TURES COLUMN: Divided We Fail: Lessons For The U.S. From The Judean Revolt Against The Romans

Published 9:00 am Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Are Americans more divided than ever?  It certainly seems that way.  I provide historical lessons from the Judean Revolt against the Romans, while one of my students taking college classes from me at LaGrange College, a high school student named Jack Hurd, provides the statistics.

Over the summer, I’ve been giving lectures to our Methodist church groups about the first Judean Revolt against the Romans.  Most probably know that Jerusalem was sacked in 70 A.D.  But few know how the Judeans were winning until their divisiveness did them in.

When Greeks got permission to use the Jewish Temples for their own worship and sacrifices, the Jewish leaders petitioned the local Roman Governor to reverse the policy.  He responded by having the petitioners whipped and jailed.  Executions followed revolts, but the Judeans either massacred or drove away the local Roman garrison, and the Herodians and Roman leader fled.

Roman legionnaires from Syria were ordered in to quash the revolt.  But a united Judean people set an ambush for them and crushed their army at the Battle of Beth Horon.  You could count on one hand the number of times a force could defeat multiple Roman armies in their heyday.  You’ve got Hannibal, Boudica, and not many others besides the Judeans.

But when Vespasian and his son Titus led the Roman armies in from Egypt, the Judeans turned on each other, much like you see mocked in the Monty Python film “Life of Brian.”  Zealots and moderates would kill each other.  Even the Zealots would battle each other in different factions.  When the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, one group of Judeans destroyed the food saved up by city to survive for years, thinking God would save them, or the people would just fight harder.  The capital was destroyed as much by internal in-fighting as anything.  You see these political and religious divisions have hamstrung Israel’s vaunted military and the country’s solidarity.

Hurd, the grandson of a legendary LaGrange College Biology Professor, who writes great papers for my classes, notes “The American political environment is one of intense partisanship and hostility. A Pew Research survey found that about 8 in 10 Americans describe the country’s politics negatively. When asked to describe the nation’s political climate in one word, the top response was “divisive.”  Democrats and Republicans both view members of the opposite party in an incredibly negative light, according to another Pew Research survey. The data showed that the majority of both parties’ members view their political opponents as closed-minded, dishonest, immoral, and unintelligent. The rates of each of these negative responses have increased significantly since 2016. Additionally, 62% of Republicans believe that Democrats are lazier than the average person, and 26% of Democrats feel the same way about Republicans.”

Hurd adds “This antipathy between Americans of opposite political parties has drastically increased in the past 20 years. Moreover, 62% of Republicans and 54% of Democrats have a ‘very unfavorable’ view of the opposite party, whereas in 1994 these numbers were as low as 21% and 17% respectively.”  And as I told Mr. Hurd, 1994 had a lot of divisiveness.  I know because it’s the year I worked as a Senate intern, and that was a tough time in U.S. politics.

Jack also noted in his paper for my class “The majority of both Democrats and Republicans view members of their party as “more moral” than other Americans.  Democrats notably listed Republicans as more closed-minded than the average person 83% of the time. Republicans said the same about Democrats 69% of the time.”

We need to learn from the Judean Revolt, and the current Israeli political crisis, if we are to survive as a country.  Our enemies abroad have learned to exploit our internal divisiveness via propaganda to turn us against each other.  If we don’t learn how to overcome this weakness, we are sure to join others in history who failed not because they took on a tough foe abroad, but because they couldn’t work together at home.