Archives for category: Judism


To assess the foundations of Christianity and whether it was influenced by the teachings of the community at Qumran this essay will compare and contrast the texts of the Gospels of Matthew and John, the two apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Qumran scrolls, which provide first-hand information on Palestinian-Jewish relationships during the the first century CE[1], as paleographic datings put the Qumran texts into the correct time frame[2]. The Old Testament also provides a background to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth[3] and the particular Gospels were chosen because of the close relationship Matthew and John had to the life of Jesus. Although the Gospels have been redacted and are more than likely community documents written by more than one person, the texts of Qumran[4] and the books of the Old Testament also have these features. Therefore, through this method I hope to assess whether Christianity was more influenced by mainstream Judaism or the teachings of the Qumran community.

Christianity was based in the community of mainstream Judaism both religiously and geographically. The Gospels and the Qumran texts both refer to books of the Old Testament. In giving the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth, the Gospel of Matthew begins with a tabling device found in the beginning of the First Book of Chronicles[5]. The writer of the Gospel seems to use this initial device to provide a voice of authority. A tendenz appears in the Gospels to select passages of the Old Testament to legitimize a certain stance[6], such as Jesus’ infancy[7] with the Immanuel Prophecy of Isaiah 7.14 or the Egyptian exile[8] with Hosea 11.1. The Qumran scrolls, on the other hand, used the authority of ancient texts in a different context. It is the right interpretation of the Law that has primacy for the Qumran community. For example, one can be expelled from the community for not adhering to the Law, and must study the Law[9], but can have alternative views of the prophecies contained within the doctrine[10].

Like the Qumran community, the teachings of Jesus are deterministic. In Matthew 10.29 Jesus states: “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your father’s will”. Also, in John 6.65 it states that, “…no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by my Father”. This can be compared with the 1QS[11] which states ‘that they may love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God’s design…’. However, the teachings of the Pharisees are only semi-deterministic while the Sadducees are not at all[12]. This determinism in both sets of texts is also noted in a fulfilment of law. In John 5.17, Jesus states: Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil’ and advocates for the commandments to be kept. Similarly, the 1QS[13] (1.4), and 4Q255, 257 state that the Master will do as commanded by the hand of “Moses and all His servants the Prophets”. This view has at its heart a strong dualistic notion of good and evil.

The dichotomy of good and evil has the Gospel of Matthew showing a marked similarity to 1QS and CD by offering potential converts the choice between darkness and light[14]. At 5.14 it states: “[Believers] are the light of the world”. This is similar to the dichotomic view in the1QS with all the children of righteousness being ruled by the ‘Prince of Light’[15] and all the children of injustice being ruled by the Angel of Darkness’[16]. At Matt. 8.12 it is stated: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” In particular, the Gospel of John at 6.13 states that John [the Baptist] was the witness to the True Light. Again at John 12.46 “I have come as a light into the world that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness.” However, there is a significant difference to the Dead Sea sectarians in that Jesus also offers a mission statement: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”[17]

This missionary movement is seen in the Gospel of John at 21.42 where it expands Christianity beyond Judaism and the Temple, quoting Psalm 118.22: “The stone which the builder rejected has become the chief corner-stone”. In 1QS at 8.8 also refers to the community being the ‘corner-stone’. Matthew 3.9 states that John offered ritual baptism not only to Jews but to many non-Jews as well. However, there does not seem to be an apparent effort to convert non-Jewish followers in the Qumran Scrolls. The difference is that the communities described in the Dead Sea Scrolls tend to keep themselves separate for the sake of purity – ‘No member of the Community shall follow them in matters of doctrine and justice, or eat or drink anything of theirs, or take anything from them except for a price’[18], whereas, the Gospel of John quotes Isaiah to include Gentiles in its teachings[19].

Christianity also has an emphasis on purity, but it is an abstracted version.  Matthew 4 shows a similarity to the 1QS by telling about how Jesus went into the desert as a ‘purification’ process after baptism. In 1QS they also state that members should go into the wilderness and quote Isaiah[20].  However, in Matthew 18 a figurative measure of purity is used in that the greatest are as ‘little children’. Also, in John 9.6-7 Jesus tells the blind man to purify himself in the pool at Siloam. The 1QS also refers to such cleansing processes: ‘And when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified by cleansing water…’ [21]. However, in John 1.25 there is a dispute between John’s disciples and other Jews about purification, and at 4.2 it states that, unlike John, Jesus did not baptise. These types of contradictions seem to emphasise the nonconformity that Jesus appeared to uphold in his ministry.

While much of Jesus’ ministry was to do with healing the sick, blind, lame, and insane[22], the CD excludes such people[23] and the 1QS does not mention them at all. The Essenes, on the other hand, were known to be healers that travelled about the land[24]. They were thought by some to be a part of the Dead Sea sectarians and that John the Baptist was an Essene raised in the desert at Qumran[25].  Pliny the Elder also wrote about the Essenes living in a desert community as a place of no women and no money[26]. However, John is not identified as an Essene by Josephus or the gospels. Also John practiced the purification by baptism only once[27], whereas purification was seen as a ritual by all other known Judaic sects. That being so does not mean that it was impossible for John the Baptist to have started a splinter group from either of these groups at a time when he thought the Messiah had come. This situation may come about when a person involved in a belief changes that belief to encompass what they consider another reality. A clue to the possibility of a new belief is the revelation of a ‘new commandment’ by Jesus to ‘love one another, as I have loved you’[28] and the introduction of the ‘Holy Spirit’ or the ‘spirit of truth’[29] which become fundamental to the doctrine of Christianity.

