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The Roman emperor Hadrian: a white man with curly hair and a trimmed beard

The Roman emperor Hadrian, 117-138 AD (now in the British Museum)

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the Jews once again tried to get free of Roman rule. But like the First Jewish Revolt, this revolt failed as well. In addition, Hadrian hated the Jews. Hadrian was really into anything Greek, including Greek religion. He thought Judaism (and probably Christianity) was a superstition. When the Second Jewish Revolt was over, Hadrian didn’t just bring Israel back under Roman rule. He also forced most Jewish people to leave Jerusalem and Israel. They had to settle elsewhere in the Roman or Parthian empires. People called this the Diaspora (die-ASS-pour-ah), like dispersion, because it scattered the Jews. It has a lot in common with the Babylonian Captivity.

So there got to be fewer Jews in Israel, and a lot more Jews in Babylon, Alexandria, Rome, and other big cities of the Roman and Parthian empires. And because Jewish people didn’t have their land anymore, many of them became traders. Many Jewish families arranged to have brothers or sisters or cousins in different cities, so they could trade among trusted family members.

Synagogue at Capernaum

Synagogue at Capernaum

Diaspora Jews built many synagogues all around the Roman and Parthian Empires. This one is in Capernaum (ka-pear-NOW-um), in Israel, and dates to the fourth century AD, but the ruins of an earlier 1st c. AD synagogue lie beneath it and have recently been excavated.

Mordecai is leading Esther (on the horse) to talk to the Persian king. A fresco from the world's oldest preserved synagogue at Dura-Europos in Syria (244 AD)

Mordecai is leading Esther (on the horse) to talk to the Persian king. A fresco from the world’s oldest preserved synagogue at Dura-Europos in Syria (244 AD)

But other synagogues were not in Israel. This is a wall-painting (a fresco) from the synagogue of Dura-Europos in Syria. Dura was mainly a Parthian town though sometimes captured by the Romans. It was painted in the third century AD. Later it was buried under a big dirt wall that Roman soldiers built to defend Dura-Europos against the Sassanid invaders. That preserved the painting so we can see it today. The painting shows the story of Esther from the Bible. Can you see Esther all the way on the right? Haman is on the horse. Why would the story of Esther be especially important to Diaspora Jews living in the Parthian empire?

Learn by doing – visit a synagogue in your city
More about Christian persecution of the Jews

Bibliography and further reading about the Second Jewish Revolt:

Christian persecution of the Jews
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