The Land of Israel during the Byzantine Period (324-638 CE)


The lamps of Edom [Christianity] burn bright, the lamps of Zion [Judaism] are extinguished.–Yannai, sixth century synagogue poet.

The transformation of Christianity from a despised and outlawed cult into the official religion of the Roman Empire had profound significance for Jews and gentiles alike. In the centuries after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 324 CE, the ancestral religions of Rome were persecuted, destroyed and declared illicit. The great temples of the empire were pillaged, burned, dismantled and on occasion rededicated as churches for the (sometimes) compliant masses. The Christianization of the Roman Empire is one of the most gruesome example of government-sponsored cultural annihilation in western history.

Jews fared far better in this new Christian empire than polytheists did. At first, the maintenance of Judaism was based upon their positive legal status under Roman law. Being an ancient and licit religion, Judaism was protected from Christian persecution. However, as the fifth and sixth centuries wore on, these protections began to slip, as synagogues were destroyed and rededicated as churches under Christian sponsorship, while the government did little or nothing to protect them.

Christians had reason to preserve Jews. St. Augustine formulated that, as the living examples of the “Old Covenant” that God had made with the ancient Israelites, Jews should be treated as remnants of a failed covenant that had been supplanted by the New Covenant of Christ. In a way, Jews were thus anthropologically interesting. This colonial approach towards Jews had theological underpinnings. For instance, according to St. Augustine, the continued existence of the Jews, maintained in an intentionally wretched state, was continuing proof of their rejection by God.

Despite being persecuted, Jewish culture seems to have thrived under Christian Rome, at least in the Land of Israel. Synagogue buildings continued to be constructed throughout Jewish areas of Palestine, often with beautifully decorated mosaics and polished stone seven-branched menorahs. The construction of these buildings had much in common with nearby churches, which came to dominate the Jewish homeland as Christians established their Christian Holy Land and strengthened the economy of Palestine. Jewish literary composition also thrived, though the age of the great and well known Rabbinic scholars passed, and rabbis did their work mainly in anonymity. The exception is a group of sixth century virtuoso synagogue poets, Yose son of Yose, Yannai, Qalir and others, who wove the Hebrew language artfully into new and energized liturgical poetry (piyyutim). Homiletical interpretation of Scripture also continued apace, leading to the composition of new collections of homilies (midrashim) and Aramaic translations of Scripture (Targumim).

In the space created between Christian persecution of polytheists and the grudging toleration of the people of the “Old Testament,” Judaism thrived under difficult circumstances that presaged the Christian Middle Ages. As one synagogue poet Yannai put it, “The lamps of Edom [Christianity] burn bright, the lamps of Zion [Judaism] are extinguished.” Yannai’s lament, however, was only for the moment. His community expected messianic redemption, and with it the defeat of Christian Rome. In the end, redemption seemed to come from the East, with the Persian invasion of Palestine in 616 CE and finally the Islamic conquest in 632 CE.



