Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Carthage, Tunisia

CARTHAGE, ancient city in North Africa near the modern Tunis; founded in the 9th century B.C.E. by Phoenicians. There is no evidence of Jews in Carthage during the Punic period (before 146 B.C.E.); on the other hand, a number of modern scholars maintain that the expansion of the Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon owed something of its impetus to the collaboration of Hebrews from the Palestinian hinterland. Substantial Jewish settlement is known only from the time of the Roman Empire. Its existence is shown from inscriptions (mainly on tombstones) and from literary sources, especially those of the Church Fathers. The majority of Jewish inscriptions from Carthage (discovered in a cemetery excavated near the city) show that the language of its Jews was Latin, although a few inscriptions are in Hebrew. The *menorah is common, and some of the tombs are decorated with wall paintings. The city is also mentioned in the Talmud. Of particular interest is the paradoxical statement: "From Tyre to Carthage the nations know Israel and their Father who is in heaven, but from Tyre westward and from Carthage eastward the nations know neither" (Men. 110a). "Africans" (Carthaginians) are also described as disputing with Israelites the title to the ownership of Ereẓ Israel. The Septuagint translates "Tarshish" by Karhadon (= Carthage). The Jews of Carthage and its surroundings were most probably originally emigrants whose number grew, particularly after the disasters in Ereẓ Israel (in 70 and 132–5) and in Egypt (in 115–117). Some scholars maintain that in the Mediterranean area there was intensive proselytizing activity among the Phoenician populace, who felt particularly close to Judaism and who attached themselves to Judaism after their political decline. By this means the Phoenicians preserved their Semitic identity and were not assimilated by the Roman-Hellenistic culture which they hated. This view, though interesting, is highly problematical. Nevertheless, the possibility of successful Jewish proselytizing there cannot be dismissed. With the spread of Christianity the status of the Jews began progressively to deteriorate. The hatred of the Christians stemmed partly from the influence exercised by the Jewish religion in Carthage and the surrounding area, where there were many Judaizing sects and proselytes. Tertullian and Augustine give a few details about the Jews in Carthage, whose situation particularly deteriorated in the days of Justinian when the regulations issued against heretics affected them also. As a result synagogues were seized and converted into churches and many Jews fled. It is possible that in that period, under the influence of the exiled Jews, a number of North African pagan tribes became converted. The Moslem conquest ended the importance of Carthage and the center of Jewish life in the area passed to *Kairouan.


Monceaux, in: REJ, 44 (1902), 1–28; N. Slouschz, Hebraeo-Phéniciens et Judéo-Berbères (1908); idem, La civilisation hébraïque et phénicienne à Carthage (1911); Juster, Juifs, 1 (1914), 208, n. 8; G. Rosen, Juden und Phoenizier (19292); Mieses, in: REJ, 92 (1932), 113–35; 93 (1932), 53–72, 135–56; 94 (1933), 73–89; Baron, Social2, 1 (1952), 176, 374; Y. Levi, Olamot Nifgashim (1960), 60–78; M. Simon, Recherches d'histoire judéo-chrétienne (1962), 30–87.

[Uriel Rappaport]

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