Apostasy in Judaism

Did Jews have a faith crisis following the Second Temple destruction?


Relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome depicting Roman soldiers carrying the menorah, showbread table and trumpets looted from the Temple in Jerusalem. Did Jews have a faith crisis following the Second Temple destruction? Photo: Robin Ngo.

In 70 C.E., the First Jewish Revolt culminated with the Roman destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. According to Jewish historian Josephus, whose testimony of these events is the sole surviving work “of a witness” to have come down to us, more than 1.1 million died, and 97,000 Jews were taken as prisoners (Jewish War 6.420).1 The complete and deliberate demolition of structures at the hands of the Romans following the revolt has been exposed in archaeological excavations throughout Jerusalem.2

Did Jews have a faith crisis after the Second Temple destruction and the horrors that followed? In his Biblical Views column “A Crisis of Faith in the Wake of the Temple’s Destruction?” in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Jonathan Klawans explores apostasy in Judaism—the abandonment of faith.

Certainly, to see the total annihilation of Jerusalem’s central religious institution, to witness the slaughter of countless friends and family members, and to be an enslaved prisoner-of-war would have been utterly devastating. But, Boston University Professor of Religion Jonathan Klawans asks, is it fair to wonder if mass apostasy in Judaism occurred after the First Jewish Revolt? Some scholars have asserted that there was a faith crisis among Jews following the Second Temple destruction.

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We don’t actually have any evidence—literary or otherwise—for apostasy in Judaism in the first century C.E., Klawans contends. Why have scholars, therefore, suggested that the ancient Jews had a major faith crisis?


Jonathan Klawans contends that scholars who propose mass apostasy in Judaism occurred following the Second Temple destruction may be influenced by modern crises of faith.

“[T]he question isn’t really whether there was or wasn’t mass apostasy—for this cannot be known,” Klawans writes. “The question is really why modern scholars suppose there must have been mass apostasy, even though we lack concrete evidence.”

For Jonathan Klawans, the answer lies in modern history:

Scholars who write about mass apostasy in 70 C.E. also speak of a modern crisis of faith, asking, “How to believe in God after such a catastrophe?” And it would not be incorrect to suppose—though we can’t always know for sure—that when modern Jewish scholars are thinking of a crisis of faith in the past, they are thinking of a crisis of faith in the present: the well-known presumption, held by many, that it remains a challenge for thinking people to believe in God after Auschwitz.

Learn more about the question of mass apostasy in Judaism and the ancient Jews’ experience through the First Jewish Revolt by reading the full Biblical Views column “A Crisis of Faith in the Wake of the Temple’s Destruction?” by Jonathan Klawans in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


BAS Library Members: Read the full Biblical Views column “A Crisis of Faith in the Wake of the Temple’s Destruction?” by Jonathan Klawans in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.



1. While Josephus’s writings have been invaluable for understanding Jewish history and culture during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the accuracy of his descriptions have long been questioned by scholars. For more on Josephus, see Steve Mason, “Will the Real Josephus Please Stand Up?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 1997.

2. See Hillel Geva, “Roman Jerusalem: Searching for Roman Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1997.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

A Second Triumphal Arch of Titus Discovered

The Masada Siege: The Roman assault on Herod’s desert fortress

Judaea Capta Coin Uncovered in Bethsaida Excavations

Coins Celebrating the Great Revolt Against the Romans Unearthed near Jerusalem

Jewish Captives in the Imperial City

How Ancient Jews Dated Years


Posted in Daily Life and Practice, Temple at Jerusalem.

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  • Irine says

    In my view both israelites and todays gentile christians are one body united by Messiah who died for all..ephesians 2 and kindly i accept your view and any clarrification on this if u can..shalom

  • Irine says

    They denied and contentions began ..thus peter and paul became instruments of spreading the gospel ..peter to the jews amd paul t the gentiles duding pentecost jews and proselytes were converted and with paul he convert the gentiles who are currently the christiand

  • Irine says

    Shalom..i guese if we take in this perspective the issue of the two nations.israel and gentile we will understand better..the israel was chosen from the beginning and God Yahweh was their Leader and they had prophets..most of them disobeyed and were punished..they used to offer sacrifice im the temple and this promoted them to continue sinning..and were promised of a messiah who was to come and be da final sacrifice..messiah came but the jews denied

  • GENE says

    For no apparent reason, Cestius Gallus and his troops withdrew from Jerusalem and began retreating. The Zealots gave chase. With the warring parties away, Jesus’ followers suddenly had an opportunity to flee. Jesus had specifically instructed them to leave their material possessions behind and depart without delay. (Read Matthew 24:17, 18.) Was prompt action really necessary? The answer soon became clear. Within days, the Zealots returned and began forcing the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea to join the rebellion. Conditions within the city rapidly deteriorated as rival Jewish factions struggled for control. Flight became increasingly difficult. When the Romans returned in 70 C.E., flight became impossible. (Luke 19:43) Any who had lingered were trapped! For the Christians who had fled to the mountains, heeding Jesus’ instructions meant saving their lives. They saw firsthand that Jehovah knows how to deliver his people http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2012284#h=21:0-25:620

  • GENE says

    As the Ebionites are first mentioned as such in the 2nd century, their earlier history and any relation to the first Jerusalem church remains obscure and a matter of contention. There is no evidence linking the origin of the later sect of the Ebionites with the First Jewish-Roman War of 66–70 CE, or that prior to that they formed part of the Jerusalem church….. Eusebius relates a tradition, probably based on Aristo of Pella, that the early Christians left Jerusalem just prior to the war and fled to Pella beyond the Jordan River, but does not connect this with Ebionites.[11]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites

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