First Jewish Revolt to the Byzantine Period
Part of what we are doing in a study like this is to show the providential direction of God in history, and it gives us a great comfort to know that no matter what is going on with Israel, whether they are apostate or whether they are following the Lord, God is faithful to His promises and to His covenants. As we go through this study we are going to hit a number of people that are going to demonstrate how God has used these people down through the centuries, specifically in relationship to Israel. We will get an idea of how God specifically raised up these people in special times just for what role they had to play with regard to Israel.
One of the questions to be answered in this study: What is the history of the Jews since AD 70 in relationship to their historic homeland. It is very important to understand that there has always been a presence of Jews in the land, no matter what has happened. The history of Israel extends for about 4000 years and it is an outworking of the blessings and the curses that are contained within the Mosaic law: Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28 & 29. During the times of divine judgment, both in the Old Testament and in the church age God has protected Israel and watched over them. As we think over the corridors of time and through all of the ancient civilizations—Egyptians, Sumarians, Hittites, Assyrians, Romans, Greeks—where are they? They are all in the dust bin of history, but the Jews survive. In fact, King Frederick of Prussia once asked one of his generals if he could give one evidence of the validity of the Bible. The answer was, "Yes, sir, in a word the Jews." They have survived down the corridors of time no matter what else has taken place.
Today we see a Jewish nation in the land and that is a sign of how God has worked down through history. We ought to look at that and see how that shows us God's providential care. The land of Israel has gone through a long period of time now since AD 70 where they have been subjugated by at least twenty different conquerors. Nevertheless, the land itself has never been a nation belonging to anybody else. Despite all the conquests by the Romans, the Byzantine empire, the Persians, the Muslims and various different Muslim empires that dominated it was never an autonomous country belonging to any other ethnic group. It was always just assimilated into another territory and was just an administrative district, never an autonomous nation owned by anybody else. Jews have lived continuously in the land for more than 2000 years and the Arabs/Muslims never really cared much about Jerusalem or the Jews being in the land until they became a significant force, beginning in the late nineteenth century. The covenant that God made with Abraham and confirmed with the Jess in Deuteronomy 30 as the land covenant is still in effect.
Basic points in review
1) God gave the land to Israel permanently in the Abrahamic covenant, Genesis 12:1-3.
2) The blessing of enjoying the land is related to the command to be a blessing. In Genesis 12:2, in the last clause, God says to Abraham, "You be a blessing." It is a command. Then in verse 3 God says, "Those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse." When the Jews became apostate they were no longer going to be a blessing, so God took them out of the land. God was not going to let them enjoy the blessing in the land when they were in a rebellious, apostate state.
3) The conditions for the enjoyment of the blessings of the land are spelled out in the temporary Mosaic covenant, which also spelled out blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience.
4) The fifth stage of discipline (Leviticus 26) ends the cycle. They are scattered from the land throughout the world.
5) But God promised that in the midst of that, even though they would disobey God and that He would remove them from the land they would eventually turn to Him and he would then return them to the land as a regenerate people. There was always that promise in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that God would bring them back to the land from all the nations of the earth, not just from Babylon. That has yet to be fulfilled.
6) The removal from the land came first in 722 BC with the northern kingdom, Israel, and then 586 for the southern kingdom, Judah.
7) The partial return occurred during the post-exilic period but this was not the foretold return from all the nations of the earth and the regeneration.
8) The outline for future Gentile kingdoms in given in Daniel 2, 7, 8.
9) The outline of the time frame for Daniel's people is in Daniel 9:24-27.
10) During the Roman period the Jews are ruled by Herod the Great and his descendants.
11) Then we have Jesus' prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem just before He dies. Matthew 23:37-39: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the propjets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say unto you, from now on you shall not see me until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" The land of Israel will be left desolate, it is a place of warfare, a place of violence, a place that becomes a millstone around the neck of the world, and all the nations will fight because of Jerusalem. It is a sore spot, and that is exactly what we see in history until the Jews turn and accept Jesus as messiah, and say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." In that prediction Jesus says that no stone will be left on top of another in the temple, and this is precisely fulfilled.
What ends the Jewish residence in the land is the first Jewish revolt which takes place in AD 66-70. The Romans carried off between 100,000 and 300,000 Jews into slavery. They slaughtered between 600,000 and one and a half million Jews and the land was completely devastated and ravaged. There were two more revolts, one about 115 and another about 132-135. During this time the people were heavily taxed by Rome. They were not permitted to own land. They could farm in the area of Galilee and they were persecuted from this tome forward. Herod Agrippa was the king when this began. The instigation was due to the policies and the abuses of Florus. Josephus says that he paraded his outrages upon the nation as though he had been sent as the hangman of condemned criminals. He abstained from no form of robbery or violence. In fact, Florus wanted to rob the temple of all of its treasures and money, and once the riot broke out in Caesarea and spread to Jerusalem in 66, rather than compromising and reaching a peace agreement and calming everything down, he just fanned the flames hoping that there would be enough instability and chaos that he would be able to get into the temple and rob it. He was completely self-serving. In the course of the violence in Jerusalem when the violence had spread there he gave orders to the Roman troops to sack the city. The troops moved from house to house plundering the city and killing its residence. Jewish insurgents, however, were able to rise up against them and to gradually force the Romans to withdraw. Throughout the land, from the north in Galilee down to the south in Judea, Jews then rose up and attacked the Gentiles who were living in their vicinity. Then the Gentiles cities rose up against the Jews and slaughtered the Jews. So it was a horrible time with incredible bloodshed.
After about a year Nero sent Vespasian and several Roman legions to the land of Israel to put down the revolt. Initially Vespasian sent his son Titus with the 15th Roman legion to the land, but at least six or seven other legions joined him. After a couple of years, from 66-68, they gained control of Galilee and portions of the south in Judea, but at that time Nero died. Because there wasn't a Caesar to direct the continuation of fighting they just stopped. During this time they had pretty much cut off Jerusalem. But within Jerusalem there were three major factions of Jews fighting each other. They were fighting each other and the Romans on the outside. It became clear about this time that the zealots gained control and were leading the nation to ruin. It was at that time that the peaceful groups, those who wanted to have peace with the Romans, left, including all the Christians. Remember that Christians knew of Jesus' prophecy that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed and no stone would be left on top of another. Eusebius tells us that all of the Christians left Jerusalem. Up to this point all of the major figures in Christianity were Jews.
The next two years were a time of absolute horror. There was a period of stalemate until the time that Vespasian was appointed Caesar. There was a lot of instability in Rome and it took about a year before they appointed Vespasian as the Caesar who then delegated the authority to his son Titus to complete the defeat of the rebels. The final assault took place from the spring of AD 70, in April, to the 1st of August in the summer of AD 70. The final assault took place in various stages. There were three walls around Jerusalem and it took about a month before the Romans were able to breech all three of the walls. The fighting was so intense and so many Romans had died that despite orders to not destroy the temple it didn't take long before it burst into flames and the entire temple complex burned. Allegedly the gold and silver melted and went down the rocks causing the soldiers to pry the rocks apart to get it. This is what caused the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy.
In 68 some of the zealots had captured a fortification that was only defended with a small contingent of Roman troops out in the Judean desert, named Masada, the Hebrew word for fortification. A few zealots held out there for the next three years. By that time the new procurator was Flavius Silva who took the Roman 10th legion, camped around Masada, and for several months laid siege to the fortress. When they finally entered the fortification they found that approximately 930 Jews had killed themselves and burned all of the structures except for the food storehouses. They did that to demonstrate that there were was enough food and supplies there so that they could have held out for much longer. They killed themselves because they felt that it was better to be dead than to lose their liberty.
This was the end of Jerusalem, the end of the temple, and the Jews didn't have a temple anymore where they could bring sacrifices. So how are they going to survive if they can't bring sacrifices to Jerusalem to obtain cleansing and forgiveness for sin? This presented a major challenge to the rabbis. So in AD 90 the Sanhedrin met (no longer a governmental body because there was no nation any more) in a place called Jamnia, located near the coast, near modern Tel Aviv, but since the Sadducees had little to offer theologically and because they had little to help it was the Pharisees who dominated the council. It was a very important council because it was there that they restructured Judaism along the lines of synagogues and provided the foundation for the future of Judaism.
The next event of significance that happened was the Trajan revolt which occurred from 115-117 AD during emperor Trajan's reign, and during this time again several hundred thousand Jews are killed. They again revolted against Rome and he had to send in the legions in order to quell the revolt. The revolt extended over large portions of the Middle east from Cyrene, including Egypt, Cyprus, as well as the land of Israel.
The next major revolt, which is actually referred to as the second Jewish revolt, is the Bar Kokhba revolt from 132-135. Simon Bakoziba, whose name sounded like "kokhba" (Hebrew for 'star') was identified by a famous rabbi, Akiba, as the Jewish Messiah. Bar Kokhbar is the Hebrew for 'son of a star' and so based on the passage in Numbers that a star would come forth from Judah he was identified as the messiah. All the Jews that were left in the land tended to align themselves with Akiba and once again Hadrian had to send in the legions to put down the revolt.
What stimulated this revolt was that emperor Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem in AD 130. He seemed to be sympathetic to the Jews but what he wanted to do and what his plan was—and word got out—that he was going to reestablish the city as a Roman city. He was going to rename it Aelia Capitolina and build a temple to Zeus on the temple mount, so this aggravated all the Jews and led to the revolt. But they are defeated and during this defeat 580,000 followers of Bar Kokhba were massacred at Beth-ther, and then Hadrian implemented a massive campaign of destruction, renamed the land Palestine, and renamed Jerusalem, building pagan temples on any holy site related to either Judaism or Christianity. That had a positive effect because one of the things that happened later on in history as people went back to the land to try to figure out where Jesus was born, where He was crucified, where the tomb was, there were places marked out by these pagan temples that Hadrian had built over these sites. So there is evidence going back to the early second century that these sites were venerated by the early Christians.
While many think that the name Palestine is etymologically related to the term "Philistine" and therefore refers to the land of the Philistines, that is not its source. However, a cognate of the Greek word PALE [palh] means a wrestler, and this was a term that the Greeks applied to this land long before the Jewish revolt. The Greeks loved puns, and so they called it the land of the wrestler because it was the land of Israel and Israel got his name, remember, when he wrestled with the angel of the Lord at Peniel. There is a play on words here because Palestine also sounded like Philistine and the Greeks got a great chuckle over that.
The Bar Kokhbar revolt pretty much ends the Jewish revolts, although there are minor revolts and insurrections against the Romans for the next 200 years. There was always a presence in the land. The other thing that Hadrian did was to prohibit any Jew from living in Jerusalem. That ended the Jewish nature of the Christian church. Up to this point the church in Jerusalem was dominated by Jewish believers. Because of the fact that no Jews could live inside of Jerusalem that removed all Jewish believers. This had the further effect of separating Jews from Christians and led to eventual hostility between Jews and Christians. At that stage, 135 AD, there was not the hostility and distinction between Jews and Christians that there was three or four hundred years later.
What we see throughout all this time is Jews staying in the land, and for the last 2000 years there has been a continuous presence of Jews living in the land. There was never a time when they were all removed. That brings us up to the next period, the post-biblical period of the Roman empire, the Byzantine period, the Persian period, and then the Moslem period. There is Rome, and then Rome divides east and west, so the east is called the Byzantine empire. Then the Persians come in briefly for a period of about 25 years and conquer, and then there were the Islamic hordes coming up from Arabia and the land comes under the dominance of various Muslim empires from the 8th century on.
The conquerors of Jerusalem and Israel
Rome from 63 BC to approximately 364 AD. In 364 the eastern and western empire split and the eastern empire, the Byzantine empire is the dominant force in the east. The Byzantine empire only controls the land of Israel from 364 to 614. However, the Byzantine empire does not completely fall until the fall of Constantinople on May 29th, 1453. The Persians come in and conquer the land of Israel and take it away from the Byzantine empire in 614, and they have it for a very short period of time. The Muslims conquer it in 636 and control it until 1099 which is when we get into the Crusader period. The Crusaders have it from 1099 to 1291, followed by the Mamelukes. The Mamelukes ruled from 1291 to 1516 until the Ottoman Turks take over. On October 31st 1517 the reformation begins.
The period of Rome from 135 to 314 was a time of relative peace in the land. There were still a number of Jews who lived in the land, there was peace from outside invasion, a measure of relative prosperity, and it was a time in which the Jews were formalizing what becomes modern Judaism. The rabbis are developing their theology, they are taking the oral traditions related to the teachings of the rabbis and they write this out in the Mishna, a Hebrew word meaning repetition. The Mishna becomes the standard expression and interpretation of the Mosaic law, and was the foundation for what is later called the Talmud. The Talmud is a rabbinical commentary on the meaning of the Mishna. So this lays the foundation for Jewish law and rabbinical theology, which is the next stage in the development of Judaism.
The next period was the Byzantine rule from 364 to 614. In 364 the territories of Rome were divided east and west and this was the beginning of the Byzantine period. The capital city is Byzantium, known as Constantinople, and now Istanbul. The word "Byzantium" comes from the Greek word BASILEIA [basileia], the word for kingdom, and it referred to the Greek-speaking part of the Roman empire.
In the fifth century Christians became the majority of the population in the land of Israel. The Byzantine Christians began to build monasteries in the land of Israel, they began to build churches over the various sites that were significant for both Old Testament Jews as well as in the life of Christ. The fifth century marks the end of the Hellenistic world. Few of the non-Christian communities remained, apart from a scattering of Jews in the land, but there is always a group of Jews living in the land. Under the reign of Theodosius II, from 408 to 450, Jews were deprived with any autonomy that they had, the right to hold public positions was taken away, Jewish courts were forbidden to sit on mixed Jewish-Christian cases, the construction of synagogues was prohibited, and Jews were forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on one day a year to mourn the destruction of the temple.
Under the Byzantine empire Jews remained a suppressed minority but there were still various times when they tried to express their independence and revolt against their leadership. Nevertheless there were 43 Jewish communities in Israel during the fifth century which remained into the sixth century. Jews in Palestine numbered about 200,000 up through the seventh century.