20120504-Shabbatai2 Jewish Messiah.jpg
Medieval vision of the
coming of the Jewish Messiah
There were many uprisings by the Jews during the period of Roman rule. In the A.D. 1st century there were conflicts between the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Hellinized priests that ruled the Temple. Messianic fervor led to several uprisings that eventually forced the Romans to put down two major Jewish revolts, in A.D. 70 and A.D. 125, the destroy the Jewish Temple and disperse the Hebrew population. It has been suggested that if the Jews hadn't revolted there would have been no Jewish diaspora and history would have been very different.

According to the BBC: “This was a period of great change - political, religious, cultural and social turmoil abounded in Palestine. The Jewish academies flourished but many Jews could not bear being ruled over by the Romans. During the first 150 years CE the Jews twice rebelled against their Roman leaders, both rebellions were brutally put down, and were followed by stern restrictions on Jewish freedom.” [Source: BBC]

Holland Lee Hendrix rold PBS: “The first thing I think I would say about the situation of Judea at the time of Jesus, is that it really is a burgeoning economy. It's a new world because of the arrival of Rome, and because of the accomplishments of Herod's rule. But at the same time, these very accomplishments produce some tensions. We could probably think of it best if we think of it as almost two intersecting axes. The first is a series of religious tensions, many of them focusing on the Temple. The Temple is both the center of continuity, it's the center of devotion, and yet it can be the center of religious controversy and apocalyptic expectation or sectarian identity. Such as that we see at ... at Qumran, and among the Dead Sea Scrolls. [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary \=/ Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“On the other side, there is the political and socioeconomic tension that we see reflected in the rise of social banditry. Let's remember that Josephus actually mentions over a dozen of these rebel bandit kinds of figures, like Judas the Galilean and The Egyptian. All the way from the time from Herod, himself and going down to the time of the first revolt. And at least, according to Josephus, there's a kind of increasing sense of political unrest that comes with them. Now, this political tension though, is also fueled by religious ideas and expectations. And here again, Jerusalem and the Temple seem at times to be a kind of focal point of their ideas. \=/

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ;

Essenes ruins at Qumran
Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism;

Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ;

Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com;

Books: “A Short History of Judaism” by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); “The Gift of the Jews” by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: “Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times” by Donald Redford; “Oxford Companion to the Bible”; “Palestine Bible as History” by Werner Keller; “The Bible Unearthed” by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; “Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands” by K. Farrington

Unrest and Messiahs

Jesus was born at a time of social unrest when many Jews were interested in the coming of a Messiah. The unrest can be traced back to the Maccabean revolt in 167 B.C., a nationalist Jewish rebellion against Greek rulers. Many young Jewish men died as martyrs. The Maccabean revolt set off a long period of chaos, social upheaval and expectations of a Messiah.

Messiah literally means the “anointed one” in Hebrew, and was widely understood to mean “King of the Jews." In Jesus's time Jews regarded the ideal Messiah as a redeemer or Davidic king, who take the faithful to a peaceful world, far different from the chaotic one that people lived in at that time. As a consequence of this religion began to focus more on the destiny of the individual, meting out justice in way that righted injustice of the world and dealt with the afterlife. From out of this grew the concept of a Judgment Day, resurrection and salvation.

Jews, in Jesus's time, believed that the Messiah was more likely to be a strong military leader than a gentle, moralizing preacher. The prophet Isaiah predicting that the Messiah would be a "Prince of Peace" who conquered the Assyrians "like the mire of the streets," reduced Damascus to "a ruinous heap," transformed Babylon into a city inhabited only by owls, satyrs and other "doleful creatures," and in Egypt “turn everyone against his neighbor, city against city, and kingdom against kingdom."

The prophet Jeremiah expressed similar sentiments. According to him, God said that the Philistines "shall cry and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl," the Egyptians "shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood," and the daughters of Ammon shall "be burned in fire" when the Messiah comes.

Pharisees and Sadducees

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The Pharisees, whose name may have meant "separatists," were a group of religious lay leaders committed to the purification of Judaism through meticulous observance of moral and ceremonial laws. They supported the temple cult but were most uneasy about the usurpation of the high priesthood by one of non-priestly caste. More often they were identified with synagogues, the local autonomous gathering places of the masses, where prayer and study were conducted. In addition to the study of the scriptures, the Pharisees emphasized the teachings of the elders or oral tradition as a guide to religion. They professed belief in the resurrection of the body and in a future world where rewards and punishments were meted out according to man's behavior in this life. They believed in angels through whom revelations could come, and later were to develop a belief in a Messiah.3 They tended to view alliances with foreigners with suspicion. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, infidels.org ]

“The Sadducees were pro-Greek, aristocratic priests, whose interests were centered in the temple and the cultic rites. Their name was probably derived from Zadok, the famous priest of the time of David and Solomon (II Sam. 8:17;. 15:24; I Kings 1:34). Because the offices of high priest and governor were combined, the Sadducees tended to be deeply involved in high-level politics. Politically, they were committed to independence and to the concept of the theocratic state, as were most Jews. Although they were opposed to foreign domination, they did not object to the introduction of foreign elements into Jewish life. Like the Pharisees, they stressed the importance of observance of the Torah, but they rejected the authority of oral tradition. When confronted by situations not covered in the Torah, they enacted new laws. They rejected the Pharisaic doctrine of a resurrection and a future life and held to the older Jewish belief in Sheol. Nor did they accept the belief in angels.


The Essenes were a breakaway, apocalyptic Jewish sect that lived around the Dead Sea. Regarded as the authors of the Dead Sea scrolls, they moved to the desert to await the Messiah and believed in baptism and redemption. Since their monasteries were so close to John's baptismal site many believe they were early purveyors of Christianity. Most everything that is known about the Essenes has been derived from the Dead Sea scrolls.

The Essenes believed that they had been chosen to fight the "sons of darkness" as end of the world approached. They founded the earliest known monasteries and were led by leader called the Teacher of Righteousness. Their calendar was different from that of mainstream Jewish sects associated with the Temple of Jerusalem. They were highly secretive and conducted ritual bathes. Many lived in manmade caves dug into marl. Excavations by archaeologists of numerous bathing facilities at the Dead-Sea-scroll of Quamran suggests that these proto-Christians practiced baptism.

