Jewish and Christian Co-existence in Byzantine Palestine
Paper given by Gunter Stemberger
Delivered at Central European University on 02 November 2017
According to the traditional picture, the Christianization of Palestine since Constantine led to a rapid deterioration of the position of the Jews already during the Byzantine period. Michael Avi-Yonah entitles his chapter dealing with the years 363-439 “The Great Assault on the Jews and Judaism.” If one reconstructs the history of the period, mainly on the basis of the Christian legislation and of some church fathers, this looks reasonable.
However, if one takes into account a wider range of sources, the vast Jewish literature from these centuries and the rich harvest of the archaeological excavations made during the last decades, one discovers a quite different picture: most excavated synagogues were constructed after the prohibition of new synagogues; their architecture and decoration is closely parallel to that of contemporaneous churches; sometimes churches and synagogues stood side by side and mutually influenced each other. This shows for long periods a peaceful coexistence and a vigorous and self-conscious Jewish community. Only in the early seventh century the situation deteriorated rapidly until under the new Arab rule, both Jews and Christians found themselves as minorities.
Gunter Stemberger was professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Vienna from 1977 until 2009. He is the author of over twenty books, including Jews and Christians in the Holy Land: Palestine in the Fourth Century.