Archives for the month of: May, 2012

In philosophy intentional states mean the directing of one’s thoughts towards some object or idea. The philosopher Fred Dretske investigated the claims of the late philosopher Roderick Chisholm who argued that intentional states could only be mental states. This claim was derived from the thesis of the nineteenth century philosopher Franz Brentano in his 1874 book Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. This essay will explore the claims made by Chisholm and Dretske and ascertain the validity of their arguments as to whether the all the contents of the mind are physical or mental states.

A feature of mental states is their content. For example, when I see a cat, I am perceptually aware of that cat, or when I believe that it is going to rain, my belief represents a state of the weather. David Chalmers (ed. 2002, p. 473) states that a feature of mental states is defined as its intentionality and essentially it can be assessed for its accuracy. My perception of the cat may be precise or imprecise, my belief that it is going to rain may be accurate or inaccurate and my desire to be loved may be satisfied or unsatisfied. Brentano argued that intentional states were solely mental states and distinguished mental states from physical states because they are non-spatial and are objects of awareness but, Chalmers writes (2002) also claimed that they reveal intentional inexistence which means that ‘they contain an intentional object themselves, an object at which they are directed’. For example, the statement I am thinking about fire-breathing dragons simply means that my thoughts are directed toward such dragons, even though they do not physically exist. Brentano contends that this ‘intentional inexistence’ is exclusive to psychical phenomena and that no physical phenomena can be said to have it (Feldman & Feldman 2008).

Chisholm focused on the concept of this inexistence of the object of the mind, the figment of one’s imagination (Chalmers 2002, p.473). He also contended that it is possible for two different states to be directed towards the same object and only psychological phenomena had this object directedness (Chalmers 2002, p.473). Chisholm accounts for the intentionality of thoughts through language, semantics, and mental expectation. He asserts that all of these demonstrate psychological intentionality and cannot be explained in non-psychological, nonintentional terms (Chalmers 2002, p.474). For Chisholm intentionality cannot be naturalized because no such psychological fact can be identified with a physical fact. The use of intentional sentences for Chisholm means that all of our beliefs about psychological phenomena can be expressed through them whereas physical phenomena cannot (Feldman & Feldman 2008). For example, the sentence ‘Diogenes looked for an honest man’ is an intentional statement because it does not rely upon the veracity of there being an honest man or not, whereas ‘Diogenes lived in a tub’ is not an intentional sentence because it relies upon the existence of a tub. Chisholm also recognises that we sometimes use intentional sentences to express physical facts and that also statements of probability sentences that describe comparisons are problematic (Feldman &Feldman 2008). However, Chisholm states (1957, p.484) that intentional statements that are the most relevant are the ones that are based upon psychological attitudes such as wishing, desiring, hoping, believing, assuming, and also perceiving.


Dretske (1994, p.492) contends that to fully understand that mind, one must know how it works and that this must entail a naturalistic or physical understanding of the mind. Contrary to Chisholm’s assertion that intentionality cannot be naturalized or that psychological phenomena cannot be expressed through physical phenomena, Dretske argues (1994, p.492)  that intentional ‘ingredients’ are necessary for any understanding of an ‘intentional product’, just as copper wire is needed for building an amplifier because it conducts electricity. To establish his theory that intentionality is already naturalized, Dretsky (1994, p.493) uses the example of a compass, a physical artefact which he states has an intentional purpose that is not intrinsic to it but to its user.Talk of the use of a compass gives it an intensional context. Therefore, we have intentional phenomena (the compass) with an intensional context (its use or purpose) and that this intensionality is as much a part of the intentional phenomena as its original intentionality. For Dretske (1994, p.493), naturalized intentionality exists all throughout the natural or physical world in phenomena that expresses something else about natural conditions that indicate how the rest of the world works. Examples that he gives are dark clouds, tree rings, or smoke.


Dretske (1994, p.493) also contends that the construction of a thought also requires a property of misrepresentation otherwise we would not have a naturalistic understanding of what we think, or its content and meaning. However, intentional phenomena like the compass, although able to misrepresent the information it was designed to deliver, is reliant on us to be able to do it. We are the ones whose purposes and attitudes determine the success or failure of such physical phenomena. It is the derived power of such objects to misrepresent that Dretske (1994, p. 495) suggests is essential for his recipe of the mind because it acquires the ability to detach meaning from cause. Through his recipe for thought, Dretske is asserting a purely physicalist ontology of the mind. Unlike Chisholm, physicalist philosophers, such as Dretske, see that there is no ‘unbridgeable gulf between the mental and the physical’ (Jacob 2010) and that reality can be described in both physicalist and intentionalist terms.  Brentano’s thesis that ‘no physical phenomenon manifests intentionality’ is objectionable to the physicalist (Jacob 2010). When Dretsky naturalizes intentionality by ascribing it to non-mental things, he is trying to authorize physicalism’s assertion that nothing is purely mental. For Dretske (Jacob 2010), information exhibits some degree of intentionality and is able to show both the intentionality of beliefs as well as its derived intentionality of an utterance that can misrepresent such information.


