Ask For Help Can't Find Something? Maybe I can help

Why the Almighty Caused Jerusalem and His Temple to be Destroyed

Why the Almighty Caused Jerusalem and His Temple to be Destroyed

Why the Almighty Caused Jerusalem and His Temple to be Destroyed

    The burning of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE/AD created a profound dilemma for faithful Jews of the time. Hadn’t religious observance throughout the land reached new heights in the years preceding the war? Wasn’t the revolt against Rome directly the result of zealous people vowing to have “no master except the Lord?” (Ant. 18.1.6  23). Then why did the Lord allow the Romans to crush the revolt and destroy his Temple?

    Josephus offered a variety of solutions to this problem. His overall goal was to defend the Jews against the accusation that their Lord had deserted them. A further goal, which he only hinted at, was to pave the way for approval by the Roman authorities, at some future time, for the rebuilding of the Temple.

Contents

Death of the High Priest
The Pollution of the City
Pollution of the Temple with Blood
Assassins in the Temple
The Slaughter of the Guards
The Murder of Zacharias
The Lamentation of Josephus
The Fulfillment of Ancient Prophecies
The Temple is Set on Fire
A Comforting Thought
Omens of Destruction
Star and Comet
Light Around the Altar
Cow Gives Birth to Lamb
The Eastern Gate
Miraculous Phenomenon of Chariots in the Air
Sound of a Great Multitude
Jesus son of Ananias: A Voice from the East (A must-read.)
Prophecy of the Square Temple

Death of the High Priest

War 4.5.2 318

    I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city began with the death of Ananus; and that the overthrow of the walls and the downfall of the Jewish state dated from the day on which the Jews beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem.
A man on every ground revered and of the highest integrity, Ananus, with all the distinction of his birth, his rank and the honours to which he had attained, had delighted to treat the very humblest as his equals. Unique in his love of liberty and an enthusiast for democracy, he on all occasions put the public welfare above his private interests. To maintain peace was his supreme object.

Comment.
    The revolt in part derived from class warfare. The High Priests had authority over the Temple worship and often acted as representatives of the Jews in dealing with the Roman occupation government. They had an interest in maintaining peace, some of them sincerely for the good of the nation, others no doubt to protect their own wealth and power.
    As a result, many revolutionaries, especially the most extreme group, the Zealots,
considered their priests as the enemy. Although some of the younger and poorer priests joined the revolution, others opposed it and, as a result, were assassinated.
    In the passage quoted above, Josephus explicitly connects Ananus’ murder by the Zealots to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is one of his major themes, which we might call “The Pollution of the City.” No religious motivation, Josephus is saying, can justify the atrocities that the Zealots committed. Not everything can be done for the Divine Name. The Lord destroyed the Holy City because the people had violated the basic principles of His Law and made the Temple unfit for worship.

The Pollution of the City

         War 4.5.2 323

I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off those who clung to them with such tender affection.

Comment
    This explicitly states Josephus’ opinion that the city was destroyed because of its transgressions during the war.

Pollution of the Temple with Blood

  Assassins in the Temple
  Antiquities 20.8.5 164-166

            Certain of these robbers went up to the city, as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under their garments; and, by thus mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew Jonathan [the high priest]; and as this murder was never avenged, the robbers went up with the greatest security at the festivals after this time; and having weapons concealed in like manner as before, and mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew certain of their own enemies, and were subservient to other men for money; and slew others not only in remote parts of the city, but in the Temple itself also; for they had the boldness to murder men there, without thinking of the impiety of which they were guilty.
And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred to these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the Temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery – as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities.

Comment
    Josephus here seems to make a distinction between two concepts. First, the wickedness of these assassins, some ten years before the war, caused the divine rejection of Jerusalem; but furthermore, the Temple was no longer “pure” enough for the Lord to inhabit. In Jewish Law, ritual uncleanness caused by contact with blood can be removed by purification with fire. So beyond simply abandoning Jerusalem and its people, the area is purified so that it can again become fit for heavenly contact. The people are not rejected, but only made wiser by these calamities.
    This may indicate why all the people were punished, and not just the murderers. Ritual impurity needed to be dealt with, regardless of its source. And the people as a whole did not work hard enough to keep the criminals from defiling the Temple – Josephus states the murder of Jonathan “was never avenged,” thus emboldening them –  everyone had a share in the impurity.

