| The Jewish
Revolt of 66 to 70 AD/CE had its origin in several different troubles identified
by Josephus. At various points in his work he specifically names different
events as "the" cause of the war, either as an immediate trigger or as
a fundamental motive. These include:
From these specific incidents the chief causes of the war in Josephus'
eyes can be identified. Emphasized throughout his work is the cruelty and
corruption of the the Roman administrators, particularly those serving
under Emperor Nero. Next in importance, judging by the amount of attention
Josephus gives, was an extremist party that mixed nationalism with a religious
ideal: to free the Holy Land from the powers of the world so that it would
be only under the governance of Heaven. Between these two opposing forces
there played themes of class and ethnic conflict which polarized the nation.
The repeated robberies, riots, and uprisings these caused were kept
in check by the harsh actions of the administrators, which in turn caused
resentment among the populace, forming the familiar cycle of protest/response/protesting
the response, common to the escalation of rebellions.
the involvement of governor Albinus with criminal gangs
the removal of rights of Jews in Caesarea
the pollution of the synagogue of Caesarea
the murder of High Priest Jonathan
the murder of High Priest Ananias
the refusal to sacrifice to the Emperor
the Fourth Philosophy that held divine assistance would come to a rebellion:
"the infection which spread from them among the younger sort, who became
zealous for it, brought the public to destruction."
the criminal acts and abuse of authority on the part of governor
a conspiracy on the part of Florus
a certain ambiguous oracle (War 6.5.4)
These are the specific elements Josephus stresses in his
works. There is a larger context, some of which is indicated in the introduction
to the War. The empire had grown weak in the last days of Nero. The corruption
of the governors directly reflected the flaws in their emperor. Judea was
not the only province to revolt; but its war was the longest and bloodiest.
And the problems of religious nationalism and class and ethnic struggle
had its roots in the long history of the Jews and the unresolved problems
of the correct form of religious observance and the place of the
powerful non-Jewish nations in the divine plan.
Over the years commentators have scrutinized these causes
and have written much on the subject. Readers who become familiar with
what Josephus says in the following extracts will enjoy reading these modern
Herod, The Rabbis and The
Golden Eagle (4 BCE)
Flash Revolt At Herod's
Death (4 BCE)
Judas the Galilean Founds the
Revolutionary Fourth Philosophy (6 CE)
The Census of Quirinius
Description of the Fourth Philosophy
A Path in the Wilderness:
Promises of Signs from Heaven
Revolutionaries Work Together (54-60 CE)
Omens Interpreted by the
of Zion (70 CE)
The Reason Above All
Others: A Messiah
Class Conflict Between Sadducees
Among the Priests
Rights Annulled at
Caesarea (60 CE)
Greek Sacrifice at
Synagogue of Caesarea: The War Begins (66 CE)
Natural Avarice of Governors
Felix Arranges the
Assassination of High Priest Jonathan
Nero Fails to Punish
Felix (60 CE)
The Cooperation of Albinus
with Criminals and Rebels (62-64 CE)
Excesses of Florus
War to Avoid Punishment
Florus Takes Treasure
from the Temple (66 CE)
Josephus Decides War
"No Ruler But the Almighty"
Religious Nationalism and The
Redemption of Zion
Since the time of Moses the
Jewish people held the ideal of conducting themselves according to the
laws set by the Ruler of the universe. Their earthly rulers often had different
notions. During the Roman period this conflict became formalized in an
extremist revolutionary party that asserted violence was an acceptable
means of achieving the goals of Heaven, and that martyrdom would be well
rewarded in the World to Come.
This party showed itself in early
form while Judea was still under the rule of its own king. Herod
the Great was named king of the Jews by the Roman senate in 40 BC/BCE ,
displacing the dynasty of the Hasmoneans (the descendants of the Maccabees
of the Hanukah story). While he protected himself from religion-based attacks
through his rebuilding of the Temple into one of the greatest structures
in the Empire, yet his tyranny and weakening of Jewish social institutions
gained him many enemies among the populace. He
once said that he knew the Jews would celebrate his death with a festival.
When Herod was ill and approaching
death near the age of seventy, two Rabbis seized the opportunity
to preach a rebellious act and martyrdom for the sake of the divine Law,
Herod, The Rabbis and The Golden Eagle
War 1.33.2 648-655
To Herod's other troubles was now added an insurrection
of the populace. There were in the capital two men of learning with a reputation
as profound experts in the Laws of their country, who consequently enjoyed
the highest esteem of the whole nation; their names were Judas, son of
Sepphoraeus, and Matthias, son of Margalus. Their lectures on the Laws
were attended by a large youthful audience, and day after day they drew
together quite an army of men in their prime.
