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The Ninth of Ab
By Carl Hagensick
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.—Luke 21:20-22
On the ninth of Ab on the first year of the exodus, according to Jewish tradition, the Israelites refused to enter the promised land after the spies brought back their evil report at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 14:20-23).
On the ninth of Ab Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon burned the city of Jerusalem. This event is ascribed to the tenth of the month in Jeremiah 52:12 and to the seventh of the month in 2 Kings 25:8. In both cases the Syriac and Arabic versions read "ninth." Probably the breach was made on the ninth, with the burning completed on the tenth.
On the ninth of Ab in A.D. 70 the temple in Jerusalem was burned by the Roman forces under the command of Titus. "It was on the ninth of Ab that the defenders made their final stand. They made two last-ditch sorties, but both times they were driven back. Then a Roman soldier hurled a fire-brand through the Golden Window of the temple and the great wooden beams inside began to burn" (Pictorial History of the Jewish People, page 88).
On the ninth of Ab in A.D. 135 the forces of Bar Kokhba were finally put down by the Roman general Hadrian and Jerusalem was replaced with a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina. "Even before the fighting was over, Jerusalem began to be rebuilt as a pagan city. By a strange chance, the foundations of the new city were laid on the usual day of misfortune for the Jews, the ninth of Ab. Jews were prohibited from coming near the city" (A History of the Jews, page 177).
On the ninth of Ab in A.D. 1492 the last group of Jews expelled from Spain departed by ship. "August 1 was the date set for the final departure of the Jews from Castile and Aragon; actually the last groups left on August 2. By another of those strange coincidences, of which Jewish history is full, that day was the ninth of Ab, the fast day which recalls the destruction of the first, as well as of the second, temple" (A History of the Jews, page 363.)
The same writer notes that these departing ships are noted in the log of Christopher Columbus as he began his historic journey, resulting in the discovery of North America. Interestingly, he writes, "Columbus’ voyage was more closely connected with the expulsion of the Jews, and with the events leading up to it, than he was ready to admit. . . . Columbus’ plans were aided by a number of prominent ex-Jews; his ships were fitted out with money confiscated from the Jews; and his sailors were, to some extent, former Jews, now turned Maranos, fleeing from a land made inhospitable by the Inquisition" (ibid, page 365).
On the ninth of Ab in A.D. 1676 Sabbatai Zevi, the most widely accepted of modern Jewish claimants to messianic status, was born. "His birthday (9th Ab) was the day specified in Jewish tradition for Messiah’s birth" (Grolier’s Encyclopedia; "Zevi, Sabbatai").
"Your House Left Desolate"
Shortly before his crucifixion Jesus uttered a stunning sentence against Jerusalem. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:37, 38).
The events of the past two thousand years have certainly shown the accuracy of that prophecy. In tracing its execution we want to focus on two of the "ninth of Ab" dates referred to above—the years A.D. 70 and A.D. 135.
The Jewish people in the time of Jesus had long been chafing under Roman rule. Various would-be liberators rose up, such as Theudas and Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37, 38). The most concerted effort occurred in A.D. 66 when three rival groups of Jews threw the Romans out of Jerusalem. They mustered a force of over 23,000, including 5,000 Idumean mercenaries. There were 2,400 Zealots, plus Simon bar Giroa’s troops of 10,000, and another 6,000 under the leadership of John of Gisela. The Romans quickly moved to put down the insurrection. General Vespasian laid siege to the city. The siege was briefly interrupted the next year when the emperor Nero committed suicide and Vespasian was elevated to the throne, starting the Flavian dynasty. His son Titus, however, carried on the siege and on the ninth of Ab in A.D. 70 quelled the rebellion when his men burned the holy temple.
Much was lost. Over 500,000 Jewish civilians were slaughtered. The temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt, even to the present time. Animal sacrifices were never reinstituted on a large scale. Since the genealogical records were burned with the temple, the priesthood could no longer function. The annual temple tax was diverted to Rome. "The Romans now ordered the Jews to send the same annual sum, not to Jerusalem, but to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill of Rome. The insult was deliberate. The sum involved was petty. The real point was, that despite the pride of the Jews in the God of heaven, they had to pay tribute to the Olympian god who presumably had conquered him and was entitled to be his heir" (A History of the Jews, page 171).
Political rights were also forfeited. The same historian writes, "Even before the war the Jews had enjoyed but little political independence. But at least they occasionally had a native king, and they always had the Sanhedrin, which represented the shell of self-government. Now there could be no more Sanhedrin, because from the point of view of Rome their was no longer a Jewish nation. Palestine was to be governed by a military representative of the emperor" (ibid, page 170).
The School at Jabneh
All was not lost, however. Over one million Jews survived the Roman slaughter. They soon reorganized their government in exile. One man, perhaps, was more responsible than any other for this quick regrouping—Johanan ben Zakkai, one of the Jewish leaders trapped in Jerusalem during the siege by Titus. According to tradition, when he saw all hope was lost, he came up with a plan for survival. He feigned death and his aides convinced the invading Romans to give permission to bury him outside the city. Thus, smuggled out in a casket, he escaped the siege. He then boldly went to the Roman camp and requested permission to speak to Titus. He gave the Roman general two predictions—that the siege would be successful and that Titus would be the next emperor of Rome. In return, he asked that he be permitted to form a school at Jabneh to continue the teaching of tradition. He was given that permission. What follows is best told from the annals of history.
"The Pharisaic leaders, shortly thereafter given the title of Rabbi (Hebrew, ‘my teacher’), rallied the people for a new undertaking—the reconstruction of religious and social life. Using the institution of the Synagogue as a center of worship and education, they adapted religious practice to new conditions. Their assembly, the Sanhedrin, was reconvened at Jabneh, and its head was recognized by the Romans and given the title of patriarch; the Diaspora Jews accepted his authority and that of the Sanhedrin in matters of Jewish law. The leaders of the Jabneh period included Johanan ben Zakkai, Gamaliel of Jabneh, and Akiba ben Joseph" (Grolier’s Encyclopedia; "Jews").
"The Sanhedrin, for example, which used to meet in Jerusalem and which always everywhere had been looked upon as the central legislative and judicial body, could meet no more. Rome had forbidden its revival as it forbade everything else that pertained to Jewish life. Quietly Johanan ben Zakkai gathered seventy-one scholars, the number that used to sit on the original Sanhedrin, organized them under similar offices, and set for them the same functions" (A History of the Jews, page 185).
Similarly, the synagogue became the substitute for the temple and the newly named "Rabbis" undertook much of the function of the priesthood.
The Next 67 Years
The last remnants of the Jewish rebellion were quenched with the fall of Masada in A.D. 73. The survivors of the campaign formed themselves into some 125 small agricultural villages. Their hopes revived when the emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117) promised to rebuild the temple. When he reneged on his promise, uprisings occurred among the Jews in Egypt and Cyprus. His successor, Hadrian (117-138), made a promise to do the same, but it was again broken.
The Jews became more and more restive. Their villages had increased from 125 to 987. A brilliant new military leader had arisen in their ranks, Simeon ben Koseva. Although most of his contemporaries considered rebellion useless, the head of the Jabneh school, Rabbi Akiba, promoted his cause, proclaiming him as "the son of the star," Bar Kokhba in Hebrew, a veiled reference to Numbers 24:17. A large fighting force of 400,000 men was raised and in a series of lightning raids the Romans were temporarily put to flight.
"The war of Bar Kokhba, or the so-called Second Revolt, was a cruel war, perhaps more cruel than the First Revolt of 66-70. It lasted over three years with initial success for the Jews who, led by Bar Kokhba, conquered Jerusalem and reestablished the Jewish state, thus endangering the Roman empire under Hadrian, who was forced to dispatch the best of his legions to Palestine to fight the rebels" (Yadin, Yigael; Bar Kokhba, page 18).
"Bar Kokhba drove the Roman legions out of the country. Some historians believe that had he continued pursuing them instead of stopping at the borders of Syria, he might possibly have roused the entire colonial empire to rebel against Rome. . . .
"Bar Kokhba declared the independence of Judea almost as soon as he had taken command of the rebel forces. In emulation of the Maccabees, each year he struck special coins, commemorative shekels and half-shekels, with the Hebrew superscriptions, ‘First year after the liberation of Jerusalem’ and ‘Redemption of Zion’" (Pictorial History of the Jewish People, page 90).
