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SIDIC Periodical III - 1970/1
The Desctruction of Jerusalem in 70 a. D. (Pages 04 - 10)

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The Destruction of the Temple in Christian Thought
K. Hruby


For nearly twenty-two years now, that is since the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine in the middle of the 20th century, events in the Middle-East countries periodically occupy the headlines of the world press. Since 1948 the question of the Temple has been discussed by Christian exegetes and theologians who do not necessarily profess to have any "ecstatic" vision of Christianity. (In the thought pattern of this inspired view, the events in and around Israel constitute, in fact, the major sign that "the last days" are imminent.) The reunification of Jerusalem in June 1967 has, once again, focused attention on the Temple, and this most often because of a combination of false ideas entertained in Christian milieux concerning Jewish messianism and eschatology arrived at through Christian categories. Finally, with the fire in the El-Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem in August 1969 and the volatile reactions it provoked in the Arab countries, the question took on a new dimension —that of uncontrolled hate.

Strangely enough, this Temple, which is still able to stir up so much interest — in the Jewish world, of course, but mainly among Christians —and the spectre of which, as we have just seen, can still unleash so many passions, was destroyed exactly 1,900 years ago on the 9th (or 10th) Av (in the month of August); there remain but a few bare walls and several substructures, including the famous "Western Wall", the principal "Holy Place" of Judaism. It is this anniversary which offers us a brief reflection on the meaning of the Temple from the Christian perspective, once the question has been seen from the Jewish view-point where it clearly has a different dimension.

The Idea of the Destruction of the Temple.

Because of the important place occupied by the destruction of the Temple in the reasoning of the Church Fathers, it is perhaps worthwhile to note that religious thought did not take up the idea of the destruction of the sanctuary post eventum. After the catastrophe which befell the first Temple in 587-86 B.C. and its very modest reconstruction in several stages following the return from exile, the idea of the sanctuary's transitory nature always remained alive in Israel. Suffice it to recall Micah's vision of the destruction of the Temple (Mi 3: 12; cf. Jr 26: 18). It was, on the one hand, the humble appearance — in comparison with the one built by Solomon — of the post-exilic Temple which gave rise to this idea. On the other hand, the theological conception of the value of the sanctuary and its place, not only in the life of the nation, but in a cosmic perspective, developed considerably at this period. Since the Temple is destined to be the spiritual center of all the nations (cf. Is 2: 1-4), quite understandably it is imagined to be glorious, surpassing in splendor the modest realisation of the time of Zorobabel (cf. Hg 2:9; Zc 14: 18 if.). These thoughts lead to the image of the ideal Temple (Ezk 40-48), the erection of which necessarily presupposes the disappearance of an edifice which, in this exalted perspective, can endure only for a limited time. Also, in comparison with the first Temple, Zorobabel's was deficient in a very important aspect: the Ark of the Covenant and the Propitiatory where God "appears in a cloud" (Lv 16:2) were not to be found in it. Furthermore, this modest sanctuary was once again profaned, this time by Antiochus Epiphanes' armies. Is it any wonder that after its rededication by the Maccabees in 165 B.C. it was exalted in such lyrical terms? (Cf. 2 M 3:31; 3 M 1:20.)

However, various writings continue to develop the idea of the purely transitory nature of the Temple, which must give way to a sumptuous edifice worthy of God, the Creator of heaven and earth — and adored as such by all the nations of the world. It is the apocalyptic literature which takes up the theme following the prophecy of Daniel (cf. Dn 8:11 ff.; 11:31; 12:11). In the book of Henoch (90:28 ff.), there is also found a vision of the "removal" of the old Temple and the erection of a new one; once Israel is finally delivered from the yoke of the nations, a new Temple will be built surpassing the old one in splendor (ib. 89:73; 91:13; Jubilees 1:17, 27, 29). It is in view of this event that Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant (2 M 2:4-8). In addition, the apocalyptic literature stresses that the future Temple will be a sanctuary for all the nations (Hn 90:33; Jub 4:26).

It is also in these writings that there appears the theme of the celestial Temple and heavenly Jerusalem, prototype of the earthly sanctuary (cf. Syrian Bar 4:2-6); this idea will also be taken up by rabbinic tradition. The latter contains, moreover, repeated allusions to the destruction of the Temple, often in a similar perspective.

