|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Paganism|
The falsehood ascribed to Scythopolis
Yet another neo-Paganist falsehood aimed against Christians, this time pertaining to the supposed persecutions of idolaters by the… Christians of Scythopolis! Obviously, this group of people believes that they can propagate their own myths and not expect any response; they are under the impression that Christians are as gullible as the uninformed idolaters, who are so easily fooled with such nonexistent stories.
The myth, as propagated by a representative idolater-author (from his book “Stories of Frauds”):
“…..Years 385 - 388 … In the death camps of Scythopolis, thousands of innocent people undergo martyrdom: “Even from the most distant reaches of the Empire, citizens of every age and every social class were dragged there, bound in chains. And many of them died along the way, or in the prisons en route. And those who managed to survive, ended up in Scythopolis – an out-of-the-way town of Palestine, where the instruments of torture and execution had been set up”, according to Ammianus Marcellinus….” (his text is apparently the basis of the neo-Paganists’ argument).
Á. Quiz: Guess the date!
1. The author provides no proof whatsoever (evidence, historical or otherwise) of what he asserts. Isn’t it strange? It makes one stop and think…. Why doesn’t he strive to “rub their faces” in his “unshakeable evidence”, wherever he finds a differing opinion to his?
2. He states that the first death camps date back to the year 359, while further down, he says the same thing, of the years 385 – 388! A difference of 30 years, for the same topic? Or could it be that History repeats itself (as a farce perhaps)?
3. On the same matter, his co-believers mention the years 341 – 361. So, who is correct? They or the author? And if the author is telling the truth and his co-believers are lying, then which of the two dates given by the author is the incorrect one? Could both of them be wrong?
It is first of all obvious here, that we are not talking about a certain newly-discovered, historical, exotic, scientific, X-File (!) finding that was purposely concealed, but merely an arbitrary, subjective assertion, which has been reproduced in a clumsy manner (something like the “broken telephone”) and which constantly keeps tripping over glaring contradictions.
One would at least expect all the mouthpieces to be in tune with each other, and decide on the year that pertains to all the things that they assert. The only other problem is, they have to pick a more appropriate year; you see, Scythopolis was not inhabited by Christians, but by Arianists (i.e., the followers of the heresy of Arius), as was the Emperor Constantius and the dethroned bishop of Scythopolis, Patrophilos, whose skull the idolaters of that era had turned into a lamp, following the desecration of his tomb during the reign of the impious Emperor Julian (Paschalion Chronikon, Bonne, 546)!
Â. Narrowing things down!
But even beyond the matter of chronology, we shall go even further, to a step-by-step proof that this assertion is 100% false and slanderous.
Scythopolis was of course a place of exile, but for Orthodox bishops also. “Eusebius of Sardinia, initially a lector in Rome and later bishop of Vercelli, was exiled by the emperor Constantius to Scythopolis and afterwards to Cappadocia, on account of his confessing his faith.” (Saint Hieronymus, De Viris Illustribus, 96)
However, while Christians were being persecuted by the Arian emperor Constantius, the Gentiles on the other hand encountered no problems there. Let us examine the events, in fact according to Ammianus Marcellinus himself, whom the neo-Paganists invoke (obviously in the hope that no-one will bother to see what he had actually written, but will swallow whole whatever they are served).
“Ammianus Marcellinus had written his work “Res Gestae” in Latin, with the Roman historian Tacitus as his model, and continued after him, covering events that took place between 96 and 378 A.D. However, the only section that was salvaged was the one covering the years 353 – 378.” (Historical Data, Eleftherotypia edition No.135, 23-5-2002, p.37)
Thus, we can be sure that Ammianus is definitely referring to the period of the Arianist emperor Constantius. Let us now see what the text itself says:
Ammianus Marcellinus: «Rerum Gestarum Libri» 19 ×ÉÉ:
Comments on Marcellinus’ text:
-Anyone with an elementary ability to read can see that Ammianus Marcellinus’ text does not have the slightest thing to do with the text presented by the author of the aforementioned book, “Stories of Frauds”.
-The courts of Scythopolis were established for political reasons; they were not established for the purpose of exterminating all the Gentiles or whoever happened to be a Gentile. Their purpose was to judge those specific Gentiles who sent written lists to specific oracles of the East, containing their wishes to attain uppermost state offices. They were consequently regarded as suspicious of conspiring against the emperor (see paras. 3, 9)
-In other words, the problem was not in the sacrifices and the oracles themselves, except only if they were addressed against the emperor, with the intent to overthrow him! Clearly, they did not constitute courts or persecutions against the Gentiles in general, but only against potential conspirators. If it were, indeed, a case of persecution against all the Gentiles, they would not have subpoenaed ONLY the Gentiles who had sent their written requests to an oracle, but ALL of the Gentiles. Thus, the subpoenas were based on the suspicion that perhaps the specific Gentiles were conspirators. The emperor did not suspect all of the Gentiles.
Thus, two things must be happening here: It is either out of extreme stupidity or an unbridled sycophantic disposition that one would label these specific trials against potential conspirators in Scythopolis “death camps”. One only has to choose which of the two applies, to make his own evaluations.
