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We must now turn to the writings of the Christian prophets for help in our reading of history, and in the first place to the older stratum or strata in the Revelation of John. In these visions the persecuting world-power appears as a 'beast arising out of the sea', an expression which bears witness to the Palestinian origin of the vision, for in Hebrew the word 'sea' is used to mean the west; though of course the sea was a symbol which had important imaginative associations, derived ultimately from the chaos and darkness of the creation myth of the oriental world.
The beast is a horrible monster who wins the worship of the world. He is the devil's champion against the saints of God; he is the opponent of the Lamb of God, or Son of Man, who is the leader of the saints. His general likeness to a leopard, his claws like those of a bear, and his mouth like that of a lion, would remind the Christian reader of the aspects of Roman government which he met with in Nero's garden or in the amphitheatre. Those who follow and worship him are said to have 'his mark, the number of the beast or the number of his name upon their right hand or upon their forehead, just as a pious Jew wore the name of his God upon his left hand or upon his forehead. This mysterious number is six hundred and sixty and six. Those who resist the beast are the' hundred and forty and four thousand' who stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion, and follow him wherever he goes.
These figures were symbols in their own right, and we can partially unravel their meaning. Twelve is the number of the signs of the zodiac and of the months of the year; of the sons of Jacob and the disciples of Jesus; of the true Israel and of the elect people of God. The twelve tribes or the twelve-times-twelve clans are the full and total number of |222 all the faithful who encircle their sun Jesus Christ and are the heirs of his universal kingdom. Such explanations always seem to fall short of the glory of the poetry which the prophet wrote, but they point the way to its understanding. The figure six seems to stand for the 'ungodly', man as he exists apart from God and in defiance of him; it just falls short of the perfect number seven; it is only half of the heavenly number twelve. The half of seven appears in the symbolic time which is allotted to the tyranny of the 'beast'; it is' a time and [two] times and half a time': one period plus two periods plus half a period, making three and a half periods. The ungodly kingdom cannot finish a perfect course; it crashes half-way through it.
Another image in the Revelation which belongs to this period is that of the Great Harlot, or Whore of Babylon, who is 'arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls ... and drunken with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus'. A majority of scholars still believe this repellent figure to be the city of Rome, but we commend the identification with Jerusalem,the first great centre of persecution, where Jesus, Stephen, James the son of Zebedee, and James the Just, with many others, had been murdered at the instigation of a corrupt priesthood. The figure of the harlot throughout Hebrew prophecy has the meaning of the community of Israel or city of Jerusalem, which was meant to be the bride of God but had proved unfaithful to him. 'How is the faithful city become a harlot', says Isaiah; and when the city which is called Babylon in the Revelation is destroyed by fire, its place is taken by the descent from heaven of a new Jerusalem which is called the bride of the Lamb.
We have here a mode of writing history which is strange to us, though it has a modern parallel in the political cartoonist, with his bears and lions and eagles, or his bull-dogs and elephants and donkeys. The mind which thinks in images can sometimes portray the true character of a political movement or public personality more effectively and dramatically than the critic or commentator, and in half the time. But there is more than this in the Judaeo-Christian apocalyptic. There is a philosophy of history which is based on the conviction that Almighty God is all-active and all-powerful in the world of nature and in the world of men; he pulls down one and sets up another; he gives the
|223 kingdom to whom he will. The real independence of nature in its sphere is not denied, nor the free will of men; they are asserted; but the supreme 'pantocratoric' power is of God. He rules over all things, for that is the meaning of the word pantocrator, which is translated 'Almighty'. The emperor (or the devil) is only cosmocrator ; he rules the world. This sheer faith in Almighty God runs through the whole Hebrew scriptures and is expressed especially vividly in the symbolic tales of Daniel. It is the origin and root of the gospel of God's 'kingdom' which Jesus proclaimed in Galilee. Everyone who has this faith sees, at every point in history, the will of God working out his purposes with men and nations, despite their unruly wills and affections.
There are two possible views about the oldest visions of the Revelation. According to one view they were the work of an unknown prophet or school of prophets who witnessed in Palestine about this time; and they were incorporated into the Revelation when John composed it in Ephesus about thirty years later. Others think that the John who wrote in Ephesus was himself the author of the early prophecies. He certainly made the claim.
In his tenth chapter he describes his call to be a prophet. A mighty angel descends from heaven with an open scroll in his hand. His face is like the sun; the rainbow encircles his head; he plants one foot on the sea and the other on the land; he lifts up his right hand into heaven and declares with a voice like a lion roaring that there will be no more time; that is to say no more delay in executing the judgement of God. The angel represents the 'Word of God' which had come to all the prophets and now came to the author of the Revelation. The scroll is delivered to him, and likewise a 'reed' like a rod with which he is to measure the sanctuary of God, and the altar, and those who worship there. His ministry, that is to say, is in Jerusalem. In the continuation of this passage Jerusalem is described as the place where God's witnesses are opposed and persecuted; their dead bodies lie 'in the street of the Great City, which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified'. There is no doubt, therefore, where we are. We have the inspired utterances of a Christian prophet who maintained his witness in the 'Great City' during the bad years.
|224 It is the eleventh chapter which contains this Jerusalem oracle. The twelfth tells of the mystical birth of the Saviour; the thirteenth contains the vision of the beast from the sea, originally perhaps Caligula, but now Nero; in the fourteenth we have the 'hundred and forty and four thousands' on the Mount Zion, that is to say the followers of Jesus who are destined to be martyrs; and this is followed by a brief vision of the gospel sweeping through the world. It is the only use of the word 'gospel' in all the Johannine writings.
I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to announce to those that dwell upon the earth, and to every nation and kindred and people and tongue.
(Rev. xiv. 6.)
This is precisely the same historical moment that is emphasized so strongly in Mark: 'This Gospel must first be announced to all the nations.' It is the point in history which we have now reached.
The Revelation gives us a contemporary Christian voice from Jerusalem, and the 'Little Apocalypse' of Mark gives us a contemporary voice from Rome. They enable us to understand how Christians spoke and prayed when they attended their meetings under the shadow of persecution and impending world-chaos. Many scholars think that the thirteenth chapter of Mark had been reduced to writing before it was incorporated in his Gospel as an introduction to the Passion narrative. Like John's vision of the beast rising from the sea, it may be as old as the period of Caligula, 37-41; and it bears the names of the first four apostles, Peter and Andrew, and James, and John. No doubt it was widely circulated. It was designed to be read in the ecclesia with explanations by the lector; for at one point there is a note which says, 'Let the reader understand', that is to say exercise his intelligence; he was to give an explanation, or possibly substitute some plainer form of speech. We see in the Revelation of John and the Pastor of Hermas that prophetic material was written down and then read to the ecclesia; we gather from the note in Mark that comment or expansion or paraphrase was in order; for it was a living tradition which elucidated current history. This would explain a certain freedom of handling |225 which can be observed when we study how Matthew and Luke reproduce this chapter.
It resembles the visions of John in another particular; its background is Palestinian, and yet it extends its view to cover the world-situation. It begins with a warning against false leaders who will arise in the nation and make misleading pretensions. It goes on to speak of a period of world-war and world-confusion. It gives warning of persecutions, so bringing the martyrdoms into its view of history. The apostles will be universally hated because of Christ's name; and yet the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations; nothing can prevent that. And we are just at the point when Mark is making his transcript in Rome and John is bearing his witness in Jerusalem: and both are looking for a denouement. It is the time when the world-harvest will be reaped. The Son of Man, who came sowing the seed when the generation opened, will come again to reap the harvest as the generation closes. The Jerusalem which rejected him forty years before will be judged now, and the whole system of priesthood and sacrifice will be swept away for ever. Not one stone will be left to stand upon another.
A third point in common thus comes to light. In both cases the scene of the oracles has the Temple as its background. In Mark the opening words are uttered in the Temple and predict its destruction, and the rest of the Little Apocalypse is an expansion of this utterance. In the Revelation the first work of the seer is succeeded by his commission to 'measure' the Temple. We can see therefore without difficulty the view of current history which unifies Christian apocalyptic. The city which crucified the Lord and killed his prophets is to be judged; the Temple and priestly system are to be destroyed; and the agent is to be the ungodly imperial power, evil though it is. Our minds go back to the 'blasphemous words' which Stephen was said to have uttered against this 'holy place'; and not only to Stephen, but to words which Jesus was alleged to have spoken when he was examined in the house of Annas, who was the father and evil genius of the Jerusalem priesthood. Time had been allowed for repentance; the old policy of violence and oppression had continued; judgement will now take place.
We turn to the pages of Josephus for the record of the actual events; and we shall find that he, too, thinks that the destruction of the holy city was due to the judgement of God.
Law and order would appear to have broken down altogether in Judaea. The new procurator Gessius Florus, who succeeded Albinus in 64, seems to have been the worst of a bad series, and openly plundered the unfortunate country. According to Josephus, he goaded the Jews into rebellion in order to cover up his own tyranny and misgovernment. At the Passover of 66 he went up to Jerusalem with the idea of getting possession of the Temple treasure, and there was resistance and scenes of violence in the streets. He retired after an indiscriminate massacre, but had not been successful in his design.
The revolutionary parties among the people, known as Zealots or Cananeans or Sicarii (dagger-men), were eager for war. They had a fanatical faith which made them entirely confident that God would defend his city; but the wealthy and respectable were on the side of conciliation. King Agrippa II made a speech in favour of submission to Rome, or at any rate Josephus, who wrote under his patronage, put such a speech into his mouth. It was, of course, the policy which Agrippa advocated. It had no effect upon the people whatever, and he went off to his kingdom in Galilee and Trachonitis.
The first gesture of defiance was made by the governor of the Temple, a young man named Eleazar, whose father was the ex-high priest Ananias, before whom St Paul had been tried eight years previously. He refused to allow any gift to be accepted on behalf of a non-Jew; and this meant that the customary sacrifice for the emperor could not be offered. It was a breach of allegiance. The high priests and other magnates protested, but Eleazar had the support of the Zealots. Fighting broke out in the streets between the two factions. Eleazar and the Zealots took possession of the Temple and the eastern part of the city, where it stood; the high priests and their party, who were all for peace, held the higher part of the city which rose up toward the west of the Temple. Here the palace and fortresses of King Herod the Great were situated.
While this was going on, a picturesque figure arrived from Galilee. This was Menahem, a third son of the famous Judas of Galilee, the founder of the Zealot party. Menahem ensconced himself in the Trans-jordanian fortress of Masada, which had been seized by the insurgents. He seized the arms and supplies which he found there, and entered |227 Jerusalem, where he gave himself the airs of a king. He attacked the party of the high priests, murdering the ex-high priest Ananias. Eleazar the son of Ananias rallied some support, attacked Menahem, and killed him.
What remained of the Roman garrison was induced to surrender by a promise that their lives would be spared; but as soon as they laid down their arms they were massacred by order of Eleazar. The troops which had been sent by King Agrippa were permitted to leave. It is not to be wondered at that a wave of violence spread throughout the eastern world. There was a massacre of Jews in Caesarea and desperate fighting between Jews and Syrians in the Gentile cities of Galilee and Decapolis. It was at this time that Gadara, Pella, and other Peraean cities fell into the hands of the insurgent Jews.
It fell to Cestius, who was the legate in Antioch, to deal with the revolt. He lost no time in marching southward to Ptolemais with the twelfth legion. He left his assistant Gallus at Sepphoris, with the legion, to subdue Galilee, and went on to Caesarea to restore order there. Gallus soon rejoined him, though it would seem that he had not reduced Galilee to order, many of the Gentile cities in Galilee and Decapolis remaining in Jewish hands. He had decided to march immediately on Jerusalem, and Josephus thought that the war could have been brought to an end then by resolute action; but, for some unknown reason, Cestius retired after establishing himself in sight of the gates of the city. His retreat to Caesarea became a rout, for he was pursued by Zealot troops under Simon the son of Geiora. This occurred after the Feast of Tabernacles in 66, that is to say in September or October. Nothing more would be done in the way of hostilities till the following spring.
There was an interval, therefore, before hostilities began in real earnest; and, as Josephus quaintly says, 'many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city as from a ship when it is going to sink'. By these he probably meant the wealthier citizens and some of the reputable Jewish Rabbis who settled in Jamnia (Jabneh) and became the founders of the new Judaism. Their leader was Johanan ben Zakkai, a pupil of Hillel, who, according to Mishnaic traditions, was carried out of the city in a coffin by his pupils Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Rabbi Joshua ben Hananya. A Jewish-Christian tradition which is preserved by Eusebius and Epiphanius tells how the Christians left Jerusalem before the siege and migrated to a Gentile city named Pella |228 in Peraea, in obedience to 'a certain oracle which was vouchsafed by way of revelation to approved men'. They abandoned the witness to the gospel which they had maintained for forty years. They left the city to its doom.
According to Josephus, however, the city of Pella had been 'laid waste' (looted?) by insurgent Jews, and may still have been in their hands. The condition of Jamnia is uncertain. Perhaps Jerusalem Christians took refuge in the hill-country of Judaea during the winter of 66-67 and organized their flight to Pella in 67. Or perhaps they did not leave Jerusalem until a year or more later.
The record of Josephus is full of prophecies and oracles. As early as 62, the year in which James the Just was murdered, a peasant named Jesus ben Ananus appeared at the Feast of Tabernacles, repeating in a melancholy sing-song,
A voice from the east, a voice from the west,
A voice from the four winds!
A voice against Jerusalem and the holy house,
A voice against the bridegrooms and the brides,
A voice against the whole people!
He maintained his witness for a period of seven years, in spite of torture and punishment inflicted upon him by the authorities, and he died in the last year of the war. It may have been in the springtime of that same year, 62, a week before the Passover, that the priests whose duty it was to tend the altar fire, entering in the dark hour before dawn, found a light shining round the altar as bright as day; and a month later, also in the night-time, the great eastern gate, which could with difficulty be shut by twenty men, opened of its own accord. At the Feast of Pentecost, also in the night, the priests felt a quaking and heard a great noise, and after that the sound of a multitude saying,' Let us remove hence.' The Mishnah, too, preserves such stories; for there was a night, it was said, when the eastern gate of the Temple flew open of its own accord, and Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai quote the ominous prophecy, ' Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.' Such were the tales men told one another.
|229 In comparison with such portents the Christian signs and oracles seem plain and straightforward. If we turn, for instance, to the Little Apocalypse in Mark, we find these words:
When ye shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not – let the reader take note – then let those who are in Judaea fly to the mountains.
(Mark xiii. 14.)
Fortunately the only enigma in this sentence presents no problem. The ' abomination of desolation', as Matthew points out, was ' spoken of by Daniel the prophet', who meant by it the capture of Jerusalem by the army of the world-emperor, and the desecration of the temple.
Nero now sent to Palestine one of his most distinguished generals, Vespasian, an unemotional, fair-minded, practical man, who took his time and looked after every detail. He had had experience of similar work in Britain. He was in no hurry to begin operations; for the Jews in Jerusalem were not of one mind, though they were co-operating with one another for the moment. The fierce and ruthless Simon ben Geiora had taken to banditry in the country east and south of Jerusalem, which was at that time the preserve of the Idumaeans (Edomites). He finally joined forces with the Galilean Zealots who held the fortress of Masada and had lost their old leader Menahem.
In June of 67 Vespasian moved into Galilee, where he was welcomed by the important, mainly Gentile, city of Sepphoris. He methodically reduced the various towns and villages of Galilee, which held out against him under the command of the historian Josephus, who acted with admirable energy and courage. How Josephus managed to extricate himself from the attentions of his countrymen after the fall of Jotapata, and attach himself to Vespasian, must be read in his own words; we admire his nerve and ingenuity, but not so whole-heartedly |230 as he did himself. Arrived at the Roman headquarters, he posed as a prophet and delivered oracles which hinted that Vespasian would become the master of the world. This was confirmed by a response from the shrine of Elijah on Mount Carmel.
The last city in Galilee to be taken by Vespasian was the small town of Gischala, which was fiercely defended by a redoubtable rival of Josephus named John. John of Gischala slipped out and arrived safely in Jerusalem, where he inflamed the anti-Roman feeling. He was a stronger character than any one he found there. Eleazar was still in command of the Temple and its area. The priests and other magnates still held their own on the higher part of the city to the west, where Herod's palaces and fortresses were. Their leader was the ex-high priest Ananus (Annas II) who had directed the persecution in which James the Just had died as a martyr. Josephus now paints him as a wise, strong, public-spirited leader, by which he means that he was pro-Roman at heart. Ananus made the mistake of confiding fully in John who was a revolutionary at heart; for a social revolution was in progress. The chief supporters of the Zealot insurrection were the oppressed peasantry or young penniless hot-heads who had nothing to lose. They looted and burned the palaces of the wealthy, and destroyed the records of their indebtedness.
As the movement gathered force they decided to set up a high priest of their own, whom they chose by lot, which they claimed was the ancient tradition; the apostles had used the same method in filling a vacancy in the numbers of the Twelve.This revolutionary high priest was an ignorant rustic named Phanni, Josephus says, and was probably named after Phineas the Zealot high priest in the book of Numbers. The legitimate high priest, Matthias the son of Theophilus, still held out in the upper city, but the Zealots with their new high priest had control of the Temple. At some point after this schism John of Gischala parted from the old high priests and went over to the Zealots and became their leader. Ananus still had a strong following, however, in the upper city and managed to establish control of the outer courts of the temple on the western side.
Since the Zealots were too weak to overcome Ananus without help, |231 they made an alliance with the Edomites, whose territory at this time extended as near to Jerusalem as Hebron. They were closely akin to the Jews, and had been incorporated into the Jewish national and religious life, but it seems that old feelings of enmity persisted. John succeeded in admitting them into the city by night, and there was a fearful slaughter which included two ex-high priests, Ananus himself and Jesus the son of Gamaliel, with many of their supporters. There was a revolutionary orgy. Mock tribunals were set up which convicted them of collaboration with the Romans; and among the victims was a certain Zachariah the son of Baruch (or Barachias) whose name has found its way, by a curious error, into St Matthew's Gospel (xxiii. 35).
The remains of the more conservative party continued to hold out in the upper city under the legitimate high priest Matthias.
Meanwhile Vespasian had occupied Gadara, and left his legate Placi-dus to complete the occupation of Peraea, which he was very successful in doing. By the spring of the following year the whole of Trans-jordania was in Roman hands.
In March of 68 Vespasian was in Caesarea, and began the subjugation of the villages and towns of Judaea, including Lydda and Jamnia, in preparation for an attack on Jerusalem later in the summer. Officers were assigned to the task of rebuilding devastated towns and villages. Unfortunately his whole plan of campaign was interrupted by the news of civil war in Europe and the suicide of Nero on 9 June. When the news reached him he was at Jericho, where he had joined forces with Placidus; he returned to Caesarea in order to have his army ready for any eventuality. It was in this way that a second suspension of hostilities occurred; and this may be the more likely point at which to place the Christian migration to Pella and the Rabbinic migration to Jamnia, since these towns were now in Roman hands.
The revolt against Nero had begun in Gaul, and the legions in Spain proclaimed their commander Galba as emperor and marched on Rome. Public feeling in Rome had turned against Nero and he was declared a 'public enemy' by the senate. He committed suicide, with some assistance, in order to avoid arrest and execution. Galba arrived in Rome in October with Otho, who was the previous husband of Nero's late |232 second wife Poppaea; but he was not popular, and it became clear that this would not be a final settlement. There was another year of confusion and conflict in the empire. Perhaps the author of the Revelation had this in mind when he made his 'fifth angel' pour out his vial of retribution upon the ' throne of the beast', so that the ' kingdom of the beast was darkened'.
In January of 69 another emperor, Vitellius by name, was proclaimed by the legions of Germany, which proceeded to invade Italy in order to establish him at Rome. At the same time Galba was assassinated by the praetorian guard, and replaced as emperor by his friend Otho. The forces of Otho met the forces of Vitellius in battle, and were defeated. Otho committed suicide.
Vitellius was now emperor, but the legions of the east had not spoken. Under the proconsul of Syria, Mucianus, they declared their allegiance to Vespasian and began the long march on Rome. The Danubian legions, one of which had recently come from Syria, made the same decision. They reached Italy, and defeated the forces of Vitellius at Cremona. In the westward march of these legions from the Danube and Euphrates we may perhaps see the historical events which suggested to the author of the Revelation that his sixth angel should pour out his vial ' on the great River Euphrates, to prepare the way for the kings from the east'; a march which would be a prelude to world-wide war, and the battle in 'the place called Armageddon'.
Vitellius was put to death on 20 December 69 and Vespasian, who had been declared emperor at Alexandria on July 1, was accepted in Rome, Mucianus with his Syrian legions taking command of the city on his behalf. In these wars the whole 'world' was set in confusion by the armed rising of three different groups of legions, each with its candidate for the position of emperor. Italy suffered the horrors of civil war, and Rome witnessed scenes of violence in which emperors and aristocrats were put to death and the old temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill was burned to the ground. In these events Roman Christians could recognize the 'wars and rumours of wars' of the Little Apocalypse of Mark. 'Do not be disturbed,' it adds, 'the end is not yet.'
A long respite, therefore, was granted to the Jews, and they may well have thought that God had intervened for a second time to save Jerusalem from the ungodly. The various parties in the city made good use of their time to strengthen their positions and resources, but not to compose their differences.
The conflict between the Zealots in the Temple area under John and Eleazar and the priestly party in the upper city under Matthias was still going on. The withdrawal of the Roman armies had permitted Simon the son of Geiora, whom Josephus regards as the most ruthless of them all, to occupy the Edomite territory, including the ancient city of Hebron, about twenty-five miles south of Jerusalem. In the spring of 69 the fatal idea occurred to Matthias and his supporters (who were now allied with the intruding Edomites) of making an agreement with Simon, who was terrorizing the country outside the city. Simon established himself in the city, but failed to get control of the Temple; he shared the control of the upper city with the priestly party.
Early in 70 Eleazar, the original leader of the rebellion, parted company with John, who was now aiming at the leadership of the Zealot forces, and the city was divided into three zones. Between the upper city, where Simon was now established, and the 'mountain of the Lord's house', where Eleazar was established, there was at that time a depression which was called the Valley of the Cheese-makers; here John was in control. The three leaders indulged in mutual warfare, loot, and massacre.
We may illustrate this state of affairs from the oracle in the Revelation, in which the 'seventh angel' pours out his vial upon the air, and a voice comes out of the Temple, which says, 'It is done'; and there are lightnings and thunders and a great earthquake and 'the Great City was divided into three parts '; the Great City having been previously defined (Rev. xi. 8) as the city in which the Lord of the martyrs had been crucified.
Babylon the Great was remembered before God (the Revelation continues), and 'great hail weighing as much as a talent fell from heaven upon men'; this apocalyptic touch may also be illustrated from Josephus, to whom we now turn for the last phase in the tragic story.
At the beginning of A.D. 70 Vespasian had left Alexandria for Rome and Titus, his eldest son, returned to Caesarea and marched against Jerusalem, not long before the Feast of the Passover. He occupied the heights of Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives, to the north and east of the city. The need to unite in battle against the Romans did not modify in the least the ferocity with which the three parties in the city fought against one another, or the savagery with which they treated the unfortunate inhabitants of the city, especially if they were suspected of attempting to escape to the enemy. Great crowds came in as usual for the Passover, and John took advantage of this situation to attack and defeat his rival Eleazar, thus gaining control of the Temple area which was well stocked with provisions. Not long after this Simon got the high priest Matthias and his sons into his power, and after a mock trial put them to death. And so the Jewish high priesthood came to an end.
Meanwhile Titus had brought up his siege train, and had begun to batter the walls and towers with his catapults; and this bombardment may have suggested the oracle about the hail in the Revelation.
The stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and carried two furlongs or more. ... The Jews at first used to watch the coming of the stone, for it was of a white colour, and therefore ... it could be seen before it came, by its brightness. Accordingly the watchmen that sat upon the towers used to give them warning when the catapults were let go, and the stone came from them, by shouting in their own language, The son is coming.
(Josephus, Wars, v, 6, 3.)
This odd scrap of Christian apocalyptic is sometimes emended by the translators into 'The stone is coming'; but the Greek text of Josephus reads huios (son); and the irreverent use of a Christian sacred text by Jewish soldiers is a lively and likely touch.Josephus adds that the Romans soon made their stones invisible by painting them black.
The summer months came on, and the Roman soldiers penetrated into the northern part of the city, taking three successive fortifications by |235 grim and bloody fighting. They took possession of the 'Tower of Antonia', the fortress or castle adjoining the Temple on the north, which had been the headquarters of successive Roman governors. All hope of any further deserters escaping from the city, or of food getting in, or of sorties breaking out, was effectively blocked by a wall or mound which was built by the orders of Titus so as completely to surround the city.
The days will come [we find written in St Luke's gospel as an oracle of Jesus] when thine enemies shall surround thee with a wall, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee, and shall not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
(Luke xix. 43-4.)
It has been held that this oracle, unlike the oracle quoted from Mark, has been so paraphrased by the evangelist as to reflect clearly the events of the siege; and if this view is correct, it gives us an additional reason for assigning this gospel to a date after A.D. 70. It is a quite conventional picture of a siege, however, and closely resembles Isaiah xxix. 3, on which it may be modelled.
The Tower of Antonia was in the hands of the Romans by the seventeenth day of the Jewish midsummer month Tammuz. This day was observed by the Jews as a solemn fast, for it was the anniversary of the day, more than six hundred years before, when the Babylonian armies had broken into the holy city and captured it. Josephus adds that the daily sacrifices ceased to be offered on this day. Just as he fortifies his narrative with prophetic utterances, so he marks the coincidences of place and time which have so powerfully affected the Jewish liturgical tradition; for these dates are found in the Mishnah as well as in Josephus, and the days are still observed.
Three weeks after Tammuz 17 came another dark day. It was the tenth day of the month Ab (July-August), on which Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had burned the Temple of King Solomon in the year 586 B.C. This day, too, was observed as a solemn fast until the Temple was rebuilt in the days of Haggai and Zechariah, when the latter prophet ordained that it should henceforth be a joyful festival. On the first day of this month the Roman soldiers fought their way to the gates of the Temple, where great numbers had taken refuge, trusting in the assurances of Zealot prophets that the sanctuary of God |236 could not fall into the hands of his enemies. On the eighth the battering rams were brought up, and there was fierce fighting. On the ninth fire was applied to the gates, which were still burning on the tenth. On the tenth the Roman soldiers broke into the inner courts, and, in spite of orders given by Titus to the contrary, a soldier set fire to 'the holy house' as Josephus calls it. It burned so fiercely that nothing could save it; but not before Titus was able to go into the Holy of Holies, as Pompey the Great had done a hundred and thirty-three years before, and save the gorgeous veils and other ornaments, which later on adorned the imperial palace in Rome.
The old Hebrew religious and national tradition had now come to an end, never more to be revived. The Romans brought their military ensigns, many of them bearing the effigy of the eagle, and set them up opposite the eastern gate. There they offered sacrifices to the ensigns and hailed Titus as emperor. Thus the 'abomination of desolation' was set up 'where it ought not'; or as it is paraphrased in Matthew, 'in the holy place'.
We have interwoven with our narrative, which is taken from Josephus and corroborated by Tacitus so far as Tacitus is extant, the Jewish and Christian interpretation of history which is called apocalypse. History and prophecy are identical in the Hebrew way of thinking. Both are dramatic presentations of God's dealings with men, whether in creative symbols or in poetic narrative. In the Old Testament the so-called historical books of Samuel and Kings are classified as 'the former prophets'. In the New Testament the Revelation is as much a book of history as Acts itself. It is a mistake, therefore, to say that we have no contemporary study of the fall of Jerusalem and the other great historical events of our period.We have the Christian analysis of the history; our difficulty is to interpret it.
We have applied to the historical events of our present period three oracles from the Revelation which certainly agree with them very well; but it cannot be said that scholars generally would agree with our application. There is another oracle, however, which belongs to the series of Jerusalem visions without any reasonable doubt. It is the |237 vision of the white cloud in chapter xiv, and one sitting upon it like the Son of Man, having a golden crown upon his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 'Send out the sickle and reap,' cries an angel who appears from the Temple, 'for the hour is come to reap and the harvest of the land is over-ripe.' So the sickle is cast into the earth and the earth is reaped.
Another sickle is then brought, and another angel calls for the cutting of the clusters of the vine of the land. The angel with the sickle casts it upon the land, and the vine is cut down and cast into the great winepress of the wrath of God; 'and the wine-press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the wine-press up to the bridles of the horses, from one thousand six hundred furlongs'. We cannot altogether thread our way through this imagery, and perhaps the details are not meant to be interpreted with meticulous accuracy; but two great thoughts are entwined together which we can readily separate; one is the Crucifixion of the Son of Man in the year 30, when he trod the wine-press alone outside the City, and of the people there was none with him; the other is the day of judgement in the year 70, when he came again, and the vine of Israel was cut down and trodden in the winepress of war. This vision is followed by that of the seven angels from which we have already quoted three oracles; the darkening of the kingdom of the beast, the coming of the kings from the east, the division of the great city into three parts, and the falling of the great hail. These lead up to the battle of Armageddon and the destruction of the Whore of Babylon. A majority of scholars identify Babylon with Rome and consider that the vision of its destruction anticipates a fearful vengeance upon that city; we advocate the identification with Jerusalem, whose fearful and dramatic end was the most terrifying event of the century.
On any interpretation of this evidence enough remains to inform us in what terms the Christian churches discussed the wars of the emperors and the fall of Jerusalem.
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