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Something Here More Important Than a Sword

Israelis link ancient sword to fall of Herod’s temple

—JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists have discovered a Roman sword from the time of the destruction of the second Jewish temple in 70 AD, ——officials said on Monday as Jews prepared to mourn the anniversary.

—The Israel Antiquities Authority said that the 60-centimetre (23.6-inch) long weapon and its leather scabbard were found during excavations in a 2,000-year-old drainage channel in the City of David, in the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan just south of Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

Unearthed Gladius

The sword is the famous Roman gladius used by Roman Legionnaires. Four legions, plus numerous auxilia were involved in the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  Jewish zealots had taken over the city in their 66 A.D. rebellion against Rome and initially gained some success. The Roman counter-punch was initially led by Vespasian who soon had to return to Italy in order to take part in the Roman Civil War. Vespasian would emerge as the victor in tin the civil war leaving his son Titus in command in Judea. Titus surrounded the city with the four legions and settled in for a long siege.

The force of four legions is significant especially since an equal number of auxiliaries would be recruited to support the legions. If the legions were close to full strength each would number between 5000-6000 men so it’s feasible the that the Romans fielded upwards of 40,000 men to take the city thus testifying to the number of defenders and their fanaticism in defending their city.

The Jewish Roman historian Josephus who had surrendered to the Romans earlier in the rebellion tried to negotiate a surrender of the city but was rebuffed many times. The fierceness of the defenders enraged the Romans who sacked the city after they eventually broke through. The city was devastated as the Romans destroyed the temple and indiscriminately killed thousands including women and children.

This was unusual since live slaves were more profitable than dead people. Josephus says over 1,000,00 died and only 100,000 were enslaved. The number seems high since Rome itself is said to have numbered 1,000,000 and it was the largest city in the world. I think the ratio of dead to slaves is more important than the actual number because it means only 10% of the defenders survived.

Some of defenders of Jerusalem escaped to Herod the Great’s fortress of Masada which Herod had built. Herod the Great of biblical fame was called “great” not because he was militarily great but because he was a builder and Masada was to be his fortress.

After the refugees made their way to Masada the Romans pursued with one legion. They then began to siege the 900+ defenders who had taken refuge there. After years of trying to take the mountain fortress the Romans finally built an earth ramp to the top which was quite the engineering feat. It says something about the determination of the Romans not to tolerate even slightest hints of rebellion.

Rather than be crucified or surrender to slavery the defenders committed mass suicide.

Today Israeli soldiers take their oaths on top of Masada. They swear in the spirit of Masada that as  long as they live they’ll  never let Israel fall again to an invader.

Masada today

This is why Jerusalem and Israel as a nation are so important to the Jews. In fact the Jews would revolt again against the Romans in 132 A.D. This time the remnant of who survived would be dispersed across the Roman world which is why so many Jews were found in Europe prior to WW2. This is why many Jews saw a return to their land in 1948 as a return to their land from which they had been forcibly removed following their revolt against Rome.

Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and said some important things that have eternal consequences.  Here’s what Jesus said about the destruction of the temple some 40 years before Titus would take the city and destroy the temple:

Roman Soldiers Trajan's Column

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down. As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Matt. 24:1-3, NASB

The temple Jesus is coming out of is the 2nd temple. It was built by Herod the Great just as the Masada fortress had been built by him. Herod is called great because he was a builder not because he was a swell guy or military genius.

Jesus’ prophecy of not one stone being left upon another was issued about 40 years before it actually happened in 70 A.D.

The disciples had asked Jesus two questions as they pointed to the buildings around the temple. They wanted to know when the stones would be upturned perhaps because they were wondering how such a magnificent place could be destroyed. The other question had to do with Jesus’ return which they thought would be soon and as a conquering political figure.

Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple and but then goes on to describe what things will look like when the world ends and he returns.

Christians differ on the interpretation of what follows from Matthew 24:3 with some believing the following verses were fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Some as I do, believe it is a future fulfillment, but in either case most believe the first three verses do refer to the fall of Jerusalem to Titus.

Whether or not you believe the passages in Matthew 24 reflects a later event which ends the world or was fulfilled in 70 A.D. all must agree that when Jerusalem fell it was a terrible thing to behold just as the end of the world will be.

One can easily imagine the Romans sacking the city, killing anyone in their path while many take to the sewers or the drainage ditch where the sword was found.  Some Jews are still resisting and one Roman soldier is separated from the rest. He falls victim to the resistors and his sword is retrieved by a fighter only to be lost again as other Roman soldiers close in. Another Jew abandons a sacred menorah and both objects are buried for almost 2000 years before they are found together 2000 years later.

The bulk of people who encountered Jesus the first time rejected him. Within three years of his prediction about the temple he would be crucified for the sins of men. He came to call men to repentance and his message is still the same and this is far more important than than the history of a Roman sword and the sack of city and destruction of the temple the sword represents.

Stones thrown down by the Romans_West Wall

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Jn. 3:16-18. NASB

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