110 AD to 130 AD, Psalm 53: Alexandria.

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alexandrie shutterstock_224224732This generation is that of the 110s and 120s.

If the ardor of the Jews of Judea was largely cooled by the adventure that led to the destruction of the Temple in 70, the Jews of the diaspora are at the forefront in this generation. In particular, the hitherto most prestigious community, that of Egypt and more particularly that of Alexandria.
At the level of the Roman Empire, this generation, under the sign of the Antonines, sees the end of the reign of Trajan (98/117) and the beginning of that of Hadrian (117/138).
On the eve of this generation, the Jewish population in the Roman world, so in the world, is at its peak in quantitative terms:
  • Juster [1] was able to draw Jewish communities from the Empire an impressive list. Some were of minor importance. But all of those in Egypt were probably hundreds of thousands, that of Rome tens of thousands of souls. A global figure is difficult to establish.At least one agreement tends to be made regarding the proportion of Jews in the Empire’s population: 6 to 7 million, says Juster, for a total of 80 million, or 7%. Lietzmann, who brings with Beloch the overall figure to 55 million, retains the same percentage. R.P. Bonsirven offers 1 / 12th, or 8%. The figures are generally given for the first century. From that moment on, little Palestine only appears for the slightest part: half a million thinks Lietzmann.
If the destruction of the Temple dealt a blow to Palestinian Judaism, it was for the Diaspora a strengthening element:
  • It [2] (the destruction of the Temple) first of all removed this inequality already reported between the Jews of Palestine, of total observance, and those of the outside, reduced to a partial practice of the Law. Equal now with their fellow Palestinians, the scattered are thus better equipped for their action with the Gentiles. For Jewish universalism, the Temple was an obstacle and a hindrance. He clearly recalled the link between the Jewish religion and the Palestinian soil, and embodied the national character of religious tradition and worship. By destroying Jerusalem and thus dissociating religion from the Jewish state, the first continuing to exist while the second was gone. The Romans ultimately served Judaism: “Far from slaughtering it,” Bouché-Leclercq rightly notes, “the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, by ridding it of worship, had given it new vigor and a more great ease of propaganda “.

Alexandrie ancienne carte

Victorian engraving of the Roman emperor Trajan. Digitally restored image from a mid-19th century Encyclopaedia.However, this diaspora force of this generation is put to the test especially in Alexandria, the main focus of the diaspora:
  • It seems [3] that everything goes for the best between the Emperor Trajan and the Alexandrans as between the same Emperor Trajan and the Jews of Egypt, at the very end of the first century AD and at the beginning of the second century. But it is only a lull before the storm that will arrive from the west a few years later. The Jews of Cyrene will rebel against Roman power; the revolt will spread to Egypt. It will swallow the Hellenized Judaism of Alexandria and Egypt in a tragic sinking.
The threat is not Christian anti-Semitism. This one is not ripe yet, even if the previous generation has already seeded it. For this generation, it is pagan anti-Semitism that blames the Jews for their particularism:
  • After [4] the catastrophe of the first war against Rome, the Jews of Palestine and the diaspora remained quiet for a relatively long time. The people and their leaders had lost the taste for messianic adventures – or else it had been smothered. But the great revolt of the diaspora, in the first half of the second century, was to show that messianism was always a political force with the heavy repercussions with which it was necessary to count.
  • The revolt broke out under Trajan and is linked – at least indirectly – to his campaign against the Parthians, at the east of the empire. Taking advantage of the fact that he was occupied in Mesopotamia (115) and the resultant military defection, the Jews of Egypt and Cyrenaica rose up, soon imitated by those of Cyprus and then of Mesopotamia. According to the sources, the revolt was directed against the “pagan” (Greco-Roman) neighbors of the Jews in the various foci of insurrection; massacres and incredible atrocities committed by the Jews on the pagan population are attested by Dion. One of the leaders of the Jews in Cyrenaica is called Lucuas by Eusebius, Andreas by Dion, in Cyprus, there is talk of a certain Artemonion. Trajan considered the revolt so serious that he sent one of his best generals, Marcus Turbo, to Cyrenaica to quell the rebellion (which he did not achieve until after long fighting). In Cyprus, the carnage must have been such that after the repression, the island was strictly forbidden to any Jew (according to Dion, even the castaways were put to death).
  • The participation of the Jews of Mesopotamia in the uprising represented for Trajan a particular danger, the eastern border being a neuralgic point of the empire and the region having just been conquered on the Parthians. Here it is the Moorish general Lusius Quietus who was charged with the restoration of order. The latter fulfilled his mission so well that he was rewarded by Trajan with the government of the province of Judea.
  • […] The current trend (on the part of historians) is to consider that the Jews of Palestine did not take part in this uprising. The situation in Palestine was certainly different than in the dispersion, and it seems that this revolt under Trajan was really a revolt of the diaspora, born of the special conditions experienced by Greco-Roman Judaism of the diaspora (cultural rapprochement does not exclude not a reinforcement of essential oppositions, economic competition, etc.).
This danger, Flavius Josephus, had already sensed, when in his “Against Apion” (written at the end of the first century) he attacks pagan anti-Semitism, especially that of the Egyptians (by contradiction to the Greeks who were assimilated the Jews for a long time since the conquest of Alexander) of Alexandria, of which Apion is a “worthy” representative:
  • But  [5] he (Apion) insists. “Why, then,” said he, “if they are citizens, do they not worship the same gods as the Alexandrians?” To which I (it is Flavius Josephus who expresses himself) answer: “Why also, although you are all Egyptians, do you indulge one another in a relentless and unrelenting war about religion? Do not we all give you the name of Egyptians, and do you refuse more than all men, because you worship animals hostile to our nature, and you feed them with great care, while the whole human race seems one and the same? But if there are between you Egyptians such differences of opinion, why are you astonished that men, coming from another country to Alexandria, have preserved on this matter their primitively established laws? “
But the efforts of Flavius Josephus will be in vain, the conflict between pagans and Jews hardens, reinforced by the fact that the destruction of the Temple must have made the pagans think that the God of the Jews did not exist or he existed but had abandoned the Jews.
The revolt of the Jews under Hadrian is probably the answer to a growing harassment of the native people towards the Jews whom they have always considered as foreigners. Foreigners protected by the power of the time of Alexander and the Ptolemy, but today without support since Rome took power and left the Alexandrians (“Greeks”) for the benefit of the Egyptians making uncomfortable the position of the Jews.
It is this conflict that the psalm of this generation reflects:

(extract of the psalm 53 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 7 )

  • For the conductor, on machalath, a maskil of David.
  • The fool said in his heart, « There is no God »; they have dealt corruptly; they have committed abominable injustice; no one does good.
  • God looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see whether there is a man of understanding, who seeks God.
  • They are all dross; together they have spoiled; no one does good, not even one.
    • The fools (pagans of Egypt) feels strong after the destruction of the Temple which denies in their eyes the existence of the God of Israel. They do not hesitate to draw a pejorative picture of the people of Israel to better attack it.
  • Did not the workers of iniquity know? Those who devoured My people partook of a feast; they did not call upon the Lord. 
    • This generation will see the killing of many Jews in the diaspora. Victims mainly of their pagan adversaries who will profit from the Roman reaction to perfect their destructive work towards the people of Israel.
  • There they were in great fear; there was never such fear, for God scattered the bones of those who camp around you; You have put them to shame, for God rejected them.
  • O that the salvations of Israel would come out of Zion; when God returns the captivity of His people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.
    • But if the people of Israel can only painfully suffer the attacks of the nations that welcome them during the long exile of this last and long part of the night, the dawn will eventually dawn. With the resurrection of the people of Israel, which will show unbelieving nations that the God of Israel is present and ever faithful to his people whom he will re-establish in Zion, the earth dedicated to him.



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[1] Marcel Simon: “Verus Israel” / Chapter 2: “The Aftermath of Crisis: The Diaspora” (French: “Verus Israël”/Chapitre 2 : « Lendemains de crise : La Diaspora » (p. 53) ).

[2] Marcel Simon: “Verus Israel” / Chapter 2: “The Aftermath of Crisis: The Diaspora” (French: “Verus Israël”/Chapitre 2 : « Lendemains de crise : La Diaspora » (p. 55) ).

[3] J Larch Modrzejewski: “The Jews of Egypt from Ramses II to Hadrian” / Chapter: Twilight, Egypt in the Roman Empire – Time of Woes. (French: “Les Juifs d’Égypte de Ramsès II à Hadrien”/Chapitre : le crépuscule, l’Égypte dans l’empire romain – Le temps des malheurs ).

[4] Peter Schäfer (French translation by Pascale Schulte): “History of the Jews in antiquity”, Chapter: “The interwar period: from 74 to 132 AD”. (French: “Histoire des Juifs dans l’antiquité”/Chapitre : « L’entre deux guerres : de 74 à 132 après J. C.) » ).

[5] Flavius Josephus: “Against Apion” / Book II / Chapter 6. (French: Flavius Josèphe/Contre Apion/Livre II/Chapitre 6 ).