While the 1QS and CD used the solar calendar, there is no evidence in either gospels of Matthew or John that the lunar calendar, used in the mainstream Jewish religion[30], was not used by Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth preached in synagogues and the Temple and he attended such feast days as the Passover[31], thereby implying that Jesus’ doctrine did not involve any change to traditional worship only a change to doctrine, and that Christian changes from the lunar calendar to a solar calendar came after the death of Jesus. The 1QS, like mainstream Judaism, was particularly strict about the keeping of festivals and holy days, however Jesus calls himself ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ and defends his healing of others on this day[32]. This would have been seen as sacrilegious by the other sects in Judaism, particularly the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Also, as the doctrine of Qumran revolved around paying particular attention to upholding ‘the seasons of Jubilee’[33] in which the holy Sabbaths have been revealed by God’[34], it infers that Jesus, although perhaps influenced by them, had no interest in complying with the doctrines of the Qumran texts.

Christianity is based in mainstream Judaism as much of Jesus’ ministry was spent preaching in synagogues and the Temple and upholding mainstream feast days such as Passover. Yet the doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth shows remarkable similarities to the doctrines of the Qumran texts through its determinism, dualism and emphasis on spiritual purity. Jesus’ ministry also holds some similarity with the Essene sect through Jesus’ practice of healing and John the Baptist early life hold some similarity with descriptions of the Essene movement. However, the amount of contradiction between the doctrines of these mainstream and unconventional religious movements and the particular teachings of Jesus of Nazareth about the ‘new commandment’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ show that Christianity was influenced by all facets of Judaism but was primarily a new missionary doctrine which was intended to be preached to Gentiles as well as Jews. Therefore, it can be said that Christianity was influenced by the Qumran sectarians but only as much as it was influenced by mainstream Judaism.





  1. Beall, Todd S. “Conclusion” in Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls , Beall, Todd S. , 1988 , 123-130
  2. Betz, Otto. “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Bible Review , 1990 , 18-25
  3. Brooke, George J. “Biblical interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament , Brooke, George J. , 2005 , 52-69
  4. Burg A. et al., (date unknown) Christian Calendar- Jerusalem Centre for Jewish Christian Relations, viewed 21 November 2012,
  5. Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins: General methodological considerations” in Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins , Fitzmyer, Joseph A. , 2000 , 1-16
  6. Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. G.A. Williamson, London: Penguin Books, 1970
  7. Pliny the Elder, Nat. hist. 5.15 (73) Natural History: With an English Translation, LCL 10; H. Rackham; Cambridge, Mass / London: Harvard University Press / Heinemann, 1962, PA6156.P65/1962
  8. The Holy Bible- Revised Authorised Version, (1982), British usage edition, Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd, London
  9. Vanderkam, James  C. “The origin, character, and early history of the 364-day calendar: A reassessment of Jaubert’s hypotheses” Catholic Biblical Quarterly , 41: , 1979 , 392-411
  10. Vermes, G. (ed. & trans.), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English London: Penguin Books, 2011

[1] Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins: General methodological considerations” in Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins , Fitzmyer, Joseph A. , 2000 , p.4

[2] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.6

[3] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.5

[4] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.15

[5] Chron. 1; Matt. 1-17

[6] Brooke, George J. “Biblical interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament , Brooke, George J. , 2005 , p.55

[7] Matt. 1.23

[8] Matt 13.15

[9] 1QS V 6-7

[10] CD VI, 18; XX, 32-33

[11] 1QS I, 10

[12] Josephus, BJ,2

[13] 1QS I, 4

[14] Matt 3.16

[15] 1QS III,20

[16] 1QS III, 21

[17] Matt 5.16

[18] 1QS V, 17

[19] John 12. 18-23

[20] Isaiah 40.3

[21] 1QS 3.8

[22] Matt 8-9

[23] CD XV, 15

[24] Josephus BJ, 2.145

[25] Beall, Todd S. “Conclusion” in Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls , Beall, Todd S. , 1988 , 123-130; Betz, Otto. “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Bible Review , 1990 , 18-25

[26] Pliny the Elder (Nat. hist. 2, 5.15, 73)

[27] John 2

[28] John 13.34

[29] Matt, 12.31; John 7.37;16.5

[30] Vanderkam, James C. “The origin, character, and early history of the 364-day calendar: A reassessment of Jaubert’s hypotheses” Catholic Biblical Quarterly , 41: , 1979 , p.411

[31] Christian Calendar- Jewish Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations, viewed on 23/11/2012

[32] Matt. 12.1-8; John 710; 9.13

[33] 1QS IX, 15; CD IV, 1

[34] CD III, 15

This essay will explore the similarities and the differences between the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, being the Community Rule (1QS) and the Damascus Document (CD), and posit implications for the historical environment of the documents.


The 1QS scroll was found in a desert cave at Qumran in 1948. It contains the rules for a religious community that occupied the site from around the late second century BCE to the middle of the first century CE. The CD is a scroll found in the late nineteenth century in a synagogue in Cairo and is a medieval copy of scrolls also found at the Qumran site. The two texts show remarkable similarities in their intent but appear quite different in the theological method and the lifestyle of the two communities that they describe. It will be argued that the two texts have fundamental similarities which show that the CD was a prior document written in a time of persecution and that the 1QS was the later document that showed how the sect evolved to cope with the circumstances of its isolation.

