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Jewish Temples:

Jewish Temple in Elephantine, Egypt

The Onias Temple in Heliopolis

Emperor Julian the Apostate - Temple build attempt in 363 AD

Jewish Temple in Elephantine, Egypt

Isaiah 19:

19 In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord.

20 And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.

21 And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it.

The Elephantine Papyri consist of 175 documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan), which yielded hundreds of papyri in Hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, spanning a period of 2000 years. The documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives, and are thus an invaluable source of knowledge for scholars of varied disciplines such as epistolography, law, society, religion, language and onomastics. They are a collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BCE. They come from a Jewish community at Elephantine, then called Yeb, the island in the Nile at the border of Nubia, which was probably founded as a military installation in about 650 BCE during Manasseh's reign to assist Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan). Hundreds of these Elephantine papyri, written in hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, span a period of 1000 years. Legal documents and a cache of letters survived, turned up on the local 'gray market' of antiquities starting in the late 19th century, and were scattered into several Western collections.

Though some fragments on papyrus are much older, the largest number of papyri are written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, and document the Jewish community among soldiers stationed at Elephantine under Persian rule, 495–399 BCE. The Elephantine documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives: divorce documents, the manumission of slaves, and other business, and are a valuable source of knowledge about law, society, religion, language and onomastics, the sometimes surprisingly revealing study of names.

The 'Passover letter' of 419 BCE (discovered in 1907), which gives detailed instructions for properly keeping the passover is in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.

Further Elephantine papyri are at the Brooklyn Museum. The discovery of the Brooklyn papyri is a remarkable story itself. The documents were first acquired in 1893 by New York journalist Charles Edwin Wilbour. After lying in a warehouse for more than 50 years, the papyri were shipped to the Egyptian Department of the Brooklyn Museum. It was at this time that scholars finally realized that "Wilbour had acquired the first Elephantine papyri".

The Jews had their own temple to Yahweh evincing polytheistic beliefs, which functioned alongside that of Khnum.

Excavation work done in 1967 revealed the remains of the Jewish colony centered on a small temple.

The "Petition to Bagoas" (Sayce-Cowley collection) is a letter written in 407 BCE to Bagoas, the Persian governor of Judea, appealing for assistance in rebuilding the Jewish temple in Elephantine, which had recently been badly damaged by an antisemitic rampage on the part of a segment of the Elephantine community.

In the course of this appeal, the Jewish inhabitants of Elephantine speak of the antiquity of the damaged temple:

'Now our forefathers built this temple in the fortress of Elephantine back in the days of the kingdom of Egypt, and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it built. They (the Persians) knocked down all the temples of the gods of Egypt, but no one did any damage to this temple."

The community also appealed for aid to Sanballat I, a Samaritan potentate, and his sons Delaiah and Shelemiah, as well as Johanan ben Eliashib. Both Sanballat and Johanan are mentioned in the Book of Nehemiah, 2:19, 12:23.

There was a response of both governors (Bagoas and Delaiah) which gave the permission by decree to rebuild the temple written in the form of a memorandum: "1Memorandum of what Bagohi and Delaiah said to me, saying: Memorandum: You may say in Egypt ... to (re)build it on its site as it was formerly...".

By the middle of the 4th century BCE, the temple at Elephantine had ceased to function. There is evidence from excavations that the rebuilding and enlargement of the Khnum temple under Nectanebo II (360–343) took the place of the former temple of YHWH.

In 2004, the Brooklyn Museum of Art created a display entitled "Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From the Nile Valley," which featured the interfaith couple of Ananiah, an official at the temple of Yahou (a.k.a. Yahweh), and his wife, Tamut, who was previously an Egyptian slave owned by a Jewish master, Meshullam. Some related exhibition didactics of 2002 included comments about significant structural similarities between Judaism and the ancient Egyptian religion and how they easily coexisted and blended at Elephantine.


ONIAS, TEMPLE OF, temple of the Hellenistic and Roman period established in Egypt for Jewish worship and sacrifice. Its location is given by Josephus as being in the district of Heliopolis, where it was built over an earlier ruined temple to Bubastis, the lioness-goddess; hence the area's other name Leontopolis. It was established for the worship of "God the most High," as that at Jerusalem (Ant., 13:62–68). The location is presumed to be at Tel el-Yehudiyah (Mound of the Jewess), the name serving as a clue to its identity. It was first investigated by E. Naville in 1887 and in more detail by Flinders Petrie in 1905. The site is part of an earlier Hyksos encampment outside the present town of Shirban el-Qanatir, 25 km. north of Cairo. Petrie found a towered structure beside a small temple-like enclosure, accessed by a long staircase and surrounded by a mudbrick wall, triangular in plan. He showed a model of his finds to a meeting of the Jewish Community in London in 1906, but the model has since disappeared. The location in Egypt has been visited by a number of archaeologists, including the writer, who have been unable to confirm Petrie's findings, though it is clear that the alleged site is close to a necropolis of Jewish burials in the area known as Leontopolis. The temple is mentioned several times by Josephus and twice in some detail, but each time differently. He describes it first as being modeled on the Temple of Jerusalem (Ant., 13:72), while the second time he says it was built like a fortress in the form of a tower 60 cubits high, unlike Jerusalem (Wars, 7:426–432). It is presumed that the second description is a correction of the first. Josephus claims that it stood for 343 years (ibid., 436), but this is unlikely; 243 years would be nearer the mark. It was destroyed in 73 C.E. on the orders of Titus or Vespasian (ibid., 421), who feared that it might become the focus of further revolt after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. At the earliest it could have been built in 170 B.C.E., shortly before the Hasmonean Revolt, because it is always referred to as the Temple of Onias (Ḥonia in Hebrew). There are two candidates for that honor, *Onias III (son of Simon II, the Just), who was high priest some time after 200 B.C.E., or his son *Onias IV. It is generally accepted that the earlier Onias, who was ousted by his Hellenizing brother Jason, was murdered in Antioch (II Macc. 4:34), so Onias IV is the more likely candidate. When he saw that his legitimate right to the High Priesthood had been usurped by the Hellenistic party, friendly to the Seleucids, Onias set up a rival sanctuary in Egypt, under the protection of their enemies, the Ptolemies.

It is unlikely that he did this to serve the Jews of Egypt as a whole, who may have had some difficulty in reaching Jerusalem under the Seleucids, as the temple is never mentioned by Philo or other Judeo-Egyptian sources; nor was it located in or near Alexandria, the chief center of Egyptian Jewry. It is more likely that the temple served a military colony under the direction of this Onias, acting in the capacity of an officer willing to bring manpower and troops over to Ptolemy VI Philometor and his queen, Cleopatra II. Josephus records that two sons of Onias acted as generals in assisting Cleopatra in her fight against her son Ptolemy Lathyrus (Ant., 13:285–287 and 348–349). In that role the temple was similar to the earlier fifth century B.C.E. temple serving the Jewish mercenaries at Elephantine, at the southern border of Egypt. The Talmud takes a somewhat relaxed view of this temple. It claims that it was not an "idolatrous shrine" because Onias had based himself on Isaiah 19:18, which says that, "One day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt," and because he was a legitimate Zadokite priest, a descendant of the high priest Simon the Just (Men. 109b). The Mishnah states that some vows made in the Temple of Jerusalem could be redeemed in the Temple of Onias and, while a priest who served at Onias was precluded from serving in Jerusalem, he could nevertheless eat the terumah (consecrated food) there together with his priestly brethren (Men. 13:10).


M. Delcor, "Le Temple d'Onias en Egypte," in: Revue Biblique, 75 (1968), 188–203.; R. Hayward, "The Jewish Temple of Leontopolis: a Reconsideration," in: Journal of Jewish Studies, 33 (1982), 429–43; J.M. Modrzejewski, The Jews of Egypt, from Rameses II to Emperor Hadrian, trans. R. Cornman (1995), 124–29; E. Naville, The Mound of the Jews and the City of Onias (1890), 13–21; W.M. Flinders Petrie, Hyksos and Israelite Cities (1906), 19–27; E. Schuerer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (rev. English edition, G. Vermes, F. Millar, M. Goodman, 1986), vol. 3:47–48, 145–47; V. Tcherikower, Hellenistic Civilisation and the Jews, trans. S. Applebaum (1959), 275–81.

