We have spoken of Alexandria as the capital of the Jewish world in the West. Antioch was, indeed, nearer to Palestine, and its Jewish population - including the floating part of it - as numerous as that of Alexandria. But the wealth, the thought, and the influence of Western Judaism centred in the modern capital of the land of the Pharaohs. In those days Greece was the land of the past, to which the student might resort as the home of beauty and of art, the time hallowed temple of thought and of poetry. But it was also the land of desolateness and of ruins, where fields of corn waved over the remains of classic antiquity. The ancient Greeks had in great measure sunk to a nation of traders, in keen competition with the Jews. Indeed, Roman sway had levelled the ancient world, and buried its national characteristics. It was otherwise in the far East; it was otherwise also in Egypt. Egypt was not a land to be largely inhabited, or to be civilised' in the then sense of the term: soil, climate, history, nature forbade it. Still, as now, and even more than now, was it the dream-land of untold attractions to the traveller. The ancient, mysterious Nile still rolled its healing waters out into the blue sea, where (so it was supposed) they changed its taste within a radius farther than the eye could reach. To be gently borne in bark or ship on its waters, to watch the strange vegetation and fauna of its banks; to gaze beyond, where they merged into the trackless desert; to wander under the shade of its gigantic monuments, or within the wierd avenues of its colossal temples, to see the scroll of mysterious hieroglyphics; to note the sameness of manner and of people as of old, and to watch the unique rites of its ancient religion - this was indeed to be again in the old far-away world, and that amidst a dreaminess bewitching the senses, and a gorgeousness dazzling the imagination.
We are still far out at sea, making for the port of Alexandria - the only safe shelter all along the coast of Asia and Africa. Quite thirty miles out the silver sheen of the lighthouse on the island of Pharos - connected by a mole with Alexandria - is burning like a star on the edge of the horizon. Now we catch sight of the palmgroves of Pharos; presently the anchor rattles and grates on the sand, and we are ashore. What crowd of vessels of all sizes, shapes and nationalities; what a multitude of busy people; what a very Babel of languages; what a commingling of old and new world civilisation; and what a variety of wares piled up, loading or unloading!
Alexandria itself was not an old Egyptian, but a comparatively modern, city; in Egypt and yet not of Egypt. Everything was in character - the city, its inhabitants, public life, art, literature, study, amusements, the very aspect of the place. Nothing original anywhere, but combination of all that had been in the ancient world, or that was at the time - most fitting place therefore to be the capital of Jewish Hellenism.
As its name indicates, the city was founded by Alexander the Great. It was built in the form of an open fan, or rather, of the outspread cloak of a Macedonian horseman. Altogether, it measured (16,360 paces) 3,160 paces more than Rome; but its houses were neither so crowded nor so many-storied. It had been a large city when Rome was still inconsiderable, and to the last held the second place in the Empire. One of the five quarters into which the city was divided, and which were named according to the first letters of the alphabet, was wholly covered by the royal palaces, with their gardens, and similar buildings, including the royal mausoleum, where the body of Alexander the Great, preserved in honey, was kept in a glass coffin. But these, and its three miles of colonnades along the principal highway, were only some of the magnificent architectural adornments of a city full of palaces. The population amounted, probably, to nearly a million, drawn from the East and West by trade, the attractions of wealth, the facilities for study, or the amusements of a singularly frivolous city. A strange mixture of elements among the people, combining the quickness and versatility of the Greek with the gravity, the conservatism, the dream-grandeur, and the luxury of the Eastern.
Three worlds met in Alexandria: Europe, Asia, and Africa; and brought to it, or fetched from it, their treasures. Above all, it was a commercial city, furnished with an excellent harbour - or rather with five harbours. A special fleet carried, as tribute, from Alexandria to Italy, two-tenths of the corn produce of Egypt, which sufficed to feed the capital for four months of the year. A magnificent fleet it was, from the light quick sailer to those immense corn-ships which hoisted a special flag, and whose early arrival was awaited at Puteoli with more eagerness than that of any modern ocean-steamer. The commerce of India was in the hands of the Alexandrian shippers. Since the days of the Ptolemies the Indian trade alone had increased sixfold. Nor was the native industry inconsiderable. Linen goods, to suit the tastes or costumes of all countries; woolen stuffs of every hue, some curiously wrought with figures, and even scenes; glass of every shade and in every shape; paper from the thinnest sheet to the coarsest packing paper; essences, perfumeries - such were the native products. However idly or luxuriously inclined, still every one seemed busy, in a city where (as the Emperor Hadrian expressed it) money was the people's god;' and every one seemed well-to-do in his own way, from the waif in the streets, who with little trouble to himself could pick up sufficient to go to the restaurant and enjoy a comfortable dinner of fresh or smoked fish with garlic, and his pudding, washed down with the favourite Egyptian barley beer, up to the millionaire banker, who owned a palace in the city and a villa by the canal that connected Alexandria with Canobus. What a jostling crowd of all nations in the streets, in the market (where, according to the joke of a contemporary, anything might be got except snow), or by the harbours; what cool shades, delicious retreats, vast halls, magnificent libraries, where the savants of Alexandria assembled and taught every conceivable branch of learning, and its far-famed physicians prescribed for the poor consumptive patients sent thither from all parts of Italy! What bustle and noise among that ever excitable, chatty conceited, vain, pleasure-loving multitude, whose highest enjoyment was the theatre and singers; what scenes on that long canal to Canobus, lined with luxurious inns, where barks full of pleasure-seekers revelled in the cool shade of the banks, or sped to Canobus, that scene of all dissipation and luxury, proverbial even in those days! And yet, close by, on the shores of Lake Mareotis, as if in grim contrast, were the chosen retreats of that sternly ascetic Jewish party, the Therapeutæ, whose views and practices in so many points were kindred to those of the Essenes in Palestine!
This sketch of Alexandria will help us to understand the surroundings of the large mass of Jews settled in the Egyptian capital. Altogether more than an eighth of the population of the country (one million in 7,800,000) was Jewish. Whether or not a Jewish colony had gone into Egypt at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, or even earlier, the great mass of its residents had been attracted by Alexander the Great, who had granted the Jews equally exceptional privileges with the Macedonians. The later troubles of Palestine under the Syrian kings greatly swelled their number, the more so that the Ptolemies, with one exception, favoured them. Originally a special quarter had been assigned to the Jews in the city - the Delta' by the eastern harbour and the Canobus canal - probably alike to keep the community separate, and from its convenience for commercial purposes. The priveleges which the Ptolemies had accorded to the Jews were confirmed, and even enlarged, by Julius Cæsar. The export trade in grain was now in their hands, and the harbour and river police committed to their charge. Two quarters in the city are named as specially Jewish - not, however, in the sense of their being confined to them. Their Synagogues, surrounded by shady trees, stood in all parts of the city. But the chief glory of the Jewish community in Egypt, of which even the Palestinians boasted, was the great central Synagogue, built in the shape of a basilica, with double colonnade, and so large that it needed a signal for those most distant to know the proper moment for the responses. The different trade guilds sat there together, so that a stranger would at once know where to find Jewish employers or fellow-workmen. In the choir of this Jewish cathedral stood seventy chairs of state, encrusted with precious stones, for the seventy elders who constituted the eldership of Alexandria, on the model of the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
It is a strange, almost inexplicable fact, that the Egyptian Jews had actually built a schismatic Temple. During the terrible Syrian persecutions in Palestine Onias, the son of the murdered High-Priest Onias III., had sought safety in Egypt. Ptolemy Philometor not only received him kindly, but gave a disused heathen temple in the town of Leontopolis for a Jewish sanctuary. Here a new Aaronic priesthood ministered, their support being derived from the revenues of the district around. The new Temple, however, resembled not that of Jerusalem either in outward appearance nor in all its internal fittings. At first the Egyptian Jews were very proud of their new sanctuary, and professed to see in it the fulfilment of the prediction, that five cities in the land of Egypt should speak the language of Canaan, of which one was to be called Ir-ha-Heres, which the LXX. (in their original form, or by some later emendation) altered into the city of righteousness.' This temple continued from about 160 b.c. to shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. It could scarcely be called a rival to that on Mount Moriah, since the Egyptian Jews also owned that of Jerusalem as their central sanctuary, to which they made pilgrimages and brought their contributions, while the priests at Leontopolis, before marrying, always consulted the official archives in Jerusalem to ascertain the purity of descent of their intended wives. The Palestinians designated it contemptuously as the house of Chonyi' (Onias), and declared the priesthood of Leontopolis incapable of serving in Jerusalem, although on a par with those who were disqualified only by some bodily defect. Offerings brought in Leontopolis were considered null, unless in the case of vows to which the name of this Temple had been expressly attached. This qualified condemnation seems, however, strangely mild, except on the supposition that the statements we have quoted only date from a time when both Temples had long passed away.
Nor were such feelings unreasonable. The Egyptian Jews had spread on all sides - southward to Abyssinia and Ethiopia, and westward to, and beyond, the province of Cyrene. In the city of that name they formed one of the four classes into which its inhabitants were divided. A Jewish inscription at Berenice, apparently dating from the year 13 b.c., shows that the Cyrenian Jews formed a distinct community under nine rulers' of their own, who no doubt attended to the communal affairs - not always an easy matter, since the Cyrenian Jews were noted, if not for turbulence, yet for strong anti-Roman feeling, which more than once was cruelly quenched in blood. Other inscriptions prove, that in other places of their dispersion also the Jews had their own Archontes or rulers,' while the special direction of public worship was always entrusted to the Archisynagogos, or chief ruler of the Synagogue,' both titles occurring side by side. It is, to say the least, very doubtful, whether the High-Priest at Leontopolis was ever regarded as, in any real sense, the head of the Jewish community in Egypt. In Alexandria, the Jews were under the rule of a Jewish Ethnarch, whose authority was similar to that of the Archon' of independent cities. But his authority was transferred, by Augustus, to the whole eldership.' Another, probably Roman, office, though for obvious reasons often filled by Jews, was that of the Alabarch, or rather Arabarch, who was set over the Arab population. Among others, Alexander, the brother of Philo, held this post. If we may judge of the position of the wealthy Jewish families in Alexandria by that of this Alabarch, their influence must have been very great. The firm of Alexander was probably as rich as the great Jewish banking and shipping house of Saramalla in Antioch. Its chief was entrusted with the management of the affairs of Antonia, the much respected sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius. It was a small thing for such a man to lend King Agrippa, when his fortunes were very low, a sum of about 7,000l. with which to resort to Italy, since he advanced it on the guarantee of Agrippa's wife, whom he highly esteemed, and at the same time made provision that the money should not be all spent before the Prince met the Emperor. Besides, he had his own plans in the matter. Two of his sons married daughters of King Agrippa; while a third, at the price of apostasy, rose successively to the posts of Procurator of Palestine, and finally of Governor of Egypt. The Temple at Jerusalem bore evidence of the wealth and munificence of this Jewish millionaire. The gold and silver with which the nine massive gates were covered, which led into the Temple, were the gift of the great Alexandrian banker.
The possession of such wealth, coupled no doubt with pride and self-assertion, and openly spoken contempt of the superstitions around, would naturally excite the hatred of the Alexandria populace against the Jews. The greater number of those silly stories about the origin, early history, and religion of the Jews, which even the philosophers and historians of Rome record as genuine, originated in Egypt. A whole series of writers, beginning with Manetho, made it their business to give a kind of historical travesty of the events recorded in the books of Moses. The boldest of these scribblers was Apion, to whom Josephus replied - a world-famed charlatan and liar, who wrote or lectured, with equal presumption and falseness, on every conceivable object. He was just the man to suit the Alexandrians, on whom his unblushing assurance imposed. In Rome he soon found his level, and the Emperor Tiberius well characterised the irrepressible boastful talker as the tinkling cymbal of the world.' He had studied, seen, and heard everything - even, on three occasions, the mysterious sound on the Colossus of Memnon, as the sun rose upon it! At least, so he graved upon the Colossus itself, for the information of all generations. Such was the man on whom the Alexandrians conferred the freedom of their city, to whom they entrusted their most important affairs, and whom they extolled as the victorious, the laborious, the new Homer. There can be little doubt, that the popular favour was partly due to Apion's virulent attacks upon the Jews. His grotesque accounts of their history and religion held them up to contempt. But his real object was to rouse the fanaticism of the populace against the Jews. Every year, so he told them, it was the practice of the Jews to get hold of some unfortunate Hellene, whom ill-chance might bring into their hands, to fatten him for the year, and then to sacrifice him, partaking of his entrials, and burying the body, while during these horrible rites they took a fearful oath of perpetual enmity to the Greeks. These were the people who battened on the wealth of Alexandria, who had usurped quarters of the city to which they had no right, and claimed exceptional privileges; a people who had proved traitors to, and the ruin of every one who had trusted them. If the Jews,' he exclaimed, are citizens of Alexandria, why do they not worship the same gods as the Alexandrians?' And, if they wished to enjoy the protection of the Cæsars, why did they not erect statues, and pay Divine honor to them? There is nothing strange in these appeals to the fanaticism of mankind. In one form or another, they have only too often been repeated in all lands and ages, and, alas! by the representatives of all creeds. Well might the Jews, as Philo mourns, wish no better for themselves than to be treated like other men!
We have already seen, that the ideas entertained in Rome about the Jews were chiefly derived from Alexandrian sources. But it is not easy to understand, how a Tacitus, Cicero, or Pliny could have credited such absurdities as that the Jews had come from Crete (Mount Ida - Idæi = Judæi), been expelled on account of leprosy from Egypt, and emigrated under an apostate priest, Moses; or that the Sabbath-rest originated in sores, which had obliged the wanderers to stop short on the seventh day; or that the Jews worshipped the head of an ass, or else Bacchus; that their abstinence from swine's flesh was due to remembrance and fear of leprosy, or else to the worship of that animal - and other puerilities of the like kind. The educated Roman regarded the Jew with a mixture of contempt and anger, all the more keen that, according to his notions, the Jew had, since his subjection to Rome, no longer a right to his religion; and all the more bitter that, do what he might, that despised race confronted him everywhere, with a religion so uncompromising as to form a wall of separation, and with rites so exclusive as to make them not only strangers, but enemies. Such a phenomenon was nowhere else to be encountered. The Romans were intensely practical. In their view, political life and religion were not only intertwined, but the one formed part of the other. A religion apart from a political organisation, or which offered not, as a quid pro quo, some direct return from the Deity to his votaries, seemed utterly inconceivable. Every country has its own religion, argued Cicero, in his appeal for Flaccus. So long as Jerusalem was unvaquished, Judaism might claim toleration; but had not the immortal gods shown what they thought of it, when the Jewish race was conquered? This was a kind of logic that appealed to the humblest in the crowd, which thronged to hear the great orator defending his client, among others, against the charge of preventing the transport from Asia to Jerusalem of the annual Temple-tribute. This was not a popular accusation to bring against a man in such an assembly. And as the Jews - who, to create a distrubance, had (we are told) distributed themselves among the audience in such numbers, that Cicero somewhat rhetorically declared, he would fain have spoken with bated breath, so as to be only audible to the judges - listened to the great orator, they must have felt a keen pang shoot to their hearts while he held them up to the scorn of the heathen, and touched, with rough finger, their open sore, as he urged the ruin of their nation as the one unanswerable argument, which Materialism could bring against the religion of the Unseen.
And that religion - was it not, in the words of Cicero, a barbarous superstition,' and were not its adherents, as Pliny had it, a race distinguished for its contempt of the gods?' To begin with their theology. The Roman philosopher would sympathise with disbelief of all spiritual realities, as, on the other hand, he could understand the popular modes of worship and superstition. But what was to be said for a worship of something quite unseen, an adoration, as it seemed to him, of the clouds and of the sky, without any visible symbol, conjoined with an utter rejection of every other form of religion - Asiatic, Egyptian, Greek, Roman - and the refusal even to pay the customary Divine honor to the Cæsars, as the incarnation of Roman power? Next, as to their rites. Foremost among them was the initiatory rite of circumcision, a constant subject for coarse jests. What could be the meaning of it; or of what seemed like some ancestral veneration for the pig, or dread of it, since they made it a religious duty not to partake of its flesh? Their Sabbath-observance, however it had originated, was merely an indulgence in idleness. The fast young Roman literati would find their amusement in wandering on the Sabbath-eve through the tangled, narrow streets of the Ghetto, watching how the dim lamp within shed its unsavory light, while the inmates mumbled prayers with blanched lips;' or they would, like Ovid, seek in the Synagogue occasion for their dissolute amusements. The Thursday fast was another target for their wit. In short, at the best, the Jew was a constant theme of popular merriment, and the theatre would resound with laughter as his religion was lampooned, no matter how absurd the stories, or how poor the punning.
And then, as the proud Roman passed on the Sabbath through the streets, Judaism would obtrude itself upon his notice, by the shops that were shut, and by the strange figures that idly moved about in holiday attire. They were strangers in a strange land, not only without sympathy with what passed around, but with marked contempt and abhorrence of it, while there was that about their whole bearing, which expressed the unspoken feeling, that the time of Rome's fall, and of their own supremacy, was at hand. To put the general feeling in the words of Tacitus, the Jews kept close together, and were ever most liberal to one another; but they were filled with bitter hatred of all others. They would neither eat nor sleep with strangers; and the first thing which they taught their proselytes was to despise the gods, to renounce their own country, and to rend the bonds which had bound them to parents, children or kindred. To be sure, there was some ground of distorted truth in these charges. For, the Jew, as such, was only intended for Palestine. By a necessity, not of his own making, he was now, so to speak, the negative element in the heathen world; yet one which, do what he might, would always obtrude itself upon public notice. But the Roman satirists went further. They accused the Jews of such hatred of all other religionists, that they would not even show the way to any who worshipped otherwise, nor point out the cooling spring to the thirsty. According to Tacitus, there was a political and religious reason for this. In order to keep the Jews separate from all other nations, Moses had given them rites, contrary to those of any other race, that they might regard as unholy what was sacred to others, and as lawful what they held in abomination. Such a people deserved neither consideration nor pity; and when the historian tells how thousands of their number had been banished by Tiberius to Sardinia, he dismisses the probability of their perishing in that severe climate with the cynical remark, that it entailed a poor loss' (vile damnum).
Still, the Jew was there in the midst of them. It is impossible to fix the date when the first Jewish wanderers found their way to the capital of the world. We know, that in the wars under Pompey, Cassius, and Antonius, many were brought captive to Rome, and sold as slaves. In general, the Republican party was hostile, the Cæsars were friendly, to the Jews. The Jewish slaves in Rome proved an unprofitable and troublesome acquisition. They clung so tenaciously to their ancestral customs, that it was impossible to make them conform to the ways of heathen households. How far they would carry their passive resistance, appears from a story told by Josephus, about some Jewish priests of his acquaintance, who, during their captivity in Rome, refused to eat anything but figs and nuts, so as to avoid the defilement of Gentile food. Their Roman masters deemed it prudent to give their Jewish slaves their freedom, either at a small ransom, or even without it. These freedmen (liberti) formed the nucleus of the Jewish community in Rome, and in great measure determined its social character. Of course they were, as always, industrious, sober, pushing. In course of time many of them acquired wealth. By-and-by Jewish immigrants of greater distinction swelled their number. Still their social position was inferior to that of their co-religionists in other lands. A Jewish population so large as 40,000 in the time of Augustus, and 60,000 in that of Tiberius, would naturally included all ranks - merchants, bankers, literati, even actors. In a city which offered such temptations, they would number among them those of every degree of religious profession; nay, some who would not only imitate the habits of those around, but try to outdo their gross licentiousness. Yet, even so, they would vainly endeavor to efface the hateful mark of being Jews.
Augustus had assigned to the Jews as their special quarter the fourteenth region' across the Tiber, which stretched from the slope of the Vatican onwards and across the Tiber-island, where the boats from Ostia were wont to unload. This seems to have been their poor quarter, chiefly inhabited by hawkers, sellers of matches, glass, old clothes and second-hand wares. The Jewish burying-ground in that quarter gives evidence of their condition. The whole appointments and the graves are mean. There is neither marble nor any trace of painting, unless it be a rough representation of the seven-branched candlestick in red coloring. Another Jewish quarter was by the Porta Capena, where the Appian Way entered the city. Close by, the ancient sanctuary of Egeria was utilized at the time of Juvenal as a Jewish hawking place. But there must have been richer Jews also in that neighborhood, since the burying-place there discovered has paintings - some even of mythological figures, of which the meaning has not yet been ascertained. A third Jewish burying-ground was near the ancient Christian catacombs.
But indeed, the Jewish residents in Rome must have spread over every quarter of the city - even the best - to judge by the location of their Synagogues. From inscriptions, we have been made acquainted not only with the existence, but with the names, of not fewer than seven of these Synagogues. Three of them respectively bear the names of Augustus, Agrippa, and Volumnius, either as their patrons, or because the worshippers were chiefly their attendants and clients; while two of them derived their names from the Campus Martius, and the quarter Subura in which they stood. The Synagoge Elaias' may have been so called from bearing on its front the device of an olive-tree, a favourite, and in Rome specially significant, emblem of Israel, whose fruit, crushed beneath heavy weight, would yield the precious oil by which the Divine light would shed its brightness through the night of heathendom. Of course, there must have been other Synagogues besides those whose names have been discovered.
One other mode of tracking the footsteps of Israel's wanderings seems strangely significant. It is by tracing their records among the dead, reading them on broken tombstones, and in ruined monuments. They are rude, and the inscriptions - most of them in bad Greek, or still worse Latin, none in Hebrew - are like the stammering of strangers. Yet what a contrast between the simple faith and earnest hope which they express, and the grim proclamation of utter disbelief in any future to the soul, not unmixed with language of coarsest materialism, on the graves of so many of the polished Romans ! Truly the pen of God in history has, as so often, ratified the sentence which a nation had pronounced upon itself. That civilisation was doomed which could inscribe over its dead such words as: To eternal sleep;' To perpetual rest;' or more coarsely express it thus, I was not, and I became; I was, and am no more. Thus much is true; who says other, lies; for I shall not be,' adding, as it were by way of moral, And thou who livest, drink, play, come.' Not so did God teach His people; and, as we pick our way among these broken stones, we can understand how a religion, which proclaimed a hope so different, must have spoken to the hearts of many even at Rome, and much more, how that blessed assurance of life and immortality, which Christianity afterwards brought, could win its thousands, though it were at the cost of poverty, shame, torture, and the arena.
Wandering from graveyard to graveyard, and deciphering the records of the dead, we can almost read the history of Israel in the days of the Cæsars, or when Paul the prisoner set foot on the soil of Italy. When St. Paul, on the journey of the Castor and Pollux,' touched at Syracuse, he would, during his stay of three days, find himself in the midst of a Jewish community, as we learn from an inscription. When he disembarked at Puteoli, he was in the oldest Jewish settlement next to that of Rome, where the loving hospitality of Christian Israelites constrained him to tarry over a Sabbath. As he went towards Rome,' and reached Capua, he would meet Jews there, as we infer from the tombstone of one Alfius Juda,' who had been Archon' of the Jews, and Archisynagogus' in Capua. As he neared the city, he found in Anxur (Terracina) a Synagogue. In Rome itself the Jewish community was organized as in other places. It sounds strange, as after these many centuries we again read the names of the Archons of their various Synagogues, all Roman, such as Claudius, Asteris, Julian (who was Archon alike of the Campesian and the Agrippesian Synagogue priest, the son of Julian the Archisynagogus, or chief of the eldership of the Augustesian Synagogue). And so in other places. On these tombstones we find names of Jewish Synagogue-dignitaries, in every centre of population, in Pompeii, in Venusia, the birthplace of Horace; in Jewish catacombs; and similarly Jewish inscriptions in Africa, in Asia, in the islands of the Mediterranean, in Ægina, in Patræ, in Athens. Even where as yet records of their early settlements have not been discovered, we still infer their presence, as we remember the almost incredible extent of Roman commerce, which led to such large settlements in Britain, or as we discover among the tombstones those of Syrian' merchants, as in Spain (where St. Paul hoped to preach, no doubt, also to his own countrymen), throughout Gaul, and even in the remotest parts of Germany. Thus the statements of Josephus and of Philo, as to the dispersion of Israel throughout all lands of the known world, are fully borne out.
But the special importance of the Jewish community in Rome lay in its contiguity to the seat of the government of the world, where every movement could be watched and influenced, and where it could lend support to the wants and wishes of that compact body which, however widely scattered, was one in heart and feeling, in thought and purpose, in faith and practice, in suffering and in prosperity. Thus, when upon the death of Herod a deputation from Palestine appeared in the capital to seek the restoration of their Theocracy under a Roman protectorate, no less than 8,000 of the Roman Jews joined it. And in case of need they could find powerful friends, not only among the Herodian princes, but among court favourites who were Jews, like the actor of whom Josephus speaks; among those who were inclined towards Judaism, like Poppæa, the dissolute wife of Nero, whose coffin as that of a Jewess was laid among the urns of the emperors; or among real proselytes, like those of all ranks who, from superstition or conviction, had identified themselves with the Synagogue.
In truth, there was no law to prevent the spread of Judaism. Excepting the brief period when Tiberius banished the Jews from Rome and sent 4,000 of their number to fight the banditti in Sardinia, the Jews enjoyed not only perfect liberty, but exceptional privileges. In the reign of Cæsar and of Augustus we have quite a series of edicts, which secured the full exercise of their religion and their communal rights. In virtue of these they were not to be disturbed in their religious ceremonies, nor in the observance of their sabbaths and feasts. The annual Temple-tribute was allowed to be transported to Jerusalem, and the alienation of these funds by the civil magistrates treated as sacrilege. As the Jews objected to bear arms, or march, on the Sabbath, they were freed from military service. On similar grounds, they were not obliged to appear in courts of law on their holy days. Augustus even ordered that, when the public distribution of corn or of money among the citizens fell on a Sabbath, the Jews were to receive their share on the following day. In a similar spirit the Roman authorities confirmed a decree by which the founder of Antioch, Seleucus I. (Nicator), had granted the Jews the right of citizenship in all the cities of Asia Minor and Syria which he had built, and the privilege of receiving, instead of the oil that was distributed, which their religion forbade them to use, an equivalent in money. These rights were maintained by Vespasian and Titus even after the last Jewish war, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of these cities. No wonder, that at the death of Cæsar the Jews of Rome gathered for many nights, waking strange feelings of awe in the city, as they chanted in mournful melodies their Psalms around the pyre on which the body of their benefactor had been burnt, and raised their pathetic dirges. The measures of Sejanus, and ceased with his sway. Besides, they were the outcome of public feeling at the time against all foreign rites, which had been roused by the vile conduct of the priests of Isis towards a Roman matron, and was again provoked by a gross imposture upon Fulvia, a noble Roman proselyte, on the part of some vagabond Rabbis. But even so, there is no reason to believe that literally all Jews had left Rome. Many would find means to remain secretly behind. At any rate, twenty years afterwards Philo found a large community there, ready to support him in his mission on behalf of his Egyptian countrymen. Any temporary measures against the Jews can, therefore, scarcely be regarded as a serious interference with their privileges, or a cessation of the Imperial favour shown to them.