Aelia Capitolina: Judaism Expelled
In the aftermath of Rome’s war against the Jews in 70 A.D., the Romans laid waste to the Second Temple—a devastating loss for the Jewish people, as until then the Temple had represented the heart of their faith. The Romans also destroyed Herod’s magnificent palace and the mansions of the upper city. Jerusalem was in ruins, and Judea now no more than a province of Rome.
Ironically, when Emperor Hadrian vowed to rebuild Jerusalem from the wreckage in 130 A.D., he meant it as a gift to the Jewish people. But the building had to be on his terms, and therein lay the issue: Hadrian planned to build temples to pagan gods in the Jews’ Holy City. Worse yet, he intended to build a temple to Jupiter, ruler of the Roman pantheon, on the Temple Mount where the Jews’ Temple had stood. This plan together with Hadrian’s edicts against the practice of Judaism inflamed the Jewish people, who staged a massive, doomed revolt led by the warrior Bar Kokhva.
Once the revolt had been crushed, Hadrian was free to resume his building project. But this time, the city of Jerusalem would not be for the Jews. To punish them, Hadrian exiled all Jews from Jerusalem, and imported residents from elsewhere in the world. Jerusalem became Aelia Capitolina—and for centuries, that was the only name that most people could remember.
Jerusalem as the center of Judaism had vanished. The spiritual heart of Judaism moved to the Galilee, where the most acclaimed Jewish leaders began to formulate the Talmud.
Yet where Judaism had been extinguished from Jerusalem, Christianity was beginning to grow. Christians visited the Mount of Olives, where Jesus was said to have appeared to the apostle John. The first Christian church in Jerusalem was formed, though not built for the purpose, since the Romans still prohibited Christians from building places of worship. Instead these Syrian and Greek Christians took over a private house on Mount Sion that had been spared destruction, referring to it as the “Mother of the Churches.”
Even so, Jerusalem was still not a focal point in the Christian religion. Jesus’s Jerusalem was holy, but it had been demolished and replaced with Hadrian’s city of Aelia, and was therefore no longer as important.
All this was to change—the fate of Jerusalem and Christianity both—when in the fourth century, Emperor Constantine had a dream and won a war.
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