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In Flavius Josephus's War of the Jews, in Book 6, Chapter 4, he described the day that the Second Temple burned. He then consoles himself by saying that all good things must come to an end, but then he makes a puzzling statement:

However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were now observed, as I said before, wherein the holy house was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.

Now, in the Bible, it records the Babylonians entering Jerusalem and burning Solomon's Temple as being on the 7th or 10th (depending on the book) of the month of Av, and the Talmudic tradition says that it was destroyed on the 9th of that month. So Josephus seems to be saying that the Second Temple was indeed destroyed on the 9th of Av. So then, what does he mean by the quote above? Is he saying he doubts that the Second Temple was destroyed then (he wasn't there to record it?) or does he doubt that the First Temple was destroyed then (and there just so happened to already be a tradition it was)? Or was it an idle statement about what other people might think?

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1 Answer 1

The bible have contains two almost exact copies of the same text, one in 2 Kings 25 and one in Jeremiah 52. One of the differences is that Jeremiah says that commander Nebuzaradan arrived on the 10th day of the fifth month, and 2 Kings say he arrived on the 7th day.

Neither gives an exact date for the destruction of the temple, they just say that he " He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem." The next date mentioned (only in 2 Kings) is "The seventh month", so presumably the destruction of the temple happened before that.

So for all we know the destruction of the temple could have happened any time between the 7th of Av and up to two months later.

However, Josephus refers to the date of Jeremiah, and says that the first temple was destroyed the 10th. And he also says that the second temple was destroyed the tenth. (Not the 9th as later tradition has it).

In the quote you show he does reflect on this coincidence, and clearly wonders if it is true. So, what is he actually sceptical about?

Does he doubt the claim that the first temple was destroyed the 10th? This is possible. He might after all be aware that another text claims the 7th.

Does he doubt the claim that the second temple was destroyed the 10th? Wasn't he an eye-witness? Well, yes, he was, and he was Titus translator, and should have remained by his side. And this is what he says about the destruction:

So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia, and resolved to storm the temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the holy house. But as for that house, God had, for certain, long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages; it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Ab,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them

What he is saying is that the Romans did not destroy the temple. The Jews themselves did. Your quote above seems to say that the date was not a coincidence, and that maybe they decided to burn it down partly because it was the same day as the previous destruction.

Josephus is painting a very positive portrait of Titus, claiming that he offers to save the temple and let the Jews continue to worship there as before. If this is true of just Josephus doing what he is paid to do as propaganda I don't know. But your quote seems to me to be a part of that: Josephus making it completely clear that the Romans in no way is to blame for the destruction of the temple.

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Interesting. However Josephus does say that it was Titus who ordered the gates burned down. Am I mistaken in that the Jews were "blamed" for the flames just because they were fighting (not that they ignited anything themselves)? And though the Jews were fighting the soldiers who tried to put out the fire (making things worse), doesn't he write that a soldier accidentally ignited a window and then that the Jews even risked their lives to try to protect the main sanctuary? –  Gracie K Aug 5 '13 at 19:52
But anyway it doesn't really sound like his question is on who burnt it, does it?; if he wonders about the accuracy of the day, which day is he questioning? If there's any relevance the Talmud doesn't say it knows when the Second Temple was destroyed on account of tradition, it says it knows because bad things happen on bad days (so seemingly there it's based just on other events occurring then). –  Gracie K Aug 5 '13 at 20:09
"for they set the north-west cloister...on fire...and thereby made a beginning in burning the sanctuary"; "they lay still while the temple was first set on fire, and deemed this spreading of the fire to be for their own advantage"; "they had begun with their own hands to burn down that temple which we have preserved hitherto"; "they" above is always the jews. There's little doubt who he blames, at least from a moral standpoint. He does mention the soldier who sets fire to a window but also says that fires were fought before that, and doesn't say that the soldier is the direct cause. –  Lennart Regebro Aug 5 '13 at 21:05
@GracieK: No, the question does sound like another attempt to blame the Jews, I just said that it might be. But on the other hand he is so explicit about whose fault it is at least morally that he doesn't really need to be subtle about it. He might just think it's too much of a coincidence. And in the end, we can't know what he meant, only speculate. –  Lennart Regebro Aug 5 '13 at 21:07
@LennartRegebro -"..Josephus making it completely.." Sounds good to me. He's saying it's not just a strange coincidence, but was planned. (I had always wondered about this myself.) But: The Talmud relates the fires began on the 9th and continued through the the morning of the 10th, at which time the destruction was complete (don't have my hebrew books here to give you an exact citation), so it does not contradict Josephus's account. Destruction is commemorated on 9th because 'the beginning was the hardest part to endure' - many of the laws of mourning extend until midday of the 10th. –  user2590 Aug 7 '13 at 0:46

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