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(3760 - 2080 BCE)
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(3840 AM - 80 CE)
Death of Titus
(3841 AM - 81 CE)
Death of Johanan ben Zakai
(3850 AM - 90 CE)
(3850 AM - 90 CE)
Persecutions by Domitian
(3855 AM - 95 CE)
Jewish mission to Rome
The Halley comet
(3856 AM - 96 CE)
(3856 AM - 96 CE)
Abolition of the Fiscus Judaicus
(3857 AM - 97 CE)
(3870 AM - 110 CE)
(3873 AM - 113 CE)
Jewish uprising in Cyrene
(3875 AM - 115 CE)
Siege of Lydda
(3877 AM - 117 CE)
(3877 AM - 117 CE)
Simeon bar Yohai and the Zohar
(3886 AM - 126 CE)
R. Joshua ben Hananyah and the Emperor
(3890 AM - 130 CE)
(3891 AM - 131 CE)
Revolt of Bar-Kochba
(3892 AM - 132 CE)
End of the Great Revolt
(3895 AM - 135 CE)
Previous << Generation 33 >> Next
Hebrew years 3840 to 3960 (80-200 CE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~
Akiva son of Joseph was born in 40 CE from a poor family. He was employed in the estate of a rich Jerusalemite Jew who had a daughter who loved Akiva. The Talmud gives the following account of the life of this great scholar:
The daughter of Kalba Shebua betrothed herself to R. Akiva. When her father heard thereof, he vowed that she was not to benefit from aught of his property. Then she went and married him in winter. They slept on straw, and he had to pick out the straw from his hair. ‘If only I could afford it,’ said he to her, ‘I would present you with a golden Jerusalem.’ [Later] Elijah came to them in the guise of a mortal, and cried out at the door. ‘Give the some straw, for my wife is in confinement and I have nothing for her to lie on.’ ‘See!’ R. Akiva observed to his wife, ‘there is a man who lacks even straw.’ [Subsequently] she counselled him, ‘Go, and become a scholar.’ So he left her, and spent twelve years [studying] under R. Eliezer and R. Joshua. At the end of this period, he was returning home, when from the back of the house he heard a wicked man jeering at his wife, ‘Your father did well to you. Firstly, because he is your inferior; and secondly, he has abandoned you to living widowhood all these years.’ She replied, ‘Yet were he to hear my desires, he would be absent another twelve years.' 'Seeing that she has thus given me permission,’ he said, ‘I will go back.’ So he went back, and was absent for another twelve years, [at the end of which] he returned with twenty-four thousand disciples. Everyone flocked to welcome him, including her [his wife] too. But that wicked man said to her, ‘And where are you going?’ [Proverbs 12:10] ‘A righteous man knows the life of his beast,’ she retorted. So she went to see him, but the disciples wished to repulse her. ‘Make way for her,’ he [R. Akiva] told them, ‘for my [learning] and yours are hers.’ When Kalba Shebua heard thereof, he came [before R. Akiva] and asked for the remission of his vow and he annulled it for him.--- Talmud, Nedarim, 50a
Since then, his father in law Kalba Shebua shared his wealth with Rabbi Akiva.
The sudden death of Titus is shrouded with some mystery. Some time before, he became melancholic and "wept bitterly in the presence of people". The Historian Suetonius relates the circumstance of his death:
At the first resting-place on the road, he was seized with a fever, and being carried forward in a litter, they say that he drew back the curtains, and looked up to heaven, complaining heavily, "that his life was taken from him, though he had done nothing to deserve it; for there was no action of his that he had occasion to repent of, but one." [...] He died in the same villa where his father had died before him, upon the Ides of September; two years, two months, and twenty days after he had succeeded his father; and in the one-and-fortieth year of his age. --- Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus, IX-X, 473-474; for the text online, click here
Titus died "upon the Ides of September", which means probably the eve of that time. The Ides of September are mentioned to be the 13th of September. This date corresponds to the 22 Elul in Hebrew calendar. In Megillat Taanit (the Scroll of the Fasts), the Maccabees defeated the Greeks on 22 Elul. This date falls one week before the New Year in Hebrew calendar (1 Tishri). It is remarkable that the date of his death occured as a succession of the number "2": he died on the 22 Elul, 2 years, 2 months, 20 days after he became emperor. In Tradition, the number 2 is the revelation of 1. The number 1 is associated with God and the number 2 with His revelation (the two tablets of the Law, for example). So, this succession of 2s that was associated with Titus' death seems like an act of God.
The Talmud recalls another anecdote regarding Titus' death:
When he [Titus] landed [back to Rome] the gnat came and entered his nose, and it knocked against his brain for seven years. One day as he was passing a blacksmith's it heard the noise of the hammer and stopped. He said; I see there is a remedy. So every day they brought a blacksmith who hammered before him. If he was a non-Jew they gave him four zuz, if he was a Jew they said, It is enough that you see the suffering of your enemy. This went on for thirty days, but then the creature got used to it. It has been taught: R. Phineas b. ‘Aruba said; I was in company with the notables of Rome, and when he died they split open his skull and found there something like a sparrow two sela's in weight. --- Talmud, Gittin, 56b
Ben Zakai was the rabbi who escaped Jerusalem during the siege by Vespasian and founded the school of Yavneh. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Yavneh became an important centre of the religious life, and hosted the Sanhedrin. When he fell fatally ill, his disciples came to attend him. His last words were recorded in the Talmud, as they were enigmatic:
At the moment of his departure he said to them [the disciples]: Remove the vessels so that they shall not become unclean [due to the presence of a dead person], and prepare a throne for Hezekiah the king of Judah who is coming. --- Talmud, Berachot, 28b
Hezekiah had been the righteous king of Judah who built the defenses of Jerusalem in preparation of the forthcoming siege by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. Maybe, in his last moments, and although Jerusalem and the Temple had already been destroyed in his lifetime, ben Zakkai had the vision of the future annointed Messiah who will come to rebuild Jerusslem, as Hezekiah did.
After the death of Johanan ben Zakkai who led the survival of the religious authority out of the besieged Jerusalem into Yavneh, Gamaliel, the son of a previous nassi, Shimon ben Gamaliel, was chosen at the next president of the Sanhedrin. It was a time when the religious schools had reunited and ended their quarrels, as it had previously been the case between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai. This change did not take place without some problem however, as one instance caused the insurgence of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Nathan who attempted to depose Gamaliel from his position. The case was not successful and the consequence was described as follows:
Said R. Simeon b. Gamaliel to them [the members of the Sanhedrin]: We shall re-admit them [the expelled scholars] but impose upon them this penalty, that no traditional statement shall be reported in their names. [As a result] R. Meir was designated ‘others’, and R. Nathan ‘some say’. --- Talmud, Horayoth, 13b
Gamaliel II's authority towards religious and educational matters grew over the years. He is the one who instructed the pivotal prayer called Amidah that Jews perform three times par day. His authority was also acknowledged by the Romans. In one anecdote, Gamaliel confounded a Christian who ruled a tribunal for non-Jews, similarly to what Gamaliel and the Sanhedrin was doing for the Jews:
Imma Shalom, R. Eliezer's wife, was R. Gamaliel's sister. Now, a certain philosopher[1a] lived in his vicinity, and he bore a reputation that he did not accept bribes [because he was the head of a tribunal for non-Jews]. They wished to expose him, so she brought him a golden lamp, went before him, [and] said to him, ‘I desire that a share be given me in my [deceased] father's estate.’ ‘Divide,’ ordered he. Said he [R. Gamaliel] to him, ‘It is decreed for us, Where there is a son, a daughter does not inherit.’ [He replied], ‘Since the day that you were exiled from your land the Law of Moses has been removed and another book given,[1b] wherein it is written, ‘A son and a daughter inherit equally.’[1c] The next day, he [R. Gamaliel] brought him a Lybian ass. Said he to them, ‘Look at the end of the book, wherein it is written, I came not to destroy the Law of Moses nor to add to the Law of Moses,[1d] and it is written therein, A daughter does not inherit where there is a son. Said she to him, ‘Let thy light shine forth like a lamp.’ Said R. Gamaliel to him, ‘An ass came and knocked the lamp over!’ --- Talmud, Shabbat, 116a-b
This anecdote was to stress the discrepancy among Early Christians between those, like Jesus and the Apostles, who were Jews and endeavoured to maintain their faith, and those newcomers to the faith, being the so-named "philosophers", who lived in these contradictions, or even invented laws that were never established by the Early Church. to form their own "gospels"that the Church would not allowed later in the Christian Canon.
Rabban Gamaliel II had obviouly studied the gospels and was quite ready to argue on religious points. He held the role of nassi until his death which occurred before the Jewish revolts under Trajan's rule.
Domitian was the youngest son of Vespasian, and he married the daughter of Titus. He became emperor in 81 at the death of his brother. Historians recorded that he built a cult of his personality as a semi-god and titled himself dominus et deus (master and god). He was popular among the army and the people, but he was considered as a tyrant by the Senate. His effort to portray himself as an imperial god led him to persecute the members of non-Roman religions that would oppose his divine status. The Jews of the Roman empire were tolerated but heavily taxed, while the Christians were more persecuted than ever before according to the Book of Revelation.
In the year 95, Domitian executed his cousin Titus Clemens because the latter would not acknowledge the divine status of the emperor. Clemens’ father had been the prefect of the city of Rome at the time of Nero. Clemens had married his cousin Domitilla, one of Vespasian’s grand-daughters, and both converted to Judaism at the time of the visit of Rabbi Akiva in Rome. After her husband’s execution, she was banished to Ventotene island off the Italian coast. The Christians considered that Clemens had converted to Chrsitianity, and so did his wife. In these times, the distinction between Christians and Jews was not as pronounced as it became later. The following is an account from Roman consul and historian Cassius Dio who wrote an history of Rome in 80 volumes:
And the same year  Domitian slew among many others Flavius Clemens the consul, though he was a cousin and had to wife Flavia Domitilla, who was also a relative of the emperor's. The complaint brought against them both was that of atheism,[2a] under which many others who drifted into Jewish ways were condemned. Some of these were killed, and the rest were at least deprived of their property. --- Cassius Dio, Roman History, volume 67, section 14
In order to intercede in favour of the Jews in the Roman Empire, four religious leaders of the Jewish community of Judea set sail to Rome after the Jewish New Year of 3856 to meet with the emperor. These leaders were Rabbi Akiva the great scholar, Rabban Gamaliel II the head of the school of Yavneh and nassi (head of the Sanhedrin), Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah, a young and rich leader who had Ezra the Scribe as ancestor 10 generations before (he was also at one time elected head of the Sanhedrin instead of Rabban Gamaliel II), and Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, a tana and Levite, of witty character, who became a prominent Jewish leader some 25 years later during the visit of Emperor Hadrian to Judea with whom he entertained many discussions and followed him in Egypt and Greece (Talmud, Bechorot, 8b).
During their voyage, the four Rabbis celebrated the festival of Sukkoth while on board their ship. But their journey took much longer than expected, to the point that bread ran out on the boat. But everyone was saved thanks to the foresight of Rabbi Joshua who had a special knowledge:
They once traveled on board a ship. R. Gamaliel [the head of the Sanhedrin] had with him some bread only, while R. Joshua [who accompanied him as an aide] had with him bread and flour. When R. Gamaliel's bread was consumed he depended on R. Joshua's flour. ‘Did you know’, the former asked him, ‘that we should be so much delayed that you brought flour with you?’ The latter answered him, ‘A certain star rises about every seventy years and leads the sailors astray, and I suspected it might rise and lead us astray.’ ‘You possess so much knowledge’, the former said to him, ‘and yet must travel on board a ship [to be as an aide and earn a living] !’ The other replied, ‘Rather than be surprised at me, marvel at two disciples you have on land, R. Eleazar Hisma and R. Johanan b. Gudgada, who are able to calculate how many drops there are in the sea, and yet have neither bread to eat nor raiment to put on. He decided to appoint them as supervisors [to enable them to earn a living], and when he landed [back in Judea] he sent for them, but they did not come [because of their modesty to deserve such an honour]. --- Talmud, Horayoth, 10a
This anecdote shows that Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah knew of the regular return of the comets, as a general rule. He knew the phenomena from one comet returning about every 70 years and could think that another comet could show in the skies during their maritime journey to confuse the sailors. Ancient civilizations had all observed the comets in the skies, and thought they brought some omen, but nobody had thought these celestial objects were actually the same ones returning again and again. It was the periodicity of the comets that was unknown, except to the Talmudists since Rabbi Joshua asserted it. Yet, it will not be before the year 1705 that the English astronomer Edmond Halley claimed to have discovered the return of the comets. He predicted that the comet, which became known as Halley's comet, returned every 75 years and would thus returned to the skies in 1758. He didn't live long enough to witness its return, and the comet actually returned several months after his prediction... in March 1759. The reason for Halley's miscalculation is that he didn't take into full consideration the discovery of another English scientist, Isaac Newton, that explained gravity. It took some time for astronomers to realize that the periodicity of the comets was not a fixed time, because these objects were subject to the gravity of several planets, such as the very large Jupiter, so their trajectory across the Solar System is always deviated by one planet or another. So, in fact, the Halley comet returns to our skies every 74-79 years. This is why Rabbi Joshua mentioned that he was not certain the comet would return during their trip, as he knew that the periodicity of that comet was not a fixed time. So he had mentioned about every seventy years to Rabban Gamaliel ! The number 70 can always be read as the decenny range of 70-79 years. Also, 70 seems a sacred number when one thinks that the Sanhedrin was composed of 70 Rabbis, and headed by Rabban Gamaliel himself. This consideration led another French astronomer, George Renaudot, to dispute Halley's claim to have been the first person to have discovered the periodicity of the comets. In an article of 1910, when the comet returned to our skies, Renaudot concluded:
In summary, the important fact is that, in all likehood, the period of Halley's comet was known to the Hebrews, and this is a historical point of highest interest which deserves mention.--- Renaudot, George, article in "Revue générale des sciences pures et appliquées", march 1910, translated by Albert Benhamou
After an unexpectedly long journey, which was not caused by the apparition of the comet, the Rabbis finally arrived to Rome later in that year and learned that the emperor they came to meet had died. Indeed, Domitian was assassinated in September 96 and, with him, the Flavius dynasty of Roman emperors had ended.
An anecdote that happened during this visit has been taught:
R. Joshua b. Hananiah once happened to go to the great city of Rome, and he was told there that there was in the prison a child with beautiful eyes and face and curly locks. He went and stood at the doorway of the prison and said, 'Who gave Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers?' [Isaiah 42:24] The child answered, 'Is it not the Lord, He against whom we have sinned and in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient unto his law.' [ibid.] He said: I feel sure that this one will be a teacher in Israel. I swear that I will not budge from here before I ransom him, whatever price may be demanded. It is reported that he did not leave the spot before he had ransomed him at a high figure, nor did many days pass before he became a teacher in Israel. Who was he? — He was R. Ishmael b. Elisha. --- Talmud, Gittin, 58a
The party who got rid of Domitian was probably what we could call “the Nero clan”. Because the new chosen emperor was Nerva, who had been the private secretary of Nero. Nerva met the four religious leaders from Judea and told them about a secret, that Nero did not commit suicide but had renounced to his function of emperor to devote his life to Judaism . This has been consigned in the Talmud:
He [Nero] said: The Holy One, blessed be He, desires to lay waste his House [the Temple in Jerusalem] and to lay the blame on me. So he ran away [from Judea] and became a proselyte, and Rabbi Meir was descended from him. --- Talmud, Gittin, 56a
An alternate understanding of this passage is that Rabbi Meir descended from an envoy that Nero sent to Judea, and who converted to Judaism.
Soon after the visit of these leaders, Nerva cancelled all Domitian’s anti-religious decrees:
Nerva also released such as were on trial for maiestas[2b] and restored the exiles. All the slaves and freedmen that had conspired against their masters he put to death, and allowed that class of persons to lodge no complaint whatever against their masters. Others were not permitted to accuse anybody for maiestas or for "Jewish living." --- Cassius Dio, Roman History, volume 68, section 1
Nerva went as far in his policy in favour of the Jews that he abolished in 97 the Fiscus Judaicus, a tax that was imposed upon all the Jews of the Roman Empire by Vespasian after the destruction of the Temple in 70 in order to build a temple of Jupiter in Rome. The Roman tax collectors seemed to have been particularly zealous in chasing after this infamous tax, according to Roman historian Suetonius (69-122) who was contempary to this period:
Besides other taxes, that on the Jews was levied with the utmost rigour, and those were prosecuted who without publicly acknowledging that faith yet lived as Jews, as well as those who concealed their origin and did not pay the tribute levied upon their people. I recall being present in my youth when the person of a man ninety years old was examined before the procurator and a very crowded court, to see whether he was circumcised. --- Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Domitian, 12
To symbolise this gesture, Nerva issued new coins with the mention Fisci Judaici calumnia sublata, meaning abolition of the malicious Jewish tax.
The special coin issued by Nerva
But Nerva was already quite old when he came to power and died after two years of reign. He was succeeded in 98 by the one he designated as his successor, and who was not any of his relatives. It was the Roman governor of the German provinces, Trajan.
Onkelos was a Roman nobleman, nephew of Titus, who converted around 81 CE to Judaism after enquiring from deceased people:
Onkelos son of Kolonikos was the son of Titus' sister. He had a mind to convert himself to Judaism. He went and raised Titus from the dead by magical arts, and asked him; ‘Who is most in repute in the [other] world? He replied: Israel. What then, he said, about joining them? He said: Their observances are burdensome and you will not be able to carry them out. Go and attack them in that world and you will be at the top as it is written, Her adversaries are become the head etc. [Lamentations 1:5]; whoever harasses Israel becomes head. He asked him: What is your punishment [in the other world]? He replied: What decreed for myself. Every day my ashes are collected and sentence is passed on me and I am burnt and my ashes are scattered over the seven seas. --- Talmud, Gittin, 56b-57a
Onkelos is famous for having translated the Torah into Aramaic. The work is called the Targum (meaning Translation) and is considered so important that it is usually added to the normal Hebrew editions of the Torah. Because of its literal translation, it also at times provides some insight in the meaning of obscures passages of the Hebrew text, especially because Onkelos was helped in his task by prominent Tannaim, as other ones would later helped the translation of the rest of the Bible into Aramaic by Jonathan ben Uzziel, known as the Targum of Jonathan:
The Targum of the Pentateuch was composed by Onkelos the proselyte under the guidance of Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Joshua. The Targum of the Prophets was composed by Jonathan ben Uzziel under the guidance of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, and the land of Israel [thereupon] quaked over an area of four hundred parasangs by four hundred parasangs, and a Bath Kol came forth and exclaimed: Who is this that has revealed My secrets to mankind? Jonathan ben Uzziel thereupon arose and said, It is I who have revealed Your secrets to mankind. It is fully known to You that I have not done this for my own honour or for the honour of my father's house, but for Your honour l have done it, that dissension may not increase in Israel. He further sought to reveal [by] a Targum [the inner meaning] of the Hagiographa, but a Bath Kol went forth and said: Enough! What was the reason? — Because the date of the Messiah is foretold in it. --- Talmud, Megilah, 3a
According to Tradition, the Book of Daniel is the book containing hidden references to Messianic times. The fear, according to the Talmud, was that the Targum of Jonathan would give explicit explanation about details that were otherwise obscure and that were intended to stay as that. One exemple of how far the Targum went into detailing the difficulties found in the original text was given below:
The meaning of the Pentateuch is expressed clearly, but the meaning of the [books of the] Prophets is in some things expressed clearly and in others enigmatically. [For instance,] it is written: In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon (Zechariah 12:11), and Rabbi Joseph [commenting on this] said: Were it not for the Targum [Jonathan] of this verse, we should not know what it means [because there is no other mention of Hadadrimmon in the Bible]. [It runs as follows]: On that day shall there be great mourning in Jerusalem like the mourning of Ahab son of Omri who was killed by Hadadrimmon son of Rimmon in Ramoth Gilead, and like the mourning of Josiah son of Ammon who was killed by Pharaoh the Lame in the plain of Megiddo’. --- Talmud, Megilah, 3a
The Talmud also bears a mention of a much earlier Targum of Job around the time of Rabban Gamaliel, who died 20 years before the destruction of the Second Temple. This translation was probably not considered correct:
Said R. Jose: It once happened that my father Halafta visited R. Gamaliel Berabbi [= R. Gamaliel II] at Tiberias and found him sitting at the table of Johanan b. Nizuf with the Targum of the Book of Job in his hand which he was reading. Said he to him, ‘I remember that R. Gamaliel, your grandfather [Rabban Gamaliel], was standing on a high eminence on the Temple Mount, when the Book of Job in a Targumic version was brought before him, whereupon he said to the builder, "Bury it under the bricks." --- Talmud, Shabbat, 115a
In 106 CE, Trajan campaigned in the East to take over the Nabataean kingdom. This kingdom had ruled independantly over the lucrative route of the spices on the Eastern border with Judea. Trajan took the opportunity of the death of the last king to annex the kingdom. He created another province called Arabia in the newly acquired territory. The capital of this province remained Petra, the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The new border of the Roman Empire was thus pushed more East: this border was called the Limes Arabicus. Over the subsequent years, Rome built several fortresses and military camps along this new desert border, to defend themselves from attacks from nomadic tribes.
In 113 CE, Trajan embarked for a new military campaign against Parthia, and reached Babylon.
While Trajan was in the East, the Jews of Cyrene (present day Shahhat in Cyrenaic Lybia) revolted against the Roman rule. They had some early success as proven by a papyrus telling about one victory in Hermopolis, Egypt.
Papyrus telling about the Jewish revolt in Hermopolis, 116 CE
University of Bremen (photo: Albert Benhamou, from Beth Hatfusoth, Tel Aviv)
But the revolt was severely repressed by Quintus Marcius Turbo, the commander of the fleet that brought Trajan to the East:
Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put one Andreas [4a] at their head and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would cook their flesh, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood, and wear their skins for clothing. Many they sawed in two, from the head downwards. Others they would give to wild beasts and force still others to fight as gladiators. In all, consequently, two hundred and twenty thousand perished. In Egypt, also, they performed many similar deeds, and in Cyprus under the leadership of Artemio. There, likewise, two hundred and forty thousand perished. For this reason no Jew may set foot in that land, but even if one of them is driven upon the island by force of the wind, he is put to death. Various persons took part in subduing these Jews, one being Lusius, who was sent by Trajan. --- Cassius Dio, Roman History, volume 68, section 32
The Christian theologian Orosius also mentioned the Jewish uprising in the year that followed a major earthquake:
At the same time an earthquake laid low four cities in Asia, Elaea, Myrina, Pitane, and Cyme, and in Greece, the two cities of the Opuntii and the Oriti. This same earthquake demolished three cities of Galatia. Lightning struck and burned the Pantheon at Rome, while at Antioch an earthquake laid almost the entire city in ruins.[4b] Then violent rebellions among the Jews broke out simultaneously in various parts of the world. The Jews acted as if turned into mad savages. Throughout Libya they waged pitiless war against the inhabitants and caused great desolation by killing the tillers of the soil. So merciless were they that if the emperor Hadrian had not afterward colonized the country with people from without, the land would have remained absolutely destitute and entirely without inhabitants. They disturbed all Egypt, Cyrene, and the Thebaid by sedition and bloodshed. In Alexandria, however, the Jews were defeated and crushed in a pitched battle. When they also rebelled in Mesopotamia, the emperor ordered war to be declared against them; many thousands of them were exterminated in a vast carnage. It is true that they did destroy Salamis, a city of Cyprus, after they had killed all the inhabitants. --- Orosius, A History against the Pagans, book 7, part 12
The repression nearly annihilated the Jewish communities of Egypt and Cyrene, which was over one million in these times. The Great Synagogue of Alexandria was burned down. It is said that the building was so vast that, during the prayers, a flag was waved to the audience when they were supposed to say "Amen".
Turbo remained in Egypt as prefect for several years. He will later be chosen to rule over all Northern Africa Roman provinces by Trajan’s successor.
Lucius Quietus was a general of Berber origin. His father was a king of Mauretania who had supported Rome in their Northern Africa expansion. As a reward, he was granted Roman citizenship, and his son could join the army. Under Trajan, he successfully campained against the Dacians (Romanians) with his Berber cavalry, auxiliary to the Roman army, as depicted in Trajan’s column in Rome.
Lucius Quietus’ Berber cavalry on Trajan’s column, South-South-West side
In 115 CE, he was named by Trajan as governor of the Judea province. He brought in the 2nd Legion "Traiana" (so-called after Trajan who created it) from Alexandria and settled them near Megiddo (the name of this location is still known as "Legio"). They dealt with revolts in Judea and Egypt until 135 CE, and then were replaced in Legio camp, after 138 CE, by the 6th Legion "Ferrata".
In 117, Quietus crushed the Jewish revolt that tried to emulate the one in Cyrene after the leader of that uprising (Andreas or Lukuas) fled to Judea and stirred trouble there. Lucius Quietus besieged the city of Lydda where the Jewish rebels had gathered. The nassi Rabban Gamaliel II had died there before the revolt. The Romans took the city and killed all leading religious figures including prominent rabbis of the religious school. This execution however brought curse on the Roman perpetrators:
It was said: When Torinus[5a] was about to execute Lulianus and his brother Pappus in Laodicea [Lydda] he said to them, ‘If you are of the people of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,[5b] let your God come and deliver you from my hands, in the same way as he delivered Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar; and to this they replied: ‘Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were perfectly righteous men and they merited that a miracle should be wrought for them, and Nebuchadnezzar also was a king worthy for a miracle to be wrought through him, but as for you, you are a common and wicked man and are not worthy that a miracle be wrought through you; and as for us, we have deserved of the Omnipresent that we should die, and if you will not kill us, the Omnipresent has many other agents of death. The Omnipresent has in His world many bears and lions who can attack us and kill us; the only reason why the Holy One, blessed be He, has handed us over into your hand is that at some future time He may exact punishment of you for our blood’. Despite this he killed them. It is reported that hardly had they moved from there when two officials arrived from Rome and split his skull with clubs. --- Talmud, Taanit, 18b
The rest of the religious heads moved north to the city of Usha in Galilee, away from the troubled Roman province of Judea. The Sanhedrin and the religious schools remained there up until the end of the Great Revolt of Bar-Kochba.
Tomb of Rabban Gamaliel II in Yavneh
In 117, Trajan set sail to return to Rome but died on the way, in a harbour of Asia Minor. He was childless. His military friend, Hadrian, who had married his niece, succeeded him as emperor with the help of friends in Rome. One of his first acts was to remove Lucius Quietus from his post in Judea, after dismissing his Berber cavalry. Soon after he was put to death upon orders from Hadrian on the accusation of conspiracy. The reality is that Lucius Quietus had been a celebrated general of the Roman army and could therefore challenge Hadrian having been chosen as the next emperor. This double death in the same year that followed the massacre of Lydda has been seen as the divine punishment mentioned by the Talmudists.
The Roman constructions in the land of Israel inspired anger among most Jews. During a discussion between some Rabbis, one of them spoke loudly against the Romans:
For R. Judah [bar Ilai], R. Jose [the Galilean], and R. Simeon [bar Yohai] were sitting, and Judah, a son of proselytes, was sitting near them. R. Judah commenced [the discussion] by observing, ‘How fine are the works of this people [the Romans] ! They have made streets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths.’ R. Jose was silent. R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said, ‘All that they made they made for themselves; they built market-places to set harlots in them, baths to rejuvenate themselves, bridges to levy tolls for them.’ Now, Judah the son of proselytes went and related their talk, which reached the government. They decreed: Judah who exalted [us] shall be exalted, Jose who was silent shall be exiled to Sepphoris, Simeon who censured let him be executed. --- Talmud, Shabbat, 33b
Simeon was informed of his condemnation and went into hiding with his son Elazar in a cave for 12 years. He came out of it when he heard that the emperor Hadrian had died (this was in 138 CE) and the decree against him nullified. He soon went back in the cave again for another year. It is during these 12 years of hiding that Simeon bar Yohai is said to have written the major mystical work called the Zohar. Simeon bar Yohai was a disciple of Akiva so this condemnation enabled him to hide and avoid the events that followed and that led to the execution of many Rabbis and of their disciples.
Cave of Simeon bar Yohai near Peki'in, Galilee, Israel
When Hadrian came to Judea in 122 on his way to Egypt, he met with Rabbi Joshua ben Hananyah, who was a tana of Levite descent, student of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai. Rabbi Joshua had witnessed the destruction of the Temple in 70, when Hadrian was not born yet. He had also accompanied his elder colleagues during the mission to Rome at the time of Domitian and Nerva.
Hadrian was a great admirer of Greek philosophers and of thoughtful thinkers in general, and he came into knowing Rabbi Joshua, who was not good-looking, at the following occasion:
This is illustrated by the story of the daughter of the Roman Emperor [Hadrian] who addressed R. Joshua b. Hanania, ‘O glorious Wisdom in an ugly vessel’. He replied, ‘Does not your father keep wine in an earthenware vessel?’ She asked, ‘Wherein else shall he keep it?’ He said to her, ‘You who are nobles should keep it in vessels of gold and silver’. Thereupon she went and told this to her father and he had the wine put into vessels of gold and silver and it became sour. When he was informed of this he asked his daughter, ‘Who gave you this advice?’ She replied. ‘R. Joshua b. Hanania’ — Thereupon the Emperor had him summoned before him and asked him, ‘Why did you give her such advice?’ He replied, ‘I answered her according to the way that she spoke to me’ --- Talmud, Taanit, 7a
After this circumstance, Hadrian held several conversations with Rabbi Joshua which were recorded in the Talmud. In the extract below, the conversation referred to the interpretation of dreams:
The Emperor [Hadrian] said to R. Joshua b. R. Hananyah: You [Jews] profess to be very clever. Tell me what I shall see in my dream. He said to him: You will see the Persians making you do forced labour, and despoiling you and making you feed unclean animals with a golden crook. He thought about it all day, and in the night he saw it in his dream. --- Talmud, Berachot, 56a
Maybe this dream, and especially because the Rabbi foresaw it, greatly disturbed the Emperor. The fact is that, for no obvious reason, one of Hadrian's first measures was to withdraw Roman occupation forces from the most Eastern provinces in Mesopotamia, thus avoiding war against the “Persians”. He thus avoided the realization of the bad omen of his dream. The following sentence may apply to his case, when a premonition dream would allow a person to avoid trouble or death:
“Wherefore make You me to dream, and make me to live.” --- Isaiah 38:16
Maybe out of the consideration he had for the great minds he met in Judea, Hadrian had plans for the reconstruction of Jerusalem which was left razed to the ground since Titus troops destroyed it in 70 CE. Never before had a Roman emperor allowed it to raise from its ashes again.
Hadrian decided to start building a Roman town on Jerusalem when he came to Judea. It is certain that the reconstruction of the city started around 130-131 CE after his visit, and many Roman troops were camped on its ruins.
It is not certain when the new city was completed and when he decided to rename it, as scholars are divided on the subject to know whether it was completed before or after the great Jewish revolt. But Hadrian also had plans to build a temple to Jupiter on top of the Temple Mount, so a revolt was prepared secretly when the construction works started:
At Jerusalem he founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there. So long, indeed, as Hadrian was close by in Egypt and again in Syria, they remained quiet, save in so far as they purposely made of poor quality such weapons as they were called upon to furnish, in order that the Romans might reject them and they themselves might thus have the use of them; but when he went farther away, they openly revolted. To be sure, they did not dare try conclusions with the p449Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved under ground; and they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light.--- Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 69 (to read it online, click here)
It is however remarkable that, despite the destruction and fire caused by the assault from Titus in 70 CE, followed by the building of an entire new city by Hadrian, the Western Wall that was part of the Second Temple was still intact and still stands today. According to the Sages who commented on the Song of the Songs written by King Solomon, the Wall is still in existence because God wants it so:
"Behold He stands behind our Wall." [Song of Songs, 2:9]: behind the Western Wall of the Temple. Why so? Because God has sworn to him that it will never be destroyed, nor will the Gate of the Priests or the Gate of Huldah ever be destroyed until God shall renew them.--- Midrash Rabba, Song of the Songs, II 9:4
Then the city was probably completed after the revolt, and renamed Aelia Capitolina, which is derived from his own name Aelius Hadrian.
The Jewish city of Jerusalem had no more walls at this time, and was still guarded by part of the 10th Legion "Fretensis", appointed by Titus, who was mostly camped on the site of the previously known Upper City (present day Jewish and Armenia Quarters of Old Jerusalem). Hadrian built 4 gates which were erected at the start of the main streets in the city. Typical Roman cities had two streets: the Cardo that ran North-South and the Decumanus running East-West. In Aelia Capitolina there were two Cardo (or Cardii): the Cardo Maximus starting from the Neapolis Gate (now called Damascus Gate) until the Decumanus (now David Street), and the Eastern Cardo that ran along the ravine that was adjacent to the Temple Mount. So the gates were: the Neapolis (Damascus) Gate, a central gate near the Decumanus, a gate to the Western entrance (today where Jaffa Gate stands), a gate to the Eastern entrance (today its remains can be seen in the Ecce Homo church) next to where the Antonia fortress stood. Besides the city had two forums (or fora): one at the Eastern gate and one at the central gate (this forum is where the Muristan quarter is located today). Hadrian also ordered the building of two temples: one dedicated to Jupiter on the Temple Mount (although we have no evidence that this temple was eventually erected, because it would have been quite a walk up the hill to use it), and one dedicated to Aphrodites where the Golgotha was located (Christians seem to have revered this location quite early on, and Hadrian was keen to impose his cult over the Jewish and Christian ones). The remains of the Aphrodites temple exist today in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Map of Aelia Capitolina
(source: Geva, Hillel, Searching for Roman Jerusalem, Biblical Archaeology Society, Nov/Dec 1997)
After the Romans, came the Christian rule with the Byzantine empire. They made it a point to keep Judaism and Jews away from Jerusalem, and they built many churches: it was a "christianization" of the Jewish holy city. But they did not destroy the Western Wall, last vestige of the Second Temple of the time of Jesus. Then came the Persians, then the Muslims who built two mosques on the Temple Mount and palaces on its Southern slope: they started an islamisation of the Jewish holy city, even making it "holy" to Islam. Then came the Crusaders who built more Christian structures in the Old City, then came the Muslims again, then the Tartars, then the Muslims then finally the Turks. And all these invaders left the Western Wall as it was until the Jews gained control of it after the Six Days War in June 1967, some 1900 years after the Romans started their siege against the holy city.
The making of Jerusalem into a Roman city was going to led to yet another Jewish revolt sooner or later. In 132, a man called Simon Ben Kosiba, from Judea,[8a] nicknamed Bar-Kochba (meaning son of a star in Aramaic) by the religious leader Rabbi Akiva, led a revolt and exterminated many Roman occupiers in a new style of warfare: the guerilla. The tactics was to hide and hit Romans by surprise. Many of them died in the first two and a half years that took the Roman empire by surprised.
It is intially believed that the Roman governor of Judea was Turnus Rufus (also called Quintus Tineus Rufus) who used to have discussions with Rabbi Akiva (for example click here). But Rufus was killed at the start of the Jewish uprising but his wife converted to Judaism and married Rabbi Akiva who was a widower at that time (see Talmud, Nedarim, 50b). Who succeeded to him as the governor of Judea? This question has puzzled historians since, but recent archaeology digs found a rock off the shore of the ancient city of Dor with the following inscription: The City of Dor honors Marcus Paccius, son of Publius, Silvanus Quintus Coredius Gallus Gargilius Antiquus, governor of the province of Judea, as well as […] of the province of Syria, and patron of the city of Dor.
So the name of the governor was Gargilius Antiquus and he ruled over Judea from the beginning of the revolt and after. This name was not unknown to historians but they didn't know that he ruled over Judea in that period. He was previously assigned to other parts of the Eastern dominions of the Roman empire..
Bar-Kochba managed to re-establish a form of Jewish independence over Judea for two and a half years. But it was a hidden independence, by living in caves. These caves had been secretaly prepared as hide-outs some years before the revolt began. Many of them have been found in the Judean hills and desert. The hilltop fortress of Herodion was one of the command center of the rebellion.[8b] Sometimes the Romans found a cave entrance and set fire, according to testimonials found in the Talmud:
They [the Romans] filled the cave wherein we sheltered with smoke, etc.--- Talmud, Yevamoth 115aThe rebels never fought a Roman army in a regular fashion, and didn't reconquer Jerusalem where the 10th Legion was stationed. But they aimed to discredit the Roman power and issued new coinage every year, depicting the Temple with sacred items, and a star above as a symbol of Bar-Kochba’s name. This revolt is known as the Great Revolt. When Hadrian reported the revolt to the Roman Senate, he did not use the customary sentence "I and the legions are well", thus proving that he understood the situation was going to be difficult to overcome.
Bar-Kochba silver coinage
The importance of the Great Revolt is illustrated by military orders sent to commanders and officers of the Empire to move to Judea in an "urgency". It is believed that a couple of Roman legions were entirely destroyed in Judea due to the guerilla. Then Hadrian sent his best general, Sextus Julius Severus, from the province of Britain, to crush the revolt. Up to eight legions were called in reinforcement from all the Roman empire, a number unheard of before to restore order in a conquered province while the frontier of the empire was actually located hundred of miles more East.
In 135, the Romans destroyed scores of Jewish villages and towns, suspected to shelter underground hideouts for the rebels. It is estimated that at least 200,000 Jewish civilians perished in the Roman reprisal.
Fifty of their most important outposts and nine hundred and eighty-five of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. Five hundred and eighty thousand men were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities. Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war. Therefore Hadrian in writing to the senate did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors, "If you and our children are in health, it is well; I and the legions are in health."--- Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 69 (to read it online, click here)
In that year 135 CE, the revolt was definitely showing a good outcome for Rome, and Hadrian decided to use the imperial salutation as a symbol of final victory although, technically, the military campaign was not fully finished on the ground. But, after a few months and into the year 136, Bar-Kochba and his men made a last stand in the fortress of Beitar, in the moutains of Judea near present-day Beth-Lehem. The cost of human lives of this war was so great, on both sides, that Hadrian refused to have a triumph, as it was customary in Rome. It is the only case of such occurrence in Roman History. The Talmud bears several references to the massacre that took place in Beitar:
In a Baraitha it has been taught: For seven years [after the massacre at Beitar] the Gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure. --- Talmud, Gittin, 57a-b
According to Jewish tradition, Beitar fell on the 9th of Av (of 136 CE). The Romans did not initially allow the corpses to be buried. But they finally authorized their burial on the 15th of Av, which is tradionnally a joyful day, as much as the 9th of the month is a mournful day. (Talmud, Taanith, 31a)
The Romans also put to death several eminent rabbis of this time, one of them being Rabbi Meir who was the grandson of Nero, and also Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon who was his father-in-law:
A favourite saying of Rabbi Meir was: Study with all your heart and with all your soul to know My ways and to watch at the doors of My law. Keep My law in your heart and let My fear be before your eyes. Keep your mouth from all sin and purify and sanctify yourself from all trespass and iniquity, and I will be with you in every place. --- Talmud, Berachot, 17a
The great Rabbi Akiva was also suppliced in the Roman town of Caesaria:
Our Rabbis taught: Once the wicked Government issued a decree forbidding the Jews to study and practise the Torah. Pappus ben Judah came and found Rabbi Akiva publicly bringing gatherings together and occupying himself with the Torah. He said to him: Akiva, are you not afraid of the Government? He replied: I will explain to you with a parable. A fox was once walking alongside of a river, and he saw fishes going in swarms from one place to another. He said to them: From what are you fleeing? They replied: From the nets cast for us by men. He said to them: Would you like to come up on to the dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors? They replied: Are you the one that they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever but foolish. If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element in which we would die! So it is with us. If such is our condition when we sit and study the Torah, of which it is written, For that is your life and the length of your days (Deuteronomy 30:20), if we go and neglect it how much worse off we shall be! It is related that soon afterwards Rabbi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus ben Judah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: Pappus, who brought you here? He replied: Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Alas for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things! When Rabbi Akiva was taken out for execution, it was the hour for the recital of the Shema, and while they combed his flesh with iron combs, he was accepting upon himself the kingship of heaven. His disciples said to him: Our teacher, even to this point? He said to them: All my days I have been troubled by this verse, ‘with all your soul’, [which I interpret,] ‘even if He takes your soul’. I said: When shall I have the opportunity of fulfilling this? Now that I have the opportunity shall I not fulfil it? He prolonged the word ‘Ehad’ (One) until he expired while saying it. A bath kol [a voice from heavens] went forth and proclaimed: Happy are you Akiva that your soul has departed with the word ehad! The ministering angels said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Such Torah, and such a reward? [He should have been] from them that die by Your hand, O Lord. He replied to them: Their portion is in life. A bath kol went forth and proclaimed, Happy are you, Rabbi Akiva, that you are destined for the life of the world to come. --- Talmud, Berachot, 61b
Rabbi Akiva is buried in the old cemetery of Tiberias, Israel.
Some time after the end of the rebellion, the construction of Aelia Capitolina was completed. The main street, the Cardo, was a straight line flanked by shops on both sides. The entrance of the city was from the gate at the north where stood a column. He also renamed the province Judea as Syria-Palestina, in an attempt to erase the remembrance of the Jewish state and capital. It is his choice of name that gave root to the region being called Palestine in modern days.
Aelia Capitolina in Madaba map, 6th century
Remains of the cardo (the Byzantine extension) in present-day Jerusalem
Hadrian extorted a heavy toll on the Jewish nation after the revolt.Not only scores of villages were destroyed and their population exterminated, but he also executed the religious leadership, and attempted to erase the memory of a Jewish entity by building a Roman city in Jerusalem and by changing the name of Judea into Syria-Palestina, thus attaching Judea to the Syria province ! It is from his time that the term Palestina was re-used, from the old pagan Philistine people who lived in the coastline.
Go To >> Part II
[1a] A "philosopher" (or the term min in Hebrew) was a generic term employed by the practising Jews to name all those who were attracted by alien customs, such as the Saducees, and were assimilated to these foreign cultures; it started with the Greek "philosophy" and the term was coined to embrace any deviation foreign (min) to Jewish values, such as the Jews who were then attracted by the new Christian faith
[1b] The books such as the various Gospels written by those who followed Paul the Apostle who had previously declared that the Law of Moses was over, since the venue of Jesus the Messiah (Jesus Christ), and nobody needed to be bound to its commandments (circumcision, dietary laws, respect of the Shabbat, etc.); Paul had done so in order to rally the Pagans to the new religious cult, after failing to convince the Jews
[1c] Although the official Gospels do not contain any indication about the rule of inheritance as mentioned here, it is possible that, in these times, when many more gospels existed (over fifty are currently known of, but only four gospels had later been retained in the Christian canon), some texts may have touched into this topic
[1d] This part can indeed be found in the canonical gospels, such as Gospel of Matthew 5:17-20: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Torah]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
[2a] In other words, they did not respect the emperor’s religious divine status
[2b] Maiestas were accusations for non-respect for the “majesty of the Roman people”, in other words it was considered as a treason; Domitian used such accusations against those who did not respect his divine status
 Vespasian had two sons, Titus and Domitian, and one daughter, Domitilla the Younger; the latter had a daughter who became a Christian, but there is no record of a son of hers; maybe he was illegitimate, or later historians (who were influenced by the rise of Christianity) didn't record his existence, due to his conversion to Judaism
[4a] Other Historians named him as Lukus or Lukuas
[4b] A major earthquake occurred on 13 December 115, with the epicentre near Antioch; it had an estimated magnitude of 7.5 in the scale of Richter and caused a tsunami that wrecked several harbours such as the Roman one of Caesaria in Judea
[5a] This is a made-up word, pointing to Trajan and his executioner Lucius Quietus
[5b] These are the three Jewish men who were put in a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar; to read more about it, click here
 The French astronomer Jerome Lalande published in 1759 a correction of Halley's calculations after the return of this comet; for more information, check Wikipedia
 He was taunting her as she was too poor to be noticed by a great scholar.
[8a] Nobody knows his real name; in the Talmud, he is generally called Simon "bar Koziba" but this name was derogatory because he claimed to be the Messiah and caused so much destruction to the Jewish nation (source: Lamentations Rabbah II:2)
[8b] The site of Herodion in the Judean desert is one of the most interesting one excavated in recent years and should formally open to the public at some point; to read about recent discoveries there, related to Bar-Kochba, click here
 An inscription was found in Jerusalem in 2013 with mention of the visit of Hadrian to the city in 130 CE; to check an article on this, click here
 An influential and resourful woman, Plotina, who loved Hadrian, was particularly instrumental to his choice as emperor; did she give her name to what we now call a 'plot' after Roman historian Cassius Dio mentioned her role (Roman History, book 69)?
 To read more about this find, click here
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