Florus, in order to furnish matter for fresh hostilities, sent a letter to his superior officer, Cestius Gallus, in which he falsely accused the Jews of revolt, pretending that they had raised the disturbance, and charging them with the very excesses from which they themselves had suffered. The Jews also, on their part, through their rulers and Queen Berenice, sent accounts of the horrible outrages committed by Florus. They were of the opinion that Cestius should advance with his army either to chastise the malcontents among them, should a rebellion arise, or to confirm the Jews in their allegiance, should they have maintained it.
Cestius sent forward one of his tribunes, called Neopolitanus, to examine into affairs, and to report to him the sentiments of the Jews. While Neopolitanus was on his way he met King Agrippa at Jamnia, who was returning from Egypt. He informed him of the purpose of his journey, and by whom he had been sent. Before they left Jamnia a deputation of priests and leaders of the people arrived to congratulate King Agrippa upon his return. After paying their respects to the king, they deplored their calamities and bewailed the cruelty of Florus. Agrippa, though he heartily sympathized with them, artfully concealed his compassion, and even affected to reprove them, in order that he might divert them from all thoughts of revenge. For he knew that such a course would only end in their own ruin.
When Agrippa and Neopolitanus neared Jerusalem, the people poured out to meet them in a most mournful procession. The widows of those that had been slain preceded the people, and amid loud wailing and lamentations the entire populace besought Agrippa to succor them. They enumerated to Neopolitanus the many miseries they had endured under Florus; and on entering the city, they showed the market-place desolated and the houses in ruins. Neopolitanus passed through the whole city, and, finding it very peaceable, he went up to the temple, and, calling the people together, commended their fidelity to the Romans and exhorted them to maintain peace. After this he took part in the temple-worship as far as was permitted to strangers, and returned to Cestius.
The people wished to send ambassadors to accuse Florus before Nero. Agrippa, on his part, declined to encourage this embassy. And as he wished to dissuade the people from all thoughts of war, he assembled them before the Xystus. Placing his sister Berenice in view of all, he made them a long and eloquent speech. He held before them the hope of a milder government than that which had recently afflicted them, when the true state of the province should reach the ears of the emperor. He told them that their hopes of gaining independence were vain. If they could not resist part of the Roman forces under Pompey, how could they expect to make a successful struggle now when the Romans ruled the world? All other nations, he said, were held in subjection by a few Roman troops. When so many great nations had been conquered, how could the Jews hope to be victorious? Finally, he dwelt upon the horrors of war, and the destruction that would surely fall upon their city and holy temple. When the king had finished he burst into tears and his sister wept aloud. The people were moved by his eloquence and touched by the tears of the royal pair. They cried out that they had not taken up arms against the Romans, but only to avenge their sufferings upon Florus. Agrippa replied, "But your actions are those of men already at war with the Romans. For you have not given the tribute to Cæsar, and you have destroyed the galleries which united the Antonia with the temple. You will, however, free yourselves from the blame of the insurrection if you repair the buildings and pay the tribute. For the fortress no longer belongs to Florus, nor to Florus will you give the money.
The people obeyed. With the king and Berenice they immediately proceeded to the temple and commenced rebuilding the galleries. The magistrates and members of council were sent out through the villages to collect the arrears in taxes, and in a short time forty talents were obtained. The danger of war seemed over. Unluckily, Agrippa tried to persuade the multitude to obey Florus until Cæsar should send some one to take his place. The people, incensed at this, reproached the king, and banished him from the city. Some of the rioters went so far as to throw stones at him. Indignant at this treatment, Agrippa sent some magistrates to Florus, who was at Cæsarea, that he might appoint some of them to collect the tribute, and withdrew to his own dominions.
And now a party of the most rebellious spirits assembled and attacked a fortress called Massada, occupied by Roman troops. They took the fortress, massacred the soldiers, and replaced them by a garrison of their own. In the temple a decisive measure was taken by Eleazar, son of Ananias the high-priest. He persuaded those priests who conducted the public worship to receive neither gift nor sacrifice from any foreigner. This was the same as directly renouncing all allegiance to Rome, for it was the custom of the Cæsars to send offerings to the temple, which were sacrificed in behalf of the Roman people.
The chief priests and influential men attempted to dissuade the people from adopting so ruinous a course. They represented that it had always been a custom to receive the offerings of strangers; that it was impious to preclude strangers from offering victims and kneeling in worship before God; such a decree would be an act of inhumanity against a single individual,—how much greater, then, must it be against the emperor and the whole Roman people! There was reason to fear also, they said, lest by rejecting the sacrifices of the Romans they themselves should be kept from sacrificing, and their city be put under the ban of the empire, unless they without delay should restore the sacrifices to their former footing, and repair the injury ere the rumor reached the injured.
They then brought forward the priests who knew the most about the customs of their worship. These all stated that the Jews had always received the sacrifices of foreigners. But the disaffected ones among the people would listen to nothing, nor would those priests whom Eleazar had persuaded to perform the foreign sacrifices.
The leading men, when they saw that they could not check the rebellion, and as they knew that they would be the first to feel the resentment of the Romans, sent a deputation to Florus and another to Agrippa, in order to free themselves from blame, requesting them both to bring an army to the city and crush the rebellion. Florus was rejoiced at the tidings, and, that he might further incense the Jews, he dismissed the embassy without a reply. Agrippa, anxious to save the city and the temple, immediately sent three thousand horse to the aid of those opposed to the rebellion.
Encouraged by these succors, the leading men, with the chief priests and as many of the populace as were friendly to peace and to the Roman rule, seized on the upper town. For the lower town and the temple were in the possession of the insurgents. For seven days the two parties fought with each other without either gaining any decided advantage. The following day was the festival of wood-carrying, on which it was customary for every one to bring wood, that there might be a constant supply of fuel for the altar, for the sacred fire was never allowed to go out. The insurgents refused to allow their opponents to take part in this festival, but admitted into the temple a large band of brigands who were eager to aid the rebels. A fierce attack was made upon the royal troops, who were overpowered and obliged to retreat from the upper city. The victorious insurgents then set fire to the residence of the high-priest, the royal palace, and to the public archives in which the bonds of the debtors were registered. They then again rushed on to the attack. Some of the chief priests and leading men now hid themselves in sewers, while others fled with the royal troops to the upper palace and shut the gates.
On the next day the insurgents attacked the Antonia. In two days they carried it, put the garrison to the sword, and set fire to the fortress. They then attacked the upper palace. The royal troops hurled missiles upon the heads of the attacking party and killed a great many of them. Night and day the terrible fight went on,—the insurgents hoping that the assailed would be reduced by famine, the royal troops that their assailants would grow weary of the attack.
Meanwhile, one Manahem, son of that Judas who had revolted against Coponius, and who had upbraided the Jews for obeying the Romans after having had God for their master, accompanied by a band of followers, repaired to Massada, where he plundered the armory of Herod. Arming his own men and a number of brigands, he returned in great pomp to Jerusalem, where he became leader of the sedition, and conducted the siege. So hotly was the palace attacked that the garrison soon sued for terms. The insurgents granted safe passage to the royal troops, who accordingly withdrew, leaving their few Roman allies to face the enemy alone. The Romans retreated to three strong towers which had been built by King Herod. Manahem and his party instantly rushed into the palace, slew the few who had not yet retreated, plundered the baggage, and set fire to the encampment.
The day following, Ananias the high-priest and his brother Hezekiah were discovered hiding in a sewer of the palace, and were put to death. Manahem, inflated by his success, and believing that no one would oppose him, took upon himself the supreme authority, and began to act the part of a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant. Eleazar, the son of the murdered Ananias, and his party would not brook this. It was unbecoming, they said, after having revolted from the Romans through love of liberty, to bow down to a master lower born than themselves. Accordingly, they attacked Manahem in the temple, where he had gone to worship, dressed in the royal robes. They were assisted by the populace, who thought that by killing Manahem they would end the sedition; and they soon dispersed his party. All that were caught were put to death; among them Manahem, who was dragged from a hiding-place and publicly executed with every variety of torture.
The people hoped that the death of Manahem would end the sedition; but such was not the intention of Eleazar and his party. They so vigorously pressed the siege that Metellius, who was in command of the Romans, soon sued for terms, offering to surrender arms and property if only the lives of himself and his soldiers would be spared. This was agreed to, and Metellius and his detachment came down from the towers; but just as soon as they had laid down their arms, the followers of Eleazar basely fell upon them, and butchered them to a man. Metellius alone escaped by promising that if spared he would profess the Jewish faith.
This horrible deed cut off from all the last hope of obtaining pardon from Rome. The more moderate foresaw that they would have to suffer for the misconduct of the insurgents. Jerusalem was filled with sorrow and lamentations. The crime for which all felt they would have to suffer seemed all the more horrible and atrocious because it had been committed on the Sabbath, the holy day of peace and rest.