The Unnecessary War
This was a war that should have never taken place. There was no leader. There was no strategy. There was no vision. The previous 65 years had been a time of peace as Israel prospered under the umbrella of the “Pax Romana” that blanketed the entire Mediterranean world. Israel existed as a quasi-independent state, sometimes under the authority of its own leaders, but mostly under the authority of a governor. These governors were just filling their time and naturally trying to fill their pockets during their time in Israel.
The war started when a young priest, Eleazar son of Ananias, convinced his fellow priests to stop the offering of sacrifices on behalf of the Roman emperor in the temple. They did this to make a statement to Rome about the conduct of the corrupt governor Florus. Aggripa and Berenice joined with the Roman governor of Syria, Gallus, marching against Jerusalem. Gallus’ legions breached the outer walls and was preparing for the final assault upon the temple walls. All was about to return as it was before, when Gallus’ legions withdrew from the city. No explanation is known for sure. The Jews, seeing this as a sign of God’s deliverance rise up and attack his retreating army. The army takes heavy losses, including the death of Gallus. This was the greatest defeat suffered by a Roman legion in over 50 years.
Now it became a necessary war.
Roman Favor for Jews
There were no taxes on Jews in Judea during the seventh year when they let their fields lie untilled. Roman authority allowed the Jews to collect tithes as well as annual tributes from all Jews for the temple. Jews were exempted from military service in the Roman army in light of conflict of Sabbaths, food and worship. Specific Roman ordinances were pronounced world-wide allowing Jews to follow the Sabbath and all other rituals associated with their religion (how different from treatment given to the early Christian church). Specifically, Jews were allowed to not be required to honor court dates on the Sabbath.
One last example needs to be added. It was Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, who as a friend to the Emperor Gaius (Caligula), became ruler of Judea. When Gaius’ insanity led to putting his statue in the temple to be worshipped, Agrippa interceded for the nation (as did the Syrian governor Petronius) winning a temporary respite. It was Gaius’ assassination that brings Agrippa to Rome as the king-maker. He gets Gaius’ uncle Claudius, convinces the praetorians (the assassins of Gaius) to proclaim him emperor. Agrippa then marched into the senate of Rome informing and advising them concerning the new emperor. The senate confirmed Claudius as emperor. Agrippa was handsomely rewarded, but the amazing point is that a Jew would be so intimately involved in Roman affairs at the highest level at the most crucial of times. It is an event that further signifies the place of favor that Jews had within the Roman Empire. It was his daughter Berenice, who sat with her brother Agrippa II before Paul, who would become the mistress of Titus acting as his wife in Rome.
Jewish Influence on Rome
One half of the population of the Roman Empire was slaves. Jews, captured in Pompey’s and Sosius’ 63BC and 37BC campaigns in Palestine, became a part of life in Rome. Freedom was quite often granted to faithful slaves, this freedom granted even gave them Roman citizenship. The characteristics that would allow the Jews to survive the last 2000 years in the face of constant threat of persecution allowed them to survive and thrive in Rome as a unique community within Rome.
Jews were found all over the Roman Empire. Jews made up possibly as much as 10% of the total population of the empire. Josephus reports that at least one Jewish custom had spread throughout the land. The custom is making Saturday a non-work day. We can easily see how it would happen in a city where there is a large Jewish presence. All of the Jewish merchants would close up shop on the Sabbath. It would be like going to a mall with a third of the shops closed. However it happened, it impacted Rome and it still has impact upon us today.
The entire Roman world knew that Jews only worshipped their God and they would not bow down to any other idols of any other gods. This would be an influence that would lead to the acceptance of Christianity as it was preached throughout the empire. Rome would conquer Greece and in Horace’s immortal phrase she “took captive her rude conqueror.” Jerusalem had never bowed the knee totally to the Greek mystic. There was a mutual respect that allowed Rome to appreciate the religious tenacity of the Jews.
Jerusalem and the Temple
Jerusalem was known throughout the ancient world as the place where the temple, the dwelling place of the God of the Jews, stood. This second temple was beautified by Herod and the temple mount was turned into a perfectly designed platter that held up the temple for all to see. The walls that made up this platter were made of huge cut stones, the Western Wall or Wailing Wall is all that remains of the walls that surrounded the temple mount. This massive building project lasted many years with a huge expenditure of monies. The temple treasury collected a tax from all Jews once a year. Besides the tax many offerings were collected into the temple treasury from Jews visiting the temple. The temple funds supported the priesthood as well as were used for the upkeep of Jerusalem itself. The splendor of this temple was awe inspiring.
Three times a year Jerusalem would be jammed with pilgrims from all over the world; Passover, the Festival of Weeks or Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles which included the Day of Atonement the one day a year when the High Priest alone entered into the Holy of Holies in the inner temple. It would be during the festival time that Titus, the attacking Roman General, allowed all of the Pilgrims into the city for the Passover festival but then refused to let them leave putting extra burden upon the food supplies of the besieged city.
The priests would be diligent in offering the daily sacrifices even as the Romans began to burn the temple. This temple for the Jews was meant to stand forever, thus the desperate defense and the following darkness of soul for all Jews at its destruction.
Christianity: The New Jewish Sect
The center of Christianity was Jerusalem, firmly in the hands of the Jews who now recognized Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. There were some early skirmishes with Peter being arrested, Stephen being stoned to death, the persecutions of Saul and finally the execution of the leader of the church, James, the brother of Peter by Herod Agrippa who would then die a terrible death. These Christian Jews kept the Sabbath and argued the merits of Jesus’ claims with the Jews, while still being considered Jews. They still went “up to the temple” to pray along with all the other Jews.
Changes were coming. The early church started among the Jews coming to Jerusalem for the festival. The church was birthed on that Pentecost day as Peter preached and 3000 Jews responded and the church was born. Paul had received a call to preach Jesus the Christ to Gentiles, in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Jewish Messiah. Peter had this direction from God confirmed to him in his visit to the Roman legionnaire Cornelius.
A deal was struck to allow Gentiles to forgo the law while the Jewish Christians were free to follow it as a Pharisee would. Paul is starting each one of his evangelist campaigns in a synagogue throughout the Roman Empire, while back in Jerusalem even priests ministering in the temple were becoming believers that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul leaves his calling to go to the Gentiles, to return to Jerusalem and face his brethren. He is warned that there are a “myriad” of Jewish Christian believers who are dedicated to the law of Moses as well.
Paul’s return, though not turning out the way he wanted it to, is something God works for good to allow Paul to address the Roman governor, Agrippa (son of Herod Agrippa) and eventually off to Rome where his converts are found in the royal households.
The Christians believed that Jesus was their sacrifice for sins and the debate went on while the daily sacrifices at the temple continued in accordance with the written word of God. Lev 17:11 says: “it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” The question argued was: is it the blood of the daily sacrifice or the blood of Jesus? We see the Christian side of this argument presented in the Book of Hebrews written before the fall of Jerusalem (this should be obvious, but…).
Judea was governed by fourteen different Roman governors from AD 6 to the breakout of the First Jewish War in AD 66. Pontius Pilate is the most known as well as the longest serving governor. Judea was not considered a difficult province to govern. The Romans stationed about 3000 troops in Judea, with their base on the coast at Caesarea. During the Jewish festivals 500 troops were stationed inside the fortress of Antonia overlooking the temple grounds.
The taxes were not overbearing, but the collecting of the taxes using publicans could lead to extortion. Pontius Pilate, according to Josephus, had many run-ins with the Jews. He brought Roman military standards into the city of Jerusalem causing a riot. He used temple funds for the repair of the aqueduct, using the funds for that reason was OK, it just couldn’t be him who used the funds. He bowed to Jewish demands to have Jesus crucified, because the governing body of the Sanhedrin did not have the power to execute a man.
The complaints of the Jews did not fall on deaf ears all of the time. A Roman soldier was executed for burning a copy of the Torah. Then there was the incredible stand of Petronius. He was the governor of Syria where the Roman legions were stationed facing the Parthians, an enemy Rome never established dominion over. Gaius Caligula took the tool of emperor worship one step too far. As a tool of state worship it had utility for the Empire. Caligula came to believe he was a god. He ordered his statue placed in the temple of Jerusalem to teach the Jews a lesson. Petronius knew the problems this would cause. He proceeded slowly, not wanting a Jewish revolt behind him as he faced the Parthians in front of him.
He brought a legion, with the statue, down from Syria to the edge of Judea. Here the delegations came to him from the Jews numbering in the thousands. They made it clear they would give up their lives rather than have the temple desecrated as was done under Antiochus which led to the Maccabbee rebellion. He appealed to the emperor for a stay of the order, eventually the order was rescinded, but Petronius’ days were now numbered. Two letters were traveling from Rome, one with Petronius’ death order, the other with news of Caligula’s death. The second came first.
The final governor, Florus, was the worst. He encouraged thievery throughout the land, demanding his cut. His actions lost him Jewish respect, which only compelled him to ever increasing acts of violence and retribution. Finally, the Jews had had enough, they chased him and his soldiers out of Jerusalem, just as Menahem, who had captured Masada, came into the city. The daily sacrifice in the temple for the emperor was stopped and the die was cast leading to the war that would end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the second temple.
The Campaign and the Battle
The war that should have never happened starts with a Roman Governor, corrupt and insecure Florus, needing his ego stroked by humiliating the Jews through a new tax, a violent enforcement and finally a submissive welcome to the arriving Roman troops called to help him enforce his viciousness upon the Jews of Jerusalem. It was too much as the citizens of the city arose and attacked back, chasing them from the city all the way back to their headquarters at Caesarea.
We have no details, but at this time Menahem captured Masada, possibly through trickery, as Herod’s castle at Masada is practically unassailable. This first piece of captured ground would be the last given up, as Rome transports water and laborers to build a causeway of dirt to climb the cliffs of Masada to find at the end one thousand bodies of the Jews who chose suicide rather than to die at the hands of the Romans.
Now the war starts, for the Jews it would be a war of faith, a faith that God would intervene in their behalf. The Syrian governor, Gallus, comes down with a legion and is ready to assault the Temple grounds when the Romans pull up camp and withdraw from the city. God had undertaken for his people and had given them a miraculous deliverance. They attacked the retreating Romans killing many of them, capturing their heavy equipment and even killing Gallus. It was the greatest military defeat for Rome in over 50 years.
Now was the time to get organized to defend Jerusalem and with God’s help re-establish the nation as it was intended to be by God. Cities were fortified; shipping lanes between Alexandria and Rome were attacked as they awaited the next move of Rome. It was at this time that a young priest who had come to believe in the invincibility of Rome was made governor of Galilee, the first area that would come under attack by the coming Roman legions. He is known today by his Latin name, Josephus.
Nero called a general named Vespasian out of retirement to repair the damaged Roman mystique by teaching the Jews a lesson. He and his son, Titus, assembled three legions and began the methodical advancement towards Jerusalem. It was at Jotapata that Josephus made his stand, a stand he describes himself as full of bravery and excellent strategy. In reality it was just a bump in the road on the way to Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that he alone escaped and when brought before Vespasian declares that he will be the future emperor. Vespasian decided to let him live as he continued the march to Jerusalem, taking all the cities that stood between him and Jerusalem.
As city after city fell to Vespasian, inside Jerusalem there was anarchy. The main rivals were the zealots and those under the influence of the high priest. They began to fight among themselves. Vespasian took control of the entire nation except Jerusalem while the different groups, including the refugees from Galilee battled with each other. At one point the zealots burned the grain supply in their efforts to establish their dominion in the city. Finally, the zealots opened the gates to a relief force of Edomites, the people of King Herod. They were drawn into the conflict by a lie about the high priest wanting to turn the temple over to the Romans. They came in joined with the zealots in slaughtering the people linked with the high priest. Only after the massacre did they realize they had been used and they left the city to its own devices.
Meanwhile, Vespasian was made emperor and left things in the hands of his son Titus while he went and prepared for a glorious return to Rome. Titus, could no longer patiently wait for the fall of Jerusalem, his family needed a victory for political reasons. He quickly brought his army to Jerusalem. He began building a ditch and a wall circling the city. The groves and gardens were destroyed as all of the trees surrounding the city were destroyed. He allowed the pilgrims to come into Jerusalem for the Passover of 70AD but did not allow them out. Finally, the warring groups of Jerusalem united to begin a spirited defense of the city.
The burned food supplies now began to haunt the lives of those within the city. Entreaties were offered to have the city surrendered but this siege would go on until the bitter end. The agony within the walls drove people to try and escape only to find themselves nailed to a cross facing the city for all to see. Twice the Jews would leave the city in successful surprise attacks upon the Romans, one time almost killing Titus. It was only Titus’ personal courage that rallied his troops at a key point. They breached the first of a series of walls that defended the city. Finally they took the fortress Antonia overlooking the temple grounds. The final assault on the temple ended with a fire that consumed the temple. Still the Jews held out in any fortified portion of the city. The Romans lost all control as they killed and destroyed their way from house to house. They then leveled the city only allowing a few prominent towers to remain.
The war was over with only Masada remaining to be retaken. It had lasted from 66AD to 70. Vespasian had his needed victory to bring home to Rome. His welcoming parade would show off the artifacts from the temple. He would triumphantly march into Rome and at the key place in the parade route he would go on in triumph while his captured Jewish leaders would go down beneath the city to the dungeons that awaited them.
Masada would be the last Jewish stronghold to fall.
Josephus was a priest selected to defend Galilee against the coming Roman attack upon Israel. He bravely, by his own account, defended his city till all were killed or committed suicide except him. He was brought before Vespasian, where (by his own account) he prophesized that Vespasian would be emperor. Vespasian decided this Romanized Jew could be useful in the campaign and kept him alive.
He began to keep an account of the war in Israel and ingratiated himself with Vespasian and Titus. He returned to Rome where he wrote three books with one on the war in Israel that was celebrated by Vespasian and his two sons who followed him as emperors and one on the history of Judaism. Being favored by the emperor made this excellent writer’s work guaranteed to be published.
His works give us an eye witness account of the siege of Jerusalem and an insight into a battle from antiquity that is unparalleled in archeological history. This battle and this battle alone do we have a first person complete narrative of the events from a person who saw and witnessed these events from both sides of the war. It becomes the best documented battle from antiquity. Why is this battle chosen, of all the battles of ancient history, to be so well documented from that time till now? There is a reason.
The pride of Israel was the temple and now it was destroyed. Jews from all over the world had contributed the temple tax for the upkeep of the temple. After the defeat the voluntary fee that Jews paid now had to be paid by all Jews to the maintenance of the temple of Jupiter in Rome. The temple tax, a tax of joy, had been turned into a tax of shame. This shame would drape on Jews throughout their journeys throughout the Roman Empire.
“Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem” the lament of Jesus to take them in under his wings; “but they were not willing” now had an unreal feel to the words. Jerusalem was totally leveled to the ground with only a few towers standing. The temple was totally destroyed. The fire had melted the gold within the temple so the Roman soldiers would pry apart all of the stones in the hope of finding some gold. Herod had built up the 4 walls surrounding the temple giving it a grandeur that was unequalled in the world. Only the Western wall or “wailing wall” remains. Jerusalem would become a military town, the home of the 10th Legion for the next 100 years. Jews would only be allowed in on the 9th of Ab the day in which the temple was destroyed. It happened to be the same day it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. The city would not be rebuilt until after the third and final Jewish revolt in 135.
Following the defeat Jews were sold into the slave market causing a depression in prices because there were so many. Slavery in Rome was normal with half the people of the Roman Empire slaves. A faithful and diligent slave could easily be rewarded with his freedom which resulted in citizenship, the ultimate goal of humanity at this time. Many Jews, remembering Joseph, found themselves prospering again in foreign lands. This was not the final dispersion of the Jews. The Jews had lost their state, but they still had their country, that would change after the final revolt. Israel was still home to most Jews following the war. There was still an international Jewish revolt to come and the final messianic revolt of “The son of a star”. It was after this final revolt that the Jews were dispersed from Israel as prophesized.
The Temple was destroyed and the purpose of the priesthood ceased to exist. The movement of Jewish religion to the living of the law and the Pharisees away from the Sadducees and the priesthood was now complete. Jewish life would center around the Rabbi’s who would take over from the Pharisees. Good deeds would now take the place of sacrifice for the Jews, as Hosea said “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”.
Gamaliel the second, after organizing the 18 prayers for Jewish daily use now had to add a 19th prayer aimed at deflecting the Christian arguments, that became too painful to bear with the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple. This 19th prayer was aimed at the minim, heretics, which the Rabbi’s determined that Christians now fell into this group.
Why? Roman Politics
Israel demanded a small force of Roman troops for garrison duty. When the governor Florus was chased from Jerusalem and the daily sacrifice for the Emperor was discontinued Rome was required to take action. The nearest legion was in Syria and it was marched down under the command of Gallus. The “Why?” for the Romans called for them to re-establish their authority over Israel. Gallus was on his way to doing this. He penetrated the city and his troops were positioned for the final assault upon the temple grounds. Instead of an assault; they broke camp and began an organized retreat to Caesarea. The retreating legion was attacked by the Jews who captured their heavy equipment, even killing Gallus and almost destroying the legion. We do not know why this happened? Surely if Gallus had continued his assault upon the temple grounds; Israel would have been subdued without the destruction of the temple. That was not to be.
Now the “Why?” was not only to re-establish authority, but to avenge and make an example of the revolting Jewish nation to the rest of the Roman occupied world. This had been the first defeat of a Roman legion in over 50 years. This called for strident efforts. Vespasian, a successful general in the conquest of Britain, was called up by Nero, despite his sleeping during one of Nero’s concerts with a lyre. Vespasian assembles three legions including one under his son Titus. They start a thorough march through Northern Israel moving closer and closer to the final goal of taking Jerusalem.
Before this last battle can take place, the Roman Emperor Nero commits suicide. There would be four different declared emperors with the last being Vespasian. He went to Egypt to gain control of the grain supplies of Rome and prepare to fight for the title of undisputed Emperor. His troops, without him, would defeat the army of the last contender for the throne in Italy. His son Titus was left in charge of the legions facing Jerusalem at the end of the year 69. The dynamics of the campaign in Israel now changed.
The final “Why?” for Rome would be Vespasian’s need for a decisive victory in Israel. He would establish a twenty-five year reign of the Flavian dynasty with his son Titus following him as Emperor of Rome. It would enhance his image to return to Rome as a conqueror and not just a victor in a civil war. This created political pressure for Titus to take Jerusalem and end the war in time for this victory to be brought back to Rome with Vespasian when he finally left Egypt for Rome. Instead of a slow death and surrender due to hunger, the Jews were given assault after assault smashing their way into the city. The final assault on the temple mount ended with the burning of the temple; but not before some of the pieces from the inner sanctuary were taken to be displayed with Titus on his triumphal entry into Rome.
This last “Why?” can be blamed for the tragedy of the destruction of the temple. The destruction of the temple was not planned but an aftereffect from a desperate struggle between the legions of Rome and the defenders of the temple mount. You need to remember the picture of priests carrying on the sacrifices of the temple even as the Romans began to enter the temple grounds. The temple itself is the reason for the defense of the city for the Jews. It was the temple’s destruction that would change everything.
The politics of victory would make Jews a Roman enemy worldwide. Vespasian would hang his hat upon the victory over the Jews and this would necessitate the demonizing of these same Jews. We even have a little bit of Messianic paranoia on the part of the Romans with early church writers declaring that Vespasian ordered the death of all Jews who could be traced to David’s family, thus trying to eliminate the Messiah to come.
These “Why’s?” led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This becomes significant in more ways than one.
Why? Rabbinical Tradition
For Jews the “Why?” is painful. The Talmud states in Yoma 9b: Why was the Second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they occupied themselves with studying Torah, obeying mitzvoth and practicing charity? Because in it prevailed hatred without a cause.”
The first temple was destroyed because of idolatry, harlotry and murder. The Jews can trace their guilt in the writings of the prophets who were sent to Israel urging them to repent. Now they would have to add “hatred without a cause” to the list of the great sins.
They could point to the divisions in society or even the divisions of those fighting the Romans. For thinking Jews there is a problem. Why did not God give warning? Why were they not given an opportunity to repent? Was there a voice that could have warned them?
The more painful truth is that there was one voice that was heard, the voice of Jesus.
Matt 24:1-2 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
The gospel even echoes the reason for the destruction of the temple: “Anyone who hates me hates my Father, too. If I hadn’t done such miraculous signs among them that no one else could do, they would not be counted guilty. But as it is, they saw all that I did and yet hated both of us– me and my Father. This has fulfilled what the Scriptures said: ‘They hated me without cause’” (John 15:23-25).
Did they miss something?
Jesus was the one voice that saw the destruction of the temple. His parables served as direct warnings to the leadership of Israel that they would reject Him and there would be terrible retribution visited upon the Jewish nation. There is no exaltation in this but rather a reminder of the goodness of Jesus. Jesus who wept over Jerusalem came to his own people with a message of faith right out of their rabbinical traditions. Love one another. Yet, they rejected the message of love and came to see the reason for the temple’s destruction to be “hatred without a cause”.
The Jews had determined that there are no more prophets to come. They do not hear the prophetic voice coming from one who claims to be their Messiah, even when his words come to pass. They wait for a time of “love without cause” to usher in the rebuilding of the temple.
Jesus was that “love without cause” moment in history.
The Jewish Christian Split
The Jewish Christian church watches the first Roman Legion to attack Jerusalem withdraw. The Jews see the hand of God. The Christians are reminded of Jesus’ prophecies concerning Jerusalem and they hear from God and leave the city.
The city is destroyed. They feel the pain of the nation. The fulfilled prophecy is hard for everyone to address.
It really will never be addressed.
Gamaleil, one of the leading Rabbis, gave the Jewish people the “eighteen prayers” to bring them together after the temple was destroyed. Judaism was about to start on a 2000 year journey that would defy history. The force of the Christian case for Jesus being Messiah was making headway in the Jewish community. Gamaliel added a 19th prayer to the 18 aimed at Christians: “Let there be no hope for the apostates, and may their insolent kingdom be plucked up by the roots in our time, and may the Nazarites and heretics (minim) in a moment be destroyed and wiped out of the book of life and not entered along with the righteous. Blessed by thou, O Lord, that humblest the insolent.”
No, a Christian could not read that prayer in a synagogue and that was the purpose of its introduction. The conversation about Jesus being the Messiah would come to a close. The verses from Is 53 that so closely describe the suffering Messiah are not read in synagogues to this day because of the painful truth they imply.
The church would become a Gentile church and its Jewish roots would be lost in the avalanche of all of humanity into faith in Jesus Christ. The Jews would start a new chapter awaiting the fulfillment of prophecy concerning them.
An International Jewish Revolt
The Jews were rationally turned into a malevolent people through the propaganda surrounding Vespasian’s victory over the Jews and the victory parade back in Rome following Titus’ destruction of Jerusalem. Vespasian would be followed by his two sons, Titus and Domitian, as emperors of Rome. Each one of them would have coins minted that celebrated the Roman victory over the Jews. There would be an additional mark separating the Jews from the rest of the empire besides their own adherence to their God and religious lifestyle.
The Jewish community had already grown all over the Roman Empire. The destruction of Jerusalem was the beginning of the dispersion. In all the empire there was now a new tax just on Jews. The temple tax that all Jews paid for the temple in Jerusalem would now be paid for the temple to Jupiter in Rome. So all through the empire Jews carried the scorn of the empire and the disgrace of having their temple tax pay for a heathen temple. There was bitterness in this and a continual yearning for the conquering Messiah.