The Slaughter of the Guards
War 4.5.1 305-313

    The Idumaeans ascended through the city to the Temple. The Zealots were also in great expectation of their coming, and earnestly waited for them. When therefore these were entering, they also came boldly out of the inner Temple, and mixing themselves with the Idumaeans, they attacked the guards; and those that were upon the watch, but were fallen asleep, they killed as they were asleep; but as those that were now awakened made a cry, the whole multitude arose, and in the amazement they were in, caught hold of their arms immediately, and betook themselves to their own defence. So long as they thought they were only the Zealots that attacked them, they went on boldly, as hoping to overpower them by their number; but when they saw others pressing in upon them also, they perceived the Idumaeans were got in; and the greater part of them laid aside their arms, together with their courage, and betook themselves to lamentations. But some  few of the younger guards covered themselves with their armor and valiantly received the Idumaeans, and for a while protected the weaker people. Others, indeed, gave a signal to those that were in the city of the calamities they were in; but when these were also made sensible that the Idumaeans were come in, none of them durst come to their assistance; only they returned the terrible echo of wailing, and lamenting their misfortunes. A great howling of the women was excited also, every one having a relative in the guards who was in danger of being killed.
The Zealots also joined the the shouts raised by the Idumaeans; and the storm itself rendered the cry more terrible; nor did the Idumaeans spare anybody…and acted in the same manner as to those that supplicated for their lives, as to those that fought them, insomuch that they ran those through with their swords who desired them to remember the kinship there was between them and begged of them to have regard to their common Temple. There was no place for flight nor any hope for preservation; they were driven one upon another in heaps, so were they slain. Thus the greater part were driven together by force, as there was now no place of retreat, and the murderers were upon them, and having no other way, they threw themselves down headlong into the city, undergoing a more miserable destruction, in my opinion, than that which they avoided, because it was voluntary. And now the outer Temple was all of it overflowed with blood; and that day, as it dawned, saw eight thousand five hundred dead there.

Comment
    This massacre of their countrymen on the part of the revolutionary extremists and their allies occurred within the court of the Temple itself. These and other murders, such as that of Jonathan, are associated by Josephus with the irrevocable pollution of the Temple. In Jewish Law, human blood and corpses cause ritual uncleanness; add to this that the blood was shed in the atrocity of mass murder, and the implication  is that the Temple could never be cleansed.
    The Idumaeans were descendants of the Biblical Edomites and had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmonean kings. The revolutionary party, the Zealots, manipulated them to increase their forces during the revolt.

 The Murder of Zacharias
    War 4.5.4 335-344

And now these Zealots and Idumaeans were quite weary of simple massacre, so they had the audacity to set up mock trials and courts of justice for that purpose. They intended to have Zacharias, the son of Baris, one of the most eminent of the citizens, slain. What provoked them against him was that hatred of wickedness and love of liberty which were so eminent in him; he was also a rich man, so that by taking him off, they did not only hope to seize his effects, but also to get rid of a man that had great power to destroy them.
So they called together, by a public proclamation, seventy of the principal men of the populace, for a show trial, as if they were real judges, although they had no proper authority. In front of  these citizens Zacharias was accused of a design to betray their city to the Romans and to have traitorously sent to Vespasian for that purpose. Now there appeared no proof or sign of what he was accused; but they affirmed themselves that they were well persuaded that so it was, and desired that such their affirmation might be taken for sufficient evidence.
Now when Zacharias clearly saw that there was no way remaining for his escape from them, as having been treacherously called before them and imprisoned, but with no intention of a legal trial, he took great liberty of speech in that despair of life he was under. Accordingly he stood up, and laughed at their pretended accusation, and in a few words confuted the crimes laid to his charge; after which he turned his speech to his accusers, and went over distinctly all their transgressions of the Law, and made heavy lamentations upon the confusion they had brought public affairs into.
In the meantime the Zealots grew tumultuous, and could scarce refrain from drawing their swords, although they designed to preserve the appearance and show of judicature to the end. They were also desirous, on other accounts, to try the judges, whether they would be mindful of what was just at their own peril.
Now the seventy judges brought in their verdict, that the person accused was not guilty — choosing rather to die themselves with him, than to have his death laid at their doors.
Hereupon there arose a great clamor by the Zealots upon his acquittal, and they were all indignant at the judges for not having understood that the authority that was given them was but in jest. So two of the boldest of them fell upon Zacharias in the middle of the Temple, and slew him. And as he fell down dead they bantered him, and said, “Now you have our verdict also, and a surer release.” They then threw him down out of the Temple into the valley beneath it.

