CHAPTER 24. —LAST DAYS OF JUDAH’S COMMONWEALTH
The survey of the ways of providence would be incomplete without something more than a glance at the events attending the overthrow of Jerusalem and disruption of the Jewish polity over thirty-five years after Christ left the earth. At first sight, it might seem as if this were outside the scope of the work which aims at the illustration of the subject from Biblical narrative alone. On a further consideration, however, the matter must appear otherwise. Although we have no scriptural narrative of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, yet we have much scriptural forecast of that terrible event, and therefore the particulars of the event are the particulars of a divine work. So long before as the days of Moses, before Israel had entered the land, it was written—
“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth, a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand, . . . and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates until thy high and fenced walls come down, wherein thou trustedst, throughout all thy land, and he shall besiege thee in all thy gates throughout all thy land which the Lord thy God hat given thee, and thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body—the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters which the Lord thy God hath given thee, in the siege and in the straitness wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee. . . .The Lord will rejoice over you to bring you to nought: and ye shall be plucked off the land whither thou goest to possess it, and the Lord shall scatter thee among all people”
(Deuteronomy 28: 49-50, 52-53, 63-64).
The Roman invasion and the horrors attendant upon it, although illustrating, in fulfilment of these words, a lesson many times exhibited in preceding pages, that a public calamity, perfectly human in all its causes and particulars, may be an occurrence of divine origin, —is nevertheless of more interest to the majority of living men on account of its nearness to our own age. For one thing, it is more fully recorded than any other event so distinctly in the category of divine transactions. By what itself seems a striking providence, Josephus, a contemporary and eye-witness of the dreadful scenes in question, in many of which he took a personal part, has left a wonderfully complete account of them—so complete and minute as to resemble the letters of a modern war correspondent more than anything in ancient literature. It is on every ground important that the reader should be acquainted with the narrative of these events. They were not only foretold by the prophets, but referred to several times by Jesus while He was on the earth. Most notably, He spoke of them in a plain discourse (Luke 21; Matthew 24) delivered to His disciples while they were seated on the Mount of Olives, and overlooking the city and temple which lay at their feet. On that occasion He told them that within that generation—(at what particular day and hour He could not tell them)—the “days of vengeance” written of in the prophets would arrive; that there would be great distress in the land and wrath among the people; that Jerusalem would be surrounded with armies, and laid in ashes, and the temple utterly demolished; and the nation destroyed by the edge of the sword.
These things had a strong personal interest for the disciples and the generation of believers then alive. The national catastrophe might involve them in destruction. Jesus told them to flee to the mountains when they should see “Jerusalem compassed with armies,” assuring them that its overthrow and desolation were nigh at hand.
Thus there were “signs of the times” eighteen hundred years ago. The “signs” consisted of natural occurrences of a calamitous nature, which would slowly gather over the Jewish nation. The process extended over thirty years. It began in apparently trifling incidents which, one after another, exasperated the public mind and gradually brought on the tempest which engulfed the nation. Disciples of the faithful class would observe the tokens and keep themselves in harmony with the work to be done; others would say they saw nothing divine in the public affairs of the time, but the mere natural workings of things as they had always been. The watching class would point to the drift of things as antagonistic to the Jews: the others would have it in their power to point to cases in which the Jews got the upper hand—particularly as the great crisis itself approached, when Cestius, the Roman general, was overpowered and driven out of the country, and the whole nation rose in a war of independence.
In this respect, the signs of the times of eighteen hundred years ago presented features analogous to those of our time. It is instructive to look back and see how amid all the vicissitudes of public affairs, the day of vengeance slowly crept over Israel by natural means, and at last broke into destructive fury and obliterated almost the very existence of Israel from the earth. We shall only attempt a summary of Josephus’ narrative, and that more particularly for the benefit of those who may find Josephus’ diction too heavy and elaborate.
