Dio Cassius°

views updated


DIO CASSIUS ° (c. 160–230 c.e.), author of a Roman history, written in Greek. Dio frequently records the religious zeal and self-sacrificing spirit of the Jews. "Such was the fervor of their piety that the first Jews made prisoners during the conquest of the Temple by *Sosius [governor of Syria under Antony, 37 b.c.e.] obtained by their supplications permission to reenter the sanctuary on the day of Saturn [Sabbath] and devote themselves with their compatriots to their temple ritual" (Historia, 49:22). In some respects, his account of the Jewish war (66–70 c.e.) is more favorable to the Jews than that given by *Josephus. According to Dio, during the siege of Jerusalem, Titus received an injury to his left shoulder causing permanent weakness to his left hand. Some Roman soldiers deserted to the Jews because they believed that the town was impregnable. Dio, in common with Tacitus, notes the bravery of the Jews and commented that they were happy to fall near the Temple and in its defense. Although they were a few arrayed against the might of the Roman army, they only gave in when a part of the Temple was in flames. "All believed that it was not a disaster but victory, salvation, and happiness to perish together with the Temple" (Historia, 66:6). Neither Vespasian nor Titus wished to assume the title of "Judaicus" (possibly because that title might imply sympathy with Judaic teachings). Dio offers information about Jewish rebellions under Trajan and Hadrian. He loved the sensational and reports that the outbreak of Jewish revolts in the time of Trajan (115–117 c.e.) in Cyprus, Cyrene, and Egypt, was marked by scenes of stark horror (Epitome, 68:32). The Jews committed horrible outrages, as the papyri likewise suggest, "destroying both Greeks and Romans." The immediate cause of the Jewish revolt under *Bar Kokhba (132 c.e.) was Hadrian's intention to build a new city and temple on the ruins of Jerusalem as the official center of the colony of Aelia Capitolina. According to Dio, the defenders recruited soldiers from all countries of the Empire and beyond the Euphrates inhabited by their "fellow-nationals." The solidarity of Jews elsewhere in the Empire with the Judean rebels under Bar Kokhba is also stressed by Dio (Epitome, 69:13). In common with *Fronto, he reports that in the Bar Kokhba war the Romans sustained such severe losses that Hadrian, writing to the Senate, omitted the customary opening formula "I and my troops are well." Dio's remark that "all those who observe the Jewish law may be called Jews, from whatever ethnic group they derive," reflects the transformation of the Jewish nation into a worldwide religious community, with a steadily increasing number of proselytes. Like other writers of antiquity, he blames the Jews for their unsociable character and has little understanding for the practice of the Sabbath; but he pays homage to the Jews' imageless cult and their only and unique God. The Jews, he states "are distinguished from other nations by their whole mode of living, but particularly by the fact that they do not honor any of the other gods, adoring only one and with great fervor. There is no image of their divinity even in Jerusalem. They believe God to be ineffable and invisible, yet they devote to him a more fervent cult than all other mortals [see *Tacitus]. The Temple in Jerusalem is very large and beautiful. The day of Saturn on which they fulfill a number of particular rites and refrain from doing any serious work is consecrated to the Sanctuary." Dio Cassius repeats the commonplace (see *Plutarch) that Jerusalem was captured on the Sabbath because the Jews refrained from defending it on that day. He alluded to Jewish proselytism in his statement that Domitian had people put to death on the charge of "atheism," which in fact meant the acceptance of Jewish customs (Epitome, 67:14). The accusation of atheism was leveled against both Jews and Christians because they refused to share in the official heathen cult. Although, as mentioned, Dio Cassius shows contempt for Jewish observances and misunderstanding of the inner spirit of Judaism, he nevertheless admires the Jews' loyalty to their pure belief and their persistence in the face of repression. Jewish history in Rome may be summed up in the words of Dio Cassius: "Though often suppressed, they nevertheless mightily increase, so that they achieve even the free practice of their customs."


Reinach, Textes, 179ff.; Bentwich, in: jqr, 23 (1932/33), 340ff.; Schuerer, Hist, 301ff.; Juster, Juifs, 2 (1914), 186ff. add. bibliography: M. Stern (ed.), Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. 2 (1980), 347–407.

[Solomon Rappaport]