First Jewish revolt


In 41 AD, new Roman emperor Galigula appointed Herod the Great's grandson Agrippa king over a large area that included Judea. Because he was of Hasmonean descent he was acceptable to the Jews; because he was a childhood friend of Galigula, he was also acceptable to the Romans. Agrippa was an able statesman who succeeded in dissuading Caligula from placing a golden statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem. He was also instrumental in gaining the support of the Roman senate when Claudius was named emperor by the army after Caligula's assassination. In gratitude, Judea and Samaria were added to his kingdom, which now encompassed all the areas ruled by his grandfather, Herod the Great.

During Agrippa I's brief reign (41-44 AD) the first recorded incidents in the history of the church took place. Acts 1:14-15 relates that the remaining eleven disciples "joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." They numbered "about a hundred and twenty." Then Matthias was chosen to replace the betrayer, Judas, restoring the number of apostles to twelve (Acts 1:15-28).

Forty days after Jesus' Ascension the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles at the annual Jewish Feast of Pentecost, and it occurred when "they were all together in one place." Where this pivotal event took place is not otherwise specified. But the text implies a large house (Greek oikos) in Jerusalem that could accommodate a large number of "God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven." Tradition holds that it occurred in the same room as the Last Supper (below, traditional site), in the Upper City where the wealthiest citizens lived in great mansions.

The young church continued to meet daily "in the Temple courts" because the community of believers did not consider themselves to be anything other than Jews to whom the long-promised Messiah had come.

By this time Jerusalem had almost doubled in area, from 230 acres to 450 acres. Likewise the population increased from about 40,000 to 80,000. Agrippa I laid the foundations for what was called the "Third Wall" to enclose the the expanded city to the northeast. But fearing the emperor's displeasure he abandoned the project. At this time, too, there was a famine which necessitated sending relief from other communities of believers to the Jerusalem church (recorded in Acts 11:27-30).

A generous patron of the Temple and a strict observer of the law (at least while he was in Palestine), Agrippa was idolized by the Jews. His popularity was probably enhanced by his harsh treatment of Jesus' disciples. He was the "King Herod" who "arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them," had "James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword" and imprisoned Peter, intending to put him on trial after Passover. (Acts 12:1-5) But Peter was miraculously delivered from prison and went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, thought to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. The location of this house in unknown, but tradition places it on the site now occupied by the Church of St. Mark in the small Syrian-Jacobite district of the Old City, just inside the Zion Gate in the southern city wall.

With Agrippa I's death in 44 AD, his son Agrippa II continued as king, but Judea reverted to direct Roman rule under a series of incompetent, insensitive and often corrupt procurators, bringing the Jews to open rebellion. In 66 AD, the inept and callous procurator Gessius Florus seized 17 Talents from the Temple treasury in partial payment of tribute already owed the Romans. Demonstrators held a street collection for him, mocking his "poverty." The procurator Florus (64-66 AD), notorious for his cruelty, marched on Jerusalem with an army, demanding the arrest of the offenders, and imposing martial law; in subsequent riots over 3,000 Jews were killed. Floris had gone too far. He withdrew to avoid further provocations — but too late. That same year a band of Zealots ambushed the Roman garrison at Masada near the Dead Sea, and seized weapons from its armory. At the same time the populace of Jerusalem bottled up the Roman soldiers in towers of Herod's palace. Eventually they were allowed to leave unarmed, but once out of the city they were attacked and killed. Meanwhile virtually the entire Jewish community of 20,000 in Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital, was massacred. Anger swept the countryside as the governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, marched on Jerusalem to restore order. Bezetha, the northern quarter of the city was burned, but when his soldiers reached the Temple wall and undermined it, Gallus unaccountably withdrew. His troops were ambushed northeast of the Jerusalem and large quantities of weapons fell into the hands of the rebels. War was now inevitable.

To restore order, an alarmed Nero (54-68 AD) called retired general Titus Flavius Vespasianus (familiarly known as Vespasian) back to duty. After raising an army of three legions, perhaps 60,000 men, he systematically swept through Galilee. Then he moved southward and eastward, methodically destroying each town in his path. Meanwhile Nero was overthrown and committed suicide, and civil war ensued. Galba, Otho, and Vitellius succeeded one another as emperor. Vitellius was assassinated and the eastern legions proclaimed Vespasian emperor. Vespasian left for Rome and, late in 69 AD, he was affirmed by the Roman senate. He left the task of putting down the Jewish revolt to his son Titus.

A spectacular victory was needed for Vespasian's prestige. Jerusalem had to be taken, but Titus faced an extremely difficult task. The city was almost impregnable with steep valleys on three sides and three lines of fortifications: one around the Lower City (the original City of David) and the Upper City, another bracketing the area immediately to the northwest of the Temple and a third, begun by Agrippa I, around the northern suburb of Bezetha, and completed by the rebels as part of their siege preparations. Additionally, the northern side of the Temple Mount was protected by the massive Antonia Fortress.

Titus advanced in the spring of 70 AD and surrounded the city with three legions on the western side and a fourth on the Mount of Olives to the east. To put pressure on the food and water supplies of the inhabitants he allowed pilgrims to enter the city to celebrate Passover, then refused to let them leave. After Jewish sallies killed a number of Roman soldiers, Titus sent Flavius Josephus*, a former Jewish commander, now loyal to Rome, to negotiate with the defenders. The Jews wounded him with an arrow and launched another sally. Titus was almost captured, but escaped.

In mid-May Titus destroyed the newly built Third Wall and breached the Second Wall. He then turned his attention to the Antonia Fortress immediately north of the Temple Mount. The Romans sustained heavy casualties in street fighting with the Zealots and were forced to retreat. Josephus failed in another attempt at negotiations, and Jewish attacks prevented the construction of siege towers at the Antonia.

Food, water, and other provisions dwindled. The suffering was great. Josephus recorded "innumerable corpses piled up all over the city," emitting a "pestilential stench." The defenders, he said, "devoured belts and shoes, and stripped the leather from their shields and chewed it."

To prevent escapes and to keep supplies from reaching the rebels, Titus ordered the construction of a four and a half mile wall around the entire city. While some of the Jews attempted to disrupt Titus' assault preparations, others filtered through the lines to scavenge for wild plants and herbs. Many were caught and crucified — numbering 500 a day — in sight of the city. Josephus further wrote: "The soldiers themselves through rage and bitterness nailed up their victims in various attitudes as a grim joke, till owing to the vast numbers there was no room for the crosses, and no crosses for the bodies." Observing these horrors from the walls, the defenders were under no delusions as to what defeat would mean.

After several failed attempts to breach or scale the walls of the Antonia, the Romans launched a secret attack. They overwhelmed sleeping Zealot guards and took the fortress, the second highest ground in the city after the Temple Mount. It provided a perfect point from which to attack the Temple itself.

Battering rams made little progress, but on Tisha B'Av, at the end of August, the very anniversary of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BC, the sanctuary was set on fire and destroyed, counter to Titus' orders. Most likely, he wanted to seize it and transform it into a pagan temple, dedicated to the Roman Emperor and the Roman pantheon. As the flames spread the Roman legions entered the residential sections of the city. Jewish resistance quickly crumbled. Most of the remaining defenders escaped through hidden underground tunnels. Some made a final stand in the Upper City, temporarily halting the Roman advance. But, by September 7 Jerusalem was completely under Roman control.

Seven hundred survivors were shipped to Rome to be paraded in a victory celebration, others were sold into slavery. A few hundred Zealots managed to escape to carry on the struggle from Herod the Great's former strongholds at Machaerus (in Perea, modern Jordan), Herodion (near Bethlehem) and Masada (by the Dead Sea).

According to Josephus, the Romans left only the three great towers of Herod's palace on the western side of the city standing "in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well-fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued." The Tenth Roman Legion was stationed in Jerusalem area with standing orders to execute any Jew who claimed to be a descendant of King David.

Back in Rome the following year Titus, together with his father Vespasian, celebrated the victory with a procession of seven hundred Jewish prisoners and spoils of war, including items captured from the Temple: "a golden table, many talents of weight, and a lampstand (seven-branched menorah), likewise made of gold ... after these, and last of all the spoils, was carried a copy of the Jewish Law." This event is depicted in carved relief on the Arch of Titus erected in Rome and dedicated divo Tito, "to the deified Titus," after the emperor's death in 81 AD.

