by Norman Bentwich
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



Author of "Philo-Judaeus of Alexandria"





Josephus hardly merits a place on his own account in a series of Jewish Worthies, since neither as man of action nor as man of letters did he deserve particularly well of his nation. It is not his personal worthiness, but the worth of his work, that recommends him to the attention of the Jewish people. He was not a loyal general, and he was not a faithful chronicler of the struggle with Rome; but he had the merit of writing a number of books on the Jews and Judaism, which not only met the desire for knowledge of his nation in his own day, but which have been preserved through the ages and still remain one of the chief authorities for Jewish history. He lived at the great crisis of his people, when it stood at the parting of the ways. And while in his life he was patronized by those who had destroyed the national center, after his death he found favor with that larger religious community which was beginning to carry part of the Jewish mission to the Gentiles. For centuries Josephus was regarded by the Christians as the standard historian of the Jews, and, though for long he was forgotten and neglected by his own people, in modern times he has been carefully studied also by them, and his merits and demerits both as patriot and as writer have been critically examined.

It has been my especial aim in this book to consider Josephus from the Jewish point of view. I have made no attempt to extenuate his personal conduct or his literary faults. My judgment may appear somewhat severe, but it is when tried by the test of faithfulness to his nation that Josephus is found most wanting; and I hope that while extenuating nothing I have not set down aught in malice.

Of the extensive literature bearing on the subject, the books to which I am under the greatest obligation are Niese's text of the collected works and Schuerer's History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus. I have given in an Appendix a Bibliography, which contains the names of most of the works I have referred to. I would mention in particular Schlatter's Zur Topographie und Geschichte Palaestinas, which is a remarkably stimulating and suggestive book, and which confirmed a view I had formed independently, that in the Wars, as in the Antiquities, Josephus is normally a compiler of other men's writings, and constantly expresses opinions not his own.

My greatest debt of thanks, however, is due to the spoken rather than the written word. Doctor Buechler, the Principal of Jews' College, London, has constantly assisted me with advice, directed me to sources of information, and let me draw plentifully from his own large stores of knowledge about Josephus; and Doctor Friedlaender, Sabato Morais Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, has done me the brotherly service of reading my manuscript and making many valuable suggestions on it. To their generous help this book owes more than I can acknowledge.


Cairo, February, 1914.





















The life and works of Flavius Josephus are bound up with the struggle of the Jews against the Romans, and in order to appreciate them it is necessary to summarize the relations of the two peoples that led up to that struggle.

It is related in the Midrash that the city of Rome was founded on the day Solomon married an Egyptian princess. The Rabbis doubtless meant by this legend that the power of Rome was created to be a scourge for Israel's backslidings. They identified Rome with the Edom of the Bible, representing thus that the struggle between Esau and Jacob was carried on by their descendants, the Romans and the Jews, and would continue throughout history.[1] Yet the earliest relations of the two peoples were friendly and peaceful. They arose out of the war of independence that the Maccabean brothers waged against the Syrian Empire in the middle of the second century B.C.E., when the loyal among the people were roused to stand up for their faith. Antiochus Epiphanes, anxious to strengthen his tottering empire, which had been shaken by its struggles with Rome, sought to force violently on the Jews a pagan Hellenism that was already making its way among them. He succeeded only in evoking the latent force of their national consciousness. Rome was already the greatest power in the world: she had conquered the whole of Italy; she had destroyed her chief rival in the West, the Phoenician colony of Carthage; she had made her will supreme in Greece and Macedonia. Her senate was the arbiter of the destinies of kingdoms, and though for the time it refrained from extending Roman sway over Egypt and Asia, its word there was law. Its policy was "divide and rule," to hold supreme sway by encouraging small nationalities to maintain their independence against the unwieldy empires which the Hellenistic successors of Alexander had carved out for themselves in the Orient.

[Footnote 1: Lev. R. xiii. (5), quoted in Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 100.]

At the bidding of the Roman envoy, Antiochus Epiphanes himself, immediately before his incursion into Jerusalem, had slunk away from Alexandria; and hence it was natural that Judas Maccabaeus, when he had vindicated the liberty of his nation, should look to Rome for support in maintaining that liberty. In the year 161 B.C.E. he sent Eupolemus the son of Johanan and Jason the son of Eleazar, "to make a league of amity and confederacy with the Romans"[1]: and the Jews were received as friends, and enrolled in the class of Socii. His brother Jonathan renewed the alliance in 146 B.C.E.; Simon renewed it again five years later, and John Hyrcanus, when he succeeded to the high priesthood, made a fresh treaty.[2] Supported by the friendship, and occasionally by the diplomatic interference, of the Western Power, the Jews did not require the intervention of her arms to uphold their independence against the Seleucid monarchs, whose power was rapidly falling into ruin. At the beginning of the first century B.C.E., however, Rome, having emerged triumphant from a series of civil struggles in her own dominions, found herself compelled to take an active part in the affairs of the East. During her temporary eclipse there had been violent upheavals in Asia. The semi-barbarous kings of Pontus and Armenia took advantage of the opportunity to overrun the Hellenized provinces and put all the Greek and Roman inhabitants to the sword. To avenge this outrage, Rome sent to the East, in 73 B.C.E., her most distinguished soldier, Pompeius, or Pompey, who, in two campaigns, laid the whole of Asia Minor and Syria at his feet.

[Footnote 1: I Macc. viii. 7. It is interesting to note that the sons had Greek names, while their fathers had Hebrew names.]

[Footnote 2: I Macc. xii. 3; xiv. 24.]

Unfortunately civil strife was waging in Palestine between the two Hasmonean brothers, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, who fought for the throne on the death of the queen Alexandra Salome. Both in turn appealed to Pompey to come to their aid, on terms of becoming subject to the Roman overlord. At the same time, a deputation from the Jewish nation appeared before the general, to declare that they did not desire to be ruled by kings: "for what was handed down to them from their fathers was that they should obey the priests of God; but these two princes, though the descendants of priests, sought to transfer the nation to another form of government, that it might he enslaved."

Pompey, who had resolved to establish a strong government immediately subject to Rome over the whole of the near Orient, finally interfered on behalf of Hyrcanus. Aristobulus resisted, at first somewhat half-heartedly, but afterwards, when the Roman armies laid siege to Jerusalem, with fierce determination. The struggle was in vain. On a Sabbath, it is recorded, when the Jews desisted from their defense, the Roman general forced his way into the city, and, regardless of Jewish feeling, entered the Holy of Holies. The intrigues of the Jewish royal house had brought about the subjection of the nation. As it is said in the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon, which were written about this time: "A powerful smiter has God brought from the ends of the earth. He decreed war upon the Jews and the land. The princes of the land went out with joy to meet him, and said to him, 'Blessed be thy way; draw near and enter in peace.'" Yet Pompey did not venture, or did not care, to destroy or rob the Temple, according to Cicero and Josephus,[1] because of his innate moderation, but really, one may suspect, from less noble motives. It was the custom of the Roman conquerors to demand the surrender, not only of the earthly possessions of the conquered, but of their gods, and to carry the vanquished images in the triumph which they celebrated. But Pompey may have recognized the difference between the Jewish religion and that of other peoples, or he realized the widespread power of the Jewish people, which would rise as a single body in defense of its religion; for he made no attempt to interfere either with Jewish religious liberties, or with a worship that Cicero declared to be "incompatible with the majesty of the Empire."

[Footnote 1: Cicero, Pro Flacco, 69, and Ant. XVI. iv, 4.]

The Jews, however, were henceforth the clients, instead of the allies, of Rome. Though Hyrcanus was recognized by Pompey as the high priest and ethnarch of Judea, and his wily counselor, the Idumean Antipater, was given a general power of administering the country, they were alike subject to the governor of Syria, which was now constituted a Roman province. Moreover, the Hellenistic cities along the coast of Palestine and on the other side of Jordan, which had been subjugated by John Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus, were restored to independence, and placed under special Roman protection, and the Jewish territory itself was shortly thereafter split by the Roman governor Gabinius into five toparchies, or provinces, each with a separate administration.

The guiding aim of the conqueror was to weaken the Oriental power (as the Jews were regarded) and strengthen the Hellenistic element in the country. The Jews were soon to feel the heavy hand and suffer the insatiate greed of Rome. National risings were put down with merciless cruelty, the Temple treasury was spoiled in 56 B.C.E. by the avaricious Crassus, one of the triumvirate that divided the Roman Empire, when he passed Jerusalem on his way to fight against the Parthians; even the annual offering contributed voluntarily by the Jews of the Diaspora to the Temple was seized by a profligate governor of Asia. The Roman aristocrats during the last years of the Republic were a degenerate body; they regarded a governorship as the opportunity of unlimited extortion, the means of recouping themselves for all the gross expenses incurred on attaining office, and of making themselves and their friends affluent for the rest of their lives. And Judea was a fresh quarry.

