The House of Flavia and Judaism.
I. The Invasion of the West by the East.
Rome was not able to enjoy its power, at its peak, with a joyful heart. In the rising and setting of the sun, there were images of terror and danger that it did not feel capable of facing in the midst of its military glory.
Horace only expressed the fear of his contemporaries when he cried out to them, “Who will fear the Parthians, the Scythians, and the children of Germany, as long as Augustus reigns?” Lucan, the poet of civil war, often returns to the lament about Roman fratricide, which has filled the Parthians with joy and driven freedom into the forests of Germany. This has always been the case and still is today. The Greeks lived under the pressure of the Great King (of Persia) and today’s divided Europe sees its ominous fate in the Emperor of the East, while in the West, America has taken on the role of Horace’s children of Germany and the barbarians of Tacitus.
In the balance of power, in which the West and East measure themselves against each other, the weight with which Vespasian enters the eternal struggle of both worlds forms a complex episode. Seneca had just before (according to Augustine’s quote from a lost work) complained about the customs of the Jews winning out in all countries and the vanquished imposing their law on the victors, and although Vespasian avenges the Italian Jupiter in the burning of the temple of Jehovah, he is celebrated by Roman historians as the one who proved the superiority of the East over the West. He is accompanied by the prophecy of ancient priesthoods of the East, that the East will grow strong and the lord of the world will come from Judaea (Tacit. Hist. 5, 13), after the West, and yet the Emperor, in whom the renewed power of the East was to be proven, brings the sanctuaries of Jerusalem to Rome and the images of his trophies still adorn the triumphal arch erected by his son. And the contradictions that permeate the person and memorable achievements of this emperor are not yet exhausted. For in truth, in the same palace in which he as a conqueror laid down part of the Jewish temple booty, Judaism was to rejoice in a decisive triumph over his own house and over Rome.
Tacitus regards the turn that Vespasian brought about as too small when he (Hist. II., 6) limits it to the attitude of the Roman legions of the East, which felt their strength during the conflict between Otho and Vitellius and no longer wanted to comply with the obedience that the East had shown to the West since the days of Pompey until the time of Otho. The civil wars had been, since Caesar’s time, as Florus (Epit. 4, 2) rightly expresses it, both external and in the same sense Lucan opposes the barbarian hordes of Gaul, Belgium, and the Rhine, whom Caesar drives to plunder Rome (1, 392 ff.), to the kings of the East, the Scythian masses, and the Nile land, whom Pompey calls under his banners.
After the loss of the battle, Pompey, according to Lucan, wants to establish a world empire in the East and humble Rome through the Parthians. In the council meeting in Selinus, Cilicia, which he shares with the senators who share his flight, he declares, “I seek the beginning of a new era; show a great spirit. Let us hurry to the East and fight the civil wars with Parthian warriors” (Pharsal. 8, 264 ff.). The victor himself believed that he could only establish his true royal castle on the Pharos of Alexander or on the Bosporus and wanted to conquer the crown in a Parthian war (Sueton, Cal. cap. 79). Even in the republican camp of Brutus and Cassius, after the defeat at Philippi, the eye was turned towards Parthia, and Titus Labienus, the son of Caesar’s opponent, was sent to the King of the East to obtain auxiliary troops from him, but he fell as a victim of Roman swords when he actually invaded Syria and Cilicia with a Parthian army.
Once again, the forces of the East on the side of Antony threatened the world city. At Actium, the question was even more urgent than at Pharsalus whether the invasion of the East should succeed sooner, before it entered Rome in the guise of a Christian philosopher. Virgil was right when he (Apin. 8, 696 ff.) saw the battle at Actium as a battle of the gods, in which the Italian deities battled with Isis and her monstrous beasts, and Apollo drove the peoples of Egypt and the East into flight. The lot was uncertain, Lucan sings (10, 67), on the Leucadian rock, whether the stranger with the sistrum would conquer the Capitoline and rule the world.
At the fall of Nero, the West, whose power Caesar and Augustus had united against the East, was divided. The uprising of the rival emperors was also a declaration of war by the provinces against the rule of the capital. Galba formed his troops, with which he set out for Rome, from the natives of Spain. Gallic and Germanic auxiliary troops forced Vitellius to invade Italy, and his general Cacina frightened the municipalities and Roman colonies of Upper Italy when he, dressed in a colorful barbarian military cloak and wearing trousers, transformed into a Germanic chieftain and gave orders to those wearing togas. Alongside the struggle of the rival emperors and their foreign auxiliaries, there was an open rebellion of the Gauls, Batavians, and Germans. The fire of the Capitol, in which Vespasian’s older brother Sabinus and his son Domitian defended themselves against the troops of Vitellius, meant the downfall of Rome for the Gauls. The Druids had raised their voices again and announced that world domination would pass to the Gauls, who had once conquered Rome, populated Italy, overrun Greece, and settled in the Caucasus. God-men and prophetesses preached the new era of salvation to the far West. A Mariccus appeared as the god and savior of Gaul. The Germans and Batavians swore to support the renewal of Gaul, but Civilis, the Batavian chieftain, also worked on the foundation of a separate Germanic Rhine League and sent the trophies of his victories over the demoralized Romans to the Welleda, the seer at the Lippe.
During this turmoil of the West, Vespasian, the most practical and sensible man of his time, was in Palestine leading the legions with which he fought the Jewish rebellion. He was the son of a freedman and was born in Phalacrine near Reate in the Sabine country. His father had acquired some wealth as a tax collector in Asia and then retired as a moneylender, whose clientele was mainly in Switzerland. Vespasian himself had worked his way up from the bottom through hard service, as a military tribune in Thrace, as a quaestor in Crete and Cyrene, as a legate in Germany, as a general under Aulus Plautius, and then under the leadership of Emperor Claudius in Britain, and as an honest administrator in Africa, leaving nothing behind and finally acquiring a respectable fortune as an importer of animals and slaves in Africa. He was with Nero on his art tour in Greece and was sent by him to quell the rebellion in Palestine at the head of the local legions because of his reliability in service when the Roman army suffered a defeat outside the gates of Jerusalem.
Vespasian personally adhered to the same strict discipline that he had demanded from his own legions at the various stages of his service. When Galba advanced towards Rome without encountering any resistance, he sent his son Titus to pay homage to him. However, the young warrior, who had fought alongside the general in the Jewish war, learned of the new emperor’s death in Corinth and abandoned a journey that would have delivered him as a hostage to either Otho or the advancing Vitellius from Gaul. Vespasian continued to maintain military punctuality even at the moment when he summoned his army to pay homage to Vitellius, but their silence proved to his friends that they had made the right decision in choosing him as Caesar and savior of the disintegrated empire in their deliberations. Mucianus, prefect of Syria, a brilliant orator, skilled general, and energetic administrator, had bowed to Vespasian, mindful of his own inclination towards enjoyment of life, and made his own legions available to him, also bringing about the declaration of the military leaders for the general in Judaea. The prefect of Egypt, Tiberius, was among the men who believed in Vespasian’s intelligent superiority over the wild genius of the Neroan era and, a few days before the public homage of the Syrian legions on July 1, 69, had his own troops swear loyalty and handed over the important province that Caesar and Augustus had had to conquer on the battlefield.
Vespasian felt so secure in his military camp, which stretched from the Danube to Egypt in the eastern part of the empire, that he awaited the complete downfall of Vitellius and the direction of the legions towards the rebellious Gaul by Mucianus in Alexandria, where he guarded Rome’s granary. He did not go to Rome until the summer of 70 when his representative there had removed the odium against him by taking action against the last opponents, as well as against the resurgence of the old factions and the wildness of the people, to prevent any discord in his entry as emperor through acts of reaction or the punitive office.
The news of the signs from the gods that had foretold his future in the East preceded Vespasian’s return. The deities of the Orient, who had been defeated with the opponents of Caesar and Augustus at Pharsalus and Actium, had declared themselves in his favor and recognized his rule in advance. Oriental wonders, signs, and prophecies had inaugurated the Flavian period of the empire, and the Druids and gods of Gaul and the prophetesses of Germany had to withdraw into the darkness of their forests before the favor with which the gods of the East had accompanied the new emperor on his ascent.
When Titus was traveling to Rome to convey his father’s and his legions’ homage to Galba, it was generally rumored that adoption by the elderly emperor awaited him. The news of his assassination, which he received in Corinth, opened up a separate future for him and his father, and on his return, he consulted the priest in the temple of the Paphian Venus on Cyprus in such a vague and indefinite manner that it was easy for the priest to satisfy the desires of his heart. He hurried to his father with a lifted spirit (Tacitus: aucto animo). The gods themselves gave their approval to him when the legions, Mucianus, and the leaders awaited his declaration, and when he inquired at the sanctuary on Mount Carmel, it was understood that the priest promised him the fulfillment of his thoughts directed at vast territories and many peoples.
