JOEL RICHARDSON — A vast majority conclude that the Roman peoples of 70 AD can be identified as the ancestors of the coming followers of the Antichrist, but is this the case?
Perhaps the most significant supporting pillar of the European Antichrist theory is a one-line prophecy found in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel. This small but very important prophecy states simply that:
The people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. — Daniel 9:26
While varying interpretations have been offered as to the exact meaning of this passage, the majority position holds that this prophecy is telling us that the specific people (or peoples) who destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD are the ancestors of the peoples who in the last days would be the primary followers of the Antichrist (the prince or ruler who is to come). So according to this position, the verse should be understood as follows:
The people (the primary followers) of the prince (the Antichrist) that will come (in the last days), shall destroy the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (the Jewish temple).
Most believe the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” to be a reference to the destruction that occurred in 70 AD when the Roman legions under General Titus destroyed both the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem and its Temple. As such, a large majority of prophecy teachers and students have concluded that the Roman peoples of 70 AD can be identified as the ancestors of the coming followers / peoples of the Antichrist. Because the soldiers were Roman citizens, many conclude that the primary followers of the Antichrist in the last days will be Europeans in general or Italians specifically. This notion of course, is rooted in the fact that it was the Roman commanders (whose capital was in Rome, Italy) who commanded the destroying armies but also in the mistaken belief that most of the Roman soldiers were Italians or Europeans. I say “mistaken belief” because both historical testimony and the consensus of modern scholarship tell us that very few of the soldiers that destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD were Europeans. In fact, as we will see, the historical facts reveal a dramatically different picture.
RECRUITS IN THE ROMAN ARMY
A brief bit of history is in order: Before the Roman Empire became an empire, it was called the Roman Republic. In the early days of the Republic, as it was evolving into the Roman Empire (primarily before the turn of 1st century) the majority of the soldiers (called legionnaires) recruited to serve in the Roman armies (legions) were Italians from Rome and the nearby regions. However, as the Empire expanded quite dramatically, it became next to impossible to man the entire Empire with soldiers only from Italy. There were just not enough Italian men to spread all over the vast Roman Empire, which included all of Europe, Northern Africa and a large swath of the Middle East. Thus at the beginning of the first century, Emperor Augustus made a series of sweeping reforms that led to dramatic changes in the ethnic make-up of the Roman armies. After Augustus’ reforms, the only portion of the Roman army that continued to consist largely of Italians from Rome proper was the Praetorian Guard; an elite military unit whose job was to specifically guard the Emperor and the tents of the Generals. But after Augustus’ reforms, the rest of the army was increasingly composed of anything but Italian soldiers. Instead, they were composed of what were known as “provincials” or citizens who lived in the provinces—the outer fringes of the Empire, away from the capital of Rome. The “provincialization” of the army was true for all of the Roman legions of this time period, but it was most clearly and markedly the case with regard to the Eastern legions that were used to attack Jerusalem. Both ancient historical records as well as modern scholarship clearly confirm this. Let’s examine some of the evidence.
FIRST WITNESS: PUBLIUS CORNELIUS TACITUS
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was both a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire that wrote extensively concerning the specific period that we are now examining. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—have become a vital source of information from this period of the Roman Empire. Speaking of the Roman attack of Jerusalem, Tacitus details the specific legions and the peoples that primarily composed the attacking army:
Titus Caesar… found in Judaea three legions, the 5th, the 10th, and the 15th… To these he added the 12th from Syria, and some men belonging to the 18th and 3rd, whom he had withdrawn from Alexandria. This force was accompanied… by a strong contingent of Arabs, who hated the Jews with the usual hatred of neighbors… —Tacitus The History New Ed edition Book 5.1 Editor: Moses Hadas, Translators: Alfred Church, William Brodribb (Modern Library; New York, 2003)
There are several important bits of information that we can gain from this reference. First, we learn that the Roman legions had been stationed in Judea, Syria and Egypt. Secondly, we learn that beyond the Roman legions, there was also “a strong contingent of Arabs, who hated the Jews” who accompanied the soldiers. Sadly, little has changed since the first century regarding the general regional hatred of the Jewish people. In fact, it was precisely this ancient hatred that was the driving factor in the unfolding of events that led to the destruction of the Temple, as we will see.
