Judean diasporas: Josephos’ citation of documents on Asia Minor and Libya under Julius Caesar and Augustus (late first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judean diasporas: Josephos’ citation of documents on Asia Minor and Libya under Julius Caesar and Augustus (late first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified February 6, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9912.

Ancient author: Josephos, Judean Antiquities 14.185-267 and 16.160-178 (link).

Comments: The Judean (Jewish) historian Josephos (or: Flavius Josephus) – probably writing in the 90s CE – provides an important window into diaspora Judean associations in Asia Minor and elsewhere, particularly with respect to the question of relations between such Judeans (Jews) and both Greek civic communities and Roman authorities. In two sections of his work on the antiquity of Judean ancestral ways, Josephos goes on a digression in which he presents numerous official sounding documents that pertain to Judeans living outside of Israel in Asia Minor, on nearby Greek islands (e.g. Delos), and even in Libya (near Kyrenaika). While Josephos’ presentation of these documents is notoriously filled with errors with regard to names and sometimes places, modern historians generally accept that, on the whole, these are based on actual letters, decrees and other official pronouncements by Roman officials or the Roman Senate. A close reading of these documents offers insights into the complicated nature of relations between Judeans, on the one hand, and both Roman elites and Greeks in particular times and places.

The first digression with a set of documents (book 14) pertains specifically to Roman friendship with the Judean high priest Hyrkanos II (given the title “ethnarch” or “leader of the people” by the Roman authorities) in the time of Julius Caesar (40s BCE). These documents also provide insights into varying responses by specific Greek populations and offer a complicated picture of tensions (in the time of the Roman civil wars) alongside maintenance of Judean ancestral customs, particularly the practice of sending funds (the temple tax) to the temple in Jerusalem and the observance of Sabbath (and therefore exemption from military service). Josephos mistakenly (it seems) also includes a decree of Pergamon from an earlier era, from the time of Hyrkanos I (the Hasmonean king / high priest), rather than Hyrkanos II as with the other documents.

The second digression (book 16) once again launches from the friendship between Hyrkanos II and the Romans but then details what Josephos considers the continuation of that friendship towards Judeans on the part of Roman authorities in Augustus’ time (in the late first century BCE).

Neither of these sets of documents is quite what Josephos makes of them (see his introductions and conclusions for each digression). They are certainly not some officially established Magna Carta-like situation with permanent protection for Judeans specifically. Instead, they are momentary glimpses into the sorts of ad hoc diplomatic relations which Rome engaged in with specific local rulers and subject peoples (not just Judeans). More importantly, they show how local Judeans in the diaspora, like other foreign immigrant communities, sought to maintain their customs and, at times, thought it was valuable or even necessary to request recognition from authorities for their ancestral ways. The literary evidence for such ethnic tensions in particular times and places must always be balanced with attention to signs of acculturation and adaptation by Judeans or other immigrants as witnessed in epigraphic evidence (link).

Works to consult: John M.G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE-117 CE) (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), pages 259-281; Philip A. Harland, Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations: Claiming a Place in Ancient Mediterranean Society, Second edition (Kitchener: Philip A. Harland, 2013), pages 192-200 (link); Tessa Rajak, “Was There a Roman Charter for the Jews?,” Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984): 107–23 (link);

Source of the translation: H.S.J. Thackeray and R. Marcus, Josephus, volumes 1-7; LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1926-43), public domain (Thackeray passed away in 1930, Marcus passed away in 1956, and copyright not renewed); William Whiston, The Whole Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, 4 volumes (Glasgow: Blackie, Fullerton and Co, 1829) (Antiquities 16 only), adapted by Harland.


Josephos, Antiquities 1.185-267 (40s BCE primarily relating to Hyrkanos II and Asia Minor)

[Context of Julius Caesar’s relations with the high priest Hyrkanos II]

(185) [Julius] Caesar on arriving at Rome was ready to sail for Africa to make war on Scipio and Cato [ca. 47 BCE], when Hyrkanos (or: Hyrcanus; Hyrkanos II, high priest and ethnarch in the 40s BCE) sent to him with the request that he should confirm the treaty of friendship and alliance with him. And here it seems to me necessary to make public all the honours given our people (ethnos) and the alliances made with them by the Romans and their emperors. These are made public in order that the other peoples may not fail to recognise that both the kings of Asia and of Europe have held us in esteem and have admired our bravery and loyalty. However, many persons out of enmity towards us refuse to believe what has been written about us by Persians and Macedonians because these writings are not found everywhere and are not deposited even in public places but are found only among us and some other barbarian peoples. On the other hand, nothing can be said against the decrees of the Romans because they are kept in the public places of the cities and are still to be found engraved on bronze tablets in the Capitol. Furthermore, Julius Caesar made a bronze tablet for the Judeans in Alexandria declaring that they were citizens of Alexandria. From these same documents I will provide proof of my statements. Accordingly I will now cite the decrees passed by the Senate and Julius Caesar concerning Hyrkanos and our people.

