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§ 14. Jewish Persecution.


I. Dio Cassius: Hist. Rom. LXVIII. 32; LXIX. 12–14; Justin M.: Apol. I. 31, 47; Eusebius: H. Eccl. IV. 2. and 6. Rabbinical traditions in Derenbourg: Histoire de la Palestine depuis Cyrus jusqu’à Adrien (Paris 1867), pp. 402–438.

II. Fr. Münter.: Der Judische Krieg unter Trajan u. Hadrian. Altona and Leipz. 1821.

Deyling: Aeliae Capitol. origines et historiae. Lips. 1743.

Ewald: Gesch. des Volkes Israel, VII. 373–432.

Milman: History of the Jews, Books 18 and 20.

Grätz: Gesch. der Juden. Vol. IV. (Leipz. 1866).

Schürer: Neutestam. Zeitgeschichte (1874), pp. 350–367.

The Jews had displayed their obstinate unbelief and bitter hatred of the gospel in the crucifixion of Christ, the stoning of Stephen, the execution of James the Elder, the repeated incarceration as of Peter and John, the wild rage against Paul, and the murder of James the Just. No wonder that the fearful judgment of God at last visited this ingratitude upon them in the destruction of the holy city and the temple, from which the Christians found refuge in Pella.

But this tragical fate could break only the national power of the Jews, not their hatred of Christianity. They caused the death of Symeon, bishop of Jerusalem (107); they were particularly active in the burning of Polycarp of Smyrna; and they inflamed the violence of the Gentiles by eliminating the sect of the Nazarenes.

The Rebellion under Bar-Cochba. Jerusalem again Destroyed.

By severe oppression under Trajan and Hadrian, the prohibition of circumcision, and the desecration of Jerusalem by the idolatry of the pagans, the Jews were provoked to a new and powerful insurrection (a.d. 132–135). A pseudo-Messiah, Bar-Cochba (son of the stars, Num. 24:17), afterwards called Bar-Cosiba (son of falsehood), put himself at the head of the rebels, and caused all the Christians who would not join him to be most cruelly murdered. But the false prophet was defeated by Hadrian’s general in 135, more than half a million of Jews were slaughtered after a desperate resistance, immense numbers sold into slavery, 985 villages and 50 fortresses levelled to the ground, nearly all Palestine laid waste, Jerusalem again destroyed, and a Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina, erected on its ruins, with an image of Jupiter and a temple of Venus. The coins of Aelia Capitolina bear the images of Jupiter Capitolinus, Bacchus, Serapis, Astarte.

Thus the native soil of the venerable religion of the Old Testament was ploughed up, and idolatry planted on it. The Jews were forbidden to visit the holy spot of their former metropolis upon pain of death.1919    As reported by Justin M., a native of Palestine and a contemporary of this destruction of Jerusalem. Apol. l.c. 47. Tertullian also says (Adv. Jud. c. 13), that, "an interdict was issued forbidding any one of the Jews to linger in the confines of the district."8 Only on the anniversary of the destruction were they allowed to behold and bewail it from a distance. The prohibition was continued under Christian emperors to their disgrace. Julian the Apostate, from hatred of the Christians, allowed and encouraged them to rebuild the temple, but in vain. Jerome, who spent the rest of his life in monastic retirement at Bethlehem (d. 419), informs us in pathetic words that in his day old Jewish men and women, "in corporibus et in habitu suo iram a Domini demonstrantes," had to buy from the Roman watch the privilege of weeping and lamenting over the ruins from mount Olivet in sight of the cross, "ut qui quondam emerant sanguinem Christi, emant lacrymas suas, et ne fletus quidem i eis gratuitus sit."2020    Ad Zephan. 1:15 sqq. Schürer quotes the passage, p. 363.9 The same sad privilege the Jews now enjoy under Turkish rule, not only once a year, but every Friday beneath the very walls of the Temple, now replaced by the Mosque of Omar.2121    "The Wailing Place of the Jews" at the cyclopean foundation wall is just outside of the Mosque El Aska, and near "Robinson’s Arch." There I saw on Good Friday, 1877, a large number of Jews, old and young, men and women, venerable rabbis with patriarchal beards, others dirty and repulsive, kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears, while repeating from Hebrew Bibles and prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Psalms 76th and 79th, and various litanies. Comp. Tobler, Topographie von Jerusalem I. 629.0

The Talmud.

After this the Jews had no opportunity for any further independent persecution of the Christians. Yet they continued to circulate horrible calumnies on Jesus and his followers. Their learned schools at Tiberias and Babylon nourished this bitter hostility. The Talmud, i.e. Doctrine, of which the first part (the Mishna, i.e. Repetition) was composed towards the end of the second century, and the second part (the Gemara, i.e. Completion) in the fourth century, well represents the Judaism of its day, stiff, traditional, stagnant, and anti-Christian. Subsequently the Jerusalem Talmud was eclipsed by the Babylonian (430–521), which is four times larger, and a still more distinct expression of Rabbinism. The terrible imprecation on apostates (pratio haereticorum), designed to deter Jews from going over to the Christian faith, comes from the second century, and is stated by the Talmud to have been composed at Jafna, where the Sanhedrin at that time had its seat, by the younger Rabbi Gamaliel.

The Talmud is the slow growth of several centuries. It is a chaos of Jewish learning, wisdom, and folly, a continent of rubbish, with hidden pearls of true maxims and poetic parables. Delitzsch calls it "a vast debating club, in which there hum confusedly the myriad voices of at least five centuries, a unique code of laws, in comparison with which the law-books of all other nations are but lilliputian." It is the Old Testament misinterpreted and turned against the New, in fact, though not in form. It is a rabbinical Bible without inspiration, without the Messiah, without hope. It shares the tenacity of the Jewish race, and, like it, continues involuntarily to bear testimony to the truth of Christianity. A distinguished historian, on being asked what is the best argument for Christianity, promptly replied: the Jews.2222    On the literature of the Talmud see the articles in Herzog, and in McClintock & Strong, and especially Schürer, Neutestamentl. Zeitgeschichte (Leipz. 1874), pp. 45-49, to which I add Schürer’s essay: Die Predigt Jesu Christi in ihrem Verhältniss zum Altem Testament und zum Judenthum, Darmstadt, 1882. The relation of the Talmud to the Sermon on the Mount and the few resemblances is discussed by Pick in McClintock & Strong, vol. ix. 571.1

Unfortunately this people, still remarkable even in its tragical end, was in many ways cruelly oppressed and persecuted by the Christians after Constantine, and thereby only confirmed in its fanatical hatred of them. The hostile legislation began with the prohibition of the circumcision of Christian slaves, and the intermarriage between Jews and Christians, and proceeded already in the fifth century to the exclusion of the Jews from all civil and political rights in Christian states. Even our enlightened age has witnessed the humiliating spectacle of a cruel Judenhetzein Germany and still more in Russia (1881). But through all changes of fortune God has preserved this ancient race as a living monument of his justice and his mercy; and he will undoubtedly assign it an important part in the consummation of his kingdom at the second coming of Christ.

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