Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman Diaspora

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Like other ancient religions and cultures, the study of Græco-Roman Judaism is wrapped up in a negotiation of presupposition and evidence. The textual and archaeological evidence from the ancient world that tells us about Judaism needs interpretation in order to be understood. However, this is no simple task. What I would like to bring up in this paper is the problematic nature of our evidence for the Judaisms of the ancient Græco-Roman world. While presupposition is important for coming up with a research question, in the study of Græco-Roman Judaism, presupposition has too often been used to shape the answer as well. I hope to break open some common assumptions in order to make space for a more careful understanding of what it meant to be Jewish in the city of Rome, in particular, but also in the other parts of the diaspora, where I hope this mind-frame can serve as a model with which to examine what little evidence we have of this extremely interesting social and religious minority group.

The Judaism of the diaspora has most often been studied as a “deviation” from the “pure” form of Palestinian Judaism. Further, it has usually been assumed that the Judaisms of this time were in fact one unified form of proto-Rabbinic Judaism; the form and beliefs of a later manifestation of the religion were read back into the older, less uniform traditions of the Græco-Roman period. Much of the information we have on early Judaism is in the form of much later rabbinic tractates that claim to report on the sayings and actions of earlier rabbis, but which were written, of course, many centuries after the fact. On the other side of this problem is the idea that Judaism is somehow incomparable to its fellow Græco-Roman religions; the move towards seeing Judaism and indigenous Greco-Roman religions of the Mediterranean as belonging to the same category has been slow in coming. The idea that Judaism is somehow isolationist in its community relations is anachronistic, and displays a bias towards the sources of late antiquity while not taking into account earlier evidence from the centuries both before and after the turn of the common era. [1] Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism made great movements in this direction, breaking down the artificial barriers between those two categories, but as usual, much work remains to be done; Judaism and Christianity have only very recently begun to be included in the category “Græco-Roman religions.”

As such, it is the purpose of this paper to do three things: first, to promote the idea that there were multiple, coexisting manifestations of Judaism both in Palestine and the diaspora; second, to suggest that these “deviant” Judaisms deserve equal study when examining Græco-Roman religions; and third, that Judaism itself should be considered a religion of the Mediterranean alongside indigenous religions of this area. Because the exploration of this topic could easily carry on for years and even decades I have limited myself to the community of Jewish Romans in that most important city, Rome.

An Introduction to the Problems of Early Judaism

To highlight some of the problematic assumptions that often underlie common approaches to Græco-Roman Judaism I will briefly draw attention to, by way of introduction, the text of Second Maccabees. This is a fascinating piece – one that I think it is a particularly good example of the sort of thinking going on in various Jewish communities during this time because of its contradictions. This is a Jewish text recounting the successful rebellion of the Maccabees against the Seleucids and the institution of an independent Jewish state for the first time in four hundred years. The tone of this text is decidedly anti-Hellenistic, and is frequently cited as evidence for the rejection of Hellenism by “all Jews.” The text is explicit in its condemnation of Hellenistic institutions such as the gymnasium. I would specifically point out 4:7-20 here, and especially verses 13-15: “Godless wretch that he was and no true high priest, Jason set no bounds on his impiety; indeed, the hellenising process reached such a pitch that the priests ceased to show any interest in serving the altar; but scorning the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they would hurry, on the stroke of the gong, to take part in the distribution, forbidden by the Law, of the oil on the exercise ground; setting no store by the honours of their fatherland, they esteemed Hellenic glories best of all.” Nevertheless, and in translation of course this is easy to miss, the text itself is written in Greek. This in itself indicates that the anti-hellenistic bias the text so proudly wears on its sleeve is not so intense as to warrant the composition of a Hebrew or Aramaic history of the events! The situation in the Hellenistic world and the interactions it allowed are therefore more complicated that we might expect – 2 Maccabees is a good example to keep in the back of our minds throughout this paper.

