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The End of the World as They Knew It? Jews, Christians, Samaritans and End-Time Speculation in the Fifth Century

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After the Christianization of the Roman empire, representations of Christ’s return no longer envisioned the end as the fall of an evil empire. Rather, relying especially on Romans 9–11, Christians focused particularly on expectations that the conversion of Jews would inaugurate the end. Jews—and Samaritans—however, envisioned the restoration of their Temple(s) and a political theocracy that would counter the power of the now Christianized Roman empire. This contribution considers four instances in the fifth-century c.e. in which such expectations played a significant role: an account of the conversion of the Jews of Minorca, framed as a prelude to the end; a millenarian episode on Crete whose narrator claims resulted in the mass conversion of Jews; a roughly contemporaneous possible messianic uprising in Jerusalem narrated in the Life of Barsauma, and a Samaritan revolt toward the end of the century. All may be understood as instances of intense contestations between Jews, Christians and Samaritans, in the wake of intensifying orthodox Christian pressures to conform the entire empire to that orthodoxy.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-14965-9_9
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  1. 1.

    All this, of course, has been the subject of extensive scholarly treatment. For a useful introduction, if now somewhat outdated, see Scott L. Bradbury, Severus of Minorca, Letter on the Conversion of the Jews (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 47–53. Particularly noteworthy is his mention of predictions of the demise of Christianity, 48–49.

  2. 2.

    Some manuscripts also read “and pestilences [loimoi].”

  3. 3.

    The question of precisely which books Samaritans and Jews accepted as of ultimate authority is beyond the consideration of this essay, as is the question of whether Jews themselves differed on their acceptance of particular books, notably those included in the Septuagint. At a minimum, though, Jews and Samaritans both revered the Pentateuch, although their exact texts differed somewhat.

  4. 4.

    1 Corinthians 15:51–52 might be adduced here as well.

  5. 5.

    For these exact phrases, see Revelation 21:1–2.

  6. 6.

    Whether this is precisely what Paul envisioned by the phrase to pleroma ton ethnon (Rom. 11:25) is immaterial for how later Christians would read it [tōn ethnōn].

  7. 7.

    The situation in the more multi-cultural Persian orbit is beyond the scope of this article.

  8. 8.

    The details are beyond the purview of this piece. For further discussion, see Kraemer, Mediterranean Diaspora.

  9. 9.

    On which see again Kraemer, Mediterranean Diaspora.

  10. 10.

    For some recent treatments of these, see Nicholas de Lange, “Jewish and Christian Messianic Hopes in Pre-Islamic Byzantium,” in Redemption and Resistance: The Messianic Hopes of Jews and Christians in Antiquity, ed. M. Bockmuehl and J. Carleton Paget (London: T&T Clark, 2007), 274–84. Despite its title, the article looks almost entirely at Jewish sources such as rabbinic writings and piyyutim, a serious limitation given that we have no writings in Greek or Latin demonstrably authored by Jews from this period. Another essay in this volume surveys Christian writers on “messianism” in the Latin West and North Africa, but, like de Lange, not actual instances of end-time activities: Wolfram Kinzig, “The West and North Africa,” 198–214. A search of the volume itself returns virtually no hits for any of the incidents discussed in the present article.

  11. 11.

    Revelatio Sancti Stephani (PL 41:807–81, as the Epistula Luciani); Evodius, De miraculis sancta Stephani protomartyris (PL 41:833–54); The Passion of St. Stephen, trans. M. van Esbroeck, “Jean II de Jérusalem et les cultes de S. Étienne, de la Sainte-Sion et de la Croix,” Analecta Bollandiana 102 (1984): 1–2, 101–5.

  12. 12.

    Critical edition, lengthy introduction, translation and brief notes Bradbury, Severus of Minorca, Letter; also J. Amengual i Batle, Origens del cristianisme a les Balears i el seu desenvolupament fins a l’època musulmana (Palma de Mallorca: Universitat de les Illes Balears, Facultat de Filosofia i Lletres, 1991). Additional reference to these events may be found in correspondence between Consentius and Augustine, whose account Severus may have utilized, particularly Letter *12. Latin text ed. Johannes Divjak, Sancti Aureli Augustini Opera: Epistolae ex Duobus Codicibus nuper in lucem Prolatae, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 88 (Vienna: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1981); English translation in Robert B. Eno, trans., Augustine, Letters 6: 1*–29*, Fathers of the Church 81 (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press), 1989; S. J. Roland Teske, trans., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, Letters 211–270, 1*–29*, Hyde Park: NY: New City Press, 2005, 279–86.

