In the beginning….

The Journey from the Nomadic Hebrew Tribe to Judaism 
As retold by the Menzinator

     Note before we begin: We start our journey about the history of the Hebrews/Jews in Jerusalem and Israel. For hundreds of years, ancients considered Jerusalem to be the center of the universe and the center of the world. During the middle ages European maps showed Jerusalem at its center. There, in Jerusalem our journey begins in this chapter, and we will pass through this location many times with many different civilizations this year. We will see why this place is one the most contentious places on earth.
     This past summer, I read a book that helped me understand so much more about this location and next unit and about the Middle East, the clash of religions that exist and has existed and the world that occurs there. The book, Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore  is one of the most heart-wrenching, difficult but enlightening books I have ever read. Page by page, the reader almost cannot believe the events, the history, the biography. Jerusalem, metaphorically is a being, a strong being that refuses to give up emotionally, or physically. It also refuses to die. Time and again, the reader sees this city ravaged by power struggle, religious zealots, empires, and disease. Tens of thousands of beings disappear (die or are killed) from Jerusalem as these struggles move forward, buildings are burned and flattened, and then rebuilt. Still, this city gets back up on its feet and continues forward in time. Jerusalem is the setting for much of the history from this part of the world forward. You will discover why...


     Imagine that you are now in a world that is hostile.There are only a few cities that exist, and you are not in one of

them. Instead, you are on the back of a camel and lost. It is 120 degrees in the shade...if there is any shade. The wind and the sand will seer your skin off your face so every part of your body is covered except for eyes which search for any sign of civilization.  You knew that there were risks when you decided to travel, and you may not survive unless you find help. Suddenly, you see some specs in the distance. You hope it is not a mirage. You hope it is not bandits or packs of wild animals. You have now entered the world of Abraham, and his family.

      We are going to examine the history of the Hebrew people and the beginnings of Judaism and its impact. This is not a religious lesson but a history of how 12 tribes of nomads became a nation and then a religion and now today is once again a nation and how the religion has changed the world.  Everything you are about to read is researched thoroughly (list of citations can be seen at the end of this page). Our purpose here is not to prove what is true or untrue or to teach religion, but to show how religion, any religion, changes and influences history.

     Most of the stories of the Holy Books (or books of religious faith) were oral tradition or stories told from memory from one generation to another for over a thousand years. Some of these stories were written on scrolls, but very few people could read and write The oral tradition that was written down were kept within individual tribes,  At one point, Hebrews became a united kingdom. Then, because of differing beliefs and pushy neighbors, the Hebrews divided into two kingdoms and were defeated by many empires. 

     After the Jews were defeated and carried off to Babylon (around 500 BCE), and then allowed to return 80 years later. Babylonian rulers sent a Jewish scribe, Ezra, to make this oral tradition a written tradition, to combine the books kept by the tribes, and to record the laws and rituals of Judaism. This one act would help unite the Hebrews into what we would call today "Jews", and the group once known as the 12 tribes of Israel would now become the nation of Israel (as it once had done under David and Solomon) and could live peacefully under their overlords, the Babylonians.      

Jewish high priests and scholars gathered together to decide what would be official canon for their religion and their G-d. Now these individual books would be combined into one holy book, the Torah (law) and other writings that became known together as the Hebrew Bible.

     All Hebrew/Jewish tribes would become one, no longer individual tribes,  competing for what was true and what was not, who was the strongest, the best, most loved by G-d, etc. The Torah and the Hebrew Bible, the WORD, would unite them. Among these are the stories of the father of three world faiths, Abraham.


     The story of Abraham according to Jewish scholars is when the Jewish faith begins as well as the Hebrew tribes. Abraham's story is told in three holy books, the Jewish Torah, the Christian Bible and the Muslim Qur'an. The main THEME OF THIS STORY explains how a man named Abram discovers a god, one unknown in his world,  a god who cares about individuals, not just groups. This g-d seems to do something totally foreign to Abram's world. This being, that does not seem to abide in the eternal heavens as other gods did, but was part of daily life, had chosen a powerful tribal chief named Abram. This is also a story of sibling rivalry that echoes onto today's news. Many of these stories have an amazing familiar tone. You, the reader, will see.

  Abraham's story is set in a time of oral tradition when little was read or written except the accounts of merchants.  

    Abram according to holy books was a man through his faith in one G-d (monotheism), changed the world and religious views of his world and of the world to come. Abram's name is later changed by this deity to Abraham which means father of all men when Abraham agrees to make a holy covenant (or promise) with this G-d. His faith in this G-d helped transform the world into what we know today. More than 4 billion people today call him "father" or "Patriarch";

 2 billion are Christians, close to 2 billion Muslim, and 15+ million are Jews.

        Abraham was originally a city dweller...the city of Ur (thought to be in Baghdad 

Iraq), and he was a Sumerian (in modern day Iraq). Abraham, according to the holy 

books, lived sometime between 2100 BCE and 1500 BCE. His patron god of the city Ur 

was the Sumerian god of the moon. The people of Ur watched the priestesses 

perform ritual duties to keep this god happy. This moon god, ancients felt, was 

eternal. Although the moon "died" once a lunar month, it would always come back in the untouchable sky, born again,

mighty in its brilliance. So once a month, the priestesses would perform their rituals, often sacrificing a young male child 

as part of their duty to ensure the richness of the land, and the pleasure of the gods. This is the world that Abraham 

grew up in, filled with ritual and sacrifice to keep the gods happy.

        Ur, the major commercial center was a city of about 12,000 people, many of its residents' traders and merchants. 

Tribes or extended families populated the city and meant that there was only one head of the family who had the power 

of life and death over all that lived under him. Abraham until his later years lived in his father's house in a city.

    Like the Middle East today, Abraham's world was also a world of constant warfare. There could be a conflict for 

generations over one water well or some act between tribesmen to avenge (like gang warfare) some wrong or violation of 

honor.  Abraham also lived in a civilization that prayed to many gods and demons and sometimes sacrificed a child to 

please the gods. Anyone who was different was considered dangerous to the civilization because his or her actions might 

anger the gods.

    According to the Jewish holy book, possibly looking for peace, and more land for his growing herds,  "Terah took Abram (Abraham) his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law...and  he set out with them from Ur toward the land of Canaan." (Genesis 11:31). The family moved to Haran in Syria. This town was also prosperous and worshipers of the moon god.  It is here that the book of Genesis said that this "G-d" spoke to Abram. This voice came from the AIR (most powerful Sumerian god was the AIR-male in gender), and Abram at first did not know what to think. Was this a Sumerian god? Could it be one of the many gods and the gods' revenge (justice) was against the entire community, not just the person? When someone did something different than traditional, it was considered chaoticThe gods' role was to maintain order, to rid the world of chaos. This insured that the city and the tribal lords could protect those under them.  Justice to tribal societies is revenge and restoration of order.  (This reminds me of the ceremonial celebrations of the Hunger Games).

     The Torah says that Abram heard the words that established his relationship with a monotheistic (one god) G-d. "And the Lord said to Abram (Abraham), 

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 
 2 “I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) 

     This mysterious being had talked DIRECTLY to Abraham, not through a priest. Abram or Abraham heard this message plainly and it seemed to come from nowhere. This being was making a bargain (covenant) as though he was a tribal leader as he later became. 

   This message for Abraham was shocking for the gods that Abraham had known had faces and bodies as represented by the statues that his father had crafted. These religious beings had no conscience or morals tied to them and the gods only spoke to priests. If they asked for a blood sacrifice, or for one to do as they were told, as strange as it sounds, then that demand was to be obeyed. This G-d, however, had spoken directly to Abraham and promised Abraham blessings if he obeyed. Abraham agreed to do as this G-d had told him to do. Abraham was to leave his father's land and go to a place that G-d would show him. In other words, this G-d had struck a bargain, a very human thing to do. When one makes an agreement so that both sides have agreed, this is known as a covenant. 

     Abraham, when he heard this voice and made this covenant, was not a young man. And he would follow this voice wherever it might lead him. This G-d also promised justice to those that opposed Abraham. And Abraham followed the commands of this being. Please keep in mind that the story is from holy books, books of faith.

