After Roman armies crushed the Jewish rebellion in Judea and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, Pharisaic and Christian Jews parted ways. Leading Pharisees didn’t actively persecute Christian Jews. They simply ignored the whole movement.
During the Jewish rebellion, the church in Jerusalem moved to Pella and vanished. Leadership of the transformative Jesus movement passed to the churches in Antioch and Alexandria.
In AD 114, Trajan, ruler of the Roman state, gathered Roman soldiers and led them east to take control of the Parthian heartland in Mesopotamia. As he did so, Jewish rebels spontaneously attacked some of the reduced Roman garrisons he had left behind.
In 115, these Jewish rebels attacked Roman authorities, citizens, buildings, and monuments in the great Egyptian city of Alexandria. They murdered thousands and torched parts of the city. This rebellion, in Alexandria and elsewhere, was defeated in 117 only after great mutual destruction and death.
This Jewish rebellion left a burning resentment in the hearts of Olympians in Alexandria against Jews. Church leaders in Alexandria allowed this Olympian resentment to malignantly color their own perceptions of Jews. They allowed ordinary Olympian hatred to displace the Christian love advocated by Jesus. By doing so, they also further displaced the Christian culture of the Church they led with an increasingly thorough Olympian one.
When Constantine became ruler of the Roman state in 312, he favored Christians and gave them preferential treatment. At the same time, he hated Jews. Following the advice of Church leaders who wrongly shared that hatred, he began to implement an imperial policy of discrimination against Jews.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the most important leaders in Church history, gave his approval to this universal policy of discrimination against Jews. He did not think that Jews should be physically attacked. He did believe, however, that they should be segregated from Christians and kept alive but impoverished to punish them for their stubborn arrogance in continuing to reject Jesus as their savior.
Theodosius 2nd, ruling the eastern Roman state from 408 until his death in 450, enacted a code of law in 438. From that point on, Jews could own no slaves (thus restricting them economically), had to wear distinctive clothing and live in segregated areas, could not build a synagogue without permission, and could not have sexual intercourse with or marry a Christian.
Augustine and Theodosius were both Christians. Their Christianity, rather than being transformative, however, had itself been transformed into just another form of Olympianity. Like their Church, they had become Christian Olympians. They had become conventional rather than remaining prophetic witnesses. Their Olympian theology and law trapped Jews throughout Olympia in painful obscurity as impoverished farmers, artisans, carpenters, and wine-growers.
This forced Jews to try to imagine creative responses to these severe circumstances. For Jewish adults, the easiest response was simply to become Christian Olympians like everyone else.
The Code of Justinian, issued in final form in 534, continued the discriminatory policies of Theodosius.
Heraclius, head of the Roman state from 610 to 641, started the policy of physically punishing Jews for being Jewish. Jews living in Levantia and Egypt were saved from this only by conquering Muslims by 641. In this same way, Jews in Iberia were also saved from oppressive Visigothic Christian rule by 718.
(Today we continue our reflections on Norman Cantor’s The Sacred Chain: A History of the Jews [HarperCollins, 1994, pp. 157-162]).