Today, this arch can still be seen in Rome, a melancholy reminder to the Temple that is no more. According to tradition, no Jew has ever passed beneath it.



Right, detail of the "Arch of Titus" in Rome depicting the
victory procession with the Roman soldiers carrying
the seven-branched menorah taken from the Temple
in Jerusalem.


The immense riches looted from the Temple treasury were used to strike coins with the legend JUDAEA CAPTA ('Judea defeated'), a humiliating reminder to the Jews of Titus' victory. During the four-year-long rebellion, the Romans took 97,000 prisoners. Thousands were forced to become gladiators and were killed in the arena fighting wild animals or fellow gladiators. Some were burned alive. Others were brought to Seleucia (port of Antioch in Syria) to dig a tunnel. Most of were brought to Rome and forced to build the Coliseum and Forum of Peace in the heart of Rome where the Temple menorah was exhibited.

Right, Judea Capta coin with a victorious Vespasian (left) and Judea (right) depicted as a mourning woman under a palm tree.

Archaeological finds related to the First Jewish Revolt

Both the literary and the archaeological evidence indicate that the city was almost totally destroyed in 70 AD. Apart from the western wall of the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) of the Temple, only the huge retaining walls of the Temple platform survived the onslaught of Titus' soldiers. The elegant mansions and Herod's palace in the Upper City where smashed. The Tyropoeon Valley was blocked with fallen masonry; during the winter rains that poured down the hillsides, it became completely silted up. The city walls were totally demolished, except for a section on the west end. The overall destruction was obviously part of a Roman plan to fundamentally change the city's destiny by removing all signs of its Jewish past. The Romans clearly wanted to suppress any future Jewish aspirations to return and rebuild the Temple.

After the Roman army captured and destroyed Jerusalem, it departed for other campaigns, leaving a detachment of the Tenth Legion in the ruined city to ensure that the Jews did not return. The three remaining Herodian towers, Hippicus, Phasael and Mariamme, along with the remaining section of the city wall, provided security for the soldiers in emergencies. Small units of Roman soldiers were undoubtedly also stationed at other strategic points in the city. But there was never any planned Roman military camp. Because the city was not located on the border of the empire, outsiders posed no significant threat. In short, Jerusalem wasn't important. However, during the some 200 years the Tenth Legion spent in Jerusalem it contributed to the city's development by paving roads, erecting bathhouses and establishing water systems.

Evidence of the Tenth Legion's presence was uncovered in the courtyard of the Citadel, on the site of Herod's palace on the west side of the Old City. It includes a few fragmentary walls and sections of clay water drain pipe bearing stamp impressions of the letters "LXF" (short for Legio X Fretensis, or the Tenth Roman Legion). Additionally, numerous broken roof tiles (right) and a few bricks impressed with stamps reading "Leg(io) X Fretensis" were found on the western hill where the soldiers constructed wooden buildings with ceramic-tile roofs. Josephus mistakenly called this hill Mount Zion. By the time of his writing, it had been forgotten that the original Zion had been located in the City of David on the lower eastern hill. Today, this western hill is still called Mount Zion.

Also, the remains of the Tenth Legion's military base and earthenware factory (where their bricks, roof tiles and pottery were produced) were discovered by construction workers as they prepared the foundation of Jerusalem's new convention center . Two of the original eight kilns for firing pottery have been preserved and can be viewed through glass panels set into the floor of the convention hall, located near the city's central bus station.

"Burnt House" Museum in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City

This museum takes visitors downstairs to the basement of a wealthy residence in the area known in the Second Temple period as the Upper City, where the wealthiest and most prominent Jewish families lived. When the Romans took Jerusalem in 70 AD, they destroyed the Temple and the Lower City. The Upper City, however, managed to hold out against the Romans for a month after the Temple Mount was captured. The Roman legions then rampaged through the wealthy Upper City, setting fire to the houses, killing those sheltered inside. A coin dated to 69 AD discovered during excavations indicated that this one of those houses. The charred cooking pots and debris give a vivid sense of the city's fiery destruction by the Romans. Another chilling discovery here was the skeletal lower arm and hand of a young woman of about 20 in the home's kitchen, near the staircase and beside the oven. Her fingers appear to be grasping for a step as she fell in a futile attempt to escape the flames. In another room was an iron spear leaning against a wall, where the owner could quickly grab it to defend himself against the Romans. But, it was never used; it was buried in the debris as the home went up in flames.