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Dead Sea scroll written by the Essenes
The Essenes allowed couples to live together without marriage. The relationship was only solemnized if the woman became pregnant. The Essenes may have influenced some of Jesus' teachings. The sect preached the idea of salvation but only to a few, not all of humanity like Jesus did. The Essenes were conquered in A.D. 68 by the Romans.

Some archaeologists now believe that the Essenes did not actually live in the Dead Sea area when the scrolls were written. They believed that when the scrolls were found the area was inhabited by ordinary farmers. This theory is based on findings that suggest that seasonal workers lived in Qumaran and there is no direct evidence that the Essenes or a people of “any uniqueness” lived there. They suggest the scrolls were written in Jerusalem and hidden in Qumran. Others disagree. One archaeologist found vessels — like those used to store the Dead Sea schools and bones — which appeared to have been laid out in some order, suggesting a religious ritual, possible evidence that the Essnes did live in the area.

Jewish Guerilla Movements

At the time of Jesus's birth, the Holy Land was crawling with militant Jewish groups engaged in a prolonged guerilla-style warfare against the Roman army. The districts of Palestine, where Jesus lived and worked were major centers of insurgent activity.

Militants Jewish groups and “bandit-guerrillas” were active in the decades before the birth of Christ and they continued being active decades after his death until a full scale Jewish revolt in A.D. 68 when a leader named Manahem took control of the temple area by driving out the Roman troops and executing the high priests. Six Roman legions were required to put the revolt down. Josephus chronicled five major Jewish military messiahs, not including Jesus or John the Baptist, between 40 B.C. and A.D. 73.

The Romans referred to the Jewish insurgents as bandits even though most of their targets were absentee landlords and tax collectors. They were also sometimes called "zealots" (a reference to their zeal for Jewish law and the promise of God's covenant). Bandit-guerrillas who were caught were often crucified or beheaded in public.

Tactics of Jewish Guerilla Movements

Abatur at the scales
an image with Essenes roots?
The zealot-bandits practiced guerilla tactics that would have made Mao proud: they seized armories, staged hit and run attacks and assassinations and carried out suicide mission and terrorist attacks on the palaces of important leaders. Many of the fighters lived in caves or mountain hideouts. Some urban guerilla fighter were known as "dagger men," because they carried knives in the folds of their robes.

From time to time these guerilla leaders lead uprisings that were quickly dashed by the Roman military. Herod made a name for himself by ambushing two threatening Jewish leaders. One leader was executed in front of a cave in full view of his wife and seven children. In 4 B.C. Jews angry over the execution of students caught trying to remove a Roman eagle from temple decoration launched a city-wide riot. Eventually some 2,000 Jews were crucified.

A violent protest broke out over the Roman transgression of the Jewish taboo on graven images and the use of temple funds to build an aqueduct to supply the Romans with water for their bathes. During a Passover feast in 50 A.D. a Roman centurion raised his tunic and farted into a group of pilgrims. "The less restrained of the young men and the naturally tumultuous segments of the people rushed into battle," Josephus reported. The Roman infantry was called in and Josephus claimed 30,000 people were trampled to death.

The rebels had a few victories. In A.D. 26, Jews confronted Roman soldiers over the raising of a flag with Caesar's face near the central shrine of The Temple. The Jews bared their necks and dared the Romans to attack them. The result: the flags were taken down.

Edicts of Jewish Rights

Edict of Augustus on Jewish Rights, 1 B.C.: Caesar Augustus, pontifex maximus, holding the tribunician power, proclaims: Since the nation of the Jews and Hyrcanus, their high priest, have been found grateful to the people of the Romans, not only in the present but also in the past, and particularly in the time of my father, Caesar, imperator, it seems good to me and to my advisory council, according to the oaths, by the will of the people of the Romans, that the Jews shall use their own customs in accordance with their ancestral law, just as they used to use them in the time of Hyrcanus, the high priest of their highest god; and that their sacred offerings shall be inviolable and shall be sent to Jerusalem and shall be paid to the financial officials of Jerusalem; and that they shall not give sureties for appearance in court on the Sabbath or on the day of preparation before it after the ninth hour. But if anyone is detected stealing their sacred books or their sacred monies, either from a synagogue or from a mens' apartment, he shall be considered sacrilegious and his property shall be brought into the public treasury of the Romans. [Source: Tacitus, The Histories of Tacitus, trans. A. D. Godley (London: Macmillan, 1898)]

Edict of Claudius on Jewish Rights, A.D. 41: Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, pontifex maximus, holding the tribunician power, proclaims: . . .Therefore it is right that also the Jews, who are in all the world under us, shall maintain their ancestral customs without hindrance and to them I now also command to use this my kindness rather reasonably and not to despise the religious rites of the other nations, but to observe their own laws.

Tiberius Expels the Jews from Rome


David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Tacitus relates that in 19 BC Tiberius expelled the Jews from Rome (Ann. 2.85), and forcibly conscripted 4,000 of them for the unenviable task of fighting pirates in Sardinia. But it would be an error to see this as a sign of general antipathy or hostility to the Jews. As Josephus tells the story, Tiberius was angered by the misdeeds of a single Jew who converted a noble Roman lady, Fulvia, and persuaded her to make a large contribution for the Temple at Jerusalem, which he then diverted for his own use (AJ 18.3.5). This suggests that the real problem was not the Jews themselves but their isolated successes in winning converts among the Roman upper class. Suetonius also makes it clear that this action was part of a wider crackdown on foreign, especially Eastern, superstitions. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“He abolished foreign cults at Rome, particularly the Egyptian (i.e. the worship of Isis) and the Jewish, forcing all citizens who had embraced these superstitious faiths to burn their religious vestments and other accessories .... Tiberius also banished all astrologers, except such as asked for his forgiveness and undertook to make no more predictions (Suet. Tib. 36). /+/

