Did Constantine put the Jews to death at Passover? A passage in Eutychius

In a comment here on an old post, an interesting question is raised:

Hi, do you have a translation of Patrologiae Graeca 111, pages 1012-13 where Eutychius talks about how Constantine killed the Jewish Christians on Passover?

http://books.google.com/books?id=ZSNKAAAAcAAJ&vq=1012&pg=RA2-PA1004

The link is to column (not page) 1012 in PG 111.

Doing a google search for a source for this claim – which it is always prudent to do -, I found this Israeli page which said the following:

“From the late account of Eutychius (Patrologia Graeca 111, 1012-13) that, just at this time [333 C.E.], the faithful while they were leaving the church on E*aster day, were forced to eat pork under pain of death. We know how the Judeo-Christians refused this in order not to transgress the Mosaic law to which they held they were bound” (Bagatti, p. 14).

Bellarmino Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision (Yerushâlayim, Franciscan Press 1971), pp. 13-14.

I found it quite interesting that Bagatti was published by Franciscan Press, as they published the translation of Eutychius into Italian, and I bought my own copy of it from their bookshop in Jerusalem.

Now Eutychius of Alexandria was the Melkite patriarch of Alexandria in the 10th century AD and wrote his Annals in Arabic.  It was translated into Latin in the 17th century by Edward Pococke; and Migne has reprinted Pococke’s translation.

The passage does, of course, appear in Bartolomeo Pirone’s modern Italian translation of the Annals.  Rather than translate Pococke’s Latin, based on who knows what text, let’s look at Pirone’s Italian, chapter 11, section 20, p.203:

20. Il re Costantino diede disposizione che nessun giudeo abitasse a Gerusalemme né che vi transitasse e ordinò inoltre di mettere a morte tutti coloro che si fossero  rifiutati di farsi  cristiani (58). Moltissimi pagani e Giudei abbracciarono allora la fede cristiana ed il cristianesimo prese ovunque piede. Fu poi riferito al re Costantino che i Giudei si erano fatti cristiani per paura di essere uccisi ma che continuavano a seguire la  loro religione. Il re disse: “Come potremo saperlo?”. Paolo, patriarca di Costantinopoli, gli disse: “La Torah proibisce Idi mangiarel il maiale ed è per questo motivo che i Giudei non ne mangiano la carne. Ordina quindi di far sgozzare dei maiali, che ne vengano cotte le carni e siano date da mangiare ai membri di questa comunità. In tal modo si potrà scoprire che sono ancora legati alla loro religione tutti coloro che si rifiuteranno di mangiarne”. Il re Costantino replicò. “Ma se la Torah proibisce il maiale, come mai è invece lecito a noi mangiarne la carne e farla mangiare agli altri?”. Il  patriarca Paolo gli rispose: “Devi sapere che Cristo, nostro Signore, ha abrogato tutte le disposizioni della Torah e ci ha dato una nuova Legge che è il Vangelo. Egli ha detto nel santo vangelo: “Non tutto quello che entra per la bocca contamina l’uomo (ed intendeva  dire: ogni cibo). Quello che contamina l’uomo è solo quanto esce dalla sua bocca” (59), ossia la  stoltezza e l’empietà e tutto quanto è a ciò simile. Anche l’apostolo Paolo ha così detto nella sua prima lettera ai Corinzi: “Il cibo è per il ventre e il ventre è per il cibo, ma Dio distruggerà entrambi” (60).  Ed è anche scritto nella Praxis: “Pietro, capo degli Apostoli, si trovava nella città di Giaffa (61) in casa di un conciatore di nome Simone. All’ora sesta del giorno salì sulla terrazza di casa per pregare, ma un sonno profondo cadde su di lui e vide il  cielo aprirsi. Dal cielo vide scendere fino a toccar terra un manto in  cui c’era ogni specie di quadrupedi, di bestie feroci, di mosche e di uccelli del cielo, e sentì una voce che gli diceva: “O Pietro, alzati, uccidi e mangia”. Pietro rispose: “O Signore, non ho mai mangiato alcunché di immondo”.  Ma una seconda voce gli disse: “Mangia, ciò che Dio ha purificato tu non ritenerlo immondo”. La voce lo ripetè per tre volte. Poi il  manto fu riportato in cielo” (62). Pietro ne restò meravigliato e si chiedeva perplesso cosa potesse significare l’accaduto. Ma per quella visione e per ciò che Cristo nostro Signore ha detto nel santo vangelo, Pietro e  Paolo ci  hanno ordinato di mangiare la  carne  di ogni quadrupede e perciò ci è lecito mangiare carne di maiale e di ogni altro animale”. Il  re allora ordinò di ammazzare dei maiali, di cuocerne le carni e di farle mettere alle porte delle chiese in tutto il suo regno nella domenica di pasqua. A chiunque usciva dalla chiesa veniva dato un boccone di carne di maiale e chi si rifiutava di mangiarlò veniva ucciso. Fu cosÌ che molti Giudei furono uccisi in quella circostanza. Costantino fece erigere un muro attorno a Bisanzio e la chiamò Costantinopoli. Ciò avveniva nel suo trentesimo anno di regno. Elena, madre di Costantino, morì all’età di ottanta anni. Costantino regnò  per trentadue anni e morì. Era vissuto in  tutto sessanta cinque anni: Lasciò tre  figli.  Al maggiore aveva dato il suo nome, Costantino, aveva chiamato il secondo con il  nome di suo  padre, Costanzo, ed  il  terzo  l’aveva  chiamato Costante (63).  A Costantino assegnò  la  città di Costantinopoli, a Costanzo Antiochia, la Siria e l’Egitto, e a Costante Roma.

