Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Penguin Books 1981 edition, translated by G. A. Williamson 1959 with revisions 1970 and 1981. Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.
Overall Impression: This is a detailed description of the events leading up to and during the Jewish War of 66-73 CE, not as great as the histories of Herodotus or Thucydides and somewhat self-serving, but nevertheless a fascinating account of this tragic time in Jewish history.
Comments: This is one of 4 extant works by Josephus (along with "Vita", "Antiquitate Judaicae" (Jewish Archaeology), and "Contra Apionem", or "In Apionem" (Against Apion). He originally wrote it in his native language Aramaic, then translated it himself into Greek in c. 75.
Josephus was a Jew ("Hebrew") born Joseph ben [son of] Matthias [or Mattathias]) into the Hasmonaean
lineage. He became a Pharisee at 19 y/o, went to Rome, returned to
Palestine in 66, and became a leader at the time of the revolt of the Jews (66) against the Romans during in the reign of Nero (54-68). He was appointed commander of the most northerly region, Galilee 66-7. He was captured by the Romans in 67 at Jotapata, and while a prisoner became a go-between in their negotiations with the local Palestine populace regarding the war. In 69, Vespasian gave him his freedom. After the war, which lasted from 66 to 73, he retired to Roman exile as a Roman citizen during the reigns of Vespasian (emperor 69-79), his son Titus (79-81), Domitian (81-96), and possibly Nerva (96-98) and Trajan (98-117).
The principal sources for the history of this region and period are, besides Josephus, the New Testament and Philo (a Greek-speaking Alexandrian Jew). Josephus's work is written annalistically, "betrays a lack of historical balance", and is full of inaccuracies (the excellent copious notes in the Penguin edition ably correct numerous known errors). The speeches quoted are recalled as if by an omniscient narrator in the style of Thucydides.
Josephus claimed descent from Asmoneus, the founder of the Hasmonaean line: Asmoneus > Mattathias > Jonathan (brother of Judah Maccabee)> a daughter > Matthias Curtis > Joseph > Matthias b. 6 CE > Josephus b. 37 CE.
In the outline summary of key events that follows, the divisions are modern and arbitrary, and unrelated to the original 7 book divisions.
Author's introduction to the war ("the greatest of all time"), how the Jews expected to win (they expected Mesopotamian neighbors to help, and assumed Rome was distracted with Gaul and the Celts). He wants to present facts accurately and without bias, to bewail his country's tragedy and decline from prosperity to misery. "For our misfortunes we have only ourselves to blame." He summarizes the scope of the work. He wants to begin with the time of the Seleucid dynasty Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes [Antiochus IV, "God Manifest", ruled as King 175 -164 BCE] "who stormed Jerusalem and after holding it for three and a half years was driven out of the country by the Hasmonaeans".
The Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes [Antiochus IV, "God Manifest", ruled as King 175 -164 BCE] captures Jerusalem and plunders the Sanctuary, triggering the revolt let by Matthias son of Asamonaeus against the Bacchides.... Matthias as leader is followed by Judas ("Maccabaeus"). Judas allied with Rome against the renewed invasion by Antiochus Epiphanes, and retook the Temple. Antiochus V attacked by Judas 161 BCE, and dies. Judas is succeeded by Jonathan... John Hyrcanus I is high priest and ruler of Judaea c. 135-104 BCE. Antiochus VII besieges Jerusalem... Hyrcanus campaigns against Antiochus VII in Northern Palestine. Antiochus VIII defeated by Hyrcanus' sons Aristobulus I and Antigonus.
[Judas] Aristobulus I succeeds Hyrcanus I and turns constitutional rule into a monarchy 104 BCE. Extensive court intrigues and slanders lead to the deaths of his mother and his brother Antigonus. Aristobulus I dies 103 BCE. His successor Alexander Jannaeus in conflict with Egyptian ruler Ptolemy Lathyrus [IX, a.k.a. Soter]. Jewish uprising. Antiochus XII ("Dionysus ", king 88-85 BCE). Alexander dies 76 BCE, succeeded by his wife [Salome] Alexandra. Her sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II... Growing power of the Pharisees, who rule over Alexandra. Aristobulus II tries to seize power 69, Alexandra dies 67. Hyrcanus II king, fights brother Aristobulus II, who becomes king. His enemies include Antipater ["the Idumaean"], father of Herod the Great. Hyrcanus II and Antipater seek protection 64 BCE from Pompey the Great, who agrees to pursue Aristobulus in a war in Palestine.
Pompey captures Aristobulus II, attacks Jerusalem, conquers the Temple 63 BCE. Jews lose 12,000. Pompey appoints Hyrcanus II as high priest (ethnarch). New battle with Aristobulus II... Crassus as governor of Syria, defeated by Parthians (Persians). Parthians defeated by Cassius. Roman Civil War 49 BCE - 31 BCE. Aristobulus II dies. Antipater courts Caesar, receives Roman citizenship, supports Hyrcanus II against Aristobulus II, becomes Procurator of Judaea. His son Herod [the Great] made governor in Galilee, Phasael is governor of Jerusalem. Julius Caesar assassinated 44 BCE... Herod appointed as client king of Palestine 40 BCE by Antony.
Antigonus's siege of Masada. Bandits... Herod besieges Jerusalem, defeat and massacre there, Antigonus captured and killed. Cleopatra VII's plotting to rule in Palestine. Transient Arab victory--they are later defeated by Herod. Herod meets Antony, who reaffirms his rule. Herod enlarges his kingdom. Herod restores the Sanctuary 23 BCE, enlarges the Temple [not completed until 64 CE], builds palaces. Caesarea built, numerous other building projects during a time of prosperity.
Herod executes his wife Mariamme I's grandfather Hyrcanus II 30 BCE, also his brother Joseph and his wife Mariamme 29 BCE. Other court intrigue and atrocities... Trial of Herod's sons (by Mariamme I) Alexander and Aristobulus III.
More court intrigue... Herod marries Mariamme II. His brother Pheoreas dies. His wife Doris kills herself... Antipater, his son by Doris, is tried and executed 4 BCE. Popular uprising. Herod's drastic decline, dies 4 BCE.
Herod's son Archelaus is declared king. Further sedition by the Jewish population, suppressed by Archelaus... War of Varus [Roman governor of Syria], who marches against Jerusalem to crush the rebellion... Kingdom divided, 1/2 = Archelaus as ethnarch, 1/4 to Philip as tetrarch, and 1/4 to Herod Antipas as tetrarch. The imposter Alexander... Archelaus banished 6 CE.
Archelaus's territory under direct Roman rule.
Description of the Essenes, their belief in the immortality of the soul, the Pharisees and their belief in the transmigration of the soul, and the Sadducees.
Philip founds Caesarea Philippi. Pontius Pilate appointed procurator of Judaea by Tiberius 26 CE [lasted to 36 CE]. His conflict with the populace over graven images in Jerusalem--he relents when the Jews offer their necks up for mass execution.
Agrippa son of Aristobulus... Tiberius dies 37 CE, Gaius "Caligula" is Caesar 37. Herod Agrippa I appointed tetrarch after Philip dies. Herod Antipas banished 40 CE. Gaius attempts to force placement of statues in the Temple via the army led by Petronius. Strong Jewish resistance--they insist they will all have to be sacrificed--leads to Petronius relenting. Gaius dies [41 CE].
Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, supposedly prevents a military massacre of the Senate, receives the kingdom, dies in 44 CE... Claudius gives rule of Chalcis [between Syria and Galilee] to Herod Agrippa II 48 CE, son of Herod Agrippa I [in 53 he enlarges his domain with territory formerly under the tetrarchy of Philip]. Cuspius Fadus is governor 44-46 of other districts under direct rule, Tiberius Julius Alexander during 46-8, Ventidius Cumanus is governor 48-52, and Antonius Felix 52-60 . Indecent gesture by a soldier at Temple in Jerusalem leads to Jewish riots, 30,000 die... Problem with "bandits" [Greek lestes = bandit, brigand, terrorist, guerilla, or freedom-fighter]. A sacrilegious soldier is executed to placate the Jews. Clash between Samaritans [viewed as nonJews since they claimed their own temple on Mt. Gerizim as the true temple] and the Galileans [Jews] after murder of a Galilean. Bandit chief Eleazar leads bandit attack on Samaritans. Samaritans appeal for support to Ummidius Quadratus, governor of Syria, to whom the Jews led by Jonathan also appeal. Quadratus orders execution of 18 Jews... Claudius finds the Samaritans guilty. Claudius dies 54 CE, succeeded by Nero. Rise of and atrocities by the Sicarii (nationalist terrorists) in Jerusalem. False messiahs and religious frauds.
