provides a rationale for such a belief from within Stoic philosophy in the last book of his philosophical treatise On the Republic, which contains the Dream of Scipio, a vision vouchsafed to Scipio Aemilianus. In this dream, according to Cicero's imaginative text, Scipio's adoptive grandfather, the great Africanus, reassures him about the future, when “all those who have preserved, aided, or increased their fatherland have a fixed place prepared for them in the heavens, where they may enjoy eternal life in happiness.” This was not pure theory: in the depths of his grief for his daughter Tullia, who died in 45 BCE in her mid-thirties, he planned to build a shrine to worship her as a goddess. He wrote to his friend Atticus about his intentions: “I want it to be a shrine, and that idea cannot be rooted out of my mind. I am anxious to avoid the appearance of a tomb, not so much because of the legal penalty as to achieve as much as possible ‘apotheosis.’ ” (It may be significant that he dropped out of Latin into the Greek apotheosis to express the notion of deification.)11 Among the wider Roman populace, for whom the complexities of Stoic philosophy were less important, the possibility of being recognized as a god after death was brought home forcefully soon afterwards with the formal deification in 42 BCE of the dead Julius Caesar. The way in which this event was reported suggests that it was reckoned no small matter, although it should be kept firmly in mind that Caesar was only one god among the many worshipped by Romans: for a polytheistic Roman to call an emperor a god was wholly different from a Christian, who denied the existence of any other gods, proclaiming the divinity of Jesus. Caesar's special status was ratified by celestial confirmation: “He was numbered among the gods, not only by formal decree, but also in the conviction of the vulgar. For at the first of the games which his heir Augustus gave in honour of his apotheosis, a comet shone for seven successive days, rising about the eleventh hour, and was believed to be the soul of Caesar, who had been taken to heaven.” Such apotheosis was generally to be confined in ensuing generations to emperors and members of their family: it was beyond the hope and expectation of ordinary Romans, despite Cicero's earlier plans for his deceased daughter.12
Roman funerary rituals left space for all these varied ideas to cohabit, but only rather uneasily. In the late Republic the very poor were simply buried in huge open pits, but the rich were cremated, with their ashes placed in family tombs. By the early empire cremation had become standard, perhaps as a reflection of the increasing wealth of the population in general. Ensuring a decent funeral was felt to be of sufficient importance for many poorer Romans to pay an entrance fee and a monthly subscription to join a funeral club or mutual society to cover the expenses and make the arrangements. The urns containing the ashes were housed in niches in vaulted brick tombs like dovecotes. Funerals themselves were designed to separate the deceased as clearly as possible from the space of the living, especially that of his or her family. The final resting place must be outside the city “lest the sacred places of the city be polluted”; as a result, the roads leading out of Rome housed a series of cemeteries.13 The cremation or burial, if properly carried out, was believed to permit the deceased to join the ranks of the di manes, the spirits of the dead. Graves had the standard formula inscribed Dis Manibus Sacrum, “sacred to the gods of the dead.” In the imperial period, the name of the deceased was often added. There was a sense that the dead, after proper disposal, became part of a divine group, the manes, to whom the community as a whole offered worship on the last day of the Parentalia each February; the earlier days of the Parentalia, which lasted eight days altogether, were set aside for families to pray for their private dead, above all, parents. The concern whether to recognize as divine dead emperors, most entertainingly reflected in Seneca's Apocolocyn-tosis, “Pumpkinification,” about the deification of Claudius, shows that those in the category of di manes were somehow seen as a lesser form of divinity than the apotheosized emperor. Epicureans must have found it quite hard to fit any of these widespread assumptions to their sceptical ideas, but perhaps no more so than the other general assumptions of their society about the role of religion.
Perhaps most revealing about attitudes to death, and the nature of the person whose self may or may not have died with the physical body, are the words used in consolation of the bereaved. Letters of condolence formed a literary genre of their own. The dialogue addressed by the younger Seneca to a certain Marcia who had lost a son tries every possible means of consolation, from flattery (“if I did not know, Marcia, that you were as far removed from womanish weakness of mind as from all other vices, and that your character was looked upon as a model of ancient virtue, I should not dare to assail your grief…”) to claims that the dead are in a better place:
There is no need, therefore, for you to hurry to the tomb of your son; what lies there is his basest part and a part that in life was the source of much trouble—bones and ashes are no more part of him than were his clothes and the other protections of the body. He is complete—leaving nothing of himself behind, he has fled away and wholly departed from earth; for a little while he tarried above us while he was being purified and was ridding himself of all the blemishes and stains that still clung to him from his mortal existence, then soared aloft and sped away to join the souls of the blessed. A saintly band gave him welcome.
Such letters run the gamut of platitudes that can be produced to try to assuage grief, referring to the qualities of the deceased, the sorrow of all who knew him or her, the need to be strong. “There is no grief which the passage of time does not lessen and soften,” as a friend wrote to Cicero after the death of his daughter. Seneca's consolation presupposed the Greek philosophical concept of the immortality of the soul which became sufficiently part of common Roman vocabulary in the late Republic to appear in verse epitaphs. But such epitaphs show no sign of a coherent picture of the nature of the soul's afterlife. They express wishes and speculation rather than doctrines.14
Incorporation of the Greek notion of the immortal soul was as partial and sporadic among Jews in the late Second Temple period as it was among their Roman contemporaries. In the Hebrew Bible, man was conceived as an animated body rather than an incarnated soul. According to the narrative in Genesis, “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [nefesh].” Most of the authors of the biblical books seem to have envisaged thenefesh as the vital principle which gives life to the body without imagining it as something which could survive in separation from the flesh. For most biblical writers, an individual did not have a body. He or she was a body, animated by the life principle.15
Many Jews in the late Second Temple period continued to subscribe to this simple anthropology, and when the concept of an immortal soul was adopted it was often incoherent. Most impressively confused was the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, a text composed, probably in Greek, sometime between the mid-second century BCE and the early first century CE. The anonymous king in whose person the book is written, clearly intended as Solomon, describes how “as a child I was by nature well endowed, and I obtained by lot a good soul; or rather, being good, I entered an undefiled body.” The author seems unable to decide whether his essence lay in the body (which was given a good soul) or the soul (which was given a fine, pure body). Philo adopted a more rigorous version of the Platonist doctrine of the soul as the only important part of an individual, which needed to be freed from the shackles of the body, and Josephus attributed to the Essenes a similar idea, in this case explicitly described as shared by “the sons of Greece”:
For it is a firm belief of theirs that the body is corruptible and its constituent matter impermanent, but that the soul is immortal and imperishable. Emanating from the finest ether, these souls become entangled, as it were, in the prison-house of the body, to which they are dragged down by a sort of physical spell; but when once they are released from the bonds of the flesh, then, as though liberated from long slavery, they rejoice and are borne aloft … Their aim was first to establish the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and secondly to encourage virtue and to deflect from vice. Indeed, the good are made better in their lifetime by the hope of a reward after death, and the passions of the wicked are restrained by the fear that, even though they escape detection while alive, they will undergo eternal punishment after their decease. Such are the theological views of the Essenes concerning the soul, whereby they irresistibly attract all who have once tasted their wisdom.
Josephus may have coloured his account to some extent in order to appeal to his Greek and Roman readers, to whom he presented the Essenes as an example of practitioners of a praiseworthy Jewish philosophy, but there is no reason to reject altogether what he said about their doctrines. On the other hand, he wrote explicitly about these doctrines as espoused by a specific Jewish group, and it would be unjustified to deduce from his description that these ideas were in fact more widespread: the notion that a human is essentially carnal—a body animated by a spirit—was much more common among the rabbis.16
All Jews seem to have accepted the biblical assumption that physical life in this world is a supreme blessing. In Deuteronomy, Israel is described as given a choice between life and death, a blessing and a curse: “therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.” The life of man was the result of God's plan. Man existed because the Lord God had formed him “out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Life in this world is precious, and the hope that life in another, different world would compensate for disappointments in this world was not standard; in this respect, the doctrines espoused by some in the early Church marked an important break. In fact, there was as much disagreement among Jews as among Romans about what happened to people after they died. Belief in an afterlife was not obviously part of the world-view of any of the authors of the biblical books apart from the author of Daniel chapter 12 (composed probably in the second century BCE), which states that, at the end of days, “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” The Psalmist laments, more pessimistically, that “the dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” The author of Ecclesiastes remarks that “he who is joined to all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.”17
It is all the more remarkable that by the first century CE a belief in some sort of life after death had become widespread among Jews, at least in Judaea, despite lack of agreement even on the basic questions. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Pharisees and Sadducees argued acrimoniously on the subject, to the extent that Paul could break up a meeting of the High Priest's council simply by crying out, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged.” The Gospels describe Jesus as disputing with the Sadducees on the same topic, a rare case of intellectual exchange with them, his arguments being portrayed far more often as with Pharisees:
The same day came to him the Sadducees, saying that there is no resurrection, and asked him, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed for his brother. Now there were with us seven brothers: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife his brother. Similarly the second, and the third up to the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.” Jesus answered and said to them, “You are in error, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.”
By the early third century CE the rabbis cited in the Mishnah and Tosefta insisted on the importance of belief in the afterlife, but the vehemence of their denunciation of heretics who denied the doctrine suggests that the issue was still debated: “All Israel have a share in the world to come … And these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead [prescribed in the Torah].” Rabbis, and indeed Christians, contrived to derive the doctrine of resurrection from the Bible, but only by exceptionally ingenious interpretation.18
All testimonies agree that, in contrast to Sadducees, Pharisees preached the possibility of resurrection, but even Josephus, who claimed in his autobiography to have “gone through” the hard work of learning about Pharisaism and to have decided in his nineteenth year to “govern his public life following the school of the Pharisees,” was contradictory about precisely what Pharisees thought resurrection would be like. Sometimes he implied that they believed “that souls have power to survive death and that there are rewards and punishments under the earth for those who have led lives of virtue or vice.” At other times he described the Pharisaic doctrine as rather closer to the reincarnation of the soul: “Every soul, they maintain, is imperishable, but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the souls of the wicked suffer punishment.” In both descriptions Josephus may have coloured the Pharisee view in order to appeal to his Greek and Roman gentile readers, to whom, at least in these passages, he presents the Pharisees, like the Essenes, as followers of a respectable philosophy. He drops into similar language about the soul as the essence of the individual in the high-flown rhetoric about the morality of suicide he puts into his own mouth in his Jewish War: “Know you not that they who depart this life in accordance with the law of nature and repay the loan which they received from God [only] when He who gave it is pleased to reclaim it, win eternal renown; that their houses and families are secure; that their souls, remaining spotless and obedient, are allotted the most holy place in heaven, whence, in the revolution of the ages, they return to find in chaste bodies a new habitation?”19 Such rhetoric, composed in Rome in the 70s CE, was aimed at Roman readers all too familiar with contemporary discussions in justification or denigration of the spectacular suicides of Seneca, Thrasea Paetus and others of the Roman elite under Nero. The arguments put forward by Josephus against suicide in this passage are nicely balanced by the arguments in favour of taking one's own life he puts into the mouth of Eleazar son of Yair, leader of the Jews on Masada in 73 CE who, as we shall see in Chapter 12, killed each other to avoid falling into Roman hands. Erudite Roman readers will have enjoyed the rhetorical and literary juxtaposition of the two invented speeches. The arguments will have had much less of an impact on most Jews, who took for granted that suicide is simply wrong unless it is clearly undertaken to avoid a worse fate (as in the case of Saul after his defeat by the Philistines) or to achieve some other desirable aim, like the self-inflicted death of Samson which brought with it the destruction of many of the enemy. The rabbis permitted suicide only to avoid committing one of the three cardinal sins of murder, adultery or idolatry. In the short rabbinic treatise Semachot, compiled between the sixth and eleventh centuries but the earliest Jewish discussion of suicide outside the pages of Josephus, suicide is treated as murder, prohibited by an ingenious reading of the verse in Genesis: “For your own life blood, I will require a reckoning.” It seems significant, in contrast to Roman glorification of the noble suicide whose decision to die is taken rationally and calmly, that the rabbis of the Talmud do not seem to have considered such an attitude possible. In later Jewish law it is generally assumed that those who commit suicide must by definition be of unsound mind. Life is assumed to be a supreme good for all, even if, as Josephus asserts, in emphasizing Jewish reverence for their writings, it was “an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth … if necessary, gladly to die on their behalf.” The historian's distinction between such principled martyrdom, which was evidently expected to impress his Greek and Roman readers, and unjustified suicide, which smacked of vainglory, reflected the contemporary debate in Rome, about the value of “noble death.”20
Most of the Jews who, like Josephus, thought or wrote in Greek, picked up vocabulary about the psyche, soul, as the essence of each individual, but for many Jews, the Greek terminology was little more than a fashionable gloss, rather like the use of psychological and other jargon in common discourse today. Thus even Josephus, when he wrote about resurrection in Against Apion, the apologetic for Judaism in which he explicitly contrasted the excellence of Jewish doctrines with the inadequacies of Greek, proved quite capable of describing the future life without recourse to the concept of an immortal soul:
For those, on the other hand, who live in accordance with our laws the prize is not silver or gold, no crown of wild olive or of parsley with any such public mark of distinction, but each individual, relying on the witness of his own conscience and the law giver's prophecy, confirmed by the sure testimony of God, is firmly persuaded that to those who observe the laws and, if they must needs die for them, willingly meet death, God has granted a renewed existence and in the revolution of the ages the gift of a better life.
