The First Jewish War against Rome

Much like the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C., the ill-fated Jewish war against the Romans from A.D. 66-73 became a defining event in the history of Israel, and it affected the nascent Christian church as well. Tensions between Jews and Romans had run deep ever since Pompey first seized the land of Israel for Rome in 63 B.C., and some of these tensions can be seen in the Gospels (e.g., Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26; John 19:1-22). Tensions continued to mount until finally, in A.D. 66–just six years after Paul was transferred from Caesarea to Rome–open rebellion broke out in Jerusalem and other areas throughout Judea and Galilee. King Agrippa II fled Jerusalem and sought refuge in Galilee, and the Roman governor in Syria, just north of Israel, assembled a legion of soldiers to quell the rebellion. Western Galilee, northern Samaria, and cities along the Mediterranean coast were soon recaptured, but the Romans suffered catastrophic defeat at the pass at Beth-horon, losing 6000 soldiers and their aquila (a highly prized standard for each legion). After this, Jewish leaders formed a provisional government in Jerusalem and appointed commanders over various regions. Galilee was placed under the command of Josephus Matthias, later called Flavius Josephus. The Sicarii, a group of fighters who had already been fighting against the Romans, also attempted to solidify power in Jerusalem, but struggles between them and the other factions forced the Sicarii to relocate to Masada, a desert fortress south of En-gedi. Early in A.D. 67 the Roman general Vespasian and his son Titus arrived in Ptolemais with several legions and began to recapture Galilee and Gaulanitis. Soon after this, however, Vespasian was recalled to Rome, where he was installed as emperor. Titus continued the effort in Judea, and by A.D. 70 the vast majority of the resistance had been crushed, including in Jerusalem itself. After a seven-month siege of the city, Jerusalem’s walls were breached and eventually razed to the ground, as was Herod’s Temple. Many of the Temple’s treasures were taken by Titus to Rome, as depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The last vestiges of resistance around Machaerus were defeated by A.D. 72, leaving Masada as the final holdout for a group of about 1000 Sicarii. By A.D. 73 the Romans captured this fortress as well, ending all open rebellion in Judea. The First Jewish War had a lasting impact upon Jews in Palestine and even upon Judaism itself. The destruction of Herod’s Temple completed the shift begun centuries early after the destruction of the first Temple, re-centering Judaism around the synagogue instead of the Temple and placing rabbis in the role of spiritual leadership formerly held by priests. The Christian church likewise experienced a further shift of leadership from Jerusalem to Antioch and other key cities, though the fourth-century church historian Eusebius noted that bishops continued to exist in Jerusalem during the decades following the war. Eusebius also recorded that many Christians fled to the city of Pella just before the war broke out, but some scholars dispute this claim. Various passages of Scripture, including Jesus’ teachings on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) and the apostle John’s many visions of the end times (Revelation 6-18), are believed to allude to the traumas suffered during the First Jewish War.

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Few areas in Israel have caused more confusion over their related placenames than the plain of Bashan in northeast Israel. This fertile land was seized from King Og after he attacked the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 21:32-35; Deuteronomy 2:24-37; 3:1-4), and it was assigned to half the tribe of Manasseh (Deuteronomy 3:13-14; Joshua 13:29-31). It was renowned throughout Bible times as a land of oak forests (Isaiah 2:13; 33:9; Ezekiel 27:6; Zechariah 11:2) and verdant pastures for cattle (Ps. 22:12; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 39:18; Amos 4:1). Though Bashan’s boundaries were somewhat loosely defined, numerous biblical references to Bashan clarify that it generally encompassed the area shown here. Less clear, however, is the region intended by the scant references to an area called “the Argob” (Deuteronomy 3:4-14; 1 Kings 4:13), a term likely meaning “stony heap.” The Argob was a subregion within Bashan that, in its strictest sense, appears to have referred to an ancient bed of cooled lava that stood (and still stands) about twenty feet above the surrounding plain. At the same time, however, several references note that the Argob encompassed sixty cities, which must have spanned an area well beyond the lava bed, so that the term was essentially equivalent to Bashan. This broader meaning likely grew out of a natural tendency to reference the larger area by its most recognizable nearby feature–the cooled lava bed (e.g., “the whole region of Argob as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maakathites”). Another placename associated with this region that has caused much confusion among scholars is Havvoth-jair. The term, meaning “settlements of Jair” (Jair was one of the Judges of Israel; see Judges 10:3-5), is used throughout the entire span of Israelite history, from Numbers to Chronicles, with about half of its occurrences limiting the scope of Havvoth-jair to thirty towns in Gilead (Numbers 32:40-42; Judges 10:5; 1 Kings 4:13; 1 Chronicles 2:22) and the other half associating it with sixty towns in Bashan (Joshua 13:30; Deuteronomy 3:14; 1 Chronicles 2:23). Some scholars have tried to resolve this apparent descrepancy by assuming that the original scope included only the land we typically regard as Gilead (southwest of Bashan) and that later writers recast history to include Bashan in Havvoth-jair. This explanation, however, seems at odds with the fact that some of the references to Havvoth-jair in Bashan are made as far back as Joshua and as late as the book of Chronicles. Perhaps the most confusing passage is 1 Chronicles 2:22-23, where verse 22 locates Jair’s twenty-three towns in Gilead, but in the very next verse it seems to place Havvoth-jair in Bashan as well, as indicated by the mention of Kenath and sixty towns. It could be, however, that the term Gilead was used in some passages (e.g., Numbers 32:40-42) as a generic reference to all the land taken from King Og, that is, including both Gilead as we normally understand it and Bashan. Two other lesser known terms associated with this region are the land of Tob (Judges 11:3-5; 2 Samuel 10:6-8), likely located just south of Bashan, and Hauran, mentioned only in Ezekiel 47:16-18, which formed the southeast extreme of Bashan.

