Major trends in Jewish Society in the Land of Israel: From the 5th century BCE till the 7th century CE

Trumah, 15 (2006), pp. 1-23  Meir Bar-Ilan



The aim of this study is to demarcate the major social events that shaped the Israel-dwelling Jewish People in late-Antiquity. The premise is that just as, for all who study Jewish history, it is common knowledge to know the major political events that shaped the Jewish people in Antiquity, such as the rebellion of the Hasmoneans, the destruction of the Second Temple, the rebellion of Bar-Kosiba, and so forth, it is just as important to draw attention to the major social events which befell the Jewish people in the same times and place. Generally speaking, most scholars of the history of the Jewish people suppose, as did scholars of Wissenschaft des Judentum in the not-so-distant past, that political history is of more import than social history, or that, better, in understanding history, social history is not important at all, if it even exists as a field of study in the first place. When reading scholarship on the social history of other peoples in Antiquity,1 one realizes how the study of modern Jewish history has been deprived of any social understanding.2

However, the goal of this study is to mark a move away from a political towards a social history of the Jews; from discussing major political events, or even biographies, to analyzing major non event-based history – those inscrutable phenomena that could not have been perceived easily even by the very people participating in them.

The Land of Israel is small in global terms, about 27,000 square kilometers, yet it is today the most dense area in the world for archeological sites. Endless amounts of kings and armies have passed through this country, either to conquer it or just en passant on their way to fight over other areas. However the changing borders have been portrayed as a political issue, our main concern now is the population that lived within those borders, the population that yielded the Bible and that, with the rare combination of elements eventually shaped the history of the whole world.

The time-frame of the study spans from what may be called with reservation the “Biblical” period, until the end of the Talmudic era. That is to say it runs from after the destruction of the first Temple, around the 5th century BCE on, through the days of the Second Commonwealth and the days of the Mishna, until about the 6th century, after the decline of the Roman Empire and under the Byzantine sovereignty when conditions began to change yet again. Since the issue is social and not political, there is no clear cut between one period and another – there were certainly no “borders” between the eras. Needless to say, here is not the place to discuss what is exactly characterized as the “Biblical period”, or any other period.

The method undertaken for this study is easier to speak of than to perform. To start with, modern studies in the social histories of other peoples and times are taken as a model of what should be done for Jewish history. But the bulk of the matter is the analysis of the Jewish sources in two separate and distinct modes, these being the history of the Jewish people in Biblical times and the history of the Jewish people in Talmudic times. With this social understanding culled from the sources in the background, evaluations are performed concerning the social happenings in one period, and compared to the other period, and vice-versa. By these evaluations, changes between the eras may rise to the surface, leaving only the no-less crucial explanations to these changes to be supplied. That is, hereafter there will be an attempt to analyze, in social terms, those changes which occurred from the Biblical period down through the end of Talmudic period, or around 1100 years.

Most of the issues brought up in the current study are summaries of many of my former papers, not all yet in print. Some of the ideas might be considered no more than guesses, though on my behalf I can safely say that these so-called guesses are the fruit of 25 years of studying the sources and reading other societies’ histories. The issues are discussed in the form of an overview without placing too much emphasis on scrutinizing the texts. The texts are sparse and the success of my analyses of them is far from certain. One may read the same texts and reach conclusions different from those drawn here. Moreover, there is no consensus as to how to go about converging history and the social sciences, especially after such a long negligence of this aspect of the study of Antiquity. It should be noted that former studies, important as they are still, such as Safrai’s or Hezser’s books, did not contribute very much to the issues discussed here.3 Modern Jewish Historiography is still political-oriented, while social history is not considered by many scholars to be a “real” history. One should admit that to the present the association of historiography with social sciences has not been such a resounding success, and hopefully a leap of information will be gained in the near future.

1. Population Growth and Decline

It seems that the main and by far the most important social event in Antiquity, from the Biblical period to the Talmudic period, was the immense increase in the Jewish population in the Land of Israel.4 While there is agreement among scholars regarding the fact of the increase in population in the Land of Israel, there is unfortunately no agreement as to the actual number of inhabitants at any given time or to the time of peak population. Without the use of a census, as in modern times, it is of course very difficult to reach an estimation of the number of people who lived in the Land of Israel in Biblical times, or in Roman or Byzantine times. There are, however, various methods which may be used to coax out an educated estimate, and while the variables are numerous, we may draw cautious conclusions with no excess hesitation.5

While bypassing an explication of the methods used to solve this puzzle, one may estimate that at the end of the Judean monarchy, on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple, there was not much more than 150,000 Jews in Judea, with some 200,000 more in the Galilee and Trans Jordan. Many of these were deported to Babylon during and after the Destruction (around 700 BCE Sennacherib boasted that he had deported 200,150 people from the land of Israel, most definitely an exaggeration). A bit more than century later, some say 444/3 CE to be exact (if we permit this event a specific date), Ezra returned from the Diaspora with around 42,000 men (Ez. 2:64; Neh. 7:67), if this amount is to be believed. Assuming that each man came with his own family, multiplying this number by 3.5 yields 147,000 people who settled in a very restricted area in Judea and Benjamin (notwithstanding the uncontroversial assumption made by some that these immigrants came over in not one but several occasions).

However, in the first century CE, that is some 600 years later, we hear in the Talmud that the Jewish people dwelled not only in Judea but in the Galilee and Trans-Jordan as well (m. Shev.6:1; m. Ktub. 13:10), as if the land itself broadened. Archeological evidence supplements the Talmudic texts by demonstrating the increase in the ground-area of cities in the Land of Israel, while more cities than ever before were built. All this testifies to a process of increase in the population. Josephus writes (The Jewish War VI,9,3), that more than a million Jews were killed in the war against the Romans and without attempting to verify or discredit this data it is clear that at his time there were many Jews more than in former centuries. This leads to the assumption that before the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE, the Jewish population had reached its zenith. Scholars have made their educated guesses about the size of the population in the Land of Israel at that period, but owing to the many different methods of calculating this number, and to the many variables that are far from being identified precisely, they have reached many different conclusions: The lowest estimate puts the population at 1.3 million, while the uppermost projection puts it at 6 million people.6 While this is not the place to discuss and evaluate the different opinions and the various methodologies employed, the bottom line is that these population figures are the highest in the entire history of the land. For the sake of this study let it sufficed to estimate that in the land of Israel there were some 2.2 million inhabitants (plus or minus 10%), though probably around a quarter of them were non-Jews.7 .

However one may decipher the figures it appears that the Jewish population not only doubled but rather tripled its numbers in the span of some 600 years. This increase, whether projected to the high end or the low end of the estimation, played a key-role in the unfolding of the history for the Jewish people in Antiquity. In fact, it can be supposed that this increase of population was responsible for kindling the fire of rebellion, bringing the people to believe that with such immense forces the Jewish nation had a chance at overcoming Rome. However, rather than exploring this interesting hypothesis, at this point we shall concentrate on elucidating the reasons for this increase.

Success has many genitors, and the increase of the Jewish population by the time of the Roman period is no exception. This population growth might be explained as the result of several factors:
a) Save for the Hasmonean rebellion, it was a relatively peaceful period.8
b) There was an increase in the amount of productive lands by the building of aqueducts and the introduction of new crops to the area.
c) There occurred improvements in nutrition and in the standard of living.
d) Infant mortality decreased, so life expectancy from birth rose.
e) There was a decrease in the mean age of marriage.
f) The number of females in the population increased.
g) Foreigners, such as Idumaeans and other peoples from the Mediterranean areas converted to Judaism.9
h) Unlike Jews from the “Biblical” age, the Jews in the Second Commonwealth did not sacrifice their children to gods of all persuasions.

