SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



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Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

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The War of the Jews
(3826 AM - 66 CE)

Cestius' campaign
(3827 AM - 66 CE)

The Scroll of the Fasts
(3827 AM - 66 CE)

(3827 AM - 67 CE)

The fall of Jotapata
(3827 AM - 67 CE)

The fall of Gamla
(3827 AM - 67 CE)

The reign of Terror
(3828 AM - 68 CE)

Johanan ben Zakkai
(3829 AM - 69 CE)

Rome after Nero
(3829 AM - 69 CE)

The Year of the Four Emperors
(3829 AM - 69 CE)

Simon bar Giora
(3829 AM - 69 CE)

Emperor Vespasian
(3829 AM - 69 CE)

 Previous <<   Generation 32   >> Next

Hebrew years 3720 to 3840 (40 BCE - 80 CE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ Part III ~~~ Part IV ~~~ Part V ~~~

Year 3826 – 66 CE – The War of the Jews

In 64, a new procurator called Florus, who was born in Asia Minor, came to Judea to replace Albinus, the successor of Felix. And again Agrippa II changed the High Priest and chose Mattathias ben Theophilus, another Sadduccee. Josephus has written a famous book about this Judeo-Roman war that led to the destruction of the Temple and the end of the independence of the Jewish nation:

Now Gessius Florus, who was sent as successor to Albinus by Nero, filled Judea with abundance of miseries. […] This Florus was so wicked, and so violent in the use of his authority, that the Jews took Albinus to have been [comparatively] their benefactor; so excessive were the mischiefs that he brought upon them. For Albinus concealed his wickedness, and was careful that it might not be discovered to all men; but Gessius Florus, as though he bad been sent on purpose to show his crimes to every body, made a pompous ostentation of them to our nation, as never omitting any sort of violence, nor any unjust sort of punishment; for he was not to be moved by pity, and never was satisfied with any degree of gain that came in his way; nor had he any more regard to great than to small acquisitions, but became a partner with the robbers themselves. […] And what need I say any more upon this head? Since it was this Florus who necessitated us to take up arms against the Romans, while we thought it better to be destroyed at once, than by little and little. Now this war began in the second year of the government of Florus, and the twelfth year of the reign of Nero.
--- Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 20,252

Josephus finished the account of his Jewish Antiquities at the beginning of this war, as he had already written the Wars of the Jews prior to the Antiquities. Faithful to his usual avoidance of blaming any Roman policy (although he frequently blamed Roman rulers of the region), he asserted that the war started because of the tensions with the Hellenistic community of Caesaria, in the month of Artemisins, which is Hebrew Nisan, the month when a lot of Jews would celebrate the Passover festival [1]:

Now at this time it happened that the Grecians at Cesarea had been too hard for the Jews, and had obtained of Nero the government of the city, and had brought the judicial determination: at the same time began the war, in the twelfth year of the reign of Nero, and the seventeenth of the reign of Agrippa, in the month of Artemisins [Jyar].
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 14,4

The Jews complained to Florus but he was determined to use a harsh hand on them. He requested payment of a large sum from the Temple treasures, which outraged the Jews. As a response, he marched to Jerusalem and ordered his soldiers to plunder part of the city, the wealthier Upper City place, in reprisal. He went as far as executing Jews who had Roman status, an act never done before by  any Roman official. This took place while Agrippa II was in Alexandria to congratulate the new governor, his friend Tiberius Alexander, the former Roman procurator of Judea whose family was of Jewish origin. Agrippa's sister Bernice was in Jerusalem at the time, and tried to intercede in order to restore peace, but Florus would not change his mind. The matter was then brought to the attention of Cestius, the governor of the Syrian province:

However, Florus contrived another way to oblige the Jews to begin the war, and sent to Cestius, and accused the Jews falsely of revolting [from the Roman government], and imputed the beginning of the former fight to them, and pretended they had been the authors of that disturbance, wherein they were only the sufferers. Yet were not the governors of Jerusalem silent upon this occasion, but did themselves write to Cestius, as did Bernice also, about the illegal practices of which Florus had been guilty against the city; who, upon reading both accounts, consulted with his captains [what he should do]. Now some of them thought it best for Cestius to go up with his army, either to punish the revolt, if it was real, or to settle the Roman affairs on a surer foundation, if the Jews continued quiet under them; but he thought it best himself to send one of his intimate friends beforehand, to see the state of affairs, and to give him a faithful account of the intentions of the Jews.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 16,1

Cestius sent an emissary who met with Agrippa who was returning from Alexandria. They toured Jerusalem and saw that people were not seditious as Florus had depicted the situation. But the Jews were eager to either send representatives to Nero to complain about Florus, or to start a war. Agrippa made an address to them against the idea of war against Rome:

“Moreover, ten thousand ether nations there are who had greater reason than we to claim their entire liberty, and yet do submit. You are the only people who think it a disgrace to be servants to those to whom all the world has submitted. What sort of an army do you rely on? What are the arms you depend on? Where is your fleet that may seize upon the Roman seas? And where are those treasures which may be sufficient for your undertakings? Do you suppose, I pray you, that you are to make war with the Egyptians, and with the Arabians? Will you not carefully reflect upon the Roman Empire? Will you not estimate your own weakness? Has not your army been often beaten even by your neighboring nations, while the power of the Romans is invincible in all parts of the habitable earth? […] Are you richer than the Gauls, stronger than the Germans, wiser than the Greeks, more numerous than all men upon the habitable earth? What confidence is it that elevates you to oppose the Romans?”
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 16,4

Initially  the people seemed to follow Agrippa’s advice but soon after showed signs of rebellion. Agrippa left the city to its fate and returned to his abode. The spirit of war was warming up:

And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them; but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 17,2

The resistance came from people that Josephus called the “innovators”, most probably the youth. The Elders and the priests also tried to avoid the war but failed. So then they applied to Florus to come and end the sedition before it would spread too far. But it was too late. The seditious burned the palace of Agrippa and other official buildings on the 14th of the month of Av (22 July 66). The next day they besieged the Antonia fortress and other towers of the citadel. But then they behaved ignonimously as, after securing a truce with the garrison, promising them safe passage if they would lay down their arms, they killed them all once the soldiers walked out of their refuges.

This loss to the Romans was but light, there being no more than a few slain out of an immense army; but still it appeared to be a prelude to the Jews' own destruction, while men made public lamentation when they saw that such occasions were afforded for a war as were incurable; that the city was all over polluted with such abominations, from which it was but reasonable to expect some vengeance, even though they should escape revenge from the Romans; so that the city was filled with sadness, and every one of the moderate men in it were under great disturbance, as likely themselves to undergo punishment for the wickedness of the seditious; for indeed it so happened that this murder was perpetrated on the sabbath day, on which day the Jews have a respite from their works on account of Divine worship.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 17,10

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In parallel of the killing of the Roman garrison on a Sabbath day, the Jews of Caesarea were all killed by the Greek inhabitants. The ones who survived were sent to the galleys by Florus. This killing caused a harsh response from the Jews of Judea who, in their turn, attacked several Hellenised neighbouring cities and destroyed them, slaughtering local populations on the way. Some of the cities from Galilee however opposed a resistance to these attacks and defended their Greek neighbours:

But when they [the Judeans] made excursions to Scythopolis, they found Jew that acted as enemies; for as they stood in battle-array with those of Scythopolis, and preferred their own safety before their relation to us, they fought against their own countrymen; nay, their alacrity was so very great, that those of Scythopolis suspected them.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 18,3

Scythopolis was the hellenized Decapolis city of Beth-Shean where the body of King Saul had been displayed by the Philistines.

Scythopolis - Beth-Shean
Scythopolis (Beth-Shean, Northern Israel)
with the Tell (the Bronze period Canaanite city) in the backgroun
and the Greco-Roman city in the foreground 

The situation was fast turning into an open war between the Jews and the Gentiles in the country. Many cities attacking the civilians of one camp or the other. Some other people preferred to leave the cities they dwelled in by fear of killing from the other community.

The unrest reached the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which had often witnessed hatred between the various communities, Greeks, Egyptians and Jews, the latter representing no less of one third of the population and enjoying special favour from the city leaders, from Alexander to Julius Caesar. But, this time, the Greek residents were joined by the Roman authorities in their hatred against the Jews of the city. Worse, the Roman army was under the command of Tiberius Alexander, who was of Jewish origin and a friend of Agrippa II:

They [the Roman soldiers] were also permitted not only to kill them, but to plunder them of what they had, and to set fire to their houses. These soldiers rushed violently into that part of the city that was called Delta, where the Jewish people lived together, and did as they were bidden, though not without bloodshed on their own side also; for the Jews got together, and set those that were the best armed among them in the forefront, and made a resistance for a great while; but when once they gave back, they were destroyed unmercifully; and this their destruction was complete, some being caught in the open field, and others forced into their houses, which houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and fifty thousand of them lay dead upon heaps; nor had the remainder been preserved, had they not be-taken themselves to supplication.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 18,8

Cestius, the governor of the Syrian province, had to intervene and moved to Judea after the summer, occupying first the cities in the plain. He then sent the 12th Legion to free up the Galilee, which was less sedituous than Judea. This was done with relative ease.

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Year 3827 – 66 CE – Cestius’ campaign of Jerusalem

Then the Romans marched towards Jerusalem from the north. It was the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, called Sukkot in Hebrew, which falls in the month of Tishri (around September-October), in the Jewish New Year 3827. After a few skirmishes, Cestius camped over Mount Scopus, north-east of Jerusalem. Then he moved his army towards the city on the 30th of Tishri:

In the mean time, many of the principal men of the city were persuaded by Ananus, the son of Jonathan, and invited Cestius into the city, and were about to open the gates for him; but he overlooked this offer, partly out of his anger at the Jews, and partly because he did not thoroughly believe they were in earnest; whence it was that he delayed the matter so long, that the seditious perceived the treachery, and threw Ananus and those of his party down from the wall, and, pelting them with stones, drove them into their houses; but they stood themselves at proper distances in the towers, and threw their darts at those that were getting over the wall. Thus did the Romans make their attack against the wall for five days, but to no purpose. But on the next day Cestius took a great many of his choicest men, and with them the archers, and attempted to break into the temple at the northern quarter of it; but the Jews beat them off from the cloisters, and repulsed them several times when they were gotten near to the wall, till at length the multitude of the darts cut them off, and made them retire; but the first rank of the Romans rested their shields upon the wall, and so did those that were behind them, and the like did those that were still more backward, and guarded themselves with what they call Testudo, [the back of] a tortoise, upon which the darts that were thrown fell, and slided off without doing them any harm; so the soldiers undermined the wall, without being themselves hurt, and got all things ready for setting fire to the gate of the temple. And now it was that a horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.
---Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 2, 19,5-6

Thus Cestius called for a retreat of his troops, and retreated back to the camp in Scopus, with Jewish fighters in pursuit of the Roman army. The retreat was not easy and the Romans lost a lot of men, while the number of Jews rishung after them increased all the time. Cestius took refuge in the fort of Beth Horon, at the top of a hill, north-west from Jerusalem, which the Jews surrounded.

