By September 8, 2008 Read More →

Josephus, War II, 405-48: The First Stage of the Revolt

Caesarea Maritima AqueductJosephus tells the story of how Jewish discontent with Roman rule soon flared into open revolt. He chronicles the inner Jewish struggle between the incipient Jewish revolutionaries and the pro-Roman aristocracy.

(405) This advice the people hearkened to, 1 and they went up into the temple with the king 2 and Bernice and began to rebuild the porticoes. The magistrates and members of the council also divided themselves into the villages and collected the tribute, and soon got together forty talents which was the sum that was owed.

(406) Thus did Agrippa then put a stop to that war which was threatened. Later he attempted to persuade that multitude to obey Florus until Caesar would send someone to succeed him. But they were thereby more provoked, cast reproaches upon the king, and had him excluded from the city. Indeed, some of the rebellious had the impudence to throw stones at him.

(407) So when the king saw that the violence of those who were for revolution was not to be restrained, and being very angry at the insults he had received, he sent their magistrates together with their men of power to Florus, to Caesarea, so that he might appoint whom he thought fit to collect tribute in the country. [Agrippa] then retired into his own kingdom. 3

(408) At this time, some of those that principally excited the people to go to war made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, killed the Romans who were there, and installed a garrison of their own party in their place.

(409) At the same time, Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, 4 a very bold youth who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those who officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice from any foreigner. This was the true beginning of our war with the Romans for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account.

(410) When many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice which it was customary for them to offer for their rulers, they would not be prevailed upon. They relied much upon their numbers, for the stalwarts of the revolutionaries assisted them, but they relied above all on the authority of Eleazar, the governor of the temple.

(411) Then the men of power got together and conferred with the high priests, as did also the most notable of the Pharisees, and thinking that all was at stake and that their calamities were becoming incurable, they took counsel as to what was to be done. Accordingly, they determined to try an appeal to the revolutionaries….

(417) As they spoke, they produced those priests who were expert in the traditions of their country, who reported that all their forefathers had received sacrifices from foreign nations. But still not one of the revolutionaries would hearken to what was said- Indeed, those who ministered in the temple failed to come to their support but were preparing matters for beginning the war….

(422) Upon this the men of power with the high priests, and the part of the multitude who were desirous of peace, took courage and seized the upper city [Mount Zion]; for the revolutionaries held the lower city and the temple in their power.

(423) They constantly made use of stones and slings against one another, and threw darts continually on both sides, and sometimes it happened that they made excursions by troops and fought it out hand to hand. The revolutionaries were superior in boldness, but the king’s soldiers 5 in skill.

(424) The latter strove chiefly to gain the temple and to drive out of it those who profaned it. Eleazar and the rebels labored to gain the upper city in addition to what they held already. Thus there were continual slaughters on both sides for seven days, but neither side would surrender the portion of town they had seized.

(425) The next day was the festival of wood-offering 6 on which the custom was for everyone to bring wood for the altar (so that there might never be a lack of fuel for that fire which was unquenchable and always burning). On that day, the Jews in the temple excluded the opposite party from the ceremony. And when they had joined to themselves many of the Sicarii (that was the name for such robbers as had under their bosoms swords called sicae) who crowded in among the weaker people, they grew bolder and carried their undertakings further.

(426) Since the king’s soldiers were overpowered by their multitude and boldness, they gave way and were driven out of the upper city by force. The others then set fire to the house of Ananias the high priest and to the palaces of Agrippa and Bernice.

(427) Then they carried the fire to the place where the archives were deposited, and made haste to burn the contracts belonging to their creditors in order to dissolve their obligations to pay their debts. This was done in order to gain the support of the multitude of those who had been debtors, to persuade the poorer sort to join in their insurrection with safety against the more wealthy; so the keepers of the records fled away and the rest set fire to them.

(428) When they had thus burned down the nerve center of the city, they fell upon their enemies. This time some of the men of power and the high priests went into the vaults under ground and concealed themselves,

(429) while others fled with the king’s soldiers to the upper palace and shut the gates immediately, among whom were Ananias the high priest, his brother Hezekiah, and the ambassadors that had been sent to Agrippa. Now the revolutionaries were content with the victory they had achieved and the buildings they had burned down and proceeded no further.

(430) But on the next day, which was the fifteenth of the month Lous [Ab], 7 they made an assault upon Antonia and besieged the garrison which was in it for two days. They then took the garrison, killed them, and set the citadel on fire.

(431) After this they marched to the palace, to which the king’s soldiers had fled, divided themselves into four bodies, and made an attack upon the walls. As for those who were within it, no one had the courage to sally out, because those who assaulted them were so numerous. But they posted themselves in the breast-works and turrets and shot at the besiegers, whereby many of the robbers fell beneath the walls.

(432) Nor did they cease to fight one another by night or by day since the revolutionaries supposed that those within would grow weary for lack of food, and those outside supposed that the others would do the same by the fatigue of the siege.

(433) In the meantime, one Menahem the son of Judas, called the Galilean (who was a very cunning sophist and had formerly reproached the Jews under Quirenius, that after God they were subject to the Romans) took some of the men of note with him and retired to Masada

(434) where he broke open King Herod’s armory and gave arms not only to his own people but to other robbers 8 also. These he made use of for a bodyguard and returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem. He became the leader of the revolt and gave orders for continuing the siege.

(435) But they lacked proper equipment, and it was not practicable to undermine the wall because the darts came down upon them from above. But still they dug a tunnel from a great distance under one of the towers and made it totter, and, having done that, they set on fire what was combustible and left it.

(436) When the foundations were burnt below, the tower fell down suddenly. Yet they then met with another wall that had been built inside, for the besieged were aware beforehand of what they were doing, and probably the tower shook as it was being undermined, so they provided themselves with another fortification.

(437) When the besiegers unexpectedly saw it, although they thought they had already conquered the place, they were in considerable consternation. However, those who were within sent to Menahem and to the other leaders of the revolt requesting that they might leave upon capitulation. This was granted to the king’s soldiers and their own countrymen only, who went out accordingly,

(438) but the Romans who were left alone were greatly dejected for they were not able to force their way through such a multitude. To sue for terms they thought would be a reproach to them and, besides, if they should give it to them, they dared not depend upon them.

(439) So they deserted their camp, as easily taken, and ran away to the royal towers—that called Hippicus, that called Phasael, and that called Mariamne.

(440) But Menahem and his party fell upon the place from which the soldiers had fled, and killed as many of them as they could catch before theygot up to the towers, plundered what they had left behind them, and set fire to their camp. This took place on the sixth day of the month Gorpieus [Elul]. 9

(441) But on the next day the high priest was caught where he had concealed himself in an aqueduct; he was killed together with Hezekiah his brother by the robbers. Then the revolutionaries besieged the towers and kept them guarded, lest anyone of the soldiers should escape.

(442) Now the overthrow of the strongholds and the death of the high priest Ananias so puffed up Menahem that he became barbarously cruel and, as he thought he had no antagonists to dispute the management of affairs with him, he was no better than an insufferable tyrant.

(443) But Eleazar and his party, when words had passed between them, remarked how it was not proper when they had revolted against the Romans out of the desire for liberty to betray that liberty to any of their own people, and to bear a lord who, though he should be guilty of no violence, was yet inferior to themselves. If they were obliged to set someone over their public affairs it was fitter they should give that privilege to anyone rather than to him. Accordingly, they assaulted him in the temple

(444) for he had gone there to worship in a pompous manner, adorned with royal garments, and had his followers with him in their armor.

(445) But Eleazar and his party fell violently upon him, as did the rest of the people, and taking up stones to attack him, they threw them at the sophist [Menahem], and thought that if he were once ruined, his downfall would crush the entire revolt.

(446) Now Menahem and his party offered resistance for a while, but when they perceived that the whole multitude was falling upon them, they flee wherever they could. Those who were caught were killed, and those who hid themselves were searched for. (447) There were a few of them who privately escaped to Masada, among whom was Eleazar, the son of Yair, who was a relative of Menahem’s, and he acted the part of a tyrant at Masada afterward. 10

(448) As for Menahem himself, he ran away to the place called Ophla, 11 and there lay hiding in private. But they took him alive and dragged him out before them all. They then tortured him with many sorts of torments and afterwards killed him, as they did to those who were captains under him also, and particularly to the principle supporter of his tyranny whose name was Absalom.

1. Agrippa advised the people to avoid war with Rome by paying their taxes and rebuilding the porticoes they had destroyed.

2. Agrippa II (28-92 C.E.), the last Herodian king

3. At this time Agrippa II ruled over what is today the Golan Heights and part of the Galilee. He also had the right to appoint high priests in Jerusalem.

4. Ananias had served as high priest from 47-59 C.E.

5. The soldiers of Agrippa II.

6. Although wood was brought several times during the year, Josephus is referring to the 15th of Av (July/August). The events, however seem to have taken place on the 14th in light of section 430.

7. July/August

8. The term “robber” often refers to revolutionaries.

9. August/September.

10. It was Eleazar ben Yair who convinced the defenders of Masada, in Josephus’s account, to commit mass suicide.

11. The Ophel, a place in the lower city.

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