The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World

The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World

The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World

The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World


The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World examines Judaism in Palestine throughout the Hellenistic period, from Alexander the Great's conquest in 334BC to its capture by the Arabs in AD 636. Under the Greek, Roman and finally Christian supremacy which Hellenism brought, Judaism developed far beyond its biblical origins into a form which was to influence European history from the Middle Ages to the present day. The book focuses particularly on the social, economic and religious concerns of this period, and the political status of the Jews as both active agents and passive victims of history.The author provides a straightforward chronological survey of this important period through analysis and interpretation of the existing sources. With its accessible style and explanation of technical terms, the book provides a useful introduction to students and anybody with an interest in post-biblical Judaism.


A "History of the Jews in Antiquity" requires some explanation. First, let us be clear what the present history does not aim to be. It is not intended as a piece of research covering every aspect of ancient Judaism. The cultural history of ancient Judaism is entirely ignored, and little attention is paid to literary and religious history: these areas are already covered by a number of authoritative handbooks. Geographically, the focus is solely on Judaism in Palestine; no mention is made of the major Jewish centres in the so-called diaspora.

The main emphasis of this book is on the political history of the Jews in Palestine, where "political" is to be understood not as the mere succession of rulers and battles but as the interaction between political activity and social, economic and religious circumstances. A particular concern is the investigation of social and economic conditions in the history of Palestinian Judaism.

At the centre stand the Jews of antiquity as both subject and object of history; as a people who are politically both agents and passive victims, attempting to realize their political ideals and goals in a variety of changing circumstances. This implies three things: firstly, the fundamental recognition of the legitimacy of the political activity of ancient Judaism. In view of the confusion caused by the policies of the current representatives of Judaism in the modern state of Israel, this certainly does not seem to be something that everyone automatically takes for granted. Secondly, this means that the only applicable criterion must be the Jews themselves in their own intrinsic historic significance and not their function in a Christian narrative of redemption, however this may be defined. And finally, this means that the identity of whatever is signified by "Judaism" in antiquity is subjected to numerous radical transformations which do not permit the history of this Judaism to be described simply as the self-assertion of a constant "idea" in a hostile environment.

Nor is it a simple matter to specify a precise period for the consideration of the Judaism of antiquity. In the present instance, the period chosen is that characterized by the global domination of Hellenism, extending from the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great in the second half of the fourth century BCE until the seizure of the land by the Arabs in the seventh century CE. In the encounter (sometimes fruitful, sometimes repudiative, but always significant) with Hellenism in the widest sense, which confronted the Jews of Palestine in the form of Greek, Roman, and finally Christian supremacy, a Judaism developed which had far outgrown its biblical origins and which was to influence the history of Europe from the Middle Ages up until the modern era. A survey of such a colossal period of time, almost one thousand years,

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