Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

( Yehúd`m; Ioudaismos ).

Of the two terms, Jews and Judaism , the former denotes usually the Israelites or descendants of Jacob (Israel) in contrast to Gentile races; the latter, the creed and worship of the Jews in contrast to Christianity, Mohammedanism, etc. In a separate article we will treat of Judaism as a religious communion with its special system of faith, rites, customs, etc. (See JUDAISM.) Here, we shall cover the history of the Jews since the return from the Babylonian Exile, from which time the Israelites received the name of Jews (for their earlier history, see ISRAELITES ).

This history may be divided into various periods in accordance with the leading phases which may be distinguished in the existence of the Jewish race since the Return in 538 B.C.

(1)Persian Suzerainty (538-333 B.C.)

In October, 538 B.C., Babylon opened its gates to the Persian army, and a few weeks later the great conqueror of Babylonia, Cyrus, made his triumphal entry into the fallen city. One of the official acts of the new ruler in Babylon was to give to the exiled Jews full liberty to return to Juda (see Ezra 1 ). The substance of Cyrus's decree in their favour is in striking harmony with other known decrees of that monarch, with his general policy of clemency and toleration towards the conquered races of his empire, and with his natural desire to have on the Egyptian border a commonwealth as large as possible, bound to Persia by the strongest ties of gratitude. A comparatively large number of Jewish exiles (50,000 according to Ezra 2:64-65 ) availed themselves of Cyrus's permission. Their official leader was Zorobabel, a descendant of the royal family of Juda, whom the Persian monarch had invested with the governorship of the sub-province of Juda, and entrusted with the precious vessels which had belonged to Yahweh's House. There appeared also by his side the priest "Josue, the son of Josedec", probably as the religious head of the returning community. The returned exiles, who mostly belonged to the tribes of Benjamin and Juda, settled chiefly in the neighborhood of Jerusalem. They at once organized a council of twelve elders, and this council, which was naturally presided over by Zorobabel, controlled and guided the internal affairs of the community, under the suzerainty of Persia. Without delay, too, they set up a new altar, and had it ready to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in 537 B.C. Henceforth, the ritual system was religiously carried out. The foundation of the second Temple was laid in the second month of the second year after the Return, but no further headway was made for fifteen or sixteen years, owing to the active interference and positive misrepresentations to the Persian kings by the Samaritans to whom the Jews had denied a share in the work of rebuilding the House of the Lord. Meantime, the Jews themselves lost much of their interest in the reconstruction of the Temple ; and it is only in 520 B.C. that the Prophets Aggæus and Zacharias succeeded in rousing them from their supineness. Pecuniary help came too from the Jewish community in Babylon, and also, a little later, from the Persian king. Thus encouraged, they made rapid progress and on 3 March, 515 B.C., the new Temple was solemnly dedicated. The Jewish leaders next started on the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, and here again met with the hostility of the Samaritans, whose complaints at the Court of Persia were most successful under Artaxerxes I "Longimanus" (464-124 B.C.), who issued orders strictly forbidding the Jews to proceed with the work.

The special mission of Esdras and Nehemias in behalf of the struggling Palestinian community and their strenuous efforts to lift up its moral tone need not to be dwelt upon here (see ESDRAS; NEHEMIAS). Suffice it to say that, to whatever precise time their labours should be assigned (see CAPTIVITIES), the scribe Esdras and the satrap Nehemias left their permanent impress on their fellow- Jews. After Esdras's death, which probably occurred not long before the end of the Persian rule over in Juda in 333 B.C., little is distinctly known of the history of the Palestinian Jews. It seems, however, that under the satraps of Coele-Syria, the action of the high-priest had a very considerable influence upon their religious and civil matters alike (cfr. Josephus, "Antiq. Of the Jews ", XI, vii), and that their community enjoyed a steadily increasing prosperity, hardly marred by the deportation of a certain number of Jews to distant regions like Hyrcania, which probably occurred under Artaxerxes III (358-337 B.C.). During the Persian period, the Jews who had preferred to stay in Babylonia remained constantly in touch with the returned exiles, sending them, at times, material help, and formed a flourishing community deeply attached to the faith and to the traditions of their race. Within the same period falls the formation of the Jewish colony at Elaphantine (Upper Egypt ), which was for a while supplied with a temple of its own, and the faithfulness of which to Persia is witness by Judeo-Aramean papyri recently discovered. Lastly, the institutions of Judaism which seem to have more particularly developed during the Persian domination are the Synagogues, with their educational and religious features, and the Scribes with their peculiar skill in the law.

