restricted access Four: Jews or Pagans? The Jews and the Greco-Roman Cities of Palestine
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FOUR JEWS OR PAGANS? THE JEWS AND THE GRECO-ROMAN CITIES OF PALESTINE IF THE RABBIS and their Torah were marginal, and the constitutional role of the Torah was now assumed by the Roman government, where did that leave the apparently still numerous part of post–Bar Kokhba revolt Palestinian society that remained Jewish, however tenuously? A partial description of high imperial Jewish Palestine can be made because the evidence is fairly abundant. What this description teaches us—that in important and surprising respects Jewish Palestine was indistinguishable from other eastern provinces —raises profound questions about the character of Jewish identity in antiquity , and about the survival of local ethnic identities under the basically uniform surface of high imperial urban culture. My main contention will be that the core ideology of Judaism, discussed in the first part of this book, was preserved in profoundly altered but still recognizable form mainly by the rabbis but had a weak hold, if any, on the rest of the Jews. Yet the Jews, or some of them, must have retained some consciousness of being separate from their Greco-Syrian neighbors or they could not have begun to reemerge in the fourth century as a clearly defined, Torah- and synagogue-centered ethnic/religious group in northern Palestine. Their neighbors may have contributed to this sense of separation: in the middle of the second century pagan Scythopolis (Beth Shean) adopted the suggestively overdetermined title “Nysa, also called Scythopolis, the Holy and Inviolate, One of the Hellenic Cities of Koile Syria.” The Scythopolitans had good reasons for their cultural anxieties—the presence of large Jewish and Samaritan communities in their city, and the importance of people of Jewish (and Samaritan?) origin among the city’s “Greeks,” for example. But presumably they were also trying to distinguish themselves from their Jewish, and perhaps Arab, neighbors.1 What the separate consciousness of the high imperial Palestinian Jews consisted of remains to be discussed. 1 For the title, see G. Foerster and Y. Tsafrir, “Nysa-Scythopolis: A New Inscription and the Title of the City on its Coins,” INJ 9 (1986–1987): 53–58. The suggestion that the Scythopolitans were worried about the Jewish and Samaritan communities within the city is theirs. For pagans of Jewish origin, the evidence is two altar bases of the second century C.E., one inscribed, “To Good Fortune. Abselamos son of Zedokomos (or Zelokomos) the builder dedicated (this),” and the other, “To Good Fortune. Theogene daughter of Tobias dedicated this to Zeus Akraios.” Abselamos is probably but not certainly Jewish (or Samaritan), Tobias seems certain. See SEG 28 (1978): 1446 (but also J. and L. Robert, BullEp, 1964, no. 516); and Y. Tsafrir, “Further Evidence of the Cult of Zeus Akraios at Beth Shean (Scythopolis),” IEJ 39 (1989): 76–77. For recent excavations at Scythopolis, see the special issue of Qadmoniot 27 (1994). On the “Arab” or “Semitic” 130 C H A P T E R F O U R Between the Bar Kokhba revolt and the christianization of the empire, the main areas of Jewish settlement included Upper and Lower Galilee, Diospolis -Lydda and its vicinity, perhaps Joppa and some scattered settlements elsewhere on the Mediterranean coast, the Golan Heights, and the semidesert fringe of Judaea. As already suggested, Jewish settlement in Judaea proper was drastically reduced in the wake of the Bar Kokhba revolt.2 What then became of the district is unclear, but it may not have recovered fully until late antiquity , when it began to benefit from the attention of the Christian state. What Jewish population remained in Judaea was confined to its edges: there are scattered pieces of evidence, especially but not exclusively late antique, for Jewish settlement in such agriculturally marginal villages as Zif, Eshtemoa, and Susiyah, south of Hebron. Joppa, conventionally considered Judaea’s port but for most of its history a normal Levantine town with a mixed population, retained some Jewish inhabitants even after it was rewarded by Vespasian for its loyalty to Rome during the first Jewish revolt.3 Indeed, the Jews may have been numerous and influential. The evidence is exiguous but suggestive—a set of molds for lead weights dated to the first decade of the second century, which identify as agoranomos (market supervisor) of the city one Ioudas son of Gozom or Tozom.4 As agoranomos, Ioudas, who was obviously of Jewish origin however we construe his mysterious patronymic, was one of the city elites, probably in fact...