Another source that, by quickly outlining, will demonstrate the problems involved in the study of ancient Judaism is, interestingly, the earliest Roman source describing the Jewish community. The recorded situation gives evidence of Jewish activity from the year 139 BCE. The text is by Valerius Maximus and describes an expulsion of Jews from Rome by the praetor Cornelius Hispalus. [2] Because we do not have the original document – it only exists as references in other, later, works – the historical reliability of this source is uncertain. The reasons given by the later works suggest that the Romans thought the Jews were “infecting” [3] Roman customs with their own. This text also reflects an apparent confusion around the object of Jewish worship; the source calls the Jewish god Jupiter Sabazius, presumably confusing the Asian Sabazius with the Jewish Yahweh Sabaoth. [4] Many scholars dismiss out of hand the notion that the Jews might themselves have associated their god with Sabazius, but I would suggest that such a conclusion should not be arrived at simply because of what we think we know about Judaism and its supposedly vehement monotheism. [5] Eugene Lane points out some of the problems around the interpretation of this piece of text. [6] Apart from the obvious textual problems, it is difficult to see what kind of relationship (if any) there was between the worship of Yahweh Sabaoth and Jupiter Sabazius. Scholars waver between three separate views: is this (a) a confusion on the part of the Romans between these two cults, (b) the Jews attempting to make their worship of Yahweh Sabaoth more accessible to Roman sensibilities, or (c) a reflection of actual syncretism? In the end, the answer depends on the approach taken. Approaches (a) and (b) reflect the assumption that there is distance between Judaism and Roman religion and culture; were Jews in Rome (or elsewhere) so isolated that cultural communication was unlikely? (C) assumes that the relationship was close enough that some cross-over in religious behaviour and beliefs was possible. This short study demonstrates the importance of interpretation in negotiating the historical evidence for Judaism at this time; nothing is straightforward, and each text or artefact presents the scholar with a unique set of interpretive problems.

Evidence for the Early Jewish Community in Rome

The diaspora existed at least since the destruction of the first temple in 586/587 BCE, when the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians and its people were exiled to Babylon; thus, communities outside of Jerusalem would have already been established by the end of the 6th century. However, our evidence for Jewish life in the diaspora communities is sparse; most of our evidence comes from Egypt, and especially Alexandria, where one of the larger Jewish communities was located. The second largest collection of evidence for Jewish community life is from Rome, but what we know for that area is largely from archaeology and epigraphy, with only a few literary sources.

We have evidence for the Jewish community in Rome starting at the second century BCE Although we therefore know very little about the origins of the Jewish community there, and what might have motivated the collection of Jews in this city, it is possible to suggest several reasons for their existence. First, many Jews may have emigrated during or after the Maccabean period (140-37 BCE). The “Maccabean” or Hasmonean kings, the ruling class of the newly-independent Judea, established an alliance with Rome in 161 BCE; this would have required an embassy of some sort, which we read about in both First and Second Maccabees (1 Macc 14:24; 15:15-24; 2 Macc 4:11). [7]

Second, about this same time, as a city, Rome was becoming quite cosmopolitan, as it was developing into one of the most important cities in the ancient Mediterranean. This, too, would have attracted many groups of people to Rome from all over the Mediterranean and beyond, including Jews. Some Jews, therefore, would have left Jerusalem and the surrounding areas voluntarily.

Third, some scholars have proposed, based largely on the evidence of Josephus (Ant. XIV.4.5) [8] and Philo (Leg. Ad. Gaium 155) [9], that the majority of Jews in Rome arrived as slaves captured in battle and were later freed. The battle referred to by Josephus is that which occurred when Pompey ended the rivalry over the Jewish throne between the Judeans Aristobulus and Hycanus II. However, it is doubtful that the slave or freed population of Jews made up the majority of Jews in the city. As new research by Claude Eilers suggests [10], it is more likely that only some Jews made it to Rome by this route; others, the larger portion, arrived freely and set up lives in the city, and perhaps bought, sold, and owned slaves themselves. The evidence from Philo and Josephus about the number of Jews brought to Rome by Pompey suggests, contrary to what is commonly assumed, that the Jews brought as slaves were in addition to an already thriving community in Rome. The fact that the Jews mentioned by Cicero [11] in 59 BCE appear (a) to attend meetings and (b) are coordinated enough to have some kind of influence suggests that the community is not new, but long established. [12] This gives us reason to consider a more integrated relationship between the Jewish community and the indigenous community in Rome.

