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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Dispersion

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ἡ διασπορά (from διασπείρω ‘to scatter,’ as ἀγορά from ἀγείρω ‘to gather’) is used collectively in the Septuagint and the NT for the Jews settled abroad. The most important NT reference occurs in John 7:35 : ‘Whither will this man go that we shall not find him? Will he go unto the Diaspora among the Gentiles, and teach the Gentiles?’ This splenetic utterance was an unconscious prophecy of the course our Lord actually followed, when, having reached the goal of His public ministry, and having received ‘all authority in heaven and on earth,’ He went on ‘to make disciples of all the nations.’* [Note: ‘The secret which malice had divined within the Saviour’s lifetime’ (Gwatkin, Early Church Hist. i. 18).] The first line of advance was already marked out by the Diaspora. It was the bridge between the Jew and the Greek, and soon the sound of many feet speeding over it with their message of good tidings was heard; or it was the viaduct by which the living waters that went forth from Jerusalem were led to the cities of the Roman Empire.

The Diaspora partly originated from causes over which the Jews had no control, and was partly the result of a spontaneous movement outwards. It was largely due to the policy adopted by the great conquerors of antiquity of deporting into exile a considerable number of the population of the countries which they subdued. The various trans-plantations suffered by the Jews need not be recounted here. But their dispersion was still more largely due, in Greek and Roman times, to voluntary emigration from Palestine. The conquests of Alexander the Great turned what had hitherto been barred avenues and dangerous tracks into safe and open roads, and the Jews were not slow to take advantage of the openings, both in the direction of secular culture and of commercial enterprise, that lay before them. In NT times, they were domiciled in all the countries along the shores of the Mediterranean. The accounts of Philo and Josephus, of which the substantial accuracy is attested by inscriptions (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 92a), enable us to see how much at home the Jews were in Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Greek cities and islands, and all the data now available afford grounds for believing that they numbered at this period from three to four and a half millions, and that they formed about seven per cent of the population of the Roman Empire (Encyclopaedia Biblica i. 1112; Harnack, Mission and Expansion2, i. 10, 11).

Following Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles in Babylon, they ‘sought the peace’ of the cities they settled in, without, however, amalgamating with the other inhabitants. The dislike created by their aloofness gave way a little before the involuntary respect commanded by their intelligence, their aptitude for work, and their exemplary family life, but was never completely overcome. Yet they had the art of conciliating the great, and of gaining powerful patrons, Several of the Syrian and Egyptian kings were their warm friends. Amongst their friends must also be included Julius Caesar, who with the prescience of genius saw in them the true connecting link between the East and West, and would not have relished their being made the butt of Roman wits. Their mourning for his death (‘noctibus continuis bustum frequentarunt,’ Suet. C. Iulius Caesar, 84) reminds us of the mourning of the Jews in London for Edward VII.

The Jews could not carry on their sacrificial worship in foreign lands-we may let pass the schismatic attempt to do so at Leontopolis in Egypt-but they kept in full communion with Jerusalem by making pilgrimages to the great feasts, and by sending the yearly poll-tax of half a shekel for the upkeep of the Temple (cf. Matthew 17:24). ‘The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms’ went with them everywhere, but ‘in the Greek Diaspora … strict canonicity was accorded only to the Torah’ (Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics ii. 580b). The observance which attracted moat notice from their Gentile neighbours was that of the Sabbath rest. On the day of rest all classes of the Diaspora were ‘gathered into one,’ and felt that they were indeed ‘the people of the God of Abraham.’

That Julius Caesar had regarded them as his friends was not forgotten by those who came after him. It was a precedent that proved of immense advantage to the Jews settled in Rome. The freedom he granted them in the exercise of their religious customs was endorsed by his grand-nephew Augustus (Jos. Ant. xiv. 10, xvi. 6), and, after weathering some dangerous storms, became the settled policy of the Empire. In Roman law, Jewish societies were collegia licita, privileged clubs or gilds. Meetings in their synagogues, or προσευχαί, or σαββατεῖα (op. cit. xvi. 6.2) were not hampered with any troublesome restrictions. They could settle matters pertaining to their law without going to the Roman tribunal (cf. Acts 18:14-15), and were apparently permitted to inflict punishment for what they looked upon as schism or apostasy (Acts 26:11, 2 Corinthians 11:24). They had a coinage of their own for sacred purposes (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 57a). In the region beyond the Tiber, ‘in the neighbourhood of the wharfs where the barges from Ostia were accustomed to unlade’ (F. W. Farrar, Life and Work of St. Paul, 1 vol., 1897, p. 585), many of them found employment, or drove a brisk trade. The only occasion on which they were seriously threatened with the loss of their privileges occurred under Claudius, who, in the words of the historian, ‘Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit’ (Suet. Claud. 25). The meaning of these words is uncertain (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 307a, v. 98a Encyclopaedia Biblica i. 757; Jewish Encyclopedia iv. 563; Gwatkin, Early Church Hist. i. 40; Zahn, Introd. to NT, i. 433), but if they refer to tumults in the Jewish quarter caused by the preaching of the gospel, we may conjecture that Aquila, a Jew of the Dispersion, had been one of its preachers (Acts 18:2). The edict of Claudius was probably found unworkable (Ramsay, St. Paul, 254). This Emperor seems to have been as favourable to the Jews as his predecessors (Jos. Ant xix. 5. 2, 3).

