The Fall of Jerusalem

Though Israel is a race and nation separated by God as His own people, they do not have a history of long lasting peace. There are political and religious reasons it. They were formed out of nothing from a single person, Abraham. But all of his descendants do not became Israel. The genealogical descent of Israel starts from Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. The twelve tribes of Israel are known after the sons of Jacob. Abraham started from Mesopotamia, hoping to inherit a land of Canaan that God had promised him. He came to Canaan and lived there as a stranger. His descendants went to Egypt and lived there for more than 400 years. Later they came to Canaan again, defeated the inhabitants and occupied the land. From this point in the history, the Israelites had a mixed life of peace, war and exile. And they are still fighting to safe guard their Promised Land. Israel have a history unequalled with any other race or nation.

Though Israelites were subjugated by many foreign nations and wars were fought, the unforgettable incident in their history is the destruction of the Jerusalem city and the Temple. It happened in AD 70 following a revolt against the Roman Empire. The revolt started in AD 66 and continued for 7 years. The revolt was finally defeated in AD 73 only. At first the Jewish fighters had some victory. But the Romans were not ready to give up the province. So they send their military troops and quenched the revolt brutally. The Roman army was led by more than one military leader like Cestius Gallus, Vespasian and Titus along with his second in command, Tiberius Julius Alexander.

The main source

Though the first century does not have accurate and detailed historical documentation, it had some remarkable historians. But the available historical documents differ here and there in their descriptions. The year of each events recorded also differs. But it is not a major problem to recreate the history. Still we may find slight variations here and there.

The main source of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. His famous books are: History of the Jewish War, The Antiquities of Jews and Against Apion. He also wrote an autobiography called, The Life of Flavious Josephus.   

Josephus was a former leader of the Jewish Revolt. He was the commander in Galilee. The Roman troops arrived in Galilee under the command of Vespasian in AD 67. Josephus defended Jotapata, a Jewish town, for 47 days, but finally the Romans took over it. Josephus took refuge with 40 others in a nearby cave. They were sure that the Romans would arrive there soon and take them as prisoners. So they decided to die rather than to surrender to the enemy. They proposed that each man, in turn, should kill his neighbor. The order of murder will be determined by casting lots. Josephus managed the lot so that he will be the last in the cave with only one other surviving man. Josephus says that it was, “by chance or divine providence,” he found himself alone with just one companion in a sea of corpses. Suddenly he changed his mind and persuaded his fellow survivor to surrender with him to the Romans. This is his own version of his transferring allegiance betraying his fellow Jews.

Josephus was led in chains to Vespasian. There he prophesied that Vespasian would soon be emperor. The stratagem saved his life. He was kept as a prisoner, for the next two years, in a Roman camp. Late in AD 69 Vespasian became the emperor of Rome. So Vespasian declared freedom to Josephus. He adopted the family name of Vespasian as Flavius and accompanied his patron to Alexandria. Josephus attempted to act as mediator between the Romans and the Jewish rebels during the First Jewish Revolt of AD 70. But he was not acceptable to the Jews and the Romans did not trust him fully. After the fall of Jerusalem, Josephus took up residence in Rome, where he devoted the remainder of his life to literary pursuits under imperial patronage.


This is the story narrated by Josephus himself. So it is reliable. This may arise a question whether to believe him as a historian. The answer is that, we know about Josephus’ political career only through his own writings. Other ancient writers refer to him only as a Jewish prophet who correctly predicted the rise of Vespasian to the Roman Emperor. At a time, when Josephus made this prophecy, it was inconceivable to the Roman world, including Vespasian himself. When Josephus surrendered to the Roman troops, he might have been betraying his people or was acting under a divine inspiration. We are not sure of it.  But that has nothing to do with writing the history of period or of a land. Bad men too can write excellent history. Though Josephus might have softened the harshness of the truth at times, there are sufficient proof in the book that it was not merely a Roman propaganda.

The Revolt

To get a better picture about the First Jewish Revolt, we have to start from the reign of the Hasmonean Queen Salome Alexandria. Salome was the ruler of Judea, for nine years, from about 76 to 67 BC. She became the queen after the death of her husband, Alexander Jannai, the Hasmonean king of Judea. They had two sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. She was a pious queen during whose reign the land enjoyed peace and prosperity. The older one Hyrcanus was a pious man like his mother. He was appointed as the High priest by his father, before his death. After her death, at the age of 73, in BC 67, there arose a civil war between her two sons. Sadducees supported Aristobulus and Pharisees supported Hyrcanus. As a result of the conflict Aristobulus became the king and Hyrcanus remained as the High Priest. But the civil war continued. This ultimately gave way to the Roman invasion under Pompey.

