Jews and Judaism in the Roman World
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Unit of AssessmentArea Studies
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
There has been a continuing demand for public lectures to audiences of
all ages demonstrating an appetite for understanding the early
marginalisation of Jews: Martin Goodman's research on the place of Jews
and Judaism in the Roman world from the first century BCE to the fourth
century CE has expanded public awareness of the treatment of minorities in
imperial systems, the origins of anti-Semitism, the early development of
Rabbinic Judaism, and the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in
antiquity (which has implications for interfaith relationships in the
present day). Goodman's research findings are also sought after on
undergraduate teaching courses and have advised a historically-themed
The research has been carried out by Professor Goodman as a member of the
Oriental Studies Faculty at the University of Oxford, where he has been
Reader in Jewish Studies since 1991. Combining his expertise in Jewish and
in Roman history, and taking advantage of the rich research environment in
Oxford for Classics and Religious Studies as well as Hebrew and Jewish
Studies, he has sought to use the extensive evidence for Jews and Judaism
in the Roman empire as a means to increase understanding of the variegated
nature of ancient Judaism, the place of Jews and Judaism as a minority
people and religion within a complex imperial system, and the value of the
Jewish evidence for the interpretation more generally of the treatment of
ethnic and religious minorities in the Roman world.
The research has directly tackled the challenges posed by the selective
preservation of evidence about Jews and Judaism in this period by the two
religious systems, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, which emerged from
the world of first-century Jews, and the need to avoid imposing on the
evidence assumptions derived from these later traditions.
Mission and Conversion (1994) challenged the presumption (standard
up to then) that Jewish missionary activity laid the foundations of early
Christian mission, finding the evidence for such missionary activity to be
lacking. In so far as Jewish and Christian traditions were related in this
area, it was through Christian influence on the assumptions of later
rabbinic Jews. By contrast, a project on apologetics in the Roman empire
demonstrated that a highly rhetorical defensive composition by the
first-century Jewish author Flavius Josephus, his Contra Apionem, was an
early example of what was to become a very popular Christian literary
genre in the second century.
Another series of studies investigated the extent to which Jews, as just
one people among many minorities in the multicultural society ruled by
Rome, were really as different from other peoples as was sometimes claimed
in antiquity in the light of the violent uprisings of Jews against Rome in
66- 70, 115-117 and 132-135 CE. Investigation of other groups and
religions in the Roman world showed that preservation of national
characteristics was by no means unique to Jews, and that the impression of
their special nature was largely the result of the preservation of so much
more material by and about them than about other provincial peoples and
These studies culminated in a work of synthetic research, Rome and
Jerusalem (2007), which showed that the war between Rome and the
Jews in Judaea in 66-70 CE, which ended in the destruction of the
Jerusalem Temple and the marginalisation of the Jews in the Roman world,
was the product not of an intrinsic culture clash but a series of
miscalculations by individual Jews and Romans and the political
imperatives of the new Flavian imperial dynasty whose public justification
for seizing power in Rome in 69 CE was the defeat of the Jews and the
destruction of Jerusalem.
References to the research
M. Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem: the clash of ancient civilizations,
(2007). Available on request.
Review: "The whole book is based on
impressive scholarship which is equally at home in the Roman and Jewish
worlds, and is thus something which probably only Goodman could have
written. It would provide an excellent introduction for a newcomer to
Roman or Romano-Jewish history, but also has an important role in the
ongoing academic debate about relations between Jews and Romans." D.
Noy, Journal of Roman Studies 98 (2008), 195-7.
M. Goodman, Judaism in the Roman World: collected essays, (2007).
Available on EBSCOhost via institutional account.
Review: "Those wanting both information but also a fresh way of
thinking about early Judaism in general, or about issues of identity and
authority, religious pluralism, the Temple...the image of God, and
sacred space, will not be disappointed by looking in this collection."
G. Brooke, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32 (5) (2008),
M. Goodman, Mission and Conversion, (1994). DOI:
Review: "In sum: this is an important and stimulating book on an
important subject. It will be widely read and widely cited." S. J. D.
Cohen, Journal Of Jewish Studies 46 (1995), 297-300.
Martin Goodman, ed., Jews in a Graeco-Roman World. Oxford
University Press, Oxford. 1998. (Paperback edition, January 2004).
Available on ProQuest ebrary via institutional account.
essays are truly challenging, and Goodman and his colleagues are to be
commended for their independence of judgment." L. H. Feldman, The
American Historical Review 105(3) (2000), 982-983
Mark Edwards, Martin Goodman and Simon Price, eds., Apologetics in
the Roman Empire: Pagans, Jews, and Christians. Oxford University
Press, Oxford. 1999. Available on request.
Review: "The volume offers
an interesting glimpse of recent trends in English scholarship on
religion in the Roman empire, and that is its strength." N De Lange,
Journal of Jewish Studies 52(2) (2001), 377-379.
Prof. Goodman held a British Academy Research Readership, during which Rome
and Jerusalem was completed. In 2009-2010, he was the Principal
Investigator of a Leverhulme Project on Toleration of Variety within
Judaism from 200 BCE to the present, with a team of three research
Details of the impact
Professor Goodman's research insights - conveyed to a wide audience
through numerous public lectures, his involvement in the creation of the
third episodes of the BBC series Ancient Rome: the Rise and Fall of an
Empire and the BBC documentary Mothers, Murderers and Mistresses,
and especially as detailed in Rome and Jerusalem which has been
widely read outside academia - challenge many common assumptions about the
history of anti-Semitism and the history of the policy of western powers
toward Palestine, and so have influenced the public understanding of
contemporary issues related to the Middle East, as well as the public
understanding of religious communities in a multicultural and civil
Goodman's book Rome and Jerusalem continues to sell well with
over 35000 editions sold in hardback, paperback and ebook format across
the Old British Commonwealth. Foreign editions are also available in
France, Italy, USA, Germany, The Czech Republic, and Poland.