      Abraham called this god YHWH or "He who has no face and name". Ancients believed that words and names were powerful. If you called a god's name, they were obligated to listen. Abraham did not want to offend this being by calling out his name. This "Being” had promised Abraham good fortune if Abraham listened and obeyed without question.
     So Abraham (Abram) told his wife that they were moving. Where were they moving? Abraham did not know. Civilization was no longer part of the future. And two of the most powerful words were written about Abraham's determination and faith in this mysterious being; "Abraham went". 

     Sarai (later known as Sarah which means princess) truly must have loved her husband. She was beautiful and had never been blessed with children. Her husband made unreal demands (in her worldview and ours). To a Sumerian, family, extended family and tribe were everything. She would leave her extended family and th
e safety of civilization. She really

must have loved her husband because when Abraham came to her and told her that he had heard a voice of a deity (god) that had nobody or face or name and that they were to no longer going to honor the gods they had known all their lives, she obeyed. And when he told her that they were going to a land that YHWH had promised called the Promised Land where they would prosper, she directed the servants and her nephew's family how and what to pack. If Sarai asked her husband if she would ever see her extended family again, and the answer was no, she still packed.  And Abraham and his extended family and servants and slaves and flocks left Haran. At this point, Abraham had 318 adult male slaves so this must be like moving an entire village. They were headed to the Promised Land where ever that was. 

They arrived in the land of Canaan (now Israel and part of Lebanon), and here Abraham and his family pitched tents. Here the tribe became nomads. Under YHVH's guidance, Abraham's herds grew. Abraham became a rich man. But what happened to his herds never happened to his family. 

     Sarah did what wives often did in her day when the woman could not have a child. She suggested that her husband sleep with her slave. If her slave became pregnant and had a son, then her husband would have an heir. Sarah would still be the matriarch (mother).  All this happened up to a point.

    Sarah’s Egyptian slave, Hagar, became pregnant with Abraham’s child. And Sarah became jealous of the slave’s growing belly and began to treat her rough. Hagar (the slave), frightened of her mistress, fled. According to the Holy Books, Hagar had a dream in which an angel told her to return, for YHWH had special plans for Hagar’s baby. She was to have a son, Ishmael who means wanderer, and he was to be the father of many decedents (Arabs and Muslims).   
    So Hagar returned, and when she was ready to deliver her baby, she did so away from her mistress. Sarai was angry, hurt, and jealous.

    Soon after, Abraham saw three strangers traveling near his camp. He invited them to eat, drink, and rest. The men told Abraham that YHWH had not forgotten His promise and would soon give Sarai (Sarah) a son. Hiding behind a tent flap, she began to laugh. She was too old to have a child. Her body was wrinkled and thin. She had believed everything else her husband had told her but this was too much. When she realized how loud her laughter had become, she held her mouth. The tent flap flew back. The strangers stood in front of her, and asked her why she laughed? YHWH could make anything possible. She would have a son, Isaac which means laughing, and he too would have many descendants, as many as the stars. And so it happened. Sarah in her old age gave birth to Isaac. 

    Sarah, however, was still angry with her slave, Hagar, and did not want Ishmael to inherit his father’s wealth. In ancient times, the oldest son inherited everything and became the head of the family. So Sarah asked her husband to send Hagar and Ishmael away. According to the Torah, this is what Abraham did. The Qur'an, Muslim holy book, tells of times that Abraham and Ishmael met to build shrines or dig wells, but the Torah does not. The Torah does say, however, that Hagar and Ishmael lived in G-d's protection. 

   This is where the story takes another strange twist. Very strange indeed. Sarah had tried for many years to have a child and then this happens. 

