Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

The Last Procurators.

Agrippa's death was a signal for general indignities by Greeks and Romans throughout Palestine against the people who had lost their defender. Burdensome taxation alone would have been borne; but each in turn of the second group of procurators placed over them seemed actuated by the wanton purpose of trampling upon everything the Jews held sacred, holding their religion up to scorn, and forcing them into rebellion through the madness of despair.

Fadus, the first of the second group, was the most harmless. A deluded enthusiast named Theudas claiming to be the Messiah and to be gifted with supernatural powers, was apprehended and put to death together with many of his followers.

The Zealots.

Tiberius Alexander, the next procurator, was a nephew of Philo, but unlike his uncle, had abandoned Judaism, and therefore was a very unfit appointee. He found it necessary to put to death two sons of the Zealot Judas, the Galilean. These Zealots already briefly referred to were a group of irreconcilables that at times resorted to desperate remedies. They were the advance guard of a revolution. Rebellions continued to grow in gravity with each successive rule. During the administration of Ventidius Cumanus a rebellion broke out through the wanton indecency of a Roman soldier during the Passover celebration. In putting down the insurrection Cumanus ordered many thousands slain. On another occasion the Zealots started to lead an attack against Samaria to punish the murder of some of their brethren, for the base Cumanus allowed marauders to rove unmolested on the payment of sufficient bribe. Against the Zealots, however, he led an army, for their offenses were political, not moral. Through the intervention of young Agrippa, Cumanus was banished.

But the worst Procurator was to follow—Felix. He goaded the Jews beyond endurance. All the appointees to the procuratorship had been bad, but the appointment of this man as Judea's ruler was an outrage. He was a freedman, i. e., one from the low classes. His tyranny in public and his lust in private life revealed his base origin. How natural that Judah should come to hate Rome when she was represented by such hateful creatures! How natural that the rebellious element—the Zealots—should grow in number and determination. These Felix punished with cruel recklessness, resorting often to treachery to entrap them. By such doing he fomented the evil. Rebellion was now rife and could no longer be quelled.

The Sicarii.

For a still more fanatical group now made their appearance—outcome of these unhappy times. They were called Sicarii, from the short dagger, sica, with which they secretly slew their opponents. These political assassinations made Jerusalem unsafe. Felix was even unscrupulous enough to make use of these desperate men to slay the High Priest Jonathan, whose influence had brought about his own appointment. His only crime against Felix was begging him to administer his office more worthily, and his only crime against the Sicarii was not sanctioning their outrages. These wild, misguided men were religious enthusiasts of a frenzied sort, for wanton injustice breeds such types. They would gather with crowds of deluded followers in the wilderness, claiming a divine call to overthrow Rome; Felix always had his cohorts ready to hew them down. He knew no remedies other than bloodshed. In one instance an Egyptian Jew appeared as a would-be deliverer. At once Felix ordered a massacre. The leader escaped; some of his surviving followers awaited his return as a Messiah, who would re-establish the throne of David once more.

Gradually a large part of the nation was imbued with the spirit of rebellion. The mismanagement of Felix also brought quarrels among the priests. Conflict arose in Caesarea between Syrians and Jews as to civic rights and privileges. Felix partially decided in favor of the Syrians and again increased the disturbance by resorting to slaughter. In return for large bribes he deprived the Jews of Caesarea of their civic rights, which they had possessed from the days when the city was founded. At last, having done all the mischief he could, this creature was recalled in 60 by Emperor Nero.

His successor Festus, meant well, but could do little in this demoralized state. Things had gone too far to be smoothed over. The upheaval had to come. The Sicarii continued their assassinations, regarding all the moderates as their enemies.

At the death of Festus and after an interval of anarchy, Albinus—a second Felix—was appointed—a public plunderer, a bribe-taker from all parties. Well-to-do criminals could buy their freedom from him; only the poor remained in prison. The high-priesthood at this time was held by a most unscrupulous man, Ananias, who took by violence the tithes of the priests. At last Albinus secretly joined the robber bands of Sicarii. When recalled in 62, he maliciously opened all the prisons and set the malefactors free to fill the country with lawless men. How the lives and fates and fortunes of these hapless Judeans were bandied about to gratify the wanton lust of these tyrants and scoundrels!

The last procurator, Gessius Florus, held the post till 66 and then the storm burst. For the climax of outrageous rule was reached in him. Josephus says that, compared with him, Albinus whom he describes as "an arch-robber and tyrant," was a law-abiding citizen and to be praised as a benefactor! Need we add more? He did not, as Albinus, even hide his crimes. His plunderings were conducted by wholesale. He was verily a partner of robbers. Surely the time for Judah to strike a blow for freedom had come.

Theme for discussion:—Compare zealots of antiquity with to-day's Russian revolutionists, the Sicarii with the Anarchists, the local governors with the procurators.