Home>Adam Maarschalk: The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD (2009)

Adam Maarschalk: The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD (2009)

a fascinating timeline of these events, beginning with the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus. 

The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD

By Adam Maarschalk

This is now the seventeenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:

[1] Brief Explanation of Preterism
[2] References
[3] External Evidence for An Early Date for the Writing of Revelation
[4] Internal Evidence for An Early Date for the Writing of Revelation (Part 1)
[5] Internal Evidence for An Early Date for the Writing of Revelation (Part 2)
[6] Internal Evidence for An Early Date for the Writing of Revelation (Part 3)
[7] Internal Evidence for An Early Date for the Writing of Revelation (Part 4)
[8] Daniel’s 70 Week Prophecy (Part 1)
[9] Daniel’s 70 Week Prophecy (Part 2)
[10] Jerusalem’s Destruction Foretold in the Olivet Discourse
[11] Did Jesus Come in 70 AD? (Part 1)
[12] Did Jesus Come in 70 AD? (Part 2)
[13] Signs of the Close of the Age
[14] Abomination of Desolation
[15] The Man of Lawlessness – II Thessalonians 2 (Part 1)
[16] The Man of Lawlessness – II Thessalonians 2 (Part 2)

A number of historical events belonging to this time period have already been enumerated in previous sections, but here further details will be added. Some are of a gory nature, but it should be remembered that one purpose of this judgment was to advance the kingdom of God. Jesus said as much in Luke 21:31 when He stated, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” John Wesley, in his commentary on this passage, said, “The destruction of the Jewish city, temple, and religion” occurred in order “to make way for the advancement of [God’s] kingdom” (Todd Dennis [10], 2009).

In order to see a basic framework for the historical events leading up to 70 AD, the following is a timeline derived from dates given by Josephus (Todd Dennis [11], 2009),[1] and combined with information from sources referenced in this paper. Some commentary is included, as well as related Scripture references as inferred by Preterist sources:

62 AD James, the brother of Jesus, is martyred in Jerusalem. According to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], the Scribes and Pharisees confronted James and said to him, “We entreat thee, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ.” However, James used his last words on earth to say, “Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven.” At that statement, James was thrown off the temple and stoned to death. The believers among the crowd, seeing and hearing his testimony, shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This prompted the Pharisees to say, “We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus.”
Late 62 Jesus, the son of Ananus and a common Roman citizen, came to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem during a time of great peace and prosperity and began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He continued to do this for seven years and five months, day and night, in all the lanes of the city, crying out the loudest during the festivals. He was often whipped until his bones were bare, but witnesses say he never shed a tear, only crying out at every lash, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” He was dismissed by the Roman Procurator as a madman.
June 64 Nero reportedly sets fire to Rome, watching the “beauty of the flames” with delight from Mecena’s Tower while dressed in actor’s clothes and singing of the destruction of Troy. When he is pinned down as guilty by rumors, he places the blame for this fire on the Christians.
November 64 Nero launches an imperial persecution against Christians throughout the empire, and against anyone who would not declare allegiance to him. This proves to be the first and the most intense persecution in Rome’s history. Some are covered with the skins of wild beasts and sent into arenas to be torn apart by dogs, while others are crucified. Many others are burned, their bodies first clothed with pitch, paper, and wax, and then fastened to stakes through their throats. At night their bodies are lit up as torches to give light, especially to provide light in Nero’s garden so that he could put on circus shows. This time of persecution lasts until Nero’s death in June 68, a period of 42 months (cf. Revelation 13:5-7).
65 The elaborate temple renovations begun by Herod the Great in 20 BC are finally completed.
Spring 66 Cestius Gallus reports to Nero on the strength and status of Jerusalem. On Passover 256,500 sacrifices were made, so based on estimates of how many individuals were fed by each lamb Gallus reports that 2.7 million were present for the feast.
April 66 [1] On the 8th day of Nisan, when great crowds are gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a tremendous light begins to shine around “the altar and the holy house.” This happens at 3:00 AM, lasting for half an hour, and it appears to be “bright day time.” Many interpret this to be a good sign, perhaps God’s favor. [2] At this same festival, a heifer, led by the (false and blasphemous) high priest to be sacrificed, suddenly gives birth to a lamb in the midst of the temple. [3] One night at midnight the eastern gate of the inner court of the temple opens of its own accord. This gate, made of very heavy brass, normally requires the strength of 20 men to open and shut it, and it “had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor.” Writes Josephus, “This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness.” [4] A few days after the feast, seen and recorded by multiple witnesses, just before sunset “chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor are seen running about among the clouds,” surrounding the cities.
June 66 At the Feast of Pentecost, the priests who are going at night into the inner court of the temple to perform the sacred duties feel a quaking and hear a great noise. Then they hear “a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.’”
Fall 66 [1] Zealots and Revolutionaries (against Rome) take control of the Jerusalem temple. [2] The Jewish/Roman War begins in October with a revolt at Caesarea due to a group of Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue. The revolt occurred because the Jews were frustrated that the local Roman garrison did not intervene. [3] The High Priest successfully leads a massacre of the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem, the 12th Legion led by Cestius Gallus of Syria. [4] The Romans in Caesarea slaughter 20,000 Jews. [5] About 13,000 more Jews are put to death in Damascus, Syria.
Late 66/Early 67 [1] Cestius Gallus, the Roman governor of Syria, takes the Twelfth Legion to put down the Jewish rebellion. He plunders and burns the city of Zebulon in Galilee, then moves south to surround Jerusalem. He arrives when most of Judea is gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Surprisingly, his army is defeated and driven away, with the Romans suffering about 5700 deaths. This gives many Jews confidence that they could overcome any Roman army, and the moderates who advocated maintaining peace with Rome are scorned all the more. [2] Thousands of Christian believers, however, recalling the warnings Jesus gave (e.g. Luke 21:20-21Matthew 24:15-20-23, Mark 13:14-18), and also collectively being instructed by a divine oracle, flee to Pella beyond the Jordan River.*** It’s recorded that not one single believer perished in the siege that would come later. [3] The Jews cease to offer prayers and sacrifices at the temple for Nero, the Roman Emperor.
Early February 67 Rome officially declares war on Israel, and Nero formally commissions Vespasian as his general to lead this war (Revelation 6:2).
Early spring 67 Vespasian marches into Judea with an army of 60,000 men. At least 150,000 Jewish inhabitants of Galilee and Judea are killed in the coming months. Josephus describes Galilee at one point as “filled with fire and blood,” and writes that the sea turned to blood near Joppa after a brutal slaughter there, recording also that the Sea of Galilee was filled with dead bodies.
June 29, 67 Paul the Apostle is beheaded in Rome on this day, according to Chrysostom and later records of the eastern and western church. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, affirms in a letter that Peter is martyred with him, crucified upside down as Christ had foretold (John 21:18-19).
August 67 Josephus is captured by the Romans when Yotapata falls. He surrenders, thus receiving the label of traitor by the Zealots. Josephus is held in Caesaria until 69 AD, and returns with Titus to Jerusalem in 70 AD as an eye-witness to the final siege there.
Fall/Winter 67 Civil War breaks out in Judea between the revolutionaries and those who want peace with Rome. Jerusalem is eventually divided into three factions led by [1] Eleazar, who was over the Zealots [2] John of Gischala, who was over the Galileans, and [3] Simon, who was over the Idumeans. It remains this way until the city is destroyed.[2] Numerous earthquakes occur at this time..
