Bavli Yoma 38b
מַעֲשֶׂה בְּדוֹאֵג בֶּן יוֹסֵף שֶׁהִנִּיחוֹ [אָבִיו] בֵּן קָטָן לְאִמּוֹ. בְּכׇל יוֹם הָיְתָה אִמּוֹ מוֹדַדְתּוֹ בִּטְפָחִים וְנוֹתֶנֶת מִשְׁקָלוֹ שֶׁל זָהָב לְבֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, וּכְשֶׁגָּבַר אוֹיֵב טְבָחַתּוּ וַאֲכָלַתּוּ, וְעָלֶיהָ קוֹנֵן יִרְמְיָה; ״אִם תֹּאכַלְנָה נָשִׁים פִּרְיָם עוֹלְלֵי טִפּוּחִים״
Eikhah Rabbah 1:45
אִילֵין דַּהֲוֵי חֲבוּשִׁין, מִנְהוֹן אָכְלִין בְּשַׂר קַטִּילְהוֹן. בְּכָל יוֹם הֲוָה מַנְפֵּיק חַד מִינַיְיהוּ וּמַיְיתֵי לְהוֹן וְאִינוּן אָכְלִין. יוֹמָא חַד אֲמַר, "יֵיזֵיל בַּר נָשׁ מִינָּן, אִי מַשְׁכַּח כְּלוּם מַיְתֵי וַאֲנַן אָכְלִין." מִן דִּנְפַק אַשְׁכְּחֵיהּ לַאֲבוּהָ דִּקְטֵיל, נְסַבֵּיהּ וְטַמְרֵיהּ וִיהַב סִימַן עֲלוֹי, עָאל וַאֲתָא. אֲמַר לְהוֹ, "לָא אַשְׁכְּחֵיהּ כְּלוּם." אֲמָרֵי יֵיזֵיל בַּר נָשׁ חוֹרָן, אִי מַשְׁכַּח כְּלוּם מַיְיתֵי וַאֲנַן אָכְלִין." מִן דִּנְפַק הַהוּא בַּר נָשׁ הָלַךְ לְרֵיחֵיהּ חִפֵּשׂ וְאַשְׁכְּחֵיהּ לְהַהוּא דִּקְטִיל. אַיְיתֵיהּ וַאֲכָלוּנֵיהּ, מִן דַּאֲכָלוּן אֲמַר לוֹ, "מְנָן אַיְיתֵית דֵּין קַטְלָא?" אֲמַר לְהוֹ, "מִן זָוִית פְּלָנִית." אֲמַר לֵיהּ, "וּמַה סִּימָן יְהֵיב עֲלוֹי?" אֲמַר לֵיהּ, סִימָן פְּלַן." עָנֵי הוּא בְּרֵיהּ וַאֲמַר, "וַוי לֵיהּ לְהַהוּא גַבְרָא דְּמִן בִּשְׂרָא דַּאֲבוּי אָכֵיל!!" לְקַיֵּם מַה שֶּׁנֶּאֱמַר: "לָכֵן אָבוֹת יֹאכְלוּ בָנִים בְּתוֹכֵךְ וגו'" (יחזקאל ה, י).
Introduction to Josephus and the Jewish War
In terms of this history, we rely very heavily on Joseph ben Matisyahu - Josephus. He took on the name Titus Flavius after his sponsor. That in itself points to a great challenge in using Josephus as a source.
Josephus tells us a lot about himself, he wrote at least three autobiographical accounts, but his most important work is called The Jewish War.
By his own description, he was part of the Jewish aristocracy, close to the rabbis (he considered himself very learned) who, as a young man, was sent to be commander of the rebel troops in the Northern Galil. There, he mightily defended the Galil, which we know because he tells us so. But in a bizarre turn of events, he arranges a suicide pact with his own soldiers, but then doesn't kill himself. He surrenders to the Romans, and ends up being taken a person prisoner of Emperor Vespasian, and becomes Chief Jewish expert of the Roman army. He then chronicled the Jewish War, for a Roman audience, up to the destruction of the Temple.
He clearly betrayed the Jewish people, but within his constraints as a Roman slave he also writes at great length of Jewish heroism in this war.
Unfortunately, he is the only primary source of these events, but it is very well-written and we have to rely on him because we don't have any other chroniclers writing about this at the time.
- Jewish War - 66-74
- Three groups:
- Sadducees - the urban elite, the upper class. They don’t want to fight against the Roman’s, they want to keep living their good life.
- Zealots - Jewish ISIS/Hamas. They don’t only want to wage war against the Romans, they want to execute Jews as well
- Essenes - detached, disinterested apoliticals. They establish their own communities, develop strange ritualistic requirements (such as not using the bathroom on Shabbos), and want nothing to do with the conflict. Non-violent pacifists.
Then there are the Pharisees, who we might think of as Chazal, who are critical of the Romans but recognize the need for peace.
They are the ones who thrive after the war and their spiritual descendants (us) are still going strong.
Notice, crucially, that it’s the ones who adopt the middle view and aren’t too extreme to one side or the other who survive.
Gessius Florus - a Roman procurator. He was very demeaning to the Jewish population, demanding very high taxes, and highly dismissive of Jewish concerns.
Real estate dispute in Caesarea. A synagogue near a Greek-owned workshop, which operated (at full volume) on Shabbos. They tried to buy the shop, but the shop’s owner wasn’t interested. One Shabbos he slaughtered some birds and put them on the shul’s doorstep.
The Jews complained to Gessius Florus, who decided to remain uninvolved. Tempers flared on both sides, which led to a riot, so much so that it spread to Jerusalem (a 2-hour drive, a 24 hour walk). Gessius Florus put the riot down brutally, which only escalated the violence. There was a massive attack on Gessius’s troops, which raised alarm bells in Rome, which decided to send Roman troops to maintain law and order.
Cestius Gallus - a battle-hardened Roman general who came to Jerusalem with a massive army. He sent some time there but mysteriously left. He didn’t make any massive arrests, maybe he thought his presence was enough, maybe he felt that Jerusalem’s fortifications were too strong.
On his way back to Syria, he went through the very narrow Beit Choron pass. There, Jewish rebels attacked them and they suffered a humiliating defeat.
He escaped alive, but he lost the Eagle battle standard, which was very insulting. Emperor Nero decided he needed to really crack down, and sent Vespasian.
During this time, the rebel groups developed a false sense of elation. They thought they had thrown off the Roman yoke and had gotten independence.
In reality, they had poked a sleeping dragon in the eye. Now was the time to band together and to increase fortifications, but they couldn’t stop infighting. Several groups were jockeying for power and control of Jerusalem, even to the point of burning rival grain houses, not a smart thing to do immediately before a siege.
Rome was in a financial crisis, they really needed Jewish tax dollars. They also couldn’t allow these uprisings to send a message to other outposts of the empire, that was a dangerous precedent.
He sent a much more competent general - Vespasian.
(Nero may have had a grudge against Vespasian as well. Nero considered himself a performer, and would sing for Roman nobility. On one such occasion, Vespasian fell asleep during the performance.)
Vespasian was a brutal and very talented general, he would become emperor as well. He began in the North and took his time, sending his troops to small pockets at a time, wiping out the outlying resistance, and cornering the Jews in Jerusalem.
On these excursions he met Josephus, who would become a very valuable Roman ally/Jewish traitor.
Before Vespasian could reach Jerusalem, Rome needed a new emperor. Vespasian left Israel to go to Rome, but he left the task of conquering Jerusalem to his son, Titus (who would become emperor as well).
He encountered very fierce resistance from the rebels, who were severely outnumbered but nevertheless fought with extreme ferocity and reckless abandon, even attacking uphill and, on one occasion, wounding Titus personally.
Ultimately, however, the rebels could not withstand the might of the Roman army and were walled into the city of Jerusalem itself.
