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CHAPTER XVIII THE REVOLT OF 68 C.E.
The Jews were not the only nation that fought with desperate fury against complete submergence in the floods of Roman dominance. The spread of the Roman arms had encountered, from the beginning, seemingly small obstacles that proved more serious checks than the greater ones. Thus, after the Second Punic War, when Rome was already in the ascendant in the world, the relatively fresh strength of a conquering people was all but exhausted in the attempt to subdue and render thoroughly Roman the mountain tribes of the Ligurians in the northern part of the peninsula.[318] In later times, after Caesar’s conquest, the subjugation of Belgium was a weary succession of revolts and massacres and punitive expeditions that stretched over several generations. Similarly in Numidia it was found that formal submission of the tribes that filled this region insured no permanence of control.[319]

In the last cases, however, the danger that was warded off seemed in Roman eyes to be remote. In the case of Judea the very existence of the eastern empire was threatened. On the other side of the Syrian desert there was a watchful and ready enemy, who might appear in force at any time and with whose arrival there might break out into open conflagration the 288smouldering disloyalty that still was present in the Asiatic provinces.

The Jewish rebellion of 68 C.E. was not an isolated phenomenon. For the Jews it formed the beginning of a series of insurrections that did not end till the founding of Aelia Capitolina put a visible seal on the futility of all such attempts. To us the outcome seems so inevitable that the heroism of the Zealots has stood for centuries as a striking example of unrestrained fanaticism. To take a modern instance, if the single island of Cyprus were to attempt, by its unaided strength, to cast off the British rule, it would not seem to be engaged in a more completely forlorn enterprise than were the Jews who undertook to defy the power of the legions. And yet those who began and conducted the revolt were neither fools nor madmen, and the hopes that buoyed them must have been very real when they attempted the impossible.

We must first of all remember that a foreign suzerainty was not necessarily incompatible with Jewish theocratic ideals. Tradition had accustomed the Jews to Assyrian and Persian dominance, and their most sacred recollections contained ample warrant for those who would bear the rule of Caesar with complete equanimity. But it had been axiomatic that the rule of a foreign master was a divinely imposed penalty, a trial, a test of submission. At some time the period of trials would cease, and the normal condition of complete freedom from outside control under the sway of God would be restored. The Messianic hope made 289that situation more and more vividly present to the hearts of men.

Nor did actual experience of recorded history make this possibility a vain dream. The vicissitudes of fortune, the sudden rise of obscure nations to supremacy, and their quick destruction, were rhetorical commonplaces. The East knew abundant cases of the kind. Empires had risen and crumbled almost within the recollection of living men. That was particularly so after Alexander, when sudden glories and eclipses were too common to be noteworthy.

And we must further reckon with the fact that a potent incentive was the living faith in an actual God, who could and did hurl the mighty from their seat. To these men the destruction of Sennacherib or the triumph of Gideon was no legend, but a real event, which might occur in their days as in the days of their fathers. The attempt, accordingly, to secure the independence of a small portion of the empire need not have seemed to the men that undertook it quite as insensate a proceeding as it does to us.

Our most complete source for the period is discredited by the parti pris of the author, the disloyal Josephus. The Roman sources indicate that in the Jewish revolt there was nothing different from the revolts in other parts of the world, revolts to which Romans were accustomed. There was no direct external provocation. There was no one event that seemed to account adequately for an outburst just then. But we find no indication that Romans felt it to be a strange 290or inexplicable fact for men to rise in order to recover their freedom. The imperial interests demanded that the hopelessness of such rising should be made apparent. It was therefore to the leaders of the community, the aristocracy, that Romans looked to keep in check the ignorant multitude to whom the superiority of Romans in war or civilization might not at all be apparent.

The contemptible young rake who, as Agrippa II, continued for some years the empty title of “king of the Jews,” was no doubt at one with the smug Josephus in his sincere conviction of the overwhelming might of the Romans and the folly of attacking it. We cannot sufficiently admire the successful way in which the king concealed his heartfelt pity for the sufferings of the Jews, “since he wished to humble the exalted thoughts they were indulging,” as Josephus na?vely tells us (Wars, II. xvi. 2). However, not mere truckling to the Romans, but sober conviction, would sufficiently account for the pro-Roman leanings of men like Agrippa and Josephus. The long speech put in the king’s mouth (ibid. II. xvi. 4) was perhaps never delivered, but it states the feeling of the pro-Roman party and of the Romans themselves eminently well.

