The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL:
THE JEWISH WORLD IN THE DAYS OF CHRIST
ALEXANDRIA AND ROME
THE JEWISH COMMUNITIES IN THE CAPITALS OF WESTERN CIVILISATION.
We have spoken of Alexandria as the capital of the Jewish world
in the West. Antioch was, indeed, nearer to Palestine, and its Jewish
population - including the floating part of it - as numerous as that of
Alexandria. But the wealth, the thought, and the influence of Western Judaism
centred in the modern capital of the land of the Pharaohs. In those days Greece
was the land of the past, to which the student might resort as the home of
beauty and of art, the time hallowed temple of thought and of poetry. But it
was also the land of desolateness and of ruins, where fields of corn waved over
the remains of classic antiquity. The ancient Greeks had in great measure sunk
to a nation of traders, in keen competition with the Jews. Indeed, Roman sway
had levelled the ancient world, and buried its national characteristics. It was
otherwise in the far East; it was otherwise also in Egypt. Egypt was not a land
to be largely inhabited, or to be 'civilised' in the then sense of the term:
soil, climate, history, nature forbade it. Still, as now, and even more than
now, was it the dream-land of untold attractions to the traveller. The ancient,
mysterious Nile still rolled its healing waters out into the blue sea, where
(so it was supposed) they changed its taste within a radius farther than the
eye could reach. To be gently borne in bark or ship on its waters, to watch the
strange vegetation and fauna of its banks; to gaze beyond, where they merged into
the trackless desert; to wander under the shade of its gigantic monuments, or
within the weird avenues of its colossal temples, to see the scroll of
mysterious hieroglyphics; to note the sameness of manner and of people as of
old, and to watch the unique rites of its ancient religion - this was indeed to
be again in the old far-away world, and that amidst a dreaminess bewitching the
senses, and a gorgeousness dazzling the imagination.1
1. What charm Egypt had for the Romans may be gathered from so many of their mosaics and frescoes. Comp. Friedländer, u. s. vol. ii. pp. 134-136.
We are still far out at sea, making for the port of Alexandria
- the only safe shelter all along the coast of Asia and Africa. Quite thirty
miles out the silver sheen of the lighthouse on the island of Pharos2
- connected by a mole with Alexandria - is burning like a star on the edge of
the horizon. Now we catch sight of the palmgroves of Pharos; presently the
anchor rattles and grates on the sand, and we are ashore. What crowd of vessels
of all sizes, shapes and nationalities; what a multitude of busy people; what a
very Babel of languages; what a commingling of old and new world civilisation;
and what a variety of wares piled up, loading or unloading!
2. This immense lighthouse was square up to the middle, then covered by an octagon, the top being round. The last recorded repairs to this magnificent structure of blocks of marble were made in the year 1303 of our era.
Alexandria itself was not an old Egyptian, but a comparatively
modern, city; in Egypt and yet not of Egypt. Everything was in character - the
city, its inhabitants, public life, art, literature, study, amusements, the
very aspect of the place. Nothing original anywhere, but combination of all
that had been in the ancient world, or that was at the time - most fitting
place therefore to be the capital of Jewish Hellenism.
As its name indicates, the city was founded by Alexander the
Great. It was built in the form of an open fan, or rather, of the outspread
cloak of a Macedonian horseman. Altogether, it measured (16,360 paces) 3,160
paces more than Rome; but its houses were neither so crowded nor so
many-storied. It had been a large city when Rome was still inconsiderable, and
to the last held the second place in the Empire. One of the five quarters into
which the city was divided, and which were named according to the first letters
of the alphabet, was wholly covered by the royal palaces, with their gardens,
and similar buildings, including the royal mausoleum, where the body of
Alexander the Great, preserved in honey, was kept in a glass coffin. But these,
and its three miles of colonnades along the principal highway, were only some
of the magnificent architectural adornments of a city full of palaces. The
population amounted, probably, to nearly a million, drawn from the East and
West by trade, the attractions of wealth, the facilities for study, or the
amusements of a singularly frivolous city. A strange mixture of elements among
the people, combining the quickness and versatility of the Greek with the
gravity, the conservatism, the dream-grandeur, and the luxury of the Eastern.
