Judaism in Graeco-Roman antiquity is better known than any other ancient religion apart from Christianity, primarily because of the survival to modern times of traditions about ancient Judaism through rabbinic and Christian literature. However, this same factor creates its own problems of bias in the selection and interpretation of evidence.
The main sources of knowledge about Judaism are the Old and New Testaments and other religious texts preserved in Greek within the Christian Church: the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and the writings of *Philon(4) and *Josephus. The works composed in Hebrew and *Aramaic produced by the rabbis after
The practice of resting from secular work every seventh day was widely recognized in the ancient world as a peculiarity of the Jews, for whom it was grounded in a divine instruction (Exod. 20:8-11). By the Hellenistic period, the Sabbath had also become for Jews the main day for assembly in *synagogues for instruction in the Torah. Greek and Roman writers frequently misunderstood the practice and ridiculed what they saw as superstition or idleness, especially when Jews refused to fight on the Sabbath. Josephus claimed that in his day there was no city or nation to which the Jewish custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day had not spread (C.Ap 2.282), but such adoption of the practice may have occurred without reference to Jews or Judaism.
Sadducees, a religious group within Judaism attested in Judaea from the 2nd cent.
Josephus stated that Sadducee beliefs were attractive to the rich and prestigious in Judaean society. This assertion, together with the evidence of Acts 5: 17 and the probable derivation of the name ‘Sadducees’ from Zadok, the ancestor of the high priests in earlier times, has led many scholars to identify the Sadducees with the ruling priests in Jerusalem. Some overlap between these groups is certain, but some influential priests (including high priests) were not Sadducees, and there is no reason to doubt that some Sadducees were not priests.
Samaria was from the early *Seleucid period the name of an administrative district in Palestine, alongside *Judaea, and, later, *Galilee, and lying between the two. The inhabitants (see
Scythopolis (now Beth–Shean), a Canaanite, then Israelite, city on the right bank of the Jordan, its Greek name of unclear origin. It was conquered by *Antiochus (3) III from the Ptolemies (see Ptolemy (1)); an inscribed dossier reveals his intervention to protect illegal billeting in nearby villages (SEG 41 (1991), 1574; Eng. trans. in S. Sherwin-White and A. Kuhrt (eds.), From Samarkhand to Sardis (1993), 49 f.). Passing to the *Hasmoneans in 107
In the heart of the Lower Galilee lie the remains of Sepphoris, capital of the Galilee during long periods of antiquity. Both literary sources and archaeological finds indicate that the city’s population included pagans, heretics, and Christians living alongside the Jewish population. Many sages lived in the city, which, according to rabbinic literature, boasted numerous synagogues and academies (batei midrash). When Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (the Patriarch of Judaea) moved to Sepphoris at the beginning of the 3rd century, the Jews gained a significant presence on the city council. With the growth of the Christian community came the construction of churches and the involvement of the episcopus (head of the Christian community) in municipal affairs. Economically, Sepphoris had become a well-established city due to the fertile soil in the nearby valleys and its active trade with the immediate surroundings and distant markets.
Hellenistic Sepphoris was built on its hill and slopes. Early in the 2nd century
Henry Joel Cadbury and Martin Goodman
Erich S. Gruen
The Sibylline Oracles had a long life. The Sibyl was in origin a single Greek prophetess, renowned for the accuracy of her forecasts, divinely inspired, but portrayed as mad or raving, and regularly spewing forth dire forebodings. Additional Sibyls gradually sprang up in a variety of locations in the Mediterranean world, including the renowned Cumaean Sibyl whom Aeneas reputedly consulted. Sibylline prophecies were eventually collected in written form in Rome and used by Roman authorities to provide interpretation of unusual prodigies or natural disasters or to offer advice on significant matters of foreign entanglements and wars. Although that collection (insofar as it is historical) has long since disappeared, the voice of the Sibyl was reproduced in literary form. The extant Sibylline verses, composed in Homeric Greek hexameters, constitute twelve books of oracles, fashioned over a period of several centuries by numerous different and no longer identifiable hands. They constitute a motley assemblage of grim forecasts, historical references, apocalyptic visions, and denunciations of various peoples, especially Romans, for their abandonment of piety and indulgence in evil. The genre was appropriated by anonymous Jewish authors, speaking through the voice of the Sibyl, and employed to convey condemnation of cities and nations for the sins of idolatry, licentiousness, and a range of vices. Vivid portrayals of the end time and eschatological conflagration feature many of the texts. Subsequent Christian writers interpolated verses, added exaltations of Christ, and appropriated Sibylline pronouncements for their own ends. Others manipulated the oracles to record historical personages and events in the framework of prophetic pronouncements. The result was a complex and unsystematic compilation of reconstructed or fabricated prophecies ascribed to Sibyls but largely representing the ingenuity of Jewish and Christian compilers.