Jews under Roman Rule - W. D. Morrison

This book focuses on the role of the Jewish states and people during the period of Roman influence. When the Romans first encountered Judaea it was under the influence of the Macedonian empire. The Romans gave the Jewish state a great deal of autonomy, but tried to integrate it into the greater empire, and the Jewish people, largely due to a resurgence of religious vigor, rebelled. The Roman Jewish rebellions continued throughout the first and second centuries, and affected not only the Jews, but also the Christian communities that had sprung from them.

Show All     Download:     PDF       EPUB

[Book Cover] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Frontispiece] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


[Title Page] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Copyright Page] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


The epoch of which this volume professes to treat embraces a period of about three hundred years (B.C. 164 to A.D. 135), and has an intimate bearing on one of the most momentous turning-points in the history of the world. The first half of this period is almost co-incident with the formation of the great confederation of Mediterranean states under the supremacy of Rome—a confederation which constituted the most important external preparation for the success of Christianity; the second half is co-incident with the birth development and primitive organization of the Christian faith. These are events which gave a new direction to the history of humanity in the West; they are the starting-points of a fresh era in the life of the world; unlike some of the records of antiquity, an account of them is not merely a revelation of what has transpired in the past; at the present moment they are still exercising an immense influence on the deepest sentiments of mankind.

In the first part of this work I have given an account of the relations which existed between the Jews—the people to whom Christianity was primarily addressed, and the Romans the people who held together, under one common dominion, the various nationalities through which the Christian faith was destined to spread. In the execution of this task I have not carried the narrative beyond the final destruction of the remnants of the Jewish state under the Emperor Hadrian. After this date an entirely new chapter in Jewish life begins. Henceforth the Jews ceased to be a nation, and again became what they have since remained, simply a religious community. The hope of being able to gratify their national aspirations by force of arms was gradually relinquished. Withdrawing from the broad current of the world's political activities, they began the construction of another Sacred Book, and committed to writing the immense mass of oral laws and traditions that had been accumulating for centuries in the schools of the scribes. The gigantic results of these peaceful labours was the Talmud. This was a form of activity which did not bring the Jews into collision with the civil power, and accordingly the attitude of the Romans towards them, in the period subsequent to the reign of Hadrian, underwent comparatively little change, and calls for little comment.

The narrative part of this work opens with the first indications of Roman contact with the Jews. At this time Roman and Jewish policy was dictated by similar considerations. Both peoples were bent on crippling the power of Syria, and when the Jews, under the Maccabees, revolted against the enfeebled successors of Alexander, the Romans encouraged the insurgents and willingly accepted their alliance. For many years after the Jews had successfully asserted their claim to independence, the Romans continued to befriend them. But when the authority of the Senate was overthrown, and supreme power in the commonwealth fell into the hands of military chiefs, a change in Roman foreign policy was one of the first effects of this revolution. While the oligarchy in the Senate was supreme it was not a part of Roman policy to extend the frontiers of the republic so as to include the great Hellenic communities of Egypt and Western Asia. The senators dreaded the results of Greek influence on Roman life; but their successors, the military leaders, were hampered by no such fears. The era of conquest was renewed, and, under the auspices of Pompey, the western portion of the Syrian monarchy (of which Palestine formed a part) was brought within the jurisdiction of Rome. For several years after this event the policy of the Romans towards the Jews, consisted in administering the internal affairs of Palestine through the intermediary of vassal princes. But this method was gradually abandoned; it was not sufficiently favourable to the process of consolidating the empire, which was one of the chief objects of imperial solicitude. Accordingly, soon after Herod the Great's death, the two most important portions of the Holy Land—Judaea and Samaria were placed under the control of a Roman procurator.

With the exception of one short interval the rule of the procurators lasted till the destruction of the Jewish state. The manner in which these officials administered public affairs was sometimes highly exasperating, but, on the whole, the direct rule of Rome was less inimical to local liberty than any preceding system of government. The Roman method of collecting taxation was undoubtedly defective, and easily lent itself to purposes of extortion; still it is very questionable if the Syrian and Maccabaean methods, under which the Jews had previously lived, were one whit better. The Roman emperors freely recognized the evils which often disgraced the collection of the revenue, and the reason why such a system continued to exist was because a more enlightened one had not then been devised. The Jews were not the only sufferers from it; it was in operation in every province of the empire.

Roman rule, as we shall see, with all its imperfections conferred many inestimable advantages on the Jews. The factions into which Jewish society was divided when the Romans took possession of Palestine, had reduced the country to a deplorable state of anarchy; it was the strong hand of Rome which parted the embittered combatants and inaugurated a new epoch of order, security, and peace. The absorption of Jewish territory into the vast organism of the Roman Empire opened up more ample fields for Jewish enterprize, and enabled the Jewish trader to transport his wares in security over wider portions of the globe. The Caesars also granted the Jews many privileges and immunities which provincials in other parts of the empire did not enjoy; in fact, their position under Rome was, in many respects, more advantageous than it had been during any previous period of their history.

Unfortunately for the Jews the religious ideas, which had been fermenting in the race for centuries, began to assume a political form under Roman rule. While the Syrians were masters of Judaea the population had no religious scruples about the payment of tribute, or the pollution by heathen conquerors of the sacred soil of Palestine. But under Roman supremacy a new development took place in Jewish theology, and, at the commencement of the Christian era, almost the entire population of Judaea had come to believe that it was an act of impiety towards Israel's God to pay taxes to Rome. This belief took a practical form in the revolt of the Zealots. The revolt was suppressed, but the influence of this party, whose watchword was "No king but God," continued to increase till it culminated in the great uprising which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem. Even after this catastrophe the flame of Jewish fanaticism was only temporarily extinguished; it burst out afresh with uncontrollable fury both in Judaea and among the Dispersion; and the Emperors Trajan and Hadrian had to adopt the most sanguinary measures before it finally succumbed.

The first part of this volume is accordingly intended to show that the repeated efforts of the Jews to overthrow Roman rule did not arise so much from the oppressiveness of imperial administration as from the growing supremacy of a new order of religious ideas among the Jews.

The second part deals principally with the internal structure of Jewish society till the downfall of Jerusalem. The civil and religious functions of the Sanhedrin are set forth; as also the sacrificial system of worship at the Temple, the revenues and duties of the priesthood, the relations between the Temple and its unconscious rival the Synagogue. The synagogue introduces us to the scribes—a body of men whose influence on Jewish life at this period can hardly be over-estimated. The scribes were not only the interpreters of Law and Tradition, they were frequently its creators, and always its disseminators among the masses of the community. The Pharisees, as we shall see, were the disciples of the scribes; while their opponents, the Sadducees, will be shown to have been primarily and essentially a political party. The friction between these two parties was originally of a political character, and the line of division between them in Roman times, on certain points of law, ritual, and theology, was only the indistinct remains of the wide gulf which had separated them when Judaea was mistress of her own destinies. The Essenes, a peculiar outgrowth of Jewish life, present many points of contact with the Pharisees. In fact, the essence of their system consisted in pushing the principles of the Pharisees, concerning ceremonial purity, to their logical conclusions. In order effectually to avoid the risk of becoming unclean, the Essenes ultimately abandoned human society altogether and formed communities of their own. I have described their life, habits, practices, and beliefs, as well as the relation in which they stood to Judaism and Christianity.

Having sketched the nature and constitution of Jewish parties, I next proceed to give an account of the different races which composed the population of Palestine. I have pointed out that the people who inhabited this portion of the Roman Empire were not a nation, and were not held together by any of those ties of race, religion, or common traditions, which constitute the strongest bonds of nationality. They were merely an assortment of peoples settled together on the same soil; they had never amalgamated into a homogeneous whole; and Palestine, in Roman times, is nothing more than a geographical expression. In no part of Palestine, except Judaea, was the population purely Jewish; in Samaria, Galilee, and Peraea, as well as along the Mediterranean coast, there was a mixed population of Jews, Syrians, and Greeks; in some districts, and especially in several of the large cities, the Gentile element, distinctly preponderated over the Jewish. The Messianic hope was of course confined to Jewish circles; in the chapter devoted to the subject, I have pointed out the nature, scope, and influence of this momentous expectation.

In this work attention has also been called to the life of the Jews outside Palestine. The confined area of the Holy Land did not offer a large enough field for the energy and enterprize which animated the race. Some of the Jews were, it is true, on different occasions forcibly deported from their native home, but it is probable that the majority left of their own free choice. At the commencement of the Christian era the Jewish immigration, especially in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, had assumed such proportions that the communities of Jews abroad surpassed their co-religionists at home in numbers, influence, and wealth. I have described the position of these communities before the law of Rome, the privileges they enjoyed, the manner in which they were organized, and their relation to the parent community at Jerusalem. I have shown the power which Gentile ideas had upon these communities of the Dispersion; how Greek thought subverted many of the fundamental conceptions of Judaism; how the Jews succumbed before it by assuming that Hellenic wisdom had originally sprung from themselves; and how, finally, the original meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures was exploded by an allegorical method of interpretation which was intended to bring them into harmony with the prevailing principles of Greek philosophy. Such a state of things, strange to say, existed side by side with an ardent zeal for the propagation of Judaism. The manner in which this remarkable propaganda was conducted, consisted in placing Hebrew sentiments in the mouths of the heroes, sages, philosophers, and mythical personages of heathen antiquity. These efforts were attended with considerable success, and in the first century of the present era the Roman Empire contained a great number of converts to Judaism. But Judaism, even in its Hellenic form, still retained its national character—it never permitted the convert to stand exactly upon the same level as the born Jew—Judaism, in fact, was unable to satisfy the cravings of the human conscience for religious equality, and it will be shown that most of its converts, as well as many of the Hellenic Jews, ultimately found a refuge in the universalistic principles of Christianity.

The rise of Christianity falls within the period to which this volume is devoted. But as an adequate account of so momentous an event would transcend the limits assigned to the Series, I have deemed it better to confine myself to an historical description of the institutions in existence among the Jews at the period when Christianity arose. A work of this nature will serve the purpose of shedding more light upon the Christian documents handed down to us in the New Testament, and will also assist us in forming a more accurate estimate of primitive and apostolic Christianity. It is impossible to understand the historic and doctrinal contents of the New Testament writings, without some knowledge of the times in which these writings originated. These times have passed away with the downfall of ancient civilization; we are now living in another world; we are surrounded by a new order of ideas and institutions; the contents of the New Testament are a product of antiquity; to be fully comprehended they must be placed in their original historic framework, and looked at in the light of the age which called them forth. This indispensable framework the present volume endeavours to supply. It is the first English book, so far as I am aware, which is exclusively occupied with this period; the Story of the Jews, in the same Series, deals in general outline with the entire history of the race.

Besides making a study of the original sources in the preparation of the present work, I have also availed myself of the most recent investigations connected with this department of historical research. In the domain of Talmudic literature I must express my obligations to the works of Surenhusius, Lightfoot, Derenbourg, Weber, Wunsche, and Hamburger. Niese's new critical edition of Josephus, now in course of publication, is still too incomplete to be of much service for our period. In verifying references and revising the proofs, I have been much indebted to Mr. J. Morrison.



[Contents, Page 1 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Contents, Page 2 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Contents, Page 3 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Contents, Page 4 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Contents, Page 5 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Contents, Page 6 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Contents, Page 7 of 7] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Illustrations, Page 1 of 4] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Illustrations, Page 2 of 4] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Illustrations, Page 3 of 4] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison
[Illustrations, Page 4 of 4] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison

List of Authorities

The following are the principal sources of this history. References to modern literature will be found in the notes:

  • Apocalypse of Baruch, The. See Ceriani, Monumenta sacra et profana, Milan, 1866; Fritzsche, "Libri apocryphi Vet. Test. grace," 1871; Lagarde, "Libri Vet. Test. apocryphi syriace," 1861.
  • Apocrypha, The. See "The Speaker's Commentary," and the Commentaries of Grimm, Fritzsche, Keil, and Reuss.
  • Appian. See "Appiani Romanorum historiarum quae super-stint," ed. Mendelssohn, 1879.
  • Assumption of Moses, The. See Ceriani, "Monumenta"; Hilgenfeld, "Novum Test. extra canonem receptum," 1876; "Messias Judaeorum," 1869.
  • "Corpus Inscriptionum Hebraicarum," Chwolson, Petersburg, 1882.
  • "Dio Cassius," ed. Dindorf, Leipzig, 1863.
  • "Diodorus Siculus," hook xxix., ed. Dindorf, Paris, 1855.
  • Enoch. Laurence, "The Book of Enoch," Oxford, 1821; "Libri Enoch versio Aethiopica," ed. Laurence, 1838; Dillmann, "Das Buch Henoch iibersetzt," Leipzig, 1853; Schodde,The Book of Enoch," Andover, 1882.
  • Ezra, The Fourth Book of. Hilgenfeld, Messias Judaorum"; Fritzsche, "Libri apocryphi Vet. Test.," Leipzig, 1871; Bensly, "The Missing Fragment," Cambridge, 1875.
  • Flavius Josephus," ed. Havercamp, 1726; Dindorf, 1845; Niese, 1885.
  • "Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum," iii., C. Muller.
  • Jubilees, The Book of. Ceriani, "Monumenta sacra et profana," i. 1861.
  • Mischna, The. "Mischna sive totius Hebrmorum juris, rituum antiquitatum ac legum oralium systema cum clarissimorum Rabbinorum Maimonidis et Bartenorm commentariis integris," &c. G. Surenhusius, Amsterdam, 1698.
  • "Monumentum Ancyranum." Mommsen, "Res gestm divi Augusti," 1883.
  • Philo," ed. Mangey, London, 1742.
  • Plutarch's Lives."
  • Polybius, "Hist.," xxvi.-xl.
  • "Reliqui u Sacrae," Routh.
  • Sibylline Books, The. "Oracula Sibyllina "curarite, C. Alexandre, Paris, 1869; "Oracula Sibyllina," J. H. Friedlieb, Lipsiae, 1852.
  • Strabo, "Geography," xvi.
  • Suetonius, "Lives of the Caesars."
  • Tacitus, "Annals and Histories."
  • Targums, The. Etheridge, "The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan," London, 1862.
  • Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. Testamenta XI I. Patriarcharum," ed. Sinker, Cambridge, 1869; Appendix, 1879.<