5. THE SECOND EXILE – DID IT REALLY HAPPEN?
It should perhaps be mentioned that one Jewish historian, Shlomo Sand, in The Invention of the Jewish People disputes the belief that there was an exile following the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and the crushing of the Bar Kochba revolt in AD 135. He argues that the Romans never deported entire peoples and disputes the figures given by Flavius Josephus, the one historian who was present at the time. (He was one of the Jewish leaders who amazingly lived to tell the tale!) Josephus claimed that 1.1 million people died in the siege of Jerusalem (AD 66-70) and 97,000 were taken into captivity by the Roman General Titus. Another, later historian, Cassius Dio writing about the Bar Kochba rebellion of AD 132-135, claimed that 580,000 Jews were killed by the Romans under Emperor Hadrian, and that Judea was ravaged, with the destruction of 50 fortified towns and 985 villages. We know that Hadrian was determined to erase all reference to a Jewish state by renaming Judea, Syria Palaestina, and Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina. He built a temple to Jupiter on the site of the Jewish Temple, and Jews were no longer allowed to live in Jerusalem. (They were later allowed, under Emperor Constantine I, to return to the Western Wall once a year to mourn the destruction of the Temple).
Sand is probably correct in saying that ancient historians exaggerated their numbers, but even allowing for this, it is clear that the Jewish nation (a Roman protectorate) suffered a seismic shock from which it never recovered. Sand, as part of a wider thesis on the Jewish people, argues that the rural Jewish population lived on, eventually losing their Jewish identity by converting to the Muslim faith in the seventh century AD.
His principal argument seems to be that the Romans did not deport the Jewish population in like manner to the earlier Assyrian and Babylonian deportations.
On the question of conversion this seems most unlikely given the tenacity with which the Jews maintained their faith in the Diaspora, while on the question of deportation it does not seem to matter whether they were deported en masse or seeped away from the land at various points in subsequent centuries. With the Temple gone and their exclusion from Jerusalem, a prime reason for staying had gone, and it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that over time many Jews moved voluntarily to thriving Jewish communities elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
Jewish historian Samuel Katz in Battleground: Fact & Fantasy in Palestine (P.89) argues that by the sixth century AD, 43 Jewish communities remained in Palestine, 12 in the southern part of Palestine and 31 in the Galilee and Jordan Valley. These figures are small. Even if they are an underestimate, I do not think that Shlomo Sand succeeds in disturbing the argument that the impact of the Jewish-Roman wars was to complete the Diaspora with a second exile. As the Wikipedia article – Jewish-Roman Wars puts it:
The Jewish-Roman wars left an epic impact on the Jews, turning them from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean to a scattered and persecuted minority.
Wikipedia, Bar Kochba Revolt
Wikipedia, History of the Jews in the land of Israel. Section: Roman era 64 BCE – 324 CE