This I translated here:

20. The King Constantine gave orders that no Jew should live in Jerusalem or pass through it, and he also ordered to put to death all those who refused to become Christians (58). Many pagans and Jews then embraced the Christian faith and Christianity took root everywhere.  It was then told to king Constantine that the Jews had become Christians for fear of being killed but that they continued to follow their religion.  The king said: “How will we know?” Paul, the patriarch of Constantinople, said: “The Torah forbids [eating] pork and it is for this reason that the Jews do not eat meat. Order that the throats of pigs be cut, that the meat should be cooked, and fed to the members of this community.  In this way you will find that all those who refuse to eat are still tied to their religion.” King Constantine replied. “But if the Torah forbids the pig, why is lawful for us to eat its flesh and make others eat it?”. Patriarch Paul replied: “You must know that Christ our Lord, repealed all provisions of the Torah and gave us a new law which is the Gospel. He said in the Holy Gospel: “Not everything that enters the mouth defiles a man (and he meant any food). What defiles a man is just what comes out of his mouth” (59), i.e. folly and wickedness, and all that is similar to this. The apostle Paul said so in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will destroy both” (60). And it is also written in the Acts: “Peter, chief of the Apostles, was in the city of Jaffa (61) in the house of a tanner named Simon. At the sixth hour of the day he went out on the terrace of the house to pray, but a deep sleep fell upon him and saw the sky open. From the sky he saw a mantle descend to earth in which there was every kind of quadruped, wild beasts, flying things and birds of the air, and he heard a voice saying: ‘O Peter, get up, kill and eat.’ Peter replied: ‘O Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean.’ But a second time the voice said: ‘Eat, what God has cleansed you must not consider unclean.’ The voice repeated it three times. Then the mantle was taken back into heaven.” (62) Peter was amazed and wondered what it meant. Because of that vision and because of what Christ our Lord said in the Holy Gospel, Peter and Paul ordered us to eat the flesh of every quadruped and therefore it is not wrong to eat pork or any other animal.”The king then ordered him to kill the pigs, cook the meat and put it at the doors of the churches in all his kingdom on Easter Sunday.  To everyone coming out of the church a bite of pork was given, and those who refused to eat it were killed.  Thus it was that many Jews were killed in that circumstance.  Constantine erected a wall around Byzantium and called Constantinople.  This was in his thirtieth year of the reign.  Helena, mother of Constantine, died at the age of eighty years. Constantine reigned for thirty-two years and died.  He lived in all for sixty-five years. He left three children.  The first was given his name, Constantine, he had called the second with the name of his father, Constantius, and the third was called Constans (63).  To Constantine he gave the city of Constantinople, to Constantius Antioch, Syria and Egypt, and Rome to Constans.

The historical value of this anecdote, complete with “he said, he said”, is probably nothing, at a distance of 7 centuries.  Constantine did not force pagans to become Christians, and indeed paganism remained the state religion for another 50 years.

16 thoughts on “Did Constantine put the Jews to death at Passover? A passage in Eutychius

  1. Wow! Thanks for that!

    As for the historical value. I guess that depends on how seriously the Christians of that period took quoting sources accurately. i.e. those lacking integrity would be likely to embellish earlier sources, while the pure of heart would transcribe the earlier sources as faithfully as possible. It’s a very interesting science comparing quotes from later Christian authors or earlier sources. Sometimes they’re remarkably close, other times it’s like someone felt like writing their own novel in the name of a famous person.

    Blessings from God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  2. B. Bagatti was a Franciscan, taught at the Studium Biblicum Francescanum, and was probably on editorial board of the Franciscan Press.

  3. Thank you, Walter – I’d not heard of him. Perhaps his awareness of Eutychius contributed to the creation of the Pirone translation.

    David: I think that we have to remember that we are (a) in the Middle Ages and (b) in the Orient, in the period of “The 1001 Nights”. It’s useless to assess the works of that period as if they were produced in some American university in 1957. The authors have no real means to check anything. They have no books – only handcopied manuscripts. They have no reference books, no lists of authors, no journals, no critical evaluations. All they have is whatever comes to hand. At the same time, they have an audience which is even less interested in our criteria, and very interested in marvellous stories. They may not mean to deceive; but in the blurry state of their knowledge of the past, they may be forgiven for how they treat their material. And that’s assuming that they aren’t just inventing stories; in the way that a modern author of a joke-book would feel able to do.

    But then, all this is why the period is medieval, and why the renaissance matters.

  4. More to the point, it can be difficult to distinguish between a quote, a gloss on a quote, and a paraphrase.

  5. The historical value of the account is not merely undermined by its late date, it is (to my eyes, at least) absolutely vitiated by its content: not only does the forced conversion of Jews sound quite unlike Constantine, who denounced Jewish ‘blindness’ (apud Eusebium, Vita Const. 3.18) and forbade Jews to hold Christian slaves (C.Th. 16.9.1, Eusebius, Vita Const. 4.27), but is not said even by Eusebius to have undertaken so extreme a measure, Paul became bishop of Constantinople under Constantius II, that is, after Constantine’s death (e.g. Socrates, H.E. 2.6-7; Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, suggests an initial tenure beginning summer 337–shortly after Constantine’s death, therefore–followed by exile). The story sounds to me like Byzantine hagiography of a particularly distasteful kind, though I’d be interested to know if anyone who is more expert on Jews and Judaism in the fourth century would accord it any credibility. I suppose it is remotely possible that ‘Constantinus’ is a mistake for ‘Constantius’, and that the specific biographical and chronological information given is merely a spurious addition, but that all seems rather forced. Still, an interesting bit of legend; thanks for posting it!

