Flight to Pella

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The fourth-century Church Fathers Eusebius of Caesarea and Epiphanius of Salamis cite a tradition that before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 the early Christians had been warned to flee to Pella in the region of the Decapolis across the Jordan River. The flight to Pella probably did not include the Ebionites.[1][2]

Map of the Decapolis with Jerusalem and Pella visible.
Remnants of Pella.

The authenticity of this tradition has been a much debated question since 1951 when S. G. F. Brandon in his work The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church argued that the Christians would have been allied to their compatriots, the Zealots; only after the destruction of the Jewish community would Christianity have emerged as a universalist religion.[3] The Christian–Zealot alliance has hardly been taken seriously, but the historicity of the flight to Pella has been controversial ever since.[3]

Ancient sources[edit]

The people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella. To it those who believed on Christ traveled from Jerusalem, so that when holy men had altogether deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judaea…"

— Eusebius, Church History 3, 5, 3

This heresy of the Nazoraeans exists in Beroea in the neighbourhood of Coele Syria and the Decapolis in the region of Pella and in Basanitis in the so-called Kokaba (Chochabe in Hebrew). From there it took its beginning after the exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of this advice they lived in Perea after having moved to that place, as I said."

— Epiphanius, Panarion 29,7,7-8

For after all those who believed in Christ had generally come to live in Perea, in a city called Pella of the Decapolis of which it is written in the Gospel that it is situated in the neighbourhood of the region of Batanaea and Basanitis, Ebion's preaching originated here after they had moved to this place and had lived there."

— Epiphanius, Panarion 30, 2, 7

So Aquila, while he was in Jerusalem, also saw the disciples of the disciples of the apostles flourishing in the faith and working great signs, healings, and other miracles. For they were such as had come back from the city of Pella to Jerusalem and were living there and teaching. For when the city was about to be taken and destroyed by the Romans, it was revealed in advance to all the disciples by an angel of God that they should remove from the city, as it was going to be completely destroyed. They sojourned as emigrants in Pella, the city above mentioned in Transjordania. And this city is said to be of the Decapolis."

— Epiphanius, On Weights and Measures 15


  1. ^ G. Uhlhorn, "Ebionites", in: A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd ed. (edited by Philip Schaff), p. 684–685 (vol. 2).
  2. ^ O. Cullmann, "Ebioniten", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, p. 7435 (vol. 2).
  3. ^ a b van Houwelingen, P. H. R. (2003). "Fleeing forward: The departure of Christians from Jerusalem to Pella" (PDF). Westminster Theological Journal. 65. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 3, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brandon, Samuel G. F., The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, (London: SPCK, 1957), p. 167-184.
  • Bourgel, Jonathan, "The Jewish Christians’ Move from Jerusalem as a pragmatic choice", in: Dan JAFFÉ (ed), Studies in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity, (Leyden: Brill, 2010), p. 107-138.
  • Pritz, Ray A., "On Brandon’s Rejection of the Pella Tradition", Immanuel 13 (1981), p. 39-43.
  • Gray, Barbara C., "The Movements of the Jerusalem Church during the First Jewish War", Journal of Ecclesiastical History 24 (1973), p. 1-7.
  • Gunther, John J., "The Fate of the Jerusalem Church. The Flight to Pella", Theologische Zeitschrift 29 (1973), p. 81-94.
  • Koester, Craig, "The Origin and Significance of the Flight to Pella Tradition", Catholic Biblical Quarterly 51 (1989), p. 90-106.
  • Sowers Sidney, "The Circumstances and Recollection of the Pella Flight", Theologische Zeitschrift 26 (1970), p. 305-320.