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DISPERSION (Gr. diaspora, that which is sown). The name applied to the Jews living outside of Palestine and maintaining their religious faith among the Gentiles. God had warned the Jews through Moses that dispersion among other nations would be their lot if they departed from the Mosaic Law (Deut.4.27; Deut.28.64-Deut.28.68). These prophecies were largely fulfilled in the two captivities, by Assyria and Babylonia, but there were other captivities by the rulers of Egypt and Syria, and by Pompey, which helped scatter the Israelites. Especially from the time of Alexander the Great, many thousands of Jews emigrated for the purposes of trade and commerce into the neighboring countries, particularly the chief cities. By the time of Christ the dispersion must have been several times the population of Palestine. As early as 525 b.c. there had been a temple of the Lord in Elephantine, in the early years of the Maccabean struggle. The synagogues in every part of the known world helped greatly in the spread of Christianity, for Paul invariably went to them in every city he visited. The word diaspora occurs three times in the NT (John.7.35; Jas.1.1; 1Pet.1.1).——SB

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

dis-pur’-shun, (diaspora):

1. Golah and Dispersion

2. Purpose of Dispersion

3. Causes of Dispersion

4. Extent of Dispersion

5. The Eastern Dispersion

6. The Egyptian Dispersion

7. Testimony of Aramaic Papyri

8. Jewish Temple at Syene

9. Theories of the Syene Settlement

10. Importance of the Discovery

11. A New Chapter of Old Testament History

12. Alexandrian Judaism

13. The Jews and Hellenism

14. The Septuagint

15. Early Evidence of a Jewish Community

16. The Dispersion in Syria

17. In Arabia

18. In Asia Minor

19. Among Greeks Proper

20. The Roman Dispersion

21. Jews and Pompey

22. Jews and the First Caesars

23. Influence of Jews in the Early Roman Empire

24. Jews in Italy, Gaul, Spain and North Africa.

25. The Numbers of the Dispersion

26. Jewish Proselytism

27. Internal Organization

28. Unity of the Jewish People

29. Dispersion Influenced by Greek Thought

30. The Dispersion a Preparation for the Advent of Christ

31. The Dispersion an Auxiliary to the Spread of the Gospel

1. Golah and Dispersion:

The Dispersion is the comprehensive designation applied to Jews living outside of Palestine and maintaining their religious observances and customs among the Gentiles. They were known as the Golah (Aramaic Galutha’), the captivity--an expression describing them in relation to their own land; and the Diaspora, the Dispersion, an expression describing them in relation to the nations among whom they were scattered. On a notable occasion Jesus said, "Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, ye cannot come. The Jews therefore said among themselves, Whither will this man go that we shall not find him? Will he go unto the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?" (Joh 7:34,35).

2. Purpose of Dispersion:

3. Causes of Dispersion:

The causes of the Dispersion most obvious to the student of Old Testament history were the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, when the king of Assyria carried Israel away into his own land and placed them in Halah, and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2Ki 17:5 ff); and when in the reign of Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, Judah was carried away into Babylonia (2Ki 24:14). See Captivity. But there were other captivities which helped to scatter the children of Abraham. Ptolemy I of Egypt (322-285 BC) by his expeditions to Palestine and his capture of Jerusalem added largely to the Jewish population of Alexandria. Antiochus the Great of Syria (223-187 BC) removed from the Jewish communities in Mesopotamia and Babylon 2,000 families and settled them in Phrygia and Lydia (Josephus, Ant, XII, iii, 4). Pompey after his capture of Jerusalem in 63 BC carried off hundreds of Jews to Rome, where they were sold as slaves, but, afterward, many of them obtained their freedom and civic rights.

4. Extent of Dispersion:

There was, besides, a voluntary emigration of Jewish settlers for purposes of trade and commerce into the neighboring countries, and especially into the chief cities of the civilized world. The successors of Alexander, and their successors in turn, encouraged immigration into their territories and the mingling of nationalities. They needed colonists for the settlements and cities which they established, and with the offer of citizenship and facilities for trade and commerce they attracted many of the Jewish people.

