Christian History

The Jewish Diaspora

Christos Sp. Voulgari, History of the Primary Apostolic Church 33-70 AD, Athens 2012, Apostoliki Diakonia, pp. 74-83

The history of Palestinian Judaism is a small part of the history of Judaism of the Hellenistic period, since the siege of Jerusalem (586 BC) most of the population, all of the elite were taken into captivity in Babylon and lived outside Palestine. This situation did not change substantially when, after the fall of Babylon (539 BC), Jews prisoners were allowed to leave Babylon and to come back to Jerusalem. During the Hellenistic period, large population movements were observed by many states, the number of Jews who were dispersed grew drastically, resulting in independent religious and cultural development. In Babylon, the Jewish community remained numerous and dynamic, even after the return to Jerusalem of some part of it, later under Nehemiah and Ezra. The bond between the Jews of Babylon and Palestine has been particularly strong for centuries, even during the Roman period, in the beginnings of which the great Pharisee teacher of Judaism, Hillel, came to Palestine from Babylon. These close ties between Babylon and Palestine, Judaism of which speaks the Aramaic dialect, while the Jews of other centers around the Mediterranean use the Greek language, had as a consequence the Eastern Hellenistic influence on the metropolitan Jewish Palestine. In the East, the most important cities with a large number of Jews during the Hellenistic period were Babylon on the Euphrates, re-founded by Alexander the Great, and Seleucia on the Tigris, founded by Seleucus I (312 BC), which became the capital, the prime economic center, and the most populous city in the East. The Hellenization of this population in the East influenced decisively also the Jewish diaspora, although to a lesser extent than that of Alexandria.

As a nation in whole, Jews of Babylon were not hostile to the rule of Babylonians and Parthians, and these feelings, they had towards the Romans as well. The great development of the interpretative tradition of the Old Testament through the great rabbis has resulted in important changes, during the reorganization of Judaism after the destruction of the Jerusalem in 70 AD under the Romans. The Babylonian text of the Hebrew Bible to was accepted among the rabbis in the city of Iamnia (south of Iopi) and replaced the Palestinian text which had been used until then ((The Babylonian text is even today the basis of the versions of the Masoretic text, while the Palestinian text was the basis of the Greek translation of the Old Testament and can be found in the Samaritan Pentateur and in lately discovered manuscripts of Qumran). Subsequently, the Babylonian Talmud became the authentic codification of rabbinical traditions.

Besides Babylon and Seleucia, Judaic communities in the East also existed in Edessa, Nisibis, Dura Europus, and especially in the Adiabenean region of the Upper Tigris River (ancient Assyria), which was ruled by the Parthians. To Parthian Assyria, the Jews were taken as captives during the raids of the Assyrian rulers in the northern Kingdom of Israel: Tiglath-Pileser (1115-1077 BC), Sargon (721-705 BC) and Sennacherib (704-681 BC). The Persian king Artaxerxes Ochus (425-404 BC), who took Jews as captives from Egypt and settled them in Hyrcania by the Caspian Sea.

Well known is the case of Izates, the king of Adiabene and his mother Helen, who, as documented by Josephus Flavius, the historian, both became proselytes to Judaism during the times of Claudius, the Emperor of Rome. A great Jewish community existed in Susa, where Nehemiah received his appointment as governor of Judea. The Acts of the Apostles (2:9) refer to the presence at Jerusalem on the Day of the Pentecost of the Jews from Parthia, Median, Elam (Persia), Arabia and Mesopotamia. In the cities of Mesopotamia Pumbeditha and Nahardea famous Rabbinical Academies were established. Thus, the entire East was distinguished by Jewish diaspora in its economic, social and cultural development. A multitude of Jewish communities existed and spread across Syria, according to the testimonies of Josephus Flavius, the historian (Jewish Wars 7.3,3) and Philo Judaeus, the philosopher (Embassy to Gaius, 32). Under the name "Syria" the territories of the Roman Provence and Palestine, Commagene kingdom, Homs, Abilene and Kingdom of Chalcis, and so on were mentioned. The area ranging from Samosata to North (now being covered by the lake of the homonymous dam) to Raphia to the South. The main communities in this area were the Antiochian, Seleucia (on the North Sea of the Mediterranean Sea), Apamea, Araud (today's Tartus), the Kingdom of Chalcis between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains, the tetrarchy of the Abilene northwest of Damascus and territory between it and Anti-Lebanon Mountains, which was governed by the Herod and by Damascus(Note: when the writer came in Damascus in 1971 to lecture, there were more than 250300 Jewish families living there, today only 2 families are left. The rest had migrated voluntarily.), In which, the "Damascus Community" was established. The Judaic community of Antioch, which played a great face in the history of the Apostolic Church, grew up during the submission of Palestine under the Seleucid ruler of Syria in 198 BC. Josephus states that Seleucus Nicator granted the privilege of citizenship to the Jews, and all their rights were restored after the death of their great enemy of Antiochus IV of the Omnipotent.

