In 70 CE, Roman centurions—in the midst of quashing a Jewish revolt against the emperor’s authority—sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. This event, writes Martin Goodman, “demanded a religious explanation” in the eyes of most Jews. In an excerpt from his new book on the history of Judaism, he explains how they reacted to this trauma:
For ordinary Jews, such as [the historian] Josephus, the obvious explanation for disaster was already predicted in biblical texts about the curses that awaited Israel for failing to keep to the covenant with God, and in the numerous promises of redemption when Israel repents of its sins. . . . By implication, a reformed Israel was guaranteed divine aid, and exile from the holy city of Jerusalem would in due course come to an end. . . . Josephus, writing in the mid-90s CE, took it for granted that Jews were expected still to worship in the Temple, boasting in Against Apion about its excellence. . . .
It is however probable that Josephus was not alone among Jews in expecting the rebuilding of the Temple. A hundred years after him, the compiler of the Mishnah in ca. 200 CE included discussion of the detailed practice of Temple worship—not just the set feasts (Sabbath, the pilgrim festivals, the Day of Atonement) but the general treatment of “hallowed things” (animal offerings, meal offerings, sacrilege) and the dimensions of the Temple building and its constituent parts. . . . In due course Jews were to develop new expressions of Judaism that came to terms with the loss of the Temple, but it is not clear how long it took for the yearning for a rebuilt Temple to subside. . . .
Temple imagery and reference to the priestly “courses” in many mosaic inscriptions on synagogue floors of the 5th and 6th centuries CE have encouraged speculation that Jews in this period harbored hopes for an imminent rebuilding, but this may be an over-interpretation. In any case, [by the 5th century] rebuilding was not a practical possibility under Christian rulers intent on turning Palestine into a Christian holy land in which Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple could be witnessed as fulfilled.
It would not be until the 12th century, in an Islamic world where sacrifice was no longer part of the wider culture, that Moses Maimonides would assert that God had encouraged sacrificial cult in the first place only in order to wean Jews away from the human sacrifice to be found among surrounding peoples. Even Maimonides, [however], believed that in the last days the Temple would be restored by God, as assumed in the daily prayer that had been in regular use, at least among rabbinic Jews, since soon after 70 CE.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access