Circumstances create conflict. Time nurtures conflict. History immortalizes conflict. Events and individuals prove these three points over and over again. Many even claim that the study of history affords us a hindsight vision of our errors and tribulations. If we know the hows and whys of the mistakes, then surely we will not repeat them. But human nature has invalidated this theory as well. In fact, it is often those old differences—worn ragged but also sharpened by time—which survive across generations. Somehow, the grudges and the accusations outlast war, disease, famine, revolution, love, hate, and even death.
Ask any individual on the face of the earth for such an example, and one word will likely simmer at the top of everyone’s list: Israel. Whether the question was asked a thousand years ago or a day ago, the battle for Israel has run like a tense undercurrent within Middle Eastern and global affairs since recorded history began…seemingly since the beginning of time. One city, more than any other, symbolizes the paradox of bloodshed and hope which defines this region. Holy city Jerusalem has experienced many tribulations, yet each blow has created a stronger and more resilient region.
Jerusalem stands as a testament to the indestructible will of its inhabitants and Israel as a whole. “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Scripture, 2002, Ge 32:28). With that phrase, the long and tortured story of the Hebrew people began. Following their liberation by Moses, the twelve tribes of Israel became the first inhabitants of Jerusalem. After forty years of wandering, the tribes finally reached their “promised land,” and settled in the Land of Israel sometime in the 12th century BC (Barre, 2000).
The first king, Saul, was crowned in 1020 BC (Chodorow, 1994), thus establishing the Jewish monarchy. In 1000 BC, King David made Jerusalem the official capital of the land and of the people. David asked God to accept the newly anointed capital as His own home on Earth—leading to the creation of the Ark of the Covenant (promise). Another significant event occurred in 960 BC when David’s son Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was designed as an ultimate tribute to God, with awe-inspiring rooms and courtyards designed to provide God with a physical earthly dwelling.
This structure became the spiritual hallmark of the Hebrew people. The Israelites would reign in relative peace for about 400 years (Schwartz, 1997). That peace came to a screeching halt in 722 BC when Israel was brutalized by neighboring Syria, and the famous ten Lost Tribes were exiled. The major blow came in 586 BC when Jerusalem fell to Babylonia, and the heart of the people, the first Temple, was destroyed. This event would begin a long cycle of the Hebrews being exiled from their home land (Israel, 2004).
Yet they always would keep the eternal promise of their God in their hearts and souls: “I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it forever” (Scripture, 2002, Exo 32:13). “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand): Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains”(Scripture, 2002, Matthew 24: 15-16). Jerusalem experienced two major sieges during its storied history. Both resulted in the
destruction of the symbolic unifier of the Jewish people, the Temple. The first era of destruction came at the hands of Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar. The events of this era are preserved in the Old Testament. In 601 BC, the conqueror sought resolution on the power which his father sought. He took captives from Jerusalem, including Daniel the prophet. At the conclusion of Nebuchadnezzar’s ruthless pillage, his army claimed 10,000 prisoners, the king included. Weakened by this demonstration of power, new king Sedecias succumbed when the Babylonian sent an even stronger army to overtake the city.
Although the Judeans put up a valiant struggle for eighteen months, Jerusalem was soon engulfed in flames. Its temple destroyed, its leaders massacred, its king blinded, and its inhabitants now captives of Babylon, the death knell seemingly tolled for the great city. Yet against all odds, the city survived. Seventy years after its obliteration, the Temple would rise again, bringing with it renewed hopes for the people of Jerusalem. (Fortescue, 1910) Yet as the Bible itself predicted, more tribulation would await the chosen city. The metamorphosis of recorded history (from BC to AD) would also bring a change of power in Jerusalem.
During the era of Christ and the early years following his death, Jerusalem found itself under control of the Zealots. The city survived the Pompey disaster, it survived the endless struggles for power among the emperors (most notably between Antigonus and Herod), it survived civil war, and it survived the cruel deaths (Cumanus, Felix, Festus, and Albinus) of those charged with the care of its most cherished asset, the Temple. (Hartline, 1998) These obstacles left the city vulnerable to a hungry Roman army—an army which had already carried out a number of sieges. In AD 67, general Vespasian captured the throne in Galilee.
This critical event led to the appointment of Vespasian’s son, Titus, as commander of the empire’s Army of the East. Sensing victory close at hand, Titus struck the holy city when it was at its most vulnerable. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were celebrating one of the most important periods of the year, Passover. The city was filled with revelers and worshippers, young and old. Little did they know that Titus and his army had assumed strategic positions on Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, laying in wait. Attempts at negotiation by Titus and former Jewish commander Flavius Josephus failed (resulting in an arrow wound for the latter).
A ram attack on the third wall and fifteen days of fighting witnessed an overtaking of key defensive positions in Bezetha. Relentless, Titus then assaulted the second wall from the “Camp of the Assyrians” (Fortescue, 1910). Titus and his army set their sights on the Fortress of Antonia; they hoped to gain access to the Temple and to the citadel of Herod. The Zealots refused surrender, instead drawing the Romans into street which resulted in heavy casualties and a retreat. Growing more ruthless and perhaps more desperate, Titus devoted several days to surrounding the war-torn city and thus inducing a famine. He succeeded (Hartline, (1998).