  13. 13.

    Letter 31.2.

  14. 14.

    Letter 31.3. Severus’ Latin, “plenitudine gentium,” conforms to the Vulgate for to plerōma ton ethnōn (Rom 11:25).

  15. 15.

    In contrast to his earlier instructions in Matt 10:5 to go “nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

  16. 16.

    Letter 31.4.

  17. 17.

    Augustine, Letters, 197–99: Bradbury, Severus of Minorca, Letter, 52, 129.

  18. 18.

    Bradbury, Severus of Minorca, Letter, 51–52.

  19. 19.

    For further discussion, see Ross S. Kraemer, “Jewish Women’s Resistance to Christianity in the Early Fifth Century: The Account of Severus, Bishop of Minorca,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 17 (2009): 4: 635–65; also as “Artemisia of Minorca: Gender and the Conversion of the Jews in the Fifth Century,” in Ross Shepard Kraemer, Unreliable Witnesses: Religion, Gender and History in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean (New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011), 153–78; Kraemer, Mediterranean Diaspora. The appeal to Romans 9–11 might be a rhetorical strategy rather than a genuine reflection of such beliefs. There’s no way to know, although one might wonder why the author needed that particular tactic.

  20. 20.

    One of the only other comparable narratives is that of Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 5.11, on the Jews of Clermont: Kraemer, Mediterranean Diaspora.

  21. 21.

    On the date, see Pieter van der Horst, “The Jews of Ancient Crete,” Journal of Jewish Studies 39 (1988): 1: 183–200, here 191, reprinted in Jews and Christians in Their Graeco-Roman Context (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 12–27. All citations are from the initial publication.

  22. 22.

    On the possible valences of these terms, see Steve Mason, “Jews, Judeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007): 457–512.

  23. 23.

    Van der Horst, “Ancient Crete.”

  24. 24.

    David Noy, Alexander Panayatov and Hanswulf Bloedhorn, eds., Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis (hereafter IJO), vol. 1: Eastern Europe, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 101 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), Cre1-3. For additional discussion of inscriptions now excluded from IJO, see van der Horst, “Ancient Crete,” who was unaware of IJO 1, Cre2, published in 1990, a Greek epitaph, perhaps imperial period, for a husband and wife whose names, Josephos and Berenike, suggest that they are Jews. Van der Horst rightly points out (concurring with my own earlier position) that many inscriptions by Jews may well not be recognizable as such, a larger problem with ancient inscriptions.

  25. 25.

    Van der Horst terms this a “messianic movement,” “Ancient Crete,” 191, but I have deliberately chosen to redescribe it without utilizing the term “messiah” for the false Moses, or the term “movement” for the participants.

  26. 26.

    Among the various laws restricting Jews issued by Christian emperors in the late fourth and early fifth centuries are an edict by Honorius in March 418, excluding Jews from the public offices of Executive Agents and Palatini, permitting those currently in office to serve out their terms, and dismissing Jews from the military (Codex Theodosianus 16.8.24, in Amnon Linder, The Jews in Roman Imperial Legislation (Detroit: Wayne State, 1987), no. 45 (hereafter JRIL) and a law of Theodosios II in 423 (CTh 16.8.25; JRIL, no. 47), prohibiting the construction of new synagogues (while also prohibiting attacks on synagogues and permitting their repair). In addition to JRIL, see also Linder, “The Legal Status of Jews in the Byzantine Empire,” in Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, ed., R. Bonfil et al., Jerusalem Studies in Religion and Culture 14 (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2012), 149–217. For the Theodosian Code itself, the Sources Chretiennes edition is particularly helpful: Jean Rougé, trans., Les Lois Religieuses des Empereurs Romains de Constantin à Théodose II (312–438), vol. 1: Code Théodosien Livre XVI, Introduction et notes, Roland Delmaire, SC 497 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2005); Jean Rougé and R. Delmaire, trans., Les Lois Religieuses des Empereurs Romains de Constantin à Théodose II (312–438), vol. 2: Code Théodosien Livre I-XV, Code Justinien, Constitutions Sirmondiennes, Introduction et notes, Roland Delmaire, SC 531 (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2009). A full treatment of imperial restrictions on Jews (as well as on all non-orthodox persons) is far beyond the scope of this article: for extensive discussion, see Kraemer, Mediterranean Diaspora.

