Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.63

Julia Wilker, Für Rom und Jerusalem. Die herodianische Dynastie im 1. Jahrhundert n.Chr. Studien zur Alten Geschichte, 5.   Frankfurt am Main:  Verlag Antike, 2007.  Pp. 564.  ISBN 978-3-938032-12-1.  €69.90.  

Reviewed by J. Andrew Overman, Macalester College (Overman@Macalester.Edu)
Word count: 1427 words

In the eastern provinces from at least Pompey forward it became the practice of Rome to cultivate leading native families and friendly kings through whom imperium could be exercised and order maintained. From roughly the same period the threat and strength of the Parthian kingdom heightened the necessity for Rome to identify reliable and effective eastern lords. This theme and this aspect of Roman foreign policy has been the subject of many important studies over the last decade or so. We may now add to these titles the work of Julia Wilker who has offered a study of one of the most well known and effective of eastern client families; the Herodian dynasty.

This large volume is the result of a 2005 dissertation written at the Freien Universität Berlin. It is an impressive and thorough study of a subject that continues to grow in scholarly interest and impact. Herod and the Herodian family have been the subject of a spate of popular and scholarly literature over the last number of years. Wilker makes extensive use of the leading scholarly voices working on Herodian and Judean history in the first century. There is a lively engagement with contemporary scholarship on Herod, Josephus, and the first Jewish revolt against Rome, all of which are fundamental features of any critical inquiry into the life and influence of the Herodian dynasty.

Certain aspects of this study will be of interest even to those deeply immersed in Herodian history. For example, Wilker has included sections on the influence of the Herodians in the diaspora, the authority of the temple in Jerusalem throughout the Herodian period, and she traces Herodian relations with imperial personnel and emperors through the Agrippas. The majority of scholarship on the Herods focuses on the early years of the dynasty and the provocative role of the Herods leading up to the first Jewish revolt. However, the influence of the Herods in Judea and Galilee after the revolt is important in trying to understand the religious and political developments in the crucial 70-100 CE years. Here Wilker makes an important contribution to a substantial lacuna in the relevant scholarship. These are relatively neglected themes in recent work on the Herodian dynasty. The treatment of Agrippa II in particular is very well done and important for anyone interested in the first Jewish revolt and its aftermath. Wilker's book does indeed fill out the picture of the Herods as a preeminent royal and client family in the Roman east through the first century CE. Along with the study of the Herodian family itself, this volume is important also for historians of the Roman east, the first revolt against Rome, and Roman-Jewish relations.

Wilker begins with a thorough evaluation of the sources. This includes naturally a review of Herodian family according to Josephus in War, Antiquities, and Vita. Greco-Roman and Jewish and Christian sources are also reviewed. Wilker demonstrates a thorough engagement with the Roman sources so vital to this subject but too often only dealt with superficially by Second Temple scholars or scholars of Josephus. Wilker includes a section on the "religiosity of the Herodians" which forms an interesting question that has been pursued of late by Peter Richardson and a few others. This seems far too speculative and probably imposes a category that does not really fit into the world of the Herods. Discrete questions like Herod and the law, or the relationship between Herodian building projects and popular or imperial religious beliefs are questions one can reasonably address. But the "personal religiosity" of the Herodians is probably going too far.

Wilker continues with a treatment of Judea as a province under Rome with illuminating sections on Pontius Pilate, the judgment against Jesus of Nazareth, and Judea under Caligula. Wilker provides a lengthy treatment of the authority of the Temple in Jerusalem discussing the offices, High Priests, the Temple precinct, the Temple treasury, and the general authority of the Temple in the Jewish cult overall. Wilker is persuasive in reasserting the centrality of the Temple in the political, cultural and religious life of the pre-revolt period. The thrust of Wilker thesis is, in light of this background, the Herodian dynasty emerges as effective and longstanding provincial patrons of the province of Judea and clients of their Roman lords. This she displays and argues most convincingly.

One learns much about Antipas, Agrippa I and II, and Berenice as Wilker scours Josephus along with other relevant texts. It seems that Herod the Great comes in for somewhat shorter shrift in this book. In some ways this is a welcome relief. Nevertheless his relationship with Augustus was pivotal in establishing the dynasty on a firm foundation vis-à-vis Rome. Herod as an attractive client lord for Augustus is a crucial early chapter in the history and survival of the dynasty. In particular Augustus' understandable and abiding concern with the Parthian Kingdom helps explain why he might have been drawn to Herod following Actium when by all rights he should have had him executed. For example it seems clear Herod played a crucial role in the retrieval of the standards Roman lost to the Parthians. The retrieval of the standards went on to form a central plank in Augustan policy and imagery. Herod was a reliable anti-Parthian strongman who could control the troubling regions of Galilee and Iturea thanks to the relationships his father Antipater had forged earlier in Transjordan, Syria, and the Nabatean kingdom. Augustus' confidence in Herod the Great's ability to control Galilee and Iturea was confirmed in abundance. This forms a crucial early chapter in the pivotal role the Herods would play as the empire's arm in the east.

The build-up to the first revolt is dealt with in painstaking fashion. All of chapter five is devoted to this important and thorny event. Wilker pays attention to issues of inner Jewish tension as well as the revolt's engagement with Rome explicitly. One aspect of the revolt that Wilker pays too little attention to is the propagandat that was so important to Rome. Here the competition and conflict between Jewish factions is less important, and Josephus' agenda concerning Jewish rebels should be treated with greater hermeneutical suspicion. Rome, especially under the Flavians, needed a win in the East. The crushing of the first revolt became the centerpiece of Flavian propaganda and legitimacy. The revolt itself is less of an issue, save Josephus, and is more importantly a message delivered back home in Rome and abroad to Flavian competitors and foreign threats.

A great deal of work has been conducted on the ground in Galilee and Judea archaeologically over the last twenty-five years. Wilker incorporates some of this, for example in her relatively brief discussion of the Galilean city of Sepphoris in pp.431-438. But other sites like Banias, Omrit, and Hippos-Sussita of the Decapolis, situated on the eastern shore of the Kinneret, are important sites which provide a great deal of new evidence about life in this region in the Herodian period, especially the Agrippa years, in the north. In the Jezreel Valley Legio and Bet She'an are two important sites about which we now know quite a lot. And in the south Caesarea Maritima, Herodium, Masada, and of course Jerusalem, are archaeological sites from the early Roman period which shed a tremendous amount of light on Herodian culture and rule. All of these sites would augment Wilker's reading and interpretation of Josephus in helpful ways. And these archaeological sites capture forcefully the role of the Herodians as Roman clients in a small but pivotal eastern realm.

But these comments notwithstanding, Wilker has provided a thorough and sweeping tour of the history, influence, and fate of the Herodian dynasty in the first century of the Common Era. We see in this work a full depiction of one of the most important and effective power brokers in the eastern empire. This notable family walked a tenuous tightrope serving as Rome's clients and strong arm in Judea, Galilee, Iturea and elsewhere, while at the same time acting as Jewish Kings and patrons to the population of the same region. They worked both sides of the street--that is Jerusalem and Rome--with aplomb and facility, most certainly, it seems, to the benefit of Rome and themselves, and only occasionally the benefit of the population that lived under their parochial rule. This is a most worthy subject for a book, whether one is interested in Second Temple Jewish history, the first Jewish revolt, or Roman imperial politics in the East and Wilker's work provides us with a most satisfying outcome.

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