Did God Prevent the Rebuilding of the Jewish Temple?

Making Wisdom Popular

The Arch of Titus, Rome

The Arch of Titus, Rome

I recently discovered an extremely fascinating historical event I had never heard about: apparently, there was a serious attempt to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed in AD 70.  Not only that, but the attempt was thwarted by an odd series of seemingly cataclysmic events: fire burst forth from the foundations, along with a great earthquake, preventing the workers from completing their work.  The project was abandoned.  Some accounts include assertions that the sign of the cross appeared in the sky, as well as on the garments of the workers.

The project was apparently initiated by the pagan emperor Julian “the Apostate” in AD 363.  He’s called “the Apostate” because he was the first emperor, post-Constantine, to attempt to re-establish paganism in the Roman Empire.  While Christianity had not yet been made the state religion, it retained the support of the Roman government.  According to the Christian sources, Julian apparently believed that the rebuilding of the Temple would be the ultimate proof that Christianity was false, as Christ had predicted its destruction (see Mark 13 and Luke 21, et al).  He therefore provided public funds for the project, which was apparently met with enthusiasm by many Jews.  Julian’s letter to the Jews (see below) doesn’t explicitly state this, however.  Nonetheless, virtually all the Christian sources assert it.  We can never know what his exact motives were.

I’ve been able to find at least seven sources which attest to this event.  They include one pagan historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, and various Church Fathers, all of whom were alive in the year the event took place, or shortly afterward.  They speak of it as if it was broadly public knowledge, and even appeal to living witnesses in case anyone was skeptical.

Divine Intervention?  Or Natural Explanation?

All the Christian sources interpreted the event as a vindication of Christianity, and Christ’s messianic identity.  The pagan source doesn’t offer an interpretation of the event, but asserts it as fact without comment.

But before sharing their accounts, I wanted to present a possible explanation—perhaps the fire that came from the ground comes from pre-existing gas pockets, rather than from an act of God?

I present this possibility because of an earlier account from the first century Jewish historian, Josephus.  In his Antiquities, he tells the story of Herod desiring to loot the tombs of David and Solomon.  Before reading that account, let’s recall where the Bible says their tombs were located.  David, we are told, “slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.” (1 Kings 2:10)  Solomon, likewise, “slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father…” (1 Kings 11:43)  Thus, David and Solomon were buried in the City of David, which is adjacent to the Temple Mount.  You can visit the ruins of this city today

Josephus goes on to describe how some of Herod’s men died “by a flame that burst out” when they attempted to get into the tombs:

As for Herod, he had spent vast sums about the cities, both without and within his own kingdom: and as he had before heard that Hyrcanus, who had been king before him, had opened David’s sepulcher, and taken out of it three thousand talents of silver, and that there was a much greater number left behind, and indeed enough to suffice all his wants, he had a great while an intention to make the attempt; and at this time he opened that sepulcher by night, and went into it, and endeavored that it should not be at all known in the city, but took only his most faithful friends with him.  As for any money, he found none, as Hyrcanus had done, but that furniture of gold, and those precious goods that were laid up there; all which he took away.  However, he had a great desire to make a more diligent search, and to go farther in, even as far as the very bodies of David and Solomon; where two of his guards were slain, by a flame that burst out upon those that went in, as the report was.  So he was terribly affrighted, and went out, and built a propitiatory monument of that fright he had been in; and this of white stone, at the mouth of the sepulcher, and that at a great expense also.[1]

Could the flames that consumed these men be the same flames that consumed the construction workers in AD 363?  Who knows, but it struck me as a possibility. 

In any event, even if there are pre-existing pockets of gas beneath the Temple Mount, or the nearby areas, that doesn’t necessarily mean God didn’t prevent the rebuilding of the Temple.  But it would certainly help explain the event in scientific terms.

And with that, let’s take a look at the various historical accounts of this remarkable event:

The Pagan Accounts

The Emperor Julian “the Apostate” (c. AD 331-363)[2]

Fortunately, we actually have the letter the Emperor Julian wrote to the Jewish community.  In it, he asserts that he will end certain taxes which had been imposed on the Jews, and promises they will have the freedom to exercise their religion freely.  At the end of the letter, he proposes a rebuilding of Jerusalem for the sake of worshiping the Jewish God.  This would necessarily involve the rebuilding of the Temple.  The various Christian accounts of the entire affair often mention that the Jews had told Julian that worshiping God according to their religion required the Temple to be rebuilt.  This could be why Julian proposes just that.  The letter is as follows:

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.

Thus, we know for a fact that Julian “the Apostate” did in fact propose the rebuilding of Jerusalem for the sake of worshipping (so he said) the Jewish God, which would necessarily imply the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple.  Naturally, in the pagan mind, this did not necessarily obviate their native polytheism—Josephus, for example, tells us that Alexander the Great himself visited the Jewish Temple, as he did many of the temples to the gods of the various lands he conquered.

Ammianus Marcellinus (c. AD 330-391/400) [3]

The pagan account of the event comes from Ammianus Marcellinus, perhaps the preeminent pagan historian of the late Roman Empire.  Edward Gibbon, in his classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, described Marcellinus as “an accurate and faithful guide, who has composed the history of his own times without indulging the prejudices and passions which usually affect the mind of a contemporary.”[4]

Marcellinus’ account is as follows:

His [Julian the Apostate’s] desire to leave a monument to perpetuate the memory of his reign led him to think in particular of restoring at enormous expense the once magnificent temple at Jerusalem, which, after much bitter fighting du ring its siege first by Vespasian and then by Titus, had finally been stormed with great difficulty.  Alypius of Antioch, who had once governed Britain as the praetorian prefects’ deputy, was placed in charge of this project.  He set to work boldly, assisted by the governor of the province, but repeated and alarming outbursts of fire-balls near the foundations made it impossible to approach the spot.  Some of the workmen were burnt to death, and the obstinate resistance of the fiery element caused the design to be abandoned.

The Christian Accounts

The Christian accounts concur with Marcellinus on the facts, while often including several other details his account lacks.  All of them come from men who were either alive at the time of the event, or soon after.  Several appeal to living witnesses, and all of them speak of the event as if it was common and undisputed knowledge.

Ambrose of Milan (c. AD 340-397)[5]

The most succinct comes from St. Ambrose of Milan, the bishop of Milan who played a key role in the conversion of Saint Augustine (both of them would later be declared Doctors of the Church).  Writing to the Emperor Theodosius in December, 388, Ambrose speaks of the event as if it was common knowledge:

Have you not heard how, when Julian had ordered the Temple of Jerusalem rebuilt, those who were clearing the rubbish were burned by fire from heaven?  Are you not afraid that this will also happen now?  In fact, you should never have given an order such as Julian would have given.

Gregory Nazianzen (c. AD 329-390)[6]

An earlier account comes from Gregory Nazianzen, an early Church Father and Archbishop of Constantinople.  His account is much longer, and includes an extensive theological reflection on the event:

3. He [Julian] was daily growing more infuriated against us, as though raising up waves by other waves, he that went mad first against himself, that trampled upon things holy, and that did despite unto the Spirit of Grace: is it more proper to call him Jeroboam or Ahab, those most wicked of the Israelites; or Pharaoh the Egyptian, or Nebuchadnezzar the Assyrian; or combining all together shall we name him one and the same, since he shows himself to have united in himself the vices of them all—the apostasy of Jeroboam, the bloodthirstiness of Ahab, the hardness of heart of Pharaoh, the sacrilegious acts of Nebuchadnezzar, the impiety of all put together! For when he had exhausted every other resource, and despised every other form of tyranny in our regard as trifling and unworthy of him (since there never was a character so fertile in finding out and contriving mischief), at last he stirred up against us the nation of the Jews, making his accomplice in his machinations their well-known credulity, as well as that hatred for us which has smoldered in them from the very beginning; prophesying to them out of their own books and mysteries that now was the appointed time come for them to return into their own land, and to rebuild the Temple, and restore the reign of their hereditary institutions—thus hiding his true purpose under the mark of benevolence.

4. And when he had formed this plan, and made them believe it (for whatever suits one’s wishes is a ready engine for deceiving people), they began to debate about rebuilding the Temple, and in large number and with great zeal set about the work. For the partisans of the other side report that not only did their women strip off all their personal ornaments and contribute it towards the work and operations, but even carried away the rubbish in the laps of their gowns, sparing neither the so precious clothes nor yet the tenderness of their own limbs, for they believed they were doing a pious action, and regarded everything of less moment than the work in hand. But they being driven against one another, as though by a furious blast of wind, and sudden heaving of the earth, some rushed to one of the neighboring sacred places to pray for mercy; others, as is wont to happen in such cases, made use of what came to hand to shelter themselves; others were carried away blindly by the panic, and struck against those who were running up to see what was the matter. There are some who say that neither did the sacred place admit them, but that when they approached the folding doors that stood wide open, on coming up to them they found them closed in their faces by an unseen and invisible power which works wonders of the sort for the confusion of the impious and the saving of the godly. But what all people nowadays report and believe is that when they were forcing their way and struggling about the entrance a flame issued forth from the sacred place and stopped them, and some it burnt up and consumed so that a fate befell them similar to the disaster of the people of Sodom, or to the miracle about Nadab and Abiud, who offered incense and perished so strangely: whilst others it maimed in the principal parts of the body, and so left them for a living monument of God’s threatening and wrath against sinners. Such then was this event; and let no one disbelieve, unless he doubts likewise the other mighty works of God! But what is yet more strange and more conspicuous, there stood in the heavens a light circumscribing a Cross, and that which before on earth was contemned by the ungodly both in figure and in name is now exhibited in heaven, and is made by God a trophy of His victory over the impious, a trophy more lofty than any other!

5. What will those gentlemen say of these events—they who are wise, as this world goes, and make a fine show of their own cause, smoothing down their flowing beard and trailing before our eyes that elegant philosophic mantle! Reply to me for thyself, thou writer of long discourses, that dost compose incredible stories and gapest up at the skies, telling lies about things celestial, and weaving out of the movements of the stars, people’s nativities and predictions of the future! Tell me of those stars of thine, the Ariadne’s Crown, the Berenice’s Hair, the lascivious Swan, the violent Bull! or, if thou pleasest, tell me of thine Ophiuchus, or of thy Capricorn, or of thy Lion, or all the rest that thou hast discovered for a bad end and made them into gods in constellations! Where dost thou find this cycle in thy science, where the Star that of old moved towards Bethlehem out of the East, that leader and introducer of thy own Wise Men! I, too, have something to tell from the heavens: that Star declared the presence of Christ: this Crown is that of the victory of Christ!

6. Thus much is taken from things celestial and sympathizing with our fortunes, in accordance with the mighty harmony and disposition of the universe. What follows let the Psalm finish for me: “Because Thou hast cast down cities,” namely, those ancient ones for the very same acts of impiety, in the middle of the very same offences against us; some thereof overwhelmed by the floods, others swallowed up by earthquake; so that one is pretty nearly able to apply the remainder: “The memorial of them hath perished with a sound and a destruction noised abroad.” For such has been their fall, and such their ruin, also of those their neighbors who took the most delight in their impiety, so that a very long time were necessary to them for their restoration, even if anyone should have the boldness to undertake it.

7. Was it then only earth and heaven, and did not air likewise give a sign on that occasion, and was hallowed with the badges of the Passion? Let those who were spectators and partakers of that prodigy exhibit their garments, which to the present time are stamped with the brandmarks of the Cross! For at the very moment that anyone, either of our own brethren or of the outsiders, was telling the event or hearing it told by others, he beheld the miracle happening in his own case or to his neighbor, being all spotted with stars, or beholding the other so marked upon his clothes in a manner more variegated than could be done by any artificial work of the loom or elaborate painting. What is the result of this? Such great consternation at the spectacle that nearly all, as by one signal and with one voice, invoked the God of the Christians, and propitiated Him with many praises and supplications: whilst many, without further delay, but at the moment of the occurrence, ran up to our priests, and besought them earnestly that they might be made members of the Church, being sanctified by the holy baptism, for they had been saved by means of their fright.

John Chrysostom.jpg

John Chrysostom (c. AD 349-407)[7]

Another account comes from John Chrysostom, one of the more famous of the early Church Fathers, an Archbishop of Constantinople, and a Doctor of the Church.  He spoke of the event in one of his Homilies on the gospel of Matthew:

[E]ven in our generation, in the instance of him who surpassed all in ungodliness, I mean Julian, many strange things happened. Thus when the Jews were attempting to raise up again the temple at Jerusalem, fire burst out from the foundations, and utterly hindered them all; and when both his treasurer, and his uncle and namesake, made the sacred vessels the subject of their open insolence, the one was eaten with worms, and gave up the ghost, the other burst asunder in the midst. Moreover, the fountains failing, when sacrifices were made there, and the entrance of the famine into the cities together with the emperor himself, was a very great sign. For it is usual with God to do such things; when evils are multiplied, and He sees His own people afflicted, and their adversaries greatly intoxicated with their dominion over them, then to display His own power; which he did also in Persia with respect to the Jews.

Socrates Scholasticus (c. AD 380-439)[8]

The next account comes from a fourth/fifth centuries Church historian, Socrates Scholasticus, who was a contemporary of Theodoret and Sozomen, who were also Church historians.  His account of the event is contained in his Ecclesiastical History:

The emperor in another attempt to molest the Christians exposed his superstition. Being fond of sacrificing, he not only himself delighted in the blood of victims, but considered it an indignity offered to him, if others did not do likewise. And as he found but few persons of this stamp, he sent for the Jews and enquired of them why they abstained from sacrificing, since the law of Moses enjoined it? On their replying that it was not permitted them to do this in any other place than Jerusalem, he immediately ordered them to rebuild Solomon’s temple.

Meanwhile he himself proceeded on his expedition against the Persians. The Jews who had been long desirous of obtaining a favorable opportunity for rearing their temple afresh in order that they might therein offer sacrifice, applied themselves very vigorously to the work. Moreover, they conducted themselves with great insolence toward the Christians, and threatened to do them as much mischief, as they had themselves suffered from the Romans.

The emperor having ordered that the expenses of this structure should be defrayed out of the public treasury, all things were soon provided, such as timber and stone, burnt brick, clay, lime, and all other materials necessary for building. On this occasion Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, called to mind the prophecy of Daniel, which Christ also in the holy gospels has confirmed, and predicted in the presence of many persons, that the time had indeed come ‘in which one stone should not be left upon another in that temple,’ but that the Savior’s prophetic declaration should have its full accomplishment.

Such were the bishop’s words: and on the night following, a mighty earthquake tore up the stones of the old foundations of the temple and dispersed them all together with the adjacent edifices. Terror consequently possessed the Jews on account of the event; and the report of it brought many to the spot who resided at a great distance: when therefore a vast multitude was assembled, another prodigy took place. Fire came down from heaven and consumed all the builders’ tools: so that the flames were seen preying upon mallets, irons to smooth and polish stones, saws, hatchets, adzes, in short all the various implements which the workmen had procured as necessary for the undertaking; and the fire continued burning among these for a whole day.

The Jews indeed were in the greatest possible alarm, and unwillingly confessed Christ, calling him God: yet they did not do his will; but influenced by inveterate prepossessions they still clung to Judaism. Even a third miracle which afterwards happened failed to lead them to a belief of the truth. For the next night luminous impressions of a cross appeared imprinted on their garments, which at daybreak they in vain attempted to rub or wash out. They were therefore ‘blinded’ as the apostle says, and cast away the good which they had in their hands: and thus was the temple, instead of being rebuilt, at that time wholly overthrown.

Theodoret (c. AD 393-458/466)[9]

The next account comes from Theodoret, another Church historian whose life spanned the fourth and fifth centuries.  Theodoret, however, was not just an historian, but a bishop, and a theologian.  He writes as follows:

Julian, who had made his soul a home of destroying demons, went his corybantic way, ever raging against true religion. He accordingly now armed the Jews too against the believers in Christ. He began by enquiring of some whom he got together why, though their law imposed on them the duty of sacrifices, they offered none.

On their reply that their worship was limited to one particular spot, this enemy of God immediately gave directions for the re-erection of the destroyed temple, supposing in his vanity that he could falsify the prediction of the Lord, of which, in reality, he exhibited the truth. The Jews heard his words with delight and made known his orders to their countrymen throughout the world. They came with haste from all directions, contributing alike money and enthusiasm for the work; and the emperor made all the provisions he could, less from the pride of munificence than from hostility to the truth. He dispatched also as governor a fit man to carry out his impious orders. It is said that they made mattocks, shovels, and baskets of silver.

When they had begun to dig and to carry out the earth a vast multitude of them went on with the work all day, but by night the earth which had been carried away shifted back from the ravine of its own accord. They destroyed moreover the remains of the former construction, with the intention of building everything up afresh; but when they had got together thousands of bushels of chalk and lime, of a sudden a violent gale blew, and storms, tempests and whirlwinds scattered everything far and wide.

They still went on in their madness, nor were they brought to their senses by the divine longsuffering. Then first came a great earthquake, fit to strike terror into the hearts of men quite ignorant of God’s dealings; and, when still they were not awed, fire running from the excavated foundations burnt up most of the diggers, and put the rest to flight.

Moreover, when a large number of men were sleeping at night in an adjacent building it suddenly fell down, roof and all, and crushed the whole of them. On that night and also on the following night the sign of the cross of salvation was seen brightly shining in the sky, and the very garments of the Jews were filled with crosses, not bright but black. When God’s enemies saw these things, in terror at the heaven-sent plagues they fled, and made their way home, confessing the Godhead of Him who had been crucified by their fathers. Julian heard of these events, for they were repeated by everyone. But like Pharaoh he hardened his heart.

Sozomen (c. AD 400-450)[10]

The final account comes from Sozomen, a fifth century Church historian:

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 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.

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. 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. Besides this motive, the Jews themselves 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 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.

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 prodigy ensued; suddenly the sign of the cross appeared spontaneously on the garments of the persons engaged in the undertaking. These crosses were disposed 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 able to commence it.


David Robert,  Siege and Destruction of the Jewish Temple  (1850)

David Robert, Siege and Destruction of the Jewish Temple (1850)

So did this event happen?  It seems strange to think that an event spoken of so widely by both pagan and Christian sources who were alive either when it happened, or soon after, didn’t happen.  It seems even more strange given that they speak of it as common knowledge, appeal to living witnesses, and, as in the case of Ambrose, speak to a Roman Emperor as if he also knew, or should have known, of the event.  I find that significant because if there was anyone who would be in a position to know, it’d be the emperor whose reign was soon after the reign of Julian “the Apostate,” and thus would have had access to the public records of such an event (given that Julian apparently appointed a Roman official over the project, and issued an edict concerning it).

Assuming such an event did take place—which seems to be a reasonable conclusion—it’s obvious why many Christian leaders of that time would’ve interpreted it the way they did: they would have seen it as further evidence of God’s repudiation of Judaism (though not necessarily the Jews), and the veracity of the Christian faith.  Were these accounts somewhat embellished?  We can never know for sure.  The claims about the appearance of a cross in the sky and on the garments of the workers seems fantastical.  There is also no doubt that many Christian leaders felt great antipathy for both Julian, and the Jews of the time—an antipathy which was no doubt mutual.

What I have not been able to find is a Jewish source confirming the event.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t occur—for example, there are no Egyptian accounts of the Exodus.  Such things sometimes go unrecorded given that they are examples of defeat, oppression, or failure.  Again, absent the discovery of a new source, we’ll never know for sure.

In any event, this is a fascinating historical episode to contemplate from many different angles.


[1]Josephus, Antiquities, Book 16, Chapter 7, section 1 (c. AD 93); Josephus, William Whiston, trans., The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013), 437.

[2]Emperor Julian “the Apostate,” To the Community of the Jews (c. AD 362-63); Emperor Julian, W.C. Wright, trans., The Works of the Emperor Julian, Volume III (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1923), 177-81.

[3]Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Getae, Book 23 (c. AD 330-395); Ammianus Marcellinus, Walter Hamilton, trans., The Later Roman Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 255.

[4]Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Chapter 26, section V); Edward Gibbon, Betty Radice, ed., The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III: The Revival and Collapse of Paganism (London: The Folio Society, 1985), 278.

[5]St. Ambrose of Milan, To Emperor Theodosius (December, 388); Ambrose of Milan, Sister Mary Melchior Beyenka, trans., The Fathers of the Church: Saint Ambrose, Letters (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press of America, 1954), 11.

[6]Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 5: Second Invective Against Julian (c. AD 329-390); C.W. King, trans., Julian the Emperor (London: George Bell and Sons, 1888), 87-91.

[7]John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Matthew, Chapter 2 (c. AD 349-407).

[8]Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter 20 (c. AD 380-439).

[9]Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter 15 (c. AD 393-458/466).

[10]Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, Book 5, Chapter 22 (c. AD 400-450).