  27. 27.

    Van der Horst, “Ancient Crete,” 191.

  28. 28.

    b. Avodah Zarah 9a-b, b. Sanhedrin 97a-b and 99a; on which see van der Horst, “Ancient Crete,” 198.

  29. 29.

    b. Sanhed 97b. Afterwards one may expect him (b. Sanhed 97b). Ashi appears to have sought to tamp down messianic speculation, rather than to support it: he is thought to have worked in the 5th century.

  30. 30.

    I have in mind here a paradigm analyzed by Kenelm Burridge, New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities (New York: Schocken, 1969). See more recently Catherine Wessinger, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), with extensive bibliographies. Despite the volume’s many contributions on historical instances, the chapter by James Tabor, “Early Jewish and Christian Millennialism,” 252–66 considers no instances after 200 c.e. and a search of the entire volume for “Samaritans” produces no results.

  31. 31.

    For instance, actual overthrow of the current government, or emigration to a less-pressured locale, although I recognize that neither of these is likely to have feasible, if for different reasons.

  32. 32.

    These expectations might, hypothetically at least, be seen to coalesce in a single person, but this is not the case in the Crete episode, where the pseudo-Moses seems to make no claims to royalty or political transformation.

  33. 33.

    Judean Antiquities 20.5.1. The several similarities here are mildly provocative, and might be more so if we thought Socrates (or someone else) had knowledge of the account in Josephus.

  34. 34.

    The classic work here is Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schacter, When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956). For some application of these analyses to earliest Christianity, see John G. Gager, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975). Other particularly salient historical instances include the seventeenth-century movement around Shabbetai Zvi and more recently the messianic candidacy of the Lubavitcher rebbe Menachem Schneerson, on which see, inter alia, Simon Dein, Lubavitcher Messianism: What Really Happens When Prophecy Fails? (New York: Continuum, 2011).

  35. 35.

    A new Syriac edition of the text is forthcoming, together with an English translation by Andrew Palmer, The Life of Barsawmo of the Northern Mountain, in Die syrische Vita Barsauma: Edition, Übersetzung und Analyse, ed. J. Hahn and V. Menze (forthcoming). Especially helpful for the historiography of the Life is the somewhat apologetic but still valuable article by Palmer, “The West-Syrian Monastic Founder Barsawmo: A Historical Review of the Scholarly Literature,” in Orientalia Christiana: Festschrift für Hubert Kaufhold zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Peter Bruns and Heinz Otto Luthe (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2013), 399–414. The works of Barsauma are divided into “signs and wonders,” that seem to evoke the language of Deut 6:22 for the things which God did against the Egyptians, both in Hebrew and Syriac (as well as other biblical passages). The specific section here is the 50th “wonder.” I thank Robert Doran for his assistance with the Syriac here.

  36. 36.

    The Life claims to quote the letter in full.

  37. 37.

    Novella 3, JRIL, no. 54.

  38. 38.

    This argument seems to go back to François Nau, who published substantial sections of the Syriac text, with French translation in the early twentieth century: François Nau, Revue de l’Orient Chretien 18 (1913): 170–76; 379–89; 19 (1914): 113–34; 278–89. It seems to have been accepted by numerous scholars, but the issues here are beyond the scope of this article, on which see Kraemer, Mediterranean Diaspora. If a date in the early 440s is more likely, the connections with the law of 438 become more tenuous.

  39. 39.

    The desire to exonerate Barsauma seems to continue in Palmer, who writes (without supporting references): “Scholars state blandly that the Vita boasts of a massacre of Jewish pilgrims in the time of the empress Eudocia….[hearing a story about stones falling out of the sky] the author perhaps embroidered his own fantasy that the stones struck the Jews, who in his view ought not to have hoped for the restoration of the Temple” (“Bar Sawmo,” 410).

  40. 40.

    This argument, rarely subject to critical assessment, was made especially by Nau in two articles pertaining to these events: “Deux épisodes de l’histoire juive sous Théodose II (423 and 438), d’après la vie de Barsauma le Syrienm,” Revue des Études Juives 83 (1927): 184–206 and “Sur la synagogue de Rabbat Moab (422), et un mouvement sioniste favorisé par l’impératrice Eudocie (438), d’après la Vie de Barsauma le Syrien,” Journal Asiatique 210 (1927): 189–91.