November 67 [1] Gischala was the last city in all of Galilee to be taken by Vespasian and his son, Titus, because it was a farming community. However, John, who was fond of war and most corrupt, had built a wall around it. When Titus arrived with 1000 horsemen, John pretended that he cared about honoring the Sabbath day and persuaded Titus to retreat until the Sabbath was over. However he escaped during the night with all the armed men and many families. The next day Titus the remaining inhabitants came out of the city and embraced Titus as if he was a deliverer, so their lives were spared but they were taken captive. Titus could not catch John before he reached Jerusalem, so in his anger he slew 6000 of the women and children who had followed behind him in the escape. [2] John of Gischala, the enemy of Josephus, arrives in Jerusalem with numerous followers; he proves to be a false prophet as he repeatedly assures everyone that Rome lacks the power to take Jerusalem. He is also the cause of much division and fighting.
Winter 67/68 [1] Guerilla groups make their way to Jerusalem and are welcomed by the populace; [2] Relatives of King Agrippa and other Royalists are executed by the Zealots for supposed treason; [3] The Zealots appoint their own High Priest, Phannias, annulling the previous succession of the high priesthood. Phannias, in the months to come, commits what, to Judaism, are lawless acts of false worship. [4] The people are incited to rebel against the Zealots by prominent men (including Ananus, the former High Priest), but the Zealots, hearing of the plan, strike first. When the people retaliate much bloodshed occurs and the Zealots fall back into the Inner Court and bar themselves inside. [5] Certain Zealot leaders escape and, using deceitful means, persuade 20,000 Idumeans to march on Jerusalem.  [6] The Idumeans are kept shut outside the city gates, but a verbal war ensues. Overnight a terrible storm takes place, along with a great earthquake, which Josephus described as “amazing concussions and bellowing of the earth” (Wars 4.4.5). Certain Zealots take advantage of the awful noise to cut through the gates unnoticed. The Idumeans enter, and the Zealots fight from within, and by daybreak 8,500 are dead. The outer temple is said to be “overflowing with blood.” Houses are then looted and their inhabitants killed. The corpses are cast outside the city without burial.
February 68 [1] The Zealots and Idumeans murder 12,000 of their opponents who will not join them, including Ananus and Jesus son of Gamaliel, two former High Priests who had been popular with many people. The Idumeans discover that they were duped by John of Gischala numerous times and decide to leave Jerusalem. Unchecked, the Zealots continue to murder all possible opponents and persons of authority. [2] Vespasian of Rome decides not to attack Jerusalem yet, giving time for the dissension to weaken its inhabitants first. [3] The Zealots ridicule “every dictate of religion” and “scoffed at the oracles of the [Old Testament] prophets as impostor’s tales.” [4] Simon, son of Gioras, leaves Masada, gains a following, and comes to Jerusalem to “proclaim liberty for the slaves and rewards for the free.”
Feb./March 68 Vespasian attacks Gadara before moving on toward Jerusalem.
March/April 68 The Sicarii (assassins) at Masada conduct raids on Judea, including a Passover attack on En Gedi.
June 68 [1] Vespasian reaches the walls of Jerusalem. [2] Nero’s reign ends when he commits suicide. Vespasian, unnerved by this news, loosens his grip on Jerusalem. He is forced to return to Rome to deal with the outbreaks of civil war there. Numerous false prophets in Jerusalem and Judea proclaim God’s favor and deliverance for the Jews. [3] The “Year of Four Emperors” begins, as Nero is succeeded by Galba, Ortho, Vitellius, and finally Vespasian. Rome is in political disarray during this time and teeters on the brink of total collapse. [4] Simon takes control of parts of Judea and clashes with the Zealots. With 20,000 troops he overcomes Idumaea, takes Hebron and begins to ravage the country. When his wife is kidnapped by the Zealots, he attacks Jerusalem in a rage until they give her back.
April 69 Simon drives many Idumean refugees back into Jerusalem.
Spring 69 [1] The Galilean followers of John dress like women (probably during the festival of Purim) and “indulge themselves in feminine wantoness,” while attacking men at random and running them through with swords kept under their gowns. [2] The Idumeans gather together against John and his followers, but the Zealots rush to John’s defense. [3] The chief priests, Idumaeans, and the wealthy in Jerusalem invite Simon to Jerusalem to overthrow John, and Simon is hailed as “their Savior and Protector.” [4] Simon becomes the Master of Jerusalem and attacks the Zealots in the temple. The part of the temple deemed as the Holy Court is filled with lakes of blood and dead carcasses.
June 69 Vespasian resumes his attack on Judea and Jerusalem, retaking areas conquered by Simon as he makes his advance.
Summer 69 A star and a comet, both resembling a sword, appear over the city of Jerusalem, and remain there stationary for a full year, until Jerusalem’s destruction is final.
December 69 [1] Vespasian is declared Emperor in Rome. He dispatches his son Titus to crush Jerusalem. [2] Eleazar the son of Simon breaks from the Zealots, and takes over the Inner temple, planting weapons on top of the gates. [3] The parties of Eleazar, Simon, and John exchange missile fire, making victims of the “worshippers who still come to the Temple from all corners of the Earth,” and “the blood of all manner of corpses formed pools in the courts of God.” [4] John of Gischala foolishly sets fire to the supply warehouses, and nearly all the grain supplies are burned, which would have lasted the city for years. This sets up a massive famine that will prove to be Jerusalem’s undoing. [5] As Titus advances on Jerusalem with four legions of the Roman army (more than 80,000 men), some of the Jews launch successful guerilla warfare-type attacks on his men, attacking quickly and then retreating. [6] Titus arrives and camps with his army at the Mount of Olives. The factions in Jerusalem temporarily stop fighting, only to resume later while under the final siege.
April 70 [1] Titus suddenly closes in on Jerusalem and the final siege of begins in full fury, 40 years to the week from the crucifixion of Christ, according to Josephus. This siege is to last for five months. Many had come up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and were unable to escape because they were trapped by the Roman armies. [2] The 10th Legion of the Romans begins to launch white boulders as heavy as 100 pounds over the city walls into Jerusalem. They are cast by catapults from Roman engines from a distance of up to two furlongs (a quarter mile) away. Josephus records that the watchmen on the wall, if they saw them coming, would shout, “The Son cometh!”[3] After a while the Romans learned to blacken the stones so that they couldn’t as easily be detected, and thus many were crushed by these stones. [3] Jesus, the son of Ananus, is killed by a large stone flung from one of the Roman engines. He had loudly and repeatedly prophesied Jerusalem’s destruction throughout the city for seven years and five months. Just before he was struck, he cried out with great force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house! Woe, woe to myself also!”
April 10-14, 70 The Roman armies, situated some distance outside of Jerusalem, begin leveling the ground between them and the city walls. This is completed in four days.
Mid-late April 70 The Romans begin to bombard the city with missiles, shot from their siege towers. Titus begins to pound the third (outer) wall with his battering rams.
April 29, 70 One of the Roman battering rams breaches the third wall.