This process of population growth peaked at the dawn of the rebellion against Rome, event which ended with hundreds of thousands of deaths, mass deportation and captivity. Thus, the destruction of the Temple was not only a religious event, it also marked the end of a comprehensive social process. The next time the population would grow so dramatically would be in the 20th century, but that of course belongs to yet another story.

By comparing the Israelite situation to that of other societies one may presume that spanning several centuries there was an upturn in the annual population growth. We may project that slowly but steadily, the annual population growth that was probably around 0.2% per year in the 5th century BCE rose to about 1.1% per year in the first century CE. Consequently, the number of children per family that held around 2.5 increased centuries later to around 3.1 children per family. Hence many were the reasons for dramatic population growth; since all are intermingled and overlapping it is not easy to say which factors were dominant or came first in time.

More evaluation is needed to explain how the trend reversed from steady increase to wild decrease of the population. As for Josephus’ figure of one million people killed, even accepting it as a gross exaggeration, it indicates that the actual number of casualties must have been staggering. For if one allows for the Romans to have killed only 400-700,000, this alone is about 20-30% of the population! Moreover, if one considers the reality of post-war effects such as hunger and diseases, then at least 100,000 more, a conservative number, must be added on. And further, it is an easy assumption that many people fled the carnage by escaping to neighboring countries (compare 1 Sam 22:3; Jer 42:19; 44:14; Ruth 1:1) and there became refugees, at a later point a Diaspora (similar to the results of war in 1948), so there is a good reason to believe that in the dreadful events of 70 CE the Land of Israel lost a good 30% of its population. This figure seems to be without precedent and a truly singular event in the whole history of the Roman Empire. However, the Jewish rebellions themselves bore no precedent as well, and the numbers of the Roman legionnaires in the Province of Palestine were higher than in any other province; for this the Romans persuasively knew why. Hence the population received a blow from which it never recovered until 20th century. Such a blow would draw the curtains on any hope for recovery (it also highlights the achievements of the Rabbis in establishing a new way of life under such dire circumstances).

But alas this hit was not the end of the process, but rather the beginning. After the first rebellion came a second one, in 132-136 CE. Though this time the war took place in a much smaller area and engaged an already truncated population, it too claimed the lives of many in Judea. After the rebellion was quashed Judea became almost empty of its inhabitants, this either as a direct result of the war or because of the ruined agricultural infrastructure (an endeavor relatively easily done in a semi-desert country like Judea). We must duly appreciate the effect of the significant shrinking of the Land of the Jewish people; against such a backdrop may we now understand the relocation of the Rabbinic center from the Judean Jabne to Usha in the Galilee. Hence in the second century the Jews concentrated mainly in the Galilee and Trans Jordan (=Golan), after losing around a third of their original homeland, and probably some 50% of the population in that area. In other words, a population that numbered about 2.2 million, in less than a century dwindled to about half of its original size, about 1 million only, if not less.

The Galilee thus rose in population from the absorption of Judean refugees, as is reflected in archeological remains. Though it seems that the Galilee was an already highly populated area, over-population as a phenomenon lasted only a few decades. Afterwards, in the third and fourth centuries CE, Israel was affected by the general trend of population depression that spread throughout the Roman Empire in the west. First, if not foremost, in the third century, the Roman Empire suffered from famine and plagues not less than 16 times.10 Though it is not clear how many of these events took place in the Land of Israel, there is no doubt that they affected this area. One shouldn’t forget that while talking about the Mediterranean culture, this culture was not of people only, but of germs as well. Not less than three Emperors died by plague and some of them reached the whole Empire. That is to say, that the third century saw too many trauma that couldn’t have skip the Land of Israel.

These famines and plagues were the cause, so it looks, of the long-term crisis marked by a deep and irreversible inflation. The population was shrinking in the whole Empire, and the Jews in their land could not stay out of this process. A critical shortage of labor became endemic and the agriculture in the Empire was in a constant decline. Furthermore, the Byzantine rulers became less and less tolerant religiously, forcibly proselytizing Jews to Christianity. This development sent the Jews packing to other Mediterranean areas, from Alexandria and Asia Minor to Italy and Spain, or to Yemen and India11 (and maybe even China).Thus Jews became a minority in their own land.

Since the Land of Israel lies on the border of a desert, a year with a moderate shortage of water is not an unfamiliar occurrence. Once every few decades this dearth worsens, and the clouds pour dust instead of water (Deut 28:24). Compounded to that, the Land of Israel also suffers once every few decades from a plague of locusts (Deut 28:38; Joel 2). The chances are that every so often both of these savage acts of nature occur consecutively, year after year. In the age under consideration this would cause a heavy famine, since the means of conserving grain were poor indeed. And in times like these nomads would come up from the South with their flocks and even further complicate the situation. In the face of such hardship, one can imagine the population decreasing an additional 10% if not more.12 Many perished, and others emigrated westwards over the sea to save their lives, believing that they had suffered enough from the wrath of God in a damned land.13

It was a country without hope, and there was nary a doctor in the whole region. Around the fifth century the whole population shrank to an unknown small number, around 600,000 people, but perhaps much less. Onward, the 6th century was a complete disaster: in the years 516-520 famine prevailed in the Land of Israel for five years, and this disaster was combined with locusts in two successive years. In the fifth year, the springs of Jerusalem, Siloam (=Shiloah) and Lucianes (?) dried up, and people were dying of thirst. One can only guess that some 10% of the population, if not more, perished.14 Later in the 6th century there were major three waves of the Black Plague in the Mediterranean basin, in 542, 558 and 573.15 Though the sources do not mention the Land of Israel in particular, chances are that the slaughter that prevailed in Syria and the Roman-Byzantine Empire took place in the Land of Israel as well. Historically, Plagues have caused a heavy toll on the population, sometimes wiping out up to 50-60%. Hence we are left, at the end of the sixth century, with only 250-300,000 people.

In sum, in a course of a millennium, the population in the Land of Israel was not constant. The first five-six hundred years were years of prosperity and population growth. However, from the first century on the population underwent a series of decreases, caused by man and God. We may surmise that when the Arabs conquered the Land of Israel in 636 CE, beginning a new epoch in the history of the land, the population in the Land of Israel did not exceed 200,000 people, with less than 30,000 Jews.16

2. Urbanization

During the last two centuries before the destruction of the Temple (70 CE) the Land of Israel saw a wave of urbanization so massive the likes of it had never have been seen ever before. The younger generations struck for themselves a new place in the world after the villages and towns of old reached capacity and could not contain the population increase. In a relatively short period more than 30 towns and cities of different sizes were founded, rebuilt or enlarged.

For example, Tiberias and Caesarea, which were later to be major cities, were built completely anew. Many other significant but lesser-known locations went up which were destined to make their mark as well.17 Around Jerusalem a third wall was erected to encompass the thousands of people that lived outside the old walls (who were effectively homeless), significantly enlarging the city’s area. By searching Josephus’ accounts of the relatively short time in the history of the Jewish people one can reach an incomplete list of newly renovated towns of the period as follows: Abel, Adoraim, Emaos, Antipatris, Anthedon, Apollonia, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Bet Haramta (Julias), Bethsaida, and others.18 It is needless to say that these towns were not strictly Jewish, and some of them, on the contrary, contained no Jews, at least at the time of their founding. Nonetheless, the appearance of these towns points to the level of prosperity in the Land of Israel, and it indicates that the renewal process was not the design of any ruler who wanted to buy his people, nor was it a mere coincidence; rather it was a social necessity met by the regime with funds to support the demands.

Literary source or no, it is clear that in ascertaining the urbanization of ancient Israel, though the state of the science is far from being infallible, archaeology and the search for artifacts ought to be granted precedence. As we have mentioned above expanses can be discerned at many Hellenistic-period sites in the Land of Israel, on a much greater scale than what Josephus was able to disclose.19 Since the total area of any city is the basic fact to begin with in calculating population, it becomes evident – with Josephus on the one hand and archeological surveys on the other – that in the Hellenistic and Roman periods the population of the Land of Israel, bearing a majority of Jews, went through a rapid process of urbanization.

