Rome enlists soldiers from all nations under its rule
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This passage from the fifth-century midrash Genesis Rabbah expounds on a verse from a chapter that describes a war between two groups of kings; this verse lists one set of allies: “It was in the days of Amraphel, King of Shinar; Arioch, King of Ellasar; Chedorlaomer, King of Elam; and Tidal, king of nations (goyim)” (Genesis 14:1; based on NKJV). According to this midrash, these four kings each symbolize an empire, following the model of four kingdoms that originated in the vision in Daniel (7:2-7). In this framework, the fourth empire will be the harshest oppressor, but also the last, for its fall will be followed by Israel’s deliverance (more on this theme in the commentary on Leviticus Rabbah 13:5 [part one]). The ordering of the empires in our source is not clear: the first three empires are not organized chronologically, for Greece is mentioned between Babylonia and Media. Regardless of the identification of these first kings, this analysis focuses on the depiction of the fourth kingdom.
The “evil kingdom,” as a reference to Rome, is linked to the final section of our verse: “and Tidal, king of nations (goyim).” Given that the Hebrew word goyim often denotes “nations,” this midrash depicts Rome ruling over numerous peoples, noting that it recruits soldiers from throughout its empire (following Krauss, Persia and Rome, p. 178-179). The statement “This is the evil kingdom, for it enlists its soldiers (turania or tironia;lit. she writes down her soldiers or levies troops) from all nations of the world” also appears elsewhere in Genesis Rabbah. In 70:8 (Theodor-Albeck edition, p. 907), in relation to flocks drinking from a well in Genesis 29:1-3: the well represents Zion; the “three flocks of sheep” (v. 2) are the three kingdoms; and, “all the flocks were gathered there” (v. 3) is Rome, which drafts troops from all nations. This midrash teaches that these four kingdoms became wealthy from the spoils of the Temple. In Genesis Rabbah 76:6 (Theodor-Albeck edition, p. 903), this statement appears in relation to the mention of the fourth kingdom (Daniel 7:8) in the context of Jacob’s request: “Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children” (Genesis 32:12, verse 11 in NRSV). And, this assertion occurs in 88:6 (Theodor-Albeck edition, p. 1084), which comments on the chief baker’s dream in Genesis 40:16-17 (on these sources, see also Morgenstern, “The Image of Edom,” p. 205-206).
Our passage and its parallels offer significant insights: Their author(s) show an awareness that the Roman empire consists of numerous nations from which soldiers are conscripted. Although these peoples are ruled by a single kingdom, they remained distinct from one another rather than becoming a unified entity. Furthermore, its subjects are not all considered Romans (cf. Commentary on Daniel IV.8, which is dated to the early third century: “However, the now ruling animal is not one nation, but it is a collection of all languages and of all human races and it is a raising of troops in preparation for the war, who are all called Romans, but do not originate from one country” [translation by Marie Roux]; see also the commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae XXXI.16.8). Attention to Roman dominion over all nations also seems to serve an interpretative purpose since, in this verse by verse midrash, the commentator is required to expound on “and Tidal king of nations (goyim)” (Genesis 14:1, NKJV). However, as discussed above, this midrashic collection also notes that Rome recruits soldiers from the nations in biblical contexts that do not present such an exegetical need. Roman enlistment of troops from throughout the nations also appears in Pesiqta de Rav Kahana, ha-ḥodesh ha-ze, pisqah 7 albeit in greater detail and a different context. While the reference to this Roman practice in Genesis Rabbah is rather brief, its inclusion in other locations that discuss Rome highlights the significance of this subject for the editor(s) of this collection.