Report on Meeting

Home of Jerry & Lorraine Kotler

October 13, 2002

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Thank you.  Lorraine and Jerry Kotler continued their warm and welcoming tradition of hospitality as members and guests greeted each other around the dining table laden with delicious snacks, fruits, and breads. The fragrant spiced hot apple cider was perfect for the crisp fall evening. Thank you both for opening your home to the Dialogue once again.

 Members Present:  21; Guests:  1

A Line from Lillian:

Greetings!  I really missed the Dialogue in September, but circumstances required that we not have that meeting.  I am certain that we will gather again in full force, as we look forward to a terrific line-up of programs. I especially want to promote our open meeting on November 17, to be held at United Theological Seminary (see flyer in this newsletter).  Not only will we have a marvelous program  -- Sr. Leanne Jablonski, FMI, PhD. speaking on faith and the environment, but we will also be celebrating 30 years of meeting together as a Dialogue, and Rabbi Judith Bluestein will be presented a lifetime membership by Hadassah.  It is certain to be a wonderful evening, and how fortunate we are to be able to share the event with the public. Invite your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to join us! With constant prayers for peace,

 Blessings and Shalom, Lillian 

...Looking Back

The October Dialogue opened with Jerry Kotler singing the blessing of the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew. Then Lorraine led us as almost the entire group recited it with her in English from memory.



by Jerry Kotler

On The 9th day of the Jewish month, Av, which occurs during July or August, observant Jews all over the world fast on this Jewish Day of Infamy, Tisha b’Av because it is the anniversary of the destruction of the 1st (586 BCE) and 2nd (70 CE) Temples in Jerusalem.  I do not count myself as one of those Jews who seriously observes Tisha b’Av because I have never done a complete fast, although I sometimes skip breakfast.  However, an article I recently read has caused me to rethink my meager commitment to Tisha b’Av.

Lets first do a very brief review of Jewish and Roman history during the period surrounding the destruction of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70CE when the Temple was destroyed and looted by the Romans. Emperor Vespasian  ruled the Roman Empire from 69 to 79CE.  Prior to the year 69CE he was a General and was instrumental in capturing the land of Judea.  Vespasian’s son, Titus, ruled the Roman Empire from 79 to 81CE.  Earlier, he was the general that was responsible for the destruction of the Temple (he finished his father’s job, show coin).  Titus’ brother, Domitian, ruled the Roman Empire from 81 to 96CE.



In the July/August 2001 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Professor Louis H. Feldman of Yeshiva University wrote a fascinating article linking the Temple of Jerusalem with the Roman Colosseum.  Feldman is one of the world’s leading scholars on first century Jewish history, having published 140 papers and several major books related to this period.  He is also recognized as one of the foremost scholars on the works of Josephus.  My talk will focus on Professor Feldman’s paper.

The Colosseum, originally known as the Amphitheatrum Flavium was constructed during the reigns of 3 Flavian emperors:  Vespasian, Titus and Domitian and was dedicated in the year 80CE.  This awe inspiring stone amphitheater was 165 ft. high (about 16 stories), a third of a mile around, had 80 entrances and a seating capacity of  50,000 to 87,000 people (depending upon which ancient report you believe).  As late as the year 407 CE gladiator fights were staged there (armed men versus wild animals).

When Vespasian became emperor in the year 69CE, the status of the Roman empire’s finances was extremely weak because of Nero’s costly extravagances and the fire that devastated Rome 5 years earlier. A civil war in 68CE also contributed to Rome’s economic problems. With regard to financial matters, Vespasian was very frugal, the opposite of Nero.  He spent the empire’s money on rebuilding infrastructure and education to insure his popularity, as well as the popularity of his sons Titus and Domitian who went on to succeeded him.

 When the formal dedication of the enormously expensive Colosseum took place in 80CE the festivities lasted 100 days during which time 9000 animals were killed.  There were gladiator bouts, mock sea battles, animal hunts,  and recreation of myths (some quite sordid).  There is no doubt that the dedication of the Colosseum raised the morale of the people who had recently suffered from the Mount Vesuvius eruption and the famine and epidemic that followed. 

However, for many years, historians faced a dilemma; viz., where did Vespasian and Titus obtain the money to erect this incredibly expensive structure?  The answer to this mystery is contained in a story that spans nearly 2000 years and involved a very complex geometric and word puzzle that could only be solved by a puzzle master who was also very knowledgeable in Roman History and Archaeology. Such a man is Professor Geza Alfoldy of the University of Heidelberg who, in 1995 deciphered this incredibly difficult puzzle.  Alfoldy’s remarkable feat brought to light a very surprising and ironic linkage between 2 of the world’s most unique structures; viz., the famous first century Roman Colosseum and the other, the Jewish People’s most revered building in all of their 4000 year history.

The puzzle is centered around a large restored marble block (which was found in several pieces) that currently lies on the floor of the present main entrance to the Colosseum in Rome.  This stone was originally situated above a passageway and its inscription could be read by people passing by.  It’s message was to honor a wealthy dignitary who paid for the repair and renovation of the building about 360 years after its original construction in 80CE.  However, for the past 200 years scholars have noticed that between the letters of this inscription there are 67 little holes forming 3 parallel lines.  Each hole is less than one centimeter deep.  These holes originally held pegs which were attached to bronze letters that made-up the original dedication in 80CE.  (Very similar to the way the 10 Commandments are depicted in the main sanctuary of the Beth Jacob Synagogue.)

In 1995, Professor Alfoldy deciphered and published the 80CE inscription.  He did the deciphering based, in part, upon the location of the holes. A person who has been successful in solving these kinds of puzzles, is known as an expert in Ancient Roman “ghost epigraphy.”  To the layperson, Professor Alfoldy’s solution may appear problematic because only about 50% of the original holes have survived.  However, Roman buildings almost always contained a protocol in their building inscriptions that began with the name of the ruler who constructed the building.  Following the ruler’s name was the nature of the building and the source of the financing.  Any additional details would follow this information.

The ghost inscription, as Alfoldy deciphered it, reads as follows:



The translation from the Latin is:

“The Emperor Titus Caesar Vespasian Augustus ordered the new Amphitheater to be made from the proceeds from the sale of the booty.”

Up until this point, I have given a summary of Alfoldy’s impressive efforts in deciphering the ghost inscription found in the Colosseum.  The remainder of  Professor Feldmans’s paper, “The Financing of the Colosseum,” is devoted to the author’s investigation of the Latin words, EX MANUBIIS or “from the booty.”

The term Ex Manubiis has been found underneath certain ancient Roman statues.  It indicates that the work was paid for from the sale of booty.  Successful Roman generals often acquired enormous fortunes (hundreds of millions of denari—60 denari/day avg. income) from the booty they took in their military campaign (Think Hitler’s Generals during WWII and Sadaam Hussein during the Gulf War).  About 100 years prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the Roman General Pompey intervened in a civil war in Judea in which he besieged and finally captured the Temple.  Although he did not take any of the Temple treasures, he presented his lieutenants with what Josephus called “splendid rewards.”  Professor Feldman’s paper indicates that this custom continued during the reign of the Flavian emperors of the first century.

Upon becoming Emperor of Rome in 69CE Vespasian found the treasury in such a desperate state that he declared at the beginning of his reign that 10 billion denari were needed to set the state upright financially.  This number is the largest sum of money ever mentioned in antiquity.  He was consequently driven by necessity to raise money from military spoils or Manubiae.  The obvious question is:  What wars, in which Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian participated, would significant Manubiae be available to take up such a deficit?

Professor Feldman does an analysis of all the wars that the Flavian Emperors fought, which included England, Germany, Gaul, Samaria, Moesia (modern Serbia and Bulgaria) and Judea and concludes that except for Judea there was little booty to be taken.


