Was Severus or Josephus correct? Did Titus order the Temple to be Destroyed?

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    Some might find it difficult to believe that Titus was the Lawless one and the little horn of Daniel 7 despite all the historical and Biblical evidence because Josephus portrays Titus as an unwilling participant in the destruction of the Temple even going so far as to run around yelling to his soldiers to put out the flames. (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 6.4.6.)  At first glance it might appear that Josephus’ portrayal of Titus flies in the face of Sulpicius Severus who writes that while meeting with his generals, Titus argued in favor of destroying the Temple: “But others, on the contrary, disagreed–including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Temple was a number one priority[.]” (Sulpitius Severus Chronica 2.30.7.)

    Interestingly, it is likely that BOTH Josephus and Severus were right.  Let me explain.  Titus was granted the title Caesar at his father’s coronation in A.D. 69. (Cassius Dio Roman History 66.1.) Titus’ father Vespasian having just been crowned emperor of Rome greatly feared assassination, a fate that befell Galba, Otho and Vitellius, the three emperors who immediately preceded him.  The reigns of all three men combined totaled only a year and a half.  Vespasian knew that a military victory in Jerusalem would increase public approval and unofficially legitimize his reign (and it did) despite the fact that Vespasian like the three emperors who were assassinated before him was not a member of the Caesar family line. Immediately upon ascending to the throne, Vespasian knew that his reign was on shaky ground so he needed a quick victory in Judaea to cement his reign and deter assassination attempts.  Keenly aware that the life of his father as well as his succession ambitions (Titus had already been named Vespasian’s successor) all rode on a quick military victory in Jerusalem, Titus was on a huge time crunch.  Furthermore, Tacitus says that Titus did not want to wait to completely starve out the city because “his imagination dwelt on Rome, wealth and pleasure: it would be long before these dreams were realized if Jerusalem were destined not to fall in the immediate future.” (Tacitus The Histories 5.11.)

    Before breaking into the Temple courts Josephus says that Titus seeing his soldiers die for the sake of a building ordered the Temple gate to be lit on fire: “But when Titus perceived that his endeavors to spare a foreign temple turned to the damage of his soldiers, and then be killed, he gave order to set the gates on fire.” (Wars 6.4.1.)  I believe this same reasoning and anger prevailed later when Titus was confronted with the question as to whether or not to burn the Temple itself.  If the Romans burned the Temple it would greatly reduce the amount of time necessary to take the fortress and remember Titus needed a quick victory to cement his and his father’s reign and even reduce the risk of his father being assassinated.  Burning the Temple could also significantly reduce the number of Roman casualties.  Furthermore, lighting the Temple ablaze would also prevent the building from being used as a fortress in future insurrections, a fact that would also discourage later rebellion.  Destroying the Temple also benefited the Romans financially as the Temple was made of marble and had gold everywhere.  Plundering the Temple would also greatly offset the financial costs incurred by the war.  Thus destroying the Temple benefited Titus and his army in almost every conceivable way and these facts could not have gone unnoticed by Titus and his generals.  Thus in light of these details it is not surprising that Sulpicius Severus says that Titus argued in favor of the Temple’s destruction.

    But there may have been another reason why Titus felt compelled to destroy the Temple. Josephus believed that Vespasian was the Messiah (Wars 6.5.4). Jay Rogers suggests that Josephus may have believed that Vespasian was the Messiah based off Daniel 9:25-26 where the “Anointed One” of v. 25 appears to be the “ruler” who destroys the city and sanctuary in v. 26. (Jay Rogers, In The Days of These Kings: The Book Of Daniel In Preterist Perspective, (Clermont, FL: Media House International, 2017), 585.) Ever the opportunist, perhaps Josephus seeing this as a way to save his life after capture pointed out Dan 9:25-26 to Vespasian and Titus? Could Dan 9:25-26 have been the inspiration behind Josephus’ prediction and belief that Vespasian was going to become emperor and a big part of why Vespasian aspired to the throne? After all, Josephus says that he believed Daniel predicted the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. (Antiquities If so then this would have also motivated both Vespasian and Titus to destroy the Temple so as to completely fulfill this prophecy and legitimize their reigns in their own minds. This idea also explains why Titus is quoted to have said the following to Apollonius of Tyana “[I]t is not I who did this [conquer Judaea]; it was the Divinity, to whom I loaned my hands as instruments.” (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6.9.) If Titus and Vespasian saw themselves as the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25-26, they probably also saw themselves as agents of God’s will. If Josephus believed Vespasian was the Messiah because he fulfilled Daniel 9:25-26, he would not have been a personal hurdle weighing against Titus’ decision to destroy the Temple since Josephus would have seen this as the will of God as it was predicted in Daniel 9.

    In the event that Josephus did not see Vespasian as the Messiah because of Daniel 9:25-26, then outside of its splendor and beauty there was one significant problem with destroying the Temple: Titus had a Jewish lover, Queen Berenice (and a famously beautiful one at that), and a loyal Jewish friend, Josephus, who were both present at the Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70. (Titus also had Jews in leadership in his army. It is probable that Josephus may not have been overly offended by Titus’ desecration of the Temple as Josephus believed that these this tragic war was because God had an “aversion” to “the city and the sanctuary.” (Wars 2.19.) Though Titus knew that destroying the Temple was the right thing to do both politically and militarily, Titus would not have wanted to sour relations with these two people. Thus Titus would have had to disguise his intentions and appear to disapprove of the Temple’s destruction while in the presence of Josephus and his lover, Queen Berenice. Therefore, it seems likely that while discussing what to do about the Temple with his generals, Titus ordered the Temple to be destroyed. But when in the presence of Josephus and Berenice it was necessary to pretend as though this was not what he wanted to do.

    I believe Titus initially called a meeting of his generals in which he ordered them to put out the flames surrounding the Temple so that his Jewish friend and lover could see Titus as an unwilling participant in the Temple’s destruction. (Ibid., 6.4.3.)  But I believe either during, before or after this meeting, Titus ordered one or more of his generals who argued in favor of burning the Temple to see to it that, that was accomplished, all, of course, at a time in which Berenice and Josephus were not present.  Then Titus conveniently retired to his bed chambers with Berenice (Ibid., 6.4.6.) so as to make it appear as though he had not directly issued the order as he was with his Jewish lover when the act was carried out.  Then to further the ploy Titus ran out of his bed chamber frantically trying to get his soldiers to put out the flames.  Having been given the order by their superiors to burn the building down I believe the soldiers responsible for starting the fire were told by their superior officers to ignore Titus’ later plea to put the fire out as it was going to be an act to preserve good relations with his Jewish friend and lover.  And, of course, ignoring Titus is exactly what Josephus says these soldiers did. (Ibid.)

    It is also possible that Titus wanted to destroy the Temple but not immediately as he wished to afford his soldiers adequate time to plunder the valuables of the building (Ibid., 6.4.7).  This would explain Titus’ order to have his soldiers put out the flames.  Regardless of the reason that Titus reportedly ordered the fires of the Temple to be extinguished it is clear that Titus wanted the building destroyed after all after Titus left to celebrate his triumph in Rome, Josephus says Titus ordered the Temple to be destroyed completely: “Caesar [Titus] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple[.]” If Titus truly wanted to preserve the Temple, why did he not order it to be rebuilt as did Cyrus the Persian? Instead Titus ordered its complete destruction. (Titus was granted the title “Caesar” in A.D. 69 at Vespasian’s coronation. (Roman History 66.1.) We know that “Caesar” in this v. refers to Titus in light of the fact that he is said to address his army at Jerusalem in person. (Wars 7.1.2.))

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