Taking a fresh look at what the Greeks and Romans thought about Jews and Judaism, Peter Schäfer locates the origin of anti-Semitism in the ancient world. Judeophobia firmly establishes Hellenistic Egypt as the generating source of anti-Semitism, with roots extending back into Egypt’s pre-Hellenistic history.
A pattern of ingrained hostility toward an alien culture emerges when Schäfer surveys an illuminating spectrum of comments on Jews and their religion in Greek and Roman writings, focusing on the topics that most interested the pagan classical world: the exodus or, as it was widely interpreted, expulsion from Egypt; the nature of the Jewish god; food restrictions, in particular abstinence from pork; laws relating to the sabbath; the practice of circumcision; and Jewish proselytism. He then probes key incidents, two fierce outbursts of hostility in Egypt: the destruction of a Jewish temple in Elephantine in 410 B.C.E. and the riots in Alexandria in 38 C.E. Asking what fueled these attacks on Jewish communities, the author discovers deep-seated ethnic resentments. It was from Egypt that hatred of Jews, based on allegations of impiety, xenophobia, and misanthropy, was transported first to Syria-Palestine and then to Rome, where it acquired a new element: fear of this small but distinctive community. To the hatred and fear, ingredients of Christian theology were soon added—a mix all too familiar in Western history.
[Judeophobia] casts new light on, and suggests a new understanding of, an area that has been a controversial field ever since Theodor Mommsen, in…his Römische Geshichte in 1884, made the ‘rather casual statement’ that ‘hatred of the Jews and Jew-baiting are as old as the Diaspora itself’… [It is a] learned and absorbing book.
A well-informed and intelligently argued book. It is also admirably readable.
An elegant, persuasive, and comprehensive book… It is no exaggeration to say that Judeophobia changes the way we think about Judaism in the Greco-Roman world.
In Judeophobia Peter Schäfer makes a major contribution to the social history of Judaism in antiquity… The book is written in a clear style appropriate for non-specialists. Non-English language terms are transliterated and, in most cases, translated the first time they are used. Schäfer’s thesis is that the origins of anti-Semitism can be traced to three successive centers of conflict: Egypt, Syria-Palestine, and Rome. Schäfer’s attempt to disentangle the unique aspects of the growth of anti-Semitism in each of these three centers is one of the most important contributions of the book… This book deserves to be read by anyone interested in the origins of anti-Semitism. Its main arguments will undoubtedly become a source for discussion and debate in future research. Schäfer deserves our thanks, both for his courage in pursuing a difficult topic with such frankness and for the numerous insights that he has contributed to research on this topic.
Schäfer demonstrates his mastery of the sources…[and] isolate[s] with great clarity key elements in the history of antisemitism.
Schäfer has given us a masterly account of the early history of antisemitism.
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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