However, like diaspora communities all over the world, the Jewish Romans also worked to maintain cultural cohesion within a diverse city. The buildings we now call synagogues functioned as community centres; not only were these the buildings the holding places for the Torah and other sacred scriptures of the Jews, but they were also meeting halls, and in smaller communities, the main organizational structure for the community. [13] Even the word synagogue, a Greek word, illustrates the hybridity in the Jewish diasporic communities; a Jewish institution is called by a Greek name. However, this was not the primary word used by ancient Jews to describe their meetings or the buildings in which they take place. We find in the epigraphic material evidence which supports the fact that the Jews used various Greek terms for their meeting halls, many (if not most) of which were also used (to varying degrees) by their counterparts in the indigenous religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, and by primarily political entities. [14] These terms include include προσευχή, τόπος, οἶκος, and ἱερόν the last of these being a particularly popular term, both among Jews and others communities. [15] Regardless, the fact is that Jews did congregate in smaller or larger groups in the various cities in which they lived, but that these groups were modeled or at the very least named after models used by the indigenous population; they were not specifically Jewish modes of meeting. That these gatherings, for the sake of convenience still called synagogues in this paper, were an important part of the Jewish community is shown by the amount of epigraphic and archaeological evidence in the city of Rome and all over the Roman Empire: at least thirty-five so-called synagogues have been excavated and more than three hundred inscriptions mentioning synagogues have been uncovered, all in all indicating at least one hundred such buildings in the diasporic communities. [16] Architecturally, synagogues have a large main hall, mosaic floors, with symbols, such as the Zodiac [17] or symbols typically considered Jewish, such as menorahs. [18] Functionally, they may have housed prayer meetings, reading groups, gatherings for studying the Torah and/or other Jewish teachings; they may also have served as a kind of political organizational structure, as we come to expect from groups of non-Jewish Greeks or Romans who form associations. We see the collection of funds, either for the temple in Jerusalem or for community projects like building upkeep, or for funeral arrangements for various members of the community. In any case, what we can take away from this brief examination of the main structures of the Jewish diasporic communities is that the Jews behave very much as if they are ordinary Greeks or Romans; that is, they form associations focused towards their particular needs, pay dues to that organization, establish a building in which its members can meet to eat or perform rituals, etcetera.

Just as much of our evidence about these Jewish community and ritual centres is from epigraphic and archaeological evidence, this is also true for much of the rest of the evidence about Judaism in Rome. Unlike the Egyptian community, for example, the community in Rome, with the obvious exception of the historian Josephus, did not produce an exceptional amount of literature that might provide us with first-hand accounts of the goings-on and daily lives of Jewish Romans. As such, evidence from the catacombs and tombs of Jews in Rome helps to shed light not only on burial practices but also on Jewish attitudes towards their geography and cultural location. However, this evidence is not unproblematic. The Jewish catacombs in Rome are located in approximately the same general area as the Christian catacombs – the earliest examples of both categories being located along main roads. [19] Likewise, they date from approximately the same period as the Christian catacombs; that is, the second through fifth centuries CE [20] These are the earliest dates for Jewish burial sites because we have no evidence prior to the second century for any specific method of Jewish burial; that is, if Jews marked their funerary rites in any lasting manner, this manner is indistinguishable as far as present-day scholars are concerned from the rites and engravings left by members of the mainstream Mediterranean religions. [21] The earliest Jewish catacombs are not considered proper catacombs, but are rather a series of separate ὑπόγεια which were only later connected to one another. [22] Later, the need for more space expanded the lengths of underground tunnels used for funerary purposes and developed into catacombs. Neither Hebrew nor Aramaic predominate as the languages of the inscriptions; instead we find primarily Greek and Latin inscriptions detailing a person’s role in the Jewish community, such as scribe or synagogue head, or something else that distinguishes them as Jewish. We also find that the names of those memorialized in this way for the most part carry thoroughly Roman names rather than biblical ones. [23] In terms of language and naming practices, which are two important social and cultural aspects, Jewish Romans were fairly well integrated into the surrounding culture.

The funerary evidence most interesting for this study is the high incidence in Jewish funerary iconography of typically “pagan” or religiously neutral imagery. Leonard V. Rutgers gives one example, citing the prominence of the so-called Season sarcophagoi, which would have been ordered from stock and bought a wide variety of Romans. In the example cited by Rutgers, the Jewish version of this type of sarcophagus exhibits a seven-branched candelabra of the type now commonly associated with Judaism held up and surrounded by several dancing cupids; the candelabra is in place of the portraits of the deceased which are considered indicative of non-Jewish burial. [24]

Here, the cupids are what are unexpected; Cupid, a Roman god, is someone one would not consider acceptable to the sensibilities of Jewish monotheism. Apparently, however, this was not the case. At the very least, we can say that Jews frequented the same workshops for their artistic embellishments as did the rest of the city of Rome; but further, we can make the claim that perhaps Jewish religion and its art is influenced by the surrounding indigenous culture(s) while maintaining some distinctly Jewish features, like the candelabra. [25]

However, at this point I think it very important to point out the work done by Ross Kraemer on this topic. Her essay in the Harvard Theological Review is an important contribution to the problems of interpretation, especially when dealing with early Jewish and Christian material evidence. She criticizes the assumption made by many in the field that there are ways of distinguishing Jews, Christians, and pagans in this kind of material. [26] Normally, an inscription is considered Jewish when it includes some of the following items: typical Jewish symbols, such as the menorah, the luvav [27], the etrog [28], the shofar [29] etc; the term Jew or some other positive indicator of identity; “typical” Jewish names; mention of Jewish religious customs; the presence of such material in what is already considered a Jewish catacomb or cemetery; and finally, mention of a synagogue or synagogue office. [30] Clearly, Christian and “pagan” inscriptions also have their “typical” elements to set them apart from each other and from Jewish ones. Kraemer sees these criteria as problematic for a number of reasons. She points out the fact that most of the terms and images considered “definitively” Jewish, Christian, or pagan, are at this time used by all three groups. One good example of this is the word synagogue; when found on a tomb it is usually taken as a designation of Jewishness. However, we also find examples of inscriptions for a “synagogue” of barbers, which, because it is followed by an inscription to Zeus, is most likely not Jewish. [31] Another example, which is perhaps the best to highlight the problem of a definitive identification for these materials, is the case of a first century c.e. manumission inscription which starts with a dedication to “the highest, almighty, and blessed god” (θεὸς ὓψιστος παντοκράτωρ εὐλογητός) and concludes by invoking Zeus, Ge, and Helios. [32] Scholars of ancient Judaism have debated for some time whether this is a Jewish inscription or not. Which section of the inscription should one disregard – the “typical” Jewish monotheism expressed in typical Jewish terminology, or the clear mention of known pagan deities? The fact that this remains unresolved illustrates the problematics of differentiating clearly between religious groups in this way. There are, of course, many other examples that show this difficulty, but I would suggest that the inscriptions found in the catacombs therefore point towards a hybridity of identities for Roman Jews.

