Sunday, February 19, 2017

Nero was About Revolution - The Freedom of Greece and Judea/Israel

On page 140 of Rome and Jerusalem Martin Goodman quotes from a surviving Greek inscription: "Other leaders have liberated cities, only Nero a province." There is more to that inscription: (see the ERC project Judaism and Rome where you can read the inscription in full.)

Why did Nero feel that he owed a great debt to the people of Greece?  He granted them independence and freedom from taxation.  This was not what the Roman empire was about.  It was a revolution.  There must have been another reason which wasn't to do with the combative games in whatever form they took. The games receive NO mention in the inscription.  Dio saying this was a very special trip, is propaganda.  That Nero went to Greece was secondary.  In the Spring of 66 his main object was to make war on the 30,000 or so Jewish priests who had killed king Agrippa and were persecuting the prophets.  He would have had no idea of how long it would take to win the war against the priests. Nero was already in a very happy mood when he landed in Greece with a large army.  His army was later mocked in Suetonius's Vespasian.  The Church Fathers, who saw themselves as priests, have edited Dio's and Suetonius's texts. 

Nero was feeling pleased with himself because of his recent victory over the Jewish priests.
In the inscription, Nero is called Zeus Liberator by his Greek hosts.  They understood what that meant in a local and a wider sense. It wasn't just the Greeks who had been given freedom.  In the autumn of 66 Nero had sailed from the port of Caesarea with his army.  He had been in Judea fighting the priests.  He had been let into Jerusalem by the prophets. Then he took by storm the fortresses of Masada, Machaerus and Qumran which the priests had occupied.  The priests were killed, or thrown in prison, supposedly along with Josephus. The temple was left standing with all its wealth.  Five years of peace ensued.  The prophets (obfuscated as Essenes by the Church Fathers) and the people were given their freedom.  Land was sold and marriages were made - activities not usually associated with war.   In the fourth year of the so-called war, Jerusalem was supposed to be under siege, yet coins were being minted in Jerusalem - the last thing defenders would be doing. The so-called coins of revolt were coins of peace and freedom.  The coins carried symbols of items in the sanctuary.  Succoth, a time when the Spirit came down was celebrated on the coins. There were no symbols on the coins to do with animal sacrifice.  Nero left a part of the 10th legion in charge to prevent a reaction.   

Then there was the year of the four emperors. Towards the end of that year, Vespasian saw his chance.  He commanded his son Titus to invade the temple, kill the prophets who controlled it, and take prisoner those that were left alive.  Then he stole anything of value, and set fire to the temple, claiming that it was the Jews fault. The 800 or so prisoners (prophets) would be transported to Rome for Vespasian's misclaimed triumph.  Vespasian used the wealth from the temple to fund his rise to power and later his building program. 

Nero's links with Greece through his tutor Seneca and his Greek secretary Epaphroditus, among others, were deeply ingrained.  The philosophy of the Stoics, of which Seneca was a supporter, had a number of similarities to that of the prophets.  When he was younger, Nero had been a friend of Agrippa, staying with him, and at Ein Gedi.  Many of the prophets lived at Ein Gedi where the priests later massacred whole families.  The prophets, of which Agrippa was one, were for freedom in the spirit. The seeds were sewn of a new spiritual beginning for the Roman empire.  

Nero and his mother Agrippina had become followers of the Spirit like the Jewish prophets. Seneca and Epaphroditus were probably of the same view, as were many other Romans.  

Nero had left the temple intact for the prophets to continue their worship in the sanctuary. This was why the so-called ‘coins of revolt’ issued during the four/five years of peace gave no indication of a destroyed temple. More importantly they showed no antagonism to Rome. What they did show were comments such as: “the freedom of Zion”; "the redemption of Zion"; "Shekel of Israel". These comments indicated that the prophets and their followers had been set free. (The Bar Kokhba coins had comments such as "for the freedom of Zion", indicating that the prophets were no longer free.)  Nero had granted freedom to the prophets and their followers (the majority of the Jewish people) in the same way as he did for the Greeks.   That meant not only freedom from direct Roman rule but also freedom from Roman taxation.  Also the coins depicted emblems that were in the sanctuary. There was nothing about the altar for burned offerings. The priests had been out of business, exiled from the temple, ever since the time of Judas Maccabeus who purged the temple and kicked the priests out. NONE of the Jewish coins, going back to the second century BC, show any activity, such as the altar for burned offerings, of the priests.  They had been causing trouble for kings and prophets many years. To counter this, the Church Fathers interfered with the text of Antiquities a long way back.

Thus we have Nero granting freedom first to the province of Judea and then to the province of Greece. This brought him into conflict with the members of the Roman senate.  Nero must have intended democracy for each country of the empire. He was obviously tolerant of all religions. This liberal minded man preferred peaceful competitions.  He knew what had happened to the Greek empire under the Seleucids.