In the fourteenth year of Nero Cæsar, Gessius Florus came down into the province of Judæa to be Governor in the room of Albinus. This Albinus had been evil spoken of for his greed and wrongdoing, but Florus far surpassed him in wickedness; for indeed he plundered whole cities and regions, nor did he refuse any man licence to rob his neighbours if only he might obtain for himself a share of the spoil.
In the beginning of the second year of Florus, Cestius Gallus, Proconsul of Syria, came to Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover. And when the people thronged about him, making loud outcry against Florus, and praying that he would help them, Florus, who was standing at his right hand, mocked them. Nevertheless Cestius spake them fair, promising that he would speak for them to Florus, that he might deal more mercifully with them in time to come. And indeed Florus, going with him as far as Cæsarea, made many promises that he would behave himself more mercifully. Yet had he resolved in his heart that he would multiply his cruelties, that so he might drive the people into war. For he knew that, if there should be peace, the people would accuse him of his misdeeds to the Emperor, but that if there should be war, there would be no thought or remembrance of such things. Having, therefore, this purpose in his heart, he sent messengers to take seventeen talents out of the treasury of the Temple, pretending that the Emperor had need of them. But when the messengers showed their errand, immediately the whole City was in an uproar, the multitude of the people rushing to the Temple, and crying out against the tyranny of Florus. Some also of the young men went about with a basket, asking alms for the Governor as though he were a beggar. Florus, so soon as he heard these things, marched to Jerusalem with an army of horse and foot. And when the people came forth to meet him, for they would fain have pacified him, he repulsed them with violence, and commanded his soldiers to disperse the crowd. And the next day, sitting on the seat of judgment, he called before him the chief men of the City and bade them deliver up to him them that had been their leaders in the tumult, and them that had insulted him. But when he found that the guilty were not given up to him, for indeed all were guilty, not heeding the excuses and entreaties of the multitude, he gave over to his soldiers the Upper City to plunder, bidding them also slay whomsoever they might meet; which thing they did so zealously that all Jerusalem was filled with robbery and murder. Also Florus seized men of renown in the City, of whom some were Roman knights, and commanded that they should be shamefully beaten before his judgment seat, and afterwards crucified.
Now it chanced that in these days Berenice, sister to King Agrippa, was in Jerusalem, who being greatly troubled at the doings of the soldiers, sent certain of her body-guard and captains many times to Florus, entreating him that he would have mercy upon the people. But Florus paid no heed to them; nay, when the Queen went herself and stood barefooted before his tribunal, neither he nor his soldiers regarded her, but put the prisoners to the torture, and slew them even before her eyes; and doubtless they would have slain her also, but that she escaped with her guard into the palace, and there abode for that night in great fear of death.
The next day the multitude of the people were gathered together in the market-place of the Upper City, lamenting over them that had been slain, and crying out against Florus. Nevertheless when the princes and the priests besought them that they would give no occasion to the Governor, they went peacefully to their homes. But he, desiring to stir up strife, sent to the chief men of the City, and said to them:—"If ye now be earnest for peace, go forth, and meet the soldiers that are now coming to the City, and salute them as friends." But he sent privately to the centurions, commanding that the soldiers should not take any heed of the salutations of the people. And this they did; for when the people, coming forth from the City with the priests and chief men, greeted them with all friendship, they answered nothing. This stirred up great wrath in the multitude, so that they cried out against Florus; whereupon the soldiers made at them with their clubs, chasing them back to the City, and many fell under the clubs, and yet more were trampled by the crowd.
Nevertheless when Florus would have taken possession of the Temple, the people cast stones and javelins upon the soldiers from the roofs of the houses, and beat them back; also they broke down the cloisters that were between the Tower of Antony and the Temple; which when the Governor perceived, he ceased from his purpose; and in a little space he departed to Cæsarea, leaving one cohort only for a guard to the City. Afterwards he sent letters to Cestius, accusing the Jews, and laying to their charge the very things which he had himself done against them; which letters when Cestius had read, he sent one of his captains to Jerusalem to inquire into the truth of these matters. And when this man was come he went through the whole City, beginning at Siloam, taking with him one attendant only—for the chief of the people had persuaded him, through King Agrippa, that he should do this. And when he had seen that the people were peaceably disposed, he went up to the Temple, in which place many were assembled. And having praised them and exhorted them to live quietly, he returned to Cestius.
But the chief of the people took counsel with King Agrippa, whether they should send orators to accuse Florus before Cæsar. This the King liked not, but was minded rather to exhort the people that they should submit themselves to the Romans. The multitude, therefore, being assembled on the terrace, Agrippa stood forth and spake to them many words concerning the power and greatness of the Romans, and how that they were now masters of the whole world, and persuaded them that they should submit themselves quietly. And when he had made an end of speaking, he lifted up his voice and wept, as also did Queen Berenice his sister. Thereat the people were much moved; and they cried out, "We war not against the Romans, but against Florus, for the wrong that he hath done to us." To this King Agrippa made answer, "Not so, if one look to deeds rather than to words. Your tribute ye have not paid, and ye have broken down the cloisters between the Tower of Antony and the Temple. These things ye have not done against Florus, but against Cæsar. Do ye therefore pay the tribute and build again the cloisters."
In these things the people hearkened unto the King, for they began to build the cloisters, and paid also to them that were appointed to this office what was wanting of the tribute, even forty talents. But when the King would have them render obedience to Florus, till there should come down another Governor in his room, the people reviled him, and bade him depart forthwith from the City, and some even cast stones at him. So Agrippa departed to his own kingdom.
After no long space the Jews openly rebelled against the Romans. A certain Eleazar, the son of Ananias, persuaded the people that it should not thenceforth be lawful to receive any offerings from strangers. And this was indeed the beginning of war, for they rejected the offerings of Cæsar. Then the chief men, when they had sought to turn the people from their purpose but had prevailed nothing, sent messengers to Florus and to Agrippa that they should send soldiers to Jerusalem, for that now there was a manifest rebellion. Florus, indeed, was well pleased that it should be so, and took no heed; but Agrippa sent three thousand horsemen, by whose help the chief men took possession of the Upper City. On the other hand, Eleazar and the rebels occupied the Temple. For seven days these fought against each other, and neither had the upper hand. But on the eighth day, being the festival of Wood-carrying (for on a certain day every man of the Jews was wont to bring wood for the fire upon the altar), certain of the people that are called Zealots came into the Temple. Then the rebels drove the soldiers of the King out of the Upper City, and burnt the house of Ananias, the high priest, and the palaces of the King and of the Queen, and the books in which were written the names of such as owed aught to the money-lenders. The next day they also took the Tower of Antony, and slew them that kept it; and afterwards they laid siege to the palace of Herod. And when they had assailed this for certain days but could not take it, they made a covenant with the soldiers of the King that these should come forth and suffer no injury; but with the Romans that were in the palace they would make no agreement. These, therefore, fled into the towers, for Herod had built three, the names whereof were Hippicos and Phasaelis and Mariamne. But, after awhile, being reduced to great straits, they surrendered themselves, under promise from the rebels that no man should be put to death. Nevertheless so soon as they had come forth and had laid down their arms, for this also had been agreed, the rebels fell upon them and slew them all, save Metilius, their captain, for him they spared when he had promised that he would receive circumcision. And this great wickedness was wrought upon the Sabbath day.