Professor Feldman then proceeds to make his case that the “Manubiis” mentioned in Alfoldy’s ghost inscription came from the Temple in Jerusalem and, in fact, financed the construction of the Colosseum.  He begins by listing many ancient Roman and Jewish sources that testified to the beauty and wealth of the Jerusalem Temple.  He also lists known gifts made to the Temple from ancient dignitaries as well as specific Temple treasures that became booty for the Romans.  Here are some examples:

The Letter of Aristeas (2nd century Jew living in Alexandria) states that “the Temple was built with a lavishness and sumptuousness beyond all precedent.  From the construction of the doorway and its fastenings to the door-posts and the solid nature of the lintel, it was obvious that no expense had been spared.

The Talmud states that “he who has not seen the Temple of Herod has never in his life seen a beautiful building.”

The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that the Temple was “covered on all sides with massive plates of gold.”  He added that “the sun was no sooner up than it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from solar rays.

Josephus asserted that the alter and the lampstand were made of gold and weighed two talents (66 lbs.).  He went on to write that the treasury chambers contained “boundless” amounts of valuables because it was the general repository of Jewish wealth, to which the rich families had consigned the contents of their dismantled homes.

Many people donated houses and fields to the Temple (like they donate today to charitable organizations), which were then sold and the proceeds deposited in the Temple treasury. Keep in mind that the Temple served as a bank for widows and orphans.

According to Biblical Law (Ex. 30:11-16), every male over the age of 20 years had to contribute a half shekel to the Temple each year (several million ounces of silver/yr).

We know from the writings of the Roman Philosopher, Cicero, that about 100 years before the destruction of the Temple, a Roman Governor seized 220 pounds of gold (about $1M in today’s money) from a shipment which represented the half shekel Temple tax of 3 cities in Asia Minor.

According to Josephus, the Sanctuary and some other miscellaneous areas contained a total of 10,000 talents of gold (today’s value: $14M).

Josephus remarked that when the Romans entered the Temple court, “so glutted with plunder were the troops, that throughout Syria the standard of gold was depreciated to half its former value.”

According to Josephus about 100,000 Jews were taken prisoner , many sold into slavery and others used as  slave labor.

The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1952 also describes thousands of talents of gold and silver.

Josephus said that it was impossible to to describe the diversity of riches that were displayed in the triumphal procession in Rome after Jerusalem was destroyed---Silver and gold in masses flowing like a river.  “The spoils in general,” he said, “ were borne in promiscuous heaps; but conspicuous above all stood out those captured in the Temple at Jerusalem.”



Soon after the 1948 war of independence, Israel used the Arch of Titus relief when it was seeking the shape of its state symbol; viz., the Temple Menorah.  The irony of that choice suggests to me and, I’m sure others, that there may be a powerful, maybe even divine, message here: A vanquished nation (Judea, the origin of the word Jew) is resurrected nearly 1900 years later and takes its state symbol from the monument that was built to commemorate its former destruction by a nation that hasn’t existed for over a thousand years.  Can there be something of profound importance to the world in that historical fact?  The older I get the less I believe in coincidences.

After reading the article by Professor Louis Feldman in the BAR I sensed an equally important meaning for mankind.  Lets consider what we have just learned from a story that took almost 2000 years to unfold.  The Temple of Jerusalem, the Bais Hamikdosh, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, built to glorify the source of a divine morality that includes the 10 Commandments, ethical behavior, and acts of holiness is destroyed.  The religion embodied in that building is designed to direct human activities away from a person’s yetzer harah (evil inclination) to their yetzer tov (good inclination). This religion gave the world the greatest moral and ethical literature ever produced (Bible, Prophets, Psalms Proverbs…books that are revered all over the world to this very day ). This religion also gave birth to 2 other major faiths. The enormous monetary wealth associated with this now destroyed great religious symbol then becomes the financial instrument to create the world’s largest amphitheater catering to the lowest forms embodied in Man’s yetzer harah.  The good news is that Rome is part of the great dust bin of history and Judea/Israel is back on the scene.

I consider this entire story a miracle on a par with the 10 plagues and the crossing of the Reed Sea.  For me, it means that Israel should always be a very high priority in our thoughts and deeds.  History suggests that Hashem wants it that way.


Roman Emperors

NERO:   54 to 68CE


VESPASIAN:  69 to 79CE


TITUS:  79 to 81CE


DOMITIAN:  81 to 96CE



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