Tiberius Julius Alexander: The Jew Who Destroyed Jerusalem

Titus’ Chief of Staff in his campaign to conquer and raze Jerusalem in 70 CE was born a Jew. His name was Tiberius Julius Alexander and he was the scion of one of the most important Jewish families in the ancient world. His uncle was Philo, a communal leader of the Jews of Alexandria and the first prominent philosopher in Jewish history. His father Marcus was an important Alexandrian official under the Roman administration and was famed for his gift of gilded gates to the Jerusalem Temple. His brother had married into the Jewish royal family in Judea. While he did not officially convert to paganism, simply by fighting in the Roman army and participating in the Roman administration of the ancient world he cut his ties with his Jewish roots. According to historian Martin Goodman in his study of Rome and Jerusalem, the Roman elite ignored Tiberius’ Jewish origins and he was treated as a Roman and not a Jew.

One wonders what was going through the mind of Tiberius as the Temple in Jerusalem burned to the ground. We know from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus that Tiberius was not in favor of burning the Temple to the ground—following the lead of the Roman general Titus—but this seems to be an apologetic stance. Josephus, who also aided the Romans in trying to quell the revolt in Jerusalem, wanted to make Titus and Tiberius look good. Josephus placed the blame for the Roman destruction of Jerusalem on the rebelling Jews and presents a hesitant Titus who wants to save the Temple as “a work of art.” No, I believe that Tiberius Julius Alexander was so severed from his Jewish origins that he had no pangs of conscience in destroying Jerusalem. He was Roman to the core.

In contrast to today’s world, Tiberius Julius Alexander was an exception to the rule. The 250,000 Jews living in Alexandria spoke only Greek but lived their lives as Jews. The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek—the Septuagint—was a cornerstone of the community of Jews in Alexandria. While we know little of the port city’s synagogue, it was a central component of Jews who lived in a Jewish quarter, apart from the Greeks and the Romans. In fact, in contrast to collaborator Tiberius Julius Alexander, the Jews of Alexandria rose up in rebellion against the Romans in 115 CE. The Roman Empire crushed the rebellion and burned down the Great Synagogue. Nevertheless, these were Jews proud of being Jewish who did not abandon their Jewish identity or their Jewish faith. Tiberius Julius Alexander must have been the black sheep of his family. But if he were alive today, he would fit comfortably among the Jews who hate themselves and hate Israel and would not regret the destruction of Israel. You can go to any college campus in the world and find the Jewish ideological heirs of Tiberius Julius Alexander.