The first terrorists didn't come out of nowhere. They were the product of centuries of Judean social history.

No human endeavor exists in a vacuum, and terrorism is no different. The Sicarii were the product of hundreds of years of social history, which helps explain where they were coming from and, as we’re about to see, what they hoped to accomplish.

PS—Please please PLEASE don’t tell my mom about this page. Although its substance is perfectly in line with what my Jesuit and Salesian teachers taught me (I’m looking at you, Father Cerrato), and the backing research is overwhelmingly by Jewish scholars, something tells me the old Mater Familias will not appreciate my tone. Eyebrows might be raised, if you catch my meaning. So do us a favor and keep it between us, okay?

PPS—Christ on a cracker, did I just say “old”? I’d like a plain wooden coffin, please. Biodegradable and all that.


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Join the conversation! There are now 29 comments on “Pg 13: A brief history of Judea
  1. Jerry Birchmore says

    Why does this story sound so familiar, and a bit more contemporary?

    • Are you implying that what people used to do is somehow similar to what people still do? Because if that’s true, then knowing history might help us come up with insights about the present. And we all know that’s crazy talk.

  2. Martenzo says

    I’ll be honest, the latter half of this one definitely rubbed me the wrong way, and I it wasn’t until a few hours later that the realization dawned. The disturbing undertones were because of the eerie similarity your comic has to various apologisms of colonialism and imperialism I’ve seen over the years. And more personally to myself, the similarity it has to apologisms of Soviet occupation of the Baltics. “Progress” and great infrastructure projects within the confines of an overbearing cultural hegemony do not and should not outweigh a people’s desire self-determination.

    • I can see lots of reasons why this page would rub people the wrong way, but I have to admit I hadn’t thought of this one. I did want to show the evolution of the Judean identity as a distinct culture, with internal clashes over what that culture ought to be, and how much self-determination they wanted. But I wasn’t trying to say one side was more right than the other. There were Judeans who thought Hellenization and Romanization were awesome, and there were Judeans who thought is was awful. (And there were plenty who couldn’t have cared less, either way.)

      I thought the Soviet apologia for their annexation was that the Baltics had been part of imperial Russia, so they were merely reuniting a common people. I don’t think any of the empires here thought that way about Judah. It was a useful client state along an important trade route, so the empires wanted to control it, but none of them thought of its people as “us”. As for colonialism/imperialism, I doubt any of the empires did what they did under the guise of altruism or delivering civilization to less-developed peoples. They did it to protect their own interests. Usually benignly, but brutally when need be. Herod’s governance is an excellent example of infrastructure and progress NOT outweighing the popular sense of how legitimate his authority was.

      But now that you mention it, I can see where you’re coming from.

      • While not directly related to the comic page itself, the justification that the Baltics were once part of the Russian Empire is, from a legal perspective, a very flimsy reasoning. When the Soviet Union (then Soviet Russia) signed peace treaties with the three Baltic States, all three of the peace treaties explicity each had an article where the Soviet Union “renounced in perpetuity all rights to the territory” of each of the three nations. The reasoning that “it was part of the Russian Empire” is as flimsy as the interwar Soviet Union trying to press a territorial claims on Alaska. Difference being that the US is far too large and strong to go into war over such flimsy excuses.

        But, when that particular excuse is debunked is where you’ll see most Soviet apologists switching tactics to the “But look at all the roads and railways and factories the Union built in the Baltics (for the benefit of the Red Army)” justification that rang familiar to me from your own arguments in favor of the Romans.

        I have a whole rant on why that apology doesn’t really work either (the core point being, the infrastructure projects cement the overlords position despite any coincidental benefits to the local population, and make return to independence more difficult in the long term), but that’s even less relevant to the comic at hand, and goes more into matters of economics and demographics than into matters of law.

        Anyway, to go back to your comic, I think after reading your response, I can put into words another part that made knee-jerk at the whole of the pro-Rome argumentation. It’s good on you that you tried to avoid making it seem like one side is more right that the other. This might just be in the eye of the beholder, but I’m definitely reading an undertone of “the Judeans might have been wrong to desire self-determination at all” in places. Which is just so utterly reprehensibly imperialist-chauvinist of a viewpoint in my mind that it can’t possibly be right. I can argue that the Judeans were wrong to pursue self-determination in the various (disorganized) methods they did, or at the time they did. I might even argue that Rome wasn’t in the wrong to resort to violence in their effort to maintain order, given the events and the norms of the time period.