Beth-Horon in 1880

To escape the trap, Cestius sacrificed a part of his army to keep the stand, while he marched at night with the rest, quietly, until they reached the fortress of Antipatris (Tel Afeq, near modern Tel-Aviv). In total, the Romans lost over 5000 soldiers in this campaign of Jerusalem, a number which was the size of an entire legion.

Many Sadducees took the opportunity of the temporary rest to flee from Jerusalem, in fear of the future reprisal from Rome. Cestius sent some of them to Nero to explain the situation, and to blame the unrest on the actions of the procurator Florus.

On their side, the Jews took the opportunity to organise their army and their defense so they divided the control of the country between several commanders each in charge of a respective region. This is when Josephus was given the charge over Galilee. He organised his administration by appointing seventy elders in each major city to look over the civilian affairs of their respective city. He also raised an army of 60,000 foot men, but they were ill equipped and had no experience of soldier.

As of the Sicarii, they seemed to have engaged in their own war. They went to Masada fortress in the Judean desert (buit by Herod), killed the Roman garrison there and seized the weapons stocked in the arsenal. They then returned to Jerusalem and assassinated the High Priest Hanania. His supporters captured the leader of the Sicarii, Menachem, and killed him and his guards. The rest of the Sicarii (about 800 men) then fled from Jerusalem, led by a nephew of Menachem
called Eleazar ben Yair, and returned to Masada in a refuge. The Sicarii came back to Jerusalem at some point just before the final siege, and escaped to Masada again for refuge when the city fell to the Romans.

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Year 3827 – 66 CE – The Scroll of the Fasts, Megillat Taanit

It was in this context of perceived victory after the defeat and retreat of the Roman army and the satisfaction following the flight of the Saduccees from Jerusalem that one Pharisee wrote the "Scroll of the Fasts" (Megillat Taanit in Hebrew). In it, he listed all the days on which one is not to fast and on some of which one is not to eulegize. In other words, the contents of this scroll was the list of joyful days.

The writer of the scroll has been identified with the tana Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Garon by the Talmudists (Talmud, Shabbat, 13b). The timing of the writing seems to point to the period between the latest historical event that can be identified with certainty (Caligula’s attempt to erect his statue in the Temple of Jerusalem, in 38-39 CE), and the destruction of the Temple (later in 70 CE) which is not mentioned in the scroll. In this window of time, what period of joy and enthousiasm could be picked to fix the date of the scroll, if not when the Romans and the Saduccees fled and left the Pharisees in charge of the holy city? Beside, one verse of the scroll mentions one joyful date for which fasting must not be done:

On the twenty-third of it [the month of Iyyar], the men of the Acra left Jerusalem.
--- Megillat Taanit, 7

This event is traditionally associated with the Greeks who left the Acra fortress they had built in Jerusalem. Simon Maccabbee destroyed this Greek fortress during his rule over Judea, but this circumstance could barely be conceived to have had a religious impact as compared, say, to the cleaning of the Temple and the feast of Chanukkah. Rather this verse of the scroll may indeed apply to the fleeing of the Saduccees from Jerusalem, never to return, because the Acra was symbolic of the Hellenistic times, and, by its presence in Jerusalem, represented the assimilation of the upper class of people which composed the Saduccee sect. The men of the Acra mentioned in the scroll could thus be understood as the Saduccees who favoured these foreign cultures, Greek then Roman, and diverted from core Judaism.

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Year 3827 – 67 CE – Vespasian

When he learned of the disasters of his army in Judea, Nero dismissed Florus from his post of Procurator. Or maybe, according to the Talmud, Nero had the vision that God wanted him to destroy His House, the Temple, and, afraid at this perspective, he appointed an able and experienced commander, Vespasian, to crush the Jewish rebellion and restore order in Jerusalem before the unrest would lead to further disaster. Then, a year later, according to the Talmud, Nero converted to Judaism, and abandoned public life. The official history mentioned that he committed suicide but there had been some secrecy about what happened to his remains:

He [the new ruler] consented that Nero’s body should be committed to the flames at the place where he died. The funeral rites were performed without delay, and without pomp. His remains were conveyed to the monument vault of the Domitian family, his paternal ancestors. The urn was carried by two female servants and Acte, the famous concubine. The secrecy with which the obsequies was performend was the cause of some untoward consequences that afterwards disturbed the commonwealth. A doubt remained in the minds of many whether Nero had not made his espcape into Asia or Egypt.
--- Tacitus, The Annals, XVI, 14

Instead, Nero would have married and have issue because a famous Jewish scholar, Rabbi Meir ha-Ness, is said in the Talmud to be a grandson of Nero.[2a]  Rabbi Meir’s first wife was called Valeria, who was probably of Roman origin and must have died before him. Because he later married Beruriah, a daughter of Rabbi Hananiah ben Teradyon. She was also very knowledgeable about the Scriptures.[2b] In one circumstance, she even made a remonstrance to a rabbi for speaking too much, with too many words to ask something simple. He had the bad luck to be from Galilee:[2c]

R. Jose the Galilean was once on a journey when he met Beruriah. ‘By what road’, he asked her, ‘do we go to Lydda?’ — ‘Foolish Galilean’, she replied: ‘did not the Sages say this: Engage not in much talk with women?[2d] You should have asked: By which to Lydda?’
--- Talmud, Eiruvin, 53b

Vespasian had already been successful in the invasion of Britain in 43. Vespasian marched with the 15th legion but was seconded by his own son, Titus, who went to fetch the 5th and the 10th legions for the campaign. When the Roman army of 3 legions arrived in Antioch, it was joined by Agrippa II who supported the cause of Rome against his own people. Together they marched to Ptolemais (modern day Acre, or Akko, in Israel). The people of Sepphoris, who saw their city destroyed by the Romans once already decided this time to desert the Jewish cause. So a Roman force was sent to protect the city from Jewish reprisal.

Mona Lisa of Sepphoris
The “Mona Lisa” of Sepphoris (Tzippori, Israel)

Josephus gives a good account of the military machine that was the Roman army in these times. Here is one extract, when the call for battle is made in a Roman camp:

Now when they are to go out of their camp, the trumpet gives a sound, at which time nobody lies still, but at the first intimation they take down their tents, and all is made ready for their going out; then do the trumpets sound again, to order them to get ready for the march; then do they lay their baggage suddenly upon their mules, and other beasts of burden, and stand, as at the place of starting, ready to march; when also they set fire to their camp, and this they do because it will be easy for them to erect another camp, and that it may not ever be of use to their enemies. Then do the trumpets give a sound the third time, that they are to go out, in order to excite those that on any account are a little tardy, that so no one may be out of his rank when the army marches. Then does the crier stand at the general's right hand, and asks them thrice, in their own tongue, whether they be now ready to go out to war or not? To which they reply as often, with a loud and cheerful voice, saying, "We are ready." And this they do almost before the question is asked them: they do this as filled with a kind of martial fury, and at the same time that they so cry out, they lift up their right hands also.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,5,4

In comparison, the Jewish revolt was poorly organised, poorly controlled, and only excited by the fervour of the Zealots who had no military expertise in waging a proper war. The Roman army, composed of three legions (about 15,000) of very experienced warriors, a cavalry, and many auxiliaries from foreign recruit, as well as a certain number of defectors from the Jewish nation who followed Agrippa II, can be estimated to about 60,000 fighters.

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Year 3827 – 67 CE – The siege and fall of Jotapata

One of the first fortresses to fall to the Romans was Jotapata (modern day Yodfat) in Galilee, after over 6 weeks of siege. At first, many assaults and catapultes and a great ram used against the city did not succeed to reduce the Jewish fighters’ determination:

And here a certain Jew appeared worthy of our relation and commendation; he was the son of Sameas, and was called Eleazar, and was born at Saab, in Galilee. This man took up a stone of a vast bigness, and threw it down from the wall upon the ram, and this with so great a force, that it broke off the head of the engine. He also leaped down, and took up the head of the ram from the midst of them, and without any concern carried it to the top of the wall, and this while he stood as a fit mark to he pelted by all his enemies. Accordingly, he received the strokes upon his naked body, and was wounded with five darts; nor did he mind any of them while he went up to the top of the wall, where he stood in the sight of them all, as an instance of the greatest boldness; after which he drew himself on a heap with his wounds upon him, and fell down together with the head of the ram. Next to him, two brothers showed their courage; their names were Netir and Philip, both of them of the village Ruma, and both of them Galileans also; these men leaped upon the soldiers of the tenth legion, and fell upon the Romans with such a noise and force as to disorder their ranks, and to put to flight all upon whomsoever they made their assaults.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,7,21

During this siege, Vespasian was slightly wounded in his foot:

A certain Jew that defended the city from the Romans hit Vespasian with a dart in his foot, and wounded him a little, the distance being so great, that no mighty impression could be made by the dart thrown so far off. However, this caused the greatest disorder among the Romans; for when those who stood near him saw his blood, they were disturbed at it, and a report went abroad, through the whole army, that the general was wounded, while the greatest part left the siege, and came running together with surprise and fear to the general; and before them all came Titus, out of the concern he had for his father, insomuch that the multitude were in great confusion, and this out of the regard they had for their general, and by reason of the agony that the son was in.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,7,22

After this incident, and out of revenge for their general, the Romans fought with greater vigour. The fight continued into the month of Sivan (May-June). At that time, the besieged people were in want of water supply, and it was the hot season. On the 47th day of siege, the Roman army was preparing itself for the final assault led by Titus himself. The city was long depleted of its people, who died from earlier assaults. For the Romans, it was a time of revenge after having enduring such a long resistance:

And for the Romans, they so well remembered what they had suffered during the siege, that they spared none, nor pitied any, but drove the people down the precipice from the citadel, and slew them as they drove them down; at which time the difficulties of the place hindered those that were still able to fight from defending themselves; for as they were distressed in the narrow streets, and could not keep their feet sure along the precipice, they were overpowered with the crowd of those that came fighting them down from the citadel. This provoked a great many, even of those chosen men that were about Josephus, to kill themselves with their own hands; for when they saw that they could kill none of the Romans, they resolved to prevent being killed by the Romans, and got together in great numbers in the utmost parts of the city, and killed themselves.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,7,34

After killing all the remaining males and sending women and children to captivity, Vespasian ordered the destruction of the city:

So Vespasian gave order that the city should be entirely demolished, and all the fortifications burnt down. And thus was Jotapata taken, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Nero, on the first day of the month Panemus [Tammuz].
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,7,36

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As of Josephus, his account of what happened to him may be subject to controversy considering that most fighters preferred to kill themselves rather than be subjected to the anger of the Romans after such a long siege. He would have expected the worst punishment from the soldiery. He however explained that he and others managed to hide themselves in a hole when the city was taken, and were discovered after three days. He was offered protection from the vengeance of the soldiers to be taken to Vespasian who, apparently, was determined to preserve a man of his courage (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,8,2). But his companions were desirious to die to to have Josephus die with them. They drew cast and killed themselves one after the other but, owing to chance or providence, Josephus ended up to be the last one with another man who he convinced to remain alive with him.

Josephus finally gave himself up to Vespasian with the goal to tell future generations what would happen in this war. For this, we can agree that he had succeeded as he gave to the Posterity an invaluable account of the events that led to the destruction of the Jewish nation. Josephus later adopted a Roman name, Flavius Josephus, in honor to Vespasian, Flavia being the name of his family. Vespasian will later create the Flavius dynasty which will give three emperors between the years 69 and 96.

In fact, Josephus stated that he announced to Vespasian that he will become emperor:

When he had said this, Vespasian at present did not believe him, but supposed that Josephus said this as a cunning trick, in order to his own preservation; but in a little time he was convinced, and believed what he said to be true, God himself erecting his expectations, so as to think of obtaining the empire, and by other signs fore-showing his advancement. He also found Josephus to have spoken truth on other occasions; for one of those friends that were present at that secret conference said to Josephus, "I cannot but wonder how you could not foretell to the people of Jotapata that they should be taken, nor could foretell this captivity which has happened to yourself, unless what you now say be a vain thing, in order to avoid the rage that is risen against yourself." To which Josephus replied, "I did foretell to the people of Jotapata that they would be taken on the forty-seventh day, and that I should be caught alive by the Romans." Now when Vespasian had inquired of the captives privately about these predictions, he found them to be true, and then he begun to believe those that concerned him.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 3,8,9

This explanation seems to have been known by Roman historians who may have repeated Josephus’ words:

But in addition a Jew named Josephus, who had previously been disliked by him [Vespasian] and imprisoned, gave a laugh and said: "You may imprison me now, but a year later when you become emperor you will release me."
--- Cassius Dio, Roman History, volume 66, section 1

The excavations at the site of Jotapata in the years 1992-2000 revealed signs of battle, a large mass grave with many human bones, as well as a nefesh stone, which was probably carved as a memorial by one of the fighters for the city about to fall. The troubling detail is that his author carved a crab on the stone, which represents the month of Tammuz. And the city indeed fell the first of that month (corresponding to the 30 June 67), and not earlier. Maybe this is a testimonial of Josephus’ prediction to his war companions of the time when the city will only. A memorial has been placed at the site to commemorate the heroic resistance of the city, with the engravings found on the nefesh stone, a Roman machine of war depicting the siege and the crab.

Memorial of Yotapata
Memorial for the fighters of Jotapata

After the fall of Jotapata, Vespasian went to the city of Caesaria, leaving his army to rest after the completed long siege. Also, the heat was at its peak. Vespasian was a patient commander and favoured the idea that the rest of the nation may change its mind to fight after the fall of their army in Galilee. But the Zealots in Jerusalem became even more enraged when they finally learned the news that their Northern commander, Josephus, had surrendered to the enemies and was well treated.

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Year 3827 – 67 CE – The fall of Gamla

Then Vespasian pursued his conquest of Galilee around the lake of Tiberias until the month of Tishri (about September). His army besieged the hill-top city of Gamla located in the Golan, North-East from the lake. There, many Jewish farmers had found refuge from the war but were finally massacred after the fall of the city. The name Gamla is derived from the Hebrew word for 'camel', name given due to the shape of the hill as a camel back.

Gamla the camel-back mountain
Gamla the camel-back mountain, with a view of the old synagogue on the slope in the left side
(photography: Weizmann Institute, Israel)

During the Roman campaign in Galilee, many Jewish fugitives flocked into Jerusalem.

