Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 10

A map of Jerusalem, part of the Medaba floor mosaic of 542 CE in the Church of St. George in Jordan

There is a whole new cast of historic characters to introduce for this next part of the story (610-628 CE), when Jews in the Byzantine empire allied with Sassanid Persian invaders in their war against the Roman Christians. Khosrau II was the Sassanid emperor and in his realm he had ended Jewish self governance and turned over the great Jewish academies in Babylon to other purposes. This wasn’t known to the Jews in Galilee, however. 

Khosrau named a Byzantine Jew, Hushiel as Exilarch, a Sassanid recognized status of a Diaspora Jewish community leader. His son Nehemiah ben Hushiel was appointed symbolic leader of the Jewish troops.Nehemiah became something of a Messiah figure to many, bringing hope of a return to Israel and a rebuilding of the Temple, of fulfilling sacred prophecy and dreams deferred at last. Benjamin of Tiberius contributed much of his personal wealth to buying armor and weapons to outfit soldiers, and he mustered troops from Tiberius, Nazareth, and the nearby mountains. He led the Jewish contingent of 20-26,000 alongside Nehemiah. 

Along the way they were joined by more Jews living further to the south, and by Arabs loyal to their cause. But of course they were a small part of the whole Sassanid army, led for 24 years of the 26 year war by the same general, Shahrbaraz. That name is an honorific title he won for his military exploits in the war: it means “the Boar of the Empire”. After the war he briefly took the Persian throne for 40 days before being cut down by a mob of bloodthirsty nobles. Why do people think history is boring?

In 614 the combined forces marched on Jerusalem with little resistance. The Jewish people were elated and began making restoration plans. Nehemiah ben Hushiel was appointed the ruler of Jerusalem. Shahrbaraz and his forces continued onward to their next target. After a few months, there was a Christian revolt and many Jews were killed including Nehemiah and his council of sixteen. Those Jews who could escape made their way to the Persian encampment to seek Shahrbaraz’s aid. 

Shahrbaraz brought his forces back to Jerusalem and held the city siege for nineteen to twenty one days (records vary) until the Christians within relented. By that time more than 17,000 Christians hard died from the conflict and siege. Shahrbaraz had an additional 4,518 prisoners executed as collective punishment for the revolt and pogrom. Sassanids allegedly tortured a Christian clergyman in their search for the True Cross. When it was found, it was exported. Jews were blamed for this. This is a maddening bit of history and the start of the crusades of holy Christian relics, forced conversions, and blaming everything on Jews, a part of history we have not yet left. 

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