17.01.01 Introduction

17.01.01 Introduction

Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.01.01 Introduction

17.01.01 Introduction

A number of strange and fascinating events occurred the moment Jesus breathed His last breath. Some of these are described in the gospels while other events were recorded elsewhere. Centuries later, Jewish writers avoided the connection of these events with the crucifixion of Jesus, so they said that certain mysteries occurred “about” four decades prior to the destruction of the temple.


In rabbinic writings, the reference to “four decades” supports the calculation that Jesus was crucified in the year A.D. 30. Furthermore, during the previous fifteen centuries since Moses presented God’s commands to observe His feasts (Lev. 23:2), the Jews were never attacked by an enemy during any of the festivals.  It would have been to the advantage of any invading army, such as the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or any other adversary to attack when the Israelite men were not armed because they were celebrating.  For fifteen centuries God protected His people during festivals until the year A.D. 70.



17.01.01.Q1 What Strange and Miraculous Events Occurred when Jesus died that are not Recorded in the Bible?

Just as the ministry life of Jesus was full of wonder, so was His death – an event that everyone quickly discovered – was orchestrated by God.  The Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge that these events could have been related to Jesus, but an explanation had to be given.  Therefore, Jewish legends say that these occurred after Simeon the Just died.[1]


Phenomena 1: The Temple Doors Open

When Jesus died, the temple doors opened on their own accord and sacrifices ended exactly forty years later.  These doors were huge – seventy cubits high and twenty wide – and obviously quite heavy.[2]  According to Josephus, no less than twenty men (Levites) were needed to open and close each one.[3] No wonder that Jewish writers noted the unusual event in the Talmud:


Forty years before the destruction of the temple, its doors opened of their own accord.  Jochanan, son of Saccai, rebuked them, saying, O temple, why did you open of your own accord? Ah!  I perceive that your end is at hand; for it is written: “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars.”

Babylonian Talmud, Zechariah 11:1

The mystery of the doors opening by themselves and the fire that followed was also recorded elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud. Furthermore, the account was related to two prophetic passages, Isaiah 10:34 and Zechariah 11:1, by a first century rabbi.  These two verses do not mention the word “temple,” but the name “Lebanon” which was synonymous with the word “temple” for more than a thousand years. The reason for the connection was that the interior of Solomon’s temple was paneled with Lebanon cedars. But there’s more: The phrase “O Lebanon” is actually a Hebrew word play.  The phrase had become a cryptic name for the temple, since its root letters formed the Hebrew word “whiten” and it was at the “white temple” where the sins of the people were “whitened.” The interior of the temple was paneled with cedar wood from Lebanon and the exterior was a bright white limestone.

This mysterious event of the temple doors opening did not escape the pen of Josephus.  He said that the doors were so massive that normally twenty men had to struggle to close them, but now they opened on its own accord, giving the ominous warning that enemies would soon enter.  Note the incredible account,


Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple which was of brass and vastly heavy, and had been, with difficulty, shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor which was made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night.  Now those that kept watch in the temple came to the captain of the temple and told him of it; who then came up [to see] and, without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again…. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy place was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies.

Josephus, Wars 6.5.3 (293-295)[4]


With the fearful thought of coming destruction, another rabbi made this amazing comment,


“Because of the sins of Israel, the Torah (God’s Word) would be taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles.”


Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 5b[5]


His observation was obviously correct – God’s Word (Torah) was taken to the Gentiles. The prediction by the rabbi is amazing. Yet at no time did Jesus ever imply that the Old Testament covenant was broken or discarded because the Jewish leadership rejected Him.


The term legend is often defined as a mythical event that is based upon a historical event.[6]  As the actual details are transmitted from one person to another, these become enhanced and a legend is born. This historical account, as reported by the Roman historian Tacitus is a classic example.


These doors, opening by themselves must have had a profound effect upon the observers as even Tacitus attempted to describe it. He was not an observer in Jerusalem so therefore, his words reflect the proverbial rumor mill gossips as well as his Greco-Roman religious faith. Nonetheless, he clearly described the opening of the doors and the fear that came with the event. He must have reflected the opinion of many others as well.


Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds.  Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard. Few interpreted these omens as fearful;  the majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the East should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world.”

Tacitus, Histories 5:13


The final comment is not only profound for what it says, but by whom it was said. A friend of Nicodemus (the same who met Jesus at night) by the name of Johanan Ben Zakkai[7] said:


“Oh temple, temple… I know that you shall be destroyed.”[8]


Ben Zakkai was one of the leading rabbis who opposed the corruption of the leading Pharisees and Sadducees. His prediction is amazing…the temple was about to be destroyed and he was right!


Phenomena 2: The Missing Sacrificial Scape-goat 

As part of the sacrificial system, every year two identical goats, preferably twins, were chosen. One was sacrificed in the temple and its blood soaked linen was hung on the temple door.  In Leviticus 16:20-22, Moses commanded Aaron to place the sins of the people on the head of a goat. That goat became known as the “scapegoat” and was then led into the desert wilderness.  There it was taken to the Cliff of Azazel,[9] pushed over the edge, and presumably devoured by wild predators after dying on the rocks below.  The words of Moses in Leviticus are presented, followed by the events in the temple, as recorded in the Mishnah.


20 “When he has finished purifying the most holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat. 21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts — all their sins. He is to put them on the goat’s head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on it all their wrongdoings into a desolate land, and he will release it there.

Leviticus 16:20-22


However, after the crucifixion, when the scapegoat was pushed over the edge of the cliff, it ran off into the desert where it was eventually captured and killed by the Saracens.[10] But another tradition says that one time the scapegoat returned to Jerusalem. Clearly things did not go very well for the priests as planned. Whatever the situation of the scapegoat, this sacrifice was connected with the next phenomena – the scarlet wool that failed to turn white.


Phenomena 3: The Mystery of the Scarlet Wool

When the goats were presented in the temple, the blood-soaked woolen thread of the sacrificed goat was tied to the temple door. This tradition was based on a passage in the book of Isaiah.


Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool.

Isaiah 1:18


In the meantime the scapegoat was led out of the temple, over the Mount of Olives, and into the Judean Desert where it was pushed over the Cliff of Azazel as previously mentioned. As the scapegoat was being led away, all eyes in the temple were focused on the wool thread that was tied to the temple door.  When the scapegoat – the one which carried the sins of the all the people – died, the strap of crimson wool miraculously became white, obviously indicating that the sins of the people were forgiven.  Jewish writings preserved two accounts of this unusual event.


Rabbi Ishmael says: “Didn’t they have another sign also?  A thread of crimson wool was tied to the door of the sanctuary and when the he-goat reached the wilderness the thread turned white; for it is written, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow’” (Isa. 1:18).

Mishnah, Yoma 6.8


However, after the national rejection of Jesus, (“about” 40 years prior to the destruction of the temple) the crimson thread on the temple door never turned white again.


Our rabbis taught that throughout the forty years that Shim’on the Tzaddik served, … the scarlet cloth would become white.  From then on it would sometimes become white and sometimes not…. Throughout the last forty years before the temple was destroyed… the scarlet cloth never turned white.

            Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39a-39b


Great caution was taken to avoid any association of these phenomena and the death of Jesus in Jewish writings. Prior to the death of Jesus, all the sins of the people were atoned by the Old Covenant’s sacrificial system. Upon His death and resurrection, however, their sins were no longer removed by sacrifices, even though the sacrificial system continued.


While some scholars apply this passage to the temple destruction of 586 B.C., Jewish commentaries also apply it to the destruction of A.D. 70. This interpretation originated with Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai,[11]  the last survivor of the Great Sanhedrin and who boldly escaped the Roman siege as the temple burned and thousands were massacred.[12] A friend of the Sanhedrin teacher Nicodemus (the same who met Jesus) by the name of Johanan Ben Zakkai said:


Our rabbis taught: during the last forty years before the destruction of the temple the lot [for the Lord] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39b[13]


This brief narrative in the Talmud is not the only one with in such observations.  Similar omens of judgment (that God had forsaken His temple) are found also in 2 Baruch 6:7 and in the Testament of Levi 10:3. This miracle occurred annually at Yom Kippur in the temple until the year Jesus died.  The death and resurrection of Jesus rendered the temple obsolete. Its destruction was a sure event on a divine timetable.


Phenomena 4: Difficulties with the Servant Lamp

Once, when Jesus was in the temple area at the Feast of Lights, He said that He was the light of the world. Scholars believe this conversation occurred by the menorah called the “Servant Lamp.” Amazingly, after His death there was great difficulty in lighting the Servant Lamp, and once it was lit, it did not always remain lit.[14] Fresh olive oil and new wicks did not help.  Rabbis began to write that God was demonstrating His anger with Israel while foreshadowing the destruction of the temple, but they were careful not to mention the name “Jesus.”


Forty years before the destruction of the temple, the Servant Lamp refused to light.

            Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 43:3

The Jewish leaders had difficulty explaining why the Servant Lamp no longer shone in the temple area. No one dared to connect it with the crucifixion of Jesus, so the reason was placed upon the death of Simeon the Just/Righteous.[15]  In the Talmud is the following statement:


All the time that Simeon the Righteous was alive, the western lamp would burn well. When Simeon the Righteous died, sometimes it would flicker out, and sometimes it would burn.