A happier era seemed to be dawning for the Jews when Julius Caesar became dictator. At the beginning of the civil war between him and Pompey, Hyrcanus, at the instance of Antipater, prepared to support the man to whom he owed his position; but when Pompey was murdered, Antipater led the Jewish forces to the help of Caesar, who was hard pressed at Alexandria. His timely help and his influence over the Egyptian Jews recommended him to Caesar's favor, and secured for him an extension of his authority in Palestine, and for Hyrcanus the confirmation of his ethnarchy. Joppa was restored to the Hasmonean domain, Judea was granted freedom from all tribute and taxes to Rome, and the independence of the internal administration was guaranteed. Caesar, too, whatever may have been his motive, showed favor to the Jews throughout his Empire. Mommsen thinks that he saw in them an effective leaven of cosmopolitanism and national decomposition, and to that intent gave them special privileges; but this seems a perverse reason to assign for the grant of the right to maintain in all its thoroughness their national life, and for their exemption from all Imperial or municipal burdens that would conflict with it. It is more reasonable to suppose that, taking in this as in many other things a broader view than that of his countrymen, Caesar recognized the weakness of a world-state whose members were so denationalized as to have no strong feeling for any common purpose, no passion of loyalty to any community, and he favored Judaism as a counteracting force to this peril.

His various enactments constituted, as it were, a Magna Charta of the Jews in the Empire; Judaism was a favored cult in the provinces, a licita religio in the capital. At Alexandria Caesar confirmed and extended the religious and political privileges of the Jews, and ordered his decree to be inscribed on pillars of brass and set up in a public place. At Rome, though the devotees of Bacchus were forbidden to meet, he permitted the Jews to hold their assemblies and celebrate their ceremonials. At his instance the Hellenistic cities of Asia passed similar favorable decrees for the benefit of the Jewish congregations in their midst, which invested them with a kind of local autonomy. The proclamation of the Sardians is typical. "This decree," it runs, "was made by the senate and people, upon the representation of the praetors:

"Whereas those Jews who are our fellow-citizens, and live with us in this city, have ever had great benefits heaped upon them by the people, and have come now into the senate, and desired of the people that, upon the restitution of their law and their liberty by the senate and people of Rome, they may assemble together according to their ancient legal custom, and that we will not bring any suit against them about it; and that a place may be given them where they may hold their congregations with their wives and children, and may offer, as did their forefathers, their prayers and sacrifices to God:—now the senate and people have decreed to permit them to assemble together on the days formerly appointed, and to act according to their own laws; and that such a place be set apart for them by the praetors for the building and inhabiting the same as they shall esteem fit for that purpose, and that those who have control of the provisions of the city shall take care that such sorts of food as they esteem fit for their eating may be imported into the city."[1]

[Footnote 1: Ant. XIV. x. 24.]

Caesar's decrees marked the culmination of Roman tolerance, and the Jews enjoyed their privileges for but a short time. It is related by the historian Suetonius that they lamented his death more bitterly than any other class.[1] And they had good reason. The Republicans, who had murdered him, and his ministers, who avenged him, vied with each other for the support of the Jewish princes; but the people in Palestine suffered from the burden that the rivals imposed on the provinces in their efforts to raise armies. Antipater and his ambitious sons Herod and Phasael contrived to maintain their tyranny amid the constant shifting of power; and when the hardy mountaineers of Galilee strove under the lead of one Hezekiah (Ezekias), the founder of the party of the Zealots, to shake off the Roman yoke, Herod ruthlessly put down the revolt. But when Antigonus, the son of that Aristobulus who had been deprived of his kingdom by Hyrcanus and Pompey, roused the Parthians to invade Syria and Palestine, the Jews eagerly rose in support of the scion of the Maccabean house, and drove out the hated Idumeans with their puppet Jewish king. The struggle between the people and the Romans had begun in earnest, and though Antigonus, when placed on the throne by the Parthians, proceeded to spoil and harry the Jews, rejoicing at the restoration of the Hasmonean line, thought a new era of independence had come.

[Footnote 1: Suetonius, Caesar, lxxxiv. 7.]

The infatuation of Mark Antony for Cleopatra enabled Antigonus to hold his kingdom for three years (40-37 B.C.E.). Then Herod, who had escaped to Rome, returned to Syria to conquer the kingdom that Antony had bestowed on him. He brought with him the Roman legions, and for two years a fierce struggle was waged between the Idumeans, Romans, and Romanizing Jews on the one hand, and the national Jews and Parthian mercenaries of Antigonus on the other. The struggle culminated in a siege of Jerusalem. As happened in all the contests for the city, the power of trained force in the end prevailed over the enthusiasm of fervent patriots. Herod stormed the walls, put to death Antigonus and his party, and established a harsher tyranny than even the Roman conqueror had imposed. For over thirty years he held the people down with the aid of Rome and his body-guard of mercenary barbarians. His constitution was an autocracy, supplemented by assassination. In the civil war between Antony and Octavian, he was first on the losing side, as his father had been in the struggle between Pompey and Caesar; but, like his father, he knew when to go over to the victor. The master of the Roman Empire, henceforth known as Augustus, was so impressed with his carriage and resolution that he not only confirmed him in his kingdom, but added to it the territories of Chalcis and Perea to the north and east of the Jordan. Throughout his reign Herod contrived to preserve the friendship of Rome as effectually as he contrived to arouse the hatred of his Jewish subjects. "The Imperial Eagle and some distinguished Roman or other," says George Adam Smith,[1] "were always fixed in Herod's heaven." He ruled with a strong but merciless hand. He insured peace, and while he turned his own home into a slaughter-house, he glorified the Jewish dominion outwardly to a height and magnificence it had never before attained. Yet the Jewish deputation that went to plead before Augustus on his death declared that "Herod had put such abuses on them as a wild beast would not have done, and no calamity they had suffered was comparable with that which he had brought on the nation."[2] Beneath the fine show of peace, splendor, and expansion, the passions of the nation were being aroused to the breaking-point.

[Footnote 1: Jerusalem, ii. 504.]

[Footnote 2: Ant. XVII. xi. 2.]

Augustus himself, following the example of his uncle Julius Caesar, yet lacking the same large tolerance, held towards Judaism an ambiguous attitude of impartiality rather than of favor. He caused sacrifices to be offered for himself at the Temple at Jerusalem,[1] but he praised his nephew Gaius for having refrained from doing likewise during his Eastern travels.[2] He was anxious that the national laws and customs of each nation should be preserved, and he issued a decree in favor of the Jews of Cyrene; but he initiated the worship of the Emperors, which necessitated a conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar, and in the end destroyed the religious liberty that Julius Caesar had given to the Empire. His aim was at once to foster the veneration of the Imperial power and establish an Imperial worship that should replace the effete paganism of his subjects. He made no attempt to force this worship on the Jews, but its existence fanned the prejudice against the one nation that refused to participate. And the Jews could not but look with distrust on a government that "derived its authority from the deification of might, whereof the Emperor was the incarnate principle."[3]

[Footnote 1: Philo, De Leg. ii. 507.]

[Footnote 2: Suetonius, Aug. 93.]

[Footnote 3: Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, p. 108.]

Marcus Agrippa, the trusted minister of Augustus, was also an intimate friend of Herod, and served to link the two courts. But on the death of Herod, in 4 C.E., the friendship of Rome for the Idumean royal house was modified. Archelaus, who claimed the whole succession, was appointed simply as ethnarch of Judea, while Herod's two other sons, Philip and Herod Antipas, divided the rest of his dominions. The Zealots, rid of the powerful tyrant who had held them down, sought again to throw off the hated yoke of Idumea, which, not without reason, they identified with the yoke of Rome. With their watchword, "No king but God," they attempted to make Judea independent, and a fierce struggle, known as the War of Varus, ensued. Jerusalem was stormed once again by Roman legions before the Zealots were subdued. Archelaus was deposed by his masters after a few years, and the province of Judea was placed under direct Roman administration. The Roman procurator was at first less detested than the Idumean tyrant, since he interfered less with the legal institutions, such as the Sanhedrin and the Bet Din; but his presence with the legionaries in the Holy City and his constant, though often involuntary, affronts to the religious sentiments of the people roused the hostility of the nationalist party, who looked forward to the day when Israel should "tread on the neck of the Eagle." The Pharisees, who were anxious for the spiritual rather than the political independence of the Jews, counseled submission to Rome, and were willing "to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's," so long as they were not compelled to give up the Torah. But the Zealots desired political as well as religious freedom, and they fomented rebellion. They have been compared by Merivale to the Montagnards of the French Revolution, driven by their own indomitable passion to assert the truths that possessed them with a ferocity that no possession could justify. They were continually rousing the people to expel the foreign rulers, and in the northern province of Galilee, where they found shelter amid the wild tracts of heath and mountain, they maintained a constant state of insurrection.[1]

[Footnote 1: It is important to notice that much of our knowledge of the Zealots is derived from Josephus, who, as will be seen, set himself to misrepresent them, and repeated the calumnies of hostile Roman writers against them. The Talmud contains several references to them, describing them as Kannaim (the Hebrew equivalent of Zealots), and it would appear that they were in their outlook successors of the former Hasidim, distinguished as much for their religious rigidity as their patriotic fervor. See Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. Zealots.]

