Posted by: ken98 | January 28, 2010

Great Balls of Fire, Blue Collar Workers, and Murderous Hatreds

Day 139 – Ken here (Th)(1-28-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.23, pp.890-900)

It’s a beautiful, sunny day outside, with melting turquoise skies and brilliant white clouds like a Maxfield Parrish mural – and I’m inside blogging (but I’m also a little under the weather here – although it would be better probably to be outside, under-the-weather to mix metaphors).

Still, here I sit – reading Gibbon and writing random thoughts. I’m also in the middle of Vidal’s Julian, and White’s The Once and Future King, and Marias’ History of Philosophy, and Bury’s History of the Later Roman Empire – no wonder I’m not getting more done – it’s amazing I’m getting to this blog each day. Today we get to some pivotal moments in Julian’s life – his quarrel with the-very-Christian Syrians in Antioch, and the very curious ending to the project of rebuilding the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem.

The more I read, the more I’m convinced that the 4th century holds the key to modern Western Europe – it is the beginning, and as Princess Irulan reminds us in a very fractal way in Dune, “The beginning is a very delicate time”. We know that while broad patterns in huge, chaotic systems have a great deal of momentum, often the knife edge of a fractal decision can make one person or event decide the fate of millions for centuries afterwards (the Butterfly in Australia Effect – which incidentally, is also a Rock Band in Australia – a kind of pleasing fractal symmetry, that).

Again, I wonder, what the world would be like now if Julian had lived

The Story
The Rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem

  • Gibbon notes that Julian’s building program failed – by the obvious existence of the Dome of the Rock,(i.e. now a mosque sits on the place of the 2nd temple which was built 330 years or so after Julian tried to rebuild the temple by Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (685-691))
  • Julian fails in re-building due to miraculous interventions by random, roaming fire-balls wreaking havoc on the construction site. And of course, his death in Persia in the same year puts a damper on construction (as his successors were Christian) – see the story below of the Balls of Fire
    Julian Does his Best to Irritate/Weaken the Christians

  • Julian consistently refers to Christians as GALILEANS (as Christos in Greek means “anointed” and connotes royalty, so Julian identifies them as adherents of a sect that follows a man from a certain part of a Roman province – Galilee in Roman Palestina Secunda), and refers to churches as CHARNEL HOUSES (ie places where dead bodies are kept above ground – houses filled with corpse’s bones) (it sounds much worse in Greek than English) – due to the early Christian custom of worshiping the bones of martyrs and saints for their miraculous powers (saints’ bones are like electrical wiring – they are direct connections with the high-tension spiritual power lines of God – good things to have around if you need some spiritual power)
  • Julian makes it illegal for Christians to teach the Classics – this is the same as prohibiting Christians from teaching Science, Literature, History, etc today – a devastating prohibition – the more so because in Antiquity, the only way to move up the social ladder was to have a Classical eduction – it was required for all government (and church) work. This, in effect, made all Christians legally blue-collar workers
  • Gibbon is scandalized by the prohibition – yet the Christians would (in the last 30 years, and esp., the next 30 years) shut down all temples, oracles, sacred groves, etc – wiping out all forms of paganism and relegating Hellenism and paganism to a kind of satanic limbo. In 2 generations, people will not even remember what the temples were for and will assume they are the remains of a vanished race of demon-worshipers. This is the end of Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages/Dark Ages
  • Julian removes Christians from the military, government, etc
  • Julian forces Christians to restore the temples, and to give back lands, wealth, etc given as patrimony to temples for their upkeep. Also, any churches, or bodies buried on sacred sites are to be removed and the temples/sites purified. If the example below of Antioch is in any representative of the whole empire, Julian was already too late – the temples were deserted, the crowds enthusiastically Christian, the pagans in their last generation
  • IN perhaps the hardest blow – Julian prohibits people from leaving property to the Church in their wills (a very significant source of income for the Church – as people are more likely to give up all their material possessions once they have no more need for the material)
    Julian, Daphne, and the Lunatics of Antioch

