Julian so despised the Christian faith that he even attempted to reverse his baptism by bathing in a bull’s blood. One ecclesiastical historian describes him as a man “who had made his soul a home of destroying demons.”
For Julian, persecution, oppression, and financial extortion of Christians weren’t enough. In the second year of his reign, in 362, he conceived an extraordinary plan to undermine the credibility of Jesus Christ by annulling one of his prophecies. In Matthew 24, while the disciples were pointing out the temple buildings, Christ told them, “You see all these things, do you not? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” As students of history will remember, this was fulfilled with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, during the First Jewish-Roman War.
For Julian, the solution was simple: all he had to do was rebuild the temple.
A special imperial official was appointed to oversee the task. And Julian was able to take advantage of the pious enthusiasm of Jews from across the empire, some of whom contributed money to the effort, others volunteering as laborers, according to accounts from early Church writers.
Special tools of silver were forged for the occasion. Ground was broken. The small army of workers poured right into the work, toiling right up until nightfall.
Signs of trouble immediately appeared: after the first day, the workers awoke to find the soil they had removed had shifted back into place. Undaunted, they resumed work when “of a sudden a violent gale blew, and storms, tempests and whirlwinds scattered everything far and wide,” according to the account of the ecclesiastical historian Theodoret.
Then calamity struck: an earthquake rocked the site, followed by fireballs that burst out of the unfinished foundations for the temple, burning some men, and sending the rest in flight. Some rushed into the church that had been built by Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, only to have its doors shut in front of them by “an unseen and invisible power,” according to one account.
Some accounts of the disaster read like a retelling of the plagues visited upon Egypt: the fountains by the old temple stopped working, a famine broke out, and two imperial officials who had desecrated some sacred vessels met with grisly deaths. One was eaten alive with worms. The other “burst asunder in the midst.”
All this culminated with the appearance of the cross—either in the sky or sprinkled like stars on the garments of the workers, according to early Church accounts.
Needless to say, the temple was never rebuilt. This much is certain. (Read more.)Share