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Julian the Apostate
Flavius Claudius Julianus - Roman Ruler
(A.D. 332-363)

Against the Galileans | On The Ruin of the City of Jerusalem - Written in the Wake of Julian's Abortive Attempt to Rebuild the Temple | Julian the Apostate, and the Reaction of Paganism - Philip Schaff "His object in the rebuilding of the temple was rather, in the first place, to enhance the splendor of his reign, and thus gratify his personal vanity; and then most probably to put to shame the prophecy of Jesus respecting the destruction of the temple (which, however, was actually fulfilled three hundred years before once for all), to deprive the Christians of their most popular argument against the Jews, and to break the power of the new religion in Jerusalem." | Rise of Civilization | The Fall of Paganism Proof of Christ's Victory | Fall of Rome Proof of Christ's Victory | Fall of Jerusalem Proof of Christ's Victory | Fall of Temple-Based Worship Proof of Christ's Victory | Dom Toutte's St. Cyril | Ancient History Index

"This [Julian] attempted to do by a project of rebuilding the Jewish temple. which, if he could have compassed, it would have sufficiently answered his wicked design; Christ and the prophet Daniel having in express terms foretold not only its destruction, which was effected by the Romans under Titus, but its final ruin and desolation." (Dom Toutte's St. Cyril)

The Emperor Julian "(Julian) realized that the very existence of Jewish communities called into question the claims of Christianity. The Jews were exultant and contributed generously to the work. The rubble was cleared away and the foundations laid bare, but then a disastrous fire of mysterious origin accompanied by an earthquake put an abrupt end to the project."


"Although popular, paganism failed when The Apostate reinstituted it."

"Julian has always been something of an underground hero in Europe. His attempt to stop Christianity and revive Hellenism exerts still a romantic appeal."
Gore Vidal's Julian

When Flavius Claudius Julianus, Emperor Julian, the Apostate, died in Persia, his supporters failed to maintain support for Hellenism (paganism) as the official state religion. Christianity re-emerged as dominant. Since Christianity wasn't as popular among the people as Hellenism, scholars have searched Julian's life and administration for clues to why the apostacy (the "standing away from" [Christianity]) failed.

Julian (born A.D. 332), the nephew of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, was trained as a Christian, yet he is known as apostate because when he became emperor (A.D. 360) he opposed Christianity. James J. O'Donnell suggests, in The Demise of Paganism, that the emperor's particularly vehement stance against Christianity (and support for the other monotheistic religion, Judaism) stems from his Christian upbringing.

Although any such generalization is hazardous, pagans of the time generally held religion to be a private matter, while Christians sought to proselytize. Salvation made possible through Jesus was the only true belief. In the wake of the Nicene Council, Christian leaders condemned all who failed to believe in the prescribed manner. Instead of letting each person worship in his own way, Julian stripped the Christians of their privileges, powers, and rights. And he did so from their own perspective: the intolerant attitude that one's private religion is of public concern.

In summary, it is necessary to look upon the religious sociology of the fourth century with two separate (if often, and confusingly, overlapping) distinctions in mind: that between worshippers of Christ and worshippers of other gods; and that between men who could accept a plurality of worships and those who insisted on the validity of a single form of religious experience to the exclusion of all others.
The Demise of Paganism

Other writers say the failure of Julian to reintegrate Hellenistic paganism into the framework of Roman society came from his inability to make it popular and his insistence that true understanding is impossible to the average mortal, but is reserved for philosophers. Another important factor was that the Christian creeds were far more unified than paganism. Paganism wasn't a single religion and adherents to different gods did not necessarily support each other.