Three worlds met in Alexandria: Europe, Asia, and Africa; and
brought to it, or fetched from it, their treasures. Above all, it was a
commercial city, furnished with an excellent harbour - or rather with five
harbours. A special fleet carried, as tribute, from Alexandria to Italy,
two-tenths of the corn produce of Egypt, which sufficed to feed the capital for
four months of the year. A magnificent fleet it was, from the light quick
sailer to those immense corn-ships which hoisted a special flag, and whose early
arrival was awaited at Puteoli3
with more eagerness than that of any modern ocean-steamer.4
The commerce of India was in the hands of the Alexandrian shippers.5
Since the days of the Ptolemies the Indian trade alone had increased sixfold.6
Nor was the native industry inconsiderable. Linen goods, to suit the tastes or
costumes of all countries; woolen stuffs of every hue, some curiously wrought
with figures, and even scenes; glass of every shade and in every shape; paper
from the thinnest sheet to the coarsest packing paper; essences, perfumeries -
such were the native products. However idly or luxuriously inclined, still
every one seemed busy, in a city where (as the Emperor Hadrian expressed it)
'money was the people's god;' and every one seemed well-to-do in his own way,
from the waif in the streets, who with little trouble to himself could pick up
sufficient to go to the restaurant and enjoy a comfortable dinner of fresh or
smoked fish with garlic, and his pudding, washed down with the favourite
Egyptian barley beer, up to the millionaire banker, who owned a palace in the
city and a villa by the canal that connected Alexandria with Canobus. What a
jostling crowd of all nations in the streets, in the market (where, according
to the joke of a contemporary, anything might be got except snow), or by the
harbours; what cool shades, delicious retreats, vast halls, magnificent
libraries, where the savants of Alexandria assembled and taught every
conceivable branch of learning, and its far-famed physicians prescribed for the
poor consumptive patients sent thither from all parts of Italy! What bustle and
noise among that ever excitable, chatty conceited, vain, pleasure-loving
multitude, whose highest enjoyment was the theatre and singers; what scenes on
that long canal to Canobus, lined with luxurious inns, where barks full of
pleasure-seekers revelled in the cool shade of the banks, or sped to Canobus,
that scene of all dissipation and luxury, proverbial even in those days! And
yet, close by, on the shores of Lake Mareotis, as if in grim contrast, were the
chosen retreats of that sternly ascetic Jewish party, the Therapeutæ,7
whose views and practices in so many points were kindred to those of the
Essenes in Palestine!
3. The average passage from Alexandria to Puteoli was twelve days, the ships touching at Malta and in Sicily. It was in such a ship, the 'Castor and Pollux' carrying wheat, that St. Paul sailed from Malta to Puteoli, where it would be among the first arrivals of the season.
4. They bore, painted on the two sides of the prow, the emblems of the gods to whom they were dedicated, and were navigated by Egyptian pilots, the most
renowned in the world. One of these vessels is described as 180 by 45 feet and of about 1,575 tons, and is computed to have returned to its owner nearly 3,000l. annually. (Comp. Friedländer, u.s. vol. ii. p. 131, &c.) And yet these were small ships compared with those built for the conveyance of marble blocks and columns, and especially of obelisks. One of these is said to have carried, besides an obelisk, 1,200 passenger, a freight of paper, nitre, pepper, linen, and a large cargo of wheat.
5. The journey took about three months, either up the Nile, thence by caravan, and again by sea; or else perhaps by the Ptolemy Canal and the Red Sea.
6. It included gold-dust, ivory, and mother-of-pearl from the interior of Africa, spices from Arabia, pearls from the Gulf of Persia, precious stones and byssus from India, and silk from China.
7. On the existence of the Therapeutes comp. Art. Philo in Smith & Wace's Dict. of Chr. Biogr. vol. iv.
This sketch of Alexandria will help us to understand the
surroundings of the large mass of Jews settled in the Egyptian capital.
Altogether more than an eighth of the population of the country (one million in
7,800,000) was Jewish. Whether or not a Jewish colony had gone into Egypt at
the time of Nebuchadnezzar, or even earlier, the great mass of its residents
had been attracted by Alexander the Great,8
who had granted the Jews equally exceptional privileges with the Macedonians.
The later troubles of Palestine under the Syrian kings greatly swelled their
number, the more so that the Ptolemies, with one exception, favoured them.
