History: The Aftermath of the First Roman War
THE AFTERMATH OF THE FIRST ROMAN WARIntroduction
The Revolts Against Trajan
The Bar Kokhba War
The Roman Empire – Antoninus Pius to Constantine
The Babylonian Diaspora
The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the abolition of Jewish statehood caused of necessity the revision of some of the basic tenets of Judaism. The infrastructure of the nation had not indeed suffered badly, even in Ereẓ Israel, apart from the Holy City and some areas (Gamala, Jotapata, Taricheae) where the fighting had been exceptionally severe. The Diaspora had not suffered at all, apart from some anti-Jewish riots in a few big cities. Ereẓ Israel had indeed suffered a loss of population, both through death and enslavement, but the enslaved at least could be redeemed, and went on to increase the Jewish Diaspora, especially in Italy and Egypt. There were also many fugitives; many of them were *Zealots, who stirred up revolts in Alexandria and Cyrene (Jos., Wars, 7, 409–419, 436–446). The lands in Judea were confiscated and became part of the imperial estate; but they had to be leased back to the farmers willing to till them. Likewise the local administration in Judea at village and town level remained Jewish. The classes most affected by the lost war were the Herodian aristocracy and the upper priesthood. Many of the former assimilated with the Roman nobles; the priests merged with the rest of the nation. The reestablishment of a national authority (the Sanhedrin) at *Jabneh affected the Diaspora also. There, under the presidency of R. *Johanan b. Zakkai, and afterward of *Gamaliel ii of the House of Hillel, certain measures were taken to strengthen Judaism after the catastrophe. The sacrifices were declared replaceable by charity and repentance, the Bible canon fixed and the infiltration of heretics (*minim – often Judeo-Christians) was barred by the *Birkat ha-Minim, an addition to the Amidah prayer.
One effect of the lost war was the imposition on all the Jews of the Roman Empire of a tax of two drachmas in lieu of the half-shekel paid to the Temple. This tax was in theory
payable to the Capitoline Jupiter, but in fact was earmarked for a special department of the imperial treasury, the *fiscus Judaicus (Dio Cassius, Historia Romana 6:7, 2), administered by a procurator ad capitularia Judaeorum (cil, 6:2, no. 8604). Although decreed only in the third year of Vespasian, it was levied also for his second year, thus mulcting the Jews and enriching the imperial treasury twice over. The tax was enforced with great harshness under *Domitian (Suetonius, Domitian, 12:2) but its administration was made less severe under *Nerva (as witnessed by a coin struck on the occasion). It soon lost its importance owing to the depreciation of Roman coinage.
During the Flavian dynasty, Jews continued to enjoy their privileges, and their influence grew even among the Roman aristocracy. A close relation of the emperor, the ex-consul Flavius Clemens, was executed and his wife banished, because of "Judaic practices." The visit to Rome of the patriarch Rabban Gamaliel ii, accompanied by Joshua b. Hananiah, Eleazar b. Azariah, and Akiva, was possibly connected with this event; in any case, it had a beneficial effect on the Diaspora. The closing of the Temple of Onias in *Leontopolis (73 c.e.) was regretted by few.
Part of the strength of Judaism was the fact that a considerable portion of the nation lived in Babylonia outside Roman rule. The campaigns of the emperor *Trajan in Mesopotamia (114–117 c.e.), which threatened this remnant, brought about a renewal of hostility between Jews and Romans – especially because a new generation had by now grown up, which had not lived through the horrors of the year 70. When a revolt broke out in conquered Mesopotamia, in which Jews took an active part, the emperor ordered his general *Lusius Quietus to expel them and, if necessary, to exterminate them. While this was happening, a serious revolt of the Jews broke out in Cyrene, inspired by a messianic movement and led by *Lucuas (called Andreas in Greek). The rebels overran Cyrene, destroying its temples and baths and cutting off the road to its harbor. Then they moved on to Alexandria. There the revolt was suppressed with force, the Romans mobilizing the native Egyptians and the Greeks. The famous synagogue of Alexandria was destroyed on that occasion. From Alexandria the fighting spread from the Delta to Upper Egypt. The Romans had to reinforce the troops in Egypt with two legions, commanded by Marcius Turbo. The struggle took on the character of a war of annihilation and by its end in 117 there were hardly any Jews left in Egypt, except at Alexandria. The same result awaited the Jews of *Cyprus, who had also rebelled and who were subdued only after great slaughter. Talmudic sources mention a "polemos shel Kitos" ("War of Quietus") but it is not clear whether they refer to the acts of Quietus in Mesopotamia, or to some struggle during his governorship in Judea. Although the revolts against Trajan ended in failure, they played their part in bringing about the Roman retreat from Mesopotamia, thus saving Babylonian Jewry.
