Thursday, 26 December 2013

Jewish Massacre of Christians in 7th Century Jerusalem?

In the early 7th century there was an alliance between the Jews and the Persians (not Muslims at this time) to take control of the holy city (Jerusalem). The Judeo-Persian forces were successful in defeating the Romans to take Jerusalem. There is confusion as to whether the Jews massacred thousands of Christians in Jerusalem. Peter Crawford is of the opinion that these stories of damage and killing have been exaggerated:

What happened in the aftermath is disputed; however, it is alleged the in response to anti-Semitic riots prior to the siege the Jews now vented their frustrations on the Christian population of Jerusalem and, with the consent of Shahrbaraz, contrived to commit a massacre. The account of Strategius in particular paints a picture of destruction and death on a vast scale with figures of up to 65,000 men, women and children killed along with buildings such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being burned. One particularly shocking tale claims that 25,000 captive Christians were butchered near Mamilla Pool, one of the city’s ancient reservoirs, after refusing to convert to Judaism. However, it was the Sassanids who were in full control of this situation and they had a long established tolerance of other religions; an ideal that Khusro himself ascribed to. Therefore, even with the importance of the Jews to his success and evidence that the Holy Sepulchre was damaged around this time, it would be strange if Shahrbaraz allowed such a massacre to take place. He may have been angered by the resistance of the city and its inhabitants but some controlled looting, the deportation of up to 35,000 people and the removal of the True Cross, Holy Lance and the Holy Sponge to Ctesiphon will have been seen as punishment enough and the Jews would not have carried out such a massacre themselves without the Persian commander’s agreement.

The archaeological record also seems to go against the suggestion of a brutal sack. While there was some evidence of a mass grave at Mamilla pool, there was no general layer of detritus and rubble that would suggest mass destruction and, aside from the Holy Sepulchre, there is little to suggest the wide-ranging destruction of Christian churches from the period. There is also little to suggest the great demographic change that would have come with the massacre of vast numbers of Jerusalem’s Christian population…Therefore, while there are certainly shreds of truth, such as the destruction of the Holy Speulchre, the removal of the True Cross and deaths at Mamilla, they do not seem to be in the order of magnitude suggested by the likes of Strategius. Instead, many of the Christian accounts of ‘the Persian capture of Jerusalem in 614, of the circumstances which led to it, and of the consequences for the city and its inhabitants…[were] carefully concocted with a view to shocking Christian readers, with much exaggeration of physical damage, inflation of casualty figures, and graphic illustrations of the sufferings of the deportees.’

This seems more likely with the suggestion of an underlying current of anti-Semitism permeating most of Roman Christian sources of the mid-seventh century…

[pg 45-56, ‘The War of the Three Gods’, Peter Crawford, Pen and Sword Books Ltd]

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