THE REVOLT IN 66
At the outset of the revolt in 66, the Jews were encouraged by the victory of their forces over Cestius Gailus, governor of Syria. The news of his defeat gave fresh courage, and the revolt spread throughout Palestine. The emperor Nero dispatched his able general Vespasian to subdue the outbreak. First he attacked Galilee where he mopped up Jewish insurgents and captured a young Jewish military commander named Josephus, who had just returned from Rome, and the noted Zealot John, who had held out for a time in Gischala. While Josephus remained a prisoner, placing himself on the side of the Romans by his prophecy that Vespasian would be the next emperor, John escaped to Jerusalem.
During the winter of AD 67-68 a civil war raged in Jerusalem between the forces of John and the priest Ananus, who led a more moderate faction. Vespasian swept through Peraea, Samaria, and Idumaea and was poised for an attack on Jerusalem. Then news came that Nero had died (June 68) and there was disturbance in Rome. Vespasian returned to Caesarea where he was subsequently proclaimed emperor.
He took up the task of besieging Jerusalem in June 69 but was recalled to Rome to take charge of imperial affairs. He entrusted the Roman interest in Judaea to his son Titus, who laid siege to Jerusalem in April 70. After five months of resistance, the temple area held by John of Gischala fell and the sanctuary was burned down. Three weeks later the upper city, where John and his fellow Zealot leader Simon Bargiora had fled, was taken. The Romans surged into Jerusalem and killed all whom they could find.
Simon, John, and others took refuge in underground caverns, but were forced to surrender. The most inaccessible pocket of resistance was the encampment at the fortress of Masada, west of the Dead Sea, which held out for another three or more years. In order to take it the Romans had to erect a huge causeway from the nearest mountain to the top of the fortress; and it stands today as a memorial to Jewish patriotism which refused to surrender. When the Romans eventually gained this summit, only one old woman was left alive; in April or May 74 the garrison of Jewish patriots had committed mass suicide by consent rather than fall into enemy hands.
The Zealot leaders in Jerusalem were punished and the city was leveled, with only the western wall remaining to give some protection to a resident Roman garrison. Josephus' life was spared. After his capture earlier in the war, he had been imprisoned, and subsequently released to attend Titus at the siege of Jerusalem as a negotiator between the Romans and Jews. Though these efforts failed, Titus at his request spared the lives of a number of Jews and allowed them to keep certain sacred books.
Josephus' sympathies, however, lay with policies of cooperation and appeasement; and his writings show no concern to be identified with the Jewish freedom-fighters of Jerusalem and Masada who chose to die rather than surrender their ancestral faith. Josephus returned to Rome, was made a Roman citizen, and received rewards from the Romans for his services. The Jewish religion, however, survived even in Palestine, thanks largely to the enterprise of a leading rabbi, Johanan ben Zakkai, who accepted Roman domination and sought to live with it. He petitioned Vespasian to be allowed to set up a rabbinical school at Jamnia in western Judaea. A new Sanhedrin was convened, and much attention was given to rebuilding the Jewish way of life. Especially in the legislature these Jewish schools set about classifying and codifying the oral law, a task carried on by succeeding generations, notably by the rabbi Aqiba.
These actions stirred the spirit of a Jew named Simon, to whom a leading rabbi of the day, Rabbi Aqiba, gave the title BarKokhba ("son of a star"), a name taken from the Old Testament: "A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Num. 24:17). The messianic pretensions of the name are apparent, and the significance of the claim made by and for Simon was not lost on the Romans. The revolt was put down at great cost to both sides and not before 135. Simon's surname appears in recently discovered fragments from the Dead Sea area of Wadi Murabba'at, in which he is called Simon ben-Kosebah.
After the war, Aelia Capitolina was built as a Roman colony, and a temple in which Hadrian's statue was contained erected. The Jews were forbidden to enter the city. As far as the fourth century, the ban was in force, except for one day a year when the Jews were allowed to weep at the temple site. This restriction remained until the end of the Six Day War in 1967.
[New Testament Foundations - Ralph P. Martin, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1975. p. 63]