Originally a special quarter had been assigned to the Jews in the city - the
'Delta' by the eastern harbour and the Canobus canal - probably alike to keep
the community separate, and from its convenience for commercial purposes. The
priveleges which the Ptolemies had accorded to the Jews were confirmed, and
even enlarged, by Julius Cæsar. The export trade in grain was now in their
hands, and the harbour and river police committed to their charge. Two quarters
in the city are named as specially Jewish - not, however, in the sense of their
being confined to them. Their Synagogues, surrounded by shady trees, stood in
all parts of the city. But the chief glory of the Jewish community in Egypt, of
which even the Palestinians boasted, was the great central Synagogue, built in
the shape of a basilica, with double colonnade, and so large that it needed a
signal for those most distant to know the proper moment for the responses. The
different trade guilds sat there together, so that a stranger would at once
know where to find Jewish employers or fellow-workmen.9
In the choir of this Jewish cathedral stood seventy chairs of state, encrusted
with precious stones, for the seventy elders who constituted the eldership of
Alexandria, on the model of the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
8. Mommsen (Röm. Gesch. v. p. 489) ascribes this rather to Ptolemy I.
9. Sukk. 51 b.
It is a strange, almost inexplicable fact, that the Egyptian
Jews had actually built a schismatic Temple. During the terrible Syrian
persecutions in Palestine Onias, the son of the murdered High-Priest Onias
III., had sought safety in Egypt. Ptolemy Philometor not only received him
kindly, but gave a disused heathen temple in the town of Leontopolis for a
Jewish sanctuary. Here a new Aaronic priesthood ministered, their support being
derived from the revenues of the district around. The new Temple, however,
resembled not that of Jerusalem either in outward appearance nor in all its
At first the Egyptian Jews were very proud of their new sanctuary, and professed
to see in it the fulfilment of the prediction,11
that five cities in the land of Egypt should speak the language of Canaan, of
which one was to be called Ir-ha-Heres, which the LXX. (in their original form,
or by some later emendation) altered into 'the city of righteousness.' This
temple continued from about 160 b.c.
to shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. It could scarcely be called a
rival to that on Mount Moriah, since the Egyptian Jews also owned that of
Jerusalem as their central sanctuary, to which they made pilgrimages and
brought their contributions,12
while the priests at Leontopolis, before marrying, always consulted the
official archives in Jerusalem to ascertain the purity of descent of their
The Palestinians designated it contemptuously as 'the house of Chonyi' (Onias),
and declared the priesthood of Leontopolis incapable of serving in Jerusalem,
although on a par with those who were disqualified only by some bodily defect.
Offerings brought in Leontopolis were considered null, unless in the case of
vows to which the name of this Temple had been expressly attached.14
This qualified condemnation seems, however, strangely mild, except on the
supposition that the statements we have quoted only date from a time when both
Temples had long passed away.
10. Instead of the seven-branched golden candlestick there was a golden lamp, suspended from a chain of the same metal.
11. Is xix. 18.
12. Philo, ii. 646, ed. Mangey.
13. Jos. Ag. Ap. i. 7.
14. Men. xiii. 10, and the Gemara, 109 a and b.
Nor were such feelings unreasonable. The Egyptian Jews had
spread on all sides - southward to Abyssinia and Ethiopia, and westward to, and
beyond, the province of Cyrene. In the city of that name they formed one of the
four classes into which its inhabitants were divided.15
A Jewish inscription at Berenice, apparently dating from the year 13 b.c., shows that the Cyrenian Jews
formed a distinct community under nine 'rulers' of their own, who no doubt
attended to the communal affairs - not always an easy matter, since the
Cyrenian Jews were noted, if not for turbulence, yet for strong anti-Roman
feeling, which more than once was cruelly quenched in blood.16
Other inscriptions prove,17
that in other places of their dispersion also the Jews had their own Archontes
or 'rulers,' while the special direction of public worship was always entrusted
to the Archisynagogos, or 'chief ruler of the Synagogue,' both titles
occurring side by side.18
It is, to say the least, very doubtful, whether the High-Priest at Leontopolis
was ever regarded as, in any real sense, the head of the Jewish community in
Alexandria, the Jews were under the rule of a Jewish Ethnarch,20
whose authority was similar to that of 'the Archon' of independent
cities.21 But his
transferred, by Augustus, to the whole 'eldership.'23
Another, probably Roman, office, though for obvious reasons often filled by
Jews, was that of the Alabarch, or rather Arabarch, who was set
over the Arab population.24
Among others, Alexander, the brother of Philo, held this post. If we may judge
of the position of the wealthy Jewish families in Alexandria by that of this
Alabarch, their influence must have been very great. The firm of Alexander was
probably as rich as the great Jewish banking and shipping house of Saramalla in
Antioch.25 Its chief
was entrusted with the management of the affairs of Antonia, the much respected
sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius.26
It was a small thing for such a man to lend King Agrippa, when his fortunes
were very low, a sum of about 7,000l. with which to resort to Italy,27
since he advanced it on the guarantee of Agrippa's wife, whom he highly
esteemed, and at the same time made provision that the money should not be all
spent before the Prince met the Emperor. Besides, he had his own plans in the
matter. Two of his sons married daughters of King Agrippa; while a third, at
the price of apostasy, rose successively to the posts of Procurator of
Palestine, and finally of Governor of Egypt.28
The Temple at Jerusalem bore evidence of the wealth and munificence of this
Jewish millionaire. The gold and silver with which the nine massive gates were
covered, which led into the Temple, were the gift of the great Alexandrian
15. Strabo in Jos. Ant. xiv. 7, 2.
16. Could there have been any such meaning in laying the Roman cross which Jesus had to bear upon a Cyrenian (St. Luke xxiii. 26)? A symbolical meaning it certainly has, as we remember that the last Jewish rebellion (132-135 a.d.), which had Bar Cochba for its
Messiah, first broke out in Cyrene. What terrible vengeance was taken on those who followed the false Christ, cannot here be told.
17. Jewish inscriptions have also been found in Mauritania and Algiers.
a tombstone at Capua (Mommsen, Inscr. R. Neap. 3,657, apud Schürer,
p 629). The subject is of great importance as illustrating the rule of the
Synagogue in the days of Christ. Another designation on the gravestones pathr sunagwghV seems to refer solely
to age - one being described as 110 years old.
19. Jost, Gesch. d. Judenth. i. p. 345.
(Röm. Staatsverwalt. vol. i. p. 297). Note 5 suggests that eqnoV may here mean classes, ordo.
21. Strabo in Jos. Ant. xiv. 7. 2
22. The office itself would seem to have been continued. (Jos. Ant. xix. 5. 2.)
23. Philo, in Flacc. ed. Mangey, ii. 527
24. Comp. Wesseling, de Jud. Archont. pp. 63, &c., apud Schürer, pp. 627,628.
25. Jos. Ant. xiv. 13. 5; War. i. 13, 5
26. Ant. xix 5. 1
27. Ant. xviii. 6.3
28. Ant. xix. 5. 1; xx. 5. 3
The possession of such wealth, coupled no doubt with pride and
self-assertion, and openly spoken contempt of the superstitions around,29
would naturally excite the hatred of the Alexandria populace against the Jews.
The greater number of those silly stories about the origin, early history, and
religion of the Jews, which even the philosophers and historians of Rome record
as genuine, originated in Egypt. A whole series of writers, beginning with
Manetho,30 made it
their business to give a kind of historical travesty of the events recorded in
the books of Moses. The boldest of these scribblers was Apion, to whom Josephus
replied - a world-famed charlatan and liar, who wrote or lectured, with equal
presumption and falseness, on every conceivable object. He was just the man to
suit the Alexandrians, on whom his unblushing assurance imposed. In Rome he
soon found his level, and the Emperor Tiberius well characterised the
irrepressible boastful talker as the 'tinkling cymbal of the world.' He had
studied, seen, and heard everything - even, on three occasions, the mysterious
sound on the Colossus of Memnon, as the sun rose upon it! At least, so he
graved upon the Colossus itself, for the information of all generations.31
Such was the man on whom the Alexandrians conferred the freedom of their city,
to whom they entrusted their most important affairs, and whom they extolled as
the victorious, the laborious, the new Homer.32
There can be little doubt, that the popular favour was partly due to Apion's
virulent attacks upon the Jews. His grotesque accounts of their history and
religion held them up to contempt. But his real object was to rouse the
fanaticism of the populace against the Jews. Every year, so he told them, it
was the practice of the Jews to get hold of some unfortunate Hellene, whom
ill-chance might bring into their hands, to fatten him for the year, and then
to sacrifice him, partaking of his entrials, and burying the body, while during
these horrible rites they took a fearful oath of perpetual enmity to the
Greeks. These were the people who battened on the wealth of Alexandria, who had
usurped quarters of the city to which they had no right, and claimed
exceptional privileges; a people who had proved traitors to, and the ruin of
every one who had trusted them. 'If the Jews,' he exclaimed, 'are citizens of
Alexandria, why do they not worship the same gods as the Alexandrians?' And, if
they wished to enjoy the protection of the Cæsars, why did they not erect
statues, and pay Divine honor to them?33
There is nothing strange in these appeals to the fanaticism of mankind. In one
form or another, they have only too often been repeated in all lands and ages,
and, alas! by the representatives of all creeds. Well might the Jews, as Philo
mourns,34 wish no
better for themselves than to be treated like other men!
