350 AD to AD 370, Psalm 65: Julian.

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Cyril_of_Jerusalem_and_the_destruction_of_JerusalemThis generation is that of the 350s and 360s.

At the death of Constantine, the reins of the empire were divided between his two sons Constant and Constance, the third son Constantine II being quickly eliminated.
This sharing, Constant for the West and Constance for the East, lasts ten years until 350, until the dawn of our generation.
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Constant is overthrown by Magnence, a legion commander. He becomes master of Gaul of Africa and Italy. Constance begins to fight him and 351 and 353 overcomes him and thus becomes master of the entire empire he heads for eight years until his death in 361.
It is Julien who succeeds him, he wants to restore paganism, but the short duration of his reign (361-363) does not allow him to shake triumphant Christianity.

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His successors, Valentinian and Valens, two brothers divide the empire again in two. Valentinian takes the west and Valens, the east. This sharing remains in force until the end of this generation.
Faced with the inexorable rise of monotheistic competitions that are Christianity and Islam, this generation marks a very short break. In coming to power, Julien tries to counter Christianity by restoring ancient pagan cults and trying to favor Judaism without sympathy, but only through political calculation.
Passionate about sacrificial (pagan) worship, he tries to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem:
  • A short interlude [1] without great consequences for the Judaism of Palestine was offered by the reign of the Emperor Julian, named « the Apostate » by the Christians; an interlude, of course, but one that saw no less resurgence of the hopes of a national renaissance.
  • Julian was the nephew of Constantine the Great and half-brother of Gallus; Constance instituted Caesar in Gaul in 355. Five years later, the troops acclaimed him august. There was no open struggle with Constance, for he died suddenly in November 361. In doing so, Julian found himself alone at the head of the Empire, and in December 361 he went to Constantinople.
  • It was in the same year that Julian published the first « edicts of tolerance » which reactivated the pagan cults and reduced the influence of Christianity. Partisan of a Helena-syncretic religion (tinged with neo-Platonism), Julien attempted to revive pagan institutions, especially sacrifices, and to abolish Christian prerogatives within the state and society. To this end, he authorized the bishops declared « heretics » by his predecessors to return to their episcopal see in the hope – not illusory – of weakening the Church by reviving dogmatic quarrels.
  • Vis-à-vis Judaism, he had an ambiguous position. On the one hand, he saw the origin of the Christianity he was fighting against, and, above all, refused the claim of the chosen people of the Jews. On the other hand, the Jewish cult of the Temple joined his predilection for sacrifices and seemed to him a good way to defeat Christianity. Added to this was the political calculation that the Jews of Mesopotamia could be of great help to him in his campaign against the Persians if he opted for a resolutely philosemite policy. In the attitude of Julian to the Jews, he mixes considerations of religious politics and politics « politician » that is difficult to discern.
  • In deciding to go to war against the Persians in 362, Julien seems to have pursued, among other things, the aim of demonstrating by a victory over the Persians and a « definitive » pacification of the eastern frontier of the empire, the merits of his new politics and the power of the pagan gods. In July, 362, he arrived at Antioch, where he immediately entered into conflict with the people who seemed to love luxury and ordered, among other things, the closing of the largest church. According to Christian sources – the Jewish sources do not know anything about this – he also received a Jewish delegation to which he gave permission, during an official audience, to rebuild the Temple.
This rebuilding of the Temple is obviously part of the aspirations of the Jewish people as David reminds us in the beginning of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 65 associated to this generation, verses 1 to  5 )

  • For the conductor, a psalm of David, a song.
  • Silence is praise to You, O God in Zion, and to You a vow is paid.
  • You, Who hearken to prayer, to You all flesh shall come.
  • Words of iniquities have overcome me; as for our transgressions, You shall atone for them.
  • Praiseworthy is he whom You choose and draw near to dwell in Your courts; let us be sated with the goodness of Your house, the sanctity of Your Temple.

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Julien, who begins to gain the upper hand over the Persians, dies prematurely during the campaign. The construction of the Temple does not succeed:
  • In March 363 [2], Julien goes to war against the Parthians. This is the time when work began in Jerusalem on the erection of the Temple. A high official of the empire, Alypius of Antioch, is in charge of it. But as early as May of the same year, the works appear to have been interrupted. The causes are mysterious. Christian sources speak of earthquakes and a fire that would have fallen from Heaven as well as many miracles that would have accompanied these events. The Roman historian Ammian Marcellin, perhaps the surest source, evokes terrifying balls of fire springing every time « near the foundations » and which burned several workers; the ecclesiastical writer Rufin also speaks of fire and earthquake. Some have speculated that this fire was the main cause of the abandonment of the works and that the Christians were not strangers to the fire. Such an act of sabotage is certainly not to be excluded, but it seems more likely that there was an earthquake (something common at the time) resulting in a fire. It goes without saying that Christians attributed events to direct divine intervention.
David confirms this natural cause by recalling in the sequel of the psalm that God is the master of the elements:

(extract of the psalm 65 associated to this generation, verses 6 to  8 )

  • With awesome deeds, through [Your] charity You shall answer us, God of our salvation, the trust of all the distant ends of the earth and the sea.
  • Who sets mountains with His strength, Who is girded with might.
  • Who humbles the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the multitude of kingdoms.
In fact, this reconstruction of the temple was not necessarily the taste of the Jews, for which it was both unjustified and premature. Unjustified, because the construction wanted by Julien is not intended to glorify the God of Israel but rather to trivialize it by making it enter the pantheon of the gods of pagan Rome and as it is in the service of Rome by through sacrifices.
Premature, because the rebuilding of the temple should be done only simultaneously with the coming of the Messiah, that is to say when the Jewish people will be reunited on their land and that they will have ended their exile among the nations, and, that these sufficiently imbued with monotheism Christian or Muslim will be able to recognize the election of the people of Israel.
But in the generation that interests us, even if Christianity begins its dominating course, the world is not yet sensitized to monotheism, only an elite of the new empire is sensitized, soon the « barbarian » peoples of Europe who are at the gates of this empire will enter and will then access in their turn to the new religion.
At the same time, the resistance of the Persian empire to the armies of the empire will favor the East / West dichotomy, which in a few generations, after the appearance of Mohammed, will be transformed into a Christian / Islam dichotomy.
This generation is therefore no longer a seed stage of monotheism in the nations, it is the priority, the dawn of the people of Israel will be for later.
It is in this context that David concludes his psalm:

(extract of the psalm 65 associated to this generation, verses 9 to 10 to 14 )

  • And the dwellers of the ends fear Your signs; with the emergence of morning and evening, You cause [them] to sing praises. 
    • David evokes the spread of the fear of God to the nations through nascent monotheisms.
  • You remember the earth and water it; You enrich it greatly with the stream of God which is full of water; You prepare their corn for so do You prepare it. 
    • Although these monotheisms are apparently competing to Judaism and they will even harshly oppose it, God will promote hatching to open the eyes of the nations. For his kindness (the stream of God which is full of water) is not limited to Israel.
  • To sate its furrows, to afford pleasure to its troops; with raindrops You dissolve it, You bless its plants.
  • You crowned a year of Your goodness, and Your paths drip with fatness.
  • They drip upon the dwellings of the desert, and hills gird themselves with joy.
  • Meadows are clothed with flocks, and valleys are enwrapped with corn; they shout for joy, yea, they sing. 
    • No region of the world will be forgotten, including the desert areas, so that the knowledge of God floods the world with its benefits.
The election of the people of Israel is not intended to injure friendly nations, but, on the contrary, to bring them to the knowledge of God. This conclusion of the psalm is a response to Julien’s questioning about this election:
  • When he (Julian) speaks directly to the Jews themselves, he reproaches them for their exclusiveness, their claim to be the chosen people and their fundamental monotheism. The essential error is to have elevated to the rank of supreme and unique deity a national and local God, an « ethnarch » who, provided that he consented to be only that, could find a place in the pantheon of Hellenism restored (by Julien). « Why this God, if he is not only Jews but also Gentiles, has he largely given to the Jews the gift of prophecy, and Moses and the clergy, the prophets and the Law, and all this wonderful whose speak the myths? Why did not we give us all this? It has, during myriads or at least thousands of years, left the peoples, in the worst ignorance, from the rising to the setting sun, from north to south, serving idols – as you say – with the exception of an insignificant race which for the last two thousand years had been established in a corner of Palestine. Why, if he is really our God at all, creator of good things, has he pay little attention to us so ?  »

 

 

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[1] Peter Schäfer (French translation by Pascale Schulte): « History of the Jews in antiquity » / Chapter « The uprising of Bar Kokheba » / « The restoration of Julian the Apostate (361-363) » (French: « Histoire des Juifs dans l’antiquité »/Chapitre « Du soulèvement de Bar Kokheba/La restauration de Julien l’Apostat (361-363 » (p210/211) ).

[2] Peter Schäfer (French translation by Pascale Schulte): « History of the Jews in antiquity » / Chapter « The uprising of Bar Kokheba » / « The restoration of Julian the Apostate (361-363) » (French: « Histoire des Juifs dans l’antiquité »/Chapitre « Du soulèvement de Bar Kokheba/La restauration de Julien l’Apostat (361-363 » (p212/213) ).

[3] Marcel Simon: « Verus Israel » / Chapter: « Rome, Judaism and Christianity » (French: « Verus Israël »/Chapitre : « Rome, Judaïsme et Christianisme » (p140) ).