Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies
Bar-Ilan University Ramat-Gan, Israel

Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City

Internet Educational Activities <>
March 1997
Yisrael Shalem     6/12

From Pompey to the Destruction of the Second Temple
(63 B.C.E.-70 C.E.)
From Pompey to Herod.

After Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E., the Roman Empire underwent a period of 38 years of unrest to which the Jews contributed a share. Numerous times they rebelled in the hope of regaining their independence and religious freedom. Aristobulus II (son of Queen Shlom-Zion) and his family were held hostage in Rome to guarantee the good conduct of the rulers of Judea, but his son Alexander managed to escape. He made his way to Jerusalem and in 57 B.C.E. began to rebuild the city walls that Pompey had torn down. In a battle near Jerusalem Mark Anthony defeated him. Then Aristobulus and his other son, Antigonus, escaped, raised an army against Rome, and were also defeated. Subsequently a revolt led by a leading Jerusalem family was quelled, as were several insurrections in the Galilee. Antigonus then allied himself with the Parthians (from what is today Iran), Rome's enemy to the east, and in 40 B.C.E. attacked and seized most of Jerusalem. Crowds of pilgrims in town for the Shavuot festival enthusiastically joined his forces. His uncle and foe Hyrcanus II, along with Herod and the Roman garrison, were forced to flee to the Hasmonean fortress in the upper city (in today's Jewish Quarter). When his Parthian allies arrived they and Antigonus besieged the fortress. Hyrcanus surrendered and his ear was cut off, rendering him permanently ritually unfit for the high priesthood.. Herod escaped and fled by night to Massada.

For the next three years Antigonus, the last Hasmonean king, reigned in Jerusalem while Herod continued on to Rome. There Octavian (Augustus) and Mark Anthony proclaimed him king of Jerusalem, betting that he would reconquer Judea. When he returned to Israel at the head of a Roman army, his first two attempts to take Jerusalem failed. Finally, after a siege of several weeks, Herod conquered the Temple Mount. Antigonus was executed, many Jews were slaughtered and Herod established himself as king of Jerusalem. He ruled over large parts of what is today Israel, but remained dependent upon Rome.

Jerusalem reached the height of her glory during Herod's reign (37-4 B.C.E.) and remained a beautiful city until the Temple's destruction in 70 C.E. At its peak the city (population 50,000) expanded to the north beyond the present city walls. Herod built magnificent palaces and cities throughout the country at such sites as Massada, Caesarea, and Herodion.

Herod's Temple. After displaying his architectural skill during 18 years of rule Herod called a public meeting in Jerusalem and announced, to the astonishment of his subjects, his intention to make the enhancement of the Temple his crowning accomplishment. Many feared that the project was too grandiose, that he would never complete it, and the Temple would be left half-finished. But Herod was sure that this undertaking would make him famous forever, and pursued the project vigorously (Josephus, Antiquities 15, 380).

His first and perhaps most formidable task was to extend the mountain to accommodate the vast number of pilgrims, estimated at up to 100,000, that visited the Temple on the three annual festivals. It took some 10,000 trained builders with 1,000 wagons eight years to build retaining walls, fill in and level the area of the Temple Mount. Some of the support walls on the southwestern side are 50 meters high. The famous Western Wall was not part of the Temple sanctuary, but only one of the Temple Mount's retaining walls.

The stones used in these walls were dressed in the distinctive Herodian style: the face of the stone was smoothed, then bordered on all four sides with a margin. (The less costly Hasmonean-style stones were left rough in the middle.) These ashlars were usually 1.2 meters high, and varied in length from 1.5 to 12 meters. One cornerstone weighs 100 tons. Many of the stones were "custom quarried" for use at specific points in the building. They were so heavy that no mortar was needed to keep them in place. Mortar manufacture required large quantities of lime, produced by burning limestone. This would have consumed a lot of firewood; Herod's building style preserved the forests around Jerusalem.

Along the southern entrance to the Temple Mount Herod executed another grandiose architectural feat: the royal basilica, a massive building of 10,000 square meters (200 m. x 50 m.). The basilica, like all Herod's buildings, was in the prevailing Hellenistic style. Each of its 162 pillars adorned with Corinthian capitals was so wide that three men holding hands could barely encircle it. Its construction required more time and effort than the Temple. Josephus relates that looking down from its roof into the deep ravines would make a person dizzy. It served as a marketplace; Robinson's arch linked it to the upper city. The story in which Jesus overturns the merchants' tables the at the Temple (John 2:14-16) probably took place there. Herod greatly enlarged the Temple's entrance, raised the roof, and added lavish decorations. Sharp golden hooks on the roof kept birds away. The area added by Herod to the original Temple Mount was open to the public, but the sacred precinct, whose dimensions were set by Solomon's Temple and never altered, was open to Jews only and was set off by a 1 1/2 meter high wall. Inscriptions in Latin and Greek were found warning non-Jews to advance no further at peril to their lives. The sanctuary itself was built by priests trained in construction.