29. Comp., for example, such a trenchant chapter as Baruch vi., or the 2nd Fragm. of the Erythr. Sibyl, vv. 21-33.
30. Probably about 200 b.c.
31. Comp. Friedländer, u. s. ii. p. 155.
32. A very good sketch of Apion is given by Hausrath, Neutest. Zeitg. vol. ii. pp. 187-195.
33. Jos. Ag. Ap. ii. 4, 5, 6.
34. Leg. ad Caj. ed. Frcf.
We have already seen, that the ideas entertained in Rome about
the Jews were chiefly derived from Alexandrian sources. But it is not easy to
understand, how a Tacitus, Cicero, or Pliny could have credited such
absurdities as that the Jews had come from Crete (Mount Ida - Idæi = Judæi),
been expelled on account of leprosy from Egypt, and emigrated under an apostate
priest, Moses; or that the Sabbath-rest originated in sores, which had obliged
the wanderers to stop short on the seventh day; or that the Jews worshipped the
head of an ass, or else Bacchus; that their abstinence from swine's flesh was
due to remembrance and fear of leprosy, or else to the worship of that animal -
and other puerilities of the like kind.35
The educated Roman regarded the Jew with a mixture of contempt and anger, all
the more keen that, according to his notions, the Jew had, since his subjection
to Rome, no longer a right to his religion; and all the more bitter that, do
what he might, that despised race confronted him everywhere, with a religion so
uncompromising as to form a wall of separation, and with rites so exclusive as
to make them not only strangers, but enemies. Such a phenomenon was nowhere
else to be encountered. The Romans were intensely practical. In their view, political
life and religion were not only intertwined, but the one formed part of the
other. A religion apart from a political organisation, or which offered not, as
a quid pro quo, some direct return from the Deity to his votaries,
seemed utterly inconceivable. Every country has its own religion, argued
Cicero, in his appeal for Flaccus. So long as Jerusalem was unvanquished,
Judaism might claim toleration; but had not the immortal gods shown what they
thought of it, when the Jewish race was conquered? This was a kind of logic
that appealed to the humblest in the crowd, which thronged to hear the great
orator defending his client, among others, against the charge of preventing the
transport from Asia to Jerusalem of the annual Temple-tribute. This was not a popular
