Judaism in the Roman and Byzantine Periods

Although there has recently been the very exciting discovery of part of the city wall of Jerusalem - Southern wall of Jerusalem from the Second Temple period discovered in excavations on Mt. Zion - IAA.

What interested me was a story about Judaism outside of the Holy Land:
Israel deliberately forgets its history by Shlomo Sand in Le Monde diplomatique - don't worry, the story is in English. I'm not sure if the text is as dramatic as the title of the article, but Sand makes some very good points. My favorite was:

Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquest.
I knew that some Jews had converted, just as pagans converted first to Christianity, then to Islam, but I honestly had never rationally thought 'hmm ... did the Romans really displace a whole population'? - and it gave me pause for thought.

Another good point the article makes is about converting - Jews used to convert people, and it's a relatively recent taboo to discourage conversions. In fact in the Roman sources we have it's not always clear in the early period whether Romans were being converted to Christianity or Judaism

But if there was no exile after 70 AD, where did all the Jews who have populated the Mediterranean since antiquity come from? .... From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion. The Judeo-Hellenic Hasmoneans forcibly converted the Idumeans of southern Judea and the Itureans of Galilee and incorporated them into the people of Israel. Judaism spread across the Middle East and round the Mediterranean. The 1st century AD saw the emergence in modern Kurdistan of the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene, just one of many that converted.
The most significant mass conversion occurred in the 8th century, in the massive Khazar kingdom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expansion of Judaism from the Caucasus into modern Ukraine created a multiplicity of communities, many of which retreated from the 13th century Mongol invasions into eastern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now modern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture .
I found the story via Dr Jim West's Blog, which I cannot recommend enough. I've been reading David Meadows' Rogue Classicism for years, and my only regret is that I didn't find Dr. West's sooner - if you can find time for another blog, his would be my suggestion. He bills it as covering theology, but he also covers a lot of history and archaeology.

I'd always known about the Khazars converting - it's one of the mysteries of Byzantine history why, when being encouraged to chose Christianity by one side, and Islam by the other, they chose Judaism. [They were also the subject of a popular book in the 70s called The Thirteenth Tribe, although DNA tests have disproved its main thesis as far as I understand].

Several Byzantine Emperors arranged marriages with Khazar princesses. Theodora of Khazaria married Justinian II during his exile there in 704-5, saved his life - so when he reclaimed his throne he reciprocated by making her his Augusta. Their son Tiberios became co-emperor and would have been the heir had he not been assassinated in 711 by Philippikos Bardanes - who then briefly sat on the throne.

A couple of decades later Leo III chose Tzitzak, baptised Irene, as a bride for his son Constantine V Kopronymous. Their son in turn was known as Leo IV the Khazar. Leo III and Constantine were iconoclasts; Leo IV's wife is more famous - she is the Irene who restored icons.

But the day after reading Sand's article, by an act of serendipity, archaeologist announced that they thought they had found the long-lost capital of the Khazar kingdom:

Russian archaeologists find long-lost Jewish capital -
AFP via ABC Oz:
Russian archaeologists say they have found the long-lost capital of the Khazar kingdom in southern Russia, a breakthrough for research on the ancient Jewish state.
"This is a hugely important discovery," expedition organiser Dmitry Vasilyev said from Astrakhan State University after returning from excavations near the village of Samosdelka, just north of the Caspian Sea.
"We can now shed light on one of the most intriguing mysteries of that period - how the Khazars actually lived. We know very little about the Khazars - about their traditions, their funerary rites, their culture," he said [continue reading]
Found: Ancient Capital of 'Jewish' Khazar Kingdom - Israel National News:
(IsraelNN.com) A team of archaeologists claims to have discovered remnants of the legendary Khazar kingdom in southern Russia, according to a recent report. If the findings by the Russian team, reported by the French agency AFP, prove to be indeed the long-lost capital of the reputed Jewish state, they would represent one of the largest breakthroughs in Jewish archaeology.
"This is a hugely important discovery," said the leader of the expedition, Dmitry Vasilyev. Vasilyev, from Astrakhan State University, made the comments after returning from the excavation site, located near the Russian village of Samosdelka, just north of the Caspian Sea. The location of the site corresponds roughly to the area in which historians believe the empire may have existed. [continue reading]

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