H. Sivan, Palestine in Late Antiquity, N. Y. 2008, σσ. 198-199.
Once a year pilgrims saw a pitiful crowd of Jews praying on the site of the destroyed Temple. The spectacle, in fact a performance of an ancient duty and a testimony of the continuing practice of Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was also registered by Jerome, who viewed it as a living proof of the vagaries of the city’s history. The sight of Temple mourning evoked both Jesus’ verdict of perpetual punishment and, at an unregistered and unconscious level, Tacitus’ dictum of devitalized Judaism:
You can see with your own eyes a piteous crowd gathering on the day that Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Romans (the 9th of Av). Woebegone women stand with old men who appear weighed down with years. Bodies and clothes demonstrate the wrath of God. This mob of wretches congregates and groans over the ruins of their temple while the manger of the Lord sparkles, the church of his resurrection glows and the banner of his cross shines forth from the Mount of Olives.
Jerome’s satirizing of the Jewish custom of lamentation over the grim fate of city and Temple is instructive. According to a Talmudic behest, a Jew gazing at Jerusalem and the Temple in ruins must assume mourning gestures including the tearing of one’s garments and the recitation of an appropriate verse. For Jerome the Temple platform and the church of the Holy Sepulchre were two symbolic locations each encapsulating religious celebrations, ceremonies and rites which wove complementary yet oppositional bonds across Jerusalem’s space. The imagery of a stark contrast between vibrant and triumphant Christianity on the one hand and deflated Judaism on the other was echoed, uncannily and bitterly, in synagogal poetry. Thus Yannai, an outstanding Jewish poet of late antiquity, confirmed Jerome’s victorious words:
The lights of Edom (Rome) grew strong and multiplied,
The Lights of Zion were muffled and destroyed.
The lights of Edom gained in power and glowed
The lights of Zion faded and were extinguished . . .
The verses reflected the bright lights that shimmered in churches and the slender candles that carried the burden of Judaism. But in Yannai’s world the pitiful condition of the Jews was not so much an admission of the power of Christianity as a state which required divine attention, assistance, and compassion:
Pray thee, God,
Who will not weep? . . .
Who will not lament? . . .
Who will not wear sackcloth and mourn? . . .
Until when will You not spare us and console us?
Come back and be reconciled;
Allow me to be consoled,
Holy . . .