Ed. The following article appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #82, Fall 2005 – Winter 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Hebrew Catholic Bishops of Jerusalem
It is very well known that the very first Bishop (Episkopos, Greek for ‘overseer’) of the Church in Jerusalem, in charge of the ‘diocese’ of that city was the Apostle St. James, son of Alphaeus (in Hebrew, Yaakov ben Halfy), a Jew, of course.
Perhaps it is less well known that the second Bishop of Jerusalem as St. Simeon (in Hebrew, Shim’on), the Apostle, often called ‘the Zealot’, also a Jew.
It is certainly less well known, or better still, hardly known at all that the next thirteen Bishops of Jerusalem, right up to 135 A.D. were also Jews, or as we may prefer to call them in the Catholic Church, Hebrew Catholics.
According to the early Curch historian, Eusebius, himself a Gentile Bishop of Caesarea Maritima in the Holy Land, from 314 to c..338, he provides a surprisingly long list of 13 successive Bishops of Jerusalem between the death of St. Simeon in 107 A.D. and the second Roman destruction of the Holy City at the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 A.D. and, interestingly, remarks that “they were all Judaeo-Christians. But from Mark of Caesarea (135-136) on, all the Bishops of the rebuilt city (Aelia Capitolina) were of non-Jewish origin.” 1
Why did the Hebrew Catholic line of bishops come to an abrupt end?
When the Roman Emperor Hadrian put down the Jewish rebellion, levelled the City of Jerusalem, and then bebuilt it according ot his own plan, while (‘modestly’) renaming it in his own family name of Aelius, without, of course, forgetting the chief of the Roman gods, Jupiter Capitolinus (hence, Aelia Capitolina), he forbad any Jew to enter the city, or reside there, on pain of death: hence, no more Jewish or Hebrew Catholic bishops!
St. James, first Bishop of Jerusalem
Who was St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem? There are not many references in the Gospels. Howevber, we do know that he was called James ‘the Less’, son of Alphaeus.
Following the death and resurrection of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Messiah, i.e., the Annointed one; in Greek, Christos = Christ, also meaning the Anointed One), St. James
“acted as head of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, and so he has been traditionally reckoned as its first bishop. According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 2.23), James died a martyr in A.D. 63.” 2
“Both Flavius Josephus (Ant. 209.1) and Hegesippus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 2.23) tell of the martyrdom of James of Jerusalem. … According to Joesephus, he was stoned to death in A.D. 62; according to Hegesippus, he was cast from the pinnacle of the Temple in c.A.D. 66, and when the fall did not kill him, he was clubbed to death” 3
Who was St. James as a person, and not just as an historical figure?
“Tradition has also continued the process of identification by making ‘Mary (the mother) of James’ the same as ‘Mary (the wife) of Clopas (Aramaic, Klofa) in John 19:25. The difficultly arising from the identification of Alphaeus and Clopas is ordinarily answered by saying that they are equivalents of the same Aramaic name, or that they are simply two names belonging to the same person. In this case, James of Alphaeus would be James ‘the brother (i.e., relative) of Mary, the Mother of Jesus in John 19:25”. 4
St. Simeon the Apostle, second Bishop of Jerusalem
What of St. Simon the Apostle (not Simon Peter, or Shim’on Kefa)?
“According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.32) [St. James] was succeeded by St. Simeon the Apostle, called ‘the Zealot’ or “Patriot’, who survived the Roman destruction of the city in A.D. 70.” 5
Who was he? He was ‘the son of Clopas”,6 and therefore brother of St. James the Less, and equally “brother (i.e., relative) of the Lord”, and was crucified under the Roman Emperor Trajan in ripe old age in 107 A.D.
Jerusalem Bishops of Hebrew Origin
Euseb ius goes on to tell us in his History of the Church from Christ to Constantine that when
“Symeon had found fulfilment in the manner described, his successor on the throne of the Jerusalem bishopric was a Jew named Justus, one of the vast number of the Circumcision who by then believed in Christ.” (p.145)
On page 156 he continues:
“Of the dates of the bishops of Jerusalem I have failed to find any written evidence – it is known that they were very short-lived – but I have received documentary proof of this, that up to Hadrian’s siege of the Jews, there had been a series of fifteen bishops there. All are said to have been Hebrews in origin, who had received the knowledge of Christ with all sincerity, with the result that those in a position to decide such matters, judged them worthy of the episcopal office. For at that time their whole Church consisted of Hebrew believers woh had continued from Apostolic times down to the later siege (i.e., A.D. 135) in which the Jews after revolting a second time against the Romans, were overwhelmed in a full-scale war. As that meant the end of the bishops of the Circumcision, this is the right moment to list their names from the first.”
He then lists the 15 bishops as follows:
James, ‘the Lord’s brother,’ First Bishop of Jerusalem
Symeon, Second Bishop of Jerusalem
Justus, Third Bishop of Jerusalem
Zacchaeus, Fourth Bishop of Jerusalem
Tobias, Fifth Bishop of Jerusalem
Benjamin, Sixth Bishop of Jerusalem
John, Seventh Bishop of Jerusalem
Matthias, Eighth Bishop of Jerusalem
Philip, Ninth Bishop of Jerusalem
Seneca, Tenth Bishop of Jerusalem
Justus II, Eleventh Bishop of Jerusalem
Levi, Twelfth Bishop of Jerusalem
Ephres, Thirteenth Bishop of Jerusalem
Joseph, Fourteenth Bishop of Jerusalem
and Judas, Fifteenth Bishop of Jerusalem, and the last Jew to hold that office till modern times.
Eusebius then finishes by saying that
“that was the number of bishops in the city of Jerusalem from Apostolic times to the date mentioned (i.e., A.D. 135), all of them of the Circumcision.”
Jerusalem Bishops of Gentile Origin
We know that in A.D.135, the Emperor Hadrian banished all Jews from Jerusalem, and its surrounding area, and for the very first time put an end to the Jewish name of the country/province of Judaea, by renaming it Syria Palaestina, making it the first record ever that the name Palestine was used by anyone.
It is interesting for us Hebrew Catholics to note how different the name of the next fifteen bishops of Jerusalem are, since A.D. 135, all of whom, of course, are Gentiles. Eusebius lists them as follows:
Marcus, Sixteenth Bishop of Jerusalem
Cassian, Seventeenth Bishop of Jerusalem
Publius, Eighteenth Bishop of Jerusalem
Maximus, Nineteenth Bishop of Jerusalem
Julian, Twentieth Bishop of Jerusalem
Gaius, Twenty-first Bishop of Jerusalem
Symmachus, Twenty-second Bishop of Jerusalem
Gaius II, Twenty-third Bishop of Jerusalem
Julian II, Twenty-fourth Bishop of Jerusalem
Capito, Twenty-fifth Bishop of Jerusalem
Maximus II, Twenty-sixth Bishop of Jerusalem
Antoninus, Twenty-seventh Bishop of Jerusalem
Valens, Twenty-eighth Bishop of Jerusalem
Dolichianus, Twenty-ninth Bishop of Jerusalem
Narcissus, Thirtieth Bishop of Jerusalem
The Modern Era
This brings us up to the modern era, while firmly recalling that no less than a total of fifteen of the very first Catholic bishops of Jerusalem were Jews.
Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, successor of another Jew, St. Simon Peter, first Bishop of Antioch, and later first Bishop of Rome, capital of the vast Roman Empire, named Jean-Baptiste Gourion, Abbo of the Benedictine Abbey at Abu Ghosh, Israel, Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem, for the Hebrew-speaking Catholics of Israel.This was the first time since 135 A.D. that a Hebrew Catholic was named Bishop of Jerusalem.
Thus, when Abbot Gourion was consecrated Bishop at the nearby Church of Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant (where the Ark of the Covenant was brought after its return from the Philistines, as per I Sam 7:1 and II Sam 6:3-4) by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michael Sabbah, on 9 November 2003, he was the first Jew in 1868 years to be made a Bishop of the Holy City of Jerusalem.
As Hebrew Catholics, we greatly rejoice and say with feeling Baruch haShem Adonai! (Blessed be the Name of the Lord!)
New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. VII, 1967, “Catholic University of American, p. 881.
Ibid, p. 805
Ibid, p. 881
Ibid, Vol XIII, p. 220
Bishop Jean-Baptiste Gourion, R.I.P.
Abbot of the Church of the Olivetan Benedictine Abbey of Abou Gosh, and Auxillary Bishop of Jerusalem, with special faculties for Hebrew-speaking Catholics, Jean-Baptiste Gourion passed over into eternal life on 23 June 2005.
Born on 24 October 1934 in Oran Algeria of Jewish parents, he was baptised on Easter, 1958 and entered the Abbey of Bec in France in 1961. In 1967 he was ordained a priest of the Order of Saint Benedict. In August 2003, Pope John Paul II nominated him Auxillary Bishop of the Latin Patrarchate of Jerusalem; he was also assigned the titular see of Lydda.
We pray that Bishop Jean Baptiste Gourion, OSB will rest in peace, and we ask his intercession, along with that of Elias Friedman, OCD, for the good of the Church and all peoples in Eretz Israel.