    A special note to this part of the story and to our story today: the Jews and Hebrews believed that they are descendants of Isaac. The Muslims and Arabs believe they are descendants of Ishmael. Both are sons of Abraham. At one point in this story, Abraham is asked by G-d, to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to G-d. Remember that Abraham is a Sumerian first and quite often, Sumerian priests sacrificed a family's child to insure that well being of the entire family. Sumerians believed that fate and that stars ruled and predicted their lives. Abraham had been given a choice; to serve this G-d, or to follow fate and the stars. According to the Torah (Jewish holy book), the son Abraham took to sacrifice was Isaac. According to the Qur'an (Muslim), it was Ishmael. G-d stopped Abraham in the story and said that he knew Abraham loved G-d, a symbolic act that meant that Abraham had been given choices and that this was not a Sumerian god. Abraham said that he would follow this command and this G-d.  The story then says that the deity gave all the land that he could see would belong to Abraham and his descendants and that they would number as many as the stars. The Jews believe that all the promises made to Abraham and his descendants were made to Isaac. The Muslims believe the same thing about Ishmael. So when YHWH promises to give Canaan (Israel, Palestine, Lebanon)  to Abraham and his descendants, what does this mean?  Many Jews believe that this promise was made only to them, and many Muslims believe the same thing. This is the land of Israel and Palestine, and Lebanon today and these two religions are still arguing.

    Over the past 60 years, this sliver of land has been in the news more than ever. Israel's large Jewish population 

controls the country of Israel and pushed many of the Palestinian (Muslim) occupants into other areas. These issues have

 brought on warfare and slaughter, tears and fear. Many outside countries and religious groups have taken sides and 

joined the fight. One of the places that both sides want control of Jerusalem. Three religions claim this city to be 

theirs. A gold-domed mosque, supposedly built over the rock that Abraham almost sacrificed his son is pictured 

below called the Dome of the Rock. It was also the site of mass slaughter in 1096  AD of occupants of Jerusalem by 

Crusaders. On one of the mosque's sides are the one remaining wall of the Jerusalem Herod temple. It is called today 

"the Wailing Wall" or Western Wall. This is one of the holiest places in all of Judaism. This is the only remaining part 

of the Jewish temple left after the Romans crushed and killed many of the Jews of Jerusalem in 138 AD, and dispersed 

the survivors all over the Roman world (known as the Diaspora). The Church of the Holy Sepulcher sits nearby, the place 

where Jesus was supposedly buried. Do you see how history plays a part in the conflicts of today? What people FAIL TO 

SEE, was that in the end, Isaac and Ishmael came together IN PEACE to bury their father. 

 In the beginning….

The Journey from the Nomadic Hebrew Tribe to Judaism PART 2As retold by the Menzinator

 STORY ONE:       

    Both Sarah and Abraham died at an old age. Abraham's sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried Abraham in a cave in Hebron bought for that purpose. This is the first real estate that we know of in written history. Isaac took the wife that his father had arranged for him, Rebecca.

     Isaac's and Rebecca had twin boys Esau and Jacob. Esau, the oldest, was born screaming and hollering. Jacob, the youngest, was born gentle and cooing and grabbing at his brother's heel. 

     The boys grew up different as night and day. Esau was a man's man, rough, loud, an outdoorsman. He preferred hunting to anything else, and his father loved hearing his adventures. Jacob was smaller, preferred to hang around the tents, and tend the smaller animals. In Jacob's world, this never ever happened. Men rarely mixed with women and vice versa. Jacob was his mother's favorite, and Esau was dad's favorite.

     So when Isaac was old, he became blind and could not hear very well.  Rebecca heard him tell Esau to go and kill a deer and make his favorite stew. Then Isaac would bless him and make him head of the family. Rebecca told Jacob to kill a goat, and she would cook it to taste like the stew. She dressed Jacob in the goat skins to smell and feel like hairy Esau. Just as the blessing was given, Esau entered. Furious, he wanted to kill his brother. In the night, Rebecca sent Jacob to her brother Laban's house (miles away) for his own safety. The next part of the story is one of deception and intrigue. Read on.... 

    Jacob came to Laban's house with no money. He offered to work hard for his uncle Laban if he took him in. Life is full of ironies, however. Laban had four daughters. The oldest was plain, and the second quite beautiful. The second daughter Rachel fell in love with Jacob, and he with her. So Jacob went to his uncle with nothing to pay for a bride, and Laban agreed seven years work was a fair bride price. The catch was that Laban never said which daughter.
    At the end of seven years, the veiled bride was led into the dark wedding tent. After a night of lovemaking,  morning light filtered in the tent. Jacob discovered that his new wife was not the love of his life, Rachel, but her older sister, Leah. Jacob was furious. Laban explained that in their land, it was the custom to marry the older sister first, and the
n the man could marry the younger sister. So with an agreement to work 7 more years, Jacob married the younger sister, and also took on two more wives, Bilhah and Zilphah. Over the years, Jacob's wives bore him 12 sons and one daughter. Rachel, his beloved had one son Joseph and then died in childbirth in the second, Benjamin.

