Notes from the Conservative Yeshiva
The Jerusalem That Was Destroyed In 70CE
Prof. Rabbi Yisrael (Lee) Levine
Jewish life in antiquity was in constant evolution and adaptation to at times radical and ever-changing circumstances. Between the Israelite settlement in ca. 1200 BCE and the Arab conquest in 640 CE, those two thousand years saw such change that an Israelite living at the start of the period would have little in common with the Jews at the end of the period. They would have lived in different places, had different leadership; king, prophet and priest would have gone; the holidays would be different, the sacred literature vastly expanded; the most holy site, the Temple, replaced with a synagogue, etc.
Some of these changes were caused by outside threats, some by outside challenges—the appearance of Hellenism—and sometimes by internal changes—the changes of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Hasmonean state, the emergence of rabbinic Judaism.
Jerusalem did not merely play a central role, but grew over a thousand years; like a Greek tragedy, only when it reached its peak of prestige and prominence did it fall.
Jerusalem played no role in the beginnings of Jewish memory. The Patriarchs never settled or stayed there. Jerusalem is mentioned only once in the Torah (Gen 14:18) "Melchizedek king of Shalem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. He blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth." It only begins to appear in Joshua and Judges, and finally moved onto the Israelite radar with the conquest of David, ca. 1000 BCE.
Why did David pick Jerusalem as his capital? To unite the southern and northern tribes by picking a place at the border of Judah and Ephraim. Also, no one could claim preference because it was neutral: until that point it was a Jebusite city, not an Israelite. (Cf. Washington DC and Madrid.)
David made Jerusalem important by bringing the Ark there, from קרית יערים (next to present-day Abu Ghosh), where it had been taken after being recaptured from the Philistines. Jerusalem had not had great potential as an economic centre: it's not on the coast, or major roads. The religious aspect was thus all-important. David and his successors worked to make Jerusalem important, by patronising poets, who wrote Psalms glorifying Jerusalem, by writing chronicles, and by identifying ancient sites—Mt Moriah—with Zion.
In early Israelite history, Mt Sinai should have been the most holy point. You can see this in some early poems, but it was almost entirely replaced in the Jewish consciousness with Zion. This was the result of a concentrated effort by the Davidic dynasty. E.g Isaiah 2:3ff:
For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The message is: this is the new Sinai; the new revelation is going to come from here, and it's not going to be just for Israel, but for the whole world.
This was greatly helped by the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. It was much larger, richer and more important. We don't see it that way today, because we have the history written by the survivors, the Judahites, once the Kingdom of Israel was gone in 722 BCE. A lot of people came down to live in Jerusalem who didn't want to go into exile, and King Hezekiah had to greatly expand the boundaries of the city to accommodate them.
In 705-3, a series of campaigns by the Assyrians destroyed parts of the country, and 701 they got to Jerusalem. It looked like it was all over... then all of a sudden they retreated. Why, we don't know. They have their version of why they retreated, in their inscriptions; the Bible has its version. It was considered miraculous. Isaiah's prophecy above may have come as a result of this.
Around 622, Josiah took steps called the centralisation of the cult: that sacrifices could only be offered to the G-d of Israel in Jerusalem. For hundreds of years people had been offering sacrifices anywhere (cf., frex, Elijah's showdown at Mt Carmel). What was behind this, we don't know. The Bible records he found a book, thought to be Deuteronomy, and that he was fulfilling the centralisation specified in it. This is probably a oversimplification. The priests in Jerusalem would have loved it; the priests elsewhere would not.
Jerusalem had grown, and gained in status, when came the destruction of the First Temple. In the Second Temple period, which lasted for close to 600 years, the same thing happened.
