From "The works of Nathaniel Lardner,
It will certainly be worth the while
to take a testimony from these writers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and
the temple there. I shall therefore transcribe and translate almost word for
word a long passage out of the Babylonian Talmud, in the title Gittin,
“'This is the
tradition. Rabbi Elieser said: Go. And see how the blessed and holy God
helped Bar-kamtza, and he destroyed his house, and burnt up his temple,
and made Jerusalem ' desolate.' [Here is inserted an account of a
trifling discourse and difference between some rabbins.] '
Whereupon he [Bar-kamtza] went to Rome, and said to the emperor Nero,
The Jews have rebelled against thee. Who says this, said the emperor ?
Kamtza answered: Send ' to them a sacrifice ; see if they will offer it.
Bar-kamtza returned. Nero sent by him an heifer. ' three years old. As
he was going he made a blemish in the mouth of it; others say in the
pupil of its eye: according to the opinion of others it was no blemish.
The rabbins therefore «thought it ought to be offered for preserving the
peace of the nation. But Rabbi Zacharias, son ' of Onkelos, said: Shall
blemished sacrifices be offered upon the altar ? He that brings '
blemished sacrifices into the sanctuary ought to be put to death. R.
Jochanan said: The superstition of R. Zacharias has destroyed our house,
and burnt up our temple, and overthrown our city, and caused us to be
led captive out of our land. Bar-kamtza therefore sent an account of
these things to Nero—Nero said: The great and blessed God has determined
by me to destroy his house. And he sent against them Vespasian, who came
and besieged Jerusalem three years and a half. In the mean time there
came a messenger to him, who ' said: Arise, for the emperor Nero is
dead, and the nobles of the Romans have agreed to ' make thee emperor.
He went and sent the impious Titus his son—This is the impious Titus, '
who blasphemed the Most High, even God himself. What did he do? He took
a harlot into the holy of holies, and there lay with her: and he took a
sword and cut the veils ; at the same time there was a miracle, for
blood burst out: he thought he had killed God himself—Well, what did he
? He took the veils and made a sack of them, and put into it all the
vessels of the ' sanctuary: and then put them in a ship, that he might
go and triumph in his city...There stood against him a dragon, that he
might drown him in the sea. He said, I think the God of these men has no
power but in the sea. Pharaoh arose, and he drowned him in the sea. He
has a mind to destroy me in the like manner : if he has power, let him
come upon the dry land and make war with me. There went forth a
voice and said to him : O impious son of the wicked man, O son of the
impious son of Esau, there is a contemptible creature in my world,
called a gnat: go upon the dry land, and you shall make war against it.
God presently rebuked the sea, and it was calm. He went out upon the dry
land, and the gnat came, and entered into ' his nose, and gnawed his
brain seven years, and killed him.'”
J. De Voisin, in his notes upon this
passage, particularly the last words of it, quotes some Jewish authors, who
say, 'the story of the fly is not to be understood literally, but
mystically, and allegorically, intending to insinuate in men's minds a
persuasion of the power of God, and ' that he is able to abase those who
rise up against him, and to punish the proudest of men by ' very
contemptible creatures.' Nor is it any wonder that some should be ashamed of
this silly story of the fly getting up a man's nose, and dwelling there
seven years. But men of true wisdom can find out more cleanly allegories
than this, when they are disposed to make use of that kind of instruction.
Nor has Voisin alleged any Jewish
authors, who condemn the horrible story of Titus defiling the sanctuary of
the temple with lewdness: though Martini has alleged another Jewish writing
in great repute, whereby the same story is told with all the same horrible,
or yet more horrible, circumstances of filthiness, if such there can be :
nor is the concluding part of that narrative of the Talmud there omitted.
But I presume the Divine Being never arms his feeble creatures to destroy or
annoy men for no fault at all for none, but such as are only imputed to them
by those who give a loose to their tongues, to lie and calumniate as they
please: for Titus, when he went into the temple at Jerusalem all in flames,
neither committed lewdness there, nor did he blaspheme the Deity.
Behold then the temper, the
incorrigible temper, of the Jewish people, and their rabbins, the Talmudical
writers. Their temple had been burnt up, their city destroyed, their land
laid waste, and they carried into captivity: but, instead of repenting, they
revile him who, under God, had been the instrument of their chastisement; a
prince, who, as good authority says, was as remarkable for the humanity, the
compassion, and equity, in his manner of subduing them, as for his military
skill and courage. Who then are the men who exalt themselves against God ?
But I may no longer indulge myself in
such reflections as these. Let us attend for our own benefit. Here is a
testimony to the destruction of Jerusalem from Talmudical writers: they
agree very much with Josephus in their account of the origin of the war.
He says that Eleazar, '”then
captain at the temple, persuaded those who officiated in sacred things, not
to accept the gift or sacrifice of a stranger: which was the occasion of the
war.” The Talmudists say the same thing in different words, after their
manner. According to this account also, the war broke out near the end of
the reign of Nero, who sent Vespasian general into Judea. Whilst Vespasian
was there, carrying on the war, Nero died, and he was chosen to succeed him.
When he was. chosen emperor at Rome, he sent Titus to carry on the war in
Judea : the issue of which was, that the temple was burnt up, their city
destroyed, and their whole government overthrown, and they carried into
captivity. Moreover, as they here own, Titus was in possession of the veils
and sacred vessels of the temple which he took with him to adorn his triumph
at Rome. All this (though they relate not particularly the distresses of the
siege of Jerusalem) is said, not very differently from Josephus, and more
agreeably to him in some respects, than by Josippon, who afterwards wrote at
length the history of the war, as we shall see by and by." (pp. 558-560)
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