Author: Flavius Josephus

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A Jewish Quisling Recounts the Destruction of the Temple

[70 A.D.]

And now Titus, fully appreciating how much the morale of soldiers in wartime is boosted by good prospects and cheering words, and understanding that exhortations and promises not infrequently cause men to forget the risks they run and even to hold death itself in contempt, assembled his crack troops and sought to inspire them with these words:

"Fellow-soldiers, he who exhorts men to do that which entails no risk casts a slur on those he addresses. Indeed, the exhorter really is implying cowardice. In my opinion such promptings ought to be saved for occasions when affairs have reached a dangerous stage. Now I concede that it is a difficult task to scale this wall, but, once I demonstrate how brave it is to die with glory and how the gallantry of those who lead the way will not go unrewarded, I shall expect those who aspire to heroism to step forward.

"To begin, let me advance what might well be considered a reasonable ground for dissuading you—the long-suffering of the Jews and their fortitude in adversity. Do you think it fitting that yon, who are Romans and my soldiers, who in peace are trained for war, and in war are accustomed to conquering, should be inferior to Jews either in hand-to-hand action or in courage? Remember that you are in sight of victory and are assisted by God Himself. To the desperation of the Jews we owe our misfortunes; their sufferings are a tribute to your valor and to the help God has afforded you. They are rent by sedition. They are under famine and siege. Their walls have fallen without the impact of our engines. Are not these all demonstrations of God’s anger against them and of the help He affords us? Surely, it would be beneath your dignity to show yourselves inferior to those to whom you are really superior or to betray that divine assistance. Is it not a base and unseemly thing that the Jews, who have no reason to be ashamed if they are abandoned, since they have long learned to be slaves of others, should, so that they may be slaves no longer, despise death and constantly make sallies into the thick of our forces—not in the hope of conquering, but merely to display their courage, while we, masters of virtually the entire world, do not conquer them, nor even once venture into our enemy’s ranks when there is real danger, but sit idle, with such stout arms as we have, and merely wait until famine and fortune do our job? Gird up your courage and set about this work and your bravey will soon break the hearts of your enemies.

[An advanced guard approached the tower of Antonia, cut the throats of the sleeping guards, and sounded the trumpet. Titus ordered the army to advance.]

And as the Jews were fleeing to the Temple, they fell into that mine which John had dug under the Roman banks. Then the rebels of both factions—those under John and those under Simon—turned upon the attackers and drove them away, with a prodigious display of strength and spirit, for they deemed themselves lost were the Romans to enter the Temple. So a terrible battle was fought at the Temple’s entrance, the Romans pressing on to seize it, the Jews thrusting them back to the tower of Antonia. Darts and spears were used on both sides. Both sides drew their swords and fought it out hand to hand. In the mêlée sides were confused, lines were completely broken, and fighting was disorganized, so confined was the area in which they fought. Both sides inflicted great slaughter. The combatants trampled upon and dashed to pieces the bodies and the armour of the dead. There was room for neither flight nor pursuit. Those in the front ranks had either to kill or be killed. At length the fury of the Jews prevailed over the skill of the Romans, and the battle inclined in favor of the former. The fighting had lasted from the ninth hour of the night until the seventh hour of the following day, the Jews attacking en masse, inspired to heroic acts by the threat to the Temple.

[Titus ordered the soldiers to destroy the tower of Antonia, and sent for Josephus, requesting him to ask John to come out if he wished to continue the battle, so as to spare the city and the Temple.]

Josephus took his stand where he could be heard, not only by John, but by a great multitude. He gave them Caesar’s message in Hebrew, earnestly beseeching them:

"Spare your city! Put out the fire which threatens the Temple! Offer to God the customary sacrifices!"

At these words the people were dejected and silent. Then the tyrant let loose a torrent of reproaches and curses on Josephus, declaring:

"I have no fear of capture, since this is God’s own city."

Josephus shouted back:

"To be sure, you have kept this city wonderfully pure in honor of God! The Temple, too, remains entirely unpolluted! Nor have you been guilty of the least impropriety against Him upon whose assistance you count! He still receives his accustomed sacrifices! Vile wretch! Suppose any one deprived you of your daily food? You would regard him as an enemy. Yet you expect to have as your Ally in this war God, whom you have deprived of His everlasting worship! Who is there who would not grieve and lament at the amazing changes which have come to this city? Foreigners and enemies now seek to correct that impiety which you have occasioned, while you, a Jew, brought up in our law, are more cavalier to them even than your foes!

"Nevertheless, John, it is not dishonorable to repent. Who is there who does not recall the writings of the ancient prophets, who is not acquainted with that oracle now about to be fulfilled upon this doomed city! For they foretold that this city would be taken when somebody should begin the slaughter of his countrymen! Are not both the city and the entire Temple full of the dead bodies of your countrymen? God it is, therefore, God Himself, who, with the Romans as his instrument, is bringing this fire to purge His temple and to exterminate this city so full of your pollutions."

Josephus’s voice was broken by sobs. There were tears in his eyes. Even the Romans could not fail to pity him and to admire his conduct. But as for John and his followers, they were all the more exasperated against the Romans and wanted to get their hands on Josephus. However, his speech influenced a great many of the better sort. Some of the latter were so fearful of the guards set by the insurrectionaries that they stayed where they were although convinced that both they themselves together with the dry were doomed to destruction. Others only awaited a suitable opportunity to depart unobserved, and then fled to the Romans. [Titus treated the deserters generously, but the defenders spread the rumor that the Romans had slain them, thus deterring others from following their example.]

Throughout the city famine victims were dropping in countless numbers and enduring indescribable sufferings.

[Josephus recounts that numerous eyewitnesses authenticated the story of the mother who devoured her own infant child,—a report which shocked the entire community.]

[At last a frontal attack on the Temple was launched.] Two of the legions had now completed their earthworks on the eighth day of the month Lous [Ab]. Whereupon Titus ordered the battering rams to be brought over and set against the western wall of the outer court of the Temple. Before these had been moved up, the heaviest of the other siege-engines had for six days engaged in a ceaseless battering of the wall without making any impression upon it. Finally, the Romans, despairing of all such attempts, brought their ladders to the porticoes. The Jews made no move to interfere, but when the ladders were raised, they fell upon them. Some of the attackers they thrust back and hurled down headlong. Others they slew. Some ladders, carrying full complements of armed men, were tilted over from above and dashed to the ground, but the Jews themselves suffered heavy slaughter. The Romans who carried their standards put up a terrific fight, deeming their loss a disgrace. At last, the Jews got possession of the engines, destroyed the soldiers who had mounted the ladders, and so intimidated the remainder by the fate of the others that they retired. No Roman died, however, without giving a good account of himself. As for the rebels, those who had fought bravely in previous engagements acquitted themselves gallantly in this.

When Titus realized that his efforts to spare a foreign temple were responsible for the losses of his soldiers, he gave orders to set the gates on fire. The melting silver that covered them quickly carried the flames to the woodwork, whence they spread, leaped up, and caught hold of the porticoes. When the Jews saw that they were encircled by fire, their spirits sank. So astounded were they, that not one among them attempted to defend himself or to quench the fire. They stood by as mute spectators.

Weary and fearful, the Jews refrained that day from any attacks. However, on the following day they rallied their forces, sallied boldly through the eastern gate, and charged upon those guarding the outer court of the Temple. This occurred near the second hour of the day. The Roman guards put up a stubborn defense, using their shields to serve as a screen in front and to form a wall, and closing up their ranks. Yet it was evident that they could not hold their ground much longer, but would soon he overcome by the number and fury of their assailants.

From his position on the tower of Antonia, Caesar, anticipating that this line was likely to give way, sent some picked cavalry to their support. The Jews found themselves unable to sustain their original assault, and, after their front lines were decimated, drew back. Then, as the Romans retired, they suddenly turned on them. The Romans counterattacked in turn, and again the Jews retreated So the fight continued until around the fifth hour of the day, when the Jews were thrown back and shut themselves up in the inner court of the Temple.

Then Titus retired to the tower of Antonia and resolved to attack with his whole force at dawn of the next day and to invest the Temple. But that edifice had long since been doomed to the flames by God. The fatal day arrived. It was the tenth day of the month Lous [Ab], the day on which of old it had been burnt by the king of Babylon. This time the flames owed their origin to the very acts of the Jewish people themselves. For, upon Titus’s withdrawal, the rebels were momentarily quiet, but soon attacked the Romans again. Those guarding the sanctuary engaged the troops who sought to quench the fire in the inner court. The Romans put the Jews to flight and pursued them right up to the Holy House.

At this moment one of the soldiers, without awaiting orders and devoid of a sense of horror at so dreadful a deed, but prompted by some supernatural impulse, picked up a brand from the burning timber and, hoisted up by one of his comrades, flung it through a golden window which gave access to the north side of the sanctuary. As the flames darted upward, a cry, poignant as the tragic affliction, arose from the Jews, who rushed forward to quench them. They had no thought to sparing their own lives, and outdid themselves, but the Temple for whose sake they had put up in formidable a defense, was perishing.

And now a messenger came running to Titus as he was resting in his tent after the engagement and informed him of the conflagration. Whereupon he rose, just as he was, and ran to the Temple to arrest the fire. Behind him rushed his entire staff, followed by the excited legionaries. A great clamor and tumult attended the precipitate advance of such a multitude. Then Caesar, with a loud voice, called upon those soldiers who were still fighting, and, raising his right hand, signalled them to quench the fire. But, although he yelled at them, they could not make out what he said above the din. On their part, the rebels were too distressed to help. On all sides they were slain; on all sides they were put to flight. Weak and unarmed, the civilians had their throats cut wherever they were caught. Now, round about the altar lay dead bodies heaped one upon another, and a stream of blood flowed down the altar steps.

While the Temple blazed, the Romans plundered everything that came to hand and slaughtered some ten thousand of those that were caught. Children and old men, laity and priests, were all slain in the same manner. The flames were carried a long way. Owing to the height of the hill and the mass of burning pile, one would have thought that the whole city was ablaze. Nothing more appal1ing and deafening can be imagined than the din which arose. On the one hand were the shouts of the marching legionaries; on the other the howls of the insurgents, now encircled by fire and sword. Many of those who were exhausted and tongue-tied by the famine now put forth their utmost strength when they saw the Temple ablaze, and broke out into wailing and lamentations. Perea returned the echo, as did the mountains round about the city, and added to the din. But the misery was even more terrible than this uproar. The hill itself on which the Temple stood seemed to be seething hot. But, though every part of it was aflame, the stream of blood was more copious than the flames and those that were slain more numerous than those that slew them. Nowhere could the ground be seen because of the dead bodies that covered it.

As for the priests, some of them tore up the spikes from the sanctuary and, using their leaden sockets, hurled them at the Romans in place of darts. Their efforts proved unavailing. As the fire burst upon them, they retired to the wall that was eight cubits broad, and there they tarried. Two of the most eminent among them, who might have saved their lives by going over to the Romans or have held out and shared the fate of the rest, threw themselves into the fire and were consumed along with the Temple. Their names were Meirus, the son of Belgas, and Joseph, the son of Dalaeus.

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Chicago: Flavius Josephus, History, ed. Josephus in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 22, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D3FBNBKCWMLJKSS.

MLA: Josephus, Flavius. History, edited by Josephus, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 22 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D3FBNBKCWMLJKSS.

Harvard: Josephus, F, History, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 22 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D3FBNBKCWMLJKSS.