A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 1

By Franz Kobler | Go to book overview

13
The Byzantine Empress, Eudocia, rouses the Messianic Hopes of the Jews

THE tragic failure of the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 C.E., and the merciless persecution which followed it in the last years of Hadrian's reign, did not destroy in the hearts of the Jews the hope of seeing the recovery of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple. New rebellions flared up repeatedly in Palestine and had to be suppressed by the Roman emperors up to the middle of the fourth century. Then, however, a strange change seemed to come over the scene. In the year 360 the philosophic Julian ascended the Imperial throne. He was known to history as the Apostate, from his renunciation of Christianity. In his struggle with the Christian hierarchy he saw in the Jews his natural allies and he began to treat them with marked favour. This policy culminated in his solemn promise to restore the Holy City and to rebuild it at his own expense. This proclamation was made in a letter addressed to the Community of the Jews in 363 C.E., at the time of Julian's campaign against the Persians.

According to the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a contemporary of Julian, the Emperor did indeed make preparations for the fulfilment of his promise by appointing Alypius of Antioch to take charge of the rebuilding of the Temple. But although it is stated by a Church historian that the letter had created great joy among the Jews, there is no mention of the subject in Jewish records. This is why some modern scholars deny the authenticity of the letter altogether. It has been, however, plausibly suggested that the Babylonian Rabbis preferred to omit any reference to the Apostate, because in 363 he had already fallen in battle, and any praise of him would have offended his Christian successors, Jovian and Valentinian.

Sixty-five years after the death of Julian, the hopes of Palestine Jewry were again raised, though for a brief instant only, by a strange counterpart of the Apostate: the beautiful Athenais who was the daughter of an Athenian sophist, and who, after having renounced paganism, took the name of Eudocia and married Theodosius II, the Byzantine Emperor. It was a time of great tribulation for the Jewish population in Palestine where, in the years 421 and 422, the masses under the instigation of the fanatics Simeon Stylites and Barsauma committed anti-Jewish outrages and burnt many synagogues. As soon as Eudocia was married to Theodosius on 2 January 423, she exerted her influence on behalf of the Jews. Her uncle, Asdepiodotes,

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