(2) Greek Period (333-168 B.C.)

A new period in the history of the Jews opens with the defeat of Darius III (335-330 B.C.) by Alexander the Great at Issus, in Cilicia. This victory of the young conqueror of Persia undoubtedly brought the Palestinian Jews into direct contact with Greek civilization, whatever may be thought of the exact historical value of what Josephus relates (Antiq. of the Jews, XI, viii, 3-5) concerning Alexander's personal visit to Jerusalem. Alexander allowed them the free enjoyment of their religious and civil liberties, and rewarded those of them who went to war with him against Egypt and settled in Alexandria, a city of his foundation, by granting them equal civic rights with the Macedonians. Again, when the Samaritans rebelled against him, he added a part of Samaria to Judea (331 B.C.). After Alexander's untimely death (323 B.C.), Palestine had an ample share of the troubles which arose out of the partition of his vast empire among his captains. Placed between Syria and Egypt, it became the bone of contention between their respective rulers. At first, as a part of Coele-Syria, it passed naturally into the possession of Laomedon of Mytiline. But as early as 320 B.C., it was seized by the Egyptian Ptolemy I (323-285 B.C.) who, on a Sabbath-day took Jerusalem, and carried away many Samaritans and Jews into Egypt A few years later (315 B.C.), it fell into the power of Syria ; but after the battle of Ipsus in Phrygia (301 B.C.), it was annexed to Egypt and remained so practically a whole century(301-202 B.C.). Seleucus I, who founded Antioch about 300 B.C., attracted the Jews to his new capital by granting them equal rights with his Greek subjects; and thence they gradually extended into the principal cities of Asia Minor. The rule of the first three Ptolemies was even more popular with the Jews than that of the Seleucids. Ptolemy I (Soter) settled many of them in Alexandria and Cyrene, whence they gradually spread over the whole country, and attained to eminence in science, art, and even literature, as is proved by the numerous Judeo-Greek fragments which have survived. Under Ptolemy II (Philadelphus), the Hebrew Pentateuch was first rendered into Greek; and this, in turn, led in the course of time to the complete translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint. His successor, Euergetes (247-222 B.C.), is particularly credited, after a successful campaign in Syria, with having offered rich presents at the Temple in Jerusalem. Again, the annual tribute demanded by the early Ptolemies was apparently light; and as long as it was paid regularly, the Palestinian Jews were left free to manage their own affairs under their high-priests at whose side stood the Gerusia of Jerusalem, as a council of state, including the priestly aristocracy. In this wise, things went well under the high-priesthood of Simon the Just (310-291 B.C.), and that of his two brothers, Eleazar II (291-276 B.C.) and Manasses (276-250 B.C.).

Matters proved less satisfactory under Onias II (250-226 B.C.), who withheld the tribute for several years from his Egyptian suzerain. Under Onias's son and successor, Simon II (226-298 B.C.), whose godly rule is highly praised in Ecclesiasticus (chap. iv), the condition of Palestine became precarious owing to the renewed conflicts between Egypt and Syria for the possession of Coele-Syria and Judea. In the end, however, the Syrian king, Antiochus II, remained master of Palestine and did his utmost to secure the loyalty of the Jews not only of Judea, but also of Mesopotamia and Babylon. Seleucus IV (187-175 B.C.) pursued at first the conciliatory policy of his father, and the Judean Jews prospered during the opening years of Onias III (198-175). Soon, however, intestine strife disturbed the pontiff's wise rule, and Seleucus, misled by Simon, the governor of the Temple, sent his treasurer, Heliodorus, to seize the Temple funds. The failure of Heliodorus's mission led eventually to Onias's imprisonment and deposition from the high-priesthood. This deposition purchased from the new king, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), by Jason, an unworthy brother of Onias, was the real triumph of Hellenism in Jerusalem. The man who, in turn, supplanted Jason was Menelaus, another hellenizing leader, whom craft and gold maintained in office, despite the complaints of the Jews to the Syrian monarch. At length, a popular revolt occurred against Menelaus, which Antiochus put down with great barbarity, and which resulted in his leaving Menelaus in charge of the high-priesthood, while two foreign officers became Governors of Jerusalem and Samaria respectively (170).