Hearing now that the king was gradually sinking under
despondency and disease, these teachers threw out hints to their friends
that this was the fitting moment to avenge God's honour and to pull down
what had been erected in defiance of their fathers' Laws: for although
it was unlawful to place in the Temple either images or busts or any representation
whatsoever of a living creature, the king had nonetheless erected over
the great gate a golden eagle. It was this these teachers now exhorted
their disciples to cut down. They told them that if any danger should arise,
it was a glorious thing to die for the Law of one's country; for the souls
of those who came to such an end attained immortality and an eternal enjoyment
of happiness; it was only the ignoble, uninitiated in their philosophy,
who clung in their ignorance to life and preferred death by disease to
that of a hero.
While they were discoursing on this, a rumour spread that
the king was dying; the news caused the young men to throw themselves more
boldly into the enterprise. At mid-day, accordingly, when numbers of people
were perambulating the Temple, they let themselves down from the roof on
stout cords and began chopping off the golden eagle with hatchets. The
king's captain, to whom the matter was immediately reported, hastened to
the scene with a considerable force, arrested about forty of the young
men and conducted them to the king. Herod first asked them whether they
had dared to cut down the golden eagle; they admitted it.
"Who ordered you to do so?" he continued.
"The Law of our fathers."
"And why so exultant, when you will shortly be put to
"Because we shall enjoy greater happiness after our death."
This provoked the king to such fury that he overcame his
disease...he ordered those that had let themselves down from the roof,
together with the teachers, to be burnt alive; the remainder of those arrested
he handed over to his executioners.
Josephus presents these Rabbis and
their followers as sincere people rectifying an unlawful action of
Herod. When describing a similar philosophy under the Roman
administration, however, Josephus attacks the motives of the leaders
and excoriates their extremism. One difference is that the affair of the
eagle is not seen as directed against the Romans, Josephus having failed
to mention that the eagle is a symbol of, among other things, the Roman
Empire. And the eagle affair was a non-violent protest, not requiring his
condemnation; yet within months, at Herod's death, the philosophy
behind it would provoke an extremely bloody revolt.
Flash Revolt At Herod's Death
War 2.1.2 6
[Herod has died and his son Archelaus has claimed the throne].
Towards evening, however, a large number of those who were bent on
revolution assembled on the same spot, and, now that the public mourning
for Herod was ended, began a lamentation on their own account, bewailing
the fate of those who had been punished for cutting down the golden eagle
from the gate of the Temple. This mourning was in no subdued tones: there
were piercing shrieks, a dirge directed by a conductor, and lamentations
with beating of the breast which resounded throughout the city; all this
in honour of the unfortunate men who, they asserted had in defence of their
country's laws and the Temple perished on the pyre. These martyrs ought,
they clamoured, to be avenged by the punishment of Herod's favorites.
War 2.1.3 10
And now the feast of unleavened bread, which the Jews call Passover,
came round...The promoters of the mourning for the teachers stood in a
body in the temple, procuring recruits for their faction. ...Archelaus
now felt that it would be impossible to restrain the mob without bloodshed,
and let loose upon them his entire army...the soldiers, falling unexpectedly
among the various parties busy with their sacrifices slew about three thousand
of them and dispersed the remainder among the neighboring hills.
This clash, instigated by the followers
of the two Rabbis, was the beginning of a series of violent confrontations
over the course of weeks, with escalating force on both sides; the Roman
legion at Jerusalem was caught up in the warfare until the commander was
surrounded in his fortress. At last, two legions from Syria under the command
of Varus were able to put down the insurrection and round up the guerillas
in the hills, crucifying two thousand of them.
To calm the populace's fear that Archelaus
would be another tyrant like his father, Emperor Augustus divides
the Jewish lands among all of Herod's children, reducing Archelaus'
portion to Judea (the area immediately around Jerusalem), Samaria, and
Idumaea. The resistance is held in check by Archelaus' cruelty for nine
years, until, due to the denunciations of the people, the emperor at last
removes Archelaus and places Judea under direct Roman administration.
Now Judea would be a province, not
a kingdom, and ruled by foreigners as governors, not by king of its
own; and the people would pay taxes directly to the emperor. This set the
stage for the next level of resistance -- as well as the backdrop
for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth..
Judas the Galilean Founds the Revolutionary Fourth
Philosophy (6 CE)
The Census of Quirinius (6
Antiquities 18.1.1 3-10
(See also War 2.8.1)
Now Quirinius, a Roman senator..was dispatched by Caesar to be governor
of Syria, and to take an account of their property...He came into
Judea, which had now been annexed to the province of Syria, to take
an account of their property, and to liquidate Archelaus's estate. Although
the Jews at the beginning took the report of a taxation heinously,
yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion
of the high priest Joazar, son of Beethus. So they, being convinced
by Joazar's words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute
The census of Quirinius appears
to be the same as that described by Luke in 2:2, which caused Joseph and
Mary to travel to Bethlehem where Jesus would be born. However, if so,
there is a discrepancy with the other gospel accounts that Jesus was born
during the reign of Herod the Great: the census occurred in 6 CE, while
Herod died in 4 BCE. Attempts to reconcile these statements have produced
a large scholarly literature, to which the reader is invited to turn.
Taxation is Slavery
Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite of a city whose
name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, threw himself
into the cause of rebellion. They said that this taxation was nothing less
than the beginning of slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their
liberty. If successful they would procure themselves security for
what they possessed, while if they failed they would earn honor and glory
for their lofty goal. They also said that God would be assisting
them to no lesser end than the furthering of their enterprise until
they be successful; and this especially, if with high devotion in their
hearts they would not shrink from executing whatever must be done.
Revolutionary teachings received with pleasure
Since the people received their words with pleasure,
this attempt to strike boldly proceeded to a great height, and so all sorts
of misfortunes sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with
this doctrine to a degree beyond words.
One violent war came upon us after another, and we lost
our friends which used to alleviate our pains; there were also very great
robberies and murder of our principal men. This was done in pretense indeed
for the public welfare, but in reality for the hopes of gain to themselves;
whence arose seditions, and from them murders of men, which sometimes fell
on those of their own people, (by the madness of these men towards one
another, while their desire was that none of the adverse party might be
left,) and sometimes on their enemies.
For Judas and Sadduc started a fourth philosophic
school among us..This I will now describe, because the infection which
spread from it among the younger sort, who became zealous for it, brought
the public to destruction.
Description of the Fourth
A. 18.1.6 23
[The other three philosophies are the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes,
which Josephus has just discussed.]
But of the fourth of the philosophies, Judas the Galilean was the author.
This school agrees in all other things with the Pharisaic notions, except
that they have an unconquerable passion for liberty, and say that
God is to be their only Ruler and Lord.
They also think little of dying any kinds of death,
nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor
can any such fear make them call any man lord. And since this immovable
resolution of theirs is well known to a great many, I shall speak no further
about that matter; nor am I afraid that any thing I have said of them should
be disbelieved, but rather fear that what I have said inadequately conveys
the resolution they show when they undergo pain.
And it was in the time of Gessius Florus, who was
procurator, that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, after
he occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority
and to make them revolt from the Romans.
Josephus describes the philosophy
of Judas and Sadduc in terms similar to the teachings of Rabbis Judas
and Matthias ten years earlier. In particular, they put the service of
Heaven above that of earthly rulers, do not shrink from direct action,
claim divine approval, stress the glory that would come to their followers
even if they fail (this is also a commonplace of Greek literature), and
value martyrdom. Both movements are associated with expert knowledge of
the Law (the later one through its identification as a wing of the Pharisees),
and are particularly attractive to the young. It's a reasonable guess that
the Fourth Philosophy was influenced by the earlier teachings of the two
Rabbis, and may have been simply a re-emergence of that party in more virulent
form after having been driven underground for a decade. However,
Josephus denigrates the motives of Judas and Sadduc.
Scattered throughout the New Testament
are hints that Jesus of Nazareth and his followers are associated in the
minds of the populace with the radical Fourth Philosophy. The founder of
the party is explicitly named in Acts 5:37, when Rabbi Gamaliel defends
Peter and John:
"After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the
time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and
all who followed him were scattered." His point is that there is
nothing to fear from the Jesus followers, for they cannot succeed unless
heaven turns out to be with them. Josephus does not relate the death of
Judas, although he does report (Antiquities 20.5.2 102) that
Judas' sons James and Simon were executed by procurator Alexander in about
46 CE, several years after R. Gamaliel's statement .
Other connections can be made. The
Galilean origin of both Jesus and Judas of Gamala is one circumstantial
item, together with the preaching of a "kingdom of God" that stresses
a divine ruler over an earthly one. Scholars have pointed out that
two of Jesus' apostles have appellations that relate them to the extremists.
Simon is called the Zealot in Luke (6:15), which is the name that the major
revolutionary faction would take during the War (his title in Mark
and Matthew, "the Cananean," appears to be derived from the untranslated
Hebrew word for Zealot, perhaps a deliberate obfuscation); and Judas Iscariot
is thought by some to have derived his name from the Sicarii, the terrorists
prior to the war. The arrest of Jesus followed a violent insurrection in
the city (Mark 15:7); Barabbas, who would be released instead of
Jesus, had been involved.
But the New Testament authors emphasize
that confusing Jesus with these violent revolutionaries is a mistake. The
most telling distinction is made when Jesus is asked whether the
Law allowed the Jews to pay taxes to the emperor: the very issue upon which
Judas the Galilean founded his party. The authors have Jesus giving an
apparently peaceful answer, separating the secular and the religious realms,
quite different from the revolutionary rhetoric: render unto Caesar the
things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. (Mark 12:17).
Whether Jesus truly said this or not is a matter of debate among secular
Finally, I note that Josephus reports
the teachings of Jesus the Galilean are received with pleasure
by the people. A very similar phrase occurs in the reception of
Jesus by the people in Josephus' famous paragraph, the Testimonium Flavianum.
(Antiquities 18.3.4 63)
Does this similar phrasing indicate Josephus conflates
in his mind the teachings of Jesus of Nazereth with those of Judas the
Galilean? As pointed out in the article on the Testimonium found on this
web site, the word "truth" has no support as authentic, so there
may well have been something less approving here, e.g., "the unusual" (as
suggested by Thackeray). Or is it just that the two passages were probably
composed about the same time, as only 57 sections separate them?
teacher of people who with pleasure received
didaskolos anthroponton hedone talethe dechomenon
(Antiquities 18.1.1 6)
for with pleasure hearing the words responded
hedone gar ten akroasin hon legoien edechonto
A Path in the Wilderness: Promises
of Signs from Heaven
War 2.17.2 258
There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure
in their actions but more wicked in their intentions, which laid waste
the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. Deceivers
and impostors, under pretense of Divine inspiration, but who were for procuring
revolutionary changes of the government; prevailed with the multitude to
act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending
that God would there show them the signals of liberty. But Felix thought
this procedure was to be the beginning of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen
and footmen both armed, who destroyed a great number of them.
Several prophet figures are described
by Josephus as appearing in Judea over the years. Some of these are directly
associated with the insurrection, as in the case above (the passages in
Antiquities 20.8.10 188) may
refer to the same individual, with the name of the procurator corrected
between the two versions). This demonstrates the close connection between
the revolutionary movement and an expectation of divine revelation.
Students of the New Testament often
associate these figures with expectations of a coming Messiah, and ponder
the relation between these figures and Jesus. Strictly speaking, Josephus
never describes these prophets as predicting an apocalypse or armageddon.
What is at stake is not manifestly the end of the world as we know it,
but simply a change in government and a demonstration of the Lord's power
In the above passages the strongest
hint of a Messianic concept is the promise of a revelation when the people
follow the prophet into the desert. This could be a reference to Isaiah
40:3-5: "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the
way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God....And
the glory of the Lord shall be revealed." The verse is also the one quoted
by John the Baptist (Mark 1:3, Matthew 3:3, Luke 3:4).
and Revolutionaries Work Together (54-60 CE)
War 2.13.5-6 261-5
But there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews
more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be
a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded
by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which
was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by
force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison
and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of
those guards of his that were to break into the city with him. But Felix
anticipated his attempt, and met him with the Roman heavy infantry, while
all the people assisted him in his attack upon them, insomuch that when
it came to a battle, the Egyptian ran away, with a few others, while the
greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken
alive; but the rest of the multitude were dispersed every one to their
own homes, and there concealed themselves.
Now when these were quieted, it happened, as it
does in a diseased body, that another part was subject to an inflammation;
for the deceivers and robbers got together, and persuaded the Jews to revolt,
and exhorted them to assert their liberty, threatening death to those that
continued in obedience to the Roman government, saying that such
as willingly chose slavery ought to be forced from their inclinations.
They parted themselves into different companies up and down the country,
and plundered the houses of the great men, and slew the men themselves,
and set the villages on fire; and this till all Judea was filled with the
effects of their madness. And thus the flame was every day more and more
blown up, till it came to a direct war.
We read about both "deceivers"
(false prophets) and "robbers" throughout the period of the procurators,
but these are not always connected directly to the revolutionaries.
In the above sections, under procurator Felix, they are specifically identified
as rebels, thus continuing the theme of the Fourth Philosophy: that Heaven
supported their cause. The Greek for robbers is listoi, and whenever
Josephus, or indeed the New Testament, uses this word we are left to wonder
if political activists are referred to or simple criminals. Since
Josephus questions the motives of the rebellious, asserting that many
are indeed only after their own gain, this distinction can be difficult.
In the New Testament Jesus is crucified
along with two listoi, usually translated as two "thieves" (Matthew
27:38, Luke 22:37). Since the same word is used as in Josephus, is is reasonable
to ask if these thieves were in fact revolutionaries, which would support
the idea that Jesus was lumped in with them and actually arrested as a
suspected member of the seditious party.
Omens Interpreted by the Seditious
There were also such omens observed as were understood to be forerunners
of evils by such as loved peace, but were by those that kindled the war
interpreted so as to suit their own inclinations; and the very state of
the city, even before the Romans came against it, was that of a place doomed
The reliance on divine assistance is a continuing
theme of the revolutionaries. The omens to which Josephus here refers apparently
are those he elsewhere connects to the destruction of the Temple
(War 6.5.3-4), as he makes a similar observation at the end of that section.
The Inviolability of Zion (70
War 6.2.1 Sec. 98-99
His words were received by the people in dejection and
silence; but the tyrant [John], after many invectives and imprecations
upon Josephus, ended by saying that he "could never fear capture, since
the city was God's."
Josephus describes how he delivered
a message from the Roman Commander Titus to the besieged of Jerusalem,
to the effect that the Temple would be spared if they were to surrender.
The above is the answer he received: the Lord would prevent His city from
Josephus' reply is interesting. One wonders how
this concept came about, in that the Bible relates several prior captures
of the city. As it turned out, the certainty of the rebel leader
was less than warranted.
Josephus' response to this is interesting.
The message was passed on that day the Romans had learned that the
daily sacrifices in the Temple had been suspended (due to supply shortages).
Josephus states that, as the revolutionaries had defiled the Temple and
failed in their holy duties, that the Lord had transferred his favor to
the Romans, who were trying to RESTORE the sacrifices. Thus the city was
indeed being divinely protected, but from the revolutionaries, not from
The Reason Above All Others: A Messiah
War 6.5.4 312-315
But what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous
oracle also found in their sacred writings, that:
"At about that time, one from their country would become ruler of the
This they took to mean one of their own people, and many of the wise
men were misled in their interpretation. This oracle, however, in reality
signified the government of Vespasian, who was proclaimed Emperor while
This manifestly was understood
as a prophecy of a Messiah, one appointed by the Lord to do His
work on earth. But was it a prophecy of the Messiah, the one that
would herald the passing of this world and the beginning of the World to
All we can safely say from Josephus' evidence
is that the revolutionaries expected divine assistance, and probably signs
and miracles, in freeing their country and even taking command of the Roman
Empire. The oracle said to them nothing less than the immanent arrival
of a Jewish Empire to replace it. This is somewhat different from supposing
the revolutionaries had eschatological expectations akin to the early Christians.
Part of the interpretation on this point
hinges on the term used for "habitable world," oikoumene. This word
usually means the Graeco-Roman world, but it could also indeed signify
the whole earth; the latter would be a magical happening requiring some
new cosmic order. Of significance to Josephus may have been that the term
is used by Cyrus in 1 Esdras 2:3 (Septuagint translation) to refer to his
own kingdom, and Cyrus is the only foreign ruler to be called a messiah
(christ in the Septuagint). It was a commonplace to reread passages
about Cyrus as referring to the contemporary to the Emperor of Rome,
so this may have been the basis for Josephus' interpretation.
We do not know what oracle Josephus
is citing here, although it seems to be one of the Sibylline Oracles held
at Rome; it is also mentioned by the Roman historians Tacitus (The Histories)
and Suetonius (The Twelve Caesars, the Vespasian section).
Enmity between the rich and the
poor motivated some of the violence that led to the war. The alliance of
the revolutionaries with robbers who looted the houses of the wealthy has
already been cited above (War 2.13.6). Here are some more extracts demonstrating
Class Conflict Between Sadducees
Great disputes and differences have arisen between them; but the Sadducees
are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious,
while the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.
Among the Priests
Antiquities 20.8.8 180-181 (56 CE)
(See also Antiquities 20.9.2 205-207)
There now was enkindled mutual enmity and class warfare between the
high priests on the one hand, and the priests and the principal men of
the multitude of Jerusalem on the other. Each of the factions got for itself
a company of the boldest revolutionaries and became leaders to them; and
when they clashed, they did it by casting reproachful words against one
another and throwing stones. And there was nobody to rebuke them; they
acted with full license, as if there were no government over the city.
Such was the impudence and boldness that had seized on the high priests
that they had the hardness to send servants to the threshing-floors
to receive the tithes that were due to the priests, with the result that
the poorer priests starved to death.
Another source of violence was the
hostility between Jews and Greeks in the multi-ethnic cities of the region.
The most important of these was Caesarea, the city built by Herod the Great
on the Mediterranean that served as the capital of the Roman province under
the procurators. This had a large population of Syrians of Greek language
and culture. The frequent clashes between these groups were firmly
put down by the procurators, until, under Nero, the government became too
weak and corrupt, and the nationalism of the Jews too strong, for the violence
to be checked. The failure of the government to maintain order in
Caesarea provoked the seditious across the nation to make their move.
The following extracts summarize
the situation leading up to the war.
(See also War 2.13.7)
There arose also a quarrel between the Jewish and Syrian inhabitants
of Caesarea on the subject of equal civic rights. The Jews claimed that
they had precedence because the founder of Caesarea, their king Herod ,
was of Jewish descent. The Syrians admitted what they said about Herod;
but they said that Caesarea was formerly called Strato's Tower, and that
before Herod's time there was not one Jewish inhabitant. When the
magistrates of the district heard of these disorders, they arrested the
authors of them on both sides, and tormented them with stripes, and by
that means put a stop to the disturbance for a time...Next the Jews and
Syrians took to casting stones at each other, until it came about that
many on both sides were wounded and fell.
Rights Annulled at Caesarea
A 20.8.9 182-184
The leaders of the Syrians in Caesarea, by offering a large bribe, prevailed
on Beryllus, who was Nero's tutor ...to apply for a letter from Nero annulling
the grant of equal civic rights to the Jews. Beryllus exhorted the emperor
and succeeded in getting his authorization for the letter. This letter
provided the basis that led to the subsequent miseries that befell our
nation. For the Jewish inhabitants of Caesarea, when they learned of Nero's
letter, carried their quarrel with the Syrians further and further until
at last they kindled the flames of war.
Greek Sacrifice at Synagogue
The War Begins (66 CE)
War 2.14.4-6 284-296
Now at this time it happened that the Greeks of Caesarea
had obtained from Nero the government of the city, and had brought back
with them the text of the the decision: and now 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 [Iyar, April/May.]
The occasion of this war was by no means proportionable
to those heavy calamities which it brought upon us. For the Jews that dwelt
at Caesarea had a synagogue near the place, whose owner was a certain Cesarean
Greek: the Jews had endeavored frequently to have purchased the possession
of the place, and had offered many times its value for its price; but as
the owner overlooked their offers, so did he put up other buildings on
the place, in way of affront to them, and made working-shops of them, and
left but a narrow passage, and such as was very troublesome for the Jews
to go along to their synagogue. Whereupon the warmer part of the Jewish
youth went hastily to the workmen, and forbade them to build there…
Now on the next day, which was the seventh day of the week,
when the Jews were crowding apace to their synagogue, a certain man of
Caesarea, of a seditious temper, got an earthen vessel, and set it with
the bottom upward, at the entrance of that synagogue, and sacrificed birds.
This thing provoked the Jews to an incurable degree, because their laws
were affronted, and the place was polluted.
Whereupon the sober and moderate part of the Jews thought
it proper to have recourse to their governors again, while the seditious
part, and such as were in the fervor of their youth, were vehemently inflamed
to fight. The seditious also among the Gentiles of Caesarea stood ready
for the same purpose; for they had by agreement beforehand sent the man
to sacrifice; so that it soon came to blows.
Hereupon Jucundus, the Commander of the Cavalry,
who was ordered to prevent the fight, came thither, and took away the earthen
vessel, and endeavored to put a stop to the sedition; but when he was overcome
by the violence of the people of Caesarea, the Jews caught up their books
of the law, and retired to Narbata.
Corruption of the Procurators
After the removal of Herod's son
Archelaus in 6 CE until the outbreak of the war, Judea was administered
as a province by a series of fourteen Roman governors with the title of
Procurator. They did not hesitate to keep firm control of the country with
force. Frequent outbreaks of sedition, robber gangs, and ethnic rioting
were put down with beatings and killings.
These are usually reported neutrally or
even with approval by Josephus. His main goal is to demonstrate the difficulty
controlling the country, while seeming to admit that the procurator's actions
are justified. And aside from occasional cases of insensitivity to the
Jewish religion, particularly on the part of Pontius Pilate, the
conduct of the procurators is not presented by Josephus as being outrageous,
until the moment Nero became Emperor in 54 CE.
From then on it seemed there was
nothing to hinder the procurators from whatever action they desired for
their personal gain and power. These men -- Felix (52-60), Festus (60-62),
Albinus (62-64), and Florus (64-66) -- produced twelve years of corrupt
government that provoked the populace and was ill-equipped to contain revolution.
(For those who have difficulty remembering
the order of the procurators under Nero may find useful the mnemonic "fields
of festive alpine flowers.")
Natural Avarice of Governors
Antiquities 18.6.2 172
For it was a law of nature that governors were prone to engage in extortion.
Felix Arranges the Assassination
of High Priest Jonathan
A 20.8.5 162-4
Felix also bore an ill-will to Jonathan, the high priest, because of
his frequent admonitions to improve the administration of Jewish
affairs; for Jonathan feared that he himself would have complaints made
of him by the multitude, since he it was who had requested Caesar to send
Felix as procurator of Judea. So Felix contrived a method whereby he might
get rid of one who had become so continually troublesome to him; for such
continual rebukes are annoying to those who are disposed to do wrong. For
such reasons Felix persuaded one of Jonathan's most trusted friends, a
citizen of Jerusalem named Doras, to bring the robbers upon Jonathan, in
order to kill him; and this he did by promising to pay a great deal of
money. Doras complied with the proposal, and contrived for the robbers
to murder him in the following way. Certain of those robbers went up to
the city as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under
their garments, and by thus mingling themselves among the multitude they
The account written earlier, in
War 2.18.3, does not implicate Felix in the assassination.
Josephus states that it was Jonathan
who had originally requested Felix be sent as governor, which was done
by Emperor Claudius, who was friendly with the Jewish royal family. As
Felix and his brother Pallas were freed slaves who rose high in Claudius'
administration, Jonathan may have thought Felix would be a gentle administrator.
However, after only two years Nero succeeded Claudius, and under
the new administration that the governor's corruption accelerated..
Nero Fails to Punish Felix
A 20.8.9 182
When Portius Festus was sent by Nero as successor to Felix, the leaders
of the Jewish community of Caesarea went up to Rome to accuse Felix. He
would undoubtedly have paid the penalty for his misdeeds against the Jews
had not Nero yielded to the urgent entreaty of Felix's brother Pallas,
whom at that time he held in the highest honour.
Nero's esteem for Pallas did not
last long: the emperor had him killed in 62 CE.
The Cooperation of Albinus with
Criminals and Rebels (62-64 CE)
War 2.14.1 272
(See also Antiquities 20.9.1-5 197 ff.)
But then Albinus, who succeeded Festus, did not execute
his office as ably; nor was there any sort of wickedness that could be
named but he had a hand in it. Accordingly, he did not only, in his political
capacity, steal and plunder every one's substance, nor did he only burden
the whole nation with taxes; but he permitted the relations of such as
were in prison for robbery, and had been laid there either by the senate
of every city or by the former procurators, to redeem them for money. And
nobody remained in the prisons as a malefactor but he who gave him nothing.
At this time it was that the enterprises of the seditious
at Jerusalem were very formidable; the principal men among them purchasing
leave of Albinus to go on with their seditious practices; while that part
of the people who delighted in disturbances joined themselves to those
who had fellowship with Albinus. Every one of these wicked wretches
was encompassed with his own band of robbers, while Albinus himself, like
an arch-robber or a tyrant, made a figure among his company, and abused
his authority over those about him, in order to plunder those that lived
The effect of which was this, that those who lost their
goods were forced to hold their peace, when they had reason to show great
indignation at what they had suffered; but those who had escaped were forced
to flatter him that deserved to be punished, out of the fear they were
in of suffering equally with the others.
Upon the whole, nobody dared speak their minds,
but tyranny was generally tolerated; and at this time were those seeds
sown which brought the city to destruction.
Excesses of Florus (64-66
War 2.14.2 277
(see also A20.11.1 252-257)
And although such was the character of Albinus, yet did Gessius Florus,
who succeeded him, demonstrate him to have been upon comparison a most
excellent person. For the former did the greatest part of his rogueries
in private, and with a sort of dissimulation; but Gessius did his unjust
actions to the harm of the nation after a pompous manner; and as though
he had been sent as an executioner to punish condemned malefactors, he
omitted no sort of rapine, or of vexation. Where the case was really pitiable,
he was most barbarous; and in things of the greatest turpitude, he was
most impudent; nor could any one outdo him in disguising the truth; nor
could any one contrive more subtle ways of deceit than he did. He indeed
thought it but a petty offence to get money out of single persons; so he
spoiled whole cities, and ruined entire bodies of men at once, and did
almost publicly proclaim it all the country over, that they had liberty
given them to turn robbers, upon this condition, that he might go shares
with them in the spoils.
Accordingly, this his greediness of gain was the
occasion that entire toparchies were brought to desolation; and a great
many of the people left their own country, and flew into foreign provinces.
Florus Provokes War to Avoid
W 2.14.3 282-283
He had at that very time the purpose of showing his anger at the nation,
and procuring a war upon them, by which means alone it was that he supposed
he might conceal his enormities; for he expected that, if the peace continued,
he should have the Jews for his accusers before Caesar; but that if he
could procure them to make a revolt, he should divert their laying lesser
crimes to his charge, by a misery that was so much greater; he therefore
did every day augment their calamities, in order to induce them to a rebellion.
The superior of Florus was the president
of Syria, Cestius Gallus. When Gallus visited Jerusalem to attend the Passover
celebration of 65 CE, "not fewer than three million" of the Jews met him
to cry out against Florus. Promising to change his ways, Florus calmed
Gallus temporarily, then proceeded to provoke war as described above to
avoid further inquiry.
Florus Takes Treasure
from the Temple (66 CE)
Moreover, as to the citizens of Jerusalem, although they took this
matter [the dealings in Caesarea] very ill, yet did they restrain their
passion; but Florus acted herein as if he had been hired, and blew up the
war into a flame, and sent some to take seventeen talents out of the sacred
treasure, and pretended that Caesar wanted them. At this the people were
in confusion immediately, and ran together to the Temple, with prodigious
clamours, and called upon Caesar by name, and besought him to free them
from the tyranny of Florus.
Some also of the seditious cried out upon Florus, and cast the
greatest reproaches upon him, and carried a basket about, and begged some
spells of money for him, as for one that was destitute of possessions,
and in a miserable condition.
Yet was not he made ashamed hereby of his love of money, but
was more enraged and provoked to get still more; and instead of coming
to Caesarea, as he ought to have done, and quenched the flame of war, which
was beginning thence...he marched hastily with an army of horsemen and
footmen against Jerusalem, that he might gain his will by the arms of the
Romans, and might, by his terror and by his threatenings, bring the city
Orders soldiers to Plunder Upper Market Place
Florus ... called out aloud to the soldiers to plunder that which
was called the Upper Market-place, and to slay such as they met with. ...they
also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom
he first chastised with stripes and then crucified. Accordingly, the whole
number of those that were destroyed that day, with their wives and children,
(for they did not spare even the infants themselves,) was about three thousand
and six hundred. And what made this calamity the heavier was this new method
of Roman barbarity; for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done
before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed
to the cross before his tribunal; who, although they were by birth Jews,
yet were they of Roman dignity notwithstanding.
Florus' failure to control the riots
in Caesarea are here attributed to a deliberate diversion in order to extort
money. The revolutionaries in turn take this as an opportunity to openly
mock the government, and the subsequent violence forces the populace to
Josephus Decides War was Necessary
A 20.11.1 257
What more need be said? It was Florus who constrained us to take up
war with the Romans, for we preferred to perish together rather than by
degrees. The war in fact began in the second year of the procuratorship
of Florus and in the twelfth of Nero's reign.
Usually presenting himself as a
loyal subject of Rome who adamantly opposed the war, here Josephus admits
agreement with the revolutionaries. Whatever the nationalist motives of
the populace, ultimately, he says, war was absolutely necessary after two
years of Florus' corruption and twelve of Nero's.
"And This was the True Beginning"
W 2.17.2 408-410
And now some of the most ardent promoters of hostilities
banded together and made an assault on the fortress called Masada, and
having gained possession of it by stratagem, they slew the Roman guards
and put a garrison of their own in their place.
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 chief 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.
The recognition of authority of
the Emperor is annulled in this symbolic act, which also implies a refusal
to pay tribute. The Fourth Philosophy begun by Judas the Galilean 60 years
before has reached its peak.
And the family of Judas the Galilean still
propels the revolt. Menahem, Judas' son, breaks into the armoury
at Masada and with these weapons becomes leader of the revolution and lays
siege to the Roman garrison at Jerusalem.
The war would not completely end
until another descendant of Judas, Eleazar, son of Jairus, leads the mass
suicide at Masada in 74 CE, surrendering the last fortress of resistance
to the Romans.