In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Late Antique (Roman and Byzantine) History

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies and Databases

Jewish Studies Late Antique (Roman and Byzantine) History
Hayim Lapin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0057


This bibliography surveys the span from the middle of the 2nd century to the first half of the 7th century. Already before the 2nd century, the number of Jews in the Diaspora probably exceeded the number in Palestine. During the time under review, the significance and apparently the geographic scope of the Diaspora grew. The geographic range covered is thus from Spain to Iraq. Not all periods and regions in this long time span and range are equally well documented, and some matters have attracted greater scholarly attention than others. Discussion of the rabbis greatly exceeds their numerical significance in Antiquity, for instance. This is due not only to their lasting importance (Jewish denominations in the 21st century trace their origins to the rabbinic movements of Palestine and Babylonia) but also to the volume and richness of rabbinic material. Similarly, the impact of the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the changing status of Jews in Late Antiquity and the history of Jews in Palestine have received considerable attention. By contrast, the late 2nd and the 3rd centuries, especially in the Mediterranean Diaspora, are underdocumented and understudied. The sections in this article aim at both representing the field and providing readers with the resources to gain a somewhat fuller view of the period under discussion. To that end, Geographies and Populations includes sections on the geographic regions covered. Jews as Roman Citizens and Subjects deals with material and issues not included in Roman codes and offers some material on the 3rd century. Society and Culture includes material on gender and draws attention to both rabbinic and nonrabbinic material. Because rabbis feature so prominently in other sections, The Rabbinic Movement is largely limited to a brief finding aid for rabbinic texts and to references to the history of the rabbinic movement as such.

Introductory Works

Few introductory works on the field of Late Antique Jewish history are available, and none that covers the full geographic, political, religious, and cultural dimensions of the period. Avi-Yonah 1984 (originally published in 1962) is now quite dated and is limited to Palestine. Schäfer 1995 is quite brief and also limited to Palestine. Cohen 2006 is broader in its scope, but it focuses on the period up to about 200 CE. The background it provides and the treatment of earliest rabbinic literature are helpful for Late Antiquity. Readers may also wish to consult Strack and Stemberger 1996 (cited under The Rabbinic Movement).

  • Avi-Yonah, Michael. The Jews under Roman and Byzantine Rule: A Political History of Palestine from the Bar Kokhba War to the Arab Conquest. New York: Schocken, 1984.

    This work in many ways represents the normative picture of Jews in Palestine in Late Antiquity, arguing for inexorable demographic decline, continued collective leadership and activity on the part of Jews, and a strongly conflictual relationship with the Christian empire.

  • Cohen, Shaye J. D. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. 2d ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

    First published in 1987 and revised and reissued in 2006, this book offers a survey of Jewish religion and society in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods through approximately 200 CE. Given this endpoint, it is useful primarily as background to Late Antiquity. After a broad chronological overview, Cohen covers such topics as Jews’ relations with gentiles and with “Hellenism,” religious beliefs and practices, and community institutions and sectarianism.

  • Schäfer, Peter. The History of the Jews in Antiquity: The Jews of Palestine from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Translated by David Chowkat. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg: Harwood Academic, 1995.

    A very brief survey of a very long period. As is frequently the case, the book disproportionately focuses on the period up to the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 CE) and so offers useful background.

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