After The War - Outlines Of Jewish History

After The War - Outlines Of Jewish History


1. Titus completes his Conquest.—With the taking of the capital the war was practically at an end. Jerusalem, ‘grander in her fall than even in her days of magnificence,’ was in the hands of the Romans, and Titus did not loiter nor grow lenient over the rest of his work. What fire and sword had left standing was ordered to be deliberately destroyed, and the ruins of the city and its Temple and its walls were all made level with the ground. The chief leaders of the defence were taken to Rome, and John of Gischala made a strong point of interest in Titus’s triumphal entry. There was presently a ceremony in which the ambitious Jewish soldier once more played the first part; he was led out to public execution.

2. Masada.—There were three fortresses which held out even after the fall of Jerusalem, and one of them, Masada by name, in a certain sense was never taken by the Romans. The garrison of this place was commanded by a descendant of Judas of Galilee, named Eleazar. Eleazar was quite hopeless of victory and quite fearless of death. When he found that the entry of the enemy was only a question of hours, he called all his little world together and made them a speech. He told them of the Roman way of dealing with prisoners of war, and bade them make their choice between surrender and self-inflicted death. Like the voice of one man came the answer of the nine hundred men who listened to him. ‘We will die by our own hands, we and our wives and our children; rather death than dishonour.’ Then they deliberately set fire to their poor dwellings and exchanged death-wounds. Thus, guided by fires lit by dead hands, and stumbling over unresisting corpses, the Romans entered the silent city, and came into possession of the last Jewish stronghold.

3. What became of the Chief Actors.—By the events of the war Herod Agrippa had lost his kingdom and his reputation, but he had contrived to save his fortune, and that kept for him the friends he cared about. In Rome he was very much appreciated. He and his money and his charming sister Berenice were all made very welcome at the court of the Emperor Titus. Josephus was very often one of the party. He, in his retirement, took to literature, and almost managed to make that disreputable. He wrote the ‘Wars of the Jews’ and the ‘Antiquities of the Jews,’ and his own most instructive autobiography. All these works are very valuable contributions to history—are, in fact, the chief, and almost only, records extant of these events; but each one of his books shows proofs of the authorship plainly enough to make it a trifle untrustworthy. In compliment to his Roman patrons Josephus took the surname of Flavius. He lived in the full sunshine of imperial favour, and managed to find three women in succession to marry him. We may conclude that they were not Jewesses.

4. What became of the Country and the People.—Palestine was parcelled out into lots; parts of the land were given as loot to the Roman soldiers, and parts were sold to the highest bidders. Many of the people were slaughtered outright; many were reserved to be killed more artistically in gladiatorial shows, or in combat with wild beasts. Some of them were carried off into slavery, and some remained as slaves on the soil. The slave markets of the world were glutted, and Jewish captives became a drug in the marts. As citizens of a separate state the Jews ceased to exist. They had no longer a national centre. Long before the destruction of Jerusalem the dispersion of the nation had begun, but now it was complete, and, so to speak, official. There had been Jews in Alexandria from the time of the Ptolemies, and in Rome from the days of Pompey; they were to be found at this date in every place important enough to be remembered, throughout the wide Roman dominions. There were numbers of Jews in Antioch, in Greece, in Italy, on the north coasts of Africa, and in the sunny islands of the Mediterranean. But each and all of these dispersed and separated Jews had hitherto turned in loyal thought to Jerusalem, and a self-imposed tax from ‘him that was near and from him that was far off’ had been regularly forwarded to Jerusalem every year towards the support of the Temple. This very tax was now used as a means to crush the nationality out of the people. Titus decreed that a like sum should henceforward be contributed by every adult Jew in his dominions towards the support of the temple of Jupiter.

5. Salvage.—To put up tamely with preventable evils is only less weak than to fret unceasingly over unpreventable ones. The Jews, at this crisis in their history, fell into neither error. They realised the wreck, and looked bravely round to see what could be rescued. Their country was gone, their nationality was threatened, their religion was in danger. Their ‘Law’ remained to them. They made a raft of that, and saved Judaism.

6. Jochanan ben Saccai: the Schools.—After the fall of Jerusalem, some members of the now houseless Sanhedrin asked, and gained, permission of Titus to establish themselves with their scrolls at Jamnia, a village on the sea-coast, not far from the port of Jaffa. Jochanan ben Saccai was president of the Sanhedrin at the time, and he at once called his disciples together and set up a school. Soon such schools became general, but the one in Jamnia was the first and the most famous, and was known as the Vineyard. A good name, and prophetic, as it turned out; for a store of life-giving wine that vineyard came to yield. Their Law, in very little time, took the place of the Temple in the hearts of the people. It became the new Jewish stronghold, and by-and-by the Rabbis garrisoned it. It was a wise movement, and Jochanan was just the character to head it. He had sense as well as sentiment, and he was as practical as he was patriotic. ‘Fear God even as ye fear man,’ was the very last bit of counsel which Jochanan gave to his disciples. He was old then, and ill unto death, and some of those who listened criticised the words. They did not seem enough for the occasion. So much is expected of a last utterance. ‘What!’ said the disciples doubtingly, ‘fear God only as we fear His creatures?’ ‘Even so,’ came the answer, in weak, thrilling tones. ‘You fear to do wrong in the presence of man; you are always in the presence of God: therefore fear Him as you fear your neighbours.’

7. An Unforeseen Result of the War: Jewish Christians.—There was one wretched and long-lasting consequence of the war with Rome, which grew naturally out of the circumstances, but which cannot be laid directly to the charge of Rome. Thirty years had passed since the death of Jesus and the conversion of the zealous apostle Paul. The little following had become a sect, not very large, not very important, nor as yet very pronounced in their opinions. The members of the sect were known as Jewish Christians, and were perhaps at this time quite as much of the one as of the other. The war with Rome made the division between Jews and Christians sharp and final. The struggle on the side of the Jews had been a fight for life, for national existence. So impassioned were they, and so much in earnest, that even the help of the Samaritans and of the Idumeans, for the first time in their history, had been accepted by the Jews. In the great and pressing need for united action all differences seemed small, and to be overlooked in face of the fact that their country was in mortal danger. The one unforgivable sin in the eyes of the Judeans was that any Jew, for any reason whatever, should coldly stand aloof. There was a peace party among the Jews; a small minority who, as we have seen, honestly and sadly believed in the impossibility of victory, and who counselled conciliation on the principle of saving what could be saved. This party would have let the country go—provided their religion was left to them intact.

They, even, were not too popular. But the Jewish Christians were different from these. They hoped for the success of the Roman arms, and it was in the name of religion that they refused to help their countrymen. They professed to see the fulfilment of prophecy in the destruction of Jerusalem. They declined to be on the other side to the prophets. They believed the Temple was decreed to fall, and they would not fight to avert its fate. All this they urged quite earnestly and quite religiously in the light of their new and latest interpretation of the Scriptures. At any other time their opinions would have provoked only a discussion in the schools; at this crisis of national history it provoked national resentment. From the point of view of patriotic Jews, these others, Jews by race and by kinship, Jews who refused on religious grounds to strike a blow for Judea, were not only apostates, but traitors. The precepts of Jesus, and the practice of these his earliest followers, came by degrees to be regarded as cause and effect. The whole movement grew hateful to the Jews, socially and religiously and politically hateful. Hate begets hate, and deepens division. The small sect of Jewish Christians grew gradually less and less Jewish, and more and more Christian. The distinct position they had taken up in the war gave them a certain standing, and was another cause of their growth in numbers and in importance. The rift which had been so tiny at first between the old teaching and the new widened and deepened, and new causes for enmity forbade it to close as the years rolled into the centuries.

Excerpt From Outlines Of Jewish History From B.C. 586 To C.E. 1885 By Lady Katie Magnus