Relief on the Arch of Titus showing Roman soldiers moving newly enslaved Jews and their belongings, Rome; ca. 70
The known trajectory of Jewish history begins in ancient Israel, continues through 2,000 years of Diaspora, and then reaches the two major events of the 20th century: the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.
Within those 2,000 years of Diaspora are little-known stories of Jewish communities that are well worth our attention. Biblical scholar and historian Gary Rendsburg leads a fascinating virtual tour across time and space to explore several of these surprising outposts from Yemen to Yorkshire.
9:30-10:45 a.m. The Jews of Hellenistic Egypt
The conquests of Alexander the Great brought Hellenism to the entire Near East in the late 4th century B.C. Egypt’s large and thriving Jewish communities in Alexandria and other locales reflected a successful symbiosis of Hellenism and Judaism. Fully integrated into society and the economy, Egypt’s Jews translated the Bible into Greek, built synagogues dedicated to the Ptolemy kings and queens, wrote Jewish literature in Greek, and even constructed a temple that rivaled Jerusalem’s.
11 a.m.-12:15 p.n. The Jews of Arabia
The ancient world’s least-known Jewish communities were along the Arabian Peninsula during the years between the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. and the rise of Islam during the 7th-century A.D. Evidence discovered only within the past several decades, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Arabic, and South Arabian, describe Jews who lived in oases in northern Arabia, as tribes in and around Medina, and who even formed the basis of a Jewish kingdom in Yemen. The narrative is a reminder of Judaism’s broad cultural and geographical reach.
12:15-1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30-2:45 p.m. Jews in German Lands: Roman and Holy Roman Empires
By the year 300 A.D. Jews had arrived in the northern reaches of the Roman Empire, along the Danube and the Rhine. In 325, Constantine granted the Jews the right to serve on the city council of Cologne. By 1000, Mainz, Worms, and Speyer were thriving Jewish communities along the Rhine River. Magnificent illuminated Hebrew manuscripts were produced in these cities, and visitors today can visit centuries-old synagogues, cemeteries, and ritual baths.
3-4:15 p.m. The Jews of Medieval England
Jews first arrived in England upon the invitation of William the Conqueror, soon after 1066. For the next 200-plus years they both prospered and endured harsh treatment under the realm of Christendom. There’s evidence of the sale of land by Jacob the Jew to Walter de Merton for the establishment of Merton College, Oxford, The massacre of Jews in York in 1190 is a low point in history, and the expulsion of the Jews from England took place under Edward I in 1290. But even after the expulsion, the memory of the Jews persisted among the English Christian population in truly remarkable ways.
Rendsburg is the Blanche and Irving Laurie professor of Jewish history at Rutgers University.
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