Last Days of Jerusalem: From Josephus - Alfred J. Church

The Taking of the City

The Jews that were in the Temple caused no small loss to the Romans by this device. Having filled the space that was between the beams and the roof of the cloister that stood westward of the Temple with wood and sulphur and bitumen, they fell back as though they were wearied of defending. Whereupon many of the Romans set ladders against it and climbed on to the top; but the wiser sort remained in their place. So soon then as the cloister was covered with them that had climbed on to it, the Jews put fire underneath, so that in a very short space the flames surrounded it on every side. Then some leapt down among their friends, and some among the enemy, breaking their limbs for the most part in the fall; and many were destroyed by the fire; and some slew themselves with. their swords, judging it better so to die. Among these last was a certain Longus, to whom the Jews promised his life if he would yield himself to them. But his brother Cornelius exhorted him not so to disgrace his name and country; whereupon the young man lifted up his sword in the sight of both armies and slew himself. Of those who were cut off by the fire, one Artorius saved his life by craft. He called with a loud voice to a certain fellow-soldier, Lucius by name, saying, "I will leave thee all my goods if thou wilt come hither and receive me when I fall." So the man came, and Artorius leaping down upon him was saved, but Lucius being dashed upon the pavement died forthwith. The western cloister being now burnt the Romans also set fire to that which stood on the north of the Temple.

In these days the famine increased, and the inhabitants of the City suffered such things by reason of it as it is not possible to tell. For in every household if there was to be seen so much as the shadow of food, there was war, men contending with them that were dearest to them. And now even the soldiers were hard pressed by hunger, and ran about through the City as greedy dogs, and scarcely knew for weakness whither they went. And necessity compelled them to devour all manner of things, so that they would gather for themselves even such as the vilest of brute beasts use not; they eat also their girdles and sandals, and tearing the leather thongs from their shields they rent them with their teeth. And some devoured morsels of dried grass; and others gathered leaves of trees; these indeed were sold for a great weight of silver.

But what men did in the fury of their hunger with such things as these is of small account; for now there must be related such a deed as was never told of the Greeks, or of the Romans, or of any tribe of the barbarians; a most horrible thing in truth and scarcely to be believed.

There was a certain woman of the region that lieth eastward of Jordan, and her name was Mary, the daughter of Eleazar, of Bethezob, which is by interpretation the "house of hyssop." She was of a noble house and wealthy, and had taken refuge in the City. But the men of war had robbed her of all the possessions which she had brought with her from beyond Jordan. This had stirred her up to great anger, and she reproached the men daily with all manner of hard words and revilings; but when no man would slay her either for anger or for pity, and she was grievously tormented by hunger, she did a horrible deed and contrary to nature, for she caught up the sucking child that she had, and roasted his flesh, and having eaten the half of it herself put by that which was left. And in a short space of time came the men of war, for they smelt the savour of the food, and threatened that they would slay her forthwith, if she would not bring forth that which she had prepared. And the woman said, "I have kept a goodly portion for you," and uncovered that which remained of her son. And when the men stood astonished, she cried, "Eat ye, even as I have eaten. Why should ye be softer than a woman or more merciful than a mother? But if perchance ye have a scruple, and will not eat of my sacrifice, then as I have eaten the half, so may ye leave me that which remains." And the men departed trembling. This thing was noised abroad throughout the City, and all who heard it said that they were happy indeed who had died before that they had seen or heard such things.

[Illustration] from Last Days of Jerusalem by Alfred J. Church


But when this came to the ears of Titus, he protested that this was not of his doing, for that he had offered to the Jews peace, and to be governed according to their own laws, and pardon for all that had been done; but that they, having refused these things, deserved that such dreadful things should come upon them. At the same time he was now certain in himself that there was no more hope that the Jews would come to a sound mind so as to yield themselves to him.

On the eighth day of the month of August, the rams began to batter the western gate of the Inner Court; but when they had battered for six days and had done nothing, neither could the stones be moved by levers and the like, Titus commanded the soldiers that they should get to the cloisters and climb on to them. But this also they could not accomplish, for many were slain to no purpose, and certain standards also were taken. Then Titus, being unwilling that his soldiers should suffer this loss any more, commanded that they should set fire to the gates. When this had been done, the silver melting, the fire made its way to the wood and spread quickly to the cloisters round about; nor did the Jews seek to quench it, for they were as men that had lost all hope. All that day and night therefore the fire burned; and on the morrow Titus, having given commandment to some of the soldiers that they should extinguish the fire and clear the way to the Temple, called a council of his chief captains. Some thought that the Temple should he destroyed, for that the Jews would never cease to rebel so long as they should have this refuge whereunto they could fly. Others thought that the Temple might be spared, if only the Jews would leave it, for that now it was not a temple but a fort. But Titus said, "That even it, the Jews should make war from the Temple, yet would he spare it, for that he would not avenge on that which had no life the wickedness of many and that it would be a shame to the Roman people if that should be destroyed which was the glory of the whole world."

That day the Jews rested and did nothing; but on the morrow they took courage and issued forth from the eastern gate against them that kept the Outer Court. This they did about the second hour of the day. And doubtless they had overcome them, being more in number, only Titus, seeing what had befallen from the Tower of Antony, came to the help of the Romans with certain horsemen. The Jews could not stand before him, but were forced to flee; yet when the Romans retreated they turned again to the attack; but at the last, about the fifth hour of the day, were driven back into the Inner Court of the Temple.

Then Titus, being resolved that on the morrow he would attack the Temple with all his might, went back to the Tower of Antony. But indeed the day was come when it was appointed that it should perish, being the self-same day on which the former Temple had been burnt by the King of Babylon. But now the beginning of the destruction was from the Jews themselves; for, when Titus had departed, these, having rested awhile, set again upon the Romans in the Outer Court, who were seeking to quench the burning of the cloisters. These, putting the Jews to flight, came in their pursuit as far as the Inner Court. Whereupon a certain soldier, lifting himself on the shoulders of a comrade, cast a torch which he had caught up from the burning, through a door in the wall, from which access was had to the chambers that were about the Temple on the north side. This he did without any commandment given, but, as it would seem, by a certain Divine inspiration. And when the Jews saw the fire, for it rose up forthwith, they set up a great cry, and ran to help, for they did not care to live now that the place which they had defended was ready to perish.

Then one ran to tell Titus, who lay asleep in his tent. And forthwith he ran with all speed to the Temple, if he might hinder the burning, the captains following him and a great multitude of men with them. But though he cried to the soldiers, and signed also with his hand that they should quench the burning, it profited nothing, for they could neither see nor hear him for the noise and tumult. And as for the multitude that followed, they took no heed of anything, but rushed with all speed into the Temple, trampling one another down in the narrow gateways, and stumbling on the ruins, so that many perished along with the enemy. And the commands of Titus they heard not, or made as if they heard not, but cast firebrands on to that which was not yet burning, and slaughtered multitudes of the people, so that the dead bodies were piled up against the altar, and the blood flowed down the steps of the Temple.

Then Titus, seeing that he could not stay the fury of the soldiers, and that the fire increased continually, entered with his captains into the Holy Place. Yet, seeing how beautiful it was and richly adorned, beyond all report that had gone forth of its beauty and riches, and that the fire had not yet touched it, but consumed the outer chambers, he sought yet once more to save it, crying out to the soldiers that they should quench the fire, and to Liberalis, the centurion of his bodyguard, to lay hands on such as were disobedient. But wrath and hatred of the enemy, and the desire of plunder, prevailed over their reverence for Csar. And at last a certain soldier, not being seen, for the place was dark, thrust a lighted torch between the hinges of the door; whereupon the flame rose up in a moment, and Titus and his captains were driven perforce out of the place. Thus did the Temple perish. And from the building of the First Temple, by Solomon, were one-thousand-one-hundred-and-thirty years and seven months and fifteen days, and from the building of the Second Temple, in the days of Cyrus the Persian, six-hundred-and-thirty-nine years and forty-five days.

And while the Temple was burning, the soldiers ceased not to slay all whom they met; nor had they pity for youth, or reverence for old age, but put both old and young, people and priests, to the sword. And there went up a great and terrible clamour, the soldiers shouting aloud for joy, and the Jews crying out as they saw themselves surrounded with fire and sword, and the people bewailing the Temple, for even they who could scarce speak for the weakness of hunger, when they saw the burning of the Holy Place brake forth with loud lamentations. As for the Temple, and the hill whereon it stood, the ground could not be seen for dead bodies; and the soldiers trampled on heaps of corpses as they pursued them that fled. As for the rebels, the greater part of them brake through the ranks of the Romans into the Outer Court, and so escaped into the Upper City. Some of the priests used the spits of the service of the Temple and the seats, which were of lead, for missiles which they might cast against the Romans; and two of them, when they might have yielded themselves to Titus, or fled with their companions, threw themselves into the fire, and so perished.

The Romans, indeed, thinking that the Temple being burnt, it profited nothing to save that which was left, set fire to all the buildings that were round about it, so that two only of the gates were left, and these also they afterwards destroyed. The treasury also was burnt, in which there was treasure that could not be counted, and garments without number, and ornaments, and, indeed, all the riches of the nation of the Jews. And now there remained one cloister of the Outer Court, in which were gathered many women and children, and a mixed multitude of men, six thousand in all. And to this, before Titus gave any commandment in the matter, the soldiers in their fury set fire; and these all perished. Now the cause why they were gathered together in the cloister was this. A certain false prophet had said, "Hear the word of the Lord. Go ye up into the Temple, and the Lord shall give you there signs of deliverance." And, indeed, the seditious suborned many false prophets to speak to the people, saying that the Lord would help them, that they might not go over to the Romans.

Yet were there many manifest signs and portents by which the desolation to come was signified; but they would not believe or understand. For they were as men smitten with madness, and blinded both in eyes and heart; and heeded not the tokens of God. For, first of all, there stood over the City a star that had the form of a sword, and a comet that ceased not to burn for the space of a whole year. Also before the beginning of the war, when the people were assembled for the Passover, on the eighth day of the month Nisan, at the ninth hour of the night, there shone round about the Temple and the altar a light as great as the light of noonday; and this endured for the space of half-an-hour. This thing the unlearned took for a sign of good things to come; but the Scribes judged that it portended the evils which indeed came to pass afterwards. A heifer also in the same feast, when the priest was leading it to the altar for sacrifice, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the Temple. Also the door of the Holy Place, looking to the westward, being wholly of bronze, and of a very great weight, so that when it was shut in the evening, twenty men could scarce move it, and which had bolts of iron, and posts of stone in one piece, driven very deep into a threshold of stone, was found open of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Which thing the keepers of the Temple ran and told to the captain, and he, coming with others, was scarcely able to shut it. This also seemed to the ignorant and unlearned a very excellent sign, that God had opened to the people a gate of good things; but the learned thought that this rather was signified by it, that the Temple, having been safe heretofore, now opened its gates to the enemy, and that desolation was about to come upon it. Also on certain days after the festival there appeared a thing so marvellous as to be beyond belief, but that it was related by many that saw it with their own eyes. Before the setting of the sun there were seen chariots driven across the sky, and hosts of armed men setting themselves in order of battle, and surrounding cities. And on the day of Pentecost, when the priests entered the Temple at night to do after the manner of their office, they heard the sound as of many feet, and the voice as of a great multitude saying, LET US GO HENCE. But a thing yet more terrible than these is yet to he told. A certain Joshua, the son of Ananus, a countryman, and one of the common folks, four years before the beginning of the war, the City being at peace and abounding with all manner of stores, began of a sudden to cry out, "A voice from the east; a voice from the west; a voice from the four winds; a voice against Jerusalem, and against the Temple; a voice against the bridegroom and the bride; a voice against the whole people." And he went about through the streets of the City crying these words both day and night. Then some of the chief of the people, taking it ill that he should say continually words of such evil meaning, laid hands upon him and scourged him. But he spake not one word for himself, nor made supplication to them that scourged him, but ceased not to cry out as before. After this, the rulers of the people, thinking that he spake by some power that was more than that of a man (and this indeed was so), brought him before the Roman governor. But though the governor caused him to he scourged, even to the laying bare of his bones, the man used neither entreaties nor tears. Only at every stroke he cried out as loud as he could with a very lamentable voice, "Woe to Jerusalem." And when Albinus asked him (for Albinus was governor in those days), "Who art thou, and whence didst thou come? and why sayest thou these things?" Joshua answered him not a word, but ceased not to make lamentation over the City, till Albinus, judging that he was mad, let him depart. And the man, until the beginning of the war, neither came into any house, nor spake to any man, but lamented in these words, "Woe to Jerusalem." Nor, though he was beaten daily, did he curse any man, nor did he bless any that gave him food, but his answer to all was in these words only. And he was most instant in crying them on feast days. And when he had done this for the space of seven years and five months (yet his voice was not hoarse, nor he himself weary), at the last, when his prophecy was now fulfilled, he ceased from his crying. For on a certain day, as he went about on the walls and cried, after his custom, "Woe to the City, and to the Temple, and to the people," of a sudden he added, "woe also to myself." And when he had said these words, a stone from one of the engines smote him that he died.

Whoever will note these things may know that God hath a care for men, and showeth them beforehand such things as concern their welfare, and that if they perish, they perish from their own madness and the evil of their own choosing. So there was a certain oracle: "The Temple and the City shall be taken when the shape of the Temple shall be four-square." And this, indeed, came to pass when the Tower of Antony was taken and destroyed. But the thing that more than all stirred the people up to war, was a certain saying that was found in their Scriptures, "In those days there shall go forth from this land one who shall be Lord of the whole world." These words they took to themselves, so that many even of the wiser sort were deceived by a false interpretation, nor did they know that it was signified thereby that Vespasian should he made Emperor.