A STUDY INTO HISTORIAL WRITINGS
THE MALEDICTION OF THE CHRISTIANS
With the destruction of Jerusalem and the reconstitution of
the Sanhedrin at Jamnia under the presidency of Rabbis instead of
priests, there begins a new phase of hostility toward the Chris-
tians. From open and coercive persecution, we pass now to more
subtle and sophisticated opposition. Richardson observes that "it
is not until the renewed Zealot government of 132-135 that one
hears directly of Jewish persecution of Christians again." 59
Though on the one hand, in this period of about 60 years from the
destruction of Jerusalem to the revolt of Barkokeba, the new
authorities constituted at Jamnia, do not undertake an active
persecution against the Christians (due both to the strict
surveillance of the Romans and possibly to a new more liberal
orientation 60 - since
58 See above pp. 25-26.
59 Richardson, "Israel," p.44, footnote 5.
60 J. Neusner, "A Life of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai," ca.
A.D. 1-80 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1962), pp.112-125, 147, presents
concisely the attitude of the new religious leaders of Jamnia as
well as their relationship with both the Christians and the
they did not support the cause of the revolutionary Zealots -),
it is worth noticing on the other hand that in this very period
they introduced a "test" designed to identify those who professed
Christian ideas, thus hastening the break with Christians. This
"test" which assume the form of a curse or excomunication, was
inserted in the famous prayer "Shemoneh Esreh" as the twelfth
benediction - "Birkath-ha-Minim" - and was to be recited with
loud voice by whomsoever was called to officiate in the
Harcel Simon reports the Palestinian text of the curse and
he suggests also the date of its introduction:
It is on the suggestion of R. Gamaliel II, a little after
the fall of Jerusalem and very likely in the neighbourhood
of the year A.D.80, that was inserted in the "Shemoneh
Esreh" the famous formula against the Minim: "May the
apostate have not any hope and may the empire of pride be
uprooted promptly in our days. May the Nazarenes and the
Minim perish in an instant, may they all be erased from the
book of life, that they may not be counted among the
righteous. Blessed be Thou, O God, who bringest down the
Although some question the identification of the Minim with
the Judea-Christians, 62
Dugmore convincingly points out that the evidence is overwhelm-
It is difficult to see how this view can be maintained, for
the statement of Jerome that it contained the express
condemnation of "Nazarenes " - a word which could only apply
to Jewish-Christians - has been proved up to the hilt by the
discovery of the original Palestinian text of the
malediction in a fragment from the Genizah at Fustat. 63
61 Simon, "Verus Israel," p.235. The date A.D.80-90 for the
introduction of the malediction, is accepted by practically all
scholars. For an extensive bibliography see W. Salvage,
"Aposunagogos" in TDNT, 7:798; Parkes, "The Conflict,"
corroborates the A.D.80-90 date by the following argumentation:
"This declaration, the 'Birkath-ha-minim,' was composed by Samuel
the Small, who lived in the second half of the first century. His
exact date we do not know, but he was contemporary of Gamaliel
11, who prosided at Jabne from 80 to 110, and was also acquainted
with two rabbi, who ware killed in the capture of Jerusalem in
70. We may therefore conclude that he was, older than Gamaliel,
and date the malediction which he composed to be between 80 and
62 Morris Goldstein, "Jesus in the Jewish Tradition" (New York:
Macmillan Co., 1950), pp.45ff., offers a concise summary of the
various interpretations attributed to the "Minim."
63 C. W. Dugmore, "The Influence of the Synagogue upon the Divine
Office" (London: The Faith Press, 1984), p.4. (Hereafter cited as
Dugmore, "Influence" Marcel Simon, Verus Israel Post-Scriptum
(Paris: E. de Boccard, 1964), p.500, defends in his Post-Scriptum
his application of the term "Minim" to the Christians and he
maintains that no objection to it has emerged in the literature
which has appeared since the publication of he work in 1948.
The Palestinian text to which Dugmore refers is the one
quoted above where it speaks specifically of the Nazarenes. But
even such Fathers as Justin, Epiphanies and Jerome speak
expressly of the malediction of the Christians under the name of
Nazarenes which was pronounced daily in the synagogues. 64
Jerome, for instance, writes explicitly: "ter per sigulos
dice in omnibus synagogis sub nomine Nazarenorum anathematizent
vocabulum Christianorum - three times daily in all the synagogues
under the name of the Nazarenes you curse the name of the
The purpose of the formula was not simply to cirse the
Christians but as Marcel Simon observes it constituted "a
truthful test" to discover them. He explains:
Since all the members of the community could be called upon
in turn, in the absence of the official priests, to
officiate in public worship, the method was certain: the
participant contaminated with heresy had necessarily to
hesitate to pronounce, with this benediction his own
condemnation. The Talmud stated very clearly: "Whenever
someone made a mistake in any benediction, be was allowed to
continue, but if it had to do with the benediction of the
Minim, he was to b called back to his place because
supposedly he was a Min." 66
J. Parkes notes that "the fact that the test was a statement
made m the synagogue service shows that at the time of making it
the Judeo-Christians still frequented the synagogue." 67
There would not have been any reason for prohibiting the
participation of the Judeo-Christians in the services of the
synagogue if these had not been present in the meetings. This ban
from the synagogue indicates, on one hand, that the rabbis of
Jamnia decided not to tolerate any longer the presence of
Judeo-Christians in their meetings, and on the other hand, that
Judeo-Christians, in spite of the disagreement about the Messiah,
still considered themselves essentially Jews. The fact that the
recitation of a set formula
64 Justin Martyr, "Dialogue cum Tryphone" 16; Epiphanies,
"Adversus Haereses" 29, 9, PG 41, 404, 405; Jerome, "In Isaiam,"
PL 24, 87 and 484.
65 Jerome, "In Isaiam," 5, 18, PL, 24, 87.
66 Simon, "Verus Israel," p.236.
67 Park, "The Conflict," p.78.
was introduced to identify them would seem to indicate that they
evidently behaved as ordinary members. But from now on the
separation became inevitable and subsequent events would
accelerate this process.
The hostility of the Jews towards the Judeo-Christians can
further be seen not only in the exclusion of the latter from the
synagogue but even in the various sayings attributed to rabbis,
in which the Christians are denounced and detested as more
dangerous than the pagans. 68
THE PERSECUTION OF BARKOKEBA
AND THE BREAK WITH JUDAISM
From a dilatory and exclusive attitude, the Jews of
Palestine passed again to a harsh and bloody attack against the
Judeo-Christians at the time of the ferocious revolt of Barkokeba
(A.D. 132-135), when for two or three years they were again the
masters of Judea. Justin, contemporary witness of the event,
In the recent Jewish war, Barkokeba, the leader of the
Jewish uprising, ordered that only the Christians should be
subjected to dreadful torments, unless they renounced and
blasphemed Jesus Christ. 69
The revolt, initiated about the year 132 by the provocatory
action of Hadrian which proscribed circumcision, 70 and ordered
the temple of Jerusalem rebuilt in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus
lasted for about three years, stirred up by a certain Simon,
nicknamed Barkokeba - which in Aramaic means "son of the star" -
who was supported as Messiah by the famous rabbi of the time,
68 See Heinrich Graetz, "History of the Jews," 6 vols.
(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1940),
4:112. (Hereafter cited as Graetz, "History Jews.") Joseph
Klausner, "Jesus of Nazareth" (New York: The Macmillan Company,
1944), pp.321 and 35-36 reports various deplorable name - as
Balaam - employed in the Talmudic literature to indicate Christ.
69 Justin Martyr, I "Apologia," 31, 6, trans. by Falls, "Justin's
70 Simon, "Verus Israel," p.126 observe: "It has been believed
mistakenly, sometimes, that the edict on the circumcision was
posterior to the war."