May 25, 70 The Romans completely bypass the third wall and capture the New City northwest of the temple.
May/June 70 [1] The Romans bypass the second wall; the Jews retreat behind the first wall. [2] Titus divides his army and they try to attack the first wall and the Fortress of Antonia at the same time, but fail. [3] Within three days Titus and his army cast a trench around Jerusalem, and the entire city is enclosed with a new wall, nine miles in length. All available timber within a 10-mile radius around Jerusalem is used, and the entire area is stripped bare of foliage. [4] Titus challenges the Jewish fanatics to let the citizens go, promising that they would receive their houses back in time, but the fanatics instead begin to execute any caught discussing the idea of surrender. Their bodies are mutilated and thrown over the wall to the Romans. [5] Titus, making his rounds, sees the valleys full of dead bodies and groans with his hands spread toward the sky, calling heaven as a witness that these deaths were not his doing but “were the sad case of the city itself.”
Summer 70 [1] In the city, dead bodies are piled up in heaps, the result of famine and civil war. Some of the mansion houses are used as body depositories. The stench of decomposing bodies fills the city. [2] Robbers plunder the city houses at will, thrusting some of the starving ones through with their swords for sheer pleasure. However, writes Josephus, those who asked to be killed in order to escape their misery were laughed at and left alone to suffer. Most of them died with their eyes fixed on the temple, as if they hoped until the end that the temple itself could save them. [3] During the siege many desperate Jews tried to escape Jerusalem, mostly men who left behind their wives and children thinking they alone could escape unnoticed. However, writes Josephus (Jewish Wars, Book 5, Chapter 6), they were caught by the thousands, whipped, tortured by various means, and crucified just outside the city walls at a rate of 500 crucifixions per day. Titus took pity on these victims, but didn’t interfere because he hoped that the inhabitants (who could see this going on) would surrender in order to avoid a similar fate. In the end, being that there weren’t enough crosses and scarcely room for all of them in any case, more than one Jew was often nailed to the same cross.
Late June/July 70 [1] The Romans breach part of the first (inner) wall with their battering rams, but discover to their dismay that the rebel forces under John have built another inner wall behind it. [2] The Romans take their fight all the way to the temple gates, but meet fierce resistance and are forced to retreat. [3] On July 18th, the Jews set a fire trap in the walkway connecting the temple and the Fortress of Antonia. These Jews pretend to retreat, luring the Roman soldiers into the walkway and into the fire trap. Many Roman troops are burned.
July 22, 70 [1] The Fortress of Antonia falls to Titus. [2] Around this time (the 17th of Tammuz) the daily sacrifice of the Jews fails, as recorded by Josephus in Wars, VI, 2.1., greatly troubling the Jewish people: “[T]he last lamb was gone and not even a handful of flour was left in the city. Thus the sacrifice ended and the fire on the altar was extinguished.”
July 29, 70 Earthworks are completed, and Titus and his troops approach the temple outer courtyard from the west. The Romans try to scale the temple walls with ladders, but fail. As a last resort, Titus orders his troops to set fire to the temple gates, but to spare the temple itself. [2] Since the time of the initial invasion and withdrawal of Cestius Gallus at the end of 66 AD, a time period of roughly three years and seven months has transpired, or 1,290 days if each year is reckoned as 360 days (cf. Daniel 12:12).
August 10, 70 [1] The Romans burn the gates and enter the temple courtyards. Despite the orders of Titus to spare the temple, it is burnt to the ground on the exact same day and month as the previous temple had been burnt by the Babylonians in 586 BC (Josephus, Antiquities 2.11.8). The flames are so great that from a distance, the entire city of Jerusalem appears to be on fire. [2] Old Covenant Judaism ceases to be intact from this point forward. History records that Judaism has never been the same since, and that religious Jews, having no central temple, have ever since been unable to obey the stipulations which required the presence of the temple. [3] Surviving Jews flee the temple and go into the city to continue the fight from there or to search for hiding places. [4] The victorious Romans carry the idolatrous standards of their legions into the temple courtyards and make sacrifices to them there.
Aug/Sept 70 [1] Surviving Jews retreat to the Upper City of Jerusalem, where many continue to plunder, ambush, and assault their fellow Jews. The victims are too weakened by famine to resist, and quite a few are killed senselessly. Josephus tries to persuade them to surrender to the Romans and spare what is left of the city, but he is laughed at. Josephus records that some put on happy faces “in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” [2] Many Jews seek refuge in the caves and underground caverns, hoping to remain hidden once the Romans would reach the Upper City. However, Josephus records: “This was no better than a dream of theirs; for they were not able to lie hid either from God or from the Romans” (cf. Revelation 6:15-17). [3] The Romans burn the Lower City, assault Herod’s Palace, and prepare to enter the Upper City. They are once again forced to build earth ramps, which are completed on August 27. The next day the whole city is burning. Josephus estimates the death toll in Jerusalem to be 1,197,000. Most of the surviving Jews are sold into international slavery (cf. Luke 21:24), a total of 97,000.
September 14, 70 [1] With all resistance ended, and cleanup complete, Titus leaves Jerusalem for Caesarea. [2] Since the time of the initial invasion and withdrawal of Cestius Gallus, a time period of three years, eight months, and 15 days has transpired, or 1,335 days (cf. Daniel 12:12).
Late 70-Early 73 [1] Those who had managed to escape from Jerusalem during its final overthrow create pockets of resistance around the Dead Sea areas, including at the hill fortress of Masada. [2] Titus throws two birthday parties, one for his brother (Domitian) and one for his father. As entertainment, Jewish captives are forced to fight beasts or each other, and others are burnt. At least 2500 are killed in this manner in the first party, and an even greater “multitude” in the second party.
April 8, 73 Masada is taken by the Romans and the last of the Jewish refugees, 960 individuals, commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. This is accomplished by the men first killing their own wives and children, then killing all but 10 among themselves, according to the lots they had cast. Nine of the final 10 are killed by one last man, who sets fire to the palace and then plunges himself through with a sword. This account is related to Josephus by two woman who survive by hiding inside a cistern with five children.
May 20, 73 The last of the territories of Israel is sold off, leaving no trace of the Jewish homeland, its territories, or its temple in Jewish hands. Since the initial invasion and withdrawal of Cestius Gallus, a time period of just over six years and four months has transpired (cf. Daniel 8:14, regarding “2,300 evenings and mornings”).