In all, at the end of the urbanization process the Land of Israel was covered with well over 30 towns and cities, many more per square kilometer than in any other Roman provinces such as Gallia or Britain. That is, a rural country in the 5th century BCE became highly urbanized in a period of some 600 years, and about a third of its inhabitants lived in urban communities.20

The causes for the urbanization start with, first of all, the population growth, since urbanization and population growth are but two sides of the same coin. While discussing causes for the growth in urban centers one cannot forget the source of the growth, i.e. the rural areas. Viewing the situation as a dichotomy, people were either rural or urban (though not an altogether precise characterization), thus any movement from village to town must be explained as a kind of equilibration. If people began moving from rural village to urban city it must be that the rural area, albeit emptying of its population, continues to support the city’s inhabitants (unless, like in Rome, the city’s inhabitants get free grain by the authorities from far-away lands).

Now, it is apparent that the development of agriculture in the period under our discussion underwent a surge of intensification after its long past of indolence. There were many more different kinds of fruits and grains (such as rice) than in earlier times, which enabled more crops per year, and a seed-cycle came into use, so each field yielded higher crops than in former times. And these agriculture improvements covered not only the grains and fruits but spilled over to livestock and poultry. In distinction to former times, now the Jewish agrarian raised a selection of animals on his farm, including such new-comers as chicken, duck and honey-bees. The advent of this wider selection, of course, promoted better nutrition and was the cause of population increase. Hence we may say that, in Hellenistic times, each square kilometer of land was more fertile than ever before.

Moreover, aqueducts as well as dams, cisterns, and irrigation canals were built more comprehensively than before, thus further increasing the amount of arable lands. Some of the aqueducts bore the influence of Roman technology and led water into towns, as with Roman towns, the result being that the towns became capable of accommodating many more residents per square kilometer than before. Streaming water, even in a dry land like the Land of Israel, improved the hygiene conditions in cities (even better than in the village) not only by lowering the mortality rate but by enabling more people to live on the same parcel of land. In sum, the population growth found its home in the urbanization process while being supported by agricultural innovations and improvements.

However, again by the third and fourth centuries, the ever-mounting pendulum reversed its course. As the population decreased in these days people were forced to move from city to village in a contra-urbanization process. The pressure of taxes combined with low crop turnout, probably on account of over-cultivation and a self-destructing ecology, demolished the social urban-rural equilibration. Lands deserted, and, being that the Land of Israel borders with the desert and suffers from a chronically low water supply, a process of desertification crept through the country, especially in Judea. Years later, in the 19th century, it was reported that a man could walk for a day and more without seeing one soul; this trend began in the 3-4th centuries. From the first century till the 20th century only two new towns were built (by the Arabs: Ramle, and later Safath), and these not for urban necessity but for political reasons. Only come the 20th century would the Land of Israel undergo an urbanization process similar (though in a higher and more concentrated scale) to the process of urbanization of around two millennia earlier.

3. Improvement in the standard of living

In Hellenistic times and under Roman rule, the standard of living was on the rise. The land of Israel was no more at the fringes of a desert but rather part of a sprawling Mediterranean society and its circle of commerce. Israel became a land of exportation,21 and even played a part – though minor – in the commerce that took place between Rome and India. The evidence of this prosperity may still be seen all over Israel; here we have the ruined Temple, there the ruins of the haven in Caesarea, and all the other monumental buildings (and graves) built under the Roman rule. The wealth and prosperity of the Roman era is evident at many sites in Israel, so as against the modern conception of “occupation,” or against the sad results of that Roman occupation, one should be reminded that the Jews in the Talmudic period had a much higher standard of living than their predecessors.

Signs of this raise in the standard of living may be seen in the new fashions of expensive garments in the Temple, imported from India via Alexandria (m. Yoma 3:7-8; p. Yoma 3:6, 40d). In Talmudic times, as was mentioned above, there were many more kinds of fruits in the markets than in former times, owing to the agriculture improvements (nay, revolution!) on more fertile land. Moreover, in Talmudic times, unlike in Biblical times, one could eat rice in the Land of Israel, and chicken and bee’s-honey, along with many other amenities of the period. This increase in productivity in Talmudic times brought down starvation levels, and afforded many people the ability to live in relatively better conditions than in former times. In times of famine, for example, grain could be imported from Egypt to the Land of Israel, thus save the lives of many.

The move from rural to urban life of around 20% of the population precipitated a new stage in economy, as the rural economy is based on a system of barter, while the urban must be based on a monetary system. Hence the economy became more modern in a sense of more money-based, and of course in our situation the currency was numismatic.22 Needless to say in the days of the First Temple coins were nonexistent, this being the universal situation. However, by Hellenistic times coins were rising in their everyday relevance. These coins were used mainly by city-dwellers, i.e. traders and merchants of all sorts, as is typical to urban life. In this time the land of Israel became a place of import and export, and the hustle and bustle of this new economy made way for a new and higher standard of living in the Land of Israel.23 With such changes taking place, the observance of the Torah laws of the Sabbatical Year forced a loss of money, in accordance with Torah guidelines. This situation opened it up for Hillel, one of the founders of Rabbinic Judaism at the beginning of the first century, to institute the new law of Prosbul (m. Shevi‘it 10:3). The institution of this law should be understood not only as adapting an old law to modern life, but also as marking an extensive process of economical changes. This new development of the economy was the forbearer of a higher standard of living.

Urban life, luxury, a better economy and better nutrition were not the only signs pointing to an improvement in the standard of living. In Hellenistic times there began a process, albeit small to begin with, of medicalization. This process is reflected in Sirach 38:1-15, where a physician is praised, as opposed former times (2Chro. 16:12). The passage implies that as early as, if not earlier than, 190 BCE professional doctors, trained in the Hippocratic tradition, lived in the Land of Israel and helped to improve the conditions of the people there. True, the number of doctors in this early period was quite low (out of 1000 tombstones only one belonged to a doctor, that is about one doctor in about 20-30,000 people). Modern scholars are highly suspicious of the beneficiality of the ancient doctor. However, at the very least we know the doctors were familiar with each and every bone in the body (m. Aholot 1:9-10), and were skilled at setting and casting a broken leg or arm. The Tannaim knew personally doctors that had trained in Alexandria, and the sages consulted with doctors over some issues, informing them of all sorts of medical knowledge and know-how that was not generally known to traditional healers.24 A doctor always was a “cultural-agent,” and just as in modern times the impact of a doctor in the third world could not be ignored, it is assumed that medical knowledge helped the population to ease their life.

All these changes led to a better life, and, in technical modern idiom, they raised the life expectancy of the population. Modern scholars have come to the conclusion that the life expectancy of males in the Roman Empire was low indeed. Out of 100 births some 33% did not last their first year, and of those who survived to their first birthday, males could expect to live a bit less than 32 years, and females to about 28.25 Modern scholarship has show by extensive statistical research on graves and their skeletal remains, that differences in life expectancy occurred along regional and social lines; hence any general conclusions that may be drawn from the data should be accepted only with caution. Being that these conclusions were made while no data has been processed through analyzing particularly Jewish graves or skeletal remains, one may exercise doubt that conditions in one place in the Empire were necessarily the same in the Land of Israel. However, unless it is proven that eating pork, for example, decreases life expectancy (together with the assumption that all Jews kept the laws of the Torah),26 data from other peoples in the Roman Empire will suffice to indicate the Jews’ situation. In other words, we assume that life expectancy in the Roman Empire was more or less the same among different peoples.