As we have seen, the early rabbis affirmed dogmatically that the resurrection of the dead would be in bodily form. The Palestinian recension of the standard Jewish daily prayer, the amidah, found in a document discovered in Cairo and dated to the late first millennium CE, addresses God as “mighty, humbling the proud … thou livest for ever and raisest the dead … thou providest for the living and makest the dead alive… .” The body of a dead person was to be treated with the greatest respect. To bury a corpse was a great religious duty: one of the conspicuous acts of piety by the eponymous hero of the book of Tobit had been to bury those who were killed by the king. Burial of a hanged man should take place on the day of death to avoid defiling the land. Corpses contaminated all who touched them or entered into the building or tent where they lay, but, despite this, the duty to bury the dead, particularly close relatives, was more important than the avoidance of pollution: even a priest should incur corpse-pollution to attend the funeral of “his nearest of kin: for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, and for his virgin sister… .”21
The integrity of the body was preserved among all Jews by disposing of corpses through careful burial. The Roman Tacitus asserted that Jews “bury the body rather than burn it, thus following the Egyptians' custom,” but in fact Jews behaved like Egyptians only in the way that both peoples “bestow the same care on the dead,” which meant that, for both peoples, the Roman custom of cremation was anathema. The preference for inhumation was not because of simple conservatism in Jewish society, for the practical methods of disposal used in burial varied considerably. Most Jews were buried in communal rock-cut tombs, with the bodies laid out in coffins on ledges which branched out from central chambers, but some, including those buried at Qumran by the Dead Sea, were buried in single graves marked by heaps of stones placed on the surface. It is possible that these different ways of burial reflected different notions of the role of the individual in society, such as different evaluations of the importance of family ties, but such speculation can hardly be proven. Nor can there be any certain explanation for the adoption in the mid-first century BCE by many Jews in the areas of Jerusalem and Jericho of the practice of ossilegium, the collection of the bones of the deceased after the flesh had rotted away so that they could be carefully deposited in a small casket. Many hundreds of such ossuaries, mostly made of stone but in a few cases of pottery, have been found in the Jerusalem region. Those which have been found in tombs can be dated to the short period from the beginning of Herodian rule to the destruction of the Temple. Scholars have made valiant efforts to provide some religious or other ideological explanation, but without success. The literary sources preserved by the rabbis show awareness of the custom but offer no rationale. Such use of ossuaries was known in some other places, notably western Asia Minor, but not in any other contemporary culture with which Judaean Jews are likely to have made close contact. It has been suggested, quite plausibly, that use of ossuaries reflected a desire by richer Judaeans to mark more clearly the individual within a family crypt, avoiding the anonymity of previous practice, but the best explanation (hard though it may be to accept for those convinced that there ought to be a more serious reason for such an important change) is the same as that offered for the Roman shift from cremation to inhumation in the second century ce—that is, simply fashion. In a society where the rich were impressed by Roman customs, the use of an ossuary was as close as Judaean Jews could get to the Roman use of urns to hold the ashes of the dead. If such an explanation is correct, it emphasizes all the more strongly the Jewish taboo against cremation. It was all right to behave like a Roman—but not if it involved the destruction of the body by burning.22
JEWS AND ROMANS were thus not likely to disagree strongly in their understanding of what it is to be human, but their views were much more divergent when they assessed the place of man in the cosmos. For Jews, the creation myth in Genesis played a central role. The world had been created by a single divine being who retained a constant watch on everything and intervened occasionally in accordance with a plan only partly comprehensible to humans. All Jews were expected to hear the story of the creation once a year when the annual cycle of readings from the Torah reverted to the beginning of the book of Genesis. According to the Mishnah, when the priests and Levites of one of the twenty-four “courses” that took turns to serve in the Temple went up to Jerusalem, “Israelites that are of that course come together to their cities and read the story of creation.” The story was discussed and elaborated, as by the author of the book of Jubilees in the second century BCE:
For on the first day he created the heavens, which are above, and the earth, and the waters and every spirit which ministers before him: the angels of the presence, and the angels of holiness, and the angels of the spirit of fire, and the angels of the spirit of the winds, and the angels of the spirit of the clouds and darkness and snow and hail and frost, and the angels of resoundings[?] and thunders and lightnings, and the angels of the spirits of cold and heat and winter and spring and harvest and summer, and all of the spirits of his creatures which are in the heavens and on earth.
Josephus began his account in twenty books of the “ancient history and political constitution” of the Jews with “in the beginning God founded the heaven and the earth.” In this, so he wrote, he was following the exemplary wisdom of “our lawgiver Moses,” who, when he framed his laws, led the thoughts of his fellow citizens “up to God and the construction of the world, persuading them that, of all God's works upon earth, we men are the fairest… .” Earlier in the first century CE Josephus' predecessor Philo placed at the beginning of his systematic presentation of Mosaic legislation, the Exposition, a treatise specifically dedicated to the creation of the world. According to Philo, Moses implied that the “cosmos is in harmony with the Law and the Law with the cosmos, and that the man who observes the law is constituted thereby a cosmopolites (“citizen of the world”), regulating his doings by the purpose and will of Nature.” The philosopher condemned those who, “having the cosmos in admiration rather than the Maker of the cosmos, pronounce it to be without beginning and everlasting, while with impious falsehood they postulate in God great inactivity; whereas we ought on the contrary to be astonished at his powers as Maker and Father, and not to assign to the cosmos a disproportionate majesty.”23
By contrast to Josephus, Livy's history of Rome “from the founding of the city,” completed in one hundred and forty-two books near the start of the same century, ignored cosmology altogether and launched straight into the myths of Aeneas and the founding of Rome itself. The account of the creation of the cosmos was to be found not in a work of history or moral philosophy, but in the Metamorphoses of Ovid, finished just before he was banished into exile on the Black Sea in 8 CE. The Metamorphoses weaves together a long series of mythical stories culled by Ovid from Greek writings, from Homer and Hesiod down to more recent times:
Before the sea was, and the lands, and the sky that hangs over all, the face of nature showed alike in her whole round, which state have men called chaos: a rough, unordered mass of things, nothing at all save lifeless bulk and warring seeds of ill-matched elements heaped in one … God—and kindlier nature—composed this strife; for he rent asunder land from sky, and sea from land and separated the ethereal heavens from the dense atmosphere. When thus he had released these elements and freed them from the blind heap of things, he set them each in its own place and bound them fast in harmony … A living creature of finer stuff than these, more capable of lofty thought, one who could have dominion over all the rest, was lacking yet. Then man was born: whether the god who made all else, designing a more perfect world, made man of his own divine substance, or whether the new earth, but lately drawn away from heavenly ether, retained still some elements of its kindred sky—that earth which the son of Iapetus mixed with fresh, running water, and moulded into the form of the all-controlling gods. And, though all other animals are prone, and fix their gaze upon the earth, he gave to man an uplifted face and bade him stand erect and turn his eyes to heaven. So, then, the earth, which had but lately been a rough and formless thing, was changed and clothed itself with forms of men before unknown.
Ovid's great achievement was to combine disparate myths into a single narrative linked by the loose rubric of “miraculous changes” brought about by the gods.
Some elements of the story told by Ovid resemble the Genesis account, but the differences matter more. Ovid is unclear about the identity of the creator who brought about the cosmos: “a god and a better nature” or “whoever he was of the gods.” Philosophers like Cicero accepted the argument put forward by the Stoics that the regularities of the heavens proved the operation of a creative mind; the denial by Epicureans of the standard belief that the universe is ordered, and their claim that it was created out of a meaningless set of atoms, was a deliberate rejection of the common view. But what the common view lacked, and what was found in abundance among Jews, was the strong belief that the divine force which had created the world had done so for a purpose, and that this divine force continued to care for and intervene in its creation.24
The divine realm in the imagination of Romans was a society of competition, alliances, strife and friendships—in other words, a realm of relationships much like those of humans. When the gods intervened in the natural world, it was often a result, not of concern for people, animals or other inhabitants of the earth, but of quarrels and scheming among themselves. In the creation myths inherited by Romans from the Greeks, the early history of the world was envisaged as a scene of strife between the original gods, the monstrously powerful Titans, overthrown by the gods of Olympus, who themselves came under attack by the Giants. Strife continued between the gods on Olympus, as family quarrels set Hera against Zeus (in the Roman version, Juno against Jupiter) because of his amorous adventures, or the lame Hephaistos, identified by Romans with Vulcan, against Ares (Mars), the lover of his wife Aphrodite (Venus). The forces which created and now influence the cosmos act in conflicting ways beyond our comprehension.
Romans thought about the gods much as the scientifically illiterate nowadays think about germs, microbes and viruses. We do not all know exactly what such entities are, and we cannot see, touch, hear or smell them at all, but we believe that they surround us in their millions and that they have the power radically to affect both us and the world about us. Some gods were “known” and could be named and expected to intervene in the world specifically or mainly within certain spheres: the divinity Robigus or Robigo, whose festival of the Robigalia was celebrated by Romans on 25 April, was described by some Latin writers as a divinity worshipped for the purpose of averting blight from young cornfields, although his (or her) other characteristics were apparently obscure. Since the cosmos contained an indefinitely large population of gods, most divinities were unknown to humans—hence invocations to a divine figure “sive deus, sive dea” (“be it god or goddess”), and the Roman state prayers which list a series of divinities but still end, cautiously, with “and all the other gods.” Romans thought of these supernatural beings as belonging in a number of different categories: deus (a god who had always been immortal), divus (a god who had once lived as a human), nymph or spirit. Some were more powerful than others, some (like nymphs) generally benevolent to humans, others less so. Some, like the divinities inherent in abstract qualities such as Iustitia (Justice) or Fides (good faith), had no real personality or stories about their characters.
Both cult and myth portrayed Jupiter as ruler within a hierarchy of immortals, but his rule was not absolute, nor the hierarchy entirely secure. The Olympian gods were reckoned generally more powerful than other supernatural beings, but relationships might vary. Thus Roman worship of Fortuna in various forms was common, and at Praeneste (modern Pales-trina) she was considered to be, in her character of Fortuna Primigenia (“Primordial Fortune”), the mother of Jupiter and Juno, but in general both she and her Greek equivalent Tyche were only vaguely incorporated into the Olympian myths, if at all. The attack by Josephus on Greek religion applied equally strongly to Romans—and, as among Greeks, there were Roman intellectuals who disapproved, as much as the Jew Josephus, of common pagan conceptions:
Who, in fact, is there among the admired sages of Greece who has not censured their most famous poets and their most trusted legislators for sowing in the minds of the masses the first seeds of such notions about the gods? They represent them to be as numerous as they choose, born of one another and engendered in all manner of ways. They assign them different localities and habits, like animal species, some living underground, others in the sea, the oldest of all being chained in Tartarus. Those to whom they have allotted heaven have set over them one who is nominally Father, but in reality a tyrant and despot; with the result that his wife and brother and the daughter, whom he begot from his own head, conspire against him, to arrest and imprison him, just as he himself had treated his own father. Justly do these tales merit the severe censure which they receive from their intellectual leaders.
For Romans the existence of the gods was accepted by almost everyone as true but tales about the gods were freely described as the inventions of the poets. It is indeed rather hard to imagine Jupiter approving or encouraging the wide dissemination of the stories about his sexual misdemeanours; these were not stories designed to increase reverence for the gods. Romans did not often ask themselves the function of their myths—it is hard, within a society, to stand back sufficiently from fundamental beliefs and attitudes in order to raise such issues—but a plausible explanation may be that the myths helped to make sense of the world as it was, or seemed to them: a mass of competing, contradictory forces, lacking any overall structure or purpose, in which cataclysmic change by earthquake, storm or death might strike at any time for reasons unknown and unknowable to humans, but a product of the struggles of the gods.25
It is not easy to live with such a shifting, uncertain cosmology, and many Romans sought evidence of greater stability in the universe from the regular movements of the stars and planets. It was common for individuals to have their horoscopes cast, in order to discern what the future might bring, on the basis of the positions of the sun, moon, planets and fixed stars at the time of their birth or conception. The underlying concept which gave credence to such practices was a belief, most coherently expressed by Stoics, that a “universal sympathy” connects all parts of the cosmos, so that a link between events in the heavens and those on earth is not difficult to understand: for the great astronomer Ptolemy in Alexandria in the second century CE, astrology was simply the application in the world of knowledge about the heavens: “Of the means of prediction through astronomy … two are the most important and valid … we apprehend the aspects of the movements of sun, moon and stars in relation to each other and to the earth, as they occur from time to time; [and] … by means of the natural character of these aspects themselves, we investigate the changes which they bring about in that which they surround.” In Rome in the last years of Augustus and early years of Tiberius, the Stoic poet Marcus Manilius composed the Astronomica in five books to teach the value of astrology. Manilius, about whom nothing is known outside his somewhat tortuous work, was evidently steeped in Greek as well as Latin literature, but his rather peculiar use of the Latin language was probably more the result of his rebarbative subject than any unfamiliarity: “By the magic of song to draw down from heaven god-given skills and fate's confidants, the stars, which by the operation of divine reasoning diversify the chequered fortunes of mankind; and to be the first to stir with these new strains the nodding leaf-capped woods of Helicon, as I bring strange lore untold by any before me: this is my aim.” The scepticism of some about the value of astrological predictions was based less on the theory than on the “incompetence” of those popular astrologers whose predictions proved wrong.26
Since astrology was a technical art relating one part of the cosmos to another and it did not require any specific form of worship, or indeed any specific beliefs about how the celestial bodies had come into being, it was just as possible an art for Jews as for Roman polytheists, and Jews were just as likely as Romans to pick up from Babylonia, and from Alexandria in the Hellenistic age, the necessary techniques as well as the ideas which underlay them. In fact, however, astrology does not seem to have been practised by Jews before Hellenistic times. The few passages in the Hebrew Bible which refer to astrology seem to treat it as a Babylonian custom only. It is thus all the more remarkable that the Egyptian Jewish writer Artapanus claimed in the second century BCE that Abraham had once taught astrological methods to the Egyptian pharaoh Pharethothes. Astrological ideas are found in a number of the more esoteric Jewish writings from the late Second Temple period, most notably in some of the Dead Sea scrolls, among which was a Hebrew text written in a simple cipher around the end of the first century BCE, describing in astrological terms the features and destiny of some individual and the configuration of the stars at the time of his birth: “His spirit consists of six [parts] in the House of Light and three in the House of Darkness. And this is the birth-time in which he was born: in the foot of the Bull …” The influence of the heavenly planets on life on earth is taken for granted in much rabbinic literature of the fourth and fifth centuries CE : “There is not a herb which has not a planet [mazal] in heaven which strikes it and says, ‘Grow!’” (so Genesis Rabbah, redacted in Palestine) and “Not the day's planet, but the constellation of the hour has influence” (so the Babylonian Talmud).27
At the same time some Jews expressed reservations about the value of astrological predictions on the grounds that any attribution of influence to the stars and planets might seem to undermine acknowledgement of the universal power of the one God: “There is nomazal for Israel.” The futility of astrological predictions was one of the earliest discoveries of Abraham, according to the book of Jubilees:
And in the sixth week, in the fifth year of it, Abram sat up during the night on the first of the seventh month, so that he might observe the stars from evening until morning in order to discover what the nature of the year would be with respect to rain. And he was sitting alone and making observations; and a word came into his heart, and he said, “All the signs of the stars and the signs of the moon and the sun are in the hand of the Lord. Why am I seeking? If he so wills, he will make it rain morning and evening, and if he so wills he will not send [it] down; and all things are in his hand.”
The design of the blue, scarlet and purple tapestry which hung in the Jerusalem Temple, depicting “a panorama of the heavens except for the signs of the Zodiac,” was probably calculated to avoid encouraging any belief in the power of the stars over human life, although (according to Josephus) the works of art placed just outside the Holy of Holies included the seven lamps of the lampstand, representing the planets, and the twelve loaves of the shewbread on the table, representing “the circle of the Zodiac and the year”: placing these heavenly signs at the centre of God's Temple demonstrated that “all things are of God and for God.” Insistence on the universal significance of the symbolism of the depictions on the sacred objects in the Temple seems to have been a common Jewish theme, although the details of the allegory varied.28
All Jews (apart perhaps from Sadducees) assumed that God cares for and looks after his creation. Josephus in one passage interestingly turned on its head the standard argument that the regularity of the heavens proved that they were the work of a creative mind: according to him, Abraham was
the first boldly to declare that God, the creator of the universe, is one … This he inferred from the changes to which land and sea are subject, from the course of sun and moon, and from all the celestial phenomena. For, he argued, were these bodies endowed with power, they would have provided for their own good order, but, since they lacked this last, it was manifest that even those services in which they cooperate for our greater benefit they render not in virtue of their own authority, but through the might of their commanding sovereign, to whom alone it is right to render our homage and thanksgiving.
