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The Story of the Last Days of Jerusalem by  Alfred J. Church

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OF THE FIRST COMING OF THE ROMANS

AFTER this the Zealots and the Idumęans slew a great multitude of the people. But many of the princes and of the better sort they cast into prison, hoping that so they might win them over to their own cause. Nevertheless of these prisoners not one would hearken to their persuasions; for they judged it better to die than to be numbered with those wicked men that were conspiring against their own country. So great was the fear among the people that none durst openly lament for his kinsfolk, or so much as bury them; but they wept for the dead in secret, and were careful that the enemy should not hear their groans. And at night, or even by day, if there was found a man a little bolder than his fellows, they would throw earth upon the dead bodies.

After a while they grew weary of slaughtering after this fashion, and would set up mockeries of courts and judgment seats. There was a certain Zacharias, the son of Baruch, a wealthy man and a powerful, and a lover [53] of liberty. Him they took and brought before seventy judges whom they had chosen from the people, being men wholly without authority. And when they accused him that he sought to betray the country to the Romans and had sent messengers to Vespasian for this end, but could bring no proof or witness of what they laid against him, Zacharias, knowing that his case was desperate, spake out his mind with all freedom. And first he showed the truth about the things whereof he was accused, and proved that the charge which they laid against him was naught; and afterwards he turned against his accusers, setting forth their misdeeds in order and lamenting the ruin that they had brought to pass. When the Zealots heard these words, they cried out against him, and could scarce refrain from drawing their swords upon him, only they would fain have the trial brought to an end, that they might know how these judges would bear themselves. Nevertheless the seventy acquitted the man, choosing rather to die themselves than to condemn him to death. But when this judgment was declared all the Zealots cried out. And two of the boldest ran upon Zacharias and smote him with their swords, crying, "This is the vote we give thee; of this acquittal there can be no question." Then they threw down the dead body into the valley below. As for the judges they smote them with the flat of their swords, and drave them out of the Temple. But now the Idumęans began to repent them that they had come, and to grow weary of these ill deeds. And while they thus thought on these things, there came one of the Zealots to them and unfolded all the frauds and deceits of his fellows. "As for the betraying of the City to the Romans," he said, "we have found no proof of it, and now we had best have nothing more to do with [54] these men; else we shall surely be counted guilty of all their misdeeds."

So the Idumęans departed; but first they set free those that lay bound in the prisons, to the number of two thousand. But when they were gone, the Zealots raged against their adversaries more furiously than before; and especially against all the better sort of the people, for they judged that they should scarcely be safe, if they left even one of them alive. The chief of them that they slew were Gorion, a man well born and of great honour, whom they hated for his freedom of speech, and Niger of Peręa, who had borne himself very bravely in battle against the Romans. This Niger they dragged through the City while he cried out against their wrongdoings, and showed the scars of his wounds. And when he found that they led him without the gates, he asked of them that they would at least give his body to his kinsfolk for burial. But even this they denied to him. Then he lifted up his voice, being at the point to die, and cried that the Romans would avenge him, and that they should suffer not war only, but hunger also and pestilence, and that they should be slain by each other's hands; all which things, for the greater punishment of these wicked men, God brought upon them.

When the Roman captains heard that there was such strife in the City, they thought to profit by it, and would have marched forthwith to assail it, saying to Vespasian, who was over the whole host, "Surely now God is on our side, seeing that our enemies have turned their hands against each other. Let us, therefore, make haste before they repent them of their folly and make peace among themselves." But Vespasian made answer, "Ye perceive not what is best for us, and are like not to true [55] soldiers, but those who make display of their arms in the theatre; only that your display is not without peril. For if we march against their City forthwith, then shall we bring it to pass that they be reconciled to each other, and will thus turn their strength against us. But if we wait, then shall we have the fewer to deal with. Nay, it is God who is a better captain than I, for He giveth the Jews into our hands without toil or peril. Wherefore if we look to our safety, it were best to leave them to destroy themselves; and if we look to our honour, let us not suffer it to be said that we have conquered by their strife rather than by our valour."

To these words of Vespasian all the captains gave assent. And indeed it was speedily manifest that his counsel was wise; for day by day many deserted to the Romans, escaping from the Zealots; though indeed it was not an easy thing to escape, for the Zealots kept all the ways; and if one was taken he was slain forthwith as a deserter. Yet if a man had the wherewithal to bribe the guards, he was loosed, and they were only counted for traitors who had nothing which they could give. And all the streets were filled with dead bodies; nor was it permitted for the kinsfolk of the slain to bury them; but if anyone dared to do this he was punished with death. And as for those that languished in the prisons, so great was their misery that they counted the dead to be happy in comparison of themselves.

About this time there came news to Vespasian of troubles in Gaul, where indeed Vindex had revolted against Nero. And when he heard these tidings he was the more desirous to finish the war, judging that there would be great confusion throughout the world, and peril to the whole Empire; and that if he could first bring about peace in the East, there would be the [56] less fear for Italy. Wherefore during the winter he set garrisons in such towns and villages as he had subdued, building up again much that had been destroyed. And when it was spring he set out with the greater part of his army; and so, having subdued other regions, came to Jericho, which city he found desolate, for the dwellers therein had fled to the hill country of Judęa. Here he made a camp, and others elsewhere, so that now it was not possible for any that were in Jerusalem to come out thence.

But when he was now preparing to assault the City, there came news to him from the West, which caused him to delay his purpose; for he heard that Nero was dead (having reigned thirteen years and eight days). And first he waited till he should know who had been made Emperor in Nero's stead. And when he heard that Galba had been made, he would take nothing in hand till he should have his commands; but he sent Titus, his son, to salute him, and hear from him what he should do. With Titus went also King Agrippa. But while they sailed by Cyprus they heard that Galba was dead, and that Otho was now Emperor. Then indeed Agrippa went on to Rome, but Titus sailed across to Cęsarea to his father. And Vespasian, seeing that there was such confusion in the Empire, thought the time unseasonable for making war, and so held his hand.

But, meanwhile, there came to be great troubles in Jerusalem, and these from a certain Simon, the son of Gioras, who, when Ananus was dead, conceived in his heart the hope of ruling the City, and gathered together for this end an army of wicked men. He built for himself a fort at a certain village called Nain; and in the valley of Pharos, where there are many caves, he hid away the plunder which he had taken.

[57] After a while the Zealots, fearing the man and his counsels, for they doubted not that he had it in his mind to take the City, came out and fought against him. But they fled before him, and many were slain, and the others driven back into the City. Yet he durst not as yet attack the walls, but went back to his fort. After this he made war on the Idumęans, and laid waste their country, and took many cities therein; and afterwards, coming back, pitched his camp without Jerusalem, surrounding it with a wall; and coming out thence he slew such as would have entered the City.

Meanwhile there arose great strife in the City among those who followed John of Gischala. For such of them as were Idumęans—and there were yet many Idumęans in the City—conspired against him, either being envious of his power, or hating him for his cruelty. Then these men and those who still clave to John fought together; but though they prevailed in the battle, they doubted how this matter should turn out, for the followers of John were many and desperate, and they feared lest they should burn the City. Therefore that they might overthrow John they purposed to bring Simon, the son of Gioras, into the City. And this counsel was performed, for they sent Matthias, the high priest, and besought him, whom aforetimes they had feared, to enter the City. And this he did, making loud and boastful promises that he would set the people free from their tyrants; and the people answered with much shouting and applause. Yet when he had taken it he counted all alike for enemies, both them who had sent for him, and them against whom these would have had him fight.

This happened in the third year of the war. And straightway Simon took possession of the Upper City, and shut up John in the Temple, which also he would [58] fain have taken. But this he could not do, for John and his men had the highest ground, and upon this they had built four great towers, on which they set their engines, with their bowmen and the slingers, so that many of Simon's men were slain.

About this time there came tidings to Vespasian that Vitellius was made Emperor, for Otho had been conquered by him. With this Vespasian was very ill content; yet when he thought what changes and chances there are in war, and how fickle a thing is fortune, he doubted what he should do. But the soldiers were very urgent with him that he should consent to be Emperor, for they could not endure that such a one as Vitellius should rule over them. And to this after a while he consented.

Then did he begin to consider with himself that he had been called to this dignity by the providence of God. Also he remembered besides other signs, and indeed there had been many, which had portended to him this sovereignty, and also the words which Josephus had spoken to him; for while Nero was yet alive he had dared to call him Emperor. And he was astonished that the man who had done this should yet be held as a prisoner. Wherefore, calling for Mucianus and his other captains and friends, he set forth to them what great things Josephus had done, and how he had hindered him when he was besieging Jotapata, and after had prophesied to him, and how having suspected before that these prophecies were feigned, that the man might save himself thereby, he now knew that they were spoken by the inspiration of God. "Surely," he said, "it is a shameful thing that he who prophesied to me my sovereignty, and was the minister of the voice of God, should yet be held in the estate of a captive and a prisoner." Then he called for Josephus, and com- [59] manded that he should be loosed from his chains. But Titus, who stood by, said, "It is right, sire, that Josephus should be set free, not from the chains only, but from the reproach also. And this shall be if the chains be not loosed but cut asunder." For this is the custom with such as have been wrongfully bound. To this Vespasian gave consent; and one stepped forth and cut asunder his chains with an axe. Thus did the words of his prophecy bring him into good repute, and thereafter he was counted as one who might be believed when he spake of things to come.

After this Vespasian went to Antioch; and from Antioch, after a while, to Alexandria. And being at Alexandria he heard good tidings from Rome, how that Vitellius was dead, and that all received him for Emperor; and indeed there came envoys from all parts of the world to do him homage. Then he himself proposed to go to Rome; but he sent Titus, his son, to take the City of Jerusalem, and Titus, having sailed down the Nile as far as Mende, led his army thence to Cęsarea, to which place he came after a nine days' march; and there he purposed to set his army in order for the siege.


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