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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

The Aftermath of the War

In the sixth century BCE the Jewish people, having experienced the destruction of their Temple, survived by turning internally to their traditions, their theological beliefs, their community. These same factors contributed to their perseverance after 70 CE. To some extent ideal models for the Temple were already in place. The Temple Scroll from Qumran already indicated a vision of an alternative Temple system. Similarly, pietists (perhaps Pharisees), who ate fellowship or havurah meals in ritual purity and thereby treated the domestic table as the Temple altar, were to some extent prepared for the loss of the sacrificial cult. Synagogues and schools in both Palestine and the Diaspora moved into the gap created by the lack of a central location for community worship. Further, Diaspora Jews, although contributing to the Temple through the annual tax and although connected to it through pilgrimage, had long lived without its immediate presence.

Theological concerns and rereadings of biblical texts provided additional comfort. For Josephus, for the rabbis, and for the authors of such apocalyptic texts as 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra, the destruction was in part the result of the people's sin. This Deuteronomic perception was, however, coupled with a return to the perspective of Jeremiah. That prophet, who had lived at the time of the Babylonian onslaught, had explained that through divine plans some nations rise and others fall. Now the Roman Empire was ascendant, but in time it too would fall. According to some early Christians, the destruction of the Temple was punishment on the Jews for the death of Jesus (see Matt. 27.25 ) and a fulfillment of a prediction Jesus himself had made (Mark 13.2 ).

The Romans themselves probably did not want the Temple system reestablished. Given the controversies earlier appointments to the high priesthood had caused and the potential of both priesthood and Temple to serve as rallying points for another revolt, they would not have wanted another high priest. Their instincts would have been correct: the Bar Kokhba coinage depicts the Temple, a symbol of nationalism and independence. To attempt the reconstruction would have also been politically unwise. Rome replaced the annual two-drachma or half-shekel Temple tax with the humiliating Fiscus Judaicus, now to be paid by all Jewish men over the age of twenty for the reconstruction of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. This policy was abolished by the emperor Nerva in 97.

Roman coins inscribed with the legend “Judea Capta” and depicting a woman weeping beneath a willow tree proclaimed the people's defeat even as they silently but eloquently displayed their grief. The Jewish population of Judea in 73 found themselves surrounded by death—without the Temple, without a clear leadership from among their own people, and without any semblance of local political and economic infrastructure. The Sanhedrin was disbanded. Jerusalem now lacked the revenues that came into the city from pilgrimages (although some Jews continued to make the trip), from the Temple tax, and from the general mechanisms by which the sacrificial system functioned. The Temple would become for the people an ideal; its rituals and practices, description and fate, would be recorded in the rabbinic documents, reviewed in schools, and recited in liturgies. But the various attempts to rebuild it, from the Bar Kokhba rebellion to the initiative in the fourth century, during the reign of Emperor Julian the Apostate, would all fail.

The war also gave rise to a new relationship between Jews and non-Jews in the land. Judea was proclaimed a separate Roman province, which entailed stationing troops. The Tenth Legion, comprised of soldiers who had already fought in the war, was permanently located to Jerusalem; together with their families, these soldiers substantially increased the Gentile population of a city that before 70 had been almost entirely Jewish. Major tracts of land were given to Roman officials and imperial favorites, and Rome constructed new cities for the growing imperial presence. Vespasian, for example, built Neapolis (modern Nablus) near the site of Shechem. Jews were, in turn, expelled from several cities, such as Caesarea. Galilee and Transjordan, which had always had significant non-Jewish populations, also saw demographic shifts.

To survive these various challenges to religious practice and cultural integrity, many Jews turned to their scriptures, and to the teachers who studied them. The Gospels and Josephus both suggest that the Pharisees gained dominance at this time. They were the logical successors to the previous leaders. Although Zealotry would flare up again in the Diaspora revolts at the beginning of the second century and, more completely, in the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132–35, the principal Zealot leaders were either dead, in prison, or in exile. The Sadducees, many of whom had collaborated with the Romans early in the war, and who with the destruction of the Temple had lost their raison d'être, had neither the numbers nor the influence to unite the community. The Essenes living in the towns had no political structure on which to rely, and apparently no inclination to enter politics; whether they even survived as a coherent group after 70 is doubtful.

The Pharisees, now leaders in the political as well as in the religious sphere, also underwent changes. Together with the scribes, who prior to 70 represented a separate class of Torah scholars (the Gospels mention Sadducaic and Pharisaic scribes, as well as scribes as a group distinguished from both), they became known as “rabbis.” The term literally means, in Aramaic, “my teacher” (see John 1.38 ); originally a title for someone in an authoritative position, it came to signal a member of the group responsible for development and codification of specific sets of literature (Mishnah, Tosefta, Talmud, Midrashim). These “rabbinic” writings refer to individuals as rabbi, as rab (teacher), and as rabban (our teacher), the collective being ha-hakamim, “the sages” or “the wise.” No longer would this group be “Pharisees” in the sense of “separated ones”; they would be teachers.

And teach they did. Emphasizing personal piety and study of the Torah over the practices of the Temple, they continued to develop their interpretation of scripture, which came to be known as the “oral law.” While the rabbis were united in their desire to live according to the way they believed the Torah taught and God wanted, they were not united around specific beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, during the period between the First and Second Revolts (70–135 CE) they apparently did work to establish greater harmony than they had prior to the First Revolt. For example, the houses of Hillel and Shammai appear now to be united. From their school in Jamnia, led by Jochanan ben Zakkai immediately after the revolt and then, from approximately 80 to 120, by Gamaliel II, their teachings spread gradually throughout Judea. Their establishment of a “house of judgment” (bet din) filled the gap left by the loss of the Sanhedrin. Meanwhile, other such centers developed, as at Tiberias.

Judaism thus continued, but in a much different form. Gone were the Temple, the power of the Sadducees, the challenge of the Essenes; only latent now were impulses toward political revolt. The Christian movement was increasingly turning toward the Gentile world, separating itself from both Jewish people and Jewish practice. The Diaspora communities continued, but they too faced religious changes occasioned by the loss of the Temple and political changes occasioned by the repercussions of the revolt. Yet through the teachings of the rabbis, the preservation of scripture, the ongoing practice of tradition, and continuing faith in God, Judaism would persevere.

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