The Curious Incident of the Omens in Jerusalem
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This paper explores the relationship between several descriptions of the same collection of portents, written by five different authors in the 1st century CE. According to Josephus and Tacitus, these omens prophesied the Fall of Jerusalem. According to biblical sources, these were events that occurred in Jesus’ lifetime. These authors used these portents as tools to communicate their opinions on a wild variety of topics- monotheism, Judeophobia, Roman imperialism, messianism, and more. The question posed in this paper is why these portents specifically garnered so much attention to the point where they were recorded by this many authors, who represent such a variety of economic and cultural backgrounds. Through a method that considers their accounts from the lens of audience, intent and historical context, this paper aims to show that the theological and social issues surrounding Jerusalem around the time and after the Second Temple fell caused such confusion and lack of consensus that each author felt it necessary to support their own controversial opinions with the divine sanction of an omen. As a result of these conclusions, this paper proposes new methodological considerations in classical writing: to read portents as a literary tool for justification, and as an indicator of what opinions would be considered the most controversial to the author’s audience.