The Jewish Diaspora in the first century A.D. (John 2)

Illustration: Pentecost

Jews had been living outside the land of Israel at least since residents from the northern kingdom of Israel were taken as exiles by Assyria and those from the southern kingdom of Judah were exiled by Babylon. During the Hellenistic era these Jews of the Diaspora were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. The long list of place-names mentioned in Acts 2:9-11 is consistent with the literary and inscriptional evidence on the widespread geographic distribution of Jews at this time. Special mention may be made of the longstanding presence of a vibrant Jewish community in Babylonia (which contributed much to the intellectual vigour of the faith), of the large community at Rome (which lobbied passionately for the political interests of Judaism) and of the community in Alexandria (which produced a wealth of scholarship, including the writings of Philo).

Jews of the Diaspora struggled to preserve their unique ethnic and religious identity, while remaining good citizens of the cities in which they lived. In general, they appear to have succeeded on both counts. Their zeal in contributing to the half-shekel tax for the Jerusalem temple and their frequent pilgrimages to the Holy City are evidence that thye vast majority maintained allegiance to their faith.

While serious outbreaks of violence against Jews did occur from time to time (notably in the years surrounding the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66-70 and later, under the reign of Hadrian), the Jewish people were generally permitted to maintain their unique customs – while continuing to make a contribution to the civic life of the empire.

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