About the Jews of Damascus, unfortunately there is no historically proven information. According to Josephus (Jewish Wars 2,20,7,8), during the Jewish war 670 AD, were slaughtered by the Romans over 18,000 Jews of Damascus. During the times of the Apostolic Church, Damascus expands under the jurisdiction of Aretas IV the King of the Nabataeans (II Cor. 11:32), and by Pliny the Younger, Damascus belonged to the cities of Decapolis, which had Greek population. At the time of the New Testament, however, in spite of the widespread Jewish community, Damascus was essentially a Greek city, and during its autonomy, its coins brought names of Greek deities and especially of Zeus.

In Asia Minor, the Jewish diaspora was extremely important, earlier information about it recorded in 200 BC, when Antiochus III had settled about 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon in the western Asia Minor, mostly in major cities. In Acts of Apostles (2:9) refer to the presence at Jerusalem on the Day of the Pentecost of the Jews from Cappadocia, Pontus, Sinai and Bithynia. According to the Acts of the Apostles (6:9), the Synagogue of the Libertines "from Cilicia" took place in Jerusalem and Apostle Peter is addressing, apart from the above, to Galatians and Bithynians. Phrygia, which is mentioned in Acts 2:10 was not an administrative district, but a region belonging partly to the province of Asia, with the capital of Ephesus and partly in the province of Galatia. Jewish communities also existed on the Black Sea coast and up to that of the Panticapaeum in the Azov Sea, and it is characteristic that all the surviving Jewish epistles are written in Greek.

Ancient testimonies also kept the records of the Jewish communities on the Greek territory. In his letter to Emperor Caligula, the king of Judea Antipa I refers to Jewish communities in Thessaly, Viotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Athens, Argos, Corinth and the other fertile parts of the Peloponnese, as well as on the islands of Evia, Crete and Cyprus. Also, from the Acts, we learn about the Jewish communities in the cities, which were visited by the Apostle Paul, Philippi (16:11), Thessalonica (17:1), Veria (17:10), Athens (17:16) and Corinth (18:1). As for Cyprus, known then as Kition (city-kingdom on the southern coast of Cyprus) and as an island of the Great Sea to the Jews, there were Synagogues in Salamis and Paphos (Acts 13: 5). A Roman historian, Dio Cassius (68: 32) mentions the uprisings of the Jews of Cyprus during the rule of emperors Trajan and Hadrian.

