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Wss Roman Expulsion of the Jews a Preview For Trump's Mass Deportation? Roger Algase

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This post will continue my July 20 comments examining the expulsions of the Jews in ancient Rome as a possible historical precedent for Donald Trump's plan to expel to 12 million Latino, Asian and other non-European immigrants from the United States. The following discussion is based on an April, 1994 article by Leonard Victor Rutgers in Classical Antiquity Vol. 13, No.1 (p.56-74) entitled Roman Policy towards the Jews: Expulsions from the City of Rome during the First Century C.E.

The author first discusses the expulsion of the Jews under the emperor Tiberius in 19 C.E., as follows:

"Various authors relate how in 19 C.E. Jews as well as worshipers of Isis were expelled from Rome."

(Of course, "Isis" in the above passage refers to the goddess Isis who was worshiped in Egypt and many parts of the Middle East in ancient times, not to the inhuman terrorist organization which has been carrying out savage killings and mass murders of other Muslims and non-Muslims in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia 2,000 years later!)

Rutgers first examines the argument raised by some ancient historians that the Jews might have been expelled for religious reasons, just as Donald Trump originally proposed banning all of the world's Muslims from entering the US purely on religious grounds, regardless of whether there was any reason or not to suspect that any given individual might have terrorist connections. Rutgers writes:

"Dio, [the ancient historian Dio Cassius] by contrast, is very explicit as to why he Jews were expelled from Rome: Jews were proselytizing on too large a scale. Although this explanation is straightforward, it is nevertheless not very plausible."

Neither, one might comment, is the often heard 21st century accusation that Muslim immigrants want to "impose Sharia Law" on the United States very plausible.

After examining various arguments by ancient historians that the Jews may have been trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism in large numbers, or that there many Romans who might have been looking to Judaism for spiritual guidance, Rutgers writes:

" is simply impossible to maintain that in early 1st century Rome conversions to Judaism were taking place on a large scale; nor, more important, can one tell whether Roman authorities thought such conversions were actually taking place."

Rutgers then goes on to mention, and refute, another possible explanation for the motives that might have led to the expulsion of the Jews

"Another explanation for the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 19 C.E. favors political over religious concerns. The evidence for this thesis, however, is even more scanty than for a religious one. H. Solin, unsatisfied with Josephus' explanation of the event [as motivated by religious persecution] designated the Jews of Rome as a 'staendiges Ferment der Unruhe' [constant source of unrest], but he does not ofer any evidence of this. There is no such evidence in the ancient sources."

Instead, Rutgers attributes the theory that the Jews might have been a source of social or political disturbances in 1st century Rome to mid-19th century German anti-semirism, as expressed in the following passage which Rutgers quotes from Law Professor Theodore Mommsen'sfamous 1850 work Roemische Geschichte [History of Rome]:

"Auch in der alten Welt war das Judentum ein wirksames Ferment des Kosmopolitismus und der nationalen Dekomposition usw."

Since the above quoted statement by Mommsen is, if anything, even more offensive than Donald Trump's bigoted characterization of the millions of Mexican immigrants he has pledged to deport as "criminals" and "rapists", I will leave it untranslated.

(It is no credit to the history of the Nobel Prize that Mommsen received that award in 1902 for the above work containing this kind of virulent anti-semitism - which was also being promoted by the great operatic composer Richard Wagner around the same time as Mommsen wrote, and which was later to have such a great influence on Adolf Hitler.)

Rutgers also very carefully and thoroughly demolishes an attempt by another modern commentator M.H. Williams, to use the great Roman writer, lawyer and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero as an authority for concluding that the Jews of Rome in the early 1st century A.D. were a potential source of disorder or a threat to public safety:

"Cicero, it is true, depicts the Jews of Rome in his
Pro Flacco as a disorderly lot, but his remarks are not trustworthy. In other defense speeches, Cicero discredits non-Jewish opponents using exactly the same kind of expressions he applies to the Jews on this occasion.

The same writer continues:

It is obvious, therefore, that Cicero's negative comments on the Jews of Rome are rhetorical devices too stereotypical to be of much evidential value. In addition, even if these comments are correct, they predate the events of 19 C.E. by some eighty years."

Since the Jews were, in fact, not engaging in activities that were likely to offend the religious sensibilities of the non-Jewish Roman majority, and they were not a threat to public safety according to any reliable contemporary evidence, why were they expelled from Rome in 19 A.D.?

Rutgers offers the following explanation:

"Williams suggests, furthermore, that the real reason why the Roman Senate expelled the Jews in 19 C.E. was to suppress the unrest caused by a deficiency in Rome's corn supply that same year. This cannot be proven, as she herself suggests, but the suggestion certainly has its merits.

He continues:

"It was quite common for the Roman authorities to expel easily identifiable groups from Rome in times of political turmoil. Such expulsions were ordered not for religious reasons, but to maintain law and order.

And then the above author asks, in conclusion:

"Why, for example, were
the Jews chosen to be expelled for reasons of law and order? What had the Jews done to interfere with the law? How would an expulsion of Jews (as opposed to any other group in the city populace) have aided the reestablishment of law and order? One simply cannot tell."

In the case of the 12 million Mexican and other non-white immigrants whom Trump has promised to deport, his defenders point to the fact that they are in the United States without legal permission, and therefore conducting mass deportation would purportedly merely be a matter of upholding the immigration laws.

But is this a sufficient answer? Are these millions of immigrants, even if in this country without authorization, really a threat to public safety, especially in view of a Judicial Watch study cited in one of my recent posts showing that "illegal immigrants" in the US have a lower crime rate than American citizens?

How much respect for the law and for basic human rights would there be in sending Trump's police state "Deportation Task Force" which Senator Ted Cruz, himself no defender of illegal immigration, has condemned as "jackboots", to conduct midnight raids across America, tear millions of American citizen spouses and children away from their husbands, wives or parents; while locking millions of unauthorized immigrants, most of whom are hardworking, taxpaying and contributing members of society, up in concentration camp like "detention centers" pending expulsion from this country with minimal, if any, chances to assert their legal rights in court?

Just as historians are unable to answer the question of what real benefit there was to Roman society in the 1st Century A.D. by expelling the Jews, other than the apparent political advantage to the governing class of making a targeted ethnic-religious minority immigrant group scapegoats for food shortages or other economic or social problems which may have existed at the time. it would be instructive to hear Donald Trump explain what real benefit there would be to America by expelling 12 million Mexican and other minority immigrants, a far greater number of people than the number of Jews expelled from ancient Rome, other than his own political advantage in exploiting long-standing prejudice and hatred.

Roger Algase
Attorney at Law

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Updated 08-24-2016 at 06:26 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs

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  1. Registered666's Avatar
    This comment has been deleted. The fact that my post is about racial or religious prejudice or persecution which may have taken place 2,000 years ago is not an invitation to make disparaging comments on this site about any racial or religious group now.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 07-30-2016 at 08:21 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  2. Stephen Blower's Avatar
    Hi Roger,

    I have not (yet) read Rutgers' complete article from 1994, but I will come straight to the point and say that I don't think it's possible to make the comparison between the expulsion of Jews in ancient Rome and the undocumented in 21st century U.S. on any credible academic level. According to ancient sources the Jews had faced expulsion from Rome also in 139 BCE and again under Claudius' reign, but in each instance it was short-lived and probably not highly organized. (This is the current academic consensus, at any rate.)

    Although there is the obvious connection of scapegoating in times of national crisis, I think that is where the similarities, if any, end. Comparing an Emperor's decree in the first century to an improbable and inhumane proposed application of existing U.S. law is problematic. The problems only worsen when one considers the vast differences in social structures, notions of citizenship and sovereignty, religiosity, and ethnic identity that are virtually unbridgeable between our two epochs.

    The Jews in Roman society enjoyed unique privileges as a separatist sect and were recognized as such under Caesar and Augustus, were allowed to collect their own (Jerusalem) Temple tax, operate their own markets occasionally for Kosher meats, and maintained their own synagogues in the City of Rome. The topic of Roman religion as a state civil religion and what that might have actually looked like (and how it isn't anything like people's concept of religion today) is a vast and complex one; the scholarly works of John Scheid and Mary Beard have made great contributions in this area. There can be no question that strictly observant Jews were readily identifiable "Others," a unique minority in first century Rome, as indeed they had been in the Hellenized world diaspora. For the diaspora communities, over time the process of assimilation usually takes hold in a segment of the population and then emerges as a flashpoint among Jewish religious purists who believe that their worship and/or identity as a whole was suffering compromise (and needed correction). This is borne out from the Samarian prophetic period in the 8th century BCE, through the Temple reconstruction period under Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE, the Maccabean revolt of 164 BCE etc etc. Sectarian problems in the province of Judea itself in the first century CE need no further rehearsing in this space, suffice to say that the Jews of the city of Rome itself would be well aware of the political upheaval in the Province of Judea as annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem was also part of a special dispensation afforded Jews by the Emperor.

    Exactly how any or all of that identity of first century Jews living in Rome is comparable to the Undocumented is unclear and efforts at overextending the comparison don't work. We simply do not understand enough of the way Roman society as a whole interacted on a basic level, with its high degree of diversity, large slave population, class distinctions, patriarchal modes of thinking, etc., to imagine that the events of 19 CE could form a "prelude" to anything in the modern era. This is not to diminish the severity of the events of either what surely must have been suffered then or would be in the case of an effort of putting a mass deportation operation into effect today. It is simply that they cannot be fathomed or reckoned in a meaningful way alongside each other.

    The tendentious Roman historians offer no viable explanation beyond the obvious, which has always been the case of scapegoating. It is probably safe to conclude that there was no serious proselytizing effort on the part of the Roman Jews, or that they ever represented a serious political threat within Rome itself. As a powerless and uncontroversial target then, they fit into a long line of marginalized communities who are blamed for political expediency when those in power wish to deflect attention away from their own failed administration. We certainly don't need to reach back two millennia thousands of miles away to find that kind of antecedent.

    Stephen Blower
    Attorney at Law
  3. Stephen Blower's Avatar
    I cam across the folllowing quote which might further put into perspective my comment above.

    From John Scheid, The Gods, The State, and the Individual, tr. by Clifford Ando, Philadelphia, U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, p. 108. (Originally published in French 2013)

    "The only public interventions into familial religious communities or, more broadly, in any private religious community, were determined by the desire on the part of authorities to maintain order. It is in this context noteworthy that the controls placed on so-called voluntary associations were provoked by a suspicion that these were sites of political protest and conspiracy: the controls placed on them had nothing to do with religion and, indeed, exemptions were occasionally allowed precisely for them to fulfill religious functions. As regards maintaining order: the Bacchanalian affair of 186 B.C.E. or, likewise, the occasional repression enacted against philosophers, fortunetellers, or the Jewish or Christian communities show the pattern clearly. When we look closely, these results from denunciations, even local pogroms, into which the temporal authorities of the city intervene. Subsequent prosecution could be based on the claim of religious perversion, as in the case of the Bacchanalia or Christianity, but these measures in no way resembled the Inquisition. It was the secular arm of the Roman state ? or, in the family, the father of the family ? who oversaw such matters, to the exclusion of all priests, and the measures undertaken struck at the persons accused and only very rarely at the cults themselves. After the violent repression of the Bacchanalia, for example, the Senate and consuls were content to allow the cult of Bacchus to continue in its ancestral form. One could say that Roman society was occasionally intolerant, but it's religions were not."
  4. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    I want to than Stephen Blower for his serious, thoughtful and scholarly comments, which add a great deal to our knowledge of both Roman and Jewish society in the 1st Century A.D.

    Mr. Blower is unquestionably right to point out the enormous differences between 21st century A.D American society and Roman society of 2,000 years ago, I have no intention of pushing the comparison too far.

    But two of the factors that he mentions do stand out as having similarities across these two vastly different periods in human history.

    The first factor is that of scapegoating. From Leonard Rutgers' analysis of the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in 19 A.D. it is obvious that there was little, if any, evidence based on the writings of the historians of that time that there was any valid reason to expel the Jews from Rome.

    Both the purported reasons for expulsion of upholding Roman religious values against intrusion by a foreign religion (i.e. Judaism) and the secular goal of keeping order in society were effectively ruled out by Rutgers' examination of the available sources.

    In the same way, despite the attempts of some right wing groups in America to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria on the pretext that Muslim immigrants might try to impose "Sharia Law" in America, no rational person seriously believes there is such a threat in this country, and even America's most prominent Islamophobe, Donald Trump himself, has never used this argument so far as I am aware.

    That leaves us with the issue of public order, ancient Roman and modern American. There, arguably, some similarities could be found. Both societies were and are very sensitive to public order questions, especially those involving minority populations.

    The Jews may not have been perceived as a big threat to public order in Rome itself, but there was one part of the Roman empire where the authorities were extremely sensitive to real or perceived threats to public order on the part of the Jews. This was, of course, Palestine.

    All we have to do is read the history of the Jewish wars by Josephus.

    Only about 10 or 15 years (as historians estimate) after the Jews were expelled from Rome in 19 A.D. a certain Jewish religious leader from Galilee was crucified by the Roman authorities just outside Jerusalem because of fears that he or his followers might cause disturbances during the Passover season. There is no need to provide any Internet link or other citation for this event.

    In America ca. A.D. 2016, public order is also a big issue, with one of our two major presidential candidates warning us, in effect, that America could be on the verge of destruction from "uncontrolled" immigration by various minority groups, including Mexicans who are, according to Trump's June 16, 2015 presidential announcement, bringing drugs and crime to America, as well as being "rapists"; while, acording to Trump. another group of immigrants, Muslims, should be barred entirely from entering the US because their religion itself is allegedly a threat to public safety.

    Are these claims any more valid today than the flimsy ones that were made against the Jews of Rome leading to their expulsion in 19 A.D.?

    Therein, I believe, lies the parallel between these otherwise two very different events in Western history.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 08-07-2016 at 05:53 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
  5. Stephen Blower's Avatar
    Hello Roger,

    I think the original title of the blog is worth (re)considering: "Was Roman expulsion of the Jews a Preview for Trump's Mass Deportation?" Perhaps examining the differences between a fact of ancient history versus something that exists only as a facile, if disturbing, proposal will better illuminate why I personally dislike comparing anything in the modern political world to those in the ancient context, if for no better reason than that the premises and contexts are uncertain, except for those things that might be deemed to be universal or timeless truths of human nature and society. I like to imagine that when we reconstruct or theorize about historical events from very long ago, it is as if we are not unlike astronomers looking into telescopes millions of miles away. We can't really know what we are looking at because we are not there, we can only interpret what we see. And while that kind of empirical analysis exerts various scientific tools to draw conclusions, the methodologies are not entirely dissimilar. We can describe what we see, what we think it might look like, and what it does not look like, perhaps even ruling out what we know, or think we know, it not to be. But in all cases we expect to bring a certain scientific method to bear.
    Comparisons between historical events run along a continuum of relative invidiousness, it seems. Rare is the comparison that raises absolutely no hackles. For the sake of this academic exercise, consider a couple of possible objections. First, one could imagine the argument that what we have traditionally interpreted as an occasion of institutional anti-Semitism in the ancient world, whether or not that is actually what it was, is diluted or disparaged by comparing it to a modern political candidate's call for 100% enforcement against the undocumented "engaged in," or found to be in, Unlawful Presence. For, so goes this argument, the Jews in first century Rome were not indeed unlawfully present, as if such a concept of modern American immigration law has an ancient antecedent. Instead, continues the argument, Trump's call for Mass Deportation is only a call, not yet a reality, and one based ostensibly on lack of immigration status, not religion or race. The context of this call for enforcement however was couched in racist rhetoric by Trump, so it's obvious that racism is a driving component of the call's appeal among the Trump supporters. Notwithstanding that, comparing the two as analogs ignores the very issue of Jewishness at the center of the expulsion and the question of Jewish identity. Jewishness in ancient Rome is not like being unlawfully present in the United States i the 21st century, and to suggest so offends both categories. So runs this possible first objection.
    Second, one could imagine a somewhat different, albeit related tack of objection. In this case the Girard disciple/ theorist could maintain that likening these two scenarios, one historical and the other hypothetical, as linked by "Scapegoating" ignores the same crucial distinction of being target on the basis of religion/ethnicity vs. political status. (A good summary of Girard's Mimetic theory of Scapegoating can be found here: [The theory of] Scapegoatism does not (cannot) have an "innocent victim" for it to work on an unconscious level, according to Girard. The ancient historians have no explanation for the expulsion of the Jews because there was no valid reason for the decree. The Jews were not really in violation of any existing law in ancient Rome, or had already secured permission to conduct their business and worship in the way they already had done for a long time, continues this argument. The Undocumented however, regardless of intent, all commit the same civil violation under the law by being physically present in the U.S. not having been inspected and admitted according to a manner prescribed by the Attorney General. The Undocumented, while a categorically sympathetic entity, are united under the term that defines them all as in violation of existing U.S. law, and thus are legitimate targets of attack. And thus they are not innocent, and so disrupt the categorical definitions apropos to this kind of analysis. Only if we impose a value judgment that "Unlawful Presence" itself is an invalid category or offense, or that it offends the moral order, and any person physically present in the U.S. regardless of their manner of entry should not be considered unlawfully present could we thereby describe the Undocumented as a Scapegoat entity. Requiring such a large assumption without qualification is problematic (asserts this argument). Trump's alleged premise behind his proposal is that borders are what define our country, politically, and that sovereignty is undermined when borders are not controlled.
    In a sense, an absolute notion of Deportability, a perception that there could or should be a 100% enforcement and application of INA Sec. 237(a)(1)(B) and 212(a)(6)(A)(i), is at the heart of this problem. Read in isolation, there seems to be no room for negotiation in these statutes, the words are straightforward--however every immigration attorney knows that reliefs to removal do exist, mitigating factors are considered, and there are things such as Adjustment of Status, Cancellation of Removal, Granting of Asylum, Parole-in-Place, Withholding of Removal, Deferred actions, etc. As Aviva Chomsky pointed out so well in her recent book "Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal," the law itself is flawed and has contributed to our current problem. By expanding the immigration laws past points they have ever traditionally been stretched, adding the extraordinarily harsh three and ten-year bars triggered by a departure after Unlawful Presence in 1996, and failing to address any future status problems with potential remedial measures, Congress carved out an ever-expanding class of persons left with no feasible or humane remedy for having participated in the usual migration flows that have been a traditional part of our American history. For this reason reminding people that they too arrived here as part of immigration has no effect, because they universally insist their ancestors arrived "legally," even though for anyone arriving before 1924 that only meant showing up unannounced and gaining admittance simply for the asking, for the most part. What was "legal" 100 years ago is not at all what is "legal" today in immigration terms.
    It is behind this technicality of illegality that the racist and the bigot like to hide. Just as many Black Americans are told they were stopped, not for Driving While Black (DWB) but because of a (supposed) faulty tail-light, or a possible expired registration, or some other invented suspicion, so those who are part of the approximately 60% Latino Undocumented find themselves disproportionately targeted clearly from profiling more often than not.
    And so the problem with looking for an ancient antecedent in a (Roman) society and world not at all like our own, linked merely by the universal dynamic of one group's propensity to target the marginalized and politically powerless, is that it doesn't focus sufficiently on the roots of the problem as they exist politically today, besides reminding people of the obvious depressing side of human nature. It is a somewhat sophisticated argument, but it is not at all clear what appeal the argument of comparison has since there are so many elements unalike. In fact, the further afield the examples from history go the more that sympathizers of the Trumpian mode can insist there is nothing wrong with their position. In fact, I would argue that the law itself as it stands must be denounced as unjust: even as the Trumpian call might be denounced as impractical or inhumane, it is not correct to say it is not already written into the laws. Even as those who clamor for such enforcement hide their racism behind the law, pointing out that their racism is like any other is doomed to be unsuccessful.
    When Joan of Arc (Jeanne D'Arc) was convicted in 1431, one of the laws she was found guilty of breaking was that she wore male clothing, besides the allegations of heresy and sorcery/witchcraft. It is not correct to say that these were not "illegal" (for the most part) at the time. It would be correct to say that posterity in the Catholic Church saw fit to exonerate her posthumously, and even further, to canonize her (in 1920) as a Saint.I do not witch to stretch that comparison past any reasonable point either, except to say, So much for good laws and bad laws.
  6. Stephen Blower's Avatar
    Here is an excellent scholarly article I found on the topic discussing the larger context of military service of the Jews and the issues surrounding the expulsion of 19 CE:

    My final word on this is that, the more we look into the events of 19 CE and its context, the less it seems like a Prelude to anything remotely connected to the modern era, let alone Trump's call for Mass Deportation. IMO.

    Stephen Blower
    Attorney at Law
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