The universe created by the one God contained not just the natural, sensible world and the celestial phenomena but also numerous supernatural beings. The account of creation in Genesis concentrated on the relation of God to man as the two most important figures in the cosmological drama, but by the first century BCE Jews, as much as pagan polytheists, envisaged a divine realm whose denizens might have an impact on their lives in unexpected ways. Jews only worshipped one God, but it is an error to think of them as pure monotheists in this period. They often wrote about God as if he was a single divine force, but this was a practice widely shared by pagan polytheists, particularly Stoics, who could and did refer to “god” in the singular even as they participated in the worship of multiple divinities. A strict adherence to monotheism—the belief that the world is affected by only one supernatural being—is hard to maintain, although in later periods some Jews, under the influence of Islam, were to attempt to do so. In the early centuries CE some Jews, such as Philo, came close to describing God as possessed of two natures, a tendency which allowed preservation of the concept of the divine as perfect and unsullied while also allowing for divine intervention in human affairs; such language (as in the depiction of Sophia, Wisdom, in the Wisdom of Solomon, preserved in the Apocrypha) also enabled Jews to envisage the feminine aspects of divinity alongside the masculine. If pushed about the conflict between these ideas and the unity of God, such Jews would probably have defended such expressions as metaphorical. More concrete, and more widespread, was the interpretation of their world by Jews as the product of interventions not only by the God of Israel (however he be described) but also by other supernatural beings, variously described as angels or demons.29
Angels appear as messengers of God already in the Hebrew Bible— ordering Abraham to refrain, at the last moment, from sacrificing his only son, Isaac; feeding Elijah in the desert; protecting the faithful in all their ways. They can appear in human form, but they can also appear and disappear at will. In the imagery of Jacob's ladder, angels are envisaged as commuting between heaven and earth, but other texts envisage them as a celestial host, along with the winged cherubim, on whom God flies through the heavens, and the six-winged seraphim, which stand beside the throne of God in heaven and sing his praises. By the first century BCE many Jews imagined the hosts of angels in much greater detail. According to Acts, Sad-ducees did not believe in angels or spirits; but, even if this report is correct (and it is hard to reconcile with Sadducee acceptance of the authority of the Bible), it would make them exceptions in a world where the interventions of angels and spirits were taken for granted. In the book of Enoch, as in other writings of this period, angels came to be regarded as the controlling spirits of the celestial bodies and the winds and of the seasons, and of abstract notions such as peace and healing. Angels were pictured as a hierarchy, headed by a small group of archangels, designated by specific names— in Enoch, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Phanuel. Other angels also had names: Essene neophytes took an oath “carefully to preserve … the names of the angels,” and many angelic names, often of obscure origin, are preserved in the Talmuds and in Jewish magical literature.
Angels came to be conceived as messengers not only from God to man but also from man to God: when the angel of the Lord revealed himself to Tobit and his son Tobias, he described himself as “Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, who present the prayers of the saints, and who go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.” The author of 2 Baruch imagined the angelic host held in check close to the throne of God, ready to take action on command like an obedient army. The Dead Sea sectarians seem to have had a particular interest in imagining the angelic realm. Some have even argued that the sectarians believed that they themselves were both human and angelic, or even both human and divine. This view is hard to substantiate, but it is certainly not impossible, since the assumption that at least one Jew, Moses, had been “named god” of Israel, and that he had been quasi-divine or become immortal is found in a number of early Jewish writings: Artapanus asserts that Moses was “deemed worthy of honour equal to the gods,” and Philo, presumably inspired by the marvellous circumstances associated with Moses' death as described in Deuteronomy, writes of him that “the time came when he had to make his pilgrimage from earth to heaven, and leave this mortal life for immortality”; Josephus, presumably aware of this tradition, and keen to restate Moses' humanity, asserts that Moses “has written of himself in the sacred books that he died, for fear that they should dare to say that, because of his surpassing virtue, he had returned to the deity.”
Eight manuscripts survive from Cave 4 at Qumran, along with small fragments from Cave 11 and a large fragment from Masada, of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, the angelic praises of God assigned to the Sabbaths for the first quarter of the solar year:
The [cheru]bim prostrate themselves before Him and bless. As they rise, a whispered voice of gods [is heard], and there is a roar of praise. When they drop their wings, there is a [whispere]d voice of gods. They bless the image of the throne-chariot above the vault of the cherubim, [and] they praise [the majes]ty of the luminous firmament beneath His seat of glory. When the wheels advance, angels of holiness come and go. From between His glorious wheels, there is as it were a fiery vision of most holy spirits. Around them is the appearance of rivulets of fire in the likeness of electrum.
One angel in particular, Melchizedek, who is identified with the archangel Michael, is portrayed as presiding over the final judgement: “[And it will be proclaimed at] the end of days concerning the captives as [He said, ‘To proclaim liberty to the captives.’ Its interpretation is that He] will assign them to the inheritance of Melchizedek; f[or He will cast] their [lot] amid the po[rtions of Melchize]dek, who will return them there and will proclaim to them liberty, forgiving them [the wrong-doings] of all their iniquities.”30
Not all these celestial beings are by nature kindly to humanity. There are references to specific malign figures in the Hebrew Bible, such as Lilith, and in the Septuagint translation of the Bible the Hebrew shedim was rendered into Greek as daimonia, “demons.” Such demons came to be thought of as a distinct order of malign spirits at war with the forces of God. The idea emerges most clearly in the Greek manuscripts of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, but this may not reflect precisely the world-view of the author of the original Jewish text of the Testaments, since the Greek version shows signs of considerable rewriting by its later Christian editor. Similar ideas emerge within the Dead Sea scrolls in the sectarian literature itself, as in the Community Rule: “All the children of righteousness are ruled by the Prince of Light and walk in the ways of light, but all the children of injustice are ruled by the Angel of Darkness and walk in the ways of darkness. The Angel of Darkness leads all the children of righteousness astray, and until his end, all their sin, iniquities, wickedness, and all their unlawful deeds are caused by his dominion in accordance with the mysteries of God.” Both the Dead Sea sectarians and other Jews sometimes described these forces of darkness as led by a specific being of particular malevolence, in the scrolls generally Melkiresha or Belial, “the worthless one,” and, in the book of Jubilees, Mastema. Jubilees indeed provides a creation myth to explain Mastema's power as granted to him by God in the time of Noah, when Noah prayed that the polluted demons, which began to lead astray the children of his sons, be locked away.
And the chief of the spirits, Mastema, came and said, “O Lord, Creator, let some of them remain before me, and let them obey my voice. And let them do everything which I tell them, for if some are not left for me, I will not be able to exercise the authority of my will among the children of men because they are [destined] for corruption and to be led astray before my judgement because the evil of the sons of men is great.” And he said, “Let a tenth of them remain before him, but let nine parts go down into the place of punishment.”
The world is thus full of demons, only a few of them specifically identified, like Asmodeus, the evil spirit who strangled the seven husbands of Sara, the daughter of Raguel, according to the book of Tobit.31
Demonic possession is not in fact widely attested in extant Jewish texts as an explanation of illness, but Josephus, in praising the wisdom of Solomon, described an exorcism he had himself witnessed:
God granted him [Solomon] knowledge of the art used against demons for the benefit and healing of men. He also composed incantations by which illnesses are relieved, and left behind forms of exorcisms with which those possessed by demons drive them out, never to return. And this kind of treatment is of very great power among us to this day, for I have seen a certain Eleazar, a countryman of mine, in the presence of Vespasian, his sons, tribunes and a number of other soldiers, free those possessed by these demons, and this was the manner of the cure: he put to the nose of the possessed man a ring which had under its seal one of the roots prescribed by Solomon, and then, as the man smelled it, drew out the demon through his nostrils, and, when the man at once fell down, adjured the demon never to come back into him, speaking Solomon's name and reciting the incantations which Solomon had composed. Then, wishing to convince the bystanders and prove to them that he had this power, Eleazar placed a cup or foot-basin full of water a little way off and commanded the demon, as it went out of the man, to overturn it and make known to the spectators that he had left the man. And when this was done, the understanding and wisdom of Solomon were clearly revealed.
