Chapter 2, “Romans and Jews”

I’m back from my vacation hiatus in Las Vegas, where I took in love-him-or-hate-him architect Frank Gehry’s new Ruvo Center for studying Alzheimer’s and related illnesses. If you’re an architecture buff, you’ll find plenty of images on Google to love or to hate at your leisure.

Now back home, it’s time to delve again into Kosher Jesus. In this brief chapter, Boteach contrasts the origins and the sensibilities of the Romans and the Jews. This chapter sketches the Jews in their external environment; the following chapter will outline the diversity within the Judaism of this period before returning to the subject of Jesus.

Drawing again on Hyam Maccoby — though his portraits of Jews and Romans are based on information readily available in numerous sources — he contrasts the brutality of Rome with the origins of the Jewish people in slavery and the Jewish hope of a future world of peace.

Just two points to be made here. Boteach writes,

The Jews planned to fulfill their vision through the intervention of God, not warfare. God’s deliverance would arrive at the right time, preceded by the steady and continuous efforts of man to improve. Moral endeavor, personal goodness, and the betterment of society would pave the way for a messiah, who would bring eternal peace. (p. 16)

This paragraph reads more like a Reform Jewish platform than the Boteach’s own Orthodox Judaism. Quite a few strands of traditional Judaism envision the world becoming worse, not better, before the advent of a Messiah. On the other hand, there are also streams in Orthodox Judaism that speak of the need for humanity to merit the Messiah’s coming, which for Jews means keeping the mitzvot, the commandments. Even so, one wonders that if “society” is perfected before the Messiah arrives, exactly what is it that we would need deliverance from? I suspect Boteach is here playing to a popular audience that believes in human perfectibility.

The second point is that his portrait of the Jewish people is idealized. To be sure, he tells us, correctly, what the classical Jewish hopes were. Yet the reality in the Roman and pre-Roman periods was far from the ideal. Boteach himself mentions Hyrcanus, a descendant of the Maccabees, in the Hasmonean line of rulers. Any history of the Hasmonean period will relate the briberies, murders, intrigue, and corruption that characterized that time, most of which have been sanitized in the idealized story of Hanukkah. Nations are not easily divided into the brutal and the peaceful, even if national ideals tend in one direction or the other.