|THE MOST HORRIFIC EVENT IN THE LONG HISTORY OF THE WORLD|
.....AND THE MOST SUBLIME.
Tomorrow the Fifth of August is a truly dramatic Anniversary.
1,943 Years ago on the 5th August, A.D. 70, for the very last time, the High Priests of the Jewish Religion offered the Temple sacrifice according to the Old Covenant.Their observance of this fundamental of the Law was at an end and would never be resumed.
Reconstruction of the Temple at the time of Our Lord
There are two realities to be considered in these events. The Divine and the human - the one truly cosmic, the other historically traumatic.
The death of Our Divine Lord on the Cross on that first Good Friday was an event of transcendental importance, achieving our Salvation - should we accept it, and bringing to completion the Old Law and all that it entailed.
In his marvellously thorough account of these matters in " Jesus of Nazareth -Holy Week" Pope Benedict XVI demonstrates how, very soon after the Resurrection, the first Catholics came to understand that Jesus, the Risen Lord, is the new Temple.
Temple Sacrifice in progress
But what was the Temple? It was the place of meeting between man and God. And this meeting reached its climax and essential significance when the sacrificial bull was slain on the Day of Atonement. Its blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies - even upon the Ark of the Covenant covered by the " kapporet"( " hilasterion" in Greek - "expiation") above which the Presence of God was hovered in a cloud. The sin offering - for that is what the bull was - as Pope Benedict explains, was considered to absorb in its blood all human sins and by this sprinkling and touching the Divine via the "kapporet", it was cleansed utterly - thus achieving the Atonement for those sins.
But on Mount Calvary, on that truly awesome first Good Friday, the Divine and the human were met in the Person of Jesus Christ whose Blood was poured out in the once and for all expiation of all sin -past, present and to come. The sacrifice of the Old Law was completed and it was totally superseded. Jesus Christ our God and Saviour is Himself the new Temple - the very perfection of the concept.
And He the Lord of the World had already prophesied the future of the Temple:
"Matthew is thinking here of Jesus' prophecy concerning the end of the Temple: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken . . ." (Mt 23:37–38) Pope Benedict reminds us.
Jesus had also prophesied :
"And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”(Mark 13 : 1-2)
For the intervening 37-40 years, depending on the true year of Our Lord's Birth and therefore of His Death at 33yrs of age, the Sadducees had continued with the forms of the Temple worship. Their dedication to the cult of the Temple was complete, though now totally devoid of effect.
But what of the former disciples of Jesus Christ and the Apostles - all now the first Catholics , our ancestors in the Faith? What do we know of their attitude to the Temple?
We know that they continued to use it as a gathering place, for there was nothing to rival it in Jerusalem for the purpose of preaching, praying and teaching the Gospel and attracting new followers of the Way. We know that even on the first Pentecost there were several thousand new converts. If these followers of the Way were to meet, they needed a large area!
But at the Temple they were not worshipping - for the Breaking of the Bread - the Holy Mass- they celebrated together in selected homes - the Sacred Mysteries were to be protected from unbelieving eyes and minds.
"46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.."(Acts 2 : 46)
But to the tramp of Roman sandals,and clatter of Roman weapons and following Roman Standards emblazoned with the masterly
"Senatus Populusque Romanus" - "The Senate and the Roman People",
the Divine Prophesy was coming to terrible fulfilment.
The Province of Judea had long been a troublesome one. This people whom even God had found stiff necked, unreliable and tempestuous, proved no less so for their Roman masters.
In 63 B.C. Pompeius Magnus ( Pompey the Great - at one time to become a rival of Julius Caesar) in the process of conquering Syria, sacked Jerusalem and entered the Temple.
Herod's Kingdom was set up as a client kingdom of Rome for a time, but in A.D. 6 Judea, combined with Samaria and Idumea, was to become a Roman Province. The region was not a great contributor to Roman tax revenue. Its essential importance was strategic. Its coastline controlled the land and sea routes to Egypt the great source of Rome's vital wheat supply. Administratively it was subsidiary to the Province of Syria and governed by a Prefect.
The history of the new Province was turbulent from the beginning. We know a great deal more about it than its importance to the Romans warrants, due to the work of the Jewish Priest General Flavius Josephus and his surprising association with the emperor Vespasian.
Herod Agrippa was made King of the Jews by the Emperor Claudius between A.D. 41 and 44. There was no longer a Prefect, but Claudius appointed a Procurator - the Emperor's personal agent to oversee taxes and finance, and in case of need, to to take full control to keep the peace. However Herod Agrippa died in A.D. 44. The Province briefly reverted to full Roman control, but in A.D. 48 Herod's son Marcus Julius Agrippa was made King of the Jews.Then in A.D. 66, there began the Great Revolt.Like many revolts its origins were complex .Though it began in Greek - Jewish religious tensions, these were overtaken by tax protests against the Romans and led to intolerable attacks on Roman citizens in the Province.
The Roman Army plundered the Temple - and executed 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem. This action produced a full scale revolt.The Roman garrison was over-run and Roman officials fled the Province.
Seeing that the situation was getting out of control, the Roman Legate in Syria who had general supervision of the Province mobilised his forces and built up a strong army around the XII Legion "Fulminata" which had good success in restoring the situation until the rebels ambushed the Legion at Beth Horon and slaughtered 6,000 legionaries and captured the Legion's Standard - its "Eagle". This was an affront that Rome would never endure. Retribution would be inevitable and it would be terrible and final.
The rebels squabbled among themselves as they tried to govern themselves with little success. A " headstrong people" indeed.
Rome looked to Spain where the experienced and down-to-earth General Vespasian was chosen to head the forces destined to suppress the revolt and punish the grievous affront to the dignity of the Senate and the Roman People. Vespasian appointed his son Titus as his second in command. With four Legions and the Army of King Agrippa II he entered the region in A.D. 67 in Galilee.
The rebels had concentrated their forces in heavily- fortified Jerusalem.In Galilee he confronted, and defeated at length, the Zealot faction forces, who were opponents of the Sadducee led Jerusalem rebels. The Zealots fled toward Jerusalem and their arrival prompted factional strife in the City.Factional battles among the Jews in the City, involving thousands of soldiers, ensued over a long period. The Sadducees brought 15,000 allies into the City and the in-fighting became more desperate.
The dissolute and insane Roman Emperor Nero was finally assassinated and Rome turned to good old solid Vespasian as her new Emperor in A.D. 69. Titus assumed control of the Judean retribution.
In A.D. 70 Titus moved on Jerusalem itself. His forces breached the two outer walls of the City within three weeks. The noose tightened around the thicker inner wall. The siege lasted 7 months .People endeavouring to escape the City were crucified facing the City - as many as 500 a day.Historical accounts of the number of people trapped in the City vary from 600,000 (Tacitus) to 1,000,000 (Flavius Josephus).
As if to underline the tempestuous, perhaps suicidal temper of the Jewish people of the time, we find the Zealot faction squabbling was responsible for the burning of the entire food supplies of the City. They were endeavouring to induce desperate fighting on the part of those trapped inside the City! Zealots indeed!
The destruction of Jerusalem in progress A.D.70
Titus' forces entered the City in the Summer of A.D.70.Then Jerusalem was looted, burned and utterly destroyed - so thoroughly, that to-day's City is built upon metres of its rubble! According to Flavius Josephus 1,100,000 people died in the process of the Vespasian /Titus suppression campaign.In addition over 90,000 were
said to have been taken off into slavery.
Even to-day when we visit Rome, we can see the Arch of Titus on the Via Sacra in the Imperial Forum and plainly visible on it are the legionaries carrying off the loot from the Temple including the seven-branched Menorah candelabrum and other items.
The Temple itself, the former meeting place between God and man, was destroyed by fire in a horrendous scene of slaughter and pillage. Roman soldiers found it necessary to clamber over the bodies of the thousands of the dead to carry on their task of ruthless revenge.
We have seen the tale of the two Mounts - Calvary and Temple unfold. The one terrible - more terrible than anything that has happened in the long history of the world - DEICIDE. And yet sublime.
The other, terrible in human terms, but the dreadful punishment a cynical , unfaithful people had drawn upon their heads in their rejection of the Mercy of God and murder of their Messiah and Saviour. :
"27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”(Luke 23 : 27-31)