Bargil Pixner Bargil Pixner, OSB

Related Articles:
Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion

Jerusalem: The Circuit of the Walls

Palestine Explored: Mount Zion

Jerusalem's Essene Gateway: Where the Community Lived In Jesus' Time



Books by Bargil Pixner:
With Jesus Through Galilee: According to the Fifth Gospel

With Jesus In Jerusalem: His First and Last Days in Judean
CenturyOne: There are those that feel the ancient traditions suggesting that Mt. Zion was the Cradle of Christianity and its ancient synagogue the mother of all churches, stand on very doubtful foundations and should be reconsidered. Can you go into more detail on the conclusions you made in the article Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion.

Pixner: Even though the New Testament does not give the exact location where the Last Supper and the Pentecost event took place, it seems clear that they must have been inside the walls of Jerusalem (cfr.Mark 14:13; John 18:1 etc.). The ancient tradition places these events on Mt. Zion and there is no reasonable alternative. Why doubt it?

When most of the twelve apostles left Jerusalem after the persecution of Agrippa I (A.D. 42), it was members of the family of Jesus who took up the reins of the Natzorean community in Jerusalem. The first leader of the group (bishop-mebakker?) was James, the "brother of the Lord", who after his martydom in A.D. 62 was followed by Simon Bar-Kleopha, a cousin of Jesus. Both had come from Nazareth with Mary, his mother. We possess the names of thirteen Jewish bishops who followed them. The historian Eusebius speaks of "a very large assembly (magiste ekklesia Judaion) of Jews" in Jerusalem up to the year A.D. 135.

After the terrible destruction of the city and its temple by the Roman soldatesca in A.D. 70, there was no complete absense of Jewish inhabitants in Jerusalem. They surely were much reduced in numbers, but knowing the tenacity by which jews cling to the holy city, their total absence is hardly believable. If that had been the case, the statement by the Church Fathers that all Jews had to leave Jerusalem after the Bar-Kochba revolt in A.D. 135, would not make sense.Even this information, that all Jews were banished from Jerusalem at that time, is only reported by acclesiastical sources (it could be biased) and cannot be proven otherwise. Even then, I do not believe, the exodus was complete. It is also doubtful, whether the Judeo-Christians were included in the expulsion order. They had been persecuted by Bar-Kochba, since they refused to join the revolt. They had their Messiah and were not inclined to follow the advise of Rabbi Akiba regarding Bar Kochba's messianic claim. Most sites of Jewish religious traditions were paganized by Hadrian (i.e. substituted by pagan idols): e.g. the Temple area, Siloam, Mambre, David's Tomb in the city of David was used as a quarry; but also Christ's sepulchre and Golgotha were covered up to make place for the Forum Hadriani, the grotto of Bethlehem became the grove of Adonis; surprisingly Mt. Zion did not receive any pagan structure, although it was in the area of influence of the Xth Legion. If the ex-voto painting of a boat (with the inscription: Domine ibimus) in the Armenian excavation of the Holy Sepulchre has indeed, according to recent stuies, been pre-Hadrianic, then there could be some truth to the information that one of the Jewish bishops of Jerusalem, Juda Kyriakos, had rebuilt the Golgotha.

I believe that even in the case that the Judeo-Christians were included in Hadrian's expulsion order, they seem to have drifted back into the city under the lenient reign of emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161). The ossuaries of Mt. of Olives and Talpiot are evidence of their presence.

CenturyOne: Does archaeology give us any indications?

Pixner: In our excavations beneath our monastery [Dormition Abbey] on Mt. Zion we found evidence that the destruction of the year 70 also extended to the remote area of the south-western hill (just as Josephus Flavius said). But underneath that debris we found a Roman layer of rather poor houses along a street leading northward and a mikweh(ritual bath) in one of the houses. They could well have been the living quarters of the impoverished first Christian community. The church historian Eusebius and Epiphanius report that this community left Jerusalem during the great war on account of a prophecy (Possibly the one mentioned in Mark's gospel). The interesting fact in that excavation was that the latest issue of coins found were of the second year of the revolt (76/68). One of them I found on top of the step of the mikweh. The next three years were missing. Though not conclusive, it could be an indication that the Judeo-Christian community left before the arrival of the Romans in 68 A.D. They fled to Pella beyond the Jordan and into the mountains of Gilead and Bashan.

