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The Ancient Roman Writers Who Laid the Foundations of Anti-Semitism

While many, if not most, histories of anti-Semitism begin with early Christian attacks on Judaism, the pseudonymous Dr. Dark Age argues that key tropes of modern anti-Jewish prejudice can be found in the works of such Roman intellectuals as Cicero and Tacitus:

[In his Pro Flacco], Cicero uses an important phrase to describe the Jewish religion: barbara superstitio. This phrase does not translate into “barbarian superstition” as easily as you might think. To understand the insult, you have to grasp its opposite: the ancient Roman concept of pietas. Pietas is a more complex concept than our modern religious idea of “piety”; it required duty and loyalty to the gods, to family, and perhaps most of all, to Rome itself.

Rome’s commitment to its deities . . . was inextricable from Roman patriotic duty. Thus, superstitio was considered not just sacrilegious, but specifically anti-Roman; it made a person an enemy of the state. Meanwhile, barbarus, taken from the Greek barbaros, meant “foreign,” though it could carry connotations of the primitive. Thus the phrase barbara superstitio, when attached to the Jewish religion, renders both the faith and its followers unpatriotic, sacrilegious, backward, and alien.

Cicero’s anti-Jewish views . . . were unusual for Romans at first. . . . A century later, when Rome besieged Judea, the seeds Cicero planted flourished into a full, and poisonous, propaganda campaign. . . .

Tacitus [writing at the time of the Jewish Revolt in 70 CE], doesn’t just demonize the Jews for rejecting Roman religion; . . . his screed against the Jewish people resounds with some painfully familiar anti-Semitic stereotypes: Jews are wealthy; . . . Jews are cliquish and perverse; . .  . Jews are out-breeding “real” Romans; . . . Jews practice sacrilegious rituals. . . . The mythology he creates around the Jewish people paints them as perpetual corrupters, luring people away from their religions, their families, and their patriotic duties on purpose, as though Jews had a singular devotion to destroying all civilizations but their own.

Read more at Public Medievalist

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy