An Introduction to Early Christianity 9781463235796

A general introduction to the origin and development of Christianity, from its Jewish background in the land of Israel u

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An Introduction to Early Christianity

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Jewish Background of Early Christianity
Chapter 2: Early Christianity in Written Sources
Chapter 3: Historical Developments
Chapter 4: Messianic and Apocalyptic Doctrines
Chapter 5: Christian Worship
Chapter 6: The Origin and Development of Christian Monasticism
Chapter 7: Ancient Christian Art and Architecture
Glossary of Names and Terms
List of Illustrations
Index of Literary References
Index of Names and Terms

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An Introduction to Early Christianity

Gorgias Handbooks

Series Editor George Anton Kiraz

Gorgias Handbooks provides students and scholars with reference books, textbooks and introductions to different topics or fields of study. In this series, Gorgias welcomes books that are able to communicate information, ideas and concepts effectively and concisely, with useful reference bibliographies for further study.

An Introduction to Early Christianity

Pau Figueras


34 2014

Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA Copyright © 2014 by Gorgias Press LLC

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of Gorgias Press LLC. 2014



ISBN 978-1-4632-0238-5

ISSN 1935-6838

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Figueras, Pau. An introduction to early Christianity / by Pau Figueras. pages cm. -- (Gorgias handbooks) ISBN 978-1-4632-0238-5 1. Church history--Primitive and early church, ca. 30-600. 2. Church history--Middle Ages, 600-1500. I. Title. BR162.3.F54 2014 270.1--dc23 2014010750 Printed in the United States of America

This book is dedicated to all my former students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

TABLE OF CONTENTS Table of Contents ................................................................................... vii Foreword ................................................................................................. xv Abbreviations ........................................................................................ xvii Chapter 1: The Jewish Background of Early Christianity .................. 1 Judaism in Roman Palestine .......................................................... 1 Political structure and main historical events ........................ 1 Hellenization and conservatism .............................................. 3 Religious sects and political parties......................................... 5 Temple and worship ................................................................. 7 Synagogues and other institutions .......................................... 8 The Sages .................................................................................... 9 Languages, culture and art...................................................... 10 The Jewish faith ....................................................................... 10 The Jewish Diaspora ..................................................................... 12 Egypt ............................................................................................... 13 Elephantine............................................................................... 14 Onias’ temple ........................................................................... 14 Alexandria ....................................................................................... 14 Social and political conditions ............................................... 15 Culture ....................................................................................... 15 Assimilation and self-consciousness..................................... 15 Philo (c. 20 BCE–50 CE).......................................................... 16 Community organization and institutions ........................... 16 Relations with Jerusalem ........................................................ 17 Rome ............................................................................................... 17 Jews and Syrians....................................................................... 18 Slaves and freemen .................................................................. 18 Legal status of the Jewish religion ........................................ 19 Synagogues ............................................................................... 20 Jews in the emperor’s palace.................................................. 20 The “Chrestus” affair.............................................................. 20 vii



Jewish catacombs..................................................................... 21 Other Countries ............................................................................. 21 Antioch ...................................................................................... 22 Asia Minor ................................................................................ 22 Greece ....................................................................................... 23 Dura-Europos .......................................................................... 23 North Africa ............................................................................. 24 Gaul and Spain ......................................................................... 25 Summary and Conclusions........................................................... 25 Chapter 2: Early Christianity in Written Sources .............................. 29 Non-Christian Sources ................................................................. 30 The Jewish Sources ................................................................. 30 The Roman sources ................................................................ 37 Conclusion ................................................................................ 40 Christian Sources ........................................................................... 40 The New Testament Books ......................................................... 41 The Four Gospels ................................................................... 41 Acts of the Apostles ................................................................ 51 The Epistles of Paul ................................................................ 52 The Epistle to Hebrews.......................................................... 58 The Seven Catholic or Universal Epistles ........................... 59 Revelation ................................................................................. 62 The Apostolic Fathers .................................................................. 63 The Didache (Teaching of the Apostles)............................. 63 Clement of Rome .................................................................... 64 Ignatius of Antioch ................................................................. 65 Polycarp of Smyrna ................................................................. 65 Pseudo-Barnabas ..................................................................... 65 Papias of Hierapolis ................................................................ 66 Epistle to Diognetus ............................................................... 66 Hermas ...................................................................................... 67 Early Church Fathers .................................................................... 67 Justin Martyr ............................................................................. 68 Clement of Alexandria ............................................................ 69 Tertullian ................................................................................... 69 Origen........................................................................................ 70 Eusebius of Caesarea .............................................................. 71 Summary and Conclusions........................................................... 72



Chapter 3: Historical Developments ................................................... 73 Relations between the Christian Church and the Jewish Synagogue .............................................................................. 75 Rabbinical decisions against the Jewish Christians ............ 77 Reactions to and effects of the official Jewish rejection of Christianity ................................................. 79 Nazarenes and Ebionites ........................................................ 79 Christian interpretation of the Bible and the negative view of Judaism ............................................... 80 Old Testament as historic preparation................................. 81 Old Testament as prophecy ................................................... 82 Typological interpretation of Scripture ................................ 84 Allegorical interpretation of Scripture .................................. 85 The Christian reaction to Hellenistic culture and pagan philosophy ............................................................ 86 The Christian reaction to Gnosticism and related heretical doctrines ........................................................... 88 Roman persecutions and Christian martyrs ........................ 90 The Christian Church and the Constantinian peace ...............................................................................100 Emperor Constantine and the Christian faith ..................100 Heresies and Councils...........................................................102 The Barbarian invasions of Europe....................................105 The Islamic conquests ..........................................................109 Summary and Conclusions.........................................................110 Chapter 4: Messianic and Apocalyptic Doctrines ...........................113 Pagan Religions ............................................................................114 Mesopotamian myths of creation and destruction...........114 The Canaanite cult drama ....................................................114 Egyptian concepts of perpetual renewal ............................115 Zoroastrian dualism and apocalypticism ...........................116 Rome, Virgil’s Fourth Ecloge and the Sybil ..........................117 Biblical prophecies and Jewish expectations ...........................118 Life in Paradise and Adam’s sin ..........................................118 Eschatological prophecies ....................................................119 Israel’s “resurrection” in Ezekiel ........................................120 The king as God’s Messiah ..................................................121 Apocalyptic visions in the Prophets ...................................123 Daniel: the Son of Man and the Weeks .............................126 Qumran, an eschatological community..............................127



The Apocalyptic writings .....................................................128 Messianic claims.....................................................................131 The “World to Come” ..........................................................133 Gehenna ..................................................................................136 The Judgment.........................................................................137 Christian Messianism and Apocalypticism ..............................139 Jesus’ Messiahship in the New Testament ........................139 Apocalyptic doctrines in the Gospels ................................142 Early Christian expectation of Jesus’ return ......................144 The Antichrist ........................................................................146 John’s Apocalypse .................................................................147 Summary and conclusions..........................................................151 Chapter 5: Christian Worship .............................................................153 Jewish Worship ............................................................................153 Sacrifice and prayer in the Temple .....................................153 Jewish festivals .......................................................................155 The Passover ..........................................................................157 Eschatological meals .............................................................158 Ritual ablutions ......................................................................161 Synagogue services ................................................................162 The Apostolic Church ................................................................164 The Church, a community of worship ...............................164 “Breaking of Bread” ..............................................................165 Baptism and catechesis .........................................................166 Charismatic gifts bestowed through the laying on of hands..........................................................................168 Sunday and Easter .................................................................169 Eucharistic celebrations and Agape-meals ........................170 Places of worship...................................................................173 The origins of the “Offertorium” .......................................174 Daily prayers ...........................................................................175 Holiness of Marriage .............................................................177 Unction of the sick ................................................................178 Death and burial ....................................................................178 Christian Liturgy and Pagan Rites.............................................181 Pagan mysteries and Christian Mysteries ...........................181 Pagan and profane rites and their influence on Christian liturgy.............................................................182 The role of the liturgy in the transformation of pagan culture .................................................................186



The cult of the martyrs .........................................................188 Christological disputes and their influence upon the liturgy .......................................................................189 Later Developments ....................................................................191 Ecclesiastical and liturgical provinces.................................191 Oriental liturgies ....................................................................195 Latin liturgies ..........................................................................196 Summary and Conclusions.........................................................199 Chapter 6: The Origin and Development of Christian Monasticism .................................................................................203 Biblical and Jewish Antecedents ...............................................203 Prophetic schools ..................................................................203 The Essenes and the Qumran Community .......................204 The Therapeutae ....................................................................204 Havurot ...................................................................................204 Reasons for community life .................................................205 Pagan doctrines and movements ..............................................205 Stoicism ...................................................................................205 Pythagoreanism and Orphism .............................................206 Neo-Platonism .......................................................................207 Worshippers of Sarapis.........................................................207 Monasticism as a Christian Phenomenon ...............................208 Doctrines from the Gospel and Paul .................................208 The ideal of the early community in Jerusalem ................210 Reaction to the secularization of the Church....................210 Nostalgia for martyrdom ......................................................211 Ascetic life as warfare against the devil ..............................213 Monasticism and the angelic life .........................................214 Eastern Monasticism...................................................................215 Egypt: Paul, Anthony and Pachomius, hermits and cenobites ........................................................................215 Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia .......................................218 Greece and Asia Minor.........................................................223 Eastern Monastic Spirituality: the Hesychasm..................225 Western Monasticism..................................................................228 Italy: Pre-Benedictine and Benedictine monasteries ....................................................................228 North Africa ...........................................................................230 Gaul and Spain .......................................................................231 Ireland .....................................................................................233



Gregory the Great and the English Mission .....................233 Frisian Monks and the Civilization of Central Europe ............................................................................235 Cluny and its Congregation..................................................236 The Cistercian Reform .........................................................238 Mendicant Orders..................................................................239 Summary and Conclusions.........................................................240 Chapter 7: Ancient Christian Art and Architecture ........................243 Origins of Christian Art .............................................................244 The Jewish Background of Early Christian Art ................247 The First Manifestations of Christian Art .........................252 Iconography of Early Christian Art ..........................................255 Old Testament scenes and their typology .........................255 Pagan motifs with new meanings........................................257 New Testament scenes .........................................................259 The Church Building...................................................................262 Private houses: the Domus Ecclesia...................................262 The first Christian churches.................................................264 The Christian Basilica .................................................................268 Origins .....................................................................................268 Architectural structure ..........................................................269 Other types .............................................................................273 Church interior.......................................................................275 The Baptistery ..............................................................................279 Monasteries ...................................................................................282 Church decoration .......................................................................285 Reliefs ......................................................................................285 Wall Paintings.........................................................................289 Mosaics ....................................................................................290 Minor Arts ....................................................................................296 Manuscripts ............................................................................296 Metalwork ...............................................................................298 Ivories ......................................................................................299 Icons ..............................................................................................301 Textiles ....................................................................................302 Summary and conclusions..........................................................303



Glossary of Names and Terms...........................................................305 List of Illustrations ...............................................................................325 Bibliography ..........................................................................................329 Index of Literary References ..............................................................335 Index of Names and Terms ................................................................341

FOREWORD During the long years that I lectured at Ben-Gurion University on matters pertaining to Christianity, providing both a general introduction to its history as well as offering instruction on specific subjects of art history and archaeology, I noticed a lack of literature on these themes, especially in Israel, in the Hebrew language. This book was first published in Hebrew intending to fill that gap. The purpose of the present English edition is more general. I simply want to offer any reader the opportunity to learn an important chapter of general culture that is usually ignored: the origin and development of the Christian religion, from its Jewish background in the land of Israel up to its contribution to the thought and art of Medieval Europe. The subjects that make up the core of the book do not correspond to a systematic account of the historical development of the Christian movement in the first centuries. Rather, each chapter deals with a different aspect of the history, life and thought of the Early Church. Starting from the Jewish roots from which the Christian religion grew, the book proceeds with the evidence of the earliest written sources attesting to the manifestation in history of the Christian phenomenon, and continues with the development and explanation of the different expressions of thought and works of the ancient Church, such as its apocalyptic and messianic doctrines, liturgy and sacraments, monasticism, art and architecture. It was particularly important to me to highlight the Jewish roots from which the Christian religion grew. Thus, the entire first chapter describes the historical circumstances of the people of Israel in their land and in the Diaspora when Christianity was born, and each following chapter first and foremost deals with the Jewish background of its specific subject. xv



This book is for readers who desire to broaden their knowledge concerning a religious phenomenon that started as a Jewish movement about two thousand years ago, developed in different ways in its organization and social expression, proceeded to conquer the entire world in a huge proselytizing campaign, deeply influenced the whole of Western culture, brought about social and political revolutions, and continues to inspire the world to this very day alongside its older sister, the Jewish faith. My sincere thanks to all those who in one way or other have contributed to the production of this book, and particularly to my friend Dr. Matthew Umbarger, who has voluntarily taken it upon himself to edit the English of my originals; and to Dr. Melonie Schmierer-Lee, of Gorgias Press, for her valued suggestions for the improvement of the text. Pau Figueras Ben Gurion University of the Negev Beersheva, Israel, October 2013

ABBREVIATIONS Adv. Haer. Adv. Jud. Ant. Apion Apoc. Apol. Apolog. Apost. Con. Apost. Trad. Assump. Mos. Aug. ‘Avod. Zar. b. B. Meṣ‘ia Barn. Ber. CD Cels. CH Claud. Clem. Alex. Conf. Contempl. Cypr. De Bapt. De mort. pers. Dial. Diat. Did. Diogn.

Adversus Haereses (Against the Heretics) Adversus Judaeos (Against the Jews) Antiquities of the Jews Contra Apion Apocalypse Apology Apologeticum Apostolic Constitutions Apostolic Tradition Assumption of Moses Augustine ‘Avodah Zarah Babylonian Talmud Bava Meṣ‘ia Epistle of Pseudo-Barnabas Berakhot Damascus Document Against Celsus Church History Life of Claudius Clement of Alexandria Confessions De vita contemplativa (On the contemplative life) Cyprian De Baptismo De mortibus persecutorum (On the deaths of the persecutors) Dialogue, Dialogues Diatesseron Didache Epistle to Diognetus xvii



Ep. Execr. Gosp. Peter Ḥul. Ketub. Life Cons. m. Magn. Mart. Polyc. Meg. Menaḥ. Midr. Ner. Pesaḥ PG PL Praem. Protr. Pseudo-Clem. Rome R. Sanh. Sim. Smyrn. Spec. t. Ta‘an. Vis. War y. Yebam.

Epistula, Epistle De execratione (On the curse) Gospel of Peter Ḥullin Ketubot Life of Constantine Mishnah To the Magnesians Martyrdom of Polycarp Megillah Menaḥot Midrash Life of Nero Pesaḥim Migne, Patrologia Graeca Migne, Patrologia Latina De praemiis et poenis (On the awards and the punishments) Protrepticus to the Greeks Clement of Rome Rabba, Rabbati Sanhedrin Similitudes To the Smyrnaeans The special laws Tosefta Ta‘anit Visions The Jewish War Jerusalem Talmud Yebamot

CHAPTER 1: THE JEWISH BACKGROUND OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY Christianity is historically inconceivable without its Jewish sources. Jesus is a Jew preaching and acting among Jewish people. His message is primarily addressed to Jews, his fellow-citizens. His disciples are Jews who see in him the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies. Christianity starts as a Jewish movement in Roman Palestine, where Judaism is living a crucial moment of its history and has a powerful religious vitality, and it spreads over the Hellenistic Jewish communities of the Diaspora. It is through these communities that Christianity reaches the pagan world. This chapter outlines the basis for the understanding of the Christian message as it was preached in the Jewish setting, in the land of Israel as well as in the Diaspora. It is a necessary first step towards a comprehensive knowledge of the Christian phenomenon insofar as it is the history of a religious group. Besides the spiritual, providential or supernatural factors claimed by its adherents, the Christian faith was born, preached and developed in well-defined and well-known historical circumstances that shaped it as it is today. The most important of these circumstances is the history, religion and culture of the Jewish people.

JUDAISM IN ROMAN PALESTINE Political structure and main historical events When Cyrus decreed the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile (538 BCE), the land of Israel was no longer an independent state but a province of the Persian Empire called “Yehud.” After Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire (333 BCE), the country was first ruled by the Egyptian dynasty, the Lagids (301–197 BCE), and then by the Syrian Seleucids (197–167 BCE). While the first 1



rulers were respectful of Jewish feelings and religion, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BCE) (Fig. 1) started a systematic persecution of religious Jews, introducing a forced Hellenization of the people, and thus provoking the Maccabean insurrection and the foundation of the Hasmonean dynasty (167 BCE). Following these events the genre of apocalyptic literature developed (the book of Daniel was written c. 165 BCE); factions and religious sects multiplied, and became politically involved. 63 BCE marked Rome’s intervention through Pompeii’s conquest of Jerusalem, and in 46 BCE Julius Caesar granted a status of privilege to the Jews. Rome appointed Herod the Great king of Judaea in 40 BCE, and his reign (37–4 BCE) was marked by his grand ambitions as much as by social unrest. Herod died shortly after Jesus’ birth (7–6 BCE) during the rule of the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE), and Archaelaus became king of Judaea, with Antipas and Philip as ethnarchs, respectively, of Galilee and Peraea. Archaelaus was soon deposed by Augustus (6 CE), and Judaea became directly integrated into the Roman Empire as a province ruled by a procurator. During Jesus’ public ministry, the procurator was Pontius Pilate (26–36). For four years (41–44) Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod I, ruled all Palestine. When he died, his entire kingdom was subjected to the Roman procurators. The Jewish revolt against Roman rule (66–70), which caused the Christians of Jerusalem to flee to Pella in Transjordan, ended with the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by Titus. Thousands of Jews were killed or deported. Yavneh, a town on the coast, became the new Jewish religious center, while new forms of worship and religious life took the place of the traditional Temple sacrifices and pilgrimages. Another Jewish revolt under Trajan (115–117) unsettled the whole Roman Empire. A third revolt against Rome under Bar-Kokhba’s leadership (142–135) ended with a total defeat of the Jews, and the foundation of the pagan city Aelia Capitolina by the emperor Hadrian on the site of Jerusalem.



Fig. 1 Image of Antiochus IV Epiphanes on a Seleucid coin (Cabinet de Médailles, Paris). Hellenization and conservatism Since Alexander’s conquest of the land of Israel, and his probable visit to Jerusalem (332–331 BCE), the introduction of Hellenic culture and philosophy, as well as pagan customs and worship, threatened the preservation of traditional Jewish religious and cultural values, and with them the very foundations of the Jewish nation. In spite of this, the aristocratic class largely favored the progressive Hellenization of Jewish society, though there was a strong opposition among the masses. Persecution of Judaism by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (175–164 BCE) seems to have been influenced by the Hellenizing High Priest Menelaus and his followers, so as to put down the rebellion of the resisting masses in Jerusalem, who supported the former High Priest Jason. But even the latter had established Greek educational institutions in Jerusalem.



Fig. 2 Jewish mausoleum from the Hellenistic period in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem. The conservative Hassidean or pietist movement, which joined the Maccabean revolt to fight the Greeks, separated later from the Maccabean successors, i.e. the Hasmonean rulers. The latter, while fighting for a political independence, had abandoned the high religious views of their forefathers and had accepted Hellenism to a great extent. Herod the Great and his family, heirs of the Hasmonean kingdom, was the best example of the open acceptance of Hellenism. He built a hippodrome and an amphitheater in Jerusalem. Jews and Greeks competed in Olympic



Games. The number of students of Greek philosophy in Jerusalem equaled that of the students of the Torah. Greek language, art, thought, and customs pervaded Jewish life in Palestine in the period of Jesus’ birth (Fig. 2). Thirty cities in the country were completely Greek. In Herod’s residential city, Sebaste (Samaria), the main temple was the Augusteum, built by the king of Judaea in honor of the emperor Augustus. On the other hand, strong religious movements, such as those of the Pharisees and the Essenes (the first probably issued from the former Hassideans), maintained the Jewish spirit and its cultural values, especially among the lower classes, and apocalyptic visionaries were maintaining the hope of a Messianic revolution that would reverse the present political situation. All three of the Jewish wars against Rome, with their remarkable show of selfconfidence, were clear examples of the popular Jewish rejection of foreign, Hellenistic culture, as much as of a wish of national independence. Religious sects and political parties Historian Flavius Josephus, writing towards the end of the first century, describes four organized groups within Judaism: a) Sadducees. The Sadducees possibly emerged from the priestly aristocracy. Enemies of any social changes, they favored Roman authority, for it preserved order, and they feared Messianic movements and uprisings. They were also conservative in religious matters, not accepting any oral tradition or any new doctrines. The fate of the gentiles did not greatly interest them. They opposed the doctrines of resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels. b) Pharisees. A strict observance of the Law and a devout piety distinguished the “separates,” who probably emerged from the former Hassidic movement. They wanted to build “a hedge around the Torah;” and in their zeal for its preservation, they went beyond it, holding oral tradition as equally valuable. In their mind, God had revealed oral tradition to Moses. Paradoxically, some of their beliefs were influenced by foreign doctrines, concretely Iranian, such as the final resurrection of men and a complicated angelology. Two different attitudes, one more rigorous and one broader, characterized the two Pharisaic schools of Shammai and Hillel. The latter’s approach to religion was deeply rooted in the spirit of the



Prophets of Israel, and thus very akin to Jesus’ message. Pharisees favored, and perhaps started, Jewish proselytism. c) Zealots. Their movement of resistance to Roman rule by violent means was based on the doctrine of the theocratic state. Their founder was Judah the Galilean, who probably died in his insurrection of the year 6 CE. They played a decisive role in the war against Rome in 66–70. Many of their survivors took refuge in Masada, where they committed suicide to avoid capture by the Romans (73 CE). Others fled to Egypt, where they tried to incite the Jews to revolt. One of Jesus’ disciples was Simon the Zealot. Jesus was crucified between two brigands (Greek: lestai), another name given by Flavius Josephus to the Zealots, who are also called sicarioi, the “dagger-men.” d) Essenes. The Dead Sea Scrolls have thrown much light on this monastic sort of organization, undoubtedly started as a reaction against the worldliness of the Hasmonean rulers and the Jerusalem priesthood, which they considered to be illegitimate. Their esoteric doctrines were taught only to initiates. Pacifists to the eyes of onlookers, they proclaimed a holy war against the “Sons of Darkness,” largely to be identified with the gentiles, though their hate is equally directed against those from among the Jews who associated with pagan occupants and the masses of people who accepted an unworthy priesthood. They lived in the wilderness of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, meditating on the Law in an atmosphere of eschatological expectation. Besides these four groups, special mention must be made of the old dissident Jewish branch, the Samaritans. Of uncertain origin, they lived in the center of the country, holding their own priesthood and temple. They often suffered for their opposition to Jerusalem. John Hyrcanus destroyed their temple on Mt. Gerizim (128 BCE); the Romans later rebuilt it as a reward for their help during Bar Kochba’s rebellion (135 CE). Herod the Great, though he hated the Samaritans, had a Samaritan wife, and ruled the Jews from the Samaritan capital, Sebaste. A Samaritan tradition claimed that the vessels of the Jerusalem Temple were hidden in Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans had, besides the Torah, their own chronicles and literature. Their special script dates back to the



period prior to the Jewish adoption of the so-called square or Aramaic script. Temple and worship Since the installation of the Davidic dynasty, the Jerusalem Temple was the center of religious and national life in Israel. After the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE), exiled Israelites longed for its restoration as much as for their return to their country. In 538 BCE, following the fall of Babylon to the Persians, Cyrus the Great passed legislation to allow the return of the exile and the Temple’s restoration, although reconstruction was carried out only in the second year of Darius I (520 BCE). This “Second Temple” was but a shadow of the first. Only in Herod’s time and by his munificence, the Temple, with new walls, gates, porticoes and chambers, regained its splendor: “He who has not seen the Temple of Herod”—says the Talmud—“has never in his life seen a beautiful building.” Cultic ritual took place only in the Temple, in the form of public prayers, incense offering, and sacrifices, which were performed by the official clergy. But it was also a gathering place for other activities, such as teaching and preaching. God’s presence in the Temple made it the holiest place on earth, actually the only holy place, and, consequently, a focus of pilgrimage and popular festivals and celebrations. Herod maintained the traditional tripartite division of the Temple (ulam, hekhal, dvir) when he restored it. In addition, the outer “Court of the Israelites” and “Court of the Women” were enlarged, and around the whole complex a huge forecourt called “the Court of the Gentiles” was set up, supported by enormous walls, with porticoes all around. Inscriptions in Greek warned gentiles not to enter the inner areas. Preachers, as well as merchants selling whatever was needed for the sacrifices, were active under the porticoes. Jesus, and his disciples after his death, used to attend the Temple services while in Jerusalem. If Nehemiah’s Temple had been profaned and plundered by Greeks (Antiochus IV, 169 BCE) and Romans (Crassus, 54 BCE), Herod’s suffered an even more complete destruction during the first Jewish war against the Romans, when the Zealots, headed by Simon Bar Giora and John of Giscala, fortified themselves inside the Temple ramparts, provoking Roman attack.



Synagogues and other institutions The synagogue was a building where Jews gathered, not only for instruction and prayer, but also for popular assemblies and for meetings of the city councils. It probably emerged from the social and spiritual needs of the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Archaeological evidence for it, however, is first found in the Egyptian Diaspora, in Shedia, not far from Alexandria, during the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (246–221 BCE). In Palestine, it is only in the first century CE that several written sources, among them the New Testament, testify to its existence and use, though it appears to be an already ancient institution. Synagogues are mentioned as existing in Tiberias, Dora, Caesarea, Nazareth, Capernaum and Jerusalem. In the latter city alone there were, according to the Talmud, 394 (or 480?) synagogues at the time of the destruction of the Temple. There was probably an organized relationship between synagogue and Temple as far as ritual is concerned, though there is no written evidence that synagogue services included any kind of prayers. It was only after the Temple was destroyed that synagogues became the center of Jewish religious life, including worship. Synagogue personnel included the permanent official or beadle, the professional cantor, the reader, and the rabbi or preacher. The Torah scrolls were originally brought to the synagogue for the service, but later they were kept there in the “Holy Ark.” The interior arrangement and orientation of the building have changed with the times. A reader’s desk was placed immediately in front of the Ark, and this was usually set in the direction of the Holy City, Jerusalem. Mosaic floors of synagogues from the Talmudic period were found all over the land of Israel, and on the latest ones there are many figurative representations. The synagogue was the center of each Jewish community or Holy Congregation (Qehilla Qedoshah) in Israel and the Diaspora, each one with its own leadership. Before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin had exercised the function of the religious council in Jerusalem. Later on, a Patriarch (Nassi) played a very important role in the Jewish community as a whole, supervising even the network of communities in the Roman Empire and outside its borders, by means of his messengers (shelichim or apostoloi) charged with the mission of preaching, teaching, setting up courts, and raising funds.



The Sages Since the days of Ezra and the Great Synagogue in the Persian Period, to which the completion of the collection of the Sacred Books (Tanach) is ascribed, the Sages or Scribes (Soferim) had taken over the place formerly occupied by the Prophets in the tradition of the Law. They were responsible for the formulation of the Jewish liturgy, the division of the Oral Law into Midrash, Halakhah and Aggada and the institution of the Jewish festivals. Their authority to issue ordinances and decrees was never questioned, though these decisions are always quoted as distinct from biblical law (Torah). Simeon the Righteous, probably to be identified with the High Priest Simeon son of Onias, who met Alexander the Great, was one of the last survivors of the Great Synagogue, as well as the first of the new succession of teachers, the Fathers (Avot) of classical Judaism. From the days of Ben Sira (c. 200 BCE), these sages were a professional class. They had taken an independent place alongside the priesthood, which had previously guarded the Law and its interpretation; though many of them, like the later rabbis, were priests themselves. Many of these sages or scribes were Pharisees. They were teachers of biblical interpretation, moral behavior, and legal principles. Their schools were organized centers of study; they were adjacent to synagogues, and in later periods it is assumed that each synagogue had its own school or Beth Midrash. The hall of this school was used on Sabbath afternoon for popular instruction. Those who attended daily lessons paid a regular fee to the custodian or beadle. Besides these advanced schools, there was the elementary school (Beth Sefer), and the community paid the salary of the schoolteachers. We know that towards the end of the second century CE, Judah the Patriarch sent out a commission headed by a rabbi to make a tour of the cities in the country and establish in each of them a teacher of Bible and one of tradition. Disciples of famous teachers, such as Shammai and Hillel in Herod’s time, formed rival schools, especially in casuistic matters, and both opinions were always reported in later rabbinic literature. The whole collection of the tradition of the Sages, called the Mishnah, was first compiled and edited by Patriarch Judah around 200 CE.



Languages, culture and art Located between Egypt and the great old empires of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, the land of Israel had been the crossroads of different cultures during all its long history. More recent events, such as the Babylonian exile, Persian rule of the country, Greek invasion and Roman conquest, had exposed the traditional Israelite culture to many deep changes. Hebrew, the ancient language of the people of Israel, had been practically supplanted by the more international Aramaic since at least the fifth century BCE. On the other hand, the Qumran scrolls show that a Hebrew renaissance had taken place in the last century BCE, and was possibly even spoken by educated people in public speeches. The upper Jewish classes, of course, had largely adopted Greek. This is obvious, for instance, by the names, either Greek or Hellenized, which appear in inscriptions on ossuaries (a small sarcophagus used for secondary burial) and tombstones. Greek philosophy had influenced Jewish thinkers as early as the time the book of Ecclesiastes was written (c. 250 BCE), and this influence had since increased. Rabbinical literature informs us that a Greek academy was functioning in Palestine in the second century CE, and it is certain that many famous rabbis received a Greek education there. Art from the Herodian and Roman periods reflects the Hellenistic influence on a grand scale, though typical oriental elements continue to appear. The absence of human and animal figures reminds us that religious laws still preceded and led all artistic activities. Not until late in the Roman period (c. 200–300 CE) do we find that the biblical prohibition was overlooked by Jewish artists in Palestine with the explicit agreement of rabbis. The Jewish faith In the normative Judaism of the first centuries of the Christian era there was no such thing as a body of dogmas to be accepted or a formulated credo to be proclaimed. There was rather a practical faith in the God of Israel, held by all those who called themselves “sons of the commandment.” An Israelite was a full member of the Jewish community from the very moment he entered the “covenant of Abraham” by the rite of circumcision, on the eighth day of his life. The same was demanded from any non-Jew who



wanted to convert to Judaism. Converted men and women were also obliged to bathe in the mikveh. This ritual has a strong external similarity to Christian baptism; in Judaism it expresses the idea of sanctity, the special consecration to God that distinguishes Jews from all other peoples. They are, as the Bible puts it, am segulah, goy kadosh, mamlekhet cohanim (“a peculiar people, a holy nation, a kingdom of priests,” Exod 9:5–6; 1 Pet 3:9ff). God is for them a Father, as well as a King, as is expressed in many of the prayers of the Siddur. Elected from among all other peoples, Israelites saw themselves as the “first-born” of God the Creator, his special possession (qinian; see Exod 23:22; 1 Pet 2:9). His presence, or shekhinah, accompanied them wherever they were, even in exile (b. Meg. 29a). God’s love for them was greater than for any other nation (Mek. Exod. 15:2): “Yours is the entire world, but you have no other people than Israel” (ibid. 15:16). Not surprisingly, the official Jewish attitude toward gentiles was prone to take on a form offensive to non-Jews. Any contact with them had to be avoided because their lack of purity could contaminate the Jew. A gentile, even in danger of death, was not worthy of an act of charity (chesed) on the part of the Jew that would involve breaking a commandment like the Sabbath (Luke 13:10–17; 14:1–6; b. Sanh. 74b; b. B. Meṣi‘a 114b; t. Yebam. 98a.). On the other hand, personal relationships within the Jewish community were governed by the biblical principle “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev 19:18), which had been stressed by the greatest rabbis, such as Hillel and Akiba. Rabbinic legislation encouraged private and public charity in the form of solicitude for the poor. Charity was considered to be the “commandment” (miṣvah) par excellence. A distinctive Jewish idea, the Messianic age to come, was the root of many political disturbances in the first and the second centuries. This idea of a golden age of the Jewish nation was attached to the prophecies of liberation from foreign dominion and restoration of independence under the rule of a wise and good king of the line of David. Other nations would be subjugated, or destroyed, or converted, according to different opinions. Besides this political ideal there was another one of a more religious character: a time to come when all men would serve the God of Israel. God would be king over all the earth (Zech 14:9; Obad 17–



21; Isa 24:23; Dan 7). To arrive at this happy day was the expectation of all religious Jews, the object of their prayers and the justification of their observances. When a pagan abandoned his paganism and joined the holy people, he took upon himself “the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Sifra, Kedoshim 93d, ed. Weiss). It is possible that this idea, so stressed in the late Second Temple period, was the starting point for Jewish missionaries who went all over the world making proselytes (Matt 23:15; b. Menaḥ 43a–44a; t. Yebam. 98a; Gen. Rab. 34:4). In any case, proselytism was so appreciated by the rabbis that it figures in sentences like the following: “One who brings a foreigner (nokhri) near and makes a proselyte of him, it is as if he created him” (Gen. Rab. 12:5,39).

THE JEWISH DIASPORA Not all the Israelites deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (581 BCE) returned to their country. Many thousands remained in Babylon and adjacent countries. During the Hellenistic period, when Egyptian rulers dominated the land of Israel, a continuous migration of Jews to Egypt took place, in such proportions as to endanger the balance of that country’s population in favor of the Jews. The Seleucid king Antioch III established military colonies of Babylonian Jews who became permanently settled in Lydia and Phrygia (Asia Minor). Roman interventions in Palestine caused the deportation of many thousands of Jews to Rome as slaves. North Africa and other Western Roman provinces saw the settlement of numerous Jewish communities, which partly substituted and maybe even absorbed the ancient Phoenician colonies. The population of the Jewish Diaspora reached several million, with one million living in Egypt alone, according to Philo (In Flaccum, 45–46). Relations between Jews and gentiles in the Diaspora reveal two opposite tendencies in Judaism, namely exclusiveness and universalism. The first is manifest in loyalty to their own religious laws, rites, festivals, Sabbaths, payment of the cultural tax to the temple in Jerusalem, pilgrimages to the Holy City at least once in their lives, and recognition of the authority of the Palestinian Sanhedrin, and later the Patriarch. The gentile environment did not always tolerate such particularity, and local Egyptian and Roman authorities and certain intellectuals (Cicero, Pro Flacco, 28, 66–69; Horatius, Satires, 1:4, 137–142; Juvenal, Satires, 3, 10–18; 6, 542–



547; Josephus, Apion) often encouraged popular anti-Jewish sentiments. The universalistic tendency, on the other hand, was very strong among many of the self-exiled Jews, who tried to integrate Greek philosophy into their way of life. They translated the Bible into Greek, adopted Greek and Latin in public prayers, and did not oppose the use of pagan formulas in their official documents. An inscription in Greek found in Miletus (Asia Minor) shows that Jews held reserved places in the local theater (Deissman 1910: 451). Jewish religion in the Diaspora, especially after 70 CE, was centered around the study and veneration of the Torah, as is attested to by paintings of the Torah scrolls in Roman Jewish catacombs (Hachlili 1998: 366, Fig. VII-16).

EGYPT In addition to the Bible (Jer 44:1; 46:14), a number of documents testify to early Jewish settlement in Egypt before the time of Alexander the Great: the so-called Letter of Aristeas, and the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine. Many thousands of Egyptian papyri and ostraca from the Greek and Roman periods relate to Jews (Charles 1913; Pritchard 1950: 491–492). Egyptians often failed to distinguish between Syrians and Jews, perhaps due to the lack of a special name for southern Syria, in which the land of Israel was included. (“Palestine” was not in official use until the second century CE). Jews, not always easily distinguishable by their names, are found living in over sixty different cities and villages in Lower, Middle and Upper Egypt. Their social positions were very diverse; among them police work, tax collection, cattle breeding, agriculture, military service and administration, trade, and money lending (Tchericover 1973). Jewish life in Egypt was not that of a ghetto. There were slaves employed as house-servants, and there were wealthy shipowners and bankers with a high standard of living. Politically, their situation differed from that of the native Egyptian masses and from that of the ruling Greek population. They paid taxes like any other Egyptian resident, and were not exempt, like the Greeks, from the poll tax introduced by the Romans in the first century. After 70 CE, Vespasian imposed a special Jewish tax on them, corresponding to the didrachmon paid annually until then by every adult Jew to the Temple in Jerusalem.



A certain religious syncretism dominated Egyptian Jewry, and this is evident from many personal names as well as tomb inscriptions. Egyptian burial customs, such as mummification, were accepted. Philo describes a sort of monastic institution called the Therapeutae (On the Contemplative Life). Its members lived a life consecrated to study and prayer near Lake Mareotis, by Alexandria. Elephantine This city boasted a Jewish garrison, called the “Jewish force,” as early as the seventh century BCE. Situated at the southern end of a small island in the Nile, opposite the present city of Assuan, their job was to defend the southern borders of Egypt. The temple erected there for their religious needs was certainly of a heterodox character. One of the many Aramaic papyri found on the island attests that, alongside the Jewish God Iaho, two goddesses— Ashambethel and Anathbethel—were worshipped there (Pritchard 1950: 591–592). The correspondence of the Elephantine Jews with the priests in Jerusalem shows that they still felt attached to their origins and accepted a central Jewish authority. Onias’ temple Priest Onias IV was the legitimate candidate for the high priesthood in Jerusalem after his father’s death, but was opposed by his rival Alcimus. For this reason and because of the decrees issued by Antiochus IV he left Judaea and went to Egypt, where he was authorized by Ptolemy VI to build a temple (c. 145 BCE). The Jerusalem priesthood did not recognize this temple, which was probably intended to serve as a local center of worship for a Jewish military settlement. But it continued to function after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, till it was closed in 73 CE by order of Vespasian.

ALEXANDRIA The largest and most important of the Jewish Diaspora communities was that of Alexandria. The following review is divided into several sections:



Social and political conditions Jews had established themselves in Alexandria since its very foundation by Alexander the Great (333 BCE). Until the Roman period, synagogues existed in all parts of the city. The Jewish population did not occupy a special quarter. There were many wealthy Jews, especially merchants. During the Ptolemaic period, relations between Jews and Greeks were generally good, and we know of only two conflicts. Many Jews even enjoyed the status of citizenship, a privilege denied to native Egyptians. Their position deteriorated towards the first half of the first century CE, when all Jews demanded citizenship in order to avoid a tax that the Romans imposed on the local population from which Greek citizens of Alexandria were exempt. Riots between Jews and Greeks broke out in 38 CE, during the reign of Caligula. Upon his death, the Jews took their revenge, sparking an uprising all over the Roman Empire. The Romans suppressed this revolt, but a double Alexandrian delegation of Jews and Greeks respectively had been sent to the emperor, Claudius. This precipitated his famous decree concerning Jewish rights in the city. New clashes during the Jewish revolt in 115–117 provoked the burning of the great synagogue, and the Jewish population in Alexandria began to diminish. Culture The Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria were familiar with both the literary and philosophical works of the Greeks and the Bible. The origins of its Greek translation, the Septuagint, are legendary: It was believed that seventy-two elders working independently under divine inspiration each produced identical translations of the Pentateuch. Books that had not yet been received into the canon, like Ben-Sira or Ecclesiasticus, were also translated into Greek in Alexandria. The independent production by Jewish poets, playwrights, historians and philosophers in the Greek language attests to the high level of Hellenistic-Jewish culture in Alexandria. Philo is its best and latest representative. Assimilation and self-consciousness There were two aspects to the reaction of the upper class of Alexandrian Jews to Hellenism. On one hand, there was a tendency to assimilation, not only of a Greek structure of thought, but also



of many Greek philosophical ideas and ideals (thus, for instance, there is attenuation of exclusively Semitic concepts in the Greek translation of the Bible, and the widely held view that Moses’ books were the inspiration behind Greek philosophy). On the other hand, Greek culture was not only conceived of as the best means for the propagation of Jewish religion throughout the world (proselytism), but Jews were also prepared to fight for the official recognition of their right to maintain the purity of their own religion. The Jewish-Hellenistic work Wisdom of Solomon (considered canonical by the Catholic Church), was written in Alexandria c. 50 BCE and is highly influenced by Greek philosophy. This work identifies the “righteous” with the Jews and the “impious” with the Egyptians (or the Greek power in Egypt). But, in general, Alexandrian Judaism should be considered as a decisive move towards a universal message of salvation. Philo (c. 20 BCE–50 CE) Philo is the best example of Jewish-Hellenistic culture in Alexandria. His many philosophical, political and exegetical writings influenced not only the Church Fathers, but also perhaps the New Testament itself. He was possibly ignorant of Hebrew, as his numerous etymologies of Hebrew names indicate. Rabbinical writers never mention him, though he was a synagogue preacher. He presided over the Jewish delegation that went to Rome to plead for the Alexandrian Jews before the emperor Caligula. It seems that they were successfully heard by his successor Claudius. Community organization and institutions The Jews formed an autonomous community at whose head stood at first its respected leaders, and afterwards, the ethnarchs, and, following the days of Augustus, a council of 171 elders. The ethnarch was responsible for the general conduct of the affairs of the Jews, particularly in legal matters. Communal institutions also included a beth-din, (“house of judgment,” i.e., courthouse), and the archion (an office for drawing up documents). A famous building with a “double-colonnade,” the diopelostion mentioned in the Talmud, could be the splendid central synagogue, or perhaps a large meeting place for artisans.



Relations with Jerusalem The book of Acts (6:9) and the Talmud refer to the Synagogue of the Alexandrians in Jerusalem. During Herod’s reign, several prominent Alexandrian Jewish families lived in Jerusalem. “Nicanor’s Gate” in the Temple was named after a famous Alexandrian Jew, and rabbinic sources describe the miracles surrounding him and the gates he brought from Alexandria by ship (m. Yoma 3:10; t. Yoma 2:4). The family tomb of this Nicanor was discovered in Jerusalem in 1902, and one of the ossuaries (Fig. 3) found there has this inscription in Greek: “The bones are those of Nicanor the Alexandrian who made the gates.”

Fig. 3 Jewish ossuary from the first century CE, Jerusalem.

ROME The origins of the important Jewish colony in the imperial city are obscure. Its first record is from the year 161 BCE, when two envoys of Judas Maccabee arrived there. Hasmonean rulers sent further delegations in 150 and 139 BCE. From the latter year there is preserved a record of the expulsion of Jewish propagandists from Rome. Jewish prisoners of war arrived with Pompei after his invasion of Judaea (63 BCE). In a discourse at the Senate, Cicero maintained that the number of Jews who crowded the law court was so great as to intimidate the jury (59 BCE). The community grew in strength and



number, and frequently caused disturbances that provoked expulsion (19 and 49–50 CE). The victory over Judaea by Vespasian and Titus multiplied the number of Jewish slaves. Roman satiric poets describe the activities of Jewish peddlers and beggars in Roman streets (Martial, Epigrams 4, 4; 12, 5–7; 7:30; Juvenal, Satires VI, 157–160; XIV, 96–106). Some Jews were practitioners of the liberal arts, physicians, for example, but the majority of Roman Jews, numbering at least 10,000 in the Roman period, were shopkeepers and craftsmen. There were thirteen synagogues (Westernholz 1995), but their remains have not been preserved. Six Jewish catacombs have been discovered to date. Greek was the common language of Roman Jewry. Jews and Syrians Though officially protected, Judaism never enjoyed popularity among Romans, who considered it one of the many oriental religions invading the West. Jews were often identified with Syrians for geographical reasons. Itinerant Syrian missionaries of the goddess Atargatis, whose symbols were fishes, doves and pigs, garnered much attention from the Romans, and formed confraternities from the newly-obtained adherents to their cult in many countries, as far away as Gaul. Jews also practiced proselytism, and other practices made them appear similar to the Syrians as well. Roman sensitivities were often struck by peculiar Jewish characteristics, such as the prohibition of eating pork and other foods, the weekly rest of the Sabbath, and, first and foremost, the absolute monotheism and invisibility of God. Paradoxically, Jews were sometimes believed to be worshippers of Bacchus and said to indulge in his orgiastic ceremonies, as well as to adore the head of an ass (Plutarch, Symposiacs IV, 6; Tacitus, Hist., V, 5; see also Lightstone – Herbert 2006). Slaves and freemen Roman interventions in Palestine (63,52, 44, and 4 BCE) had filled the capital with Jewish slaves, but their number increased considerably in 70 CE, when, according to Josephus, not less than 100,000 Jews were deported and sold as slaves. Bar-Kokhbas’s



defeat added still several thousand more, and we know that a Jewish slave was then sold for the price of a horse (Josephus, Apion, II, 9; Plutarch, Symposiacs, IV, 5). The number of Jewish slaves was still great in the time of Constantine (fourth century) and Justinian (sixth century). Pope Gregory I (540–604) attests to the existence of Jewish slaves in his own time, as well (Ep. VIII, 25). People came to consider Jews to be slaves by their very nature (Jerome, On Zechariah, 11, 5; On Jeremiah, 6, 18; Chronicon Paschale, I: 474 [ed. Dindorf]). Yet, many of those slaves received freedom by various means and became Roman citizens. There were Jewish Roman citizens in all of the Roman provinces, and many of them returned to Palestine with their new status. Many gained citizenship by individual or imperial favor, and others obtained it as a reward for their services in the Roman colonies (in Ephesus, Delos, Sardis, etc.). These Jewish Roman citizens were probably forbidden to practice polygamy because their status depended on their submission to Roman civil law. However, they did enjoy a certain amount of judicial independence. Not only were Jews allowed to practice all of their own religious rites but they were not required to participate in the religious cults of the gods and the emperor. Legal status of the Jewish religion Because it was essentially linked to national uses and customs, Judaism obtained official recognition in the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar established the basis for these Jewish privileges, and Augustus and Tiberius confirmed them. Caligula provoked strong opposition when he imposed emperor worship upon the Jews while maintaining their privileges. Claudius confirmed all Jewish privileges. Vespasian and Titus did not suppress them. Domitian persecuted the Jews and Nerva protected them. Under Trajan, they revolted and were punished. Hadrian provoked them when he erected a temple to himself in Jerusalem and forbade circumcision. After the revolt, Antoninus Pius and his successors sporadically forbade various privileges, such as exercising proselytism. Ultimately, the Christian emperors preserved their rights while at the same time they severely banished paganism.



Synagogues Religious freedom for Jews in Rome found a ready expression in the organization of various communities and the building of synagogues. The names of these buildings relate either to the persons who erected them, to the quarter in which they were built, or to the countries from which the communities came. Synagogue administration consisted of a council of elders and several officers. Jews in the emperor’s palace We know of two high-ranking Romans who became Jewish proselytes. The first was Fulvia, the wife of a Roman senator named Saturninus. He reported to the emperor Tiberius a fraud committed by some Jews who never delivered to the temple in Jerusalem the present sent to it by his wife. The result was that Tiberius expelled all of the Jews from Rome (19 CE). The second case is that of Flavius Clemens, the son of Vespasian’s eldest brother. His sons were appointed successors to the emperor Domitian. In 95 CE he served as consul together with the emperor, but Domitian formally accused Clemens and his wife Domitilla, herself a granddaughter of Vespasian, of atheism. As a result, Clemens was executed and his wife deported (95 CE). The historian Dio Cassius expressly describes this atheistic heresy as a conversion to Judaism, though many later historians consider it to be a possible conversion to Christianity. The “Chrestus” affair The Roman historian Suetonius reported in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, published in 120 CE, that the emperor Claudius ordered the expulsion of all Jews from Rome because of disturbances caused by them “at the incitement of a certain Chrestus.” It is thought that the case is related to the beginnings of the Christian mission in Rome (c. 49 CE). It is possible that Chrestus is no other than Christus, mistaken by the historian or his sources (perhaps a police report preserved in imperial archives), to be a person living in Rome at that period. The imperial decree affected both Jews and Christians. Among the latter, we know of Aquila and Priscilla, a couple who met the apostle Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1).



Jewish catacombs Six Jewish underground cemeteries, similar to those of Christians, the well-known catacombs, have thus far been discovered in Rome, with over five hundred epitaphs. These are one of our main sources of information about social and familial conditions in imperial Rome, the organization of synagogues and Jewish communities, and religious life. They all express a strict monotheism and faithfulness to the Law. Only Jews and, rarely, proselytes are buried there. Not even gentiles who were considered “God-fearers” (i.e., believers in the God of Israel but not fully observing all of the Jewish commandments) were buried there. Bodies were buried intact in the walls of the underground corridors, never cremated after the Roman manner. Paradoxically, the paintings decorating the vaults and walls surrounding the niches depict not only biblical scenes, floral motifs, Jewish symbols, (the Menorah, Torah scrolls), but also pagan motifs and representations of human and animal figures. One Jewish sarcophagus is decorated with three theater masks. A glass amulet on a skeleton shows a head of a Gorgon surrounded by serpents. Some inscriptions bear pagan formulas, like, “Be courageous, nobody is immortal!” But greetings of shalom are much more frequent on the epitaphs, usually written in Greek or Latin. The longest and most nicely written of these is that in Latin of a certain Faustina, which expressly manifests the belief in a future resurrection (Frey 1936: 616).

OTHER COUNTRIES In the first century CE, the Greek geographer Strabo stated that there was not a single country in the world in which Jews were not found. The New Testament mentions the presence in Jerusalem, on the occasion of the feast of Pentecost, of Jews and God-fearers from such far-away countries as Parthia, Media, Cyrene, and Libya (Acts 2:9–11). These Jewish communities were not only faithful to their spiritual center, Jerusalem, but also actively practiced proselytism. The most notable example is that of the royal family of Adiabene, in northern Assyria, who, after converting to Judaism, came to Jerusalem. Their monumental tomb has been preserved in Jerusalem. Other Jewish settlements around the Mediterranean have left important archaeological traces.



Antioch During the Seleucid period, Syria was the administrative center for the Seleucid Empire, with its capital at Antioch on the Orontes (present Antakia, in southern Turkey). Jews were allowed to live there in security. When the city was founded in 300 BCE, they were granted full rights. There was no special Jewish quarter. During the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews of Antioch suffered persecution. The martyrdom of Hannah and her seven sons (II Macc 7) may have occurred there. Later, Christians venerated them at their tomb there, in the Keration quarter, near the synagogue. The franchise of the Jews in Antioch was engraved on bronze tablets and set up in a public place in the city. During the Roman period, the Jewish population grew considerably, and it was there that the first Christians began to be called Christianoi (“Messianics”), possibly by the rest of the Jewish population who had not accepted Jesus as Messiah (Acts 11:26), but more probably by the pagans. Already in the days of Paul, many pagans had joined the ranks of the Christians, and incidents between the apostles Peter and Paul are told in relation to these pagans who became Christians without becoming Jews first (Gal 2:11–16). The Jewish community of Antioch maintained permanent commercial and cultural ties with Palestine, and took an interest in the spiritual life of their coreligionists there. Asia Minor Large Jewish settlements in Asia Minor are historically evidenced from the end of the third century BCE. The first synagogues in Asia Minor were apparently built at that time. From the Roman period we possess extensive and detailed information about the Jewish communities in the numerous inscriptions, documents and detailed accounts by Josephus and the New Testament (especially in the Acts and the Pauline epistles). According to these sources, Jews were well-established in the following regions of Asia Minor: Ionia, Myria, Lydia, Caria, Lycia, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Cappadocia, Galatia, Bithynia, Paphlagonia, Pisidia, Cilicia, and other localities. Jewish customs became popular throughout the towns of Asia Minor, and many gentiles kindled lights on Sabbaths and attended services in the synagogues. The movement of gentiles worshipping the “Supreme God” of Israel was strong in Asia Minor (Tertullian, Ad



nationes, I, xiii; Gregory of Nazianz, Oratio XVIII, 5; Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium, II; see also Goodenough 1953, II: 221– 243). Greece The first archaeological evidence of a Jewish presence in Greece is an inscription mentioning a Jewish slave named Moschos, “son of Moschion the Jew” (300–250 BCE; Cohen 1999: 98). Two other inscriptions from Delphi (second century BCE) also refer to Jewish slaves (Frey 1936: nos. 709, 710). Among the Jewish fugitives to reach Sparta during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes was the high priest Jason (II Maccabees 5:9). About 142 BCE, Jews resided in Sparta, Delos, Sicyon, Samos, Rhodes, Cos, Crete, Cnidos and Cyprus. In the first century CE Philo further lists Thessaly, Beotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, most of the better parts of the Peloponesus and the island of Euboea. Jewish inscriptions, including a number from the local synagogue, attest to a sizable colony of Jews at Delos. The New Testament also mentions Jewish communities and synagogues in Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, as well as “God-fearers” in Philippi. Dura-Europos The famous synagogue discovered in 1932 in the ruined city of this name on the river Euphrates, a Roman city that served as a transfer station for goods brought up the river from India and sent on to Palmyra and the Mediterranean ports, is of the utmost importance for the history of ancient Jewish art. There are actually two synagogues there from different periods. The upper synagogue was completed in 244–5 CE. A Greek inscription commemorates the building of the synagogue by Samuel ben Idi, an “elder of the Jews,” with the assistance of several members of the congregation. The Jewish population does not seem to have been very numerous, and isolated among pagans. Perhaps this influenced some of the scenes painted in fresco on the walls (Fig. 4). A small Christian chapel was also found in the ruins of the city. This locale is some 400 kms north of Nehardea, the great center of Babylonian Jewry, of which nothing remained after its destruction in 259 CE.



Fig. 4 Moses rescued from the waters of the Nile, a mural in the synagogue of Dura-Europos, Syria, third century CE (Goodenough 1964, pl. XI). North Africa The Jewish settlement in Egypt spread westwards along the North African coast, reaching Cyrene at least as early as the second century BCE. In the Roman imperial period there were settlements as far as the strait of Gibraltar. The Jews, according to Strabo (Strabo, Geography, XVII, quoted by Josephus, Ant. xiv, 7, 2), formed one of the four classes of citizens in Cyrene in the year 85 CE. Civil equality for Jews had been guaranteed by the Ptolemies and was fully restored by the Roman emperors. The Jews of Cyrene maintained close relations with Palestine. A detailed history



of the Hasmonean uprising was chronicled by one of these, a writer named Jason. In the first century CE numerous Jews from Cyrene resided in Jerusalem, as evidenced by the New Testament and inscriptions on ossuaries. There were attempts at rebellion by the Jews in Cyrene after the fall of Jerusalem (70 CE) and especially under Trajan (115–117 CE), when they joined their so-called king, a certain Lukuas or Anbaeas. Jewish ossuaries have been found in Cyrene. Gaul and Spain The earliest evidence of a Jewish presence in Gaul is the case of Archelaus, the ethnarch of Judaea, who was banished by Augustus in 6 CE to Vienne (Isère). There he died in 16 CE. His brother, Herod Antipas, was exiled to Lyons by Caligula in 39 CE. After the fall of Jerusalem, three ships with Jewish captives arrived in Gaul, destined, according to legend, for Bordeaux, Arles, and Lyons. Archaeology has confirmed early Jewish settlements in those places. The fact that Christians from Syria were organized into an important community in Lyons as early as the second century—the bishop Irenaeus and the famous martyrs among them—is evidence in favor of an earlier settlement of Jews there, as well. The Jews settled in Spain probably as early as the first century CE. We do not know whether or not the apostle Paul ever carried out his plan to visit Spain, although a local tradition from Tarragona—later an important Jewish city—claims that he did. The First Epistle of Clement further attests to this visit (chapter five). Regulations concerning relations between Christians and Jews from the Christian council of Elvira (305 CE) also indicate a wellestablished Jewish community in that region of Spain. Yet, the earliest Jewish inscriptions found thus far date only to the third century CE. From a somewhat later period we have two trilingual inscriptions, in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, witnessing to the heterogenous character of that Jewish community.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS This survey of Jewish communities throughout the generations in the various countries in which Christianity established itself in the first centuries of the Christian era is brief and certainly incomplete. In spite of this, the point has been sufficiently made that one



cannot really understand Christianity, its speedy establishment in the world and the unique character it received, unless one first perceives its Jewish background. From a strictly human point of view, Jesus is primarily a Jewish phenomenon. He was born as a Jew and lived as a Jew during a period of subjection for his people, a people that had lost its independence and was at the time subjugated by Rome. The first group of people to believe in “the Way” of Jesus (Acts 9:2; 19:1,9,23; 24:22), composed entirely of Jews, was persecuted by the Jewish authorities, who considered it to be a dangerous Jewish sect. In the first generation of Christianity the Second Temple was destroyed, and from then onward the belief of the Christians that Jesus’ death had substituted the traditional sacrifices was only strengthened, as well as their belief in the universal character of redemption. The Jewish Diaspora to the East and West was a significant resource for the Christian missionaries who evangelized throughout the Roman Empire. It was only natural that these missionaries, who were themselves Jews or proselytes, would live in the framework of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. As related in Acts 17:1, on his travels the apostle Paul was accustomed to go first of all to the synagogue in every city to which he came, and to speak there. During these weekly sermons new groups of believers in Jesus were formed, with whom should be counted those called “God-fearers,” i.e., gentiles who adopted the Jewish faith but had not yet taken upon themselves the complete yoke of the commandments. All of the earliest Christian communities that arose in Syria, Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the settlements in the western parts of the Roman Empire were mixed and included both Jews and non-Jews who were bound up together into a new spiritual body. There is no doubt that the Jewish roots of these Christian communities naturally left their stamp on the life of the Church, not only from a spiritual perspective, but also socially, culturally and organizationally. The pagans had a difficult time differentiating between the Jews and the Christians. The two groups were both accused of atheism. New believers in both groups suffered from a difficult relationship with the government that sometimes included persecution, exile and death. The Jewish roots of the Church sometimes gave rise to tensions and misunderstandings in the midst of the new believers, as can be gleaned from early documents, including the New



Testament itself. The apostle Paul was compelled to defend his position before the apostles in Jerusalem, because he did not obligate new believers who used to be idol-worshippers to keep the commandments of the Law (Acts 15:1–19; Gal 5:1–11). Only one generation later there were Christian groups composed exclusively of people of Jewish extraction, such as the “Ebionites” and the “Nazarenes,” who considered themselves to be the true disciples of Jesus, and they had differences of opinion on things as basic as the divinity of the Messiah. Since the fourth century CE (during which these two sects disappeared) orthodox Christianity has attempted to discern the true relationship between Jesus’ divine and human natures. Differences of opinion have created the divisions between orthodox Christians and Arians, and the so-called Monophysites and Nestorians. Although the Church never lost sight of the fact that she sprang from Jewish roots, throughout history few theologians have explored this fact deeply and presented its importance to Christians for understanding the foundations of their own faith and the different ways in which it has been expressed over the centuries.

CHAPTER 2: EARLY CHRISTIANITY IN WRITTEN SOURCES The study of ancient Christianity can be approached from many different points of view: theological, philosophical, and sociological. But, as a Jewish religious movement that originated in a very definite historical and geographical framework, our approach must be first of all historical, and make use of empirical geographical and chronological data. This chapter makes use of the most ancient literary sources at our disposal on this long journey. The origin and early development of the Christian faith is fully documented in written texts. These documents, among other things, attest to the historical existence of Jesus, and further attest to the belief of the early Church that he was the realization of God’s plan for the universal salvation of mankind. The life of Jesus, his miracles, his sermons and parables, transmitted at first only through oral tradition, were later put into writing at the stage in which the second generation of believers was taking over from the first. These believers considered Jesus to be the Messiah and Son of God. The witness of these writings, called gospels, is extremely relevant, because it comes, directly or indirectly, from people who had first-hand knowledge of Jesus during his life. The four canonical gospels are followed in the New Testament by the Acts of the Apostles, (a book with a more distinctly historical character), after which there is a number of shorter epistles—most written by Paul and some of his collaborators—to several different Christian communities, one anonymous epistle, (Hebrews), and seven more (sometimes called the “catholic” epistles due to their more universal character) attributed to Peter, John and James, the brother of Jesus, and Jude. The New Testament collection closes with the Revelation of John, a book of consolation written in the traditional Jewish apocalyptic style. 29



Besides sources stemming from Christian hands, (which include not only the New Testament but other early Christian writings as well, especially those of the “Apostolic Fathers” with whom we will become acquainted in due course), there are also external, non-Christian sources with which to substantiate our knowledge of early Christian history and doctrine. As a matter of fact, there are Jewish and Roman sources related to our subject, some well-known and others that have been largely ignored by scholars. We begin our inquiry into ancient literary references to Christianity with these non-Christian sources as an introduction to ancient Christian literature.

NON-CHRISTIAN SOURCES The Jewish Sources Among the hundreds of Jewish works produced during the first centuries of the Christian era, references are made to Jesus and to his disciples by rabbis in their halakhic and haggadic writings. However, given the negative view of Jesus and his doctrine in such passages, many of these texts were later changed to be made less direct or offensive or completely left out of the printed editions of the Talmud as to avoid the scrutiny of Christian Inquisitors. On the other hand, references in the midrashic writings were practically left intact. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, many of these passages have been systematically collected and discussed by Christian and Jewish scholars (Herford, 1905; Zeitlin, 1933; Schoeps, 1963). Before beginning our short review of the most relevant of these references, we will discuss a particularly interesting Jewish source, the historian Josephus Flavius, a contemporary of the events preceding and following the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Josephus Flavius In his work Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus includes three passages related to our subject: a reference to Jesus, another to John the Baptist and yet another to James, the “brother of the Lord.” These texts appear in every printed edition (including the translations) of Josephus’ text. There is a widespread tendency among scholars to consider these passages to be spurious interpolations made by



ancient copyists. This is particularly true of the one that tells about Jesus. This is perhaps the case, given the fact that Josephus’s books were transmitted to us by way of copies made by ancient Christians, but, on the other hand, it is difficult to believe that Josephus would have ignored the facts surrounding Jesus’ death and the presence of the contemporary Jewish community that preached that he had risen from the dead and was the Messiah. Christians could, of course, have made interpolations into Josephus’s text, but it is just as plausible that they only made alterations in keeping with their own faith to what Josephus, a nonChristian writer, had himself written about Jesus. These questions were clarified when Prof. Shlomo Pines, a Jewish Israeli scholar, discovered an Arabic manuscript containing a translation of Josephus’s famous passage about Jesus, commonly referred to as the “Testimonium Flavianum” (Ant. XVIII, 63–64). This Arabic text was included by Agapius, a tenth-century Syriac-speaking Christian writer, in his book Kitab al-’Unwan. Here is a translation of the Arabic text as published by Pines: Similarly Josephus the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises that he has written on the governance of the Jews: “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Pines 1971: 16) This text is shorter than the Greek text, which explicitly states that On the third day he appeared to them restored to life. For the prophets of God had prophesied these and myriads of other marvelous [things] about him. (Ibid) Josephus’s reference to John the Baptist is also found in Antiquities of the Jews. This text is framed in the account of Herod Antipas’s defeat by Aretas, the Nabataean king. According to Josephus:


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY [S]ome of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod killed him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. (Ant. XVIII, 5,2)

Josephus continues, telling us that John [W]as sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus… and was there put to death. (Ibid) In Josephus we also find an account of the death of James, the “brother of Jesus” and head of the Jerusalem community of believers. This took place in Jerusalem, in the years immediately prior to the destruction of the Temple: When, therefore, Ananus [the high priest] was of this [rigid] disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus [the appointed new Roman procurator] was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ [Messiah], whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the Law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; some of them even went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria… (Ant. XX, 9,1)



The Talmud Both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud contain a number of references to Jesus, his person, deeds and doctrine, but in some cases it is not clear whether the text in question refers to Jesus of Nazareth or some other Jew of the same name (Klausner, 1925: 18–54). Here we shall quote only the more reliable and important sources: A Master has said, “Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic, enticed and led Israel astray.” (b. Sanh. 107b) On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Jesus] was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover. (b. Sanh. 43, 61) Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought [before the court] he said to them [the judges]: “Shall Matthai be executed? Is it not written: Matthai [=“when” in Hebrew] shall I come and appear before God?” Thereupon they retorted: “Yes, Matthai shall be executed, since it is written: Matthai [“when”] shall [he] die and his name perish.” When Nakai was brought in he said to them: “Shall Nakai be executed? Is it not written: Naki [the innocent] and the righteous slay thou not?” “Yes,” was the answer, “Nakai shall be executed, since it is written: in secret places does Naki [the innocent] slay.” When Nezer was brought in, he said: “Shall Nezer be executed? Is it not written: And Nezer [a twig] shall grow forth out of his roots.” “Yes,” they said, “Nezer shall be executed, since it is written: But thou art cast forth away from thy grave like Nezer [“an abhorred offshoot”].” When Buni was brought in, he said: “Shall Buni be executed? Is it not written: Beni [my son], my first born?” “Yes,” they said, “Buni shall be executed, since it is written: Behold I will slay Bine-ka [“thy son”] thy first


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY born.” And when Todah was brought in, he said to them: “Shall Todah be executed? Is it not written: A psalm for Todah [“thanksgiving”]?” “Yes,” they answered, “Todah shall be executed, since it is written: Whoso offereth the sacrifice of Todah [“thanksgiving”] honored me.” (b. Sanh. 43a) Our Rabbis taught: When R. Eliezer was arrested because of Minuth, (i.e., heresy), they brought him up to the tribune to be judged. Said the governor to him: “How can a sage man like you occupy himself with those idle things?” He replied, “I acknowledge the Judge as right.” The governor thought that he referred to him — though he really referred to his Father in Heaven — and said: “Because thou hast acknowledged me as right, I pardon; thou art acquitted.” When he came home, his disciples called on him to console him, but he would accept no consolation. Said R. Akiba to him: “Master, wilt thou permit me to say one thing of what thou hast taught me?” He replied: “Say it.” “Master,” said he, “perhaps some of the teaching of the Minim had been transmitted to thee and thou didst approve of it and because of that thou wast arrested?” He exclaimed: “Akiba, thou hast reminded me. I was once walking in the upper-market of Sepphoris when I came across one [of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene] Jacob of KefarSekhaniah (in the Tosephta, ‘Sakhnin’) by name, who said to me: ‘It is written in your Torah: Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot… into the house of the Lord thy God. May such money be applied to the erection of a retiring place for the High Priest?’ To which I made no reply. Said he to me: ‘Thus was I taught [by Jesus the Nazarene] (in the Tosephta, “Jesus the son of Pantyry”), “For of the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return. They came from a place of filth, let them go to a place of filth.”’ Those words pleased me very much, and that is why I was arrested for apostasy; for thereby I transgressed the scriptural words: ‘Remove thy way far from her — which refers to Minuth — and come not nigh to the door of



her house,’ — which refers to the ruling power.” (‘Abod. Zar. 16b–17a; t. Ḥul., 2, 24)1 We would need more space to comment and explain the foregoing texts, as well as others, found in the Talmud about Jesus of Nazareth. Reading them alone is not sufficient to evaluate their historic relevance, which is certainly inconclusive. But they do provide a witness that should not be ignored, and they represent the attitude taken by the rabbinic sages when confronted by the Christian phenomenon and the conversion of many of their coreligionists to the new faith. They do not deny the miracles wrought by Jesus, although they attribute them to magic tricks. They accept Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus, justifying the Sanhedrin’s sentence as having been issued in accordance with Jewish law. On the other hand, the matter of the herald, who for forty days announces the upcoming sentence to give an opportunity for someone to come forward with new information in favor of the accused, is a feature underlining the honesty of the judges, intended to cast them in a positive light, and is not found in the gospel accounts, as emphasized by Joseph Klausner (Klausner p. 46–54.). He also draws attention to the fact that the official judgment of the sages concerning Jesus and his doctrines is less severe than that of his followers, because these represented a real danger of dividing the Jewish people. Klausner’s opinion, however, should be corrected in accord with the midrashic reference that follows, in which the accusation of dividing the people of Israel is clearly formulated against Jesus himself. Midrash ha-Otiyot A very explicit reference to Jesus’ crucifixion is found in Midrash ha-Otiyot, (The Midrash of the Letters), ascribed to Rabbi Akiba. The attribution of the work to the name of the most famous Rabbi of the second century CE is almost certainly pseudepigraphic. Apparently, this midrash was composed in Palestine around the

Quotes from the Talmud are taken from the Soncino Talmud, and scriptural quotes are from the RSV. 1



fifth century CE.2 The anonymous author explains the symbolic meaning of each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Concerning the letter ṣadi, he writes: Ṣadi: Why does it have two heads? Because this is Jesus of Nazareth, who took hold of two heads, that of Israel and that of Edom3 and then went and led the whole world astray, and because Israel saw this they stood against him and seized him and crucified him on the cross;4 they reasoned thus: (It is written) “If your brother, the son of your mother… entices you” [Deut 13:7] and not “the son of your father.” This text, found in a critical edition of the minor midrashim (Wartheimer, 5715 AM: 387–418), is evidence that rabbis of the Talmudic period in Palestine had knowledge of the contents of the books of the New Testament, and that they discussed them with Christian theologians of the period. This curious passage should be considered as a direct Jewish response to the Christian doctrine of God’s plan of reconciliation between Jews and gentiles through the crucifixion of Jesus, as clearly stated in Paul’s epistles (Eph 2:13– 16; Col 1:20, 2:14). It is also an explicit acknowledgment by a Jewish author that Jews participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, and the author justifies this through reference to a biblical quotation. This quotation provided for the author of the midrash an obvious proof against the divine sonship of Christ. Jesus may be called a brother of Israel because of the undeniable Jewish origin of his mother, but in no way may he be called “son of God,” for nothing is said in the Hebrew Bible about the “enticer” being the son of Israel’s father, that is, of God himself (Figueras 1980: 165–166).

2 According to the late Prof. S. Safrai. Information received in a personal communication. 3 Edom is rabbinic code for “non-Jews.” 4 The first letter of the Hebrew word for “cross,” (ṣlav) is ṣadi, (translator).



The Roman sources Some of the most famous and reliable Roman historians left references to the early spread of the Christian faith in the capital of the Empire. These texts have been gathered and published in various languages (Stevenson 1970: 1–16). Here I shall present some of these quotations, with a few remarks of my own: Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome… (Suetonius, Claud. XXV, 4) As suggested above (p. 20), the “instigation of Chrestus” should be interpreted as a reference to the disturbances caused among the Jewish community of Rome by the preaching of the faith in Jesus as Christus, (the Greek translation of Messiah), whose followers persistently maintained to be still alive. Claudius issued an edict of expulsion against all the Jews from the capital in the year 49 CE. Among those expelled were Aquila and Priscilla, the future collaborators of the apostle Paul, who met them in Corinth (Acts 18:2). The next detail is provided by Tacitus, who wrote of the great fire of Rome in July of 64 CE that destroyed more than three quarters of the city. Nero accused the Christians of having caused the fire, although he himself was the primary suspect, according to Tacitus. This chronicler tells us more about the Christians than any other non-Christian historian of the period: But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City [Rome], where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who confessed; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of arson, as of hatred of the human race. Mockery of all sort was added to their deaths. Covered with skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in a chariot. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed. (Tacitus, Annals, XV, 44, 2–8)

Referring to the same persecution of Christians by Nero, Suetonius, another of his Roman biographers, has the following brief comment: Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and wicked superstition. (Suetonius, Ner. XVI, 2) The second persecution of Christians took place during the reign of Domitian, in the year 96 CE, and it was described by Dio Cassius. It seems that here the Christian faith brought the charge of “atheism,” (due to the fact that its members did not adore images, offered no sacrifices to the gods or to the emperor, and had no temples in which to gather for worship), and such was the accusation brought against the noble couple Flavius Clemens and Flavia Domitilla. Some scholars believe that these were actually converts to Judaism, as the text itself says. However, it is certain that the Romans did not make distinction between the two religions: And in the same year Domitian slew amongst many others Flavius Clemens in his consulship though he was his cousin and had to wife his own kinswoman, Flavia Domitilla. Against them both was brought the charge of atheism: and on this many others who made shipwreck



on Jewish customs were condemned, of whom some were put to death, while others were at the least deprived of their property; but Domitilla was only banished to Pandeteria… (Dio Cassius, Epitome, LXVII, 14) From about the year 112 CE, an interesting correspondence between Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia, and the emperor has been preserved. The subject is the official policy to follow in regards to the popular accusations brought against the local Christian community. Pliny’s letter gives a lengthy account of his inquiries into the unusual behavior of those accused of being Christians. He had executed some of them. Others he had sent to Rome, because they were Roman citizens. Some others had confessed being Christians: [A]nd then denied it, explaining that they had been, but had ceased to be such… All these… worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, and cursed Christ. What Pliny could verify from the accused themselves in regards to Christian ritual was only the following: [T]hat it was their habit on a fixed day to assemble before daylight and recite by turns a form of words to Christ as a god; and that they bound themselves with an oath, not for any crime, but not to commit theft or robbery or adultery, not to break their word, and not to deny a deposit when demanded. After this was done, their custom was to depart, and to meet again to take food, but ordinary and harmless food… The contagion of that superstition has penetrated not the cities only, but the villages and the country; yet it seems possible to stop it and set it right… (Pliny the Younger, Ep. X, 96) Trajan’s short reply to Pliny was clear: [Christians] are not to be sought out; but if they are accused and convicted, they must be punished… Papers which are presented unsigned ought not to be admitted in any charge… (Pliny the Younger, Ep. X, 97)



Conclusion The texts included in the previous section leave no place for doubt in regards to the existence of Christianity and the historical existence of the person of Jesus. The origins of Christianity are well documented, not only by the New Testament and other early Christian writings, but also by external contemporary Roman and Jewish sources. Even though the facts and the texts that record them should at times seem quite fantastic, biased and even contradictory, these references throw enough light on that particular event in the history of the Jewish people living in the Roman Empire to conclude that Christians did not invent their own history, as is sometimes suggested (Ehrman, 2012).

CHRISTIAN SOURCES This section deals with the written materials on which the very substance of the Christian faith is founded. Christians of all denominations admit the divine inspiration of the New Testament. These twenty-eight books have the same dogmatic value as those of the so-called Old Testament. Both Testaments together constitute the corpus of the Holy Scriptures, or the Bible, from the Greek ta biblia, that is, “the books” par excellence. Besides the books of the New Testament, all of them apparently written before the end of the first century CE, we will also introduce other Christian writings published during the first generations of the Church, whose doctrinal and historical value, however, is very different from one another. Some of the books were written by those known as the “Apostolic Fathers,” authors who had supposedly known some of Jesus’ apostles. Other writings are books dealing with the life and teachings of Jesus and his disciples written by anonymous authors who attributed their works to someone better known and with more authority. Those books, venerable as some of them may be, were not accepted as authoritative by the Church, and are known as the Apocryphal Books of the New Testament. Some of them, like the Protoevangelium of James and the Pseudo-Clementine writings, are particularly important because they testify to certain doctrinal tendencies in the Early Church, such as anti-nomianism, that is, opposition to Old Testament law. Of no less importance is the whole collection of Gnostic writings discovered nearly seventy years ago in Nag



Hammadi, Egypt, among the ruins of an ancient monastery. No space remains here to truly offer an introduction to these and other early unorthodox sources. Instead, we will briefly introduce some of the earliest fathers of the Church, who lived in the second and third centuries CE, and had great influence on the later theological development of the Christian faith. The style, purpose and central subject of all of the books mentioned vary considerably. Besides the apocryphal books, which are parallel to the canonical books of the New Testament, there are also doctrinal manuals for missionaries, apologies to the emperor, letters from bishops to their communities, the official acts of trials and martyrdoms, collections of historical documents preserved from the earliest times of the Church, biblical commentaries, and many other genres. Many of these writers were converts from pagan religions, and their enthusiasm for their new faith is evident in their writings. Some of them came from a philosophical background that enabled them to create new literary expressions for explaining their faith. Some had suffered martyrdom and courageously confessed their faith. Others were pastors and spiritual leaders of very heterogeneous communities. Many were of Jewish origin, a feature that certainly influenced their vision of faith in Jesus as Messiah. All of them, regardless of their origin and background, show a thorough knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, where they find a justification and explanation of their faith in Jesus as their personal redeemer and Messiah, sent by God to the world to redeem the whole of mankind.

THE NEW TESTAMENT BOOKS The Four Gospels The Greek name for “gospel” is Euangelion, a word composed from the verb angelo, which means “to announce” and the adverb eu, meaning “good.” Thus, Euangelion means “Good News.” In ancient Greece, euangelion had primarily been used to refer to the reward or prize given to a messenger (angelos in Greek) who brought good news, but could also refer to the news itself. In Christian use, the word refers to each of the first four books of the New Testament, which bring the Good News of the hope of eternal salvation to all mankind by way of recounting the life, miracles, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.



The canonical gospels as we possess them today are four books originally written in Greek. (“Canonical” denotes those books officially accepted by the early Christian Church.) We know, based upon the testimony of a few witnesses of the first Christian centuries, that a composition entitled Gospel of the Hebrews circulated among the Jewish believers of the first generation of Jesus’ disciples. This work was possibly an early, Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel (below, Papias of Hierapolis). This book, apart from some quotations translated into Latin by Jerome, has since been entirely lost. Therefore, the scholarly study of the New Testament begins with the collection of the Greek manuscripts, the establishment of their different “families,” and finally, the selection of the most reliable texts, in order to get as near as possible to the most reliable versions of the compositions in question. This is a painstaking task for many reasons, the most obvious being the simple fact that we are here dealing with the “Book of books” that has been read, copied and translated more than any other ancient book.

Fig. 5 The Rylands Papyrus of the New Testament, from c. 130 CE (Roberts 1935) It is accepted today that the best and practically complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament are six codices on parchment,



two of which date from the fourth century (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus), two from the fifth century (Alexandrinus and Ephrem), and one from the sixth century (Bezae). But many fragmentary papyrus manuscripts are much older, among them the Rylands Papyrus from the early second century (Fig. 5) and Bodmer Papyrus II which is dated to the end of the second century and contains most of John’s Gospel. This manuscript tradition continues on till the invention of the printing press towards the end of the fifteenth century. The catalogue of manuscripts is divided into majuscule and minuscule, depending on whether the script is upper or lower case, and into Greek and Latin according to their language. The translation of the New Testament into languages other than Greek started as early as the second century, with the old Latin (Vetus Latina) translation. The Coptic translation soon followed, dating from the third century. These translations, though incomplete, are important because they were made from original Greek texts older than most of the Greek manuscripts that we possess today. Fragmentary translations of Tatian’s Diatesseron into Latin and Greek are also important. Tatian was a Syrian, and his Diatesseron was a combination of the four gospels into one account. It was never officially recognized by the Church. Of the old Syriac translations, the most complete and best known is the Peshitta. The name Peshitta means “simple” in Aramaic, so called because it made the text accessible to Syrian Christians. The Peshitta is still used by the two most important branches of the Syrian churches, the Syrian Orthodox Christians (who reject the council of Chalcedon) and the so-called Eastern or Assyrian Christians (who reject both Ephesus and Chalcedon). The most complete and best of the ancient Latin translations is that made by the Roman priest and monk Jerome by order of Pope Damasus and completed in 405. His work, which includes both the Old and New Testaments and is called the Vulgate, is still the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church today. The Vulgate is actually more of a thorough revision of the Vetus Latina than a new and totally original work, but we know nothing of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts Jerome used to execute his monumental work. Once the text of the gospels has been established by reference to the oldest manuscripts and translations, scholarly research on



the books themselves begins with the Synoptic question. This can be summarized as follows: There are four officially accepted versions of the life of Jesus, i.e., those traditionally attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But the first three have so much in common that many of their texts may be placed parallel to one another and compared in a “synoptic” way. (The Greek words opsis and syn mean “seeing together”.) These three gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels. The question that follows is: What is the chronological sequence from one writing to another? Who copied from whom? Are there common sources at the base of the present three writings that have since disappeared as independent texts? Innumerable solutions to these problems have been proposed during the centuries, but scholars have not reached a unanimous agreement. It can also be said that the more complex a proposed solution is, the more chances of probability it has. Not long ago it was believed that Mark’s Gospel, the shortest and characterized by more narrative, was the first to have been written, and that Matthew and Luke took it as their base text which they enlarged, not only with the accounts about the birth and childhood of Jesus, but also with the help of a supposed lost source, called Q by German scholars (for Quelle, “the source”), which contained his sayings, parables and sermons. Today this theory is not only considered to be too simplistic but is altogether denied by many serious scholars, because it does not withstand a deeper look into the linguistic expression of each writer. Luke’s narratives, for example, have been found to be much easier to translate into Hebrew or Aramaic than Mark’s, suggesting that at Luke’s base there is a Semitic original that was not known to Mark (Fig. 6; see also Lindsey 1963; Benoit – Boismard 1972: 17–23). Even without solving the Synoptic question, we must appreciate the acceptance by the early Church of four different versions of Jesus’ life, deeds and doctrine as evidence of its fairness. The differences in historic detail were never considered by the Church to be a hindrance to accepting the genuineness and substance of the gospels’ message. On the contrary, the four writings represent for the Church four different witnesses to the same basic fact, that God sent his own Son to this world to save mankind from sin and its fatal consequences. This is the good news that has to be announced to the world (Mark 16:15), and this is done by preaching the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth as



they are recounted in the gospels. In the course of the development and spread of the Church there were attempts not only to summarize the four gospels into one, but also to suppress three of the gospels leaving only Luke, (because it was considered to be more akin to the universal mentality of Paul). This attempt was made in the second century by Marcion, a Syrian scholar. But the universal, orthodox Church did not accept this view, and Marcion was condemned as a heretic.





Mt in Mc in Prot-Lc Jn Mt Mc Lc last John

= = = = = = = =

“Quelle,” a supposed ancient written source of Jesus’ sayings Three supposedly original written sources of Jesus’ life A supposed intermediary version of Matthew A supposed intermediary version of Mark “Proto-Lucas,” a supposed early version of Luke A supposed early version of John Matthew’s Gospel Mark’s Gospel Luke’s Gospel John’s Gospel

Fig. 6 Benoît and Boismard’s suggested solution to the synoptic problem (Benoît — Boismard 1966/1972).



As the first compositions of the gospels were not written with the intention to be read as historical works as such, but primarily as a kind of memory-refreshing manual for the first missionaries of Christian belief and the pastors of the local congregations, their historic value must be appraised in the first place for what they are, i.e., as faithful transmitters of a faith based on facts, and not so much as historical documents in the scientific sense of the word. The opposite approach would be contrary to the very intention of their writers. The gospels are compositions that have no parallel in ancient literature. The literary genres in which their different parts were written are multiple, ranging from juridical-like documents (Jesus’ genealogy in Matt 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38) to poetry in the Old Testament style (the songs of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1:46–55, 68–79), from dramatic stories (Jesus’ temptation by the devil in Matt 4:1–11 and parallel texts) to allegoric parables (the vineyard parable in Luke 20:9–19 and parallel texts), from popular sayings (Luke 6:43–44) to complex sermons (the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5–7), from peaceful dialogues (with the Samaritan woman in John 4:5–30) to violent controversy (John 10:19–39). The intended theological and doctrinal meaning of the teaching becomes complete and understandable with these kinds of literary revetments, which we shall occasionally highlight throughout the short introductions that follow. Matthew As we have it today, the gospel traditionally attributed to the apostle Matthew, a publican (9:9–10) who is also known to us as Levi (Luke 5:27–29), is a well-organized composition, combining in a rather coherent manner different earlier written sources. The most important of these are the Greek translation of a Hebrew original and a collection of sayings by Jesus (the Q source), here mainly presented in the form of five sermons: a. on the mountain (5–7); b. about the mission (10:5–42); c. parables (13:1–52); d. concerning the life of the Church (18); e. about the Scribes and Pharisees and eschatology (23–25). To these sources he adds independent traditions, such as those recounting the genealogy and birth of Jesus (1–2), the death of Judas Iscariot (27:3–9) and the incidents surrounding the soldiers at the tomb (27:62–66; 28:11– 15). A very important contribution by the author of this gospel are the biblical quotations, by which he desires to show how the Old



Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the person and teachings of Jesus (1:22–23; 2:5–6, 15, 17–18, 23; 3:3, 15; 4:14–16; 8:17; 12:17– 21; 13:14–15, 35; 21:4–5; 27:9–10). This feature alone is evidence of his interest in proving Jesus’ messiahship to his Jewish readers. This gospel was probably given its present form after the destruction of the Temple (70 CE), when the rabbis began to reorganize Judaism around the Torah. Hence, Jesus’ polemic against the pharisaic5 observance of the commandments (chapters 12 and 23) and his insistence on the necessity of a faithfulness to God that surpasses the commandments and works and the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (5:20). But Matthew’s readers also came out of paganism, and that is why Jesus’ message of salvation is presented and addressed “to all the peoples” (28:19– 20). A city like Antioch in Syria might have been the place where the Gospel of Matthew was written and published (Kraeling 1932). In fact, the first quotations we have from Matthew are found in the letters of Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, dated to the year 115 CE (see below). Mark This gospel is the shortest of the four and has traditionally been considered to be a summary of Matthew and Luke. Today it is generally believed to have been the first to be written, from which the other two Synoptics would have drawn. But this problem has not been solved (see above). The author of the first edition of this gospel could have been John Mark, one of the first believers in Jerusalem. He is probably to be identified with the young man who, according to this gospel, followed Jesus on his way to the trial by the Sanhedrin (14:51–52), and was a later collaborator of Paul in his first journey (Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; 15:37–39) and during his Roman captivity (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24). He also attended Peter in Rome (1 Pet 5:13). Tradition says that he wrote his gospel in Rome, but it could have just as easily been composed in one of the eastern capitals, such as Antioch. His readers were certainly 5 Following Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees’ attitude to and practice of religion (Matt 23:13–33), this term has become synonymous with ‘selfrighteous’ or ‘hypocritical.’



believers or potential believers coming from among the gentiles, for whom the author occasionally explains Jewish customs (7:1–4) and translates Aramaic words (7:14). The date of this composition is likely to be around the year 70 CE or even before.

Fig. 7 The Transfiguration of Jesus, a mural in a modern Romanian Orthodox church, Jericho. The Gospel of Mark is a composition that harmoniously combines several traditions of Jesus of various origins. The author gives his book the title: “The good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God” (1:1), followed by a short introduction about Jesus’ preparation for his ministry (1:2–12). The writing can then be divided into different parts, following Jesus’ life: In Galilee Jesus reveals his identity as Messiah through his miracles (1:14–8:26). The title “Messiah” is explicitly recognized by Peter in Caesarea Philippi (8:29), but Jesus wanted this title and his supernatural powers to be kept secret (1:44; 5:43; 7:36; 8:30), before the revelation of his true identity through his death and resurrection. These two essential facts are predicted three times by him on his way to Jerusalem (8:31–10:52). For the moment he prefers to introduce himself as “the Son of Man” (2:10, 28; 8:31; 14:61–62), though once he is also revealed as the “Son of God” to three of his disciples in the Transfiguration (9:2–10) (Fig. 7). In Jerusalem,



Jesus teaches and defends his authority in and around the Temple (11–13), before submitting himself to suffering and death (14–15). The narrative of his resurrection ends abruptly (16:1–8), followed by a much later appendix recounting his apparitions and ascension (16:9–20), summarized from the Gospels of John and Luke Luke This gospel is the first of two books the author wrote, one concerning the deeds and teachings of Jesus, the second concerning the beginnings and expansion of the Church (Acts 1:1– 2). The author is traditionally identified as Luke, the companion of the apostle Paul in some of his journeys (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24). In his prologue to the gospel (1:1–4), the author dedicates this book to the “noble Theophilos” (probably a pseudonym), stating that he writes it after “having followed all things closely for some time past” and that he wants to narrate “an orderly account.” “Many,” he writes, “have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us.” This statement alone justifies the assumption that this gospel is a late composition, certainly dating from after the year 70, for which the author uses former written sources, in Aramaic or Hebrew as well as Greek (among them possibly the Gospel of Mark), particularly in the first part, dealing with Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (4:1–9:50); while for the second part, the long journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, the author is especially indebted to more private information (9:51–19:44). Like Matthew, he also seems to use the Q source for many of Jesus’ sayings. In other cases, however, he is totally independent, as in the parables of the Good Samaritan (10:25–37), the prodigal son (15:11–32), and others. The same is true of such significant anecdotes from Jesus’ life as the visits to the homes of Martha and Mary (10:38–42) and of Zaccheus (19:1–10), and some of the apparitions after the resurrection (24:13–49). Luke uses an accurate Greek and has an elegant style, but the attentive reader can often sense the substratum of a Semitic original. This is especially true in the introductory chapters about Jesus’ birth and childhood (1:5–2:51), which are one of the most personal contributions by Luke. Though he writes for Christians converted from paganism, he likes to wrap the events he narrates in Old Testament language, thus filling them with a deep theological meaning that is not easily perceived by the



reader. The figure of Mary, for instance, is only fully understood if considered as a symbol of “the daughter of Zion,” that is, the faithful remnant of the people of Israel (Isa 10:20–22; 11:11), happy to receive into their midst the promised Messiah. Similarly, old Simeon, a symbol of Moses and the Torah, can now die, because his eyes have seen the promised Saviour (2:29–32), as Moses saw the Promised Land and died (Deut 34:4–5; see also Figueras 1910). Alongside this biblical and Jewish background, Luke’s Gospel is characterized by its universalistic view of salvation brought about by Jesus, who forgives public sinners (7:36–50), shows mercy to widows (6:12–13), Samaritans (10:25–37) and gentiles (13:28–30), and cares particularly for the poor (16:19–31). His mission is, above all, “to save the lost” (7:9–10). John This is the most theological of the four gospels, the fruit of a long reflection on the person of Jesus. This composition is believed to date from the last years of the first century CE, when the believers were confronted by a new situation in which Judaism, having emerged from the national catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple, took a totally pharisaic approach to religious life. With this in mind, the reader easily perceives that the author projects into Jesus’ life, especially in his dialogues with the Jewish leaders, the situation of polemic and separation that the believers of his own time were experiencing vis-à-vis official Judaism. In the Gospel of John, the figure of Jesus, his deeds and words, are featured as a clear answer to the problems that were worrying the Christian community when it was written. A message of faith and hope to the community pervades the entire text. This has two main parts, introduced by the addition of a prologue (1:1–19) and enlarged with a later appendix (21). The prologue is written like a hymn to God’s Word, pre-existing before the world and co-existing with God, and revealed to the world, first through the prophets, and then by taking a human form in Jesus. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17). This is the central doctrinal point which is developed in the following chapters. These are organized by way of important miracles, or signs, such as that at the wedding in Cana (2:1–11), the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (5:1– 18), the multiplication of bread (6:1–15), the healing of a blind man



(9:1–34) and the raising of Lazarus (11:1–44). These miracles are followed by or intermingled with long dialogues: with Nicodemus (3:1–21), with the Samaritan woman (4:5–26), with the Jews in the synagogue (6:25–59) and in the Temple (7:14–36; 8:12–9:41), and also with the sisters of Lazarus (11:1–44). The second part of the Gospel (13–20) may be considered as a long farewell from Jesus to his community of believers, to whom he promises to come back soon (14:18–19) through the Holy Spirit, “the Comforter” that he and his Father will send to them (14:15–17:25–26). The hour of his glorification has arrived (17:1), and Jesus opens his heart to his disciples, who, seated around the table, receive first a lesson of humility (13:2–17) and then listen to his message of love for one another (13:34–35; 15:17), before he goes on to his suffering and death (18–20). They must be one, as he and his Father are One (17:20–23). This is his testament to his disciples, to his community, to those who will remain faithful to his love (15:9–10). Proclaiming this message is the purpose of the author of this Fourth Gospel, a gospel of consolation, hope and encouragement (16:19–23). Acts of the Apostles This text is the second part of a work that begins with the Gospel of Luke. Both books are dedicated to “the noble Theophilos” (1:1– 2). Following the departure of Jesus in his ascension to heaven (1:3–11), the author describes the development of the early Church under the influence of the Holy Spirit, poured out upon the disciples (2:1–13) and upon all those who will convert (2:38). The main theme of the book, then, is the expansion of the gospel from Jerusalem “unto the ends of the earth” (1:8), and to Rome, the capital of the Empire (28:16–31). That expansion centers first around the Jerusalem community and its leaders (3:1–5:42), and this first portion of the book ends with their persecution and their first martyr (6:1–8:3). This persecution causes the dispersion of the apostles, who evangelize Samaria, Damascus (8:4–11:18) and finally Antioch, Cyprus and Asia Minor (11:19–14:28). The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the future apostle Paul (9:1–19) is an important point in this first part of the Church’s history, and so are Peter’s visions and the baptism of the first pagan family (10:1–11:18), by which faith in Jesus was opened to non-Jews. The acceptance of the gentiles into the body of the Church was a subject of such sharp dispute among the first believers that it required an official



decision by the Jerusalem council of the apostles (15:1–35). After this, the preaching of the Word and the founding of local congregations reaches Macedonia and Greece (15:36–21:14). Paul is made prisoner in Jerusalem (21:15–26), retained in Caesarea for two years (21:27–26:32), and finally brought to Rome, thus being able to preach his message to the heart of the Empire (27:1–28:31). In some sections of the book the author tells the story as if he were himself present (16; 20–21; 27–28). It is possible that Luke was a witness to the facts he narrates, as he had been a keen collaborator of Paul in some of his journeys (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phlm 24). But it is also possible that he uses a stylistic trick in order to bring his writing to life. His main interest is doctrinal as well as historical, showing God’s design for the salvation of all peoples through the preaching of Jesus’ gospel. Peter and Paul’s sermons make up about a third of the text, some of them addressed to the Jews (2:4– 39; 3:12–26; 4:8–12; 5:29–32; 7:2–53; 10:34–43; 13:16–41), and others to the pagans (14:15–17; 17:22–31). The Epistles of Paul Paul, also named Saul, born of a Jewish family in Tarsus of Cilicia in Asia Minor (Acts 21:39), Roman citizen (Acts 22:25–29), Pharisee (Acts 23:6) and student of Rabbi Gamaliel II in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3), had persecuted the Jewish followers of Jesus (Acts 22:3–5). After his conversion and his baptism in Damascus (Acts 22:6–16), he became an enthusiastic apostle (Rom 1:5), preaching the gospel first to the Jews and then particularly to the pagans (Acts 13:44–47; Rom 15:19; Gal 2:6–9) in Syria, Cyprus, Asia Minor and Greece, founding and organizing congregations of believers everywhere he went. For their encouragement and instruction he wrote a number of letters, many of which are an important part of the New Testament today. It is a mistake to consider Paul to be the real founder of Christianity, but it is true that he did set the doctrinal foundations for the understanding of the Christian faith in its theological depth, as well as for the praxis of it in the life of believers, both as a community and as individuals. The following summaries will highlight only the most important themes of each epistle, not following a chronological order, but the one traditionally kept in the editions of the Bible. The attribution to Paul of the so-called “pastoral epistles” (I–II Timothy and Titus) is still a matter of



debate. The Epistle to the Hebrews, sometimes attributed to Paul as well, will be introduced separately. Romans Probably written in the winter of 57–58 in Corinth (Acts 20:2–3), this letter may be considered the spiritual testament of Paul. He was preparing for his last trip to Jerusalem, bringing help to the poor of that community (15:25–26). When he left, he wanted to visit the believers in the capital of the Empire, and then to proceed to Spain (15:23–24, 28), to bring the gospel to the ends of the known world. The letter was written in preparation for his visit to the Roman community, which was made up of Jews and non-Jews. In view of this background, and in a style more akin to that of a treatise than to an epistle, Paul revealed the historical process of salvation offered by God in Christ, first to the people of Israel, then to all the peoples of the world (1:18–4:25). A second part (5– 8) develops the theological thesis of the contradiction between mankind’s solidarity with the sin of Adam and its fatal consequences and God’s immeasurable love to all men through Jesus the Messiah. The next section (9–11) is dedicated to the theological analysis of the mystery of the people Israel, the grace of having been chosen (9:1–29) and the non-validity of the practice of the commandments for their salvation (9:30–10:21). The new “people of God” will be composed of those Jews who, only by God’s grace, have accepted faith in Jesus, as well as those believers coming out of paganism (11:1–26). The following chapters are instructions for various aspects of the believers’ lives, including mutual relations between the members of the community (12:1–8; 14:1–15:13), and the believers’ attitude towards civil authority (13:1–7). First and Second Corinthians Corinth was an important city and sea-port in Greece, and its Christian community was composed by elements of different social conditions. Paul, who had evangelized them during the one and a half years that he spent with them (Acts 18:1–18), wrote three or four different letters to them. The first one has not reached us (1 Cor 5:9–13), and probably another one that was written between the two that we do possess is no longer extant (2 Cor 2:4; 7:8). The



First Epistle to the Corinthians was written in Ephesus, and in it the author responds to the news of the great divisions the community was suffering (1:10–4:21) and deals with other serious questions, such as cases of immorality (5:1–2; 6:12–20), marriage and virginity (7), disorders in the gatherings of the congregation and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (11:2–34), the purpose and use of the spiritual gifts (12:12–14) and some doctrinal errors concerning the resurrection (15:12–34). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians has as its main theme the very person of Paul, whose authority had been cast in doubt and whose ministry was being criticized by foreign intruders into the community (10–13). These events gave Paul the occasion to deal with the apostolic ministry in general, its greatness, responsibility, and weaknesses (3–6). He was glad that the crisis affecting the relations inside the community was over (1:12–2:17; 7), and encouraged his addressees to complete the collection they had been preparing for the poor believers in Jerusalem (8–9). Galatians Written also in Ephesus during the winter of 56–57, this letter is addressed to the believers among the Galatians (3:1), a name used only by the inhabitants of the northern part of Galatia. This was a Roman province in the central plateau in the north of Asia Minor, near present-day Ankara, that also included the more southern regions known then as Pisidia, Phrygia, and Lycaonia, evangelized by Paul in his first missionary journey (Acts 13–14). The believing Galatians were all former pagans, and Paul vividly responds to the efforts made by some Jewish intruders to persuade them to get circumcised, on the basis of the belief that otherwise they would not be saved (3:1; 5:2–3; 6:12–13). Paul had personal experience of the temptation to fall again into the “slavery” of the Torah (2:11– 21) and proclaims the freedom granted by faith in Jesus, who had liberated his followers from the condition of servants and made them sons of God (4:1–11). The practical consequences of this fact are to be seen in the fruits of the Spirit (5:13–26), the relations in the community and the personal life of the believers (6:1–10).



Ephesians Paul had evangelized Ephesus, the Greek metropolis on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea in Asia Minor, the capital of the Roman province of Asia and an international seaport. It was an important cultural and religious center. The principal deity of Ephesus was the goddess Artemis or Diana, whose cult brought in enormous revenues to the citizens of Ephesus (Acts 19:1–22). The fact that this Epistle does not deal with the particular, local problems of a community that Paul knew very well has caused many scholars to reject Paul’s authorship of the letter (1:1). It may have been written by one of his disciples or collaborators, either during Paul’s captivity in Rome in the year 60 (Acts 28:11–29; Eph 6:20), or by someone else towards the end of the first century. The letter is actually a deep, doctrinal treatise upon God’s eternal plan to save all peoples, a secret hidden in God for many centuries but finally made manifest in Jesus. The first step in the realization of that design is the reconciliation of the two hostile peoples, Jews and gentiles, whom God unites into one by people by Jesus’ cross (2:11–22; see above, p. 36, Midr. ha-Otiyot of R. Akiba). The letter opens with a song of praise that summarizes all the spiritual benefits that believers receive from God through Christ and in Christ (1:3–14), and ends with encouraging recommendations to keep strong and remain faithful till the final victory (6:10–20). Philippians Paul wrote this letter from prison, possibly in Rome (4:22), but more probably in Ephesus, between 56 and 57. The city of Philippi, in Macedonia, was the first one to have been evangelized by Paul in Europe, and he was thrown in prison there, as well (Acts 16:9–40). In his Epistle he tells the Philippians about his conditions as a prisoner for the gospel, convinced that, alive or dead, he will always serve Christ (1:12–26), and exhorts them to stand brave in their fight for the gospel (1:27–30). Love and total humility were to be learned from Jesus, who, though he was God, took upon himself the status of a servant (2:1–11). Paul probably reproduces here an early liturgical hymn. In his enthusiasm he then claims that his sufferings are the best means to identify himself with Christ, his only source of pride, and he puts forth himself as an example to imitate (3:1–4:9). Finally, Paul thanks his addressees for all the gifts



that were brought to him by Epaphroditus (4:18), whom he sends back to Philippi with this letter (2:25–30). Colossians Colossae was a city in Asia Minor, some 175 km to the east of Ephesus. The Christian community there had probably been founded by Epaphras (1:7; 4:2), a disciple of Paul in Ephesus (Phlm 1:23). Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Colossians (4:18), where he heard that they were in danger of falling into doctrinal and practical deviations from the faith (2:8– 23). These dangers came from two separate sources, the pagan background of the believers (2:13) and the strong influence of the Jewish community in the city (2:16–23). Paul insists that only Jesus can deliver humanity from slavery to sin, the Law and all kinds of superstition through his death and resurrection. Mankind’s bond that had been imposed through trespasses against God has been suppressed, nailed on the cross with Jesus, thus reconciling the world to God (2:14). All the cosmic powers are now subjected to the victorious Jesus as a battle trophy (2:15), Christ having been made the aim and meaning of creation (1:20). Consequently, the believer is free from any power that could diminish his liberty (2:20), having now put on the new man (3:10). “Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11). Paul exhorts his readers to live this theological vision in the reality of their daily, personal relationships (3:12–4:6), and concludes the letter with a long list of greetings (4:7–18). First and Second Thessalonians Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, a port on the Aegean Sea, and an important commercial center, having a large Jewish colony. Paul went there after the incidents that took place in Philippi. In Thessalonica he preached in the synagogue and stayed in the house of Jason for a short period, until his flight to Berea because of the accusations made against them by the local Jews (Acts 17:1–10). Paul wrote the first of the two letters to them while staying in Corinth at the beginning of the year 51, encouraging them to keep the faith (1–3), exhorting them to live in sanctity (4:1–12) and answering some questions regarding death



and the second coming of the Lord (4:13–5:11). This is the oldest epistle of Paul that has been preserved, and also the oldest of the New Testament books. The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, written probably a short time after the first one, deals with the same themes and is very similar, but Paul has now to defend himself against a letter falsely attributed to him, in which it was stated that “the day of the Lord has come” (2:2). He then states that “that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed,” whom he describes in apocalyptic colors (2:3–10). Paul, like Jesus himself in the gospels (Matt 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), describes the final apostasy and the end but does not tell us when they will occur (1 Thess 5:1). What is important is to be always ready, persevering in the faith and accepting tribulations as they come. Believers must go on with their daily activities (2:13–17; 3:6– 12). First and Second Timothy and Titus These three Epistles have been called “pastoral” since the 18th century, because they deal with the pastoral responsibilities of the heads of the congregations of believers. They are addressed to Timothy and Titus, two young collaborators of Paul who are both known from other New Testament books. Despite the typical expressions of the apostle Paul and the personal details they contain (1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 1:15; 4:9–21; Titus 1:3; 3:12–13), their authenticity has been contested. The author deals with a situation in the communities that is not known from other sources, warning them against false doctrines that probably came from Judaizing elements (1 Tim 1:4, 7; Titus 1:10; 3:9) and from Gnostic circles. These teachings despised created realities and did not accept the full humanity of Jesus (1 Tim 4:3–5; 2 Tim 2:18). These Epistles were written as a sort of spiritual testament of Paul (2 Tim 4:1–8), full of practical advice for the good management of the community and highlighting the particular requirements and duties of all the elements that constitute it, such as the pastors (1 Tim 3:1–7; 4:6– 16), deacons (1 Tim 3:8–13), presbyters (1 Tim 5:17–22; Titus 1:6), widows (1 Tim 5:3, 16), slaves (1 Tim 6:1–2; Titus 2:9–10), the rich (1 Tim 6:17–19), old men and women (Titus 2:2–5) and the young (Titus 2:6).



Philemon This is a short letter, sent from Paul in prison (1, 9–10, 13) to a friend and collaborator, Philemon, probably a resident of Colossae, concerning a particularly sensitive issue: a slave who belonged to Philemon, named Onesimus, had escaped from his master, and Paul in the letter requests that Philemon receive him back without any consequences, as though Onesimus was Paul himself (18–19). Paul, in prison, managed to convince Onesimus to accept faith in Jesus Christ, so that he must now be considered “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother” (16). He also makes a wordplay on the name “Onesimus,” which in Greek means “useful” (11). He does not question the existence of slavery in itself, neither here nor in other passages of his letters (1 Cor 7:20–24; Eph 6:5–9; Col 3:22–4:1), but he always highlights the dignity of the slaves. Onesimus the slave must be treated as a brother, not only in the Lord, but also as a fellow man (16). The Epistle to Hebrews Against the traditional opinion of most of the Fathers of the Church, this Epistle can hardly be assigned to Paul. The literary style is very original and well-ordered, revealing the thought of a reflective character, and looks more like a homily than a letter. Some theological categories of the author, such as the priestly character of Jesus Christ (8:1–6; 9:11) and the sacrificial character of his death (9:12–13, 24–28), are not shared by Paul nor any of the rest of the New Testament writers. The author apparently has two main themes in mind, one theological and one pastoral, and he develops them alternatively. After a short but solemn introduction (1:1–4), the writing can be divided into five parts: a) the position of Jesus in relation to God and man. He is compared to the angels and introduced as the High Priest (1:5–2:18); b) Jesus fits the characteristics of every high priest, and deserves God’s trust and is merciful towards mankind (3:1–5:10); c) a detailed explanation of Christ’s priesthood, newer and more efficient than the Old Testament priesthood (5:11–10:39); d) the faith of the ancient patriarchs as an example for the faith of Christians (11:1–12:13); e) a final exhortation to sanctity and peace (12:14–13:19). The Epistle concludes with a final prayer (13:20–21) and with an additional note (13:22–25). We do not know the identity of the real



author, when he wrote, or for whom, but he is obviously addressing a community of believers coming from Judaism. Because of the comparison of Jesus with the angels (1:5–14) and with Moses (3:1–6), and the insistence that his priesthood is more excellent (3–10), it has been suggested that those Jews to whom the letter is addressed may have been a group of former Essenes (Yadin 1965). The Seven Catholic or Universal Epistles This title has been given since the third century to a group of seven epistles which are considered to be addressed to the Christian Church in general, although one of them mentions geographic locations of specific communities (1 Peter) and another includes personal names (3 John 1,9). None of them deals with particular problems in such a manner as to help us to identify the communities to which they were initially addressed. James This Epistle, written in an excellent Greek, is addressed by James to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (1:1). By these words we understand that he writes to the believers living among the pagans, not particularly of Jewish origin. Tradition says that James was the “brother” of Jesus and the head of the church in Jerusalem (see above, p. 32, Josephus), but scholars find this rather difficult to accept. His frequent biblical quotations are not from the Hebrew, but from the Greek translation. His style is similar to that of many wisdom books, both biblical and extra-biblical, and there is no plan to his writing. He proceeds by association of ideas and words, because his aim is not to write a theological treatise, but a realistic exhortation to live the faith practically in one’s relationships with others (1:27) and self-control (3:1–12). He seems to write to communities founded by Paul, having in mind Paul’s idea of justification by faith alone, insisting that faith without deeds is nothing (2:1–26). There are no references to the main subjects of Christian doctrine, the redemptive work of Jesus and the work of the Spirit, and the very name of Jesus appears only twice in the Epistle (1:1; 2:2). James’ Epistle was accepted by the Church into the canon of Scripture much later than the other books, in the third century in the East and in the fourth century in the West.



First and Second Peter These two writings under the name of Peter, the head of the apostles and of the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15; 2:14) are of a very different character from one another. The first Epistle is addressed by Peter from “Babylon,” that is, Rome (5:13; see also Rev 17:3–5), to the communities or “fraternities” of believers (2:17; 5:9) dispersed among five provinces of Asia Minor (1:1). Most of their members came out of paganism and are simple people, slaves de jure or de facto, but enjoying now their Christian liberty. The author exhorts them to obey their governors and to respect the emperor (2:11–17), encouraging them to suffer, if it is necessary, as Jesus suffered (3:13–22; 4:12–19). Having in mind that “the end of all things is drawing near” (4:7), he reminds them of their election as the “people of God” (2:4–10) and the sanctity to which they have been called to live in (1:13–21). They must maintain an intense love for one another (3:8–12; 4:7–11), and practice such virtues as simplicity in regards to the ornament of their dress (3:1–6), respect for their wives (1:7), soberness (4:7; 5:8) and humility (5:5–6). The pastors of the communities are commanded to pasture their flocks with love and generosity, promising them that “when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory” (5:1–4). The second Epistle could better be referred to as a farewell address, a literary genre that is known from many literary collections, including the Old and New Testaments (Deut 29–33; John 13–17). The author of this text, who presupposes an audience that is familiar with the Scriptures and with the epistles of Paul (3:15–16), and makes use of Jude’s Epistle (2:1, 9–17; 3:2) as well as Jewish apocrypha (2:4) and some Greek conceptions about the end of the world (3:7, 10, 12), must have written at the beginning of the second century CE, when the first generation of believers had disappeared, and the promise of the second coming of Jesus was not yet accomplished (3:4). Hiding behind the figure of Peter (1:1), the apostle who was present at the Transfiguration of Jesus “on the holy mountain” (1:16–18), he warns his readers against false teachers who are deviating from apostolic doctrines (2:1–22), encouraging them not to lose hope and to be prepared for the day of the Lord (3:8–15).



First, Second and Third of John These three writings share a traditional attribution to John the Evangelist, a common style, and the first two Epistles share a common theme, as well. The author of the second and third Epistles calls himself “the elder,” and this is probably related to the words of Jesus to Peter concerning the disciple who was following them (John 21:20–23). The three Epistles were probably written by the same hand towards the end of the first century, and they are related to the Gospel of John in style and theme. The First Epistle of John is a rather polemic text written against dissident members (2:19) of a community of believers (2:12–14) to whom the author is writing. There are neither geographical clues nor personal names. But the author addresses himself to them in a very personal way, expressing the same basic ideas as the Gospel of John: God loved us first (4:10), Jesus is truly man (4:2), he is the Son of God and the Messiah (2:22), and those who deny this are, or belong to, the Antichrist (2:18, 22; 4:3). We must hold to the faith received “from the beginning” (1:1; 2:7, 24; 3:11), live as Jesus lived (2:6) and give our lives as Jesus did (3:16). Whoever loves God, “loves the child” (5:1). The second Epistle is addressed from “the elder to the elect lady and her children” (1:1). This is certainly a reference to a community of believers. Much shorter than the preceding letter, this one is a sort of sketch or summary of the first, insisting on love for one another, the commandment heard from the beginning (5– 6), and warning that “many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (7). The third Epistle is addressed from “the elder to the beloved Gaius” (1). Its style is similar to that of the other two, but it lacks their doctrinal purpose. The elder praises Gaius for his faithfulness and readiness to help brothers and foreign missionaries (5–7), but criticizes a certain Diotrephes, who does not recognize his authority and abuses his responsibility as the head of a congregation (9–10). Jude The last of the seven Catholic epistles is written by Jude, the brother of James. He is a person who is difficult to identify. Both



names are those of two “brothers” of Jesus (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3), and Judas Thaddeus was one of the twelve apostles (Matt 10:13; Mark 3:18). But our author describes a situation of deviation and apostasy in the community (1:4) corresponding to a very late period, certainly after the lifetime of the apostles, and similar to the one described in 2 Peter 2:1–5. Jude exhorts his addressees to defend their faith against false teachers that have penetrated into the community, to whom he compares various reprobates from the Old Testament (5–11). His language is apocalyptic, and he quotes from The Book of Enoch (14–15) and alludes to The Assumption of Moses, another apocryphal text (9). Revelation The last book of the New Testament collection is written in the apocalyptic style that was so typical of Judaism in the land of Israel following the Maccabean period. From its contents we know that it was written during a period of persecution of Christians (6:9–11) by the Roman Empire (symbolized by Babylon, 17:5–6), probably during the time of Domitian, in 95 CE. The author calls himself John, and his book “a prophecy” (1:1–3), and Christian tradition assigned it to the apostle John. However, this attribution was contested by many communities, and in Syria and Palestine the book of Revelation was not accepted into the canon of Scripture until the fifth century. Exiled to the island of Patmos for his Christian faith and mission, John dedicated the writing to the churches in Asia that were greatly troubled (1:4, 9). His main purpose was to console and to give hope and encouragement. After the prelude with its messages to each of the seven churches (1:9–3:22), he describes, with an exuberant use of symbolic names, numbers, letters, colors, animals and natural elements the present situation of distress and death and the temporary success of their enemies (6:9, 12), as well as their future fall (16; 18; 20:7–10) and a final judgment (20:11– 15). There are also visions of God’s final victory, the glorious appearance of the Messiah (19:11–16), his kingdom of a thousand years (20:1–6), the coming new world (21:1–5) and the New Jerusalem (21:9–22:5). Numerous descriptions of an eternal liturgy celebrated in heaven in front of God’s throne and the Lamb (4–5; 7:9–17; 11:16–18; 14:1–5; 19:1–8) alternate in the book with the



prediction of coming disasters, offering a foretaste of eternal glory to the elect.

Fig. 8 A detail from the Apocalyptic vision, a mural in a crypt from the sixth century, Terrassa, Catalonia (Spain).

THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS The denomination “Apostolic Fathers” is given to the group of the most ancient Christian writings to follow the New Testament, most of which were composed during the first half of the second century by different people in different places, with little relation between them. But they reflect the thought, feelings and challenges of the second and third generations of Christians. They constitute a literary link between the New Testament writings and all ancient Christian literature in general, known as the “Church Fathers.” It is possible that none of the Apostolic Fathers actually knew directly any of the apostles of Jesus, but they could certainly have been well-acquainted with people who had known them. The Didache (Teaching of the Apostles) This important booklet, written in Greek, is a manual intended primarily for the use of missionaries in need of a summary of Christian doctrine, and its title was probably inspired by the



reference to the “teaching of the Apostles” in Acts 2:42. Its date, author and place of composition are unknown, but it can be accepted that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE (there is no reference to it in its eschatology, 16:3–8) in one of the great, eastern metropolises, probably Antioch. Its theology is Trinitarian (6:3), and Jesus is called not only the “servant of the Lord” (9:2–3; 10:2) but also “Lord” (Kyrios, 16:8). Very important are its references to the teaching of the “two ways” (1:1–2), the administration of baptism (7:1–4), the celebration of the Eucharist (9:1–6), particularly on “the day of the Lord,” i.e., Sunday (14:1), and the confession of sins (4:14; 14:1). This text was very popular in antiquity, as proved by the references to it in many of the Church Fathers and the ancient translations into many languages which are still extant, including Latin, Coptic and Arabic. Clement of Rome Only the first of the two letters attributed to Clement, the third bishop of Rome after Peter, is authentic. It was written during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Domitian (95–96 CE), on the occasion of the grave divisions in the church of Corinth. The author, who writes with great authority, prefers to hide behind the Roman community as a whole, and the greeting at the beginning reads, “The church of God which sojourns in Rome to the church of God which sojourns in Corinth” (Holmes, 1999). The letter is an extended exhortation to maintain the faith, fraternal love and unity within the community during a time of persecution. It uses Old Testament examples and such historical references as the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul and Paul’s journey to Spain (5:2–7) throughout. The Epistle also includes a series of well-structured prayers for the nations (59:3), the needy (59:4), peace (60), and governors (61), probably similar to the solemn, improvised liturgical prayers of those early days. This letter was often mentioned and quoted by the Church Fathers, and for many years it was publicly read in the church of Corinth, as attested by Eusebius of Caesarea (CH 4:22–23). Several other writings were falsely attributed to Clement of Rome. The most important are the Homilies and the Recognitions, both of which were apparently based on a heretical Jewish-Christian text, probably written in Syria in the third century CE.



Ignatius of Antioch Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in Syria was condemned to be killed in Rome by wild beasts during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98–117). During his journey he wrote seven epistles, one to the Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, one to the Roman church, and five to churches in Asia: Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia and Smyrna. His style was direct and high-spirited. In his enthusiasm, he asked the Roman community not to interfere with his martyrdom: “I am God’s wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I might prove to be pure bread” (4:1). His messages are an appeal to unity in the faith and obedience to the bishop, who is “in the place of God” (Magn. 6:1). For the first time, the Church is described by Ignatius as “catholic,” i.e., universal (Smyrn. 8:2). The authenticity of Ignatius’s letters is proved by their mention in Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (13:2) and the references to them in the writings of Origen, Irenaeus and Eusebius (CH III, 36, 4ff). Polycarp of Smyrna This memorable bishop of Smyrna met Ignatius during his stop in his city on the way to Rome (see above). He knew the apostle John, according to the testimony of Irenaeus, and died as a martyr in the amphitheater of his own city on the 22nd of March, 155. He traveled to Rome as a representative of the Asian churches to settle their differences with Anicetus, the bishop of Rome, concerning the date of the celebration of Easter. Polycarp firmly supported celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, and alleged that this tradition had been received from John and the other apostles (Eusebius, CH 5:24, 14; see also Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3:3, 4). Polycarp wrote a famous Epistle to the Philippians. But his Martyrdom is more significant, because it is the first literary narrative of the martyrdom of a single person, and the first testimony to the Christian practice of collecting and venerating the relics of the martyrs (18:1, 3). Pseudo-Barnabas Barnabas had been a collaborator of the apostle Paul (Acts 9:26), and under his name somebody wrote an epistle or small treatise that was held in high regard in ancient times, particularly in



Alexandria. References to the destruction and reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (16), as well as the epistle’s negative views towards the Old Testament and Jewish institutions (2:4–5; 8–10; 15), make Barnabas’s authorship of the work highly unlikely. The author probably wrote in the time of Hadrian, when this emperor established a pagan cult in the Jerusalem Temple (132–135). He was strongly influenced by Philo of Alexandria, from whom he inherited his allegorical method of interpreting the Bible (7–12). Like the Didache, but in an independent manner, he exegetes the teaching of the “two ways” (18–20). Papias of Hierapolis About the same time that Pseudo-Barnabas was writing his epistle, Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor wrote a long treatise in five books, entitled The Explanation of the Lord’s Words. We know of Papias mostly from Eusebius of Caesarea, who in turn quotes Irenaeus concerning him. From Eusebius’ quotations, we know that Papias had been a disciple of those who had learned Christian doctrine from the apostles themselves, specifically from Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, John and Matthew, as well as Aristion and a certain John the Elder, all whom he refers to as “disciples of the Lord” (Eusebius, CH 3:39, 3–4). He tells us that Mark wrote his Gospel based upon the teachings of the apostle Peter and that “Matthew arranged the words (of Jesus) in Hebrew, and everyone interpreted them according to his capabilities” (ibid., 3:39, 15–16). Eusebius rejects as “fabulous” Papias’s literal interpretation of some “mystical,” that is, symbolic or allegorical words said by the apostles about Jesus, among which are the predictions of a thousand-year Messianic kingdom on earth (ibid. 3:39, 11–13). Epistle to Diognetus This writing in defense of the Christian faith could better be labeled an oration or apology. According to some scholars, the real name of the addressee is no less than Hadrian, the Roman emperor, who during his stay in Athens in the winter of 125–126 “received from each, Quadratus the disciple of the apostles and Aristides the philosopher, an apology of the Christian faith” (Eusebius, Chronicle, PL 27, 216). The Epistle to Diognetus may, then, actually be the Apology of Quadratus, long considered lost. The style



of this writing is very classical and the principles of the Christian faith presented in it are very orthodox, but it has an anti-Jewish tendency similar to that of Pseudo-Barnabas (see above). Its best passages are certainly those describing the paradoxes of Christian behavior: 1. Christians, indeed, are not different from other people, not in their land, not in their speech, and not in their customs. 2. They do not live in cities of their own, do not use a special language, and do not live differently from the others…. 5. They live in their own lands but like foreigners; they take part in everything like citizens, and they endure everything like foreigners; any strange land is for them homeland, and all homeland is foreign land. 6. They marry like everybody; have children like everybody, but do not expose their newborn. 7. They enjoy a common table, but not a common bed. 8. They are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. 9. They spend their time on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven… (Diogn. 5) Hermas This writer, probably of Jewish origin, had been a simple farmer, was later sold in Rome as a slave, and then received his freedom. He was the brother of Pius I, the bishop of that city in 140–150. His book, The Shepherd, is actually a sermon written in apocalyptic style, divided into two parts, probably composed in two different periods. The first part has two sections, the Visions and the Twelve Commandments, and it deals particularly with the question of penance, with the argument that if somebody falls into sin after baptism, there remains a possibility of reconciliation through penance. The second part is called the Parables, in which the reality of life as a Christian coming out of slavery in Rome, with both its positive and negative aspects, is described in more detail than in any other Christian writing of the first centuries.

EARLY CHURCH FATHERS Following the Apostolic Fathers, Christian literature further developed in both the East and the West, in various languages and in many different literary genres, and these compositions form the



large corpus called the Church Fathers. A great part of these books, homilies, biblical commentaries, letters, chronicles, monastic rules, and theological treatises, have been preserved in their original languages or in ancient translations. Different collections of them have been made and published since the eighteenth century. The most popular is that of J. M. Migne, which includes most of the Greek (Paris 1857–1866) and the Latin Fathers (Paris 1844–1855). Better and more critical editions of the same Church Fathers, as well as others, are today being published, not only in Greek and Latin, but also in Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Georgian. Many of the Fathers have been and are still in the process of being translated into modern languages. Several medieval Fathers were translated into Hebrew, for example, as early as the Renaissance period. Here we shall introduce only a few of those writers from the second, third and fourth centuries that are relevant to the history of the early Church. Justin Martyr is one of the first apologists of the Christian faith. Clement of Alexandria represents Greek philosophy put to the service of Christianity. Tertullian is the first Church father to write in Latin. Origen may be considered the first biblical scholar, in the modern sense of the term. Eusebius of Caesarea represents the Church at the transitional period between the last Roman persecution and the peace of Constantine. Justin Martyr Born to pagan parents in Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus), the biblical town of Shechem, in the year 100, Justin was an eager seeker of truth, looking for it first in the different schools of Greek philosophy: Stoicism, the Peripatetics, and Pythagoreanism. Platonic philosophy attracted him more, and left an influence upon him throughout his life, but only the Christian faith could ultimately satisfy him (Dial. 2–8), and he was converted, probably in Ephesus. He dedicated his life to the defense of the Christian faith, and traveled from one country to another in the dress of a Greek philosopher. In Rome he founded a school and was decapitated there for being a Christian, probably in 165. There exists an authentic report of his death (Martyrium S. Iustini et Sociorum). Among his writings, the most important are his Apologies, one of which is addressed to the emperor Antoninus Pius, the other to the Roman Senate. His Dialogue with Trypho, although



incomplete, is a long discussion with a Jew, probably Rabbi Tarfon, in defense of the Christian faith against Judaism. The Dialogue was probably composed in Ephesus, during the Jewish revolt of Bar Kochba (132–135), who is mentioned in chapters 1 and 9. Clement of Alexandria Clement was also born of pagan parents, probably in Athens, about 150. After his conversion he traveled to southern Italy, Syria, Palestine, and finally, Alexandria, Egypt, where he became a disciple to Pantenus. He succeeded him as the head of the school for catechumens about 200 CE. Because of the persecution of Christians, he had to abandon Egypt for Cappadocia, where he finally died about 215. His main works are the Protrepticus (or Exhortation) to the Greeks, the Pedagogos, and Stromata (Tapestries). The first book was intended to attract pagans to the Christian faith, the second is an exposition of the life of a believer, and the third is more heterogeneous, comparing the Christian faith to Greek philosophy. In Clement’s opinion, “Before the Lord came, philosophy was necessary for the justification of the Greeks; now it is useful to lead souls to God, for it instructs those who arrive to God through demonstration…. She leads the Greeks to Christ, as the Torah leads the Jews. Now philosophy remains a preparation that places the man perfected by Christ on the right way” (Stromata 1:5, 28). Tertullian Quintus Septimus Florentius Tertullianus was born in Carthage in 155 to pagan parents, studied jurisprudence and was a famous lawyer in Rome before his conversion to Christianity in 193. From then on he lived in Carthage, was ordained as a priest, and put his broad juridical, literary, philosophical and cultural background to the service of his faith. He apparently died sometime after 220. He is the author of a large number of writings, all of them polemical, against pagans, Jews, heretics, and finally, against Catholics as well, because around 207 he embraced the heresy of Montanism and became one of its leaders. His passion was to defend the truth that he had discovered. He probably embraced the Christian faith due to seeing the heroism of believers in time of persecution, because he wrote: “Everyone, before such wonderful constancy, feels



startled by uneasiness and fervently wishes to investigate what causes it; as soon as he discovers the truth, he embraces it” (Ad Scapulam, 5). He was a sincere writer who was aware of all of his deficiencies, and was prepared to suffer martyrdom. Origen The most prolific of the ancient Christian writers was born to a Christian family in Alexandria. His father died a martyr’s death in 202. The next year, at the age of 18, he was appointed as head of the school of catechumens in his city as a replacement for Clement. Until 232, he encountered many difficulties with his bishop, and on occasion he visited Rome, Arabia and Palestine, where he was invited to preach, while still a layman, in the presence of bishops, who later ordained him to the priesthood. In 232 he established himself in Caesarea in Palestine and began a new period of intensive teaching, research and writing. For twenty years he presided over the theological school which he founded in Caesarea, where students were taught philosophy, the natural sciences, geometry and astronomy, ethics and theology. The students had to read all of the ancient philosophers, with the exclusion of those who denied the existence of God and his providence. He died in Tyre in 253, after suffering torture for his faith (Eusebius, CH 6:39, 5). In his writings, he insists more than Clement of Alexandria on the necessity of studying the Holy Scriptures. But his appreciation for Plato allowed the Greek philosopher’s ideas to influence his theology to the extent that it gave occasion to the future “Origenist” discussion and debate in the Eastern Church, and this brought about the destruction of most of his writings. According to Epiphanius and others, Origen wrote thousands of works. Among those that survived, his apology Against Celsus, the pagan philosopher, and Peri Archon (“About the Principles”), the first systematic treatise of Christian theology, are the most famous. He wrote both short and long commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, the vast majority of which are lost, as well as numerous homilies. He also composed the Hexapla, a synoptic edition of the Old Testament in six parallel columns that included the original text in both Hebrew and Greek characters and the four Greek versions of the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion.



Eusebius of Caesarea Born about 260, Eusebius was a pupil of Pamphilus, a scholar who trained him in the tradition of Origen and died as a martyr in 309 during the Diocletian persecution. Eusebius fled to Tyre and then to Egypt, where he spent some months in prison. He was appointed as the bishop of Caesarea in 315, and was the leader of the moderate party during the Arian controversy at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Ten years later he attended the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (Fig. 9). He was a prolific writer and left behind him his Church History in ten books, in which he collected a large body of documentation on the subject stemming from the beginning of the Church up to his own period, adding to it a number of facts that he had himself experienced, such as the major changes brought to the Church by the edicts of the emperor Constantine, whom he flattered.

Fig. 9 An architectural blueprint of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, fourth century (Hutter 1981: 21, fig. 12). His historical books also include a Chronicle, i.e., a universal history with a table of dates in two books, as well as the Life of Constantine and the Martyrs of Palestine which narrates the tragic events that he witnessed during the Diocletian persecution, from 303–310. He



also wrote an apology for Christianity, several books on the value of the Old Testament for Christians, interpreting it as the preparation and prophecy for the coming of the Messiah, commentaries on the Psalms and Isaiah, a treatise about Easter, and a valuable book of biblical topography called Onomasticon. Eusebius died about 340.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The historical sources on the origin and early development of the Christian faith form a large and wide-ranging body of literature. From the initial oral traditions about the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we have seen how texts emerged during the first and second generations of his followers. In addition to the difficulties caused by the very fact of the multiplicity of the gospels and the rest of the New Testament books, we note not only differences in style but also various doctrinal emphases. Jesus’ initial group of disciples grew very rapidly, due in part to the adverse circumstances that pushed them into communities outside Syro-Palestine, but also due to the contagious dynamism that issued from that faith. Even before the corpus of the New Testament took its final form, other writings were already in circulation for the practical use of missionaries bringing the Christian message to Jews and non-Jews all over the Roman Empire. Romans began to take note and write about these people who did not draw back from being tortured for their faith. In the course of time, there came to be a Jewish reaction to the Christian claim that before God, through the death of Jesus, there remained no distinction between Jew and non-Jew. The Jews countered this claim and related subjects in the midrashic literature and the Talmud, and thus bore witness to the presence of believers in Jesus in their midst. As the body of believers grew and became more organized in both the East and the West, teachers and bishops developed a huge amount of literature, in many different genres, including epistles, apologies, exegesis and homilies. Despite the loss of numerous works, many of these writings still exist, and are still being read, studied, published and translated today.

CHAPTER 3: HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS Historically and ideologically, Christianity’s inception was as a local Jewish movement. Geographically, it was confined to the borders of the Roman province of Judaea. Chronologically, it started at the time when the Jewish people were ruled by a Roman procurator, during the mid-first century of the Common Era. Ideologically, it was conceived by the Jewish rabbis of the time as a dangerous Messianic movement, capable of destroying the traditional establishment of their hegemony upon the people from which they actually drew their subsistence. Their understandable hatred of the early followers of Jesus resulted in the imprisonment of some of them, the death of two of them, the dispersion of many beyond the borders of Judaea, and an ever growing number of non-Jews that accepted the new faith. Conversion to Christianity rapidly became a religious phenomenon across the whole Roman Empire. However, the refusal of Christians to accept no other God compromised their submission to the emperor and was dealt with harshly by the authorities. Although no text of any imperial punitive decree against Christians has survived, thousands of martyrs are reported to have suffered death under provincial governors. Some Christian writers of this period published written apologies of the Christian faith, addressing them even to the emperor. The Roman persecution of Christians finally came to a halt in the fourth century, when the emperor Constantine granted a decree of tolerance and then of total freedom to the Church. Continuously-growing groups of Christian believers, at first quite spontaneously organized in local communities, were getting better established under an accepted hierarchy. This hierarchy was largely set up upon the political standards of the Romans, with the designation of a bishop to preside upon the Church of each city or polis and its region, the so-called diocese. Simultaneously, however, 73



the large community of believers faced inner disagreements on questions regarding their own faith, which developed into severe disputes that were often generated by the differences in language and mentality. Periodical regional synods and general or ecumenical councils were held by bishops in search of unity and orthodoxy, which resulted in the proclamation of dogmas and the anathema of heretics. The monastic movement, which had spontaneously started in the Eastern provinces towards the end of the third century, quickly spread throughout the Christian world, becoming a major element in the conversion of pagans and the promotion of high cultural standards among the clergy. At the same time, Christian liturgy was developing in very different forms and languages. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Places took an important role in fostering knowledge and mutual influences between the Christian communities of the East and West (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10. The city of Jerusalem in the Madaba map, sixth century CE (Piccirillo 1989:92). Many of these successful connections and accomplishments, however, suffered or came to an end with the Barbarian invasions



of Europe and North Africa at the end of the fourth and during the fifth century. The rise of Islam in the seventh century was accompanied by social upheavals in addition to the introduction of a competitor monotheistic faith. The present chapter will deal briefly with most of the aforementioned topics, as well as other related subjects. Two of them, however, namely the development of Christian worship and the monastic movement, are treated more extensively in subsequent chapters.