The panoply of religious experience in the Roman world before Constantine was simply bewildering: from back-yard fertility rites through public, state- supported cults to the mystical ascents of which Platonic philosophers wrote with such devotion -- and everything between, over, under, and all around such phenomena. There were public cults indigenous to the various parts of the empire, certain generally (if often lukewarmly) accepted devotions such as that to the divinity of the emperors, and a vast array of private enthusiasms. That such a spectrum of religious experiences should produce a single-minded population capable of forming itself into a single pagan movement with which Christianity could struggle is simply not probable.
The Demise of Paganism

In 363, when Julian died, he was succeeded by Jovian, a Christian, at least nominally, instead of the obvious choice, Julian's praetorian prefect, the moderate polytheist, Saturninius Secundus Salutius. Secundus Salutius didn't want the job even though it meant continuing Julian's mission. Paganism was diverse and Secundus Salutius didn't share the late emperor's attitudes or beliefs. No other pagan emperor gained power before the Roman state outlawed pagan practices. Even so, and even though seventeen hundred years later, we are predominantly a Christian society in terms of our beliefs, it may have been the pagan attitude of religious tolerance that prevailed. " (

Jewish History Sourcebook:
Julian and the Jews 361-363 CE

[Marcus Introduction] Christianity was for the first time tolerated by the Roman Emperors in 311. The only serious attempt made to hinder its progress after this time was by the Emperor Julian (361-363) who had left the Christian fold. Although apparently in favor of freedom of religion, he was in reality unjust to the Christians but rather partial to the Jews. In a famous Greek letter to the Jews, (selection one below), he abolished the special taxes paid to the Roman government and sought also to stop the payment of a tax paid by Jews for the support of the Jewish patriarchate in Palestine. In this same letter he also encouraged the rebuilding of Jerusalem and, we may assume, of the Jewish Temple. Had this attempt been successful it would have meant the reestablishment of the Jewish state with its sacrifices, priests, and more important, its Sanhedrin or Senate.

The second selection describes the work of the actual building of the Temple. It is very probable that it was not so much an earthquake, as Church historians say, but the death of Julian in 363 and the coming into power again of a Christian emperor that finally put an end to this project. (Some modern historians believc-without sufficient ground, in our opinion-that the work on the Temple was never even begun, and look upon the account as a fable.) The story of this attempted rebuilding of the Temple is found in the Ecclesiastical History written in Greek by Salamanius Hermias Sozomenus about 443-450. Sozomen was a native Palestinian and claimed to have his knowledge from eye-witnesses. He was a conservative Christian without sympathy for the Jews or for Julian.

I. Julian Proposes to Rebuild Jerusalem, 362-363: To The Community Of The Jews

in times past, by far the most burdensome thing in the yoke of your slavery has been the fact that you were subjected to unauthorized ordinances and had to contribute an untold amount of money to the accounts of the treasury. [Ever since Vespasian, about 72 CE, the Jews had been paying the Romans special Jewish taxes, like the Fiscus Judaicus.] Of this I used to see many instances with my own eyes, and I have learned of more, by finding the records which are preserved against you. Moreover, when a tax was about to be levied on you again I prevented it, and compelled the impiety of such obloquy to cease here; and I threw into the fire the records against you that were stored in my desks; so that it is no longer possible for anyone to aim at you such a reproach of impiety. My brother [cousin] Constantius of honored memory [in whose reign, 337-361, severe laws were enacted against the Jews] was not so much responsible for these wrongs of yours as were the men who used to frequent his table, barbarians in mind, godless in soul. These I seized with my own hands and put them to death by thrusting them into the pit, that not even any memory of their destruction might still linger amongst us.

And since I wish that you should prosper yet more, I have admonished my brother Iulus [Hillel II, d. 365], your most venerable patriarch, that the levy which is said to exist among you [the taxes paid by world Jewry for support of the Palestinian patriarchate] should be prohibited, and that no one is any longer to have the power to oppress the masses of your people by such exactions; so that everywhere, during my reign, you may have security of mind, and in the enjoyment of peace may offer more fervid prayers for my reign to the Most High God, the Creator, who has deigned to crown me with his own immaculate right hand. For it is natural that men who are distracted by any anxiety should be hampered in spirit, and should not have so much confidence in raising their hands to pray; but that those who are in all respects free from care should rejoice with their whole hearts and offer their suppliant prayers on behalf of my imperial office to Mighty God, even to Him who is able to direct my reign to the noblest ends, according to my purpose.

