Historical story

The Flight from Jerusalem

At Easter, Christians celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. Things didn't end well with his earliest followers in Palestine. This greatly influenced the interpretation of Jesus' teachings.

Only in Jerusalem was the true word of the Lord and not spread throughout the Roman Empire. This was the belief of the early Christian congregation in Jerusalem led by Jesus' brother James. The congregation did not have a long life. During the suppression of the Jewish Revolt (66-70) it was wiped out for good. Or not? There is a theory that she survived.

Early Christians

After the death of Jesus, the Christian congregation in Jerusalem was led successively by James the Just (the 'brother of the Lord') and Simeon. During Simeon's reign, the Jews revolted against Roman rule. The resistance was broken with a heavy hand by the Romans, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple in the year 70. After the uprising, nothing more was heard of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem, while the congregation was very influential in the world of the early Christians before the violence.

For decades, scholars have puzzled over the fate of the early Christians in Palestine. This question is relevant to contemporary Christianity. If the Christian congregation perished during the destruction of Jerusalem, it is unlikely that the ideas, values ​​and standards of contemporary Christianity are based on those of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem.

Paul vs James

The prevailing view among theologians is that Christianity today is founded on Paul's interpretation of the words of Jesus, and they speak of "Pauline Christianity." An important detail is that in the New Testament it can be read that the views of Paul frequently deviated from the views of James, representative of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem.

While James placed great value on the implementation of the Law of Moses and the temple service, Paul emphasized faith in itself. He believed that the end of time was near now that Jesus had completed the atonement by his death on the cross. Only unconditional faith could save mankind. According to Paul, living according to Jewish guidelines offered no solution and had to be let go.

This view would have profound implications for early Christianity. Missionaries were allowed to address Gentiles and Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to convert to the Christian faith. The abandonment of the Jewish laws by Paul has strongly stimulated the separation between Christianity and Judaism.

Flight to Pella?

Adherents of the view that the Christian congregation has survived from Jerusalem rely on a few passages in the works of the third/fourth-century church fathers Eusebius (c. 263-339) and Epiphanius (c. 310-403). These basically tell the same story. The Christian congregation in Jerusalem is said to have been instructed by an oracle to leave the city and flee to Pella, in modern-day Jordan.

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According to these authors, the Christians had left Jerusalem in time and sought refuge in a city in the mountains on the other side of the Jordan. Epiphanius even describes the return of the Christians from Pella to Jerusalem. After the battle was settled, the community is said to have returned to the city and resumed its old life. The implication is that the Christian congregation that cherished the real words of Jesus had not perished, thus ensuring continuity.

The relevant writings of Eusebius and Epiphanius are from the fourth century. No other source mentions the flight to Pella explicitly. Some believe that the phrase in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke in which Jesus warns people of impending doom and exhorts them to flee into "the mountains" is an implicit testimony to the flight to Pella. If this assumption is correct, it is remarkable that the name Pella is not mentioned here.

Furthermore, it is quite possible that the term "mountains" refers to those of Judea and not the mountains of Jordan. In short, the absence of other sources and the large time span between the Jewish War and the aforementioned Church Fathers are legitimate reasons to question the historicity of the passages.

Perilous undertaking

It is remarkable that the Christian congregation from Jerusalem would have fled to Pella. The city was not an important Christian center in the first century, unlike Antioch and Alexandria. The Church of Jerusalem did not seek refuge with a sister congregation, but with a Hellenistic and, in Christian view, pagan city.

In addition, Pella was twice involved in acts of war during the Jewish War. In the year 66 the city was the target of violent actions by Jewish nationalists and in 68 the entire district in which Pella was located was subjugated by a subordinate of the Roman army commander Vespasian. Would a pagan city that has been the target of violence twice want to host a large group of fleeing Christians?

Finally, the feasibility of the tour is under discussion. The entire Christian congregation of Jerusalem, which James says had thousands of members, is said to have crossed the desert, crossed the Jordan and then climbed the mountainous region of Pella. Is such a journey realistic for children, the elderly, pregnant women and the disabled?

It would be a perilous undertaking not only because of the harsh natural conditions, but also because of the tense situation in the area. In this period, Jewish insurgents and Roman soldiers fought each other here. It is therefore questionable whether this immense group would be able to travel unscathed past the warring parties.

Summary proof

Archaeological research of the Roman period in Pella is complicated by the fact that the building material from that period was often reused in later times. The Christian buildings and artifacts found in Pella date mainly from the fourth to sixth centuries.

One Christian sarcophagus may date from the end of the first century or the first half of the second century, but this dating is controversial. Moreover, the presence of one Christian artifact from this period as evidence is too scant to suggest that the entire community migrated from Jerusalem to this city.

In addition, the possible presence of Christians from Jerusalem from the first century in the vicinity of Pella does not demonstrate the historicity of the flight to Pella. It does partly endorse the accounts of Eusebius and Epiphanius. Given the absence of other sources and the large time span between the possible exodus and these fourth-century Church Fathers, the historicity of these passages must be treated with caution.

In addition, it remains questionable that the entire Christian congregation escaped the disaster in the first century. After the war nothing more is heard of the authority that the Christian congregation of Jerusalem had until the Jewish War. The Christian authority would later come to be in Rome, where it is still located today.