In the western Mediterranean, the first Jewish communities were founded in the Greek colonies of lower Italy and Sicily, while the Roman conquests in the eastern Mediterranean, during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC century resulted in the taking into captivity to Rome Jewish population. That way the capital of the Roman Empire had quickly become the center of Judaism in the West. Until today there are thirteen Synagogues that have been excavated in various parts of Rome. In 161 BC, in the last year of his life, Judas the Maccabeus sent an embassy to Rome (I Mk, 8:1), which was favorably accepted and an agreement was made (I Mk 8:22-32), Josephus (Archeology, 12:10), which was repeatedly renewed by the successors of Judas (I Mk. 12:14). Then there is a discussion of a friendship between the Jews and the Lacedaemonians, with whom they claim affinity (14: 24, 15:16, Josephus, Archeology 13:5, 13:7, 13:9). In 139 BC, the Jews of Rome were expelled from the city because they violated public morals by their worship (apparently, they were proselytizing). In 62 BC during his triumph in Rome, Pompey brought with him many Jewish prisoners, many of whom were released later and received Roman citizenship, along with the right to worship God freely, to build Synagogues and to collect a levy in favor of the Temple of Jerusalem. During the rule of emperor Tiberian, in 19 AD, however, the deportation of the Jews from Rome was again ordered, due to irregularities in the collection of contributions to the Temple of Jerusalem. They were allowed to return in 31 AD and the new Emperor Claudius published a decree according to the principles of his hegemony, favorable to the Jews (Josephus, Archeology, 11: 5). He later changed politics because of the conflicts between the Jews because of the teaching of Christ (Acts 18, 2. Suetonius, Claudius, 25. Lion Cassius, 60:6. Tacitus and Josephus do not mention deportation). In any case, the Jews of Rome had their own "Senate", by community, each "senate" had its head. They had access to high-ranking persons and favored the second wife of Nero Poppaea, whom Josephus calls "respecting the God," and claims that had been converted to Judaism. During their stay in Rome, Jews were associated with Roman aristocracy (Agrippa I, Antipas I, Agrippa II), the Jewish religion was recognized as legitimate, and the Jews were the only inhabitants of the Empire who freed from the emperor's worship. But while in the other lands the Jews moved as exiles, in Egypt they migrated voluntarily. As we learn from the accounts of the Patriarchs of Israel, being a major granary, Egypt was always an area of interest for the Palestinians due to supply of wheat, especially during periods of drought. Since the time of the Prophet Isaiah (8th century BC), there were Jewish establishments in Egypt and when Jerusalem seized by the Babylonians, the exiled Jews had formed the colony of Tafna (Jer. 50,7). Jeremiah also mentions the Jews of the cities of Magdol and Pathouris (Jer. 51), he himself joined the Jews in Egypt and died there. On the Persian conquest of Egypt, the Jews having their protection expand freely to the south up to the first cataract of the Nile in Yebu (the island of Elephantine) where, according to the testimonies of discovered papyri, from the 6th century BC there was a Jewish military camp and temple. After the foundation of Alexandria by Alexander the Great, many Jews settled there and thus from the 3rd century BC. Century, the city became the center of a populous Jewish community. It should not be forgotten that in the early Hellenistic period, Palestine was an Egyptian province. But also during the Seleucid domination over Palestine, in the 2nd century BC, the Jewish emigration to Egypt did not cease, since in Jerusalem there was a pro-Egyptian political organization, so Egypt remained the place of refuge of its members. The case of high priest Onias IV, the son of the high priest Onias III, is being revealed, and he was deposed during the Hellenistic reforms in Jerusalem. Onias IV was, therefore, a mercenary leader in the service of the Egyptians during the reign of Ptolemy VI of Philomitor (180-145 BC), who built a military camp for him and his soldiers in Leontopolis and the temple modeled on that of Jerusalem. Possibly, this support of the Jews to Philomitor was the cause of their persecution during the time of the successor and adversary of Ptolemy I, Evergetos (145-116 BC). Two sons of Archbishop Onias IV were Egyptian generals (100 BC). That is showing the edge and the prominent position of the Jews in Egypt. Especially in Alexandria, the Jews had a great influence and a strong presence in the cultural life of the city. Their language was Greek, as due to religious necessity, in the 3rd century BC, during the rule of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, books of the Old Testament were translated into Greek. The translation which later became the original Bible of the Church (Old Testament). Finally, the Jewish communities of Cyrenaica were founded in Egypt before the 3rd century AD. B.C.

But the interest in Judaism of Alexandria is laying not in its history or in population of Jewish community, but in it literary heritage, since that is where was made the first attempt to use the Greek language to express the Jewish thought. Just as the Alexandrian grammars interpreted Greek classical writers, in the same way the Alexandrian Jews interpreted their books of Old Testament.

