Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Jewish Quarter(s)

Antioch was on of the great cities of the Jewish diaspora even before the diaspora happened. The Jewish community rapidly coalesced around the new empire in which they found themselves in the wake of Alexander's death and the carve-up of his former "domains" amongst his generals. Antioch was the capital of the Seleucid kingdom and this covered Judea. Antioch was an epicentre of politics and commerce and the community started to grow with the city.

The chief sources for discussion of these themes are:
  • Carl Kraeling's article "The Jewish Community in Antioch" in the Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol 51, no.2 June 1932 pp 130-160).
  • Samuel Krauss' article "Antioche" in the Revue des Etudes Juives 45 (1902, pp 27-49)
  • A. Kasher's article "The Rights of the Jews of Antioch on the Orontes" in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research (vol 49 1982 pp 69-85)
and on the more narrowly focused theme of the Gate of the Cherubim (nevertheless important for siting the community):
  • Glanville Downey's article "The Gate of the Cherubim at Antioch" in the Jewish Quarterly Review (pp 167-177)
  • W.L. Duliere's article "Les Cherubins du troisieme Temple a Antioche" in the Zeitschrift fur Religions- und geistegeschichte (1961, XIII Jahrgang, Heft 3 pp 201-219)
Then there are the sources on the Ashmunit synagogue/shrine that I cite in my comments on that issue.

Firstly I would like to give the opinion that the Jewish community did not have a "ghetto" in Antioch. As is well-known that whole concept of ghettoization did not develop until the Middle Ages (or later) in Venice. Theoretically the Jews of Antioch were free to live wherever they liked in the city (at least we have never heard of any restrictions). Moreover it should be remembered that Antioch was one of the very centres of hellenizing corruption that spurred the Maccabean Revolt.

What was "hellenization" if not assimilation? Ancient Antioch should be looked at as somewhat akin to Berlin in the 1920s: a whole gamut of different degrees of Jewishness and assimilation. Thus the most "orthodox" would have been gathered closest to the synagogues and other community facilities required to maintain the lifestyle of a religious community with strict dietary and other behavioural laws, while the most assimilated would have positioned themselves wherever their lifestyle and social status (or business or political activity) deemed most convenient for them to be. Thus some of the lavish villas of the mountain slope, the Island or Daphne may have belonged to well-off assimilated families. There is also evidence for agricultural Jewish communities, some devoted to the cultivation of rice on the Plain of Antioch.

We might also note the historical oddity that as Christianity grew in the city, there were criticisms thrown against some of the Christians, by their leaders, that they were overly fond of attending Jewish festivals (as the pagan element also seemed to enjoy doing). If Antioch was anything it was a party town and the newly converted Christians clearly didn't want to miss out on a festival no matter who was holding it! This is not a sign of a walled-off isolated community.

However, the subject of this note is the identifiable districts. With an estimated Jewish population of 60,000 at its peak (according to Kraeling) the Jewish community must have been congregated in part but certainly with other members living all over the city.

The area that is most clearly associated with the community is the Kerateion which was either just inside, or just outside, the Cherubim Gate. Now 60,000 people was 10-15% of the total population of the city. Thus we are not talking here of a block or two but of a very large group of people that grouped together would occupy a large territory. There is no indication that the Jewish community was any more, or less, crowded than the rest of the populace. Thus a whole swathe of the southern part of the city may have constituted the Jewish quarter, both within and without the walls. In our comments on the destruction by Chosroes it was noted that the quarter was the one area spared destruction in the fire that his troops started. Was this because it was outside the wall?

I have to think that the name Kerateion harks back to the very founding of the city when various Greek groups were settled in the city and their districts were named after their homelands. Thus it would seem that the district was most likely inside the Cherubim Gate (which is where Wilber's map put it) rather than an unwalled suburb (until the Theodosian Wall enveloped it).

The second Jewish area that is mentioned (and this also dates back to the Seleucid period) is the community at Daphne. I shall not go into the history of this but most of the authors date this group back a very long way. How densely populated was Daphne? It can't really have been very dense if it was to maintain its Arcadian splendour. Thus its population (pagan, Jewish or otherwise) may never have been more than a few thousand in total, with villas and upscale residences predominating. I might remind that the "theatre" (or was it the theatron) at Daphne was supposedly built on the site of the synagogue. There clearly was a community there but did it make up more than a few hundred or few thousand out of the larger number in the vicinityof Antioch?

Then there is Kraeling's theory that there was a third community. In one moment Kraeling discusses Herod the Great's role in constructing the Colonnaded Street. He takes issue with Forster's suggestion that the street went southward out of the town towards "the Jewish community at Daphne" but instead argues that the street was paved and adorned with porticos towards the northeast due to there being a Jewish community at the far northern extremity of the city. We quote:

"Marcus Agrippa, it will be recalled, improved a section along Silpius east of the town, and Marcus was known as a friend of Herod the Great and a friend of the Jews. There is nothing improbable in the supposition that Herod's building operations, and those of Agrippa, had some relation one to the other, and that both, affecting as they then did the Eastern suburbs of the Seleucid city had some immediate relation to a people or a cause in which both donors were interested. We therefore submit the hypothesis that the object of the joint enterprise was that of improving and connecting with the city a Jewish settlement of the XXXX or "plain" of Antioch. This will not preclude the existence or subsequent establishment of other similar colonies still farther out in the plain, but it will explain the tradition that the churches and sites connected with the early Christian apostles all lie in the extreme eastern part of the Justinian city, and that the Plethrion, built under Didius Julianus in the eastern portion of the Tiberian development, was constructed on the site of a house owned and inhabited by a Jew Asabinus".

Thus Kraeling associates the Vicus Agrippae with a secondary Jewish district, gives a rationale for Herod's street-building in that direction and also explains why the initial concentration of the Christian community was concentrated at the far north-east of the walled city. Something here to ponder which might eventually be helped by some more concerted exploration of the area that was between the St.Paul and the Beroea gates (or beyond) which seemed to be the area of the Agrippan settlement.

We would question the Plethron comment however as this was not in the "eastern" portion of the city but in the very centre, in proximity to the Forum of Valens. The Jewish community was not a ghetto in Antioch and thus just because Asabinus' house was subject to an ancient form of eminent domain it does not mean that he actually lived in the Jewish district.

Once again none of the areas mentioned here as likely locations for the Jewish quarters have been excavated with any thoroughness so the evidence still remains buried. The Vicus Agrippae would not be difficult to tackle and the Daphne area needs a lot a more work. The Kerateion, alas, lies under modern Antakya, and tantalisingly out of reach.


xynonymous said...

Who are the modern-day descendants of Antiochian Christians and Jews?

Antiochian said...

After the many travails of the city, one may well ask... if the earthquakes, plagues and deportations didnt get them then it is surprising to find any left. The 60,000 Jews of the glory days had been reduced to 400 by the 13th century and a mere handful by the 19th century. One almost suspects if they did one of those DNA studies on the ancient population and the current population, I suspect there would be almost zero overlap such have been the traumas over the intervening 1600 years since the decline began.

Yair Itmar said...

Hi Antiochian,
I know it's an old post, but I've been researching the sources about the Ashmunit synagogue/shrine, and I'm wondering if there are any current traditions or identifications as to the location(s) of this site. (If there are, and you happen to have photos of it, I'd greatly appreciate them!)