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  • Josephus, the (in)famous Judeo-Roman historian, in his pivotal account of the Jewish-Roman war, seeks to persistently and systematically distance the Romans from any moral responsibility in the Temple's eventual downfall.1 This is commonly explained (away?) by portraying him as a Roman pawn, subservient to his gentile captors.2

    Whilst not entirely devoid of merit, there are at least a few drawbacks to such a simplistic perspective, the most pertinent being that the Romans themselves were not exactly known for being particularly shy, let alone ashamed, of their military triumphs and victorious conquests; if anything, quite the opposite.

  • To make matters “worse”, there are two closely related Jewish pseudepigrapha,3 both predating Bar Kochba's revolt, one of which goes even further than Josephus ever did, by denying not only Rome's moral, but also factual involvement in the Temple's destruction, by explicitly stating the latter to have been the direct product of divine intervention (2 Baruch 6–8).4

    While no acts of God are mentioned by Josephus as a possible cause for the edifice's demolition, it is nevertheless somewhat awkward to even suggest that a pious Jewish composition,5 regardless of its canonical status (or rather, lack thereof), is somehow supposedly aimed at either favoring pagan Romans, or otherwise excusing their nefarious actions and subsequent wrongdoings, towards one of Judaism's most sacred sites.

A clear trend and consistent tendency seems to definitely emerge and become noticeable; which ultimately brings us to the nagging question, contained in the post's title, whose solution has been eluding me for quite some time now, namely:

Why on earth do ancient, pre-Talmudic Jewish texts seem to increasingly downplay Rome's role in the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem ?

Whence this perplexing insistence on exculpating the invaders ? It just seems off.6


1 From Did Josephus question the date of the destruction of the First or Second Temple ?

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] making it completely clear that the Romans [are] in no way [...] to [be] blame[d] for the destruction of the temple.

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 whom 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.

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 [that both temples were destroyed on the same date].

2 See Is Josephus' account of destruction of the Temple considered reliable ?

3 Namely Second Esdras, penned around the turn of the first century, as can be glimpsed from the first verse of its third chapter, and Second Baruch, the former being part of the King James apocrypha, having been historically included in various editions of the Latin Vulgate.

4 See 2 Baruch 7:1:

And after these things I heard that angel saying unto those angels who held the lamps:

Destroy, therefore, and overthrow its wall to its foundations, lest the enemy should boast and say: We have overthrown the wall of Zion, and we have burnt the place of the mighty God.

5 I feel compelled to stress or underline here that, precisely because of its inherently or intrinsically religious nature, this ancient witness is oftentimes disregarded by professional historians, and understandably so; furthermore, due to its lack of canonicity (indeed, it is not even part of the Apocrypha), it is often overlooked by religious scholars as well.

6 For lack of a better comparison, it almost reminds me of post-9/11 conspiracy theories, suggesting the tragic event to have been an inside job, rather than facing up to the fact that, for the first time since Pearl Harbor, the US has been the unsuspecting victim of a foreign attack on its own sovereign soil (as the Ukraine currently is, but I digress). — Perhaps this would be better suited for Psychology.SE, instead ?

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  • 4
    Some actual quotes from the sources you cite would go a long way towards verifying your claim, which we would have to do before tackling the question of "Why?".
    – Spencer
    Mar 5 at 14:11
  • 3
    Anyway, this may be rooted in religion anyway, in parallel with the way the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians was regarded as God's punishment on Israel. This might be better for Mi Yodeya or Biblical Hermeneutics.
    – Spencer
    Mar 5 at 14:20
  • @Spencer: No; it will be rejected from both sites, due to reasons of (in)compatibility. The main sources are in the three provided links: two to History.SE, the other one to the text of 2 Baruch 6-8.
    – Lucian
    Mar 5 at 21:07
  • @Spencer: Done; are the additions satisfactory ?
    – Lucian
    Mar 8 at 1:17

1 Answer 1

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Re the end of your first bullet point, true that the Romans weren't shy about trumpeting their victories, but they also didn't care to be seen as vandals of a temple that was hundreds of years old, and that (after Herod's renovations) was one of the wonders of the world. So yes: Josephus, Roman bootlicker that he was, would have had good reason to pretend that they destroyed it by accident.

For the rest, compare the (canonical, post-First Temple) Ezekiel, who describes visions of angels killing the inhabitants of Jerusalem (ch. 9) and hurling fiery coals down on it (ch. 10). Does he mean that Nebuchadnezzar's army didn't kill the people and destroy the city? Certainly not, since he also speaks of them doing so (metaphorically in 16:37ff and 23:22ff, a more down-to-earth description in 21:23(28)ff, etc.). So evidently he's describing a spiritual killing and destruction that preceded and facilitated the physical one.

Well, then, even if we suppose that 2 Esdras and 2 Baruch represent an "increasing" tendency among post-Second Temple Jewry (doubtful in and of itself), all it means is that they're taking the same tack, focusing on what they perceived as the spiritual causes of the events.

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    Mar 7 at 18:08
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    The Romans of that era seem to have had no moral qualms about ordering the destruction of certain Egyptian temples, for instance; as such, it is not entirely clear (to me) why they would (try to) conceal their role in demolishing the one from Jerusalem.
    – Lucian
    Mar 8 at 0:49
  • Also, 2 Baruch 7:1 explicitly denies such an overlap between the celestial and the terrestrial.
    – Lucian
    Mar 8 at 2:26
  • @Lucian Respect for the ancients and religions of all kinds, the older the better was always a thing. It seems quite prudent to assume that a balance was sought to make an example, tout the destruction of an enemy and not overdoing the inherent disrespect for all things religion on display in such an act? (But the Q was about Jewish authors) // What I'd like to see here in A is not just the obvious parallel between OT texts & the ones cited, but an analysis of the frame: is it the case that the old schtick of 'things go wrong, we angered God who punishes us' (re)develops in later authors? Mar 8 at 8:59
  • @LаngLаngС: Even so, there is still a noticeable difference between being spanked for misbehaving, on one hand, and literally beating oneself up, on the other.
    – Lucian
    Mar 8 at 9:22

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