The Romans, on their side, accustomed to the ready submission of all the peoples under their sway, could not understand or tolerate the Jews. To them this people with its dour manners, its refusal to participate in the religious ideas, the social life, and the pleasures of its neighbors, its eruptions of passion and violence on account of abstract ideas, and its rigid exclusion of the insignia of Roman majesty from the capital, seemed the enemies of the human race. In their own religion they had freely found a place for Greek and Egyptian deities, but the Jewish faith, in its uncompromising opposition to all pagan worship, seemed, in the words that Anatole France has put into the mouth of one of the Roman procurators, to be rather an abligion than a religion, an institution designed rather to sever the bond that united peoples, than bind them together. Every other civilized people had accepted their dominion; the Jews and the Parthians alone stood in the way of universal peace. The near-Eastern question, which, then as now, continually threatened war and violence, irritated the Romans beyond measure, and they came to feel towards Jerusalem as their ancestors had felt two hundred years before towards Carthage, the great Semitic power of the West, delenda est Hierosolyma. As time went on they realized that this stubborn nation was resolved to dispute with them for the mastery, and every agitation was regarded as an outrage on the Roman power, which must be wiped out in blood. It was the inevitable conflict, not only between the Imperial and the national principle, but between the ideas of the kingdom of righteousness and the ideas of the kingdom of might.

During the reign of Tiberius, however, the Roman governors were held in check to some extent by strong central control from Rome, and their extortion was comparatively moderate. The worst of them was Pontius Pilate, and the odium theologicum has, perhaps, had its part in blackening his reputation. Nevertheless, the broad religious tolerance initiated by the first Caesar was being continually impaired. The Jewish public worship was prohibited in Rome, and the Jews were expelled from the city in 19 C.E.; while at Alexandria an anti-Jewish persecution was instigated by Sejanus, the upstart freedman, who became the chief minister of Tiberius. In Palestine, though we hear of no definite movement, it is clear from after-events that the bitterness of feeling between the Hellenized Syrians and the Jewish population was steadily fomented. The Romans were naturally on the side of the Greek-speaking people, whom they understood, and whose religion they could appreciate. The situation may best be paralleled by the condition of Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when England supported the Protestant population of Ulster against the hated Roman Catholics, who formed the majority of the people.

It had been the aim of Tiberius to consolidate the unwieldy mass of the Empire by the gradual absorption of the independent kingdoms inclosed within its limits. In pursuance of this policy, Judea, Chalcis, and Abilene, all parts of Herod's kingdom, had been placed under Roman governors. But when Gaius Caligula succeeded Tiberius in 32 C.E., and brought to the Imperial throne a capricious irresponsibility, he reverted to the older policy of encouraging client-princes, and doled out territories to his Oriental favorites. Prominent among them was Agrippa, a grandson of Herod, who had passed his youth in the company of the Roman prince in Italy. He received as the reward of his loyal extravagance not only Judea but Galilee and Perea, together with the title of king. He was not, however, given permission to repair to his kingdom, since his patron desired his attentions at Rome. Later he was detained by a sterner call. Gaius, who had passed from folly to lunacy, was not content with the customary voluntary worship paid to the Emperors, but imagined himself the supreme deity, and demanded veneration from all his subjects. He ordered his image to be set up in all temples, and, irritated by the petition of the Jews to be exempted from what would be an offense against the first principle of their religion, he insisted upon their immediate submission. In Alexandria the Greek population made a violent attempt to carry out the Imperial order; a sharp conflict took place, and the Jews in their dire need sent a deputation, with Philo at its head, to supplicate the Emperor. In the East the governor of Syria, Petronius, was directed to march on Jerusalem and set up the Imperial statue in the Holy of Holies, whatever it might cost. Petronius understood, and it seems respected, the faithfulness of the Jews to their creed, and he hesitated to carry out the command. From East and West the Jews gathered to resist the decree; the multitude, says Philo, covered Phoenicia like a cloud. Meantime King Agrippa at Rome interceded with the Emperor for his people, and induced him to relent for a little. But the infatuation again came over Gaius; he ordered Petronius peremptorily to do his will, and, when the legate still dallied, sent to remove him from his office. But, as Philo says, God heard the prayer of His people: Gaius was assassinated by a Roman whom he had wantonly insulted, and the death-struggle with Rome, which had threatened in Judea, was postponed. The year of trial, however, had brought home to the whole of the Jewish people that the incessant moral conflict with Rome might at any moment be resolved into a desperate physical struggle for the preservation of their religion. And the warlike party gained in strength.

The date of the death of Gaius (Shebat 22) was appointed as a day of memorial in the Jewish calendar; and for a little time the Jews had a respite from tyranny. Agrippa, who, after the murder of Gaius, played a large part in securing for Claudius the succession to the Imperial throne, was confirmed in the grant of his kingdom, and, despite his antecedents and his upbringing, proved himself a model national king. Perhaps he had seen through the rottenness of Rome, perhaps the trial of Gaius' mad escapades had deepened his nature, and led him to honor the burning faith of the Jews. Whatever the reason, while remaining dutiful to Rome, he devoted himself to the care of his people, to the maintenance of their full religious and national life, and to the strengthening of the Holy City against the struggle he foresaw. To the Jews of the Diaspora, moreover, the succession of Claudius brought a renewal of privileges. An edict of tolerance was promulgated, first to the Alexandrians, and afterwards to the communities in all parts of the habitable globe, by which liberty of conscience and internal autonomy were restored, with a notable caution against Jewish missionary enterprise. "We think it fitting," runs the decree, "to permit the Jews everywhere under our sway to observe their ancient customs without hindrance; and we hereby charge them to use our graciousness with moderation and not to show contempt of the religious observances of other people, but to keep their own laws quietly."[1] Nevertheless the tolerant principle on which Caesar and Augustus had sought to found the Empire was surely giving way to a more tyrannical policy, which viewed with suspicion all bodies that fostered a corporate life separate from that of the State, whether Jewish synagogue, Stoic school, or religious college.

[Footnote 1: Ant. XIX, v. 2.]

The conflict between Rome and Jerusalem entered on a bitterer stage when Agrippa died in 44 C.E. Influenced by his self-seeking band of freedmen-counselors, who saw in office in Palestine a golden opportunity for spoliation, Claudius placed the vacant kingdom again under the direct administration of Roman procurators, and appointed to the office a string of the basest creatures of the court, who revived the injustices of the worst days of the Republic.

From 48-52 C.E. Palestine was under the governorship of Ventidius Cumanus, who seemed deliberately to egg on the Jews to insurrection. When a Roman soldier outraged the Jewish conscience by indecent conduct in the Temple during the Passover, Cumanus refused all redress, called on the soldiers to put down the clamoring people, and slew thousands of them in the holy precincts.[1] A little later, when an Imperial officer was attacked on the road and robbed, Cumanus set loose the legionaries on the villages around, and ordered a general pillage. When a Galilean Jew was murdered in a Samaritan village, and the Jewish Zealots, failing to get redress, attacked Samaria, Cumanus fell on them and crucified whomever he captured. Then, indeed, the Roman governor of Syria, not so reckless as his subordinate, or, it may be, corrupted by the man anxious to step into the procurator's place, summoned Cumanus before him, and sent him to Rome to stand his trial for maladministration.

[Footnote 1: Ant. XX. v. 3.]