- We note that the accused’s written wishes (that were addressed to the oracle) were handed to the emperor Constantius. But by whom? “Some of those written lists with wishes containing malignant intentions, were sent to the emperor…”, as Ammianus clearly denotes, using the passive voice (were sent). This does not necessarily imply that they were sent by Christians, but quite possibly by persons with rival feelings towards them – Gentiles or otherwise (see para.5) Besides, it stands to reason, that only the Gentiles would have access inside the oracle, where the written wishes were deposited, and not the Christians. So, it was obviously the Gentiles who coveted other Gentiles, who were the instigators of this entire story.
-The emperor had appointed a certain Paul to conduct TRIALS against the suspects, not to “commence a genocide”, as the neo-Paganists so shamelessly assert (see para.5). The term “trial” implies that “some may be acquitted” or “some may be found guilty”. It certainly does not imply “genocide”.
-Even though in para.7, Ammianus Marcellinus writes that the accused “were brought there from practically every corner of the world”, in para.8 he specifically states that most of the accused came from Antioch and Alexandria. This detail reinforces the viewpoint that it was not a “persecution of the Gentiles of all the Empire”, but only trials against conspirators from a certain territory. Besides, this was also the reason that Scythopolis was chosen: it was half-way between Antioch and Alexandria. If it were indeed a persecution of all Gentiles, then Ammianus Marcellinus would not have said that most of the accused originated from those two cities. It is, of course, logical that other pilgrims who had asked something specific of the oracle would have originated from other parts of the Empire. But it could in no way be regarded as a “persecution against the Gentiles of the land” in general, because only the Gentiles of the land who had asked something of the oracle were tried in court, and not all of the Gentiles. As for Ammianus’ GENERALIZING narrative style, we could quote as an example a phrase in para.13: “…that the life of all those who walked the earth depended on just a nod by him..”. Of course, he himself had also said (in para.5), that Paul did not have authority all over the world, or even throughout the Empire, but only in the East.
-Many renowned defendants (as, for example, were Simplicius, the former prefect Parnasios, the poet Andronicos, the philosopher Demetrius Cythras) who were tried, were either acquitted or exiled. (para. 9, 10, 11, 12)
If it were indeed a “death camp”, it goes without saying that there would be no acquittals or exiles. Only executions. But the author of the book purposely uses “incorrect” terminology. He is wittingly distorting the truth. Even though he can see from the text that certain defendants were acquitted, he prefers to ignore this fact, and continues to refer to the court trials as “death camps”.
-But even the others, the not-so-renowned, who had perhaps become accused after being slandered by their enemies, were not necessarily put to death. Some of them were exiled, some were put to death, others had their property confiscated (para.13). In a true “death camp”, there would be no such thing as one’s property being confiscated (but himself not executed) or being exiled (but not executed). There would be the death sentence only; otherwise, it would not be a true “death camp”, regardless how persistently the neo-Paganists would insist that it was..
-The fact that only SOME of them were bound in chains does not signify something particular, or dramatic. For someone to be in chains was not something unusual; the Apostle Paul had also been bound in chains when he was arrested by the idolaters and awaited his trial, and yet, despite this, he was allowed visitors and was also permitted to send letters (Acts 28:20, Timothy II, 1:16, 2:9, Ephesians 6:20, etc.)
-It is also worth noting that, according to Ammianus, “others were consumed by the sentence of incarceration” They weren’t ‘consumed’ because of any ill-treatment, but because of the stress that the imprisonment sentence caused them! And this signifies two things. Firstly, that there was no ill-treatment, the way that the neo-Paganists wish to present it, and secondly, that they did not necessarily have to face the fear of any death sentence or tortures, but the sentence of imprisonment. If they were indeed ‘death camps’, they way the falsifiers declare it, the accused would have been ‘consumed’ by the worst kind of fear: that of death, and not mere imprisonment!
-Those who were executed were chiefly merchants of poisons and charms, or sorcerers who invoked spirits (para.14). But everyone knows that Paganist Emperors and the ancient Hellenes had laws that punished sorcery with provisions and penalties.
-Of course tortures were inflicted on certain defendants (but not all – see para.9). The paganist Ammianus Marcellinus himself not only justifies the emperor ordering torture whenever his authority was threatened, but he also informs us that already in existence were the (paganist) “Cornelian Laws” (Lex Cornelia maiestatis), which dated back to the pre-Christian years, which had later been “improved” by Julius (Lex Iulia maiestatis), and which allowed the use of tortures during interrogation, in order for conspiracies against the ruler to be revealed (para.17).
To summarize, it becomes more than obvious to any objective person that:
1. the Scythopolis courts were not «death camps»,
2. they were not oriented towards exterminating the Gentiles on the basis of their religion,
3. nor was there any territorial persecution of Gentiles,
4. nor were all the accused necessarily put to death by those courts,
5. nor did Paul’s authority extend throughout the Empire, as far as this specific survey is concerned,
6. nor were the accused persecuted, only because they offered sacrifices,
7. even the torture methods that SOME of them were subjected to, were in compliance with precedent, ANCIENT PAGANIST laws.
8. finally, the emperor Constantius himself was a heretic Arian, not an Orthodox Christian; in fact, he had exiled the Christian Orthodox Saint Eusebius to Scythopolis (to the “death camp”!)….
We therefore beseech all the fledgling falsifiers of History, to stop burdening Orthodoxy and the Orthodox with the actions of their true persecutors!
Translation by K. N.
Article published in English on: 3-3-2007.
Last update: 3-3-2007.