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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Citizens and Aliens

The cultural mixing of the Hellenistic age, followed by the mobility made possible by Roman roads and Roman pacification of the Mediterranean and lands around it, meant that large numbers of people settled in cities away from their places of birth. Immigrants from the same homeland formed associations, usually centering on the worship of the patron deities of their nations or home cities. The associations provided not only occasions for sociability and a continuing sense of identity, but also a base of power for negotiating with other groups. Resident aliens suffered legal disadvantages compared with citizens; Roman citizens, however, enjoyed special privileges anywhere in the empire. Gradually, under the Principate, Roman citizenship began to be extended to especially favored individuals in the provinces.

Jews living in the Greek and Roman cities followed a pattern of adaptation similar to that of other immigrant groups. In some respects their situation was more difficult than that of the others, however, for their exclusive monotheism prevented observant Jews from participating in the cultic acts that were a constant part of civic life. Most Jews were thus barred from citizenship and its prerogatives, until legal changes in the third century made their participation easier. Moreover, their scruples about polytheistic worship were frequently regarded, in a society increasingly pluralistic, as signs of intolerance. In the competition for scarce goods and privileges, Jews of the Greco-Roman cities thus frequently suffered from prejudices and discrimination, which in a few instances led to violence—like the attacks on the Jewish community of Alexandria in 38 C.E., described by Philo as an eye-witness. Beginning with Julius Caesar, however, the emperors of Rome had guaranteed the rights of the Jews to maintain their distinctive customs, and Jewish communities in trouble with local factions often appealed to the emperor for help, as did the Alexandrian Jews. Jews living in Palestine, except for the local aristocracies directly dependent on the Romans for protection and advancement, were much less likely to regard the Romans as allies. The Romans tried to balance off the interests of the different groups in each city in order to protect the tenuous peace of the public order. Most often that put the emperor's agents on the side of the Jews when they were under attack, but if the Jews initiated an attack, as in Judea in 66 C.E., in North Africa in the second decade of the second century, and in Judea again in 132 C.E., the Roman response was ruthless military suppression.

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