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

Of the Troubles in Jerusalem

In the meantime, while these things came to pass in the land of Galilee, there were great troubles in the City of Jerusalem. For whereas the princes and the people had chosen Ananus, the High Priest, to be their ruler, a certain Eleazar, the son of Simon, prevailed against him; and this he did by his subtlety and by help of the abundance of the money which he had—for he had laid hold of that which Cestius the Roman was carrying with him for the wages of his soldiers, and of that which was in the public treasury. Now Ananus, and they that were with him, made great preparation of arms and instruments of war, and strengthened the walls, as though they would defend the City against the Romans. This they did to please the people, but their purpose was to cease from these preparations after a while, and to turn the hearts of the Zealots—for so men called the rebels—to moderation and prudence. But this they could not do.

After these things there came to Jerusalem one John, the son of Levi, who was also called John of Gischala. This man had fled by night from Gischala, in which city he had fought against the Romans, after that all the rest of the land of Galilee had been subdued. And when the people had gone forth to meet him and his companions, inquiring how it had fared with them, though it was manifest that the men had fled with all the speed they might, so quickly did they fetch their breath, yet they talked bravely, affirming that they had not fled from the Romans, but were rather come to Jerusalem that they might fight with the more advantage; "For we would not spend our lives for nought," they said, "at Gischala and places of no account, but would defend Jerusalem, being the chief city of our nation." And when the people doubted what they should do, John was very urgent with them that they should be stubborn in rebelling against the Romans, who, he said, were now in evil case, and could not, even if they should get themselves wings, climb the walls of Jerusalem; and besides had had great loss in besieging the towns of Galilee, and suffered great damage to their machines.

And now throughout all the land, and especially in Jerusalem, was there strife between the lovers of peace and those that delighted in war; of whom, in the end, the latter prevailed. Besides this, the whole country was wasted by robbers, so that it seemed to the inhabitants a lighter thing to be led into captivity by the Romans than to suffer such violence. And of these robbers not a few crept secretly into Jerusalem—for into the City all were admitted without question—who afterwards had no small share in bringing it to destruction, for they caused tumult without end, and also consumed the provisions which had sufficed for the men of war. These men, taking for their leader Eleazar the son of Simon, filled the whole City with robbery and slaughter. And this they did not secretly, but openly and in the day; nor did they lay hands on common folk only, but on the great men and princes, such as was Antipas, the treasurer of the City, who was of the lineage of Herod. Him, and others with him, they at the first shut up in the prison, but afterwards, fearing lest they should be delivered by their kinsfolk, and that the people might make insurrection, they sent a certain John, the son of Dorcas, with ten swordsmen, and slew them in the prison.

Also they set aside the law of inheritance, according to which the chief priests were wont to be appointed, and made chief priests of whom they would—men altogether mean and base. And for high priest they chose one Phannias, the son of Samuel, a clownish fellow and one who knew not at all what this office of the priesthood might mean. Him they took, against his will, from his farm, and adorned with robes, as one who acts is adorned upon the stage, and sought to teach him what he should do. All this was an occasion of mirth and laughter to them, but the priests, as they stood afar off, wept to see the law despised in this fashion.

Then the high priest, Ananus, a wise man, who haply might have saved the City if the wicked had suffered him to live, called the people together to an assembly, and sought to stir them up against Simon and the Zealots, reproaching them that they suffered such wickedness to be done, none raising a hand to hinder it. "Think," he said, "how your forefathers fought many and great battles that they might be free. And ye also, why do ye now wage war against the Romans but for this same cause? Yet ye suffer yourselves to be made slaves by these robbers. And verily, if the Romans should conquer you, what could ye suffer worse or more grievous than what ye now endure at the hands of these men? For these slay them whom the Romans harmed not; and whereas the Romans went not into the Holy Place, which it is not lawful but for the priests to enter, these men, being, as they say, Jews, profane it daily. Come, therefore, and give your lives, if need be, for the honour of the Lord; and as for me, ye shall not see me hold back from danger."

With these and many like words the high priest Ananus exhorted the people. And after this he held a levy, and armed such as gave their names, and set them in order of battle. Which when the Zealots perceived they sallied forth from the Temple in great wrath and fell upon the people. And these on their side fought against the Zealots. And of the two the people were the more in number by far, but the Zealots were the better armed. But both fought with all their might, for the people judged that it were better to die than to serve these robbers, and the Zealots knew that if they were conquered they must die, and at last, as the multitude of the people increased continually, and those that were behind suffered not such as were in front to give way, the Zealots perforce gave way, and fled into the Temple, Ananus and the people following hard after them. And when, leaving the Outer Court, which is also the Court of the Gentiles, they entered into the Inner Court, and shut to the gates, Ananus judged it not wise to force the place; for the Zealots were throwing javelins and the like from above; and also he would not bring the people into the Court, being not yet purified from blood. Nevertheless, he set six thousand men in the cloister of the Temple to watch it; and other six thousand to come in their places after a time. And to this service all the citizens were bound; only the wealthier sort hired poor men to stand in their stead.

Now John of Gischala was of the number of those with whom the high priest took counsel. He was a subtle man, and one who sought favour for himself; and though he seemed to be zealous for the people, sitting in the council by day and visiting the watchers by night, yet did he betray everything to the Zealots. Which when Ananus began to suspect, for it was manifest that the plans were betrayed, and yet could not rid himself of John, he would have him take an oath. This the man did with all willingness, swearing that he would be zealous for the people, and would betray nothing to the enemy, but would do all that he might for their overthrow. And Ananus and they that were with him believed the man, insomuch that they sent him to treat with the Zealots for peace. But John's words, when he was come into the Temple, were altogether contrary to the purpose of them that sent him. For he said of Ananus, that he had sent messengers to Vespasian, that he should come without delay and take the City; also that he would use the pretence of purifying the Temple to assail them. "As for you," he said, "I see not how ye can either endure a siege or fight against this great multitude. Wherefore ye must either submit yourselves to Ananus, or seek help from without. And if you submit yourselves, ye know well what mercy ye may look for, remembering what things ye have done in time past against the people."

Now of this help from without, John dared not to speak openly; but his thought was of the people of IdumŠa (IdumŠa is the land of Edom); and Eleazar and his fellows doubted for a while what they should do; but at last it seemed good to them to call the IdumŠans. Wherefore they wrote a letter, saying:—"Ananus, the high priest, having deceived the people, is ready to betray the City to the Romans; and we, having rebelled against him for freedom's sake, are besieged in the Temple, and must perish speedily unless ye come to our help and to the help of the City against the Romans." This letter they sent by two fleet runners; nor did they doubt but that the IdumŠans would hearken to their words, for they are a turbulent folk, delighting in change, and hastening to a battle with as good a will as to a feast.

So soon as the chiefs of the IdumŠans had read the letter and heard the words of the messengers, they gathered together an army with all speed, and sent it, even two thousand men, to Jerusalem. Now, Ananus had not perceived the going forth of the messengers; but of the coming of the IdumŠans he knew beforehand. Wherefore he shut the gates of the City and set guards upon the walls. Nevertheless he purposed not to fight against them, but rather to win them over by words. For this cause he sent to them a certain Joshua, who was next to himself among the priests. This man stood upon a turret of the wall over against them, and spake to them. He reproached them that they were come to help a company of robbers against their own kinsfolk. "As to this accusation of treachery," he said, "that they bring against us, it is altogether false. For what proof have they? Can they show any letter that we have sent to the Romans? Have they laid hands on any messenger? But as for the things which they themselves have done, come into the City (though ye come not in as conquerors), and see them for yourselves. Ye will see houses desolate and mourners everywhere; yea, and the Holy Place, which the whole world worshippeth, trampled under foot of these wild beasts."