Julian the Apostate

Julian, rarely Julian II (Latin: Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, Greek: Φλάβιος Κλαύδιος Ἰουλιανὸς Αὔγουστος; 331/332 – 26 June 363), was Roman Emperor from 361 to 363, as well as a notable philosopher and author in Greek. His rejection of Christianity, and his promotion of Neoplatonic Hellenism in its place, caused him to be remembered as Julian the Apostate by the Christian church.

Emperor Julian and the dream of a third temple

Jews today have, in part, realized the offer of rebuilding Jerusalem and establishing Jewish sovereignty over Israel. The dream of Jews in Julian’s time has, in part, been fulfilled.

Constantine’s vision at Milvian Bridge north of Rome transformed him and transformed history. In a decisive battle for control of the Roman Empire in October 312, Constantine looked up at the sky and saw a cross of light above the sun that bore the inscription “Conquer by this.” This vision seemed to be the beginning of the end of paganism in the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity to the status of the religion of the state.

While during his life he remained in the position of the pontifex maximus – chief pagan priest of the empire – by the time of his death in 337, he had already converted to Christianity and had bolstered the power of the Church in its fight to wipe out heresies within Christendom. The status of the Jews, especially in the Land of Israel, was not immediately affected by the Christianization of the Roman Empire, although the emperor forbade Patriarch Hillel II announcing the date of Passover to Diaspora communities. This led to the Jewish leader adopting a fixed calendar. The situation of the Jews under control of Rome would later deteriorate. Constantine did outlaw Jews from proselytizing. Eventually, the post of patriarch (nasi in Hebrew) would be abolished by the Romans, thus depriving Jewish leadership in Eretz Yisrael of the hope of rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple.

Yet, there seemed to be some hope of messianic restoration only 30 years after Constantine’s death. His nephew Julian wanted to return to the pagan heritage and ritual that was so central to Greco-Roman culture and politics. In 361, Julian defied the Christianization that was the hallmark of his uncle’s rule and issued edicts that favored Roman cults and minimized the influence of Christianity. He even allowed heretics within the Christian world to occupy positions of ecclesiastical power. Julian’s policies were meant to weaken the power of the established Church. The Church and history would always remember him as “Julian the Apostate.”

Historian Peter Schafer states that Julian’s “attitude to Judaism was ambivalent.” The emperor rejected Judaism as the foundation of the Christianity he despised and he did not consider Jews God’s chosen people. But the promotion of Judaism and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple would revive the cult of sacrifice that had long been part of the world while pagans ruled. As well, Julian had hopes of enlisting Jews in the Middle East as allies in his war against the Persians. By 363, the Jews in Jerusalem began to build a third temple. Julian composed a letter in Greek to the Jews of the Land of Israel in which, according to historian Jacob R. Marcus, “He abolished the special taxes paid to the Roman government and sought also to stop the payment of tax paid by Jews for the support of the Jewish patriarchate in Palestine. In this same letter he also encouraged the rebuilding of Jerusalem and, we may assume, of the Jewish Temple. Had this attempt been successful it would have meant the reestablishment of the Jewish state with its sacrifices, priests, and more important, its Sanhedrin or Senate.”

We have few sources that describe the Jewish response to Julian’s startling offer. It seems that Jews from throughout the Diaspora and in the Land of Israel were indeed eager and willing to fulfill their messianic hopes and dreams. Jews attempted to travel to Jerusalem from Babylonia – they were murdered en route by the Persians. But the Christians who dominated Jerusalem would not allow the rebuilding to succeed. Christian sources blame the end of the restoration by claiming a great fire and earthquake destroyed the Temple’s foundations, thus proving that Jesus Christ looked upon the Jews with disfavor. These sources are suspect: Most likely the Christians in the city burned down whatever had been constructed. Julian’s death in battle in 363 and the end of the pagan experiment in the Christian Roman Empire dashed Jewish hopes for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple and the return of the Sanhedrin. It is also likely that the rabbinic establishment in the Land of Israel viewed with suspicion the elevation of the kohanim (members of the priestly line) to power in a third temple and were quite ambiguous themselves about Julian’s offer. This whole series of events could be reduced to a footnote of history. Yet, Jews today have, in part, realized the offer of rebuilding Jerusalem and establishing Jewish sovereignty over Israel. The dream of Jews in Julian’s time has, in part, been fulfilled.