71 For a brief but valuable analysis of the events, see F. M.
Abel, "Histoire de to Palestine depuis is conquete d'Alexandre
jusqu'd I 'invasion arabe," 2 vols. (Paris: J. Gabalda, 1952), 1:
pp.83f.; 1. Abrahams, "Campaigns in Palestine from Alexander the
Great," Schweich: Lectures for 1922 (London: Oxford University
Press, 1927), pp.37f.
The Judeo-Christians already considered traitors for having
deserted Jerusalem in the war of the year 70, 72 and now
repudiators of the "Messiah" Barkokeba, suffered at this time a
massive and cruel persecution, the victims of an explosion of
nationalistic hatred. 73
The rebellion was crushed by Hadrian, with great losses on
both aides. Barkokeba, the fearless Akiba, and many instigators
were put to death. 74
The year 135 marks a decisive turning point in the
relationships between the Jews and Christians and in the internal
development of the Christian communities in Palestine. Marcel
Simon, in his penetrating study, is one of the few historians
that recognize the historical importance of the event. 75
As far as the present study is concerned, we shall limit
ourselves to a listing of some of the events connected with the
year 135 and to an evaluation of their possible implications for
the origin of Sunday:
(1) If it were possible, as has been suggested by K. W.
Clark, that after the year 70 the sacrifices still continued,
even though in a reduced form, 76
till the year 135, the latter year would then signify the total
cessation of sacrifices as well as the last hope of a
re-establishment of Israel as a station. With the disappearance
of Israel as a nation the Judeo-Christians who had remained
attached, even though secretly, to the nationalistic Jewish
ideals, had now to decide to which side they belonged. In this
historical moment it is possible to understand the origin of the
two currents of the Ebionites, one conservative and the other
72 Flavius Josephus, "Antiquitates judaicae" 20, 1, explains that
the Jews considered the Christians traitors on account of their
indifference to the welfare of Jerusalem and for having abandoned
the city, withdrawing to Pella.
73 Justin Martyr, "I Apologia" 31, 6.
74 Lake, "Eusebius History" 4, 6, 1-3, pp.311-313 reports:
"Rufus, the governor of Judaea, when military aid had been sent
him by the Emperor, moved out against them, treating their
madness without mercy. He destroyed in heaps thousands of men,
women and children, and, under the law of war, enslaved the
land.... The rebels were driven to final destruction by famine
and thirst and the instigator of their madness paid the penalty
be deserved"; see also the description of Din Cassius, "Roman
75 Simon, "Verve Israel," see chapter IV, "Rome, Judaisme et
76 K. W. Clark, "Worship in the Jerusalem Temple after A.D.70,"
NTS, VS (1959-1960): 209-230; see ale, J. R. Brown, "The Temple
and Sacrifice in Rabbinic Judaism" (Evanston: 1903, Winslow
Lectures for 1963).
The adoption of Sunday, as reported by Eusebius, 77
on the part of the liberal wing of the Ebionites, could then
represent their attempt to reintegrate themselves in the Gentile
Church whose majority had at this time seemingly adopted the
observance of Sunday.
(2) The proclamation of Barkokeba as Messiah and his acceptance
by the majority of the Jews, 78
must have appeared to the Christians as the final and irrevocable
rejection of Jesus Christ by the Jews. J. Parkes writes on this
Until the Jews had not in large numbers decided for another
Messiah, they [Christians] might continue to hope that they
would accept Jesus. But when led by the famous Akiba the
bulk of the population followed Barkokeba, then the position
became hopeless. 79
The cruel and massive persecution that followed made the
separation inevitable. The false Messiahship and the ruthless
persecution of Barkokeba against the Judeo-Christians, added to
their theological conviction, a racial resentment and an
animosity toward the Jews. This is reflected, as we shall see, 80
in the writing of the Fathers, who in their turn will pour out
their reprobation and condemnation of such typical Jewish
institutions as - crcumcision and the Sabbath. Sunday will emerge
in this context as the symbol of the superseding of Judaism and
of the establishment of the new Christian era.
