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The Jewish catastrophe of the year 134 was almost as advantageous for the Christians as that of the year 70 had been. In their eyes, everything that savoured of the law of Moses must have appeared to be abrogated without a chance of return; faith alone, 140and the merits of the death of Jesus, were all that remained. Hadrian did a signal service to Christianity when he prevented a Jewish restoration of Jerusalem. Ælia, peopled, like all the colonies were, by veterans and common people from different parts, was no fanatical city, but, on the contrary, a centre disposed to receive Christianity. As a rule, the colonies were inclined to adopt the religious ideas of the countries to which they were transported. They would not have thought of embracing Judaism, but Christianity, on the other hand, received everybody. During the whole course of its three thousand years of history, it was only for those two hundred years, from Hadrian to Constantine, that human life had unfolded freely within its bosom idolatrous forms of worship, established on the ruins of the Jewish religion, complacently adopted more than one Jewish practice. The Pool of Bethesda continued to be a place of healing, even for the heathen, and to work its miracles as in the times of Jesus and of the apostles, in the name of the great impersonal God. For their part, the Christians continued, without exciting any feeling except one of pious admiration in the breasts of the worthy veterans who formed the colony, to perform their cures by means of oil and sacred washings. The traditions of that Church of Jerusalem were distinguished by a special character of superstition, and, of course, thaumaturgy. The holy places, especially the cave and the manger at Bethlehem, were shown, even to the heathen. Journeys to those places sanctified by Jesus and the apostles, began within the first years of the third century, and replaced the former pilgrimages to the temple of Jehovah. When St Paul took a deputation of his churches to Jerusalem, he took them to the Temple, and surely he was thinking neither of Golgotha nor of Bethlehem. Now on the other hand, men strove to retrace the life 141of Jesus, and a topography of the Gospel was formed. The site of the Temple was known, and, close to it, the stela of James, the Martyr, brother of the Saviour, was venerated.

Thus the Christians reaped the fruits of their prudent conduct during the insurrection of Bar-Coziba. They had suffered for Rome that had persecuted them; and in Syria, at least, they found the prize of their meritorious fidelity. Whilst the Jews were punished for their ignorance and their blindness, the Church of Jesus, faithful to the Spirit of her Master, and, like Him, indifferent to politics, was peaceably developing in Judea and the neighbouring countries. The expulsion of the Jews was also the lot of those Christians who were circumcised and kept the Law, but not of those uncircumcised Christians who only practised the precepts of Noah. That latter circumstance made such a difference for their whole life that men were classified by it, and not by faith or disbelief in Jesus. The Hellenistic Christians formed a group in Ælia, under the presidency of a certain Mark. Till then, what was called the Church of Jerusalem had had no priest who was not circumcised, and, more than that, out of regard for the old Jewish nucleus, nearly all the faithful of that Church united the observation of the Law with belief in Jesus. From that time the Church in Jerusalem was wholly Hellenistic, and her bishops were all Greeks, as they were called. But this second Church did not inherit the importance of the former one. Hierarchically subordinate to Cæsarea, she only occupied a relatively humble position in the universal Church of Jesus, and nothing more was heard of the Church of Jerusalem till two hundred years later.

In those countries the controversy with the Jews became an object of paramount importance. The Christians thought them much more difficult to 142convert than the heathen, and they were accused of subtlety and of bad faith in the discussions. It was alleged that as beforehand they had made up their minds to baffle their antagonists, they only looked at minutiæ, at slight inexactitudes, in which they easily got the better. What was said to them about the life of Jesus irritated them, and no doubt the antipathy that they felt for the accounts of the virginal birth of the pretended Messiah, inspired them with the fable of the soldier and of the prostitute who, according to them, were the real authors of that birth, which was allowed to be irregular. Arguments taken from the Scriptures did not affect them any more, and they lost their patience when certain passages were brought up against them in which it appeared as if God were mentioned in the plural. The passage in Genesis: “Let us make man in our own image,” particularly irritated them. A pretty Haggada was invented to guard against that objection: “When God was dictating the Pentateuch to Moses, and He got to the word naase, ‘let us make,’ Moses was very much astonished, and refused to write it down, and vehemently rebuked the Eternal for thus striking a mortal blow at Monotheism. The Eternal, however, maintained his wording, and said, 'Let him who wishes to be deceived, deceive himself’!” The Jews generally admitted that wherever in the Bible there was a passage that was favourable to the plurality of the Divine persons, God, by special providence, has so disposed matters that the refutation is found side by side with it.

The essential matter for the Christians was to prove that Jesus had accomplished all the texts of the prophets and the psalms which were thought to apply to the Messiah. Nothing can equal the arbitrariness with which the Messianic application was carried out. The Christian exegesis was the 143same as that of the Talmud and of the Midraschim: it was the very denial of the historical meaning. The texts were cut up like so much dead matter, and every phrase, separated from its context, was applied without scruple to the prominent prejudice of the moment. Already the Evangelists who wrote at second hand, especially pseudo-Matthew, had sought for prophetic reasons for all the facts of the life of Jesus. Men went much further than that. Not only did Christian exegetes torture the Septuagint version so as to obtain from it anything that might fit into their thesis and abuse the new translators who weakened the arguments which they drew from it, but they forged some passages. The wood of the cross was introduced into Psalm xcvi. 10, where it had never figured; the descent into hell, into Jeremiah; and when the Jews cried out, protesting that nothing like it was found in the text, they were told that they had mutilated the text out of pure spite and bad faith, and that,. for example, they had cut the account of the prophet being sawn in two by a wood saw out of the book of Isaiah, because that passage brought to mind the crime which they had committed against Jesus, too well. A convinced and ardent apologist finds no difficulty in anything. They referred to the official registers of the returns of Quirinius, which never existed, and to a pretended report of Pilate to Tiberius, that had been forged.

Dialogue seemed to be a convenient form by which to attain to the wished-for object in these controversies. A certain Ariston of Pella, doubtlessly the same from whom Eusebius has borrowed the account of the Jewish war under Hadrian, wrote a discussion that was supposed to have taken place between Jason, a Jew who had been converted to Christianity and Papiscus, a Jew of Alexandria, who obstinately adhered to his ancient faith. As usual, the war was 144waged by means of Biblical texts; Jason proved that all the Messianic passages were accomplished in Jesus. The admirers of the book asserted that Jason’s Hebraic arguments were so strong, and his eloquence so gentle, that there was no resisting it. Papiscus, in fact, at the end of the dialogue, his heart enlightened by the infusion of the Holy Ghost, recognised the truth of Christianity, and asked Jason to baptise him. However, the book was not received with unanimous approval. The author appeared almost too simple-minded, and it was thought what he wrote about the Scripture bordered on the ridiculous. Celsus eagerly seized the opportunity of making fun of it, and Origen only defended it in an embarrassed manner, allowing that it was one of the least valuable books that had ever been written in the defence of religion, and recognising it as more fit to instruct the simple than to satisfy the learned. Eusebius and St Jerome gave it up altogether; it was not copied, and so it was lost.

Another very inferior book that appeared in Judea has preserved for us the echo of these intestine broils. The author made use of the wills or rather of the recommendations that he put into the mouths of the patriarchs, Jacob’s sons, as the basis of his writing. The language of the original is that Greek interspersed with Hebraisms which is the language of the greater part of the New Testament writings. The quotations are taken from the Septuagint. The author was a born Jew, but he belonged to Paul’s party, for he speaks of the great apostle in a tone of enthusiasm, and he shows himself most severe towards his former co-religionists, whom he accuses of felony and treason. In the work, traces of nearly all the writings in the New Testament are to be found, and the two Bibles are comprehended under the common term of “The Holy Books,” and the book of Enoch is quite confidently 145quoted as being inspired. Never was the divinity of Jesus spoken of in grander terms. It was because they had slain Jesus and denied his resurrection that the Jews were captives, dispersed over the whole world, given up to the influence of Satan and of demons. Since their apostacy, the spirit of God has gone over to the heathen. Israel will again be gathered together from the dispersion, but it will have the disgrace of not associating itself till late with the converted Gentiles.

A striking vision expresses the sentiments of the author with regard to his ancient race. Napthali relates that one day in a dream he saw himself sitting with his brothers and his father on the shore of the lake Jabneh where they saw a vessel sailing at random. It was laden with mummies, and had neither crew nor captain, and its name was The Ship of Jacob. The patriarchal family embarked on it, but soon a terrible tempest arose, and the father, who was holding the rudder, disappeared like a phantom; Joseph saved himself on the mast, the others escaped on ten planks, Levi and Juda on the same one. The shipwrecked men were dispersed in all directions; but Levi, clothed in sackcloth, prayed to the Lord, when the tempest was stilled, the vessel reached the land in the midst of a profound calm, the ship-wrecked men found their father Jacob again, and joy became universal.

The intention of the author of the testaments of the twelve patriarchs had been to enrich the list of the writings contained in the sacred canon; his book is of the same order as the pseudo-Daniel, the pseudo-Esdras, the pseudo-Baruch, the pseudo-Enoch. Its success, however, was not the same. By its declamatory tone and its emphatic commonplaceness, by an exaggerated severity towards the pleasures of love and the luxury of women, by its severe tirades against the Jews, the book was 146calculated to edify the pious faithful; but the time for great successes with regard to frauds in the Canon of Scripture was passed; already a tolerably strong hedge surrounded the sacred volume and prevented fresh compositions being furtively inserted. so the book was only received in very restricted fractions of the Church. However, as it was altogether Christian and anti-Jewish, it did not share in the reprobation with which the Greek Church visited apocryphal Jewish and Judeo-Christian literature. Copies of it were multiplied, and the original Greek was preserved in a good number of manuscripts.

The philosopher Justin of Neapolis, in Samaria, was a much more valuable defender whom the Church acquired at about that period. His father, Priscus, or his grandfather, Bacchius, doubtlessly belonged to the colony which Vespasian established at Sychem, and which procured for that town the name of Flavia Neapolis. His family was heathen, and gave him a careful Hellenistic education. Justin had more heart and religious requirements than rational faculties. He read Plato, tried the different philosophical schools of his time, and as happens to ardent but not very judicious minds, he found satisfaction in none of them. He required the impossible from those schools. He wanted a complete solution of all the problems which the universe and the human conscience raise. The sincere avowal of powerlessness which his different masters made to him attracted him towards the disciples of Jesus. He was the first man who became a Christian through scepticism, the first who embraced the supernatural, that is to say, the negation of reason, because he was out of temper with reason.

He has related to us, with too much art for his account to be looked upon as an exact autobiography, how he went through all the sects, his errors, the charm which the Jewish revelation exercised on him 147when he knew it, and the manner in which the prophets led him to Christ. What struck him above all was the eight of the morality of the Christians and the spectacle of their indomitable firmness. The other forms of Judaism, by which he was surrounded, especially the sect of Simon Magus, only filled him with disgust. The philosophical turn which Christianity was already assuming had great attractions for him. He adhered to the dress of the philosophers, that pallium which was nothing but an index of an austere life devoted to asceticism, and which many Christians were fond of wearing. In his eyes his conversion was no rupture with philosophy. He was fond of repeating that he had only begun to be a real philosopher from that day; that he had only abandoned the writings of Plato for those of the prophets, and profane philosophy for a new philosophy—the only sure system, the only one which gives repose and peace to those who profess it.

The attraction which Rome possessed over all the sectaries made itself felt by Justin. Shortly after his conversion he set out for the capital of the world, and there it was that he composed those Apologies, which, by the side of Quadratus and Aristides, were the first manifestation of Christianity to the eyes of a public initiated to philosophy. His antipathy for the Jews, which was inflamed by the recollection of the recent acts of violence of Bar-Coziba, inspired him with another work, whose exegesis was as singular as that of Ariston of Pella, and in which error and injustice have perhaps been pushed even further.

In fact, the parts were changed. The heathen entered the Church in crowds, and became its most numerous members. The two great bonds that attached the new worship to Judaism—the Passover and the Sabbath—were getting looser day by day. Whilst in St Paul’s day the Christian who did not observe the law of Moses was hardly tolerated, and 148was constrained to make all kinds of humiliating concessions, it was now the Judaising Christian whom it was not wished to exclude from the Church. If he was irreproachable in his faith in Jesus Christ and in his obedience to the commandments, if he was persuaded of the inefficacy of the Law, if he only wished to observe a part of it by way of a pious remembrance, if he would not in any way trouble those Gentiles whom Jesus Christ had truly circumcised and brought out of error, if he was not guilty of any propaganda to persuade those latter to submit to the same practices as he did himself, if he did not hold up these practices as obligatory and necessary for salvation, he might be saved. This, at any rate, was what men of large mind admitted. But there were others who neither dared to have intercourse nor to live with those who observed the Law in any shape.

“As for me,” Justin says, “I believe that when a person, from weakness of understanding, wishes to observe as much as he can of that Law which was imposed upon the Jews because of the hardness of their heart, when, at the same time, that person hopes in Jesus Christ, and is determined to satisfy all the eternal and natural duties of justice and of piety, that he makes no difficulty in living with other Christians without wishing to induce them to be circumcised or keep the Sabbath, I believe, I repeat, that such a person ought to be received to friendly intercourse in every way. But any Jews who pretend to believe in Jesus Christ and wish to force the faithful Gentiles to observe the Law, I reject absolutely. . . . Those who, after having known and confessed that Jesus is the Christ, abandon their faith because they are persuaded by these obstinate-minded men in order to go over to the Law of Moses, whatever may be their reason for doing so, will find no salvation unless they acknowledge their fault before their death.”


Origen looks at matters in a similar fashion. Jews who have become Christians, according to him, have abandoned the Law. Jews who observe the Law as Christians are Ebionites and sectaries, because they value circumcision and practices that Jesus has abolished. Logic accomplished itself. It was inevitable that a duality which prevented Christians from eating together even at Easter, must end in a complete schism.

From the middle of the second century, in fact, the hatred between the two religions was sealed. The quiet disciples of Jesus, and the Jews who were exiled for their territorial fanaticism, became daily more mutually furious. According to the Christians, a new people had been substituted for the ancient. The Jews accused the Christians of apostacy, and subjected them to real persecution.

“They treat us like enemies, as if they were at war with us, killing us and torturing us when they can, just as you do yourselves,” Justin said to the Romans.

Women who wished to become converts were scourged in the synagogues and stoned. The Jews reproached the Christians for no longer sharing the anger and the griefs of Israel. The Christians began to inflict a reproach on the whole Jewish nation which certainly neither Peter, nor James, nor the author of the Apocalypse would have addressed to them, that of having crucified Jesus. Up till then his death had been looked upon as Pilate’s crime, as that of the High Priests and of certain Pharisees, but not of the whole of Israel. Now the Jews were made to appear as a decided nation, one that assassinated God’s envoys and rebelled against the clearest prophecies. The Christians made a sort of dogma out of the non-reconstruction of the Temple, and looked upon those as their most mortal enemies who put forward any pretensions to giving the lie to their prophecies on this matter. As a matter of fact, the Temple was not 150restored till the time of Omar, that is to say, at the period when Christianity in its turn was conquered at Jerusalem. When Omar wished to be shown the holy site, he found that the Christians had converted it into a place for depositing filth, out of hatred for the Jews.

The Ebionites or Nazarenes, who had for the most part retired to the other side of the Jordan, naturally did not share these sentiments. They were a numerous body, and by decrees gained possession of Paneas, all the country of the Nabateans, Hauran, and Moab. They kept up their relations with the Jews and Aquiba, and the most celebrated doctors were known to them; Aquila was their favourite translator, but the mistakes that they made with regard to the period at which those two teachers flourished, proves that they had only received a vague echo of their celebrity. Besides this, the writers of the Catholic Church speak about two sorts of Ebionites, one of which retained all the Jewish ideas, and only attributed an ordinary birth to Jesus, whereas the other agreed with St Paul in admitting that observances were necessary only for Israelites by blood, and admitted that Jesus had a supernatural birth, such as is recounted in the first chapter of Matthew. The dogmas of the Ebionite school followed the same line of development as those of the Catholic Church; by degrees, even in that direction, there was a tendency to elevate Jesus above humanity.

Although they were excluded from Jerusalem as being circumcised, the Ebionites of the East were always supposed to dwell in the Holy City. The Ebionites of the rest of the world still looked upon the Church of Jerusalem as it had been in the time of Peter and James as the peaceful capital of Christendom. Jerusalem is the universal kibla of Judeo-Christianity; the Elkasaites, who observed 151that kibla to the letter, only symbolised the general feeling. But such a resistance to evidence could not last long. Soon Judeo-Christianity had no longer a mother, and Nazarene or Ebionite traditions existed no longer except amongst the scattered sectaries of Syria.

Hated by the Jews, almost strangers to the Churches of St Paul, the Judeo-Christians decreased daily. It was not with them as it was with other Churches, which were all situated in large cities, and participated in the general civilisation, for they were scattered about in unknown villages, to which no rumours from the outside world had access. Episcopacy was the product of great cities: they had no Episcopacy. Thus having no organised hierarchy, deprived of the ballast of Catholic orthodoxy, tossed about by every wind, they were more or less lost in Essenism and Elkaism. With them the Messianic belief resulted in an endless theory about angels. The theosophy and the asceticism of the Essenes caused the merits of Jesus to be forgotten; abstinence from flesh, and the ancient precepts of the Nazarites, assumed an exaggerated importance. The literature of the Ebionites, which was all in Hebrew, appears to have been weak. Only their old Hebrew gospel, which resembled that of Matthew, preserved its value. The converted Jews who knew no Greek were fond of it, and still made it their gospel in the fourth century. Their Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, were more or less sophisticated. The journeys of Peter, which are scarcely mentioned in the canonical Acts, received a large development through their imagination. They added on to them some wretched apocryphas, which were attributed to some of the prophets and apostles, and in which James seems to have played a principal part. Hatred for St Paul breathes out of all those writings, the like of which we shall find written in Greek at Rome.


Such a false position was sure to condemn Ebionism to death. “Wishing to maintain an intermediary position,” Epiphanius wittily remarks, “Ebion was nothing, and in him this saying was accomplished: ‘I came near suffering every misfortune, party wall as I am between the Church and the synagogue.’” St Jerome also says that because they wished to be Jews and Christians at the same time, they did not succeed in being either Jews or Christians. Thus at the very birth of Christianity occurred what has happened in nearly all religious movements. The first century of the Hegira witnessed the extermination of the companions, relations, and friends of Mahomet, of all those, in a word, who wished to enjoy the monopoly of that revolution of which they were the authors. In the Franciscan movement, the real disciples of St Francis d’Assisi found, at the end of a generation, that they were dangerous heretics who were given up to the flames by hundreds.

The fact is that in those first days of a creative activity ideas progress with giant strides: the imitator soon becomes retrograde, and a heretic amongst his own sect, an obstacle to its views, which wish to progress in spite of him, and thus often insult and kill him. He does not advance any more, and everything is advancing around him. The Ebionim, for whom the first Beatitude had been pronounced (Blessed are the Ebionim!), were now a scandal for the Church, and their pure doctrine was looked on as blasphemy. Certainly the jokes of Origen, and the insults of Epiphanius towards the real founders of Christianity, have something offensive about them. On the other hand, it is certain that the Ebionim of Kokaba would not have transformed the world if Christianity had remained a Jewish sect; a small Talmud would have been the result, and the Thora would never have been abandoned. In time the relations of Jesus would have become a religious aristocracy, 153which would have been intolerable and destructive to the work of Jesus. Like nearly all the descendants of great men, they would have laid claim to the inheritance of his genius, or of his sanctity, and would have treated those with disdain whom Jesus would, with much more reason, have taken as his spiritual family. Like the heirs of some celebrated writer, they would have wished to keep what he had thought and felt for the benefit of all to themselves. The lowly Jesus would have become a principle of vanity for some foolish people; the desposyni would have been persuaded that their great-great uncle had preached and had been crucified to obtain religious titles and honours in the synagogue for them. Jesus seems to have feared this serious mistake; one day, stretching out his hand to his disciples, he said with perfect truth,—