Beyond the Greek translation of the Holy Testament, which is an important stop in the history of spirit, in the second century BC, Jesus son of Sirach says that he went to Egypt and translated the book Wisdom of Sirach written in Palestine by his grandfather. It is also believed that the book of Wisdom of Solomon is written in Alexandria. But religiousness with tendencies towards asceticism, philosophy, and mysticism, which distinguished the Jew of Alexandria from the Jewish of Palestine, appears in all its splendor with the great father of Alexandrian Judaism, Philo Judaeus, who combined the philosophy with the strict observance of the Laws of Old Testament. Philo was a Jewish teacher who tried to connect the Greek culture with the religion of his ancestors. Although not a Christian, however, he was the father of Christian terminology and theological concepts. Although he uses the translation of Old Testament, because his knowledge of Hebrew was not limited, he was well aware of the rabbi's interpretative methods. According to Philo, Moses was the inspired teacher of all the philosophy, and The Torah embodies the whole of wisdom. The Law, according to him, was not given to a single nation, but to the whole world, because it contains the revelation of God. The God, revealed in it, is considered philosophically, God’s existence is certain and transcendent, the God communicates with the world through the Word. The Word is the active divine mind, the creation Word and the revealer of God. The God is also revealed through the other "words" which are the partial appearances of the divine mind. As a genuine Jew, Philo believed that the Law was the wholeness of the revelation of God to the world, while the Apostolic Church taught that the wholeness of divine revelation was given with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was preached by the prophets. The bonds that kept together the Jews who had scattered to the different ends of known then world, and who were estimated to be around six to seven million souls, were stronger than the bonds that the Jews had from the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The spiritual and national unity of Jews everywhere is ascertained in the Acts of the Apostles by the way with which they accepted Apostle Paul in all the communes, except, of course, Rome. All over the world, the Jews had an intense awareness of the common ethnicity, which was constantly reminded to them by The Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem through its various delegates (schaliachim). The tax for the temple of Jerusalem, which was laid down by God in Exodus (21,26) as a half shekel, was obligatory to all of Jews being more than 20 years of age, excluding women. it was gathered by the specially sent delegate of The Great Sanhedrin and kept in the offertory box of the temple (Josephus, Archeology, 18:9). In the 1st century AD the half shekel was equivalent to two drachmas (Matthew 17:24, Josephus, Archeology, 18.9 "the two-drachma coin ", Jewish wars, 7.6 "two drachmas", archeology, 3.8 " shekel half "). After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, "fiscus Judaicus" tax-collecting agency was instituted to collect the tax imposed on Jews in the Roman Empire.

The institution that literally saved the Judaism of diaspora was the worship in the Synagogue. The worship and religious events, as set forth in the Law, could only be exercised in Palestine, within the temple standing in Jerusalem. In the diaspora, the Jewish communities were living in certain areas of the cities (neighborhoods, except of Rome and Alexandria, where there were many Synagogues), in which in the eminent place there was a Synagogue where worship without sacrifice and priesthood was taking place. Temples with an altar and priesthood outside Palestine were erected only on the island of Elephantine and in the city Leontopolis in upper Egypt, the 6th and the 2nd centuries BC respectively. During the times of the New Testament, Synagogues existed not only in the diaspora, but also in many cities of Palestine, as well as in Jerusalem (Acts 6: 9). The information about worship in the Synagogue in New Testament is found only from Evangelist Luke, the oldest being with exception of two small notes by Philo, is the information of Mishna, which is the most extensive and is about 150 years older. At the Apostle Luke’s, Jesus went to the synagogue of Nazareth on the Sabbath day "and he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: " and read the prophecy (Luke 4:16-21). When he had finished "Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant"; and then he sat and explained the pericope. Also in the Acts (Acts 13,15), Paul and Barnabas entered the Synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia, so that "after the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, Please, speak. " And "Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said ...", and explained the pericope. In Luke (13:14) the synagogue ruler is responsible for worship and order, as that he reprimanded the woman who entered the Synagogue to be cured by Jesus. According to Philo, on the other hand, the central point of worship was the reading of the Law (see Quod Omnis Probus, 12. De Somniis, B, 18), to which the Prophets on choice were added. Sometimes the speaker also asked questions, as happened with Paul (Acts 18: 4). Since the Synagogue represented the center of the community's life, it was, in some way, and its ethnic center, as the result that the eviction from the Synagogue ("expel from the congregation", John 19,22) equals with the cut from ethnic body of community. From the functions of the ancient Synagogue, there are still two which remained up to this day, first being the "shema" by Deut. 6.49 ("Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." Num. 15,3741) and second being "Shemoneh Esreh", the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy consists of the eighteen rewards, to which prayer was added against the apostates.

The dominance of the Greek language results, as we have seen, in the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, as well as in its function and use in the preaching and writing of books, which has led to the entry of Hellenistic ideas and perceptions into the Judaic thought. Thus, led to the fundamental changes in tradition and spiritual inheritance of Judaism. The Bible books were considered as writings containing deep philosophical and religious meanings, as well as being interpreted allegorically, just as Homer's works in the Greek tradition. The narrative of the creation of the world was considered as a cosmogony in the Greek way of thinking, while religious rituals, such as circumcision and Saturday, were conceived as symbols and interpreted spiritually. Traditional Jewish prayers use formalities from Stoic philosophy, when translating them into Greek. The Jewish writers use forms of Greek literature in their writings and sometimes publish the works of the pseudonymous eminent Greek writers of the classical era. Thus, in the course of the apostolic mission in the middle of the Hellenistic world, Christianity was the starting point of the Hellenistic inheritance of the Old Testament. Such was, in general, the image, which was presented by the Jewish diaspora in the Hellenistic world.