“Philo says that Tiberius' henchman Sejanus hated the Jews and intended to persecute them throughout the Empire. But in fact what anti-Semitism appears in the pagan sources from the period is almost entirely expressed by Greeks. An area of particular tension between Jews and Greeks was the city of Alexandria, which had attracted a large community of diaspora Jews by virtue of its status as a major trading center. Jews had long been prominent as commanders in the army of the Ptolemies, where they were given special dispensation from fighting on the Sabbath. At Alexandria the Jews enjoyed a privileged legal position. Most were not citizens, but they had a separate citizen body (politeuma) with their own council of elders, assembly, and courts. /+/

Fate of Jews Outside Judea

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The Alexandrian Jews became the outlet for Greek frustration over the transformation of Egypt and Alexandria from one of the centers of the world in the Hellenistic Age to the capital of an imperial province after Actium. A party of Alexandrian nationalists, led by a Greek named Isidorus, rallied supporters around the banner of anti-Semitism. Prior to the death of Tiberius, the equestrian governor of Egypt, A. Avillius Flaccus, had managed to keep the nationalists under control, at one point even expelling their leader Isidorus from the city. But in early 38, the year in which Flaccus was due to be replaced in Egypt by Macro, he seems to have formed some sort of alliance with Isidorus. The reasons for this are not entirely clear; Philo alleges that Flaccus feared Caligula because Flaccus had supported the banishment of Caligula's mother, the elder Agrippina, and further that Flaccus formed his alliance with Isidorus because he hoped that the Alexandrian Greeks would protect him if Caligula decided to seek his head. Most moderns dismiss this as improbable, especially because Caligula had the opportunity to replace Flaccus in this most important and prestigious of imperial provinces, but chose instead to let him serve out his term. But whatever the reason, Flaccus had become more sympathetic to Isidorus and his party of anti-Semites, and the stage was set for conflagration, touched of by the arrival in Alexandria of M. Iulius Agrippa. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“This Agrippa (M. Julius Agrippa, not to be confused with Augustus' friend M. Vipsanius Agrippa), a grandson of Herod, had grown up at the Imperial court in Rome, a hostage of sorts, and counted among his friends both Tiberius' son Drusus and the future emperor Gaius. Imprisoned by Tiberius in 36, Agrippa was released by Gaius upon his accession and named king of one of the two tetrarchies in Judea not being administered by a prefect. On his way to take up this office, Agrippa decided to stop and visit the Jewish community in Alexandria; on the face of it, not an unreasonable move, since the Alexandrian Jews were an important part of his constituency and, as later events proved, Agrippa had ambitions for reuniting Palestine under his own leadership. In Alexandria, a lavish parade through the streets by Agrippa, with his entourage and bodyguard, rubbed the faces of the Alexandrian Greeks in the fact that they were governed by a Roman equestrian, while the Jews were allowed to have a king. Too late, Agrippa realized the damage he had caused and slipped out of the country. /+/

Violence Involving Jews

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Isidorus and his partisans went on a rampage of anti-Jewish violence (a vivid description of the atrocities is provided by Philo, Emb. 120-138). Some temples were burned; in others, statues of the emperor were erected. Flaccus responded by creating the first Jewish ghetto: henceforth, the Jews were confined to one of the five districts of the city. Whether this was an attempt to protect the Jews, or a punishment and an indication that Flaccus held them responsible for the violence, is a matter of debate. But the results were clear enough: disease spread through the overcrowded ghetto, and unfortunate Jews who strayed outside of the limits were burned, torn apart, or trampled by mobs. Some relief came later in 38, when Flaccus was finally deposed and replaced by the much more moderate and diplomatic G. Vitrasius Pollio. The ghetto was abolished and the Jews regained some of the property which had been taken over by the mobs. Both Jews and Greeks sent embassies to Rome; Philo's first-hand account of that embassy is extant. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“At the same time as the ambassadors from Alexandria were preparing to make their cases at Rome, more trouble was brewing for the Jews on another front. Early in 40 BC (following Philo's chronology over Josephus's) there was a fracas in a little coastal town of Judea called Jamnia, where Jews and Greeks lived side-by-side. The Greeks set up an altar for the imperial cult, and some Jewish zealots promptly tore it down (Philo, Emb. 30). I say zealots advisedly, because in the usual course of things an altar to the imperial cult should not have been a problem, so long as it was not located on sacred ground; Jews all over the empire saw them every day. Caligula's reaction was typically irrational, and exemplary of his megalomania: to punish all the Jews, he gave orders to the governor of Syria that a gigantic statue of himself should be built and placed in the main Temple at Jerusalem. Fortunately, the governor of Syria, Publius Petronius, understood the Jews better than the emperor did. The Jews would sooner die than allow it. Tacitus suggests that Judea was on the point of rebellion: Then, when Caligula ordered the Jews to set up his statue in their temple, they chose rather to resort to arms. ( Hist. 5.9) /+/

“But this brief notice must be modified with reference to Josephus' account, from which it is clear that in consultation with Petronius the Jewish leadership offered a form of passive resistance; they would die to protect the sanctity of the temple, but they did not threaten to fight for it. In the event neither was necessary. Both Petronius and Agrippa, Gaius's boyhood friend, lobbied the emperor; but before Caligula could reach a decision, either about the temple at Jerusalem or about the Jews and Greeks in Alexandria, he was assassinated. /+/

Caligula, Agrippa and the Jews


David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Certainly it is tempting to see the roots of the great Jewish rebellion in the events of the last years of Caligula's reign. Undeniably, the threat of Caligula to desecrate the Temple of Jerusalem strengthened the hand of the Jewish nationalists, just as abusive government by corrupt prefects and procurators had in the past, and would again. Yet now, in the early 40's, the prevailing opinion among the leaders of the Jewish community was that peaceful coexistence with the Romans could and should continue. The Jews at Alexandria had taken up arms only against the Greeks; in the embassy, both sides, Jews and Greeks, urged that they were the ones trying to act in the best interests of the Roman empire. From the other side, there is every reason not to believe what Philo asserts, that Caligula was planning a major war against the Jews. The two legions which he ordered Petronius to take into Judea were solely to enforce the erection of the statue. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“The death of Caligula might have been expected to bring down his friend Agrippa, but (like his grandfather) Agrippa was a survivor, and he convinced Claudius to let him stay on, and even to increase his dominion. Universally regarded as a good king, Agrippa was scrupulous about observing Jewish customs, while at the same time he pleased his non-Jewish constituents with benefactions, buildings, and games. Unfortunately for the Jews, Agrippa lived on after Caligula for only three years; he was only 54 when he died. Had he survived longer, he might well have gotten the lid firmly on to the still simmering cauldron of Jewish discontent, and averted the terrible tragedy that followed twenty years after his demise. For in 44 Claudius put Judea once more under direct Roman control, and discontent at the subsequent maladministration of the procurators led inexorably to the Jewish War. /+/

Jewish Riots in Alexandria

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “On the news of Caligula's death the Jews of Alexandria seized the opportunity to get revenge for what they had suffered, and themselves embarked on a campaign of terror against the Greeks. The riots had to be put down by Roman troops. Too late, a letter arrived from Claudius: ‘I tell you once for all that unless you put a stop to this ruinous and obstinant enmity against each other, I shall be driven to show what a benevolent emperor can be when driven to righteous indignation. Wherefore once again I conjure you that ... the Alexandrians show themselves forebearing and kindly toward the Jews, who for many years have dwelt in the same city, and dishonor none of the right observed by them in the worship of their god, but allow them to observe their customs as in the time of the deified Augustus. And, on the other hand, I explicitly order the Jews not to agitate for more privileges than they formerly possessed, and in the future not to send out a separate embassy as if they lived in two separate cities.’ [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“Claudius' letters perfectly capture the perennial problem for the definition of Jewish national identity: was a Jew defined by a tie to a particular place, such as Jerusalem, or by adherence to the Mosaic law? The Jews of the first century AD wanted it both ways, to retain a marked sense of exclusivity and difference no matter where they were. This worked in Palestine itself; elsewhere, it ran directly counter to the trend of Roman imperial society in the direction of cosmopolitanism and universalism, and created the kind of antipathy which led Tacitus to say, “The Jews are extremely loyal toward one another, and always ready to show compassion, but toward every other people they feel only hate and enmity." ( Histories V.5) /+/

“We left the Jews early in the reign of Claudius, having narrowly averted the potential disaster of Caligula's insistence on the erection of a gigantic statue of himself in the temple at Jerusalem. They were poised on the edge of a precipice. The death in 44 of the good king Agrippa I, whose dominion Claudius had confirmed and whose territories he had even expanded, left Claudius a difficult choice. Agrippa's only son, Agrippa II, was at the time living in Rome -- it was typical for the sons of client kings to be brought up at Rome, so they could be hostages to guarantee the king's cooperation and at the same time be imbued with a full and lasting sense of the majesty of Roman power, the superiority of Roman culture. In any case, Claudius decided that Agrippa II was too young to become king in 44; thus Judea reverted to provincial status and was placed back under the administration of procurators. What was the state of the state at the time of the death of Agrippa I? /+/

Jews Under Agrippa I and Agrippa II

Agrippa II

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Not unlike his grandfather, Herod the Great,Agrippa I is a mass of carefully engineered contradictions, in his own person and practices an embodiment of the irresoluble forces which were pulling the Jewish state to pieces. He won Josephus' approval for living among the people in Jerusalem and scrupulously observing the daily rituals. At the same time, he catered to his non-Jewish constituency with lavish secular construction projects outside Jerusalem, baths, stoas, and even an amphitheater. This amphitheater saw one gladiatorial contest in which 1400 "criminals" perished (Josephus, Ant. 19.7.5 [337]). [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“On the other side, he gratified the Pharisees by assisting in the persecution of Christians, notably James and Peter, though the latter miraculously escaped (Acts, 12. 3-19). This earned him from the Gospel authors the following account of his death: ‘And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died." ( Acts, 12. 23; compare Jos. Ant. 19.8.2 [344 ff], where the cause of death looks to have been a burst appendix). The point, though, is that to be successful as a political leader in the Palestine of the first century AD required a person to show several different faces; thus the coins of Agrippa minted for use at Jerusalem bore no graven image, while those for use outside the city were graced with his image. /+/

“Agrippa II eventually was given a small kingdom in the north of Palestine, with his capital at Caesarea, and he ruled in his little corner (which was shuffled once or twice) until his death in 93; but despite the length of his rule, he is an insignificant figure, because the major historical events of the time were brewing at Jerusalem, to which city Agrippa II was only an occasional visitor. /+/

“A central question for the history of this period is: what were the causes of the Jewish War? As so often with these questions, more than one answer may be right, but modern accounts tend to emphasize one at the expense of others. In this case the main choices are: (1) the corrupt and bumbling administration of the procurators, who acted without either due regard for the delicate sensibilities of the Jews or awareness of the powder keg of religious tensions among the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, Zealots, Christians, and Gentiles; (2) the powder keg of religious tensions among the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, Zealots, Christians, and Gentiles, such that there was nothing the procurators could have been expected to do to prevent the explosion (so esp. Schü rer, author of the monumental 19th century work History of the Jewish People in German [translated and updated by various hands, Edinburgh 1973]; (3) a Marxist approach, not without some justification from the ancient sources, that the Jewish War was really the result of a revolt by the oppressed masses against the Jewish ruling class, whom the Romans (as always) supported.” /+/


Titus Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37 – c. 100), also called Joseph ben Matityahu, was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70. His most important works were “The Jewish War” (c. A.D. 75) and “Antiquities of the Jews” (c. A.D. 94). “Against Apion” contains the first mention of a five-book Torah. [Source: ccel.org]

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: The main source for both the prelude to the Jewish War and the war itself is Josephus, a Jewish aristocrat who was himself a general of a local Jewish militia. He left behind two works of history: the Jewish War in seven books, a focused account of the years 66-74 AD somewhat on the Thucydidean model, and the Jewish Antiquities, a universal history of the Hebrews in twenty books from the creation to 66 AD. Of these two works, the Jewish War is the earlier, and it begs to be contextualized. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“Josephus surrendered to the Romans in 67, whereupon he managed to ingratiate himself with Vespasian by predicting (correctly, as it happened) that Vespasian would become the emperor ( BJ 3.8 [400-402]). He was then attached to the Flavian gens, and after the war he went to Rome, where he wrote the Jewish War under the close supervision of Titus and Vespasian.