accusation to bring against a man in such an assembly. And as the Jews - who,
to create a disturbance, had (we are told) distributed themselves among the
audience in such numbers, that Cicero somewhat rhetorically declared, he would
fain have spoken with bated breath, so as to be only audible to the judges -
listened to the great orator, they must have felt a keen pang shoot to their
hearts while he held them up to the scorn of the heathen, and touched, with
rough finger, their open sore, as he urged the ruin of their nation as the one
unanswerable argument, which Materialism could bring against the religion of
35. Comp. Tacitus, Hist. v. 2-4; Plut. Sympos. iv. 5
And that religion - was it not, in the words of Cicero, a
'barbarous superstition,' and were not its adherents, as Pliny had it,36
'a race distinguished for its contempt of the gods?' To begin with their
theology. The Roman philosopher would sympathise with disbelief of all
spiritual realities, as, on the other hand, he could understand the popular
modes of worship and superstition. But what was to be said for a worship of
something quite unseen, an adoration, as it seemed to him, of the clouds and of
the sky, without any visible symbol, conjoined with an utter rejection of every
other form of religion - Asiatic, Egyptian, Greek, Roman - and the refusal even
to pay the customary Divine honor to the Cæsars, as the incarnation of Roman
power? Next, as to their rites. Foremost among them was the initiatory rite of
circumcision, a constant subject for coarse jests. What could be the meaning of
it; or of what seemed like some ancestral veneration for the pig, or dread of
it, since they made it a religious duty not to partake of its flesh? Their
Sabbath-observance, however it had originated, was merely an indulgence in
idleness. The fast young Roman literati would find their amusement in
wandering on the Sabbath-eve through the tangled, narrow streets of the Ghetto,
watching how the dim lamp within shed its unsavory light, while the inmates
mumbled prayers 'with blanched lips;'37
or they would, like Ovid, seek in the Synagogue occasion for their dissolute
amusements. The Thursday fast was another target for their wit. In short, at
the best, the Jew was a constant theme of popular merriment, and the theatre
would resound with laughter as his religion was lampooned, no matter how absurd
the stories, or how poor the punning.38
36. Hist. Nat. xiii. 4.
37. Persius v. 184.
38. Comp. the quotation of such scenes in the Introd. to the Midrash on Lamentations.
And then, as the proud Roman passed on the Sabbath through the
streets, Judaism would obtrude itself upon his notice, by the shops that were
shut, and by the strange figures that idly moved about in holiday attire. They
were strangers in a strange land, not only without sympathy with what passed
around, but with marked contempt and abhorrence of it, while there was that
about their whole bearing, which expressed the unspoken feeling, that the time
of Rome's fall, and of their own supremacy, was at hand. To put the general
feeling in the words of Tacitus, the Jews kept close together, and were ever
most liberal to one another; but they were filled with bitter hatred of all
others. They would neither eat nor sleep with strangers; and the first thing
which they taught their proselytes was to despise the gods, to renounce their
own country, and to rend the bonds which had bound them to parents, children or
kindred. To be sure, there was some ground of distorted truth in these charges.
For, the Jew, as such, was only intended for Palestine. By a necessity, not of
his own making, he was now, so to speak, the negative element in the heathen
world; yet one which, do what he might, would always obtrude itself upon public
notice. But the Roman satirists went further. They accused the Jews of such
hatred of all other religionists, that they would not even show the way to any
who worshipped otherwise, nor point out the cooling spring to the thirsty.39
According to Tacitus, there was a political and religious reason for this. In
order to keep the Jews separate from all other nations, Moses had given them
rites, contrary to those of any other race, that they might regard as unholy
what was sacred to others, and as lawful what they held in abomination.40
Such a people deserved neither consideration nor pity; and when the historian
tells how thousands of their number had been banished by Tiberius to Sardinia,
he dismisses the probability of their perishing in that severe climate with the
cynical remark, that it entailed a 'poor loss'41
39. Juv. Sat. xiv. 103, 104
40. Hist. v. 13
41. Ann. ii.85, Comp. Suet. Tib. 36.
Still, the Jew was there in the midst of them. It is impossible
to fix the date when the first Jewish wanderers found their way to the capital
of the world. We know, that in the wars under Pompey, Cassius, and Antonius,
many were brought captive to Rome, and sold as slaves. In general, the
Republican party was hostile, the Cæsars were friendly, to the Jews. The Jewish
slaves in Rome proved an unprofitable and troublesome acquisition. They clung
so tenaciously to their ancestral customs, that it was impossible to make them
conform to the ways of heathen households.42
How far they would carry their passive resistance, appears from a story told by
Josephus,43 about some
Jewish priests of his acquaintance, who, during their captivity in Rome,
refused to eat anything but figs and nuts, so as to avoid the defilement of
Gentile food.44 Their
Roman masters deemed it prudent to give their Jewish slaves their freedom,
either at a small ransom, or even without it. These freedmen (liberti)
formed the nucleus of the Jewish community in Rome, and in great measure
determined its social character. Of course they were, as always, industrious,
sober, pushing. In course of time many of them acquired wealth. By-and-by
Jewish immigrants of greater distinction swelled their number. Still their
social position was inferior to that of their co-religionists in other lands. A
Jewish population so large as 40,000 in the time of Augustus, and 60,000 in
that of Tiberius, would naturally included all ranks - merchants, bankers, literati,
even actors.45 In a city
which offered such temptations, they would number among them those of every
degree of religious profession; nay, some who would not only imitate the habits
of those around, but try to outdo their gross licentiousness.46
Yet, even so, they would vainly endeavor to efface the hateful mark of being
42. Philo, Leg. ad Caj. ed. Frcf. p. 101.
43. Life 3.
(Neutest. Lehrbegr. p. 119), following up the suggestions of Wieseler (Chron.
d. Apost. Zeitalt. pp. 384, 402, etc.), regards these priests as the accusers
of St. Paul, who brought about his martyrdom.
45. Comp., for example, Mart. xi. 94; Jos. Life 3.
46. Martialis, u. s. The 'Anchialus' by whom the poet would have the Jew swear, is a corruption of Anochi Elohim ('I am God') in Ex. xx. 2. Comp. Ewald, Gesch. Isr. vol. vii. p. 27.
Augustus had assigned to the Jews as their special quarter the
'fourteenth region' across the Tiber, which stretched from the slope of the
Vatican onwards and across the Tiber-island, where the boats from Ostia were
wont to unload. This seems to have been their poor quarter, chiefly inhabited
by hawkers, sellers of matches,47
glass, old clothes and second-hand wares. The Jewish burying-ground in that
evidence of their condition. The whole appointments and the graves are mean.
