Tisha be’Av – an excerpt from my book

"The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem" by Francesco Hayez (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Today is Tisha be’Av, the 9th of Av. This is the day the Jewish people mourn and fast over the destruction of our temples. Both the first temple and the second temple were both destroyed on this date. The first in 586 BC, and the second in 70 AD.

Since my book, “The Secret Scroll of Magdala,” takes place around the destruction of the second temple, I have decided to share an excerpt from my unfinished book today. A small warning – it ends with a cliffhanger.

I am not 100% happy with all the terms, this is still an early draft, and at some point I might rewrite parts. The finished book will be published in… well, I wish I knew. Whenever I’m done, I guess? You can get access to read all my 54 (so far) drafts chapters by becoming a Patreon of $10 and up.

This is an excerpt from chapter 48, “The Last Day.” Daniel and his wife Na’amah are the last believers in Jerusalem, as they didn’t follow the congregation to Pella. They have fled from their home and now live within the temple courtyard. The date 9th of Av 70 AD is coming closer…

“It’s right up there.” Naamah said with a dreamy voice and pointed upwards to the east.
“The Mount of Olives. Right there, any day now. Yeshua will come back with the clouds of heaven.” She smiled with tear-filled eyes. “Any day,” she whispered.
Daniel held her hand and squeezed it. He couldn’t remember when any of them had eaten anything. He suffered a lot, but tried not to show it. Her suffering was so much greater than his, and he knew it. He could have handled the starvation if it wasn’t for the heat, and he could have handled the heat if it wasn’t for the starvation, but the combination of both was unbearable. Adding to that a pregnancy? He couldn’t even imagine what she was going through. And on top of all that, her suffering was all his fault. He kept it all inside. He had a responsibility to care for her and protect her to the best of his abilities. Those abilities were severely compromised now, but still – he would protect her with all his might or die trying.
“Remember the book of Daniel?” he said. “His three friends told the king that even if God doesn’t help them, they would still not bow down to his statue.”
Naamah nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that. I will not let the Romans take me alive. If Yeshua doesn’t come back soon, then that’s it. I’d rather die than let the uncircumcised violate me or steal our baby.”
“Steal our…”
“That’s what they would do, Daniel. If they don’t kill him, they would steal him and raise him as a pagan. I’m never going to let that happen.”
Daniel squeezed her hand again.
“If so, we die together. You and me, together forever in eternity. I’m not leaving you.”
Naamah smiled at him with tear-filled eyes.
After the new siege wall, the Romans had started building new ramps, and they were all going towards the Antonia fortress. Their goal was obvious, but this time the Jewish attempts to burn the ramps failed.
And then one day they stormed the fortress. It happened on Tamuz 3rd, only two weeks before the fasting day. They got into the fortress, killed all the Jews who were guarding it, and entered the temple through the doors connecting the temple and the fortress. Immense battles broke out, but eventually the Jews were able to force the Romans back and keep the door shut. There was only one small door, and the Romans couldn’t attack all at once there – only one by one. The Romans were isolated in the Antonia fortress.
Still. There was only one door between them and the Romans now. The Romans had gained an important stronghold, and most importantly – they had access to the tall towers above the temple court.
The fasting day, Tamuz 17th, arrived. It was a fasting day because of the previous fall of Jerusalem. On that day, the Babylonians had broken down the walls of Jerusalem over 600 years ago. Daniel was wondering whether the same would happen now. As it turned out, Tamuz 17th became the first day with no sacrifices. The only person who still knew how to do it had succumbed to the starvation. Shimon ben Gamliel saw it as a sign.
“The sacrifices were our spiritual wall, Daniel. Once again the enemy has broken down our protection wall on Tamuz 17th. I’m starting to believe you might have been right.”
“Yochanan of Gush Chalav, do you hear me?” There it was. The same familiar voice in Hebrew of Joseph ben Matityahu. This time it came from the top of the Antonia fortress.
“If you want to fight, send your men out to fight the Roman army! Don’t force us to storm the temple! The Romans don’t want to ruin this holy place!”
Yochanan of Gush Chalav shouted his reply.
“You traitor! You think you can scare me? We are in the most secure fortress there is! This is the house of the Living God! This is the city of God! You will never make us slaves! God is fighting on our side!”
Joseph answered with detailed descriptions of how Yochanan of Gush Chalav had desecrated the temple, about God now being on the Roman side, and about how many prophets had prophesied the destruction of the temple. He only received curses for answers.
The following morning Daniel and Naamah woke up from the sound of battle and shouts from the Antonia fortress. The Romans tried to force their way in again, but were pushed back. The passage from the fortress to the temple was too narrow. There was no way they could squeeze entire legions through it. But they were building more and more ramps around. The attack was just a question of time.
The days went by. The starvation worsened. Every day, something happened. An arrow shot by the Romans from the fortress. A curse shouted from the Jews. A fire in the passageway between the temple and the fortress. More and more people who died from starvation. The piles of corpses climbed higher and higher. Daniel heard a rumor about a woman in the city who was caught eating her baby. He didn’t know if it was true or not, but with this starvation, it wouldn’t surprise him.
“What day is it today?”
“It’s the 8th of Av. Tomorrow we will know,” Shimon ben Gamliel answered Daniel.
“That’s what I thought. Tomorrow it will be exactly…”
“656 years since the Babylonians burned down our first temple. And it just might be the day the Romans burn down our second temple.”
“Is it time to read Lamentations tonight?”
“I don’t think so. I’d rather read it two days from now – if I’ll still be alive.”
As the day went by, the smell of fire intensified. This time, it wasn’t just a local fire in one or another place. The Romans had set fires outside all the different doors to the temple. Their ramps were ready. They had tried a few times before to climb up over the wall on ladders, but they were pushed down by Jews on the wall.
And then it happened. At the sound of the Romans’ trumpets, soldiers poured in to the temple court from all doors, and from the fortress. The starving Jews had no chance. The swords swung and killed everyone. Daniel took Naamah’s hand.
The Romans came from the northern and eastern sides of the temple, so Daniel took Naamah to the southern end, to the Royal Basilica, known as the Stoa. It had been the temple’s center of public and commercial activity, with three aisles of pillars and four stories high, topped with a red-tiled roof. Stairs led up to the rooms above, and they hurried up as fast as they could.
“Where are we going?”
“To the top, the upper rooms!”
Were there Romans behind them, chasing them? A quick glance back proved to Daniel that there wasn’t. No one saw them. Naamah had trouble moving with her ninth-month-belly, but they managed to get up. From here they could look down on the commotion in the temple court. They were on top of the southern temple wall, and if they wanted to, they could run further east or west to reach the un-roofed walls. They stayed under the red-tiled roof, where the Romans were less likely to spot them.
“I made up this plan during the many days of waiting. If we can hide in one of these rooms, and if we are lucky and the Romans don’t search here, we might be able to flee during the night, when it’s dark and they can’t see us.”
“I feel sick.”
“Don’t look down, honey. Just calm down. We are safe… for now. Sit down and rest. I will keep guard and watch to see that no one comes. Just rest for now.”
“Can I rest my eyes? Go to sleep? I’m so exhausted.”
“Do that. I will wake you up if anything happens.”
She went to sleep on the cold stone floor. She was so beautiful. Her hair, her chest heaving up and down, her pregnant belly. He was supposed to stay and guard, but he had a hard time tearing his eyes away from his beloved. She was so amazing and brave. He turned to look down at the court. Roman soldiers everywhere. This was it. They would never recover from this. The battle was lost. The war was lost. Time to assess the situation and make the best of it. Some Jews were armed and fought back, but they were vastly outnumbered.
Daniel was, of course, not allowed to fall asleep. Of course not. He could maybe close his eyes for a moment, but not for too long. He needed to keep guard. Naamah depended on him. Don’t let your guard down. Close the eyes for a moment… and then get up again. Maybe not just yet. But soon. Any time now, he would get up again and stand guard. Any time. Just a little while more with closed eyes. Soon he would get up… Zzzz…
Daniel sprang up and scrambled to his feet. How long had he been asleep? Too long. The sky was pitch dark, illuminated by huge flames climbing to the sky. He looked down at the court, and the sight was horrendous. Everything was on fire. Lots of Jews and Romans still fighting down there. A river of melted gold slithered across the temple floor, burning everything in its way, and killing any person who didn’t notice it in time. Shouts, cries, the smell of smoke, fire, and corpses. Although, the smell of burning corpses wasn’t that different from the smell of regular sacrifices in the temple. No, come on, what was wrong with him? Why thoughts like that now?
Where did that sound come from?
“Naamah, Naamah, wake up! The temple is on fire!”
She got up right away and came up to Daniel. They looked down at the horrendous sight together.
“The… the Holy of Holiest!” Naamah stuttered. The flames engulfed it, climbing high into the night. The floor they stood on was getting warmer. There must be a fire below them, too.
Then he saw them. Two Romans who looked straight at them and pointed. And now they were coming, running towards the stairs of the south-eastern corner, with their swords drawn. So much for that hiding place.
Naamah had also seen them. She grabbed Daniel’s hand.

This article originally appeared on Tuvia’s blog, July 18, 2021, and reposted with permission.