Similar exorcisms are attributed in early Christian literature both to Jesus and to the apostles. The procedure is taken so much for granted by the author of Acts that the only issue raised in the exorcisms described was the authority of the exorcist, which may be insufficient to deal with the demon: “Then certain of the wandering Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ ”32
A modified dualism thus pervades much of Jewish understanding of the world in this period, but it is a qualified dualism. The word satan, to mean “accuser,” appears a number of times in the Hebrew Bible, and the “satan” is responsible for the testing of Job, but Satan starts to appear regularly as a personal name of a demon only in the late Second Temple period, and even then the name is used less often than Belial, Mastema and others. In the Babylonian Talmud, Satan is sometimes just the evil inclination which infects humanity, although the notion that the ram's horn is sounded at the New Year to confuse Satan suggests a more concrete concept of a demonic power. No other Jewish texts give Satan the prominence which he is accorded in the New Testament, where he is mentioned by name thirty-five times. In all the Jewish texts it is made clear, wherever the origins of Satan are discussed (which is not often), that he, like the other demons, is the creation of God, and that, ultimately, his fight against God will end in defeat and subjection: he will be chained by God's holy spirit and cast into a consuming fire.33
This assumption that one benevolent power will always ultimately prevail is what most distinguishes the Jewish perspective on the cosmos from the Romans. Hence for Jews the natural world was inherently excellent because God has a permanent and direct responsibility for it. On the sixth day of the creation, “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” After the flood in the time of Noah, God had made a covenant with the world: “While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” In the words of the Psalmist, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” The role of the creator as artisan of the world was important also for Cicero and Seneca, as it had been for Plato, but for most pagan Romans the wonders of nature provided evidence not of an overall design but of the activities of individual deities, such as Volcanus; worshipped at Rome from early in the history of the city, he was the god of destructive, devouring fire, whose presence, as Strabo noted in the time of Augustus, was particularly felt near the brooding presence of Mount Vesuvius, which was to erupt so disastrously in 79 CE.34 On the other hand, although explanations in terms of intervention by a specific divinity could be given for any natural phenomenon, Romans, unlike Jews, sometimes also sought alternative scientific explanations which might exclude direct divine action. In the second century CE the illustrious medical writer Galen, discussing the nature of eyelashes, explicitly and correctly contrasted his own opinion (which he shared with “Plato and the other Greeks who follow the right method in natural science”) with “the position taken by Moses,” that God can, and does, do the impossible: “for the latter it seems enough to say that God simply willed the arrangement of matter and it was presently arranged in due order; for he believes everything to be possible with God, even should he wish to make a bull or a horse out of ashes. We however do not hold this; we say that certain things are impossible by nature and that God does not even attempt such things at all but that he chooses the best out of the possibilities of becoming.” The whole of the sixth book of Seneca's Natural Questions was devoted to scientific speculation about the causes of earth tremors, prompted by an earthquake which had struck Pompeii and the rest of Campania in 62 CE, some seventeen years before the eruption of Vesuvius that was to destroy the city and much of the surrounding region. Seneca's basic conclusion was the need for resignation in the face of disaster, and the inevitability of death.
We are in error if we believe that any part of the world is exempt and safe from this danger [of an earthquake]. All regions lie under the same laws: nature has not created anything in such a way that it is immobile … It will be profitable also to keep in mind that gods cause none of these things and that neither heaven nor earth is overturned by the wrath of divinities. These phenomena have causes of their own; they do not rage on command but are disturbed by certain defects, just as our bodies are.35
Neither Romans nor Jews had much interest in the aesthetic qualities of natural landscapes, beyond awe at the size of mountains and the force of rushing rivers. The Roman taste for bucolic poetry, such as Vergil's Eclogues (composed in the late 40s BCE) and the seven pastorals written by Calpurnius Siculus in the time of Nero, reveals a nostalgia within the urban elite for a world in a managed countryside of natural simplicity. In practical terms in Rome, this appreciation of tamed nature was manifested in a passion for formal gardens, whether near the centre of a city, like the famed gardens of Maecenas on the Esquiline in the city itself, or as organized “natural” space in the grounds of a villa in the countryside, as in Hadrian's villa in Tivoli. “Natural” features such as streams, hills and caves were reshaped or created, with much use of water and shade to create a pleasant ambience. Topiary, flower planting, carefully sited sculptures and other stimuli to the senses were all part of a leisured, urban appreciation of the delights of an imagined rural life. This aesthetic appreciation of the delights of managed nature was ultimately derived by Romans, through the influence of Hellenistic practices, from the great ritual and royal gardens of the ancient Near East, so it is notable that similar tastes do not seem to have developed to the same extent within Jewish culture, which was equally (or more) open to the same influences. Jews speculated on the primordial garden of Eden, but only as a place of extraordinary fertility. Jose-phus knew, from the account by the Babylonian historian Berossos, about the hanging gardens of Babylon, constructed by Nebuchadrezzar from “lofty stone terraces, in which he closely reproduced mountain scenery, completing the resemblance by planting them with all manner of trees … because his wife, having been brought up in Media, had a passion for mountain surroundings,” but Jews seem to have made no attempt to emulate such horticultural feats. The lawns, groves, carefully laid-out walks and abundant use of water for streams, ponds and fountains in Herod's palace show that he had picked up the Roman taste for ornamental gardens and could afford to indulge it even in the restricted space, and with the restricted water supply, of Jerusalem, but the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested, was a kitchen garden or an orchard. For Jews, delight in nature was generally limited to appreciation of the useful: the ploughed field, the dressed vine or the carefully tended fig tree.36
But the greatest difference between Jewish and Roman attitudes to nature derives from the Jewish view that God cares deeply for the health of the land of Israel. Romans were as aware as Jews of the need for agricultural land to be allowed periodically to rest if it was to remain productive, and detailed practical discussions of fallowing and rotation of crops, and the relation of such practices to yield, are to be found in Roman agrarian writers. But such Roman practices have little ideologically in common with the concept of the sabbatical year in the land of Israel as espoused by Jews. Every seventh year “the land must keep a Sabbath to the Lord … for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” Whatever practical reasons there may originally have been for this Jewish custom, by the first century CE Jews believed that its justification was religious and that the land of Israel, divinely owned, has the right to rest just as does the people of Israel. That Jews observed the sabbatical year was known to Julius Caesar, who, as we have seen, exempted them from tax in those years for this reason, although in later years Tacitus, uncharitably, attributed the practice not to piety but to sloth.37
Nor do Jews seem to have been sentimental about the animal world. According to Genesis, animals had been provided for humans to use. Such use had to be compassionate: a series of stories and rulings in the Hebrew Bible restrict cruelty to animals, most dramatically when Balaam's ass complained with justification at being beaten: “What have I done to you, that you have beaten me those three times? … Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day?” According to one view, expressed in the Babylonian Talmud, some actions generally forbidden on the Sabbath are permitted when their purpose is to relieve the pain of animals: “Rab Judah said in Rab's name: ‘If an animal falls into a dyke, one brings pillows and bedding and places them under it, and if it ascends it ascends.’ ” However, most of the domestic animals about which Jewish legal or ethical literature makes mention are beasts of burden or animals reared for food. Jews do not seem to have had any strong conception of animals as pets or companions. Cats were treated as wild (in contrast to their status as sacred animals in contemporary Egyptian society) and dogs as sheepdogs and guard dogs only; an interesting possible exception is the dog which, according to the book of Tobit, accompanied the hero Tobias to the land of Media and back, perhaps to protect him on his travels. The biblical requirement to let the mother bird go before taking her young from the nest, “that you may prolong your days,” may treat the feelings of the parent bird anthropomorphically, but it more probably reflects a less sentimental, but more fundamental, concept that the divine treatment of humans accords with treatment of animals by humans.38
Roman attitudes to animals seem to have been both more cruel and more sentimental. There was an intense philosophical debate about whether animals have reason and (therefore) need to be justly treated. The conclusion reached by Aristotle and followed in the Roman world by Epicureans and Stoics was negative, and Romans took great pleasure from witnessing the pain and death of animals of all kinds. For the leisured classes, country sports, such as the hunting of boars, stags, foxes and hares, were popular, and the very rich, like the emperor Hadrian, engaged in big game hunting for lions and bears. Ordinary Romans could not afford to participate in such activities, but they could watch the splendid wild-beast fights in the amphitheatres, in which large numbers of exotic animals were killed. Cicero recorded one occasion in 55 BCE when the cries of agony from the elephants being stabbed to death with spears aroused a certain sympathy from the spectators, “and a feeling that there was a kind of fellowship between that huge beast and the human race,” but such compassion was very rare—if it had been more common, the aristocrats who courted popularity by spending huge sums arranging these public exhibitions of slaughter would have saved themselves the expense. The only Jew in the late Second Temple period known to have shared this Roman passion for hunting was Herod the Great. Herod was “always foremost in the chase, in which he distinguished himself above all by his skill in horsemanship. On one occasion he brought down forty wild beasts in one day: for the country breeds boars and, even more, stags and wild asses.” Josephus' reference to boars and asses makes abundantly clear, if it was needed, that this aspect of Herod's persona was not intended to highlight his Jewish side. The two great hunters in the Hebrew Bible were Nimrod and Esau, both treated in Jewish tradition as non-Jews. The hunting envisaged in the Mishnah was not the aristocratic sport in which Herod indulged but the more mundane procedure of trapping animals with nets for food: since, in order to be fit to be eaten by Jews, the animal would have to be ritually slaughtered, the hunting of animals with bows and spears in the Roman style would be useless for that purpose.39