Trajan's successor, *Hadrian, made peace with the Parthians but became involved in a war with the Jews. This struggle, known as the War of *Bar Kokhba, was provoked by the decision of the emperor to establish a Roman colony on the ruins of Jerusalem (see *Aelia Capitolina). Among the leaders of the incipient revolt was R. *Akiva, the greatest scholar of the age. A short time before the outbreak of the revolt he went on an extensive tour of the Diaspora (except Egypt, where Judaism was at an ebb after 117). R. Akiva visited Gaul, Africa, Athens, *Antioch, Mazaca-Caesarea in Cappadocia, and – crossing the border into Parthia – Ctesiphon and Ecbatana. He was not the only one active – two sages, *Pappus and Julianus, were executed at Laodicea in Syria because they were collecting money on behalf of the rebels.
The War of Bar Kokhba lasted three years, and strained the military resources of the empire to the utmost. When it ended after the capture of Bethar near Jerusalem and the destruction of the last rebels in the caves of the Judean desert, the Jewish population of Judea was either dead, enslaved, or in flight. The whole area round Jerusalem was settled with non-Jews. Only Galilee remained a bastion of Judaism in Ereẓ Israel. In order to strike at the root of Jewish resistance, Hadrian prohibited the practice of the Jewish religion – an order which was for some time strictly enforced in Galilee but which seems to have remained a dead letter elsewhere. In other ways the disasters of the Bar Kokhba War strengthened Judaism in the Diaspora – first there were the fugitives who crammed all the ports of the Mediterranean, then the slaves, who were sold in such vast numbers that the prices in the Roman slave markets fell. Among those going to the Diaspora were many scholars; some, like R. Meir, R. Yose b. Ḥalafta or R. Johanan ha-Sandelar returning to Ereẓ Israel, others remaining abroad. The communities of Asia Minor were now the most prosperous, as is witnessed by their synagogues, of which that of *Sardis was the most splendid. Greece was by now in decline, and the Jewries of Egypt and Cyrene, as well as that of Cyprus, were in shambles. Rome, with the cities in its vicinity, now received many more of the Jewish refugees, and there was a marked movement of the Diaspora westward – into Gaul, Spain and up the Rhine. Being mostly merchants or craftsmen, the Jews settled in the great commercial centers, provincial capitals, or near legionary camps. In the larger cities they were organized into several communities each with its own synagogue, which served also as a school. Besides the elected heads of the community (the *archisynagogus and his deputies) there was a permanent scribe or teacher, the grammateus. The communities were recognized legally, with the right to hold property and even with a kind of internal jurisdiction. To judge from the inscriptions in their burial places (especially the *catacombs of Rome) they clung to the Greek language, with only gradual Latinization; Hebrew was known but not much used.
The Bar Kokhba War marks the final separation of Judaism and *Christianity; henceforward both communities were in competition in their missionary activity. The disasters of the Bar Kokhba War handicapped Jewish *proselytism (although it was not quite extinct) while Christian missionaries flourished. The result was a bitter struggle, which has left its mark in the centuries in which the church was victorious. The rest of the gentile world changed its attitude to the Jews, but in another sense. While in the first century the Jews were a subject for contempt because of their "queer" observances, their poverty, and their low social status, there was a period of acute hatred after the revolts, but hatred mixed with fear and akin to respect. Later on, the decline of the official Olympian religion benefited the position of Judaism together with all Oriental religions.
