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How the Israelites Conquered an Empire: The Transformation of the Roman Soul

From Pompey to Hadrian, it took the ancient Romans close to two centuries to conquer a restless Jewish people. But Rome’s physical conquest of the Jews led to an ironic counterreaction: a Jewish (and Christian) conquest of the Roman soul. How did this great spiritual reversal happen? Through readings from classical authors like Livy, Virgil, and Cicero—and Jewish sources like Pirkei Avot and Midrash—this course will examine how a small people—the Israelites—prevailed over the world’s greatest empire. We will explore why the triumph of the Biblical vision of human beings and human history enabled the formation of Western Civilization as we know it. And we will explore the impact of this transformation of Greco-Roman culture through a Jewish lens on philosophy, literature, and religion to this very day.