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E04196: Philostorgius in his Ecclesiastical History, reports that the relics of the *Elisha (Old Testament Prophet, S00239) and *John (the Baptist, S00020) were removed from their tombs and desecrated in Palestine under Julian the Apostate (r. 361-363). Written in Greek at Constantinople, 425/433.

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posted on 2017-10-20, 00:00 authored by erizos
Philostorgius, Ecclestical History, 7.4

(Summary in Photius)

Ὅτι, τῶν Ἑλληνιστῶν τὰ ἀτοπώτατα κατὰ τῶν Χριστιανῶν πανταχοῦ παλαμωμένων, καὶ τόδε τοῖς ἀσεβέσι κατὰ Παλαιστίνην δεδραματούργηται. τὰ τοῦ προφήτου Ἐλισσαίου ὀστᾶ καὶ τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ Ἰωάννου (ἐκεῖ γὰρ ἄμφω ἐτέθαπτο) τῶν θηκῶν ἐξελόμενοι καὶ ζῴων ὀστοῖς ἀλόγων συγκαταμίξαντες, ὁμοῦ πρὸς κόνιν κατέκαυσαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ἀέρα διεσπείραντο.

'During the time when the proponents of paganism were everywhere behaving most wickedly against Christians, the following dastardly deed was done in Palestine by impious folk. They took the bones of the Prophet Elisha and John the Baptist from their tombs (both were buried there), mixed them together with the bones of dumb animals, burned them together to ashes, and scattered them into the air.'

Text: Bidez and Winkelmann 1981.
Translation: Amidon 2007, 92.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Elisha, Old Testament prophet : S00239 John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source

Ἐλισσαῖος Ἰωάννης

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - sarcophagus/coffin

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Destruction/hostile attempts to prevent veneration of relics

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - bones and teeth


Philostorgius was born in Borissus of Cappadocia in c. 368, and lived from the age of twenty in Constantinople, where he became a follower of the Anomaean theologian Eunomius. His twelve-volume Ecclesiastical History, now largely lost, appeared between 425 and 433. In 402/3 a continuation of the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea had been produced in Latin by Rufinus of Aquileia, who recounted the period from the Council of Nicaea to the death of Theodosius I in 395. Rufinus presented Nicene Christianity as the Orthodox faith which was oppressed by the Arian emperors and restored by Theodosius I (379-395). Philostorgius offered a radically different, pro-Arian, reading of the 4th century theological disputes, portraying Nicene heroes like Athanasius of Alexandria and Basil of Caesarea in a negative manner. His work may have triggered the mid 5th century boom in Greek ecclesiastical historiography, represented by the Nicene ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus. Philostorgius’ original text is only known from a summary in the 9th century Bibliotheca of Photius, and from fragments in a later version of the Greek Martyrdom of Artemios (E06781). A partial reconstruction of Philostorgius’ Ecclesiastical History, based on Photius and the fragments, has been produced by Joseph Bidez and Friedhelm Winkelmann. Winkelmann’s text is available in English translation by Philip R. Amidon. Philostorgius is also the author of the Martyrdom of *Loukianos of Antioch (E00).


The story of the destruction of the shrine of John the Baptist, and the humiliation of his relics, is known also from Rufinus of Aquileia (Ecclesiastical History, 11.28), who reports that some of the relics lay at the Palestinian city of Sebaste and were rescued by monks. Rufinus adds that the monks sent the relics to Athanasius in Alexandria (E04543). The tomb of Elisha was also known to Jerome who reports that it lay together with the tombs of John the Baptist and the Prophet Obadiah at Sebaste (Ep. 108.13). It is unknown whether the relics of John’s head, reportedly brought to Constantinople by Macedonianist/Arian monks under Valens, were somehow related to this story (E04052). It is perhaps no coincidence that our author, who, as a resident of Constantinople, must have known John's shrine at Hebdomon, chooses not to talk about it.


Text: Bidez, J., and Winkelmann, F., Philostorgius, Kirchengeschichte; mit dem Leben des Lucian von Antiochien und den Fragmenten eines arianischen Historiographen. 3rd. ed. (Griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 21; Berlin, 1981). Translations and commentaries: Amidon, P.R., Philostorgius, Church History (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007). Bidez, J., et al., Philostorge, Histoire ecclésiastique (Sources chrétiennes 564; Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 2013). Further reading: Mango, C., "The Empress Helena, Helenopolis, Pylae," Travaux et Mémoires 12 (1994), 143–158. Marasco, G., Filostorgio: cultura, fede e politica in uno storico ecclesiastico del V secolo (Studia ephemeridis "Augustinianum" 92; Rome: Institutum patristicum Augustinianum, 2005). Treadgold, W.T., The Early Byzantine Historians (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 126-134.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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