Thousand Years of Jewish History - Maurice Harris

Judea's War With Rome.


When Florus, after robbing the people, began openly to rob the Temple, the last thread of endurance snapped. Called in bitter irony a beggar, for whom forsooth alms must be collected, Florus took a bloody revenge. A second wanton attack upon the long suffering people by his arriving cohorts, compelled them to rise against the Roman soldiers in self defense. They gained possession of the Temple Mount and Florus at last, seeing the mischief he had effected, fled to Caesarea. Agrippa tried hard to dissuade the people from a hopeless struggle against Rome, but he was a man without influence. The Temple offerings for the Roman emperor were stopped—that was, so to speak, the official renunciation of their allegiance. The more temperate could not restrain the masses from this determination.

A Peace Party.

These moderates, who represented the judicious, formed a "Peace Party." Conflict arose between them and the advocates of war, in which Agrippa who aided the former with his troops, had his palace burned and his soldiers put to flight. Soon the fortress towers held by the Roman soldiers had to yield and the garrison was slain. The revolution extended to all the outlying towns in which Jews and Gentiles fought against each other, and spread even as far as Alexandria.

The governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, thoroughly alarmed, came to Jerusalem with a picked army, but after a partial success he was forced to retreat. So vigorously was he pursued by these dauntless men, that only by leaving most of his baggage behind him—of great value to the revolutionists—could he escape at all, and then with but a remnant of his army. This unlooked for success left the Peace Party in a hopeless minority. Roman allies could do naught but leave the capital. The Jews now began to organize their forces and some of the highest men in the city led in the defense.


At an assembly of the people Joseph ben Gorion and the High Priest Ananus were given charge of Jerusalem itself. Two men of the high-priestly family were sent as generals to Idumea. In Jerusalem the walls were strengthened and the youths trained for soldiers. Josephus, a man of but thirty years, later historian of this war and known so far only as a scholar, was sent to Galilee. Here he was to gather an army from among the people and to meet the first brunt of Rome's experienced hosts as they would arrive via Syria. For the time being he was the governor of Galilee and appointed greater and lesser councils to strengthen the fortifications of all the cities. He had further to meet the opposition to his appointment in the province itself, chiefly by one John of Gischala, a leader bold and violent. For Josephus was not entirely trusted. His attitude was altogether too moderate to satisfy these determined rebels. In his heart of hearts he realized the impossibility of success. That very conviction at once unfitted him for leadership.

The Emperor Nero, hearing of the defeat of the governor of Syria, entrusted the task of quelling the rebellion to the experienced general, Vespasian. He at once sent a garrison of six thousand to the important Galilean city, Sepphoris, which took possession before the Jewish army arrived. As the Roman host approached Galilee, Josephus' untrained soldiers retreated to the highlands, leaving the whole Galilean plain in possession of Vespasian without his striking a blow.

Josephus sent word to Jerusalem that if he was to meet the Romans, he must have an army. The request came too late. His troops, such as they were, retired to the fortress of Jotapata, north of Sepphoris. Vespasian appeared before it and a desperate struggle followed. Josephus was a skilful commander and his men showed dauntless courage, but Rome on its side had all the experience of war together with overwhelming numbers. The first attack failed and a siege began. Josephus showed wonderful craft in obtaining food for his garrison and in breaking the force of the Roman battering rams. But these means could only delay the end; they could not change it. The besieged were worn out by sleeplessness and starvation after holding out for forty-seven days. The wall was scaled when the exhausted watchmen were asleep. All were either slain or sold into slavery. The city and its fortifications were levelled to the ground.

Josephus with forty companions escaped to a cave. Against his advice to surrender, they all decided that they would die by their own hands. Josephus by strategem alone managed to escape this fate. He appeared before Vespasian and by adroit flattery was favorably received into his camp.

Theme for discussion:—Make clear the difference in principle between Judea's "Peace Party" and the "Royalist Party" among the American revolutionists in 1776.