Usually the modern and average person tends to look at statistics as a kind of a constant, as if the figures facing them prevailed everywhere and anytime. However, life is and also was never constant, and the nutritional and medical improvements that took place brought about an increase in life expectancy. The figures culled from the sources point to an increase in the standard of living, as throughout the Biblical period life expectancy was lower, 29 for males and 27 for female. However, with the collapse of the Empire the pendulum fast swung down, and it seems that conditions became worse than they had been even in Biblical times. In the 3-4th centuries there was an overbearing inflation, and trade with India ground to a virtual stop. After the death of Galen, c. 210 CE, Roman medicine deteriorated while, reversing the trend, people left cities for the villages.

Compounding the situation of depopulation, overused lands were abandoned, causing not only for there to be less food and higher prices, but also making way for feared wild animals dangerous in themselves but additionally to the livestock (Lev 26:22; Ezek 5:17; 14:15; m. Taanit 3:6). Moreover the abandoned lands became a source for death. The Land of Israel is located in the World-Malaria-Belt, where mosquitoes that live in swamps can cause death to those in the immediate vicinity. In the first centuries of the Common Era there were cases of Malaria in the Land of Israel, and there may have been cases already in the 10th century BCE or earlier (Lev 26:16; Deut 28:22; I Kings 9:12), saying that Malaria was endemic. However, to what extent the Malaria was prevalent is not clear.27 When Jews came to the Land of Israel in the 19-20th centuries, after the land had been deserted by them for centuries, they found more than seven areas (of various sizes) where swamps had become incubators for Malaria. It is not easy to determine at what point these swamps developed, but how they developed is clear enough: When there were no farmers to properly irrigate the land, and water, in some places, could not find its way to the sea, good arable land sunk into swamp.

One more fact that now deserves mentioning is the earthquake of 362 CE, which devastated northern Palestine and caused probably thousands of deaths (if not more).28 Even worse earthquakes (believed by modern scholars to have been up to nine on the Richter scale) shocked the land in the years 447, 498, 502 CE, along with other minor earthquakes. They destroyed both life and property in their wakes.29 By that time, neither the region nor the precipitating population could recover easily, with the earth quaking at such a dizzying pace. In all, the deterioration of the population and the land began a spiral of self-destruction that caused a heavy toll in conjunction with the earthquakes. Hence, as the standard of living descended, the life expectancy dipped to even lower than ever before.

4. Family structure: from clan to nuclear family

In days of population growth and movement from rural to urban life the structure of the family changed. Newcomers to the city lost their connection to the patriarchal plot and to their relatives there, and initiated new ways of life in the big city. While former generations tended to keep their relations within the whole clan (Bet-Av), the new city inhabitants brought up their own nuclear families.30 A recent study of more than 300 burial-caves in Jerusalem and Jericho from the two centuries prior to the Destruction calculates that about 21% of the population lived in small nuclear families, 28% of the population lived in small extended families, 37% of the population lived in large extended families, and some 14% of the population lived with their clan.31 Until more research is done one can only surmise what the percentage was of nuclear families in the population several centuries earlier, before the life-altering urbanization took place.

This change in family-life was accompanied by other changes in marriage practices, such as the shift from the use of Mohar (the Biblical system for transacting the payment for the bride) to that of the Ketuba (the Talmudic “bill of marriage”). Moreover, with their standard of living on the rise, the younger generation tended to marry earlier in life than their parents had. Thus, the mean age of marriage fell from about 28-30 to about 24-26, causing more babies to be born per woman, and the number of children per family to rise from around 2.4-2.6 to 2.8-3.2. Due to improvements in nutrition there was a decrease in infant mortality, though it is difficult to surmise the rates of infant mortality before and after these improvements.32 Although these differences seem small, when discussing social history it should be remembered that small changes, when they are multiplied by masses of people and the passing of many years, yield significant changes.

In such socially revolutionary times as those spanning from the Biblical to the Talmudic period, the Jewish family underwent a varied host of changes. While some of these are portrayed here, there were no doubt many other changes and factors as well, many of which are destined to remain obscure, untraceable to the clumsy and inferior instruments of the most scholarly of modern historians.

5. Social Division: from “tribal” society to stratified and sectarian

The Biblical period as portrayed in the Bible depicts a tribal society in the midst of evolving from semi-nomadic to a society of urbanization. The narrative of the Torah, as well as the book of Joshua and Judges centers around twelve tribes the progeny of a common ancestor. Only after the establishment of the monarchy in Judea and Israel do the tribal connections loosen, and the people begin to be designated as coming from a particular place, not from a tribe.33 The exact social structure of the Judean society in the days of the monarchy, is far from lucid to the modern scholars, due to the vague character of the Biblical text.34 Naturally, the monarchy was the core of the aristocracy, and there were priests (with the Temple at their core); there was a small minority of rich people, along with homeless people, slaves and other lower-classes, such as Gerim. However, the clear majority of the society was composed of landlords, that is farmers who own their plots of land and are subsisted from them (as in many traditional societies). Any given society may be divided into the strata of different classes, and one need not be an historian or sociologist to realize that every society has had its own tensions between king and subject, rich and poor. It is therefore no stretch to see in monarchic Judea evidence of these tensions as well. No doubt, during the first half of the first millennium BCE, the Judean society had its own structure and dynamic in accommodating those tensions, though in reading the Biblical texts this structure is far from apparent.

However, when coming to describe the situation of Jewish society that emerged in the Talmudic period, the story is different. The origin of the stratification of Jewish society in this period was attributed to the events from the early days of the Return from Babylonia in the 5-4th centuries BCE (m. Kidushin 4:1). Tribal ancestry almost officially disappeared, and, without monarchy, the society redivided itself into Priests, Levites, Israelites, and proselytes and other peoples lacking proper genealogy. This type of stratification somewhat resembled a formalized caste system, in which there inhered separate rules for marriage and other social situations particular to each caste. Social mobilization was restricted and patriarchal norms set the rule for daily life, as expected from a traditional society.

It appears that the destruction of the Temple set the stage for the destruction of the social order, and just as the Monarchy disappeared several generations earlier, after the destruction of the Temple the Priests lost their key role in society and eventually their position as the leading strata in society, along with all their Priests benefits of support by the other members of the society. This descent of the Priest was facilitated by the sages of the Mishna who (sanctioning their innovations with the stamp of oral transmission) brought forth new rulings, such as that there need be no Priest to declare a leper pure or impure (m. Negaim 3:1), in opposition to what is clearly written in the Torah. Moreover the sages had their own priorities in society, based not on ancestry but rather on excellence in knowledge of Torah (m. Horayot 3:8). The Rabbinic polemic against the Priests (m. Shkalim 1:4) together with their anti-Priestly rules (m. Yoma 6:3) and criticism of the Priestly circles (t. Menahot 13:21) showed a new social attitude to aristocracy in general and Priests in particular.

Hence in the Talmudic period the old system of stratified society, though not totally rejected, became more tolerant towards its subjects. Another important example of this trend is the change in status of the unfortunate “Mamzer,” or bastard. In Biblical times a Mamzer was rejected by society in all aspects of life, from the day he was born till the day of his death, and even afterwards. However, in the days of the Tannaim, a Mamzer could claim a Rabbinic position.35 Of course, this new attitude did not at all enable the acquiescence of modern illegitimate childbearing, but it was at least evidence of a society desiring to rid itself of its old and encumbering (injustice) chains. Thus by the end of this process in the 1-2nd centuries, all Judeans were equal, proselytes alike, without a nobility dictating was “more” equality than others. This notion is perhaps summarized best by R. Shimon: “All Israel are kings’ children” (m. Shabat 14:4). One cannot think of a more “democratic” and just Jewish society than that created by the Rabbis in Antiquity. This society, together with the ethical standards (the refashioning of older law) it has carried with it, prevails in a way until this very day.

While the diminishing of social stratification, at the expense of the Priests, certainly lowered social tension, it did not cause the “new” society that emerged from the destruction to be free from drawbacks. During the time that the strict social stratification was built and kept up, a new phenomenon was also on the rise: sectarianism. Though some scholars believe that this phenomenon should be traced back to the Biblical period, it seems more likely that sectarianism emerged from religious tensions erupting from the Priestly favoritism, only in the second century BCE (although it continues, in a way, until modern times). Though Josephus reported of only four sects,36 R. Johanan’s evaluation sounds much more reliable, that before the destruction of the Temple there were fully 24 sects in Jerusalem alone (p. Sanhedrin 10:3, 29c)! That is to say, at the very least, numerous sects flourished in the Land of Israel.37

Whence the sects following the Destruction? Only a few scholars believe today that after the Destruction sects and sectarianism disappeared from Judaism, as that would appear to be an idealization and oversimplification of history.38 The appearance of Karaites in the 8th can be taken as evident that the sects did not fully disappear in Talmudic times, rather they were ignored by the Rabbis. As a matter of fact the Rabbis did condemn, and even curse, their fellow neighbors who left the “normative” Jewish ways, either when they became Christians or strayed in preference of Hellenistic (with some kind of philosophical bent) over Jewish habits.

The sects were different from one another other particularly with regards to religious belief, daily calendar and rules of conduct (especially of purity). With their strict laws in the midst of the Roman – later, Christian – oppression, the sects degenerated with time, leaving very few traces in normative Jewish circles. Thus, Rabbinic rule in Antiquity set the formative way of Jewish life, and not the fundamentalists, in many aspects of Jewish law and thought, and their influence was felt strongly long afterwards as well. Under Rabbinic rule the source for class tension was no longer the ancient pedigree of a certain group within the nation. Jewish society underwent change, if not massive transformation, during the same centuries of upheaval in both the political and religious realms. As a minority in the Roman Empire that society, with its social and religious values, flourished well into and throughout the Middle Ages, at the same time and under the same conditions that other societies and other sub-cultures in the Roman Empire were collapsing under Christianity’s weight.

6. Tradition in Collapse

All the aforementioned changes, together with the dramatic political change from self-government to a province under the Roman rule, could not but lead to deep changes in society. The Jewish traditional (Biblical) society had been collapsing for more than two centuries before it received its death blow, the destruction of the Temple and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. In the period before the Destruction the authorities became aware of the increase in violence and violations of law, such as killing and adultery (t. Sota 14:1). The judicial system known as the Sanhedrin had been abolished around this time too,39 and once the judicial system in the capital city vanished, the whole system in the Land of Israel collapsed. Without the enforcement of any law (barring the law of the sword of Roman military rule), Jewish society descended into a long chaos. Under such heavy pressure, low life-expectancy on the one hand and Roman rule on the other, it became impossible in the eyes of the Jewish sages to mete out capital punishment (m. Makot 1:1). But in its place vengeful citizens began to take the law into their own hands. The appearance of the Sicaricon mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmud (m. Gitin 5:6), land thieves or just plain rubbers (m. Makhshirin 1:6), show that life in those times became dangerous, especially for those who were fortunate to have money or property.40 Moreover, during the dark days of the Roman period people were endangered by all sorts of robbers, outlaws, and vagrants, all constant causes of disorder.41

In all, the Jewish society of the Roman period could not enforce its values on its people, and the population went through a long period of social disorder. The society suffered both from external violence stemming from Roman rule and from internal violence stemming from the Jews themselves.

7. Decrease in Woman’s status

Women in Biblical times fulfilled significant roles in society, in the capacity of queens, prophetesses and judges; indeed the participation of woman in practically any ritual and social event in Biblical society was sanctioned (Deut. 29:10; 31:12; Ezra 10:1). However, when one reads the Talmudic sources it is very clear that by this time women had all but disappeared from participating in these social functions. In Talmudic times no woman ever served as a Tanna, a sage of the oral tradition, and certainly not as a social leader in the Land of Israel. Hence we may say that while in the Biblical period a woman played a part in government and society, albeit a traditional part, by later times she had become officially exempt from certain commandments in the Torah, and almost cut off by society.42 An example of this demeaning of status and importance can be seen in the sheer fact that some Rabbis in the 2nd century made general allegation against all Jewish women, to the effect that they all as one practiced witchcraft (b. Berakhot 53b).43 As such ideas are not the only examples of misogyny in the Rabbinic literature, the conclusion must be that in some manner women lost status in the eyes of their chauvinistic husbands.

The explanation for this decrease in the social status of women in comparison to former generations, as with the change from the Mohar payment to Ketuba, is to be found largely in changes in the Jewish demographics of the age, namely in the ratio between males in females in society.44 It is assumed that in Jewish society in Antiquity, like in any traditional society, there were more males than females. This was chiefly a result of preferential treatment towards the boys while ignoring, at least in part, the girls. So while at birth there were just as many girls as boys (if not a bit more), 15 years later there would be around 150 males per every 100 females. This ratio, and perhaps one even more radical, prevailed in Biblical society.45 However, centuries later, the number of males decreased in relation to the females, and this for two factors: The improvement in the standard of living, and the improvements in agriculture made girls cost-effective almost like boys (in raising chickens, for example). These factors, after several centuries propelled a change in the male/female ratio, evening the score to about 125 males to 120 females. Hence during the years of population increase, there ensued an additional increase in the relative number of females in society.46

Like anything else that once was rare and later becomes abundant, the social value of woman devalued. The Hellenistic culture that segregated women, combined with the natural chauvinism of the age on account of the equalization of the male-female ratio, contributed to a new perspective towards women: they should be neither seen nor heard. True, this type of discrimination was still a far cry from that which can be seen even today in Muslim culture. However, women were bereft of social power, and though there was no king, it was clear that males (and Rabbis) dominated.

8. Increase in Children’s status

When one compares the status of the child in Biblical times to the status of the child in Talmudic times, it becomes evident that at least the children dramatically improved their status.47 It should be admitted that the concept of childhood was foreign in Antiquity, though from the Biblical to the Talmudic period there were changes in children’s status. Because of improvements in standard of living children that beforehand, in Biblical times, were considered as little adults, later became children with the adults’ protection. In other words, the changes in children’s status reflect better childhood.

In several areas one may see this improvement in the child’s lot, but perhaps the most tangible place to notice it is in the judicial arena, how the child is perceived in the eyes of the law. In this vein two cases will be discussed henceforth: the right of the parents to sell a child and the punishment for a rebellious son. According to the Biblical law (Ex. 21:7-11) a man can sell his daughter. There are a few cases in the Bible demonstrating this right of the parents, and the Israelite prophets did not decry this habit (II Kings 4:1; Isa. 50:1). However, when one turns to the Talmud he sees that a measure of restraint has developed in the application of this law. The Rabbis rule that a man is not allowed to sell his daughter as a means of making profit, rather it is only to be used as a last-ditch option if he wax destitute (t. Arakhin 5:7). Moreover, R. Shimon b. Gamliel (in the second century) compared one’s daughter to the very scroll of the Torah, ruling that anyone who sells any of the two will never see a blessing in the money (b. Megila 27a).