  41. 41.

    For details, see Kenneth G. Holum, Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 187.

  42. 42.

    Procopius, Buildings 5.7.1–17: Malalas, Chronicle Bk. 15:8 [382–83]. Texts and translations in, inter alia, Reinhard Pummer, Early Christian Authors on Samaritans and Samaritanism: Texts, Translations and Commentary, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 92 (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 2002), with discussion of the events under Zeno on 256–59 (on Malalas); 288–94 (on Procopius). The Greek text in Hans Thurn, John Malalas, Chronographia (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000), was not available for the 1986 English translation of Malalas, which should be used with caution: Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys, and Roger Scott, et al., The Chronicle of John Malalas: A Translation, Byzantina Australiensia 4 (Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1986). See also Leah Di Segni, “Early Christian Authors on Samaritans and Samaritanism: A Review Article,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 37 (2006): 241–259; eadem, “The Samaritans in Roman-Byzantine Palestine: Some Misapprehensions,” in Religious and Ethnic Communities in Later Roman Palestine, ed. H. Lapin (College Park, MD: University Press of Maryland, 1998), 51–66.

  43. 43.

    Pummer, Early Christian Authors, 256.

  44. 44.

    Somewhat to the contrary, in Jn 4:21, Jesus says, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you will worship the father.” In 4:23, he says “But the hour is coming, and is now, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Pummer apparently takes this as evidence of Procopius’ own deviousness, but di Segni (“Review,” 254) sees it as a deliberate misquotation by Terebinthius to persuade Zeno to avenge the Christians.

  45. 45.

    oudena anientes kairon ouk hoti veōn tina entautha ōkodomēsato pōpote, alla tēn akrōreian autēn sebomenoi etethēpesam pantōn malista. This is a somewhat surprising claim. According to Josephus, Judean Antiquities 13.275–276 [cf. Judean War 1.64–65] there had been a Samaritan temple on a Mt. Gerizim, destroyed by John Hyrcanus in the second century BCE, although whether Procopius knew that cannot be determined. Pummer thinks there was one, but he concedes that the matter is complicated, and that archaeological excavations have not yet (as of 2000 or so) found unequivocal proof for it: Christian Authors, 289. Di Segni (“Review”) notes that Samaritan tradition to this day denies that there was a temple on Mt. Gerizim. And certainly, in John 4, there is no mention of Samaritans worshipping at a temple, but only “on” the mountain itself (although by the first century, there would not have been one in many years).

  46. 46.

    The Samaritans went up a steep but unguarded rear path to the church, killed the few guards there, and shouted for Samaritan compatriots from the city below. These, however, were afraid of the soldiers in the city and failed to come to the support of the attackers. Procopius attributes the Samaritan assault to the suggestion of an unidentified woman, which invites analysis as a rhetorical move grounded on widespread ancient characterizations of men who act badly at the behest of women. Not long after, Procopius of Edessa, governor of the area, arrested and executed the perpetrators.

  47. 47.

    Jeffries et al. read “many Christians,” but the more recent edition of Thurn (305) considers this erroneous.

  48. 48.

    The only occurrence cited in G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 801, is this reference in Malalas, and the later account in the Chronicon Paschale, almost certainly following Malalas.

  49. 49.

    mē strateuesthai. Jeffries et al., translate this as “public service” (emphasis mine), an interpretation followed by others, including Pummer, but its ordinary meaning is as I have translated it here (e.g. Lampe, s.v.), and such a translation makes the edict more consistent with the Samaritan transgression. Linder takes the Latin militia in Sirmondian Constitutions 6 (JRIL 51) in 425 to prohibit Jews from lower administrative echelons, but Delmaire argues (SC 531, 495, no. 1) that the term included both military service and various bureaucratic positions.

  50. 50.

    Alternatively, “fear, yet peace.”

  51. 51.

    The name is plausible enough, at least for a Samaritan: it is, in any case, evocative of the “apostate” emperor Julian.

  52. 52.

    An elaboration on these attacks on Christians occurs in Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De excerpta insidiis: in Thurn, Malalas.

  53. 53.

    Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of (Saint) Saba, in Pummer, Christian Authors, no. 140. Pummer has a lengthy discussion of the revolt: Christian Authors, 259–69 and passim; di Segni, “Review.”

