The Founding of Aelia Capitolina and the Chronology of the Jewish War under Hadrian|
William D. Gray
The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures
Vol. 39, No. 4., Jul., 1923, p 248-256.

The Jewish war under Hadrian rather than the more familiar struggle of 74 A.D. was the dying agony of Jewish nationalism; it was the later war which effected the final separation between Christianity and Mosaic Judaism and determined the cosmopolitan development of Judaism.' The colony of Aelia Capitolina whose founding on the site of Jerusalem led, as Dio Cassius (dd. 12) tells us, to the war, was a renowned city in its day, and its outlines have determined the sub-sequent topography of Jerusalem. The importance of both the war and the city makes it the more desirable to dispel if possible some of the obscurity surrounding the relations between the two, and involving the causes, the character, and the chronology of the war. The following paper is due to the belief that certain recently discovered documents do throw some light into this darkness.

Most recent writers on the subject pin their faith on Dio and assign both the founding of the city, and the resulting war, to a date late in Hadrian's reign. Dio says:

In Jerusalem he founded a city in place of the one razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina; and on the site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war that was not slight nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites be planted there. While Hadrian was close by in Egypt and again in Syria they remained quiet, etc. [Foster's translation.]

On this last statement of Dio's is based the now prevailing view of the chronology of the founding of the colony. It is well known that Hadrian's visits to Egypt and Syria took place in 130-31 during his last great journey.' The founding of the colony must, it is argued, be assigned to about this date, and the war must have begun soon after it. Thus Schurer, Geschichte des Judisehen Volks, 1, 674, puts the founding of the colony in 130, and Juster, Lea Juifa Bans 1'empire Romaine, 11, 191, n. 3, agrees with Schurer. The correctness of this view of the chronology seems to be established by the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle which assigns the outbreak of the war to about 132. Schurer and Kornemanns make the war begin in this year; Schurer gives 130 as the year of its beginning, while Juster's date is 131.

But there are not wanting ancient testimony and modern opinion that conflict with the above conclusion. Eusebius' tells us that the colony of Aelia Capitolina was founded as a consequence of the war. This statement of course can be reconciled with Dio's with no special difficulty. The city as first founded was destroyed during the war and afterwards rebuilt. There are, however, more serious divergences. In the most important source for the reign of Hadrian, the Vita Hadriani by Spartianus in the Historia Augusta, we find the fol-lowing:' "moverunt ea tempestate et Judaei bellum, quod vetabantur mutilare genitalia." The vague phrase, "ea tempestate," seems from the context of chapters xiii and xiv to refer to the second year of Hadrian's last great journey, that is 129. The discrepancy between this date and the one implied in Dio's account is, to be sure, slight. More serious, however, is the divergence between the causes for the war as stated in the two accounts. The credibility of the Vita statement will be considered presently.10 There are also Jewish and Christian traditions which agree in assigning the founding of Aelia Capitolina to an early date in Hadrian's reign. According to the tradition of the Talmudic writers, while Hadrian was yet in charge of Syria, that is, in 117 immediately after his accession, members of the sanhedrim headed by Joshua ben Chananiah conferred with Hadrian apparently at Antioch or Jerusalem, and received from him permission to rebuild the temple. This permission was later withdrawn because of representations against the enterprise made by the Samaritans.,

That Hadrian ever intended the rebuilding at Jerusalem as a concession to the Jews whose kinsmen even at the time were in revolt, no one familiar with this emperor's policy and character will for a moment believe. It is of course quite possible that the emperor, whose lively intellectual curiosity was stigmatized by his more stupid contemporaries as idle inquisitiveness, was glad of an opportunity to confer with those strange beings, the Jewish rabbis, and he may even have amused them with vague promises. But granting that many absurdities were attached to the tradition, the fact remains that the impression that Hadrian early in his reign contemplated the rebuilding of the temple and city, was widely diffused among the Jews (cf. the references in Derenbourg, n. 13) and we are confronted with the question: how did this impression arise?

The question becomes the more pertinent when we find that the impression was shared by the church fathers. A goodly number believed that Hadrian had given permission to the Jews to restore the temple, while others assign an early date for the founding of Aelia Capitolina. Thus the Chronacon PawAale says that the founding of the city and the Jewish rebellion occurred in 119. But the most remarkable passage occurs in chapter my of the De menauris ei pondenbus of Epiphanius, of Eleutheropolis in Palestine, bishop at Cyrenaica in 367. Epiphanius tells us that Hadrian fell sick and journeyed from Rome to Egypt, traveling first to Antioch and then to Jerusalem, where he founded Aelia .4 All this according to Epiphanius happened "forty-seven years after the destruction of Jerusalem," i.e., in 117 A.D. Of the founding Epiphanius says: "ALapWrat oup d `Adptapds rip xb)4p Krlaat, ou fAJP ra iep&." In the last words he contradicts, and therefore shows independence from the Jewish tradition.

On the face of it the passage seems hopeless! We know of no serious illness of Hadrian's in 117. Hadrian never began a journey from Rome in 117 for the simple reason that he was in the East throughout that year and did not return to the capital till July, 118. 1 Recent investigators* have concluded that Epiphamus has made a mistake in his chronological indication, and that he is really referring to Hadrian's last great journey which began in 128. This explanation does not seem altogether satisfactory. Neither Palastine nor Egypt were special objectives of Hadrian on this last journey, but merely stages in his "Rundreise"; he did not in 128 proceed directly from Rome to Syria, but tarried long in Grime and Asia Minor. If Epiphanius means anything at all, he means that Hadrian in 117 made a special journey to Palestine and Egypt. He has in my opinion quite gratuitously added to his statement other items derived from an unreliable memory, and inserted them in this passage without regard to chronological fitness. Thus he has heard of Hadrian's famous last illness under which his character so deteriorated; and as the capital city was the regular residence of the emperors, Epiphanius makes Rome the starting point of the journey. But for all his ineptitudes Epiphanius seems to have had at his disposal a reliable source,' and it is a question whether we have the right entirely to ignore his statements. Nevertheless the manifest absurdities of the notice under consideration have led most modern investigators, with the important exception of 1?iirr,4 to regard the passage as unusable. And this was also my first conclusion. Were Epiphanius entirely unsupported, the prevailing refusal to accept his testimony would perhaps be justi-fied. But he receives support in my opinion, if not confirmation, from other ancient sources, some long familiar, some but recently dis-covered. To consider the former class of sources first, Syncellus (657. 5) says: "Abptap8s ItwBaIom nor' Ahekay6p&w imw&4~ovras bcbhavep." This is equivalent to the passage in the Armenian Version of the Eusebius,Terome Chronicle under the caption, Ab Abraham 2133 (117 A.n.), and to the passage in Jerome's version (Ab Abra-ham 2133) : "Hadrianus Judaeos capit secundo contra Romanos rebellantes." Besides and preceding this passage, we have in Jerome under the same dating: "Adrianus Alexandriam a Judseis subversam restauravit." It is true that Hadrian's presence in Egypt was not absolutely required for the punishment of the rebellious Jews or the rebuilding of Alexandria. But the personal forms of the verbs (it is not said that. Hadrian "ordered the punishment" or "had Alexandria rebuilt ") seem to imply the emperor's presence and personal participation in these activities.

It is especially, however, the study of certain Hadrianic papyri of the year 117 which has led me to believe that it is probable that Epiphanius in his blundering way has given us a valuable piece of information. These papyri prove that the emperor's activity in Egypt in 117 was at once very intense and of a character that seems best explicable by his presence on the spot.2 There are moreover strong a priori reasons why Hadrian would have visited both Palestine and Egypt soon after his accession. The rebellion of the Jews which began under Trajan (about 115) was a very serious affair, a r6Xeym rather than a wrbots, and the papyri show that the war was going on when Trajan died and continued for at least some tune after Hadrian's accession.' It required less intelligence than Hadrian possessed to perceive that the two great sources of Jewish sedition were Palestine and Egypt. His founding of Aelia Capitolina signified that he planned to destroy Jewish nationalistic uprisings at their source. The natural moment for the formation of this plan would have been in 117, when the Jews, in Egypt at least, were stall in revolt, and when the emperor was receiving tidings of the atrocities they were committing in a veritable frenzy of murder and destruction.

So Hadrian would naturally have desired to visit Jerusalem at this time; he would wish to verify what he had heard of the stragetic, political and economic importance of the site. It might be added that he rarely failed to take advantage of an opportunity to visit a famous city. As to Egypt, not only was it a stronghold of Judaism and a fountain-head of Jewish sedition, it was also at his accession the theatre of a Jewish war. When we add to these considerations the fact that it was absolutely necessary for any pretender to the Roman throne to control the province which was really a part of the crown domain, and which supplied the capital with food for so large a portion of the year,' we will be led, I think, to believe that Hadrian would have gone in 117 from Antioch to Palestine and Egypt, as Epiphanius says be did, unless prevented by insuperable difficulties, physical or otherwise. But what can these have been ? He was in the East from his accession August 11 to the early part of October.4 He had thus ample time to pay short visits to Jerusalem and Alexandria. His hands were full of business, and it has been argued that he could not have afforded the time for these visits. As it happens, most of his business was carried on by correspondence and his letters could have been dispatched during his journeys, or from Jerusalem or Alexandria, as well as from Antioch.