The Roman Empire – Antoninus Pius to Constantine
*Antoninus Pius (138–161) abolished the decree of Hadrian, except for the prohibition against proselytism. His reign marks the reconstitution of the central national authority in Ereẓ Israel and the beginning of a compromise between the Roman government and the Jews. At an assembly at *Usha near Haifa the surviving scholars reconstituted the Patriarchate and the Sanhedrin, the authority of which was soon recognized throughout the Diaspora. The first patriarch after Usha was Rabban *Simeon b. Gamaliel. It was under his successor, R. *Judah ha-Nasi, that the patriarchate reached its apogee. R. Judah gave final shape to the *Mishnah, the codification of the Oral Law elaborated in the previous four centuries. He imposed his authority on the Sanhedrin and obtained the right to nominate *rabbis and teachers throughout Jewry. His messengers, the apostoloi, inspected Jewish communities and were empowered to depose their functionaries. They also collected the voluntary tax, the apostole, which the Diaspora continued to contribute for the maintenance of the Patriarchate. As the head of the central institutions of Judaism, the patriarch dominated his lesser brethren, the "little patriarchs" each in his province. By keeping in his hands the right to fix the dates of the holidays, the patriarch controlled in effect Jewish religious life everywhere. He was also able to revive – under the guise of courts of arbitration – the civil (and sometimes even the criminal) jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts. In the third century the Palestinian amoraim of the first to the third generation laid the foundations of the "Jerusalem" (Palestinian) *Talmud. The Patriarchate was supported by the Roman government as part of the unwritten agreement by which the Jewish authorities undertook to prevent Zealot outbreaks, while the Romans restored the status of Judaism as a lawful religion with all that this implied, as well as the privileges enjoyed by individual Jews, such as exemption from military service, the right not to appear in the lawcourts on a Sabbath and on holidays, etc. Only on two points did the Romans refuse to mollify their stand; they did not allow proselytism and they refused Jews the right to settle in or even visit Jerusalem. On both points, reality did, however, modify the legal position; proselytism continued and around the communities there gathered groups of "God-fearing" people ("proselytes of the gate" as they were called in Jewish sources) who sympathized with Judaism without fully adopting it. Also access to Jerusalem was rendered de facto much easier, although the prohibition to settle there was still enforced. (According to G. Alon, there was a Jewish community in the Holy City in the third century.) The status of the Jews was more and more equalized with other citizens of the empire under the Severan dynasty (193–225), although the motives of the emperors in granting equality were fiscal. Septimius *Severus allowed Jews to hold municipal office, exempting them from practices contrary to their beliefs (Justinian, Digest, 27:1, 15, 6; 50:2, 3, 3); his son *Caracalla granted them (together with most of the other inhabitants of the empire) Roman citizenship in 212. In general, the Severan dynasty, which started from a Libyan-Punic soldier and his Syrian consort, did not follow the hard Roman line of the Antonines. It seems even that Caracalla is identical with the mythical "Antoninus," the friend of the patriarch Judah I (see *Antoninus and *Marcus Aurelius). The successors of the Severan emperors continued the friendly policy of the dynasty: Severus Alexander was even called "archisynagogus" by his enemies. In the two generations between 225 and 284 Roman Jewry suffered with the rest of the empire from the severe political, economic, and social crisis which shook the Roman world. Barbarian invasions and civil wars between pretenders to the imperial throne led to a disruption of economic life, increased taxation, inflation and all the other ills connected with a deep crisis and which were especially serious for communities dependent on commerce and craft. The eastern part of the empire was overrun first by the Parthians (who killed 12,000 Jews at Mazaca) and then by the Palmyrenes, whose relations with the Jews were cool. When the emperor *Diocletian finally restored order, he continued the Jewish privileges; they were exempted from pagan sacrifices at a time when Christians were forced to perform them. Soon after his death, Constantine, the first Christian emperor, ascended the throne and thus began a new chapter in the history of Judaism.
Babylonian Jewry, the oldest mass-settled group of Jews outside Ereẓ Israel, had maintained its strength throughout the period of the Second Temple. Living since 129 b.c.e. under Parthian rule in the context of a loosely knit semi-feudal state, it was able to develop its autonomous institutions with little interference from the royal government. The Parthians, who had always feared Roman intervention, welcomed Jewish opposition to Rome, at least until the time of Hadrian, when peace reigned on the border. They left a free hand to the *exilarch (resh galuta) who headed Babylonian Jewry. Descended allegedly from the House of David, proud of their genealogical purity, the exilarchs wore the kamara, the sash of office of the Parthian court, and disputed precedence with high Parthian officials. The community which they headed was both numerous (estimates of its number vary from 800,000 to 1,200,000, i.e., 10–12% of the total population of Babylonia) and well-based economically, comprising a fair number of farmers and many traders who grew rich as intermediaries in the profitable silk trade between China and the Roman Empire passing through Babylonia. The Jews enjoyed not only freedom of worship, autonomous jurisdiction, but even the right to have their own markets and appoint market supervisors (agoranomoi). These favorable conditions continued after the replacement of the weak Parthian kings by the much stronger Sasanids, beginning with Ardashir i in 226. The Sasanids were devout followers of the religion of Zoroaster, and its priests, the magi, exercised much influence at the court. After a period of troubles and disagreement at the beginning of the reign of *Shapur i (241–272), better relations were gradually established with the king; one of the reasons for this understanding was Shapur's plans of conquest in the Roman Empire. Jewish help could be of great value in his campaigns, and the Jews of Babylonia had proved their staunch opposition to Rome in the revolt against Trajan. At Mazaca in Cappadocia Jews did indeed oppose Shapur with the rest of the population and suffered accordingly, but in Ereẓ Israel the popular opinion was pro-Parthian and anti-Palmyrene to a large extent. Indeed one of the strongholds of Babylonian Judaism, *Nehardea, was destroyed by a Palmyrene raid under Papa b. Nazer in 259. The good relations with the court continued under Shapur's successors, including Shapur ii (309–379).
