Abstract of Goldenberg, Robert. “The Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple: Its Meaning and Its Consequences.”

Goldenberg, Robert.  “The Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple: Its Meaning and Its Consequences.”  In The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume IV, The Late Roman Period, edited by Steven T. Kats, 191-205.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. [Israel/Herod/Destruction]

Review:  In this article author Robert Goldenberg studies the rabbinical literature relative to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 C.E., but as the following facts show Rabbinic literature has its deficiencies.  First, Rabbinic documents do not necessarily shed light on the reality prevailing when the Temple stood.  Nor does reliable evidence exist for rabbinic leadership in Europe or North Africa before the Middle Ages.  Most important for this study, Rabbinic materials present only a partial image of ancient Jewish responses to the loss of the Temple. The Jerusalem Temple and sacrifice was central in Jewish worship, but despite the attempt to centralize worship there other temples existed.  However, Rabbinic law relative to the temple was framed when no temple stood and fragmented Judaism differed on interpretations of the law, the rules of purity and timing of the festivals.

Rabbinic literature also has two conflicting views of the destruction of the temple: one by Josephus who said that Titus wanted it saved, but a firebrand among the soldiers started the blaze; a second, that Titus ordered it burned.  Modern scholarship favors the latter view.

After the destruction Judaism had to deal with questions of why the temple was destroyed  and what should be done.  Two answers arose relative to the first question. The first is that the destruction was a judgment as the result of Israel’s sin though subsequent writers could not agree on the nature of the sin.  The second one emerges from the book of Daniel which suggested history was a pre-set drama inevitably running its course, therefore, the pious were destined to suffer and it cannot be viewed as punishment of sin.  It was a test that must be endured to be worthy.  This answer never became popular in any form of Judaism.

Goldenberg discusses extensively the third century C.E. Mishnah relative to rabbinic response to the destruction.  It focused on the law as if the temple were still in existence.  Its unhistorical approach allowed subsequent generations to continue on despite the appalling events of 70 C.E.  Rabbinic Judaism instituted certain practices as substitutes for the rituals of the temple that could no longer be performed.  The Rabbinic redesign of Judaism involved working without a temple.  Literature regarding the restoration of the temple is complex and ambivalent.  The new rabbinical way of life made the temple unnecessary in practice but indispensable in theory.  Moreover, when the Romans transferred the half-shekel temple tax to the Roman temple of Jupiter Capitolinus this had a long lasting effect on Judaism.  Who should pay the tax became a question, and the Romans decided against blood lineage and for those presently practicing Judaism.  This transformed Judaism into a religious community though they still thought of themselves as a nation.  Thus the synagogue replaced the temple.

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