The supreme deity of Egypt could not lag behind the legions there and met the emperor in Alexandria with the same readiness as the prefect of the province. Serapis advised a blind man to moisten his eyes with the Emperor’s saliva, and likewise, a paralyzed man to have the Emperor step on his sick limb. Vespasian, after some hesitation, performed this service for the sick. If Merivale, in agreement with Champigny (in his Rome et Judée), sees only imitations of Jesus’ miracles in these wonders of Vespasian, while Keim (History of Jesus, 1871, Part I, 160) sees an analogy to the deeds of the Savior and one of the numerous historical testimonies to the dominion of the spirit over the flesh, I will neither offer a natural explanation of the two Alexandrian miracles nor attempt to extract any real foundation from the reports used by Tacitus of the official chroniclers of the Flavian house. Nevertheless, let me please modern theologians by saying that the late author of the fourth Gospel and the subsequent reviser of the Ur-Evangelium contained in the Gospel of Mark borrowed from Tacitus the use of saliva in the miracles of Jesus (John 9:6, Mark 7:33, 8:23).
Of the miraculous Arabesques with which the life of Vespasian is embellished, I mention only briefly the magic trick that Josephus (Antiquities 8, 2, 5) has the Jew Eleasar perform before the emperor, who healed a possessed person with the secret remedy left by King Solomon, and forced the demon he cast out of the unfortunate person to overturn a nearby vessel of water as proof that it had indeed succumbed to the magic. On the other hand, the statement in which the same Josephus combined the downfall of the Jewish sanctuary with the fortunes of the Western world will seriously occupy us. This is the true, heaven-ordained banner under which Vespasian entered Rome.
2. The historical sources on the Jewish War.
The statement was: “At that time, someone from Judea would rise to world domination” (bell. Jud. 6, 5, 4.).
The fortunate man who established a world-historical name for himself in the midst of the misfortune of his nation, by discovering and interpreting this prophecy from his holy books, called it ambiguous. The Jews had mistakenly applied it to themselves, and many wise men among them had been deceived by its obscurity regarding the outcome of the crisis that ended with the burning of the Holy Temple. In truth, however, the prophecy had meant the elevation of Vespasian, who was proclaimed Lord of the World in Judaea.
After the fall of the fortress of Jotapata, which he had defended, Josephus was brought before the Roman victors as a prisoner of war in the summer of 67. He announced his great future to Vespasian, who ordered him to be put in chains as if he were going to send him to Nero immediately. However, Josephus insisted on a private conversation with him, and Vespasian dismissed the soldiers and war leaders who had gathered except for Titus and two friends. Josephus presented himself to Vespasian as an ambassador of his God, and said, “Do you want to send me to Nero? (bell. jud. 3, 8, 9.) How is it possible that those who have come before Nero, up to you, will be able to maintain themselves? You, Vespasian, will be emperor and imperator, and this will be your son. Just put me in stronger chains and keep me with you. For you will not only be my lord, Caesar, but also of the earth and the sea and the whole human race.”
The saying that served as a thread through the maze of those war years for the Jewish historian has also passed into the writings of Tacitus and Suetonius. In the former’s “Histories” (5, 13), still with clear echoes of the interpretation given to it by Josephus. When Tacitus speaks of the signs that foreshadowed the downfall of the temple, he adds that only a few (among the Jews) found cause for concern in it, and that most relied on the saying of the old priestly scriptures that at just this time the East would grow strong and the rulers of the world would come forth from Judea. Suetonius has given the saying, retaining its key words, a wide distribution and turned it into an ancient and unanimous opinion that has become known throughout the whole of the Orient, namely, that it is predetermined by fate that at that time the rulers of the world will come forth from Judea.
This Suetonian expansion of the terrain on which the ancient expectation of the world ruler coming from Judea occupied people’s minds has been a welcome service to Christian theologians. Only forty years ago, the apologists saw in the future hopes of the Orient the inclination of the heart that kept the Magi of the East waiting for the star of the expected world king and led them, under the guidance of the sign from heaven, to the crib in Bethlehem. But since the confidence of the faithful interpreters has declined significantly, Keim (1, 240) finds the legend of the world rulers who will arise from Judea somehow “expressed” in our gospels in the form of venerating Magi (thus through the art of fiction or legend), “especially after the Christian persecution of Nero, during the Jewish War, and in the year 69, when the East was full”. Finally, Charles Merivale (Chap. 59) believes that it was the Christians who, in harmony with the messianic visions of the older prophets, took up the priestly tradition of the strengthening of the East and the emergence of world rulers from Judea, and set out from Judea after their departure from the endangered Jerusalem to conquer the empire and the world morally.
Whether Tacitus, as the author of these lines assumed in the Berlin edition of his gospel criticism (1851), used the history of Josephus, we will examine in due course. He had at least a rich literature on the Jewish war before him and, if thorough research had been his concern, he should have used it.
The historian Josephus used a prophecy about a future ruler from Judea as a guiding thread throughout the tumultuous years of the Jewish War. This prophecy was also referenced by the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, with Tacitus explicitly alluding to Josephus’ interpretation. Suetonius expanded the scope of the prophecy, stating that it was widely believed throughout the East that a ruler would come from Judea. Christian theologians have used this prophecy to support their belief in the messiah, with some even seeing it as an allusion to the magi visiting the baby Jesus. However, this interpretation is now considered unlikely by many scholars. Josephus wrote his history in the language of his people, intended for both Jews and neighboring peoples, such as the Parthians, Babylonians, and Arabs. He sought to gain support for his interpretation of the war’s outcome in these regions, which were closely following the events in Jerusalem. Josephus’ work faced competition from other authors, some of whom had not witnessed the events themselves and relied on hearsay or myth, while others had personal biases that influenced their writing. After presenting his work to Vespasian and Titus, Josephus received their approval and the latter even signed off on its publication.
Only after completing his “Antiquities” in the 13th year of Domitian’s reign (94 CE) and dedicating them to Epaphroditus, Josephus found himself compelled to debate with a fellow countryman in his so-called autobiography, which he attributed to the same patron. Justus of Tiberias, his rival in the early Galilean campaign, had emerged with his own history of the Jewish War twenty years after its occurrence. Josephus was so incensed by Justus’s account that in that same Vita (c. 65), he declared, “Now I will speak out what I have until now kept secret or treated with the discretion appropriate to my nature.” He intended, therefore, in this article, to reveal the real mystery of the war and to speak openly about the authority that the central government had entrusted to him to conduct the war in Galilee. As we shall hear later, this mandate, which called for war, made it his task to bring about a peaceful resolution to the crisis wherever possible.
For now, we refer to a remark made by Josephus in his work dedicated to the same Epaphroditus, but before the publication of his biography, against Apion (1, 10), in which he complains that “wicked people have called his history (of the Jewish War) a textbook for children”. Since he defends himself against this alleged “slander” by arguing that the critical opponents of his military campaign against the Emperor, who were not eyewitnesses and therefore could not provide evidence of his actual opposition to Rome, we must assume that these literary opponents regarded his work as a novel and accused him of treason against his people and of flattery towards the illustrious conquerors of Judaea. The expression “textbook for children” is thrown about so lightly by the opponents of the Jewish historian, as if everyone would immediately understand it in this context and think of the kind of writings that they want to downgrade his work to. They are the official brochures that prepare a major contemporary event in line with the ruling house and direct the admiration of the growing youth towards the person of the divinely favoured ruler.
Therefore, Josephus’s own statements inform us about the development of an extensive literature that competed with his historical work for the prize, but has been lost to us, while the work that enjoyed the favor of the Flavians has been preserved only through the interest shown in it by later church scholars. The zeal with which the Jewish historian returns to the writings of his contemporaries makes it likely that he plays a role in almost all of them. The Jewish enemies could not spare him as defender of the stronghold of Galilee, the supporters of the interested nationality subjected him to the hatred of his people, while the official literati of the Flavian house followed the type of his original manuscript authenticated by Titus and did not fail to let his message from Jehovah delivered to Vespasian shine among the favorable declarations of the gods of the East for the emperor. Surely Vespasian also mentioned among the messengers of the gods who proclaimed his elevation to the Caesar’s throne in his memoirs.
Before we examine the credibility of the basic script preserved for us alone, a few words about the position of the Jews in the Roman world at that time!
3. The position of the Jews up to the outbreak of the war.
“This people,” writes the geographer Strabo (died 24 AD, cited by Josephus, Antiquities 14, 7, 2) about the Jews, “has infiltrated into every city, and it is not easy to find a place on the earth that has not accepted it and is ruled by it.”
What were the means of this rule, to which the old citizens of those cities reluctantly submitted and against which the lower classes of those same places avenged themselves with bloody uprisings, which the Romans barely managed to control? The Greek also belonged to a wandering people and asserted himself on the same line that the Jews occupied from the Euphrates to the farthest West, but he openly announced himself as the teacher of a culture and wisdom that he wanted to make the common property of the world. The Roman had traversed the lands around the Mediterranean and paved his way into the interior with the sword and established world peace, as Virgil expresses it, imposing the rule of peace (pacis morem) on the peoples. In contrast, the Jewish enemy Apion (Josephus contra Ap. 2, 12. 14) said that only the Jews had not earned themselves any general culture, not promoted the public welfare with any discovery, and not produced any outstanding men, such as inventors in the arts or pioneers in the sciences.
When Agrippa, the friend and collaborator of Augustus, traveled to the East after the Battle of Actium, the Jews of Asia Minor flocked to his tribunal in Ionia and presented their grievances to him. They complained that they were being hindered in the practice of their laws, summoned to court on holy days, deprived of the gold they had designated for the Temple, and forced to military service and taxation, although they had been granted freedom by the Romans to live according to their own laws. King Herod, who was also paying his respects to the representative of Augustus at the same time, had provided his countrymen with the rhetorician Nikolaus of Damascus, a Hellenized Jew, as their lawyer. In his account of this negotiation, Josephus shares the lengthy speech of that defender, which convinced the victor of Actium to declare that the petitioners should be allowed to retain the freedoms previously granted to them. On the other hand, regarding the accused Greeks, he only states that they had nothing more to say than that the Jews who had found refuge among them damaged and disadvantaged them in everything (Antiquities 16.2.5), but this was enough to characterize the attitude of the Greek citizens.
Nevertheless, it was precisely this people that helped to break up the old Roman world and pave the way for the liberating elements that were stirring in the Greek-Roman circles.
The spread of the Jews across the countries of the Mediterranean is too mechanistically derived from the command of the conquerors, and one trusts too credulously the statements of Jewish writers, for example, that the Macedonian hero knew no better means to promote his Alexandria than to invite hundreds of thousands of Jews there. Philo, the alleged author of “The Embassy to Gaius,” is considered a reliable authority for this view when he reports that the Jews mostly came to Rome on the other side of the Tiber as prisoners of war and, as freedmen, received the enjoyment of citizenship.
The only one who could have sent these slaves to Rome was Pompey. According to the same Philo, Caesar is said to have left these new citizens their acquired rights, and the Pompeian import must have been colossal if Josephus can tell us that more than 8,000 Jews living in Rome joined the deputation that had obtained permission from the prefect Varus, after the death of Herod the Great, to seek the preservation of the country’s autonomy from Augustus and lined up before Caesar’s tribunal in the Temple of Apollo (Antiquities 17.11.1).
However, there is a telling testimony that the Jews felt themselves well established and powerful in Rome long before the appearance of Pompey. Barely two years had passed since Pompey’s return from his Asian dictatorship and his visit to Jerusalem when Cicero (59 BC) had to defend Flaccus against the charge that, as praetor in Asia Minor, he had confiscated the gold that the local Jews wanted to send to the Temple of Jerusalem as an export prohibited by law. On this occasion, the orator spoke of the cohesion of the Jews in Rome and their influence in the assemblies, and then continued, “But speak of this only in a low voice, so that only the judges can hear me, for there will be no shortage of those who incite the Jews against me and every honorable man, and I will not lend support to their machinations” (translation by Harry M. Hubbell). If the great orator deemed it dangerous to touch on that subject and renounced the execution of the theme, the influence of the Jews must have been significant and long-established.
A proper understanding of the pre-Christian history of the Jewish people will be impossible as long as the agrarian legislation of the Books of Moses is not understood as a late legislative fiction and as a juridical-theological work of that time, which saw part of Palestine under the control of eastern conquerors and feared the subjugation of Judah by Babylon at any moment. Agriculture has never been sufficient to feed the inhabitants of Palestine, and the distribution of land as a fiduciary to families and tribes is nothing but a poetic attempt to prophesy eternity to precarious popular life on an indestructible foundation. It is one of those mechanical reactions that precede the eventual dissolution of peoples, only that it has not even been attempted.
In industry, the Jews have made neither inventions nor could they compete with the large industries of Babylon and the workshops of the trading cities on the coast that worked for refined taste. The wholesale trade of the Euphrates factories passed through Damascus to Tyre and Sidon; the goods of Arabia and India were brought by the caravan leaders of hostile tribes in southern Judah to the coast and to Egypt. The inhabitants of Palestine were left with only the yield of the commission trade between the intermediate stations of world trade and large industry. Not long after Babylon and Egypt began to challenge Judah’s commission gain, and the industrialist of the Orient had toppled Jerusalem and won the sea, the Macedonian completed the Persians’ work on Babylon and Egypt and created free trade between the Orient, the Nile region, and Greece. The latter had seen the power of its citizenship fade away; foreigners and freed slaves had already obtained citizenship, and gaps had emerged in the commercial and industrial cities where foreigners could find a place and livelihood, while during the Peloponnesian War the full-blooded defenders of the suburbs were wiped out.
This transformation, which the Macedonian rule brought about in the eastern half of the Mediterranean lands, rather than a command or the direction of the rulers, was what directed the stream of Jews to Egypt, Asia Minor, Pontus, and the commercial centers of Greece. Barely a century later, the Romans began connecting the western part of that region with the East, and again, it did not require the intervention of Pompey in the throne disputes of the Maccabean family to acquaint some groups of captive Jews with the advantages that the world city offered to their commercial spirit. Without invitation, they also joined the organizations of Rome in Spain and, initially, in southern Gaul, and then found their way to the fortresses and colonies on the Rhine and the Danube.
Their beginnings in Rome were small, as befitted their limited domestic trading operations and was only possible given the masses with which they found themselves there (as in their Macedonian branches).
Their beginnings in Rome were small, as befitted their limited domestic trading operations and, given the the massiveness with which they arrived there (as they did in their Macedonian settlements). They offered themselves for the satisfaction of the daily needs of the petty bourgeois life and gradually rose to a trade in the rarities of the East sought in the West. Growing commission business paved the way for larger commercial ventures or deliveries for the government, and from the humble beginnings grew bankers who, like the head of the Alexandrian Jewish community at the time of Tiberius, managed the financial affairs of members of the imperial family and from whom the remnants of the small kings of the East sought loans. While from one of those Alexandrian banking families came Tiberius Alexander, the later prefect of Egypt and friend of Vespasian, others rose from the sphere of Roman ballet and theater to direct these art institutes, in which they performed with their tribal kin and enjoyed the favor of the imperial house.
The national policies of the countries in which the Jews engaged in commerce did not gain their sympathy in Greece or Rome. The anxious movements of politically dying Greece in its last attempts at unity offered them no advantage and left them cold, accustomed to larger political changes in the East. In Rome, they saw the carriers and organs of the previous national policy, nobility and people, divided into warring factions. That was just fine with them. Without any interest in the historical past of the Romans, they viewed the civil wars, the tumult of the streets and the forum, and the religious formalities, with their now meaningless ceremonies with which the opposing factions still hastily adorned themselves, as a spectacle that must end in their favor. Caesar, who brought understanding and order to the madness of the civil wars, was their hero. They liked him for wearing down the privileges of the noble lords, weakening the authority of the Senate over the provinces, and replacing the popular regime with a world empire with a monarchical head. Hence the songs of lamentation and revenge, with which they flocked to the funeral pyre of the murdered dictator for several days and nights after the theatrical funeral of Antony.
Caesar had known how to appreciate the interest that the Jews displayed for his monarchical aspirations in the most critical moments, and he rewarded them. Although some of the decrees of the Roman authorities that Josephus collects as evidence of their sympathy for the Jews in his “Antiquities” (14, 10, 8) (like the similar documents in Philo’s “Embassy to Gaius”) may be later fabrications, the formulas are still based on the factual circumstances. For example, the edict of Caesar that Josephus reports as communicated to the authorities of Paros, over whose hostile regulations the Jews of Delos had complained, that his decree against associations should remain, but nevertheless the Jews should be free to maintain a common fund, celebrate banquets, and gather according to their ancient ordinances, most likely bears the type of actual expressions of favor Caesar showed to the most powerful Jewish associations of Mediterranean cities.
Although Josephus introduces only eight thousand Jews during the time of Augustus, they disappear amidst the million people filling Rome. At first glance, they seem like a weak wedge that inserted itself between the new unitary power and the former bearers of sovereignty, the people and the Senate. But all they needed was time, perseverance in penetrating the gap where republican life had fallen apart, and they could rise to unexpected power. The crowd that ran after free entertainment and bread remained inwardly alien to them; the chambers where the former masters brooded over their discontent and plotted against Caesar were closed to them. But the women of the nobility, who were not all like Arria and did not press to seal their husbands’ faith in the Republic with a dagger, but rather felt oppressed by the monotony and dreariness of those entertainments and sought new nourishment for their souls, were attracted to the mystery of Jewish doctrine. Furthermore, the Jews and the Stoic ascetics, who proclaimed their strict view of life and monotheism on the streets as well as on their lecterns and in the palaces of the nobility, could not remain strangers to each other in the long run. Finally, since Augustus had taken in the children of Herod the Great into his palace after the Battle of Actium, an intimate relationship existed between the imperial family and the princes of Palestine. Herod Agrippa, the grandson of the great Edomite, was a protégé of Antonia, who made him a classmate of her son Claudius, the future emperor. Later, he became a friend of Tiberius’ son Drusus but had to avoid the court when Drusus died in 23 AD, and the emperor did not want to see any of his son’s friends due to the painful memory. Later, after a life of adventures, he found a friendly reception from Tiberius in his final year on Capri and became the confidant of Gaius Caligula, with whom he likely discussed how to best stride on the heights of the earth and over the heads of subordinates, particularly in the East.
Twice during the time of the early Roman emperors, the Jews were expelled. The first blow hit them simultaneously with the worshippers of Isis under Tiberius (Tacit. Annal. 2, 85. Sueton. Tiberius c, 36. Joseph, Antiquities 18, 3, 5). All three writers describe the action against the two cults as simultaneous. It is the blow that Tacitus, as shown above, correctly places in the year 19 AD, while Josephus falsely places it in the last year of Tiberius. The former lets four thousand young people from the circles of suppressed superstition be raised, the latter lets the same number of Jewish recruits be raised and, in agreement with Tacitus, sent to Sardinia, while the rest were expelled from Rome.