The “cloud no bigger than a man’s hand” was first visible in the sky about A.D. 40—in the reign of Claudius Caesar, when Cumanus was appointed Procurator of Judea. Under him a tumult was occasioned in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, by a Roman soldier making a contemptuous gesture at the exercises of the Jews. A collision ensued between the Jews and the Roman soldiery, in which many Jews were slain. Afterwards a number of Jews out of Galilee, going up to Jerusalem to the Feast of Tabernacles were molested by the Samaritans, and one of the Jews slain. The Jews appealed to Cumanus for the punishment of the murderer without success. The affair becoming known at Jerusalem during the feast, caused great excitement, and a band of Jews marched to Samaria, under Eleazar, and burned several villages and slew the inhabitants. Cumanus arrived with a troop of horsemen from Caesarea, and dispersed the Jewish band, which, however, though scattered, betook themselves to acts of violence throughout the country. In several conflicts a great number of Jews were captured and crucified. A new class of troublers succeeded them, the Sicarii, who concealed daggers under their garments, with which to stab in the crowds at the feasts. Jonathan, the High Priest, fell a victim to them. Many others were slain, and great public fear was established. Another faction made its appearance among the people, pretending inspiration, and allured numbers of the Jews into the wilderness. Troubles were increased by the uprise of an Egyptian who pretended to be a prophet, and gathered as many as thirty thousand to him and attempted to break into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. The attempt was defeated by the Roman soldiers, and the army of the Egyptian dispersed. But after a short interval, numbers of these scattered marauders combined to agitate for Jewish independence. They incited the Jews to revolt against the Romans. Not succeeding with the respectable part of the nation, they broke up into bands and ravaged the country in all directions, plundering and murdering and burning.
Festus (after Cumanus and Felix) addressed himself to the pacification of the country, capturing and killing the insurgents in all directions. He was soon, however, superseded by Albinus, who was not actuated by any desire to promote the public welfare. He not only embezzled the revenue but sold to others the license to steal and plunder. He liberated all kinds of prisoners for money, and gave authority to the insurgent ringleaders in Jerusalem to do as they liked for the same consideration. These ringleaders forgot their politics and turned common robbers, who put the whole city in fear. Those who were robbed kept silence for fear of their lives, and those who escaped flattered the robbers for fear of being robbed.
Troubles were aggravated by the appointment of Gessius Florus to the governorship. This man made no sort of dissimulation of his corruptions, but openly proclaimed that any one had liberty to turn robber who shared the spoils with him. The result naturally was the desolation of whole districts. In fear of being accused before Caesar, he deliberately sought to goad the nation into revolt against Rome. He demanded seventeen thousand talents out of the treasury on the plea that Caesar wanted them. The people in tumultuous assembly decided to appeal to Caesar against Florus, on hearing which, Florus marched an army to Jerusalem. The people were cowed, and Florus ordered his soldiers to plunder the upper market place. Three thousand six hundred Jews, with their wives and children, were, in consequence, slain in the streets and houses. Many of the quiet inhabitants were brought before Florus, who had them scourged and then crucified in his presence. The principal men among the Jews advised submission to stave off further calamities, and Florus, fearing their advice would be taken by the Jews, and that there would be no rebellion, commanded the people next day to go out and salute the Roman soldiers, instructing the soldiers beforehand not to return the salute. The people went out and saluted the soldiers, who gave no answer. The impatient among the Jews gave vent to their feelings and the soldiers attacked the crowd. The crowd fled, and in getting in at the gate, the crush was so great that vast numbers were suffocated and trampled to pieces. The Jews in the city rallied and beat back the soldiers by missiles from the tops of the houses.
Florus then sent word to Cestius Gallus, President of Syria, that the Jews had revolted. The violent of the people made an attack upon the fortress Masada, and slew the Roman garrison. The High Priest and the Pharisees met and resolved to suppress the revolt: but their efforts were overborne by the violence of the people. The High Priest and the Pharisees then sent for Roman soldiers to suppress the sedition before it should become hopeless. Agrippa sent three thousand horse. By this time, the lower city and the temple were in the power of the insurgents. On the arrival of the Roman horse outside the walls, the party of the High Priest and Pharisees, desiring peace with Rome, seized the upper city to help the Romans. Seven days’ fighting ensued, ending in the triumph of the insurgents, who set fire to the High Priest’s house and the Palace of Agrippa and Bernice in Jerusalem. Manahem, the son of Judas the Galilean, became leader of the revolt, and broke open the Roman armoury in the city and distributed arms among the people. They then laid siege to the tower of Masada (in the city) which capitulated after several days. The Roman garrison, who were promised their lives, were slain after giving up their arms. The High Priest, Ananias, who was with the Roman party was found concealed in an aqueduct and slain.