[Julius Caesar’s letter to the Sidonians with reference to a decree recognizing Hyrkanos and his descendants as leaders of the people (ethnarchs)]

(190) “Gaius Julius Caesar, sole commander (autokratōr) [i.e. imperator] and high priest [i.e. pontificus maximus], dictator for the second time [perhaps 46 BCE or later], to the civic leaders, Council (boulē) and People (dēmos) of Sidon [modern Sayda], greeting. If you are in good health, it is well. I also and the army are in good health. I am sending you a copy of the decree, inscribed on a tablet, concerning Hyrkanos son of Alexander the high priest and leader of the people (ethnarchos) of the Judeans, in order that it may be deposited among your public records. It is my wish that this be set up on a tablet of bronze in both Greek and Latin. The decree reads as follows:

‘I, Julius Caesar, sole commander and high priest, dictator for the second time, have decided as follows with the advice of the council. Whereas the Judean Hyrkanos son of Alexander both now and in the past, in time of peace as well as in war, has shown loyalty and enthusiasm concerning our affairs, as many commanders have testified on his behalf. In the recent Alexandrian War he also came to our aid with fifteen hundred soldiers and, being sent by me to Mithridates, surpassed in bravery all those in the ranks. For these reasons it is my wish that Hyrkanos son of Alexander and his children will be leaders of the people (ethnarchai) of the Judeans who will hold the office of high priest of the Judeans for all time in accordance with their ancestral customs (ta patria ethē), and that he and his sons will be our allies and also be numbered among our particular friends. (195) Whatever high priestly rights or other privileges exist in accordance with their laws he and his children will possess by my command. And if, during this period, any question will arise concerning the Judeans’ way of life, it is my pleasure that the decision will rest with them. Nor do I approve of troops being given winter-quarters among them or of money being demanded of them.’”

[Julius Caesars’ grants on inscriptions posted at Rome, Sidon, Tyre and Askalon]

The following are the grants, concessions and awards made by Gaius Caesar, sole commander and consul [ca. 48-44 BCE]:

“That Hyrkanos’ children will rule over the Judean people and enjoy the fruits of the places given them, and that the high priest, also being leader of the people (ethnarchēs), will be the protector of those Judeans who are unjustly treated. And that envoys be sent to Hyrkanos son of Alexander, the high priest of the Judeans, to discuss terms of friendship and alliance. And that a bronze tablet containing these decrees will be set up in the Capitol and at Sidon, Tyre and Askalon [Ashkalon] and in the temples, engraved in Latin and Greek letters. Also that this decree will be communicated to all the quaestors and civic leaders of the several cities and to our friends, that hospitality may be shown to the envoys, and that these ordinances may be published everywhere.”

[Julius Caesar’s recognition of Hyrkanos and his sons as high priests of Jerusalem]

“Gaius Caesar, Imperator, dictator and consul [48-44 BCE], in recognition of the honour, virtue and benevolence of Hyrkanos son of Alexander, and in the interest of the Senate and People of Rome, has granted that both he and his sons will be high priests and priests of Jerusalem and of their people with the same rights and under the same regulations as those under which their forefathers uninterruptedly held the office of priest.”

[Julius Caesar’s grant of authority in Jerusalem and deduction of taxes to Romans]

(200) “Gaius Caesar, consul for the fifth time [perhaps 44 BCE], has decreed that these men will receive and fortify the city of Jerusalem, and that Hyrkanos son of Alexander, the high priest and leader of the people of the Judeans, will occupy it as he himself may choose. And that in the second year of the rent-term one kor will be deducted from the tax paid by the Judeans, and no one will make profit out of them, nor will they pay the same tribute.”

