'Against the Galileans' by Julian the Apostate (362/3)

Portrait of Julian on a bronze coin printed between 360-363.

A selection from the polemic written by the Roman Emperor Julian Against the Galileans, 362/3.

Julian was the last Pagan Emperor of Rome, after Constantine's conversion, earning him the title 'Julian the Apostate.' Julian restored the pagan Altar of Victory in the Senate House which was removed by Constantine's son [see here for a selection from the dispute between the orator Symmachus and Bishop Ambrose over the Altar],
attempted to revive paganism, and wrote polemics against the Christians, who he referred to as the 'Galileans', a word which emphasized the provincial origins of the sect, and frequently used the word πονηροί ("depraved") to describe them.

In the appendix I will include a selection from his letters.


It is, I think, expedient to set forth to all mankind the reasons by which I was convinced that the fabrication of the Galilaeans is a fiction of men composed by wickedness. Though it has in it nothing divine, by making full use of that part of the soul which loves fable and is childish and foolish, it has induced men to believe that the monstrous tale is truth.
It is worth while to recall in a few words whence and how we first arrived at a conception of God; next to compare what is said about the divine among the Hellenes and Hebrews; and finally to enquire of those who are neither Hellenes nor Jews, but belong to the sect of the Galilaeans, why they preferred the belief of the Jews to ours; and what, further, can be the reason why they do not even adhere to the Jewish beliefs but have abandoned them also and followed a way of their own. For they have not accepted a single admirable or important doctrine of those that are held either by us Hellenes or by the Hebrews who derived them from Moses; but from both religions they have gathered what has been engrafted like powers of evil, as it were, on these nations – atheism from the Jewish levity, and a sordid and slovenly way of living from our indolence and vulgarity; and they desire that this should be called the noblest worship of the gods.

52. Now that the human race possesses its knowledge of God by nature and not from teaching is proved to us first of all by the universal yearning for the divine that is in all men whether private persons or communities, whether considered as individuals or as races. For all of us, without being taught, have attained to a belief in some sort of divinity, though it is not easy for all men to know the precise truth about it, nor is it possible for those who do know it to tell it to all men. . . .[10] Surely, besides this conception which is common to all men, there is another also. I mean that we are all by nature so closely dependent on the heavens and the gods that are visible therein, that even if any man conceives of another god besides these, he in every case assigns to him the heavens as his dwelling-place; not that he thereby separates him from the earth, but he so to speak establishes the King of the All in the heavens[11] as in the most honourable place of all, and conceives of him as overseeing from there the affairs of this world.

69. What need have I to summon Hellenes and Hebrews as witnesses of this? There exists no man who does not stretch out his hands towards the heavens when he prays; and whether he swears by one god or several, if he has any notion at all of the divine, he turns heavenward. And it was very natural that men should feel thus. For since they observed that in what concerns the heavenly bodies there is no increase or diminution or mutability, and that they do not suffer any unregulated influence, but their movement is harmonious and their arrangement in concert; and that the illuminations of the moon are regulated, and that the risings and settings of the sun are regularly defined, and always at regularly defined seasons, they naturally conceived that the heaven is a god and the throne of a god.[12] For a being of that sort, since it is not subject to increase by addition, or to diminution by subtraction, and is stationed beyond all change due to alteration and mutability, is free from decay and generation, and inasmuch as it is immortal by nature and indestructible, it is pure from every sort of stain. Eternal and ever in movement, as we see, it travels in a circuit about the great Creator, whether it be impelled by a nobler and more divine soul that dwells therein, just as, I mean, our bodies are by the soul in us, or having received its motion from God Himself, it wheels in its boundless circuit, in an unceasing and eternal career.

44. Now it is true that the Hellenes invented their myths about the gods, incredible and monstrous stories. For they said that Kronos swallowed his children and then vomited them forth; and they even told of lawless unions, how Zeus had intercourse with his mother, and after having a child by her, married his own daughter,[13] or rather did not even marry her, but simply had intercourse with her and then handed her over to another.[14] 75. Then too there is the legend that Dionysus was rent asunder and his limbs joined together again.