(3) The Machabean Age (168-63 B.C.)

The whole period which has just been described, was marked by the steady growth and widespread influence of hellenistic culture. Towards its end, the Jewish high-priests themselves not only assumed Greek names and adopted Greek manners, but became the ardent champions of Hellenism. In fact, Antiochus IV thought that the time had now come to unify the various races of his dominions by thoroughly hellenizing them. His general edict for that purpose met probably with unexpected opposition on the part of most Palestinian Jews. Hence, by special letters he ordered the utter destruction of Yahweh's worship in Jerusalem and in all towns of Judea : under the penalty of death everything distinctly Jewish was prohibited, and Greek idolatry prescribed (168 B.C.). The Holy City had recently been dismantled, and a part of it (Acra) transformed into a Syrian citadel. Now its Temple was dedicated to Zeus, to whom sacrifices were offered upon an idol-altar erected over Yahweh's altar. In like manner, in all the townships of Juda altars were set up and heathen sacrifices offered. In the dire persecution which ensued, all resistance seemed impossible. In the little town of Modin, however, an aged priest, Mattathias, boldly raised the standard of revolt. At his death (167 B.C.), he appointed his son Judas, surnamed Machabeus, to head the forces which had gradually gathered around him. Under Judas's able leadership, the Machabean troops won several victories, and in December, 165 B.C., Jerusalem was re-entered, the Temple cleansed, and Divine worship renewed.

The struggle was a hard one against the numerous armies of Antiochus V and Demetrius I, the next Syrian kings; yet it was heroically maintained, with varying success, by Judas until his death on the battlefield (161 B.C.). One of his brothers, Jonathan, became his successor in command for the next eighteen years (161-143 B.C.). The new leader was not only able to re-enter and fortify Jerusalem, but was also recognized as high-priest of the Jews by the Syrian Crown, and as an ally by Rome and Sparta. It was not given him, however to restore his country to complete independence: he was treacherously captured and soon afterwards put to death by the Syrian general, Tryphon. Another brother of Judas, Simon (143-135 B.C.), then assumed the leadership, and under him the Jews attained to a high degree of happiness and prosperity. He repaired the fortresses of Judea, took and destroyed the citadel of Acra (142 B.C.), and renewed the treaties with Rome and Lacedæmon. In 141 B.C., he was proclaimed by a national assembly "prince and high-priest for ever, till there should arise a faithful prophet ". He exercised the right of coinage and may be considered as the founder of the Asmonean, or last Jewish, dynasty. The rule of John Hyrcanus I, Simon's successor, lasted 30 years. His career was marked by a series of conquests, notably by the reduction of Samaria and the forcible conversion of Idumea. He sided with the aristocratic Sadducees against the more rigid defenders of the Theocracy, the Pharisees, the successors of the Assideans. The oldest parts of the "Sibylline Oracles" and of the "Book of Enoch" are probably remainders of the literature of his day. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Aristobulus I (Heb. name, Judas), who was the first Machabean ruler to assume the title of king. He reigned but one year, conquered and proselytized a part of Galilee. His brother Alexander Jannæus (Heb. name Jonathan ) occupied the throne twenty-six years (104-78 B.C.). During the civil war which broke out between him and his subjects he was long unsuccessful; but he finally got the better of his opponents, and wreaked frightful vengeance upon them. He also succeeded at a later date in conquering and Judaizing the whole country east of the Jordan.

