The Jews in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix

Carlo Giordano, Isidoro Kahn, The Jews in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix. 3rd edition revised and enlarged by Laurentino García y García; translated by Wilhelmina F. Jashemski. Reprint 2003. Rome: Bardi, 2001.

Reviewed by David Noy, University of Wales Lampeter

This book was first published in Italian in 1966, with a second edition in 1979 to coincide with the 1900th anniversary of the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. A third Italian edition, and this English translation, appeared in 2001. There is nothing in the new edition to inform readers about the date of the first edition. The 1979 preface has been retained, and, while there has been a little updating of the bibliography and footnotes, the text itself seems not to have been altered, so newcomers may be confused to find an article published in 1953 described as “recent” (12), and to be told that Jewish inscriptions from Rome which have been beautifully displayed for many years in a special gallery in the Vatican Museums (Lapidario ebraico ex Lateranense) are in the “Museo Lateranense” (27).

Chapter I provides a brief history of the Jews in Italy up to 79 CE. Chapter II, “The Jews in Campania Felix”, gives the epigraphic evidence from Pozzuoli, Nola, Bacoli, Marano, Capua, Herculaneum, Stabiae and Naples, as it was known in the 1960s. This means that more recent discoveries, including at least seven inscriptions from Naples, one from Brusciano near Nola and two from Nocera, are not mentioned. Chapter III gives the epigraphic evidence from Pompeii, mostly accompanied by useful photographs and drawings (but without any epigraphic details such as the size of the letters). Chapter IV is on “Jewish Representations and Evidence in Pompeian Art”. Chapter V, “Biblical Voices in Pompeii”, deals with various pieces of graffiti, and Chapter VI, “Post-eruption Biblical Voices”, suggests that further graffiti was added after 79.

The book is characterized by a very “inclusive” approach, giving all the evidence which might conceivably be related to Jews. Readers are better served by having too much than too little, but some clearly non-Jewish material is included. For example (42-3), A. Cossius Libanus is regarded as a probable Jew on the strength of his cognomen, which the authors derive from Lebanon (not a predominantly Jewish area in the 1st century CE, or ever) and, bizarrely, his gentilicium (a perfectly normal Roman one), supposedly linked to the biblical land of Cush. There is also a tendency to generalize from very flimsy evidence. On the basis of one inscription from Marano, between Naples and Puteoli, we are told that “there was a Jewish colony” there (26). In the well-known case of Petronia Justa from Herculaneum, Justa’s biological mother Petronia Vitalis is claimed as probably a Jew who had adopted Christianity (32), on the grounds that her name is the Latin equivalent of “the Jewish name Haym” (meaning, presumably, the normally masculine name Hayyim). This sort of indiscriminate approach to Jewish names was already outdated when Frey produced the first volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum in 1936. The authors, an archaeologist and a rabbi, are clearly not altogether at home with Roman epigraphy and onomastics: on p.43, they interpret Africano cos. (i.e. Africano co(n)s(ule), “in the consulship of Africanus”) as Africano Cossio.

Chapter IV usefully illustrates various wall-paintings and pieces of sculpture for which Jewish connections have been proposed. The “Judgment of Solomon” re-enacted by pygmies is quite likely to illustrate direct or indirect knowledge of a Jewish story, but the idea that a pygmy in the mouth of a hippopotamus represents Jonah and the whale seems far-fetched. Attempts to identify Jews from facial features in a statue of a pastry-cook, a barbarian figure on the lid of a brazier and another on a shield carved on a tomb are completely speculative.

Chapter V is the book’s most useful section, providing extensive discussions of various pieces of graffiti: the names Sodom and Gomorrah; a ROTAS-SATOR word-square; a text which seems to include the word Christianos; the word cherem, two five-pointed stars and the word poinium. The authors believe that cherem could derive from a Hebrew word signifying ‘execration’ or ‘sacrifice’, or another meaning ‘vineyard’. They suggest that poinium could come from the Greek ποίμνιον (flock) or ποινή (penalty). These two words and the stars are all found together. Poinium is on the left, in larger letters than the other word but probably in the same hand. Together, the words could conceivably be a comment on the destruction of the city, although their writer produced very high quality lettering for someone near an erupting volcano.

Copies of the book’s Italian editions are hard to find in the United Kingdom, so greater accessibility at a very reasonable price is to be welcomed, but it is unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken for a more thorough revision which would at least remove some mistakes, mention discoveries in the last thirty-seven years and refer readers to some of the fundamental works on Jewish history which have appeared since 1966, e.g. M. Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism. The book does not seem to have had an English-speaking proof-reader, and minor misprints abound, including one on the cover (“Third Etition”). The translation is largely functional, if occasionally over-literal: Titus’s death was “immature” (15) and an epigraphic text “shouts out” (36). Some names have been left in an italianized form or turned into an anglicized version of the Italian which is some way from the normal English form, e.g. Jove Sabatio for Jupiter Sabazius (11).

Some specific points:

19. The Jewish catacombs of Venosa are not “earlier than the third century.” They are correctly dated on p.35 to the late fourth to mid fifth centuries.

21. The text of the inscription is given wrongly: “T” for Titus should be “Ti” for Tiberius. The third line should be understood as “dia viu et” (a form of the Greek Jewish title “dia biou”), not “dia vivet”.

23. There is a mistake in the text of the inscription: in l.3 “Abundantis” should be “Abundanti”.

24. A Latin text is erroneously attached to a separate Hebrew inscription on a bronze lamp, following CIL, although the mistake was already corrected in the CIL Auctarium. The Hebrew text should consist of sixteen letters, of which one has been omitted and four misprinted (Hebrew resh is consistently distorted into other letters). On p.36, the Hebrew text is given only in transliteration, but this does not prevent a misprint: “menuhateha” for “menuhatek”.

26. A new edition of the epitaph of Claudia Aster (CIJ i 556; JIWE i 26), with a photograph, has now been produced by G. Lacerenza, “L’iscrizione di Claudia Aster Hierosolymitana”, in L. Cagni (ed.), Biblica et Semitica. Studi in memoria di Francesco Vattioni (Ist.Univ.Or., Dip.St.As. Series Minor LIX, Naples, 1999), 303-13. Some other articles by Professor Lacerenza could also be added to the bibliography, particularly:

“Graffiti aramaici nella casa del Criptoportico a Pompei (Regio I, insula VI, 2)”, AION 56 (1996), 166-188.

“Per un riesame della presenza ebraica a Pompei”, Materia Giudaica 6/1 (2001), 99-103.

42. The inscription from an amphora given here as TY FELIX YOUDAIKOU is probably a misreading, going back to CIL, of one published by della Corte in 1946 (see AE 1951, no.161; JIWE i 40) from four amphorae, which seems to read Τρυλες Ἰουδαίκος, i.e. “Trules(?), a Judaean”.