Nero’s transgressions were legion, his excesses legendary, his perversity horrific. However, as background for The Eighth Scroll, we only need to remember the accusation that Nero started the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, and then laid blame upon the new and growing sect of Christian-Jews. Claiming justice, he assigned some to the lions or wild dogs at public “contests” in the Roman Coliseum, crucified others, and ignited still others as human candles to illuminate the arena at night.
The Great Fire of Rome burned for a week, and provided the backdrop against which Nero, who considered himself a great artist, was rumored to have played his lyre (alas, despite more popular traditions, the fiddle was not yet invented), sung and recited poetry atop Quirinal Hill. Nero’s pyres and “contests” of the Christians lasted considerably longer, were similarly accompanied by poetry and song, and were of even more questionable artistic taste.
Far from home, in the Holy Land, Nero pushed too far when he ordered his governor in Judea to tap into the treasury of the Jewish Temple. The Jewry of Judea were already terrorized, oppressed and impoverished by sixty years of Roman occupation and taxation. This final demand broke their tolerance and fueled revolt. The Jewish rebellion against Roman rule began in 66 CE, and subsequently developed the intriguing complication of civil war on both sides.
The Jews were in civil war almost from the beginning, owing to the conflicting and uncompromising ideology of the differing Jewish sects. The Sadducees were the priestly class in control of the Temple in Jerusalem but, due to their uncomfortably strict interpretation of Jewish law in combination with an unfortunate association with the wealthy minority, were considered both religiously outdated and temporally corrupt. The Pharisees, having proven more flexible in interpretation of Jewish Law, eased the restrictions of orthodoxy and predictably gained popularity. The Essenes represented the third major theological division. They were a Jewish sect devoted to ritual purity, monastic lifestyle, exhaustive worship and strict observation of Mosaic Law.
Other subdivisions included militant extremists, namely the Zealots and Sicarii, or “dagger men.” The latter earned their name by assassinating their opposition with sicae, or small, easily concealed daggers.