In 63 BC, during the Passover festival, Hyrcanus with the help of the Arab king Aretas of Petra, besieged Aristobulus and the Sadducees in the Temple. Somehow, Aristobulus sent an envoy to Pompey’s representative in Syria, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, offering 8000 kg of silver for his help. He immediately ordered Aretas to leave. Two years later Pompey came to Syria and he received an even larger present from Aristobulus who sent him a golden vine of no less than 800 kg. He accepted it and send the gift to the temple of Jupiter in Rome. But Aristobulus suspected Pompey and so he choose armed resistance against him. As he feared, Pompey sided with Hyrcanus and arrested Aristobulus and was taken to Rome.   

Hyrcanus allowed Pompey to enter the lower town of Jerusalem. But Aristobulus’ adherents, the Sadducees still occupied the Temple. So Pompey attacked the Temple and broke into it. The capture of the Temple mount was followed by great slaughter. The priests who were officiating were massacred by the Roman soldiers. Many committed suicide. 2,000 people besides were killed. Pompey and his officers entered into the Holy of Holies of the Temple. This was a blasphemous act because only High Priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies. His soldiers seem to have sacrificed according to their gentile beliefs. Pompey himself entered the Temple, but he was so awed by its sanctity that he left the treasure and the costly vessels untouched. On the next day, Pompey himself ordered the cleansing of the Temple and appointed Hyrcanus as High Priest. But Judea was not annexed to the Roman Empire. Instead Judea and Galilee became two client kingdoms of Rome.

Pompey separated from Judea, the Hellenic cities in the east-Jordan country, Decapolis, Scythopolis and Samaria and incorporated them into the new province of Syria. The small territory of Judea was assigned to Hyrcanus. He was awarded the title of "ethnarch" meaning “national leader”. Aristobulus, together with his two sons Alexander and Antigonus, and his two daughters, was carried captive to Rome. The leaders of the war party were executed, and the city and country were laid under tribute.

After Pompey, in 49 BC, Julius Caesar became the ruler of the Roman Empire. He cooperated with Hyrcanus. But in 47 BC Aristobulus’ courtier, Antipater was appointed as Epitropos (regent/ procurator) to Judea. In the same year, Antipater, managed to secure the appointment of his son Herod as the governor of Galilee. When Antipater was assassinated by a political rival, his son, Herod I the Great became the king of Judaea. Under him Jews enjoyed freedom of religious beliefs and practice in Judaea. In 41 BC Mark Antony awarded Herod the title of tetrarch of Galilee, a title that was commonly used for the leaders of parts of vassal kingdoms. Herod's brother Phasael was the tetrarch of Jerusalem. And Hyrcanus remained the Jewish national leader in name only.

In 54 BC, the war between the Romans and the Parthians (in Iran and Mesopotamia) broke out. The Jewish populace supported the Parthians. In 43 BC, Hyrcanus' nephew Antigonus tried to obtain the throne. But Herod defeated him. In 40 BC, Hyrcanus was taken prisoner and was taken to the Parthian capital Babylon. Herod was dethroned and Antigonus became king. Phasael committed suicide. But Herod managed to escape and went to Rome and requested their help to chase away the Parthians. Mark Antony drove away the Parthians and Herod was brought back to Jerusalem. Antigonus was defeated. Herod once again became the sole ruler of Judaea. He assumed the title of basileus (king), the highest possible title.

Immediately, he sent envoys to the Parthian king to get Hyrcanus back from Babylon. The Parthian king was happy to let the old man go, because he was becoming dangerously popular among the Jews living in Babylonia. Although Hyrcanus was unfit to become high priest again, Herod kept his father-in-law in high esteem. The support of the old monarch gave an appearance of legality to his own rule.

Herod was on the side of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. But in the conflict between Antony and Octavian, Antony was defeated. Feeling an insecurity to his position, in 31 BC he executed Hyrcanus so that no one would claim his throne. Later Octavian gave Jericho and Gaza too to Herod.   

In order to please the Romans, Herod erected a golden eagle on the top of the gate of the new Jewish Temple, as a symbol of Roman power. Octavius Augustus, the Roman Emperor ordered and paid the priests of the Temple to sacrifice twice a day on behalf of himself, the Roman senate and people. And a rumor spread among the Jews that Herod violated Jewish tombs, stealing golden objects from the tomb of David and Solomon. All these created a resentment among the pious Jews.

Herod died in 4 BC. After his death, the emperor Octavian divided the kingdom among Herod’s sons. Herod Antipas was to rule Galilee and the east bank of the Jordan as a tetrarch; Philip was to be tetrarch of the Golan Heights in the north-east; and Archelaus became the ethnarch ("national leader") of Samaria and Judaea. Herod's sister Salome I briefly ruled a toparchy (a small state or district consisting of a few cities or towns) of Jamnia. Herod Archelaus ruled so badly that the Jews and Samarians unitedly appealed to Rome that he should be deposed. In AD 6, after a bloody revolt led by Judas the Galilean, Archelaus was banished to Vienna in Gaul. His territories (Judea, Samaria and Idumea or Edom) were transformed into a Roman province. Archelaus must have died before AD 18. 

With the death of Salome I in 10 CE, her domain was also incorporated into the province. Thus the Roman province was enlarged into a larger area which included Judea, Samaria, Idumea (Edom) and Jamnia.

However, other parts of the Herodian Tetrarchy continued to function under Herodians. Thus, Philip the Tetrarch ruled Batanea, with Trachonitis, as well as Auranitis until 34 CE (his domain later being incorporated into the Province of Syria), while Herod Antipas ruled Galilee and Perea until 39 CE. The last notable Herodian ruler with some level of independence was Agrippa I, who was even granted the Judea province. After his death in 44 CE, the provincial status of Judea was restored. Thus gradually Judea went under the direct control of the Roman Empire.

Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, also translated as Cyrenius was the legate governor of Syria after the banishment of Herod Archelaus. Judea had been added to the province of Syria for the purpose of a census. He appointed Annas as the high priest of the Jewish Temple in AD 6. Annas was the first appointed high priest of the Roman Judea province. Annas was a Sadducee.

Valerius Gratus, the procurator or Prefect of Jude province during 15 to 26 AD, during the time of Emperor Tiberius. He deposed and appointed High Priests at his will. Annas officially served as High Priest for ten years (AD 6–15). At the age of 36 or 37 he was deposed and his son Eleazar became the high priest. (16-17). In AD 18, Gratus appointed Caiaphas as High priest.  


After Gratus, Pontius Pilate became the procurator or Prefect of Judea from AD 26 to 36.

Jews had a feeling that the Romans were trying to suppress their religious beliefs and customs. So at times, the divide between monotheistic and polytheistic religious views caused clashes between Jews and Gentiles. Jews disliked any foreign imperialism. To suppress the revolt, the Romans implemented heavy taxes on the people in Judea. All these and sporadic clashes culminated in the revolt in AD 66.

Launching the Revolt

The First Jewish Revolt happened during the period of Gessius Florus. He was appointed by Emperor Nero as the procurator of Judea from AD 64-66. He was noted for his antagonism toward the Jewish population. Upon taking office in Caesarea, Florus favored the local Greek population of the city over the Jewish population. The local Greek population noticed Florus' policies and took advantage of the circumstances. While the Jews were worshiping at their local synagogue, a Greek man sacrificed birds on top of an earthenware container at the entrance of the synagogue. It rendered the synagogue ritually unclean. So the Jews sent a group of men to petition Florus for redress. Despite accepting a payment of eight talents to hear the case, Florus refused to listen to the complaints and instead had the petitioners imprisoned.

Florus loved money but cared little for the Jewish religious sensibilities. When income from the tax was low, he seized silver from the temple. Seventeen talents were taken from the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem. He claimed that the money was for the Emperor. In response to this action, the city fell into unrest and some of the Jewish population began to openly mock Florus by passing a basket around to collect money as if Florus were poor. As the uproar against him grew, in A.D. 66, he sent troops into Jerusalem who massacred 3,600 citizens. Jewish leaders were arrested, whipped and crucified, even despite of the fact that many of them were Roman citizens. Florus even tried to seize the Temple. But the people opposed him with so much vigor and determination that he left Jerusalem with his troops. When the insurrection had broken out, Florus gave full liberty to the Greeks of C├Žsarea to attack the Jews. Many Jews were killed and many others, by the command of Florus, were sent to the galleys.

Florus’s action sparked the fire of the rebellion which is known in history as the “First Jewish Revolt”. After the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt, Florus was replaced as procurator by Marcus Antonius Julianus.

The Jewish Revolt began at Masada, a hunk of rock overlooking the Dead Sea. The Romans had built a virtually impregnable fortress there. Yet in 66 AD, the Sicarii group among the Zealots attacked Masada. Amazingly, they won by a trick, slaughtering the Roman army there.

In Jerusalem, the temple captain signified solidarity with the revolt by stopping the daily sacrifices to Caesar. Soon all Jerusalem was in an uproar, expelling or killing the Roman troops. Then all Judea was in revolt and it spread to Galilee.

Gaius Cestius Gallus, who was the legate or military officer of the Syria under which was the province of Judea, marched into Judea with a force of over 30,000 men in September 66 in an attempt to defeat the revolt. He besieged Jerusalem for six months, yet failed. Six thousand Roman soldiers were dead. He went back leaving behind many weaponry that the Jewish defenders picked up and used.

The Jewish Revolt was successful at first on the part of the Jews. The Jewish forces quickly expelled the Romans from Jerusalem, and a revolutionary government was formed that extended its influence into the surrounding area. But Rome decided to capture back the province and quench the rebellion. So, in 66 AD, the Roman Emperor Nero sent General Vespasian to fight the Jewish forces. As a result the majority of rebels were pushed into Jerusalem. By the year 68, Vespasian put down the opposition in Galilee, then in Transjordan, then in Idumea. Then he surrounded the Jerusalem city. That same year, the Emperor Nero died by his own hand, creating a power vacuum in Rome. In the resultant chaos, in 69 AD, Vespasian was declared Emperor and returned to the Imperial City. His son, Titus was appointed to lead the army to suppress the Jewish Revolt. He came to Jerusalem with his assistant Tiberius Julius Alexander.

The siege


The siege of the city began on 14 April 70 CE, three days before the beginning of Passover. The army of Titus surrounded the city with three legions, on the western side and a fourth on the Mount of Olives, to the east. Siege towers were the new weapon created by the Romans. Siege towers were 50 to 70 feet high and iron plates were fitted to it to resist fire. It was combination of walls, towers, artillery, draw bridges, rams and catapults. These were taller than the city walls and enabled the legionaries to throw missiles on the defenders of the walls. As the rebels tried to evade the missiles, the battering-rams broke into the walls.


Josephus says that the siege of Jerusalem occurred in the second year of Vespasian as Emperor, which corresponds to the year AD 70. At the time, Jerusalem was thronged with many people who had come to celebrate Passover. The Romans allowed pilgrims to enter the city but refused to let them leave. Thus they created a shortage of food and water supplies within Jerusalem.


The thrust of the siege began in the west at the Third Wall, north of the Jaffa Gate. By May, this was breached and the Second Wall also was taken shortly afterwards, leaving the defenders in possession of the Temple and the upper and lower city.

Titus allowed the Jews in the city to destroy themselves. The Jewish rebels lacked proper leadership, discipline, training, and preparation to fight against an army like the Romans. At one point they destroyed the food stocks in the city. Their intention of doing so is not clear. They might have expected a divine intervention into the revolt. Or their intention was to create a desperate condition within the city. They might have expected that Roman army would with draw from starving the people to death. But this action failed miserably.

By this time, struggles between the different factions among the Zealots arouse. These in-fight, weakened their strength. They fought amongst themselves. There was an army of Zealots under the leadership of Eleazar son of Simon. But there arose another faction under the leadership of John of Gischala. A third faction also was formed by Simon bar Giora. He might have been the son of a proselyte and was supported by men from Idumea, the southern part of Judaea that the Romans had reconquered only recently. During the Passover, Eleazar allowed all inhabitants to perform their religious duties in the Temple. The festival, however, was spoilt by John's men, who took swords with them and forced Eleazar's Zealots into surrender. John of Gischala's group murdered Eleazar ben Simon, whose men were entrenched in the forecourts of the Temple. John and Simon had different agendas. The first strove only for political freedom and minted silver coins with the legend "Freedom of Zion". Simon, on the other hand, stood at the head of a messianic movement; his copper coins have the legend "Redemption of Zion".

John wanted to launch a preemptive strike at the Romans, who were building new camps to the west of the city. But John was afraid that Simon would close the city gates behind his back, and did not assail the new camps. As a consequence, the legions were able to build their fortresses almost without any resistance. The enmities between John of Gischala and Simon bar Giora were papered over when the Roman siege engineers began to erect ramparts. Soon, their catapults started to throw heavy stones into the city. Under cover of this artillery fire, the Roman soldiers could start to smash the northern wall with their battering-rams.

The Roman attack served to unite the Jews, who started to make sorties. But they failed to destroy the siege towers. Using the battering rams, the Romans destroyed the wall around the city. The Jews withdrew from Bezetha to their second wall. Titus ordered an all-out attack on this wall, where the defenses were still unorganized. The men of John and Simon were able to ward off the danger for four days, but on the fifth day the second wall yielded to the violence of the battering-rams.

Fighting continued in the streets of the New Town, where the defenders inflicted heavy losses upon the Romans, who were forced to retire through the breach to Bezetha. Many Jews and Romans were killed. So Titus decided to stage an army parade to show its strength. The parade lasted for four days. At the same time, he sent Josephus, the Jewish historian, to negotiate with the Jewish leaders. He advised the rebels to surrender. But, since Josephus absconded the Jewish revolt, he was despised by the rebels. The talks went nowhere. And because he was a Jew, the Romans did not trust him. The Jewish rebels wounded the negotiator with an arrow. And another sally was launched shortly after by the rebels. Titus was almost captured during this sudden attack, but escaped.

On the fifth day, the Roman soldiers renewed the struggle. They built four large siege dams, aimed at the Antonia fortress. (It was to be taken by force, because it had large stores and two great cisterns.) The Roman attack was no success: John's sappers damaged one of the dams and managed to raise a fire on a second one, and Simon's soldiers destroyed the remaining dams two days later.

The Roman commanders now knew that their enemies would fight for every inch of their city, and understood that the siege of Jerusalem would take a long time. So Titus at first resolved to reduce the city by famine, he therefore built a wall around it, to keep any provisions from being carried in, and any of the people from going out. The siege lasted for about five months. There were signs that the supplies of Jerusalem were giving out. Some Jews left the city, hoping to find food in the valleys in front of the walls. Many of them had been caught and crucified - some five hundred every day. The soldiers had amused themselves by nailing their victims in different postures. The Romans decided to starve the enemies into surrender. In city, Jews starved and some eat own children (v. 206-212) "... she slew her son, and then roasted him, and eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed." 

The death rate among the Jews increased. Soon, the Kidron valley and the Valley of Hinnom were filled with corpses. It is estimated that more than 1,15,880 Jews were killed. Desperate people tried to leave Jerusalem. When they had succeeded in passing their own lines and had not been killed by Roman patrols, they reached the military palisade. Here they surrendered as prisoners because they could get at least some bread to eat. Some of them ate so much, that they could not stomach it and died. In that case, their swelled up bodies were cut open by the Syrian and Arab warders, thinking that some of these people had swallowed coins before they started their ill-fated expedition. Titus discovered that there are many Jewish prisoners and so he refrained from punishing them. One of the defectors was the famous teacher Yohanan ben Zakkai, who escaped in a coffin and saved his life by predicting Titus that he, too, would be an emperor.

The Jews, however, drew up their army near the walls, engaged in battle. Provoked by the rebels, the Romans pursued them and broke into the city. The affairs of Rome also at that time demanded the presence of Titus in Rome. So he had to shorten the time of the siege that would have resulted a surrender of the rebels because of famine inside the city. He pressed the siege and took the city by storm. The Romans then entered and sacked the Lower City. By August 70 AD the Romans had breached the final defenses and massacred much of the remaining population.

The siege ended in August 70 CE on Tisha B'Av with the burning and destruction of the Second Temple. The Western Wall, the only extant trace of the Second Temple, remains a site of prayer and pilgrimage.


