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The Effects of the Fall of Jerusalem on Christianity

By J. Julius Scott, Jr.
Wheaton College Graduate School

Proceedings (Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society), Vol. 3 (1983).

Introduction

Any consideration of the effects of the fall of Jerusalem upon Christianity must take into account a number of basic facts. First, the impact upon those Christians who were native Jews was different from the effects of the event upon those from Gentile backgrounds. Secondly, just as recent scholarly consensus recognizes that Second Commonwealth Judaism was far from a monolithic whole,(1) so there is a growing recognition that there were distinct groups or parties within pre-70 C.E. Jewish Christianity, most notably in that of the Church of Jerusalem.(2) Furthermore, if, as I believe, the sources indicate some of these Jewish Christians groups were more closely tied to the national institutions of Judaism, then we should expect the 70 C.E. catastrophe to impact them more severely than others. Finally we must distinguish between direct and indirect effects of the fall of Jerusalem upon Christianity as a whole and individual groups within it.

Before turning to even a cursory consideration of these things, it is well to remind ourselves of the historical data relating to the Christians who were caught in the conflict. We must also take note of questions which have been raised about the reliability of these records.

Traditional Accounts of the Fate of Jerusalem Christians at 70 C.E.

In the NT Luke 20:21 ff seems to recast Mk 13:14 ff (cf. Matt 24:15 ff) so as to make certain reference to the overthrow of Jerusalem. However, difficulty in assigning an exact date to the writing of the Third Gospel(3) makes it impossible to know just where the saying fits into the history of the Jerusalem Christian community. If the woman of Rev 12 represents the Jerusalem Church, her flight into the wilderness (vs 6) may also reflect the experiences of this Christian group around 70 C.E.

Outside the NT Eusebius, quoting Hegesippus, says

The people of the church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Peraea which is called Pella. To it those who believed on Christ migrated from Jerusalem (EH III:5,1 ff).

Epiphanius (Haereses XXIX:7; XXX:2; De Mesuris and Ponderibus XV:3) cites a similar tradition. Each writer specifically mentions Pella as the final destination of the refugees. Epiphanius traces the origin of later Christian groups in Decapolis and Coele-Syria, including the sects of the Nazarenes and of the Ebionites, to this flight from the Romans just before 70 C.E.

On the basis of these statements it has been assumed that sometime before the final overthrow, some Jerusalem Christians, either in mass, small groups or as individuals, withdrew from the city to places of refuge, primarily in Transjordan. The exact time of this exodus has been variously placed just after the death of James, the Relative of Jesus (ca. 62 C.E. -- Lietzmann and Jocz), following the Jewish victory over Cestius Gallus (66/67 C.E. -- Weizsaecker, Elliott-Binns, and F.F. Bruce), or even later in the period following the temporary withdrawal of Vespasian to await developments in Rome (68/69 C.E. -- Harnack and Ehrhardt).

Additional evidence suggests that following the war, Jerusalem and other Jewish Christians returned to the city and reorganized their fellowship. Talmudic and other Jewish sources indicate the presence of such groups throughout Palestine and the contempt and hatred directed toward them by their non-Christian countrymen. Eusebius and Epiphanius disagree about the size and importance of the post-war Jewish-Jerusalem Church. The former says that "there was a very important Church, composed of Jews, which existed until the siege of the city under Hadrian" (The Proof of the Gospel III:5,124[d]) and gives a list of bishops who reigned in the city during that time (EH V:5). Epiphanius (De Mesuris et Ponderibus IV) implies that there was little more than a struggling, insignificant church on the site of old Jerusalem between 70 and 132.

S.G.F. Brandon's Criticism of the Traditional Accounts

The validity of the traditional account is vigorously debated, primarily as a result of S.G.F. Brandon's highly controversial work, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church.(4) Brandon argues that in spite of the claims of ancient writers, there is ample reason to believe that the Church of Jerusalem "identified itself too closely with the nation from which it had originally emerged and in Israel's virtual annihilation it subsequently shared."(5) Both because of the nature of the pre-70 C.E. church and consequences of the Jewish overthrow, not only did Christianity in its primitive form cease to exist, but Christianity as a whole was subsequently "virtually reborn."

Brandon's conclusions depend heavily upon his methodological commitments which permit him to reconstruct, as he recognizes, a revived "Tuebingen School" view of early Church history.(6) The NT documents, he argues, show that the conflict between the Jewish-Jerusalem view of Christianity (of which James, the Relative of Jesus, was the leader) staunchly opposed that propounded by Paul. As a result of Paul's arrest, the Jerusalem Christians were, between 55 and 65, virtually unopposed in promoting and spreading their gospel. Paulinism was all but stamped out. The 70 C.E. catastrophe and the elimination of the Jewish-Jerusalem form of Christianity permitted the resurgence and eventual victory of Paulinism.

Brandon subjects Eusebius and Epiphanius' reports of a flight by Jerusalem Christians to Pella to searching, critical investigation. This, he believes, leads to the inevitable conclusion that the cultural, political, and military conditions(7) and the spirit of the Jerusalem Church requires rejection of the claims of a flight to Pella.(8)

Although Brandon's reconstruction has gained some support,(9) it also received severe criticism from the book's original reviewers(10) -- including H-J Schoeps, the dean of contemporary studies of early Jewish Christianity(11). More recent investigations have tended to support at least some version of the traditional account.(12)

That Brandon has misread and mishandled his sources seems to me obvious. His greatest contributions lie, first of all in simply raising the question of the significance of the fall of Jerusalem in early Christian history. Secondly, by example he has shown the importance of a correct understanding of the pre-70 C.E. Jerusalem Church in evaluating the effects of the catastrophe upon Christianity. It is to this latter point that we now must turn.

The Pre-70 C.E. Church of Jerusalem:

A Reconstruction of Its internal Constitution

Elsewhere(13) I have attempted to demonstrate the gradual emergence in Jerusalem Christianity of three distinct groups which seem to have been clearly defined by the time of Paul's last visit to the city. The Jewish Christian Hellenists (cf. Acts 6:1), probably best represented by Stephen's speech of Acts 7, were, at an early date, forced out of the church by persecution and soon swallowed up within the Larger Church. Their emphases became almost indistinguishable, save for an occasional writing such as the canonical Epistle to the Hebrews and the later letter of Pseudo-Barnabas.

With the passage of time and the expansion of Christianity into semi-Jewish and Gentile areas, it became obvious that differences remained even among the Hebrews of Acts 6:1, the Jewish Christians of a Hebraic or Semitic background. The extreme right wing group, the "circumcision party" (Acts 11:2), the believing "Zealots for Torah" (Acts 21:10) or, as I prefer to call them, "The Pharisaic Hebrew Christians" (cf Acts 15:5), regarded Christianity as little more than a party within Judaism, distinguished only by its conviction that the Messiah had actually come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. They must also have believed that the Messiah's appearance had introduced some changes into the eschatological situation, but obviously did not believe that those attitudes and practices which constituted the real essence of second Commonwealth Judaism had been annulled or radically affected. Gentiles, they insisted, must first become proselytes to Judaism which included submitting to circumcision and Torah, before they could be admitted into the Christian fellowship. Personally they remained closely tied to Jewish national interests and seem to have sought to impose their view upon the whole church.

Controversies regarding circumcision and the Christian way of salvation (Acts 15:1 ff; Gal 1 and 2) provided occasion and stimulus for the emergence of a third groupwith in the Jerusalem Church, another subdivision of the Hebrew Christians of Acts 6:1. For want of a better term I call them "The Moderate Hebrew Christians." They are to be distinguished from the Jewish Christian Hellenists in their continuing allegiance to the traditional Semitic-Hebraic culture. They differ from the Pharisaic Hebrew Christians in their recognition of the radical difference made by the dawn of the eschaton and the coming of the Messiah. They recognized the difference between Judaism and the new faith, accepted the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, and did not seek to impose the Jewish Law and customs upon Gentile believers. Nevertheless, from free choice and habit they themselves continued to live within the framework of Judaism, in conformity with their former manner of life. It was this that set them apart from the Larger church.

The NT strongly implies that the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, including the Twelve Apostles, James, and the elders shared and were representatives of the spirit of Moderate Hebrew Christianity. If this is true, it is significant for two reasons. In any multifactional group the opinions of the leaders have a strong claim for being at least the quasi-official views of the body. Furthermore, the "average" members who comprise the majority of any popular movement, tend to accept the opinions of their leaders. If this were the case in the Jerusalem Church, then the Moderates were the largest group and thus had a second reason, numerical superiority, for claiming to represent the normative position.

The Effects of the Fall of Jerusalem upon

Christianity

S.G.F. Brandon is an example of those who see the effects of 70 C.E. upon Christianity in virtually the most radical way possible. Its whole character was reshaped by internal tensions which, by the time of the fall of Jerusalem and the consequent annihilation of Jewish Christianity, exploded to form a very different religion and organization. Gerd Luedermann believes that the Jewish war at least gave rise to a second and third century Jewish Christianity which was discontinuous and distinct in faith and practice from the pre-70 Church of Jerusalem.(14)

If Brandon is correct then the remains of the post-70 Church should be dominantly Pauline in tone and interpretation. Although Paulinism was influencial in the period, even a cursory reading of the Ante-Nicene Fathers shows it was far from all-prevailing.(15)

What one actually finds in the literature of this period is a surprising amount of continuity both with the past and among individual congregations.(16) Certainly there were differences between various branches of the early church, primarily the result of individual, local, or regional characteristics. Yet, it appears that, in a general sense, there was a common core and framework of both the content and form of the faith. This was true because what Christianity's Jewish background and original environment had to give had been given before the disruption. The crucial developments had taken place before 70 C.E. Thus, for the Church at large the effects of the fall of Jerusalem were minimal. The overthrow of the Jewish state served to confirm in the minds of most Christians that God had rejected the form of Second Commonwealth Judaism as his method of carrying out his purpose. Also, as W.D. Davies observes, it "placed the seal on what had already emerged, namely the predominance of Gentile Christianity."(17) In fact, it is significant that although the NT and other early Christian sources are not without either implicit or explicit references to the fall of Jerusalem, it is certainly not a main topic of concern.

An important Christian interpretation of the fall of Jerusalem is found in one of the earliest direct references to it, a comment appended by Hegesippus to his account of the death of James, the Relative of Jesus, "And at once (kai ethus) Vespasian began to besiege them"(Eusebius, EH II,23). A similar statement is thrice ascribed by Origen C Cel I:47; II:13; Com Matt 17) to Josephus. It appears in no extant text of Josephus; Origen's edition had doubtlessly been altered by a Christian hand. Thus, both Hegesippus and Origen testify to the conviction among some Christian groups that Jerusalem's overthrow was a divine retribution for Jewish rejection of Jesus, treatment of Christians, and particularly the assassination of James. It is significant that such sentiments appear in sources with close associations with Jewish Christianity.

The reaction of Gentile Christianity was probably similar and possibly more intense. Note Justin Martyr's complaint that the Jews do not repent "... even when your city is captured, and your land ravaged ..." (Dial 108). It may have played a part in the growth of Gentile distrust of all Jews, including Jewish Christians, as reflected in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho(18) and so contributed to the development of that darkest of all blotches upon the face of Christianity, its periodic anti-semitism.

Finally, we must consider the effects of the fall of Jerusalem upon Jewish Christianity. Jakob Jocz thinks the fall led to a "revival" which produced a numerically large, flourishing Jewish church between 70 C.E. and 132. He says:

"The year A.D. 70 marked a turning point in the history not only of Judaism but also of Christianity. The military defeat which ended in the destruction of the Temple effected the young Jewish Church in several ways:

(1)The fact that the war against Rome took place without Christian participation widened the breach between the nationalistically minded Jews and the believers in Jesus Christ.

(2)The destruction of the Temple tipped the scales in favor of antinomian elements of Jewish Christianity and also solved the perplexing problem concerning Christian participation in the Temple cult.

(3)It detached the Jewish Church from Jerusalem as a religious centre, and thus allowed a greater measure of freedom and independence.

(4)It provided the Messianic movement with a new and powerful weapon for propaganda purposes.(19)

This general summary is not without its merits. Nevertheless we should, I believe, look more closely at the likely results of the fall of Jerusalem upon each of the Jewish-Jerusalem Christian groups which characterized the pre-70 C.E. Church.

The Jewish Christian Hellenists shared the sorrow and reproach which came to all Jews because of the revolt and defeat. However, as Christians they were probably affected only to the same degree as the rest of the Larger Church with which they had become identified.

The Pharisaic Hebrew Christians must have been most acutely affected. Some may actually have joined the revolt and perished. Others seem to have survived. Most appear to have retreated into isolationism caused, not only by their remote geographical location, but even more by their emphasis upon those points which set them apart from both Judaism and their fellow Christians. Before 70 they had stressed the necessity for all Christians to observe Torah; so too this was the main theme of the group in the period of modification and readjustment.

Cut off from the restraining influences present when they associated freely with the Moderate Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, they seem to have moved rapidly into extremes of faith and practice. Most likely they were thrown into contact with other refugee Jewish groups such as the Essenes. It is quite likely that such sects as the Ebionites and Elkesaites arose from such an environment.

The destruction of Jerusalem forced the Moderate Hebrew Christians away from the security of their familiar surroundings. No longer could they appeal to convenience or demands of environment to justify continued observance of the Jewish Law. Previously they had been willing theoretically to accept fellowship with Gentile Christians. Now they were confronted with the challenge of putting this theory into practice.

Some Moderates probably merged with other branches of the Larger Church. Some, particularly those who remained in Palestine, were thrown into constant contact with unbelieving Jews. The scorn and persecution to which these Jewish Christians were subjected is reflected throughout the post-Mishnaic Rabbinic writings.(20) All Moderate Hebrew Christians were forced to wrestle anew with the problems of Torah, Jewish national and religious institutions, and especially with the question of associating with Gentiles.

Before 70 C.E. the Moderate Hebrew Christians were probably the controlling and most influential voice in the Church. Afterwards they were a racial minority in a Church that was following lines of development other than those of their own choosing. The Moderates probably still dominated Palestinian Christianity.

Nevertheless, it is not impossible that the Moderate Hebrew Christians were able to exert at least some influence upon the Larger Church. Church historians mention some Hebrew Christian activity in Palestine between 70 and 130 which was neither hostile nor unacceptable to the Church at large. At least part of the non-Pauline, non-Alexandrian flavor of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and the reputation of Jerusalem as a preserver of Christian tradition may be included in the legacy of these Moderate Hebrew Christians. Some parts of the NT which date from pre-70\may\at least in part, owe their preservation and acknowledgment as part of the canon to the influence of the post-70 Jerusalem-Palestinean Church. Those Jewish oriented portions of the NT which were written or assumed final form after the fall of Jerusalem also\may\reflect the viewpoint, interests, and strength of a struggling but alive and to some extent influential Moderate Hebrew Christianity.

For all Jewish Christians, the fall of Jerusalem was "the beginning of the end." Although they may have continued to exert some influence, the grandeur of the Jewish Church was tarnished. Jewish Christianity survived, but it did so in obscurity, in backwaters, where some slipped into sectarianism, others into heterodoxy.

The Larger Church, it seems, quickly turned its back upon its Jewish mother. Its so doing was not without price. History records that she paid dearly for her neglect of some of the more distinctive Jewish emphases inherent within Christianity. Perhaps some of the excesses which entered the Christian faith and practice as a result of the influence of constant contact with Greco-Roman culture might have been moderated if the balancing effect of the Jewish Christian influence had remained vital.(21)

(1) (1) Cf Michael E. Stone, "Judaism at the Time of Christ," Scientific American, 228 (1973), 80 ff.

(2) O. Cullmann, "Dissensions Within the Early Church," USQR 16 (1967), 48 ff; E.E. Ellis, "'Those of the Circumcision' and the Early Christian Mission," Studia Evangelica IV (1968), 390 ff; R. Pesch, "Were there Parties in the NT Church?" Concilium 8 (1973), 26 ff; J. Julius Scott, Jr., "Parties in the Church of Jerusalem As Seen in the Book of Acts," JETS 8 (1975), 217 ff.

(3) If Luke was written before 70 C.E., the passage could reflect remembrance of words of Jesus which certainly affected the attitudes and actions of Jerusalem Christians during the battle for the city. If the present form of the statement post-dates the destruction of Jerusalem, then it may or may not reflect a genuine saying of Jesus. In either case the logion may well record a remembrance of what the Christians actually did during the revolt.

C. H. Dodd ("The Fall of Jerusalem and the 'Abomination of Desolation," [1947]; reprinted, More New Testament Studies 1968]) dates Luke after 70 C.E. but suggests that 21:20 is independent of Mark, displays affinities with "siege passages" in the LXX, and is not colored by the events of 70 C.E.

(4) (1951); 2 ed (1957). Brandon has enlarged upon and sought to add support to his general thesis in two later books, Jesus and the Zealots 1967) and The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth 1968).

(5) Ibid, 184.

(6) Ibid, x.

(7) Brandon questions the suitability of Pella because the city had earlier (66 C.E.) been attacked by Jews (cf Josephus, Wars 1:18,1 [458]). However, the earlier destruction of Pella may have resulted in the abandonment of the site by the Gentiles. Then again, the Church fathers may be using "Pella" to describe only a general section of Transjordan-Decapolis.

Geographically Pella, near the northern end of the Jordan Valley, would have been relatively accessible for refugees fleeing from Jerusalem, toward Jericho, and then northward. The topographical and archaeological finds of Gottlieb Schumacher (Across the Jordan, 1886], 272 ff; Pella, 1888]) indicate that Pella (Kherbit-al-Fakil) had an ideal hidden location and an abundance of fresh water. The discovery of caves in the general area, which had at some point in history, been inhabited, and the presence of early Christian symbols in the general area indicates that Pella was indeed a suitable refuge to which the Jerusalem Christians may have gone. Cf Robert H. Smith, "Pella," IDB, Supplementary Vol, (1976), 651 f.

(8) If anything, Brandon suggests, the Pella story may have grown out of the remembrance of some flight to that region by non-Jerusalem Jewish Christians; Jerusalem Christian withdrawals from the city, if there were any, would most likely have gone to Alexandria, a traditional haven for fleeing Jews.

(9) E.B. Bratcher, "The Effects of the Fall of Jerusalem on the Early Church" (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, 1953) and Gerd Luedermann, "The Successors of Pre-70 Jerusalem Christianity: A Critical Evaluation of the Pella-Tradition," Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, I (1980), 161 ff.

(10) E.g., reviews by T. Corbishly, JRS 44 (1954), 140 f; Wm. Barklay, ET 43 (1951-52), 42; Kenneth Graystone, SJT 6 (1953), 437 f; C.F.D. Moule, JTS NS 3 (1952), 106; F. L.A. Garrard, HibJoun 50 (1952), 201 f; F.F. Bruce, EQ 24 (1952), 115 f.

(11) JEH 3 (1952), 101 ff; cf his Theologia und Geschichte des Judenchristentums (1949) and "Die Tempelzerstroerung des Jahres 70 in dem judischen Religionsgeschichte," Aus Fruechristlicher Zeit (1950), 144 ff.

(12) Sidney Sowers, "The Circumstances and Recollection of the Pella Flight, TZ 26 (1970), 305 ff; John J. Gunther, "The Fate of the Jerusalem Church, The Flight to Pella," TZ 29 (1973), 81 ff; Barbara C. Gray, "The Movements of the Jerusalem Church During the Jewish War," JEH 24 (1973), 1 ff.

(13) "The Church of Jerusalem, A.D. 30-100: An Investigation of the Growth of Internal Factions and the Extension of its Influence in the Larger Church" (Unpublished PhD Dissertation: Manchester, England: The University of Manchester, l969); "Parties in the Jerusalem Church," JETS 18 (1975), 217 ff; "On Acts and Paul as Source Material for the History of Non-Pauline Christianity in the Apostolic Age," Paper read at the Mid-West Section of SBL, Cincinnati, Ohio (1980).

(14) "The Successors of Pre-70 Jerusalem Christianity," Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, I, 161 ff.

(15) Cf, W.D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (1964), 322 f.

(16) But for contrary view see Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (1934; ET 1971).

(17) Sermon on the Mount, 321.

(18) Chaps 39-47. On Hebrew Christianity in Justin's Dialogue see Adolf Harnack, Judentum und Judenchristentum in Justin's Dialog mit Trypho (TuU 39; 1913), who omits notice of the Jewish Christians who were members of the Larger Church and, to my mind, confuses the discussion of Jewish-born Christians by introducing material about Gentile Christians who kept the Law. See also J. Jocz, The Jewish People and Jesus Christ (1949; reprint 1979), 170 ff, who, in addition to the types of Hebrew Christians mentioned in our discussion, includes a reference (from Talmud Berach. 29a and Mishnah, Ber. 5:3) to semi- or secret believing Jews who remained in the synagoge. Cf Scott, "The Church of Jerusalem, A.D. 30-100," 330 ff.

(19) Jewish People, 166 f.

(20) Adolf Schlatter, Die Kirche Jerusalems von Jahre 70-130 (1896); Travers Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash (reprint 1966); Scott, "The Church of Jerusalem, A.D. 30-100," 317 ff.

(21) I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of graduate assistant, Sally P. Muir in the preparation of this paper.

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Date: 04 Jul 2006
Time: 12:54:07

Comments0:

This is a very interesting study, I have read Brandon's book myself. Mr. Scott needs to remember that the consensus is growing that all the books of the N.T. were completed before 70AD (J.A.T. Robertson, "Redating the N.T., Norman Geisler "I don't have enough faith to be an Atheist").

The NT does not make reference to the destruction of the Temple as a fulfilled event.

If Brandon is correct, this would help explain the post-apostolic fathers silence and alleged misunderstanding of the Parousia does it not?


Date: 03 Jul 2007
Time: 18:23:06

Comments0:

I have a question about luke 21:20, what year did the roman army withdraw from Jerusalem, and how long were they gone? When they returned did the destructin began. Please contact me with the answer on my e-mail which is ireneklausz@comcast.net. We are discussing this topic in my bible study class. Thanks

 

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