SECOND WITNESS: TITUS FAVIUS JOSEPHUS
Titus Flavius Josephus, another irreplaceable historian from this period also confirms the report of Tacitus:
So Vespasian sent his son Titus [who], came by land into Syria, where he gathered together the Roman forces, with a considerable number of auxiliaries from the kings in that neighborhood. Flavius Josephus The Complete Works of Josephus, The Wars Of The Jews Or The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book III, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3
Once again, Josephus reveals that the Roman legions used to attack Jerusalem were stationed in Syria. This is where Titus gathered them together as he proceeded toward the Jewish capital. He also details that “a considerable number” of auxiliaries, or volunteers, from Syria and the surrounding regions were also gathered for the attack. Later, Josephus also details the specific number of Arab soldiers who joined forces with the invading armies:
Malchus also, the king of Arabia, sent a thousand horsemen, besides five thousand footmen, the greatest part of which were archers; so that the whole army, including the auxiliaries sent by the kings, as well horsemen and footmen, when all were united together, amounted to sixty thousand. – Flavius Josephus The Complete Works of Josephus, The Wars Of The Jews Or The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book III, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2
While the numbers of men that composed a legion fluctuated, during this time period, a legion contained approximately 5,000 men. Here we see that there were enough Arab auxiliary / volunteer soldiers to compose more than a full legion!
THE EASTERN LEGIONS
Now lets look at the specific legions that were used to attack the Jewish people as well as the regions where they were stationed during the time period leading up to 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed. Of the six legions, only one was garrisoned just outside of the Middle East; this being Legion V Macedonia. The remaining five legions were all stationed in the Middle East. Below is a list of the legions and where they were stationed prior to 70 A.D.
Legion V Macedonia: Judea or Moesia
Legion X Fretensis: Syria
Legion XV Appolinaris Syria
Legion XII Fulminata Asia Minor / Syria
Legion XVIII Egypt
Legion III Gallica Syria
All of these Legions would have consisted of a majority of Eastern soldiers; Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians etc. Even Legion V Macedonia, although possibly stationed in Moesia—or modern day Serbia and Bulgaria—also would have consisted of a majority of Eastern soldiers. By 70 A.D. not only the Eastern provincial Legions, but literally the entire army had come to be dominated by “provincials”. Lawrence J.F. Keppie, scholar of Roman History and author of Legions And Veterans: Roman Army Papers 1971-2000 (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000) confirms this reality when he states that after 68 A.D., “the legions… consist[ed] almost exclusively of provincials.” (Keppie page 116) In other words, after 68 A.D. the soldiers in the Roman legions were almost exclusively non-Italian peoples from the provinces on the edges of the Empire.
THIRD WITNESS: MODERN SCHOLARS OF ROMAN HISTORY
Modern Roman scholars across the boards all thoroughly validate the claim that by 70 A.D. the Roman soldiers were almost exclusively non-Italian peoples. Antonio Santosuosso in Storming the Heavens: Soldiers, Emperors, and Civilians in the Roman Empire confirms that during the first half of the 1st century, approximately 49% of the soldiers were Italians, but by 70 A.D. that number had fallen to only 22%. By the end of the 1st century, only 1% of the soldiers were Italians. Antonio Santuosso, Storming the Heavens: Soldiers, Emperors, and Civilians in the Roman Empire (Westview Press, 2001) (page 97-98).
Sara Elise Phang, Ph.D. author of Roman Military Service, ideologies of discipline in the late Republic and early Principate (Cambridge University Press, 2008) also validates these facts stating that: “Recruitment underwent major shifts from Italy in the early first century A.D. to the frontier provinces in the latter first and second centuries” (Phang page 19). In fact, as Phang reveals, Roman scholars are now in universal agreement that the overwhelming majority of the soldiers that attacked Jerusalem were Eastern provincial recruits:
That Italians were increasingly replaced in the legions during this period by provincials is in itself no longer a novelty among scholars… In the East, that is Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt, it seems clear that local recruitment was well under way under Augustus [d.14 A.D.], so that by his death only a very small number of legionaries derived from Italy or indeed any of the western provinces… Under Nero [d. 68A.D.], when the eastern legions required supplementation…it was to Cappadocia and Galatia that [Rome] looked for recruits. This was doubtless standard procedure. [The] legions of the East consisted largely of “orientals” (Middle Easterners) (Phang 57-58)
And again Phang leaves no doubt as to the Eastern ethnic composition of the legions in 70 A.D.:
To the Roman public, the army of 69-70 AD probably seemed little different than its counterpart under Julius Caesar. The legionaries wore familiar equipment, and marched behind the silver aquila, their legions bearing names and titles which reflected their origins and the exploits of earlier days. But in reality much had changed: What had been an army of Italians was increasingly becoming an army of provincials owing no particular allegiance to, or common bond with the Senate or the urbs Roma… Increasingly they began to identify their interests with those of the provinces in which they were stationed…. By AD 69 Gallica III, like other legions long stationed in the East, contained a very high proportion of men born in the eastern provinces.” (Phang page 44)
Gallica III was one of the Legions that was involved in the destruction of Jerusalem.