According to Josephus, the conversion of a noble matron to Judaism was the decisive factor; in any case, the Jewish settlement had been lured beyond the barrier that still surrounded their precarious situation by the distinction that Caesar had bestowed on them and by the intimate position in which the princes of their house stood at the imperial court.
The tumult of the Jews during the time of Claudius, which led to their renewed expulsion from Rome, and their agitator Chrestus (Sueton. Claud. c. 25) will later concern us under Hadrian.
The last two centuries until the fall of Jerusalem were spent by the Jews at home under the changing efforts of absolutism, with the help of which the cultured peoples in the last stages of their national life seek to maintain their genius, or what they call their sacredness and their destiny, against foreign and domestic enemies. The Maccabean house, which won the princely dignity in the struggle against Syrian rule and Greek education, cumulated the previously separate powers and united in its representatives the principality and the highest priesthood. The Roman intervention, which the Maccabees themselves had called for, paved the way for a foreign tribe, the Edomites, to the throne. In the dispute between Hyrkan and Aristobul, Pompey sided with the former and handed over the factual government to the Idumean Antipater. His son, Herod the Great, who brought the reign to his house, sharpened the absolutism that had been blunted in the hands of the Maccabees and sought in the Hellenistic tendencies, to which his predecessors had also had to turn again, the support for his authoritarian rule and the means for his assimilation with the new Caesaric world.
Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian prince, would not have thought of Hellenizing Judah if it had not already been in progress in the hearts of the people there. Similarly, Herod would not have dared to build a theater in Jerusalem and decorate it with images of Augustus’ deeds, construct an amphitheater on the plain near the holy city, and introduce five-yearly games, including for musical competitors, in honor of his imperial patron, if he had not been certain of the support of a large part of the priestly, learned, and popular circles.
The Seleucid period had flooded Palestine with Greek elements. The influx had come from Greece and from the Syrian principalities; Damascus was the reservoir from which Hellenism poured forth for the north; for the interior, the influx came from the Phoenician coast. Herod made the mixed localities the bulwarks of his regime, and in his fortified city of Sebaste (Augusta), formerly Samaria, he erected a common temple for the mixed population. Here he could build on the tradition that the Samaritans had already dedicated their temple on Garizim to the Hellenic Zeus during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (Josephus, Antiquities 12, 5, 3).
The spread of the Greek language in Jewish circles is attested, for example, by the Second Book of Maccabees (in the collection of Apocrypha of the Old Testament), when the mother of the seven martyr children who resist Antiochus even in the face of death (c. 7, 21, 27) understands the language of the king and answers him in his own, secretly encouraging her children to persevere in their own native language. The work falsely attributed to Josephus, “de Maccabaeis,” an elaboration of the martyr episode of that text belonging to the first century BC, has emphasized this double language of the mother and the children with particular emphasis (chapters 12 and 16).
We can see the dominance of the Greek language in Palestine, for example, from the decrees of Caesar cited by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 14.10.2-3) to the authorities of Tyre, Sidon, and Ashkelon, in which he ordered his charters for the last Maccabean ruler, Hyrcanus, whose steward, an Edomite, had come to the aid of the Roman general in his Alexandrian difficulties, to be hung on bronze tablets in the temples in Latin and Greek so that they could be read by everyone. His regulation that the edict should be conveyed from administration to administration by official messengers from city to city is equally instructive.
Tyre, Ashkelon, and Gadara were centers of Greek literature. Strabo (Book 16), for example, lists a whole series of Greek philosophers and rhetoricians who came from Gadara; but the numerous Jewish communities in all these cities had to be familiar with Greek because of their trade. At the outbreak of the Jewish War, 2,500 Jews alone were killed in Ashkelon by the popular hatred; in Tyre, although many also lost their lives, the majority of the old citizens were more sympathetic to them and were content to imprison most of them. Caesarea, the main seat of the Herods, where they indulged their Greek inclinations freely without the vigilance of their priestly opponents in Jerusalem, also contained so many Jews that 20,000 perished in that general Greek uprising. In Damascus, the Jews were so powerful that almost all the wives of the city lords were said to have turned to the Mosaic Law, but they paid for their previous successes with 10,000 corpses. Josephus, whose Bellum Judaicum (2.18.1-5; 2.20.1) provides us with this information, is admittedly too generous with numbers in the statistics of the Jewish diaspora, like Philo in his writings about the embassy to Gaius and against Flaccus, but even if we forgive him thousands and thousands of his sums, his information about the numerous representation of Judaism in the Greek cities remains highly valuable for understanding the multilingual traffic in Palestine.
The Hellenizing absolutism of the Idumean family did not yet create a universally recognized symbol, no supreme formula, no intellectual work in which Greek and Jewish culture could find their unity. The Greek fortresses and cultural cities only formed a belt around the holy city, which still had enough reputation and prestige to generate an increase in national absolutism and to put it into the field for its defense. Herod was still on his deathbed when the premature news of his death encouraged a group of conspirators to break off the golden eagle that the king had placed in honor of Rome over the great colonnade in front of the temple. Hardly had he actually died when insurgents rose up and declared the freedom of the country. Josephus calls them “robbers” but admits that their goal was a regular rule. They crowned themselves; whoever had a following made himself king. The country was seized by an illusion that contradicted the times. Adventurers, ignoble individuals who relied on the fervor of their zeal and the power of their arms (Joseph. Arch. 16, 10, 5-8), wanted to improvise that tyranny whose establishment had not succeeded even for the generals and statesmen of Greece during the flowering of their country and which could only be established by Alexander and the great democratic generals of Rome when the former used the Greek and the latter the Italian nationality for the amalgamation of peoples and the national illusions of their armies for the foundation of a world policy.
The weak attempts of those “robbers” of Josephus, in reality the aspirants to Jewish tyranny, to gather their people around the holy temple were immediately rejected by the Romans after Herod’s death and the assessment of Judaea by Quirinius. But they embittered the imperial government in Rome, aroused their suspicion, and provoked them, like Caesar Caligula, to experiments and inquiries about how far they could go against the national party, which inquiries, in turn, had sharpened the attention and bitterness of the leaders of the people. The conclusion of these mutual frictions was finally the uprising in the last years of the Nero government, which brought the tyranny to maturity since the gathering of agitators to the holy city but also brought about its downfall.
It is in this catastrophe that Josephus played his role as a military commander and defected to Vespasian.
4. Josephus as military commander and messenger of God.
When the Jewish historian received command from the central government in Jerusalem to lead the uprising against the Romans in Galilee, he had recently returned from a trip to Rome. According to his account, he sought access to the imperial court in order to secure the release of some priests who had been sent to the capital by the procurator Felix “for a few insignificant reasons.” He approached Aliturus, a Jew who was a mime poet and actor in favor with Nero, and through him was introduced to Poppaea, the emperor’s wife, and obtained the release of the priests from their imprisonment (Vita c. 3).
Was that really his purpose? Did he not rather want to investigate the situation in Rome in the face of the turmoil of the Jewish national party, perhaps in the interest of the Jewish optimates, and bring and obtain certain assurances?
Poppaea had already shown favor to the Jewish sanctuary on another occasion and prevailed upon Nero to grant the embassy of the priests, who had obstructed King Agrippa’s view of the Temple traffic and his surveillance of it that bordered on police work by raising the Temple wall, their rights (Antiquities 20, 8, 11). Josephus calls the imperial consort “God-fearing”; she was thus a kind of proselyte and adherent of Jewish customs, like her former husband, Otho, later emperor, who worshipped Isis. She may therefore have understood the situation in Judaea, as presented by Josephus, in such a way that by showing some kindness to the Temple priesthood, the smoldering fire in the East could still be dampened.
Josephus precedes the account of his success in Rome with the story of a sea adventure that is so exaggeratedly romantic that it requires some doubt about his credibility. The ship on which he sailed to Rome sank in the middle of the Adriatic Sea with six hundred passengers. Only eighty people, including him, survived by swimming, and after keeping themselves afloat all night, they were picked up by a Cyrene sailor at dawn and taken to Puteoli. Anyone who can tell such tales is also capable of keeping things that he does not want to become public secret.
For more recent scholars of New Testament history, it may be a rewarding date, and for the Romans it may be impressive when Josephus tells that he comes from the “first of the twenty-four priestly classes”. However, the chaos that prevailed in the priesthood in the last centuries before the fall of the temple, especially the secularization of the higher priesthood by the Maccabees, gives us some doubts about the alleged priestly order that was said to have existed even during the time of Nero. Josephus’s further assertion that in his scholarly education he had already advanced so far at the age of fourteen that the “high priests and city leaders” constantly sought him out to get explanations about the mysteries of the law, shows us in the autobiographer a troubling tendency towards exaggeration and highlighting of his own person. His writings, the testimonies of his maturity, introduce us to one of the most educated and learned Jews of his time; we will now also get to know him as one of the most skilled. Before that, we note that he was twenty-six years old when he swam in the Adriatic Sea, having been born in the first year of the Emperor Gaius (37 AD).
