The Persian king Chosroes II (=’Kisra’) began his campaign against the Eastern Roman empire under the usurper Phocas. As the Persian troops overthrew Byzantine rule in Palestine, a Jewish revolt broke out. Eventually Phocas was assassinated by Heraclius, with whom this chapter ends.
26. So he sent to Jerusalem one of his generals named Harwazayh, to destroy it, and sent another to Egypt and Alexandria to pursue Rum and kill them. Kisra then moved against Constantinople and besieged it for fourteen years. Harwazayh invaded Syria, sowed destruction and plundered the population, then marched to Jerusalem. So the Jews of Tiberias, Galilee, Nazareth and the surrounding area, joined him and together they advanced on Jerusalem, giving a hand to the Persians by destroying churches and killing Christians. When he arrived at Jerusalem, [Harwazayh] first destroyed the church of Gethsemane and the Church of Eleona, which are still a heap of ruins. He then tore down the church of Constantine, of the Skull and of the Tomb, setting fire to the latter two and sowed destruction in much of the city. Together with the Persians, the Jews killed untold numbers of Christians, at the place called Mamilla in Jerusalem. After having set fire, destroyed and killed, the Persians withdrew, bringing with them as prisoners Zachariah, Patriarch of Jerusalem, and a great many people. They also took the wood of the Cross that Queen Helena had left at that place. It was a piece of the wood of the Cross and was taken, along with the prisoners, into the land of Persia. Maria, daughter of King Maurice, asked Kisra to give her the wood of the Cross, the Patriarch Zachariah and a large number of people who were prisoners. She kept it in her home, and they stayed with her. The Patriarch Zachariah died in captivity. From the day when the Patriarch Zachariah was taken prisoner, the see of Jerusalem had no patriarch for fifteen years.
In the fourth year of the reign of Phocas there was made patriarch of Constantinople Sergius. He was a Maronite. He held the office for twenty-two years. In the second year of the reign of Phocas there was made Patriarch of Alexandria Theodore. He held the office for two years and died.
27. In the fourth year of the reign of Phocas there was made patriarch of Alexandria John the Merciful. He held the office for ten years and he died. He was called “the merciful” because, so it is said, he was a native of Cyprus, and saw in a dream, at age fifteen, a woman as young and beautiful as the sun stop in front of him. He said: “I was stabbed in the side and I awoke, and I looked at her and said to her; “Who are you? And how do you dare to come to me at such an hour?”. On her head she wore an olive wreath. She replied: “I am the daughter of the king. If you make me your friend, I will introduce you to the king, because no-one is more familiar with him than I. For I came upon the earth because he brought me, he became man and saved men.” Then she disappeared and I said: “Indeed she is Mercy.” I got up immediately to go to church and in passing I came across a stranger who was naked. It was very cold and it was winter. I took off the coat that I was wearing, gave it to him and I said to myself: “Now I shall know whether what I saw was true, or is of the devil.” As soon as I came to the church, I met him a man with a robe as white as snow who gave me a hundred dinars (in another text he says “a thousand dinars”) saying: “Take these dinars, and do what you want.” Then I turned to give them back, but saw no one. Then I said: “In truth, everything makes sense.” So John the Merciful began to give away everything he had, even the clothes he wore, to the point that once he happened to give away even the vestments with which he used to celebrate Mass, driven by his great compassion for the poor. He was therefore called John the Merciful. In the sixth year of the reign of Phocas there was made patriarch of Rome Theodore. He held the office for three years and died.
