History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Currently, the USA and the Roman Empire show interesting historical rhymes. Could it be that the USA will be the arena of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?
Around a hundred years before Jesus, the Empire built the famous Roman streets. These streets allowed a lively exchange of commerce, knowledge, and (religious) ideas between the empire’s nations. The silk route and incense route connected the empire with Arabia, India, and even China. This compares to today’s globalization and that it costs just a few hundred Dollars to fly to the other side of the planet.
Unfortunately, the soaring traffic catalyzed the spread of diseases. At that time, healthcare sucked and doctors were too expensive for the common folk. These days, sicknesses can spread around the globe within days, but at least we have the WTO. On a side note: the healthcare crisis in the Roman Empire was the reason why Jesus was so successful with his healing campaigns.
Rome’s religion (paganism at that time) was somewhat materialistic. It’s purpose was to promote success, not to enlighten or sanctify. Priests divined (told the future) and prepared offerings to promote the Empire’s and people’s success. Also, religion was deeply entwined with politics. Many Roman politicians held key position in the hierarchically structured College of Pontiffs. They had someone like a pope too – the Pontifex Maximus. This reminds of the conspiracy theory and organizations like the Illuminati. Well, there is also the pressure fundamental Christians exert on US politics.
The common sense at Jesus’ time wasn’t religion, it was Hellenism. That’s rational Greek philosophy and compares to today’s scientific-intellectual mindset. The two main groups were the Stoics and the Epicureans, the latter had atheistic inclinations.
What about morals? Rome was ruled by power and money. It was a materialistic-intellectual culture with a cynic aura – ends justified means. The Roman way of life experienced a steep morale decline. According to Dr. James Tabor,* Rome’s expanding economy brought a higher standard of living, and a new wealthy class at Rome. But it also brought political corruption, social dislocation, and moral decline. Political bribery was common; abused slaves on the countryside plantations revolted and were often joined by the oppressed poor. Traditional Roman respect for family gave way to childless marriages, divorce, adultery, prostitution, and pederasty. Rings a bell too? Yep – just the drugs are missing.
At least we don’t have slaves! Really? People are likely to work till they are seventy before they can retire. That’s almost double of the average life expectancy of people living at Jesus’ time. What about poverty? We may have flat screen TVs, but the quality of life is declining constantly. We may wear expensive watches, but we don’t have time.
Periodically, Rome conducted censuses to produce demographic statistics for the purpose of tax collection and security. The New Testament mentions the Census of Quirinius. Check! Taxes are high and there’s the USA Patriotic Act that recently got a more benign name: the USA Freedom Act.
Around Jesus’ time, a man called Judas of Galilee opposed the Roman census. Although the Romans crushed his small army after he looted Herod’s palace, he managed to escape. Thereafter, he made himself a name as a robber and terrorist in Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Instead of facing the Romans in open battle, he formed small combat groups and organized decentralized attacks.
Yes, you heard right: terrorism isn’t a new thing. Judas of Galilee had moral support from Zadok the Pharisee. Zadok was the leader of a religious Jewish sect called the Zealots, who promoted a theocracy. The Zealots had a radical, militant wing – the Seccari, which means dagger-men. They hid daggers below their cloak and assassinated Romans and sympathizers on public places.
Last but not least the USA is continuously drawn into Middle Eastern conflicts. That is an interesting historical rhyme too. 597 BCE, Nebuchadrezzar raided the Kingdom of Judaea and imported half of the population to Babylon as slaves. When those Jews were allowed to return in 550 BCE – almost two generations later – they got into conflict with the descendants of those Israelis who had remained home. In particular the hostility between the Jews and Samaritans lingered on – till Jesus’ time. That’s 550 years of hostility between people of the same ethnic group and a similar religion. I guess it’ll take them a thousand years to make friends with Palestinians, their genetic cousins, and Moslems in general. 🙁
We’re living in a time of globalization, withering religion, declining morality, struggling healthcare systems, a materialistic-rational common sense, high taxes, declining quality of life, terrorism, and religious conflicts. Last time the planet was in such a state, Jesus Christ emerged as prophet and liberator. Interestingly, this happened at a time when the Age of Aries changed into the Piscean Age. Now, we are experiencing such a change again, this time we’re moving from the Piscean Age into the Age of Aquarius. Coincidences or synchronicities? We’ll see.
* Professor of Christian Origins and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte