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Lessons From Church History Volume 2

Volumes 2-4. This is the history of the Church from the Roman War (66-73 A.D.) to Constantine and the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. with lessons to be learned from it.

Category - Long Book

Book 2 - Chapter 6

The Second Jewish Revolt Begins

Though the Jews had been conquered and devastated from 66-73 A.D., they were not yet totally banned from setting foot in the rubble of Jerusalem. About ten years after the destruction of Jerusalem, Gamaliel took charge of the newly organized Sanhedrin in Jabne (Jamnia). This town replaced Jerusalem as the heart of the Jewish nation about 80 A.D.

Gamaliel II (or Gamaliel of Jabne), succeeded Jochanan around 80 A.D. in the new Sanhedrin. Judaism had traditionally been divided by two main schools of thought: that of Hillel, and that of Shammai. The school of Hillel was the Peace Party, while the school of Shammai was the Independence Party. Gamaliel brought some reconciliation to this division after a voice was said to be heard: “The teachings of both schools are the words of the living God, but practically the laws of Hillel only are to carry weight.”

To obtain unity, Gamaliel was willing to be quite severe in his enforcement of the religious traditions of Judaism. Professor Graetz tells us in History of the Jews, Vol. II, p. 339,

“Deeply impressed by the unfortunate results which disunion must bring to Judaism, threatened as it already was by various half-Jewish, half-Christian sects, Gamaliel did not hesitate to proceed with severity against trifling offenses, in order to avoid the destruction of religious unity.”

This assessment by a Jewish professor reminds me of the same kind of argument later used in the Roman Church against “heretics,” where love was sacrificed on the altar of Church unity. Power carries with it the temptation to use it against dissenters in virtually every arena.

Gamaliel's heavy handedness later resulted in his overthrow as Patriarch of the Sanhedrin, when they deposed him and elected 16-year-old Eleazar ben Azariah, who came from a worthy family, to replace him. But Gamaliel apparently humbled himself and sought forgiveness from his main opponent, and this brought about his re-instatement as Patriarch. Graetz tells us on page 345,

“These disagreements were soon forgotten, and thenceforward Gamaliel lived in peace with the members of the Synhedrion” [or Sanhedrin].

Judaism also had to wrestle with its own prejudices, which had caused many Jews to convert to Christianity. Professor Graetz tells us of this:

“In contradistinction to this order were the peasants—the slaves of the soil. A striking picture is given of the neglected mental and moral state of these peasants, to which the frequent rebellions during the last years of the Jewish state no doubt contributed. They only observed such laws as appealed to their rude senses, and knew nothing of a higher life. The members of the order would not eat or live with them, and even kept aloof from them, that their clothes might not be made unclean by contact. It was said by contemporaries that the hatred between the two classes was stronger than that felt between the Jews and heathens.

“Thus left to themselves and cut off from the higher classes and from all share in communal life, without a leader or adviser, the peasants easily fell under the influence of young Christianity. Jesus and his disciples had especially turned towards the unprotected class, and there found the greater number of their followers. How flattering it must have been to these neglected beings to hear that on their account the Messiah had come, that he had been executed so that they might have a share in the good things of which they had been deprived, more especially of happiness in a better world. The Law deprived them of their rights, while Christianity opened the kingdom of heaven to them!” (p. 364).

Yes, Judaism did have cause for worry, for Christianity did indeed give hope to those who were despised by their own religious leaders as “cursed” for not knowing the law (John 7:49). It is not unlike today's situation in India, where the “untouchables” are turning to Christ by the thousands. They are beginning to awaken to the fact that Hinduism is a religion that only keeps them oppressed and despised. Why should they not turn to the only ray of hope offered to them? Prof. Graetz may not like it, nor any of the rabbis, but the oppressive attitudes of their own rabbis fertilized the soil of Christianity.

Prof. Graetz likewise did not understand the nature of early Christianity, for he often talked about Christian “hatred” for the Jews as if the first-century Christians were no different from the Roman Church centuries later. He is inconsistent in his analysis when he talks about how, in the Bar Cochba revolt (132-135 A.D.), the Christians were executed for refusing to take up arms against Rome (p. 412), and yet also claims that the Christians hated Rome as much as the Jews did! (p. 369)

Strangely enough, Graetz faults the Christians as having an attitude of hatred, while at the same time providing us with the evidence of Jewish hatred for Christians. He relates how Judaism (specifically Rabbi Akiba) had to “defend itself” from Christianity (p. 378) by writing curses against them to be used in their daily prayers (p. 379).

“Hatred” obviously includes any attempt to convert a Jew from Judaism—often led by leaders who despised their own Jewish peasants. And so to “defend itself” against Christians who were using love as a weapon instead of the sword, Rabbi Akiba wrote curses against them!

The Bar-Cochba revolt in the second century began after the Emperor Trajan had attempted to subdue the Parthians to the East. During the winter of 115-116 A.D., he had returned to Antioch, thinking the military campaign was almost ended. In the Spring, Trajan again marched to Parthia. According to Graetz:

“But hardly had Trajan set out when the conquered people on the twin rivers revolted again. The Jews had a great share in this uprising; they spread anarchy through a great portion of the Roman Empire. Not alone the Babylonian Jews, but also the Jews of Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya, and those in the island of Cyprus were seized with the idea of shaking off the Roman yoke. . . .

“From Judea the rebellion spread through the neighboring countries to the Euphrates and Egypt (116-117). In half a century after the fall of the Jewish State a new race had arisen, who inherited the zealous spirit of their fathers, and who bore in their hearts a vivid remembrance of their former independence. The hope of the Tanaite teacher, ‘Soon the Temple will be rebuilt,’ had kept alive a love of freedom in the Jewish youths, who had not lost the habit of using weapons in the schools.” (p. 394)

In other words, a new generation of Jews had arisen since 70 A.D. which lost sight of the lessons learned from the destruction of Jerusalem. This new generation turned from the peaceful doctrines of Jochanan (of the Hillel school) and adopted once again the desire for Independence (of the Shammai school). They fell into the same trap as their forefathers.

“The Egyptian Jews . . . first attacked the neighboring towns, killed the Romans and the Greeks, and avenged the destruction of their nationality on their nearest enemies.” (p. 395)

“The conquering Jewish troops felt themselves filled with a desire for revenge. In despair they invaded the Egyptian territories, imprisoned the inhabitants, and repaid cruelties with fresh cruelties. . . . In Cyrenaica 200,000 Greeks and Romans were slain by the Jews, and Lybia, the strip of land to the east of Egypt, was so utterly devastated that, some years later, new colonies had to be sent thither.” (p. 396)

“In the island of Cyprus . . . the Cyprian Jews are said to have destroyed Salamis, the capital of the island, and to have killed 240,000 Greeks.” (p. 397).

“The contest, however, must have been a bitter one, for a deadly hatred arose in Cyprus against the Jews. This hatred was expressed in a barbarous law, according to which no Jew might approach the island of Cyprus, even if he suffered shipwreck on that coast.” (p. 398)

Perhaps it was a “barbarous law” that forbade all Jews from setting foot on Cyprus. But such a law was not nearly as barbarous as the murder of a half million Greeks, Romans, and Cyprians at the hands of these Jews! One can hardly blame them for passing this legislation. If the situation had been reversed, and Greeks had killed 240,000 Jews on Cyprus, and if the Jews had passed laws forbidding Greeks to set foot on the island, I doubt if Prof. Graetz would have called this a “barbarous law.” Instead, he would have justified it on the grounds of self-defense.

According to Eusebius (Eccl. Hist., IV, ii) the Jewish side was led by Lucuas, whom they recognized as their “King of the Jews.” They were all too willing to follow a Messiah who had the ability to massacre a half million Greeks and Romans. They admired such characteristics in a Jew, but when such things were perpetrated upon the Jews, they complained. This double standard is, no doubt, just another aspect of human nature, but this history makes it clear—at least to non-Jews—that Judaism had done nothing to change the moral perceptions among its adherents.

It is important to note that the Christians did not take part in these massacres. Those Jewish Christians who went back into Judaism during the first revolt in 70 A.D. were already long dead. Those who remained true to Jesus Christ, along with their successors in the faith, now had a prime example of what NOT to do, for the disaster of 70-73 A.D. had proven the truth of Jesus’ words as well as the apostles.

They submitted to the Iron Kingdom and made no attempt to overthrow the Romans. Even in the face of persecution by Rome, they submitted as if to God Himself. And when the Jews revolted and put to death many Christians for their refusal to take up arms against Rome, they made no violent response against them either. One would be hard pressed to find a single account where a Christian killed a Jew, even in self-defense.

Yes, it all goes back to whether or not one believes Jeremiah and Daniel.