Julian and the Holy Temple
Julian the Apostate and the Holy Temple
The Jews are a stubborn people. Many nations have attempted to assimilate or eradicate them. The Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans all conquered the Jews, but despite numerous attempts, were unable to bend the Jews to their will. Julian the Apostate made the final pagan attempt to assimilate Judaism. 1
In autumn of 362 C.E., Emperor Julian granted the Jews of Palestine permission to rebuild their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Julian was concerned with both building a lasting monument to his rule and humbling the Christians, whom he despised. 2
Julian's displeasure with Christianity had grown steadily after he turned twelve, and his panegyrics and orations had become steadily less committal to Christian doctrine. Oration 1 was vague, referring to providence, and the deity. However, Oration 2 made considerable mention of Zeus, and assumed the existence of the Homeric gods.
It was not until after he had been made Emperor in 361 that Julian openly proclaimed his religious allegiance to the Hellenic gods:
I worship the gods openly, and the whole mass of the troops who are returning with me worship the gods. I sacrifice oxen in public. The gods command me to restore their worship in its utmost purity, and I obey them. 3
Curiously, Julian also venerated the Jewish God, describing him as the most High God. In addition, he described Jerusalem as sacred, and the patriarch Hillel II as 'my brother Iulus.'4 It is unlikely that these statements were motivated by sincere religious fervor, and more likely that they were designed to elevate the Jews at the expense of the Christians. A possible motivation for this elevation other than Julian's dislike of Christianity would have been to predispose Babylonian Jewry in his favor, and thus aid his invasion of Persia. 5 Another possible motive could have been the eventual conversion of the Jews to Hellenic worship. As his close friend and fellow Mithraist Libanius said of Julian,
but not every man who was not yet a friend of Zeus was a foe of his, for he did not rebuff those he thought he could convert in time, and by the charms he exercised on them he revealed them later congregating around the altars. 6
Julian's religious freedom edict of 362 required Christian churches to return all stolen property at Christian expense. This edict was the cause of severe hardships, and was not evenly enforced throughout the Empire. Julian followed this with a decree that revoked the Christian clerics exemption from public service. Libanius praised this as 'an admirable rescript.'7 Neither of these decrees caused as much Christian anguish as his edict about Christian teachers did. The edict and rescript which followed prohibited Christians from using the pagan authors as teaching material.
For Religious and secular teachers let there be a general ordinance to this effect: Any youth who wishes to attend the schools is not excluded; nor indeed would it be reasonable to shut out from the best way boys who are still too ignorant to know which way to turn, and to overawe them into being led against their will to the beliefs of their ancestors. Though indeed it might be proper to cure these, even against their will, as one cures the insane, except that we concede indulgence to all for this sort of disease. For we ought, I think, to teach, but not punish, the demented. 8
This had the effect of banning Christians from teaching, as the great works of literature up to that time were almost entirely pagan.
Julian considered Christianity, which he called Gallileanism, to be a disease, 9 and although he advocated pity rather than hate, 10 he loudly argued against Christianity, and spent a considerable amount of effort trying to disprove it. It could be said that one of the driving forces in Julians life was his desire to crush Christianity. He considered Christianity to possess all of the flaws and none of the virtues of Judaism, as here:
[If you were still Jewish] you would be worshiping one god instead of many, not a man, or rather many wretched men [the martyrs]. And though you would be following a law that is harsh and stern and contains much that is savage and barbarous, instead of our mild and humane laws you would be more holy and purer than now in your forms of worship. But now it has come to pass that like leeches you have sucked the worst blood from that source [Judaism] and left the purer. 11
In winter of 363, Alypius of Antioch, former governor of Britain, was sent to Jerusalem. He took with him more than enough building materials and manpower to complete the task of rebuilding the Temple. In addition, the Jews of the diaspora supposedly sold their jewelry and came with 'stones in their laps'. 12 We can safely assume that the failure of this project was not due to lack of Roman manpower.
Construction was scheduled to begin in early spring, 363 C.E. Before any construction could begin, however, the temple grounds had to be cleared, and debris removed. A fire erupted from the depths of the rubble and killed several workers. The cause of the fire is not clear: church historians have interpreted it as Divine providence, while Marcellinus described the obstinate resistance of the fiery element. 13 Their deaths had a chilling effect on the progress of the labor. While more work was done in clearing the site, the actual construction never left the planning stage.
To say that the Jews of Palestine had mixed feelings about this process is to overstate their unanimity. Julian's letter To the Community of the Jews was regarded alongside Cyrus' missive to the Babylonian Jews; however, their appreciation of a benevolent ruler did not translate into action. Church historians have said that the Jews busied themselves with the building of the temple, and undertook the project with great ardor. 14 These same historians describe the fire that stopped construction as 'a specter of Christ', which tends to cast a pall of doubt upon their writings. The Christian writings were also doubtlessly influenced by a great hatred of Julian, and a desire to portray him in the worst possible light. In addition, the early Christian historians were fiercely anti-Semitic, and may have looked upon these stories as a way to tar both the Jews and pagans with the same brush. 15
From the nature of the debates in the Talmud, however, a different version of the events takes shape.
Before the clearing began, the Rabbis of Palestine had argued vehemently about the specifics of the reconstructed temple. Rabbi Aha argued that as the second temple was built without five of the sacred artifacts, it was not necessary to have all of the artifacts to build the third. 16 While the specifics were (and still are) the subject of debate, the rabbis were in total agreement about the need for rebuilding. One of the most famous passages in the Talmud is "Any generation in the time of which the Temple is not rebuilt Scripture regards it as if that generation itself had destroyed it." 17
Another argument was the coming of the Messiah: the Jews expected the Messiah to rebuild the Temple, and re-create the Jewish state. 18 Rabbi Aha argued the contrary point that the Temple would be rebuilt before the Davidic monarchy was restored but was not largely convincing. 19 As a Roman Emperor could not fulfill the messianic requirements, the Jews undertook the rebuilding of the Temple in a rather indifferent manner.
While the Jews were happy to accept the tolerance Julian gave, the Temple had always been the exclusive financial responsibility of the Jews. When Cyrus freed the Jews in the sixth century B.C.E., they rebuilt the Temple out of their own money, rather than using his.
In fact, Rabbi Hilkyiah applies Mosaic law regarding who may eat the Pesahal lamb20 to any specific religious duty , which would apply to the rebuilding of the temple. His reasoning specifically excludes any uncircumcised men (Gentiles) from participating in religious duties. As rebuilding the Temple is a religious duty incumbent on every Jew, by R. Hilkyiah's reasoning, Gentiles would have no part to play in the construction of the Third Temple. 21
While the Jews of Palestine looked upon Julian with respect, the Jews of Persia were considerably less charitable to the Pagan Emperor, as the following story shows:
The Emperor proposed to R. Tanhum, Come, let us all be one people. Very well, he answered, but we who are circumcised can-not possibly become like you; do ye become circumcised and like us. The Emperor replied: You have spoken well; nevertheless, anyone who gets the better of the king [in debate] must be thrown into the vivarium [arena]. 22
Even though the Jews had desperately wanted to rebuild the temple for nearly 300 years, they spurned the pagan Emperor. This was in keeping for a people who had produced the Maccabees and the Zealots of Masada.
Christians, however, were appalled at the idea of the rebuilding of the temple. Jesus had prophecied that 'not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down,'23 and the rebuilding of the Temple was not to occur until after the second coming. As Christians were even less likely to regard Julian as the messiah than the Jews, they considered Julian's goals as the purest apostacy.
This project failed to achieve either of Julian's goals, as no major works had been completed by the time of Julian's death in 363 C.E. Libanius, in his Funeral Oration Over Julian, says, The temples are either demolished, or, half-finished, they stand as a laughing stock for that accursed crew [Christians]. 24
In addition, once the building ceased, Julian's attempt to refute Christian prophecies ended in dismal failure. The Jews had not permitted themselves to be used as a tool for the edification of the Pagan Emperor, and the Christians quickly unraveled every Julianic design. Julian, however, put the capstone on his failure by entering into an ill-conceived invasion of Persia after receiving several negative omens,25 showing his disregard for his own religion: a fatal mistake.
Babylonian Talmud translated by Jacob Schachter, Vol. 41, Sanhedrin. New York: Rebecca Bennet Publications, inc., 1959.
Chesnut, Glenn F., The First Christian Histories. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1986.
Graetz, Heinrich Hirsch. The History of the Jews, vol. 2. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1893.
Julian, Against the Galilaeans. In The Works of the Emperor Julian, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, vol. 3. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923.
______. Letters, c.362 C.E. In the Works of the Emperor Julian, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, vol. 3. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1923.
Julian the Apostate. Encyclopedia Judaica. 1972. pp. 467-9.
Libanius, Orations, In Selected Works, translated by A.F. Norman, vol. 1. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969.
Marcellinus, Ammianus. The Later Roman Empire, translated by Walter Hamilton. New York: Penguin USA, 1986.
Kohlenberger III, John R., ed. The Precise Parallel New Testament, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
The Talmud of the Land of Israel, vol. 8, Maaser Sheni, translated by Jacob Neusner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
______., vol. 14, Yoma, translated by Jacob Neusner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
______., vol. 18, Besah and Taanit, translated by Jacob Neusner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
______., vol. 34, Horayot and Niddah, translated by Jacob Neusner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures., Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.
Vidal, Gore. Julian, New York: Ballatine Books, 1962.
1. Julian, Against the Galileans, 39A.
2. Julian, To the Alexandrians, 47.
3. Julian, To Maximus, the Philosopher, 8.
4. Julian, To the Community of the Jews," 51, and Fragment 11.
5. Graetz. History of the Jews, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: JPS, 1893) p . 597.
6. Libanius, Oration XVIII, 125.
7. Libanius, 148-149.
8. Julian, Rescript on Christian Teachers, 36.
9. Julian, Against the Galilaeans, 327B.
10. Julian, To the Citizens of Bostra, 41.
11. Julian, Against the Galilaeans, 202A.
12. Graetz, p. 599.
13. Marcellinus, 23.1.
14. Gregory of Nazianz, Socrates, and Sozomenus, qtd. in Encyclopaedia Judaica, p. 469.
15. Chesnut chapter 10 shows several examples of this. pp. 231-251.
16. TJ, Horayot 3:2 X:NN. p. 95.
17. TJ, Yoma 1:1 XVIII:M. p.26.
18. Graetz. p. 600.
19. TJ, Maaser Sheni 5:2 IV:A. p.158.
20. Exodus 12:48.
21. TJ, Taanit 4:5 I:N, p.266.
22. TB, Sanhedrin 39a. p. 249.
23. Matthew 24:2 (RSV).
24. Libanius 287.
25. Marcellinus 23:1 and 25:2.