Israel and the Palestinian Territories/History: Syria Palaestina

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The time subsequent to Bar Kochba was followed by an intense anti-Jewish campaign, in which Judaism was practically banned. Some of the laws were relaxed, but situation remained dire for Jews. Nevertheless, Jewish religious activities gradually returned to normalcy in Galilee. During the time Rabbinical Judaism continued to develop as the Rabbis discussed problems faced by Jews amidst Roman suppression. Samaritans settled among Jews, causing some frictions.

During Severan Dynasty, situation improved somewhat for Jews, due to Jewish support for Septimus Severus. Judah the Prince, or Yehuda ha-Nasi, had an amiable relationship with the Roman Emperor at the time, and received significant authority. Several towns in the region were given rights of Roman cities, while Aliyah resumed. After his death, the Nasi position and position of the head of the Sanhedrin were separated.

Jews were affected by the crises of the Third Century, even though they were not targeted by the Decian persecution as the Christians were. During the time of the independent Palmyrene Empire, Queen Zenobia held an amicable relationship to Jews.

Under Diocletian, the region now part of either Israel or PA was divided into three provinces: Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda and Palaestina Salutaris.

Roman provinces c.400, showing the division of Syria Palaestina

Under Constantine the Great, Christianity became the prestige religion, and the bishop of Jerusalem received special honour(and would become a Patriarchate in 451). The rise of Christianity caused a mass flow of Christians into the region, as the holiest places in Christianity were often in Galilee, reducing Jews to a minority in the region. The conflict between Christians and Jews caused a Jewish revolt in 351, but the revolt was suppressed later. A permanent garrison was established there after the revolt.

At the time, amidst the increasing suppression of the Sanhedrin activities, Hillel II, the Nasi at the time, enacted a fixed calendar system that’s still used by Jews today.

Julian the Apostate, who tried to revive Helleno-Roman classical culture, tried to help Jews to build the Holy Temple, but the plan failed with the assassination of Emperor Julian.

After that, attacks against Jews intensified. While Judaism was not outright banned, Jewish activities were increasingly restricted. The position of Nasi itself was suppressed in 429 CE. Shortly earlier, the Jerusalem Talmud, which is a misnomer since it was actually compiled in Galilee, was finalized.

Several Samaritan revolts broke out during late 5th Century due to increasing persecution of Samaritanism by the imperial authorities. The revolts were brutally suppressed by the Empire and its Ghassanid Arab foederati, and Samaritanism was outlawed, driving the community almost to extinction, but the community nevertheless survived.

During the time the controversy over whether the Christ had two natures broke out. Juvenal, the bishop and later Patriarch of Jerusalem, supported the results of the Council of Chalcedon, and when he returned to Jerusalem, Miaphysites, or those who believed that the Christ’s two natures had unified into one nature, drove him from the throne, and he was only re-installed with imperial troops. After the event, however, Jerusalem didn’t split into two Patriarchates like Antioch and Alexandria(although a Syriac Miaphysite bishop remained in Jerusalem), and Chalcedonianism remained strong in the region with full imperial backing. Amidst quibbling among Christians, Jewish life in Palaestina I, II and III Salutaris somewhat recovered.  

Things went peaceful and prosperous for Christians in the region for a while following the suppression of the Samaritan revolt, while situation grew worse for Jews under Justinian, with many new laws enacted to crack down on certain Jewish activities. A church was built to overpower the Temple Mount, while the original menorah of the Holy Temple was returned to Jerusalem after the destruction of the Vandals by Justinian.