Temple 2X

Gershon Bar-Cochva and Ahron Horovitz
142 pages
City of David Institute for Jerusalem Studies
© 2014 by Ir David Foundation

In several previous posts, I’ve indicated my interest — perhaps even fascination — with the Temple(s). [1]

Although relevant at any time of the year, the subject of the Temple is particularly poignant now, in the days leading up to Tisha b’Av — the 9th of Av: the day that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. It begins this year (2015) after sundown on Saturday, July 25 and ends at sundown on Sunday, July 26th.

Of the First Temple’s destruction, we have only the eyewitness account by the prophet Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah in the biblical book of Eichah/Lamentations.

Of the Second Temple’s destruction, our only source is similarly an eyewitness account by Josephus — the Jewish general who deserted his troops and aligned himself with the Roman Army attacking Judea. He supplemented his personal observations with information gleaned from participants. One must never forget that he was indebted to Vespasian and Titus, so his view can hardly be called an entirely “objective” one.

Dr. Horovitz had the personal custom of reading Josephus’ account. Noting its strengths and weaknesses, he observes:

“Though captivating, it goes off on numerous tangents and anyone unfamiliar with the history of those days may get lost in the thicket of details and events.” [2]

Including yours truly, even though I’ve suggested that a selection from it be incorporated into our Tisha b’Av observance, as a parallel to the reading of “Eichah/Lamentations” about the First Temple.

Dr. Horovitz opined:

“…a talented storyteller should get together with a knowledgeable historian and…write this gripping story in an easy-to-follow manner.” [3]

He found both in Gershon Bar-Cochva, a historian with a special interest in Military history.

This book succeeds as both an academic text and as a resource accessible to the general public.

The volume is well-produced on paper that seems as if it will last for many years (unlike lower-quality paper that can yellow eventually). While there are no footnotes, many sources are cited within the text.  The abundant illustrations are of historical, archeological and artistic value. They supplement and enrich the text well. An interesting example is the picture of a Roman milestone (or mile-marker), inscribed with Vespasian’s and Titus’ names in Latin, that was later used in “an early Muslim building,” and finally found in the excavation. [4] There is also an appendix about the Roman Army itself.

As Dr. Horovitz desired, the story is told clearly. The events that led up to and followed the Temple’s destruction are recounted with detail and clarity. These include political and military details. It is a heart-breaking series of missed- or ignored opportunities on all sides to avoid the eventual tragic outcome. We might not easily find as complete a picture for ourselves anywhere else.

Dr. Horovitz certainly makes use of Josephus’ account, but consults an admirable range of classic and modern sources as well.

Regarding the comment:
“Scholars assume that the spoils [of war that paid for the building of the Colosseum in Rome in 79 CE]…were from the sack of Jerusalem and the Temple.” [5]
It’s noteworthy that Dr. Horovitz does not provide a source for this. In fact, the only source I’m aware of is an article in Biblical Archeology Review some years ago, in which it was conjectured, but not proven, that this was the case. When I read the article, I found the conjectures to be somewhat far-fetched.

I’m otherwise glad that he provides so many other citations.

I highly recommend this book for personal study as well as for use in educational programs.


[1] see:
Facing East: A Survey of Books About the Temple
Tisha b’Av: The Destruction of the Second Temple

[2] A Temple in Flames; p. 7

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid., p. 27

[5] ibid., p. 122