Epistle to the Hebrews: Jewish Christians and the Fiscus Judaicus

The Epistle to the Hebrews has often been called enigmatic and has caused a lot of debate among scholars. In this paper I will try and answer some of the most important questions that have not been fully answered until now: (1) when was this document written, (2) to whom was it addressed (who were the ‘Hebrews’), (3) how could the information about past and possible future persecutions in Hebrews be interpreted and (4) why had some people recently given up the habit of attending the community meetings? The combination of these answers should also present a consistent explanation for this document in the context of early Christianity. It will be argued that this document was written to Jewish Christians (indeed ‘Hebrews’), some of whom had been persecuted under Domitian as tax-evaders of the Jewish tax. For this purpose accused persons had been exposed in public for the inspection of their genitals to find out whether they were circumcised. Conviction would lead to the confiscation of their property. Both elements, the confiscations and the public examination of genitals (theatrizomenoi!), can be found in Hebrews 10.32-34 and in Suetonius, Domit. 12.1-2, as will be made clear. Furthermore a date will be suggested as well: the year 96, after Nerva’s reform of the Fiscus Judaicus. Nerva probably introduced the notion that the Jewish tax only needed to be paid by Jews who followed their ancestral customs. Jewish Christians (who under Domitian had been prosecuted as Jews for 'dissimulata origine imposita genti tributa non pependissent') were thus formally exempted from the tax and this exemption had one huge consequence: it formally led to the loss of their legal status as Jews under Roman law. This could have led to Jewish Christians returning to the synagogue, which the author of Hebrews wants to prevent.