In his book, Soldiers, Cities, and Civilians in Roman Syria (University of Michigan Press (December 21, 2000) Nigel Pollard, Ph.D., professor of Roman History at Oxford University examines in great detail specifically the ethnicity of the Roman soldiers of the eastern provinces during the first century. After reviewing the most thorough and up-to-date scholarship on the subject, Pollard details two possible positions that reveal the ethnicity of the soldiers to which we are attempting to identify. Both positions confirm that the overwhelming majority of the soldiers that destroyed the Temple were primarily Syrians, Arabs and Eastern peoples. According to Pollard, the first position holds that after the reign of Emperor Nero (A.D. 68), the “legionaries of provincial birth outnumbered the Italians by about four or five to one.” This is with regard to the whole of the Roman Empire, not merely in the East. (page 114) The second position that Pollard examines holds that, “Legions based in Cappadocia, Syria, and Egypt were made up from of recruits from Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt.” (Pollard page 115) Either way, we are left with no doubts that the overriding majority of the soldiers that attacked Jerusalem under Titus were Middle Eastern peoples and not Europeans.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
But lets actually calculate what all of this information means with regard to the ethnic composition of the “Roman” armies that attacked Jerusalem. Josephus tells us that, “the whole army, including the auxiliaries sent by the kings, as well horsemen and footmen, when all were united together, amounted to sixty thousand” – Flavius Josephus The Complete Works of Josephus, The Wars Of The Jews Or The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book III, Chapter 4, Paragraph 2. Remember that a legion contained roughly 5,000 soldiers. There were four full legions and two partial legions involved in the attack. This would mean that there were approximately 25,000 men who were full time legionaries with the remaining 35,000 men who were either volunteers or auxiliaries. The auxiliaries were non-Roman citizens raised up from the fringe of the provinces. Josephus confirms this when he says that the auxiliaries were, “sent by the kings” from “the neighborhood” of Syria, Asia Minor and Arabia. If Pollard’s estimations are correct as to the five-to-one margin of the Eastern soldiers versus the Western, then this would mean that there could have been no more than 5,000 Western soldiers in the whole of the invading army. The remaining 55-56,000 were all Eastern peoples. And this is allowing for the maximum estimates of Western soldiers. That would mean that there was a maximum of one Western European soldier to every eleven Middle Eastern soldiers. Eleven to one! Yet in all likelihood, the ratio was much higher; perhaps closer to twenty to one.
Concluding the discussion, Pollard also offers a very interesting piece of information:
Other evidence that Syrian legions of the Flavian period were characteristically “Syrian” in some way comes from Tacitus’ reference to Legion 3 Gallica saluting the rising sun ‘according to the custom of Syria’ [ita in Syria mos est] … in A.D. 69. (page 116)
The implication is clear of course; the soldiers of that legion were worshippers of the sun or some form of sun-deity. This was typical of Middle Easterners who throughout ancient history worshipped various astral deities. Thus, these Eastern “Roman” soldiers were in fact the physical and to a measure, the spiritual ancestors of those who today bow down to Allah, the god who is most often represented by the crescent moon.
All said, the historical evidence is overwhelming. Josephus elsewhere records that under Nero, several years prior to the Jewish War, in Caesarea Maritima, a coastal city in northern Israel, a conflict broke out between the Jews and the Syrians who inhabited that city. As the conflict broke out, the Roman soldiers stood against the Jews and assisted the Syrians. The reason was, as Josephus records because the Roman soldiers were in fact ethnic Syrians, and thus they stood with the Syrians.
The greatest part of the Roman garrison was raised out of Syria; and being thus related to the Syrian part, they were ready to assist it. The Wars of The Jews History of the Destruction of Jerusalem By Flavius Josephus Trans. William Whiston BOOK II: CHAPTERPara7
And so after examining a sampling of evidence from both ancient historians as well as the most cutting-edge modern scholarship to date, we may very confidently conclude that the “Roman” soldiers in the Eastern provinces that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple were in fact Eastern peoples—the inhabitants of Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt. Again, they were the ancestors of the modern day inhabitants of the Middle East. When we look to the prophecy of Daniel 9:26, we can certainly understand how a hasty or perfunctory reading of this prophecy would lead one to conclude that the “peoples” were in fact Romans, but having now done proper due diligence, completed our homework, and examined the evidence, it is clear that the reality is quite different from what has been commonly and popularly understood.
ONE FINAL OBJECTION
But old habits—and paradigms—often die hard. As such, after having brought forth this argument in our book, God’s War on Terror: Islam, Prophecy and the Bible, my co-author Walid Shoebat and myself have seen our findings strongly challenged. One such critique from Lamplighter Magazine, follows:
A good example of Shoebat’s tortuous logic can be found in his attempt to explain away the meaning of Daniel 9:26. The plain sense meaning of this passage is that the Antichrist will come from the people who will destroy the Temple. Shoebat and Richardson argue that the Roman legions that carried out the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD were composed primarily of Arabs, mainly Syrians and Turks. They therefore conclude that the Antichrist will arise from the Syrians or Turks and will be a Muslim. This is really grasping at straws in the wind! It doesn’t matter whether or not the legions were composed of Australian Aborigines, it was the Roman government that decided to destroy Jerusalem, it was the Roman government that gave the orders, and it was Roman generals who carried out the destruction. Rome was the rod of God’s judgment and it is from the Roman people that the Antichrist will arise. —Dr. David Reagan, Lamplighter Magazine January 2009
Or reworded, this writer is willing to concede that the Roman soldiers may have been Eastern peoples but he argues that this issue is irrelevant because these Eastern peoples were under the authority of Italian commanders who not only desired, but also commanded the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Thus the burden of responsibility is placed on the Roman authorities. There are two fatal problems with this argument. The first problem is that it fails to consider the actual wording used in the passage.
EXAMINING THE WORDING OF THE PASSAGE: WHAT DOES THE PROPHECY ACTUALLY STATE?
Lets begin by examining the problem with the original language. Again, briefly, the verse states the following:
The people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. —Daniel 9:26
What we need to do is zero in on the word “peoples”. If we look up the meaning of that word in the Hebrew (am), we find that it is an ethnic denotation. It does not refer to the kingdom or empire that the “people” lived under. The Strong’s Lexicon lists the meaning of am as: “nation, people or kindred”. Wilhelm Gesenius, the Hebrew lexiconographer, lists the primary meaning of the word as “single races or tribes… race or family… the kindred, relatives”. And as Hebrew scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum rightfully states, “We are dealing here with a bloodline, and not a country.” – Radio interview with Bill Salus, author of Israelstine. Of the nearly 1900 times that the Hebrew word am appears in the King James Version, over 99% of the time, it is translated as “people”. Only seventeen times is the word translated as “nation”. If the purpose of the verse were to highlight the kingdom, the empire or the nation to which the peoples were under, it could have used several other Hebrew words such as mamlakah (kingdom or empire) or goy (nation). This would have led the reader to look to the empire that the peoples were from, which of course would lead us to the Roman Empire. But this is simply not what the verse says. Instead, it points us to the ethnic identity of the majority of the peoples who made up the legions. Simply stated, the original meaning of the verse does not allow us to look to the leaders of the peoples, but rather the peoples themselves who carried out the destruction. If we desire to be submit to the passage, then we must draw out its true meaning (exegesis) and submit. We cannot force the passage to conform to our positions (eisegesis), despite what it actually states. So once again, for emphasis: the original meaning of the verse does not allow us to look to the leaders of the peoples, but rather the peoples themselves who carried out the destruction. Remember, Paul the apostle was a Roman citizen, but this in no way diminishes the fact that he was ethnically a Jew (Acts 21:38-39; 22:1-3).
To put this argument in a clearer light, imagine if I was walking down the city of some well-known American city late one evening and was suddenly mugged by three individuals. After the police arrive, they ask me if I can identify my assailants. “Of course, I got a really good look at all three of them,” I state.
“Good” the officer responds, “What did they look like? What can you tell us about them?”
“Well they were all Americans,” I reply.
Now, knowing that Americans come in all shapes, sizes and most importantly, ethnicities, what exactly have I told the police?