Apart from its political and economic status, which was apparently much higher than that of the Jews in the Roman Empire, the main interest of Babylonian Jewry was its relations with the national centers in Ereẓ Israel and its spiritual development, which led up to the creation of the Babylonian *Talmud. The relations of the Babylonian Diaspora with Ereẓ Israel were characterized by ambivalence from the beginning. Hillel the Elder, a Babylonian who imposed his personality on the scholars of Jerusalem, was an exception; but a small center of learning existed at Nisibis led by the Benei Bathyra family. About 100 c.e.*Hananiah, the nephew of R. Joshua, had to leave for Babylonia; his attempts to render Babylonia independent of the authorities in Ereẓ Israel ended in failure. During the Hadrianic persecution several scholars of standing, R. Johanan ha-Sandelar, R. Eleazar b. Shamua and other pupils of R. Akiva settled temporarily in Babylonia and thus enhanced its prestige. However, the masterful personality of the patriarch R. Judah I dominated even this far country. There were at least five Babylonians at his court, and he claimed and was accorded the right to ordain judges for Babylonia also. R. Judah did indeed admit the genealogical superiority of the exilarch, R. Huna, but only at a safe distance.
Conditions in Babylonia changed with the arrival in 219 at Nehardea of Abba Arikha (*Rav), one of the pupils of R. Judah. He found at Nehardea *Samuel, the son of Abba b. Abba, a rich silk merchant. Samuel had established excellent relations with King Shapur i; it was due to him that the rule dina de-malkhuta dina, i.e., civil law has the force of religious law, became the guiding light for the Diaspora. When Rav gave up his candidacy for resh sidra (head of the school) at Nehardea to Samuel, he moved first to *Huzal and then to *Sura, where he established a school which continued the traditions of Ereẓ Israel as taught by Rabbi. Rav died there in 247. In the meantime the school of Nehardea was dispersed after the Palmyrene raid of 259 and reassembled at *Pumbedita, which became the rival of Sura among the Babylonian schools. The leaders of Pumbedita (R. *Hamnuna, R. *Huna – who remained head of the school for 40 years, dying in 297 and his successor R. *Hisda) established the special "Babylonian" trend of talmudic learning, marked by a sharpness of logical dissection.
The great crisis of the Roman Empire in the third century changed the relations of Babylonia and Ereẓ Israel. Although there were still communities of Babylonians settled at Jaffa, Sepphoris, and Tiberias, after the death of R. Johanan more and more students went from Tiberias to Sura and Pumbedita. This exodus took such proportions that the old rule that a ḥaver (member of the rabbinical association) lost his rights on emigration had to be rescinded (tj, Dem. 2:3, 23a). The Babylonians, who were always proud of their descent, now began to insist also on their priority in learning. Thus, for example, R. Judah b. Hezekiah even forbade his student R. Zeira to go to Ereẓ Israel (R. Zeira went nevertheless). In the third generation of the *amoraim it was the Babylonians R. *Ammi and R. *Assi who ruled in Tiberias; if after them this state of affairs did not continue, it was because the Babylonian scholars had lost interest in teaching a declining community. When under Constantine the patriarch *Hillel ii made the rules of the *calendar public, he cut the one remaining tie of Babylonia with the Jewish homeland. Henceforward Babylonia was on its own and girded itself for its great spiritual task, the Babylonian Gemara.