RELATIONS BETWEEN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH AND THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUE As described by the books of the New Testament, after Jesus’ death his followers did not initially show any intention of leaving Judaea. Their dispersion to other countries only started with the death of Stephan, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:54–60), because “on that day there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). Samaria was soon evangelized (Acts 8:4–25). Saul, a young Jewish Pharisee from Tarsus in Cilicia and the future apostle Paul, was on his way to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him in a vision. He was bringing letters from the high priest to the synagogues of Damascus, where he expected to find “men and women who belonged to the Way [a term here designating faith in Jesus]… to bring them back to Jerusalem in chains” (Acts 9:2). But, once baptized, Paul “began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). This proclamation of the Christian faith in the synagogues would become the easiest way for Paul to reach as many Jews as possible. In all his future travels to Antioch, Cyprus, the Roman provinces of Asia Minor and Greece, we see him visiting first of all the local synagogues, where he was given the opportunity to talk to the congregation with the authority of a rabbi. Thus he could make known to all his belief in Jesus as Messiah, basing it on the testimony of the Scriptures. In the synagogues, his audience could often include a small number of gentiles converted to Judaism, the so-called Proselytes, as well as other gentiles who were not ready to take upon themselves the strictures of all the Jewish commandments, but were attracted by the monotheistic faith and the high morals of the Jews. These were



called in Greek theoseboumenoi (“God-devotees”) and foboumenoi tou Theou (“God-fearers”). Paul’s proclamation of a personal redemption by faith in Christ and baptism alone, and not by the strict keeping of the commandments of the Law, facilitated the acceptance of the Christian faith by these God-fearers. Leaving aside the two well-known cases of the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip (Acts 8:26–39) and the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family baptized by the apostle Peter in Caesarea (Acts 10:24– 48), it was actually from among the rows of God-fearers that the Christian faith began to reach great numbers of pagan families in most of the Roman provinces of Asia. All the congregations founded by Paul included both Jews and non-Jews, and he became appropriately known as “the Apostle of the Gentiles.” In Antioch, the largest city of Syria (today called Antakia, in southeast Turkey), the believers in Jesus were soon considered a special group, not only among the Jews in general, but also among the gentile pagans. For the first time those believers started being called (probably by the pagans) by the Greek nickname of Christians (Acts 11: 26), that is, followers of Christós, the Greek translation of the Hebrew mashiah (“the anointed One,” Messiah). These gentiles might have imagined that Christós was the personal name of this group’s leader. What was the reaction of the Jewish authorities to the rapidly growing number of believers in Jesus among their own communities? Relations between Church and Synagogue could not be other than fraught with continuous disputes, clashes, persecutions, accusations and imprisonments. For the first period, this situation is particularly recorded in the Acts (4:1–22; 5:17– 29.40–41; 6:8–15; 7:54–8:3; 12:1–19; 13:50–51; 14:2–6, 19; 18:4–6, 12–17; 21:27–36; 22:22–23:30; 24:1–21; 25:2–11; 26:7–11; 28:17– 27) and the Pauline epistles (2 Cor 4:8–11; 5:4–5.9; 7:5; 11:23– 28.32–33; Gal 1:17; Phil 1:7; 2 Tim 4:6–8; 2). Three of the epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon) were even written during Paul’s captivity in Rome, where he was held prisoner as a result of the accusations brought against him by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus himself had predicted their future persecutions on his behalf to his followers (Matt. 5:11–12; 19:34–39; 23:24): “Watch out for yourselves. They will hand you over in the courts. You will be beaten in the synagogues…” (Mark 13:9–12). This antagonism between Jewish believers and non-believers started soon after the



death of Jesus and the first successes of the apostles preaching, as is described in the book of Acts (2:37–41). But it can already be perceived in the bitter dialogues and disputes between Jesus and his Jewish opponents as they were recorded in the Gospel of John (7:16–52; 8:21–59; 10:22–39; 12:37–43), written as it was during the period of open hostility between Jews and Jewish Christians. Rabbinical decisions against the Jewish Christians The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the major dispersion of the Jewish people in the years 70–73 CE did not settle the differences between Jews and Christians. On the contrary, these events were for Christians only a substantiation of what Jesus had already predicted, thus reaffirming their claims of his Messiahship and divinity. On the Jewish side, the rabbinical revival that took place about the year 85 CE in Yavneh, a town near the city of Ashdod, on the Mediterranean coast, under Rabbi Gamaliel II, came to formalize the Jewish rejection of the Christian faith. Among many other decisions taken there by the rabbis, there was also the official text of the so-called “Eighteen Blessings” to be daily recited by the pious Jew. This prayer included the curse of the Jewish Christians and all the Jewish heretics, as written by Rabbi Samuel the Small: Let be no hope for the apostates, and the kingdom of pride be uprooted in our days; let Noṣrim and Minim be suddenly destroyed, and let them be removed from the Book of Life and their names be absent from among the righteous. Blessed be Thee, Lord, who bringth down the proud! The term Noṣrim referred specifically to the Jewish Christians, followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and later became the name commonly used by Jews to designate the Christians in general. The second term, Minim, designated all Jewish heretics, including Christians, Gnostics and Essenes. The original text of that curse, which much later was reduced in Europe to the mention of the Minim alone (owing to fear of the Christian censure in the Renaissance period), was preserved in a manuscript of the so-called Geniza (a repository of religious texts no longer fit to be used) of the Old Synagogue in Cairo, discovered in by Western academics in 1895. The proclamation of that official



daily curse against the Christian Jews marked a clear separation line between Judaism and Christianity in the land of Israel, a separation that was not quite obvious at first. From now on, Jewish believers in Jesus would not be able to take part in the synagogue prayers, where they would in essence be cursing themselves. The Church Fathers from the second and third centuries — as is well attested in their writings — claimed that the Jews were cursing the Christians in their synagogues (Justin, Dial. chapters 16, 47, 96) and maligning them (Tertullian, De Spectaculis, XXX; Origen, Cels. VI, 27), when they themselves had come under God’s wrath because of their unfaithfulness (Cypr., Testimonies against the Jews, I). Another decision taken in the council of Yavneh referred to Christian literature, which was equally anathematized. All the books of the Minim were to be publicly burnt, including those of the New Testament. “All Israelites, affirms the Mishnah, have a share in the world to come” (Sanh. 10, 1) but Rabbi Akiba excluded from this privilege “one who reads the heretical books, or that utters charm over a wound and says, ‘I will put none of the diseases upon thee which I have put upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that health thee” (Exod 15: 26). The last sentence of this biblical quotation is interpreted by scholars as being a hidden mention of the full name of Jesus (Yehoshu‘a), which was invoked by Jewish Christians over sick persons to heal them. Indeed, using the well-known Jewish practice of gematria, the numerical value of both groups of Hebrew letters (“Yehoshu‘a” and “for I am the Lord that healeth thee”) was the same: 391. Akiba’s prescription, therefore, is to be interpreted as a curse upon the Jewish Christians and upon any Jew daring to use the name of Jesus as a means to heal. Cases of Jews (probably Christian Jews) who used to heal in the name of Jesus are recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (b. ‘Avod. Zar. 27b; 28a; b. Šabb. 14b) and in the Tosefta (t. Ḥul. 2:22–23). Also found in the Tosefta is evidence of the official Jewish rejection of Jewish Christians, as in this sentence: “The Minim and the apostates and the betrayers are cast [to a pit] and not helped out…” (t. B. Meṣi‘a. 2:53). There is a curious story in the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ḥag 15b) about Rabbi Elisha ben Abuya, later called Aher (“the other”), who flourished at the end of the first and the beginning of the third century: “It is told of Aher that when he used to rise [to go] from the beth midrash (“school house”), many books of the Minim used



to fall from his lap.” Might this suggest that that famous rabbi used to secretly read the books of the New Testament? Reactions to and effects of the official Jewish rejection of Christianity The reaction to those negative decisions issued by the Jewish authorities against Christians in general and Jewish Christians in particular was to be expected. On the one side, however, as we shall see, those affected by the decisions were not agreed among themselves on important issues related to their faith. On the other, Christians that had converted not from Judaism but from paganism, the so-called gentile Christians, who in the beginning of the second century already made up the majority in the Church, did not look kindly upon those Jewish Christians who, for whatever reason, distanced themselves from the rest of the believers. In other words, there was neither unity of thought or faith between the two groups of Jewish believers in Jesus, nor between Jewish Christians in general and gentile Christians. Nazarenes and Ebionites From Christian sources of the period following the council of Yavneh we learn that the Jewish believers in Jesus were divided into two large groups. One was that of the Noṣrim (Nazoraioi in Greek), the “Nazarenes,” and the other was the so-called Ebionim, a Hebrew word meaning “the poor ones.” These Ebionites distinguished themselves from the Nazarenes in their rejection of the divinity of Christ. They accepted him as the Messiah, but not as the Son of God. And because of this fundamental divergence in their faith they were regarded by both, gentile Christians and Nazarenes alike as a sect to be avoided. The historian Eusebius of Caesarea, to whom we owe most of our knowledge of the early Christian Church, even distinguishes between two kinds of Ebionites: those who were openly heterodox, and those who were so only in part, accepting Jesus Christ as man and God, but denying his preexistence (Eusebius, CH III, 27). We do not know for how long these different kinds of converted Jews, the Jewish Christians, went on living side by side with their fellow citizens, both Jews and non-Jews, in Palestine and abroad. Towards the end of the fourth century, a good number of them had been incorporated into the Church of the Gentiles, while



others were being assimilated in different heretical movements. It is obvious, however, that the long presence of Jewish believers was for the gentile Christians a constant incentive to reconsider once and again the Jewish background of their own thought and behavior. Positive and negative reactions to that influence are evident in most Christian writers or Church Fathers of this early period. Christian interpretation of the Bible and the negative view of Judaism When considering the first period of the history of the Church, there is a tendency to idealize it as an age made up of enthusiastic missionaries, inspiring martyrs, and charismatic communities spiritually united in “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). While all this may be the case, it is not the whole truth. For one thing, most of the first Christian literature after the New Testament books is apologetic in nature. As the Christian writers were the inheritors of the Jewish past of their founders, they had to define, both to themselves and to their Jewish opponents, their attitude towards the Bible, the Holy Scripture of the Jewish people. For Christians, the Holy Scripture included both the Jewish Bible (today usually called the Old Testament) and the New Testament. Together, they were accepted as “the foundation and column of the [Christian] faith” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, Pref.: III, 3, 1). There was no contradiction between the two Covenants; together, they formed the literary framework of God’s revelation. The Jewish Scriptures had not only been accepted by all Christians but were even considered as their own property, against the Jewish “claims.” Even as late as the fifth century, Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in North Africa, tells the Jews of his time: “… your Scripture, or better, ours, for we allow us be convinced by it, while you read it without understanding the spirit which is in it…” (Aug., Adv. Jud. 29, 2). Since the second century, Christian writers searched the Bible for arguments against the Jewish refutation of the Christian faith (Jesus’ Messiahship, his divine Sonship, etc.). But they expressed themselves differently from their opponents. The Jews held the Bible as their Torah, a revealed law of behavior for Israelites in their promise of faithfulness to God’s covenant. Their reading of the Scripture could be either literal,



parenetical (encouraging or hortatory) or typological, but always in regard of halakhah, Jewish practical behavior. Christians interpreted the Bible in rather different ways. For them it was also always a treasure of parenetical material that would prove useful in any given occasion. But more specifically, it was envisioned as: 1) a revealed body of historic preparation for the new divine economy, as it had already been used in the New Testament; 2) a body of prophecies about Jesus Christ as Messiah, or Son of God, either directly (as in “the Servant of God” in Isa. 53) or indirectly, in the form of: i) typologies of Jesus and of the New Testament events ii) allegories, that God himself could have hidden in any corner of the historical books. Moreover, the impact of Hellenistic values and methods upon the gentile Christians compelled them to consider whatever in the Bible did not suit their mentality or cultural environment as having only a symbolic or figurative meaning (sacrifices in the Temple, circumcision, most of the legal precepts, certain odd episodes, etc.). In general, any analogy that could be found between the two Covenants was seriously taken as a theological argument against the Jewish exegesis. It is not my intention to elaborate on all those important points enumerated above, but a few examples will clarify each of them: Old Testament as historic preparation In the second century, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon used groups of texts from the Old Testament that had been collected as Testimonia, “(Messianic) witnesses.” Justin adduces those texts dealing with the manifestations of the divine Logos, God’s Word, that had already appeared in the theophanies to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Dial. 126, 5), in God’s visit to the tower of Babel, in his calling to Noah (Dial. 127, 1). Irenaeus follows the same pattern, adding other examples by recalling the long process of those manifestations, “accustomed since the beginning to ascend and descend for the salvation of those living in a bad situation” (Adv. Haer. IV, 12, 4). Both Church Fathers saw the history of salvation



as a whole, in a program of redemption planned by God the Father and accomplished by the Son, first in the form of the “Word” in the Old Testament, later in human condition in the New. Christ’s incarnation represented the culmination of that divine project. In this general view, however, some issues needed further explanation. What to think, for instance, of the Jewish people once called “God’s people,” the promises made to their forefathers, and the commandments of the Law, which Jesus himself had declared he had not come to abolish? The answer given by the Fathers to such questions followed the path already traced by the New Testament in general and by Paul in particular. Namely, ancient Israel, its Torah and its institutions, had lost all relevance as historical realities, and were relegated to mere symbols and shadows of the present reality. Nothing had been lost. All was still true and valid, but only in the spiritual sense of Christ and his Church. Typology and allegory will help us to understand this outlook. Old Testament as prophecy We have already seen that collections of Old Testament texts had been gathered to be used as Testmonia, as “witnesses” of the truths revealed in the New Covenant. A similar collection of Messianic Testimonia had been similarly exploited by the community of Qumran. The Gospel of Matthew, probably written for a community of Jewish Christians, uses those testimonia systematically to prove that the story of Jesus, from his conception to his death, had already been predicted by the Prophets, the Psalms, and other prophetical oracles such of that of Balaam (Num 24:7). Matthew’s texts are well known, though not always convincing, as he arbitrarily uses the Hebrew text or the Greek translation, the Septuagint, according to his purpose. For instance, his proof of the virginal conception of Jesus (Matt. 2: 23), derived from the verse of Isa. 7: 14, is based on the Greek text. This reads “virgin” (parthenos), where the Hebrew reads “young woman” (‘almah). This exploitation of the Septuagint translation of the Bible probably explains why its use was forbidden in the synagogues by the rabbis gathered in Yavneh. The second century writers, such as the anonymous author of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas as well as Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho, developed the use of Testimonia. But Justin had



great difficulty when responding to the textual objections raised by his opponent (probably the famous Rabbi Tarfon). For instance, some of the texts adduced by Justin did not belong at all to the Hebrew Bible; others had been altered in a Christian sense; and still others were found only in some manuscripts. A famous Christian alteration in the text of Ps. 95: 10, “Proclaim among the peoples: the Lord will reign,” was the addition of the words “from the tree” at the end of that sentence. Justin, on his side, accuses the Jews of having suppressed from Jer. 11: 19 the words: “And I, like a lamb brought to sacrifice.” On the other hand, some of the Church Fathers of this period, like Theophile of Alexandria, confess that their conversion to Christianity was the fruit of their serious study of the Bible, especially the Prophetic Books. An important consequence of this determined search for biblical prophecies realized in the New Testament was the start of the critical study of the Biblical text by Christian scholars. The best exponent of this study is the Hexapla, a “sixfold” edition of the Old Testament carried out by Origen of Alexandria at his school in Caesarea Maritima during the third century. It consisted of a sideby-side presentation of the following texts: the Hebrew text, the Hebrew text transliterated into Greek characters, the Greek translation by Aquila of Sinope (a converted Jew), the Greek translation by Symmachus (an Ebionite), a critical version of the Septuagint, and the Greek translation by Theodotion (a Hellenistic Jewish scholar). Unfortunately, only fragments of partial copies of this enormous work, which disappeared after the Muslim conquest of Palestine, have survived up to the present. Also from the third century dates the Latin work Ad Quirinum, written by Cyprian, bishop of Cartago. This is also a collection of Testimonia, but half of it is directed against the Jews, as Cyprian himself writes in the preface: I divided my work in two books of similar length. In the first one I try to prove that the Jews, in accordance with what had been said above, have been separated from God and have lost his favor, which had once been granted to them and had been promised to them for the future. The second book includes the mystery of Christ…



Typological interpretation of Scripture Typology is the exegetical technique that allows for interpretation of certain events, persons, acts, and even words of the Old Testament as prefigurations (typoi in Greek) of realities in the new divine economy. In this sense, this technique is essentially Christian, although similar techniques had already by used in the Hebrew midrash, and even in the Old Testament itself (Isa 51:9–16). In the New Testament, we find it used in Paul’s epistles and in Hebrews. For Christians, Adam and Moses foreshadowed Christ in the real sense; the flood indicated the Baptism and also the judgment; all sacrifices of the Law, and particularly the sacrifice of Isaac, anticipated the one on the Calvary; the passage of the Red sea and the eating of the manna indicated the Baptism and the Eucharist; the fall of Jericho prefigured the end of the world. (Kelly 1960: 72) The liturgical celebrations offered a good occasion for such typological remembrances. About the year 170, Melito, bishop of Sardis, pronounced his homily in the feast of Easter (Pascha in Greek), that was still celebrated by the so-called Quartodecimans of Asia on the 14th of Nissan, the same day as the Jewish Passover (Pesach in Hebrew). Here are some of his words: Old is the Law, new is the Word; the type passes, grace is eternal… The first (Pascha) happened as type, the second as reality… Everything has its particular time: there is a time for the type and a time for the reality… If you contemplate the type, you will see in it the representation of Christ. In the same way you must contemplate Abel murdered, Isaac bound, Joseph sold, Moses exiled, David persecuted and the prophets tested, all for Christ’s sake. Behold the lamb slain in the land of Egypt, who hit the Egyptian and rescued Israel with his blood… (Meliton, On Pascha) Unfortunately, this typological technique served to facilitate the work of those who used the biblical text to discredit the Jewish people, such as the author of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas. This unknown author collected a rich arsenal of biblical texts in an attempt to show that the only meaning that could be attributed to



the old religious institutions of a sinning and unfaithful Israel was that they were only a sign and a shadow of the realities to come. One example is that of circumcision. Having adduced no less than eight texts dealing with it, one of which is not biblical, that author wrote: In conclusion, [God] circumcised our ears, so that, listening to the word, we believe. Besides, the circumcision itself, in which [the Jews] put their trust, has been annulled: the Lord really spoke about making a circumcision, but not of the flesh. They transgressed His commandment, a bad angel had deceived them. (Barn. IX, 4) The conception of Jews as unable to understand the Bible is commonplace in this kind of literature. “Christ is hidden to you— says Justin to Rabbi Trypho—you read without understanding” (Dial. 113: 1–2). Even two centuries later, Augustine will reproach the Jews of his time: “You do not consider the reason of the commandments; …you have understood everything in a carnal way” (Adv. Jud. 12, 3; 14: 2). Allegorical interpretation of Scripture When the apostle Paul attributes the episode of Sara and Agar to the figures of Church and Synagogue, he says “this is an allegory” (Gal 4:24). Today we would rather say “this is a typology.” Indeed, in regard to the Bible, allegory is rather a symbolic attribution of a biblical text to spiritual truths, without any reference to its original historical sense. Any verse—even any word—of the Bible, Old and New Testament, can be thought to have a moral, theological or mystical sense. This allegorical interpretation of the Scripture had already been used by the Jewish Philo of Alexandria, who inherited it from the Greek commentators of Homer, whose poems, in fact, supposedly contained more of a moral teaching than of mythology. This allegorical method of biblical exegesis or interpretation is found in Pseudo-Barnabas to be intertwined with his typological technique. He manages to unfold a moral teaching from any legal precept he reads in Leviticus, thereby opposing it to the literal understanding of the text that was held by Jews. The Gnostics also made allegorical use of Scripture. For the Gnostic Heracleon, if it is said that Jesus, “[W]ent down to Capernaum,” [John 2:12] … these



words indicate the beginning of a new dispensation, for “he went down” is not said idly. Capernaum, means these farthest-out parts of the world, the material realm into which he descended (Heracleon, Fragment 11). Alexandria, where the allegorical method flourished for centuries among pagans, Gnostics and Jews, also became home to Christian allegorical exegesis, whose best exponent was Origen at the beginning of the third century. Convinced of the divine inspiration behind each word of the Bible, he searched each word of it for an underlying spiritual meaning. This was the strongest motivation for his enterprise in creating the Hexapla. What he sought beyond the obvious or literal meaning of the words was what he defines as the “psychical sense.” He applied first typology and allegory, to arrive at the spiritual or mystical sense of a word. The best example of Origen’s allegorical interpretation is found in his commentary on the Song of Songs. The Jews had interpreted it as the love between God and Israel, and Hippolytus of Rome understood it as the relationship between Christ and the Church. For Origin, the Song of Songs was, above all, a love song between Christ and the soul of the believer. This explanation turned out to be the one most successful in the history of Christian mysticism, adopted by figures such as Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux and Juan de la Cruz. The Christian reaction to Hellenistic culture and pagan philosophy Besides the Jewish rejection of the Christian faith and its consequences, the first generations of believers also had to overcome the enormous difficulties of living in a world that was ruled by the pagan Romans. Heathenism, in all its manifestations of religion, thought, culture, art and customs, had dominated Palestine and the surrounding countries since the conquest of the East by Alexander the Macedonian in the years 334–332 BCE. The Romans in the East had become the inheritors of that so-called Hellenistic world, using both languages—Latin for official use, Greek to reach the local population—and adopting and adapting Greek mythology and Greek philosophy to their own religion and thought. Christians were living in the midst of the Jewish and the Hellenistic world, and had to face challenges on both fronts. Paul addressed Jews in their synagogues, but he could not avoid



confrontations with pagans where they mingled in places such as the theater of Ephesus, where vendors of small silver temples of Artemis assembled (Acts 19:23–41), and the Areopagos of Athens, where philosophers gathered (Acts 17:16–34). Christians living and working in a pagan society could not avoid frequent conflicts in their behavior and attitudes. The classical culture in which most citizens had been educated was totally enmeshed in pagan expressions of ancient mythology and symbolism, which penetrated every area of their lives. And, surrounded as they were by an official pagan atmosphere, they often succumbed to the syncretistic tendencies and temptations they were experiencing. Some Church Fathers cautioned Christians against the reading of pagan literature, though they themselves at times used literary expressions hinting at well-known mythological stories. Cyril of Jerusalem had to warn recently baptized Christians about the danger of falling again into the adoration of such natural objects as the vine (Catech. VI, PG 33: 553–555). The art motif of a fruitful vine, of Dionysian origin, became commonplace on the mosaic floors of churches and synagogues in the Palestine during the Byzantine period. Even mythological figures, such as Orpheus, were used in early Christian art, as we shall see below in Chapter Seven (p. 294). In their confrontation with the pagan world that surrounded them, Christians would not forget Paul’s affirmation: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Since the beginning of the second century, a number of Christian thinkers began to emerge who developed their own written arguments against the pagan philosophers endangering the expansion of the faith. The author of Epistle to Diognetus, Aristides, Quadratus, Justin Martyr, Tatian (author of the famous Diatesseron, “The Four Gospels in One”), Athenagoras, Theophilus, Minutius Felix and Tertullian produced systematic works to prove the truth of Christianity. The ultimate aim of those works was of course apologetic, a directed defense of Christians against the Roman authorities, who had been persecuting them since the second half of the first century. Some pagan philosophers of this early period reacted against Christian claims and the Christian faith in general, including Celsus, with his work The True Word (written c. 177), and Porphyry (c. 234–



c. 305), disciple of the Neoplatonic Plotinus, with his fifteen-book work Against the Christians. Of both works only fragments have been preserved as quotations by the Church Fathers who reacted against them, particularly Origen, in his book Against Celsus. The Christian reaction to Gnosticism and related heretical doctrines Already in his Epistles to the Corinthians and the Colossians, Paul had to deal with erroneous attitudes adopted by members of those communities. In Corinth, some Christians saw themselves possessing a deeper wisdom and profounder mystical experiences than their brethren and even Paul himself (1 Cor 12–14). Others fell into moral license, or adopted extreme ascetic behavior, and some held the doctrine of the eternity of soul but not the resurrection of the body. In Colossae, Christians were yielding to doctrinal and practical deviations from the faith, worshipping angelic beings and holding strict ascetic practices (Col 2: 8–23). Most scholars perceive in these early Christian deviations the presence of Gnostic elements. There is some debate among scholars about the origins of Gnosticism, and whether or not it preceded Christianity (Kelly 1960: 22–28). What we actually know is that when this phenomenon became the foremost enemy of the essential Christian faith, namely from the years 80 to 150, it had already assimilated many elements originated in Platonism, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and other “mystery cults.” Most of what we know of Gnosticism stems from the refutations written by some of the Church Fathers, particularly Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century. Original Gnostic texts, hidden in the ruins of a Coptic monastery in Nag Hammadi (Egypt) in the fourth century, were only discovered in 1945, among them the Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary (Fig. 11). The term Gnosticism derives from the Greek word gnosis, “knowledge.” The Gnostic was believed to possess a special knowledge of his real origins, an awareness of his divine provenance, through which he could be led to his final destiny. The gnostic cosmogony considered the physical world not as the work of God but of the demiurge, a Platonic element, now identified with the God of the Old Testament, creator of evil, who imprisons and links man to material passions. Only through gnosis can man revive



in himself that spark of the original spirit of God, an emanation from Sophia (the Wisdom), that is identified with the real original God. Salvation does not come from belief or from a divine redeemer but from revelation, possible only to those who have not completely lost the divine spark within themselves. Then they can lead a sinless existence through perfect knowledge of God’s will. The Gospel of Philip says “The one who has knowledge is a free person. But the free person does not sin, for the one who sins is a slave of sin” (77:15–18).

Fig. 11. Gnostic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas (Yamauchi 1990:96)



One of the most serious consequences that Gnosticism and related movements had for Christian orthodoxy was the depreciation of the Old Testament. The antithesis between the loving Father proclaimed by Jesus and the God of justice of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exod 21:24) was particularly addressed by Marcion, who was born in Sinope, Asia Minor, c. 85, and who died in Rome c. 185. He excluded from the biblical canon all the books of the Old Testament, and from the New Testament he only admitted the Gospel of Luke (except for the two first chapters) and the epistles of Paul (except for the so-called Pastoral Epistles). In his book, Antitheses, he gathered the contradictions he discovered between the two Testaments to demonstrate that the God of Jews, creator of this miserable world, was totally different from the God and Father of Jesus. Marcion rejected the allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of its prophecies in Jesus. Marcion was excommunicated, first by his own father, who was the bishop of Sinope, and later, in 144, by the first synod of the Roman Church. But he succeeded in founding his own Church, which lasted for more than two centuries in Rome itself, and for much longer in the Eastern provinces (Mead, 1931: 241–249). Several Church Fathers, such as Tertullian in Latin, and Bardesanes in Syriac, wrote extensively against his doctrines. Roman persecutions and Christian martyrs No other subject has been so thoroughly dealt with by Church historians than the Roman persecutions of early Christianity. The existence of authentic and apocryphal Acts of martyrs, visits to the Roman catacombs, and colorful stories of saints who paid with their lives for their loyalty to the Christian faith have all contributed to the great interest in this subject. In the present context, I can only offer a summary of historical facts surrounding it, based on reliable sources, such as the texts of Roman historians, official records of trials, authentic Acts or reports by eyewitnesses, and plausible accounts by the Church historians from the period in question. The first century CE The Roman authorities never actually prevented the apostle Paul from preaching the Christian faith nor founding and organizing



communities of believers in any of the provinces he visited. If at times he had been rebuked or even imprisoned by order of local Roman magistrates, this had been caused by misunderstandings (Acts 16:20–24,35–39). He was a Roman citizen, and more than once he himself demanded to be treated according to the rights involved in this status (Acts 16:37–39; 22:25–29). Even his twoyear imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 24:27) and the house imprisonment in Rome for another two years (Acts 28:30) were not incurred by an independent decision of the Roman authorities, who would have preferred to liberate him (Acts 26:32). What occurred not much later in Rome, under the emperor Nero, is quite different and not easily understandable. According to sources such as Clement of Rome (1 Cor 5–6), Tertullian (De praescriptione 36, 1–3), Origen (Eusebius, CH III, 1, 1–3), Lactantius (De mort. pers. 2,4–6) and others, the apostles Peter and Paul were put to death, one crucified, the other beheaded. We do not know if the death of these two leaders of the Roman church was related to the punishment inflicted by Nero on the entire Christian community of Rome following the great fire that destroyed most parts of the city in the year 64, as was reported above in Chapter Two (pp. 37–38). Thirty years later, the emperor Domitian punished with death, among many others, his own cousin the consul Flavius Clemens and his wife was exiled, accused of “atheism,” living without gods and modo judaico, “as Jews.” As previously discussed, many scholars think they had actually converted to Christianity. The second century In the correspondence between Pliny the Younger and the emperor Trajan in the year 112 regarding the way to deal with the Christians of Bythinia, it becomes clear that neither of them knew of a senatus consultum or official Roman decree that outlawed Christianity. Yet many scholars, basing their opinion on a text of Tertullian (Ad Nationes I, 7), have argued that there was some sort of decree since the time of Nero—what Tertullian called institutum Neronianum—by which it was officially ordered: “christiani non sint.” According to this interpretation, a law prohibiting anyone from being Christian existed until January 250, when the emperor Decius issued his new decree of open persecution of Christians. Yet, for all those years we only know for certain of the existence of the



rescript by Trajan to Pliny and another rescript by Hadrian to Minutius Fundanus (Eusebius CH V, 24, 5). Several written sources attesting to the martyrdom of Christians in different parts of the Empire during the second century are listed below: 1. The bishop of Jerusalem Symeon, son of Clopas, from the family of Jesus, was already 120 years old when he was accused by heretics to proconsul Aticus, and was sentenced to crucifixion (Eusebius, CH III, 32, 1–6). This happened in the year 107. Eusebius’ source was Hegesippus, whom he quotes literally. 2. About the year 108, during Trajan’s reign, Ignatius, the venerable bishop of Antioch, was arrested and brought to Rome, where he was killed in the Colosseum (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12.

The Colosseum, Rome, first century CE.



3. According to Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III, 3), Telesphorus, bishop of Rome, suffered a “glorious martyrdom.” 4. Possibly written by Julius Africanus in the third century, a Latin text reports the Acts of the martyrdom of the widow Symphorose and her seven sons, occurred in Rome under Hadrian. Not all scholars believe in the authenticity of these Acts (Ruiz Bueno 1974: 258–259). 5. According to the authentic Acts, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, was publically burnt alive in the stadium on February 23, year 155, during the reign of Antoninus Pius, together with twelve other Christians. The Acts were partly quoted in Greek by Eusebius (CH IV, 15, 1–46), but the entire text was preserved in Latin. 6. Justin, the converted philosopher and apologist, died a martyr in Rome in 167, under Marcus Aurelius (Eusebius, CH IV, 15, 16–17), together with six other Christians. His genuine Acts relate that they were flagellated and beheaded after a brief trial by the Roman prefect Rusticus. He himself had written about the martyrdom of Christians: It is known to all that neither beheaded, no crucified, nor thrown to the beasts, nor imprisoned, nor burnt alive, nor tortured with all kind of torments, they obtained from us to abandon the confession of our faith. On the contrary, as more persecuted we are, larger grows the number of those who convert to the faith in the name of Jesus… (Justin, Dial. CX) 7. The martyrdom of a group of Christians of Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, an effect of a popular upheaval in the year 177, was described in a detailed letter written in Greek by members of those two churches to “the brethren in Asia and Phrygia” (Eusebius, CH V, 1, 3–63). Among the people integrating the group of martyrs are mentioned: Pothinus, the elderly bishop; the distinguished Epagatus; Sanctus, the deacon; Maturus, recently baptized; Atalus from Pergamon; Blandina, a slave young girl; her matron; Alexander, a physician from Phrygia; Ponticus, a fifteenyear boy; and his sister. All these, accused of crimes falsely imputed to Christians, suffered severe torture before their deaths. Others



died of asphyxia in the dungeon, and their corpses were thrown to the dogs. Among them, was also a group of Christians who had apostatized when threatened with torture. All the corpses, and the remaining parts of those that had been thrown alive to the wild beasts, were left unburied. Irenaeus, the Church Father, who was priest of Lyons, was absent during the massacre. He was in Rome, with a letter to Pope Eleutherus concerning the Montanist heresy. On his return, he succeeded Pothinus as bishop. He is thought to have died as a martyr c. 202. 8. In 180, another trial of Christians took place in the village of Scillium, near Carthage, under the proconsul Publius Vigenlius Saturninus. The Acts of this first trial and martyrdom in Africa tell us the names of those who were judged and slaughtered: Speratus, Narizatus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Ianuaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donatus and Secunda. 9. The martyrdom of Apollonius, philosopher according to Eusebius (CH V, 21), member of the Roman senate according to Jerome (De viris illustribus, 42), took place under the emperor Commodus. Judged by the proconsul Perennius, he died by decapitation. 10. In Pergamon, probably during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the bishop Carpus and his deacon Papilus were judged and burnt alive. A woman by the name of Agathonica joined them spontaneously (Eusebius, CH IV, 5, 48). The third century 1. A particularly famous trial and martyrdom occurred under the persecution of Septimius Severus in 202 or 203 in the village of Thuburbo Minus, near Carthage. Included were the instructor Saturus; the catechumen Vibia Perpetua, a newly married noble young woman who was nursing her baby; the slaves Felicitas and her brother Revocatus; and two other men, Saturninus and Secundulus. Perpetua’s father tried in vain to persuade her daughter to apostatize. The largest part of their trial and torture were recorded by Perpetua herself in her diary, written in the prison. Felicitas, who was pregnant, gave birth to a girl shortly before she was taken to her death. Brought one by one to the amphitheater, all the martyrs were attacked by wild beasts, and those who remained



alive were then slaughtered. The final editor of this moving account was probably Tertullian, who was a contemporary of the events. 2. Also in 202, a number of martyrs died in Alexandria (Eusebius, CH V, 1–6). Leonides was one of the first to be killed. He was the father of Origen, then only seventeen years old. Having been appointed head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, Origen taught, preached, and even converted a number of pagans. In prison, he gave moral support to those destined for martyrdom. Some recorded names include Plutarch, Serenos, Heraclides, Heron, another Serenos, Herais, a woman, and the famous Potamiana, with her mother Marcella. Some were only catechumens, others were recently baptized (Fig. 13). Many died burnt alive, while others were beheaded. Basilides, the soldier who accompanied Potamiana to her death, converted, was baptized, and died by decapitation. 3. The persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius in the year 250 disrupted a long period of relative quiet. Our main source for these events is the correspondence of bishop Cyprian of Carthage, in which we learn not only about those who were actually imprisoned and martyred, but also about the serious difficulties that arose in the community in connection with that persecution, specifically the question of the status of the so-called lapsi, those Christians who had “fallen away” and asked for their re-admission to the Church. Some apostates had offered sacrifices to the gods, had burned grains of incense to the emperor’s statue, or had obtained with money an official libellum, certifying themselves not to be Christian. Cyprian, who had left Carthage during the persecution, decided that only those apostates who later showed repentance and received a personal note from a martyr or a confessor (one who had openly confessed his faith at the trial) could be admitted to the Eucharist, particularly if they were dangerously ill and at the point of death. Not all the clergy of Carthage accepted Cyprian’s decision, thus provoking a real schism in the community. In Rome, the principle had been established that apostates should be exhorted to do penance, so that, should they appear again before the pagan authorities, they could atone for their apostasy by confessing the faith. There too, a priest called Novatian and his followers unconditionally refused to re-admit any of the lapsi to communion with the Church. This schismatic movement,



called Novatianism, spread to different parts of the Empire. After the death of Decius in 251, with Cyprian having returned to his episcopal city, synods were held in Africa and Rome, where the question of the lapsi was settled by common agreement.

Fig. 13 Hexagonal baptismal font of the Aquileia cathedral, Italy, from the fifth–sixth century (Cuscito 1979:30, fig. 47). 4. Eusebius collected fragments from several letters written by Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, regarding the events of persecution and martyrdom of many Christians in his city during Decius’ reign (Eusebius CH VI, 40, 1–42. 6). The first to die were Metras, Quinta, Apollonia and Serapion; many others committed apostasy, either spontaneously or through torture. A great number of Christians, of all social conditions and age, were tortured



severely: “Men and women, young and old, maidens and old women, soldiers and civilians, in one word, of all sex and age … all obtained the crown” (Eusebius, CH VII, 11, 20–26.) 5. In Smyrna, the detailed martyrdom of a highly intellectual priest called Pionius is also dated from the time of Decius’ persecution (Eusebius, CH IV, 15, 46–48). Together with Pionius, other Christians suffered trial and torture: Sabina, Asclepiades, Macedonia, and Lemnos, a priest. Pionius was burnt alive together with another priest by the name of Metrodorus. 6. The Acts of Acacius, bishop of Antioch of Pisidia (Asia Minor), relate his dialogue with the consular Marcianus during the trial. Emperor Decius himself, having received and read the copy of the trial, was so impressed by Acacius’ answers that, with a smile, he absolved the accused and elevated Marcianus to the dignity of praefectus of Pamphylia. 7. Another martyr of the same persecution was Maximus, a humble man from the province of Asia. Probably in Ephesus, he spontaneously confessed to be a Christian. His Acts tell us that he was brought before the proconsul Optimus, and after a brief trial he was stoned to death. 8. The Acts of Lucian and Marcian relate the martyrdom of two pagan magicians who converted to Christianity. They were processed and sentenced by proconsul Sabinus during Decius’ persecution, and burnt alive. 9. Eusebius (CH VI, 39, 1–5) briefly records the martyrdom of Pope Fabian in Rome, and the imprisonment and subsequent death of other important clergy such as Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, Babilas, bishop of Antioch, and, most famous of all, Origen, priest and Church Father. His terrible torture in the dungeon where he was imprisoned for a long period with daily threats to be burnt alive, brought his life to an end. 10. Under the emperor Trebonius Galus, Decius’ successor, the persecution continued in June 252, with the exile of many Christians (Eusebius, CH VII, 1). Pope Cornelius was sent to Centumcellae (Ostia), where he died a year later. His tomb, discovered in a Roman catacomb, bears the inscription CORNELIUS MARTYR.



11. In Carthage, under the emperor Valerian in 253, a group of clergy, bishops, priests, deacons and lay people were condemned to forced labor in the mines. Bishop Cyprian wrote them encouraging letters, which they answered with gratitude. From this correspondence we know many of the names of those who suffered that terrible punishment, whom Cyprian calls “martyrs” though still alive, as well as “strongest and most faithful soldiers of Christ” (Letter LXXVI, VI, 1). Cyprian was exiled to Curubis (today Korba) in 257 CE, was finally tried and beheaded in September 258. In Rome, Pope Stephen I and his successor, Sixtus II, also suffered martyrdom. 12. Also under Valerian, soon after the death of Cyprian, the trial and martyrdom of a group of martyrs from Carthage are recorded in the Latin Acts. Their names were Lucius, Montanus, Flavianus, Iulianus, Victoricus, Primolus, Renus and Donatianus, who was still catechumen. Before their trial and death, they spent long months together in prison, suffering terrible hunger and thirst. They were burnt alive. 13. In the year 259, under the emperors Valerian and Gallienus and the consuls Emilian and Bassus, the trial and martyrdom of bishop Fructuosus and his two deacons Augurius and Eulogius, took place in Tarragona, the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The Acts are a faithful report of the dialogue between Emilian and Fructuosus before the death of the three martyrs. They were burnt alive in the amphitheater. 14. Probably in the year 260, under C. Macrinius Dacianus, the martyrdom of James, Marian, other members of the clergy and a great number of lay Christians took place in the Roman province of Numidia (today’s Alegeria), as reported in the Latin Acts. They died by decapitation in the city of Lambesis. 15. “In the mentioned Valerian’s persecution,” writes Eusebius (CH VII, 12), “three (Christians) in Caesarea of Palaestine, having confessed their faith in Christ, were honored with a divine martyrdom, being fed alive to wild beasts. One was called Priscos, another Malcos, and the third Alexander.” 16. At the death of the emperor Valerian, his son Gallienus issued an edict of tolerance to the Christian Church in the West.



But in the East, the persecution continued under Macrianus (261– 262). “In Caesarea of Palestine,” writes Eusebius (CH VII, 15 ff), “Marinos, who was a high official in the army and a distinguished person by family and wealth, gave testimony of his faith in Christ and was decapitated.” The fourth century A long period of peace and expansion of the Church had elapsed since the time of Decius and Valerian’s persecution, but on February 24, 303, Emperor Diocletian (284–305), by instigation of his co-emperor Galerius, published a new edict against the Christians. All churches had to be destroyed, and all Christians had to comply with the traditional Roman pagan practices. A second edict ordered the entire populace to sacrifice to the gods. Christian officers in the army were downgraded from their positions, and many were killed. The persecution started in Nicomedia, a city of Bythinia (Asia Minor), and it spread to Syria, Phoenicia, the African provinces, Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia. According to Eusebius, the martyrs of this last Roman persecution numbered in the thousands across the whole Empire, and many of these were in the East. His account of the martyrdom of bishops, clergy and laymen, carried out with a variety of tortures devised by judges and executioners, is found in books VIII and IX of his Church History, with the addition of a booklet On the martyrs of Palestine. Beside Eusebius’ works we also have in our hands the work titled De mortibus persecutorum (“On the deaths of the persecutors”), written by Lactantius. Diocletian’s persecution ended by a general edict of toleration, issued from Nicomedia in April 311 by Galerius and his coemperors, Licinius and Constantine, where it was written: [W]herefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the republic may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes. The persecution, however, was resumed in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor by Galerius’ successor in the East, Maximinus Daia. After his death in 313, peace to the Church was finally granted in the Empire with the famous Edict of Milan, issued in that same year by Constantine and Licinius.



The Christian Church and the Constantinian peace During the long and difficult times of persecution, the Christian faith continued to spread throughout the lands of the Roman Empire and beyond. In the early fourth century, the Christian message had already been heard not only in all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea but had also reached the Britons, Goths, Persians, Ethiopians and even the inhabitants of the western coast of India. Together with the drive for evangelization, an outcome of the persecutions was the emigration of Christians in all directions, with the people bringing with them stories of the courage and faithfulness of those who chose to suffer and die rather than abjure their faith. Tertullian recognized the significance of this when he wrote: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Apolog. 50). Another important factor for the expansion of Christianity was the Roman army. The recent discovery in northern Israel of a Christian worship hall for Roman soldiers dating from before Diocletian’s persecution (see below, Fig. 32) is archaeological evidence that Christianity had penetrated deep into the ranks of the army. This fact was already known, not only from hints by contemporary writers, from the legendary stories of military saints (such as St. George and St. Theodore), and from Christian graffiti discovered in ancient Roman camps, but also from second-century literary sources (Tertullian, Apolog. 5, 5–8). How did the Christian church subsequently develop in its new climate of liberty under Constantine? The scope of this introduction does not allow us to undertake a comprehensive analysis, but we shall briefly review some of the most important facts. Emperor Constantine and the Christian faith Emperor Constantine (Fig. 14), usually known as the first Christian Roman emperor, published with Licinius, emperor in the East, the Edict of Milan on February 313, according to which Christians were allowed to follow their faith without oppression. Furthermore, their confiscated properties had to be returned. Not only Christianity, but all religions were now protected. This did not at all mean that Constantine himself had converted to Christianity, but rather that he wanted to distinguish himself from the “great



persecutor,” Galerius, by following a policy of tolerance that would foster his interest in keeping all citizens of the Empire under his authority.

Fig. 14 Triumphal arch of Constantine, Rome, fourth century CE. Lactantius, the Christian historian, reports that on the eve of the decisive battle against his enemy Maxentius on the outskirts of Rome, Constantine had been advised in a dream to mark “the sign of God” on the shields of his soldiers (De mort. pers. 44.4–6). That sign was the Greek monogram X–P, the so-called labarum, or chrismon. Eusebius wrote that Constantine “saw with his own eyes in the heavens a trophy of the cross arising from the light of the sun, carrying the message ‘In this, win!’” (Life Cons. 1, 28). From 317, some of Constantine’s coins depict him wearing a helmet emblazoned with that sign. On a gold multiple medallion minted in 313, Constantine’s bust still appears together with that of Sol Invictus, the “Unconquered Sun,” which was identified with the god Apollo. It is assumed that Constantine never made a clear distinction between the person of Jesus Christ and the divinized figure of the physical sun. It should be noted that the sun was universally held as the foremost symbol of Christ in the early



Church, a symbol that was widely exploited in Christian art and literature, and in the orientation of churches, tombs and even public prayers. Sun-day (the day of the Sun) became for the Christians the day of the Lord (dies dominica, in Latin), the other six days being named, to this day, after pagan gods in most European languages. Jesus’ birthday was, and still is, celebrated on the winter equinox, when the sun begins to grow. This choice was not done by a decree of Constantine; it derived from pagan customs in the East, where the sun and its movements had been a major component in the religious systems of such as peoples as the Egyptians, Persians, Nabataeans and even Israelites. Constantine did not proclaim Christianity the official religion of the Empire. But, from his letters and from many of the changes he made in some existing laws, it is obvious that he felt himself Christian to some extent, following certain Christian moral ideals, protecting children, peasants, slaves and prisoners, building basilicas in Rome and in the Holy Land, giving properties belonging to his family to the Church for the residence of the Roman bishop, and ordering fine new copies of the Bible. Constantine’s postponement of baptism to the last days of his life may be attributed to the fact that his duties involved torture and execution of criminals. He had expressed his desire to visit the Holy Land and be baptized in the river Jordan, but he did not go there, disappointed as he was with the sharp controversy that suddenly divided the Church in the East. Heresies and Councils Constantine had considered the Christian religion as a powerful means of maintaining political unity in the Empire. But to fully exploit this idea it was necessary to assure the unity of the ever growing numbers of the Church. The unity of the Church was severely disrupted in 321 by the theological dispute between the bishop of Alexandria and his presbyter Arius that was initially launched in Alexandria but had spread outside Egypt. Arius sustained that Jesus, the Son of God, was an entity created by God the Father and subordinate to him. As the dispute soon involved Eusebius of Caesarea, Eusebius of Nicomedia and other preeminent bishops, Constantine sent his adviser Hosius, bishop of Cordova, to inquire and reconcile, and to call an ecumenical (universal) council of bishops.



This first ecumenical council took place in Nicaea in 325, and was presided over by Constantine himself. In his initial address to the 220 bishops, almost all Greek, he urged them to seek peace and unity. Arius was condemned by 218 bishops, with the affirmation that the Son is “of one substance (homooúsios) with the Father.” Together with Arian’s doctrine, known as Arianism, the council also condemned Monarchianism, a doctrine which defended God’s unity (moné arché, “one source” in Greek) by denying that the Son and the Spirit were separate Persons, and also Sabellianism, a form of Monarchianism already condemned in Rome in 220 by Pope Callistus I. The priest Sabellius had taught that God is three only in relation to the world, as he revealed himself in three successive modes: as Father (creator), as Son (redeemer), as Spirit (sustainer). Among other decisions, this first ecumenical council of Nicaea regulated the calculation of the date of Easter and issued several canons dealing with the Church jurisdiction in the Eastern dioceses. The text of an official baptismal creed was also agreed upon. Other ecumenical councils took place in the subsequent centuries in different cities, which usually met whenever a new deviation from orthodoxy endangered the unity of the Church. The second ecumenical council was held in 381 in Constantinople, the new imperial capital of the Empire founded by Constantine on the site of ancient Byzantium. The council issued a new and longer version of the creed agreed upon in Nicaea, a text used to this day by Catholics, Lutherans and many other churches, usually referred to as the Nicene Creed. The only difference between this Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed used in the Western Churches and the original Greek text is the Latin word Filioque (“and from the Son”) which in the Middle Ages was added to the clause dealing with the divine provenance of the Holy Spirit: “brought forth from the Father and the Son.” The Greek Orthodox Church has never admitted that addition. The third ecumenical council was convened in Ephesus in 431, for the purpose of dealing with the heretical nature of Nestorius’ theory. Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (428– 431), maintained the doctrine of a disunion between the two natures in Christ, human and divine. In him, the two natures were only loosely united. Christ could not be called God in the full sense of the word. Nestorius was opposed principally by the patriarch of



Alexandria, Cyril, who in particular criticized his rejection of the title Theotókos (“Bringer forth of God”) for the Virgin Mary. Despite its condemnation by the council, this heretical movement provoked a schism in the East, and many so-called Nestorians (Nestorius’ followers) found shelter in Persia. The fourth ecumenical council took place in Chalcedon in 451 for the purpose of reaffirming the doctrine that Christ has two natures in one person: [T]he distinction of natures is in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature is preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence (hypóstasis), not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and onlybegotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ. This was an explicit condemnation of a new doctrine promoted by the priest and monk Eutyches of Constantinople. To prevent a fall into Nestorianism, Eutyches rejected the doctrine of the double nature of Christ, human and divine, holding that in Christ there is only one nature, the divine. This doctrine was popularly known as Monophysitism, and was rejected by the Western Churches but became accepted by most of the Eastern churches. It spread throughout Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor and Armenia, causing many problems in both the religious and political spheres. The fifth ecumenical council was convened in Constantinople in 553 by the emperor Justianian and was attended by Vigilius, the Roman pope. It reasserted the theological position taken in Chalcedon to condemn the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa. These three were advocates of the Antiochian theology that emphasized Christ’s humanity at the expense of his deity. Among the anathemas pronounced by the council there were also some doctrines of Origen that for nearly three centuries had been causing severe problems to the unity of the Eastern churches. All these ecumenical councils were particularly concerned with internal unity and doctrinal problems of the Church. But there were also other very serious problems affecting the peace and welfare of Christians, particularly in the West, and these are described in the following section.



The Barbarian invasions of Europe A comprehensive analysis of this important subject in European history exceeds the scope of this book. Here we shall only deal with the direct effects that the Barbarian invasions had upon the development of Christianity between the fourth and the seventh centuries. The peace of the Church obtained by Constantine’s policy in the first quarter of the fourth century had allowed the free expansion of the Christian faith to all parts of the Roman Empire. Paganism had seriously declined in both urban and rural populations. Christian dioceses had been established in all provinces, which were presided over by bishops who recognized the spiritual and juridical authority of the pope, the bishop of Rome. With the relocation of the imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium, that papal authority soon assumed political overtones, being often seen as a natural inheritance of ancient Rome, and thus drawing the attention of the Barbarians. Barbarian was the nickname given by the Greeks to all those who did not speak Greek. Today, the term is mostly applied to the Germanic and Slavonic peoples who began invasions of the territories of the Roman Empire across the Rhine and Danube rivers. Germanic tribes had been fighting the Roman army since the second century BCE, as reported by the Roman writers Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE) and Tacitus (56–117 CE). But it was only from the mid-fourth century that a number of peoples, including the Vandals, Franks, Lombards, Huns, Goths, Suebians, Alammanians, Alans, Burgundians, Jutters, Angles and Saxons, started a general invasion of the European lands that spanned from Britannia to North Africa. The political, economic and cultural changes effected by these Barbarian conquests, marked the total decline of the Roman Empire, thereby affecting the expansion and stability of the Christian faith. Two Barbarian peoples, the Goths and the Vandals, deserve our special attention here, as they had already converted to Christianity before the invasion of Europe. Finally, a short paragraph will be devoted to the reign of the Franks and its most significant figure, Charlemagne, who marks the end of this troubled period for the countries of central Europe.



The Goths This East-Germanic people had migrated from Scandinavia downwards to the Black Sea since the third century. In their raids on Roman territories numerous captives had been taken, including many Christians of the Arian faith living in the region of Cappadocia (Asia Minor). The grandson of one of those captives was Wulfila, who became their first bishop in 337 or 341. Some years later, a pagan Goth began persecuting the Christian Goths, and Wulfila and many others had to flee to the Roman territory of modern Bulgaria. There he translated the Bible into the Gothic language. The Goths were divided into two large groups, the Visigoths (West Goths) and the Ostrogoths (East Goths). Pushed by the tribe of the Huns, the Visigoths, led by Alaric I (370–410), entered the Roman territories and defeated the Romans in the battle of Adrianopole in 378. In 410 they sacked Rome, an event that represented a terrible blow for Western Christianity, as reflected in the writings of Augustine of Hippo and the letters of Jerome. Many Christians fleeing from Rome sought shelter in Palestine, where they enjoyed the hospitality of Jerome’s monastery in Bethlehem. In the fifth century, the Visigoths invaded France and Spain, establishing in the latter a kingdom that lasted until the Muslim invasion in 711. The Visigothic kings of Spain had their capital in Toledo and ruled not only over the Hispanian provinces but also over Septimania (southern France) and Lusitania (Portugal). These kings and the noble Visigothic families were Arian Christians, while the local Hispano-Roman population was Roman Catholic. This situation continued until 587 when King Reccared, through the mediation of Leander, bishop of Seville, renounced traditional Arianism in favor of Catholic Christianity. Most Arian nobles and clergy followed his example, but there were sporadic Arian uprisings, notably in Septimania and Lusitania. Pope Gregory I, who wrote to Reccared in August 599 (Epp. ix. 61, 121), praises him for embracing the true faith and inducing his people to do so, and particularly for refusing the bribes offered to him by Jews to procure the repeal of a law against them. The history of the Ostrogoths, the Eastern Goths, who established themselves along the Danube and made frequent raids into the Roman and Byzantine territories, acquired its utmost relevance with the life of Theodoric the Great (454–526), son of



the Ostrogoth king Theodemir. At the age of eighteen, having been educated for ten years in the Byzantine court of Constantinople, he became an ambitious and shrewd leader of his own people, being sometimes enemy and sometimes ally of the Byzantine emperors. In 484 the emperor Zeno appointed him consul, suggesting that he overthrow Odoacer, a usurping Germanic chief who had occupied most of Italy with his troops and who in 476 had dethroned the last Western Roman emperor. Theodoric’s troops defeated Odoacer several times in different places, finally besieging him in Ravenna in 493 and forcing him to surrender. Theodoric had promised Odoacer both life and freedom, but murdered him with his own hands at a banquet. Subsequently Ravenna became the Ostrogoth capital in Italy. Theodoric, an Arian Christian, preserved Roman culture, art, literature and law, and allowed complete freedom to the Catholic Church. Books on magic as well as theatres were forbidden. Ancient monuments were preserved. In Ravenna he built the splendid church of Saint Apollinaire. His monumental tomb in Ravenna is an example of the mutual influence between Barbarian and Roman art. The Vandals This Germanic people were divided into two tribal groups, the Silingi and the Hasdingi, and probably originated in Scandinavia. They are thought to have settled in Poland and north Germany from the second century CE. Tacitus tells us of their wars with the Roman army during the years 166–180. The Hasdingi moved south to the lower Danube area, and in the third century they settled in Dacia and Pannonia (Hungary). After some sixty years of peace with the Romans they were Christianized in the Arian faith, like the Goths. In the year 400 or 401, probably fleeing the attacks of the Huns, they moved westwards into Roman territory, following the course of the Danube. Despite the resistance of the Franks, they crossed the Rhine in 406, invaded Gaul with the help of other tribes, such as the Alans and Suebians, and in 409 crossed the Pyrenees into the Iberian Peninsula. They settled first in the south of Spain (Andalusia), but in 429, under King Genseric, they crossed into North Africa, where they established a kingdom which would endure for the next 150 years. Their long siege of the city of Hippo probably caused the death of its bishop, St. Augustine, already 75 years old. In 439, they captured Carthage, which was then made



their capital. Together with the North African regions, they also captured Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic islands. Two important events should be noted concerning the history of the Vandals in North Africa. The first is the sack of Rome, carried out by the troops of King Genseric in 455. Together with an invaluable booty, the two daughters of the Roman Empress Licinia Eudoxia were taken to Carthage. The oldest, Eudocia, was given in marriage to Genseric’s son. The second is the permanent tension between the Arian Vandals and their Catholic subjects, which periodically culminated in severe consequences. Only in periods of relative peace between Carthage and Constantinople were the Catholic bishops and institutions free from repeated persecutions, exiles and confiscations of property by their Arian rulers.

Fig. 15. The Temple lamp on the shoulders of Roman shoulders, relief on the triumphal arch of Titus, Rome, first century CE. The Vandal rule of North Africa came to an end in 534, when Belisarius, the general sent by the emperor Justinian from Constantinople, succeeded in defeating Gelimer, the Vandal king, who was taken to Constantinople and sent into exile. Procopius, the historian of Justinian, wrote that among the plunder taken from the Vandals and brought to Constantinople, there was also the golden Menorah originally taken by Titus from the Jerusalem



Temple to Rome in the year 70 (Fig. 15), later to be stolen and brought to Carthage by the Vandals in their sack of Rome in 455 (Procopius, History of the Wars, 4, 9). The Franks The Franks, a fusion of western Germanic tribes whose leaders had been aligned with Rome since the third century CE, entered Gaul slowly and peacefully during the fifth century. They were accepted as rulers by the local population, who were an amalgam of Romans, Franks, Visigoths and Burgundians. The ruling Franks remained pagans until their Merovingian king, Clovis I, converted to the Catholic faith and was baptized in 498. His conversion was followed by that of his nobles and his people, and over the coming centuries the Franks became the main proponents of Roman Christianity in western Europe, waging wars against Arian Christians, Islamic invaders, and pagan Germanic peoples such as the Saxons, Frisians and Alammanians. This situation culminated with the coronation of Charlemagne, king of the Franks, in the year 800, and his founding of the Sacrum Imperium Romanum Germanicum, “The Holy Roman-Germanic Empire,” also called the Carolingian Empire. The Islamic conquests Following Muhammad’s death in 632, Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula began their expansion throughout the lands of the Byzantine Empire in the East and beyond, reaching present-day Iran and Afghanistan. By 640 Muslims controlled most of Syria, including Palestine. The following year all of Egypt was in Muslim hands, and from there they continued their conquest of the whole of North Africa. In 711, the Muslim Berber, Tariq ibn Ziyad, landed at Gibraltar (Jebel Tariq, “the Mountain of Tariq”), and, joining his small troop with those of Musa bin Nusair, invaded nearly the whole of Visigothic Hispania. From there they continued their march into Gaul, to be finally defeated in 732 by Charles Martel in the battle of Poitiers, near Tours. During the following almost 800 years of the Muslim presence in Spain, Christianity survived, with the Church organization and institutions not suffering serious intrusions. Christians under Muslim rule, the so-called Mozarabs, adopted certain aspects of



Arab culture and art, and developed even further the modified form of the Latin liturgy that had been adopted during the two hundred years of Visigothic rule. Concerning the official attitude taken by the Muslim invaders towards the Christian population of the countries conquered by them in the seventh and eighth centuries, it is worthwhile to quote the instructions allegedly conveyed by Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s successor, to the four Muslim generals and their troops sent to the conquest of Syria: In the land you will invade, kill neither the aged, nor the child, nor the woman. Do not force the stylite to come down from his place and do not harass the solitary. They had devoted themselves to the service of God… But as for those who do not welcome you, make war on them… (Dionysus of Tel-Mahre, in Palmer – Brock – Hoyland 1993: 145)

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS From its humble beginnings in the land of Israel as a Jewish Messianic movement up to the troubled years of the Barbarian and Muslim invasions of Europe and the Middle East, the early Church developed among very different peoples in periods of major political, social, cultural and demographic turmoil. Internally, there was a constant rethinking of belief and its verbal formulation, not only in the apologetic writings addressed to the Roman authorities, but also when confronting such dangerous religious movements as Gnosticism as well as the heretical perceptions of basic dogmas by the Arians, Nestorians and Monophysists. Church leaders convened a number of local synods and ecumenical councils for the purpose of anathematizing heresies and restoring unity of belief. Externally, Christians had to face the official rejection by Jews, resulting in Christian interpretations of the Scriptures with negative treatment of the Jewish people and religion, an approach that became almost normative for centuries. They also had to withstand the overwhelming pagan and mythological expressions of the Hellenistic and Roman world in which they lived. And finally, they had to suffer open persecution by the Roman authorities. These persecutions, lasting for nearly three centuries,



became a major catalyst for the expansion of the Christian faith: the death of so many martyrs, considered an apparent success by the persecutors, became a source of inspiration among thousands of pagans. However, the great number of Christians who failed the test when brought to trial and torture later became a serious problem for Church leaders, who were divided in their attitudes and procedures concerning the reintegration of the “fallen.” By the time persecution ceased, the Christian faith had already reached all the Roman provinces of Europe and enjoyed a period of official peace in the Empire, as attained by the edicts of Constantine. There was free building of churches, important institutions such as monasticism were developing in the East and West, and a strong hierarchical organization had been established. It was at that point, however, that the countries of Middle and Southern Europe began receiving the full force of the Barbarian invasions. The Roman army was no longer protecting, the achievements of the Roman civilization were disappearing, and political structures were destroyed under the tribal system of nomadic peoples in search of material riches and welfare. Some of these, such as the Goths and the Vandals, had already accepted the Arian Christian faith, leading to tension with the orthodox faith of their Catholic subjects in Spain and North Africa, who often had to suffer intolerance from their heretic masters. Rome itself was twice sacked. This situation finally changed with the acceptance of the Catholic dogma by the Visigoths in Spain, the conversion of the Franks in Gaul, and the conquest of the Vandal kingdom in North Africa by the Byzantines. But once again this new political, cultural and religious situation was destabilized, this time by the Muslim conquests. Invasions of the East reached beyond the borders of Romanized Syria and in the West were only stopped in central Gaul by the Franks (Spain would remain partially under Muslim rule for another eight centuries). In Europe, the coming to power of the energetic king of the Franks, Charlemagne, saw a new era of general revival in the political, cultural and religious realms.


Christian hope and belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Redeemer was not a completely original and independent attempt to find a solution to the universal human problems of evil and death. The concept of an individual and universal redemption comes from the depths of humanity’s subconscious. Psychologists have theorized that individuals instinctively look for the happy “paradise” of their mother’s womb, lost at the very moment that they began to experience the difficult conditions of the present life. Furthermore, primitive humans universally felt themselves much closer to nature than their more sophisticated descendants who reason about causes and effects. Both factors sufficiently explain the striking basic similarity of mythological solutions given to these problems by many primitive societies, as distant as can be from one another in terms of space and time. As direct heirs of Judaism, early Christians experienced their belief of personal and universal redemption on the basis of a Messianic and eschatological hope, though through a highly spiritual interpretation of the biblical texts. There is a vast difference between Christian faith in the inward purification of sin through the work of the Holy Spirit and the crude depictions of salvation myths in early Mesopotamian and Canaanite literature from which the biblical cosmogony is derived. Yet, in our survey of Messianic and apocalyptic doctrines, we must return all the way back to these sources, for some of these early literary motifs survive in the books of the New Testament.




PAGAN RELIGIONS Mesopotamian myths of creation and destruction The revival of nature via a dramatic reenactment of the primeval cosmic battle against chaos in order to establish and maintain the orderly sequence of the seasons has always been a vital concern of humanity. This was especially true in ancient Mesopotamia, where, in order to gain control of the critical situation at the turn of the year, the community identified itself with the great cosmic forces in the universe. It was for this very purpose that on New Year’s day, the king assumed the role of the god (Enlil, Marduk or Ashur) who had fought the powers of Chaos at the threshold of creation and vanquished Kingu, the leader of the hosts of Tiamat, the goddess of salt water and the ocean and the personification of evil. In his identification as Tammuz, the generative force in nature, he was believed to have been captive in the Land of the Dead during the drought of summer, and it was not until the New Year rites had been performed that his release was secured with its reciprocal effects in nature. In the Tammuz liturgies, and subsequently in the Annual Festival, this theme of the suffering god was reenacted. From the regions of the netherworld the cry of the suffering god was echoed in the laments of the priests and the people until he was released by the goddess Ishtar and restored to the upper world as her “resurrected child.” The Canaanite cult drama In Canaanite myths and legends from Ugarit (Ras Shamra) on the Syrian coast, the death and resurrection theme recurs in the BaalAnat cycle. After a victorious struggle with a dragon (Yam, “Sea,” or Nahar, “River”), Aleyan-Baal was installed in a royal palace and engaged in combat with Mot (“Death”), the lord of the netherworld. In the heat of summer, Aleyan was killed by his adversary; his descent into the netherworld being symbolized by the withering plants and parched ground during the season of drought. When Anat, his consort, searched for his body, she, too, encountered Mot and treated him as though he were harvested grain. She seized him, split his body with a ritual sickle, winnowed him, scorched him in the fire, ground him in a mill, scattered his flesh over the fields, and gave him to the birds to eat. Eventually,



Aleyan was restored as king. Mot, who was also revived, was urged to concede defeat by the sun-goddess. He was forced by the supreme god El to surrender to Baal and acknowledge his kingship. The drought ended and fertility was re-established on the earth. Egyptian concepts of perpetual renewal Immortality and eternity were familiar concepts to the ancient Egyptians, though not in the same expressions that we use today. Egyptians believed that nature is perennial, though not in a condition of stasis; they perceived a continuous renewal of the many manifestations of the natural world. In the Osiris-cycle, every deceased person was identified with Osiris, the god who died and rose again and who, therefore, represented “all that dies to be reborn.” Osiris, in turn, was identified with grain (which suffers corruption and then springs up), with the waters of the Nile, with the moon and its incessant, self-renewing cycles, and even with the sun that disappears and reappears daily. In the Heliopolitan myth, the sun-god was called Atum and Ra. The souls of the dead, assimilated to Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis (the gods of the dead), were absorbed by Ra once they had ascended straight to heaven in the form of beautiful birds. Then, on the boat of the astral king, they ran with him across the world of the stars. In earlier periods, the soul of Pharaoh alone was believed to follow Ra in his daily course across the sky and to descend with him into the netherworld. From there he emerged again with the gods of that region, as it is said in a hymn to the deceased Pharaoh: “You rise and set; you go down with Nephtys, sinking in the sand with the evening boat of the sun. You rise with Isis, coming up with the morning boat of the sun” (Pyramid Texts, 207–212). Egyptians did not develop any theology of a universal cataclysm that would put an end to the present world. They believed that this world is eternal, though its forms of life were continuously changing. They believed that in order to obtain immortality, it was sufficient to take hold of the endless course of its elements. Utilizing the image of the ebb and flow of the Nile, the “death” and “resurrection” of seeds, the moon, and the sun, they expressed their faith that although one may die to the form of the present life, he or she may soar to another one, receiving a new form, like any of the other elements of the world. This materialistic view left little place for any kind of eschatological expectation, for a “coming



age” that would replace the present earthly conditions with better ones. Zoroastrian dualism and apocalypticism Religious and eschatological doctrines in ancient Persia were dualistic. Two different stages, however, must be distinguished. In the former, we have the following outline: a) The existence of a sage lord, the god Ahura Mazda; b) the eternal co-existence of two other spirits: the Spirit of Good (Spenta Mainyu) and the Spirit of Evil (Angra Mainyu), responsible for the respective good and bad creations; c) eschatological triumph of Good over Evil; d) a dwelling-place of light for the disciples of the truth; darkness for the followers of falsehood. In a later stage, Ahura Mazda seems to have been identified with Spenta Mainyu, against whom Angra Mainyu arose as an antagonistic principle. Details of Zoroastrian eschatology in the Parthian period (contemporary to Jewish apocalyptic literature) are described in the Oracles of Hystaspes. According to the Oracles, the last times will begin with a period of affliction and oppression of the righteous by the wicked, and the devastation of the entire world. “The righteous and partisans of the truth will depart from the wicked and will flee to the deserts.” The Impious One will lead his army there in order to besiege the mountain of refuge for the righteous so that he may seize them. In response to the prayer of the righteous, “God will send from heaven the Great King to save and free them and annihilate all the wicked with fire and sword.” The coming of this King is preceded by the sign of a sword falling down from heaven. The King is accompanied by his heavenly hosts, the angels, who deliver the wicked to the righteous. The battle will be fierce, until, finally, “when all the troops shall be destroyed, the Impious One shall flee alone, abandoned by his own power.” The fact that this writing is directed against Roman oppression and depicts political change under mythical colors does not detract from its value as a witness to the trend of concrete eschatological thought. Contemporary Iranian eschatological doctrines also furnish many precise details: the course of history is imagined as a drama in several acts, progressing towards a foreseen conclusion. This completion of history includes the resurrection of the dead, the coming of a saviour king, the final judgment of God upon the



living and the dead, the destruction of the powers of evil, the inauguration of a new heaven and a new earth, the entrance of the righteous into a heavenly paradise and the consignment of the wicked into fires of hell. As in Jewish and Christian apocalypses, these prophecies are revealed through a visionary who ascends into heaven in his ecstasy, passing through the same dangers that await the souls of the dead in their ascension into heaven. Rome, Virgil’s Fourth Ecloge and the Sybil In the Stoic, materialistic system, each individual soul is but a slender part of the vital principle of the universe. This is imagined as passing through several periods, or ages, at the end of which this vital principle disintegrates in a cosmic conflagration. Souls, therefore, must be re-born in the renewal of life that follows each conflagration. It should be noted that contemporary Roman iconography does not show, with the exception of some debatable instances, any trace of Stoic (or Pythagorean) thought, but prefers scenes from Greek mythology. The striking picture of the Golden Age as described by Virgil in his Fourth Ecloge should also be regarded as mythological. The birth of a wonderful child will be the sign of this new age that will bring happiness to men and restore the mythical, original order upon the earth. Virgil himself mentions in his poem the ancient Sybil of Cumae, of Etruscan extraction. According to her prophecy, the history of the world consists of periodical cycles: at the end of each cycle, the stars return to their proper places in the heavens, which has the effect of restoring happiness upon the earth. Each cycle constitutes the “great year.” Once more is expressed the ancient belief in universal renewal by way of a ritual repetition of the divine work of creation. Since the time of Augustine, ancient Christians had been convinced that “the Sybil of Eritrea wrote some things that clearly concern Christ” (The City of God XVIII, 23). The Sybilline oracle in question is an apocalyptic vision of the final judgment. Its first verse reads as follows: Judgment shall come, and the sweat of the earth will be its signal. Even the Monarch Eternal shall come from the heavens.


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY Suddenly come, in His flesh, to the dreaded tribunal. The faithful and faithless alike shall see their Maker. Uplifted with heavenly friends at the term of the ages. Souls with their bodies conjoined shall He summon to judgment ….

Augustine’s Latin version of this oracle, which comes to us with Christian interpolations (perhaps from the end of the second century CE), introduces the Ionian prophetess into the liturgy of the Latin rite: Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in favilla, Teste David cum Sybilla (Mass for the Dead). A day of wrath, that day, in which the world is dissolved into ashes according to the testimony of David along with the Sybil.

BIBLICAL PROPHECIES AND JEWISH EXPECTATIONS Life in Paradise and Adam’s sin Ancient Israel forged her own cosmological story with colorful motifs inherited from Babylonian mythology. Yet a clear distinction should be drawn between both traditions, not only because of the pure monotheism of the Bible—which is in open contrast to Mesopotamian polytheism—but because the biblical story of man’s creation is the starting point of man’s history of salvation. Death, as well as the precarious condition of man on earth, are viewed in a theological context and considered as a result of Adam’s original transgression of God’s command. Life in Paradise is not only the image of a happy status of innocence, wisdom, and happiness, for which man is longing, but also an image of a close familiarity with God which man would like to see fully restored. Adam’s creation “in the image and likeness” of God implies a fullness of life which is lost through sin. Immortality now is out of man’s reach, unless the cosmic order disrupted by the fall should be completely reestablished.



But the whole story of creation in Genesis is a narrative of consolation, for it includes an implicit promise of redemption. Actually, the story is seen as “an act of salvation” (Ps 74:12 ff). The stories of Abraham’s call, the starting point of Israel’s redemption, begin with the creation account, so that creation itself is viewed by the prophets and psalmists as the first act of Israel’s salvation by God. He refers to himself as “the redeemer and creator” (Isa 44:24). In Isaiah (51:9 ff) the prophet apostrophizes the creation of the world, but at the same time he speaks of Israel’s redemption from Egypt. He has hardly finished describing the driving back of the waters, in the mythic language of the struggle with the dragon of Chaos; when he jumps to the miracle of the Red Sea where Yahweh once again held back the waters “for the redeemed to pass through.” “Here creation and redemption almost coincide, and can almost be looked on as one act of dramatic divine saving action in the picture of the struggle with the dragon of Chaos” (von Rad 1969: 137). Even texts like Psalm 89, which celebrates “Yahweh’s acts of grace” (referring to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom) include passages dealing “with various acts of creation, which are to be reckoned in the sum total of the saving acts of Jahweh alluded to in the psalm” (ibid). In this view, it follows that the redemption promised to Israel after her infidelities caused God to punish her with submission to foreign powers and dispersion among the nations, should be presented by the biblical prophets as a re-enactment of creation. Consequently, there is a parallel between the paradisiac life of man before the first sin, and his state of happiness and immortality in a restored world foreseen as the last stage of salvation history. Israel as a people will be an instrument of redemption for all the nations. Eschatological prophecies In the prophet’s dynamic view of history, future events are not only seen in the perspective of God’s plan of salvation, but as a renewal of salvific works of the past. Moreover, solutions for specific, critical situations experienced by God’s people are foreseen in a near future in a dimension that transcends the narrow geographic and historical limits of present circumstances. This is why such prophecies can be properly called eschatological; applying this term to a new and final act of salvation that may actually render invalid the historical events or religious institutions by



which God’s people had been saved in the past. But, invariably, such eschatological events are presented in the form of a reenactment of historic deeds, each prophet choosing as the framework of his message one of God’s past works of salvation. Thus, Hosea foretells a new entry into the land and the new Israel being reshaped by God in the desert (Hos 2:16–17). Isaiah sees a Zion “redeemed by justice,” whose judges are “restored as of old” (Isa 1:26–27), and a new David, “a shoot from the stock of Jesse,” on whom “the Spirit of Yahweh rests” (Isa 11:1 ff). As for Jeremiah, his prophecy goes so far as to predict “a new covenant” by God with Israel, unlike the one made with their ancestors (Jer 31:31). And according to Deutero-Isaiah, there is to be a new Exodus, such that there will be “no need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before” (Isa 43:16 ff). Together with the picture of an end which is viewed in the colors of a past salvific work, there is in the prophetic books the important concept of a coming judgment by God on “the day of visitation,” on “Yahweh’s day.” This expected day is referred to as a day of punishment as well as a day of blessing. Judgment will be either against Israel (Amos 5:18 ff) or against the nations. Or perhaps it will favor the “righteous” Israel against the “wicked” nations (Isa 26:10; Hab 1:4,13; Ps 9:5; 10:2–4; 58:10; 68:2; 125:3). Judgment will be collective, even universal (Zeph 1:1–18), and will take place upon the earth, and be preceded by the repentance of each member of Israel’s community (Jer 3:13,19–25; 24:7; 31:33). Already in the prophetic books, judgment and restoration are sometimes linked with a hint of the Messianic hope, in either a dynastic or individual manner. In Daniel (ch. 7) judgment is the specific attribute of the Messianic “Son of Man,” a concept that was later further developed both by the New Testament and early Judaism. Israel’s “resurrection” in Ezekiel Resurrection of the dead was not a widespread belief in Israel until a rather late period of biblical history, namely, during the Maccabean revolt (Dan 12:2; 2 Macc 7:9 ff). Yet its roots must be searched for in much earlier times, for bodily resurrection as a literary image of spiritual renewal appears already in Isa 26:19 and, in a particular way, in Ezek 37:1 ff. This latter reference is an important passage which certainly inspired later Jewish and



Christian descriptions of the final resurrection. The prophetic message of this vision refers to the theological meaning of Israel’s return to her country after the years of exile in Babylon. The prophet saw “a valley full of bones … and they were quite dried up.” Then he was ordered to prophesy over them the word of Yahweh. And first, “there was a noise, a sound of clattering, and the bones joined together. I looked,” says Ezekiel, “and saw that they were covered with sinews; flesh was growing on them and skin was covering them, but there was no breath in them.” When the prophet called the breath to come from the four winds, it entered the dead: “they came to life again and stood up on their feet, a great multitude, an immense army.” “Son of man,” said God to the prophet, [T]hese bones are the whole house of Israel… So prophesy… The Lord Yahweh says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am Yahweh… And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live…. The return of Israel to the land of their ancestors implies a return to God; and these miracles are allegorically described as a resurrection. Therefore, we can say that resurrection of the body is here fully acknowledged as a real possibility of God’s power. The same recognition is attested in even more ancient texts of the Old Testament as well (1 Sam 2:6). The king as God’s Messiah Among the many rites accompanying the enthronement of the king in ancient Israel, the anointing with oil by a prophet (1 Sam 10:1; 16:1) or a priest (1 Kgs 1:39; 2 Kgs 11:12) was the most important. This anointing was a religious rite, and through it God conferred upon the king his special power and protection. God’s Spirit took hold of Saul after he was anointed (1 Sam 10:10), and he “seized David and stayed with him from that day on” (1 Sam 16:13). The king is the “Anointed of Yahweh,” a consecrated person who could not be touched (1 Sam 24:7, 11; 26:9,11,23), and he was entrusted with certain religious acts: building the Temple (1 Kgs 5– 8; 12:26–33); appointing the priests in charge of it (2 Sam 8:17; 20:25), reforming worship (2 Kgs 22:3–7), offering sacrifices (2



Sam 6:13; 1 Kgs 8:5) and blessing the people (2 Sam 6:18; 1 Kgs 8:14); he is even called a “priest” like Melchizedek (Ps 110:4; Gen 14:18; Heb 5:6). “Anointed” is the translation of the Hebrew word mashiach (Messiah). This took on great importance when, centuries later, the expectation of a Messiah who would lead Israel to freedom and happiness began to grip the hearts of the Israelites. This new King of Israel, the Anointed One of God, was expected to be, above all, a Savior (Matt 1:21; Luke 2:11); as the ancient judges had saved God’s people in moments of distress (Judg 3:9,15), the kings of Israel were also her “saviors” (2 Kgs 13:5). It was from this perspective that Cyrus, the Persian ruler, could also be called the “Anointed of Yahweh” (Isa 45:1), for he was God’s instrument to let Israel return to her country after 70 years of exile. Moreover, the expected Messiah shall be the “Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The ancient kings of Israel were also considered to be sons of God in a particular way (Ps 2:7), elected as they were from their mothers’ wombs for the royal office (Ps 110:3). The Messiah will be of “David’s house” (Matt 1:69). His enthronement will mean that God has renewed his covenant with the Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7:16; Ps 89:5; 132:11–12), so David’s throne will be his own forever (Luke 1:32). Over the centuries, and especially at the turn of the biblical era, Judaism developed its concepts of Messiahship, and they are expressed in many different, even contradictory, ways in the various writings of the Second Temple period. The later prophets, apocalyptic authors, Hellenistic writers, Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament and rabbinic sources all attest to the spread of Messianic hope, though their views are far from displaying any agreement. The disagreements concerning the nature, role and attributes of the future Messiah are mostly caused by particular interpretations of older biblical data. (For instance, the Hebrew term ‘alma in Isa 7:14, which means “young woman,” was translated as parthenos, meaning “virgin,” in the Greek Septuagint). It can be said that the idea of an eschatological Messiah developed from the figure of the King, the Anointed One of Yahweh. The Messiah will be the ideal King, David redivivus, the man “after God’s heart.”



Apocalyptic visions in the Prophets Divine apparitions are referred to in the Bible in many different ways and forms. “Adam and his wife heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3:8); the “Angel of Yahweh” met Hagar near a spring in the wilderness and talked to her in such a way that she was convinced that she had seen Yahweh: “I have seen the One who sees me;” but in the theophany on Mount Sinai, “Yahweh descended on it in the form of fire” (Gen 16:7,13). The latter text expresses in a more descriptive form the holiness and transcendence of God which was already present in the use of the term “Angel of Yahweh” that appeared in the former text. As a rule, primitive man could hardly imagine God approaching him if not in concert with cosmic phenomena that frighten him by their destructive power. Canaanite mythology made El, the supreme god in its earlier stages, the god of the mountains. And this title was probably utilized when, adopting the form El/Elohim for their only God, the Israelites called him El Shaddai. Even when God reveals his unique, personal name, Yahweh (= “Who Is”) to Moses, he appears “in the shape of a flame of fire, coming from the middle of a bush” (Exod 3:2). It was much the same with the prophetic vision of God. Isaiah, in a vision that inspired many later Jewish and Christian apocalyptic descriptions, saw: [T]he Lord Yahweh seated on a high throne: his train filled the sanctuary; above him stood seraphs6 … each one with six wings: two to cover his face, two to cover his feet and two for flying. And they cried out to one another in this way, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth. His glory fills the whole earth.” The foundations of the threshold shook with the voice of the one who cried out, and the temple was filled with smoke… (Isa 6:1–4) 6

A name that indicates their fiery nature.