"Yet of the three Jewish wars, the third one had been the costliest to the Romans. When Hadrian reported its conclusion to the Senate, he omitted the customary ending, ‘I and my army are well,’ for neither was well. Hadrian had suffered a tremendous loss of face and his armies had been decimated" (Dimont, Max; Jews, God, and History, page 109).
Gains and Losses
The accomplishments of Bar Kokhba, though short-lived, were many: (1) Independent Jewish government was re-established. (2) Jerusalem was retaken. (3) An altar for animal sacrifice was erected on the temple mount. (4) Gold coins were struck to celebrate the "Restoration of Israel." (5) Land was leased and sub-leased. (6) Sabbath and feast laws were reintroduced. (7) Orders for capital punishment were issued and executed. (8) Governmental sub-districts, such as En-Gedi and Herodion, were established.
On the other hand, the fall of the rebellion brought even greater losses: (1) Over 580,000 people were killed and 985 villages were razed to the ground. (2) Jews were denied access to Jerusalem. (3) They were almost totally expelled from Israel. (4) The rite of circumcision became a legal offense. (5) The school at Jabneh with its shadow government was closed down. (6) The final rift was drawn between the Jews and the Christians.
In support of this last statement, we quote the following from Those Incredible Christians, by Hugh Schonfeld:
"Jews were forbidden entrance [to Jerusalem] except once a year. But a Christian church found a lodging in the city under a gentile bishop, Marcus. . . . These events in Jewish history undoubtedly influenced current Christian thinking in two respects. They reinforced anti-Judaic thinking among Christians, who now found themselves further confirmed in the conviction that the Jews had been repudiated by God for their rejection of Christ, and they encouraged those who favored a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom as the reward for believers. Well before the end of the second century the Christian church had passed beyond its recall to the aims and faith of Jesus and his original Jewish followers. Henceforth the Jesus of Christianity would be alien to his brethren" (page 213).
Thus it was that the desolation pronounced on the Mount of Olives was executed on God’s "Chosen People." But, as the Apostle Paul was to affirm prophetically, "Hath God cast away his people? God forbid" (Rom. 11:1). Now, nearly two millennia later, we see the reversal of those tragic days. Now we see the Jews once again returning to their ancient homeland. One of the instrumental steps in this direction was the work of Theodor Herzl and the World Zionist Organization. When the invitation went forth to that original Zionist Congress in 1897, Herzl hearkened back to Bar Kokhba.
"The world at large took little note of this Zionist Congress in Basel. To the world press it was only a crackpot Jewish organization holding another meeting. Nor did the world note the replica of the Jewish coin used in the days of the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Rome, which each member in the Zionist organization received" (Dimont, Max; Jews, God, and History, page 398).
Today when Israel is attacked, they hearken back to Masada and their famous rallying cry, "Never again will Masada fall!"
The Days of Vengeance
In a synagogue in Nazareth Jesus took up the scroll one Sabbath, quoted the famous prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-3 and said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21). Many have correctly noted that in his quotation he omitted the phrase "the day of vengeance of our God." They have assumed, and we believe again correctly, that this was because the true "day of vengeance" of Old Testament prophecy lies at the time of Jesus’ second advent and not at his first advent.
However, in our theme text, referring primarily to the events of A.D. 69 when Jerusalem was compassed with armies and the Christians, heeding this prophecy, did flee to the trans-Jordan mountain retreat of Pella, Jesus added the words, "these be the days of vengeance."
The interpretations of this phrase to both the first and second advents are not incompatible. One does not cancel out the other for the simple reason that the second advent of Jesus mirrors the experiences of the first advent. This is for two reasons: first, what happens to the Head of the church at the first advent is prototypical of what happens to his body at the second advent. Second, whereas the ending stages of the Jewish age saw the diminishing of the house of Israel, so the Bible predicts that the closing stages of the Gospel dispensation would see the returning of favor to natural Israel. "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15). Both of these events are accompanied by a period of retributive trouble—"days of vengeance." At the first advent this vengeance affects the nominal natural house of Israel; at the second, it affects the nominal spiritual house of Israel.
Israel went through a dual "baptism with fire" (Matt. 3:11) in the invasions of Titus and Hadrian, now the time has come to rebuild "the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down" (Acts 15:16). Now, more than ever, we are to follow the admonition to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee" (Psa. 122:6).
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Date: 15 May 2005
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