Historical records on what happened when the Jews tried to rebuild the Temple destroyed in AD 70:
Pagan Historian Ammianus Marcellinus (A.D. c.330 – 395) – “Res Gestae,” Book XXIII
He [Julian the Apostate] planned at vast cost to restore the once splendid Temple at Jerusalem, which after many mortal combats during the siege by Vespasian and later by Titus had barely been stormed. He had entrusted the speedy performance of this work to Alypius of Antioch… But though this Alypius pushed the work on with vigor, aided by the governor of the province, terrible balls of fire kept bursting forth near the foundations of the Temple and made the place inaccessible to the workmen, some of whom were burned to death; and since in this way the element persistently repelled them, the enterprise halted.
Socrates Scholasticus (ca. A.D. 379-450) – “Ecclesiastical History” Book III, Chapter XX
The emperor [Julian the Apostate] in another attempt to molest the Christians exposed his superstition. Being fond of sacrificing, he not only himself delighted in the blood of victims, but considered it an indignity offered to him, if others did not do likewise. And as he found but few persons of this stamp, he sent for the Jews and enquired of them why they abstained from sacrificing, since the law of Moses enjoined it? On their replying that it was not permitted them to do this in any other place than Jerusalem, he immediately ordered them to rebuild Solomon’s temple. Meanwhile he himself proceeded on his expedition against the Persians. The Jews who had been long desirous of obtaining a favorable opportunity for rearing their temple afresh in order that they might therein offer sacrifice, applied themselves very vigorously to the work. Moreover, they conducted themselves with great insolence toward the Christians, and threatened to do them as much mischief, as they had themselves suffered from the Romans. The emperor having ordered that the expenses of this structure should be defrayed out of the public treasury, all things were soon provided, such as timber and stone, burnt brick, clay, lime, and all other materials. necessary for building. On this occasion Cyril bishop of Jerusalem, called to mind the prophecy of Daniel, which Christ also in the holy gospels has confirmed, and predicted in the presence of many persons, that the time had indeed come ‘in which one stone should not be left upon another in that temple,’ but that the Saviour’s prophetic declaration should have its full accomplishment. Such were the bishop’s words: and on the night following, a mighty earthquake tore up the stones of the old foundations of the temple and dispersed them all together with the adjacent edifices. Terror consequently possessed the Jews on account of the event; and the report of it brought many to the spot who resided at a great distance: when therefore a vast multitude was assembled, another prodigy took place. Fire came down from heaven and consumed all the builders’ tools: so that the flames were seen preying upon mallets, irons to smooth and polish stones, saws, hatchets, adzes, in short all the various implements which the workmen had procured as necessary for the undertaking; and the fire continued burning among these for a whole day. The Jews indeed were in the greatest possible alarm, and unwillingly confessed Christ, calling him God: yet they did not do his will; but influenced by inveterate prepossessions they still clung to Judaism. Even a third miracle which afterwards happened failed to lead them to a belief of the truth. For the next night luminous impressions of a cross appeared imprinted on their garments, which at daybreak they in vain attempted to rub or wash out. They were therefore ‘blinded’ as the apostle says, and cast away the good which they had in their hands: and thus was the temple, instead of being rebuilt, at that time wholly overthrown.
Sozomen (ca. A.D.375-447) – “Ecclesiastical History” Book V, Chapter XXII
Though the emperor [Julian the Apostate] hated and opressed the Christians, he manifested benevolence and humanity towards the Jews. He wrote to the Jewish patriarchs and leaders, as well as to the people, requesting them to pray for him, and for the prosperity of the empire. In taking this step he was not actuated, I am convinced, by any respect for their religion; for he was aware that it is, so to speak, the mother of the Christian religion, and he knew that both religions rest upon the authority of the patriarchs and the prophets; but he thought to grieve the Christians by favoring the Jews, who are their most inveterate enemies. But perhaps he also calculated upon persuading the Jews to embrace paganism and sacrifices; for they were only acquainted with the mere letter of Scripture, and could not, like the Christians and a few of the wisest among the Hebrews, discern the hidden meaning.
