Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

The Fall of Jerusalem.

Titus built new fortifications and this time the attempt to destroy them was not successful. But no sooner had the last city wall fallen under the catapults shot from the Roman battering rams than a second wall appeared behind it, built by the foresight of John of Gischala. After many attempts this wall was scaled. The Romans now reached the Temple walls and took the Antonia tower, which they immediately destroyed.

During all this time the daily sacrifices were continued in the Temple. In the presence of the grim monsters, war and starvation, this religious obligation was not forgotten. A proposition of surrender was made at this dire hour, but the besieged would not yield. For Titus chose an unfortunate ambassador—Josephus. He was received with a storm of arrows, for he was regarded by the warriors in Jerusalem as a traitor.

Now, within the narrower compass of the Temple site, the siege was maintained, though it was but the beginning of the end. First, ramparts were erected by Titus against its outer walls; but these walls were so strong that he could only gain admittance by burning down the gates. Terrifically did the Jewish soldiers, wasted by famine, contest every inch of the ground, giving to the Romans many a repulse. But overwhelming numbers told. Titus had decided to save the Temple, but his vandal soldiers set it on fire. The attempts of Titus to quench it were in vain. The beautiful structure of marble and gold—monument of Herod's pride—was reduced to ashes. While it was burning the Romans began an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children.

John of Gischala and Simon ben Giora with a small band, now fell back to the last refuge, the upper city. Their request for liberty on condition of surrender was refused. The lower city was now burnt and new ramparts built against the last stronghold. Yet it took some weeks before entrance was finally forced, and the Romans continued their savage work of burning and massacre.

The city was razed to the ground—a few gates of Herod's palace and a piece of wall were alone left standing. The survivors were sent to labor in unwholesome mines to gather wealth for their despoilers. Some were reserved for Roman sport in the amphitheatre. John, discovered in a subterranean vault and begging like a craven for mercy, was imprisoned for life. Simon ben Giora graced the Roman triumph.

Thus fell the city of Jerusalem—the religious capital of the world—in the year 70 C. E., on the same date it is said—the 9th of Ab—on which it had fallen nearly seven hundred years earlier under the attacks of the Babylonians. So the Fast of Ab commemorates the double tragedy.

Masada, the Last Fortress.

The final work of conquest and the barbaric rejoicings, consisting of forced gladiatorial combats between Jewish prisoners, together with games and triumphs, continued some two years longer. There were still three outlying strongholds to be conquered—Herodium, Macharus, on the other side of the Dead Sea, and Masada, far to the south. The first two soon fell, but Masada offered a stubborn resistance which its natural position favored. Under Eleazar ben Jair and some Sicarii the dauntless bravery of Jerusalem and Jotapata was repeated. They determined not to die by the swords of the Romans, so when the soldiers entered they found the little band all slain by their own hands.

On the site of the old Temple there was subsequently built another, dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus, and, with a refinement of cruelty, the Jews throughout the Roman dominions had to pay toward its maintenance the taxes they had hitherto paid to the support of their own beloved sanctuary. So ended the Israelitish nation that under varied fortunes had continued unbroken, except during the Babylonian captivity, since the days of Saul, i.e., for over a thousand years.

Judea remained a separate Roman province, but was no longer a home for the people whose possession it once was. So completely was it levelled to the ground that there was nothing left to make those who came there believe it had once been inhabited. Rebuilt at a latter day, even the name was changed to Aelia Capitolina. But great names cannot so easily be erased by the ruthless hand of man.

The Remnant Again.

What was now to become of the remaining Jews? What was their status in the world? Nation, temple, independence were gone. Gone too were their arms, their means, their nobility, and all political power. Would it not seem that this must be the end, that their name and identity must be ultimately merged with their surroundings? Such had been the fate of other nations as completely conquered—Ammon, Moab, Assyria, Phoenicia. But Israel was made of different stuff. Its epitaph was not yet to be written.


In the history of Rome, the conquest of Judea occupies a small place. It was only a little province in the East! But Greece, which it had also conquered, was insignificant in size. Still Hellas and Israel were the greatest intellectual and spiritual powers in the world. Rome itself received its education from the one and its religion from the other.