Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Friendly Emperor

On November 17, in the year 331 C.E., Flavius Claudius Julianus was born. He was the son of the half-brother of Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to recognize Christianity as the state religion. While raised nominally as a Christian, by the time Julian became emperor in 360 C.E., he was an affirmed neo-Platonist with a strong dislike for the Christian religion (which he viewed as being partly responsible for the weakening of Rome). Not long after becoming emperor, Julian revoked numerous pro-Christian laws, thus earning himself the designation “Julian the Apostate.”

Julian’s dislike of the Christians turned out to be a surprising boon for the Jews. Not only did he abolish special Jewish taxes, but he actively encouraged plans to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. According to Salamanius Hermias Sozomenus’ (Sozomen, c. 400 - c. 450 C.E.) Ecclesiastical History, the Jews “entered so earnestly upon the task, that even the women carried heaps of earth...”

Not long after the ground had been cleared, however, disaster struck the building plans. According to the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus (c.330 - c.391 C.E.), a friend of Julian: “Alypius of Antioch set vigorously to work...when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorching, could approach no more, and he gave up the attempt [to rebuild the Temple].”

While this dramatic description is quite probably based on the hyperbolic accounts spread by Gregory Nazienzus, an early church hero, some scholars believe that the building efforts were affected by the Galilee earthquake of 363.

Unfortunately, that same year, Julian was killed during a campaign against the Persians and his successor, Flavius Iovianus (Jovian), was a loyal Christian.

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