Long before they had acquired a political status in Rome, a great inward change had been working among the Jews of the Dispersion. As may be inferred from the fact already mentioned, that strict canonicity was accorded only to the Torah, they carried abroad with them an intensely legal conception of their religion. It was conceived as consisting simply in the observance of a definite code of laws as to worship and life, given by God on Mount Sinai. So long as this conception predominated, their relations with their non-Jewish neighbours were little more than ordinary business relations. But as soon as the stimulus exerted by the higher culture of the Greeks was felt, an inward change began to work. Habitual intercourse with a people so advanced in civilization could not fail to have its effect. They were captivated by the freedom and range of Greek thought. They recognized in their philosophical and ethical ideas a manifestation of the Divine Wisdom. There was thus evolved a tendency to tone down what was repellent in Judaism in order to bring their faith into harmony with the Greek mind. Illustrations of this tendency are found in the Prophetic and Wisdom literature, in the modification of OT anthropomorphism by the Septuagint , in the serious attempt or Philo to find the philosophy of Plato and the Stoics in the narratives of Genesis by the method of allegorical interpretation (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 199). The Septuagint itself was the outcome of the keen desire to make their religion understood, as well as to guard and preserve it from influences hostile to it. The favourable reception which it met with brought to the front an aspect of their religion yet scarcely apprehended, viz. that it was a religion of hope for mankind. The words of the prophets concerning the future of the human race began to be read with a more open mind. There it was found that Israel was called to be the missionary to the nations. Many in the Dispersion realized that they were in a specially favoured position for undertaking this missionary duty. In spreading the knowledge of their faith, they laid stress, not upon ritual details, but upon the great central principles of the unity of God, and the cleansing and saving power of His word. As they went on communicating those spiritual principles to others, they became more spiritual themselves, and also more expectant of ‘the good things to come.’ A large number of high-minded Greeks were convinced of the truth of their doctrine of God. Those whom they won over, the σεβόμενοι or φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν of the Apostolic Age, were already far on their way to the more complete satisfaction of their spiritual wants that was to be found in Christianity.

From the founding of Alexandria and Antioch, the Jews were πολῖται (cives), but in the older Greek cities, except those of which the constitutions were altered by Alexander or his successors (Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 104f.; Expositor 7th ser., ii. 37f.), they were simply μέτοικοι (incolœ, ‘residents’). The Jews of Rome whom Cicero mentions as possessing the Roman civitas (pro Flacco, 28) probably belonged to the class of libertini or enfranchised slaves (cf. Acts 6:9). Jews of Ephesus, Sardis, Delos, etc., had the Roman civitas, as appears from the edicts preserved by Josephus (Ant. xiv. 10). St. Paul’s citizenship (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ) of the Hellenistic city of Tarsus (Acts 21:39) is to be distinguished from his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25; cf. Acts 16:37). The latter right may have been conferred by some Roman potentate on certain important Tarsian families (Ramsay, Expositor, 7th ser., ii. 144, 152; cf. Schürer, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 103f.). It was not the least important of St. Paul’s providential equipments for the Apostleship, and was recognized as entitling him to respect from Roman officials. The laws of the Empire had a high moral value for the Apostle, and he repaid what he owed to them by fervent intercessions for those who administered them (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

In St. Paul himself-his training, his conversion, his missionary calling, his Christian achievement-we can study, as in a single picture, the service rendered by the Dispersion to the free course of the gospel. Himself a Jew of the Dispersion, educated in a strict Rabbinical school, he had the two-fold advantage of becoming proficient in Judaism, the religion of his fathers (Galatians 1:13), and of growing up in his Cilician home under the penetrating influence of Greek civilization. The question of Romans 3:29, ‘Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of the Gentiles, also?’ was one that he must have often asked himself in his Pharisaic days; and when the sight and the call of Jesus had given him the decisive answer, ‘Yea, of the Gentiles also,’ this became the moving force of his strenuous life (cf. Joh. Weiss, Paul and Jesus, p. 67). He had been a traveller from his youth, for the journey from Tarsus to Jerusalem was not a short one; but now he took a wider circuit (Romans 15:19), and would fain have embraced the whole world in his travels (v. 24), so anxious was he to proclaim what he believed to be the religion of redemption for all mankind. The highest service that the Dispersion has up till now rendered to the world is its becoming the starting-point of the aggressive Christian movement of St. Paul and his fellow-apostles; what further service it may be designed to render, in the form in which it now exists, is yet hidden in the counsels of the Eternal.

