Surviving Dangerous Times
A choose your own adventure
• We will read through a series of dilemmas
that the Jews confronted in the years 1-135
CE. The people in this story did not all live at
the same time, although it is presented that
way to allow you to see the different options
and paths the Jews took during this
tumultuous time in their lives.
• We will periodically stop to give you the
chance to take notes.
Setting the Stage
• Over 150 years have passed since the
successful Maccabbee revolt against the
Syrians. Following the revolt, the Jews’
briefly enjoyed political control over Judea.
But around 60 BCE two brothers, fighting for
power, invited Rome to help decide who
should be king. The Romans chose
themselves and took control of Judea. It
would be over 1900 years before the Jews
would again be in charge of their homeland.
Setting the Stage
• The years under Roman control were
tumultuous times in the land of Judea. Rome
gradually prohibits certain Jewish practices.
The Jews struggle under heavy taxation and
corrupt rulers sent by Rome.
• The Jews are unsure how to react to this
powerful force in their land.
Who are you?
• You come from a Sadduceean family. Your
father is a priest in the Temple, as was his
father, and his father before that.
• You are well-educated and come from a
wealthy family. Your parents expect you to
follow in your father’s footsteps. However
you have doubts…
Who were the Sadducees?
• The Sadducees were composed primarily of
educated people from the wealthy classes.
• They believed in worshipping God through
sacrifices at the Temple
• They wanted to work with Rome to maintain
some control over Jewish life in Judea.
• Their challenge was to keep both the Romans
and the Jews happy.
The Adventure Begins
• You hear about a rabbi who is teaching his
followers about the importance of ethical laws.
He is gathering many followers who believe he
might be the next messiah and who look to him
to start a revolt against Rome.
• (Note: back then the idea of the messiah was
not unusual, and it was very different from what
we think of today. The messiah was going to be
a warrior who led the Jews in the fight to regain
control of their homeland)
The first decision…
• One day you hear that several leading
Sadducees are considering arresting this man
since they see him as a threat to peace in the
area. If Rome hears about the followers who
are planning to revolt, it could be bad news
for all Jews.
• Do you go along with the Sadducee plan or
leave and join this teacher’s followers?
Go Along with the Sadducees
• Unfortunately things do not go as planned. Somehow,
this man, also known as Jesus, ends up in the
Roman’s hands. They crucify him. Some of his
followers claim to see him walking the land after his
• One of his followers, Paul, claims to have a vision
about Jesus and a new religion-Christianity. He sets
out to convert as many people as possible.
• 300 years later the Roman emperor adopts
Christianity as the empire’s official religion. The
problems for the Jews only get worse.
• Try again…..
Join the Rabbi
• Jesus is arrested by the authorities so you can
not join his group, but there are a number of
rabbis teaching in the area. You hear about a
Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai who has received
Roman permission to start a school in Yavneh.
• Yochanan Ben Zakkai believed the best way to
ensure Judaism’s survival was to teach and study
the religion. He believed resisting the Romans
was useless and would only result in much
• You head off to Yavneh to go and study.
• The Jews who believed in focussing their efforts
on study and teaching were called Pharisees.
• The Pharisees were mostly educated, middle
• They believed that Jewish practice consisted of
both worship at the Temple but also study and
personal practice of the mitzvoth.
• Unlike the Sadducees the Pharisees did not work
with the Romans, instead they avoided
confronting them and focussed on ensuring
Judaism’s survival through education.
• You spend several years studying at
Yavneh….But as you hear about the
increasingly active Jewish struggle against the
Romans, you question whether you shouldn’t
be doing more to ensure Judaism’s survival.
• You know there are groups of people who
actively resist the Romans. They are called
• The Zealots believed that the best course of
action to take against Rome was to fight. Some
of these men would hide daggers in their cloaks
and assassinate prominent Romans and also
Jews who worked with the Romans.
• The Zealots were mostly middle class people.
• They believed the end of the world was near
and that God would send a warrior messiah to
defeat Rome. Many believed Bar Kochba was
The second decision…
• On the one hand you want to join Bar Kochba
and help drive the Romans from the land.
However you also know the odds against Bar
Kochba are high. Rome is a giant and powerful
empire, the Jews are few and not as well trained
• By studying at Yavneh you are ensuring that the
Jewish traditions and practices will survive.
• Do you join Bar Kochba or remain at Yavneh?
Remain at Yavneh
• You decide to stay at Yavneh and study. History
proves your decision was the right one. Of the
four groups mentioned in this PowerPoint, the
Pharisees were the only ones who survived.
• The Judaism we practice today stems from what
they believed and taught over 2000 years ago.
• But what would have happened if you joined
With Bar Kochba
• You travel to the Judean desert to join Bar
Kochba and his men who are actively fighting
against the Romans.
• At first the revolt goes well. The Jews
recapture Jerusalem and actually mint coins
commemorating their victory.
• But Rome sends more legions to quell the
• Hadrian sends 12 legions and his two best
generals to Judea to end the revolt.
• All the violence is beginning to cause you to
question the wisdom of fighting. Rome is so
much bigger and stronger, is there really any
point in resisting them?
• You hear about a group of Jews, the Essenes,
who live alone in the desert and spend their
• The Essenes were a sect of Judaism made up of
mostly poor farmer Jews.
• These men and women lived a simple life in the
caves by the Dead Sea. They wanted to separate
themselves from society.
• They spent their time studying and preparing for
the end of days, when they believed a messiah
would come and lead the forces of light in a
battle against the forces of darkness.
• This group left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A final decision….
• Do you decide to stay with Bar Kochba and
fight the Romans, giving your life for your
religion, if necessary.
• Or, do you decide to join the Essenes and
prepare yourself for the end of days?
• The tide turns against the Jews. The Romans are
recapturing town after town.
• The Jews make a final stand at Bethar, but they are
no match for the might of Rome. The town’s walls
are breached on the 9th of Av.
• You, along with many other Jews are sold into
slavery and sent to Egypt to work for a Roman
• Meanwhile, the Romans forbid the Jews to enter
Jerusalem. Hadrian changes the country’s name to
• For the first time in Jewish history, the Jews
become a minority in their own homeland.
• You join the Essenes and spend the rest of
your days studying and farming.
• It is a peaceful, though not particularly