Chapter Thirty Five


       As the years after the Bar Cochba revolt passed, and it became
apparent that the various sectarian groups, including the Evyonim, would
no longer be a threat to the Jewish people, the general attitude towards
them seemed to soften. This does not mean that they were whole-heartedly
accepted by the Jewish people, and certainly no Jew would intermarry
with them, but it did mean that Jews could afford to relax more in their
presence, and even engage in civil discussion with them despite the
Rabbinical injunction to the contrary.

       Given all of the preceding, there is an astounding story found in
Tractate Chullin 87a, concerning Rabbi Judah the "Great One of his age"
who lived in the third century and compiled the Mishnah. A certain
sectarian (Evyon) came to see Rabbi Judah as he was about to sit down to
meal. "Rabbi (Judah) said to him, 'Will you dine with me?' (The Evyon)
said, 'Yes'. After they had eaten and drunk, (Rabbi) said to him, 'Will
you drink the cup of blessing?' (The Evyon) said, I WILL drink the cup
of blessing'". The fact that this incident took place in the second
century, after the Bar Cochba revolt when Jews certainly had nothing to
do with sectarians, and that Rabbi Judah asked the Evyon to be part of a
MIZUMAN (quarum of three men to say the grace after meals) shows that
even at that time, some Jews STILL considered the Evyonim to be Jewish.

       Still another story that demonstrates that occaisionally Jews and
Evyonim would soften their stance regarding each other is that found in
the midrashic work, Bereshit Rabba 82, in which an Evyon came to ask
Rabbis Yannai and Jonathan (3rd century) for help in interpreting a
Biblical verse. That an Evyon should ask a Rabbi about a Biblical
interpretation is astounding. These are not isolated incidents. The
Talmud records various other incidents in which Jews held religious
"dialogues" with the Evyonim, something they had prohibited to
themsleves. Apparently to legislate is one thing, and human interaction
in real life is another.

       How very true this is is shown by a story found in Tractate
Avodah Zarah 4a, which occured in the late third century - early fourth
century. A certain rabbi, Abahu by name, was approached by the Evyonim
and asked to recommend to them a teacher of scripture (!!!). He
recommended Rabbi Safra, a famous sage from Babylon. After spending some
time with the Evyonim, they fired him because he was unable to
satisfactorily explain certain verses to them. When they complained to
Rabbi Abahu about his recommendation of Rabbi Safra, he said to them, "I
told you that he was great in the Oral Tradition; I did not say he was
great in the written scriptures." Aside from the fact that Abahu was
asked to recommend a Bible instructor and delivered a Talmudist, we are
non-plused, after hearing how Jews and Evyonim were such enemies, to see
this interchange between them. This incident took place in the city of
Caesarea, and it is believed by some that the Evyonim held some high
position there, and posssibly the Jews living there were beholden to
them for some favor or other, and therefore both groups were forced to
have some interaction with each other. But even so, one would think that
whatever interaction they were forced to have with each other, that each
group would want to avoid a RELIGIOUS interaction with the other.
Nevertheless the story stands. A suggestion has been offered that since
Safra came from Babylon, a place where he would never have encountered
any Jewish believers in Jesus, he was not so sensitive to a mutual
animosity with them. But then how can the recommendation of Rabbi Abahu
be explained?

       Rabbi Abahu himself had his own confrontation with the Evyonim,
according to a story in Bereshit Rabba 25:1. In that story, the Jewish
believers in Jesus point out that the patriarch Enoch never died but was
taken by G-d. This is done to back up their claim that Jesus never died
after his resurrection but was taken up bodily by Heaven. Abahu refutes
this argument by use of a hermeneutic principle in Judaism known as
GEZERAH SHAVAH, that the verb "to take" is used elsewhere in the Bible
to indicate death, not ascension.

       In all of these stores, it is instructive to note that Jews and
Evyonim never seem to argue about hallachah or ritual observance. All of
the arguments and disagreements are over THE INTERPRETATION OF
SCRIPTURE. This is understandable when we consider that, as Jews, the
Evyonim never doubted the ongoing legitimacy of hallachah and
observance. Only when it came to Biblical interpretation, did the
Evyonim's attitude reflect that of their gentile counterpart believers
in Jesus' attitude, since Biblical interpretation became the foundation
of the "proof" of Jesus's messiahship. As to their Torah observance,
Resh Lakish, the prominent rabbi of his generation (ca. 250), said that
the so-called POSHEI YISRAEL, literally the "sinners in Israel", were
full of good works (Tractate Eruvin 19a). POSHEI YISRAEL is an
expression often used by the Talmud when referring to Jewish believers
in Jesus.

       But all of this may be explained as follows. During the earlier
time of the second century, there had been a morbid curiosity about the
traditions concerning Jesus and his followers as seen in the constant
questions about them to Rabbi Eliezer memtioned in two chapters ago. Now
however, in these later third and fourth centuries, with the power of
the Evyonim obviously in decline, Jewish interest in things concerning
the Jewish Jesus tradition abated. Jews began to look upon the Evyonim
as no longer a threat.

