October 30, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Clear 21°C
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Bios & Memoirs



Antony Beevor's account of the Nazi-Soviet faceoff is chilling enough to stop you dead.


What a Time it Was: The Best of W.C. Heinz on Sports

The most underrated and little-known American sportswriter is also the best.


Nothing to Envy

In bleak and dark North Korea, Barbara Demick digs in to find a love story.

Unfamiliar Fishes

With the checkered history of Hawaii at her disposal, Vowell offers mostly kitsch.

Bottom of the 33rd

Minus Easter trimmings, Dan Barry has written a compelling baseball book.

The Long Season

Jim Brosnan's baseball reminscence is a rare bird: Words by a player who can write.

Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty

Jennifer Clark's careful accounting of Fiat's ups and downs is essential Italy reading.

On the Natural History of Destruction

Understanding the whole of World War II requires digging into Sebald's musings.

Street Art Stories – Roma

Tracking Rome street art is a noble cause, but not when words get in the way.

Naples '44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth

Little written about World War II and southern Italy rivals Lewis' memoir.

Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations
By Martin Goodman
Penguin, 2007. 639 pages

Martin Goodman has written a highly informative (and entertaining) book about the Jewish-Roman war which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem. His thesis is that this conflict, one of the pivotal moments in Western history, didn't have to happen. It was a kind of unfortunate accident having more to do with internal struggles for power among contenders for the imperial throne than any irreconcilable cultural differences between Romans and Jews in the first century of the Christian era. What began as a minor revolt in Judea was escalated by the then-general Vespasian into a brute show of force when he most needed a military victory under his belt. The final blow would come after years of worsening relationships between Jews and Romans, when the so-called Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed and Jewish political autonomy went underground until 1948.

Rich in historical and cultural detail, the book examines both the similarities and differences between Roman and Jewish society. Much attention is given to the relationship between Romans and the various ethnic minorities that populated the Empire, in which the Jews were a vital and dynamic element. Goodman has a massive breadth of scholarship, giving us critical reading of Tacitus, Pliny, Josephus (on whose firsthand account of the war all subsequent accounts are based) and the Mishnah. The most striking quality of the book is how the author put both Jews and Romans on equal footing, thereby rejecting the idea that the Jews played a minor — if historically profound — role in the development of what we call Western culture.

The final chapter proposes an intriguing gloss on the origins of anti-Semitism, telling how Jews were transformed from a normal (if highly curious) segment of the Empire into a marginalized people in only a few generations. Christianity, craving acceptance in the Roman world, adopted this hostility toward the Jews as a way of gaining legitimacy. By the time Constantine Christianized the Empire, this anti-Jewish stance was already neatly embedded in both Roman and Christian tradition. Goodman's book chronicles the development of a mindset that has proven durable almost beyond belief.

Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino
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