With his assessment of intentional inexistence, Brentano (Byrne n.d.) was simply stating that there are things that exist solely within the mind, such as unicorns or fire-breathing dragons or even our concepts of nothing or infinity. Intentionality must also be plainly distinguished from intensionality because mental states are not intensional, only sentences are (Byrne n.d.). A sentence can be intentional yet be completely separate from intentionality and also sentences that report mental states need not be intensional (Byrne n.d.). For Dretske to maintain that intentionality can be physically or naturalistically reduced he distinguishes between original or intrinsic intentionality and derived intensionality.  Dretske also maintains a causal theory of intentionality such that mental states represent something, like tree rings represent something, and argues that the intentionality of mental states can be reduced to their evolutionary biological function. It is Chisholm who has allowed this alteration to Brentano’s thesis that intentional inexistence can be defined by language and signs, and it is this alternative explanation that allows the reducibility argument of Dretske to be applied to mental states. When Brentano claims that intentionality is sufficient and necessary for mental states, the sufficiency claim can be found false, especially in Chisholm’s broad redefinement, which includes non-mental entities such as sentences or signs. This claim can be amended to original intentionality is sufficient for mentality, thereby making the claim have some chance of validity (Byrne n.d.). With the claim that intentionality is necessary for mentality it can be countered with the claim that sensations are mental states that are non-intentional (Byrne n.d.). However, even Dretske asserts that bodily sensations are mental perceptions and therefore are intentional (Byrne n.d.).

Brentano’s thesis is simply that thoughts about thoughts are intentional mental states. They have no physical determining factor. If they had a physical determining factor they would not be a mental state because they would be derived from physical perceptions. When I am thinking about something that does not exist, it has no place in the physical world. Like shadows on the wall that make one believe that there is a monster, they are a particular feature of our imagination. One cannot ascribe the misrepresentation of the shadow to the shadow but to the subject’s mind. The thoughts about that monster are further intentional states, however the language that the subject speaks about the monster or the painting that the subject does of the monster are not. Like Dretske, we could redefine those extra states as intensional states with further potential for intentionality but we have may have missed the point of Brentano’s original thesis that Chisholm supported. Mental states can be differentiated and separated from physical states because of their ability to misrepresent and also to change the information given to them through bodily sensations. Mental states have the significant causal role of being able to significantly disrupt an organism’s ability to survive through irrational fears or desires. Anorexia nervosa (U.K. National Health Service) and other mental illnesses that have dire physical effects are examples of such intentional mental states.

Chisholm’s account of mental states is based upon linguistics and semantics. Dretske’s response to Chisholm’s account that intentionality is naturalized throughout the world by its intensional context is valid. However, Brentano’s thesis, especially his second claim that intrinsic intentionality is sufficient for mentality, is also valid through such examples of the physical effects of a purely mental cause in such diseases as anorexia nervosa. Therefore, Dretske’s response to Chisholm that all intentional states have a purely physical cause is invalid because it does not take into account such mental states that can be classified as intentional which have causal roles.




Brentano, F 1874, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, D. Terrell, A. Rancurello, and L. McAlister, trans.; L McAlister, ed. (Routledge, 1995)


Byrne, A, (n.d.) ‘Intentionality,’ in Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. Pfeifer and S. Sarkar (Routledge n.d.), viewed 5 April 2012


Chalmers, D J (ed.) 2002, Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Oxford University Press, New York, pp.474-474


Chisholm, R, 1957, “Intentional Inexistence” in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, D.J. Chalmers (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 484-91, 2002


Dretske, F, 1994, “A Recipe for Thought” in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Reading, D.J. Chalmers (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 491-99, 2002


Feldman, R & Feldman, F, 2008, ‘Roderick Chisholm’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 3 April 2012,


Jacob, P, 2010, ‘Intentionality’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,viewed 4 April 2012,


U.K. National Health Service, Anorexia Nervosa, viewed 8 April 2012,

Celsus was a Neo-Platonist that lived in the time of the late second century. He wrote a book against Christianity called The True Word. Celsus’s work is only known through the Christian apologist Origen’s writings. Origen of Alexandria was a Christian theologian who cites much of Celsus’s work in his book Against Celsus. Porphyry was a philosopher born in the Roman near East and who wrote in the second half of the third century after the persecutions of Decian and Valerian. His book, Against the Christians, was responded to by various Christian apologists such as Eusibius, Methodius, Jerome and Augustine.

Celsus’s first criticism is to do with God’s descent amongst men. For Celsus, this is an impossibility because God, even by Christian belief, is immutable, unchanging and pure. For God to undergo such a transformation, he would have to go from a pure to a blemished state, from good to bad and Celsus states that this is wrong. Celsus asserts that if God wished to bring about the moral reformation of men he did not need to come down onto the earth because he is omnipotent. In other words God could have used his divine power to enact such a reformation. Cesus also questioned why God only decided to make this action in the generation of Jesus , stating that such an act shows that the Christian idea of God is arbitrary and capricious, which makes Christians a group of impious babblers.