Behold, my mother and my brethren. Whoever does the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Ebionism and Nazaraism continued till the fifth or sixth centuries in the more remote parts of Syria, especially in the countries beyond Jordan, which was the refuge of all the sects, as well as in the region of Alep, and in the island of Cyprus. Persecuted by the orthodox emperors, it disappeared in the whirlwind of Islam. In one sense it might be said that it was continued by Islam. Yes, Islamism is, in many respects, the prolongation or rather the revenge of Nazaraism. Christianity, such as the Greek polytheists and metaphysicians had made it, could not suit the Syrians or Arabs, who held strongly to the view of separating God from man, and who required the greatest religious simplicity. The heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries, having their centre in Syria, are a sort of permanent protestation against the exaggerated doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which the Greek fathers 154brought so prominently forward. Theodoret asked himself how he, who is the author of life, could become mortal. He, who has suffered, is a man whom God took from our midst. Sufferings belong to man, who is passible. It was the form of the servant which sufered. Ibas, of Edessa, said:—

I do not envy Christ, who has become God, for I may become what he has become.

And on Easter Day he ventured to express himself thus:

To-day, Jesus has become immortal.

That is the pure Ebionite or Nazarene doctrine. Islamism says nothing more. Mahomet knew Christianity from those communities established beyond the Jordan which were opposed to the Council of Nicæa and to the councils which it developed. For him, Christians are Nazarenes. Mussulman Docetism has its roots in the same sects. If Islamism substitutes the Kibla of Mecca for that of Jerusalem, on the other hand it renders the greatest honour to the site of the Temple: the mosque of Omar rises from that ground which was defiled by the Christians. Omar himself worked to clear away the filth, and pure monotheism rebuilt its fortress on Mount Moriah. It is often said that Mahomet was an Arian: that is not exact. Mahomet was a Nazarene, a Judeo-Christian. Under him Semitic monotheism regained its rights, and avenged itself for those mythological and polytheistic complications which Greek genius had introduced into the theology of the first disciples of Jesus.

There was one direction in which the Hebrew Ebionites were important in the literary work of the Universal Church. The study of Biblical Hebrew, which was so neglected in Paul’s Churches, continued to flourish amongst them. From their midst, or from the midst of neighbouring sects, there sprang 155the celebrated translators Symmachus and Theodosion. They are represented now as Ebionites now as Samaritans, always as proselytes, deserters, Judaising heretics. The controversies with regard to the Messianic prophecies, especially with regard to the Alma, the alleged virgin mother of Isaiah, brought men back to the study of the text. The Hebrew Gospel and its slightly altered brother the Gospel of St Matthew, with its legends and genealogies at the beginning, were another object of polemics. Symmachus, above all, seems to have been a universally respected doctor in those distant Churches.

It was under conditions which differed but little from those that have been described that, apparently, the Syriac version of the Old Testament, called Peschito, was made. According to some, Greeks were its authors; according to others, Judeo-Christians; it is, however, certain that Jews collaborated in it, as it is produced directly from the Hebrew, and as it has some passages which are remarkably parallel with the Targums. According to all appearances, this version was produced at Edessa. Later, when Christianity dominated in those countries, the New Testament writings were translated into a dialect which is altogether analagous to that of the ancient Peschito.

That school of Hebraising Christians did not outlive the second century. The orthodoxy of the Hellenistic Churches was always suspicious of Hebraic truth; piety did not inspire men with any wish to consult it, and the study of Hebrew offered almost insurmountable obstacles to any one who was not a Jew. Origen, Dorotheus of Antioch, and St Jerome were exceptions. Even Jews who were living in Greek or Latin countries greatly neglected the ancient text. Rabbi Meir, obliged to go to Asia, could not find a Hebrew copy of the book of Esther 156amongst the inhabitants; he wrote it for them from memory, so that he might be able to read it in the synagogue on the day of Purim. It is certain that, but for the Jews of the East, the Hebrew text of the Bible would have been lost. By preserving that invaluable document of the old Semitic world for us, the Jews have rendered a service to the human race which is equal to that which the Brahmins have rendered it by preserving the Vedas.

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