A Split Diaspora? The Nature of the Dispersion in the Aramaic-speaking East and the Greek-speaking West
This course consists of eight sessions, each featuring a weekly presentation, discussion, and handouts. When we think of the Jewish Diaspora, we think of the forced removal of the people from the land of Israel at the hands of a foreign power. However, some elements of the Diaspora were the result of voluntary relocations, some to enhance already existing communities, others to begin new ones. It is generally believed that there was a basic, ongoing connection between the scattered Jews of that era. However, recent scholarship argues that the Jewish world separated into two basic spheres during the Rabbinic period which developed after 70, due primarily to a language gap and a geographical divide.
The course will study the accepted view by tracing the existence and development of Diaspora communities in Babylonia, Egypt, and throughout the Greco-Roman world. After establishing the context of Diaspora Jewry in antiquity, we will explore the recent scholarship of Hebrew University Professor Emeritus Doron Mendels and Tel Aviv University Professor Arye Edrei which argues for a Diaspora split between Eastern Jewry (Israel and Babylonia) and Western Jewry (Egypt, northern Africa, Asia Minor, Greece, the Balkans, Italy, southern France, Iberia, and the Mediterranean islands).
The “Split Diaspora” argument holds that Jerusalem and the Land of Israel provided a central unifying force binding this extensive Jewish world together. After the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., this was no longer so. Without this centerpiece, the diaspora of Jews in the east developed very differently from the diaspora of Jews in the west. Besides the obvious geographical divide, language served to be a barrier between east and west, the former speaking and writing Hebrew and Aramaic, the latter Greek. This linguistic gap led to a much deeper cultural gap. In our study, we will take up the scholars’ conclusion that this discontinuity helps to explain the successful spread of earliest Christianity to the west, rather than the east.