However, the Jewish communities in Rome were certainly not completely indistinguishable from ordinary Romans; they walked a fine line between integration and isolation. Fasting on the Sabbath was another way in which the Jewish community in Rome distinguished itself from its surrounding culture(s). Further, it apparently also distinguished Roman Judaism from the Judaism practiced in other parts of the Diaspora and in Judea proper. Most of our evidence from non-Jewish Romans about their neighbours’ Saturday behaviour is not very flattering, simply because of the genre to which most of the references belong. By and large, much of the evidence is found in satirical poetry, and the rest comes from conservative prose writers. [33] Nevertheless, these writers supply us with most of the information we have about this important weekly ritual; unsurprisingly, these rituals included abstention from work, the lighting of lamps at sunset, and avoiding business transactions. What does come as a surprise is that most writers also refer to the Sabbath as a day of fasting for Jews. [34] Because of later, Talmudic evidence, the literary support for the Sabbath as a fast-day has often been rejected by scholars, but if we are to take the evidence at face value, and there is quite a bit of it, we should not immediately assume that all of these Roman writers, satirical or not, were mistaken. The most prominent indication of fasting comes from none other than Augustus. In a letter to Tiberius (recorded in his biography by Suetonius) he states that “Not even a Jew {{…}} fasts as diligently on his Sabbath as I have done today. It was not until after the first hour of night that I munched a couple of mouthfuls of bread in the bath prior to being oiled.” [35] Augustus, being neither overly conservative with regards to the Jews, nor a writer of satire, can surely be counted as a reliable source! [36] There is, to summarize a long argument discussed elsewhere, enough evidence to suggest that there was fasting by at least some Jews in Rome during the Augustan and later periods. [37] Because we have no evidence that this practice was taken up in other parts of the diaspora or in Judea, the fact that the Roman Jews did fast on the Sabbath supports the idea of a diverse diasporic community.

Focusing now on the Roman attitudes towards the Jews, we might say that this view varies. On the one extreme, Cicero dismisses Jewish religion as barbara superstitio. [38] On the other, Varro, who is usually full-force behind the upholding of Roman mores, sees Judaism as something to be respected as an ancient cult with ancient wisdom that in some way had preserved an earlier, aniconic form of worship. [39] These two are opposed mainly in their approach to the “foreignness” of Judaism; Cicero calls the cult foreign and sees it as alien to the Roman worldview whereas Varro considers the Jewish religion to be simply a manifestation of a form of Jupiter worship – something well accepted in Roman culture and religion, needless to say. Because Yahweh, the god worshipped in Judaism, was never formally invited to Rome – as was, in contrast, Mater Magna, another “foreign” cult – the religion remained liminal in its acceptance among the Roman populace. Added to this was the continued defeat, beginning at Pompey’s victory, of the Jewish uprisings in Jerusalem; for Rome, as we all know, political power and the gods were intimately linked, so that a defeat militarily clearly indicated religious inferiority. [40] Nonetheless, not even Augustus in his efforts to revive “traditional” Roman religion saw fit to curtail Jewish religious behaviour, and in fact gave more liberties to Jewish Roman citizens; those collecting the monthly corn hand-out were permitted to collect their allowance a day later if the distribution day happened to fall on a Sabbath. [41] The fact that Augustus extended the rights of Jews in this way not only suggests a favourable Roman attitude towards Jewish religion, or at the very least a high tolerance for it, but also means that there were enough Jews in Rome who observed the Sabbath in such a way that would restrict “normal” behaviour, such as collecting the corn hand-out. [42] This is a substantial piece of information about the Jewish community in Rome, and should not be ignored.

