The Western Wall PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
The Western Wall
Archaeology of the Wall
Destruction of Temple

The Destruction of the Temple: A Historical Watershed 

South of the Western Wall plaza, we can visit the excavations. Here we see the stones of the wall's upper courses, lying on the ancient street where they fell when (presumably) the Romans, standing on the Temple platform above, battered them down from inside. Doubt has been raised, however, as to whether this occurred during the destruction of 70 AD, because at the time the stones fell, the street pavement had accumulated a layer of dirt and clay between 3 and 5 centimeters thick (Kuechler, pp. 282, 295 )..

stones of Temple battered down by Romans


The destruction of the Temple! It is hard today to imagine the full extent of the trauma. It was not at all clear that Judaism could continue to exist without this institution. Most Jews were scattered among the nations, but the Temple had been their focus. It had been the only proper place for the sacrifices of thanks and atonement. It had been the main center for teaching and guidance. Now it was gone. How could the Jews, in dispersion, maintain their identity as Jews?

In the midst of this trauma, the great elaboration of Jewish law began that resulted a century later in the Mishnah and three hundred years after that in the Talmud -- laws which held the Jewish people together for two millennia without the land and without the Temple.

But the destruction resulted in another development as well. Judaism, until the moment these stones fell, had been an outgoing religion. The Jews thought of themselves as a chosen people, chosen for a purpose: to bring the nations back to the worship of the one true God. By them, the seed of Abraham, all the families of the earth were to be blessed. ( Genesis 12:3 ). This people was to be a kingdom of priests ( Exodus 19:5-6 ). The idea was not necessarily to convert the Gentiles to Judaism, but to persuade them to give up their idols. That is why the Gentiles were welcome in the synagogues. After the destruction of the Temple, however,  the Jews had to worry about maintaining their own identity. The mission to the Gentiles went on the back burner, where it has remained to this day. And one of the things which the Jews felt they had to do was to exclude any groups that could cause division. Such a group was the sect of the Jewish Christians.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, then, the Jewish Christians could not take part in the Rabbinic revival of Judaism. Lacking the Temple, they were doomed to disappear, like the Sadducees. This left the field free for the Pauline brand of Christianity.

Were it not for this destruction, Judaism, the faith of Jesus, and Christianity, the faith in Jesus, might never have separated as decisively as they did.

The battered stones on the ancient street signify a major watershed in the history of the two religions. From here the two faiths parted.