[Julius Caesar’s grant of exemption from taxes in the seventh year and control of specific areas for Hyrkanos and his descendents]

“Gaius Caesar, sole commander for the second time [perhaps 47 BCE], has ruled that they will pay tax for the city of Jerusalem, Joppa excluded, every year except in the seventh year, which they call the sabbatical year, because in this time they neither take fruit from the trees nor do they sow. And that in the second year they will pay the tribute at Sidon, consisting of one fourth of the produce sown, and in addition, they will also pay tithes to Hyrkanos and his sons, just as they paid to their ancestors. And that no one, whether magistrate or pro-magistrate, praetor or legate, will rise auxiliary troops in the territories of the Judeans, nor will soldiers be allowed to exact money from them, whether for winter quarters or on any other reason, but they will be free from any harm. (205) Whatever they may acquire or buy or possess or have assigned to them in the future they will keep everything. It is also our pleasure that the city of Joppa, which the Judeans had held from ancient times when they made a treaty of friendship with the Romans, will belong to them as previously. Hyrkanos son of Alexander and his sons will pay tribute for this city, collected from those who inhabit the territory, as a tax on the land, the harbour and exports, payable at Sidon in the amount of twenty thousand six hundred and seventy-five dry measures (modii) every year except in the seventh year, which they call the sabbatical year, when they neither plow nor take fruit from the trees. As for the villages in the Great Plain, which Hyrkanos and his forefathers before him possessed, it is the pleasure of the [Roman] Senate that Hyrkanos and the Judeans will retain them with the same rights as they formerly had. Also the ancient rights which the Judeans and their high priests and priests had in relation to each other should continue, as well as the privileges which they received by vote of the People and the Senate. Furthermore, they are permitted to enjoy these rights at Lydda also. As for the places, lands and farms, the fruits of which the kings of Syria and Phoenicia, as allies of the Romans, were permitted to enjoy by their gift, these the Senate decrees that the leader of the people Hyrkanos and the Judeans will have. (210) Hyrkanos and his children and the envoys sent by him will be given the right to sit with the members of the senatorial order as spectators of the contests of gladiators and wild beasts. When they request permission of the dictator or master of the horse to enter the [Roman] Senate chamber, they will admit them and will give them an answer within ten days at the latest from the time when a decree is passed.”

[Julius Caesar’s proclamation of gratitude for loyalty to Hyrkanos and the Judeans]

“Gaius Caesar, sole commander, dictator for the fourth time, consul for the fifth time, designated dictator for life [perhaps 44 BCE], made the following speech concerning the rights of Hyrkanos son of Alexander, the high priest and leader of the people of the Judeans:

‘Inasmuch as the high commanders in the provinces before me have testified on behalf of Hyrkanos, the high priest of the Judeans, and of the Judeans themselves before the Senate and the People of Rome, and the People and Senate have expressed thanks to them, it is fitting that we too should be mindful of this and provide that there be given by the Senate and People of Rome to Hyrkanos and the Judean people and the sons of Hyrkanos a token of gratitude worthy of their loyalty to us and of the benefits which they have conferred upon us.’”

[Julius Caesar’s letter to the Greek city of Parion concerning requests by Judeans to affirm ancestral customs]

“Julius Gaius, praetor, consul of the Romans, to the civic leaders, Council and Parians, greetings [perhaps 46 BCE]. The Judeans in Delos and some of the neighbouring Judeans, some of your envoys also being present, have appealed to me and declared that you are preventing them by statute from observing their ancestral customs and sacred rites. Now it displeases me that such statutes should be made against our friends and allies and that they should be forbidden to live in accordance with their customs and to contribute money to common meals and sacred rites. For they are not forbidden to do this even in Rome. (215) For example. Gaius Caesar, our consular praetor, by edict forbade societies (thiasoi) to assemble in the city, but these people alone he did not forbid to do so or to collect contributions of money or to hold common meals. Similarly I forbid other societies but permit these people alone to assemble and feast in accordance with their ancestral customs and ordinances. And if you have made any statutes against our friends and allies, you will do well to revoke them because of their worthy actions on our behalf and their goodwill toward us.”