Tidings of these events reaching Caesarea, the entire Jewish community in that city, numbering twenty thousand, were put to the sword by the Romans. Hearing of this, the whole nation became enraged, and the insurrection became general. Bands of Jews ravaged the country, and put immense numbers of the Syrians and Roman Colonists to death. The disorder became terrible through all Syria. Every city was divided into a Jewish party and a Roman party, who slew each other in the daytime, and spent the night in fear. It became common to see whole cities filled with dead bodies lying unburied; women, old men, and infants forming a large proportion of the slain.
Cestius Gallus, seeing the Jews everywhere in arms, got together a large body of troops, and marched it to Ptolemais. Here he was joined by auxiliaries from various parts of the country. Cestius marched hastily to the city of Zebulon, the inhabitants of which fled to the mountains at his approach. He gave over the city to plunder and then set fire to it. He overran and devastated the surrounding country, then returned to Ptolemais; thence he marched to Caesarea, from which a division of his army was sent to Joppa. Joppa, taken by surprise and attacked on both sides, fell an easy prey to the Roman soldiers, who fell upon the Jewish inhabitants, and exterminated old and young, to the number of eight thousand four hundred. Narbatene next fell a prey to the Romans, who destroyed the bulk of its inhabitants, and laid waste the surrounding country.
Having overpowered resistance in Galilee, Cestius marched to Antipatris, where, at Aphek, the Jewish insurgents were in force. The Jews fled before the Romans, and the Romans burnt their camp and the surrounding villages. Cestius then marched to Lydda. He found the city empty of men, the male population having gone up to Jerusalem to the feast of Tabernacles. Cestius burnt the city, and marched towards Jerusalem. He encamped within six miles of the city. The Jews, hearing of his approach, broke up the feast, and marched in enormous numbers to the Roman camp, and attacked the Romans. The Romans repulsed them, but the Jews seized the heights overlooking the Roman army, and resolved to resist the march of Cestius to Jerusalem. The Romans tried to negotiate a retreat, but the Jews killed one of the ambassadors and wounded the other. Cestius then attacked them and put them to flight, and pursued them to Jerusalem. He pitched his camp within a mile of the city. On the fourth day, he brought his army within the walls. The violent party among the Jews retired into the inner city and into the Temple, defying the Romans. The Romans attacked the insurgents. For five days they assailed the inner walls within which the insurgents had retired. The attack was without result. On the sixth day, Cestius, with a select body of soldiers, attempted to break into the Temple by its most assailable part. The Jews repelled the attack. The attack was renewed several times, but each time was repulsed. The Romans then began to undermine the wall, under the protection of their shields; but, at this point, when success was within reach of the Roman grasp, Cestius, apparently unconscious of the fact, ordered the soldiers to retire. The soldiers obeyed and marched out of the city. The insurgents, perceiving their unexpected retreat, recovered their courage, which had begun to desert them, and returned to the attack. They issued from the Temple, and ran after the Romans, harassing the hinder part of the army. Cestius encamped outside the city; next day he moved further off, which the Jews perceiving, they followed him in increasing numbers, and kept a shower of darts on both flanks of the retiring army. Many of the Romans were slain. The Romans halted at Gabao, seven miles from Jerusalem. Here they stayed two days. The surrounding hills became full of Jews. Cestius, perceiving his danger, ordered a forced march to Bethhoron. To reach this, the army had to go through mountain passes. To these, the Jews ran before, and occupying the heights, pelted the Roman army with darts and stones. The Roman army, unable to flee, gave itself up to despair. During the night, the principal part of the Romans escaped, leaving their siege engines and baggage behind them. The Jews continued the pursuit, and then returned to Jerusalem in great triumph to concert measures for a war of independence.
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