On acceding to the kingdom, his widow Alexandra (Heb. name, Salome) practically surrendered the rule to the Pharisees. But this did not secure the peace of the realm, for Alexandra's death alone prevented her being involved in a new civil war. The strife which soon arose after her death (69 B.C.), between her two sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, who were favoured by the Pharisees and the Sadducees respectively, was skilfully kept up by Antipater, the ambitious Governor of Idumea and father of Herod the Great. It gradually led both brothers to submit to the arbitration of Pompey, then commanding the Roman forces in the East. The wary imperator finally decided in favour of Hyrcanus, marched on Jerusalem, and stormed the temple, whereupon a carnage ensued. This brought to an end the short era of independence which the Machabees had secured for the country (63 B.C.). It was during the Machabean Age that occurred the building of a Jewish temple at Leontopolis in the Delta, and the transformation of the Jewish Gerusia into the Jerusalem Sanhedrin . Among the literary products of the same period are to reckoned the deuterocanonical Books of the Machabees, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus ; and the apocryphal "Psalms of Solomon ", "Book of Jubilees", and "Assumption of Moses "; to which many scholars add the Book of Daniel and several sacred hymns embodied in our Psalter.

(4) Early Roman Supremacy (63 B.C.-A.D. 70)

The fall of Jerusalem in 63 B.C. marks the beginning of Judea's vassalage to Rome. Pompey, its conqueror, dismantled the Holy City, recognized Hyrcanus II as high-priest and ethnarch, but withdrew from his jurisdiction all territory outside of Judea proper, and strictly forbade him all further conquests. Then he proceeded homewards carrying with him numerous captives, who greatly increased, if indeed they did not begin, the Jewish community in Rome. Soon Judea became a prey to several discords, in the midst of which the weak Hyrcanus lost more and more of his authority, and his virtual master, the Idumean Antipater, grew proportionately in favour with the suzerains of the land. Upon the final defeat of Pompey at Pharsalus (48 B.C.) by Julius Cæsar, Antipater promptly sided with the victor, and rendered him signal services in Egypt. His reward was the full recognition of Hyrcanus as high-priest and ethnarch; and for himself the rights of Roman citizenship and the office of procurator over the whole of Palestine. He next proceeded to rebuild the walls of the Holy City, and to appoint two of his sons, Phasael and Herod, Governors of Jerusalem and Galilee respectively. From this time forth Herod's fortune grew rapidly, until in the Roman capital, whither he had fled from the wrath of the Nationalist party, he reached the goal of his ambition. The Idumean Herod ascended the Throne of David, and his long reign (37-4 B.C.) forms in several respects a glorious epoch in the history of the Jews (see HEROD THE GREAT ). Upon the whole, however, it was disastrous for the Jews of Palestine. Its first part (37-25 B.C.) was chiefly spent in getting rid of the surviving Asmoneans. By their death he, indeed, made the throne more secure for himself, but also alienated the mass of his subjects who were deeply attached to the Machabean family. To this grievance he gradually added others no less hateful to the national party. The people hated him as a bloody tyrant bent on destroying the worship of God, and hated still more the Romans who maintained him on the throne, and whose suzerainty was to be thrown off at the first opportunity. It was a short time before the death of Herod that Jesus, the true King of the Jews, was born, and the Holy Innocents were massacred.

Herod's death was the signal for an insurrection which spread gradually and was finally put down by Varus, the Governor of Syria. Next followed the practical ratification of the last will of Herod by Augustus. The principal heir was Archelaus, who was appointed ethnarch of Idumean, Judea, and Samaria, with the promise of the royal title on condition that he should rule to the emperor's satisfaction. For his mis-rule, Augustus deposed him (A.D. 6), and put in his stead a Roman procurator. Henceforward, Judea continued as a part of the province of Syria, except for a brief interval (A.D. 41-44), during which Herod Agrippa I held sway over all the dominions of Herod the Great. The Roman procurators of Judea resided in Cæsaria, and went to Jerusalem only on special occasions. They were subalterns of the Syrian governors, commanded the military, maintained peace and took care of the revenue. They generally abstained from meddling with the religious affairs, especially for fear of arousing the violence of the Zealots of the time, who regarded as unlawful the payment of tribute to Cæsar. The local government was largely left in the hands of the Sadducean priestly aristocracy, and the Sanhedrin was the supreme court of justice, deprived, however (about A.D. 30), of the power of carrying a sentence of death. It was under Pontius Pilate (A.D. 26-36), one of the procurators appointed by Tiberius, that Jesus was crucified.

