The Temple Abominations and The Idumean Massacre – Part 4

Isn’t it interesting to discover the political upheavals that were going on whilst the early church was growing in its infancy? It brings another dimension into the biblical narrative and it really helps us to understand the risks those first believers took in sharing the gospel.

I’m thankful that we have the writings of Josephus online, though his writings were no doubt very bias towards the Roman Empire. However, he wrote about things that are very important for Christians to grasp, as they give us a new perspective on some of the most difficult passages of scripture. As a former Jewish priest, he was able to share the ‘common knowledge’ of the time which details the last days of Daniel’s people and the horrific struggles, lawlessness, and tribulation they were enduring.

I’m not going to write in detail about the war, but try to focus my attention on the Idumean’s role in fulfilling Daniels prophesies. If you’d like to read in greater detail check out the links in the footnotes and my previous blog posts on the Herod dynasty.

The Temple Is Filled With Abominations

A Change In The Law

By this point in time, the Chief Priest Ananus dynasty had been usurped and yet another change in the Law of Moses took place (see my previous post for the other law changes).

Eleazar ben Simon was in charge of the Inner Temple court for the next 3 or so years and had forced the election of a new Chief Priest who did not come from the bloodline of Aaron. The Zealots now had their very own High Priest – Phannias.

…and cast lots which of it should be the high priest. By fortune the lot so fell as to demonstrate their iniquity after the plainest manner, for it fell upon one whose name was Phannias, the son of Samuel, of the village Aphtha. He was a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was, such a mere rustic was he! yet did they hail this man, without his own consent, out of the country, as if they were acting a play upon the stage, and adorned him with a counterfeit thee; they also put upon him the sacred garments, and upon every occasion instructed him what he was to do. This horrid piece of wickedness was sport and pastime with them, but occasioned the other priests, who at a distance saw their law made a jest of, to shed tears, and sorely lament the dissolution of such a sacred dignity. [1]


The Zealots Were Daniel’s Little Horn

Daniel had prophesied that the little horn of the beast (the Zealots) would change the times and laws.

And he shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change times and law: and [power] shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. ~ Daniel 7:2

I beheld, and that horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the Ancient of days came, and he gave judgment to the saints of the Most High; and the time came on, and the saints possessed the kingdom. ~  Daniel 7:21- 22


  1. The Levites were now able to wear the consecrated garments that the Priests wore.
  2. Gifts from foreign nations were not received at the temple and sacrifices for the gentiles had ceased.
  3. And now a fake High Priest was installed in the temple. But there is something else to consider here as there had been a change in the law previously. Up until the reign of Pompey, the  High priesthood came from the line of Zadok priests from father to son. That changed in 62BC under the Maccabees when Pompey decided from lots who was to take the position and High Priest, Onias III was removed from office.


They Cut The Throats – Beheaded Their Enemies

The Zealots were ruthless with their swords as their favorite way of killing was by slitting throats from 66AD to 70AD. If you slit someone’s throat with a sword that is being beheaded. They killed anyone who wanted peace with Rome, anyone who was trying to escape Jerusalem and anyone who tried to bury the dead.

No doubt a large portion of Christians, if they hadn’t heeded earlier warnings, would have been killed by the Zealots as John mentions the souls under the altar who had been beheaded in Rev 20.

And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. ~ Rev 20:4

They also threatened death to the people, if they should any one of them say a word about a surrender. They moreover cut the throats of such as talked of a peace ~ Josephus


But Ananus the most ancient of the Chief Priests still held an authoritative voice within Jerusalem and he spoke to the common people …

I wish I had died before I had seen the house of God so full of abomination, at seeing sacred places that ought to be inviolable being trodden by the feet of blood-stained murderers,” began Ananus, standing in the midst of a huge crowd. He was in tears as he spoke, frequently glancing meaningfully in the direction of the Temple. Angrily, he rebuked his listeners for permitting the Zealots to arm themselves and dominate Jerusalem, for allowing them to put Antipas and his friends in chains, and then torture and murder them, and for letting them establish a tyranny. How could they bear to see their holiest possessions trampled on by such criminals? “You really are pitiful creatures!” he told his audience. “Why can’t you rise up and throw them out?” He added, “Or are you waiting for the Romans to come back and rescue our holy places?”

“We are in the middle of a war with Rome—I am not going to speculate whether it’s likely to do us any good and be to our benefit—but I am asking you to try and remember the whole point of the war,” he continued. “Surely it’s about freedom? Then why are we refusing to let ourselves be ruled by the masters of the known world when we are putting up with these thugs in our own backyard?”

