Did Rome accommodate Jewish customs (in AD 30)?

  • Clarifying the question

    Did the Roman government generally acquiesce to Jewish laws and customs in AD 30, during peacetime administration? Would they avoid imposing offensive laws?

  • Historians agree, saying “yes”

    • Richard Carrier: “However, it is generally agreed that before the Jewish War the Jews had the practice of their own laws to a quite remarkable degree. Important exceptions related to political appointments in the control of money and property, obvious areas of Roman interest (the issue of the death penalty will be discussed later). But otherwise Jewish law was upheld. This was a tradition of respect passed down since Julius Caesar decreed.(Such decrees were inscribed at Rome, Sidon, Tyre, and Ascalon, in both Greek and Latin, according to Nina Jidejian, yre Through the Ages (beirut: Dar el-Mashreq, 1969), p. 86.) after the Jewish War, this was no longer the case. But in the time of Jesus, Romans who ran roughshod over Jewish law like Pontius Pilate, seem to than acting extralegally, against the decrees of emperors Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius.” [The Empty Tomb (Prometheus, 2005), 373-74.]
    • Shimon Gibson (Leading Archaeologist; professor, 20+yrs excavating): “The truth is the Roman authorities would have wanted to keep the Sanhedrin and locals agreeable.” [The Final Days of Jesus (Harper Collins, 2009), 132.]
    • Craig Evans (Professor of NT, Founder of DSS Inst.): “Indeed, both Philo and Josephus claim that Roman administration in fact did acquiesce to Jewish customs. In his appeal to Caesar, Philo draws attention to the Jews who “appealed to Pilate to redress the infringement of their traditions caused by the shields and not to disturb the customs which throughout all the preceding ages had been safeguarded without disturbance by kings and by emperors” (De Legatione ad Gaium 38 §300). A generation later Josephus asserts the same thing. The Romans, he says, do not require “their subjects to violate their national laws” (Contra Apionem 2.6 §73). Josephus adds that the Roman procurators who succeeded Agrippa I “by abstaining from all interference with the customs of the country kept the nation at peace” (J.W. 2.11.6 §220). [“Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3.2 (2005).]
“Yes, after all…
  • Philo says so in Embassy 299-300

    Philo, in Embassy 299-300 says Rome accommodated Jewish customs.1

    1. Philo, Embassy 299-300 -- Pilate was one of the emperor’s lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judaea. He, not more with the object of doing honour to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod, in the holy city; [...] (300) But when the multitude heard what had been done, and when the circumstance became notorious, then the people, [...] entreated him to alter and to rectify the innovation which he had committed in respect of the shields; and not to make any alteration in their national customs, which had hitherto been preserved without any interruption, without being in the least degree changed by any king of emperor. (301) “But when he steadfastly refused this petition [...] they cried out: ‘Do not cause a sedition; do not make war upon us; do not destroy the peace which exists. The honour of the emperor is not identical with dishonour to the ancient laws; let it not be to you a pretence for heaping insult on our nation. Tiberius is not desirous that any of our laws or customs shall be destroyed. [...] (302) “But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, [...] but that he was not willing to be thought to do so, wrote a most supplicatory letter to Tiberius. (304) And he, when he had read it, what did he say of Pilate, and what threats did he utter against him! But it is beside our purpose at present to relate to you how very angry he was*, although he was not very liable to sudden anger; since the facts speak for themselves; (305) for immediately, without putting any thing off till the next day, he wrote a letter, reproaching and reviling him in the most bitter manner for his act of unprecedented audacity and wickedness, and commanding him immediately to take down the shields and to convey them away from the metropolis of Judaea to Caesarea, on the sea which had been named Caesarea Augusta, after his grandfather, in order that they might be set up in the temple of Augustus. And accordingly, they were set up in that edifice. And in this way he provided for two matters: both for the honour due to the emperor, and for the preservation of the ancient customs of the city.
  • Josephus says so in Against Apion 2.73

    Josephus, in Against Apion 2.73 says Rome accommodated Jewish customs.1

    1. Josephus, Against Apion 2.73 -- ...have admired the magnanimity and modesty of the Romans, whereby they do not compel those that are subject to them to transgress the laws of their countries, [Trans. by Whiston.]
  • Josephus says so in Wars of the Jews 2.20

    Josephus, in Wars of the Jews 2.20 says Rome accommodated Jewish customs.1

    1. Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2.20 -- “Claudius made the country a Roman province, and sent Cuspius Fadus to be its procurator, and after him Tiberius Alexander, who, making no alterations of the ancient laws, kept the nation in tranquility.
  • Josephs says so in Antiquities of the Jews 16:160-173

    Josephus, in Antiquities of the Jews 16:160-173 says Rome accommodated Jewish customs.1

    1. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 16:160-173 -- “Caesar Augustus, high priest and tribune of the people, ordains thus:—Since the nation of the Jews have been found grateful to the Roman people, not only at this time but in times past also, and chiefly Hyrcanus the high priest, under my father,a Caesar the emperor, (163) it seemed good to me and my counsellors, according to the sentence and oath of the people of Rome, that the Jews have liberty to make use of their own customs, according to the law of their forefathers, [...] Agrippa also did himself write, after the manner following, on behalf of the Jews: [...] “Marcus Agrippa to the magistrates, senate, and people of Cyrene [...] “Caius Norbanus Flaccus, proconsul, to the magistrates of the Sardians, sendeth greeting. Caesar hath written to me, and commanded me [...] Nor did Julius Antonius, the proconsul, write otherwise. “To the magistrates, senate, and people of the Ephesians, sendeth greeting. As I was dispensing justice at Ephesus, on the ides of February, the Jews that dwell in Asia demonstrated to me that Augustus and Agrippa had permitted them to use their own laws and customs, [...] They also petitioned me, that I would confirm what had been granted by Augustus and Agrippa by my own sanction. I would therefore have you take notice, that according to the will of Augustus and Agrippa, I permit them to use and do according to the customs of their forefathers without disturbance.”