Stone weights discovered (right) contained an inscription reading "belonging to Bar Kathros" ("son of Kathros"). Archaeologists have identified the occupants of the house as the Kathros family, a priestly family that, according to one reference, abused its position through nepotism and oppression to further its own interests. A satirical folk song refrain preserved in the Babylonian Talmud includes the line "Woe to me because of the House of Kathros."

The Kathros mansion also served as a cottage industry workshop. Numerous limestone vessels, tables, weights, grinding mortars, and perfume bottles were found here, strongly suggesting the area was used for the manufacture of oil and incense for use in Temple rituals. There was a constant demand such products and it would indeed have been a profitable industry for the Kathros family. We can easily imagine how residents of the city were reminded each time they passed this and other wealthy residences in the Upper City of the illegitimacy of their high priesthood. Since the beginning of Herod's reign in 37 BC, only one of the high priests (the first) had come from the legitimate line of Zadok. The remainder were from the families of Boethus (of which the House of Kathros was an offshoot), Annas or Phiabi, low-born families which, once they had risen to power, strove to keep the office for as long as possible.

Robinson's Arch

The remains of Robinson's Arch — named for American Protestant clergyman, Edward Robinson, who first called attention to it — can be seen jutting out from the western wall of the Temple Mount (you pass near it on the way from the Dung Gate to the Western Wall plaza). It was once thought that it supported one end of a bridge leading across the Tyropoeon Valley to the Upper City on the western hill. We now know that it supported a grand staircase rising from the valley and over the main north-south street running adjacent to the Temple Mount. In the right foreground are the square lintels of shops that served the needs of Temple patrons. Objects uncovered here by archaeologists include weights, pottery and coins.

Excavated north-south street at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, directly below "Robinson's Arch"

Right, view of the main north-south street during the Second Temple period, running through the Tyropoeon Valley, alongside the southern part of the western wall of the Temple Mount. The large stones had once composed the upper part of the massive retaining wall. They have lain here for nearly 2,000 years since being deliberately toppled from their original places by the Romans during their sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD, shattering the paving stones of the street below. Both sides of the wide street were lined with shops, but those on the wall side were crushed by the fallen stones. Some of the shops on the opposite (west) side are still intact. Beside the shops was a mikveh, a ritual bath used by people to purify themselves before ascending to the Temple Mount. Jesus never walked this street. Fresh chisel marks in the beautifully worked paving stones indicate they were laid in the mid-60's AD, some 30 years after the time of Jesus, but just prior to the destruction of the city in 70 AD by Titus' legions. Jewish prisoners of war had probably been forced by the Romans to undertake the long, tiring process of destroying the Temple and its surroundings. For them, it was the ultimate humiliation — the destruction of their sacred Temple at their own hands. In the extreme right of the photo is the support base for "Robinson's Arch," the huge staircase that once led up to the Temple Mount.

The place of trumpeting

Right, among the ruins along the above street was a sizable piece of stone (entire stone, below, and detail, right) that had once been set at the very top of the retaining wall at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. It contained a Hebrew inscription reading in part: "Bet Ha-teqi'ah" (House of Trumpeting) "to the place of the trumpeting to procl..."

Apparently it marked the place where priests would blow the shofar (ram's horn) to signal the start of Shabbat (Sabbath) and festival days. (Possibly the inscription was only a notice to the construction workers as to the final destination of this specially-cut stone.)

*Josephus (37 AD–c. 100), also known as Yosef Ben Matityahu (Joseph, son of Matthias) and, after he became a Roman citizen, as Titus Flavius Josephus, was a first century Jewish historian and apologist of priestly and royal ancestry who survived and recorded the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. His works give an important insight into 1st century Judaism.

Josephus' two most important works are The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94). The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 AD). Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective.

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