It was the year 115; Trajan had projected the power of the Roman Empire to its furthest reach in the defeat of the Parthian kingdom. He was poised to realize the dream of Roman generals of the ages to repeat the conquests of Alexander the Great. He was at the Persian Gulf preparing to transfer his army to India when revolts began to break out throughout the Roman Empire. At the moment of sweetest victory everything seemed to go wrong. Who was responsible for marring this magical moment? The answer is the Jews.
It started within the Jewish communities still in the areas surrounding Babylon. They have lived and prospered there since the times of their capture and removal from Israel by Nebuchadnezzar. Maybe is was the realization that they would also now have to pay the humiliating tax for the upkeep of the heathen temple in Rome, but no this was too organized, and very quickly it became not a local event but an international event. The garrisons stationed in the towns following Trajan’s march to the PersianSea were quickly overcome by Jews organized to bring down Roman rule. At the same time there was an organized uprising in Cyrene in Northern Africa. It was bloody and it was Jew against heathen with the Jew being so victorious that settlers would have to be brought back into the area following the war. In Egypt the Jews rose as a nation to take control of all of Egypt from Alexandria all the way down the Nile. Rome’s wheat supply was now in danger. The island of Cyprus would have an organized revolt that completely overwhelmed the Roman forces of the island. The flames were spreading now to the homeland of the Jews, Judea proper.
Trajan dutifully turned back and methodically in the Roman way brought destruction upon the Jews, this time upon the entire international community of Jews. The Diaspora of the Jews continues as new groups of Jews are scattered throughout the Roman Empire as slaves after much Jewish blood is shed. Trajan’s dreams of Alexander conquests dies with him as he tries to make his way back to Rome towards the end of what is called the Kitos War, falsely named after the Roman general, Lucius Quietus, a Black man from Morocco, who slaughtered the Jews around Babylon and was made governor of Judea.
Was it a Jewish conspiracy? Had all of these communities of Jews timed their revolts together? What group of people within the empire, besides the Jews, was equal to the task of international revolt? Does this serve as a forerunner to the theories of Jewish international conspiracies that haunt us to this day? A mindset about the Jews was inserted into the world that has been fanned and kept alive until this day.
The Final Jewish Revolt
His name was Bar-Kokhba, son of a star, with messianic overtones. Later Jewish writers would name him Bar-Koziba, son of a lie, with a drip of bitterness. The bitterness that hung over the Jews from their two defeats found expression in Bar-Kokhba. The Romans were unsuccessfully attempting to destroy not just the nation of Israel but the religion of the Jews. Hadrian, the traveling emperor had just visited Israel and stated plans of rebuilding Jerusalem as a Roman city with Roman deities placed upon the temple grounds.
Roman open abuse was creating an atmosphere ripe for revolt one more time. The Christians had lost their influence among the Jews and had become a gentile religion for all practical purposes. If Jesus was not the Messiah, everyone understood that the “stone” from Daniel signifying the Messiah would be cut out “without hands” during the time of the Roman presence. So Jews were still awaiting their Messiah if nothing else to quiet their nagging doubts concerning Jesus.
Bar-Kokhba had had enough and had gathered some men and was beating the Roman detachments sent to kill him. His victories were becoming more and more impressive, gathering more and more followers when he had a meeting with the chief rabbi of his time. His name was Aqiba. He was an incredibly strong man who had become a man of learning despite a poor background. Now he stood taking the measure of the rugged warrior before him and pronounced these words: “There shall go forth a star out of Jacob”; signifying his belief that Bar-Kokhba was the awaited Messiah.
The war began in earnest now as Bar-Kokhba’s army grew in strength and confidence. He took Jerusalem and established control over all of Jerusalem. Coins celebrating the first 3 years of the messianic reign were minted in Israel during this time. Once again the Romans returned with overpowering forces and patiently and methodically destroyed the Jews and this time the destruction completed the dispersion of the Jews from Israel that was started with the first Jewish revolt that ended with the destruction of Israel.
He was not their Messiah and that is why he is now referred to as “son of a lie”. Yet, he carries a mystique of strength and courage that lives within the Jewish community to this day.