This you ought to do, in order that, when I have successfully concluded the war with Persia, I may rebuild by my own efforts the sacred city of Jerusalem [closed to the Jews since Hadrian, 135 CE], which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited, and may bring settlers there, and, together with you, may glorify the Most High God therein.

II. The Failure To Rebuild the Temple, 363

Though the emperor hated and oppressed the Christians, he manifested benevolence and humanity towards the Jews. He wrote to the Jewish patriarchs and leaders, as well as to the people, requesting them to pray for him, and for the prosperity of the empire. In taking this step he was not actuated, I am convinced, by any respect for their religion; for he was aware that it is, so to speak, the mother of the Christian religion, and he knew that both religions rest upon the authority of the [biblical] patriarchs and the prophets; but he thought to grieve the Christians by favoring the Jews, who are their most inveterate enemies. But perhaps he also calculated upon persuading the Jews to embrace paganism and sacrifices; for they were only acquainted with the mere letter of Scripture, and could not, like the Christians and a few of the wisest among the Hebrews, discern the hidden meaning [the allegorical meaning, through which the Christians could prove the validity of Christianity from the Old Testament].

Events proved that this was his real motive; for he sent for some of the chiefs of the race and exhorted them to return to the observance of the laws of Moses and the customs of their fathers. On their replying that because the Temple in Jerusalem was overturned, it was neither lawful nor ancestral to do this in another place than the metropolis out of which they had been cast, he gave them public money, commanded them to rebuild the Temple, and to practice the cult similar to that of their ancestors, by sacrificing after the ancient way. [Sacrifice was permitted by Jewish law only in Jerusalem.] The Jews entered upon the undertaking, without reflecting that, according to the prediction of the holy prophets, it could not be accomplished. They sought for the most skillful artisans, collected materials, cleared the ground, and entered so earnestly upon the task, that even the women carried heaps of earth, and brought their necklaces and other female ornaments towards defraying the expense.

The emperor, the other pagans, and all the Jews, regarded every other undertaking as secondary in importance to this. Although the pagans were not well-disposed towards the Jews, yet they assisted them in this enterprise, because they reckoned upon its ultimate success, and hoped by this means to falsify the prophecies of Christ. [Since Jesus in the New Testament had prophesied the destruction of the Temple, its rebuilding would make of him a false prophet.] Besides this motive, the Jews themselves [relying on the sympathy of Julian] were impelled by the consideration that the time had arrived for rebuilding their Temple.

When they had removed the ruins of the former building, they dug up the ground and cleared away its foundation; it is said that on the following day when they were about to lay the first foundation, a great earthquake occurred, and by the violent agitation of the earth, stones were thrown up from the depths, by which those of the Jews who were engaged in the work were wounded, as likewise those who were merely looking on. The houses and public porticos, near the site of the Temple, in which they had diverted themselves, were suddenly thrown down; many were caught thereby, some perished immediately, others were found half dead and mutilated of hands or legs, others were injured in other parts of the body.

When God caused the earthquake to cease, the workmen who survived again returned to their task, partly because such was the edict of the emperor, and partly because they were themselves interested in the undertaking. Men often, in endeavoring to gratify their own passions, seek what is injurious to them, reject what would be truly advantageous, and are deluded by the idea that nothing is really useful except what is agreeable to them. When once led astray by this error, they are no longer able to act in a manner conducive to their own interests, or to take warning by the calamities which are visited upon them.

The Church Father here records his belief that the Temple could not be rebuilt.

The Jews, I believe, were just in this state; for, instead of regarding this unexpected earthquake as a manifest indication that God was opposed to the re-erection of their Temple, they proceeded to recommence the work. But all parties relate that they had scarcely returned to the undertaking, when fire burst suddenly from the foundations of the Temple, and consumed several of the workmen. [J. M. Campbell in the Scottish Review, 1900, believed that an explosion of oil put an end to the work. This sounds fanciful.]