Up to the reign of Caligula (37-44), the Jews enjoyed, without any serious interruption, the universal toleration which Roman policy permitted to the religion of the subject states. But when that emperor ordered that Divine honours should be paid to him, they generally refused to submit. Petronius, the Roman Governor of Syria, received peremptory orders to use violence, if necessary, to set up Caligula's statue in the Temple at Jerusalem. At Alexandria a fearful massacre took place, and it looked as if all the Jews of Palestine were doomed to perish. Petronius, however, delayed the execution of the decree, and in fact, escaped punishment only through the murder of Caligula in A.D. 41. The Jews were saved, and with the accession of Claudius, who owed the imperial dignity chiefly to the efforts of Herod Agrippa, a brighter day dawned for them. Through gratitude, Claudius conferred upon Agrippa the whole kingdom of Herod the Great, and upon the Jews at home and abroad valuable privileges. Agrippa's careful government made itself felt throughout the entire community, and the Sanhedrin, now under the presidency of Gamaliel I, St. Paul's teacher, had more authority than ever before. Yet the national party remained in an almost constant state of mutiny, while the Christians were persecuted by Agrippa. Upon Agrippa's death (A.D. 44), the country was again subjected to Roman procurators, and this was the prelude to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. Nearly all the seven procurators who ruled Judea from A.D. 44 to 66 acted as though they sought to drive its population to despair and revolt. Gradually, the confusion became so great and so general as manifestly to presage the dissolution of the commonwealth. At length, in A.D. 66, in spite of the precautionary efforts of Agrippa II, the party of the Zealots burst into an open rebellion, which was terminated (A.D. 70) by the capture of Jerusalem by Titus, the destruction of the Temple, and the massacre and the banishment of hundreds of thousands of the unhappy people, who were scattered among their brethren in all parts of the world. According to Eusebius, the Christians of Jerusalem, forewarned by their Master, escaped the horrors of the last siege, by removing in due time to Pella, east of the Jordan. Prominent among the Jewish writers of the first century of our era are Philo, who pleaded the Jewish cause at Rome before Caligula, and Josephus, who acted as Jewish Governor of Galilee during the final revolt against Rome, and described its vicissitudes and horrors in a thrilling, and probably also in an exaggerated, manner.

(5) Last Days of Pagan Rome (A.D. 70-320)

Rome exulted over fallen Jerusalem, and struck coins commemorative of the hard won victory. The chief leaders of the defence, a long train of heavily chained captives, the vessels of the Temple, the seven-branched candlestick, the golden table, and a roll of the Law, graced Titus's triumph in the imperial city. And yet three strong fortresses in Palestine still held out against the Romans: Herodium, Machærus, and Masada. The first two fell in A.D. 71, and the third, the following year, which thus witnessed the complete conquest of Judea. For a while longer, certain fugitive Judean Zealots strove to foment a rebellion in Egypt and in Cyrenaica. But their efforts soon came to naught, and Vespasian availed himself of the Egyptian commotion to close for ever the temple of Onias in Heliopolis. At this juncture, it looked as though the distinct groups of Jewish families were henceforth destined to drift separately, finally to be absorbed by the various nations in the midst of which they chanced to live. This danger was, however, averted by the rapid concentration of the surviving Jews in two great communities, mostly independent of each other, and corresponding to the two great divisions of the world at the time. The first naturally comprised all the Jews who lived this side of the Euphrates. Not long after the fall of Jerusalem and its subsequent misfortunes, they gradually acknowledged the authority of a new Sanhedrin, which, in whatever way it arose, was actually constituted at Jamnia (Jabne), under the presidency of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai. Together with the Sanhedrin [now the supreme Court (Bêth Din) of the Western communities], there was at Jamnia a school in which Jochanan inculcated the oral Law (specifically the Halacha) handed down by the fathers, and delivered expository lectures (Hagada) on the other Hebrew Scriptures distinct from the written Law ( Pentateuch ). Jochanan's successor as the head of the Sanhedrin (A.D. 80) was Rabbi Gamaliel II, who took the title of Nasi ("prince": among the Romans, "patriarch"). He also lived at Jamnia, and presided over its school, on the model of which other schools were gradually formed in the neighbourhood. He finally transmitted (A.D. 118) to his successors, the "patriarchs of the West", a religious authority to which obedience and reverence were henceforth paid, even after the seat of this authority was shifted first to Sephoris, and finally to Tiberias.