Ezekiel, in a similar manner, majestically depicts God’s heavenly “chariot” (Dan 7:9–10), which he saw “in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar,” I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures… In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning. Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of a chrysolite… Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal… I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty… Above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain. (Ezek 1:3–28) The description of the winged animals is surely inspired by the “cherubs” whose effigies could be seen in Babylon. Cosmic elements play an important role in prophetic theophanies. They speak of the “day of Yahweh” in these terms: [T]he earth quakes, the skies tremble, sun and moon grow dark, the stars lose their brilliance. Yahweh makes his voice heard at the head of his army… (Joel 2:10–11)



Yahweh roars from Zion, makes his voice heard from Jerusalem; heaven and earth tremble. (Joel 4:15–16) The great day of Yahweh is near… A day of wrath, that day, a day of distress and agony, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and blackness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry… (Zeph 1:14–16) According to Zechariah, an eschatological battle between Yahweh and the nations is to be fought for Jerusalem: On that day, Yahweh’s feet will rest on the Mount of Olives… The Mount of Olives will be split in half from East to West, forming a huge gorge… And the Vale of Hinnom… will be blocked as it was by the earthquake in the days of Uzziah… Yahweh your God will come, and the holy ones with Him; when that day comes, there will be no more cold, no more frost. It will be a day of wonder… with no alternation of day and night… Running waters will issue from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea, half of them to the western sea… And Yahweh will be king over the whole world. (Zech 14:4– 9) Malachi, the last of the prophets, prophesies that God is going to send his messenger to prepare a way before Him: The Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter His Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for… is coming… He is like refiner’s fire and the fuller’s alkali… I intend to visit you for judgment… (Mal 3:1–5) The influence of these and other theophanies and apocalyptic visions of the prophets on the writers of the New Testament is obvious. Other elements, however, like Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man, the existence of Jewish sectarian communities living in eschatological expectation, and the development of Messianic and eschatological ideas in normative Judaism, are equally important for our understanding of the Christian message of redemption.



Daniel: the Son of Man and the Weeks During the years of distress and the persecution of pious Jews by the Seleucian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes, an apocalyptic visionary using the name of Daniel (a Jewish prophet in the Persian court), wrote his message of consolation. In one of his visions about the future restoration of justice to God’s people, he sees them (“the saints of the Most High”) in the form of a man who receives from God sovereignty over all the nations of the world. Because of the human form of this figure, Daniel’s vision greatly influenced later Messianic descriptions: I gazed into the visions of the night. And I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man. He came to the One of Great Age (= God) and was led into His presence. On him was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship, and men of all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire ever be destroyed. (Dan 7:13–14) The author of the Christian book of Revelation would later receive inspiration from this vision to describe the glory of Jesus, who calls himself the “Son of Man.” In a second vision, Daniel interpreted Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “seventy years” (“Israel will stay in slavery among the nations for seventy years,” Jer 25:11), transforming this number into “seventy weeks (of years).” Gabriel revealed to him that, Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end



shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. (Dan 9:24–27) This prophecy, like the Messianic one cited above, transcends the age of persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes to describe the arrival of an era of perfect peace. The New Testament writers will see it spiritually fulfilled in the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Christ. The “weeks” of Daniel as a prophecy of Jesus’ birth is remembered by Christians up till the present day in the texts of the Christmas liturgy, as well as, at a more popular level, in some Christmas carols. Qumran, an eschatological community The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has brought to light the spirituality of a sectarian Jewish community that thrived in the period contemporary to that of the New Testament. Its members apparently believed in and expected salvation and eternal life. They exhibited no anxiety about death, resurrection, the day of God’s visit, the tribulations of the last days, the coming of a savior, or the final judgment. In a manner similar to that of the Gnostics, salvation was thought to be obtained at the moment a man is purified, and it lasts forever (1QS IV 6–8; 1QH XI 18). Undoubtedly, however, the mystical enthusiasm of the community combined faith in individual salvation with an eschatological expectation of a cosmic kind. They thought of their time as the “final age of wrath” (1QH III 28; 1QpHos b I 12), the period of iniquity (CD VI 10, 14; XII 23), and held themselves to be in a state of preparedness by living as close as possible to the example of Israel’s experiences in the wilderness, in the hope that they would very soon enter into the “new promised land.” Sometimes they even seem to have suffered from impatience (1QpH). But they were also convinced that there would be a “period of favor,” when God will grant “eternal salvation and everlasting peace to the righteous” (1Q HXV 15–16).



Their Manual of Discipline often refers to a “final age,” which will be preceded by the “time of visitation” and the “judgment” (1QS IV 18–20). God will destroy iniquity forever, and will put into execution his plan for a general “renewal” (1QS IV 25). The Hymns speak, even more explicitly, of God’s judgment, which is identified with punishment (III 27). Cosmic cataclysms will make the earth desolate, for the “torrents of Belial” will overflow to devour those who drink from them, before God finally casts them into the Abyss and Abaddon (III 29–32). The entire earth will be destroyed by God and his hosts (III 33–36). It is hard to distinguish this general conflagration from the eschatological battle between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness” described in the War Scroll. This also deals with a war against Belial and a war against Gog (I 10, 13–14). Several large battles are to be fought between the tribes of Israel with the help of the powers of light, justice and the appointed angels, and the enemies, led by the Kittim (Romans) and assisted by Belial and the powers of darkness and evil. The Messiah plays no role in this war, although we find in the texts several allusions to Messianic expectations: the “precursor” (1QSa IX 11), the “star” (CD VII 18), the “faithful shepherd” who will rise up (New Covenant 3, 28), and the “Messiah” who is the “Anointed of Righteousness,” the “Branch of David” and the “Interpreter of the Law” (4Q Patriarchal Blessings 3–4; 4Q Florilegium 1–4). There is even a collection of Messianic testimonia (4Q Testimonia), and in other writings we read of the “Anointed of Aaron,” a priestly Messiah, and the “Messiah of Israel,” a lay Messiah (1QS IX 11); both of them would exercise their functions at the end of the “age of iniquity” (CD XII 22). The Messiah of Israel is also expected to participate in the cultic meal of the community. The Apocalyptic writings Apocryphal Jewish literature of the period extending from the second century BCE to the first century CE shows a general interest in offering an eschatological doctrine that fits the sense of individual righteousness. With vivid imagery, the authors recorded—under the pseudonyms of famous biblical personalities—their mystical experiences and their hopes for an immediate future, the main feature of which is the overwhelming



victory of the righteous against the wicked. The present situation is to be reversed. To put an end to Israel’s oppression by foreign powers, God will send his Messiah who will cause her to rule over the entire world, establishing a kingdom of everlasting peace and justice. Interest in national Jewish eschatology did not prevent apocalyptic writers from dealing with matters related to the death and future life of the individual, although in these points they exhibit a great variety of opinion. Divergence existed on topics such as the resurrection of the body, the immortality of the soul, the final judgment, the intermediate state of human spirits in the afterlife, whether or not the punishment of the wicked is eternal, and whether or not those who are to be saved are predestined to be so. Later Christian interpolations make the interpretation of many difficult passages in these writings even more doubtful. Biblical prophecies, Greco-Roman mythology and Iranian eschatology all contributed to the descriptions of what is to occur at the conclusion of the present age. As an example of this kind of literature, there follow extracts from the eschatological doctrines contained in three important books, each from a different period, namely, the second and first centuries BCE and the first century CE. The Book of Jubilees (c. 170–161 BCE) Whoever profanes the Sabbath “shall surely die eternally” (2:27). “Judgment of all is written in the heavenly tablets” (5:13). She’ol is the place of condemnation for all those who commit suicide, “and in the darkness of the deep shall all be removed by a violent death” (7:29). On “the day of judgment,” the Lord will judge “with a sword and with fire” (9:15). When God “will wake up” against the “sinners of the gentiles,” “there shall be none to gather and none to bury” (23:26). “And at that time the Lord will heal his servants, and they shall rise up and see great peace” (23:30). None of the Kittim (Romans) “shall be saved at the wrath of judgment” (24:30), and if a descendant of the Caphtorim (Greeks) should “ascend into heaven, thence shall [he] be brought down; … and though he descend into She’ol, there also shall his condemnation be great, and there also shall have no peace… for into condemnation shall he depart” (24:30–32). The transgressors out of Israel “will be destroyed out of the book of life, and they will be recorded in the book of those who will be destroyed…” (30:22).



The Testament of Levi (from the Testaments of the Twelve Patrarchs, c. first century BCE) Levi sees the seven heavens in a dream, and he visits them at the invitation of an angel. The first heaven contains all of the unrighteous deeds of men, as well as “fire, snow and ice, made ready for the day of judgment” (3:1–2). “In the second are the hosts of armies which are ordained” for that day, “to work vengeance on the spirits of deceit and of Belial. And above them are the holy ones” (3:3). “In the highest of all dwelleth the Great Glory” (3:4). “In the next to it are the archangels, who… make propitiation to the world for the sins of ignorance of the righteous” (3:5). Below this “are the angels who bear answers to the angels of the presence of the Lord” (3:7). “And [in the next heaven] are thrones and dominions” (3:8). “The Lord shall execute judgment upon the sons of men” with a great commotion of the whole creation, and “Hades will take the spoils (Isa 5:14) through the visitation of the Most High.” Men will perish in their iniquity, and therefore they will be punished (4:1). Levi sees that the gates of heaven are open. Inside “there is the holy temple, and upon a throne of glory the Most High.” Levi is made a priest (5:1). He is anointed with oil, washed in pure water, fed “with bread and wine, the most holy things,” and clad in a “holy and glorious robe” (8:4 f.). He is given an olive-branch, a crown and the diadem of the priesthood (7:8–10). The new Priest (i.e., Messiah) “shall open the gates of Paradise and shall remove the threatening sword against Adam. And he shall give to the saints to eat from the tree of life… And Belial shall be bound by him… And the Lord shall rejoice in his children” (18:10– 12). Assumption of Moses (first century CE) Moses declares in the Assumption of Moses: “The time of the years of my life is fulfilled and I am passing away with my fathers even in the presence of all this people” (1:15). On “the day of repentance in the visitation… the Lord will visit them in the consummation of the end of the days” (1:8). A king from the West will “burn a part of their temple with fire (and) shall crucify some around their colony” (6:9). The so-called “king of kings” will come and “shall



crucify those who confess to their circumcision” (8:1). “If we [resist the transgressions of the Law] and die, our blood shall be avenged before the Lord” (9:7). “And then his kingdom shall appear through his creation and then Satan shall be no more and sorrow shall depart with him” (10:1). God “will arise from his royal throne and he will go forth from his holy habitation” (10:4–6). “He will appear to punish the gentiles,” Israel will be happy, and he will cause them “to approach the heaven of the stars, wherefrom they will see their enemies in Gehenna” (11:7–10). From Moses’ death until God’s “advent there will be 250 times” (10:12). Messianic claims Jesus was fully acknowledged as Israel’s Messiah by his followers, though this title was purposefully avoided by him because the way he understood it did not fit the expectations of the people of his time. Not long before Jesus, other leaders had stirred up popular enthusiasm in the volatile atmosphere of the Middle East. The New Testament itself testifies to such periodical messianic movements. John the Baptist was thought to be the Messiah (Luke 3:15), and this was the main cause for his arrest and his death. When, after Jesus’ death, R. Gamaliel warned the Sanhedrin against “finding themselves fighting against God” at the trial of Peter and John, he mentioned the cases of two men who attracted enough followers to arouse the suspicions of the authorities: For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. (Acts 5:36–37) When, some years later, there was a riot against Paul in Jerusalem, the Roman tribune first thought him to be a notorious revolutionary, with a probable claim to Messiahship: “So you are not the Egyptian who started the recent revolt and led those four thousand cutthroats out into the desert?” (Acts 21:38). According to Josephus, 30,000 men were adherents to this particular messianic movement (War VII, 5, 1).



After the destruction of the Temple it is probable that some outburst of messianism took place again, for Vespasian, Domitian and Trajan, are said by Hegesyppus to have hunted down and executed all Jews of the house of David in order to root out the royal family on which the Jews rested their hopes (Eusebius, CH III, 12, 19–20, 32). In the second century, the most important revival of Jewish antagonism to Roman rule was led by Simon Bar Kosiba (nicknamed Bar-Kochba, “Son of a Star”). “Bar-Kochba” references Num 24:18, which Rabbi Akiba applied to him. R. Simon Bar Yochai said, “Rabbi Akiba my teacher expounded the passage: ‘There shall go a star out of Jacob’ [Num 24:17] as follows: ‘There shall go Cosiba out of Jacob.’ When R. Akiba saw Bar-Cosiba he said: ‘This is the king Messiah.’ Then said to him Rabbi Jochanan ben Torta: ‘Akiba, the grass will grow out of thy jaw-bone, and yet the Son of David will not have come.’” (y. Ta’an. IV, 68d) Bar-Kochba was killed at Beitar, the last stronghold of the Jewish revolt, in 135 CE. Accounts of other Messianic movements are recorded there throughout later Jewish history. At the end of the fourth century, a messianic claimant calling himself Moses appeared in Crete, and persuaded thousands of adherents that he would lead them across the sea to Palestine. Consequently, they leapt from cliffs, and would all have been drowned had not a considerable number of them been rescued by Christians (Socrates, CH VII, 38). In the seventh century, a Jewish man claiming to be the forerunner of the Messiah appeared on the Euphrates River, and after assembling some four hundred followers, he sacked several churches and killed the local governor. He was captured and crucified (anonymous chronicle). Sometime later, a Syrian Christian who seduced a Jewish girl and thus incurred the wrath of the Jewish community, fled for his life, studied the magic arts, and returned with the claim that he was Moses. After he convinced many of his claims he took their money and led them into the wilderness, where many of them died of starvation. Those who survived took him to the Emir, who gave them permission to execute him (Dyonisius of Tel Mahre).



The “World to Come” This ambiguous and ambivalent expression occurs frequently in Rabbinic literature. It refers to the final era of this world, the subsequent Messianic age, and the place where the souls of the blessed dead are believed to dwell. The latter is variously understood as the temporary residence of those souls before the final resurrection or their definitive dwelling. The Messianic Age Ancient midrashim (rabbinical retellings of the Bible) refer more to the “Days of the Messiah” than they do to the Messiah himself. The following is a summary of events and marvels that will take place at this time of redemption of Israel from their enemies: Israel will be at the head of all nations, which will become the servants of Israel. Israelites will become kings, and they will possess their land, in which all the cities will be rebuilt. Dispersed as they were throughout the world, they will come back at the blowing of the trumpet, including the lost tribes. God will return to his land. Sometimes the Messiah is depicted as gathering the people together (Gen. Rab. 98). The Messiah’s name will be “Peace,” for he will be a prince of peace (Isa 9:5). Wars among the nations shall cease, either altogether, or in proportion to their imitation of Israel’s obedience. Even the evil impulse will disappear, so that death shall be no more. Satan, the angel of death, will be cast into Gehenna, and the Spirit of God will be poured out on the Israelites, who shall become prophets (Joel 3:1). The earthly center of the Messianic kingdom will be the New Jerusalem, which shall come down from heaven, built by God. Its restoration shall last forever. Its walls will be constructed of all kinds of precious stones. Its size will be immense, and it will be like an enormous fig-tree well-rooted in the earth, which raises its branches upward. It will indeed reach up to the sky, with all its inhabitants ascending from sky to firmament and from one heaven to another, up to the seventh one, and to the very “throne of glory.” Its structure will absorb all peoples. The Temple will be there, built by the Messiah, or by God, who will dwell in it. Cedars from Paradise shall be employed in its construction. The powerful stream flowing from beneath the Temple (Ezek 47:1–5) will be



“waters of life,” causing healing and life to abound. The monthly fruit of the trees along its banks will be for nourishment, and their leaves for medicine. A festive meal will be celebrated by Israel and the Messiah. The flesh of Leviathan7 will serve for food, and the wine preserved since the day of creation will be drunk there, together with the fruit of pomegranates which is prepared in Paradise. An abundance of fruits of the earth will be one of the main features of the Messianic Age. Wheat and wine are especially mentioned, but there will be other marvelous kinds of food for the elect, particularly the “manna” which the Messiah will cause to descend from heaven. The dwelling-place of souls Very near to Gehenna, according to some texts, is the definitive Paradise, the Garden of Eden (Gan Eden) of the Blessed, sometimes identified with Adam’s Paradise. It is generally thought to be located somewhere here on earth, but is also placed in the seventh heaven, close to the throne of God. At other times, Paradise is identified with Jerusalem. Near Paradise, which is also supposed to be situated in the “land of the living,” i.e., the land of Israel, (for its dead shall be the first to rise), there is the Temple. In the center of Paradise, the tree of life spreads its branches over all the elect. This tree is now a symbol of the Torah, whose study still engages those who in this life learned it. The great meal in which the flesh of Leviathan and Behemoth8 will be served, is the most typical symbol of the soul’s life in Paradise. This life will be like an eternal celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, with the skin of Leviathan providing a tent for the blessed. Aggadic imagery mentions yet another kind of food obtained from a third monstrous animal, the flesh of the kosher bird Ziz Shaddai. Old wine “that has been kept in its grapes since the six days of creation,” will be the drink of the elect in the eternal meal. A Talmudic text shows us David (the Messiah) in Paradise 7 8

A sea monster mentioned in Job 41 and Isa 27:1. A large beast mentioned in Job 40.



taking the cup in his hands and reciting the blessing from Ps 116:13. The blessed will bathe in rivulets of milk. According to the Babylonian Talmud (b. Ḥag. 12b), the souls of the righteous, the souls and spirits of those who are not yet born, as well as the dew which will be used to raise up the dead, are to be found in the seventh heaven. There, too, in the Arabot is the throne of God. The rabbis claimed to know that “four men had entered [during their life] into Paradise: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, another one [= Elisha ben Abuya, who later apostatized], and Rabbi Akiba.” The vision of the mystic soul who has entered the very presence of God is described in these terms in Midrash Hekhalot Rabbati: The Holy Living Creatures do strengthen and hallow and purify themselves, and each one has bound upon its head a thousand thousands of thousands of crowns and luminaries of diverse sorts, and they are clothed in clothing of fire and wrapped in a garment of flame and cover their faces with lightning. And the Holy One, Blessed be He, uncovers His face. And why do the Holy Living Creatures and the Ophanim [Wheels] of Majesty and the Cherubim of splendor hallow and purify and clothe and wrap and adorn themselves yet more? Because the Merkabah [Chariot] is above them and the throne of glory upon their heads and the Shekhinah [Presence of the Lord] over them and rivers of fire pass between them. Another midrash (Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer) tells us that: God’s presence is situated among four camps of angels headed by Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. God is seated on a portable high throne suspended in the air, and His majestic aspect is like electrum. Upon His head is a crown and on His forehead the diadem of the explicit Name. His eyes are watching all over the earth, being half fire and half hail. On His right hand is Life, on His left is Death… Justice and Judgment are the abode of His throne… The souls of the martyrs are placed in the immediate vicinity of God. A permanent liturgy is held around God’s throne by



Cherubim, Seraphim and the Living Creatures, and God takes pleasure listening for several hours each day to their singing. Gehenna The Valley of Ben-Hinnom, originally the name of a valley southwest of Old Jerusalem where Moloch-sacrifices were offered by the ancient Jebusites and Israelites and garbage was burned (2 Kgs 16:3; Jer 7:31; Ezek 16:21) had been traditionally used as an image of the place of torture and slaughter for the wicked (Isa 66:24). According to the Jewish schematic of the hereafter, Gehenna is situated in the innermost parts of the earth, being a deep cavern with a narrow entrance. Some texts say it has either two or seven gates. Inside are different compartments or seven abodes. In Gehenna, souls are chained up, while two angels throw them from one end of the earth to the other “with the sling.” Their bodies also suffer torment and unrest. The chief torments are a terrifying darkness and a fierce fire, for “all Gehenna is fire” (Midr. Tanḥ.). The flames alternate with cold, for half of Gehenna is fire and half is ice (Exod. Rab.). Apart from these primary punishments, there are many others, such as smoke, worms, and all kinds of bodily afflictions. Torment in Gehenna is sometimes described as only temporary, thus being a means of atonement, a real purgatory, and at other times it is considered to be eternal. In the first scenario, torment lasts for twelve months, during which, [T]hose among the Jews and the nations of the entire world who have sinned in their own bodies go down to Gehenna; … after twelve months their body is destroyed and their soul burned with fire, and the wind scatters them under the feet of the righteous. (b. Roš Haš. 17a) The possibility of liberation from Gehenna is not only due to the atoning power of the punishment itself, but also to the alms and prayers of relatives. But this is a privilege only enjoyed by the “middle class” of sinners. The rest, namely heretics, traitors, freethinkers and those who deny the Torah and the resurrection have no hope of salvation; for them, Gehenna is eternal (m. Sanh. 10:1– 4; Abot 1:5; 5:20).



Hellenistic Judaism identified Gehenna with the Greek Tartarus. According to Philo, apostate and wicked Jews “will be thrown into Tartar and the deep gloom” (Praem. 26:52; Execr. 6). The Judgment Belief in divine judgment during one’s earthly life was a traditional biblical datum. But the later prophets, whose modes of expression began to take an apocalyptic direction, already spoke of a “final judgment” for all the sinners of the world and all of those powers hostile to God and to Israel. God will judge the world by fire (Isa 66:16). He will gather the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh is Judge”). It will be the time of harvest and vintage (Joel 4:12 ff). The Wisdom of Solomon foresees a judgment for the righteous and impious together, but only the latter will tremble, for the righteous will be protected by God (Wis 4:15 f.; 3:1–9). The frequent mentions of the final judgment in the New Testament witness to the widespread belief in this judgment in contemporary Judaism. Following the prophetic image of the harvest, John the Baptist depicts the One “who is coming” as a terrible judge in this manner: “His winnowing-fan is in his hand to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out” (Luke 3:17). Rabbinical Judaism in its early stages does not explicitly state its belief in the last judgment. The central eschatological idea is that of the individual resurrection of the dead, and it emphasizes the individual judgment which follows a man or woman’s death. It lasts for a period of one year. While the flesh decays, the soul is purified and receives atonement for its sins (see above, Gehenna). Only the apocalyptic visionaries left detailed descriptions of the last judgment. Their imagery is biblical. Enoch, for instance, sees the throne of judgment set up in the land of Israel; the books are opened (Dan 7:9–11); the fallen angels (Gen 6:1–4), the seventy angelic shepherds who abused their power over Israel, and the apostate Jews (described as “blinded sheep”) are cast into abysses of fire. Then God brings a New Jerusalem to replace the old one. And all that perished and were scattered, and all the beasts of the field and all the birds of heaven [i.e. the converted gentiles] came together in that house, and the Lord of the sheep rejoiced greatly… (1 Enoch 89–90)



After the judgment, the Tree of Life will be transplanted in the Holy Place beside the Temple of God, and the righteous who eat its fruit, [W]ill rejoice and be glad, and they will enter into the Holy Place. Its fragrance will be in their bones, and they will live on earth the longer life which the forefathers lived. All their days no sorrow, no pain, no suffering nor affliction, shall touch them. (1 Enoch 25,6) The Apocalypse of John resumes all of these themes, but there the whole scene is illuminated by the shining presence of Christ the Judge (Fig. 16).

Fig. 16 Painting of the Pantocrator on the dome of the modern Romanian Orthodox church in Jericho.



CHRISTIAN MESSIANISM AND APOCALYPTICISM Jesus’ Messiahship in the New Testament Narratives of Jesus’ birth in the gospels are mainly intended to present him as Israel’s expected Messiah. Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph are descendants of the House of David. The shepherds are told by angels: “Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah…” (Luke 2:11). In the Temple, two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who probably represent the Law and the Prophets (Figueras 2010), openly testify to Jesus’ messiahship. Simeon speaks of this child as the salvation which God has prepared for all nations to see, “a light to enlighten the pagans and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32); Anna “spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). The eschatological point of these messianic statements following Jesus’ birth is obvious. Matthew’s Gospel tells us the interesting story of the Wise Men (Magi) who came to Jerusalem from the East looking for the new-born king of the Jews. “We saw his star,” they say, “as it rose and have come to do him homage” (Matt 2:1 ff). “As it rose” seems to be a better translation than “in the East.” The Greek verb for “appeared” (Matt 2:7) is a literal and technical equivalent of the Akkadian word ereshu, which refers to the rising of a planet. Striking parallels to Matthew’s account may be read in the Babylonian literature. The magi’s star is certainly connected with Balaam’s prophecy (Num 24:17). Other texts in the New Testament also link the “star” with Christ: “the morning-star” in Rev 2:28 is a symbol that is perhaps connected with the apocalyptic saying that in the messianic kingdom the righteous will shine as the stars. “The bright star, the morning-star” in Rev 22:16 probably refers to Christ as the herald to his people of the eternal day. The gospels do not record many instances of Jesus claiming to be Israel’s Messiah. Nevertheless, some of his words are very explicit. When John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether or not he was the one to come, Jesus answers with a summary of his miracles, recalling Isa 35:5 and 61:1, two passages that are found in messianic contexts (Luke 7:22). The apostles are convinced by the words and deeds of Jesus that “the Kingdom of God has come” (Matt 11:5). His miracles must be understood as signs that the messianic age has begun (John 11:25 ff). He was



believed to be the Messiah by many, not only by his disciples (Mark 8:29; Luke 24:21; John 1:45,49) but also by the masses of people who received his favors (Matt 12:23; John 6:15; 7:40 ff.; 12:13; Luke 19:38). His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the city of David, was considered to be a fulfillment of Zechariah’s messianic oracle (Matt 21:5; Zech 9:9). Even if Jesus avoided public declarations of his messiahship (John 10:24), he consciously accepted it, as some of his utterances demonstrate. Yet, Jesus’ conception is not that of a political Messiah (“My kingdom is not of this world,” John 18:36), but it has the eschatological character of God’s appointed judge of the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:28–30). He speaks of himself as the “Son of Man” who “has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20), though he also declares to the high priest and the Sanhedrin at his trial that from this time onward they will see the “Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power” and “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt 26:64; 24:30; Dan 7:13). John’s Gospel emphasizes his role as the Son of Man, the Judge who at the last day will raise all the dead, either to life or to judgment (i.e. condemnation). Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead was for the first Christians an important proof that God has declared him to be the Messiah: God “raised the crucified,” who is now “taken up by God” and raised to the “glory” of the Father (Acts 1:22; 2:24; see also Fig. 17). Thus, this Messiah transcends all of the messianic expectations of the Jews, for Jesus’ death is considered to have been God’s instrument for the atonement of sin. The eschatological Judge first appeared in the condition of a servant (Phil 2:7) and is thus identified with the Isaianic figure of the “Servant of Yahweh:” “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his soul as ransom for a multitude” (Matt 20:28; Isa 53:1–12). “My blood,” Jesus says elsewhere, “will be poured out for you and the crowds” (Matt 26:22). And the link between his death and the eschatological joy of his believers is assured by the following words: “Truly I say unto you that I will not drink anymore of the fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it new with you in the Kingdom of God” (Matt 26:29).



Fig. 17 Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, Syrian miniature from the year 586 (Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ms. Plut. 1.56, c. 13v. Courtesy of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo. È vietata ogni ulteriore riproduzione con qualsiasi mezzo). Nowhere else in the New Testament is this absolutely new aspect of Jesus’ messiahship so clearly expounded as in Peter’s preaching: God has “anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.” After having raised him up from the dead, he has appointed him “judge of living and dead” (Acts 10:38,40,42). Thus, “everyone who believes in him, obtains by his name the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:44). Paul’s



preaching offers a similar pattern. He mentions a general judgment of God “by the man he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Apocalyptic doctrines in the Gospels Jesus’ teaching about the older biblical concept of the “Kingdom of God” not only includes the idea that God has already started the renewal of his covenant with Israel through Jesus’ works of salvation, but it also has an eschatological dimension. That Kingdom, indeed, takes the form of a place into which people can “enter in” (Luke 8:17,24) and from which they can be “thrown out” (Luke 23:28). It is a place of rest where patriarchs and prophets together with a great crowd will come “to sit down” (Luke 3:28 f). It is like a dining-room where one can “eat bread” and “drink wine” (Luke 14:15; Mark 4:25; Matt 26:29). That Kingdom is also said to be the time of the Wedding (Mark 2:19) and the time of harvest (Matt 9:37). It can be both “inherited” (Mark 10:17) and “possessed” (Matt 19:26). Jesus also spoke of the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine that was for the most part accepted as true by his audience. He presents the text of Exod 3:6 as evidence, presupposing the biblical belief in She’ol, or the kingdom of the dead. When the resurrection will take place—this question is not dealt with—then “those who are considered worthy of reaching the coming world and the resurrection of the dead will not take wife or husband; for they are sons of the resurrection” and “will be like angels in heaven” (Luke 20:36; Mark 12:25; Matt 22:30). A peculiar element of New Testament eschatology is the second coming of Christ, the parousia. Jesus predicts his return to earth “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” as the ultimate completion to the cycle of Passion, Death and Resurrection (Mark 8:31). In the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matt 24 and its parallels) the second coming is described as a sort of transposition of the Old Testament “Day of Yahweh,” with its typical bellicose and cosmic aspects, the astonishment of idolaters, judgment and suddenness of the approaching day. In the midst of it all, will appear “the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and majesty” (Dan 7:13 f). There is no doubting the eschatological character of the parousia highlighted by Matthew in his description of the “consummation of the age.”



The judgment to be carried out at the parousia will be universal. The “elect,” “all the tribes of the earth,” the children of Israel, the nations, including the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba (Matt 12:41 f), the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon (Matt 11:20 ff), and, probably, even the demons (Matt 8:29) will be judged. After the separation of the elect and the damned (Matt 25:31 ff) everyone will be rewarded according to his or her deeds (Matt 13:41 ff). Here the particular criterion will be “all that you did to one of these little ones of Mine, you did to Me” (Matt 25:40). The righteous will then be brought to eternal life, and the others to an eternal punishment in the Gehenna “of fire” (Matt 5:22) an inextinguishable fire “where the worm does not die” (Mark 9:43 ff), a real “burning oven” (Matt 13:42 ff), a destroying fire, similar to that which devoured Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29). The condemned will “gnash their teeth” in pain and rage in the “outer darkness” (Matt 9:12), a darkness which is a direct contrast to the bright hall where the wedding-dinner is being celebrated. Among many other references to the End of Time, the New Testament includes a prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction. Despite the possibility that some of its features may have been added post eventum (Luke 23:43), it is clear that Jesus linked Jerusalem’s refusal of his message with God’s punishment: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused! So be it! Your house will be left to you desolate. (Matt 23:37 f) On the other hand, in Luke’s Gospel, as well as in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, there are indications that the Holy City will be liberated from the pagans prior to Israel’s salvation. [G]reat misery will descend on the land and wrath on this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every pagan country; and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over. (Luke 21:24) One part of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered in, and


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well. (Rom 11:25)

Early Christian expectation of Jesus’ return A passage in the Acts of the Apostles views the future coming of Christ to earth in these terms: Now [says Peter to people gathered together in the Temple], you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort. Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:19–21) “Restoration” is an inadequate translation of the Greek word apokatastasis, a term that Josephus uses in connection with the return of the exiles from Babylon. The Jewish belief in the return of Elijah “who would restore all things” (Mark 9:12; Mal 3:23 f) is thus transferred to the persona of Jesus. In Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians, the prospect of Jesus’ return seems to have raised great excitement in that community, and they were particularly interested in the lot of those brothers and sisters who had already died. “God,” answers Paul, “will bring them with him.” And he goes on to say: We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died. At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord forever. (1 Thess 4:13–18) The Thessalonians were not satisfied with his words, for Paul writes to them again:



Please do not get excited too soon or alarmed by any prediction or rumor or any letter claiming to come from us, implying that the Day of the Lord has already arrived. (2 Thess 2:2) And then he continues by saying that first the Antichrist must reveal himself (see below): It cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place and the Rebel, the Lost One, has appeared… (2 Thess 2:3) This fervor for the supposed immediate return of Christ apparently manifested itself in a refusal to work on the part of many Thessalonian Christians. Once again, Paul made use of his great power of spirit to address the Thessalonians: Such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. (2 Thess 3:12) All New Testament writers give testimony to the fact that Jesus’ return was eagerly expected. In Peter’s Second Epistle, the answer to the pressing question of “where is the promise of his coming?” is answered with a reassurance founded in the history of the flood, “when the world that then existed was deluged by water and perished.” For, [T]he Day of the Lord will come like a thief [2 Thess 5:2 f.], and the heaven will pass away with loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. (2 Pet 3:4– 10) Jesus’ second coming was and is ritually and periodically commemorated in the Eucharistic meal, which is, in the words of the apostle Paul, Christ’s “memorial until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). To this day, Christians sing together during the celebration of the Eucharist the ancient Aramaic formula “Maranatha!” (“Come, our Lord!” Rev 22:20).



The Antichrist The term “antichrist” occurs in the New Testament only once, in the Epistles of John, and designates the primary enemy of Christ at the end of the ages (1 John 2:18; 4:3). The author identifies the antichrist with the people of his own day who attempted to lead believers astray: Children, these are the last days; you were told that the Antichrist must come, and now several antichrists have already appeared; we know from this that these are the last days. (1 John 2:18–19, 22–26) The idea is developed in other New Testament writings as well. 2 Thess 2:3–8 describes the antichrist as “the Rebel, the Lost One,” [W]ho opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. In the Revelation of John we meet the figures of the two beasts (Rev 13:1–18; 19:19), the great whore (Rev 17) and the false prophet (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). In early Christian writings, since the era of the persecutions, the concept of the antichrist has played a great role (Did. 16:4; Apoc. Petri 2; Sybil. 3:67–74). The origins of this figure have been sought in Babylonian and Persian myths of a battle fought by a deity against monstrous enemies either at the beginning or at the end of time (Bousset 1999; Gunkel 1964: 221ff). But Jewish apocalyptic works seem to provide an immediate link between the Christian antichrist (Apoc. Baruch 36:40; Assump. Mos. 8) and similar biblical ideas (Ezek 38 f.: Gog, king of Magog; Dan 7:8–11: the fourth beast). Qumran literature presents us with such figures as the “man of lies” (1QHab 2,1; CD 8, 13; 20,15), the “impious priest” (1QHab 8,8), and the “man of power” (CD 1, 14). The Synoptic Gospels predict “false christs and false prophets” in an unknown future (Mark 13:22; Matt 24:11,24) and this makes the collective interpretation of the antichrist more plausible than the individual one. On the other hand, Paul seems to identify the antichrist with the “mystery of evil” (2 Thess 2:7), and thus he probably imagines that figure to represent a group or a system. Early Christians, convinced as they were that Christ’s return was imminent, attempted to identify the antichrist of the end



of the ages with a real historical figure such as Nero (Asc. Isaiah 4) or Caligula. A pretext for such speculation was found in the symbolic names and numbers that represent the enemy. For instance, in the Revelation of John, it is written: [I]f anyone is clever enough he may interpret the number of the beast: it is the number of a man, the number 666. (Rev 14:18) Some commentators have claimed that 666 is the total of the numerical values of the Greek characters of “Nero-Caesar” (Resseguie 1998:54–57). John’s Apocalypse The last book of the New Testament is a Christian adaptation of contemporary Jewish apocalyptic writings. As in IV Ezra and Syriac Baruch, the Roman Empire is depicted as the last and worst of the kingdoms that appeared in Daniel’s vision (Cf. Dan 7:1–7 and Rev 13:1 ff). The number of its rulers is all but complete (Rev 17:10 f.; 4 Ezra 12:10 f); the hour of its total and final ruin is at hand. The agent of God bringing this destruction to its conclusion is the Messiah (Rev 19:11 ff.; 4 Ezra 12:31–34) who is here identified with Jesus. This is made evident with the book’s opening: This is the revelation given by God to Jesus Christ so that he could tell his servants about the things which are now to take place very soon. (Rev 1:1) John, the writer, tells us that he “was on the isle of Patmos for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus. It was the Lord’s Day” (Sunday) when he had his vision (Rev 1:9–10). The following is a summary of important themes from this book. The argument of the martyrs from beneath God’s Throne John writes during a period of persecutions, and the question of God’s justice, which is not apparent on this earth, is given an answer in heaven: When he (the Lamb/Jesus) broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the word of God, for witnessing to it. They shouted aloud, ‘Holy, faithful


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY Master, how much longer will you wait before you pass sentence and take vengeance for our death on the inhabitants of the earth?’ Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little longer, until the roll was complete and their fellow servants and brothers had been killed just as they had been. (Rev 6:9– 11)

In rabbinical literature, martyrs are also said to enjoy a privileged proximity to God (Pesiqta 50a). For R. Anan, every Jew buried in the land of Israel is considered as being under the Altar (Temple), and pictured as though buried beneath the Throne of God (b. Ketub. 111a). Eschatological war between the Church and the devil Like Jewish apocalyptic works, John’s Revelation is a book of consolation, and its main message is that the present persecution will end with the final victory of God, who will establish his kingdom over the world. This persecution of the young Church, though materially carried out by the Roman emperors is considered to be instigated by Satan, the Dragon. The Dragon tries to get hold of the Messiah as soon as he is born: “The Dragon stepped in front of the Woman as she was having the Child, so that he could eat it as it was born from its mother” (Rev 12:4). But the Child was taken straight up to God and to his home, while “the Woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready, for her to be looked after in the twelve hundred and sixty days” (Rev 12:6). After suffering an attack in heaven from the archangel Michael and his angels, the dragon “sprang in pursuit of the Woman” (Rev 12:14), but in vain. Then the dragon delegated his power to the beast, to which “it was allowed to make war against the saints and conquer them” (Rev 13:7). When the beast received a fatal wound, “a second beast emerged from the ground” and extended its authority everywhere, performed miracles on behalf of the first beast, and won over the people of the world (Rev 13:14). This persecution ends with the condemnation and destruction at the hands of “the One like a son of man with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand” (Rev 14:14). The harvest and vintage of the pagan peoples thus arrives. It is “the great day of



the almighty God” (Rev 16:14), the day of slaughter, for the kings of the earth will the angels, the executors of judgment (Rev 19:17 ff). God will lure the beast and the false prophet to Armageddon to destroy them (Rev 16:16 ff). They will be cast alive into the lake of fire and sulphur, while their servants, who bear their signs on their foreheads, will die by the sword (Rev 19:20 f). After this destruction of the temporal powers, Satan himself is cast into the abyss for a thousand years (Rev 20:1 ff). The Millennium and the final victory For one thousand years the faithful will reign supreme with Christ, after which time a “first resurrection” will occur for all of the remaining dead (Rev 20:4–6). In all probability, the millennium is to be understood in a figurative way, as a state of happiness with Christ in heaven (Rev 11:11 f.; 14:15 f.; 15:2–4) for a rather long term, i.e. during the years of relative peace, between the persecutions and the end of the world, which will be preceded by the great apostasy (Rev 20:7 ff). The martyrs and faithful reign in heaven with Christ as soon as they die. These martyrs “complete the number” of the old martyrs, whose souls are “resting under the (heavenly) altar” and pleading that justice be served for their blood. At the end of the millennium, Satan will be unchained for a short period, and the nations Gog and Magog will attempt a final attack upon the elect and Jerusalem (Rev 20:7–9). God himself will destroy them, casting them from heaven into the fire; the Devil will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, to join the beast and the false prophet in their eternal torment (Rev 20:10). Only then does the Final Judgment take place, with heaven and earth disappearing at the sight of the “great white throne.” The books are opened, as is the “book of the living;” these books provide the testimony according to which all of the dead are judged. Sea, Death and Hades give up their dead. Death and Hades are then cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death (Rev 2:11), and he who is not registered in the book of life is also cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:11–15; 19:20). The vision of the slain Lamb (Fig. 18) This Christian vision, which the author introduces between the persecutions and the announcement of the Day of



Judgment, is intended to bring consolation with the promise of retribution to those of Israel who, having accepted the faith in Christ, have maintained their virginity (faithfulness) in him: Next in my vision I saw Mount Zion, and standing on it a Lamb who had with him a hundred and forty-four thousand people, all with his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound coming out of the sky like the sound of the ocean or the roar of thunder; it seemed to be the sound of harpists playing their harps. There in front of the throne they were singing a new hymn in the presence of the four animals and the elders, a hymn that could only be learnt by the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the world. These are the ones who have kept their virginity and not been defiled with women; they follow the Lamb wherever he goes; they have been redeemed from amongst men to be the first-fruits for God and for the Lamb… (Rev 14:1–5)

Fig. 18 Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, and symbols of the four Evangelists, from a Carolingian Apocalypse book, France, ninth century (Bibliothèque de Valenciennes, France).



The New Jerusalem While the final lot of the wicked seems to be a definite death, for those whose names are to be found in the book of life there will be a “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1, cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22). They will live in a “New Jerusalem” that will come down from heaven, descending from God. There will be no temple in the city, for “God-with-them” will be the God of its inhabitants, who will be “His-people.” There will be no death and no more weeping, for “all the former things will have passed away” (Rev 21:1–5). The new, celestial Jerusalem is enlightened by God himself, and its lamp is the Lamb. Its walls, made of precious stones, have twelve gates, with angels standing guard and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed upon them. The twelve foundations of the city, adorned with gems, bear the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb. And the gates are never closed, for there is no night. The “river of the water of life flowing from God and the Lamb” crosses the city and flows through the trunk of the Tree of Life in the city square. This tree produces twelve fruits, one for each month, to which the elect will have access and whose leaves are for “medicinal use for the gentiles” (Rev 22:1 ff). Inhabitants of this city will see God’s face and “will reign forever.” On their foreheads will be written the name of God. There will be 144,000 sealed with this “sign of the living God” (Rev 7:1–8) from the tribes of Israel. And from the gentiles an innumerable crowd will stand before the throne and the Lamb, dressed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands (such as were used to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles), praising God and the Lamb (Rev 7:9). The nations will also walk in the light of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:24–26).

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS Throughout history individuals have attempted to explain the existence of evil and hoped to escape from its results, especially from death. The Mesopotamian myths of creation stood at the foundation of the annual festivals of nature renewal, and in these the king identified himself with Tammuz who rose from the dead. In Canaanite legends the subject of death and resurrection reappears over and over again as Baal and Anat subjugate Mot, the god of death. Among the Egyptians, the identification of the dead with the various forces of nature and with the annual renewal



eliminated all hope for a new era that would change this world. The Persian doctrine of Zoroaster laid the foundation for the belief in two ruling forces opposed one to the other, and for the promise that the Good Spirit would emerge victorious over the Evil Spirit in the end, when the righteous would attain to eternal salvation and the wicked would receive eternal punishment. The best of Rome’s poets describes the golden age of peace upon the earth, in a fashion similar to that depicted in the prophecy of Isaiah. Other foundational sources that describe a new era of general renewal are to be found among Jewish apocryphal works, written after the prophetic works of the Bible. Consolation is promised to the depressed and oppressed in the framework of a messianic age that shall begin with the appearance of a leader who will restore land to its rightful owners. The Messiah, whether from the family of David or Aaron, was supposed to return the exiles to the land of Israel and to reign over them forever. Groups of Jews began to gather together, expecting the last days, and the “Sons of Light” in the wilderness of Qumran prepared for the final work of God. Among their texts are found not only the older prophets, but also the books of Daniel, Enoch and other apocalyptic works. In the same period of excitement and eschatological expectation, Jesus appeared, identifying himself as the Son of Man, but not as a conquering king or as the judge of heaven and earth. He refused to be identified with the hoped-for models of messiahship, but addressed in his teachings love for others, the kingdom of heaven, resurrection of the dead, universal judgment, eternal glory awaiting the righteous with God and eternal punishment for the wicked in the fires of Gehenna. Jesus’ eschatology is different from that of the authors of apocryphal works and also different from the rabbinic literature in one important aspect. The judgment of humankind will be decided upon according to the measure of faithfulness to Jesus himself: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40); and “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). His disciples expected him to return to the world (Acts 1:11) and to make all things new (Rev 21:5).

CHAPTER 5: CHRISTIAN WORSHIP Like other religions, Christianity has developed established practices to express faith in God. The inner reshaping of a person that is performed by God’s grace through the saving work of Christ empowers him or her to consider all human activity as acceptable to God, even as divine; indeed, everything he or she does is done “in Christ” (in the expression of the apostle Paul). Thus, his or her whole life is holy. Truthfully, nothing profane remains in it. Yet, such a sanctity does not prevent an individual from expressing his readiness to perform God’s will, his joy for God’s plan of salvation, and his hope for eternal life. Furthermore, Christian worship is more than this, it is both prayer and sacrifice. The unique and definitive sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ for the salvation of humankind is not only said to be remembered in the eucharistic meal, but, beginning at an early period, the Church has said that this sacrifice is re-presented in it. The Church’s liturgy, as it has been structured from earliest times, is so theologically rich that the religious feelings of the participants can hardly attain to its heights. Such a paradox is inherent to all aspects of humankind’s relationship with God, of which the Sacraments, public prayer and liturgical celebrations are but one expression. Since Christianity is directly derived from Judaism, early Christian worship had much in common with Jewish Temple and synagogue worship. As the Christian faith spread throughout the pagan world, other influences also began to affect Christian liturgical practice.

JEWISH WORSHIP Sacrifice and prayer in the Temple Ancient Israel’s worship was prominently cultic and ritualistic, and had been focused in the Temple of Jerusalem since the time of 153



Solomon. There was an altar, an established priesthood, and detailed laws and regulations dictating the precise performance of the major elements of worship in the Temple, which mostly consisted of sacrifices and offerings. According to the motivation for offering them, these offerings can be classified into four groups: 1) gifts and tributes; 2) gifts of sustenance for the priests; 3) communal sacrifices; 4) expiatory sacrifices. Each class can be further subdivided. According to their type, gifts and tributes could be propitiatory, tributary (first fruits and tithes), or votive, given in thanksgiving, or as a freewill offering. The blood and fat of sacrifices, which included the slaughter or burning of an animal (he-lambs, young bullocks, rams, and he-goats) were reserved for God, probably owing to the ancient notion that the immortality and supramundane existence of the gods in heaven was sustained by their special diet. There were not only daily sacrifices and offerings to God, but there was also the tamid (“continual sacrifice”) that consisted of an immolated beast offered whole, together with a cereal offering and a libation. On Sabbaths, New Moons, seasonal festivals and holy days mosaf (“supplementary offerings”) were added to these. There was also the “bread of the presence” that consisted of twelve loaves of fine flour, set upon the altar and topped with pure frankincense. The loaves were changed every Sabbath, and those that were removed were eaten by the priests. An important element of Israelite sacrifices and offerings was their commensality, i.e. the idea of forging or reaffirming ties of kinship with God, of making or strengthening a covenant with him by eating of the victims offered in sacrifice or the sprinkling of their blood on the attendants. But the idea of expiation of sin by sacrifices is the one that appears the most clearly. There was a special sacrificial rite known as the “sin offering.” This rite was two-sided: on one hand, it removed the “contagion” of childbirth and leprosy; on the other, it regenerated the “infected” individual. The first aim was generally accomplished by having the offerer or priest lay his hand on the victim’s head, thereby indicating a transference of the taint. The second was served by having the priest apply drops of the sacrificial blood to the right ear, thumb, and big toe of the offerer. Another sacrificial rite was the “guilt offering,” which was primarily a fine imposed upon someone who had caused material



damage to another. On the Day of Atonement a scapegoat was used (Lev 16) as a means to remove the taint of sin from the community. The rite was preceded by a collective confession of sin, so that the scapegoat was only representative, not substitutional. The beast was sent into “a solitary land” (Lev 16:22), and according to the Mishnah it was then pushed over a cliff (m. Yoma 6:6). The Bible contains no allusion to prayers accompanying the sacrifices. In the Second Temple, prayers, blessings and readings from the Pentateuch were added to the service. After the offering of the incense, which followed the tamid sacrifice, the priests gathered together on the steps of the atrium and blessed the assembled people with the priestly blessing (m. Tamid 7:2). As the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he would say a short prayer, and at the conclusion of his ministry he would read certain portions from the Bible. During the offering of the incense the people gathered for prayer. The libation of wine at the conclusion of every tamid sacrifice was accompanied by the singing of the Levites. Temple music, which accompanied the daily tamid sacrifice, consisted of both choral and instrumental pieces. The texts sung were mostly psalms, and selected poetical sections of the Pentateuch. On the festivals, the hallel (Ps 113–118) was sung during the sacrifices of the people, and a flute was played at the same time. Young children from the elite families of Jerusalem joined the levitical choir. Musical instruments included lyres (nevel), harps (kinnor), cymbals (ṣilṣal) and flutes (ḥalil). Jewish festivals There were two main categories of festivals during the Second Temple period: those commanded by the Pentateuch (Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles, the New Year, the Day of Atonement, and the New Moon) and those that were added later (Purim, Hanukkah, and the Ninth of Av). In the Bible various reasons are given for the festivals. Some are specifically connected with the exodus from Egypt: Passover (Exod 12:27), Tabernacles (Lev 23:43) and Pentecost (Deut 16:12). But, together with their theological-historical sources, the festivals are also connected with the annual agricultural cycle: Pentecost is the festival “of the first fruits of wheat harvest” (Exod 34:22). Tabernacles is the “feast of the ingathering” at the end of the agricultural year, when the



ingathering from the threshing floor and the winepress is completed. Even Passover, in the Spring, has an agricultural basis, for we see that the omer sacrifice of the new barley was offered on the second day of the festival and permitted the partaking of the new grain crop. Except for the Day of Atonement and the later Ninth of Av, the festivals were occasions of great rejoicing for the whole Israelite community, including slaves and proselytes, and it was customary to send presents to the needy (Neh 8:10–12). Dancing probably enjoyed a place of pride, though there is no hint in the Bible of the wild orgies and promiscuous abandon that is associated with the pagan festivals of the ancient Near East. In the Egyptian Diaspora, Philo stated that the true significance of the festival is to find pleasure and enjoyment through meditation about the world and the harmony existing in it (Spec. 2:52). On the festivals, work was forbidden, and sacrifices were brought to the Temple. On the three main festivals (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles) ideally all the males should go up to Jerusalem, as prescribed by the Law. In the Second Temple period, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from the Holy Land and from the Diaspora streamed to the Temple, an event which frequently caused disorders and revolts (Josephus, War 5:243 f.; Ant. 13:337–9). The essential ritual of these festivals included the entry of the individual or the group into the Temple to worship there, and the offering of the obligatory sacrifices demanded by the precept that “none shall appear before Me empty” (Exod 23:14–17; 34:20–24; Deut 16:16,17). The sacrifices were offered both on the first day and during the subsequent days of the celebration, which usually lasted for a week. On Passover and Tabernacles, pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem several days before the festival, especially those from the Diaspora, who had to undergo purification for over a week from the defilement occurred in foreign lands (Josephus, War 1:229; 6:290). During their sojourn in Jerusalem, the pilgrims engaged in the study of the Torah and participated in the common festive meals in which they ate the permitted sacrificial food. Special prayers were recited and changes were introduced into the Temple liturgy on the holy days. While in most festivals the Hallel was recited in its complete form, on the New Year, the Day of Atonement and Purim, it was not. The reading from the Pentateuch on the festivals was from two scrolls: the first portion



contained a reference to the festival, while the second was from Numbers 28–29 concerning the special sacrifice of the day. Since the days of the Second Temple, it has been customary to read the book of Esther on Purim (and it is mandatory that be read from a scroll written on parchment), and Lamentations has been read on the Ninth of Av since talmudic times. The other three Megillot (Scrolls), Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and Ruth, are today usually read on Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost, respectively. The Passover The seven-day festival of Pesach (Passover), beginning on the fifteenth of Nisan, is, according to the Bible, meant to commemorate the exodus from Egypt (Exod 12:11–14; Deut 16:1,3). The critical view points to two distinct festivals (the feast of unleavened bread, which was a pastoral feast, and the Passover, an agricultural feast) which were later fused together. Possibly, an old nomadic custom of killing an animal to secure protection for the flocks before leaving the winter’s desert pasture for cultivated regions was historicized by connecting it to the main event in Israel’s history of salvation, the Exodus. The situation of departure, indeed, forms the standpoint in both cases. Moreover, the bloodrite made it possible to connect the Passover with the story of the killing of the Egyptian first-born (Exod 12:23). Thus, originally, it was not a pilgrimage feast, but a domestic ceremony consisting of the slaughter and eating of the paschal animal (a sheep, goat, or bovine; a year-old lamb or kid, according to later texts). After the centralization of the cult by King Josiah, the celebration of the Passover was transferred to the central sanctuary in Jerusalem (Deut 16:2, 7; 2 Kgs 23:21–23): the slaughter, preparation and eating of the paschal sacrifices was to take place in the forecourts of the Temple (2 Chron 30:16; 35:11). The flesh was eaten at home with unleavened bread and bitter herbs during the night (Exod 12:8) in a communal meal (Exod 12:4). No flesh was allowed to remain until the next day (Deut 16:4). Later, because of the large number of participants, the paschal sacrifice was killed at the Temple, but boiled or broiled and eaten in the houses of Jerusalem (m. Pesaḥ. 5:10; 7:12). The blood of the paschal animals, like other sacrificial blood, was now poured on the base of the altar (2 Chron 30:16; 35:11).



According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was crucified on the fifteenth of Nisan, the first day of the feast. They depict the Last Supper of Jesus as a Passover meal, during which the salvific purpose of Jesus’ death is revealed (Mark 14:22, 24). The Gospel of John, on the other hand, dates the death of Jesus to the fourteenth of Nisan (John 19:14; 18:28), at the very hour that the Passover lambs were being slaughtered (John 19:14, 31; m. Pesaḥ. 5:1), and so he places the Last Supper on the thirteenth of Nisan (possibly for theological reasons, as John also interprets Jesus as the Passover Lamb). During the seder (“order,” or liturgy) that is celebrated in the home on Passover, one must partake of four cups of wine (m. Pesaḥ. 10:1), and it is now customary to have a full cup of wine on the seder table known as Elijah’s cup. There are special blessings of thanksgiving for each of the cups, and at the end the Hallel is recited. Eschatological meals Except for the Passover meal, we know of no other form of cultic meal in classical Judaism. On the other hand, we can say that every meal in Judaism was, in some sense, a religious meal. On the eve of every Sabbath, the family meal bears a ritual solemnity that cannot be deprived of religious significance. The obscure origins of the Kiddush (a special blessing over bread and wine) may well have been a rite that expressed communion with God. But it is from the colorful descriptions of Messianic joy that are depicted in apocalyptic literature that we may conclude that religious meals in Judaism had an eschatological connotation. This joy is expressed in the image of a festive and abundant meal (1 Enoch 24; 25; 72:14; Matt 8:11–12; Luke 14:15). The eschatological significance of the sacred meal is further illustrated by the Qumran texts that describe the meals of the sectarian community that lived near the Dead Sea. 1QS 6:2–8 describes a special cultic meal in which only the highest members of the Qumran community, designated “the Council,” are permitted to participate. It consists solely of bread and wine, or only bread, or only wine (1QS 6:4). A priest must preside and recite the blessing, and to him belong the choice portions of the bread and wine. This rite is to remain a permanent institution even in Messianic times. Indeed, according to a



regulation in 1QSa 2:11 f., when the Messiah of Israel will be sent to the community, ...if they are gathered together to the Table of the Community or to drink the wine and there is an arranging of the Table of the Community and a service of the wine, no one shall stretch out his hand to the choice part of the bread or the wine before the Priest…; he shall stretch out his hand to the bread first, and thereafter the Messiah of Israel shall stretch out his hand to the bread, and afterwards they shall bless all the congregation of the Community, each man according to his position. This Messianic meal at Qumran was possibly intended to be a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezek 44:3 ff., in which we see the Messianic Prince entering the ideal Temple of the future and then partaking of a festive meal: “He shall … eat bread before the Lord.” “In that case, the regular cult-meal of participating in the Bread of the Presence may be a form of anticipation of the Messianic meal, when the Messiah of Israel would sit down at the Temple sacrificial meal with the true Israel” (Black 1983: 109). Another description of a sectarian Jewish sacred meal from the same period is that of the Therapeutae’s symposion by Philo. The “suppliants” took their places on couches according to their seniority. Afterwards, the presider would give a sermon on a subject from the Torah, and at its conclusion he would be applauded with hand clapping. Following the sermon, the congregation would sing psalms, and finally the meal would be brought. The table, too, bears nothing which has blood, but there is placed upon it bread for food and salt for seasoning, to which also hyssop is sometimes added as an extra sauce for the sake of those who are delicate in their eating, for just as right reason commands the priest to offer up sober sacrifices, so also these men are commanded to live sober lives. (Contempl. 9:73–74, Yonge’s translation) After the meal, the prayer vigil began, with hymns and dances performed by two choirs of men and women, and this continued



until dawn when they stood facing the East, and at sunrise, after prayer, they each returned to his or her prayer room.

Fig. 19 Melchizedek presents Abraham with bread and wine, a wall mosaic from the fifth century in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome (© 2013, Photo SCALA, Florence – courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali).



The explicit parallel drawn by Philo between the “tables” of the Therapeutae and the Table of the Bread of the Presence in the Temple (Contempl. 9:82) is intended to remind the reader that, though the Therapeutae were a lay order, their sacred meal had the same cultic character as the offering of the Shew-bread by the priests in the Temple of Jerusalem. The Old Testament is silent about the presence of wine at the table of the Shew-bread, though it is possible that at some period wine also entered into the ritual of the Shew-bread (Exod 38:12 in the Septuagint). Actually, the association of bread with wine as cultic offerings is mentioned already in the account of Gen 14:18, in which Melchisedek the priest presents Abraham with consecrated gifts of bread and wine (Fig. 19). Ritual ablutions Acts of washing are prescribed in the Bible for the correction of ritual impurity and the restoration of the impure to a state of ritual purity. These rituals were accepted and developed further by normative Judaism. Ablution must not be confused with washing for the sake of cleanliness, but there may be some symbolic connection. The rabbis did not describe religious ablutions in hygienic or magical terms (Midr. Num. R. 19:4). The Essenes and the Qumran community both insisted on frequent ablutions (Josephus, War 2:129, 149, 150; CD 10:10 ff.; 11:18 ff.; and the many pools and canals discovered in the ruins of Kh. Qumran). There were three types of ablution, each pertaining to a different type of impurity: complete immersion, immersion of hands and feet, and the immersion of hands alone. In the first type, the person or article must undergo immersion in either “living water,” i.e. a spring, river, or sea, or in a mikveh, which is a body of water of at least 120 gallons. Well preserved mikveh complexes have been excavated in Masada and other sites in Israel. Immersions were required especially of the priests. The high priest immersed himself five times during the service of the Day of Atonement. Total immersion also came to form part of the ceremony of conversion to Judaism, although there is a difference of opinion concerning whether or not it is required for males in addition to circumcision, or as an alternative to it (b. Yebam. 46a). Since the destruction of the Temple, the laws of impurity are no longer valid, the only immersions still prescribed being those for the niddah (a



woman during her menstrual period) and the proselyte. These two immersions require “intent” and the recitation of a benediction. Vessels to be used for the preparation and consumption of food that are made of metal or glass and that are purchased from a nonJew must be immersed in a mikveh before use. This immersion is to remove the “impurity of the gentiles.” The washing of hands and feet was required of priests before participating in the Temple services (Exod 30:17 f.). The most widespread form of ablution is the washing of the hands (netilat yadayim), and it consists of either immersing the hands up to the wrist or by pouring approximately half a pint of water over both hands from a receptacle with a wide mouth. It seems that this custom spread from the priests, who washed their hands before eating consecrated food, to the pious among the laity, and eventually became nearly universal. Synagogue services The earliest sources of the Mishnah show that the three ordinary daily services in the Synagogue consisted of two primary elements: 1) the reading of Scripture, and 2) prayer. As to the first, the Torah was read on Mondays and Thursdays, and on feast-days. On Sabbaths and feast-days there was read, in addition to the Pentateuchal lesson (Parashah) a passage from the Prophets (Haftarah; see also Luke 4:16 ff.). When reading the Scriptures, it was always customary to stand (m. Yoma 7:1; Soṭah 7:7), though the reader could either stand or sit (m. Meg. 4:1). After the reading of the Scriptures, which was, of course, in Hebrew, there immediately followed a translation into the vernacular, which was essentially an explanatory exposition. This was the origin of the Aramaic and Samaritan Targumim, which are not literal translations but rather homiletical adaptations of the biblical text. The importance of such Targumim for properly understanding rabbinic interpretations of the Scriptures is obvious. It is apparent from Acts 13:14–16 that the reader and the expounder of the Scripture lessons was not always the same person. Among the various rules to be observed in connection with both the reading and the exposition of Scripture (m. Meg. 4:1–6), it is stipulated that if less than ten men are present, the reading cannot take place (ibid., 4:3).



Prayer in the Synagogue included two parts: the Shema and the Tephillah (also known as the Shmoneh Esreh). The Shema is the closest thing to a creed in Jewish liturgy, with its enunciation of the unity and uniqueness of the God of Israel. It is primarily a recitation of Deut 6:4, from which it takes its name, “Hear” (Mark 12:29). It was recited at each of the three daily services. It was preceded by the blessing named Yotzer (“The Creator”), which is a benediction for God’s creation of the world, and by the Ahavah (“Love”), a prayer requesting spiritual light. A third prayer, the Geulah (“Redemption”), a thanksgiving which commemorates the redemption of Israel from Egypt, followed the Shema. To this prayer, a second piece, Hashkivenu (“Cause us to lie down”) was added at the evening prayer. In the N.T. period, the Shema also included the recitation of the Decalogue, but this was later discontinued for anti-Christian reasons (y. Ber. I, 8; b. Ber. 12a). Several inscriptions of the Decalogue from ancient Samaritan synagogues have been discovered in the neighborhood of Nablus. The Tephillah (“Prayer”) was the prayer par excellence of the Synagogue. It is also known as the Amidah (“Standing”) because while it is recited the congregation stands. It is composed of eighteen benedictions of a marked Messianic character (above, p. 77). The first three are praises, and the last three are expressions of thanksgiving, thus forming a framework within which the petitions are placed. Originally the form of the latter was chosen extemporaneously by the prayer-leader, and he would alter it according to the occasion, but in the course of time, these too became fixed. The Qedushah (“Sanctification”) is attached to the third benediction. When it originated, it was probably only a fusion of Isa 6:3 and Ezek 3:12. Eventually other elements were added. Its present form of prayer and congregational response reflects preChristian practice (t. Ber. 1:9). As in the Temple liturgy (Ps 41:13), in the synagogues, the congregations responded “Amen” to each benediction that was prayed by the presider (b. Sukkah 51b; m. Ta’an. 2:5). To close certain portions of the Synagogue service, there was a liturgical piece called the Qaddish (“sanctification”), which in its first three petitions runs parallel to the Lord’s Prayer in the Synoptic Gospels.



Psalms were also recited in Synagogue worship. The Mishnah refers only to their use in the Temple (m. Sukkah 4:5), with the exception of the Hallel Psalms (Ps 113–118). Psalms were recited antiphonally. The congregation would repeat the first verse of the psalm after the cantor chanted each of the following verses. Forms for confession of sin (selichot, “forgivenesses”) for daily use in the synagogue were provided, and these were followed with prayers for forgiveness and grace (tachnunim, “requests for mercy”). The Quiddush (“sanctificiation”), a blessing over wine and bread, was celebrated both in the home and in the synagogue, and this is still the case in modern times. All of the aforementioned elements of synagogue liturgy may be regarded with reasonable certainty to be pre-Christian.

THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH The Church, a community of worship In Christian belief, Jesus brought ancient Temple worship to a conclusion by fulfilling its aim in his own sacrifice. During his life on earth, he was presented in the Temple after his birth (Luke 2:22, ff.), he went there on the occasion of Jewish festivals (Luke 2:41; John 2:13; 10:22), and he often preached in its courts (Mark 14:49; John 18:20). Like the prophets, he demanded faithfulness to the spirit of worship (Matt 23:16–23), and declared that, without purity of heart, ritual purifications were meaningless (Matt 23:25 f.; 5:8– 23, f.). He showed a respect for the Temple when he purified it (John 12:14 ff.), but at the same time, he announced that a new type of Temple, his own resurrected body, would replace the ancient one (John 2:19 ff.). He predicted that the time would arrive when true believers would worship God anywhere and everywhere, not just in Jerusalem (John 4:21). The first group of Jesus’ followers did not break with the ancient, figurative Temple. After Jesus’ Ascension, the apostles were “continuously in the Temple, praising God” (Luke 24:53; Acts 5:12), and the whole community of believers attended the Temple daily, “praising God” (Acts 2:42–47). Peter performed his first miracle at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, where he went with John at the hour of prayer, i.e., the ninth hour (Acts 3:1). However, Stephen the deacon preached that the true Temple is that in which God dwells and where Jesus reigns (Acts 6:13 f.; 7:48



ff., 55, f.). And Paul, who, on the one hand, shared in the cultural practices of Jewish Christians (Acts 21:24–26; 1 Cor 10:32 f.), also preached that circumcision and ancient Jewish observances no longer had value. Christian worship, in many respects, is a new type of worship (Gal 5:1–6). This new worship, not necessarily deprived of external practices such as prayer meetings (Acts 1:12, 14, 24, f.), community meals (2:42–46; 20:7–11), and initiation rites (2:41; 8:15–17; 8:36– 38) into the Apostolic community, may give the impression that its religious behavior is not so different from that of any other religion. What distinguishes Christian worship is its internal meaning, which is ultimately founded upon Christ’s self-sacrifice. This seals the New Covenant (Mark 10:45; 14:22, ff.) and gives full significance to the inspired formulas of the ancient cult (Heb 10:1– 18). Through Christ’s sacrifice, of which the Eucharist is the permanent commemoration (Matt 26:26–28; 1 Cor 10:16 f.; 11:26 f.), Christians have access to the heavenly Sanctuary (Heb 10:19 ff.), where an eternal worship is celebrated by the immolated Lamb before the throne of God. It is there where the Ark of the Covenant is situated (Rev 5:6; 11:19), and there the “trisagion” is sung continually by the elect (Rev 4:2–11; Isa 6:1 ff.), who glorify God and the Lamb who is his Son (Rev 14:1) who made them a kingdom of priests in order to join them to himself in his perfect worship (Rev 5:9–13). The rites performed by the Church on earth will last until Jesus’ return (1 Cor 11:26). The Church, which presently calls incessantly to Jesus to come, “Maranatha!” (1 Cor 11:26; 16:22; Rev 22:17), will then be prepared as a bride for her bridegroom to celebrate her wedding with the Lamb (Rev 19:7–9). At that time, there will no longer be a Temple to symbolize God’s presence, for God and the Lamb will themselves be the Temple of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22). “Breaking of Bread” A few passages from Acts and the epistles refer to the practice of “breaking bread” performed by the early community of Jesus’ followers. Although not very explicit, these texts seem to reveal some sort of relationship between what is possibly a regular community meal, either daily (Acts 2:46) or weekly (Acts 20:7), and the Eucharist instituted by Jesus in the Last Supper (Matt 26:26– 28). “The bread which we break,” says Paul, “is it not a



communion with the body of Christ? Seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16 f.). We see here that the Eucharistic meaning of breaking bread together is essentially linked with its sociological aspect. Again, in the account of Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples in Emmaus following his resurrection (Luke 24:30, 35) it is said that the disciples recognized the Lord when he performed the action of “breaking bread.” The rite and the expression were sufficiently well known to Luke’s readers so that he did not have to draw notice to his intent to link the custom of sharing bread in community, i.e., a religious meal, and the belief that in that moment the special presence of the glorified Lord amongst them became manifest. Baptism and catechesis As in Judaism, Christianity requires converts to be baptized in order to be fully admitted to the community of believers. The antecedents of Christian baptism are to be found in Judaism. Some New Testament texts expressly connect that rite with the baptism of John the Baptist: he baptized with water, but Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16; Acts 1:5). However, Christian baptism is also administered with water. This element was not superseded in the Christian rite, and it was utilized both in individual conversions (Acts 8:38) and in mass conversions (Acts 2:41). The main difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of proselytes to Judaism was not in the emphasis placed on the ethical or religious significance of the rite, for all ablutions in Judaism were understood in a religious sense, but in the fact that John administered his baptism to Jews as well as gentiles (Mark 1:5). On the other hand, only John’s baptism had an eschatological association. It was linked to repentance of sins in view of God’s approaching salvation (Luke 3:3 ff.). His baptism with water seemed to be a preparation for the baptism with the Holy Spirit by the “Mightier One” who was to come after him. From such passages as Acts 19:1 ff. (John’s disciples in Ephesus), it may be concluded that a baptism with water was considered by the early Church to be incomplete unless it was accompanied by the reception of the Holy Spirit.