Roman delight in hunting and watching the spectacular deaths of wild beasts proved compatible with an appreciation of tame animals as companions. Romans, like Jews, kept dogs to guard property, but they also kept dogs for hunting and as pets for which, according to the epitaphs some composed, they could harbour real affection: “Drenched with tears have I borne you, our little puppy … Now, Patricus [?], you will not any more give me a thousand kisses nor will you be able to lie happy on my neck …” The younger Seneca and the elder Pliny both assumed that readers of their writings would be acquainted with cats living as part of a household. People kept monkeys, snakes and many kinds of bird, particularly those which could be taught to talk. The elder Pliny records that “Claudius Caesar's consort Agrippina had a thrush which mimicked what people said, which was unprecedented. At the time when I was recording these cases, the young princes [Britannicus and Nero] had a starling and also nightingales that were actually trained to talk Greek and Latin, and moreover practised diligently and spoke new phrases every day, in still longer sentences.” Catullus writes of the deep emotion exhibited by his Lesbia for her sparrow. The care of such tame animals was the perfect example of nature brought under the control of man.40
PERHAPS THE MOST striking contrast between Jewish and Roman views of the world lay in their understanding of the roots of morality. Some thoughtful Romans found ways to justify their conservative moral instincts from the teachings of the Hellenistic philosophical schools, which rarely prescribed specific patterns of behaviour but which encouraged ethical attitudes to ordinary life, reinforcing standard prejudices by different means. Thus Epicureans, despite an undeserved reputation for encouraging hedonism, based on Epicurus' dictum that “pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily,” could in practice adopt a quite ascetic lifestyle: since seeking pleasure is itself painful, the best to be hoped for is the avoidance of pain or freedom from disturbance. Logically such a philosophy should have encouraged avoidance of public life, as Epicurus had indeed advocated, but some Epicureans compromised their beliefs enough to stand for office: Josephus writes of a senator in the time of Gaius that “he had gone through nearly all the magistracies, but in other respects was an Epicurean and therefore was one who practised a life free from business.” It may be that the need for such compromise by those elite Romans who sought public recognition was a prime cause of the decline in popularity of Epicureanism in the early empire. In the late Republic the poet Lucretius had made a powerful plea for Epicurean doctrines in his great Latin poem On the Nature of Things, and his slightly older contemporary Philodemus, originally from Gadara in Syria (just south of the south-east corner of the Sea of Galilee), had popularized Epicurean ideas among young Roman aristocrats in the circle of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the consul of 58 BCE. Philodemus' philosophical writings were recovered in the eighteenth century on about a thousand papyrus scrolls that were found, charred but legible, in the library of a villa in Herculaneum, probably once owned by Piso, which was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. Perhaps such doctrines of disengagement appealed particularly to the troubled generation of aristocrats who reached manhood in the turmoil of the last years of the Republic, when moral certainties in political life were so elusive. At any rate, professions of Epicurean morality are harder to find in the ensuing centuries.41
Much more common in the first century CE, among those who professed a philosophical allegiance of any kind, was Stoicism, a school which, as we saw in Chapter 2, had originated in Athens at the same time as Epicureanism. Stoic teachings had been brought to Rome by a series of Greek philosophers from the mid-second century BCE. As a result, most surviving Stoic literature is a product of the first two centuries CE and most of it was written by philosophers with a close connection to Rome, notably the younger Seneca and, a century later, the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The teachings of Gaius Musonius Rufus, a rich gentleman originally from Volsinii (modern Orvieto, in Etruria), who flourished in the 60s and 70s CE, and of his pupil Epictetus, an ex-slave from Phrygia who had once belonged to Nero's freedman Epaphroditus, are known only through records kept by their students. Many of the discourses of Epictetus were published by one particularly distinguished student, the historian and senator Arrian, who had fallen under his spell. The moral stature of both teachers was magnified by the sufferings they had incurred as a result of their devotion to philosophy, since both were required to endure exile from Rome. Epictetus proved a magnet for enthusiasts when he withdrew from Rome to Nicopolis on the Adriatic following the expulsion of philosophers from Rome by Domitian. The essence of the Stoic view of ethics was the assertion that virtue, moral perfection, belongs in a class of its own; that to be virtuous is to be happy; and that only what is morally perfect can be truly good. All other apparent “goods,” such as wealth and pleasures, are not really good, because they can be used for bad purposes. Knowing what is always morally right requires wisdom, so the virtuous man must be wise. Most things normally considered either good or bad are in fact morally indifferent, and do not really impinge either on the virtue of the wise man or on his happiness. On the other hand, some morally indifferent characteristics (health and wealth) were preferable to others (illness and poverty), so the pursuit of the preferable was philosophically justified, provided that this was recognized as ultimately of little importance compared to the pursuit of the morally good. Such doctrine was perfectly suited to comfort a man like Seneca, the ambitious and immensely wealthy tutor and adviser of the emperor who yet knew, all too clearly, how such fortunes might crumble:
Place me in the most sumptuous home, where gold and silver are in common use: I shall not think well of myself on account of that; they may be in my house, but they are not in me. Remove me to the Subli-cian Bridge and set me among the destitute: I shall not despise myself because I am seated among those who stretch out their hand for alms. If a man does not lack the power to die, what does he care if he lacks a piece of bread? But what follows from this? I still prefer that splendid home to the Bridge …42
The philosophical contradictions inherent in a life devoted to self-advancement, the pursuit of glory, wealth and power, while preaching the unimportance of such values, were thrown into stark relief by the rather more clear-cut and uncompromising ethics of Cynics, like Seneca's friend Demetrius, exiled from Rome, first by Nero and then, after his temporary return, by Vespasian, for speaking his mind. Cynics preached that life should be “lived according to nature,” which, for those who carried out the doctrine wholeheartedly, involved a total disdain for all social norms, and a disregard for material possessions beyond the bare minimum. All social, sexual and racial distractions were worthless, as were power, authority, art and intellectual speculation. Unsurprisingly, those who tried to live according to such beliefs were sometimes treated by the authorities as dangerous anarchists, but attitudes were ambivalent. Cynic diatribes against conventional behaviour had a profound influence on many who did not consider themselves to be Cynics, such as the younger Seneca himself or Plutarch, and Cynic ideas surface frequently in Roman satire. Many who lived a Cynic lifestyle, like the itinerant Peregrinus whose career and spectacular suicide at the Olympic games were mocked by Lucian, saw themselves, and were seen by others, as outside normal society.43
In all this discussion of ethics and restraint of passions and pleasures, religion played little part. It was not that the gods were believed to be uninterested in what humans did—only Epicureans thought that, and they were often unfairly characterized as atheists as a result. Nor was there any lack of commitment to worship of the gods. On the contrary, religious practices were woven into the fabric of the life of every Roman. The gods in general were assumed to approve of good behaviour and to be angry at immorality. But it was all very vague, not least because the gods had not laid down any very specific rules for human behaviour, and there was a curious disjunction between religious practices and moral discourse. No one preached a sermon or read an improving text when Romans visited shrines and altars to make or watch sacrifices and bring offerings. Not all Romans were happy about this state of affairs. A certain Valerius Maximus, who composed during the reign of Tiberius a sententious handbook of illustrative examples of “memorable deeds and sayings,” puts forward rather emotionally the view that religious issues affect all aspects of life. The actions he advocates for emulation are approved because they share characteristics with the gods, especially the divinities who were essentially deified abstractions such as Amicitia, Friendship; and the actions he deprecates had been punished by the gods over the centuries. Epictetus, who held the Stoic view that there is a divine force which shapes and constitutes all things, including man, had to impress upon his students the connection between this abstract notion and the cultic actions they performed every day:
Why do you not know whence you have come? When you eat will you not remember who you are that is eating and whom you are nourishing? When you indulge in intercourse with a woman, who is doing that? When you mix in company, when you take exercise, when you engage in conversation? Do you not know that you are nourishing God, exercising God? You carry God around with you, miserable creature, and do not know it. Do you think I mean some god outside you, a god made of silver or gold? It is within yourself that you carry him, and do not perceive that you are defiling him with your unclean thoughts and filthy actions. In the presence of an image of God you would not dare to do any of those things you now do, but in the presence of God himself within you, who watches and hears all, are you not ashamed to be thinking and doing such things as these, insensible of your own nature and earning the wrath of God?
