History of the Holy Land between 30 and 70 AD

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Historians agree that Herod the Great died in 4 BC. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is born and then Jesus, Mary, and Joseph flee to Egypt to avoid the plans of Herod to slaughter the Christ child. It is only after Herod died that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph return to the Holy Land. For this reason, it is likely that Jesus was born in 4 BC. By tradition, Jesus lived for 33 years. Recall that the year after 1 BC was 1 AD. There was no year 0 AD. Therefore, 33 years after 4 BC was 30 AD, the year that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection probably occurred. It is noteworthy that the time between Jesus ascension and the destruction of Jerusalem was from 30 AD to 70 AD, a period of 40 years.

30 AD

The Jews accuse Pilate of not being with Caesar if Pilate supports Jesus. In sending away Jesus, the Jews acclaim that they have no king but Caesar (Jn 19:12-15). The Jews call out that the blood of Christ be on them and their children (Mt 27:24-25).

After Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles continued to go to worship in the Temple (Acts 3:1). The priests and Sadducees arrested the Apostles on the Temple mount (Acts 4:1-3). The early Christians lived in community in Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-35).


Stephen is arrested and accused of speaking against the Temple and the Law. They claimed that Stephen taught that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the Temple and change the customs they received from Moses (Acts 6:9-14). Stephen, the protomartyr, is stoned (Acts 7:58-60). A persecution arose against the Church and the disciples were scattered (Acts 8:1).


After Paul's conversion, he is persecuted by the Jews in Damascus (Acts 9:22-25).


Herod killed James, the brother of John (Acts 12:1-2).


Paul begins his first missionary journey (Acts 13:2-3). Paul spars with the Jews in Antioch, who incited the leaders of the city and stirred up a persecution to drive them out (Acts 13:44-52). The Jews pursued Paul to Lystra and had Paul stoned, though he was not killed (Acts 14:19-20).


Paul begins his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40-41). Paul is brought before a tribunal by the Jews. The Roman proconsul refuses to hear a case about a religious dispute (Acts 18:12-15).


Paul begins his third missionary journey


The Jews turn on Paul in the Temple during his visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-28). The centurions came to Paul's rescue (Acts 21:31-36). When Paul was on trial before the chief priests, the Pharisees and Sadducees fought over the teaching of the resurrection, causing the Romans to come to Paul's rescue (Acts 23:6-10). Before Festus, Paul asks not to be judged in Jerusalem, but rather before Caesar (Acts 25:6-12).


The Great Fire of Rome. Christian persecutions begin. Peter and Paul are martyred.


Gessius Florus was the Roman procurator of Judea. He was noted for his public greed and injustice to the Jewish population. Upon taking office in Caesarea, Gessius Florus began a practice of favoring the local Greek population of the city over the Jewish population. He did not redress the Jews’ concerns, took money from the temple treasury, and even arrested and crucified some of the leaders in Jerusalem. This was seen as the primary cause of the Great Jewish Revolt.

The Jews began random attacks on Roman citizens, and those thought to be traitors in Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the First Jewish War.

Cestius Gallus was a Roman legate in Syria and marched into Judea in 66 in an attempt to restore calm at the outset of the Great Jewish Revolt. While he did conquer a portion of the surrounding territory, he was not able to conquer the Temple Mount. As he left in retreat in order to wait for reinforcements. However, the Jews sensed weakness and pursued him. The Roman soldiers were ambushed by the Jews at a narrow pass at Beth Horon. The Romans were thrown into a tumult. Cestius escaped to Antioch, but only by sacrificing the greater part of his army and supplies.

The embarrassing defeat began to encourage others in Palestine to side with the rebels. In order to regain control, Rome would have to launch a full-scale war.


Cestius Gallus was succeeded by General Vespasian who was sent by Nero to crush the rebellion. (Vespasian would eventually become Roman emperor in 69.)

Vespasian began his efforts in April, 67. He conquered the area north of Jerusalem, systematically and methodically clearing areas before moving against Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders from the northern revolt fled to Jerusalem.

At one point Vespasian battled the Jews around the Sea of Galilee. Some of the rebels tried to flee across the Sea in small boats, but were pursued and overtaken on the water by the Romans. The massacre left the Sea filled with hewn and slain bodies and made the water red with their blood.


Within Jerusalem, a civil war erupted as two fanatical groups took control, the Zealots and the Sicarii. They executed anyone who advocated surrender. Any moderate leaders were killed by Jewish hands in the infighting when the Zealots laid siege to the Temple.

Nero commits suicide rather than face assassination once he had lost the support of the Senate and the military. Nero had been an extravagant emperor and a tyrant. He moved against his political rivals, even executing his mother and step-brother as a means of securing his hold on the throne.

Although Nero committed suicide, there was a legend that Nero would come back from the dead. This legend was known as the Nero Redivivus. Domitian became emperor in the 90s and was known for his vicious behavior that he was thought to be Nero Redivivus.

Galba succeeds Nero as Roman emperor.


The year of the Four Emperors. Galba was emperor at the beginning of the year, but was succeeded by Otho, Vitellius, and finally Vespasian. Galba, Otho, and Vitellius were each assassinated by various factions that battled for control in Rome until Vespasian finally took control.

During the conflicts that dominated this year, such infighting broke out in Rome that the Temple on the Capitoline Hill dedicated to Jupiter was burned to the ground on December 19.


Vespasian sent his son Titus Flavius to finish the siege of Jerusalem. The siege had become a stalemate since the Romans were unable to breach the city’s defenses. The Romans had not been able to completely stop the Jews from moving in and out of the city at night as they executed raids and foraged for supplies. Titus Flavius began to build a trench and a wall around the city, as high as the city walls themselves. Anyone caught in the trench was captured and crucified.

Titus put pressure on the food and water supplies of the inhabitants by allowing pilgrims to enter the city to celebrate Passover, though he refused to let them go out. The inhabitants in the city at that time swelled to between 600,000 and 1,100,000 Jews.

During the siege, the Romans used large trebuchets to hurl massive stones into the city, killing many.

As the Romans prepared for the final siege, the Zealots and Sicarii continued their infighting. The Sicarii intentionally set fire to their food supplies as a way to induce the defenders to fight against the Romans rather than negotiate peace. As a result, many Jews died not at the hands of the Romans, but of starvation.

By the summer of 70, the Romans had breached the walls of Jerusalem. They ransacked and burned the entire city. The Herodian Temple was destroyed. As the Temple walls were burned, the fire in Jerusalem spread throughout the city.

Historians from that time stated that men and women alike picked up any weapon they could find to fight the Romans, preferring death to exile. The slaughter was described as dreadful, as men and women, young and old, all were hewn down whether they surrendered or not. Titus reportedly did not accept a wreath of victory after the battle, claiming that there is no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God.

The city was destroyed and the temple dismantled such that they did not leave one stone on another. Those who had seen the city formerly described its beautiful trees and gardens, as well as the marketplaces and dwellings. The city had been so thoroughly destroyed that they lamented and mourned a city that now became a desert waste. The First Jewish War ends with the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.