Celsus’s second major criticism of Christianity was the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. As far as Celsus is concerned this is contrary to nature as it reverses the natural process of disintegration and disrupts the order if the world. He questions why God would wish to do such a thing because if God is reason, he obviously is not going to do anything contrary to reason. Therefore, if the Christian believes in a God who does things contrary to reason, they are worshipping a God that is unfit for devotion.

The third major criticism of Christianity for Celsus is the worship of Jesus as God. For Celsus, Jesus was not worthy of being venerated as divine as he was just a low-grade magician not a great hero such as Heracles or Orpheas. The practice of magic was a criminal offence in the Roman Empire and Celsus contends that the miracles of Jesus were simply magic tricks. The Gospels presented Jesus as a wonder worker and Celsus sees the prayers that the Christian’s used as incantations or spells. Celsus contends that by Jesus being conferred the status of God by the Christians that they were making him a rival to the one true God. In Celsus’s view, Jesus’s mortality must make him inferior to God and he asserts that the monotheism of Christians is undone by the adoration of him. As far as Celsus was concerned, Jesus was a lesser deity and excessive adoration robbed the one high God of his proper due.

Porphyry’s first point was that the Book of Daniel had been used by Christians to verify their belief that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Porphyry thought that the Old Testament Book of Daniel was a Maccabean pseudograph that had been written contemporarily in the time of Antioch in the second century BC as encouragement for Jewish resistance. The Christian use of the book as a prophecy of Christ’s birth and the destruction of Temple was invalid as far as Porphyry was concerned. He was able to do this through a detailed analysis of the Book of Daniel.

Porphyry’s second point against Christians was their account of the New Testament. He claimed that the disciples based their writings on hearsay because only Matthew and John were eyewitnesses whereas Luke and Mark based their writings on the testimony of the former. Porphyry’s main criticism is that the disciples made Jesus out to be more than he was actually, such things as Jesus being the Son of God, and that he was able to express the word of God through he and God were one was a suspension of belief .

Porphyry also brought to attention the inconsistencies in the writings, behaviour and character of the apostles. One of the main inconsistencies he points to is the conflict between Peter and Paul over circumcision. Porphyry thought that this made the apostles, upon whom the Christians based their belief, unreliable. He points to examples of where there was strife and division in the church from the beginning.

Porphyry’s final and main argument against the Christians was the teaching by the disciples of the worship of Jesus. Porphyry thinks that they are mistaken and that Jesus taught the worship of the one God whereas the disciples turned this into the worship of Jesus. Porphyry thought that the disciples advocated apostacy from their true religion, that of Judaism and questioned why they did not follow the teachings of Moses, or practice the religion inaugurated by Jesus.

The Christian apologist Origen answered these Celsus’s claims by attacking him for being extremely relativistic. Rather than appealing to a specific doctrine that others should follow, for Origen Celsus only appeals to traditon; that things should be done because they were done in the past, that people should obey laws because established social conventions ought to be maintained. Augustine, who wrote a criticism of Porphyry’s work called him the most learned of all, as Porphyry knew the Christian writings as well as any Christian teacher did. However, Augustine states that although the critics of Christianity believe that Jesus should be worshipped as a wise man, he cannot understand why they do not accept that he should be worshipped as God. Augustine states that even Porphyry had to admit from his own consultation with the oracles that Jesus should be praised. Other Christian apologists say they at a loss to understand why such pagans are hostile to the Christians when they both believe in the one true God.

Celsus’s three most important criticisms of Christianity were to do with the Christian beliefs that God came to live amongst men, the belief on the resurrection of Jesus and the worship of Jesus as God. Porphyry’s rested on four core points being the Christian belief in the prophecies of Daniel, the exaggerated fabrication of the life of Jesus, the inconsistencies in Christian writings and the apostacism of Christianity from its foundation belief of Judaism. The Christians apologists responded with incredulity as to why these philosophers were so dependent upon reason and tradition in their arguments against Christianity.


The persecution of Christians by Diocletian began in 303 C.E. at a time when the Roman Empire was under extreme economic pressure. The economy of currency had been ruined and the tax system had to be based on payments in kind, just as the military were also paid in kind. Certain occupations that were considered to be essential for the maintenance of the Empire became known as ‘compulsory services’ and those engaged in them were prohibited from changing them. To try and unify the Empire at this politically difficult time, Diocletian used the state religion.

Diocletian had divided the Empire into four princeps to be run by four emperors. In 293 C.E. he appointed Galerius to the eastern empire of the Balkans. Galerius married Diocletian’s daughter Valerian who, along with her mother, was a Christian. It is considered by Eusibius that it was Galerian, at the behest of his mother, who instigated Diocletian to carry out persecutions of the Christians. Eusibius goes on to state that Diocletian thought that it would be foolish to have so many put to death, especially seeing that the Christians were eager to be martyred. Diocletian suggested that it would be enough to exclude Christians from court. However, he had many advisors who thought that Christians should be cut off ‘as enemies of the gods and adversaries of the established religious ceremonies’.

