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"WHEN THE LORD BROUGHT BACK THOSE THAT RETURNED TO ZION,
WE WERE LIKE THOSE WHO DREAM"
PSALM 126:1

 

A Woman of Judea stands by the Arch of Titus in Rome

As a direct descendant of the Judean nation whose utter defeat is celebrated here by this arch, the Arch of Titus, if I were a spitting person, then I would spit right here! Especially if Titus' ashes had been buried here in an urn as has been suggested by scholars.

The Arch of Titus in Rome celebrates the Roman defeat of Judea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Arch of Titus in Rome celebrates the Roman defeat of Judea

Our holy temple in Jerusalem was burned to the ground by Titus' troops under Titus direction.  The holy vessels including the gold menorah were plundered and brought to Rome to be exhibited in Vespasian's trophy museum, the Templum Pacis.
Illustration of Roman soldiers looting the Jerusalem Temple
Illustration of Roman soldiers looting the Jerusalem Temple exhibited in the summer 2017 exhibition on the Menorah in Rome's Great Synagogue

Ruins of Vespasian's war trophy museum

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ruins of Vespasian's war trophy museum, the Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace)

The Temple had been renovated about 20 BC by Herod, a Jewish king whose patrons were first Marc Antony and then Augustus.  It stood to the equivalent of 16 stories, made of gleaming imported white marble. topped with gold spikes to keep the pigeons from littering the marble.  Eye witnesses, the rabbis who admittedly were prejudiced, used to proclaim "ten measures of beauty descended upon the world, Jerusalem took nine of them, all the rest of the world one."  (Kiddushim 49b)  All because of the glorious Temple.

Model of the Jerusalem Temple, conquered, burned and destroyed by the Romans

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Model of the Jerusalem Temple, conquered, burned and destroyed by the Romans

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would flock to Jerusalem.  The temple was a magnet for Jews around the Roman Empire, especially the eastern part: Asia Minor, Alexandria, Antioch, Judea, Parthia.  Jerusalem was an international city despite its distance from the sea and its isolation from mainland routes.  Jerusalem's greatness was derived from the religious fervor of millions of Jews living throughout much of the eastern part of the Roman empire and beyond.
So how was the Jerusalem Temple financed?
By the religious enthusiasm of Jews from around the Roman Empire.  They contributed half a shekel each year for the Temple's upkeep.  The Tyrean silver shekel was equivalent to the US dollar standard used today for world commerce.  (The silver wasn't diluted.)  Perhaps the Roman equivalent was two drachmas.  The most important point was that It was all VOLUNTARY.  And with perhaps a little peer pressure….
Even Jesus, a Galilean who was a Jew gave voluntarily to the Temple.  When the tax collectors arrived to Jesus' headquarters by the Sea of Galilee (Capernaum) they asked Peter (Matthew 17:34+) whether his teacher paid the half shekel tax to the temple.  (Thus is written in Exodus 30:13 "This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD.")
Peter asked Jesus whether they should pay and Jesus told him so as not to cause offense to go to the shore of the lake, cast his line and lo and behold Peter caught a fish with a shekel in its mouth.
The whole point is that the Jerusalem Temple tax was voluntary, paid from the heart. And how was all this Roman imperial building financed?  By confiscation of property, plunder, looting and robbery after murdering, here in Rome and in the provinces.  And by the way, the riches and wealth plundered from the province of Judea by this conqueror went to finance the building of the Colosseum.

The building of the Colosseum was financed by the booty from Judea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The building of the Colosseum was financed by the booty from Judea

Interior of the ruins of the Roman Colosseum by night

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Interior of the ruins of the Roman Colosseum by night

Before Nero it was to the emperor's advantage to have the Jewish God as an ally and protector.  Augustus and Livia for example gave precious gifts (vessels for oil and wine libations) to the Temple. (Wars, Book 5, chapter 13, 6 562-3)  Marcus Agrippa made a burnt offering of 100 oxen sacrificed at Augustus' expense during his 15 BC visit (Antiquities Book 16, chapter 2, i)
 

The Emperor Augustus supported the Jerusalem Temple

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Emperor Augustus supported the Jerusalem Temple by donating precious gifts

Now let's get to Vespasian.  Why was Vespasian chosen by Nero to put down a revolt in Judea?  Because Nero did not want to elevate a successful general – he did not want any competitors.  Nero wanted a man of mediocre talents!  According to Suetonius who wrote the 12 Caesars -- Vespasian was mediocre and came from an undistinguished obscure family.  Therefore, even if he were victorious in Judea, he was not emperor material. He would not pose a threat to Nero's rule.
But Nero was killed, and so were three of his successors.  Domestic politics in Rome dooms my nation!  Vespasian is waiting in the wings, bogged down in fighting around Jerusalem, Judea's capital city.  So Vespasian said to his son Titus, "hey boy, finish this business. Quickly!! I'm going back to Rome!"
Titus' assault on the city was ruthless – playing little heed to the damage caused to the city or to the losses on his own side.  Huge numbers of Roman soldiers were killed or wounded.  Titus' eye was not on Jerusalem – but on Rome.
 
Now the question arises -- what to do about the Temple???

Model of the Jerusalem Temple in all its glory

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Model of the Jerusalem Temple in all its glory

 
We don't know whether the Temple was destroyed by a deliberate decision by Titus, or accidentally set on fire by one of his soldiers.  It was August and very hot in Jerusalem.  There are conflicting accounts.

Stone found at Magdala with carvings of holy vessels and menorah

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Stone found at Magdala with carvings of holy vessels and the menorah

But after the Temple was burned and destroyed accidentally or not, Titus presented the burning of the Temple as a great glorious Roman achievement. Then he denigrated the religion of the Jews as not worthy to exist. And that the Temple's destruction was an act of piety dedicated to the gods of the Roman world.
It was not standard Roman practice to glory in the destruction of enemy temples. Usually the Romans appropriated those foreign gods and incorporated them into their pantheon.
After the burning of the Temple, all Jews assumed it would be rebuilt and sacrifice would be reinstituted.  After all, the first temple had been destroyed and then rebuilt (70 years later).  Temples burned down through accident quite frequently in the Roman world.  The great temple of Jupiter Capitolina in Rome was burned down during the civil strife between Vespasian's supporters and those of Vitellius in 69.  They started to rebuild it just a year later.
But the Roman state would not allow the Jerusalem Temple to be rebuilt.  This refusal was enormous and reveals a special prejudice against the Jews.  In other provinces subjects were permitted to rebuild their temples.
To add to that travesty Vespasian imposed a new tax on all Jews even those living in Rome – two drachmas to Jupiter Capitolina (instead of the half shekel tax to the Temple which was voluntary).  It was a payment specifically for the rebuilding of the Jupiter Capitolina which had accidentally burnt down in 69 AD.  Not only were we Judeans banned from rebuilding our Temple but we were required to pay for he upkeep of the main pagan shrine of Rome. (Wars, Book 7, chapter 7, 6)
The Triumphant Procession takes places in June AD 71, ten months after the Judean revolt has been extinguished (except for a handful of persistent zealots who fortify themselves at Masada in the Judean wilderness overlooking the Dead Sea).

Victory over Judea procession detailed on the Arch of Titus

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Detail on the Arch of Titus of the Victory over Judea procession

The procession itself was like a Mardi Gras with floats of all sizes and shapes and colors and works of art.  They paraded so much booty – that eye witness historian Josephus says that gold, silver and ivory flowed like a river.
And our eye witness says furthermore that not a soul stayed home in Rome.  There was standing room only along the procession route.  It is estimated that there were 800,000 to 1 million people living in Rome at that time!
At daybreak Vespasian and Titus appeared decorated with laurels and dressed in traditional purple robes.  They took their seats on chairs of ivory next to the senators and chief magistrates while the troops cheered.
Imagine this -- moving stages, some three or four stories high.  The crowd collectively held their breaths as they passed, fearing the stages would topple over on them.  And on the stages were vivid reenactments of battles with slaughtered Judeans, and the Judean enemy in flight and massive walls being demolished by Roman war machines and houses pulled down over their owners' heads.  On each of the stages was stationed the general of one of the captured cities in the manner in which he was taken.

The triumphal processions usually passed from the Octavian Walks to the Circus Maximus and the Forum ending at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolina.  This procession seems to have made detours through three theatres for the benefit of the immense crowds of spectators.

Theater of Marcellus in Rome which could accommodate thousands of spectators

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Theater of Marcellus in Rome which could accommodate thousands of spectators

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Vespasian, then Titus and Domition joined the procession and rode up to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolina to wait until our general was executed.  His name was Shimon Bar Giora.  He was paraded with a noose around his neck until he reached the forum where he was executed.  With the announcement of his execution, there were cheers of universal applause.

Then after sacrifices to their gods, Vespasian, Titus and Domition withdraw to the palace for a banquet – eat, drink and vomit!  By the way, today in Israel every school child knows the name of Shimon bar Giora.  We have a street named Bar Giora in nearly every major Jewish town and city including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Beersheba, and Kfar Tavor.
 
So -- under Titus rule, we have the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the fire that burned down Vespasian's Temple of Jupiter Capitolina in 80 AD and Titus early death in 81 AD at age 41.  In my opinion as a woman of Judea, it wasn't early enough!!!
 
For over a thousand years Jews were forbidden to walk under the Arch of Titus.  But in May 1948, immediately after the declaration of the State of Israel, the chief rabbi of Rome demonstratively walked through the Arch of Titus.  He walked in the direction of Jerusalem, because the time had come when Jews could return "home." 
 

Gila Yudkin June 26, 2017 

Copyright 2017 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

 
These remarks were delivered by Gila while on a tour admiring the great architectural achievements of the Roman Empire.  Participants on the tour were all students of Diana Kleiner's brilliant online course "Roman Architecture."  Diana Kleiner, one of the most passionately erudite and charismatic scholars Gila has ever known, teaches Roman art and architecture at Yale University.
 

Temple of Portunus in Rome

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Temple of Portunus in Rome directly opposite the entrance to our hotel

 
Now, as opposed to Rome the "eternal city", perhaps we want to call Jerusalem the Capital-of-the-One-God.
 

The Dome of the Rock stands now where the Second Temple stood until 70 AD

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Dome of the Rock stands now where the Second Temple stood until 70 AD

 

Tour the Temple Mount with Gila's MP3 audio tour in the company of Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

LISTEN free to the first two minutes of itsGila Temple Mount audio tour:
Click here and then click "download" at top right.

Now also available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the Temple Mount security check and ten recommended books on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.

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GILA YUDKIN • TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A • JERUSALEM • ISRAEL
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