Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 40

Christology is the theology of Jesus – his nature, role, and person. In the earliest centuries of Christianity this meant taking Jesus from the Jewish Messiah (or messiah) and elevating him to the Son of God, and then to God made flesh. His death was transformed from a martyrdom to a deicide – the slaying of a god. At least that’s what the anti-Arianists determined at the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. That’s when Trinitarian Patriarchs agreed upon the definition of a true professing Christian with the Nicene Creed. This Creed expresses a belief that the Christian God, Christ, and Holy Spirit are all part of the same uncreated, timeless Being. 

After all the drama, bloodshed, and attempted excommunication of the Second Council of Ephesus, Pope Leo I wanted a chance to set things right, and on his own turf. He asked Emperor Theodosius II to convene another ecumenical council, but the ruler of the Roman/Byzantine empire wouldn’t. Instead he kept appointing bishops more supportive of Dioscorus than Leo. This was against the advice and wishes of Theo’s big sister and former regent guardian Pulcheria. When he had been just a boy of 7, Theodosius had named 15-year-old Pulcheria “Augusta”, freeing them from outside control. She’d had more power than any other woman in the Byzantine world ever since. 

Pulcheria used that power to persecute Jews during her time as regent, passing laws to destroy all synagogues. In later years she believed that the Nestorian heresy had Jewish roots. Nestorianism was the belief Jesus received a human body from his birth through Mary, but divine Logos (the Word that was God and is God) existed separately. This separation was the repulsive heresy to those who came to be known as orthodox Christians. Heterodoxy and orthodoxy were still being determined: that was the point of ecumenical councils. 

Arianists believed Jesus was a created being, God’s son, but not God. Ebionites were Jews who thought Jesus was their Messiah but nothing more, no divine spark in him, just a mortal man. Gnostics of Syria and Egypt couldn’t even agree amongst themselves – was Christ a supreme being, perhaps an angel. or a was he just a big con? The monophysites thought he had one divine nature, miaphysites thought it was two united natures, and duophysites thought it was two “consubstantial” natures. It was definitely time for another ecumenical council to figure out how much sugar and spice Jesus was made of.  

In 450 CE Theodosius fell off his horse and died. The Roman Senate wouldn’t let Pulcheria rule on her own, even though she’d done at 15, so she married Marcian to co-rule. He agreed to let Pope Leo have his Council, but not where Leo asked to have it, in Italy. Contemplate the weak power of the Pope in 451. This was the third ecumenical council in a row he would not be able to attend, because it was not being held in Italy. Leo could not travel because Atilla the Hun was thinking about sacking Rome. Once again Leo sent a legate in his place, knowing the last time he had done that, the Coptic Pope had tried to excommunicate him. 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 39

The Second Council of Ephesus was convened by Roman Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in 449 CE. It was presided over by the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Dioscorus I of Alexandria. The Pope of Rome, Leo I, did not attend but sent his legate Hilarius. Patriarchs of the world church were gathered for an appeals case. Flavian of Constantinople had deposed and excommunicated Eutyches after the Bishop of Dorylaeum had charged him with Nestorianism. Neither Eutyches’s accuser nor Flavian was permitted to speak at the trial. The monks all ruled for Eutyches. 

Pope Dioscorus then said that Flavian and the Bishop of Dolyaeum should be punished for their wrong judgment. As the Coptic Pope began reading out his condemnation, some bishops rose to stop him. But Dioscorus had gathered some thousand monks in the hallways awaiting this moment. The Patriarchs begged him to show mercy as the secretaries were forcibly restrained from documenting the violence about to happen. 

The monks beat and kicked and flayed Flavian. He was deported, but it made little difference. He died of his injuries within days. Papal legate Hilarius escaped the scene after uttering the single word, “Contradicitur”. As he spoke for the pope, this indicated the Roman Catholic Church did not assent to Council the ruling. By the time Pope Leo heard news of anything, it was a letter from a worried Flavian, well after Flavian had died. Information delay was a fifth century problem being a Pope could not solve. 

Dioscorus of Alexandria spent the remaining sessions deposing churchmen accused of heresy. Many were his personal rivals, or personal friends of Nestorius. He replaced them with loyal allies. Dioscorus kept holding sessions after the papal legates had left for their return journey back to Rome, something which had never been done before. Once he’d replaced most of the eastern patriarchs with his own men, Dioscorus closed the council and set out for Nicea with a set of ten bishops. There he excommunicated the Pope!

When Pope Leo of Rome got word of all this, he reinstated all patriarchs who had been deposed, and excommunicated those responsible. The Catholic Church completely rejects the Second Council of Ephesus as nonbinding; they call it “the Robber’s Council”. Eastern Orthodox and most Protestant faiths agree. But the Coptic, Ethiopian Tewahedo, Eritrean Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic Church all consider Ephesus II correct. To them Dioscorus is the inheritor of Cyril’s legacy. 
Further reading 

McGuckin, John Anthony (2004). Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. St. Vladimir Seminary Press. 

Catholic Encyclopedia – Council of Ephesus 

Kelly, Joseph (2009). The ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church: a history. Liturgical Press. 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 38

At the end of June 431 CE, John of Antioch and the Syrian delegates arrived late for the Council of Ephesus. Cyril of Alexandria had started the council, and trial of John’s friend Nestorius, five days before he arrived. The council ruled the proper name for Mary was Theotokos, birth-giver of God, and declared Nestorius a heretic who tried to split Christ’s divine and human natures. Nestorius, wisely or petulantly, refused to appear when summoned by the council, and was tried and sentenced while hiding in his quarters. 

John and Nestorius held their own mini council then and there. They had the head of the palace guard preside and asked papal legates to rule. John accused Cyril of Arianism and other established heresies, and he charged Memnon, Bishop of Ephesus with denying Nestorius access to churches for worship and with enciting violence from the people of Ephesus against Nestorius. The bishops assembled at this council despised Cyril and Memnon, and voted to condemn them both.

When word of all this reached the devout Roman Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II, he made the rather extraordinary decision to ratify the deposition rulings of both councils. Cyril, Memnon, and John all were deposed from their church ranks. He was eventually persuaded to accept Cyril’s as the true council in all other respects – accepting that council’s condemnation of Nestorianism and Pelagianism as heresies against the Catholic faith. Nestorius asked permission to retire at his former monastery and was granted it, a kind fate possibly enabled by his prior friendship with Theodosius. 

The Persian church had declared itself separate from the Byzantine and all other churches in 424 CE. This was to avoid charges of international collusion from their own government, which was at frequent war with the Byzantines and primarily followed the Zoroastrian faith. Persian Christians adopted Nestorian teachings. In 489 Byzantine Emperor Zeno closed the School of Edessa for Nestorian teaching; it relocated to Persia becoming the School of Nisbis, leading to further Nestorian migration into Persia. 

Further reading 

McGuckin, John Anthony (2004). Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. St. Vladimir Seminary Press. 

Catholic Encyclopedia – Council of Ephesus 

Kelly, Joseph (2009). The ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church: a history. Liturgical Press. 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 37

Between the 5th and 7th centuries, the Christian religions had various internal fractures and schisms over matters of faith. They debated the nature of humanity and the soul, the doctrines of grace and original sin, the proper way to refer to Mary, and how Jesus could be both God and man. These debates weren’t always polite or levelheaded. Once one clergyman accused another of heresy, they might be found orthodox or condemned at a church council. Condemnation could lead to a sentence of excommunication, banishment, or even death. 

Augustine of Hippo preached that Original Sin, an innate sinful human nature since Adam and Eve first bit the apple, crippled but did not destroy free will. He said that perfect morality was impossible without God’s Grace, and that no one had free will to refuse or accept this Grace. Meanwhile Pelagius preached that God gave humans the free will to do good and evil, but wanted them to only choose the first. He thought his fellow Catholics used the Doctrines of Grace and Original Sin to justify licentious unchristian lifestyles. A 415 council found Pelagius orthodox while a 418 council condemned him. 

A few years later in the heart of the Byzantine empire at Constantinople, a heated debated on the nature of Christ was going down. Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, had the support of Emperor Theodosius II. He had studied at Antioch where scholars and philosophers had attempted to answer the mysteries of Christology: How could a God who had no end and no beginning be born? How could a perfect being also be an imperfect one? Nestorius made a distinction between Jesus’s human and divine natures. He taught that Mary gave birth to Christ’s human body, but not His divine Logos or soul, which existed before her or even time. 

Nestorius’s greatest critic and most dangerous enemy was Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria. Cyril pressed Nestorius on the issue of the name of Mary. Most Greek-speaking Christians were calling her Theotokos, birth-giver of God, while Nestorius was proposing Christotokos, birth-giver of Christ. Cyril accused Nestorius to Pope Celestine I of heresy. Nestorius asked his ally Emperor Theodosius to call a council so he could defend himself, and have Cyril pronounced the heretic instead. Theodosius agreed. The emperor sent out letters calling for Metropolitan patriarchs from across the Catholic world to gather in Ephesus, in Turkey in 431 CE. 

Nestorius only had a small delegation of 16 Palestinian bishops show up in support; John of Antioch and his 42 Syrian bishops in support of Nestorius were delayed. First a famine in Antioch had kept them from setting out, then horses dying en route had slowed them down. Cyril’s ally Memnon of Ephesus already had 52 bishops present and Cyril of Alexandria had brought 50 of his own. Cyril decided to press his advantage and moved the trial forward despite protests, finding Nestorius guilty of heresy before the Syrian delegates arrived. When they did, John of Antioch was not about to accept all he’d just gone through was for nothing. 
Further reading 

McGuckin, John Anthony (2004). Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. St. Vladimir Seminary Press. 

Catholic Encyclopedia – Council of Ephesus 

Kelly, Joseph (2009). The ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church: a history. Liturgical Press. 
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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 36

Lebanon was under Assyrian, Chaldean, and then Persian rule before the Muslim conquest

​During the first millennia, conquering tribes and empires sought to subjugate and enslave with minimal bother. One way to do this was relocating subjects, especially those with a prior record of rebellion. That’s just what the Romans did with Jews who’d taken part in the uprisings of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132 CE, establishing several Jewish settlements to the north, in what is now Lebanon. Caliph Muawiya (642-680) did the same, moving Jews to Tripoli, Lebanon. There is very little else known about the early  history Lebanese Jews.

Lebanese Christians however are a bit better recorded. In the 7th century the Phoenicians (Canaanites) of modern Lebanese people adopted the theology of Emperor Heraclius. These Christians were called Maronites and their Patriarch was John Maron. These monastic ascetic Lebanese Catholics were not named after their patriarch, both Maronites and John Maron were named after the founder of this branch of Catholicism (which is not considered heretical by the main Church) St. Maron. 

St. Maron was a hermit mystic and evangelical zealot who preached in greater Syria before his death in 410 CE. Two centuries later in 628 CE John Maron was born in greater Syria. He was educated at the Monastery of Saint Maron in Antioch (now in Turkey) and became a monk there, taking Maron as his surname. In 609 the Patriarch of Antioch, Anastasius II, was killed during a Jewish uprising. Jews were blamed and accused of mutilating his corpse, but the only contemporary account merely states soldiers killed him. Regardless, in 685 Pope Sergius I appointed John Maron as the first Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Maronites today are a significant minority. A division of power agreement between Lebanon’s ethnic group dictates the President must always be a Maronite. 

Print by Robert Nowitz, via Pinterest

In 687 CE, the Umayyad Caliph Abd al Malik ordered the beginning of construction of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He chose the site of the former Jewish temples – Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Al-Aqsa is the oldest standing mosque and the third holiest site in the Muslim faith, the holiest outside of Saudi Arabia where the Prophet lived and died. The Dome and Al-Aqsa were influenced by the architectural style of Byzantine churches in the region, although the exterior has since been modified to reflect Ottoman tastes. 

Constructing their Muslim mosque on Jewish holy ground was a conqueror’s move, calculated to show dominance over an oppressed people. In this case, an oppressed people who had specific prophecies about reclaiming their homeland someday and rebuilding a third temple on that very site. Construction was completed by 691. Since then, Jews approaching the Western Wall of the Temple to pray have seen the Dome towering over it. 

Further reading

El-Hāyek, Elias.”Struggle For Survival: The Maronites of the Middle Ages”, Conversion and Continuity, (Michael Gervers and Ramzi Jibran Bikhazi, eds.), Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1990 

“The Jews of Lebanon: Between Coexistence and Conflict” by K.E. Schulz, 2001

“Who Killed Anastasius II?” by J.D. Frendo, The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Jan., 1982)
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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 35

Israel fell under Greek power in 332 BCE, and the first reference of a Greek Jew is on a tablet from 300-250 BCE. It’s about a possible slave named Moschos in the coastal town of Oropos, near Athens. Throughout the Greek and Roman eras Jews were frequently denied rights of land and property ownership, or were hindered in agriculture by being forbidden slaves others could legally keep. So they took up trades, crafts, literature, medicine, gold smithing, and became merchants and sailors. The Greek islands were home to many. 

These Jews came to be called Romaniotes. Still a practicing sect today, they are neither Rabbinical Jews nor Karaites. They accept the Oral Law, as written in the Jerusalem Talmud. Their rites and prayer traditions are pre-Diasporic. They do not celebrate Hanukkah. Romaniotes often gift families of newborns special birth certficates written in mystic writing to banish the work of Lillith, Adam’s first wife. The Romaniotes spread throughout the Byzantine empire, and until the 15th century were the majority of Jews in Turkey, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. 

Romaniotes are culturally and ethnically distinct from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews. However, numerous genetic studies have conclusively established the shared paternal Laventine (ancient Israeli) ancestry of these three groups. A further distinct group broke off from the Romaniotes at the southern edge of the Ukraine in Crimea, the Krymchak. Krymchaks fell under the rule of the multicultural Jewish convert Khazars, which wasn’t so bad. There was a lot of intermarriage (meaning most Khazar descendants would actually probably be ethnically Jewish.) They also intermarried with Italian and later Crimean Jews as their own community became too small to maintain. 

Two pieces of Romaniote writing give us a narrative timeline of life for them, the Sefer Josippon and the Chronicle of Ahimaaz. A josippon is a Jewish history telling from the very first man Adam to the destruction of the Second Temple. The Sefer Josippon was most likely originally composed by an Italian Jew in the 9th or 10th century, then expanded on by a Romaniote. The Greek Jews were and are renowned for their religious poetry. This book of historical legends was translated into many languages and printed once presses were built. It led to periodic waves of interest in Jews, and centuries later persuaded Oliver Cromwell to allow a few wealthy merchant and banker Jews to settle in England without swearing allegiance to the Christian faith in the 1650s. 

The Chronicle of Ahimaaz was a poetic genealogy written in 1054 by a Greco-Italian Romaniote Jew. Ahimaaz’s distance ancestors had been relocated to Italy after the Second Temple was destroyed, but he wrote about his recent family, from 850 CE on, an era we usually have few surviving clues to work from. Ahimaaz displays particular pride in his great grandfather Paltiel, a vizier and possibly the first nagid, or Jewish prince of Egypt. Paltiel lived 962-992 CE. These two books, though neither can be taken as an accurate historical volume, are invaluable cultural items.

Further reading 

“Selected Papers in Greek and Near Eastern History” by David M. Lewis: Cambridge University Press, (2002)

Greece’s Last Romaniote Jews Remember a Catastrophe, by Gavin Rabinowitz via JTA, Haaretz


Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 34 

The lands of the Dacia people were southeast of the Danube, to the east of Gaul and Italy, west of the Black Sea. They were rivals of Rome from 168 BCE until Emperor Trajan defeated them in 106 CE. Their territories included some land in modern Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Serbia. Decebalus, the last King of the Dacians, at least in legend invited Jews who helped him in wars against Rome to live freely in his kingdom. Decebalus is still a hero figure to many Romanians, the ethnic descendants of Dacians. 

It’s unknown exactly how early Jews arrived in Dacia but they were certainly present by the 3rd century, according to archeological finds. A headstone for a Jewish woman in Latin identifies her as Septima Maria, a “Judaea”. An official tablet was signed by the “archisynagogus” or head of the synagogue, during the 208-235 CE reign of Alexander Severus. An amulet shaped like a gold scroll, enscribed with a Jewish prayer and dated to the third century, was found in Austria, neighbor to Hungary. 

Rome may have conquered Dacia, but Celtic and Germanic tribes from the north approached. In 275 CE, Goths ousted the Romans and left Dacia to the Carpi – free Dacians. For a period Rome tried to fight for it back, but Goths were invading via Thrace by then, and Rome had to pick their battles, literally. It wasn’t until Emperor Constantine that the great empire would try in earnest. In 332, Constantine convinced Samaritans to ally with him against Goths, to victory. But in 334 when Samaritan commoners overthrew their local government he had some deported to Illyrian farmlands and the rest conscripted to his army.

In 376 CE, Roman Dacia was overtaken by Atilla the Hun until his death in 453. The Hun were a Central Asian steppes people, possibly from the Chinese Han dynasty. Then the Gepids, an eastern Germanic tribe of cousins to the Goths, settled in until 566. That’s when the Lombards, also German, came down from the north and removed them. The Avars and their client tribe the Bulgars then moved west out of the Göktürk Empire. They offered to become a client mercenary state of Byzantine, subjugating nomadic tribes in exchange for gold and fertile lands. 

The Byzantines agreed and by 562 CE the Avars held the lands north of the Black Sea. The Avars negotiated with the Lombards: work together to take out the Gepids, Avar would take former Dacia, leaving southern Italian conquest to the Lombards. It was a deal, and it worked. By 580 the Byzantines were behind on the bills so the Avar went to war, making merry sport of the Baltics. They joined the Persian side in the Siege of Constantinople, but when it failed the Avars lost some world standing.  By the end of the 7th century they’d experienced a lot of Slavic and a little East Asian immigration.