In investigating the similarities between each text, three fundamental similarities appear. Firstly, both texts stress their community’s separation from the mainstream community. Secondly, both texts anticipate the arrival of a Messiah. Finally, both texts show a similarity between terms. In particular, they emphasise reliance upon the Law of Moses but as it is interpreted through a received divine Covenant. In this way, they show their roots in mainstream Judaism. However, both texts diverge from Judaism in the use of a solar calendar through which they must keep firmly ‘to the elect of the time’ and uphold ‘the seasons of Jubilee[1] in which the holy Sabbaths have been revealed by God[2]. The term ‘sons of zadok’[3] is applied to the authorities of both texts which shows that at some point in their history they recognised the authority of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, that officiated the change of religious authority from king to priest. Yet, in keeping to the original solar calendar, they seem not to recognise the change to the lunar calendar wrought after Babylonian exile. Therefore, both texts refer to a Hebraic priestly community that uses a prior system of keeping Sabbaths and festivals.

Separation from mainstream Judaism is stressed in both texts and results in an emphasis on perfection, which is asserted by the people of the community[4]. This emphasis on perfection reveals that both texts are based upon hierarchical communities where one’s position is determined by the leader[5]. The concept of hierarchical perfection may allude to the plant metaphor used to describe the community in both texts, where the root of the plant comes ‘from Israel and Aaron’[6] and will become the ‘Everlasting Plantation’.  It is inferred in both texts that this hierarchical perfection will allow the community to survive an age of wrath under the dominion of ‘Belial’[7]. Therefore, it seems that the similarities between the two documents point to a description of a similar, if not the same, community in two different periods of time.

The similarities that point to different time periods also show the crucial differences between the texts. The CD contains a history that relates the origins of the community which is not contained within the 1QS. In contrast, the 1QS scroll is composed as a set of community rules with a prayer at the end that is based upon the structure of a psalm[8]. The time stated within the CD text is 390 years after the capturing of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar[9].  There is also a reference to the ‘visitation’, in which the community was saved while ‘the apostates’ were given up to the sword and their ‘destruction was by the hand of Belial’[10].  Shortly after, the text refers to the ‘head of the asps [who] is the chief of the kings of Greece who came to wreak vengeance upon them’[11]. So perhaps it refers to the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, who violently suppressed a Jewish revolt in 168 BCE[12]. This would date the document’s origins in approximately the mid-second century BCE when there began a power struggle between different factions within the Jewish community in Judea[13]. The CD also relies upon the mainstream Hebrew texts as the scroll has fifty-one references to the books of the Old Testament, whereas the 1QS only has four. This implies reliance by the CD on the mainstream religious authorities while the 1QS has little reference to these authorities.

This reliance upon mainstream texts is reflected in the references to Temple worship found in the CD which are not found in the 1QS. In the CD, the three main sins cited are fornication, riches and the profanation of the Temple[14]. This stands in contrast to the concept of the Temple found in the 1QS, which sees the Council as the Temple[15]. The attainment of perfection in the 1QS is stated as being atonement for rebellion and unfaithfulness ‘so that they may obtain loving-kindness for the Land without the flesh of holocausts or the fat of sacrifice[16]. Further, it is stated in 1QS that the divine offering will be a blessing from the lips, which seems to be reliance upon the offering of prayers that uphold the seasons of Jubilee, rather than animal sacrifice[17]. This difference could imply that the community of the CD lived in a settlement that had already had a temple cult while the 1QS needed to find other methods of religious worship that suited their location in the desert.

This difference in the concept of the Temple is also borne out in the concept of the community. While the CD has rules for marriage and children[18] the 1QS makes no mention of women or children. The CD also excludes people from their community if they are found to be physically or mentally defective[19] and only allows men of a certain age to be in authority, while the 1QS is a semi-monastical community that shares its possessions and meals and makes no mention of exclusion through age or disability[20].  Both texts share the concept of a special Covenant with God but the CD advocates a New Covenant -‘a pact’- that will be (or has been in some parts of the text) declared in the land of Damascus[21]. The Covenant for the 1QS has a strict set of rules that governs every aspect of one’s life[22] whereas the CD demands a more generalised strict adherence to the ‘Laws of Moses’[23]. Therefore, there are quite distinct religiously conceptual differences between the two texts.

The historian, Eyal Regev, uses these theological differences to explain the divergences between the two texts and asserts that each text is based upon a different sect[24]. For Regev, the difference lies in the descriptions of each text’s social structures. Firstly, Regev points out that the CD was run by overseers who had exclusive authority[25], whereas the IQS was less hierarchical with the overseer not having religious authority[26]. Regev also points to theological differences such as concepts of divine revelation and the total separation from Israel that is stipulated by IQS[27].  However, the similarity in the texts requiring ten men of the Council needing one priest among them[28], their reliance upon the two prophesied messiahs from the houses of Aaron and Israel[29], and the endorsement of the solar calendar show that both texts had fundamental conceptual roots. The differences in divine revelation and total separation from the mainstream religion could infer that the sect evolved over a period of time into a much smaller and more intense community than the original sect.

This is also asserted by the historian, Charlotte Hempel, who uses the literary differences between the texts to map out their evolution[30].  Hempel states that the CD and the 1QS are more inter-textual than the other Qumran texts, with a particular reference to the perfection and holiness with which each text’s community describes itself[31]. This leads to Hempel’s conclusion that the texts originated independently of their place[32]. However, although they use similar vocabulary, one text appears to be a text that advocated a similar type of temple cult that was fundamental to the mainstream, while the 1QS became a more particular type of document that saw itself as the Temple. Therefore, textuality does not seem to be a completely effective method of explaining the two texts divergence and it could be inferred that each text shows its place through either the conformity to the temple cult of CD or the semi-monastic lifestyle of 1QS.

The historian, Phillip Davies, posits that the 1QS is based upon the older CD and that this text legitimised the community of 1QS[33]. For Davies, the CD is a description of a point of origin from Babylonian departure onwards, and rejects notions of the CD being a document from the religious strife in Judea during the mid-second century BCE. However, the CD is written in the historical genre and relates to itself as living in an age of wrath, with particular mention of the Greek kings. If one critically analyses the text, as Davies asserts one must[34], then it appears that the CD was the one of the original texts of the Dead Sea Sectarians that gives its history as a splinter group formed around the middle of the second century BCE during a time of persecution and religious strife.

The CD and the 1QS had a fundamental similarity and that was their belief that they had a special covenant based upon a more ancient law than the one advocated by Ezra and Nehemiah after the Babylonian exile. The sectarians considered themselves true believers that would be redeemed through their pursuit of perfection and strict adherence to ancient laws based upon the older, solar calendar. They suffered persecution for their beliefs, trying to remain separate themselves from the mainstream religion, and subsequently took refuge in camps in the desert. As time passed, this led to their semi-monastic isolation at Qumran, with the CD text being the one of the sect’s initial documents written while they were still in the mainstream community, and that evolved into the Community Rules of the 1QS. So, rather than a sect that splinters and dissipates into the mainstream, as Regev suggests, the Dead Sea Sectarians appear to be a splinter group of mainstream Judaism that became more isolated, intense and idiosyncratic over time.





  1. Vermes, G. (ed. & trans.), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (London: Penguin Books, 2004 or 2011)
    1. Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, William Whiston, A.M., Ed.
    2. Regev, E., ‘Between Two Sects: Differentiating the Yahad and the Damascus Covenant’, in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Text and Context (ed., C. Hempel; Leiden: Brill, 2009)
    3. Hempel, Charlotte, ‘CD manuscript B and the Rule of the Community—Reflections on a Literary Relationship’, Dead Sea Discoveries 16 (2009)
    4. Davies, Philip R. “The prehistory of the Qumran community” in Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research , Dimant, Devorah; Rappaport, Uriel , 1992


This essay will explore the similarities and the differences between the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, being the Community Rule (1QS) and the Damascus Document (CD), and posit implications for the historical environment of the documents.



[1] 1QS ix 15; CD ivi 5

[2] CD iii 15

[3] 1QS v 2; CD iv, 1

[4] 1QS i 12; CD ii 15

[5] 1QS ii 22; CD xiii 13

[6] CD i 7; 1QS xi 7

[7] 1QS. ii, 5; CD iv, 14

[8] 1QS, x.5 – xi.23

[9] CD. i,6

[10] CD. viii, 2

[11] CD. viii, 11

[12] Josephus, BJ 1.1.34

[13] Josephus, BJ 1.2.67

[14] CD. iv, 16

[15] 1QS. viii, 7

[16] 1QS. ix, 5

[17] 1QS. x, 1

[18] CD, vii, 6

[19] CD, xv, 15

[20] 1QS, v, 2; 1QS, vi, 2

[21] CD, viii, 21- ix, 12

[22] 1QS, vi, 25

[23] CD, xv, 12

[24] Regev, E., ‘Between Two Sects: Differentiating the Yahad and the Damascus Covenant’, in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Text and Context (ed., C. Hempel; Leiden: Brill, 2009) p. 431

[25] Regev, 2009, p.432

[26] Regev, 2009, p. 435

[27] Regev, 2009, p. 437

[28] 1QS, vi, 4; CD, xiii, 1

[29] CD, i, 7; 1QS, ix, 11

[30] Hempel, Charlotte, ‘CD manuscript B and the Rule of the Community—Reflections on a Literary Relationship’, Dead Sea Discoveries 16 (2009) p.374

[31] Hempel, 2009, p.382

[32] Hempel, 2009, p.374

[33] Davies, Philip R. “The prehistory of the Qumran community” in Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research , Dimant, Devorah; Rappaport, Uriel , 1992 , p.121

[34]  Davies, 1992 , p.125


The Jewish Revolts against Roman rule were reflective of Jewish dissent in the Maccabaen revolt of the second century B.C.E.. The Jewish leader, Mathathias, states to king Antiochus- “Although all nations obey king Antiochus…I and my sons, and my brethren will obey the law of our fathers”[1].Under Julius Caesar in the first century B.C.E., the client king Herod negotiated for the Jews to have a favoured status within the empire. It allowed them to practice their religion freely: they were exempted from military service, they had the right to assemble and could send money to Jerusalem[2]. So to explore whether the Jewish Revolts of the first and second centuries were politically or religiously motivated, one should first explore the change of status that the Jews experienced under subsequent Roman emperors and its outcome.

Prior to the first revolt of the Jews against Roman authority, the Jewish community suffered persecution under the emperor Gaius (Caligula). Philo, who represented the Jews in an embassy to Gaius, states that Gaius thought that the Jews wished to counter his desires and that ‘a most terrible and irreconcilable war was prepared against our nation…’[3]. When Gaius ordered a statue of himself to be placed in the temple at Jerusalem the Jews felt that their whole nation was under threat, ‘for in the destruction of the temple there is reason to fear that this man…will also order the general name of our whole nation to be abolished’[4]. Although Gaius later retracted his order it had made the Jewish people insecure. When Claudius came to power in 41 C.E., Cumanus was made procurator of the province of Palestine and had to deal with several uprisings against perceived Roman injustice. Josephus, who was one of the leaders of the First Revolt, tells of a religious festival guarded by Roman soldiers to try and stop any ‘innovations’ by the populace. When a soldier made an indecent posture to the crowd, youths threw stones and Cumanus had to call for more arms. Cumanus had the Jews thrown out of the temple and, in their panic, many were trampled and killed. This festival became a day of national mourning[5].