The range of reviews the book has received on public forums such as amazon.co.uk
demonstrates the effect it has had on readers' understanding of the themes
involved. In 2009, Tallscotin stated that "[t]hose who have a fragmentary
knowledge of either Roman or Jewish history will find his book makes
helpful connections. The scope of the study is impressive as is the
authority with which it is written. It is also very accessible in its
writing style". In 2012, Matthew Hosier wrote, "[t]he fact that the Temple
was never rebuilt is a greater anomaly than I had previously understood.
...The main theme through this book is to unpick why Roman hostility
towards Jerusalem was so disproportionate. ...[The book is] very helpful
in gaining a deeper understanding of the social, political and religious
background to the birth of Christianity, and the development of Western
civilisation". Jeremy Bevan also commented, "there's no doubt this is a
major contribution to how we understand the dynamics of an encounter than
changed history decisively, and I have no hesitation in recommending it"[i].
Professor Goodman has further propagated his research findings to a wide
audience, from schoolchildren to much older members of the public, through
an impressive series of public talks and lectures. In Oxford, he convenes
weekly public lectures during term times on general topics within Jewish
Studies during term times on Wednesday evenings at the Centre for Hebrew
and Jewish Studies in Yarnton Manor. These lectures generally attract an
audience of between 30 and 60 people. He also organizes similar public
lectures in London on behalf of the Centre. These lectures are held in
either the London Jewish Cultural Centre or the Jewish Museum, and
generally attract audiences of approximately 100 people. He is chairman of
the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, which exists to bring to the
attention of the public in England the importance of archaeological
research in Israel and its environs, both through lectures (in the British
Museum, UCL or KCL) and through publication of Strata, the
Since 2008, he has twice spoken at the Godolphin and Latymer School
Classics Breakfast Club in London, to an audience of about 70 each time.
His most recent visit was in October 2012; afterwards, one audience member
was compelled to write, "Thank for a fascinating talk on Friday morning.
It has really stimulated my interest in this area and I look forward to
reading your Rome and Jerusalem and The Roman World, both
of which I have just ordered".
It is probable, however, that the research has had its greatest impact on
English Jewish readers, since most requests to give talks come from Jewish
groups. The organizers of these talks are often explicit that they have
been encouraged to send an invitation either by having read Rome and
Jerusalem or by having heard a lecture by Professor Goodman at
Limmud, a British-Jewish educational charity. Lectures for Limmud
generally attract an audience of 100 or more, and Goodman spoke for the
charity on `Ancient Limmud: toleration of variety within Judaism in Second
Temple times' in Leeds and Warwick in 2009[ii].
Other talks delivered by Goodman include: the Michael Weitzman Memorial
Lecture in 2008; `Varieties of Judaism in the Ancient World' to Stanmore
and Canons Park Synagogue, Middlesex[iii]; `Writing a
history of Judaism', to around 30 people at the Jewish Historical Society
in July 2012; and `The destruction of the Temple: the ancient origins of
antisemtis', to an audience of approximately 25 people at DAVAR (a Jewish
cultural group in Bristol) in December 2012.
In 2006, Goodman acted as historical advisor for episode 3 of the BBC
drama Ancient Rome: the Rise and Fall of an Empire. At the time
this programme was watched by 3.3 million viewers[iv],
and since 2008 438 copies of the DVD have been sold in the UK.
He also participated in episode 3 of the 2013 BBC documentary Mothers,
Murderers and Mistresses: Empresses of Ancient Rome, discussing the
life of Berenice. This programme made it to the top 10 of BBC 4 shows for
Goodman is considered an important scholar in his field and many of his
publications are incorporated on undergraduate reading lists. Some prime
examples were evidenced following a series of public and university
lectures in and around Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, in April 2013.
Professor James McLaren, Associate Dean (Research) at the Australian
Catholic University stated that Goodman's publications "are set as
readings for specific topics and as part of the general bibliography. His
research has also informed and help[ed] shape the way subject matter is
presented in lectures". In reference to a taught unit
on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of Sydney, for which Professor
Goodman's publications are also included on the reading list, Associate
Professor Ian Young attested that "Martin's theories play a significant
role in my approach to this course". Professor Suzanne Rutland, also of
the University of Sydney, added that "Professor Goodman's deep scholarship
of the Second Temple Period and Roman world has been impressive and
inspiring to staff and students alike. He gave two lectures to my Jewish
Civilisation class in the course `Palestine: Rome to Islam'... He helped
to provide the students with a deeper understanding of these developments,
and also challenged some of the more orthodox interpretations of the
situation in Judea in first century CE... I know that my students gained a
lot from his approach and I shall be incorporating the material from his
handouts into my lectures in the future".
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Correspondence from Publishing Director, Penguin
 Email from Student, Godolphin and Latymer School
 Email from Customer Service Executive, BBC Shop
 Email from Associate Dean (Research), Australian Catholic
 Email from Professor, Sydney University
Other evidence sources
[i] Customer reviews of Rome and Jerusalem, http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/014029127X/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1
For BBC4 week Jun 10 - Jun 16 2013