The Reaction to the Capture of Jerusalem AD 70

The Roman Emperor Vespasian ordered the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple in A.D. 70., to punish the Jews for what became known as the First Jewish Revolt. This Roman coin from A.D. 71, issued by Vespasian, commemorates his capture of Judea, the province represented iconographically by the mourning woman to the right. The date palm represents the agricultural produce and lands he captured.

The Roman Reaction ...

Firstly their immediate reaction. For Titus Judaea was literally a Triumph, and scenes from it are depicted on his Arch in the Forum, one of which depicts Treasure from the Temple being carried as part of it.

This panel is important in terms of the history of the Temple Treasures after AD 70, which I will discuss in the future, but first I'd like the point out the evidence for several other Triumphal Arches erected to celebrate this campaign.

A second Arch of Titus is known to have stood at the Circus Maximus. Fragments of the hyperbolic inscription survive (CIL 6.944 = ILS 264):
The Senate and People of Rome dedicate this arch to the Emperor Titus … because, with the Senate's advice and counsel and with the auguries, he conquered the nation of the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem, which all of the generals, kings, and nations before Titus had either failed to do or even to attempt.
This second Roman arch can be located on the Forma Urbis Romae (here); the Severan the marble plan was displayed in the Templum Pacis, which the Flavians erected to display the booty from the Temple in a continuation of the celebration of their Judean triumph.

The next arch was in Jerusalem itself, probably even on the Mount itself, but this fragmentary inscription is all that survives of it. It was identified by Dr. Tibor Grull in 2003, and the Waqf told him that " it had been found in the large hole dug in the mount in 1999 when the entrance to Solomon's Stables was opened" (see here). The text is highly fragmentary, but the key word is "arch" and the name Flavius Silva, governor of Judaea and conqueror of mighty Masada, confirming that it belonged to an arch commemorating this campaign and not Hadrian's. This is the first proof we have of a Roman monument on the Mount immediately after 70 rather than from the time of Hadrian. A tentative reconstruction of the text reads: : "OS E // V L FLAVI A // M ARCUM DE F // IO ATHENAG // MAXIMO" (source).

The final Arch was in Antioch and comes from the same section of Malalas (1986 translation by E.Jeffreys, M.Jeffreys and M.Scott, et al) in which he discussed the theatre built by Titus from the spoils of the campaign:

The structure was almost certainly in the form of an Arch, and the fact that Vespasian ordered it to be decorated with the bronze Cherubim they had taken from the Temple, and four bronze bulls taken from Jerusalem, confirms its triumphal nature.

But what about Jews and earliest Christians ...

The Destruction of the Temple in turn accelerated the diaspora, for if Jews no longer had a Temple in which to offer sacrifices and pray in Jerusalem, there was less reason for them to stay there. It's interesting to read how the Romans saw the Jews and Christians, and how early sources conflate the two.

Both were actively trying to convert in first century Rome, and both Jews and Christians for example claim Flavia Domitilla as their convert. Cassius Dio says that Domitian had her, his own niece, and her husband the consul Titus Flavius Clemens charged with atheism [Epitome of Cassius Dio, 67.4] because they had "drifted into Jewish ways" - ie become monotheists. Clemens was executed in AD 95, a charge normally reserved for treason, and the treason her was presumably failure to sacrifice to the Imperial cult; Domitilla was exiled. Suetonius [Domitianus 15] does not mention Clemens' religion, saying he was executed "suddenly and on a very slight suspicion" but continues on to Domitian's own death at the hand of Domitilla's steward Stephanus. Although Clemens was revered by later Christians as a martyr, and Domitilla as a saint, I give greater weight to the Jewish tradition, since we have much better attested contact between Jews and the Imperial family. Domitilla's uncle had a long relationship with Julia Berenice, and before that Poppea Sabina had intervened as a phil-Semite on behalf of Berenice and her brother Herod Agrippa II.

It's still unclear how they two groups saw each other, and how they interrelated at the time, or when they diverged, but after the Destruction of the Temple is a logical point for this to have accelerated.

In the early first century AD Judaism was a proselytizing religion, and attracted a large number of followers. The main reason it did not close the deal with more converts was that the rabbis were intransigent about one issue: circumcision. Men were reluctant to give up a piece of themselves, and many pagans remained 'God fearers' but did not become full Jews.

Early Christianity under Paul was more flexible. At the Council of Jerusalem (ca. AD 70; although presumably not whilst Titus was besieging the city), the followers of Jesus re-stated that most of the laws of Moses were to be kept - such as the requirement to keep kosher. There were two major departures from Jewish law, which would in effect change the course of history. The first was waving the circumcision requirement, which immediately let to a flood of converts. The second was discussing the concept that Jesus was Christos - the Messiah. The Messianic nature of Jesus was not however affirmed as universal orthodoxy until the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).

This split between the Jews and the followers of Jesus soon after the fall of Jerusalem would in due course change history.


  1. Tx for this! I'm wondering about your dating of Jerusalem Council @ 70 AD. Could you say more on this?

  2. Jerusalem Council ... circa AD 70 seems to be a "traditional" date used by scholars, and which is in a lot of text books.

    It's not my field, but I think it would have been very strange for various followers of Jesus to travel to Jerusalem whilst the city was being besieged, and impossible for them to get in ... so I stuck in "ca" and my clarification.

    I know Wiki now date it in line with the Vatican following AD 48 but I prefer to leave discussion of the historicity and reliability of the NT to others.

    My only interest is that, to me, it shows that the first generation of followers of Jesus Christ did not initially break with these mainstream Jewish Laws.

    There's old joke about two Jews leading to three opinions ... and I want feel that I would rather tread lightly when it comes to matters of faith, so I will refer you to Mark Goodacre's blog post here as a starting point

  3. I am not aware of anyone who dates the Council of Jerusalem that late. At first I thought it must be a typo.

  4. I'm perfectly happy to admit to being wrong. I think I gave it as AD 50 elsewhere ...

    I think the points we can agree agree on is that a) the Council pretty much confirmed their orthodoxy with Jewish law re circumcision and food, and that b) it did not take place whilst Titus was besieging the city?

  5. Indeed! Although it isn't clear whether Paul was actually aware of the council and its decision - there are debates about whether any of the meetings referred to in Galatians could be the council, and he never indicates that a binding agreement of the sort Acts depicts was reached. And Acts itself seems depicts James later telling Paul about what they wrote to the Gentile churches as though informing him for the first time.


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