    According to the story from the holy book, after years of working for and being cheated by Laban, his uncle, and father-in-law, Jacob knew he had to go back home. He knew he must make peace and ask forgiveness from his brother. He hoped to see his father and mother if they were still alive. The night before they were to meet, Jacob slept alone. He had a strange dream. He wrestled with an angel and would not let the angel go until the angel blessed him. So the angel finally agreed, and said that Jacob's name would now be changed to ISRAEL, which means "for you have seen God and lived." And Esau, in an amazing act of forgiveness, welcomed his brother and his family home. 

        Jacob had 12 sons by his four wives who became the 12 tribes of Israel. (WATCH for the number 12- there is something special about it to the ancients). One of the sons was Joseph, Rachel's oldest son. He was hated by his brothers because Jacob made no secret that the boy was his favorite. His brothers sold him into slavery to Egypt. Later in the story, Joseph works his way into power in Egypt and saves and forgives his brothers. He brings them to Egypt when a drought strikes and there the tribes grow. This group gets a nickname "habarai" which means goat herder. This is not a complimentary name. The translation of this word is HEBREW. Eventually, according to the holy books, the Hebrews become slaves to the Egyptians. 

        After years in Egypt, G-d finally decided to bring them to the Promised Land. Moses is the chosen leader during this time. According to the Holy Books, G-d helps the people to leave Egypt. This part of their history is known as EXODUS. During this time, the group gets a set of laws from G-d that defines behavior. The ten major laws are called THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.


YouTube Video





     Palestine, Judea, or what we would call Israel, Syria, and Lebanon was conquered by the Roman Empire in about 100 BCE. This area was the crossroads of the trade routes of the known world. During this time, the Roman conquerors said that conquered lands could keep their government (with a Roman military governor) and religion as long as they did several things. They were to obey Roman laws, respect the troops, pay taxes, and give a salute and offering to the existing Roman emperor before any official meeting or business deal (somewhat like the Heil Hitler, that was demanded to salute the ruler of the German Reich). Depending on the ruler of the time in Rome, this was somewhat strictly enforced and anyone or groups who refused were considered traitors.  The penalty for any non-Roman for any of these offenses was one of two things; the offender and their family were either sold into slavery or crucified. The Jews for a while were given an exemption from this rule. Soon, however, things changed.


   The longer the Romans occupied Israel, and the holy city of Jerusalem, the more Jews began to lose their Jewish ways. Roman influence was everywhere. Temple leaders and priests also drew power by becoming allies with Roman officials. Herod the Great (a Jewish king) found power and support from local Jews by rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Jews once again felt that they were empowered with their temple and G-d in their midst. Problems with the Jewish population really began when one Roman emperor, Caligula, tried to have a statue of himself raised in the Jerusalem temple. This was unforgivable to most Jews. Then, there were Roman towns that arose in Israel such as Caesarea, the Roman governor's capital filled with temples to Roman gods built only 30 miles from Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. What Jews viewed as immoral behavior by the Greeks and Romans set the scene for revolution. They felt their religion and their lives slipping away.


   There were rumors of G-d’s justice and revenge on these outsiders. Many unhappy Jews viewed this time as Apocalypse, or the end of the world as humans knew it  (much like Noah and the Great Flood). All that would be left were the Just; in other words, the Jews. There was talk among this conquered people of a “Christos”, the Greek word of Savior (Greek in those days was the universal language of business much as English is today). They watched for signs that the End of the World would be near and G-d would save them and destroy the Romans. In many Jewish communities, a group of zealots (or someone who would die for their religious cause) named Sicarii used knives under their cloaks to slay any Roman or anyone who cooperated with the Roman world. This successful campaign against the "non-believers or pagans" empowered the rebels.


