How The Romans Continued To Persecute The Jewish People

Continued from Part 9

The Romans were ever vigilant against a Jewish insurrection.  Tenacious in their loyalty to ancestral beliefs and customs Jews presented Rome with a unique security problem, once their religious sensibilities were aroused.  Moreover, there was the Jewish refusal to practice the formalities of state worship.  This inevitably brought the charge of disloyalty, from their detractors, especially among the Hellenized Gentile communities.  Judea showed the least appreciable increase in Romanization or Hellenization of customs of any region under Roman control.  To the Roman administrative officials, accountable for the security of Judea and surrounding regions, there was little, if any, admiration for this situation.  They sided with those Hellenized Gentile groups who for the most part dutifully complied with Roman desires.  Thus, was forged the compact that in the seventieth week, increasingly aligned Rome with local allies, consisting of several national groups, against Judea and the Jews of the surrounding region.  This is the compact that was strengthened over the course of the seven years of the last week.  These Hellenized national groups are collectively referred to as rabim, “many” (verse 27).  Specifically, the term rabim, “the great ones,” may be a reference to the national group leaders (cf. Isaiah 53:12).  Rabim, “great ones” may also include those Jews who conspired with the Romans against their own people.  Josephus and Tacitus both write of the Greeks, Syrians, and Nabataean Arabs joining the Romans in the murder, destruction, and plundering of the Jewish population.  Josephus reports that after Vespasian was appointed commander his son, Titus, went to Syria “where he concentrated the Roman forces and numerous auxiliary contingents furnished by the kings of the neighboring districts.”15  Tacitus writes that the Roman legions, which Titus mustered for the siege of Jerusalem were “accompanied by twenty cohorts of allied troops and eight squadrons of cavalry, by the two kings Agrippa and Sohemus, by the auxiliary forces of king Antiochus, by a strong contingent of Arabs, who hated the Jews with the usual hatred of neighbors, and, lastly, by many persons brought from the capital and from Italy by private hope of securing the yet unengaged affections of the Prince.16

Before the First Jewish Revolt, the Roman garrison in Judea consisted only of auxiliary units recruited from the non-Jewish population of the region.17  The ruins at the site of the Jewish city of Gamla situated in the Golan, near the Sea of Galilee, affords further evidence of the Roman use of national auxiliary troops in their war against the Jews.  The extensive variety of arrowhead types found at the site reflect the participation of “auxiliary units composed of different ethnic groups from the East who were excellent archers” to make up for the Roman’s own lack of archery skills.  “[E]ach of the different ethnic units seems to have used differently shaped arrowheads as well as the ‘standard’ Roman issue.”18

Even before the war began the Roman administration gave support to the Greek and Syrian population of the region in and around Judea.  These communities, whose status had declined during the period of Hasmonean rule, had under Roman rule increased in power at the expense of the Jewish population.  Furthermore, they became a privileged class.  The local Roman forces were recruited mainly from the Hellenized cities such as Samarian Sebaste and Caesarea.  Josephus writes that the Greeks of Caesarea had “the support of the military; for the troops stationed here were mainly levied by the Romans from Syria, and were consequently always ready to lend aid to their compatriots.”19  This tension acquired increased significance during the decades immediately preceding the revolt, when more and more members of the Greek element rose to even higher positions in the Roman administrative hierarchy.  Once appointed, these officials naturally tended to support the citizens of the Greek towns, and it was no coincidence that Florus, the worst procurator, was a Greek from Asia Minor.  In fact, what precipitated the revolt were the anti-Jewish policies of the Greek citizens of Caesarea who in 66 C.E. obtained from Nero the administration of the government of that city;20 and the decrees of Florus who not only confiscated a large sum of money from the Temple treasury but ordered his soldiers to plunder and massacre part of the city of Jerusalem.21

The question may be asked:  Why does the last week start with Albinus (62-64 C.E.)?  

Certainly such procurators as Cumanus (48-52 C.E.) and Felix (52-60 C.E.) were ruthless in their dealings with the Jews.  Not only did Cumanus massacre Jews in Jerusalem but he also condoned attacks on Jews by Samaritans.  In consequence of the latter action, he was subsequently banished.  For his part, Felix also favored the Samaritans as against the Jews.  Of Felix, Tacitus writes that he “exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave.”22

Albinus, however, was even worse.  Josephus reports that under “The administration of Albinus … there was no form of villainy which he omitted to practice.”23  Josephus writes further “from this date were sown in the city [Jerusalem] the seeds of its impending fall.24  He then declares that Albinus’ “successor, Gessius Florus [64-66 C.E.], made him appear by comparison a paragon of virtue.  The crimes of Albinus were, for the most part, perpetrated in secret and with dissimulation; Gessius, on the contrary, ostentatiously paraded his outrages upon the nation, and, as though he had been sent as hangman of condemned criminals, abstained from no form of robbery or violence.25

The phrase ve-chatzi sh’vu’ah yash-bit, “and during half of the week” must be understood both from a grammatical and historical perspective.  Since the abolition of the sacrifices and the meal offerings did not just end for a period of three and one-half years but, in fact, for a longer period, down to our own days, this phrase cannot be translated as if they were abolished for only that one-half week period.  The usual rendering gives the impression that sacrifices and meal offerings were abolished for only a one-half week period, that is, three and one-half years, and implies that they ceased for only that time and were reinstated afterwards.  Rather, the abolition came about over the span of the entire three and one-half year period. This is seen from the grammatical construction of the phrase.  To express this fact the vav, due to its multi-purpose nature, should be rendered “and during.”  This is made even more necessary by the nature of the hiphil construction of yash-bit.  With any verb denoting “cessation,” “destruction,” and the like, such as, yash-bit, “to cause to cease,” “abolish,” unless explicitly indicated by the context that it is for a limited time, it is to be assumed that the cessation is to last for an indefinite period of time.  In this case, the verb yash-bit implies that the changed condition is to continue on throughout the post-Second Temple era.  Thus, the rendering is, “and during half of the week it [the Romans or “he” referring to Vespasian in particular] shall cause sacrifice and meal offering to cease.”  That is, the sacrificial system will cease to be carried out over the period of one-half of the week or three and one-half years, not in one stroke, but by cumulative events over that span of time.

Vespasian decided that the best way to proceed with the war would be to first take the rear  ̶ ̶  the Galilee and Golan  ̶ ̶  and only then to attack the center of the rebellion  ̶ ̶  Judea and its capital, Jerusalem.  In the spring of 67 C.E. Vespasian began his military campaign by entering Galilee.  The Romans systematically took city after city and village after village.  Within a short time the Romans occupied almost the whole country, including the coastal plain and the transjordanian area.  Vespasian himself, at the head of the main force, conquered northern Judea, and in 68 C.E. joined up with the column that had subdued the transjordanian area.  He then began systematically to subdue one district of Judea after another, with the aim of isolating Jerusalem.  “Vespasian … succeeded within the space of two summers in occupying with his victorious army the whole of the level country and all the cities, except Jerusalem.”26  This reconquest came to a halt in 69 C.E. because of troubles in Rome which eventually culminated in Vespasian being proclaimed emperor and departing for that city.  In the early spring, just prior to Passover, of the year 70 C.E., Titus began his siege operations.  His assault against the city was completed approximately five months later, in late summer.

Not at once did “sacrifice and meal offering” stop.  The cessation of daily sacrifices occurred over the course of the three years that Vespasian tightened the ring around Jerusalem27 and the five months that elapsed between Titus’ assuming his father’s command and his establishing himself in Caesarea.28  During this time, the last three and one-half years, it became more and more difficult to bring sacrifices and meal offerings to the Temple.  The sacrificial infrastructure began to break down although Jerusalem itself remained unconquered.  Finally, even the daily sacrifice, the korban tamid had to be suspended on the seventeenth of Tammuz 70 C.E., for lack of lambs with which to perform the ceremony.29  That does not preclude the possibility that some sacrifices continued intermittently until the final destruction on the ninth of Av.

15 Josephus, The Jewish War III. 1. 3. [8].

16 Tacitus, History V. 1; The Jewish War III. 4. 2. [64-69].

17 After suppressing the revolt the Tenth Roman Legion remained to take care of Roman security needs in the Land of Israel.

18 Danny Syon, “Gamla  ̶ ̶  Portrait of a Rebellion,” Biblical Archaeology Review (18), January/February 1992, p. 31.

19 The Jewish War II. 13. 7. [268].

20 The Jewish War II. 14. 4-5. [284-290].

21 The Jewish War II. 14. 6, 9. [293, 305].

22 History V. 9.

23 The Jewish War II. 14. 1. [272].

24 The Jewish War II. 14. 1. [276].

25 The Jewish War II. 14. 2. [277].

26 History V. 10.

27 “Vespasian, the Caesar who came and besieged Jerusalem for three years” (B.T. Gittin 56a).

28 The Jewish War IV. 11. 5. [658]-V. 1. 1 [1].

29 Mishnah Taanit 4:6; The Jewish War VI. 2. 1. [94] (See text correction of “for lack of men ceased to be offered” to “for lack of lambs ceased to be offered” in Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. H. St. J. Thackeray, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, vol. 3, p. 403n.)

© Gerald Sigal


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