As we all know, the mere designation of “American” tells us virtually nothing about one’s ethnicity. One could be an African-America, an Anglo-American, an Asian-American, an Arab-American or perhaps a hundred other types of hyphenated-Americans. Likewise, the Roman Empire of the late first century was perhaps even more diverse than the United States of today. The Roman Empire contained numerous people groups (am)s. One could be a full-fledged “Roman” citizen yet don from any number of people groups. One could be Germanic, Jewish, Gallic, Syrian, Arab, African or any number of other ethnic groups or tribes and still be fully “Roman”. To be blunt, any claim that the mere designation of “Roman” is sufficient to identify the actual ethnic identity of the peoples as the passage calls for, is shear folly. This would be no different than claiming that the designation of American could only mean British. While such a claim might partially have been true two hundred years ago, to make such a claim today would be an obvious anachronistic error. So also does the claim that Daniel 9:26 points us solely to those from Italian or European ethnicities miss the clear wording and meaning of the passage.
THE HISTORICAL REALITY
Still addressing the critique above, lets examine its second problem: the historical reality. Was it in fact, “the Roman government that decided to destroy Jerusalem”? Was it really “the Roman government that gave the orders, and [the] Roman generals who carried out the destruction”? Once again, just a bit of homework will reveal that just the opposite is true. Josephus’ records makes this all too abundantly clear:
And now a certain person came running to Titus, and told him of this fire… whereupon he rose up in great haste, and, as he was, ran to the holy house, in order to have a stop put to the fire; after him followed all his commanders, and after them followed the several legions, in great astonishment; so there was a great clamor and tumult raised, as was natural upon the disorderly motion of so great an army. Then did Caesar, both by calling to the soldiers that were fighting, with a loud voice, and by giving a signal to them with his right hand, order them to quench the fire. – Josephus War of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 4
Like the classic stereotype of an Italian, Titus is seen to be frantically using both his mouth and his hands to speak. But despite the great alarm of their General, despite his frantic shouting and hand waving, the soldiers did not obey Titus or any of their commanders. They were absolutely hell-bent on fighting the Jews. The following passage from Josephus’ Wars of the Jews reveals exactly why this was the case:
Titus supposing what the fact was, that the house itself might yet he saved, he came in haste and endeavored to persuade the soldiers to quench the fire… yet were their passions too hard for the regards they had for Caesar, and the dread they had of him who forbade them, as was their hatred of the Jews, and a certain vehement inclination to fight them, too hard for them also… And thus was the holy house burnt down, without Caesar’s approbation. – Josephus, Wars of the Jew, Book 6, Chapter 4
The last line, “thus was the holy house burnt down, without Caesar’s approbation.” Could not be more damning to any claim that the Roman leaders desired or commanded the destruction of the Temple.
ISAAC AND ISHMAEL: THE ANCIENT HATRED
There is an ancient reality that is emerging here. The specific reason that the soldiers did not obey their commanders was because of the passionate hatred that they possessed for the Jews. It overwhelmed them. Then, as today, the various Middle-Eastern peoples were possessed with a demonic hatred for the Jewish people. Please take note of this: Hatred was the primary motivating factor behind the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., it is the overriding sentiment of the surrounding Islamic nations today and it will no doubt be the primary driving factor when the armies of the Antichrist invade Israel. This hatred is seen perhaps most markedly in the gruesome episode recorded by Josephus. As the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, many of the citizens were choosing to surrender and desert the city. As they did so, many would swallow whatever gold or silver coins they possessed hoping to be able to retrieve them after they had escaped the city. But as they came out to surrender to the Roman soldiers as non-combatant supplicants, they met a terrible fate. The Syrian and Arab soldiers that made up the Roman armies would have none of it. Instead, Josephus tells us that the soldiers killed those who were desiring to surrender, hoping to find any gold or silver that may have been swallowed:
…the multitude of the Arabians, with the Syrians, cut up those that came as supplicants, and searched their bellies. Nor does it seem to me that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in one night’s time about two thousand of these deserters were thus dissected. – The Wars of The Jews, History of the Destruction of Jerusalem By Flavius Josephus Trans. William Whiston BOOK V: Chapter 13: Para 4
In conclusion then, the overwhelming evidence, not only from ancient historians but also modern day scholarship points us to ethnic identity of the “Roman” peoples that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. They were the ancestors of the Muslim peoples that dominate the entire region today.
Source: Israel, Islam and the End Times
A free pdf e-book on this topic from Rodrigo Salvia, author of “The Coming Bible Prophecy Reformation” You can visit his Facebook page here.
See more on Issac/Ishmael here