Jewish-Christian Relations in Byzantine Palestine


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Jewish-Christian Relations in Byzantine Palestine

  • James Pate
  • Summer in Israel Program, 2006
  • August 2009
  • For centuries, Jerusalem was a Jewish city—the center of Jewish religious life. In the fourth century C.E., however, Jerusalem became a Christian city. How did this happen? What was the attitude of Christians towards Jews, who once held the city? What was the attitude of Jews towards Christians, whose religion came from Judaism?
  • From Jewish City to Christian City
  • Herod’s Temple
  • This presentation has three main sections:
  • Part I discusses the relationship between Jews and Christians in Byzantine Palestine, from Hadrian to the fall of Byzantine Jerusalem to the Muslims.
  • Part II discusses the attitudes of Christians in the Byzantine empire towards Jews.
  • Part III discusses Jewish attitudes towards Byzantine Christians.
  • Three Parts of This Presentation
  • Part I: Jewish-Christian Relations in Byzantine Palestine, from Hadrian to the Fall of Byzantine Jerusalem.
  • In 63 C.E., the Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem and ended the rule of the Jewish Hasmoneans over Judea. Roman rule brought heavy taxation upon the Jews, and the Romans were not always sensitive to Jewish religious concerns. A Jewish revolt against Rome began in 66 C.E., and it ended in 70 C.E. with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.
  • Roman Rule of Judea
  • Roman Helmet

Hadrian

  • In 135 C.E., the Roman emperor Hadrian ended another Jewish revolt against Rome: that of Bar Cochba, a figure whom many Jews considered to be the Messiah. Bar Cochba sought Israel’s political independence from Roman rule. After Hadrian drove Bar Cochba out of Jerusalem, he prohibited Jews from the city, which he renamed “Aelia Capitolina.”
  • Hadrian
  • Constantine
  • In 312, Constantine became emperor of the western part of the Roman Empire, attributing his triumph to the God of the Christians. In 323, he took control of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. As Roman emperor, he controlled Jerusalem. His support for Christianity led him to regard Jerusalem as a Christian city, and he wanted to honor sites that were important in the Christian narratives about Jesus. Constantine regarded the Jewish religion as “baleful,” so he banned conversion to Judaism.
  • Constantine

Helena

  • Constantine’s mother, Helena, went to Jerusalem to find the cross on which Christ died, and she enlisted Jewish help for her mission. According to a legend from the fifth century in the Greek East, a Jew named Judas warned Jews not to assist Helena, but he changed his mind when the Jews were sentenced to burning, and he was sentenced to death by starvation. Judas then helped Helena find the cross, and he was made bishop of Jerusalem. This legend portrays Jews as sinister while maintaining hope that they can convert to Christianity.
  • Helena

