The Fall of the Holy House

The Jews revolted …

While Nero was still in Greece, the Jews revolted openly

They were a strange and extreme people, bent on separation …

(Their) worship … is upheld by its antiquity; all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. … they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women … Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion … have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. … They hold that the souls of all who perish in battle or by the hands of the executioner are immortal. …

And an oracle encouraged rebellion …

But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination.

So legions were sent …

Titus, who had been assigned to the war against the Jews, undertook to win them over by certain representations and promises; but, as they would not yield, he now proceeded … to besiege Jerusalem.

One echo of today. Among Titus’ auxiliaries were …

a strong contingent of Arabs, who hated the Jews with the usual hatred of neighbours

At this time, Jerusalem was full, for Jews had …

come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread (passover) … this vast multitude … the entire nation was now shut up by fate as in prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants.

They came to their great temple to commemorate their nation’s escape from Egypt and found themselves trapped and …

famine … devoured the people by houses and families. And the rooms were filled with dead women and children, the lanes of the city with the corpses of old men. … And as Titus went around and saw the trenches filled with the dead, and the thick blood oozing out of the putrid bodies, he groaned aloud, and, raising his hands, called God to witness that this was not his doing.

Escape was futile, the city, surrounded by soldiers and crosses …

Titus … ordered … ambushes for those that went out into the valleys to gather food. Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people … they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. … Titus … hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.

Eventually …

a breach was made in the wall by means of engines … so that the entrance to the temple was now laid open to the Romans.

The Jews defending the temple …

though they were but a handful fighting against a far superior force, they were not conquered until a part of the temple was set on fire. Then they met death willingly, some throwing themselves on the swords of the Romans, some slaying one another, others taking their own lives, and still others leaping into the flames. And it seemed to everybody, and especially to them, that so far from being destruction, it was victory and salvation and happiness to them that they perished along with the temple.

This “fatal day”? This, the second temple, burned on the same one that took the first temple, so long before …

one cannot but wonder … for the same month and day (the tenth day of the month Lous, [Ab,]) were now observed … wherein the holy house was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.

And this time, it was gone forever …

The Temple is destroyed. We never witnessed its glory. But Rabbi Joshua did. And when he looked at the Temple ruins one day, he burst into tears. Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of all the people Israel lies in ruins! Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness.

But why did it burn? God’s house. Who was to blame? The defenders, the attackers? Accident or design?

Before the Roman assault, Titus sought …

advice what should be done about the holy house. Now some of these thought it would be the best way to act according to the rules of war, [and demolish it,] because the Jews would never leave off rebelling while that house was standing; at which house it was that they used to get all together. Others of them were of opinion, that in case the Jews would leave it, and none of them would lay their arms up in it, he might save it; but that in case they got upon it, and fought any more, he might burn it; because it must then be looked upon not as a holy house, but as a citadel; and that the impiety of burning it would then belong to those that forced this to be done, and not to them. But Titus said, that although the Jews should get upon that holy house, and fight us thence, yet ought we not to revenge ourselves on things that are inanimate, instead of the men themselves; and that he was not in any case for burning down so vast a work as that was, because this would be a mischief to the Romans themselves, as it would be an ornament to their government while it continued.

Despite Titus, fire came, started by the defenders but turned lethal by the attackers …

although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them; … attacked the Romans again … but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers … being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window … And now a certain person came running to Titus, and told him of this fire … he rose up in great haste, and … ran to the holy house … with a loud voice, and by giving a signal … with his right hand, order them (soldiers) to quench the fire. But they did not hear … [He] was no way able to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the soldiers, and the fire proceeded … And thus was the holy house burnt down

But not so, said Tacitus, in words preserved by a later Christian historian. Yes, Titus called a council but …

Titus is said, after calling a council, to have first deliberated whether he should destroy the temple, a structure of such extraordinary work. For it seemed good to some that a sacred edifice, distinguished above all human achievements, ought not to be destroyed, inasmuch as, if preserved, it would furnish an evidence of Roman moderation, but, if destroyed, would serve for a perpetual proof of Roman cruelty. But on the opposite side, others and Titus himself thought that the temple ought specially to be overthrown, in order that the religion of the Jews … might more thoroughly be subverted … Thus, according to the divine will, the minds of all being inflamed, the temple was destroyed

So maybe Titus did commission the destruction or …

After Titus had taken Jerusalem, and when the country all round was filled with corpses, the neighboring races offered him a crown; but he disclaimed any such honor to himself, saying that it was not himself that had accomplished this exploit, but that he had merely lent his arms to God, who had so manifested his wrath

God was sickened by the rebel leaders …

I cannot hesitate to declare what my feelings compel me to. I suppose, if the Romans had longer delayed in coming against these guilty wretches, the city would have been swallowed up by a chasm, or overwhelmed with a flood, or struck with such thunderbolts as destroyed Sodom. For it had brought forth a generation of men much more godless than were those that suffered such punishment. By their madness indeed was the whole people brought to destruction.

Here we go again? Just more misery for God’s people brought on by their impiety …

O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.
The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.
Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them.
We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.
How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?

Just part of a cycle of misery? Not quite. Official Judaism went up in flames with its temple. Rebel Judaism soon followed. Judaism now belonged to its smaller sects. One had its own interpretation of this destruction …

the whole multitude (of Jews) had then assembled for the day of the Passover: doubtless, because it pleased God that the impious race should be given over to destruction at the very time of the year at which they had crucified the Lord. … And this last overthrow of the temple, and final captivity of the Jews, by which, being exiles from their native land, they are beheld scattered through the whole world, furnish a daily demonstration to the world, that they have been punished on no other account than for the impious hands which they laid upon Christ.

Destruction 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.

For these men, like all else, the temple’s destruction was part of the drama of Jesus. It had burned 42 years since the beginning of Jesus’s preaching.

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