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Year 3828 – 68 CE – The reign of Terror

Maybe in a plan to restore order and reconcile matters with the Romans, Ananus son of Ananus, the same prior High Priest who had condemned James, the brother of Jesus, to stoning, incited the people of Jerusalem to raise against the religious Zealots who had previously taken control over the Temple from the aristocratic Sadducees. Assuming Ananus was going to receive support from the Romans, the Zealots called in the Idumeans (Edomites) to help them keep the city against Ananus’ designs. After defeating the Sadducees forces, the Idumeans poured into the city, killing the priests and Ananus, and also killing many of the ordinary people by installing a regime of Terror:

Now after these were slain, the zealots and the multitude of the Idumeans fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats; and for the ordinary sort, they were destroyed in what place soever they caught them. But for the noblemen and the youth, they first caught them and bound them, and shut them up in prison, and put off their slaughter, in hopes that some of them would turn over to their party; but not one of them would comply with their desires, but all of them preferred death before being enrolled among such wicked wretches as acted against their own country. But this refusal of theirs brought upon them terrible torments; for they were so scourged and tortured, that their bodies were not able to sustain their torments, till at length, and with difficulty, they had the favor to be slain. Those whom they caught in the day time were slain in the night, and then their bodies were carried out and thrown away, that there might be room for other prisoners; and the terror that was upon the people was so great, that no one had courage enough either to weep openly for the dead man that was related to him, or to bury him.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,5,3
The circumstance is quite similar to what occurred during the French Revolution when, in September 1792, the factions in Paris went on killing the priests, then the upper class of people, and even the ordinary people who would not rally them, after rumours had spread of an imminent foreign invasion supported from the inside by the priests and the aristocrats. The pattern seems common to all popular uprising, with a combination of rumours, threats, perception of imminent danger and revenge. The Zealots, like the French much later in History, went on establishing a regime of Terror and tribunals to judge suspected people and condemn them to death:

And now these zealots and Idumeans were quite weary of barely killing men, so they had the impudence of setting up fictitious tribunals and judicatures for that purpose.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,5,4

Some of the Roman commanders thought it a good opportunity to attack the city, while the Jews appeared to be so divided. But Vespasian preferred to be cautious and to wait for the internal feuds to destroy their enemies rather than attacking too early and causing them rather to unite again. To the common saying that “triumph without peril brings no glory”, Josephus had this to say:

If any one imagines that the glory of victory, when it is gotten without fighting, will be more insipid, let him know this much, that a glorious success, quietly obtained, is more profitable than the dangers of a battle; for we ought to esteem these that do what is agreeable to temperance and prudence no less glorious than those that have gained great reputation by their actions in war: that he shall lead on his army with greater force when their enemies are diminished, and his own army refreshed after the continual labors they had undergone.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,6,2

The show of temperance from the Roman General also proved beneficial to the Romans because the Jews could see that escaping the city would not put their life in danger. At the contrary, the Romans were now eager to see this desertion happening as much as possible, to facilitate their attack when time would come. But the Zealots did not make these escapes from the city so easy:

And indeed many there were of the Jews that deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans; yet did he who gave them money get clear off, while he only that gave them none was voted a traitor. So the upshot was this, that the rich purchased their flight by money, while none but the poor were slain.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,6,3

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Year 3829 – 69 CE – Johanan ben Zakkai

The religious leaders had understood that God’s spirit had left the sanctuary, and this rendered the Temple as inert as mere stones. The Talmud also blamed the Zealots for the famine that the population had to suffer:

The Biryoni [the defenders of the city, i.e. Zealots and Sicarii] were then in the city. The Rabbis said to them: Let us go out and make peace with them [the Romans]. They would not let them, but on the contrary said, Let us go out and fight them. The Rabbis said: You will not succeed. They then rose up and burnt the stores of wheat and barley so that a famine ensued.
--- Talmud, Gittin, 56a

The head of the Sanhedrin, the nassi Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel, was already very old. He was assassinated by the Zealots but, before that, he passed the religious leadership to Johanan ben Zakkai in order to save the spirituality from destruction in the city which was doomed. But leaving the city was not an easy possibility:

Abba Sikra [meaning the Father or founder of the Sicarii], the head of the Biryoni in Jerusalem, was the son of the sister of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai. [The latter] sent to him saying, Come to visit me privately. When he came he said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation? He replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me. He said: Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to save a little. He said to him: Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something evil smelling and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let then your disciples get under your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse. He did so, and R. Eliezer went under the bier from one side and R. Joshua from the other. When they reached the door, some men wanted to put a lance through the bier. He said to them: Shall [the Romans] say. They have pierced their Master? They wanted to give it a push[over the city walls]. He said to them: Shall they say that they pushed their Master? They opened a town gate for him and he got out.
When he reached the Romans, he said, Peace to you, O king, peace to you, O king. He [Vespasian] said: Your life is forfeit on two counts, one because I am not a king and you call me king, and again, if I am a king, why did you not come to me before now?
At this point a messenger came to him from Rome saying, Up, for the Emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have decided to make you  head [of the State].
--- Talmud, Gittin, 56a-56b

Owing to the news from Rome, Vespasian spared the life of ben Zakkai. The latter asked the authorization to create a school institution outside Jerusalem. This was granted to him and he went to open the religious school of Yavneh. Accordingly, a Talmudic saying stated: Jerusalem was destroyed because the instruction of the young was neglected. Ben Zakkai aimed to correct this failure and build the next generation of religious scholars.

Another version of the encounter between Vespasian and ben Zakkai is given in the Tosephta Avot de-Rabbi Nathan. It is said that Vespasian had spies in the city and learned that ben Zakkai was in favour of making peace with the Romans. So he spared his life when he turned out to him hidden in a coffin. Then: 

R. Johanan ben Zakkai then asked permission to say something to Vespasian. This having been granted, he said: "I can assure you that you will become king." "How do you know it?" He answered: "We have a tradition that the Temple will not be delivered to a common man (in the name of the king), but to the king himself." As it is written [Isaiah 10:34]: "and he will down the thickets of the forest with iron and the Lebanon shall fall by (means of) a mighty one." It was said that scarcely had a few days elapsed when a messenger came from the city of Rome with the tidings that Caesar was dead, and the resolution was adopted that Vespasian be his successor.
--- Tosephta Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, in Rodkinson, Michael, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I (IX), page 25, published 1900

The tomb of Johanan ben Zakkai is located in the old cemetary of Tiberias, near the tomb of Maimonides.

Nero is said to have died in June 68. Vespasian received the news a few months later, also with the news that Galba, the governor of one of the provinces in Spain, had been named emperor in place of Nero. Vespasian maintained the siege of Jerusalem but halted the preparations to attack the city as he sent his son Titus to Rome to greet the new ruler and obtain his orders concerning the eventual continuance of his current campaign against the Jews.

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Year 3829 – 69 CE – Rome after Nero

In the spring time of 69, Vespasian abandoned the siege of Jerusalem and went to conquer other parts of the region against the sedition. He took Gadara (also called Jarash) in the Decapolis (near the present city of Umm Qais in north-west of Jordan) and returned to Caesarea while the rest of the army, commanded by Trajan, pursued the campaign along the Jordan River until the Dead Sea:

Now this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only 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, but because the lake Asphaltiris [the Dead Sea] was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river. And now Placidus, after this good success that he had, fell violently upon the neighboring smaller cities and villages; when he took Abila, and Julias, and Bezemoth, and all those that lay as far as the lake Asphaltitis, and put such of the deserters into each of them as he thought proper. He then put his soldiers on board the ships, and slew such as had fled to the lake, insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves or were taken by the Romans, as far as Macherus.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,7,6

The campaign lasted until the month of Sivan (about June) when Vespasian joined Trajan in Jericho. This clotured the campaign of which result was that the Romans controlled all Judea except the city of Jerusalem and some other strongholds such as Hebron, Herodium, Masada[3] and Machaerus. In Jerusalem, the Zealots still endeavoured to prevent people from leaving the city, by fear that they would help the Romans, and the latter started to surround the region of the city from all sides.

While Vespasian returned to Caesaria, his son Titus reached Greece and learned there that Galba had been murdered after 7 months of rule and that Otho took the charge of Emperor, although this was now challenged by Vitellius. A civil war threatened the Roman empire. So, instead of proceeding further to Rome, Titus returned to Caesarea near his father:

And now they were both in suspense about the public affairs, the Roman empire being then in a fluctuating condition, and did not go on with their expedition against the Jews, but thought that to make any attack upon foreigners was now unseasonable, on account of the solicitude they were in for their own country.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,9,2

When the Roman army in Judea learned about the affairs in their homeland, about June 69, they openly declared that neither Vitellius nor any other Roman commander had more right than Vespasian to become the next emperor. Vespasian was older and had lived a longer life of war compared to the other military prentenders. So Vespasian was proclaimed Emperor by his own army ! This circumstance may have been the time of the encounter between Vespasian and ben Zakkai, when Titus returned from Greece.

At first, Vespasian considered the possibility to go to Egypt and add to his army the two legions camped there. He sent an emissary to Tiberius Alexander, the Roman governor of Egypt, for backing. Meanwhile the news spread from Judea that he had been declared emperor by his own army.

The Roman empire of the four emperors
The Roman Empire during the Year of the Four Emperors

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Year 3829 – 69 CE – Simon Bar Giora

The halt of the Roman operations in Judea led to further sedition among the Jews. Simon son of Giora formed an army from the Sicarii of Masada then took over many villages in the region, including Ein Gedi where they massacred the population who opposed them. They made no secret that he also intended to take Jerusalem from the Zealots. Simon marched into Idumea and took the city of Hebron, the ancient Mamre:

Now the people of the country say that it is an ancienter city, not only than any in that country, but than Memphis in Egypt, and accordingly its age is reckoned at two thousand and three hundred years. They also relate that it had been the habitation of Abram, the progenitor of the Jews, after he had removed out of Mesopotamia; and they say that his posterity descended from thence into Egypt, whose monuments are to this very time showed in that small city; the fabric of which monuments are of the most excellent marble, and wrought after the most elegant manner. There is also there showed, at the distance of six furlongs from the city, a very large turpentine tree and the report goes, that this tree has continued ever since the creation of the world.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,9,7

The mention of the city being as old as 2300 years is not far off the truth because Seth, son of Noah, settled there after the Flood which occurred in Hebrew Year 1656. As of the “turpentine tree”, it must have instead be a “terebinth tree” as those under which Abraham had set his tents,[4] and where he received the visits of the messengers who came to announce that his wife Sarah would give birth to a son a year later.[5] In the middle of the 19th century, there was still such a large tree called by the locals the “Oak of Abraham”, as witnessed by several travellers who published a journal of their visit to the Holy Land. And the remains of this ancient tree still exist today in the old part of the city of Hebron.

The Oak of Abraham
The Oak of Abraham in Hebron (engraving, 1886)

Later on, Simon was admitted in the city of jerusalem, in the month of Nisan, as a saviour against the terror imposed by the Zealots. He eventually succeeded in taking the city but the Zealots still controlled the Temple Mount, despite the attacks from Simon’s men. Josephus gave an account of their defense system:

However, a considerable number of Simon's party fell, and many were carried off wounded; for the Zealots threw their darts easily from a superior place, and seldom failed of hitting their enemies; but having the advantage of situation, and having withal erected four very large towers aforehand, that their darts might come from higher places, one at the north-east corner of the court, one above the Xystus, the third at another corner over against the lower city, and the last was erected above the top of the Pastophoria, where one of the priests stood of course, and gave a signal beforehand, with a trumpet at the beginning of every seventh day, in the evening twilight, as also at the evening when that day was finished, as giving notice to the people when they were to leave off work, and when they were to go to work again.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,9,12

This account is interesting because it mentions that the priest in charge of sounding the horn at the beginning and the end of every Shabbat stood on the eastern corner of the Temple Mount, what Josephus called the Pastophorium, as normally being a small chapel on Eastern side of pagan temples and churches (this side is called Apse). Of courese Josephus employed here terms that would make his pagan readers understand what he referred to, but these terms were not in use in the Jewish Temple. The important point here is that a stone that had fallen from the Temple after the destruction by the Romans in 70, and found in the south-west corner during excavations, bears a sentence about this role of the priest as described by Josephus.

Carved inscription on a stone of the Temple
Carved inscription on a stone fallen from the Temple

This stone, like other stones found during the excavations, may have been carried from the south-eastern side dorner of the Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans, to the south-western side at a later time when Byzantines or Muslims would build their palace on the southern side of the Temple mouth. They would have cleared the rubble of the Roman destruction and pushed it to the other corner, where the Western Wall still stood.

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Year 3829 – 69 CE – Vespasian imperator

In Rome, the power struggle between Otho and Vitellius turned to the latter’s advantage. Otho committed suicide to avoid further bloodshed of troops and Vitellius became emperor. But Vitellius did not get the popular support he hoped for. It was about this time that Vespasian revealed to his officers the prediction that Josephus enounced, and proposed to set him at liberty:

After that he [Vespasian] related those predictions of his [Josephus] which he had then suspected as fictions, suggested out of the fear he was in, but which had by time been demonstrated to be Divine. "It is a shameful thing (said he) that this man, who hath foretold my coming to the empire beforehand, and been the minister of a Divine message to me, should still be retained in the condition of a captive or prisoner." So he called for Josephus, and commanded that he should be set at liberty; whereupon the commanders promised themselves glorious things, froth this requital Vespasian made to a stranger.
--- Josephus, Wars of the Jews, book 4,10,7

Then, when Vespasian had received assurances from both the Syrian province and the Egyptian province, where he went to after Antioch, were backing him as emperor, he decided to send an army to Rome to defend his claim.  The time was right to cast the dice because Vitellius was already losing popularity when the news spread to Rome that Vespasian had been acclaimed as emperor by the army of the East. Being aware of his own lack of popularity, Vitellius was prepared to abandon his claim. But, when Vespasian’s army entered Rome, the soldiers dragged him to the infamous Gemonian stairs where they executed him. They also killed his brother and his son to prevent any further claim from their family. The Senate then proclaimed Vespasian as enperor in December 69, while he was still in Alexandria. He arrived to Rome in the middle of 70, and started the Flavian dynasty of emperors.

Coinage of Vespasian
Vespasian “Fortuna Augusta” golden coin

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[1] Although the usual translations of Josephus text mention the month of Iyar, the one stated by Josephus is Artemisins which is not a Greek month per se, but refers to the Greek month of Elaphebolion when the Greeks honoured their god Artemis; this month corresponds to March/April timeframe in our modern calendars, thus the Hebrew month of Nisan 

[2a] The name Meir is written מאיר in Hebrew, and the name Rome is written רומא; there is no difference in the numerical values of these names because the letters אי of Meir have changed in the letters וא of Rome, both having a total of 11 (10+1 in one case, and 5+6 in the other); so it seems that Rabbi Meir chose his Hebrew name as derived from the name Rome

[2b] For example in Berachot 10a when she changed Rabbi Meir’s opinion

[2c] Galileans had the reputation, in the eyes of the Judeans, to be rather ignorant of the Scriptures; this reputation stemmed from the fact that they had been too easy to adopt the Greek culture, unlike the Judeans who opposed it

[2d] This is a learning that is in the Talmud [Avoth, Mishna I,5]; the Mishna was not written down at the time of Rabbi Meir and Beruriah, but the lessons were obviously known to the Sages (the Oral Law) before they came to be compiled down in writing (the Talmud)

[3] This fortress was then held by the Sicarii, led by Eleazar ben Yair, who used it as their main refuge after the fled from Jerusalem in 66 CE.

[4] Genesis 13:18: And Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the terebinths of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord

[5] Genesis 18:1: And the Lord appeared unto him [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day

Go to >> Part IV

Next generation

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