third decade of the 2nd century the 120s AD was
arguably the high summer of the ancient world, the pinnacle
of that age
described as the happiest in mankinds history,
when the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized
portion of mankind was 'gently but firmly guided' by
a succession of virtuous and able emperors. The Romans were not
unaware of their exceptional good fortune. Coins struck in the
year 123 the 150th anniversary of founding of the
were inscribed saeculum aureum ('Age of
Gold'). But in the fertile soil of the Pax Romana, almost unnoticed by the citizens of that remarkable civilisation, a morbid west asian cult was fabricating a creed that would, in time, subvert the values and sap the strength of Rome and return Europe to barbarism. That cult was Christianity.
Age of Gold
worldly ruler that he was, the emperor Hadrian acknowledged his debt to
the deities, whatever and wherever they might be. In more
than twelve years spent visiting his dominions he pointedly visited
the shrines and temples of all the gods, ordering their renovation,
instituting games in their honour, equipping new priesthoods
for the correct observance of ritual, and so on. For his diverse
benefactions he was welcomed in the east as a god come
down to earth (R. Lambert, p43).
In Rome in
121, Hadrian established a cult for the city itself and several
years later, a temple, the
largest in the city, was dedicated by the emperor to Romae
adopted Venus as patroness of the imperial family. Back in his
beloved Greece again, in 123, he was initiated into
the mysteries of Cabiri at Samothrace in the Aegean. The
following year, in Athens, Hadrian was inaugurated into the rites
of Demeter at Eleusis, and then of Dionysus. Passing
through Greece, Hadrian ordered the restoration of the temple of
Zeus Olympios which had lain in ruin for three centuries
and the restoration of Phidiass Zeus at Olympia and the sanctuary
the close of the decade, Hadrians entourage progressed
through the provinces of southern Asia Minor: Caria, Cilicia,
Cappadocia. Here, the enriched Greek cities honoured the emperor
as saviour and god (and associated him personally
with Zeus). In 129 he reached Syria and the city of Antioch,
where he held court for a year. In this epitome of a Hellenized
city the Emperor was disturbed to recognise that, beneath the veneer,
its racially mixed populace seethed with fanatical religions
hostile to Rome. He downgraded the status of the city and
left for Egypt.
Hadrian and Christians
Pagan Tolerance and Restraint
received a letter from your illustrious predecessor
Serenus Gratianus, and I do not wish to leave his
inquiry unanswered, so that innocent men are not
troubled and false accusers seize occasion for robbery.
provincials are clearly willing to appear in person
to substantiate suits against Christians, if, that
is, they come themselves before your judgment seat
to prefer their accusations, I do not forbid them
I do not permit them to make mere entreaties,
and protestations. Justice demands that if any one wishes
to bring an accusation, you should make due legal
enquiry into the charge.
an accusation is brought and it be proved that the
accused men have done anything illegal, you will
punish them as their misdeeds deserve.
in Heaven's name, take the very greatest care that
if a man prosecute any one of these men by way of
false accusation you visit the accuser, as his wickedness
deserves, with severer penalties."
Hadrian, Rescript To Minicius Fundanus, Governor
of Asia (124 AD).
Death of Antinous
perhaps should have been a relaxed sojourn on the Nile turned
into a personal tragedy for Hadrian and an event of unimaginable
consequence for the world. His male lover, a beautiful
Greek youth called Antinous, his companion of several years, drowned in
odd circumstances in the Nile. Inconsolable, he had a vast,
new sanctuary city, Antinoopolis,
built where the incident had occurred. Modelled on Athens,
the ruins of Antinoopolis were still visible in
the 19th century. The city had a Christian bishop in the second
century and two rival ones in the third!
that Antinous had died but was reborn a god Hadrian
instituted a new religion for his worship, complete with
temples and annual games. The core belief was that this virtuous
young man, by self-sacrifice, had conquered death and now offered similar
salvation and protection to others.
An epitaph for Antinous
recounts that he had appeared after death in dreams to
provide cures for the sick. He was an authentic Greek Hero, a
human who had attained immortality and could intercede with the
gods. With official sponsorship and encouragement,
his shrines, images and priesthoods appeared throughout
the empire except in Antioch. His was the only non-imperial
head to appear on coins, and his statue is the most common from
antiquity, save for Augustus and Hadrian himself. In the 4th
century, re-worked statues of Antinous showed him holding the grapes
of Dionysus in one-hand and a cross in the other!
foul temper, Hadrian moved his court on to Judaea,
where he was in no mood for Jewish intransigence. The
Emperor decided upon a thorough-going Hellenization
of the province.
sixty years Jerusalem had lain waste. On its ruins,
as his gift
to the Jewish people, Hadrian ordered the construction of
a new city, complete with forums, theatres, baths, gymnasia and
the other amenities of a modern polis. This he named Aelia
honour his family (Aelius) and Zeus himself
(whose temple in Rome graced the Capitol hill). On the spot which
had once been an ancient quarry arose a vast
new temple to Aphrodite and
close by, where the Jewish temple lay in ruins, a temple to Jupiter-Zeus.