The first important thing was the recognition by non-Jewish empires. Only 80 years was there independence, under the Hasmoneans, from 141 BCE to 61 BCE. For the rest of the time they were under foreign rule: but this was generally salutary for the Jews: the foreign empires recognised Jerusalem as holy. The classic example was Cyrus: rather than using a stick as all other Middle Eastern empire-builders, he used a carrot to built the people's loyalty. He let the Jews return and rebuild their Temple—and the Jews responded with the prayer for the welfare of the state. Indeed, one of the main signs of the revolt in 66 CE was when they stopped the prayer for the welfare of the state.
Alexander the Great also recognised Jerusalem's status, so did the Seleucids and the Ptolemies and the Romans.
Jerusalem remained a relatively small city from 536 BCE to 140 BCE; only with the rise of the Hasmoneans, who built a sovereign state, expanded the borders and conquered other peoples, and brought in lots of foreign money and wherewithal that it got expanded into a major city in the region: not just the capital of a small province, but a rather large kingdom. The Hasmoneans tried to enhance the Temple and Temple-related stuff, with donations etc. But the bigger step after them was the enhancement of the Temple under Herod.
Now, sometimes archaeology gives an entirely different perspective from the sources, which are all tendentious: nobody in the ancient world was writing objectively. Herod's reputation was of a king with a very negative image: he ruled with an iron hand, murdered his family, killed all the male children when he was afraid a successor was born in Bethlehem; also depicted badly in rabbinic literature. Archaeology, however, shows how much he built for both the Jews and pagans; how scrupulous he was in observing normative Jewish practice.
In building Jerusalem and doubling the size of the Temple Mount, Herod made it a major centre for ever ypossible Jewish activity, from the sacrificial to the political to the judicial to the financial, etc.
The other thing Herod did—bearing in mind that at this time there were as many Jews living in the Diaspora as in Judaea—was to try and encourage the ties of the Diaspora to the city. Firstly he did it by using his clout with the Romans to help Jewish rights in the Diaspora. The other thing he did was to build the Temple Mount into a major pilgrimage site. Tapping into large numbers of people to come to visit went very far to enhance Jerusalem's prestige and centrality.
There was a lot of conversion going on in this period: a general Roman phenomeon of people being attracted to cults coming out of the East. Judaism merely fit into this. Josephus tells about how after the war started in 66 and there was a lot of tension between the Jews and Gentiles, the men of Damascus wanted to settle accounts with the Jews and kill as many as possible. But they say they can't do this openly because it will anger their wives who are Judaizers—they went to synagogues without converting. (We don't know what the outcome of this was.) Very often it was the women who were the most prominent in being attracted to Judaism.
The royal family of Adiabene, in northern Mesopotamia, converted to Judaism; of which Helena, the queen, was the most prominent. She came to Jerusalem, and gave lots to charity and built buildings, etc.
Helena, the mother of the king (Izates of Adiabene), seeing that the kingdom was at peace and her son prospering and admired by all, even foreigners, on account of his divinely inspired wisdom, conceived a desire to go to the city of Jerusalem and worship at the universally acclaimed temple of God and make thank-offerings there. She asked her son for permission. Acceding readily to his mother's request, he made lavish provision for the journey and gave her a considerable amount of money. She arrived in Jersualem, having been escored a large part of the way by her son.
—Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.49-50
Helena's arrival was altogether advantageous to the Jerusalemites. For at that time famine was oppressing their city and many were dying from lack of money (to buy food). Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria to purchase corn for large sums and others to Cyprus to bring back a cargo of dried figs. After their speedy return with these provisions, she distributed food among the needy... When her son Izates heard about the famine, he sent large sums of money to the leaders of the Jerusalemites. This was distributed among the needy and it gave many of them release from the dire pressures of the famine.
—Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.51-53
The following passage shows the number of different peoples you could find in Jerusalem at this point. The pilgrimage festival was the cement that held them together.
The day of Pentecost had come, and they were all together in one place. ... Now there were staying in Jerusalem devout Jews drawn from every nation under heaven. At this sound a crown of them gathered, and were bewildered, because each one heard them speak in his own language; they were amazed and in astonishment exclaimed, "Surely these people who are speaking are all Galilaeans! How is it that each of us can hear them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites; inhabitants of Mesopotamia, of Judaea, and Cappadocia, of Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, of Egypt, and the districts of Libya around Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we all hear them telling in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
No one should be amazed at the amount of wealth in our Temple, for all the Jews throughout the inhavited world and those who feared G-d, even those in Asia and Europe, had been making contributions to it for a very long time. There is no lack of witnesses to the cast quantity of the aforementioned money. It is not boasting on our part nor exaggeratoin that has made the amount so high. Among the many historians who bear us out is Strabo, the Cappadocian, who writes thus: 'Mithridates, having sent to Cos, took the money which Queen Cleopatra had deposited there and the eight hundred talents of the Jews.' We have no public money except that which belongs to G-d and it is clear that the Jews in Asia had tranferred this money to Cos out of fear of Mithridates.
—Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.110-13
The same thing happened in 63 BCE: it caused a financial crisis in Asia Minor. Flaccus tried to stop this; and the Jews took him to court and appealed to the consul. We know about this, as Flaccus' lawyer was Cicero. Cicero never tells us what happened, which implies he probably lost. (The same thing nearly happened in 1967, too!)
The Mishna says the donations to the Temple could also be used for munipical projects, not just the Temple. This helped enrich the appearance of Jerusalem as a whole.
After 70 CE, the Jews and Jerusalem parted company. The centre of Jewish life moved first to the Galilee, and then elsewhere. Jerusalem became a pagan city under Hadrian from 135 to 324; a Moslem city from 628 until 1099, then a Crusader city, a Mameluke city, Ottoman and then British. Yet despite the physical distance and separation, Jerusalem remains central in Jewish memory. The position and prestige the Jews had reached by the end of the Second Temple period, remained in Jewish memory; and they tried to emphasise this in Jewish practice: By the third century, synagogues all faced Jerusalem. Also in literature; consider, for example, the last line of the Seder, "Next year in Jerusalem". Also consider patch left undecorated on one wall of a house, in memory of Jerusalem; or breaking of the glass (one of the reasons for it!) at weddings. In Chassidic circles, wedding invitations would say the wedding will take place in Jerusalem, but if due to our sins, the Messiah has not come, the wedding will take place in such-and-such a place.
The Model of Jerusalem
The Holy Land model of Jerusalem (so-named as it used to be located in the Holy Land Hotel) was made by Michael Avi-Yona, a professor of archaeology. The model shows the city on the eve of its conquest by the Romans. Thus, for example, it includes the third city wall, which was only completed during the revolt. There is, however, only one building in it we are absolutely certain of how it looked; the rest is mostly imagination.
[I did not take photos of the model, as I already have such (though not digital). You can find photos of individual parts linked to from the link above.]
We know how the city looked in general from several sources: First, Josephus, who writes mostly about the Temple Mount; he mentions lots of places in Jerusalem. Second, the New Testament—the Gospels, the Book of Acts (which is continued by the author of Luke; it talks about the early Church in Jerusalem). [I missed the third source; he was speaking too fast.] Fourthly, rabbinic literature—but this is all very late. In particular, Eichah Rabbah [midrash on Lamentations], dating from the fifth or sixth century. Fifthly, archaeology. These are the sources Avi-Yona had at his disposal.
The City of David is 120 dunams (there are about four dunams to an acre) in area, including part of the Temple Mount. By Hezekiah's time the city had grown to 5-600 dunams, swollen by refugees both from the northern Kingdom of Israel, and from the Kingdom of Judah during the Assyrian campaign against it. In the time of the siege of Sennacherib, the city extended west to include Mt Zion.
[Hmm. Whilst the archaeology clearly indicates this, the Bible records "Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David" (2 Samuel 5:7, similarly in 1 Kings 8:1); I wonder whether Zion might not have referred to a different place to the present Mount Zion in David's time. <checks> Yes, the name changed location in the Middle Ages.]
The city in the time of Zerubabel [after the return from the Babylonian Exile] had contracted to just the Temple Mount and the City of David—as it was pre-Hezekiah. No one wanted to live there: Nehemiah 11 records how he had to cast lots to force one tenth of the populace to live there. It was not until the Hasmonean period that it expanded again.
The second wall was built to the north of the Temple. The third wall, enclosing the largest extent of the city, was only completed at the time of revolt against the Romans. [See the map on the link above.]
How many people lived there? Assuming forty to fifty people per dunam, that means 4-5000 people up to 80-90,000 people at the end of the period. Some scholars prefer an estimate of 20-25 people per dunam. On the other hand in the Roman period many buildings were multistorey. To what extent was that the case in Jerusalem? Also, what was the division between public and private property? The speaker guesses at 60,000 people, but that the part within the third wall was much less densely settled. [This is reflected by the paucity of buildings there in the model. Had the city not been destroyed, no doubt this area would have gradually filled up as the population increased.]
Of course, to this estimate you have to add tens of thousands of pilgrims during the three pilgrimage festivals—and they may have stayed quite some time afterwards.
In the Roman Empire there were three big metropolises: Rome, Antioch and Alexandria. Jerusalem was a major provincial centre at the time; big provincial cities had populations of around 100,000.
From the west, the south and the east, the relocation of the model shows how impregnable the city was, surrounded as it was by גַאי בֶּן חִינָם in the west and south, and the Kidron valley in the east. Until the twentieth century the city was never conquered from any direction other than the north. When Jeremiah talks about enemies coming from the north, that's a topographical consideration.
Jerusalem is built on two ridges: the City of David and up into the Temple Mount, and a western ridge from Mt Zion into today's Christian quarter and the Russian compound. These ridges were created by the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. This watershed makes a turn in Jerusalem at French Hill and goes southwest in the direction of the Crown Plaza hotel and then turns back to[wards] the shul [I'm guessing this should read shuk] and the train station. When it makes that turn, the abovementioned two ridges continue south.
David did not found his city at the place which is the easiest to protect; he founded it at the only place where there is water all the year around. This was when Jerusalem was 4-5000 people. What when Jerusalem was 70,000 people? Firstly, they maximised the preservation of rainwater. Jerusalem was surrounded by public reservoirs, e.g. the Pool of Hezekiah, the Pool of Shiloach [Silwan], etc. Secondly, the wealthy often had cisterns in their own house. There was another pool outside the walls at Mamilla [outside the Jaffa Gate, to the west of the Old City].
But under the Romans aqueducts were used. These had become popular in the Hasmonean period but the Romans built many more. Water was brought in two aqueducts from the area between Bethlehem and Hebron to the south.
The City of David (in the southeast of the city)
The City of David in the model contains in its midst four large buildings. They are of different architectures—Persian rather than Graeco-Roman. Avi-Yona was relying here on Josephus saying that Queen Helena built palaces. He built four because there were four people in her family. Avi-Yona paid a price for this, because it turned a large part of the City of David into palaces; the area was otherwise densely populated.
There's a little building below these, based on a fifth century synagogue of Capernaum, which he intended to be a synagogue. An inscription was found reading, in Greek:
Theodotos, the son of Vettenos, priest and archisynagogos, son of an archisynagogos, grandson of an archisynagogos, built this synagogue for the reading of the Law and the study of the commandments, and a guesthouse and rooms and water installations for hosting those in need from abroad, it having been founded by his fathers, the presbyters and Simonides.
Theodotos is a Greek name, Vettenos a Roman name (one of the fourteen precints of Roman is named after a Vettenos). There were lots of titles then for the heads of synagogues: archon, presbyter, pater synagogos—and mater synagogos—for a period in the Diaspora, there were female heads of synagogues. Note Theodotos was both priest and archisynagogos: the idea that the priests and rabbis were opposed—Sadduccees and Pharisees—is an oversimplification. It's a modern construct.
