Thursday, July 25, 2013

How It Was That Jewish Girls Became Christian Nuns In Roman Hands in 1562

Nadene Goldfoot                                                              

Judah Maccabee, the son of Mattathias, was the military leader of the revolt against Syria in 168 BCE.  This was the Hasmonian dynasty.  The information comes from the 1st book of the Hasmoneans of the Maccabees are found in the Books of the Apocrypha.  I Maccaabees or the first Book of the Hasmoneans tells the history of the Hasmonean family from the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes down to the early days of John Hyrcanus’ reign.

A Jewish embassy was in Rome in 161 BCE, and recorded diplomatic relations with a tablet declaring peace with the Jews of Judah, now taken over by the Romans.  .

The Judah Macabbee event  led to our celebration of Chanukah, which comes close to the Christian festival of Christmas.  The story was written in Hebrew which was still being used in the 4th century but had since been lost.  The Greek translation survived in the Septuagint.  II Maccabees is a shortened version written in Greek by a Hellenistic Jew, Jason, of Cyrene.  Its date is abut the 2nd century BCE.  III Maccabees describes the persecution of the Jews by Ptolemy IV Philopator of Egypt.  It was written about at the beginning of the Christian era while others think it reflects events in Egypt under Caligula, written in a refined rhetorical Greek, a powerful essay of reason over passions.

The peace didn't last long since Rome took Jerusalem in 70 CE.    Jews were still trying to re-take their city that was losing its Jewish flavor by 132 CE, 62 years later with Bar or Ben Kosiba, alias Simon, known to us as Bar Kokhba, which means the son of the star.  He was the nephew of Rabbi  Eleazar of Modiin and of Davidic descent.  He led a revolt against Hadrian in 132 CE.  Rabbi Akiva thought he was the Messiah.  He revolted because the Romans were rebuilding Jerusalem into a Roman colony and now they had put out restrictions against circumcision and that was the last straw!

The Roman Emperor Hadrian  ruled from 117 to 138.  He first removed and executed the savage governor of Judea, Lucius Quietus and this made a good impression on the Jews at first.  He visited Palestine in 130 and saw that Jews were implacable.  Bar Kokhba’s forces re-took Jerusalem in 132.  Coins were minted with the names of Simeon and Eleazar the Priest.  In 133 the Roman counterattacked with an army of 35,000 under Hadrian and the commander, Julius Severus.  They had first entered the Galilee, then fought for the Valley of Jezreel, Ephraim and the Judean Hills, and then took Jerusalem.

By 134 and 135, the Romans invaded Bar Kokhba’s last stronghold, Betar, and reduced the remaining hill and cave strongholds.  Bar Kokhba was killed when Betar fell by a storming attack.  Records speak of the destruction of 50 fortresses and 985 villages and of 580,000 Jewish casualties besides those who died of hunger and disease.  As a result of the revolt, Judea fell into desolation.  It’s population were decimated and Jerusalem was turned into a heathen city, barred to all Jews.  Bar Kokhba had held off the Romans for 3 years, defeated in the end.  Jews from then on scattered in the wind.  Some remained in the Levant, going to other countries to live while others who were to be called the Ashkenazis found themselves closer to Rome, and from there went to Germany and France.  There were families who remained hidden and were able to continue living in Judah and Israel.  There was no PEACE WITH JUDAH from the Romans, only exile!  I call this insidious propaganda!    

After Hadrian had won this battle which was the most difficult of his reign, he received the title of Imperator.  Judea became a consular province called Syria-Palaestina.  The ruins of Jerusalem were reconstructed as a pagan city, and an equestrian statue of Hadrian was erected on the site of the HOLY OF HOLIES.

Was it after this period that Josephus, Justinus and Eusebius wrote about Jews receiving “friendship” from the Romans?  Or was this what Rome said about a country after they defeated it?  Friendship was a technical term for diplomatic ties considered just below formal diplomatic relations.  Memory about this event comes from oral and written tradition into the Middle Ages on a bronze tablet that had hung in the church of San Basilio in Rome.  This tablet mentioned Judas Maccabaeus who was held in high regard in the Middle Ages.  His story about their Maccabaean revolt against the Seleucid king served as an “allegory of the battles of the Church against its enemies.”  It had a religious significance reminding the people of Judah the warrior who was aided by G-d, and had succeeded against overwhelming odds in his battle against the Syrian Seleucid army.

This tablet has now been proved to have been real by a historian from Arad, Dr. Linda Zollschan.  Her work has been published in a Danish journal, Classica Et Mediaevalia, the Danish Journal of Philology and History, volume 63.

Zolschan discovered that  the location the bronze tablet was kept turned out to be in the ruins of the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus, a temple used as the "Foreign Office" of Rome.  In her article, she mentions the church which used to house the tablet as churches often displayed such items. It was mentioned in 1140 and was known about in the 16th century, mentioned in a guidebook for pilgrims to Rome.

 The land where the church stood was granted by Pope Pius IV in 1562 to the Cominican order of nuns, who built a Monastery there.  They had sought property in Rome to house Jewish girls who had converted to Christianity (forced converts ?) and who wanted to live as nuns under monastic vows, but had nowhere to go because other monasteries rejected them because they had Jewish ancestry.  The Spanish Inquisition had taken place in 1492 and had affected many Christian countries to either convert Jews or expell them.

“Converts were given accommodation and the girls were lured to convert by a gift of 50 scudi for a dowry so that they could marry.  The church found them Christian partners for marriage, and those that didn’t marry became nuns.  So it was that 40 nuns who were really converts from Judaism lived in the ruins of a church that had once openly had evidence of the “friendship” between the Romans and the Jews.  “

Resource:, by Hana Levi Julian
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

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