Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

The Destruction of the Temple

Posted by foryourfaith on May 10, 2010


Judea’s great revolt against Rome broke out in AD 66 and lasted for four years, pitting several of Rome’s disciplined legions against the poorly organized Jewish rebels. This challenge to Rome’s authority had to be suppressed to avoid flareups in other lands. Under the command of Vespasian, Rome’s legions recaptured most of Palestine. The war culminated in the siege of Jerusalem in the year AD 70. During the fall of the city, Judaism’s holiest site, Herod’s Temple, went up in flames.

Josephus, the renowned first-century Jewish historian and soldier, devoted two books in his work The Jewish War to an account of the lengthy siege of Jerusalem and its eventual conquest by Rome. Titus (who had replaced his father Vespasian, in Judea when Vespasian left to become emperor) commanded the legions’ bloody capture of the city. The Jewish defenders made a valiant effort to save the Temple.

According to the Talmud, it was on the 9th day of Av – the traditional date of the destruction of the First Temple – that the Temple gates were set on fire. While the Temple was burning, the Jewish defenders were slain. “Most . . . were civilians, weak and unarmed people, each butchered where he was caught,” Josephus wrote.

The last holdup, the Upper City, fell to Rome a month later. Titus ordered the destruction of the city and its walls, leaving just three towers standing as a reminder of past glory and as a fortress for the 10th Legion, which was left to guard the city.

Jerusalem’s fall was celebrated by Titus as a great victory, and a commemorative arch was erected in Rome to mark the occasion. For the Jews, however, the 9th of Av became a day of mourning and prayer. In subsequent generations, the Western Wall (the portion of the western supporting wall of the Temple Mount that remained intact) became a site for pilgrimages and prayers for the Jewish people. It became associated with the Western Wall of the Holy of Holies and therefore with the Divine Presence.

One part of the wall in particular became the site of worship and mourning. It is called the “Wailing Wall,” or, in Hebrew, the Kotel. To this day, many pilgrims to Jerusalem leave notes – prayers and requests – tucked in between its stones.

No trace has ever been found of the Temple’s holy vessels, carried off to Rome by Titus and depicted on the arch in Rome. The Ark of the Covenant probably disappeared before or during the destruction of the First Temple in the sixth century BC.

The destruction of the Temple eliminated the focal point of ancient Jewish worship. Judaism adapted to the harsh new realities. The Jews were now a people without a homeland. But new leaders arose to replace those who had perished in the revolt against Rome. The town of Jabneel, near the coast, became the center of Jewish learning and law. The bet midrash, or house of study, was founded, and prayer in the synagogue became more important. Judaism, deprived of its cult center, developed a new, yet more spiritual, dimension.


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