[Decree of the Senate on friendship with Hyrkanos and the Judeans]

After the death of Gaius [March 44 BCE], Marcus Antonius and Publius Dolabella, the consuls, convened the Senate and having introduced the envoys sent by Hyrkanos, discussed the requests they presented, and made a treaty of friendship with them. And the [Roman] Senate voted to grant them everything they requested. Now I present the decree itself in order that the readers of these accounts may have before them a proof of these statements. It read as follows:

“Decree of the [Roman] Senate, copied from the decree of treasury, from the public tablets of the quaestors, Quintus Rutilius and Quintus Cornelius being quaestors of the city, second tablet, first column. Three days before the Ides of April [April 11, 44 BCE], in the temple of Concord, (220) there being present at the writing Lucius Calpurnius Piso of the Menenian [Roman] tribe, Servius Sulpicius Quintus of the Lemonian tribe, Gaius Caninius Rebilus of the Teretine tribe, Publius Tedetius son of Lucius, of the Pollian tribe, Lucius Apulius son of Lucius of the Sergian tribe, Flavius son of Lucius of the Lemonian tribe, Publius Plautius son of Publius of the Papirian tribe, Marcus Gellius son of Marcus of the Maecian tribe, Lucius Erucius son of Lucius of the Steletinian tribe, Marcus Quintus Plancinus son of Marcus of the Pollian tribe, and Publius Serrius. Publius Dolabella and Marcus Antonius, the consuls, made speeches. As for the decision rendered by Gaius Caesar, with the concurrence of the Senate, concerning the Judeans, which there was not time to have registered in the treasury, this matter we wish to be disposed of as the consuls Publius Dolabella and Marcus Antonius have decided. These decisions are to be recorded on tablets and brought to the quaestors of the city, and they are to take care to have them inscribed on two-leaved tablets. They were dated the fifth day before the Ides of February [February 9, 44 BCE] in the temple of Concord. The envoys from the high priest Hyrkanos were the following: Lysimachos son of Pausanias, Alexander son of Theodoros, Patroklos son of Chaireas, and Jonathan son of Onias.”

[Dolabella’s letter to Ephesos on military exemption and ancestral customs]

Hyrkanos also sent one of these envoys to Dolabella, who was then governor of Asia, requesting him to exempt the Judeans from military service and to permit them to maintain their ancestral customs and live in accordance with them. And this request he readily obtained. For Dolabella, on receiving the letter from Hyrkanos, without even taking counsel, sent to all (the officials) in Asia, and wrote to Ephesos, the chief city of Asia, about the Judeans. His letter read as follows:

(225) “In the presidency of Artemon, on the first day of the month of Lenaion [January 43 BCE], Dolabella, commander, to the civic leaders, Council and People of Ephesos, greeting. Alexander, son of Theodoros, the envoy of Hyrkanos son of Alexander, the high priest and leader of the people of the Judeans, has explained to me that his fellow-countrymen cannot undertake military service because they may not bear arms or march on the days of the Sabbath. Nor can they obtain the ancestral foods to which they are accustomed. I, therefore, like the governors before me, grant them exemption from military service and allow them to follow their ancestral customs and to come together for sacred and holy rites in accordance with their law, and to make offerings for their sacrifices. and it is my wish that you write these instructions to the various cities.”

[Lucius Lentulus on exemption from military service and ancestral customs at Ephesos]

These, then, were the favours which Dolabella granted to our people when Hyrkanos sent an envoy to him. And Lucius Lentulus, the consul, declared:

“Those Judeans who are Roman citizens and observe Judean rites and practise them in Ephesos, I released from military service before the tribunal on the twelfth day before the Kalends of October in consideration of their religious scruples, in the consulship of Lucius Lentulus and Gaius Marcellus [49 BCE]. Those present were the legate Titus Ampius Balbu son of Titus of the Horatian tribe, Titus Tongius son of Titus of the Crustuminian tribe, Quintus Caesius son of Quintus, Titus Pompeius Longinus son of Titus, the military tribune Gaius Servilius Bracchus son of Gaius of the Teretine tribe, Publius Clusius Gallus son of Publius of the Veturian tribe, Gaius Sentius son of Gaius. . . son of. . . of the Sabatine tribe.”

[Titus Ampius Balbus’ letter to Ephesos on exemption from military service]

(230) “Titus Ampius Balbus son of Titus, legate and propraetor, to the civic leaders, Council and People of Ephesos, greetings. Lucius Lentulus, the consul, has at my petition exempted the Judeans in Asia from military service. And on making the same request later of Fannius, the propraetor, and of Lucius Antonius, the proquaestor, I obtained my request. and it is my wish that you take care that no one will molest them.”