Events proved that this was his real motive; for he sent for some of the chiefs of the race and exhorted them to return to the observance of the laws of Moses and the customs of their fathers. On their replying that because the temple in Jerusalem was overturned, it was neither lawful nor ancestral to do this in another place than the metropolis out of which they had been cast, he gave them public money, commanded them to rebuild the temple, and to practice the cult similar to that of their ancestors, by sacrificing after the ancient way. The Jews entered upon the undertaking, without reflecting that, according to the prediction of the holy prophets, it could not be accomplished. They sought for the most skillful artisans, collected materials, cleared the ground, and entered so earnestly upon the task, that even the women carried heaps of earth, and brought their necklaces and other female ornaments towards defraying the expense. The emperor, the other pagans, and all the Jews, regarded every other undertaking as secondary in importance to this. Although the pagans were not well-disposed towards the Jews, yet they assisted them in this enterprise, because they reckoned upon its ultimate success, and hoped by this means to falsify the prophecies of Christ. Besides this motive, the Jews themselves were impelled by the consideration that the time had arrived for rebuilding their temple. When they had removed the ruins of the former building, they dug up the ground and cleared away its foundation; it is said that on the following day when they were about to lay the first foundation, a great earthquake occurred, and by the violent agitation of the earth, stones were thrown up from the depths, by which those of the Jews who were engaged in the work were wounded, as likewise those who were merely looking on. The houses and public porticos, near the site of the temple, in which they had diverted themselves, were suddenly thrown down; many were caught thereby, some perished immediately, others were found half dead and mutilated of hands or legs, others were injured in other parts of the body. When God caused the earthquake to cease, the workmen who survived again returned to their task, partly because such was the edict of the emperor, and partly because they were themselves interested in the undertaking. Men often, in endeavoring to gratify their own passions, seek what is injurious to them, reject what would be truly advantageous, and are deluded-by the idea that nothing is really useful except what is agreeable to them. When once led astray by this error, they are no longer able to act in a manner conducive to their own interests, or to take warning by the calamities which are visited upon them.
The Jews, I believe, were just in this state; for, instead of regarding this unexpected earthquake as a manifest indication that God was opposed to the re-erection of their temple, they proceeded to recommence the work. But all parties relate, that they had scarcely returned to the undertaking, when fire burst suddenly from the foundations of the temple, and consumed several of the workmen.
This fact is fearlessly stated, and believed by all; the only discrepancy in the narrative is that some maintain that flame burst from the interior of the temple, as the workmen were striving to force an entrance, while others say that the fire proceeded directly from the earth. In whichever way the phenomenon might have occurred, it is equally wonderful. A more tangible and still more extraordinary prodigy ensued; suddenly the sign of the cross appeared spontaneously on the garments of the persons engaged in the undertaking. These crosses were disposed like stars, and appeared the work of art. Many were hence led to confess that Christ is God, and that the rebuilding of the temple was not pleasing to Him; others presented themselves in the church, were initiated, and besought Christ, with hymns and supplications, to pardon their transgression. If any one does not feel disposed to believe my narrative, let him go and be convinced by those who heard the facts I have related from the eyewitnesses of them, for they are still alive. Let him inquire, also, of the Jews and pagans who left the work in an incomplete state, or who, to speak more accurately, were able to commence it.
Theodoret (A.D. 397-451) – “Ecclesiastical History” Book III, Chapter XV
Julian, who had made his soul a home of destroying demons, went his corybantic way, ever raging against true religion. He accordingly now armed the Jews too against the believers in Christ. He began by enquiring of some whom he got together why, though their law imposed on them the duty of sacrifices, they offered none. On their reply that their worship was limited to one particular spot, this enemy of God immediately gave directions for the re-erection of the destroyed temple, supposing in his vanity that he could falsify the prediction of the Lord, of which, in reality, he exhibited the truth. The Jews heard his words with delight and made known his orders to their countrymen throughout the world. They came with haste from all directions, contributing alike money and enthusiasm for the work; and the emperor made all the provisions he could, less from the pride of munificence than from hostility to the truth. He despatched also as governor a fit man to carry out his impious orders. It is said that they made mattocks, shovels, and baskets of silver. When they had begun to dig and to carry out the earth a vast multitude of them went on with the work all day, but by night the earth which had been carried away shifted back from the ravine of its own accord. They destroyed moreover the remains of the former construction, with the intention of building everything up afresh; but when they had got together thousands of bushels of chalk and lime, of a sudden a violent gale blew, and storms, tempests and whirlwinds scattered everything far and wide. They still went on in their madness, nor were they brought to their senses by the divine longsuffering. Then first came a great earthquake, fit to strike terror into the hearts of men quite ignorant of God’s dealings; and, when still they were not awed, fire running from the excavated foundations burnt up most of the diggers, and put the rest to flight. Moreover when a large number of men were sleeping at night in an adjacent building it suddenly fell down, roof and all, and crushed the whole of them. On that night and also on the following night the sign of the cross of salvation was seen brightly shining in the sky, and the very garments of the Jews were filled with crosses, not bright but black. When God’s enemies saw these things, in terror at the heaven-sent plagues they fled, and made their way home, confessing the Godhead of Him who had been crucified by their fathers. Julian heard of these events, for they were repeated by every one.But like Pharaoh he hardened his heart.
John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) – “Homilies on Matthew” Homily IV, Chapter II
And what may be the reason that Matthew said not at the beginning, in the same way as the prophet, “the vision which I saw,” and “the word which came unto me”? Because he was writing unto men well disposed, and exceedingly attentive to him. For both the miracles that were done cried aloud, and they who received the word were exceeding faithful. But in the case of the prophets, there were neither so many miracles to proclaim them; and besides, the tribe of the false prophets, no small one, was riotously breaking in upon them: to whom the people of the Jews gave even more heed. This kind of opening therefore was necessary in their case.
And if ever miracles were done, they were done for the aliens’ sake, to increase the number of the proselytes; and for manifestation of God’s power, if haply their enemies having taken them captives, fancied they prevailed, because their own gods were mighty: like as in Egypt, out of which no small “mixed multitude”went up; and, after that, in Babylon, what befell touching the furnace and the dreams. And miracles were wrought also, when they were by themselves in the wilderness; as also in our case: for among us too, when we had just come out of error, many wonderful works were shown forth; but afterwards they stayed, when in all countries true religion had taken root.
And what took place at a later period were few and at intervals; for example, when the sun stood still in its course, and started back in the opposite direction. And this one may see to have occurred in our case also. For so even in our generation, in the instance of him who surpassed all in ungodliness, I mean Julian, many strange things happened. Thus when the Jews were attempting to raise up again the temple at Jerusalem, fire burst out from the foundations, and utterly hindered them all; and when both his treasurer,and his uncle and namesake, made the sacred vessels the subject of their open insolence, the one was “eaten with worms, and gave up the ghost,”the other “burst asunder in the midst.” Moreover, the fountains failing, when sacrifices were made there, and the entrance of the famine into the cities together with the emperor himself, was a very great sign. For it is usual with God to do such things; when evils are multiplied, and He sees His own people afflicted, and their adversaries greatly intoxicated with their dominion over them, then to display His own power; which he did also in Persia with respect to the Jews.
Gregory Nazianzen (A.D. ca. 325-389) – “Second Invective Against Julian”
3. He [Julian] was daily growing more infuriated against us, as though raising up waves by other waves, he that went mad first against himself, that trampled upon things holy, and that did despite unto the Spirit of Grace: is it more proper to call him Jeroboam or Ahab, those most wicked of the Israelites; or Pharaoh the Egyptian, or Nebuchadnezzar the Assyrian; or combining all together shall we name him one and the same, since he shows himself to have united in himself the vices of them all—-the apostasy of Jeroboam, the bloodthirstiness of Ahab, the hardness of heart of Pharaoh, the sacrilegious acts of Nebuchadnezzar, the impiety of all put together! For when he had exhausted every other resource, and despised every other form of tyranny in our regard as trifling and unworthy of him (since there never was a character so fertile in finding out and contriving mischief), at last he stirred up against us the nation of the Jews, making his accomplice in his machinations their well-known credulity, as well as that hatred for us which has smouldered in them from the very beginning; prophesying to them out of their own books and mysteries that now was the appointed time come for them to return into their own land, and to rebuild the Temple, and restore the reign of their hereditary institutions —- thus hiding his true purpose under the mark of benevolence.