But this act of belated justice brought the Jews small comfort; Cumanus was succeeded by Felix, an even worse creature. He was the brother of the Emperor's favorite Narcissus, "by badness raised to that proud eminence," and the husband of the Herodian princess Drusilia, who had become a pagan in order to marry him. Tacitus, the Roman historian, says[1] that "with all manner of cruelty he exercised royal functions in the spirit of a slave." Under his rapacious tyranny the people were goaded to fury. Bands of assassins, Sicarii (so called by both Romans and Jews because of the short dagger, sica, which they used), sprang up over the country. Now they struck down Romans and Romanizers, and now they were employed by the governor himself to put out of the way rich Jewish nobles whose possessions he coveted. From time to time there were more serious risings, some purely political, others led by a pseudo-Messiah, and all alike put down with cruelty. Roman governors were habitually corrupt, grasping, and cruel, but Mommsen declares that those of Judea in the reigns of Claudius and Nero, who were chosen from the upstart equestrians, exceeded the usual measure of worthlessness and oppressiveness. The Jews believed that they had drunk to the dregs the cup of misery, and that God must send them a Redeemer. There were no prophets to preach as at the time of the struggle with Babylon and Assyria, that the oppression was God's chastisement for their sins. And it was inconceivable to them that the power of wickedness should be allowed to triumph to the end.

[Footnote 1: Hist. v. 9.]

Steadily the party that clamored for war gained in strength, and the apprehensions of the Pharisees who viewed the political struggle with misgiving, lest it should end in the loss of the national center and the destruction of religious independence, were overborne by the fury of the masses. The oppression by Roman governors and Romanizing high priests did not diminish when Nero succeeded Claudius. For the rest of the Empire the first five years of his reign (the quinquennium Neronis) were a period of peace and good government, but for the Jews they brought little or no relief. The harsh Roman policy toward the Jews may have been specially instigated by Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, who was Nero's counselor during his saner years, and who entertained a strong hatred of Judaism. But we need not look for such special causes. It had been the fixed habit of Republican Rome to crush out the national spirit of a subject people, "to war down the proud," as her greatest poet euphemistically expressed it; and now that spirit was adopted by the Imperial Caesars in dealing with the one and only people resolved to preserve inviolate its national life and its national religion. Nero indeed recalled Felix, and Festus, who was appointed in his place, made an attempt to mend affairs, but he died within a year, and was succeeded by two procurators that were worthy followers of Felix. The first of them was Albinus (62-64), of whom Josephus says that there was no sort of wickedness in which he had not a hand. The same authority says that compared with Gessius Florus, the governor under whom the Rebellion burst out, he was "most just." Florus owed his appointment to Poppaea, the profligate wife of Nero, and his conduct bears the interpretation that he was deliberately anxious to fill the measure of persecution to the brim and drive the nation to war.

The very forms of privilege which had been left to the Jews were turned to their hurt. The Herodian tetrarchs of Chalcis, to whom the Romans granted the power of appointing the high priests, true to the tradition of their house, appointed only such as were confirmed Romanizers, and the most unscrupulous at that. When Felix was governor, the high priest was the notorious Ananias, of whom the Talmud says, "Woe to the House of Ananias; woe for their cursings, woe for their serpent-like hissings."[1] Herod Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa, who held the principate from 50-100 C.E., and was the faithful creature of Rome throughout the period of his people's stress, proclaiming himself on his coins "lover of Caesar and lover of Rome," deposed and created high priests with unparalleled frequency as a means of extorting money and rewarding the leading informers. There were seven holders of the office during the last twenty years of Roman rule, and "he who carried furthest servility and national abnegation received the prize." The high priests thus formed a kind of anti-national oligarchy; they robbed the other priests of their dues, and reduced them to poverty, and were the willing tools of Roman tyranny. Together with the Herodian princes, who indulged every lust and wicked passion, they undermined the strength of the people like some fatal canker, much as the priests and nobles had done at the first fall of Jerusalem, or, again, in the days of the Seleucid Emperors. Apart from governors, tax-collectors, and high priests, the Romans had an instrument of oppression in the Greek-speaking population of Palestine and Syria, which maintained an inveterate hostility to the Jews. The immediate cause of the great Rebellion actually arose out of a feud between the Jewish and the Gentile inhabitants of Caesarea. The Hellenistic population outnumbered the Jews in the Herodian foundations of Caesarea, Sepphoris, Tiberias, Paneas, etc., as well as in the old Greek cities of Doris, Scythopolis, Gerasa, Gadara, and the rest of the Decapolis. This population regarded religion only as the pretext for public ceremonials and entertainments; it was scornful of the Jewish abstention from these things, and was aroused to the bitterest hatred by the social aloofness of their neighbors. Violent riots between Jew and Gentile were constantly taking place, and whether they were the aggressors or merely fighting in self-defense, the Jews were the scapegoats for the breaking of the peace. Stung by constant outrage on the part of their neighbors, the Jews turned upon them at Caesarea, and drove them out of the town. Thereupon Florus called them to reckoning, marched on Jerusalem, and plundered the Temple treasury. This event happened on the tenth day of Iyar in the year 66 C.E. The war-party determined to force the struggle to a final issue. Hitherto they had only been able to arouse a section to venture desperate sporadic insurrection against the might of Rome. Now they carried the people with them to engage in a national rebellion.

[Footnote 1: Pesahim, 57a.]

Agrippa II, who was amusing himself at Alexandria when the first outbreak occurred, hurried back to Jerusalem, and sought to quiet the people by impressing upon them the invincible power of Rome. But he failed, and the Romanizing priests' party failed, and the peaceful leaders of the Pharisees failed, to shake their determination. Messianic hopes were rife among the masses, and were invested with a materialistic interpretation. The Zealots, it is alleged by the pagan as well as the Jewish authorities for the period, believed that the destined time was come when the Jews should rule the world. The people looked for the realization of the prophecy of Isaiah (41:2), "He shall raise up the righteous one from the East, give the nations before Israel, and make him rule over kings."

The belief in the approach of the Messianic kingdom was undoubtedly one of the mainsprings of the revolt. There had been a series of popular leaders claiming to be Messiahs, but in the final struggle it was not the claim of any individual, but the passionate faith of the whole people, that inspired a belief in the coming of a perfect deliverance. Some events appeared to favor the fulfilment of their hopes of temporal sovereignty, bred though they were of despair. Rome under the corrupting influence of Nero seemed to be passing her zenith; national movements were stirring in the West, in Gaul and in Germany; in the East the Parthians were again threatening the security of the Roman provinces. The Jewish cause, on the other hand, seemed to be gaining ground everywhere. Its converts, numerous in the West, were still more numerous and important in the East. Among those recently brought over to the true faith as full proselytes were Helena, the queen of Adiabene, a kingdom situate in Mesopotamia, and her son Izates, who built themselves splendid palaces at Jerusalem. In Babylon the Jews had made themselves almost independent, and waged open war on the Parthian satraps. A large section of the people cherished a somewhat simple theodicy. How could God allow the wicked and dissolute Romans to prosper and the chosen people to be oppressed? The Hellenistic writers of Sibylline oracles and the Hebrew writers of Apocalypses, imitating the doom-songs of Isaiah and Ezekiel, announced the coming overthrow of evil and the triumph of good. Evil had reached its acme in Nero, and the time had come when God would break the "fourth horn" of Daniel's vision (ch. 8), and exalt his chosen people.

The fight for national independence was bound to have come, for nothing could have prevented the Romans from their attempt to crush the spirit of the Jews, and nothing could have held back the Jews from making a supreme effort to obtain their freedom from the hated yoke. For one hundred and twenty years Palestine had been ground beneath the iron heel of Roman governors and Romanizing tyrants. The conditions of the foreign rule had steadily grown more intolerable. At first the oppression was mainly fiscal; then it had sought to crush all political liberty, and finally it had come to outrage the deepest religious feeling and menace the Temple-worship. As Graetz says, "The Jewish people was like a captive, who, continually visited by his jailer, rattles at his fetters with the strength of despair, till he wrenches them asunder." It was not only the freedom of the Jew, but the safety of Judaism that was imperiled by the misrule of a Claudius and a Nero. The war against the Romans was then not merely a struggle for national liberty, but, equally with the wars of the Maccabees against the Seleucids, an episode in the more vital conflict between Hebraism and paganism, between material force and the ardent passion for religious freedom.



Josephus was essentially an apologist, and his writings include not only an apology for his people, but an apology for his own life. In contrast with the greater Jewish writers, he was given to vaunting his own deeds. We have therefore abundant, if not always reliable, information about the chief events of his career. It must always be borne in mind that he had to color the narrative of his own as well as his people's history to suit the tastes and prejudices of the Roman conqueror. He was born in 37 C.E., the first year of the reign of Gaius Caesar, the lunatic Emperor, who nearly provoked the Jews to the final struggle. Though he is known to history as Josephus Flavius, his proper name was Joseph ben Mattathias, Josephus being the Latinized form of the Hebrew [Hebrew: Yosef] and his patronymic being exchanged, when he went over to the Romans, for the family name of his patrons, Flavius. His father was a priest of the first of the twenty-four orders, named Jehoiarib, and on his mother's side he was connected with the royal house of the Hasmoneans. His genealogy, which he traces back to the time of the Maccabean princes, is a little vague, and we may suspect that he was not above improving it. But his family was without doubt among the priestly aristocracy of Jerusalem, and his father, he says, was "eminent not only on account of his nobility, but even more for his virtue."[1]

[Footnote 1: Vita, 2.]

He was brought up with his brother Matthias to fit himself for the priestly office, and he received the regular course of Jewish education in the Torah and the tradition. He says in the Antiquities that "only those who know the laws and can interpret the practices of our ancestors, are called educated among the Jews;" and it is likely that he attended in his boyhood one of the numerous schools that existed in Jerusalem at the time. According to the Talmud there were four hundred and eighty synagogues each with a Bet Sefer for teaching the written law and a Bet Talmud for the study of the oral law.[1] From his silence we may infer that he did not study Greek at this period, and Aramaic was his natural tongue. He was never able to speak Greek fluently or with sufficient exactness, because, as he says in the Antiquities, "Our own nation does not encourage those who learn the language of many peoples, and so color their discourses with the smoothness of their periods: for they look upon this sort of accomplishment as common, not only to freemen, but to any slave that pleases to learn it."[2] When, in his middle age, he set himself to write the history of his people in Greek, he was compelled to get the help of friends to correct his composition and syntax.

[Footnote 1: Yer. Meg. iii. 1.]

[Footnote 2: Ant. XX. xi. 2.]

As to his Hebrew accomplishments, he tells us, with his native immodesty, that he acquired marvelous proficiency in learning, and was famous for his great memory and understanding. When he was fourteen years of age, he continues, such was his fame that the high priests and principal men of the city frequently came to consult him about difficult points of the law. His mature works do not show any profound knowledge either of the Halakah or of the Haggadah, so that the statement is not to be taken strictly. It is probably nothing more than a grandiloquent way of saying that he was a precocious child, who impressed his elders. Paul, too, claimed that he was "a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and zealous beyond those of his own age in the Jews' religion," and yet he can hardly be regarded as an authority on the tradition. The autobiography of Josephus, it is pertinent to remember, was designed to impress the Romans with the greatness of the writer, and its readers were not equipped with the means of criticising his Jewish accomplishments. With the same object of impressing the Romans, Josephus recounts that, when about the age of sixteen, he had a mind to imbue himself with the tenets of the three Jewish parties, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenes.

Elsewhere he describes the teaching of these sects for the benefit of his Roman readers according to a technical classification borrowed from his environment, i.e. he represents them as three philosophical schools of the Greek type, each holding different views about fate and Providence and the nature of the soul and its immortality. But just as this is demonstrably a misleading coloring of the difference between the sections of the Jewish people, so is his attempt to represent that he attended, as a cultured Greek or Roman of the time would have done, three philosophical colleges. He was compelled by the needs of his audience to present Jewish life in the form of Greco-Roman institutions, however ill it fits the mould, and his remarks about sects and schools must always be taken with caution. It is as though a modern writer should describe Judaism as a Church, and express its ideas and observances in the language of Christian theology.

There is, however, no reason to doubt that Josephus made himself acquainted with the tenets of the chief teachers of the time, and he may conceivably have sat at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel, then the chief sage at Jerusalem. But, anxious to exhibit his catholicity, after professing himself a Pharisee, he says that, not content with these studies, he became for three years a faithful disciple of one Banus, who lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, ate no other food than that which grew wild, and bathed frequently in cold water both night and day.[1] The extreme hermit form of the religious life was more fashionable in the first century of the Christian era among Gentiles than among Jews, and it is not unlikely that Josephus is embroidering his idea of life in an Essene community, rather than setting down his actual experience. An Essene he never became, but he remained throughout his life very partial to certain forms of the Essene belief, more especially those which coincided with the Greco-Roman superstitions of the time, such as the literal prediction of future events, the meaning of dreams, the significance of omens.[2] These ideas, handed down from primitive Israel, had lived on among the masses of the people, though discarded by the learned teachers, and Josephus, finding them in vogue among his masters, readily professed acceptance of them.

[Footnote 1: Vita, 2.]

[Footnote 2: Comp. B.J. II. viii. 12; III. viii. 3; VI. v. 4.]

Abandoning apparently the idea of being a hermit, Josephus at the age of nineteen returned to Jerusalem, and began to conduct himself according to the rules of the Pharisee sect, which is akin, he says, to the school of the Stoics. The comparison of the Pharisees with the Stoics is again misleading, and based on nothing more than the formal likeness of their doctrines about Providence. The Pharisees were essentially the party that upheld the whole tradition and the separateness of Israel. They numbered in their ranks the most popular teachers, and politically, though opposed to Rome and all its ways, they counseled submission so long as religious liberty was not infringed. It may be that Josephus only professed his attachment to them after his surrender, because, as pacifists and believers in moral as against physical force, they were favorably regarded by the Romans; but even if as a young and ambitious priest he attached himself to their body early in life in order to gain influence among the people, he was not a representative Pharisee. He obtained a certain acquaintance with the teaching of the Pharisees, and partly shared their political views, though not from the same motives as their true leaders. Yet the very next step in his life that he chronicles marks his outlook as fundamentally different.

At the age of twenty-six, after seven years in Jerusalem, during which he exercised his priestly functions, he journeyed to Rome. The cause of his voyage, on which he was picturesquely wrecked and had to swim for his life through the night, was the deliverance from prison of certain priests closely related to him, who had been sent there as prisoners by Felix, the tyrannical Roman governor. At Rome, through his acquaintance with Aliturius, an actor of plays, a favorite of Nero, and by birth a Jew, he came into touch with the profligate court. To the genuine Pharisee a Jewish play-actor would have been an abomination. Josephus used his acquaintance to obtain an introduction to Poppaea Sabina, the Emperor's wife for the time. Though a by-word for shamelessness of life, she was herself one of "the fearers of the Lord" ([Greek: sebomenoi]), who professed adherence to the Jewish creed without accepting the Jewish law. Josephus won her favor, and through it procured the liberation of the priests. The Imperial city was then at the height of its material magnificence, and must have made an immense impression of power upon the young Jewish aristocrat. Having acquired a lasting admiration for Rome and a desire to enter her society and a conviction of her invincibility, he returned to Palestine in triumph—and with the spirit of an opportunist. This at least is the picture he draws of himself, but a more kindly interpretation might see in the moment of his return the indication of a genuine patriotic feeling.

When he arrived in Jerusalem, in the year 65 C.E., he found his country seething with rebellion. The crisis soon came to a head. Gessius Florus, who owed his governorship, as Josephus owed the success of his errand, to the favor of the "God-fearing" Poppaea, roused the people to fury by his pillage of the Temple, and the moderates could no longer hold the masses in check. The Zealots seized the fortress of Antonia, which overlooked the Temple, and, having become masters of the city, murdered the high priest Ananias. Eleazar, whom Josephus, perhaps confusedly, describes as his son, an intense nationalist among the priests, became the leader in counsel, and sealed the rebellion by persuading the people to discontinue the daily sacrifice offered in the name of the Roman Emperor.

At the same time the extermination of the Jews in the Hellenistic cities, Caesarea, Scythopolis, and Damascus, by the infuriated Syrians, who organized a kind of Palestinian Vespers, convinced the people that they were engaged in a war to the death. The Herodian party, as the royal house and its supporters were called, endeavored to preserve peace, by dwelling on the overpowering might of Rome and the inevitable end of the insurrection, but in vain. In fear the priests withdrew to their duties in the Temple, and did not venture out till the Zealots were for a time dislodged. The Roman legate of Syria, Cestius Gallus, after the defeat of the Romanizing party by the Zealots, himself marched on Jerusalem in the autumn of 68 C.E. with two legions. But he failed ignominiously to quell the revolt. The Roman garrison in the city was put to the sword, and the legate, while beating a hasty retreat, was routed in the defiles of Beth-Horon, where two centuries before the Syrian hosts had been decimated by Judas the Maccabee. The two legions were cut to pieces. The fierce valor of the untrained national levies had broken the serried cohorts of the Roman veterans, and in the unexpectedness of this deliverance the party of rebellion for a time was triumphant among all sections of the Jewish people.

Even those who had been the most determined Romanizers, such as the high-priestly circle, were induced, either by a belief in the chances of success or from a desire to protect themselves by a seeming adherence to the national cause, to throw in their lot with the war party. It might have been better for their people, had they, like Agrippa, joined the Romans. Half-hearted at best in their support of the struggle, yet by their wealth and position able at first to obtain a commanding part in the conduct of the war, they used it to temporize with the foe and to dull the edge of the popular feeling. Josephus unfortunately does not enlighten us as to the inner movements in Judea at this crisis. He merely relates that the Sanhedrin became a council of war, and Palestine was divided into seven military districts, over most of which commanders of the Herodian faction were placed. Joseph the son of Gorion and Ananias the high priest, both members of the moderate party, were chosen as governors of Jerusalem, with a particular charge to repair the walls, and the Zealot leader Eleazar the son of Simon was passed over.

Josephus himself, though he possessed no military experience, and had apparently taken no part in the opening campaign, was made governor of Lower and Upper Galilee, the most important military post of all; for Galilee was the bulwark of Judea, and if the Romans could be successfully resisted there, the rebellion might hope for victory. It lay in a strategic position between the Roman outposts, Ptolemais (the modern Acre) on the coast and Agrippa's kingdom in the east. It was a country made for defense, a country of rugged mountains and natural fastnesses, and inhabited by a hardy and warlike population, which, for half a century, had been in constant insurrection. Thence had come the founders of the Zealots and the still more violent band of the Sicarii, and each town in the region had its popular leader. Josephus was expected to hold it with its own resources, for little help could be spared from the center of Palestine. Guerrilla fighting was the natural resource of an insurgent people, which had to win its freedom against well-trained and veteran armies. It had been the method of Judas Maccabaeus against Antiochus amid the hills of Judea. Josephus, however, made no attempt to practise it, and showed no vestige of appreciation of the needs of the case.

It is difficult to gather the reason of his appointment, unless it be that in his writings he deliberately kept back from the Romans the more enthusiastic part he had played at the outset of the struggle. So far as his own account goes, neither devotion to the national cause, nor experience, nor prestige, nor power of leadership, nor knowledge of the country recommended him. His distinguished birth and his friendship for Rome were hardly sufficient qualifications for the post. The influence of his friend, the ex-high priest Joshua ben Gamala, may have prevailed, and one is fain to surmise that those who sent him, as well as he himself, were anxious to pretend resistance to Rome, but really to work for resistance to the rebellion.

At all events, at the end of the autumn of 67, Josephus repaired to his command, taking with him two priests, Joazar and Judas, as representatives of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. In the record which he gives of his exploits in the Wars, he says that his first care was to gain the good-will of the people, drill his troops, and prepare the country to meet the threatened invasion. In the Life, which he wrote some twenty years later, when he had perforce to cultivate a more complete servility of mind, and was anxious to convince the Romans that he was a double-dealing traitor to his country, he represents that he set himself from the beginning to betray the province. The record of his actions points to the conclusion that he fell between the stools of covert treachery and half-hearted loyalty, that he was neither as villainous in design nor as heroic in action as he makes himself out to be. He made some show of preparation at the beginning, but from the moment the Roman army arrived under Vespasian, and he realized that Rome was in earnest, he abandoned all hope of success, and set himself to make his own position secure with the conqueror.

The chief cities of Galilee were Sepphoris, situated on the lower spurs of the hills near the plain of Esdraelon, which divides the country from Samaria and Judea; Tiberias, a city founded by Herod Antipas on the western borders of the Lake of Gennesareth, and Tarichea, also an Herodian foundation, situate probably at the southeast corner of the lake. All these Josephus fortified; and he strengthened with walls other smaller towns and natural fortresses, such as Jotapata, Salamis, and Gamala.[1] He says also that he appointed a Sanhedrin of seventy members for the province, and in each town established a court of seven judges, as though he were come to exercise a civil government. He did, however, get together an army of more than a hundred thousand young men, and armed them with the old weapons which he had collected. Though he despaired of their standing up against the Romans, he ordered them in the Roman style, appointing a large number of subordinate officers and teaching them the use of signals and a few elementary military movements. His army ultimately consisted of 60,000 footmen, 4,500 mercenaries, in whom he put greatest trust, and 600 picked men as his body-guard. He had little cavalry, but as Galilee was a country of hills, this deficiency need not have proved fatal, had he been a strategist or even a loyalist. During the eight months' respite that he enjoyed before the appearance of the Roman army, he spent most of his time in civil feud, and succeeded in dividing the population into two hostile parties. He boasts that, though he took up his command at an age when, if a man has happily escaped sin, he can scarcely guard himself against slander, he was perfectly honest, and refrained from stealing and peculation[2]; but he is at pains to prove that he threw every obstacle in the way of the patriotic party, and did all that an open enemy of the Jews could have done to undermine the defense of the province.

[Footnote 1: B.J. II. xx. 6. His account of his actions in Galilee is, however, from beginning to end, open to question; and the contemporary account of Justus has unfortunately disappeared entirely. It is likely that his rival's narrative would have shown him in a better light than his own.]

[Footnote 2: Vita, 15.]

Before his arrival in the north, the leader of the national party was John the son of Levi, a man of Gischala, which was one of the mountain fastnesses in Northern Galilee, now known as Jish, near the town of Safed.[1] Josephus heaps every variety of violent abuse upon him in order, no doubt, to please his patrons. When he introduces him on the scene, he describes him as "a very knavish and cunning rogue, outdoing all other rogues, and without his fellow for wicked practices. He was a ready liar, and yet very sharp in gaining credit for his fictions. He thought it a point of virtue to deceive, and would delude even those nearest to him. He had an aptitude for thieving," and so forth. Whenever the historian mentions the name of his rival, he rattles his box of abusive epithets until the reader is wearied by the image of the monster conjured up before him. But, unfortunately for his credit, Josephus also records John's deeds, and these reveal him as one who, if at times cruel and intriguing, yet lived and died for his country, while his enemy was thinking of saving himself.

[Footnote 1: The Hebrew name of the fortress was [Hebrew: Nosh Halav], meaning "clot of cream"; the place was so called because of the fertility of the soil on which it stands.]

It is not surprising then that John, having eyes only for the defense of the land, was not blind to the double-dealing of the priestly governor, who had been sent by the Romanizing party to organize resistance. The first event that brought about a collision between them was the suspicious conduct of Josephus in the matter of some spoil seized from the steward of King Agrippa and brought to Tarichea. Agrippa had entirely turned his back on the national rising, and was the faithful ally of the Romans. He was therefore an open enemy, and Tiberias, which had been under his dominion, had revolted from him. Josephus upbraided the captors for the violence they had offered to the king, and declared his intention to return the spoil to the owner. A little later he prevented John from destroying the corn in the province stored by the Romans for themselves. The people were naturally indignant at this conduct, and led by John and another Zealot, Jesus the son of Sapphias, the governor of Tiberias, and by Justus of the same city, who was afterwards to be a rival historian, they rose against Josephus. With stratagems worthy of a better cause he evaded this onslaught.

More briefly in the Wars, and in the Life at wearisome length, Josephus tells a tale of intrigue and counter-intrigue, mutual attempts at assassination, wiles and stratagems to undermine the power of each other, which took place between him and John. The city of Tarichea was his stronghold, Tiberias the hot-bed of the movement against him. The part he professes to have played is so extraordinary in its meanness that we are fain to believe that it is largely fiction, composed to show that he was only driven in the end by danger of his life to fight against the sacred power of Rome. However that may be, John reported his doings to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, and that body, which was now, it seems, in the control of the Pharisees and Zealots, sent a deputation to recall him. Simon, the celebrated head of the Sanhedrin and leader of the national party, had pressed for the dismissal of Josephus.[1] Ananias, the ex-high priest and Sadducee, had at first been his champion, but he had been overborne. The deputation consisted of two Pharisees, Jonathan and Ananias, and two priests, Joazar and Simon. Warned by his friends in Jerusalem of their coming, Josephus had all the passes watched, seized the embassy, and recaptured the four cities that had revolted from him: Sepphoris, Gamala, Gischala, and Tiberias. According to the account in the Wars, the cities revolted again, and were recaptured by similar stratagems; and when the disturbances in Galilee were quieted in this way, the people, ceasing to prosecute their civil dissensions, betook themselves to make preparations for the war against the Romans. The invasion had begun in earnest, and Josephus, fortified, as he said, by a dream, which told him not to be afraid, because he was to fight with the Romans, and would live happily thereafter, decided for the time not to abandon his post.

[Footnote 1: It is notable that this is the only reference in the work of Josephus to the great Rabbi; the name of his successor in the headship of the Sanhedrin, Johanan ben Zakkai, does not occur even once.]

