In 66 AD, Jewish Zealots rebelled against Roman occupation of Judea. Vespasian was dispatched by Rome to crush the rebellion. In one of the most brutal wars of antiquity, Rome fought against Judea and eventually laid siege to Jerusalem.
Prior to the sacking of Jerusalem, in 68AD, Emperor Nero committed suicide. This was on the heels of his having burned his own capital city to the ground. Vespasian, who was in direct command of the forces arrayed against the Jews, was recalled by the Roman Senate and crowned Emperor. He left his son, Titus, in command.
Vespasian decided to construct a huge Coliseum to pacify and entertain the Roman people. It was clear however that Rome lacked the necessary funding to build the massive sports complex.
This is where the sacking of Jerusalem and its Temple treasures come into play. Once Titus had stormed Jerusalem, his forces were ordered to confiscate any gold and treasure found within the city (and particularly the Temple).
It took four legions (including the V Macedonica, XII Fulminata, XV Apollinaris, and the X Fretensis), but Jerusalem’s walls were finally breached in 70 AD. The siege at Masada would come to an end in 73 AD.
In 79 AD, Titus became emperor after his father’s death. He only survived for two more years. In 81 AD, the Roman Senate deified the ruler. His brother, Domitian, was named in his place.
Domitian built the Arch of Titus to honor his brother and to commemorate Rome’s War against the Jewish People. It was dedicated in 85 AD.
It actually depicts in one relief the looting of some of the Jewish Temple Treasures by Roman forces.
At least 20,000 Jewish slaves were brought to Rome to help build the Coliseum. Many others were sold to raise additional funds. The Jewish treasury was used as well to finance construction.
Directly in front of the Temple Mount and next to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the Jerusalem Archeological Park. A visit here affords a close up look at the devastation that befell the Jewish Temple during the Roman siege of 70AD.
1st Century Jewish historian Josephus describes within his work, The War of the Jews, the fate of the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem:
“…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, Titus Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as 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 of feet [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”.
The ‘Wall’ Josephus speaks of as having been spared, is the Wailing Wall. We know from the rest of his account, as many as 1,100,000 inhabitants were slain by the Roman Army. Another 97,000 were sold into slavery. The rest of Jerusalem and its Temple were razed to the ground.
In one of the most remarkable prophecies of Scripture, the Lord Jesus Christ predicted that the Temple would be destroyed. During His Olivet Discourse, the Lord specifically references the casting down of the stones of the great structure:
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 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.’
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?
Matthew 24: 1 – 3
In the past few decades, archeologists have dug down below the present ground level in front of the Southern most portion of the Western Wall. In fact, they have dug down as far as 4 stories to get to what would have been street level at the time of Christ.
Sure enough, the ruins of the Temple and its associated buildings were uncovered. Amazingly, the stones were literally cast off of the Temple platform and thrown down to the street below.
Just as Christ has predicted, the stones, which made up the Temple had all been cast from off its platform.
This photo is taken a couple of stories up from 1st Century street level. Notice that the rocks are almost at eye level – this is how deep they were piled on top of one another.
The Roman Army during sieges would often build up fires at the base of walled structures that were made out of limestone – as is the case with much of the Temple complex. These would be primarily set around keystones and corner portions of the walls. If the fire gets hot enough, it causes the limestone to turn to dust and collapse any structure on top of it. This is clearly what happened in 70 AD.
It is also clear that the Temple itself was set ablaze by the Romans. As a result, the gold-leaf ornamentation found within the Temple and specifically on its ceiling began to melt. The melting gold flowed down the walls and settled into crevices between the stones comprising the building. The Romans pried apart the stones in an effort to extract the gold.
The Lord’s prophecy concerning how the Temple would be destroyed and the near timing of it were fulfilled in exact detail. The fulfillment of Bible prophecy is yet more evidence that this Book, the Bible, is divinely inspired!
It’s also worth mentioning that Jesus’ prophecy and subsequent fulfillment was not lost on historians of His day. Phlegon is a 1st Century historian who wrote a work called Chronicles roughly one decade after Jerusalem’s destruction. That work has been lost to history. However, Origen, an Egyptian scholar from the 2nd Century does refer to it in work, Origen Against Celsus:
Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . . but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.
In context, this seems to be a direct reference to the Lord’s prediction regarding Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple’s destruction.
The stones of the Temple (and its associated complex), hit the 1st Century road with such force, that it caused tremendous buckling. These indentations are still clearly evident.
One particular stone found bears a significant engraving. Written in Hebrew is the inscription, “To the Place of the Trumpeting”. This stone is considered by some to be the pinnacle stone of the Temple. Regardless, it would be the place where the trumpeter would indicate with his blowing the start of Shabbat or some other Festival or Holiday.
This too serves as tremendous proof to the existence and historical presence of the Jewish Sanctuary.
The relief found on the Arch of Titus reveals in great detail the Temple items that were ransacked. The following objects can be seen:
Once Jerusalem fell, the plight of the Jews only got worse. For it was at this time that the Diaspora took place – that is, the Jews were spread throughout much of the world. The Romans undertook massive deportations of the Jewish People. Even those who weren’t forcibly expelled fled due to fear of persecution. As we have already noted, the Romans took many Jewish slaves.