Baptism required an internal attitude of repentance for sins and the acceptance of Jesus as Savior through his death, resurrection and glorification. This pre-supposes a doctrinal initiation of the candidate to baptism, an initiation that was achieved through the preaching of the Word, the apostolic “Kerygma” (Acts 8:12). Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection, and the redemptive value assigned to them were considered to be the fulfillment of prophecy, particularly of those passages about the Servant of the Lord (Isa 42 ff.; Acts 8:28–35). Furthermore, a strong link between personal submission to the rite of baptism and faith in Jesus as Savior is probably already found in the gospel narratives of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, at which moment a heavenly voice proclaimed Jesus’ Messiahship (Matt 3:17; Isa 42:1; 49:3) and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, rested on him (John 1:32). In the Gospel of John, Jesus is proclaimed to be the Lamb of God (Isa 53:7; Rev 13:8) by John not long after his baptism (John 1:36). When Paul founded his theology of baptism on the parallel between the immersion into and coming out of the water and the act of dying and rising with Christ (Rom 6:1–4), it appears that the baptism of Jesus by John was understood as a sign of his future death and resurrection. Jesus himself spoke of his death as a “baptism” according to Luke 12:50. The early baptismal formula “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 8:12) may possibly include a certain identification of the new believer with Jesus. Reproducing in his own person the death and the resurrection of Jesus through baptism, the new believer was also entitled to possess the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian formula later adopted by the Church (Matt 28:19; Did. 7:1), and the epiklesis of the divine name upon the person who is being baptized also points to this original parallel between Jesus’ baptism by John and Christian baptism, though here stressing rather the idea of the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the believer. This aspect of the descent of the Spirit, onto Jesus and the believer alike through the baptismal rite, could have been suggested by such Scriptural passages as Joel 3:1 ff. (“I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind …”), which was expressly quoted by Peter in his discourse on the day of Pentecost in the context of conversion and baptism (Acts 2:17–21). Among the New Testament passages related to the rich theology of baptism, are texts like 1 John 5:6 (“This is he who



came by water and blood, Jesus …,” John 19:34: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water”); John 3:5 (“… unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”); Titus 3:5 (“He saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit”). Charismatic gifts bestowed through the laying on of hands The administration of baptism was accompanied by the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on the baptized, as is attested by the book of Acts. At the baptism of the first gentiles (Cornelius and his family), the Spirit came down on the listeners during Peter’s instruction: a sign that baptism should not be refused to them (Acts 10:47; 11:47). But normally, the gift of the Spirit was received by the laying on of hands after baptism (Acts 8:15–17; 19:6–7). The Spirit manifested its presence in the baptized by means of some external signs, special spiritual powers, freely given by God, the charismata. Paul listed them in this order: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor 12:8–10). Similar lists (Rom 12:6– 8; 1 Cor 12:28–30; Eph 4:11) emphasize the same general categories, with specific references to the various ministries of the Church. The New Testament draws no distinction between these gifts. They are not labeled as natural and supernatural, miraculous and non-miraculous, but they are all considered to be the work of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:4–6) and are related to the needs of the Church (1 Cor 12:14–26). They are intended to comfort, to strengthen, and to guide the Church in its work and worship (Acts 13:1–3; 1 Cor 14:3). The setting of these gifts is essentially eschatological, for they are imparted to the Messianic community, the new Israel of God which inherits the promises of the Spirit’s coming that were made to the old people of God, and testifies to their fulfillment (Acts 2:16 f.; 3:25 f.; Gal 6:15 f.; 1 Pet 2:9 f.). The Spirit is the “first fruits” (Rom 8:23) or the “guarantee” (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:4) of the future inheritance which believers in Christ already taste and share (Heb 6:4; 1 Pet 4:14). The New Testament illustrates God’s gratuitous gift of the charismata with the story of Simon, the Samaritan magician who offered money to the apostles in order to be given the power of conferring the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. “May your



silver be lost forever,” answered Peter, “and you with it, for thinking that money could buy what God has given for nothing!” (Acts 8:9–24). Sunday and Easter The seven day week was taken over by Christians from Judaism, but they changed the sacred day from the seventh to the first day of the week, the day hallowed by Jesus’ resurrection. The observance of the first day of the week as the day when believers met together for the “breaking of bread” and charitable works is noted already in the New Testament (John 20:19–26; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). At the end of the first century, the reason for celebrating Sunday is given in the following words from the Epistle of Barnabas (ch. 15): “We keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in which also Jesu rose from the dead.” The Didache (early second century) contains this passage (ch. 14): “On the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks.” Ignatius (same period) speaks of those who had been converted from Judaism as “no longer observing Sabbaths, but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also rose through Him” (Magn. 9). These passages seem to determine the meaning of “the Lord’s day” in Rev 1:10, the day when John, the writer of the Christian Apocalypse (about 90 CE) was “possessed by the Spirit” and a voice commanded him to write his visions in a book. The religious observance of a special day is also attested to by an external witness: Pliny the Younger, in his letter to the emperor Trajan (104 CE), tells how Christians in his province of Bythinia held a service early in the morning “on a fixed day” (stato die) and a common meal in the evening. This fixed day was, no doubt, the first day of the week, the “first of the Sabbath” according to Jewish reckoning (Luke 24:1). This day was named “Sun-day” (dies solis) according to the pagan, Greco-Roman tradition, which adopted the tradition of a seven-day week from the East (see, for example, a picture found at Herculanum—from before 79 CE—containing the seven planetary deities in the order of their days: Saturn, Apollo, Diana, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus). Justin Martyr (about 150 CE) describes the worship of Christians on “the day of the sun” (Apolog. I, 67). Justin’s readers were pagan. Among Jewish Christians there had been a tendency, at first, to continue the observance of the Sabbath; but this practice came



to be regarded as a mark of Judaizing (Col 2:16; Ignatius, Magn. 9; Diogn. 4), and we do not hear again of any Sabbath observance until the fourth century. The feast of Passover, for which Jewish Christians especially would probably have had a concern, was apparently still celebrated by them, but now with a new meaning. Paul speaks of Christ as the “Pascha” (the paschal victim) which has been sacrificed. An early dispute broke out about the date on which the Christian Passover, i.e., the feast of the death and resurrection of Christ, should be celebrated. Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, and Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, in their letters to Victor of Rome (c. 195 CE) trace the custom of beginning the Paschal feast on the 14th of Nisan, according to the Jewish reckoning of Passover, back to Polycarp (d. 155 CE). Polycarp claimed the apostle John as his authority for this practice. The Roman observance, in which the first Friday following the 14th of Nisan was observed with a fast, was traced by Irenaeus up to Bishop Xystus (ca. 120 CE), and apparently the tradition could be traced no further (Eusebius, CH V, 24). It should be observed that during the first three centuries of the Church, Pascha always meant “Good Friday,” the day of the Passion of Christ (Tertullian, Adv. Jud. 10; De Bapt. 19). Eucharistic celebrations and Agape-meals The communal meal of the early Jewish-Christian community that was designated the “breaking of bread” in Acts probably had a Eucharistic connotation. In Paul’s epistles (1 Cor 10:3 ff.) the common meal of the community is explicitly linked to the Eucharistic institution in the Last Supper. The deep meaning of communion with Christ and his redemptive work in the Eucharistic meal (ibid. vv. 16 f.) has superseded any possible Jewish reminiscence of the act. On the other hand, Paul contrasts this “table of the Lord” with the “table of devils,” alluding to the pagan sacrificial feasts. This has led some scholars to consider a possible Christian transposition of the pagan mysteries. For Paul, the rite was based on a strictly Christian tradition and on a commandment of the Lord (1 Cor 11:23; Luke 22:19). Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples on the eve of his death, celebrated as a Passover meal (Luke 22:7 ff.), was thus interpreted by the early Church as the moment of the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus took the bread, gave the blessing (literally, “gave thanks” = eucharistesas), broke it,



and distributed it to the disciples, saying: “This is my body which will be given for you” (Luke 22:19). He did the same with the cup after supper, and said: “This cup is the new covenant (Jer 31:31) in my blood which will be poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). We have evidence that the early community linked the memorial rite of the Eucharist with the expectation of the second coming of Christ in both the gospel narratives (Luke 22:15–18) and Paul’s statement that “until the Lord comes, every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death” (1 Cor 11:26). These two aspects are based on a third element: the special presence of Christ among those who share the bread and the wine, the blessing of which expressly relates to the death of Jesus. Paul declares that “anyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily towards the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27). And even more clearly: “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16). This communion with the body of Christ, however, is not made possible by means of a magic formula. Paul clearly bases his statement rather on a sociological reason—the fraternal communion among participants in the rite: “The fact,” he say, “that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all share in this one loaf” (ibid. 10:17). In other words, no communion with Christ is possible where there is no love between those participating in the Eucharist. It is significant that John’s narrative of the Last Supper does not mention the Eucharist (but cf. John 6:28–58, Jesus’ sermon on the bread of life); instead, it stresses Jesus’ new commandment of love exemplified by his washing the feet of the disciples and expounded in his farewell discourse (John 13). An opportunity to fulfill this commandment was regularly to be had in the “Agape-meals” of the early Christian communities. Scholars do not yet agree on the exact nature and character of such meals, but what we know about them through Paul’s allusions is enough to understand that it was customary that, when gathering for the Lord’s Supper, everybody brought his own food to eat before the celebration of the Eucharist. Paul disapproved of the custom (1 Cor 11:34) because it gave occasion to serious abuses: “When the time comes to eat, everyone is in such a hurry to start his own supper that one person goes hungry while another is



getting drunk …” (ibid. 11:22). Besides Paul, references to such Agape-meals are also found in the letters of Ignatius (Smyrn. 8), in Pliny’s letter to Trajan, in Tertullian (Apolog. 39), etc. The connection of the Agape with the Eucharist had almost disappeared by the time of Cyprian (third century), when the Eucharist was celeberated in the morning and the Agape in the evening. Augustine (fourth century) refers to it as a charity supper.

Fig. 20 The Last Supper, a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, from the fifth and sixth centuries (© 2013, Photo SCALA, Florence – courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali). Celebration of a fish-meal, certainly related to the Eucharist, seems to have regularly taken place in several places in the earliest centuries of Christianity. Two Greek inscriptions from the end of



the second century (Aberkios’ and Pectorius’) clearly refer to it, identifying the fish which was eaten there with a “big, pure, fountain-fish,” i.e., Christ. Several paintings from the Roman catacombs and later mosaics show believers around a table sharing a meal of fish (Fig. 20). The mosaic pavement of the Byzantine church in Tabgha (fifth century) shows, near the altar, a basket full of loaves flanked by two fish. This church was erected on the supposed site of the multiplication of bread and fish by Jesus (Luke 9:10–17) and of his appearance after the resurrection, when he caused the miraculous catch of fish and gave bread and fish to the disciples (John 21:1– 14). Places of worship After Christ’s Ascension, the apostles went from the Mount of Olives back to Jerusalem, “and when they reached the city they went to the upper room where they were staying” (Acts 1:12 f.). In this room, likely to be identified with the “upper room” of the Last Supper (Luke 22:11 f.), the apostles “joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). They were probably in the same room when, on Pentecost they were given the Holy Spirit and began their missionary activity (Acts 2:1–4). Since the fourth century, this room has been identified with the building on Mount Zion containing the so-called Tomb of David below and the “room of the Last Supper” above. The book of Acts tells us of Peter and John “going to the Temple prayers at the ninth hour” (Acts 3:1). It was also in the Temple area, in the Portico of Solomon, where the early Jerusalem community used to meet (5:12–13). Peter also preached inside the Temple (5:20 f.). The regular communal meals were probably held in a private house, as was also the daily distribution of food and money (Acts 6:1 f.). From the description of a Eucharistic celebration that was observed by Paul with believers in Troas (Acts 20:7–12), we realize that the meeting took place in an “upstairs room,” lit by a number of lamps. A boy named Eutychus, who was sitting on the window-sill, “overcome by sleep, fell to the ground three floors below.” As for baptism, it was probably administered in any place where there was “some water,” enough to get into (Acts 8:36–39).



It was an immersion, as had been the practice since John the Baptist. Among the Diaspora where Jews had no synagogue, they would meet on the Sabbath at riversides for prayers and ritual ablutions, and such was the case in Philippi. Paul joined them on his visit there, and it was probably in the waters of the river where Lydia, “a devout woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade,” was baptized with all her household (Acts 16:11–15). Not long after the Apostolic period, at the beginning of the second century, baptism by immersion in “living water” was preferred; if it was not available, any water could be utilized, either cold or warm, and it was poured onto the head of the catechumen (Did. 7:1–3). The origins of the “Offertorium” During the second and third centuries, the Church put up a conscious resistance to the Gnostic and Docetist interpretations of New Testament history, which consisted of a radical “spiritualization” of both the humanity of Christ and the worship of the Church. Since its beginning, the Church had put a strong emphasis on spiritual rather than materialistic Jewish and pagan conceptions of religion: there was no limitation to a specific place, no temples, and no external manifestations with music and pompous ceremonies. But now, Church leaders had to defend external and material manifestations of the Christian religion. Irenaeus emphasized that the Church offers to the Creator, with thanksgiving, “gifts taken from his creation” (Adv. Haer. IV, 18, 4). “Eucharist is made out of two elements, one earthly and one heavenly,” for the Lord taught his disciples “to offer to God the first-fruits of creation; not because he needs them, but in order that these fruits be not ungrateful and fruitless ….” Like Christ in the Last Supper, who made out of bread and wine, both products of the earthly creation, the offering of the New Covenant, so also the Church “offers to God, who nourishes us; it is the first-fruits in the New Covenant” (ibid. IV, 17, 5). Not long after Irenaeus, Tertullian mentions for the the first time the practice of lay Christians bringing offerings to the Eucharistic table. Hyppolitus also says that every baptizandus must bring an offering for the Eucharistic table. In the middle of the third century, Cyprian points out that regularly (i.e., every Sunday), the faithful bring an offering



to the church, and critiques “the rich lady who comes to the church without an offering (sine sacrificio) and communicates with that which has been brought by the poor” (De opere et elem. 15). It is probable that an offering procession by the attendants had already been instituted, a procession that we later find in all countries and was customary for over a millennium. In Justin’s account of the Eucharistic celebration, the bread and wine were simply “brought,” and what was important was the thanksgiving prayer pronounced over them by the leader of the assembly (I Apol. 65). In the third century the presents of the faithful are offered to God. From the fourth century onward, the solemn procession was accompanied by a special chant, the Offertorium. The underlying symbol of the act is that the presents on which the thanksgiving is pronounced are gifts from the earth, which include something of humanity’s own labor, and which are necessary for the existence of human life. Like the Eucharist itself, the presentation of its material elements has its antecedents in the gospel, not only in the Institution of the Eucharist by Christ in the Last Supper, but also in the miracles of multiplication of some bread and fish, a miracle which in the Gospel of John is apparently interpreted as a symbol of the Eucharist (John 6:48 ff.). Daily prayers It would be a historical error to assume that the devotional life of the first Christians revolved solely around the official liturgical assemblies. Jesus is said to have instructed his disciples in prayer, and the characteristic Christian prayer, the “Our Father,” is explicitly credited to him (Matt 6:9 ff.). It is the “Lord’s Prayer,” and it was jealously preserved by Christian tradition, as attested by such an early witness as the Didache. The passage in question begins with the words: “Do not pray like the hypocrites but as the Lord invited us in his gospel!” Then follows the text of the “Our Father,” with the final doxology: “for to Thee belong the power and the glory forever,” and it ends with this rule: “Pray in this manner three times a day” (Did. 8:2–3). “Three times a day” is a rule which often reappears throughout the next millennium, usually in this form: the Christian prays at the third, sixth and the ninth hour. To pray three times a day was already a Jewish custom (Dan 6:11). Peter and John went



daily to the Temple at the ninth hour of prayer (Acts 3:1). At the same hour, Cornelius was praying when he received his vision (10:3, 30). At the sixth hour Peter went up to the terrace to pray (10:9). At the third hour the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles who had met together in one room (2:1 ff., 15), probably for prayer (1:14). The practice of consecrating a particular time to prayer at the aforementioned hours (which was later officially established in the Canonical Hours tertia, sexta and nona of the Divine Office), was recommended at the end of the second century by Tertullian, who considered it to be a model offered to the faithful by the Scriptures (De oratione 25). The same author, however, considered “compulsory prayers at the beginning of the day and at the beginning of the night” to be a well-known rule. He also recommends private prayers before meals, taking baths, and in the middle of the night. In fact, the idea of sanctifying the day and the night with daily prayer was not a Christian notion, but was probably adopted from Judaism. The Qumran community used to pray “at the start of the kingdom of light, at the climax of its course, and when it goes back to its appointed place; at the beginning of the night vigil and at the summit of the night course, and when it again withdraws before the rising light” (Rule of the Community). As for the contents of this private prayer, although nothing can be drawn from the sources, it soon became very common to meditate upon the successive phases of Christ’s Passion, death and resurrection. Hyppolitus, who in his Apostolic Tradition mentions the three hours of prayer, says that at the sixth hour a powerful prayer must be made “imitating him who prayed and shadowed creation for the sake of the unfaithful Jews.” Even more extensively, he recommends the prayer at the ninth hour, [F]or at this hour Christ … enlighting that what remained of that day, brought it to the evening. Thus causing another day to start, when he began to get asleep, he gave an image of his resurrection. Hyppolitus also recommends the nocturnal prayer: “About the middle of the night, stand up, wash your hands with water, and pray. If your wife is present, pray both together.”



The link between the hours of prayer and meditating upon Christ’s Passion did not survive in the later development of the Canonical Hours. Yet, to a certain extent, it persisted in the popular devotion of the Middle Ages. A number of “Books of Hours,” which contained an abridgment of the Canonical Hours, were illustrated with pious images of the Passion of Christ, proceeding through the story from Prime to Vespers (Stadlhuber 1950: 282– 325). Holiness of Marriage Jesus’ doctrine of marriage can be gleaned from a few sentences in the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 19:3 ff. and parallels), proclaimed during a controversy with the Pharisees. He clearly states the indissolubility of marriage and proves his doctrine with a quotation from Gen 2:24, concluding with the conclusion: “They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.” Then he opposes traditional Jewish halakhah (legal practice) about divorce, affirming that “the man who divorces his wife … and marries another is guilty of adultery.” The Law itself forbade priests “to marry a woman profaned by prostitution, or one divorced by her husband; for the priest is consecrated to God” (Lev 21:7). Divorce was not forbidden, but a certain impurity was attributed to the divorced woman. It is probable that the attitude of Jesus to marriage had something to do with the holiness required by him of his disciples. In the New Covenant, priesthood does not belong to a certain class of covenanters, but to the entire community. Divorce had to be avoided. Paul, when dealing with marriage, quotes “the Lord” as having said that “a wife must not leave her husband … nor must a husband send his wife away” (1 Cor 7:11). Paul interprets Jesus’ prohibition of divorce as a legal proposition which is to be applied to the Christian Church. Jesus’ favorable attitude to the institution of marriage is illustrated in the Gospel of John with his presence at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1 ff.), at which he performed his first miracle. Jesus also used the wedding feast, with its featured waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom, as a symbol of the Kingdom of God (Matt 22:1–10; 22:11 ff.; 25:1–13).



Unction of the sick The anointing of the sick with oil was a primitive form of medical treatment (Isa 1:6; Josephus, War I, 33, 5; Luke 10:34), and was peculiarly apt to be indued with religious meaning. Its emergence in early Christianity was only natural. Moreover, it is stated in Mark (6:14) that, even during Jesus’ life on earth, the apostles already “anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.” But it would probably not have become a sacramental rite in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches had the author of the Epistle of James not made this recommendation: If one of you is sick, he should send for the elders of the Church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14 f.) Not much is known about the sacramental use of oil in the early Church. On one hand, the existence of a late non-sacramental use of consecrated oil is discernible in some medieval Christian texts (the oil being applied to the sick men by themselves or by a woman). On the other hand, there are instances of charismatic healing with oil in the early centuries, like that of Septimus Severus by the Christian Proculus, mentioned by Tertullian (Ad Scap. IV). In the patristic age, it was customary to make use of oil from the lamps of the basilicas, or of oil sanctified by relics. A special formula for blessing the oil has been preserved in Serapion’s Prayer Book (356 CE), the terms of which clearly specify the restoration of health to soul and body. And the anointing of the sick by priests and bishops is explicitly mentioned as one of the sacraments by Pope Innocent I in his letter to Bishop Decentius (416 CE). Death and burial From the viewpoint of comparative religion, Christianity may be considered the latest among the great religions to place at its very center the drama of the battle between life and death. Christ is the redeemer of mankind through his victory against death. The believer must identify himself with Jesus dying on the cross in order to live with the “risen Lord.” Baptism is a symbolic death to



sin which raises Christians up to a new life (Rom 6:3 ff). It was only natural that Jesus’ death should form the very kernel of apostolic teaching. He is “the first-born among the dead” (Col 1:18; Rev 1:15), “freed by God from the pangs of Hades” (Acts 2:24); death, “the last of the enemies to be destroyed” (1 Cor 15:26) is “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54; Isa 25:8). Christ’s triumph will shine in all its glory when, at the end of time, a general resurrection will take place, when Death and Hades will be “emptied of their dead that were in them” and will be “thrown into the Lake of Fire” (Rev 21:14). A “daily death” to sin (1 Cor 15:31) is not a sign of weakness for the Christian (2 Cor 6:9), but gives him or her the opportunity to reveal Jesus’ life in his or her mortal body (2 Cor 4:10 ff.). Facing the death of the body, they know that they “die for the Lord,” even as they have lived for the Lord beforehand (Rom 14:7 ff.). If one dies as a martyr of Christ, pouring out blood as a part of one’s testimony, death is a libation with sacrificial value in God’s eyes (Phil 2:17; 1 Tim 4:6). Like Paul, a true Christian must say, “I shall have the courage for Christ to be glorified in my body, whether by my life or by my death” (Phil 1:20). Early Christian writers do not tell us of many instances of natural death. For them, death was “a sleep,” and the grave was “a resting place,” if somebody had died in faith (John 11:13; Acts 7:60; 1 Thess 4:13 ff.; 1 Cor 15:18–20). Respect was paid to the mortal remains, for their bodies had been “temples of the Holy Spirit,” and were destined to be raised again and glorified. In the JewishChristian community, funeral rituals did not substantially differ from those in the Jewish tradition. When death occurred, the eyes of the deceased were closed, the body was washed, the limbs were swathed, the entire body was wrapped in a linen sheet with myrrh and aloes, and it was laid upon a couch in an upper room (Acts 9:37 ff.; Mark 15:46; 16:1; John 11:44; 19:39 ff.; 20:5 ff.). The younger men carried the bier to the place of internment, followed by relatives and friends (Acts 5:6; Luke 7:14). Flute-players, hired mourners, and noisy demonstrations of grief were doubtless to be encountered on such occasions (Matt 9:23; Luke 8:52; Acts 8:2; 1 Cor 15:54 ff.). The burial place was outside of the city or village, in a natural cave, or in a tomb cut out of the rocky hill-side. John’s descriptions of the tomb of Lazarus and that of Jesus would generally hold for most



early Jewish and Christian burial practices in Palestine (John 11:38; 19:41; Gosp. Peter 6, 10) (Fig. 21). It is probable that Jewish Christians whitewashed their tombs, as did their compatriots (Matt 23:27). The same must be true of the practice of second burial, with or without ossuaries. This custom was maintained by Christians in Palestine for several centuries, long after the Jews had given it up (Figueras 1983:11–12).

Fig. 21. A Jewish tomb carved into stone, Nazareth, first century CE (Bockel 1995: 6, fig. 6). In Rome, as well as in Egypt and North Africa, Jews adapted the Palestinian form of burial to the local conditions, and the early Christians modified these practices still further to meet their own peculiar requirements, borrowing some local practices from contemporary paganism. The wide-spread development of using catacombs as places of Christian burial was simply a renewal of



Jewish and pagan burial customs. A brief inscription expressing the hope of immortality (in pace, etc.), which was sometimes accompanied by a consecrated symbol (a palm-branch, anchor, fish or dove), was usually the final tribute to those who had died “in the Lord.”

CHRISTIAN LITURGY AND PAGAN RITES Pagan mysteries and Christian Mysteries Pagan culture had an influence on early Christian liturgy, though this influence did not extend beyond certain marginal subjects, such as bilinguistic phrases, the external form of various ceremonies and the choice of certain dates for Christian feasts. More serious would be the dependance of Christian sacramental doctrines on contemporary mystery religions, as proposed by some scholars (Lietzmann 1950; Loisy 1948:253–294). From the Apostolic age, the term mystérion occurs frequently in the epistles of Paul, who uses it in reference to God’s secret plan of salvation of the world through Christ. Religion itself is called a mystery. But there is no idea of worship associated with it, either in Paul or other ancient writers, until Irenaeus. Christian apologists like Justin, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, on the other hand, not only recognized the similarities between pagan mysteries and Christian sacraments, but actually accused the pagan mysteries of adopting and imitating Christian ideas and institutions like baptism, re-birth, purification and sacred meals (Clem. Alex. Protr. XII). In the fourth century, when paganism and the mysteries began to succumb to Christianity, Christians ceased to attack them and Christian writers did not hesitate to borrow the terminology of the mysteries when they spoke of the sacraments. Baptized faithful are designated “the initiated,” (memyemenoí, initiati); the teacher is a mystagogós, and his teaching is the mystagogía. Other terms, like hierourgía, hierología, and teleté occur in Pseudo-Dyonisus (ca. 500 CE) and in Byzantine literature. These were, however, borrowings from the external structure of the mysteries, and not doctrinal in any way. If any other influence of the mysteries should be found in Christian liturgical practice, the only one that can be presented with certainty is the “arcane”-discipline, which existed in the Church for



a certain period (third–fourth centuries). It was not concerned with doctrine but certain practices and formulas associated with baptism and the Eucharist that were maintained in secret. The words pronounced during these rites, and particularly the formula of consecration, the Symbolum (Creed), and the Lord’s Prayer were not to be made known to the non-baptized, the pagans, and the catechumens. If they were present for the ceremonies, they had to leave the church after the readings, before the celebration of the Mass properly began. We must stress the point that what men and women sought in the pagan mysteries and in the Christian sacraments was essentially the same thing, namely, salvation. Like many ancient and primitive religions, Greek and Roman mysteries furnished men and women with the possibility of obtaining salvation through the dramatic representation of the life, suffering and victory of a deity. In this drama, they identified themselves with the glorious victim. What is myth in the mysteries became a historical reality for Christians. Pagan and profane rites and their influence on Christian liturgy After Constantine’s decree recognizing Christianity as a legal religion (313 CE), the Church had to face a new situation in which it was no longer possible to reject pagan culture. Constantine started to build huge basilicas capable of receiving masses of the faithful in different cities of the Empire—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Constantinople and Rome. The Church had to face the danger of materialism and laicism, the fear of losing its spiritual values while gaining material splendor. Like several pagan sects and associations before, the Church also adopted the imperial public building or ‘basilica’ for worship. But Christian basilicas were rather austere in their external form. Instead of a magnificent façade, a simple portico separated its interior from the outer world. Inner ornamentation was focused upon the mosaics of the apse, which often depicted nothing more than a Pantocrator, the figure of Jesus as almighty judge (Fig. 22), his serious face and widely opened eyes indicating his continual, allpenetrating and salvific presence in the Church. Thus the ancient Christian basilica was said to exist “without the world, against the world, powerfully attracting men towards its interior” (Luetzeler 1932).



Fig. 22 Jesus as the almighty Judge, a mural in a Romanesque church in Tahull, Catalonia, from the twelfth century (© MNAC – Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, photo: Calveras/Mèrida/Sagristà). Music and chant as they were practiced in all of the ancient manifestations of worship were not appropriate for Christian spirituality and worship. The Church excluded the use of instruments, allowing only homophonic chant with its simple melodies. Responsorial singing and the recitation of Psalms, in



which a soloist sang and the assembly responded with a short verse, was an adaptation of the services in the Jewish Temple and synagogues, as mentioned by Hyppolitus of Rome in his Apostolic Tradition. Ambrose (fourth century) in Milan practiced the singing of Psalms with his community and he himself composed several hymns (Aug., Conf. IX, 14). He is still remembered today in the style of chant that bears his name, as Pope Gregory I (sixth century) is given credit for “Gregorian chant,” the traditional melodic music of the Latin Church. Together with the Greek language, which continued to be used by Christian communities in the West until the third century, a certain Hellenistic style was introduced into the Christian liturgy. Pre-Christian elements are found in the oldest Eastern prayers (as exemplified in the so-called Anaphora of Serapion), such as pompous addresses to God which include long lists of the divine attributes, particularly those in a negative form (infinite, ineffable, incomprehensible, etc.). In a Stoic fashion, early Christians addressed God with hymns praising him for his creation and all of its goods, for the constitution of different species, and for the changes of seasons (Justin, I Apol. XIII). In the fourth century, a Eucharistic hymn includes a long description of nature (Apost. Con. VIII:12, 9–16). In the West, when Latin was finally adopted for the liturgy, Christians gave to liturgic prayers the brevity and conciseness, clarity and austerity which characterized Roman juridical mentality. Liturgical elements, including the litanies which are still in use, may also have a pagan, Roman origin (Lactantius, De mort. pers. 46,6). Roman ceremonial customs were introduced into the liturgy. The liturgical kiss, still in use today, was a sign of reception or initiation in Roman society. The modern day slap that is gently applied by the bishop to the newly confirmed neophyti may originally have been a meaningful kiss. Priests kiss the altar in the same manner as did Greek and Roman pagans. Ite Missa est, the typical Latin farewell formula, was a juridical expression used to conclude public sessions of the court. Burning frankincense was the usual manner of giving worship to the emperor’s statue, as were the practices of bringing flowers and bowing prostrate before it. This was a visible expression of recognizing the emperor’s title Kyrios (Lord), and Christians refused to perform such actions because for them only Christ was Kyrios



(Mart. Polyc.). All of these actions were later transferred into Christian worship. Kings and emperors were accompanied, in public appearances, by their supporting ministers (2 Kgs 5:18). Similarly, two angels accompanied Christ following his resurrection, according to the Gospel of Peter vs. 35–40 (second century). From the imperial court this tradition was taken over into the papal liturgy, and from there into the solemn Mass of the bishops. Two lit candles or torches were brought before Roman consuls and emperors during public sessions. The papal court adopted this custom in the fourth century, and today it still appears in any solemn Mass celebrated by any priest. Pagan religious practices were also adopted by early Christians. One such practice is orientation, i.e., the turning towards the East during prayer. The Jews turned towards Jerusalem (Dan 6:11). Orientation is explained by early Christian sources as a reflection of the fact that Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, situated east of Jerusalem. Paradise was also in the East (Gen 2:8). The “angel of the Lord” (Rev 7:2) comes from the same direction, and the figure of the “Church” who was encountered by Hermas (Vis. I, 4, 3) also came from there. It was therefore reasoned that the expected Lord would come back to earth from the East. This idea was reinforced by the practice of referring to Christ, the “Light of the world,” as “the Sun” (Luke 1:78 f.; Mal 4:2). In the third century, the emperor Aurelian introduced solar worship into Rome, and the sun was designated Sol Invictus. For Christians, Christ was the Sun, and traces of such expression are seen in the paintings of the sun and its chariot in Christian tombs (see excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), and in crosses painted on the eastern wall of rooms consecrated to prayer (Peterson, 1945). Roman priests and faithful turned their eyes to the East during prayers. In Egyptian liturgies, the faithful were invited to make this gesture with the Greek formula, “eis anatólas blépete” (“look East!”). Later on, following the fourth century, “oriented” churches, as well as cemeteries, became the norm in many places. In the Eastern churches it was, and still is, customary to crown the bride and the bridegroom with a wreath or diadem. This was originally a pagan custom that had an apotropaic meaning. Tertullian opposed the adoption of this practice by Christians, but



it was preserved with a new Christian symbolism. In the West, a similar custom held until the ninth century. Funeral rites included a sacrifice for the dead in Roman and other pagan religions. Christians celebrate the Eucharist after burial, and have done so at least since the second century. In the fourth and fifth centuries, a refrigerium for the dead, i.e., a meal served near a tomb at regular intervals, was also customary among Christians. The Church eventually condemned the practice due to the abuses to which it gave rise, though different solutions were offered by different bishops (e.g., Ambrose and Augustine; Quasten 1940: 253–66). The Christian calendar still includes a number of feasts whose origin is certainly older than Christianity. These are adaptations of pagan festivals. For example, Christmas replaced the feast of Sol Invictus (above, Ch. 3, p. 101). The role of the liturgy in the transformation of pagan culture During the fourth and fifth centuries, when the population centers, willingly or not, accepted the Christian faith and the Church absorbed, to a great extent, the vanishing Roman culture, important social institutions such as schools remained outside of the influence of the Church. The Christian instruction of children and adults was the sole domain of the Church, but this activity was not organized. Monks and clerics went out on missions, but their success depended upon their individual strengths and means. However, regular church attendance assured the necessary contact between priests and the faithful. Liturgical celebrations were the regular place of meeting. The reading of Scripture occupied a prominent place in the Sunday Mass, and they were also a part of the morning and evening readings for the Divine Office. Thus, people became familiar with both the Old and New Testament. The role of homiletics, which provided an oral commentary to the readings, explained the Christian interpretation of the Bible to the listeners. Old Testament typology belonged to the public domain, and was occasionally expressed artistically. Each reading was usually followed by a psalm in a responsorial form determined by the priest who was officiating. When the bishop Athanasius was besieged by the emperor’s soldiers in the Church of Theonas in Alexandria, he commanded his deacon to sing Psalm 135 and the faithful to repeat



the response “for his love is eternal.” People did not know many psalms by heart. John Chrysostom argued to those attending his sermon: “Many of you know bad songs, but who among you is able to say even one psalm?” At Naples, all candidates to baptism were to learn Psalms 23 and 117 by heart. The latter was to be said by them in thanksgiving after receiving baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. People not only attended the liturgy, but they took an active part in it. Already Justin speaks of the the “Amen” of the assembly at the end of the great eucharistic prayer. Jerome (fourth century) says that the “Amen” resounded like thunder in the Roman basilicas. Other acclamations that were customary in Roman public occasions were also introduced into the liturgy, and with them people were supposed to express their feelings as well as their approval of the liturgical action and words of the priest. It was a means of manifesting that liturgical prayer was, in an absolute sense, a prayer of the plebs sancta, the holy people of the Church. Together with prayer, people shared the Eucharist, not only by receiving it, but also in their offering of it. In the Orient, people brought their gifts before Mass to the diaconicum, a sort of sacristy near the altar. The gifts that had to be consecrated were brought to the altar after the readings. In North Africa and in Rome, people brought the gifts during the Mass in an impressive procession. In the Lateran basilica, the gifts were apparently placed on seven golden altars which had been donated by Constantine. People brought not only bread and wine for the Eucharist but also oil, wax, candles and other objects, a part of which was to be distributed to the needy. Attendance at Sunday Mass had not become an obligation at this time; yet it was taken for granted that the faithful would go to Mass and that, moreover, they were eager to go. Under Diocletian’s persecution martyrs from Abiatene shouted, “Without SundayMass we cannot [live]!” About the end of the fourth century, in several cities, such as Milan, there was only one liturgical celebration—officiated by the bishop—and there was obviously not enough room for all of the city’s Christians in one church. In Rome it was different, for we know that about 300 CE, there existed no less than 300 churches, and the influence of the liturgy was thus very powerful on all of the inhabitants for the next two centuries.



The cult of the martyrs The annual commemoration of a martyr has its origin in the annual commemoration of the dead in general. Even in Cyprian’s time no formal distinction had yet been drawn between prayers for the dead and invocations asking for their intercession to God. But a martyr’s commemoration was a joyous occasion, as already attested by an ancient addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp (second century). In Africa, the annual commemoration of martyrs is attested since 180 CE (the Scillitan martyrs) and 202 CE (Perpetua and Felicitas). In Rome, the commemorations for popes Callistus, Pontius and Fabian, and the priest Hyppolitus, date from the third century. Later, an annual feast was also established for non-priest martyrs, such as the deacon Lawrence and the virgins Agnes and Cecilia. June 29th was the fixed date for the commemoration of Peter and Paul since the third century. (On this same date there used to be a pagan feast in honor of the founders of Rome). The development of the cult of the martyrs took different forms after the fourth century. The small cellae or memoriae were more or less replaced with great basilicas, such as those of St. Peter on the Vatican and St. Paul on the Via Ostiense, as well as the basilicas of Saints Cornelius, Agnes (Fig. 23), Sylvester, Valentine, Sebastian, Pancratius, Steven, and Neraeus and Achillaeus. The Roman interdict against the exhumation and translation of bodies without a special permit caused all of these basilicas to be erected around the city walls. The same can be said of other cities, such as Antioch, where John Chrysostom compared the martyrs’ shrines to a circle of fortresses girding the town. All of these churches had an underground chapel or crypt where the liturgy was celebrated on the appointed date. Mass was preceded by a vigil. Passages from the Bible and the acta of the martyrs were read divided into small sections, each one followed by prayers and songs. In Rome, during the liturgical celebration special prayers and prefaces were recited according to each occasion. There, during the sixth century, a list of martyr’s names was added to the usual Eucharistic Canon, so as to emphasize the parallel between Christ’s triumph and the victories of the martyrs.



Fig. 23 An orans figure on a marble plaque from the tomb of Saint Agnes, Rome, from the beginning of the fourth century (Haussig 1971, fig. 114). A familial refrigerium also took place at the tombs of the martyrs, a practice which was later suppressed by the ecclesiastical authorities (Hyppone Synode in 393 CE). Augustine’s mother, Monica, was once arrested while she was carrying her basket full of food and wine on her way to the cemetery in Milan. The popular veneration of martyrs and relics increased in both the East and West, to such a point that the danger of robbery influenced the later construction of churches. Relics were all placed in one well-kept spot inside the church, and even today there is not a single Latin church without a special stone box containing relics in the altar. Christological disputes and their influence upon the liturgy Since Apostolic times, prayer was addressed to God “through Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:8, 16:27; 1 Pet 2:5, 4:11), and the faithful pronounced their consenting “Amen” “through him” (2 Cor 1:20). Jesus is a constant intercessor (Heb 7:25) through whom God has revealed life and knowledge to men (Did.). Polycarp thanks God



through the “heavenly Priest,” Jesus Christ (Mart. Polyc. 9). It is therefore certain that in the first and second centuries, the doxologies at the end of prayers expressed the belief that praise and prayer ascends to God through Jesus Christ. In Hyppolitus’ doxological formulas, a new element is added, namely “in the Holy Church” (Eph 3:21). The idea is that only from within the Church, in which the Holy Spirit lives, may men and women offer suitable praise. In a more simple form, other formulas and doxologies feature this expression: “We praise Thee through Christ in the Holy Spirit” (Origen and the Apost. Con.). In a later stage, the term “Christ” is replaced with “Son:” “to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit” (Serapion’s Eucology). Yet, owing to disputes about the person of Christ, and in particular those involving Arianism, the latter formula could be given a false meaning. Church Fathers, such as Athanasius and Basil, were forced to defend the real and complete divinity of the Son who is consubstantialis Patri, according to the Nicaean formula (325) against the adherents to the heresy proclaiming the “subordination” of the Son vis-à-vis the Father. But the doxological formula being used by the Catholic Church at the time (Gloria Patri per Filium in Spiritu Sancto, “Glory be to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit”) seemed to bolster the arguments of the subordinationists, so that a new formula had to be found. This was finally adopted, and is still in use in the West— Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto,—“Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” Controversies were particularly acute in the Eastern Church, and doxologies were changed in order to avoid any trouble with Arianists. New, anti-heretic doxologies were adopted, with slight differences in formulation, by the Patricharchates of Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria. With these new doxologies, the religious mentality of the people suffered a perceptible change. The accent was no longer laid on that which links us to God (Christ, considered to be one of us because of his human nature), but on that which separates us from God (His infinite majesty). The Christian calendar was also influenced by these disputes, especially in regards to Christmas and Epiphany, which have been celebrated in both the East and West since the fourth century. The quick propagation of the two feasts was apparently partly due to the eagerness of the Church to defend the divine majesty of Christ.



In the fifth century, reaction to the heresies of Nestorius, who argued that Christ was two separate persons, (one human and one divine), for which he was condemned at the Council of Ephesus, brought about an increase in the devotion to Mary. A number of churches were then built in honor of the Theotokos, or “Mother of God,” especially in the Orient. In Jerusalem, near Gethsemane, a church was erected on the spot traditionally held to have been the burial-place of Mary. Consecrated on August 15, this date became the Feast of the Dormition, later designated the Feast of the Assumption. It was celebrated in the Orient already before 500 CE, and the emperor Mauritius (d. 608) brought it to the West. Another church erected to Mary near the Pool of Bethesda and dedicated on September 8 gave origin to the Feast of Mary’s Nativity. The Feasts of the Annunciation (nine months before Christmas) and of the Purification (forty days after Christmas) are also of eastern origin. The first is still called Hypapante, i.e., the “Meeting,” by the Greeks in commemoration of the Lord’s manifestation to the aged Symeon. It was already celebrated in Jerusalem when Egeria visited the Holy Land. Such feasts were then introduced into the West during the time of Gregory the Great by way of the numerous monks fleeing the Persian invasion. Another fact related to the Arian disputes should be mentioned, namely, that the reception of Holy Communion became less and less frequent as a result. The emphasis on the divine nature of Christ was accompanied by a popular feeling of unworthiness before the sacramental Presence. Ambrose in the West and Chrysostom in the East attest to this reluctance to receive Communion. Eastern Churches that hold to the doctrine that Christ has only a divine nature have expressed in their liturgies the feelings of fear with which Communion must be received: “Come trembling and receive Communion in sanctity!”

LATER DEVELOPMENTS Ecclesiastical and liturgical provinces During the first three centuries of Christianity, a notable harmony of liturgical uses and rites existed between the different communities all over the Roman Empire. There was, of course, a wide field of freedom to choose from as regards specific liturgical formulae. When in 154 CE the Roman Bishop Anicetus invited his



guest Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna to celebrate the liturgy in his place, nobody seemed shocked by the change of rite or person. Continuous communication linked the main centers of Christianity. But there was also a progressive crystallization of uses and formulae in the liturgy as it was being celebrated in different regions, so that, during the fourth century, improvisation became increasingly restrained. Jerusalem, Antioch, Edessa, Alexandria, Carthage and Rome became Christian metropolises, in which bishops gathered for regional synods. In any case, it was always the metropolitan bishop who presided over the synod, even if it was held outside of the metropolis. The Christian metropolis corresponded only in part to the ancient Roman metropolis. The bishop of Mauritania, for example, attended episcopal councils in Carthage, even though Mauritania did not form part of the Roman province of Africa. Edessa, in Syria, was considered to belong to the Antiochene Patriarchate, but it was actually situated outside of the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The primary factor that brought about the different liturgies was language. Only three languages played a role in the evolution of liturgy, namely Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic), Greek and Latin. Syriac Aramaic was the language of the first Christian community in Jerusalem. It was the language spoken by Jesus, and in which the prayers of the synagogue were recited and the Scriptures exegeted. Not only the Jewish-Christian communities in Palestine, but many other centers, as far-flung as Edessa and its environs in northeastern Syria, developed their own liturgy in Aramaic. Edessa had become the center of the Syrian, i.e., Aramean national community. Its origins are obscure. We know that about 190 CE a synod of eighteen bishops defined there their position on the proper date of Easter. In 201 there is mention of a church there, which was destroyed in a flood. Sometime later, we are aware of a chapel that was built in Dura-Europos. Only in the third century, the Syriac Didascalia tells us something about the early Syrian liturgy. Then, following the beginning of the fourth century, a whole range of Syrian Christian writers, beginning with Aphraates “the Persian” (about 304 CE) and the deacon and monk St. Ephrem (d. in 373), demonstrate for us the cultural and spiritual riches of a Church whose liturgy survives to this day in several



eastern countries, including northern Iraq and the Malabar coast in India, (whose citizens are popularly designated St. Thomas Christians). Many of Ephrem’s hymns are still sung in the Syriac liturgy. A distinction should be made between the Western Syriac liturgy (which was influenced by the Greek liturgy in Antioch) and the older Eastern one. The latter is sometimes called “Persian,” for Syrian Christians belonged to the Persian Empire. Since the sixteenth century it has also been called the “Chaldean” rite. Originally independent, it too was later deeply influenced by the Greek liturgy. On the other hand, the Greek and Latin liturgies were influenced by the Syriac in their turn. For instance, the alternating recitation of a psalm by two choirs, well attested in the West since the fourth century, is of Syrian origin (Vita Ambrosii, 13 and Aug. Conf. IX, 7). The composition of liturgical hymns is another Syrian custom adopted by the West. The Latin hymn Popule meus which used to be sung on Good Friday is, in part, translated from a Syriac original. Greek Chronologically, this is the second liturgical language, and it quickly rose to ranking first in importance. Since Greek was both the language of culture and the most popular tongue in the whole eastern half of the Roman Empire, it soon became the most common vehicle for preaching the Christian message. It was also understood in the West. The New Testament was written in Greek. Paul’s account of the Last Supper (1 Cor 15) contains, in Greek, the earliest formula for the celebration of the Eucharist; the Didache and the first Christian apologies (defenses of the Faith) are in Greek. The liturgy was celebrated in Greek nearly everywhere, and most of the sources of information about Christian life and liturgy up until the fourth century were written in Greek. Latin The Christian community in Rome predominantly spoke Greek and used Greek in its liturgy for more than two centuries. It was only c. 250 CE that Latin replaced it, and has become ever since the cultic and ecclesiastical language of the West. Many different Latin



liturgies were established in the West: the African, Roman, Spanish, Celtic, Gallican and Milanian rites. Other languages The Armenians became one of the first peoples to accept Christianity as a nation due to the conversion of their king, Tiridates III. Their own liturgy, however, as it exists today, is not attested in any documents earlier than the tenth century, and is actually a mixture of Greek and Syrian elements. Nothing is known of its earliest form, which, of course, could not have been literarily fixed until the advent of the Armenian alphabet in the fourth and fifth centuries. The Germanic nations did not accept Christianity before the fourth century. We know that the Goths had a church of their own in Constantinople, where they prayed and read the Bible in their own language. The translator of the Bible into Gothic was Ulfilas. We also know that the Vandals, in North Africa, said the “Kyrie, eleison” in their own language. But the Germans never had a liturgy of their own. Franks, Burgondonians, and Visigoths had invaded Gaul and Spain, and because the Latin language and culture of the local population was seen as superior to their own, they adopted the Latin language. In the West, only Rome was a real center of importance as far as liturgical influence is concerned. The other Latin liturgies were merely regional. This was not the case in the East, where even lesser cities became important cultural centers and exerted a powerful influence. Two of these, Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt, were also political centers. At the Council of Constantinople in 381, an effort was made to develop this organization yet further, using Diocletian’s political pattern as a paradigm for the ecclesiastical system: Cappadocian Caesarea would be the administrative center of Pontus, Ephesus of western Asia Minor, and Constantinople of Thrace. The latter, however, soon overshadowed the others because it was the imperial capital. Jerusalem, because it was a destination for pilgrims, also had a liturgical influence which reached into the far regions of the West. Many details of its own liturgy are included in Egeria’s accounts of her pilgrimage (c. 385). But its position was eventually absorbed by Antioch.



After the fifth century, only three great centers remained in the East, the Patriarchates of Antioch, Alexandria and Byzantium, which gave form to three different liturgical rites: the Western Syriac, Egyptian and Byzantine. After the so-called Monophysites were condemned in 451 by the Council of Chalcedon, national languages were slowly introduced by the reluctant schismatics: Syriac was adopted by the Antiochian Monophysites, and Coptic and Ethiopian by the Monophysites of Egypt and Ethiopia. The Greek people of the region of Antioch remained faithful to the orthodoxy which the emperor adhered to, and this is why they began to be called “Melchites” (from the Semitic word melekh, king) by the Syrians. These Melchites later abandoned their own Syriac liturgy in the Greek language and adopted the Byzantine liturgy. A similar adoption took place with the Greek-speaking Christians in Egypt. Oriental liturgies Normally, the life of Oriental churches today revolves around their liturgies. These contain everything pertaining to their religious and ecclesiastical culture, and even national feelings are primarily centered in the liturgy. This is usually celebrated in the language of the people, at least in part. In every rite, certain formulas, hymns and addresses have been preserved in their original languages (as is also the case in the Latin liturgy, e.g., “Kyrie, eleison,” “Amen,” etc.), even when these languages have ceased to be vernacular. Their antiquity is part of their sanctity, and this means that they must be preserved. But, in general, and especially in the Byzantine rite, Oriental Christians have adopted the vernacular languages of any country in which they happen to live. One characteristic shared by all of the Eastern rites is the active participation of the community in the liturgical services. A deacon provides the link between the priest and the laity. He recites and lead prayers and litanies, to which people respond enthusiastically. Litanies occupy a prominent place in the Byzantine rite, and they are recited four times at each Mass. The “Offertory” takes the form of a “Great Entrance,” frequently in a solemn procession. The “Cherubikon” is then sung: “Let us drive out all worldly sollicitude in order to receive the King of the Universe, invisibly escorted by angelic hosts. Alleluya.” This chant is at least as old as the sixth century.



The Anaphora, or Eucharistic prayer, which corresponds to the Latin Canon, is the central and most important part of the Oriental liturgies. There are a variety of anaphoras, chosen by the clergy according to the circumstances of the day or feast. The most important of the anaphoras in the Byzantine rite are those which are attributed to the saints John Chrysostom and Basil. The contents of the Eucharistic prayer develop a commentary on the salvific work of Christ which includes the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Last Supper. However, in contrast with the Latin churches, Eastern liturgies do not emphasize the particular moment of the “consecration” of the bread and wine. In the East, the consecration is believed to take place at the epiklesis, an invocation to God asking him to send his Holy Spirit to perform this work. A similar epiklesis takes place before the reception of the Eucharist. Already Hyppolitus of Rome (c. 215 CE) furnishes us with a formula of epiklesis of Communion in which God is asked to fill the participants with the Holy Spirit. Before Communion, which is always received in the two “species” of bread and wine in the East, there is the complicated rite of the “fraction of the bread,” accompanied by appropriate prayers and hymns. An invitation to Communion is made by the priest with the ancient formula “ta hágia tois hágiois”—“the Holy Things for the holy people.” Latin liturgies From the third century onwards, when Rome adopted the Latin language for the Eucharistic celebration, we can distinguish two primary groupings of Latin liturgies: Rome and North Africa on the one hand and the Gallican liturgies on the other, and the latter can be further divided among the strictly Gallican, Spanish, Celtic and Milanese. Spanish Also called “Mozarabic” in reference to meridional Spain’s subjection to Muslim rulers in 711, the Spanish liturgy is a special rite that was still in use in the twelfth century when the northern regions of Spain adopted the Roman rite. The Spanish liturgy was fully developed as early as the sixth century, and was deeply influenced by the struggle with Arianism. This is understandable in



as much as the invading Visigoth’s, who were Arian, did not officially accept Catholicism until 589, with the conversion of Reccared. Consequently, the glorification of the Holy Trinity occupied a prominent place in the old Spanish rite. A series of councils in Toledo produced Trinitarian formulas of faith, and liturgical prayers were adapted to these formulas. The Spanish Trinitarian prayers and formulas later influenced the Roman liturgy, finding their way throughout Ireland, England and the Holy Roman Empire. The Spanish liturgy is still celebrated in a special chapel in Toledo. Gallican In its strict sense, it was celebrated in the lands of ancient Gaul, the land of the Franks. Most of its extant documents belong to the seventh century, although some are older. The composite character of the Scripture readings and prayers in a poetic form is typical of the Gallican rite. There is a lack of order and concision, features that typify the Roman liturgy. The Arian controversy left traces here, as well. There are numerous prayers, for instance, that are addressed directly to Christ. Some of these later entered the Roman Missal. Gallican tradition gave origin to popular medieval devotions, with its marked preference for the mysteries of Christ’s childhood and Passion. Celtic Belonging to the Celtic population of the British Isles, particularly the Irish and Scottish nations, its language was Latin, because the Celtic languages did not become written tongues until much later. In the earliest documents of this liturgy (seventh century), prayers are in Latin, while some of the rubrics are in Celtic. There was very little original to this liturgy, and some of its elements were borrowed from the Spanish, Gallican, Roman and even Eastern rites. Milanese A special liturgy, also called “Ambrosian,” is still celebrated in the entire diocese of Milan, in northern Italy. In its present form, it exhibits many elements from the Roman liturgy, such as a retouched Roman Canon, but it also contains forms and formulas



that are typical of the ancient Gallican rite. It is possible that Milan was the origin of all four of the so-called Gallican liturgies which spread over Europe. If this is so, the fact that many of Milan’s bishops were of Eastern origin would explain why Eastern influences can be perceived in the Gallican rites. Roman and North African Rome and North Africa form another particular group of ancient Latin liturgies. Neither complete documents nor liturgical books from the African liturgy have been preserved, but many patristic references (Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine and others) share many details of the structure of the Mass and the ecclesiastical calendar. Bishops had a restrained freedom of choice of texts to be used in the liturgy, as was prescribed by a council in Hippo. But many lines of the Eucharistic celebration run parallel to those of the Roman liturgy. The earliest documents relating to the Roman liturgy are in Greek. The Apostolic Tradition, a text written by the Roman priest, anti-pope, and martyr Hyppolitus, (whose statue is preserved in the Lateran Museum in Rome), is the primary source of information. It includes the earliest extant collection of laws regulating the organization of the clergy, liturgical ceremonies, and Christian life. Major and minor ecclesiastical orders (bishop, presbyter, deacon, confessor, widow, lector, virgin, sub-deacon and exorcist) are mentioned, and rules are issued concerning subjects such as the celebration of the Mass, the administration of baptism, fasting, agape-meals, the times of prayer and devotion, reserving the Eucharist in the home, and the Sign of the Cross. The Eucharistic celebration displays a great freedom of improvisation of prayers on the part of the bishop. Following the witness of this precious document, there is a gap in the liturgical documentation. The so-called Leonian and Gelasian “Sacramentaries” are, especially in their present form, from a much later date. These books (Libri Sacramentorum) were used by the bishop of Rome before Pope Gregory the Great (sixth century) for the celebration of the Mass and the administration of the Sacraments. Only variable and invariable prayers for the Mass throughout the ecclesiastical year are included in such collections, and this supposes the existence of other liturgical books, such as Lectionaria for the scriptural readings, and Hymnaria or Gradualia for



the chants (Introitus, Graduale, Alleluia, Tractus, Offertorium and Communio). Popes Leo I and Gelasius I (fifth century), even if they only actually wrote or collected a portion of the books ascribed to them, must certainly be considered to have had a decisive influence on the development of the Roman liturgy before Pope Gregory I’s sweeping reforms. The Canon of the Latin Mass was, substantially, of an earlier date, for it is already quoted by St. Ambrose in 390 CE. The practice of assembling in a determined Statio to celebrate certain feasts proved significant when variable texts of the Mass for each Sunday and feast of the ecclesiastical year were being assigned. The term Statio, which often occurs in the old sacramentaries, refers to the church in which that particular liturgy was to be celebrated (Statio ad S. Anastasiam, ad S. Petrum ad vincula, etc.). The faithful from all parts of Rome would gather in these churches, and when the pope arrived riding his horse from the Patriarchium in the Lateran, a prayer was recited and the Mass began. Texts were adapted to the feast and special circumstances. It seems that the general organization of the Roman Stationes was fixed in the fifth century by Pope Hilarius, the immediate successor to Leo the Great.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS It is not surprising that the Jewish background of the first believers in Jesus influenced the development and style of Christian worship. At the very beginning, this influence came to expression in the participation of the apostles in the daily prayers of the temple, following Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, as well as in the celebrations of the Lord’s Supper that took place in private homes: the breaking of bread recalls the Jewish kiddush, a blessing over bread that occurs on Sabbaths and festivals. The reading of Scripture and the exegesis on the part of the presider that follows—another Jewish custom that was widespread in synagogues—is still an inseparable part of the liturgy of both ancient and modern churches. Christians single out two of the most important festivals from the Jewish calendar—Passover and Pentecost—but they associate them with a meaning connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers.



The Fathers of the Church understood the significance of the Lord’s Supper or “Eucharistic Celebration,” as a Sacrament which bestowed on believers the possibility to draw near to Jesus in his sacrifice on the cross. The liturgical elements that interpret the Eucharist as a sacrifice, elements that were later rejected by Protestant theologians, were put in place already in the earliest days of Christianity. In the book of Revelation, John sees the Lamb who was slain standing before the throne of God, and he speaks of this as though the sacrifice of the Messiah had replaced the system of sacrifices that existed in the Temple. Every custom and ritual wears the symbolic meaning of the heavenly and eternal liturgy that is conducted by the angels and the saints, as they sing the Triságion and proclaim the glory of God in traditional words of praise such as “Amen,” “Halleluyah” and “Hosanna.” From the moment that the people who are the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16)—the Church of believers in Jesus—was authorized to proclaim and to express its faith freely, the material framework of necessity was made to evoke a heavenly atmosphere. Many basic elements in a typical Christian basilica, such as the image of the Messiah that appears in the apse under the guise of the Divine Judge (Pantocrator), together with the organized song of the worshippers in holiness and the weight of glory that accompanies the liturgical rituals, are meant to remind the participants that their worship upon earth is but a hint to the eternal joy awaiting them in heaven. Apart from the development of the rite of the Lord’s Supper in the Christian Church, other customs drew from Jewish traditions, and the most observable among them is baptism. However, these customs wore a renewed meaning. From the period of John the Baptist and the Essenes in Qumran, the halakhic ritual of cleansing had become an outward expression of an inward change, but in Christian baptism the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the baptized was underlined. The idea of “Sacrament” includes the grace of God freely given to the person who receives him in faith, and this is especially emphasized in the Lord’s Supper. Apart from this, the outward action of baptism symbolizes one’s identification with the Messiah in his death and resurrection. The person who is baptized becomes a new individual who has risen back to life, and though he or she may live in this world, they do not belong to it. In no other period did Judaism



reach this level of meaning in relation to the different customs of cleansing, including immersion in a miqveh. This chapter has also reviewed the history of early liturgy, and its forms and structures in different lands and periods. The debates concerning the person of Jesus came to expression in the liturgy, and priests and laity prayed with theological formulas that were created as time progressed. The extemporaneous, spontaneous prayer of the first believers made way for written texts, retouched at different times through the centuries, in both the East and West.

CHAPTER 6: THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIAN MONASTICISM One of the most striking features of Christian life is its ascetic aspect. Since early times asceticism has manifested itself in the various forms of monasticism, such as consecrated virginity, the eremitic life, coenobitism, and lay confraternities. Though monasticism is not exclusive to Christianity (other religions, such as Buddhism, have similar institutions), it appeared in the early centuries of Christianity for unique reasons. As such, it is independent of some similar tendencies in Judaism and in the classical world.

BIBLICAL AND JEWISH ANTECEDENTS Prophetic schools In the Old Testament, the prophetic gift was not only a personal charism, but in certain periods and places it took the form of a social institution. Saul was seized by the Spirit of God when he encountered a group of prophets in their mantic exhilaration. This association of prophets, who frequented the mountains to consecrate their time to prayer and worship (1 Sam 9:11–24; 1 Kgs 3:4), lived in Gibeah and Ramah. Some centuries later we find the “sons of the prophets” gathered around Elisha (2 Kgs 2–9, passim). They lived in Bethel, Jericho and Gilgal; they had a meeting-room where they sat before Elisha (2 Kgs 4:38, ff.; 6:1), and they shared communal meals (2 Kgs 38–42). This style of life was simple and poor (2 Kgs 6:5; 4:1,38,42), though the members of the group could be married and possess their own property (2 Kgs 4:1). Similar associations of prophets, though they were largely associated with Baal worship, also existed 203



in Israel at the time of Elijah (1 Kgs 18:19) and Jeremiah (Jer 23:13). The Essenes and the Qumran Community The Essenes, as we know them from various documents composed in the so-called inter-testamental era (second century BCE–first century CE), were an organized community, holding tenets such as common property, asceticism and poverty, prayer and work, common meals and religious exercises, the observation of silence and celibacy (see Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, Pliny and Solinus). The Dead Sea Scrolls (especially the Manual of Discipline) ascribe similar characteristics to the members of their sect. The ruins of Khirbet Qumran are thought to have been the headquarters of the Essene sect, who probably maintained a community there for a certain period of time. The rule of the sect places a strong emphasis on obedience, discipline, celibacy and the study of the Law. This study was to be conducted in an unbroken stream, even during the hours of night, and the members of the community dedicated themselves to it according to a fixed schedule. Candidates for membership in the community were subject to a two-year probationary period, after which the community council decided on their aptitude. The Therapeutae In his treatise The Contemplative Life, Philo describes a Jewish institution in Egypt that went by the title of the “Therapeutae.” It bore a striking resemblance to the life led by later Christian monks. Their distinguishing features were renunciation of the world, prayer, community life, nocturnal vigils, choral responsorial singing, fasting and other mortifications. Their monasteries were located in Lower Egypt, near Lake Mareotis, not far from Alexandria. Modern scholarship, though denying any direct influence on early Christian monasticism by the Therapeutae, accepts the veracity of Philo’s testimony. Havurot Despite the fact that this name seems to have been first used in Babylon to refer to Palestinian Jewish sages of the second period (the “Amoraim”), we use it here to refer to the groups of haverim,



i.e., religious associations which existed in Palestine already in the period of Hillel and Shammai in the first century BCE. They were groups of Pharisees who undertook to observe meticulously the halakhic laws of terumah (“a donation”) and ma‘aser (“tithe”) as well as the regulations of purity and impurity. Candidates were subjected to several periods of instruction and probation, passing upwards through different levels. These included solemn declarations of readiness to fulfill the increasingly more stringent observations of ritual purity that were incumbent upon a full haver (“member”). The group could be joined by anyone who wished, including women and slaves. Reasons for community life Obviously, the reasons for such associations in Judaism differed one from another. Although in the background there was always a common desire to live out one’s religious aspirations in a deeper way, political and social factors were actually equally decisive. The Essenes separated themselves from the Jerusalem priesthood that was, in their eyes, unworthy, illegal and actually in serious doctrinal error. The communal sharing of goods enabled them to live the religious, biblical ideal of poverty, so that they called themselves “the poor” (evionim). As a result of their ideology, the members of the havurot obliged themselves to avoid all contact with the so-called ‘am haareṣ, i.e., the common people, in the sense of people with no concern for religious laws. This created serious social and even familial problems, and the strict bonds of the group helped to support its members in their specific problems.

PAGAN DOCTRINES AND MOVEMENTS Stoicism Stoicism holds a place of honor among the pagan antecedents of Christian civilization because it is one of the philosophical doctrines that most influenced the late Roman thought. Its tendency to ethical indifference and its recommendation of spiritual strength in the face of misfortune holds much in common with certain aspects of Christian asceticism. The Stoic held selfsufficiency as an ideal, and this was to be obtained by living in



accordance with nature. The aim was tranquility as the expression of the highest pleasure, understood to be the complete removal of pain, both mental and physical. Stoicism emphasized temperance as one of its four cardinal virtues. It was, like Christianity, a way of life for everybody. Roman writers have given us, in many of their heroes, the typical image of the Stoic: Virgil’s Hercules and Aeneas in mythology, and Scipio the Younger and Cato of Utica in history. Later monastic ideals are certainly based on New Testament doctrines, but some of the latter are presented in typical Stoic terminology, like Paul’s “endurance” and “temperance,” and his picture of the Christian warrior armed with “the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:13). Thus, Stoic writers like Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and many others are not to be forgotten in the general context of the history of Christian monasticism. Pythagoreanism and Orphism Although it is difficult to determine to what extent Pythagoras himself was an ascetic, we find unmistakable traces of asceticism even among the oldest Pythagoreans. Their ideals were purity (in the ceremonial, religious sense), silence (originally with the purpose of avoiding sacrilegious or ill-omened language during the ceremonies) and continence. Their asceticism promoted ethical virtues such as temperance. We know that two of Pythagoras’ tenets were the immortality of the soul and its transmigration. Both of these are closely related to the asceticism practiced by Orphism, and Pythagoras was undoubtedly acquainted with its mysteries. The Orphic sect, which in the sixth century BCE appears to have had its main center in Athens, was later rooted in southern Italy; (Orphic texts on golden lamina were found in tombs in Petilia, fourth and third centuries BCE). Orphic asceticism prohibited food obtained from animals, including eggs. Beans were also forbidden. The reason for these prohibitions, however, was that some of these things were ritually eaten by the chthonioi in their sacrifices to the dead; in the case of eggs, there was also the consideration that these contained the germ of life. Yet, in general, it seems that fasting was promoted. In contrast with a general tendency in Greece, Orphism laid a strong emphasis on morality. Its members, who called themselves the “pure and holy,” organized themselves into societies called thiasioi. These spread not only throughout Greece, but also into Italy, Africa, Gaul and other countries in the



latest centuries of the pagan Roman Empire (Lactantius). Initiation, prayers, hymns and unbloody sacrifices were celebrated in these confraternities during the night. Neo-Platonism This Alexandrian school of philosophy of the second and third centuries CE taught a kind of mysticism, more philosophical than religious, in which moral ideas and ascetic practices held an important place. Though for some time it was thought that Neoplatonic ideals exerted an influence upon the origins of Christian monasticism, nowadays the contrary is held to be true. There were real ascetics among the Neo-platonics, the most famous being Peregrinus, a philosopher who converted to Christianity; but when he was imprisoned for his new faith, he apostatized as soon as he was released. He then undertook a severe ascetic life, and at last he willingly put an end to his life by committing his body to the flames. Other pagan ascetics were, according to Bishop Epiphanius (fourth century CE), the Massilians, who, renouncing marriage and every material possession, gathered together in their many oratories to sing hymns composed to the Supreme Being. The Christian emperors who followed Constantine persecuted them. Worshippers of Sarapis Some scholars once believed that Egyptian monasticism directly originated in the katochoi, or pagan recluses, who lived in the temples of the Egypto-Hellenistic god Sarapis and their dependencies. However, the only thing that we know about this subject is that according to his most ancient biographer, the real founder of Christain coenobitic life in Egypt, Saint Pachomius, withdrew to an abandoned temple of Sarapis in Schenesit, and that, while there, he was granted a vision of God. In fact, the analogies that have been drawn between Sarapis’ worshippers and Christian monks are only apparent. In the first case, the aim was to obtain a healing or oracle by means of the rite of incubation, for which they would spend a long period in the temples. There were some who, claiming to be possessed by Sarapis, made the temple their permanent abode, exploiting the beliefs of people seeking the mercy of the god.



MONASTICISM AS A CHRISTIAN PHENOMENON Doctrines from the Gospel and Paul The monastic ideal in Christianity has always been the absolute renouncement of all that is earthly in order to gain access to heavenly, imperishable goods. Early Christian monks did not follow any other line of behavior than the evangelical counsels, understood in their literal sense: “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matt 19:21). “You cannot be a slave both of God and of money. That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it …” (Matt 6:24–25). “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24). Peter and his companions, who left their boats and nets and followed Jesus when he called them (Matt 4:18–22), or Matthew, who abandoned in one moment the customs-house to follow him (Matt 9:9) served as clear examples to the early monks. They wanted to imitate them as they pursued their new life. Similarly, the gospels warned them of the hardships of such renouncement in cases like that of the young man who, wishing to possess eternal life, asked Jesus for the magic rule. When Jesus responded, “Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then come, follow me,” the young man “went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth” (Matt 16:16–22). As for continence, Jesus’ words are unmistakable: “There are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can” (Matt 19:12). Paul similarly praises celibacy for the sake of God as the highest status to be achieved by those following Christ: “This is a suggestion, not a rule: I should like everyone to be like me, but everybody has his own particular gifts from God …” (1 Cor 7:7). “I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord” (1 Cor 7:32). “The man who sees that his daughter is married has done a good thing, but the man who keeps



his daughter unmarried has done something even better” (1 Cor 7:38). To the practices of absolute poverty and chastity, Christian monks added the vow of obedience, which consisted of following the footsteps of Christ, recognizing him as their Master, and submitting themselves to those who represent him. They found a perfect example of their obedience and self-renouncement in the absolute submission of Jesus to his Father’s will as expressed in his suffering and his death on the cross. The typical distribution of time in a monk’s life was divided between prayer and manual labor. (Ora et labora is still a leitmotif in the Benedictine order). This was also based on the New Testament, where Jesus is said to have often spent the entire night in prayer, (Luke 6:12), and Paul is recorded to have earned a living making tents in order not to be a burden to anybody (Acts 18:1–3; 20:33–35; Phil 4:14–16). Fasting, another activity of Christian ascetics, was also founded on Jesus’ words, when he foretold that a time would come when “the bridegroom shall be taken away from them; that will be the time when they will fast” (Luke 5:35). Among the first Christians, James had a reputation as a great ascetic: he was sanctified from his mother’s womb; he never drank wine, nor any other fermented drink, and was a vegetarian. His hair and beard were never cut. He never made use of ointment and never took a bath. His dress was of linen. His austere life is reminiscent of John the Baptist, who “wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matt 3:4). To this day, John remains the primary example of asceticism for Christian monks. The greatest Western monastic leader, St. Benedict of Nursia, held a special veneration for him. According to his biographer, St. Gregory, Benedict erected a chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist on Monte Cassino in Italy on the spot where an ancient pagan temple to Apollo had stood. Since the fourth century, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has also stood out as an example for ascetics and virgins (Methodius of Olympus, Convivium, and the anonymous Epistle to the Virgins). Among the first group of disciples, some figures probably interpreted the evangelical counsels to include virginity. Thus, the four daughters of Philip the deacon were all virgins and prophetesses. According to the Church historian Eusebius, two of



them died and were buried in Caesarea with their father, and a third was buried in Ephesus. Deacon Nicolaus, the founder of the heretical Nicolaitans, taught, according to Clement of Alexandria, the mortification of the flesh; having abandoned his wife, he lived in continence with his virgin daughters. The ideal of the early community in Jerusalem Some ancient monastic rules, like that of St. Benedict, exhibit the spirit and way of life of the early Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem as the ideal example for cenobitic monks, i.e., for groups of monks who chose to live together an ascetic life in an organized community: The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common …. None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need. (Acts 5:32, 34–35) Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus, was an example of such behavior (Acts 5:36 ff.). But the fraud of Ananias and Sapphira, who attempted to keep back part of the money from the land they sold, resulted in their being punished with sudden death when Peter rebuked them (Acts 5:1–11). Reaction to the secularization of the Church Ascetic practices, including perfect continence, were prevalent throughout the first centuries of Christianity (Shepherd of Hermas, Sim. XI, 29, 1; Justin Martyr, I Apol. 29; Minutius Felix, Octavius, 31; Tertullian, De velandis virginibus, 10; Cypr., passim). They also were the normal behavior of some dissident groups, like the Marcionites, owing to the fact that their basic doctrine, Gnosticism, held matter to be essentially evil. Others, such as the members of the Encratite sect, favored abstinence of wine and meat, conjugal continence and virginity as sole way to attain the Kingdom of God. But within Orthodox Christianity, asceticism as such did not take a more coherent form and receive a real emphasis until external pressures pushed some people to flee from the established communities in



search of a shelter for their spiritual life. One of these reasons was the fact that, with the extraordinary growth of the Church, it became more and more involved in secular affairs. Even virgins and ascetics began to look for special privileges within the community. Cyprian, in the middle of the third century, issued special regulations for the cases of persons who violated their promise of continence and virginity. It seems today that there were vague attempts made towards the formation of coenobitical agglomerations in Syria and Palestine as early as the second century (Pseudo-Clem. Rome, Epistle to the Virgins), and that sporadic congregations of ascetics had even existed in Egypt at the end of the third century, though in general, these lived in isolation, not far from their villages (see Athanasius). These congregations were formed by Hieracles. The virgins, in contrast to the hermits, are known to have lived together in special constructs called Parthenons. But it was only after peace was achieved in the Empire, when thousands of people embraced Christianity as the recently recognized religion, and after the council of Gangres (325 CE) had declared that the evangelical counsels regarding poverty and virginity were not addressed to all believers, that a deep split took place within the Christian community. Virgins and ascetics now left the world and searched for peace outside of the large cities, even in the deepest parts of the desert. We hear of incidents of ascetics abandoning their relative solitude in the city for the established monasteries in the wilderness. Because they could not stand the secular life of the clergy (see Athanasius). Sometimes, such separation from the established clergy was accompanied by continuous and severe denunciation of their depravations. This was the case of the Audians, founded by Audius of Mesopotamia, who was sent to exile in Scythia. Proscribed and expelled from that region in 371, the Audians spread over the borders of the Euphrates, onto the mountains of Taurus, Palestine and Arabia, where they existed until the fifth century. Nostalgia for martyrdom Nobody held a higher prestige within the Christian community than those who had suffered for the sake of their faith. Those who died in their torments for their faith were called “martyrs.” Those



who survived were designated “confessors.” Next in rank were the virgins. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in the third century, ranked them all together (De mortalitate). But a double glory (gloria geminata) is reserved for the virgins who have added martyrdom to their special merit. With peace prevailing in the empire, monks and hermits submitted themselves to the most extraordinary, and often extravagant, ascetic practices so as to gain with their self-imposed torments the palm of martyrdom. When, in 311, Egypt once again witnessed martyrs sentenced to death by Maximinus Daia, Anthony, the famous founder of the first monastic congregation left the desert with a great number of monks and went to Alexandria to assist the martyrs by dying with them. They were rejected by the police. When the persecution ended, Anthony and his companions returned to the desert, but Anthony multiplied his fastings and vigils and refused any kind of relief. Like the martyrs, Christian monks considered themselves to be athletes of Christ, among whose exercises of mortification fasting was essential. Early hermits easily passed two, three and even five days without taking any food. Those known as hebdomadarii had the custom of eating only once during the week, on Sunday. It is chiefly in the monasteries of the East (Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor) that one comes across extraordinary forms of mortification. There were, first of all, the Stylites and the Dendrites, who condemned themselves to perpetual immobility, the former on their columns, the latter on the branch of a tree. There were the boskoi or ‘Browsers’, mentioned by Sozomen (fifth century). These were solitaries of Mesopotamia, and were so called because they lived on grass like cattle. Others, again, chained themselves to a rock, or bore on their shoulders a species of cangue, or yoke. Sozomen also speaks of a Syrian monk who abstained from eating bread during eighty years. (Cabrol 1964). A hundred other practices could be added, as attested by early monastic writings, including the curious custom of living secluded from any outer relations, enclosed in a room of the monastery, a special cell in the garden, or a natural cave, sometimes built with ceilings so low that the person inside would never be able to stand



erect. These were called reclusi, “the locked-up ones,” and their cells have been discovered in Syria and Jordan. Some of the most famous among them were Barsanuphius and John of Gaza, who were in the monastery of Seridon, located between Gaza and Maiumas, in the fifth century. Their spiritual letters have been published. Ascetic life as warfare against the devil The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians has a passage that was particularly dear to Christian ascetics, for they saw in it the Scriptural basis and justification for their readiness to selfmortification: Grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power. Put God’s armour on so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens… (Eph 6:10–12) The devil’s pervasive presence was significant to these spiritual warriors who tried not only to resist his temptations, but to outwit his tactics. He used to visit them in all kinds of forms, and they were required to recognize and then despise him. He could transform himself into a snake or a turtle in their limited water supply, or appear to Anthony the Great in the guise of a beautiful woman, and to Dorotheus as an Ethiopian girl that he had seen in his youth. The devil did not come alone. A whole host of demons lived in the desert, in the ruins, in the caves, and particularly in abandoned temples and tombs. There the hermits would meet the enemy. When the devils saw Anthony for the first time, they openly expressed their anger: “Out of our territory! What do you do in this desert?” And as Satan saw others beginning to follow the same course of life, he sadly lamented: “No place is left for me … Christians are everywhere, and even the desert is full of monks.” Demons formed a true army, with a central command and a welldeveloped strategy. Sometimes they would attack en masse, at other times they preferred individual combat. They often revealed a sense of humor, and attempted to bring the serious monks to laughter. They might shout, scream, cause night-terrors, or be cruel and brutal. They were always intelligent and patient. Their masks



and disguises were many: lions, bears, leopards, dragons, donkeys, bulls, snakes, scorpions, and other quite fantastic forms. They would appear as foul-smelling Ethiopians, gigantic men, heretic clerics and controversialists, pious and experienced hermits, and even as angels and Christ himself. Their means of attack were not solely evil thoughts, visions and hallucinations. They would often resort to physical attacks, beating the poor monks with violent blows in an attempt to persuade them to leave the desert and their “angelic” way of life. Monasticism and the angelic life Early monks knew that they were fighting against the devil, not only in defense of their own souls, but also as participants in the great, cosmic war for the Kingdom of God, and they regarded themselves to be the vanguard of the Church. As Evagrius Ponticus put it, all of rational creation is divided among three segments, all of which are at war: “One is fighting (humanity), the second comes in help of the fighters (the angels); the third part fights against the fighters (the devils).” He adds that “the air is full of holy angels who fight for us,” echoing the well-known, biblical theme that receives its best expression in John’s Apocalypse. Abbot Isidorus once revealed to Abbot Moses, who was afflicted by grave temptation, the two warring armies: devils in the West, angels in the East. Angels are models and helpers of the monks in their war against the powers of darkness. They are the friends and servants of the people of God. They are their guides, consolers and defenders. They are present at the moment that the monks make their solemn promise to God and accept their holy habits. St. Ambrose affirms that the consecrated virgins are accompanied by a “special escort,” the angels: “There is nothing strange in the fact that angels fight on your account when you, in your way of life, fight like angels. Those who have deserved to live the angelic life, do they not deserve to be protected by angels?” Monastic life was considered to be a “heavenly way of life,” (ouranion politeia) and “angelic life” (bios aggelikos). The early monks were convinced that angels played an important part in the foundation of monasticism. It was an angel who taught Anthony the Great to divide the monks’ time between prayer and work, in order to make mockery of the demon of acedia. It was an angel



who dictated to Pachomius the first monastic rule. Angels paid visits to monks and watched them while they slept. Some monks, like Onuphrius, were said to receive Communion periodically from the hands of an angel. Angels comforted monks in their last moments, invited them to ascend to heaven, and took their souls up to Paradise. Actually, what a monk is striving for is to live the Paradisical life on earth. Familiarity with the angels makes him a true heavenly citizen. And the future, heavenly Jerusalem is already a present reality in the monastery. According to Bernard of Clairveaux, handing down ancient traditions that he had received, a monk is monachus et Hierosolymita, i.e., “a monk and a citizen of Jerusalem.” The monk attempts to make the ancient Christian ideal of fuga saeculi, flight from the world, a reality: “Nothing more important in this word,” said Tertullian, “than to get out of it as soon as possible.” “Who has been made similar to angels, let him get away from men,” said the monk Aphraates. This is the reason for such expressions as “Paradise of solitude” and “Paradise of the cell” in reference to the monastic life. “Those who receive visits of men,” said the Egyptian monk Shenute, “cannot receive visits of angels.” Pope Gregory I wrote of St. Benedict, the Patriarch of Western monasticism, that “his face was peaceful, he was adorned with angelic customs, and so great was the brightness he irradiated that, still remaining on earth, he already lived in heaven.” On the other hand, monastic life seems to be a return to the earthly Paradise. The monk strives to reach the original sanctity and the fruition of the gifts that accompanied it. Some ancient hermits practiced innocent nudity. A number of these held an absolute power over nature, such as Adam held over animals before his fall. Lions, wolves, snakes, and basilisks are said to have been not only innocuous, but the humble servants of many ancient monks.