The supremacy of "Rabbinism", thus firmly established among the Western Jews, prevailed likewise in the other great community which comprised all the Jewish families east of the Euphrates. The chief of this Babylonian community assumed the title of Resh-Galutha (prince of the Captivity), and was a powerful feudatory of the Parthian Empire. He was the supreme judge of the minor communities, both in civil and in criminal matters, and exercised in many other ways a wellnigh absolute authority over them. The principal districts under his jurisdiction were those of Nares, Sora, Pumbeditha, Nahardea, Nahar-Paked, and Machuzza, whose rabbinical schools were destined to enjoy the greatest fame and influence. The patriarchs of the West possessed much less temporal authority than the princes of the Captivity; and this was only natural in view of the suspicious watchfulness which Vespasian and Titus exercised over the Jews of the Empire. A garrison of 800 men occupied the ruins of Jerusalem to prevent its reconstruction by the religious zeal of its former inhabitants, and in order to do away with all possible pretenders to the Jewish Throne or to the Messianic dignity as strict search was made for all who claimed descent from the royal House of David. Under Domitian (A.D. 81-96), the Fiscus Judaicus, or tax of two drachmas established by Vespasian for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, was exacted from the Jews with the utmost rigour, and they were involved in the persecutions which this tyrant carried on against Christians. The reign of Nerva (A.D. 96-98) gave a brief interval of peace to the Jews ; but in that of Trajan (98-117),while the Roman legions had been withdrawn from Africa to fight against Parthia, the Jewish population of Egypt and Cyrene took up arms against the Greeks of those districts, and on both sides dreadful atrocities were committed. Thence the flame spread to Cyprus where the Jews massacred, we are told, 240,000 of their fellow-citizens. Hadrian sent forces to suppress the uprising in that island, and forbade any Jew to set his foot on its soil. Next, the revolt in Egypt and Cyrene was put down. Meanwhile the Jews of Mesopotamia, dissatisfied with the Romans who had just conquered the Parthians, endeavoured to get rid of the Fiscus Judaicus now imposed upon them. Their insurrection was soon suppressed by Lucius Quintus, who was then appointed to the government of Judea, where it is probable that disturbances were feared.

The next year (A.D. 117), Hadrian became emperor. This was a fortunate occurrence for the Jews of Babylonia, for as the new Cæsar gave up Trajan's conquests beyond the Euphrates, they came again under the milder rule of their ancient sovereigns. But it proved most unfortunate for the Jewish population of the Roman world. Hadrian issued an edict forbidding circumcision, the reading of the Law, and the observance of the Sabbath. He next made known his intention to establish a Roman colony in Jerusalem, and to erect a fane to Jupiter on the site of Yahweh's fallen Temple. At this juncture, it was announced that the Messia had just appeared. His name, Bar-Cochba, "Son of the Star", seemed to fulfil the ancient prophecy : "a star shall rise out of Jacob " ( Numbers 24:17 ). Rabbi Aqiba, the most learned and venerated of the Sanhedrists of the day, distinctly acknowledged the claims of the new Messia. Jewish warriors of all countries flocked around Bar-Cochba, and he maintained his cause against Hadrian for two years. But Roman tactics and discipline gradually prevailed. The Jewish strongholds fell one after another before Julius Severus, the Roman general; Jerusalem was taken; and at length (A.D. 135), the fortress of Bither, the last refuge of the rebels, was captured and razed to the ground. Bar-Cochba had been slain; and sometime later, Rabbi Aqiba was seized and executed, but his seven leading pupils fortunately escaped to Nisibis and Nahardea. Dreadful massacres followed the suppression of the revolt; of the fugitives who escaped death many fled to Arabia, whence that country obtained its Jewish population; and the rest were sold into slavery. To annihilate for ever all hopes of the restoration of a Jewish kingdom, a new city was founded on the site of Jerusalem and peopled by a colony of foreigners. The city received the name of Ælia Capitolina, and no Jew was allowed to reside in it or even approach its environs. The Christians, now fully distinguished from the Jews, were permitted to establish themselves within the walls, and Ælia became the seat of a flourishing bishopric.

