Titus and Christianity
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
A close friend shared a gemara with me, Gittin 56b:
Vespasian went back to Rome and sent Titus in his place. The Gemara cites a verse that was expounded as referring to Titus: “And he shall say, ‘Where is their God, their rock in whom they trusted?’” (Deut. 32:37). This is the wicked Titus, who insulted and blasphemed God on High. What did Titus do when he conquered the Temple? He took a prostitute with his hand, and entered the Holy of Holies with her. He then spread out a Torah scroll underneath him and committed a sin, i.e., engaged in sexual intercourse, on it. Afterward he took a sword and cut into the curtain separating between the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. And a miracle was performed and blood spurted forth. Seeing the blood, he mistakenly thought that he had killed God. Titus saw blood issuing forth from the curtain in God’s meeting place, the Temple, and he took it as a sign that he had succeeded in killing God Himself. As it is stated: “Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own signs for signs” (Psalms 74:4).
Titus profaned the Torah and also sought to kill God. Why did he profane the Torah scroll in this manner? And did blood truly spurt from the curtain, or is this an allegory?
Intercourse is the most lustful drive. Titus expressed his true opposition to God and His Torah: he sought unbridled instinctual gratification. His profaning the Torah scroll and his stabbing of the parochess curtain expressed his hate for God’s law and God, respectively. (The parochess sections-off the holiest cite, God’s “place.”)
My friend explained very well the parallel between Titus and Christianity, occurring in the same timeframe. “Killing God” is at Christianity’s core, as Jesus replaced (killed) God. The son killing the father is what Sigmund Freud referred to as the Oedipus Complex. Titus too—a devout Christian—thought he killed God; this was his intent in attacking the temple. Both Titus and Christianity share an infantile aggression against authority, reducing both to primitive attitudes deserving our disdain, not religious adherence and certainly not veneration.
How do we know the blood spurting from the curtain was not a real miracle, after all, the gemara calls it a miracle? The quote from Psalms indicates that Titus made this sign (imagined this): “Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place; they have set up their own signs for signs.” This is an insightful verse. God’s enemies chose to roar (rebel) in God’s temple, His meeting place. This is because God’s enemies truly accept God—as well as His temple—as real. This reality is disturbing to instinctual man, as said above, and therefore he is driven to rebel to justify himself. The enemy then interprets matters as a sign that favors his wishes. Perhaps Titus accidentally injured himself when stabbing the parochess, and drawing his own blood, he interpreted it as killing God, which was his true wish all along.
And unless Jews witnessed this entire event about Titus, how do the talmudic rabbis know what occurred those few moments inside the temple? Perhaps they are scripting this event as a midrash, teaching us the general human trend concerning hate for God, embodied here in Tutus.
To suggest God created the blood spurting poses a serious problem. In Torah, God carefully limits phraseology depicting Him as partaking of human qualities. As Torah must reach people of all levels, God saw fit to refer to Himself as “angry,” “hearing,” “seeing,” “vengeful,” “sorrowful” and other terms, provided they do not cross a line. Such terms can be safely interpreted by less knowledgeable people in a true sense as God’s disappointment (anger), that He knows man’s words (hearing), that He knows man’s actions (seeing), or ghat He punishes (vengeful). God even says He “smelled” Noach’s sacrifice (Gen. 8:21) to indicate that He finds certain perfecting acts as pleasing before Him, but not that He can smell. But never does God say that He ate or partook of grosser physical actions, as this would suggest a deficiency in God (Maimonides, Guide; book I, chap. xxvi). Similarly, God will not create a miracle suggesting that He bleeds. Rather, the blood was Titus’ own interpretation: “they have set up their own signs for signs.” The blood was Titus’ own invention and interpretation. It is amazing that King David (Psalms) identified these core human truths long before Titus expressed them.