Rome, Jews in
Rome, Jews In.
The origin of the Jews in Rome is very obscure. If credit is to be given to a reading in Valerius Maximus, as it is found in two epitomists — Julius Paris and Januarius Nepotianus — the Jews were already in Rome in 139 B.C. The old reading was, "Idem (C. Cornelius Hispalla, praetor peregrinus) qui Sabazii Jovis cultu simulato mores Romanos inficere conati sunt, domos suas repetere coegit." The epitomists read:
"Idem Judoeos qui Sabazii Jovis cultu Romance inficere domos suas coegit." mores conati sunt, repetere
"Judaeos quoque qui Romanis tradere sacra sua conati sunt, idem Hispalus urbe exterminavit arasque privatas a publicis locis abjecit." If this reading be genuine, we find the Jews not merely settled in Rome, but a dangerous and proselyting people, three quarters of a century before the taking of Jerusalem by Pompey. But aside from the fact that both Paris and Nepotianus are post-Christian writers, the question comes up, "What have the Jews to do with Jupiter Sabazius — a Phrygian god?" Without arguing the question at any length, we may unhesitatingly say that the whole is a flagrant anachronism, introduced into the text of Valerius after the time when the Jews, either of themselves or as connected with the Christians, had become much more familiar to the general ear. Friedlander, in his Darstellungen aus der Sittengeschichte Roms, 3, 510, adopts the reading of Valerius Maximus as a source; but it is certain that the first settlement of the Jews at Rome was under Pompey, when vast numbers of slaves were brought to the capital. These slaves were publicly sold in the markets, but, if we may believe Philo, were soon emancipated by their tolerant masters, who were unwilling to do violence to their religious feelings. Is it not more probable that there were some, if not many, opulent commercial Jews already in Rome, "who, with their usual national spirit, purchased, to the utmost of their means, their unhappy countrymen, and enabled them to settle in freedom in the great metropolis?" Certain it is that at the time when Cicero delivered his memorable oration to vindicate Flaccus their influence was already felt; for being afraid of the large number of Jews Cicero saw in the audience, he delivered his speech in a low voice (Cicero,
Pro Flacco, 28). Under Julius Caesar they enjoyed great liberties; for, as Suetonius tells us, they were among the mourners — the most sincere mourners — at the obsequies of Caesar; they waited for many nights around his entombment ("praecipue Judei qui noctibus continuis bustum frequentarunt" [Jul. c. 84]). At the time of Augustus, the number of Jews residing at Rome already amounted to several thousand. Tacitus gives their number at 4000, and Josephus states that 8000 were present when Archelaus appeared before Augustus (Ant. 17, 11, 1; War, 2, 6, 1). They formed the chief population of the trans-Tiberine region: τὴν πέραν τοῦ Τιβέρεως ποταμοῦ μεγάλην τῆς ῾Ρώμης ἀποτομήν, ἣν οὐκ ἠγνόει κατεχομένην καὶ οἰκουμένην πρὸς Ι᾿ουδαίων· ῾Ρωμαῖοι δὲ ησαν οἱ μλείους ἀπελευθερωθέντες. Αἰχμάλωτοι γὰρ ἀχθέντες εἰς Ι᾿ταλίαν, ὑπὸ τῶν κτησαμένων ἐλευθερώθησαν, οὐδὲν τῶν πατρίων παραχαράξαι βιασθέντες. Such is the report Philo gives in Legat. ad Caium, § 23 (Mang. 2, 568). Augustus was at first an enemy to all foreign religions, and even praised Caius, the son of Agrippa, for not having sacrificed in Jerusalem (Sueton. Augustus, 93). But as he advanced in years he grew more superstitious, and finally ordered that sacrifices for his welfare should be offered in the Jewish temple. The kindly feelings of Augustus towards the Jews were no doubt increased by his private friendship for Herod, and we must not be surprised at the special favors shown to the Jews by Augustus; for the less wealthy Jews not only shared in the general largess of corn which was distributed among the poorer inhabitants of the city, but, by a special favor of the monarch, their portion was reserved for the following day if the distribution fell on a Sabbath.