Under Antoninus Pius (138-161), Hadrian's laws were repealed, and the active persecution against the Jews came to an end. Aqiba's disciples then returned to Palestine and reorganized the Sanhedrin at Usha, in Galilee (140), under the presidency of Simon II, the son of Gamaliel II. Simon's patriarchate was not free from the petty oppression of the Roman officials, which the Palestinian Jews particularly felt and resented. On the occasion, therefore, of the warlike preparations of the Parthians against Rome, a fresh revolt broke out in Judea during the last year of Antoninus's reign. It was speedily suppressed under the next emperor, Marcus Aurelius (161-180), and followed by a re-enactment of Hadrian's extreme measures which, however, were soon annulled or never carried out. In 165, Rabbi Juda I succeeded Simon II as president of the Sanhedrin and patriarch of the West. The most important of his acts is the completion of the Mishna oral Law (about 189), which, concurrently with the Bible , became the principal source of rabbinical study, and a kind of constitution which even now holds together the scattered members of the Jewish race. As Rabbi Juda was in office for over thirty years, he was the last Jewish patriarch who had to complain of the vexations of the pagan rulers of Rome. Under Caracalla (211-217), the Jews received the rights of citizenship; and under his successors the various disabilities by which they had been affected were gradually removed. Even such rabid persecutors of the Christians as Decius (249-251), Valerian (253-260), and Diocletian (284-305) left the Jews unmolested. During this period of peace, the patriarchs of the West frequently sent their legates to the various synagogues to ascertain their actual condition and collect the tax from which Juda III and his successors drew their income. In Babylonia, the Jewish communities and schools were flourishing under the princes of the Captivity, and except for a short space of time immediately after the conquest of the Parthians by the neo-Persians, and during the ephemeral rule of Odenathus at Palmyra, they enjoyed quiet and independence. The condition of the Jews in Arabia and China, at this time, is not known with any degree of certainty.

(6) Christian Emperors and Barbarian Kings (320-628)

The accession of Christianity to the throne of the Cæsars by the conversion of Constantine, opens a new era in the history of the Jews. The equality of rights to which the pagan emperors had admitted them was gradually restricted by the head of the Christian State. Under Constantine (306-337), the restrictions were few in number, and due to his interest in the welfare of his Christian subjects and in the promotion of the true religion. He made the passage from Christianity to Judaism a penal offence; prohibited the Jews from circumcising their Christian slaves ; protected converts from Judaism against the fiery vengeance of their former coreligionists; but never deprived them of their citizenship, and never went beyond constraining them -- with the exception of their rabbis -- to take upon themselves certain public offices which had become particularly burdensome. These laws were re-enacted and made more severe by his son Constans I (337-350), who attached the death penalty to marriages between Jews and Christians. The severity of these and other laws of Constans was but too fully justified by the dreadful excesses of the Jews in Alexandria, and by their temporary revolt in Judea. The accession of Julian the Apostate, in 361, made a new diversion in their favour. This emperor decreed the rebuilding of the Temple on Mt. Moria and the full restoration of Jewish worship, apparently with a view to secure the influence of the Mesopotamian Jews in his expedition against the Persians. The Jews were triumphant, but their triumph was short-lived; sudden flames burst forth from Mr. Moria and rendered impossible the rebuilding of the Temple ; Julian perished in his Persian War, and his successor, Jovian (363-364), reverted to Constans' policy. The next emperors, Valens and Valentinian, reinstated the Jews in their former rights, except, however, the exemption from the public services. Under Gratian, Theodosius I, and Arcadius, they likewise enjoyed the protection of the Throne; but under Theodosius II (402-450), emboldened by their long immunity from persecution, they manifested a spirit of intolerance and crime which let to violent tumults between them and the Christians in various parts of the Eastern Roman Empire, and apparently also to the prohibition of building new synagogues and from discharging any state employment. It was under Theodosius II that the patriarchate of the West, then held by Gamaliel VI, came to an end (425). Some time before (c. 375), the Jerusalem Talmud was finished, a work which, however important for Judaism, is less complete, in regard to both its Mishna and its Gemara, than the Babylonian Talmud, the compilation of which was terminated by the heads of the Babylonian schools about 499, despite the violent persecutions of the Persian kings, Jezdijird III (440-457) and Firuz (457-484). The immediate result of Firuz's persecution was the emigration of Jewish colonists in the south as far as Arabia, and in the east as far as India where they founded a little Jewish state on the coast of Malabar which lasted till 1520. Under Qubad I, Firuz's son and successor, the prince of the Captivity, Mar-Zutra II, managed to maintain for seven years an independent Jewish state in Babylonia ; but in 518, the Byzantine successors of Theodosius II enforced his anti- Jewish laws with great rigour, and, as a result, the intellectual life and former jurisdiction of the Judean Jews became virtually extinct.