  • Gibbon gives a long 3 page description of Antioch in Seleucid times – and of the foundation of the great temple complex/groves of Daphne in a suburb of Antioch. The groves are famous as a meeting place for sexual, sensual, casual encounters.
  • Gibbon also describes the sensual, luxury-loving, quick-thinking, big-city, passionate Antiochenes (kind of like mixing a New Yorker with a New Orleans-er) – who have moved from rabid fanaticism for Apollo and Daphne to even more fanatical adherence to Arian Christianity
  • Julian approaches Daphne with ecstatic expectations, expecting crowds, sacrifices of hundreds of cattle, lavish worship of the God of Light Apollo, and finds fallen-down buildings, one decrepit priest, and a single goose (the poverty-stricken priest purchased the goose himself for the sacrifice on behalf of the emperor of the Western world – Julian). Julian is scandalized.
  • The church built in the middle of the grove (St. Babylus) together with the saint’s bones entombed there are removed (the church pulled down, the bones reverently returned to the cathedral in Antioch). The Antiochenes use this opportunity (the translation of the bones of St. Babylus) to thumb their noses at Julian by chanting loudly and triumphantly about the victories of the One God over Idols as they march the bones back – bad idea to openly irritate an emperor – but the Antiochenes were never very smart that way
  • Somehow the night of the march, the decrepit temple is burnt down, the ancient statue of Apollo is destroyed, Daphne is a ruin. Julian is sure it was arson – although the Antiochenes claim it was a divine lightning bolt (yeah – right…). Julian responds by closing the Cathedral of Antioch, confiscating all its wealth (a HUGE amount of money), and arresting and torturing key Cathedral priests, etc implicated in the fire.
  • Unlike Antioch, many cities in Palestine, Syria, etc voluntarily give up their churches and become pagan once again – so Julian’s schemes might have worked had he lived another 30 years (ex. Gaza, Ascalon, Caesarea, Heliopolis, etc)
  • Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem) - sacred to 3 religions - to Israel, it is the site fo the 2nd Temple, and the site where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, To Christians it is the site of many incidents in Jesus' life, to Muslims, it is the site of Mohammed's miraculous night journey to Jerusalem and back, and the place angels drew Mohammed up to heaven when he left the earth.  Buried somewhere underneath the foundations of this mosque is Julian's aborted attempt to build the 3rd temple

    Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem) (691) - sacred to 3 religions: - to Jews, it is the site of the 2nd Temple and the site where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, to Christians it is the site of many incidents in Jesus' life, to Muslims, it is the site of Mohammed's miraculous night journey to Jerusalem and back, and the place angels drew Mohammed up to heaven when he left the earth. Buried somewhere underneath this mosque are the remains of the foundations Julian's aborted 3rd temple

    The Temple and the Balls of Fire

    This per Gibbon:

    Perhaps the absence and death of the emperor, and the new maxims of a Christian reign, might explain the interruption of an arduous work, which was attempted only in the last six months of the life of Julian. But the Christians entertained a natural and pious expectation that in this memorable contest the honour of religion would be vindicated by some signal miracle. An earthquake, a whirlwind and a fiery eruption, which overturned and scattered the new foundations of the temple are attested, with some variations, by contemporary and respectable evidence.

    This public event is described by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, in an epistle to the emperor Theodosius, which must provoke the severe animadversion of the Jews; by the eloquent Chrysostom, who might appeal to the memory of the elder part of his congregation at Antioch – and by Gregory Nazianzen, who published his account of the miracle before the expiration of the same year. The last of these writers has boldly declared that this preternatural event was not disputed by the infidels; and his assertion, strange as it may seem, is confirmed by the unexceptionable testimony of Ammianus Marcellinus.

    The philosophic soldier, who loved the virtues without adopting the prejudices of his master, has recorded, in his judicious and candid history of his own times, the extraordinary obstacles which interrupted the restoration of the temple of Jerusalem. “Whilst Alypius, assisted by the governor of the province, urged with vigour and diligence the execution of the work, horrible balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, with frequent and reiterated attacks, rendered the place, from time to time, inaccessible to the scorched and blasted workmen; and, the victorious element continuing in this manner obstinately and resolutely bent, as it were, to drive them to a distance, the undertaking was abandoned.”

    Such authority should satisfy a believing, and must astonish an incredulous, mind. Yet a philosopher may still require the original evidence of impartial and intelligent spectators. At this important crisis any singular accident of nature would assume the appearance, and produce the effects, of a real prodigy. This glorious deliverance would be speedily improved and magnified by the pious art of the clergy of Jerusalem, and the active credulity of the Christian world; and, at the distance of twenty years, a Roman historian, careless of theological disputes, might adorn his work with the specious and splendid miracle

    (DEF v.2, ch.23, p.891)

    John Chrysostom - from a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia (emperor Justin's time - mid 500's - 200 years from now).  John, like most men of Antiquity is utterly incomprehensible to us.  He had a great heart, was kind and gentle, but also capable of murderous hatred.

    John Chrysostom - from a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia (emperor Justin's time - mid 500's - 200 years from now). John, like most men of Antiquity is utterly incomprehensible to us. He had a great heart, was kind and gentle, but also capable of murderous hatred.

