[SIDEBAR: Roman Empire, Vatican, Jesuits, Jews, England, Christians, Et Al ~
BIBLE AND SWORD, England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour by Barbara W. Tuchman, Best-selling author of A DISTANT MIRROR.
CHAPTER I, ORIGINS: A Fable Agreed Upon
I. Search for an Ancestor
"Our reason for turning to Palestine is that Palestine is our country. I have used that expression before and I refuse to adopt any other."
The speaker was an Englishman, Dr. William Thomson, Archbishop of York, who was addressing the Palestine Exploration Fund in the year 1875. He went on to explain that Palestine was his country because it had given him the "laws by which I try to live" and the "best knowledge I possess". He was of course referring to the BIBLE, the book of the Hebrew nation and its prophets that came in time to be, as Thomas Huxley said, the "national epic" of England.
3. Roman Judaea and Roman Britain. When Britain first emerged out of the fog of prehistory into the pages of Julius Caesar's Commentaries the Temple of the Jews was still standing. During the next century or so, between the time of Caesar and the fall of the Temple in 70 A.D., Rome subjugated both Judaea and Britain. Jews and Britons alike became fellow subjects of the Roman Empire, linked by the omnipresent Roman legion.
Pompey entered Jerusalem in 63 B.C. when the feeble heir of the once great Maccabean dynasty called in Roman help against his equally worthless brother. The Romans, of course, stayed. Pompey reduced Judaea to the status of province, and though it later temporarily enjoyed the rank of dependent kingdom under Herod, it remained part of the Roman Empire.
Parallels between their fortunes continue. The rising of the Celtic tribes under Boadicea and the rising of the Jews in Judaea took place at opposite ends of Nero's empire in the same decade. Both risings were hopeless from the start, both were inspired by fanatic patriotism and maintained by desperate courage, and both failed. In 81 A.D. Boadicea, goaded by Roman brutalities, raised an army whose spiked chariots swept savagely over the Roman settlements in a mighty burst for freedom. It was a valiant stroke that could not be sustained. Roman re-enforcements crossed the channel, crushed the Queen's revolt, massacred her people, and marked the lst attempt of Celtic Britain to throw off the Roman yoke. Six years later when Jewish zealots similarly tried to unseat their Roman rulers, they withstood the armies of Vespasian and Titus for three years. But at the last, starved out, Jerusalem was taken by storm, the Temple razed by fire never to rise again, and Jewish statehood canceled.
What mad notion of succeeding against Rome, when every other nation had failed, had driven the Jews to this? the handsome Titus asked, and he reminded them of the recent defeat of the Britons. In the person of this young general, the future emperor and the "darling of the Gods", Palestine and Britain had met, as he himself was aware. As he stood that day on the crumbling ramparts the flames roared and crackled through the sacred Temple that he had tried vainly to preserve against the fanaticism of its last-ditch defenders and the mob anger of his own troops. From inside the walls rose the stench of months of unburied bodies felled by starvation in the streets. Outside the walls stood a forest of crosses with their rotting burden of civilians caught between starvation and the Romans, captured and crucified by the besiegers as each night they sought to creep out from the doomed city. The walls of the city had only brought its death. Titus, as he looked around, was reminded of another wall that had failed its defenders. "Pray", he asked the prisoners, "what greater obstacle is there than the wall of the ocean which encompasses the Britons and yet they bow down before the arms of the Romans?"
If the coincidence struck Titus, it made an even more profound impression on the English in the Christian era. They believed that the Roman conquest was in expression of the Divine wrath, upon the Britons for being heathen and upon the Jews for rejecting Jesus. The appearance of Vespasian as the instrument of retribution in both instances seemed, in Christian times, clearly an intervention of God. Vespasian himself, a hearty materialist of the reddest Roman vintage, would have been astonished to learn that later generations would refer to him as the divine instrument of a God he had never heard of.
A sense of the romance of history seems almost to insist that, in that moment of time when the fates of Jews and Britons touched briefly, the two rebel peoples must have had some experience of each other. Rome, we know, impressed her subject peoples, including Jews and Britons, into military duty in the auxilliary legions, and these could see service in any part of the Empire. Might there have been any Jewish soldiers in the legions that burned Londinium when it was held by the rebel forces of Boadicea, or any Britons in the legions hat stormed the walls of Jerusalem under Titus?
If evidence could be found anywhere, it would be in the records of the two greatest contemporary historians, Tacitus the Roman and Josephus the Jew. Both wrote of events in which they themselves had participated, Josephus in The Jewish War and Tacitus in his Agricola. But in neigher does any evidence turn up of Britons in Judaea or Jews in Britain.
Despite all these coincidences the historian must come away empty-handed from the search for evidence of actual contact between the two peoples at that time. And from then on their fates diverged. The Jews lost their country, but somehow retained their sense of nationality in exile. The Celts of Britain remained in their country, but lost their nationality under a succession of alien conquerors.
CHAPTER II, APOSTLE TO THE BRITONS: Joseph of Arimathea
The search for national origins was duplicated in the search for religious origins. National pride demanded for the British church a personified founder, sought him directly in Palestine, and found him in the person of Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was the rich Jew and secret disciple who sat silent when the Sanhedrin, of which he was a member, voted to hand Jesus over to the civilian arm of Pilate. Later Joseph came forward publicly to claim Jesus' body and give it burial. He was the first person of wealth and influence to join the new sect and was no doubt regarded as a "traitor to his class", for the Galilean gospel was not addressed to the rich and wellborn.
His legend centers in the Abbey of Glastonbury, the oldest in England, which he is credited with having founded. In one of Tennyson's Idylls of the King a monk speaks:
"From our old books I know, That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury, And there gthe heathen prince, Arviragus, Gave him an isle of marsh whereon to build, A little lonely church in days of yore".
Tennyson of course took Joseph from Mallory's Morte d' Arthur. In that account Joseph, "by forturne come unto thys lande that at that time was called Grete Betayne", was able to "disheryt" a "grete felon paynim" who ruled the country, and "after that all the people withturned to the Crystyn fieythe".
Mallory's work, however, was not the beginning but the end product of centuries of half history, half legend that, with each successive chronicler, increased by what it fed on. By the time medieval chroniclers and romance poets had done with him Joseph emerged not only as the author of eltic Britain's conversion to Christianity and as bringer of the Grail, but also as the ancestor of B ritain's greatest traditional hero, King Arthur, and the link in some mysterious fashiou between Arthur and Israel's national hero King David.
... to be continued ....