Herod completed the project in his lifetime. When finished, the expanded Temple Mount, with a perimeter of 1,100 meters, was the largest religious site in the world! The rabbis declared in the Talmud, "Whoever has not seen Herod's building has never seen a beautiful building in his life." Decorations and improvements to the Temple continued for many years after Herod's death, apparently up to c. 62 (about four years before the beginning of the revolt that provoked its destruction).Despite the Hellenist architecture of the Temple, rites of purity according to Jewish law were strictly observed. Tunnels enabling the priests to go directly from the temple to ritual baths have been uncovered. The Path of the Pilgrims. Jerusalem's residents, who were probably outnumbered by pilgrims 3 to 1 during the festivals, were not allowed to charge for renting out rooms to the visitors. The Talmud says that one of the ten miracles of the Temple was that no one ever said, I have no place to sleep in Jerusalem (Avot, 5:5). The ritual preparations required of the pilgrims as well as the grandeur of the Temple heightened the religious experience. Before entering the Temple they would immerse themselves in a ritual bath (mikva). Dozens of baths were uncovered in recent excavations along the southern wall. Then they ascended to the Temple on a flight of stairs of varying widths, 30 and 90 centimeters wide. The lack of uniformity obliged the worshippers to ascend slowly (and respectfully) to the Temple. According to the prophet Ezekiel, in the days of the First Temple there were Jews who worshipped the sun. The Second Temple was designed so that the worshippers entered with their backs facing the sun. The stairs led to the double Hulda Gate. Most entered the gate to the right and exited on the left.. Mourners followed the opposite path, so if a pilgrim saw someone walking in the opposite direction, he could express condolences. The Temple's gold-covered walls reflected the light. The Hulda Gate led to a tunnel up to the Temple Mount. Emerging from the tunnel on the Temple Mount, the pilgrim was blinded by the sight of the Temple. The visual effect made the roof look as if it was covered with snow.

Other Herodian Projects. Herod also built other parts of Jerusalem. To defend the vulnerable point of the Temple Mount, the northern side where Pompey and later his own army invaded the city, he built the mighty Antonia Fortress on the site of the Hasmonean HaBirah Fortress. (Today it is the start of the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus was tried and condemned by the Romans (John 19:13).)

Herod apparently build the "second wall" around Jerusalem extending eastward from the Antonia Fortress to the area of the present-day Jaffa Gate. The exact course of this second wall is crucial to determining the spot where Jesus was buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial, is within the city walls. Jewish law does not allow burial within the city and in fact it is unlikely that he was buried inside the city. The recent discovery of parts of the second wall support the theory that the site of the church was outside the city walls at the time of Jesus. Nevertheless most Protestants contend that Jesus's burial place is the Garden Tomb, north of Damascus Gate, and not the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. To provide for his personal pleasure Herod build a magnificent palace which included a giant drinking hall and rooms for hundreds of guests in the area of the present Armenian Quarter. The richly ornate palace doubled as a fortress. The Hasmoneans had built their palace in the middle of the city; Herod, despised by the Jews despite the Temple building project, always feared revolt, and built his palace near the edge of town. There he could take shelter, or escape to his refuges outside of Jerusalem: Herodion and Massada.. Some scholars think that Pontius Pilate took over Herod's palace, and this is where the Romans condemned Jesus (and not at the Antonia Fortress).

In addition to the Temple, Herod built the customary cultural institutions of a Hellenist city which were foreign to the Jews, including a hippodrome, amphitheater and a theater. He also instituted olympic-style sports competitions and attracted the most renowned athletes in the empire with high cash prizes.

The Gihon Spring, Jerusalem's main water source, was not sufficient to supply the needs of the city's residents and the vast numbers of pilgrims. Herod improved and expanded some of the dams and reservoirs first built in the First Temple period and added many more. The largest pool, the Pool of Israel in the Beth Zetha Valley, was 100 meters long, 38 wide and 30 meters deep at its deepest point, with a total capacity of 120,000 cubic meters. 37 cisterns have been found to date on the Temple Mount. Herod also built aqueducts to bring water to the city from springs 39 km. south of Jerusalem. In addition to grandiose public buildings, several very large villas were recently uncovered in the Jewish Quarter and can be seen today. One of these houses is 600 square meters. The houses were of Hellenist design complete with colonnades, and are decorated with frescos similar to those found at Pompeii. But it is obvious that their inhabitants were religious Jews, probably priests. The houses have many ritual baths and the mosaic floors have no pagan illustrations.