    Murderous Hatreds – John Chrysostom’s Original Sermon’s Text (the text Gibbon referred to above)

    John Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) preaching against the Jews in his hometown (reading the early Fathers of the Church is a difficult feat sometimes – not because of the text, or the translation, but due to the unvarnished hatred and sheer cruelty they glory in. Their invective embarrasses a modern reader and renders the Fathers useless in the very task God has supposedly set for them: spiritual instruction (notwithstanding all talk of “relativism” and “context”). At any rate, embedded in a hateful attack/sermon on Jews, John makes the following historical references to Julian’s 3rd temple (from here):

    (3)Do you see the first attempt of the impudent Jews? Now look at the next. They tried the same thing in the time of Constantine. But the Emperor saw what they tried to do, cut off their ears, and left on their bodies this mark of their disobedience. He then had them led around everywhere, like runaway slaves and scoundrels, so all might see their mutilated bodies and always think twice before ever attempting such a revolt. “Yet these things happened very long ago,” the Jews will say. But I tell you that the incident is well known to those of us who are somewhat on in years and are already old men.

    (4) But what I am going to tell you is clear and obvious even to the very young. For it did not happen in the time of Hadrian or Constantine, but during our own lifetime, in the reign of the Emperor of twenty years ago. Julian, who surpassed all the emperors in irreligion, invited the Jews to sacrifice to idols in an attempt to drag them to Iris own level of ungodliness. He used their old way of sacrifice as an excuse and said: “In the days of your ancestors, God was worshipped in this way.”

    (5) They refused his invitation, but, at that time, they did admit to the very things I just lately proved to you, namely, that they were not allowed to offer their sacrifices outside Jerusalem. Their answer was that those who offered any sacrifice whatsoever in a foreign land were violating the Law. So they said to the Emperor: “If you wish to see us offer sacrifices, give us back Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, show us the holy of holies, restore the altar, and we will offer sacrifices again just as we did before.”

    (6) These abominable and shameless men had the impudence to ask these firings from an impious pagan and to invite him to rebuild their sanctuary with his polluted hands. They failed to see that they were attempting the impossible. They did not realize that if human hands had put an end to those things, then human hands could get them back for them. But it was God who destroyed their city, and no human power could ever change what God had decreed. “For what God, the Holy One, has planned who shall dissipate? His hand is stretched out; who will turn it back?” What God has reared up and wishes to remain, no man can tear down. In the same way, what he has destroyed and wishes to stay destroyed, no man can rebuild.

    (7) I grant you that the Emperor did give you Jews back your temple and did build you an altar, just as you foolishly suspected he would. But he could not send down to you the heavenly fire from on high, could he? Yet if you could not have this fire, your sacrifice had to be an abomination and unclean. This is why the sons of Aaron perished; they brought ill a foreign fire.

    (8) Nonetheless, these Jews, who were blind to all things, called on the Emperor for help and begged him to aid them in undertaking to rebuild the temple. The Emperor, for his part, spared no expense, sent engineers from all over the empire to oversee the work, summoned craftsmen from every land; he left nothing undone, nothing untried. He overlooked nothing but worked quietly and a little at a time to bring the Jews to offer sacrifice; in this way he expected that it would be easy for them to go from sacrifice to the worship of idols. At the same time, in his mad folly, he was hoping to cancel out the sentence passed by Christ which forbade the rebuilding of the temple. But tie who catches the wise in their craftiness straightway made clear to him by His action that the decrees of God are mightier than any man’s and that works get their strength from the word of God.

    (9) They started to work in earnest on that forbidden task, they removed a great mound of earth and began to lay bare the foundations. They were just about to start building when suddenly fire leaped forth from the foundations and completely consumed not only a great number of the workmen but even the stones piled up there to support the structure. This put a stop to the untimely obstinacy of those who had undertaken the project. Many of the Jews, too, who had seen what had happened, were astonished and struck with shame. The Emperor Julian had been madly eager to finish the work. But when he heard what had happened, he was afraid that, if he went on with it, he might call down the fire on his own head. So he and the whole Jewish people withdrew in defeat.

    (10) Even today, if you go into Jerusalem, you will see the bare foundation, if you ask why this is so, you will hear no explanation other than the one I gave. We are all witnesses to this, for it happened not long ago but in our own time. Consider how conspicuous our victory is. This did not happen in the times of the good emperors; no one can say that the Christians came and prevented the work from being finished. It happened at a time when our religion was subject to persecution. when all our lives were in danger, when every man was afraid to speak, when paganism flourished. Some of the faithful hid in their homes, others fled the marketplaces and moved to the deserts. That is when these events occurred. So the Jews have no excuse left to them for their impudence.

    (John Chrysostom, Homily V, Part XI, para.3-10)

    Interior of the Dome of the Rock, showing the physical rock which is sacred to 3 religions.  In the early 360's, balls of fire played about this place, as it was surrounded by construction workers and scaffolding and foundation stones during Julian's attempt to build the 3rd temple in Jerusalem

    Interior of the Dome of the Rock, showing the physical rock which is sacred to 3 religions. In the early 360's, balls of fire played about this place, as it was surrounded by construction workers and scaffolding and foundation stones during Julian's attempt to build the 3rd temple in Jerusalem


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