SAINT JOSEPH OF PALESTINE COMMONLY CALLED COUNT
THE Jews, after the destruction of Jerusalem,
erected two academies, the one at Babylon, the other at Tiberias, a
city on the lake of Genesareth, rebuilt by Herod, in honor of the
emperor Tiberius. Both these schools flourished till the Saracen
empire overran those countries. That of Tiberias produced the
Massoretes or Massoretic doctors, so famous for the invention of the
vowel points in the Hebrew tongue, and their care in preserving the
genuine text of the holy bible. Though the Jews then retained no sort
of jurisdiction or form of government, yet they chose one among their
chief doctors to whom they gave the title of patriarch or prince of
the captivity. The most celebrated person who ever bore this honor
among them was Hillel, whose name is still in great veneration with
the Jews, and who was their most learned oracle, and the principal
founder and ornament of their academy at Tiberias. This Hillel, a few
days before his death, sent for a Christian bishop in the
neighborhood under the character of a physician, who ordered a bath
to be prepared in his chamber, as if it had been for his health, and
baptized him in it. Hillel received the divine mysteries, and died.
Joseph, one of his assistants, called Apostoli,
whose life we are writing, was witness to this secret transaction,
and having always been the confident of Hillel, had the care of his
son Judas who succeeded him in the dignity of patriarch of the Jews.
He found the holy gospels in Hillel’s treasure, and read them
with incredible pleasure. The young patriarch fell into evil courses,
and employed magical arts to seduce a Christian woman; but the sign
of the cross made his charms of no effect. Joseph was surprised to
hear this prodigy. He seemed in a dream one night to see Christ, and
to hear from his mouth these words, “I am Jesus whom thy
fathers crucified; believe in me.” He relished our holy faith
more than ever, and going into Cilicia to collect the tenths for the
patriarch, he borrowed again the holy gospels. The Jews, already
dissatisfied with his conduct, finding him with this holy book,
dragged him to their synagogue, and cruelly scourged him. They were
preparing worse treatment for him when the bishop rescued him out of
their hands. Joseph having already begun to suffer for Christ, was
soon disposed to receive baptism.
Constantine the Great became master of the East in
323. He gave Joseph the title and rank of count, with authority to
build churches over Palestine, wherever he should judge proper.
Joseph began to raise one at Tiberias. The Jews employed many
artifices to hinder the work, and stopped his limekilns from burning
by enchantments, but he, making the sign of the cross upon a vessel
of water, and invoking the name of Jesus, poured it on the kilns, and
the fire instantly burst forth and burned with great activity Count
Joseph showed no less zeal against the Arians than against the Jews,
and both conspired together to persecute him; but he was protected by
his dignity of count, which gave him a superior command and
authority. Joseph, however, when the emperor Constantius persecuted
the orthodox prelates, retired from Tiberias to the neighboring city
Scythopolis, where, in 355, he lodged St. Eusebius of Vercelli,
banished by the Arians. His was the only Catholic house in that town.
He harbored many other illustrious servants of God, and among the
rest St. Epiphanius, who had from his own month the particulars here
related. Joseph was then seventy years of age. He died soon after,
about the year 356. The Greeks and Latins both mention his name in
their martyrologies. See St. Epiphanius, hær. 30, c. 4.
Tillemont, t. 7. Fleury,1. 11, n. 35. Dom Gervaise in his life of St.
Epiphanius, c. 18, 19, 20, and Pinius the Bollandist, t. 5, Julij, p.