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World Chronology, Lesson 26. The Destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD)

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Image from the arch of Titus in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy's World Chronology course.
Above: A scene from the Arch of Titus in Rome (82 AD), showing the Romans carrying away the spoils after destroying the temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD.


In our last two lessons, we learned of the most significant events in the history of the world: the life of Jesus Christ and the foundation of the Christian Church. It is no coincidence that our system of dating the events of human history uses the life of Christ as its reference point. The first advent of the Son of God was, without question, the greatest event that had ever taken place and the greatest event that will take place until He himself returns to judge the world. The time between his first and second coming will center around the life of the Christian Church which He established to enlighten and sanctify the world.

But what of the Jews? All of human history focused on the descendants of Israel and we have focused on them through this entire course. We began the course with the life of Abraham, continued through the lives of Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah. We studied the birth of the Son of God, whom all the prophets of old had hoped for, of whom Simeon spoke, “the light of the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”

Ultimately, however, the descendants of Israel rejected this holy child. As he matured and His message filled the land, they realized that He was not what they wanted Him to be. St. John tells us this sad story in the opening chapter of his Gospel (you should be familiar with the Latin):

“Erat lux vera quae inluminat omnem hominem venientem in mundum. In mundo erat et mundus per ipsum factus est et mundus eum non cognovit. In propria venit et sui eum non receperunt.”

The Jewish people handed the Son of David over to the Roman courts and supplied them with false accusations that they might have reason to kill him. In this lesson, we will learn the details of this betrayal , but let us first back up and pick up the narrative of world chronology so that we can more forward easily.

Herod the Great, King of the Jews

When the Gospels open, we find the evangelists speaking of two kings in Israel. We read this strange event in the opening of St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him.’ “

We find here a very strange situation. When would men ever visit a living, reigning king and ask, “Where is the king?” Herod sits as king of Israel, ruling the land. Yet the wise men, watching the heavens carefully, believe there is another king to be found. When we read this, it should be obvious to us that trouble. We know who the child is that is born king of the Jews and we know who has named Him King. But who is this king Herod and how did he come into power?

At first, you might think that he was simply another Jewish king, seated on the throne of David, ruling Jerusalem. This, however, is not true. The kingdom of Israel was established around 1000 BC, when the prophet Samuel anointed Saul as king of the Jews. The great king David ruled after Saul fell, and then Solomon reigned after the death of his father David. Solomon sinned and the kingdom was divided into two parts. In the north, one king ruled at Samaria. In the south, another king ruled in Jerusalem. The northern kingdom fell into sin rather quickly and ended in less than 250 years when it was conquered by the Assyrians and the people carried away into captivity. The southern kingdom did not last much longer before being conquered by Babylon and taken into captivity. Thus, by 586 BC, both kingdoms were brought to an end. The throne in Israel existed for less than 500 years.

After the captivities, Israel was governed by foreign powers. From 536 to 333, Israel was ruled by the Persians, who had set them free from their captivity in Babylon. In 333, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and became ruler of all of the lands they had previously rules, including Israel. In 332, Alexander arrived at Jerusalem and, as we learned earlier, spared the city from destruction.

Alexander died in 323 BC and his successors fought for control of his lands thereafter. The land of Israel sat between the lands governed by two different groups of Alexander’s successors–the Seleucids in the north and the Ptolemies in Egypt–and was a constant battle scene for 250 years. The Seleucids and Ptolemies fought for control of the land, and the faithful Jews fought against whoever tried to rule them. As violence against the Jews continually grew worse, the Jews appealed to the Romans for help against the Hellenistic kings and the Roman general Pompey arrived in Israel in 65 BC. Pompey freed Israel from Greek control but, when his work was done, Rome appointed the next ruler for the Jews from the Greeks.

In 48 BC, as the Romans brought the region under control, Julius Caesar appointed Antipater, a Greek, to govern the land of Palestine. The youngest son of Antipater was Herod, who was named governor of Galilee, a northern territory in Israel. Antipater died in 43 BC and a violent attempt was made by one group of Jews to regain control of their land. Herod ran for his life, fleeing to Rome for protection. In 40 BC, Marc Antony declared Herod to be “tetrarch of Judea” and the Roman Senate named him “king of the Jews”. He was sent back to Jerusalem with the support he needed to establish order.

Over the next 40 years, Herod worked to bring the Jewish people under his control, mainly by violence, but also with gifts. He built for himself a great palace and brought his own pagan culture into Israel, which led the Jews to hate him. To make peace with the people he ruled, he offered to re-build their fallen temple and promised to make it as glorious as it was in the days of Solomon. Here we learn an excellent lesson in politics. There are good deeds done out of love of God and one’s neighbors, and there are apparently good deeds done for love of oneself. In politics, where men seek peace not for the benefit of their people but so that they can enjoy their power without any interruptions, leaders often manipulate the people with “gifts” that are paid for by the people’s taxes. The “gifts”, then, are no true gifts at all but are deceitful bribes meant to quiet the people. Herod’s rebuilding of the temple was one such “gift”. He had no interest in the Jewish people or in Jewish religion but only in Jewish taxes. If spending a million dollars would earn for him ten million, then he would do it. Thus, the rebuilding of the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem began in 19 BC and was re-opened in 10 BC, while construction continued until 64 AD, when the work was finally completed. It was re-built, as Herod promised, with as great size and beauty as it had ever known before.

With the Jews able to concentrate again on their religious life, Herod had restored peace in Israel–not true peace but political peace. It was into this peace that the wise men came, asking, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?”.

As he had no interest in Jewish religion, Herod had no interest in a Jewish Savior either. After learning of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Herod showed his true colors and commanded his soldiers to put all male children in Bethlehem under two years old to be killed. God led Joseph and Mary away from danger and, in 4 BC, Herod died of a terrible sickness shortly after his famous slaughter of the “Holy Innocents”. The good news for Jews was that while Herod died, their Savior had been born and the new temple remained in Jerusalem.

Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea (26-36 AD)

After Herod, who is called “Herod the Great”, passed away, his son Archelaus took the throne, but ten years later, Judaea was made a Roman province, which meant it would be directly governed by a procurator appointed by Rome. In 26 AD, Pontius Pilate was appointed to the office of procurator and it was Pilate that made this office famous. He had the unfortunate opportunity of ruling Judea at the time of the Jews’ betrayal of Jesus. As we know well and proclaim every Sunday, Jesus was “crucified under Pontius Pilate”, procurator of Judea.

Pilate ruled for 10 years and his rule was frequently disrupted by bad decisions. The job of a procurator was to maintain the peace during the time known as the Pax Romana. The Roman way to govern foreign nations was to leave them to their own ways and beliefs so long as thy honored the emperor and paid their taxes. Pilate did the Romans no good. He frequently did things that stirred up trouble and this eventually got him into his own trouble with the emperor. For example, knowing that it was against Jewish law to display any images in Jerusalem, Pilate brought images of the emperor in an set them up at night in Jerusalem. The Jews were filled with anger the following day and demanded that they be removed. Pilate threatened to have them killed and the Jews responded that they would rather die than see images of Caesar on display in their city. In the end, Pilate removed the images–which never had to be displayed in the first place. In time, fearing that he would lose his position and possibly be punished for failing to keep peace, he became a coward who did anything to avoid problems. When judging Jesus Christ, Pilate knew that there was no just cause for his punishment, but as the Jews began to show signs of their anger, he submitted to their desire and approved the crucifixion.

Stories disagree on what ever happened to Pontius Pilate. Some traditions say that he later converted and died a Christian. Others report that he was removed from his office by the emperor Caligula and banished from the Empire. There is no question that he is among the most infamous men in world history and a good lesson in the danger of politics.

The Destruction of Jerusalem

After Pilate’s days reached their end, Herod Agrippa, grandson of King Herod the Great, was named king of Judea. He, like his grandfather, was no friend of the Jews. In fact, he killed St. James (Acts 12) and intended to kill St. Peter, who was set free from the king’s’ prison by an angel (Acts 12). Agrippa’s reign lasted only four years, to 44 AD, when he was killed by an angel after receiving worship from a man and not correcting him. His son, King Agrippa II, who was somewhat friendly to the Christians and spoken to very kindly by St. Paul in Acts 25, finished the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which had been started by his great-grandfather. Thus, in 64 AD, Herod’s temple in Jerusalem was complete.

The fact that the temple was built by the Herodians bears witness against the shallowness of the Jewish nation at this time in history. The first temple was built by Solomon, the son of David and wisest of all ancient kings. The plan for the first temple was revealed to King David and he supplied most of the materials for its construction. The Holy Spirit inspired the workmen who bulit the first temple and it was consecrated by Solomon himself. That was God’s temple, a truly holy place in which God dwelt. It was built by two kings who loved God and were filled with heavenly wisdom. The second temple was built by a murderer and his accursed sons. It was built as a means of keeping the Jews quiet while they were subject to pagan rulers. It is no surprise that Our Lord was not impressed when His disciples showed him all of its beauty.

Before Jesus had ever faced his cruel Passion, He foretold what would come of the beautiful new temple in Jerusalem. He spokes these prophetic words to His disciples:

“Do you see all these things? Amen, I say to you, there shall not be left here a stone upon a stone that shall not be destroyed.”

Later, as He carried His cross to the place where He was to be killed, He found Jewish women weeping for Him. We can hardly imagine the haunting vision these women had as the suffering redeemer looked at them, bloodied, exhausted and about to be cruelly tortured, and spoke these words:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that have not borne and the breasts that have not nursed’. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: ‘Fall upon us!’ And to the hills: ‘Cover us!’.”

Thus, while the first temple was consecrated with the prayers and blessing of wise King Solomon, and considered so sacred that holy David, whose hands had been stained with the blood of war, was not permitted to build it. The second temple was cursed by the king of heaven, whose heavenly sanctuary the temple was supposed to symbolize on earth. The Jews despised Emmanuel–God dwelling with them–and boasted of the beauty of their temple built by the hands of men who oppressed and killed them. How shallow and miserable was this generation of men, whom Jesus himself called a “brood of vipers”.

Among the Jews, there were three basic groups. First, there were the Christians who had the advantage over the other two groups because Jesus had taught them about the troubles that would come and gave them instructions not to stay and fight, but to leave Jerusalem. Second, there were non-Christian Jews who had had enough of the cruelty and mockery of the Romans and were ready to die for the chance to be free. These were called “zealots” because they were zealous for God and believed that, with God’s help they could defeat the Romans–as mighty as they might be. One part of the zealots occupied the mountain fortress at Masada (pictured), which served their base. Third, there were the older and more powerful Jews that had no interest in going to war with the Romans. Their desire for peace did not come from not believing God could give them victory over the Romans, but because they had no confidence that it was God’s will for them to fight the Romans. They believed that a peaceful settlement might be made.

In the end, the Christians left and two Jewish groups fought against one another in Jerusalem. This was an incredibly horrible time in Jewish history. What we find is a nation abandoned by God, in complete despair. The historian Josephus tells us that, as a sign of God’s wrath against the Jews, a spring that supplied water to the city dried up and offered the Jews no water, but later, when the Romans approached the spring, it gave water. Nevertheless, the Roman emperor Vespasian, sent his son Titus to end the troubles in Judea once and for all. Titus arrived with a massive Roman army and besieged the city. The Roman army surrounded the city and cut of all supplies of food and water, while working to break through the walls.

During the siege, the Jews starved to death and the city became a giant death trap. Worse, as men began to starve, robberies and cruel murders began among the Jews within the city. Those with strength tortured their fellow Jews who were found with food even, as Josephus says, pulling food from the mouths of the children and elderly.

At last, Titus’s army took the walls and conquered the city. After the victory was won, Titus walked about the city and was amazed by the greatness of its towers. He realized that this was no victory of his, but that a higher power had punished the Jews. He is reported to have said:

“We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men or any machines do towards overthrowing these towers?”

Thus, in 70 AD, the ancient city of God, Jerusalem, was destroyed by the Romans. Not one stone was left upon another. Between 600,000 and 1 million Jews died during the final siege. One last group of zealots escaped and fled to Masada, where the group killed themselves in 72 AD as the Romans were about to capture the fortress.


Today, in Italy, the Arch of Titus still stands. The arch was built in 82 AD by the Roman emperor Domitian in honor of Titus’ victory over the Jews in 70 AD. The arch has stood in Rome for almost 2,000 years and was built by the same architect who designed the Roman Colosseum. The age of this arch not only reminds us of the former greatness of the Romans, but of the centuries that have passed since the temple in Jerusalem last stood.

In our next lesson, we will study the history of the New Testament–how it was written, by whom and when. We will see that our knowledge of the date and details of the destruction of Jerusalem is very important in interpreting the writings of the New Testament.

Memory Work

  • The Ancient World (4000 BC – 750 BC)
  • Ancient Egypt begins (3000 BC)
  • Life of Noah (2950 BC – 2000 BC)
  • Life of Abraham (2000 BC – 1780 BC)
  • Hebrew Exodus (1450 BC – 1410 BC)
  • Trojan War (1200 BC)
  • Life of King David (1000 BC – 960 BC)
  • The Temple of Solomon (circa 960 BC)
  • City of Rome Founded (753 BC)
  • Homer Writes the Illiad & Odyssey (750 BC)
  • The Classical World (750 BC – 500 AD)
  • Assyrian Captivity (722 BC)
  • The Prophet Daniel in Babylon (600 BC – 535 BC)
  • Babylonian Captivity (586 BC)
  • Esdras the Scribe (530-450 BC)
  • The Roman Republic (509-31 BC)
  • Classical Greece (480 – 323 BC)
  • Conquests of Alexander the Great (336 – 323 BC)
  • The Hellenistic World (323 – 146 BC)
  • The Punic Wars (264 – 146 BC)
  • The Life of Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC)
  • The Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD)
  • The Life of Jesus Christ (5BC – 33 AD)
  • The Christian Church Founded (33 AD)
  • The Destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD)
  •  The Medieval World (500 AD – 1500 AD)
  •  The Modern World (1500 AD – present)

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