9

JEWISH REBELLIOUSNESS AND ROMAN
 DESTRUCTION

Roman defeat of the 66–72 C.E. Jewish rebellion coupled with Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple had profound effects.  Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed (Josephus, Wars of the Jews VI:IX, claims more than one million) and many thousands sold into slavery.  Roman spoils funded what is now known as the Roman Colosseum, the largest and most magnificent amphitheater of the time; and elevated Jerusalem's conquering generals (Vespasian and his son Titus) to Roman emperors, founders of the Flavian dynasty.  "[F]or Vespasian and Titus to use their manubiae [booty] to build the Colosseum was not only the best means to finance this enormous project but also a way to advertise their military achievements" (Feldman 2001, p. 60).

To the Christian Fathers, all this destruction — Jerusalem, Temple, and much of Israeli countryside —  was caused, not by Jewish rebellion against Roman oppression (Note #15) but by Jewish opposition to Gentile Christianity.  In St. Justin Martyr's fictional Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew (ca. 150), violence against Jews results from their rejection of Jesus, and comes not from "Rome," which is never mentioned.  According to Tertullian (ca. 200, An Answer to the Jews 13), "Since, therefore, the Jews were predicted as destined to suffer these calamities on Christ's account, and we find that they have suffered them, and we see them sent into dispersion and abiding in it, manifest it is that it is on Christ's account that these things have befallen the Jews" (ANF vol. 3, pp. 171–172). 

Origen (ca. 240, Contra Celsum 4.22): "One fact which proves that Jesus was something divine and sacred, is this, that Jews should have suffered on His account now for a lengthened time, calamities of such severity."  Lactantius (ca. 300) has St. Peter and St. Paul prophecy that "God would send … a king who would subdue the Jews, and level their cities to the ground, and besiege the people, worn out with hunger and thirst. … everything laid waste with fire and sword, the captives banished forever from their own lands, because they had exulted over the well-beloved and most approved Son of God" (The Divine Institutes 3.21, ANF vol. 7, p. 123). 

In The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (VI.1), a series of early treatises on Christian doctrine: "For the wicked synagogue is now cast off by the Lord God … He has also left His temple desolate and rent the veil of the temple, and took from them the Holy Spirit … For God has taken away all the power and efficacy of His word, and such like visitations from that people, and has transferred it to you, the converted of Gentiles" (ANF vol. 7, pp. 451–452). 

St Matthew's Gospel (24.2) preceded the above pronouncements, and placed Jewish destruction prophetically in Jesus' mouth: "You see all these [Temple buildings], do you not?  Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."  Nirenberg observes that the Gentile Christian strategy of blaming Jews for their own destruction was to heighten "the blindness of the Jews in the prophetic past and the misery of the Jews in the political present" (p. 103).

For Jews, Roman destruction was a terrible calamity yet not fatal to their survival.  More than relying on a specific geographical institution — the Jerusalem Temple — "Jewishness" could now be seen (as it commonly was) as membership in a cultural group associated with Scripturally‑prescribed practices.  Simon (p. 35): "In destroying Jerusalem, the Romans forcibly dissociated the Jewish religion from the Jewish state, for manifestly the former continued to exist whereas the latter did not."  Barclay (1996, p. 310): "[I]t was more possible now for outsiders to understand the Jewish way of life in religious and cultural rather than mainly national terms."  Although dispersion separated the Jews from their original "nationhood," Jewishness, like other religions, became a matter of personal beliefs, and (if governments allowed) one could be a Jew and still be a citizen‑member of a non‑Israelite nationality.

Characteristics that made Jewishness distinctive were therefore (1) membership by descent or conversion in a people who share an ancient Biblical Yahweh-worshipping religion based on a common literature and history — the Jewish Scriptures, (2) male circumcision, (3) dietary restrictions, (4) Sabbath, Festival, and Holy Day observances (e.g., Passover, Rosh Hashanah).   These features run through all of Jewish history, whether "First Temple," "Second Temple," "Rabbinical," and so forth. That is, however Jews were described by themselves or others, their common culture, traditions, literature, and insular religion based on an invisible God, surpassed geography as defining elements of Jewish identity.