EASTERN MONASTICISM Egypt: Paul, Anthony and Pachomius, hermits and cenobites Though it has long been contested, it now seems that St. Jerome’s Vita Pauli (the biography of Paul, the first hermit), is an original work, and as such a reliable source for the life of the first of the hermits (heremitai, from heremos, “desert”), as Paul of Thebes has been traditionally called. He withdrew to the desert not before the



middle of the third century, and towards the end of his life he made the acquaintance of St. Anthony, who had made an adventurous trip to the desert surrounding Thebes in order to meet him. Anthony was born in Middle Egypt about 250 CE. When he was twenty, as he heard the words of Jesus in the public reading of the gospel: “If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own, and give the money to the poor …,” he received the words as a personal call and acted accordingly. He went to live among the ascetics who dwelt in his native environs. After spending fifteen years in this manner, he went into complete solitude, taking up his abode in a deserted fort at a place called Pispir, on the east bank of the Nile opposite the Fayyum, now called Deir el-Memūn (c. 285). In this retreat he spent twenty years in strictest seclusion, completely given up to prayer and religious exercises. A number of those who wished to lead an ascetic life congregated around him. At last, he bent to their requests to become their guide and teacher, and emerged from his seclusion to become the inaugurator and first organizer of Christian monasticism (c. 305). The form of monastic life that drew its inspiration from Anthony prevailed throughout Egypt. Monks lived either in solitude, or in groups of two or three. Sometimes they formed large congregations. But even then the life was semi-eremitical, i.e., although the monks did not live in absolute separation from one another, they did not form real communities in a closed monastery. This movement reached its greatest and most characteristic development in the desert of Nitria (Wadi Natrūn) and Scete. Among those who began their monastic life in Nitria were Amun and Macarius of Egypt. A few miles from Nitria was the desert called Cellia, so named for its large number of cells of hermits. The cells stood out of sight and out of earshot from one another; only on Saturdays and Sundays did the monks assemble for religious services. Except for these days, no one visited anyone else, unless there was a sickness or some spiritual need. Palladius (c. 390) speaks of 600 monks living in Cellia in his time. Further away from Cellia, out in the “utter solitude,” was the monastic settlement of Scete. In Nitria, five hundred monks dwelled together, each following a different manner of life according to his ability and



desire. Anyone could live either alone, or with another, or with several together. Palladius described their life there: In the mountain, there are seven bakeries and a great church by which stand three palm trees, each with a whip hanging from it; one is for the monks who misbehave themselves, one for thieves, and one for chance comers: so that anyone who offended and was judged worthy of stripes, embraced the palm tree and made amends by receiving on the back the fixed number of blows. Close to the church there is the guest house, and any guest who comes is entertained until he goes at his own accord, even if he stays for two or three years. For the first week they let him stay in idleness, but after that they make him work, either in the garden or the bake-house or the kitchen. Or if he be a man of position they give him a book to read, but do not allow him to have intercourse with anyone until noon. Physicians dwell in this mountain, and confectioners; they use wine, and wine is sold. They all make linen with their own hands, so that they have no needs. And about three in the afternoon one may stand and hear how the psalmody arises from each habitation, and fancy oneself rapt aloft into Paradise. But they assemble at the church only on Saturday and Sunday. Pachomian monachism in the south differs from this semieremitical life in northern Egypt, especially in the sense that it firmly stands on the coenobitic system. Pachomius, born about 290 into a pagan family, became a Christian at the age of twenty. He adopted the eremitical life under Palaemon, a hermit who lived by the Nile in the diocese of Tentyra (Denderah). Palladius describes how he received his Rule: While he was sitting in his cave an angel appeared to him and said: ‘You have rightly ordered your own life; needlessly therefore do you sit in the cave; come forth and bring together all the young monks and dwell with them, and legislate for them according to the exemplar I will give you.’ And he gave a brazen tablet whereon was engraved the Rule.



Pachomius’ Rule is the first rule known to have been written for monks. He founded his first monastery at Tabennisi near Denderah c. 315–320, and by the time of his death in 346 his congregation numbered nine monasteries of men and one of women, all located between Panopolis (Akhmim) to the north and Latopolis (Esneh) to the south, and peopled by some 3000 monks in all. After his death, other monasteries were founded, one at Canopus near Alexandria, and several in Ethiopia; so that by the end of the century, Palladius speaks of 7000 Pachomian monks. (Jerome’s estimate of 50,000 may safely be rejected.) In Palladius’ description of a Pachomian monastery which he visited at Panopolis, “we have a fully constituted and indeed highly organised cenobitical life,” writes Abbot Butler, the historian of monasticism. The day is divided between “a fixed routine of church services, Bible reading, and work seriously undertaken as an integral factor of the life.” Herein lies one of the most significant differences between Pachomian and Antonian monasticism … Palladius’ picture of the Pachomian monastery is that of a busy, well-organized, self-supporting agricultural colony, in which the daily religious exercises only alternated with, and did not impede, the daily labour that was so large an element of the life … The Antonian form of monasticism is the one that has been in all ages dominant in the East … It was not the least of St. Benedict’s contributions to Western monachism that he introduced, with the modifications called for differences of climate and national character, a type of monasticism more akin to the Pachomian, in which work of one kind or another, undertaken for its own sake, forms an essential part of the life.” (Butler 1957: 524 ff) Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia Early in the fourth century, monastic life was introduced from Egypt into Palestine by Hilarion. He had been a disciple of Anthony, and the life he led near his village called Thauata, south of Gaza, was purely eremitical. Consequently, this form of monachism became the norm in Syria and Palestine. Cenobitical life was commonly only the first stage of a monk’s career (Fig. 24);



especially those established under Western influence, such as those founded by Jerome, Rufinus and the two Melanias in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives.

Fig. 24 The blueprint of the Byzantine monastery built in memory of Moses on Mount Nebo, from the fifth and sixth centuries (Piccirillo, s.a.: 57). Jerome, a most famous monk and writer, was born in Stridon (Dalmatia) c. 327. He was baptized at the end of his philosophical studies in Rome. In his many travels through the West and East, he became acquainted with different people devoted to an ascetical



life, and finally began a long eremitical abode in the desert of Chalcis, near Antioch, where he studied Hebrew and Greek. Back in Rome, a group of Christian women desiring to live a form of monastic life in the middle of the affairs of the world invited him to give them daily Bible lessons. They met in Marcella’s house, on Mount Aventine. Later, the whole group decided to settle in Palestine, at Bethlehem, near the grotto of the Nativity. After three years, a monastery for men, under Jerome, and another for women, under Paula, were erected. Near Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, two similar monastic establishments were run by Rufinus and Melania. In Syria and Mesopotamia at the beginning of the fourth century there appears to have been an indigenous growth of asceticism, analogous to the pre-monastic asceticism found in Egypt and elsewhere. It was known as the “Sons of the Covenant.” We hear much about them from Aphraates, the famous Syrian writer (c. 330); and Rabbula, the bishop of Edessa a century later, wrote a code of regulations for priests and “Sons of the Covenant.” Since he wrote a rule for monks as well, it seems that the “Sons of the Covenant” did not develop into a monastic system, but the two institutions existed alongside one another until the middle of the fifth century. Other indications of early monastic life in Syria are to be found in Theodoret’s Historia Religiosa, where he tells the stories of a number of monks at the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth. Most of them were hermits. Even when disciples gathered about them, their life continued to be strongly individualized and eremitical. The same tendency was to be later found among the so-called Nestorians and Monophysites. One of Rabbula’s regulations for monks indicates that some of the monks had been made priests and deacons, and that they served the churches in the villages. This is a practice that is unusual in the East, though we do sporadically hear of priests living together and having their meals together with the local bishop, (as happened in the town called Rhinocolura, modern El ‘Arish, in northern Sinai), which means that they were probably all monks. In contrast with Egyptian monachism, austerities of a highly artificial character became the norm among Syrian monks. So it is that we hear of monks spending years on a column or fastening great stones or iron weights to their backs. A good picture of the



lines along which Syrian monasticism settled after the sixth century is provided by Thomas of Marga’s Book of the Governors, a history of the Nestorian monastery of Beth Abhe in Mesopotamia.

Fig. 25 The Monastery of Mar Saba in the Kidron Valley, in the Wilderness of Judea, from the sixth century. As for the extent and topography of the Palestinian monasteries during the Byzantine period, the most important source will always remain the Vitae of the desert Fathers written by Cyril of Scythopolis (Beth Shean). Born in 514, Cyril entered the monastic life about 543. With his biographies of Saints Euthymios, Sabas, John the Hesychast, Cyriacos, Theodosios, Theognis and Abraamios, he exhibits a precise knowledge of their lives and gives us a detailed description of the ascetical life in Judaea. Historical data and details for the study of Byzantine monasticism have been supplied by Siméon Vaillée in his Répertoire (Vaillée 1899: 512–42; 1900: 19–48, 272–92). His list of monasteries and laurae numbers 137. More recent studies of these monasteries, both of laurae and coenobia have



been published by Israeli archaeologists (Hirshfeld 1987; Tsafrir 1993; Figueras 1995; and the next chapter). Among the most famous of the monasteries still surviving is that of Mar Saba, founded by St. Sabas c. 483 in the Kidron Valley (Fig. 25), and that of Mar Dosios, near Bethlehem, founded by St. Theodosios c. 476. At its peak, this monastery included four churches, for the use of four different groups, namely, the Greeks, Slavs, Armenians and repentant monks. Each group celebrated the daily prayers separately, but they all met in the Greek church for the celebration of the Eucharist. Besides conventual buildings and workshops, the monastery ran several guest-homes for poor people and pilgrims, and four infirmaries for the care of monks and foreigners.

Fig. 26 Stairs leading to the cells of the laura in ‘Ein Avdat, from the Byzantine period.



The kind of monastic life conducted in the Byzantine monasteries of Palestine and elsewhere in Syria was not based on the Egyptian pattern. There was a new monasticism that was introduced by the true father of Greek monachism, Saint Basil. In the fifth century, the Holy Land became the center of Greek monachism, and monasteries of two kinds arose: there were the coenobia, or monasteries proper, where life was led in common along the lines laid down by Basil; and there were the laurae, wherein a semieremitical life was followed, with the monks living in separate huts or caves within the enclosure (Fig. 26). The center of this compound was the cell of the monk appointed as spiritual superior of the community. The monks gathered there each weekend to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to listen to the superior’s sermon, to attend the communal meal, to hand over the manual work carried out during the week and to get additional material for new work. Sabas, a Cappadocian, was the organizer of this manner of life: he founded no less than seven laurae in Palestine, and drew up a Typicon, (“code of rules”), for their guidance. Sabas was appointed as the head of all of the laurae in Palestine. Under the stress of the controversy surrounding Origen and later due to the Arab invasion, Palestinian monasticism waned, and the center of gravity of Greek monasticism shifted in the seventh century to Constantinople. Between Palestine and Egypt, Mount Sinai offered the most suitable conditions for the development of monasticism. When the pilgrim Egeria visited it, c. 385, only hermits populated the locale: They lived dispersed on the mountains and the valleys round the bush from which God had spoken to Moses. They only had above the bush a big tower that still exists, and inside there was a temple to Saint Mary. A transformation of the place occurred under the emperor Justinian, who built the present monastery in 527. (This date appears in an Arabic inscription on the wall, near the entrance). Greece and Asia Minor Monasticism seems to have made its entry into the Greek-speaking countries from the East. It first appears in the Roman province of Armenia in connection with Eustathius of Sebaste, c. 330–340. Monasteries were not established in Constantinople before the end



of the fourth century. The monasticism of Eustathius was highly ascetical, with strong tendencies towards Manichaeanism, which were condemned at the Council of Gangra, c. 340. Similar in character, but carrying these tendencies to even greater extremes, were the Messalians or Euchitae, in Paphlagonia (north of Asia Minor). Basil began his career in the Church when, after spending a year visiting the monks of Egypt and Syria, he retired to a lonely spot near Neocaesarea in Pontus (Asia Minor) c. 360. There he began to lead a monastic life with his disciples who quickly gathered around him. His conception of the monastic life was in many respects a departure from its previous manifestations and continues to this day in Greek and Slavonic monastic traditions. He wrote two rules for monks (the Longer and the Shorter). The structure of monastic life put forth in them is fully cenobitical. He mandated that his monks continually share a common roof, a common table, and common prayer. He actually argued against the time-honored theoretical superiority of the eremitical life over the cenobitical. Typical of his system is the rule that the monks should endeavor to do good to their fellow men. For this purpose, orphanages were established, separate from the monastery but close at hand and under the care of the monks, and apparently both boys and girls were received into these. Boys were also taken into the monastery to be educated, and this was not merely with the goal of turning them into monks. Basil discouraged excessive asceticism; he enunciated the principle that work is of greater value than austerities, and drew the conclusion that fasting should not be practiced to such an extent that it is detrimental to work. All of this represents a new field of ideas. Work in the Basilian monasteries primarily consisted of farm work. Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil’s brother, refers to ploughing and draining. Basil’s regulations insisted on the monastic virtues of obedience to the superior, of personal poverty, of self-denial, and the cultivation of the spiritual life and of personal religion. Though there were no vows, Basilian monks were considered to be under a strict obligation to persevere in the monastic life, and to dwell in their own monastery. This form of monasticism was the one that spread in the provinces of Asia Minor, Palestine and Armenia. Under the influence of the Council of Chalcedon, which passed several



canons regulating the monastic life, and civil law, it gradually made its way to become recognized throughout the Greek portion of the Empire as the official form of monastic life. But the Eastern tendency towards extreme austerity and the eremitical life has always strived to come to expression, and to this day there are hermits in several monastic centers of the Orthodox Church, such as in Mt. Athos in Greece. Following the shift of the center of Greek monasticism from Palestine to Constantinople in the seventh century due to the Persian and Muslim invasions, it was reorganized by Theodore, abbot of the Monastery of Studios (Constantinople), in the early years of the ninth century. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the center of gravity once again shifted, this time to Mt. Athos, where it has remained ever since. Eastern Monastic Spirituality: the Hesychasm Ancient monasticism continued the ministry once exercised by the prophets in the religious life of Old Testament Israel in the newer context of the Church. In contradiction to the theocratical claims of the Christian Empire, monks affirmed that the Kingdom of God is not a sociological or political entity, but the very presence of God, which must be lived in the quiet (hesychía in Greek) of the heart. The essence of a monk’s prayer is a simple “ascension of the mind towards God.” This statement was made by the monk Evagrius Ponticus (died in 399), who in his famous Chapters gave later generations a method of spiritual life and a mystical vocabulary reflecting the essence of monastic spirituality. In prayer, the mind should be as though dis-incarnated from nature, to deliver itself to its “own activity.” Such an expression reflects the Neo-platonic thought that was typical of his time. His writings suffered posthumous condemnation by the Church. St. Macarius, who was Evagrius’ teacher at Scete, was one of the first to promote monological prayer, i.e., prayer centered in a constant repetition of a short invocation of which the essential element is God’s name: “Lord.” In the Spiritual Homilies, wrongly attributed to Macarius, but dated to the fifth century, prayer is no longer the intellectual prayer of Evagrius, but “heart prayer,” that is to say, a personal prayer expressly addressed to Jesus. With Diadochus of Photike (fifth century), there was an effort to



integrate Hesychasm, this spiritual movement towards a personal, intimate prayer, with biblical history (see his Chapters of Spiritual Perfection). From the sixth century onwards, Justinian’s monastery on Mt. Sinai became the main center for the diffusion of Hesychasm. St. John Climacus, the hegoumenos (“father superior”) of the monastery (c. 580–650), wrote the famous Ladder of Paradise, in which the invocation of Jesus’ name occupies the center of a detailed system of monastic spirituality. He expressly stresses the link between Hesychasm and monasticism: The Hesychast is that whose aspiration consists in circumscribing that which is without a body into a dwelling of flesh … The solitary monk needs great alertness and a spirit free from agitation; the cenobite often has the help of a brother, the solitary that of an angel … Hesychia is worship and uninterrupted service to God. Let Jesus’ memory be one thing with your breath; then you will understand the usefulness of solitude. (Ladder, step 27) [Fig. 27] In Constantinople we find the extraordinary figure of Symeon the New Theologian (917–1022 CE), a monk of Studios and the abbot of St. Mamas. There are two principal characteristics of his spirituality: his affirmation of the primacy of the spiritual happening, and the deep realism of a christocentric mystic. The essence of Christian experience, which is communion with the One who is incommunicable and the knowledge of the One who cannot be known, is made possible by the Incarnation of the Word, who draws the creature out of sin and grants him or her divine life. Symeon’s life, which was filled with troubles with ecclesiastical authorities, is an illustration of the perpetual conflict between prophet and priest, between the happening and the institution. Hesychasm experienced a revival in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Nicephorus the Hesychast (d. 1280), an ItaloGreek hermit at Mt. Athos, advises those reading Philocalia that the silent repetition of the short prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” is the best practice “to open the entrance to the heart.” With Patriarch Athanasius I and Metropolitan Theoleptes, the Christological mysticism of the Jesus Prayer received broad, ecclesiastical recognition in the fourteenth century.



Fig. 27 Jesus and the holy monk Menas, a Coptic icon from the sixth century (Musée du Louvre, Paris. Photo: Hervé Lewandoski). Gregory the Sinaite, who was born in Asia Minor and lived as a monk at Mount Sinai, learned “the spirit’s watch” and the “pure prayer” in Crete from the monk Arsenius. In Athos he taught it to his many disciples, until he was obliged to flee to the Thracian mountains. From there, hesychasm later penetrated into Russia, where it sparked the famous movement of the startzi in the fifteenth century. The theology of hesychasm found its expression in the works of St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), a monk at Athos and the bishop of Thessalonica, who composed a defense of hesychasm (Triads for the Defense of the Holy Hesychasts) against the doctrinal



attacks of Barlaam of Calabria. Barlaam’s attacks were addressed from the philosophical point of view of nominalist agnosticism, accusing the hesychasts of trying “to see the divine Essence with the bodily eyes.” To such a claim, Palamas opposes a realistic doctrine of supernatural knowledge, independent of all sense experience, but granted in Christ to the man as a whole person— body and soul—who can access from here below the first-fruits of the ultimate deification and beatific vision, not by his own power but by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He also justifies the psychophysical method of prayer, opposing to the platonic spirituality of Barlaam’s anthropology the biblical conception of man, according to which the body also receives the grace of the Sacraments and the grace of resurrection on the last day.

WESTERN MONASTICISM Italy: Pre-Benedictine and Benedictine monasteries The ascetical life was pursued in the West—notably in Carthage and Rome—before the introduction of monasticism proper. A tradition attributes the knowledge of monastic life in western Europe to the influence of Athanasius. In the year 339 he came to Rome, accompanied by two Egyptian monks, and thus spread in the city and its neighborhood the knowledge of the manner of life that was being practiced in Egypt. In the final quarter of the fourth century, there were numerous monasteries of men and women in Rome. Such institutions rapidly spread over central and southern Italy, and the islands of the Mediterranean were peopled by hermits. In northern Italy monasteries also existed by the end of the fourth century in the major cities: Aquileia, where Rufinus and Jerome were trained in the monastic life; Milan, where Ambrose had a great monastery of men; Ravenna and Pavia, and many other towns. Euseibus of Vercelli (d. 371) combined the clerical and monastic way of life, requiring the clerics of his cathedral to live together in community according to the monastic rule. This example was followed by other bishops of the time, such as Paulinus of Nola, Augustine of Hippo, Victor of Rouen, and even Melas of Rhinocolura (El ‘Arish) in northern Sinai. The presence of Jerome in Rome in 382–385 aroused a deep reaction against the monastic life among certain relaxed Christians. But the monastic ideal appeared then in all of its beauty and



promise, and Jerome played the role of spiritual father to the nobility attracted to this strange way of life. Already before the time of Pope Gregory the Great (sixth century) there were many monasteries of men and women in Rome, and each of the primary Christian shrines had one, two or even more monasteries of both sexes. Popes had to lay down dispositions to ensure that the frequent passage from the monastic life to ordination be made without any detriment to Holy Orders due to lack of theological or juridical preparation. Severe dispositions were also issued against the plague of the girovagi, who were wandering, false monks who brought discredit to the monastic institution. Italian pre-Benedictine monasteries, numerous as they were, did not follow a common rule. They might make use of a Latin version of the life of Anthony the Great, the Pachomian rule translated by Jerome, the Collationes and Institutiones of the Egyptian monks which were written by John Cassian of Marseille, of Basil’s legislations for monks translated into Latin by Rufinus, of the Apophtegmata (“Sayings”) of the Desert Fathers and their Lives, of Macarius’ rule or any other rules that had been translated. At the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, there appeared in Italy the anonymous Regula Magistri (“The Rule of the Master”). But even then each monastery had its own regulations. In fact, however, Anthony’s idea of monasticism prevailed in Italian monasteries, as we can see from St. Benedict’s first step in his monastic career, as handed down by his biographer, St. Gregory the Great. As though by instinct, Benedict retired into the wilderness, to live alone, but yet he became the father of an organization of cenobitic monks that was to revolutionize the whole of Europe. In those same years, Cassiodorus, a Roman, founded the monastery of Vivarium in southern Italy, whose monks initiated the kind of work adopted by the Benedictine monks, i.e., to preserve for posterity the legacy of classical and ecclesiastical literature by copying and preserving ancient manuscripts. St. Benedict, the great legislator of Western monasticism, was born in Nursia in 480. At a young age, while still a student in Rome, he fled to the arid mountains of Subiaco, and lived there as a hermit in a grotto for three years. He then proceeded to found there twelve monasteries for the disciples that gathered about him.



His biography is related in the Dialogi of St. Gregory the Great, and the miracles detailed there stress his virtues as a monk and spiritual father, as well as his power against the devil. Gregory, himself a monk before he became pope, witnesses to the authenticity of Benedict’s Rule for Monks (Regula Monachorum). According to him, Benedict wrote it at the end of his life, making it a mature fruit of his long experience as an abbot, or father superior. No doubt, the later foundation of his most famous monastery, Monte Cassino, gave him occasion to put his monastic ideal into practice to the full. When admitted into the community, after a year of proof, Benedict’s followers were requested to make solemn promise to God, including the three vows: obedience to the abbot, considered to be the representative of Christ; stability in the community which they had chosen as their new family; and conversatio morum, i.e., the monastic way of life, which implied chastity, sharing goods in common, etc. The monastery was a “school for God’s service,” and the monks exerted their spiritual militia (“military service”) within the monastery walls, alone. There they were required to find whatever was necessary for their spiritual and material sustenance. Manual labor alternated with the congregational recitation of the Divine Office, the Opus Dei, i.e., a strictly determined order of communal prayer that sanctified the entire day of the monk, beginning with the nocturnal prayers at midnight. The Benedictine Rule was quickly adopted by many existing monasteries, and became, two centuries later, the sole Western monastic rule in Europe. Its success was not only owed to the depth of its spirituality, but also to the lucidity of its juridical sense, typically Roman. Another factor contributing to its expansion was the fact that Pope Gregory the Great made use of Benedictine monks to evangelize England (597). From there, they spread all over Central and Northern Europe. North Africa Mention has already been made of feminine asceticism in Proconsular Africa, as described in the writings of Tertullian and Cyprian. Feminine monasticism proper was not established until about the end of the fourth century. But in Africa, as in other regions, such as Egypt, Cappadocia and Pontus, as well as among some groups of early Jewish Christians, there existed among the



monks “sister-virgins.” This practice was never encouraged by the Church, and was soon openly condemned. Very few cases of hermits are known in Africa prior to the development of a regulated and organized form of monasticism. The latter only appeared with Augustine, the future bishop of Hippo, who when yet a priest founded the first monastery for men in Tagaste. After selling his goods, he transformed his own home into an actual coenobium, and lived there with his friends and disciples. Ordained to the priesthood in 391, he combined the clerical and monastic life. During his long years as a bishop, he continued to live as a monk among his clerics. In his diocese, no one was admitted to clerical status who did not intend to accept the monastic life simultaneously. Five monasteries were erected in the town of Hippo alone, and soon other monasteries were founded all over the region. Many of these monks were appointed as bishops in the dioceses of Africa. Two monastic rules are traditionally ascribed to Augustine, though their authenticity has never been proven. However, Letter 211 written to the nuns of Hippo and his De opere monachorum were very relevant and influenced monastic circles throughout the centuries that followed. His monastic foundations survived quarrels over heresy, opposition from pseudo-traditional Catholics and even the Vandal invasion of North Africa. Following that, monasticism experienced a renewal during the fifth and sixth centuries. Fulgentius of Ruspe founded a monastery in Cagliari (Sardinia) during his exile there. In fact, Augustinian monasticism had a strong influence outside of Africa, especially in southern Italy, Spain, and Gaul. Centuries later, from the eleventh century onwards, Augustine’s monastic spirituality was in full vigor in Europe, where monastic and religious orders and congregations accepted the Rule of Augustine as their basic constitution. Paradoxically, in his own country, monasticism was almost entirely abolished by the Islamic invasion (696–698). Yet an inscription in Kairuan recalls the presence of a monastery there as late as the eleventh century. Gaul and Spain Gaul enjoyed the greatest development of a pre-Benedictine monasticism in Europe. It was probably Atahanasius who first made this way of life known in Treveris (Trier). But St. Martin of



Tours is generally considered to be the father of French monasticism. While yet a catechumen, he began to live as a hermit. He first retired to a hermitage near Milan, and then to the Gallinaria island, that was peopled by many anachoritae. With the blessing of Hillary of Poitiers, he founded the first monastery for men in Gaul in Ligugé in 361. The monks lived in separate cells, as in the Antonian system, and he was their superior. His personal vocation was more that of a spiritual father than that of an organizer of monasteries. When appointed bishop of Tours (c. 371), he continued to live as a monk, and soon founded the clerical monastery of Marmoutier. This became his spiritual shelter in free moments. Among his disciples there were many bishops as well as most of the missionaries who brought the gospel to the regions of Gaul still practicing paganism. Another monastic focus in Gaul was the monastery in the island of Lérins, founded by Honoratus, who first retired to live there as a hermit. The influence that Lérins enjoyed was enormous. The bishops and saints that issued from there include Hilarius, Caesarius (who became bishop of Arles and wrote two monastic rules, one for monks and one for nuns), Lupus, Maximus, Faustus and Eucherius. Also in southern Gaul, in Marseilles, another monastery was a center of major importance. Its name was Saint Victor, and it was founded by John Cassian. Born in Scythia in 350, John was educated in a monastery in Bethlehem. About 390, he went to Egypt and lived as a monk in Scete, where he became acquainted with numerous monks, some of them quite famous. Later on, he recorded his memories and the spiritual teachings of the Egyptian monks in his two works, Institutions of Monasteries and Collations of the Fathers. These two books were a major source for the knowledge of Egyptian monasticism in Europe, and Benedict’s Rule recommends them to his monks. In Spain, individual asceticism also preceded organized monasticism. We know that many monasteries already existed in the fourth century. To one of them, situated in Galicia in northwest Spain, belonged Egeria, the famous pilgrim to the Holy Land (c. 385–390). The avalance of the invading Visigoths and Suebians fell upon these flourishing monasteries. But the strong movement could not be extinguished. Many monks from North Africa fled from their



country to Spain during the Vandal’s persecution. And with the subsequent conversion of the Arian Visigoths to the Catholic faith there was a renewal of the monastic life. In spite of some misunderstandings on the part of diocesan clerics and the attacks by Vigilantius and the Priscillianists, monasticism flourished under the patronage of some pious and learned bishops, such as Martin of Braga (d. 557), a contemporary of Saint Benedict. Ireland In 432, Saint Patrick, the well-known apostle to Ireland, began the propagation of the monastic life in Ireland simultaneously with his preaching of the gospel there. In one of his letters, he praises the love of virginity and of the monastic life that was exhibited by “the sons of the Scotts and the daughters of the kings” who joined him in his missionary work. After his death (461), the eremitic life and the pursuit of penitence were widely practiced. But all of the first monastic foundations—Lilleany, Movilla, Cloumacnois, Glendalough, Clonfert and Bangor (Belfast)—were formed later than the fifth century. A young Celtic monk from Bangor, Columbanus, became one of the greatest figures in the monastic world and the apostle to many European countries. One of his foundations was Luxeuil (590), where he wrote a rule for his monks, probably the most severe monastic rule ever written. Punishment for each infraction is codified in detail. Monks were beaten for the smallest faults. “Columbanus’ rule is a naif rule for a naif age, an iron rule for an iron age” (M. Mourre). But this intimidating rule lent an extraordinary prestige to Luxeuil, Aunegray and Fontaines, three monasteries of Columbanus in the Vosges. Many other monasteries adopted Columbanus’ discipline, and for two centuries it was the monastic norm to be found in the northern and eastern regions of Gaul, from Picardie to Switzerland. Gregory the Great and the English Mission According to a pious legend recorded by the English monk Bede the Venerable (ninth century) and by Peter the Deacon (also ninth century), when Gregory the Great was still a monk at St. Andrew’s in Rome, he once saw in a Roman market three handsome young men being sold as slaves:


AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY “Where are they from?” he asked. “From Britain,” answered the seller. “Are they Christian or pagan?” “Pagan.” “What a pity,” said Gregory, “that such faces of light are in the power of the Prince of Darkness! But what is their race?” “English (Lat. angli).” “Rather say angels (angeli), for they must become the brothers of angels in heaven. And in which region have they been taken?” “At Deira (Northumberland).” “It is all right. They shall be taken from the wrath (of God) (Lat. de ira), and called to Christ’s mercy. But, what is the name of their king?” “Aella,” said the merchant. “Even better so,” concluded Gregory. “This king has a beautiful name, because soon the Alleluia will be sung in his kingdom.”

Early British Christianity had been almost entirely destroyed by invasions of Saxons, Angles and Jutters. Once he had been raised to the highest chair of the Roman Church, Gregory sent Augustine, prior of the monastery of St. Andrew, with forty of his monks to England (596). Despite their weak enthusiasm, the Roman missionaries succeeded in converting the king of Kent, Ethelbert (597), and thousands of his subjects. Apart from their personal example of living as poor monks in communal purity, it was Pope Gregory’s own set of guidelines, full of his characteristic discretion, that obtained a peaceful conversion of that peoples’ hearts: Temples of idols should not be destroyed; they must be purified and consecrated to the service of the true God … It is said that men, in this people, used to kill bulls in sacrifice; this usage should be transformed into a Christian solemnity … (Letter 11) Augustine, who had been consecrated as archbishop in Gaul (597), only partially succeeded in his mission. Of the twelve bishoprics that Pope Gregory had anticipated, only three had been provided: Rochester, London and Canterbury, of which the latter remains the primatial see to this day. Near Canterbury, an imposing building was soon erected, the abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul, the first Benedictine monastery outside of Italy. The monks’ mission continued for many years, until eventually the entire country had accepted baptism. During the seventh and eighth centuries, about



thirty kings and queens of England renounced their throne and joined a monastery. Frisian Monks and the Civilization of Central Europe The evangelization of Friesland had been attempted many times by Frankish missionaries, but it was not brought to a successful conclusion until Anglo-Saxon missionaries, such as Bishop Wilfrid, Egbert, Witbert, and especially Willibrord, the priest and monk from the Irish monastery of Rathmelsigi, arrived. Willibrord and his eleven confreres were received and assisted by Pepin of Heristal. Their work was quick and widespread, reaching such farflung regions as Denmark. They founded monasteries in every place where their mission succeeded. Willibrord died in 739 and was buried in the monastery of Epternach, founded by him in the region of Trier. Another Irish monk, Wynfrid, was commissioned by Pope Gregory II to preach to the pagans wherever he should find them. He also changed his name to Bonifatius, “the doer of good,” (usually anglicized to “Boniface”). He began his mission in Hesse, where, after having established his first monastery at Amoeneburg on the banks of the Ohm, he preached the gospel with great success and converted several thousands of people. The pope called him back to Rome and consecrated him as a bishop and provided him with detailed instructions and recommendations. When he returned to Hesse, he destroyed the sacred oak in Geismar that the pagans believed to be as invulnerable as a god. With its wood he built a chapel in honor of St. Peter, and the monastery of Fritzlar was erected on that spot. He then departed for Thuringia and worked there for ten years. The conversion of the pagans there was also concurrent with the founding of the monastery of Ohrdruf, near Gotha. Its first abbot was Wigbert, one of Boniface’s confreres from Britain. Boniface maintained a good relationship with his homeland, and in his letters to his friends he requested books, prayers, and collaborators. Pope Gregory III sent the pallium representing the rank of archbishop to Boniface, and invited him to establish other bishoprics in Germany. The missionary then undertook the evangelization of Bavaria, consecrating bishops in Salzburg, Freising and Regensburg, as well as in several towns in Thuringia and Hesse. Only Boniface himself remained without a designated see, as his mission had not yet been concluded. After the



organization of all of the dioceses, he finally received the See of Mainz. Everywhere he founded new monasteries. Eventually, he wished to retire to the monastery of Fulda. However, since the conversion of Friesland had not yet been accomplished, he decided to begin his mission anew. It was there that he met his death, on June 5, 754, at the hands of a group of pagans. A council of bishops in England decided to celebrate this as his feast day and recognize him as a saint like Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury in 755. Cluny and its Congregation When Charlemagne requested an exemplar of Benedict’s Rule at Monte Cassino in 787 with the purpose of imposing it upon all of the Frankish religious houses, his basic intentions were those of a keen politician. He recognized in that rule a useful instrument to develop the Frankish monasteries into an army of civil servants faithful to the State. He wanted the monks to become educators, administrators, farmers, and engineers as much as saints. They were to swear their fealty to him. Monks were periodically removed from their monasteries to serve him directly. An annual tax was imposed on each abbey. Thus, the abbots were transformed into vassals. A new ideal for the monks was thus introduced by Charlemagne, and it could be summarized thus: one empire, one faith, one rule. This was the direction that the congregation of Cluny took in the tenth century, well rooted in the Carolingian era. The ideal of unity, however, was first realized among the monasteries of the Holy Roman Empire by St. Benedict of Anian, who put it to the service of God, not of the emperor. He and his first disciples renewed the ancient monastic fervor, spreading the reform of the monasteries everywhere. Many of the three hundred members of his foundation in Anian undertook the task of occasionally visiting all of the other monasteries, inspecting them with the purpose of restoring them to the purity of the monastic ideal. It was at this stage that the typical figure of the medieval monk, a patient scholar and a man of prayer, was sketched. Famous monks like Alcuin, Paschasius Radbert, and Rhabanus Maurus contributed to this image. At the same time, the larger monasteries transformed the social conditions of the peasants. Each monastery was not only a school of prayer and culture, but also an agricultural center. The rural population found its security



in working with and for the monks, and thus peasants were protected from royal taxes and fickle or cruel land owners. “It is good to live under the abbot’s corzier,” was a medieval saying. Almost half of the cities in France have monastic origins. This flourishing monasticism knew its dark moments. From one side, devastation brought on by the invading Normands, Saracenes and Hungarians depopulated the monasteries; from the other, feudal lords and secular abbots reduced their monastic patrimony to a minimum. The monks were forced to exit the cloister to seek their sustenance. Some of them, imitating their abbots, were married, and lived in the monastery with their wives and children. Moreover, and primarily for economic reasons, secular princes who had been given charge of an abbey tended to substitute monks with canons, whose stipendium could be reduced while preserving worship in a monastery. In the face of this lamentable spectacle, the foundation of Cluny (910) appeared as a sign of a new era in Western monasticism. Bernon, its founder, wanted to make this monastery a model of observance, recitation of the Divine Office, silence, individual poverty, obedience and chastity. During the first 150 years of its existence, Cluny enjoyed the guidance of four wise and holy abbots: Odon, Majolus, Odilo and Hughes, all of whom reached an extraordinary prestige in the Church, not only as reformers and founders of monasteries, but in a special way as mediators of peace between princes. Following its foundation, Cluny was declared to be absolutely independent of any earthly or spiritual authority other than that of the pope. In spreading its monastic reform, hundreds of monasteries, not only in France, but in the whole of Europe respected its abbot as their superior. Thus, a strong, united and well-organized congregation of monasteries was formed. Benedictine life began to take a turn for the better everywhere, especially in the restoration of the liturgy. However, although the Divine Office was returned to its original place of honor, its very solemnity resulted in the detriment of manual labor. The latter was increasingly entrusted to lay brothers and the many servants of the monastery. Many psalmi familiares were added to the “regular hours.” These were prayers requested by the benefactors of the monastery for particular intentions. Then, in the eleventh century, the Offices for the Dead, of the Holy Virgin, of the Holy Cross, of



the Trinity and of the Holy Spirit began to be recited daily. Monks lived in a sort of spiritual luxury that, accompanied by the no less extravagant pieces of art, sacred vestments and decorations, must have been felt by some to be a departure from the original balance of Benedictine life: Ne quid nimis—“not too much!” Benedict had warned in his Rule. The Cistercian Reform Other movements of monastic reform, more or less independent of that of Cluny, brought a beneficial influence during the tenth and eleventh centuries. At the same time, various expressions of the eremitic ideal appeared, especially in Italy, with such brilliant figures as Romuald and Peter Damianus. In the twelfth century, a powerful reaction against the excessive length of communal prayer, the solemnity of the liturgy and the wealth of the monasteries occurred with the foundation of Cîteaux, the mother-house of the Benedictine Cistercian order. It all began on March 21, 1098, the feast day of St. Benedict, when twenty-one Benedictine monks from Molesme left their opulent monastery under the guidance of their abbot, St. Robert, and retired to the wilderness of Cîteaux. Their wish was to practice the Benedictine Rule in its absolute literal sense. This ideal was received by many with enthusiasm, but its success was rather insignificant until the day on which a young knight, Bernard of Clairvaux, with thirty of his friends, brothers and other relatives, entered as novices in Cîteaux (1112). St. Bernard was called to lead a powerful movement of expansion. After being elected abbot of Clairvaux (1115), he made this monastery the center of a new order, whose constitution was the Charta Charitatis. Foundations were multiplied, and many existing monasteries joined the Cistercian reform. But Bernard’s activities were not limited to the spiritual guidance of Clairvaux and its daughter houses. His interventions in the life of the Church at large were decisive in many points. His aims included the goals of instructing and purifying the secular clergy and promoting reform and enthusiasm for an authentic spiritual life in all of the spheres of the Church. Cîteaux, of course, was in conflict with Cluny, and the best examples of the two rival tendencies is to be found in the correspondence exchanged between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny. Following Bernard’s death,



the powerful order of Cîteaux continued to flourish, although its persistent intervention in religious and political disputes resulted in tarnishing its glorious beginning. Mendicant Orders In the thirteenth century, the development of the medieval society, with its initial tendency towards humanism, furnished the favorable circumstance for the emergence of a completely new kind of religious life. It began in Italy when Francis of Assisi started the movement of “mendicant friars.” In contrast to the material, liturgical and intellectual wealth of traditional monasteries, the so called Minor Brethren (Fratri Minores) endeavored to perform the evangelical ideal of absolute poverty in all of its purity in total detachment from the world. They did not attach themselves to a particular place, but to a superior, and passed through the world preaching the gospel and begging for their daily bread. Around the same time (1215), Dominic of Guzman founded the order of the Preaching Friars in Spain and southern France. These were later called the Dominicans. Their distinguishing charism was a dedication to preaching in an ordered manner with great depth. This compelled the Dominicans to develop a solid theological formation before undertaking their mission. Some of the most famous theologians of the period came from among their ranks, and St. Thomas Aquinas stands head and shoulders above them all. Another order, the Carmelites, (named for their origin among the hermits on Mount Carmel), obtained the pope’s approval for their rule in 1226. The Hermits of St. Augustine received theirs in 1256. The enormous success of the mendicants, particularly among more simple segments of society, did not overshadow the monastic splendor of the 13th century. Benedict’s Rule continued to be adopted by new religious institutions and orders, such as the Silvestrins (1231), the Celestines (c. 1260) and the Olivetans (1319). However, all kinds of abuses, particularly the growing wealth of the monasteries, the system that installed commendatory abbots, and the unhappy schism of Avignon, brought about the invasion of worldliness into the monasteries towards the end of this period. Around the 15th century, the need for general reform was deeply felt, and became crystallized in numerous reactions in all off the European countries. This was especially due to the ordinances of



the councils of Constanz and Basel. The theologian Martin Luther, while he was yet an Augustinian monk and priest in the Catholic Church, began the Protestant Reformation in Germany (1517), which, among other things, sought to abolish the monastic life altogether.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The monastic phenomenon is not strictly an invention of the Christian faith, as there were groups among the Jews and pagans with similarly ascetical leanings. The disciples of the prophets conducted a simple form of communal life, characterized by isolation, worship of God and poverty. The Essenes, who lived near the Dead Sea in the days of Jesus, led a more organized communal life. The men dedicated themselves to the study of Scripture as a preparation for the last days. Their vows were similar to those of later Christian monks. They swore themselves to poverty, an ethical life, and obedience. A similar Jewish community existed in the second half of the first century CE near Alexandria. Certain philosophical frameworks that rose up in the midst of the pagans, like the Stoics, crystallized the ideal of self-control, in cutting themselves off from material needs and searching after spiritual peace, by means of an emphasis on self-control as the highest path. The ideal of the Christian monk was not absolutely different from that of the Jewish and pagan ascetics. It appears both in the words of Jesus, who called upon his disciples to turn their backs on their families and their own personal betterment (Matt 19:21, 27– 29; Luke 14: 26, 33), and included a recommendation to remain chaste in his teaching (Matt 19:10–12). Certainly, these words were not received as strict commands but as counsels, but they grabbed hold of whoever was prepared to choose “the better part” (Luke 10:38–42). Paul’s approach to the institution of marriage, which he recommended be avoided for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor 1:7), provided convincing reasons to anyone who desired to adopt the monastic lifestyle. The first generation of believers shared all material possessions and goods in common (Acts 4:32–35), but this experience was more of an expression of ethical values rather than the performance of good deeds. It appears that there is no historical link between the different groups of virgins and ascetics that grew up in North Africa, Egypt



and Syria in the third century and especially towards the end of the period of persecution. The monastic movement spread from these countries to the regions of the Fertile Crescent, to Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, Gaul and Spain. Clearly, this sudden increase in the ascetical life was the result of numerous factors. Among these was a certain measure of nostalgia for the days of martyrdom and contempt for the growing secularism of the members of the Church. In the Byzantine period the monks constituted an important element of the Christian life in Palestine. The wildernesses of the Holy Land drew people from all over the Christian world. In some of the largest monasteries there were active different congregations that spoke completely different languages. Their members dwelt beneath one roof and conducted their lives according to one liturgy, while the pilgrims and sick dwelt in other buildings. Some of the monks lived their lives of seclusion in separate cells and in caves hollowed out around the central prayer hall, some distance away from their spiritual father, and thus the concept of the great laura was developed. No one could participate in this way of life unless they had already lived long years in a coenobium or monastery. Only from there could they pass through the preparation that was necessary to combat Satan on a personal level, and to arrive at the point in which they were able to participate in the life of the angels — considered to be the ideal of monastic life. Moreover, only in this way was it possible to prevent the danger of extreme asceticism and in various forms of eccentric behavior. It was not in vain that rules appeared in the monasteries at a relatively early date, such as that written by Pachomius in Egypt, and following him, those of Basil of Cappadocia and Rabbula in Syria. The rule written by Benedict from Nursia in the West was finally adopted by all the monasteries of Europe, even though the stricter rule that was written by Columban for the Irish monks was used in different countries for more than 300 years. The Benedictine monasteries became the most important religious and cultural centers in Europe during the Middle Ages, and contributed especially to the development of liturgy, education, literature, the arts, and professional agricultural instruction. Different forms of monastic life became accepted in Europe only in the Middle Ages, among them orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans. Their simplicity and poverty stood in complete contrast to the



wealth of many Benedictine monasteries, and their influence upon the inner development of the Christian Church was enormous.

CHAPTER 7: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN ART AND ARCHITECTURE One can trace back the most important events in the history of ancient Christianity and the evolution of its doctrines, just by means of an accurate analysis of the architecture and other artistic materials that have come down to the present day. The Jewish origins of the Church are reflected in the biblical scenes that have been so dear to Christians since early times. These stories were filled with a new significance by early Christian believers. The centuries-long search for Christianity’s proper place in the context of Graeco-Roman thought is reflected in the absorption of mythological subjects. These were also given a new meaning. The architectural development of the early Byzantine period testifies to the Church’s triumph over her persecutors. In later centuries, iconoclastic policies, though meaningful for the history of Christian devotion and their impact on other religious expressions such as Islam, left their mark on many ancient monuments. The multiplication of icons and ex-votos is evidence of the role that monasteries and pilgrims played in the life of the Church in ancient times, while the iconographic themes clearly attest to changes in the contemporary general approach to the divine and the private devotion of the faithful. This chapter presents a synthesis of historical, archaeological and religious perspectives of the most salient features of ancient Christian art and architecture, from the first centuries to the early Middle Ages, remaining very much aware of the dangers hidden in the forced, subjective interpretation of so many silent ruins and artistic remains detached from their historical and geographical context.




ORIGINS OF CHRISTIAN ART Christianity faced two difficulties from its very beginning. One was its position in the face of traditional Judaism. This involved maintaining faithfulness to the biblical past together with maintaining such basic religious values as strict monotheism. The second difficulty was its position before the pagan world, which included such humanistic values as the high standards of rational philosophy and the undeniable heights reached in artistic expression. It was obvious that a correct response to the first difficulty demanded a reinterpretation of history and the rejection of everything that was contrary to the openness of spirit displayed by Christ himself in contrast to a purely material understanding of the precepts of the Torah. But the religious values of God’s works and words as recorded in the Bible were celebrated to the point that the simplest sentence from the Scriptures could be taken by Christians as though pertaining to Christ or the Church. The difficulty posed by pagan culture was more complex. None of the great Christian thinkers of the first centuries, the Church Fathers, could deny that the high degree of development reached by the human mind should be received as evidence of God’s special for humankind. Already, Paul had written that God’s revelation in creation could be received by the natural light of reason (Rom 1:19–21). But the fact that the great philosophers were pagans prevented the Church Fathers from accepting their teachings as a whole. Too much mythology was involved in their expositions. Even more had to be said about the artistic expression of pagan culture, as high as it might be. In the fifth century, Porphyrius, Bishop of Gaza, was still complaining that in his own time a cycle of paintings depicting mythological scenes could be seen by everybody in his city. This means that there was no official interdict against pagan art by the civil, Christian authorities, at least as far as already existing works were concerned. This was not always the case, however, in special circumstances, such as when a pagan temple was to be replaced by a church. Thus, Eusebius reports in his Life of Constantine how the temple of Aphrodite, erected by Hadrian on the burial-place of Jesus in Jerusalem, was demolished by the authorities and replaced by a Christian architectural complex. That temple, as any other Roman imperial temple, most certainly contained valuable works of art. Yet,



[A]s soon as he (Emperor Constantine) issued his orders, this false device was cast to the ground … with its images and gods. The emperor also commanded that the stone and timber of the ruins should be removed and dumped as far away as possible, and that a large are of the foundation soil, defiled as it was by devil-worship, should be dug away to a considerable depth, and removed to some distance. (Life Cons. 3, 27) Idols were not considered to be suitable pieces of art for the eye of a Christian, but disguised devils, and as such they had to be destroyed. Many instances in which this policy was pursued are recorded in the medieval lives of the saints. In the Dialogues, written in the seventh century by Pope Gregory the Great, we read that St. Benedict and his monks destroyed the shrine of Apollo that stood on the top of Montecassino in southern Italy. This was still a center of pagan worship for the simple peasants in the environs. The statue of the god was broken into pieces at the hands of Benedict himself, and a chapel in honor of St. John the Baptist, patron of monks, was erected on the same spot, and it later became an outstanding focus of monastic life in Europe. Another monk, the tireless St. Boniface, who became famous for his work in evangelizing a great part of central Europe in the eighth century, met a violent death at the hands of his pagan opponents after he destroyed the Oak of Thor at Geismar and made a chapel of its timber. The zeal of missionaries in their fight against paganism was not always successful. Many shrines and idols escaped. There are instances of ancient idols, such as a popular figure of a divine shepherd with a lamb and small statues of the goddess-mother Isis with her baby Horus that were jealously preserved and hidden by their devotees. Centuries later, when Christians discovered these, they were interpreted to be ancient images of Christ as the “Good Shepherd” (Fig. 28) or the Virgin Mary with her child Jesus.



Fig. 28 The figure of the Good Shepherd, a marble plaque on a Christian sarcophagus, Rome, from c. 270 CE (Archivio fotografico Vasari, Roma).



The Jewish Background of Early Christian Art Jewish art at the end of the Second Temple period in the land of Israel It is difficult to speak of any kind of ancient Jewish art in the normal sense of the term. There have been artistic manifestations in the land of Israel all throughout its history, but it would certainly be improper to call this art strictly Jewish, even for the period immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. Before the beautiful Herodian buildings, we know very little of the Hasmonean architecture. Only in recent decades some remains of the Hasmonean palace in Jericho have been excavated, and they seem to exhibit a taste for the imitation of the Hellenistic environment, with central constructions, open swimming pools (also mentioned by Josephus Flavius, Ant. XV, II, 3, 45) and reception halls, where mosaic floors made their first appearance in the land of Israel. But too little is left for an objective appreciation. What can be affirmed is that halakhic rules were followed only in places designed for religious purposes, such as a miqveh. On the other hand, profane buildings such as the famous temple-palace erected by the Tuviah family on the eastern side of the Jordan, at ‘Araq el Emir, display the double stream of thought and behavior in the period that preceded the activities of Herod. From the point of view of its art, we should certainly designate it as Hellenistic. The three important funerary monuments still standing in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem should also be catalogued as Hellenistic. In these, purely Greek architectural elements (columns, cornices, etc.) are combined with foreign features, such as the pyramid (see above, p. 4, Fig. 2). And the fact that these monuments are carved mainly out of the rock, not built, links the artistic trends of the Jews in Judaea with their neighbors, the Nabataeans, who were great experts in architectural rock-carving in the Hellenistic style. Other funerary monuments, such as Jason’s Tomb, the Synhedria Tombs, and the Tomb of Queen Helene of Adiabene, all in Jerusalem, also attest to a taste for the art of the Greeks, as it had been assimilated in the eastern countries since the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Macedonian in 333 BCE. Art historians will forever debate to what extent foreign elements affected the local, autonomous art of the Jews. A complete agreement will never be reached, primarily because not



enough objects have been preserved to even establish a comparison. Herodian art is not, in all truth, Jewish art. The remains of a few houses excavated in the upper city of Jerusalem show a high standard of living among the rich Jews of the Second Temple period. Their architectural structure, frescoes, stuccoes, mosaic floors, furniture and furnishings, all exhibit a purely Greco-Roman style. But a particular feature distinguishes them as Palestinian Jewish domiciles set apart from other Eastern manifestations of classical trends. That feature is the consistent absence of any representation of human or animal figures. It is an aniconic (“imageless”) art, in which we feel the strong pressure exerted by the religious laws on the life of private citizens. Sculpture is simply non-existent. Fragments of frescoes display decorations of fruit. Some emblems on floor mosaics are the wellknown geometrical six- or three-petal rosette. Beautiful pottery vessels are similar to the finely decorated Nabataean ware. Only a handful of little objects, such as oil-lamps, coins and gems sporadically have a mythological figure or scene. But these exceptions to the norm were obvious imports from abroad. Among the artistic objects produced in the country during this period, the Jewish ossuaries, i.e., stone-boxes used for the secondary burial of bones, hold a prominent place. These objects are capable of bearing only minimal artistic flourishes, and most of them are decorated merely with geometric or floral motifs. However, their interest, like that of other small artistic works, is very important, for it is in such objects, directly related to the final rest of the deceased, that the world of symbols is most likely to appear. Those symbols could be of primary importance for the identification of ancient Jewish and Christian objects. However, we must recognize that Jewish ossuaries do not exhibit any specific or typically Jewish symbols. Besides the almost normative presence of the six-petaled rosette, the rest of the ornamental motifs may be purely geometric forms, as well as flowers, plants, trees, columns, arches, gates, walls, and sporadic amphoras. It is reasonable to query whether these motifs in fact do contain symbolic intentions. There are good reasons for concluding both “yes” and “no.” Yet, if a symbolism should be found in these motifs, it would certainly be related to the expectations of a happy life after death as described in the Jewish literature of the period, which often compares it to a wonderful mansion, a beautiful garden, abundance of water, etc.



(Fig. 29). Sporadic graffiti, such as little crosses, a fish, and even the monogram formed by the two Greek letters Χ and Ρ, all of which would later become typical Christian signs, also make their appearance on Jewish ossuaries. But these cases, when carefully studied, have proven not to be the work of a Christian hand, but must be considered to be Jewish, though with different meanings than those later assigned to them by Christians (Figueras 1983).

Fig. 29 Symbolic engravings on the cover of a Jewish ossuary, Jerusalem, from the first century CE. The golden Menorah, a seven-branched lamp that stood in the Temple, was a Jewish symbol that would become typical in the centuries following the destruction of the Temple, was discovered as a graffito design on the wall of a house excavated in the upper city of Jerusalem. This prominent symbol appears again and again, identifying Jewish tombs and decorating all sorts of objects, most significantly on the mosaic floors of ancient synagogues in the country. The Menorah is typically accompanied by representations of lulavs (palm branches), shofars, incense shovels and etrogs (citrons used in the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles). Other symbols that would become typical Jewish decorations later in the Middle Ages, such as the Star of David, do not appear at all at this early date. Some of these do begin to make their appearance in the fourth century in synagogues and carvings, but not as particularly Jewish symbols.



Art in Graeco-Roman Judaism Early manifestations of Jewish art, such as the wall decorations of some Jewish catacombs in Rome (from the second and third centuries CE) and the famous Dura-Europos synagogue (from about 250 CE), beg for an explanation which is not easily found. Their style is partly rooted in the classical tradition, such as we know it from the Pompeii frescoes, for instance, and partly in eastern patterns, such as the Palmyraean, Nabataean and Persian reliefs. But the iconographic richness of the Dura paintings is such that some art historians do not believe them to be sporadic, local manifestations of Jewish art. Rather, they consider them to be a recovered link of an art tradition that existed among the Hellenistic Jews. The place of origin of such a tradition would most likely have been Alexandria, the meeting-point between Judaism and Greek philosophy, literature and art since long before Philo. If not the walls of the synagogues, at least, it is thought that manuscripts of the Bible in Greek translation would have been beautifully decorated with illustrations of biblical scenes. As a proof of their supposed existence, some ancient Christian manuscripts of the Bible are referenced, such as the Sinope Fragment, Vienna Genesis, Rosano-Codex, and the Joshua Scroll. Their illustrations depict the same trends of combined classical and eastern styles as the Jewish paintings of Dura Europos. But their relatively late dates (from the fourth to the tenth century) forbid us to consider them related in any way to the supposed sources of the third-century Dura paintings. There are too many gaps in this kind of argument. It is safer to say that towards the end of the second century CE, in Rome as well as in the eastern provinces, Christians began developing a pictorial art that was similar to the art recently or simultaneously created by Jews for similar purposes and with a similar ideology. How long this Jewish art had been in existence, if at all, before the first artistic expressions of Christianity, nobody knows today. There are good reasons to believe that it had not been too long of a period. Tannaitic rabbis both in Palestine and Babylon were not prepared to allow such a transgression of the biblical law forbidding human and animal representation. But Hellenistic Jews had never defended the opposite stance, at least not explicitly, as far as our sources from the period tell us. Philo’s works do not favor such a concession for his part, despite the fact that his allegorical exegesis of the Bible could certainly have



influenced some of the representations in Dura (Goodenough, 1964). A relationship between early Christian art in Rome and ancient Jewish art in Dura is undeniable. But the link is probably even stronger between some examples of typical representation in early Christian art and Jewish biblical interpretation found in agadah (folk-tales based on Scripture). This in unsurprising, as many Christians were of Jewish extraction, and each group was familiar with oral interpretations of many biblical passages that were popular among the other group. Writings such as Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, (which may refer to Rabbi Tarphon, an important figure in the Mishnah), prove that person to person disputes on biblical passages between prominent Jews and Christians occurred and were widely published. As a result, there was a mutual influence upon one another in how certain topics were approached and the emphasis that they received in biblical interpretation. The Sacrifice of Isaac is known to have been regarded as a symbol, even a prophecy of Jesus’ redemptive death. This theme already appears in Paul’s epistles and is represented in many early Christian monuments, such as the frescoes on the catacombs, marble sarcophagi and golden vases. It was probably because of this that Jewish commentators also began to consider the Sacrifice of Isaac to hold great theological relevance, much more in fact, than the original, historical meaning would warrant on its own. Commentators such as Tanhuma in the third century speak of the “death” and “resurrection” of Isaac, as well as his intercessional role (Midr. Tanḥ.). In Jewish art, the scene appears as early as the third century in the Dura Synagogue, with such significant variants from the biblical text such as a representation of Isaac in the act of prayer in a sort of a tent which may represent his celestial abode after death, while Abraham turns his back to the spectator, an absolutely uncommon detail in ancient art. A much later and also well-known representation of the scene, in the mosaic floor of the Beth Alpha Synagogue (sixth century), presents the Binding of Isaac with quite different characteristics, but it also differs from the biblical text in some details, emulating the interpretation found in the Christian artistic versions of the scene in the Roman catacombs and sarcophagi.



As for an explanation of the phenomenon of the Jewish frescoes at Dura, it seems plausible that the entire presentation of the choice biblical scenes was motivated by a felt need on the part of the local Jews to respond to the claims of Christians. Christians had indeed appropriated for themselves the entire history of the people of Israel, and in particular the primary acts of God’s salvation, seeing in it a preparation and a prophecy of God’s salvation of the entire world in the redemption accomplished in and by Jesus. History was not so important in itself, since typology (an exegetical system used since the days of the apostle Paul) applied these stories to peoples outside of the ethnical and geographical limits of Israel. Jews were compelled to react, and they wanted to display their own history in all of its magnificence: Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Exodus, David, Ezra and the renewal of Torah, Ezekiel and the prophecy of their resurrection as a people, and the restoration of their cult in a new Temple. History was not to be interpreted symbolically or typologically. God’s deeds could and would be a reality in their own times. There was no “new Israel” which included gentiles. The true Israel was that which enjoyed a direct ethnic heritage received from historical Israel. Their presentation of Israel’s history began with Abraham and the promises made to him, not with the creation of Adam and Eve. The focus on Adam and Eve was a Christian view-point, alien to the Jewish people. Seen in this perspective, there is no need to seek an explanation for the phenomenon of the Dura Synagogue based solely on the history of art. Such an art-historical background does not exist. As a result, it is simply wrong to speak of Jewish art as the primary source for the first manifestations of Christian art. There are similarities in topics and in the way these topics are dealt with in both religious groups. But they should be explained rather by the likeness of the biblical themes and the mutual influence exerted by the two groups upon one another, either accepting or rejecting the interpretation given to the same themes by the other group (Figueras 1996). The First Manifestations of Christian Art During the first two hundred years of its history, the Christian faith was outlawed by the Roman Empire, and its worshippers were persecuted. This situation is enough to account for the absence of



any artistic monuments produced by those first generations. Only in certain periods and special circumstances could Christians express themselves with some measure of security. The most important of the periods of religious tolerance was under the Severi emperors and their successors, during the end of the second century and the first half of the third. A second, no less important reason for the absence of Christian art in the very first generations was the elevated spirituality of the new religion. In contrast to the pagan religions surrounding it, Christianity insisted on the necessity of worship devoid of cultic objects, images and tangible temples. Christ himself was the meeting place between the invisible God and his creation. Only contact with the mystical “Body of Christ,” the sense of belonging and new social demands that came with joining the Church, could ensure man’s approach to God. Such spirituality, together with the iconoclastic sentiments inherited from the Jewish traditional opposition to figurative artistic images, was therefore greatly responsible for much of the absence of art during the first hundred and fifty years of Christian history. But there is a third explanation for the relatively late date of Christian art’s emergence. Only at a relatively late date did the Church reckon among its members a certain number of affluent families that could afford the cost of the artistic decoration of tombs and sarcophagi, as well as the vaults and walls of the places where the increasing numbers of believers used to meet for prayer, baptism, the Eucharist and agape-meals. The geographical framework of the first manifestations of Christian art is certainly not very broad prior to the period of Constantine, when the Church finally enjoyed peace from outside enemies. Even before that peace, there are traces of imitations of early Roman Christian art in such different places as the provinces of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Gallia and Spain. In the fourth century, however, Christian monuments appeared all over the countries wherever the Empire extended, from the Euphrates to the Atlantic, and from Britain to Nubia. Rome, of course, holds the richest collection of early Christian monuments from all periods. From the period before Constantine, there are innumerable paintings in the catacombs. This name designates an extensive subterranean necropolis consisting of an intricate net of long corridors excavated into the soft stone tuffo, of



which many of the houses in the city were built. These corridors, of different widths and lengths, extend for hundreds of kilometers. Most of the catacombs are situated outside of the imperial citywalls and have their entrances along the Via Appia, but there are also catacombs along the Via Latina and Via Nomentana. Others are entered by way of ancient churches (St. Sebastian, St. Pancrace, etc.). Most of the dead were buried in loci that were excavated horizontally in rows along the walls, while others had their tombs under arcosolia. It is in the tympanum of the plain wall of these arcosolia, as well as in the vaults and walls of crossing-points and of little chapels built or carved for particular tombs of martyrs, popes and other famous persons, where frecso paintings were displayed on the plaster or stucco. The origins of Christian burial in catacombs are not yet clear, though they were probably related to the Christian belief in the resurrection. Similar reasons may lie at the root of some Roman Jewish catacombs, as well. Their decorations do not usually go beyond the world of symbols (e.g., the Menorah and the Ark of the Covenant), garlands and flowers. Both religions opposed the cremation of corpses as practiced by the Romans since at least the second century CE. It was only natural that the early Christian paintings in the catacombs, as well as many of the scenes in the sculptured sarcophagi, should have a direct connection with faith in God’s power to rescue the deceased from eternal death. Besides the catacombs, the early Roman Christian community possessed a number of private houses that had been accepted as meeting-places for prayer and communal meals. Such places, called domus ecclesia (a house-church) or domus Ecclesiae (a house of the Church) still exist under the modern churches of St. Clemente in Rome, though the paintings there (like those of St. Maria Antiqua) are of a later period (sixth century). The paintings of the catacombs were executed by unknown artists; some with good training, and others with very little. They had the difficult task of finding suitable artistic figures that would fit the demands of a new religion. Some traditional, classical figures were simply adapted, especially for the presentation of individual figures. Jesus was generally represented as a youthful Apollo, the apostles as philosophers, and the sleeping Jonah as Endymion. Greater originality was required for the representation of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, which were soon fixed into



canonical forms of Christian iconography. As said above, there was a parallelism with Jewish art, and a probable influence from Jewish biblical interpretation. The style is purely classical, although some eastern features that would later characterize Byzantine art make their first appearance here. Thus we encounter a tendency to portray figures from the front and the extremely open eyes of several stock figures, such as the orans (figure in prayer).

ICONOGRAPHY OF EARLY CHRISTIAN ART Old Testament scenes and their typology At the end of the second century and the beginning of the third, decorations began to appear in Christian tombs and places of worship. Wall paintings, mosaic pavements and sculptured sarcophagi exhibit the Christian impulse to express the faith in an artistic manner. The themes are trifold: scenes from the Old Testament, the New Testament and pagan mythology. Stylistically they belong to the artistic stream of their milieu and period. The Capella Greca in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, and the Crypt of Lucina, situated nearby, have walls covered in frescoes. So does the baptistery of the Dura-Europos house-church (domus ecclesia) dated to the beginning of the third century. The sarcophagi of the Via Salaria Nova and of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome reach back to the end of the second century. In order to acquire an understanding of the subjects chosen for decoration, it is not necessary to search for Jewish antecedents. This is not only because such antecedents have not been proven to exist, but because most of these subjects are not related to Jewish iconography at all. On a much sounder basis, we can establish a comparison between the images as we know them from the monuments and the contemporary literary documents that have been preserved from that era. As a result, we find that the paintings of the hypogea (monumental, underground tombs) and the sculptured decorations of sarcophagi represent artistically the same great themes that were proclaimed in Christian catechesis. There is no special symbolism to these images. It is a pure proclamation of the Christian faith using events from their sacred history in a typological manner. Treatises such as De Baptismo (Concerning Baptism) by Tertullian, Demonstratio (The Proof) by Irenaeus of Lyon and the Paschal Homily of Melito of Sardis help us to interpret



the half-erased frescoes we encounter as the great figures of the Old Testament: Noah, Isaac, David, Daniel and Jonah (Fig. 30). The theme of original sin appears in the baptistery of Dura, with Adam and Eve standing beside the Tree. The same theme is found on the vault of the entrance to the Catacombs of San Gennaro in Naples (from the end of the second century).

