Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities

By John R. Bartlett | Go to book overview

5

SYNAGOGUE COMMUNITIES IN THE GRAECO-ROMAN CITIES

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley

This people has already made its way into every city; and it is not easy to find any place in the habitable world which has not received this nation and in which it has not made its power felt

(Jos., Ant. 14.115)

Jews were found in practically every city of the Hellenistic period: in the cities of the Dekapolis, in Asia Minor, in the cities of Egypt and in Rome itself. It is usually assumed that the Jews in the cities of the Graeco-Roman Diaspora were organized on the basis of two institutions, the politeuma and the synagogue. The politeuma was a political body which was headed by a gerousia and was relatively independent of the Greek citizen body. 1 It held administrative and political powers over the Jews of the city. A similar kind of organization on the basis of a politeuma seems to have characterized the organization of the Idumeans of Memphis who also held assemblies (synagogai) in the temple of their god Qos. 2 The Jews of Alexandria, Sardis, Heracleopolis, Berenice and Antioch formed politeumata. 3 It cannot be assumed, however, that all Jewish communities in all cities of the Diaspora were organised on the basis of a politeuma. Trebilco notes that organization on the basis of this model seems to have been characteristic of Jewish communities in the longer established and larger centres of Diaspora Judaism. 4 Jewish populations elsewhere were probably ordered on the basis of 'ad hoc local decisions'. 5 The notion, however, that the Jewish communities of the cities were organized as politeumata has been questioned and completely dismissed by some. 6 There

1 Cf. Smallwood 1976:139ff.

2 Collins 2000:114. The term politeuma can also refer to a cult society, an ethnic community, clubs of soldiers, communities of citizens from the same city living in another city and festival associations of women, ibid.: 115.

3 Trebilco 1991.

4 Trebilco 1991.

5 Trebilco 1991:171. For detailed discussion of politeuma, see Schürer 1973-1987, vol. 3.1.

6 Cf. Rajak 1991:161-73.

-55-

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