If they made an historically-accurate movie about the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, two things would stand out. First, the magnitude of the city’s destruction would break your heart. (In a city home to 200,000, as many as a million people died. It was a unique and unprecedented genocide.) Second, if you were familiar with the scriptures, you would be amazed at the accuracy of Christ’s prophecies.
Jesus made no less than 40 detailed predictions about the fall of Jerusalem, and every one of them came to pass in the time-frame he specified. In this extract from my new book, we will look at just one of those predictions, the one about the shortened days.
Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:22)
Sieges could last years and Jerusalem was a tough nut to crack. When he erected his barricade around the city, the Roman general Titus could have expected to be camped outside Jerusalem for years. As it was, he penetrated the outer walls in a matter of weeks and was all done and dusted in a little over five months. This was a mercy, for it meant the deaths attributable to starvation were limited, as Christ had prophesied.
But how did Titus succeed so quickly? How did he manage to penetrate Jerusalem’s solid defenses? According to Josephus, his loyal chronicler, Titus attributed his victory to God:
We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards overthrowing these towers? (Wars, 6.9.1)
We can take these words with a pinch of salt because Josephus was hardly an unbiased writer. When he wrote them Titus was Caesar and Josephus was hardly likely to portray his patron as a genocidal war criminal responsible for the deaths of a million noncombatants. No, Titus was a pawn in the hands of an angry God, an innocent agent of heaven’s divine vengeance.
Which just goes to show you that you shouldn’t believe everything you read.
There are three prosaic reasons why the siege of Jerusalem ended sooner than expected. The first was the might of the Romans. The invaders were organized, mechanized, and led by an ambitious young man in a hurry. They were also battle-hardened by their experience subduing Galilee.
The second reason was the city’s defenders were weakened by starvation. The famine was so severe that hundreds of thousands perished while many of those who lived longed for death.
But the biggest reason why Jerusalem fell so quickly was the city was defended by people who spent half their time killing each other.
The politics were complicated and fluid, but when the siege began there were two groups fighting for control of Jerusalem. On one side was a group of 6,000 angry Zealots led by John Levi, and on the other was Simon the warlord with his army of 10,000.
The fighting between these two groups was so savage it’s a marvel the Jews didn’t wipe themselves out before the Romans breached the wall. Indeed, the siege would have commenced two years earlier except Vespasian, seeing how effective the Jews were at killing each other, had decided to wait.
By the time Titus set up camp around Jerusalem, the city was rotten and ready to fall. The grain stores had gone up in smoke, and the sedition or uprising had seriously weakened the city’s defenses.
A word that often appears in Josephus’ account of the siege is madness. The populace suffered more from the madness of their leaders within than the might of the Romans without. On several occasions, the Romans said, “Let’s end this siege amicably and go home,” but the leaders of the rebellion refused to do anything but fight. This was a tragedy for trapped within the walls were tens of thousands of ordinary people – families, pilgrims, old people, and children – who wanted to surrender. Anything was better than dying of starvation. But they were held hostage by the mad men who ruled the city.
The Babylonian siege of Jerusalem of 587BC lasted eighteen months, but the Roman siege of AD70 was concluded in just five. Jerusalem would have fallen one way or another, but its demise was swift because of the madness of its defenders. As Josephus observed, “the sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition.”
Extracted from chapter 10 of Paul Ellis’ new book AD70 and the End of the World.