(3) The order of Hadrian to build on the ruins of Jerusalem
the new Roman city "Aelia Capitolina" 81 and his prohibition
77 Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." 3, 27, 5.
78 For a discussion on the acceptance of the Messiahship of
Barkokeba, see S. W. Baron, "A Social and Religious History of
the Jews," 9 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962),
2:132. (Hereafter cited as Baron, "History.")
79 Parkes, "The Conflict," pp.93,78.
80 See the section below on "Anti-Judaism in the Fathers and the
Origin of Sunday."
81 Dio Cassius, "Roman History" 59, 12, 1, sees in this order of
Hadrian one of the causes of the Roman-Jewish war. He writes:
"At Jerusalem he founded a city in the place of the one which had
been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the
site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter.
This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief
duration ... Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should
be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted
"to continue in the Jewish observances, and in particular in the
circumcision and in respect of the Sabbath" 82
inflicted on the Jews another decisive blow. S. Krauss so
synthesizes the dramatic situation:
The Jews now passed through a time of bitter persecution;
Sabbaths, festivals, the study of the Torah and circumcision
were interdicted and it seemed as if Hadrian desired to
annihilate the Jewish people. 83
The Roman historian Elius Spartianus does refer to the
interdiction of the circumcision, but not of the observance of
the Sabbath or of the law in general. 84
Marcel Simon points out, however, that in Hadrian's
prohibition of the circumcision, any act of worship of the Jews
was implicitly forbidden, since this constituted, as baptism did
for the Christians, the preliminary act. 85
The rabbinic sources however speak abundantly of the
restrictions imposed by Hadrian. 86
In fact, Hadrian's reign is commonly referred to in the
Talmud as "the age of persecution - shemad -, " or "the age of
the edict -gezerah." 87
The following quotation is a sample of statements often
found in the Talmud regarding Hadrian's anti-Jewish policies:
The Government [of Rome] had issued a decree that they
should not study the Torah and that they should not
circumcise theirs sons and that they should profane the
Sabbath. What did Judah b, Shammu'a and his colleagues do ?
They went and consulted a certain matron whom all the Roman
82 "Enciclopedia delle Religioni," 1971 ad., s.v. "Giudaesimo" by
83 Jewish Encyclopedia, 1907 ed., s.v. "Hadrian," by S. Krauss.
84 Rhea Spartianus, "Historia Augusta, Hadrianus" 14.
85 Simon, "Verus Israel," p.126.
86 S. Krauss, "Barkokba," Jewish Encyclopedia, 1907 ed., 2:509,
writes: "The subsequent era was one of danger ("sha'at
hasekanah") for the Jaws of Palestine, during which the most
important ritualistic observances were forbidden; for which
reason the Talmud states (Geiger's "Jud. Zit." i. 199, ii, 126;
Wei, "Dar," ii, 131; "Rev. Et. Juives," xxxii. 41) that certain
regulation, were passed to meet the emergency. It was called the
age of the edict ("gezerah ") or of persecution ("shemad," Shab.
60a; Caut. R. ii, 5)" see ale, Graetz, "History Jews," 2:425; S.
Grayzel, "A History of the Jew" (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication
Society of America, 1947), p.184.
87 See "Sabbath" 60a.
used to visit. She said to them: "Go and make proclamation
[of your sorrows] at night time." They went and proclaimed
at night, crying, "Alas, in heaven's name, are we not your
brothers, are we not the sons of one father and are we not
the sons of one mother? Why are we different from every
nation and tongue that you issue such harsh decrees against
The question arises, How did the Christians react to these
imperial injunctions which prohibited the practice of Judaism and
in a particular way the observance of the Sabbath?
TO BE CONTINUED
Entered on this Website 2004