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 6.3[16]


But there is a serious problem with Jewish reckoning: Simeon the Righteous, a/k/a Simon the Just, is said to be the high priest Simon II who lived around the year 200 B.C., and was succeeded by Onias III.[17] However, there are another half dozen religious leaders who could have had the honorary title of “the Righteous” or “the Just,” and knowing who the Talmudic writers meant is unclear – and maybe it was intended to be that way.


Later, when the Romans came in A.D. 70, the first century historian described how they removed the menorah. It was eventually taken to Rome where, it is believed, it remains today in the Vatican.


But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews.

Josephus, Wars 7.5.5 (149)[18]



Amazingly, two ancient Jewish scholars concluded the temple would be destroyed.  Likewise was the comment by the rabbi, who said that God’s plan is to bring salvation (he said “Torah”) to the Gentiles. Shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish writer of the Fourth Book of Ezra commented,


For you see how our sanctuary has been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed; our harp has been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing has ended; the light of our lampstand has been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been almost profaned; our children [or: free men] have suffered abuse, our priests have been burned to death, our Levites have gone into [captivity], our virgins have been defiled, and our wives have been ravished; our righteous men [or our seers] have been carried off, our little ones have been cast out, our young men have been enslaved and our strong men made powerless.  And, worst of all, the seal of Zion has been depraved of its glory and given over into the hands of those that hate us.

4 Ezra 10:21-24[19]


Why did the Servant Lamp not retain its flame? It was because Jesus functioned both as the Servant and the Light of the world, which national Israel rejected.


Phenomena 5: The fire wood that would not burn

For more than five centuries, ever since the second temple was built, when the fire upon the altar was lit in the morning, two logs were sufficient to keep it burning all day long.  However, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the fire would at times go out, even with additional firewood.[20]


Phenomena 6: The Shewbread that “failed.”

The rituals of the second temple were well established.  Just as the altar fires were kept burning for centuries, so likewise every morning a blessing was placed over the temple showbread that was divided among the priests and eaten until they were all filled.  However, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the priests remained hungry.[21]


These six strange events were not connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus, but with the death of Simeon the Just. The religious leaders refused to acknowledge what they knew beyond any shadow of doubt – that Jesus was their Messiah.


Summary statement: Finally, a summary statement of four of these events is found in the Babylonian Talmud.  It says,


It has been taught: Forty years before the destruction of the temple the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand.  They would close the gates of the temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open. Said [to the temple] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, “O temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars!” (Zech. 11:1).

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 6.3[22]   




[1]. For further study, see Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 301-16.


[2]. Seventy by 20 cubits is about 105 feet high by 30 feet wide. The doors were heavy due to their size and gold covering.   


[3]. Josephus, Against Apion 2.11 (119).      


[4]. Bracketed insert by Whiston, ed.


[5]. Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament. 43.

[6]. Cited by Gurtner, Daniel M. “The Veil of the Temple in History and Legend.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 49:1 (March, 2006). 107-08.


[7]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.


[8]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 39.


[9]. The meaning of Azazel is uncertain, but it was probably a desert demon. See Mishnah, Yoma 1.5; 6.4; Lev. 16:6-10 and Barclay, Jesus. 314.


[10]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[11]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.


[12]http://books.google.com/books?id=57E3AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=Jerusalem+Talmud,+Yoma+43:3&source=bl&ots=vOyuShzS_k&sig=tgDCi3Z-1bZEp6sU_dfdI_C5umg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jAqyUPzgAayM0QH3hoCwCA&sqi=2&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAw. Retrieved November 25, 2012.


[13]. Emphasis by Talmudic editors.


[14]. According to tradition, when the Roman General Titus plundered the temple, he took the Servant’s lamp and other treasures and moved them to Rome where he paraded them through the streets. A stone relief of that parade, along with the menorah, was carved into the Arch of Titus that stands along the Apian Way. Today these relics are believed to be in a vault four stories below under the Vatican.


[15]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[16]. Cited by Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 308.


[17]. Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 308 n28. The name Simon, like Jesus, was a popular name. There was a significant “Simon the Just” who lived around 300 B.C., another in the second century B.C. (1 Macc. 14:41), and a third during the time of Jesus; Josephus, Antiquities 12.2.5; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:101, 360; Multiple persons with the same name can present challenges in biblical and extra-biblical research.


[18]. http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/JOSEPHUS.HTM. Retrieved November 25, 2012.

[19]. Scholars debate on the classification of 3rd Ezra (a/k/a 1 Esdras) and 4th Ezra (a/k/a 2nd Esdras). Sometimes these are listed in the Apocrypha (see 02.02.03) and other times they are listed in the Pseudepigrapha (see 02.02.24). The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.


[20]. Cited by Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[21]. Cited by Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[22]. Cited by Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 306.


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