This fact is fearlessly stated, and believed by all; the only discrepancy in the narrative is that some maintain that flame burst from the interior of the Temple, as the workmen were striving to force an entrance, while others say that the fire proceeded - directly from the earth. In whichever way the phenomenon might have occurred, it is equally wonderful.

A more tangible and still more extraordinary miracle ensued; suddenly the sign of the cross appeared spontaneously on the garments of the persons engaged in the undertaking. These crosses looked like stars, and appeared the work of art. Many were hence led to confess that Christ is God, and that the rebuilding of the Temple was not pleasing to Him; others presented themselves in the church, were initiated, and besought Christ, with hymns and supplications, to pardon their transgression. If any one does not feel disposed to believe my narrative, let him go and be convinced by those who heard the facts I have related from the eyewitnesses of them, for they are still alive. Let him inquire, also, of the Jews and pagans who left the work in an incomplete state, or who, to speak more accurately, were unable to commence it.



Elbogen. pp. 14-18; Roth, pp. l40-148

Golub, J. S., Medieval Jewish History, Sec. I; Sec. III, "The Christian Church."


Graetz, 111, pp. 595-603.

Adler, M, "The Emperor Julin and the Jews," JQR, O. S., V (1893), pp 591-651

JE, "Julian the Apostate."


The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, Book III, chapter XX, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, II, contains an earlier account of the rebuilding of the Temple.


Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), 8-12

Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that the copyright was renewed)

as occurring between the cities of Gaza and Maiuma in Palestine. The latter, originally a suburb of Gaza, had been raised by Constantius to the rank of an independent corporation. The people of Gaza had successfully petitioned the new emperor for a withdrawal of these privileges, and now in their exultation attacked their neighbours, and set fire to their chapels, with other acts of violence. Three brothers of a respectable family named Eusebius, Nestabus, and Zeno, were murdered with circumstances of great atrocity. The people were considerably alarmed by fear of what the emperor might do, and the governor arrested some of the ringleaders, who were brought to Antioch. In this case Julian's sense of justice seems entirely to have deserted him. Not only was no reprimand addressed to the people of Gaza, but the governor was himself put on his trial and deprived of his office. " What great matter is it if one Greek hand has slain ten Galileans ? " were words well calculated to bear bitter fruit wherever they were repeated, and equivalent, as Gregory argues, to an edict of persecution (Greg. Or. 4, 93, P. 127 ; Sozomen-a Gazene himself-v. 9). Rode accepts most of this story, but rejects without sufficient reason the words attributed to Julian, p. 92, n. 12, who did and said many things in a fit of passion, of which his cooler judgment disapproved. Disturbances against the Christians broke out in many parts of Palestine. Holy places and holy things were profaned, and Christian people maltreated, tortured, and destroyed, sometimes in the most abominable manner (Chyon. Pasch. p. 546, ed. Bonn.; SOZ. v. 21 ; Philost. vii. 4).

Meanwhile Mark, bp. of Arethusa, a small town in Syria, who was said to have saved the life of the infant Julian, had refused to pay for the restoration of a temple which he had destroyed in the preceding reign. He was scourged in public, his beard was torn, his naked body was smeared with honey and hung up in a net exposed to the stings of insects and the fierce rays of the Syrian sun. Nothing could be wrung from him, and he was at last set free, a conqueror (Greg. Or. 4, 88-91, pp. 122-125 ; S OZ. v. 10). Wherever he went, he was surrounded by admirers, and this case became a warning to the more temperate and cautious pagans not to proceed to extremities. Libanius intercedes for an offender, lest he should turn out another Mark (Ep. 730) ; and Sallust, the prefect of the East, admonished Julian for the disgrace this fruitless contest with an old man brought upon the pagan cause (Greg. l.c. ; Sallust's name is not mentioned, but his office and character are described with sufficient clearness).

