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Useful Notes / Jewish Revolts

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Coinage minted to declare independence from Rome.

"Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice...We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom."
—credited to Elazar Ben Yair at Masada

These were a series of revolts by the Jews against The Roman Empire, which ended with the Jews uprooted from the province of Judea and scattered. This began the Diaspora era, in which the Jews were scattered across the globe. They were not to return to their ancient lands as a nation againnote  until the founding of the State of Israel.

Despite the tragedy of this episode, there is one thing Jews can take pride in. No one had given Rome a fight like that for generations. The defense of the province of Judea was ferocious to the point of fanaticism and required the utmost effort — so much so that the final victory was considered worthy of a Triumph for Titus (he declined it, saying there was no honor in defeating people forsaken by their own god), the Roman general in command, and lifted him to the highest rank. The Arch of Titus in Rome today, while not intended as such, comes off accidently as a backhanded tribute to the valor of the Jews.

This war was ritualistically mourned by Jews through the ages. It was the beginning of the custom of pouring part of the Passover wine on the ground in mourning for the lost Temple as well as the Catchphrase "Next Year In Jerusalem". It was also the beginning of adjustments in Jewish doctrine which included the end of the priesthood, and the increase in the prestige of the Rabbinate, with their expertise in the study of The Talmud.

The Four Gospels were all written after the conclusion of the first revolt and reflect rejection of the sort of ideology which contributed to the rebellions breaking out (notably, Simon the Zealot is convinced to become an apostle of the more peaceable Jesus), as well as numerous retroactive "predictions" of the destruction of the Temple by Jesus, which aren't all that surprising in retrospect. There were rebellions in Judea even after the fall of Jerusalem, most notably the Simon bar Kochba revolt under Emperor Hadrian, who suppressed it, and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina, and forbade Jews from entering the city for 150 years, during which time he attempted to rebuild the city as a pagan colony.

The wars were chronicled by Flavius Josephus, a former Jewish rebel who later sided with the Roman Empire. His books The Antiquities of the Jews and The War of the Jews are considered among the key primary sources for the conflict.

Depictions in fiction


  • Films about Jesus Christ (whose life coincided around this time) often invoke the Jewish Revolt as a broader context for his beliefs and ideas.
    • Nicholas Ray's King of Kings portrayed Judas and Barabbas as Zealots, with Judas sent undercover to Jesus' sect to see if he's on the side of the revolution or not. The Romans likewise wonder if Jesus was a revolutionary against their regime. Ultimately Jesus' sacrifice comes as a result of a mix-up between the Empire and the Revolt.
    • Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ initially shows Jesus advocating revolutionary struggle against the Romans and their collaborationist establishment. Judas, who is Jesus' close friend in this revisionist adaptation, is shown as a Zealot and Sicarii. Scenes such as Jesus charging against the money lenders is shown as a revolutionary action. However, Jesus finally backs away and decides to sacrifice himself. The Final Temptation shows Jesus a vision of the fall of Jerusalem.
  • Broadly parodied in Monty Python's Life of Brian, though the Jewish revolt is mostly used as a metaphor for the increasingly fractious British Left of the 1970s (a criticism that would grow all too painful in the '80s).
  • The documentary Avenge But One Of My Two Eyes by Israeli film-maker Avi Mograbi is a critical examination of the Masada Siege and its place in the cultural memory of contemporary Israel.


  • Marguerite Youcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian briefly chronicles the Bar Kochba revolt and Emperor Hadrian's suppression of the same.
  • The Highlander tie-in novel, "Zealot", deals with Avram ben Mordecai, a Jew who became an Immortal at Masada. He was then taken in by an Immortal Roman general who was part of the siege force.

Live-Action TV

  • The miniseries Masada, about The Siege of the eponymous citadel in AD 73.
  • The miniseries AD: The Bible Continues, while primarily adapting the Acts of the Apostles, is specifically set in the historical periods leading up to the First Jewish-Roman War.
  • The miniseries The Dovekeepers is based on a historical novel which features the same revolt. It has Josephus interviewing two female survivors of the Masada siege, while also chronicling their lives prior to this.

Tabletop Games

  • Avalon Hill's The Siege of Jerusalem