The political dimension of the subsequent revolt became apparent in 54 C.E. when Nero came to power and the procurator of Palestine was Albinus. He was accused by Josephus of stealing and plundering ‘…and abused his authority over those about him, in order to plunder those who lived quietly’[6]. Gessius Florus, who succeeded Albinus was even worse, according to Josephus: ‘He indeed thought it a petty offense to get money out of single persons; so he spoiled whole cities…and a great many people left their own country, and fled to foreign provinces’[7]. Josephus thinks that Florus was determined to procure a revolt amongst the Jews to conceal his own crimes, ‘…he therefore did every day augment their calamities, in order to induce them to rebellion’[8]. When a conflict arose in Caesarea over access to the synagogue and the inflammatory sacrifice by a Gentile of birds on its steps on the Sabbath, Florus ‘blew this war into a flame’ by seizing the Jewish leaders who approached him with their complaint about this act and imprisoning them[9]. When Florus marched against Jerusalem ‘that he might gain his will by the arms of the Romans, [and] bring the city to subjection’[10], the high priests could not contain the people’s outrage. Josephus states that the acts of ‘the seditious’ were used by Florus to attempt to seize the temple, and the people ‘…stood upon the tops of their houses, they threw their darts at the Romans, who, as they were sorely galled thereby’ retired to their camp[11]. Agrippa II, the political leader of the Jews and their ambassador in the Roman court, tried to persuade the Jews from continuing their revolt. In a speech given by Agrippa and recorded by Josephus, he states: “Had I perceived that you were all zealously disposed to go to war with the Romans, and that the purer and more sincere part of the people did not propose to live in peace, I had not come out to you, nor been so bold as to give you counsel…’[12]. Agrippa’s doctrine was that Rome was raised and supported by divine providence, and that it was in vain for the Jews or any others to think about destroying it[13]. However, Agrippa was unable to stop Florus from provoking or the people from revolting, so he retired to his own palaces after sending the leaders of the insurrection to Florus[14].

To illustrate the ambiguous political and religious intent of the insurgents, the assault made upon the fortress at Masada was conducted by Eleazar, son of Annais and the high priest and governor of the temple. He convinced his followers to stop paying the tribute to Rome[15]. However, any religious zeal was definitely put aside when preparations for war were made, with Josephus stating that ‘those that ministered the temple would not attend their Divine service, but were preparing matters for beginning the war’[16]. Because Agrippa had appeared to the insurgents to have acquiesced to the Romans they attacked his palaces, overwhelmed the king’s soldiers ‘…after which they carried the fire to the place where the archives were deposited, and made haste to burn the contracts belonging to their creditors, and thereby to dissolve their obligations for paying their debts…’[17]. This was done, Josephus asserts in order to gain the support of those who had been debtors, ‘and that they might persuade the poorer sort to join their insurrection with safety against the more wealthy’[18]. They assaulted the garrison of Antonia, set the citadel on fire and besieged the palaces[19]. Manahem, son of Judas, distributed arms from king Herod’s armory at Masada to all of the people and set himself up as king of Jerusalem [20]. When Eleazar heard that Menahem had set himself up as a tyrant and had killed the high priest Ananias, his followers attacked and killed Manahem. It was thought that ‘it was not proper when they revolted from the Romans, out of the desire of liberty, to betray that liberty to any of their own people’[21]. This political statement about liberty and the destruction of Agrippa’s palaces, along with any credit contracts, point to the motivation for the First Revolt being political rather than religious in nature.

Florus had all the Jews in Caesarea killed or enslaved. This outraged the whole nation so that Jews laid waste to the villages of the Syrians, their neighbouring cities and numerous other cities and villages of the region, ‘and immense slaughter was made of the men who were caught in them’[22]. Civil war beset the whole region and ‘greediness of gain was a provocation to kill the opposite party…’[23]. This last statement of Josephus’s implies that by now the insurrection had little to do with religious freedom and more to do with power. At this point Cestius the governor of Syria intervened, supported by the armies of Agrippa and Antiochus. However, the Jews refused to be defeated and when they saw this army approach Jerusalem they took up arms with ‘… that rage which made them forget religious observation [of the Sabbath], [and] made them too hard for their enemies in the fight’[24]. After Agrippa’s peace delegation was killed, Cestius sent to Nero for help and Nero sent Vespasian to quell the rebellion.

In 66 C.E., at the same time that Vespasian was sent to quell the insurrection in Jerusalem, unrest had also broken out in the Roman provinces of Britain and Gaul over heavy taxation[25]. This pointed to underlying economic troubles being a factor in the unrest in Judea as well. The use of religious zeal as a motivating element to keep fighting became apparent when Vespasian tried to quell the rebellion through various methods of representation and offers of immunity. However, when the Jews would not yield after a protracted siege, Vespasian was finally able to open the temple to the soldiers[26]. Cassius Dio writes that ‘then the Jews defended themselves much more vigorously than before, as if they had discovered a piece of rare good fortune in being able to fight near the temple and fall in its defence[27]. When the temple was finally overcome ‘they met their death willingly, some throwing themselves on the swords of the Romans, some slaying one another, others taking their own lives, and still others leaping into the flame’[28]. Cassius asserts that they seemed to die of happiness because ‘they had perished along with the temple’[29].

