Transplanted Communities in Iudaea/Palaestina: The Epigraphic Evidence

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Jonathan J. Price


There is some hard evidence, if meager, of Jewish communities transplanting themselves to Iudaea/Palaestina during the Roman period. A community from Italy settling in Jerusalem before 70 CE – the Theodotus synagogue – is a striking instance. Rabbinic sources and early Christian literature mention synagogue communities in cities, but more reliable information is to be sought in inscriptions. The only relatively certain instance after 70 CE is of the Cappadocians in Jaffa. Naturally, the hard evidence of structures and inscriptions suffers from two faults, first, the destruction wrought by successive waves of invaders and earthquakes, and second, the invisibility of probable synagogue communities, including groups with a common topographical or ethnic origin, who met in private houses without public advertisement in monumental structures or expensive inscriptions. Thus the nature of religious communities as well as the low survival rate of inscriptions suggest that the phenomenon was rather more widespread than the scattered evidence suggests. But on this matter, as often in ancient history, we are forced to admit that we may never know.

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