The Twelve Roman Tables against the Two Jewish Tables

English Section / 12 aprilie

Versiunea în limba română

(The Roman Empire subjugates the Kingdom of Heaven - Episode 3, Part I)


The association between "bloody Herod" and his contemporary, "blind Hillel," is disputed in almost all the literature dedicated to the greatest king of Judea and the "wisest leader of the Sanhedrin," but it will become evident in what follows.

The historical contextualization, although it does not bring anything new, is necessary because it selects aspects necessary for the demonstration.

B.1. "It is better to be Herod's pig than his son."

Through atrocity and terror, the reign of King Herod the Great, attested by historians as despotic and criminal, eclipses the confrontation between the Hellenistic/Roman civilization - of which he is a propagator and provider - and that of Judea, which he governs with the intention of aligning it with the Empire, considering it, probably, backward.

In a list that is not based on attested chronology, but on the order of importance from the king's personal perspective, Herod killed his loved wife (he had nine other wives) and her family, and continued with his own sons - the heir, whom he killed a few days before he died himself - followed by the massacre of the Sanhedrin (he killed 45 of its members) and the suppression of any opposition, not to mention chains and torture with eyes gouged out.

Macrobius says: "When [Emperor Augustus] heard that among the boys under two years old, whose killing was ordered in Syria by Herod, the king of the Jews, his own son [of Herod] had been killed, he said: It is better to be Herod's pig than his son" (1) (which is undoubtedly an allusion to the commandment forbidding the consumption of pork).

Of course, the horrors tend to occupy the forefront of the accounts of those times' governance, although cruelty surprisingly alternates with tolerance, and Herod even accepts influences, suggesting that, in fact, in addition to his insatiable thirst for power, he pursues a program that is in the background of the stories, although often competing with the first.

Herod the Great is considered the king of the greatest construction works in Jewish history, a brilliant strategist who has stimulated and given impetus to the kingdom's economic development, as affirmed by, among others, the professor of religion and archaeology, Eric Meyers.

"There is no one in all Jewish history, I could say without hesitation, who has had a greater influence on the material culture and splendor of Israel/Palestine than Herod the Great. His building plan was ambitious beyond expectation, beyond any belief. And his ability to bring both local and foreign resources to his program of public works was unparalleled."

The passion of Professor Meyers is not isolated, and therefore, some have wondered if Herod was not a great misunderstood figure. But..."Beyond any belief"? The expression, even as an imprudent figure of speech, is thought-provoking, promoting the splendor of the Temple rebuilt by Herod, considered a wonder of the ancient world, beyond the humility of life and wisdom of the Book.

Perhaps it is the most fitting image of Herod's motivation himself, under which, with difficulty, a third level of his reign can be discerned, although it should be the first to be examined: the Hellenization of the Jews, the integration of Judea into the Empire.


(1) "When Herod, king of the Jews, heard that among the boys in Syria under two years old whom he had ordered to be killed was his own son, he said: It is better to be Herod's pig than his son."

(Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, Saturnalia/ Book II/Chapter IV:11).


(2) "Jews and the Roman Empire"/ Eric Meyers, professor of religion and archaeology/ Duke University


B.2. History: Divine laws under human laws

From the perspective of the subject of this essay, which aims to highlight the emancipation of man in the presence of God (which is not always a distinct process of distancing from God, simply put), the fundamental difference between Mosaic Law and Roman Law lies in their source: the former is attributed to God, while the latter is attributed to humans (decemvirs, emperors).

In Judaism, Halakha (literature for the practical application of the 613 commandments) is viewed by exegetes as an extension of the original Law given on Mount Sinai, but as a different textual body (1). The development of Mosaic Law in Halakha is primarily an analytical and derivative process (and in accordance with previous decisions in similar cases) that, in order to provide answers to concrete needs in daily life, must rely on deconstruction of the sacred text and intra- and inter-corporal associations, under the premises of faith that the adequate meanings of solutions have been planted in the text by the author, that they are rational/governed by a logic used in common with God, and that they can be highlighted.

