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4. Jewish-Roman War | History Of The Holy Land

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The Script

Welcome back to More To The Story. I'm Lucas Kitchen, and this is episode two in a special podcast series called "The History of the Holy Land: From Abraham To Hamas." For previous episodes, video and audio versions of this podcast and transcripts, go to freegrace.in 

This episode is entitled: The Jewish-Roman War.

In the last episode, we talked about the New Testament Era, which started with the birth of Christ and continued until the death of Christ’s chosen apostles. At the same time that some of the apostles were being martyred, Rumblings of war were thundering across the Holy Land. Just a warning for young listeners, this episode touches on topics of war and violence and may be a bit much for some young listeners. Let’s get to it. 

In 66 AD, in Judea, a group of Jewish rebels took control of a fortress called Masada. It was a high stronghold that was nearly impossible for enemies to penetrate. These rebels were fighting against the Romans, and capturing Masada was a massive and unexpected victory. Taking over this fortress gave the rebels a safe place to plan and launch their operations, helping them fight for freedom against Roman rule.

At Beth Horon, the Jewish rebels scored another major win against the Romans. While fighters used clever tactics and scored another blow, the inevitable was not to be undone. The success at Massada and Beth Horon gave the Jewish rebellion confidence and hope in their fight for freedom, which would soon prove to be unfounded.

That same year, 66 AD, the Roman emperor Nero decided to take action against the growing rebellion in Judea. He sent a seasoned general named Vespasian, along with a Roman army, to stop the Jewish rebels. Vespasian's job was to conquer, by any means necessary, and ensure the area was firmly under Roman rule again.

In Judea, General Vespasian started with Galilee in the north. 

In 67 AD, during the Jewish-Roman War, the city of Jotapata, located northwest of the Sea of Galilee, was besieged by Roman forces led by General Vespasian and his son Titus. The city was defended by Jewish rebels, including Eleazar ben Simon and the military leader and historian Josephus Flavius. The siege lasted 47 days, with the Romans launching continuous attacks on the city’s defenses.

On the night of July 1, after receiving information from a traitor about the defenders’ vulnerable state, Roman forces captured the city, marking a significant victory in quelling the Jewish rebellion. Josephus was captured, but Eleazar and a few others managed to escape and hide in the city’s underground passages to avoid capture, representing a small yet notable act of resistance against the Roman conquest.

After his capture, Josephus was spared and eventually became a Roman citizen, turning to a life of scholarship and writing. He authored detailed historical accounts of the Jewish-Roman War and other Jewish histories, which have become crucial primary sources for historical study, ensuring his name’s prominence in the annals of history.

The Jewish rebellion suffered quick, successive losses under Vespasian’s methodical military might. His army marched on, reclaiming what Rome had lost. Step by step, Vespasian regained control of key areas, strengthening the position of the Roman Empire in Judea.

In Jerusalem, around 67 to 68 AD, there was feuding among the Jewish groups who controlled the capital city. These groups, like the Zealots and the Sicarii, couldn’t agree on how to counter Vespasian’s looming threat, and the internal conflict weakened Jerusalem’s defenses. 

In 69 AD Emperor Nero died after a brutal reign over the empire, and Vespasian was the next in the line of succession. He became the new Emperor of Rome, which meant he had to go back to the capital to rule the empire. Vespasian’s son Titus was put in charge of the Roman army in Judea. Now, it was Titus’s job to deal with the Jewish rebellion and take control of the area for Rome. With Titus in command, the Roman army prepared to continue their fight against the Jewish rebels.

Rome’s military, now led by Titus, surrounded Jerusalem. The siege meant that Jerusalem’s food and other supplies quickly ran low, leading to a severe famine within the walls. People were starving and desperate, which added more fuel to the feuds within, and further weakened the city’s defenses. While the residents were dealing with these internal conflicts, the Roman army waited outside, ready for the onslaught. 

We'll be right back with more of The History Of The Holy Land, but first, this:

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Welcome back. Previously, the Roman army is waiting at the gates of Jerusalem, watching the city deteriorate from within. It was only a matter of time before the Romans would break through the walls. Let's find out what happens next.  

In 70 AD, When the Romans finally breached the walls of Jerusalem, a catastrophic wave of destruction and mass slaughter followed. Roman soldiers flooded the city, setting buildings ablaze, and engaging in indiscriminate killing. The streets were said to be filled with corpses, and blood flowed freely—highlighting the horrific nature of the conquest.

Tragically, the Roman army set fires across the city, which spread to the Temple. Initially, General Titus did not want to see the destruction of Judaism’s holy site, but its awe-inspiring architecture was yet another casualty of the Jewish-Roman war. Its destruction would prove to be a massive wound to the spirit and identity of the Jewish community. 

The Roman forces, in a display of cruelty, crucified many captives, exacerbating the agony of the defeated populace. The scale of this punishment was such that they ran out of wood for the crosses. In the end, the revolt in Jerusalem was crushed brutally. Josephus estimated that over a million Jews died. Josephus attributed this high death toll not only to the actions of the Roman forces but also to internal conflicts among various Jewish factions within the city, as well as to famine and disease that plagued the city’s inhabitants during the siege.

For those who survived, thousands of families were torn apart, and countless people were forced to carry the pain of those tragic days until their last breaths. The Jewish diaspora, which means the scattering of Jewish people, became even more widespread after the conflict. Many Jewish people were sold into slavery or had to flee the region to escape more turmoil and violence. 

After the Romans won over the Jewish rebels in Jerusalem, they carried off untold wealth taken from the temple and the city at large. Part of the spoils were used to build the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, which is popularly called the Colosseum. 

The Temple had been the beating heart of Jewish religious life, The dwelling place of God on Earth. When the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD, it was a tragedy that left a deep scar on Jewish history. The Jewish leaders who made it through that horrific event had to adapt and find new ways to practice their faith without the Temple in the generations that would follow.

After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the fortress of Masada remained a holdout where nearly a thousand Jewish rebels, known as Zealots, took refuge. Led by Eleazar ben Yair, the rebels held the fortress against a massive Roman siege led by General Flavius Silva. The Romans built a giant ramp to breach Masada's defenses, a monumental feat of military engineering.

Faced with inevitable defeat as the Romans were about to enter the fortress in 73 or 74 AD, the defenders chose mass suicide over surrender. According to historical records, they killed their families and then themselves, preferring death over slavery or execution by the Romans. Only a few women and children survived, who had hidden in the cisterns and later recounted the tragic end of Masada’s defenders. 

The early success of the Jewish rebels at Masada, a fortress that symbolized their resilience and hope, ironically transformed into a theater of ultimate despair and defeat, marking both the zenith of their initial confidence and the nadir of their catastrophic loss at the war's conclusion.

Turning toward what was yet to come, a massive dispersion would follow, known as the Jewish Diaspora, which we will explore in the next episode. 

Thank you for listening to The History Of The Holy Land: From Abraham To Hamas, Created by Lucas Kitchen and produced by Free Grace International. For previous episodes, video and audio versions of this podcast and transcripts, go to freegrace.in

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