Judaea in the Age of Nero
Curated by Eric Klingelhofer, Department of History
This display was unveiled on March 16, 2015
Alexander the Great seized the land of Judaea (territory around Jerusalem) from the Persians in 332 B. C. and began the Greek-inspired cultural transformation known as Hellenization. Judaea would thereafter be ruled by various dynasties – the Greek Ptolemies and Seleucids, the Jewish Maccabee/Hasmoneans, and even Antony and Cleopatra - before the Roman Empire absorbed it as part of the province of Palestine. The last stages of this process took place under Augustus Caesar, the Roman Senate appointing Herod as king.
Throughout those generations, Hellenistic multi-culturalism continued to grow in Judaea. This change can be seen in commonplace objects; traditional pottery from Israel stands in contrast to mass-produced amphorae jars with Greek factory stamps. Everyday life in Judaea became little different from the rest of the Mediterranean, from house construction, eating utensils, exercise and personal hygiene, funeral rites, and even the Koiné (common) Greek used in the writing of the Gospels.
The first Roman imperial dynasty, the descendants of Augustus or his wife Livia, ruled the Mediterranean for a full century, 31 B.C. to A.D. 68. It was a time of internal peace (Pax Romanum), prosperity, and broad cultural homogeneity - but also of an increasingly authoritarian government. The last of the family, Claudius Nero Caesar, became a despot, though he was very popular and considered to be a good emperor during his first 5 years. He was a lover of performing arts, classical culture, and all things Greek. But he hated republican virtues, his generals, and especially Christians in Rome, whom he tried to exterminate in A. D. 64 after the Great Fire there. While Nero’s persecution of the Christians did not extend beyond Rome (he was looking for a scapegoat to deflect blame that he had caused the fire), he caused the deaths of his step-brother, his mother, his wife, and thousands of innocents. He was a monster.
In the last years of Nero’s reign, his misgovernment dangerously undermined Roman authority: he refused to support adequately the Roman army, and he appointed unqualified friends and flatterers as provincial authorities. In Palestine, the incompetence and injustice of imperial procurators (administrators) over Judaea led to the Great Jewish Revolt. In A.D. 68, the army finally turned against him; his overthrow and suicide soon followed. Nero had built a huge, opulent palace complex in the center of Rome. Overlooking it was a huge statue of himself as a god, rivaling one of the ancient Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes. After his death, the statue was destroyed. Near its pedestal was erected the largest public amphitheater in the empire, from its location nicknamed the “Coliseum.” In a sense, Nero’s egoistic dream lives on.
The Great Jewish Revolt, which had started against Nero’s rule, climaxed in A. D. 70 when a large Roman army under Titus, son of the new emperor Vespasian, finally captured Jerusalem. As punishment, the Temple of Jahweh was destroyed. Unrest would lead to the city becoming a Roman colony, from which Jews were barred after the Bar Kochba revolt in A.D. 132-135. Later, religious practices in Judaea changed dramatically after emperor Constantine re-unified the empire, legalized Christianity, and in 330 built a new capital at the old Greek city of Byzantium. The ancient Greco-Roman-Near Eastern polytheism slowly faded away. The Christian capital was called Constantinople, but historians refer to the new civilization as Byzantine. In Judaea, this society would end with the surrender of Jerusalem to Muslim Arabs in 637. Since then, Judaea has been populated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, and each group further divided quarreling over scriptural interpretation and religious sites.
When I was in the Fourth Grade, I became fascinated with Ancient History as I first studied about the pyramids and became even more interested as I became actively involved in Christianity. The first ancient artifacts from the Holy Land that I ever saw belonged to Dr. Marc Lovelace who taught me Biblical Archaeology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was one of Dr. Lovelace's best students and spent some time working with him. As a result I developed a desire to have a collection of my own. I first obtained some ancient pottery shards (broken pieces of pottery) when I was a student at Brandeis University. I obtained more pottery shards and my first artifact when I was a student at the Hebrew University as a Rotary International Fellow. I seriously began my collection about 1973 when I took a group of students from the University ofWest Georgia to work on an archaeological excavation in Israel. I bought several artifacts for my personal collection and began using them in my classes to help my students better understand Ancient History. My collection expanded dramatically in 1984 when Dr. Marc Lovelace, whose collection had sparked my interest in having an artifact collection, offered to sell me his whole collection which was composed of several hundred pieces. I bought his collection and then continued to buy ancient artifacts in Israel and Egypt each time I visited there. I continue to buy artifacts during each trip that I make to the Middle East and I also buy a few things off of eBay whenever I can find artifacts that I think are good and that will enhance the collection.
My wife and I have already signed an agreement to give the Holmes Holy Land Ancient Artifact Collection (composed of over 800 pieces) to Mercer University at my death so that it can be used by Mercer University to show its students and the people of south and central Georgia real artifacts of the ancient Holy Land and hopefully give to them a better understanding of the Ancient World and the Bible. Until my death Mercer University has been given the right to have regular exhibits of the ancient artifacts in the collection.
Yulssus Lynn Holmes
Dr. Y. Lynn Holmes was born in Vidalia, GA and grew up in the Dublin area. He received his B.A. in English from Mercer, the Bachelor of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Old Testament Studies, and the M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Ancient History.
During the course of his career as a teacher and a scholar, he held research fellowships from the Rotary Foundation, the American Council of Education, and the National Defense Foreign Language program. His study took him to the Holy Land on numerous occasions and he began collecting artifacts very early in his career; his collection now numbers over 800pieces. Dr. Holmes has held a number of academic positions - President and Professor of History at Brewton-Parker College, Vice President at West Central Technical College, Assistant to the President at Mercer University (ACE Fellow), Director of International Programs at Central Michigan University, and Associate Professor of History and Director of Placement and Cooperative Education at the University of West Georgia. He has published numerous papers in scholarly journals on ancient History and the Modern Middle East. His book Those Glorious Days:A History Of Louisville As Georgia's Capital - 1796 to 1807, was published by Mercer University Press in 1996.
Dr. Holmes is married to Elizabeth Nasser Holmes, born in Haifa, Palestine to Palestinian Christian parents. The eldest of 7 children, she lived until age 10 in the town of Nazareth and because of her father's new job, the family moved to Jerusalem. Elizabeth was educated at a private French Catholic School in Jerusalem. The school emphasized the study of languages and as a result, she is fluent in four languages (Arabic, Hebrew, French and English).
After graduation, Elizabeth worked as a secretary at the Y.M.C.A. and at the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. It was while she was working at the church that she met Lynn and a year later in 1968 they were married in Jerusalem. She studied at the University of West Georgia and Brewton- Parker College, and is a frequent speaker about the Middle East in churches, schools and civic clubs. Elizabeth enjoys spending time with their seven grandchildren, as well as calligraphy, painting and singing. Lynn and Elizabeth currently reside in Carrollton, Georgia. They have three daughters–Randa Holmes Honaker of Swainsboro, Georgia, Dawn Holmes Walker of Forsyth, Georgia and Alice Holmes Huff of Athens, Georgia–and nine grandchildren.