The first direct persecution of the Jews occurred under the reign of Tiberius, who sent 4000 Jewish youth against the robbers of Sardinia, purposely exposing them to the inclemencies of the climate ("si ob gravitatem coeli interirent, vile damnum," as Tacitus writes), and who banished all the others from Rome (Tacit. Annal. 2, 85; Sueton. Tiberius, 36). The ground of this decree is stated to have been the emperor's desire to suppress all foreign superstitions, more especially the Jewish, which numbered many proselytes. Josephus explains that a certain Jewish impostor who acted as a rabbi in Rome had, in concert with three other Jews, succeeded in proselytizing Fulvia, a noble Roman lady. On pretense of collecting for the Temple, they received from her large sums, which they appropriated to their own purposes. The fraud was detected, and Sejanus, who at that time was high in the emperor's confidence, used the opportunity for inciting his master to a general persecution of the Jews.
After the death of Sejanus, the Jews were allowed to return to Rome to be oppressed by Caligula. Claudius (A.D. 41-45) again banished them from Rome, probably on account of the disputations and tumults excited by them in consequence of the spread of Christianity ("Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit" [Sueton. Claudius, 25]). Yet here, as elsewhere, oppression and persecution seemed not to be the slightest check on their increase, and it is true what Dion Cassius remarks, that the Jews were a γένος, κολουσθὲν μὲν πολλάκις, αὐξηθὲν δὲ ἐπὶ πλεῖστον (37:17). They had a sort of council, or house of judgment, which decided all matters of dispute. To this, no doubt, either in the synagogue or law court attached to it, Paul expected to give an account of his conduct. "The numbers of the Jews in Rome were, doubtless, much increased; but their respectability as well as their popularity was much diminished by the immense influx of the most destitute as well as of the most unruly of the race, who were swept into captivity by thousands after the fall of Jerusalem." The change appears to be very marked. Rome tolerated, indeed, all religions; but the exclusiveness and the isolation of the Jews at Rome raised against them popular prejudice. The language of the incidental notices which occur about the Jews in the Latin authors, after this period, seems more and more contemptuous, and implies that many of them were in the lowest state of penury the outcasts of society. Juvenal bitterly complains that the beautiful and poetic grove of Egeria was let out to mendicant hordes of Jews, who pitched their camps, like gypsies, in the open air, with a wallet and a bundle of hay for their pillow as their only furniture:
"Nunc sacri fontis nemus et delubra locantur Judaeis, quorum cophinus foenumque supellex" (Sat. 3, 12).
And Martial alludes to their filth, and, what is curious enough, describes them as peddlers, venders of matches, which they trafficked for broken glass (1, 42; 12, 46). Be it as it may, certain it is that the Jews had once a flourishing and influential congregation at Rome, as may be seen from Jewish inscriptions and tombstones which of late have been brought to light.
Such was the checkered history of the dispersed of Israel during the period which ends with the destruction of Jerusalem. Their wanderings and settlements in other parts of Europe, and the events which befell them in the Roman empire and elsewhere, are fully treated in the articles SEE JEW and SEE ROME.
See Schürer, Lehrbuch der neutestamentlichen Zeitgeschichte, p. 624 sq.; Hausrath, Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte. 3, 71-81; Edersheim, History of the Jewish Nation, p. 83 sq.; Milman, History of the Jews, 1, 458 sq.; Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 3, 141, 142, 211, 212, 251; Kraus, Roma Sotteranea: Die romischen Katakomben (1873), p. 61 sq., 489 sq.; S. Garrucci, Cimitero degli Antichi Ebrei Scoperto recentemente in Vigna Randanini (Roma, 1862); Corpus Inscript. Groec. vol. 4, Nos. 9901-9926. (B.P.)