November 14, 2009

Augustus and Apollo and the Jews

In late 4 BC, 50 Judean Jews brought along 8,000 Roman Jews to witness Augustus' hearing of their complaints before Herod's will could be settled. I presume it was at least partly to accommodate this large crowd that the Emperor moved the location of the hearing. For one day, the Temple of Apollo became a large courtroom. Two questions are: (1) Where did the crowd stand (my guess: in the courtyard, with the Emperor presiding from the steps; I don't suspect the interior was large enough for so many) and more importantly (2) Why choose a Temple for the gathering? More specifically, why that particular Temple?

Maybe the occasion simply required more formality than a different venue, but Caesar may also have wanted to emphasize Rome's religious hegemony, which Herod himself had always been too happy to acknowledge. Still, why Apollo's Temple, of all places? Was it simply the site's proximity to the Trans-Tiber district where most Roman Jews lived? Or was Augustus subtly delivering a message? If so, what was that message? I have no idea.

A new book just out from Cambridge by Ovid Scholar John F. Miller is entitled Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets. From the publisher's description:
Apollo’s importance in the religion of the Roman state was markedly heightened by the emperor Augustus, who claimed a special affiliation with the god. Contemporary poets variously responded to this appropriation of Phoebus Apollo, both participating in the construction of an imperial symbolism and resisting that ideological project. This book offers a synoptic study of ‘Augustan’ Apollo in Augustan poetry...

• The only comprehensive treatment of the reflections by Augustan poets on Apollo as an imperial icon • Discusses the presentation of Apollo and Augustus by all five major Augustan poets as well as minor poets • Carefully situates the literature about Augustan Apollo within the broader culture, as known from numismatic, epigraphical, artistic, and archaeological evidence
The book's index does cite Josephus on the 4 BC hearing but and I won't get to read it real soon, but my main question would be what might Augustus have expected the Jews of Rome and/or Palestine to understand about "the Augustan Apollo"? Unfortunately, this is way down there on my list of research topics these days. Maybe someone else will go read Miller and ask these kinds of questions. I hope so.

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