They began in the March 305 C.E. with the destruction of the church in Nicodemia, and the next day an edict was published that deprived Christians of all honours and dignities, that they would undergo torture, that all lawsuits against them would be accepted, that they could not be a plaintiff, and finally that they should not be free or have suffrage. Diocletian’s wife, Priscia, and Valeria were forced to sacrifice to the gods. Presbyters and officers of the church, along with their families, were seized without trial and executed by being burnt alive. The judges were dispersed to all the temples to compel everyone to sacrifice. Eusibius writes that the prisons became crowded and that the courts were set with alters so that every accused could turn and sacrifice. All the other emperors followed suit except for the emperor Constantinus, who only called for the demolition of churches.

In 305 Diocletian abdicated along with the second emperor Maximianus. Constantinus and Galerius became the new Augusti. Under Galerius the persecutions worsened, he began a mode of executions by edicts against the Christians, who were slowly and tortuously burnt to death. This punishment along with others became normal for all people. Under Galerius people were burnt, crucified and killed by wild beasts daily. Eusibius writes that this eventuated in a general illiteracy, with lawyers slain or exiled and the use of writing to be considered the same as magical or forbidden arts. All those who possessed books were considered enemies of the government and, once the law was dissolved, licence to be a judge was given to any rude and illiterate men.

Eusibius writes that the worst calamity to beset the Empire was the imposition of a capitation tax on all provinces and cities, where marketplaces were assembled with all the people, and sons hung on the rack to determine the effects of the fathers. Imaginary effects, the result of attestation through torture, were recorded on the lists. This infliction of all the subjects of Rome led to the number of animals decreasing and men dying. Eusibius goes on that all that was left were beggars and even they were rounded up and drowned in the sea. Constantinus in the meantime gave his sovereignty to his son Constantine in 306 C.E., much to the grief of Galerius.

By 312 C.E. Constantine was made the sole ruler of the Western Empire after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Lactantius, who was the tutor of Constantine’s son and close to the imperial family, reports that Constantine was commanded in a dream to place the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers. From that day Constantine identified himself as a Christian. Galerius had died the previous year after a terrible disease that, Eusibius writes, ate away his insides. Before he died, Galerius issued an Edict of Toleration which stated that because Christians in great numbers still persisted in their opinions, even after many were persecuted, they were permitted to worship their god and restore their places of worship. After Galerius’s death, Maximinius Daia proclaimed himself emperor of the east and continued the persecution of Christians in his realm.

In February 313C.E. Licinius, one of the emperors of the Eastern Empire met Constantine and formed a common religious policy. Although at that time Licinius issued an edict of toleration, he went on later to persecute Christians. Constantine, however, decided to use the church as an instrument of imperial policy and thus deprived it of its former independence. The church fathers throughout the Diocletian persecutions had struggled to maintain some control of their ‘flock’. This is attested to in a letter from four Egyptian bishops who questioned the bishop Melitius of Lycopolis and his authority to ordain priests. This caused a schism in which Peter of Alexandria wrote to his flock that ‘Miletius acts in no way for the common good’. This seems to imply that the martyrdom of many church leaders during the Diocletian persecutions was causing leadership stress within the church.

Constantine was dismayed when he discovered the disunity within the church, specifically in the province of Africa where there was conflict between the rigorist position towards the lapsi, those who had succumbed to the demand to sacrifice, and those who had a more forgiving position. Constantine convened two councils of bishops in 313 and 314 to resolve this problem unsuccessfully. The rigorists, under Caecilian bishop of Carthage, established a separatist church in North Africa. By 324 Constantine was the sole ruler in the Empire and wanted to to reconcile differences in beliefs about the Holy Trinity through convening the First Ecumenical Council of the church in 325. This was also unsuccessful. Eusibius eventually became the emperor’s chief spiritual advisor in 327. In 330 Constantine’s desire to have Byzantium become the new capital of Rome was realised. Here, he had built three major churches and made New Rome, unlike the pagan Old Rome, be a Christian capital.

It could be said that the effects of the persecutions on Christianity were the instigation of a Christian emperor and the ceding of much authority to him through a level of disunity among the bishops over key issues of forgiveness of the lapsi and beliefs about the Holy Spirit which resulted in breakaway churches.

Traditional Roman religious practice, we are told by Cassius Dio, did not tolerate atheists, which the Jews and the Christians were seen to be. The Romans did not like new divinities to be introduced which might cause ‘conspiracies’ and ‘factions’ either. These were Roman fears and the determination by various emperors to assert the priority of Roman religion brought them into conflict with both religions.

It was said by Philo the Alexandrian that it was the emperor Gaius’s demand to be worshipped as a divine figure that brought him to persecute the Jews. Philo, who represented the Jews in an embassy to Gaius, states that Gaius thought that the Jews wished to counter his desires. When Gaius ordered a statue to be placed in the Temple at Jerusalem, a decision later rescinded, the Jews felt that their whole nation was under threat. This setting for conflict was exacerbated by the procurator Florus, sent to Judea by the emperor Nero in 64 C.E.. Josephus writes that he thought it a petty offence to get money out of single people, therefore he spoiled whole cities and forced many people to flee to other provinces. Florus was considered a criminal by Josephus, who wished to hide his crimes by inciting revolt amongst the Jews. When Florus marched against Jerusalem the high priests could not contain their outrage and these acts were used by Florus to attempt to seize the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem.