. . . . In plain language, I’m telling you that the Romans might even turn out to be the real upholders of our Law instead of the enemies who are within our walls.”

He ended by begging the crowd to fight to the death to save the Temple, for the sake of their wives and children, and for the honor of God. [2]


The Zealots had been robbing the common people and had been using the temple as an operational base. But now Ananus had encouraged the people to rise up against them. The Zealots realised that Ananus was going to form an army of citizens to fight against them so they attacked the people. But Ananus and his supporters managed to fight back and trapped the Zealots on the temple grounds.


The Idumeans Are Tricked

John of Gischala now appeared on the scene. He pretended to be a friend of Ananus and was trusted. But little did Ananus and his supporters realise that he was constantly passing secret information about their plans and maneuvers to Eleazar ben Simon and his Zealot supporters who were trapped inside the temple grounds.

John of Gischala needed to deal with his enemy within the city walls first before he could deal with Rome! So under false pretenses, he tricked the Idumeans to come to his aid.

In AD 68 Herod’s Idumeans were called on by the Zealots to assist them in preventing the Romans from taking over the city. John of Gischala had deliberately spread a lie to the Idumeans that Ananus the former Chief Priest was in league with Vespasian and that he had invited him to conquer the city.

The Idumeans responded to the lie and sent an army of 20,000 to Jerusalem.


The Idumean’s Are Refused Entry

Once the Idumeans arrived they found the city gates closed to them and Ananus and his supporters refused them entry. But a huge storm developed during that night. The Zealots used the opportunity to sneak out from the temple grounds into the city and cut through the gates. The noise of their cutting was masked by the sound of the wind and thunder. Consequently, the Chief Priest and the common people inside the city gates were none the wiser as to what was going on.

Josephus records the events surrounding that attack by the Idumeans including an earthquake:

There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshadowed some grand calamities that were coming.[3]


The Zealots let the Idumeans into the city, a bloodbath commenced and lawlessness grew worse and worse among Daniel’s people.

Now after these were slain, the zealots and the multitude of the Idumeans fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats; and for the ordinary sort, they were destroyed in what place soever they caught them. [4]


The Death Of Two Priests Is The Beginning Of The End

The Idumeans slaughtered thousands of people in the city including Ananus and one called Joshua son of Gamala, all because they believed John of Gischala’s lie.

Josephus wrote that this one event was the beginning of the destruction of their city:

…nor did the Idumeans spare any body; for as they are naturally a most barbarous and bloody nation.

…But the rage of the Idumeans was not satiated by these slaughters; but they now betook themselves to the city, and plundered every house, and slew every one they met; and for the other multitude, they esteemed it needless to go on with killing them, but they sought for the high priests, and the generality went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Joshua with his speech made to them from the wall. Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial.

…I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city.

…Joshua was also joined with him; and although he was inferior to him upon the comparison, he was superior to the rest; and I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these their great defenders and well wishers, while those that a little before had worn the sacred garments, and had presided over the public worship, and had been esteemed as venerable by those that dwelt on the whole habitable earth when they came into our city, were cast out naked and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts. And I cannot but imagine that virtue itself groaned at these men’s case, and lamented that she was here so terribly conquered by wickedness. And this at last was the end of Ananus and Joshua. [5]


These two individuals, holding the office of High Priest had been restraining the destruction of the temple.


The Idumean’s Repentance 

Eventually, the Idumeans learned that they had been deceived by the Zealots into coming to Jerusalem. They feared Yahweh because of what they had done on behalf of the Zealots, repented of their needless killing, especially of the two Chief Priests and left the city. Josephus estimated that 8,500 had been killed by the Idumeans.

The Idumean massacre in Jerusalem took place in February 68 AD during the reign of Nero. But four months later on 9th June, Nero Caesar would commit suicide. In my next blog post, I’ll cover the roles that John of Gischala, Eleazer ben Simon, Titus and Herod Agrippa II would then have in fulfilling Bible prophecy in both the Old and New Testament.


You can read the whole Herod Dynasty series here.



[1] Wars 4.4.1

[2] Jerusalem’s Traitor 

[3] The Chronology of the Battle in 68 AD with the Idumeans

[4] Josephus

[5] Josephus, Wars 4.5.2 

Image Credit: François Joseph Heim – AwES7QApLsGByg at Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain


  1. When you wrote, “These two individuals, holding the office of High Priest had been restraining the destruction of the temple.” It very much lines up with this.

    3Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? 6And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;
    I think the man of lawlessness will be coming up in your next post.
    Great harm has been done to the church when the western church wrote themselves into the Bible and made it all about what they were going through with the Roman Catholic church.


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