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A particularly striking document on the wave of violence against the Jews, up to forced conversion, is the remarkable letter written by Severus, the bishop of Minorca. In his Letter concerning the Jews, Severus recounts how the Jewish community on the island was converted to Christianity in 418. A polemic between Christians and Jews soon turned into a street battle, ending in the burning of the synagogue. Severus notes, however, that the Christian arsonists took great care to save the holy books from the fire. He concludes his account by reporting that in the days following the burning of their synagogue, 540 Jews converted to Christianity out of fear for their lives, eventually building a church on the ruins of the synagogue. Even if this text cannot be taken at face value in all its details, it remains emblematic of the new state of affairs, and reflects the deep worsening of the Jews' status. From the same year, 418, an imperial edict forbids the Jews ('those living according to the Jewish superstition') to join the armed forces. The same edict, however, reaffirms their right to be legal advocates and town councillors.

Developments in Palestine

Palestine, as we have seen above, constituted a special case. From the beginning Christianisation on the emperor's direct orders had been quite intensive there. In particular, geography had been modified through a series of churches that punctuated the landscape, defining it as a 'holy land'. Places hallowed by the earthly presence of Jesus, of his mother, but also of the patriarchs, became landmarks which underlined that the terra repromissionis of the Jews, to use Jerome's term, had nowbecome the Land of verus Israel. This transformation of the land was visible in places like Galilee or Hebron, but it was nowhere more obvious than in Jerusalem, a city from which the Jews, who had been expelled by the pagan Roman emperors, remained officially excluded. One would have therefore thought that Byzantine Palestine would not be a place where Jewish culture could thrive. And yet, the evidence points to the opposite. Literary creativity produced an impressive series of works. The Palestinian Talmud was redacted in Tiberias during the fourth century. Some of the major works of Midrashic literature, such as Genesis Rabbah and Leviticus Rabbah, stem from the fifth century in Palestine. The origins of synagogal poetry, the piyyut, are to be found there also. Yose ben Yose, the first paytan (composer of liturgical poems, from Greek poietes) whose name is known to us, for instance, lived in Palestine during the early fifth century.

Jerome, who lived in Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the 380s until his death in 419, carried on in Palestine a dialogue that he had begun in Rome with rabbis

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