In its atrium, Hadrian had placed a giant statue of himself,
benefactor and ruler of the world.
To the Jews,
Aelia and its statue of Hadrian were the
abomination of desolation. For them, the
final provocation was Hadrians ban on circumcision (which
applied to Egyptians and Arabs as well as Jews). As the most
Hellenized of all Roman emperors, Hadrian regarded circumcision
as nothing less than mutilation.
returned to Rome. Hardly had he
done so than news reached him that the Jews, armed with weapons
secreted for years, had staged a revolt.
"At this time, the Jews
started a war because they were forbidden to mutilate their genitals."
– Historia Augusta, Hadrian, 14.2.
had been identified an adventurer claiming Davidic descent
called Simon ben Kosiba (punned into a portentous 'Bar
Kochba' or son
of the star by
his followers). He was led on a horse as
prophecy foretold through Jerusalem by
the aged Akiba.
messiahship was endorsed by the High Priest Eleazar and
even the normally pro-Roman Sanhedrin. Aelia was torched
and a re-dedication made on the temple ruins. War with
Rome was now inevitable.
the Roman forces off-guard and out-numbered, the rebels
The Roman governor, Tineus Rufus, ordered his garrison to evacuate
the city as best they could and they retreated towards Caesarea.
His command, the X Legion Fretensis, had as its emblem a wild
boar a provocative 'pig' to the Jews. Romes initial
response was to assign the XXII legion, based in Egypt, the task
the city but such was the fury and force of the rebels that the
legion was destroyed before it got anywhere near.
When the full
extent of the uprising was gauged in Rome, the Emperor dispatched
Severus, victor of the recent war in northern Britain, at the head
of two legions, to suppress the rebellion. The war proved protracted
and merciless. The rebel forces, perhaps half a million strong,
adopted a guerilla-style warfare which denied the Romans a decisive
battle, favourable to their cavalry and the use of the phalanx.
"The Jews ... did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved underground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light.
Soon, however, all Judaea had been stirred up, and the Jews everywhere were showing signs of disturbance, were gathering together, and giving evidence of great hostility to the Romans, partly by secret and partly by overt acts; many outside nations, too, were joining them through eagerness for gain, and the whole earth, one might almost say, was being stirred up over the matter."
– Dio Cassius, Roman History, 69.9.12-13.
from everywhere from Egypt to Syria a full-scale invasion force
was assembled. Twelve legions were ultimately
to be deployed in the province, systematically annihilating hundreds
of towns and villages. Jerusalem was retaken only in the third
of the war. Akiba and nine other doctors of the Law were
executed although some fanatics escaped to Persia. After three
years of attrition, Simon and the last of the rebels, plus many
refugees, were trapped in the fortress of Bethar, south west
of Jerusalem. Hadrian himself joined the besiegers for the final
capitulation. Famously, he refused to accept a Triumph for this
Romans had been badly mauled ninety thousand troops
lost in conflict and related pestilence. Yet the cost to the
Jews was total: the end of their existence as a self-governing
nation within the Empire; half a million war-dead (from a nation
of perhaps three million); tens of thousands sold into slavery
and the arena. Even the name of Judaea was erased from the
by Siria Palestinia.
On pain of
death, Jews were forbidden to enter the new city of Alia rebuilt
more modestly save for one day a year, to mourn their
lost temple. On the holy mountain of the Samaritans Hadrian erected
to Zeus, embellished with the bronze doors taken from Jerusalem.
For a time, study of Jewish scripture was outlawed, as was
keeping of the Sabbath. The pious resistance of the
Jews had exacted a terrible human price.
the year 135, the Mediterranean ports were flooded with Jewish
refugees and the slave markets overflowed with captives. With
the catastrophic defeat a new pun on Bar Kosiba's
name was coined by the rabbis: 'bar Kozeba',
meaning 'son of the lie'. Only the Christian
Jews, who harboured a resentment against the rest
of the tribe, drew comfort from the disaster. The Romans,
they reasoned, were the instrument of divine wrath, incurred
by the Jews for the rejection of their prophet.
"And thus, when
the city had been emptied of the Jewish nation and had suffered
the total destruction of its ancient inhabitants,
it was colonized by a different race ... And as the church there
was now composed
of Gentiles, the first one to assume the government of it after
the bishops of the circumcision was Marcus."
Church History, 4.6.
Marcus? Marcus? Now there's a name to ponder ...
Postscript: Invention of the Jewish Diaspora
Conventional estimates suggest
a population for the Roman empire of 50-60 million at the time of Hadrian, with
Jews numbered perhaps 4-5 million. In comparison, Christians of various stripes numbered 10,000 at most,
a tiny minority, unnoticed by Rome. Even in the 3rd century the historian
Herodian does not mention them.
But the estimated number of Jews, so-called, may be woefully misleading.
Most Jews within the Roman Empire were NOT exiles from Judaea, nor were they descendants of exiles. Although, in consequence of the Jewish wars, trouble-makers were enslaved in considerable numbers and elite elements fled or were exiled from their homeland, the majority of Jews (Judaeans) – peasant farmers in the main – remained in Siria Palestinia. Rome had neither the means nor the desire to exile an entire population (and hence such a migration appears nowhere in Roman or Jewish histories). In later centuries they were to be increasingly oppressed by Byzantine Christians and in consequence welcomed the armies of Islam in the 7th century. Gradually, these Jews converted to the new faith and became Palestinians (something acknowledge by the first Zionists).
The majority of Jews outside of Palestine were the descendants of converts from the indigenous pagan populations, won over by energetic proselytizers in Judaism's most expansive era. Judaism became a successful evangelizing religion in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (as Roman historians attest), and took variegated forms. Its success prepared a seedbed for factions which jettisoned Judaism's least appealling characteristics and were no longer shaded by the Jewish penumbra – in a word, Christians.
With Christianity's own triumph in the 4th century the momentum within the Roman empire for conversion to Judaism ceased. Indeed, "adoption of Jewish manners" became an illegal activity, and faced with official hostility the descendents of converts to Judaism found it prudent to convert to the favoured Christianity. But Jewish proselytizing continued in regions beyond the reach of Rome. Thus Iranians of Adiabene, Ethiopic tribes of the Horn of Africa, Arab tribes of the Yemen and Spasinou/Charax, Berber tribes of north Africa, and Turkic tribes of the Caucasus (Khazars), all in time embraced the religion of Judaism. Berber Jews in the army of the Caliph would seed the Jewish community in Spain and Khazar Jews would seed the Ashkenazi Jewish communities of eastern Europe.
"The Jews as a self-isolating nation of exiles, who wandered across seas and continents, reached the ends of the earth and finally, with the advent of Zionism, made a U-turn and returned en masse to their orphaned homeland, is nothing but national mythology."
– Professor Shlomo Sand, Tel Aviv University, The Invention of the Jewish People.
The central idea of Zionism, that Jews should "return from exile" to a reclaimed homeland is starkly at odds with the demographic reality that very few Jews can make any legitimate claim to ancestral origins in the Levant. Even more alarming is that Christian Zionists energetically support the "return" of the Jews as a catalyst for the return of their own equally imaginary originator.
Did They Get Their Ideas From?
"Antinous was from Bithynium, a city of Bithynia, which we also call Claudiopolis; he had been a favourite of the emperor and had died in Egypt, either by falling into the Nile, as Hadrian writes, or, as the truth is, by being offered in sacrifice. For Hadrian, as I have stated, was always very curious and employed divinations and incantations of all kinds. Accordingly, he honoured Antinous, either because of his love for him or because the youth had voluntarily undertaken to die, it being necessary that a life should be surrendered freely for the accomplishment of the ends Hadrian had in view, by building a city on the spot where he had suffered this fate and naming it after him; and he also set up statues, or rather sacred images, of him, practically all over the world. Finally, he declared that he had seen a star which he took to be that of Antinous, and gladly lent an ear to the fictitious tales woven by his associates to the effect that the star had really come into being from the spirit of Antinous and had then appeared for the first time.
– Dio Cassius, Roman History, 69.9.11.
Hadrian's male lover, a beautiful Greek youth from Bithynia (modern Turkey)
and companion of several years. He drowned in odd circumstances in
Nile and speculation suggested a ritual suicide to somehow prolong
the Emperor's own life.
distraught Hadrian convinced himself that the dead
Antinous had been 'reborn a god and
instituted a new religion for his worship, complete with temples,
priests and annual games.
self-sacrificing Antinous had
conquered death and now offered similar salvation and
to others. What an interesting idea!
epitaph for Antinous in Rome recounts that he had appeared
after death in dreams to provide cures for the sick.
cult continued for three hundred years but slowly got
subsumed into a more truculent cult Christianity.
In the 4th century, re-worked statues of Antinous
showed him holding the grapes of Dionysus in one-hand and
a cross in the other!
is remarkable that [the cult of Antinous] should
have survived as long as it did, well into the
Perowne (Hadrian, p159)
wings – the deified Antinous (Naples)
Royston Lambert, Beloved & God (Phoenix, 1984)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Cassius Dio, Roman History (Book 69.12-14)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (Harper Collins, 1999)
Michael Grant, The Roman Emperors (Weidenfield & Nicolson,
A.M. Renwick, The Story of the Church (Inter-Varsity Press, 1958)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper
Shlomo Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009
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