The Roman Conquest

With the Roman conquest of Crete in 67 B.C.E., it was linked administratively with Cyrenacia (Libya). Cretans, certainly Cretan Jews, are referred to in the Acts of the Apostles as having been present at Pentecost when Peter spoke in tongues. Philo and Josephus, both writing in the 1st century C.E., allude to the Jews of Crete. Moreover, Josephus was married to a Cretan Jewess from the western end of the island, which indicates that the Jews were present in areas other than the administrative centers of eastern Crete.

Tacitus, in his History written in the 1st century C.E. has an interesting theory regarding the origin of the name "Judaean." He claims that the Jews were in fact Cretans and that their original name was "Idaeans" (in other words "from Mt. Ida"). Beyond the obvious etymological similarity this may also be based on some strand of the tradition that links the Palestinians to Eteo-Cretans fleeing the island with the arrival of the Greeks.

Unfortunately, none of the Roman sites on Crete have been systematically excavated and inscriptions from this period are at times ambiguous. A few have been identified as possibly alluding to Jews. They come from sites near Herakleion and as far west as Kisamo-Kasteli. Other inscriptions have been found at Agioi Deka near Gortys and in Gortys itself, At Kassanoi (Arkades), about 43 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Herakleion, there is an area known as the Evraioi ('Hebrews") which has been designated by archaeologists as possibly the site of a cemetery. During the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II (408-650 CE) Cretan Jews were singled out for prohibitive Legislation. Under Theodosius, the Jews of Egypt and Palestine especially, bore the brunt of a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment that, among other things, Ied to restrictions on the erection of synagogues as well as the abolition of the office of Nasi when Gamaliel II was deposed. The 'Nasi' or Prince (sometimes referred to as the Patriarch), had been appointed under Roman law for universally regulating the scattered Jewish Communities in the Empire. Its abolition was intended to sever the head of Judaism from its body.

It may well be that the difficulties they were facing in adjusting to the new Christian Roman Empire led to the appearance of a Cretan Jewish Messiah in about 430 CE, In that year a rabbi named Moses appeared in Crete and spent a year travelling about the island announcing that he was the same Moses who had led the Israelites through the Red Sea and into Sinai. He promised that in the following year he would lead Crete's Jews to the Holy land. Commercial and economic interests were abandoned in anticipation of the miracle and on a specified day the Jews of Crete met together at some point unknown to us and, to the horror and amazement of Christians watching the event, threw themselves off the cliffs and into the sea. Many were drowned; still others were saved by fishermen assembled in nearby boats to watch. In the account of the historian Socrates, special mention is made of the fact that there was a general conversion to Christianity on the part of the survivors. What happened to R. Moses is not known. Whether or not the Jews of Crete actually did convert through shame or despair at this point in their history is unknown, but for several centuries afterwards they are not mentioned in histories dealing with the island.


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