[Delians’ decree on exemption from military service for Judeans who are Roman citizens]

Decree of the Delians:

“In the archonship of Boiotos, on the twentieth day of the month of Thargelion, response of the civic leaders [May-June, perhaps 49 BCE]. The legate Marcus Piso, when resident in our city, having been placed in charge of the recruiting of soldiers, summoned us and a considerable number of citizens, and ordered that if there were any Judeans who were Roman citizens, no one should bother them about military service, inasmuch as the consul Lucius Cornelius Lentulus had exempted the Judeans from military service in consideration of their religious scruples. We must therefore obey the magistrate.” Similar to this was the decree concerning us which the people of Sardis passed.

[Gaius Fannius’ letter to Kos on previous senatorial decrees]

“Gaius Fannius son of Gaius, proconsular praetor, to the civic leaders of Kos, greeting. I would have you know that envoys have come to me from the the Judeans, asking to have the decrees concerning them which were passed by the Senate. These decrees are appended here. It is my wish therefore that you take thought and care for these men in accordance with the decree of the Senate, in order that they may safely be brought through your country to their home.”

[Lucius Lentulus’ declaration on military exemption for Judeans who are Roman citizens]

“Lucius Lentulus, consul, declares : ‘In consideration of their fear of the god (deisidaimonia), I have released those Judeans who are Roman citizens and appeared to me to have and to practise Judean rites in Ephesos. Dated the twelfth day before the Kalends of July.’”

[Lucius Antonius’ letter to Sardis on permitting the maintenance of Judean ancestral customs]

(235) “Lucius Antonius son of Marcus, proquaestor and propraetor, to the civic leaders, Council and People of Sardis, greetings. Judean citizens of ours [i.e. Judeans with Roman citizenship] have come to me and pointed out that from the earliest times they have had an association (synodos) of their own in accordance with their ancestral laws and a place of their own, in which they decide their affairs and controversies with one another. On their request that it be permitted them to do these things, I decided that they might be maintained, and permitted them so to do.”

[Petition by three men to Lentulus requesting military exemption for Judeans who are Roman citizens]

“Marcus Publius son of Spurius, Marcus son of Marcus, and Lucius son of Publius declared:

‘We have gone to the proconsul Lentulus and informed him of the statement made by Dositheos son of Kleopatrides, the Alexandrian, to the effect that, if it seemed proper to him, in consideration of their fear of the deity (deisidaimonia), he should exempt from military service those Judeans who are Roman citizens and are accustomed to practise Judean rites. And he did exempt them on the twelfth day before the Kalends of July.’”

[Lentulus’ decree on military exemption for Judeans who are Roman citizens]

“In the consulship of Lucius Lentulus and Gaius Marcellus [49 B.C.]. Present were the legate Titus Ampius Balbus son of Titus of the Horatian tribe, Titus Tongius of the Crustuminian tribe, Quintus Caesius son of Quintus, Titus Pompeius Longinus son of Titus of the Cornelian tribe, the military tribune Gaius Servilius Bracchus son of Gaius of the Teretine tribe, Publius Clusius Gallus son of Publius of the Veturian tribe, the military tribune Gaius Teutius son of Gaius of the Aemilian tribe, Sextus Atilius Serranus son of Sextus of the Aemilian tribe, Gaius Pompeius son of Gaius of the Sabatine tribe, Titus Ampius Menander son of Titus, Publius Servilius Strabo son of Publius, Lucius Paccius Capito son of Lucius of the Colline tribe, Aulus Furius Tertius son of Aulus, and Appius Menas. (240) In their presence Lentulus announced the following decree. In consideration of their religious scruples I have released before the tribunal those Judeans who are Roman citizens and are accustomed to observe Judean rites in Ephesos.”

[Laodikeia’s letter to the consul (?) Gaius Rabirius on following previous allowances for Judean ancestral rites despite Tralles’ objections]

“The civic leaders of Laodikeia (or: Laodicea) to the proconsul [consul (?)] Gaius Rabirius son of Gaius, greetings. Sopatros, the envoy of the high priest Hyrkanos, has delivered to us a letter from you, in which you have informed us that certain persons have come from Hyrkanos, the high priest of the Judeans, bringing documents concerning their people, to the effect that it will be lawful for them to observe their Sabbaths and perform their other rites in accordance with their ancestral laws, and that no one will give orders to them, because they are our friends and allies, and that no one will do them an injury in our province. As the people of Tralles objected in your presence that they were dissatisfied with the decrees concerning them, you gave orders that they should be carried out, adding that you have been requested to write also to us about the matters concerning them. We, therefore, in obedience to your instructions, have accepted the letter delivered to us and have deposited it among our public archives. To the other matters on which you have given us instructions we will give such attention that no one will incur blame.”

[Galba’s letter to Miletos on not hindering Judean customs]

“Publius Servilius Galba son of Publius, proconsul to the civic leaders, Council and People of Miletos, greetings. (245) Prytanis son of Hermas, a citizen of yours, came to me when I was holding court at Tralles and informed me that contrary to our expressed wish you are attacking the Judeans and forbid them to observe their Sabbaths, perform their ancestral rites or manage their produce in accordance with their custom. He also informed me that he had announced this decree in accordance with the laws. I would therefore have you know that after hearing the arguments of the opposing sides, I have decided that the Judeans are not to be forbidden to follow their customs.”

[Pergamon’s decree on the Roman Senate’s decrees and on friendship with the Judeans / Hebrews]

Decree of the people of Pergamon (or: Pergamum):

“In the presidency of Kratippos, on the first of the month Daisios, a decree of the civic leaders. As the Romans in pursuance of the practices of their ancestors have accepted dangerous risks for the common safety of all humankind and strive emulously to place their allies and friends in a state of happiness and lasting peace, the Judean people and their high priest Hyrkanos [Hyrkanos I, reigned 134-104 BCE, but Josephos may be confusing him with our Hyrkanos II, ethnarch in the 40s BCE] have sent as envoys to them Straton son of Theodotos, Apollonios son of Alexander, Aeneas son of Antipater, Aristoboulios son of Amyntas, and Sosipater son of Philippos, worthy and excellent men, and have made representations concerning certain particular matters. In response, the Senate passed a decree concerning the matters on which they spoke, to the effect that King Antiochos son of Antiochos, will do no injury to the Judeans, the allies of the Romans; that the fortresses, harbours, territory and whatever else he may have taken from them will be restored to them; that it will be lawful for them to export goods from their harbours; (250) that no king or people exporting goods from the territory of the Judeans or from their harbours will be untaxed except only Ptolemy, king of Alexandria, because he is our ally and friend; and, that the garrison in Joppa will be expelled, as they have requested. And one of our Council, Lucius Pettius, a worthy and excellent man, has given orders that we will take care that these things are done as the Senate has decreed, and that we will see to the safe return of the envoys to their homes. We have also admitted Theodoros to the Council and assembly, accepting from him the letter and the decree of the [Roman] Senate: and after he had addressed with great earnestness and pointed out the virtues and generosity of Hyrkanos and how he confers benefits upon all men generally, and in particular upon those who come to him, we deposited the documents in our archives of the People and passed a decree that we on our part, being allies of the Romans, would do everything possible on behalf of the Judeans in accordance with the decree of the Senate. And when he delivered the letter to us, Theodoros also requested our civic leaders to send a copy of the decree to Hyrkanos, as well as envoys who would inform him of the friendly interest of our people, and would urge him to preserve and increase his friendship with us and always be responsible for some act of good (255) in the knowledge that he will receive a fitting recompense, and also remembering that in the time of Abraham, who was the father of all Hebrews, our ancestors were their friends, as we find in the records of the People.”

[Halikarnassos’ decree on the Roman People’s friendship with Judeans and affirming the performance of Judean ancestral customs]

Decree of the people of Halikarnassos (or: Halicarnassus):

“In the priesthood of Memnon son of Aristides and, by adoption, of Euonymus,. . . of Anthesterion, the People passed the following decree on the motion of Marcus Alexander. Whereas at all times we have had a deep regard for piety toward the deity and holiness, and following the example of the People of Rome, who are benefactors of all humankind, and in conformity with what they have written to our city concerning their friendship and alliance with the Judeans, to the effect that their sacred services to god and their customary festivals and gatherings will be carried on, we have also decreed that those Judean men and women who so wish may observe their Sabbaths and perform their sacred rites in accordance with the Judean laws, and may build places of prayer near the sea, in accordance with their ancestral custom. And if anyone, whether civic leader or ordinary citizen, prevents them, he will be liable to the following fine and owe it to the city: [remainder omitted by Josephos].”

[Sardis’ decree on ability of Judean to settle disputes internally, on a meeting-place for Judean ancestral customs, and on supply of kosher food]

Decree of the People of Sardis:

“The following decree was passed by the Council and People on the motion of the civic leaders. Whereas the Judean citizens living in our city have continually received many great privileges from the People and have now come before the Council and the People and have pleaded (260) that as their laws and freedom have been restored to them by the Roman Senate and People, they may, in accordance with their accepted customs, come together and have a communal life and adjudicate suits among themselves, and that a place be given them in which they may gather together with their wives and children and offer their ancestral prayers and sacrifices to God, it has therefore been decreed by the Council and People that permission will be given them to come together on stated days to do those things which are in accordance with their laws, and also that a place will be set apart by the civic leaders for them to build and inhabit, such as they may consider suitable for this purpose, and that the market-officials of the city will be charged with the duty of having suitable food for them brought in.”

[Ephesos’ decree on not hindering Judean keeping of the Sabbath]

Decree of the People of Ephesos:

“In the presidency of Menophilos, on the first of the month Artemision, the following decree was passed by the People on the motion of the civic leaders and was announced by Nikanor. Whereas the Judeans in the city have petitioned the proconsul Marcus Junius Brutus son of Pontius that they might observe their Sabbaths and do all those things which are in accordance with their ancestral customs without interference from anyone, and the governor has granted this request, it has therefore been decreed by the Council and the People that as the matter is of concern to the Romans, no one will be prevented from keeping the Sabbath days nor be fined for so doing, but they will be permitted to do all those things which are in accordance with their own laws.”

[Josephos’ conclusion of the citations and overall purpose on the “friendliness of the Romans” towards Judeans]

(265) Now there are many other such decrees, passed by the [Roman] Senate and the commanders of the Romans relating to Hyrkanos and our people, as well as resolutions of cities and rescripts of provincial governors in reply to letters on the subject of our rights. Anyone who will read our work without malice will find it possible to take all of them on trust from the documents we have cited. For since we have provided clear and visible proofs of our friendship with the Romans, indicating those decrees engraved on bronze pillars and tablets which remain to this day and will continue to remain in the Capitol, I have refrained from citing them all as being both superfluous and disagreeable. For I cannot suppose that anyone is so stupid that he will actually refuse to believe the statements about the friendliness of the Romans towards us, when they have demonstrated this in a good number of decrees relating to us, or that anyone is so stupid that he will not admit that we are making truthful statements on the basis of the examples we have given. And we have set forth our friendship and alliance with the Romans in those times right here.


Josephos, Antiquities 16.160-178 (pertaining to the time of Caesar Augustus and Judeans in Asia Minor and Kyrenaika)


(160) Now the Judeans (Jews) in Asia and in Libya adjoining Kyrene (or: Cyrene) were being mistreated by the cities there. While the former kings had given them equal privileges with the other citizens, the Greeks abused them at this time, taking away their sacred funds and inflicting harm on particular occasions. When therefore they were afflicted like this and found no end to the inhumane treatment they faced among the Greeks, they sent ambassadors to Caesar [Augustus] about this situation. Caesar gave them the same privileges as they had before and sent letters about this to the governors of the provinces, copies of which I attach here as evidence of the favourable disposition of former rulers towards us.

[Augustus’ decree on the protection of sacred funds for Jerusalem and Sabbath observance]

“Caesar Augustus, high priest, and tribune of the People decrees as follows:
‘Since the people (ethnos) of the Judeans has been considered grateful to the Roman People, not only at this time but also in time past and mainly under Hyrkanos (Hyrcanus II, 40s BCE), the high priest under my father [Julius] Caesar the sole commander. It seemed good to me and my counsellors, according to the sentence and oath of the People of Rome, that the Judeans have freedom to practise their own customs according to their ancestral law as they practised them under Hyrkanos the high priest of god most high. It also seemed good to me that their sacred funds be not touched but be sent to Jerusalem; that it be committed to the care of the receivers at Jerusalem; and, that they are not obliged to go before any judge on the Sabbath-day or on the day of preparation for the Sabbath after the ninth hour. But if any one is caught stealing their holy books or their sacred funds – whether it is from the Sabbath gathering place (sabbateion) or from an ark [i.e. where the books of Moses were stored] – that person will be considered a sacrilegious person and his goods will be brought into the treasury of the People of the Romans. I order that the resolution which they have granted to me – with respect to the piety which I show toward all humankind – and to Gaius Marcus Censorinus [consul in 8 BCE, proconsul of Asia in 2-3 CE], together with the present decree, be set up in the most conspicuous place [in the temple] assigned to me at Ankyra (or: Ancyra) by the provincial league of Asia [i.e. in the imperial cult temple in Pergamon, although Josephos has “Ankyra”]. Now if anyone transgresses any part of what is decreed above he will be severely punished.”

