Karl Kautsky

Foundations of Christianity

Book Three: The Jews

II. The Jews after the Exile

The Exile

ON THE SURFACE, With the destruction of Jerusalem, Judah had met with the same fate as the ten tribes of Israel after the destruction of Samaria. But what made Israel disappear from history, raised Judah from obscurity to one of the most powerful factors in world history, because its greater distance from Assyria, the natural strength of Jerusalem and the incursions of the northern nomads caused Jerusalem to fall 135 years later than Samaria.

The Jews were subjected for four generations more than the ten tribes to those influences we have discussed, which stimulate national fanaticism to its extreme. That factor alone made the Jews go into exile with a national feeling far stronger than that of their northern brothers. Another circumstance working in the same direction was that Judah was recruited essentially from a single large city with its surrounding territory, whereas the northern kingdom was a conglomerate of ten tribes which had not grown very close together. Judah was a much more unified and coherent mass than Israel.

Nevertheless the Judeans too would have lost their nationality in exile if they had remained under foreign rule as long as the ten tribes. The exile abroad may long for his old country and not strike roots in his new dwelling-place. Exile may even deepen his national feeling. In children born in exile, and growing up in the new conditions, aware of the old conditions only through their fathers’ tales, it is rare for that national feeling to be as intense, unless it is continually kept alive by absence of rights or mistreatment in the new country or the hope of speedy return to the homeland. The third generation hardly knows its nationality unless it is discriminated against and forcibly set apart from the rest of the population as a peculiar and inferior nation, and subject to oppression and mistreatment.

This does not seem to have been the case with the deportees to Assyria and Babylonia, and the Jews might well have lost their nationality and been taken up into the Babylonians if they had stayed among them longer than for three generations. But soon after the destruction of Jerusalem the victor’s empire began to totter, and the exiles gained new hope of returning to the land of their fathers soon; and in the course of the second generation the hope was fulfilled, and the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. For the peoples pressing from the north against Mesopotamia that had put an end to Assyria were still unquiet. The most powerful among them proved to be the nomad people of the Persians, who wiped out the two heirs of the Assyrian predominance, the empires of the Medes and of the Babylonians; the Persians not only restored the Assyrian-Babylonian empire in new form, but enormously enlarged it by conquering Egypt and Asia Minor. They created a military organization and a civil administration that for the first time constituted a solid foundation for a world empire, held it together and kept a lasting peace within it.

The conquerors of Babylon had no reason for keeping from their homes the people that Babylon had conquered and taken into exile. In 538 Babylon was taken by the Persians without a blow being struck, a sign of how weak it felt itself to be; and within only a year Cyrus, the Persian king, permitted the Jews to return. Their exile had lasted not quite fifty years, and yet so many had already become accustomed to the new conditions that only a part took advantage of the permission, while many remained in Babylon, where they felt more at home. That would indicate how little chance there would have been of Judah’s avoiding complete disappearance if Jerusalem had had the same fate as Samaria; if 180 years rather than fifty had elapsed between its destruction and the fall of Babylon.

Short as the Jewish exile was, it brought sweeping changes in Judaism, making possible the full development and reinforcement of a series of tendencies that had previously been produced by conditions in Judah and which now assumed most peculiar forms in virtue of the most peculiar situation in which Judaism was placed from this time on.

It persisted as a nation while in exile, but a nation without farmers, a nation with an exclusively urban population. That constitutes one of the most important characteristics of Judaism down to the present day, and is the basis of its most essential “racial” characteristics, which actually are nothing more than the qualities of the city-dweller, carried to an extreme point by long city life and the absence of fresh additions to the population from the peasantry. This is a point I referred to as far back as 1890. [14] The return from exile to Palestine had only a minor and superficial effect on this state of affairs, as we shall see.

The Jews were not merely a nation of city-dwellers, but also a nation of traders. Industry was not highly developed in Judah, as we have seen; it was just enough for simple household purposes. This was a disadvantage among the Babylonians with their advanced technology. Military service and administration were not open to the Jews because of the loss of their independence: what other livelihood was left open to the city-dwellers than trade?

It had always played a large part in the life of Palestine; in exile it must have been their chief way of earning a living.

With the growth of trade there must have come a growth in the sharpness of their intelligence, of mathematical sense, of the capacity for reflection and abstraction. At the same time the national misfortune gave this increased keenness nobler objects than personal profit. In exile the fellow-countrymen came still closer together; the feeling of belonging is stronger when contrasted with the foreigner, for the individual feels himself weaker and more imperilled. Social feeling, ethical emotion became stronger and filled the Jewish acuteness with the most profound thought about the causes of the national misfortune and the means of raising the nation up again.

Another powerful stimulus to Jewish thought must have been the magnificence of the city of Babylon with its millions of inhabitants, its world-wide trade, its ancient culture, its science and philosophy. Just as in the first half of the last century a stay in the Babylon on the Seine elevated German thinkers and spurred them to their highest and best works, so must staying in the Babylon on the Euphrates in the sixth century B.C. have affected the Jews from Jerusalem and burst open their horizon.

In Babylon, however, as in all the Oriental commercial centers that were not situated on the Mediterranean coast but inland, science remained mixed up with religion and bound to it, for reasons we have pointed out. In Judaism too, all the new strong impressions came through in religious form. In fact religion necessarily came even more into the foreground for the Jews because after the loss of their national independence the common national cult was the only bond that still held any authority over the entire nation. The tribal organization seems to have received new strength in exile, after the national government had ceased to exist. [15] But clannishness and its separatism are not enough to hold a nation together. It was in religion that Judah now sought the conservation and salvation of its nation and the leadership of the nation now fell to the priesthood.

The priesthood of Judea borrowed the pretensions of the Babylonian hierarchy, and also adopted many of their religious notions. A whole series of legends in the Bible are of Babylonian origin: for example, the Creation of the world, Paradise, the Fall, the Tower of Babel, the Deluge. The strict observance of the Sabbath is equally Babylonian. It was stressed for the first time during the Exile.

“The emphasis that Ezekiel puts on the reverence for the Sabbath is something quite new. No earlier prophet this way; for Jeremiah 17, verses 19f. is spurious.” [16]

Even after the return from the Exile, in the fifth century, the enforcement of the Sabbath rest was a matter of the greatest difficulty, “since it went too strongly against the old customs.” [17]

It may be safely assumed, although there is no direct evidence, that the Jewish priesthood learned not only popular legends and customs from the lofty Babylonian hierarchy, but also a higher, more spiritual conception of the divinity.

The notion the Israelites had of God was long a very crude one. No matter how much pains later collectors and editors and revisers of the old stories took to clear them of all traces of paganism, there are still some left in the version of these stories that has come down to us.

Let us take for example the stories about Jacob. Not only does his god help him in all sorts of dubious affairs, but he gets involved in a wrestling match with Jacob, in which the god is vanquished by the man:

“And there wrestled a man with him (Jacob) until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, J pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blest him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32, verses 24 to 30).

The Great Unknown with whom Jacob wrestled victoriously and from whom he extorted a blessing was thus a god, mastered by a man, just as gods and men fight in the Iliad. But when Diomedes succeeds in wounding Ares, it is with the help of Pallas Athene. Jacob disposes of his god without the aid of any other god.

In contrast to the naive ideas of God among the Israelites, many of the priests among the civilized peoples that surrounded them had attained monotheism, at least in their secret teachings.

This once found drastic expression among the Egyptians. “We are not now in a position to give in detail and follow in chronological sequence all the vagaries of speculation and all the phases of the intellectual development of the Egyptians. The final conclusion is that for the secret doctrine even Horus and Re, the son and the father, are completely identical, that the god begets himself by his own mother, the goddess of Heaven, and she too in turn is by a creation of the one eternal god. This doctrine is first expressed clearly and unequivocally with all its consequences at the beginning of the New Empire (after the expulsion of the Hyksos, in the fifteenth century); but it had begun to spread after the end of the sixth dynasty (about the year 2500), and during the Middle Kingdom the fundamental concepts are already fixed ... The starting-point of the new doctrine is Anu, the city of the sun (Heliopolis).” [18]

This doctrine remained esoteric, but it came to practical application once. This happened before the Hebrews had entered into Canaan, under Amenhotep IV, in the fourteenth century. It seems that this ruler came into conflict with the priesthood, whose wealth and power threatened to overwhelm him. He knew no other way of protecting himself from them than taking their esoteric doctrine seriously, compelling the cult of the one god and bitterly persecuting all the other gods, which amounted in practice to confiscating the enormous wealth of their colleges of priests.

We do not have the details of this struggle between hierarchy and monarchy. It was long-drawn out, but a century after Amenhotep IV, the priesthood had won a complete victory and completely restored the old cults.

The whole incident shows how far monotheistic ideas had developed in the secret priestly doctrines of the centers of civilization in the ancient Orient. We have no reason to presume that the priests of Babylon were more backward than those of Egypt, whom they matched in all the arts and sciences. Thus Jeremias too speaks of a “latent monotheism” in Babylon. Marduk, the creator of heaven and earth, was also the lord of gods, whom he “pastures like sheep”, that is, the various gods were only particular forms in which the one god appeared. Thus a Babylonian text says of the various gods: “Ninib: Marduk of Strength. Nergal: Marduk of Battle. Eel: Marduk of Rule. Nabu: Marduk of Commerce. Sin: Marduk Illuminator of the Night. Samas: Marduk of Justice. Addu: Marduk of Rain.”

Just at the time of the Jewish Exile, when a sort of monotheism was becoming predominant among the Persians, now in contact with Babylon, there are signs that “in Babylonia too the germ of a monotheism had been planted, which must have had a strong similarity to the Pharaonic sun-cult of Amenophis IV (Amenhotep). At any rate, in an inscription dating from just before the fall of Babylon, and quite in accordance with the importance of the moon cult in Babylon, the moon god appears in a role like that of the sun god for Amenophis IV.” [19]

The colleges of priests in Babylon and Egypt had a vital interest in keeping their ultimate monotheistic views from the people, since their entire power and wealth rested on the traditional polytheistic cult; but it was a different matter with the priesthood of the fetish of the covenant at Jerusalem.

Even before the destruction of Jerusalem this fetish had gained greatly in significance, ever since Samaria had been destroyed and the northern kingdom of Israel overthrown. Jerusalem was now the only large city of the Israelitish nationality; the lands around it were relatively unimportant in comparison. The prestige of the fetish of the covenant which had long, even before David perhaps, been great in Israel and particularly in the tribe of Judah, must now have overshadowed and obscured all the other shrines of the people, as Jerusalem overshadowed all the other towns of Judah. Likewise the priesthood of this fetish must have achieved a dominant position with respect to the other priests in the land. There was a struggle between the rural clergy and the priests of the capital which ended, perhaps even before the Exile, with the fetish of Jerusalem obtaining a monopoly. That at least is the meaning of the story of Deuteronomy, the “Book of the Doctrine”, which a priest is said to have “discovered” in the Temple in 621. It contains the divine command to demolish all the shrines outside of Jerusalem, an order which King Josiah faithfully obeyed:

“And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets and to all the host of heaven ... And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba ... Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder ...” II Kings 23, verses 5f.)

Not only the shrines of strange gods but even those of Jahveh himself, the oldest of his altars, were thus profaned and annihilated.

Perhaps this whole story, like so many others in the Bible, is but a fiction made up after the Exile, an attempt to justify actions taken after the Exile by representing them as repetitions of earlier proceedings, by inventing precedents or at least grossly exaggerating them. It may be assumed, at any rate, that there were rivalries between the priests of the capital and those of the provinces even before the Exile, occasionally ending in the closing down of inconvenient competitive shrines. It was easy for the Jews in exile, among whom those from Jerusalem predominated, to accept the monopolistic position of the Temple at Jerusalem. Under the influence of Babylonian philosophy and their own national catastrophe, and perhaps of the Persian religion, which developed in a similar direction at much the same time as the Jewish religion and came into contact with it, stimulating it and perhaps receiving stimulation from it as well – under all these influences the efforts of the priests to create a monopoly for their fetish took the form of an ethical monotheism in which Jahveh was no longer merely the particular tribal god of Israel but the only god in the world, the personification of the good, the sum and substance of all morality.

Thus, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem from captivity, their religion had developed so highly and become so spiritual that the crude religious ideas and practices of the Jewish peasants who had been left behind must have seemed to them no more than revolting heathen abominations. If it had not yet taken place, it was now possible for the priests and masters of Jerusalem to see to it that these competitive provincial cults were done away with and the monopoly of the Jerusalem hierarchy permanently established.

Thus Jewish monotheism arose. It was ethical in nature, like that of the Platonic philosophy, for example. But among the Jews the new concept of the deity did not arise outside of religion, as with the Greeks; it was not propounded by a class standing outside the priesthood. Thus the one God did not appear as a new god, standing above and outside of the old world of gods, but as a reduction of the old society of gods to a single most powerful god, standing closest to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that is to the old warrior, ethical, tribal and local god, Jahveh.

This introduced a number of knotty contradictions into the Jewish religion. As an ethical god Jahveh is God of all mankind, since good and bad are concepts that are taken as absolute, as valid for all men alike. And as an ethical god, as personification of the moral idea, the one God is everywhere, as morality is considered to be universally valid. But for Babylonian Judaism religion and the Jahveh cult were also their strongest national link; and any possibility of reestablishing their national independence was inseparably linked to the reconstruction of Jerusalem. The erection of the Temple in Jerusalem, and then its preservation, became the watchword which brought the Jewish nation together. The priesthood of this temple had become the highest national authority of the Jews, the class that had every interest in maintaining the ritual monopoly of this temple. Thus there was a remarkable amalgam of the high philosophical abstraction of a single omnipresent God, who requires not sacrifices, but only for a pure heart and a life free from sin, with the old primitive fetishism which localized the god in a particular place, the only place where the deity could be successfully influenced by entreaties of all sorts. The Temple of Jerusalem remained the exclusive seat of Jahveh, to which every pious Jew had to turn in his longing.

There was another contradiction, just as bizarre, in the fact that God as the epitome of the moral requirements which are the same for all men now became the God of all men, and yet remained the Jewish tribal god. The attempt was made to solve the contradiction by saying that God was to be sure the God of all men, and that all men were bound to love and worship him, but that the Jews were the only people that he had chosen to bear witness to this love and worship, to whom he had revealed his majesty, leaving the Gentiles in blindness. It was precisely during the Exile, in the time of deepest humiliation and desperation, that this proud supremacy over the rest of mankind appeared. Formerly Israel had been a nation like other nations, and Jahveh a god like the other gods; perhaps stronger than the other gods, in the way that one gave one’s own nation pre-eminence over other nations, but still not the only real God, and Israel not alone in possession of the truth.

“The God of Israel was not the Almighty, but only the most powerful among the gods. He was on the same plane with them and had to battle against them; Chemosh and Dagon and Hadad were in every way comparable with him, less powerful but no less real. ‘Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?’ Jephtha warns the neighbors who have crossed the border, ‘So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.’ The domains of the gods were separate like those of the peoples, and one god had no right in the land of another.” [20]

But now it is quite different. The author of Isaiah, chapters 40ff., who wrote at the end of the Exile or shortly thereafter, has Jahveh proclaim:

“I am the Lord [Jahveh]; that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images ... Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein, the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare his praise in the islands.” [21]

Here there is no limitation to Palestine or Jerusalem. But the same author has Jahveh say:

“But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God ... They that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought. For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand ... The first [viz., the Lord] shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.” [22]

These are strange contradictions, but contradictions which come out of life, out of the contradictory position of the Jews in Babylon. There they had been placed within a new civilization which revolutionized their whole way of thinking, while all the conditions of their lives drove them to conserve their old traditions as the only way to conserve their national existence, which had become so especially dear to them; for a difficult position lasting for centuries had developed their national feeling to an unusually marked degree.

The task of the thinkers of Judaism was to combine the new ethics with the old fetishism and to reconcile the narrow views of a little mountain people with the knowledge of the world and of life achieved by the broad civilisation centering around Babylon. And this reconciliation was to take place on the level of religion, that is of traditional beliefs. The task was hence to show that the new things were not new but old, that the new truth of the foreigners, to which one could not close his eyes, was neither new nor foreign, but an authentic Jewish possession, by recognizing and accepting which the Jews would not lose their nationality in the Babylonian melting-pot, but would emerge a stronger and firmer people.

This was a task well suited to sharpen the wits and develop the art of interpretation and hair-splitting, which from this point on reached such a high degree of perfection among the Jews. It also gave the historical literature of the Jews its specific character.

This process, one which has often occurred, was described by Marx in the Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, in discussing the views of the eighteenth century on the state of nature in the following terms:

“The individual and isolated hunter and fisher who forms the starting point with Smith and Ricardo, belongs to the insipid illusions of the Eighteenth Century. They are Robinsonades, which do not by ally means represent, as students of the history of civilisation imagine, a reaction against over-refinement and a return to a misunderstood natural life. They are no more based on such a naturalism than is Rousseau’s Contrat Social, which makes naturally independent individuals come in contact and have intercourse by contract. They are the fiction and only the aesthetic fiction of the small and great Robinsonades. They are, moreover, the anticipation of ‘bourgeois society’, which had been in course of development since the Sixteenth Century and made gigantic strides towards maturity in the Eighteenth. In this society of free competition the individual appears free from the bonds of nature, etc., which in former epochs of history made him a part of a definite, limited human conglomeration. To the prophets of the Eighteenth Century, on whose shoulders Smith and Ricardo are still standing, this Eighteenth Century individual, constituting the joint product of the dissolution of the feudal form of society and of the new forces of production which had developed since the Sixteenth Century, appears as an ideal whose existence belongs to the past; not as result of history, but as its starting point. Since that individual appeared to be in conformity with nature and corresponded to their conception of human nature, he was regarded not as a product of history, but of nature. This illusion is characteristic of every new epoch.”

This was the illusion of those thinkers too who during the Exile and after it developed the notion of monotheism and theocracy in Judaism. The idea did not seem to them to be one which had arisen in the course of history, but as something laid down from the beginning, not a “historical result,” but the “initial point of history.” History itself was now taken in the same sense, and it was the more easily adapted to the new needs; the more it was based on merely oral tradition, the less it was documented. The belief in the one God and the domination of Israel by the priests of Jahveh was now transposed to the beginnings of Israel’s history; the polytheism and fetishism, which could not be denied, were explained away as later apostasy from the faith of the fathers, not as their original faith, which in fact it was.

And this view had another great advantage, that there was something exceptionally consoling about it, as there was about the self-proclamation of Israel as the chosen people of God. If Jahveh were only the tribal god of Israel, the disasters of his people would signify so many disasters to its god, since he would have turned out to be the weaker in battle with other gods; and in that case there would be every reason to despair of Jahveh and his priests. It was something else again if there was no other god but Jahveh, if he had chosen the Israelites above the other peoples and they repaid him with ingratitude and apostasy. Now all the tribulations of Israel and Judah appeared merely as merited punishment for their sins and their disregard for the priests of Jahveh, as proofs not of the weakness but of the strength of God, who is not mocked with impunity. But in this there lay the basis for the conviction that God would once more have mercy on his people, rescue and deliver it, if it only would hold fast to the true faith in him and in his priests and prophets. If the life of the nation were not to disappear, such a faith was needed, given the hopelessness of the situation of the tiny people, the “worm Jacob” (Isaiah 41, verse 14) among the hostile and powerful communities.

Only by a supernatural, superhuman, divine power, a savior sent by God, only by the Messiah could Judah still be saved, freed and finally made ruler over the nations that now abused it. The belief in the Messiah arrives at the same time as monotheism and is closely connected with it. Precisely for this reason the Messiah is not thought of as God, but as a man sent by God. He was to establish an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly kingdom (for Jewish thought was not as abstract as all that), a Jewish kingdom. In fact Cyrus, who released the Jews from Babylonia and sent them back to Jerusalem, is already designated as the Lord’s anointed, Messiah, Christ (Isaiah 45, verse 1).

This transformation in Jewish thinking could not have been carried out all at once nor peacefully; it started in the Exile but could not have ended there. We must suppose that there were violent polemics after the fashion of the prophets, profound doubts and searchings after the fashion of the book of Job, and historical accounts after the fashion of the various components of the Pentateuch, which were written at about that time.

It was only long after the Exile that this revolutionary period came to a close. Certain dogmatic, ritual, legal and historical views emerged victorious and were recognized as correct by the priesthood, which had become the rulers of the people, and by the mass of the people themselves. Certain writings, which agreed with these views, were now labeled as primordial and sacred, and handed down to posterity as such. In the process radical “revisions,” eliminations and interpolations had to be made in order to bring some sort of unity into the various components of this contradictory body of literature in which the old and the new, things correctly understood and things misunderstood, the genuine and the spurious stood side by side in inextricable confusion. Despite all this “editorial work” there is still fortunately enough of the original material left in the end product, the “old Testament,” for us to be able to distinguish, under the luxuriant undergrowth of forgeries, at least the general character of the old Hebrew community before the Exile, a community of which the new Judaism was not only the continuation but also the complete contradiction.



The Jewish Diaspora

In the year 588 B.C., the Babylonian Jews received permission from Cyrus to return to Jerusalem. We have seen that by no means all of them took advantage of this privilege. How could they all make a living there? The city was in ruins, and some time was needed until it was made habitable and fortified, and the Temple of Jahveh restored. Even then it did not by any means give all the Jews the hope of a livelihood. Then as now the peasant often moved to the city, but the transition from city-dwelling to farming is hard and rare.

The Jews had probably not acquired industrial skill in Babylon; perhaps they were not there long enough. Judea achieved no political autonomy, remaining dependent on foreign conquerors, first the Persians, then Alexander the Great, the Greeks, and finally, after a brief interval of independence and various disastrous convulsions, the Romans. None of the conditions existed in Judea for a military monarchy gaining wealth by subjugating and plundering weaker neighbors.

If there was not much to be got by the Jews in farming, industry or military service on their return from the Exile, the majority of them had no other occupation open to them but trade, as in Babylon. They took to it with a vigor arising out of the mental abilities and knowledge needed for trade that they had developed over the centuries.

However, since the Babylonian captivity there had been revolutionary changes in politics and commerce that were fateful for the commercial position of Palestine. Peasant farming and handicrafts are highly conservative occupations.

Technical advances in these occupations occur rarely, and are slow to be adopted so long as the stimulus of competition is lacking, as it is under primitive conditions, and so long as in the normal course of events, that is if there are no bad harvests, droughts, wars and such catastrophes, the worker who labors in the traditional way is sure of his bread, whereas the new and untried may lead to failures and losses.

As a rule technical advances in peasant agriculture and the handicrafts do not arise in those fields themselves, but in trade, which brings new products and procedures from abroad that arouse thought and in the end produce new profitable crops and methods.

Trade is much less conservative. Of necessity it rises above local and professional narrowness and is critical of home traditions, because it can compare them with what has been achieved in other places under different conditions. In addition, the merchant is subject to competition, sooner than the farmer or the artisan, because he encounters competitors from many nations in the great centers of commerce. He continually has to look for something new, and above all for improved means of communication and travel and for broader fields of trade connections. Until agriculture and industry become capitalistic and are put on a scientific footing, trade is the only revolutionary factor in the economy. This is especially true of sea-borne commerce. Navigation makes it possible to cover greater distances and bring more different peoples into contact with each other than commerce by land does. At first the sea separates peoples more, and makes their development more independent of others and more individualized. When navigation develops and the hitherto isolated peoples come into contact with each other, the contrasts and contradictions are often sharper than in the case of land trading. Navigation too requires higher technical development; sea-borne commerce comes much later than trade by land, for building a seaworthy ship calls for a much greater mastery of nature than say taming a camel or a donkey. On the other hand, the great profits of maritime commerce, which can only be obtained on the basis of a highly developed shipbuilding technique, are one of the strongest incentives to perfect this technique. There is perhaps no other field in which ancient technology developed so early and registered such triumphs as in shipbuilding.

Navigation however does not hamper commerce on land, but furthers it. If a city port is to prosper, it needs as a rule to be supported by a region furnishing the goods to be shipped and in turn absorbing the goods brought in by the ships. It must strive to develop land communications along with navigation; but the latter becomes more and more important until it is the decisive factor, and land commerce is subordinate to it. If the routes of navigation change, the land routes must change accordingly.

The first long-distance seafarers in the Mediterranean came from Phoenicia, which lay between the old civilized countries on the Nile and the Euphrates and participated in the intercourse between them. It was on the Mediterranean, as Egypt was; but the Egyptians were led to agriculture rather than to navigation by the very nature of their land, whose fertility is inexhaustible thanks to the annual inundations by the Nile. Moreover the Egyptians did not have the necessary timber, nor the pressure of need, which in the early stages is the only whip that could make men brave the dangers of the open sea. The river navigation of the Egyptians reached a high point of development, but on the sea they did not go beyond coastal shipping over short distances. They developed agriculture and industry, especially weaving, and their commerce flourished, but they did not go abroad as traders, but waited for the foreigners to come to them with their wares. The desert and the sea remained alien elements to them.

The Phoenicians on the other hand lived on a seacoast that forced them to the sea; it was so close to the mountains and gave such meager plowlands that farming had to be eked out with fishing, while the mountain slopes supplied excellent timber for ships. These were conditions that led the Phoenicians to take to the sea. Their situation among industrially developed regions gave them the stimulus to prolong their fishing voyages into trading voyages at sea. In this way they became the transporters of Indian, Arabian, Babylonian and Egyptian products, especially textiles and spices, to the West, from which they brought products of different kinds, chiefly metals.

In time dangerous competitors arose in the Greeks, who inhabited islands and coasts whose fields were as barren as those of Phoenicia, so that they too were driven to fishing and seafaring. Their shipping kept increasing and became more and more dangerous to the Phoenicians. At first the Greeks tried to bypass the Phoenicians and win new ways to the Orient. They entered the Black Sea; from these ports commerce with India was established through Central Asia. At the same time they tried to make connections with Egypt and open it to sea-borne commerce. Shortly before the time of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews the Ionians and Carians succeeded in this undertaking. From the Lime of Psammetichus (663) they were firmly established in Egypt and their traders flooded into it. Under Amasis (569 to 525) they acquired a region on the Western branch of the Nile in order to found a port city of their own, Naukratis. This was to be the sole center of Greek commerce. Soon after, Egypt fell to the Persians (525), as had Babylonia. But the situation of the Greeks in Egypt did not suffer as a result. On the contrary, foreigners now had the right to trade freely in all of Egypt, and the lion’s share of the profits went to the Greeks. As soon as the Persian regime grew feeble, as the military spirit of the former nomad nation softened in city life, the Egyptians rose and tried to win their independence once more, and succeeded for a while (from 404 to 342). This was possible only because of the aid of the Greeks, who had grown so strong meanwhile that they had beaten back the mighty Persians on land and at sea, and along with them pushed back their vassals, the Phoenicians. Under Alexander of Macedon Greece took the offensive (from 334 on) against the Persian Empire, annexed it and put a final end to the glory of the Phoenician cities, which had long been in decline.

Palestine’s commerce had fallen off even earlier than Phoenicia’s; world trade had turned from the Palestinian routes, the exports of India as well as those of Babylonia, Arabia, Ethiopia and Egypt Palestine, as the borderland between Egypt and Syria, remained the theatre in which the wars between the masters of Syria and those of Egypt took place, but the trade between these regions now went by sea, bypassing the land. Palestine had lost all the advantages of its central position and kept all the disadvantages. At the same time that the mass of the Jews were driven more and more to trade as their only means of support, the chances of doing business in their own country kept shrinking.

Since business did not come to them, they were forced to go out after business abroad, among those nations which did not produce a commercial class of their own but had foreigners come to them as traders. There were not a few such nations. In countries where agriculture supported the mass of the people without needing to be supplemented by nomadic cattle-raising or by fishing, and the aristocracy satisfied their drive for expansion by piling up latifundia at home and making war abroad, people preferred to have traders come to them rather than go abroad themselves to fetch foreign goods. That was the attitude of the Egyptians and of the Romans, as we have seen. In both countries the traders were aliens, chiefly Greeks and Jews. They prospered most in such lands.

Now we have the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews outside of their own homeland, just after the Babylonian Exile, precisely when they were allowed to return home. This dispersion was not the result of an act of violence, like the fall of Jerusalem, but of an imperceptible revolution that began at that time, a change in trade routes.

Their largest groups accumulated where the flow of trade was strongest and where the greatest wealth came together, in Alexandria and later in Rome. There the Jews increased not only in number but in wealth and power. Their strong national feeling gave them a strong cohesion, too, that was all the more effective in times like those just preceding Christ, when society was falling apart more widely and more intensively, and the general bonds of society were dissolving. And since the Jews were to be found in all the commercial centers of the Hellenic and Roman civilized world of that time, their internal cohesion extended over all those regions, forming an internationale which gave powerful support to its members wherever they might happen to be. If we add to this the commercial abilities they had developed over so many centuries, and which after the Exile were necessarily sharpened, we can understand the growth of their power and wealth.

Mommsen says of Alexandria that it “was almost as much a city of Jews as of Greeks; the Jewish community there was at least the equal of that of Jerusalem in number, wealth, ability and organization. At the beginning of the Empire there were reckoned to be a million Jews among 8 million Egyptians, and their influence presumably was greater than in that proportion ... They and only they were allowed to form a community within the community, so to speak, and have a certain degree of self-rule while the other aliens were ruled by civil authorities.”

“‘The Jews,’ Strabo says, ‘have a national chief of their own in Alexandria, who presides over the people and decides lawsuits and regulates contracts and arrangements as if he were the ruler of an independent community.’ This took place because the Jews claimed that such a special jurisdiction was required by their nationality or, what amounts to the same thing, their religion. In addition, the general government ordinances took the national and religious feeling of the Jews into account on an extensive scale and where possible helped them by means of exemptions. Congregating helped in this respect too; in Alexandria, for example, two of the five districts of the city were chiefly inhabited by Jews.” [23] The Alexandrian Jews achieved not only wealth but also prestige and influence over the rulers of the world. For example, an important role was played by the tax farmer of the Arabian side of the Nile, the alabarch [or, arabarch] Alexander. Agrippa, who later became king of Judea, borrowed 200,000 drachmas from him in the days of Tiberius. Alexander gave him 5 talents in cash and a letter for payment of the rest in Dikaearchia. [24] This shows the close commercial relations between the Jews of Alexandria and those of Italy. There was a strong Jewish community in Dikaearchia, or Puteoli, near Naples. Josephus further reports of the same Alexandrian Jew: “He, the Emperor Claudius, released the alabarch Alexander Lysimachus, his old good friend, who had been guardian of his mother Antonia and imprisoned by Caius in anger. This man’s son Marcus later married Berenice, daughter of King Agrippa.” [25]

What was true of Alexandria also applied to Antioch: “In the capital of Syria, as in that of Egypt, a certain communal independence and privileged position was granted the Jews, and their position as centers of the Jewish Diaspora is not the least important cause for the development of both cities.” [26] In Rome the presence of Jews may be traced back to the second century 13.C. In 139 B.C. the Roman foreign praetor expelled Jews who had allowed Italian proselytes at their Sabbath. These Jews might have been members of an embassy sent by Simon Maccabee to gain the good-will of the Romans and who took advantage of the opportunity to make propaganda for their religion. We soon find Jews settled in Rome, however, and the Jewish community there was considerably reinforced when Pompey took Jerusalem in 63 B.C. He brought many Jewish prisoners to Rome, who then continued to live there as slaves or as freedmen. The community won considerable influence. About the year 60 Cicero complained that their power was felt even in the Forum. Their power increased under Caesar. Mommsen describes the situation as follows:

“How large the Jewish population was in Rome itself even before Caesar and what a close association of fellow-countrymen they formed, is shown by the remark of a writer of the time, that a governor should think twice before interfering with the Jews of his province, since he would surely have to pay for it by being booed on his return by the rabble of the capital. This Jewry, although not the most cheerful spot in the not at all cheerful picture of the amalgam of peoples of that time, was nevertheless an historical factor evolving in the natural course of events; the statesman could not deny its existence or combat it, and instead Caesar, like his forerunner Alexander of Macedon, understood it and gave it all possible aid. Alexander, the founder of Alexandrian Jewry did almost as much for their nation as did David when he built the Temple; Caesar aided the Jews in Alexandria and in Rome through special favors and privileges and in particular protected their cult against the local Greek and Roman priests. The two great men did not of course have any idea of putting the Jewish nation on the same level as the Hellenic or the Italo-Hellenic. But the Jew, who has not received the Pandora’s gift of political organization, as the Occidental Westerner has, and is basically indifferent toward the state; who moreover is just as unwilling to give up the core of his national characteristics as he is ready to wrap that core in the trappings of any nationality and comply with the ways of the alien folk up to a certain point – just for these reasons the Jew was particularly suited to a state that was founded on the ruins of a hundred city-states and had to be fitted out with a rather abstract and decrepit nationality. Even in the ancient world Judaism was an active ferment of cosmopolitanism and national decomposition and to that extent preeminently entitled to membership in Caesar’s state, whose city was really nothing more than world citizenship and whose nationality basically only humanity.” [27]

Mommsen manages here to squeeze three kinds of professorial views of history into a couple of lines. First, the notion that monarchs make history, that a decree or two of Alexander the Great were what created the Jewish community of Alexandria, and not anything like the change of the trade routes, that had given rise to a large Jewish community in Egypt well before Alexander and developed and strengthened it after Alexander. Or shall we assume that the entire world-wide trade of Egypt lasting many centuries, was created by a passing idea of the Macedonian conqueror as he passed through that country?

Along with this superstitious belief in royal decrees marches race superstition: the peoples of the West have been given by nature, as a racial capacity, the “Pandora’s gift” of political organisation, something presumably lacking in Jews from birth. Nature, that is, creates political capabilities out of its own viscera before there is any such thing as politics, and distributes them arbitrarily among the various “races,” whatever that term may be supposed to signify. This mystical whim of nature seems all the more ridiculous in this context when we recall that until the Exile the Jews had and made use of just as large a share of the “Pandora’s gift” of political organization as other nations of their degree of social evolution. It was only the pressure of external conditions that deprived them of their state and along with it of the materials for a political organization.

On top of the monarchistic and “scientific” concepts of history there comes a third ideology, which holds that military leaders and organizers of states act in accordance with trains of thought of the kind that German professors contrive in their studies. The unscrupulous swindler and adventurer Caesar is said to have desired to create an abstract nationality of world citizenship and humanity, and recognized the Jews as the most useful instrument to that end and hence favored them!

Even if Caesar had said things of the sort, they should not have been taken at once as representing his actual thoughts. No more so than, let us say, the phrases of Napoleon should be taken at face value. Liberal professors of the time in which Mommsen wrote his Roman history were easily captivated by Napoleonic phrasemaking, but that was not the basis of their political strength. Caesar in fact never voiced anything at all like such ideas. Caesars always dealt exclusively in phrases that were fashionable anti could be used for demagogy among credulous proletarians or credulous professors.

The fact that Caesar not only tolerated the Jews but favored them has a much simpler explanation, if not so noble a one, in his eternal debts and his eternal greed for money. Money had become the decisive power in the state. The reason that Caesar protected the Jews and gave them privileges was that they had money and hence were useful to him and could be still more useful in the future, and not that their racial characteristics could be applied to the creation of an “abstract decrepit” nationality.

They appreciated his favor, and deeply mourned his death. “At the great public funeral he was mourned by the foreign residents [of Rome], each nation in its own way, especially the Jews, who even came to view the bier several nights in a row.” [28]

Augustus too appreciated the importance of the Jews. “Under Augustus, the communities of the Near East attempted to call up their Jewish fellow-citizens for military service on the same basis as the others and not to allow them the observance of the Sabbath any longer; Agrippa however decided against this and upheld the status quo in the Jews’ favor, or rather perhaps now made legally binding for the first time what had previously been a privilege granted by individual governors or communities of Greek provinces, namely the exemption of the Jews from military service and the Sabbath privilege. Augustus further directed the governor of Asia not to apply to the Jews the strict imperial laws against societies and meetings ... Augustus showed himself kindly disposed toward the Jewish colony in the suburbs of Rome across the Tiber, and allowed those who had refrained from sharing in his donations because of the Sabbath to claim their part on another day.” [29]

The Jews in Rome must have been extremely numerous at that time. In the year 3 B.C. a Jewish delegation to Augustus included over 8000. Quite recently numerous Jewish burial places have been discovered in Rome.

Incidentally, although trade was their chief calling, not all Jews abroad were traders. Where many of them lived together, Jewish artisans too were busy. Jewish physicians are mentioned in inscriptions from Ephesus and Venosa. [30] Josephus tells us even of a Jewish court actor in Rome: “In Dikaearchia, or Puteoli as the Italians call it, I became the friend of the actor (mimologos) Aliturus, who was of Jewish origin and very well liked by Nero. Through him I became acquainted with the Empress Poppaea.” [31]



The Jewish Propaganda

Until the Exile the people of Israel had not Increased in any exceptional degree. Not more than other peoples. After the Exile however it grew incredibly. Now the promise of Jahveh was fulfilled, which was said to have been imparted to Abraham:

“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” [32]

This promise, like virtually all the prophecies in the Bible, was fabricated after the state of affairs it foresaw was already present-like the prophecies that some divinely favored heroes enunciate in modern historical dramas. What Jahveh set before Abraham could only have been written down after the Exile, for only then does the statement make sense. Then however it fits very well. Jewry did increase surprisingly, so that it was able to make itself at home in all the important cities of the Mediterranean world, “possess the gates of his enemies” and keep its trade going, “bless all nations of the earth.”

The geographer Strabo, writing about the time of Christ’s birth, said of the Jews: “This people is already in every city, and it is hard to find a place on the inhabited earth that has not received this nation and is not [financially] dominated by it.” This rapid increase of the Jewish population is in part to be attributed to the great fertility of the Jews. But this too is not a special characteristic of their race – or else it would always have been present – but a particular property of the class they now represented with distinction, the merchants.

Not only does every form of society have its law of population, but so does each class within a given society. For example, the modern wage proletariat increases rapidly thanks to the fact that proletarians, male and female alike, early become economically independent and have the opportunity of having their children employed early too; in addition, the proletarians have no inheritance to divide up which might induce them to limit the number of their children.

The law of increase for settled farmers is different. In places where they find free land, as is generally the case when they occupy a country heretofore inhabited by hunters or herdsmen, they increase rapidly, for the conditions under which they live are far more favorable to bringing up children than let us say those of nomad hunters with their uncertain food supplies and lack of any milk supply other than mothers’ milk, so that mothers are compelled to give suck to their children for several years. The farmer produces adequate, regular food, and the cow he raises gives copious milk, more than the cow of the nomad herdsmen, which wastes so much energy in searching for fodder.

But cultivable land and fields are limited, and can be restricted by private property even more than they already are by nature. In addition the technical development of agriculture is usually extremely slow. Accordingly there comes sooner or later to a farming nation the time when there is no more new land on which to establish new homes and families. That forces the farmers, if their excess progeny does not find an outlet in another field, such as military service or city industry, artificially to limit the number of their children. Peasants in this situation are the Malthusian ideal.

But even mere private property in land can have the same effect even if not all the cultivable land has been put into use. Possessing land now gives power: the more land one owns, the more power and wealth in society one has at his disposal. The landowner’s endeavor is now to increase his holdings, and since the land area is a fixed quantity and can not be enlarged, landed property call only be increased by putting together already existing properties. The law of inheritance may hinder or foster this accumulation: further it by marriages in which both parties inherit land, which they combine, or hinder it when a property is divided among several heirs. The point comes for large landowners, as for peasants, when they either limit their offspring as much as possible in order to keep their properties large, or disinherit all the offspring but one. When the sharing of the inheritance among the children remains the rule, private property in land leads sooner or later to limitation of offspring on the part of the landowners, and under some conditions to the constant shrinkage of the numbers of the class. This was one of the reasons for the depopulation of the Roman Empire, which was based essentially on agriculture.

The fertility of the Jewish families was a vivid contrast. The Jews were no longer a people among whom agriculture was predominant. The large majority were tradespeople, capitalists. Capital, however, can be increased, unlike land. If trade is prosperous, capital may grow faster than the tradespeople’s offspring, so that although the number increases rapidly, each individual is richer. The centuries after the Exile up to the early years of the Empire were times in which trade expanded enormously. The exploitation of the workers engaged in agriculture – slaves, tenants, peasants – mounted rapidly, and the sphere of their exploitation expanded at the same time. The exploitation of the mines increased, at least until the supply of fresh slaves began to give out. In the end, as we have seen, that led to the decline of agriculture, the depopulation of the land, and finally to the exhaustion of the military power and hence of the supply of fresh slaves, which could only come from constant successful wars; and all this amounted to the decline of milling as well. But it was long before these results were felt, and until then the accumulation of wealth in a few hands went forward together with the ruin of the population as the luxury of the wealthy swelled. Trade however was at that time primarily trade in luxuries. Means of transport were ill-developed; cheap transportation in bulk was only in its infancy. The grain trade from Egypt to Italy had a certain importance, but in general luxury articles were the main items of commerce. Modern commerce is primarily devoted to the production and consumption of great masses; formerly commerce served the arrogance and extravagance of a small number of exploiters. Today it depends on the growth of mass consumption; formerly it depended on the growth of exploitation and wastefulness. It never found more favorable conditions for this than in the period from the founding of the Persian Empire to the first Caesars. The change in the routes of commerce hit Palestine hard, but gave new life to trade in general from the Euphrates and the Nile to the Danube and the Rhine, from India to Britain. Nations whose economic basis was agriculture might well decline and be depopulated in that era; but a people of merchants would profit and would not have to restrain its natural increase at all, especially if there were no external obstacles restraining it.

But no matter how high we set the natural fertility of the Jews, that by itself would not suffice to explain the swift increase in Jewry. It was supplemented by its propaganda power.

The fact that a nation should increase by religious propaganda is something as extraordinary as the historical position of Judaism itself.

Originally the Jews were held together by ties of blood, as were other peoples. The kingdom replaced the gentile organization by the territorial union, the state and its districts. This bond lapsed with the transplantation into exile, and the return to Jerusalem put it back into effect for only a small fraction of the nation. The larger and constantly increasing part of it lived outside of the Jewish national state, abroad, not only temporarily, like the merchants of other nations, but permanently. As a result yet another bond of nationality was lost, community of language. The Jews living abroad had to speak the language of the land, and after several generations had lived there the younger ones spoke only the language of the land and forgot the language of the homeland. Even in the third century B.C. the holy scriptures of the Jews were translated into Greek, since few of the Alexandrian Jews understood Hebrew any longer. Perhaps too as a means of propaganda among the Greeks. Greek became the language of current Jewish literature, and also the language of the Jewish people, even in Italy. “The various Jewish communities in Rome had to some extent common burial places, of which five are known; up to now. The inscriptions are overwhelmingly in Greek, although partially in a vernacular which is almost unintelligible: there are some in Latin too, but none in Hebrew.” [33] Not even the Jews in Palestine were able to maintain Hebrew; they adopted the language of the surrounding population, Aramaic.

Centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Hebrew had already ceased to be a living language. It was no longer of use as a means of communication among fellow-countrymen, but merely a way of access to the holy scriptures of olden times – scriptures to be sure which were mistakenly thought to go back many centuries and millennia, since actually they had been fairly recently put together from old remnants and new inventions.

This religion, ostensibly revealed to the forefathers of Israel and actually formed in the Exile and after, became, along with commercial relations, the firmest bond of Judaism, the only feature distinguishing it from the other nations.

But the one God of this religion was no longer one among many tribal gods; he was the only God of the world, a God for all men, whose commandments held for all men. The Jews differed from the others only in that they had learned of Him, while the others in their blindness knew nothing of Him. Knowledge of this God was now the mark of Judaism: anyone who knew him and accepted his commandments belonged to the elect of God, and was a Jew.

This monotheism made it logically possible to broaden the sphere of Judaism by propaganda for it, but this possibility might have come to nothing if it had not coincided with the drive of Judaism to expand. The tininess of the Jewish people had led it to the deepest humiliation, but it had not gone under. It had weathered the heaviest storms and had solid ground under its feet once more, and now was beginning to acquire wealth and power in the most diverse regions. That gave them the proud assurance that they really were the chosen people, really called upon at some time to rule over the other peoples. But no matter how it might count on its God and the Messiah it expected from God, it had to admit to itself that its chances were hopeless so long as it was so tiny a folk among the millions of Gentiles, whose enormous superiority in numbers they realized even more clearly as the radius of their commercial relationships expanded. The stronger their desire for power and position, the more they had to try to increase the number of their fellow-countrymen by winning supporters among foreign peoples. Accordingly, Judaism developed a powerful tendency toward expansion during the last centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem.

For the inhabitants of the Jewish state the most direct way to this end was forcible conversion. Subjugation of a people was nothing uncommon. Where the Jews did it, they now tried to impose their religion as well. This took place in the era of the Maccabees and their successors, say from 165 to 63 B.C., when the fall of the Syrian Empire gave the Jewish people some elbow room for a while, which they used not only to shake off the Syrian yoke but to extend their own territories. Galilee was conquered in this period; previously it had not been Jewish, as Schürer has proved. [34] Idumea and the country east of the Jordan were subjugated, and a foothold was even gained on the coast, at Joffa. There was nothing exceptional about such a policy of conquest; what was unusual was that it became a policy of religious expansion. The inhabitants of the newly-conquered regions had to adopt as their own the god who was worshiped in the Temple at Jerusalem; they had to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship Him, paying the Temple fee in the process, and were required to set themselves apart from the other nations by circumcision and the peculiar Jewish ritual prescriptions.

Such proceedings were totally unheard of in the ancient world, where as a rule the conqueror left the conquered complete freedom of religion and customs, merely exacting taxes to the limit of endurance.

This mode of extending Judaism was possible only temporarily, so long as the power of the Syrians was too weak and that of the Romans not yet near enough to contain Judah’s military advances. Even before Pompey occupied Jerusalem the advance of the Jews in Palestine had come to a halt. Then the dominance of the Romans put a powerful curb on the forcible method of expanding the Jewish religious brotherhood.

From that point on the Jews threw themselves energetically into the alternative method of enlarging their religious community, the way of peaceful propaganda. At the time this too was an unprecedented phenomenon. Even before Christianity, Judaism manifested the same sort of zeal for instruction, with considerable success. It was thoroughly understandable, if not very logical, for the Christians to blame the Jews for this zeal, which they exercised so vigorously on behalf of their own religion:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass land and sea to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 28, verse 15). It is competition that speaks in so Christian a manner.

Mere material interest alone would attract many an adherent to Judaism from the “heathen” world. There must have been not a few to whom it was very attractive to be a partner in such a widespread and flourishing trading company. Wherever a Jew came, he could count on being energetically supported and helped by his brothers in belief.

But there were still other considerations that lent Judaism its propagandistic power. We have seen how a state of mind favorable to ethical monotheism grows out of urban life once it reaches a certain extension. But the monotheism of the philosophers was in opposition to the traditional religion, or at the very least outside its domain. It called for independent thought. But the same social developments that favored monotheistic ideas led, as we have seen, to the decadence of state and society, to an increasing sense of insecurity on the part of the individual, to a growing need for stable authority; in the realm of world outlooks, this meant the need for religion, which is presented to the individual as a complete and fixed product of a super-human authority, instead of philosophy, which leaves the individual on his own resources.

Among the peoples of ancient civilization only two, the Persians and the Jews, because of special circumstances, arrived at monotheism not as a philosophy but as a religion. Both religions made considerable progress among the Hellenistic peoples and then in the Roman Empire. But Judaism was driven to greater zeal for conversion by its gloomy national situation, and in Alexandria it came into intimate contact with Greek philosophy.

Thus Judaism was best able to offer what was wanted to the minds of the declining ancient world, who doubted their traditional gods but lacked the strength to construct on their account a view of the world without gods or with but a single God; and all the more so because it tied belief in the one primeval ethical force to belief in a savior to come, for whom all the world was thirsting.

Among the many religions that came together in the Roman world empire the Jewish was the one best suited to the thoughts and needs of the time. It was not superior to the philosophy of the “heathen” but to their religions – no wonder that the Jews felt far superior to the Gentiles and that the number of their supporters grew rapidly. “Judaism wins over all men,” says the Alexandrian Jew Philo, “and exhorts them to virtue; barbarians, Hellenes, men of the mainland and men of the islands, the nations of the East like those of the West, Europeans, Asiatics, the peoples of the world.” He expected Judaism to become the religion of the world. This was at the time of Christ. [35]

We have pointed out above that as early as 139 B.C. in Rome itself Jews were expelled for making Italian proselytes. It was reported from Antioch that the larger part of the Jewish community there consisted of converted Jews (rather than born Jews). It must have been so in many other cities as well. This fact alone proves how preposterous it is to try to derive the characteristics of the Jews from their race.

Even kings went over to Judaism: Izates, king of the country of Adiabene in Assyria was led to Judaism by some female Jewish proselytes, as had his mother Helena. His zeal went so far that he had himself circumcised, although his Jewish teacher advised against it, lest he endanger his position. His brothers went over to Judaism too. All this took place in the time of Tiberius and Claudius.

Lovely Jewish women brought many another king to Judaism.

Thus King Aziz of Emesa adopted Judaism in order to marry Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II. She did not repay his devotion very well, for she gave up her royal husband for a Roman procurator, Felix. Her sister Berenice was no better. King Polemon had had himself circumcised for her sake; but the looseness of his wife disgusted him not only with her but with her religion. Madame Berenice was able to console herself. She was used to changing men. First she had married a certain Marcus, and after his death her uncle Herod. When he died too, she lived with her brother Aprippa until she married the Polemon mentioned above. Finally she attained to the position of mistress of the Emperor Titus.

Though this lady was untrue to her people, there were many others who embraced Judaism, among them Nero’s wife Poppaea Sabina, of whom it is said that she became a zealous Jew, though her moral life was not affected thereby.

Josephus relates that the inhabitants of the city of Damascus had decided at the beginning of the Jewish uprising under Nero to wipe out the Jews living in the city. “They were only afraid of their wives, who were almost all devoted to the Jewish religion. Accordingly the men kept their design secret. The plot succeeded. They killed ten thousand Jews in one hour.” [36]

The forms of adherence to Judaism differed widely. The most zealous of the new converts adopted it in tote. Their acceptance involved three procedures: circumcision, then baptismal immersion to cleanse them of heathen sinfulness, and last a sacrificial victim.

But not all the converts could make up their minds to follow all the precepts of Judaism without exception. We have seen how contradictory a thing it was, how it combined a highly enlightened international monotheism with a very narrow tribal monotheism, a pure ethics with a frightened grip on traditional rites; along with ideas that seemed very modern and magnificent to men of that time there were conceptions that seemed very peculiar, even repugnant, to a Hellene or a Roman, and that made social intercourse with non-Jews very difficult for members of the Jewish community. Among these latter were the dietary laws, circumcision and the strict observance of the Sabbath, which often assumed the most extreme forms.

We learn from Juvenal that the fireless cooker, which is touted today as the latest discovery in housekeeping, was known to the ancient Jews. On the eve of the Sabbath they put their victuals in baskets stuffed with hay, to keep them warm. It is said that there was no Jewish household without such a basket. This already indicates the difficulties involved in strict observance of the Sabbath. But it was carried so far on occasions that it was ruinous to the Jews. In wartime, pious Jews who were attacked on a Sabbath neither defended themselves nor fled, but let themselves be cut down in order not to violate God’s commandment.

There were not many who were capable of such a degree of fanaticism and faith in God. But even a less thorough-going compliance with the Jewish law was too much for many people. There were, along with those who entered into the Jewish community and assumed all the obligations of the Jewish law, many who shared the Jewish worship of God and frequented the synagogues, but did not observe the rites and prescriptions. Among the Jews outside of Palestine there were many who did not attach much value to these precepts. Often they let it go at the worship of the true God and faith in the Messiah to come, got along without circumcision and were content if the new-won friend cleansed himself of sin by immersion.

These “pious” (sebomenoi) associates of the Jews constituted the majority of the heathen who turned to Judaism. They were at first the most important area for recruiting the Christian communities, as soon as these communities spread beyond Jerusalem.




Great though the propagandist power of Judaism was, it clearly did not affect all classes in the same way. Many must have been repelled by it. This was particularly true of the landholders, whose conservatism and narrow parochialism is most opposed to the restlessness and internationalism of the merchant. Moreover, a part of the merchant’s profits was made at their expense; the merchant tried to reduce the prices of what he bought from them and drive up the price of those things they bought from him. The large landowners always got along very well with usury capital; we have seen that they early derived great strength from usury. As a rule however they were hostile to trade.

But the industrialists who produced for export were likewise hostile to the merchants, as home craftsmen today are against the contractors.

This hostility to trade was turned primarily against the Jews, who held so fast to their nationality, and who, while not differing from their neighbors in speech, clung tenaciously to their traditional national customs, which were now fused with the religion which was their one national tie and which was so astonishing to the mass of the population outside of Palestine. Like anything exotic, these peculiarities would only have aroused the ridicule of the mob except that they were the marks of a class that like all merchants lives by exploitation and held tightly together in close international association against the rest of the population, growing in wealth and privileges while the rest grew poorer and more devoid of rights: under these circumstances they aroused enmity.

We can see from Tacitus the effect that Judaism had on the other nations. He says: “Moses introduced new customs contrary to those of the rest of mankind. There everything is profane that is sacred for us; and what is repugnant to us is permitted among them.” Among such customs he mentions abstinence from pork, frequent fasting, and the Sabbath.

“Whatever may have been the origin of these religious customs, they defend them on the grounds of their great antiquity. Other disgusting and horrible institutions received support from their depravity: for they got to the point where the worst people were untrue to their ancestral religion and brought them contributions and offerings: in this way the wealth of the Jews increased; and also because they practice the strictest honesty and helpfulness toward each other, but bitter enmity toward everyone else. They go apart from the others at their meals and will not sleep with women of other faiths, while among themselves there is nothing that is not permitted. They introduced circumcision to make a difference between themselves and other men. Those who go over to them undergo circumcision too, and the first thing they are indoctrinated with is contempt for the gods, renunciation of the fatherland, neglect of their parents, children and brothers. Their object in this is to increase their numbers, and doing away with offspring seems to them a crime. The souls of those who die in battle or on the scaffold for their religion are believed by them to be immortal: hence their urge to beget children and their contempt of death.”

Tacitus then speaks of their rejection of all worship of images and concludes: “The customs of the Jews are absurd and squalid.” [37] The satirists were fond of scoffing at the Jews; jokes directed at them always had a receptive audience.

In his fourteenth satire Juvenal shows how the example of the parents affects the children. A bad example is set by a father with inclinations toward Judaism:

“You find people to whom fate has given fathers that observe the Sabbath. Such people pray only to the clouds and the divinity of heaven. They believe that pork is no different from human flesh, because their father abstains from pork. Soon they dispose of their fore-skin and condemn the laws of the Romans. Instead they learn, follow and honor Jewish law, everything that Moses hands down in his mysterious scroll. They will not show the way to anybody who asks them unless he is of the same faith; when people are thirsty, they will lead only the circumcised to the spring. That is the effect of the father for whom every seventh day was one for idling, on which he abstained from any sign of life.” [38]

As social discontent rose, anti-Semitism increased. Even then it was already the handiest and safest means of showing exasperation over the decline of state and society. It was too dangerous to attack the aristocrats and owners of latifundia, the usurers and the generals, let alone the despots on the throne; but the Jews, despite their privileges, were ill-protected by the government.

At the beginnings of the Empire, when the pauperization of the peasantry was well on its way and large masses of the lumpenproletariat assembled in the large cities, eager for loot, there were regular pogroms from time to time.

Mommsen gives us a vivid picture of one of these Jew-baitings, which occurred under the emperor Gaius Caligula (37-41 A.D.), more or less at the time at which the death of Christ is said to have taken place:

“A grandson of Herod I and the fair Mariamne, named Agrippa after the protector and friend of his grandfather Herod, perhaps the prettiest and most degenerate of the many princelings living in Rome, but yet, or perhaps therefore, the favorite and childhood friend of the new emperor; a man hitherto known only for his dissoluteness and his debts, had got from his protector, to whom he was the first to bring the news of the death of Tiberius, the gift of one of the little Jewish principalities that was vacant, and with it the title of king. In the year 38 on his way to his new dominions he arrived at the city of Alexandria, where a few months previously he had tried, as an absconding debtor, to get a loan from Jewish bankers. When he appeared in royal robes with a troop of gaudily-uniformed guards, it was natural that the non-Jewish inhabitants of the scandal- and ridicule-loving city, who had no particular fondness for the Jews anyway, should start a parody; and it went further than that, to a fearful pogrom. The Jewish houses which were singly located and not in groups were robbed and burned, the Jewish ships in the harbor were plundered, and the Jews found in non-Jewish districts were manhandled and beaten up. But the Jew-baiters did not venture to attack the Jewish districts by force. Their leaders hit upon the idea of making the synagogues, which were the principal object of attack, or at least those that still were standing, into temples of the new ruler, and to set up statues of him in all of them, with a statue on a quadriga for the chief synagogue. The emperor Gaius believed himself to be a genuine god in the flesh, in so far as his crazy mind was able to function; this was known to everyone, including the Jews and the governor. His name was Avilius Flaccus, a brave man and an excellent administrator under Tiberius, but now crippled by the disfavor of the new emperor and in constant fear of recall and prosecution; he therefore was not above making use of the occasion to reestablish himself. He not only did not issue a decree to prevent the installation of the statues in the synagogues, but took part in the Jew-baiting himself. He ordered the Sabbath done away with. He declared further in his proclamation that these tolerated aliens had without permission taken possession of the best parts of the city; they were confined to a single one of the five districts and all the other Jewish houses were handed over to the mob, while the ejected tenants were put on the streets without a roof over their heads. No protest was even listened to; thirty-eight members of the council of elders, which at that time headed the Jews instead of the ethnarch, were publicly flogged in the circus in view of the entire population. Four hundred houses lay in ruins; trade and exchange stopped; the factories were still. The only recourse was to the emperor. Two delegations from Alexandria came to him. The Jewish group was headed by Philo, a scholar of the neo-Judaic school and rather timid than bold, although he stood up stoutly for his kind in this emergency; the anti-Semites were headed by Apion, also an Alexandrian scholar and author, the ‘world-bell’, as the emperor Tiberius called him, full of big words and bigger lies, of loudest omniscience and unconditional self-confidence, knowing men, or if not men at least their worthlessness, a veteran master of oratory and betrayal, quick-witted, clever, shameless and implicitly loyal. It was clear from the beginning how the affair would turn out; the emperor admitted the parties as he was inspecting the gardens, but instead of hearing the suppliants, he asked them derisive questions; the anti-Semites, violating all etiquette, laughed out loud; and the emperor, being in a good mood, went no further than to regret that these otherwise good people were so unfortunately constituted as not to be able to understand his innate divine nature; in this he was undoubtedly in earnest. So Apion won and wherever the anti-Semites wanted to they turned the synagogues into temples of Gaius.” [39]

In Rome itself the military forces at hand were too strong, and the emperors too much opposed to any sort of popular commotion, for any such scenes to take place there. But as soon as the imperial power was consolidated and the Caesars no longer needed the Jews, they felt a distaste for them. Given their suspicion of any union, even the most harmless, this international religious organization must have grated on their nerves.

Persecutions of the Jews, already under way in the reign of Tiberius, are explained by Josephus as follows: “There was a Jew in Rome, a thoroughly godless man, who had been guilty of many misdeeds in his own country and had fled in fear of punishment. He pretended to be a teacher of the Mosaic law, got together with three accomplices and convinced Fulvia, a noble lady who had adopted the Jewish faith and was taking instruction from him, that she should send a gift of gold and purple to the Temple at Jerusalem. When they got it from the lady, they used it for themselves, as had been their intention. Saturninus, Fulvia’s husband, complained at her request to the emperor Tiberius, his friend, and the emperor ordered all Jews out of Rome at once. Four thousand of them were made soldiers and sent to Sardinia.” [40]

The account is interesting as showing the inclination of noble ladies in Roman society towards Judaism. If the incident was really the occasion for such severe measures against all the Roman Jewry, it was certainly not the whole cause. It would have been enough to punish the guilty, if there had not been a feeling of hostility against all Judaism. Gaius Caligula, we have seen, was equally hostile. Under Claudius (41 to 54 A.D.) the Jews were banished from Rome once more, because, as Suetonius says (Claudius, chap. 25) they were causing unrest under the leadership of a certain Chrestos. This Chrestos was not a Jew by birth, but a converted Greek. Here too evidences of anti-Semitism go along with evidences of the propaganda power of Judaism.




With the attitude of both ruling classes and the masses of the people thus set against them, it is clear that the Jews, despite all the great progress they were making abroad and the increasing impossibility of thriving in the home-land, would always look back with longing to Jerusalem and its surrounding country, the only corner on earth where they were masters in their own house, at least to a certain extent, where all the inhabitants were Jews: the only corner on earth from which the promised great Jewish kingdom could start and on which the expected Messiah could found the dominion of Judaism.

Jerusalem remained the center and capital of Judaism; they grew together. It became a rich city once more, a big city with perhaps 200,000 inhabitants; but, unlike the days of David and Solomon, it no longer derived its greatness and wealth from military might or the trade of the peoples of Palestine, but only from the temple of Jehovah. Every Jew, wherever he might live, had to contribute to its upkeep and pay a double drachma every year as temple tax, which was sent to Jerusalem.

Many additional and exceptional gifts flowed in toward the shrine. Not all of them were intercepted, like the precious offering of which the four Jewish embezzlers swindled Fulvia, in Josephus story. But in addition every pious Jew had the obligation of making the pilgrimage at least once in his life to the place where his God lived and where alone He would accept offerings. The synagogues of the Jews in the various cities outside of Jerusalem were only places of assembly and prayer, and schools, but not temples in which sacrifices were offered to Jehovah.

The temple taxes and the pilgrims must have brought quantities of money into Jerusalem and given employment to many men. Directly or indirectly the Jehovah cult in Jerusalem supported not only the priests of the temple and the scribes, but also the shopkeepers and money-changers, the craftsmen, the peasants, farmers, herdsmen and fishermen of Judea and Galilee, who found an excellent market in Jerusalem for their wheat and their honey, their lambs and kids, and for the fish they caught in the coastal waters or on the Sea of Chinnereth in Galilee, and brought to Jerusalem dried or salted. If Jesus found buyers and sellers in the Temple, money-changers and those that sold doves, this was thoroughly in keeping with the function of the Temple in the life of Jerusalem.

What was inserted into the Jewish literature as the condition of their ancestors was actually the case in the days in which this literature came into being: now all Jewry literally lived on the worship of Jahveh, and ruin menaced them if this worship fell off, or even took on different forms. There were attempts to set up other shrines of Jahveh outside of Jerusalem.

A certain Onias, the son of a Jewish High Priest, built a temple of Jahveh in Egypt under Ptolemy Philopator (173-146 B.C.), with the support of the king, who hoped that the Egyptian Jews would be more loyal subjects if they had a temple of their own in his country.

But the new temple never amounted to much, precisely because it aimed at affirming the loyalty of the Jews of Egypt. In Egypt they were and remained aliens, a tolerated minority: how could a Messiah arise there to bring their people independence and national greatness? And belief in the Messiah was one of the strongest factors in the Jahveh cult.

There was much more unpleasantness over a rival temple not far from Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem, built by the sect of Samaritans in the time of Alexander the Great according to Josephus, a century earlier according to Schürer; there the Samaritans practiced their Jahveh cult. It is no wonder that there was the bitterest enmity between the two competitors. But the older enterprise was too rich and reputable for the newcomer to do it serious damage. Despite all the propaganda of the Samaritans they did not grow as fast as the Jews who looked to the seat of their god in Jerusalem.

The menace to the monopoly of Jerusalem made its inhabitants watch even more zealously over the “purity” of its cult and oppose even more fanatically any attempt to change anything in it. Hence the religious fanaticism and intolerance of the Jews of Jerusalem, so unlike the religious broad-mindedness of the other peoples at that time. For the others their gods were a means of explaining mysterious events, a source of comfort and help in situations in which human powers seemed to fail. For the Palestinian Jews their God was the means from which they derived their existence. He was for the whole people what other gods were only for their priests. Priestly fanaticism became in Palestine the fanaticism of the whole population.

But although they were like one man in defending the Jahveh cult, in opposing anyone who dared to infringe it, it was nevertheless subjected to class contradictions from which even Jerusalem was not spared. Every class sought to please Jahveh and protect His Temple in its own way. Each regarded the coming Messiah in a different way.




14. Das Judentum, Neue Zeit, VIII, p.23f.

15. See Frank Buhl, Die sozialen Verhältnisse der Israeliten, p.43.

16. B. Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, II, p.17.

17. Ibid., p.187.

18. Ed. Meyer, Geschichte des alten Aegypten, p.192f.

19. This note is missing – MIA.

20. Wellhausen, op. cit., p.32.

21. Isaiah 42, verses 8 to 12.

22. Isaiah 41, verses 8 to 27.

23. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.489-92.

24. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18, 6, 3.

25. Ibid., 19, 5, 1.

26. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.456.

27. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, III, p.549-551.

28. Suetonius, Julius Caesar, chap. 84.

29. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.497f.

30. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, III. 90.

31. Josephus, Autobiography.

32. Genesis 22, verses 17 and 18.

33. Friedlinder, Sittengeschichte Roms, II, 519.

34. Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, II, p.5.

35. Cf. the Book of Tobit 14, verses 6 and 7.

36. Jewish War, II, 20, 2.

37. Histories, V, 5.

38. Satires, XIV, 96 to 105.

39. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.515f.

40. Antiquities, XVIII, 3, 5.


Last updated on 20.1.2004