Julian the Apostate and His Plan to Rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, Jeffrey Brodd, BR 11:05, Oct 1995.

Of the Roman emperors after Constantine, only Julian (331–363) rejected Christianity in favor of the pagan gods. A nephew of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, Julian incurred the wrath of a burgeoning Christian community by deciding to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by Roman legions in 70 C.E.

Actually, Constantine (288–337) was not baptized—and therefore not formally converted—until he lay on his deathbed. But his spiritual conversion came earlier, before he defeated the “usurper” Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge, near Rome, in 312. Even in Constantine’s lifetime, his success in that battle was credited to a Christian vision; supposedly he ordered that the Christian monogram chi-rho (the first two letters of the Greek name for Christ) be emblazoned on the shields of his soldiers, assuring victory. In any event, Christianity became the official religion of the empire during Constantine’s reign.

When Constantine died in 337, the empire was divided among his three sons, but eventually one, Constantius, became the sole ruler. When Constantius died in 361, he was succeeded by his younger half cousin and brother-in-law, Julian, who had already achieved military glory by defeating the tribes that invaded Gaul, thus bringing a measure of tranquility to the region.

A student of philosophy as well as a military commander and an able administrator, Julian was acclaimed emperor in November 361 at the age of 30. Almost immediately, Julian publicly proclaimed what he had been keeping secret for years: Although he had been raised a Christian, sometime around his 20th birthday he had converted to paganism (a). Adopting a theology based on the teachings of the Neoplatonist Iamblichus, Julian revered the ancient gods and goddesses of Homeric tradition.

Like most forms of Graeco-Roman paganism, Julian’s religion was syncretic, absorbing a wide variety of beliefs and practices. He was an initiate of at least three so-called “mystery religions,” including Mithraism.(b) But Julian’s religious open-mindedness did not extend to Christianity: Having adopted from Judaism an exclusive perspective as being the only true religion, Christianity was fundamentally incompatible with the more multifarious syncretism of paganism. (This “handicap” did not apply to Judaism, however, for reasons I shall discuss.)

By the time Julian became emperor, he was hostile to both Christianity, which he referred to as a “disease,” and Christians, whom he called “demented.” (1) Many of his imperial initiatives frustrated and angered his Christian subjects. Shortly after taking office, he proclaimed universal religious toleration and ordered the reopening of pagan temples and the resumption of worship of pagan gods. He issued a number of edicts damaging to Christianity, both economically and theologically. One edict required Christians to return property confiscated in the process of building churches. Another notorious edict specifically forbade Christians from teaching literature and rhetoric—for how could Christians honestly teach subjects replete with allusions to Greek deities whose existence they denied? (2) The effect of Julian’s decree was to exclude all Christian influence from the educational institutions of the empire.

But these were trifles compared to Julian’s announced decision to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple of the Jews. It was because of this plan that he became known as “Julian the Apostate,” an archenemy of Christianity. Julian’s plan to restore the Temple contradicted a central Christian tenet that the Temple’s destruction proved the Christian claim that they, not the Jews, were the Chosen People of God.

Moreover, the project seemed to question Jesus’ status as a true prophet: Had not Jesus, stepping forth from the Temple, prophesied that soon “not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2; Mark 13:2; Luke 21:6; cf. Mark 14:58, 15:29; John 2:19)? To Christians, Julian was attacking the fundamental notion that Christianity was the true inheritor of the ancient tradition of the Israelites; they believed the destruction of the Temple was an affirmation of God’s favor toward them and, as an inseparable correlate of this, of God’s abandonment of the Jews. From the second century on, Christian apologians had particularly emphasized that these events had been prophesied in the Old Testament, thus proving that they were part of God’s predetermined plan. The destruction of Jerusalem verified God’s condemnation of the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ; it revealed Jesus as a true prophet, for he had specifically predicted the razing of the Temple.

