Guide Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE-117 CE)

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Even before Rome annexed Judea as a province, the Romans had interacted with Jews from their diasporas settled in Rome for a century and a half. Many cities of the Roman provinces in the eastern Mediterranean contained very large Jewish communities, dispersed from the time of the sixth century BCE.

Catalog Record: Jews in the Mediterranean diaspora : from | HathiTrust Digital Library

Julius Caesar formulated a policy of allowing Jews to follow their traditional religious practices, a policy which was followed, and extended, by Augustus , first emperor of Rome, reigned 27 BC - 14 AD. This gave Judaism the status of a religio licita permitted religion throughout the Empire. Jews retained their traditions and customs, including kosher dietary customs. During the late Hellenistic and Roman era, pork, a meat forbidden by Jewish law , became a common and frequent cuisine for Romans.


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Since Jews had the status of a religio licita , allowing them to continue their practices, they refused to eat pork. Jordan Rosenblum has argued that by refusing pork, Jews symbolically separated themselves from Romans and created a cultural identity for themselves. The financial crisis under Caligula 37—41 has been proposed as the "first open break between Rome and the Jews", even though problems were already evident during the Census of Quirinius in 6 and under Sejanus before The revolt was put down by the future Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus.

In the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD , the Romans destroyed much of the Temple in Jerusalem and, according to some accounts, plundered artifacts from the Temple, such as the Menorah. Jews continued to live in their land in significant numbers, the Kitos War of notwithstanding, until Julius Severus ravaged Judea while putting down the Bar Kokhba revolt of — After the Jewish-Roman wars 66— , Hadrian changed the name of Iudaea province to Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina in an attempt to erase the historical ties of the Jewish people to the region.

Many of the Judaean Jews were sold into slavery [11] while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. The book of Acts in the New Testament , as well as other Pauline texts , make frequent reference to the large populations of Hellenised Jews in the cities of the Roman world. These Hellenised Jews were only affected by the diaspora in its spiritual sense, absorbing the feeling of loss and homelessness which became a cornerstone of the Jewish faith, much supported by persecutions in various parts of the world.

The policy towards proselytization and conversion to Judaism, which spread the Jewish religion throughout Hellenistic civilization , seems to have ended with the wars against the Romans and the following reconstruction of Jewish values for the post-Temple era.

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Of critical importance to the reshaping of Jewish tradition from the Temple-based religion to the traditions of the Diaspora, was the development of the interpretations of the Torah found in the Mishnah and Talmud. In spite of the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jews remained in the land of Israel in significant numbers. The Jews who remained there went through numerous experiences and armed conflicts against consecutive occupiers of the Land.

Some of the most famous and important Jewish texts were composed in Israeli cities at this time. The Jerusalem Talmud , the completion of the Mishnah and the system of niqqud are examples.

In this period the tannaim and amoraim were active rabbis who organized and debated the Jewish oral law. A major catalyst in Palestinian Judaism is Judah haNasi , who was a wealthy rabbi and one of the last tannaim, oral interpreters of the Law. He was in good standing with Roman authority figures, which aided in his ascent to being the Patriarch of the Jewish community in Palestine. The decisions of the tannaim are contained in the Mishnah , Beraita , Tosefta , and various Midrash compilations. The commentaries of the amoraim upon the Mishnah are compiled in the Jerusalem Talmud , which was completed around AD, probably in Tiberias.

In , the Jewish population in Sepphoris , under the leadership of Patricius, started a revolt against the rule of Constantius Gallus , brother-in-law of Emperor Constantius II. The revolt was eventually subdued by Gallus' general, Ursicinus. According to tradition, in Hillel II created the Hebrew calendar , which is a lunisolar calendar based on math rather than observation. Until then, the entire Jewish community outside the land of Israel depended on the observational calendar sanctioned by the Sanhedrin ; this was necessary for the proper observance of the Jewish holy days.


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However, danger threatened the participants in that sanction and the messengers who communicated their decisions to distant communities. As the religious persecutions continued, Hillel determined to provide an authorized calendar for all time to come that was not dependent on observation at Jerusalem.

Julian , the only emperor to reject Christianity after the conversion of Constantine , allowed the Jews to return to "holy Jerusalem which you have for many years longed to see rebuilt" and to rebuild the Temple.

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However Julian was killed in battle on 26 June in his failed campaign against the Sassanid Empire , and the Third Temple was not rebuilt at that time. In reaction to this further anti-Jewish measures were enacted throughout the Eastern Roman realm and as far away as Merovingian France.

Following the 1st-century Great Revolt and the 2nd-century Bar Kokhba revolt , the destruction of Judea exerted a decisive influence upon the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world, as the center of worship shifted from the Temple to Rabbinic authority. Some Jews were sold as slaves or transported as captives after the fall of Judea, others joined the existing diaspora, while still others remained in Judea and began work on the Jerusalem Talmud. The Jews in the diaspora were generally accepted into the Roman Empire , but with the rise of Christianity , restrictions grew.

Forced expulsions and persecution resulted in substantial shifts in the international centers of Jewish life to which far-flung communities often looked, although not always unified, due to the Jewish people's dispersion itself. Jewish communities were thereby largely expelled from Judea and sent to various Roman provinces in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa. The Roman Jewry came to develop a character associated with the urban middle class in the modern age.

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Synopsis About this title The first book to provide a comprehensive survey of the history of the Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora in the Hellenistic and early Roman period. An important reference for all scholars and students with an interest in Second Temple Judaism, Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity "synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title. From the Back Cover : "Barclay's study corrects the traditional oversight that would equate early Judaism with Palestinian Judaism. Hayman, Edinburgh University "This is a superb book which has lifted our discussion of Jews in the Diaspora to a new plane.

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