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Excerpt from The Jewish War, by Flavius Josephus
Updated 30-01-2011
THE JEWISH WAR

of

FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

A New Translation, by Robert Traill, London, 1851.

Volume II.


BOOK VI.
CHAPTER V.

1. WHILE the sanctuary was in flames, every thing that fell in their way became a prey to rapine, and prodigious was the slaughter of those found there. To no age was pity shown, to no rank respect; but children and old men, secular persons and priests, were overwhelmed in one common ruin. All ranks were enclosed in the embrace of war, and hunted down — as well those who sued for mercy, as those who made defence. The flames, borne far and wide, united their roar with the groans of the falling; and owing to the height of the hill, and the magnitude of the burning pile, one would have supposed the entire city in a blaze. Than the din of that moment nothing could be conceived louder or more fearful. There was the exulting war-cry of the Roman legions, as they moved in mass, the shrieks of the insurgents, encircled by fire and sword, and the wailing of the people over their calamities, as deserted on the high ground, they turned in consternation towards the enemy. The multitude in the city blended their cries with the cries of those upon the hill; and now, many emaciated by famine, and whose lips had closed, when they beheld the sanctuary in a blaze, again gathered strength for lamentations and cries. The city beyond returned the echo, as did the mountains around, deepening the uproar: yet were the sufferings still more fearful than the confusion. You would indeed have thought that the hill on which the sacred edifice stood was boiling up from its base, being everywhere one mass of flame, and that the stream of blood was ampler still than the fire, and the slaughtered more numerous than the slaughterers. The ground was nowhere visible, so covered was it with the dead; but the soldiers had to climb over heaps of bodies in pursuit of the fugitives. At length, however, the brigand crowd having forced back the Romans, opened a way with difficulty into the outer court of the temple, and from thence into the town. What remained of the populace took refuge upon the outer colonnade.

Some of the priests at first tore up the spikes, with their leaden sockets, from the sanctuary, and hurled them at the Romans; but afterwards, finding all unavailing, and the flames already bursting forth against them, they retired to the wall, which was eight cubits in breadth, and there remained. Two men of distinction, however, Meirus, son of Belgas, and Josephus, son of Daheus, who, if so inclined, might have saved their lives by going over to the Romans, or have held out and taken their chance with the rest, plunged into the fire, and perished in the flames of the temple.

2. The Romans, thinking it useless, now that the sanctuary was burning, to spare the buildings around, set fire to them all, both the remains of the colonnades and the gates, two of the latter excepted, one on the east, and the other on the south. These also they subsequently razed to the foundations. They burned, likewise, the treasure chambers, in which were immense sums of money, garments innumerable, and other valuables; for this, in a word, was the general repository of Jewish wealth, the houses of the opulent having been there dismantled. The Romans next proceeded to the remaining colonnade of the outer court of the temple, on which the women and children of the populace had taken refuge, with a vast promiscuous multitude, amounting to six thousand.

Before Caesar had determined respecting them, or the officers had given orders, the soldiers, hurried on by rage, set fire to the colonnade; whereupon some, throwing themselves out of the flames, thus lost their lives, others perished amid them; so that, of so great a multitude, not one escaped. Their destruction was caused by a false prophet, who had on that day proclaimed to those remaining in the city, that "God commanded them to go up to the temple, there to receive the signs of their deliverance." There were at this period many prophets suborned by the tyrants to delude the people, by bidding them wait for help from God, in order that there might be less desertion, and that those who were above fear and control might be encouraged by hope. Under calamities man readily yields to persuasion; but when the deceiver pictures to him deliverance from pressing evils, then the sufferer is wholly influenced by hope.


3. Thus it was that the impostors and pretended messengers of Heaven at that time beguiled the wretched people; while the manifest portents that foreshowed the approaching desolation they neither heeded nor credited; but, as if confounded and bereft alike of eyes and mind, they disregarded the immediate warnings of God. Thus it was when a star resembling a sword stood over the city, and a comet which continued for a year. Thus also it was, when, prior to the revolt and the first movements of the war, at the time when the people were assembling for the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth of the month Xanthicus, at the ninth hour of the night, so vivid a light shone round the altar and the sanctuary that it seemed to be bright day; and this lasted for half an hour. By the inexperienced this was deemed favourable, but by the sacred scribes it was at once pronounced a prelude of that which afterwards happened. At the same festival also, a cow having been led by some one to the sacrifice, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the court of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner court — which was of brass and extremely massive, and, when closed towards evening, could scarcely be moved by twenty men, and which was fastened with bars shod with iron, and secured by bolts sunk to a great depth in a threshold which consisted of one stone throughout — was observed, about the sixth hour of the night, to have opened of its own accord. The guards of the temple ran and informed the captain, who having repaired to the spot could scarcely succeed in shutting it. This again to the unlearned seemed a most auspicious omen; for God, they thought, had unfolded to them the gate of blessings; but the learned considered that the security of the temple was dissolving of its own accord, and the gate opened for the advantage of the enemy; and explained it among themselves as a sign of impending desolation.

Not many days after the festival, on the twenty-first of the month Artemisius, there appeared a phenomenon so marvellous as to exceed credibility. What I am about to relate would, I conceive, be deemed a mere fable, had it not been related by eye-witnesses, and attended by calamities commensurate with such portents. Before sunset were seen around the whole country chariots poised in the air, and armed battalions speeding through the clouds and investing the cities. And at the feast which is called Pentecost, the priests having entered the inner court of the temple by night, as was their custom, for discharge of their ministrations, their attention was drawn at first, they said, by a movement and a clanging noise, and after this by a voice as of a multitude, "We are departing hence."

But a story more fearful still remains. Four years prior to the war, while the city was enjoying the utmost peace and prosperity, there came to the feast in which it is the custom for all to erect tabernacles to God, one Jesus, son of Ananus, a rustic of humble parentage, who, standing in the temple, suddenly began to call aloud, "A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds; a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against all the people." Day and night he traversed all the streets with this cry. Some citizens, incensed at so ominous a voice, apprehended the man, and severely scourged him. But without uttering a word in his own behalf, nor anything privately to those who beat him, he continued his cry as before. At length the rulers, supposing, and justly so, that the man was under some supernatural impulse, conducted him to the presence of the Roman procurator, where, though lacerated with scourges to the very bone, he neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear: but modulating his voice to a tone the most mournful that was possible, repeated at every stroke, " Woe! woe! unto Jerusalem." Albinus the procurator, demanding who he was? and whence? and why he uttered these words? he made no manner of reply, desisting not from his lamentation over the city, until Albinus, concluding that he was a maniac, set him at liberty.

Up to the breaking out of the war, he neither associated with any of the citizens, nor was he seen to speak to any one; but, as if it were a prayer that he had been meditating upon, daily uttered his lament, "Woe! woe! unto Jerusalem." He neither cursed those who beat him from day to day, nor gave his blessing to such as supplied him with food: to all, the melancholy presage was his one reply. His voice was loudest at the festivals; and, though for seven years and five months he continued his wail, neither did his voice become feeble nor did he grow weary, until, during the siege, after beholding his presages verified, he ceased. For, as he was going his round on the wall, crying with a piercing voice, "Woe! woe! once more, to the city, to the people, and to the temple;" when at the last he had added, "Woe! woe! to myself also," he was struck by a stone shot from the ballista, and killed upon the spot: still uttering with his dying lips the same portentous words.

4. If we reflect on these events, we shall find that God exercises care over men, in every way foreshowing to their race the means of safety: but that they perish through their own folly and self-incurred evils. Thus the Jews, after the demolition of the Antonia, reduced their temple to a square, though they had it recorded in their oracles, that "the city and the sanctuary would be taken, when the temple should become square." But what chiefly incited them to the war was an ambiguous prophecy, likewise found in their sacred writings, that "about this period some one from their country should obtain the empire of the world." This they received as applying to themselves, and many eminent for wisdom were deceived in the interpretation of it. The oracle, however, in reality indicated the elevation of Vespasian — he having been proclaimed emperor in Judaea. But it is not possible for men to avoid their fate, even though they foresee it. Some of these portents they interpreted according to their pleasure, others they treated with contempt, until their folly was exposed by the conquest of their country, and their own destruction.
_______




Created 29/01 2011, 03:33. Latest edited 30-01-2011, 04:20


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