While in Antioch in 362, Julian issued two letters to the Community of the Jews, one of which has survived (see excerpts from this and two other letters in the sidebar to this article). In it he prohibited special levies against the Jews, saying, “[N]o one is any longer to have the power to oppress the masses of your people by such exaction; so that everywhere, during my reign, you may have security of mind, and in the enjoyment of peace may offer more fervid prayers for my reign to the Most High God, the Creator, who has deigned to crown me with his own immaculate right hand.” (3)

At the time Julian was on his way to Persia to conduct a military campaign. But in the Letter to the Community of the Jews he promised that on his return he would rebuild “the sacred city of Jerusalem, which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited, and [you] may bring settlers there and, together with you, may glorify the Most High God therein.” (4) (Since Hadrian’s suppression of the Second Jewish Revolt in 135, Jews had been prohibited from residing in Jerusalem and the name of the city had been changed to Aelia Capitolina.)

Although Julian did not specifically mention rebuilding the Temple here, he did in another letter, the surviving Fragment of a Letter to a [pagan] Priest: “I myself…intended to restore it [the Jerusalem Temple], in honor of the god whose name has been associated with it.” (5) In addition, he was quoted by a sixth-century historian named Lydus as saying, “I raise with the utmost zeal the Temple of the Highest God.” (6) According to Lydus, Julian said this when he left for the campaign against the Persians. Ammianus Marcellinus, a pagan and a member of Julian’s expedition to Persia, reported that Julian was “eager to extend the memory of his reign by great works…[and] planned to restore at vast cost the once splendid temple at Jerusalem.” (7) Other pagan reports also referred to the rebuilding of the Temple.

Julian never returned from his Persian campaigns. He died in battle on June 26, 363. Whether the spear that mortally wounded him was cast by a Persian or by one of his Christian soldiers (as one tradition suggests), we shall never know. But the fact that the memory of this emperor, who reigned for just 19 months, remained so fresh among Christians for centuries is a measure of his significance; it suggests how concerned they were about his decision to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple.

Before his death, Julian appointed his friend and general, Alypius, to oversee the construction. According to the church father Gregory of Nazianzus, writing in Asia Minor within a year of the project, the Jews “in large number and with great zeal set about the work”; women contributed precious ornaments and carried dirt in their gowns.(8) Another contemporary, Ephraem of Syria, a monk famous for his poetic hymns, reported that the Jews “raged and raved and sounded the trumpets” and that “all of them raged madly and were without restraint.” (9) Later Christian historians left similar descriptions. These Christian reports are probably overblown, but coming from so many different localities, they doubtless contain a core of truth. Moreover, we have similar reports from pagan sources.

Despite such auspicious beginnings, work on the Temple probably lasted only a few days. Numerous reports, both pagan and Christian, attribute the work stoppage to a fire and, perhaps, an earthquake. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus reported that “terrifying balls of flame kept bursting forth near the foundations of the Temple,” burning some of the workers to death and putting a stop to the enterprise. (10) Gregory of Nazianzus wrote of “a furious blast of wind” and “a flame [that] issued forth from the sacred place.” (11) Ephraem noted that there were winds, earthquakes and lightning, and that a “fire came forth.” (12) These Christian descriptions of the event may have drawn on a biblical passage, the revolt against Moses by Korah, whom God punished by means of earthquake and fire (Numbers 16); but there probably was, at least, a fire. In any event, with Julian’s death, the attempt to rebuild the Temple ended.

One of the Jewish workers, eagerly anticipating a new Temple in holy Jerusalem, left a message of exultation inscribed on the western wall of the Temple Mount.

Shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Old City of Jerusalem fell into Israeli hands, archaeological excavations were begun at the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount under the direction of Hebrew University professor Benjamin Mazar. There, on the western wall under Robinson’s Arch, archaeologists found a verse from Isaiah scratched on one of the stones: “You shall see and your heart shall rejoice; your bodies [shall flourish] like the grass” (see inscription). (13) According to Mazar, this inscription, dated to the fourth century by the style of the letters, was probably connected with the attempt to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. Its exuberant tone reflects Jewish enthusiasm for the project.(14)

He is probably right. Any Jew at the time could have placed the quotation on the wall in its entire context: It comes from the Book of Isaiah 66:13–14:

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you;

you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;

your bodies shall flourish like the grass;

and it shall be known that the hand of the Lord is with his servants,

and his indignation is against his enemies.

Before Julian’s reign, what Jew would have imagined that a Roman emperor would rebuild the Temple? The tragic history of Jewish relations with the Romans, which culminated in the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. and the brutal suppression in 135 C.E. of the Second Jewish Revolt (the Bar-Kokhba revolt), after which Jews were officially prohibited even from entering Palestine, remained fresh in Jewish memory. Christians must have been as astounded and horrified by the rebuilding of the Temple as the Jewish worker who inscribed the Isaiah quotation was enthusiastic and hopeful.

What was Julian up to? Why would a pagan emperor opposed to Christianity and with ambivalent feelings about Jews want to rebuild a Jewish temple?

Some scholars argue that Julian’s Temple project was undertaken out of genuine friendship for his Jewish subjects and that Julian is thus rightly regarded as a “philo-Semite.” (15) Careful scrutiny of the evidence, however, suggests that Julian’s feelings toward the Jews were mixed; he had high regard for Jewish religious traditions and Jewish morality, but he did not much care for his actual Jewish contemporaries. Although the surviving Letter to the Community of the Jews is written in a very friendly tone, and Julian appears to be genuinely interested in helping the Jews, we must bear in mind the context of the letter: It is a work of diplomacy, using conventional techniques for charming readers. In the Letter to a Priest, on the other hand, Julian referred to the “pitch of folly” to which the Jews were brought “by their barbaric conceit.” (16)

The principal motive for Julian’s Temple project was not just friendship toward Jews and Judaism, or even hostility toward Christianity. The rebuilding of the Jewish Temple was an important part of a comprehensive reform of traditional paganism. Julian’s supposedly “anti-Christian” actions are best understood as aspects of this reform.

From Julian’s syncretistic pagan perspective, the Jewish god was one of his own! In letters to his fellow pagans, he wrote of the Jews’ ardent devotion and obedience to the law, and praised their god as “most powerful and most good.” (17) Elsewhere, he referred to the god of the Jews as “the Most High God, the Creator.” (18)

For Julian, the god of the Jews “is worshiped by us also under other names.” (19) More specifically, Julian identified the Jewish god as the universal demiurge, the creator god celebrated in Plato’s Timaeus. (20) The fact that Jews called their god by a specific name (Yahweh, in Hebrew) was not a problem, as the syncretism of the Neoplatonists allowed for various names for the same god. Julian referred to the demiurge elsewhere by such names as Helios and Attis. The identification of the god of the Jews with the creator god was not a radical idea for a Neoplatonist of Julian’s day. The earlier Neoplatonists Porphyry (c. 232–305) and Iamblichus (died 326) also seem to have made the identification. (21)

Another factor accounts for the difference between Julian’s attitude toward Judaism and his attitude toward Christianity: Animal sacrifice had been practiced in the Temple before it was destroyed. Julian was famous for his love of animal sacrifice. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I sacrifice oxen in public. I have offered to the gods many hecatombs as thank-offerings.” (22) Ammianus Marcellinus, a pagan who sympathized with Julian on most counts and mourned his loss, mused that “if he had returned from the Parthians [Persia], there would soon have been a scarcity of cattle.” (23) Julian’s high regard for animal sacrifice was grounded in his Neoplatonic pagan outlook, which regarded the smoke of the burning animal as a necessary vehicle for carrying prayers heavenward. (24)

Julian knew that Jews had sacrificed animals in their Jerusalem Temple. (25) By allowing the Temple to be rebuilt, he was ensuring that Jews would resume their practice of offering animal sacrifices—to a god Julian regarded as his own!