This is the sort of thing described in the myths of the Hellenes. Compare with them the Jewish doctrine, how the garden was planted by God and Adam was fashioned by Him, and next, for Adam, woman came to be. For God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone. Let us make him an help meet, like him."[15] Yet so far was she from helping him at all that she deceived him, and was in part the cause of his and her ownfall from their life of ease in the garden.

This is wholly fabulous. For is it probable that God did not know that the being he was creating as a help meet would prove to be not so much a blessing as a misfortune to him who received her?  Again, what sort of language are we to say that the serpent used when he talked with Eve? Was it the language of human beings? And in what do such legends as these differ from the myths that were invented by the Hellenes?

Moreover, is it not excessively strange that God should deny to the human beings whom he had fashioned the power to distinguish between good and evil? What could be more foolish than a being unable to distinguish good from bad? For it is evident that he would not avoid the latter, I mean things evil, nor would he strive after the former, I mean things good. And, in short, God refused to let man taste of wisdom, than which there could be nothing of more value for man. For that the power to distinguish between good and less good is the property of wisdom is evident surely even to the witless; so that the serpent was a benefactor rather than a destroyer of the human race. Furthermore, their God must be called envious. For when he saw that man had attained to a share of wisdom, that he might not, God said, taste of the tree of life, he cast him out of the garden, saying in so many words, "Behold, Adam has become as one of us, because he knows good from bad; and now let him not put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat and thus live forever."[16]  Accordingly, unless every one of these legends is a myth that involves some secret interpretation, as I indeed believe,[17] they are filled with many blasphemous sayings about God. For in the first place to be ignorant that she who was created as a help meet would be the cause of the fall; secondly to refuse the knowledge of good and bad, which knowledge alone seems to give coherence to the mind of man; and lastly to be jealous lest man should take of the tree of life and from mortal become immortal, – this is to be grudging and envious overmuch.


57. Now on the other hand hear what Plato says about the universe: "Now the whole heaven or the universe, – or whatever other name would be most acceptable to it, so let it be named by us, – did it exist eternally, having no beginning of generation, or has it come into being starting from some beginning? It has come into being. For it can be seen and handled and has a body; and all such things are the objects of sensation, and such objects of sensation, being apprehensible by opinion with the aid of sensation are things that came into being, as we saw, and have been generated. . . [22] It follows, therefore, according to the reasonable theory, that we ought to affirm that this universe came into being as a living creature possessing soul and intelligence in very truth, both by the providence of God."[23]



A selection from the correspondence of Julian

Letter to Arsacius, High-priest of Galatia 362.

The Hellenic religion does not yet prosper as I desire, and it is the fault of those who profess it; for the worship of the gods is on a splendid and magnificent scale, surpassing every prayer and every hope. [...] Why, then, do we think that this is enough, why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?1 I believe that we ought really and truly to practise every one of these virtues.2 And it is not enough for you alone to practise them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception. Either shame or persuade them into righteousness or else remove them from their priestly office, if they do not, together with their wives, children and servants, attend the worship of the gods but allow their servants or sons or wives to show impiety towards the gods and honour atheism more than piety. In the second place, admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or drink in a tavern or control any craft or trade that is base and not respectable. Honour those who obey you, but those who disobey, expel from office. In every city establish frequent hostels in order that strangers may profit by our benevolence; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money. I have but now made a plan by which you may be well provided for this; for I have given directions that 30,000 modii of corn shall be assigned every year for the whole of Galatia, and 60,000 pints 3 of wine. I order that one-fifth of this be used for the poor who serve the priests, and the remainder be distributed by us to strangers and beggars. For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.1 Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort, and the Hellenic villages to offer their first fruits to the gods; and accustom those who love the Hellenic religion to these good works by teaching them that this was our practice of old. At any rate Homer makes Eumaeus say: "Stranger, it is not lawful for me, not even though a baser man than you should come, to dishonour a stranger. For from Zeus come all strangers and beggars. And a gift, though small, is precious." 2 Then let us not, by allowing others to outdo us in good works, disgrace by such remissness, or rather, utterly abandon, the reverence due to the gods. If I hear that you are carrying out these orders I shall be filled with joy.