        But I can’t and won’t argue that a pursuit of self-determination can be wrong in itself. A fundamental desire for self-determination is just and right by definition, even if the people of the time did not put their goals and philosophies into those modern terms. There might be a schism where those who desire self-determination and those who don’t split into two separate societies, but that doesn’t make either side wrong either. There’s room for compromise there. But to claim that any group of people can be wrong to desire self-determination at all, well. I’ve put into words an idea so reprehensible that I’d rather take up arms and die fighting against it, than see it come into dominance in my own society.

        Which, I suppose, ties very well into the entire debate of why people turn to terrorism and how they justify it to themselves.

        • Thank you, I clearly only had a surface-level understanding of the Baltic annexation!

          As for being “pro-Rome” I’m going to have to take the blame for miscommunicating, because I wasn’t trying to be pro-anybody. Pompey had his reasons for invading Jerusalem, but I wasn’t trying to paint him as a good guy or a bad guy. That bit about Herod I think actually makes your point: that no matter how much a government does, if the people don’t see that government as legitimate then its accomplishments will never outweigh the injustice.

          Which is exactly one of the feelings I want this page to leave us with, as we head to the next one.

        • Does that belief in the right to self-determination carry through to the Confederacy? The idea of Negro freedom, much less equality, was to them “an idea so reprehensible that I’d rather take up arms and die fighting against it, than see it come into dominance in my own society”, after all.

        • “the core point being, the infrastructure projects cement the overlords position despite any coincidental benefits to the local population, and make return to independence more difficult in the long term”

          Ah. And that’s why rebels, insurrectionists and revolutionaries tend to target national infrastructure (such as bridges, tunnels, railroads, rail stations, power plants, etc.) Take away the benefits provided by the state, and (the hypothetical insurrectionist) you are potentially hurting the local population you’re trying to rally, but you’re also destroying the legitimacy of the government in their eyes – to the point that the best (and most right) way to stop these attacks are to just support you in overthrowing the government.

          But, interestingly enough, the Baltic states did not pursue that route. Their independence was achieved via song and dance festivals, the Baltic Way demonstration, barricades and human shield envelopments of media buildings.

          I feel like an interesting discussion would be the history of modern pacifist demonstrations and their effectiveness. Clearly Gandhi’s the main icon everyone associates with such actions, but where did such peaceful protests start? When did they become popular?

          • “But, interestingly enough, the Baltic states did not pursue that route. Their independence was achieved via song and dance festivals, the Baltic Way demonstration, barricades and human shield envelopments of media buildings.”

            Well, not at first. In the 40’s and early-50’s they tried violent resistance.

            It… didn’t end well.

    • And if certain people’s desire for self-determination tramples over other certain people’s desire for self-determination? What then?

  3. Gregory Bogosian says

    The nation-state dates to the 15th century at the earliest. Wikipedia|Nation-State History and Origins

    There is no way that King Josiah would consider transforming Judah into a nation-state to be his objective, because that wasn’t even a concept back then.

    • He wouldn’t have heard of the Westphalian concept, of course, but even so I’d argue that a nation-state is what he was trying to create.

      Josiah was trying to make Judah a political entity defined by territory rather than tribe, with an institutionalized sovereign government that was centralized and had sufficient power to protect the borders and assert its authority over all within those borders, and also a state with its own political and ethnic identity. Sounds pretty Westphalian to me.

      Just because the concept didn’t have that name doesn’t mean it wasn’t something people did. As we’ll see in the next few pages of the Con Law comic, Europe has certainly invented important forms and theories of government, but I think it’s a stretch to give them all the credit for this one.

      What do you think?

      • Those are all fair points. But you left out two important ingredients in the modern conception of the nation-state: 1. an integrated national economy with a state-sponsored internal transportation network free from internal customs and duties on the movement of goods. 2. a uniform national culture based around a standardized written language and educational curriculum. That second one really wasn’t possible before mass-communication and mass education. Even the states that had standardized written languages, like China, couldn’t spread them outside the educated upper-classes. So they didn’t effectively spread a common national culture to the masses.

        • (continued) since the concept of the nation state didn’t exist yet, and had Josiah succeeded, he would have been the absolute ruler of Judah, it would be more accurate to call the state he was trying to create an independent kingdom.

  4. Gregory Bogosian says

    “Religion” wasn’t a concept until the 19th century. No way the Sicarri would think in terms of their “religion” vanishing. Nor would ancient Jews have thought of their beliefs and practices as that old-time religion. I know we can’t explain how they thought with 100% accuracy without actually being fluent in ancient Hebrew. But imposing concepts that didn’t exist at the time on ancient people is still misleading. It disguises how much has changed in the way we think and relate to the world between their time and our time.