Certainly Jews themselves had different views, especially regarding the purpose of animal sacrifice. But their perspective had little to do with the emperor’s decision. If the enthusiastic worker who inscribed the quotation from Isaiah on the Western Wall of the Temple Mount had known of Julian’s true intentions, would there have been any inscription for 20th-century archaeologists to find?

a. Although Julian consistently uses the term “Hellene” when writing about himself and those he regards as followers of his religion, “pagan” is at least as appropriate and was not necessarily used pejoratively in antiquity. See Pierre Chuvin, A Chronicle of the Last Pagans (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 7–9.

b. Julian was also an initiate of the Magna Mater and the Greek Eleusinian mysteries. For information on Mithraism, see David Ulansey, “Solving the Mithraic Mysteries,” BAR 20:05.

1. Julian, Rescript on Christian Teachers, in W.C. Wright, trans., The Works of the Emperor Julian, vol. 3 (London: William Heinemann, 1913–1926), pp. 117–123.

2. Julian, Rescript on Christian Teachers, Works.

3. Julian, To the Community of the Jews, Works, vol. 3, pp. 177–181.

4. Julian, To the Community of the Jews.

5. Julian, Fragment of a Letter to a Priest, Works, vol. 2., pp. 297–339.

6. Lydus, De Mensibus, in Julian, Works, vol. 3, pp. 301–302.

7. Ammianus Marcellinus, John C. Rolfe, trans., Ammianus Marcellinus, vol. 2, (London: William Heinemann, 1939), 23.1,2.

8. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio V contra Julianum, 4, in C.W. King, trans., Julian the Emperor (London: George Bell and Sons, 1888).

9. Ephraem of Syria, Hymni contra Julianum, 1.16 and 2.7, in Samuel N.C. Lieu, trans., The Emperor Julian: Panegyric and Polemic (Liverpool, England: Liverpool Univ. Press, 1986).

10. Ammianus Marcellinus, 23.1,3.

11. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio V contra Julianum, 4.

12. Ephraem of Syria, Hymni contra Julianum 1.16 and 2.7.

13. The Hebrew inscription reads: adk µtwmx[w µkbl w µtyarw. Benjamin Mazar points out that the words “shall flourish” are omitted in the western wall inscription (Mountain of the Lord [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975], p. 23).

14. Mazar, Mountain of the Lord, p. 94.

15. This view is taken by Michael Avi-Yonah (The Jews Under Roman and Byzantine Rule: A Political History from the Bar Kokhba War to the Arab Conquest [Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1984], p. 190).

16. Julian, To the High-Priest Theodorus, Works, vol. 3, pp. 55–61.

17. Julian, To the High-Priest Theodorus. See also Julian’s Fragment of a Letter to a Priest; some believe these were originally parts of the same letter.

18. Julian, To the Community of the Jews; see also a brief fragment in which Julian refers to rebuilding “the temple of the Most High God” (Works, pp. 301–302).

19. Julian, To the High-Priest Theodorus.

20. The specific terminology Julian elsewhere uses to describe the demiurge leaves little room for doubt regarding this identification. Compare, for example, the description of the demiurge in his “Hymn to the Mother of the Gods” (Oration V 166d, Works, vol. 1). Julian refers to the god of the Jews as demiurge in his letter To the Community of the Jews; in another instance, Julian asserts that the Jewish god “governs this world of sense” (To the High-Priest Theodorus), which is the role of the demiurge in Neoplatonic philosophy.

21. For Porphyry, in Commentarii in Oracula Chaldaica, as quoted in Lydus, De Mensibus, in Menahem Stern, trans., Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1980), p. 433. For Iamblichus, quoted in Lydus, De Mensibus, in Stern, p. 485.

22. Julian, letter To Maximus, the Philosopher, Works, vol. 3, pp. 24–25.

23. Ammianus Marcellinus, 25.4,17.

24. See, for example, section 16 of Sallustius’s Concerning the Gods and the Universe, in Arthur Darby Nock,trans., Sallustius: Concerning the Gods and the Universe (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1926).

25. Julian, Julian contra the Galilaeans, Works, vol. 3, pp. 404–407.