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Jews were persecuted in Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Artwork by Radu Oltean ~ Amelianvs
Author: Radu Oltean | Ancient Warfare

Usually, after the uprisings of Jews in the Roman Empire, persecution of the Jewish population took place from the part of nations professing the polytheistic faith. Violence appeared not only in Judea, but in other cities in the east, where there were large concentrations of the Jewish minority. Romans and Greeks, in particular, persecuted the Jews; we can not also forget about pagans and late Christians.

There was a number of differences between Roman and Jewish society. The Romans did not fully understand why Jews do not eat pork (Romans favorite meat), circumcise boys, and why they do not place their god’s appearance in the temples.

There were also differences in the approach to religion, life and state. Rome, for example, had many temples and deities; Jews have one temple and one god. The Romans believed that time flows and nothing is able to change the past. The Jews, in their turn, believed that there was a certain pattern, and the events were repeated from time to time. Another approach was also in the state. For the Romans, the country was a “public thing” (res publica) that all citizens cared for; the Jews did not even have formal political assemblies acting for the common good. For them, the determinant of good, morals and social order was the word of God.

What is important, differences also occurred in relation to such mundane issues as birthdays. The Romans commemorated and celebrated the birth day, and the emperor’s birthday was a public holiday. The Jews did not celebrate their birthday. Interestingly, the only day of birth in the Torah occurs with reference to the pharaoh of Egypt.

However, despite all these different behaviors and traditions, the Romans were not hostile to the Jews. Initially, the Jews in the cities of the Empire were treated tolerantly, their beliefs were accepted and “otherness” was accepted. There was a kind of modus vivendi (“way of life”), and Roman historians treated the cultural diversity of Jews as something interesting and worthy of interest.

The situation has changed with the growing unrest in Judea and subsequent rebellions against Roman domination. The Jewish resistance has undermined the Romans’ tolerant approach to Jewish culture and religion. Jews began to be brutally persecuted and murdered not only when there was an open rebellion, but also every day. So, as it turns out, not only Christians could talk about persecution.

  • Martin Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient ­Civilizations

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