In order to prepare an easy ascent for his whole force, Titus ordered that the fortress of the Antonia should be razed to the ground. He had heard that the daily sacrifice had ceased to be offered in the temple for want of men to make the offerings, and that the people were very sad on this account. And so he sent Josephus forward to say to John that Titus would willingly allow him to come out of the temple and fight somewhere outside, so as no longer to pollute the holy place; and that also he gave him permission to perform the daily sacrifices, with the aid of such Jews as he should select.
Josephus therefore came forward, and, standing where he might be heard not only by John, but by the multitude as well, delivered Cæsar's message. He also besought them to spare their country and to save their temple. But John, in reply, bitterly reviled Josephus, and said that he did not fear capture, because Jerusalem was the city of God.
Josephus then upbraided John, and declared that because of the wickedness of the insurgents God was giving over the city to capture and destruction. Very angry at this, John and his party rushed out and tried to seize Josephus. Many of the higher class among the people, however, were greatly moved by his words, and a party of chief priests and nobles deserted to the Romans.
Titus received the fugitives with great kindness, and sent them to the city of Gophna, with directions to remain there for the present, promising that as soon as the war was over he would restore to them their possessions. When they had gone to Gophna, the insurgents spread a report that they all had been slaughtered by the Romans. The people for a time believed this, because they noticed that the deserters were no longer to be seen at the Roman camp, and this kept the people from going over to the besiegers.
But Titus, in order to give the lie to this rumor, recalled the men from Gophna, and ordered them to march around the wall with Josephus, in order that they might be seen by the people. Upon this, a great number fled to the Romans. The deserters then all grouped together, and, standing in front of the Roman line, they besought the insurgents with tears in their eyes to surrender, or at least, if they would not surrender, to retire from the temple and save it from ruin, for that the Romans would not set fire to the holy places unless the insurgents compelled them to do so.
But these entreaties were in vain. The insurgents only shouted curses upon the
deserters, and ranged their military engines over the sacred gates, so that the
temple looked like
a warlike citadel. They rushed in arms about the holy places, and even shocked
the Roman soldiers by the impiety of their conduct. Titus again upbraided John
and his followers, saying to
"Was it not you who put up a barrier to prevent strangers from polluting your temple? And this barrier the Romans have always respected, and allowed you to put to death any who attempted to pass it. Why, then, O guilty ones, do you trample even dead bodies under foot within it? Why do you defile your holy place with the blood of strangers and of your own countrymen? I call on the gods of my fathers, I call on the God who once watched over your temple,—for now, I think, it is guarded by none,—I call on my army, I call on the Jews who are with me, I call on yourselves, to witness that I do not force you to commit these crimes. Come forth and fight in any other place, and no Roman shall profane the holy places. Nay, I will save the sanctuary for you, even against your will."
Josephus translated for the Jews this address of Titus, but the insurgents, thinking that Titus only wished them to leave the temple that he might enter it without danger, treated his offers with scorn.
The Roman general, finding all his efforts of mercy in vain, began at once to prepare for an attack. He could not make the assault with his whole army, because the approaches to the temple were too narrow; and so he selected the thirty best men out of each century, and appointed a tribune to take command of every thousand. He placed Cerealius in command of the whole, and gave orders that the attack should be made after midnight. He would himself have led the attack had not his officers persuaded him not to run such a risk, and that it would be wiser for him to take his station on the Antonia, and from there guide and watch his troops, for that all would conduct themselves as brave soldiers under the eye of Cæsar.
And so when the night was about three-quarters over Titus sent the troops to the attack, and mounted a watch-tower of the Antonia, telling the soldiers that he would watch them in the fight, so that he could reward the brave and punish the cowards among them.
The Romans did not find the guards asleep as they expected. The Jews sprang to arms with loud cries, and a fierce battle immediately began. The Romans at first had the advantage in the fight, because they kept together in a compact body, while the Jews attacked in small parties, and often in the confusion and darkness they fell upon each other by mistake. But when morning broke, and they could see clearly, they drew together, and fought in good order.
For eight hours the battle raged, but neither party were able to beat the other. At length, tired out, they stopped fighting, and the Romans for the time being gave up the attack.
The rest of the army, meanwhile, overturned the foundations of the Antonia, and within a week prepared a wide ascent as far as the temple. They then erected mounds against four places of the outer court. These they built with great difficulty, because they had to bring the timber from a distance of over twelve miles.
During the building of these works the troops suffered greatly from the constant attacks of the Jews, who, because they had no hope of safety, had become all the more daring. Some of the Roman cavalry, when they went out to collect wood or fodder, took the bridles off their horses and turned them loose to graze while they were foraging. The Jews often sallied out in bands and stole the horses.
As the cavalry in this way lost a number of horses, Titus determined to make them more careful of their steeds by making a severe example. And so he put to death the next man that lost his horse. After this the men no longer allowed their horses to graze at random, but kept close by them, and so prevented the Jews from carrying them off.
The Jews thought their one hope of safety was to break down in some place that wall which the Romans had built around the city. And so they made a sudden attack upon the Roman posts at the Mount of Olives. They rushed out at meal-time, thinking to find their enemies off their guard. But the Romans saw them coming, and hurried to the spot from the adjacent forts, and checked their attempts to scale the wall or throw it down.
A fierce contest took place, and many gallant deeds were done on both sides. But the Jews were at length repulsed and driven down the ravine. While they were retreating, a Roman horseman, called Pedanius, dashed into their midst, and, stooping from his horse, seized by the ankle a young Jew of robust frame. He carried the Jew off by main strength and threw him at the feet of Titus, who greatly admired this wonderful feat of strength.
Beaten back, and having suffered much in their contests, the Jews now set fire to the portico which led from the Antonia to the temple, and made a breach of from twenty to thirty feet. Ten days afterwards the Romans set fire to the adjoining colonnade, and burned about twenty feet more. The Jews then cut away the roof and destroyed all connection between themselves and the Antonia. Still the conflicts between the Romans and Jews went on about the temple, and every day a contest took place.
One day, during a lull in the battle, a Jew by the name of Jonathan advanced to the monument of the high-priest John, and challenged any one of the Romans to single combat. Jonathan was a mean-looking little Jew, and the Romans allowed him for some time to yell out his jibes and insults without taking any notice of him.
But at length one of the troopers, disgusted at the impudence of Jonathan, and thinking he could easily whip so small a fellow, came forward and attacked him. The trooper was getting the best of the fight, but all of a sudden he slipped and fell down. Jonathan immediately ran him through with his sword, and then he danced about in high glee, yelling and jibing at the Romans who were looking on. Then a centurion took aim and shot the little Jew with an arrow as he was insanely dancing up and down. Jonathan, writhing with pain, fell upon the body of his fallen foe, and thus the Jew and the Roman lay together in that sleep that knows no waking.