The passion driving Epictetus' discourse arose precisely from the fact that such a concept of the divine was not obvious to those he addressed, for whom, as for all ordinary Romans, the point of worship was less the reinforcement of human morality than a simple desire to give to the gods their due.44
By contrast, the God of Israel had laid down for Jews exactly how they should live: relations between man and man as well as between man and God. As Josephus expresses the special nature of the Torah in his apologetic treatise Against Apion, the very nature of Moses' legislation is “far more useful than any other; for he did not make piety a part of virtue, but the various virtues—I mean justice, temperance, fortitude and mutual harmony in all things between the members of the community—parts of piety. Piety governs all our actions and occupations and speech; none of these things did our lawgiver leave unexamined or indeterminate.” As far back as the fourth century BCE the philosopher Theophrastus, a disciple of Aristotle, had praised the Jews as “philosophers by race.” Thus in the eyes of others Judaism was sometimes viewed as a philosophy, a way of life on a par with Stoicism, Epicureanism or Cynicism, as much as a form of piety, but for Jews the good life consisted in doing what God required, and to discover what that meant in practice it was, in principle, only necessary to know what was written in sacred scripture and how it should correctly be interpreted. In practice, of course, interpretation varied widely, hence the emergence of philosophical groupings within the philosophy of Judaism—Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and others. Many of the teachings of these Jewish philosophies bear some relation to those of contemporary Greeks and Romans. Josephus refers to the Pharisees as “a sect having points of resemblance to that which the Greeks call the Stoic school,” and the Essenes as “a group which follows a way of life taught to the Greeks by Pythagoras.” He never quite calls Sadducees “Epicureans,” but he does assert of Sadducees that “they place God outside doing or seeing anything bad” and that “they totally do away with fate,” saying that men have complete free will, notions very close to the doctrines of the Epicureans who, as he writes elsewhere (but, in this case, with explicit disapproval), “exclude providence from life and do not believe that God governs its affairs.”45
There is no particular reason to doubt that the moral issues disputed by the Hellenistic philosophical schools were also discussed by Jews in Jerusalem. After all, the Epicurean Philodemus, whose teachings were so influential in late-Republican Rome, came originally from Gadara just across the lake from Galilee, and the great Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo, praised by Josephus for his philosophical expertise, interpreted the Torah entirely through the lens of Platonic and Stoic thought. But Philo's writings also make abundantly clear how Jewish ethics differed from those of Greeks and Romans, because everything in the voluminous corpus of his surviving writings is based on the text of the Bible, and specifically the Pentateuch. Jewish morality was based on divine instructions, the word of God.46
As Josephus stresses, no Jew could profess ignorance of what God required for moral behaviour, because the institution of the synagogue existed to ensure their instruction:
For ignorance he [Moses] left no pretext. He appointed the law to be the most excellent and necessary form of instruction, ordaining, not that it should be heard once for all or twice or often, but that every week [Jews] should desert their other occupations and assemble to listen to the law and to obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge of it … Should anyone of our nation be questioned about the laws, he would repeat them all more readily than his own name. The result, then, of our thorough grounding in the laws from the first dawn of intelligence is that we have them, as it were, engraven on our souls. A transgressor is a rarity; evasion of punishment by excuses an impossibility.
Josephus exaggerates of course, but the essence of his claim about the unique nature of Jews' relationship to their law was true enough. The synagogue as an institution for mass moral education was indeed unique in the Roman world, not least because the closest parallels, the philosophical schools, generally confined their clientele to the intellectual elite. For Jews in the land of Israel as much as the diaspora, the local synagogue was the main place to which they went for religious edification. It was not a holy place, and worship in the form of sacrifices (as in the Jerusalem Temple) could not be performed there, but it did provide an opportunity for communal prayer and, above all, for teaching. What encouraged Jews to “philosophize on the seventh days the ancestral philosophy, dedicating that time to the acquiring of knowledge and study about nature” in “schools of prudence and courage and temperance and justice and also of piety, holiness and every virtue by which duties to God and men are discerned and rightly performed” (as Philo writes), was not an abstract interest in the philosophical underpinnings of life, nor, as in Roman philosophical schools, the pursuit of the nature of happiness or virtue for its own sake, but a very real need to know what behaviour was required of them by God if they were properly to fulfil their side of the covenant agreed by God and Israel on Mount Sinai.47
Religion was the justification for every aspect of Jewish morality, but most Jews believed that moral behaviour was the result of a partnership between God and men. The Essenes, according to Josephus, attributed everything to the will of God, while the Sadducees “do away with fate altogether.” But the stance of the Pharisees, shared also by later rabbis as well as by Stoics, seems to have been more common: they “attribute everything to Fate and to God; they hold that to act rightly or otherwise rests, indeed, for the most part with men, but that in each action Fate cooperates.” In a wisdom saying attributed by the Mishnah to Rabbi Akiva, the paradox is stated even more bluntly: “All is foreseen, and [yet] free will is given.” For Jews, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden had marked the transition of humankind from childhood innocence to adult responsibility. Most Jews in this period seem to have lacked any notion of original sin and a fall from grace such as was to be developed in early Christianity. On the contrary, the covenant between God and Israel ensured that God would show mercy to his erring people like an indulgent husband to a faithless wife, as portrayed by the suffering prophet Hosea: “Then said the Lord to me, ‘Go again, love a woman beloved of a paramour and an adulteress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods.’ ” As in a marriage, Israel was bound to keep her side of the covenant, but she could expect forgiveness when she sinned—indeed, forgiveness was guaranteed to the truly penitent. But it must be true penitence:
The sin offering and the unconditional guilt offering effect atonement. Death and the Day of Atonement effect atonement if they are with repentance. Repentance effects atonement for lesser transgressions against both positive and negative commands; and for greater transgressions it suspends judgement until the Day of Atonement comes and effects atonement. If a man says, “I will sin and repent, and sin [again] and repent,” he will be given no chance to repent. “I will sin and the Day of Atonement will effect atonement,” then the Day of Atonement effects no atonement. For transgressions that are between man and God, the Day of Atonement effects atonement, but for transgressions that are between a man and his fellow, the Day of Atonement effects atonement only if he has appeased his fellow.48
The whole of this moral framework of guilt, repentance and divine forgiveness was alien to the Roman moral discourse of honour and shame.