Tisha B’Av and the Rebirth of Israel

Tisha B’Av and the Rebirth of Israel

Dr. Craig von BuseckBy Dr. Craig von Buseck15 Minutes

Book Excerpt – I Am Cyrus: Harry S. Truman and the Rebirth of Israel

Chapter One: The Jewish Diaspora

Jerusalem—597 BCE

The triumphant days of King David and King Solomon were distant memories when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 597 BCE.[1] The Hebrew kingdom seemed to be at an end. The glory of the nation of Israel had departed. It seemed to many that the unique relationship between the Hebrew people and Yahweh had been irreparably broken. Most of the Jews were carried off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Those left behind in Eretz Israel were forced to toil among hostile neighbors with no organized government to provide protection.

It was the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora.

Seventy years passed, and then Cyrus the Great began his conquest of the lands surrounding Persia. As a follower of Zoroastrianism, Cyrus believed both good and bad gods existed. Yahweh, the God of the Jewish people, was one of the good gods. He claimed that Yahweh visited him one night and commanded him to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Cyrus obeyed the heavenly vision, ordering the temple rebuilt and the Jews returned to their homeland.[2]

Judah became a protected theological state within the Persian Empire as Yahweh’s temple was rebuilt. This was a monumental task, but after years of toil, the temple was completed and rededicated to the glory of Yahweh. Persia ruled the ancient Near East for the next two hundred years, and the Jews enjoyed peaceful worship in Jerusalem.

The Rise of the Greeks

Then in 336 BCE, a Greek ruler named Alexander of Macedon—or Alexander the Great—swept across Asia with his armies. When he conquered Persia in 331 BCE, Eretz Israel became a Greek state.[3] After the untimely death of Alexander in 323 BCE, three of his generals divided the Middle East among themselves.[4] For the next 125 years, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids fought for the valuable Land of Israel, the crossroads of three continents. Then in 198 BCE, Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemies of Egypt and annexed Judea.

Antiochus initially allowed the same religious and political autonomy the Jews enjoyed under the Persians. But after a military loss to the Romans in Asia Minor, Antiochus retaliated against the Jews, trying to force them to reject Yahweh and embrace Greek paganism. He banned many traditional Jewish religious practices and made possession of the Torah a capital offense.

His son, Antiochus IV came to the throne in 176 BCE, pushing even harder to eliminate the worship of Yahweh. When the Jews rebelled, he outlawed the observance of the Sabbath and circumcision. He defiled the holy temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the temple to non-Jews.[5]

The Maccabees

These actions united the Jewish people against Antiochus and soon uprisings took place across Eretz Israel. In the village of Modiin, a Jewish priest named Mattathias the Hasmonean refused to worship the Greek gods. In a bold act of defiance, Mattathias killed a Hellenistic Jew who stepped forward to offer a sacrifice to an idol. Mattathias fled with his five sons into the wilderness where they made plans for full-scale war. Mattathias’s family became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for hammer, as their warfare skills struck hammer blows against their enemies.

When Mattathias died the following year, his son Judas took his place, destroying pagan altars across Judea. Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of these Jewish freedom fighters and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When those troops were annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated yet again. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees in a stunning victory. Immediately, the Maccabees moved to ritually cleanse the temple, reestablishing Jewish worship and installing Jonathan Maccabee as high priest.

The successor to Antiochus agreed to the Jews’ demand for independence, and in the year 142 BCE, after more than 500 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate. Simon Maccabee, the last of the five sons of Mattathias to survive, ushered in an eighty-year period of Jewish independence in Judea.[6]

The Romans

Independent Hasmonean rule lasted until 63 BCE when the Roman general Pompey conquered the Land of Israel. After gaining control of the region, Julius Caesar appointed Hyrcanus II as ruler of Judea, as he was the son of Alexander Yannai, the former Hasmonean King. The Hasmonean dynasty ended in 37 BCE when the Idumean, Herod the Great, was named King of the Jews by the Roman Senate.

Under Julius Caesar, Judaism was officially recognized as a legal religion. But unlike the Persians and the Greeks who encouraged Jewish religious freedom, the Romans didn’t understand how the majority of the Jews could cling to a religion that seemed so unusual—one that did not honor the deification of the Emperor. Rome came down hard on its Hebrew subjects, levying steep taxes and persecuting those who resisted.

The Emperor gave almost unlimited autonomy to Herod to govern the region.[7] Along with the construction of numerous architectural wonders, Herod’s crowning achievement was the restoration and rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem into one of the wonders of the ancient world. Herod had enclosed the original top of Mount Moriahwith a rectangular set of retaining walls, built to support extensive substructures, filling in the remaining space with dirt, sand, and stone. He then constructed a massive flat, paved area on which his magnificent temple stoodd.

Despite his skill at bringing prosperity to Judea, and his construction of theaters, aqueducts, and other magnificent structures, Herod was an Arabian Edomite, and his Jewish subjects did not trust him After his death, the Romans divided his kingdom among three of his sons and his sister. During the siblings’ fractious rule, the Jews’ growing anger against Roman suppression escalated into a full-scale revolt.

In 66 CE, the First Jewish–Roman War began. The revolt was put down by the future Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus. In the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed much of the Second Temple and plundered many of the religious artifacts. Roman forces were finally victorious, defeating the last Jewish outpost at Masada in 73 CE.[8]

More than one million people were killed by the Romans during the uprising, and approximately 97,000 Jews were captured and sold into slavery.[9] From this time forward, Jews in the Roman Empire were only allowed to practice their religion if they paid a special tax.

The Bar Kokhba Revolt

The Jews enjoyed one final short time of sovereignty as the result of the revolt of Shimon Bar Kokhba in 132 CE. For a brief period, Jerusalem and Judea were controlled by the Jews. The revolt was eventually put down by the overwhelming power of the Romans, and the vast majority of the Jewish population of Judea was killed, sold into slavery, or forced to flee. In an attempt to erase the historical ties of the Jewish people to the region, Emperor Hadrian changed the name of the Judean province to Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina. Temples were built to honor Jupiter and other Roman gods, and Jews were barred from Jerusalem, except on the day of Tisha B’Av.

To prevent the political regeneration of the Jewish nation and to sever the connection of the Hebrew people to their homeland, several Greek and Roman colonies were planted in Palestine by the Roman government. Heavy taxation, cruel discrimination, and social shunning further alienated the remaining Jews. Although a small group of Jews maintained their presence in Palestine, they became a people in exile—even within their own homeland.[10]

The Jewish Exile

Jewish religious law and cultural traditions became the common bond among Jews in the Diaspora. These keepsakes were passed from generation to generation. Some of the most famous and important Jewish texts were composed at this time, including the Jerusalem Talmud and the completion of the Mishnah.

Although the temple had been destroyed, Judaism survived. Priests were replaced by rabbis and the synagogue became the focus of religious life.[11] The small remaining Jewish community in Palestine gradually recovered, strengthened occasionally by returning exiles. By the sixth century, forty-three Jewish communities existed in Palestine.[12]

Despite continual persecution, a Jewish remnant remained in or near Jerusalem for all the years of the Diaspora. Known as Neturei Karta, these pious guardians of the Jewish Scriptures and culture lived as close to the sacred temple grounds as they were able.[13]

But the majority of Jews were scattered to the ends of the earth.

Today, Jews around the world commemorate and mourn the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av. Coincidentally, many of these major tragedies in Jewish history occurred on the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 423 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 69 C.E.).

In synagogues around the world, the Book of Lamentations is read on Tisha B’Av, and mourning prayers are recited. The ark where the Torah is kept is draped in black.

Learn more about the diaspora and the modern-day miracle of Israel once again becoming a nation in I Am Cyrus: Harry S. Truman and the Rebirth of Israel

Order your copy of  I Am Cyrus: Harry S. Truman and the Rebirth of Israel by Dr. Craig von Buseck


[1] Jewish Virtual Library, “The Babylonian Exile.”

[2] “After the Babylonian Exile,” Jewish Virtual Library, AICE, 2018. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/after-the-babylonian-exile.

[3] Nick McCarty, Alexander the Great: The Real-Life Story of the World’s Greatest Warrior King (New York: Gramercy Books, 2004), 31.

[4] Roger B. Beck, World History: Patterns of Interaction Reprinted (New York: McDougal Littell, 1999), 131. Page references are to the 1999 edition.

[5] “The Maccabees/Hasmoneans,” Jewish Virtual Library, AICE, 2018. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-maccabees-hasmoneans.

[6] Jewish Virtual Library, “The Maccabees/Hasmoneans.”

[7] Beck, World History, 153.

[8] “First Jewish-Roman War,” Historynet, Historynet.com, 2018, http://www.historynet.com/first-jewish-roman-war.htm.

[9] “Visual Timeline: The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama,” pbs.org, Public Broadcasting System (hereafter cited as PBS), 2018, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/story-jews/explore-the-diaspora/visual-timeline/.

[10] “The Bar-Kokhba Revolt 132-135 CE,” Jewish Virtual Library, AICE, 2018, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-bar-kokhba-revolt-132-135-ce.

[11] Jacqueline Schaalje, “Ancient Synagogues in Bar’am and Capernaum,” The Jewish Magazine, June 2001, http://www.jewishmag.com/44mag/synagogues/synagogues.htm.

[12] “Jewish Diaspora,” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_diaspora.

[13] Robert Silverberg, If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem, (New York: Pyramid Communications, 1970), 9. Page references are to the 1972 Pyramid edition.