Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 March 2010
Evidence for Jewish Christianity in Palestine west of the Jordan during the second century is sparse. One valuable piece of evidence is Justin Martyr's statement (1 Apol. 31.6) that ‘in the Jewish war which happened just recently, Bar Kochba (βαρχωχέβας), the leader of the Jewish revolt, ordered that Christians alone should be led away to terrible punishments, unless they would deny Jesus the Messiah and blaspheme’. Although the context is, of course, polemical, it is unlikely that Justin should have cited this single instance of Jewish persecution of Christians unless he knew it to be true. He was writing no more than ten or twenty years after the events, and there are indications in his writings that he acquired information about the revolt from Jews who emigrated to Ephesus after the war (Dial. 1.3; 9.3). Moreover, his statement is substantially consistent with what we know of the revolt. We need not suppose that Bar Kochba's government executed Christians specifically because they were Christians. We need only suppose that, because Bar Kochba was widely regarded as the Messiah by his followers, it seemed to Christians that they could not support his revolt without denying the messiahship of Jesus. From the government's point of view they were executed for refusing to support the revolt; from their own point of view they were executed for refusing to deny Jesus as Messiah. The Bar Kochba letters show that severe measures were taken against Jews who refused to join the war.