|Series reconstruction Jewish menorah
In the first century AD, Jews lived across the Roman Empire in relative harmony.
Protected by Rome and allowed to continue their religion, everything was fine until rebellion in Judaea led to a major change in the practice of their faith.
By the beginning of the first century AD, Jews had spread from their homeland in Judaea across the Mediterranean and there were major Jewish communities in Syria, Egypt, and Greece. Practicing a very different religion from that of their neighbors, they were often unpopular. As a result, Jewish communities were often close-knit, to protect themselves and their faith.
Jews in Rome
Jews had lived in Rome since the second century BC. Julius Caesar and Augustus supported laws that allowed Jews protection to worship as they chose. Synagogues were classified as colleges to get around Roman laws banning secret societies and the temples were allowed to collect the yearly tax paid by all Jewish men for temple maintenance.
There had been upsets: Jews had been banished from Rome in 139 BC, again in 19 AD and during the reign of Claudius. However, they were soon allowed to return and continue their independent existence under Roman law.
The temple in Jerusalem
Although each Jewish community worshipped at its own synagogue, the temple in Jerusalem remained the spiritual center of their worship.
The temple had been rebuilt three times. The first was when it had been destroyed in 587 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia. The second was when it had been plundered and wrecked by Judaea’s foreign rulers. The third time, it had been rebuilt by Herod the Great in 20 BC.
It had several gates and chambers, some of which were open only to men, some only to women, while others were reserved for priests.
The temple was the meeting place of the Jewish Council, called the Sanhedrin. It also held Jewish holy scriptures and documents. Outside was the temple square – this was a marketplace, where pilgrims could buy sacrificial animals and convert foreign currency into temple coins.
Rebellion in Judaea
Although Judaea was ruled by the Romans, the governors there had practiced the same kind of religious tolerance as was shown to Jews in Rome [expert]. However, Roman tactlessness and inefficiency, along with famine and internal squabbles, led to a rise in Jewish discontent.
In 66 AD, this discontent exploded into open rebellion. Four years later, the Roman army had crushed the revolt, but had also destroyed the temple. The sacred treasures were seized and shown off in a procession through the streets of Rome.
Destruction of the temple
The destruction of the temple fundamentally changed the nature of Judaism. Taxes that were once paid to the temple were now paid to Rome, and the Jewish tradition of worshipping in the temple was over. With only the Western Wall remaining of the temple in Jerusalem, the local synagogues now became the new centers of the Jewish religion.
Where to next:
Enemies and Rebels – Josephus & Judaea
Religion in Ancient Rome – Philo