Jewish and Christian Communal Identities in the Roman World

by Yair Furstenberg

Jewish and Christian Communal Identities in the Roman World Jews and Christians under the Roman Empire shared a unique sense of community Set apart from their civic and cultic surroundings both groups resisted complete assimilation into the dominant political and social structures However Jewish communities differed from their Christian counterparts in their overall patterns of response to the surrounding challenges They exhibit diverse levels of integration into the civic fabric of the cities of the Empire and display contrary attitudes towards the

Publisher : Brill Academic Publishers

Author : Yair Furstenberg

ISBN : 9789004321212

Year : 2016

Language: en

File Size : 1.33 MB

Category : History

Jewish and Christian Communal Identities in the Roman World

Ancient Judaism and
Early Christianity
Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums
und des Urchristentums

Founding Editor
Martin Hengel † (Tübingen)
Executive Editors
Cilliers Breytenbach (Berlin)
Martin Goodman (Oxford)
Editorial Board
Lutz Doering (Münster) – Pieter W. van der Horst (Utrecht)
Tal Ilan (Berlin) – Judith Lieu (Cambridge)
Tessa Rajak (Reading/Oxford ) – Daniel R. Schwartz ( Jerusalem)
Seth Schwartz (New York)


The titles published in this series are listed at

Jewish and Christian Communal
Identities in the Roman World
Edited by

Yair Furstenberg


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Furstenberg, Yair, editor.
Title: Jewish and Christian communal identities in the Roman world / edited
 by Yair Furstenberg.
Description: Boston : Brill, 2016. | Series: Ancient Judaism and early
 Christianity, ISSN 1871-6636 ; Volume 94 | Includes index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016015133 (print) | LCCN 2016016483 (ebook) | ISBN
 9789004321212 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9789004321694 (E-book)
Subjects: LCSH: Identification (Religion)—History—To 1500. | Identity
 (Psychology)—Religious aspects—History. | Jews—Identity—History—To
 1500. | Judaism—History—Talmudic period, 10–425. | Identity
 (Psychology)—Religious aspects—Christianity. | Church history—Primitive
 and early church, ca. 30-600. | Civilization, Greco-Roman.
Classification: LCC BL53.J49 2016 (print) | LCC BL53 (ebook) | DDC
LC record available at

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Preface vii
Abbreviations viii
List of Contributors xii
Introduction: The Shared Dimensions of Jewish and Christian Communal
Identities 1
Yair Furstenberg

Part I
Imperial Perspectives
The Ptolemaic and Roman Definitions of Social Categories and the
Evolution of Judean Communal Identity in Egypt 25
Sylvie Honigman
The Roman State and Jewish Diaspora Communities in the Antonine
Age 75
Martin Goodman

Part II
Community and the City
Civic Identity and Christ Groups 87
John S. Kloppenborg
Organized Charity in the Ancient World: Pagan, Jewish, Christian 116
Pieter W. van der Horst
The Fourth Book of Maccabees in a Multi-Cultural City 134
Tessa Rajak



Part III
Varieties of Communal Identities
Rome and Alexandria: Why was there no Jewish Politeuma in Rome? 153
Daniel R. Schwartz
From Text to Community: Methodological Problems of Reconstructing
Communities behind Texts 167
Jörg Frey
Lycaonian Christianity under Roman Rule and their Jewish-Christian
Tradition 185
Cilliers Breytenbach

Part IV
Community and Continuity
The Jewish Community in Egypt before and after 117 CE in Light of Old and
New Papyri 203
Tal Ilan
Jewish Communities in the Roman Diaspora: Why Salo Baron Still
Matters? 225
Seth Schwartz
“You are a Chosen Stock . . .”: The Use of Israel Epithets for the Addressees
in First Peter 243
Lutz Doering
Author Index 277
General Index 282

This volume presents revised versions of lectures given in October 2013 at
a Jerusalem symposium on Jewish and Christian Communal Identities in
Antiquity. The Hebrew University’s Scholion Center for Interdisciplinary
Research in the Humanities and Jewish studies together with the editorial board
of Brill’s Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity series kindly co-­sponsored the
symposium in memory of our colleague Friedrich Avemarie. His sudden passing, in the process of preparing the symposium, has been ever since a great
loss to our scholarly community and to the study of Jewish and Christian interrelations in antiquity. I would like to thank all of the participants in the symposium, who devoted much time and effort both to the symposium itself and
to the preparation of their papers for publication. I also wish to thank John
Kloppenborg and Tessa Rajak who could not participate in the conference but
were glad to add their contributions to the volume and complement the issues
addressed herein.
The director of Scholion and AJEC editorial board member, Daniel R.
Schwartz, initiated the collaboration between the two parties, and entrusted
me, as a postdoctoral Mandel fellow at the Scholion center, to choose the
topic, organize the conference and edit this volume. I wish to express my most
sincere gratitude to him for the two blissful years I enjoyed at Scholion and
for giving me the opportunity to enhance the study of communal identity in
Antiquity through the association with this wonderful community of scholars,
who jointly created this volume. The production of the conference was a most
pleasant experience thanks to the skilled guidance and management of Maya
Sherman, the Administrative Director Scholion has been blessed with, and to
the assistance of her devoted staff. Special thanks goes to Yonatan Gan-Or for
all the effort put into ensuring a successful symposium.
I wish to extend my thanks to the executive editors of this series for their
support in carrying out the work on the volume. Cilliers Breytenbach has generously hosted me in the Theology Faculty at the Humboldt University and I
had the benefit of enjoying the wise consultation of Martin Goodman all along
the way. I am extremely grateful to the two devoted editors of the Brill Biblical
Studies, Mattie Kupier followed by Tessa Schild, for their excellent treatment
of the manuscript from its earliest stages of production to its final publication.
Yair Furstenberg
Jerusalem, January 2016


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List of Contributors
Prof. Dr. theol. Habil. Cilliers Breytenbach , Humoldt Universität, Berlin
Prof. Lutz Doering, University of Münster
Prof. Jörg Frey, University of Zurich
Dr. Yair Furstenberg, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva
Prof. Martin Goodman, University of Oxford
Prof. Sylvie Honigman, Tel Aviv University
Prof. Dr. Tal Ilan, Freie Universität, Berlin
Prof. John S. Kloppenborg, University of Toronto
Prof. (emer.) Tessa Rajak, University of Reading
Prof. Daniel R. Schwartz, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Prof. Seth Schwartz, Columbia University
Prof. (emer.) Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht University

Introduction: The Shared Dimensions of Jewish
and Christian Communal Identities
Yair Furstenberg

Four Shared Dimensions

Jews and Christians under the Roman Empire shared not only Scripture, a distinct conception of the divine and an unusual set of religious practices, but
also a unique sense of community. Both groups were organized in a network of
local communities, which were set apart from their civic and cultic surroundings, and both resisted complete assimilation into the dominant political and
social structures. These shared circumstances generated common challenges
for the two groups. On one level, Jews, as well as Christians, aspired to maintain a collective group identity, unrestricted to specific localities, through a
trans-local network, a shared discourse and a separate collective designation.1
At the same time, the reality on the ground was that of great diversity among
the local synagogai and ekklesiai throughout the Empire. In particular, both
Jews and Christians were compelled to negotiate their immediate civic surroundings, and the flourishing of local associations resulted in a variety of
organizational patterns within both groups. Thus, despite scholarly attempts
to posit a distinct contrast between the communal forms of Jews and Chrstians
in the Roman Empire,2 the common array of forces and tensions encountered
by both groups sets the stage, rather, for an examination of the shared communal experience of the two groups in the Roman world, alongside an acknowledgement of their diverse manifestations.
Clearly, social affiliations are messy, contested, and may evade clear-cut
definitions. It is doubtful, for example, whether a Jerusalemite priest (such
as Josephus) could have classified a separatist group (such as the Essenes) as
they would have characterized themselves,3 or whether a Roman official would
1  J. M. Lieu, Christian Identities in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2004).
2  Compare J. T. Burtchaell, From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest
Christian Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) and J. M. G. Barclay,
Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 12–15.
3  D. Flusser, “ ‘The Secret Things Belong to the Lord’ (Deut 29:29): Ben Sira and the Essenes,” in
idem., Judaism of the Second Temple Period, vol. 1: Qumran and Apocalypticism (tr. A. Yadin;
Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2007), 293–298 (295).
© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, ���6 | doi ��.��63/9789004321694_002



describe a gathering of Christians in the same terms they themselves would
have used.4 The terminologies may overlap at times or, conversely, be devoid
of meaning in certain circumstances. Moreover, during a period of constant
change, the boundaries of these communities were inevitably drawn and
redrawn by both internal powers and external constraints, and some of their
members would in fact have resisted any such classification.5 Nonetheless, as
the articles in this volume demonstrate, membership in a local community
played a decisive role in mediating one’s experience as a Jew or as a Christian,
and it is therefore pertinent for any attempt to trace the trajectories of Jewish
and Christian identity formation.
A wide range of local communal experiences is represented in the volume.
The source materials ranges from documentary testimony to Jewish communities in Egypt, through epigraphic evidence of Jewish and Christian organizations in Asia Minor, to the literary products of both Jews and Christians in
Antioch and other Greek-speaking communities. However, despite the localized nature of these sources, an integrated consideration of these disparate
cases may best serve our over-all understanding of the forces, which shaped
Jewish and Christian communities and their respective responses to these
shared circumstances. The different sections in this volume therefore correspond to the four major factors which determined communal identity. Two
of these factors relate to external political forces: [1] The legal status of the
community within the Roman order, and [2] its integration within civic culture. The latter two components reflect the inherent tension of the communal
situation: [3] Diversity and localization, on the one hand, and [4] the sense
of continuity, on the other. Scholars have regularly applied these analytical
dimensions separately to the study of Jewish diaspora communities and to
Christian groups under the Empire, but these aspects may also be useful for a
comparative study of the two groups.
Strikingly, alongside the local variations, the overall patterns of response to
the surrounding challenges differed greatly between the Jewish and Christian
communities. On the whole, they differed markedly both in their level
of assimilation into the civic fabric of the Empire and in their development of
trans-local communal networks. These differences in response seem to be
4  R. L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New Haven: Yale University Press,
5  The fuzziness of communal boundaries and the unrelenting attempts of authoritative voices
to redraw them is underscored in H. Lapin, “Introduction: Locating Ethnicity and Religious
Community in Later Roman Palestine,” in Religious and Ethnic Communities in Later Roman
Palestine (ed. H. Lapin; Bethesda: University Press of Maryland, 1998), 1–28.

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