In the West the Jews fared decidedly better during the fifth century than in the East. They of course suffered many evils during the invasions of the northern barbarians who flooded the Western Empire after its permanent separation in 395 from the Eastern Empire of Constantinople. In the midst of the political convulsions naturally entailed by these invasions, the Jews gradually became the masters of the commerce, which the conquerors of the Western Empire, addicted to the arts of war, had neither time nor inclination to pursue. In the various states which soon arose out of that dismembered empire, the numerous Jewish colonies do not seem for a long time to have been subjected to restrictive measures, except in connection with their slave trade. The Vandals left them free to exercise their religion. They were justly treated in Italy, by the kings of the Ostrogoths, and by the Roman pontiffs ; in Gaul, by the early Merovingians generally; and in Spain, by the Visigoths down to the conversion of King Recared to Catholicism (589), or rather down to the accession of Sisebut (612), who, deploring the fact that Recared's anti- Jewish laws had been little more than a dead letter, resolved at once to enforce them, and in fact added to them first the injunction that the Jews should release the slaves in their possession, and next, that they should choose between baptism and banishment. Anti- Jewish legislation was framed at a much earlier date in the Frankish dominions. Hostility towards the Jews showed itself first in Burgundy, under King Sigismund (517), and thence it spread over the Frankish countries. In 554, Childebert I of Paris forbade them to appear on the street at Eastertide; in 581, Chilperic compelled them to receive baptism ; in 613, Clotaire II sanctioned new decrees against them; and in 629, Dagobert bade them choose between baptism and expulsion. Thus the laws against the Jews both in Spain and in France reached gradually a degree of severity unknown even to such Eastern persecutors of Judaism as Justinian I (527-5650 and Heraclius (610-641). Yet, the edicts of these Byzantine emperors were vexatious enough. In fact, Justinian's decrees so exasperated the Palestinian Jews that despite the persecutions of their Mesopotamian fellow- Jews by the Persian kings, Jusrau I (531-579), Hormizdas IV (579-591), and Kusrau II (590-628), they seized the first opportunity to avenge themselves by siding with Kusrau II in his war against Heraclius. During the Persian invasion and occupation of Palestine, they committed dreadful excesses against the Christians, which finally met with a merited punishment in the persecution which Heraclius, again master of Judea, started against them.

(7) The Mohammedan Ascendancy (628-1038)

The rise of Mohammedanism, with whose power the Arabian Jews cane in contact when it was yet in its infancy, marks the beginning of a new period in Jewish history. Several centuries before Mohammed's birth (c. 570), the Jews had effected important settlements in Arabia, and in the course of time, they had acquired a considerable influence upon the heathen population. In fact, it is certain that at one time, there existed in Southern Arabia (Yemen), an Arab- Jewish kingdom which was brought to an end in 530 by a Christian king of Abyssinia. But although they had lost their royal estate, the


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Job 9:1-12, 14-16
1 Job spoke next. He said:2 Indeed, I know ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
10 Do you work wonders for the dead, can shadows rise ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:57-62
57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 1st, 2014 Image

St. Therese of Lisieux
October 1: Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint, called ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter