ANTI-JUDAISM AND THE ORIGIN OF SUNDAY #5
Anti-Judaism in Rome after 70 and the Rise of Sunday
It was noticed previously 226 that at the time of the
Nemnian persecution the Christians in Rome already constituted a
community distinct from the Jews. This differentiation took
place in Rome even earlier than in the East. F.F.Bruce writes:
"By 84, ae we have seen they were clearly differentiated at Rome.
The differentiation took a little longer in Palestine (where
practically all Christians were of Jewish birth). 126
Is it possible, one would ask, that at Rome (where the
differentiation of Christianity from Judaism became necessary and
possibly earlier) there also occurred first of all the abandoning
of the Sabbath and the adoption of Sunday? In order to verify
this hypothesis, we shall now consider the more significant
factors, present especially at Rome, which might have contributed
to the rise of Sunday keeping.
Predominance of Gentile converts in the Church of Rome
Paul's addresses in his epistle to the Romans, particularly
the last chapters, presuppose that the Christians community of
Rome was composed primarily of a Gentile-Christian majority
(chapters 11,13) and a Judea-Christian minority (14 f.). "I am
speaking to you Gentiles" (11:13) the apostle explicitly affirms
and in chapter 18 the majority of the believers he greets carry a
Greek or Roman name. The predominance of Gentile members and
their conflict with the Jews, inside and outside the Church, may
have necessitated a differentiation between the two communities
in Rome even earlier than in the East. Leonard Goppelt, in his
study on the origin of the Church, supports this point when he
"The Epistle presupposes in Rome, as one would expect, a Church
with a Gentile-Christian majority (11,13) and a Judeo-Christian
minority (14f.). This co-existence of the two parties provoked
some difficulties comparable to those known at Corinth at the
The situation of the Church of Rome in relationship to Judaism,
as far as the Epistle to the Romans allows us to suspect, is
similar to the one presented us by the post-Pauline texts of
Western Christianity: a chasm between the Church and Synagogue is
found everywhere, one unknown in the Eastern Churches which we
have described above. Judaism does not play any other role than
the one of being the ancestor of Christianity. 127
125 See above pp. 23f.
126 Bruce, "Spreading Flame," p.157.
127 Leoawd Goppelt, "Lea Origines de l'Eglise" (Paris: Payot,
1961), pp. 202-203.
This observation of Goppelt that the Christian community of
Rome, primarily of pagan descent, knew a break from Judaism even
earlier than in the Orient, suggests the possibility that in Rome
itself there took place first of all - in the process of
differentiation from Judaism - the abandoning of the Sabbath and
the adoption of Sunday.
Anti-Judaic feelings and measures
After the death of Nero, the Jews who for a time had
experienced a favorable position, 128 became soon afterwards
unpopular in the empire due primarily to their resurgent
mationalistic feelings which expoloded in violent uprisings
almost everywhere. The period between the first (A.D. 66-70) and
second (A.D. 132-135) major Jewish wars is characterized by
numerous anti-Jewish riots (as in Alexandria, Caesarea and
Antioch) as well as by concerted Jewish revolts which broke out
in places such as Mesopotamia, Cyrenaica, Palestine, Egypt and
"Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put a certain
Andreas at their head, and were destroying both the Romans and
the Greeks. They would eat the flesh of their victims, make
belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with
their blood and wear their skins for clothing; many they sawed in
two, from the head downwards; others they gave to wild beasts,
and still others they forced to fight as gladiators. In all two
hundred and twenty thousand persons perished. In Egypt, too they
perpetrated many similar outrages, and in Cyprus...." 130
The Romans reacted against these Jewish insurrections rather
ruthlessly. The statistics of the bloodshed that contemporary
historians provide for the two major wars, even allowing for
possible exaggerations, are still a most impressive evidence of
128 See above p.21.
129 For s concise account of the Jewish insurrections and were,
see Giuseppe Ricciotti, "The History of Israel" (Milwaukee,
Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Company), 2 : 402-461; Bruce,
"Spreading Flame," pp.270f.; Graetz, "History Jews," 2: 393f.
130 Dio Cassius, "Roman History" 69, trans. by E. Cary, Loeb
Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press,
1961), p.421; cf. the similar account given by Eusebius in "Hist.
Eccl." 4, 2 and in Chron. 2, 164.
angry vengeance against the Jews. Jossphus (ca. A.D. 37-93)
states that 1,197,000 of Jerusalem's inhabitants were either
killed or captured by Titus. In Tacitus (ca. A.D. 33-120) a
fairly cautious historian, gives for the same war an estimate of
600,000 Jewish fatalities alone. 132 In the Barkokeba war,
according to the Dio Cassius (ca. A.D. 150-235), 580,000
Palestinian Jews were killed in action, in addition to the
numberless who died of hunger, disease or fire. "All of Judea,"
the same historian writes, "became almost a desert." 133
Apart from the staggering losses in lives and property, the
Jews now suffered political reverses. In Rome, particularly, as
"the feeling against the Jews was strong enough to make Titus,
when crown prince, give up his plan to marry Berenice, sister of
Herod Agrippa the Younger, although both she and her brother had
shown themselves ardent supporters of the Flavian dynasty in the
recent war and subsequently." 134
Of greater consequences was the introduction by Vespasian,
after the war, of the so-called "fiscus judaicus." This Jewish
"fiscal tax" of half shekel, which had been previously paid to
the Temple of Jerusalem, was now excised for the temple of
Jupiter Capitolinus. The tax was now levied not only from adult
male Jews, but from both men and women from the age of three to
sixty-two, as well as from the slaves of the Jews.
131 Josephus, "Wars of the Jews" 6, 9, 3; the historian
specifies that 97,000 Jews were taken captives and 1,100,000 were
either killed or perished during the siege.
132 Tacit, "The Histories" 5, 13.Dio points out, however, that
the losses which the Romans suffered were also great. Hadrian, in
fact, in his letter to the Senate omitted the usual opening
expression, "If you and your children are in health, it is well;
I and the legions are in health" (100. cit.),
134 Bruce, "Spreading Flame," p.267; Baron similarly states:
"The anti-Jewish feeling in Rome and Italy also rose to a
considerable height the moment this group of foreigners [i.e.,
the Jews] started to proliferate rapidly. With their special way
of life, they were a strange element, even n the cosmopolitan
capital. The literature of the age reflects the partly
contemptuous and partly inimical attitude prevailing among the
educated classes in the imperial city" ("History" 2:103).
135 J. Zeiller observes concerning Domitian: "His antipathy
towards the Jew, was in harmony with his financial necessities,
for his Treasury was exhausted after the excessive expense, he
had incurred in the embellishment of Rome. Accordingly he caused
to be levied with great strictness the tax of the didrachma"
("Primitive Church," pp.384-385).
in particular, having exhausted the treasury by his extravagant
embellishment of Rome, public spectacles and salary increase to
the army, according to Suetonius (ca. A.D. 70-122) went so far as
to collect the tax even from those "who without publicly
acknowledging that faith yet lived as Jews." 136 Christian
members could easily have been included among them. The historian
relates then how as a youth he had personally witnessed "when the
person of a man ninety years old was examined before the
procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was
Domitian's successor, Nerve, while maintaining the impost,
as one of the first acts of his administration, condemned the
unscrupulous abuses of tax collectors, undoubtedly affecting
persons of non-Jewish extraction as well. 138 He even
commemorated his action by striking a coin with the legend
"Fisci judaici calumnia sublata - on the removal of the shameful
(extortion) of the Jewish tax."
The sources do not inform us on any specific action taken by
the Christians at this time to avoid the payment of such
discriminatory tax. However we may suspect, as Baron
"that undoubtedly, in connection with this redefinition of the
fiscal obligations as resting only upon professing Jews, the
growing Christian community secured from Nerva exemption from the
tax and, indirectly, official recognition of the severance of its
ties with the Jews denomination." 139
136 Suetonius, "The Lives of the Caesars," Domitian 12 trans.
J.C.Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard
University Press, 1939), 2:365; Gractz similarly points out:
"Severe, however, so he was toward the Jews, Damitian was doubly
hard toward the proselytes, and suffered them to feel the full
weight of his tyrannical power" ("History Jews" 2:389); see also
E.M.Smallwood, "Domitian's Attitude toward the Jews and Judaism,"
Classical Philology 51 (1956): 1-14.
137 Suetonius, ibid., p 366.
138 For a brief description of Nerve's policy, see Dio Cassias,
"Roman History" 58, 1-2.
139 Baron, History, 2:106; Baron aptly observes that "unlike the
later period, when capitation taxes became universal, a head tax
at that time had by itself a discriminatory character" (ibid., p.
373, fn. 20.) For special studies on the Roman capitation tax,
see the bibliographical references given by Baron (loc. cit.).
These fiscal measures were perhaps the most visible sign of
the Roman hostility toward the Jews. Another indication of the
Roman contempt for the Jews can be seen in the writing of authors
such as Cicero, Horace, Juvenal and Dio Cassius. 140 Tacitus (ca.
55-120 A.D.), who lived in Rome under nine emperors occupying
prominent political positions, perhaps, best epressed the reasons
for the hatred the Roman nourished for the Jews. He wrote:
"All their customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting,
owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out
of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them
their contribution and presents. This augmented the wealth of the
Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are
inflexibly honest and ever ready to shew compassion, though they
regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They
sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation,
they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse
with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful." 141
The hatred toward the Jews, felt particularly in Rome at
that time, compelled the Jewish historian Josephus, who was in
the city (from ca. A.D.70 to his death ca. 93) as a pensioner of
the imperial family, to take up his pen to defend his race from
popular calumnies. In his two works, "Against Apion" and "Jewish
Antiquities," he defended his race, showing how the Jews, as far
as antiquity, culture and prowess are concerned, could be
favorably compared to any nation.
140 Tacit, "The Histories" 5, 5, trans. A.J.Church and W.J.
Brodribb. "The Annals and the Histories" by P.C.Tacitus, Great
Bookie of the Western World (Chicago, London, Toronto: William
Benton, 1952), p 295; Tacit's adds: "Those who come over to their
religion adopt the practice [i.e., circumcision], and have this
lesson first instilled into them, to despise gods, to disown
their country, and set at nought parents, children and brethren.
Still they provide for the increase of their numbers" (loc.
141 Cicero points out how the Jewish laws and way of life were
incompatible with the Roman (Pro Flacco, 28, 29); Horace shows
contempt for Jewisb superstitions and mention, the case of his
friend Aristius Fuscus who could not discuss some private affairs
with him, because it was "the thirtieth Sabbath (Satires I:
9,67-72); Juvenal points out in a satire written about 125, that
the process of conversion to Judaism was often subtle, lengthy,
but in the end complete (Satires 7 :96-104); Dio Cassius
describes in frightful terms the atrocious manner in which the
Jews massacred both Greeks and Roman, at the time of their
frequent uprising ("Roman History" 69).
This contempt of the Romans for the Jews, caused by the
latter's constant revolts and exclusive customs is a factor which
played a preponderant role in causingt a social and religious
differentiation of the Christians from the Jews. If we add to
this growing conflict between the Church and the Synagogue and
the Jewish defamatory campaign against the Christians, 142 it is
as to perceive why many Christians did take steps to appear,
especially in the imperial city, clearly distinct from the Jews
in the eyes of the Romans. Under the emperor Hadrian (A.D.
117-138) particularly, a clear diffentiation from the Jews be-
came a more urgent necessity, due to the punitive measures taken
by the emperor againat them. The Jews as a whole were in fact
subjected at this time, according to Appian, a contemporary
historian, to a "poll-tax... heavier than that imposed upon the
surrounding peoples." 143 They were forbidden even to set foot in
"Aelia Capitolina," while the Gentile Christians were allowed to
settle in the city. 144 The emperor prohibited furthermore not
only circumcision - regarded as the trademark of Judaism - but
also, as Baron writes, "according to rabbinic sources, he
prohibited public gatherings for instruction in Jewish law,
forbade the proper observance of the Sabbath and holidays and
outlawed many important rituals." 145
142 Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho" 17, 1, laments the fact
that the Jews falsely represent the Christians, accusing them as
traitors and sacrilegious: "The other nations have not treated
Christ and us, His followers, as unjustly as have you Jews, who,
indeed, are the very instigators of that evil opinion they have
of the Just One and of us, His disciples." In chapter 96 of the
same work, Justin adds: "In your synagogues you curse all those
who through Him have become Christians, and the Gentiles put into
effect your curse by killing all those who merely admit that they
are Christians." (Falls, "Justin's Writings," p.173 and p.299);
Tertullian, "Scorpiace" 10, 10, CCL 2, 1089, denominates the
synagogues "Fontes persecutionum," and in "Ad Nationes" 1, 14, 2,
CCL 1, 33, "Seminarium eat infamiae nostrae." Origen, "Contra
Celsum," trans. by H. Chadwick (Cambridge: University Press,
1959), reports at length the associations which Celsus' Jew had
launched against the Christians.
143 "Appian's "Roman History, The Syrian Wars" 50, trans. Horace
White, Loeb Classical Library (New York: The Macmillan Co.,
144 On the pathetic attempts of the Jews to visit their ruins,
see Jerome's "Commentary on Zaphanaiah" 1: 15-16, PL 25, 1418f.;
other patristic sources are analyzed by B.Harris, "Hadrian's
Decree of Expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem," Harvard
Theological Review 19 (1926): 199-206; cf. also W.D.Gray,
"Founding of Aelia Capitoline, " American Journal of Semitic
Languages and Literatures 39 (1922-1923): 248-256.
145 Baron, "History," 2: 107 ; for the sources and a discussion
of Hadrian's anti-Jewish policies, ago below pp.40-41.
In this historical moment, as Marcel Simon emphasizes in his
"the circumstances invited insistence on this point: in a time of
tension between Rome and the Jews, and of the awakening of the
Zealot spirit, it was good to emphasize that the Christians,
liberated from any tie with the religion of Israel and the land
of Palestine, represented for the Empire irreproachable subjects.
It helped even the authorities, as Bouche-Leclereq has said, 'to
distinguish the cosmopolitan Christianity from Judaism and to
make them [i.e., the Romams] aware that a lesser gulf separated
the Christians from the Roman society.'" 146
Considering, furthermore, as the same writer suggests, that
Hadrian possibly : felt himself for a moment attracted with sym-
pathy for Christianity" 147 while "he reserved his severity for
the Jews" 148 it is reasonable to suppose that the majority of
the Gentile-Christians who were living in Rome under the
immediate attention of the emperor, sought to evidence their
distinction from the Jews by substituting for those
characteristic Jewish rites such as the Sabbath and Passover, new
dates and theological meanings. It is worth noticing that it is
at this time that the Christian Apologetic movement really
started, undoubtedly demanded by the circumstances. 149
Eusebius informs us that Quadratus presented
146 Simon, "Verve Israel," p.128.
147 Hadrian's attitude toward Christianity is revealed primarily
by his "Rescriptus" to Minucius Fundanus written probably about
125-126. The Emperor did not prohibit the prosecution of the
Christians, but he demanded that the accusation be made before a
tribunal in a regular process. Popular protestations against the
Christians were not to be accepted and false accusers were to be
severely punished. (The "Rescriptus" is quoted by Justin,
I "Apologia" 68 and by Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." 4, 9). While
Hadrian's Rescriptus is somewhat ambiguous in his formulation,
perhaps intentionally, basically however the Emperor manifested a
moderate attitude toward Christianity; for some significant
studies on Hadrian's "Rescriptus," see C.Callewaert, "Le rescrit
d'Hadrien a Minucius Fundanus" Reeve d'histoire et de
litte-rature religieuse 8 (1903): 152-189; Marta Sordi, "I
rescritti di Traiano e Adrian, sui cristiani," Rivista di Storm
delta Chiesa in Italia 14 (1960) 359-370; W. Schmid, "The
Christian Reinterpretation of the Rescript of Hadrian," Maya 7
(1953): lff. According to Lampridius, an authority not too
convincing, Hadrian was disposed to offer Christ a place in the
Pantheon (sea Vita Alexandri Severi 43, 6).
148 Simon, "Verus Israel," p.129.
149 Robert M. Grant points out that the apologetic movement
started under Hadrian, prompted by the Hellenizing efforts of the
Emperor and by the effects of the Barkokeba s revolt ("Augustus
to Constantine" [New York; Harper and Row, 1970], pp104-105).
Hereafter cited as Grant," Augustus.")
to Hadrian "a defense for our (Christian) religion because some
wicked men were trying to trouble the Christians. 150 H.Graetz
holds that these "wicked men" were none others than Jews who were
spreading slanderous reports about the Christians. 151 The
necessity for a religious differentiation from Judaism must have
been keenly felt by the Christians. Robert M.Grant aptly observes
that after the Barkokeba revolt:
"Christians turned toward Greek culture and rather rapidly
abandoned the original Jewish context of their religion. Justin's
'Dialogue with Trypho' reflects the Christian effort to
reinterpret the Old Testament for the benefit of Hellenistic Jews
who had fled from Palestine during the war of 132-135. 152
At the time of Hadrian, then, three significant condictions
seem to have existed contemporaneously:
(1) Roman hostility towards the Jews who were regarded as enemies
of the the Empire, due to their constant uprising; (2) relative
imperial favoritism for the Christians, who were protected from
popular calumnies; (3) an acute social and theological conflict
between Jews and Christians. This unique triangular situation
where political, social and theological conflicts and tensions
conditioned, even though in different ways, the relationships
among the Empire, Judaism and Christianity, seems to provide a
most reasonable explanation for the effort of some Christians to
break away from Jewish rites like the Sabbath and Passover, by
introducing new dates and theological motivations.
150 Lake, "Eusebius History" 4, 3, 1, p. 307.
151 See H.Graetz, "Geschichte der Juden," 11 vole., 3 ed.
(Leipzig: 0. Liner, 1897-1911), 4: 169. He also writes: "Both
sects of Christians (Jewish and Gentile) were anxious to be
recognized as a body separate from the Jews, both politically and
religiously, so as to avoid the doom impending over the latter.
Two teacher, of the Church, Quadratus and Aristides, are said to
have handed to Hadrian a petition, in which they demonstrated
that Christianity had no connection with Judaism." Graetz,
"History of the Jews," 2:431; cf. Paul Andriassen, "L'Apologie de
Quadrates conservee sons le titre d'Ep. a Diognete," Recherches
de Theol. Inc. et midievale 1946): 5-39; 125-149; 237.260, holds
that Quadratus is the author of the "Epistle of Diognetus," in
which Jewish institutions such as the Sabbath, new moons,
fasting, and feast day are considered a proof of the foolishness
of the Jew; see "Epistle to Diognetus" 4, 5, ed. and trans. by
H.I.Marron, A "Diognete," Sources Chretiennes 33 his (Paris:
Editions du Cerf,1965), p.61.
152 Grant, "Augastus," p.105.
TO BE CONTINUED