"In this way," says Philo, "Jerus became the capital, not only of Judea, but of many other lands, on account of the colonies which it sent out from time to time into the bordering districts of Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, Coele-Syria, and into the more distant regions of Pamphylia, Cilicia, the greater part of Asia Minor as far as Bithynia, and the remotest corners of Pontus. And in like manner into Europe: into Thessaly, and Boeotia, and Macedonia, and Aetolia, and Attica and Argos, and Corinth, and into the most fertile and fairest parts of the Peloponnesus. And not only is the continent full of Jewish colonists, but also the most important islands, such as Euboea, Cyprus, and Crete. I say nothing of the countries beyond the Euphrates. All of them except a very small portion, and Babylon, and all the satrapies which contain fruitful land, have Jewish inhabitants" (Philo, Leg ad Caium, 36).

About the middle of the 2nd century BC the Sibylline Oracles could say of the Jewish people: "Every land and every sea is full of thee" (3:271). About the same period the Roman Senate, being anxious to extend protection to the Jews, had a circular letter written in their favor to the kings of Egypt, Syria, Pergamum, Cappadocia and Parthia, and to a great number of provinces, cities and islands of the Mediterranean, where presumably there was a larger or smaller number of Jews (1 Macc 15:15 ff). It is no surprise, therefore, to read that for the Feast of Pentecost at Jerusalem, there were present after the ascension of Jesus: "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians" (Ac 2:9-12).

5. The Eastern Dispersion:

The Eastern Dispersion, caused by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, seems to have increased and multiplied, and to have enjoyed a considerable measure of liberty, and of prosperity. When the return from the captivity took place Under Zerubbabel, it was only a small proportion of the exiles who sought a home again in the land of their fathers. Nor did the numbers who accompanied Ezra from Babylon greatly diminish the exiles who remained behind. In the time of Christ, Josephus could speak of the Jews in Babylenia by "innumerable myriads" (Ant., XI, v, 2). He also tells us of the 2,000 Jewish families whom Antiochus transferred from Babylon and Mesopotamia to Phrygia and Syria. Of the peculiarities of the Jews as a people living apart and observing their own customs and arousing the ill-will of the neighbors, we have a glimpse in the Persian period in the Book of Es (3:8). Babylonia remained a focus of eastern Judaism for centuries, and from the discussions in rabbinical schools there were elaborated the Talmud of Jerusalem in the 5th century of our era, and the Talmud of Babylon a century later. The two chief centers of Mesopotamian Judaism were Nehardea, a town on the Euphrates, and Nisibis on the Mygdonius; an affluent of the Chaboras, which were also centers of Syrian Christianity.

6. The Egyptian Dispersion:

The Egyptian Dispersion is of special interest and importance, and recent discoveries have thrown unexpected light upon it. As far back as the days of Sheshenq, the founder of the 22nd Dynasty, the Shishak of 1Ki 14:25 f; 2Ch 12:2 f, who invaded Palestine in the 10th century BC, and engraved on the South wall of the great Temple of Karnak the names of many districts and cities he had captured, prisoners of war and hostages may have been carried off to Egypt by the conqueror. At a later time Jewish mercenaries are said to have fought in the expedition of Psammetichus II against Ethiopia, to which expedition belong the famous inscriptions of Abu Simbel (594-589 BC). So we learn from the well-known Letter of Aristeas. But the clearest and best-known example of a settlement of Jews in Egypt is that connected with the prophet Jeremiah. When Gedaliah, the governor of Judea, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, had been treacherously murdered, the depressed and dispirited remnant under Johnnan, the son of Kareah, resolved to take flight into Egypt, against the counsel of Jeremiah. A host of fugitives, including Jeremiah and his friend Baruch, accordingly set out thither, and settled at Migdol and Tahpanhes and Noph (Memphis), and in the country of Pathros in upper Egypt (Jer 43; 44). It was in Egypt with those fugitives that Jeremiah ended his life. Many of the fugitives were taken prisoners by Nebuchadrezzar on one of his latest expeditions to the west, and were transported to Babylon (Josephus, Ant, X, ix, 7; compare Jer 43:8 f).

