By April 8, 2008 Read More →

Shaye Cohen. “Roman Domination: The Jewish Revolt and the Destruction of the Second Temple.” Part V

Masada AerialExcerpted from Ancient Israel- From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. Ed. Hershal Shanks. Washington, D.C.- Biblical Archaeology Society, 1999.

The Reliability of Josephus

The vast bulk of what we know about this period derives from the testimony of an ancient Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus. Josephus was a complicated man, and his writings are not always easy to work with. As one scholar notes, “Sometimes the historian working with Flavius Josephus feels like a lawyer forced to build his case in court upon the testimony of a felon. While there may be some truth in what the witness says, the problem always is to separate it from self-serving obfuscation and outright lies.” 4 Because so much rests on Josephus’s testimony, it is worthwhile to review certain aspects of his life and his works.

Josephus was a Jewish leader in the First Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.) who, in the end, surrendered to the Romans. In 67 C.E. Josephus was the commander of the Jewish revolutionary forces in Galilee. When the Romans arrived, Josephus and his forces fled to the fortress of Jotapata. After a siege of 47 days, the fortress was taken, and Josephus and some of his men took refuge in a nearby cave. When the Romans discovered them, Josephus’s companions argued that they should commit mutual suicide rather than be taken prisoners. But Josephus, remembering the “nightly dreams in which God had foretold to him the impending fate of the Jews and the destinies of the Roman
sovereigns,” realized that God was on the side of the Romans and that surrender to the Romans was the only legitimate course of action. Since his comrades insisted on suicide, Josephus reluctantly agreed to draw lots with the rest, but as luck would have it, he drew one of the last. After the others had killed themselves, Josephus was left with only one companion and had no trouble convincing him that surrender was a wiser course than death. Upon emerging from the cave Josephus was taken to Vespasian; he predicted that the general would become emperor of Rome, the master of land, sea and the entire human race—a prediction that subsequently proved accurate. Josephus’s account of his surrender to the Romans is clearly a mixture of history, fantasy, apology and propaganda.5

After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, Josephus was taken to Rome in the entourage of the Roman general Titus, Vespasian’s son. With his newly acquired Roman patrons looking over his shoulder, Josephus wrote his account of the rebellion, The Jewish War, completing it in the early 80s C.E.

He wrote it originally in Aramaic, later translating the text into Greek; only the Greek version has survived. Josephus intended The Jewish War for an Aramaic-speaking audience, mostly Jews but also other Near Eastern peoples who were under—or on the verge of coming under—Roman domination. The book carries a dual message. To those who might contemplate revolt against Rome, The Jewish War advises “don’t.” Revolt against Rome is both impious and doomed to failure. To the Romans, the message is that the revolt was the work of various hotheads, fanatics and criminals within the Jewish community who in no way represented either Judaism or the Jews and who fomented rebellion for their own selfish and ignoble purposes. Josephus begins this book with the story of the Maccabean uprising (165 B.C.E.). The Maccabean victory established the Hasmonean dynasty, whose internal disputes led to Pompey’s entry into Jerusalem, which, in turn, set in motion the chain of events that led to the revolt of 66 C.E. The Jewish War ends with a vivid account of the fall of the last Jewish rebels at Masada. About a decade later, Josephus finished his second work, Jewish Antiquities. This is a much more ambitious project, written in Greek and intended to present the entire scope of Jewish history to a Roman audience. Jewish Antiquities begins with the biblical account of creation and ends on the eve of the Jewish revolt. Hence, it overlaps with much of the material from The Jewish War. Written at a time when the war was less immediate and political fortunes in both Rome and Judea had dramatically shifted, Jewish Antiquities is far more nuanced than The Jewish War. Shortly after publishing Jewish Antiquities, Josephus went on to write two more tracts- Life, an autobiography that responds to charges of betrayal (true or not, we do not know) by a rival Jewish historian, and Against Apion, an apologetic tract.

Political considerations, self-justification, and apologetic tendencies are not the only factors that make Josephus difficult to use. Like most ancient historians, Josephus was a plagiarist. He freely appropriated the work of others, often without letting his readers know his sources. These sources themselves are often biased. His primary source for his discussion of Herod, for example, was the writing of Nicolaus of Damascus, Herod’s “official,” thus hardly unbiased, historian.

Bearing Josephus’s limitations in mind, let us return to Herod.

Variegated Judaism

Judaism at the time was a remarkably variegated phenomenon. a Above all, Judaism was a belief in the God of Moses, who created the world, who chose the Jews to be his special people and who rewarded and punished his people in accordance with their loyalty to him. Judaism was also the practice of the laws and rituals that Moses had commanded in God’s name, most conspicuously the rituals of circumcision, Sabbath and prohibited foods. The Jews vigorously debated among themselves the precise meaning and content of their beliefs and practices, but all, or almost all, were in agreement over the general outlines.

Judaism during this period was different from, or at least was not identical to, the religion of pre-Exilic Israel. 17

Judaism in this period was a “book religion”; at its center was the recitation and study of a collection of sacred writings, the most important of which was the Torah (Instruction) of Moses. By this time, many Jews had added two other categories of sacred literature to the Torah- the Prophets and the Writings. These three groups of writings together constitute the Bible, called the Old Testament by Christians and the Tanakh b by Jews. Pre-Exilic Israel, by contrast, did not have such a sacred book; to be sure, it preserved in written form many sacred traditions, but it was not a “book religion.” Pre-Exilic Israelites communicated and communed with God through the sacrificial cult in the Jerusalem Temple and through the revelations of the prophets. By Hellenistic times, however, and certainly by the first century of our era, the institutional access to God through the Temple and the charismatic access to God through the prophets were being supplemented, and to some degree supplanted, by new forms of piety, especially the regular prayer and study of scripture.

The institutional home of this new piety was the synagogue (assembly or gathering) or proseuche (prayer-house), which is first attested in Egypt in the third century B.C.E. By the first century of our era, there were synagogues not only in every Diaspora settlement but also throughout the land of Israel. Archaeological remains of synagogues from this period have been discovered at Masada, Herodium, Gamla and various Diaspora sites. 18 Pre-Exilic Israelite religion focused on the group, the community and the clan; first-century C.E. Judaism, by contrast, focused on the individual Jew. First-century Judaism enjoined the individual Jew to sanctify his (or her) life through the daily performance of numerous rituals. Sanctity was not restricted to the Temple; God’s presence was everywhere, and the Jew was to be continually mindful of this fact. Every moment was an opportunity for the observance of the commandments, the sanctification of life and subservience to God. Not only were the people of Israel collectively responsible to God, but each individual Jew was as well. The cult of the Temple, therefore, was supplemented by a religious regimen that focused on the individual rather than the group.

Prophecy too no longer was what it had been. Many Jews believed that prophecy had ceased, or at least had so transformed itself that it no longer had the prestige and the authority it had commanded when the classical prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah of the eighth and sixth centuries B.C.E. spoke. Those Jews who continued to see heavenly visions and hear heavenly voices no longer saw and heard them in the manner of their predecessors. The new literary genre, called by modern scholars apocalypse (revelation), assigned a much greater role to complex symbolic visions and angelic intermediaries than did biblical prophecy. Apocalyptic thinking was dominated by a sense that the world was in the throes of a final crisis that would be resolved by the immediate arrival of the end of time. Not only were the style and the atmosphere of apocalypse different from those of biblical prophecy, but much of its content was different as well. In pre-Exilic Israel, the Israelites believed that God rewarded the righteous and punished the wicked in this world, and did so by rewarding or punishing either the actor himself or his children. By the first century C.E., this doctrine had been rejected, and replaced by the idea that every individual received his or her just deserts from God either in this world or in the world to come. Elaborate theories were developed about the rewards and punishments that awaited people after death or at the end of time, or both. Then there would be a resurrection of the dead and a final judgment, and the nation of Israel, the plaything of gentile kingdoms in this world, would finally receive its due; God would send a redeemer, either a human being or an angel, who would restore Israel’s sovereignty. The nations of the world would then recognize the Lord and accept the hegemony of the Jews. These new ideas were widely accepted in society, even though apocalyptic literature was so esoteric that it could be appreciated only by a few.

The new ideas, rituals and institutions that gradually emerged were adopted in their most extreme forms by various pietistic groups, but they also had an impressive impact on broad reaches of the population. The evidence for “popular religion,” 19 either in the land of Israel or the Diaspora, is very meager, but the literary evidence of Josephus, Philo and the New Testament shows that popular piety included the study of Scripture and the participation in synagogue services on the Sabbath; observance of the Sabbath, the dietary prohibitions and various other rituals; separation from pagans and anything connected with pagan religious ceremonies; and pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem for the festivals. Many Jews of Jerusalem, rich and poor alike, believed in the ultimate resurrection of the dead. This is demonstrated by their practice of reburial. A year or so after depositing a corpse in a temporary grave, they would dig up the bones, carefully arrange them in a special box known as an ossuary and place the ossuary in a cave or some other safe location. Thus the dead would be ready for the resurrection; all the bones were united safely in one place, awaiting reassembly. 20

In the Diaspora, the most conspicuously observed rituals, to judge from the testimony of pagan writers, were circumcision, the Sabbath and the dietary prohibitions (notably the avoidance of pork). “Popular religion,” at least in the land of Israel, also contained a strong element of the “magical” and the “miraculous.” Magic brought divine activity into direct and immediate contact with humans. Teachers and holy men of all sorts roamed the countryside, preaching repentance and performing “miraculous” cures. Jesus spent much of his time exorcising demons and performing faith healings, but he was hardly unique in this respect. Holy men, who often modeled themselves to some extent on the prophet Elisha, answered the immediate needs of the populace, which was more concerned about good health and abundant harvests than about salvation and redemption. 21

The Course of the First Jewish Revolt

With this background, let us turn to the course of the war itself. In the fall of 66 C.E., no one knew that a war between the Jews and the Romans was imminent. Some revolutionaries, perhaps, were dreaming of a final conflict, but even they had no way of knowing precisely when the conflict would erupt or what form it would take. The spark was provided by the procurator Florus when he seized 17 talents from the Temple treasury as compensation, he said, for uncollected back taxes. This act was not significantly worse than the depredations and misdeeds of previous procurators, and the riot it provoked was not significantly worse than the riots that had erupted during the tenures of previous procurators.

This riot, however, was the first act of a war, because it came at the end of a period of almost 20 years of unrelieved tension and lawlessness. When Florus brutally suppressed the riot, the people responded with even greater intensity, with the result that Florus had to flee the city.

At this point various revolutionary factions stepped forward. It is difficult to determine the interrelationship of all these groups. Some scholars argue that the anti-Roman forces formed a single “war party,” which for purposes of convenience can be called “Zealots” after its most distinctive constituent group. Others argue that no single “war party” ever existed and that each of the groups and figures had a distinctive history. The diverse groups shared a common willingness to fight the Romans, but differed from each other in many other respects, which explains why they spent so much time fighting each other. The latter interpretation is much more plausible than the former. 39

At the outbreak of the war, an aristocratic priestly revolutionary party, led initially by Eleazar, son of the high priest Ananias, seems to have controlled the revolution. Eleazar suspended the daily sacrifice in the Temple that had been offered for the welfare of the emperor and the Roman Empire. 40

This act was tantamount to a declaration of war. As if to emphasize the point, Eleazar and his supporters turned on the Roman garrisons Florus had left in the city after his retreat and besieged them.

Whether the aristocratic priestly revolutionaries were truly committed to the revolution, or were merely playing for time in the hope of forestalling the emergence of more radical and more dangerous elements, is debated among scholars. Josephus seems to give contradictory answers- Although they probably began as revolutionaries who deeply resented the Roman diminution of their prestige and prerogatives, when they were faced with the opposition of other revolutionary groups whose primary targets were the Jewish aristocracy, it is likely the priestly revolutionaries began to hope for a peace agreement with the Romans. 41

In any event, these priestly revolutionaries were soon eclipsed by another group, the Sicarii, led by one Menahem. In the fall of 66 C.E., the Sicarii entered Jerusalem. In addition to attacking the Roman forces that remained in the city, the Sicarii also attacked the Jewish aristocracy. They looted the homes of the well-to-do and massacred many of the nobility. The most prominent of their victims was Ananias the high priest, the father of Eleazar, who had led the priestly revolutionaries. The priestly group, headquartered in the Temple, fought back and killed the Sicarii leader, Menahem. Menahem’s followers then fled to Masada, one of Herod’s great fortresses in the Judean wilderness. There they remained for the rest of the war, doing nothing to help the struggle. Other bands of fighters, however, were already, or would soon become, active in Jerusalem.

Revolutionary ardor also spread outside Jerusalem. In Caesarea and in many other cities of Palestine and Syria, Jews and pagans attacked one another. The hostility toward pagans and paganism that motivated the revolutionaries in Jerusalem seems also to have motivated Jews throughout the country. The pagans, for their part, gave vent to the same animosities that had exploded in the anti-Jewish riots in Alexandria 30 years earlier. The Roman governor of Syria, Cestius, went to Judea to restore order, but after entering Jerusalem he decided that he was not strong enough to take the Temple from the revolutionaries. In the course of his withdrawal, his troops were beset by the Jews and had to abandon much of their equipment.

After the defeat of Cestius, the revolutionaries, led by the priestly revolutionary party, assigned generals to each district in the country. Most of the commissioned generals were priests. Their task was to prepare the country for war, in anticipation of either negotiations or hostilities with the Romans. The general about whose activities we are best informed is, of course, Josephus. He was sent to Galilee, where he spent the next six months feuding with local leaders, trying to impose his rule on a fractious population that had little desire to fight the Romans. He fortified several key locations, raised and trained an army, brought local brigands into his employ, and intimidated the cities of the district (notably Sepphoris, which supported the Romans, and Tiberias, which was divided).

Josephus had had no military or administrative experience, and was not temperamentally suited to cooperative leadership; it is no surprise that he ultimately failed in his mission. With the appearance of the Roman army, led by the Roman general Vespasian, in the summer of 67 C.E., Josephus’s army all but disappeared, and the Romans had little difficulty in subduing the district. Only one location gave them trouble, the fortress of Jotapata, a hilltop town fortified by Josephus, which became the refuge for the remnants of Josephus’s army, such as it was. It held out for almost seven weeks before falling to the Roman assault. Josephus himself was captured and delivered his prophecy to Vespasian, as noted above. Galilee was now pacified.

The revolutionaries in the Golan congregated at Gamla, but after some fierce fighting, that fortress too was taken. The entire northern part of the country was once again brought under Roman rule.

After taking a winter break, Vespasian resumed operations in the spring of 68 C.E. and by early summer had pacified the entire countryside; Jerusalem alone (and some isolated fortresses, notably Masada) remained in the hands of the rebels.

A Respite in the War Is Wasted

Everything seemed prepared for an immediate attack on Jerusalem, but during the summer of 68 C.E. Vespasian learned of the emperor Nero’s assassination. The death of the reigning emperor meant that Vespasian’s commission as general had expired; accordingly, he discontinued his military activities. In the summer of 69 C.E., Vespasian had himself proclaimed emperor. He left Judea and returned to Rome in order to establish his own imperial power. By the end of the year he had succeeded. Some months later, in the spring of 70 C.E., Vespasian once again turned his attention to Judea.

The two-year hiatus should have been a great boon to the revolutionaries in Jerusalem, allowing them time to organize their forces, fortify the city and lay away provisions. But the opposite was the case. As the refugees entered Jerusalem from the countryside, internecine strife intensified. The party of Zealots now emerged, consisting for the most part of Judean peasants. They turned against the aristocratic priests, who until that point had been in charge of the war, and appointed a new high priest by lot. The Zealots enlisted support from the Jews of Idumea, country peasants like themselves who could be counted on to hate the city aristocracy. 42

At first, the Idumeans supported the Zealots in their attacks on the aristocracy, but after a while even they, says Josephus, were disgusted by the excesses of the Zealots and withdrew.

Thus 68 C.E. was spent in fighting between the aristocratic (or “moderate”) revolutionary groups and the more radical proletarian ones. The latter triumphed. In 69 C.E. the radical revolutionaries themselves fell to attacking one another. John of Gischala, supported by his contingent of Galileans, turned on his former allies the Zealots and ultimately succeeded in ousting their leader and bringing them under his control. But a new revolutionary faction then emerged, led by Simon bar Giora, a native of Gerasa (a city of the Transjordan). Like the Zealots, he had a radical social program and drew much of his support from freed slaves. The intense fighting among these various groups had disastrous consequences. Large stocks of grain and other provisions were destroyed. When the Roman siege began in earnest in 70 C.E., a famine soon ensued.

The Roman Siege of Jerusalem

Vespasian had by then securely established himself as emperor and wanted a resounding success to legitimate his new dynasty. In his propaganda, Vespasian had pictured himself as the savior of the empire, the man who, after a year and a half of political chaos, had restored order and stability. There was no better way to prove this point than to bring to a successful conclusion the protracted war in Judea. In order to emphasize the dynastic implications of the victory, Vespasian appointed his son Titus to command the Roman army in its assault on the holy city of the Jews. In the spring of 70 C.E., the Romans, under Titus, besieged the city and cut off all supplies and all means of escape.

The fighting for the city and the Temple was intense. The major rallying point of the revolutionaries, and consequently the major target of the Romans, was the Temple. The Temple was a veritable fortress, but it still was a temple. The priests maintained all the customary rituals, even with death and destruction all around them. Three weeks before the final catastrophe, the Tamid, the “continual sacrifice,” which was offered every morning and evening, ceased because of a shortage of lambs. The severity of the famine is illustrated in many gruesome tales by Josephus; but despite their suffering, the Jews were still willing to sacrifice two lambs every day to God. Their only hope for success was through divine intervention, and only a properly maintained cult would convince God to aid the faithful.

Divine help, however, was not forthcoming. The Romans advanced methodically toward their goal. The Jews were weakened by famine and internecine strife and, although Titus made some serious tactical errors in prosecuting the siege, the Roman victory was only a matter of time. Each of the city’s three protective walls was breached in turn, and the Romans finally found themselves, by mid-summer of 70 C.E., just outside the sacred precincts.

At this point, according to Josephus, Titus called a meeting of his general staff and asked for advice. What should he do with the Jewish Temple? Some of his adjutants argued that it should be destroyed, because as long as it was left standing it would serve as a focal point for anti-Roman agitation. According to the “rule of war” in antiquity, temples were not to be molested, but this Temple had become a fortress and therefore was a fair military target. No opprobrium would be attached to its destruction. Titus, however, argued that the Temple should be preserved as a monument to Roman magnanimity. Indeed, according to Josephus, during the siege Titus offered the revolutionaries
numerous opportunities to surrender or, at least, to vacate the Temple and carry on the fighting elsewhere. Even at the end Titus was eager to preserve the Temple. But Titus’s plan was thwarted. On the next day, a soldier, acting against orders, tossed a firebrand into the sanctuary, and the flames shot up, immediately out of control. Josephus insists that Titus did his best to douse the flames, but Josephus’s apology for Titus is as unsuccessful as Titus’s attempt to halt the conflagration. 43

It is very unlikely that this fantastic account of Roman magnanimity and self-restraint contains any historical truth. Scholars debate whether this portrait of moderate generals was concocted for a Jewish or a Roman audience, but most agree that it is as exaggerated as Josephus’s other claim that the Jews were compelled by the revolutionaries to fight a war they did not want. On the tenth of the month of Ab (in rabbinic chronology on the ninth), late August of 70 C.E., the Temple was destroyed. Titus and his troops spent the next month subduing the rest of the city and collecting loot as the reward for their victory.

Upon his return to Rome in 71 C.E., Titus celebrated a joint triumph with his father, the emperor Vespasian. In the procession were the enemy leaders Simon bar Giora and John of Gischala, and various objects from the Temple (notably the menorah, table and trumpets). Simon was beheaded, John was probably enslaved and the sacred objects were deposited in the Temple of Peace in Rome. 44

Two triumphal arches were erected in the following years to celebrate the victory; one was destroyed in the 14th or 15th century, the other still stands, the Arch of Titus, with its famous depiction of the sacred objects from the Temple carried in the procession. The destroyed arch bore the following inscription-

The senate and people of Rome (dedicate this arch) to the emperor Titus … because with the guidance and plans of his father, and under his auspices, he subdued the Jewish people and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, which all generals, kings and peoples before him had either attacked without success or left entirely unassailed. 45

To punish the Jews for the war the Romans imposed the fiscus Judaicus, the “Jewish tax.” The half-shekel that Jews throughout the empire had formerly contributed to the Temple in Jerusalem was now collected for the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome. The imposition of this tax, which was collected throughout the empire at least until the middle of the second century C.E., shows that the Romans regarded all the Jews of the empire as partly responsible for the war. Dio Cassius, a Roman historian of the third century C.E., records that the Judean revolutionaries were aided by their coreligionists throughout the Roman Empire. 46

Josephus implicitly denies this, but it is perhaps confirmed by the Jewish tax on Diaspora, as well as Judean, Jews. The Romans did not, however, institute any other harsh measures against the Jews. They confiscated much Jewish land in Judea, distributing it to their soldiers and to Jewish collaborators (like Josephus), but this was a normal procedure after a war. They did not engage in religious persecution or strip the Jews of their rights. On the contrary, Josephus reports that the non-Jewish citizens of Antioch petitioned Titus to allow them to expel their Jewish population, but Titus adamantly refused; the Jews were still entitled to the protection of the state.


Titus’s triumph in Rome in 71 C.E. marked the official end of the war. A few “mopping up” operations remained. Three strongholds, all originally fortified by Herod the Great, were still in rebel hands, but only one of them caused any real trouble for the Romans. This was Masada (which fell in either 73 or 74 C.E.). Archaeological excavations confirm Josephus’s description of the magnificence of the site and the difficulty of the siege. The Romans built a ramp against one side of the plateau and pushed a tower up against the wall of the fortress. We may assume that this activity was accompanied by a constant hail of arrows and stones thrown by the rebels, although Josephus does not mention this. (Nor does he mention even a single Roman casualty!)

When the Masada rebels saw that the end was near, they had to decide whether to continue their struggle. At this point Josephus narrates a very dramatic tale. The leader of the Sicarii, Eleazar ben Yair, assembled the “manliest” of his comrades and convinced them that an honorable self-inflicted death was preferable to the disgrace of capture and enslavement. Acting upon his instructions, each man killed his own wife and family. Then ten men were chosen by lot to kill the rest. Finally, one was chosen to kill the remaining nine and then himself. All told, 960 men, women and children perished. When the Romans entered the fortress the next day, they expected a battle, but all they found
was silence.

The historicity of this famous account is uncertain. The basic elements of the story are of course accurate and confirmed by the archaeological findings—the remains of the rebel presence at Masada, the Roman siege works, the Roman camps and the Roman ramp are in a remarkable state of preservation. Even the stones hurled by the Romans from their siege tower have been found. Some of the Jews slew their families, burned their possessions and set the public buildings on fire. Some of them killed themselves. That some tried to escape, however, is suggested by skeletons found at the site, which may have belonged to people who were found by the Romans and killed.

Josephus probably invented or exaggerated the use of lots in the suicide process. True, Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin found 11 “lots” at Masada, but the first drawing required several hundred lots and the second only ten. Moreover, many of the details in Josephus’s account are irreconcilable with the archaeological evidence. For example, Josephus says that all the possessions were gathered together in one large pile and set on fire, but archaeology shows there were many piles and many fires. Josephus writes that Eleazar ordered his men to destroy everything except the foodstuffs, but archaeology demonstrates that many storerooms that contained provisions were burned. Josephus implies that all the murders took place in the palace, but the northern palace is too small for an assembly of almost a thousand people. 47

More important, the speeches Josephus puts into the mouth of the rebel leader Eleazar ben Yair are incongruous to say the least. Imagine a Jewish revolutionary leader justifying suicide by appealing to the example of the Brahmins of India! It is highly unlikely that there was time for such speeches or that the rebels acted with such unanimity.

As we have seen, the Jewish revolt was not a reaction to an unmistakable threat or provocation by the state. In the fall of 66 C.E.—as the result of social tensions between rich and poor, between city and country, and between Jew and gentile; of the impoverishment of large sections of the economy; of religious speculations about the imminent arrival of the end time and the messianic redeemer; of nationalist stirrings against foreign rule; of the incompetent and insensitive administration of the procurators—the Jews of Palestine went to war against the Roman Empire.

The war was characterized, as we have seen, by internecine fighting. The fighting was not only between revolutionary groups but also between the revolutionaries and large segments of the populace. Josephus is surely correct that many Jews opposed the war. Moreover, the number of people enrolled in the revolutionary parties was quite small. Many Jews had no desire to participate in the struggle. It was one thing to riot against the procurator, quite another to rebel against the Roman Empire. Wealthy and poor alike were afraid that war would mean the loss of everything they had, and since the Romans had not done anything intolerable, there was no compelling reason to go to war. This attitude was widespread. Aside from Jerusalem, only Gamla was the site of fierce fighting. Galilee, Perea (the Transjordan), the coast, Idumea—all these saw some anti- Roman activity, but all were pacified immediately upon the arrival of the Roman forces. Jerusalem was the seat of the rebellion—where it began, where it ended and where the vast majority of the combatants maintained their strongholds.

The causes for the failure of the war are not hard to see. The war began with little advance planning, the revolutionaries were badly divided and the timing was off. Had they rebelled a few years earlier while the Romans were fighting the Parthians, they might have been able to succeed at least to the point of exacting various concessions from the Romans in return for their surrender. Had they waited two years beyond 66 C.E.— after Nero’s assassination in 68 C.E.—their odds would have been immeasurably better. At that time, the empire was in chaos; the succession was vigorously disputed; Gaul had risen in revolt. This would have been a perfect moment for revolt, but for the Jews it came too late.

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