How widespread was Judaism in the late classical period?

Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
I believe I remember reading claims that around the time of Constantine Judaism was much more prevalent around the Roman Empire, with it being more open to proselytizing. I am curious about the history of Judaism in this period and its role in the Roman Empire, especially after Christianization.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,350
It is an ethnic religion and generally not open to proselytizing. They don't make it particularly easy to convert to it. Christianity was a sect of Judaism that did proselytize.

The Jews were disbursed throughout the Roman Empire for repeatedly rebelling, so there would have been Jews throughout the Roman Empire.
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
It is an ethnic religion and generally not open to proselytizing. They don't make it particularly easy to convert to it. Christianity was a sect of Judaism that did proselytize.

The Jews were disbursed throughout the Roman Empire for repeatedly rebelling, so there would have been Jews throughout the Roman Empire.
Yes, I know! I was simply under the impression that things were a bit more fluid in late antiquity (some Christian sects, like the arians, would not be called Christian by many modern followers probably), and that given how close Judaism and Christianity had been to each other there might be some lingering ties.

Do you know of any estimayes of how many Jews there were around the Empire? How isolated were they? Where they succesful in some ways (trade, maybe... To be stereotypical)? How were they percieved? How pronounced was Roman persecution of Judaism? Etc.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,490
Dispargum
I can't cite any, but it would not surprise me if there were one or two 2nd or 3rd century sources out there that used 'Christians' and 'Jews' interchangeably.

At least one of the problems that Romans had with Christians also applied to the Jews - their exclusivity. Both Christians and Jews believe their faith is the only true religion and all other religions are false. Romans were generally pretty tolerant of other religions, but Christian and Jewish exclusivity was seen as rude behavior, a lack of respect for the beliefs of others. Exclusivity could be especially troublesome when it came to emperor worship. In times of war the refusal to worship the emperor could be seen as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

Diocletian's and earlier persecutions of Christians did ignore the Jews. Christians appear to have been more obnoxious than Jews, at least in Roman eyes, and especially the eyes of Diocletian. Judaism being a non-proselytizing religion, probably did not threaten the Romans, but Christianity did. The other cults grew jealous of lost worshipers who converted to Christianity. Christians came to be found among senior soldiers and civil servants thereby effecting public policy in ways that traditional Romans did not like. Roman culture was very materialistic, and Jesus had criticized the accumulation of wealth.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
I can't cite any, but it would not surprise me if there were one or two 2nd or 3rd century sources out there that used 'Christians' and 'Jews' interchangeably.

At least one of the problems that Romans had with Christians also applied to the Jews - their exclusivity. Both Christians and Jews believe their faith is the only true religion and all other religions are false. Romans were generally pretty tolerant of other religions, but Christian and Jewish exclusivity was seen as rude behavior, a lack of respect for the beliefs of others. Exclusivity could be especially troublesome when it came to emperor worship. In times of war the refusal to worship the emperor could be seen as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

Diocletian's and earlier persecutions of Christians did ignore the Jews. Christians appear to have been more obnoxious than Jews, at least in Roman eyes, and especially the eyes of Diocletian. Judaism being a non-proselytizing religion, probably did not threaten the Romans, but Christianity did. The other cults grew jealous of lost worshipers who converted to Christianity. Christians came to be found among senior soldiers and civil servants thereby effecting public policy in ways that traditional Romans did not like. Roman culture was very materialistic, and Jesus had criticized the accumulation of wealth.
Thank you for the thorough answer!
 
Oct 2018
1,551
Sydney
Diocletian's and earlier persecutions of Christians did ignore the Jews. Christians appear to have been more obnoxious than Jews, at least in Roman eyes, and especially the eyes of Diocletian. Judaism being a non-proselytizing religion, probably did not threaten the Romans, but Christianity did. The other cults grew jealous of lost worshipers who converted to Christianity. Christians came to be found among senior soldiers and civil servants thereby effecting public policy in ways that traditional Romans did not like. Roman culture was very materialistic, and Jesus had criticized the accumulation of wealth.
Not proselytizing would have helped, but Judaism was probably also more respected than Christianity because it was considerably older, and the Romans respected old customs. It was good for something to be old, and that respect for old ideas appears in their legal writings. Perceived novelties, like Christianity and Manichaeism, could be scary, and Diocletian emphasizes that Manichaeism is new in his letter against them.
 
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