“Antiquities of the Jews” by Josephus
Preface to the Antiquities of the Jews
Book I -- From Creation to the Death of Isaac
Book II -- From the Death of Isaac to the Exodus out of Egypt
Book III -- From the Exodus out of Egypt to the Rejection of the Generation
Book IV -- From the Rejection of that Generation to the Death of Moses
Book V -- From the Death of Moses to the Death of Eli
Book VI -- From the Death of Eli to the Death of Saul
Book VII -- From the Death of Saul to the Death of David
Book VIII -- From the Death of David to the Death of Ahab
Book IX -- From the Death of Ahab to the Captivity of the Ten Tribes
Book X -- From the Captivity of the Ten Tribes to the First Year of Cyrus
Book XI -- From the First Year of Cyrus to the Death of Alexander the Great
Book XII -- From the Death of Alexander the Great to the Death of Judas Maccabeus
Book XIII -- From the Death of Judas Maccabeus to the Death of Queen Alexandra
Book XIV -- From the Death of Queen Alexandra to the Death of Antigonus
Book XV -- From the Death of Antigonus to the Finishing of the Temple by Herod
Book XVI -- From the Finishing of the Temple by Herod to the Death of Alexander and Aristobulus
Book XVII -- From the Death of Alexander and Aristobulus to the Banishment of Archelaus
Book XVIII -- From the Banishment of Archelaus to the Departure of the Jews from Babylon
Book XIX -- From the Departure of the Jews from Babylon to FAdus the Roman Procurator
Book XX -- From Fadus the Procurator to Florus [Source: Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org ]

“War of the Jews” by Josephus
Preface to the War of the Jews
Book I -- From the Taking of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes to the Death of Herod the Great
Book II -- From the Death of Herod till Vespasian was sent to subdue the Jews by Nero
Book III -- From Vespasian's coming to Subdue the Jews to the Taking of Gamala
Book IV -- From the Siege of Gamala to the Coming of Titus to besiege Jerusalem
Book V -- From the Coming of Titus to besiege Jerusalem to the Great Extremity to which the Jews were reduced
Book VI -- From the Great Extremity to which the Jews were reduced to the taking of Jerusalem by Titus
Book VII -- From the Taking of Jerusalem by Titus to the Sedition of the Jews at Cyrene
The Life of Flavius Josephus - Autobiography
Josephus's Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades
Flavius Josephus Against Apion

Biases in Josephus’s Accounts of the Jewish Wars

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: Clearly the circumstances were not conducive to objectivity. Two major kinds of bias are detectable in this narrative. First, and most obviously, there is a whitewash of the Flavians, who unfailingly prosecute the war with a minimum of acrimony, sparing the Jews wherever possible, and ever ready to give them a chance to surrender. Titus is even made to oppose the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which in Josephus' account happens as the result of a firebrand flung by a lone legionary in defiance of Titus' orders ( BJ 6.5 [252]); to spare religious sanctuaries was the standard practice of ancient warfare, but in this case the Temple was also a fortress, indeed the main stronghold of the Jewish resistance, and so a legitimate military target. The pro-Flavian bias of the Jewish War may be savored in Josephus' description of Vespasian's elevation by his troops: ‘But the more he declined, the more insistent his officers became, and the soldiers surrounded him, swords in hand, and threatened to kill him if he refused to rule as he was entitled. After earnestly impressing on them his many reasons for rejecting imperial honors, and failing to convince them, he finally yielded to their call.’ ( BJ 4.4 [603-604]; cf. Suetonius Vesp. 6) [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“But at the time of the writing of the Jewish War, Vespasian was already securely established as emperor, so legitimation of his rule cannot be called the primary motive of the work. The second major area of bias concerns the war guilt of the Jews. For Josephus, the war was in the first instance caused by the corrupt and inept Roman procurators, and secondarily the work of misguided bands of extremists, sicarii (thugs) and zealots who led the people astray; he is concerned to exculpate the Jewish aristocracy. For Josephus, the legitimate representatives of Judaism were the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes and high priests; in his account all of these groups work consistently to prevent the rebellion. We shall see that this is a false picture, but its purpose is clear: Josephus is concerned to discourage further reprisals by the Romans against the Jews, both in Palestine and those of the Diaspora, and to effect a reconciliation in the wake of the bitter struggle. /+/

Josephus’s Insights Into the Jewish Wars

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “That Josephus himself recognized the shortcomings of his Jewish War is evident. Again, in the Thucydidean mold the account of the war is prefaced with a cursory narrative of the preceding years, in this case covering the period 170 BC to 66 AD. In the later revisionist and more comprehensive Jewish Antiquities he chooses to go over much of the same ground again. The Jewish Antiquities was published in 93-94 AD, when the post-war position of the Jews was settled and Josephus himself was relatively free from political pressures; in it modern historians have found the true Josephus, at his best both meticulous and even-handed. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

Arch of Titus relief of the Roman sacking of Jerusalem

“Let us now consider the evidence for the thesis that maladministration by the Roman procurators caused the Jewish revolt. An event from the administration of the first Claudian procurator, Cuspius Fadus (44-46?), illustrates the tenseness of the situation and the myriad opportunities for misunderstanding and overreaction. Here is Josephus' account of the incident: “Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them and to follow him to the river Jordan, for he told them that he was a prophet and that by his own command he would divide the river and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deceived by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them, who fell on them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many others alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. ( Ant. 20.5.1 [97]) /+/

“Although Josephus does not say why people were following Theudas or why they wished to cross the Jordan with all of their possessions, the answer may be inferred both from Josephus' account and from a general knowledge of trends in the popular religion of the time. The legacy of the Old Testament prophets had been transmuted into a fervently eschatological mode; like many another Hebrew prophet, including (at least in his earthly corporeal form) Jesus, Theudas must have been predicting that the end of the world was at hand, and that the destruction would fall first upon Jerusalem and its environs. Moreover, his promise to part the waters of the Jordan river is an unmistakable allusion to the parting of the Red Sea by Moses, the liminal event in the escape of the Jews from Egyptian slavery ( Exodus 14. 26-29). This means that the episode of Theudas is more than an example of procuratorial misconduct; many of Theudas' followers must have been actual slaves (making their flight illegal and justifying the intervention of the authorities, from a legal if not from a moral point of view). Others would have been poor but free persons who nevertheless saw themselves as enslaved, either to the Romans or to the landed Jewish aristocracy, or both. In the massacre at the river Jordan, then, we have a confluence of class tension and religious extremism. It is the Jewish War in microcosm. /+/

“The administration of Fadus' successor, Ti. Iulius Alexander (?46-48), was uneventful save for a famine, which was relieved in the usual fashion by the public generosity of a local notable, in this case the Jewish convert Queen Helena of Adiabene. Under the next procurator, Ventidius Cumanus (48-52), there was an unfortunate episode: during the celebration of Passover, while the Jews were gathered in prayer outside the Temple, a Roman soldier mooned the crowd (Ant. 20.5.3 [112]). A riot ensued, in which a large number of Jews (20,000, by Josephus' surely exaggerated reckoning) were trampled to death. This event lends no support to the class warfare theory. Neither does it especially show procuratorial negligence, nor make the case that the Romans simply did not understand the Jewish attitude towards the sacred rituals; Cumanus seems to have tried to calm the situation, and presumably the soldier knew full well that his exhibitionism would be provocative. This same Cumanus proved his understanding of the Jewish attitude towards sacrilege when he ordered the execution of a legionary who had publicly destroyed a scroll of the Torah. If anything, the Passover massacre lends support to the Schü rer thesis: the Jews brought trouble onto themselves by their fanaticism and inflexibility. /+/

“More evidence, perhaps, for the Schü rer line in the downfall of Cumanus. Sometime around 50 AD a group of Galileans making the holiday pilgrimage to Jerusalem got into a scrape with members of the non-Jewish community in Samaria. This developed into a little civil war, in which Cumanus took part on the side of the Samaritans, and the disorder was such that the provincial governor of Syria, C. Ummidius Quadratus, was forced himself to come to Palestine and judge among the parties in conflict. He found the Jews so violently opposed to Cumanus, whom they accused of taking bribes from the Samaritans, that he referred the whole matter to the emperor himself, and sent Cumanus to Rome together with representatives of both sides. Fortunately for the Jews, they had powerful advocates at the court in the persons of King Agrippa II and the younger Agrippina, who together persuaded Claudius to find against the Samaritans; Cumanus was deposed and exiled. What to make of this? Josephus' account of the whole affair is suspicious ( Ant. 20.6), especially in so far as it is never clear what, if the Samaritans did start it by murdering the pilgrims as he claims, their motive is supposed to have been. There is no clear grounds for faulting Cumanus' conduct in the affair; taking Josephus' account with several grains of salt, it looks as if he was simply using force to try to restore order. Oesterley says that Ummidius Quadratus' intervention, whereby he pulled rank on the procurator Cumanus, must have lessened the respect for the authority of the procurator among the masses of the Jews and thereby contributed to the rise of revolutionary spirit; if so, this is a minor factor only, as by all indications the procurators had been getting little enough respect as it was. The episode is important for two reasons: (1) it led to the exchange of a bad procurator for a slightly less bad one, and (2) it illustrates how hard it must have been to try to keep the lid on the boiling pot of Palestine.” /+/

Felix, Festus, Florus and Events Before the Jewish Wars

Antonius Felix

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The administration of the next procurator, M. Antonius Felix (52-60), was eventful ... and disastrous. It is during his tenure that the Christians begin to appear in the sources as a major contributor to the popular unrest, and it is this same Felix who judged St. Paul guilty (of what, it is not clear) and sent him to prison ( Acts 24). Both Paul and his Jewish prosecutor, Tertullus, address Felix with respect: ‘Your Excellency, because of you we have long enjoyed peace, and reforms have been made for this people because of your foresight. We welcome this in every way and everywhere with utmost gratitude.’ ( Acts 24:2-3) “Even Josephus has something good to say about Felix: “As for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually, for the country was filled with thugs and charlatans, who deluded the multitude. Yet Felix caught and put to death many of those impostors every day, together with the thugs.’ ( Ant. 20.8.5 [160]) [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“But would not be wise to conclude that Felix was very much better liked than Cumanus had been. Tertullus is flattering the governor in the manner appropriate to the circumstances of his speech, and even the apostle was not incapable of the obligatory rhetorical flattery on occasion (cf. Acts 24:10). Certainly it was part of Felix's job to suppress lawlessness, and Josephus does not hesitate to commend his use of military force against the sicarii. Notice though that in the quoted passage Josephus lumps the thugs together with the false prophets, though the two phenomena were unquestionably separate. In the parallel account of the same events in the Jewish War, the sicarii and the messianic impostors start out as two separate entities, but they are inexorably merged, especially after a large group (30,000 according to Josephus) in the late 50's follows one of these false messiahs (identified by Josephus only as the Egyptian) into the wilderness, where they are attacked by Felix's troops as a revolutionary body and annihilated: ‘The impostors and the brigands, banding together, incited many to revolt, exhorting them to assert their independence. They threatened to kill any who submitted willingly to Roman domination, and to suppress all those who would accept servitude voluntarily.’ ( BJ 2.13.6 [264]) This is reflective of Josephus' agenda, as described above: to exculpate the Pharisees and the Jewish aristocracy, and to account for the religious element of the growing spirit of rebellion (as it could not be denied) by representing it as a perversion of the true Judaism. /+/

“Felix was succeeded in 60 AD by M. Porcius Festus, whose two year administration continued the pattern already established by his predecessor. From Josephus he gets a brief word of praise for continuing to harass the sicarii. But yet another false prophet led his followers into the desert to be slain by Festus' troops (unless this be a doublet of one of the prior episodes -- Ant. 20.8.10 [188]). Festus is remembered primarily for his fair treatment of St. Paul, whom he released from prison in recognition of his right of appeal to the emperor as a Roman citizen ( provocatio ; see Acts 25:6-12). Between the death of Festus in 62, and the arrival of his successor Albinus (62-64), the Sadducee high priest took it upon himself to step up the persecution of the Christians; his best known victim was James, reputedly the brother of Jesus. Other than that, Albinus' tenure left the impression of a truly Verrine rapacity ( BJ 2.14.1 [272-3]). Although he too pursued the sicarii, at times he was willing to play both ends against the middle in the political rivalries of the Jews, so long as there was a profit in the game. On the verge of being replaced, and knowing that he would be tried for extortion, Albinus got his revenge in advance by releasing all of the sicarii he had imprisoned (cf. Ant. 20.9.5, where Josephus represents the act as an attempt to curry favor with the Jews at the last minute and so avoid prosecution). /+/

“Such a man was Albinus, but by comparison his successor Gessius Florus made him appear an angel. The crimes of Albinus were, for the most part, perpetrated secretly and in disguise; Gessius, on the contrary, paraded all the wrongs he did to the nation openly ... ( BJ 2.14.2 [277]). Here the apologetic character of the BJ appears in full relief. The pot is boiling, boiling over, but it must be that Florus himself is stirring it, even for his own selfish purposes. The Jews are complaining about him to the governor of Syria: ‘If the peace lasted, he foresaw that he would have the Jews accuse him before Caesar, but if he contrived to make them revolt, he hoped that this greater outrage would forestall any inquiry into less serious offenses. So, to ensure a nationwide revolt, he added daily to their sufferings. ( BJ 2.14.3 [283]) /+/

“Moreover, Josephus has Florus closely in league with the sicarii. Given what we have already seen, that Josephus is concerned to conflate brigandage and Messianic cults, and that the only time he has anything good to say about a Roman procurator is when action is taken against these enemies, Florus' alleged partnership with the sicarii ought to mean that whereas his predecessors had short-sightedly regarded these mass departures into the wilderness to await the coming of the Messiah as acts of war, Florus saw that that they posed no threat (at least not to Roman authority over the province) and let them go unpunished. From another angle, though, this inaction was in itself short-sighted, since free reign to the Messianic movements was anathema to the religious authorities and the aristocracy, and thus exacerbated the internal tensions. /+/

Beginning of the Jewish Wars

20120504-Herods Temple dans_le_.jpg
Medieval vision of the sacking
of Herod's Temple
David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: “As Josephus sees it, the war began when Florus demanded a payment of 17 talents from the treasury of the Temple, claiming to be collecting back taxes and acting on Nero's orders. The populace blocked his way to the Temple, the troops cut a path to the door. In itself, this riot was no worse than the one occasioned by the untimely display of the legionary buttocks; but it came at a time when the balance of power in the province had been so upset, and the tensions among the various groups were so pronounced, that there was no going back. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

“The Messianic element of the popular religion played a large role. The ravages and ineptitude of the procurators did not help. Class hatred was also a factor, but to some degree this element is exaggerated by Josephus, who wants to make it clear that the best people among the Jews, those on whom the Romans had always relied, were not guilty. I will not here try to narrate the events of the war, still less attempt to disentangle the shifting factions which composed the rebel armies, but one thing needs to be made clear: the Jewish war was no less a civil war than a war against Roman overlordship. When the Romans paused (as when Vespasian temporarily suspended his own command, as the law required, upon the death of the man who had conferred it on him) the Jews immediately turned to fighting one another. “ /+/

In A.D. 64, Nero blamed the great fire of Rome on the Jews. Shortly afterwards there was a Jewish revolt that lasted from A.D. 66 to 73. Six Roman legions (35,000 men), Rome's most modern weaponry and siegecraft, and the leadership of two future Roman emperors to put down.

In A.D. 66, there was a Jewish revolt at Herod's Temple in Jerusalem. At that time bandit-guerrillas were at the height of their power and they were everywhere. A leader named Manahem took control of the temple area by driving out the Roman troops and executing the high priests. The same year there was also a major revolt in Caesara that led to the death of 20,000 people, nearly all of the Jews that lived in the city.

Nero dispatched Vespasian and a large Roman force to Judea (Israel) to put down the rebellion. Halfway through the war Nero was overthrown and Vespasian was proclaimed emperor by the Roman army. Nero died in A.D. 68, when the Jewish revolt had escalated. Vespasian didn't last long. He was succeeded by his son Titus.

The first revolt, in 70 CE, led to the destruction of the Temple. This brought to an end the temple worship and is still perceived by traditional Jews as the biggest trauma in Jewish history. It is marked by the fast day of Tisha B'av (meaning the ninth day of the month of Av). A second revolt, in 132 CE, resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews, the enslaving of thousands of others, and the banning of Jews from Jerusalem

First Revolt -- 66


L. Michael White of the University of Texas wrote: “The situation in Jerusalem was... becoming increasingly tense through the mid sixties. This is the period of the build-up toward the first revolt against Rome. The outbreak of the war would occur in 66 but Josephus tells us that for a number of years prior to that from at least about 60 up until the outbreak that there was growing tension over the last few governors of the countryside. He tells us that they were pretty abusive and corrupted administrators ... robbing the people ... in order to line their own pockets. Josephus also tells us that there's another source of growing tension in the country at this time because there's an increasing number of bandit and rebel types coming out of the woodwork in the country, and so between growing banditry, the rise of the Zealot movement, a[n] insurgency movement, and then the corruption of the administration, the situation in Jerusalem is becoming very, very tense indeed. By the year 66 it would break out in a full scale Jewish revolt against Rome. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“The story goes that when there was a riot in the city of Caesarea the Roman governor required reparations to be paid. The Jewish inhabitants of Caesarea had apparently gotten angry over the relationships with their gentile neighbors and had gone on a rampage. The governor wanted them to pay for the damages. When they refused he went to Jerusalem and demanded the money to come out of the temple treasury and that was the spark that ignited the first revolt. Unfortunately he didn't count on the level of popular sentiment that had been growing. He thought he could bluff his way in with only a few troops and he was run out of town very quickly. When he called for reinforcements and tried to march on Jerusalem again he was ambushed on the way and apparently the Jewish insurgents thought this was a sign that God was in fact ready to deliver them from Roman rule, that this was the coming of the kingdom, and so quickly a small outbreak burst into an open revolt and consumed the entire country. \=/

“...The war, that lasted from 66 to 70, ...falls fairly neatly into two distinct phases. [I]n the first phase of the war, most of the military action was limited to the Northern Territories, to the Galilee itself. Now this is where we encounter Josephus for the first time because even as a young person he was given command of the Galilean armies and was in command of them when the Roman General Vespasian, who would soon become the next emperor, led the troops to occupy the Galilee and quell the revolt. Vespasian basically decided to divide the country into parts. Mop up the North and then move on the South later. Jerusalem was his ultimate target but he wanted really to isolate it before he ever tried to take Jerusalem. \=/

“By the year 68, though something else would happen in Roman politics. The Emperor Nero was assassinated, and what ensued was a year of civil war back in Rome as three different individuals claim to be the emperor of Rome. That disruption in the political continuity at Rome meant that the war was put on hold also, and as a result of that it gave another breather to the rebel forces. They again seemed to think that this was a sign of divine deliverance, that God had in fact finally killed the emperor who was trying to oppress them. So the war actually heated up after the death of Nero a bit. Vespasian eventually was recalled to Rome and was made the emperor. His son Titus who would succeed him a few years later as emperor of Rome was left in charge of the armies. It was Titus then who would proceed to undertake the siege of Jerusalem and finally end the war in the year 70. \=/

Triumph for Vespasian and Titus after the Jewish War

In “The Jewish War”, Book VII Josephus describe the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war: “So Titus took the journey he intended into Egypt, and passed over the desert very suddenly, and came to Alexandria, and took up a resolution to go to Rome by sea. And as he was accompanied by two legions, he sent each of them again to the places whence they had before come; the fifth he sent to Mysia, and the fifteenth to Pannonia: as for the leaders of the captives, Simon and John, with the other seven hundred men, whom he had selected out of the rest as being eminently tall and handsome of body, he gave order that they should be soon carried to Italy, as resolving to produce them in his triumph. So when he had had a prosperous voyage to his mind, the city of Rome behaved itself in his reception, and their meeting him at a distance, as it did in the case of his father. But what made the most splendid appearance in Titus's opinion was, when his father met him, and received him; but still the multitude of the citizens conceived the greatest joy when they saw them all three together, (i.e. Vespasian, and his sons Titus and Domitian) as they did at this time; nor were many days overpast when they determined to have but one triumph, that should be common to both of them, on account of the glorious exploits they had performed, although the senate had decreed each of them a separate triumph by himself. So when notice had been given beforehand of the day appointed for this pompous solemnity to be made, on account of their victories, not one of the immense multitude was left in the city, but every body went out so far as to gain only a station where they might stand, and left only such a passage as was necessary for those that were to be seen to go along it. [Source: Flavius Josephus: (A.D. 37- after 93), “An Imperial Triumph”, “The Jewish War”, Book VII. 3-7 A.D. 71), translated by William Whiston]

“Now all the soldiery marched out beforehand by companies, and in their several ranks, under their several commanders, in the night time, and were about the gates, not of the upper palaces, but those near the temple of Isis; for there it was that the emperors had rested the foregoing night. And as soon as ever it was day, Vespasian and Titus came out crowned with laurel, and clothed in those ancient purple habits which were proper to their family, and then went as far as Octavian's Walks; for there it was that the senate, and the principal rulers, and those that had been recorded as of the equestrian order, waited for them. Now a tribunal had been erected before the cloisters, and ivory chairs had been set upon it, when they came and sat down upon them. Whereupon the soldiery made an acclamation of joy to them immediately, and all gave them attestations of their valor; while they were themselves without their arms, and only in their silken garments, and crowned with laurel: then Vespasian accepted of these shouts of theirs; but while they were still disposed to go on in such acclamations, he gave them a signal of silence. And when every body entirely held their peace, he stood up, and covering the greatest part of his head with his cloak, he put up the accustomed solemn prayers; the like prayers did Titus put up also; after which prayers Vespasian made a short speech to all the people, and then sent away the soldiers to a dinner prepared for them by the emperors. Then did he retire to that gate which was called the Gate of the Pomp, because pompous shows do always go through that gate; there it was that they tasted some food, and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

“Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; such indeed as a man could not easily think of as performed, either by the labor of workmen, or the variety of riches, or the rarities of nature; for almost all such curiosities as the most happy men ever get by piece-meal were here one heaped on another, and those both admirable and costly in their nature; and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, contrived into all sorts of things, and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. Some parts were composed of the rarest purple hangings, and so carried along; and others accurately represented to the life what was embroidered by the arts of the Babylonians. There were also precious stones that were transparent, some set in crowns of gold, and some in other ouches, as the workmen pleased; and of these such a vast number were brought, that we could not but thence learn how vainly we imagined any of them to be rarities. The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made very artificially, and with great skill of the workmen; nor were any of these images of any other than very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought, every one in their own natural ornaments.

Triumph of Titus and Vespasian

“The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; those that were chosen for carrying these pompous shows having also about them such magnificent ornaments as were both extraordinary and surprising. Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: rivers also, after they came out of a large and melancholy desert, ran down, not into a land cultivated, nor as drink for men, or for cattle, but through a land still on fire upon every side; for the Jews related that such a thing they had undergone during this war. Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken. Moreover, there followed those pageants a great number of ships; and for the other spoils, they were carried in great plenty. But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews; and the last of all the spoils, was carried the Law of the Jews. After these spoils passed by a great many men, carrying the images of Victory, whose structure was entirely either of ivory or of gold. After which Vespasian marched in the first place, and Titus followed him; Domitian also rode along with them, and made a glorious appearance, and rode on a horse that was worthy of admiration.

“Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans' ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there. Accordingly, when it was related that there was an end of him, and all the people had set up a shout for joy, they then began to offer those sacrifices which they had consecrated, in the prayers used in such solemnities; which when they had finished, they went away to the palace. And as for some of the spectators, the emperors entertained them at their own feast; and for all the rest there were noble preparations made for feasting at home; for this was a festival day to the city of Rome, as celebrated for the victory obtained by their army over their enemies, for the end that was now put to their civil miseries, and for the commencement of their hopes of future prosperity and happiness.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860 except Jewish sects table, Quora groups

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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