VENOSA, town in S. Italy. A group of Jews probably settled in this ancient and flourishing Roman colony long before the third century C.E., the date of the earliest Jewish inscriptions discovered there. Fifty-four epitaphs originating from a Jewish catacomb have been brought to light; they date from the third to the sixth centuries and are composed in Greek or Latin, with a few containing some Hebrew words. In the 1970s more inscriptions were discovered there. Another 23 epitaphs belonging to a cemetery are all in Hebrew and date from the ninth century. These two series of inscriptions constitute valuable source material. Apart from giving data on various individuals, the first series of epitaphs indicates that there was a well-organized community with religious office holders; there were also rebbites (or rabbis) and apostuli (delegates of the Palestinian patriarchate or the Babylonian exilarchate); moreover, some Jews figure as maiores and partes civitatis, i.e., as elected administrators of the town. The later series of epitaphs belongs to a period when Venosa had greatly declined as a result of frequent devastations, particularly by the Saracens. However, the prevalence of Hebrew is proof of the revival of Hebrew learning in southern Italy. The 11th-century chronicle of Ahimaaz b. *Paltiel tells of an emissary of the academy of Jerusalem who came to Venosa presumably to collect funds. He stayed there for a considerable time and used to read the Midrash and to interpret it every Sabbath while the local scholar *Silano, talmudist and liturgical poet, rendered it into the vernacular. After the conquest of the town by the Normans (1041), Venosa no longer afforded favorable ground for the cultivation of Hebrew studies.
Milano, Bibliotheca, index; Milano, Italia, index; Roth, Italy, index; Roth, Dark Ages, 416 n. 17; Frey, Corpus, nos. 569–619; G.I. Ascoli (ed.), Iscrizioni inedite o real note, greche, latine, ebraiche, di antichi sepoleri giudaici … (1880); F. Lenormant, in: REJ, 6 (1883), 200–7; H.J. Leon, in: JQR, 44 (1953/54), 267–84; F. Luzzatto, in: RMI, 10 (1935/36), 203–5; D. Columbo, ibid., 26 (1960), 446–7; L. Levi, ibid., 31 (1965), 358–65. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. Colafemmina, "Nova et Vetera nella catacomba ebraica di Venosa," in: Studi storici (1974), 87–95; idem, "Nuove iscrizioni ebraiche a Venosa," in: Studi in memoria di P. Adiuto Putignani (1975), 41–46; idem, "Nuove scoperte nella catacomba ebraica di Venosa," in: Vetera Christianorum, 15 (1978), 369–81; idem, "Tre iscrizioni ebraiche inedited," in: Vetera Christianorum, 20 (1983), 443–47; E.M. Meyers, "Report on the Excavations at the Venosa Catacombs, 1981," in: Vetera Christianorum, 20 (1983), 445–60; G. Lacerenza, "L'epitafio di Abigail da Venosa," in: Henoch, 11 (1989), 319–25; D. Noy, "The Jewish Communities of Leontopolis and Venosa," in: J.W. Van Henten and P.W. Van der Horst (ed.), Studies in Early Jewish Epigraphy (1994), 162–82.
[Attilio Milano /
Nadia Zeldes (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.