The period of Roman rule of Eretz Yisrael is important in our consideration of “teaching Israel” for several reasons:
- Continuing the conversation that began with Shivat Tziyon, about the significance of land, autonomy, sovereignty, and exile: if we are living in our land but do not have sovereignty, are we in a kind of exile? Or does exile only refer to physical separation from the land? How important, in our relationship to the land, is political independence?
- Another conversation that continues and blossoms during this period is about Judaism’s relationship to foreign cultures. The Jewish-pagan polarity that is so evident in the Bible becomes much more complex and nuanced during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. This brings us to down to the modern discussion of “what is Jewish culture?” and “What is Israeli culture?” Is any culture that is rooted in Israel ipso facto Israeli? Jewish?
- It is during this period that the basic documents of the Oral Law are codified; thus, the “Jewish Tradition” as we know it, both Halachah and Aggadah, is founded upon the records of the discussions of the rabbis of Eretz Yisrael under the Romans – and this includes, of course, the place of the land itself in that tradition (see lesson 22, The Mishnah).
- The archaeological record of the Roman period is very rich, and is ubiquitous in Israel today. One cannot travel anywhere in the country without encountering it.
- Christians’ connection to Israel, and their images of it, are centered in culture, events, and remains of this period.
- The Great Revolt (66-73 CE) and the Bar Kochba revolt (132-135) are very much alive as symbols forming part of modern Israeli identity (see lesson 21).