On The Potential Unintended Consequences Of Rome Inviting Home Foreign Gods – The Siege Of Jerusalem Example

Something I was … rather surprised to learn in the course of researching a previous article, is that during the Siege of Jerusalem, the Roman general Titus appears to have potentially performed a variation of the ‘Evocatio’ rite – the formalized Roman custom of endeavouring to entice the God or Gods that were patrons of their foes to abandon the latter, by offering them worship and a home amongst the Romans instead. 

According to various of the Roman accounts of the conflict (including one – Flavius Josephus – who is technically Romano-Jewish) … this appears to have been an invitation which was seemingly accepted: the doors of the Temple in Jerusalem are depicted as swinging wide open and an unearthly voice speaking with the timbre of a whole host declaring “WE ARE LEAVING HENCE”. 

It has also been suggested that Titus’ troops carrying off some rather important holy relics from said Temple, back to Rome as spoils of war, may actually have been bound up in this process – the notion being that the material artefacts which ‘housed’ or were intimatedly connected to the deity who was being ‘re-homed’ being taken back to Rome in accordance with the ‘invitation’ made to said god by the Romans earlier. There is some arguable precedency for this in prior Roman history, it would appear. 

Now I am not sure one way or the other whether a ‘true’ Rite of Evocatio was performed by the Romans at Jerusalem in AD 70. There is limited evidence for the proposition, although the evidence that there is is seemingly reasonably suggestive of such occurring. I am also not sure whether the material in Tacitus and Flavius Josephus around this multitudinous voice and miraculous opening of incredibly heavy-set Temple gates to signify a departure, actually occurred. It sounds seriously impressive – although reasonable questions can be asked over, particularly, Flavius Josephus’ agenda in his writing. 

Yet what we DO know is inarguable – that the Romans brought back important elements associated with the God of that Temple with them to Rome. And whether or not the Romans made their solemn promise to said deity to grant Him a home with them; whether or not they ever intended to truly honour same (and I am not quite sure that the deposition of these aforementioned artefacts in the Temple of Pax in Rome quite counts) … approximately two hundred and thirty two years later, it was fulfilled many times over. Rome became a Christian Empire, under a Christian Emperor. 

I have come to suspect that there is a very good reason that no other Indo-European culture appears to have directly cognate rites to that of the Evocatio – for few others would be as hubristic as the Romans, to go about the place heedlessly ‘inviting’ foreign deities to come back to Rome with them, there to be granted worship and status and integrated into the very fabric of the culture and the city and the civilization. No matter the perceived militant advantageousness of perpetrating such. It is simply too risky. 

To quote the words of another man named Curwen (in this particular instance, an H.P. Lovecraft character):

“I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up Somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.”

Thus it may have been with Rome. Whether in the ‘overt’ formulation of the Constantinian reforms of the early 300s, or whether it had its roots far earlier in the forceful ‘combat theology’ of Titus at Jerusalem (and I must confess a certain fondness for this notion of Roman armies on the march being accompanied by members of the College of Pontiffs, priests versed in these sorts of ‘weaponized’ rites for siege and conquest purposes – although my preference is, as ever, for the much less risky Vedic model, wherein we do not seek to get ‘too clever for one’s own good’ by co-opting foreign deities, and instead simply conjure orbital bombardments, bless weapons, call in flame-strikes, and request divine assistance from our own Gods); it would appear that the Romans ‘called up’ something that was above and beyond their comprehension. And wound up, through the passage of time, fundamentally ‘changed’ in their essence as a consequential result. 

A man should be careful in the places of worship of the foreigners. For they are not empty houses.

And a man should also be doubly careful with the places of worship of his Ancestors – For these, too, are not empty houses to be peopled with the ‘convenient’ incorporations from other spheres. To do so, is to skirt the bounds of propriety, and to risk changing the fabric of what makes that ancestral space – as with the fabric of the state of Rome was to the Romans – into something subtly something else entirely. 

That said, the Gods of the Indo-Europeans are the Gods of the Indo-Europeans. And nothing of which I have earlier written should lead to the erroneous interpretation that these, too, are foreign figures unwelcome within the halls of one’s heart nor hearth. After all – They are already there (for the most part, anyway – some facings and forms have become de-emphasized amidst some descendant branches via the inexorable erosion of time and fragmentation); and becoming aware of other aspects and names and ‘faces’ to Them is in no way the introduction of the outlander. At most, it is the reconciliation of cousins. 

And whilst this ALSO should not be read as advocating some form of combined practice wherein elements from two or more Indo-European religious and linguistic corpuses are incautiously brought together (for reasons I have previously explicated elsewhere) … I nevertheless absolutely do not believe that the (re-)introduction into Rome of Greek, Phrygian, and other Indo-European deific forms such as Apollo, Asclepius, Dionysus, or above all, Cybele , is in any sensible way comparable to the notion potentially entertained by the future-Emperor Titus of inviting the God of Jerusalem and of the Jews to relocate from their Temple to the hearth of Rome. 

And not least because I rather suspect that Cybele’s role in delivering Rome’s victory in the Second Punic War was perhaps rather more positive from the long-term Roman perspective, than that which occurred in AD 70 in Jerusalem. 

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