A Chapter from History of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, (a seminary textbook) translated from Russian by Isaac Lambertson for SJKP (available through SJKP, print-on-demand)
A SHORT SURVEY OF THE PERSECUTIONS OF THE CHRISTIANS BY THE JEWS
THE FALLING AWAY OF THE JEWS
The leaders of the Jews, who, out of malice and hatred for the Lord Savior, had decided to crucify Him, were unable to leave His disciples in peace. Their persecution of the apostles began as soon as the preaching of the latter began to spread. But in the beginning, this persecution was halted by one of the most respected teachers of the Law, Gamaliel, and because of conflict between the Sadducee and Pharisee parties. Subsequently, the conversion to the Faith of one of the most powerful persecutors, Saul, straitened position of the Sanhedrin with regard to the Roman government, which was still indifferent to Christianity, resulted in the weakening and even cessation of open persecution of the Christians on the part of the Jews.
The grandson of the iniquitous Herod who had slain the infants of Bethlehem, Herod Agrippa, reestablished, through intrigues within the Roman government, the authority of the king in Palestine for a while; and, desiring to win favor with the Jews, he again initiated a cruel persecution against the Church, slew the Apostle James, son of Zebedee, and imprisoned the Apostle Peter. But the horrible death of this impious man (he was gnawed by worms from within) brought an end both to his life and to the persecution he had raised. After the death of Herod Agrippa, Judea was, as before, made subject to a Roman procurator, and the Jews, despite all their hatred for the Christians, were not able to do them any substantial harm. We can see an example of the Jews impotent malice in the history of the trial of the Apostle Paul. The High Priest Ananias had been able to bring about the death of the Apostle James, the brother of the Lord, only during a space of time when Rome had not yet reasserted its governmental authority. Finally, the measure of God’s patience was filled, and the iniquitous Jewish people brought down punishment upon themselves. In the year 67 an unfortunate war began between the Jews and the Romans, and the Jews, as a separate people, were defeated.
The fall of the Jews was the righteous punishment for their crime of killing Christ and for the murder of the prophets and the apostles (see Matt. 23:23), and it is of important significance in the history of the Church in other respects as well: 1) in it was fulfilled the prophecies of Moses, Daniel, and other prophets, and the saying of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who foretold that Jerusalem would be surrounded by enemies and that not a stone would remain upon another at the site of the temple; 2) in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple the Old Testament in fact came to an end; now the Jews have no temple, offer no sacrifices, and their faith does not lead to salvation; and 3) the fall of the Jews bears a special relation to the ultimate fate of the entire world. The Lord Jesus Christ, in His prediction, linked the destruction of Jerusalem with the destruction of the world which is to follow at the end of time, so that the former is, as it were, a prefigurement of the latter (see Matt. 24).
Especially unusual phenomena prefigured the destructive catastrophe for the Jews. Once, at about 1:00 at night, a light as bright as daylight was seen in the temple; on the feast of the Passover, the bronze eastern gates in the temple, which it was difficult for even twenty men to open, opened by themselves; on the feast of Pentecost an unusual noise was audible in the temple, like that made by the feet of a multitude of departing people, and a voice rang out: “We are leaving this place!” For an entire year, a comet was visible above Jerusalem, in the form of a sword; and furthermore, crowds of warriors were visible in the clouds in war chariots. For four years prior to the war, a certain Jew, by the name of Jesus, allegedly inspired from on high, began to cry out, walking among the people: “Woe to thee, O Jerusalem! Woe to thee, O Temple!” and other things. Yet the Jews were unable to be brought to their senses by anyone, and they hastened to their own destruction, entering upon a conflict unequal to their strength with the mighty Roman Empire.
The reasons for the Jewish War were: the extreme hatred of the Jews for the Romans and the cruelty of the Roman procurators toward the Jews. Considering themselves the chosen people, the seed of Abraham, the Jews were totally unable to reconcile themselves with the idea of being subject to pagans. A separate party of zealots formed among them, who considered war with the Romans to be the purpose of their life. On their part, the Roman procurators treated the Jews with cruelty, burdened them with heavy taxes, and offended their religious sensibilities without any need. Especially hated by the Jews were Pilate and the last two procurators: Albinus and Gessius Florus. To all of this was added intense yearning for the Messiah. The Jews were convinced that the Messiah would appear very soon in the temple to help His chosen people. In the words of Josephus Flavius, the historian of the Jewish War, some fatal power lured the people to their destruction, and he sees in this the predetermination of God.
In planning an uprising against the Romans, the Jews surrounded the fortress where the Roman garrison was located, and when, perishing from starvation, the Roman soldiers surrendered to the Jews, then, despite the promise of safety, they were all treacherously put to the sword. For this dishonorable deed, a multitude of Jews were slain in Caesaria and Alexandria. In retaliation, the Jews launched themselves at the cities along the Syrian border and robbed their inhabitants. Then the Roman proconsul, Cetius and Gallus, who lived in Antioch, moved against Palestine to put down the rebellion, and had already reached Jerusalem, but, loosing a minor battle and fearing a multitude of enemies, he, quite unexpectedly for the Jews, withdrew from the city. The Jews were extremely proud of their success and reveled in their favorite dreams of world dominion; but the Christians, mindful of the commandment of the Lord, on seeing the abomination of desolation in the temple (Matt. 24: 15-20), made use of their freedom to leave and departed for the most part to the trans-Jordanian city of Pellas.
The Emperor Nero, on hearing of the Jews opposition to Cestius, sent to Palestine his best military commander, Vespasian, with an immense army. Vespasian quickly conquered Galilee and pushed on to Jerusalem. At that time, Nero died, and subsequently three emperors succeeded one another within the space of a year’s time, and the Syrian army declared their general to be emperor. Vespasian then made haste to Rome and entrusted the further conduct of the siege to his son, Titus. This general, knowing that because of the feast of Passover, many Jews would be gathering in Jerusalem (perhaps as many as 2 million), and desiring to cut off the supplies of edible stores to the city, surrounded the entire city with a rampart, so that it would not be possible to leave or to enter. Horrible tribulations began in Jerusalem: foodstuffs were quickly consumed, and such horrible starvation set in that a certain mother, tormented by hunger, butchered and ate her own newborn infant. Sickness spread, and people began to die in such numbers that they were impossible to bury, nor was there anywhere to bury them. More than 150,000 corpses were thrown out of one of the city’s gates. Many of the Jews fled from the city right into the hands of the enemy, and they were crucified on crosses. More than 500 crosses were set up around the city, hung with crucified Jews, and their mindless oath, “Let His blood be upon us and our children”, was visibly fulfilled. Before long there were not enough trees to provide wood for more crosses. Then Titus commanded that the refugees be received and given food to eat; but, wasted away by starvation, the Jews threw themselves upon the bread with such greediness that they died of overeating. After a long siege and unsuccessful negotiations for surrender, Titus began an all-out assault, ordering his soldiers to take the temple, which was considered a marvel of art. After terrific exertions, they took the city, but were unable to take the temple. On August 10, A.D. 70, the building caught fire because of an accidentally dropped burning log. Jerusalem was destroyed. All that remained of the former glory of the city were a portion of the western wall and three towers. Titus was astonished on seeing what a stronghold he had succeeded in taking and destroying; and he refused to accept the usual popular congratulations on the occasion of the victory, considering himself the instrument of the wrath of the gods.
Terrible was the lot of the Jews who survived the fall of their native city. About 12,000 died of starvation shortly after the capture of the city, before Titus was able to do anything for the living. The leaders of the rebels were executed. 700 of the most handsome youths were selected to adorn the victor’s triumphal procession on his return to Rome. A multitude of Jews were sent as slaves to work in the mines and were sold in the markets of Asia, Africa and Europe.
Here are a few of the predictions of the Prophet Moses, in which, 1,500 years before, he depicted the tribulations of the Jews with striking accuracy. “Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God…, thou shalt serve thine enemies,… in hunger, and in thirst, and in want of all things” (Deut. 28: 27,2 ). “The Lord shall bring upon thee a nation from the extremity of the earth, like the swift flying of an eagle, a nation whose voice thou shalt not understand; a nation bold in countenance, which shall not respect the person of the aged and shall not pity the young” (Deut. 28: 49-50). “And they shall utterly crush thee in thy cities, until the high and strong walls be destroyed, in which thou trustest” (v. 52). “And she that is tender and delicate among you, whose foot hath not assayed to go upon the earth for delicacy and tenderness, shall look with an evil eye on her husband in her bosom, and her son and her daughter,… for she shall eat them because of the want of all things, secretly in thy straitness, and in thine affliction, with which thine enemies will afflict thee in thy cities…. And the Lord Thy God shall scatter thee among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. Moreover, among those nations He will not give thee quiet, neither by any means shall the sole of thy feet have rest; and the Lord shall give thee there another and a misgiving heart, and failing eyes, and a wasting soul. And thy life shall be in suspense before thine eyes; and thou shalt be afraid by day and by night; and thou shalt have no assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, Would it were evening! and in the evening thou shalt say, Would it were morning! for the fear of thine heart with which thou shalt fear, and for the sights of thine eyes which thou shalt see” (Deut. 28:56, 57, 64-67).
The Attempt of Bar-Kochba.
When 65 years had passed, the Jews again rebelled against the Romans, under the leadership of the fanatic Bar-Kochba (“Son of the Star”), and were again brought low by the Romans. At that time the Emperor Hadrian commanded that Jerusalem be utterly demolished and that its streets be ploughed up, as a sign of the city’s complete annihilation. On the ruins of Jerusalem a new Roman colony was founded, Aelia Capitolina; and the Jews were forbidden, under pain of death, to go anywhere near it. Only on one day (the 10th of August, the day of the burning of the first temple by Nebuchadnezzar and of the second temple by the Romans) was it permitted them, on payment of a set fee, to look from afar upon their former capital, at the gates of which an image of an animal abominable to them had been set up.
The falling-away of the Jews with respect to the Faith and the Christian Church resulted in the Christians being freed, if only in part, from their most wicked and inveterate enemies when their place of assembly was destroyed; and it aided, again only in part, the cleansing of the holy Faith in the thought and consciousness of its first followers, from the admixture of Judaism, which held itself aloof in so-called rabbinism. The Jewish rabbis were not brought to their senses by the terrible retribution which fell upon the Jews. They pointed to the Jews’ insufficient care in carrying out the rites of the Mosaic Law as the reason for the wrath of heaven. In Tiberias, where, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the more prominent rabbis repaired, a school was founded, in which this predilection for the dead letter of the Law, for ritual, without understanding its meaning, reached an extreme degree of development and found its expression in the Talmud. This tendency of Jewish rabbinism moved the Jews farther away from the spirit of the Faith of Christ.