       Yet another threat arose against the Evyonim and the Christians.
This occured when the Emperor Diocletian (284 - 305 C.E.) ascended the
throne. This emperor initiated the last and most bitter persecution of
Christians and Jewish believers. Diocletian, like the later emperor
Julian, was an ardent defender of the old Roman pagan religion, and saw
the religion of Jesus as a threat to the Empire. In C.E. 303, he began a
war of extermination against believers in Jesus, both Jewish and
gentile. This included edicts against them which stipulated that their
churches were to be destroyed, their books confiscated, their priests
imprisoned, their rights to hold civil service office denied, the
forfeiture of their lives on whim if they refused to sacrifice to the
Roman gods. These edicts severely weakened the gentile churches,
bringing many martyrdoms as well as many aposties. Moreover they were
more enforced in the East than in the West, mainly in Syria, Phoenicia,
and Palestine, leading to the near eradication of the Jewish followers.
Diocletian woudl no doubt have accomplished his end, had he not died and
been succeeded by Constantine.

       Nevertheless, Diocletian showed tolerance to the Jews, exempting
them from various taxes (Tractate Avodah Zarah 44a). Needless to say,
the rabbis looked upon him rather favorably (Tractate Berachot 6a).
Whatever his reasons were for this favorable treatment of Jews, spiting
the Christians was probably among them.

       By the year C.E. 311-312, there were two Roman Emperors reigning
simultaneously; Constantinein the West, and Licinius in the East. In 321
a civil war broke out between them. Because Constantine favored
Christianity, Licinius saw the believers in Jesus as a 5th column
threat. Hence because it was known that Eastern believers favored
Constantine, Licinius began another severe persecution of them in the
East. This persecution, which lasted 3 years, until Constantine's
victory in 324, further weakened the remaining Evyon communities.

       There is a somewhat startling Gemarah found in the Mishnah Sotah
(9:15) attributed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanos, whom we encountered two
chapters ago. He was the so-called "Christian expert" who had been put
under the ban of excommunication for alleged membership in the Nazarene

       "Eliezer the Great said, 'Before the messiah comes ... the
        kingdom will be turned to heresy."

       This same sentiment is also found in other sources of the Oral
Tradition, namely Sanhedrin 97b attributed to Rabbi Yitschak, elsewhere
by Rabbi Nehemyah, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva (source unknown).

       Rabbi Yitschak lived at the time of Constantine and witnessed his
conversion to Christianity. HIS restatement of the earlier dictum was
surely interpreted by him to mean that the kingdom of Rome had turned
from pure paganism to the religion of the gentile church. Both Rabbis
Eliezer and Nehemyah lived nearly 200 hundred years before Constantine
so their usage of the saying that the kingdom will turn to heresy cannot
have anything to do with Constantine but does it have anything to do
with Christianity? According to Judaism, a gentile cannt be considered a
heretic, and by the time of Constantine, Jews no longer considered
Christianity to be a heresey. It was by that time looked on as a foreign
religion. Yet at the time of Rabbi Eliezer, Christianity was still being
confused with Nazarenism by Jews and the idea that this Jewish heresy
was spreading amongst the gentiles was disquieting, and the fact that it
was quickly being adopted by so many Romans was looked upon as a sign of
the religious confusion that would abound before the messiah came. In
the mouth of Rabbi Yitschak it probably has a much different context.
Rabbi Acha, a contemporary of Rabbi Yistchak, is quoted (Tractate
Nedarim 38a) as saying in the name of Rabbi Huna that "the wicked Esau
will don his prayer shawl and sit down with the righteous". Esau is the
Jewish code-name for Rome and "the righteous" obviously refers to
Israel. That the Roman Empire (or Emperor) wraps itself in a Jewish
prayer shawl is a statement that Rome now considers itself the true
Israel. The fact of the now CHRISTIAN Roman Empire was a further sign to
Jews of frsutration and hopelessness that could only be aleviated by the
appearence of the messiah.

       But if Constantine's conversion to Christianity in CE 313 was
seen as a source of frustration to the Jews, it was seen as an absolute
calamity by the Jewish followers of Jesus. It was to them the supreme
sorrowfull irony that the very kingdom that crucified their messiah as
an insurrectionist, that destroyed the Holy City of their people, and
that continued to oppress their people, should now adopt the religion of
"that man" (Paul) who nullified the Torah and turned the Son of Man into
a deity to be worshipped, and that that same arrogant kingdom should now
claim to be the inheritors and true descendants of their father Abraham.