7. Testimony of Aramaic Papyri:

Of this colony of Jews it is natural to see a strong confirmation in the recent discovery of Aramaic papyri at Assouan, the Syene of the ancients. The papyri were the contents of a deed box of a member of a Jewish colony in upper Egypt, and the deeds refer to house property in which Jews are concerned. Here then at Assouan, about 470 BC is a colony of Jews who have acquired houses and other property, and have become bankers and money lenders, within a century of the death of Jeremiah. In the papyri there is evidence of the existence of a tribunal of the Hebrews, a court where cases could be decided, as fully recognized by law as any of the other courts, Egyptian or Persian, for Egypt, "the basest of kingdoms," was then subject to a Persian suzerain. Most significant of all, Yahweh is acknowledged as the God of the Jews, and the existence of a chapel and even of an altar of sacrifice is beyond all doubt. Evidently these Jews in Egypt did not consider that an altar of Yahweh could not stand anywhere else than at Jerusalem, or that outside Jerusalem the worship of the synagogue was the only worship of the God of their fathers. These facts are rendered still more striking when we regard them as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: "In that day there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan, and swear to Yahweh of hosts; one shall be called the city of destruction. In that day there shall be an altar to Yahweh in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Yahweh" (Isa 19:18,19). These papyri give information similar to that which the clay tablets discovered at Nippur give regarding the house of Murashu Sons (see Captivity) about the same time--the time when Ezra was setting out from Babylon to restore at Jerusalem the worship of the temple which Zerubbabel had rebuilt. It was just about a century from the time that Jeremiah had gone down to Egypt that we have the first of these deeds, and it was the grandfathers, or great-grandfathers, of the persons concerned whom he had accompanied thither so much against his will.

8. Jewish Temple at Syene:

These papyri were discovered in 1904, and a year or two later, additional papyri were discovered in a mound which stands on the site of the ancient Elephantine or Yeb, an island in the Nile, on the frontier also. One of these papyri contains a petition from the Jewish colony in Elephantine addressed to Bagohi (called Bagoas by Josephus, Ant, XI, vii, 7), the Persian governor of Judah, about 408 BC. They ask for assistance to enable them to rebuild the temple of Yahweh in Elephantine, which had been destroyed at the instigation of the priests of the rain-headed Egyptian god Khnub, who had a temple in the fortress of Yeb or Elephantine. This Jewish temple had been erected to Yahweh at least 125 years before and had been spared by Cambyses in 525 BC when he destroyed all the temples erected to the gods of Egypt. The destruction of the temple at Yeb occurred in the 14th year of Darius, 411 BC. It contained an altar for burnt sacrifice, and there were gold and silver vessels in which the blood of sacrifice was collected. The head of the college of priests presenting this petition is Jedoniah, a name found in an abbreviated form in Jadon (Ne 3:7).

9. Theories of the Syene Settlement:

An attempt has been made to show that the bearers of these Hebrew names were descended from the captivity of the Northern Kingdom. It is suggested that they had come into Egypt with the Persian army under Cambyses from their adopted homes in Assyria and the cities of the Medes and had obtained possessions on the southern frontier of Egypt. Names believed to point to the Northern Kingdom, like Hosea and Menahem, occur very frequently, but this is too narrow a foundation for such a theory, and the Israelite origin of the Syene colonists is not established (JQR (1907), 441 ff). There is more to be said in favor of the view that they were the descendants of a Jewish military colony. That Jewish mercenaries fought in the campaigns of the Pharaohs we have already seen. And that Elephantine was an important garrison town on the frontier is also certain. Josephus (Ant., XIV, vi, 2) mentions a Jewish military colony holding a post at Pelusium in the century before Christ, and this might be a similar garrison stationed at the opposite extremity of the land in the 5th century. Such a garrison would attract Jews engaged in business and in the occupations of civil life, and so a distinct Jewish community would be formed. It has even been suggested that the tidings of the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem furnished the motive to these Egyptian Jews to build the temple and rear the altar of burnt offering which the heathen priests of Khnub had destroyed.