Burning the Temple

One of the important incident in the fall of Jerusalem is the destruction of Antonia Fortress. The Antonia Fortress was a citadel built by Herod the Great. It was named so to honour Herod's patron Mark Antony. Its chief function was to protect the Second Temple. It was built in Jerusalem at the eastern end of the so-called Second Wall, at the north-western corner of the Temple Mount. The fortress was one of the last strongholds of the Jews in the Siege of Jerusalem.

Since there was no wood, the construction of new siege dams to attack the Antonia took three weeks. After several failed attempts to breach the Fortress of Antonia, the Romans finally launched a secret attack. They removed four stones only, but during the night the wall collapsed.

During a dark night at the beginning of July, twenty-four Roman soldiers climbed the walls of the castle, killed the guard, and sounded a trumpet. The garrison of the Antonia overestimated the number of enemies. Many Jews fled to the Temple. At the same time, Titus ordered his men to enter the mine that John's sappers had made. At three o' clock in the morning, the Roman soldiers entered the fortress. After ten hours of fighting, they had driven John's men away. The Antonia was demolished. The stones were used to build a new dam towards the Temple terrace. The Romans used the dam to set fire to the porticoes on the northern and western side of the terrace, but it was impossible to bash trough the walls. Battering rams made little progress. A Roman soldier threw a burning stick onto one of the Temple's walls. On the tenth of August, the Temple itself was burning. Six thousand women and children were taken prisoner at the Court of the Gentiles. The Roman soldiers sacrificed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, according to their gentile beliefs.

Josephus narrates the story like this: "...the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again … Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier's back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.”

Josephus says that destroying the Temple was not among Titus' goals, possibly due in large part to the massive expansions done by Herod the Great mere decades earlier. Titus had wanted to seize it and transform it into a temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor and the Roman pantheon. However, the fire spread quickly and was soon out of control. The Temple was captured and destroyed on 9/10 Tisha B'Av, sometime in August 70 CE, and the flames spread into the residential sections of the city.

But there are opinions that the Temple was intentionally set in fire. A fourth-century writer, Sulpicius Severus, states that Titus ordered the destruction of the sanctuary. He might have got this information from the Roman historian Tacitus. It is more probable that Flavius Josephus invented his story to absolve his friend Titus from the responsibility of this war crime.

Josephus says that Titus had a moderate approach and, after conferring with others, he ordered that the 500-year-old Temple should not be destroyed. Josephus argues that it was the Jews who first used fire in the Northwest approach to the Temple to try and stop Roman advances. Only then did Roman soldiers set fire to an apartment adjacent to the Temple. Josephus is trying to save Titus from the blame for the destruction of the Temple. But this may be an attempt to procure favor with the Flavian dynasty.

During the next few days, the Romans destroyed the archives, the quarter immediately south of the Temple, and the building where the Sanhedrin convened. Then, they descended into the Old Town. The last among the rebels managed to hide themselves in the sewer system. John was among them, and was among the first to surrender. Simon remained in hiding for some time, but finally made a dramatic appearance on the place where the Temple had stood, dressed in a white priestly tunic and his royal, purple mantle. Herod's Palace fell on 7 September, and the city was completely under Roman control by 8 September. The Romans continued to pursue those who had fled the city.


Destruction of the city

Josephus witnessed the siege and aftermath. He wrote:

Josephus continues his narration about the destruction of the city. "And now rushing into the city, they slew whomsoever they found, without distinction, and burnt the houses and all the people who had fled into them. And when they entered for the sake of plunder, they found whole families of dead persons, and houses full of carcasses destroyed by famine; then they came out with their hands empty. And though they thus pitied the dead, they had not the same emotion for the living, but killed all they met, whereby they filled the lanes with dead bodies. The whole city ran with blood, insomuch that many things which were burning were extinguished by the blood." (Jewish Wars, book vi. chap. 8,  5; chap. 9,  2, 3.)

“Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), Titus Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; … and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.

In victory, the Romans slaughtered thousands. Of those sparred from death: thousands more were enslaved and sent to toil in the mines of Egypt, others were dispersed to arenas throughout the Empire to be butchered for the amusement of the public. The Temple's sacred relics were taken to Rome where they were displayed in celebration of the victory.”

After the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city and its Temple, there were still a few Judean strongholds in which the rebels continued holding out, at Herodium, Machaerus, and Masada. Both Herodium and Machaerus fell to the Roman army within the next two years. But Masada remained as the final stronghold of the Judean rebels till 73 AD. Finally, the Romans breached the walls of Masada and captured the fortress. But nearly all of the Jewish defenders had committed mass suicide prior to the entry of the Romans. With the fall of Masada, the First Jewish–Roman War came to an end.

