Posts Tagged ‘Heraclius’

1. Jewish Population in Palestine from Roman Conquest

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the removal by the Romans to Rome of many Jews as slaves, there was still a Jewish population in the land significant in number to establish a Jewish army. Led by Bar-Kochba, the Jews revolted against Roman domination in the 130′s CE. Although they were ultimately defeated, contemporary Roman reports noted that Julius Severus was deterred from engaging Bar-Kochba’s forces in face-to-face combat, as their numbers were so large.  (Dio Cassius, Dio’s Roman History)

  • Between 132-135 Hadrian crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt, re-established Jerusalem as the Roman pagan polis Aelia Capitolina, and forbade a Jewish presence in the city.
  • While Jerusalem may have been without Jews for a time, many other urban areas maintained a strong Jewish population. Thus in 260-339 CE, Eusebius reported:

in the Holy Land there is a large town with a considerable population consisting only of Jews, called in Aramaic, Lod, and in Greek, Diocaesarea (History of the Martyrs of Palestine, London  1861);

  • Although in 324 Jerusalem became part of the Byzantine Empire, and notwithstanding Bar Kochba’s defeat, the Jews in the Holy Land continued to resist the Roman occupation.  In the year 351, a Jewish military night-attack totally destroyed a Roman garrison. In response, Gallus retaliated by slaughtering thousands of people including infants, and destroyed the towns of Caesarea, Tiberas and Lydda and setting fire to many others.  (St Jerome Hieronymus)
  • Tolerant of other faiths, pagan Emperor Julian the Apostate announced between 361-363 that the Jews be permitted to return to “holy Jerusalem which you have for many years longed to see rebuilt”.
  • Such toleration of Jews in the Holy Land did not continue for long. From the reign of Theodosius II (408-450) Jews were deprived of their relative autonomy and of their right to hold public positions. They were also forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on one day a year to mourn the Destruction of the Temple.
  • Even though Jewish political independence was lost, its literary and religious activity continued in the Holy Land as evidenced by the compilation in the 6th century of the Midrash Rabbah “Great Midrash”. This is an encyclopaedial body of biblical interpretations and commentary which is still used today as a reference in Judaic Studies.
    Considerable anecdotal evidence attesting to the continued Jewish presence in the Holy Land in the 6th century can be derived from the reports of Christian pilgrims such as Antoninus the Martyr, who during his visit to Palestine at the end of the century, declared:

“Nazareth! So great is the beauty of the Jewish women in the town that you will not find more beautiful women amongst the Jews in the length and breadth of this Land.”

  • In 614 CE, led by General Shahrbaraz, the Persians conquered the territory west of the Jordan and with it Jerusalem was subjected to foreign rule. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was burned and the True Cross was captured. Hoping for freedom of worship, the Jews gave the invaders their support, only to be disappointed by the Persian response. However Karen Armstrong, an authoritative British historian on comparative religion notes that  “ever since the Persian occupation, … the Jews had resumed worship on the (Temple Mount) platform …” (Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, 1997, Ballantine Books: New York, p. 229)
  • In any case, Persian rule was short lived, ending in March 629, when Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor, gained control of Jerusalem. Again Jews made pleas for religious tolerance and some degree of political independence. Visiting Tiberias in 629, the Emperor was welcomed by all the Jews dwelling in the Galilee hills and  Nazareth. All the small Galilean villages showered him with gifts and blessings and begged his protection.  Heraclius responded favourably and signed a treaty with the Jews, guaranteeing to protect them… but under pressure from Christian priests in Jerusalem reneged on his agreement. (Euthychius, Patriarch of Alexandria, 939)

The Muslim historian Baladhuri (d. 892 C.E.) maintained that just prior to the Arab Muslim conquest (638 C.E), some 30,000 Samaritans and 20,000 Jews lived in Caesarea alone.  Archaeological data confirms the lasting devastation wrought by these initial jihad conquests, particularly the widespread destruction of synagogues and churches.

Jewish industrial and agricultural undertakings also suffered from the jihad; Jews involved in the traditional occupations of glass-making and producing wicks for oil lamps were disrupted in their work and the agricultural uprooting during this period caused massive soil erosion to the western slopes of the Judaean mountains.The papyri of Nessana were completely discontinued after the year 700, reflecting the destruction the Jewish agricultural life of the Negev and the desertion of its villages.