        As soon as Christianity became the official state religion of
the Roman Empire, church leaders convinced the newly converted Caesar to
enact several laws discriminatory to Jews and Judaism which they viewed
as dangerous rivals. For even at this time Jews and Nazarenes were still
actively and successfully converting gentiles to their respective
faiths. It is instructive that the very religion that had earlier asked
for tolleration from the government now refused to give tolleration to
others once they BECAME the government, and that they felt too
spiritually insecure to let religious argumentation prove the day.
Instead, under severest penalty, Jews (including Evyonim) were forbidden
to carry on further missionary work, they could no longer convert their
pagan slaves and they were henceforth forbidden to own Christian slaves.
Although there is no documentary evidence it is not hard to envision
that the penalties were more severe when the convicted were Jewish
believers in Jesus who were considered as heretics whereas ordinary
rabbinic Jews were merely considered as religious rivals for the hearts
and souls of the pagans.

       In C.E. 325, the Council of Nicaea was convened to give formal
structure to what would soon be the newly emerging Roman Catholic
Church. Among the statutes enacted at the Council were the following:
Christians were forbidden to eat MATSAH on Passover, and to visit
synagogues or to listen to the religious preaching or religious
instruction of Jews; the time of the celebration of Easter was separated
from the time of the celebration of Passover; strongly condemned the
Christian observance of the Sabbath as the day of rest, and substituted
Sunday as the Christian day of rest. It is instructive that the Church
leaders felt these measures necessary because they show the still
tremendous appeal and attraction of Judaism for Christians even after
three centuries. At the same time, Christian orators incited mobs to
riot against Jewish communities. The Christian clergy attempted to
justify their actions by claiming that Jews constitued a danger to
AMONG CHRISTIANS!!!! This is something to think about.

       The situation became alleviated in CE 361 when the emperor Julian
ascended the throne of Rome. After several Christian emperors, this one
completely repudiated Christianity and favored the old pagan religion.
On his ascension to power, he immediately set out to undo all that the
Christian emperors before him had done to Christianize the Empire. To
Christians, and to history, he became known as Julian the Apostate. Part
of his policy of de-Christianization had to do with his dealings with
the Jews. He wrote to the Jews of Erets Yisrael that he would recind all
the discriminatory legislation that the Christian emperors had enacted
against them and he also announced that he would help them rebuild the
Temple at Jerusalem. This may have lightened Jewish hearts but it did
not have that effect upon the Evyonim. To them it was seen as a further
setback. For one thing, as idolatrous as Christianity may have seemed to
them, at least the Christians professed to believe in the G-d of Israel.
Secondly, they, like the gentile believers in Jesus, felt that the
Temple had been destroyed by G-d as a sign of His displeasure with the
sacrificial system. All contemporary events, coupled with Jesus'
continued failure to reappear, seemed like a complete setback to all
their hopes and expectations, and this probably contributed greatly to
the weakening of their will to survive. It was as though, after three
centuries of stubborn tenaciousness in the face of all odds, G-d had
deceived them or they had deceived themselves. Probably at this time,
many of them opted to abandon their faith in the reappearence of Jesus
and to return to the larger Jewish community.

       A generation after Rabbi Abahu, in the middle of the fourth
century, gives us the following story about Rabbi Tanhuna. (Tractate
Sanhedrin 91a). During a religious argument with Caesar, the Emperor
bcame angry at Rabbi Tanhuma and had him cast into the lion's den.
However the lion did not touch him and those who observed this tended to
look upon it as a miracle. A certain Jewish believer in Jesus said to
the Emperor that it was not a miracle at all, simply that the lion was
not hungry. At that, the exasperated Caesar removed Tanhuma and had the
Evyon thrown into the den whereupon the lion attacked and ate him. The
probability is that the Caesar spoken of here was Julian, called the
Apostate, who reigned from CE 361 to CE 363. Julian threw off the
Christianity of his predecessors and returned to Paganism. It is well
known that he disliked Christians and favored Jews, even wishing to help
them rebuild the Temple. The major import of the story is to show the
ongoing animosity of the Jews and the Evyonim, and to show how Julian's
rise to power only added to the steadily worsening lot of the latter.

       Nevertheless, Julian's reign ended and his successor reintroduced
Christianity as the Roman state religion. The gentile church regained
its power and quickly grew to become the Roman Catholic Church. The
Jewish "church", weakened by persecution, unable to do any large scale
proselytization, and broken in spirit by the continuing disappoinment at
Jesus' failure to appear and usher in G-d's Kingdom on earth, entered
its final death throes.

       The Christian writer, Epiphanius, reports a viable Evyoni
settlement on the island of Cyprus in the year C.E. 377, where all still
"held things in common and laid their possessions at the feet of the
leaders". St. Augustine, in the year C.E. 400, reports an Evyoni
community in North Africa. Yet despite the existence of these
communities, the day of the Jewish followers of Jesus was coming to an
end. Finally, in the fifth century, the last Evyoni communities, located
in Eastern Syria, blended with the various gentile Christian communities
there and disappeared forever from history. To be sure, there were some
of them who wished to return to the Jewish people, but they were only
able to do so by undergoing ritual conversion like any gentile.

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