Gateway to the Classics: Last Days of Jerusalem by Alfred J. Church
Last Days of Jerusalem by  Alfred J. Church

Of the Marvellous Escape of Josephus, and of the War in Galilee

So soon as the Romans had taken the city, they began to search for Josephus, against whom they had especial wrath; also Vespasian much desired that he should be taken. Now Josephus, by the help of God, had passed through the midst of the enemy, and had leapt down into a certain deep well, out of the side of which there was a great cavern. Here he found forty of the chief men of the city that had hidden themselves, having a store of provisions such as would suffice for many days. That day indeed he lay in this place, but at night he went forth, seeking for some way of flight, if such there might be. But seeing that all the place was watched with exceeding care (which indeed the Romans did on his account), he descended again into the cave, and so lay hid for two days. But on the third day, a certain woman that had been in the place, going forth, revealed the whole matter to Vespasian. And he straightway sent two tribunes to Josephus, who coming to the place, were earnest with him that he should give himself up, promising that his life should be granted to him. But they did not persuade him, when he considered with himself what grievous harm he had done to them in the days of the siege. Then Vespasian sent a third tribune also, one Nicanor, that in former time had been a friend to Josephus. This Nicanor, coming to him, set forth how that the Romans were ever merciful to them whom they had subdued, and how that the generals had admiration rather than hatred for him by reason of his valour, and that it was the purpose of the Emperor not to slay him, which indeed he could do without making conditions, but to save him alive, being so brave a man. But while Josephus doubted what he should do, for the words of Nicanor were weighty, the soldiers, growing impatient, would have thrown fire into the cave; but their captain hindered them, desiring above all things to take Josephus alive. Then as he considered the promises of the Emperor on the one hand, and the threatenings of the soldiers on the other, there came into his mind the remembrance of certain dreams that he had dreamed, wherein God had showed him beforehand what great trouble would befall the nation of the Jews, and also what should be the fortune of the Emperor of Rome. Now Josephus was well skilled in the interpretation of dreams; and also he had good knowledge of the prophecies of the holy books, seeing that he was a priest, and that his forefathers had been priests before him. Considering these things, therefore, he prayed in secret to God, saying, "Since it hath seemed good to Thee to bring down the nation of the Jews, and since Thou hast given power over the earth to these Romans, and also hast chosen me that I might prophesy things to come, I yield myself to these my enemies, and refuse not to live. But I call Thee to witness that I go not as a traitor, but as Thy servant."

When he had thus prayed, he prepared to come forth; but when the Jews that were in the cave with him perceived what he was about to do they came round about him, clamouring with these words: "Canst thou endure, O Josephus, for love of life to be a slave? How quickly hast thou forgotten thy own words and those whom thou didst persuade to die for freedom's sake! And thinkest thou that they will suffer thee to live to whom thou hast done so much hurt? But, however this may be, though thou be blinded with the glory of the Romans, yet will we take care for the honour of our country. Here then we offer thee a sword and a hand that shall use it against thee. And if thou diest willingly, then thou art still our leader: but if unwillingly, then thou art a traitor." And as they said these words, they pointed their swords at him, affirming that they would assuredly slay him if he should yield himself, to the Romans.

Then Josephus spake to them, seeking to show them that he did well in yielding himself to the Romans; for that though it was an honourable thing for a man to die for his country, yet he should die in battle, and not by his own hand. "For will not God," he said, "be wroth, if a man despise the gift which He has given him, even the gift of life? For whomsoever squandereth or loseth that which is put into his charge, he is counted as wicked and traitorous. How then shall God punish him who shall wilfully destroy that thing which He hath committed unto him?"

With these and many like words Josephus would fain have persuaded them that they should not slay one another. But they, as men that had their ears deafened by very many sounds, were greatly wroth with Josephus, and ran upon him with their swords, reviling him for his cowardice. Then Josephus called every one by name; and at some he looked sternly as a captain might do, and another he would take by the hand, and another he would beseech with many prayers, turning, as a wild beast when it is surrounded by the pursuers, to each one as he came near. So because they had not altogether forgotten what reverence they had had for him in former days, they let go their swords, waiting for what he should say. Then, when he had committed himself to God, he said, "Since ye are resolved to die, let us cast lots how we shall slay one another, so that each man may die, when he shall have drawn the lot, by the hand of his companion. So shall we all die, yet shall no man slay himself." To these words they all consented, and the lots were drawn. Then he to whom the lot first fell out willingly offered his neck to him that was next to him; for they were persuaded that their captain also would die with them, and they judged it better to die in company of Josephus than to live without him. And in the end—but whether this was of chance or of the ordering of God, cannot be said—Josephus was left alive with one other; and when these two were about to draw the lot, Josephus persuaded him that he should live, wishing neither himself to die nor to slay his companion.

Then did Nicanor lead Josephus to Vespasian; and all the Romans were gathered together to see him, so that there was a great commotion, some shouting for joy that he was taken, and some threatening him, and many pressing forward to look upon him. Of them that were furthest from him, many cried out that he should be put to death, but such as stood close to him remembered the great deeds that he had done; and as for the captains, even such as had before been full of wrath against him, when they looked upon him had compassion on him. And chiefly Titus, being of a generous temper, was well inclined to him, remembering how bravely he had borne himself in battle, and yet was now a prisoner in the hands of his enemies, and considering how great is the power of fortune, and what changes befall men in war, and how mutable are the affairs of men. Now Titus had great power with his father, and was instant with him that he would save Josephus alive. Nevertheless, Vespasian commanded that he should be kept with all care, being minded to send him to Nero forthwith.

When Josephus knew that he had this purpose in his heart, he said that he would gladly speak a few words with him in private. Therefore when all had departed from him, save Titus and two of his friends only, Josephus spake, saying:—"I have great things to tell thee, O Vespasian. For indeed, have I not been sent to thee of God? Thou knowest the custom of the Jews, and how it becometh the captain of a host to die. Dost thou send me to Nero? Know that thou shalt be Emperor, thou, and thy son after thee. Bind me therefore, and keep me, to see whether my words be true or no." Now Vespasian did not believe the words of Josephus, thinking that he had feigned them for the saving of his own life. But afterwards he changed his mind, for indeed God had put the thought of this very thing into his heart, and had also showed him beforehand by many signs of the things that were to come. And when one of the friends of Vespasian said:—"I marvel much, Josephus, why thou didst not prophesy to the men of Jotapata, how their city should be taken, and how thou shouldest thyself be led into captivity," Josephus answered him, saying:—"Nay, but I did prophesy to the men of Jotapata that after forty-and-seven days their city should be taken, and also that I should myself be taken prisoner by the Romans." When Vespasian made inquiry of the captives he heard that this was indeed the truth; and after this he believed the words of Josephus. And though he set him not free from his chains, yet did he give him change of raiment and other gifts, and had him in great honour; and in all these things Titus was his friend.

After these things the other cities of Galilee that yet remained to the Jews were taken, as Joppa, and Tarichæa, and Gamala. Tiberias, indeed, that is by the Lake of Galilee, yielded itself to the Romans; and Vespasian, though he destroyed the other cities and put their inhabitants, for the most part, to the sword, had mercy upon the inhabitants of Tiberias, for he knew that this would be well pleasing to King Agrippa.

On this Lake Galilee there was fought a great battle of ships, between the Romans and certain of the inhabitants that had fled from Tarichæa when they saw that it was now about to be taken. For Vespasian, when he had taken the city, put into ships so many of his soldiers as he thought sufficient for the purpose, and sent them against the men of Tarichæa. These indeed were in a great strait, for they could not disembark from their boats on to the land, inasmuch as there was no place that was not in the power of the enemy, nor could they meet the Romans in battle, for their boats were small and light, and such as could not contend against ships of war. Nevertheless, rowing round the ships, they cast stones and javelins at them from afar; and sometimes they would come close and strike at them. But they did hurt to themselves rather than to their enemies. For the stones were of no avail, being cast at men that were clothed in armour, but they were themselves grievously wounded by the javelins of the Romans; and such as dared to come near were struck down before they could do anything, and oftentimes were sunk, together with their vessels. Many did the Romans slay with their pikes, and many also they slew with swords, and some they took alive in their boats. And if one of them that was overthrown into the water lifted up his head, an arrow would smite him, or he would be taken by them that were in the ships; and if, in their despair, the men swam to the ships and laid hold of them, the Romans would cut off their hands or their heads. Many, therefore, were slain or taken in the midst of the water, and those that sought to escape to the land were slain by the Romans so soon as they leapt out of their boats. And the whole lake was filled with blood and with dead bodies of men, for none escaped.

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