10. Importance of the Discovery:

While the petition to the religious authorities at Jerusalem indicates that the priests of Elephantine regarded their temple as dependent upon the temple at Jerusalem, it is significant. that they were also, as is shown in their letter, in communication with Delaiah and Shelemiah the sons of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. That this was Nehemiah’s enemy (Ne 4:1; 6:1, etc.) is impossible, for he lived nearly a century earlier. But the association with descendants of his, themselves Samaritans, gives a schismatical appearance to the position of the Elephantine temple. The existence of this temple with its priesthood, its altar of sacrifice, and its offerings, from 500 years BC, is an important fact in the history of the Dispersion. It was meant to keep those Jewish exiles true to the religion of their fathers and in religious fellowship with their brethren in Palestine. For a like purpose the Temple of Onias at Leontopolis was erected in the early years of the Maccabean struggle. Onias had to flee from Jerusalem with a number of priests and Levites, and for the aid he rendered to Ptolemy Philometor, the king of Egypt, he received a gift of land upon which he built a temple like to the Temple at Jerusalem. Professor Flinders Petrie believes he has discovered this temple of Onias IV at Tel el-Yehudiyeh (Hyksos and Israelite Cities, 31). The discovery confirms the account given of the temple by Josephus, who is our only authority for its erection (Ant., XIII, iii, 2; XIV, viii, 2).

11. A New Chapter of Old Testament History:

The Elephantine-Syene papyri have added a new and valuable chapter to Old Testament history. We know now of a Jewish temple in Egypt which certainly reaches 400 years further into antiquity than the temple of Onias IV at Leontopolis, and we obtain important information as to the relations of its priesthood with the leaders of the Jerusalem Jews and the Samaritans. We know now from unbiased authorities that the Jewish settlements in the Valley of the Nile are much older than has hitherto been believed. We have valuable confirmation not only of the notices in the Book of Jeremiah, but also of the statements in the later Hellenistic literature. Moreover, it is now shown that the skepticism which has prevailed in some quarters as to the very existence of any considerable Egyptian Dispersion before the time of Alexander the Great is unwarranted (Peters, Die judische Gemeinde von Elephantine-Syene, 50 f; Schurer, GJV4, III, 19 f) .

12. Alexandrian Judaism:

What exactly were the fortunes of this Jewish community at a later time, no record has yet been found to tell. Possibly it decayed in course of time, for Herodotus who visited Egypt about 450 BC makes no mention of it and found no Jews in sufficient numbers to attract his attention. It was undoubtedly with the founding of Alexandria in 332 BC that the flourishing period of Judaism in Egypt commenced. Alexander the Great had hastened from the field of victory at Issus 333 BC, through Syria by way of Tyre, the siege of which occupied him some months, showing clemency to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and severity to the recalcitrant inhabitants of Gaza till by its eastern gate he entered Egypt and took possession of the land of the Pharaohs. The Jews appear to have been friendly to Macedonian conquest, and in Alexander’s new city they received the rights of citizenship and two quarters all to themselves. That they were restricted to their own quarters does not appear, and in the time of Philo, at the commencement of the Christian era, they had synagogues and places of prayer in all parts of the city. Alexander died in 323 BC but the favor which he had accorded to the Jews was continued by the Ptolemies who succeeded to his Egyptian empire. The first Ptolemy, Lagi or Soter (322-285 BC), increased the Jewish population of Alexandria by raids into Palestine on which he brought back a large number of captives, both Jews and Samaritans. Other Jews, hearing of his liberality and of the prosperity of their coreligionists, were attracted to Egypt and settled in Alexandria of their own accord (Josephus, Ant, XII, i, 1). Under their own ethnarch they enjoyed great prosperity and had full religious liberty. The principal synagogue of the city was on a scale of great magnificence. In the reign of Ptolemy Philometor (182-146 BC) they were allowed to set up the temple at Leontopolis, as we have already noticed. In the time of Philo the Jewish colony in Egypt was considered to number a million.

13. The Jews and Hellenism:

It was in Alexandria that the Jews first came so powerfully under the influence of Hellenism, and here that the peculiar Greco- Jewish philosophy sprang up of which Philo was the most notable representative. The same soil was eminently favorable to early Christianity which had from the end of the 2nd century onward its greatest teachers and their learned catechetical school. See Alexandria.

14. The Septuagint:

The great monument of Hellenistic Judaism, which had its chief seat in Alexandria, is the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which became such a powerful praeparatio evangelica, and was the Bible of the Apostles and the first Christians, even of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is ascribed in the Letter of Aristeas to the interest of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285- 247 BC) in a proposal to secure a copy of the Jewish Law in an accessible translation for the famous Royal Library. It is more likely that as familiarity with their Hebrew tongue diminished in their new surroundings, the need of an intelligible version of the Law to begin with was felt, and Jewish hands were set to work to produce it. In course of time the rest followed, but from the tradition of its being the work of 70 or 72 translators it is known as the Septuagint. See Septuagint.

15. Early Evidence of a Jewish Community:

The question has been raised whether too much has not been made of a Jewish community in Alexandria so early, and it has been asserted that we can scarcely speak of a Jewish Dispersion anywhere before the Maccabean period in the second half of the 2nd century BC. The evidence as we have seen points to the existence of Jewish communities continuously from the days of Jeremiah. Papyri prove the presence of Jews in Egypt, not only in the towns but in country districts from a comparatively early period. A remarkable inscription has recently come to light showing that at Schedia, some 20 miles from Alexandria, there existed a Jewish community which had built a synagogue and dedicated it to the honor of Ptolemy III Euergetes (247-222 BC) and his queen Berenice. If such a community was organized in the little town of Schedia at that date, we can well believe the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria to have had a considerable Jewish community at a still earlier date.

16. Dispersion in Syria:

When we turn to Syria, we find large numbers of Jews, notwithstanding the hatred of Greeks and Syrians. Josephus (BJ, VII, iii, 3) says that it is the country which has the largest percentage of Jewish inhabitants, and Antioch among the towns of Syria had the preeminence. In Damascus, which seems to have had a Jewish quarter or Jewish bazaars in the days of Ahab (1Ki 20:34 and Burney’s note at the place), the Jewish population was numbered by thousands. From Galilee and Gilead and the region of the Hauran, Judas Maccabeus and his brother Jonathan brought bodies of Jews, who were settlers among a pagan population, for safety to Judea (1 Macc 5).

17. In Arabia:

Even in Arabia Judaism had considerable footing. Edward Glaser, who prosecuted valuable archaeological researches in Arabia (see Hilprecht, Recent Researches in Bible Lands, 131 ff), professes to have found Himyaritic inscriptions of the 4th and 5th centuries of our era which are monotheistic and therefore Jewish, but there is still uncertainty as to this. In the beginning of the 6th century a Jewish king actually reigned in Arabia, and because of his persecution of the Christians he was attacked and overthrown by the Christian king of Abyssinia.

18. In Asia Minor:

Of the widespread distribution of the Dispersion in Asia Minor there is abundant testimony, not only in the texts of the apostles, but in classical and early Christian literature and in the epigraphic literature which has been accumulating for the last 30 years. At Pergamum, in Lydia, in Karia, at Magnesia, at Tralles, at Miletum, in Cappadocia, Bithynia, and Pontus, considerable Jewish communities existed at the beginning of the Christian era. At Smyrna the Jews played a prominent part in the death of Polycarp 155 AD, being especially zealous in heaping up fagots upon the fire that consumed the martyr. In his Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia Sir William Ramsay mentions numerous indications found on inscriptions of Jewish settlers, and his chapter on "The Jews in Phrygia" focuses the results of his inquiries (op. cit., 667 ff; compare 649 ff). He has also made it extremely probable that long before Paul’s day there was a strong body of Jews in Tarsus of Cilicia, and he holds that a Jewish colony was settled there as early as 171 BC. "The Seleucid kings," he says, like the Ptolemies, "used the Jews as an element of the colonies which they founded to strengthen their hold on Phrygia and other countries." But it is difficult to trace out the profound influence they exerted in the development of their country from the fact that they adopted to such an extent Greek and Roman names and manners, and were thus almost indistinguishable. At Laodicea and Hierapolis there have been found many evidences of their presence: for example, at the latter place an inscription on a gravestone tells how the deceased Publius Aelius Glycon mortified a sum of money to provide for the decoration of his tomb every year at the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

19. Among Greeks Proper:

The Dispersion among the Greeks proper had attained to considerable dimensions in the time of Christ. Philo, as noticed above, mentions Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth and the fairest and most fertile parts of the Peloponnesus as having Jewish inhabitants. Inscriptions recovered from Delphi and elsewhere relating to the manumission of slaves in the 2nd century BC contain the names of Jews (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, 325 f). In Sparta and Sicyon, Jews lived in the days of the Maccabees (1 Macc 15:23). At Philippi we know from Ac 16:16 there was a proseuche, or place of of prayer, and at Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth there were synagogues in Paul’s time. On the islands of the Greek archipelago and the Mediterranean there were Jews. Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, had a large Jewish population; and Euboea and Crete are named by Philo as Jewish centers. Rhodes has the distinction of having produced two opponents of Judaism in the first half of the 1st century BC. Clearchus of Soli, a disciple of Aristotle, introduces in one of his dialogues a Jew from Coele-Syria, Hellenic not in speech only but in mind, representing him as having come in his travels to Asia Minor and there conversed with Aristotle. Such an experience may have been rare so early; the incident may not be fact, but fiction; yet such as it is it tells a tale of the spread of Judaism.

20. The Roman Dispersion:

The relations of Rome with the Jewish people lend special interest to the Dispersion there. Jews do not appear to have been settled in Rome before the Maccabean period. There is a certain pathos in the appeal made to the Roman state by Judas Maccabeus, amid the difficulties that were gathering round his position, for "a league of amity and confederacy" with the Roman people (1 Macc 8:17-32). His brother and successor, Jonathan, followed this up later (1 Macc 12:1-4,16). And in 140 BC Simon sent a delegation which concluded a treaty, offensive and defensive, with Rome, which was duly intimated by the Senate to their allies in various countries, especially of the East. During the stay of the mission at Rome its members seem to have made attempts at religious propagandism, and the praetor Hispalus compelled them to return to their homes for attempting to corrupt Roman morals by introducing the worship of Jupiter Sabazius which is no doubt the Roman interpretation of the Lord of Hosts (Yahweh Sabaoth). But ere long in Rome, as in Alexandria, they formed a colony by themselves, occupying Trastevere, the Transtiberine portion of the city, together with an island in the Tiber. Their prosperity grew with their numbers. When Cicero in 59 BC was defending Flaccus he speaks of gold being sent out of Italy, and all the provinces, to Jerusalem, and there was present among his listeners a large body of Jews interested in the case.

21. Jews and Pompey:

When Pompey had captured Jerusalem in 63 BC, he brought back with him to Rome a number of Jewish captives. They were sold as slaves, but many of them received their freedom and rights to citizenship. When Julius Caesar, who was a great patron and protector of the Jews, was assassinated, they wept over him for nights on end.

22. Jews and the First Caesars:

Augustus protected and encouraged them. Tiberius, however, adopted repressive measures toward them, and 4,000 Jews were deported by him to Sardinia while others were driven out of the city. With the downfall of Sejanus, the unworthy favorite of Tiberius, this repressive policy was reversed and they were allowed to return to Rome. Claudius again devised measures against them (circa 50 AD), and they were banished from the city. They had, however, so multiplied and they had attained such influence that it was impossible to get rid of them altogether.

23. Influence of Jews in the Early Roman Empire:

Their customs and religious observances brought down upon them the scorn of Juvenal and others, while Empire their faith and worship had attractions for the thoughtful and the superstitious.

"The Jews from the time of the first Caesar," says Sir Samuel Dill, "have worked their way into every class of society. A Jewish prince had inspired Caligula with an oriental ideal of monarchy. There were adherents of Judaism in the household of the great freedmen of Claudius, and their growing influence and turbulence compelled that emperor to expel the race from his capital. The worldly, pleasure-loving Poppea had, perhaps, yielded to the mysterious charms of the religion of Moses. But it was under the Flavians, who had such close associations with Judea, that Jewish influences made themselves most felt. And in the reign of Domitian, two members of the imperial house, along with many others, suffered for following the Jewish mode of life" (Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, 84).

In recent excavations, which have laid bare much of subterranean Rome, many Jewish tombs have been examined and have yielded much additional knowledge of the conditions of Jewish life in the capital of the Caesars. Probably Jews gracing Pompey’s triumph after his Syrian campaign, 61 BC, made the first Roman catacombs similar to those on Jewish hillsides and especially round Jerusalem; and in these Jewish catacombs pagans and Christians were never laid.

24. Jews in Italy, Gaul, Spain and North Africa:

In Italy, apart from Roman and Southern Italy, where they were widely spread, the number of Jews at the beginning of our era was not large. In Southern Gaul they were numerous and in Spain they were numerous and powerful. In North Africa there were Jewish communities in many centers, and Cyrene was the home of a large and flourishing Jewish population.

25. The Numbers of the Dispersion:

It is not easy to form a trustworthy estimate of the Jewish population of the world in the times of Christ. Harnack reckons up four or four and a half millions (Expansion of Christianity, I, 10) within the Roman Empire. The Judaism of the Dispersion would at least be several times more numerous than the Judaism of Palestine.