The Attitude of Christians towards the Temple after A.D. 70.

To understand fully the attitude Christians adopted towards the Temple after the year 70,one would have to analyse the situation as presented in the gospels — especially the synoptics — and other neo-testamentary writings. But this is not our objective here. One fact, however, is certain: the separation of the two communities, Jewish and Christian, came about only gradually; the Christians became aware only little by little that major changes had taken place in all areas following the new order set up by Christ. The first Christian documents, and thus the New Testament writings, portray this evolution quite faithfully. Thus we find in the synoptics on the one hand an absolutely "classical", traditional attitude towards the sanctuary and its cult; on the other hand, there is already clearly outlined a change of attitude at the conscious level: from now on, access to God is no longer provided by Temple worship but by the redemptive action of Christ.

It is an accepted fact that Christianity lays no claim to being a new religious phenomenon, without antecedent. On the contrary, it sees itself as the organic continuation and blossoming of the "cultivated olive tree" which is, precisely, Judaism. It is therefore very understandable that, during Jesus' lifetime in the midst of the Jewish people, the Temple and all it stood for assumed an important role. It must be kept in mind that at this period the Temple was the principal institution of Jewish life. This had been again brought out by King Herod's magnificent restoration of the sanctuary.

It is true that certain passages in the gospels contain symbolic meaning with a very specific intention, such as the accounts of Judas throwing the thirty pieces of silver in the Temple (Mt 27:3-11) and the Temple veil tearing in two from top to bottom at the death of Jesus (Mk 15:38 and par.). Nevertheless, Acts makes it clear that neither the Passion, nor the Resurrection, nor even Pentecost affected the customs of the young community regarding the Temple. In this area, as in many others, the small Christian family still considered itself entirely as one with the Jewish people. The Apostles themselves continued to frequent the Temple for prayer (Ac 2:46; 3:1-10), and, following their master's example, they taught there (ib. 5:12, 20 f., 25, 42). Even Paul acknowledged the authenticity of the Temple by offering the nazirite sacrifice there (ib. 21:26 ff.). Undoubtedly, it was mainly an opportune act on his part, motivated by his desire to safeguard the unity of the community, but it nevertheless retains another characteristic. It is interesting to note in passing that the first to question the value of the Law and worship were the Hellenists of Stephen's company (cf. ib. 6:13 f.).

The Theological Foundation: the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In discussing the Christian attitude towards the Temple, though a whole gradual evolution should be kept in mind, we must remember the essential element in this evolution is of a theological order. Herein may be found an explanation of the sudden change in attitude of the community. In this context, the dating of the epistle to the Hebrews is entirely secondary. However, C. Spicq (Epitre aux Hebreux, Paris, 1952, pp. 254 ff.) asserts along with other reliable authors that the redaction of this epistle took place before August of the year 70. According to him, this date is "highly probable". Thus, supposing that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews was not influenced by post factum reasoning, it anticipates the major theological elements which, once the Temple had been destroyed, condition and form the Christian attitude towards the sanctuary and its cult. The "Hebrews" to whom it is addressed are, precisely, Judeo-Christians thoroughly attached to the sanctuary and in need of clarification on the subject.

The Reasoning behind the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The author's basic thesis is his unassailable conviction concerning the truth, standing out above all else, of Jesus as Son of God, and hiseternal character. It is this Son of God who brings about the true worship, all the while surpassing it. In making a comparison with the priesthood of the First Alliance, the author argues that the role of the high priest had always been limited by sin (7:27). Because of this, the priests of the house of Levi, though chosen and constituted as such by God, could never reach the final goal of worship — true expiation (7:11, 19); their awareness of their own sin could never be erased, and this created a permanent need to offer sacrifice anew. This set up, of course, a vicious circle. In this process, sacrifice becomes an anamnesis, a call to remember sins (10:3). These sacrifices repeated even an infinite number of times cannot bring about real purification (9:6 ff.; 10:1 ff.). Now, the sanctuary derives its meaning from the sacrifices offered there. But like them it is kosmikbn (9:1), "of this world", imperfect, the work of men's hands, and forms part of all that is passing, whereas true worship is to be found on high; the earthly sanctuary and its service were but "a model or a reflection of the heavenly realities" (8:5). Moreover the First Alliance, with its institutions, was itself also "a symbol for this present time" (9:8); but we have entered into that time thanks to the action of Christ. The ultimate goal of all worship is unity, even to the point of identifying the priest with the sacrifice (7:27; 9:28; etc.). The eternal value of Christ's sacrifice comes from its spiritual character (9:14); it is completely valid and incomparable for all time. In addition, it is a single sacrifice, offered once and for all (7:27; 9:26 f.).

As eternal high priest, the Son makes his way to the throne, to the fulness of the presence of God, not in a mysterious way as in the Temple but effectively, "beyond the veil" (6:20). On him our hope is founded; it is now left to us to follow the same route, for he has entered there as our prbdromos, our precursor (6:20). Heaven has been opened to us through his unique and incomparable sacrifice (9:23; 10:19 f.). Furthermore, the royal and priestly offices combine equally in the person of Christ. He is the permanent leiturgbs, the one who officiates in the true Tabernade (8:2), and, at the same time the one who is seated at the right of the throne of majesty. It is in virtue of his sacrifice that he occupies this place and, here again, the role is eternal, not limited in time.

The Impact of this Theology.

The logical conclusion of this very evident theory is a total change in worship: through the sacrifice of Christ the old Law is radically changed, and with it the former priesthood. The person of Christ provides us with the reason: the kyrios is born of Juda, of David's line, and not of Levi as is the house of Aaron, the hereditary priesthood (7:13 ff.); he is the eternal high priest (7:15) beside whom there can never be another. In him and through him former sacrifices fade before the one eternally valid sacrifice (10 : 9 ).

The "blessings which are to come", which form the one reality, in the full sense of the term, are definitive, total redemption (10:12, 18). The effect brought about by the sacerdotal action of the eternal high priest is lytrosis, eternal redemption (9:12), apolytrOsis ton parabaseOn, cancellation of sins (9:15), tiphesis, total forgiveness (10:18), the final deliverance from all sense of guilt (9:14) which the former sacrifices were never able fully to achieve, and, at the same time, a cleansing of the heart (10:22). Through the priestly action of Christ we are made holy in God's sight (10:10; cf. 10:14; 13:12). Through his one single offering, Christ has for ever achieved eternal perfection (teteleiOken: 10:14) for us, making our approach to God possible.

This glorious state is acquired for us once and for all (4:14; 8:1; 10:21), for in Christ we have drawn near to the city of the living God (12:22). The community professes this unique experience as an absolute reality: it receives as its share an invitation to heaven (3:1; cf. 4:14; 10:23).

The Direct Consequences of this Theology.

If this is the case, it is evident that the former sacrifices are completely outworn. Henceforth they have no more meaning since the single sacrifice of the eternal high priest is the only true cult (9:14). From this devolves the urgent necessity to break away from former habits of worship. The ties that bind to Jesus, who suffered "'outside the camp", signify a radical breach with the old forms of worship (13:10-13) and therefore with the Temple. Such is the deliberate will of God (13:21). From now on, in the area of worship, nothing exists apart from Christ.

Denying the Relevance of the Temple.

Such a theology leads, of necessity, to the radical denial of the Temple. Since it has lost its relevance, is it not natural to conclude that God vowed its disappearance? Consonant with this apparently valid conclusion the destruction of the Temple would, in fact, be considered by Christians as the major sign that the old order had come to an end.

During the first centuries of the Christian era, each time it seemed the Jews might be successful in their attempts to rebuild the demolished sanctuary — as was the case under Trajan and Julian the Apostate — the Christians became uneasy and reacted. Would not the reconstruction of the Temple be an indisputable proof in favor of the Jewish position, refuting Christianity's theological pretensions as mere imposture? Can the Christian order accept the existence of the Temple despite its present intrinsically obsolete character?

For the Church Fathers, the destruction of the Temple is not only the sign that the old order has been abolished but also of the "condemnation" of the Jewish people. Furthermore, they always attributed the dispersion of the Jews to this event whereas, historically speaking, the Diaspora came about because of altogether different reasons. As early as the time of Christ, and therefore long before the destruction of the Temple, two-thirds of the Jewish population were living outside the Holy Land. But the Fathers conveniently forget such "details", especially when they are in opposition to their theses. However, we are here faced with another problem, which is the total and inextricable theological confusion as to the place, role, and value of Judaism and the Jewish people within the Christian order. Following are a few examples of the Church Fathers' line of argument. They are chosen at random and without chronological order, simply to show the enduring nature of a particular line of argument.

The Early Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, writes in his Demonstratio evangelica:
Immediately [after the death of Jesus], the Jews, having rejected the prophet and his warnings, underwent the worst of destructions, having suffered the fate as predicted... The [Old Testament] prophecies clearly announced the ruin and rejection of the Jewish nation, because of their incredulity towards Christ (Dem. ev. 1. 7, PG XXII, 73 and ib. 2. 2, PG XXII, 111).

Athanasius fails to understand how the Jews continue to live as always. He exclaims:
What more could be done than that which has already been accomplished? How is it that the Jews still rejoice and refuse to believe? It is obvious that they are without king, prophet, Jerusalem, sacrifice, vision... (Contra paganos et de Verbi incarnatione 40, PG XXV, 168 A).

In the West the same sentiments are shared by Hilary of Poitiers:
[The Jews] surely realize their sorrow —dispersed, captive, groaning under the tribute to be paid, without Temple, without priesthood...

Of all the Church Fathers, the one who, so to speak, set up this type of theme as a "doctrine" is John Chrysostom:
Precisely, [the Jews] rejected Christ asan enemy thus claiming to avenge [God] the Father... Therefore [God] punished their impudence, he overthrew their city, and in no part of the world is proof of the ruin of the Jews lacking... He has made of them an example for all in not killing them but sparing their life and dispersing them: they who once occupied a single region are now dispersed throughout the earth... You [the Jews] are wandering, exiled... You are deprived of freedom, a homeland, a priesthood and all that formerly was yours... Initially, when the [first] Temple was destroyed, you still had the prophecies, the gifts of the Spirit, and the miracles. But now, [after the destruction of the second Temple]... all that has been taken from you too (Horn. in Ps. VIII, 2-4, PG LV, 109-115).
... For having refused to obey the Messiah, the Jews are exiled from their native land; they are wanderers and fugitives over the face of the earth. You are aware of how they were driven from Jerusalem, deprived of their old laws, compelled to forego their observance... No words could describe all that they suffered under Vespasion and Titus... (Ut Christus Deus sit 8, PG XLVIII, 823-4). This nation once so great... has never, from that time to this been able to raise a single Temple even though so many sovereigns have seconded the venture... The reason is the Temple was overthrown by that same power of Christ which founded the Church... That one monument [the Temple], which was the strength of their nation, where their ceremonies of worship took place, the center and home of Judaism, — they have had, I repeat, to relinquish the hope of seeing it stand erect on its ruins (ib. 16-17, PG XLVIII, 834-5).

Thus were phrased the explanations of the "traditional" theses concerning the meaning of the destruction of the Temple. A modern author, Denise Judant (Judaisme et Christianisme, "Dossier patristique", Paris, 1969), summarizes them and adds the following comment (op. cit., p. 104):
... Twenty centuries later [after the "dispersion" of the Jews], a Jewish state was to arise without, for all that, Israel reassuming its role of Chosen People, a role which all the Fathers attribute henceforth to the Church and to her alone.
Furthermore, the re-establishment of the State of Israel did not put an end to the dispersion, and the Jewish people continue to witness "over the face of the earth" [evidently in the negative sense, as described by Augustin - K.H.]. Finally and above all, Temple worship remains abolished forever, a striking sign of the modification in the relations between God and the people whom he had once chosen [the italics are ours]. Just as Israel's election, in view of the Messiah, passed to the Church, thus did the priesthood. Despite the restoration of a Jewish state, the reasoning of the Church Fathers remains valid. The "signs" linked to Israel's election under the Old Alliance have now disappeared.

We shall confine ourselves to reminding our readers that the competent ecclesiastical authority, in this case the archbishopric of Paris, refused to grant the "Imprimatur" for Mme Judant's theses.

The Merit of the "Traditional" Theses concerning the Temple.