 Comment
     The Zealots add the sin of bearing false witness to the crime of murder in the Temple.
    As a side note: This passage has an intriguing parallel with the Book of Matthew: “…upon you [is] all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.” (Matt. 23:35) Can this last victim,  murdered in the Temple, be the same as the “Zecharias son of Baris” referred to above?
    If so, it would be counted either as a prophecy that became fulfilled or a confusion on the part of  Matthew. However, in this case, the resemblance seems to be mere coincidence. As Thackeray points out in his translation (Loeb edition), Matthew can be read as referring to Zecharias son of  Jehoiada, who was stoned to death in the Temple court (2 Chronicles 24:21); Matthew had confused his name with Zechariach son of Berechiah. This is a reasonable explanation; still, the coincidence is quite curious.

The Lamentation of Josephus
War 5.1.4 19-20

The darts that were thrown by the engines [of the seditious factions] came with that force, that they went over all the buildings and the Temple itself, and fell upon the priests and those that were about the sacred offices; insomuch that many persons who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place, which was esteemed holy by all mankind, fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that altar which was venerable among all men, both Greeks and barbarians, with their own blood. The dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves.
Oh most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy internal pollutions! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou longer survive, after thou hadst been a sepulchre for the bodies of thine own people, and hast made the Holy House itself a burying-place in this civil war of thine. Yet mayst thou again grow better, if perchance thou wilt hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of thy destruction.
But I must restrain myself from these passions by the rules of History, since this is not a proper time for domestic lamentation, but for historical narrations.

Comment
    The revolt fell apart into factions vying for power. The actions of the Jews against the Temple during this civil war, Josephus here asserts, were more terrible than that inflicted by the Romans. Again emphasizing the unclean blood in the Temple, Josephus laments that the later destruction by the Romans was necessary, and that these conquerors were acting as agents of the Lord — almost as priests — in their role as purifiers.
    There is also a hint here, hidden in the form of an emotional outburst, that the Temple should be allowed to be rebuilt. “Mayst thou again grow better,” he asks, pointing toward a return to its former state, and expects this after the Jews “appease” the author of their destruction, indicating that they act peacefully both toward heaven and its agents of destruction, the Romans. But it is too soon after the war, which greatly angered the Roman populace, for Josephus to make an explicit appeal to the Emperor that the Temple be rebuilt.

 The Fulfillment of Ancient Prophecies

    War 4.6.3 381-388

    But these Zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made  an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, an, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked action, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrify under the sun.
…These men, therefore, trampled upon all the laws of man, and laughed at the Laws of God; and for the oracles of the prophets, they ridiculed them as the tricks of jugglers. Yet did these prophets foretell many things concerning virtue and vice, by the transgression of which these Zealots occasioned the fulfilling of those very prophecies belonging to their country.
For there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews and their own hands should pollute the Temple of God. Now, while these Zealots did not disbelieve these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their accomplishment.

Comment
    This passage segues into a different explanation of the destruction: that it had been prophesied in advance. The theme of prophecy is quite important to Josephus — indeed, he owed his life to one — and throughout his work he stresses that the observable fulfillment of  prophecy is proof of the truth of the Jewish Bible.
    Yet the idea that Jerusalem was destroyed as the fulfillment of a prophecy is not manifestly the same as stating it was destroyed because of the sins of the people. In the above passage, Josephus tries to link the two concepts. The prophecy is not that the Temple is destined to be destroyed, but that it would be destroyed due to a war started by the Jews that would pollute the Temple. This is an interesting sliding between two concepts. If it was ordained in advance that the Jews would pollute the Temple, how can they be held accountable? Did the Lord cause the destruction to fulfill a pre-ordained plan or instead  to punish contemporary sins?
    Josephus either wants it both ways, or else oscillates between them as events dictate. In a similar fashion, he notes elsewhere that the Pharisees, with whom he aligned himself, believed in free will but also that some things, although not all, were decreed by fate (War 2.8.14).  The two concepts of the destruction pose the old question, are humans predestined or do they have free will?
    Incidentally, the “certain ancient oracle” cited by Josephus in this passage is unknown to present scholars.

 The Temple is Set on Fire

Introductory Comment
    Here is Josephus’ description of the moment when the first flame is put to the Temple. The agent of destruction is an anonymous Roman soldier, acting impulsively against the orders of the commander, Titus — but obeying the orders, Josephus implies, of the highest authority.

    War 6.4.5 249-253

    So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia, and resolved to storm the Temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the Holy House; but, as for that House, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages: it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Av,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them; for upon Titus’s retiring, the seditious lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those that guarded the Holy House fought with those that quenched the fire that was burning in the inner court of the Temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the Holy House itself.
At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the Holy House, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward the Jews made a great clamour, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that Holy House was perishing, for whose sake it was that they kept such a guard upon it.

Comment
    We have here all three possible explanations for the Temple destruction: that it was a chance act of war, that it was a Divine response to the murderous actions of the seditious party, or that it was fated according to some vast and mysterious plan.
    The aspect of fate is stated by Josephus in saying that “God for certain long ago doomed it to the fire,” and then pointing out that the Second Temple was set on fire by the Romans on the same day that the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. (Thackeray notes that this date accords with Jeremiah 53:12 but not with the seventh of Av in 2 Kings 25:8, and that Jewish tradition memorializes both on the Ninth of Av.) This would seem to indicate a design greater than a direct response to freely committed sin. This was, says Josephus, “according to the revolution of the ages” — again, not due to specific human actions.
    Josephus says rather directly that is was the Lord who started the flames by directing the activity of the anonymous Roman soldier. For this soldier set the fire “without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking,” as though he had the authority to do what he was doing. When he put the fire to the golden window he was “being hurried on by a certain divine fury.” The Greek is daimnoioi horme tini chromenos, which can be translated also as in Thackeray’s version “moved by some supernatural impulse.” The soldier is an agent of heaven, and his impulsive attack may reflect divine anger at the people for their pollution of the Temple. The emotional “fury” is different from the cool, mathematical “revolution of the ages” that calendrically pre-determined the fate of the Temple. Josephus has jumped from one explanation to the other. Can they be joined into one?

A Comforting Thought

    War 6.4.8 267-268

    Now, although any one would lament the destruction of such a work as this was, since it was the most admirable of all the works that we have seen or heard of, both for its curious structure and its magnitude, and also for the glorious reputation it had for its holiness; yet might such a one comfort himself with this thought, that it was fate that decreed it so to be, which is inevitable, both as to living creatures and as to works and places also.
However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were not observed, as I said before, wherein the Holy House was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.

Comment
    Josephus finds comforting the idea that “fate had decreed” the destruction, that it was “inevitable.” In this way he counters the idea that the deity of the Jews had abandoned them or had been defeated by the Romans and their deities. Everything the Romans did was at the behest of, not in spite of, divine will.
    Why had fate decreed the destruction? Again Josephus points out the identity of the date with that of the Babylonian destruction. So even though he wants to teach that the people were being punished — the Pharisaic view that humans had free will — yet here he again oscillates to the  concept that everything is ordained in advance. The First Temple destruction was also the product of divine will, Josephus states elsewhere, as it was foretold by Jeremiah (Antiquities 10.8.3 142).
    In the excerpts that follow we will see how Josephus attempts to reconcile these views by saying that fate can be avoided if people would only heed the heavenly warnings and cease from their foolishness.

Omens of Destruction

Introductory Comment
    The third paragraph of the fifth chapter of  Book 6 of the War contains a fascinating series of omens that foretold the fall of the Temple well in advance of the beginning of the revolt. Josephus stresses the theme that the destruction had to was predestined. This destiny seems detached from the sins of the people, for these omens are not connected to any particular evil. They are:

        Star and Comet
        Light Around the Altar
        Cow Gives Birth to Lamb
        The Eastern Gate
        Miraculous Phenomenon of Chariots in the Air
        Sound of a Great Multitude
        Jesus son of Ananias: A Voice from the East

    Does this mean the war and destruction could not be helped, but were only parts of a predestined and mysterious plan? In a comment on these signs Josephus gives his view: these were warnings from the Deity, and if only the omens had been heeded, disaster could have been averted. I discuss this further below.
    This paragraph follows immediately upon Josephus’ description of the burning of the Temple. It is the means by which he steps back from the awesome drama he has been relating and puts it in the context of world history and the philosophy of human folly.

War 6.5.3 288-309

    Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them.

Star and Comet

    Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.

Light Around the Altar

Thus also before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan, April, about a week before Passover] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.

Cow Gives Birth to Lamb

At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple.

The Eastern Gate

Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner  temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again.
This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.

Miraculous Phenomenon of Chariots in the Air

     Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Iyar, May or June] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.

Sound of a Great Multitude

    Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

Jesus son of Ananias: A Voice from the East

     But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple [Sukkot, autumn, 62 CE], began on a sudden to cry aloud,

    “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!”

This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city.
However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before.
Hereupon the magistrates, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was,

    “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!”

And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him.
Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow,

    “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!”

Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come.
This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force,

    “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the Holy House!”

And just as he added at the last,

    “Woe, woe to myself also!”

there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.

 
Comment
    These astounding tales apparently circulated among Jews after the war and were then collected by Josephus. They show the need of the populace to make sense of the destruction as well as Josephus’ own interest in prophecy, which he uses here to indicate to his non-Jewish readers that the Temple  and the City were not burned at the whim of the conquering Romans but were deliberately allowed, if not destined, to be destroyed by the Deity.
    The omens fall into interesting groups. The star and comet always accompany momentous events; one recalls the comet presaging the death of Julius Caesar and the star at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.The other omens are associated with Jewish festivals. The next six signs that are described occur within days of each other, in an unspecified year, but probably in the early 60s. Just before the Passover celebration three of these signs occur together, and just after it the chariots in the air appear. Fifty days after this same Passover, on Shavuot (Pentecost), the earthquake and strange sounds occur. And Jesus ben Ananias first makes his appearance at the festival of Sukkot.
    One notes that Passover is a spring festival, and Sukkot an autumn one, suggesting that these all occurred within the same year, which, by the clues given (Albinus as procurator, the duration of Jesus’ lamentation), would have been 62. As it happens, Josephus was most likely in Rome in that year, not in Jerusalem (see the Chronology), so he is forced to report these signs at second hand.
     Students of the New Testament cannot fail to have noticed parallels in these passages with events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. The fantastic events occurring at the Passover bring to mind those related at the death of Jesus thirty years earlier, also at a  Passover, when the curtain of the Temple was split in two, and the earth shook (Matthew 27:51). At the following Pentecost the apostles have a vision of Jesus and begin to speak in tongues, while at Josephus’ Pentecost sounds and voices are heard — there are auditory miracles  in both texts.
    The sad story of Jesus son of Ananias related by Josephus has a number of parallels with the New Testament, the first of which is the coincidence of a man named Jesus prophesying against the Temple. As the name “Jesus” (Joshua) is one of the most common held by men in Josephus’ works, it should not be taken as significant in itself. But one wonders if the tales of the two Jesuses became intertwined by their tellers, with elements of one story creeping into the narrative of the other. For this hypothesis one notes several parallels.

  •     Woe to the people – Matt. 23 “Woe to you, scribes and pharisees!” (The Greek word translated as “woe” is “aiai” in Josephus, “ouai” in Matthew.)
  •     Prediction of the Temple Destruction – Matt. 24:2, which is associated with the “woes”.
  •     The leaders of Jerusalem bring the doomsayer to the Roman governor – Matt. 27:2. As an aside — Whiston mistranslates this section to refer to “our rulers,” not “the rulers.”  Readers who have studied my article on Josephus’ account of Jesus will recognize this important point. Josephus does not use the first person here, despite Whiston (why did he do this?); see rather the Loeb edition for the Greek “hoi archontes” and Thackeray’s correct translation.
  •   The governor interrogates him, but the accused says nothing to defend himself. (Matt. 27:13-14)
  • The accusation as unclear in Josephus’ story as in the New Testament.  The grounds here are simply said to be ” supernatural impulse.” What crime is that for the leaders?

    The major difference is that the nonresponding Jesus ben Ananias is let free in Josephus, and allowed to continue his woes against the city; Jesus of Nazareth was not set free, although Pilate was supposedly inclined in that way.  What is the difference between the cases?  Was it due to additional claims the earlier Jesus made about himself?
    An odd coincidence was that Jesus ben Ananias arose near the beginning of Albinus’ governorship, very soon after the death of James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.

 Prophecy of the Square Temple

War 6.5.4 310-311

Now if any one consider these things, he will find that God takes care of mankind, and by all ways possible foreshows to our race what is for their preservation; but that men perish by those miseries which they madly and voluntarily bring upon themselves; for the Jews, by demolishing the tower of Antonia, had made their Temple four-square, while at the same time they had it written in their sacred oracles, — “That then should their city be taken, as well as their Holy House, when once their Temple should become four-square.”

Comment
    The source for this prophecy is unknown today.
    Josephus repeats once more his theme that the prophecies and omens are meant as warnings. This leaves the paradox: a prophecy that is a warning is not a prophecy, for it would never come to pass if the warning were heeded. Obeying divine warnings would thus remove the proof of the truth of divine speech. Then people who do good by their own accord would never find reason to have faith in holy writings. Perhaps this is the ultimate, if unintended, direction of Josephus’ interpretation of history.

Scroll Up