In Roman Law, it is viewed as an extension of the Twelve Tables (2), the result of an empirical and heuristic process, where legal solutions to concrete needs were often imposed through struggles, whose victories obliged imperial promulgation and/or, once promulgated, their respect and application by local authority: "... a law [in ancient Rome] reflects someone's pressing need at a given moment. It does not show what the usual practice in the empire was," as quoted by Ramsay MacMullen in (3).

Although processed by the Romans themselves, their laws were strongly influenced by Greek laws and philosophy. When Jerusalem began to orbit around Rome (after the conquest of Judea by Pompey in 63 BCE), Roman laws were not unfamiliar to the Jews, as from 334 BCE (when Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great) until the Maccabean revolt (167-160 BCE), they had undergone the Hellenistic equivalent in the Seleucid Empire (but also under Hellenistic Egypt).

The Hellenistic culture and lifestyle (which prevailed in the Seleucid Empire) created the so-called "Hellenized Jews," who adopted the Greek language, way of life, and Hellenistic customs (they began to participate in the Panhellenic games), translated Scripture into Greek (Septuagint), and while retaining basic Jewish beliefs and religious practices, began to integrate elements of Greek mythology and religious practices, the worship of gods from the polytheistic pantheon, which was seen by some Jews as a threat to their identity and religious belief, causing the Maccabees to react.

The religious (and political) autonomy of Judaism, restored by the Maccabees (the Hasmonean dynasty), according to historians, came to an end when Pompey reorganized the recently conquered territories and included the Hellenistic state of Judea in the Province of Syria as an autonomous client state.

Judea came under the domination of the Roman Empire, which began to introduce elements of Roman law into Jewish practices, such as regulations regarding property, inheritance, and commercial contracts. These transformations were probably enough to connect Judea's economy to the Empire, and the Romans no longer seemed interested in the rest of the Israelite tradition.

In this historical context, in 37 BCE, Herod, later known as "the Great," is said to have entered, and seven years later, in 30 BCE, Hillel became the Nasi, the head of the Supreme Sanhedrin.

Meanwhile, Herod the Great had already shown that he could change the High Priest at will, had exterminated two-thirds of the members of the Sanhedrin, and the Talmud and historians claim that the position of supreme head of religious authority was accessed by Hillel on a separate line, independent of the despot who controlled everything in his kingdom.

Yitzhak Buxbaum writes: "What is striking about the separation of these two men, Hillel and Herod, and their two worlds, is that nowhere in any rabbinic or other source do they appear together. In the stories about Hillel and in his sayings, it is almost as if Herod did not exist. Although Hillel and Herod were, respectively, the greatest personalities of their time - the former in the religious sphere, the latter in the political sphere - these two giants, one of light and the other of darkness, slip past each other untouched, each in his own realm." (4)

For twenty-six years, the despotic king coexisted with the religious leader, as if they did not exist for each other!? It's called surrealism.


(1) The word "halakhah" (from the root halakh, "to walk"), the part of Judaism that refers to legality (as opposed to aggadah, the name given to material, especially from rabbinic literature, that does not relate to legality), embraces personal, social, national, and international relationships, and all other practices and obligations of Judaism.

(Encyclopaedia Judaica/Second Edition/Volume 8/pag. 251)

(2) The Twelve Tables, which established the rights and obligations of Roman citizens regardless of rank, were drawn up by a commission of ten members - the decemvirs - in 451 and 450 BCE and displayed in the Forum, engraved on bronze tablets, with the aim of eliminating arbitrary judgments.


(4) "The Life and Teachings of Hillel"/pag. 60/Yitzhak Buxbaum/First Roman & Littlefield edition 2004

(The second part of this episode will be published tomorrow)


This essay proposes an interpretation that does not exclude the established ones, but adds to them; the criticism it develops on some religious texts is nothing more than the criticism of some texts; readers are warned that the author of the essay did not intend to harm faith and is aware that it would not be a useful or achievable objective.