Upon his return from Rome, he found the national party in Jerusalem ready to rebel. The agitators whom he had allowed to appear and gather their supporters as “robbers” in the northern provinces during the turbulent time after Herod’s death had now been transformed into “assassins” and had established themselves in Jerusalem, taking armed possession of the temple from the friends of peace. They soon gained control of the upper city as well.
The Optimates and High Priests wished for peace and implored the procurator Florus to hurry to their aid and militarily occupy the city. The Roman troops also forced their way in, but succumbed in street fighting and had to withdraw.
At the beginning of this crisis, Josephus had already tried to bring the insurgents to their senses. He reminded them (Vita chap. 4) of the military prowess of the Romans and their luck and urged them not to recklessly and foolishly expose their country and people to the utmost misfortune. After Florus’s withdrawal, Agrippa, who was afraid for his future residence in the Herodian fortress, tried his luck with the agitated crowds and explained to them that in case of war there would be no alliance for them anywhere in the vast world, and that God Himself had made the fasces of the Romans almighty. However, the sham king saw that he would lose his principality and life in the maelstrom of the rebellion, and fled from the capital.
Josephus himself admits that with the same advice he would only make himself hated and risk his life. He puts himself on the side of the aristocrats, as if he supported the revolt, but he also urges moderation and calmness, reckoning that Cestius Gallus, the prefect of Syria who had called on Florus for help, would soon arrive with sufficient forces to put an end to the disaster. When the Roman commander stood before Jerusalem, the aristocrats wanted to open the gates to him, but he hesitated and remained undecided even when the insurgents lost their courage for a moment and the people wanted to reach out to the Romans to escape the terror of the Zealots. His hesitation, then his defeat before Jerusalem and his retreat, which he survived only a few more months, according to Josephus (Vita cap. 6), spelled the destruction of the Jewish people.
The Zealots (or Daggermen, as the historian calls them) now found no resistance in Jerusalem and in the country, which Galus had vacated in disorganized flight. But the aristocrats still sat in the central government, which took the leadership of the entire revolt into its own hands, and secretly gave Josephus, whose appointment as commander-in-chief in Galilee they had pushed through, the task of giving the moderates there a foothold and gaining the upper hand over the Zealots. However, in Galilee, the Action Party had a leader in John of Gischala who did not let the official commander rest during the mobilization of the militia and himself sought supreme command. This rival outlined the plan to the chosen one of the central government, not entirely inaccurately, to prepare for himself a distinctive and significant position vis-à-vis the Romans and the insurgents. In Galilee, John suspected him of being in collusion with the Romans; he wrote to the capital that the authorized representative of the high council was seeking to establish a power in Galilee with which he could become the arbiter over the parties in Jerusalem.
In Josephus’s account, messengers fly back and forth between Galilee and the capital. His friends, including his father, warn him of the commission which the central government, pressed by his opponents, finally felt obliged to send against him to relieve him of command. Revolts break out in his own camp, but his resourcefulness in finding a way out is inexhaustible, and his cruelty is unshakable. In desperation, he resorts to cowardice and brutality, and he secures confirmation of his position and the recall of the commission through an embassy to Jerusalem.
Maybe, as he went to his province, he had really ambitious plans in his head, in which he shone as a military-diplomatic mediator between Rome and Jerusalem. But these bold combinations soon melted away before his belief in Roman power and his disbelief in a thorough reorganization of the Jewish people. Only his own person remained after cooler reflection, which could find a way through the approaching crisis, but he himself, along with his understanding of the world situation, his vision of the future, and as a witness of the divine plan that would also be fulfilled in the collapse of the national sanctuary.
Nero received news of the defeat of Cestius in the autumn of 66 during his artistic triumphs in Greece. Vespasian, the man who had fallen asleep during the emperor’s musical performances, to the mockery and terror of the court, was the only one who was capable, unassuming, and seemingly harmless enough to be called to lead an army that had to win. The proven general immediately set out to invade Galilee, the rebellious land in the north, from Syria; Titus brought him the necessary legions from Egypt to reinforce him. In the spring of 67, the Roman columns, along with their auxiliaries, concentrated in Galilee.
“In this moment,” writes Josephus (bell. jud. 3, 7, 2) about his mood and situation, “he saw where the affairs of the Jews would come to, and that they could only be saved if they abandoned their plan. He himself, although he expected forgiveness, would rather, as he often intended, die than betray his homeland, abandon the mission he was given, and live with those whose fight he was sent to combat.”
The encounter with the advanced outposts of the Romans was unlucky. Josephus, who was himself present, “realized that the courage of the Jews had fallen and that most of them, if they could rely on a friendly approach from the enemy, would enter into negotiations.” Swept away by the refugees, he thought it best to “keep as far away from danger as possible, and he despaired of the outcome of the war” (ibid. 3, 6, 3).
And in this history of the war (ibid. 3, 5), he precedes a description of Roman discipline, army and camp order that is stylistically simple and correct, with a few exaggerated sentences that suggest the hand of a knowledgeable and skilled person, Titus, was involved. Josephus concludes this beautiful episode by saying that his painting was not intended to glorify the Romans, but to comfort the underdogs and warn the innovators.
According to Josephus, most of the work was done by the Roman commander in the siege of Jotapata, a fortified spot, probably an outcrop of the Galilean plateau towards Samaria, which remained aloof from the revolt and was controlled by the Romans through the Herodian fortifications. When Vespasian advanced to this fortress after suppressing the north, a defector told him that Josephus had returned there after his recent flight. The defector pressed for an immediate attack; with Jotapata, he would win all of Judaea if he captured Josephus. Vespasian, very pleased with this information, saw it as a divine intervention that the man who seemed to be the most capable of the enemies had shut himself up (ibid. 3, 7, 3). However, the following scenes suggest that the defector did not come to the Roman commander of his own accord.
During the course of the siege, Josephus realized that the fortress could not hold out much longer and that his life was in danger if he stayed. He therefore consults with the leaders of the city, but the people, anticipating the worst, gather against him and do not believe his pretense that he wants to bring help from outside and incite an uprising in Galilee to draw the Romans away from Jotapata (3.7.14-17). To avoid being imprisoned, he must decide to stay.
When the Romans storm and enter, he is gone. He is with a company of forty refugees in an underground well, on whose dry floor a side hiding place opens. Fortunately, a woman in the company reveals the whereabouts of the Jewish military leader and becomes the means to help him out of trouble. Vespasian wants to have him with him at all costs and sends several generals to the well in turn to negotiate with him from above. The last one tells him that the Romans, always benevolent towards defeated enemies, admire him more than they hate him.
The situation was threatening. On the one hand, the Romans were pushing harder and harder; on the other hand, revenge shone in the eyes of the Jews in the well in the event of betrayal. “Then he remembered the dream of the night before, in which God had shown him the impending calamity of the Jews and the future of the Roman emperors. He understood, as he adds, how to interpret the divine signs and as a priest and priestly son he knew the prophecies of the holy scriptures. Thus he was filled with the spirit of God, embraced the signs of the dream once again, and offered a prayer to God in his heart: “since you have decided to crush the people of the Jews, and all luck has gone to the Romans, and since you have chosen me to be the herald of the future, I surrender myself to the hands of the Romans and I will live, but I bear witness that I am going there not as a traitor, but as your servant.”
The question was how to get out of the well, since his Jewish companions down below wanted to stab him if he did not, like them, prefer voluntary death to slavery. However, as always quick with a solution, he gave them a philosophical lecture on the unnaturalness of suicide and concluded with the suggestion that they should kill each other in pairs, and that the lots should determine the order of the pairs. They agreed and stabbed each other in pairs until he was left with the last of the thirty-nine, with whom he arranged a friendly agreement to climb out of the well together unharmed.
Nicanor, the last of Vespasian’s envoys, is said to have watched the long novel taking place on the floor of the well from above and from beginning to end. This adventure of the forty, which forms a worthy counterpart to the rescue of the eighty on the Adriatic Sea, justifies the doubt about the historical value of the preceding narrative and also casts a suspicious light on Josephus’ account of his relations with the Emperor during the next two years.
First, we provide the chronological data.
Vespasian did not immediately believe the glowing image that the prisoner unrolled to him as God’s messenger of his future after Nero and his successors; gradually, however, his eyes were opened as God indicated his elevation to him through other signs (bell. Jud. 3, 8, 9). The war continued until the summer of 68. The Roman commander completed the subjugation of the north, devastated the land beyond the Jordan, and drove the remnants of the rebels to Jerusalem. Since then, military movements had been suspended. Nero fell, Spain, the Praetorium in Rome, and Gaul raised their candidates to the throne, and in July 69, Syria and Egypt spoke out in favor of Vespasian. In the meantime, while the Orient watched the development of events in the West with tension, Jerusalem was left to itself and the passions of the parties.
Now the action was to begin. In Berytus, Vespasian and the warlords devised the general plan: Mucian was sent to Italy with sufficient strength to fight Vitellius’ legions and bring Gaul into order, the Emperor himself went to Egypt, and Titus was ordered to conquer Jerusalem. Josephus, who was allegedly only released from his fetters at this point, was given to him as a companion and adviser.
We are now on partially historical ground.
5. Josephus in front of Jerusalem.
The man from Jotapata was to assist the son of Vespasian with his knowledge of the Jewish factions, if possible mediate an agreement with the city’s interior, and shorten the time and labor of the siege.