A purpose driven by religious zeal is given in the account of Yigael Yadin whose archaeological team in the 1960s revealed that the temple at Masada had been added to by the ‘zealots’[30]. Coinage from the time was found on the site and on the floor of the building there is an ‘ostracon’ with an inscription which translates as ‘Priestly Tithe’. Ostraca were found inscribed with the names of people and seemed to be a type of coupon with a name and a symbol. Yadin suggests that they may have been used for rations as they were found near a storehouse. It was possible to accurately date the ostraca as being written between 66-73 C.E. which was the period in which Masada was occupied by the ‘zealots’[31]. Also, religious scrolls were deliberately buried in a pit in the building’s floor. Three skeletons, possibly Jewish defenders, were found on a lower level of the building  and another group of disordered skeletons of males aged between 20-70 years and some females and children were found in an adjacent cave. Yadin posits that these were the remainder of the zealots who died by suicide before the fall of Masada[32]. However, although Yadin treated Josephus’s account of Masada and the collective suicide of its defenders as authentic[33], scholars think that Josephus’s story of suicide was a literary ‘ topos’ and that it ran counter to the Jewish mentality[34].

The destruction of the Temple had generated great animosity and another cycle of violence. Cassius Dio, a Roman, wrote in the late second century that in the time of the emperor Trajan, Jews in the region of Cyrene were destroying both Romans and Greeks. Cassius goes on: ‘In Egypt too, they perpetrated many similar outrages, and in Cyprus…’[35]. In the third century Eusibius, Christian writer, also writes about this: ‘For in Alexandria and in the rest of Egypt, and also in Cyrene, as if incited by some terrible factious spirit, they rushed into seditious measures against their fellow inhabitants the Greeks’[36]. Eusibius goes on to tell how Quintis became governor of Judea, after marching against the Jews and ‘[slaying] a great multitude of those that dwell there’[37]. Various papyrus documents from 117-118 C.E. form Egypt and Cyrene also attest to the results of such discord and anger. Some refer to them as ‘impious Jews’, a serious accusation of disrespect for Roman authority[38]. There are also inscriptions ordering the restoration of Cyrene’s Caesareum [39], baths[40] and roads[41] which were ‘destroyed and burnt down in the Jewish revolt’.

Jewish armed resistance against Roman rule culminated and was defeated in the Revolt of Bar Kokhba (132-136 C.E.). The rebels were united by the leader Bar Kokhba and the result was a rebel state in which coinage was issued and ‘ state-land’ was leased. In the Bar Kokhba revolt the Jews showed remarkable ‘ military and political activity’ sixty years after the suppression of the first revolt[42]. Little is known about the causes of the war but it could have been derived as a possible conquest of Jerusalem and an attempt to reconstruct the Temple by the rebels. Cassius Dio wrote that it was the emperor Hadrian’s desire to build a new city called Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem and the intention of raising a temple to Jupiter on the site of the destroyed Jewish temple that incited the Jews to war: ‘for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there’[43]. Bar Kokhba coinage tells something of the population and the economy of Judea at the time of the revolt. Their symbols embody the objectives and values of the insurgents. Economic conditions before the revolt were underscored by ‘peasant discontent engendered by expropriation and oppressive tenurial conditions[44]. Coinage that states ‘Jerusalem’, or ‘For the Freedom of Jerusalem’ with the design of the Temple on the coinage indicates a declaration. These reflect the values and objectives of the revolt and Jerusalem was of utmost importance to the rebels[45].

Bar Kokhba was the only ancient war fought by the Jews to be named after a single leader. In the Talmud he is given the title ‘Nasi and Messiah’ and while he reigned he was described as a king[46]. R. Aqiva, a rabbi who was part of the revolt, described Bar Kokhba as ‘ the King Messiah’[47]. Bar Kokhba signed his letters as “Nasi Yisrael” and coinage denotes him as ‘Simeon Nesi Yisrael’. Some say that this refers to the ideal king in Ezekiel’s vision of the End of Days[48]. The Talmud has an ambivalent attitude to Bar Kokhba, emphasising his legendary strength and obedience to the sages, to criticizing his addresses to God and stating ‘that he was put to death by the sages when it appeared that he was the false messiah[49]. Bar Kokhba’s letters show him to be an aggressive general and ruler who was occupied with the discipline and routine of his army. However, Bar Kokhba was not just a military leader, lands were leased in his name and he insisted on strong observance of the Sabbath and other religious commandments, plus control of land produce[50].

It seems that the Jewish Revolts of the first and second centuries could have been the result of both Jewish religious nationalism and the arbitrary nature of the Roman emperors of the period. The Jewish people relied upon the favours that were obtained by Herod from Julius Caesar, and enacted by the Roman Senate, to feel secure that they could practice their religion without being impinged upon by Roman military duties or Roman religious sacrifices. When Gaius arbitrarily incited anger and fear amongst the Jews with his proposal for a statue of himself to be erected within the temple at Jerusalem, Jewish religious leaders saw this as a threat to their authority and to the religious rights to which they had been accustomed. Cumanus’s weakness in dealing with Jewish uprisings against religious insult culminated in Nero’s appointment of a series of corrupt procurators who dealt with Jews harshly and arbitrarily. The Jews saw their political representative to Rome, Agrippa, as being in collusion with the Romans. The burning of credit contracts and following civil strife that resulted in looting shows economic pressures were also indicative of political unrest. However, because the Jewish religion was so bound with the geographical location of Jerusalem and the concept of the temple, it was the Maccabean model of religious revolt that motivated the zeal of the Jews at Masada and in the Bar Kokhba revolt. Therefore, it could be said that religious nationalism served as the motivating factor for the Jewish Revolts.