26. Jewish Proselytism:

The question has been discussed how far the Jews of the Dispersion recruited their ranks by proselytism. That they should maintain a propaganda on behalf of their ancestral faith would only be in keeping with the character of their religion as a religion of revelation. Although they had to live within "the hedge of the Law" to protect them against the corruptions and idolatries of the Gentiles, there was nevertheless at the heart of Judaism a missionary purpose, as we see from the universalism of the Psalms and the Prophets. Judaism was burdened with a message which concerned all men, to the effect that there was one God, holy and spiritual, Creator of heaven and earth, who had committed to the family of Abraham in trust for the world His Law. To witness for the Living God, and to proclaim His Law, was the chief element of the Jewish propaganda in the Roman empire, and their system of proselytism enabled them to gain adherents in numbers. In this the Old Testament Scriptures and the observance of the Sabbath were important factors, and enabled them to win the adherence of intelligent and educated people.

27. Internal Organization: That the Jews of the Dispersion had an internal organization with courts of their own, having considerable jurisdiction, not only in spiritual but in civil affairs, there is no doubt. This would only be in accordance with the analogy of their constitution as seen in the New Testament, and of their commercial organization in many lands to this day.

28. Unity of the Jewish People:

In all the lands of their Dispersion the Jews never lost touch with the land of their fathers, or Jerusalem, the city of the Great King. The bond of unity was maintained by the pilgrimages they made from all the countries where they were scattered to their three great national feasts; by the payment of the half-shekel toward the services of the Temple as long as it stood; and by their voluntary submission, so long as they had a national polity, to the decrees of the great Sanhedrin.

29. Dispersion Influenced by Greek Thought:

That Judaism was influenced in its Dispersion by contact of the larger world of life and thought in which the Jews had their place outside of Palestine we can see by the example of Alexandria. It was there that it felt most powerfully the penetrating and pervasive influence of Greek thought, and the large apocryphal and apocalyptic literature which sprang up there is one of the most notable results. "The Alexandrian Jew was in reality both a Jew and a Greek; he held the faith of Yahweh and sincerely worshipped the God of his fathers, but he spoke the Greek language, had received a Greek education, and had contracted many Greek ideas and habits. Still those in his position were Jews first, and Greeks afterward, and on all `The fundamentals’ were in thorough sympathy with their Palestinian brethren" (Fairweather, From the Exile to the Advent, 109 f).

30. The Dispersion a Preparation for the Advent of Christ:

The Jewish people thus widely distributed over the Roman world with their monotheism, with their Scriptures, and with their Messianic hopes, did much to prepare the way for the advent of the Redeemer who was to be the fulfillment of Jewish expectation and hope. It was due to the strange and unique influence of Judaism and to the circulation of the glowing visions of Israel’s prophets among the nations, that there was so widespread an expectation, mentioned by Tacitus, by Suetonius and by Josephus, that from Judea would arise a Ruler whose dominion would be over all. It is now believed that Virgil’s conception of the Better Age which was to be inaugurated by the birth of a child was derived from Isaiah’s prophecies. And not only did the Jewish Dispersion thus prepare the way for the world’s Redeemer in the fullness of the time, but when He had come and suffered and died and risen and ascended, it furnished a valuable auxiliary to the proclamation of the gospel. Wherever the apostles and the first preachers traveled with the good news, they found Jewish communities to whom they offered first the great salvation.

31. The Dispersion an Auxiliary to the Spread of the Gospel:

The synagogue services lent themselves most effectively to the ministry of Paul and his colleagues, and it was to the synagogue that they first repaired in every city they visited. Even to this day this preservation of "the dispersed of Israel" is one of the marvels of the Divine government of the world, proving the truth of the word of God by one of the earliest prophets: "I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth" (Am 9:9).


Schurer, GJV4, III, 1 ff; Harnack, Expansion of Christianity, I, 1-40; Fairweather, Background of the Gospel and From the Exile to the Advent; Jewish Encyclopedia, article "Diaspora"; Sayce and Cowley, Aramaic Papyri Discovered at Assuan; Oestcrley and Box, Religion and Worship of the Synagogue.

T. Nicol.