During the voluntary pause of the Roman arms, the Zealots imposed terrorism on the population of Jerusalem and the refugees driven towards the holy city from the north, which repeatedly resulted in slaughter among the supporters of Roman protection. When Titus executed the encirclement at the beginning of spring 70, one of the three leaders of the terror faction had fallen, and the remaining two, John of Gischala and Simon, the son of Giora, united and suspended their discord until the moment of victory. They had no idea of how to reconcile themselves after the Romans were defeated, nor what form the extreme absolutism would take. Even if they were certain of bloody competition, they were not allowed to envision it. The prospect ended in a domestic war of annihilation, behind which there always lurked an intensified effort of Roman power. Those who wanted peace with the Romans and unconditional submission at any cost also had no idea of the position that their national sanctuary could occupy in the midst of a permanent Roman occupation, which closely watched every movement of the nationalists.
Victory or submission were equally destructive to the national interest. This signaled the end of the nation-state.
The speeches that Josephus is said to have delivered to the rebels on behalf of Titus, with the bravery and vocal power of the Homeric heroes, are only elaborations of this theme of the inevitable downfall of the national theocracy. The submission he demands means anxious self-restraint on a husk that has become worthless and meaningless.
“To the Romans,” he cries out to the rebels on the third wall after the fall of the two outer walls, “Happiness has come from all places where other nations flourished, and God, who transfers power from one people to another, is now in Italy. You are not only fighting against the Romans, but also against God, because He has fled from the sanctuary and is on the side you are fighting against” (Bell. 5, 9, 2-3).
After being sent again before the wall to persuade Johannes of Giskala to surrender after the fall of the Antonia fortress, he concludes his address with the sentence that he is actually incurring a debt by speaking against his fate and forcing him, one condemned by God, to be saved. He finds fate in the prophecy that threatens the city with conquest if any of the natives commit murder. The hour of fulfillment has come, with the city and temple stained with citizen blood, and God will bring the fire of purification over the sanctuary and destroy the polluted city (ibid. 6, 2, 1).
The irresistibility of fate is further illustrated by Josephus in a vivid description of Titus’ concern for the preservation of the Temple. Initially, when he saw his soldiers struggling to climb the courtyards of the sanctuary, the commander decided to bring them down with fire. When the fire was already working, he ordered it to be extinguished and a passable path to be made to the courtyards. In the council of war of six chiefs, which he convened on the issue, some advocated for the unrestricted exercise of martial law, while others believed that the Temple should be preserved if the Jews did not make it a battleground. He himself stated that even if the Jews wanted to continue fighting in it, the Temple should be preserved, since its destruction would be a loss for the Romans themselves and its preservation would adorn the empire. Three of the chiefs agreed with him. However, the preservation that had thus obtained a majority was thwarted by the Jews, who set fire to the courtyards during the assault, after which a Roman soldier threw a burning torch through an open window. Titus, who had supposedly retired to his tent to rest shortly before, rushed to the scene upon hearing the news of the disaster, waving and shouting from afar that the fire should be extinguished immediately, but his orders were not heard, and the warriors incited by their hatred of the Jews refused to listen; before his eyes, the Temple went up in flames (Bell. 6, 4, 1-7).
The fear and artificiality of this pragmatism carried out from hour to hour, even from moment to moment, could make us inclined to follow a more recent scholar in a source that is said to guarantee us the opposite course of events.
Sulpicius Severus, the student and biographer of Saint Martin, reports in his “Historia Sacra” that Titus intentionally brought about the destruction of the Temple in order to put an end to the Jewish and Christian religions at once, since Christianity had emerged from Judaism and after the eradication of the root the shoot would wither away on its own. Herr Bernays (“On the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus”, Berlin 1861) sees in this motif a literal agreement with the view expressed by Tacitus in the Annals (15, 44) that Judea was the birthplace of the Christian evil, and infers from this that the Gaulish priest drew from the lost conclusion of the fifth book of the “Histories” of Tacitus.
However, the “Annals”, which often differ in important points from the “Histories” and bring a later modified view of the author on the same subject, cannot serve as witnesses to a pragmatism that Tacitus might have followed in his earlier work. Moreover, the Church Fathers of the fourth century are so firmly convinced of the hostile attitude of the emperors since Claudius towards the Christians that the student of St. Martin could discern the secret intentions of Titus even without inspiration from the “Histories” of Tacitus. And even assuming that the author of the “Histories” had actually given Sulpicius Severus the material for that sentence, his bitter playfulness would have no more historical value than the fatum pragmatism of Josephus. We will therefore have to be content with the assumption that the Temple suffered the fate of the war.
After a striking description of the fire and collapse of the Temple, Josephus lists the signs that indicated certain disaster shortly before the outbreak of the war. At the Passover festival, the Temple was bathed in light as if it were day and the heavy metal gate to the interior opened by itself. After the festival, at sunset, chariots and armed crowds were seen racing high in the sky over the entire land, besieging the images of cities. At Pentecost, the priests heard a rustling sound, then a voice like that of a great multitude, saying, “Let us depart from here” (ibid. 6, 5, 3).
Thus, Tacitus summarizes in his account of the siege of Jerusalem (Hist. 5.13) the same features that Josephus had described earlier: armies clashing in the sky, weapons shining red, and the temple suddenly illuminated by fiery clouds. The gates of the sanctuary opened all at once, and a supernatural voice declared that the gods were departing, followed by a tremendous sound of their departure.
In the same context, the Roman historian, like Josephus, cites the prophecy of the world ruler who would come from Judaea, but he refers it to a majority of world rulers, as he wishes to associate it with Vespasian and Titus. Tacitus even repeats the wording of Josephus, stating that the multitude (of Jews) had applied this greatness of destiny to themselves.
There can be no more compelling evidence of one author’s dependence on the other.
Certainly, Tacitus did not bear witness to anything like thorough source study in the introductory remarks to his section on the Jewish War. He did not think it worthwhile to consult Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews for his outline of Jewish history and religion. Instead, he relied on the notes of Alexandrian Jewish enemies and, in contradiction to the tendency of his picture, adopted from Strabo’s respectful portrayal of Jewish worship free from all idolatry. However, whether he himself discovered those picturesque omens of calamity from Josephus’s war story or was alerted to them by a knowledgeable friend in the relevant war literature or simply borrowed them from one of those “textbooks” of the Flavian epitomators of Josephus, it is certain that they are the property of the Jewish historian. Suetonius probably only had Tacitus’s Histories on hand for the saying about the world ruler.
6. Josephus at the Triumph of Titus
Josephus was in the entourage of Titus as he returned to Rome via Alexandria. He bade farewell to the holy land forever. After the capture of Jerusalem, Titus allowed him to choose whatever he wanted as a memento. He asked for “the sacred books,” which Titus gave him as a gift. In addition, the Emperor granted him the pardon of his brother and fifty friends, permission to rescue 190 friends and acquaintances from the wrath of the soldiers in the Temple, and the removal of three acquaintances from the cross in Thekoa, where he went with Cerealis and a thousand riders to select a military encampment. He also received a country estate in the plain instead of his possession near Jerusalem, which was given to the permanent Roman garrison (Vita cap. 75, 76). He does not explicitly mention his father and mother, who were in Jerusalem during the siege.
In Rome, Vespasian, who took him into the Flavian clientage, gave him his former private house as a residence, Roman citizenship, and an annual pension. Titus and Domitian bestowed the same favor on him as regents; the latter made his estate in Judaea tax-free, and his wife Domitia proved to be constantly benevolent to him.
He had become a Roman, and with the eye of a Roman, he watched the triumphal procession of Vespasian and Titus over his people and his former homeland, and he describes it at the end of his history as a Roman (bell. jud. 7, 5, 4-7).
He has only words to express his admiration for the grandeur of the whole thing. The amount of captured gold, along with the jewels and ivory, captivates his eye; the pictorial representations of the battles and stormings of cities, rising up to three or four stories on stretchers, are astonishing to him, and he speaks as if they depict the defeat of a foreign people. The sanctuaries of the Temple, which are carried before the emperors, parade before his eyes like the spoils taken from a foreign deity. As the golden candelabrum passes by, he points out that its structure “differs from our use,” that is, from the taste and manufacture of the Greeks and Romans. The scroll of the law, which concludes the spoils, he calls “the law of the Jews.”
With the same coldness, he describes how Simon, son of Giora, is led to the Capitol among the prisoners in the triumphal procession, flogged, and beheaded, and after the cheers of the crowd, the victor’s sacrifices are performed.
The end of his painting is the final fate of the holy temple treasures. Vespasian places the golden objects as witnesses of the Roman triumph in the peace temple that he built; he takes the scroll of the law and the temple curtains into the imperial palace.
7. Josephus’s world religion.
And yet, this new Roman lived with the conviction that his God, who had left the sanctuary, would conquer the world and that the law that reminded the emperor of the Flavian victory in his palace would “subjugate the Roman Empire.”
When Titus ordered prisoners with mutilated arms to be led before the walls of Jerusalem as a warning to the defenders, Josephus gave them the answer: “Curse Caesar and his father! We despise death, which is better than servitude. If we are to perish, as he says, our country does not matter to us. God still has the world, which is a better temple than this one.”
