For the city of Jerusalem, the First Judean Revolt against Rome culminated in the capture and demolition of the city in 70 AD by general and future emperor Titus Flavius. This was followed by the eventual rebuilding and renaming of the city as Aelia Capitolina by Emperor Hadrian in 130 AD, then a violent response to Romanization of the city by the Bar Kokhba Revolt which lasted from 132-136 AD. In the space of several decades, not only had the city of Jerusalem and the Temple suffered obliteration, but the entire region had been desolated by wars, and the Romans even attempted to erase the memory of the city, the land, and events that had occurred there.
Not long after the Triumphal Entry in 33 AD, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, even specifying that not one stone would be left upon another which would not be torn down (Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6). According to multiple historical sources, the Temple was reduced to rubble in 70 AD when the Romans finally breached the city walls after a siege of a few months and destroyed the city, including the entire Temple complex. While the Gospels emphasize the obliteration of the Temple, Jesus also predicted the siege and destruction of the city (Luke 19:41-44, 21:20-24). In these predictions, Jesus specified that armies would surround the city, besiege it, destroy it, that the people of Jerusalem would be killed and led captive, and that Jerusalem would be tread upon by the nations. After more than three years of fighting in Judea, the Romans under the leadership of general Titus Flavius finally surrounded Jerusalem with four legions—V Macedonica, XII Fulminata, XV Apollinaris, and X Fretensis (Meyers and Chancey, From Alexander to Constantine; McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament). However, remembering the predictions of Jesus, Christians in Jerusalem fled the city and surrounding area, with most temporarily relocating to Pella during the war (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History; Epiphanius, Panarion and On Weights and Measures). Jerusalem was a city of magnificent defenses, with walls added in phases as the population expanded, and by 44 AD it had three massive walls. The Romans were able to easily breach the two outside walls, but despite infighting the defenders held out behind the last wall for a few months (Tacitus, Histories). Eventually, however, the Romans took the Antonia Fortress and then burned the Temple, which was supposedly accidental. According to Josephus, general Titus had sought to spare the Temple but convert it into a pagan place of worship (Josephus, Wars). About four weeks later, the final holdouts in the upper city had been defeated, and the ruins of Jerusalem were in total Roman control. Archaeological excavations throughout the city have shown the extent to which the city was destroyed and the Temple was annihilated. In fact, the only remains of the Temple seemed to be loose stones and broken pieces of the building pushed off of the side of the mount or littered around the platform, indicating a total demolition of the Temple, just as Jesus had predicted 37 years earlier. Josephus noted that Jerusalem “was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe Jerusalem had ever been inhabited” (Josephus, Wars). Corinthian capitals were discovered among the ruins on the Jerusalem Temple Mount, as this was the most popular style in the Roman Empire and a favorite of Herod the Great. During his reign, Herod had remodeled and expanded the entire Temple complex, including building a stoa or portico around the complex which used these capitals, but every building on the Temple Mount had been burned and torn down by the Romans (John 10:23). Toppled blocks from the ruins of the Jerusalem Temple complex were also found on the 1st century street below and to the west. In the rubble a stone from one of the towers at the corner of the Temple Mount was found, inscribed in Hebrew and reading “to the place of the trumpeting.” Looted treasures were carried off to Rome as victory plunder, displayed on the Arch of Titus in Rome, including the gold menorah (lampstand). During the fighting, thousands among the defenders of Jerusalem were killed, and after the capture of the city, thousands more became slaves and were spread around the Empire, or if able to escape, fled the region (Josephus, Wars). It has been estimated that about one third of the population of Judaea Province was killed or enslaved as a result of the revolt. The sects of the Essenes and the Sadducees disappeared, but the synagogue and the Pharisees rose to even greater prominence, becoming the future of Judaism. The prophesies that Jesus made—a siege and destruction of Jerusalem by armies surrounding the city, the total annihilation of the temple, the death of many in battle, the fleeing of others, the enslavement and scattering into different parts of the world, and the trampling of Jerusalem by the nations had been fulfilled. Once fighting had ceased, general Titus departed for Rome but left Legion X Fretensis stationed at Jerusalem to defeat any remaining resistance in Judea and keep the area under Roman control. According to a 3rd century source, the conquering general Titus supposedly refused the victory wreath because he thought there was no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius).
One of the results of this war was a two drachma tax called the Fiscus Judaicus, instituted by Emperor Vespasian, father of general Titus Flavius, which all practitioners of Judaism throughout the Roman Empire were supposed to pay yearly as a contribution to the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter in Rome (Josephus, Wars; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars; Cassius Dio, Roman History). This tax was meant to replace the Jerusalem Temple tax, and was a punishment for rebellion against Rome. However, anyone who abandoned Judaism became exempt from paying the tax. Following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, much of the city lay dormant and unoccupied except for Roman camps of the 10th Legion. The city had so thoroughly been destroyed and then left unoccupied that many of the architectural remains, such as basements of buildings, were left in place and simply built over. Stationed in the ruins of Jerusalem, primarily on the west side of the city, the 10th Legion settled into a military camp after the conquest of the city. Legio X Fretensis, or the 10th Legion of the Strait, was founded by Augustus around 40 BC during the Roman civil war that eventually resulted in the formation of the Empire. The legion was designated 10th in honor of the famous legion of Julius Caesar, and named Fretensis due to its involvement in the battle at the Strait of Messina. Many tiles stamped with the name and number of the legion, and its icons such as the bull, boar, ship, or Neptune have been found where Legion X camped in Jerusalem in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Soldiers remained stationed there the next 62 years when the Bar Kokhba Revolt broke out, as also evidenced by a supply account for soldiers in Judea dated to 128 AD (Rylands Papyrus 189). Soon after 70 AD, Christians returned to Jerusalem, and apparently resumed meeting at the “Church of the Apostles” on Mount Zion, near the Roman military camp (Cyril of Jerusalem; Epiphanius, Treatise on Weights and Measures; Itinerarium Egeriae; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History).
However, after almost 60 years of peace in Judaea Province, a major rebellion surfaced again. The Bar Kokhba revolt seems to have been inflamed by the plans of Emperor Hadrian to include Roman temples in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and particularly upon the site of the Temple of Yahweh, which was revealed when he visited the city around 130 AD. Originally, Hadrian had intended to rebuilt the Temple of Yahweh, but later deciding that it may foster rebellion against Rome, he opted for an alternative construction project. This plan in particular, the attempt to build a temple to Jupiter where the Temple of Yahweh had been, was probably the catalyst for the uprising (Cassius Dio, Roman History). Bar Kokhba, a false messiah claimant, enlisted as many people as possible to fight a guerilla war against the Romans. Yet, the reasons for Hadrian coming to Jerusalem and rebuilding the city seem to be connected with his mission to defeat Christianity rather than aggravating Judaism or removing the association of Israel and Judah with the renamed land. Earlier in his reign, Hadrian had begun to devise plans to eradicate Christianity from the Roman Empire due to its beliefs and worldview that were completely opposite to the pagan Roman way of thinking, and its rapid spread across the Empire in all social classes over the last several decades. Being a scholar and philosopher in the Greek tradition, Hadrian believed that Christianity could be more effectively eliminated through ideological policies rather than executions. In Athens, around 124 AD, the Emperor held discussions and “negotiations” with Christians, including two scholars named Aristides and Quadratus, hoping to defeat Christianity intellectually and syncretizing the worship of Christ into the Roman pantheon, apparently even offering to place a statue of Christ in Rome (Golan, “Hadrian’s Decision to Supplant Jerusalem by Aelia Capitolina”). However, the Christians rejected this offer of syncretism and modification of Christianity into a part of the Roman religious system. The failure seems to have spurred Hadrian to attempt another strategy, involving the paganization of sites related to Jesus and Christianity. Knowing that Jerusalem had been central to Jesus and Christianity, Hadrian went to the city with this new plan. Rebuilding Jerusalem and founding it as a Roman colony in place of the ruins, Hadrian renamed the city Aelia Capitolina in honor of his family name and the god Jupiter. The province was expanded and renamed Syria Palaestina, supplanting Israel with Philistia. While this act certainly erased historical associations, it also directly challenged Jesus and Christianity by making the very name of the city into a Roman deity and Emperor, attempting to show the supremacy of Rome, its gods, and its Emperor. The city was reconstructed according to typical Roman plan, with a north-south cardo and an east-west decumanus, although many scholars suggest that there were two of each of these main north-south and east-west streets due to the odd topography of the city. The Roman forum was at the center, and this is where the temple of Jupiter ended up being built, alongside a sanctuary to Venus and over the tomb of Jesus (Eusebius, Life of Constantine; Jerome, Letter to Paulinus). Other sites in the area which had an association with Jesus which Hadrian had pagan temples and shrines built over include the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, the Pool of Bethesda, and the Pool of Siloam. The originally planned site for the temple of Jupiter, on the Temple Mount and former site of the temple of Yahweh, remained desolate except for a statue of Emperor Hadrian riding a horse. The next Emperor, Antonius Pius, also placed a statue of himself riding a horse on the Temple Mount, and the inscription from the pedestal of this statue can be seen today in a rebuilt section of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. In the 4th century, the Bordeaux Pilgrim noted two Emperor statues, although he mistakenly thought that both statues were of Hadrian, as they probably looked extremely similar. The walls of Jerusalem were not rebuilt at this time, which was typical for the Roman Empire as they were both unnecessary for defense against foreign enemies because of the legions, and prevented local rebels from forcing the Romans to besiege cities. The 10th Legion continued to inhabit the city, as evidenced by discoveries such as a ca. 130 AD Latin inscription found in Jerusalem, dedicated by Legion X Fretensis to Emperor Hadrian. In Aelia Capitolina around this time, the Emperor also had coins issued to commemorate the founding of the colony and the building of the main temple. One coin showed an image of Jerusalem being ritually plowed for the new founding, while another coin showed the temple of Jupiter.
Soon after Hadrian left the area, full scale revolt began, and the temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount was not completed. This revolt further depopulated Judea, with tens of thousands slain and many cities and towns ruined. Cassius Dio even remarked that wolves and hyenas howled in the cities (Cassius Dio, Roman History; cf. Isaiah 13:22). Jerusalem itself was apparently besieged again during the reign of Hadrian, perhaps due to a contingent of rebels temporarily taking control of the city (Appian, Syriaca). Roman coins overstruck by the rebels with Hebrew inscriptions and religious iconography such as the temple façade have been found throughout the area, including in Jerusalem, suggesting that the city was occupied by Bar Kokhba and his followers for an unknown amount of time until the Romans besieged the city and took back control (Chancey and Porter, “The Archaeology of Roman Palestine”). Christians did not support either of the revolts in Judea, and Eusebius recorded that many Christians suffered torture and death when they refused to join the Bar Kokhba revolt and attack Roman soldiers (Eusebius, Chronicon; Justin Martyr, Second Apology; Orosius, History). After over three years of fighting (132-136 AD), the Romans subdued the rebels and their false messiah Simon Bar Kokhba, who was executed along with other leaders of the rebellion. The effect of the rebellion was devastating to Judaism and the entire land of Judea, including the erasure of the ancient names and associations with Israel and Judah, the banning of the Mosaic Law, and the execution of many leaders of Judaism. For Jerusalem in particular, Hadrian completely banned Judaism in the city and barred Judeans from entering Jerusalem except once a year on Tisha B’Av (9th of the month Av), the day commemorating the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. From the time of Hadrian, the city remained a place of both pagan and Christian worship until radical changes began in the 4th century after the legalization of Christianity by Emperor Constantine.