A Jewish Lamp in Byzantine Jerusalem

  • According to Oded Irshai, this ceramic lamp from Jerusalem dates to the third-fourth century C.E. It is decorated with Jewish symbols: a menorah, a burning shovel, and a ram’s horn. Although Hadrian prohibited the Jews from Jerusalem in the late second century C.E., some Jewish presence remained. Three fourth century authors refer to a synagogue on Mount Zion, which went out of business under Constantine in the fourth century. Constantine allowed Jews to enter Jerusalem only on Tisha b’Av, on which Jews lament the temple’s destruction. Rabbinic sources discuss Jewish pilgrimage to the city after the temple’s destruction, often with a tone of sadness.
  • Where Jews and Christians Lived
  • Jewish Locations: Mostly Galilee (North)
  • Christian Locations
  • Julian
  • Julian became emperor in 361, succeeding Constantius, the son of Constantine. Julian’s belief system maintained a regard for the ancient gods and goddesses of Homeric tradition. He sought to reverse the Christian status of the Byzantine empire, as he legalized paganism and undermined Christian influence in educational institutions. Julian believed that the Jewish God was his god under another name, plus he loved animal sacrifices. Not surprisingly, he launched a project to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
  • Julian
  • Julian’s project to rebuild the Jewish temple generated a lot of enthusiasm. The western wall of the Temple Mount has an inscription, possibly made by a Jewish artisan excited about the project. It is Isaiah 66:14: “When you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bodies shall flourish like the grass.”
  • Instead of “your bodies,” however, the inscription says “their bodies.” This may mean that “you”—the artisan’s contemporaries—are seeing and enjoying the rebuilding of the Temple. But the dead are not seeing it, so “their” bodies will rejoice at the resurrection.
  • Temple Inscription During Julian
  • Ephrem of Syria and Gregory Nazianzen on the Failure of Julian’s Project
  • According to Oded Irshai, many Christians thought that Julian’s project to rebuild the temple was an attempt to invalidate Jesus’ prophecy about its destruction (Matthew 24:2). When the project was halted in 363, Christians Ephrem of Syria and Gregory Nazianzen attributed that to God. Ephrem stated that Daniel predicted the temple’s permanent destruction, and also that Christian pilgrimage replaces the temple cult.
  • Ephrem
  • Gregory Nazianzen
  • Theodosius II
  • In 438 C.E., Emperor Theodosius II published the Theodosian Code, which contains decrees of emperors since the time of Constantine. Although Theodosius banned the building and repair of synagogues, Lee Levine notes that they continued to spring up in Byzantine Palestine. At the same time, there were attacks on them by private citizens, despite Theodosius’ ban on the destruction of synagogues. According to Levine, “Perhaps it was the laxity, ineffectiveness, and perceived corruption of the Imperial bureaucracy in enforcing such decrees limiting non-Christian practice that led some elements within the church, from bishops to monks, to seize the initiative.”
  • Theodosius II
  • Eudocia
  • Eudocia was the wife of Theodosius II, and she first visited Jerusalem in 438. Under her influence, Jews were permitted to enter Jerusalem on other occasions than Tisha b’Av. She herself settled there in 444, right after her separation from her husband. Her concessions to the Jews ended after her death in 460. In 438, on Sukkoth, the Syrian monk Barsauma and other monks killed Jews in Jerusalem. When the case came to Eudocia in Bethlehem, several Christians threatened to burn her, fearing she would execute the guilty monks. The case was handed over to the governor in Caesaria , who acquitted the monks after a medical examiner concluded that the Jews died of natural causes (i.e., divine punishment).
  • Eudocia
  • Justinian I (Reigned 527-565)
  • Justinian I
  • Emperor Justinian I oppressed the Jews. He outlawed Judaism in North Africa, required Jews to serve on local municipal bodies (with the heavy costs, and without the customary benefits), fined Jews who held a higher office than Christians, restricted Jewish testimony in court, confiscated synagogues built on church property, banned Passover celebrations if the holiday fell before Easter, and prohibited Mishnah study. He encouraged Jewish use of the Septuagint, hoping it would lead Jews to Christ. In 556, Jews and Samaritans rioted and burnt many churches, but imperial troops subdued them.