They were wandering around in expectation of their Messiah Jesus to come back (see Ascensio Isaiae). When Jerusalem had fallen, and some years had passed, they returned to Jerusalem under the leadership of Simon Bar-Cleopha, according to one report, the fourth year of Vespian (73/74).

They found Jerusalem utterly destroyed, the original centre of their community, the Cenacle building, in ruins. Since by now they were convinced that the parousia (the second coming of Christ) would be delayed they built on the ancient ruins their synagogue Alito ("Upper Room"). (Luke might still have seen it, for he called in surprisingly with the article to hyperoon (Acts 1;13). The building was no more directed towards the temple, which had been destroyed, but towards the place of the resurrection. This apostolic synagogue from the end of the first century is still visible today and surrounds the pseudo-tomb of David, erected by the Crusaders. According to the Israeli archaeologist J. Pinkerfeld the lower layers date back to the Roman period and seem to be of Herodian origin.

Measuring these huge, well cut ashlars I found the same size of stones amon the ruins of the Temple. Since it can be seen that these stones were evidently in second usage it does not seem unreasonable that the returnees from Pella used Temple material to rebuild their prayer house with the express intention to transfer here ideologically Holy Zion. A rival Jewish Christian author, who wrote the Odes of Salomon about that period, we outraged by such an endeavour and wrote in his ODE IV:
No one can change Thy Holy Place, my God. And there is none, who could change and transfer it to another place, For no one has power over it. For Thou hast chosen Thy sanctuary before Thou hast made other places. The ancient location shall not be altered by those, who are inferior than Thou.

Still these Judeo-Christians succeeded in calling the place from where the Gospel message had gone forth Nea Sion, New Zion. This was the last stage of the odyssee of Zion: David had conquered the jebusite Fortress of Zion over the Gihon Fountain (metzudat Zion) (Zion I), Salomon had built to the north of it the Temple, which drew the toponym Zion to itself, as testified in Isaiah, the Psalms and the Book of the Maccabees (Zion II), and soon after the destruction of the Temple it wandered to the south-western hill (Zion III), where the Cenacle and the Dormition Abbey now stand.

Who else had caused this transfer, if not those Jews, who considered that hill the cradle of Christianity and their synagogue the Mother of all the Churches?

Another archaeological indication of the presence of Judeo-Christians on Mt. Zion is the middle of the three tiered gate sills in our Essene Gate excavation area (See my article in BAR 23,2). Ceramic material extracted from below the middle sill has been identified as belonging to the Aelia Capitolina period (135-325). It is a very poorly constructed gate, which in my opinion was the southern entrance in a Ghetto wall, that the Judeo-Christians had built around their quarters as a protection against the gentiles of the Aelia Capitolina and later against the influence of the Byzantine Church. In 333 A.D. the anonymus Pilgrim of Bordeaux, coming from Siloam and passing the ruins of the Caiaphas palace, entered the wall around Zion (murus Sion), saw there the synagogue (evidently Jewish-Christian) and left the wall through another gate.

Since the Judeo-Christians did not join the Council of Nicea (325), but guarded their own autonomy, they were ostracized and soon considered heretics of followers of Arius. The Byzantine literature of the fourth century has nothing good to say of the inhabitants of Mt. Zion, although the Church Fathers must acknowledge that those brothers were guarding the throne of St. James. This downgrading of all traditions, which originated from the Judeo-Christians, is the main reason that traditions originating from areas under their control (Mt. Zion, Tomb of Mary, Gethsemani) were suspect and are reported in the Byzantine literature only towards the end of the 4th century.

A change came about, when a Jewish-Christian from Thessalonike in Greece, by the name of Porphyrios, became an influential member of the community on Mt. Zion.

It was probably the year 394, when he brought about a reconciliation with the imperial church led by Bishop John II of Jerusalem. On the occasion of Yom Kipper of that year an octagonal church )the altar was called kapporet) was inaugurated by John II, who in his sermon (which is preserved in Armenian) was full of praise for Porphyrios. Two years later Porphyrios was made bishop of Gaza.

But from that time on the Judeo-Christians kept gradually loosing their identity, which, I believe, was a loss for Christianity as a whole, which lost its Jewish counterbalance and became more and more hellenized.

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