Josephus, The Jewish War Book V Chapter X (Cornfeld translation)
(1) The Jews who deserted to Titus
...The people...stimulated to desert; some sold all their possessions for a trifle, some their whole property, others their most valuable treasures. To prevent discovery by the brigands, they would swallow the gold coins, and, deserting to the Romans, had only to empty their bowels to have ample provisions for their needs...The partisans of John and Simon, however, kept a sharp lookout, more to keep these men from leaving than to keep the Romans out, and anyone who afforded even a shadow of a doubt as to loyalty was instantly put to death.
(2) The house-to-house search
For the wealthy, however, it was just as fatal to remain in the city; for on the pretext that he was a deserter many a man was killed for the sake of his property. As the famine grew worse, the frenzy of the insurgents kept pace with it, and every day both these horrors burned more fiercely. For, since nowhere was grain to be seen, men would break into houses, and if they found some they mistreated the occupants for having denied their possession of it; if they found none, they tortured them as if they had concealed it more carefully. Proof whether they had food or not was provided by the physical appearance of the wretches; those still in good condition were deemed to be well provided with food, while those who were already wasting away were passed over, for it seemed pointless to kill persons who would die of starvation. Many secretly bartered their possessions for a single measure of wheat, if they happened to be rich, barley if they were poor. Then they shut themselves up in the darkest corners of their houses; in the extremity of hunger some even ate their grain inground, while others baked it, guided by necessity and fear...
(3) The horrors of famine and atrocities of the rebels
Pitiful was the fare and worthy of tears the spectacle, for while the strong had more than enough, the weak could only whimper. All human emotions yield to hunger, but of nothing is it so destructive as of shame; what at other times would claim respect is, in the time of famine, treated with contempt. Thus it was that wives snatched food from their husbands, children from fathers, and - most pitiful of all - mothers out of the very mouths of their infants; while their dearest ones were dying in their arms, they did not hesitate to deprive them of the life-giving morsels. But this way of satisfying their hunger did not go unnoticed. Everywhere the rebels hovered, ready to snatch away even these pickings. Wherever they saw a house with locked doors, they concluded that those within were taking food, and instantly bursting the doors open, they rushed in and, forcing the bits of food out of their very jaws, brought them up again! They beat old men who were clutching their victuals, they dragged women by their hair as they concealed what was in their hands; they had no pity for gray hairs or infants, but picked them up as they clung to their scraps and dashed them to the ground. If anyone anticipated their entry by gulping down what they hoped to seize, they were even more savage as if they were defrauded. One would shudder hearing of the methods of torture they devised in their search for food; they blocked with vetch the orifices of their poor victims' bodies and drove sharp stakes into their posteriors; they inflicted on people torments untold to make them admit possession of a loaf or reveal the hiding-place of a handful of barley-meal. It was not that the tormentors were hungry - their actions would have been less barbarous had they sprung from necessity, but they were keeping their reckless passions exercised and providing supplies for themselves to use in the coming days. Again, when men had crawled out at night as far as the Roman outposts to gather wild herbs and grasses, they would go to meet them and, just at the moment these thought they were safely away from the enemy lines, they would snatch from them what they had procured; and often though their victims implored them, appealing even in the sacred name of God to let them have even a fraction of what they had collected at their own risk, not a morsel was given back; if they were lucky they were merely robbed and not killed as well.
(4) The persecution of the wealthier Jews by Simon and John
While the lower classes suffered thus at the hands of the soldiers, the men of rank and wealth on the other hand were brought up before the party chiefs. Some were executed while falsely accused of conspiracy, others on the accusation of betraying the city to the Romans; but the readiest device was to pay an informer to allege that they had decided to desert. When a man had been fleeced by Simon he was passed on to John; and he who had been plundered by John handed over to Simon. They drank each other's health in citizens' blood and divided the carcasses of their unfortunate victims. In their desire for power, they were divided, but in their crimes they were unanimous; for the one who did not share with his partner the fruits of other people's misery was deemed a scurvy villain, while the one who received no share was aggrieved at being excluded from the barbarity, as if robbed of some good things.