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Ahab’s Wars with Aram

Though righteousness often results in worldly blessings (see much of the book of Proverbs), the Bible’s judgment of Ahab as one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history shows that worldly success cannot always be regarded as a measure of one’s favor before God, because Ahab was also one of the strongest kings in Israel’s history up to that time. Ahab became king after the death of his father Omri, who had usurped the throne and began to reassert Israel’s dominance in the region (1 Kings 16:8-28). Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the Sidonian king Ethbaal, and adopted her zealous worship of Baal, even building a temple to Baal in the new capital of Samaria (1 Kings 16:29-33). The Bible devotes three full chapters to recounting several other wicked acts by Ahab and his confrontations with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17-19). The Bible also notes that Ahab rebuilt the city of Jericho at the cost of his firstborn son and his youngest son, just as Joshua prophesied (Joshua 6:26; 1 Kings 16:34). Yet the Bible also notes that Ahab engaged Ben-hadad II of Aram in multiple battles (1 Kings 20-22), and Assyrian records note that Ahab fought in a great battle that took place at the city of Qarqar north of Israel (853 B.C.). In that battle a coalition of about a dozen nations (including Israel) fought against the Assyrians and ultimately stopped them from advancing further south into the Levant for several years. Ahab may have also recovered land in northern Israel taken by Aram during Baasha’s reign (1 Kings 15:9-24; see 1 Kings 20:26-34). Archaeological evidence suggests that Ahab fortified Megiddo and Hazor during his reign as well. Soon after the battle at Qarqar Ahab was killed while fighting alongside King Jehoshaphat of Judah to recapture Ramoth-gilead from Aram (1 Kings 22).

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The Community at Qumran

The small desert community of Qumran is a study in contrasts. Established during the era of the Maccabees, the site was located less than 14 miles (22 km) east of Jerusalem and 8 miles (13 km) south of Jericho, yet its location in the arid wilderness of Judea afforded it a significant degree of intentional isolation from established Jewish society. The wilderness of Judea just west of the Dead Sea had long been a haunt for those alienated from established society, such as David, who sought refuge from Saul in the fortresses around En-gedi further south (1 Samuel 16-27). The community at Qumran also maintained a population of no more than 200 people and is not even explicitly mentioned in the Bible or Josephus’s works, yet its impact on our current understanding of the world of Jesus can hardly be overstated. Prior to the discovery of the community and the Dead Sea Scrolls they produced, the religious and political background of Jesus’ day was somewhat simplistically viewed as being limited to the groups described by Josephus, namely the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Herodians. With the discovery of many manuscripts from the community of Qumran, however, this world is now understood to be much more complex, for there also appears to have been a variety of alternate, minority perspectives among the greater political and religious movements at the time. Qumran is thought by many to have been associated with the Essenes, though others have argued against this association. Some scholars have also noted intriguing similarities between John the Baptist and the community at Qumran, though there are differences as well. Like the Qumran community, John the Baptist’s early ministry was located in the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:1), and it is likely that he knew of the community there, since it would have been located only a few miles away from his own ministry. John also appears to have taught his followers to abstain from alcohol and carefully observe certain dietary restrictions (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33), much like the community at Qumran. Finally, a key tenet of John’s preaching was the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, where evil would be consumed and all things set right (Matthew 3:1-12), a view similarly held by the community at Qumran. It appears that the community at Qumran lasted until the Romans put down the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-73. Prior to its demise, the community produced copies of the Scriptures, biblical interpretation, and community instruction and hid these manuscripts away in at least a dozen caves nearby, the most recent of which (Cave 12) was discovered in 2017.

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Just as it is important to understand where Bible events took place, it is also critically important to understand when Bible events took place. Numerous historical events worked together to form the backdrop for each passage of Scripture, and even geography itself changed over time (for example, the continual silting of the Cayster River, which slowly landlocked Ephesus), and every Bible map is best understood when it is placed within the greater context of Bible history. To this end we have created Bible Mapper TimeGlider, a free, online, scrollable, searchable timeline of Bible events. With a few button clicks you can even generate a hyperlink to display your own custom event on the timeline, and you can embed this link in digital resources (Word documents, web pages, emails, etc.) to show your event within its chronological context. Over time we will add many of the Bible Mapper Blog maps as events on the timeline, and we will also add a hyperlink to TimeGlider next to each blog article to show where it belongs within Bible history.