Jewish revolt against Heraclius

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Jewish revolt against Heraclius
Part of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628
Byzantine-persian campaigns 611-624-mohammad adil rais.PNG
Date 614–628 CE[1]
Location Palaestina Prima of the Diocese of the East (Byzantine Empire)

Jewish surrender and expulsion

  • Byzantine defeat and temporal rule of Persians and Jews over parts of Diocese of the East
  • Expulsion of Jews from the region
  • Brief restoration of Byzantine rule 628–634
Palaestina Prima and Secunda temporarily annexed to the Persian Empire.
Byzantine Empire Sasanian Empire,
Menora Titus.jpg Jewish allies
Commanders and leaders
Emperor Heraclius
Patriarch Zacharias (614) (POW)
Abba Modestus (from 617)
Nehemiah ben Hushiel Executed
Benjamin of Tiberias
Byzantine Empire Sasanian Empire
  • Persian forces
  • 20,000 or 26,000 Jewish rebels[2]: 81
Casualties and losses
Tens of thousands Tens of thousands

The Jewish revolt against Heraclius was the final in a series of Samaritan and Jewish revolts. The revolt was part of the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628. Many historians view this war as marking the end of antiquity. Some historians believe the devastation caused by the war is typified by the devastation that is said to have been wrought on Jerusalem. Those who ascribe to this view believe the war reduced and weakened the Christian population not just in Jerusalem but across the near east, allowing the success of the following Arab invasion. However, over the past thirty years the archaeological evidence has not supported the ancient manuscripts which record the devastation of the Christian community in Jerusalem.[1]: 353


Jews and Samaritans were persecuted frequently by the Byzantines resulting in numerous revolts. Byzantine religious propaganda developed strong anti-Jewish elements.[3]: lxiii, 195[4]: 81–83, 790–791[5] In several cases Jews tried to help support the Sasanian advance. A pogrom in Antioch in 608 would lead to a Jewish revolt in 610 which was crushed. Jews also revolted in both Tyre and Acre in 610. The Jews of Tyre were massacred in reprisal. Unlike in earlier times when Jews had supported Christians in the fight against Shapur I, the Byzantines had now become viewed as oppressors.[6]: 122

Following the Battle of Antioch in 613 Shahrbaraz lead his forces through Palaestina Secunda and in to Palaestina Prima.[6]: 123 Shahrbaraz conquered Caesarea Maritima, the administrative capital of the province.[3]: 206 The territory is said to have had a substantial indigenous Jewish population at this time. A significant Jewish revolt took place with some 20,000 Jewish rebels joined the war against the Byzantine Christians.[7] Depending on the chronicler figures of either 20,000 or 26,000 are given.[2]: 81 James Parkes estimates that if ten percent of the Jewish population joined the revolt and the 20,000 figure is correct then 200,000 Jews where living in the territory at the time.[2]: 65 Others give a figure of 150,000 Jews living in 43 settlements throughout the territory.[8] Jews where a minority constituting ten to fifteen percent of the total population.[6]: 124 Jews are thought to have been concentrated in the Galilee during this time period. Tiberias being something of a center of Jewish learning. In fact the title of the Jerusalem Talmud is something of a misnomer as it was actually compiled in Tiberias.[9] As Jews where banned from Jerusalem.[10] The Sasanian Persians were joined by Nehemiah ben Hushiel[11] and Benjamin of Tiberias (a man of immense wealth), who enlisted and armed Jewish soldiers from Tiberias, Nazareth and the mountain cities of Galilee, and together with a band of Arabs and additional Jews from southern parts of the country they marched on Jerusalem.[7] The Persian army reinforced by Jewish forces lead by Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias would capture Jerusalem without resistance.[3]: 207

Capture of Jerusalem[edit]

The capture of Jerusalem was Interpreted but Jewish writers in a messianic context. Sacrifices may even have been renewed on the temple mount.[12]:168-169 Control of the city was handed to Nehemiah ben Hushiel and Benjamin of Tiberias. Nehemiah was then appointed the ruler of Jerusalem.[11][13] He began making arrangements for the building of the Third Temple, and sorting out genealogies to establish a new High Priesthood.[14] After only a few months a Christian revolt occurred. Nehemiah ben Hushiel and his council of sixteen righteous were killed along with many other Jews, some throwing themselves off the city walls.[3]: 69–71[11][12]:169

Christian rebellion[edit]

Following the outburst of violence in Jerusalem the surviving Jews fled to Shahrbaraz’s encampment at Caesarea. Christians were able to briefly retake the city before the walls were breached by Shahrbaraz’s forces who lay siege to the city.[3]: 207 Sources vary on how long the siege lasted. Depending on the source it lasted 19, 20 or 21 days.

According to the Armenian bishop and historian Sebeos the siege resulted in a total Christian death toll of 17,000,[3]: 207 4,518 prisoners were massacred near Mamilla reservoir per Antiochus Strategos[15] in reprisal for the Christian rebellion and pogrom of the Jews. Christian sources later exaggerated the extent of the massacre, claiming a death toll as high as 90,000.[3]: 207–208 In addition 35,000 or 37,000 people including the patriarch Zacharias are said to have been deported to Mesopotamia.[16][3]: 69–71 The city is said to have been burn down. However, neither wide spread burning nor destruction of churches have been found in the archaeological record.[15][13]

Unlike Sebeos, Antiochus uses polemical language.[3]: 206–207, 195 He wrote that the Jews offered to help them escape death if they "become Jews and deny Christ." The Christian captives refused. In anger, the Jews then purchased Christians to kill them.[17] A significant number of burial sites were allocated according to Antiochus. A mass burial grave at Mamilla cave was discovered in 1989 by Israeli archeologist Ronny Reich. Near the site where Antiochus recorded the massacre took place. The human remains were in poor condition containing a minimum of 526 individuals.[18]

Jewish expedition to Tyre[edit]

According to Eutychius (887-940), the Jews launched an expedition against Tyre.[19]: 39-40 Bands of Jews from Jerusalem, Tiberias, Galilee, Damascus, and even from Cyprus, united and undertook an incursion against Tyre, having been invited by the 4,000 Jewish inhabitants of that city to surprise and massacre the Christians on Easter night. The Jewish army is said to have consisted of 20,000 men. The expedition, however, miscarried, as the Christians of Tyre learned of the impending danger, and seized the 4,000 Tyrian Jews as hostages. The Jewish invaders destroyed the churches around Tyre, an act which the Christians avenged by killing two thousand of their Jewish prisoners. The besiegers, to save the remaining prisoners, withdrew.[7] Having had to suffer the humiliation of watching the heads of the Jewish captives as they were thrown over the walls.[20]: 37

Jewish control of Jerusalem and hopes for a third Jewish commonwealth[edit]

The Jews had hoped that Khosrau II would give them all of the Land of Israel in exchange for their support. However they were too few to make this a reality.[6]: 124 For a time they are said to have enjoyed relative dominance in Jerusalem.[11] Although it may have been in a state of anarchy.[3]: 208–209 By 617 CE the Persians had reversed their policy and sided with the Christians over the Jews, probably because of pressure from Mesopotamian Christians in Persia itself.[3]: 208[21] Further Jewish settlers were banned from settling in or around Jerusalem and a small synagogue on the Temple Mount was also demolished.[3]: 209–210 Instead of supporting the Jews Khosrau is said to have imposed heavy taxes on them.[7][20]: 37

Restoration of Byzantine rule[edit]

By 622 CE, the Roman Emperor Heraclius had assembled an army to retaken the territory lost to the Sasanian Persians.[11] In 628, following the deposition of Khosrau II, Kavadh II made peace with Heraclius giving Palaestina Prima and the True Cross back to the Byzantines. Kavadh II would only have a brief reign. The conquered city and the Holy Cross would remain in Sasanian hands until they were returned by Shahrbaraz. Shahrbaraz and his son Niketas, who converted to Christianity, would control Jerusalem until at least the late summer/early autumn of 629.[22]:185, 189 Ancient manuscripts date Heraclius entry into Jerusalem as March 21 629. Modern scholars increasingly doubt this date. As Jerusalem would have still been under Shahrbaraz's control. Nor would Niketas have needed to be sent to Heraclius court with the captured relies. Instead a date of March 21 630 is suggested.[22]:189 The 630 date would also have the advantage of matching the date for the Fast of Heraclius.[23] Heraclius would marched in triumph into Jerusalem with the True Cross.[24]

Heraclius came as victor into the Land of Israel and the Jews of Tiberias and Nazareth, under the leadership of Benjamin of Tiberias, surrendered and joined him as allies. It is said that Benjamin even accompanied Heraclius on his voyage to Jerusalem and Benjamin was persuaded to convert, Benjamin obtained a general pardon for himself and the Jews.[25] He was baptized in Nablus in the house of Eustathios, an influential Christian. However once Heraclius reached Jerusalem he was persuaded to go back on his promise to Benjamin of Tiberias.[26] According to Eutychius (887-940), the Christians population and monks of Jerusalem convinced the Emperor to break his word.[19]: 48-49 Some modern scholars ascribe the story of the “Oath of Heraclius” to the realm of legend doubting that Heraclius every made such a promise.[20]: 38 Instead ascribing this as a product of later apologists.[27] In atonement for the violation of the emperor's oath to the Jews, the monks are said to have pledged themselves to a yearly fast, which is still observed by the Copts,[28][23] called the Fast of Heraclius.[29][23]

In another legend Heraclius’ astrologers are said to have revealed to him that a circumcised people would conquer his empire. Heraclius set out to forcible convert the Jews of the Byzantine Empire. Reportedly advising his friend Dagobert, king of the Franks, to do likewise.[21][30] Jews were expelled from Jerusalem and were not allowed to settle within a three mile radius. A general massacre of the Jewish population ensued.[13][23] The massacre devastated the Jewish communities of the Galilee and Jerusalem.[31][32][33][34]


After the defeat of the Persian Empire, a new threat, the Arab Islamic Empire, would emerged in the region. In 638, the Byzantine Empire completely lost control of Judea to the Arabs. The Arab Islamic Empire under Caliph Umar conquered Jerusalem and the lands of Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt.

In apocalyptic literature[edit]

The events of the Persian-Byzantine struggle in the Levant and the consequent Arab conquest inspired several apocalyptic Jewish writings of the early Middle Ages. Helping to popularize the idea of a war messiah the Messiah ben Joseph who would die paving the way for the Messiah ben David.[35][12]:168-171 Among those are the Apocalypse of Zerubbabel, which is partially attributed to the events between the Persian conquest of Palaestina and subsequent Muslim conquest of Syria (614-625 and 634 respectively).[36]

The Medieval Christians apocalypse Tiburtine sibyl records that the Jews of the Byzantine Empire would be converted in one hundred and twenty years, seeming to refer to these occurrences, since about one hundred and twenty years elapsed from the time of the Persian war under Anastasius, in 505, to the victory of Heraclius in 628.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Yuri Stoyanov (January 2011). "Archaeology Versus Written Sources: the Case of the Persian Conquest of Jerusalem in 614". Terra antique balcanica et mediterranea, Miscellanea in Honour of Alexandet Minchev, Acta Museii Varnaensis, VIII-1, 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c James Parkes (1949). A history of Palestine from 135 A.D. to modern times. Victor Gollancz. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l R. W. THOMSON Historical commentary by JAMES HOWARD-JOHNSTON Assistance from TIM GREENWOOD. (1999). The Armenian History Attributed to Sebeos. Liverpool University Press. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Robert Bonfil, Oded Ishai, Guy G. Stroumsa, Rina Talgam, ed. (2012). Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures. Hotei Publishing the Netherlands. Retrieved 17 January 2014. 
  5. ^ J. D. Howard-Johnston (2006). East Rome, Sasanian Persia and the End of Antiquity: Historiographical and Historical Studies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.,. pp. 124–125, 142. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Jacob Neusner (1970). a history of the jews in babylonia v. later sasanian times. Brill Archive. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d Th. Nöldeke, Grätz, Gesch (1906). Jewish Encyclopedia CHOSROES (KHOSRU) II. PARWIZ ("The Conqueror"):. Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  8. ^ Melton, John Gordon (2013). Faiths Across Time: 5,000 Years of Religious History. ABC-CLIO. p. 499. ISBN 9781610690256. 
  9. ^ E. Robinson and E. Smith (1841). 269 Biblical researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petraea a journal of travels in the year 1838 by E. Robinson and E. Smith, undertaken in reference to Biblical geography; drawn up from the original diaries, with historical illustrations by Edward Robinson.. Crocker in Boston. pp. 268–270. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Zank, Michael. "Byzantian Jerusalem". Boston University. Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (1976). A History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press. p. 362. Retrieved 19 January 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Günter Stemberger (2010). Judaica Minora: Geschichte und Literatur des rabbinischen Judentums. Mohr Siebeck. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c Edward Lipiński (2004). Itineraria Phoenicia. Peeters Publishers. pp. 542–543. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "Sefer Zerubbabel". Translated by John C. Reeves. University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Retrieved 2014-01-17. 
  15. ^ a b The Persian Conquest of Jerusalem (614 CE) – an archeological assessment by Gideon Avni, Director of the Excavations and Surveys Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
  16. ^ Jane S. Gerber (1994). Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. Simon and Schuster. p. 15. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  17. ^ Conybeare, F. C. (1910). "The Capture of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614 AD". English Historical Review 25: 502–517. doi:10.1093/ehr/xxv.xcix.502. 
  18. ^ "Human Skeletal Remains from the Mamilla cave, Jerusalem" by Yossi Nagar.
  19. ^ a b Eutychius (1896). Eucherius about certain holy places: The library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society.. Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund in London. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  20. ^ a b c Elli Kohen (2007). History of the Byzantine Jews: A Microcosmos in the Thousand Year Empire. University Press of America. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  21. ^ a b Avner Falk (1996). A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. p. 353-354. Retrieved 2014-03-10. 
  22. ^ a b Walter Emil Kaegi (2003). Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 12 March 2014. 
  23. ^ a b c d Alfred Joshua Butler (1902). Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion. Clarendon Press. p. 134. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  24. ^ Michael H. Dodgeon, Samuel N. C. Lieu, ed. (2002). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars Ad 363-628, Part 2. Taylor & Francis. pp. 227–228. 
  25. ^ Hagith Sivan (2008). Palestine in Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press. p. 2: Anastasian Landscapes page 8. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  26. ^ Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 3. 2nd ed, ed. (2007). "Encyclopedia Judaica - Benjamin of Tiberias". Gale Virtual Reference Library. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 362. Retrieved 14 January 2014. 
  27. ^ Lewis, David (2008). God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570–1215. Norton. p. 69. ISBN 9780393064728. 
  28. ^ While the Syrians and the Melchite Greeks ceased to keep it after the death of Heraclius; Elijah of Nisibis ("Beweis der Wahrheit des Glaubens," translation by Horst, p. 108, Colmar, 1886) mocks at the observance.
  29. ^ Abu Salih the Armenian; Abu al-Makarim (1895). Basil Thomas Alfred Evetts, ed. "History of Churches and Monasteries", Abu Salih the Armenian c. 1266 - Part 7 of Anecdota Oxoniensia: Semitic series Anecdota oxoniensia. [Semitic series--pt. VII]. Clarendon Press. pp. 39–. the emperor Heraclius, on his way to Jerusalem, promised his protection to the Jews of Palestine. (Abu Salih the Armenian, Abu al-Makarim, ed. Evetts 1895, p. 39, Part 7 of Anecdota Oxoniensia: Semitic series Anecdota oxoniensia. Semitic series--pt. VII) (Abu Salih the Armenian was just the Book's owner, the author is actually Abu al-Makarim.) 
  30. ^ a b Jewish Encyclopedia BYZANTINE EXPIRE: Heraclius. Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  31. ^ David Nicolle (1994). "Yarmuk AD 636: The Muslim Conquest of Syria". Osprey Publishing. p. 93. Retrieved 21 March 2014. 
  32. ^ David Keys (2000). Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World. Random House Publishing Group. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  33. ^ Walter Emil Kaegi (2003). Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press. p. 205. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  34. ^ Walter E. Kaegi (1992). Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  35. ^ Blidstein, Prof. Dr. Gerald J. "Messiah in Rabbinic Thought". MESSIAH. Jewish Virtual Library and Encyclopaedia Judaica 2008 The Gale Group. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  36. ^ Silver, Abba Hillel (2003). "II The Mohammedan Period". History of Messianic Speculation in Israel. Kessinger Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 0-7661-3514-4.