Whether the modern term anti-Semitism, popularized by the German anti-Semitic agitator and founder of the League of Antisemites Wilhelm Marr (1819–1904), is appropriate for antiquity is controversial. Scholars have proposed to use alternative terms such as Judeophobia or hatred against Jews instead. Similarly controversial is the question whether racism existed and was directed against Jews in antiquity. Greek and Latin writers’ expression of anti-Jewish arguments and slanderous allegations against Jews need to be investigated within the respective social, political, and cultural contexts in which they occur. Several anti-Jewish writers lived in Egypt and created variant versions of a counter-narrative to the biblical exodus story. Egyptian “anti-Semitism” is usually explained by reference to relations between Jews and non-Jews in Alexandria and the Hellenistic and Roman rulers’ treatment of the different ethnic groups. Recurrent anti-Jewish arguments are directed against beliefs and practices associated with Jews, such as Jewish monotheism, Sabbath observance, circumcision, and abstinence from pork. Rather than being based on detailed knowledge of Judaism or close observance of Jewish practices, they reflect misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Some allegations were entirely fictional. Greek and Roman authors’ claims of their own culture’s superiority over Jews as an ethnic and religious minority flared up in times of rebellion and defeat. Conflicts and clashes also happened in Antioch, Caesarea, and Rome, where Jews were frequently expelled. Major Roman authors expressed hostile views of Jews and Judaism. Roman emperors’ policies shifted between submission and toleration. Not every form of conflict between Jews and others can be called anti-Semitism. When pagans became Christian, traditional pagan attitudes towards Jews merged with Christian anti-Judaism.
Archelaus (4), son of Herod (1) and Augustan ethnarch
Aristeas, Letter of
The Letter of Aristeas is a literary work composed in Greek that narrates the legendary origins of the Septuagint. Scholars date the work to between the 3rd century
Aristobulus (2), Alexandrian Jewish author, c. 2nd half of 2nd cent. BCE
William David Ross and Simon Hornblower
Shim‘on Bar Kokhba lead the rebellion of a part of the Jewish people, who organized an independent Jewish state for the short period from 132 to 136, during the reign of Hadrian. The rebellion which was finally crushed by the Roman army with heavy effects for the Jewish heartland in the province Judea.
Bar Kokhba (“son of a star”) is a sobriquet given to Shim'on, the leader of the Jewish revolt from 132–136. In his own letters, his real name is—in Aramaic/Hebrew language—Shim'on bar/ben Kosiba (P. Yadin 50; XḤev/Se 30, et al.); in Greek sources he is called Βαρχωχεβας (Justin, Apol. 1.31.6; Euseb. Hist. eccl. 4.6.2; 4.8.4), or Χοχεβᾶς (Sync. 660) or in Latin Cochebas (Hieron. De vir ill. 21); for all forms of names see PIR2 B 53; S 746.
The name Bar Kokhba (“son of a star”) carries a positive messianic association; it should go back to Rabbi Akiba, with reference to Balaam’s statement in Numbers 24.17: A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of tumult. Akiba is said to have awarded him the title Messiah: “This is the king: messiah.” However, this assignment to Rabbi Akiba is probably unhistorical; it is an ascription made by later rabbis.
Benjamin G. Wright III
Berenice(4), daughter of M. Iulius Agrippa I, b. 28 CE
Edith Mary Smallwood and M. T. Griffin
Book of Daniel
Anathea E. Portier-Young
Extant in three main ancient editions, the book of Daniel is a Jewish text composed c. 165
Caesarea (2) in Palaestina
Lawrence H. Schiffman
The Cairo geniza was a storeroom for no longer usable holy books in the synagogue of Fustat, Old Cairo, where for centuries, old Jewish manuscripts, mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo- Arabic, including also secular documents and communal records, were deposited. In the 19th century, European scholars became aware of this collection and manuscripts were removed to a variety of libraries in Europe and the United States. This material provides those studying the ancient world and ancient Jewish texts in particular with an amazing treasure of documents, throwing light on the history of the biblical text and its interpretation, the Hebrew language, Greek and Syriac versions of the Bible, Second Temple and Rabbinic literature, Jewish liturgy and the later history—political, economic, and religious—of the Jews in the Mediterranean basin. This material has totally reshaped our understanding of these fields. In the area of Bible, these texts illustrate the manner in which the vocalization and cantillation symbols were developed. Hebrew versions of some important Second Temple literature, later found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, had earlier been discovered in the geniza. Many previously unknown Midrashim and rabbinic exegetical materials have become known only from this collection. This material has provided an entirely new corpus of liturgical poetry.
