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  • La religione impura: La riforma di Giuliano Imperatore
  • William J. Malley S.J.
La religione impura: La riforma di Giuliano Imperatore. By Giorgio Scrofani. [Studi biblici, 163.] (Brescia: Paideia Editrice. 2010. Pp. 190. €21,90 paperback. ISBN 978-8-839-40777-1.)

The careful and well-organized scholarly research of Giorgio Scrofani—a professor of philology, linguistics, and classical history at La Scuola Normale [End Page 758] Superiore de Pisa—has afforded his readers with an important reminder of the flawed and failed imperial policy of Julian the Apostate during his eighteen months (December 11, 361, to June 26, 363) as emperor. Julian's attempt to cleanse and purify the state from the destructive "pollution" of the Galileans was completely ineffectual. The future development of Christian civilization in Europe and elsewhere would prove that his efforts in "cleansing" did not succeed.

Flavius Claudius Julianus (331-63) was a well-educated, energetic, and wide-ranging ruler of the Roman Empire and the last Roman emperor of the Constantine dynasty (306-63).Although he was to be the emperor of Rome only for a short time, he proved to be remarkably involved in his task of governance with his own personal policies.

Although Julian was reared as a Christian, he became disgusted with the religion of the Christians—or the Galileans, as he derisively termed them. His Hellenic religion was his personal synthesis of neo-Platonism, theurgy, and the worship of the traditional Roman gods. As far as he was concerned, the Galileans were a pestilence or sickness that had been polluting the Roman religion and institutions for the last fifty years since the Emperor Constantine began his rule.

Constantine's dynasty would prove to be an extremely unstable period in the Empire's history, and this instability would touch and influence directly Julian's life. When Julian was in charge of Gaul, he himself would contribute to this instability when his Gallic army revolted and proclaimed him emperor. He and Constantius were on the verge of civil war when Constantius died of fever. But surprisingly enough, he bequeathed to Julian, as his sole heir, the imperial throne.

When the young Julian had inherited the full power as emperor, he was convinced that he had a divine mission to reform the Empire's corrupt administrative structure and cleanse it from the impure religion of the Galileans. He refused, however, to follow the route of Diocletian, who as emperor (303-11) had tried to eradicate the Christians through a state bloody persecution. Instead, the Emperor Julian would issue imperial decrees that would indirectly undermine the unclean Galilean religion among the Roman elite.

For example, he issued in early 362 the edict assuring freedom of religion in the Empire that was intended to encourage the return to pagan sacrifices and to restore the neglected temples of the gods. His edict concerning education required all public school teachers to be approved by the emperor since the state provided for most of their salaries. The Christian schools and teachers were not supposed to teach the Hellenic classic literature.

In winter 362-63, before his disastrous and fatal campaign against the Persians, the emperor found time to compose his polemic against the impure [End Page 759] religion of the Galileans. He certainly hoped that this effort would bring the Christian elite to their senses and that they would return to the pure and true religion of Roman and Hellenic paganism.

His principal reason for characterizing the religion of the Galileans as impure was their rejection of the stipulations of Mosaic Law, especially as affirmed in the Book of Leviticus. Although Julian considered the Jews to be barbarians, he admired the purity of their religion with its dietary laws and other distinctions between pure and impure foods and activities. Another reason for the impurity of the religion of the Galileans was their cult to the martyrs; he accused the Galileans of impure worshiping of dead bodies.

Scrofani's labors are admirable because his efforts to provide acquaintance with Julian's ideology and imperial policy can stimulate his readers to reflect on the contemporary conflict between the state and religion. The objective historical research into Julian the...


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