This is the only example of a synagogue which says what the function of the building was. The synagogue was always the combination of a religious and a communal institution. It was the only communal institution in most communities. That's what "synagogue" means.
In the Second Temple period the primary focus was not praying but the reading of Scriptures, and translating them. Communal prayer only became institutionalised and obligatory after the Destruction of the Temple. (And in the fourth/fifth century, another component was added to the service—piyyut [liturgical poems].) This was a unique form of worship—no other people in the ancient world had communal study like this.
The building in front of the southern wall was the Tomb of Hulda, a prophetess (2 Kings 22). There's no evidence for this, but the two gates there known as the Hulda gates. In rabbinic literature, there is a tradition that if there are graves in the city, and you want to expand the city, you can move the graves. The Gemara says clearly that you can. However, in ancient Jerusalem there were two graves which were never moved, despite the טמאה [impurity]—those of David and Hulda. There was a tunnel underneath, through which the טמאה flowed.
The Hippodrome just west of the City of David, south of the Temple, in the model has now been removed. When Herod rebuilt the city, he added all the major Roman institutions: theatre, amphitheatre, and a hippodrome for the races. Josephus says this clearly. We don't know where; none of these have been found. Avi-Yona put the theatre where the upper classes lived (the present-day Jewish Quarter), according to Shick's identification of a semicircular hollow in the mountain as a theatre.
The amphitheatre was in "the plain". We don't know where this is. As to the hippodrome, when Herod died and there was a rebellion, at one point the Jews wanted to attack the Temple Mount. They divided into three groups, one of which stayed overnight first in the hippodrome to the south of it. Avi-Yona tried to compromise with the location of the hippodrome, so it didn't block the whole City of David. But there was a problem in that no traces of the hippodrome was found there. So ten years ago they shortened the hippodrome in the model. But when nothing still was found, they decided to take it out altogether.
Avi-Yona decided to make a clear socioeconomic distinction between the Upper and the Lower city. He built the Upper City in Graeco-Roman style with wide streets in a grid, with Roman villas with red roofs. In the Lower City—the City of David and beyond—he showed the buildings as simple, like any Middle Eastern village today. The rich lived up for the view, the air, the drainage, and perhaps it was a little easier to protect.
Agrippa II gave a powerful speech why not to revolt: Now was not a good time, in the time of Pompey would have been the time. He also argued in theological terms: G-d stands with the Romans; to oppose the Romans is to oppose G-d. This speech almost worked.
The SE part of the Temple Mount had vaults. This was used by Herod for storage. It's known as Solomon's Stables, but only acquired this appellation in Crusader times.
The Upper City (west of the city)
At the back of the Jaffa Gate, there is Herod's palace. There were two buildings, one named after Caesar and one after Augustus. Avi-Yona copied a Herodian building elsewhere for that. The northern entrance—the most dangerous—was guarded by two towers. The Romans couldn't get in there, it was only after failing there that they invaded through the Antonia Fortress
Of the three towers near the Jaffa Gate, one, the Phasael Tower, is the only building we know exactly what it looked like. Josephus gives us the measurements of all of them, but the closest one was a replica of the Pharos at Alexandria—which has been depicted on so many other places we know exactly what it looked like. The second tower Herod called Hippicus after a friend of his. It was used for storing water. The third tower, to the south, was named Mariamne after Herod's wife (whom he had murdered). For this we had nothing to go on but the name, so Avi-Yona went for a "more feminine" appearance.
On Mt Zion is David's Tomb. The Bible says he was buried in the City of David. At some point people thought the City of David included Mt Zion. Avi-Yona assumed that was the case by the time depicted in his model, partially because of Christian associations; also an Essene community with messianic associations.
Next to it was a huge villa—the High Priest's house. In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin, Jersus said to Peter he would deny him three times; and does indeed go to to do so in each of the three courtyards of the building. Hence Avi-Yona took a copy of a villa with three courtyards.