Both Josephus and Agrippa could hold no other view than that it was some single act or series of acts of the procurator Florus that animated the leaders of the revolt. It seemed to them a “small reason” for engaging in what was conceded even by the most hopeful to be a desperate and frightful war. The burden of the 291king’s supposed speech, however, in which we are justified in seeing the sentiment of the historian, is this: “Who and what are these Jews that they can refuse to submit to that nation to which all others have submitted?”[320] We find enumerated for us the extent and wealth of the Roman possessions with a fervor of patriotism that might have shamed many a Roman. “Are you richer than the Gauls, more powerful in body than the Germans, wiser than the Greeks, more numerous than all the inhabitants of the earth put together?” he asks, and enforces his question with a detailed account of the enormous numbers of people who in the several provinces are kept in check by a handful of legionaries.

As an appeal to common sense, the speech, in spite of its obvious exaggerations, ought to have been successful. But what the Romans and the Romanized Jews chose to overlook was that common sense was scarcely a factor in producing the “exalted opinions” which Agrippa sought to abase. The glowing assurance of direct divine interposition was of course lacking to the speaker, and the wilder and more exuberant fancies that made the present time big with great upheavals and opened vistas of strange and sweeping changes, could not be answered by a statistical enumeration of the forces at the disposal of Romans and Jews respectively.

In the previous chapter one fact has been frequently mentioned which Josephus states quite casually as an ordinary incident of the events he is describing. That fact is the readiness with which the Romans took 292alarm, not only at the armed “brigands,” who were really at all times in open revolt, but at anyone who, posing as preacher or prophet, gathered a crowd about him for thoroughly unwarlike purposes. We do not find elsewhere in the empire this quickness of animadversion on the part of the authorities to such acts. The Armenian Peregrinus was quite unmolested by the Roman officials when he undertook to perform before the eyes of the assembled crowd the miracle of Hercules on Mount Oeta.[321] Nor is there any evidence, however large the multitude was that surrounded the itinerant magician elsewhere, that riot and subversion were apprehended from that fact. Yet when the Egyptian promised to divide the walls of Jerusalem (above, p. 285), or Theudas to pass dry shod over the Jordan, or another man to discover the hidden treasures on the Gerizim (above, p. 284), a troop was sent at once to crush with bloody effectiveness an incipient rebellion. Obviously, in Judea, and not elsewhere, the assertion of divine inspiration carried with it a claim to certain political rights, or was deemed to do so, which was incompatible with Roman sovereignty.

It is easy enough to understand what that claim was, and easy enough to understand why it does not stand forth more clearly in Josephus’ narrative. The coming of the Messianic kingdom had been looked for by previous generations as well, but in the generation that preceded 68 C.E. it became more and more strongly believed to be immediately at hand and to demand from those who would share in it a more than passive reception.

293We are not to suppose that every one of these impostors or thaumaturgs claimed Messianic rank. That it is not expressly stated by Josephus proves little, since he actively strove to suppress any indication that there were rebellious incentives among his people other than the brutal oppressions of Florus. But to claim to be Messiah was a serious matter both to the people and to the Roman officials, and we assume that these rather vulgar swindlers hardly dared to go so far. However, whether individuals did or did not make these pretensions, it is clear that during the reign of Nero the sense of an impending cataclysm was growing, and the most fondly held dreams of the Jews, which clustered about the Messianic idea, seemed to come near to realization.

Besides the cumulative force which the Jewish eschatology and Messianic hope acquired by the mere tradition from generation to generation, there was another and more general factor. The constitution established by Augustus might strive as it would to resemble with only slight modifications the republican forms it displaced. The East, for its part, had never been deceived into regarding it otherwise than a monarchy. And as such it was an unmistakable notch in the course of events. At a specific moment, whether it was Caesar’s entry into Rome or Augustus’ investiture with the principate, living men had seen and noted a page turned in the history of the world.

In this new monarchical constitution, the weak point was the succession. The glamour of acknowledged 294divinity rested upon Julius Caesar and Augustus, and in their blood there seemed to be an assurance of title to the lordship of the world. What would happen if this blood should fail? No machinery existed that would automatically indicate who the successor would be. Changes of dynasty, whether regular or violent, were of course no new thing to the East, but this was not the same. The Roman empire was unique. The imperator, or α?τοκρ?τωρ, was as new in conception as in title. Divinely established, the imperial dignity would be divinely maintained in those who by their origin could claim an unbroken chain of divine descent. He whom we know as Nero was on the monuments “Nero Claudius Caesar, son of the god Claudius and great-great-grandson of the god Augustus”; and the last was at all times officially styled Divi filius, “son of the God.”[322]

But Nero’s childlessness made it plain that the divine maintenance would be wanting. With Nero, the line of Augustus would become extinct. For Rome that presaged confusion and civil war. For the little stretch of country between the Lebanon and the River of Egypt, it loosed all the hopes and fears and expectations to which each generation had added a little, and which were to be realized in the dissolution that was hurrying on.

Nor must we forget that the reign of Nero had been marked by frequent rebellions. Armenia had revolted and been subdued. At the other end of the Roman world, the Britons had risen in a bloody insurrection. 295And in the very midst of the Jewish war, the inevitable Gallic rebellion broke out, ostensibly against Nero personally, but doubtless impelled by motives of national feeling as well. Perhaps, if we had as detailed a narrative of the British, Armenian, and Gallic insurrections as we have of the Jewish, we should find many preliminary conditions the same. Perhaps in those countries too “brigands” and “impostors” stirred the people to revolt by playing upon their sacred traditions and appealing to their hopes of a national restoration.[323]

One very curious circumstance is the association of this last emperor of the Julian house with the Jews generally and the Messiahship particularly. How far it is possible to discover the real Nero under the mass of slanderous gossip and poisonous rhetoric which Suetonius and Tacitus have heaped upon him, is not easy to determine, nor is it necessary to do so at this point. One thing may, however, be insisted upon. He courted and achieved a high degree of popularity. This is hinted at, not only in the fact noted in Suetonius (Nero, 37), that in a public prayer he ostentatiously referred only to himself and the people, and omitted any mention of the senate, but is expressly referred to in the same writer (ibid. 53): Maxime autem popularitate efferebatur, omnium aemulus qui quoquo modo animum vulgi moverent, “Above all, his chief desire was for popularity, and, to gain this, he imitated all who in any way had caught the fancy of the mob.” To this may be added the confirmatory evidence of the lasting veneration felt for his memory by the populace (ibid. 29657) and the assumption of his name by Otho when the latter desired to court popular favor (Suetonius, Otho, 7).[324]

This favor among the masses in the city would of itself indicate a hold on the Oriental part of his subjects, which Nero’s personal traits make especially likely. And of these Oriental or half-Oriental Romans a very considerable fraction were Jews. The all-powerful Poppaea Sabina, Nero’s mistress and afterwards his wife, is on good grounds believed to have been a semi-proselyte, a metuens.[325] Josephus ascribes Nero’s interference to her influence when Agrippa II attempted to make a display of the temple ceremonies. It is also not unlikely that the change of attitude on the part of Josephus toward Nero was due to the general feeling of the Roman Jewry toward his memory—a feeling of which Josephus had no cognizance in writing the Wars, but which had come to his attention when the Antiquities was composed. In the Wars (IV. ix. 2) we hear “how he abused his power and intrusted the control of affairs to unworthy freedmen, those wicked men, Nymphidius and Tigellinus.” In the Antiquities (XX. viii. 3) we find a temperate paragraph warning readers that the extant accounts of Nero are thoroughly unreliable, especially the accounts of those “who have impudently and senselessly lied about him.”[326]

That among the Roman populace there were some who believed that Nero was not dead, but still alive, and would return to be avenged upon his foes, is not strange. But it is particularly strange that in the extreme East 297the hereditary rivals of Rome, the Parthians, cherished his memory, so that their king Vologaesus expressly asked for recognition of that fact when he strove to renew his alliance with Rome. It was among the Parthians that the man who claimed to be Nero found enthusiastic support about 88 C.E. (Suet. Nero, 57). The Parthians seem to have been ready to invade the Roman empire to re-establish this “Nero” (Tac. Hist. I. ii. 6). That, it is true, happened long afterward; but directly after Nero’s death, in the very throes of the Jewish war, a similar belief spread like wildfire over Greece and Asia Minor, and a slave, by calling himself Nero, secured temporary control of the island of Cythnus (Tac. Hist. I. ii. 8).

One phrase of Suetonius is especially noteworthy. Long before Nero’s death it had been prophesied that he would be deposed, and would return as lord of the East: Nonnulli, Suetonius goes on to say, nominatim regnum Hierosolymorum [spoponderant], “Some assured him specifically that he would be king of Jerusalem.”

There is no direct confirmation in the Jewish sources of this association of Nero with a restored kingdom at Jerusalem. The very late Talmudic legend which states that Nero became a convert and was the ancestor of Rabbi Me?r[327] must, of course, be disregarded. No notable heathen sovereign escaped conversion in the Jewish legends. To the Christians, Nero was Belial or Antichrist for reasons obvious enough, and the Sibylline verses which so represent him are probably of Christian 298origin. But since the Messianic idea of the Jews was well-known throughout the Roman world (Suet. Vespasian, 4), the prediction made to Nero meant nothing less than that he was the promised Messiah, a conception startling enough, but perhaps less so to Nero’s generation than to ours.

It may further be possible to find an association between Nero and the Jews in the words that Philostratus[328] (Life of Apollonius, v. 33) puts in the mouth of the Alexandrian Euphrates. The Jews, Euphrates says, are the enemies of the human race almost as much as Nero, but it is the latter against whom Vespasian should direct his arms, not the former.

Whether, however, it was Nero or someone else, the intense force of the Messianic idea of the time of the revolt is attested explicitly by Suetonius in the passage alluded to above. Percrebuerat Oriente toto vetus et constans opinio esse in fatis ut eo tempore Iudaea profecti rerum potirentur, “Throughout the length and breadth of the East there was current an old and unvarying belief to the effect that it was decreed by fate that supreme power would fall into the hands of men coming from Judea.” If to Tacitus the insurrection was merely the expected outbreak of a turbulent province, repressed with difficulty in previous generations, and inevitable under all circumstances; if, to Josephus, the revolt was the foolish attempt of deluded but unfortunate men, driven mad by the oppressions of officials and led by selfish rascals, Suetonius, who retailed the gossip of the seven seas, had clearer insight 299when he referred the actual outbreak of hostilities to the general conviction that the result of the war would determine the fate of the empire. The Law would go out from Zion: Iudaea profecti rerum potirentur.

The war, which resulted in the fall of Jerusalem, was in the eyes of Josephus (Wars, Preface, § 1) the greatest war in recorded history. The words he uses are very much like those of Livy when he is about to describe the Second Punic War (Livy, XXI. i.), where, it must be admitted, the statement seems somewhat more fitting. The Roman historians naturally enough do not attach quite the same importance to a rebellion in a border province, however dangerous or desperate. But no one regarded it as an insignificant episode in the maintenance of the imperial frontier. There were many accounts of it, most of them written “sophistically” (ibid. I. i. 1), i.e. with a definite purpose that was quite apart from that of presenting a true version of the facts. These men, we are told by the author, wrote from hate or for favor. They desired to flatter the Romans or to vent their spleen on the Jews. The accurate truth was, of course, to be found only in the austerely veridical account written by Josephus in Aramaic, and translated by him into Greek.

It is, accordingly, strange that in the one narrative which we have from a source independent of Josephus, there should appear details which suggest that flattery of the Roman conqueror was not wholly absent from Josephus’ own narrative. In the Roman History of Cassius Dio (known principally by the Greek form of 300his name, Dion Cassius), who wrote about 225 C.E., we find a version of the siege of Jerusalem in which Titus is something less than a demi-god, and the Jews something different from the wretched and besotted fanatics Josephus makes of them. Dio has little sympathy for the Jews in general, and finds their institutions repellent on the whole, but his account is simpler and actually more favorable to the Jews than the one presented in the pages of the Wars.

Such details as the wound received by Titus (Dio, lxvi. 5), which Josephus omits or modifies (Wars, V. vi. 2), are of minor significance, although even they indicate the strain Josephus was put to in his attempt to make Titus move in the midst of dangers like a present divinity. But there are other matters that Josephus does not mention, e.g. the desertion of Roman soldiers to the Jews in the very midst of the siege, the awe of the Romans toward the temple, so that they had to be actually forced to enter upon the forbidden precinct even when the building was in flames. But especially it is the Asiatic Roman, and not the Jew, who lays stress upon the heroic pride which the Jews displayed in the moment of their utmost extremity. “All believed it was not destruction, but victory, safety, happiness, to die with their temple” (Dio, lxvi. 6).

That the conquest of the capital seemed no usual triumph is evidenced by the closing words of Dio (ibid. 7) and by the inscription which was carved on one of the arches erected to Titus. Several such arches were erected. One on the lower ridges of the Palatine, 301at the edge of the forum, contains the famous relief of the triumph of Titus. The other was in the Circus Maximus, and of this we have only the copy of the inscription (C. I. L. vi. 944). It runs as follows:[329]

The Senate and People of Rome have erected this arch to the first of their citizens, His Sacred Majesty, Titus Caesar Vespasian, son of the God Vespasian, High Priest, invested for the tenth time with tribunician power, hailed commander seventeen times, chosen consul eight times, Father of his Country, because, led by the guidance, wisdom, and divine favor of his father, he subdued the race of the Jews, and destroyed their city of Jerusalem, a city which all kings, commanders, and nations before him have either attacked in vain, or left wholly unassailed.

Dio notes that the title “Judaicus” was not assumed by either Vespasian or Titus. The inscription just quoted makes it clear that their motive in doing so was not any desire to minimize the importance of their victory. Relatively less important triumphs over such people as the Adiabeni or Carpi resulted in the assumption of the titles of Adiabenicus or Carpicus. It has been urged with considerable plausibility[330] that the term “Judaicus” would suggest to the general public a “convert to Judaism,” and at a moment when the spread of Judaism was, if anything, greater and more successful than ever, despite the fall of the temple, that was an impression dangerous to convey, particularly since Titus was himself under a strong suspicion of Eastern proclivities (Suet. Titus, 5). As a matter of fact, however, Dio’s surprise is due to the conditions of his own time, when the emperors freely assumed these 302gentile cognomina. So Septimius Severus is Parthicus, Arabicus, Adiabenicus, Britannicus. In Vespasian’s time that was distinctly not customary. None of his predecessors assumed these titles. The name Germanicus, used by Gaius, Claudius, and Nero, is a hereditary cognomen, and its assumption by Vitellius is due to a desire on the latter’s part to associate himself with the memory of a name at all times endeared to the people.

But that the conquest of Judea seemed at the time quite equal to those which justified the assumption of such honoring titles, may be seen in the epigram of Martial (ii. 2):
Creta dedit magnum, maius dedit Africa nomen
Scipio quod victor quodque Metellus habet,
Nobilius domito tribuit Germania Rheno,
Et puer hoc dignus nomine, Caesar, eras.
Frater Idumaeos meruit cum patre triumphos,
Quae datur ex Chattis laurea, tota tua est.

Crete granted a great name; Africa, a greater; the former to Metellus, the latter to Scipio. Even more renowned a title was derived from Germany and the conquered Rhine. That title, Caesar, your boyhood valor also earned. The Idumean triumph[331] you must share with your brother and father. The laurel wreath inscribed with the name of the Chatti—that is all your own.

The destruction of the city and temple affected the imaginations of all men, Jew and non-Jew, very powerfully. A large number of the various apocryphal books are referred to this period, especially those which are filled with lamentations over the desolate condition of the former princess among provinces. But dramatic 303and affecting as it was, the destruction of the temple was not at the time the epochal event it seems to us now. It made only a slight change in the political condition even of Palestinian Jews, and even in the spiritual condition of the Jews at large it played seemingly a subordinate part.


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