Another case even more demonstrative of the rise in children’s status and the recognition of the inherent value in their lives, rules that a child must be protected by the law from even his parents. According the Bible (Deut. 21:18-21), a child who rebels against his parents and misbehaves in their judgment, is to be taken to the local elders, that is the judges, who may sentence him to death by stoning. This juvenile delinquency is met then by the law with the utmost stringency, with no provision for taking into consideration his age, no matter how young.48 However, when turning to the law as understood by the Talmud one sees a world of a difference. The Tannaim ruled (m. Sanhedrin 8:1-5) that for the Biblical law to apply, so many conditions, some of them simply impossible, must be in place, as to make it altogether impossible to carry out the parental right. The obstacles the sages put before the Biblical law indicate well the “new-age” concern for children. A child, even if he rebels and should be punished, may not be executed for his deeds. One can not but take this new rule as an example of the Rabbinic trend of deviation from the written word for the purpose of saving life in general and for saving the life of youngsters in particular.

Though there is more evidence showing the founding of the idea of childhood in the Talmudic period, it will be sufficient here to draw attention to one more issue that reflects this development, that being the obligation of schooling. In the Biblical period there were no schools, at least at the formal level.49 This is not to say that children of the nobility were not trained one way or another, and even without means to trace the existence of any kind of school teaching in the Biblical period, it should be taken for granted that some children were taught in some kind of school. However, the rule remains that schooling as a general concept was as foreign as the idea of childhood. Yet in the Talmud the situation is in fact much different. According to the sages, it was Shimon ben Shatah, of the first century BCE, who first created the law of obligatory education. Other sources claim that Joshua ben Gamla, the High Priest in the first century BCE (or a bit earlier) ruled that in every town a school should be established by the public expense (b. B. Batra 21a).50 Whenever the law was actually instituted, it is clear that it reflects a higher regard for the life of children in the days of the Mishnah and Talmud.

But in fact, there ought to be no surprise in the improvement of youth education at that time. It already been noticed that in many cultures there is a correlation between urbanization and education, or rather literacy.51 The more the population grows dense, the more it becomes easier to raise and educate a class of children of the same age; hence the urbanization mentioned earlier was an indicator of literacy improvement.

We see here that when less children were needed to work on the family farm, and more were instructed with formal education, there officially began the process that “created” childhood. Children in the later era had a better life than those of earlier eras. Life in Antiquity was tough in any event, but at least people began and were able to experience some kind of childhood, days to yearn for in adulthood.

9. A revolution in the value of human life

In perusing the Bible, it persuasively seems as if the narrator has no compunction about killing people, and even less so if they belong to other Nations (Deut 3:6; 20:17; Josh. 10:28; 2 Sam. 8:2). The Lord of the Bible is both merciless and jealous (as his kings: I Kings 18:40), and no punishment other than that of death seems to satisfy Him (Num. 25:8). Flogging or a monetary penalty played only minor roles in the Biblical judicial system, while capital punishment in Biblical Israel often seemed to be the rule (Lev. 24:14; Deut. 21:21), definitely more so than among its neighbors.52 All this points to the distinct conclusion that in the Biblical period man’s life had little intrinsic value if any.

However, when taking up the Talmud it becomes evident that capital punishment is nearly absent from its pages and from its case law (m. Makot 1:1) having “officially” disappeared some years before the destruction of the Temple. Moreover, not only were people restrained from killing others, God Himself is portrayed as tolerant of other gods, even in the holy Land of Israel (b. Ber. 57b). Of course, this is not only a new way of depicting God; it is also a new way of evaluation and appreciation of human life.53

In response to this new depiction of God as more benevolent it has been supposed that the value of human life increased when the Land of Israel came under foreign rule. This occupation made it so any Jewish killing, legitimate as it might have had, came to be seen as benefiting the conqueror. Jews who suffered and were under constant external pressure were the first to realize that just as they did not want to get killed others did not like it either. This realization made such an impression on them that they found it easy to redefine the punishments meted out by God and Man. At any event, this alteration in the basic approach to human life can be seen as a predecessor to the modern concepts of human life on the one hand, and of religious tolerance on the other.

This alteration in the evaluation of human life might have had ramifications on the reevaluation, if not invention, of the afterlife, which occurred at this time. This reevaluation would have reasoned that life have two parts: one is seen and the other is the after-life when final judgment is reached. The political and social pressure that ruled the day were the cause of one of the major revolutions in Jewish belief in Antiquity.54 In such a mundane world the life that one sees is nothing – the true life must begin only later. Such a belief in the afterlife served as a source of comfort for the Jews in traversing life’s heavy storms, and not in vain did it became one of the pillars of Jewish belief.

10. Less inequality in social justice

Biblical sources stress the concern for the needs of the poor, and this social awareness is not unique. The Torah itself calls for social justice as well as the upkeep of the needy, and this attitude continued to be a central part of the Jewish heritage. However, in the Torah there were rules concerning all sorts of presents to the Levites and Priests (Num 5:9; Deut 18:3 respectively) which are lumped together with laws for support of the poor (Deut 26:12). That is to say that the idea of social justice in the Biblical age was concerned not only for the poor but also for the privileged as well.

Though the sages in pre-Destruction times continued discussing the Priestly and Levitical presents, and even updated the Biblical system after a while, after the Temple was in ruins, the Priests and Levites lost their power and eventually lost their privileges. Thus the whole system of giving presents of all sorts to Priests and Levites deteriorated and eventually ceased. Though the evidence on giving presents to the religious (former) elite is scarce, we do know that some 50 years after the destruction there were still some Jews who gave a present to R. Tarfon, who was a priest (b. Pesahim 72b; b. Bekhorot 11a). Though some Jews gave other presents to Priests several centuries later, at least to some extent, the whole system of giving presents to a religious elite disappeared at the end of the Byzantine period.55

Hence the social inequality of the Talmudic Jewish society became less prominent than ever before. Formerly, society tended to be polarized: either you were very rich or you were very poor. During the first centuries everyone was relatively poor, and giving presents to people just because of their genealogy became inapplicable and impossible. Thus not only did the differences in social strata become less important (as mentioned above), the whole society became less polarized on account of events it had collectively weathered. This led to a redistribution of the economic resources more favorable to the poor. The fact was that the Jewish society that emerged from Antiquity could not sustain privileged people. Each member of society was equal to his other, thus promoting social coherence and enabling the society to take better care of its poor.

11. Spirituality: tradition vs. change

The society that is depicted in the Mishnah and Talmud is different from Biblical society in yet another major aspect: its adherence to God through the instructions of a book. All religions before Judaism had emerged through no such concept as adherence to a book. It was a Muslim who coined the term “People of the Book” particularly because the Jews were so singular in their adherence to the written word. Even within the Bible there are traces of this phenomenon of relying on a written text (Josh. 8:31; II Kings 14:6; II Chro. 35:12). It is also obvious that in the Bible one can find special emphasis on the role of the written text in many venues, from the precise specifications of the Tabernacle to the sermons attesting to the treaty between God and Israel found in the Mezuza and in the Shema, and so forth. However, in the days of the Mishnah and Talmud, this concept of relying on The Book advanced to an altogether original and more profound dimension.

The sages of the Mishna did not displace emphasis from on the Oral Tradition, but rather raised the Torah up as an infallible authority in a way as yet unseen. With the Torah becoming canonical, the understood law of all society was that all members should act according to the prescriptions and proscriptions of the text. Jewish society became subordinate to a static text, not to a functioning Temple or the living priest (or a prophet). All the new values, such as according deference to a sage over a priest (m. Horayot 3:8), stemmed directly from the new-founded appreciation for the study of Torah: not by Priests but by the laity. It was a mixture of orally transmitted and written laws both found to support the special concept of society governed by the injunctions of a Holy Book. It is true that this adherence to the Book was the main source of sectarianism and thus a source for social division and even the breakaway from Judaism of certain discontented groups. However, on the other hand, ties to the Book became a social glue once the Jews stopped living in homogenously Jewish society and began living in communities in a mostly non-Jewish world. R. Saadia Gaon in the 10th century wrote that the Jewish People is a people by virtue of its dual Torah, the Written and the Oral. Hence the close connection between the People and its Book was a mutual one.

In view of such a symbiotic relationship the sages were able to see themselves as a direct continuation of the Jewish tradition, free of any priestly affinity (m. Avot 1:1). Instead of spurning the old tradition in a tough world without a centralizing Temple (in like manner that God is one), the sages loyally adhered to their glorious past while inserting new values into the old traditions, like fresh wine disguised in old vessels. This type of religious and social flexibility enabled the continuation of ancient laws from the old world to the new. According to this concept of the dual Torah nothing was ever changed, and as such Jews could live in a new era with laws that were newly applied to the Torah, The Book of Books, practicing a new set of laws that had their own view-point (sometimes even found to be in contradiction with the written Book). From many aspects this manner of understanding the Law was successful, and the proof of this success might be seen in the continuation of Jewish society in an alien world, as a minority, where no other ancient society was able to survive.


The investigation of social history covers a wide-range of issues, from population growth and urbanization to the innovation and development of new values, such as that of human life, an oral tradition, and more. It is admitted that the understanding of some of these issues is not easy to grasp. Changes were slow and many of them spanned more than many a lifetime, so people were not aware of these changes as they occurred. Ignoring of social history is a complete misunderstanding of history as a whole; many of the “non-events” discussed above were highly significant and highly important. After investigation of the many social changes in Jewish society for more than a millennium it is clearly evident that these historical changes were prompted not by man alone, but by God and Nature as well.

Rabbinic Judaism is an amalgamation of several changes in Antiquity: in social life (as explained above), in religious life (without a Temple) and in political life (without a land: a nation ruled by others). These changes changed also the norms of thinking so ideas that in earlier generations were considered as “unthinkable” became a full justified norm (e.g.: Lev. 24:20 as opposed to b. B.Q. 83b). During the millennium and more discussed above, the status of the Jewish people dramatically changed, as it went from a majority to a minority in its own land. The Jewish society found itself in the throes of constant upheaval and in turmoil in many key aspects; some of these are reflected in the homilies and stories of the oral-tradition, and some are not. At any event, the Jewish society as it met the Middle Ages was much altered, in a myriad of ways, from the society that collapsed as a result of the destruction of the First Temple and the Monarchy in 586 BCE.

The above-mentioned changes built a whole new society that enabled its members to live as subordinates, in difficult conditions, and under variegating religious persecutions in the Diaspora. Without all these social adaptations as they occurred in the Talmudic period, the Jewish people could not possibly have survived almost two millennia as a nation without a land. Fundamentalist Judaism, sectarianism and other social schisms withdraw from normative Judaism; Judaism in modern times lives, so it seems, resting not only on the foundations of the Bible, but on its Talmudic foundations as well.56

1. E.g. R. Sallers, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World, London: Duckworth, 1991.

2. For example, in recent scholarship one great scholar delineated the lines of future Jewish historiography while ignoring social understanding. It look like doing so is like building the future according the past, mistakes included. See: B. Bar-Kochva, ‘Second Temple-Period Research: Training, Means, Methods, and Aims’, Cathedra, 100 (2001), pp. 121-164 (Hebrew).

3. S. Safrai & M. Stern (eds.), The Jewish People in the First Century, II, Assen – Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1976; Catherine Hezser, The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine, Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1997.

4. B. Bar-Kochvah, ‘Manpower, Economics, and Internal Strife in the Hasmonean State’, Armées et Fiscalité dans le Monde Antique, 1977, pp. 167-196; Z. Safrai, ‘Demographic Increase as a Basic Process in the Life of the Land of Israel in the Days of the Mishnah and Talmud’, A. Oppenheimer, A. Kasher and U. Rappaport (eds.), Man and Land in Ancient Land of Israel, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi, 1986, pp. 20-48 (Hebrew); Z. Safrai, The Economy of Roman Palestine, London and New York: Routledge, 1994, pp. 436-446; Z. Safrai, ‘The Size of the Population in the Land of Israel in Roman-Byzantine Period’, Y. Friedman, Z. Safrai and J. Schwartz (eds.), Hikrei Eretz: Studies in the History of the Land of Israel Dedicated to Prof. Yehuda Felix, Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997, pp. 277-305 (Hebrew).

5. For literature on the subject, see: A. Rupin, The Sociology of the Jews, Berlin - Tel-Aviv: Stible, 1934, I, pp. 49-51 (Hebrew); Marco De Odorico, The Use of Numbers and Quantifications in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions (State Archives of Assyrian Studies, III), University of Helsinki, Helsinki 1995, pp. 114-115; Charles E. Carter, The Emergence of Yehud in the Persian Period: A Social and Demographic Study, Sheffield 1999.

6. A. Byatt, ‘Josephus and Population Numbers in the First Century Palestine’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 104-105 (1972-1973), pp. 51-60; Jonathan L. Reed, Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000 (paperback: 2002), pp. 62-99; B. McGing, ‘Population and Proselytism: How many Jews were there in the ancient world?’, John R. Barlett (ed.), Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities, London and New York: Routledge, 2002, pp. 88-106.

7. Arameans in the north, Samaritans (some of whom could be considered as “Half-Jews”) in the center, Idumaeans in the south, Arabs combined with descendants of the Moabites in the east and Hellenized descendants of the Philistines (combined with Greeks) in the west (the coastal zone). There were of course people from other ethnic groups (such as the Sidonians), but these were few.

8. During 130 years (37 BCE – 67 CE) some 100,000 Jews perished in the Land of Israel because of wars, rebels and plain killing by the Romans. See: B.Z. Luria, Romi in Jerusalem, Jerusalem: Society of Bible Study, 1988, pp. 162-165 (Hebrew). While the exact figure is unknown, the collected data should be taken as a factor to reduce the number of the population while calculating it in its peak.

9. Z. Safrai, ‘The Conversion of Newly Conquered Areas in Hasmonean Judea’, J. Schwartz, Z. Amar and Irit Ziffer (eds.), Jerusalem and Eretz Israel: Arie Kinder Volume, Ramat-Gan: The Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies – Tel Aviv: Eretz Israel Museum, 2000, pp. 70-88 (Hebrew).

10. D. Weitz, Famine and Plagues as Factors in the Collapse of the Roman Empire in the Third Century, Ph.D. Fordham University New York, 1972 (University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1984), p. 86, 108, 122.

11. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘India and the Land of Israel: Between Jews and Indians in ancient times’, The Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies, 4 (2001), pp. 39-77.

12. For a thorough Rabbinic sources, see: D. Sperber, Roman Palestine 200-400 The Land, Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1978, pp. 70-99.

13. This analysis might explain why Tiberias became one of the last towns where Jews lived in relatively big numbers (more than 10,000). Tiberias always have had plenty of water and food, in this case fish, so the abovementioned circumstances had small affect over them.

14. Dionysios Ch. Stathakopoulos, Famine and Pestilence in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empire: A Systematic Survey of Subsistence Crises and Epidemics, Aldershot – Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004, pp. 259-261.

15. Michael W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977; Lawrence I. Conrad, The Plague in the Early Medieval Near East, PhD Princeton University, University Microfilms International, 1981, pp. 121-135.

16. It was estimated that in the 16th century there were some 300,000 people in the Land of Israel, but some put the figure at 100,000 people only.

17. One should not overlook the new towns that emerged in the Negev (the southern side of Israel) by the Nabateans, at the same time or a bit later.

18. Josephus, The Jewish War, I,155; I,164; I,401-422; II,167; II,252; Jewish Antiquities, XV,292-298; XVI,142-145; XVII,23-27; XVIII,26-28; XVIII,36-38; and more.

19. Z. Safrai, ‘The Urbanization Process in the Land of Israel during the Hellenistic, Roma-Byzantine Periods’, Studies in the History of the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, 5 (1980), pp. 105-129 (Hebrew).