Such poor political policies could be said to have driven the Jews into conflict with the Roman state. Cassius Dio, the second century Roman historian and politician, also wrote that the cause of the revolt in Judea was heavy taxation, as there was similar unrest in the Roman provinces of Gaul and Britain. After the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian in 66C.E. great animosity and another cycle of violence were generated. Cassius Dio states that in the time of the emperor Trajan, Jews in the regions of Cyrene, Egypt and Cyprus were destroying both Roman and Greeks. Various papyri from 117-118 C.E. from Egypt and Cyrene also attest to the results of such discord and anger. Some of them refer to the acts of ‘impious Jews’, a serious accusation of disrespect for Roman authority.

The Christians also came into conflict with the Roman state at this time. In 64 C.E. the city of Rome suffered a great fire and Nero, who was in need of a convenient scapegoat, blamed the infant sect of Christianity which was growing in the city. Tacitus, who was nine at the time of the fire, wrote that Nero fastened guilt and enacted the most ‘exquisite tortures’ upon a class that were hated for their ‘abominations’. They were convicted of the crime of hatred of mankind because they spoke of the end of the world, rather than the conflagration of the city. Nero opened up his palace gardens and, covered with the skins of beasts, an ‘immense multitude’ of Christians were torn to pieces by dogs, crucified or burnt as torches to illuminate the spectacle.

The confusion of Roman state policy to Christianity, which was seen as a branch of Judaism, can be seen through the actions of Pliny. While he was governor of the province of Bithynia-Pontus in the early second century, Pliny came into contact with anti-Christian sentiment. He was perplexed as to what to do with the Christians or why they were to be considered criminals worthy of execution. Pliny knew that Rome had earlier dealt with troublesome religious sects, such as the Bacchae, the Jews and the Druids, however he felt he could only accuse them and punish them for stubbornness and obstinacy, which was considered offensive to Roman sensibilities. Because of these convictions the amount of denunciations grew. The only thing he could accuse them of was having illegal political associations, but even that they ceased to do. Pliny found all he could accuse them of was ‘depraved, excessive superstition’ and that concerned not what one might do privately but that the state and status quo be upheld, and that the economy of a city dependent upon feasts and community religion be stabilised. Pliny saw the Christians as a destabilising influence on his province and punished them for that.

This may also have been a reason for the emperor Decian to issue an edict of sacrifice across the Empire in the mid-third century. His aim was to appeal to the conservative aristocracy in Rome and the troops that were responsible for helping him to power. Although this was considered usual for the accession of a new emperor, participation in such festivals was considered an obligatory duty and a demonstration of loyalty to the empire. It was such participation in sacrifice and idol worship that was to bring a marked conflict between the Roman state and the growing Christian community. Another source of conflict could have been the Christians refusal to serve in the Roman army at a time when the borders of the Empire were under threat. One of Christianity’s chief critics in the late second century was the conservative philosopher Celsus, who urged Christians to help and cooperate with emperor and to fight and be fellow-soldiers if it was commanded. Christians refused to do military service which is confirmed by the Christian apologist Origen who stated that Christians do more for the empire by forming ‘an army of piety’ that prays for the well-being of the emperor and the safety of the empire.

Just as the Jews were able to refuse military service because of their upholding of the Sabbath, the Christians also demanded this exemption. It was likely then that in the beginning the Christians were seen as a sect of the Jews. Later, however, under different persecutions of Christians, they were accused of apostatising Judaism and rebelling against the laws of Moses. However, it was considered the lack of piety for the authority of Rome that brought the Christians and the Jews into conflict with the Roman state. The allegation of ‘impiety’ was brought against both religions and this was followed by defiance against the state to the situation where the Romans saw such behaviour as treasonous and seditious. Although religious pluralism was a part of the Roman Empire, the ultimate authority was the emperor and over the period of the first to the third centuries the apparent lack of respect for Roman religious beliefs, especially the imperialist cult, were a source of insecurity and conflict.


The Jewish Revolts against Roman rule were reflective of Jewish dissent in the Maccabaen revolt of the second century B.C.E.. The Jewish leader, Mathathias, states to king Antiochus- “Although all nations obey king Antiochus…I and my sons, and my brethren will obey the law of our fathers”[1].Under Julius Caesar in the first century B.C.E., the client king Herod negotiated for the Jews to have a favoured status within the empire. It allowed them to practice their religion freely: they were exempted from military service, they had the right to assemble and could send money to Jerusalem[2]. So to explore whether the Jewish Revolts of the first and second centuries were politically or religiously motivated, one should first explore the change of status that the Jews experienced under subsequent Roman emperors and its outcome.

