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Emperor Worship

EMPEROR WORSHIP, the Roman cult established during the reign of Augustus, first in the provinces but not in Italy, and practiced throughout the Roman Empire. It is the direct continuation of the Hellenistic worship of the ruler. Emperor worship first appeared in Palestine during the reign of *Herod the Great. Although it was completely unacceptable to the Jewish population, Herod could nevertheless not afford to lag behind other vassal princes in establishing the cult. Thus although a temple was not erected in Jerusalem to honor the emperor, these rites were adopted in the cities of Sebaste and Caesarea, both predominantly non-Jewish. The Jewish population, though not the Christian, was everywhere exempted from the loyal duty of emperor worship and only one attempt was made to compel the Jewish nation to accept emperor worship, when *Caligula issued a decree to erect a statue of himself in the sanctuary at Jerusalem (Jos., Ant., 18:262; Jos., Wars, 2:184; Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium, 188, 207–8; Tacitus, Historiae, 5:9). The decree was never carried out, however, due to the death of Caligula in January 41 C.E.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple there was a tendency among the rabbis to mitigate various laws concerning idolatry, which was no longer considered a threat to the Jewish community. Nevertheless these same rabbis continued to reject any compliance with the imperial cult.


C.R. Taylor, The Divinity of the Roman Emperor (1931); CAH, 10 (1934), 481–9 (bibliography: 951f.); Urbach, in: Eretz Israel, 5 (1958), 189–205 (English summary: 94f.); A. Schalit, Koenig Herodes (1969), 421–3.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.