20. M. Broshi, ‘The Population of Western Palestine in the Roman-Byzantine Period’, BASOR, 236 (1980), pp. 1-10.

21. G. Alon, History of the Jews in the Land of Israel during the Mishnah and Talmud Periods, Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1967, I, pp. 99-105 (Hebrew).

22. For details, see; Z. Safrai, ‘The Conversion’, etc. p. 77.

23. M. Avi-Yonah, Essays and Studies in the Lore of the Holy Land, Tel-Aviv – Jerusalem: Neumann, 1964, pp. 125-136 (Hebrew); Z. Safrai, The Economy of Roman Palestine, pp. 382-396.

24. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Medicine in The Land of Israel in the First Centuries CE’, Cathedra, 91 (1999), pp. 31-78 (Hebrew).

25. A. R. Burn, ‘Hic Breve Vivitur: A Study of the Expectation of Life in the Roman Empire’, Past and Present, 4 (1953), pp. 2-31; B. Frier, ‘Roman Life Expectancy: The Pannonian Evidence’, Phoenix, 37/4 (1983), pp. 328-344. For a misunderstanding of the topic, see: J. Blenkinsopp, ‘Life Expectancy in Ancient Palestine’, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, 11 (1997), pp. 44-55.

26. Some Jews did eat pork, See: Susan Ackerman, Under Every Green Tree: Popular Religion in Sixth-Century Judah, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1992, pp. 202-212.

27. Don Brothwell, and A. T. Sandison (eds.), Diseases in Antiquity, Springfield, Ill., Charles C Thomas, 1967, pp. 170-176; Colin J. Hemer, ‘Medicine in the New Testament World’, B. Palmer (ed.), Medicine and the Bible, Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1986, pp. 43-83 (esp. 70-71).

28. There seems to be a correlation between this event and the final editing of the Palestinian Talmud.

29. D. H. Kallner-Amiran, ‘A Revisited Earthquake-Catalogue of Palestine’, IEJ, 1 (1950-51), pp. 223-246; 2 (1952), pp. 48-65; D. H. K. Amiran, E. Arieh and T. Turcotte, ‘Earthquakes in Israel and Adjacent Areas: Macroseismic Observations since 100 B.C.E.’, IEJ, 44 (1994), pp. 260-305. In an earlier earthquake, in (September 2) 31 BCE, according to Josephus (Antiquities 15:121=Wars 1:19) some 30,000 people were killed.

30. Z. Safrai, ‘Family Structure in the Days of the Mishnah and Talmud’, Milet, 1 (1983), pp. 129-156 (Hebrew).

31. E. Regev, ‘Family Structure in Jerusalem During the Herodian Period Based on the Archaeological Findings of Burial Caves’, Judea and Samaria Research Studies, 12 (2003), pp. 97-116 (Hebrew).

32. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Infant Mortality in the Land of Israel in Late Antiquity’, S. Fishbane and J. N. Lightstone (eds.), Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, Montreal: Concordia University, 1990, pp. 3-25.

33. Here are a few examples: 1) Menahem was from Tirzah (II Kings 14:14); 2) Amos came from Teqoa (Amos 1:1); 3) Micha came from Moreshet (Micha 1:1); 4) Tsvia was from Beer Sheba (II Kings 12:2); and more.

34. H. Reviv, The Society in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1993 (Hebrew).

35. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘The Attitude towards Mamzerim in Jewish Society in Antiquity’, Jewish History, 14 (2000), pp. 125-170.

36. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘The Reasons for Sectarianism According to the Tannaim and Josephus’s Allegation of the Impurity of Oil for the Essenes’, Lawrence H. Schiffman, E. Tov and J. C. VanderKam (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Fifty Years after Their Discovery - Proceedings of the Jerusalem Congress, July 20-25, 1997, Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2000, pp. 587-599.

37. The number 24 denotes “numerous”. See: I Chro. 23:4; I Chro. 27:2-15; M. Bar-Ilan, Genesis’ Numerology, 2nd ed., Rehovot: Association for Jewish Astrology and Numerology, 2003 (Hebrew).

38. See: S. J. D. Cohen, ‘The Significance of Yavneh: Pharisees, Rabbis and the End of Jewish Sectarianism’, HUCA, 55 (1984), pp. 27-54; M. D. Goodman, ‘Sadducees and Essenes after 70 CE’, S. E. Porter, P. Joyce and D. E. Orton (eds.), Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder, Leiden: Brill, 1994, pp. 347-356; Vered Noam, ‘Bet Shamai and the Sectarian Halachah’, Madaei HaYahadut, 41 (2002), pp. 45-67 (Hebrew).

39. E. E. Urbach, Hahalakha: Its Sources and Development, Givataim: Yad Latalmud, 1984, pp. 47-57 (Hebrew).

40. S. Safrai, The Land of Israel and its Sages in the Mishnah and Talmud Periods, Jerusalem: Hakibuz Hameuhad, 1984, pp. 57-70 (Hebrew).

41. B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East, Revised Edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, pp. 77-89; T. L. Donaldson, ‘Rural Bandits, City Mobs and the Zealots’, Journal for the Study of Judaism, 21 (1990), pp. 19-40.

42. Th. Friedman, ‘The Shifting Role of Women, From the Bible to Talmud’, Judaism, 36 (1986), pp. 479-487. See also: M. Bar-Ilan, ‘The Attitude towards Women in some of the books in the Pseudepigrapha’, Beit Mikra, 38/133 (1993), pp. 141-152 (Hebrew).

43. M. Bar-Ilan, Some Jewish Women in Antiquity, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998, pp. 119-122.

44. More details on this phenomenon: M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Basic Problems in Ancient Jewish Society’, Cathedra (in press, Hebrew).

45. If it is possible to "translate" the values of man and woman in Lev 27, where a man values 50 shekels and a woman values 30 shekels, a man is worth 166% more than a woman. See also: Pieter W. van der Horst, Ancient Jewish Epitaphs, Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1991, p. 102.

46. On the situation in the Roman Empire in general, see: Walter Scheidel, Measuring Sex, Age and Death in the Roman Empire: Explorations in ancient demography, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Journal of Roman Archaeology (Supplementary Series, 21) 1996, p. 56; I. Morris, Death-Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 81-90. For comparison of contemporary data, see: S. Klasen and Claudia Wink, ‘”Missing Women”: Revisiting the Debate’, Feminist Economics, 9/2-3 (2003), pp. 263-299.

47. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Childhood and its status in Biblical and Talmudic Societies’, Beit-Mikra, 40/140 (1995), pp. 19-32 (Hebrew).

48. D. Marcus, ‘Juvenile Delinquency in the Bible and in the Ancient Near East’, The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University, 13 (1981), pp. 31-52

49. E. W. Heaton, The School Tradition of the Old Testament, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994; Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, Louisville – London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, pp. 315-317.

50. Catherine Hezser, Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine (Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 81), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001.

51. M. Bar-Ilan, ‘Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E.’, S. Fishbane, S. Schoenfeld and A. Goldschlaeger (eds.), Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, II, New York: Ktav, 1992, pp. 46-61.

52. B. Jackson, ‘Reflections on biblical criminal law’, Journal of Jewish Studies, 24 (1973), pp. 8-38.

53. However, compare b. Shabbat 13b (b. Ketubot 111a): “Blessed is the Lord who killed him” said after the death of a sinner.

54. N. Rubin, The End of Life, Tel Aviv: Hakkibutz Hameuchad, 1997 (Hebrew).

55. The issue in its entirety remains nearly untouched, but see: G. Alon, History of the Jews in the Land of Israel during the Mishnah and Talmud Periods, I, pp. 160-162 (Hebrew).

56. See also: G. Boccaccini, Roots of Rabbinic Judaism: An Intellectual History, From Ezekiel to Daniel, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.