« Prev Chapter II. The Re-building of Jerusalem. Next »



During his peregrinations in Syria, Hadrian saw the site where Jerusalem had stood. For fifty-two years the city remained in its state of desolation, and offered to the eye nothing but a heap of immense blocks of stone lying one on another. Only a few groups of miserable houses, belonging to Christians for the most part, stood out from the top of Mount Sion, and the site of the Temple was full of jackals. One day, when Rabbi Aquiba came on a pilgrimage to the spot with some companions, a jackal rushed out of the place where the Holy of Holies had stood. The pilgrims burst into tears, and said to each other: “What! is this the place of which it is written that any profane person who approaches it shall be put to death, and here are jackals roaming about in it!” Aquiba, however, burst out laughing, and proved to them the connexion between the various prophecies so clearly, that they all exclaimed: “Aquiba, thou hast consoled us! Aquiba, thou has consoled us!”

These ruins inspired Hadrian with the thought with which all ruins inspired him, namely, the desire to rebuild the ruined city, to colonise it, and to give it his name or that of his family Thus Judea would become once more restored to cultivation, and Jerusalem, raised to the rank of a fortified place in the hands of the Romans, would serve as a check upon the Jewish population. All the towns of Syria, moreover,—Gerasae, Damascus, Gaza, Peah,—were being rebuilt in the Roman manner, and were inaugurating new eras. Jerusalem was too celebrated to be an 13exception to this movement of historical dilettantism and of general restoration.

It is very probable that if the Jews had been less unanimous in their views, if some Philo of Byblos had existed amongst them to represent to him the Jewish past as nothing but a glorious and interesting variety amongst the different literatures, religions, and philosophies of humanity, the curious and intelligent Hadrian would have been delighted, and re-built the Temple, not exactly as the Doctors of the Law would have wished it, but in his ecclectic manner, like the great amateur of ancient religions that he was. The Talmud is full of conversations between Hadrian and celebrated rabbis, which of course are fictitious, but which correspond very well with the character of this Emperor, who had a great mind, and was a great talker, very fond of asking questions, curious about strange matters, anxious to know everything, that he might make fun of it afterwards. But the greatest insult that can be shown to absolutists is to be tolerant towards them, and in this respect the Jews resembled exactly the enthusiastic Catholics of our days. Men of such convictions will not be satisfied with their reasonable share; they want to be everything. It is the highest indignity for a religion which looks upon itself as the only true one to be treated like a sect amongst many others; they would rather be outside the pale of the law, and be persecuted; and this violent situation appears to them a mark of divinity. The faithful are pleased at persecution, for in the very fact that men hate them, they see a mark of their prerogative, for the wickedness of men, according to them, is naturally an enemy to truth.

There is nothing to prove that when Hadrian wished to rebuild Jerusalem, be consulted the Jews, or wished to come to any agreement with them. Nothing either leads us to believe that he entered 14into any relations with the Christians of Palestine, who, externally, had less to distinguish them from the Jews than Christians of other countries. In the eyes of the Christians, all the prophecies of Jesus would have been overthrown if the Temple had been rebuilt, whilst amongst the Jews there was a general expectation that it would be rebuilt. The Judaism of Jabneh, without Temple, without worship, had appeared as a short interregnum, and all uses which presupposed a still existing Temple, were preserved. The priests continued to receive the tithe, and the precepts of Levitical purity were still strictly observed. The obligatory sacrifices were adjourned till the Temple should be rebuilt, but Jews alone could rebuild it; the slightest deviation from any injunction of the Law, would have been quite enough to cause the cry of Sacrilege to be raised. It was better in the eyes of pious Jews, to see the sanctuary inhabited by beasts of prey, than to owe its re-building to a profane jester, who afterwards would not have failed to utter some epigram about those extraordinary gods whose altars he nevertheless restored.

For the Jews, Jerusalem was something almost as sacred as the Temple itself. In fact, they did not distinguish one from the other, and at that time they already called the city by the name of Beth hammigdas. The only feeling which the hasidim felt when they heard that the city of God was going to be rebuilt without them, was one of rage. It was very shortly after the extermination which Quietus and Turbo had carried out, and Judea was weighed down by an extraordinary terror. It was impossible to move, but from that time forward it was allowable to foresee in the future a revolution that should be even more terrible than those which had preceded it,


About 122, probably, Hadrian issued his orders, and the reconstruction commenced. The population consisted chiefly of veterans and strangers, and no doubt it was not necessary to keep out the Jews, as their own feelings would have been enough to have caused them to flee. It seems that, on the other hand, the Christians returned to the city with a certain amount of eagerness, as soon as it was habitable. It was divided into seven quarters or groups of houses, each with an amphodarch over it. As the immense foundations of the Temple were still in existence, that seemed the fittest spot on which to place the principal sanctuary of the new city. Hadrian took care that the temples which be erected in the Eastern Provinces should call to mind the Roman religion, and the connection between the provinces and the metropolis. In order to point out the victory of Rome over a local religion, the temple was dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus, the god of Rome, above all others a god whose attitude and grave demeanour recalled Jehovah, and to whom, since the time of Vespasian, the Jews had paid tribute. It was a tetrastyle building, and like in most of the temples erected by Hadrian, the entablature of the pediment was broken by an arch, under which was placed a colossal figure of the god.

The worship of Venus was no less intended than that of Jupiter by the choice of the founder of the colony. Everywhere Hadrian built temples to her, the protectress of Rome, and the most important of his personal edifices was that great temple of Venus and Rome, the remains of which can still be seen near the Coliseum, and so it was only natural that Jerusalem should have, by the side of its temple of Jupiter Capitolinus its temple of Venus and Rome. It happened that this second temple was not far from Golgotha, and this fact gave rise, later on, to singular reflections on the part of the Christians. 16In this close approximation they thought that they discerned an insult to Christianity, of which Hadrian certainly never thought. The works proceeded but slowly, and when, two years later, Hadrian retraced his steps towards the West, the new Colonia Ælia Capitolina was still more a project than a reality.

For a long time a strange story went about amongst the Christians, to the effect that a Greek of Sinope, called Aquila, who was nominated overseer of the works for the rebuilding of Ælia by Hadrian, knew the disciples of the Apostles at Jerusalem, and that, struck by their piety and their miracles, he was baptised. But no change in his morals followed on his change of religion. He was given to the follies of astrology; every day he cast his horoscope, and was looked upon as a learned man of the first order in such matters. The Christians regarded all such practices with an unfavourable eye, and the heads of the Church addressed remonstrances to their new brother, who took no notice of them, and set himself up against the views of the Church. Astrology led him into grave errors on fatalism and man’s destiny, and his incoherent mind tried to associate together things which were utterly opposed to each other.

The Church saw that he could not possibly merit salvation, and he was driven outside the pale, in consequence of which he always entertained a profound hatred for her. His relations with Adrian may have been the reason why that Emperor seems to have had such an intimate acquaintance with the Christians.

« Prev Chapter II. The Re-building of Jerusalem. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection