Monday, November 19, 2007

Destruction of the Second Temple

This last Sunday we heard in the Gospel reading the following:
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here -- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Most know that the Second Jewish temple was destroyed after Jesus’ death and resurrection, but the story behind it is (at least to me) an interesting one.

The Roman presence in Jerusalem made the Jewish people understandably resentful and angry. Around the year 66 AD a group of Greeks, asserting their rights as roman citizens in a Roman province, made a sacrifice to a pagan god outside a Jewish synagogue. When the Jews appealed to the Roman garrison in the area to stop the sacrifices, they were ignored.

Enraged by the unwillingness of the soldiers to stop the sacrifices, the Jews (lead of course by the Zealots) attacked and destroyed the Roman garrison. Two major laws of the universe were broken here – don’t offer sacrifices to pagan gods around the Jewish temple or synagogue, and don’t kill Roman soldiers no matter how mad you get.

Like hurling a spark into a pile of dry brush, the unrest spread across all of Palestine and into Egypt. This caught the Emperor’s attention, so he sent in the 12th Roman Legion, nicknamed the “Thunderbolts”, to take care of the problem. The 12th Legion, based in Antioch, was about 30,00 men strong.

The 12th Legion joined up with the legate of Syria, Gaius Cestius Gallus, and made camp 6 miles outside of Jerusalem. When the Jews found out that the Roman forces were just outside the city getting ready to attack, they were enraged. They, even though it was the Sabbath, attacked the Roman forces with “a great shout and violence” and marched through the middle of the enemy killing 515 Roman soldiers and only loosing 22.

Due to its sorry showing, Gaius Cestius Gallus sent the 12th Roman Legion away in hopes of replacing it with a stronger, better prepared force. While the Troops were marching away from the city, the Jewish forces ambushed them. The ambush was a complete success with the Romans losing around 5,700 men while the Jews only lost a few. And Gaius Cestius Gallus, whether by a Jewish sword or his on, also was killed. But the Roman’s greatest loss was of their Eagle Standard.

Roman Legions marched with an Aquila or standard not unlike the flag of modern armies. The most important standard the Roman’s marched with was the Eagle Standard – not much more than a pole with an eagle on the top. For this to be lost to the enemy was a huge deal and very little was spared to retrieve these standards when they were lost (only happened a handful of times).

(We should all be very honored that our very own blogger, Germanicus, once led a campaign to recover the Eagle Standard lost by another Roman Legion.)

The Emperor Vaspasian’s son, Titus, was now sent to crush the Jewish revolt and retrieve the eagle standard. Being that natural barriers protected the other three sides, the Romans marched down from the North to Jerusalem. It took a long time for the Romans to break through the three walls the Jews set up to for protection, but they finally succeeded in placing Jerusalem under siege. The people of the city suffered terribly.

When the Romans entered the city and came upon the Temple, its doors doors were set on fire. Once the doors were burned up, Roman troops rushed into the temple battling its defenders to the death. After the outer Temple courts were under Roman control, the soldiers broke into the inner temple and all defenders were slain.

Josephus writes about the scene:
“Around the altar a pile of corpses was accumulating; down the steps of the sanctuary flowed a stream of blood, and the bodies of the victims killed above went sliding to the bottom.” (War 6.259)
Interestingly, Titus claimed he never meant to destroy the temple. He claimed that a Roman soldier throwing a burning piece of wood into the temple set the temple on fire accidentally and that he ordered his troops to try to save it. Within the Jewish Temple, now in ruins, the Roman soldiers set up their remaining standards and made sacrifice to them.

It took a few more months to subdue the rest of the city. Titus then ordered all the inhabitants killed, enslaved, or sent to other provinces for “sport”, and that the city be burned.

The date that the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed, Aug 28th 70 AD, was a very significant and painful date for the Jews. This date, the 9th of Av, is the same exact day that the First Jewish Temple, Solomon’s Temple, was destroyed. Separated by 656 years, the only two Jewish Temples ever built were destroyed on the exact same day.
Jesus said, “All that you see here -- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”


Rich B said...

Nice article. Interesting. I discussed this with the 8 graders taking Cavins--would have been great to have some of this backgroung for the discussion.

God Bless,

Germanicus said...

not that germanicus!
this one;
For the devil did indeed invent many things against them; but thanks be to God, he could not prevail over all. For the most noble Germanicus strengthened the timidity of others by his own patience, and fought heroically with the wild beasts. For, when the proconsul sought to persuade him, and urged him to take pity upon his age, he attracted the wild beast towards himself, and provoked it, being desirous to escape all the more quickly from an unrighteous and impious world. But upon this the whole multitude, marvelling at the nobility of mind displayed by the devout and godly race of Christians, cried out, "Away with the Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out!" The Martyrdom of Polycarp