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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Julian the Apostate

The imperial promotion of Christianization was interrupted only by Julian, a nephew of Constantine, who in his brief reign (361–63) sought to restore the primacy of pagan worship and to reverse the tide of Christianization in the empire's governing classes. Having survived the bloodbath in the royal family that followed Constantine's death, Julian was eventually appointed as Caesar in 355 by his cousin and brother-in-law, Constantine's son the emperor Constantius. When Constantius died in 360, Julian openly declared himself to be a worshiper of the ancient gods and thanked them for his accession with many public sacrifices. He also provided funds for the restoration and building of temples and sought to encourage large-scale pagan charitable giving.

For Julian, Christianity was undermining the Roman state, and with it the gods and classical culture, both of which were essential to the state's well-being. Julian could not accept the appropriation of that culture by the Christian elites, including the bishops, since Hellenism, for him, was a gift and a legacy of the gods and thus synonymous with paganism. This sentiment lies behind an edict of 362 that demanded that teachers excel in morality and eloquence and that the municipal councils submit nominations of teachers to the emperor. He did not want the Galileans, as he called the Christians, to teach grammar or rhetoric, the foundations of a classical education. How could Galileans teach Homer or Hesiod when they argued that the Greek gods did not exist? Let them expound Matthew and Luke in their churches, declared Julian. He claimed that he did not seek to harm Christians, but rather to show preference to pagans.

Julian's view of, and policies concerning, both traditional religion and Christianity had their counterpart in his policies toward Judaism when he decided to rebuild the Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem. He knew that this would enable the Jews to resume sacrificial rituals, a practice Julian sought to restore throughout the empire. He also knew that the rebuilding of the Temple would undermine the Christian belief that Jesus had prophesied its destruction (Matt. 24.2 ), the absence of which was, for the church, a sign of divine disapproval of Judaism—a testimony to its defeated and false character.

Julian's project to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple failed. Work ceased not long after its inception, in the aftermath of a fire probably associated with the powerful earthquake of 363. Christian sources viewed the fire as divine intervention; many claimed that the fire was accompanied by other miraculous portents, including a giant cross in the sky. God's anger against Julian, his Christian adversaries claimed, was also evident in his death at the age of thirty-one in his campaign against the Persians that same year. Still, as the historian Peter Brown has eloquently observed, the very survival of the writings of Julian the Apostate bear witness to the “compromise” between Hellenism and Christianity, preserved as they were by medieval churchmen.

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