Jewish Revolt of 66 AD can be traced to the death of Nero the Great when relations between the Jews and Rome deteriorated rapidly. Caligula (37-41 AD) who sought to impose exclusive empire-worship was another factor, but Caligula's being assassinated prevented it from occurring in his lifetime.
Jewish apocalyptic fervor was intense and, no doubt another causality to the revolution. In his Annals Tacitus explicitly asserted:
Most Jews were convinced that it was written in the ancient priestly writings that in those times the East would gain in might and those who came forth from Judea should possess the world (Tacitus, 5:13)
Also contributory was the growing Greek anti-Semitism. The Hellenized merchants constituted the civil service and predominated as tax collectors. Most of the soldiers in the Roman garrisons were recruited from Greek cities such as Caesarea and Samaritan Sebaste. These Hellenized Greeks occupying Palestine were notorious for their anti-Semitism, many of them having instigated Caligula to institute anti-Jewish measures (Ben Sasson, 1969, 296ff.). Rome's procurators, selected to control the Jewish state, almost invariably came from Greek / Hellenized territory. The last and most brutal of them all, Gessius Florus, for instance, came from Greek Asia Minor.
Finally, economic difficulties, and injustice, as always, contributed to the revolt. Roman rule in first century AD Palestine was ineffective and corrupt. Chronically insolvent, it conducted impetuous raids on the Jewish Temple for allegedly unpaid taxes, and gave raise to numerous bands of brigands who were permitted to roam the countryside unimpeded. Political discontent and insolvency swelled their ranks. Many of the farmers were in debt. Relations were strained in towns with Greek-Jewish populations.
Small wonder that, in 66 AD, the revolt began not in a Jewish town but in Caesarea, a Greek town, following a Greaco -- Jewish lawsuit won by the Greeks. A pogrom ensued in the Jewish quarter with the Greek-Roman garrison abstaining from interference. When Florus selected the moment to raid the Temple, Jewish militancy flared. Fighting erupted, Roman troops looted the Upper Town, services in the Temple were discontinued, and argument broke out between militant and moderate Jews. Homes that were burnt in other cities caused their Jewish refugees to fill the streets of Jerusalem. Angry and vengeful, they attacked the Roman garrison and massacred its soldiers.
The Great Revolt, in essence, was not only Jew against outsider -- the Greeks, but also Jew against an internal oppressor, their own Helenized Jews who they identified with the Greeks. Poor turned on rich, and one of the first acts was to burn the Temple archives so that all record of debts were destroyed.
Although the Great Revolt is one of the most important events in Jewish history, ancient records are sparse. Of Tacitus's long account, little has survived. Rabbinic accounts are replete with anecdotes and myth. There is little epigraphical or archaeological evidence (Cohen, 1979). Almost exclusive material for the event stems from Josephus who is biased, contradictory, self-focused and unreliable.
The massacre of the garrison in Jerusalem prompted Cestius Gallus, the Roman legate in Syria, to assemble a large force in Acre and march on the city. Greeted by the large force of Jewish resistance, he retreated and was then routed. Rome reacted with enormous force dispatching four legions (the V, X, XII, and XV), and one of the empire's most astute generals, Titus Flavius Vespasian, as commander. Titus dealt with the countryside first, razing fortresses held by Jews, and clearing the countryside of Jewish power. In 69 AD, being proclaimed as emperor, he returned to Rome and left his son Titus in charge with commands to besiege and capture Jerusalem. This siege lasted from April to September 70 AD.
Josephus describes them in two accounts: His 'Jewish War' and in his 'Antiquities of the Jews'. The 'Jewish war' elaborately describes the years 66-70, and is preceded by a history of...
According to Johnson (1987), this book, though ascribed to Josephus, was largely written by Titus. About twenty years later, 'Antiquities' provides an entire Jewish history from creation onwards ending with the Revolt and with an autobiographical addendum. There are many discrepancies between the two accounts (Cohen, 1979), most likely manifesting Josephus' change of heart between his writing the two books. In his youth, Josephus identified with sophisticated Roman culture, and with this in mind he authored the "Jewish War', but 'Antiquities' reflects his change of heart in late middle age when he returned to his Jewish roots. This makes his account tendentious and unreliable, yet nonetheless serves as resource for information of the prime events (Cohen, 1979).
From Josephus, we gather that the Jewish war was a civil revolt too with Jews divided into many factions. There was the aristocratic element of the revolt to which Josephus, a senior priest, belonged. Then there were the radicals who committed crimes against their own people -- such as despoiling the limited food production that there was in order to instigate them to fight; and opposing the radicals were the moderates who later insisted like Jeremiah at the fall of Jerusalem that this was God's will and that to fight the Romans was useless and foolish (Josephus, Wars, 2:408, 433). Josephus later took this line. To the extreme end of the spectrum, the farmers and the peasants represented most of the population who was opposed to the war and who would not join up when conscripted by Jewish-nationalist brigands. Some of the cities, indeed, such as Sephoris were pro-Roman, and others such as Tiberias were divided. The cities, furthermore, were divided in their preference of insurgent leaders. Josephus, himself, failing to conscript peasants, surrendered, after a token resistance to Vespasian, where he served the Roman, first as an interpreter at the siege of Jerusalem, and later as a propagandist.
The Revolt was imbalanced: Titus possessed 60,000 forces and the latest military equipment. The defenders had approximately 25,000 fighters, and they were split into factional groups. The Zealots, controlled by Elaazer ben Simon held the Antonia and the Temple; Shimon ben Fiora and his extremist band of Sicarii ran the upper city, whilst Idumeans and other partisans obeyed Yochanan of Giscala. The Romans, compelled to fight all the way, stormed the Antonia, took and burned the Temple, and captured Herod's citadel a month later. The people were sold as slaves, massacred, or led off to Caesarea, Antioch, or Rome to die in the arenas. Shimon ben Giora was executed nit the Forum in Rome. Titus' triumphal arch -- with a description of the Temple menorah -- commemorates the spot. Allegedly, Titus also preserved in his palace a copy of the scriptures and the curtain that screened the Holy of Holies (Johnson, 1987).
The three remaining places of Jewish resistance were taken shortly after the fall of Jerusalem: the Herodium; Machaerus; and, most famously, Masada which, because of its inspiring account of Jewish resistance (Yadin, 1966) where they killed themselves via lot rather than surrender serves as site for the annual swearing in ceremony of Israel's IDF's new troops.
The siege and the battle left Jerusalem a ruined city, but anti-Semitism continued to spread with the assertion that the fall of Jerusalem demonstrated that the Jews were hated by God. In his Vita Apollonii, Philostratus asserted (likely erroneously (Johnson, 1987)) that Titus refused the victory wreath offered by Helen of Judea on the grounds that there was no merit in vanquishing a people deserted by their own God. Smears against the Jews are well recorded by Tacitus (e.g. Histories, 5:1-13; Annals, 15:44), and from about 100 AD, the Jews, being perceived as victims, were attacked even more fiercely, particularly in the years between 115-117.
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