Josephus has already laid down his interpretation of history so often in the speeches he inserts into his work that we may leave this artistically pointed saying of the besieged to his literary talent as a possession and consider it as a contribution to his religious philosophy of history. Besides his reverence for Romanism, whose victory over national sanctuaries is not in doubt for him, he has his own inner conviction in which he harbors the certainty that the catastrophe in Jerusalem has assigned and opened up the world as the scene of his greater victories for Judaism.
His writing against Apion is a testimony of this belief in the universality of the law and the divine rule governed by it (theocracy, as he calls it). The harbinger of victory for him is the fact that the law has broken through everywhere and there is no Greek or barbarian city or people where the custom of Sabbath rest, fasting, and the observance of dietary laws is not prevalent (Against Apion 2.39). The Jews are accused of not wanting to have any fellowship with members of a different way of life. On the contrary, when others, such as the Spartans, shut themselves off from foreigners and prohibit their own people from staying abroad, it is a testimony to the kindness and magnanimity of the Jews that they accept those who want to participate in their institutions. In a similar explanation in his “Antiquities” (16.6.8), he says that usage and custom differ among peoples, but the soul of his law is the idea of justice, which has in view the best interests of all people, Greeks and barbarians, and inspires his servants to participate for all. His law is the concern of the whole world.
He believes in an understanding between Jews and Greeks. Both, he says, are separated more by their spatial division than by their peculiar tendencies (Against Apion 2.10). He sees the unity between the two already realized in the philosophy of the masters Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Plato, and the Stoics, and explains it by the assumption that arose already after the first intoxication of the Jews with Greek wisdom in the Maccabean period, from the acquaintance of the Hellenic dogmatists with the written law of Moses.
Now, however, the Roman world was like a field prepared for Oriental sowing. The Jewish propagandist could count on the cooperation of related forces everywhere, which longed for the final liberating word, and the mood of the people was ripe for a unifying melody.
We have come to know a self-examination and introspection during the time of Nero, in which the soul turned away from the state power, which did not provide satisfaction, and emancipated itself from the old regulations that no longer harmonized with the inner voice. Rebellion, yes, revolt, were only one aspect of this epoch-making event; in the background there was a need for something solid, positive, and unquestionable that could survive the collapse of the old. The emperors were not alone with their centralization of the world; the leaders and disciples of the stoic and ascetic opposition also sought a new master, more powerful than those expelled, more reliable than the rulers on the throne. In their restless struggle with the opposing factions, they sought a master whose authority extends to the innermost part of the soul and encompasses all aspects of life with his commandments. Now, the Jews, and Josephus in particular, could bring something to this desire. His theocratic order left nothing to the individual’s discretion, no matter how insignificant. His law made faith in God the soul of the whole of life; while the Greek philosophers only made piety a part of virtue, the legislator of the Jews combined all aspects of it (justice, patience, prudence, and civic harmony) and connected all actions, efforts, and thoughts with piety towards God (contra Ap. 2, 16).
We will soon hear that a member of the house, whose fame and greatness began in the Galilean military camp and was completed in the burning of the Temple of Jerusalem, finds comfort and satisfaction in Judaism for the inner dissatisfaction of his soul. He fell victim to the reactionary direction of the emperor, who sought to preserve Roman religious and state statutes, and with whom the Flavian family ended. Many others also lost their lives because of their inclination towards Judaism. But did that Flavius Clemens, the cousin of Domitian, and his accomplices agree to take on the entire burden of Jewish law with their devotion to Jewish doctrine? Did they want to make the sacrifice by accepting the Jewish doctrine of the One Lord and Creator and renouncing the Roman religion to enter the national community of the Jews? Did they exchange their Roman nationality for an Oriental one?
Hardly! We believe we can show below our right to the opposite assumption.
Josephus saw things differently. The victory of his Jehovah over the gods is at the same time the triumph of his people, the defeat of the gods and their servants a national matter of Israel. For example, Balaam’s prophecy of the downfall of the enemies of the chosen people is fulfilled for him (Arch. 4, 6, 5) up to his time, and he concludes that the fulfillment will be completed in the future. He tries to avoid answering the question of who the stone is that brings down the statue, the symbol of the world empires, in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and then covers the earth but leads the reader to the point where he can search for it himself with his excuse. He says he has to record the past, not the future, but whoever wants to see through what is still in the dark should read the book of Daniel (ibid., 10, 10, 4). In a section of Daniel’s vision (of the seven weeks that will bring desolation to the holy land and end with the restoration of the sanctuary), he believes he finds the hegemony of the Romans and their devastating intervention predicted (ibid., 10, 11, 7). The “coming hegemon” in Daniel 9:26 is the Roman to him, and “the abomination of desolation” (Daniel 9:27) is the destruction of the temple. He does not mention the restoration of the temple when looking at the Romans, but he does not want to prevent anyone from making this addition. “I have written so,” he says at the end of that chapter, “as I understood and read it; if anyone else thinks differently about it, he shall not be contradicted in his opinion.”
The authority that he transferred to Vespasian over the Jewish people as God’s messenger was only interim, and through it the universal destiny of Israel could not be extinguished. According to the indications in his “Antiquities,” it was rather certain to him that the world domination of the law would survive the change of rulers and empires.
Moreover, the greeting with which Josephus met the commander cannot even be maintained as a historical fact. Vespasian, like Corbulo, a man of strict and sincere service, was not of a nature that a defector and traitor could dare to flatter him with succession to the ruling emperor. Corbulo, who carried out a more difficult task than Pompey in arranging the relations between Syria, Parthia, and Armenia during his Asian dictatorship, was an unconditional servant of Nero’s and only said, as he was recalled to Greece by him and received the order of death, pressing the dagger into his heart: “rightly for me,” that is, why was I not like others unfaithful! Vespasian, a man of the same loyalty, would have rejected any temptation to entertain a thought against his imperial superior with punishment. It was only when Nero and Galba had fallen and the war between Otho and Vitellius had disrupted the West that he could see the call to save the Empire in the reputation of the legions.
Moreover, Josephus was already known to him when he came to him from the alleged “well” near Jotapata. The Jewish warlord, who openly admitted his resigned mood at the beginning of his military office in the main work on the war and wanted to give the word of the riddle that he came to Galilee only as a pacifier in his “Life,” had not yet lifted the last veil from the mystery of his position at that time. On the contrary, we have pointed out above indications that he had informed the Roman commander through intermediaries with what sentiments he had undertaken the mission in Galilee, and when he met with Vespasian personally, he could only inform him of what he already knew: his decisive disbelief in the political continuation of the theocracy and his belief in the superiority of the Romans.
His so-called “Vaticinium” about the world ruler who was supposed to come from Judaea slowly took shape during his conversations under the tents of the emperors. It was not finished until he had negotiated in vain with the defenders of the holy city on its walls, as they played an important role in the punchline of the saying that they had been drawn into the war by the same oracle about the coming prince that proclaimed the victory of the Romans. Josephus had only overlooked in this artful pragmatism that the insurgents could not possibly see the prince who would destroy their sanctuary as their savior and redeemer.
If anyone still wants to see an ancient oriental legend in the work of Josephus, then they must also assume, with Suetonius (Galba, chapter 9), that the imitation of that saying, “the Lord and prince of the world will come from Spain,” by which Galba believed he was called to the imperial throne, had already been presented 200 years earlier by a virgin of that country.
The simultaneous development of Christianity and the Roman Empire is the subject of these lines; let us not shorten ourselves by examining some late passages inserted by Christians into the Antiquities of Josephus! The Christian origin of the so-called Testimony of Christ (Antiquities 18, 15, 2), which Origen did not yet know and was first cited by Eusebius at the time of Constantine the Great, has long been decided. We content ourselves with referring to the “XXX Epistolae philologicae et historicae de Fl. Josephi Testimonio, quod Jesu Christo tribuit” (Nuremberg, 1661). This collection contains the correspondence of respected theologians and philologists from Germany, Holland, and England on this controversial issue, as well as notes on a series of scholars who recognized a late Christian work in the slow, sluggish, and uncertain passage. Among these men shine the names of Daniel Heinsius, Joh. Fr. Gronow, Tanaquil Faber, Grotius, David Blondel, and others. It is only in recent times that the mention of Jesus as the “so-called Christ” and brother of James, allegedly stoned at the time of Nero (Antiquities 20, 19, 1), has been doubted and abandoned as a later addition. Keim (1, 12) believes that it cannot be denied that this passage “is based on Christian improvements,” thus indicating the intervention of Christian hands.
However, we cannot help but motivate the suspicion that the penultimate chapters of Josephus’ work on the Jewish War (7, ch. 8 and 9) arouse in us, and draw attention to the precious treasure they contain.
