The Lost Temples Found Part 2 – Fortress Antonia and the Jewish Expectations of a Great Military Leader

In Thessalonians 2:3-4  Paul writes “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Jesus in Matthew 24:15-16 warns “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” For these events to happen there needs to be a Third Temple in Jerusalem, yet with the Muslims controlling what is almost universally accepted today as the Temple Mount by Jews and Christians and the Haram al-Sharif by Muslims, how can a Third Jewish Temple be built? However, what if this was not the case? What if the temple was located elsewhere? The truth could affect the location of a future third temple. The very temple where the Antichrist will profane could then be built.

Second in a series on the true location of the Jewish Temples

There is no greater source to understand the size and scope of Fortress Antonia than Josephus, the first century Roman-Jewish soldier and historian.  He had initially fought against the Romans during the First Jewish–Roman War as head of Jewish forces in Galilee, until surrendering in 67 CE to Roman forces led by Vespasian. Flavius Josephus would fully defect to the Roman side and was granted Roman citizenship. He became an advisor and friend of Vespasian’s son Titus, serving as his translator when Titus led the siege and total destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple.

Fortress Antonia was an expansion of the “Baris” built by John Hyrcanus[1] to replace the citadel which had protected the temple in pre-Babylonian Jerusalem. In The Wars of the Jews, 5.238–5.247 Josephus gives us the most detailed description of Fortress Antonia:

“Now, as to the tower of Antonia, it was situated at the corner of two cloisters of the court of the temple; of that on the west, and that on the north; it was erected upon a rock of fifty cubits in height, and was on a great precipice; it was the work of king Herod, wherein he demonstrated his natural magnanimity. In the first place, the rock itself was covered over with smooth pieces of stone, from its foundation, both for ornament, and that anyone who would either try to get up or to go down it might not be able to hold his feet upon it. Next to this, and before you come to the edifice of the tower itself, there was a wall three cubits high; but within that wall all the space of the tower of Antonia itself was built upon, to the height of forty cubits. The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps; insomuch that, by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace. And as the entire structure resembled that of a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its four corners; whereof the others were but fifty cubits high; whereas that which lay upon the southeast corner was seventy cubits high, that from thence the whole temple might be viewed; but on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both, through which the guard (for there always lay in this tower a Roman legion) went several ways among the cloisters, with their arms, on the Jewish festivals, in order to watch the people, that they might not there attempt to make any innovations; for the temple was a fortress that guarded the city, as was the tower of Antonia a guard to the temple; and in that tower were the guards of those three. There was also a peculiar fortress belonging to the upper city, which was Herod’s palace; but for the hill Bezetha, it was divided from the tower of Antonia, as we have already told you; and as that hill on which the tower of Antonia stood was the highest of these three, so did it adjoin to the new city, and was the only place that hindered the sight of the temple on the north. And this shall suffice at present to have spoken about the city and the walls about it, because I have proposed to myself to make a more accurate description of it elsewhere.[2]

Undoubtedly Antonia must have been about 40 acres in size. From Josephus’ description it would have conformed to the typical Roman camps capable of housing a legion of 5,000-6,000 soldiers. Josephus described it as being “erected upon a rock of fifty cubits in height” on a “great precipice.” It had “all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camps, such that it had all the conveniences of cities and seemed like it was composed of several cities.” With 60-foot walls, four towers (the southeast being 105 feet high), and smooth stones installed on its slopes, it dominated the temple to its south. It was built to be ready to react decisively if the massive crowds at Passover or Jewish dissidents should become unruly. If trouble brewed within the Temple or it’s grounds it could be monitored from the tower on the southeast corner which overlooked the Temple. Roman troops were in Jerusalem to see and to be seen. They maintained order and kept things moving. These troops ensured that no protests erupted, especially during Passover when hundreds of thousands filled the city. It was about this time during which, Josephus wrote, “sedition is most likely to break out.”  If needed Roman soldiers could pour out of Fort Antonia onto two 600-foot bridges, connecting it to the roofs of the temple porticoes, whereupon they could be dispersed around its four-furlong perimeter. If need be, the soldiers could rain their arrows down upon the people in the outer courts or descend via staircases to perform hand-to-hand combat. Antonia would have looked very much like other Roman Fortresses such as the one below, only elevated to look down upon the Temple:


Yet despite these informative descriptions from Josephus, who personally participated in the siege of Titus, the current models of Fort Antonia approved by the mainstream traditionalist scholars and historians are typified by the one illustrated below:

Eleazar's Four Walls
This is a traditional rendering of what we refer to today as the Temple Mount. Note that Fortress Antonia, pictured in the northwest corner, is rendered as being very small, yet Josephus clearly states “there always lay in this tower a Roman legion (5000 men plus support personnel)”. Clearly these massive four walls which were left standing by the Romans, as Eleazar attested, enclosed the camp “of those that hath destroyed it, which still dwells upon its ruins.”

The traditionalist model does not conform to Josephus’s descriptions. For example, in their renderings Fortress Antonia it is not laid out as a camp but does look like a castle. Although Josephus’s account mentions both descriptions, traditional renderings of Antonia do not convey that it is the size of “several cities”. None of the modern renderings exhibit the “magnificence” that Herod’s huge expenditure would suggest. They do not feature slopes which would accommodate slippery tiles to protect against invaders. They do not picture it as being “dominate” in such a way that the Temple could not be seen from the north looking south. They do not separate the temple by a distance of 600 feet from Antonia, and there are no aerial roadways connecting it to the temple. Most significantly, the major problem with the current traditionalist models is how they do not resemble a typical Roman camp in size, shape, or function, whereas what is today referred to as the Temple Mount does. Below is a proper rendering of Antonia in relation to the Temple Mount.

Temple and Antonia
This rendering fully represents the relationship of Fortress Antonia to Herod’s Temple. Note the broad spaces for camps, the elevated southeast corner tower from where the whole temple might be viewed, the two 600-foot bridges connecting Antonia to the temple porticoes and the rock itself which Josephus said was covered over with smooth pieces of stone, from its foundation, both for ornament, and that anyone who would either try to get up or to go down it might not be able to hold his feet upon it.

A Subjugated and Unruly People Longing for a Conquering Messiah

The Old Testament closes a little over four hundred years before Christ (about 425 BC) with the Jewish people being partially restored to their land and living under the dominion of the Persian Empire. The Jewish people had been living in exile in Babylon since about 605 BC. Beginning in 538 BC, small groups of Jews started returning to their homeland. Seven different prophets ministered to God’s people during this time period:  Daniel and Ezekiel ministered to the exiles in Babylon. Upon their return to their homeland Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi ministered to the returnees. It was at the end of this era that we come to the “Intertestamental Period.”  This 400-year period between the close of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament saw a number of significant changes: the people had greatly multiplied and were now dwelling in Judea once again.

During this intertestamental period, God’s people experienced almost continuous foreign subjugation. During the Persian Era (397-336 BC) the Jewish people were allowed to observe their religious tenets without any outside governmental interference. Persia’s attitude was tolerant toward the Jewish remnant in Palestine until internal Jewish rivalry over the politically powerful office of High Priest resulted in a partial destruction of Jerusalem by the Persian governor. Other than that, the Jewish people were pretty much left undisturbed by Persia during this period. Nevertheless, the factional rivalry within the Jewish people and the Persian response to it is a portend of what is to come.

Persia, however, was to fall to the Greeks under Alexander the Great and would rule Judea from 336 to 323 BC. Alexander had defeated the Persian king, Darius III, in three decisive battles that gave him control of the lands of the Persian Empire. The struggle that developed between the Jews and Hellenism’s influence upon their culture and religion was long and bitter. Alexander, however, permitted the Jews to observe their laws and granted them an exemption from taxes during their sabbatical years. Faithful Jews, however, staunchly resisted the strong influence of Hellenism and Alexander’s desire to create a world united by Greek language and thinking.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, the Greek empire was divided into four segments under his four generals: Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Selenus. This period lasted from 323 to 198 BC. Ptolemy Soter, the first of the Ptolemaic dynasty, received Egypt and soon dominated nearby Israel. He dealt severely with the Jews at first, but toward the end of his reign and on into the rule of Ptolemy Philadelphus (his successor), the Jews were treated favorably. During this period Jewish worship became more external than internal, a notion that had a lasting impact upon Judaism. Two distinct religious parties emerged. One was the Hellenized Jews and the other the more Orthodox Jews or “Pious Ones” who later came to be known as the Pharisees. A struggle for power between these two groups resulted in a polarization of the Jews along political, cultural, and religious lines. It was this very same conflict that will bring about dire consequences to the Jewish people by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC.  Despite the internal conflict the Jews prospered until near the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty when conflicts between Egypt and Syria escalated. Israel was again caught in the middle.  When the Syrians defeated Egypt in the Battle of Panion in 198 BC, Judea was annexed to Syria.