Leonard V. Rutgers
Subterranean cemeteries comparable to the early Christian catacombs of Rome. Jewish catacombs have been discovered in Beth She‘arim (Galilee) (2nd–4th cents.
Cestius Gallus, Gaius, suffect consul, 42 CE
Circumcision of male genitalia was widely practised in the ancient near east, as Herodotus (2.104) was aware. In general both Greeks and Romans found the custom repulsive and ridiculous, which led to tensions especially with Jews, for whom circumcision, as a religious imperative, played a central role in establishing cultural identity. Jewish circumcision was prohibited by *Antiochus (4) IV Epiphanes and probably by *Hadrian, but *Antoninus Pius specifically permitted Jews to circumcise their own sons (Dig. 48.8.11). Although *Josephus wrote that other peoples, including Egyptian priests, practised circumcision in his day (Ap. 2.141–44), it was generally regarded as a distinctively Jewish custom by Greeks, Romans, and early Christians. Apostates from Judaism sometimes used epispasm, a surgical procedure to reverse circumcision, and rabbis after the *Bar Kokhba revolt changed the method of Jewish circumcision to make such reversal more difficult.
There is little evidence of conversion to Israelite religion or Judaism in Jewish scriptures. For instance, while later rabbis understood the book of Ruth to portray the conversion of Ruth to Judaism, the book itself repeatedly refers to her as a Moabite, even after she declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Similarly, the Hebrew text of Esther 8:17 portrays numerous Gentiles Judaizing: “Many peoples of the land Judaized because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” The Septuagint translation (LXX) adds that this “Judaization” included circumcision. While some scholars believe that this verse refers to conversion, the author claims that this action was taken only out of fear of the Jews. These Gentiles did not Judaize out of religious conviction; rather, they merely pretended to be Jews to avoid Jewish retaliation for the violent machinations of Haman.
Dead Sea Scrolls
Documents made of leather and papyrus, and, in one case, of copper, found between 1947 and 1956 in caves near Qumran by the Dead Sea. The scrolls, written by Jews, are mostly in Hebrew and
, but a small number are in Greek. Many are fragments of biblical texts from the Old Testament and from Jewish religious compositions otherwise only preserved through Christian manuscript traditions. The scrolls were written in the last centuries
Of particular significance in the study of *Judaism in this period are the texts composed by sectarians, whose relationship to the nearby settlement site at Qumran is debated. These texts include community rules, hymns, liturgical texts, calendars, and works of bible interpretation. Among this last group is found the pesher type of interpretation, characteristic of this sect and rarely found elsewhere in Jewish literature, in which the real meaning of scriptural passages is alleged to lie in hidden allusions to more recent events.
diaspora, Jewish, 332 BCE–c. 600 CE
For some ancient Jews, “diaspora” (together with its cognates) was an actor’s and not an observer’s term. But its import was primarily theological: God punished the Jews for their sins by dispersing them from their native land of Israel. Yet “diaspora” retains analytic utility for historians, if taken to refer to the geographically and temporally varied modes of Jewish life outside Palestine. It is not known to what extent diaspora Jews were emigrants from Palestine and their descendants; nor do we know how numerous they were. But we can follow the evidence where it exists. The main lesson is that the onset of Roman rule created crises around the integration of the Jews into their host societies. Intentionally or not, in the cities of the east (and the big villages of Egypt) the Romans fomented discord between different elements of the population. In Egypt, this led at once to the ultimately lethal—for the Jews, anyhow—three-way competition between Jews, Greeks, and Egyptians. Even in Asia Minor, normally understood as the best-case scenario for Jews under Roman rule, the evidence indicates that Jewish life in the Roman imperial period was more fragile, constrained, fraught, and impermanent than is often supposed.