But if we conclude to accept the testimony of Epiphanius, we find ourselves involved in further difficulties. What are we to do with the chronology suggested by Dio's statement and apparently confirmed by Eusebius and to a certain extent by the Vita Hadriani ? Why did the Jews remain quiet down to about 131 'or 132 A.D., if the work on Aelia Capitolina began as early as 117, and if the founding of that colony was, as Dio asserts, the cause of the war? A partial answer to these questions is found, in my opinion, in a papyrus that has not, to my knowledge, been brought into relation with this problem. This papyrus is No. 189 of the Rylands collection (published 1914), and is an humble business document affording its historical information quite incidentally, as the papyri so frequently do. The "Associate Collectors of Public Clothing for the Guards," "ot.ciro&Xoa wapaarhrTal &Ipwiov 114arwpo(v) icovorw&wv," acknowledge in this receipt issued to the weavers of Socnopaei Nesus, the delivery of nineteen tunics (presumably for the "guards"), and of "five white cloaks for the needs of the soldiers serving in Judaea," "xal eis <ayrpa-rawrucas Xpdas tar b, rfj Iov#a}Sató irrparevopvcw -raaatwha hevxa r& re." The papyrus is dated in the year "13 of Hadrian," 99 Of (irrovs) Abroxpltropos Kaioapm Tpacavov 'ASptavou ac.r.k.," and in the month %tax (22d day). That is to say, the receipt was issued in 1281 in the latter part of December, since the month Choiak= November 27 to December 26. The soldiers then were in service in Judaea in the last month of 128, and the campaign in which they were engaged may have begun long before this date.

The editor of this papyrus apparently did not perceive its historical significance. He says:

The words eis orparwrrwas Xpei'es seem at first sight to point to a campaign [in Judaea] in this time, but there is no record of any particular military expedition there in A.D. 128..... The great Jewish mutiny did not break out before 132. 1\Tor is there any evidence of an Egyptian auxiliary cohort having been stationed in Palestine. Possibly there was a considerable number of Egyptian legionaries serving in that region, although it appears that the majority of the recruits were retained in their own country. Cf. Mommsen Herows six, pp. 5-218.

The most obvious interpretation of the document is that there was a war of some kind going on between the Jews and the Romans at a date from three to four years earlier than any that can be inferred from Dio's statement' It even appears that the trouble was serious enough to require the summoning of auxiliary troops from Egypt. The Jews it would seem did not "remain quiet" between 117 and 132_ Some cause of discontent, other than their chronic disaffection with Roman rule, was active among them at least as early as 128.

The following is offered as effecting in a measure a reconciliation between these apparently contradictory traditions and bits of evidence. Hadrian while in the East in 117 did visit the two great centers of Jewish disaffection, Palestine and Egypt. During his stay in Jerusalem he discussed with his associates the rebuilding of the city as a Roman colony, and caused the work to be taken in hand.' It is possible that he held conferences also with deputations from the Jewish leaders, and that the Jews were deceived regarding the real character of his intentions in beginning this work. Their delusion as to Hadrian's friendly disposition toward themselves, was furthered by his treatment of their old enemy, Trajan's famous general, the Moorish chieftain Lusius Quietus. The latter, it will be remembered, had repressed the Jewish rebellion in Mesopotamia with great severity and had been a stern governor of Judaea over which Trajan had appointed him Legatus in 117. He was a personal enemy of Hadrian, who soon after his accession removed him from his post, and later put him to death on the charge of conspiracy. But as time went on the Jews gradually became aware that Hadrian, so far from reviving the glories of the ancient capital, was in reality building in place of it a Roman camp-city, pagan in character, specifically dedicated to the worship of the emperor as the earthly manifestation of Jupiter Capitolinus. Their wrath eventually took the form of sporadic revolts to one of which the Rylands papyrus bears witness.

It is possible that Hadrian during his absence in Rome and his journeys in the West allowed the work on the colony to languish, but renewed it with vigor during his journeys in the East, 128-32. Exasperated by Jewish revolts and by the persistent recalcitrancy of this stiff-necked people, he adopted further measures of repression against them. He excluded them altogether from the colony' and finally forbade them to practice the rite of circumcision? This was the last straw. The smoldering embers of rebellion burst into the great conflagration, the extinction of which taxed the resources of the empire, in other words, the war under Barc osiba. The Jewish war under Hadrian began then ca. 132 only in the sense that it became at that time so intense and formidable that it required the summoning to the seat of war of legionary troops other than those already stationed in Palestine and Syria, and demanded, as Hadrian concluded, the presence of the emperor himself.

Whatever may be thought of this reconstruction, it will be admitted, I think, that the new evidence favors the view that the Jewish and Christian traditions deserve more respect than they have received of late, that the building of Aelia Capitolina began early in Hadrian's reign, and that consequently there was a long prelude to the final struggle that began in 131 or 132. That struggle was not, as it is currently presented, a sudden outbreak following an interval of peace. As early as 128 at least, a cloud had appeared to foretell the coming of the storm.

(The Founding of Aelia Capitolina and the Chronology of the Jewish War under Hadrian, William D. Gray, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 39, No. 4., Jul., 1923, p 248-256.)


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