The Siege Of Jerusalem As Described By Josephus
In bringing your attention to some of the things recorded by Josephus in his history of the last days of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, it must be understood that we do not cite that work as evidence by which we are to interpret Scripture. We interpret the Word of God by comparing Scripture with Scripture. In fact, we did not consult Josephus, or any other human writer, until after our conclusions as to the meaning of these prophecies had been reached. We quote his work simply for what it is recognized to be - a trustworthy eyewitness account of things which he had personal knowledge of, which things show that the word of Christ was fulfilled in the most literal way.
**Editor's comment: Note - we compare Scripture with Scripture, not CNN.**
It is a matter of deep interest to know how, when, and under what circumstances these prophecies [Daniel 9-12, Matt. 24, etc.] were fulfilled. The history of Josephus fully satisfies this legitimate desire. In addition, since Josephus was not a disciple of Christ at the time of writing his history, he cannot be suspected of having written his account of the destruction of Jerusalem with a view to supplying a fulfillment of the Lord's prophecy. His account was published in AD 75, so that it was written while the things he described were still fresh in his memory. Their publication at a time when the truth of the matters related by him was known to thousands then living, is a further reason for our having confidence in the narrative.
Josephus describes the troubles which began under Pilate, the Roman governor, especially when he "sent by night those images of Caesar which are called ensigns into Jerusalem" [2:9:2]. Those ensigns or "images of Caesar" were particularly hateful to the Jews since they were proudly displayed by the Roman armies. Here we have a reason why the ensigns were termed "the abomination of desolation."
In the days when Cumanus was Roman Governor "began the troubles, and the Jew's ruin came on" [2:12:1]. At that time Herod Agrippa II [the "Agrippa" before whom Paul appeared] was reigning as king over Galilee. He was by far the best of the Herod family; but we have no record that he was ever fully "persuaded" to accept Christ. At that time various troubles and disturbances began to take place. Bands of robbers infested the country, and in the city there arose an organized company of assassins called "Sicarii," who "slew men in the daytime, and in the city. This they did chiefly at festivals, when they mingled with the multitudes and, by means of daggers concealed under their garments, they stabbed those who were their enemies. [2:13:3]. The high priest Jonathan was one of their victims.
Another class of troublemakers were certain men who, though not thieves or murderers, yet "laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did those murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration." It is easy to recognize in these men the false prophets the Lord warned His disciples about. Continuing, Josephus says: "These prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and sent before them into the wilderness, pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty" [2:13:4].
There was also "an Egyptian false prophet," who "got together 30,000 men that were deluded by him. These he led about from the wilderness to the mount which is called the mount of Olives." This was in the days when Felix was governor. So, it was at the time of Paul's last visit to Jerusalem, which calls to mind that the chief captain before whom Paul was taken after the disturbance in the Temple, supposed that he was "that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers" [Acts 21:38]. It also brings to mind the definite warning of Christ, "Wherefore, if they say to you, Behold, He is in the desert, go not forth" [Matt. 24:26]. Josephus likens the social conditions at that time to those of a body which is thoroughly diseased, in that when trouble subsided in one place, it immediately broke out in another. "For a company of deceivers and robbers got together, and persuaded the Jews to revolt, and exhorted them to assert their liberty" [2:13:6]
1. We interpret the Word of God by comparing Scripture with _______________.
2. Since Josephus was not a disciple of _____________ at the time of writing his history, he cannot be suspected of having written his account of the destruction of Jerusalem with a view to supplying a fulfillment of the Lord's prophecy.
3. Josephus was published in AD __________.
4. Josephus describes the troubles which began under _______________, the Roman governor.
5. In the days when __________________ was Roman Governor "began the troubles, and the Jew's ruin came on" [2:12:1].
6. At that time Herod Agrippa II [the "Agrippa" before whom Paul appeared] was reigning as king over ________________.
7. Bands of robbers infested the country, and in the city there arose an organized company of_________________ called "Sicarii," who "slew men in the daytime, and in the city.
8. It is easy to recognize in these men the ______________ prophets the Lord warned His disciples about.
9. Josephus likens the social conditions at that time to those of a _____________ which is thoroughly diseased, in that when trouble subsided in one place, it immediately broke out in another.
About this time Felix was succeeded by Festus [Acts 24:27], and he by Florus, who was the most wicked of all the Roman governors, and the immediate cause of the war. This was in the twelfth year of Emperor Nero, AD 66. When Cestius Gallus came to Jerusalem at the Passover season "the people came about him not fewer in number than three millions" [2:14:3]. This shows the immense numbers which gathered in Jerusalem at that season.
Josephus relates with much detail the atrocities and barbarities which the people suffered at the hands of the soldiers. On one occasion the soldiers, after plundering the citizens, crucified many of them, the number of those slain [including women and children] being about 3,600 on the single occasion. It appears to have been the deliberate purpose of Florus to goad the Jews into revolt, so that his own acts of plunder and other crimes might be covered up [2:14:9].
Josephus gives a speech by Herod Agrippa, in which he used every persuasion and argument to restrain the Jews from the madness of revolting against the Romans [2:16]. He eloquently pictured the vast power and extent of the Roman dominion as stretching from east to west, and from north to south. "Indeed they have sought for another habitable earth beyond the ocean, and have carried their arms as far as the British Isles, which were never known before" [2:16:4]. It seems strange to us that one of whom we read in the Bible should have spoken to the Jews in Jerusalem about "the British Isles." King Agrippa, as a final argument, attributed the worldwide success of the Roman armies to "the providence of God," for which reason he urged the Jews that is was useless for them to fight against them. He concluded his speech with this strong appeal: "Have pity therefore, if not upon your children and wives, yet upon this your Metropolis and its sacred walls! Spare the Temple and preserve the Holy House, with its holy furniture! For if the Romans get you under their power they will no longer abstain from [destroying] them, when their former abstinence shall have been so ungratefully requited. I call to witness your Sanctuary, and the holy angels of God, and this country, common to us all, that I have not kept back anything that is for your preservation. When Agrippa had spoken thus, both he and his sister [Bernice] wept, and by their tears repressed a great deal of the violence of the people."
Soon after this, however, the priests were persuaded that they should refuse "to receive any gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they [the temple authorities] rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account" [2:17:2].
There were at that time two parties in Jerusalem. One turbulent faction wanted immediate revolt against the Romans. The other party, led by the priests and the chief of the Pharisees, realizing the madness of the proposal, tried to restrain the seditious element. Finding the seditious would not listen to argument or persuasion, they sent to the governor Florus, and also to Agrippa, for troops to quell the revolt. From that time the fighting began, but the Jews killed one another in numbers far greater than those slain by the soldiers.
10. About this time Felix was succeeded by Festus [Acts 24:27], and he by ___________, who was the most wicked of all the Roman governors, and the immediate cause of the war.
11. This happened in the twelfth year of Emperor _____________, AD 66.
12. More than ____________________ people gathered in Jerusalem at the 5 workbook format copyright 2007 by Glenn Davis Passover season.
13. It appears to have been the deliberate purpose of Florus to goad the Jews into _____________, so that his own acts of plunder and other crimes might be covered up [2:14:9].
14. Herod _______________ tried to stop the Jews from revolting.
15. The priests were persuaded that they should ________________ "to receive any gift or sacrifice for any foreigner, which was the real beginning of the War.
16. The Jews ________________ one another in numbers far greater than those slain by the soldiers.
The Roman garrison was about that time besieged in the fortress of Antonia [in the Temple area], and was taken and either slain or dispersed [2:17:7]. A little later another Roman garrison, besieged at Masada, which had been Herod's stronghold, surrendered under promise that their lives would be spared, but they were treacherously slain after they laid down their arms [2:17:10]. These actions aroused the Roman authorities, who began to make preparations to subdue the revolters. In the city of Caesarea [built by Herod the Great], above 20,000 Jews were killed in one hour, "and all Caesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them to the galleys." This enraged the whole Jewish nation, so that they laid waste the villages of Syria and elsewhere, burning some cities to the ground. "But the Syrians were even with the Jews in the multitude of the men they slew. The disorders in all Syria were terrible. Every city was divided into two armies, and the preservation of the one party was in the destruction of the other. So the daytime was spent in shedding of blood, and the night in fear, which was, of the two, the more terrible...It was then common to see cities filled with dead bodies, still lying unburied; those of old men mingled with infants, all scattered about together. Women also lay among them without any covering. You might then see the province full of inexpressible calamities."
In some places the horrors were worse because Jews fought against Jews. In Scythopolis alone over 13,000 were killed at one time [2:18:1-2]. Josephus tells the case of one prominent man who, because of the terrible things happening all around, and in order to save his family from a worse fate, killed first his father and mother with the sword - they willingly submitting - and afterwards his wife and children, finally taking his own life [2:18:3]. This incident will give us at least a faint idea of the awful conditions of those "days of vengeance, and of wrath upon this people."
Many pages are filled with accounts of the slaughter of the Jews in various places. Reading them we are impressed with the Saviour's words: "except those day should be shortened there should no flesh be saved" [Matt. 24:22]. The calamities were beyond description. Thus, at Alexandria, where the Jews had enjoyed the greatest privileges for centuries, they were incited to rise in revolt by the seditious element, and "were destroyed unmercifully, and this, their destruction was complete. Houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans. No mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on with the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 of them lay dead in heaps" [2:18:8].
17. The Roman garrison was about that time besieged in the fortress of ________ [in the Temple area], and was taken and either slain or dispersed [2:17:7].
18. Every city was divided into ____________ armies, and the preservation of the one party was in the destruction of the other.
19. In some places the horrors were worse because Jews fought against _______.
The Strange Retreat Of Cestius
The Roman general, Cestius, now led his army from Syria into Judea, destroying widely, and laid siege to Jerusalem. He made such rapid progress that the city was on the point of being captured. The seditious element fled in large numbers, and the peaceable inhabitants were about to throw open the gates to the Romans, when a remarkable thing took place. It was so unaccountable from any natural standpoint that it can only be attributed to the direct intervention of God, and for the fulfillment of the word of Christ. The people were about to admit Cestius as their benefactor, when he suddenly recalled his soldiers and retreated from the city "without any reason in the world." Had he not withdrawn when he did, the city and the sanctuary would have been spared. Josephus comments, "...it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God already had towards the city and the sanctuary that he [Cestius] was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day" [2:19:6]. The translator of the history, Wm. Whiston, adds a note at this point, which we quote in full: "There may be another very important and very providential reason assigned for this strange and foolish retreat of Cestius, which, if Josephus had been at the time of writing his history a Christian, he might probably have taken notice of also; and that is the opportunity afforded the Jewish Christians in the city, of calling to mind the prediction and caution given them by Christ that ‘when they should see the abomination of desolation' [the idolatrous Roman armies, with the images of their idols in their ensigns] ready to lay Jerusalem desolate, ‘stand where it ought not,' or ‘in the holy place'; or ‘when they should see Jerusalem compassed with armies,' they should then ‘flee to the mountains.' By complying with which, those Jewish Christians fled to the mountains of Perea, and escaped this destruction. Nor was there perhaps any one instance of a more unpolitic, but more providential conduct, than this retreat of Cestius visible during this whole siege of Jerusalem, which [siege] was providentially such a ‘great tribulation as had not been from the beginning of the world to that time; no, nor every should be.'"
It was very apparent to this learned translator that the three inspired records of our Lord's Olivet prophecy, and also with the historical facts so wonderfully preserved in this history by Josephus, that the three accounts refer to the same event, that "the abomination of desolation" was the armies of imperial and pagan Rome, and that the unparalleled sufferings of the Jews during those five years of terror, were the "great tribulation" foretold by the Lord in Matthew 24:21.
20. The Roman general, __________________, now led his army from Syria into Judea, destroying widely, and laid siege to Jerusalem.
21. The people were about to admit Cestius as their benefactor, when he suddenly recalled his soldiers and retreated from the city "without any _____________ in the world."
22. The __________________ retreat of Cestius gave the Jewish Christians the opportunity to flee Jerusalem and the land of Israel as Christ had warned them to.
23. "The abomination of desolation" was the armies of imperial and pagan ______, and the the unparalleled sufferings of the Jews during those five years of terror, were the "great tribulation" foretold by the Lord in Matthew 24:21.
The Days of Vengeance
After the retreat of Cestius, there was a slaughter of about 10,000 Jews at Damascus. Then, it being evident that war with the Romans was inevitable, the Jews began making preparations to defend Jerusalem. At this time Josephus, the writer of this history, was appointed general of the armies in Galilee. He seems to have had great ability and success as a soldier, though he was finally overpowered and captured by the Romans. Concerning one of his military operations his translators says: "I cannot but think this stratagem of Josephus to be one of the finest that ever was invented and executed by any warrior whatsoever."
At this point the emperor Nero appointed Vespasian, a valiant and experienced general, to the task of subduing the Jews. Vespasian designated his son Titus to assist him. They invaded Judea from the north, marching along the coast, and killing many - 18,000 at Askelon alone. Thus "Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood; nor was it exempt from any kind of misery or calamity" [3:4:1]. Josephus opposed the Roman invasion with such forces as he had, but one by one the cities were taken and their inhabitants slain. Finally, Josephus himself was driven to take refuge in Jotapata, which, after long and desperate resistance, was taken by Vespasian. The incidents of this siege were terrible; and among them were events which forcibly recall the Lord's words, "But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days." The Romans were so enraged by the fierce resistance of the Jews that "they spared none, nor pitied any." Many, in desperation, killed themselves. The life of Josephus was spared and he was taken captive to Vespasian, to whom he prophesied that both he and Titus his son would be "Caesar and emperor" [3:8:4-7]. From that time till the end of the war Josephus was kept a prisoner; but he was with Titus during the subsequent siege of Jerusalem, in which the atrocities and miseries reached a limit impossible to be exceeded on earth. Only the state of the lost in hell could be worse.
After Jotapata fell, Joppa was taken, and then Tiberias and Taricheae on Lake Gennesaret. Thousands were killed, and up to 30,000 from Taricheae alone were sold into slavery. Having now completely subdued Galilee, Vespasian led his army to Jerusalem. For a right understanding of Matthew 24:15-21 it is important to know that the Roman armies were, for more than a year, occupied with the devastation of the provinces of Galilee and Judea, before Jerusalem was besieged. It should be noted also that Christ's first warnings to flee were "to them which be in Judea" [Matt. 24:16]. This makes it perfectly certain that "the abomination of desolation" standing "in the holy place," which was the appointed sign for "them which be in Judea to flee into the mountains," was not an idol set up in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. The desolation of Judea was completed long before Jerusalem and the Temple were taken.
At the time Vespasian led his armies to Jerusalem, that doomed city was in a state of indescribable disorder and confusion insomuch that, during the entire siege, the Jews suffered far more from one another inside the walls than from the enemy outside. Josephus says there were "disorders and civil war in every city, and all those that were at quiet from the Romans turned their hands one against another. There was also a bitter contest between those that were for war, and those that were desirous for peace" [4:3:2]. Josephus further tells us of the utter disgrace and ruin of the high priesthood, the basest of men being promoted to that office; and also of the profanation of the sanctuary.
24. Then, it being evident that war with the Romans was inevitable, the Jews began making preparations to defend _________________.
25. At this time Josephus, the writer of this history, was appointed ____________ of the armies in Galilee.
26. The emperor Nero appointed _____________________, a valiant and experienced general, to the task of subduing the Jews.
27. Vespasian designated his son ____________ to assist him.
28. Josephus was kept a prisoner; but he was with Titus during the subsequent ______________ of Jerusalem, in which the atrocities and miseries reached a limit impossible to be exceeded on earth.
29. For a right understanding of Matthew 24:15-21 it is important to know that the Roman armies were, for more than ______________, occupied with the devastation of the provinces of Galilee and Judea, before Jerusalem was besieged.
30. At the time Vespasian led his armies to __________________, that doomed city was in a state of indescribable disorder and confusion insomuch that, during the entire siege, the Jews suffered far more from one another inside the walls than from the enemy outside.
The most violent party in the city was the Zealots. These called to their aid a band of bloodthirsty Idumeans, who set upon the people peaceably inclined, and slaughtered young and old until "the outer temple was all of it overflowed with blood, and that day they saw 8,500 dead bodies there." Among the slain was Anaus, formerly high priest, concerning whom Josephus says: "I should not mistake if I said the the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs; that being the day whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city...And I cannot but think it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge His sanctuary with fire, that He cut off these their great defenders, while those that a little before had worn the sacred garments and presided over the public worship, were cast out naked to be the food of dogs and wild beasts...now after these were slain the Zealots and the Idumeans fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats."
Josephus also tells of the "terrible torments" inflicted upon nobles and citizens of the better sort who refused to comply with the demands of the Zealots. Those, after being horribly tortured, were slain, and through fear, none dared bury them. In this way 12,000 of the more eminent inhabitants perished [4:5:3]. We quote: "Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps; and many who are first were zealous to desert the city chose rather to perish there; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear less terrible to them. But those zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city or on those that lay along the roads; as if...at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions they would pollute the Deity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun" [4:6:3]. About this time above 15,000 fugitive Jews were killed by the Romans, "and the number of those that were forced to leap into the Jordan was prodigious...The whole country through which they fled was filled with slaughter, and Jordan could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it" [4:8:5-6].
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