Prior to the first revolt of the Jews against Roman authority, the Jewish community suffered persecution under the emperor Gaius (Caligula). Philo, who represented the Jews in an embassy to Gaius, states that Gaius thought that the Jews wished to counter his desires and that ‘a most terrible and irreconcilable war was prepared against our nation…’[3]. When Gaius ordered a statue of himself to be placed in the temple at Jerusalem the Jews felt that their whole nation was under threat, ‘for in the destruction of the temple there is reason to fear that this man…will also order the general name of our whole nation to be abolished’[4]. Although Gaius later retracted his order it had made the Jewish people insecure. When Claudius came to power in 41 C.E., Cumanus was made procurator of the province of Palestine and had to deal with several uprisings against perceived Roman injustice. Josephus, who was one of the leaders of the First Revolt, tells of a religious festival guarded by Roman soldiers to try and stop any ‘innovations’ by the populace. When a soldier made an indecent posture to the crowd, youths threw stones and Cumanus had to call for more arms. Cumanus had the Jews thrown out of the temple and, in their panic, many were trampled and killed. This festival became a day of national mourning[5].

The political dimension of the subsequent revolt became apparent in 54 C.E. when Nero came to power and the procurator of Palestine was Albinus. He was accused by Josephus of stealing and plundering ‘…and abused his authority over those about him, in order to plunder those who lived quietly’[6]. Gessius Florus, who succeeded Albinus was even worse, according to Josephus: ‘He indeed thought it a petty offense to get money out of single persons; so he spoiled whole cities…and a great many people left their own country, and fled to foreign provinces’[7]. Josephus thinks that Florus was determined to procure a revolt amongst the Jews to conceal his own crimes, ‘…he therefore did every day augment their calamities, in order to induce them to rebellion’[8]. When a conflict arose in Caesarea over access to the synagogue and the inflammatory sacrifice by a Gentile of birds on its steps on the Sabbath, Florus ‘blew this war into a flame’ by seizing the Jewish leaders who approached him with their complaint about this act and imprisoning them[9]. When Florus marched against Jerusalem ‘that he might gain his will by the arms of the Romans, [and] bring the city to subjection’[10], the high priests could not contain the people’s outrage. Josephus states that the acts of ‘the seditious’ were used by Florus to attempt to seize the temple, and the people ‘…stood upon the tops of their houses, they threw their darts at the Romans, who, as they were sorely galled thereby’ retired to their camp[11]. Agrippa II, the political leader of the Jews and their ambassador in the Roman court, tried to persuade the Jews from continuing their revolt. In a speech given by Agrippa and recorded by Josephus, he states: “Had I perceived that you were all zealously disposed to go to war with the Romans, and that the purer and more sincere part of the people did not propose to live in peace, I had not come out to you, nor been so bold as to give you counsel…’[12]. Agrippa’s doctrine was that Rome was raised and supported by divine providence, and that it was in vain for the Jews or any others to think about destroying it[13]. However, Agrippa was unable to stop Florus from provoking or the people from revolting, so he retired to his own palaces after sending the leaders of the insurrection to Florus[14].

To illustrate the ambiguous political and religious intent of the insurgents, the assault made upon the fortress at Masada was conducted by Eleazar, son of Annais and the high priest and governor of the temple. He convinced his followers to stop paying the tribute to Rome[15]. However, any religious zeal was definitely put aside when preparations for war were made, with Josephus stating that ‘those that ministered the temple would not attend their Divine service, but were preparing matters for beginning the war’[16]. Because Agrippa had appeared to the insurgents to have acquiesced to the Romans they attacked his palaces, overwhelmed the king’s soldiers ‘…after which they carried the fire to the place where the archives were deposited, and made haste to burn the contracts belonging to their creditors, and thereby to dissolve their obligations for paying their debts…’[17]. This was done, Josephus asserts in order to gain the support of those who had been debtors, ‘and that they might persuade the poorer sort to join their insurrection with safety against the more wealthy’[18]. They assaulted the garrison of Antonia, set the citadel on fire and besieged the palaces[19]. Manahem, son of Judas, distributed arms from king Herod’s armory at Masada to all of the people and set himself up as king of Jerusalem [20]. When Eleazar heard that Menahem had set himself up as a tyrant and had killed the high priest Ananias, his followers attacked and killed Manahem. It was thought that ‘it was not proper when they revolted from the Romans, out of the desire of liberty, to betray that liberty to any of their own people’[21]. This political statement about liberty and the destruction of Agrippa’s palaces, along with any credit contracts, point to the motivation for the First Revolt being political rather than religious in nature.

Florus had all the Jews in Caesarea killed or enslaved. This outraged the whole nation so that Jews laid waste to the villages of the Syrians, their neighbouring cities and numerous other cities and villages of the region, ‘and immense slaughter was made of the men who were caught in them’[22]. Civil war beset the whole region and ‘greediness of gain was a provocation to kill the opposite party…’[23]. This last statement of Josephus’s implies that by now the insurrection had little to do with religious freedom and more to do with power. At this point Cestius the governor of Syria intervened, supported by the armies of Agrippa and Antiochus. However, the Jews refused to be defeated and when they saw this army approach Jerusalem they took up arms with ‘… that rage which made them forget religious observation [of the Sabbath], [and] made them too hard for their enemies in the fight’[24]. After Agrippa’s peace delegation was killed, Cestius sent to Nero for help and Nero sent Vespasian to quell the rebellion.

