“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.”
When speaking of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, most people generally think of the physical destruction and burning of the Temple by Titus and his Roman legions. It was a profoundly momentous historical and spiritual event, which Titus himself even recognized; he reportedly refused a victory wreath, claiming that he was just the vehicle through which the Jew’s God was punishing them. Perhaps during the three-month long siege Titus had witnessed enough of the wretchedness and suffering of the people of Jerusalem to be able to celebrate it as a brilliant military victory.
Indeed, the siege of Jerusalem that led up to the destruction of the Temple was a long, drawn-out nightmare for those trapped in the city. The proportions of their suffering are staggering and recall Yeshua’s prophetic exhortation a generation earlier to the women of Jerusalem who were mourning for Him as he bore His cross through the city:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
The Beginning of the End
The revolt against Roman occupation of Jewish lands began in 66 AD led by rival Jewish rebel groups. Some were driven by the desire for political freedom from Rome, some by messianic fervor for a full physical and spiritual redemption. After being defeated in campaigns in the Galilee, these rebel groups fled to Jerusalem where they began fighting each other, plunging the city into chaos.
The Romans legions commanded by Titus began the siege of Jerusalem during the festival of Passover with wicked calculation: Titus had allowed the Jewish festival to continue unhindered, and the population of the city had swelled with pilgrims arriving from all over the country for the feast. Then Titus began his siege, trapping Passover pilgrims together with the city residents: outside were four Roman legions. Inside, three rebel factions vying for control with increasingly cruel violence.
A House Divided
The Jewish resistance in Jerusalem had no chance to withstand four Roman legions. Eventually, they would have been overcome. However, the cruelty that the rebel zealot factions inflicted on each other made the lives of the people far more miserable and increased the number of causalities beyond what the Romans could have done. Plus, it made the job much easier for the Romans. In fact, Titus decided to let the Jews destroy themselves. His calculation was right: at the beginning of the siege, zealot factions burned a stockpile of grain that could have lasted the city for years. This insane act quickly brought on starvation and suffering beyond the Roman’s actions and hastened the fall of the city.
“Weep for Yourselves”
The vision of suffering and destruction that Yeshua saw a generation before came to pass. The account of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes the situation at the beginning of the siege: there was constant noise, the sound of the rebel zealots fighting each other together with the sound of weeping and mourning over the dead.
Eventually, the stench of death covered the city, and the misery of starvation changed the sound of the city. It was complete quiet. In his book Of the War, Josephus writes:
The upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The children also, and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well, were deterred from doing it, by the great multitude of those dead bodies…A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city.
Crucifixion and Desolation
One of the most startling things to imagine is how Jerusalem looked toward the end of the three-month siege. According to Josephus, Jerusalem was a stately, beautiful city surrounded by richly wooded hills. During the siege, all the timber was completely cut down on the hills for fifteen kilometers to use in constructing bulwarks, battering rams and also for crucifying people. Anyone caught escaping the city, whether man, woman or child, was crucified atop a great siege bank built up around the city.
At one point, as many of five hundred people a day were being caught trying to escape and were crucified opposite the city walls. Inside the city there was death from starvation and murder. Outside the walls surrounding the city were literally thousands of crucifixions. Beyond that, barren hills whose trees had been cut down. It is a scene that calls to mind the most harrowing images of the holocaust.
On the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, (4th of August), Titus’s forces breached the city walls from the north and commenced a great slaughter of those who were left inside. Many fled to the Temple for protection. According to Josephus, a river of blood flowed down the Temple stairs. Before they set fire to the Temple, the legionaries made pagan sacrifices on the holy alters. Nearly 100,000 captives were taken and sold into slavery across the Roman empire.
Seenat Cheenam – Baseless Hatred
Years ago, my husband and I were on a tour of the temple tunnels led by a young orthodox woman. After detailing the destruction of the Temple, she added, “The Romans did not destroy the Temple. We did with our baseless hatred. That’s why we were in exile for two-thousand years.”
She was echoing the understanding the rabbis had reached several generations after 70 AD: the rebellion had been a bad idea, and the destruction of the Temple was not due to Roman military superiority but due to “seenat cheenam” or baseless hatred among the Jews.
We told her that baseless hatred of the zealots fighting against each other did not make sense as the cause for such a total destruction of the Temple and for a two-thousand year exile: the first Temple was destroyed and the people exiled for only seventy years for worshipping other gods and even sacrificing their children to Molech. She did not know what to say. “Seenat Cheenam” was the reason the rabbis had given her. What other reason could there be?
If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason ’
In the Hebrew translation, Yeshua says: seenat cheenam sanuni, quoting Psalms 35 and 69. Yeshua agrees with the assessment of future rabbis that because of “baseless hatred” the Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled—but with one key difference: it was the rabbis’ “baseless hatred” of Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, that led to the Temple’s destruction and to the great exile. Not the hatred of rival zealot factions.
Beauty for Ashes
As we observe the solemn date of the 9th of Av, a divine date on which my nation has suffered so much, I feel a sense of sadness and heaviness just like on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The holocaust of Jerusalem in 70 AD was brutal and desolating, and it marked the beginning of the end of Jewish rule in the Land. It would not return until 1948. I find that fact overwhelming. In Israel today, we are living a miracle: Jewish rule in the Land for the first time since 70 AD. And just like during that time, there are also Jewish followers of Yeshua living in the Land, a part of the people. How can anyone not be encouraged and excited considering those facts? How can we not be filled with awe and wonder at how good and faithful our God is!