Porcius Festus is procurator (58/9-62 CE), attacks the bandits; he is followed by Albinus (62-4 CE). Albinus is bribed by the revolutionary party in Jerusalem to condone their subversive activities--tyranny reigns. Gessius Florus becomes procurator (64-6 CE), and engages in violence and the stripping and plunder of whole cities, condones the lawlessness of the bandits. Cestius Gallus is legate in Syria (65/6 - 67), and the people appeal to him for help
against Florus when he visits in Jerusalem. Cestius promises the crowd more reasonable conduct. Secretly Florus, knowing his own position is in danger, desires insurrection as it plays into his hands to promote plunder and divert attention from his own crimes.
Local war breaks out in May-June 66 CE (in the 12th year of Nero's reign in Caesarea and while Florus is governor), after the Greeks secure control of Caesarea and attempt to build a factory immediately next to and blocking a synagogue. The Jews rebel (with Florus's tacit approval). Desecrations occur. Florus begins to draw on the Temple treasury, and he is publicly mocked by the Jews. Florus responsible for many atrocities committed against the Jews including crucifixions.
King Agrippa II goes to Alexandria, and his sister Berenice begs unsuccessfully to Florus to put a stop to the slaughter, but she barely escapes with her life. The chief priests quell the riots and appeal to the people not to provoke the Romans further. But Florus has the Roman soldiers attack the rebellious Jews, who are driven into the Temple and Antonia [a fortress in contact with the northern or western Colonnade surrounding the Temple].
King Herod Agrippa II gives an impassioned speech to his people counseling against the futile war. They must submit to the tyranny of Florus and Rome. He cites the Athenians, Britons, Gauls, Germans, Spanish, Black Sea and Asian Minor inhabitants, Thracians, Illyrians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and other conquered peoples now ruled by Rome. No one will come to their aid. God is on the side of the Romans, otherwise so vast an army could have never been built up. Play it safe, don't sail into a hurricane. Their uprising will endanger the lives of Jews in colonies throughout the known world [as subsequently occurs in Syria and Alexandria]. Spare the Temple, which has been protected by the Romans. Though the people say they only want to fight Florus, Agrippa says there is no way to prevent that from being a fight with Rome. He meets with temporary success, but he is soon banished from the city by the mob.
The fortress Masada attacked by the Sicarii (named for a dagger carried in their bosoms) under Menahem, exterminating the Roman garrison there. Eleazar son of Ananias at the Temple provokes the Romans by abolishing sacrifices offered for Rome or Caesar [his followers will be termed the Zealots]. Opposition to the revolt. 7 days of mutual slaughter. High priest Ananias murdered. Dissension in the insurgents. Menahem slain. Roman soldiers slain after a guarantee of safe conduct. Slaughter of Jews at Caesarea, destruction of cities. Jews killed in Syria. Jews attack Jews. Anti-Jewish purges in Scythopolis, Ascalon, Ptolemais, Tyre, etc. Ambassadors from Batanaea come to Agrippa's court, are slain by order of Noarus (serving in place of the absent King Herod Agrippa II.) Roman soldiers attack Jews in Alexandria. Cestius (legate in Syria) attacks in Galilee, plundering and pillaging at Ptolemais and Caesarea, Joppa, etc. The war advances toward Jerusalem. King Agrippa fails at negotiation with the Jews to avert war with the Romans. Cestius pauses outside Jerusalem, delays attacking, then calls off his men and retreats ignominiously. Jews capture Roman machines and celebrate a victory.
Many Jews now flee Jerusalem, knowing disaster will follow. Jews in Damascus are slaughtered. The Jews elect Joseph son of Gorion and Ananus to lead in the City. Eleazar son of Simon and his Zealot followers gradually rises to power. Josephus (the author) is appointed commander in Galilee region. Josephus organizes the military in Galilee. The plotter John from Gischala appears and plunders Galilee, develops monopolies, etc. King Agrippa's minister Ptolemy is robbed. An anti-Josephus mob charges him with treason. Josephus promises a protective wall for Tarichaea. John plots against Josephus in Tiberias, tries to get him assassinated, develops further plots. Josephus entraps pro-Roman Tiberians, allows Tiberias to be pillaged as well as Sepphoris. Galilean dissension has been quelled.
Vespasian has sons Titus and Domitian. Vespasian is sent by Nero to assume command of armies in Syria, and Vespasian calls on Titus
to lead the 15th Legion. Jews attack Ascalon, are defeated. Vespasian arrives in Antioch, capitol of Syria, meets King Agrippa II. The people of Sepphoris petition for his help against their countrymen.
Detailed descriptions of Galilee (Upper and Lower), Peraea, Samaritis (between Judaea and Galilee), Judaea.
Romans attack Galilee, starting in Sepphoris. Titus joins up with Vespasian with his forces.
Detailed description of Roman military discipline and organization, the army, military camps. Josephus adds a sober warning to any groups who might be thinking of opposing the Roman military. Vespasian issues order to march on Galilee. The sequence of the marching order. Josephus's troops flee when confronted by the approaching army. Josephus knows failure is inevitable, writes Jerusalem urging them to sue for terms of surrender. Josephus enters Jotapata, which quickly falls under siege and attack. Extensive description of the Roman efforts with siege engines and the valiant resistance of the Jews in Jotapata. Water begins to be in short supply.
Josephus contemplates escape but decides against it. Night sorties by the besieged Jews. The battering "ram" (an iron ram's head on a huge baulk) is used against the walls. Numerous Jews distinguish themselves during the siege. Vespasian wounded by an arrow in his foot. Vespasian's final assault. Jews pour boiling oil on the soldiers. Assault called off.
A neighboring town Japha is captured. Samaritans on Mount Gerizim are slain.
Romans at last enter Jotapata over the wall, massacre ensues, suicides. Josephus hides in a pit communicating with a cave. Vespasian promises him safe conduct via tribune Nicanor. He considers surrender, is opposed by his followers, refuses to commit suicide. The men around him agree to draw lots to slit each other's throat so that they do not need to commit suicide. Josephus agrees to this plan and is one of 2 men left alive--they decide to remain alive after all! Josephus is brought before Vespasian, and Titus argues that he should be spared. Josephus prophecies that Vespasian and Titus will become emperors. Josephus has also successfully prophesied that Jotapata would fall after 47 days of siege, and Vespasian becomes impressed at his prophetic ability.
Vespasian marches to Ptolemais, the Caesarea. Jews build a pirate fleet, begin raiding the Syrian and Phoenician waters disrupting shipping. Vespasian sends troops, Joppa destroyed. Jews are angry to discover Josephus is alive and collaborating with the Romans. Titus and Vespasian go to Tiberias. Titus rallies his troops. A town is taken--?Tarichaeae. Jews slain on the Sea of Galilee (Lake Gennesaret)... Vespasian attacks Gamala. He is endangered, nearly killed. Gamala falls.
John of Gischala flees Gischala, arrives in Jerusalem. Confusion, lawlessness. Ananus speaks out against Temple desecration by the Zealots, rouses the population against John. A citizen army fights John, whose forces retire into the Temple.
The crafty and despotic John betrays secrets learned from Ananus to the Zealots. The Zealots appeal to the Idumaeans (S. of Judaea) for support, saying that Ananus had deceived the people. On the arrival of Idumaeans at Jerusalem, the priest Jeshua addresses them and heaps scorn on John's followers. His speech falls on deaf ears. Jerusalem had previously been free for foreigners to worship in. The Idumaeans are excluded however from admittance and from worship, and are angry at this exclusion, become opposed to the orthodox faction. The Zealots quietly admit the Idumaeans to the City, and slaughter of local inhabitants and plunder of their houses ensues by Zealots and Idumaeans. The high priest Ananus (and soon Jeshua) is killed. Bodies are desecrated.
Josephus states that the fall of Jerusalem began with the slaying of Ananus. He believes "God had sentenced this polluted city to destruction and willed that the Sanctuary should be purged by fire, and so cut off those who clung to them and loved them so dearly."
Savagery continues, butchery, torture. Reign of terror, sham courts, faked trials. For example, the distinguished citizen Zachariah is murdered. The Idumaeans regret coming and their participation in this unparalleled savagery--some depart.
Vespasian hears of the internal dissension and civil war of the Jews and views this as a godsend. The Jews are occupied fighting each other rather than preparing weapons to fight the Romans. Many deserters flee the City. Burial is forbidden, the bodies rot in the streets.
John is determined to be the sole leader.
Another calamity develops as the Sicarii begin to plunder villages surrounding Masada, taking the loot to the fortress. There is widespread terrorism and plunder in Judaea.
Vespasian moves toward the City 68 CE. Peraea is crushed
News arrives of the uprising in Gaul against Nero. Vespasian foresees upcoming Roman civil war. He marches to subdue surrounding areas and encircle Jerusalem: Antipatris, ..., Idumaea, Jericho (detailed description provided), the Dead Sea with its bitumen, Sodom, Gerasa.
Vespasian learns of Nero suicide 68. He suspends war actions against Jerusalem, and sends Titus to pay homage to the new emperor Galba. But Galba is assassinated 69 CE, and Otho follows as emperor.
Simon son of Gioras leads another faction among the Jews, is training an army to take Jerusalem, fights the Zealots. The Idumaeans ally with him. Simon attacks Hebron.
Emperor Otho commits suicide. Vitellius follows.
John's forces commit more atrocities. Simon surrounds Jerusalem, is invited to overthrow the Zealots by the high priest Matthias. Simon once inside however assumes supremacy over all, and disdains those who invited him in as well as the Zealots he conquered. Simon launches an assault on the Temple.
Rome in disorder. Vitellius has arrived, turns the city into a military camp. Vespasian is angered at his accession, his soldiers talk of revolution, proclaim Vespasian emperor, he accepts. He marches to Alexandria, the lighthouse at Pharos, is warmly received and the governor of Egypt swears allegiance to him 69 CE. Vespasian, remembering the prophecy of Josephus, frees him 69 CE. Vitellius's commanders abandon him for Vespasian, Vitellius's army is destroyed. Vitellius is slain in Rome. Vespasian is proclaimed emperor in Rome and he makes plan to return to Rome. Meanwhile, he sends Titus to return to complete the siege of Jerusalem.
More factional fighting... 3 factions are fighting: Eleazar son of Simon seizes the inner court of the Temple; John and his men continue the plunder in the city, and Simon son of Gioras also fights to win the temple. They are effectively destroying the city. The grain that would feed them during the siege is destroyed in flames, the hunger that will follow thus being their responsibility. John purloins the sacred timbers to make engines of war.
Titus "Caesar" advances on Jerusalem. He is trapped at one point and has to fight for his life. John seizes the inner court of the Temple from the Zealots and Eleazar son of Simon.
Josephus is recruited by Titus to serve as an intermediary, to persuade his people to surrender.
Lengthy description of Jerusalem: the 3 walls, ravines, Upper and Lower city, Citadel, Valley of the Cheese Makers, fountain of Siloam, Old wall, Hippicus Tower, Gymnasium, Essene Gate, Solomon's Pool, Second Wall, Psephinus Tower, Kidron Valley, Antonia, New City, Third Wall, Phasael tower, and Mariamme tower, the king's Palace,
The Temple and changes made to it by Herod. The Sanctuary (containing lampstand, table, and altar), the innermost chamber (the Holy of Holies), the colonnades, Court of the Women. Sufferers of venereal disease were barred from the City, menstruating women from the Temple (and even when clean were limited in their access). Priests at the altar must be unblemished. Vestments. The Antonia, built by King Herod, was a tower with 4 other towers attached...
Simon's partisans and John and his Zealots continue to fight each other, even when the Romans are closely encamped. Josephus states that Jerusalem's internal divisions destroyed the City, and the Romans destroyed the internal divisions. The siege begins. The factions unite. Romans build siege towers. The outer wall is breached, soon the Second wall.
Josephus states God was blinding the eyes of the partisans, show did not see the famine coming and welcomed the destruction of the people. Josephus makes more appeals to the people. He appeals to reliance on God, says they are fighting against God. He recounts past episodes of Jewish subjugation in which force of arms had not succeeded--the Egyptians, the Babylonians, Antiochus Epiphanes [Antiochus IV, Syrian king 175 -164 BCE], Pompey the Great. The Jewish nation was never intended to bear arms. The Romans are only expecting the customary tribute. Josephus states he is willing to sacrifice his mother, wife, children, even his own life, in order to persuade the people to relent.
Famine. People torture others to find food. Drinking of blood. Antiochus Epiphanes son of Antiochus IV of Commagene arrives with Macedonians. More siege warfare. Famine. The dead are discarded from the walls. Titus calls to God that this desecration was not his doing.
The priests are killed, Josephus's father is imprisoned. Josephus is injured. Escapees are swallowing gold, and the surrounding Arabs and Syrians eviscerate fleeing refugees to recover their gold.
Josephus foresaw that God would have taken further divine punishment on the sacrilegious behavior of the Jewish ruffians had the Romans delayed their attacks.
The Antonia is entered. Titus gives his troops a pep talk. There will be rewards for the souls of heroes...
Josephus again appeals to the Jews to surrender. He lambastes John. Titus rebukes John, urging him to put a stop to the needless destruction. Antonia is destroyed. The Jews burn the colonnade, killing some Roman soldiers.
Stories of famine horrors: Mary daughter of an Eleazar eats her baby. This abomination leads Titus to higher resolve to destroy the City.
The battering ram continues. More desertions. The Romans break into the outer court. Soldiers set fire to the Temple. Titus regrets this, wants to save the Temple. Sanctuary burns, "the most wonderful edifice ever seen or heard of", having lasted 1040 years. Looting, children butchered, city on fire. Former portents and prophecies of doom. The Romans bring their standards into the Temple area and erect them. Temple plundered by the Romans. Titus tries to slow his men's destruction. He berates the Jews for bringing this destruction upon themselves.
Partisans take the Palace. Romans take the Lower City and burn it. Josephus continues to appeal for an end to the destruction.
The Idumaeans attempt to surrender. The last walls are taken, more slaughter. Josephus estimates that 97,000 prisoners were taken in the war, and that 1,100,000 perished during the siege (Tacitus estimates that there were 600,000 under siege). John and Simon are captured
Titus orders that the whole City and Sanctuary be razed to the ground, leaving the towers and some of the west wall.
Purges of Jews follow in Antioch.
Vespasian arrives in Rome. Germans and Gauls revolt. Scythians (Sarmatians) attack in Moesia. Titus protects the civil rights of the Jews in Antioch. Titus is welcomed in Rome. The spoils of the Jewish war arrive in Rome: golden table, lampstand, the Jewish Law. Simon son of Gorias is executed.
Legate Lucilius Bassus determines it is necessary to destroy the fortress Machaerus (built by Alexander). He begins a siege there. 3000 Jews are massacred with no survivors.
The Syrian Paetus invades the land of Antiochus king of Commagene 72-3, defeats him. The Alanis invade Mede.
Bassus has died, replaced by Flavius Silva as governor of Judaea. He resolves to conquer the one remaining rebel stronghold, Masada. It is led by Eleazar son of Jairus and the Sicarii. [Note: There are several Eleazars in this history: (1) the Bandit chief Eleazar; (2) Eleazar son of Jairus, autocrat with the Sicarii at Masada; (3) Eleazar son of Ananias, captain of the Temple; and (4) Eleazar son of Simon, leader of the Zealots.] The history of Masada is given, how it was improved by King Herod, its layout and provisions. Romans employ rams and fire.
God burns the walls for the Romans. Eleazar son of Jairus appeals to his followers for mass suicide to prevent their capture and enslavement. God himself has taken away all hope of survival. They burn their possessions. Eleazar speaks on the soul and sleep, the exterminations of Jews in Syria, how other Roman victims have been tortured or half-eaten by beasts but kept alive, etc. They choose 10 men to kill the others, the 9 are then killed by the one, and he kills himself. 960 are dead (72 or 73 CE). When the Romans arrive, they find only 2 women survivors, hiding in the conduits.
Sicarii and other Jews are slain in Alexandria...