Thursday, 26 November 2015
If, as Cohen has suggested, circumcision was not a useful marker of Jewishness, was there perhaps some better way of checking a Jewish claimant's pedigree? We do know that the priestly lines kept detailed genealogical records:
There is abundant and probative evidence that priests kept careful genealogical records both before and after the destruction of the second temple, and that they carefully checked (or were expected to check) the pedigree of their marriage partners.
Priestly and Levite families maintain records to this day but, of course, much was lost when the public archives at the Temple were destroyed by the Romans. In the diaspora there is no evidence that what public archives there were contained any useful Jewish geneaology. But what about converts?
A register for converts is even less likely to have existed ... Furthermore, before the rabbinic innovations of the second century of our era, conversion to Judaism was entirely a private abd personal affair. The conversion was not supervised or sponsored by anyone, and there were no establisged stabdards that had to be met. A register for converts before the second or third century CE is impossible to conceive.
So it was all down to the memory of oral informants. And they can be very slow and uncertain! After a discussion of some Roman problems in this area, Cohen concludes:
If you knew what to do or say, it must have been easy to pass as a Roman citizen ... there must have been many people who said they were Roman but were not. And there may well have been many people who said they were Jews and were not.