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Great Sieges: Jerusalem (70 CE) – One Million Lives Lost In 8 Months Of Combat
The Romans generally tolerated other religions, allowing and even welcoming Egyptian gods into their pantheon. Though they viewed the monotheistic Jews as being odd, they left more or less free to practice their own religion. The great Jewish revolt was not a religious war, but a war against Roman imperialism and unfair taxation. In the 60’s CE a financial crisis forced Rome to raise the taxes throughout the empire.
The Jews in Jerusalem resisted the extra taxes heavily and fighting broke out after Roman forces looted a temple and killed as many as 6,000 citizens. This massacre prompted a region-wide revolt and the roman garrison of 30,000 was ambushed as they tried to retreat from the area. Several thousand Romans were killed and their weapons and armor were used by the Jewish militia forces.
With the garrison defeated the Emperor Nero sent in accomplished general Vespasian to handle the rebellion. Vespasian had a great deal of success as he focused out securing many of the smaller cities and forts in the region before focusing on Jerusalem. Vespasian had to return to Rome to ultimately be proclaimed the next Emperor and left his son, Titus, to finish the war. Titus began the siege of Jerusalem in 66 CE.
Titus surrounded the city and even with it surrounded he allowed travelers to enter the city. This was to strain the supplies of the city in the event of a lengthy siege. Jerusalem was a heavily fortified city with several sets of walls built in harmony with the many hills and steep valleys of the area. The source for the war, Josephus, describes the three walls of Jerusalem as being as magnificently constructed as the temples they protected. Broad walls were protected by towers 40 feet and higher and the natural valleys made many approaches uphill.
Model reconstruction of a section of Jerusalem’s walls. Picture taken by deror avi
Despite the fortifications of the city, Titus decided to attack the city in February of 66 CE, his decision affirmed after one of the negotiators was wounded by a missile. Several siege engines worked to launch stones at the fortifications and rams approached to breach the walls. The defenders sent forth many assault parties to dismantle the siege weapons and had enough success that the breach was postponed for several months.
Same model, with a view of the fortress and the connected temple wall. Picture taken by deror avi
When the Romans finally breached the first wall of the city, they gained access to the most recent expansion of the city and were faced with the two other walls and the Antonia fortress which stood at the end of the second wall and protected the great temple of Herod. The Romans were again stalled by the stout walls, they had breached the second wall within days, but that only led to an inner neighborhood confined by the third wall and the fortress. Bitter street fighting pushed the Romans back through their breach of the second wall and though the Jews fought desperately at the breach, Roman siege engines were able to widen the breach and take the inner neighborhood.
Though the Romans had the first two walls breached and portions of the city captured they remaining city was well defended and supplied. To solve the problem of new supplies getting into the city Titus built a siege wall that looped around the valley outside the unbreached third wall and through the Roman held sections of the city, thereby fully containing the city. Titus personally did rounds of the wall during the construction to ensure its completeness and raise the men’s morale. This did put a strain on the defenders, but they had able rainwater cisterns to hold out their defense.
Titus then sent forces on the outside facing sections of the first wall and against the inner Antonia fortress. The Romans concentrated a huge assault against the fortress with stones thrown from siege weapons and battering rams, but the defenders caused a great deal of damage on the Romans by throwing rocks and missiles down from the tower. A few sections were damaged in the fortress but very little was accomplished. The assault on the old outer wall also failed.
Seeing that it may not be taken by force, Titus sent men to take it in a nighttime sneak attack. It was initially successful but once the alarm was sounded the fortress defenders put up a fight that lasted through the night and well into the next day. The Romans had gotten a piece of the fortress and they steadily pressed forward to take the whole thing. The fortress fell in late July.
Herods temple in Jerusalem, model based on texts of Josephus
The fortress was attached to the walls around the great temple and a fierce fight raged at this junction. Titus had expressed a desire to preserve the temple, likely with thoughts of turning it into a Roman pantheon of sorts as it was a magnificent building. Unfortunately for Titus’ plans a soldier threw a torch onto the temple and started a frenzied fire that quickly consumed the temple.
The Jews were forced to withdraw due to the fire but they were able to bait the Romans into over-pursuing them and spread the fire quickly into the advancing Romans. Many perished in the rapidly spreading fire and the remaining Roman advanced force was cut off from reinforcements and, with their backs to the fire, were slaughtered by the Jews.
Map of the siege of Jerusalem with movements of Roman army. By Barosaurus Lentus CC BY-SA 3.0
When lines of attack were reformed the Romans powered through the temple district and into the lower areas of the city. Resistance was fierce only in the higher upper city containing Herod’s palace. Many days of urban combat followed and the Romans assaulted from many sides as they were finally able to breach the inner walls in multiple areas. Eventually, by September, the city was taken completely. Underground tunnels helped many escape, but the city had been harboring a great many rebels and refugees from the rebellion and many could not escape in time. As many as a million people, civilians and soldiers, both Roman and Jewish perished in the lengthy siege.
After taking Jerusalem, Titus left a small force to defeat any remaining strongholds including the mountain fortress of Masada. The brutal force utilized in the siege of Jerusalem and the ruthless nature of the campaign was a definite show of force for the Roman Empire. Though the Levant was farther from Rome than many of their other territories, they were adamant about keeping the area as a well behaved and profitable territory of their empire.
Was the Siege at Jerusalem in A.D. 70 the Worst in World History?
Please explain Matthew 24:21: "[F]or then shall be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be. Premillennialists claim that this prophecy cannot refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, since there have been “tribulations” much greater than those suffered in Jerusalem during the Roman invasion (A.D. 70). For example, the German holocaust of World War II involved many more people than those who died in A.D. 70. Therefore, this passage (they say) must have reference to a “great tribulation” in connection with the second coming of Christ. Please comment on this.
Preliminary to a consideration of this passage, we would encourage our readers to consult A Study of Matthew Twenty-Four. That essay will lay a significant foundation that will help in putting the present passage into proper focus. Having said that, the following points are crucial to understanding Matthew 24:21.
The larger context of this chapter limits the descriptives of Matthew 24:5-22 to the generation contemporary with Christ. Jesus plainly said that “this generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished” (Mt. 24:34).
The term “generation” (Greek genea ) basically refers to “the sum total of those born at the same time,” i.e., “all [those] living at a given time” (see Arndt and Gingrich 1967, 153 Thayer 1958, 112). The expression “this generation” restricts the focus of the passage to the people living at that time (cf. Mt. 11:16 12:41-42 23:36).
The immediate context limits the horror of the destruction to the circumstances of ancient Jerusalem. Note that after the Lord’s admonition, relative to fleeing from Jerusalem (in winter or on the Sabbath), Christ says “for then [at that time (cf. Arndt and Gringrich, 831 Thayer, 629)] shall be great tribulation.” Thus Jesus specifies the time—it was near, not remote.
Not the Last Day
The text cannot refer to a tribulation at the end of time, otherwise Christ would not have said “nor ever shall be.” The Lord’s return will signal “the end” (see 1 Cor. 15:24) of earthly affairs (see 2 Peter 3:4ff). That day will be the “last day” (cf. Jn. 6:39, 40, 44, 54 11:24 12:48).
It would hardly make sense to use the expression “nor ever shall be” when referring to an event that is proximate to the very end of the world itself.
Hyperbolic Language Possible
There is a possibility that the language contains some degree of hyperbole for the purpose of emphasis. Such is common to biblical literature (cf. Jn. 21:25). However, one is not forced to that view. There is ample evidence that the destruction of Jerusalem actually conforms to Matthew’s descriptive.
The terminology is designed to emphasize the nature of the carnage, the intensity of the event, and not the mere numbers per se.
First, it describes a punishment upon the Jews. It was the worst event in their history. It represented the death of Israel nationally! Though the holocaust involved larger numbers, the type of suffering inflicted at Jerusalem was unparalleled in history. The acute famine, the in-fighting, the cannibalism, the savagery, the crucifixions, etc., were horrible beyond words.
Even Josephus commented that “the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews [at the destruction of Jerusalem], are not so considerable as they were” (Wars of the Jews, Preface, 4). The Jewish historian certainly was aware of numerous destructions prior to A.D. 70, even those portrayed in the Old Testament (including the flood). Yet Jerusalem’s misery eclipsed even that.
Several scholars have commented upon this.
Other sieges may have witnessed, before and since, scenes of physical wretchedness equally appalling, but nothing that history records offers anything parallel to the alternations of fanatic hope and frenzied despair that attended the breaking up of the faith and polity of Israel (Plumptre 1959, 148).
No nation had ever piled up a guilt such as that of the Jews who were chosen of God, infinitely blessed, and yet crucified God’s Son and trampled upon all his further grace. No judgment had ever and can ever be so severe. In the history of the world no judgment can be compared with this that wiped out the Jews as a nation (Lenski 1943, 940).
[The] tribulation to Israel [was] unparalleled in the terrible past of its history, and unequalled even in its bloody future. Nay, so dreadful would be the persecution, that, if Divine mercy had not interposed for the sake of the followers of Christ, the whole Jewish race that inhabited the land would have been swept away" (Edersheim 1947, 449).
Matthew 24:21 does not refer to the end of time. Its application, based upon all contextual considerations, was to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70.
As supplementary reading, I would recommend an excellent volume by J. Marcellus Kik, Matthew XXIV. It contains an excellent discussion of this matter.
- Arndt, W. F. and F. W. Gingrich. 1967. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
- Edersheim, Alfred. 1947. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Kik, J. Marcellus. 1948. Matthew XXIV. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed.
- Lenski, R. C. H. 1943. The Interpretation of Matthew. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg.
- Plumptre, E. H. 1959. Matthew. Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol. 6. C. J. Ellicott, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:5-22 Matthew 24:34 Matthew 11:16, 12:41-42, 23:36 1 Peter 3:4 John 6:39, 40, 44, 54, 11:24, 12:48 John 21:25
- Author : Flavius Josephus
- Publisher :
- Release Date : 2019
- Pages :
- ISBN 10 : 0243687214
The Great Siege of Jerusalem
Religious extremists within a traditional society in the Middle East rebel against powerful Western influences the fanatics view as threatening their faith. The society itself is torn between modernizers and those who hope to turn back the clock. Acts of terror and assassination target foreigners and locals seen as supporting them. A humiliating massacre spurs the West to strike back fiercely with its superior military technology. Meanwhile, the extremists spark a civil war and go on a killing rampage among their own people, targeting religious leaders viewed as too moderate and anyone whose religious practice and customs aren’t deemed sufficiently rigorous. In the West, the retaliatory campaign becomes a political issue.
The Middle East today? Yes, but also Roman Palestine in the first century of our era.
The complex rebellions, civil strife and opportunistic brigandage that we simplify with the name “The Zealots’ Revolt” set a pattern for the behavior of violent, bring-back-the-golden-age religious zealots in countless later uprisings in every one of the world’s major religions. The brutal Roman response showed how to deal with violent religious fanaticism. And for the Jewish people, the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the massacres committed by both sides, and the loss of even nominal self-government led, ultimately, to 19 centuries of exile.
IN THE BEGINNING …
By 66 A.D., Judea, Galilee and neighboring regions were ripe for revolt. (See Palestine map.) It was the thirteenth decade of Roman power over the Jewish homelands, exercised indirectly at first through the bloody and brutal Herodian dynasty, then directly through a prefect (such as Pontius Pilate) and, after the reign of the emperor Claudius, a procurator in Jerusalem. As the tremendous impact of Roman might and Greek culture undermined Jewish traditional culture, society split between those who avidly embraced the new cautious appeasers a priestly caste fixated on power a growing number of radicals out to re-purify the faith and the sweating human ingredients of revolution.
We know of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion, and wonder at the cruelty of the Temple priests and Romans, but there’s a “backstory.” By Christ’s lifetime, Jewish society had already begun to fracture under the weight of the Pax Romana. This was an age of self-proclaimed messiahs, of omens and portents, but also of the sicarii, the “dagger-men,” assassins whose specifics are lost in the murk of the past. Historians argue over their origins, but no one disputes the existence of the sicarii – or their mobster influence on the looming Zealots’ Revolt.
The Romans wanted order and tax revenues. The Sanhedrin, the Temple-associated ruling class of Jews, wanted an end to cults, schisms and the advance of foreign culture and pagan gods. The Romans sought to extend their authority, the Sanhedrin to preserve theirs. Meanwhile, the common people suffered under a punishing system of financial levies. Banditry expanded alongside fanaticism.
By 66 A.D., Roman Palestine was ready to burst into flames.
At this worst possible time, Rome had in place the clumsiest of its procurators, Gessius Florus. Jerusalem had already been rocked by events prefiguring recent crises in Afghanistan: sacred scrolls allegedly burned by a Roman soldier and rioting after another Roman “mooned” the holy precincts. With blood already splashing the streets, Florus strong-armed the Temple priests into making a massive payment to Rome from their treasury.
Rumors made everything worse, as they do today. Florus soon found it wise to flee Jerusalem, but a Roman garrison remained behind – until inflamed radicals massacred every legionary in the city. The die was cast.
To the north, Galilee long had been home to religious extremism and popular discontent. Its people rose as well (although key cities, such as Sepphoris, remained loyal to Rome). Where populations were mixed, as in Caesarea Maritima on the coast, Greeks killed Jews and Jews killed Greeks. When the Romans regained their footing they backed the non-Jews.
The next Roman official up the chain of command, the legate of Syria, Cestius Gallus, organized a punitive force around the XII Legion. Sharp action seemed to bring Galilee under control (although the rebellion was only getting started) and, despite the advancing autumn, Gallus marched the legion and its auxiliaries to Jerusalem, determined to restore order.
But Gallus underestimated the enemy’s strength, as well as the determination of the Zealots and splinter factions. He wasn’t even prepared for the scale of Jerusalem’s fortifications. On top of that, Gallus marched through mountainous terrain ideal for guerrilla attacks on his supply line. Still worse, he had moved in such haste and overconfidence that he neglected to bring siege engines and artillery, crucial to reducing a hostile city.
In Jerusalem, brother-against-brother fighting plagued the streets, with priests murdered and worse to come, but it didn’t help the Romans in these early days. Gallus soon found himself short of supplies and blocked by the triple walls of a city defended by fighters ready to die for their all-consuming faith. November came in hard. Increasingly frequent ambushes nagged his rear. Yet, to abandon the campaign would only encourage the rebels …
Gallus, recognizing the extent of his blunder at last, began a withdrawal, intending to return to take the city in better weather and with a force better prepared. But his orderly withdrawal quickly turned into a hasty retreat, then into a rout. Harassed along his march route by newly confident Jews employing guerrilla tactics, Gallus blundered into a trap at the pass of Beth Horon. Roman casualties were devastating and humiliating, perhaps as many as 6,000, almost half of the force present for the fight.
For the Jews, it was a historic victory, inspiring confidence that God was on their side. That confidence would be their undoing.
AN OLD SOLDIER REPORTS
Vespasian was one of the finest generals Rome had, and his son, Titus, was a brave and brilliant subordinate commander. They arrived on the scene in December, trailed by four legions, heavy cavalry and thousands of tributary auxiliaries. When the weather warmed, the war began in earnest.
A scarred survivor of many a campaign, Vespasian was not only experienced but also cold-bloodedly methodical and calculating – the perfect man for the complex task at hand. The defeat of the XII Legion had inspired a far more powerful uprising in Galilee and Judea. The Jews improved the fortifications of their cities and savvier leaders emerged. In Galilee, John of Giscala dominated. John was a charismatic figure who worried the Sanhedrin up in Jerusalem, many of whom still sought to hedge their bets, while others wanted no rivals to their authority.
The priests dispatched Josephus to command the fighters in Galilee. A member of the priestly class himself, but seemingly short on military experience, Josephus was a choice that still baffles historians at the same time, they’re grateful, since Josephus, a genius of treachery, became the war’s historian after he jumped sides to back the Romans. Josephus left us the most-detailed (if not entirely trustworthy) account of a Roman campaign – one he observed from both sides.
Vespasian ground down resistance in Galilee, conquering cities in their turn, slaughtering and enslaving any populations that resisted. Jotapata was a bloodbath, but the most dramatic siege was of a city built on a stark, steep spur of the Golan Heights: Gamla.
The remote, forlorn ruins left by the Roman siege remain today, as do the legends of the Jews’ impassioned faith and courage to resist. Even Roman military engineering was initially confounded by the difficulty of approaching the city’s walls, and Vespasian was reluctant to sacrifice his veterans if he could starve out a population. But in this age of messianic fervor hunger strengthened the spirit of resistance, and Vespasian at last saw no alternative to storming the city and its towering citadel.
Easier said than done. The Jewish defenders fought off one attack after another, luring the Roman soldiers into successive traps in the maze of narrow streets and on terraced rooftops. Titus himself led forays against the Zealots and their supporters, engaging in merciless hand-to-hand combat as the Romans speared and stabbed their way up the heights, while the defenders hurled down rocks on their helmets and shields.
When Roman brawn cornered the last defenders in the citadel, legend tells us that hundreds of men, women and children hurled themselves from the ramparts to their deaths rather than be enslaved. Modern studies suggest that, given the position and form of the citadel, only a small number actually could have perished through such a self-sacrifice, but an inspiring narrative was born.
Military logic ruled that, having pacified the north, Vespasian should exploit his momentum and bear down on Jerusalem. But this time the turn of events was decided by politics not in Palestine, but in Rome.
The demented emperor Nero was driven to suicide, sparking a bloody contest to seize the throne. Vespasian halted his southward advance, watching and waiting from afar as would-be emperors dueled between the Rhine, Danube and Tiber. He already had been counseled by an unlikely source that matters would work to his benefit.
That prophet was Josephus, the former Jewish general who, upon capture, immediately told Vespasian that he was destined to become emperor. The flattering prediction spared Josephus’ life, although he had remained in chains while the rebellion in Galilee was crushed.
After two grisly legion-on-legion battles near Cremona, the bloodletting over Rome came to an end. Without unsheathing his sword, Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by his troops.
It was time to go to Rome. But Vespasian left the troops a new commander: his son Titus, who would finish the task of annihilating the Zealots. As for Josephus, he shed his chains to become an adviser to Titus on the Jews and how to defeat them. The turncoat would live to a ripe old age of comfort and wealth in Rome, writing and rewriting history to his advantage.
NIGHTMARE IN JERUSALEM
After the fall of the last cities in Galilee, John of Giscala fled to Jerusalem, casting his move as a strategic withdrawal. Amid a plethora of factions and transient leaders (the confusion spoofed in Monty Python’s film The Life of Brian), two strong, jealous warlords dominated the city, Simon bar Giora and Eleazar ben Simon. John became a third. To their contending factions were added the Idumean Jews who had come to “rescue” Jerusalem and grew enmeshed in the faction fighting. Instead of uniting to face the Romans, the Zealots, the sicarii (associated with, but not identical to the Zealots), the Idumeans, John’s followers and a host of commoners fought a succession of small civil wars in the streets of the holy city.
The religious radicals behaved much like al-Qaeda in our own day, insisting that everyone practice their “purified” version of the faith, but allowing themselves special privileges and excesses. There was a foreboding sense of the “end times,” of an apocalypse, and the millenarianism took both spiritual and practical forms – the latter including seizing the assets of the rich and murdering members of the old ruling class (leading more than a few to desert to the Romans). When the legions finally approached the city in 70 A.D., one Zealot faction even burned the city’s largest grain reserve to force the population to fight to the death against the Romans, or die of starvation. It was an act of utter madness that would cost the defenders dearly, but not atypical. Within the city’s triple walls, terror, not God, reigned.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
By the spring of 70 A.D., Vespasian felt reasonably secure on the throne but needed Titus to finish the reckoning with the Jews to display his authority. He wanted a military victory for what we today would call his “public image.”
Titus, who loved to fight, was ready to oblige. He marched on the holy city. And this time the Romans did not forget their siege engines.
Nor did Titus underestimate his opponents. The Romans had learned to respect the fierceness and skill of the Jewish warriors. Titus knew this would be a fight to the death. Even so, the resourcefulness and tenacity of the Jews was about to surprise him.
The brilliant classical historian Guy Rogers notes that the rebels’ sole realistic hope militarily (if still a slight one) was to pursue a lengthy guerrilla campaign, but they chose, instead, to defend cities against unrivaled masters of siege warfare. Yet, logic had little to do with this faith-intoxicated uprising, and the emotional pull of Jerusalem made a climactic battle for its walls inevitable.
Ever brave, Titus led a detachment of cavalry ahead to judge the extent of the city’s defenses and he first beheld Jerusalem on April 23 – which was almost his last day on earth. Jewish fighters ambushed the mounted force on broken ground near the walls and split the column. Cut off, Titus had to fight his way out with his sword.
But the V, X, XII and XV Legions were close behind. Upon their arrival, Titus distributed them around the city’s defenses, with the famed X Legion placed on the Mount of Olives, across the narrow Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount and the city’s eastern gate. Confident, the legionaries shed their armor and weapons, going to work to construct their standard fort on the high ground. They were utterly unprepared when a Jewish force sallied out, raced across the valley, and struck before the Romans could form ranks.
Forced to fight on its opponents’ terms, rather than in disciplined formations, the X Legion, once the pride of Julius Caesar, was losing badly.
Witnessing the near-debacle from Mt. Scopus to the northwest, Titus immediately led a relief force into the fighting. The reinforcements drove the Jews back to the shelter of the walls and Titus advanced a fighting line into the valley to guard against another assault. After several hours, when the Zealots seemed to have given up any thought of another foray, Titus made one of his rare misjudgments: He thinned the line to allow more men to work on the fort’s construction.
No sooner had the line been weakened than the Zealots launched another attack, hitting the outnumbered Romans with breathtaking speed. Another round of savage combat drove the Romans beyond Gethsemane and back up the Mount of Olives. Once again, Titus had to send in reinforcements. This time, when the Jewish warriors had been driven off, he kept his lines strong until the fort was completed.
Sited for defense as well as holiness, classical-era Jerusalem was protected on three sides by valleys, leaving the flatter northern approach the obvious choice for assaults. The Romans went to work assembling their siege engines, building assault towers, and bombarding the walls. But whenever the Romans approached the battlements, Jewish bands appeared from nowhere to stymie their progress.
The first planned storming of the outer wall fell apart when Jewish “commando squads” burned the Roman assault towers. Titus’s response was to build them again: Fiery in battle, the emperor’s son was icy and implacable as a strategist.
Inside the city, the summer heat rose as the food supply dwindled. Zealots broke into houses to steal provisions from those who didn’t match their fanaticism – or who simply presented promising targets. Although the factions had finally united to fight the Romans, each guarded its own territory within the city, competing in barbarity toward fellow Jews. Worsening a dreadful situation, the city’s population had been swollen on the eve of the siege by worshippers who had arrived for a holy festival.
Hunger became starvation. One tale told of a mother who ate half of her own infant before being discovered, and that was not the only echo of cannibalism. As the Romans fought their way into the city, it must, indeed, have seemed like the end of the world.
It was certainly the end for Jerusalem and the Second Temple in its glory. Through siege-craft, hard fighting and ruses, the legionaries advanced from the third (outer) wall to the second, then approached the last comprehensive defenses. Men fought atop mounds of rubble and the Zealots forced the Romans to engage in narrow alleys where they could not form for battle. From late July into August, the Zealots, the men with “a zeal for God’s law,” put up perhaps the toughest defense Roman arms had ever faced.
Within the walls, the city was divided into three parts: The Temple Mount dominated the southwestern corner, with formidable walls of its own and the nearby Antonia fortress the old Lower City, north and northwest of the temple (forming the city’s eastern half) and the newer Upper City across a shallow valley to the West.
On or about August 10, the Romans broke into the Inner Court of the Temple. A tossed torch started a conflagration inside, sparking screams of terror and agony. The Romans fought their way through the flames, bleeding for every inch. Crowded with priests, Zealots, refugees, women and children, the Temple became a place of gory sacrifice to a lost cause as the legionaries, enraged by their own losses and maddened with bloodlust, slaughtered every creature they could find. No cries for mercy or offers of ransom availed. Roman swords slashed down times beyond counting. Meanwhile, other legionaries hauled off the Temple’s remaining treasures, desecrating the Jews’ holiest shrine.
What the soldiers could not do, the flames did for them. Titus, ever amid his troops, must have narrowed his eyes in satisfaction at the spectacle of the blazing Mount.
Even then the fight wasn’t finished. The Upper City still had to be taken, where the Herodian palace formed another citadel.
With the eastern half of the city smeared with blood and stinking of death, the Romans went back to work, stripping the last timber from distant hills to construct more siege engines to assault the remaining fortifications from multiple sides. Meanwhile, Jewish survivors tried to flee, sneaking through sewers or winding their way down the steep slopes beneath the southern walls. When the Romans apprehended them, some few who could prove that they had been no more than prisoners of the Zealots were allowed their liberty. For the rest, it was death for the poor and chains for those judged wealthy enough to pay ransoms.
Inside the last Jewish stronghold, famine, disease and terror marked the scorching August days as the defenders, still barely able to master their rivalries, waited for the end. Simon bar Giora even had Idumean Jewish leaders executed on the suspicion of dealing with the Romans. At some point in the siege, a second leader and priest, Eleazar ben Simon, disappeared from history. And to underscore the all-or-nothing nature of the fight to their enemies and their own kind, the Zealots publicly tortured captured Romans.
On September 7, the Romans were prepared for the final assault. This time, the siege machinery did its work quickly and the brief combat was almost an anti-climax. After a sharp exchange, resistance collapsed. Overtaken by panic, the remaining Zealots and their allies tried to escape.
Few did. The Romans went on a rampage, butchering civilians, ravishing women, looting and setting the Upper City alight. When the fury settled, Titus put his men to work dismantling the city’s walls, sparing only three towers and their connecting curtains to serve a military garrison from the X Legion. The Temple lay in ashes, the city in ruins, polluted by the stench of dead fires and corpses. It meant the end of Jerusalem’s grandeur as the capital of the Jews for two millennia, until Israeli freedom fighters fought their way back into its streets in 1947.
In the final days of the revolt, two surviving Jewish leaders had dominated the city, Simon bar Giora and John of Giscala. Their ends were ignominious. Despite years of exhortations to their followers to fight to the death, neither man did. John went to ground within the city, emerging to surrender when hunger vanquished the last of his resolve. Simon tried to bluff his way to safety but was caught. Both men still had one last act to play.
Along with the fittest Jewish male captives – who were destined ultimately for the arena – the two commanders were taken to Rome to parade in the triumph arranged for Titus by his grateful father. Titus, who would rule the empire in his own turn, put on a grand show, with dramatizations of highlights of the war on an immense scale. In the great procession through the streets, John and Simon plodded behind their conqueror, dragging their chains. We lack insight into the Roman reasoning, but John’s life was then spared, although he faced a lifetime in a prison. Simon did not fare so well.
The climax of the triumphal procession came on the Capitoline hill. Before a massed, delighted crowd, Simon was tortured horribly before being strangled with artful slowness. (The Romans never concerned themselves with the human rights of terrorists.)
The great revolt had been shattered, but its echoes were not quite done. Last bands of Zealots and other factions withdrew to a few last fortresses or faded into the countryside. Step by step, the Romans broke the resistance and tracked down the remaining bands. Finally, only one mountaintop fortress remained, a breathtaking aerie expanded and perfected by Herod the Great: Masada. A holdout band of Zealots (possibly sicarii) perched atop the sheer cliffs. Brilliantly designed for a long siege, Masada had a network of water cisterns, ample food stocks and plenty of weaponry. The only approach was along the “snake path” on the eastern face, a narrow zigzag trail totally exposed to defenders on the battlements above.
You can walk up an improved version of that trail today and, reaching the top, look down on the remarkably well-preserved outlines of the legionary camps 2,000 feet below. You come away with respect for the courage and sacrifice of the defenders, but in awe of the Roman war machine’s capabilities.
On the western face, the drop is several hundred, not thousands of feet. Trained engineers, the Romans began the brute labor of constructing a massive earthen approach ramp in the desert heat (the ramp, too, is still there today, only slightly weathered). The man-made mountain was finished in 20 days, although completing a special siege tower that could mount the ramp, building more powerful stone-hurling artillery, and, finally, hauling the tower up the steep incline took another two months. In the final days of the siege, the defenders must have watched the huge siege tower slowly climbing toward them as though it were a monster crawling from Hell.
The war had gone beyond compromise or mercy: Rome would not let even the slightest hint of resistance endure, even if it meant immobilizing entire legions to besiege a few threadbare rebels. The Romans understood how to deal with fanatics – until they faced the baffling contagion of Christianity, a religion that, initially, eschewed the sword. But that is another tale.
Masada’s defenders did what they could to block the besiegers’ progress, but at the apogee of empire Rome was unstoppable. At last, all was ready. The Romans merely needed to drop assault platforms onto the walls. Their commander ordered a morning attack.
Masada’s defenders denied the Romans their victory with an immortal gesture. Rather than be taken prisoner, the men killed their own wives and children during the night, then lay down beside their loved ones as 10 men who had drawn lots cut their throats, the 10 finally slitting their own throats. When the Romans stormed onto the high plateau at dawn, ready for a desperate fight, they were met by silence and emptiness. Then they found the bodies, neatly grouped.
Two women and their children had hidden during the ceremonial suicide. They told the Romans what happened. It stunned even hardened centurions.
Today, amid a re-born Israel, Masada towers over the desert as a symbol of resistance unto death, of courage and faith that, however challenged by human excesses and errors, gleamed amid slaughter with a divine grace.
Ralph Petersis a longtime member of the “Armchair General” team, a retired Army officer and former enlisted man, and the author of the critically acclaimed novels “Cain at Gettysburg” and “Hell or Richmond.”
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Armchair General.
The History of the Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem
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The Early History of Jerusalem
According to the archeologists, the first settlements in Jerusalem were near Gihon springs around 4500-3500 BCE and were first mentioned in about 2000 BCE in Egyptian texts. The name was recorded as Rusalimum, and it is believed that the origin of S-L-M in the name could refer to peace which is comparable to the word salam in modern Arabic, shalom in the Hebrew language, or Shalim, which refers to the god of dusk among the Canaanites. Archaeological evidence shows that the Canaanites in around 17th century BCE had constructed huge walls on the east side of Jerusalem which served as a protection of the ancient water systems.
According to the accounts of the Bible, the history of Jerusalem begins at around 1000 BCE, when King David conquered the Canaanites, who at the time were known as the Jebusites, and captured the city which at the time was known as Jebus. The capital of Israel was moved from Hebron to Jerusalem and became known as the city of David, where he ruled for 40 years, and his son Solomon took leadership and built a magnificent temple. After the succession of Solomon’s son Rehoboam in around 930 BCE, the nation was divided into two kingdoms. The kingdom of Israel had the cities of Samaria and Shechem while the kingdom of Judah had the city of Jerusalem. In around 722 BCE, the Assyrians attacked the northern kingdom or the kingdom of Israel and took them captives.
Jerusalem, AD70: The Worst Desolation Ever?
F irst of all, let us consult just a few famous references to the staggering suffering which came upon the Jews during a period of seven years from AD66-73, but especially upon Jerusalem Jews during AD70 with the long siege, burning and wholesale slaughter of the residents of the city.
It has been said that there is scarcely another period in history so full of vice, corruption, and disaster as the six years between the Neronian Christian persecution from around AD64 and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The prophetic description of the last days by our Lord began to be fulfilled before the generation to which he spoke had passed away (exactly as He had stated in Matt. 24:34: 'Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled'). The day of judgment upon the Jewish people seemed to be close at hand. This is what the Christians believed and, indeed, subsequently had good reason to believe.
Josephus (a personal witness to the events) claims that over 1,100,000 people were killed during the initial siege, of which a majority were Jewish. 97,000 were captured and enslaved, and many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. Titus reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, as there is "no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God." During the siege, there was mass starvation in which cannibalism widely occurred with, it is believed, some mothers even devouring their own children. Later, there were even mass crucifixions to the degree that wood eventually became unavailable.
Let us consider what major early church historian Eusebius wrote about these dreadful events. He wrote around AD325, amazingly close to those events, and with the extensive records of Josephus to draw upon:
"It is fitting to add to these accounts the true prediction of our Saviour in which he foretold these very events. His words are as follows: "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."
"These things took place in this manner in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, in accordance with the prophecies of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by divine power saw them beforehand as if they were already present, and wept and mourned according to the statement of the holy evangelists, who give the very words which be uttered, when, as if addressing Jerusalem herself, he said: "If thou hadst known, even thou, in this day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a rampart about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee and thy children even with the ground."
1. After Nero had held the power thirteen years, and Galba and Otho had ruled a year and six months, Vespasian, who had become distinguished in the campaigns against the Jews, was proclaimed sovereign in Judea and received the title of Emperor from the armies there. Setting out immediately, therefore, for Rome, he entrusted the conduct of the war against the Jews to his son Titus.
2. For the Jews after the ascension of our Saviour, in addition to their crime against him, had been devising as many plots as they could against his apostles. First Stephen was stoned to death by them, and after him James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, was beheaded, and finally James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour, died in the manner already described. But the rest of the apostles, who had been incessantly plotted against with a view to their destruction, and had been driven out of the land of Judea, went unto all nations to preach the Gospel, relying upon the power of Christ, who had said to them, Go and make disciples of all the nations in my name.
3. But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.
4. But the number of calamities which everywhere fell upon the nation at that time the extreme misfortunes to which the inhabitants of Judea were especially subjected, the thousands of men, as well as women and children, that perished by the sword, by famine, and by other forms of death innumerable—all these things, as well as the many great sieges which were carried on against the cities of Judea, and the excessive sufferings endured by those that fled to Jerusalem itself, as to a city of perfect safety, and finally the general course of the whole war, as well as its particular occurrences in detail, and how at last the abomination of desolation, proclaimed by the prophets, Daniel 9:27 stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, the temple which was now awaiting its total and final destruction by fire — all these things any one that wishes may find accurately described in the history written by Josephus.
5. But it is necessary to state that this writer records that the multitude of those who were assembled from all Judea at the time of the Passover, to the number of three million souls, were shut up in Jerusalem as in a prison, to use his own words.
6. For it was right that in the very days in which they had inflicted suffering upon the Saviour and the Benefactor of all, the Christ of God, that in those days, shut up as in a prison, they should meet with destruction at the hands of divine justice.
7. But passing by the particular calamities which they suffered from the attempts made upon them by the sword and by other means, I think it necessary to relate only the misfortunes which the famine caused, that those who read this work may have some means of knowing that God was not long in executing vengeance upon them for their wickedness against the Christ of God. (Church History, Book III, Chapter V).
The following sixth chapter of this work of Eusebius is so horrible that I have not included it here, but let no-one feel that these horrors which befell the Jews at that period of history are in any way exaggerated!
But, in all of this, we must note how the Christians who had been assembling in Jerusalem were miraculously spared:
"But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella." (Book III, Ch. 5).
Eusebius refers to a miraculous event in which the voice of angel was distinctly heard by the Jerusalem Christians in their temple meeting place, saying, "Let us remove from here quickly."
Around a hundred years after Eusebius, Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354-430), probably the first major theologian of the Church, also had no doubt that the events of AD66-73, but especially AD70, were truly momentous from a Christian understanding of Scripture point of view, tieing in those horrible events with such Scriptures as Luke 21. The truth is that all of the leaders of the early catholic church ('catholic' obviously not referring to the Roman Catholic Church which would not arrive for many hundreds of years, but the heresy-free New Testament Church which Jesus founded), thought that the events of AD70 were prophetically momentous.
Another major figure of the early church, Chrysostom, wrote the following:
'Note how this speech is directed against the Jews for when these things were done by Vespasian, the Apostles could neither observe the Sabbath nor fly, seeing most of them were already dead, and those who survived were living in distant countries. And why they should pray for this. He adds a reason, "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor shall be."'
'I ask the Jews, whence came upon them so grievous wrath from heaven more woeful than all that had come upon them before? Plainly it was because of the desperate crime and the denial of the Cross. But He shews that they deserved still heavier punishment than they received, when He adds, "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved" that is, If the siege by the Romans should be continued longer, all the Jews would perish for by "all flesh," He means all the Jewish nation, those within and those without for the Romans were at war not only with those in Judaea, but with the whole race wherever dispersed." (Matthew 24:21)'.
'Then, to show again the greatness of the calamity, He saith, "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be." Seest thou that His discourse is addressed to the Jews, and that He is speaking of the ills that should overtake them? For the apostles surely were not to keep the Sabbath day, neither to be there, when Vespasian did those things. For indeed the most part of them were already departed this life. And if any were left, he was dwelling then in other parts of the world.'
'And let not any man suppose this to have been spoken hyperbolically but let him study the writings of Josephus, and learn the truth of the sayings. For neither can any one say, that the man being a believer, in order to establish Christ's words, hath exaggerated the tragical history. For indeed He was both a Jew, and a determined Jew, and very zealous, and among them that lived after Christ's coming. I should therefore be glad to inquire of the Jews. Whence came there thus upon them wrath from God intolerable, and more sore than all that had befallen aforetime, not in Judaea only, but in any part of the world? Is it not quite clear, that it was for the deed of the cross, and for this rejection? All would say it, and with all and before all the truth of the facts itself.' (Homily LXXVI.)
This early Christian understanding that the Jewish people were being punished for their rejection of Christ may seem very harsh today, but we must understand that this was a widespread view for many hundreds of years. Only now, in an age of 'political correctness,' 'liberal values,' and a concern for 'human rights,' has it become unfashionable to express such a view. Yet let there be no doubt that when the people of Judea demanded that Barabbas the robber should be released and that Jesus should be condemned, those people apparently accepted a curse upon themselves and upon their children for their rejection of Jesus. Scripture itself states,
Mat 27:25: 'Then all the people answered and said, Let His blood be on us and on our children.'
In more recent centuries, Bible commentator, B.W. Johnston (1833-1894), stated,
'Matthew 24: 21. Great tribulation. The account given by Josephus, the Jewish historian who witnessed and recorded the war, is almost an echo of the predictions of Christ. Women ate their own children from starvation the Jews within the city fought each other as well as the Roman army on August 10, A.D. 70, the city was stormed and there was a universal massacre 1,100,00 persons perished, and 100,000 survivors were sold into slavery.'
Lutheran theologian Philip Schaff (1819 – 1893), wrote,
'The forbearance of God with his covenant people, who had crucified their own Saviour, reached it last its limit. As many as could be saved in the usual way, were rescued. The mass of the people had obstinately set themselves against all improvement. James the Just, the man who was fitted, if any could be, to reconcile the Jews to the Christian religion, had been stoned by his hardened brethren, for whom he daily interceded in the temple and with him the Christian community in Jerusalem had lost its importance for that city. The hour of the "great tribulation" and fearful judgment drew near. The prophecy of the Lord approached its literal fulfilment: Jerusalem was razed to the ground, the temple burned, and not one stone was left upon another.' (Schaff, History of the Christian Church p. 397-398).
C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), wrote,
'For there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." Read the record written by Josephus of the destruction of Jerusalem, and see how truly our Lord’s words were fulfilled. The Jews impiously said, concerning the death of Christ, "His blood be on us, and on our children." Never did any other people invoke such an awful curse upon themselves, and upon no other nation did such a judgment ever fall. We read of Jews crucified till there was no more wood for making crosses of thousands of the people slaying one another in their fierce faction fights within the city of so many of them being sold for slaves that they became a drug in the market, and all but valueless and of the fearful carnage when the Romans at length entered the doomed capital and the blood-curdling story exactly bears out the Savior’s statement uttered nearly forty years before the terrible events occurred.'
'The destruction of Jerusalem was more terrible than anything that the world has ever witnessed, either before or since. Even Titus seemed to see in his cruel work the hand of an avenging God.' (Commentary on Matthew, p. 412-413).
Bishop William Newcombe, in his 'Harmony of the Gospels,' 1778, wrote,
'The calamities undergone by the Jews were unparalleled in their history, and will remain so. The many and great evils arising from their own distractions and intestine madness, were peculiar to this time. And Josephus asserts in general that no other city underwent such sufferings. In particular he says, that the number of captives, throughout the whole war was 97 thousand and that one million one hundred thousand perished in the course of the siege: To these must be added 237,490 of whom express mention is due by this historian, as being destroyed in other places besides innumerable others, not subject to calculation, who were swept away by fatigue, famine, disease and every kind of wretchedness and violence. Thus did the awakened vengeance of heaven require of that generation, the blood of all the prophets, which had been shed from the foundation of the world.' (Harmony, p. 246).
In our own day, Gary DeMar has commented,
'The tribulation period cannot be global because all one has to do to escape is flee to the mountains. Notice that Jesus says "let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains" (Matt 24:16). Judea is not the world it's not even the nation of Israel!' (Last Days Madness, p. 121).
So we may observe that probably the great majority of the evangelical scholars of the church over many centuries, but especially in the early centuries, saw AD70 as being momentous in terms of prophecy and eschatology. Three general points were usually accepted:
1. The Jewish nation incurred the ongoing wrath of God for their rejection of the Messiah.
2. The complete destruction of the Jewish temple system underlined that the temple period was exhausted and complete and would not be restored in that form. From this point, only the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus had God's authority.
3. The events of AD70 plainly fulfilled at least a substantial part of the Mount Olivet Prophecy, if not the entirety of it (Matt. 24 Mark 13 Luke 21).
Only in the 19th century, with the arrival of J.N. Darby's 'Dispensationalism,' and William Miller's Adventism (and the several cults and sects which arose around the same period, many of them clearly stemming from that perverted root of Adventism), did the significance of the events of AD70 start to be downplayed, with several totally new eschatological concepts starting to be taught. At this time the focus was taken off AD70 as a major focal point in biblical understanding and Judeo-Christian history and the concept started to be taught that Matthew 24 and Revelation were more or less entirely futuristic in scope. Also, in contrast to the New Testament model of the 'end of the age' and the 'last days' being a present reality in the apostolic age, these new movements believed that this referred to a brief period prior to the Parousia (the Second Coming of Christ). Interestingly, these 19th century movements also sought to restore the 'high place' of national Israel, seeing much Bible prophecy as being entirely futuristic and mainly concerned with Israel, rather than with the Church. These movements, effectively, demoted the importance of the Church, and they still do!
We now need to very closely look at Matthew 24 to see how many of these verses found fulfillment at that dreadful time:
Mat 24:1: And Jesus went out and departed from the temple. And His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. (My insert: Please note that it was the temple and surrounding area which would be the general topic here - this is vital to note).
Mat 24:2: And Jesus said to them, Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone on another that shall not be thrown down. (My insert: a very clear reference to the destruction of the temple in AD70, of course).
Mat 24:3: And as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world? (My insert: Obviously, to be true to the Greek, this should be, 'the end of the age.' Jesus did not challenge the disciples' assumption that He was referring to 'the end of the age' since, it would indeed be a momentous time and it would indeed be 'the end of the age' as far as the significance of Israel - as a primary physical people standing right at the centre of the Old Covenant - were concerned just a little later, the apostles would understand the 'end times' as the period commencing from the First Coming. See here.) .
Mat 24:4: And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
Mat 24:5: For many will come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and will deceive many.
Mat 24:6: And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled, for all these things must occur but the end is not yet.
Mat 24:7: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in different places. (My insert: Apparently, all of this was indeed evidenced during this period of time. Much is recorded in Eusebius', Church History, Book 3, chapter 8).
Mat 24:8: All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Mat 24:9: Then they will deliver you up to be afflicted and will kill you. And you will be hated of all nations for My name's sake. (My insert: These comments of Jesus can be seen as being dual in application. Because of Jesus, both Jews would be hated, because of their rejection of Him, and also Christians would be hated by the world which has no understanding of them Jesus was addressing His comments to people who were both Jews and who - very soon - would be converted Christians).
Mat 24:10: And then many will be offended, and will betray one another, and will hate one another.
Mat 24:11: And many false prophets will rise and deceive many. (My insert: Again, Eusebius records that this was a strong 'flavour' of that period).
Mat 24:12: And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many will become cold.
Mat 24:13: But he who endures to the end, the same shall be kept safe.
Mat 24:14: And this gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world as a witness to all nations. And then the end shall come. (My insert: it is a known fact that from AD 30-70 the gospel spread like wildfire in the Mediterranean world and "all nations" may need to be seen in that context. However, this is probably dual in application, looking beyond the Jewish/Roman war to the bodily Second Coming of Christ yet to occur).
Mat 24:15: Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand). (My insert: This was when Jerusalem would be 'compassed with armies' - Luke 21:20 - and the Romans did indeed finally illegally enter the 'Holy Place' of the temple).
Mat 24:16: Then let those in Judea flee into the mountains.
Mat 24:17: Let him on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house
Mat 24:18: nor let him in the field turn back to take his clothes.
Mat 24:19: And woe to those who are with child, and to those who give suck in those days!
Mat 24:20: But pray that your flight is not in the winter, nor on the sabbath day (My insert: Regarding verses 16-20, writers like DeMar are correct in pointing out the localized characteristic of this 'Great Tribulation.' For instance, Jesus had already specifically referred to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and it was that temple which was the original subject of this discussion. Also, to 'flee into the mountains' would be the only escape and, quite apart from the Christians, some Jews did indeed manage to do this, thereby avoiding the long siege and famine. Also the 'sabbath day' would only have significance for the Jews, for - very soon - the Christians would not be keeping the sabbath).
Mat 24:21: for then shall be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world to this time no, nor ever shall be.
Mat 24:22: And unless those days should be shortened, no flesh would be saved. But for the elect's sake, those days shall be shortened. (My insert: Whilst this might be dual in application, the slaughter of Jerusalem Jews was unrelenting and extreme when the Romans finally entered the city).
Mat 24:23: Then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ! Or, There! Do not believe it.
Mat 24:24: For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders so much so that, if it were possible, they would deceive even the elect. (My insert: Again, Eusebius informs us that this was a strong flavour of those times).
Mat 24:25: Behold, I have told you beforehand.
Mat 24:26: Therefore if they shall say to you, Behold,
He is in the desert! Do not go out. Behold, He is in the secret rooms! Do not believe it.
Mat 24:27: For as the lightning comes out of the east and shines even to the west, so also will be the coming of the Son of Man. (My insert: This refers to the suddeness of His coming and almost certainly looks beyond the events of AD70 to the future Second Coming of Christ. However, it has been suggested that since the Romans were bearing punishment and judgment on behalf of Christ, this could apply to them, moreover, the Romans finally entered the city from the east).
Mat 24:28: For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered.
Mat 24:29: And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. (My insert: As Adam Clarke wrote, "In the prophetic language, great commotions upon earth are often represented under the notion of commotions and changes in the heavens: - The fall of Babylon is represented by the stars and constellations of heaven withdrawing their light, and the sun and moon being darkened. See Isa 13:9, Isa 13:10. The destruction of Egypt, by the heaven being covered, the sun enveloped with a cloud, and the moon withholding her light. Eze 32:7, Eze 32:8. The destruction of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes is represented by casting down some of the host of heaven, and the stars to the ground. See Dan 8:10. ." Nevertheless, this most probably looks to the period yet ahead of us when Christ is about to appear).
Mat 24:30: And then the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in the heavens. And then all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of the heaven with power and great glory. (My insert: Lies yet in the future).
Mat 24:31: And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (My insert: Definitely lies in the future).
Mat 24:32: Now learn a parable of the fig tree. When its branch is still tender and puts out leaves, you know that summer is near. (My insert: Again, Jesus seems to be warning the Jews about AD70).
Mat 24:33: So you, likewise, when you see all these things, shall know that it is near, at the doors.
Mat 24:34: Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled. (My insert: Jesus is now very clear in warning about AD70, for those events were less than 40 years away!).
Mat 24:35: The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but My Words shall not pass away.
Mat 24:36: But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not the angels of Heaven, but only My Father. (My insert: Dual, as with all the following verses).
Mat 24:37: But as the days of Noah were, so shall be the coming of the Son of Man.
Mat 24:38: For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark.
Mat 24:39: And they did not know until the flood came and took them all away. So also will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Mat 24:40: Then two shall be in the field the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Mat 24:41: Two shall be grinding at the mill the one shall be taken, and the other left. (My insert: None of this, of course, has any connection with a so-called "rapture" - it could refer to the suddeness of death and judgment, or to the fact that some will rise in the resurrection to life but others will not. Barnes has written, "The word 'taken' may mean either to be taken away from the danger - that is, rescued, as Lot was - Luke 17:28-29 - or to be taken away 'by death.' Probably the latter is the meaning").
Mat 24:42: Therefore watch for you do not know what hour your Lord comes. (My insert: The remainder of these verses of the Olivet Prophecy could have had an application for the first century but are probably mainly addressed to Christians awaiting the Second Coming of our Lord).
Mat 24:43: But know this, that if the steward of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be dug through.
Mat 24:44: Therefore you also be ready, for in that hour you think not, the Son of Man comes.
Mat 24:45: Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord has made ruler over His household, to give them food in due season?
Mat 24:46: Blessed is that servant whom his Lord shall find him doing so when He comes.
Mat 24:47: Truly I say to you that He shall make him ruler over all His goods.
Mat 24:48: But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delays His coming,
Mat 24:49: and shall begin to strike his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken,
Mat 24:50: the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he does not look for Him, and in an hour which he does not know.
Mat 24:51: And He shall cut him apart and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Modern King James Version throughout).
So we see that the Mount Olivet Prophecy primarily warned the Jews and the early church about events which would befall Jerusalem within a generation. There is, though, just an element of duality with certain verses almost certainly looking beyond the judgment on the Jews and on Jerusalem to other judgments yet to come, especially just prior to the Second Coming of our Lord. The primary focus, however, is on the events of AD66-73 (the final slaughter at Masada occurred in AD73). Jesus saw no harm in including all of these things under one prophetic umbrella since the coming of God in judgment can always be expected during the present age.
Likewise, much within the Book of Revelation also had/has a strong application:
a. In the first century (Rev. 1:1).
b. Throughout church history.
c. At the time of the Second Coming.
Since Revelation, for many years, had been claimed to have been written around AD90-95, one might wonder why any of its verses might have even some application to the events of AD64-70, however, the late date for Revelation has now been greatly revised, especially from the extensive studies of J.A.T. Robinson onwards. It now seems far more likely that Revelation was written around AD62-66. It had been thought that Revelation was written during the reign of Domitian (81-96), but the reign of Nero (54-68) now has very strong advocacy. As Dr Kenneth Gentry has written,
'There are suggestive evidences within the book to date it in the mid- to late-60s of the first century. In fact, the evidence is persuasive enough that it convinced such notable scholars Moses Stuart, F. J. A. Hort, B. F. Westcott, and F. W. Farrar in the last century, and J. A. T. Robinson, R. A. Torrey, Albert A. Bell, and C. F. D. Moule in our own day.
Two leading indicators of the early date are: (1) The "temple" in the "holy city" is still standing as John writes, though it is being threatened with devastation (Rev. 11: 1-2). We know as a matter of historical fact that the Jewish temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, and has never been rebuilt. (2) The sixth "king" is presently ruling from the "seven mountains" and will do so until a king comes who will reign a "short time" (Rev. 17:9-10). The preterist takes this to be a clear enough allusion to Nero Caesar. According to the enumeration found in Josephus' Antiquities (18:2:2,6, 10) and Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero is Rome's sixth emperor, following Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, and Claudius. The next reigning emperor, Galba, reigned but six months, the shortest reigning emperor until that time. ' (Source: http://www.kennethgentry.com/Merchant2/apocalypse.htm).
However, the dating of Revelation is not the primary point of this article and we now need to move on to our conclusion.
So what conclusions may one draw from all of these things?
It is not even possible to exaggerate the terrible suffering which came upon the Jewish people AD66-73, but especially in AD70. It is true that the twentieth century holocaust might be said to be even worse, especially in the total numbers of people who actually died, yet the horrors of AD70 must never be underestimated. That year was indeed a landmark year for Christianity, and a huge point in Bible prophecy. From that point, our God conclusively demonstrated that the era of the New Testament Church was truly underway and that any sympathies with the Old Covenant system should be firmly put aside (Hebrews 8:13). God placed a clear 'marker' between two ages through this momentous seven year 'Great Tribulation,' and nothing within Scripture really suggests another 'Great Tribulation' on such a scale in the future. Having said that, we know that the Bible offers strong suggestions of a final time of trouble when Satan is released from captivity and we know that a day is coming when the world will rejoice when all Christian witnessing is finally silenced (Rev 11:7-12). Yet even this could have had a type of fulfillment in the past, yet, without doubt, frightening events will befall this world just before Christ returns in power and glory.
For many hundreds of years AD70 was the pivotal prophecy focus of the Church. Only in the 19th century were new theological concepts introduced, especially in a new, adventuristic approach to Bible prophecy and a revival of the 'high view' of national Israel. The new trend necessarily led to a perspective which effectively reduced the importance of the Church.
Robin A. Brace, February, 2009.
Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem
One of the most important historical paintings of the Judeo-Christian Era, “The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans under the command of Titus, AD 70”
was painted between 1847 and 1849 by the celebrated British artist, David Roberts, R.A. in London and first exhibited at the Annual Spring Exhibition of the Royal Academy of 1849. The huge (7 ft X 12 ft) oil painting created a sensation. “Fantastic…the work of a Nation…” wrote the Art Critic of the The Times of London.
The painting depicted with stunning graphic detail the dramatic dying moments of the ancient city of Jerusalem and its magnificent Temple in the climatic event of the great Jewish Revolt against might Rome in AD 66. Roberts’ graphical accuracy was attributed to his faithful adherence to definitive descriptions of the holocaust by the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, an eye-witness to the tragic occurence.
The original oil painting disappeared in 1852 but has, in the last six years, been the object of an exhaustive international search. Yet, despite such efforts, its present location of even survival remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it represents, because of the unique circumstances of its creation, among the world’s great historical paintings. The ancient occasion, so rivetingly recreated by the masterful Robers, marked the exact moment in our Judeo-Christian Era which propelld early Christianity from it Judaistic origins and saw the destruction of the priestly sacrificial cult of ancient Judiasm and the resultant development of modern Rabbinic Judaism
Through the wonders of space-age technology, this singular moment in time is once again available to those who would heed its meaning. Acknowledgment, too, is due to the dedication of two men who recognized the cultural significance of this singular event and who sought to enable others, be they Christian
, Jew, or Muslim, who share a spiritual identification with Jerusalem, to enjoy and to understand this unique spectacle.
In 1985, Robert E. Browning found a damaged original copy of a rare lithograph taken from that large oil painting in the storeroom of a relative’s antique shop in Tennessee. Stretch by its power, he acquired the picture which was large (27.5 in. x 42 in.) for its medium. It had been executed in 1850 by the premier lithographer of the time, the Belgian Louis Haghe, and was praised by the artist Roberts as being “…remarkably faithful…” to the orginial oil painting. In retrospect, had it not been for the entirely providential execution of that lithograph, history may well have been denied an almost ineffable spectacle. An incalculable loss may have been, thereby, prevented.
Growing had the injured print digitally enhanced and, in 1996, took it to Mrs. Billie Campbell of Color Advantage in Dallas who, with her staff of artists and technicians, researched and futher enhanced the image to recreate a startling faithful facsimilie of the orginal oil painting finished by Roberts in 1849. Not in nearly 150 years has the public been able to view this great panoramic work of art as it was seen and celebrated by an admiring V
ictorian London public.
Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem,by the Romans, under the Command of Titus, AD 70
by David Roberts, R.A.
27 1/2 x 42 in. (69.9 x 106cm) signed David Roberts, Louis Haghe
Colour lithographic by Louis Haghe, hand finishted, published by Hering & Remington, London.
Reproduction in orginal size produced by Robert Browning Publishing, July 1998
David Roberts painted this, his largest work (12 X 7 ft.) between August-1847-April 1849. After finishing his preliminary study he declared he was “rather pleased with myself”. He described his choice of composition his: “The View is taken from the northside of the Mount of Olives showing the Temple with its various courts to great advantage whilst rising over all is Zion crowned
with the Place of Herod site of the ancient Temple of Solomon, later the dome of the Rock and its numerous public buildings. The period of time I hake AD 71 (during the reign of Nero) is after the sacking of the other city (after a Jewish revolt against Roman rule), the breaking down of the second wall and before the Temple of Zion were injured. In the foreground I bring in The Roman Soldiers with their captives. The whole composes much better than I at first had any idea of.”
Anxious to satisfy his public, Roberts rushed the print into production. After the success of the Holy Land and Egypt lithographs by Louis Haghe, he again turned to Haghe who (accoring to Roberts) produced a unique print of his painting, “on Dictionary of National Biography claimed that Haghe’s firm “..raished lithography to the highest point it ever attained.” His publisher, Hering and Remington, 137 Regent Street, London produced a 32-page booklet with foldout plate in outline (in Buildhall and British Library) and numbered to explain the various bibical sites depicted by Roberts.
The original oil painting, while on a tour of Scotland, was damaged in a railway accident. It was sold, restored, and resold but then it vanished. Its whereabouts are unknown even today, and it is considered lost. Of the orginal lithograph, just twenty-five hand finished full color presentation copies were pulled and signed by Haghe, the Engraver, and by Roberts, the Artist. Though a copy of the lithography is know to reside in the British Museum in London, it is just a two-tinted one although, its extraordinary size makes it a rarity. The venerable Schuster Gallery in London has a to-tinted copy, not a presentation copy available for $5,000. In 1984, Robert E. Browning discovered on of the orginal 25 full color presentation signed copies. It was subsequently damaged a
nd because of its age (140 years) and injured condition, was thought to be beyond repair.
Mr. Browining sensed unusual current cultural and political revelance in this unique pictorialiation of an important (yet not widely exposed) event in Western Civilization history. He would not accept the loss of a rare and beautiful work of art, as threatened by its state of disrepair. Therefore, he shough to avail himself of the latest state-of-the-art restoration and enhancement technology obtainable. He clearly felt a strong compulsion to preserve, as best as possible, the inspired essence of the orginial, now lost, painting and the faithful, but frail, lithograph he possessed, for the gratification, edification of the public.
His successful efforts have caused to be produced a restoration and enhancement of the injured lithograph which is of truly vivid similitude to the orginal. No expense was spared in producing a result that surely would meet with the approval of the Artist and the Engraver and one, too, which would bear the most scrutiny of the modern connoisseur. Through the technology of a Cruise Camera, the lithograph has been restored to the orginal size of the painting (12 ft x 7 ft) Mrs. Billie Cambel of Color Advangage, Inc. of Dallas, Texas, through her staff, has brought this wonderful work to a true restoration.
With a $150 dollar donation to our building fund you will receive a copy of “The Seige and Destruction of Jerusalem” and a signed copy of the picture of the Destruction of Jerusalem.
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem - History
By Tim Miller
After a summer of starvation and siege had been imposed on the city’s people during the fall of Jerusalem, the great Second Temple was finally on fire. No one knows who threw the flaming brand, or indeed how the temple had avoided such a fate for so long, but once the conflagration began there was no stopping it.
The Jewish soldiers, outnumbered and hungry and armed only with weapons they had won from the Romans in battle, immediately refocused the physical courage and fanaticism that had helped them hold out for so long. The earthly embodiment of their ideals was now being destroyed, and their own freedom from Roman rule and even their own lives were nothing now that the Temple faced destruction. (Read more about the war-torn history of Jerusalem and the ancient battles that defined world history inside the pages of Military Heritage magazine.)
“As the flames shot into the air the Jews sent up a cry that matched the calamity and dashed to the rescue, with no thought now of saving their lives or husbanding their strength for that which they had guarded so devotedly was disappearing before their eyes,” wrote the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.
When Titus, son of the new emperor Vespasian and the Roman general in charge of the siege, heard the news he raced to the scene and demanded that the fire be put out. The Roman army either pretended not to hear, or simply disobeyed, throwing more wood on the fire. “Everywhere was slaughter and flight,” wrote Josephus. “Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed.” As the Roman legionnaires pressed their advantage, the pile of corpses surrounding the alter grew ever higher.
There was as much use arguing with the Roman troops as there was with the fire itself, according to Josephus. After some of the most brutal fighting in Roman history, and after a seemingly endless round of Roman victories and Jewish resurgence, the fire and bloodletting at the Temple was a total and terrible release. “[The soldiers’] respect for Titus and their fear of the centurion’s staff were powerless against their fury, their detestation of the Jews, and an uncontrollable lust for battle,” he wrote.
The huge white marble Temple complex, which gleamed with such a luster that it might be compared to a mountain covered in snow, and the city choking with civilians and insurgents and Romans, all swirled and culminated in a butchered, bloody, and smoky end on September 8, ad 70.
Jewish and Roman relations had never been great. Following his siege of the city in 63 bc, the Roman general Pompey the Great had profaned the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies, which no one but the High Priest was allowed to do, and that only once a year, merely to survey its riches. Following more than two centuries of Hellenistic rule, during which nearly every aspect of Greek life, not to mention paganism, was found offensive to the Jews, the Romans took over. They were equally offensive in the eyes of the Jews.
Pompey the Great had intervened militarily in the affairs of Judea in 63 bc. From that point forward, Judea became a client kingdom of the Roman Republic. Rome officially annexed Judea as a province in ad 6. Opposition to Roman rule was immediate. The sicarii, or knife men, were assassins who conducted hit and run attacks and then hid in the desert from Roman patrols trying to apprehend or kill them.
If the old cliché about the Romans is true, that they were merely brutes who elevated themselves by appropriating a good deal of Greek culture, their inability to rule in Judea is easily understood. Bureaucracy, organization, and a show of strength should have been enough to subdue a minority culture not known for its military might, but it was their religion that was the source of their seeming stubbornness. Not even Rome’s eventual victory would snuff out Judaism.
In Judea there also were locals who were willing to work with the Romans as far as they could, no matter how incurious, ignorant, or ineffective their foreign overlords proved to be. But it did not take long for such Jews to lose favor with the larger community. The weakening of any aspect of Jewish ritual or legal life was viewed with suspicion, and almost immediately the Jewish population disintegrated into a handful of competing allegiances. The Jews harmed themselves by this infighting more than the Romans ever could.
In what essentially boiled down to class warfare, the words of Josephus are strikingly modern. He noted that those in power oppressed the masses, and that “the masses [were] eager to destroy the powerful.” To the oppressed masses, who supported the more popular fundamentalism of the Pharisees, the great enemies were the Temple elites and the largest landowners, the Sadducees. There also were the ascetic and apocalyptic Essenes, but they lived away from the city and considered Temple life irredeemably corrupt. Added to this, Roman influence in the area was perpetually mediocre and easily undermined because the area was not of much interest in the wider Roman world. Of the quarter million men who made up the Roman standing army, only 3,000 were stationed in Judea at the beginning of ad 66.
In the last decades before Christ and those following Herod the Great’s death, while there was the occasional upheaval in the province, there was little that could be deemed anti-Roman, and none of which could be said to presage the destruction of the late 60s. The Roman historian Tacitus simply says “all was quiet” in reference to Judea during the years of the Emperor Tiberius from ad 14 to 37. But that began to sour in ad 40 when Emperor Caligula departed from the policy of religious tolerance exercised by his predecessors. The chain of events over the next 26 years ultimately led to the ascendency of the Zealot party.
Deeming Judea a province of no military significance, the Romans entrusted its rule to a governor of procuratorial rank. Many of the governors of Judea during this period were corrupt. Added to this, the governors tended to overreact to disorder and suppress it with heavy force.
Caligula stoked the flames of discontent as well. He demanded that a statue of himself be placed for worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. Publius Petronius, the Roman governor of Syria, traveled to Jerusalem to quell the unrest. He asked the Jews if they were willing to go to war with Caligula over the matter.
“The Jews replied that they offered sacrifice twice daily for [Caligula] and the Roman people, but that if he wished to set up these statues, he must first sacrifice the entire Jewish nation and that they presented themselves, their wives and their children, ready for the slaughter,” wrote Josephus. Caligula was murdered in the interim and the matter was dropped. The response of the Jews was ample proof that they were willing to sacrifice themselves rather than dishonor their God.
As it happened, the events that led to the rise to prominence of the Zealots and their subsequent revolt can be traced to an avoidable miscalculation by the inept procurator Gessius Florus. In May ad 66, a Gentile mob had profaned a synagogue in Caesarea, a town on the Mediterranean coast 78 miles northwest of Jerusalem. A Greek, who was aware of the strict laws held by the Jews in regard to ritual purity and cleanliness, “placed a chamber pot upside down at the entrance [to the synagogue] and was sacrificing birds on it,” wrote Josephus. Similar provocations had taken place in the previous decade for example, Roman soldiers had exposed their buttocks to Jewish pilgrims. They also had seized and burned sacred Jewish scrolls.
This time the events in Caesarea would spiral beyond anything that had come before. Matters pertaining to local government and religion in Jerusalem were the purview of the High Priest and his council, the Sanhedrin. When the Jews of the area began to complain, Florus ignored their pleas.
Florus decided it was a good time to collect overdue taxes. His demands were met with anger in Jerusalem. Some youths went so far as to mock him by roaming the streets with a basket, begging for pennies for the seemingly impoverished governor. Florus demanded that the offending youths be handed over for punishment. The Sanhedrin authorities apologized for the behavior of the youths, but they refused to turn them over, saying it was impossible to identify the guilty parties in such a large crowd.
In a clear example of the brutal repression in Judea exercised by the Romans, Florus ordered his soldiers to the southwest market area of the city with instructions to slay indiscriminately those they encountered. “There followed a flight through the narrow streets, the slaughter of those who were caught, and rapine in all its horror,” he wrote. “Many peaceful citizens were seized and taken before Florus, who had them scourged and then crucified.”
Almost immediately, Jewish radicals calling for revolution took control of the Temple. They suspended the daily sacrifice for the well-being of the Roman emperor and the people of Rome. Refusal to carry out the daily sacrifice was an overt act of rebellion as far as the Romans were concerned. The radicals also ordered the burning of many of the homes of the rich, including that of puppet king Herod Agrippa II. The radicals also destroyed the public archives, which brought many of the rural poor over to the revolutionary side. The conservative faction, meanwhile, fled to Agrippa’s palace, along with the 500 auxiliaries Florus had left in the city before leaving himself.
Titus was regarded as a competent military commander largely because of his successful siege of Jerusalem.
When the Roman auxiliaries decided to sue for peace, the rebels assured them of their safety. Once they were marched out and relieved of their weapons, the rebels “fell upon them, surrounded and massacred them the Romans neither resisting nor suing for mercy, but merely appealing with loud cries to ‘the agreements’ and ‘the oaths,’” wrote Josephus. To the people of Jerusalem, war with Rome seemed inevitable at that point, as did a sense of their own collective guilt and ritual pollution. The city gave itself up to public mourning for what the future would bring, while those in the conservative faction quaked with fear as they contemplated the suffering that would be inflicted on them for the rebels’ crimes.
Despite the fracture among the Jewish authorities and the terrible violence the rebels had already given to the Romans in reprisal, a wider war could have been avoided. Cestius Gallus, the Roman governor of Syria, was called in to quell the disturbances. He initially tried to resolve the matter with diplomacy by sending his tribune Neapolitanus to Jerusalem. Neapolitanus and Agrippa tried to quiet the unrest but were unsuccessful.
Gallus marched from Antioch to Palestine with a large army, the core of which was the XII Legion. On his way to Jerusalem he left a path of destruction along the seacoast in his wake, burning villages and slaughtering their inhabitants. Before he reached Jerusalem, Agrippa delivered to the rebels a peace treaty on behalf of Gallus. It included a general pardon for the rebels, on the condition that they disarm. Perhaps with their own butchery of the unarmed Roman auxiliaries in mind, the offer was refused and one of the emissaries was killed for even bringing it.
In response, Gallus continued to Jerusalem. He fought his way into the city through the northeast suburbs where he encamped for five days before the second wall near Herod’s Palace. The approach of winter with its heavy rains, as well as raids on his supply line, compelled Gallus to withdraw through Palestine. “Had he, at that moment, decided to force his way through the walls he would have captured the city forthwith, and the war would have been over,” wrote Josephus.
The Jews harassed his retreat, forcing him to discard valuable war materials to speed his withdrawal. His best troops, whom he had left as a rear guard, were cut down at Beth Horon Pass. Gallus lost 5,000 men, 500 cavalry, and his siege and baggage trains during his withdrawal. The Jews also captured a legionary standard. The Jews’ success gained siege artillery they lacked and also boosted their confidence. The heavy losses inflicted on Gallus’s army guaranteed that the Romans would respond with even greater force.
In-Fighting within the City
The Romans did not launch another major offensive against Jerusalem for four years. Meanwhile, the city seethed with turmoil. The Romans were willing to watch the factions under various warlords fight among themselves.
Rome gave the job of suppressing the Jewish revolt to 58-year-old Vespasian. His family belonged to the equites, the second of the property-based classes of Rome ranking beneath the senatorial class. His uncle had served as a senator, and then as praetor, but that was as distinguished as his pedigree got. Although not in favor at court at the time of his appointment, Vespasian seemed right for the job because his relatively obscure origins ensured that if he were entrusted with a sizable command he would not have grandiose plans to use the army to press his own gains. Vespasian had a long record of military service.
While serving as legate of Legio II Augusta during the final conquest of Britain in ad 43 he compiled a distinguished combat record that earned him triumphal regalia. He went on to serve in Africa and held the consulship in ad 51 during the reign of Emperor Claudius. As a member of Nero’s retinue traveling in Greece in ad 66, he was nearly executed for falling asleep in ad 66 during one of the emperor’s interminable musical performances. Quite literally fearing for his life, Vespasian had gone into hiding rather than face Nero’s fickle and whimsical reprisals. To quash the rebellion in Judea, he was given the title of propraetorian legate with command over four legions.
The Jewish radical faction ordered the burning of many homes, including that of puppet king Herod Agrippa II.
Vespasian opened his campaign in April ad 67 with a campaign in Galilee. The commander of the Jewish defenses in Galilee was none other than Josephus. After a successful 47-day siege of Josephus’s army at Jotapata, Vespasian took Josephus prisoner. In his work, Jewish War,which Josephus wrote in the decade following the conflict, he provides a detailed account of the struggle. Josephus was an ideal chronicler given that his family had been active in political life before First Jewish-Roman War, also known as the Great Revolt. After his capture, Josephus recorded events from both sides given that he witnessed the rest of the campaign from the Roman camp.
An aristocrat, priest, and Pharisee by education, Josephus claims to have considered suicide over capture, but a dream from God convinced him that he should remain alive and that the fall of Jerusalem was inevitable. He also prophesied that Vespasian would one day become emperor, a claim that at the time must have seemed far fetched. This was a year before the turbulent period known as the Year of the Four Emperors in which Rome would go through a string of emperors following the death of Nero on June 9, ad 68, before stability was restored.
Eccentric, narcissistic, and perhaps even psychopathic, the end had finally come for Nero. He had already forced numerous aristocrats and scholars, among them Seneca, to commit suicide for their roles in real or imagined conspiracies against him. While only 30 years old in ad 68, he had spent nearly half his life as emperor, using his position and authority mostly to fulfill the usual tabloid desires and pursue a career on the stage. In the spring of ad 68, Gaius Julius Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, declared himself emperor. While this revolt was being put down, Sulpicius Galba, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis on the Iberian Peninsula, also revolted. He decided to march immediately on Rome while Nero was still alive. Galba was assassinated, and Otho (Marcus Otho Caesar Augustus) committed suicide following his defeat at the First Battle of Bedriacum on April 14, ad 69, against the forces of Aulus Vitellius, commander of the army of Germania Inferior. Two days later Vitellius became emperor.
Meanwhile, Vespasian had stamped out rebel activity in Judea except for Jerusalem, secured his supply lines, and begun to his advance on Jerusalem. Nothing short of a miracle could save Jerusalem. The miracle came in the form of chaos in Rome. Abandoning Jerusalem, Vespasian travelled to Alexandria, Egypt, where he declared himself emperor. Egypt’s prefect and legions approved, and so did his troops.
Vespasian’s legions in Syria marched west through the Balkans and defeated Vitellius’s legions at the Second Battle of Bedriacum on October 24. Afterward, the legions of Britain and Spain declared their allegiance to Vespasian. Upon arriving in Rome, Vespasian’s men hunted down and executed Vitellius in the forum. They then threw his body in the Tiber River. At that point, Vespasian sailed from Alexandria for Rome.
With little in his background to justify his position as emperor and having no direct hand in vanquishing Vittelius, Vespasian desperately needed a victory against the Zealots of Jerusalem. Vespasian entrusted command of the campaign to his son Titus, who marched against the city in April ad 70. With political and logistical stability in place, Titus wasted no time moving on Jerusalem. With previously only a small force to hold Judea, Titus was given four legions totaling 60,000 troops. His army consisted of the Legio V Macedonia, Legio X Fretensis, Legio XII Fulminata, and Legio XV Apollinaris. The army was supported by a force of 16,000 noncombatants responsible for supply and logistics.
The Jews had nothing comparable to Titus’s professional army. By the time the siege began, several rebel leaders had come to the forefront. These were John of Gischala, Simon Bar Giora, and Eleazar ben Simon.
John was “the most cunning and unscrupulous of all men who have ever gained notoriety by evil means,” according to Josephus. Reality seems much more prosaic. He was at first against the rebels, but he quickly changed sides when the Romans allowed the Greeks from nearby Tyre to sack Gischala. He then briefly fought with Josephus, eventually winding up in Jerusalem as another fighter for another faction.
To tighten his blockade of the city, Titus built a circumvallation line studded with forts midway through the siege. Afterward, the Romans spent weeks assaulting the Great Temple.
Simon had been a part of the rebellion from the beginning, having led the Jewish forces that ambushed the Romans at Beth Horon Pass. In the intervening years, he briefly fell out of favor in the city and retreated with his men to the mountain fortress at Masada. He was called back later to restore order and he didn’t relinquish power again until the Romans captured him.
As for Eleazar, he was a renowned Jewish chieftan who had fought with distinction against the Roman garrisons in Judea.
The Fall of Jerusalem: Titus’ Army vs Jewish Defenses
Waiting for the Romans in Jerusalem were 23,400 troops: 15,000 under Simon, 6,000 under John, and 2,400 under Eleazar. The Jews possessed “fortitude of soul that could surmount faction, famine, war and such a host of calamities,” wrote Josephus.
Jerusalem was divided into three parts: the 100-acre upper and lower cities in the south, the 150-acre new city in the north, and the 50-acre Temple Mount in the east. The Temple Mount, which crowned Jerusalem, was positioned like a lock connecting the northern and southern sections of the city. Attached to the northwest corner of the Temple Mount was the formidable Antonia Fortress. Within the city were two inner walls. The first wall divided the northern and southern sections of the city while the second wall afforded an additional layer of defense in the new city.
The vanguard of Titus’s army cut off communications between Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside upon its arrival in April. Titus cleverly added to the confusion within Jerusalem by allowing pilgrims to enter to celebrate Passover. He had no intention of allowing them to depart, though. He knew that the presence of large numbers of noncombatants would strain the city’s food resources. As expected, famine quickly set in.
Titus ordered Legions V, XII, and XV to bivouac on Mount Scopus to the northeast and Legion X to encamp on the Mount of Olives to the east. The Jews conducted repeated sorties against the camps that forced Titus to tighten his siege. As the siege progressed, the camps would move closer to the front lines, eventually occupying part of the western portion of the new city.
Titus reconnoitered the city and decided to begin his assault on the level ground outside the new town. The Romans punched through the outer wall and the inner wall in just 24 days of fighting. They used bronze-headed battering rams to crack the walls. Roman catapults hurled stones into the center of the city to destroy defenses and inflict casualties.
Roman legions press their siege during the fall of Jerusalem in a work by Scottish painter David Roberts. As the siege progressed, Titus relocated the legion camps closer to the front lines and in the new town itself.
But Titus’s initial success, and the casualties he inflicted on the defenders, did not stop the Jews from fighting among themselves. John launched a surprise attack against Eleazar’s troops holding the Temple in which his troops slaughtered Eleazar’s men. When the fighting resumed between the Romans and the Jews, John’s troops were in possession of the Temple Mount and the Antonia Fortress, while Simon’s were deployed along the first wall in defense of the upper and lower city as well as Herod’s Palace.
Titus subsequently separated his forces in order to attack each of these groups, but the focus of the siege and of the fighting soon moved to the Temple Mount. The Romans began to build ramps against the Antonia Fortress, and their construction went on day and night, with the Roman forces being attacked by hundreds of bolt shooters and stone throwers the Jews had captured from the Roman army.
While some Jews harried the Romans from above, others were tunneling beneath their position and filling the space with bitumen and pitch. Suddenly, the ground beneath the Romans collapsed, and the siege ramps and towers fell into the burning pits. It was a major setback for the Romans.
The heavy casualties the Romans had suffered in the house-to-house fighting and in the destruction of their ramps and towers compelled Titus to rethink his strategy. Titus had lost a large number of men in the fighting to that point, and he feared even greater losses trying to take the inner bastions of the city.
The Roman commander decided it would be advantageous to tighten his blockade on the city. Titus therefore ordered his troops to construct an encircling line around the city to ensure that the Jews could not smuggle in supplies. The circumvallation line was 4 1 /2miles long and was strengthened at intervals with 13 forts. In addition, he issued orders that anyone found outside of the city was to be crucified.
“Pitiful was the fare and lamentable the spectacle, the stronger taking more than their share, the weak whimpering,” wrote Josephus. “Wives would snatch the food from their husbands, children from fathers, and—most pitiable of all—mothers from the very mouths of their infants.” Deserters who were allowed out of the city told of corpses everywhere stacked up and left unburied. So crazed with hunger were the defenders that they resorted to eating leather belts and harnesses. Josephus himself appealed to the combatants to give up, at least for the sake of the starving, but he was ignored.
Titus made a personal appeal to his soldiers to put out the fire to save the Great Temple, but his soldiers’ lust for revenge for the heavy losses they suffered proved too strong in the long run.
Yet somehow the defenders found the strength to fight on. They repaired breeches in the walls made by the battering rams and repulsed fresh assaults by the Romans. The Romans explored every possible avenue of attack. In late July, the Romans conducted a night sortie that overwhelmed Jewish sentries who had fallen asleep at their posts guarding the Antonia Fortress. Next, Titus focused his efforts on capturing the Temple Mount where the Jewish forces had concentrated in expectation of a final battle.
Although the northern end of the Temple Mount’s colonnade had been almost completely destroyed by that point, its western end was still intact. On July 27 the Romans were at work on a series of platforms that would link it with the remains of the northern end. Suddenly, the Jewish rebels atop the western end dispersed, leaving it undefended. Some of the Romans probably guessed it was a trap, but the chance to gain control of the elevated colonnade roof was simply too good to pass up. They should have trusted their instincts for the Jews had packed the cedar rafters beneath the colonnade with bitumen, pitch, and dried wood. When the Romans climbed their ladders and reached the roof, the rafters below them burst into flames.
The 50-foot-high colonnade collapsed, sending hundreds of Romans down into the city. Those who had advanced beyond the collapsed area had nowhere to go when the flames consumed their ladders. “Encircled by the blaze some flung themselves down into the city behind them, some into the thick of the foe many in the hope of escaping with their lives jumped down among their own men and broke their legs most for all their haste were too slow for the fire a few cheated the flames with their own daggers,” wrote Josephus. The remaining individuals, many of whom were severely wounded, eventually succumbed to their wounds.
For all of their elation, the Jews merely had delayed the inevitable. Sensing that victory was near, Titus pressed the siege of the Temple Mount. Each day he sent legionnaires forward to ram and batter the walls. But the walls were too well made and the individual blocks too thick, so that even prying a handful of them free did nothing to the walls’ overall integrity. Frustrated, Titus ordered that the Temple Mount be stormed, but this only led to more lives lost and more standards captured by the enemy.
The Jewish destruction of the western colonnade, while briefly affording the defenders an advantage, had nevertheless made their position vulnerable. When the Romans decided to destroy the northern colonnade, the Jewish forces secured themselves within the walls of the Temple complex.
The chaos, disorder, and looting that occurred during the Roman sack of the Great Temple is depicted in a romantic painting by Italian artist Francesco Hayez. The Romans forbade the Jews to rebuild the temple.
The Temple Mount and inner courtyard were surrounded by thick walls and a handful of strong towers. The Temple alone soared 150 feet into the air. The entire complex, known as the Platform Mount, was itself built atop a dais. The series of walls, boundaries, balustrades, gates, and impediments were meant to halt one’s progress toward the earthly home of the Jewish God behind golden gates. It was within sight of these gates that the remnants of the starving Jewish forces made their last stand.
The Jews sallied forth on August 9 and attacked the Romans holding the outer court. After three hours of see-saw fighting, in which the Jews bore the brunt of a Roman cavalry charge, the Jews retreated to the inner court once again.
The following day the Jews attacked the Romans in the outer court again but found themselves trapped against the northern wall of the Platform Mount. Someone hurled a flaming torch over the wall and into the Sanctuary surrounding the Temple. No one knows who did it or why.
If the cessation of the sacrifice had demoralized the Jews, the entire reason for that sacrifice, and for the revolt, was being destroyed. The Jews’ defensive line and their very religion, the source of their strength both physical and spiritual, were collapsing at the same moment. Chaos, disorder, and looting ensued. The Romans gave no quarter.
A relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome shows victorious soldiers carrying the vanquished Jews’ seven-branched Menorah and trumpets high above their heads.
“There was no pity for age, no regard for rank little children and old men, laymen and priests alike were butchered,” wrote Josephus. He added, “The cries from the hill were answered from the crowded streets and now many who were wasted with hunger and beyond speech found strength to moan and wail when they saw the sanctuary in flames.”
Aftermath in the Sacred City
Whatever sympathy Titus may have once had for the Jews, whatever respect or awe he may have once given the Temple, and whatever worries he may have once given to the notion of Rome acting too harshly toward the rebellion disappeared altogether. He ordered a victorious sacrifice near the eastern gate of the Temple. One of the animals burned there, which was the most insulting and blasphemous of all, was a pig.
The insurgents who remained held out for many months. Herod’s Palace was laid to siege and finally destroyed, and by the next summer, even as Titus and Vespasian were celebrating a triumph in Rome, their forces were still clearing Judea of fighters. Captured Jewish men were sent to either live out their lives in forced labor in Egypt or to be torn apart by animals in gladiatorial games, while their women and children were dispersed and sold as slaves. The whims of the new regime also meant that the rebel leaders met with different fates. John was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Simon was systematically tortured and scourged before being strangled. In Judea in ad 73 and 74, the Romans conquered the hilltop fortress of Masada, bringing the First Jewish War to a bloody conclusion.
Titus took home to Rome as trophies of his victory the golden table of shewbread, the seven-branched candlestick, and a roll of the Law. Shortly after Titus’s death in ad 81, his brother Domitian had the Arch of Titus erected on the Via Sacre in Rome. In one of the reliefs depicting the destruction of Jerusalem, Roman soldiers are seen carrying off the seven-branched menorah and trumpets, holding them high over their heads.
The Romans forbade the Jews from rebuilding the Temple, established a permanent garrison, and abolished the Sanhedrin, replacing it with a Roman procurator’s court.
Josephus, who had correctly predicted the rise of Vespasian, was at Titus’s side during the fall of the city. After the war he became a Roman citizen and was given a pension and an imperial residence in Rome. He spent the rest of his life writing not only a history of the war, but of his people, narrating for Greek and Roman readers the story of the Jews from the creation of the world to the revolt.
To the end, Josephus defended Jewish culture and norms against the supposed superiority of Greek knowledge and philosophy. As Temple Judaism disappeared and Christianity spread over the known world, Rabbinic Judaism rose from the horror and bloodshed of the revolt and from the ashes of the Temple. In the end, Jerusalem survived Rome.