Josephus had displayed his administrative talents in these eight months of peaceful government by losing all that had been gained in the four months of the successful rebellion at Jerusalem. He now had an opportunity of displaying his military abilities. In the spring of 67 C.E., Flavius Vespasian, the veteran commander of the legions in Germany and Britain, who, on the defeat of Cestius Gallus, had been chosen by Nero to conduct the Jewish campaign, brought his army of four legions from Antioch to Ptolemais. He was met there by King Agrippa, who brought a large force of auxiliaries, and by a deputation of citizens from Sepphoris, the chief city of Galilee, who tendered their submission and invited him to send a garrison. Josephus, though he knew of the city's Romanizing leanings, had negligently or deliberately failed to occupy it, so that the place was lost without a blow. He made a feeble effort to recapture it, for appearance sake it would seem, and then, though he had an unlimited choice of favorable positions, and the Roman forces were not very large at the time, he abandoned the attempt of meeting the enemy in the field. Titus arrived from Alexandria, with two more legions, the fifth and the tenth, and then the Roman army, numbering with auxiliaries 60,000 men, set out from Ptolemais, and proceeded to occupy Galilee.

The Jewish forces were encamped on the hills above Sepphoris. Josephus describes the wonderful array and order of the Roman army on the march. The sight seems to have led a large part of his army to run away. He himself, when he saw that he had not an army sufficient to engage the enemy, despaired of the success of the war, and determined to place himself as far as he could out of danger. In this inspiring mood he abandoned the rest of the country, sent a dispatch to Jerusalem demanding help, and threw himself into the fortress of Jotapata, situated on the crest of a mountain in Northern Galilee, which he chose as the most fit for his security. Vespasian, hearing of this step, and, as Josephus modestly suggests, "supposing that, could he only get Josephus into his power, he would have conquered all Judea," straightway laid siege to the town (Iyar 16). For forty-two days the place was besieged, and during that period every resource that heroic resistance could suggest, according to the narrative of its commandant, was exhausted. The height of the wall was raised to meet the Roman embankments, provisions were brought in by soldiers disguised in sheep-skins, the Roman works were destroyed by fire, boiling oil was poured on the assailants, and finally the city was not stormed till the garrison was worn out with famine and fatigue. But, as has been pointed out, the details recorded are "the commonplaces of poliorcetics," and may have been borrowed by Josephus from some military text-book and neatly applied. Jotapata fell on the first day of Tammuz, and whatever the heroism of his army, the general did not shine in the last days of his command or in the manner of his surrender. Suspected by his men and threatened by them with death, he was unable to give himself up openly. He took refuge with some of his comrades in a deep pit, where they were discovered by an old woman, who informed the Romans. Vespasian, who, we are again told, believed that, if he captured Josephus, the greater part of the war would be over, sent one Nicanor, well known to the Jewish commandant, to take him. Josephus, professing prophetical powers, offered to surrender, and quieted his conscience by a secret prayer to God, which is a sad compound of cant and cowardice:

"Since it pleaseth Thee, who hast created the Jewish nation, now to bring them low, and since their good fortune is gone over to the Romans, and since Thou hast chosen my soul to foretell what is to come to pass hereafter, I willingly surrender, and am content to live. I solemnly protest that I do not go over to the Romans as a deserter, but as Thy minister."

It may be that Josephus really believed he had prophetic powers, and thought he was imitating the great prophets of Israel and Judah who had proclaimed the uselessness of resistance to Assyria and Babylon. But they, while denouncing the wickedness of the people, had shared their lot with them. And Josephus, who weakly sought a refuge for himself after defeat, resembles rather the prophets whom Jeremiah denounced: "They speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. They say still unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto everyone that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you."[1] His comrades however prevented him from giving himself up, and called on him to play a braver part and die with them, each by his own hand. He put them off by talking philosophically, as he has it, about the sin of suicide, a euphemism for a collection of commonplaces on the duty of preserving their lives. But when this enraged them, he bethought him of another device, and proposed that they should cast lots to kill each other. They assented, and by Divine Providence he was left to the last with one other, whom he persuaded to break his oath and live likewise.[2] Having thus escaped, he was led by Nicanor to Vespasian, the whole Roman army gathering around to gaze on the hero. Continuing his prophetical function, when he found that he was like to be sent to Nero, he announced to Vespasian, "Thou art Caesar and Emperor, thou, and this thy son.... thou art not only lord over me, but over the land and the sea and all mankind." The Roman general was incredulous, till, hearing that his prisoner had foretold the length of the siege of Jotapata—a prophecy which, of course, he had the ability to fulfil—and further, on the report of the death of Nero, having conceived the possibility of becoming Emperor, he had regard to the Jewish prophet, and, without setting him at liberty, bestowed favors on him, and made him easy about his future. Such was the end of the military career of Josephus.

[Footnote 1: Jer. 23: 16-17.]

[Footnote 2: A charitable explanation of this self-debasing account of Josephus is that he was driven to invent some story to extenuate his resistance to the Romans, and had to blacken his reputation as a patriot to save his skin. The fact that he was kept prisoner some time by Vespasian suggests that he was not so big a traitor as he pretends.]

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, the head of the Pharisees, was carried in a coffin outside the walls of Jerusalem by his disciples, and was brought to the Roman camp, where he hailed Vespasian as Emperor and Caesar, and thereby gained his favor. If not apocryphal, the event must have happened in 69 C.E., when the Roman commander was generally expected to aim at the Imperial throne, then the object of strife between rival commanders. The rabbi belonged to the peace party, and from the beginning had opposed the war. And though his action was disapproved by the later generations, it was justified by his subsequent conduct; for it was he who, by founding the famous college at Jabneh, kept alive the Jewish spirit after the fall of the nation. For him surrender was a valid means to the preservation of the nation. The action of Josephus hardly bears the same justification. His desire for self-preservation was natural enough, but his manner of effecting it was not honorable. He was a general who, having taken a lead in the struggle for independence, had seen all his men fall, and had at the end invited the last of his comrades to kill each other, and he saved his life by sacrificing his honor. His mind was from the beginning of the struggle subjugated to Rome, but unhappily he accepted the most responsible post in the national defense and betrayed it. His address to Vespasian was mere flattery, designed to impose on a superstitious man's credulity; for the ear of Vespasian, says Merivale, "was always open to pretenders to supernatural knowledge." Lastly Josephus used his safety, not for the purpose of preserving the Jewish heritage, but for personal ends. He became a flunkey of the Flavian house, and straightway started on the transformation from a Jewish priest and soldier into a Roman courtier and literary hireling. Hard circumstances compelled him to choose between a noble and an ignoble part, between heroic action and weak submission. He was a mediocre man, and chose the way that was not heroic and glorious. Posterity gained something by his choice; his own reputation was fatally marred by it.



Josephus was little more than thirty years old at the time of his surrender. At an age when men usually begin to realize their ambition and ideal, his whole life's course was changed: he had to abandon all his old associations, and accommodate himself to a different and indeed a hostile society. Henceforth he was a liege of the Roman conqueror, and had to submit to be Romanized not only in name but in spirit. His condition was indeed a thinly-disguised servitude. The Romans were an imperious as well as an Imperial people, and though in some circumstances they were ready to spare the lives of those who yielded, they required of them a surrender of opinion and an abasement of soul. For the rest of his years, which comprehended the whole of his literary activity, Josephus was not therefore a free man. He acted, spoke, and wrote to order, compelled, whenever called upon, to do the will of his masters. His legal condition was first that of a libertus (a freedman) of Vespasian, and as such he owed by law certain definite obligations to his patron's family. But the moral subservience of the favored prisoner of a subjugated people must have been a far profounder thing than the legal obligation arising from his status; and this enforced moral and mental subservience is a cardinal point to be remembered in forming a judgment upon Josephus. His expressed opinions are often not the revelation of his own mind, but the galling tribute which he was compelled to pay for his life. And apart from the involuntary and undeliberate adoption of Roman standards, which, living isolated from Jewish life in Rome, he could not escape, he had in writing, and no doubt in conversation, deliberately and consciously to assume the deepest-seated of the Roman prejudices towards his own people. Liberty has been defined as the power of a man to call his soul his own. And in that sense Josephus emphatically did not possess liberty. We must be on our guard, therefore, against regarding him as an independent historian, much less as writing from an independent Jewish point of view. From the time of his surrender till his death he lived and wrote as the client of the Flavian house, and all his works had to pass the Imperial censorship.

His domestic life is characteristic of his subservience. At the bidding of Vespasian, when in the Roman camp at Caesarea, he divorced his first wife, who was locked up in Jerusalem during the siege. Though by Jewish law it was forbidden to a priest to marry a captive woman, he took as his second wife a Jewess that had been brought into the Roman camp. Having no children by her, he divorced her after a year, and married again at Alexandria. By his third wife he had three sons, but with a Roman's carelessness of the marriage bond he divorced her late in life, and married finally a noble Jewess of Crete, by whom he had two more sons, Justus and Simon Agrippa. His last two wives, be it noted, came from Hellenistic-Jewish communities, and were doubtless able to assist him in acquiring Greek.

