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Pella Refuge |
Escape to Pella

Pella Refuge is drawn from Chapter Nine, beginning on page 275, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

The Christians survive Jerusalem’s destruction–but how?

Pella Refuge - Escape to Pella

Pella Refuge - Escape to Pella
Was Pella a city of refuge for Christians fleeing the destruction of Jerusalem? Certainly, as evidenced by the imposing ruins of an early Christian basilica, it would later become a prosperous Christian enclave. But the exact fate of those in the Christian church in doomed Jerusalem remains a mystery.

Jerusalem was a smoking ruin, the walls torn down, the Temple reduced to rubble, the great architectural achievements of Herod the Great destroyed save for the three tall towers of his palace which the Romans had preserved as a reminder of the grandeur of the city they had conquered. However, a question remained for historians ancient and modern: What had happened to Jerusalem’s Christians?

One answer is provided by three ancient Christian historians–Eusebius, Hegesippus, and Epiphanius. All agreed that, warned by an angel of the devastation to come, the Christians escaped to Pella, about fifty miles northeast of Jerusalem in what the Romans called the Decapolis, the region of the ten cities on the east bank of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee. One of the ten was Pella.

Precisely when the Christians escaped the city, whether before the war broke out in 66 or after the siege began in 70, the three do not make clear. Neither is it known whether all, or just some, of Jerusalem’s Christian community left the doomed city.

Some historians hold that a Christian community survived in Jerusalem right through the siege and remained in it afterward.

Eusebius says that the Pella refugees returned to Jerusalem and elected Symeon, a cousin of Jesus, as bishop.

He succeeded James, the brother or stepbrother of Jesus, who had been dramatically martyred in the Temple shortly before the war broke out (see p. 234). Family leadership, in other words, was being preserved in the Jewish church, as it had been in the Jewish high priesthood.

At least one twentieth-century historian, S. G. F. Brandon of the University of Manchester, held that the escape to Pella is mere legend. The Pella Christians, he wrote, would have had to survive a general slaughter at Pella conducted by Jewish rebels the year the war broke out, and the subsequent Roman occupation, possibilities Brandon regards as highly improbable. Most other historians, however, refute his contentions and endorse the Pella escape.

Pella went on to become a substantial city with numerous churches before it began a final decline in the fifth century. By the twentieth, all that remained of it was a mound, about a thousand feet long, rising one hundred feet out of the valley of the Wadi Jirm in the foothills of the Transjordanian Plateau, three miles east of the Jordan, twenty miles south of Lake Tiberias, the biblical Sea of Galilee.

This is the end of the Pella Refuge category article drawn from Chapter Nine, beginning on page 275, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn. To continue reading more about Pella Refuge from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at