Note that as far back as the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.E., more than six hundred years before the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple, Jews developed modes of maintaining religious and cultural uniqueness outside Israel.  By middle of the first century (ca. 50 C.E.), permanent Jewish communities already existed throughout the Roman Empire, not from forcible exile from Israel, but because of livelihood opportunities beyond the Jewish homeland. Whether in Europe, Africa, or Asia, Jewishness was sustained in assemblies/synagogues by sharing a common ethnic, social, and cultural identity through the "portability" of Jewishness — "the Scriptures, the symbols, and the synagogue community itself.  The Diaspora was not Exile, in some cases it became a Holy Land too" (Kraabel 1992b, p. 30). 

"That Diaspora Judaism survived the destruction of the temple indicates the strength of its other resources; and that it continued in most respects unchanged suggests that the temple had always been of greater symbolic than practical significance.  Few if any aspects of Diaspora Jewish life had been governed by Jerusalem priests, and the symbolic functions of the temple could be continued in nostalgia" (Barclay 1996, pp. 420–421).  "When the sanctuary [Temple] was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E., the synagogue was assured of the divine presence, or any place where ten, or as few as two, men were gathered to study Scripture (Mishnah Abot 3.2, 6).  Thus post‑Destruction Judaism reactualized the law that originally sanctioned the plurality of temples (Exodus 20.24): 'In every place where I cause my name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you.'" (Vermes 2010, p. 94). 

As a replacement of Temple worship and sacrifice, synagogue practices included "torah and haftarah readings, targumin, sermons, communal prayer, and religious poetry … [T]he Passover celebrations now focused on the Seder in a domestic setting, rather than on the paschal sacrifice in the Temple precincts … [P]rayer replaced sacrifice as the means of atonement, and holidays such as Hanukah, Purim, Tish'ah b'Av, and Simhat Torah were now introduced into the Jewish calendar" (L. I. Levine 2009, p. 15).  Also, honoring Priests as hereditary religious celebrants gave way to honoring Rabbis as teachers of religious and worldly knowledge.  "It is not priestly descent, as such, but rather one's mastery of Torah, which confers authority on one's teaching" (Schremer 2010, p. 10).

To gain atonement without Temple sacrifices, "Zion gave way to Sinai, sacrifice as a key form of communicating with God gave way to prayer, torah-study and holy living (as at Qumran), priest gave way to rabbi, temple gave way to synagogue, and the furniture of the temple became the furniture of the mind and heart" (Barton, p. 375).  This follows a prophetic tradition that goes back about eight centuries B.C.E. to the words of Hosea (6.6): "For I [Yahweh] desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."  As declared in Proverbs (21.3): "To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to Yahweh than sacrifice."  After the Temple was destroyed, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai states: "We possess another source of expiation, equal in importance to the Temple itself, and that is 'acts of kindness'" (Abrabanel, p. 29).

The Rabbinical tradition which then gained influence and authority "developed a comprehensive system of civil law that overtly addressed secular and communal matters as part of its religious system" (Edrei and Mendels 2013, p. 270).  Thus, in spite of Gentile Christianity's claim that destruction of the Temple was the sign of replacing the Jews in God's favor, there were "increasing numbers of synagogue worshipping both in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora" (Fraade, p. 263).  According to Herr (p. 232): "The very identity and essence of the Jewish nation was sustained and remained unchanged."  Gruen points out (p. 233) that "Vast numbers of Jews dwelled outside Palestine in the roughly four centuries that stretched from Alexander [356–323 B.C.E.] to Titus [66 C.E.] … The Jews of the Diaspora, from Italy to Iran, far outnumbered those in the homeland."  It is quite clear that Jewish migration from Israel/Palestine awaited neither first century Roman destruction of the Temple (70 C.E) or second century defeat of the Bar Kochba rebellion (132–135 C.E.; Note #15.1).

To Gentile Christian leaders and theologians, however, destruction of the Jewish Temple was not only evidence of God's reproof for rejecting Jesus as Savior, but also marked the replacement of all Temple sacrifices with a single propitiatory event, the killing of Jesus (St. John 2.21) — an atoning sacrifice absolving Gentile Jesus-believers from sin (Note #11.c).  Also as fundamental: disastrous defeat of Israel's national structure provided St. Paul's Gentile Churches an unparalleled opportunity to further distance themselves, through diatribes and Gospels from the now discredited nation, and assume the pose of a Roman institution (Notes #21, #22).