New Conflict. Following Herod's death Judea came under direct Roman rule, the Romans exercising their authority through their appointed representative, the procurator (governor) based in Caesarea. Heavy taxes, Jewish messianic hopes, the longing for freedom and the two nations' conflicting religious beliefs exacerbated tension between the Jews and the Romans throughout Rome's rule. When the Emperor Caligula (37-41) declared himself a god he demanded that the entire Roman Empire worship him and ordered the procurator to put his statue in the Temple. In a mass demonstration thousands of Jews pleaded with the procurator not to violate the Temple's sanctity. When he ordered them to disperse they lay on the ground, prepared to die for their beliefs. In an very extraordinary act, he disobeyed orders and refrained from erecting the statue in the Temple. After Caligula was assassinated, more than anyone else in Rome it was Agrippa (grandson of Herod and Miriam, the daughter of King Yanai and the Queen Shlom-Zion, a Hasmonean princess) who helped Claudius succeed to the throne.. In gratitude Claudius appointed him King Agrippa I of Judea (41-44); his realm included the northern Negev, the Galilee and Golan, both sides of the Jordan River, and large parts of southern Syria (Bashan) and northern Jordan (Gilead). Once again a Jewish king of Hasmonean descent (on his mother's side) ruled Jerusalem.

Despite Agrippa's Roman education, connections with the emperor and the Hellenistic cities in his kingdom, he lived in Jerusalem as a religious Jew and was a popular king. He began building the third wall on the north side of Jerusalem to protect the new neighborhoods, almost doubling the size of the walled city to a total of 1500-1,800 dunam, or 375-450 acres). When the procurator complained, Agrippa was compelled to stop construction. Josephus wrote that had he completed this wall at Jerusalem's most vulnerable point, the city would have been invincible.

Following Agrippa's untimely death in 44, Judea returned to direct Roman rule, and clashes between the Jews and Romans followed. Even Josephus, who normally goes out of his way to praise the Romans, documents the cruelty of the procurator Florus. Knowing that the Jews were going to make accusations against him in Rome, Florus decided to pre-empt the trial by provoking the Jews to revolt. He demanded money from the Temple; in jest, the Jews took up a contribution campaign for the "poor" Romans. Florus was not amused: he sent soldiers to plunder the market in Jerusalem and many Jews were massacred in their homes. During the following days the massacre continued, though the Jews succeeded in stopping an assault on the Temple. Florus returned to Caesarea while battles continued to rage in Jerusalem between the Jews on the Temple Mount and the Roman garrisons in the Antonia Fortress, Herod's palace, and the upper city (where they enjoyed the support of many wealthy Jews). After eight days of fighting, the rebels, reinforced by pilgrims, seized all of Jerusalem. Then they began to argue about the political, religious and economic implications of the spontaneous revolt. Should the Jews sue for peace? Was this the prelude to the messianic age? With God on their side they could easily defeat Rome! Who would lead the revolt?

While the Jews argued, the procurator of Syria was on his way with an army to reconquer Jerusalem. As he was about to break into the Temple he abruptly changed his plans and retreated instead, sustaining heavy losses. The Jews were exhilarated: they had fought a Roman army and emerged victorious! In Jerusalem officers where chosen to lead the country against future Roman attacks. A spontaneous insurrection turned into an organized rebel movement. Rome then sent its most able commander, Vespasian, at the head of an army of 60,0000 to subdue Judea. Between 67-69 he conquered almost all of Israel except for Jerusalem and Massada. The death of the Nero and ensuing civil war in Rome prompted him to suspend the siege of Jerusalem and return to Rome, where he was proclaimed the next Caesar. His son, Titus, aided by Tiberias Alexander, an apostate Jew, renewed the siege. During the three years between their expulsion of the Roman garrison and the return of Roman troops, the Jews had not succeeded in settling their differences. Inside Jerusalem internecine conflicts broke out between several different factions. As the Jews fought among themselves, the Romans proceeded to break through the city's defenses. On the ninth day of Av, the same day that Solomon's Temple was destroyed 656 years earlier, they stormed the Temple Mount and burned the Temple. But the battle for Jerusalem was not over. For almost a full month more, the Jews in the upper city continued to fight. Remains in a site called today "the Burnt House" bear witness to the end of the five-month siege of Jerusalem which ended with the conquest of the upper city.

More than any other people in the Roman Empire, the Jews resisted Roman rule. Titus saw the destruction of the Temple as a means to break the rebellious spirit of the Jews. However, another rebellion broke out only 62 years later, led by Bar Kochba, the subject of our next class.

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