4. And when he had formed this plan, and made them believe it (for whatever suits one’s wishes is a ready engine for deceiving people), they began to debate about rebuilding the Temple, and in large number and with great zeal set about the work. For the partisans of the other side report that not only did their women strip off all their personal ornaments and contribute it towards the work and operations, but even carried away the rubbish in the laps of their gowns, sparing neither the so precious clothes nor yet the tenderness of their own limbs, for they believed they were doing a pious action, and regarded everything of less moment than the work in hand. But they being driven against one another, as though by a furious blast of wind, and sudden heaving of the earth, some rushed to one of the neighbouring sacred places to pray for mercy; others, as is wont to happen in such cases, made use of what came to hand to shelter themselves; others were carried away blindly by the panic, and struck against those who were running up to see what was the matter. There are some who say that neither did the sacred place admit them, but that when they approached the folding doors that stood wide open, on coming up to them they found them closed in their faces by an unseen and invisible power which works wonders of the sort for the confusion of the impious and the saving of the godly. But what all people nowadays report and believe is that when they were forcing their way and struggling about the entrance a flame issued forth from the sacred place and stopped them, and some it burnt up and consumed so that a fate befell them similar to the disaster of the people of Sodom, or to the miracle about Nadab and Abiud, who offered incense and perished so strangely: whilst others it maimed in the principal parts of the body, and so left them for a living monument of God’s threatening and wrath against sinners. Such then was this event; and let no one disbelieve, unless he doubts likewise the other mighty works of God! But what is yet more strange and more conspicuous, there stood in the heavens a light circumscribing a Cross, and that which before on earth was contemned by the ungodly both in figure and in name is now exhibited in heaven, and is made by God a trophy of His victory over the impious, a trophy more lofty than any other!
5. What will those gentlemen say of these events—-they who are wise, as this world goes, and make a fine show of their own cause, smoothing down their flowing beard and trailing before our eyes that elegant philosophic mantle! Eeply to me for thyself, thou writer of long discourses, that dost compose incredible stories and gapest up at the skies, telling lies about things celestial, and weaving out of the movements of the stars, people’s nativities and predictions of the future! Tell me of those stars of thine, the Ariadne’s Crown, the Berenice’s Hair, the lascivious Swan, the violent Bull! or, if thou pleasest, tell me of thine Ophiuchus, or of thy Capricorn, or of thy Lion, or all the rest that thou hast discovered for a bad end and made them into gods in constellations! Where dost thou find this cycle in thy science, where the Star that of old moved towards Bethlehem out of the East, that leader and introducer of thy own Wise Men! I, too, have something to tell from the heavens: that Star declared the presence of Christ: this Crown is that of the victory of Christ!
6. Thus much is taken from things celestial and sympathizing with our fortunes, in accordance with the mighty harmony and disposition of the universe. What follows let the Psalm finish for me: “Because Thou hast cast down cities,” namely, those ancient ones for the very same acts of impiety, in the middle of the very same offences against us; some thereof overwhelmed by the floods, others swallowed up by earthquake; so that one is pretty nearly able to apply the remainder: “The memorial of them hath perished with a sound and a destruction noised abroad.” For such has been their fall, and such their ruin, also of those their neighbours who took the most delight in their impiety, so that a very long time were necessary to them for their restoration, even if anyone should have the boldness to undertake it.
7. Was it then only earth and heaven, and did not air likewise give a sign on that occasion, and was hallowed with the badges of the Passion? Let those who were spectators and partakers of that prodigy exhibit their garments, which to the present time are stamped with the brandmarks of the Cross! For at the very moment that anyone, either of our own brethren or of the outsiders, was telling the event or hearing it told by others, he beheld the miracle happening in his own case or to his neighbour, being all spotted with stars, or beholding the other so marked upon his clothes in a manner more variegated than could be done by any artificial work of the loom or elaborate painting. What is the result of this? Such great consternation at the spectacle that nearly all, as by one signal and with one voice, invoked the God of the Christians, and propitiated Him with many praises and supplications: whilst many, without further delay, but at the moment of the occurrence, ran up to our priests, and besought them earnestly that they might be made members of the Church, being sanctified by the holy baptism, for they had been saved by means of their fright.