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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Libya 01: Romans and Greeks and revolts

First Jews - king Ptolemy Lagos - commerce - Roman Empire - Greek culture - Zealot movement - revolt in 115 - Jewish names of settlements

Encyclopaedia Judaica: Jews in Libya, vol. 11,
                  col. 199-200, map with Jewish settlements from the
                  beginning to modern times
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Jews in Libya, vol. 11, col. 199-200, map with Jewish settlements from the beginning to modern times

from: Libya; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 11

presented by Michael Palomino (2010)



<LIBYA, country in N. Africa, consisting of the regions of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica (see *Cyrene), and Fezzan.

[First Jews during Egypt and king Ptolemy Lagos]

Isolated finds of Jewish origin from pre-Exilic Erez Israel were discovered both in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, but there is no reliable evidence of Jewish presence in those countries before the time of Ptolemy Lagos (ruled Egypt 323-282 B.C.E.); he is reported to have settled Jews in the Cyrenean Pentapolis to strengthen his regime there, probably in 312 B.C.E. The phrases used consistently in the sources point to their distribution around Cyrene presumably as military settlers on royal land. the temporary extension of Ptolemaic control into Tripolitania in the early third century B.C.E. may have occasioned similar Jewish settlement in that area; there are Jewish finds from this date at Busetta and Zliten.

Early History. - [commerce between Palestine and Cyrene]

After the Maccabean breakthrough to Jaffa commerce between Erez Israel and Cyrene appears to have been strengthened (147-43 B.C.E.). II Maccabees is an abbreviation of a work by Jason of Cyrene. With the political reunion of Egypt and Cyrene under Ptolemy Euergetes II in 145 B.C.E., a fresh wave of Jewish immigration reached the latter country; the Jewish community of Teucheira, evidenced by their epitaphs, and composed probably of military settlers linked with Egypt, must have originated late in the century. In 88 B.C.E., after Cyrene had been freed from Ptolemaic control, the Jews of the country were involved in an undefined civil conflict perhaps to be connected with contemporary manifestations [col. 198]

of Greek anti-Jewishness in Alexandria and Antioch. The Roman exploitation o the royal domains at the expense of their cultivators would have involved numerous Jews, ultimately expropriated, perhaps one of the social bases of the risings of 73 and 115 C.E.

[Roman Empire and Greek culture]

Cyrene became a Roman province in 74 B.C.E.; inscriptions of the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero at Berenice (Benghazi) indicate a wealthy, well-organized community with an executive board and its own amphitheater for assembly, as well as a synagogue. Jewish urban communities prior to 115 C.E. are further evidenced at Apollonia and Ptolemais. Cyrenean Jewry under Augustus was compelled to defend its right - attacked by Greek cities - to send the half-shekel to Jerusalem, but its privileges were confirmed by the Roman power.

A section of the Cyrenean community at this point seems to have obtained improved civic status, and Jewish names appear among graduates of city gymnasia both at Cyrene and Ptolemais, but it is clear that the bulk of the community was considered intermediate between alien residents and citizens. Cyrenean Jewry was nevertheless preponderantly rural; sites of Jewish rural settlement are known at Gasr Tarhuna, Al-Bagga, in the Martuba area, at Boreion (Bu-Grada) in the south (the site of an alleged "temple"), and at an unlocated place called Kaparodis. The Teucheira group was largely agricultural and a Jewish rural population probably existed around Benghazi.

The occupations of Cyrenean Jewry included, besides agriculture, those of potter, sailor, stonemason, bronze-worker, and possibly weaver. Commercial elements are likely to have existed at the ports of Benghazi, Apollonia, and Ptolemais. The Jewish aristocracies of Benghazi, Ptolemais, and Cyrene were highly hellenized (cf. a Jew, Eleazar son of Jason, who held municipal office at Cyrene under Nero); though Jewish graduates of gymnasia appear at Teucheira, most of the Jews there were relatively uncultured, and suffered a high rate of child mortality. Cyrenean Jews maintained a synagogue in Jerusalem in the first century C.E.

[Zealot movement under Jonathan the Weaver]

In 73 C.E. Jonathan the Weaver, a "desert prophet" of the Qumran type and a Zealot refugee from Erez Israel [[Palestine]], incited the poorer element of the Jews of Cyrene to revolt, leading them to the desert with promises of miraculous deliverance. Jonathan was apprehended and his followers were massacred; the Roman governor L. Valerius Catullus also took the opportunity to execute some 3,000 wealthy Jews and to confiscate their property.

The Zealot movement was not confined to the city of Cyrene, and the removal of the hellenized Jewish aristocracy led to the radicalization of the rest of the community. Under Vespasian (69-97 C.E.) the recovery and redistribution of the extensive Cyrenean [col. 199]

state lands began, resulting in increased friction with the semi nomadic transhumant Libyan elements. To the same period belongs the Jewish settlement of Iscina (Scina) Locus Augusti Iudaeorum (Medinat al-Sultan) on the shore of eastern Tripolitania, an imperial foundation which may plausibly be held to reflect a forcible removal of disaffected Jewish elements from Cyrene to the desert borders - a view which finds support in Jewish historical tradition. A Jewish-Libyan rapprochement on the desert borders may well have taken place prior to the rising of 115.

[Jewish revolt in 115 and defeat in 116]

In 115 - during Trajan's Second Parthian campaign - the Jewish revolt broke out in Cyrene, Egypt, and Cyprus. The very heavy gentile casualties in Cyrene and the scope of the destruction wrought by the Jews at Cyrene, probably at Apollonia, Balagrae (Zwiat Beda), Teucheira, and in the eastern areas, suggest that the rebels, under their leader *Lucuas (or Andreas), who was called by the gentile historians "King of the Jes", intended to quit the country for good. The wholesale destruction of the Roman temples testifies to the Zealot content of the rising. At the end of 116 the Jews broke into Egypt, but cut off from Alexandria were defeated by Marcius Turbo; Lucuas is thought to have been killed in Judea.

Jews may have already been again living in Ptolemais in the third century, and, in the later part of the fourth century, Jewish ships were reaching Cyrene from Egypt. There is much evidence for the existence of a Jewish population in the country on the eve of the Muslim conquest (642), and presumably the numerous Jewish traditions attached to ancient sites throughout the country relate to the Byzantine period. In Tripolitania, except for the appearance of Iscina, the Jewish record is blank until the fourth century.

[Jewish names of settlements]

In Africa Vetus (Tunisia) Jewish settlement cannot be proven before the early second century C.E., and the Talmud (Men. 110a) seems to imply a gap in Jewish settlement east of Carthage; Jerome nevertheless believed that in the late fourth century Jewish settlement was continuous from Morocco to Egypt, and numerous place-names on the Tripolitanian coast suggest a very ancient Jewish tradition. A Christian cemetery of the fourth century at Sirte contained chiefly Jewish names, perhaps of people connected with imperial domains of the area. A Jewish community at Oea (now *Tripoli), which possessed competent scholars, is attested by Augustine (fifth century). The Boreion community indicates longstanding settlement; its "temple" was converted into a church, and its Jews were forced to accept Christianity by Justinian (527-65). Ibn Khaldun (14th century) thought the Berbers on Mount Nefusa were Judaized, and derived from the Barce area (Cyrene) - like the Jarawa of the Algerian Aurès - but his [col. 200]

statement is tentative and the traditions of Judaizing Berber tribes, despite the extensive modern literature concerning them, have been shown not to be pre- or early Islamic. [SH.AP.]>

Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 198
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 199-200
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 201-202
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 203-204
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col.
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Libya, vol. 11, col. 205-206

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