In 66 C.E., at the same time that Vespasian was sent to quell the insurrection in Jerusalem, unrest had also broken out in the Roman provinces of Britain and Gaul over heavy taxation[25]. This pointed to underlying economic troubles being a factor in the unrest in Judea as well. The use of religious zeal as a motivating element to keep fighting became apparent when Vespasian tried to quell the rebellion through various methods of representation and offers of immunity. However, when the Jews would not yield after a protracted siege, Vespasian was finally able to open the temple to the soldiers[26]. Cassius Dio writes that ‘then the Jews defended themselves much more vigorously than before, as if they had discovered a piece of rare good fortune in being able to fight near the temple and fall in its defence[27]. When the temple was finally overcome ‘they met their death willingly, some throwing themselves on the swords of the Romans, some slaying one another, others taking their own lives, and still others leaping into the flame’[28]. Cassius asserts that they seemed to die of happiness because ‘they had perished along with the temple’[29].

A purpose driven by religious zeal is given in the account of Yigael Yadin whose archaeological team in the 1960s revealed that the temple at Masada had been added to by the ‘zealots’[30]. Coinage from the time was found on the site and on the floor of the building there is an ‘ostracon’ with an inscription which translates as ‘Priestly Tithe’. Ostraca were found inscribed with the names of people and seemed to be a type of coupon with a name and a symbol. Yadin suggests that they may have been used for rations as they were found near a storehouse. It was possible to accurately date the ostraca as being written between 66-73 C.E. which was the period in which Masada was occupied by the ‘zealots’[31]. Also, religious scrolls were deliberately buried in a pit in the building’s floor. Three skeletons, possibly Jewish defenders, were found on a lower level of the building  and another group of disordered skeletons of males aged between 20-70 years and some females and children were found in an adjacent cave. Yadin posits that these were the remainder of the zealots who died by suicide before the fall of Masada[32]. However, although Yadin treated Josephus’s account of Masada and the collective suicide of its defenders as authentic[33], scholars think that Josephus’s story of suicide was a literary ‘ topos’ and that it ran counter to the Jewish mentality[34].

The destruction of the Temple had generated great animosity and another cycle of violence. Cassius Dio, a Roman, wrote in the late second century that in the time of the emperor Trajan, Jews in the region of Cyrene were destroying both Romans and Greeks. Cassius goes on: ‘In Egypt too, they perpetrated many similar outrages, and in Cyprus…’[35]. In the third century Eusibius, Christian writer, also writes about this: ‘For in Alexandria and in the rest of Egypt, and also in Cyrene, as if incited by some terrible factious spirit, they rushed into seditious measures against their fellow inhabitants the Greeks’[36]. Eusibius goes on to tell how Quintis became governor of Judea, after marching against the Jews and ‘[slaying] a great multitude of those that dwell there’[37]. Various papyrus documents from 117-118 C.E. form Egypt and Cyrene also attest to the results of such discord and anger. Some refer to them as ‘impious Jews’, a serious accusation of disrespect for Roman authority[38]. There are also inscriptions ordering the restoration of Cyrene’s Caesareum [39], baths[40] and roads[41] which were ‘destroyed and burnt down in the Jewish revolt’.

Jewish armed resistance against Roman rule culminated and was defeated in the Revolt of Bar Kokhba (132-136 C.E.). The rebels were united by the leader Bar Kokhba and the result was a rebel state in which coinage was issued and ‘ state-land’ was leased. In the Bar Kokhba revolt the Jews showed remarkable ‘ military and political activity’ sixty years after the suppression of the first revolt[42]. Little is known about the causes of the war but it could have been derived as a possible conquest of Jerusalem and an attempt to reconstruct the Temple by the rebels. Cassius Dio wrote that it was the emperor Hadrian’s desire to build a new city called Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem and the intention of raising a temple to Jupiter on the site of the destroyed Jewish temple that incited the Jews to war: ‘for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there’[43]. Bar Kokhba coinage tells something of the population and the economy of Judea at the time of the revolt. Their symbols embody the objectives and values of the insurgents. Economic conditions before the revolt were underscored by ‘peasant discontent engendered by expropriation and oppressive tenurial conditions[44]. Coinage that states ‘Jerusalem’, or ‘For the Freedom of Jerusalem’ with the design of the Temple on the coinage indicates a declaration. These reflect the values and objectives of the revolt and Jerusalem was of utmost importance to the rebels[45].

