Thursday, January 20

The Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70

Throughout the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Bible, we see that dispersion of people as a common motif. It occurred at the Tower of Babel, it occurred when Abraham and Lot parted ways, it occurred in 722 BC with the Assyrians and Israelites, and so forth. We also find that the Jewish nation has become enslaved and captured many times - their time in Egypt before the Exodus, the Babylonian Captivity in 586 BC - and we see the dispersion of the Jewish nation in AD 70. The term "dispersion," (Greek diaspora) was used in reference to Jews who live outside of Palestine. Now, by the time of the New Testament, it is believed that more Jews lived outside of Palestine rather than in it. In fact, there was an estimated one million Jews in Egypt alone.[1] (Photo credit to: David Roberts, 1850. Wikipedia)

Egypt as well as elsewhere began to have issues with the Jews. The non-Jewish relations became strained, and anti-Jewish riots were common. Most main cities in the areas surrounding Palestine at least had its own synagogue - which is how St. Paul and other Christian missionaries were able to have so many contacts in different cities such as Ephesus and Corinth.[2] These Jews of the dispersion are sometimes called "Hellenistic Jews." Hellenism is term used to refer to Greek culture and idea(s) from the Mediterranean world which followed conquest by Alexander the Great (300s BC). For those who were away from Jerusalem, Jews more readily adapted to Greek ways of life. Indeed we find that later Jewish writings, such as the writings of Philo were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy.[3]

The Jewish Dispersion of AD 70, however, was a significant event in Jewish history - and has a larger role in history than some realize. The Siege of Jerusalem lasted from March-September AD 70. Future Emperor Titus and his second-in command, Tiberius Julius Alexander, led the siege. Although the zealots had been able to hold off the Roman forces before, they were beginning to snap, and having issues with one another.[4] After putting pressure on the city, Titus sent in Flavius Josephus, the Jewish Historian, from whom we find confirmation of many biblical events, to negotiate with the defenders. Josephus was wounded by an arrow, but did not die (he died ca.AD 100). The defenders struck and Titus was nearly captured, but they did not prevail.[5]

According to Josephus, some soldiers grew tired of the tactics of Titus and set fire to a building adjacent from the Temple, and the fire spread throughout, destroying the Temple. Many historians, however, believe that Josephus may have noted this to appease those above him, effectively covering up real motivations.[6] Josephus noted, "Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. "[7]

He continues, "And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it."[8]

Stones thrown down by the Romans
Josephus also claims that there was about 1,100,000 people killed during the siege at Jerusalem, most of which were Jewish, and that 97,000 people were captured and enslaved.[9] Ever since, during the ninth of Av (Tsiah B'Av), both the destruction of the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem are mourned, for on the ninth of Av both were destroyed, though centuries apart. There has been different commemorations and memorials of the event, from Romans to others.[10] For example, one of the major pieces connecting the temple to the end of days is found in Luke 21:24, which says, "They will fall to the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (NIV) The Jews most certainly were taken as prisoners and were dispersed.

Another prophecy regarding this event is found in Luke 21:6, "As for what you see here [the Temple], the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down." (NIV) There are several other distinct prophecies regarding the destruction - and rebirth - of the nation of Israel. In essence, the prophecies are stating that from that time, the Temple would be destroyed, and before Christ's return, the nation of Israel would be reborn. It can be argued that the rebirth of Israel did take place - on May 14, 1948.

However, despite the rebirth of Israel, the land continues to be fought over through injustice and violence. It is unfortunate that the occupation of Israel in some sense continues, just as it always has. Throughout history, it was occupied by the Canaanites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Muslims, the Turks, and others. Part of the reason for this is the strategic position in which Israel is located, between Egypt and the greater part of Europe and Asia. It serves as a trade-route which many cultures sought to own. Today, it is hoped that these struggles of the past do not remain the struggles of the present, and that although the Jews of today continued to be dispersed and spread across the globe, we work together through dialogue and love to forge new relationships and remember not to repeat the injustices of the past - a past in which a people were besieged, scattered, and dispersed.

Troy Hillman 

[1] Various. "Zondervan Handbook To The Bible." 3rd ed. 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999. 753. Print.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Various. "Siege of Jerusalem (70)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia, 27 Dec 2010. Web. 20 Jan 2011. <,_AD_70#Destruction_of_Jerusalem >
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Containing The Interval Of About Three Years. From The Taking Of Jerusalem By Titus To The Sedition At Cyrene. Book VII. Chapter 1.1
[8] Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. BOOK VI. Containing The Interval Of About One Month. From The Great Extremity To Which The Jews Were Reduced To The Taking Of Jerusalem By Titus.. Book VI. Chapter 1.1
[9] Josephus, The Wars of the Jews VI.9.3
[10] Ibid, [4]


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  2. wow! thanks for the info. i am going to visit jerusalem next month, can't wait! any recommendation?