The Jewish Revolt against Rome: History, Sources and Perspectives
By Mladen Popovic
The Jewish Revolt against Rome: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. M. Popovic; Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism Vol.154 (Leiden: Brill, 2011)
Introduction: The pursuit of history involves asking questions about the past, which is obviously no longer directly accessible. New data thus generates new questions; however, old data may also attract new questions and new perspectives. Thinking about history is to an important extent determined by contemporary interests and circumstances. As these interests and circumstances change, perspectives and the questions asked change. Setting aside traditions and historical memories, what remains of the ancient past are the contemporary sources that are available to us: literary, documentary, numismatic, epigraphic, iconographic and archaeological. However, these sources are not always simply or directly available to us. Some have been handed down by tradition, which is the case for most of the literary texts, while others have been actively retrieved by modern exploration. What the extant sources share is that they represent only a small part of all source material that was once in existence. Nevertheless, the available sources are the building blocks for scholarly study of the past. The study of each of these sources entails its own methodological requirements, difficulties and possibilities.
The challenge for ancient historians is to understand these sources as distinct and separate but at the same time as part of a shared historical context. Acknowledging the distinct nature of each kind of source and an appropriate method and hermeneutics to approach each one, the integral use of different sources is important because these reveal different aspects of an ancient society. This does not mean that all forms of evidence available to us should be related to each other in order to achieve a single coherent reconstruction. To aim at such a reconstruction would mean to ignore the fact that we have only fragments of the whole. Nonetheless, ancient historians should not focus on only one body of evidence but take all of it into account and assess whether a particular piece provides an answer to the historical questions asked.
This volume brings together different disciplines, some for the first time, and combines fields of research that should not be pursued in isolation from each other should we wish to further our understanding of the broader historical context of the first Jewish revolt against Rome. Several issues with regard to the literary, archaeological, numismatic and epigraphic sources and the historical reconstruction of this conflict warrant further reflection. True to the pursuit of history briefly outlined here, this volume presents new data that generate new questions, as well as new perspectives that shed new light on already familiar data. The perspectives offered by the various contributors are often interdisciplinary, engaging different sources and approaches.