The Great Revolt

Jewish factions rebel against Roman rule in Palestine.

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When the Galilee was lost, some of the rebel groups led by popular messianic figures moved south to join the forces defend­ing Jerusalem. They soon took a leading role there, displacing the aristocratic leaders whose policies had led to the loss of Galilee. Before long, however, civil strife broke out among the various factions in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Vespasian was busily subjugating the rest of the country. In 68/69 C.E., there was a brief respite while Vespasian awaited the outcomeof the death of the emperor Neroand the struggle for succession which then took place. In 69 C.E., the Roman legions of the East decided to declare Vespasian emperor. Soon afterwards he was accepted at Rome as well. He returned there and left his son Titus to prosecute the war in Palestine. All the while, those besieged within Jerusalem continued to undercut their own position by their inability to join together.

By Passover of 70 C. E., Titus had massed a large force around Jerusalem while Jewish factions inside the city were killing one another. As Titus's battering rams began to strike, the factions finally came together. One by one the Romans breached the walls of the city, gaining control of the entire city except for the Temple area. By building siege ramparts, Titus was finally able to take the Temple Mount itself.

According to Josephus, Titus planned to spare the Temple from destruction, but it was nonetheless engulfed in a conflagration and could not be saved. The ensuing slaughter of men, women, and children and the leveling of the city which followed dealt a lasting blow to Jewish life in the Land of Israel.

This was not the end of the war. While the Temple treasures and the rebel leaders were paraded in Rome, the Romans had to mop up small bands of Jewish fighters who had taken refuge in other areas of the city, and to take several fortresses scattered through the land where rebel forces were holding out. With the capture of Masada in 73 C.E., the last resistance to Rome was crushed. As the Roman commemorative coins stated, "Judea had been captured."

[Masada was an isolated tower of rock at the edge of the Judean desert that was fortified in the Hasmonean period. According to Josephus, the 960 Jews who were stationed there committed suicide rather than fall to Rome there in 73 C.E. While the rabbis disregarded the Masada story, it became a treasured tale for the modern nation of Israel, as well as a premier contemporary archeological site.]

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Lawrence H. Schiffman

Lawrence H. Schiffman is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Yeshiva University.