The Greatest Miracle Never Told
A historical and Patristic account of Julian the Apostate's failed speed run to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem
Being the nephew of St. Constantine the Great, Emperor Julian the Apostate (331-363) was raised by Christians with an education in the faith. Through his conversion to Neoplatanism and growing disdain for Christianity, he persecuted Christians by avoiding making public martyrs out of them, instead resorting to psychological and social pressure. While Julian favored the Pagans, his enmity towards Christianity was so great that he set out to discredit the prophecies of Christ and thus prove Christianity to be false. After gaining political favor with the Jews through social and political manipulation, he undertook the impossible task of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem. “As an educated man, Julian understood the thrust of Christian anti-Jewish polemic,”1 writes E Michael Jones. Julian's political pandering to the Jews could be seen in a letter he wrote to them in which he promised “I will use all my zeal to make the temple to the Most High God.”2
So in an audacious display of pride, the apostate nephew of St. Constantine the Great, effectively chose to engage in a “battle of wills in an attempt to force God's hand”, as Jones states.3 Julian was going to put Christ's promise to the test, as it is written, "not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down". So Julian began his speed run to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. The removal of the centuries old rubble from the destruction of the Second Temple (70 AD) went surprisingly well to the point where its foundation was exposed. Eusebius documented that Jewish women "used their garments to help carry away the earth removed by diggers busy with making room for the new foundations."4 St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote that the Jews “raged and raved and sounded the trumpets” and that “all of them raged madly and were without restraint.”5 According to Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem predicted "dire consequences for the day lime was mixed to make mortar for the foundation stones."6
St. Cyril's prediction began to unfold just moments before construction would begin. As Eusebius recalls, "there arose a huge storm, the earth shook, and huge balls of fire burst forth from the ground and continued to do so through the next day. Instruments melted, workers were burnt to death, strange crosses appeared on clothes and bodies, a luminous cross shone in the sky, and the enterprise had to be abandoned. A violent tremor caused a portico to collapse, killing a number of workers."7 A similar vision of this cross of light had been seen by St. Constantine. However, the great saint's nephew Julian was not in Jerusalem to witness this miraculous event as he was on a military campaign in Persia, which he did not return from.
St. Gregory the Theologian also documented the event, stating that the Jewish women who had been carrying the dirt with their clothing had rushed to a nearby church for shelter once the earthquake started, and as they "reached the door, which was open, suddenly those doors closed, as if by an invisible hand. It is reported unanimously and held for certain", wrote St Gregory, "that when they tried to open the doors of the church, flames that bust forth from inside prevented them from forcing the door open." The scene described by St. Gregory is violent. Some lost their limbs, others were completely destroyed by the flames. What the saint concluded is that denial of this miracle is due to unbelief in the miracle working power of God.8
This lesser known event is largely avoided by secular historians, likely due to its inexplicable result, yet E Michael Jones refers to it as the “most ambitious construction project in history from a theological perspective”9. Even Socrates had recorded the event, as it was "believed by all; the only discrepancy in the narrative is that some maintain that flame burst from the interior of the temple, as the workmen were striving to force an entrance, while others say that the fire proceeded directly from the earth."10 Although the historical accounts from both pagan and Christian sources documented the event in varying details, the most consistent report is that the construction came to a halt due to a fire and earthquake, at the very least.
St. John Chrysostom comments: "Even today, if you go into Jerusalem, you will see the bare foundation. If you ask why this is so, you will hear no explanation other than the one I gave. We are all witnesses to this, for it happened not long ago but in our own time.”11 This great miracle was followed by another act of God, which is seen in the death of Julian, who was killed by the thrust of a spear during his military campaign in Persia. Even during this campaign, Julian had been giving strict orders to the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem which he considered to be of great importance.
According to Orthodox tradition, it was the Roman soldier St. Mercurius, martyred a century prior, who thrusted the spear into Julian's side. St. Basil the Great, an old schoolmate of Julian, prayed to St. Mercurius to help him and had a vision where he “saw Christ in Heaven telling St. Mercurius to ‘Go to strike the enemy of those who believe in Me!." The holy Martyr left immediately and, returning after some time, he told his Divine Master: ‘Thy orders are accomplished, Julian is exterminated.’12
St. John Chrysostom expounds upon the death of Julian and his failed speed run to rebuild the temple by attributing it to the Jews' failure to realize that what they were attempting was impossible since it was in direct defiance to God's decree. "What God has reared up and wishes to remain, no man can tear down", Chrysostom writes, "in the same way, what He has destroyed and wishes to stay destroyed, no man can rebuild."13
By divine intervention of the Lord Himself, Christ's prophecy in Mark 13:2 was preserved and not a single stone was laid in Julian’s defiant attempt to rebuild the Temple. Even if the quake happened moments after the construction began, the literal words of Christ’s prophecy would have been falsified. With this in mind, Christians should be aware that once God allows a single stone to actually be laid in the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem, it is surely a sign that the end of the age is near.
*Article based on chapter 4 of The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit by E Michael Jones
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E. Michael Jones, The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit, Vol. 1 (South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press), p. 96.
Guiseppe Ricciotti, Julian the Apostate, trans. M. Joseph Costelloe, S.J. (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1960), p. 224
Jones, p. 97.
Stanley L. Jaki, To Rebuild or Not to Try? (Royal Oak, MI: Real View Books, 1999), p. 16.
Ephraem of Syria, Hymni contra Julianum, 1.16 and 2.7, in Samuel N.C. Lieu, The Emperor Julian: Panegyric and Polemic (Liverpool, England: Liverpool Univ. Press, 1986).
Jaki, p. 6.
Jaki, p. 19.
Jaki, p. 12
Jones, p. 98.
Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York: JPS, 1938), p. 12.
St. John Chrysostom, Discourses against Judaizing Christians, trans. Paul W. Harkins, (Washington, D.C., The Catholic University Press), p. 139-40.
Paul Lacroix, Vie Militaire et Religieuse au Moyen Age et a l’Époque de la Renaissance, (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot, 1873), pp. 439-440.
Chrysostom, p. 138