    1. Nag Hammadi Library, 3rd-4th century CE
    2. Capernaum Synagogue, 3rd-4th century CE
    3. Akeptous Inscription, 3-4th century CE
    4. Fragment of the Book of Revelation, 3-4th century CE
    5. Prayer for Salvation to the One God, 3rd-4th century CE
    6. Hammat Tiberias Synagogue Mosaic, 4th century CE
    7. Earliest Monk Cells, 4th century CE
    8. Codex Theodosianus, 4th century CE
    9. Roman Sarcophagus Depicting the Christian Passion, 4th century CE
    10. Gold-Glass Bases, 4th century CE
    11. Diademed Woman, 4th century CE
    12. Khirbet Susiya Synagogue Mosaic, 4th century CE
    13. Hammat Tiberias Menorah, 4th-5th century CE
    14. Meroth Synagogue, 4th-5th century CE
    15. Meroth Amulet, 4th-5th century CE
    16. Coin Hoard from Meroth, 4th-5th century CE
    17. Byzantine Church of the Annunciation, 4th-5th century CE
    18. Burial Inscription, 4th-5th century CE
    19. Christian Seal Ring, 4th-6th century CE
    20. Corinth Synagogue, 4th-6th century CE
    21. Two Lead Foil Magic Amulets, 4th-6th century CE
    22. House of Eusebius, 4th-7th century CE
    23. Edict of Milan, 313 CE
    24. Bishop Cyril, 315–386 CE
    25. Greek Epitaph, 319 CE
    26. Revocation of Law Preventing Jews from Holding Public Office, 321 CE
    27. Coin of Helena, 324/5 CE
    28. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 325 CE
    29. The True Cross in Rome, c. 325 CE
    30. Church of Eleona, 326-333 CE
    31. Church of the Nativity, 333 CE
    32. Pilgrim of Bordeaux, 333 CE
    33. Coin of Constantine, 330 CE
    34. Constantius’ Slave Laws, 339 CE
    35. Gold Hoard from Caesarea, 344-395 CE
    36. Codex Vaticanus, 350 CE
    37. Codex Sinaiticus, 350 CE
    38. War against Gallus, 351-352 CE
    39. Augustine, 354-430 CE
    40. Qazrin Coin Hoard, 361–363 CE
    41. Letter from Julian to the Jews, 363 CE
    42. The Good Shepherd, 5th century CE
    43. Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic, 5th century CE
    44. Sepphoris Inscription, 5th century CE
    45. Octagonal Church, 5th century CE
    46. Martyrius Monastery, 5th century CE
    47. Mary’s Tomb, 5th century CE
    48. Isaiah Inscription on the Western Wall, 5th century CE
    49. Codex Alexandrinus, 5th century CE
    50. Christian Oil Lamp, 5th-6th century CE
    51. Nile Celebration Mosaic, 5th-6th century CE
    52. Gaza Church, 5th-6th century CE
    53. Sacred Horseman, 5th-6th century CE
    54. Glass Vessel Decorated with Crosses, 5th-6th century CE
    55. Cotton Genesis, 5-6th century CE
    56. Temple Mount Mosaic, 5th-7th century
    57. Eucherius Describes the Church of the Apostles, c. 400 CE
    58. Eudocia Inscription, 408-450 CE
    59. Ein Gedi Synagogue- “Peace upon Israel,” 450 CE
    60. Hammat Gader Synagogue, 450 CE
    61. Epitaph of Maron son of Kaioumos, 456 CE
    62. Mar Saba Monastery, 439 CE
    63. Epitaph of Lucia, Daughter of Peter, 461 CE
    64. Coin Hoards from Ein Gedi, 498-565 CE
    65. Jesus Seal, 6th century CE
    66. Horvat Bata Cross, 6th century CE
    67. Bread Stamp Inscribed “The Way of the Lord,” 6th century CE
    68. Gaza Synagogue Mosaic, 6th century CE
    69. Petra Papyri, 6th century CE
    70. Samaritan Castra, 6th century CE
    71. Relief from Hanita, 6th century CE
    72. Capital Decorated with a Menorah, 6th century CE
    73. Capital Decorated with a Cross, 6th century CE
    74. Kissufim Mosaic, 6th century CE
    75. Justinian Icons from Sinai, 6th century
    76. Vulgate Gospels, 6th century CE
    77. Gold Coins, 6th-7th century CE
    78. Magic Bowl, 6th-7th century CE
    79. Mosaic Inscription, 6th-7th century CE
    80. Bronze Censer Bowl, 6th-7th century CE
    81. Rehov Synagogue Mosaic Floor, 6th-7th century CE
    82. Babylonian Talmud, c. 500 CE
    83. Chaldean Inscription, c. 500 CE
    84. Mosaic of Justinian, 527-565 CE
    85. Madaba Map, 527-565 CE
    86. Hagia Sophia, 532 CE
    87. Nea Church, 543 CE
    88. Emperor Phocas Coin, 602-610 CE
    89. Gold Coin Hoard, 610-613 CE
    90. Sassanian Conquest of Jerusalem, 614 CE
    91. Tombstone from Zoar
    92. Byzantine Gold Ring
    93. Oil Lamps with Greek Inscription
    94. Arch of the Hurva Synagogue
    95. Manger Square Church
    96. Glazed Bowls
    97. Arbel Synagogue
    98. Byzantine Avdat
    99. Bronze and Wood Cross
    100. Christograms
    101. Byzantine Chapel at Masada

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