[1] One of the best sources containing the complete works of Josephus, including his “War of the Jews” and “Antiquities of the Jews,” can be found in the translated work of William Whiston, located here: http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/JOSEPHUS.HTM. A chronology based on Josephus’ writings has been compiled by G. J. Goldberg and can be seen here: http://www.josephus.org/warChronologyIntro.htm.

[2] Kurt Simmons (2009 [2]) sees this fact as a fulfillment of Revelation 16:19; “The great city was split into three parts…”

[3] J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book titled The Parousia, offers this explanation (p. 482): “It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood [in 62 AD]. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia” (Todd Dennis [23], 2009).

***The timing of this event is based on the testimonies of Eusebius (263-339 AD) and Remigius (437-533 AD), who said that the Christians dwelling in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions fled to Pella beyond the Jordan “on the approach of the Roman army” (See post 14 entitled, “Abomination of Desolation”). There are some who suggest that the believers may not have fled during the first approach of the Roman army in late 66/early 67 AD, but rather during the Roman army’s second approach in 69/70 AD. They note correctly that Vespasian, having swept through Galilee and Judea and having closed in on Jerusalem by early 68 AD, upon learning of Nero’s death in 68 AD then retreated to Rome to deal with the sudden civil war there. It was then his son, Titus, who led the Roman army’s second march toward Jerusalem, arriving by April 70 AD. The contention is that the last of the believers may have only fled during this second approach led by Titus.