The Revenge of the Gods: Appian of Alexandria and the Jews

The Revenge of the Gods: Appian of Alexandria and the Jews

Appian of Alexandria is one of the least known of the classical historians - although his chief work 'Roman History' is frequently cited by classicists - but in spite of this relative obscurity: Appian is a historian with something of a secret history. That secret history is very simple: Appian was almost killed by jews as a pagan who fought against Messianic jewish rebels in and around Egypt during the revolt of Lukuas. Who was a jew who had proclaimed himself a new King David and sought to fulfil the ancient promise of Yahweh to his 'chosen people': to rule of the world in his name.

The story is best related by the Father of the Church Eusebius of Caesarea:

'In the course of the eighteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Trajan, a rebellion of the Jews broke out and destroyed a great multitude of them. For both in Alexandria and in the rest of Egypt and especially in Cyrenaica, as though they had been seized by some terrible spirit of rebellion; they rushed into sedition against their Greek fellow citizens, and increasing the scope of the rebellion in the following year started a great war while Lupus was governor of all Egypt.

In the first engagement they happened to overcome the Greeks: who fled to Alexandria and captured and killed the Jews in the city, but though losing the help of their townsmen, the Jews of Cyrene continued to plunder the country of Egypt and to ravage the districts in it under their leader Lukuas. The emperor sent against them Marcius Turbo with land and sea forces including cavalry. He waged war vigorously against them in many battles for a considerable time and killed many thousands of Jews, not only those of Cyrene but also those of Egypt who had rallied to Lukuas, their king.

The emperor suspected that the Jews in Mesopotamia would also attack the inhabitants and ordered Lusius Quietus to clean them out of the province. He organized a force and murdered a great multitude of the Jews there, and for this reform was appointed governor of Judaea by the emperor.'

Appian's statement of his role in putting down yet another jewish attempt to place themselves at the head of world affairs is found in the only fragment we have of the 24th Book of Appian's 'Roman History', which states as follows:

'Once, during a night, when I was trying to make an escape from the Jews during the war in Egypt and tried to reach Petra in Arabia across a branch of the river, where a vessel was ready to bring me to Pelusium: I had an Arab as guide. I thought I was not far from my ship, but when he heard a crow screech at dawn, he was utterly confused and said “We have lost the way.” And when the crow screeched again, he said “We have completely lost the way.”

Now, I was confused too and started to look if I could see someone on the road, but I didn't see someone, as is likely early in the morning, especially in a country where a war is being fought. But when the Arab heard the bird for the third time, he was very glad and said “We have favourably lost the way and have found a short cut.”

I smiled, although I thought we were still lost and feared for my life. Everything was hostile and I could not return to my enemies, from which I was trying to escape. But because there was no alternative, I followed him and believed his prophecy. Right then, we unexpectedly saw another branch of the river, the part that is closest to Pelusium, and saw a galley passing, going in the direction of Pelusium. I went aboard, and this turned out to save my life: the vessel on the other branch had been captured by the Jews. Fortune had been kind to me by giving me this prophecy.

The Arabs are, in general, pious prophets and farmers, and well acquainted with magical herbs. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that as farmers, as pious, prophetic people, and as experts in herbal and astral magic, they have received a warm welcome in Egypt, and that they have remained there among those like-minded souls.'

So if we read Appian's comments about his 'fleeing the jews' in the context of Eusebius' summary of the events it is clear that Appian was perceived by the jews as an enemy because he was a pagan Alexandrian and therefore in their minds one of the worst of 'gentile idolaters'. Appian was escaping from the jewish massacre of gentiles around North Africa and Egypt having probably been partly to the revenge killings of the jews in and around Alexandria who were - once again - preparing to revolt against the Roman Empire in order to establish Yahweh's kingdom on earth, which they would then rule in Yahweh's name as his 'chosen people'.

One of the reasons Appian would have fled to Petra when the fighting began in earnest is because Petra was then one of the largest commercial hubs in the Roman world and a key point on the silk road from China to Europe. I would also add that to those unfamiliar with Petra: it was and is a very powerful military stronghold and almost impossible to take by force. It would also be - in event of a military emergency in the East - one of the first strongholds along with Damascus and Aleppo to be heavily reinforced with legionnaires and auxilia.

It is also clear that the trouble did not originate with the gentile pagans of North Africa, but rather among the jews. The 'terrible spirit of rebellion' that Eusebius records is rather simply the common manifestation in jewish history which we call the 'false Messiah' or put in simpler terms: a jew (mentally-ill or just more egoistical than usual) decides - or is proclaimed - to be the long-awaited jewish Messiah (who don't forget was imagined in term of a militarily based jewish world conquest). Then the jews promptly pull off their mask of being a 'meek law-abiding people' and become veritable iconoclasts destroying everything and killing everyone who wasn't jewish or prepared to kiss the boots of Yahweh's holy horrors.

This is precisely what happened in Cyrene when a jew named Lukuas decided that Yahweh had chosen him personally to lead the jews in their genocidal campaign against everything that wasn't kosher (hence Eusebius' use of the term 'sedition'). The tumult that he caused lead to a localised battle between the Greeks in and around Cyrene and their jewish enemies. Eusebius' wording is interesting here precisely because he says they 'happened to overcome' the Greeks, which suggests that the jews either heavily outnumbered the Greeks (quite possible) or the jews won the battle by trickery or bribery.

This led to a further expansion of what was then a localised revolt into a full scale military rebellion as the Roman and Greek forces fell back to the next logical stronghold: Alexandria. Where the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians began systematically cleansing the jewish quarter of Alexandria (remember Alexandria was at this time the first city of jewry in terms of population and influence) of the rebellious jews. This - according to Eusebius' account - pre-empted a rising of jews against them and saved them from being massacred in their beds by Yahweh's perfidious tribe.

Unable and far too cowardly to take on so large a military stronghold as Alexandria without their kin to act as a trojan horse: the jews under their 'Messiah' Lukuas began raping, pillaging and burning the vulnerable and economically rich Egyptian hinterland instead. If Lukuas' strategy had been to draw the full resources of Rome into defeating him utterly: it worked as Egypt was the city of Rome's breadbasket and with no Egyptian grain Rome and the mob would go hungry.

The Roman response was thus predictably quick and massive: the Roman General Marcius Turbo landed in Egypt with substantial land and naval forces at his beck and call in order to smash the most troublesome and seditious subjects of the Empire once and for all. Doubtless Lukuas thought that Yahweh would send celestial reinforcements, but he - as with every 'false Messiah' before and since - had to content himself with spittle-flecked jewish zealots joining him from their little ghettos in the countryside (after having murdered their gentile neighbours and appropriated their land of course).

These fanatics were little match for professional and battle-hardened Roman legionaries and auxilia: they were promptly slaughtered over the course of several battles. The reason for their being several battles is that it is unlikely that Lukuas had kept the whole of his jewish rebellion together and there would have been a large main jewish army and lots of smaller jewish armies swarming around the countryside killing Egyptians, Romans and Greeks as nasty impure gentiles. History does not record what happened to Lukuas but the probability is that he was either killed by his disillusioned followers (for being a 'false Messiah') or was promptly crucified by the Romans for the crimes of mass sedition and rebellion.

Eusebius then records that the Emperor Trajan decided not to take any more risks with his jewish subjects in Mesopotamia (where there was also a large concentration of jews a-la the Babylonian Captivity and also a militarily very sensitive area) and simply killed them: much as the next Emperor – Hadrian - made Judaism and circumcision illegal and ejected the jews from Palestine forever after jews once again revolted en masse.

Appian does make a reference to this policy (although in reference to its use in Egypt) of Trajan's as follows:

'Caesar could not bear to look at the head of Pompey when it was brought to him, but ordered that it be buried, and set apart for it a small plot of ground near the city which was dedicated to Nemesis, but in my time, while the Roman emperor Trajan was exterminating the Jewish race in Egypt, it was devastated by them in the exigencies of the war.' (3)

Appian here is stating that the Temple of Nemesis near Alexandria had been devastated by jews during their being expunged by the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians. This points to the fact that this is another example - as proven by the later revolt of Bar Kochba where jews across the Mediterranean attempted to rise up against the Romans and Greeks in a co-ordinated mass revolt under a similar 'false Messiah' - that the Alexandrian jews had some knowledge of what was about to happen or at the very least were prepared to support Lukuas if it came down to a choice between Rome and Jerusalem.

Thus if we refer back to Appian's comments about how 'fortune' and 'prophecy' had lead him away from a ship that was to be waylaid - and all those found aboard massacred - by jews and onto another ship that was not: it is clear that Appian felt that the Gods chose that he should live and write about the perfidy and sedition of the jews, which he describes in passing in other locations in relation to Pompey's conquest of the jews. You could in essence call Appian's view of how the jews were slaughtered wholesale by the Emperor Trajan to be justice and the revenge of the Gods for the jewish desecration of many of their shrines and temples as well as the killing of their worshippers.

However the relevant sections of Appian's 'Roman History' that deal with; for example, the first jewish revolt are lost to us: I rather think it is a great loss to history as no doubt Appian could tell us much - as Dio Cassius does - about how the jews acted in that war and give us another valuable non-jewish source on that jewish rebellion. It is a shame, but what Appian does tell us is just as valuable and shouldn't be forgotten by those who put their lives on the line to oppose the jews today.


(1) Eusb. Pamp. Ecc. Hist. 4.2:1-5
(2) App. Rom. Hist. 24
(3) App. Rom. Hist. 14:90