    When 90% of Rome burned in 64 AD, many Jews took this as a sign that G-d wanted to change to happen and the Jewish revolution began by 66 AD. The Roman troops surrounded the walls of Jerusalem and held it under siege. This lasted until 70 AD. By then, thousands of Jews were dead, many by starvation, disease, and fighting each other for power. Finally, all but a small group of Jews surrendered.  The Romans killed many and destroyed much of the city. The only part of the temple left standing was one wall, today called the WAILING WALL or the Western Wall of the temple. This was to remind the Jews what would happen if they rebelled, and still stands today as one of the holiest sites in all of Judaism.


    One of the battles outside of Jerusalem was in Megiddo, The hill town was once important as part of trade routes and was on one of the routes to Jerusalem. If the Romans easily conquered this, they may easily conquer Jerusalem. The Greek term “ar” meant over, so if the Romans slaughtered the citizens of Megiddo, then Jerusalem would be next. The word Armageddon was born. In other words, if one could stop the danger or enemy, then all would be saved, and if not, all would be destroyed.  Of course, the Romans crushed Megiddo.


Defeating the Jews in Jerusalem

     In the year 66 AD the Jews of Judea rebelled against their Roman masters. In response, Emperor Nero dispatched an army under the generalship of Vespasian to restore order. By the year 68, resistance in the northern part of the province had been eradicated and the Romans turned their full attention to the subjugation of Jerusalem. That same year, Emperor Nero died by his own hand, creating a power vacuum in Rome. In the resultant chaos, Vespasian was declared Emperor and returned to the Imperial City. It fell to his son, Titus, to lead the remaining army in the assault on Jerusalem.

The Roman legions surrounded the city and began to slowly squeeze the life out of the Jewish stronghold. By the year 70, the attackers had breached Jerusalem's outer walls and began a systematic ransacking of the city. The assault culminated in the burning and destruction of the Temple that served as the center of Judaism.

In victory, the Romans slaughtered thousands. Of those sparred from death: thousands more were enslaved and sent to toil in the mines of Egypt, others were dispersed to arenas throughout the Empire to be butchered for the amusement of the public. The Temple's sacred relics were taken to Rome where they were displayed in celebration of the victory.

The rebellion sputtered on for another three years and was finally extinguished in 73 AD with the fall of the various pockets of resistance including the stronghold at Masada.

"...the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy."

Our only first-hand account of the Roman assault on the Temple comes from the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius. Josephus was a former leader of the Jewish Revolt who had surrendered to the Romans and had won favor from Vespasian. In gratitude, Josephus took on Vespasian's family name - Flavius - as his own. We join his account as the Romans fight their way into the inner sanctum of the Temple:

"...the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again, and a clash followed between the guards of the sanctuary and the troops who were putting out the fire inside the inner court; the latter routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself. Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier's back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.

...No exhortation or threat could now restrain the impetuosity of the legions; for passion was in supreme command. Crowded together around the entrances, many were trampled down by their companions; others, stumbling on the smoldering and smoked-filled ruins of the porticoes, died as miserably as the defeated. As they drew closer to the Temple, they pretended not even to hear Caesar's orders, but urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands. The rebels were powerless to help; carnage and flight spread throughout.

Most of the slain were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, and they were butchered where they were caught. The heap of corpses mounted higher and higher about the altar; a stream of blood flowed down the Temple's steps, and the bodies of those slain at the top slipped to the bottom.

When Caesar failed to restrain the fury of his frenzied soldiers, and the fire could not be checked, he entered the building with his generals and looked at the holy place of the sanctuary and all its furnishings, which exceeded by far the accounts current in foreign lands and fully justified their splendid repute in our own.

As the flames had not yet penetrated to the inner sanctum but were consuming the chambers that surrounded the sanctuary, Titus assumed correctly that there was still time to save the structure; he ran out and by personal appeals he endeavored to persuade his men to put out the fire, instructing Liberalius, a centurion of his bodyguard of lancers, to club any of the men who disobeyed his orders. But their respect for Caesar and their fear of the centurion's staff who was trying to check them were overpowered by their rage, their detestation of the Jews, and an utterly uncontrolled lust for battle.