28. After the Persians had destroyed the churches of Jerusalem, set them on fire and had retired, there lived in the monastery of ad-Dawākis, i.e. in the monastery of St. Theodosius, a monk named Modestus who was the superior of the monastery. After the Persians left, he went to ar-Ramlah, in Tiberias, in Tyre and Damascus to ask Christians to give him offerings to help to rebuild the churches of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Persians. With the offerings he gathered a good sum and returned to Jerusalem where he rebuilt the Church of the Resurrection, of the Sepulchre, of the Skull and of St. Constantine, which exist to this day. When John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, heard that Modestus was intent on [re]building the churches that the Persians had destroyed, he sent a thousand beasts of burden, a thousand sacks of wheat, a thousand bags of vegetables, a thousand jars of anchovies, a thousand “ratl” of iron and a thousand workers. As for Harzawayh, who had destroyed Jerusalem, he marched to Egypt and Alexandria. Having learned that the Persians had reached Alexandria, John the Merciful fled in fear, heading to Cyprus together with the patrician who ruled Alexandria, named Nicetas. When they came to Cyprus, Nicetas asked him to go with him to Constantinople to King Phocas to greet him, and to ask him to free them from the siege of the Persians. They were on the beach when John the Merciful saw in a dream a young man who told him:”The King of heaven is closer to you than the king of earth.” John woke up and said to the patrician Nicetas: “Take me back to Cyprus, because I’m about to die.” He returned to Cyprus and died after being Patriarch for ten years. He was buried in a village in Cyprus called Asātuntā. After the death of John the Merciful Alexandria remained without a patriarch for seven years.
29. When Kisra besieged Constantinople, the territory of Syria found itself without any Byzantine soldiers. There were, in the city of Tyre, four thousand Jews. The Jews who were in Tyre sent letters to the Jews of Jerusalem, Cyprus, Damascus, Galilee and Tiberias, inviting them to all gather on the night of the Christian Easter, and exterminate the Christians who were in Tyre, to go up to Jerusalem, and kill every Christian who was there and take over the city. Having received notice, both the patrician of Tyre and the population of Tyre, they took the Jews who were in Tyre, bound them with iron chains and threw them in jail. They bolted the gate of Tyre and positioned there catapults and ballistae. When it was the night of the Easter of the Christians, the Jews from every country gathered at Tyre as the Jews [of Tyre] had written to them, and according to the agreement reached. They were about twenty thousand men. [The inhabitants of the city] fought fiercely against them from the walls. The foreign Jews then demolished every church which was located outside the walls of Tyre. But for every church that was demolished, the inhabitants of Tyre brought a hundred Jews whom they were holding prisoner onto the walls, beheaded them and threw down their heads. So they beheaded two thousand men. Then there was an outcry among the Jews, and they were defeated. The inhabitants of Tyre came out, pursued them, put them to flight (in another text he says “manahū aktāfahum”) and made a great slaughter. The survivors returned humiliated to their respective places of origin.
30. In the city of Thessalonika there was a young man named Heraclius, with some patricians of Thessaloniki. The patricians took the ships, loaded them with barley, wheat and legumes, and sent them to Constantinople with Heraclius to rescue and provide food to the people who suffered due to the exhausting siege. When Heraclius arrived in Constantinople, the people rejoiced and perked up at the sight of that wheat, barley and legumes. Heraclius was a courageous young man, a very capable administrator, shrewd and cunning. Heraclius said to the ministers and generals: “The king Phocas is a very bad politician and he causes misery for all Rum. In fact since he began to reign, you have undergone eight years of uninterrupted siege and the lands of Rum, Egypt and Syria are in serious afflictions because the Persians have taken hold of your kingdom and all your territories. For my part, I suggest you kill him and make another king”. The leaders expressed their approval and Heraclius attacked King Phocas and killed him. The ministers and generals gathered to choose a descendant of the royal house and make him king, but Heraclius said to them: “You must not elevate any other king except the one in whom there are the following qualities: he must have more integrity and knowledge with regard to religion than anyone else; discernment, truthfulness, courage, eloquence; clemency to his own subjects; and wisdom in foiling the machinations of the enemy.” They said: “And where we will ever find such a man?” He answered: “Promise me that if I show you, you will choose him as your king.” They promised this, and when he was sure of them he said: “I am that man.” They elected him as their king and Heraclius reigned over Rum. This happened in the twenty-third year of the reign of Kisra, son of Hurmuz, Abarwīz, king of the Persians.