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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE

IN order to destroy as many of their enemies as possible, the Jews made use of a stratagem. Along the western cloisters they filled the space between the rafters and the ceiling with dry wood, bitumen, and pitch, and then, as if worn out, they retreated from the cloisters. On this a number of Romans put up their scaling-ladders and mounted to the roof, without waiting for orders. But the more prudent suspected that a trap had been laid for them, and did not follow their comrades.

When the roof was filled with those who had clambered up, the Jews set fire to the whole range of cloisters from below. The flames rushed roaring upwards among the besiegers. They were thrown into a terrible fright. Some of them jumped down into the city, others into the very midst of the enemy. There they lay bruised to death or with broken limbs. Most of them, in trying to escape, perished in the flames, while many fell upon their own swords when they saw they could not save themselves.


[Illustration]

ROMAN SOLDIERS SETTING FIRE TO THE TEMPLE

Titus, though very angry at all who had mounted the roof without waiting for orders, still was touched with pity when [445] he beheld them burning up and dying before his eyes. He sprang forward and exhorted those around him to make every effort for their rescue. But nothing could be done to save them. A few of those who had mounted retired to a broader part of the roof, out of reach of the flames; but they were surrounded by the Jews and killed to a man, after having made a valiant resistance.

Towards the close of the struggle one of them, called Longus, was called upon by the Jews below, who said they would spare his life if he would come down and surrender. But his brother from among the Romans called out to him not to tarnish the honor of the family or that of the Roman arms by surrendering to the Jews. Longus then raised his sword in view of both armies and stabbed himself to the heart.

Among those who were entangled among the flames, one Artorius saved himself by his cunning. He called aloud to one of his fellow-soldiers below,—

"I say, Lucius! I will leave you heir to my property if you will come near and catch me."

Lucius ran up, and Artorius threw himself upon him, and was saved. But poor Lucius was dashed by the weight of his friend upon the pavement, and killed upon the spot.

The Roman soldiers were much cast down in spirits by the death of so many of their comrades, but still it made them all the more cautious and wary against the wily stratagems of the Jews. As the western gallery or cloister had been destroyed, they themselves set fire to the northern one, and laid it in ashes as far as the northeast corner, which was built over the ravine called Cedron.

In the mean time the famine raged with such fierceness that countless thousands died of hunger. In every house where there was the least morsel of food the inmates fought over it like dogs. The dearest friends fought for the most miserable little scraps. Gaping with hunger, the insurgents [446] prowled about, and gnawed at anything that might seem like food. They chewed their belts and shoes, and tore off the leather from their shields. They ate up wisps of hay, and all sorts of nasty things,—in fact, anything that might help to sustain life.

When some of the mounds were finished, Titus ordered the battering-rams to be brought up at the western wing of the inner temple. For six days before, the largest of the rams had battered against the wall without effect. A part of the army tried to undermine the foundations of the northern gate. After a great deal of labor, they at last rolled out the front stones, but the gate itself, supported by the inner stones, still remained firm, so that the Romans gave up trying to force an entrance to the temple in this manner, and instead fixed their scaling-ladders to the galleries.

The Jews allowed the Romans to mount, but as soon as they reached the top, they hurled them down headlong, or slew them before they could cover themselves with their shields. Several ladders filled with armed men coming up to the attack they pushed aside from above, and thus hurled all the soldiers to the ground. All who had mounted fell by the swords of the Jews, and some of the Roman ensigns were captured. As Titus saw he could not force an entrance in this way, he ordered the gates to be set on fire.

At this time two of the insurgents belonging to Simon's body-guard deserted to Titus. They hoped for pardon because they surrendered in a moment of success. Titus had a great mind to put them both to death, because he thought that they had only surrendered through necessity, to save themselves from that ruin which they had helped to bring upon their native city. However, as he had promised protection to all who came to him, he kept his word, and allowed the deserters to depart without punishment.

The soldiers had already set the gates on fire, and the flames spread quickly to the galleries. When the Jews saw [447] the circle of fire hem them in on every side, they lost courage, and stood gaping at the flames, without trying to put them out. Through the whole day and the following night the fire continued to burn the range of cloisters.

The next morning Titus gave orders that the fire should be put out and the gates thrown down, so as to admit the troops. He then called his generals together and held a council of war. Some of them wished to destroy the temple at once, because they said as long as the Jews had the temple to take refuge in they would continue to be rebellious. Others advised that if the Jews would leave the temple at once it should be spared, but if they would continue to fight from it as if it were a fortress, it should be burned to the ground.

But Titus declared that, whatever happened, so magnificent a work as the temple ought to be spared, because it would always be an ornament to the Roman empire. Three of his principal generals agreed with him in this view, and the council was dissolved. Some of the cohorts were immediately ordered to open a way through the ruins and put out the flames, wile the rest of the army were allowed to repose, that they might be the more vigorous for action.

Upon the next day the Jews made a furious sally upon the guards who were posted in the outer court. The Romans closed up their ranks, locked their shields together in front like a wall, and bravely withstood the attack. But the Jews came pouring forth in such tremendous numbers that Titus was afraid the guards would be defeated, and hurried with his picked body of cavalry to assist them. The Jews could not withstand his charge, and retreated. But when he turned to go, they rallied and rushed again to the attack. The cavalry then charged, and the Jews were driven back, and shut up in the inner court of the temple.

Titus then withdrew into the Antonia, intending the next morning to make an attack with his entire force upon the temple. But the beautiful edifice was upon that day doomed [448] to destruction. The fated day had come, the tenth of August, the very day on which the former temple had been destroyed by the king of Babylon.

When Titus retired, the insurgents again charged the Romans. A conflict took place between the Jewish guards of the sanctuary and the Roman troops who were trying to put out the flames in the inner court. The Jews were routed, and pursued even to the sanctuary.

At this moment a soldier, neither waiting for orders nor awed by so dread a deed, snatched up a burning brand, and, lifted by one of his comrades, he threw the brand through a small golden door on the north side which opened on the apartments around the sanctuary. As the flames caught, a fearful cry was raised by the Jews. They rushed to the rescue, caring nothing for their lives, now that their temple was burning.

Titus was lying down in his tent, when some one rushed in and told him that the temple was in flames. Starting up as he was, he at once ran to the spot in order to stop the flames. But there was such a noise and confusion that the soldiers either could not or would not hear the commands of their general, or heed the waving of his hand. Nothing could check the headlong fury of the soldiers. Many were trampled down by their own comrades about the entrances, and falling among the burning ruins of the outside galleries, they shared the fate of their enemies.

Mad with rage, and pretending not to hear the orders of their general, the soldiers rushed on, and hurled their torches into the sanctuary. The insurgents now were helpless, and made no attempt at defence. On every side was slaughter and flight. Numbers of feeble and unarmed citizens were butchered. Around the altar were heaps of slain; down its steps flowed a stream of blood which washed down the bodies that lay about.

As Titus could not restrain the fury of his soldiers, he [449] entered with some of his generals into the holy place of the sanctuary, and looked upon all the splendors that it contained. As the flames had not yet reached the interior, but were still feeding upon the apartments around the temple, Titus made one last effort to save the beautiful structure.

He hurried out, and again exhorted the soldiers to put out the flames. At the same time he ordered one of his centurions to beat with his staff those who would not obey him. But neither respect for their general nor fear of punishment could check the soldiers. The din of battle, their rage, and hatred of the Jews, and hope of rich plunder, all combined to make the Romans ungovernable. For they saw that all about the temple was made of gold, and they believed that within it they would find immense treasures.

Though Titus rushed out to restrain the soldiers, one even of those who had entered with him thrust fire amid the darkness between the hinges of the gate that opened into the inner temple. The whole building was in flames in an instant. Titus and his generals withdrew, and the beautiful building was left to its fate.


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