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9. Fall of Jerusalem |
Jerusalem falls, the veil vanishes

Fall of Jerusalem is drawn from Chapter Nine, beginning on page 239, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Bodies littering the streets, the looted Temple smashed, the Holy City’s smoking ruins sound with cries of grief just as Jesus had foreseen forty years before

Fall of Jerusalem - Jerusalem falls, the veil vanishes

Fall of Jerusalem - Jerusalem falls, the veil vanishes
As Roman troops tighten their noose on Jerusalem, starvation and disease take a mounting toll, and weeping fills the streets of a city that is about to fall. Though future generations will rebuild Jerusalem, its great Temple, the heart of the Holy City and its people, will remain only in memory and story.

April had brought tender buds out on the trees, and white and yellow wildflowers were beginning to peep out of the cracks of the streets of Jerusalem. Yet the city was filled with the sound of weeping; women clung to each other and howled their grief as Jesus went by. Plump babies, startled by the clamor, clutched their mothers’ robes and added their own fretful whimpering.

The beaten prisoner was too weak to go on. The procession came to a halt as Roman soldiers seized a man from the crowd and transferred the heavy

wooden cross to his shoulders. In the momentary pause Jesus looked at the women’s tear-streaked faces: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children,” he said. “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it is dry?”

The answer to that ominous question would unfold over the next forty years, as episodes of civil protest and intermittent violence gradually ascended into unimaginable horror. One morning in a.d. 70, a generation and more after Jesus’ dire prophecy, the sun rose over Jerusalem, revealing the toppled ruin of the Temple and the city in flames. In the rubble-filled streets there was again weeping, this time the feeble tears of hopelessness, the weeping of a beaten people. Jews by the tens of thousands had died–at the hands of Romans and at the hands of fellow Jews, and many more from gnawing hunger. The streets where Jesus had walked, where he had turned to warn those who grieved for him, were now crammed with corpses. The ancient sacrificial rites of the Jewish Temple had come to an end. It was late September, hot and dry.

For the story of how the Jewish calamity, known to history as the Siege of Jerusalem, came about we have almost no source except Flavius Josephus, a Jewish general and a peace advocate, a prolific historian who took on the protection and the name of the Roman imperial family. Josephus is a figure of paradox, and the earnestness of his split loyalty–his love of Israel on the one hand moving him to side vehemently with Rome on the other–underscores the poignancy of these last years of Jerusalem’s glory. In any event, the story that follows is his story of what happened. Historians would argue for centuries over what really happened, and archeology would make a contribution, but the only surviving contemporary account was Josephus’s.

The rebellion that led to this desolate morning had come on gradually, unsteadily, and beset by much dissension. For about 130 years the Jews had made the best of Roman domination, combating bureaucratic corruption with protest, sometimes peaceful, occasionally not. As the decade of the 60s dawned, however, Jewish resistance to the corruption of the Roman administration became more determined, the contempt of the Roman soldiery increasingly evident,1 and the resistance of the Jewish factions opposing them increasingly rebellious. Volatile bands sprang up, variously motivated: some crusading for economic justice, some for political freedom, some for a utopian theocracy, and some, says Josephus, simply as bandits. Parents were divided against children, brother against brother, family against family. Where there was division, there was all too often bloodshed.

Many, however, especially of the ruling priestly class, viewed rebellion against Rome as suicidal; the Romans were simply too powerful, they said, and if provoked would destroy everything Jewish in Jerusalem, including the Temple. Such appeasers were a special target of rebel ire, and risked assassination. Thus many Jews feared the rebels more than the Romans, and wished that a competent Roman governor would restore peace. Instead, the governors grew worse.

Albinus, governor from a.d 62 to 64, began by rounding up and imprisoning the terrorist group known as the Sicarii,2 but remaining gang members found they could gain the release of their fellows by kidnapping citizens for ransom. Albinus proved himself willing to release prisoners for bribes, and the common citizens increasingly lived in terror.

Governor Albinus, while moderately corrupt, was rectitude itself compared with his successor, Gessius Florus (a.d 64 to 66), says Josephus. Florus shamelessly advertised his cupidity, until the outpouring of complaints to his superior, Cestius Gallus, legate of Syria, made him fear for his job. One way to keep it, he decided, was to provoke the Jews into open rebellion.

That rebellion began, not in Jerusalem, but in Caesarea, seat of the Roman government, and a fire pit of strife between Jews and local Greeks and Syrians. The war began with a real estate quarrel between a synagogue’s congregation and their Greek neighbor who announced plans to turn his property into a workshop that would obstruct the synagogue entrance. The synagogue’s elders paid Florus eight talents–roughly the lifetime wages of eight working men–to stop construction. Florus pocketed the money and left town.

Then one morning the Jews arrived to find another irascible Greek at the synagogue door performing a parody of Jewish worship, sacrificing birds over some sort of bowl.3 A riot ensued. In the melee the Jewish leaders seized the scroll of the Torah and fled. They went to Florus for help, delicately reminding him of the eight talents. His response was to clap them all in jail for stealing the Torah.

Still, one riot did not constitute a rebellion, so Florus moved his attention to Jerusalem where the possibilities for deliberate mischief were much greater. Here he commandeered funds from the Temple treasury. Young Jews reacted in scorn, taking up a collection they called “pennies for the governor.” To Florus, such a jeer, directed against the Roman governor, was execrable. In an assault foreshadowing the massive Roman attacks that would eventually bring the city down, the Jerusalem cohort of the Twelfth Legion thereupon plundered the Upper Marketplace, with orders to slay everyone who resisted.

The carnage was appalling, says Josephus, but the Jewish leaders knew that Florus was trying to provoke a full-scale war. They persuaded the people to go out and welcome the Roman cohorts, by now moving from Caesarea into Jerusalem. Under orders to ignore this demonstration, the troops snubbed the greeting and passed in silence.

The predictable occurred. At the rebuff, the people began jeering the troops. The soldiers responded by clubbing everyone in reach. Some Jews climbed up on the city walls and hurled rocks down on the soldiers below.4 These men were trapped in the narrow confines of the city gate and found it hard to turn and retreat. In the end Florus was forced to pull back. He withdrew one of the cohorts, leaving the other to reinforce the Jerusalem garrison, stationed in the Antonia Fortress, which overlooked the Temple.

Then came the diplomatic incident that marks the outbreak of the war. Eleazar, governor of the Temple and a militant anti-Roman, decreed that no further sacrifices would be offered for foreigners.5 This meant stopping offerings for Caesar, an act of defiance. Others of the high priestly party, including Eleazar’s father, Ananias, feared the worst, and appealed to Agrippa II, Rome’s client king in the region, for more troops to give the rebels cause to reconsider.

It didn’t work. Agrippa sent two thousand Jewish soldiers into Jerusalem, but by then Jerusalem was divided. Ananias’s party held the Upper City, while his son’s rebels held the Temple and Lower City. After a week of fighting, Eleazar’s party, joined by a number of Sicarii, drove Agrippa’s forces from the Upper City into Herod’s Palace. The victorious rebels also set fire to the Upper City house of the high priest Ananias, and to the Hasmonean Palace, nearby, where Agrippa II and his sister, Bernice, lived; and they torched the archive where debt records were stored, hoping to recruit the poor to the rebellion.

The rebels next seized the Antonia Fortress, and soon they were reinforced by another insurgent band, fresh from its slaughter of the Roman garrison in the Masada, the citadel high atop a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. These were led by Menahem6–who, Josephus notes, triumphantly entered the city “in the state of a king.” This spelled trouble, since Eleazar had similar aspirations.

As the attack focused now on Herod’s Palace, the Roman defenders asked for terms. The Jews and Agrippa’s troops were allowed to depart, while the Romans barricaded themselves in the palace’s soaring towers. But they were in no state to withstand a siege, and their commandant offered a truce. His troops would

surrender their arms, he said, if their lives were spared. The insurgents agreed, but as soon as the Romans laid down their arms, the rebels butchered the whole contingent. News of this perfidy and of the liquidation of two Roman garrisons, the Antonia and the Masada, trickled back to Rome. Soon the empire’s fierce and methodical retribution was being planned.

The rebels, of course, could see only their recent victory, and not its eventual repercussions. Menahem captured and killed Ananias, leader of the opposition party and Eleazar’s father, a feat that left him “so puffed up,” says Josephus, “that he became barbarously cruel.” Eleazar resented this pomposity, and asked why the Jews should throw off the Roman yoke in order to submit to another. As Menahem paraded to the Temple in sumptuous robes, surrounded by his entourage, the populace began pelting him–not so much in support of Eleazar as hoping, Josephus says, to halt the entire revolt. Menahem’s band scattered and their leader was tortured to death.

It now fell to the legate, Cestius, to restore order. He assembled an army of thirty thousand, including the rest of the Twelfth Legion, along with two thousand men from two other legions, and marched south, approaching Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles. Suddenly, out of the city poured thousands of Jews, an unruly mob, but with such fierce vigor that they caught the Roman force off guard. They claimed five hundred Roman lives, then took up a position in the hills, looking down on a highly vulnerable Roman camp. Meanwhile, Agrippa sent two of his friends on behalf of the Romans, offering pardon in return for surrender. The rebels killed one and wounded the other, then withdrew from the hilltop and returned to the city.

Here further feuding broke out, so vehemently that many rebels panicked and fled. Cestius launched one assault after another against the walls, and the people stood ready to open the gates to him. But then occurred one of the strange twists of history that baffle both reason and the historians. Cestius withdrew. He had suffered almost no losses; he had the city under siege; he could have ended the war that day. Yet he quit. He could not assure the supply of his troops, some historians speculate. Others attribute his decision to the onset of bad weather. Josephus perceives a divine intent. God willed, he concluded, the city’s total destruction as a punishment. He had abandoned his ancient sanctuary.

Fortune now favored the rebels. Under the weight of their baggage, Cestius’s troops trudged northwest towards Caesarea, the rebels constantly harassing them, picking off stragglers, hurling rocks down on them as they passed through the defiles, blocking their path when they could. The mighty Twelfth abandoned their war engines, and whimpered “their mournful cries,” notes Josephus, “as men use in the utmost despair.” Cestius, now desperate, left a rear guard of four hundred as a decoy, while the rest of the force slipped away in the night. At daybreak, their ensigns flying, the little defense unit shouted out phony orders as though they were standing in strength. The Jews were not fooled. They slaughtered the rear guard and set out after the retreating legion. Though they didn’t overtake them, they did find catapults, battering rams, and other heavy, unwieldy weapons that Cestius’s men had abandoned, all of which was to prove critical in the months ahead. This treasure they carted back to Jerusalem, singing songs of triumph. The Twelfth Legion would need a long time to live down

this humiliation.

In the city, the high priests reluctantly reached a grim conclusion–that they must seize leadership of the revolution rather than have it commandeered by crackpots and thieves. They resolved to prepare for war while working for peace, always hoping that the people would see reason. They moved decisively. Ex-high priest Annas was given supreme command, while the nation was divided into six military districts.

Galilee, to the north, was key. It was likely to be Rome’s first target, for two reasons: Its populace was the region’s most hot-headed and rebellious, and its fertile soil made it the bread basket for the arid south, the region of Judea and the capital city, Jerusalem. Three men were sent north from Jerusalem to try to maintain order in Galilee. One was Josephus, the thirty-year-old priest with no previous military experience, who would eventually become Rome’s ally and the war’s historian.

Josephus was a dubious choice. He had visited Rome a few years before,

and what he saw there convinced him that any rebellion could not succeed. So

his position was untenable from the beginning. He had to fight a war he was convinced he could not win. This dilemma brought him into instant conflict with a rebel leader who thought he could, John from Gischala in Galilee, whose band of four hundred was spoiling for a fight, whether with the Romans or with any Jews who didn’t want to fight the Romans.

Such as Josephus. Hoping to be appointed in Josephus’s place, John spread rumors Josephus was planning to betray the nation to Rome. Two attempts were made on Josephus’s life, and for a time, control of the province seesawed between the two. John was not the only rival as would-be leader of the Jewish cause. At Jerusalem, Simon son of Gioras presented himself as champion of the needy, committed to relieving poverty. He began

by relieving his own. Given a minor office in the new government, he was fired for graft, and fled to the Masada fortress. There he discovered the Sicarii, left leaderless by the death of Menahem. These joined Simon, and prepared to return in force to Jerusalem. They adopted the old name “Zealots,” long the designation of those Jews who despised the Jerusalem leadership as soft. They were zealous for the faith, said Simon. Josephus saw them as brigands and rioters, zealous only for loot and booty.

Meanwhile at Rome, Nero named to command the Roman counter-offensive a proven general, Titus Flavius Vespasian, a fifty-seven-year-old frontline veteran, ex-commander of the Second Legion, credited with a major victory in the Roman invasion of Britain, who despised the prissy life of the Roman aristocracy, and was renowned for once having fallen loudly asleep during one of Nero’s poetry recitations. But Nero knew his man. Vespasian had grown gray in the service and was wise and methodical. His two sons, particularly Titus, the elder, would second their father and supply youthful vigor. Both assumptions were to prove devastatingly accurate.7

In the spring of 67, Vespasian assembled an army at Ptolemais on the Mediterranean coast west of Galilee. He formed up the Fifteenth Legion in Syria and called in the Tenth Fretensis and the Fifth Macedonica under his son Titus from Alexandria. The disgraced Twelfth he kept in reserve. The total force, including twenty-three auxiliary cohorts, numbered sixty thousand. These marched east and set up a camp on the Galilean frontier, where they put on a fearsome display of men and armor, trumpeters and horses, banners and war

engines. It was designed to intimidate and it did. Josephus’s men panicked and fled, leaving him with an army too small to do battle. Taking his remaining supporters, Josephus retreated behind the walls of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and sent a message to Jerusalem, warning that Galilee could not sustain Vespasian’s

attack, and they should either send an adequate army or permit him to surrender the province.

Meanwhile, the Romans overran most of Galilee, first occupying its largest city, Sepphoris, and easily warding off Jewish attacks. Gabara fell on the first Roman assault; every adult male was put to death and the town burned.

Josephus in the meantime moved into the stronghold of Yodefat where the showdown battle for Galilee would occur.

As Vespasian’s troops encircled the city, eliminating all hope of escape, the Jews were moved to new “deeds of gallantry,” says Josephus, “for in war there is nothing like necessity to rouse the fighting spirit.”

Yodefat held out for seven weeks. When Vespasian began building earthworks to assail its walls,8 the Jews rained large rocks down on them from above. Vespasian then set up a

ring of projectile-throwers, which hurled lances, rocks, and firebrands and drove the defenders off the ramparts. They retaliated in guerilla-like raids, demolishing the earthworks and setting fire to their wooden supports. Still the earthworks rose, so Josephus built the walls higher. His messengers bypassed the Roman guards by draping themselves with sheepskins and crawling on all fours, so that at night they were taken for dogs. To bypass Vespasian’s blockade, Josephus brought some supplies into the city through one of its deep flanking ravines, which Vespasian eventually discovered and blocked.

So persistent were the Jewish attacks against the earthworks, boasts Josephus, that Vespasian felt he was the one under siege. Eventually he maneuvered his war engines and a battering ram up to the city’s gates. But the Jews, in a daring foray, rushed out from the town and set the engines and shelters on fire. One Jewish fighter threw a boulder down from the city wall and broke off the massive iron ram’s head. He then leapt down, carried it away under the very noses of the Romans, and swiftly climbed back up the wall, to display his prize to both sides. But his triumph was short-lived. He fell headlong forward, pierced by five Roman arrows.

When the Romans finally broke down a section of the wall and began setting up gangways over the rubble, necessity once again led to inspiration. Josephus had his men bring boiling oil and pour it down on the soldiers from the ramparts that remained.9 Roman armor was good protection against rocks and stones, but when scalding oil slipped beneath it, it became a prison of pain. As the men at the head of the gangway collapsed in agony they blocked the way of the men behind them, who could not easily retreat. Josephus’s quick thinking had won him another day.

Yodefat’s fall, however, came silently in the predawn darkness. A Jewish deserter advised Vespasian to slip into the city at dawn when sleep routinely overcame the exhausted sentries. This simple strategy succeeded. One morning, near the end of July 67, the sleeping sentries were quietly overcome by a Roman squad that stole into the city, followed by the assault force. Yodefat awoke to find the Romans rampaging through their town, killing all but women and infants, whom they enslaved. Josephus estimates that in all forty thousand Jews perished at Yodefat.

He, however, was not one of them. He leapt into a deep pit, and there discovered the opening to a cave, invisible from above, where forty leading men of the town were hiding. They hid successfully for two days, then were discovered. Vespasian sent Josephus’s friend Nicanor to offer safe conduct in return for surrender. All of which, in the eyes of Josephus’s critics, was far too convenient to be convincing. They contend Josephus crassly betrayed his men and conspired with Vespasian to let the Romans in.

Josephus, of course, tells a very different story. In the cave he began to reflect on the prophetic dreams he had long had, warning of calamity for the Jews, and revealing the coming succession to the imperial throne following Nero’s imminent death. Rather than accepting Vespasian’s offer, he declares, he sent up a “secret prayer” of surrender to God’s will. In his own eyes, he did not go to the Romans as a deserter, but as a minister of God.

So after reneging on a suicide pact (see sidebar), he surrendered to Vespasian’s son Titus who, says Josephus, had been impressed with Josephus’s valor, and urged his father to treat him kindly. The old man was suspicious until Josephus spoke. “Do you send me to Nero?” he asked. “Why?” Thereupon he made a prophecy. Nero and his immediate successors would soon be dead, and a new imperial line was about to begin. “You, O Vespasian, are Caesar and emperor, you and this your son.” Josephus was in chains, but asked, “Bind me now still faster, and keep me for yourself.” Vespasian at first viewed this as transparent flattery. Yet it might prove true. He ordered Josephus kept in custody, but kept well, with fine clothing and food.

Vespasian now began the mop-up of Galilee, which included a naval battle on the Sea of Galilee that was disastrous to the Jews, leaving the lake stained with blood and the shores piled with corpses. Titus meanwhile took on Gischala, stronghold of rebel leader John. When he saw that his situation was desperate, John made a bargain: If Titus would let his men observe the next day’s Sabbath, they would surrender the following day. That night, he and the town’s leading citizens gathered their families and slipped away, under cover of darkness. As they fled toward Jerusalem, however, the women and children gradually fell behind. They begged their men to help them, but their pleas were ignored. The next morning, the Romans discovered they had been duped. They rushed out in pursuit of the escapees, but found only the straggling women and children, who were herded back to Gischala and probable slavery.

John made it into Jerusalem where he fueled the internecine strife that for the next three years would prove every bit as destructive and agonizing as anything threatened by the enemy. The Romans were weak, he said. His flight was merely a strategic retreat. He banded with Eleazar son of Simon, now leading the Zealots.10 They seized the Temple, deposed the high priest, and cast lots for that office, appointing what Josephus calls a “rustic” from the countryside who knew nothing about the priesthood.

This outraged the people, and gave Annas, hitherto leader of the interim government, sufficient popular support to drive the Zealots back into the Temple’s inner precinct, while Annas and the moderates secured the outer courts with a guard. Meanwhile John of Gischala joined both sides, vowing fidelity to the high priestly party, while telling the Zealots that Annas had appealed to Vespasian

for help.

That spread panic among the Zealots, and they appealed to the Idumeans,

a people who lived in southern Judea and had been forcibly converted to Judaism a century before, but were now ready to join any rebellion against Rome. When twenty thousand of them showed up at Jerusalem’s gates the high priestly party begged them to join the moderate side. They indignantly declined, but were at a loss as to what to do next, since the moderates controlled the gate and refused them entry. That night, however, a violent storm broke, enabling some of the Zealots to open the gate to them in darkness. In poured the Idumeans, who raced through the city, killing and looting. Eighty-five hundred people died in that carnage, says Josephus, and the outer courts of the Temple were stained with blood.11

Eventually the Idumeans caught Annas and his senior high priestly lieutenant Jesus and slaughtered both, mocking their speeches and then throwing the bodies over the city walls without burial. “The death of Annas was the beginning of the destruction of the city,” Josephus writes. The high priest was eloquent, and perhaps could have brokered a peace with the Romans. “I cannot help but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these great defenders.”

The Zealots took part in this bloodbath with such crazed glee, then condemning the survivors after mock trials, that it was too much even for the Idumeans, most of whom went home in disgust. This news reached the Romans, who were pleased to hear of disunity in the city, and some urged Vespasian to attack immediately while the Jews were in disarray. The seasoned general had a better idea: An attack might unite them, but if he waited they would kill each other, doing his work for him. Victory would be easier when the right time came.

But events at Rome would help delay that time for another two years. In June 68 Vespasian received word that Nero had died. Since he had been appointed by Nero, his commission lapsed, and he brought the campaign to a halt, awaiting further orders. Three more would-be emperors occupied the throne in quick succession, and Rome was in turmoil. In the summer of 69 Vespasian’s legions decided that their general was the best candidate. They proclaimed him emperor, and he began to make his way from Caesarea to Rome.

By the time Vespasian reached Berytus (the future Beirut) he was already beginning to receive congratulations from many provinces. It looked as if Josephus’s prophecy was being fulfilled, and Vespasian regretted the man was still in chains. He commanded that Josephus be set free, but Titus had a better idea. He asked that the chains be severed with an axe, symbolizing that a prisoner had been chained unjustly. Thus Josephus was free, fully pardoned and invested with civil rights in Rome. Vespasian’s family name, Flavius, became Josephus’s name as well. When Vespasian reached Alexandria early in a.d 70 he received news that he had been acclaimed emperor in Rome, and that his son Domitian was acting as ruler until he came. He sent his son Titus to finish the war at Jerusalem with the pick of his army.

In the meantime, another rebel group arrived at Jerusalem and encamped outside the walls. Simon son of Gioras had begun with a band of followers at Masada and continued to gather recruits throughout the countryside, intending to

battle the other rebels and gain control of Jerusalem. He took possession of Hebron and ranged through Idumea until “there was nothing left behind Simon’s army but a desert,” says Josephus. Eleazar’s Zealots, seeking to intimidate Simon, kidnapped his wife and demanded that he lay down his arms. Simon’s response was to attack anyone who set foot outside the city, torturing them to death or sending them back into the city without their hands. These acts of raw horror worked. It

was the Zealots who were intimidated, and they set Simon’s wife free.

It rapidly dawned on Jerusalem’s trembling citizenry that their liberators were worse than the Romans had ever been. Outside the walls, Simon killed and tortured. Within them, the followers of John of Gischala loosed a reign of terror on the populace. Sated with rape and plunder, writes Josephus, they invented new diversions: wearing women’s clothes and perfume, braiding their hair and behaving as if in a brothel. (Historians warn, however, that descriptions such as this should be regarded suspiciously. They are based strictly on Josephus’s account of events, and he would naturally seek to blackguard his opponents.)

Soon the remaining Idumeans had had enough of this, and drove John and his followers into the Temple. Ironically, the Idumeans now turned to the high priests’ party, the people they had pounced upon first after they had gained entrance to the city. This led to an even stranger coalition. The priests, concluding anything would be better than John, proposed to bring Simon into the city and unite with him against John. This was to make things worse than ever. It was, says Josephus, as though God himself was leading them to embrace the worst possible advice.12

Thus in April 69 the gates were opened and Simon son of Gioras entered the city as its master and led the citizens against John, now leagued with Eleazar’s Zealots, in the Temple. Though Simon had larger numbers, John’s men and the Zealots had the advantage of height and from the Temple’s towers were able to cast down missiles upon their assailants.

Then a new quarrel broke out. Eleazar and his Zealots, numbering about twenty-four hundred, ensconced in the Temple with John, began to resent the

latter’s imperious ways. They took over the Temple’s inner courts and highest ground and pushed John’s men out. These remained immediately under them in the Temple’s outer precincts with greater numbers but caught in the middle. Below them

and occupying the city as a whole were Simon and his nervous allies, the high priestly party. The defenders were thus split three ways, and in this confusing

situation John and Simon each set fires, presumably hoping to burn the other out. Instead they sealed the fate of Jerusalem. While the city’s astonishingly efficient water cisterns provided it with enough water to last for years, and were virtually indestructible, its food supplies were not. What the fires did destroy were the warehouses filled with grain enough to withstand a prolonged siege.

Unlikely as it seems, in the midst of this waste and carnage the rituals of the Temple continued. Worshippers came to pray and make sacrifices, though stones and javelins rained down upon them and mixed their own blood with that of the sacrifices. Blood “stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves,” writes Josephus, and common people longed for the Romans to come and free them from their supposed emancipators.

It was by now the spring of 70, and Titus with his three crack legions advanced upon Jerusalem. He sent two as pincers, the Fifth by way of Emmaus, and the Tenth by way of Jericho, and brought the Fifteenth with him. He took direct command of the Twelfth, its men now bent on avenging their humiliation and redeeming their reputation. All these were supplemented by units of two Egyptian legions, the Third known as the “Cyrenaica,” and the Twenty-Second “Deiotariana.” Troops supplied by Rome’s client kings completed the force, King Agrippa leading his men personally.

Titus advanced on Jerusalem, and made a camp about four miles north of the city. Aware of the strife going on within the walls, he picked a force of five hundred cavalrymen and set out to reconnoiter the walls for evidence of anti-rebel activity within. Suddenly the Jews launched a foray against the reconnaissance party that came narrowly near to changing the whole course of the war and of Roman history. Titus, the future emperor of Rome, found himself trapped.

Most of his squadron had stayed on the central road that led to one of the city’s gates. He and a small party had veered off on a side road. Abruptly, from what was known as Jerusalem’s “Women’s Towers,” a massive body of Jews poured forth, cutting Titus off from the main contingent, and penning him against the hedges and gardens that lined the city walls. The Jews realized that the biggest conceivable prize the Romans had to offer now lay in their grasp. Titus saw he could go neither forward nor back. He and the few men with him had either to get themselves out or, for them anyway, the war was over.

Being on a purely reconnaissance mission, he wore neither helmet nor

breastplate. But signaling to his companions to follow, he plunged into the midst of his enemies, arrows flying about him, hacking them down and galloping over their bodies. Studded with arrows, two men beside him fell. But Titus and the rest escaped, back to the safety of their main party and then to the ranks of

the legions.

At Mount Scopus to the north of the city he linked up with the Fifth and set up his main encampment. The Tenth took up a position on the Mount of Olives. The Jews, when they saw that the Romans were erecting fortifications, briefly forgot their differences, plunged in strength down the steep slope of the Kidron Valley, then up the other side, and took the Tenth by surprise. Its men, still engaged in building the camp, were caught without their weapons. The Jews surged about them in a disorderly pack, so disorienting the Romans that they abandoned camp and fled.13

Titus soon arrived with reinforcements, and the battle raged up and down the slopes of the Kidron. Finally the Romans drove the defenders out of the valley and back into the city. Meanwhile Titus sent the Tenth to continue building their camp, while the rest of the force stood guard against further raids.

This first encounter forewarned Titus that he faced a wily and unpredictable enemy. In the long months ahead the Romans were routinely confounded by the Jews’ reckless agility. Despite their crushing strength, the Romans sometimes despaired of winning the war at all.

What the Jews lacked, however, were the unity and discipline of the Legions.

No sooner had the defenders withdrawn into the city than their feuds broke out again. Passover was now upon them and Eleazar cautiously admitted worshippers to the Inner Temple, his stronghold. John of Gischala used this opportunity to infiltrate. Once inside, his supposedly peaceful worshippers turned out to be armed invaders. They brought forth their weapons and regained command of the Inner Temple.

Titus began clearing the land in the four miles between Mount

Scopus and the northern wall of the city. This was known as the Third Wall, built thirty years before, when the Romans’ client king, Agrippa I, was ruler of Judea, to enclose the sprawling new development on the city’s north side. As Jewish unrest grew, the Romans ordered Agrippa to halt construction. It was therefore not considered formidable. Behind it, however, stood two more walls, very formidable indeed (See map, page 253).

The Jews then staged an elaborate drama atop the New Wall, with one group begging the Romans to come rescue them while others pretended to violently oppose them. By now wary of Jewish ploys, Titus ordered his men to stand fast. Some soldiers, however, had already advanced to the wall. When they came between gateway towers they found themselves surrounded by Jewish assailants while others pelted them from the walls. They withdrew with great difficulty, and great embarrassment. From the ramparts the Jews jeered, shouting, dancing with delight, and mocking the Romans for falling for a ruse.

While Titus arrayed his men seven deep along the northern and western sections of the wall–three lines of infantry, three of cavalry, and a row of archers in the middle–new turmoil broke out within. John’s six thousand pitted themselves against Eleazar’s twenty-four hundred, reducing to ashes any structures between them, while Simon’s fifteen thousand ran rampant in the town below.

Riding around the walls, Titus saw it was futile to attack from the south or east, skirted as they were by deep ravines. However, where Herod’s palace stood on the western edge of the city the New Wall ran out toward the northwest and the juncture was weak. Here Titus set men building earthworks up to the wall, under covering fire from catapults, stone-throwers, and other machines of war.

As the earthworks gradually neared completion, Titus ordered that a battering ram be brought up. This frightened the rebels into unity, and they agreed that both groups would have full access to all of Jerusalem, with Simon retaining leadership of the Upper City and John controlling the Temple and Antonia Fortress. For a time the Romans battered the wall without success. Suddenly the Jews poured out upon them, surrounded the war engines, and set the timbers on fire. Titus drove them back, killing many and taking one prisoner alive. This unfortunate he theatrically crucified in full view of the city walls.

The battering continued, with the Romans working under shelter of three enormous ironclad towers they had rolled up to the site. The towers reached twice the height of the wall. The Jews were now stymied. The towers were fireproof and too heavy to overturn, and they could not approach them without drawing a hail of arrows from the archers atop them. On the fifteenth day of the siege, May 25, the Romans breached the Third Wall and poured into the northern part of the city, called Bethesda (the biblical Bethsaida). The Jews retreated behind the Second Wall, which ran in a jagged line across the city from Herod’s Palace to the Antonia Fortress. John took up the defense at the Antonia, and Simon concentrated his forces at Herod’s Palace, while Titus directed his battering ram at the unprotected spot on the northeastern leg of the Second Wall. Fighting continued from dawn till night, and anxiety deprived both sides of sleep.

Five days later the Second Wall was breached and Titus’s forces broke into the Old City. Josephus reports that Titus now offered the Jews an armistice. He “would preserve the city for myself, and the Temple for the city,” he said, and would forbid his troops to kill prisoners or set houses on fire. Any who wanted to continue fighting would be given safe conduct outside the walls to resume the battle there, so that citizens would not be injured. He hoped, too, he said, to restore the citizens’ property.

The Jews, said Josephus, took this as an indication of Roman weakness. Perhaps too they remembered the false promise of safe conduct that they had given Roman troops taking refuge in Herod’s Palace four years earlier, and feared the Romans planned to even the score. The armistice was thus rejected and soon the Romans were fighting in the Old City’s narrow, winding streets. Here they were at a disadvantage. The Jews knew every cranny and hiding place well but the Romans knew them not at all. Getting the worst of it, the Romans tried to withdraw. But the narrow breach they had made in the wall impeded them. They finally escaped with grave difficulty, much to the exhilaration of the Jewish forces.

But another and much more formidable enemy increasingly gnawed upon the defenders’ resolve. Already starvation was creeping through the city. The weak were dying. Children wept for food. Families that still had a little were looked upon with ravenous envy by neighbors who had none. Hiding it became a major imperative.

Titus briefly suspended the assault, and arranged a four-day spectacle. As the Jews watched, soldiers paraded up continuously in shining armor and glittering silver and lavish rations were poured into their hands. The troops found this interlude delightful.

The Jews, lined up on every rampart to watch, found it dismaying.

On the fifth day the Romans went back to the job. The Tenth and Fifteenth Legions addressed themselves

to a point near Herod’s Palace where the Second Wall met the First. The Fifth, joined by the Twelfth, took on the Antonia Fortress. At each site the Romans built two earthworks that encroached ever more closely upon the walls. But they did not do this without cost. John’s followers and the Zealots constantly sprayed them with arrows from the Antonia, while Simon’s followers and the Idumeans did the same from the Hippicus Tower at Herod’s Palace.

Titus persevered and made good use of Josephus, who was now in the Roman ranks. Better than any, Josephus understood the mentality of those behind the walls, and well guessed that the high priests could clearly see nothing but ruin in the Jewish resistance. He must now therefore speak one last appeal to save his people. (Historians debate whether Josephus actually delivered this speech, or merely wrote down his thoughts in the quiet of his apartment at Rome six years later.) In Josephus’s account, however, he stationed himself before the walls, close enough to be heard, far enough back to be out of range for the archers, and cried out to his countrymen.

Had they really considered what they were doing? The outcome of this insanity could well be the permanent and total destruction of the Temple and the Holy City. Did they see that they were fighting not merely the Romans but God himself? Whenever their cause was right, did not God intervene and save them?

Then he hit harder, his voice ringing out to the ramparts:

We can produce no example wherein our fathers got any success by war, or failure when without war they committed themselves to God…. As for you, of the things commanded by our Lawgiver what have you done? And of the things he condemned, what have you left undone?

The response from the walls was a tirade of ridicule and execration along with showers of stones. At this Josephus seems to have broken down, pleading as had so many Jewish prophets:

O, hard-hearted wretches that you are, cast away your weapons and take pity on your country which is already tottering to its fall. Turn and gaze at the beauty of what you are betraying: What a city! What a Temple! Who could be the first to set that Temple on fire? Who could wish that these things be no more? You inhuman creatures, you stone-hearted men! At least have pity on your families, and set before your eyes your children, wife and parents, who will gradually be consumed by either famine or war.

I know that this danger extends to my own mother, my wife, and my family. Perhaps you think it is for their sakes that I offer you this advice. Then kill them, and take my own blood as well, as the price of your salvation! I am ready to die, if that could lead you to learn wisdom!

The leaders remained unmoved, but some of the people stole out of the city, and Titus allowed them to cross to freedom. John and Simon promptly declared such evacuation punishable by death, then began executing people suspected of even planning escape. Eventually they took this further by raiding the homes of

the wealthy, declaring them intended evacuees, killing them and confiscating their property.

But the deepest misery of the people was hunger. As Josephus observes, it destroys the last human restraints against shame. First, families turned against each other, then strife broke out within households, husbands snatching food from wives, mothers from children. A healthy appearance became dangerous.

Those who lacked the hollow cheeks and sunken eyes were assumed to have hidden rations. They were exposed to assault, their homes to pillage. Anyone discovered to be hiding food was beaten; those with whom no food was found were subjected to grotesque torture, in the belief that they had successfully concealed it. Rebels would batter their way past locked doors and force food out of the mouths of their victims. Old men were beaten as they clung to their morsels, and women dragged away by the hair; children were swung up by their feet and slammed against the floor.

As the days wore on and the Romans could see no sign the defenders were about to yield, the Roman cruelty grew vicious. Prisoners were routinely whipped, tortured, then crucified in view of the city, the victims in a variety of poses until, says Josephus, they ran out of room for crosses, and the wood to make them, all available timber in the Jerusalem area having been cut down for the earthworks.

Still the siege troops labored on. Then another Jewish stratagem befell them. John and his men had dug a tunnel underneath the Antonia embankments, sup-porting it as they went with timbers. On June 16, as the Romans brought up the war engines, John carried timber smeared with pitch and bitumen into the tunnel and set it ablaze. The tunnel collapsed with a thunderous crash followed by a burst of fire. The troops fled in panic.

Two days later Simon’s men suddenly sallied forth and set fire to the framework diligently constructed by the Tenth and Fifteenth Legions. The flames spread rapidly and the Romans, seeing no way to save their work, beat a retreat to their camp, the Jews hard on their heels right up to the sentry line. Here a confused battle took place in a roil of smoke and dust. At last the Jews returned to the city, leaving the Romans wondering whether conventional weapons were of any use against such a recklessly persistent foe.

Titus pondered. He had one last weapon, he knew, that the Jews could not contend with, namely hunger. In clever stealth and by darkness, Jewish foraging

parties were getting out of the city and returning with meager supplies. If these were cut off, sooner or later the defenders must yield. Quickly his tireless troops erected a five-mile-long siege dike that surrounded the entire city. Night and day they patrolled it.

Inside Jerusalem, his tactic quickly told. The final stages of starvation set in and the death toll rose rapidly. Josephus describes women and infants lying limp with exhaustion, alleys filled with corpses, and young men and children wandering the markets like shadows, collapsing wherever death overtook them. Rebels went from house to house, ravaging the possessions of the dead and dying. Some they found barely alive, slumped on the floors. These they would

stab through as an entertainment. To others who begged for death they would deny deliverance, leaving them to a more agonizing fate. As each died, Josephus notes, he turned his eyes toward the Temple.

Burial was impossible for such a quantity of dead, and the living were too weak to do it. However the stench was unbearable, and the rebel leaders resorted to flinging corpses over the walls and down into the ravines until these were choked with oozing bodies. There was no mourning or weeping, no sound at all, says Josephus. “Deep silence blanketed the city.” Hunger deadens emotion. “With dry eyes and grinning mouths those who were slow to die watched those whose end came sooner.”

Anyone who attempted to flee to the Romans met a different fate. A refugee who had found shelter among the Syrian troops was discovered picking through his excrement; he had swallowed his coins planning to recover them later. The story spread swiftly through the auxiliary forces. In a single night, Josephus reports, two thousand deserters were ripped open so that soldiers could paw through their bowels. Very few yielded such treasure; most were fleeing because they were destitute and starving.

Then Titus put his men back to work, concentrating this time only on the Antonia Fortress. The earthwork construction went slowly. The whole countryside had already been stripped of trees, and wood had to be transported eleven miles to the site. On July 20 John’s forces in the Antonia made an attack against these preparations, but it was hesitant and timid. “Unlike Jews,” Josephus notes. The rebels fled having accomplished nothing. Their strength and their resolve were finally fading.

The Romans too seemed desperate. Their advance parties had reached the very walls, and dug at its stones, all to no avail, they feared. Then a seeming miracle occurred. In the middle of the night the wall simply collapsed. But it was no miracle. John’s tunnel had undermined it and it gave way. Only then did the Romans discover the Jews had built a second wall behind it.

But as in many battles, the event that would prove decisive came more by luck than by generalship. It was about three in the morning. A squad of twelve men from the Fifth Legion, observing the enemy wall by night, noticed that the guard atop the Antonia looked unusually weak. The sentries were absent perhaps, or asleep. In any event, these called the standard-bearer of the Fifth, two cavalrymen and a trumpeter. They made their way silently through the ruins at the foot of the wall, scaled it, and slit the throats of the guards they found there. From the wall-top the trumpeter sounded a rallying call to the Fifth. The other guards, hearing the trumpeter, seeing a party of Romans along the wall, and observing that one of them was a standard-bearer, reached the obvious conclusion. A whole legion was now moving into the city. So they fled.

In short order this would prove true. Hearing the trumpet, Titus guessed the situation, ordered his whole force instantly to arms, and personally led his senior commanders to the site, over the wall, and into the city. By now John’s force was also on hand, and charged with characteristic disregard of life directly at the assembling Roman force. It never got there. More of John’s tunnel collapsed beneath them. Like the Roman earthwork and like the wall, they plunged into the pit, a melee of crushed and struggling bodies, while the legions began to form up before them. Immediately behind them stood the Temple. They knew and the Romans knew that the fall of the Temple meant the fall of the city. The crucial fight was now at hand. Josephus describes it:

Arrows and spears were useless. Both sides drew their swords and fought it out hand to hand. Hemmed in by the walls of the temple, the two sides mingled and fought at random. The din of clashing arms, shouting men and screaming wounded was so overwhelming that no individual sound was audible. The slaughter was great on both sides, the combatants trampling the fallen beneath their feet and crushing their own armor into their bodies. While those behind pushed forward those in the front ranks had no choice but to kill or be killed, retreat being impossible.

After ten hours of this–it was now one o’clock in the afternoon–the Romans withdrew into the Antonia, the rebels into the Temple. Meanwhile, from the Temple’s priests came ominous news. The supply of lambs for slaughter had finally run out. The sacred sacrifice, the whole ritualistic reason for the Temple’s existence, could not be made. The breakdown delivered a profound psychological and spiritual blow. Was Josephus then right? Had God abandoned his people? Titus again issued an armistice offer, Josephus and other Jews who had joined the Romans shouting it to those in the Temple. He guaranteed the sanctity of the Temple against the intrusion of any non-Jew, provided the rebels would vacate the building and finish the war outside the city. Again this was refused. Over John’s jeers, some few wealthy families crossed to the Roman lines. They were resettled in the nearby town of Gophna.

Titus set his men to demolishing the Antonia to its foundations, meanwhile raising four embankments against the Temple Mount, two against the north wall and two against the west. Inside the Temple enclosure these walls were lined with magnificent many-columned porticoes with elaborately fretted wooden ceilings. The portion of the portico on the north side, at its western end, bordered the southern wall of the Antonia, and the Jews realized that the Romans could clamber onto the portico roof from their embankments. On August 12 they set this North Portico on fire. Thus the first torching of the Temple, Josephus notes, was done by the Jews themselves.

Three days later, the defenders decided to use the porticoes more strategically. They stuffed the wooden ceiling of the West Portico with timber, bitumen, and pitch, and then withdrew as if exhausted. Some of the Romans, observing this retreat, grabbed ladders and climbed onto the roof of the portico to give chase. When the roof was crowded with men the Jews set it on fire, and the soldiers were consumed in the flames or fell to their deaths on the pavement below.

Then, says Josephus, occurred the most appalling event of the entire siege–“an act of which there is no parallel in the annals of Greece or any other country, a horrible and unspeakable deed and one incredible to hear.” The Jews envied those who had died before hearing of it; the Romans were greatly distressed and many refused to believe it was even possible. Titus pledged to requite this abomination with the leveling of the entire city.

After witnessing relentless tides of blood and torture, what could move these hardened men to such revulsion? A woman named Mary, daughter of another Eleazar, was a member of a distinguished family, but she had long ago been plundered of all her goods. One day she realized that every possible outcome awaiting her and her infant son was evil: They would be slain by the rebels or would starve to death, and if they survived till the Romans broke through they would be sold into slavery.

She looked at the baby nursing at her breast. “Poor child, why should I keep you alive?” she said. The child could be “an omen of vengeance for the rebels, and to the world the only tale as yet untold of Jewish misery.” Soon an odor that had been long absent from Jerusalem emanated from her dwelling: that of fresh meat cooking. It attracted

a band of rebels, who demanded that Mary produce her hidden food. She displayed her roasted baby, already half devoured.

“Overcome with instant horror, they stood immobile at the sight.” Mary invited them to eat as well. “Don’t pretend to be more tender than a woman

or more compassionate than a mother.” The men left trembling, “cowards for once,” and as the tale spread within and beyond the city it brought horror previously unmatched. Josephus reports the Jews as too sickened to know what to do with the woman, while some Romans simply refused to believe such a thing could happen. Josephus does not record her fate.

The climax of the war was now only days away. With the porticoes destroyed the Jews could no longer rain missiles down on the Romans, and Titus’s men completed the embankments and brought up siege engines. However, after six days of pounding, the north wall of the Temple Mount stood firm. On August 28 they brought up the battering ram but this too was ineffective. Though the Romans pried out several of the enormous blocks from the foundation it still did not topple. When they attempted to climb over the wall on ladders, the Jews easily overpowered them as they stepped off on top, or simply pushed the loaded ladders backward.

On the eighth day of the Jewish month of Ab (August 28), Titus ordered that the gates of the Temple be set on fire. The silver locks and hinges

melted quickly, and fire roared through the ruins of the porticoes. The Jews were stunned and retreated inside the Temple, while the Romans overran the open outer courts. All day and night the fire raged. The next day Titus ordered the flames put out and a road made through the ruins up to the north side of the Inner Temple. If possible he wanted to preserve the Temple as an architectural jewel of the empire.

Early on August 30 the Jews mustered another charge, attacking the Romans in the outer court. After three hours of fierce combat they were beaten back into the Temple. As the Romans resumed their attempts to put out the fire, the Jews renewed the attack. In this melee, one of the Romans seized a burning piece of wood and hurled it through a small window into the inner court, near the sanctuary itself. This began the Temple’s destruction, Josephus writes, noting that on precisely the same day, August 30, in the year 587 b.c., the First Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Both events would be mourned by the Jews for the next twenty centuries.

The Jews immediately concentrated on putting out the flames, and when Titus heard the news, he rushed out and gave orders to his men to do the same. However, Josephus records, the troops driven by fury stoked the fire further, while the Jews fled from the burning courts on the north side of the Temple toward the Nicanor Gate on the east, the Romans slaughtering all they could catch, even unarmed citizens. Blood poured down the Temple steps, and the bodies of those slain at the top slid to the bottom.

Titus and his generals then strode through the Temple, past the altar of sacrifice, up the steps to the Sanctuary. They ventured down the long hall, and found the end blocked by a curtain thirty feet high. Beyond it lay the Holy of Holies. Lifting the veil they stepped into a high, square room, a place dark and silent. They found it utterly empty.

What seemed impossible had come to pass. Gentiles were standing in the final sacred, secret place, the place the high priest alone dared enter, and he only once a year in fear and trembling. Into this place rough Gentiles had walked, tracking Jewish blood on their sandals. No angel of God had stopped them.

Then someone thrust a firebrand against a wooden gate, and the entire Inner Temple began to collapse in flames. Titus and his generals escaped, as did the rebels, but thousands of unarmed men, as well as women and children, clinging to the Temple as God’s last refuge for them, were hacked to death by soldiers in the smoke and confusion. Among them were looters, many of them Jews. Since all was lost anyway, why not get what you could, they reasoned, and began spiriting some of the sacred articles. Then the Romans arrived, intent on their own looting, says Josephus, “and the robbers were thrust out.” The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; the ground could not be seen anywhere between the corpses.14 By evening the Roman victory was complete. Soldiers brought the imperial standards into the Temple court and made sacrifices to them, a seal of defilement on the holiest place of the Jews. Lost in the fire and the devastation was the veil of the curtain. It was gone; the Temple was gone. The old order was gone. In final flame and fury, its function had been fulfilled.

Simon and John, hiding out in the Upper City, knew they were beaten. They asked to parley with Titus. He stood, backed by his troops on the Temple Mount at its western gate. If they threw down their arms, he said, he would spare their lives. Again the rebel leaders refused. They had made a vow, they said, not to trust his word. Instead, they offered to turn over the city to him wholesale if he would guarantee their personal safety, allowing them to escape to the wilderness. Titus, aware that armed parties of rebels, at large and terrorizing the countryside, would present a continuing and probably insoluble problem, rejected this offer with contempt, and authorized his troops to sack and burn the city.15

As his men began the destruction of Jerusalem, the rebels fled to Herod’s Palace. From here, they made their way down into the tunnels and sewers until the Romans dispersed them. Some of the priests handed over golden candlesticks, bowls, and other furnishings of the Temple in exchange for their own lives.

The Romans constructed earthworks one last time, one at Herod’s Palace and another from the west of the Temple Mount. At the sound of battering the rebels abandoned the palace, and the soldiers took it without a struggle. Pouring into the Upper City they then slaughtered indiscriminately and set everything ablaze. All night long the fire spread, and as dawn rose on September 26 the entire city was in flames. Thus vanished the Temple, stone by stone, until, as Jesus Christ had once said, not one was left upon another.

Meanwhile John, with some of his lieutenants and their families, groped their way through the city’s labyrinthine subterranean tunnels and passageways to make good their escape. Here they were caught by a Roman squad.

Simon on the other hand surrendered himself in a typically dramatic way. He had planned to dig a tunnel out of the city, but found the going impossible. So he robed himself in a white tunic and a regal purple cape and simply came above ground onto the Temple Mount, astonishing the soldiers there. They inquired who he was, but he refused to say, asking them to summon the officer in charge. This general immediately clapped Simon in irons.

Titus ordered that only the three great towers of Herod’s Palace remain standing in order to show what strength Rome had overcome. The western part of the lower retaining wall of the Temple Mount, which would be known to history as “the Wailing Wall,” was left standing, as were other parts of the retaining wall at the south and slightly east. Everything else was leveled. After awarding honors and spoils to the most valiant of his men, and assigning the Tenth Legion to garrison Jerusalem, Titus left the city a smoldering ruin. Though eager to go to Rome, he would have to wait for the spring sailing season. At Caesarea Philippi that fall he celebrated his brother’s and then his father’s birthdays with elaborate gladiatorial contests, killing great numbers of his Jewish prisoners of war as sport.

At Rome he was received with joy by his father, and a triumphal procession marched through the city. Seven hundred Jewish youths had been selected for this display, chosen for their stature and physique, and marched along in fine costumes. Josephus does not disclose the eventual fate of these young men, whether they were retained as personal slaves, or perished in gladiatorial combat.

Simon and John were part of the parade as well, dragged in chains, jeered by the mob and understandably terrified. The golden candelabrum of the Temple was displayed, as well as the scroll of the Torah, in Titus’s Arch of Triumph. This would remain standing for the next twenty centuries on the Forum Romanum, depicting in bas-relief the giant menorah borne over the wildly cheering crowd. The story of the war was displayed scene by scene on a series of giant floats, three or four stories high, and swathed in tapestries. On the floats other rebel leaders were placed, each dramatizing the circumstances in which he was captured. These pictorial spectacles, however, caused problems. The screens proved unwieldy, swayed wildly in the wind and gravely alarmed the crowd.

At the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol the parade came to a halt. It was the custom here during triumphal processions to execute the commander of the vanquished enemy’s forces. Simon was whipped and dragged to the spot, and the announcement of his death brought exuberant acclamation. John was spared to end his life in prison.

Meanwhile, back in Palestine, two hilltop fortresses in the wilderness remained in rebel hands. The new legate of Judea, Lucilius Bassus, gathered forces first against the fortress at Machaerus. As they laboriously filled in a ravine in order to lay the siege, an unusual event won them victory in a moment. A heroic and widely admired young Jew named Eleazar had lingered outside the fortress one day after skirmishes, talking with friends up on the ramparts, when a bold soldier ran up, picked up Eleazar armor and all, and carried him back to the Roman camp. This caused such noisy lamentation from those occupying the fortress that the general formulated a plan. He had Eleazar brought to a spot in view of the rebel defenders and then set up a cross as if to crucify him. At this point those in the fortress began to shriek, and Eleazar begged his fellows to give up and save his life. They did, and Bassus allowed the unarmed band to flee in safety.

Bassus died and was succeeded by Flavius Silva, who faced the task of retaking the fortress at Masada. Eleazar son of Jair, a relative of Menahem who had led the Sicarii, was holed up here with the remnant of that rebel band. The fortress was at the top of a mountain with sheer sides that dropped down into ravines, and so was all but impervious to assault.

But not altogether impervious, Silva decided. Patiently, month after month, he set the Romans to building a road up the steep slope towards the fortress. They finally reached and broke down the wall, only to find another erected behind it, this one constructed of wood and earth, to foil the battering ra

But not altogether impervious, Silva decided. Patiently, month after month, he set the Romans to building a road up the steep slope towards the fortress. They finally reached and broke down the wall, only to find another erected behind it, this one constructed of wood and earth, to foil the battering rams with its flexibility. The Romans simply burned it.

Eleazar knew immediately that all hope was lost. They could not escape, and the Romans would not spare them. He urged his men to choose death for themselves and their loved ones rather than let their wives be raped and their children enslaved. Some protested in tears, unable to bear the thought of killing those they loved, but Eleazar continued his exhortation till all reached a peak of fervor. Men embraced their wives and children, killing them while yet clinging to their kisses. They then torched all their possessions, except the food, so the Romans would not think starvation had brought them to the deed. Ten were chosen by lot to kill the rest, and then one to kill the nine, who at last drove his sword through his own body and fell beside his family.

At dawn the Romans came up for battle, but found the site deserted and in flames. They shouted, and at the sound a woman emerged from an underground aqueduct. A relative of Eleazar, she was “more intelligent and educated than most,” Josephus observes. With her was another woman, this one aged, and five little children. They had hidden themselves when the plan became clear, and were now able to explain what had happened. The Romans found it hard to believe, until they forced their way into the palace and saw the bodies of the dead.

This is the end of the Fall of Jerusalem category article drawn from Chapter Nine, beginning on page 239, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn. To continue reading more about Fall of Jerusalem from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at