  6. I have not caught up with your Eutychius selections, yet, and cannot contextualize it as to how ‘Eutychian’ this might be (or how ‘(Tenth-century) Melkite’, etc.), but I agree with Philipp as to its interest! It does indeed seem like “hagiography of a particularly distasteful kind” if Constantine is being praised for something like what the king tried in various of the books of the Maccabees! And I wonder what, if any, context it might have in the history of Christian ascesis. I can image (in my vague way!) that someone eremitic might eat a morsel of flesh at Easter, demonstrating they were not heretical or some such, but might any bridle at pork being insisted upon? And when (if ever) would what Byzantine sovereign be likely to be so specifically insistent? Might this be wishful thinking on the part of Eutychius, or one of his proximate sources? And, if he wrote in Arabic in the Tenth century, what possible Islamic context might come into the picture? (I’ve read of later Muslim authorial and editorial distrust of early Jewish-convert writers, but have no proper, historically-detailed sense of this.)

  7. But one if the ante Nicene historians mentions a Jewish rebellion which Constantine put down. Don’t remember which one writem this but it exists somewhere

  8. Now if 7 centuries later is the earliest source for that quotation, I would be very skeptical. For we must keep in mind, that only a generation after Constantine, people already had false stories about him — such as that false account of his mother Helena finding the alledged true cross of the savior.

    Nevertheless, I know that Constantine issued some pretty serious anti-Jewish laws (which I believe can be found in Codex Theodosian and Codex Justinian – see below).

    However, there is this specific quotation which I found in my notes (I have not checked it myself though)

    John Chrysostom: Against Jews 5.11.3
    (3) Do you see the first attempt of the impudent Jews? Now look at the next. They tried the same thing in the time of Constantine [to retake Jerusalem/temple]. But the Emperor saw what they tried to do, cut off their ears, and left on their bodies this mark of their disobedience. He then had them led around everywhere, like runaway slaves and scoundrels, so all might see their mutilated bodies and always think twice before ever attempting such a revolt. “Yet these things happened very long ago,” the Jews will say. But I tell you that the incident is well known to those of us who are somewhat on in years and are already old men.

    Codex Theodosian 16.8.1 (also Codex Justinian 1.9.3)
    Emperor Constantine Augustus to Evagrius.It is our will that Judeans and their elders and patriarchs shall be informed that if, after the issuance of this law, any of them should dare to attempt to assail with stones or with any other kind of madness—a thing which we have learned is now being done—any person who has fled their feral sect and has resorted to the worship of God, such assailant shall be immediately delivered to the flames and burned, with all his accomplices.1. Moreover, if any person from the people should betake himself to their nefarious sect and should join their assemblies, he shall sustain with them the deserved punishments. Given on the fiteenth day before the kalends of November at Murgillum [The fourteenth day before the kalends at Milan in Vatic. 273.] in the year of the fourth consulship of Constantine Augustus and Licinius.–October 18 (19), 315; August 13, 339.

    Codex Theodosian 16.8.5
    The same [Constantine] Augustus to Felix, Praetorian Prefect. (After other matters.) Judeans shall not be permitted to disturb any man who has been converted from Judaism to Christianity or to assail him with any outrage. Such contumely shall be punished according to the nature of the act which has been committed. (Etc.) Given on the eleventh day before the kalends of November at Constantinople.—October 22 (21), (335). Posted on the eighth day before the ides of May at Carthage in the year of the consulship of Nepotianus and Facundus.—May 8, 336.

    Codex Theodosian Sirm 4
    Emperor Constantine Augustus to Felix, Praetorian Prefect. The very salutary sanction of Our constitution was formerly promulgated which We renew by the veneration of Our repeated law. It is Our will that if any Judean should purchase a Christian slave or a slave of any other sect whatever and should not greatly fear to circumcise such slave, the person thus circumcised shall be rendered master of his freedom by the measures of this statute and shall obtain possession of the privileges thereof. It shall not be permissible for a Judean who has circumcised a slave of the aforesaid class to retain such slave in the service of slavery. For by this same sanction We command that if any Judean should unlock for himself the door of eternal life, should deliver himself to our holy worship, and should choose to be a Christian, he shall not suffer any disquietude or molestation from the Judeans. If any Judean should suppose that he should assail with outrage any person who has been converted from Judaism to Christianity, it is Our will that as the contriver of such contumely he shall be subjected to avenging punishments in proportion to the nature of the crime which he has committed, O Felix, dearest Father. Wherefore on account of the love of Di- vine Providence We trust that such a person will be safe in the entire Roman world and that due reverence for Us will be observed. It is Our will that Your Excellent Sublimity by your letters dispatched throughout the diocese that is entrusted to you shall admonish the judges most earnestly to enforce such due reverence. Given on the twelfth day before the kalends of November.–October 21, 336; 335. Posted on the seventh day before the ides of March at Carthage in the year of the consulship of Nepotianus and Facundus.-March 9, 337; 336.

