Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hemmed in: Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Revised, expanded and reposted for new Sky View readers:

Luke 19:41-44

As Jesus drew near Jerusalem,
he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
"If this day you only knew what makes for peace? but now it is hidden from your eyes.
For the days are coming upon you
when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."


In the 70 A.D., forty years after these fateful words uttered by our Lord, Jerusalem fell to the Roman army, led by the Roman General Titus. An insurrection by Jewish Zealots (nationalists) broke out in 66 A.D., several months before Jerusalem was leveled to the ground. About a hundred years before, the Roman Empire had already annexed the land of Judea (part of the greater Palestine region) where the city of David was located. The Jews wanted their land back, they wanted to govern themselves, and they wanted the Romans out! It was as simple as that.

Originally, their campaign to oust the Roman administration was successful. However, in 70 A.D. the Zealots became acquainted with the full might of the Roman army. The results were devastating. The Roman army not only crushed this revolt but they also surrounded the city of Jerusalem, preventing any food from entering into the city. As such, hundreds of thousands of Jews starved to death. Many people resorted to cannibalism.

Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian in the latter of the first century, wrote about the destruction of Jerusalem in great detail. Below, are a few passages from his book, The War of the Jews:

•   Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day…And indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another was a horrible sight, and  produced a pestilential stench.

•   And truly the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down : nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea, and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now see it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change.

•   Now of those that perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable; for if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear, a war was commenced presently.

•   Their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed.

What was also a major game changer in Judaism was that the Jewish Temple, the second one to be built since the days of King Solomon, was burned to the ground. This would significantly change the religion of Judaism to this day. With the Temple gone, there could be no more sacrifices; and without any sacrifices there can be no priesthood.

Hence, the emphasis in worship went from the Jewish Temple to the Synagogue; from the ritual of sacrifice and offerings to the the reading of the Torah; and from the altar to the pulpit. It is no exaggeration to say that what the Reformation was to Catholicism, the destruction of the Temple was to Judaism. Protestant Christianity, in large part, left the altar behind and placed exclusive emphasis on the Word of God at the pulpit; this, much like the Jews in the post-temple era.

In any case, it was reported in the early years of the Church that there was not a single Christian killed when Jerusalem was besieged. From tradition we learn that the followers of Christ fled to a town named Pella. Evidently, much like the star on Christmas night that led the Magi to the baby Jesus, there were signs in the sky which alerted Christians to get out of Jerusalem. And that is precisely what they did.

Sadly, after the destruction of Jerusalem., the Jewish people were wanderers with no homeland from 70 A.D. to 1948 A.D. It should be pointed out that the Jewish Zealots had never came close to accomplishing what Christianity accomplished. But because Jesus Christ did not conform to the political Messiah that the Sanhedrin (i.e. their church hierarchy) had dreamed up in their heads. In fact, when Christ stood before them and Pilate on Good Friday, they cried out: "We have no king but Caesar!" But it was precisely Caesar, that is, the Roman emperor, that turned on them forty years later. Yet, the irony of the story does not end there.

Jesus Christ, as predicted by the Old Testament prophets, came to inaugurate a spiritual kingdom, known as the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. As mentioned, the first-century Jews had interpreted these passages through a political lens. To be sure, they had been trained to look for a political Messiah; one that would liberate them from Roman domination. But Jesus did not come to offer political solutions as such. As one who rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Jewish establishment could hardly bring themselves to believe that he had any kind of power to liberate. However, such a politicized reading of the Messiah prevented the Jewish elders from understanding the words of the prophet Isaiah: "There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him." On this account, he was rejected by his own people. Indeed, Christ simply did not fit the profile. As such, he needed to go!

But the point I wish to draw your attention to is this: Rome would eventually fall, not by a foreign military force, but through its own vices- moral, spiritual and political. Because ancient paganism was both exhausted and incapable of restoring the glory of Rome, it was the Cross of Christ that would eventually end up conquering Rome. But this conquest was not through sedition or acts of violence but by bearing witness to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel and with the blood of martyrs. To make a long story short, in 313 A.D., after years of persecution, Christianity was legalized and then in 382 A.D. it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Mind you, the Jewish zealots would have loved to have done this for Judaism.

It really is true that to seek the kingdom of God first then everything else will be given to you besides. And yet, many Catholics (like many first century Jews who said on Good Friday, "We have no king but Caesar!") look to the State for the answers to their problems. Within our own ranks, unfortunately, there are some who prefer a political Messiah rather than the Suffering-servant that Christ was. Just the same, we can say that not a few Catholics within our Church prefer the State to take provide for its citizens and the needy instead of the Church herself or private institutions.   But like our Lord, we have to communicate that the only sure foundation is a solid spiritual foundation. Everything else proceeds from this!

America does not have to learn the hard way like Jerusalem did in 70 A.D. The vulnerability of our political and economic climate, and the uncertainty it brings, are there because spiritual truths are not our highest priority.

In 1948 (incidentally, the same year Israel was recognized as s a nation by the United Nations) Fulton Sheen warned Americans about the very thing that will bring about an era of political tyranny in the United States of America; the same kind of tyranny the first century Jews protested when the mighty Roman Empire annexed their nation:

"If a time ever comes when the religious Jews, Protestants, and Catholics have to suffer under a totalitarian state denying them the right to worship God according to the light of their conscience, it will be because for years they thought it no difference what kind of people represented them in Congress, and because they never opposed the materialistic lie with spiritual truth."

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