(5) Utter degradation of the Jewish race
It is impossible to give a detailed account of their enormities, but we may sum it up by saying that no other city ever endured such miseries, and no generation in history has ever fathered so much crime...It was they who overthrew the city and compelled the unwillingly (sic) Romans to be credited with so melancholy a triumph...In truth, when they watched the Temple burning from the Upper City, they were not sorry nor did they shed a tear out of grief...
Josephus, The Jewish War Book VI Chapter III (Cornfeld translation)
(1) A Jewish ruse and the fire that consumed many Romans
The rebels in the Temple never slackened their overt efforts to repel the troops on the embankments, and on the twenty-seventh of the same month they devised the following ruse. In the western portico they filled the space between the rafters and the ceiling beneath with dry wood, bitumen, and pitch, then withdrew as though utterly exhausted. Thereupon many thoughtless legionaries, carried away by reckless eagerness, charged in pursuit of those who retreated, applied ladders to the porticoes and jumped on them. But the more sensible men, suspicious of the unexplained withdrawal of the Jews, made no move. The portico, however, was crowded with those who climbed onto it, and at that moment the Jews set fire to the whole structure. As the flames shot up suddenly on every side, the Romans who were in danger were seized with consternation, and those trapped, with utter distress. Encircled by the flames, some hurled themselves into the city behind them, some into the enemy's midst, many in the hopes of saving themselves, jumping down among their own men and fractured their limbs; but most of those rushing to escape were caught by the fire; some cheated the flames with their own sword. Even those already doomed to some other form of death were instantly trapped by the enveloping conflagration. Caesar, though angry with the victims for climbing onto the porticoes without orders, was at the same time filled with compassion; and though it was impossible to rescue them, it was some comfort to the doomed men to see how grieved was the man for whom they were giving their lives. He was plainly visible as he called out to them, dashing forward and urging those around him to do their utmost to save them. But every man died cheerfully, taking with him those shouts and the sympathy of Caesar like a glorious mourning. Some had managed to take shelter near the portico wall, which was broad, and escaped the fire but they were trapped there by the Jews and, after long holding out in spite of their wounds, they all finally perished.
(2) Roman feats of gallantry
The last survivor to fall was a young man named Longus, who added glory to the whole tragic episode, and, deserving of mention as was every man who died, he outshone all the others in bravery. The Jews who were full of admiration and could not kill him in any case, invited him to come down and pledged his safety; his brother Cornelius, on the other hand, begged him not to disgrace his reputation or that of the Roman army. Convinced by this entreaty, he help up his sword in the sight of both armies and killed himself. Among those trapped by the flames, one Artorius saved his life by a trick. He called at the top of his voice to Lucius, a fellow soldier who shared his tent; "I leave you heir to all I have if you come close and catch me." Lucius ran to his aid while Artorius jumped on top of him and survived, while his weight dashed his rescuer against the pavement and killed him instantly.
John's tower consumed by the flames; the north-western portico burned by the Romans
While this blow for a time filled the Roman ranks with despondency, it helped them in the long run by making them less east to tempt and more cautious against Jewish traps from which they suffered, mainly because of their ignorance of the nature of the premises and the character of the enemy. The portico was consumed by fire as far as the tower that John had erected, during his war with Simon, over the gates that led out over the Xystus. The rest of the portico was hacked away by the Jews after the destruction of the troops who had mounted it. Then on the following day, the Romans in turn burnt the entire northern portico as far as its junction with the eastern portico overlooking the valley called Kidron, which dropped to a frightening depth. Such was the state of affairs close to the Temple at the time.
(3) The final horrors of the famine
Meanwhile, countless numbers fell victim to the famine in the city. The sufferings they endured were unspeakable. In every home, the very shadow of food led to conflict, and the closest relatives came to blows, snatching from each other any pitiful means of sustenance. Not even the dying were believed to be in want of food, and even those expiring were searched by the brigands in case any of them had food hidden in their clothing and were feigning death. Those desperate ruffians ?????? and staggered along like mad dogs, open-mouthed with hunger, battering at the doors like drunken men, and in their helpless confusion bursting into the same house two or three times in a single hour. Necessity drove them to gnaw at everything, and objects that not even the filthiest dumb animals would look at they picked up and ate. In the end they did not stop at eating belts and shoes; they stripped off the leather from their shields and gnawed at it. Some tried to live on scraps of old hay, and there were people who collected stalks and sold a tiny bunch for four Attic drachmas. But why should I go on to describe the inanimate things that hunger made them unashamed enough to eat, as I now describe an act of which there is no parallel in the annals of Greece or any other country, a horrible and unspeakable deed and one that is incredible to hear. I hope that I shall not be suspected by posterity of grotesque inventions and would have gladly passed over this calamity in silence, had there not been countless contemporary witnesses to bear me out. Moreover, my country would have little reason to thank me if I suppressed the narrative of the horrible miseries that it had to endure.
(4) A mother who devoured her own child
There was a woman, Mary, the daughter of Eleazar, who lived east of the Jordan in the village of Bethezuba (meaning "house of hyssop), distinguished in family and fortune, who had fled with the rest of the people to Jerusalem where she became engulfed in the siege. Most of her property, which she had packed up and brought with her from Peraea to the city, had been plundered by the tyrants; the remnants of her treasures and any food she had managed to procure were being stolen day after day by their henchmen. Full of indignation, the wretched woman kept on abusing and cursing the extortioners and thus aroused their anger. But no one, either out of resentment or pity, put her to death as she wished; weary of providing food for others - which it was impossible to find anywhere - and while hunger ravaged her internal organs, and marrow and rage consumed her still further, she finally yielded to the promptings of fury and necessity and defied nature itself. Seizing her child, a babe at the breast, she cried, "Poor baby, why should I keep you alive amidst war, famine, and civil strife? We will only face slavery with the Romans, even if we survive until they arrive, but famine will forestall slavery, and the rebels are more cruel than either. Come, be my food and an avenging omen for the partisans, and to the world the only tale as yet untold of Jewish misery." So saying, she killed her son, roasted him, and ate one half, concealing and saving the rest. The partisans appeared at once, attracted by the unholy odor, and threatened that unless she produced what she had prepared, she would be killed on the spot. She retorted that she had saved as fine a helping for them and disclosed the remnants of her child. Overcome with instant horror and stupefaction, they stood immobile at the sight. She said, "This child is my own, and so is this deed. Come eat, I too have done so. Don't be softer than a woman, or more tender-hearted than a mother. But if you are pious and do not approve of my sacrifice, then I have eaten in your behalf and let me keep the rest." At that they left trembling, cowards for once, though with some reluctance they left even this food to the mother. The whole city immediately talked of this abomination; everybody say this tragedy before his eyes and shuddered as if the crime were his own. The starving people desired to die; they envied those who had gone before and had neither seen nor heard of these horrors.
(5) Titus' protestation
The dreadful news soon spread to the Romans. Some refused to believe, others were greatly distressed, but to most the effect was to increase their detestation of the Jewish people. Caesar disclaimed all responsibility for this matter in the sight of God, and protested that he had offered the Jews peace and self-rule and an amnesty for all past offenses; but they preferred sedition to agreement, war to peace, hunger instead of plenty and abundance; and, having begun with their own hands to set fire to their Temple, which was being preserved by Rome, were indeed deserving of such food. However, he would now cover the full abomination of the murder of that child with the ruins of their fatherland and would not leave standing on the earth for the sun to look upon a city where mothers ate such food. And yet, he added, such food was less suited to the mothers than the fathers, who remained in arms after so many miseries. As he said this, he bethought himself of these men's desperation, convinced that they were past being brought to reason after having endured all the agonies that they might so easily have avoided had they but repented!