It may cause some surprise that St. Paul never visited Alexandria, where the freest development of pre-Christian Judaism took place. This development, however, was in many respects alien to St. Paul’s mind. Alexandrian Judaism was ‘a cultured Unitarianism with strong ethical convictions. The old dream of a theocracy was forgotten, and Messianism aroused no interest’ (Inge, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics i. 309; cf. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, i. 177). This brief account must be qualified, however, by the statement in Acts (18:28), that it was a gifted Alexandrian Jew, Apollos, who, after ‘the way of God had been expounded to him more carefully,’ demonstrated the Messiahship of Jesus publicly, before the Jews in Corinth, with energy and success (cf. Harnack, Acts of the Apostles, p. 121). The illustrious Church of Alexandria must have been founded, like other churches, on ‘the Rejected Stone.’

Many traits of the Diaspora mentioned above are illustrated by the Acts and the Epistles. The long list of foreign Jews present at Pentecost shows how widely scattered their settlements were. Was it by means of some of these (Acts 2:10), returning to their native synagogue ‘in the power of the Spirit,’ that the faith or Christ first reached the city of Rome? At Antioch, some Cyprian and Cyrenaean Christians were the first to take the bold step of ‘speaking unto the Gentiles also, preaching Jesus as the Lord’ (Acts 11:20, ‘where the sense of the passage seems to require Ἕλληνας’ [Gwatkin, Early Church Hist. i. 56n.]). The names of Barnabas of Cyprus, Philip of Caesarea, Lucius of Cyrene, Timothy of Lystra, Jason of Thessalonica, Sopater of Berœa, Crispus of Corinth, Aquila of Pontus, illustrate how largely the Church’s assets consisted of Jews settled abroad. The tent-making of Aquila, in which St. Paul joined him, gives a glimpse into the industrial life of the Diaspora. Amongst his ‘kinsmen’ in Asia and Europe the Apostle found some of his most efficient coadjutors; from them too, and not only from the unbelieving portion of them, there came some of his most fanatical opponents.

In James 1:1 St. James may be addressing the Christian Jews of the Eastern Dispersion, and in 1 Peter 1:1 St. Peter those of the Western (J. B. Mayor, Ep. of James3, 1910, p. 30); but in 1 Peter 1:1 it is much more probable that the whole body of Christians living at the time are addressed as being now, spiritually, ‘the Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16; cf. Hort, First Epistle of Peter, I. 1-II. 17, 1898, p. 7).

There are few data to satisfy our curiosity about what happened to the Jewish Diaspora from a.d. 70 to 100. The rebellion against the Roman authority seems to have met with no sympathy on the part of the Jews of Rome. They had no share in the insurrections under Vespasian, Trajan, or Hadrian, and were left unmolested (Jewish Encyclopedia iv. 563).* [Note: ‘Even the destruction of Jerusalem scarcely endangered the toleration of the Jews at Rome’ (Gwatkin, Early Church Hist. i. 40).] We even hear that ‘after a.d. 70 till perhaps 100, Judaism made many converts especially in Rome (Parting of the Roads, pp. 286, 305). Those Jews who had had their home in Jerusalem were compelled after a.d. 70 to live after the manner of their brethren of the Diaspora (Encyclopaedia Biblica ii. 2286). The story of the re-organization of Judaism on a non-sacerdotal basis by Jochanan ben Zakkai, the founder of the School of Jamnia near Joppa, and his successors, has recently been re-told by E. Levine in a manner that commands attention and respect (Parting of the Roads, 299f.). But to pursue this interesting line of study would take us far beyond the limits of the Apostolic Age.

Literature.-H. M. Gwatkin Early Church History to a.d. 313, 1909, i. 1-72; A. Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries2, 1908, i. 1ff., Acts of the Apostles 1909, p. 121; The Parting of the Roads, 1912, Essay iv.: ‘Judaism in the Days of the Christ’ (Oesterley), Essay ix.: ‘The Breach between Judaism and Christianity’ (Lavine); W. M. Ramsay, Expositor, 6th ser., v. [1902]: ‘The Jews in the Graeco-Asiatic Cities,’ 7th ser., ii. [1906]: ‘Tarsus,’ §§ xi.-xvii.; H. Schultz, OT Theology, 1892, i. 423; J. Weiss, Paul and Jesus, 1909, pp. 59, 67; P. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, 1903-04, i. 177; Th. Zahn. Introd. to NT, 1909, i. 433, ii. 134; articles on ‘Dispersion’ or ‘Diaspora’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica i. 1106 (Guthe), Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i. 465 (M ‘Neile), J E iv. 559 (Reinach), Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 91 (Schürer) Smith’s Dict. of the Bible i. 787 (Westcott). See also Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 608b (Sanday), iv. 307 (Patrick and Relton), v. 57a (Buhl), v. 199 (Drummond); Encyclopaedia Biblica ii. 2286 (Guthe), Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics i. 309 (Inge), ii. 580b (von Dobschütz).

James Donald.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dispersion'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/d/dispersion.html. 1906-1918.

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