  5. Avonidas says

    “Get off my ancestral land”, hey, this sounds awfully familiar…

  6. Avonidas says

    [Reading this and thinking: “he’s gonna get SO much flak from fundies”]

    [Reaches the end: ‘please don’t tell my mom’]

    I did NOT expect this 😉

    But seriously, this was immensely interesting; I’ve of course heard the various parts of the story before, but you put it together so beautifully.

    You really are at your best when you go off on a tangent 🙂

    • Why would he get flak from fundies?

      Obsessing over a group you hate (but probably can’t give an adequate description of their beliefs — no, incoherent spittle about ‘hating science’ doesn’t count) to the point where you’ll use an unrelated historical account as a bludgeon against them… Is that really living your best life?

      As he said, all of this stuff is in line with accepted Catholic and Jewish teaching. Glad you’re finally catching up with the rest of us.

      Pax Vobiscum!

  7. Gregory Bogosian says

    Baal wasn’t the Canaanite god of Warriors. That was his sister Anath. Source: The Ancient Canaanites: The History of the Civilizations That Lived in Canaan Before the Israelites

  8. Ens says

    Typo: United kngdom of Judah and Israel (shortly after the image of the mountains introducing Yahweh as a wind god)

  9. Kereth Midknight says

    If it’s any consolation to your mom, the kings of Judah at the time had been keeping chronicles for many generations, and much of the books of kings and chronicles are an abridgment of that original, now-lost record (with heavy editorializing, possibly some additions, etc). Most of those kings are likely real historical figures, even David and Solomon, but there’s a lot of debate about whether David was even a king, per se, or more like a regional strong man, whose kingship was ascribed via a sortof retroactive presentism. Solomon at least dates to the digging of some old copper mines.

    It kinda’ seems like you’re putting the transition from monolatrism to monotheism pretty late in the story though. While the books of Moses don’t explicitly say anything about other gods not being real, there are references in the chronicles and 2 kings to “gods that are not gods but the work of mens’ hands,” which suggests that the idea of monotheism had at least some traction by the time those texts were compiled, doesn’t it?

  10. Dcb says

    Ooh, a study about terrorism!

    Oh. A “why religion is false” study, asserting materialist theories as fact.


    • Lame it may be! But if you think this is about religion being false, you’ve kinda missed the point. The point is that nothing happens in a vacuum. There’s a long historical and cultural background that formed the mindsets and circumstances of the people in that time and place, which explain why terrorism “suddenly” appeared out of nowhere for the first time in history.

  11. Tim says

    People have charged the Bible for centuries as being edited and redacted throughout the ages. Problem is, there’s no evidence for it; nobody has ever found a copy of the book of Genesis, or Deuteronomy, or whatever, minus these “edits.”

    When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, they were copies of the Old Testament (and some other writings) a thousand years older than any that were known to be in existence. Modernists said, “Now you’ll see how much the Bible has been changed.” Yup, we did; the only difference between these scrolls and the other copies of the Old Testament was the font.

    TL;DR – Stick with teaching law.

    • On the contrary, there’s tons of evidence for it. It’s not that people have “charged” the Bible with being edited and rewritten. It’s that they’ve discovered this fact through careful scholarship. The Wikipedia article is a good starting point, if you want to do your own research.

      And there’s plenty different between the Dead Sea Scrolls and various translations of the Old Testament. The scrolls contain more texts than just those found in the Bible, and even the parts corresponding to the Bible contain additional material and are in a different order. It can be fun finding the differences and seeing how they affect meaning. You might enjoy using the Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition and the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. The scrolls were compiled by Essenes, a separatist sect who rejected the priesthood and the Second Temple as corruptions of Yahweh’s law after the Seleucids took over. While some of their versions of the Old Testament are nearly identical to the traditional Masoretic versions, others like Exodus and Samuel are drastically different.

      Actually, the Dead Sea Scrolls are one of the pieces of evidence for the mutability of Biblical texts before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The traditional Jewish Masoretic texts are different from the Greek Septuagint, and both are significantly different from the Samaritan scriptures (which, by the way, offer really good context for otherwise confusing Biblical passages. Note that the Samaritans were the ones who hadn’t been carted off to Babylon, and whose religion may well have more closely resembled the old faith than that of those who returned and took over). The Dead Sea Scrolls contain examples of all three. What’s more, over half of the scrolls are texts that don’t match up with any of those traditions, and diverge widely from the scriptures we’re familiar with.

      I was a historian before I was a lawyer, fwiw.

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