the destruction of the temple
The destruction of the temple, an event that Jesus foretold (Mark 13:24–31), occurred in AD 70. The razing of Jerusalem and the destruction of the centerpiece of Israel didn’t take place overnight. The first Jewish revolt spanned AD 66–70 and culminated with the destruction of Jerusalem. In the fall of AD 66, Rome’s procurator, Florus, seized gold from the temple, further igniting conflict with the Jews. Christians in Jerusalem likely fled north to Pella, a city twenty miles south of Galilee. For the next few years, Rome’s relationship with the Jewish people continued to deteriorate. In the summer of AD 69, Vespasian became emperor of Rome, and he appointed his son Titus to lead the Roman army in the sacking of Jerusalem. A year later, Titus breached one of the Jerusalem walls, and in August of AD 70, the city of Jerusalem fell. The Roman soldiers looted the city, desecrated the temple, slew thousands of Jews, and deported many to Rome.
the formation of rabbinic judaism
The fall of the temple profoundly shaped Jewish culture and leadership. The Sanhedrin, the powerful ruling body in Jerusalem that governed the nation, naturally came to an end. All but one of the various factions of Judaism—the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and Herodians—ceased to exist. The Pharisees were the only Jewish group left standing. Theologian David Instone-Brewer summarizes the situation well: “The Sadducees lost their locus of activity [the temple], the Essenes lost the reason for their rebellion, and the Pharisees’ attempt to replicate Temple activities in the home, synagogue, and schoolhouse became the only way to express Jewish rites.” The destruction of the temple was the catalyst for a return to reflect anew on Israel’s Scriptures. Unlike the Apostles, who viewed Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as the centerpiece of Scripture, these Jewish interpreters viewed the nation of Israel as the center.
According to some streams of Jewish tradition, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, a leader of the Hillel school of Jewish law, was smuggled out of Jerusalem in a coffin before Jerusalem’s destruction. He then visited Vespasian and predicted that he would soon become emperor of Rome. Vespasian, in turn, permitted him to establish a school at Yavneh or Jamnia on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Here, a new kind of Judaism would begin to flourish. The Hillelites gathered at Yavneh, and their rabbinic followers would produce a massive amount of literature.