Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 4

In 351 the Jewish population of Palestine found an opportunity amidst chaos to make a bid for greater freedom. By that time Constantine I had died; his nephew Constantius II had killed off all but two of his sons so that and his brothers could rule; one of those brothers had died attacking the other; the second brother had died putting down a usurper: and now Constantine’s son Gallus had been called back from exile to be made Caesar of the East. 

After Constantine no single emporer ruled it as a whole entity, instead dividing it by halves to be administered as eastern and western empires. Modern historians refer to the East Roman Empire (part or all of modern Turkey, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Libya) as the Byzantine Empire for convenience sake, in distinguishing it from the West (part or all of modern Tunisia, Algeria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and England). They would have thought of themselves of Roman however, despite their Constantinople (Byzantine) capital. 

Constantine had made Christianity the official state religion, charged Jews special taxes not simply for the maintenance of synagogues and Jewish schools but for the state as well, and otherwise lowered the status of Jews, but Constatius was far worse. Distracted by more bids for his throne and a less competent emperor than his uncle, he paid less attention to the welfare of minority religious ethnic members. He allowed open violence from Christian citizens, antisemitic proselytising before angry mobs, and the destruction of Jewish temples and synagogues. Hate crimes were rising.

Under the leadership of Isaac of Sepphoris, a small group of rebels starting in the town of Diocesarea first took control of a garrison, securing the weapons they would need. The Jewish revolt spread from there to two other towns, Tiberius and Diospolis. Caesar Gallus dispatched his senior military officer to carry out his orders: slay the rebels, even the children. (As recorded by Jerome in the Chronica, 15-21; Theophanes.) “Through the murders of many thousands of men – even those too young to pose a threat – Gallus suppressed the Jews.”

Gallus would be executed for treason in 354 and his half brother Julian would become sole emperor in 361. Known to the Christian world as Julian the Apostate he was the last non Christian emperor of Rome, a neoplatonic pagan. In 362 he signed a Tolerance Edict once again affording Jews some marginal legal protection (and encouraging schisms within the Christian faith.) In 363 he ordered that the Jewish Temple be rebuilt. The Jewish people were themselves somewhat ambivalent about the project as it didn’t align with their own prophecies, but generally regarded Julian well. The Temple effort was abandoned following an earthquake in Galilee which Christians attributed to divine intervention. 
Further reading 

American Museum of Natural History Petra Earthquake 

Julian the Apostate and His Place in History

An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors 

 

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