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A Roman View of Judaism

In the section of his history of Rome that deals with the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE, the Roman historian Dio Cassius (ca. 160-230 CE) presents a description of Jews and Judaism as seen through Roman eyes more than two centuries later.

They have also another name that they have acquired: the country has been named Judea, and the people themselves Jews. I do not know how this title came to be given them, but it applies also to all the rest of mankind, although of alien race, who accept their customs. This class exists even among the Romans, and though often repressed has increased to a very great extent and has won its way to the right of freedom in its observances.

They are distinguished from the rest of mankind in practically every detail of life, and especially by the fact that they do not honor any of the usual gods, but show extreme reverence for one particular divinity. They never had any statue of him even in Jerusalem itself, but believing him to be unnameable and invisible, they worship him in the most extravagant fashion on earth. They built to him a temple that was extremely large and beautiful, except insofar as it was open and roofless, and likewise dedicated to him the day called the day of Saturn, on which, among many other most peculiar observances, they undertake no serious occupation.

Now as for him, who he is and why he has been so honored, and how they got their superstitious awe of him, accounts have been given by many, and moreover these matters have naught to do with this history.


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