First in a series on the true location of the Jewish Temples
Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus and His disciples were leaving the Temple grounds after Jesus had been challenged by both the Sadducees and some scribes. As He and His disciples were going out of the temple, one of His disciples looked back and said to Him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” Situated atop the plateau above the Kidron Valley east of the city, the temple and its surrounding buildings stood as one of the architectural marvels of the ancient world. Built of polished white stone, with its eastern wall covered in gold, the temple’s main structure gleamed in the evening light as if it were a massive jewel. The impressive temple complex contained numerous porticoes, colonnades, patios, and courtyards—enabling tens of thousands of worshipers to congregate and present their offerings and sacrifices. Its construction had begun nearly five decades earlier, under the direction of Herod the Great, and would still be ongoing forty years later when it was demolished by the Romans. The sheer enormity of Herod’s stone temple, combined with its magnificence and splendor, made it difficult to imagine that such an edifice could ever be destroyed. But Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” The Temple of God, in reality, had become a monument to the Jewish leadership. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he consistently called out the Jewish religious leaders for their corruption, their hypocrisy and for their man-made traditions. These so-called leaders led the people astray toward following a check list of laws which they needed to adhere to. They were required to follow a set of man-made traditions that they could never adhere to, and which their leaders did not follow themselves. Their God desired for them to return to Him, yet their leaders led them far away from a relationship with their loving creator.
In A.D. 70, Jesus’ words were literally and precisely fulfilled when God brought to Jerusalem the Roman army under Titus Vespasian to destroy the city and the entire temple complex. As the human instruments of divine wrath, the Romans lit massive fires that caused the stones to crumble in the intense heat. By the time they were finished dismantling the temple, having taken all of the gold and thrown the remaining rubble into the Kidron Valley, all that was left were four massive walls. As the Lord predicted with perfect accuracy, the temple and its surrounding buildings were completely demolished under the judgment of God.
I would like in this post to ask the question as to what those four walls actually encircled.
Jerusalem 70 AD: Not One Stone Left upon Another
Gessius Florus loved money and hated Jews. As Roman procurator, he ruled Judea with a disdain for both the Jewish people and their religion, a faith which would not bow before his Caesar as a god. The tension between Florus and the people of Jerusalem would escalate due to anti-taxation protests, his brutality and Jewish attacks on Roman citizens and Jewish supporters of Rome. All this came to a head with Florus’ plundering of the Temple. The Roman procurator would seize silver from the Temple after he claimed the Jews were short on their tribute to Rome. Jewish rebels reacted by acts of resistance and attacks on Roman citizens. The very next day Florus ordered his soldiers to plunder the Upper Market in Jerusalem. Josephus claims that this led to the massacre of thousands of Jews including women & children. Many who were not slain by the soldiers’ raid were brought to Florus, who had them tortured & crucified even if they were of noble status. The Jewish soldier-historian Flavius Josephus would write of these actions by the procurator following the resistance of the Jews:
“Florus was more provoked at this and called out aloud to the soldiers to plunder that which was called the Upper Market-place, and to slay such as they met with. So the soldiers, taking this exhortation of their commander in a sense agreeable to their desire of gain, did not only plunder the place they were sent to, but forcing themselves into every house, they slew its inhabitants; so the citizens fled along the narrow lanes, and the soldiers slew those that they caught, and no method of plunder was omitted; they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified. Accordingly, the whole number of those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children (for they did not spare even the infants themselves), was about three thousand and six hundred.
And what made this calamity the heavier was this new method of Roman barbarity; for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal; who, although they were by birth Jews, yet were they of Roman dignity notwithstanding.”
Florus’ actions prompted a wider, large-scale rebellion by the Jews and the Roman military garrison of Judaea was quickly overrun by the rebels.
As it became clear the rebellion was getting out of control, Rome sent Cestius Callus with the 12th Legion (Legio XII Fulminata) based in Syria to the region. This Legion was reinforced by auxiliary troops and numbered 30,000-36,000 troops which were to restore order and quell the revolt. Despite initial advances and the conquest of Caesarea and Jaffa, where they massacred some 8,400 people, the Syrian Legion was ambushed and defeated by Jewish rebels at the Battle of Beth Horon with 6,000 Romans massacre. After the battle, the Jewish rebels went through the Roman dead stripping them of their armor, helmets, equipment, and weapons thus arming themselves for further resistance. Cestius Callus pushed forward, however and besieged Jerusalem for six months, yet failed to penetrate it.
This major Roman defeat encouraged many more volunteers and towns in Judea to throw their lot in with the rebels. A full-scale war was then inevitable. The shock of the defeat convinced the Romans of the need to fully commit to crushing the rebellion regardless of the effort it would require.
Emperor Nero then sent Vespasian, a decorated general, to quell the Judean rebellion. Vespasian put down the opposition in Galilee, then in Transjordan, then in Idumea. He circled in on Jerusalem. But before the coup de grace, Nero died. Vespasian became embroiled in a leadership struggle that concluded with the eastern armies calling for him to be emperor. One of his first imperial acts was to appoint his son Titus to conduct the Jewish War.
When Galilee was lost, some of the rebel groups led by popular messianic figures moved south to join the forces defending Jerusalem. They soon took a leading role there, displacing the aristocratic leaders whose policies had led to the loss of Galilee. Before long, however, civil strife broke out among the various factions in Jerusalem.
By Passover of 70 AD, Titus had massed a large force around Jerusalem while Jewish factions inside the city were killing one another. Slowly he was squeezing the life out of the city, a city with over 100,000 trapped inside. As the Romans tightened their strangle hold upon the city, the Zealots and rebel groups opposing them continued fighting each other within the city, even burning each other’s food supplies. Anarchy, fear, and starvation reigned within Jerusalem’s city walls. Outside the city camped the Romans who would crucify any man, woman, or child caught fleeing the city. So many crosses were being made to crucify those fleeing that the woods in the surrounding area were almost completely deforested. The suffering within the city is best described by Josephus:
“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, and the dearest friends fell a fighting one with another about it, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would men believe that those who were dying had no food, but the robbers would search them when they were expiring, lest anyone should have concealed food in their bosoms, and counterfeited dying; nay, these robbers gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day. Moreover, 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: the very wisps of old hay became food to some; and some gathered up fibres, and sold a very small weight of them for four Attic [drachmae].”
As the Roman Legion penetrated Fortress Antonia and proceeded to enter the Temple grounds the fate of the inhabitants was sealed. Josephus provides an eyewitness account of the destruction, the fire and the noise:
“While the holy house was on fire, everything was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner; so that this war went round all sorts of men, and brought them to destruction, and as well those that made supplication for their lives, as those that defended themselves by fighting. The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those that were slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the temple were very great, one would have thought the whole city had been on fire. Nor can one imagine anything either greater or more terrible than this noise; for there was at once a shout of the Roman legions, who were marching all together, and a sad clamor of the seditious, who were now surrounded with fire and sword. The people also that were left above were beaten back upon the enemy, and under a great consternation, and made sad moans at the calamity they were under; the multitude also that was in the city joined in this outcry with those that were upon the hill. And besides, many of those that were worn away by the famine, and their mouths almost closed, when they saw the fire of the holy house, they exerted their utmost strength, and brake out into groans and outcries again: Perea did also return the echo, as well as the mountains round about [the city,] and augmented the force of the entire noise. Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of those bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them.”
“And now the Romans, judging that it was in vain to spare what was round about the holy house, burnt all those places, as also the remains of the cloisters and the gates, two excepted; the one on the east side, and the other on the south; both which, however, they burnt afterward. They also burnt down the treasury chambers, in which was an immense quantity of money, and an immense number of garments, and other precious goods there reposited; and, to speak all in a few words, there it was that the entire riches of the Jews were heaped up together, while the rich people had there built themselves chambers [to contain such furniture]. The soldiers also came to the rest of the cloisters that were in the outer [court of the] temple, whither the women and children, and a great mixed multitude of the people, fled, in number about six thousand. But before Caesar had determined anything about these people, or given the commanders any orders relating to them, the soldiers were in such a rage, that they set that cloister on fire; by which means it came to pass that some of these were destroyed by throwing themselves down headlong, and some were burnt in the cloisters themselves. Nor did anyone of them escape with his life.”
“Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other such work to be done) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.”
One last eyewitness account needs to be considered concerning the thoroughness of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Eleazar ben Simon dedicated his life to the Zealot cause to establish an independent Judea.
” And where is now that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which vas fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many ten thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations, and hath nothing but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those that hath destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins; some unfortunate old men also lie upon the ashes of the temple, and a few women are there preserved alive by the enemy, for our bitter shame and reproach.”
As I proceed in writing about the true location of the Temples of Jerusalem these two eyewitness accounts are important into putting into perspective the totality of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Eleazar’s addition that the once great city of Jerusalem was “now demolished to the very foundations” is illustrative, however, his statement that there was “nothing but that monument of it preserved, I mean the camp of those that hath destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins”, is key. The camp of the Romans, Fortress Antonia.
So is this actually the Temple Mount?
 Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews (translated by William Whiston), BJ 2.305-308
 Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews (translated by William Whiston), BJ 6. 193-198
 Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews (translated by William Whiston), BJ 6.271-276
 Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews (translated by William Whiston), BJ 6.281-284
 Initially Titus thought to preserve the Towers of Phasaelus, Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. He later countermanded that and they were destroyed. The only was walls left standing were those around Fortress Antonia.
 Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews (translated by William Whiston), BJ 7.1-7.4
 Josephus, Flavius, The Wars of the Jews (translated by William Whiston), BJ 7.375-7.377