Commitments from the ruling power to Jewish communities were by nature impermanent and subject to local pressures. Swings of the pendulum, following the typology of the new Pharaoh of Exodus and of the reversals of the Esther plot, are a favourite topic of diaspora writing.26 But in the best circumstances, stability and the continuity of rooted communities could be achieved in the diaspora.
The Alexandrian community achieved a degree of legal autonomy in the age of Augustus, as noted evenby an outsider, the Greek writer Strabo: 'an ethnarch stands over them, who administers the community and judges lawsuits and takes care of contracts, just as if he were the ruler of an independent polity' (quoted in Josephus, AJ 14.117). Occasionally, in relation to Egypt and also to the city of Berenice in Cyrenaica, the term politeuma, in the sense of a self-governing unit, makes an appearance.27 Elsewhere, Jewish groups simply availed themselves of the administrative and social space within the city offered to associations, guilds and cultic societies of various kinds.28 Synagôgë was
24 For all this material, see Hachlili, AncientJewish art.
25 For the evidence and interpretive issues involved in the history of synagogues, see Levine, The ancient synagogue; Fine, Jews, Christians and polytheists; Runesson, Origins of the syna-gogue;Olsson and Zetterholm, The ancient synagogue; Rajak, 'The ancient synagogue'.
26 Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism, analyses various such tales. For Josephus, see Rajak, 'Josephus and diaspora', 92-7.
27 Data from Egypt: Kasher, Jews in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, 29-38, 208-11. Text from Berenice, Cyrenaica: Applebaum, Jews and Greeks, 167. On the recent reconstruction of a papyrological dossier from an Egyptian Jewish politeuma, see Honigman, 'The Jewish politeuma at Heracleopolis'. Smallwood, Jews under Roman rule, understood the term politeuma as a legal definition of status for diaspora Jewish communities.
28 Harland, Associations, synagogues and congregations.
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