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Article 40 - The Fall Of Jerusalem
The Fall of Jerusalem
Jon Gary Williams
There is one thing especially which the Jewish nation of the first century A.D. did not realize - that their system was destined for destruction. God had a purpose for its existence as a nation and someday that purpose was to be fulfilled. The Jewish nation served as a vehicle to bring the Saviour and when He came its purpose was completed. The time came when the law of Moses was to be abolished. (Colossians 2:15) Judaism with its elaborate priesthood would no longer serve a purpose. Jerusalem with its glorious temple, the central monument of Judaism, would crumble!
Jerusalem's fall is something not unknown to the New Testament. "...he beheld the city, and wept over it...the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side. And shall lay thee even with the ground and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another..." (Luke 19:41-44)
Just prior to his death our Lord said: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us." (Luke 23:28-30)
As Jesus departed from the temple, his disciples came to him to show him "the buildings of the temple." He declared: "See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (Matthew 24:1, 2)
Our Lord, in answering his disciples' question, "When shall these things be?" said: "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place (whoso readeth, let him understand). Then let them which be in Jerusalem flee into the mountains...For then Shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Matthew 24:15-21)
Further explanation on this coming "desolation" is given in Luke's narrative. "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh...they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down..." (Luke 21:20-24)
We are made to wonder what Jesus' disciples thought of all this. "Jerusalem destroyed? the temple dismantled? Judaism crushed? never a time like it before or after?" Surely the early Christians of Judea also wondered about these things! Likely, some anticipated them. However, the years passed and nothing happened. Ten, twenty, thirty years, and still nothing. But, then, forty years later, in 70 A.D., the predictions of Jesus began to unfold.
For years Israel had been under Roman rule. However, resistance was now rapidly spreading throughout Palestine. Finally this rebellion became so intense that the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem was attached and murdered. The Jews had now gone too far, thus Roman troops and equipment began rolling into the Jewish heartland. Under command of generals Vespasian (who later became emperor) and Titus, the Roman forces crushed city after city.
One of the better fortified cities was Jotopata, to which many had fled for safety, including the well known Flavius Josephus. Jotopata was overthrown and Josephus captured. Because of his tact and scholarship he became consultant and arbitrator for Titus through the rest of the Roman campaign in Palestine, even being present at the fall of Jerusalem. Later Josephus wrote a detailed account of the Jewish wars and of the destruction of the great city itself.
Tutus now turned toward Jerusalem. His armies camped about four miles from the northern entrance. There were tens of thousands of soldiers, horsemen, auxiliaries, pikemen, cohorts, tribunes, mercenaries and heavy artillery.
Jerusalem was about one mile square in size. Built on two mountains, Zion and Moriah, its west, south and east sides were protected by deep valleys. The northern entrance which lay toward the lower side of the city was the only possible avenue of attack and was protected by three walls. At this time there were vast numbers of people in the city, many for the Passover feast and others for protection. Remarkably, at this time the historian Eusebius says that all the Christians in Jerusalem departed and went to Pella. (Ecclesiastical History III.5)
It was the month of Nisan (April) when the siege began. After destroying the suburbs Titus had the heavy artillery (engines, or catapults) brought in place. These catapults could hurl stones a talent (130 lbs.) in weight for a distance of a quarter mile. They would slam into the walls with thunderous force and those clearing the walls would rip through dwellings and other structures. Battering rams were brought forward. Three giant towers fifty cubits high were erected to place alongside the walls. Hugh banks were built around the city which required millions of trees. Josephus records that for twelve miles in every direction from Jerusalem the land was barren of trees.
On the fifteenth day of battle, the first wall was finally breached. However, Jewish resistance was strong and the second and third walls proved difficult. Titus then made a change in strategy. His decision - starve them out! Within three days his soldiers built a wall around the entire city sealing it off completely, thus keeping anyone from going out at any place to gather what food could be found. It wasn't long until famine began go set in along with internal strife and confusion.
Starvation was everywhere. Robbing and plundering were common. Josephus relates the following: "Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying of famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the bodies of the aged; the children...swelled with famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them...A deep silence also, a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than those miseries were themselves; for they brake open houses which were no other than graves of dead bodies, and plundered them...and went out laughing, and tried the points of their swords on their bodies." (Wars of The Jews, Book V, Chap. XII, No. 3)
Josephus explains that the number of dead bodies was so great that those yet alive could hardly endure the stench. Thus, they began throwing the bodies over the walls into the valleys below. He then says: "However, when Titus, in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrification running about them, he gave a groan; and spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing." (Wars of The Jews, Book V, Chap. XII, No. 4)
The historian goes on to say: "But the famine was too hard for all other passions...insomuch that children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating out of their very mouths...so did the mothers as to their infants...the seditious broke open the doors, and ran in, and took pieces of what they were eating, almost up out of their very throats...they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels...They also invented terrible methods of torment to discover where any food was...and a man was forced to bear what it is terrible even to hear, in order to make him confess that he had but one loaf of bread..." (Wars of The Jews, Book V, Chap. X, No. 3)
Josephus himself was appalled at the wickedness of his own people and declared, "Neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world." (Wars of The Jews, Book V, Chap. X, No. 6)
The time was so wretched that men would try anything for food - leather girdles and shoes, leather taken from shields, old hay and trash. Some even searched the sewers and old dung hills. "What they of old could not so much as endure to see they now used for food." One woman even roasted her infant son. After eating half of it, thieves broke in and demanded what she had. Josephus says they were "seized with horror." The dead from starvation was unbelievable. It is stated by Josephus that over 600,000 bodies were thrown out at the gates and walls. (Wars of The Jews, Book V, Chap. XIII, No. 7)
So great was the desire to escape starvation many would eat small pieces of gold and then surrender, hoping to later recover the gold and use it to buy their lives. However, as the Roman soldiers discovered this tactic they began cutting open all who tried to surrender.
Finally the second and third walls were breached. As the Romans made their way up to the higher elevations of the city they slew everyone in sight. "As for a great part of the people, they were weak and without arms, and had their throats cut wheresoever they were caught. Now round about the altar lay dead bodies heaped one upon another; as at the steps going up to it ran a great quantity of their blood...the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of these bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them...They ran everyone through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood." (Wars of The Jews, Book V, Chap. IV, No. 6; Chap. V, No. 1; Book VI, Chap. XIII, No. 5)
The temple was finally destroyed, the walls were thrown down and burned. Titus left three towers standing as a memorial to his victory. Josephus wrote that 97,000 captives were taken and sold as slaves or used for sport in various Roman cities. All together there were 1,100,000 Jews to die by sword or starvation at Jerusalem, a city designed for a capacity of about 30,000. (Wars of The Jews, Book VI, Chap. IX, No. 3)
Indeed, our Lord's prediction was fulfilled! Never a time like it before or after.