Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Okay... I love HBO's "Rome" to the point of obsession... but... they had to get something really unforgivably wrong (unforgivably to me anyway), and I guess this is what they chose.

I could deal with Timon regularly sleeping with a Roman woman... He likes Atia and Atia finds him amusing... Sure, it's not kosher for a 1st century BCE Jew to be doing that, but well within what I would expect the margin of behavior to be for people of that time. I can suspend any disbelief I might have in this case. He also doesn't look any different than any other Roman and his name is certainly not Hebrew. I can also excuse these things because we weren't given any kind of background for him at all. One could only guess at how long he had lived among Romans, how removed he was from Judean culture. Besides, there were literally hundreds of Judaisms being practiced in Judea and among the Diaspora during the Second Temple Period and we only know about four of them (granted they were the most populist, but still...). It wasn't all that unusual for Jews to Hellenize or Latinize their names when living among cultures where those were the everyday language. So I can suspend my disbelief here too.

But if they are going to flesh out Timon, show him with his family (which up until now we didn't know he had - two daughters, a son and a wife named Deborah or "honey bee" if you want it translated) and all that, and now, it looks like, make him develop into a more pious Jew, it's going to drive me nuts. This is one area of "Rome" that the writers, etc. are getting *really* wrong. I know more about Second Temple Judaisms than I do about most of the modern movements and... Oy! If they're going to expand on Timon's storyline and make him what I know is going to be a modern version of "pious," not a 1st century BCE version, I'm going to probably loose my mind. They already have him wearing what I'm going to call a pseudo-yarmulka. To the very best of my knowledge, yarmulkas of this style were not worn for another 1000 years or so, and are the most common type seen today in the US... I find it terribly distracting... Also to the best of my knowledge, generally in Roman times, Jews only covered their heads while praying, unless there was some sort of special circumstance, especially the ones who weren't very pious - Timon definitely would fall into that category.

In the first season, he also says at one point that he's wearing the yarmulka because it's Yom Kippur and he accuses his fellow Jew (who had asked him why he was wearing it) of being a particularly bad Jew for not knowing that. The other man says, "What are you? My rabbi now?" ... Dude! There were no rabbis in the first century BCE and certainly not the kind he's suggesting there. I realize that to most people yalmulkas and rabbis are Jewish icons, these things are easily recognizable and that's probably why the show is using them, but a plain, all-white marble Forum was an icon of "Hollywood Rome" and they blew that stereotype out of the water for the sake of historical accuracy. Why not this too while they were at it? Was it too much trouble to talk to some religious studies scholars while they were talking to archaeologists and Roman historians? ::sighs::

Also, for the love of all that's holy, they've told us in this episode that Timon isn't his real name. His real name is... wait for it... Tevye... Yeah, no, you're right, that's from "Fiddler on the Roof." And "Tevye" is distinctly Yiddish! Not at all Hebrew. The Hebrew would be "Tobiah" and it would be Hellenized as "Tobias." Yiddish comes from 11th century CE German... Why would someone in the 1st century BCE in Rome - or anywhere in the 1st century BCE for that matter - have that name? I could scream for such an asinine choice!

And then there's his brother, Levi, who was just introduced in the last episode... I can tell you now, he drives me even more nuts. Could they have found a more "Yid"-looking actor to play Levi? No insult to the actor intended. I happen to think that look in general is rather strangely attractive, but he looks so Eastern European that it's ridiculous. He's not a Jew from 1st century BCE Judea! He's a Jew from Kiev, 8th century CE onward! Also, the character himself is flawed. I can't believe that he would be talking about rebellion against the Romans so early... Sorry, just can't buy it... The First Jewish-Roman War is about 100 years away from when "Rome" is set. Did Jesus talk about it? Yes... at least the writings about Jesus do, but those were written around the time of the First Jewish War, so one would expect them to. But in the 40s-30s BCE... doubt it, seriously! I think it's rather contrived and convenient to have him speaking this way and to make that the major conflict between Timon and Levi in this episode. And even more contrived and convenient if they develop a schism between Timon and his friends in Rome over the issue.

Writers/Costumers/Producers of "Rome," I'm really disappointed in all this after all the research you put in to everything else...


ilana said...

Um.. well... there was the rebellion at Masada in 73-ish CE... But if he's isolated from Judea because he lives in Italy, would it be possible that word would have circulated? Vespatian did consider it rather a black eye.. Of course, not having access to cable, I've never seen this series and I don't know anything about it except that it's supposed to be quite popular.

Rachael said...

Yeah, that's why it's strange that he would be talking about Judean rebellion against the Romans in the 44 BCE, which is when the current season of "Rome" takes off, immediately following the assassination of Julius Caesar. I should have made that more clear in my complaints against the show... which is small in comparison to how wonderful it is in all other ways, except this. It really is a very good show overall.

ilana said...

Ahhh, so it's not 1st century CE, then. Sorry. Maybe I misread it. I've heard good things about it, so maybe I'll look into tracking down the first season DVDs.

Rachael said...

That's okay... I wasn't very careful when I was writing my fannish rant, so I probably wasn't careful in explaining the setting. Plus, once "first century" is pretty easy to mistake for another! ;D

I do highly recommend the show because they really did do a pretty fantastic job with most of it. There are other little things that they tweaked and messed with in order to have fewer characters (after all, how many characters can one squeeze into a show before it goes way beyond "ensemble cast") and make the show more concise without skimping on the drama (as if that's possible with Roman history?). They're trying to get through something like 22 years of history in 22 episodes, and so far, they've pulled it off very well.

ilana said...

Hey.. since you have cable, you might be interested in the History Channel Inernational. Our friends in NC sent us some DVDs of stuff they TiVo-ed, including Naked Archaeologist, which you also might find amusing. :)

Roman history IS pretty dramatic without any help from outsiders. :P Where would we be without Caligula's Saturnalia proclamation making gift-giving mandatory? Or the Julian calendar's expiration dates? Or... or... Caesar's campaigns in Gaul and Britain? Now THAT was a good read.

Rachael said...

Yeah, History International is great. They air all sorts of documentaries, about all sorts of things. Totally my favorite of all the History Channels. I think I've seen Naked Archaeologist before, but it was a while ago. With so much to do, it's difficult to keep up with that kind of program.

I know, isn't it great! I *love* Roman history! You can't really beat it for amazing, bold and unbelievable drama. I think the Vikings can meet it on the unbelievable stage, and they were certainly a bold bunch, but the shear drama and scale of Rome leaves them in the dust, I'm afraid. And Greece certainly has it moments, but still... You gotta give props to Rome for all out, balls-to-the-wall chutzpah in keeping it together against all odds for so long. My Latin prof said to me the other day that I'm a Classicist masquerading as a Medievalist... who knows, she might be right. ::shrugs::

ilana said...

Hee! Sounds like an apt description, even if it's just speculative.

Rachael said...


Anonymous said...

This is a necropost if there ever was one, but yours is one of the few sites I've come across that brings this up.

I am watching ROME for the very first time (gotta watch something while waiting for GOT S3). HBO got this one completely wrong. Tevye is a yiddish name, it did not exist during this time period (the proper form would probably have been toviah). The liturgy in the synagogue sequences are wrong. Granted - we don't know for sure what tunes or pronunciation was used, but it certainly wasn't nusach Ashkenaz! Mannerisms, dress, language (using the word Hashem? Really?) Ugh - someone on their staff knows just enough to get it all wrong.

Is it me, or is his Jewish identity an afterthought? That came out of nowhere in season 1.

The series tries to hard to be authentic. Too bad they did not ask the local frum Rav.