The fall of the Temple in Jerusalem: Flavius Josephus

THIS the oldest of the extant works of Josephus, was written towards the end of Vespasian's reign (A.D. 69-79). The Aramaic original has not been preserved, but the Greek version was prepared by Josephus himself, who, on account of his beautiful Greek style, was called the Greek Livy. The work displays Josephus's literary genius to the full. It covers the period from about 170 B. C. to the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the latter portion describing events which came within Josephus's own knowledge. An outline of his later work, The Antiquities of the Jews, appears in page 22.


WHEREAS the war which the Jews made against the Romans hath been the greatest of all times, while some men who were not concerned themselves have written vain and contradictory stories by hear-say, and while those that were there have given false accounts, I, Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, and a priest also, and who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done after-wards, am the author of this book.

Now, the affairs of the Romans were in great disorder after the death of Nero. At the decease of Herod, Agrippa, his son, who bore the same name, was seventeen years old. He was considered too young to bear the burden of royalty, and Judea relapsed into a Roman province. Cuspius Fadus was sent as governor and administered his office with firmness, but found civil war disturbing the district beyond Jordan. He cleared the country of the robber bands; and his successor, Tiberius Alexander, during a brief rule, put down disturbances which broke out in Judea. The province was at peace till he was superseded by Cumanus, during whose government the people and the Roman soldiery began to show mutual animosity. In a terrible riot, 20,000 people perished, and Jerusalem was given up to wailing and lamentation.

It was in Caesarea that the events took place which led to the final war. This magnificent city was inhabited by two races--the Syrian Greeks, who were heathens, and the Jews. The two parties violently contended for the preeminence. The Jews were the more wealthy; but the Roman soldiery, levied chiefly in Syria, took part with their countrymen. Tumults and bloodshed disturbed the streets. At this time a procurator named Gessius Florus was appointed, and he, by his barbarities, forced the Jews to begin the war in the twelfth year of the reign of Nero and the seventeenth of the reign of Agrippa.

But the occasion of the war was by no means proportioned to those heavy calamities that it brought upon us. The fatal flame finally broke out from the old feud at Caesarea. The decree of Nero had assigned the magistracy of that city to the Greeks. It happened that the Jews had a synagogue, the ground around which belonged to a Greek. For this spot the Jews offered a much higher price than it was worth. It was refused, and, to annoy them as much as possible, the owner set up some mean buildings and shops upon it, and so made the approach to the synagogue as narrow and difficult as possible. The more impetuous of the Jewish youth interrupted the workmen. Then the men of greater wealth and influence, and among them John, a publican, collected the large sum of eight talents and sent it as a bribe to Florus, that he might stop the building. He received the money, made great promises, and at once departed for Sebaste from Caesarea. His object was to leave full scope for the riot.

On the following day, while the Jews were crowding to the synagogue, a citizen of Caesarea outraged them by oversetting an earthen vessel in the way, over which he sacrificed birds, as done by the law in cleansing lepers, and thus he implied that the Jews were a leprous people. The more violent Jews, furious at the insult, attacked the Greeks, who were already in arms. The Jews were worsted, took up the books of the law, and fled to Narbata, about seven miles distant.

John, the publican, and twelve men of eminence went to Samaria to Florus, implored his aid and reminded him of the eight talents he had received. He threw them into prison and demanded seventeen talents from the sacred treasury under pretence of Caesar's necessities. This injustice and oppression caused violent excitement in Jerusalem when the news reached that city. The people assembled around the Temple with the loudest outcries; but it was the purpose of Florus to drive the people to insurrection, and he gave his soldiers orders to plunder the upper market. Of men, women and children there fell that day 3,600.

When Agrippa attempted to persuade the people to obey Florus till Caesar should send someone to succeed him, the more seditious cast reproaches on him and got the king excluded from the city; nay, some had the impudence to fling stones at him. At the same time they excited the people to go to war, and some laid siege to the Roman garrison in the Antonia; others made an assault on a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery and slew the Romans. One, Menahem, a Galilean, became leader of the sedition and went to Masada and broke open Herod's armoury, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers, also. These he made use of for a bodyguard, and returned in state to Jerusalem and gave orders to continue the siege of the Antonia.

The tower was undermined and fell, and many soldiers were slain. Next day the high priest, Ananias, and his brother Hezekiah, were slain by the robbers. By these successes Menahem was puffed up and became barbarously cruel; but he was slain, as were also the captains under him, in an attack led by Eleazar, a bold youth who was governor of the Temple.


AND now great calamities and slaughters came on the Jews. On the very same day two dreadful massacres happened. In Jerusalem the Jews fell on Netilius and the band of Roman soldiers whom he commanded after they had made terms and had surrendered, and all were killed except the commander himself, who supplicated for mercy and even agreed to submit to circumcision. On that very day and hour, as though Providence had ordained it, the Greeks in Caesarea rose, and slew over 20,000 Jews, and so the city was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. For Florus caught those who escaped, and sent them to the galleys.

By this tragedy the whole nation was driven to madness. The Jews rose and laid waste the villages all around many cites in Syria, and they descended on Gadara, Hippo and Gaulonitus and burnt and destroyed many places. Sebaste and Askelon they seized without resistance, and they razed Anthedon and Gaza to the ground.

When thus the disorder in all Syria had become terrible, Cestius Gallus, the Roman commander at Antioch, marched with an army to Ptolemais and overran all Galilee and invested Jerusalem, expecting that it would be surrendered by means of a powerful party within the walls.

But the plot was discovered, and the conspirators were flung headlong from the walls, and an attack by Cestius on the north side of the Temple was repulsed with great loss. Seeing the whole country around in arms, and the Jews swarming on all the heights, Cestius withdrew his army by night, leaving 400 of his bravest men to mount guard in the camp and to display their ensigns, that the Jews might be deceived.

But at break of day it was discovered that the camp was deserted by the army, and the Jews rushed to the assault and slew all the Roman band.


NERO was at this time in Achaia. To him, Cestius, in order to lay the blame on Florus, sent as ambassadors Costobar and Saul, two brothers of the Herodian family, who, with Philip, the son of Jacimus, the general of Agrippa, had escaped from Jerusalem. Meantime, a great massacre of the Jews took place at Damascus. Then those in Jerusalem who had pursued after Cestius called a general assembly in the Temple, and elected their governors and commanders. Their choice fell on Joseph, the son of Gorion, and Ananius, the chief priest, who were invested with absolute authority in the city; but Eleazar was passed over, for he was suspected of aiming at kingly power, as he went about attended by a bodyguard of zealots. But as commanding within the Temple he had made himself master of the public treasures, and in a short time the need of money and his extreme subtlety won over the multitude, and all real authority fell into his hands. To the other districts they sent the men most to be trusted for courage and fidelity.

Josephus was appointed to the command of Galilee, with particular charge of the strong city of Gamala. He raised in that province in the north an army of more than a hundred thousand young men, whom he armed and exercised after the Roman manner; and he formed a council of seventy, and appointed seven judges in each city. He sought to unite the people and to win their good will. But great trouble arose from the treachery of his enemy, John of Gischala, who surpassed all men in craft and deceit. He gathered a force of 4,000 robbers and wasted Galilee, while he inflamed the dissensions in the cities, and sent messengers to Jerusalem accusing Josephus of tyranny. Tiberias and several cities revolted, but Josephus suppressed the rising, severaly punishing many of the leaders. John retired to the robbers at Masada, and took to plundering Idumea.


NERO, on learning from the messengers the state of affairs, at first regarded the revolt lightly; but presently grew alarmed, and appointed to the command of the armies in Syria and the task of subduing the Jews Vespasian, who had pacified the West when it was disordered by the Germans, and had also recovered Britain for the Romans. He came to Antioch in the early spring, and was there joined by Agrippa and all his forces. He marched to Ptolemais, where he was met by his son Titus, who had, with expedition unusual in the winter season, sailed from Achaia to Alexandria. So the Roman army now numbered 60,000 horsemen and footmen, besides large numbers of camp followers who were also accustomed to military service and could fight on occasion.

The war was now opened. Josephus attempted no resistance in the open field, and the people had been directed to fly to the fortified cities. The strongest of all these was Jotapata, and here Josephus commanded in person.

Being very desirous of demolishing it, Vespasian besieged it with his whole army. It was defended with the greatest vigour, but after fierce conflicts, was taken in the thirteenth year of the reign of Nero, on the first day of the month Panemus (July). During this dreadful siege, and at the capture, 40,000 men fell. The Romans sought in vain for the body of Josephus, their stubborn enemy. He had leaped down the shaft of a dry well leading to a long cavern. A woman betrayed the hiding-place, and Josephus was taken and brought before the conqueror, of whom he had demanded from his captors a private conference. To Vespasian he announced that he and his son would speedily attain the imperial dignity. Vespasian was conciliated by the speech of his prisoner, whom he treated with kindness; for though he did not release him from his bonds, he bestowed on him suits of clothes and other precious gifts.

Joppa, Tiberias, Taricheae and Gamala were taken, both Romans and Jews perishing in the conflicts; and, by the capture of Gischala, all Galilee was subdued, John of Gischala fleeing to Jerusalem.


WHILE the cities of Galilee thus arrested the course of the Roman eagles, Jotapata and Gamala setting the example of daring resistance, the leaders of the nation in Jerusalem, instead of sending out armies to the relief of the besieged cities, were engaged in the most dreadful civil conflicts.

The fame of John of Gischala had gone before him to Jerusalem, and the multitude poured forth to do him honour. He falsely represented the Roman forces as being very greatly weakened, and declared that their engines had been worn out in the sieges in Galilee. He was a man of enticing eloquence, to whom the young men eagerly gave heed. So the city now began to be divided into hostile factions, and the whole of Judea had before set to the people of Jerusalem the fatal example of discord. For every city was torn to pieces by civil animosities. Not only the public councils, but even numerous families were distracted by the peace and war dispute. Through all Judea the youth were ardent for war, while the elders vainly endeavoured to allay the frenzy. Bands of desperate men began to spread over the land, plundering houses, while the Roman garrisons in the towns, rather rejoicing in their hatred to the race than wishing to protect the sufferers, afforded little help.

Large numbers of these evil men stole into the city and grew into a daring faction, who robbed houses openly, and many of the most eminent citizens were murdered by these Zealots, as they were called, from their pretence that they had discovered a conspiracy to betray the city to the Romans. They dismissed many of the sanhedrin from office, and appointed men of the lowest degree, who would support them in their violence, till the leaders of the people became slaves to their will.

At length resistance was provoked, led by Ananus, oldest of the chief priests, a man of great wisdom, and the robber Zealots took refuge in the Temple and fortified it more strongly than before. They appointed as high priest one Phanias, a coarse and clownish rustic, utterly ignorant of the sacerdotal duties, who when decked in the robes of office caused great derision. This sport and pastime for the Zealots caused the more religious people to shed tears of grief and shame; and the citizens, unable to endure such insolence, rose in great numbers to avenge the outrage on the sacred rites. Thus a fierce civil war broke out in which very many were slain.

Then John of Gischala with great treachery, outwardly siding with Ananus and secretly aiding the Zealots, sent messengers inviting the Idumeans to come to his help, of whom 20,000 broke into the city during a stormy night and slew 85,000 people.


NERO died after having reigned thirteen years and eight days, and Vespasian, being informed of the event, waited for a whole year, holding his army together instead of proceeding against Jerusalem. Galba was made emperor, and then, after the defeat and death of the emperor Vitellius, Vespasian was proclaimed by the East. He had preferred to leave the Jews to waste their strength by their internal feuds while he sent his lieutenants with forces to reduce various surrounding districts instead of attacking Jerusalem. When he became emperor, he released Josephus from his bonds, honouring him for his integrity. Hastening his journey to Rome, Vespasian commanded Titus to subdue Judea.

At Jerusalem were now three factions raging furiously. Eleazar, son of Simon, who was the first cause of the war, by persuading the people to reject the offerings of the emperors to the Temple, and had led the Zealots and seized the Temple, pretended to cherish righteous wrath against John of Gischala for the bloodshed he had occasioned. But he deserted the Zealots and seized the inner court of the Temple, so that there was war between him and Simon, son of Gioras. Thus Eleazar, John and Simon each led a band in constant fightings, and the Temple was everywhere defiled by murders.

Now, as Titus was on his march he chose out 600 select horsemen, and went to take a view of the city, when suddenly an immense multitude burst forth from the gate over against the monuments of Queen Helena and intercepted him and a few others. He had on neither helmet nor breastplate, yet though many darts were hurled at him, all missed him, as if by some purpose of Providence and, charging through the midst of his foes, he escaped unhurt. Part of the army now advanced to Scopos, within a mile of the city, while another occupied a station at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

SEEING this gathering of the Roman forces, the factions within Jerusalem for the first time felt the necessity for concord, as Eleazar from the summit of the Temple, John from the porticoes of the outer court, and Simon from the heights of Sion watched the Roman camps forming thus so near the walls. Making terms with each other, they agreed to make an attack at the same moment. Their followers, rushing suddenly forth along the valley of Jehoshaphat, fell on the 10th legion, encamped at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and working there unarmed at the entrenchments. The soldiers fell back, many being killed. Witnessing their peril, Titus, with picked troops, fell on the flank of the Jews and drove them into the city with great loss.

The Roman commander now carefully pushed forward his approaches, and the army took up a position all along the northern and the western walls, the footmen being drawn up in seven lines, with the horsemen in three lines behind, and the archers between.

Jerusalem was fortified by three walls. These were not one within the other, for each defended one of the quarters into which the city was divided. The first, or outermost, encompassed Bezetha, the next protected the citadel of the Antonia and the northern front of the Temple, and the third, or old, and innermost wall was that of Sion. Many towers, 35 feet high and 35 feet broad, each surmounted with lofty chambers and with great tanks for rain water, guarded the whole circuit of the walls, 90 being in the first wall, 14 in the second, and 60 in the third. The whole circuit of the city was about 33 stadia (four miles). From their pent-houses of wicker the Romans, with great toil day and night, discharged arrows and stones, which slew many of the citizens.

AT three different places the battering rams began their thundering work, and at length a corner tower came down, yet the walls stood firm, for there was no breach. Suddenly the besieged sallied forth and set fire to the engines. Titus came up with his horsemen and slew twelve Jews with his own hands.

The Jews now retreated to the second wall, abandoning the defence of Bezetha, which the Romans entered. Titus instantly ordered the second wall to be attacked, and for five days the conflict raged more fiercely than ever. The Jews were entirely reckless of their own lives, sacrificing themselves readily if they could kill their foes. On the fifth day they retreated from the second wall, and Titus entered that part of the lower city which was within it with 1,000 picked men.

But, being desirous of winning the people, he ordered that no houses should be set on fire and no massacres should be committed. The seditious, however, slew everyone who spoke of peace, and furiously assailed the Romans. Some fought from the walls, others from the houses, and such confusion prevailed that the Romans retired; then the Jews, elated, manned the breach, making a wall of their own bodies.

THUS the fight continued for three days, till Titus a second time entered the wall. He threw down all the northern part and strongly garrisoned the towers of the south. The strong heights of Sion, the citadel of the Antonia, and the fortified Temple still held out. Titus, eager to save so magnificent a place, resolved to refrain for a few days from the attack, in order that the minds of the besieged might be affected by their woes, and that the slow results of famine might operate. He reviewed his army in full armour, and they received their pay in view of the city, the battlements being thronged by spectators during this splendid defiling, who looked on in terror and dismay.

The famine increased, and the misery of the weaker was aggravated by seeing the stronger obtaining food. All natural affection was extinguished, husbands and wives, parents and children snatching the last morsel from each other. Many wretched men were caught by the Romans prowling in the ravines by night to pick up food and these were scourged, tortured and crucified. This was done to terrify the rest, and it went on till there was not wood enough for crosses.

Terrible crimes were committed in the city. The aged high-priest, Matthias, was accused of holding communication with the enemy. Three of his sons were killed in his presence, and he was executed in sight of the Romans, together with sixteen other members of the sanhedrin. The famine grew so woeful that a woman devoured the body of her own child. At length, after fierce fighting, the Antonia was scaled, and Titus ordered its demolition.

TITUS now promised that the Temple should be spared if the defenders would come forth and fight in any other place, but John and the Zealots refused to surrender it. For several days the outer cloisters and outer court were attacked with rams, but the immense and compact stones resisted the blows. As many soldiers were slain in seeking to storm the cloisters, Titus ordered the gates to be set on fire. Through that night and the next day the flames raged through the cloisters. Then, in order to save the Temple itself, he ordered the fire to be quenched. On the tenth of August, the same day of the year on which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple built by Solomon, the cry was heard that the Temple was on fire. The Jews, with cries of grief and rage, grasped their swords and rushed to take revenge on their enemies or perish in the ruins.

The slaughter was continued while the fire raged. Soon no part was left but a small portion of the outer cloisters, where 6,000 people had taken refuge, led by a false prophet who had there promised that God would deliver His people in His Temple. The soldiers set the building on fire and all perished. Titus next spent eighteen days in preparations for the attack on the upper city, which was then speedily captured. And now the Romans were not disposed to display any mercy, night alone putting an end to the carnage. During the whole of this siege of Jerusalem, 1,100,000 were slain, and the prisoners numbered 97,000.

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