Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

The Siege.

The North Succumbs.

When Vespasian reached Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, the people opened their gates and at the request of Agrippa—who had now wholly thrown in his fortunes with the Romans—they were well treated. In the meantime the army of Titus, son of Vespasian, took the city of Tarichea.

Glance for a moment at the map of Palestine, (front of book) so that a mental picture may be formed of the territory involved in the great struggle: Phoenicia, the Lebanon Mountains and Syria ran across the north. Immediately south was the province of Galilee, partly bordering on the Mediterranean and bounded on the east by the province of Gaulonitis and Decapolis, the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee being the dividing line. Batanaea lay to the east again of Gaulanitis. Still farther south was Judea, with the Jordan dividing it from Perea. Idumea lay in the extreme south.

Vespasian was still in the north and next attacked the strong fortress of Gamala in Gaulonitis. But after an entrance was gained into the city, the Jews fought so desperately that the Romans was repulsed with severe loss and for a time were afraid to renew the attack. But in a second determined sally it was taken. At the same time Mount Tabor was taken by a Roman force. There was now left in Galilee only one unconquered fortress to be taken—Gischala. Its conquest was entrusted to Titus. Its gates were soon opened, but its controlling spirit, John of Gischala, with his band of Zealots escaped to Jerusalem. By the end of the year 67 all northern Palestine was in the hands of the Romans.

Rival Parties in Jerusalem.

These defeats brought consternation to Jerusalem. The leaders, who had been taken from the aristocracy, were blamed and deposed. Some were imprisoned and leaders from among the people were put in their place. But the change was not made without bloodshed. Alas, here was the beginning of a civil conflict as well—war within war. Judea's cup of misery was full. John of Gischala, the escaped Zealot, was soon at the head of the extreme fanatic party. Fighting contingents of malcontents came to Jerusalem from all over the country and joined the Zealots, which thus became the ruling power. They threw discretion to the winds. An ignorant man of the common people was also chosen as High Priest though this office had always been in the hands of the aristocracy.

The Idumeans were now invited to enter Jerusalem and join forces with the Zealots. They began at once a bloody attack on the party of law and order. The old leaders, men of high birth, were put to death. Verily it was Judea's "reign of terror." After assisting in all this mischief, the Idumeans departed. The new Christian community also left Jerusalem, deserting their brethren in the sore hour of need, and took refuge in a heathen city. The shrewd Vespasian made no haste to attack the capital, hoping that the opposing parties left to themselves would weaken each other and make his task more easy. He contented himself with placing fortified garrisons in the chief surrounding places.

In the meantime Nero died, in the year 68. Galba was made emperor only to be murdered a few months after. These events were watched by Vespasian with keen eyes. The man who had the army with him might win the purple. He therefore made a pause in the war.

Another wild Zealot, Simon Ben Giora, began a plundering expedition, carrying devastation wherever he went. In 69, after a year's pause, Vespasian vigorously renewed the struggle by subduing the remaining outlying districts. There was now left for subjugation a few fortresses and the capital.

Stopped from his robber raids by Vespasian's vigor, Simon ben Giora was now hailed in Jerusalem. Here all was confusion and demoralization. The reckless tyrant of Gischala had indulged in terrible excesses. The people hoped that the admission of Simon would rid them of John's bloodthirsty rule; but there was little choice between them.

Although Vitellius was now made emperor of Rome, the armies in Egypt and Palestine decided to nominate Vespasian. He hastened to Rome, found Vitellius murdered, and his own candidature unopposed. So in the year 70 he was acknowledged emperor by both east and west, and the prosecution of the Judean war was left in the hands of his son, Titus.

In Jerusalem the reign of terror continued. There was now a third war party under one Eliezar. Each regarded the two others as enemies, and each held a certain portion of the city as jealously against the others as against the Romans. Simon ben Giora held the upper part of the lower city situated on one hill, and the whole of the upper city situated on another hill called Acra. John of Gischala was entrenched in the Temple Mount. Eleazar held the court of the Temple, but soon overpowered by John was forced to join forces with him. In the madness of their folly they played into the hands of the Romans by destroying grain rather than let it fall into the hands of their rivals.

Titus with an immense army appeared before the walls of Jerusalem in the spring of the fatal year 70. Still he by no means carried all before him. When we read of the brave and stubborn resistance of the Jews in spite of the unfortunate conflicts within, we can better realize how successful their resistance might have been had they presented a united front to the enemy.

The situation of the city had its natural advantages. It was built on two hills with a ravine between, while the Temple standing in spacious grounds, surrounded on all sides by strong walls, was a citadel in itself. Attached to it was the castle of Antonia. The upper and lower divisions of the city had their own separate walls, a town's main protection before the days of gunpowder. There was a common wall around both divisions and a third around the suburb, Bezetha.

When the battering rams of Titus began attacking the outer walls in three places, John and Simon stopped their feud and banded together at last to meet the common enemy. It was only after desperate fighting for many days that the Romans got possession of the first wall. Five days later the second wall was taken, though the enemy was held back for four days longer. Earth defenses were now built by the legions of Titus against the different fortifications, but no sooner were these built than they fell, undermined by the vigilant Simon and John.

Titus now applied new measures of severity. A stricter siege was maintained. The city was reduced to famine and poor creatures stealing out to gather food were crucified in sight of the defenders. Then he built a wall to shut off all possible escape and so tried to starve them out. The sufferings of the besieged, vividly portrayed by Josephus, were desperate indeed and led to still more desperate remedies.


How history repeats itself! The antagonism of the masses to the aristocracy, characteristic of the French Revolution, found its precedent in Judea's war against Rome. But the motives were far from identical.