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Culture

Lecture on the Ancient Jewish History of Athens and Other Greek Cities

April 12, 2021

ATHENS – Greek Jewish History Lectures, organized by the Jewish Community of Athens will be held from April-June, once per month, via Zoom, featuring different topics focusing on the Jews of Greece.

The first lecture was held on April 11 with guest speaker Anastasia Loudarou who focused on the ancient Jewish history of Athens and other Greek cities. Loudarou is an Archaeologist, MSc., Phd candidate in Ancient History at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and Researcher at The Jewish Museum of Greece.

Her fascinating presentation was highlighted by slides of the many Jewish communities in Greece, archaeological sites, artifacts, and inscriptions from ancient times. Loudarou noted that the ancient Jewish communities of Greece were located in urban centers and smaller rural areas as well as the islands.

The literary sources and especially the inscriptions, dating from the first half of the third century BCE to the 15th century, demonstrate the archaeological and historical past of the Greek Jews. While finding the inscriptions in their original location is rare, Loudarou noted that at Delphi for example, an inscription was found in situ dating from the second century BCE. Excavations at Delos revealed an ancient synagogue, one of the oldest in the world, which was identified by an inscription on site. Loudarou also mentioned that Alexandrian sources often use the term “prayer house” in Greek to describe a synagogue which may also be called a holy place or savvateion.

Burial places were not separated in ancient times by religion and inscriptions on tombs and funeral monuments in Thessaloniki and in Athens are also evidence of the longstanding Jewish presence. The ancient mosaic floor of the synagogue in Aegina and the one recently discovered in the excavation of the synagogue in Chios were also noted in the presentation.

The Jewish community of Corinth is mentioned in the Bible, as Loudarou quoted from Acts 18, 1-8:

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.

Excavations and research continue to reveal more and more of the historic Jewish presence in Greece.

A Q&A session followed with Iakovos Atoun, the Jewish Community of Athens’ programs coordinator, as moderator.

For those interested in the learning about inscriptions, the book, Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum Graeciae: Corpus of Jewish and Hebrew Inscriptions from Mainland and Island Greece (late 4th century BCE-15th century), edited by Zanet Battinou, is available online, published by The Jewish Museum of Greece in 2018. More information is available via e-mail: info@jewishmuseum.gr.

The lecture series continues on Sunday, May 9 with Dr. Johannes Niehoff-Panagiotidis presenting Who are the Romaniotes? and on Sunday, June 6, with Dr. Mimis Cohen on The History of Greek Jews: 25 Centuries of Continuous Presence.

Register for the lectures online: https://tinyurl.com/greek-jewish-history-lectures.

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