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date: 04 December 2022

anti-Semitism, paganfree

anti-Semitism, paganfree

  • Martin Goodman


  • Jewish Studies

Modern accounts of hostility to Jews in classical antiquity have often been complicated by a concern to relate pagan anti-Semitism to the anti-Judaism of some early Christians and to the history of anti-Semitism in more recent times. A literary tradition hostile to Jews and Judaism can be traced back to Greek writers in Egypt from the 3rd century BC. The social, cultural and political background to anti-Jewish invective cannot always be discerned, but it has been plausibly argued that propaganda aimed at Jews after the attack on the Jerusalem Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and after the destruction of the Temple by Titus in A.D. 70 will have had a major impact: in the early second century AD, Tacitus wrote of the Jews that they ‘regard as profane all that we hold sacred; on the other hand, they permit all that we abhor’ (Hist. 5.4.1). Hostility seems to have been directed to Jewish customs rather than race, so that apostate Jews were not generally taunted with their origins, but the causes of hostility are debated. Some have argued that Jews were disliked just because they were different, but other scholars have focussed on local tensions, such as Jewish-Greek conflict in Alexandria in the first century AD (over Jewish aspirations to Alexandrian citizenship and Greek resentment of Roman protection of the Jews) and the periodic expulsions of Jews from Rome in the same period. The apparent significance of ancient antisemitism, compared to hostility to other minority groups, may be exaggerated by the preservation of unusual amounts of material about Jews in the later Jewish and Christian traditions, and by the emphasis laid on the campaign in Judaea by the Flavian regime, which used celebration of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 to disguise their seizure of power in the civil war of 68–69.


  • M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, 3 vols. (1974–1984).
  • L.H. Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World (1993).
  • P. Schäfer, Judeophobia: Attitudes towards the Jews in the Ancient World (1997).
  • Z. Yavetz, Journal of Jewish Studies 1992, 1 ff.
  • E. Gruen, Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans (2002).
  • B. Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity (2004).
  • M. Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem (2007).