The story of the “holy frauds” that dot the “holy land” begins with the end of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.
The Jewish War in short
The leaders of the Jewish side in the war included:
Ananus ben Ananus, former high priest, killed in Temple siege by Judean Zealots, 68 CE
John ben Levi of Giscala, leader of the Galilean Zealots
Eleazar ben Simon, leader of the Judean Zealots
Simon bar Giora, peasant leader in Judea
Eleazar ben Hanania, leader of Temple forces after Ananus
Menachem ben Yehuda, leader of the Sikarii
Eliezer ben Ya’ir, leader of the Sikarii in Masada
Matthias, leader of the 20,000 Idumeans
500 Adiabene (Jewish kingdom in northern Mesopotamia) troops, fight mostly with Bar Giora
The Zealots were not simply “freedom fighters”, but ideological theocratist fanatics who would today be called “terrorists”. The modern equivalent would be the Taliban. The Sikarii were even worse, more comparable to Al Qaida or ISIS.
Regarding the fractiousness, the Judean Zealots the Galilean Zealots fought each other, and both fought the Sikarii. The Judean Zealots were at enmity with the Temple Guard, and carried out the siege of the temple in which Ananus ben Ananus was killed. The Idumeans showed up answering a plea from high priest Ananus to support the Temple Guard, but arrived too late. They then turned around and fought with the Judean Zealots against the Galilean Zealots and the Sikarii. Simon bar Giora’s peasants and Adiabene troops tried to stay out of the fighting.
The Siege of Jerusalem was a disaster for its defenders for two reasons. First, the leaders of the various factions were more interested in fighting amongst themselves than preparing to defend against the Roman army, much like the leaders of the “Northern Alliance” in Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviet army until the Taliban threw them out. Second, the craziest group of fanatics, the Sikarii, burned the city’s massive stores of food supplies hoping to give the populace no choice but to fight.
Those caught by the Romans trying to escape were crucified around the city walls. After the city fell, those not crucified were deported to western North Africa, where they became the ancestors of today’s Maghrebim.
In the aftermath
The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE after the end of the siege was total. According to Josephus, who was there, the only structures of the city left standing were three towers and the western wall of the city. Not of the temple mound, which was on the eastern side, but the western wall of the city. As for the temple mound itself, that had been completely dismantled, by captives, in order for the Romans to recover the gold melted and seeped through the cracks in the stone floor when the temple was immolated. Not only had the temple been the rebellion’s headquarters, it had served as the putative state’s treasury, and the Romans wanted the gold.
The Fortress Antonia remained, of course, as did the shrine of Serapis and the Asclepieon next to it. The Asclepieion was the five-sided “pool of Bethezda” mentioned in the Gospel of John.
Hadrian’s new city
In about 122, Hadrian began building a new city where Jerusalem had once been, a “colonia” for retired soldiers that he named Aelia, dedicating it the the triad of deities at the top of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter, Juno, and Minverva, for which the full name became Aelia Capitolina.
A decade after the building had begun, a messianic pretender named Simon bar Kokhba rose up with his ideologist Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph at his side. Akiva confirmed Simon’s status as the Messiah ben David and urged Jews to follow him. After the rebels’ defeat three years later, the leaders, including Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva, suffered hideously torturous deaths.
While we are on the subject of holy frauds, the supposed martyr Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel, one of the alleged Ten Martyrs of the Roman honored every year on Yom Kippur, really died during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and at the hands of the Zealots, not the Romans. At the time, he was the Nasi, the head of the Great Sanhedrin. The poem read on Yom Kippur places him in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba War and portrays him as being beheaded by his captors. There was another Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel who was at the last stand fortress of Betar, but he escaped to become Nasi himself in 142 CE when the Sanhedrian was reinstated.
Aftermath of Bar Kokhba’s revolt
The provinces of Syria (which included Phoenicia, Iturea, and Galilee as well) and Judea (which also took in Samaria, Idumea, and Philistia) were merged together as Syria-Palestina.
After the Bar Kokhba War, Hadrian finished the city in Roman style, its walls those now considered part of the Old City.
In place of the former temple mound and temple, he constructed a Capitolina acropolis surrounded by an impressive wall of massive stones. On its summit, he built a temple to Jupiter and another to, jointly, Juno and Minerva.
The shrine to Serapis adjacent to Fortress Antonia expanded into a full-scale temple dedicated to Serapis (who was syncretistically also Asclepius), Isis, and Harpocrates. The Asclepieion was expanded and embellished, and pools dedicated to Serapis and Fortuna added.
Meanwhile, in the northwest of the city, there was a temple to Venus above a grotto that also served for Adonis worship (and Tammuz before that) and a temple to Mercury in the Upper City in the southwest.
In nearby Bethlehem, a cave that had been honored as the birthplace of Tammuz-Adonis became the birthplace for the protagonist of the fairly new mystery cult of Mithras, hugely popular with large numbers of Roman soldiers.
Enter Empress Mother Helena
Helena was Constantine’s mother and one of the major influences in his decision to issue the Edict of Milan in 313 that granted official toleration to Christianity. Not long afterward, she fulfilled her devout wish to tour the holy land.
At her visit, the temple of Jupiter became the site of the Jewish Temple, the temple of Juno and Minerva became the site of the Royal Stoa, the temple of Venus and grotto of Adonis became the site of the Holy Sepulchre, and the temple of Mercury became the site of the Upper Room. In Bethlehem, the birthplace of Mithras became the birthplace of Jesus.
The temple of Jupiter became a Christian basilica then Al Aqsa Mosque, while the temple of Juno and Minerva became a church also, then the Dome of the Rock, supposed site of the near sacrifice of Isaac by his own father Abraham to get in good with the Almighty.
Enter the Ari
In the fifteenth century, the Ari (Isaac Luria) declared that the western wall the Hadrian built for the compound of the temples of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva was the western wall of the Jewish temple compound, even though that had been entirely dismantled. This despite the fact that Josephus’ eyewitness testimony. Now known as the Wailing Wall.
All the holy sites in the holy land are holy frauds. The Christian sites are all former pagan temples and shrines, and the Wailing Wall is in reality that supporting a former Roman pagan temple compound. Even the supposed makeshift altar at the Dome of the Rock, since Abraham and Isaac are mythological. Holy sites, relics, and pilgrimages are all about tourist dollars and feeding the local economy, whether in Jerusalem, Mecca, Rome, Salt Lake City, Canterbury, or any other such attraction. Those who imagine themselves sanctified by such tripe already have their reward. It’s all but a chimera, and in time will be dust in the wind.