Everyone now and then you see someone say that Jews made up 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. If you dig deeper, you find that this is based upon the Claudian Census – or, more exactly, upon something Bar Hebraeus said about that census, since we don’t actually have the census. Bar Hebraeus was a bishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church who lived between 1226 and 1286 AD. He wrote “At the same time Claudius Caesar ordered the Jews to be counted, and their number was 6,944,000 men.”
On historical details that can be checked, Bar Hebraeus is highly inaccurate. One more thing: St. Jerome mentioned a report by Eusebius on Claudius’s census of Roman citizens: ” there were found to be of Roman citizens 6,944,000. ” Interesting coincidence.
Romans routinely counted the number of Roman citizens, and that number is reasonably consistent with earlier numbers from census records that have survived. It is not so obvious why the Romans would do a head count of Jews.
In other words, Bar Hebraeus screwed up. Those who have based their arguments upon him have screwed up as well.
So how many Jews were there in the Roman Empire? What fraction were they of the population? Nobody knows. We have possibly-ok estimates for Rome at certain points in time. Two comments by Josephus suggest 4-8 thousand – if you believe him – and one by Tacitus mentioned 4,000. That may mean adult males only: 8 thousand adult males would imply a total population of something like 40,000 in Rome. Or maybe not. There were certainly Jews in classical Rome, enough to sustain a number of synagogues, including a Samaritan synagogue.
Philo says that there were 1,000,000 Jews in Egypt. Not hardly: they mostly seem to have lived in Alexandria, where they maybe made up a third of the population -out of a total of perhaps half a million? Our estimates of the population of Classical cities are also extremely uncertain.
In another but perhaps related vein, many confused puppies have written about the “demographic miracle” of Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – they went from ~15,000 to about a million in three hundred years. Explanations of this miracle have invoked Khazarian Jews – but all that you need is families that average three surviving kids. Maybe we should start now on bullshit explanations of the rise of the Amish. Suggestions are welcome.