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Which Year Was the Second Temple Destroyed, 69 CE or 70 CE?

Which Year Was the Second Temple Destroyed, 69 CE or 70 CE?

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Question:

In some articles on your site it says the Second Temple was destroyed in 69 CE, and in others it says 70 CE. So what year was it?

Answer:

There are actually three different years found in Jewish sources for the destruction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem:

  • 3828 / 68 CE
  • 3829 / 69 CE
  • 3830 / 70 CE

This discrepancy is based on a number of factors:1

How long is 420 years?

The Talmud2 states that the Second Temple stood for 420 years.

But the sages debate whether this means that the Temple was destroyed in its 420th year, or after it was standing for a full 420 years. The Temple was destroyed on the ninth of Av, which is toward the end of the Jewish calendar year, so 420 years could mean almost 420 years, or it could mean 420 years and 10 months.3

Rashi, in his commentary to the Talmud, tractate Avodah Zarah,4 and Maimonides5 are of the opinion that it was destroyed in the 420th year. However, most other Jewish sages6 are of the opinion that it was destroyed in the 421st year. In fact, Rashi appears to reverse himself, and cites this opinion in his commentary to Talmud, tractate Erchin.7

According to these opinions, the year of the Destruction was either 3828 (68 CE) or 3829 (69 CE), depending on how you interpret 420 years.

But it’s not that simple . . .

The Talmud also gives us another clue about the year of the Destruction: The Temple was destroyed in the year following a shemittah year (the seventh year in the seven-year agricultural cycle, when the land is left to lie fallow).8

Seemingly this gives us a simple way to calculate the year of the Destruction. We will take the last shemittah year and count back until we hit the proper year. The last shemittah was 57689 (2008). Counting backwards in increments of seven (5768/2008 - (277 * 7)), we get the number 3829—69 CE. If the year of the Destruction was the year after a shemittah year, that would mean the Temple was destroyed in 3830—70 CE. But that does not accord with either of the opinions mentioned above!

What gives?

To understand this, we need to go back to the beginning of creation. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is celebrated on the day Adam was created, which was really the 6th day of creation. Creation itself began on the 25th day of the month of Elul.

This raises the question: Was the first New Year considered the beginning of year one, or was it year two, with year one being shenat tohu, the “year of desolation”? In other words, do we count the years from the creation of man, or do we count from the creation of the world? Although it was merely six days earlier, the Talmud10 tells us that for counting purposes, even one day is considered a year.

The sages of the “East”—i.e., the Babylonian Talmud, the Seder Olam and their commentators—count from when Adam was created. The sages of the “West”—i.e. the Jerusalem Talmud—begin counting from the creation of the world.

We can now understand the discrepancy about the year of shemittah, and also why the year 70 CE is commonly given as the year the Temple was destroyed. For although the sages of the Babylonian Talmud counted from the year Adam was created, common practice11 has become to count from the year the world was created, counting the “year of desolation” as year 1.

This means that to all years given in the Babylonian Talmud and its commentaries, we must add one. Accordingly, the year of the Destruction would be 3830 (70 CE). Now the shemittah years work well: 3829 + (277 * 7) = 5768 (2008), coinciding with common practice.

Maimonides, on the other hand, is of the opinion that since the shemittah year is counted from the month of Tishrei and the Destruction occurred toward the end of the year, the Talmud considers the Temple to have been destroyed after a shemittah year, even though it was actually destroyed in such a year. According to him, the year of the Destruction, counting from the year of the creation of the world, would be 3829 (69 CE) and not 3830, but the shemittah years would still match up.12

Based on the above, we can now understand why the year of the destruction of the Temple is variously given as 3828 (68 CE), 3829 (69 CE) and 3830 (70 CE).

May we merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple speedily in our days.

Year of Destruction

Temple destroyed in its counting from creation of man counting from creation of world
Rashi on Avodah Zarah and Maimonides 420th year 3828 (68 CE) 3829 (69 CE)
Tosafot and most other commentaries 421st year 3829 (69 CE) 3830 (70 CE)


Footnotes
1.
Before we get in the reasons behind the discrepancy, it should be noted that the civil dates used here, such as 69 CE or 70 CE, are for clarification purposes only. After all, the civil calendar that is in use today was hardly functional in those early years.
2.
Talmud, Erchin 12b.
3.
The Second Temple was dedicated on the 24th of Kislev (see Haggai 2:18). Following the opinion of Rashi (to Exodus 30:17), and the way the Talmud in general seems to count, years are always counted from Tishrei—hence 9 Av would be 10+ months into the year. See, however, Ramban (to Exodus 30:12), that years are counted from day to day, in which case the time span in question is (420 years and) about 7 months.
4.
9b, s.v. v’siman.
5.
See commentaries to Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shemittah ve-Yovel 10:2–5.
6.
See, for example, the commentaries of Tosafot, Ramban, Ritva, et al. on Talmud, Avodah Zarah and Erchin loc. cit.
7.
12b, s.v. arba; see also Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 9b, s.v. hai. See, however, Chatam Sofer, Responsa, Choshen Mishpat 50, who gives an alternative explanation as to the seeming discrepancy in Rashi.
8.
Talmud, Taanit 29a and Erchin 11b; see also Seder Olam, ch. 30.
9.
The next one will be 5775 (2015).
10.
Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 2b.
11.
Rabbi Yehoshua Falk Katz, Derishah, Choshen Mishpat 67:9.
12.
See commentary of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, Gra) on Mishneh Torah, ibid. 10:5
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Levi Philadelphia, PA August 4, 2016

Still unclear If there's a disagreement on how to count the sabbatical (shmita) year, does that mean that more than one year was followed at the same time? if not, then only one calendar was followed, how can there be a debate about the reality (a metzius) of when it was? Do we simply not know which calendar was practiced? from all of history we have no clues? why don't we go backwards, say we know when the Temple was destroyed and based on that we know which calendar opinion (Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud) the Rabbis ruled to follow? Reply

Anonymous Norwood, OH August 21, 2015

Please cite your source in the Talmud. I want to look up in the Talmud where it says the 2nd temple stood for 420 years. There is also a minority view that it stood for 490 years. If there are conflicting views, then we are not to take this literally. Please tell me where I can find this info in the Talmud. Reply

Shai Canada December 31, 2014

Calendrical Oddness I'm very confused about the dates. How could the First Temple have been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when the above timeline would see him long dead by then?

Nevermind, just saw E. Dallal's post. :) Reply

Mordy Hollywood , Fl via jewishpines.com August 6, 2014

Source? Very interesting note E Dallal.
What is the source of your comment? Reply

Feigele BR FL August 1, 2014

Facing today's reality! What does it matter which day compare to today's antissemitism problems we are all facing all over the world? shouldn't we better concentrate on what is going on TODAY rather than 5,000 years ago... Reply

menachem July 21, 2014

Very well researched. Reply

E. Dallal skokie, il July 21, 2014

Timing It's important to note that the sages modified the timeline so that we would not accurately calculate the end of days (6000 years). May Hashem bless us and hasten the coming of Moshiach b'Ahavah! Reply

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