(c) Attempt to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem.-Julian had apparently for some time' past wished to conciliate the Jewish people,

and was quite ready to grant Jehovah a place', amongst the other local deities (cf. Frag. p. 295 c ; St. Cyril. in Spanheim's Julian, pp. 99, loo, and p. 305, on Sacrifice). It seems probable, therefore, that his chief motive in wishing to restore the temple at Jerusalem was the desire to increase the number of divinities who were propitious to him, and to gain the favour of the Jewish God in the prose.



cution of his Persian campaign. This is substantially the account given by Socrates, who tells us that he summoned the Jews to him and asked why they did not offer sacrifice. They replied that it was not lawful for them to do so, except at Jerusalem, and he therefore determined to rebuild the temple of Solomon (Socr. iii. 2o). This account agrees best with the statements of the emperor himself in his epistles and in his books against the Christians, and other motives attributed to him may be considered as subordinate (cf. Greg. Or. g, 3, P- 3149 ; Rufin. i. 37 ; S OZ- v 21). There is, however, an air of great probability in the statement of Philostorgius that he wished to falsify the prediction of our Blessed Lord as to the utter destruction of the temple (vii. 9). Nor could the enmity of the Jews against the Christians be otherwise than very pleasing to him (Greg. l.c. 47raq5$KE Kai rd 'loubalmv -"uXov ilWv). Julian provided very large sums for the work, and entrusted its execution to the oversight of Alypius of Antioch, an officer who had been employed by him in Britain and who was his intimate personal friend (Amni. xxiii. i. 2 ; Epp. 29 and 3o are addressed to him). The Jews were exultant and eager to contribute their wealth and their labour. The rubbish was cleared away and the old foundations were laid bare. But a stronger power intervened. To quote the words of Ammianus: "Whilst Alypius was strenuously forcing on the work, and the governor of the province was lending his assistance, fearful balls of flames, bursting out with frequent assaults near the foundations, and several times burning the workmen, rendered access to the spot impossible; and in this way the attempt came to a standstill through the determined obstinacy of the element" (xxiii. 1, 3). No doubt the Christians saw in this defeat of their oppressor not only a miracle of divine power, but a peculiarly striking fulfilment of the old prophecies in which fire is so often spoken of as the emblem and instrument of judgment (e.g. Dent. xxxii. 22, Jer. xxi. 14, and particularly, perhaps, the historical description of Lam. iv. 11,

The Lord hath accomplished His fury; He hath poured out His fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof"). They thought also, of course, of our Lord's own words, now more completely verified than ever. Julian retained his wide knowledge of the text of Scripture, as we see by his writings, and these prophecies doubtless irritated him by their literal exactness. The " globi flammarum prope fundamenta erumpentes" of the heathen historian are an undesigned coincidence with the words of Hebrew prophecy.

From heathen testimonies, and from the fathers and historians of the church, Dr. Newman has put together the following detailed account of the occurrence, in which he chiefly follows Warburton. The order of the incidents is, of course, not certain, but only a matter of probable inference; nor can we guarantee the details as they appear in the later writers.. "They declare as follows: The work was interrupted by a violent whirlwind, says Theodoret, which scattered about vast quantities of lime, sand and other loose

The Roman Emperor Julian, who ruled 361-363 CE, called on the Jews to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. Whatever his motives, he showed our ancestors unusual respect and understanding.

Julian was hardly an ordinary emperor, though history has failed to pay sufficient attention to his policies. In Julian, the Romans had a just ruler and brave soldier. He was a modest man who labored to relieve the distress of his subjects while endeavoring to connect authority with merit and happiness with virtue.

As a young soldier Julian subdued, against the odds, the German threat in Gaul with a small force. He ruled ancient Gaul with wisdom and authority, hardly ever seeking a personal gain. He slept on the ground with his legionnaires, earning their respect. Julian was an excellent organizer, an honest judge, a writer and a philosopher.

Brought up as a Christian, Julian rejected the religion and turned back to the paganism of Greek and Roman days. He argued that Christianity would weaken and ultimately destroy the Roman Empire. As a result, he attempted to restore Hellenism, which earned him everlasting Christian disdain.

Known to Christians as Julian the Apostate, the emperor restored pagan temples and the cult of the old Roman gods. These were to be served by a reform-minded pagan clergy with high moral character, who would compete with the Christian clergy in meeting the religious needs of the people.

Julian remains famous for having declared absolute freedom for all religious beliefs - making him perhaps the first leader to extend toleration of religion to all Romans.

ON THE July 19, 362 C.E., Julian left Constantinople and arrived in Antioch to prepare for the invasion of Persia. However busy he must have been, he met with "the chiefs of the Jews."

The details of this fascinating meeting, preserved only in Christian sources, are cited in Michael Avi Yona's The Jews under Roman and Byzantine Rule - A Political History from the Bar Kochba War to the Arab Conquest.

Julian, who wanted to form a common cause with the Jews against Christianity, asked: "Why do you not sacrifice to God, as required by the laws of Moses?"

The Jews replied: "We are not allowed by our laws to sacrifice outside our Holy City. How can we do it now? Restore to us the City, rebuild the Temple and the altar, and we shall offer sacrifices, as in days of old."

He promised: "I shall endeavor with the utmost zeal to set up the Temple of the Most High God."

THE RESTORATION of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem would, in Julian's opinion, defeat the Christian argument of replacement theology - that the Church was the true Israel, and that the Temple's destruction and the subsequent exile was the just punishment suffered by the Jewish people for the Crucifixion. The Temple's restoration, Julian figured, would persuade Christian converts that God still favored the Jewish people.

As an army commander, embarking on a war against a formidable Persian enemy, Julian could also expect that the Jews of Mesopotamia would assist his legions. But there can also be no doubt that Julian's attitude of fairness and his respect for the stubborn stand of the Jewish remnant played a role in his desire to achieve a Jewish restoration.

In his "Four Letters" addressed to the Jewish people, Julian recognized their dire situation and appealed to them to join him in his campaign. That's a vast difference from the Persian ruler Cyrus, who had only allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple; Julian virtually ordered them to do so, and perhaps, upset by their initial hesitation, appointed Alypius, a pagan native of Antioch and his best friend, to supervise the work.

In a letter to the Jewish Patriarch Hillel II, residing in Tiberias, Julian abrogated the entire gamut of anti-Jewish legislation and recognized Jewish authority in Israel, including the right to levy taxes.

ACCORDING TO the Christian sources, there was considerable initial enthusiasm among the Jews of Diaspora. Many purses were opened. But other leading Jews were confused and apprehensive. The community had only recently suffered yet another painful defeat in the failed uprising against Gallus (351 C.E.), which erupted in protest against discriminatory anti-Jewish legislation. The Patriarchate had lost Lydda, the few remaining settlements in Judea and several vital Galilean villages.

The people quoted a verse from Daniel (11:34): "Now when they shall stumble, they shall be helped with a little help; but many shall join themselves unto them with blandishments."

The Jews were doubtless divided between those who believed that Julian was a savior and those who remembered Rabbi Simon Ben Eliezer's warning against the youthful enthusiasm of the second generation after the Bar Kochba disaster: "If children tell you: 'Go, build the Temple - do not listen to them.'"

Above all, could Jewish hopes depend on the fortunes of one man?

In the end, no attempt was made to set up a temporary altar and offer sacrifices on the former Temple grounds, as the Maccabeans had done. While the Jews could not oppose the will of the Roman emperor, they could drag their feet. Apparently the majority did. They remembered Rome as Amalek, not as a benefactor.

THE WORK ordered on the Temple's foundation advanced slowly. It took time to provide silver spades and pickaxes, since no iron was allowed to be used. And then, according to the Roman writer Ammianus, "balls of fire" supposedly erupted from the foundations and rendered the place inaccessible.

The Christian majority of Jerusalem described this fire in glowing terms, as a splendid miracle, a further proof of the rightness of Christianity. The Jews suspected Christian arson. Meanwhile Alypius, Julian's pagan friend, seemed hardly in a hurry to carry out the emperor's order."

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