The Palestinian Earthquake of May 363 in Philostorgius, the Syriac Chronicon miscellaneum, and the Letter Attributed to Cyril on the Rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple
- Journal of Late Antiquity
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2013
- pp. 60-83
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Of the sources that report the Palestinian earthquake of 363, only an eighth-century fragment of the fifth-century Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, the seventh-century Syriac Chronicon miscellaneum, and the (probably) fifth-century letter attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem on the rebuilding of the Temple record details of destruction outside Jerusalem. Analysis of these texts establishes a close but indirect connection among them, made even clearer by a new reading of the manuscript correcting an error in the standard edition of the Syriac chronicle, which inaccurately reports the textual evidence for the date of the earthquake. The most likely source of the information about the earthquake is the hypothetical Arian (Homoean) History, probably written in Antioch in the 370s, in which the earthquake was seen as punishment for the Palestinian cities that persecuted Christians in the reign of Julian, and is thus to be understood in the wider context of the debate over the reign of Julian between Antiochene Christians and pagans, such as Libanius, who interpreted the catastrophe as announcing and mourning the emperor's death. That Antiochene tradition, represented by John Chrysostom, Ammianus, and Theophanes, does not mention an earthquake in connection with the failure of Julian's attempt to rebuild the Temple suggests that the earthquake that hit the Palestinian cities and the fire that stopped the rebuilding of the Temple could be circulated and debated as independent events, raising the possibility that it was Christian tradition that conflated them, producing the early and widespread tradition that both an earthquake and a fire stopped Julian's project.