In the light of these propositions, we must necessarily question their true significance, that is, question the true significance of the destruction of the Temple according to an authentically biblical and Christian view. Let us first of all keep in mind a basic truth: there can be no"tradition" worthy of the name which departs from complete fidelity to biblical revelation. In those areas where the Church Fathers have obviously deviated from it — whatever be the reasons behind this phenomenon, often dependent on a combination of concrete circumstances in history — neither they nor, a fortiori, their contemporary rivals can be considered as representatives of an authoritative "tradition".

For a Christian, — and thus for one who has accepted the kerygma of the community as it is outlined in the neo-testamentary writings, — the Temple can no longer have any value as a place of worship. To this effect, the epistle to the Hebrews bears conclusive and irrevocable witness. The destruction of the Temple was thus a definite aid to the Christians, especially the Judeo-Christians, in understanding the deep and radical change in this context, wrought by the action of Christ.

Nevertheless, it is erroneous to interpret this event as "the sign" par excellence of some sort of divine chastisement which supposedly befell the Jewish people, as did the Church Fathers and so many succeeding generations of theologians and pseudo-theologians. It is useless to take refuge in the "eschatological discourse" of the gospels: even the non-specialist in this field must realize that we are here dealing with an apocalyptical context, and that it is extremely difficult — if not impossible — to distinguish between "historical" and "eschatological" elements. He who would prove too much proves nothing. That God often chastised his people for their infidelity is a major constant in the history of salvation. But he chastises as he chooses,, to lead them to repentance, without needing the Fathers of the Church, nor Christian theologians or pseudo-theologians to dictate to him the form of chastisement on the basis of their theses. The extreme pride and presumption found in these arguments lead one to question by what right they dared to label themselves "Christian".

One fact is certain: neither the Temple, nor any other "promise" has become null and void for the Jewish people who have not accepted Jesus' message, that is, for that part of the people which, to use Paul's words "has become blind —as concerns the gospel message — until the whole pagan world has entered" (Rm 11:25) and which continues to exist alongside the Church in conformity with the first revelation and the promises it contained. For there can be no substitution in the plan of God, which is pure dynamism orientated towards realisations belonging to the future. Must it be recalled once again that, according to this same apostle (Rm 9:4), "They [the Jews] were adopted as sons, they were given the glory [that is the Shekhinah, the presence of God in the Temple] and the covenants; the Law and the ritual were drawn up for them, and the promises were made to them"? As to this people, the Jewish people which has remained outside the gospel preaching, nothing has become null and void, nothing has been "abolished", nothing is "outdated". Much to the contrary, since "God never takes back his gifts" (Rm 11:29), in virtue of God's fidelity to his promises Israel rightly awaits their accomplishment in its own order, and this in all domains — even in what concerns the restoration of the Temple. Despite what certain authors might think, this will take place "when it shall be the will of the blessed Creator", in the words of Maimonides, and, needless to say, without our having to enter into speculation in one direction or another. Contrary to the formal declarations of the Church Fathers and to the great displeasure of numerous Christian "theologians" — and pseudo-theologians —God is presently leading his people back to the Promised Land. True, for the moment we can but note the "historical" phenomenon. We do not and can not know how this uncommon adventure will evolve. Nevertheless, as a Christian — that is as a person faithful to the true revelation of God — it is impossible to deny the permanent and indestructible bond between this people and its Land, in the very terms of divine promise. Have we not the right to consider the events which are taking place within this people before our eyes as a "sign", but unlike the Fathers and their supporters, as an eminently positive sign: of the unshakable fidelity of God? Or would this be "`espousing unduly political causes"?

No, one must not let oneself be carried away by faulty reasoning, however time-honored it may be. Have not events, after all, rendered these arguments irrelevant? Instead of declaring "outdated" the promises made by God to Israel — an Israel in flesh and blood and not a sort of "theological" fiction —, an authentically Christian view, on the contrary, will await fulfilment with Israel, in joint confidence and hope, humbly bowing before the depths of the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge of God (Rm 11:33).

It is thus that even the destruction of the Temple will become a positive sign of anticipation. For, if the Temple — as we have clearly brought out —, can no longer have any ritual meaning for a Christian, it nonetheless retains such for a Jew, to whom we are united in the same hope, a hope wholly directed towards "the blessings which are to come" (Heb 9:11).


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