The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great

By Henry Chadwick | Go to book overview
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3 Jews and Christians Survive Rome's Crushing of Revolts

Hadrian Founds Aelia

Just as the eminent Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai escaped from the Roman siege of Jerusalem in a coffin to establish his school at Yavneh near Jaffa, so also the Christian Jewish community got out of Jerusalem and is reported by Eusebius of Caesarea to have moved across the Jordan to Pella. There is no good reason to doubt the veracity of these reports. Jewish anger against Roman imperial authority continued, with a second ferocious rebellion in Egypt and Cyrene in 112-115 and then a major revolt in Hadrian's reign, 132-5, led by Bar Cocheba 'son of a star' (in rabbinic texts called Ben Koziba, 'son of a lie', no doubt because the outcome was catastrophic). Bar Cocheba was strong for observing the prescriptions of the Torah and the traditions. Christian Jews, therefore, who had a Messiah already, felt unable to participate and are reported by Justin and Jerome to have suffered accordingly. The initially successful revolt seems to have been sparked off by Hadrian's wish to legislate against circumcision and also to rebuild the ruined city of Jerusalem, mainly inhabited by a camp of Roman soldiers. Some of Bar Cocheba's coins celebrate 'the liberation of Jerusalem' and evidence, admittedly uncertain, suggests that plans to rebuild the Temple were initiated. The early Christian letter of 'Barnabas' shows that this aspiration had not died. Hadrian's builders replanned the old city, incidentally confirming the bringing of the hill of Golgotha inside the new town wall (a fact implicit in a Good Friday sermon 'On the Pascha' by Melito bishop of Sardis about thirty years later). On this site, already venerated by Christians, Hadrian erected a shrine to Aphrodite.

Hadrian called the new city after his own family name, Aelia Capitolina, which remained its official name until crusading times. It was to be strictly pagan in its cults. No Jew was to enter the city. The main temple dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus was put on the site of the old Jewish temple with an equestrian statue of the emperor where the Holy of Holies had been.

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