Publications News Bookstore Virtual Israel Experience Glossary Library
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Julian the Apostate°

JULIAN THE APOSTATE° (Flavius Claudius Julianus; 331–363 C.E.), Roman emperor 361–363 C.E. As a child Julian escaped the slaughter of his immediate family during the struggles for the throne after the death of his uncle Constantine the Great. Although in his youth Julian received a Christian education under the supervision of Eusebius, the bishop of Nicomedea, he later was greatly influenced by Greek philosophy and ideas. In 355 Emperor Constantius appointed Julian governor of Gaul, where he proved to be an outstanding soldier and administrator, defeating the invading German tribes, and strengthening the provincial administration. In 360 Julian's troops, ordered to join Constantius in the war against Persia in the East, mutinied and declared Julian emperor. When Constantius suddenly died the following year, Julian became the undisputed ruler over the entire Empire.

Julian saw Christianity – which within a generation had ceased to be a persecuted belief and had become the official religion persecuting others – as a sickness within the body politic, and felt deep revulsion toward it from an ethical-religious viewpoint. Although he issued an edict of universal religious toleration, he gave practical expression to his opposition to Christianity by founding a pagan cult in which he served as pontifex maximus. He established regulations governing the behavior and way of life of the pagan priests, formulated important ethical values, and forbade certain books because they were inimical to pagan religious belief. His polemics against Christianity were reinforced by the use of imperial influence – though not force – on behalf of paganism. His writings reveal his knowledge of the Bible and the New Testament. Many of the themes in his polemic Against the Galileans (as the Christians were known) have some relevance to Judaism, but they must be judged less in terms of his friendship to the Jews than of his hatred of Christianity. He chides Christianity for having adopted the worst aspects of paganism and Judaism, and for having broken away from Judaism; he writes that the beliefs of the Jews are identical with or only slightly different from those of other nations, with the exception of belief in one God; and on various occasions he denies the allegorical interpretation of Christianity, deriving his arguments from the Bible.

Julian discussed Jewish monotheism from two viewpoints: first, he refuted the Christian claim that Jesus, the Logos, is God, since the Bible recognizes only one God (Againstthe Galileans, 253Aff.); second, he attempted to fit Judaism into the pagan pantheon and isolate Christianity. He therefore argued that the Jews are the chosen people of their god, who is their particular national and local deity (or daemon) and watches over them, just as do other city gods and national deities "who are a kind of regent for the king" (ibid. 99E, 115D, 141C–D, 176A–B). However, he was not pleased with Jewish zealousness against other gods, and with the Jews' observance of the Sabbath. He compared the myths of Genesis with the Homeric epic and the Platonic cosmogony, and argued that paganism's religious tradition and view of godhood is superior to Judaism's. He found supporting evidence in the Jewish history of bondage, and the fact that the Jewish people never spawned great military leaders, philosophers, lawmakers, natural scientists, physicians, musicians, logicians, etc. in proportion to their numbers – reflecting negatively upon their religion.

Julian's attitude toward the Jews was generally defined by the needs of his polemic against the Christians. Just before Julian embarked on his Persian campaign he promised to abolish the anti-Jewish laws and to rebuild the Temple where he would join the Jews in worship (Letter to the Community of the Jews, no. 51, 396–8). Shortly after this he wrote that "even now the temple is being raised again" (Letter to a Priest, 295c). Jewish sources contain only vague hints of these activities. R. Aha said that the five sacred objects present in the First Temple were missing in the Second (TJ, Ta'an. 65a; ibid. Hor. 47c; Yoma 21b), implying that the Third Temple would be built without any of these. He also said that it would be rebuilt before the Messiah (TJ, Ma'as. Sh. 56a). Jerome reports that some Jews interpreted sublevabuntur auxilio parvulo (Dan. 11:34) to refer to this episode (Commentary to Daniel 717). A fuller account is found in Ammianus Marcellinus where Julian is said to have wanted to found the Temple as a memorial to his rule. He arranged for money and building materials to be provided, appointing Alypius of Antioch, but after several attempts to build on the site he was discouraged by a fire which broke out in the ruins there (Res Gestae 23:2–3). The Church Fathers embellished the story in various ways adding that the Jews received Julian's proposal enthusiastically, coming in thousands to the Temple Mount with stones in their hands, but when the first stones were laid the Jews were threatened by earthquakes and hurricanes, and finally driven off by a heavenly fire and specter of Christ (Gregory of Nazianz, Contra Julianum, Oratio, no. 4, 2:149–50; Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, 3:196; Sozomenus, Historia Ecclesiastica, 5:214–5). Two important facts may be gathered from these sources: (1) Julian wished to rebuild the Temple to strengthen paganism against Christianity (he saw Judaism and paganism as having sacrificial rites in common); (2) he wished to refute Jesus' prophecy concerning the Temple (Luke 21:6; Matt. 24:2). Later Christian writers claimed that at Julian's decree to rebuild the Temple the Jews massacred the Christians, burning churches at Ashkelon, Damascus, Gaza, and Alexandria (Ambrose, Epistles, 1, no. 40:14–15; Sozomenus, loc. cit. 5:22). Most scholars accept rather the opposite view of Bar Hebraeus that the Christians in anger at the decree killed the Jews of Edessa (Chronography, 63). A Hebrew inscription quoting part of Isaiah 66:14 found on the Western Wall in 1969 has been ascribed to this period of messianic revival. Julian's works were published with an English translation by W.C. Wright under the title The Works of the Emperor Julian (3 vols., 1913–23).


M. Adler, in: JQR 5 (1892/3), 591–651; Graetz, History, 2 (1956), 595–603; J. Bidez, La Vie de l'Empereur Julien (1930), 306ff.; P. de Labriolle, La Réaction Païenne (1934), 401–10; J. Vogt, Kaiser Julian und das Judentum (1939); J. Heinemann, in: Zion, 4 (1939), 269–93; M. Hak, in: Yavneh, 2 (1940), 118–39; Alon, Meḥkarim, 2 (1958), 313f.; J. Levy, Olamot Nifgashim (1960), 221–54 (= Zion, 6 (1941), 1–32); S. Lieberman, in: Annuaire de l'Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire Orientales et Slaves, 7 (1939–44), 395–446; idem, in: JQR, 36 (1945/46), 239–53; 37 (1946/47), 329–36; I. Sonne, ibid., 307–28; M. Simon, Verus Israel (1948), 139–44 and index; A. Momigliano (ed.), The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (1963); E.E. Urbach, in: Molad, 19 (1961), 368–74; D. Rokaḥ, in: Ha-Ishiyyut ve-Dorah, Koveẓ Harẓa'ot she-Hushme'u ba-Kenes ha-Shemini le-Iyyun be-Historyah (1963), 79–80. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S.P. Brock, "The Rebuilding of the Temple Under Julian: A New Source," in: PEQ, 108 (1976); G.W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate (1978).