  • The Himyarite kingdom was in the southern part of Arabia. In the early sixth century, Himyar converted to Judaism. The conversion was probably a response to the attempts of Himyar’s recently Christianized adversary, Abyssinia, to evangelize Himyar and thus take it over. Himyar’s conversion to Judaism gave Jews control over prominent trade routes along the southern shores of the Red Sea. Advising and aiding Himyar were the priestly Jews in Tiberias, Palestine. A Christian author writes that the Jews in Tiberias sought to push the Byzantine empire to ease its pressure on the Jews. In the sixth century, a united Byzantine camp defeated Himyar.
  • Himyar Converts to Judaism
  • Himyar: Red.
  • Abyssinia: Purple.
  • Palestine: Brown.
  • The Red Sea is between Himyar and
  • Abyssinia.
  • Khosrau II
  • Khosrau II
  • In 614, the Persian king Khosrau II took Jerusalem from the Byzantine Christians. Christian legend narrates that Jews assisted the Persians in their takeover of the city. One Christian witness states that Jews at this time burned churches and tried to coerce Christians to renounce Christ. The Persians allowed Jewish hegemony in Jerusalem from 614-617, and the Jewish Book of Zerubbabel claims that the Jews offered sacrifices during this span. In concession to the number and strength of the Christians, however, the Persians expelled the Jews from the city and installed their own governor. In 630, the Byzantine emperor Heraclius reclaimed Jerusalem for the Byzantine empire.
  • Heraclius
  • In 638, the Arab Caliph Umar accepted Jerusalem’s surrender, resulting in Muslim control of the city. Under Caliph Muawiya (ruled 661-680), Christians and Jews were protected as people of the book (the Bible). Muslims also credited Jews with helping them in their war against the Byzantines. In 717-720, the status of Jews and Christians deteriorated due to restrictions, but the Jews still had overall autonomy.
  • The Dome of the Rock is an
  • Islamic shrine that is located on the Temple mount in Jerusalem. It was completed in 691 C.E.
  • Part II: Christian Attitudes Towards Jews in the Byzantine Empire.
  • Cyril was the bishop of Jerusalem from 348 to 386. He was an ardent supporter of pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which, according to Oded Irshai, may be due in part to the Jewish-Christian roots of the Jerusalem church, since Jewish-Christianity emphasized the importance of Jerusalem and the temple. Cyril still viewed the Jews as the enemies of the church, however. In his Fifteenth Lecture, he marvels at the refusal of most Jews to believe in Christ’s resurrection, especially since the Old Testament predicted it, and the earliest Christians who testified to it (e.g., Matthew, Paul) were Jews.
  • Cyril of Jerusalem on the Jews
  • Cyril of Jerusalem
  • Eusebius
  • Eusebius on Jerusalem and the Jews
  • Eusebius was the bishop of Caesaria in Palestine during the fourth century. Although he once held to a spiritual form of Christianity that was adverse to an emphasis on physical sites, he came to laud the Jerusalem that Constantine had built. In his Life of Constantine, he contrasts the new Jerusalem with the Jewish one of old, which (for him) was desolate on account of the Jews’ impiety and murder of Christ. Eusebius praised Constantine’s memorial to Jesus’ death, and he went so far as to speculate that Christian Jerusalem may be “the second and new Jerusalem spoken of in the predictions of the prophets.”
  • Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa on Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
  • Augustine
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Not all Christian thinkers in the fourth-fifth centuries were enthusiastic about Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa stressed that the place of worship is not important, for God is everywhere, plus Christians are the temple of God. Underlying their belief may be a view that the Christianity of the New Testament is more spiritual than Judaism, which focused on physical worship at Jerusalem.
  • Jerome
  • Eusebius
  • Pro-Jewish Sentiments of Christian Thinkers
  • There was some pro-Jewish sentiment among fourth century Christian thinkers. Jerome, who lived in Antioch (in Syria), learned from Jews, knew Hebrew, and had zeal for the Hebrew biblical text and Jewish interpretation of the Bible. In Preparation for the Gospel, Eusebius appeals to the good character of Jews in history as evidence for the law of Moses’ superiority over other religions.

The Madaba Map

  • In 1884, a sixth century mosaic map of Palestine was discovered on the floor of a Byzantine church in Madaba, in the Transjordan. In the middle of the map is Jerusalem. The red part at the center is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Constantine built at Golgotha to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus. The blue part in the upper periphery is the temple’s western wall. This may reflect the church’s belief that Christianity has superseded Judaism.

The Nasi

  • The Nasi was the leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and he alleged descent from the House of David, thereby claiming a messianic status. Bishops sought to undermine the nesi’im, viewing them as an obsolete relic, now that Christ had come as the true Messiah of Israel. In the early fifth century, Emperor Theodosius II transferred the tax Jews paid to the Nasi to the state treasury. When Nasi Gamaliel VI died, the institution faded away.
  • Rabban Gamaliel, a Nasi in the First Century C.E.
  • Epiphanius of Salamis (on Cyprus) was a church father who previously lived in the southern part of Palestine, near Bet-Guvrin. In 375, in his Panarion, he recorded a testimony about a Jew named Joseph, who had converted to Christianity and became close to Constantine. Joseph told Epiphanius about the conversion of the late Nasi to Christianity, as well as the wretchedness of the Nasi’s household. According to Epiphanius, Joseph resolved to place Galilee under new patronage, that of the church.
  • Joseph of Tiberias
  • According to Epiphanius
  • Epiphanius of Salamis
  • According to Epiphanius, a major part of Joseph’s attempt to Christianize Galilee was his construction of churches in Jewish towns. In Tiberias, Epiphanius narrates, Joseph tried to convert the Hadrianeion (a temple of Hadrian) into a church, but he was prevented by the magic of Jews. The tale continues to say that Joseph was forced to leave Galilee, after which he settled in Beth-Shean, where Christians had a foothold. According to Oded Irshai, various scholars do not support the historicity of the story, but they think that it is Christian propaganda designed to convey the superiority of Christianity and to undermine the Jewish leadership.
  • The Hadrianeion, according to a Hadrianic coin.
  • Part III: Jewish Attitudes Towards Byzantine Christians.
  •  
  • Babylonian Talmud
  • The Heretical Empire
  • Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 97a attributes to the second century sage Nehemiah the prediction that the empire will convert to heresy right before the Messiah’s coming. In the fourth century (according to the Talmud passage), Rabbi Isaac and Rava say that the Messiah will come only after the entire empire converts to heresy. According to Oded Irshai, Rabbi Isaac was postponing the time of the Messiah’s advent because the Roman empire had already converted to heresy (Christianity), yet the Messiah had not arrived. The Talmudic passage indicates that some Jews saw Christianity as a heresy from Judaism.
  • Jewish Symbols in Byzantine Synagogues
  • Menorah and shofar: Jericho Synagogue.
  • The binding of Isaac (Genesis 22):
  • Bet Alfa Synagogue.
  • Synagogues in the Byzantine period experienced an increase in the use of Jewish symbols, such as the menorah, the shofar (ram’s horn), and scenes from the Hebrew Bible. Lee Levine remarks in The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years: “It is tempting to assume that the increase in the use of Jewish symbols in the Byzantine period resulted, at least in part, from this new Christian presence, which moved the Jews to reassert and reestablish their self-identity.” Levine also speculates that Jews of the period may have placed more emphasis on synagogues in response to Christians’ belief in the sanctity of their churches.

Churches’ Influence on Synagogues

  • Plan for a Sixth Century Gaza
  • Synagogue.
  • At the same time, synagogues imitated Christian churches. The sixth century Gaza synagogue, for example, resembles a basilical church. Yoram Tsafrir states: “Today, it is often only the presence of specifically Jewish elements—symbols or inscriptions—or a building’s orientation towards Jerusalem that allows us to positively identify the site as a synagogue rather than a church.”
  • Conclusion: Christian Attitudes Towards Jews
  • Many Christians thinkers and authorities in the Byzantine empire viewed Jews as “Christ-killers,” who stubbornly rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Jews were portrayed as corrupt and treacherous, yet Christians still sought to convert Jews to Christianity. Christian authorities held that the Christian empire should demonstrate Christianity’s triumph over Judaism, largely through oppression of the Jews. At the same time, bureaucracy most likely hindered certain anti-Jewish policies (i.e., bans on new synagogues), plus there were exceptions to the Christian anti-Jewish sentiment. The Theodosian Code banned the destruction of synagogues, Eudocia expanded Jewish access to Jerusalem, and Christian thinkers celebrated the Jews as the historical recipients of God’s revelation.
  • Many Jews saw Christianity as a heresy from the Jewish religion, and they held that the Christianization of the Roman empire was a sign that the Messiah was near. At the same time, they tried to improve their conditions whenever they could, as the Jews of Tiberias did through their links with the powerful Himyarite kingdom. Synagogues emphasized Jewish symbols more during the Byzantine period than before, perhaps as a reaction against Christianity. Yet, synagogues copied the style of Christian churches.
  • Conclusion: Jewish Attitudes Towards Christians
  • Bibliography
  • Armstrong, Karen. Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths. New York: Albert A. Knopf, 1996.
  • Augustine. City of God. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2. Trans., Marcus Dods. Ed., Philip Schaff. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1887. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1201.htm. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight (copyright 2009).
  • ---.Tractates on John. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7. Trans., John Gibb. Ed., Philip Schaff. Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1888. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1701.htm. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight (copyright 2009).
  • Avi-Yonah, Michael. “Jerusalem: Byzantine Jerusalem.” Encyclopedia Judaica: CD-Rom Edition. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1997.
  • ---. “Madaba, Medeba.” Encyclopedia Judaica: CD-Rom Edition. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1997.
  • Bahat, Dan. The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
  • Bibliography (Cont.)
  • Bitton-Ashkelony, Brouria. “The Attitudes of Church Fathers toward Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries.” Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ed., Lee I. Levine. New York: Continuum, 1999. 188-203.
  • Bowman, Glenn. “’Mapping History’s Redemption’: Eschatology and Topology in the Itinerarium Burdigalense.Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ed., Lee I. Levine. New York: Continuum, 1999. 163-187.
  • Brodd, Jeffrey. “Julian the Apostate and His Plan to Rebuild the Jerusalem Temple.” Bible Review 11:05 (October 1995). Accessed at members.bib-arch.org.
  • Encyclopedia Judaica Editorial Staff, “Pilgrimage: Post-Temple Period,” Encyclopedia Judaica: CD-Rom Edition (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1997).
  • Eusebius. Preparation for the Gospel. Trans., E.H. Gifford. Oxford: Clarendon, 1903. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/index.htm#Praeparatio_Evangelica_(The_Preparation_of_the_Gospel).
  • Bibliography (Cont.)
  • “Gregory Nazianzen’s Two Invectives Against Julian the Emperor.” Julian the Emperor. Trans., C.W. King. London: George Bell and Sons, 1888. Found at: www.tertullian.org/fathers/gregory_nazianzen_2_oration4.htm.
  • www.tertullian.org/fathers/gregory_nazianzen_3_oration5.htm.
  • Hirschberg, Haim Z’ew. “Himyar.” Encyclopedia Judaica: CD-Rom Edition. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1997.
  • Horbury, William. “Old Testament Interpretation in the Writings of the Church Fathers.” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Ed., Martin Jan Mulder. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004. 727-787.
  • Irshai, Oded. “The Byzantine Period.” Israel: People, Land, State. Ed., Avignor Shinan. Trans., Eliyahu Green. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 2005. 94-132.
  • ---. “The Jerusalem Bishopric and the Jews in the Fourth Century: History and Eschatology.” Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ed., Lee I. Levine. New York: Continuum. 204-220.
  • Levine, Amy Jill. “Visions of Kingdoms: From Pompey to the First Jewish Revolt.” Oxford History of the Biblical World. Ed., Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 352-387.
  • Levine, Lee I. The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Linder, Amnon. “Jerusalem: Focus of Confrontation.” Vision and Conflict in the Holy Land. Ed., Richard I. Cohen. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. 1-22.
  • Meyendorff, John. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality. Trans., Kathleen E. McVey. Mahwah: Paulist, 1989.
  • The Mishnah. Trans., Herbert Danby. New York: Oxford University Press, 1933.
  • Perrone, Lorenzo. “’The Mystery of Judea’ (Jerome, Ep. 46): The Holy City of Jerusalem between History and Symbol in Early Christian Thought.” Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ed., Lee I. Levine. New York: Continuum, 1999. 221-239.
  • Peters, F.E. Jerusalem. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
  • Bibliography (Cont.)
  • Rubin, Ze’ev. “Christianity in Byzantine Palestine—Missionary Activity and Religious Coercion.” Jerusalem Cathedra, v. 3. Ed., Lee Levine. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983. 97-113.
  • Safrai, Samuel. “Talmudic Sources on Aliya and Pilgrimage.” Jerusalem Cathedra, v. 3. Ed., Lee Levine. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983. 188-189.
  • Sharf, Andrew. “Byzantine Empire.” Encyclopedia Judaica: CD-Rom Edition . Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1997.
  • ---. “Justinian I.” Encyclopedia Judaica: CD-Rom Edition. Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 1997.
  • Stemberger, Gunter. Jews and Christians in the Holy Land: Palestine in the Fourth Century. Trans., Ruth Tuschling. London: Continuum, 2000.
  • Tsafrir, Yoram. “Byzantine Jerusalem: The Configuration of a Christian City.” Jerusalem: Its Sanctity and Centrality to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Ed., Lee I. Levine. New York: Continuum, 1999. 133-150.
  • Bibliography (Cont.)
  • ---. “The Byzantine Setting and Its Influence on Ancient Synagogues.” The Synagogue in Late Antiquity. Ed., L.I. Levine. Philadelphia: Jewish Theological Seminary and American Schools of Oriental Research, 1987. 147-157.
  • ---. “The Holy City of Jerusalem in the Madaba Map.” The Madaba Map Centenary (1897-1997): Travelling Through the Byzantine Umayyad Period. Ed., Michele Piccirillo and Eugenio Alliata. Jerusalem: Studio Biblicum Franciscanum, 1998. 155-163.
  • Wilkinson, John. “Jerusalem under Rome and Byzantium: 63 BC-637 AD.” Jerusalem in History. Ed., K.J. Asali. Essex: Scorpion, 1989. 75-104.
  • Bibliography (Cont.)


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