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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Jews in the Pre-Christian Roman Empire

The War of Bar Kokhba resulted in great loss of life and in the destruction of many Judean towns and villages, and the heartland of the Jewish population shifted to Galilee, which became the center of the emerging rabbinic movement. The militant anti-Roman agitation and messianism that had fueled the Jewish revolts of the first and second centuries CE quieted. Antoninus Pius (138–61) modified Hadrian's ban on circumcision to allow Jews to resume its practice. Overall, later rabbinic literature reflects a kind of rapprochement with pagan Rome, an attitude of “live and let live,” and an appreciation as well of the perils of imminent messianic expectations and of false messiahs. Rabbinic literature preserves contradictory assessments of Bar Kokhba, depicting him both as the false messiah, a son of lies (Bar Koziba) who brought ruin to his people, and also as an almost larger-than-life military and national hero.

There is relatively little information on Roman-Jewish relations of the latter half of the second and the third centuries CE. Rabbinic literature, with its focus on the interests and concerns of the rabbis, yields only scant data on nonrabbinic Jews or on the presence of Rome, even in Palestine. The overall silence of the sources probably bears witness to an effective modus vivendi between Rome and its Jewish communities. Jews were not singled out but shared the burdens of beleaguered provincials throughout the empire. These included oppressive taxation, resulting not infrequently in the loss of one's land, and the billeting of soldiers stationed in the area.

In 212, Emperor Caracalla (211–17) issued his “Constitutio Antoniniana,” which granted Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. Roughly a century later, the emperor Constantine prepared to do battle at the Milvian Bridge, setting in motion a chain of events that would radically alter the empire's religious landscape. The emerging Christian state, with its dual identity both as the continuation of the Rome of Caesar and Augustus and now also as the patron and promulgator of Christianity, would wrestle with the challenges posed by the existence of communities of Jewish citizens located on three continents and a tradition that, since the days of Caesar, had accepted Judaism as legal religion.

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