R Gottlieb wrote in his book called "Reason to Believe" on page 66 that many cultures were persecuted between 1000 BCE – 1 CE, and none survived. As far as I'm aware, he does not provide any examples. Does anyone here know of examples (with sources)?

I'm specifically looking for the type of persecution that's long term, limited in harm (eg taxes, ghettos, attacked physically, expelled from geographical location, priests killed, place of worship destroyed etc)(this could potentially be felt by the victims as a PERSONAL attack on their culture).

I'm not looking for the type of persecution that is short term, potentially fatal (get killed or convert to religion X)(this is usually NOT personal, but rather an attempt to spread the "truth").

Some background:

Part of the structure of argument in the mini chapter in "Reason to Believe" is as follows:

  1. 'Jewish survival is hard to understand naturally.'
  2. 'The critic responds: perhaps persecution HELPED them survive (causes: makes them want to survive even more, stand up for themselves, show honor to family members who have suffered, and show their enemies that they will not succeed in destroying them).'
  3. 'There were other cultures that also suffered from persecution yet did NOT survive.'

I am searching for those "other cultures".

  • 1
    I think the second section of the question is going to lead to a lot of tangential discussion, so it might be better to drop it as it's not required to answer the question.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 15 at 11:13
  • 2
    What part of the World? The Mediterranean Basin? Middle East? India? Wikipedia has separate lists of Bronze and Iron Age ancient religions by seven regions. Aug 15 at 11:24
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    Two comments: First, our knowledge of the ancient world is fragmentary even for the cultures that survived -- it's asking a great deal for any detail about cultures that didn't survive, since they are necessarily biased towards being marginal, small, and short-lived. Second, the ancient idea of a religion is very different from ours. By our standards there were very few real religions -- the things back then that we call religions were different beasts and much less likely to attract opposition.
    – Mark Olson
    Aug 15 at 11:30
  • @pieterGeerkens ALL areas/religions would be considered good examples.
    – Tzvi K
    Aug 15 at 21:31
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    The first issue would be defining "a religion." It was true that if you sailed from Rome to Egypt you would find people following the customs of their forefathers and having gods of different names, but many Romans would cheerfully identify the gods with theirs (Thoth as Mercury, for instance), and after all, you worshipped the gods after the manner of your fathers.
    – Mary
    Aug 16 at 0:33

1 Answer 1


Two examples from the Mediterranean and the timeframe 1000 BCE–1 CE come readily to mind:

  1. The import from Greek into Rome, worshipping Dionysos/Bacchus, which had practices around their Bacchanalia that were ultimately not tolerated in otherwise mostly laissez-faire Rome, and thus this cult/religion was persecuted:

    Livy claims that seven thousand cult leaders and followers were arrested, and that most were executed.

  2. A whole group of persecuted and now extinguished cults or religions. Literally: all other forms of worship than 'Jahwe alone', whether Jahwe and Ashera, Jahwe and other gods, El, Ba'al or whatnot, within the radicalising towards strict monotheism theocratic Israel/Juda/Judea. Source: The Bible, Old Testament.
    Much of the 'taking of the land' narrative can be read as struggling against Philistines (and their religion), against Canaanites (and their religion), other peoples (and their religion).

    Concrete examples: quite many, here two:

    1. 'Golden Calf worshipping', Exodus, Moses is not amused

    2. Prophet contest between Elijah and Ba'al adherents:

      I Kings 18:40: And Elijah saith to them, `Catch ye the prophets of Baal; let not a man escape of them;' and they catch them, and Elijah bringeth them down unto the stream Kishon, and doth slaughter them there. (YLT)

    Note: like the wonders dealt out in that episode, the actual events and numbers slain should probably be not taken too literally as 'historical event, happened exactly as described in that text'.

These would be examples of the more systematic persecutions of others—and thus their religions— that echoed significantly through time.

There are much more examples when we also take into account more localised clashes, like rather frequent troubles in Alexandria mainly between Hellenised, Egyptians and Jews, or on Elephantine when again Jews (of a then still pretty polytheistic description!) and locals with their Khnum temple disagree about who or what to worship and how to properly sacrifice things or especially animals.

All examples listed so far emphasise that 'religion' is not to be read exclusively as our understanding of 'religion', that is largely about abstract belief-systems, but much more as a struggle between almost tribal ingroup/outgroup problems, and othering. The Greek, Roman and even Jewish religious leaders and followers were usually able to coexist and to cooperate, to tolerate each other. As seen in Greeks often trying to systematise other religions with equating their gods to their Greek gods, the Romans importing usually all other gods into their pantheon (with the big exception Bacchus and a little trouble with Isis), and the Jews willingly offering sacrifice and especially prayers in their Jerusalem Jewish Temple for the Roman leader of state (of course: not to that leader!)

A necessary critique of the original claim, that "many were persecuted, none survived". That is evidently untrue. The Samaritans had to endure quite some struggles and persecution from their beginnings, and their numbers are very small today, but they're still around!

Further: If the notion from the original author should imply that most religions from that timeframe which did die out within that timeframe, due to 'persecutions', and not later, mostly due to monotheistic persecution by Christians or Muslims, then that is also a bit questionable. This violent suppression and elimination may have been present from time to time, but most changes in that timeframe were much more peaceful. On that subject:

— Michael Stausberg: "The Demise, Dissolution and Elimination of Religions", Numen, 68, Issue 2–3, 2021. (Brill)

  • 2
    Ba'al was part of the ancient Semitic religious pantheon. Their worship was definitely frowned upon in Judah and Israel (while it existed. Israel was in fact wiped from the map by Assyrian adherents to that same religion). And it did disappear in ancient times. However, that probably had little to do with anything the Jews did. Rome wiping out Carthage was a bigger blow for it. So nothing in here is incorrect, but it shouldn't be understood to be a causal relationship.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 15 at 14:11
  • @T.E.D. I argue ecce & post hoc but not ergo propter hoc. Ba'al adherents were given a hard time in Canaan/Israel (look how often these are condemned in bible), and he disappeared (so: not because 'Jews killed all worshippers!') I try to be quite explicit in emphasising that violence against most religions, because of that religion, did usually not lead to its distinction. Bacchus made a comeback in Rome. Ba'al was surely well after Elijah came & went… Aug 15 at 14:18
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    Bacchus worshippers were not forbidden completely in Italy, but rather their political activity (congregating in groups, forming collegia) was severely curtailed. If they had a reason to make an offering, they needed permission. It's certainly related to op's question, but is more #1 than #2. (Also, Bacchic worship isn't really a separate religion, but a specific kind of worship within the framework of Graeco-Roman and in general ancient Mediterranean polytheism.)
    – cmw
    Aug 15 at 17:11
  • I would like to point out that whether or not Samaritans are Jewish is up for debate, even in modern Israel. Samaritans themselves would say that they are the original Jews.
    – Michael W.
    Aug 15 at 23:10
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    @MichaelW. Well, nitpickingly, they are saying they are the original 'Israel' (Northern Kingdom; Southern Kingdom->Juda->Jews), and whether or not that has 'merit', for this Q, they were certainly not happy when John Hyrcanus came along and razed Sechem and destroyed their temple on Garizim. That is but one episode that is historical, like cult centralisation after Josiah, which really put systematic pressure on all alternative 'places' (ie: deviant cults), which nevertheless continued for quite some time, but only Smaritans prevailed until today? Aug 16 at 6:02

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