Fig. 30 Daniel in the lions’ den, a mural in the catacomb of Saint Callistus, Rome, from the third century (Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, Vatican). Noah in the Ark (Capella Greca) is one of the typoi (types or models) of humankind’s salvation, and it probably has a baptismal character. The Binding of Isaac (Capella Greca) is a theme used by Melito of Sardis as a typos of Christ’s sacrifice. (We have already



noted the occurrence of the same theme in the synagogue of DuraEuropos and its probable interpretation there). In depictions of the Moses cycle, a very common theme is that of water springing from the rock, which was seen as a symbol of baptism and its salvific character (Capella Greca, Chapel of the Sacraments in the Catacomb of Callistus), and it became very frequent in the third century. David’s battle with Goliath, another figure of salvation, is found in the Baptistery of Dura, but is absent in Rome. However, Hippolytus of Rome took that episode as the theme of one of his works (beginning of third century). Jonah as the great type of the resurrection is found already in the New Testament (Matt 12:39–41; Luke 11:29–32), and is represented in the Crypt of Lucina, in A1, A2, and A6 of the Chapel of the Sacraments, in the room of the Annunziata in the Catacomb of Priscilla, and on sarcophagi from the third and fourth centuries. The Daniel cycle is one of the most important themes, and offers three types of salvation: 1. Daniel among the lions, as found in Capella Greca and the Crypt of Lucina at the end of the second century, and in the Catacomb of Domitilla in the third. (This was also a traditional motif in Judaism). 2. Susanna’s rescue from the wicked elders, considered by Hippolytus to be a figure of baptism (Capella Greca and the third century arcosolium in the Catacomb of Callistus). 3. The Three Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace (Capella Greca and several third century sarcophagi). Together with these scenes and figures we also find representations of “Messianic testimonia” such as the Star of Jacob (Num 24:17), represented in a fresco in the Catacomb of Priscilla; the Shepherd leading the patriarchs (who represent the Church) to Paradise, as found in the baptistery of Dura, (related to Psalm 22, which was used in the baptismal liturgy); the figure of the “Good Shepherd,” depicted bearing a lamb on his shoulders or defending his flock from a wolf, drawn from New Testament motifs. Pagan motifs with new meanings Following the era in which Jewish Christianity clearly enjoyed preeminence over gentile expressions of the faith, (not only in Palestine and Syria, but also in the other eastern provinces, such as Egypt and Asia, as well as in the West, and in the capital of the



Empire), Christians were faced with the problem of whether or not to adopt or reject Greek culture as a whole. From the second century and during the early third century, a new type of Christian emerged. His manners, culture and thought were entirely Greek. Instructed in reading and literature at the school of a grammaticus, he was taught the art of public speaking by a rhetor, and that of thinking by a philosopher. His faith would naturally find expression in terms of Hellenistic sensitivity and intellectualism. On the other hand, Hellenism certainly contained many values which Christians found no reason to reject. Moreover, it was only natural that educated Greeks converted to Christianity should retain their Greek imagination. This was also felt in their artistic expression. Christian themes suggested and awakened familiar images: Lot’s wife changed into a pillar of salt evoked Niobe turned to stone; Moses was compared to Minos; the daughters of Jethro by the well of Midian reminded them of Nausica and her maidens making their expedition to wash their clothes on the beach; David the musician recalled Orpheus with his lute; Odysseus fastened to the mast became a symbol of Christ fastened to the cross; Hercules overcoming the Hydra suggested Christ overcoming the forces of evil. Examples of this transposition (which we find in the writings of the Greek Fathers of the Church, such as Clement of Alexandria, Methodius of Olympus and Pseudo-Justin) may be seen in early expressions of Christian art from their era. In order to understand such phenomena, one must keep in mind that for centuries, pagan philosophers had given allegorical interpretations to ancient myths, and that Philo had followed a similar method in his biblical exegesis. However, the Christian method of interpretation (found in Irenaeus and Justin in particular) was founded on the principle of typology, and this typology took on a more allegorical form in the system of the Alexandrians Clement and Origen. Jonah, sleeping under the vine, a very frequent motif in early Christian art, was often represented as Endymion, the classical symbol of enchanted sleep and eternal youth. The Good Shepherd, also a favorite subject in the catacombs and the sarcophagi, was modeled, when sculpted into a statue, after the statues of Hermes Criophoros (the bearer of the kid). For this reason, he is sometimes represented carrying not a lamb, but a kid or even an adult goat.



Later Christian artists of the Byzantine period retained the same tradition of transposing meaning to pagan motifs. An outstanding example of this is the famous Orpheus mosaic covering the pavement of a funerary chapel in Jerusalem. The main figure is shown surrounded by different animals, a centaur, and the god Pan. Two women in rich garments, Theodosia and Georgia, may represent the deceased in whose honor the chapel had been erected, or they may be allegorical figures. More about mosaics and their themes will be seen later in this chapter. New Testament scenes Early Christian art was above all funerary art, and most of the subjects related to the New Testament on the walls of catacombs and on sarcophagi refer to God’s saving power through Jesus Christ. Such scenes should not be considered apart from those of the Old Testament and those pagan motifs interpreted in a Christian sense, because they all appear intermingled together. It may be easily proved that this is the proper interpretation of what we find from a quote from the Apostolic Constitutions (V, 7), a fourth century apocryphal work: He who raised Lazarus on the fourth day and the daughter of Jair and the son of the widow, and rose also himself; who after three days brought forth Jonah living and unharmed from the belly of the whale, and the Three Children from the furnace of Babylon, and Daniel from the mouth of lions, shall not lack power to raise us also. He who raised the paralytic, and healed that who had the withered hand, and restored the lacking faculty to that who was born blind, the same one shall raise us also. He who with five loaves and two fishes fed five thousand people and had twelve full baskets left, and who changed the water into wine, and who sent the stater which he took out of the mouth of the fish to those who demanded tribute by the hand of Peter, the same shall also raise the dead. To this list, which entirely corresponds to the scenes represented on the walls of the catacombs and sarcophagi, other themes such as baptism and the Eucharist should be added. For baptism, any biblical scene in which water had a major role to play (the crossing



of the Red Sea, Jonah, etc.) may be interpreted in this sense. Indeed, Cyprian of Carthage wrote that “as often as water is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, baptism is meant.” We are tempted to think that he was exaggerating. At times, artists depicted Jesus’ baptism. His baptism is distinguished from ordinary baptisms by the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. In this case, the scene was thought to be linked with Jesus’ power to raise himself from the waters of death, of which Jonah was a foreshadowing. The Eucharistic banquet is a frequent theme in the catacombs, though it is often difficult to distinguish it from the refrigerium meal that sons participated in together when their father died, a pagan theme adapted to the Christian faith. Fish is often shown on the Eucharistic table, and this is most certainly related to the ΙΧΘΥΣ acrostic (Ιησους Χριστος Θεου Υιος Σωτηρ, i.e., Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior). The fish was the most widespread symbol of Jesus in early Christianity, and innumerable texts make reference to it. Two among them are famous inscriptions. One is the metrical epitaph of Abercius (probably bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, who lived in the latter part of the second century): My name is Abercius, a disciple of the holy Shepherd who feeds His sheep upon the hills and plains, who has great eyes that see through all, who taught me the sure learning of life, and sent me to Rome to see the royal city and the queen clad in a golden robe and with golden shoes. There I saw a people who had the gleaming seal. I saw also the plains of Syria and all cities, Nisibis, beyond the Euphrates. Everywhere I found fellow believers, Paul …; everywhere Faith was my guide, and gave me everywhere for food the Fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ) from the spring, the great, the pure, which the spotless Virgin caught and ever puts before the Friends to eat. She has also delicious wine, and she proffers wine mixed with water along with bread. I, Abercius, dictated this to be written in my presence when I was seventy-two years old. Let everyone who shares my confession and understands this inscription pray for Abercius… The second inscription is an epitaph from the fourth century written for a certain Pectorius of Autun (in France). It is an



acrostic: the first letter of each line forms the word ΙΧΘΥΣ, but in Latin characters: Divine progeny of the heavenly ICHTHYS (also in Latin characters), receive with pious heart among the mortals the immortal spring of divinely cleansing waters; refresh thy soul, my friend, with the perennial waters of wisdom which makes rich; receive the delicious food of the Savior of saints; eat, hungry one, holding Ichthys in thy two hands. These two inscriptions testify to the propagation and the depth of baptismal and Eucharistic symbols used by early Christians. In spite of the fact that since the middle of the second century, the Roman baptismal creed emphasized the belief that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, that he was crucified, buried and rose again on the third day, these themes which later appeared in the ornament of baptisteries and basilicas were hardly depicted at all in the catacombs. In sepulchral art there is no picture of the Annunciation, and there is only one instance of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (on a sarcophagus from Ravenna). The adoration of the shepherds was not depicted before Constantine, although pictures of the angels telling them the good news emerged earlier. Pictures of the Mother and Child are rare. The oldest and most significant one shows Balaam (or perhaps the Prophet Isaiah?) pointing to a star above the head of the Infant (a probable allusion to Num 24:17). The Crucifixion was not represented realistically before the fifth century. In the catacombs, there are no representations of the resurrection of Christ. Christ standing in the midst of the twelve apostles appears in the fourth century, and the theme was a frequent one for sarcophagi. Christ as the Judge of all mankind was not a theme in early sepulchral art, but we sometimes find images of the deceased brought into the presence of Christ for individual scrutiny. Finally, the figure of a man, and more often, a woman, standing in an attitude of prayer with hands upraised is very frequent, in the catacombs as well as in the reliefs of sarcophagi (see Fig. 23). The meaning of this orans, (Latin for “praying person”), has been a subject of discussion among scholars, but it most probably represents the deceased individual praying in God’s



presence. Others interpret the figure of the praying woman as an image of the Church, praying for her deceased members.

THE CHURCH BUILDING Private houses: the Domus Ecclesia We learn from the book of Acts that Jesus’ first disciples, who were Jewish and continued in their profound identification as Jews, did not change their former ways and places of worship following Jesus’ Ascension and their receiving the power of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Peter and John, as well as the rest of the apostles, went daily to the Temple in Jerusalem, to attend Jewish religious services (Acts 3:1–3). Apparently, no change was introduced into the performance of their religious duties, which continued to be entirely Jewish for many years. Thus, Paul was arrested in the Temple, on the occasion of the accomplishment of a vow (Acts 21:26–30). James, the respected “brother” of Jesus who shepherded the community of believers in Jerusalem, was judged by the high priest Ananus and sentenced to death by stoning (Josephus, Ant. 20. 9, 27–39). According to Eusebius, James’ martyrdom took place in the Temple, where he used to go for prayer (CH II, 23, 18). Nevertheless, since the beginning, a special religious gathering was often not held in a public place, such as the Temple or a synagogue, but in private houses. This was the Eucharistic assembly, which could be preceded by a normal meal, when the community of believers gathered for the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). The custom of such a religious gathering in private houses was not exclusive to the Jerusalem community of Jewish Christians, but was also maintained by gentile and mixed communities in other countries, as we learn from the stories of Paul’s ministry (Acts 19:9–10), and particularly from his stay in the city of Troas, where he celebrated the Eucharist in the “upper room” of a private house (Acts 20:7–8). A similar testimony to the development of these gatherings comes from the admonitions of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:17–34). Outside of that, we do not possess any documents showing that during the first two or three generations of the Church religious ceremonies such as baptism were celebrated in special places (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 8:36–37; 9:18, etc.; Did. 7:1–3; Justin Martyr, I Apol. 61).



Being Jewish themselves, or having formerly been attracted to Judaism, we know that early generations of Christians, particularly in Palestine, attended Sabbath services in the synagogues (Acts 13:5, 14–15; see also James 2:2–4, etc.). How the place of worship evolved among gentile Christians is not an easy question to answer, for, at the beginning of the third century, the pagan philosopher Celsus still reproached Christians for having “no temples, no statues, and no altars” (Origen, Cels. PG 11, 1539–42). The same was said by Arnobius, who reported that Christians have no temples, nor statues, nor altars where to place victims and incense (PL 5, 1162). This situation changed, it seems, towards the end of the third century, when many proper churches were built, as will be seen below. There is no doubt, therefore, that for about 150 years, gentile Christians used private homes for their regular meetings, in which spacious rooms were adapted for prayer and worship. One of these houses of prayer was discovered in Dura Europos, on the eastern border of the Syrian Desert. We are aware of other such houses that were used especially for religious meetings from some early Christian literary sources. One of them speaks of Peter’s apostolic work and evangelism in a private house in Tyre and in the house of Theophilus in Antiochia (Recognitiones Clementinae, PG 1, 1315 and 1453–4). The latter was later transformed into a basilica. In Palestine, memories of Jesus’ life caused some particular houses to be venerated and used as meeting places by Christians. Such were Mary’s house in Nazareth, Peter’s house in Capernaum, Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, the widow’s house in Nain, and the anonymous disciple’s house on Mt. Zion. From the archaeological point of view, the best known of these is Peter’s house in Capernaum, where excavations conducted by the Franciscan Fathers discovered the stone pavement of the original meeting hall (or the “venerated hall” as the Franciscans call it) at about one meter below the mosaic pavement of the later Byzantine octagonal church (Fig. 31). Its walls displayed a variety of graffiti, carved into the plaster by ancient pilgrims, in Greek, Hebrew and Syriac. The transformation of this hall into a place of worship is attested to by the fourth century pilgrim Egeria, who wrote in her diary: “In Capernaum, in the house of the Prince of the Apostles, a church has been built, its walls being as they were” (Wilkinson 1971: 194). This was probably the work of the local Jewish Christians, taken over by the gentile Christians not long before



Egeria’s visit, which probably took place in 385 CE. Around the year 575, the records of another pilgrim, Anonymous from Piacenza, prove that in the meantime a Byzantine structure was erected on the spot: “We came to Capernaum, to the House of Peter, which is now a basilica” (Wilkinson 1977: 81). This process of the transformation of a house related to a number of stories in the New Testament, venerated and used by the local Christians and later taken over by gentiles, seems to have been more or less the destiny of many places like this, such as Nazareth and other sites mentioned above.

Fig. 31 The remains of a six-sided Byzantine church built upon the house of Peter in Capernaum, fifth century (Loffreda 1985: 65). The first Christian churches We have no clear references to real buildings erected with the express purpose of serving as an appropriate place for Christian



assemblies of worship until the third century. The first mention of this refers to a church that existed in Edessa, in northern Syria. Indeed, in the Chronicle of this city, it is recorded that “the temple of the Church of the Christians was destroyed by a flood.” Far more relevant is the discovery, in the late 1920s, of the church of Dura-Europos, on the Euphrates, which can definitely be dated before the year 256 CE as a place of Christian worship, and as a secular home before this to the year 232 CE. There is no doubt that many other such churches existed or were erected during the third century. From Eusebius of Caesarea we also know that a great number of them were destroyed, either during periods of persecution, or during the intervals of comparative peace, when the progress of evangelization compelled Christians to pull down old churches and build larger ones. “How can we describe,” writes Eusebius, “the multitudes which gathered in these churches, or the distinguished people who flocked the places of prayer?” (Eusebius, CH VIII, 1). It is likely that most of these churches, built well before the days of Diocletian, were destroyed in the terrible persecution that he launched. And there is good reason to believe that a dozen at least of the parochial churches in Rome, (the tituli), existed in some form before they were built in the time of Constantine. But probably not much is left from the earlier buildings, for Eusebius affirms that the churches that were rebuilt after the peace were much larger than the original houses of worship (Eusebius, CH X, 2). In Rome, there were also buildings belonging to the Church outside of the city, connected to the catacombs. The Liber Pontificalis says of Pope Fabian (236–250) that he built there many funerary monuments (multas fabricas per coemiteria fecit). Probably before the reign of Diocletian, the Roman writer Minutius Felix represents the feelings of opponents of Christianity when he writes in his Dialogue: “The odious sanctuaries (sacraria) of this impious sect are springing up throughout the whole world.” Lampridius, another enemy of Christianity, relates in his Life of Alexander Severus (Ch. 49) that, when the question of a property that had been bought by Christians yet was claimed by a guild of cooks was submitted to this emperor (222–235 CE), he decided the case justly by saying: “It is better for God to be worshipped there in one way or another than the place be given to the cooks for a tavern.” Eusebius narrates (CH VII, 30:9) that when Paul of Samosata had



been excommunicated for trying to retain possession of “the house of the Church” of Antioch, the emperor Aurelian (270–275 CE) rendered a just decision when he decreed that the house should be delivered “to those persons to whom they of Italy and the bishop of the doctrine in the city of Rome should write letters.” It is difficult today to state much about the architectural features of those early churches. In the case of Dura, it is obvious that local Christians managed to adapt an ordinary house to suit their worship gatherings by removing the partition wall which had separated two large rooms, by furnishing another room as a baptistery, and utilizing, at it seems, an intermediate room for the agape-meal. This is a natural evolution of the early domus ecclesia (“house-church”). The interior setting of worship objects (such as the altar and the repository for vessels), benches and wall decorations, made the room appropriate for its new purpose. But, externally, there was nothing which could characterize such a building as a church. It was rather a typical Roman house, with the most important elements, such as the triclinium and several other rooms surrounding the central impluvium, or open inner courtyard, with its pool in the middle. As for decoration, the Dura-Europos house-church has preserved the wall-paintings in the baptistery, with appropriate themes from the Old and New Testaments, as already discussed. More systematically, the wall behind the font displays the picture of the Good Shepherd. On the right side of the wall are two frescoes: above, Peter tries to walk on the water, and Christ heals the paralytic, who then walks off with his bed. Below, five women with torches in their hands seem to move towards their right, where a sort of large sarcophagus is placed, probably representing Jesus’ tomb. On the other side, and on a smaller scale, there is a painting of a serpent and a tree, Adam and Eve. Then there is the Samaritan woman sitting by the well. In the vault, stars against a blue background represent heaven. All these representations are certainly symbolical, or, rather, typological. As for their style, it seems that we can recognize two different hands, one more “classical” and probably foreign, the other decidedly “Eastern,” probably local. The figures are frontally represented and static, except for that of the paralytic. If the themes of these pictures may be compared to those in the catacombs, in their artistic features



they are similar to those of the Jewish synagogue of Dura, which are contemporary (Rostowtzev 1938).

Fig. 32 Mosaic floor of a Christian prayer hall in ancient Legio, near Megiddo, Israel, from the third century CE (Israel Antiquities Authority). An extraordinary casual discovery related to the early Christian worship sites was made several years ago in northern Israel in the ancient Roman encampment of Legio, near Megiddo. There were Christian believers among Roman soldiers long before the Constantinian period, a fact proved by the presence of sporadic Christian graffiti found in several places where the soldiers were stationed. But the recent discovery of a mosaic floor in that ancient Roman encampment has suddenly transformed all what was previously known on this subject. The inscriptions on this mosaic have been dated to the third century CE, certainly before the onset of the persecution of Christians by Maximilian and Diocletian. They confirm that there had been a Christian worship house for soldiers at the location where the mosaic was found (Fig. 32). One of the two Greek inscriptions reads: “Gaianus, also called Porphyrius, centurion, our brother, has made the pavement at his own expenses as an act of liberality. Brutus has carried out the work.” The text of the second is no less explicit: “The God-loving



Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.” A third inscription remembers the names of four ladies: “Remember Primilla and Cyriaca and Dorothea, and moreover Chreste.” These inscriptions were set in two different decorative panels or emblemas in the mosaic, one of them having in its center a medallion depicting two fishes. In the center of the hall, amid the panels, two large rectangular blocks of stone are probably referred to in the second inscription, likely representing the “table” upon which the Eucharistic meal was celebrated (Tepper – Di Segni 2006).

THE CHRISTIAN BASILICA Origins Since the fourth century, Christians have used the term basilica to refer to church buildings. This was the basileios oikos, the “royal house,” i.e., the house of the Divine King. The word “basilica” was commonly used in Roman times to denote halls set aside by imperial order for public use. To Christians, this seemed an appropriate name for the house of God. As far as we know, the name basilica was used for the first time in writing by the Bordeaux Pilgrim (333 CE), but not much later by Eusebius. In its secular use, the word basilica did not precisely define the character of the building, or the kind of public use to which it was dedicated. It was also used to simply designate a “hall,” and it was even applied to private halls in the palaces of the wealthy patricians. The Christians used the word in a more definite sense. Originally, a basilica was an oblong, rectangular hall with interior colonnades and an apsidal prolongation. Thus, it was not used for other sacred buildings, such as baptisteries or cemetery chapels, nor even for churches that were built according to a similar round or polygonal plan. Christian basilicas probably existed before Constantine, although none of them has been preserved to the present day. They were no longer private houses adapted to accommodate Christian worship, but real church buildings. The Nicomedian ordinance of the emperor Licinius, which was published in the year 313, restored all the ecclesiastical properties “to the churches.” The edict of Maximinus permitted Christians to adhere to their sect without fear



of molestation, to perform their cult, and to rebuild the “houses of the Lord.” Architectural structure The early Christian basilica was thus described by Walter Lowrie: An oblong rectangular hall, nearly twice as long as it was wide, and it was divided longitudinally into three (sometimes five) aisles. The central aisle (the nave) was nearly twice as wide as the side aisles and more than twice their height. The nave was covered with a gable roof of timber, the beams of which were commonly hidden by a flat wooden ceiling. Although the height of the ceiling was not much greater than the width of the nave, the penthouse roof of the side aisles was so much lower that the windows of the clerestory provided plenty of light and ventilation. Usually there were no windows in the lower wall, and the doors (except in northern Syria) were at one end, corresponding in number to the number of the aisles [Fig. 33]. At the other end the nave terminated in the apse, a semicircular room surmounted by a half-dome. On the chord of the apse, or in front of it, was the altar, and behind that the seats of the clergy. I mention here only the fundamental and invariable features. Usually the apse projected beyond the rectangular walls, but sometimes it was inscribed—a difference which was observable within the church. Sometimes each of the three aisles ended with an apse; but this innovation, apart from considerations of symmetry, was prompted by the necessity of providing a place for the altar of prothesis, which was a peculiarity of the Syrian liturgy, and therefore we find it only in the East. (Lowrie 1947: 108) To this general description we should add that the effect sought by the Church in turning the pagan temple outside in, that is, placing the colonnade in the interior of the building, was due to the sense of sacredness which was attributed to the space destined for Christian worship. No special beauty was desired for the exterior of the building. God was to be worshipped inside, at the gathering of the Christian family, around the table of the Lord. His presence



was experienced during the liturgical meal. There is no hint of a naturalistic cult in early Christianity, though nature, time, and all creation were symbolically present with the faithful in the church, in the representations of mosaic pavements and wall paintings.

Fig. 33 A Christian basilica in the city of Aquileia, northern Italy, from the fourth century (Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Germany). Very often, and particularly in the East, in front of the basilica was an open atrium with a colonnade, with the mouth of a cistern in its center. This feature can be seen today in the existing remains of ancient basilicas in the Negev desert. Two open atria were built in the Constantian complex around the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, one in front of the rotunda of the Anastasis, the other in front of the basilica called the Martyrium. In this unique and most impressive complex (which deserves a chapter unto itself), it must be observed that the Martyrium was not “oriented,” i.e., with the altar and apse on the eastern side, as was most common in the Byzantine world, but instead it was directed towards the West, where Christ’s rock-hewn tomb stood (Fig. 9). It seems that here the motif of the rising sun, (an ancient symbol of Christ rising from the dead, adopted as early as the second century, as seen in the representation of Christ as Sun in a wall-mosaic in the Vatican grottoes), was here eschewed for the proof of Christ’s resurrection, his empty tomb.



Palestine, where more than 250 Byzantine churches have been discovered, offers the entire range of architectural features of ancient churches. The oblong basilica was certainly the most common plan of church. Many of these basilicas, as mentioned above, were approached by way of an open atrium. A still more common feature was the narthex, a sort of covered corridor or oblong hall running along the western wall of the church, where the main entrances would be located. The narthex was the place reserved for people to whom entrance to the church was either totally or partially forbidden, such as catechumens or public penitents.

Fig. 34 The church of a monastery and the two chapels attached to it, in Shivta, the central Negev, Israel, from the sixth century. There were basilicas with only one apse, placed inside a massive, rectangular structure, flanked by two sacristies, called pastophoria in Greek. Such was the plan of St. Lazarus’ Church in Bethany (fourth century), the two churches at Mampsis in the Negev (fourth-fifth century), the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha (fifth century), the one in ‘Ain Hanniye, southwest of Jerusalem (sixth-seventh century), and many others. Other basilicas had a salient central apse and two smaller ones on its sides, a plan that became customary following the sixth century. The central



church in Shivta was built according to this style, for instance. Towards the end of the fifth and during the sixth century, many basilicas that had possessed sacristies (pastophoria) flanking the central apse suffered an architectural transformation that replaced these two rooms. In the Negev, such a transformation is evident in the northern and southern basilicas of Shivta (Fig. 34), and the cathedral church in Halutza.

Fig. 35 The mosaic floor in the diakonikon of the church of Horvat Karkur ‘Illit, the northern Negev, Israel, from the fifth and sixth centuries (photo: Alter Fogel).



It has been suggested that the motivation for this transformation was due to the increasing interest in the cult of the saints. In the ruins of some of these side apses there have been found the remains of reliquaries. One may therefore suppose that the flanking apses were actually side chapels primarily designed for the preservation and veneration of saintly relics. The use of the former side rooms as pastophoria was transferred to other rooms and chapels annexed to the northern and southern aisles. The special room where cult objects, clothes and books were kept was called the diakonikon, and was generally richly built and decorated (Fig. 35). Other types There are remains from Byzantine Palestine of “twin churches” whose purpose is uncertain, but it is evident that they met the needs of local liturgical customs. Examples can be found in ‘Ein Karem, Kefar Kama and the recently discovered western church in Nitzana. The communication between the “twin churches” is usually by way of a door in the presbytery. In Silwan, two ancient chambers hewn out of the rock, said to be the tomb of the prophet Isaiah, were later adapted to Christian worship by Byzantine monks. Other caves and natural grottos were similarly utilized for the needs of worship, often forming parts of basilicas, because they were traditionally believed to have been the scenario of biblical events or related to important prophets and saints. A few examples from among many are the Nativity Cave in Bethlehem, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the House of Mary in Nazareth, and the recently excavated Cave of Lot on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. The “trifoil” or “triconche” shape, that is, a centralized triple apse, was common in some of the larger basilicas, such as the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. It was only under the emperor Justinian, in the sixth century that huge triapsidal structure was developed into its current form, thus altering the original octagonal layout that was built by Constantine around the Cave of the Nativity. Another Byzantine trifoil church was excavated long ago in Jerash, Jordan. A smaller trifoil structure is observable in the Greek Orthodox church in Bethany, built on the ancient base of the same form. Akin to the trifoil plan, which widened the space near the altar and the presbytery, is the church with a “transept,” a feature which



became especially common later in the West, in ancient basilicas and medieval cathedrals. The transept is a lengthening of the body of the building on both sides of the presbytery. Very few examples of ancient transepts are known in Israel, one of which is the basilica in Tabgha, (the traditional location of the miracle of the loaves and fishes). A recent excavation discovered another beautiful one in Beer-Sheva, near the modern municipal market. By adding another doubled length facing the central apse at a right angle to the transept, a cruciform plan is achieved. Some churches exhibited a more or less regular Greek cross, with the altar or a very important monument occupying the central, meeting point of the four arms. A famous basilica of this type was built about 470 CE around the venerated column of St. Simeon Stylites, in northern Syria, known today as Qal‘at Sim‘an. In Jerusalem, the original underground church built over the so-called “Tomb” of St. Mary in the Kidron Valley may also be included among the cruciform churches, although its form was irregular. According to a drawing by Bishop Arculph (685 CE), a perfectly regular Greek cross form was utilized for the ancient church in Samaria built over Jacob’s Well, which occupied the exact point of convergence of the four aisles of the building. Plans for churches could also take a circular or octagonal form. The latter is found, for instance, in the Ascension Chapel on the Mount of Olives, where traces of an octagonal building around the present Crusader edicula can still be found. On Mount Gerizim, the Church of the Theotokos, built by the emperor Zenon in the year 485, was built on a hexagonal plan, and so was the fifth century church built over St. Peter’s House in Caphernaum. Another hexagonal church is the recently discovered Church of Kathisma, south of Jerusalem, built over a rock where Mary, pregnant with Jesus, was supposed to have sat on her way to Bethlehem. A circular church was found in Beth Shean, known in Roman times as Scythopolis. An apse was added to the eastern side of the rotunda, as well as a narthex and an atrium to the western side. The same form is found in the design made by Arculph of the upper Church of St. Mary’s Tomb in Gethsemane. Another circular church, with four apses, was built in honor of St. John the Baptist in Jerash. This church was situated between two other basilicas, in honor of Saints Cosmas and Damian and Saint George.



A “hemisphere,” as described by ancient pilgrims, was the peculiar external shape of the rotunda of the Anastasis (Resurrection), built by Constantine’s architects around the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem. It also had three small apses in its western side. Twelve columns surrounded the central edicula covering the rock-cave, of which only the interior chamber was left. A huge dome with a round opening in its center covered the impressive building (above, p. 71, Fig. 9). Church interior The interior of all of the basilicas, as different as they could be, did not differ much one from another in their structural and decorative motifs. A timber ceiling was sustained by stone, less than 1 meter wide. On the walls upon the columns, small windows with round, colored glass, with a radius of ca. 3 to 9 cm, fixed in plaster, allowed light to penetrate the interior. Mural paintings or mosaics decorated apses and part of the other walls of the interior. The floor of many churches was made of simple flagstone, others were covered with mosaics, and the richest ones were paved with large, marble slabs.

Fig. 36 The transenna and synthronos of a Byzantine church in Mampsis (Kurnub, Mamshit), the central Negev, Israel, from the fifth century.



The part of the church reserved for clergy and male singers was called the presbytery or bema. It was about 50 cm elevated above the church floor, and was separated from the rest of the church by a sort of chancel or balustrade made of standing limestone or marble slabs, usually decorated with reliefs, and joined to one another by short pillars. This structure symbolically separated the holy of holies of the church from the more common areas, and was called the transenna or cancellum. From the tenth century onwards, this was developed into a structure that enclosed the area around the altar from the eyes of the faithful (Fig. 36). This partition is normative today in most of the Eastern Churches, and is called the iconostasis, because its walls are covered with holy icons, paintings of Jesus, Mary and other saints. Already in the Byzantine period, some churches, (like the one in Mampsis, in the Negev), had high narrow columns that emerged from the transenna pillars, to sustain an architrave from which lamps and curtains were hung.

Fig. 37 The podium of the bishop’s throne in the cathedral of Elusa (Halutza), the central Negev, Israel, from the sixth century. Behind the altar and running along the apse stood a stone or wooden bench called the synthronos, in the shape of high steps. Here



is where the priests, deacons and other clergy who performed the liturgy would sit. In some cases, there was a higher seat in the center for the officiating priest, as in the north church in Avdat in the Negev, or even a real stairway that stood below the chair of the bishop, as found in the cathedral in Halutza, ancient Elusa (later sadly vandalized) (Fig. 37).The altar itself was a table sustained by four small columns. The shape of the altar table could be rectangular or semicircular, and its material was usually of marble, though it could also be of local stone or even wood. In exceptional cases, it was made of gold or silver, such as the altar in the Constantinian Martyrium Church in Jerusalem. Altar bases could be either four small slabs where the column bases were fixed, or a larger, rectangular slab with four holes in the corners. In some cases, the relics of a martyr, kept inside a small, rectangular box or reliquarium, were placed beneath the altar. But this was not the norm, particularly in the Palestinian churches. Relic-boxes are found in different places near the altar, such as in niches open in the side apses, or under the stairs of the chair of the bishop. In some churches that were particularly popular with pilgrims, a crypt or subterranean chapel or cave was arranged under the presbytery and the altar to contain the relics of a famous martyr or saint. The visitors could have access to the crypt through side stairs opened on both sides of the presbytery. This crypt could also be called a martyrion, although sometimes this term refers to the entire church where a famous saint was venerated, such as the “martyrion of Saint Theodore,” referred to in an inscription on a tomb slab in the south church at Avdat. In Israel, crypts have been discovered in several Byzantine churches, such as in the north church at Ruheibeh in the central Negev, Horvat Berachot near Gush Etzion, and Abu Hof near Kibbuts Lahav, in the southern Shefelah. Another element in the interior of churches is the ambo (pulpit) for the public reading and the instruction of the people. It had the form of a small tribune, or platform, elevated upon the level of the presbytery, near the northern or southern corners, and close to the audience. The ambo could be circular, rectangular, or polygonal, and was usually set upon small columns fixed on a platform upon the floor of the church. Mention should also be made of the ciborium, a sort of canopy or dome sustained by four columns above the altar. Ancient texts mention these in their description of the most beautiful basilicas,



such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during the time of Constantine. These structures symbolized the heavenly dome, and we can still admire some of the original ones, for instance, in the ancient church of Poreč in Croatia. It is in this context that we should recall Justinian’s magnificent construction of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which was completely inspired by the idea of the heavenly dome. That building surpassed all former church buildings, both in its huge proportions and its particular shape. It represents the synthesis of various architectural ideas that were about in the sixth century in the Byzantine world: the elements belonging to the square building topped by a dome, (already present in the famous mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna in the fifth century), the columned, longitudinal basilica, and the cruciform shape are all harmoniously combined in the interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Fig. 38 A tomb in front of the northern chapel in the church “Martyrium of Saint Theodore,” Avdat, the central Negev, Israel, from the sixth century. A final element often found in the interior of the early basilicas is the tombs in the floor (Fig. 38). They are usually to be distinguished by particular details of their cover, perhaps a unique stone or marble slab exhibiting an epitaph or inscription, or some



flagstones like the ones of the pavement, but placed in a different manner. People were sometimes buried under the presbytery, (as in Beer-Sheva), or in a side chapel, but normally in the nave and aisles of the church. They could be either clergy, wealthy citizens or members of humble families. Many churches have no graves at all. Others have three or four. An absolute exception in the East is the church of Horvat Karkur ‘Illit, recently excavated in the northern Negev, which has no less than twenty tombs, arranged in five rows in the floor. The anthropological explanation of the remains has shown that those buried there were men, women, youngsters, children and babies. We know from other countries in the ancient Christian world, and particularly in North Africa, of actual “cemeterial” churches, i.e., churches purposefully built to serve as burial places. Some monastic churches excavated in Israel have also had their burial crypts under the church.

THE BAPTISTERY As a general rule, baptism, the sacrament of initiation into the life of the Church, was administered in the Byzantine period in a chapel next to the church building, or even in a separate building erected for that purpose. Very rarely the baptistery is found inside the church building. The baptismal chapel could be part of an annex to the church, communicating with it through a doorway. In ancient times, the Jewish Christian community probably used a baptistery similar to the Jewish miqveh. Two like these were found in the excavations of Nazareth, one in the crypt of St. Joseph’s church, the other near the grotto of the Annunciation. A third one is on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. In Palestine, the baptismal chapels dating from the Byzantine period are all rectangular and many have an apse opened towards the east. They can be situated either to the south of the church or to the north, (an example of each of these can be seen at Shivta). More rarely, (as in Amwas), the baptismal chapel can be in the east. In Jerash, it is situated between the twin churches. Their measures can vary between 10.4 x 3.7 meters and 10.5 x 6.1 meters. The baptistery in Mt. Nebo has the latter dimensions. Like basilicas, they can have more than one nave, with colonnades. They can have either one or two doors. There are cases where one of the entrances opens to open space or to a public road, (Jerash).



In their interior, baptisteries usually had a chancel or transenna that separated the area where the clergy stood around the font, mimicking the space around the altar of basilicas. This allowed for an orderly procession to and from the font by the catechumenoi. The font was placed near the apse, though a space was left between the wall and the font. A small niche in the wall of the apse served to hold objects necessary for the ceremony. In Palestine, fonts could be built of bricks, (Eleona on the Mount of Olives, Amwas, Mampsis, and the northern church in Nitzana), or of concrete, (Horvat Karkur ‘Illit), and then covered in plaster. But in most cases, (with some thirty in number, including specimens from Transjordan), they were hewn out of stone, (Teqoa, Shivta, the Church of the Nativity, etc.). Their exterior shape could be rectangular, square, octagonal, hexagonal or round, while their interior could be round, quadrilobe, cruciform, or irregular when left unfishished (Smakiyeh). Most of them are placed on the floor level, others were imbedded into the floor, and thus their height could vary, (1.3 meters at ‘Ain el Ma’amudyeh to 0.24 meters at Eleona). Those fonts provided with steps were probably meant for adults, while the others are more appropriate for the baptism of infants. Inner dimensions vary from more than 1 meter wide (Teqo’a) to 0.57 meters (Khirbet Mird).

Fig. 39 The baptistry of the southern church in Shivta, Israel, from the sixth century.



Water was usually brought to the font by means of jars, but in some cases there was a channel hewn out of the bedrock or made of fixed stones that ran from a nearby source, or even a lead tube that connected the baptistery to a cistern. At times, a hole in the pavement of the font served to drain it. Most often, water was drained off with jars, although in some cases a cavity in the pavement seems to have had the purpose of gathering filth, (as seen already in the pre-Constantinian baptistery in Nazareth). A small basin is found at times near the mouth of the font, and its use is a matter of debate. It may have served for sacred rites related to baptism, such as the anointing, but others claim that they had a more prosaic use, such as for the catechumens to clean their feet before entering the font (Fig. 39). Some baptisteries had a ciborium mounted on four columns (Mampsis), similar to those standing above the central altar in the church. Many had their walls decorated with paintings of the scene of Jesus’ baptism, (as can yet be seen in Mampsis and Shivta). Many had fine mosaic floors, which could exhibit either geometric designs or figurative themes connected to patristic homilies on baptism, such as a wavy cross representing the ‘water of life,’ or ‘trees of life’ with deer and birds surrounding them. The recently discovered second baptistery on Mount Nebo offers a unique and extraordinarily well-preserved mosaic pavement. Its themes are taken from the life of mercantile and pilgrimage that took place in the busy world around Moses’ memorial site, and have no direct link to the significance of baptism. The most that can be said is that the artist may have had the conversion of the local nomads to Christianity in mind. Their representation on the baptistery floor, with their horses and camels, would have certainly appealed to their simple tastes. Not long after its execution, this mosaic was covered with a simpler one, with no human or animal figures at all. The reason for such a change may be rooted in the iconoclastic trends that were introduced by the Muslim conquerors of the country after 632 CE Mosaic inscriptions in baptisteries are suggestive of subjects such as peace, light and water. In the pilgrim church and monastery at Kursi, on the eastern side of Lake Kinneret, a long inscription designates the baptistery the photisterion, literally, the “place of illumination.” More generally, the inscriptions are simple religious



invocations for the benefit of the donors, and rarely record historical dates and names related to the building of the place.

MONASTERIES As discussed in the chapter dedicated to ancient monasticism, the origins of Christian monasticism are not entirely clear. We can be certain that there was an evolution from early groups of virgins and widows living under the auspices of local churches and dioceses towards the well-organized coenobitic monasteries, including a period of semi-heremitic life, particularly in Egypt. Monks in Egypt used ancient tombs and abandoned temples as their living places. In Palestine, natural caves in the rocky walls of wadis provided hermits with shelter from the elements. When a group of such hermits settled in the vicinity of a venerated master, a central chapel or church was soon built for their weekly meetings. In the course of time, annexes and outbuildings were added to the church, and thus was founded the laura. Numerous ruins of such monastic complexes from the Byzantine period are found in Israel, Jordan and Syria. Very few sites have ever been completely abandoned, and thus transformations and repairs have changed their original plan. In other sites they were re-inhabited in the nineteenth century. As a matter of fact, the interpretation of monastic ruins is not always easy, but contemporary texts can help us to understand the function of the different rooms. In some cases, such as at St. Eutymios in the Judaean Desert, some of the central buildings of a laura were later transformed into a true coinobium, i.e., a monastery. The plans of two important monasteries are particularly wellknown today, thanks to the excavations conducted there by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem. One is Bir el-Qutt, near Bethlehem. The other is Ras Siagha, supposed to have been the place of Moses’ vision of the Promised Land from Mount Nebo (Fig. 24). More recently, the well-preserved monastery of Martyrios was discovered quite by accident at Ma’ale Adumim and excavated by Israeli archaeologists (Fig. 40), as was the monastery of Tel Masos in the northern Negev.



Fig. 40 The dining room of the monastery of Martyrius in Ma‘aleh Adumim in the Judaean Desert, from the sixth century (Magen 1993: 181). The Georgian monastery of Bir el-Qutt possessed a church without colonnades and with a simple apse, a meeting-hall next to the church, a rectangular open courtyard (claustrum) with colonnades in its four aisles, (a rare feature in Palestinian monasteries), a diningroom, a spacious kitchen, two presses for oil or wine, and several other rooms of uncertain use, both large and small. While the tombs of the monks were discovered under the pavement of the church and of a smaller chapel next to it, their rooms have yet to be found, probably because they were situated on the upper story. The monastery of Moses’ Vision on Mount Nebo included, in its central part, a triple-apse basilica with a double colonnade, three adjoining chapels, (one of which was a baptistery with an inscription designating it the diakonikon), a narthex and atrium



surrounded by cells. Pilgrims could reach the shrine through a courtyard and a passage to the atrium. Surrounding two other courtyards (claustra), more monastic cells were built. The father superior (hegoúmenos) had his double room apartment in the northern side of the atrium, with a stone “divan.” To the west were the dining room and the kitchen, with a window opened between. To the south were installed workshops and three stoves. To the west there was a long hall, covered with eighteen arches to sustain an upper story. This part was probably the guest-house for visiting pilgrims. Several cisterns, both indoors and out, (two of them under the floor of the atrium), supplied enough water for the needs of such a large monastic complex and pilgrim center. The nearby caves on the slope of the mountain were well suited for animal husbandry, and were arranged to serve as farms. Grain silos, small hand-operated mills and large mill-stones operated by animals were found in the spacious rooms paved with plain mosaics. Two of the stoves, (probably for bread-baking), were circular; the third was rectangular. The placing of the different parts of these two monasterie was certainly similar to most of the monasteries in Byzantine Palestine. The natural products of the agricultural environment could differ from region to region, and this dictated the daily activity of the monks. Some ancient monastic ruins include fish pools. Larger monasteries had stables for draft and riding horses, typically with stone mangers. Some communities also possessed well-equipped establishments far away from their own premises. Thus the laura of St. Euthymios possessed in Jerusalem a hospice (metochion) for the reception of pilgrims, and in Jericho an agricultural installation that could supply other monasteries with all that was needed for their work. Western monasteries did not differ much from their Eastern counterparts. The Rule of St. Benedict, for instance, explicitly mentions such Eastern sources of inspiration as John Cassian’s Collationes and Institutiones, the Rule of St. Basil, and the Lives of the Fathers. It also makes specific references to distinct parts of the monastery, such as the church (oratorium), refectory, dormitory, guest-house (with a sufficient number of made-up beds), library, scribal workshop (scriptorium), cellar, common wardrobe and stores for tools. It stipulates that “if it can be done the monastery should be so situated that all the necessary elements, such as water, the



mill, and the garden, are enclosed, and the various arts may be plied inside the monastery.” Benedict insists upon the “enclosure of the monastery,” and deals also with the work of the monks in the fields. Benedictine monasteries were economically supported by agriculture, but the Rule insists upon the cultural development of the monks, as well, (each of whom were given books to read and the necessary tools for writing), and this provided another need for more hard, manual labor. The Rule foresees the presence of “skilled workmen in the monastery” whose products should be priced a little cheaper than those of secular artisans. Specialized workshops and perhaps a shop were necessary. Moreover, the presence of children who were educated in the monastery required their own special rooms. The transformation and destruction that ancient European monasteries suffered make it difficult to imagine what they exactly looked like. We must proceed well into the Middle Ages before we are able to trace the plan of a monastery. One from the tenth century has been preserved in a pristine condition in St. Gall, in Switzerland.

CHURCH DECORATION Reliefs A thorough study of sculpture in early Christian and Byzantine art is still a desideratum in the history of Christian art. The reason for this gap may be found in the lack of sufficient material to provide for a full, comparative research. However, it must be stressed that not only is the number of extant sculptures extremely low as compared to that of reliefs, but the themes displayed in them are generally different. Most of the reliefs depict a religious theme or have been executed with an explicit religious purpose, (sarcophagi panels, church and baptistery chancels, gospel book-covers, chalices, etc.), but most sculptures are plainly profane figures, (portraits, busts, statues of emperors, etc.). Though this was by no means an established rule, it is nevertheless certain that if iconoclastic tendencies did not succeed in uprooting figurative art from the Byzantine Church altogether, their increasing influence pushed religious authorities to encourage limiting the representation of human forms to paintings or mosaics. The same representation in sculptures or even reliefs was generally forbidden.



This is the rule to this day in Byzantine and all other Eastern Churches. Sculptured reliefs, not only in stone, but also in wood, are found in different ancient churches beginning in the fourth century all over the Empire. The doors of Santa Sabina in Rome (432 CE) and those of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai (c. 536 CE) are the best preserved examples of the few to have survived from that era. (The current doors on the Byzantine Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem only date from 1227). In Santa Sabina, the door decoration is divided into small, rectangular panels bearing biblical scenes. The iconography is certainly Eastern, but it is not known whether the work was done in Syria or in Rome by Eastern craftsmen; the iconography has its own peculiarities (the Crucifixion scene has no crosses). In Saint Catherine, the setting of the panels tends towards an “arabesque” style, and the carving of the figures is more primitive. Inside of the church, the chancel (transenna) made of stone or marble slabs standing among short pillars had its origins among the Romans, who used it for such places as pools, (as in the Probatica, i.e., the Sheep Pool, in Jerusalem). When it was introduced into the church, this style of enclosure received a decoration based on Christian symbolism. The capitals might display a carved cross, for instance. The slabs were often decorated with a relief consisting of a wreathed cross, or a pair of deer flanking a cross, (still in situ at Saint Catherine in Sinai). Sometimes the ornament was not worked out in high-relief, but in transom, with complicated geometric and botanical designs, (as in San Vitale in Ravenna and Horvat Karkut ‘Illit in the Negev, both from the sixth century). Inscriptions might accompany the decoration of the parapet panels. At times, marble slabs have probably replaced original wood plaques, (as in Hebron). We know that this was the case in the Cathedral of Tyre (consecrated in 317–318 CE) thanks to a detailed description of it by Eusebius (CH X, 4, 44). Most circular altars were decorated all along their edges with a molding of little arches that was 2–3 cm higher than the rest of the surface. These arches may have had the practical purpose of preventing things from falling off of the altar, but most probably they were purely decorative. From the records of ancient pilgrims we know that on the great feasts, altars were decorated with exquisite tissue and hangings. The antependium (altar screen) that



was crafted in precious metal decorated with reliefs and enamels, (as can be seen in the famous Pala d’Oro in Venice), did not come into use until later times. Instead, beautifully decorated columns with figurative reliefs supporting the ciborium above the altar have survived to this day from the fifth century. Prominent among them are the elaborate columns of the ciborium in St. Mark’s, Venice, with several rings of figures and representations of scenes from the life of Jesus framed by small arches. Reliefs could also appear on the pedestal of the ambo (pulpit), though in many regions, as in the East, they were not elevated enough to permit full decoration. A badly preserved ambo fragment from Thessalonica (sixth century) depicts the Virgin and Child. A curious ambo in the formerly pagan basilica of Leptis Magna in North Africa was decorated with fragments of a capital of the Corinthian order, reused from a former Roman building. A few other reliefs have survived from the chairs of bishops. This seat, the cathedra or throne of the bishop, could be crafted from marble, or of wood covered with decorative ivory panels. It was situated behind the altar, in the central point of the synthronos, but somewhat more elevated than the rest of it. As noted above, it had to be visible to the public attending the liturgy. The best preserved example is the chair of Bishop Maximianus from Ravenna, from the mid-sixth century. The style of its figurative ivory reliefs is Greek, and they might have been executed in one of the provincial capitals of the East. Their iconographic repertoire includes some of Jesus’ miracles, scenes from Joseph’s life in Egypt, as well as vine shoots inhabited by birds and quadrupeds. This last subject, well-known in Byzantine paintings and mosaics, also covers the entire face of the “cup of Antioch,” a well-preserved Eucharistic chalice crafted in the fifth or sixth century (Fig. 41). The sculptured sarcophagi are particularly important in their iconography. According to their place of origin, they may be classified in different groups: 1. Italy, (excluding Ravenna), with two important centers in Rome and Milan, Gallia, Spain and North Africa. These are dated to the first quarter of the third to the fifth century. 2. Constantinople and Asia Minor, from the fourth century onwards. Their style is not at all homogeneous despite their geographical proximity to one another. 3. Ravenna and the regions within its influence, falling mid-way between the Latin West and



the Greek East. Their history runs uninterrupted from the end of the fourth-seventh century.

Fig. 41 A silver chalice for the celebration of the Eucharist, Antioch, from the sixth century (Metropolitan Museum, New York). The first group displays scenes of salvation from the Old and New Testaments, such as Daniel in the lion’s den, the Binding of Isaac, Jonah and the whale, Moses striking the rock, Susanna and the two wicked elders and some of Jesus’ miracles. During the fourth



century more developed scenes decorated the long face of the sarcophagi and the two small sides with the crossing of the Red Sea, scenes of Jesus’ Passion and the triumphal cross of Christ. The Crucifixion itself remains notably absent at this early period and continues to be so until as late as the sixth century. Towards the end of the seventh century, in Latin art a scene with the traditio legis (handing over of the Law) to Saint Peter, inspired by Imperial motifs, became typical. The most beautiful example is that of St. Ambrose’ Church in Milan). Elegant orans figures also appear, (a nice example is found on the sarcophagus from Tarragona, Spain). Their style is very classical. The Eastern group is less homogeneous. The sarcophagi are all decorated on their four sides. Their themes include winged angels and apostles, but also imitations of temple colonnades suggesting the eternal house (domus aeterna) motif, and Jesus standing between two disciples. There are also some rough imitations of sarcophagi on tomb-slabs, dating probably much later than the sarcophagi. The third group has an iconography that is less developed than that of the Roman school. A frequent motif is Christ seated or standing among two to four apostles, handing over the Law or preaching. Other figures appear within framing niches. But their place is increasingly overtaken by symbolic elements such as sheep or peacocks around a chrismon framed by a wreath, a cross flanked by the A and Ω on Calvary, a river flowing out of Paradise or a vase, symbolizing eternal life, from which a vine springs out and envelopes a cross. Wall Paintings Following the Roman tradition, the interior walls of a public building such as a church were always plastered and painted in different colors. Decoration as found on the walls of chapels and tombs of the wealthy in the catacombs was also commonplace in certain parts of the church’s interior, either in fresco or mosaic, particularly for the apse and adjoining walls. In contrast to the mosaics, very few of the frescoes have survived to this day. But those remains that are extant display the same style and themes as the wall mosaics, which will be discussed below. One of the very few examples of ancient painting in the East can yet be discerned on the southern apse of the South Church at



Shivta in the Negev. Its theme, weather-worn as it is, can yet be determined without doubt to be the Transfiguration of Christ, and the arrangement of the six persons forming the scene, (Jesus standing among Moses and Elijah, with the three disciples in front of them), is almost identical to that of the same scene on the mosaic apse of the church of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. In the West, the only examples of church decoration that have survived are those of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome. The earlier layers of color seem to date from the sixth century, and their theme is the Virgin Mary, depicted as queen, probably conveying a religiopolitical polemic against Constantinopolitan pretensions. Other visible frescoes from the same church date from the seventh century and were probably painted by Eastern artists fleeing from Muslim invasions. Their representations, in a rather Hellenistic style, include the Annunciation, the seven Maccabean brothers together with their mother, and the saints Demetrius and Barbara. Other frescoes in the same church date from the beginning of the eighth century, including one of the Adoration of the Magi and one of the earliest depictions of the Crucifixion of Christ, both of which are certainly Eastern in style. Mosaics The mosaic craft is very ancient, and was used by both Greeks and Romans, mostly as decoration for pavements. Its use as a wall decoration is rarely encountered in Roman palaces, villas and mausolea of the first Christian centuries. However, since the reign of Constantine, mosaics began to be considered most suitable for the decoration of the walls and vaults of churches, probably due to the special effects of light reflection from the tesserae, tiny, glass cubes. For the floors, stone tesserae were mostly employed, since they were more resistant to wear and tear. Playing with light on the walls was an important element in the spiritual atmosphere intended for the interior of the basilica. From the sixth century on, the background from which the religious figures stood out was normally made of golden tesserae. Gold is the most ancient color associated with the representation of Christ as Sol Invictus in the necropolis on the Vatican hill in Rome. From the fourth century, we are familiar with the rather plain, white background of the vault of Constantia’s mausoleum in Rome (Santa Costanza Church), and



of the Centcelles mausoleum near Tarragona in Catalonia (Fig. 42). The two last examples are from the time of Constantine, and they are full of both pagan and natural subjects, such as birds and small putti or erotes.

Fig. 42 One of the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace in Babylon, from a mausoleum in Centcelles, Catalonia, the fourth century (Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona. Photo: Albert Saludes). In the fifth century, the background in the mosaics of the Ravenna mausoleum of Galla Placidia was mostly dark blue, and so were those of St. Ambrose’ Church in Milan. Our knowledge of the use of mosaics as pavements for Christian worship places begins in Aquileia in northeast Italy,



where a large mosaic floor dated to the fourth century was discovered. Traditional Christian themes such as the story of Jonah the Prophet and an inscribed medallion that includes the Chrismon symbol are displayed alongside of pagan figures, such as a group of putti on a boat (Fig. 43). From another mosaic floor in England, the figure of Christ was preserved, accompanied by the letters alpha and omega.

Fig. 43 A detail from a Christian-pagan mosaic floor in Aquileia, Italy, from the fourth century (Photo Elio e Stefano Ciol s.n.c., Casarsa della Delizia, PN, Italy). This early use of overtly biblical and Christian figures and symbols practically came to an end in the year 427, when the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II issued a prohibition against it. From then on, the floor mosaics in churches preserved in the East and in North Africa are either geometrical or display scenes from everyday



life and themes from nature, such as plants, trees, flowers, both wild and domesticated animals, hunting scenes and agricultural labors. It is generally agreed that behind these “neutral” representations, there is an attempt to represent nature and life as it is on earth among those still expecting the consummation of a total redemption in the life to come. We should generally not search for a higher symbolism in the pictures on pavements, since life in the world to come is represented on the walls and on the apse. The mosaic decoration of the floor should be considered as an integral part of the cosmic representation which includes God himself, (in the guise of Christ as Pantocrator, the divine Judge of all mankind, Fig. 10), his heavenly court, the martyrs and saints who already enjoy the fruits of redemption in an invisible world, and those who are yet living in this world but look forward to the life to come. People depicted on the floor of the church are those who live in the natural world created by God, and so are able to praise God for his generous gifts, and come to church to offer him the fruits that they have received from him. This idea is represented in many of the floor mosaics. But, as in the early artistic expression of the catacombs, even late into the Byzantine era Christians often found inspiration in the traditional pagan representations of the natural elements. Sun, moon, earth, sea, months and seasons had been personified in ancient Greek and Roman art, and they were even conceived of as divine beings. Therefore, their discovery on the floors of several Byzantine churches in the Middle East should not come as a surprise. In two churches on Mount Nebo, the personified figure of the earth with the attributes of the goddess Ge has been represented in the middle of the mosaic, flanked by her two servants, the Karpoi, the geniuses of the fruits, who offer her a basketful of fruit. A similar representation of the earth appears in the recently excavated church in Petra, together with the figures of two seasons and that of the sea-god, Okeanos. A church in Madaba, also in Transjordan, displays in a central medallion in the mosaic the bust of Thalassa, the personification of the sea under the attributes of Thetis, the sea-goddess. In a monastery of ancient Scythopolis or Beth Shean, the floor of a large hall or courtyard has as its primary theme the wheel of time in two concentric circles. The smaller one in the interior has the figures of the sun and the moon represented as the Greek gods Helios and Selene, and the external circle displays personifications of the twelve months. A



chapel in Jerusalem had in its mosaic the seated figure of Orpheus surrounded by animals, and under his feet the standing forms of a centaur and the wild god, Pan. More examples could be offered, but these suffice to supply the conviction that Christian art, since it is rooted in the artistic tradition of the Greeks and Romans, included iconographic elements that were pagan in origin but expressed allegorically the idea of God’s cosmic power as the only giver of life. In some cases, the pagan origin of specific motifs is not so obvious, but scholars have nevertheless suggested for them the same mythological background. Thus, for instance, the frequent motif of vine-scrolls, wine-presses and related subjects are often assigned a dionysiac origin. They were used as allegorical symbols of both the abundance of natural life on earth and the expectation of eternal life in the bliss of Paradise. Life everlasting was also symbolized by the mythological bird Phoenix, depicted in the mosaic floor of the church at Huarte in Syria, among many other animals surrounding a representation of Adam, solemnly seated in imitation of Orpheus. For all of the richness of the iconographic repertoire of the mosaic floors, they include very few biblical themes. These, as said above, were preserved for wall decorations. But the obvious relationship between the liturgy celebrated in the Church, the cult once celebrated in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the eternal liturgy taking place around God’s throne in Heaven was at times expressed in the biblical texts written in the mosaic floors as well as in the depiction of themes related to the sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. A schematic representation of the Temple itself is found in the mosaic of the Theotokos chapel in the church of Moses on Mount Nebo in Jordan. A frequent inscription in the floor mosaic near the main entrance to the churches is taken from Ps 117:20 in the Septuagint. Other inscriptions include only allusions to Scripture, but are clear enough to help us to capture the spiritual meaning of the otherwise rather neutral or even mythological themes. Thus, for instance, the inscription around the aforementioned representation of the goddess Thalassa/Thetis includes an allusion to Ps 145:6. Special mention should be made here of the famous Madaba Map, a fragment of a mosaic floor of a Byzantine church from the sixth century representing part of the Holy Land and northern



Egypt. Despite its schematic presentation, it contains a number of relevant details pertaining to the historical geography and topography of the region. Jerusalem is displayed in great detail (see above, Fig. 10). Other representations of cities were discovered in several floor mosaics, particularly in that of the church of St. Stephen at Umm er-Rasas (Kastron Mepha‘a) in Jordan, which has a wide border containing representations of no less than fourteen cities of Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Mosaics were also employed to decorate the apses and walls of many churches in the early Christian and Byzantine periods, though only a few remains of these artistic treasures were preserved. The best examples survived in Rome, Ravenna (Italy), Thessalonica (Greece), Poreč (Croatia), Constantinople (Turkey) and Mount Sinai (Egypt). The stylistic features shift from a rather natural, realistic and classical character, (still felt in the mosaics of Sta. Maria Maggiore in Rome, see above, Fig. 20), to a more Eastern, frontal, static and symmetric appearance in the Justinian mosaics of the churches and baptisteries of Ravenna. Typical of most of these mosaics is the golden background, from which protrude the figures of saints and angels. Most of the themes represented are taken from both the Old and New Testaments, and their placement in the church interior corresponds to a wellstructured plan. Some of the scenes and figures represented are more historical, others more allegorical. From the sixth century we possess a detailed description of the interior decoration of the church of St. Sergius in Gaza by Choricius the Rhethor. While the three apses and central dome were covered with mosaics, the northern and southern walls were decorated with paintings. The central apse displayed the figure of Mary with the Infant Jesus in her arms. The wall paintings showed a series of Jesus’ miracles from the New Testament, with some details borrowed from the apocryphal gospels. This program was in complete accord with the opinion expressed by some Church Fathers, such as the fifth century monk, Nilus of Sinai, that the decoration of the walls of churches should be instructive to the people with edifying scenes from the Old and New Testaments, rather than displaying a multitude of animals running through futile hunting scenes (Nilus Sinaita, Ep. IV, 61, PG 79:577).



MINOR ARTS Manuscripts A few illuminated manuscripts from the Byzantine period have been preserved, particularly biblical volumes, i.e., codices, crafted with the purpose of reading publicly in the churches. Among the oldest of these are the Vienna Genesis and the Rosanno Codex, a book of the gospels assigned to the sixth century. Most of the other illuminated biblical manuscripts of Byzantine tradition, (octateuchs, psalters, gospels and books of the Apocalypse), are dated as late as the eleventh and twelfth centuries, though some of them attest to the Hellenistic style of much earlier originals from which they were copied and recopied, such as the Paris Psalter. The biblical books most often chosen for illumination were the narrative books of the Old Testament and the gospels. Here the whole, sacred story of man’s redemption, from the very moment of the creation of Adam up to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, is developed. The principle character of this dramatic story is, of course, God in his glory and power. In complete contrast to the Jewish artistic tradition, Christians did not have any problem with portraying him in the human visage in which he appeared in the world and became directly involved in human history. The invisible God put on the human image in Jesus the Messiah, and in the same image they portrayed God who created humankind or appeared to the patriarchs and prophets. Clearly, these early Christian paintings of stories from the Old Testament are not based upon any early Jewish tradition in regards to the illumination of Scripture. In a famous page from the Grandval-Moutier Genesis, the artist portrayed the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their life in the Garden of Eden, as well as their sin and expulsion, in miniature paintings linked together by a painted ribbon. In these paintings, the artist portrayed God very similar to the way that Jesus appears in the mosaic of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and in San Vitale in Ravenna. These miniature paintings were not intended solely for decoration, but especially for instruction, just as were the wall paintings in the churches. As the Church Fathers said, these paintings were the Scriptures for the simple, illiterate ones among the people. From the Eastern tradition there have survived an important collection of illuminated gospels. The most important of them is



associated with Rabbula, a Syrian monk, from 586 CE (above, Fig. 17). These paintings are characterized by their majesty and symmetry, and are very similar to some of the engravings upon the “Ampollas from Monza,” such as that of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. Likewise, there is found there one of the oldest miniature paintings to depict the crucifixion of Jesus, in which he appears clothed in a long, purple robe without any signs of suffering. The style of these paintings is not homogenous, and among the various artists involved, the hands of at least two are readily identifiable. Most of the illuminated Scriptures that survived to our day from the Western Churches are associated with the Carolignian renaissance, from the eighth century onwards. At the same time the need for faithful scriptural and liturgical texts became evident. Therefore Alcuin of York, a dynamic personality among the educated and artistic churchmen in the court of Charlemagne, was appointed the task of preparing an exact copy of the Scriptures. Every time that a new church was erected, a new book of the gospels was presented to it. Schools of the arts quickly developed in the cities of Aachen, Rheims, Tours, and Metz. Every such school had its own particular style, as it considered and reinterpreted the influence of widely varied traditions, among them the Byzantine. Fundamentally, most of the art from the period of Charlemagne drew its inspiration from Rome and from early Christian artistic treasures in general. Even before the Carolignian renaissance, Irish Christianity, with all of its vitality, had provided a number of striking examples of illuminated books in the same period, in a style and spirit completely different and in a manner altogether independent. Irish paintings were rooted in the pre-Roman Celtic tradition, whose most important feature was the interweaving of the motifs. The first letters of titles were adorned with spools of lace and with twists of intricate latticework that formed shapes, the heads of animals and their tails. The human figure is altogether rare, and when it does appear at the beginning of a number of books, its shape is symmetrical and not realistic, and it appears almost as though it is a part of the adorning framework. The interweaving folds that cover the figure become part of the interlaced motifs. This is the case of even the appearance of the evangelists and of Jesus himself in most of the Irish manuscripts, as can be seen in



the Book of Durrow from the seventh century, and in the Book of Kells from the eighth. Metalwork Some of the items used in liturgical rituals in both the Eastern and Western Churches were made of metal. Among them are processional crucifixes, chalices for the Lord’s Supper (Fig. 34), tabernacles for consecrated Hosts, censers and tools associated with them, oil lamps, book covers and reliquaries. These items were made of gold, silver or brass, and most of them were wreathed with different devices, especially with etched reliefs, but also with fine metal wires, overlaid plates of gold, ivory or precious stones. In most instances certain figures appear on these decorations, and their style and subject matter is similar to that of monumental art. The most celebrated of these items is the chalice from Antioch, mentioned above. This chalice is decorated with a relief that covers it fashioned to resemble grapevines twined into shapes of medallions, (above, Fig. 41). Upon these vines hang bunches of grapes, and in the open spaces birds fly about. Two medallions surround the image of Christ, as he sits and teaches his apostles, and the rest of the medallions depict a certain man who is also sitting. This, apparently, is the image of Paul the apostle or perhaps a prophet. No less famous artistic pieces in metal are the “Ampollas from Monza,” a collection of sixteen small bottles or pitchers, upon which one of the two broad sides is a decoration. Early Western pilgrims brought these bottles from the Holy Land as souvenirs, full of blessed oil. These bottles are kept today in the collection of the Cathedral of Monza, in northern Italy. Similar pitchers, made of lead, were discovered in the Monastery of Bobbio, also in northern Italy. These small pilgrim pitchers from the sixth or seventh century are decorated with reliefs depicting events from the New Testament that took place in the Holy Land, each with a short inscription such as: “Oil from the Tree of Life (the Cross) from the holy places of the Christ.” These small reliefs have great historical value from the standpoint of research regarding the history of Byzantine monumental art in Palestine, because they display paintings and mosaics that once adorned the local basilicas. Both in Italy and other countries, especially North



Africa, many similar items from the same source have been found, all made from ceramic. Small containers for the preservation of the bones of the saints and martyrs, (reliquaria), are encountered most frequently in the West. Among the oldest, from the fourth century, found in the Church of San Nazzaro in Milan, depict events from the Scriptures. Later, in the Carolignian period, the tradition of richly decorated reliquaries developed yet further, and exquisite artistry combined filigree work, beaten gold plaques, gems and cloisonné enamels that would cover a wooden case. Ivories Most of the extant ivory plaques engraved with Christian themes in high relief belong in the category of diptychs and triptychs, pieces of sacred art that unfold into two or three leaves, often present as congratulatory gifts by families or individuals of noble rank on the occasion of various happy events. This had been a pagan, Roman custom before it was adopted by Christian emperors in the fourth and fifth centuries. Similarly engraved plaques were used as decorations for liturgical books and processional crosses in the church, as well as for personal coffers among the wealthy. As late as the ninth century, decorated ivory plaques were still produced in both the East and the West, quite independent in style, yet both exhibiting their indebtedness to classical art. Together with the representation of nobles and emperors on the oldest preserved Christian ivories, (occasionally mingled with traditional, pagan motifs), Christian iconography on the plaques depicts scenes from the New Testament and figures from other monuments of the period, such as the sarcophagi. On both we can observe a certain contrast between the classical nobility of style and the drama of the scenes represented, such as Jesus’ arrest and his presentation to Pilate. On some Eastern ivories, in particular, Christian subjects do not make up the main theme. On a famous diptych of the emperor Justinian, Jesus only appears as blessing him from above, supported by two angels. On some diptychs, however, we find an enthroned Christ on the one side and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child on the other. The most remarkable group of Christian ivory plaques is the one that covers the entire wooden chair of Bishop Maximianus of Ravenna (546–553). The four evangelists, John the Baptist, scenes



of Jesus’ youth, the story of Joseph in Egypt, vines inhabited by birds and quadrupeds are all reminiscent of the best monumental mosaics and manuscripts of the period. Most of the human figures are depicted after the manner of the ancient philosophers, and the style of the whole composition is Greek.

Fig. 44 Jesus Ascension into Heaven, a Carolingian ivory from the ninth century (Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Germany, Photo: Wolfgang Fuhrmannek).



From a later period, an ivory plaque portraying Jesus’ Ascension, or rather the group of Jesus’ disciples with Mary, their faces turned upward and their hands pointing in the same direction, is particularly worthy of notice (Fig. 44). This piece was probably produced in the school of Charlemagne’s court. It is a dramatic composition, typically Byzantine in spirit, yet softened by the classical elegance of the pleating of the long tunics.

ICONS Icons are of great importance, given the popularity they acquired in the course of the centuries, particularly in the Eastern Church. The survival of Christian art during the iconoclastic period (726–843) was made easier due to these small, portable paintings. Icon is a general Greek term for “image.” But in the history of art, it has been used for the Christian painting of religious themes on a small wooden board or panel. The origins of icons are unknown, but it is generally believed that they originated from portraits painted on small wooden panels and placed upon the faces of mummies in the late Roman period in Egypt, particularly in the Fayyum region, in Upper Egypt. Their stylistic and technical characteristics testify to the high performance in the art of portrait painting, in which the painters attempted to be as realistic as possible and worked in “encaustic,” mixing the pigments with hot wax. This mix gives stability to the colors, preserving them from fading in the course of time. Christians inherited this tradition, painting images of Jesus, Mary, the apostles and martyrs in “encaustic” on wooden panels. The oldest of these paintings are found in the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, which possesses the most important collection of icons, beginning in the sixth century and continuing through the late Middle Ages. Though some of them may have been produced locally, the majority of them are gifts received from all parts of the Christian world through the centuries. Their style is thus quite variegated. The oldest display human images in such typical Eastern trends as symmetry, frontality, and huge, staring eyes. In an icon representing Jesus placing his right hand upon the shoulder of St. Menas, we are able to realize the lack of proportions of the human body, typical of the Coptic style (see above, Fig. 27). From about the same period, however, an icon depicting the face of St. Peter holds forth all of the realistic beauty to be found in the Fayyum portraits.