The public as well as the domestic life of Josephus was controlled by the Roman commander. Till the end of the Jewish struggle it followed the progress of the Roman arms. He continued to play an active part in the war, not, however, as a leader of the Jews, but as the adviser of their enemies. He was attached to the staff of Titus, and after witnessing the fall of the two fortresses of Galilee, Gamala and Gischala, which held out bravely under John after the capture of Jotapata, he accompanied the Roman at the end of the year 68 to Alexandria. There he spent a year, till a change of fortune came to him.

During the year 68, Vespasian captured the two chief cities which the Jewish national party held to the east side of the Jordan, Gadara and Gerasa. He then prepared to lay siege to Jerusalem. But hearing of the death of Nero and of the chaos at Rome that followed it, he stayed operations to await events in Italy. In the following year, largely by the aid of the Jewish apostate Tiberius Alexander, he secured the allegiance of all the Eastern legions, and was proclaimed Emperor. Three other generals laid claim to the same dignity, under the same title of armed force, but in the end Vespasian's friends in Italy made themselves masters of Rome, and he repaired himself to the capital and donned the purple. Josephus was rewarded with his complete freedom, and assumed henceforth the family name of his Imperial patrons. When, at the end of the year 69, Titus was appointed by his father to finish the war, he accompanied him back to Palestine. In the eighteen months' respite that had been vouchsafed to them, the Jews had spent their energy and undermined their powers of resistance by internecine strife. According to the account in the Wars, which unfortunately is the only full record we have of events, John of Gischala, fleeing to Jerusalem after the fall of the Galilean fortresses, roused the Zealots against the high priest Ananias, who was directing the Jewish policy towards submission to Rome. Ananias, who was of the same party as Josephus, seems to have come to the conclusion that resistance was hopeless, and he was anxious to make terms. John called in to his aid the half-savage Idumeans, who had joined the Jewish rebellion against Rome. They entered the city, and, possessing themselves of the Temple mount, spread havoc. The Temple itself ran with blood, and 8500 dead bodies, among them that of the high priest, defiled its precincts.[1] Josephus, who, to suit the Roman taste, identifies religion and ritual, declares that the fall of the city and the ruin of the nation are to be dated from that day, and upon Ananias he passes a eulogy that is likewise written with an eye to Roman predilections:

"He was a prodigious lover of liberty and of democracy; he ever preferred the public welfare before his own advantage, and he was thoroughly sensible that the Romans were invincible. And I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed the city to destruction on account of its pollution, and was resolved to purge His sanctuary with fire, that He cut off thus its great protector."

[Footnote 1: B.J. IV. vi. 1.]

For the better part of a year, according to our historian, the Zealots maintained a reign of terror, and the various parties fought against one another in the Holy City as fiercely as the Girondists and Jacobins of the French Revolution. But on the approach of Titus they abandoned their strife and united to resist the foe. The Roman general brought with him four legions, the fifth, tenth, twelfth, and fifteenth, besides a large following of auxiliaries, and his whole force amounted to 80,000 men. As head of his staff came Tiberius Alexander, the renegade nephew of Philo and formerly procurator of Judea. Josephus also was on the besieger's staff—possibly he was an officer of the body-guard (praefectus praetorio)—and was employed to bring his countrymen to reason. Himself convinced, almost from the moment when he took up arms, of the certainty of Rome's ultimate victory, and doubly convinced now, partly from superstitious fatalism, partly from a need for extenuating his own submission, he wasted his eloquence in efforts to make them surrender. He knew that within the besieged city there was a considerable Romanizing faction (including his own father), and either he believed, or he had to pretend to believe, that he could bring over the mass to their way of thinking. On various occasions during the siege he was sent to the walls to summon the defenders to lay down their arms. He enlarged each time on the invincible power of Rome, on the hopelessness of resistance, on the clemency of Titus if they would yield, and on the terrible fate which would befall them and the Temple if they fought to the bitter end. What must have specially aroused the fury of the Zealots was his insistence that the Divine Providence was now on the side of the Romans, and that in resisting they were sinning against God. It is little wonder that on one occasion when making these harangues he was struck by a dart, and that his father was placed in prison by the Zealots. Indeed it says much for the tolerance of those whom he constantly reviles as the most abandoned scoundrels and the most cruel tyrants that they did not do him and his family greater hurt.

Titus, after beating back desperate attacks by the Jews, fixed his camp on Mount Scopas, by the side of the Mount of Olives, to the north of the city, and, abandoning the idea of taking the city fortress by storm, prepared to beleaguer it in regular form. The Jews were not prepared for a siege. Josephus and the Rabbis[1] agree that the supplies of corn had been burnt by the Zealots during the civil disturbances; and as the arrival of Titus coincided with the Passover, myriads of people, who had come up from all parts of the country and the Diaspora to celebrate the festival, were crowded within its walls. It is estimated that their number exceeded two and a half million. The capital was a hard place to capture. Josephus, following probably a Roman authority, gives an account of the fortifications of Jerusalem from the point of view of the besieger, which is confirmed in large part by modern research.[2] On the southeast and west the city was unapproachable by reason of the sheer ravines of Kedron and Hinnom, overlooked by almost perpendicular precipices, which surrounded it. It was vulnerable therefore only on the north, where the two heights on which it was built were connected with the main ridge of the Judean hills; and here it was fortified with three walls. The outermost, which was built by Agrippa I, encompassed the new quarter of Bezetha, which lay outside the Temple mount to the northeast. The second wall encompassed the part of the city on the Temple Mount and reached as far as the Tower of Antonia, which overlooked and protected the Temple. The third or innermost wall was the oldest, and encompassed the whole of the ancient city where it was open, including the hill Acra or Zion on the southeast, which was divided from Mount Moriah by the cleft known as the Tyropoeon, or cheese-market. Beyond this hill there was another eminence sloping gradually to the north, till it dropped into the valley of Jehoshaphat with an escarpment of two hundred feet.

[Footnote 1: Comp. Abot de Rabbi Nathan, vi., ed. Schechter, p. 32.]

[Footnote 2: B.J. V. iv. 1.]

Thus the rampart surrounded the two hills with a continuous line of defense, and the three quarters of the city were separated from each other by distinct walls, so that each could hold out when the other had fallen. The walls were strengthened with several towers, of which the most important were Psephinus, on the third wall at the northwest corner, Hippicus, on the old wall, which was opposite Phasaelus, and Mariamne. But the strongest, largest, and most beautiful fortress in Jerusalem was the Temple itself. It was not merely the visible center of Judaism, it was the citadel of Judea. As each successive court rose higher than the last, the "Mountain of the House" itself stood on the highest point of the inclosure. The Temple was guarded by the tower of Antonia, situated at the corner of the two cloisters, upon a rock fifty cubits high, overlooking a precipice. Like the other towers, Antonia was built by Herod, and manifested his love of largeness and strength. Within these fortifications there were eleven thousand men under Simon, and not more than thirty thousand trained soldiers under John, to pit against eighty thousand Roman veterans; but of the two and a half million people who, it is calculated, were shut up in the city, thousands were ready at any moment to sally upon the besiegers and lay down their lives for their beloved sanctuary.

Within the city, however, there were also a number of persons wavering in their desire for resistance and anxious to find a favorable opportunity of going over to the Romans. The leaders of the high-priestly party had been killed by the Zealots, but their followers remained to hamper the defense of the city. If Josephus is to be believed, during the respite of the Passover festival at the beginning of the siege, while the Romans were preparing their approaches and siege works, the party strife again broke out. Eleazar opened the gates of the Temple to admit the people for the festival, but John, taking treacherous advantage of the opportunity, led his men in with arms concealed beneath their garments, put his opponents to the sword, and seized the sanctuary. Josephus further represents that throughout the siege Simon and John, while resisting the Romans and defending different parts of the walls, were still engaged in their internecine strife, "and did everything that the besiegers could desire them to do."[1]

[Footnote 1: B.J. V. vi.]

The story has not the stamp of probability, and it is more likely that Josephus is distorting the jealousies of the two commanders into the dimensions of civil strife. Anyhow, the resistance which the Jews offered to the Romans showed the stubbornness of despair, or what the historian calls "their natural endurance in misfortune." At every step the legionaries were checked; in pitching their camp, in making their earthworks, in bringing up their machines; and frequently desperate sallies were made by the defenders upon the Roman entrenchments. Nevertheless, after fifteen days the first wall was captured, and in five days more the second was taken. By a desperate sally the besieged recovered it for a little, but were again driven back by superior numbers and force. Josephus is fond of contrasting the different tempers of the two armies: on the one side power and skill, on the other boldness and the courage born of despair; here the habit of conquering, there intense national ardor.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse