"And as He went forth out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto Him, Master, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings! And Jesus said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be thrown down." - Mark 13:1,2.
There is scarcely another period in history so full of vice, corruption, and disaster as the six years between the Neronian persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem. The prophetic description of the last days by our Lord began to be fulfilled before the generation to which he spoke had passed away, and the day of judgment seemed to be close at hand. So the Christians believed and had good reason to believe. Even to earnest heathen minds that period looked as dark as midnight. We have elsewhere quoted Seneca's picture of the frightful moral depravity and decay under the reign of Nero, his pupil and murderer. Tacitus begins his history of Rome after the death of Nero with these words: "I proceed to a work rich in disasters, full of atrocious battles, of discord and rebellion, yea, horrible even in peace. Four princes [Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian] killed by the sword; three civil wars, several foreign wars; and mostly raging at the same time. Favorable events in the East [the subjection of the Jews], unfortunate ones in the West. Illyria disturbed, Gaul uneasy; Britain conquered and soon relinquished; the nations of Sarmatia and Suevia rising against us; the Parthians excited by the deception of a pseudo-Nero. Italy also weighed down by new or oft-repeated calamities; cities swallowed up or buried in ruins; Rome laid waste by conflagrations, the old temples burned up, even the capitol set on fire by citizens; sanctuaries desecrated; adultery rampant in high places. The sea filled with exiles; the rocky islands contaminated with murder. Still more horrible the fury in the city. Nobility, riches, places of honor, whether declined or occupied, counted as crimes, and virtue sure of destruction." (1)
THE APPROACHING DOOM
The most unfortunate country in this period was Palestine, where an ancient and venerable nation brought upon itself unspeakable suffering and destruction. The tragedy of Jerusalem prefigures in miniature the final judgment, and in this light it is represented in the eschatological discourses of Christ, who foresaw the end from the beginning.
The forbearance of God with his covenant people, who had crucified their own Saviour, reached it last its limit. As many as could be saved in the usual way, were rescued. The mass of the people had obstinately set themselves against all improvement. James the Just, the man who was fitted, if any could be, to reconcile the Jews to the Christian religion, had been stoned by his hardened brethren, for whom he daily interceded in the temple; and with him the Christian community in Jerusalem had lost its importance for that city. The hour of the "great tribulation" and fearful judgment drew near. The prophecy of the Lord approached its literal fulfillment: Jerusalem was razed to the ground, the temple burned, and not one stone was left upon another. (2)
Not long before the outbreak of the Jewish war, seven years before the siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 63), a peasant by the name of Joshua, or Jesus, appeared in the city at the Feast of Tabernacles, and in a tone of prophetic ecstasy cried day and night on the street among the people: "A voice from the morning, a voice from the evening! A voice from the four winds! A voice of ruin against Jerusalem and the Temple! A voice against the bridegrooms and the brides! A voice against the whole people! Woe, woe to Jerusalem! " The magistrates, terrified by this woe, had the prophet of evil taken up and scourged. He offered no resistance, and continued to cry his "Woe." Being brought before the procurator, Albinus, he was scourged till his bones could be seen, but interposed not a word for himself; uttered no curse on his enemies; simply exclaimed at every blow in a mournful tone: "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" To the governor's question, who and whence he was, he answered nothing. Finally they let him go, as a madman. But he continued for seven years and five months, till the outbreak of the war, especially at the three great feasts, to proclaim the approaching fall of Jerusalem. During the siege he was singing his durge, for the last time, from the wall. Suddenly he added : " Woe, woe also to me!" - and a stone of the Romans hurled at his head put an end to his prophetic lamentation. (3)
THE JEWISH REBELLION
Under the last governors, Felix, Festus, Albinus, and Florus, moral corruption and the dissolution of all social ties, but at the same time the oppressiveness of the Roman yoke, increased every year. After the accession of Felix, assassins, called "Sicarians" (from sica, a dagger), armed with daggers and purchasable for any crime, endangering safety in city and country, roamed over Palestine. Besides this, the party spirit among the Jews themselves, and their hatred of their heathen oppressors, rose to the most insolent political and religious fanaticism, and was continually inflamed by false prophets and Messiahs, one of whom, for example, according to Josephus, drew after him thirty thousand men. Thus came to pass what our Lord had predicted: "There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall lead many astray."
At last, in the month of May, A.D. 66, under the last procurator, Gessius Florus (from 65 onward), a Wicked and cruel tyrant who, as Josephus says, was placed as a hangman over evil-doers, an organized rebellion broke out against the Romans, but at the same time a terrible civil war also between different parties of the revelers themselves, especially between the Zealots, and the Moderates, or the Radicals and Conservatives. The ferocious party of the Zealots had all the fire and energy which religious and patriotic fanaticism could inspire; they have been justly compared with the Montagnards of the French Revolution. They gained the ascendancy in the progress of the war, took forcible possession of the city and the temple and introduced a reign of terror. They kept up the Messianic expectations of the people and hailed every step towards destruction as a step towards deliverance. Reports of comets, meteors, and all sorts of fearful omens and prodigies were interpreted as signs of the coming of the Messiah and his reign over the heathen. The Romans recognized the Messiah in Vespasian and Titus.
To defy Rome in that age, without a single ally, was to defy the world in arms; but religious fanaticism, inspired by the recollection of the heroic achievements of the Maccabees, blinded the Jews against the inevitable failure of this mad and desperate revolt.
THE ROMAN INVASION
The emperor Nero, informed of the rebellion, sent his most famous general, Vespasian, with a large force to Palestine. Vespasian opened the campaign in the year 67 from the Syrian port-town, Ptolemais (Acco), and against a stout resistance overran Galilee with an army of sixty thousand men. But events in Rome Hindered him from completing the victory, and required him to return thither. Nero had killed himself. The emperors, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius followed one another in rapid succession. The latter was taken out of a dog's kennel in Rome while drunk, and dragged through the streets, and shamefully put to death. Vespasian, in the year 69, was universally proclaimed emperor, and restored order and prosperity.
His son, Titus, who himself ten years after became emperor, and highly distinguished himself by his mildness and philatropy (4), then undertook the prosecution of the Jewish war, and became the instrument in the hand of God of destroying the holy city and the temple. He had an army of not less than eighty thousand trained soldiers, and planted his camp on Mount Scopus and the adjoining Mount Olivet, in full view of the city and the temple, which from this height shown to the best advantage. The valley of the Kedron divided the besiegers from the besieged.
In April, A.D. 70, immediately after the Passover, when Jerusalem was filled with strangers, the siege began. The zealots rejected, with sneering defiance, the repeated proposals of Titus and the prayers of Josephus, who accompanied him as interpreter and mediator; and they struck down every one who spoke of surrender. They made sorties down the valley of the Kedron and up the mountain, and inflicted great loss on the Romans. As the difficulties multiplied their courage increased. The crucifixion of hundreds of prisoners, (as many as five hundred a day) only enraged them the more. Even the famine which began to rage and sweep away thousands daily, and forced a woman to roast her own child (5), the cries of mothers and babes, the most pitiable scenes of misery around them, could not move the crazy fanatics. History records no other instance of such obstinate resistance, such desperate bravery and contempt of death. The Jews fought, not only for civil liberty, life, and their native land, but for that which constituted their national pride and glory, and gave their whole history its significance-for their religion, which, even in this state of horrible degeneracy, infused into them an almost superhuman power of endurance.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY AND TEMPLE
At last, in July, the castle of Antonia was surprised and taken by night. This prepared the way for the destruction of the Temple in which the tragedy culminated. The daily sacrifices ceased July 17th, because the hands were all needed for defense. The last and the bloodiest sacrifice at the altar of burnt offerings was the slaughter of thousands of Jews who had crowded around it.
Titus (according to Josephus) intended at first to save that magnificent work of architecture, as a trophy of victory, and perhaps from some superstitious fear; and when the flames threatened to reach the Holy of Holies he forced his way through flame and smoke, over the dead and dying, to arrest the fire. (6) But the destruction was determined by a higher decree. His own soldiers, roused to madness by the stubborn resistance, and greedy of the golden treasures, could not be restrained from the work of destruction. At first the halls around the temple were set on fire. Then a firebrand was hurled through the golden gate. When the flames arose the Jews raised a hideous yell, and tried to put out the fire; while others, clinging with a last convulsive grasp to their Messianic hopes, rested in the declaration of a false prophet, that God in the midst of the conflagration of the Temple would give a signal for the deliverance of his people. The legions vied with each other in feeding the flames, and made the unhappy people feel the full force of their unchained rage. Soon the whole prodigious structure was in a blaze and illuminated the skies. It was burned on the tenth of August, A.D. 70, the same day of the year on which, according to tradition, the first temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. "No one," says Josephus, "can conceive a louder, more terrible shriek, than arose from all sides during the burning of the temple. The shout of victory and the jubilee of the legions sounded through the wailing of the people, now surrounded with fire and sword, upon the mountain, and throughout the city. The echo from all the mountains around, even to Perea (?), increased the deafening roar. Yet the misery itself was more terrible than this disorder. The hill on which the temple stood was seething hot, and seemed enveloped to its base in one sheet of flame. The blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain where more in number than those that slew them. The ground was nowhere visible. All was covered with corpses ; over these heaps the soldiers pursued the fugitives." (7)
The Romans planted their eagles on the shapeless ruins, over against the eastern gate, offered their sacrifices to them, and proclaimed Titus Imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy concerning the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place." (8)
Jerusalem was razed to the ground; only three towers of the palace of Herod - Hippicus (still standing), Phasael, and Mariamne- -together with a portion of the western wall, were left as monuments of the strength of the conquered city, once the centre of the Jewish theocracy and the cradle of tile Christian Church.
Even the heathen Titus is reported to have publicly declared that God, by a special providence, aided the Romans and drove, the Jews from their impregnable strongholds. (9) Josephus, who went through the war himself from beginning to end, at first as governor of Galilee and general of the Jewish army, then as a prisoner of Vespasian, finally as a companion of Titus and mediator between the Romans and Jews, recognized in this tragical event a divine judgment and admitted of his degenerate countrymen, to whom he was otherwise sincerely attached: "I will not hesitate to say what gives me pain: I believe that, had the Romans delayed their punishment of these villains, the city would have been swallowed up by the earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or, like Sodom, consigned with fire from heaven. For the generation which was in it was far more ungodly than the men on whom these punishments had in former times fallen. By their madness the whole nation came to be ruined." (10)
Thus, therefore, must one of the best Roman emperors execute the long threatened judgment of God and the most learned Jew of his time describe it, and thereby, without willing or knowing it, bear testimony of the truth of the prophecy and the divinity of the mission of Jesus Christ, the rejection of whom brought all this and the subsequent misfortune upon the apostate race.
The destruction of Jerusalem would be a worthy theme for the genius of a Christian Homer. It has been called "the most soul-stirring of all ancient history." (11) But there was no Jeremiah to sing the funeral dirge of the city of David and Solomon. The Apocalypse was already written, and had predicted that the heathen "shall tread the holy city under foot forty and two months." (12) One of the master artists of modern times, Kaulbach, has made it the subject of one of his greatest paintings in the museum at Berlin. It represents the burning temple : in the foreground, the high priest burying his sword in his breast; around him, the scenes of heart-rending suffering; above, the ancient prophets beholding the fulfillment of their oracles; beneath them, Titus with the Roman army as the unconscious executor of the Divine wrath ; below, to the left, Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew of the medieval legend, driven by furies into the undying future; and to the right the group of Christians departing in peace from the scene of destruction, and Jewish children imploring for their protection.
THE FATE OF THE SURVIVORS, AND THE TRIUMPH IN ROME
After a siege of five months the entire city was in the hands of the victors. The number of the Jews slain during the siege, including all those who had crowded into the city from the country, is stated by Josephus at the enormous and probably exaggerated figure of one million and one hundred thousand. Eleven thousand perished from starvation shortly after the close of the siege. Ninety-seven thousand were carried captive and sold into slavery, or sent to the mines, or sacrificed in the gladiatorial shows at Caesarea, Berytus, Antioch, and other cities. The strongest and handsomest men selected for the triumphal procession in Rome, among them the chief defenders and leaders of the revolt, SIMON BAR-GIORA and JOHN OF GISHCALA. (13)
Vespasian and Titus celebrated the dearly bought victory together (71). No expense was spared for the pageant. Crowned with laurel, and clothed in purple garments, the two conquerors rode slowly in separate chariots, Domitian on a splendid charger, to the temple of Jupiter Captiolinus, amid the shouts of the people and the aristocracy. They were preceded by the soldiers in festive attire and seven hundred Jewish captives. The images of the gods, and the sacred furniture of the temple-the table of show-bread, the seven armed candlestick, the trumpets which announced the year of jubilee, the vessel of incense, and the rolls of the Law - were borne along in the procession and deposited in the newly built Temple of Peace, (14) except the Law and the purple veils of the Holy place, which Vespasian reserved for his palace. Simon Bar-Giora was thrown down from the Tarpeian Rock; John of Gischala doomed to perpetual imprisonment. Coins were cast with the legend Judea capta, Judea devicta. But neither Vespasian nor Titus assumed the victorious epithet Judaeus; they despised a people which had lost its fatherland.
Josephus saw the pompous spectacle of the humiliation and wholesale crucifixion of his nation, and described it without a tear. (15) The thoughtful Christian, looking at the representation of the temple furniture borne by captive Jews on the triumphal arch of Titus, still standing between the Colosseum and the Forum, is filled with awe at the fulfillment of divine prophecy.
The conquest of Palestine involved the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth. Vespasian retained the land as his private property or distributed it among his veterans. The people were by the five years' war reduced to extreme poverty, and left without a magistrate (in the Jewish sense), without a temple, without a country. The renewal of the revolt under the false Messiah, Bar-Cocheba, led only to a still more complete destruction of Jerusalem and devastation of Palestine by the army of Hadrian (132-135). But the Jews still had the law and the prophets and the sacred traditions, to which they cling to this day with indestructible tenacity and with the hope of a great future. Scattered over the earth, at home everywhere and nowhere; refusing to mingle their blood with any other race, dwelling in distinct communities, marked as a peculiar people in every feature of the countenance, in every rite of religion; patient, sober, and industrious; successful in every enterprise, prosperous in spite of oppression, ridiculed yet feared, robbed yet wealthy, massacred yet springing up again, they have outlived the persecution of centuries and are likely to continue to live to the end of time: the object of the mingled contempt, admiration, and wonder of the world.