The sort of negativity one might expect to see about a foreign religion only occurs infrequently. Usually, this negativity cannot be assumed to be anti-Semitism, as it is not the Jewishness of the cult that the Romans objected to, but the foreignness. We have already discussed the power associated with the word superstitio in previous days, and this is an important consideration to bear in mind when thinking about negative Roman reactions to Judaism. Of course, many other cults in Rome were “foreign”, and so when some Jews were expelled from Rome in 19 CE the priests of the cult of Isis were also punished.[43] This particular eviction is very interesting because of the account given by our favourite Jewish historian, Josephus. He claims that the reason for the expulsion was that a woman of prominence, who had already embraced Judaism, had become duped by some impostors into parting with a great deal of money, thinking that it was to go to the temple fund in Jerusalem. When it was discovered that the money was not destined for that righteous cause, there was an uproar, which resulted in the expulsion. [44] Josephus gives a similarly treacherous account for the reason for the expulsion of the Isis cult. [45] It is likely that Josephus only tells part of the tale – that is, the part about dignified ladies turning to foreign cults. However, it also tells us that not all the Jews in Rome were the pious creatures described in the textbooks; the diversity of Judaism is therefore in some way attested to. Second, it illustrates that what was becoming popular at the time, namely initiation into foreign-looking cults, extended to Judaism, so that people not born into Judaism began to sympathize with and practice the cultic rituals to some extent.

I hope I have demonstrated, by showing examples from literary sources, inscriptions, and art, how multifaceted the Jewish community in Rome was. I have shown some general trends which seem to go against much of the previous thinking on Judaism; that is, the Jews in Rome were much closer in culture, language, and ritual to their non-Jewish Roman brothers and sisters than much of the earlier work on Judaism has suggested (and than much current, stubborn scholarship continues to acknowledge). However, I hope that in outlining the general trends, I have not overshadowed the fact that there was more than one type of Judaism in Rome; this reflects the diversity we see in Jewish communities all over the Diaspora and in Judea. The trend in Rome was for the Jewish community to meet in a community centre, called a synagogue or other Greek and Latin words, to study, pray, perform rituals and the like; however, the texts, words, and methods used for each of these activities varied, as did the names for both the buildings themselves and their leaders. In actuality, the development in Rome of a group of Jews who followed a man called Jesus in the centuries after his execution is a good example of this diversity. I have described the problems of supposing that the early Christian catacomb art is different from the Jewish catacomb art and so we can approach the information with which this evidence presents with caution; variety persists in the archaeological record and suggests that at this point, both groups probably used most of the same texts and held many of the same rituals. This diversity reflects something that we should come to expect about the religions of the ancient Mediterranean – that they are far from homogeneous in their practice, and that they may not necessarily uniformly reflect what was written about them by their elite contemporaries. Josephus and Philo attempt to describe and categorize the various types of Judaism they saw around them, but their descriptions cannot be taken as the whole picture.

To conclude, I will return to the question of presupposition and interpretation. The questions I have asked of these texts and the fragmentary evidence for Early Jewish communities in Rome reflect my approach to Judaism as a diasporic community and religion. Barclay gives three very useful definitions of what this identity entails, and I think it is a particularly useful description with which to enter into fruitful dialogue with the evidence discussed above. A proper contextual basis in studies of diaspora communities situates the prejudicial questions we ask of history so that our bias is not reflected in the answers. Barclay’s diasporic communities form “both local and translocal identities;” [46] that is, identity in the diaspora is at the same time concerned with the immediate location and the identity to be formed by interaction with this location, and the identity created and maintained in some other, previous location. There is a relationship between here and elsewhere that is integral to the identity created by diaspora communities. Second, the diasporic communities can be characterized as surrounded by ambiguity in terms of the self-expression of cultural identity. The relationship mentioned above between here and elsewhere is therefore not a binary opposition but a dialectical relationship; to paraphrase Barclay, it is not a question of either assimilation to the majority culture or the maintenance of “original” or “distinct” identity. Last, all of this is wrapped up in notions of power and politics. Relationships based on power are especially obvious in communities where diasporas are prevalent, and so this power dynamic should be taken into account when examining the construction of a diaspora identity. For a final word on Judaism, I would end by paraphrasing the epilogue of Second Maccabees, and suggest that perhaps “Just as it is injurious to drink wine by itself, or again water alone, whereas wine mixed with water is pleasant and produces a delightful sense of well-being," [47] the Judaism of the Hellenistic world is itself a delightful blend of images, ideologies, languages, and cultures.

  1. Leonard Victor Rutgers, “Archaeological Evidence for the Interaction of Jews and Non-Jews in Late Antiquity” American Journal of Archaeology 96.1 (1992): 102.

  2. Barclay, “Rome”, 285; Wolfgang Wiefel “The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome and the Origins of Roman Christianity” in Karl P. Donfried, ed. The Romans Debate, (Peabody Mass: Hendrickson Pub.: 1991), 102.

  3. Inficere.

  4. Barclay, “Rome”, 285; Wiefel, “The Jewish Community in Ancient Rome”, 102.

  5. For competing opinions about this Sabazios and his relation to Yahweh, see F. Cupont A Propos de Sabazios et du Judaisme (Musee Belge 14, 1910) 55-60 and G. Haufe in Leipoldt-Grundmann, ed. Umwelt des Urchristentums (1965) 1. 116.

  6. Eugene N. Lane, “Sabazius and the Jews in Valerius Maximus: A Re-Examination” The Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979): 35-38.

  7. John M. Barclay, “Rome” in Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora. (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1996), 285; 14:24: “ After this, Simon sent Numenius to Rome as the bearer of a large golden shield weighing a thousand mina, to confirm the alliance with them.”

  8. “Now the occasions of this misery which came upon Jerusalem were Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, by raising a sedition one against the other; for now we lost our liberty, and became subject to the Romans, and were deprived of that country which we had gained by our arms from the Syrians, and were compelled to restore it to the Syrians. Moreover, the Romans exacted of us, in a little time, above ten thousand talents; and the royal authority, which was a dignity formerly bestowed on those that were high priests, by the right of their family, became the property of private men. But of these matters we shall treat in their proper places. Now Pompey committed Celesyria, as far as the river Euphrates and Egypt, to Scaurus, with two Roman legions, and then went away to Cilicia, and made haste to Rome. He also carried bound along with him Aristobulus and his children; for he had two daughters, and as many sons; the one of which ran away, but the younger, Antigonus, was carried to Rome, together with his sisters.”

  9. “How, then, did [Augustus] view the great district of Rome that occupies the other side of the river Tiber? He was not ignorant of the fact that it was occupied and inhabited by the Jews. Most of them were Roman citizens, having been manumitted. For, having been brought to Italy as prisoners-of-war, they were manumitted by their owners…” (Trans. Eilers).

  10. Claude Eilers “Roman Jews and the Slave Trade” Guest Lecture, McGill University. Montreal. 24 January 2007.

  11. “Next is the ill-feeling concerning the Jewish gold. No doubt that is the reason that this case is being heard not far from the Aurelian steps. It was on account of this charge, Laelius, that you shought both this venue and that mob. You know how large their number is, how much they stick together, how much influence they wield in public meetings. And so I will speak quietly, so that only the jurors can hear, for there are many who would stir them up against me and all the best men. I will not help them by making it easier. Although it had been the practice for gold to be sent to Jerusalem every year from Italy and all our provinces in the name of the Jews, Flaccus enacted by edict that its export from Asia was not allowed” (Cicero, Flaccus, 66 [trans. Eilers]).

  12. Claude Eilers “Roman Jews and the Slave Trade” Guest Lecture, McGill University. Montreal. 24 January 2007.

  13. Tessa Rajak “Synagogue and Community in the Græco-Roman Diaspora” in John R. Bartlett, ed. Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities (London: Routledge, 2002), 22-23.

  14. Rajak, “Synagogue and Community in the Græco-Roman Diaspora” 27-38.

  15. Rajak, “Synagogue and Community in the Græco-Roman Diaspora” 31.

  16. Rajak, “Synagogue and Community in the Græco-Roman Diaspora” 25.

  17. The synagogue at Dura Europus is a good example; however, there still exist today, even in North America, active synagogues making use of zodiac imagery. See for instance the Bagg Street Shul, the oldest continuous synagogue community in Quebec, located at 3919 Clark Avenue, Montreal.

  18. Rajak, “Synagogue and Community in the Græco-Roman Diaspora” 25; Ross Kraemer gives a good discussion on the dangers of assuming that symbols which are today considered to belong typically to one religious group were historically assigned solely to that same particular religious group in her article “Jewish Tuna and Christian Fish: Identifying Religious Affiliation in Epigraphic Sources” in Harvard Theological Review 84 (1991): 141-162.

  19. Rutgers, Subterranean Rome. (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 146.

  20. Rutgers, Subterranean Rome, 149.

  21. Rutgers, Subterranean Rome, 149.

  22. Rutgers, Subterranean Rome, 148.

  23. Rutgers, Subterranean Rome, 150.

  24. Rutgers, “Archaeological Evidence for the Interaction of Jews and Non-Jews in Late Antiquity”: 104-105.

  25. Rutgers, “Archaeological Evidence for the Interaction of Jews and Non-Jews in Late Antiquity”: 106-107.

  26. Ross S. Kraemer “Jewish Tuna and Christian Fish: Identifying Religious Affiliation in Epigraphic Sources” in Harvard Theological Review 84.2 (1991): 142.

  27. A branch associated with the festival of Sukkoth.

  28. A citrus fruit perhaps like a lemon that is associated with Sukkoth.

  29. A ram’s horn used ritually at Rosh Hashannah.

  30. Kraemer 142, following Larry H. Kant “Jewish Inscriptions in Greek and Latin” ANRW II, 20, 2 (1987): 671-713. She also outlines indicators of Christian inscriptions (143) but for the purpose of the discussion here, only the Jewish criteria are included.

  31. Kraemer, 145.

  32. Kraemer, 146.

  33. Margaret Williams, “Being a Jew in Rome: Sabbath Fasting as an Expression of Romano-Jewish Identity” in John M.G. Barclay, ed, Negotiating Diaspora: Jewish Strategies in the Roman Empire. (London: T&T Clark, 2004), 10.

  34. Williams, “Being a Jew in Rome”, 10.

  35. Suetonius, Divus Augustus 76.2 in Williams, “Being a Jew in Rome”, 12.

  36. Should anyone protest that Augustus must not have been familiar with the practices of Judaism, it should also be noted that Augustus was friends with the Herods, and that his household apparently had enough Jews in it to warrant a special organization – the synagogue of the Augustesians (Williams 12).

  37. Williams notes that the accounts of Jerusalem falling to the Babylonians (i.e. Jos. Ant. 14.66-68) depict the event as happening on a Sabbath; this would therefore explain the mournful or penitent behaviour that would be manifested as a fast (16-17).

  38. Pro Flacco 28.67, Barclay Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 287.

  39. We only know of Varro’s opinion on this matter through Augustus; BarclayJews in the Mediterranean Diaspora

  40. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 288.

  41. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 292-293.

  42. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 293.

  43. Wiefel, “The Jewish Community in Rome” 104.

  44. Josephus, Ant. XVIII.3.5; the expulsion of both cults is also linked by Tacitus (A ii.85.5) and Suetonius (E. Mary Smallwood, The Jews Under Roman Rule [Leiden: Brill, 2001], 202.)

  45. Josephus, Ant. XVIII.3.4; a woman, an initiand in the cult of Isis, is duped into having sex with a man who was in love with her and tricked her into believing he was a god. She therefore agreed to meet in the temple, convinced by the priests of Isis that this was indeed the case. In this instance, the priests of Isis alone were executed, and the cult was merely discouraged rather than expelled. We see similarities to the account of the Jewish expulsion in the fact that both women are ladies of high standing, tricked by representatives of a foreign court into behaving with indignity.

  46. Barclay, Negotiating Diaspora, 2.

  47. 2 Macc. 15:39