Later icons could also picture events from the gospels, or imaginary scenes like the monks climbing up towards heaven on the dangerous symbolic ladder described by John, a monk from Sinai who lived in the eighth century. Others display complex images such as the Final Judgment, with all the traditional elements, from Jesus enthroned as supreme judge, the intercession scene (Deisis), down to the view of poor Lazarus on Abraham’s lap passing through the group of the blessed going to heaven and the group of those condemned being taken care of by horde of demons in hell. All of these and other details are painted with the maximum detail. The use of icons became particularly cherished in countries that received Christianity from the ancient Byzantine Church, such as Russia. Famous icons, such as “Our Lady of Vladimir,” representing the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child (c. 1125), were produced in Constantinople and from there exported to Slavic countries, where new schools of icon painting later developed. Textiles Despite their frail material, an interesting collection of ancient textiles portraying Christian themes has survived, particularly from Egypt. These belong to the Coptic tradition, which developed somewhat independently to the Byzantine, but is akin to it in many ways. Among the unique characteristics of Coptic art, there is an absolute lack of perspective and an attachment to ancient, pagan themes from classical mythology. It is probable that a spiritual intent lies behind these themes, because many of them can be interpreted in a Christian sense. Thus, the birth of Aphrodite, who emerges from the shell naked and surrounded by sea-nymphs (Nereids), is a possible allegory of the purification of the soul at the waters of baptism. Similar themes also occur in Coptic reliefs, such as those on stone capitals. From the fifth to ninth centuries we encounter on both textiles and reliefs the use of the ancient Egyptian symbol ankh, representing life and often appearing instead of the cross, so cherished by the Byzantines. However, the themes of many Coptic textiles are typically Christian, depicting not only simple biblical scenes, such as the Annunciation and Visitation, with only a few persons present, but also more complex ones such as the Last Supper. The background of these



compositions consists of one, rather dark color, upon which the figures are placed in brighter colors. These Coptic textiles, many of which are silk-embroidered linen, were probably used for liturgical ceremonies. From other parts of the Byzantine world, such as Constantinople, other textile fragments have been recovered, usually found in tombs shrouding emperors, bishops and saints. Some of these fragments are made of pure silk, and most of their decorations betray Persian influence, with such typical subjects as animals being hunted, isolated in roundels.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS Christian art did not leave any traces during the first hundred and fifty years of Christianity’s existence due to the difficult circumstances of persecution and poverty that most Christians experienced. The oldest remnants of Christian paintings are found in the Roman catacombs. These are tomb decorations, and most of the themes are linked to the belief in salvation, Jesus’ power to raise the dead bodies of the believers on the last day and to rescue their souls from eternal punishment. Some scenes represent the miracles of Jesus as they are described in the gospels, while others are Old Testament figures and motifs that were considered to be types of the redemption brought by Christ to his believers. Christian symbols like the orans, the fish and the chrismon also make their first appearances in the catacomb paintings and in the relief carvings on stone sarcophagi. The relation between early Christian and Jewish art was one of mutual influence, but nothing proves the existence of a developed, figurative Jewish art that Christians might have imitated. The first Christians did not build churches, and their meetings were held in private houses. Buildings erected for the express purpose of Christian worship probably existed before the end of the third century, but the use of the basilica did not come about until the period of peace granted by Constantine to the Christian Church. The basilica was normally oriented towards the East, and had a tripartite internal structure. A fenced area that was elevated with steps on the eastern side in front of the central apse, the bema, was reserved for the clergy. Priests and deacons could sit on the synthronos and stand around the altar, usually a stone table on which the sacrament of the Eucharist was celebrated. The floor of the



church could be decorated with stone mosaics, while the walls and apse were decorated with glass mosaics or frescoes. Most churches were richly decorated, and many floor mosaics have survived, while most of the wall and apse mosaics and paintings have not. The iconography of these paintings and mosaics are a graphic expression of the church as a microcosm: God is represented on the apse in the person of Christ or the symbol most often associated with him, the cross, designating the vault of heaven. On the walls, not only scenes from the Old and New Testaments are displayed, but also the heavenly court: angels, martyrs and saints. In the floor mosaics, in contrast, it is usual to find animals and plants, men and women living in this world, agricultural labors and hunting scenes. In some floor mosaics, the elements of nature, the earth, sea and seasons of the year, appear personified, as usual in pagan contexts. Other parts of the church, such as the chancel panels in marble and limestone, were also decorated with reliefs. Objects made for cultic use were decorated with various techniques and crafted from all sorts of materials. Eucharistic chalices, processional crosses, book covers and reliquaries often displayed wonderful metalwork. The reliefs on ivory plaques for diptychs and triptychs, book covers and coffers, attest to the endurance of the classical tradition that had been put to service of Christian interests. Though few textiles have survived, those that have, especially from Egypt, reveal other artistic tendencies and influences. Books produced as handwritten codices on parchment for public reading in the churches were illuminated with miniature paintings, beginning in the fourth century, especially for the illustration of narrative passages of the Bible. The style of these miniatures can be very different, starting with the Syrian and other Eastern manuscripts from the fifth and sixth centuries and moving on to the insular art of the Irish monasteries in the seventh century and the art schools in Carolignian Europe from the ninth century on.

GLOSSARY OF NAMES AND TERMS Acts of Martyrs Official accounts of Roman judgments against Christians and their martyrdoms. agadah

Aramaic term for the biblical interpretation of the Jewish sages. The agadot are preserved in midrashic literature.


Greek for “unconditional love.” The name given to the fellowship meal shared by early Christians.


Persons, actions or stories symbolically treated in literature and art as representing concepts, ideas or messages in a concrete and figurative way.


Table in ancient churches on which the Lord’s Supper is observed.


Pulpit of the preacher in churches.

Ambrosian rite Ecclesiastical liturgy and music of the diocese of Milan, named after Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan and Church Father (339–397). Amoraim

Group of rabbis who lived in the period of the composition of the Talmud (third to fifth centuries).


Eucharistic prayer of the Eastern liturgies.


Wooden panel with a picture or metal bas-relief used to decorate the front of the altar in European churches since the Middle Ages.


“The enemy of Christ.” Negative character who, according to the New Testament, will resist Christ’s final victory over



AN INTRODUCTION TO EARLY CHRISTIANITY the forces of evil at the end of time (2 Thess 2:3, 7; 1 John 2:18; 2 John 7).

Antiochian theology Christian doctrine of the Church Fathers from Antioch in Syria, inclined to the philosophy of Aristotle honoring the literal sense of Scripture, in contrast with the theological school of Alexadria, that favored Platonism and allegory. Antitheses

Book written by Marcion, containing the “contradictions” found by him between the two Testaments.


Greek for “revelation.” Genre of literature relating to visions of the end times.


Greek term designating the teaching that at the end of the world all men, angels and spirits will be saved.

apocryphal book Non-canonical Jewish or Christian work of dubious authenticity, attributed to a biblical figure, as if being divinely inspired. Most of the Apocrypha are written in the apocalyptic style and deal with the end of days. apologists

Church Fathers who wrote defenses of Christianity.

Apostolic Fathers Authors of the oldest Christian books after the New Testament, considered disciples of Jesus’ apostles. Apostolic Kerygma Content or proclamation (kerygma in Greek) of apostolic teaching, especially that of Peter and Paul. apse

Architectural structure in the shape of a half-vault. Appears behind the central altar in most ancient churches.


Lintel or beam resting on the capitals of columns in a row.


Theological movement founded by Arius, monk and priest in Alexandria, Egypt, whose teachings about God’s nature, stressing the Father’s divinity over the Son, were condemned in the council of Nicaea in 325. They denied the unity and substantial equality of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, and thus, Jesus’ deity.




Person who practices asceticism (Self-restraint through difficult physical exercises, from the Greek asketes = “experienced”) for religious reasons.


Courtyard surrounded with galleries often found in front of a basilica.


Strict Christian sect, founded in the fourth century, whose members were exiled to Scythia (northern Asia Minor) by the emperor Constantine.

Babylonian Talmud Collection of oral law (Mishnah) accompanied by the interpretations of the rabbis (Gemara). Composed in Mesopotamia between the third and sixth centuries CE. baptistery

Basin used for baptism, or the hall in which baptism is performed.


Large public hall, sectioned down its length by rows of columns. Christians adopted this architectural style for religious gatherings.

beyt midrash

Hebrew for “House of learning.” Hebrew title used from the Second Temple period to designate rabbinic schools.


Priest responsible for an entire diocese.

books of hours Prayer books for the private, daily use of Christian believers, common in the Middle Ages. boskoi

Greek for “grazers”. Syrian monks who walked on all fours and ate grass.

Breaking of the Bread 20:7).

Early term for the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42, 46;

Cairo Geniza Collection of some 300,000 Jewish manuscript fragments discovered in 1894 in the geniza or storeroom of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, old Cairo. cancellum

See transenna.




Central prayer in the Western Eucharistic liturgy. It is paralleled by the anaphora in the Eastern liturgy.

canonical hours Official hours of prayer of monks and priests customary in the Church. canons

Priests belonging to a certain cathedral, where they pray as a team in a fashion similar to that of monks.


Underground cemeteries, especially found in Rome, dating to the first centuries of Christianity.

catechumen Believer making formal preparations to receive the sacrament of baptism. cathedral

Church at whose head stands a bishop.

Catholic Church A term used today to refer to the Roman Church, i.e., to those who recognize the Pope as their head. From the Greek word katholikos = “general, universal” Celtic Church

Church that existed in the British Isles before the evangelization undertaken by Augustine from Rome (596– 597).


Professional officer of the Roman army, commanding 60 to 80 soldiers. Senior centurions could command cohorts (companies containing up to 600 men).

Chaldean rite The Syrian liturgy of the Chaldean Church, which was once so-called Nestorian but is today Catholic. Some of its members reside in Turkey and Iran, and others on the coast of Malabar in India. chapel

A small church, without columns within; or a corner for ritual within a building, large church or catacomb.


According to Paul, these are spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit to believers (1 Cor 12:8–11).


The “song of the Cherubim” in the Eastern liturgy. Sung by the congregation during the Great Entrance of the clergy.

GLOSSARY cherubim


Angelic beings. Originally mythological figures (winged beasts, with the body of a bull and the head of a man) from Babylon and Assyria. Their statues stood next to the gates of the king’s palace.

Chrismon, labarum Monograph made of the first two letters (XP) of the Greek word Christós (“Christ,” Messiah). christology

Theological study concerned with the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

Church Fathers Early Christian authors, recognized by the Church as promoters of orthodox doctrine. ciborium

Covering standing on four columns over the central altar in some churches.


Belonging to the Benedictine reform that began in the monastery of Cîteaux in France.


Inner courtyard in monasteries and other religious buildings, usually possessing four galleries open to the center by way of arches standing on columns.


An ancient manuscript, often made of vellum, in the form of a book.


Upper room in which Jesus observed the Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem.

coenobium, koinobion Monastery in which monks share their possessions, life of prayer and labor under the direction of an abbot and according to a rule received by all. communio

Participation in the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.


Christians who were tortured because they confessed their faith while under judgment, but remained alive.

confirmation “Strengthening of faith.” In the Catholic Church this is a sacrament bestowed by the bishop upon believers who have been baptized and arrived at the age of puberty.




Central part of the rite celebrating the Lord’s Supper in the Catholic Church, during which the priest repeats the words spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper.

Coptic Church The original Egyptian Church, which uses a language descended from ancient Egyptian in its liturgy and holds to the so-called Monophysite doctrine. cosmogony

Doctrine of the creation of the world.


Latin for “I believe.” The Creed, a formal declaration of faith. Two versions became prominent in early Christianity, one named after the Apostles and the second after the Council of Nicaea (325).


Room or chapel beneath the floor of the church. It was usually designated for the burial or preservation of the remains of the saints.

daily offering Sacrifice of a sheep, oil, wine, flour and salt offered in the Temple on a daily basis, morning and evening. Day of the Lord The first day of the week (Rev 1: 10), in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection (Matt 28: 1–7). deacon

From the Greek diakonos “minister, servant”. A lower level of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Dead Sea Scrolls Collection of Hebrew and Aramaic writings discovered in caves near the ruins of Qumran, northwest of the Dead Sea, especially between 1947–1957. Deisis

Greek for “intercession,” between mankind and God by means of the prayers of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.


Adopted from Platonic philosophy, the Gnostic concept of a quasi-divine figure responsible for the fashioning and preservation of the physical universe.


Syrian monks who lived in trees.

Deutero-Isaiah Chapters 40–55 of the book of Isaiah.



diaconicum, diakonikon Room adjoining a church building where the holy articles of worship are kept. Diatessaron

Greek for “through four.” Work of Tatian about the life and teaching of Jesus according to the four books of the Gospel.


Late first-century composition containing the basics of the teaching and commandments of Christianity, and intended for the early evangelists.


Ecclesiastical district, in whose capital resides the bishop.

diptychs, triptychs Artwork arranged on two or three wooden plates that are painted or covered in decorated ivory. Docetists

Early Christians who did not believe that Jesus was really a human being or that he had actually suffered.


Latin for “sleep”. The term is used to describe the death of Mary, mother of Jesus.


Conclusions to official prayer in the ancient liturgies, found in different forms in different traditions.


Feast of Jesus’ resurrection, called Pascha in Latin, a word derived from the Hebrew word Peṣah, “Passover”.


Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah but not the Son of God. From Hebrew, evionim, “the poor ones”.

Ecumenical council General or universal gathering of bishops of the Christian church. Encratites

Gnostic sect that flourished in the second and third centuries in different regions, with extreme ideas about the necessity of an ascetic lifestyle.


Greek for “call upon, request.” Prayer in the Eastern liturgy in which the priest requests the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.


Feast of Jesus’ revelation to the world.




The study of the end times.


One of the three Jewish sects that existed in the time of Jesus, mentioned by Josephus Flavius, Pliny the Elder and Philo. Most researchers identify it with the Qumran community.


Local governor in the eastern portion of the Roman Empire, who represented the central government.


From Greek eucharistía, “Thanksgiving.” Greek name for the Lord’s Supper.


Explanation or critical interpretation of a text, chiefly of the Bible.


Latin for “out of a vow.” A votive offering.


Order of friars founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209.


System of interpreting a certain word according to the numerical value of its letters.


Store-room for unuseable or damaged religious books.


Generic term for people who are not Jews.


Religious sect with eastern origins, active in the early centuries of the Common Era, containing a number of Persian, Jewish and Christian elements, and emphasizing a theological dualism and the necessity of knowing (gnosis in Greek) the divine origin of man as a requirement for salvation.


The leader of the nations who will make war against Israel before the last day (Ezek 38:2; Rev 20:8–15).


Song taken from the Psalms, between the first two readings of Scripture in the Latin liturgy.


Songbooks of the Latin liturgy.



Gregorian chant Liturgical melodies of the ancient Latin Church, named after Gregory I, bishop of Rome (540–604). halakhah

Conduct according to the commandments of the Law, both written and those handed down orally. It is a term used to designate the entire corpus of these commandments.


Hebrew for “pious ones.” Jewish sect from the Second Temple period that resisted the Hellenization of the leadership of the people.


Greek term for the head of a monastery. It literally means “leader.”


Pertaining to the period or culture of the Greek kingdoms in the Eastern countries, following their conquest by Alexander the Great (331–333 BCE).


In Christianity this term is associated with someone who strays from orthodox doctrine, especially those teachings that are accepted by nearly all Christian believers.


Monastic movement that sought for inner quietude (“hesychía” in Greek) as the first step towards a spiritual life.


Opinions or doctrines at odds with official or “orthodox” positions.


Synoptic edition of the Old Testament compiled by Origen, containing: the original Hebrew, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew text, and the four Greek translations by Aquila, Symmachus, the Septuagint and Theodotion.

Holy of Holies Inner-most chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem, where the Ark of the Covenant was located. Holy Places

Sites in the land of Israel associated with events narrated in the Bible.


Sermon held during a liturgical celebration, usually commenting on biblical texts.




Greek for “of the same nature,” in relation to the divine Persons.


Books of hymns for the feasts of the Latin church.


Greek name given to the feast commemorating the meeting of Symeon and Anna with baby Jesus, His mother Mary and Joseph in the Temple.


Greek for “subsistence.” A theological term used to express that in Jesus Christ one Person subsists in two Natures, the divine and the human.


Mediterranean plant traditionally used to sprinkle holy water.


An image of Jesus, the saints, events from the Bible or the history of the Church, generally painted upon a plank of wood.


Movement against the use of images in churches, particularly in the eighth and ninth centuries in the Byzantine Empire.

iconography The science of sacred images. iconostasis

A partition in eastern churches that hides the activities of the clergy during liturgical rites from the eyes of the congregation, upon which is hung images of Jesus and the saints.


“Entrance.” Opening song in the Latin liturgy.

Jerusalem Talmud Collection of the words of sages from the land of Israel on a part of the Mishnah. It was composed between the third and fifth centuries CE, probably in Tiberias. Kathedra, cathedra The seat of honor of the bishop in his church. Kyrie eleison

Greek for “Lord, have mercy!” A prayer found in every early liturgy.


See chrismon.



Land of Israel

The territory of ancient Israel, which includes the present-day Israel and the West Bank. Different names were given to it in the course of history, including Syria Palaestina (Hellenistic period), Judaea, Palaestina (early Roman period), Palaestina Prima, Secunda, Tertia (late Roman and Byzantine periods).


Latin “The fallen,” referring to those who abdicated their faith in front of martyrdom in the Roman trials against Christians.

Latin Church The Roman Catholic Church that used Latin in its liturgy until the Second Vatican Council (1963–1965). laura

A community of hermits dwelling in caves or cells near the place in which the monk responsible for them lived.


Books listing selections of Scripture for public reading in the liturgy.


One of the lower levels of clergy in the ancient churches. His duty was to publicly read the Scriptures during liturgical celebrations.


Written certificate granted to those who had denied the Christian faith in the Roman trials against Christians.


Series of short prayers led by one individual, to which the congregation responds.


Term designating the entire range of official rituals of worship in the ancient Christian churches.

Lord’s Prayer The prayer “Our Father who is in Heaven,” which Jesus taught to His disciples (Matt 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). Lord’s Supper The Sacrament of the Eucharist, which recreates the Last Supper of Jesus with His disciples, and remembers his death and resurrection. Manicheans

Followers of Manes from Persia (215–275), who spread a religion that had both gnostic and Christian elements. The sect also spread quickly in Egypt, North Africa and Rome.




Aramaic for “Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20).


A Greek term meaning “witness”. It came to mean a saint who had been tortured, and for Christians, in particular, someone who died for the sake of his faith.

Martyrion (martyrium, in Latin) “Testimony”, in Greek, a term used to designate a church or chapel built to preserve a holy site or tomb of a saint who had been tortured. Massilians

Sect of religious beggars founded in Mesopotamia in the fourth century which spread to Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt. Its members were among those condemned of heresy during the Council of Ephesus (431).


Monumental tomb.


Christians who remained faithful to the official faith of the Byzantine emperors, according to decisions received at the Council of Chalcedon, opposed to the Monophysites in Syria and Egypt.


Memorial shrines erected to commemorate martyrs.


Hebrew for “lamp,” referring to the seven-armed candelabrum that stood in the Jerusalem Temple.

Mesopotamia Greek name for the region known in Hebrew as Aram Naharaim, i.e., “Aram of the two rivers”, the region between the Euphrates and the Tigris. metropolitan In the eastern church, the bishop appointed over a provincial district in the Roman empire. midrash

Agadic literature from the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud.


Six books (sederim, i.e., “orders”) containing the commandments of halakhah according to oral tradition. Compiled ca. 220 CE under Rabbi Judah the Patriarch.


The ritual of the Lord’s Supper in the Latin Church.

GLOSSARY Mithraism


Mystery religion of the Indo-Iranian sun-god Mithra, particularly worshipped by the Roman soldiers.

Monarchianism The belief in God as being one Person, and not three Persons coexisting in one Nature (as believed in the orthodox faith). Monogram

A symbol made by overlapping or combining two or more letters.

monophysites Christians who hold the opinion that Jesus’ has only a divine nature. Montanism

The heresy of Montanus from Phrygia (second century CE), who expected an imminent re-outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers and demanded that they live lives of complete asceticism.

Mystery Religions Pagan cults of those sympathetic to the mythological personalities from the East, such as Isis, Osiris, Mithras, Cybele, etc. narthex

Greek term denoting the long and narrow corridor in front of many ancient churches. It was used as a waiting hall.


Greek Nazoraioi, the name given by ancient Christian writers to one of the two main streams of Jews who converted to the Christian faith. Contrary to the Ebionites, the Nazarenes accepted the divinity of Jesus, but they equally maintained all the Jewish observances.


Greek for “city of the dead”, i.e., a cemetery.

Neoplatonism A school of mystical philosophy based on the teachings of Plato, initiated in the third century, particularly in Alexandria. Nestorianism Belief in the doctines of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople (d. before 451) that Jesus possessed two personalities, one that was human and one that was divine, as opposed to the Orthodox and Monophysite faiths. Nicolaitans

An early Christian sect (Rev 2:6).



nominalistic agnosticism Philosophical theory that denies the existence of general terms. Octateuch

The first eight books of the Greek Old Testament, i.e., the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.


The rite of offering the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper in the ancient liturgies.


Image of person, generally a woman, lifting her hands in a posture of prayer. It frequently appears in early Christian art.


Relating to the unorthodox doctrines of Origen (185–254).


Philosophical-religious movement in the Hellenistic world, based on the myth of Orpheus, which demanded that its members purify their souls and put to death everything pertaining to material pleasure.

Orthodox Church Greek, ortho-doxia “orthodoxy, correct thinking.” Today, used to refer to the Eastern Churches who do not recognize the Pope as the head of the Church. Orthodox Judaism A branch of Judaism which demands the strict observance of the Law. ossuary

Stone or clay box for the burial of bones after a previous, temporary burial. Popular with ancient Jews in Israel, especially between the years 40 BCE – 70 CE.


Scarf embroidered with crosses worn by a Catholic archbishop during liturgical rites.


Greek “Almighty.” A common term for the image of Jesus as the Highest Judge.


Houses for virgins, from Greek parthenos “virgin.”


Another name for the prothesis and the diakonikon.


Hierarchical position of the ancient Church in the cities of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem.



Today, it is the title of the heads of the independent Orthodox churches. In the Catholic Church, it is a title granted to certain ancient and important archbishoprics, such as those of Jerusalem, Venice, Lisbon and the East Indies. peripatetics

Greek for “walkers.” A designation for followers of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE).


In the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the Divinity is integrated by the three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.


Aramaic for “the simple, simplified” or “the received.” The Syriac translation of the Scriptures, from the fifth century CE. In the Peshitta translation, the New Testament originally excluded the books of Revelation, 1 and 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude.


Jewish sect from the second temple period, distinguished by their strict observance of the Law.


The movement and the thought founded on the philosophical principles of Plato.


Belief in many gods.


The bishop of Rome. Considered to be the heir of Peter’s authority in the Catholic Church.

Popule meus

Latin for “My people!” The opening of a repetitious prayer in the Roman liturgy for Good Friday, in memory of Jesus’ death on the cross.


A platform surrounding the central altar in a church.


Greek for “elder.” A member of the council of elders in Christian churches (Acts 11:30, ff.). The office of priest is a development of it, and the English word “priest” is in fact derived from it.


A man officially ordained by the Church to be responsible over a local church and with authority to conduct most of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper being among them.




Followers of Priscillian, a Spanish gnostic who was appointed as bishop of Avila but accused of heresy by councils of bishops. (Fourth–fifth centuries).


A room attached to a church, in which the bread and wine are prepared for the Lord’s Supper in the eastern churches.

Pythagoreans Disciples of Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician (580–497 BC). Quartodecimans Christians from Asia who celebrated Easter on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, when the Jews also celebrate Passover. refrigerium

Among the Romans, a memorial meal near a tomb.


Bones or personal belongings of the saints.


A chest made of stone or metal in which are preserved the remains of the body or personal belongings of saints in the churches.


A circular-shaped structure.


An official ritual in the Christian Church (such as baptism, etc) through which God bestows His special grace to the believer receiving it.


Books recording details concerning the bestowal of the sacraments.

Saint Thomas’ Christians A branch of the Syrian Church on the coast of Malabar in Southwest India. Its members maintain that the community was founded by converts of the apostle Thomas. sarcophagus An ornamented coffin, usually made of stone. schism

The separation of a group of people from another, generally on ideological grounds.

Second Temple Temple built in Jerusalem during the period of Ezra and Nehemiah and renovated and expanded by King Herod.




Ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, from the third century BCE in Egypt. Tradition holds that seventy Jewish scholars were assembled to translate the Pentateuch in individual cells, and when the work was completed, upon inspection it was discovered that their translations were all identical. From Septuaginta, Latin for “seventy”.


Hebrew for “the act of dwelling”. A term for God’s presence among the people of Israel.


The land of the dead in the books of the Old Testament.


Jewish book of prayer.


Greek for “wisdom,” a central idea in ancient Greek philosophy and in Gnosticism. In the Hebrew Bible, God’s wisdom is vividly expressed as personified (Prov 8:22–31; 9: 1–6). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is referred to as God’s wisdom (Matt 11: 19; 1 Cor 1: 30–31),

Spenta Mainyu Persian for “The good spirit.” The god of light and good in the Persian mythology. stater

A Greek silver coin worth four drachmas, two times greater than the tax paid to the Temple in the days of Jesus (Matt 23:17).


Latin for “station.” A church in Rome, in which believers gathered to observe the liturgy on a Sunday or a certain feast.


Members of a philosophical school founded by Zeno of Citium (335–264 BCE), who saw the highest good of mankind in his dedication to act according to logic and apathy towards external circumstances.


Monks in the Russian Orthodox Church who have spiritual gifts and are known as spiritual counselors, but without an official position.


Monks who lived on columns (styloi, in Greek).



suborditionists Heretics who denied the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, claiming that the Son was subordinate to the Father and that the Holy Spirit was subordinate to both of them. syncretism

The combining of ideas or beliefs from discrete religious traditions.


Councils of bishops in certain geographical regions.

Synoptic Gospels The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They are called synoptic because of the textual concordance of most of their sections when placed side by side and compared with one another. synthronos

A bench in the form of stairs, along the central apse in ancient churches.


Texts from the Old Testament that testify to the coming of the Messiah.

theophanies Greek for “God’s appearances.” The term is particularly applied to the revelations of God in the Bible. Theotókos

Greek for “Mother of God.” Title of Mary, the mother of Jesus, since the time of Origen. It was officially approved at the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451).


Greek for “Healers.” According to Philo, this was a Jewish religious sect in the area of Alexandria, in the 1st century CE.


Ritual associations of the ancient Greeks.


A Hebrew word meaning “instruction,” used to designate the five first books of the Hebrew Bible (the Pentateuch).


Rabbinic writing compiled ca. 300 CE as “addition” or supplement to the Mishnah.


In the Latin liturgy, a song which is sung in place of the usual “Hallelujah,” after the second reading, in days of fasting and penance.



transenna, cancellum Two Latin words designating the low stone division between presbytery or bema and nave in ancient churches. transept

The central broad space between the two sides of a church building.


The central hall and dining room in a Roman house.


A name for God used in Christianity, referring to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


A song in the Greek liturgy, consisting of the three-fold repetition of the word “hagios,” i.e., “holy,” according to the text of Isa 6:3.


The doctrine of the typoi, i.e., “types”, a Greek term used to designate individuals and events from the history of Israel who are considered to be models and predecessors of the acts of redemption that were fulfilled in Jesus.


Greek word for “type”, or model. See: typology.


Originally, one of seven hills upon which Rome sits. According to ancient tradition, Saint Peter was buried there, and a basilica was raised there in his name. Today it is the dwelling of the Pope.

Vetus Latina “The Old Latin” translation of the Scriptures (second century CE). vigilia

Latin for “night watch.” An ancient Christian custom dedicating the night to prayer.


Jerome’s translation of the Scriptures into Latin (fourth– fifth century).


The twelve signs of the “constellations.”

Zoroastrianism Ancient Iranian religion, founded by Zoroaster ( c. 628– c. 551 BC), with the official worship of Ahura Mazda. The collection of its religious texts is called Avesta.


Image of Antiochus IV Epiphanes on a Seleucid coin (Cabinet de Médailles, Paris).


Jewish mausoleum from the Hellenistic period in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem.


Jewish ossuary from the first century CE, Jerusalem.


Moses rescued from the waters of the Nile, a mural in the synagogue of Dura-Europos, Syria, third century CE (Goodenough 1964, pl. XI).


The Rylands Papyrus of the New Testament, from c. 130 CE (Robers 1935)


Benoît and Boismard’s suggested solution to the synoptic problem (Benoît — Boismard 1966/1972).


The Transfiguration of Jesus, a mural in a modern Romanian Orthodox church, Jericho.


A detail from the Apocalyptic vision, a mural in a crypt from the sixth century, Terrassa, Catalonia (Spain).


An architectural blueprint of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, from the fourth century (Hutter 1981:21, fig. 12).


The city of Jerusalem in the Madaba map, sixth century CE (Piccirillo 1989:92)


Gnostic manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas (Yamauchi 1990:96)


The Colosseum, Rome, first century CE.





Hexagonal baptismal font of the Aquileia cathedral, Italy, from the fifth–sixth century (Cuscito 1979: 30, fig. 47)


Triumph arch of Constantine, Rome, fourth century CE.


The Temple lamp on the shoulders of Roman soldiers, relief on the triumphal arch of Titus, Rome, first century CE.


Painting of the Pantocrator on the dome of the modern Romanian Orthodox church in Jericho.


Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, Syrian miniature from the year 586 (Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ms. Plut. 1.56, c. 13v. Courtesy of the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo. È vietata ogni ulteriore riproduzione con qualsiasi mezzo).


Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, and four symbols of the Evangelists, from a Carolingian Apocalypse book, France, ninth century (Bibliothèque de Valenciennes, France).


Melchizedek presents Abraham with bread and wine, a wall mosaic from the fifth century in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome (© 2013, Photo SCALA, Florence – courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali).


The Last Supper, a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, from the fifth and sixth centuries (© 2013, Photo SCALA, Florence – courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali).


A Jewish tomb carved into stone, Nazareth, from the first century CE (Bockel 1995: 6, fig. 6).


Jesus as the almighty Judge, a mural in a Romanesque church in Tahull, Catalonia, from the twelfth century (© MNAC – Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, photo: Calveras/Mèrida/Sagristà).


An orans figure on a marble plaque from the tomb of Saint Agnes, Rome, from the beginning of the fourth century (Haussig 1971, fig. 114).




The blueprint of the Byzantine monastery built in memory of Moses on Mount Nebo, from the fifth and sixth centuries (Piccirillo, s.a.: 57).


The Monastery of Mar Saba in the Kidron Valley, in the Wilderness of Judea, from the sixth century.


Stairs leading to the cells of the laura in ‘Ein Avdat, from the Byzantine period.


Jesus and the holy monk Menas, a Coptic icon from the sixth century (Musée du Louvre, Paris. Photo: Hervé Lewandoski).


The figure of the Good Shepherd, a marble plaque on a Christian sarcophagus, Rome, from c. 270 CE (Archivio fotografico Vasari, Roma).


Symbolic engravings on the cover of a Jewish ossuary, Jerusalem, from the first century CE.


Daniel in the lions’ den, a mural in the catacomb of Saint Callistus, Rome, from the third century (Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, Vatican).


The remains of a six-sided Byzantine church built upon the house of Peter in Capernaum in the fifth century (Loffreda 1985:65).


Mosaic floor of a Christian prayer hall in ancient Legio, near Megiddo, Israel, from the third century CE (Israel Antiquities Authority).


A Christian basilica in the city of Aquileia, northern Italy, from the fourth century (Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Germany).


The church of a monastery and two chapels attached to it, in Shivta, the central Negev, Israel, from the sixth century.


The mosaic floor in the diakonikon of the church of Horvat Karkur ‘Illit, the northern Negev, Israel, from the fifth and sixth centuries (photo: Alter Fogel).




The transenna and synthronos of a Byzantine church in Mampsis (Kurnub, Mamshit), the central Negev, Israel, from the fifth century.


The podium of the bishop’s throne in the cathedral of Elusa (Halutza), the central Negev, Israel, from the sixth century.


A tomb in front of the northern chapel in the church “Martyrium of Saint Theodore,” Avdat, the central Negev, Israel, from the sixth century.


The baptistry of the southern church in Shivta, Israel, from the sixth century.


The dining room of the monastery of Martyrius in Ma‘aleh Adumim, in the Judean Desert, from the sixth century (Magen 1993:32).


A silver chalice for the celebration of the Eucharist, Antioch, from the sixth century (Metropolitan Museum, New York).


One of the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace in Babylon, from a mausoleum in Centcelles, Catalonia, fourth century (Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona. Photo: Albert Saludes).


A detail from a Christian-pagan mosaic floor in Aquileia, Italy, from the fourth century (Photo Elio e Stefano Ciol s.n.c., Casarsa della Delizia, PN, Italy).


Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, a Carolingian ivory from the ninth century (Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Germany, Photo: Wolfgang Fuhrmannek).

BIBLIOGRAPHY B. Bagatti, 1971, The Church from the Circumcision: History and Archaeology of the Judeo-Christians, Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press. ——. 1971a, The Church from the Gentiles: History and Archaeology, Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press. Benedict, Saint = Verheyen, B., transl., 1949, The Holy Rule of Our Most Holy Father Benedict: With Declarations and Constitution of the American-Cassinese Congregation. Atchison, Kansas. Benoît, P. - Boismard, M.-E. 1966/1972, Synopse des quatre Évangiles en français, 2 vols., Paris: Éditions du Cerf. Black, E. W. 1989, “Christian and Pagan Hopes of Salvation in Romano-British Mosaics”, in Pagan Gods and Shrines in the Roman Empire, Oxford: Oxford University, Committee for Archaeology Monograph 8. Bockel, P. 1955, “Nazareth la secrète”, Le Monde de la Bible 90: 3–7. Bousset, W. 1999, (transl. Keane H.A.) The Antichrist Legend: a Chapter in Christian and Jewish Folklore, Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. Butler, E. C. 1911, “Monasticism”, in Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 1: 524 ff., Cambridge: The Macmillan Company. Cabrol, F. 1964, “Monasticism”, in Hastings J. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. 8: 781–797. Chadwick, H. 1967, The Early Church (The Pelican History of the Church, I), London: Penguin Books. Charles, R. H. (ed.) 1913, The Letter of Aristeas, Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Cohen, S. D. B. 1999, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties, London, England: Universty of California Press. Cuscito G., 1979, Die frühchristlichen Basiliken von Grado, Bologna: Specimen Grafica Editoriale. 329



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Frend, W. H. C. 1967, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church, Garden City, New York: New York University Press. Frey, J. B. 1936, Corpus Inscriptionum Judaicarum, vol. 1, Città del Vaticano: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana. Ginsberg, H. L. 1950, “Aramaic Letters”, in Pritchard 1950, pp. 491–492. Goodenough, E. R. 1964, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, vol. 11, Princeton — New York: Pantheon Books. Gregg, R. C. and Urman, D. 1996, Jews, Pagans, and Christians in the Golan Heights: Greek and Other Inscriptions of the Roman and Byzantine Eras. South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism 140. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press. Hachlili, R. 1998, Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora, Leiden: Brill. Herford, R. T. 1905, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, London (ed. 2006, KTAV Publishing House, Inc.). Hirschfeld, Y. 1992, The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzantine Period, New Haven: Yale University Press. Hutter, I. 1981, Frühchristliche Kunst, Byzantinische Kunst, Herrsching: Manfred Pawlak. Kelly, J. N. D. 1960, Early Christian Doctrines, New York (2nd ed.). Klausner, J. 1925 (trans. H. Danby), Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching, New York: MacMillan. Kogan-Zehavi, E. 2003, “The Chained Ascetic from Giv’at Hamatos”, Qadmoniot 126: 114–118 (Hebrew). Kraeling, C. 1932. ‘The Jewish Community at Antioch’, Journal of Biblical Literature 51: 130–160. Kraeling, E. G. 1953, The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri, New Haven: Yale University Press. Kümmel, W. G. 1966, Introduction to the New Testament, London: SCM Press. Lightstone, J. N. and Herbert W. B. 2006. The Commerce of the Sacred: Mediation of the Divine Among Jews in the Greco-Roman World. New York: Columbia University Press. Lindsey, R. L. 1963, “A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Interdependence,” Novum Testamentum 6: 239–263. Loffreda, S. 1985, Recovering Capharnaum, Jerusalem: Edizioni Custodia Terra Santa. Loisy, A. 1948 (transl. Jacks, L.P.), The Birth of the Christian Religion, London: George Allen & Unwin.



Lowrie, W. 1969, Art in the Early Church, Scranton, Pennsylvania: Norton & Co Inc. Magen, Y. 1993, The Monastery of Martyrius at Ma‘aleh Adummim: A Guide, Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority (Hebrew). Mead, G. R. S. 1931, 3rd ed., Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, London and Benares (new edition: New York: University Books, 1960). Palmer, A. –Brock, S. –Hoyland, R. 1993, The Seventh Century in the West-Syrian Chronicles, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Parkes, J. 1969, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue, New York: Atheneum. PG = Migne, J. M., (ed.). 1856-1861, Patrologiae Graecae Cursus Completus, 81 vols., Paris. Piccirillo, M. (s.a.), Mount Nebo, Jerusalem: Edizioni Custodia Terra Santa. ——. 1989, Chiese e mosaici di Madaba, Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press. Pines, S. 1971, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications, Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. PL = Migne, J. M., (ed.). 1857–1866, Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus, 166 vols., Paris. Pritchard, J.B. 1950, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pritz, R. A. 2010, Nazarene Jewish Chistianity, Jerusalem: Magnes Press. Quasten, J. 1940, “Vetus superstitio et nova religio”, Harvard Theological Review 33: 253–266. Resseguie, J. L. 1998, Revelation Unsealed — A Critical Approach to John-Apoocalypse, Leiden—Boston—Köln: Brill. Roberts, C. H. (ed.) 1935, An unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library, Manchester: The Manchester University Press. Rokeah, D. 1982, Jews, Pagans and Christians in Conflict, Leiden: Brill. Ruiz Bueno, D. 1974, Actas de los Mártires, Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. Schoeps, H. J. 1963, The Jewish-Christian Argument, London: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Schonfield, H. J. 1936, The History of Jewish Christians. From the First to the Twentieth Century, London: Duckworth.



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INDEX OF LITERARY REFERENCES Abercius of Hierapolis (inscription) 260 Acacius, Acts of 97 Apocalypse of Baruch 36:4 147 Apocalypse of Peter 2 147 Apophtegmata of the Desert Fathers 229 Apostolic Constitutions 184, 190 Apost. Con. V, 7 259 Apost. Con. VIII, 12, 9–16 184 Aristides, Apol. 87 Arnobius, PL 5, 1162 263 Athenagoras, Apol. 87 Augustine Adv. Jud. 12,3; 14:2 85 Adv. Jud. 29, 2 80 The City of God XVIII, 23 117 Conf. IX, 14 184 Conf. IX, 7 193 Letter 211 231 De opere monachorum 231 Basil, Rules for monks 220, 280 Benedict, Regula Monachorum 230, 284 Book of Durrow 298 Book of Kells 298 Celsus, The True Word 87 Cicero, Pro Flacco 28, 66–69 12 Chronicon Paschale 1:474 19

Clement of Rome 1 Epistle 25, 64 1 Cor 5–6 91 Clement of Alexandria Protrepticus 69 Protr. XII 181 Pedagogos 69 Stromata 1:5,28 69 Cyprian Letter LXXVI, VI, 1 98 Testimonies against the Jews I 78 Ad Quirinum 83 De opere et eleemosynis 15 175 De mortalitate 212 Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathech. VI, PG 33: 553–555 87 Cyril of Scythopolis, Vitae of the Desert Fathers 221 Diadochus of Photike, Chapters of Spiritual Perfection 225 Didaché 63, 66, 169, 175, 193 Did. 7:1 167 Did. 7:1–3 174, 262 Did. 8:2–3 175 Did. 14 169 Did. 16:4 146 Didascalia 192 Dio Cassius, Epitome LXVII, 14 39 Diognetus, Epistle to, 4 170




Diogn. 5:19 66; 87 Dionysus of Tel-Mahre 110, 132 Egeria’s Travels 263 1 Enoch 62 1 Enoch 25,6 137–138 1 Enoch 24; 25; 72:14 158 Eusebius Chronicle (PG 27: 216) 66 Chronicle 71 Life Const. 71 Life Const. 1, 28 101 Life Const. 3, 27 244 Mart. Palest. 71, 99 Onomasticon 72 CH 71 CH II, 23, 18 262 CH III, 1, 1–3 91 CH III, 12, 19–20, 32 132 CH III, 27 79 CH III, 32, 1–6 92 CH III, 36, 4ff 65 CH III, 39, 3-4 66 CH III, 39, 11-13 65 CH III, 39, 15-16 65 CH IV, 5, 48 94 CH IV, 22-23 64 CH IV, 15, 1–46 93 CH IV, 15, 16–17 93 CH IV, 15, 46–48 97 CH V, 24 170 CH V, 1, 3–63 93 CH V, 1–6 95 CH V, 21 94 CH V, 24, 5 92 CH V, 24, 14 65 CH VI, 39 70 CH VI, 39, 1–5 97 CH VI, 40, 1–42. 6 96 CH VII, 1 97

CH VII, 11, 20–26 97 CH VII, 12 98 CH VII, 15 ff 99 CH VII, 30:9 265 CH VIII and IX 99 CH VIII, 1 265 CH X, 2 265 CH X, 4, 44 286 Edessa’s Chronicle 265 Evagrius Ponticus, Chapters 225 Gospel of the Hebrews 42 Gospel of Mary 88 Gospel of Peter 6, 10 180 Gosp. Peter 35–40 185 Gospel of Philip, 77:15-18 88 Gregory I Epp. VIII, 25 19 Epp. IX, 61, 121 106 Epp. XI 234 Dialogi 230 Dial. 245 Gregory of Nazianz, Oratio XVIII, 5 23 Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium II 23 Gregory Palamas, Triads for the Defense of the Holy Hesychasts 227 Hegesippus 92 Heracleon, Fragment 11 86 Hermas The Shepherd 67 The Shepherd, Sim. XI, 29, 1 210 The Shepherd, Vis. I, 4, 3 185 Horatius, Satires 1:4, 137–142 12

INDEX Hyppolitus, Apost. Trad. 176, 184, 198 Hystaspes, Oracles 116 Ignatius Rom. 4:1 65 Magn. 6:1 65 Magn. 9 169 Smyrn. 8 172 Smyrn. 8:2 65 Institutum Neronianum 91 Irenaeus Adversus Haereses 3:3,4 65 Adv. Haer. III, 3 93 Adv. Haer. III, Pref.: III,3,1 80 Adv. Haer. IV,12,4 81 Adv. Haer. IV, 17, 5 174 Adv. Haer. IV, 18, 4 174 Demonstratio 255 Ascension of Isaia 4 147 James, Protoevangelium of 40 Jerome De viris illustribus 42 94 On Zechariah 11, 5 19 On Jeremiah 6, 18 19 John Cassian Collations of the Fathers 229, 232, 284 Institutions of Monasteries 229, 232, 284 John Climacus, Ladder of Paradise 226 Julius Africanus 93 Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 82, 251 Dial. 1; 2-8; 1-9 68 Dial. 16, 47, 96 78 Dial. 110 93 Dial. 126, 5; 127, 1 81 Dial. 113, 1-2 85

337 I-II Apologies 68 I Apol. 29 210 I Apol. 61 262 I Apol. 65 175 I Apol. 67 169 Martyrium S.Iustini et Sociorum 68 Juvenal Satires III, 10-18; VI, 542547 12 Satires VI, 157–160; XIV, 96–106 18 Lactantius De mortibus persecutorum 99 De mort. pers. 2,4–6 91 De mort. pers. 44.4–6 101 De mort. pers. 46,6 184 Lampridius, Life of Alexander Severus, 49 265 Testament of Levi 3:1–2 130 Test. Levi 3:4; 3:5; 3:7; 3:8; 4:1; 5:1; 8:4f;7:8–10; 18:10–12 130 Liber Pontificalis 265 Lucian and Marcian, Acts of 97 Spiritual Homilies 225 Macarius, Rule 229 Marcion, Antitheses 90 Martial, Epigrams 4, 4; 12, 5–7; 7:30 18 Melito, On Pascha 84, 255 Methodius of Olympus, Convivium 209 Minutius Felix Octavius 31 210 Dial. 265 Apol. 87 Nilus Sinaita, Epp. IV, 61 (PG 79:577) 295 Origen 91



Against Celsus 70, 88 Cels. (PG 11:1539–42) 263 Cels VI, 27 78 Hexapla 70, 83 Peri Archon 70 Orphic texts (Petilia) 206 Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 216–218 Papias of Hierapolis, The Explanation of the Lord’s Words 66 Paulinus, Vita Ambrosii 13 193 Pectorius of Autun (inscription) 260 Peshitta 43 Philocalia 226 Pliny the Younger, Epp. X, 9697 39 Plutarch, Symposiacs IV, 5 and 6 19 Polycarp, Epistle to Philippians 13:2 65 Polycarp, Martyrdom of 185, 188 Mart. Polyc. 9 190 Mart. Polyc. 18:1, 3 65 Porphyry, Against the Christians 88 Procopius, History of the Wars 4, 9 109 Pseudo-Barnabas, Epistle 84 Barn. 7-12; 8-10; 15; 18-20 66 Barn. 9, 4 85 Barn. 15 169 Pseudo-Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Virgins 211 Pseudo-Dyonisus 181 Pyramid Texts 207–212 115 Quadratus, Apology 66, 87

Recognitiones Clementinae (PG 1, 1315 and 1453) 263 Regula Magistri 229 Sabas, Typicon 223 Serapion Prayer Book 178 Anaphora 184 Eucologion 190 Socrates, CH VII, 38 132 Strabo, Geography XVII 24 Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 20 Life of Claudius XXV, 4 37 Life of Nero XVI, 2 38 Sybiline Oracle 117–118 Sybil. 3:67–74 146 Symbolum (Creed) 182 Tacitus, Histories V, 5 37 Tacitus, Annals XV, 44, 2–8 38 Tatian Apology 87 Diatesseron 43, 87 Tertullian Ad nationes I, 7 91 Ad nationes I, 13 22 Ad Scapulam IV 178 Ad Scapulam V 70 De praescriptione 36, 1–3 91 De spectaculis XXX 78 Apologeticum 87 Apolog. 5, 5-8 100 Apolog. 39 172 Apolog. 50 100 Adv. Jud. 10 170 De Baptismo 255 De Bapt. 19 170 De oratione 25 175 De velandis virginibus 10 210

INDEX Theodoret, Historia Religiosa 220 Theophilus, Apol. 87 Thomas, Gospel of 88 Thomas of Marga, Book of the Governors 221 Jewish writings Aristeas, Letter 13 Assumption of Moses 62 Assump. Mos. 1:15; 1:8; 6:9; 8:1; 9:7; 10:1; 10:4–6 130 Assump. Mos. 8 146 Assump. Mos. 11:7–10; 10:12 130 Babylonian Talmud b. ‘Avod. Zar. 16b–17a 35 b. ‘Avod. Zar. 27b; 28a 78 b, B. Mesi’a 114b 11 b. Ber. 12a 163 b. Ḥag. 12b 135 b. Ḥag. 15b 78 b. Ketub. 111a 148 b. Meg. 29a 11 b. Menaḥ. 43a-44a 12 b. Sanh. 74b 11 b. Sanh. 107b 33 b. Sanh. 43, 61 33 b. Sanh. 43a 34 b. Shabb. 14b 78 b. Sukkah 51b 163 b. Yebam. 46a 161 Baruch (Syriac) 146 Eighteen Blessings 77 IV Ezra 147 Jerusalem Talmud y. Ber. I, 8 163 Josephus Contra Apion 13 Apion II, 9 19

339 Vetus Latina 43 Virgil, Fourth Ecloge 117 Vitae Patrum (Lives of the Fathers) 221, 284

Ant. XIII, 337–9 156 Ant. XIV, 7, 2 24 Ant. XV, II, 3, 45 247 Ant. XVIII, 63–64 31 Ant. XVIII, 5, 2 32 Ant. XX, 9, 1 32 Ant. XX, 9, 27–39 262 War 1:229 159 War 1:33, 5 178 War 2:129, 149, 150 161 War 5:243 f; 6: 290 156 War 7:5, 1 131 Jubilees 5:13; 7:29; 9:15; 23:26; 23:30; 24:30; 24:30–32; 30:22 129 Mekhilta Exodus 15:2; 15:16 11 Midr. Hekhalot Rabbati 135 Midr. Gen. R. 98 133 Midr. Gen. R. 34:4; 12:5,39 11 Midr. Exod. R. 136 Midr. Num. R. 19:4 161 Midr. Tanḥuma 136 Midr. Tanḥ. 251 Midrash ha-Otiyot 35 Mishnah m. Meg. 4:1 162 m. Meg. 4:1–6 162 m. Pesaḥ. 5:1 158 m. Pesaḥ. 5:10; 7:12 157 m. Pesaḥ. 10:1 158 m. Sanh. 10:1 78 m. Sukkah 4:5 164 m. Ta’an. 2:5 163



m. Tamid 7:2 155 m. Yoma 3:10 17 m. Yoma 6:6 155 m. Yoma 7:1 162 m. Soṭah 7:7 162 Pesiqta 50a 148 Philo In Flaccum, 45-46 12 Execr. 6 137 Praem. 26:52 137 Spec. 2:52 156 Contempl. 14, 204

Contempl. 9:73–74 159 Contempl. 9:82 161 Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer 135 Sifra, Kedoshim 93d, ed. Weiss 12 Tosefta t. Ber. 1:9 163 t. Yebam. 98a 11–12 t. Yoma 2:4 17 t. Ḥul. 2:24 35 t. Ḥul. 2:22-23 78 t. B. Mesi‘a 2:53 78

Qumran literature QHab 2,1; 8,8 146 1QpHos b I 12 127 Hymns 1QH III 28 127 1QH III 27 127 1QH III 29–32 127 QH III 33–36 127 1QH XV 15–16 127 Manual of Discipline 1QS IV 6–8 128 1QS IV 18–20 128 1QS VI 2–8 158 1QS VI 4 158 1QS IX 1 128 Rule of the Community 176

1QSa 2:11 f 159 War Scroll I 10, 13–14 128 New Covenant 3, 28 128 4Q Patriarchal Blessings 3–4 128 4Q Florilegium 1–4 128 4Q Testimonia 128 Damascus Document CD 1:14 146 CD 6:10, 14; 12:23 127 CD 7:18 128 CD 8:13; 20:15 146 CD 10:10 ff; 11:18 ff 161 CD 12:22 128

INDEX OF NAMES AND TERMS Aachen Abercius (bishop) Abu Bakr (caliph) Acts of Martyrs Adrianopole Aeneas agadah agape Agnes (martyr) Agrippa I Agrippa II Ahura Mazda Akiba (rabbi) Alammanians Alans Alaric I Alcuin of York Alexander the Great Alexandria

allegory altar

297 260 110 90 106 206 251 170–72, 198, 253, 266 188, 189 (fig. 23) 2 32 116 11, 34–35, 55, 78, 132, 135 105, 109 105, 107 106 236, 297 1, 3, 9, 13, 15, 86, 247 8, 14–17, 32, 66, 68–70, 83, 85–6, 95–96, 102, 104, 181, 186, 190, 192, 194–95, 204, 207, 210, 212, 218, 240, 250, 258 82, 85–86, 302 147–49, 154, 157, 173, 184, 187, 189, 266,


ambo Ambrose (bishop) Ambrosian Amoraim anaphora Anaphora of Serapion Anat Angra Mainyu Angles Anicetus Anonymous from Piacenza antependium Anthony (monk) Antichrist Antioch

Antiochian theology Antioch of Pisidia Antipas Antitheses Antoninus Pius

269–70, 273– 74, 276–77, 280–81, 286– 87, 303 277, 287 184, 186, 191, 199, 214, 228, 289, 291 197 204 196 184 114, 151 116 105, 234 65, 191 264 286 212–16, 218, 229 61, 145–46 22, 47, 51, 64– 65, 75–76, 92, 97, 188, 190, 192–95, 220, 266, 287–88, 298 104 97 2, 25, 31 90 19, 68, 93



Aphraates apocalyptic

Apocryphal book Apollo apologetic apologists Apostolic Fathers Apostolic Kerygma apse

Aquila Aquileia Arabia Archelaus architrave Arculph (bishop) Areopagos Arianism Aristides (philosopher) Aristion Arius (monk) Arles Arnobius (apologist) Arsenius (monk) Artemis asceticism

192, 215, 220 2, 5, 29, 57, 62–63, 67, 113, 116–17, 122– 23, 125–26, 128–29, 137, 139, 142, 146– 48, 152, 158 40–41, 62, 90, 128, 152, 259, 295 101, 169, 209, 245, 154 80, 87, 110 68, 181 30, 40, 63, 67 167 182, 200, 269– 74, 276, 279– 80, 283, 289– 90, 293, 295, 303–04 20, 37, 70, 83 96, 228, 270, 291, 292 70, 99, 109, 211 25 276 274 87 103, 106, 190, 196 66, 87 66 102–3 25, 232 263 227 55, 87 203–6, 209– 10, 220, 224, 230, 232, 241

Ashur Asia Asia Minor

Atargatis Athanasius (bishop) Athenagoras (apologist) Athos, Mount atrium Audians Audius from Mesopotamia Augustine of Hippo (bishop) Aurelian Baal

114 55, 62, 65, 76, 84, 93, 97, 257 10, 12–13, 22, 26, 51–52, 54– 56, 60, 66, 75, 90, 97, 99, 104, 106, 194, 212, 223–24, 227, 241, 260, 287 18 186, 190, 211, 226, 228 87 225–27 155, 270–71, 274, 283–84 211 211

80, 86, 106–7, 198, 228, 231 185, 266 114–15, 151, 203 Babylonian Talmud 33, 78, 135 Bacchus 18 Balaam 82, 139, 261 255–57, 266, baptistery 279, 281, 283, 285 Bardesanes 90 Bar Kokhba 2, 18 Barlaam from 228 Calabria (monk) Barsanuphius 213 (hermit) Basil (monk) 190, 196, 223– 24, 229, 241, 284 basilica 102, 172, 178, 182, 185, 187– 88, 200, 261,


Bede, the Venerable Behemoth Belial Belisarius (general) Ben Sira Benedict of Nursia (monk)

Berber Berea Bernard of Clairvaux Bethesda Bir el–Qutt Bithynia Britannia Britons Books of Hours boskoi Breaking of the Bread Burgundians Byzantium See Constantinople Byzantine period


Caesarius (monk) Cairo Geniza Cagliari

263–64, 268– 75, 277–80, 283, 287, 290, 298, 303 233 134 128, 130 108 9, 15 209–10, 215, 218, 229–30, 232–33, 236, 238–39, 241, 245, 284–85 109 23, 56 86, 215, 238 50, 191 282–283 22, 39 105 100 177 212 165–66, 169– 70, 199, 262 105, 109 87, 221–22, 241, 243, 259, 276, 279, 282, 295–97 8, 48, 52, 64, 66, 68, 70–71, 76, 79, 83, 91, 98–99, 102, 194, 210, 263, 265 232 77 231

343 Caligula

15–16, 19, 25, 147 Callistus I (bishop) 103, 188, 256– 57 canonical hours 176–77 Capella Greca 255–57 Capernaum 8, 85–86, 263– 64 Cappadocia 22, 69, 106, 194, 223, 230, 241 Carolingian period 236 Carthage 69, 94–95, 98, 107–109, 192, 212, 228, 260 Cassiodorus (monk) 229 catacombs 13, 18, 21, 90, 97, 173, 180, 250–51, 253– 61, 265–66, 289, 293, 303 catechumen 69–70, 94–95, 98, 174, 182, 232, 271, 280– 81 cathedral 96, 228, 272, 274, 276–77 Catholic Church 16, 43, 65, 103, 107, 178, 190, 240 Cato the Younger 206 Cellia 216 Celsus 87, 263 (philosopher) Centumcellae 97 Centurion 76, 267 centaur 259, 294 Kittim 128–129 Chalcedon 43, 104, 195, 224 Chaldean rite 193 chapel 23, 188, 192, 197, 209, 235, 245, 254, 257,



259, 268, 271, 273–74, 277– 79, 282–83, 289, 294 168 charismata Charlemagne 105, 109, 111, 236, 297, 301 Charles Martel 109 195 Cherubicon 135–136 cherubim Choricius (sophist) 295 101, 289, 292, Chrismon, labarum 303 christocentric 226 206 Chthonioi Church Fathers 16, 41, 58, 63– 64, 67–68, 78, 80–83, 87–88, 90, 190, 200, 244, 258, 295– 96 Church of the 273, 278, 280, Nativity 286 277, 281, 287 ciborium Cicero 17 Cilicia 22, 52, 75 Cistercian 238 Cîteaux 238–39 Claudius 15–16, 19–20, 37 283 claustrum Clement of 68–70, 181, Alexandria 210, 258 Clement of Rome 64, 91 Clovis I See Merovingian Cluny 236–38 Codex Rossano 250, 296 coenobitic 207, 211, 217, 282 coenobium, koinobion 231, 241 Colossae 56, 58, 88 Colosseum 92 Columbanus (monk) 233 Commodus 94

confirmation Constantine


Coptic Corinth Cornelius (bishop) Cosmas and Damian cosmogony Credo criophoros crypt

187 19, 68, 71, 73, 99, 100–103, 105, 111, 182, 187, 207, 244– 45, 253, 261, 265, 268, 273, 275, 278, 290– 91, 303 103–5, 107–8, 182, 190, 194– 95, 223, 225– 26, 278, 287, 295, 302–3 43, 64, 68, 88, 195, 227, 301– 3 20, 23, 37, 53, 56, 64, 88 76, 97, 168, 176, 188, 263 274

88, 113 10 258 63, 188, 277, 279 Cyprian (bishop) 83, 95–96, 98, 172, 174, 188, 198, 211–12, 230, 260 Cyrene 21, 24–25 Cyril of Alexandria 104 Cyril of Jerusalem 87 Cyril of Scythopolis 221 Dacia 98, 107 daily offering 154–55 Damasus (bishop) 43 Danube 105–7 57, 60, 64, 102, Day of the Lord 145, 147, 169 deacon 57, 98, 186, 195, 198, 220,


Dead Sea Scrolls Decius (emperor) Deisis Delos Delphi Demiurge dendrites Deutero–Isaiah diaconicum, diakonikon Diadochus of Photiki Dio Cassius Diocletian (emperor) diptychs, triptychs Dominic of Guzman Domitian (emperor) Dorotheus of Gaza doxologies dragon Dura Europos Easter Ebionites Ecumenical council Edessa

277, 303 6, 10, 122, 127, 204 91, 95–97, 99 302 19, 23 23 88 212 120 187 225 20, 38–39 71, 99–100, 187, 194, 265, 267 299, 304 239 19–20, 38, 62, 64, 91, 132 213 190 114, 119, 148, 214 23–24, 192, 250, 255, 257, 263, 265–66 65, 72, 84, 103, 169, 192 27, 79 74, 102–4, 110

104, 192, 220, 265 99–100 Edict of Milan Egeria or Etheria 191, 194, 223, (nun) 232, 263–64 Eleona 280 Eleutherus (bishop) 94 Elisha ben Abuya 78, 135

345 Elusa Emmaus Endymion Enlil Ephesus

276–77 166 254, 258 114 19, 43, 54–56, 65, 68–69, 87, 97, 103, 166, 170, 191, 194, 210 Ephrem (monk) 43, 192–193 Epictetus (stoic) 206 Epiphanius (bishop) 70, 207 Epiphany 190 291–92 erotes eschatology 46, 64, 116, 129, 142, 152 Essenes 5–6, 59, 77, 161, 200, 204– 5, 240 2, 16, 25 ethnarch 64, 84, 95, 145, Eucharist 153, 165–66, 170–75, 182, 184, 186–88, 193, 196, 198, 200, 222, 253, 259–62, 268, 287–88, 303–4 Eucherius (bishop) 232 Eutyches (monk) 104 Eusebius of 64–66, 68, 71– Caesarea 72, 79, 92–99, 101–2, 209, 244, 262, 265, 268, 286 Eusebius of 102 Nicomedia Eustathius 223–4 (bishop) Euthymios (monk) 221, 284 Evagrius Ponticus 214, 225 exegesis 72, 81, 85–86, 199, 250, 258 243 ex-voto



Fabian (bishop) Faustus (bishop) Flavia Domitilla Flavius Clemens Franciscans Franks

97, 188, 265 232 38 20, 38, 91 241, 263 105, 107, 109, 111, 194, 197 Frisians 109 Fructuosus (bishop) 98 Fulgentius (bishop) 231 Galla Placidia 278, 291 Gaul (Gallia) 18, 25, 93, 107, 109, 111, 194, 197, 206, 231– 34, 241, 253, 287 Gallienus (emperor) 98 Gallinaria (Isola 232 d’Albenga) Gamaliel II (rabbi) 52, 77, 131 Gangra 224 Geismar 235, 245 Gelasius I (bishop) 199 Gelimer (king) 108 78 gematria Genseric (king) 107–8 Gentiles 5–7, 11–12, 21–22, 26, 36, 48, 50–51, 55, 75–76, 79–81, 87, 129, 131, 137, 151, 162, 166, 168, 252, 257, 262–64 George (saint) 100, 274 Gerizim, Mount 6, 274 Germanic 105–7, 109, 194 Gibraltar 24, 109 Gnostics 77, 85–86, 127 Gog 128, 146, 149 Gorgons 21 Goths 100, 105–107, 111, 194

graduale gradualia Gregorian chant Gregory I (bishop)

Gregory of Nazianzus Gregory Palamas Hadrian

199 198 184 19, 106, 184, 191, 198–99, 209, 215, 229– 30, 233–36, 245 23, 224

227 2, 19, 66, 92– 93, 244 278 Hagia Sophia 9, 30, 81, 177, halakhah 200, 205, 247 Hasmonean 2, 4, 6, 17, 25, 247 Hegesippus 92 226, 284 hegoumenos Helene of Adiabene 247 Hellenistic 1, 4–5, 10, 12, 15–16, 81, 83, 86, 110, 112, 137, 184, 207, 247, 250, 258, 290, 296 Heracleon 85–86 Hercules 206, 258 heretic 45, 64, 69, 74, 77–78, 80, 88, 92, 103–4, 110–11, 136, 190, 210, 214 Hermas 67, 185 Herodian 10, 247–248 225–27 Hesychasm Hilarion 218 Hillel (rabbi) 5, 9, 11, 205 Hippo 80, 106–7, 198, 228, 231 Hippolytus 86, 257 Holy of Holies 155, 276 Holy Places 74, 298

INDEX homily homooúsios Honoratus Horus Hosius Huns hymnaria Hypapante hypostasis hyssop Hystaspes Ibas of Edessa Iberian peninsula icon iconography iconostasis Ignatius impluvium Institutiones monasteriorum institutum neronianum introitus Irenaeus

Ishtar Isis Jerome

Jerusalem Talmud John the Baptist

John Chrysostom John from Gaza John Hyrcanus

58, 84 103 232 115, 245 102 105–7 198 191 104 159 116 104 107 227, 301–2 117, 255, 286– 87, 289, 299, 304 276 47, 65, 92, 169–70, 172 266 229 (?), 284 (?) 91 199 25, 65–66, 80– 81, 88, 93–94, 170, 174, 181, 255, 258 114 115, 245 42–43, 94, 106, 187, 215, 218–20, 228– 29 33 30–32, 131, 137, 139, 166, 174, 200, 209, 245, 274, 299 187–88, 196 213 6

347 Josephus Flavius Juan de la Cruz Judah the Prince Julius Africanus Julius Caesar Justinian I Justin Martyr Jutters Kairouan Horvat Karkur Kathisma Kingu Korba Kursi Kyrie eleison Lactantius Ladder to Paradise Lambesis Lampridius lapsi Lateran The Latin Church laura Lawrence Leander of Seville lectionaria lector Lagids Leo I Leonides Leptis Magna Lérins Leviathan Licinius Ligugé liturgy Lombards Lyons

5–6, 30, 247 86 9 93 2, 19, 105 19, 108, 223, 226, 273, 278, 295, 299 68, 81–82, 87, 93, 169, 251 105, 234 231 272, 279–80 274 114 98 281 194–95 91, 99, 101, 207 226 98 265 95–96 187, 198–99 184, 189 221–23, 241, 282, 284 188 106 198 198 1 199 95 287 232 134 99–100, 268 232 105 25, 88, 93–94, 170



Lot’s Cave Lupus Lusitania Lydia Macarius Macedonia Macrianus Macrinius Dacianus Madaba Mamas Mampsis Maranatha Marcion Marcus Aurelius Marduk Marmoutier Mareotis Martin of Braga Martyrion Massilians mausoleum Maxentius Maximianus Maximinus Daia Medallion Melas Melito Melchites memoriae Menas Menorah Mozarabs Merovingian Mesopotamia

Methodius from

273 232 106 12, 22, 174 216, 225, 229 23, 52, 55–56, 97 99 98 74, 293–94 226 271, 275–76, 280–81 145, 165 45, 90 93–94, 206 114 232 14, 204 233 277 207 4, 278, 290– 91 101 287, 299 99, 212, 268 101, 268, 292– 93, 298 228 84, 255–56 195 188 227, 301 21, 108, 249, 254 109 109 10, 113–14, 118, 151, 211– 12, 218, 220– 21, 307 209, 258

Olympus metropolitan Metz Miletus Millennium Minos Minutius Felix Minutius Fundanus Mird Mishnah Missa Roman Missal Mithraism modo judaico Monarchianism Monica Monogram monophysites Montanism Montecassino Monza Mopsuestia Mot Mount Nebo Muhammad Musa bin Nusayr Muslim Mystery Religions Nabataeans Nag Hammadi narthex Nazarenes necropolis Neocaesarea Neoplatonic Nero Nerva Nestorians

192, 226, 288 297 13 149 258 87, 265 92 280 9, 78, 155, 162, 164, 251 184 197 88 91 103 189 101, 249 27, 195, 220 69 245 297–98 104 114–15, 151 219, 279, 281– 83, 293–94 109–110 109 83, 106, 109– 11, 196, 225, 281, 290 181 102, 247–48, 250 88 271, 274, 283 27, 79 253, 290 224 88 37–38, 91, 147 19 27, 104, 110,


Nestorianism Nestorius Nicaea Nicephorus the Hesychast Nicomedia Nilus from Sinai Niobe Nitria nosrim Novatian Nubia Numidia Octavian Augustus Odoacer Odysseus offertorium Onuphrius orans Origen

Orontes Orpheus Orphism Osiris ossuary Ostrogoths Pachomius pagans

Pala d’oro Palladius pallium


220 104 103–4, 191 71, 103 226

Pamphylia Pannonia Panopolis Pantenus Pantocrator

99, 102, 268 295 258 216 77, 79 95–96 253 98 2, 5, 16, 19, 25 107 258 174–75 215 189, 255, 261, 289, 303 65, 68, 70–71, 83, 86, 88, 91, 95, 97, 104, 223, 258 22 87, 258–59, 294 206 115 17, 249 106–7 207, 215, 217– 18, 241 22–23, 26, 52, 54, 59, 69, 74, 76, 86,–87, 95, 109, 111, 139, 143, 182, 184, 235–36, 240, 244 287 216–218 235

Paphlagonia Papias Parenetical parthenons pastophoria Patmos patriarch Patrick Paula Paulinus Paul of Samosata Paul of Thebes Pectorius Pella Peregrinus Pergamon peripatetics Perpetua, Felicitas Peshitta Petilia Pharisees Philadelphia Philippi Philo

Philocalia Phoenicia Phrygia Pisidia Pispir Plato Platonism Pliny the Elder

97 107 218 69 138, 182, 200, 293 22, 224 42, 66 81 211 271–73 62, 147 58, 142, 257, 296 233 220 228 265 215 173, 260 2 207 93–94 68 94, 188 43 206 5–6, 9, 46–47, 177, 203 65 23, 48, 55–56, 65, 174 12, 14–16, 23, 66, 85, 137, 156, 159, 161, 204, 250, 258 226 99 12, 22, 54, 93 22, 54, 97 216 70 88 204



Pliny the Younger Plotinus Poitiers Polycarp Polycrates polytheism Pontius Pontius Pilate Pontus Pool of the Sheep Pope Popule meus Poreč or Parenzo Porphyry prefect Priscillians Procopius prothesis Pseudo-Dyonisus Pseudo-Justin Putti See erotes Pyramid Texts Pyrenees Pythagoreans Quadratus Quartodecimans Qumran

Rabbula Ras Siagha Ravenna

Red Sea Reccared refrigerium Regula Monachorum relics

39, 91–92, 169, 172 88 109, 232 65, 93, 170, 189, 192 170 118 188 2, 37 194, 224, 230 286 105 193 278, 295 87 93 233 108–9 269 181 258 115 107 206 66, 87 84 6, 10, 82, 127, 146, 152, 158– 59, 161, 176, 200, 204 220, 241, 297 282 107, 172, 228, 261, 278, 286– 87, 295–96, 299 84, 119, 260, 289 106, 197 186, 189, 260 230 65, 178, 189,

reliquarium Rhine rotunda Rufinus Sabas sacrament

Sages, the Saint Thomas’ Christians Saint Gall Santa Maria Antiqua Santa Maria Maggiore Santa Sabina San Vitale sarcophagus Sardis Saxons Scete schismatic Scipio the Younger Scythia Scythopolis Second Temple Seleucids Senate senatus consultum Seneca Septimania Septimius Severus Septuagint Serapion Seridon

273, 277 277 105, 107 270, 274–75 219–20, 228– 29 221–23 153, 178, 181– 82, 191, 198– 200, 228, 257, 279, 303 9, 35, 204 193 285 255, 290 160, 296 286 286, 296 10, 21, 246, 261, 266, 289 19, 84, 255–56 105, 109, 234 216, 225, 232 95, 195 206 211, 232 221, 274, 293 7, 12, 26, 122, 155–57, 247– 48 1 17, 68, 94 91 206 106 94 15, 70, 82–83, 122, 161, 294 96, 178, 184, 190 213

INDEX The Severi Shammai Shekhinah Siddur Silwan (Siloam) Simeon Stylites Sinope Sinope Fragment Sixtus II Slavonic Smakiyeh Smyrna Solinus sophia Sozomen Sparta Spenta Mainyu stater statio stoics Strabo Stridon stucco Studium Biblicum Franciscanum stylites Subiaco Suebians Suetonius Symmachus Syncretistic synods Synoptic Gospels synthronos Tabgha Tacitus Tagaste Tammuz Tariq ibn Ziyad Tarphon Tarragona

253 5, 9, 205 11, 135 11 273 274 83, 90, 250 250 98 105, 224 280 65, 93, 97, 192 204 89 212 23 116 259 199 240 21, 24 219 248, 254 282 212 229 105, 107, 232 20, 37–38 70, 83 87 74, 90, 96, 110, 189, 192 44–45, 47, 146, 158, 163, 177 275–76, 287 173, 271, 274 37, 105, 107 231 114, 151 109 251 25, 98, 289, 291

351 Tarsus Tartarus Tatian Taurus Tentyra Tertullian

testimonia Thanksgivings Thauata Theodemir Theodore of Mopsuestia Theodoret Theodoric I Theodotion Theophile of Alexandria Theophilus of Antiochia theophanies Theotókos Therapeutae Thessalonica Thiasioi Thomas Aquinas Thomas of Marga Torah


51–52, 75 137 43, 87 211 217 68–69, 87, 90– 91, 95, 100, 172, 174, 176, 178, 181, 185, 198, 210, 215, 230, 255 81–83, 128, 257 34, 154, 158, 163, 174–75, 187 218 107 104 104, 220 106–7 70, 83 83 263 81, 124–25 104, 191, 274, 294 14, 159, 161, 204 23, 56, 227, 287, 295 206 239 221 5–6, 8–9, 11, 21, 34, 47, 50, 54, 69, 80, 82, 134, 136, 156, 159, 162, 244, 252 194



Thuburbo Minus Thyatira Tiamat Tiberius Tiridates III Titus Tours Tosefta Trajan Tralles transenna, cancellum transept Trebonius Gallus triclinium Trier Trinity Trisagion Troas Trypho typology typos Tyre Ugarit

94 174 114 19–20, 37 194 2, 18–19, 52, 57, 108, 168 109, 232, 297 78 2, 19, 25, 39, 65, 91–92, 132, 169, 172 65 275–76, 280, 286 273–74 97 266 231, 235 197, 238 165, 200 173, 262 68, 85 82, 84–86, 186, 252, 255, 258 256 70–71, 143, 263, 286 114

Ulfilas Umm er-Rasas Valerian Valley of Jehoshaphat Vandals Vatican Vespasian Vetus Latina Via Ostiense Victor from Rome Victor from Rouen Vienne Vienna Genesis Vigilantius The Visions Vita Pauli Vivarium Vulgata Willibrord Visigoths Wulfila Zeno Zoroastrianism

194 295 98–99 137 105, 107–9, 111, 194 188, 256, 270, 290 13–14, 18–20, 132 43 188 170 228 25, 93 250, 296 233 67 215 229 43 235 106, 109, 111, 194 106 107, 274 88