  1. Bowersock, Glen Warren. “The making of martyrdom” in Martyrdom and Rome , Bowersock, Glen Warren , 1995 , 1-21
  2. Cassius Dio, Roman Histories
  3. Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (CPJ) 438: Papyrus, Letter (June 116 – Jan. 117AD; Hermopolite nome, Egypt); CPJ 443: Papyrus, Application for leave (28 Nov 117; Hermopolite nome, Egypt)
  4. CJZC 17. Inscription (118 AD, Cyrene); CJZC 19. Inscription (119 AD, Cyrene); CJZC 25. Milestone (118 AD; Cyrene)
  5. Eusibius, Ecclesiastical History
  6. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews
  7. Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews
  8. Isaac, Benjamin H. “The revolt of Bar Kokhba: Ideology and modern scholarship” in The Near East Under Roman Rule: Selected Papers , Isaac, Benjamin H. , 1998 , 220-248
  9. Maccabees I 2.19-20
  10. Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius
  11. Yadin, Yigael. “Extract” in Masada: Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand , Yadin, Yigael , 1966 , 181-201
  12. yTa’anit iv 68d; cf. Lamentations Rabbah ii 4

[1] Maccabees I 2.19-20

[2] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.225-7; 213-16

[3] Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, 18.17.119

[4] ibid. 18.17.194

[5] Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 2.12.1

[6] ibid. 2.14.1

[7] ibid. 2.14.2

[8] ibid. 2.14.3

[9] ibid. 2.14.6

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid. 2.15.3

[12] J. BJ 2.16.4

[13] ibid.

[14] ibid. 2.17.1

[15] ibid. 2.17.2

[16] ibid. 2.17.4

[17] ibid. 2.17.6

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid. 2.17.7

[20] J. BJ 2.17.8

[21] ibid. 2.17.9

[22]ibid. 2.18.1

[23] ibid. 2.18.2

[24] ibid. 2.19.2

[25] Cassius Dio, Roman Histories, 63.2.2

[26] Cassius Dio, 65.6.2

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Yadin, 1966

[31] ibid.

[32] Isaac, 1998

[33] Yadin, 1989

[34] Bowersock, 1991

[35] Cassius Dio 68.32.1-3

[36] Eusibius, Ecclesiastical History 4.2.1-5

[37] ibid.

[38] Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (CPJ) 438: Papyrus, Letter (June 116 – Jan. 117

AD; Hermopolite nome, Egypt); CPJ 443: Papyrus, Application for leave (28 Nov 117; Hermopolite nome, Egypt)

[39] CJZC 17. Inscription (118 AD, Cyrene)

[40] CJZC 19. Inscription (119 AD, Cyrene)

[41] CJZC 25. Milestone (118 AD; Cyrene)

[42] Isaac, 1998

[43] Cassius Dio, Roman History, 69.12.1-14.2

[44] Isaac, 1998

[45] ibid.

[46] ibid.

[47] yTa’anit iv 68d; cf. Lamentations Rabbah ii 4 (ed. Buber, p.101)

[48] Isaac 1998

[49] Isaac, 1998

[50] ibid


This essay will explore how far the Roman writers Horace, Ovid, Seneca, Petronius, and Juvenal thought the Jewish people were disturbing Roman society through proselytizing. These writers were an elite group in Rome. They were both patronised by the aristocracy but most were also high-born themselves[1]. Through exploring the backgrounds of these writers and the times in which they wrote I will assess why they may have thought as they did and the quality of their testimony.

Horace and Ovid lived in the triumviral and Augustan eras from 43 BCE. During this period poets assumed a different role to the one that had been traditional in Rome that of conferring lasting fame, to a role of ‘serving citizens of the state in a moral and educative fashion’[2]. This period also saw the rise of Herod the Great in Palestine, who managed to obtain the favour of both Caesar and Augustus. During this time Herod was made king and was able to amass enough money to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and numerous other extravagant public buildings[3]. This favoured status also saw the peoples of the Jewish Diaspora, Judea and Palestine receiving preferential treatment for their religion. They were able to observe the Sabbath, which disqualified them from having to be conscripted into military service, they had the right to assemble and the privilege of sending money to Jerusalem[4].

Horace refers to the number of Jews in the Roman world and their tendency to ‘compel’ others to be one of ‘their throng’[5]. Being a Roman poet writing a satirical account of contemporaneous Roman ‘frailties’, he implores his audience to make allowances for these on the threat of them being thronged by ‘a big band of poets’ who will compel the audience to Horace’s view, just as he states the Jews, being a throng, compel others to join them. The number of Jews in this Roman world is questionable. Although the modern Jewish historian Feldman uses the ancient historian Josephus to assume a huge increase in the number of Jews in the Roman Empire between 586BCE to 66CE, these numbers are disputed because their source is unreliable and subject to distortion[6].