To this Simon, son of Cathlas, who was captain of the IdumŠans, made reply, that he and his fellows were come to defend the Holy City against traitors and enemies, and that it was their purpose not to depart till this had been accomplished. Nevertheless many doubted whether they had done well in coming; yet being ashamed to go back without doing aught, they abode under the walls. Now, that night, there was a very grievous storm of wind and rain, with lightnings and thunderings. And the IdumŠans gathered their whole company together as close as might be, and joining their shields over their heads, so kept off the rain, nor did they take much harm from it. But the Zealots were much concerned on their behalf, and took counsel together how they might help them. And some of the bolder sort would have set upon the guards of the gates. "For they are not men of war," they said, "and will without doubt give way before us. Nor will they easily gather the citizens together, by reason of the rain and wind. And indeed, if there be danger, yet must we endure it rather than see our friends perish." But the more prudent would have them gain their end by craft rather than by force. For they saw that the guard was larger than it was wont to be, and that the walls of the City were kept with the more diligence by reason of the IdumŠans. And they thought that Ananus would himself see to the ordering of all things. And indeed this was his custom; but for that night he omitted it, it being so decreed that he and his fellows should perish. And so it fell out that at midnight the guards were dispersed, lying down to sleep in the porches. Then took the Zealots the sacred saws out of the Temple, and cut through the bolts of the gates; neither could the noise of the sawing be heard for the roaring of the wind and the pealing of the thunder.

So they opened the gate that was nearest to the IdumŠans; and these at first were slow to enter, doubting whether this might not be some stratagem of Ananus. But when they knew who had done it, straightway they entered. Now, if they had turned to the City to attack it, doubtless they had destroyed it wholly, so furious were they. But they that had opened the gates were urgent with them that they should first deliver such as were shut up in the Temple. "For if ye do this," they said, "and scatter the guard, afterwards ye can do what ye will to the City."

So the IdumŠans went up to the Temple; and when the Zealots that were within saw them come near, they sallied forth and set upon the guard. Some they slew, being not yet awaked out of sleep; but the rest caught up their arms with all speed and defended themselves. And this they did with sufficient courage, so long as they thought that they had the Zealots only to deal with; but when they knew that the IdumŠans were come into the City, many of them cast away their arms and began to weep and to lament. Notwithstanding, a few of the young men bare themselves bravely. And though their fellows in the City knew in what a strait they were, yet durst they not come to their help for fear of the IdumŠans; but there was made a great crying and wailing of women. And the IdumŠans and the Zealots shouted as they fought; and the noise was the more terrible by reason of the storm. The IdumŠans had mercy upon none, for they are a savage folk, but slew all alike, whether they fought or prayed for mercy. And because there was no way of escape, many threw themselves down into the City below, and so perished miserably. And all the Temple was swimming with blood; and when it was day, they counted the dead bodies, and found that the number of them was eight thousand and five hundred. After this, the IdumŠans turned to the City, spoiling the houses, and slaying all whom they met. And especially were they furious against Ananus the high priest and against Joshua. These they took and slew forthwith. Moreover, such was their wickedness, they cast forth the dead bodies of these holy men without burial; though the Jews are commonly so careful in this matter that they take down the dead bodies of them that are crucified, that they may bury them before the setting of the sun.

Now this slaying of Ananus may well be counted as the beginning of the destruction of the City. For he was a righteous man, and a lover of liberty, and one who set the good of the state before his own advantage. Also he was very earnest for peace, knowing that it was not possible to prevail over the Romans, and that the nation must needs perish in the war, unless they could come to some conditions of peace. Which thing doubtless had been done, if only he had lived, for he was a skilful orator and one who could persuade the people. But without doubt, because it was the pleasure of God to destroy the City that had so defiled itself, and to purge the Holy Place with fire, therefore He cut off from the people such as might have saved them.