Most of them were spurred on, moreover, by the expectation of loot, convinced that the interior was full of money and dazzled by observing that everything around them was made of gold. But they were forestalled by one of those who had entered into the building, and who, when Caesar dashed out to restrain the troops, pushed a firebrand, in the darkness, into the hinges of the gate Then, when the flames suddenly shot up from the interior, Caesar and his generals withdrew, and no one was left to prevent those outside from kindling the blaze. Thus, in defiance of Caesar's wishes, the Temple was set on fire.

While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.

Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise - nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.

There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail. Peraea and the surrounding hills, added their echoes to the deafening din. But more horrifying than the din were the sufferings.

The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives."

   Josephus' account appears in: Cornfield, Gaalya ed., Josephus, The Jewish War (1982); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome vol. V (1883).

How To Cite This Article:
"The Romans Destroy the Temple at Jerusalem, 70 AD," EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2005).


A celebration of conquering the Jews

In the year 70 AD Rome destroyed the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem and crushed the revolt of the Jews in Palestine that had begun in 66. The residents of Jerusalem who survived the onslaught were scattered throughout Rome's Empire.

Although the conflict lingered for another three years, the victory at Jerusalem in 70 was significant enough to warrant a celebratory triumph in Rome the following year. The festivities would also help solidify the reign of Vespasian, Rome’s new Emperor. Vespasian had commanded the Roman campaign against the Jews until the death of Nero in 68. In the resulting chaos, Vespasian passed his command to his son Titus and returned to Rome where he was declared Emperor late in the year 69.

The triumph was a gala affair. Presided over by Vespasian and Titus, it featured piles of booty, including gold relics, were taken from the destroyed Jewish Temple, paraded through the streets. Floats depicting key engagements of the war enthralled the cheering crowd. Thousands of hapless prisoners were displayed. The highlight of the festival was the parading of the leader of the Jewish resistance in chains as he was led to his death.

". . . the news was brought of the death of the enemy leader."

The following account of Vespasian’s triumph in Rome is provided to us by the Jewish historian, Josephus who was present at the festivities. His description not only provides insight into this victory celebration but also of the nature of other triumphs staged after a Roman victory. We join his story in the early morning hours of the day of the festivities:

"During the hours of darkness the whole military force had been led out in companies and battalions by its officers and had been drawn up - not, as usual, near the gates of the palaces on the Palatine, but near the temple of Isis. For Titus and Vespasian had spent the night there, and now, as dawn began to break, they emerged, crowned in laurel wreaths and wearing the time-honored purple clothes, and walked to the Octavian colonnade. There the Senate, the magistrates and those of Equestrian status were waiting for their arrival.

A tribunal had been erected in front of the colonnade, with ivory chairs placed on it for them. As they walked forward to take their seats, all the soldiers raised an immediate cheer, paying abundant testimony to their valor, while Titus and Vespasian sat unarmed, dressed in silk garments and wearing their laurel wreaths. Vespasian acknowledged their acclaim, and, although they were keen to continue cheering, made a sign for silence. As all fell completely quiet, he rose, and, covering most of his head with a veil, made the traditional prayers. Titus followed him in doing likewise. . . Afterwards, donning the triumphal robes and sacrificing to the gods stationed at the gate, they sent the procession on its way through the theatres to give the crowds a better view.

It is impossible to do justice in the description of the number of things to be seen and to the magnificence of everything that met the eye, whether in skilled craftsmanship, staggering richness or natural rarity. For almost all the remarkable and valuable objects which have ever been collected, piece by piece, by prosperous people, were on that day massed together, affording a clear demonstration of the might of the Roman Empire. The quantities of silver, gold and ivory, worked into every conceivable form, were not like those usually carried in a triumph, but resembled, as it were, a running river of wealth. Purple cloth of extreme rarity was carried along, some of it fashioned by Babylonian skill into accurate pictorial representations. Translucent gems, embedded in diadems or other objects, were borne in such profusion as to dispel any idea that they were rare. . . In charge of each part of the procession was a number of men in purple and gold costumes, while those selected for the triumph itself wore choice clothes of astonishing richness. Even the prisoners were worth seeing - no disordered mob, but the variety and beauty of their clothes diverted the eye from the disfigurement of their injuries.

The greatest amazement was caused by the floats. Their size gave grounds for alarm about their stability, for many were three or four stories high, and in the richness of their manufacture they provided an astonishing and pleasurable sight. Many were covered in cloth of gold and worked gold or ivory was fixed on all of them. The war was divided into various aspects and represented in many tableaux which gave a good indication of its character. Here was a fertile land being ravaged, here whole detachments of the enemy being slaughtered, others -in flight and others being led off into captivity. Here were walls of colossal size being pounded down by siege-engines, here strongpoints being captured, and here well-defended fortifications overwhelmed. On one float the army could be seen pouring inside the walls, on another was a place running with blood. Others showed defenseless men raising their hands in entreaty, firebrands being hurled at temples or buildings falling on their owners. On yet others were depicted rivers, which, after the destruction and desolation, flowed no longer through tilled fields providing water for men and cattle, but through a land on fire from end to end. It was to such miseries that the Jews doomed themselves by the war. . . Standing on his individual float was the commander of each of the captured cities showing the way he had been taken prisoner. . .

Spoil in abundance was carried past. None of it compared with that taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, a golden table many stones in weight and a golden lampstand, similarly made, which was quite unlike any object in daily use. A centre shaft rose from a base, and from the shaft thin branches or arms extended, in a pattern very like that of tridents, each wrought at its end into a lamp. There were seven of these lamps, thus emphasizing the honour paid by the Jews to the number seven. A tablet of the Jewish Law was carried last of all the spoil. After it came a large group carrying statues of victory, all of them made of ivory and gold. The procession was completed by Vespasian, and, behind him, Titus. Domitian rode on horseback wearing a beautiful uniform and on a mount that was wonderfully well worth seeing.

The procession ended up at the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, where the generals got down. They still had to wait for the traditional moment when the news was brought of the death of the enemy leader. In this case, he was Simon, son of Giovas, who had passed in procession with the captives and had been dragged under the lash, with his head in a noose, to a spot near the Forum. That is the traditional place at Rome for the execution of those condemned to death for war crimes. When his end was announced and a general cheer had arisen, they started the sacrifices, and after completing them with the customary prayers, they retired to the palace. . .

For on that day the city of Rome made a holiday for their victory in the war against the Jews, for the end of civil disorder, and for the rising expectations of peace and prosperity."

   This eyewitness account appears in: Workman, B. K., They Saw it Happen in Classical Times (1965);

How To Cite This Article:
"Rome Celebrates the Vanquishing of the Jews, 70" EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2008).

If you would like to read a little about Abraham, here is a section from Google Books.

Works Cited

ABC's of the Bible: Intriguing Questions and Answers about the Greatest Book Ever Written. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's 

Digest Association, 1991. Print.

Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: the 4000-year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1993. 


Armstrong, Karen. The Bible a Biography. Waterville, Me.: Thorndike, 2008. Print.

The Bible through the Ages. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1996. Print.

Cahill, Thomas. Desire of the Everlasting Hills: the World before and after Jesus. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1999. Print.

Cahill, Thomas. The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1998. Print.

Category, By. About Judaism. Web. 03 Nov. 2010. <http://judaism.about.com/>.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much about the Bible: Everything You Need to Know about the Good Book but Never Learned

New York: Eagle Brook, 1998. Print.

Feiler, Bruce S. Abraham: a Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths. New York: W. Morrow, 2002. Print.

Feiler, Bruce S. Walking the Bible: a Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses. New York: Morrow, 2001. Print.

"Judaism - ReligionFacts." Religion, World Religions, Comparative Religion - Just the Facts on the World's Religions. Web. 

03 Nov. 2010. <http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/index.htm>.

Judaism 101. Web. 03 Nov. 2010. <http://www.jewfaq.org/>.

Keene, Michael. Judaism. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac Library, 2006. Print.

Smith, Huston. World's Religions. New York: Harper Collins, 1998. Print.


Jan Menzie,
Dec 28, 2017, 6:35 PM
Jan Menzie,
Dec 28, 2017, 6:34 PM
Jan Menzie,
Dec 28, 2017, 6:35 PM