Attributing the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE

PART 12 of my Historical Jesus series

St. John Chrysostom [c347-407 CE], when composing his Homilies on St. John, (Homily13) appears to have had a manuscript of Josephus that attributed the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple to the death of John the Baptist.[1]

Pseudo Hegessipus rewrote Josephus in Latin to a “Christian” perspective as he claims that Josephus was too Jewish and failed to see the real cause of the destruction of Jerusalem was down to the death of Jesus. 

   Origen stated that Josephus attributed the fall to James the Just in Against Celsus I.47:

“So great a reputation among the people for Righteousness did this James enjoy, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in Twenty Books, when wishing to show the cause what the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the Temple was razed to the ground, said that these things happened to them in accordance with the Wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ.”

Eusebius has the same argument but recalls that he saw it in War:

“And these things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, for the Jews put him to death, not withstanding his preeminent Righteousness.” (EH2.23.20). [2].

Jerome follows on this argument:

“This same Josephus records the tradition that this James was of such great Holiness and repute among the people that the downfall of Jerusalem was believed to be on account of his death.”

(Vir ill 2)[Lives of illustrious men]

       So you see that Jesus was not alone in the tradition that the fall of Jerusalem happened because a righteous man was slain. Even with the Christian traditions we have three separate candidates that this was attributed to, James the Just, John the Baptist and Jesus.

Josephus himself attributes the fall of Jerusalem to the fourth revolutionary philosophy. At another stage in Ant15.267 he says that Herod bringing in Greek customs undermining Jewish ones was another cause for the destruction of Jerusalem. Then we have this interesting passage from War 4.5.2  § 318

“I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city began with the death of Ananus; and that the overthrow of the walls and the downfall of the Jewish state dated from the day on which the Jews beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem.

    A man on every ground revered and of the highest integrity, Ananus, with all the distinction of his birth, his rank and the honours to which he had attained, had delighted to treat the very humblest as his equals. Unique in his love of liberty and an enthusiast for democracy, he on all occasions put the public welfare above his private interests. To maintain peace was his supreme object”

Anyway going back to Origen, he just made up like other Church fathers a reason for the fall of Jerusalem to the execution of a righteous man ( in Origens case it was James).

Here in his Commentary on Matthew you can see Origen performing his own exegesis Origen like other church fathers and used his own exegesis on the James passage to attribute this as the reason for the fall of Jerusalem:

“Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James” (Comm. Matt. 10.17)

(I have two options what could have happened as Origen recalls things from memory and doesn’t even remember where he read these items. Option A Origen could have mistaken this James passage that was not really about James the Just, just picked out ‘James son of Joseph’ as explained here, Option B, he could have seen this passage in Hegesippus, Acts of the Church also see below), ie picked out earlier passages and then said that is the reason Jerusalem eventually fell. Different fathers picked out different passages, then moved forward to the destruction.



[1] Frank Zindler, The Jesus the Jews never knew, Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish Sources, 45-48;

To quote Zindler:

It is in Homily 13, on the subject of John the Baptist, that we last hear of Josephus from St. John Chrysostom:

What then is it which is set before us to-day? “John [the Baptist] are witness of Him, and cried, saying, This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.” The Evangelist is very full in making fre­quent mention of John, and often bearing about his testimony. And this he does not without a reason, but very wisely; for all the Jews held the man in great admiration, (even Josephus imputes the war to his death; and shows, that, on his account, what once was the mother city is now no city at all, and continues the words of his encomium to great length) and therefore desiring by his means to make the Jews ashamed, he continually reminds them ofthe testimony ofthe forerunner.

Now there is no extant manuscript of Josephus in which the Jewish revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem are described as the consequence of executing the Baptist.

Chrysostom also somewhere else attributes the fall of Jerusalem to Jesus in another Homily:

Chrysostom first refers to Josephus in Homily 76 of his Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew. Preaching on the text of Matthew 24:16-18 (“Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains,” etc.), supposedly dealing with the coming de­ struction of Jerusalem, Chrysostom refers his audience to Josephus’ description of the siege of Jerusalem and tells them that Jerusalem was destroyed because of the crucifixion ofJesus:

And let not any man suppose this [the horror of the coming destruction] to have been spoken hyperbolically; but let him study the writings of Josephus, and learn the truth of the say­ ings. For neither can any one say, that the man being a believer, in order to establish Christ’s words, hath exaggerated the tragical history. For indeed he was both a Jew, and a determined Jew, and very zealous, and among them that lived after Christ’s coming.

What then saith this man? That those terrors surpases all tragedy, and that no such had ever overtaken the nation. For so great was the famine, that the very mothers fought about the devouring of their children, and that there were wars about this; and he saith that many when they were dead had their bellies ripped up.

I should therefore be glad to inquire of the Jews. Whence came there thus upon them wrath from God intolerable, and more sore than all that had befallen aforetime, not in Judrea only, but in any part of the world? Is it not quite clear, that it was for the deed of the cross, and for this rejection?

[2] Eusebius in another part of his Church History asserts that the fall of Jerusalem came about because of Christ’s crucifixion but was delayed 40 years due to James and the apostles (HE 3.7.7–9).


Historical Jesus

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