On the map a wall can be seen leading east from the Hezekian/Hasmonean wall; and another wall north from there. This was is of unknown date in the first century BCE; Josephus gives us no clue to it. This wall Avi-Yona had to reroute on his model around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, to make sure the site of the Crucifixion was outside the walls according to Jewish tradition [because executions took place outside the city]—but Christian tradition said otherwise!
Avi-Yona said there was a Christian community from the year 135 to that when Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, came to Palestine and identified holy sites. Perhaps they had a memory of the site all that time. What is the likelihood they had a memory from before the Christians of Jerusalem fled in 67 CE [during the revolt against the Romans] to 135 [when, following the Bar Kochba revolt, Jews were banned from the city]? Avi-Yona based his model on the assumption that they did retain that memory.
The north of the city
To the north of the Temple, practically nothing has been found. The third wall was started by Agrippa, but the Romans stopped him from completing it as it would make the city impregnable. It was finally finished during the course of the revolt against the Romans. When they didn't find remains from the Second Temple period. We don't know.
Also north of the Temple was the funerary monument of Alexander Yannai (a Hasmonean king), which we know of from Josephus. The tombs are all copies of the style of the Graeco-Roman world, but with no images. (From 150 BCE to 150 CE there was an almost complete avoidance of figured art in the Jewish world.)
בית חיסדא—another reservoir.
The building at the northwest corner of the Temple was the Antonia fortress, built by Herod after Mark Anthony. Since Mark Anthony lost to Pompey in 31 BCE, this allows us to date this building to 37-31 BCE.
Herod built always with a concept. He didn't give a damn about topography; if there was a problem, he changed the topography. At Masada he had to build a retaining wall to support the three palaces he build there. The same happened at the Temple—the hill top wasn't big enough for the building and huge square he wished to build on top, so he put in a retaining wall to enable him to greatly enlarge the hill top, going right over a wadi in the course of it. The current Western Wall is therefore the western side of Herod's retaining wall, and not a part of the Temple itself.
He built using the model of a Caesareum—a temple in the centre; a basilica—a civic building—on the south side. (This is not dissimilar to how the first Temple was built using a Phoenician model, by Phoenician craftsmen.) Neither for the buildings of the Temple nor for synagogues did the Jews have their own style.
The Temple Mount functioned as a forum, an agora. Political meetings happened there; there were courts, the market for bringing sacrifices; every sort of meeting happened there.
There is evidence in the rabbinic literature that women could go beyond the אזרת נשים [the courtyard called the Women's Area, traditionally thought to have been the furthest courtyard women could enter in the Temple]—one of the gates beyond it was called the Women's Gate.
The façade of the Temple is based on its representation on the Bar Kochba coins, and also in the Dura-Europos synagogue (now in the National Museum in Damascus, not somewhere I'm likely to be going any time soon), dating from 245-50 CE.
The Temple itself had three rooms, the אולם (Hall), containing nothing, the היכל (Palace), containing the golden incense altar, the Showbread table, and the Menorah, and the קודש קדשים (the Holy of Holies), which the High Priest only could enter, and then only on Yom Kippur. This also contained nothing, the Ark of the Covenant, Tablets of the Law and jar of manna having disappeared centuries ago during the First Temple period.
There is also the temple made by hands; for it was right that no check should be given to the forwardness of those who pay their tribute to piety and desire by means of sacrifices either to give thanks for the blessings that befall them or to ask for pardon and forgiveness for their sins. But he provided that there should not be temples built either in many places or many in the same place, for he judged that since God is one, there should also be only one temple. Further, he does not consent to those who wish to perform the rites in their houses, but bids them to rise up from the ends of the earth and come to this Temple. In this way he also applies the severest test to their dispositions. For one who is not going to sacrifice in a religious spirit would never bring himself to leave his country and friends and kinsfolk and sojourn in a strange land, but clearly it must be the stronger attraction of piety which leads him to endure separation from his most familiar and dearest friends who form, as it were, a single whole with himself.
—Philo, Special Laws, 1, 12, 67-68)