As Jesus was walking out of the temple in Jerusalem, Mark 13 tells us, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" Indeed, the first-century Jewish temple, extensively renovated by Herod, dazzled nearly everyone who saw it. Jewish historian Josephus reported that it was "covered on all sides with massive plates of gold," and when the sun struck it, "it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from solar rays."

Jesus, however, was unimpresssed. "Do you see all these great buildings?" he answered his disciple. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

A few years later, Jesus's prediction came true. Jesus might not have been too enthralled with Herod's redecorating efforts, but Roman Emperor Vaspasian found them irresistible. The pet projects of Vespasian's predecessor, Nero, had emptied the imperial treasury, and Vespasian needed manubiae (booty) in a big way. The handiest target for Vespasian and his son Titus was the temple, which was also the center of gravity for the revolt-prone Jewish people. Destroying the temple would bring a rapid influx of wealth and break the back of the religious resistance—a winning combination. Vespasian began closing in on Jerusalem in the late sixties, and Titus finished the job in A.D. 70.

A relief on an arch in Rome documents some of the manubiae hauled from the temple, showing soldiers carrying a large menorah (probably solid gold) and other ritual items. The extent of the take, including gold and silver artifacts, fine woods and cloths, cash reserves (the temple served as a bank for widows and orphans), and Jewish prisoners (who could ...

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