The Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, was a tragedy that is still mourned today by many. Josephus Flavius, also known as Yosef Ben Matityahu, was an eye-witness to the siege of Jerusalem. He somehow survived the siege of Yotvat in Galilee and with one of his soldiers surrendered to the Roman forces in July 67. The Roman forces were led by Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus, both subsequently Roman emperors. In 69, Josephus was released (War 4.622-629) and according to Josephus’s own account, he appears to have played a role as a negotiator with the defenders during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70. After a desperate struggle, the Temple was destroyed, followed by the rest of Jerusalem. Despite the entreaties of Josephus to spare the city, the rebels, as he called them, refused to give up the city and rather fought to the end. Many people died of famine and others, who wanted to save their lives by surrendering to the Romans, were killed by their fellow fighters. There were corpses everywhere. Some of the rebels tried to save their lives by hiding in underground structures:
“A last and cherished hope of the tyrants and their brigand comrades lay in the underground passages, as a place of refuge where they expected no search should be made for them, intending after the complete capture of the city and the departure of the Romans to come forth and make their escape. But this proved to be but a dream: for they were not destined to elude either God or the Romans” (War 6.370, Loeb edition).
Interestingly, as we are leading up to the 9th of Ab (starts in the evening of Monday, July 15th and ends in the evening of the 16th), the date on which the Jews mourn the loss of both their Temples, two discoveries have been announced this week that may cast light on this tragic episode. First, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the finding of some cooking pots and an oil lamp in an underground cistern near the Western Wall that indicate, according to Eli Shukron, the excavation director, that some people went into the cistern and secretly eat the food that was inside the pots.
And today it was announced that in the Ophel Excavations, directed by Eilat Mazar, a cave, connected to a system of tunnels, was also used as a last hiding place.
“The project archaeologists suggest that the tunnels and shafts may possibly have been made and used by inhabitants of the city hiding or protecting themselves from the Roman siege of Jerusalem during the height of the First Jewish Revolt.”
The area supervisor, Brent Nagtegaal, observes:
“It’s amazing when you look at some of these tunnels … A lot of them are incomplete.”
At a certain location, he speculates:
“This is probably the point at which the Romans broke through or the point at which the Jews realized they could do no more digging, there was no more time and they had to hide themselves.”
In this video, Brent explains the findings:
The historical record by Josephus and these recent finds, however sad, have nevertheless given us a deeper and more realistic insight into this tragic event.
HT: Joe Lauer