When Were the Temples Destroyed?
ACCORDING TO Kings II (25:8), the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, not on the Ninth of Av, but on the seventh, while Jeremiah (52:12) places the event on the 10th – a date which somehow coincides with the one reported for the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans almost seven centuries later.
So if the Temples weren’t destroyed on Tisha Be’av, what if anything did happen on that day? Tradition avers that Tisha Be’av marked the defeat of the second revolt against Rome around 135 CE, and the flattening of Jerusalem by the Emperor Hadrian exactly a year later.
For a short discussion of the contradictory accounts found in II Kings and Jeremiah see here. Additionally, there is some disagreement as to what year the First Temple was destroyed, 586 or 587 B.C.E. Follow the thread which begins with this post for some biblical scholars discussing the question. If you really want to read an in-depth discussion of the date of the destruction of the First Temple and are very interested in Biblical chronology, read Rodger C. Young’s article “When Did Jerusalem Fall?”.
The traditional dating of the destruction of the Second Temple to the 9th of Av is often attributed to m. Ta’anit 4:6, but what is the origin of this chronological attribution? According to Josephus, whose description of the Temple’s destruction can be found here, the Temple was burnt on the 10th of Av. (See The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, 4:5) Yuval Shahar in Zion, v. 68, 2003, wrote an article which discussed this question. Here is the abstract:
Rabbi Akiba was the most prominent and influential rabbinical scholar and leader of the Jews in Eretz Israel in the last decade before the Ben-Kosba war. He supported the rebellion, was arrested and subsequently executed during the Hadrianic persecution. Three aspects of Rabbi Akiba’s world-view are intimately connected: the significance of the destruction of the Temple; the relationship between the Ben-Kosba war and the destruction of the Temple; and his part in establishing the public fasts of the 9th of Ab and 17th of Tammuz. For Rabbi Akiba, like most of his contemporaries, the destruction of the Temple was a traumatic event, calling for soul-searching and repentance. He was also unexceptional among his teachers and colleagues in assuming that the destruction would be temporary and that Jerusalem and the Temple would soon be rebuilt following the requisite repentance. Rabbi Akiba was, however, unique in the extent of his confidence of the imminent redemption, a belief he espoused publicly and categorically. According to Cassius Dio, the sole historian of the Ben-Kosba war, the Jews rebelled following Hadrian’s decision to build a pagan Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina, on the site of the ruins of Jerusalem. New numismatic evidence has confirmed that the colony was founded before the war. Rabbi Akiba based his hopes and educational agenda on the rebuilding of Jerusalem from its ruins, as had been foretold by the prophets and had actually happened after the destruction of the first Temple. Now, Hadrian’s decision threatened to block this path, and redemption by active rebellion remained the only way for Rabbi Akiba and the masses supporting the war. During most of the Yavneh period (70-132 CE) up to the last years before the Ben-Kosba war, there was no actual public fast day to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, neither the 9th of Ab nor any other date. By interpreting the verses of the prophet Zechariah (8:19) about the fasts for the destruction of the First Temple, Rabbi Akiba was the first rabbi to relate to the date of the destruction of both the first and the second Temples, fixing it to the 9th of Ab. However, according to the most reliable sources – Jeremiah for the first destruction, and Josephus for the second – both events occurred on the 10th of Ab. Rabbi Akiba was also the first to date the fast of Tammuz, commemorating the breach in the wall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, to the 17th of that month although according to the Bible this had happened on the 9th of Tammuz. To sum up: the exact dates that Rabbi Akiba fixed for the fasts of the fourth and fifth months (Tammuz and Ab) were not based on a simple tradition concerning the first destruction and we have to look for another source of inspiration. Rabbi Akiba based his hopes for redemption on the words of the prophet Zechariah that ‘the fasts of the fourth month and of the fifth, the seventh and the tenth, shall become festivals of joy and gladness for the house of Judah’ (8:19). This prophecy had already been fulfilled in the past, in the early days of the Second Temple period. By attributing the fasts of the prophecy of Zechariah to the destruction of the Second Temple, too, Rabbi Akiba was renewing the hope of redemption for his own times. During the period of the Second Temple, the 9th of Ab was a feast of wood offerings for the altar, connecting the whole people to the Temple. Rabbi Akiba elected this date as a fast for the destruction of the Temple. Thereby, he reminded them that, as prophesized by Zechariah, the fast of the fifth month, namely 9th of Ab, ‘shall become [again soon] a festival of joy and gladness’. The same spirit led Rabbi Akiba to reinterpret the fast of the fourth month and to fix it on the 17th of Tammuz. Both according to Josephus and the Mishnah, Taanit, on that day in the year 70 CE ‘the daily whole-offering ceased’. Thus in the interim the people would fast on the traumatic date of the interruption of the most important public sacrifice, but it would be renewed soon. After the painful failure of the Ben-Kosba war the 9th of Ab became the ultimate and comprehensive fast as expressed in both halakhah and midrash. As part of his aim at normalising Jewish communal life Rabbi Judah the Patriarch later attempted to annul the fast of the 17th of Tammuz and to reduce the severity of the 9th of Ab. He was unsuccessful since the trauma of the destruction of the Temple had been repeated with even greater cogency with the final failure of the Ben-Kosba revolt, and the consciousness of destruction became an essential part of Jewish personal and collective memory.