  9. Andrew Harrington,

    I have not attempted to check your Chrysostom paragraph myself, either, but toss out a tentative suggestion, for what it may be worth. He was presumably a young teenager during the reign of the Emperor Julian, and, according to, for example, Ammianus Marcellinus (in Res Gestae, 23.1.2–3, as quoted in translation in the Wikipedia “Julian (emperor)” article), “Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province”. Might this be part of the background to this passage, though not explicitly mentioned? (Something aspired to and in some sense attempted under Constantine, as promoted and pursued in one sense or another by Julian?)

  10. Chrysostom is confused about the events of the time of Constantine. This was a Jewish revolt against the Roman empire, and it took place in the time of Constantine’s son, Constantius II, in 351-2, and was suppressed by Constantius’ Caesar, the luckless Gallus. There are statements in Socrates, and Sozomen; and in Jerome about Gallus’ campaign: “Through the murders of many thousands of men — even those too young to pose a threat — Gallus suppressed the Jews, who, having murdered soldiers at night, had seized arms for the purpose of rebellion, and he put to the torch their cities Diocaesarea, Tiberias, and Diospolis and many towns” while Theophanes says: Theophanes AM 5843, A.D. 350/1: “In this year, the Jews in Palestine revolted. They killed many other nationalities, both Hellenes and Samaritans. They and their whole race were slaughtered by the Roman army, and their city Diocaesarea was razed to the ground.” (All this from the DIR article on Gallus).

    It sounds as if some modern Jewish nationalists attribute this purely political issue to animosity towards Jews.

    The quotes from the Theodosian codex seem all designed to allow Christians freedom of religion, and to prevent Jews from interfering with this; not to deny it to Jews, of course, who were a legal religion in ancient Roman society. They don’t sound anti-Jewish to me. The real animosity towards Jewish people as a whole dates later than the reign of Constantine.

  11. Exactly — most of Constantine’s and the first emperors after him seem to be mostly trying to protect people (many times Christians) from Judeans/Jews who were being hostile than an attack on them specifically.

    However, the modern day Judeans/Jews try to use most of this material out-of-context to try to manipulate people to have pity parties for them — when they are the actual instigators of the situation.

    As far as I see, if the same had been done by any other group, Constantine and those emperors would have acted the same. It does not seem as if they were targetting Judeans/Jews specifically.

    However, while this might be the right response for a secular leader, it certain is not the Christian response, who are suppose to love their enemies and do go to those who do evil to them, not kill them.

    So, if the Judeans/Jews failed at this period — how much more so a majority of people who were Christians in name only, and, unfortunately, caused the Judeans/Jews to blasphemey the name of God because of such.

  12. Thank you both! From most birth-year estimates I’ve seen, Chrysostom would have been fairly young, then (350-52), but could easily have heard accounts later from those older than himself (whatever might lead to the confusion).

  13. This story is also to be found in the “Al-Majmu’ al-Mubarak” (The blessed collection) of George Elmacin / Jirjis al-Makīn (XIIth century) but without the dialogue between the Empereor and the bishop (and consequently, without any biblical justification).
    We also find it in the “Asfar al-asrar” (Book of mysteries) of Saliba ibn Yuhanna al-Mawsili (XIVth century). In this opus, the writter adds : “After that, we continued eating pork untill now”

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