Christians flee to Pella

What happened to the Jerusalem Christians in the Jerusalem during the revolt? Eusebius and Epiphanius of Salamis were the fourth-century church fathers and Christian historians. They cite a tradition belief about their miraculous escape. Before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 the Jerusalem Christians fled to Pella in the region of the Decapolis across the Jordan River. The flight to Pella probably did not include the Ebionites. (The Ebionites were an early heretical sect of Jewish followers of Jesus, sworn to poverty that existed during the early centuries).


About thirty-seven years before the destruction, Jesus had foretold the terrible events that would follow his death. He warned his followers to immediately flee Jerusalem when the signs he predicted occurred. The Christian community carefully watched for the signs and followed the Savior’s warning. The Lord then taught of two major signs that would alert believers to flee: “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” (Luke 21:20). It also reveals the stunning fact that the believers obeyed the warnings, fled Jerusalem to a town called Pella, and thus saved themselves. Jesus had given adequate warning, and those who heeded the prophecies survived, while most others perished.


Eusebius in his Church History says, that the people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war. They received instructions to flee to the city of Pella. Believing the oracle, the Christians moved to Pella. And after all the Christians had left Jerusalem, the disaster fell on it.


Epiphanius in his Panarion, says that that the Jerusalem Christians went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of this, they moved to Pella. He also refers, in his On Weights and Measures, to the story of an angel of God who reveled in advance to the Jerusalem Christians that the city would be destroyed soon.


The Bible scholar Adam Clarke also vouchsafe this story. He says that that not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. In Ad 66, when the Syrian legate, Cestius Gallus surrounded the city, there were many Christians in Jerusalem. He would have won the war, but unexpectedly and unaccountably he lifted the siege for a time. The Christians took that opportunity to escape. Vespasian was approaching with his army. So all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan. They all marvelously escaped the general destruction of the city and not one of them perished.”


Pella must not have been the only destination of fleeing Christians, but it was the most prominent at the time. Pella continued as an important Christian center for more than seventy years, during the time that Jerusalem remained desolate.   


This was considered as an authentic history until 1951. But in 1951 S. G. F. Brandon in his work The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church provided strong arguments against it, arguing that the Jewish Christians would have been allied to their compatriots, the Zealots. He argues that Christianity emerged as a universal religion only after the destruction of the Jerusalem community. But the majority of the historians has not taken the argument about the Christian–Zealot alliance during the revolt. Still the historicity of the flight to Pella has been controversial ever since.

After the fall


Rome celebrated the fall of Jerusalem by erecting the triumphal Arch of Titus. The Arch still stands in Rome. The conquest of the city was complete on approximately 8 September 70 CE. 

In Rome, Vespasian, Titus and their soldiers celebrated a triumph. They paraded the curtain, the Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets. Up until this parading, these items had only ever been seen by the High Priest of the Temple. This event was memorialized in the Arch of Titus. Some 700 Judean prisoners were paraded through the streets of Rome in chains during the triumph. After the celebration, John of Giscala was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Simon bar Giora was executed.

The boundless riches from the Temple treasury were used to strike coins with the legend JUDAEA CAPTA ("Judaea defeated"). Any Roman would be reminded of their emperor's victory. Roman coins and architecture reveled in the defeat of Judaea and the humiliation of the Jewish God. Josephus, by contrast, claimed that the whole course of the war, including the defeat of the Jews, had been brought about precisely by the Jewish God as a way to punish the Jews for their sins. He claims that, it had been on the direct instructions of God that, he had chosen to transfer his allegiance to the Roman side.



Thus ended the glory of Jerusalem and the Temple. Was it a wrath of God? Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem city and the Temple, 37 years before the incident. He said: "For these are the days of vengeance …. (Luke 21:22 - NKJV). So whatever happened to the Jews during this incident is the wrath of God. When betraying Jesus to the Romans to crucify Him, the Jewish Priests and people cried to Pilate: “And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25). When Jesus was carrying His cross to the mount of Golgotha, he turned back and told the women who were crying, “But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28). Was the destruction of Jerusalem a fulfilment of these prophesies? I am not sure, for I do not want to judge.

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