Nevertheless, far more Jews lived outside of Palestine than in it. The Jewish Diaspora was dispersed around the coastal Mediterranean but their religion did not fit in with the general religious syncretism that happened with all the other religions because they were monotheistic and had quite different customs[7]. One of the main differentiations was the Jewish practice of non-work on the seventh day- the Sabbath. Ovid advises young men in his poem The Art of Love to search for love even on the ‘seventh day that the Syrian Jew holds sacred’[8]. This opinion was also held by the philosopher Seneca in On Superstition. For Seneca, the Sabbath was a superstition and encouraged indolence: ‘…by introducing one day of rest in every seven they lose in idleness almost a seventh of their life’[9]. Did Seneca think that this was a motivating factor in people becoming Jews? He goes on to state: “…the customs of this accursed race have gained such influence that they are now received throughout all the world”[10].

While the Jewish Diaspora assimilated well into the different Mediterranean cultures where they settled, they would be subjected to persecutions when there was tension from particular issues[11]. The Jewish philosopher Philo the Alexandrian wrote of people being ‘afraid to engage in destroying any of our institutions…’ and that it was only under the Praetorian Prefect Sejanus that trouble came[12]. Josephus the Jewish historian relates that the reason Jews were expelled from Rome during the time of Tiberius was because of the unscrupulous behaviour of a Jewish man and his three accomplices. He tells that they had proselytized a high born Roman woman and misappropriated funds from her, which resulted in the Jewish community being expelled from Rome by Tiberius[13]. It could be imagined that the Jewish Diaspora had an interest in trying to convert members of the Roman aristocracy for the purposes of influence and also monetary contributions to the building of Jerusalem by Herod the Great, and that this may have led to Roman hostility.

This hostility continued to be seen in the writings of Petronius and Juvenal. The writer Petronius was a courtier of Nero and liked to pillory the aristocracy[14]. Petronius lambasts the Jews as having a ‘pig-god’ and speaks of their ability to emigrate without being afraid ‘at the fasts imposed by the Sabbath’[15]. This allusion to the benefits of Judaism, such as the ability to be absolved from military service, is interesting in connection with the Roman view of Jewish proselytizing. The writer Juvenal complains about the children of Jewish sympathisers becoming Jewish proselytes[16]. ‘They wont to flout the laws of Rome, they learn and practice and revere the Jewish law…conducting none but the circumcised to the desired fountain.’ Juvenal also alludes to the Sabbath as being given up to ‘idleness’[17]. So it could be said that these writers were trying to appeal to a patriotic sense of Roman authority.

Horace’s and Seneca’s writing support the historian Joesphus’s account that there was a large and influential population in the Jewish diaspora. The practice of the Sabbath was another contentious issue to which these writers allude. Seneca and Petronius both complain of the Sabbath as being special treatment for Jewish people and infer that this favouritism encourages people to convert to their ways. Although none of these writers directly state that there was proselytizing done by Jewish people, the inference is that there were many Jewish people in Rome and that, through the benefits conferred upon them, they encouraged people to join their ‘throng’.


  1. Braund S. M., Juvenal, Cambridge University Press, 1996 – Literary Collections, Retrieved from: on 8.12.2011
  2. Boardman J., Griffin J., Murray O., The Oxford History of the Classical World, 1991, Oxford University Press
  3. Goodman, Martin. “Jewish proselytizing in the first century” in The Jews Among Pagans and Christians: In the Roman Empire , Lieu, Judith; North, John; Rajak, Tessa , 1992 , 53-78
  4. Harding, Mark. “Early Judaism and Christianity (extract)” in Early Christian Life and Thought in Social Context: A Reader , Harding, Mark , 2003 , 279-282
  5. Horace, 65-8 BC, Conversations 1.4.143 = Stern, no. 127.
  6. Juvenal, AD 55 (?) – 127 (?), Satires 14.96-106 = Stern 301.
  7. Kemp J.,  “A Moral Purpose, A Literary Game: Horace, Satires 1.4”, in Classical World – Volume 104, Number 1, Fall, 2010, pp. 59-76
  8. Knobbs A., “Pagans Jews, and Christians: Athens and Jerusalem” in Lecture 1, HST250, 2011 Macquarie University
  9. Kraabel A. T., “The Roman Diaspora: six questionable assumptions”, in The Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol.33 1982, Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, pp.445-465
  10. McGing, Brian. “Population and proselytism: How many Jews were there in the ancient world?” in Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities , Barlett, John R. , 2002 , 88-106
  11. Ovid, 43 BC – AD 17/18, The Art of Love 1.75-80 = Stern, no. 141.
  12. Petronius, mid-first c. AD (?), fragment no. 37 = Stern, no. 195.
  13. Petronius Arbiter, The Satyricon, trans. by W. C. Firebaugh, 2007, Retrieved from on 7.12.2011
  14. Seneca, ob. AD 64, Moral Letters 108.22 = Stern, no. 189.
  15. Seneca, ob. AD 64, On Superstition, cited by Augustine, early Vc, On the City
  • of God 6.11 = Stern, no. 186.

[1] Braund, 1996, p.15

[2] Boardman J., Griffin J., Murray O., The Oxford History of the Classical World, p. 594

[3] Harding, 2003, p.77

[4] Knobbs, 2011, Macquarie University

[5] Horace, Conversations, 1.4.143

[6] McGing, 2002

[7] Knobbs, 2011

[8] Ovid, 1.75-80

[9] Seneca, 6.11

[10] Seneca, 6.11

[11] Knobbs, 2011

[12] Harding, 2003, p. 279

[13] Harding, 2003, p. 281

[14] The Satyrican by Petronius Arbiter, trans. 2007

[15] Petronius, mid-first c. AD (?), fragment no. 37 = Stern, no. 195

[16] Harding, 2003

[17] Juvenal Satires 14.96-106