AN EMBASSAGE IN CYRENE AND ASIA TO CAESAR, CONCERNING THE COMPLAINTS THEY HAD TO MAKE AGAINST THE GREEKS; WITH COPIES OF THE EPISTLES WHICH CAESAR AND AGRIPPA WROTE TO THE CITIES FOR THEM.
1. Now the cities ill-treated the Jews in Asia, and all those also of the same nation which lived ill Libya, which joins to Cyrene, while the former kings had given them equal privileges with the other citizens; but the Greeks affronted them at this time, and that so far as to take away their sacred money, and to do them mischief on other particular occasions. When therefore they were thus afflicted, and found no end of their barbarous treatment they met with among the Greeks, they sent ambassadors to Caesar on those accounts, who gave them the same privileges as they had before, and sent letters to the same purpose to the governors of the provinces, copies of which I subjoin here, as testimonials of the ancient favorable disposition the Roman emperors had towards us.
2. "Caesar Augustus, high priest and tribune of the people, ordains thus: Since the nation of the Jews hath been found grateful to the Roman people, not only at this time, but in time past also, and chiefly Hyrcanus the high priest, under my father (7) Caesar the emperor, it seemed good to me and my counselors, according to the sentence and oath of the people of Rome, that the Jews have liberty to make use of their own customs, according to the law of their forefathers, as they made use of them under Hyrcanus the high priest of the Almighty God; and that their sacred money be not touched, but be sent to Jerusalem, and that it be committed to the care of the receivers at Jerusalem; and that they be not obliged to go before any judge on the sabbath day, nor on the day of the preparation to it, after the ninth hour. (8) But if any one be caught stealing their holy books, or their sacred money, whether it be out of the synagogue or public school, he shall be deemed a sacrilegious person, and his goods shall be brought into the public treasury of the Romans. And I give order that the testimonial which they have given me, on account of my regard to that piety which I exercise toward all mankind, and out of regard to Caius Marcus Censorinus, together with the present decree, be proposed in that most eminent place which hath been consecrated to me by the community of Asia at Ancyra. And if any one transgress any part of what is above decreed, he shall be severely punished." This was inscribed upon a pillar in the temple of Caesar.
3. "Caesar to Norbanus Flaccus, sendeth greeting. Let those Jews, how many soever they be, who have been used, according to their ancient custom, to send their sacred money to Jerusalem, do the same freely." These were the decrees of Caesar.
4. Agrippa also did himself write after the manner following, on behalf of the Jews: "Agrippa, to the magistrates, senate, and people of the Ephesians, sendeth greeting. I will that the care and custody of the sacred money that is carried to the temple at Jerusalem be left to the Jews of Asia, to do with it according to their ancient custom; and that such as steal that sacred money of the Jews, and fly to a sanctuary, shall be taken thence and delivered to the Jews, by the same law that sacrilegious persons are taken thence. I have also written to Sylvanus the praetor, that no one compel the Jews to come before a judge on the sabbath day."
5. "Marcus Agrippa to the magistrates, senate, and people of Cyrene, sendeth greeting. The Jews of Cyrene have interceded with me for the performance of what Augustus sent orders about to Flavius, the then praetor of Libya, and to the other procurators of that province, that the sacred money may be sent to Jerusalem freely, as hath been their custom from their forefathers, they complaining that they are abused by certain informers, and under pretense of taxes which were not due, are hindered from sending them, which I command to be restored without any diminution or disturbance given to them. And if any of that sacred money in the cities be taken from their proper receivers, I further enjoin, that the same be exactly returned to the Jews in that place."
6. "Caius Norbanus Flaccus, proconsul, to the magistrates of the Sardians, sendeth greeting. Caesar hath written to me, and commanded me not to forbid the Jews, how many soever they be, from assembling together according to the custom of their forefathers, nor from sending their money to Jerusalem. I have therefore written to you, that you may know that both Caesar and I would have you act accordingly."
7. Nor did Julius Antonius, the proconsul, write otherwise. "To the magistrates, senate, and people of the Ephesians, sendeth greeting. As I was dispensing justice at Ephesus, on the Ides of February, the Jews that dwell in Asia demonstrated to me that Augustus and Agrippa had permitted them to use their own laws and customs, and to offer those their first-fruits, which every one of them freely offers to the Deity on account of piety, and to carry them in a company together to Jerusalem without disturbance. They also petitioned me that I also would confirm what had been granted by Augustus and Agrippa by my own sanction. I would therefore have you take notice, that according to the will of Augustus and Agrippa, I permit them to use and do according to the customs of their forefathers without disturbance."
8. I have been obliged to set down these decree because the present history of our own acts will go generally among the Greeks; and I have hereby demonstrated to them that we have formerly been in great esteem, and have not been prohibited by those governors we were under from keeping any of the laws of our forefathers; nay, that we have been supported by them, while we followed our own religion, and the worship we paid to God; and I frequently make mention of these decrees, in order to reconcile other people to us, and to take away the causes of that hatred which unreasonable men bear to us. As for our customs (9) there is no nation which always makes use of the same, and in every city almost we meet with them different from one another; but natural justice is most agreeable to the advantage of all men equally, both Greeks and barbarians, to which our laws have the greatest regard, and thereby render us, if we abide in them after a pure manner, benevolent and friendly to all men; on which account we have reason to expect the like return from others, and to inform them that they ought not to esteem difference of positive institutions a sufficient cause of alienation, but [join with us in] the pursuit of virtue and probity, for this belongs to all men in common, and of itself alone is sufficient for the preservation of human life. I now return to the thread of my history.
(7) Augustus here calls Julius Caesar his father, though by birth he was only his uncle, on account of his adoption by him. See the same Antiq. B. XIV. ch. 14. sect. 4.
(8) This is authentic evidence that the Jews, in the days of Augustus, began to prepare for the celebration of the sabbath at the ninth hour on Friday, as the tradition of the elders did, it seems, then require of them.
(9) The remaining part of this chapter is remarkable, as justly distinguishing natural justice, religion, and morality, from positive institutions in all countries, and evidently preferring the former before the latter, as did the true prophets of God always under the Old Testament, and Christ and his New; whence Josephus seems to have been at this time nearer Christianity than were the Scribes and Pharisees of his age; who, as we know from the New Testament, were entirely of a different opinion and practice.