There is neither marble nor any trace of painting, unless it be a rough
representation of the seven-branched candlestick in red coloring. Another
Jewish quarter was by the Porta Capena, where the Appian Way entered the
city. Close by, the ancient sanctuary of Egeria was utilized at the time of
Juvenal49 as a
Jewish hawking place. But there must have been richer Jews also in that
neighborhood, since the burying-place there discovered has paintings - some
even of mythological figures, of which the meaning has not yet been
ascertained. A third Jewish burying-ground was near the ancient Christian
47 Mart. i.41; xii. 57.
48. Described by Bosio, but since unknown. Comp. Friedländer, u. s. vol. iii. pp. 510, 511.
49. Sat. iii.13; vi. 542.
But indeed, the Jewish residents in Rome must have spread over
every quarter of the city - even the best - to judge by the location of their
Synagogues. From inscriptions, we have been made acquainted not only with the
existence, but with the names, of not fewer than seven of these Synagogues.
Three of them respectively bear the names of Augustus, Agrippa, and Volumnius,
either as their patrons, or because the worshippers were chiefly their
attendants and clients; while two of them derived their names from the Campus
Martius, and the quarter Subura in which they stood.50
The 'Synagoge Elaias' may have been so called from bearing on its front
the device of an olive-tree, a favourite, and in Rome specially significant,
emblem of Israel, whose fruit, crushed beneath heavy weight, would yield the
precious oil by which the Divine light would shed its brightness through the
night of heathendom.51
Of course, there must have been other Synagogues besides those whose names have
50. Comp. Friedländer, u. s. vol. iii. p.510.
51. Midr. R. on Ex. 36.
One other mode of tracking the footsteps of Israel's wanderings
seems strangely significant. It is by tracing their records among the dead,
reading them on broken tombstones, and in ruined monuments. They are rude, and
the inscriptions - most of them in bad Greek, or still worse Latin, none in
Hebrew - are like the stammering of strangers. Yet what a contrast between the
simple faith and earnest hope which they express, and the grim proclamation of
utter disbelief in any future to the soul, not unmixed with language of
coarsest materialism, on the graves of so many of the polished Romans ! Truly
the pen of God in history has, as so often, ratified the sentence which a
nation had pronounced upon itself. That civilisation was doomed which could
inscribe over its dead such words as: 'To eternal sleep;' 'To perpetual rest;'
or more coarsely express it thus, 'I was not, and I became; I was, and am no
more. Thus much is true; who says other, lies; for I shall not be,' adding, as
it were by way of moral, 'And thou who livest, drink, play, come.' Not so did
God teach His people; and, as we pick our way among these broken stones, we can
understand how a religion, which proclaimed a hope so different, must have
spoken to the hearts of many even at Rome, and much more, how that blessed
assurance of life and immortality, which Christianity afterwards brought, could
win its thousands, though it were at the cost of poverty, shame, torture, and
Wandering from graveyard to graveyard, and deciphering the
records of the dead, we can almost read the history of Israel in the days of
the Cæsars, or when Paul the prisoner set foot on the soil of Italy. When St.
Paul, on the journey of the 'Castor and Pollux,' touched at Syracuse, he would,
during his stay of three days, find himself in the midst of a Jewish community,
as we learn from an inscription. When he disembarked at Puteoli, he was in the
oldest Jewish settlement next to that of Rome,52
where the loving hospitality of Christian Israelites constrained him to tarry
over a Sabbath. As he 'went towards Rome,' and reached Capua, he would meet
Jews there, as we infer from the tombstone of one 'Alfius Juda,' who had been
'Archon' of the Jews, and 'Archisynagogus' in Capua. As he neared the city, he
found in Anxur (Terracina) a Synagogue.53
In Rome itself the Jewish community was organized as in other places.54
It sounds strange, as after these many centuries we again read the names of the
Archons of their various Synagogues, all Roman, such as Claudius, Asteris,
Julian (who was Archon alike of the Campesian and the Agrippesian Synagogue
priest, the son of Julian the Archisynagogus, or chief of the eldership of the
Augustesian Synagogue). And so in other places. On these tombstones we find
names of Jewish Synagogue-dignitaries, in every centre of population, in Pompeii,
in Venusia, the birthplace of Horace; in Jewish catacombs; and similarly Jewish
inscriptions in Africa, in Asia, in the islands of the Mediterranean, in Ægina,
in Patræ, in Athens. Even where as yet records of their early settlements have
not been discovered, we still infer their presence, as we remember the almost
incredible extent of Roman commerce, which led to such large settlements in
Britain, or as we discover among the tombstones those of 'Syrian' merchants, as
in Spain (where St. Paul hoped to preach, no doubt, also to his own
countrymen), throughout Gaul, and even in the remotest parts of Germany.55
Thus the statements of Josephus and of Philo, as to the dispersion of Israel
throughout all lands of the known world, are fully borne out.
