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William Shepard

The Warnings Given to the Jews before the Destruction of the Temple

While the temple was in flames, the Roman soldiers stole everything they could lay their hands upon, and killed every Jew that came in their way. No pity was shown to any one; old men and children, women and priests, all fell beneath the sword. The flames roared upward from the temple, and as it stood high upon a hill, and burned with tremendous fury, it seemed from a distance as if the whole city were in a blaze.

The din about the temple was something fearful. There arose the war-cry of the Romans, the shrieks of the insurgents, surrounded as they were by fire and sword, and the wailing of the people over their misfortunes. The mountains about the city echoed the cries and swelled the uproar. It seemed as if the hill on which the temple stood was one blaze of fire. All over the ground was covered by bodies of the slain, over heaps of which the soldiers jumped in pursuit of the Jews who were still alive. A band of the insurgents forced their way through the Romans into the outer court of the temple, and from thence into the town.

Some of the priests at first tore up spikes from the sanctuary and hurled them at the Romans, but afterwards, retreating before the flames, they took refuge on a part of the wall. Two of the priests plunged into the fire and perished in the flames of the temple.

The Romans now set fire to all the buildings around, to the remains of the cloisters or colonnades, to the gates, and to the treasure-chambers, where immense wealth had been collected. Upon a small part of the cloister of the outer court a crowd of defenceless people had taken refuge, to the number of about six thousand. These had been induced to gather there by a false prophet, who told them that God had commanded all the Jews to the temple, where He would display His power to save His people.

Before Cæsar had made up his mind what to do with these people or had given any orders, the soldiers set fire to the colonnade, and the whole multitude perished in the flames.

There were at this time a number of false prophets, who were hired by the insurgents to deceive the people by bidding them wait for help from God, and so keep them from deserting; though, indeed, before the siege there had appeared signs and wonders enough that foretold the awful fate that hung over Jerusalem. And yet they had not regarded the warnings of God.

A star in the shape of a fiery sword had stood over the city for a year. And just before the revolt, when the people were coming together for the feast of the Passover, a bright light shone around the altar during the night and made the temple as light as day. The people thought this a good omen, but the sacred scribes told them that it boded no good.

Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner court, which was fastened with iron bars, and was so heavy that it took all the strength of twenty men to move it, suddenly flew open of its own accord during the night.

Not many days after the festival there appeared in the skies, just before sunset, a number of chariots poised in the air, and armies of soldiers speeding through the clouds. And at the feast of Pentecost, when the priests entered the inner court of the temple, they heard a great noise, and after this a loud voice as of a multitude, saying, "We are departing hence."

But the most wonderful story remains to be told. About four years before the war, while the city was enjoying all the blessings of peace, there came up to a festival a rustic who stood up in the temple and called aloud,—

"A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against all the people."

Day and night he walked up and down the streets with this cry. Some of the people, bothered by his noise, caught hold of him and beat him, but he only kept on crying out as before. At length the rulers brought him before the Roman procurator, who caused him to be scourged until his flesh was bare to the bone. He neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear, but cried aloud at every stroke, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!"

When the procurator asked him who he was and whence he came and why he uttered these words, he made no reply, but only repeated over and over again, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" Until the breaking out of the war he continued this cry, and spoke to none of the citizens, neither thanking those who gave him food nor cursing those that beat him. For seven years and five months he continued his wail, nor did his voice become feeble, nor did he grow weary. At length, as he was going round upon the wall during the siege, crying with his piercing voice, "Woe, woe once more to the city, to the people, and to the temple!" he suddenly added, "Woe, woe also to myself!" and was immediately struck dead by a stone.