Apocalypse: The great Jewish revolt against Rome, 66-73 CE

Neil Faulkner sees the destruction of Jerusalem and fall of Masada in the 1st century as the result of a millenarian movement that sought to escape the injustices of an evil empire.

'This is the Masada of the Palestinians’, an anonymous Israeli general is supposed to have said at the height of the battle for the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank in April 2002. New recruits to the Israeli Defence Force regularly swear an oath of allegiance at the ancient fortress of Masada, which fell to the Romans in 73 or 74 AD, and conservative Jews pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for the reconstruction of the Temple destroyed in 70 AD. The conflict in the Middle East today is fought amid the echoes of another war 2,000 years ago, in which an overwhelming military force destroyed a people’s aspiration to national self-determination.

Palestine – by which I mean the southern Levant, today comprising Israel, the Occupied Territories and western Jordan – is one of the bloodiest places on earth.  In antiquity, it lay on one of history’s great route-ways. Caravans laden with eastern exotica destined for the Mediterranean market passed through. Waves of nomadic refugees from the desert – including the ancient Hebrews around the twelfth century BC – were periodically washed up in ‘the Land of Canaan’. And two great centres of early civilisation repeatedly met and clashed here: the Egypt of the Pharaohs and successive Mesopotamian empires ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and others. Consequently, periods of political independence and national unity for the peoples who inhabited the region in ancient times tended to be brief. Palestine was too much a prey to periodic bouts of imperial conquest ever to remain in local hands for long.

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