  54. 54.

    Di Segni also points out that the archaeological data favors Procopius here: excavations of the remains of a church to the Theotokos on Mt. Gerizim above Neapolis indicate that it was built de novo, not on the ruins of an earlier building, synagogue or otherwise. While these questions are beyond the scope of this article, see most recently Reinhard Pummer, “Was There an Altar or a Temple in the Sacred Precinct on Mt. Gerizim?” Journal for the Study of Judaism 47 (2016): 1–21. Pummer, Christian Authors, 256, no. 30, is dismissive of di Segni’s position (in her “Metropolis and Provincia in Byzantine Palestine,” in Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective After Two Millennia, ed. A. Rabban and K. G. Holum, Documental et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui, 21 [Leiden: Brill, 1996], 586, no. 64) that the two accounts in Malalas are duplicative, but this seems eminently reasonable to me.

  55. 55.

    On the Taheb, see F. Dexinger, Der Taheb: Ein “messianicher” Heilsbringer Samaritaner. Kairos. Religionswissenschaftliche Studien 3 (Salzburg: Otto Müller, 1986). Pummer notes that the earliest Christian testimony to this comes in Eulogius, in the sixth century, but he does not include this in his anthology: Christian Authors, 9.

  56. 56.

    Pummer comments that no edict against Samaritans in public service is known to have promulgated by Zeno, but he allows that Zeno might have re-issued Novella 3 of Theodosios, from 438 (Christian Authors, 257). He doesn’t seem to have noticed that these laws actually look like the anti-Samaritan edicts of Justinian, e.g. Codex Justinianus 1.15.17, which calls for the destruction of existing Samaritan synagogues; prohibits new ones; and requires that Samaritans can only have orthodox heirs. The law is described at length but not quoted in Alfred Rabello, “The Samaritans in Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis,” Israel Law Review 31 (1997): 724–43, reprinted with original pagination in his The Jews in the Roman Empire: Legal Problems, From Herod to Justinian, (Ashgate: Variorum, 2000). The relationship of these laws to the revolt of 529 is unclear. In Procopius, they are issued before the revolt, and thus potentially part of its cause, but in Cyril of Scythopolis account they are its consequence.

  57. 57.

    Pummer, Christian Authors, 257, takes the crowning this way.

  58. 58.

    In the interests of space, I will not pursue further what Procopius says about the revolt under Justinian.

  59. 59.

    I am indebted here to the account and discussion in Pummer, Christian Authors, 258, where he relies on the Chronicle Adler (E. N. Adler and M. Séligsohn, “Une novelle chronique samaritaine,” Revue des études juives 45 [1902]: 235–37); and the Kitāb al-Tarīkh (ed. Paul Stenhouse, The Kitāb al-Tarīkh of Abu l-Fat, Translated into English with Notes. Studies in Judaica 1, Sydney, Mandelbaum Trust, 1985), 182–84. Pummer observes that Zeno did not, in fact, ever go to Nablus. One might couch this more cautiously that there is no evidence (other than this account, of course) that Zeno did so.

  60. 60.

    The Kitab and Chronicle Adler, respectively.

  61. 61.

    It seems to me far less likely that Malalas, or the material on which he drew, cast the revolt in such theologically charged terms, but this may require further consideration.

  62. 62.

    A spring agricultural festival, Shavuoth also celebrates the giving of the Torah, for both Jews and Samaritans. Pummer notes but ultimately disagrees with Katherine Adshead’s argument that Procopius was a crypto-Samaritan (converted to Christianity but retaining Samaritan identification): “Procopius and the Samaritans,” Byzantina Australiensia 10 (1996): 35–41 (cited in Pummer, Christian Authors, 292).

  63. 63.

    Chronicle 93.4–9 (Ethiopic), cited here from Pummer, Christian Authors, 380.

  64. 64.

    Others include the well-known revolt under Baba Rabbah, whose date is somewhat disputed; the revolt during the reign of Justinian (often dated to 529) and another in 556.

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Kraemer, R.S. (2019). The End of the World as They Knew It? Jews, Christians, Samaritans and End-Time Speculation in the Fifth Century. In: Knibbs, E., Boon, J., Gelser, E. (eds) The End of the World in Medieval Thought and Spirituality. The New Middle Ages. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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