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Antioch, Turkey

ANTIOCH (Turk. Antakya), city in southern Turkey, on the lower Orontes (Asi) near the Syrian border. Population (2004): 158,400. Part of Syria under the French mandate, it was annexed to Turkey in 1939 along with the district of Alexandretta ( *Iskenderun ) and made into the capital of the province of Hatay.

Antioch was founded by Seleucus Nicator in 300 B.C.E. and became the capital of the Seleucid Empire. In antiquity Antioch was an important Jewish center, and from its foundation full rights were bestowed upon the Jews. When the inhabitants

Plan of ancient Antioch. Plan of ancient Antioch.

rebelled against Demetrius II in 142 B.C.E., the soldiers of *Jonathan the Hasmonean were sent to quell the revolt and set the city in flames. There must have been a considerable number of Jews in Antioch by the second century B.C.E. Josephus praises the beauty of its great synagogue, and there were doubtless a number of other places of worship. Antioch had no special Jewish quarter as had *Alexandria , Jews being apparently dispersed throughout the city. *Hannah and her seven sons are said to have been buried in Antioch and it is possible that the martyrdom recounted in the Second and Fourth books of the Maccabees occurred in Antioch; IV *Maccabees could in fact be, in essence, the oration of a Jew of Antioch in memory of these martyrs. The Christians too, later honored the martyrs' grave, which, according to them, was situated in the Kerataion quarter, near the synagogue. The franchise of the Jews in Antioch was engraved on bronze tablets set up in a public place in the city. During the Roman period the Jewish population grew and was augmented by many proselytes. After the Roman war of 66–70 the inhabitants of Antioch asked Titus to expel the Jews from the city, and to destroy the tablets on which the Jewish privileges were inscribed, but he refused. Nevertheless, according to later chroniclers, the Romans erected a splendid memorial to celebrate their victory and set up the *cherubim taken from the Temple in Jerusalem on one of the western gateways of the city, which was consequently called "The Gate of the Cherubim." This, however, appears to be a late legend. The Jewish community of Antioch maintained permanent commercial ties with Palestine and took an interest in the spiritual life of their coreligionists there. In the second century, Abba Judah of Antioch contributed liberally to the maintenance of the Palestinian scholars, many of whom visited Antioch.

Antioch played an important role in the history of Christianity. Here for the first time, in the days of the Apostles, the members of the new faith were called "Christians" (Messianists). The first Christians were, of course, Jews, but already in the days of Paul, pagans also joined their ranks. Barnabas visited Antioch, where he dwelt together with Paul. When the apostle Peter came to Antioch he ate with the pagans, but when messengers arrived from James, the brother of Jesus, who was a Nazarene, Peter felt ashamed and withdrew from the pagan society, Barnabas following suit. According to a tradition of the church fathers, Peter headed the Christian church of Antioch for seven years.

Antioch became a center of Christian learning and the Antiochian school of theology, which flourished in the third and fourth centuries C.E., was particularly renowned. Unlike the school of Caesarea, which interpreted the Bible allegorically and in accordance with speculative philosophy, the Antiochian school expounded the Scriptures in conformity with their historical and literal meaning. The biblical commentaries composed by this school in the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. are of great importance. In Antioch, various means were used to counteract the great influence which the Jews had upon the local Christians. The synod of Antioch (341) forbade the Christians to celebrate Easter when the Jews were observing Passover, and John Chrysostom of Antioch, in his six sermons (c. 366–387), vituperatively denounced those Christians in Antioch who attended synagogues and resorted to the Jewish law courts.

When Christianity became the state religion, the position of the Jews of Antioch deteriorated. The Jews of Imnestar were accused of having crucified a Christian boy on the feast of Purim, and the Antiochian Christians destroyed the synagogue (423 C.E.). When the emperor Theodosius II restored it, he was rebuked by Simon Stylites and refrained from defending the Jews. In the brawls between the sport factions known as the "blues" and the "greens," many Jews were killed.

When the Persians threatened the *Byzantine Empire , Emperor Phocas attempted to force the Jews of Antioch to convert to Christianity. In revenge the Antiochian Jews are alleged to have attacked the Christians (608 C.E.) and killed the patriarch Anastasius. When the rebellion was suppressed, many Jews were slain or exiled. From this date on there is little further information about the Jews of Antioch. *Benjamin of Tudela (c. 1171) found only about ten Jewish families there, most of whom were glass manufacturers.

Under Ottoman rule (1516–1918) there was always a Jewish community in Antioch, and it was reinforced by immigrants from *Corfu and *Aleppo . By the middle of the 18th century there were 40 Jewish families and several rabbis in residence. The community followed the Sephardi rite. However, when the English traveler A. Buckingham visited Antioch around 1816 he found only 20 Jewish families, who met for prayers in a private house on the Sabbath. The Jewish population seems to have increased later on and by 1894 there were three to four hundred Jews.

Under the Turkish Republic many Jews left and the community dwindled once again. In 1977 there were only 164 Jews living in the city, divided among three large families. Most of them were textile merchants. There was one synagogue in operation, but no rabbi.


S. Krauss, in: REJ, 45 (1902), 27–49; A.Y. Brawer, Avak Derakhim, 1 (1944), 69 ff.; M. Schwabe, in: Tarbiẓ, 21 (1950) 112f.; V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), index; G. Downey, History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (1961); A. Cohen, Anglo-Jewish Scrapbook (1943), 39. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: EIS2 under Antakiya, 1 (1960), 516–17; W.A. Meeks and R.L. Wilken, Jews and Christians in Antioch in the First Four Centuries of the Common Era (1978); P.R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (1991); S. Tuval, "Ha-Kehillot be-Turkiya ka-Yom," in: Peʿamim, 12 (1982), 127–28.

[Abraham Haim /

David Kushner (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.