Bar Kokhba was the only ancient war fought by the Jews to be named after a single leader. In the Talmud he is given the title ‘Nasi and Messiah’ and while he reigned he was described as a king[46]. R. Aqiva, a rabbi who was part of the revolt, described Bar Kokhba as ‘ the King Messiah’[47]. Bar Kokhba signed his letters as “Nasi Yisrael” and coinage denotes him as ‘Simeon Nesi Yisrael’. Some say that this refers to the ideal king in Ezekiel’s vision of the End of Days[48]. The Talmud has an ambivalent attitude to Bar Kokhba, emphasising his legendary strength and obedience to the sages, to criticizing his addresses to God and stating ‘that he was put to death by the sages when it appeared that he was the false messiah[49]. Bar Kokhba’s letters show him to be an aggressive general and ruler who was occupied with the discipline and routine of his army. However, Bar Kokhba was not just a military leader, lands were leased in his name and he insisted on strong observance of the Sabbath and other religious commandments, plus control of land produce[50].

It seems that the Jewish Revolts of the first and second centuries could have been the result of both Jewish religious nationalism and the arbitrary nature of the Roman emperors of the period. The Jewish people relied upon the favours that were obtained by Herod from Julius Caesar, and enacted by the Roman Senate, to feel secure that they could practice their religion without being impinged upon by Roman military duties or Roman religious sacrifices. When Gaius arbitrarily incited anger and fear amongst the Jews with his proposal for a statue of himself to be erected within the temple at Jerusalem, Jewish religious leaders saw this as a threat to their authority and to the religious rights to which they had been accustomed. Cumanus’s weakness in dealing with Jewish uprisings against religious insult culminated in Nero’s appointment of a series of corrupt procurators who dealt with Jews harshly and arbitrarily. The Jews saw their political representative to Rome, Agrippa, as being in collusion with the Romans. The burning of credit contracts and following civil strife that resulted in looting shows economic pressures were also indicative of political unrest. However, because the Jewish religion was so bound with the geographical location of Jerusalem and the concept of the temple, it was the Maccabean model of religious revolt that motivated the zeal of the Jews at Masada and in the Bar Kokhba revolt. Therefore, it could be said that religious nationalism served as the motivating factor for the Jewish Revolts.


  1. Bowersock, Glen Warren. “The making of martyrdom” in Martyrdom and Rome , Bowersock, Glen Warren , 1995 , 1-21
  2. Cassius Dio, Roman Histories
  3. Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (CPJ) 438: Papyrus, Letter (June 116 – Jan. 117AD; Hermopolite nome, Egypt); CPJ 443: Papyrus, Application for leave (28 Nov 117; Hermopolite nome, Egypt)
  4. CJZC 17. Inscription (118 AD, Cyrene); CJZC 19. Inscription (119 AD, Cyrene); CJZC 25. Milestone (118 AD; Cyrene)
  5. Eusibius, Ecclesiastical History
  6. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews
  7. Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews
  8. Isaac, Benjamin H. “The revolt of Bar Kokhba: Ideology and modern scholarship” in The Near East Under Roman Rule: Selected Papers , Isaac, Benjamin H. , 1998 , 220-248
  9. Maccabees I 2.19-20
  10. Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius
  11. Yadin, Yigael. “Extract” in Masada: Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand , Yadin, Yigael , 1966 , 181-201
  12. yTa’anit iv 68d; cf. Lamentations Rabbah ii 4

[1] Maccabees I 2.19-20

[2] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.225-7; 213-16

[3] Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, 18.17.119

[4] ibid. 18.17.194

[5] Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.12.1

[6] ibid. 2.14.1

[7] ibid. 2.14.2

[8] ibid. 2.14.3

[9] ibid. 2.14.6

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid. 2.15.3

[12] J. BJ 2.16.4

[13] ibid.

[14] ibid. 2.17.1

[15] ibid. 2.17.2

[16] ibid. 2.17.4

[17] ibid. 2.17.6

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid. 2.17.7

[20] J. BJ 2.17.8

[21] ibid. 2.17.9

[22]ibid. 2.18.1

[23] ibid. 2.18.2

[24] ibid. 2.19.2

[25] Cassius Dio, Roman Histories, 63.2.2

[26] Cassius Dio, 65.6.2

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Yadin, 1966

[31] ibid.

[32] Isaac, 1998

[33] Yadin, 1989

[34] Bowersock, 1991

[35] Cassius Dio 68.32.1-3

[36] Eusibius, Ecclesiastical History 4.2.1-5

[37] ibid.

[38] Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (CPJ) 438: Papyrus, Letter (June 116 – Jan. 117

AD; Hermopolite nome, Egypt); CPJ 443: Papyrus, Application for leave (28 Nov 117; Hermopolite nome, Egypt)

[39] CJZC 17. Inscription (118 AD, Cyrene)

[40] CJZC 19. Inscription (119 AD, Cyrene)

[41] CJZC 25. Milestone (118 AD; Cyrene)

[42] Isaac, 1998

[43] Cassius Dio, Roman History, 69.12.1-14.2

[44] Isaac, 1998

[45] ibid.

[46] ibid.

[47] yTa’anit iv 68d; cf. Lamentations Rabbah ii 4 (ed. Buber, p.101)

[48] Isaac 1998

[49] Isaac, 1998

[50] ibid