BAR 36:04, Jul/Aug 2010
Josephus: A Reliable Witness of the Temple’s Destruction?
Writing in Rome under the auspices of the Romans after the Jewish revolt, Josephus makes Vespasian and Titus look like humanitarians: In destroying the Temple, the Romans were really doing God’s will. Titus would have spared the Temple. As the Roman soldiers were trying to extinguish the fire in the Temple, a stray Roman soldier, “moved by some supernatural impulse,” threw a firebrand through the golden door of the Temple. Even then Titus wanted to extinguish the conflagration. But his troops, moved only by their passion, could not hear him (Jewish War, 6.249–258). “Thus against Caesar’s wishes was the Temple set on fire” (Jewish War, 6.266).
Josephus says that God had given “all kinds of premonitory signs to [show] his people the way to salvation, while they owe their destruction to folly and calamities of their own choosing … Some of these portents they [the Jews] treated with contempt, until the ruin of their country and their own destruction convicted them of their folly” (Jewish War, 6.310, 315).