Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Evidence for Jewish women before the 3rd C in Asia Minor: part 1 (updated)

As a result of a discussion during the recent SBL/AAR, I decided to investigate the assertion I heard: that there is little evidence for Jewish women before the 3rd Century in Asia Minor.

Antiochus III settled 2,000 Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor in Lydia and Phrygia on favorable terms between 212 and 205/4 BCE.


70- 235 CE: evidence includes Sibylline Oracles books 1-2. Evidence also in Maccabees, Josephus, Philo, Cicero and early Christian authors; synagogues at Sardia and Priene plus inscriptions wherein names may be Jewish though Jews are integrated into local cities. Cf. Walter Ameling, Inscriptiones Judicae Orientis II: Kleinasien replaces CIJ.

By the first C CE Philo reports In Flacc. 281-2 that Jewish colonies were settled in “Pamphylia, Cilicia, and most of Asia as far as Bithynia and the remote corners of Pontus.” More than 50 places in Asia Minor and probably more.

Josephus Ant. 14.213-6 (management of own finances); 14.259-61 cf also 14.235; 16.171 preserves a decree from the first C CE that probably concerns a synagogue in Sardis although the present synagogue excavated is from a later period. Differences between the synagogues at Sardis and Priene show that diversity exists between different Jewish communities in Asia Minor. Josephus 16.167-8 demonstrates communities paying temple tax.

Josephus and Acts show Jewish communities adhering to dietary laws (Ant 14.261), Sabbath (Ant. 16.167-8) and Jewish festivals (CIJ 777).

Openness to women: Smyrna 2-3rd C CE Rufina was an archisynagogus (CIJ 741), Pompete at Mydnos (CIJ 756); and Jael was a prostates in Aphrodisias. A higher number of women leaders and donors exist perhaps because pagan women held significant offices and titles in Asia Minor cities. “God fearers” exist in Jewish synagogues in Asia Minor: non Jews associated with Jewish community: adopted Jewish customs but not yet proselytes. Aphrodisias lists 52 people described as “god-fearers” most have Gentile names. 9 city councilors were amongst Aphrodisias God-fearers. See also God-fearers in Tralles, Sardis and Miletus (Acts 13:16, 26, 50; 14:1).

Jews held civic office in cities from 3rd C CE in Akmonia, Corycos, Ephesus, Hypaepa, Sardia, and Side. From Apamea, unique series of coins dating from 193-254 CE depict Noah and his wife illustrating that Jewish influence upon civic life in Apamea was clearly significant.

Non Jews eg Julia Severa established a synagogue for the Jewish community in Akmonia in mid-1st C CE and thus a patron of the community.



1) Women as leaders of the synagogue. Inscriptional evidence from Bernadette Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue here.

Rufina, II-III C CE Jewish wealthy woman handling business matters from Smyrna 2nd or 3 C CE, archisunagogos. Inscription indicates Rufina built tomb for her freed slaves and the slaves raised in her house. Patron. Details from Phillip Harland here

Slab of marble (36 x 26 x 2 cm).
Rufina, Judean, head of the synagogue, prepared the burial–niche for her freedmen and slaves.  No one else has the authority to bury anyone else here.  Now if anyone dares to do so, that person will pay 1500 denarii to the most holy treasury and 1000 denarii to the people (ethnos) of the Judeans.  (10) A copy of this inscription was stored in the archive.
Translation by: Harland

Ῥουφεῖνα Ἰουδαία ἀρχιǀσυνάγωγος κατεσκεύαǀσεν τὸ ἐνσόριον τοῖς ἀπεǀλευθέροις καὶ θρέμασιν· ǀǀ μηδενὸς ἄλου ἐξουσίαν ἔǀχοντος θάψαι τινά. εἰ δέ τις τολǀμήσει, δώσει τῷ ἱερωτάτῳ ταǀμείῳ ✳ αφʹ καὶ τῷ ἔθνει τῶν Ἰουǀδαίων ✳ αʹ. ταύτης τῆς ἐπιγραφῆς ǀǀ τὸ ἀντίγραφον ἀπόκειται ǀ εἰς τὸ ἀρχεῖον.