Judea was then dominated by the Seleucid empire from 198 to 165 BC. The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty. Under the Seleucid domination the Jews were treated harshly, they were nonetheless allowed to maintain local rule under their High Priest.  All went reasonably well until the Hellenistic party, through the bribing of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian ruler, had him replace the High Priest who was an Orthodox Jew with a Hellenist.  This set off a political conflict that finally brought Antiochus to Jerusalem. Antiochus was so angered, that in 168 BC he set about to destroy every distinctive characteristic of the Jewish faith. He would forbid all sacrifices, he outlawed circumcision, canceled the observance of the Sabbath and the offering of sacrifices, and disallowed the celebration of feast days. In an attempt to wipe out the Jewish culture he sought out and destroyed nearly every copy of the Hebrew Bible. Jews were forced to eat pork and make sacrifices to idols. His final act of sacrilege, and the one that spelled his ultimate ruin, was the desecration of the Most Holy Place by building an altar and offering a sacrifice to the god Zeus. Many Jews died during this period of persecutions which would set the stage for the Maccabean Revolt when the Seleucid army set out to take the campaign to all of Judea.

The Jewish people needed someone to lead them. When Antiochus sent some of his officers to the town of Modin to continue eradicating the Jewish religion, he was met by a local Jewish priest named Mattathias. The Seleucids set up an altar to their heathen god, and ordered Mattathias, as the most influential citizen, whose example would be followed, to sacrifice in accordance with the king’s command. But Mattathias said: “Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, . . . yet will I, and my sons, and my brethren, walk in the covenant of our fathers” (I Maccabees 2:19-20). And when a certain Jew was about to obey the command, Mattathias, who was filled with holy wrath, killed the offender and destroyed the altar, while his sons cut down the king’s officer. Thereupon Mattathias called out: “Whoever is zealous for the Law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.” (I Maccabees 2:27). The Jewish people had their leader. He and his five sons, John, Simon, Judah, Eleazer, and Jonathan, rallied the Jewish population. In 167 BC, the Jewish people rose up, with Mattathias as their leader. Soon after 167 BC, the family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees or the hammer. They recruited the riled up Jewish people on the way and began a guerrilla war and proceeded to take over the northern villages of Judea. They tore down the altars of idols and killed those who worshiped them, even many Hellenistic Jews. Mattathias died in 166 BC but just before death, he left his son Judah in charge of his army.

Antiochus underestimated the severity of the rebellion and the size, strength and determination of the Jewish army. Judah was a wise and aggressive military general. The revolt itself involved many battles, in which the light, quick guerrilla tactics of the Maccabean forces surprised and inflicted heavy losses on Antiochus’ army, eventually leading them to recapture of Jerusalem. After the victory, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and ritually cleansed the Temple, reestablishing traditional Jewish worship there and installing Jonathan Apphus, Judah’s youngest brother, as high priest.

When Judah and his brothers went to the Temple, they saw the destruction and defilement that Antiochus caused upon it and was overwhelmed by grief (I Maccabees 4:36-40). On December 25, 165 BC, after months of work clearing and cleansing, the Temple was finally rededicated to God. Their celebrations continued for eight days and today this is marked by  the celebration of Hanukah.

From the gates of Jerusalem the Maccabeans took the war to Galilee in an effort to reclaim all Jewish territory. In 164 Antiochus Epiphanes died, and his son and successor Antiochus Eupator agreed to peace, allowing the resumption of Jewish practices. This peace did not and war once again broke out. This time Judah sought and received help from Rome to finally throw off Seleucid control. Judas died in about 161 and was succeeded by his brother Jonathan. Finally, under Jonathan’s leadership, peace was made with Alexander Balas, the Seleucid king, in about 153. After Jonathan, his brother Simon ruled over a semi-independent Jewish nation. With the collapse of the Seleucid Empire in 116 BC, the nation of Israel enjoyed full independence until 63 BC when Rome installed a puppet king in Jerusalem.

With the independence of the Jews ending in 63 BC the Jewish hope was directed to a liberating Messiah. Once again a vassal state under a foreign empire. This time Roman rule under a puppet king. Heavy taxes, the continuing Jewish messianic hopes, the longing for freedom and the ever present cultural and religious differences with their new rulers would create conflict, an unresolvable conflict.

The Long Awaited King Arrives on a Donkey – Zechariah 9:9

On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey’s colt, one that had never been ridden before. The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on, and the multitudes came out to welcome Him, laying before Him their cloaks and the branches of palm trees. The people hailed and praised Him as the “King who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the Temple, where He taught the people, healed them, and drove out the money-changers and merchants who had made His Father’s house a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).

Jesus’ purpose in riding into Jerusalem was to make public His claim to be their Messiah and King of Israel in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Matthew says that the King coming on the foal of a donkey was an exact fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus rides into His capital city as a conquering King and is hailed by the people as such, in the manner of the day. The streets of Jerusalem, the royal city, are open to Him, and like a king He ascends to His palace, not a temporal palace but the spiritual palace that is the Temple, because, as He would declare, His is a spiritual kingdom. He receives the worship and praise of the people because only He deserves it. No longer does He tell His disciples to be quiet about Him as Messiah (Matthew 12:16, 16:20) but to shout His praises and worship Him openly. The spreading of cloaks was an act of homage for royalty (see 2 Kings 9:13). Jesus was openly declaring to the people that He was their King and the Messiah they had been waiting for.

Unfortunately, the praise the people lavished on Jesus was not because they recognized Him as their Savior from sin. The people knew and many had witnessed the miracles that He had performed and that many had attested to. They knew He had fed 5,000 with just five barley loaves and two fish. And “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” However, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” They perceived Him as a conquering King Messiah. These people knew of He healed the blind, the lame, the lepers. They knew He healed a man with a withered hand, a deaf mute. They knew about the healing of the centurion’s servant, and many other healings. They knew He had brought back to life Jairus’ daughter, that He had raised the son of a widow of Nain from the coffin, that He had raised Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days. They knew all this. They knew He had command over demons and that Jesus had performed many exorcisms of demoniacs. They knew this because Jesus had went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.

They welcomed Him out of their desire for a messianic deliverer, someone who would lead them in a revolt against Rome. There were many who, though they did not believe in Christ as Savior, nevertheless hoped that perhaps He would be to them a great deliverer from their Roman over lords. How quickly they would turn on Him. Their conquering Messiah entered Jerusalem on a donkey. He did not have an army behind Him only twelve common men. The ones who hailed Him as King with their many hosannas, recognizing Him as the Son of David who came in the name of the Lord would turn on Him. When He failed to meet their expectations, when they realized He would not lead them in a massive revolt against the Roman occupiers, the crowds quickly turned on Him. Within just a few days, their hosannas would change to cries of “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:20-21). Those who hailed Him as a hero would soon reject and abandon Him.

The Romans knew well what to expect of the people of Judea. They knew of their expectation of throwing off the Roman yoke through a conquering King Messiah. They prepared well with Fortress Antonia. They prepared well with the Legions that were on guard against insurrection in Jerusalem, Caesarea and in close by Syria. The Jewish people had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, but they would turn to others. Others that would lead them in a military solution to the Roman problem. Others that would lead them to the destruction of Jerusalem. They would, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, follow Messianic figures such as Simon bar Kokhba who would lead them into total annihilation as a nation. According to Cassius Dio[3], 580,000 Jews perished in the war and many more died of hunger and disease. In addition, many Judean war captives were sold into slavery. The Jewish communities of Judea were devastated to an extent which some scholars describe as a genocide.

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44

[1] A Hasmonean (Maccabeean) leader and Jewish high priest of the 2nd century BCE (born 164 BCE, reigned from 134 BCE until his death in 104 BCE).

[2] Josephus, Flavius – The Wars of the Jews, 5.184–5.247 translated by William Whiston

[3] Cassius Dio – Roman statesman and historian of Greek and Roman origin. He published 80 volumes of history on ancient Rome, beginning with the arrival of Aeneas in Italy.

First in the Series – Jerusalem 70 AD: Not One Stone Left upon Another

Third in the Series – Jerusalem Pilgrims and What They Saw

Fourth in the Series – The Second Temple and an Ever-flowing Spring – Location, Location, Location

Fifth in the Series – The Abomination of Desolation Standing in the Holy Place

Sixth in the Series – Attempts to Rebuild and Current Plans to Rebuild

About Post Author

Leave a Reply

Up ↑