Tuesday, August 9, 2011

When the Romans Destroyed Jerusalem

Beginning at sunset last night, Jews around the world began to commemorate the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. This holiday is known as Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av), which is the day on the Jewish calendar the traditionally marks the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s temple. Today’s picture is of rock tumble from the Roman destruction laying as it was found when archaeologists uncovered it in the 1960s and 70s.

When it was destroyed in 70 CE Jerusalem was considered to be one of the most beautiful cities. It was thought to reflect the glory of God and many people came as tourists to Jerusalem and its temple. The Babylonian Talmud states:
“Whoever did not see Herod’s Temple standing never saw a beautiful building his whole life” (Succah 51b).

In the mid to late 60’s CE, Rome was struggling to put down a Jewish rebellion in Palestine. Titus, the future emperor of Rome, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple to discourage Jews from having nationalistic feelings connected to the city. After the city’s destruction, Jews were generally prohibited to enter into the ruins. Once a year, however, they were allowed to enter in order to mourn the destruction of the temple.

In 132 CE, the Emperor Hadrian was strengthening Roman power in Palestine. He also began to rebuild Jerusalem as a Roman city, which the Jews saw as a bad omen and a second Jewish revolt began which lasted until 135 CE.

The spiritual leader of the revolt was Rabbi Akiva from Caesarea who was executed by the Romans. The military leader was a Jew named Simon who had Messianic qualities and aspirations. He received the name Bar Kokhba, “Son of the Stars.” It appears that for a while they had control of Jerusalem, but eventually lost.

After the second revolt was defeated, Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Romans who changed its name in an attempt to erase the name from history. It was re-named Aelia Capitolina. Aelia was the family of Hadrian and Capitolina were the trinity of gods on the Roman hill and now declared to be part of the new city. The old city of Jerusalem today is based much on the pattern of the old Roman city, including the walls, the street lay out and the gates.

In addition to commemorating the destruction of two temples, Jews will also remember the many calamites that have befallen them over their long history. It is solemn fast day and many will refrain from washing, working and even greeting one another.

Coincidentally, archaeologists announced this week the discovery of a Roman soldier's sword and a stone etching of a menorah. Both were found in an sewer that was been the focus of recent excavations. The archaeologist, Ronny Reich, believes the sword may come from the time if the Jewish revolt. See pictures and read the article here.


  1. Do we know how many Jewish people actually perished at the hands of the Romans during the 70 C.E. seige upon Jerusalem? I've read all kinds of numbers (some incredibly large), and terrible stories about mass crucifixions for those fleeing the city, but I am curious about what information you have been able to glean. Thanks for a great blog! (Rob)

  2. Rob,

    That is a good question. The numbers are difficult to determine since they come to us, for the most part,from Josephus, who seems to have had a habit of inflating numbers. However, the current Old City of Jerusalem is about one third of the size of the city at 70CE. From what I can add up from a Wikipedia article, it seems that the population of the city toady is between 80 to 100,000. But then again Wikepedia is sometimes like Josephus. But even so, I would suspect that there were about 100 to 200,000 people at the time of the Roman siege.

    As far as the crucifixions, again this is from Josephus. However, the excavations in Jerusalem have confirmed the basic details of Josephus. The "Burnt House" in the Jewish Quarter and now the discoveries in the sewers (see tomorrow's blog) seem to confirm the brutal effects of the siege on Jerusalem. But numbers are hard to determine.

  3. I had heard rumors that when the Romans destroyed the temple they surrounded the city and starved the Jewish people out first and then rummaged through the city destroying the temple. I also heard that they set up some sort of god in place of the temple (you can obviously see why I am asking about these claims). Do you know if there is any truth to these claims? Thanks and God Bless.

  4. Jacob, Josephus does describe the Romans surrounding the city and people inside starving to such a degree that they resorted to cannibalism. Luke's versions of Jesus prediction about Jerusalem seems to be colored by knowledge of these events. And yes, the Romans then set up a temple to Jupiter on the place where the Jewish temple had stood.

  5. Interesting! So do you see this as being a foreshadow of things to come, or a fulfillment of prophecy? I consider myself a historic premill believer and have never been a conformist, but this does sound like the preterist view could be right on this prophecy. I just can't believe that the resurrection has already occurred. Anyway, if this is a fulfillment then this is going to set a completely different scene that most dispensationalist present! Thanks and God Bless.

  6. Jacob,

    Jesus was not the only one predicting the end of the temple. The Dead Sea sect was and Josephus tells us there were other such prophets. I don't really look a this through a theological lens. I think Jesus was among many how saw the day that Jerusalem would fall and Luke recorded that prediction, along with some coloring from the actual event. So yes it is prophecy fulfillment, at least from Luke's point of view.

  7. the very last paragraph says if the jewish revolt should say of the jewish revolt. please change thank you.