52. Jos. Ant. xvii. 12. 1; War ii. 7. 1.
53. Comp. Cassel, in Ersch u. Gruber's Encyclop. 2d sect. vol. xxvii. p. 147.
54. Acts xxviii. 17.
55. Comp. Friedländer, u. s. vol. ii. pp. 17-204 passim.
But the special importance of the Jewish community in Rome lay
in its contiguity to the seat of the government of the world, where every
movement could be watched and influenced, and where it could lend support to
the wants and wishes of that compact body which, however widely scattered, was
one in heart and feeling, in thought and purpose, in faith and practice, in
suffering and in prosperity.56
Thus, when upon the death of Herod a deputation from Palestine appeared in the
capital to seek the restoration of their Theocracy under a Roman protectorate,57
no less than 8,000 of the Roman Jews joined it. And in case of need they could
find powerful friends, not only among the Herodian princes, but among court
favourites who were Jews, like the actor of whom Josephus speaks;58
among those who were inclined towards Judaism, like Poppæa, the dissolute wife
of Nero, whose coffin as that of a Jewess was laid among the urns of the
emperors;59 or among
real proselytes, like those of all ranks who, from superstition or conviction,
had identified themselves with the Synagogue.60
56. It was probably this unity of Israelitish interests which Cicero had in view (Pro Flacco, 28) when he took such credit for his boldness in daring to stand up against the Jews - unless, indeed, the orator only meant to make a point in favour of his client.
57. Jos. Ant. xvii. 11. 1; War. ii. 6. 1.
58. Life 3.
59. Schiller (Gesch. d. Röm. Kaiserreichs, p. 583) denies that Poppæa was a proselyte. It is, indeed, true, as he argues, that the fact of her entombment affords no absolute evidence of this, if taken by itself; but comp. Jos. Ant. xx.
8. 11; Life 3.
60. The question of Jewish proselytes will be treated in another place.
In truth, there was no law to prevent the spread of Judaism.
Excepting the brief period when Tiberius61
banished the Jews from Rome and sent 4,000 of their number to fight the
banditti in Sardinia, the Jews enjoyed not only perfect liberty, but
exceptional privileges. In the reign of Cæsar and of Augustus we have quite a
series of edicts, which secured the full exercise of their religion and their
In virtue of these they were not to be disturbed in their religious ceremonies,
nor in the observance of their sabbaths and feasts. The annual Temple-tribute
was allowed to be transported to Jerusalem, and the alienation of these funds
by the civil magistrates treated as sacrilege. As the Jews objected to bear
arms, or march, on the Sabbath, they were freed from military service. On
similar grounds, they were not obliged to appear in courts of law on their holy
days. Augustus even ordered that, when the public distribution of corn or of
money among the citizens fell on a Sabbath, the Jews were to receive their
share on the following day. In a similar spirit the Roman authorities confirmed
a decree by which the founder of Antioch, Seleucus I. (Nicator),63
had granted the Jews the right of citizenship in all the cities of Asia Minor
and Syria which he had built, and the privilege of receiving, instead of the
oil that was distributed, which their religion forbade them to use,64
an equivalent in money.65
These rights were maintained by Vespasian and Titus even after the last Jewish
war, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of these cities. No wonder, that
at the death of Cæsar66
the Jews of Rome gathered for many nights, waking strange feelings of awe in
the city, as they chanted in mournful melodies their Psalms around the pyre on
which the body of their benefactor had been burnt, and raised their pathetic
measures of Sejanus, and ceased with his sway. Besides, they were the outcome
of public feeling at the time against all foreign rites, which had been roused
by the vile conduct of the priests of Isis towards a Roman matron, and was
again provoked by a gross imposture upon Fulvia, a noble Roman proselyte, on
the part of some vagabond Rabbis. But even so, there is no reason to believe
that literally all Jews had left Rome. Many would find means to remain secretly
behind. At any rate, twenty years afterwards Philo found a large community
there, ready to support him in his mission on behalf of his Egyptian
countrymen. Any temporary measures against the Jews can, therefore, scarcely be
regarded as a serious interference with their privileges, or a cessation of the
Imperial favour shown to them.
61. 19 a.d.
62. Comp. Jos. Ant. xiv. 10, passim, and xvi. 6. These edicts are collated in Krebs. Decreta Romanor. pro Jud. facta, with long comments by the author, and by Levyssohn.