This was inscribed upon a pillar, in the temple of Caesar.

[Augustus’ letter to Norbanus Flaccus on sacred funds for Jerusalem]

“Caesar to Norbanus Flaccus [proconsul of Asia ca. 31-27 BCE], greetings. Let those Judeans, however many there are, who have been used to sending their sacred funds to Jerusalem according to their ancient customs continue to do the same without interference.”

These were the decrees of Caesar.

[Agrippa’s letter to the Ephesians on sacred funds and Sabbath observance]

Agrippa himself also wrote in the following manner on behalf of the Judeans:

“Agrippa to the civic leaders, Council, and People of the Ephesians, greetings. I want to ensure that the care and custody of the sacred funds that is carried to the temple at Jerusalem is left to the Judeans of Asia according to their ancient custom. Anyone who steals that sacred funds of the Judeans and seeks refuge in a sanctuary will be taken from there and delivered to the Judeans using the same law that applies to sacrilegious persons. I have also written to the praetor Silanus that no one should force the Judeans to come before a judge on the Sabbath.”

[Agrippa’s letter to the Kyrenaians on sacred funds for Jerusalem]

“Marcus Agrippa to the civic leaders, Council, and People of Kyrene (or: Cyrene), greetings. The Judeans of Kyrene have complained to me about the performance of what Augustus sent orders about to Flavius, who was then praetor of Libya, and to the other procurators of that province: that the sacred funds may be sent to Jerusalem without interference as has been their ancestral custom. They complain that they are harassed by certain informers under the pretext of taxes which were not in fact due and are hindered from sending the funds. I therefore order that these funds be restored without any diminution or disturbance given to them. And if any sacred funds in the cities were taken from their proper receivers, I further enjoin that precisely the same funds be returned to the Judeans in that place.”

[Flaccus’ letter to the Sardians on assemblies]

“Gaius Norbanus Flaccus, proconsul, to the civic leaders of the Sardians, greetings. Caesar [Augustus] has written to me and commanded me not to forbid the Judeans – however many there are – from assembling together according to ancestral custom or from sending their funds to Jerusalem. I have therefore written to you, that you may know that both Caesar and I would have you act accordingly.”

[Julius Antonius’ letter to the Ephesos on ancestral customs and sacred funds]

Nor did Julius Antonius [died ca. 2 BCE] the proconsul write otherwise:

“To the civic leaders, Council, and People of the Ephesians, greetings. As I was dispensing justice at Ephesos, on the ides of February, the Judeans that live in Asia demonstrated to me that Augustus and Agrippa had permitted them: to use their own laws and customs; to offer their first fruits which every one of them without interference offers to the deity on account of piety; and, to carry them in a company together to Jerusalem without disturbance. They also petitioned me to confirm by my own sanction what had been granted by Augustus and Agrippa. I would therefore have you take notice that, according to the will of Augustus and Agrippa, I permit them to use and do according to the customs of their ancestors without disturbance.”

[Josephos’ explanation of why he presents these documents and the appeal to varying ancestral customs from people to people]

I have been obliged to present these decrees because the present history of our own actions will reach the Greeks. As a result, I have demonstrated to the Greeks that we have formerly been held in great esteem and have not been prohibited by those who ruled over our ancestors. No, in fact we have been supported by them while we followed our own form of worship and the honours we offered to God. I frequently make mention of these decrees in order to reconcile other descent groups (genē) to us and to take away the causes of that hatred which unreasonable people show towards us.

As for our customs, there is no descent group (genos) which always makes use of the same customs as others. In almost every city we encounter customs that differ from another. But natural justice is most agreeable to the advantage of all people equally, both Greeks and barbarians. Our laws have the greatest regard for justice and, if we sincerely follow them, make us well-disposed and friendly to everyone. On this account we have reason to expect similar treatment from others in return, for one should not consider differences in ways of life strange but consider whether there is good conduct. For this belongs to all people in common and is the only thing that preserves human life. I now return to the thread of my history.


Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *