The effort to wipe out the disgrace of the two defeats and to restore the Greek supremacy was not long delayed; and when it was made, it was made with all the force which the lieutenants of Antiochus could command. The King himself was absent in Persia; but his vicegerent had carte blanche for the preparations which they were to make. Lysias, Governor of Syria, had collected forty thousand foot and seven thousand horse, and this force had been put under the command of Nicanor, Gorgias being his principal lieutenant. This time, it was intended, the work should be done thoroughly. This Jewish people, so obstinately troublesome, was to be absolutely extirpated. Not a single native inhabitant was to be left in Palestine, which was to be peopled in future by a more accommodating and manageable race.
This scheme, if it was to be carried out, would involve huge dealings in human flesh, and the slave-merchants of the sea-coast cities were, naturally, vastly interested in its success. Anxious to do the business as cheaply and effectively as possible, they formed what, in the language of modern commerce, would be called a "Syndicate," and sent parties of dealers to follow the two armies, and act as their agents when the scheme should begin to come into practical working.
This was the occupation, then, of four repulsive-looking creatures who had obtained permission to follow the army of Nicanor, and whom we may see discussing a flagon of the best Chian wine—the trade was as profitable as it was odious—and canvassing the prospects of business.
"Well," said one of the four, pursuing the narrative of an interview which he had just been having with Lysias, "we had a long debate about terms. The Governor was quite firm about one thing: there must be no picking and choosing. 'No,' he said, 'either you buy them all, or they shall be put up in the open market.' 'But what,' I said, 'am I to do with the old and the weak?' 'And what am I to do with them?' he answered. 'No; you must buy them all or none.' There I could not move him. He could not be bothered with detail. For so many prisoners, so many talents, half paid down, half six months credit. Old men and women at their last gasp, and new-born babes were all to be counted in. Those were his terms and I had to accept them, or we should not have come to an agreement."
"That does not seem a good bargain," interrupted another member of the company.
"Wait a moment," said the first speaker, "till you hear the price. I think you will agree that there is no reason to complain. At first he wanted a talent for every fifty. That of course was out of the question on the 'take-all' terms, and I told our friend so quite plainly. 'No,' I said, 'a talent for every hundred is about the right price, and even then we may very well lose,' which, you will allow, was sailing very near the wind indeed. Well, we had a long argument. First he would meet me half way. But I held out. You know they must have money. There is Antiochus—the 'Glorious' they call him—gone off to Persia on a wild goose chase after some treasures he has heard of. I'll wager that he'll spend more than he gets by a long way. I have friends at Court, and they tell me that the treasury is as empty as—well, we'll say a wine jar, after our friend Nicias there has had it at his mouth for a minute. So I was firm. And at last—to make a long story short—we came to terms at a talent for ninety. And I can't help thinking that it is not by any means a bad bargain."
"And what are we to do with the worthless ones?" said one of the dealers. "Surely having to keep them will take all the shine off our profits."
"Keeping them! Who talks about keeping them? We shall only have to bury them, and that does not cost very much. You have not been long in the trade, my good friend, and you don't know how soon their food seems to disagree with the poor wretches whom we can't sell."
He smiled an evil smile, and the others burst out into a laugh, in which, however, the young man who "had not been long in the trade" did not join.
"And what becomes of all the money?" said one of the dealers, who had hitherto taken no part in the conversation.
"Well, a part will be wanted for present expenses, pay of the troops, stores, and so forth; and that is to be paid in gold. But the greater part has to go to Rome—the King, you know, owes a great deal on the indemnity account. For that we shall find bills of exchange."
"Most of the money, then, is to go to Rome?"
"Yes; and don't you see the advantage of the arrangement? Of course most of it will come back into our pockets. Slaves from this part of the world are quite the fashion in Rome now; and I am very much mistaken if these Jewish slaves don't turn out a great success. They are quite a novelty; I should think that they have hardly been seen in the Roman markets. And then they have a very distinguished look, and the girls are sometimes remarkably handsome. I don't like to brag—and of course this is all between ourselves—but I think that we shall make a very good business indeed out of this campaign."
"If our side wins, that is," said the youngest of the dealers, who was evidently a little discomposed by what he had heard.
"If, indeed! There is not 'if' in the matter. You don't suppose this set of ragged beggars can stand against the army of Lysias?"
"Well, they stood against Apollonius, and killed him; and they stood against Seron."
"Yes, but this is another matter altogether. Lysias has got fifty thousand as good troops as there are in the world, barring of course, the Romans; and they must win. And then we shall all make our fortunes as sure as the sun is in the sky."
And, indeed, as viewed from without, the prospects of success which seemed to lie before the forces of Antiochus were very great. The army was powerful—it numbered nearly eight times as many as that of the patriots—it was thoroughly well equipped, and it was led by men who at least had the reputation of being good soldiers.
This time it was judged expedient to avoid the difficult pass of Beth-horon and to advance by the easier road of Emmaüs. At Emmaüs, accordingly, Nicanor had pitched his camp for the night, intending to move early the next day on Jerusalem, to occupy that city with overwhelming force, and to carry on the operations of the campaign from that base. He was the more hopeful of success because he had received exact information of the position of the patriot general. Benjamin had never forgiven the painful wound which he had received from the arrow of one of the Chasidim after the battle of Beth-horon. The injury had galled him all the more because his feelings had been really touched by the appeals of Seraiah, and he had seriously meditated throwing in his fortunes once more with the cause of his countrymen. He now made his way to the camp of Nicanor, and told him all that he knew of the position of Judas. The Greek general despatched his lieutenant with a picked force to attack him. While the enemy was thus occupied he should be able, he thought, to make the passage of the mountains without hindrance or loss.
Judas was at Mizpeh, in command of a force more numerous than any he had before been able to collect, but still not amounting to more than six thousand men. But the sight that this six thousand saw from the Mizpeh ridge—the watch-tower, as it was called—was such as to rouse to fury the hearts of all who beheld it. For there, lying before them, was the city of their love, the city of David, of Solomon, of Josiah, of Hezekiah, of Ezra, and Nehemiah and they could see, only too plainly in the clear sunset light, the horror of its desolation. The streets were empty; the walls, in old time thronged at evening by crowds of citizens and their families, were deserted; the gates were shut. The Temple could be seen, but its courts were silent and empty. And, rising above, in the City of David, in the very heart of the Jewish kingdom, was the fort of the Greek garrison—the hateful sign of the domination of the heathen. Then followed a touching ceremony, by which the servants of the Lord, banished from the courts of His House, yet sought to show the reverence and the love which they felt for its sacred precincts, for the Holy Place which they could see with their eyes, though they might not tread it with their feet. A numerous company of mourners, chosen to represent the whole people, ranged themselves on the ridge which commanded the prospect so sad and yet so dear. They were clad in garments of black sackcloth, itself ragged and tattered, and had strewn ashes on their heads. They spread out copies of the Law—that Law which the heathen had silenced in its own peculiar seat, and which they had insulted and profaned, picturing on its very pages the cruel and lustful demons whom they worshipped; the functions of the priests had ceased, but they could at least display within sight of the Sanctuary the garments which they wore; the sacrifices could not be offered, but they could at least show the bullocks and rams, the firstfruits of the cornfield and the vineyard, and present them in heart and will; vows could not be performed, but the Nazarites, with their unshorn locks, could stretch out their hands to the Sanctuary, and dedicate themselves in intention. And then from the whole multitude rose the cry, "What shall we do with these, and whither shall we carry them? For Thy Sanctuary is trodden down and profaned, and Thy priests are in heaviness and brought low. And lo! the heathen are assembled together against us to destroy us; what things they imagine against us, Thou knowest. How shall we be able to stand against them, except Thou, O God, be our help?"
This done, the trumpets sounded, as if to remind the mourners that they were soldiers again, and the whole multitude fell at once into military order. Judas carefully inspected his force. Mindful of the old indulgence given by the Law, he proclaimed that any among his followers who were building a house, or planting a vineyard, or had left behind him at home a newly-married wife, should depart. Those were not days when houses were being built or vineyards planted, for the land, save for some barren mountain ranges, was in the power of the heathen; nor was it a time for marrying or giving in marriage. Scarcely a man out of the whole array claimed the exemption. And when the leader went on, "If any man be timid or of a faint heart, let him turn back, while there is time," only two or three slunk away.
To those that remained Judas addressed a few stirring words. "You have seen," he said, "the city of your fathers from afar, how it lies desolate and dishonoured. Be bold and quit you like men, and the Lord will deliver it into your hands, for He can deliver both by many and by few. Arm yourselves at dawn, and we will fight with those nations who have defiled our sanctuary and have now come out to destroy us."
But the struggle was to come sooner than any one had looked for it. Azariah had been setting the sentinels who were to watch the northern side of the encampment, when he heard a voice that seemed to have a familiar sound.
"Azariah!" it said, in a penetrating whisper.
"I am here; say on;" and he felt sure that he recognized the voice of Benjamin.
"Tell your captain that Gorgias has come out of the camp of Nicanor with six thousand men, the very choicest of his army, and that he will attack him this night. Farewell!"
And before Azariah could answer he was out of sight and hearing. A quick remorse had overtaken the robber for his treacherous act, and he had done his best to remedy the wrong.
Judas, on hearing the news, lost no time in making his resolve. It was bold, even audacious. He would not wait to be attacked, but would himself attack, and that not the detachment under Gorgias, which it was quite possible he might have some difficulty in meeting, but the main body itself. Here he would certainly have the advantage of being utterly unexpected. And a victory over this would be almost, if not absolutely, decisive.
Accordingly he left his camp at Mizpeh without attempting to remove any of his belongings. In truth, they were scanty enough, and, if things went well with him, he should secure spoil of a hundred-fold more value than all that he had left. With nothing but their arms, and such scanty provision as they could carry in their pouches, his men marched through the darkness down into the plain.
The day was dawning when he came within sight of the camp of Nicanor. Though not regularly fortified, it was a place of considerable strength, which an army far more numerous and better equipped than that which Judas had under his command might hesitate to attack. The cavalry had bivouacked outside; the infantry were within the lines, but might be seen passing out of the gates.
So formidable a task did it seem to attack a fortified camp, held by a vastly superior force, that even Judas's band of heroes hesitated for a moment. He felt it at once, and at once addressed himself to check it. He called a halt, and bidding the ranks close in to as small a space as possible, he addressed them, sending his mighty voice in the still air of the morning with so commanding a power that it reached the very extremity of the crowd. In a few stirring words he reminded them of the deliverances which God had wrought in old time for His people. He spoke of the three hundred of Gideon, how they had discomfited the host of the Midianites, of the angel that had smitten with an unseen sword the legions of the haughty Sennacherib. He told them of the day when Macedonian and Jew had stood side by side against the Gallic invaders of Asia, and of how the Jew had stood firm while the Greek had fled before the fury of the barbarian onset. Finally he reminded them of the victories which they themselves had so lately won against overwhelming odds.
When he had finished his harangue, he divided the host between himself and his brothers, John, Simon and Jonathan. Eleazar was to recite the Holy Book, and to give his name as the watchword of the day. These arrangements made, he gave a signal to the trumpeters. They blew a piercing blast. Then, with a shout, "The Help of God! The Help of God!" the patriots charged. It might have seemed to an onlooker the strategy of despair, but it was successful, as it had been many a time in history before, as it has been many a time since.
The Greeks stared at them, as they advanced, with astonishment. Were these men madmen, or were they fired by some Divine fury? In either case they would be dangerous antagonists. As the patriots drew nearer, without a sign of hesitation or holding back, the terror which had been creeping over the minds of the Greeks became insupportable. They broke and fled, and did not even, so complete was their demoralization, attempt to hold their camp. Though pursuit was shortened by the approach of the Sabbath, which Judas would not suffer to be infringed upon even to complete his victory, more than three thousand fell, and as the Greek line had not waited to receive the onset of the patriots, all of them perished in the flight.
The work was not yet done, for the detachment under Gorgias had still to be accounted for. This, however, gave the conquerors very little trouble. That general had found the camp of Judas empty, and had naturally concluded that its occupants had been frightened away by his approach. He started in pursuit, but without being able to find any clear traces of the route which the supposed fugitives had taken. Probably, he thought, this would be in the direction of the mountain retreat from which they had issued. It was long before he satisfied himself that he was mistaken; but the peasants whom he questioned were evidently truthful when they declared that they had seen nothing of the force of which he was in search. He had to retrace his steps, and could not do this till he had given his men a rest, wearied as they were with almost incessant marching for a night and a day. It was late in the afternoon before he arrived in sight of the camp of the main body, and by that time Judas's victory had been won. He was astonished and alarmed to see that part of it was on fire. Shortly afterwards a fugitive from the defeated army came in with news of what had happened. Neither Gorgias nor his men were in any humour to encounter the patriots; they hastily turned and made the best of their way to Jerusalem.
Information of this retreat was soon brought to Judas by his scouts, and he felt that now at last he and his followers might enjoy their victory. The Sabbath was given, as usual, to rest and devotion. A great service was held, a prominent feature of it being the chanting of the great Psalm of Thanksgiving, "O give thanks unto the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever." The marvels of creation, the deliverance from Egypt, the passage of the hosts of the Lord through the Red Sea, the fall of the Amorite kings who had sought to stop their way to the Promised Land, the possession of the inheritance which had been promised to the fathers—all these blessings were enumerated, and after each new theme, given by the clear voices of the singers, rose the thunderous chorus of reply from the multitude, "For His mercy endureth for ever."
On the first day of the week the spoils were divided. The division was made with scrupulous fairness, and with a reverent regard to the injunctions of the Law. The wounded received a special consideration for their sufferings; a share was reserved for the widows and orphans of the slain; and those to whom had been given the unwelcome duty of staying behind to guard the encampment were not forgotten. The rich furniture of the officers' tents, the gold and silver plate, the many-coloured silks, and robes of Tyrian purple, with a well-furnished pay-chest, made together a splendid booty.
Among the prisoners was the party of slave-dealers to whom our readers were introduced at the beginning of this chapter.
"Who are you?" cried Judas, when they were brought before him, "and what do you here?"
"We are merchants," said their spokesman, "brought by business into the camp of his Excellency Nicanor."
"And in what merchandize do you deal?" asked Judas, though, as may be supposed, he was perfectly well acquainted with their occupation.
"We deal in the prisoners of war," answered the man. "Permit me, sir," he went on, "to congratulate your Excellency on the splendid victory that you have won, and to beg the favour of your custom. We offer the best of prices for goods, and pay in ready money or in bills on the best houses, quite as safe as cash, I can assure you, and far more convenient to carry."
"Do you know this document?" asked Judas, holding up a piece of parchment which had been found among the property of the slave-dealers.
The man turned pale and said nothing.
Judas then proceeded to read aloud: "It is hereby covenanted between the most excellent Lysias, Governor of Syria, on the first part, and Theron and his Company, dealers in slaves, on the second part, that the said Lysias shall hand over, and that the said Theron and his Company shall take all persons that shall be captured in the operations now about to be begun by the army of the said Lysias. And it is further covenanted that the said Theron and Company shall pay to the said Lysias or such other persons as he shall appoint, the sum of one talent of gold for every ninety persons delivered alive into the hands of the said Theron and Company. Furthermore it is agreed that the said Theron and Company shall have no claim for a drawback for any such persons dying after they have been once delivered; but that a drawback shall be allowed at the rate of six minæ for every person, who, as being a loyal subject of our lord and king Antiochus, or of any prince in friendship and alliance with him, shall have been wrongfully taken prisoner."
"Know you this document?"
Theron stammered an assent. "It is but a common matter of business, my lord. Such covenants must be drawn up, and, doubtless, they sound somewhat harsh."
"Ye have digged a pit, and are fallen into the midst of it yourselves," said Judas, in a voice of thunder. "Let them be taken with the followers of the camp to the slave-market of Sidon."
"Mercy, my lord!" cried the dealers, falling on their knees.
"Such mercy as you have shown yourselves you shall have, and no more. Lead them away."
"Nay, my lord," cried Theron, struggling away from the soldier who had grasped him by the arms, "you do ill to deal so harshly with men that have not borne arms against you."
"You have done tenfold worse," was the answer. "I know your works. You sell our youths to the mines, where the young man grows old and decrepit before he has reached to middle age, and the maidens you sell to shame; and the old and sick you slay with the sword or poison. Take them away."
"Listen once more, my lord," cried the man, in an agony of despair. "We have money; not here, of course, but with those whom we represent; if you should want a loan, we can find it for your Excellency, and at low interest, lower than you will find elsewhere."
"Take them away!" thundered Judas.
And taken away they were, still screaming out, as they were dragged off, offers of ransom, or loans at five percent interest, or no interest at all.
The next day Judas and his army, richly laden with spoils of every kind, returned to the sanctuary among the hills.