Ironically, a book that just might hold one of the most important messages of our time is least likely to be read.
“The Great Revolt” by Dr. Michael Ben Ari tells of one of the most dramatic times in Jewish history: the Jewish revolt against Rome that ultimately led to the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), exile, and the loss of the Jewish homeland until it’s reestablishment almost two thousand years later (1948).
This pivotal moment in history has been discussed by many people. Interestingly, the story is always told a certain way, from a very specific perspective.
Dr. Ben Ari tells the story differently and therein lies the importance of this book.
Standard discussions about the Great Revolt are based on the accounting of Josephus Flavius. The explanation of what led to the destruction of the Temple and the shattering of Jewish life, culture, and sovereignty is repeated without question, so much so that it has become a trope: “baseless hatred between brothers [between Jews] led to the destruction.”
Dr. Ben Ari, a historian with a Ph.D. in Land of Israel and Archaeology studies, a rabbi and teacher brings the perspective of the Jewish rebels while raising many questions about the “history” we thought we knew: Why did the Jews revolt against Rome? Did they not understand that they had no chance against the all-powerful empire? Why did the Romans feel it necessary to obliterate the culture of our tiny nation? Who were the rebels? Did baseless hatred cause the revolt to fail? Whose baseless hatred?
As I read the book, I felt horror growing inside me.
By bringing alternative historical sources Dr. Ben Ari tells a story of Jewish rebellion that most of us have never heard. Most importantly he explains the sources of rebellion and the connection between rebellion and sovereignty – a message of utmost importance and obvious parallels to current events in Israel (which echo in America as well).
The Nation of Israel is a nation divided. In ancient times there were those who wanted to belong to the greater empire, placing individual comfort over traditions that root us in this Land. Today we also have those who prefer individual comforts, wishing to be part of the “family of Nations,” unconcerned (or even feeling repelled) by the ancient and tribal traditions that make our family a Nation, separate and unique. Today, like the ancient story of the Revolt, we are receiving our “knowledge” about who we are as a People, our past, and even our future through the filter of other people who have a vested interest in fostering certain beliefs about who we are, what we are capable of and what we deserve.
Today, our People are divided between those who believe the media narrative and the stubborn rebels who do not. The ancient Jewish Revolt is taught through the perspective of Josephus, a Jewish military commander during the revolt who betrayed his People and joined forces with the Roman enemy to save his own skin. Is the fact that he detailed events extensively proof that he did so accurately? Does someone who turns on his own People not have a motive for recounting events in a way that makes his actions sound reasonable and right?
The winners write the history books. That doesn’t mean that they are written truthfully.
Dr. Michael Ben Ari investigates what we really know about the ancient Jewish rebels. Were they the hate-filled, irrational, violent bandits we are told they were? What if the truth is exactly the opposite? Perhaps the faith, courage, and collaboration of these heroes is the source of Jewish hope for 2,000 years that the sovereignty we lost then can be regained.
Considering the Revolt from the perspective of the rebels it begins to become clear why it might be in the interest of foreign occupiers to make us believe that the Jewish warriors of old were twisted in their ideology and morality and as such, people that should not be emulated.
Dr. Michael Ben Ari is himself a rebel. It is no wonder that his heart would be drawn to our ancestors, the rebels of ancient times whose story remains untold at best, at worst – deliberately mistold. A soft-spoken man, Dr. Ben Ari was ejected from Israeli politics for extremist views. He considers himself a student of Rabbi Meir Kahane who advocated for Jews arming and defending themselves and expelling enemy Arabs from Israel. In the past, Dr. Ben Ari explained that despite everything that was said about him, his perspective is not one of hating Arabs but rather concern for Jewish survival.
Many people, including many Jews, are very uncomfortable with the idea of warrior Jews, capable of defending themselves and even vanquishing their enemies. It is easier to express horror at Jews who are too brash, aggressive, or quick to violence than to address the existential threat that drove them to conclude this was the best way to proceed. It is easier to assume fault than to question why people behave as they did or to discover what really happened.
There will be people who will not read “The Great Revolt” because it was written by a man labeled an “extremist,” ignoring the fact that he is a historian, teacher, and rabbi with knowledge that most of us do not have.
Unfortunately, this important book is written more like an academic thesis than the dramatic and compelling story it conveys. So much research and knowledge went into its making that it is hard for the average person (myself included) to absorb all the details. Most of us, particularly those who had little or no religious studies in our background are shockingly ignorant about the history of our own People.
The winners write the history books but it is up to us to uncover where the truth lies.
It is our action – or inaction – that determines who “wins.”