8. A Heraclitian School.
Something completely new emerges. Josephus is a strict adherent of the maxim “that you may prosper on earth” and is familiar with nothing less than mysticism, which sees the body of this life as a prison and the earthly life of the soul as a theft of the divine. He is only friendly with the philosophy of the Greeks to the extent that it corresponds to his deistic view of creation and providence, which allows man to prosper in this world according to his conduct, or punishes him with misfortune and failure for his contrary undertakings. But now, all of a sudden, in the fortress of Masada, allegedly besieged by insurgent Jews for several years after the fall of Jerusalem, there is a school of Heraclitean wisdom. Eleasar, the commander of the garrison, gives a lecture on their common belief that life, not death, is a misfortune, after exhaustion of their defense forces. He explains that dying is gain, the bondage of the soul to the body an injustice committed against the divine, for which mixing with the mortal is not appropriate, and death the elevation of the soul to its home above. This is entirely Heraclitean and only at home in the Jewish context with Philo. This Alexandrian concludes his first book on the “Allegories of the Law” with the sentence: “Indeed, Heraclitus also said: ‘We live the death of the gods, and we die the life of the gods’;” for when we live, the soul is dead and buried in the body like in a tomb, and when we die, the soul lives its own life and is freed from the evil and corpse of the body chained to it.”
In this passage, as well as usually, Philo adds the remark that Heraclitus followed the teachings of Moses with his saying. This Eleasar also speaks at the beginning of his lecture as if his bold thought that life is the true misfortune is in agreement with the “patriotic teaching,” but at the height and conclusion of his speech, he admits that his and his comrades’ conviction is something new. “Even though we have been educated from time immemorial in the opposite doctrine that life is the highest happiness of man,” he says (ibid. 7, 8, 7), “the present moment teaches us that we are born for death.”
Furthermore, Josephus consistently portrays a harshness in his descriptions of the bloody scenes in besieged and captured Jerusalem. In contrast, the account of the section on the Masada garrison’s response to their leader’s call to enter death is marked by a soft sentimentality. The people do not even let their leader finish speaking and detailing his advice. They interrupt him, and in demonic ecstasy, they go about the work that corresponds to their own sense and belief. They embrace their wives, take their children in their arms, give their last kiss to the weeping, and then pierce their loved ones. While the provisions and treasures of the fortress go up in flames, ten men designated by lot carry out the slaughter of the rest who have peacefully laid themselves down with their wives and children. They then perform the sacrifice on themselves.
The structure of the main body of this section also contradicts the cumbersome and clumsy prolixity with which it is linked to the bulk of the historical narrative. Eleasar is made a descendant of Judas, who fell in the revolt against the Quirinius census, and then follows an extensive retrospective of the “robbers and murderers,” from Judas to John of Giskala and Simon, son of Giora, and the Idumeans are not forgotten, who, to complete the misfortune of the times, came to the aid of the assassins in Jerusalem.
If Josephus himself inserted this cumbersome recapitulation of seventy years of history into his work, he, with his insensitivity to Heraklitic mysticism, could not have created the main content himself, and he must have incorporated one of the sketches in which his Jewish contemporaries glorified the downfall of their nationality. His name will always be associated with the conviction with which he saw the means for the establishment of the universal rule of his law in the fall of the holy city. In contrast, the author of the Masada episode opens our eyes to the soul of other Jewish circles who, after the loss of their national sanctuary, welcomed renunciation of the world and the earthly and in view of the Heraklitic and Philonic above as a replacement and lasting satisfaction.
We now turn to a transformation that Judaism underwent in Rome.
9. Domitian and the Meek.
Our attention is drawn to a circle that has shed the Roman nature and turned to Judaism without appropriating its national interests. The state of mind of this circle is related to the world-renouncing and self-abasing attitude glorified by Philo, but at the same time, it is something new in that it rejects the national barrier into which the Alexandrian sage repeatedly embeds himself after his ecstatic raptures. Thus, at the exit from Judaism, a rupture with it is also stirred up and stoic renunciation of worldly power and convention is united with oriental devotion.
The highest echelons of Rome at that time were the stage where the Old was bid farewell and freedom from the world was welcomed as salvation; but the nobles who committed this assault against Rome’s majesty were not without accomplices, and we are thus justified in assuming that the event above was connected with a related occurrence down in the civil society of the capital. The drama that played out in the last year of Domitian was at once a family tragedy within the Flavian house and ended with its downfall. Flavius Clemens, the emperor’s cousin, was executed for his conversion to Judaism; among the murderers who killed Domitian a few months later was Stephanus, the steward of Domitilla, Clemens’ wife. The latter’s father, Flavius Sabinus, Vespasian’s brother, provided the pretext for the burning of the Capitol, where he barricaded himself against the Germanic and Gallic troops of Vitellius; Clemens himself set fire to the ancient temples and sanctuaries of Rome. Vespasian’s nephew submitted to the god whose holiest sanctum the legions of Titus had stormed; Domitian, on the other hand, attempted once again to enforce the old laws of the gods, and exhausted himself in a reaction that was forgotten by the martial and philosophical emperors who succeeded him and the Oriental cult innovations of the Syrian emperors and empresses. The emperor’s cousin gave a religious character to the political resignation that had gripped the greats of Rome for more than a century and cultivated this un-Roman sentiment on the steps of the throne; his imperial blood relative raised the noble’s harshness to an extreme to which Tiberius’ Claudian pride, in his decadence, could no longer rise.
This pressure that Domitian exerted on Rome was what brought the religious movement within his cousin’s inner circle and part of Roman society to light and revealed to the historian a valuable guide on the path that the Roman world took on its journey towards Christianity.
The younger of the two sons of Vespasian showed, in his first appearance in public, a harsh temperament that picturesquely reflects the agitation and transience of the imperial era. During the height of the Republic, the children and grandchildren immersed themselves in the tradition of the family under strict discipline, and in turn continued the legacy of their ancestors through their achievements in the affairs of war and peace. Merit followed merit, achievement followed achievement. Now was the time of surprising foundations and strokes of luck, and the families chosen by fortune lost the thread of their tradition and the coherence of their development. The merit that had lifted the ascending family father in his slow ascent was overshadowed by the sun of success, and the achieved power transformed into something self-evident. The children were most affected by this turnaround. They were, even if the father had just grasped power with a bold hand, born princes and something different from him who had to work his way up the ladder of success step by step. They were legitimate rulers, and what the father had acquired belonged to them by right. Even Augustus had seen his house crumble and fall at this sudden turn.
An eighteen-year-old young man, Domitian behaved as the ruler of Rome when he was there while his father secured the East from Egypt and sent Mucianus with military forces to Italy. His uncle had taken him along in his flight to the Capitol, and he had himself escaped the invading Germans of Vitellius disguised as an Isis priest. But his mere participation in Sabinus’ unfortunate adventure and his presence during the barricading of the Capitol was for him a reinforcement of the right to the throne that he possessed as the son of the newcomer who had been raised to it, and he was pleased to hear later that the poets celebrated the “Capitoline War” as the beginning of his reign. After the defeat of the Vitellians, he pushed himself on Mucianus during the reappointment and distribution of offices and behaved during this business so much like an autocrat that his father wrote to him, “I thank you, my son, for allowing me to rule and not deposing me yet.”
He envied his brother Titus for his birthright and triumphs in Palestine, so he pushed himself again on Mucianus when he marched with the legions to Gaul to assist Cerialis in quelling the anarchy there. The experienced statesman reluctantly took him along, as he did not think it wise to expose him and his rash hopes to the camp of a large army. So all the more welcome was the news received at the crossing of the Alps that the power of the uprising had been broken, and he told the ambitious prince that it was not suitable for him to intervene in a work almost completed by others and to collect the aftermath of the victory. Nevertheless, the widespread rumor persisted that from Lyon, where Mucianus had only let him come, Domitian had secretly negotiated with Cerialis for the surrender of the army and the imperium, and that he had only abandoned his aspirations when he saw that the supreme commander in Gaul was evasive with his answers, as he saw in the whole idea only the offspring of childish vanity.
Both brothers were not insensitive to the allure of the world which their father, a scion of a sober, respectable Sabine family, had acquired as an inheritance. Both were inclined towards sensual pleasures, but Titus’ personality was so richly endowed with gifts and advantages that he was also sure to win the sympathy of the world. Born in the year of Caligula’s death (41 AD) and educated as a playmate of Britannicus at the court of Claudius, he “was characterized, according to the characterization which Suetonius adopts in his biography dedicated to him, by the gifts of body and mind which developed happily with the passage of age. In his beautiful figure, dignity and grace were combined; although not tall and inclined to corpulence, he possessed excellent strength. His talents qualified him for every science of war and peace. Skilled in arms, experienced in riding, eloquent, a poet and improviser, he also delighted as a virtuoso in singing and on instruments. On the former battlefield of his father in Germania and Britannia, he distinguished himself as a military tribune, and inscriptions in both provinces spoke of his zeal and popularity.” The idealistic sweep of his nature finally found the right field to satisfy it in Palestine. His susceptibility to pleasure here formed the bridge to intimacy with the playboy Mucian and facilitated his first connections with him for the transfer of the empire to his father. But here, the temptations of the East also concentrated for him, as earlier for Antony in the queen of Egypt, in Berenice, sister of King Agrippa, who behaved as his chosen one after the Jewish triumph on her visit to Rome and was sent back to her homeland due to the displeasure over the impending connection of the Caesar with a barbarian.
According to Suetonius, Domitian, ten years younger than Titus, was no less beautifully formed in his youth, and slightly taller, but his dull and lifeless eyes did not show any empathy for others. He never loved anyone sincerely, except for a few women, as Cassius Dio says. For him, his father’s elevation to Augustus and his appointment as Caesar was a signal for unrestrained indulgence in his sensuality, and, according to Tacitus, he showed the behaviour of a prince in adultery and in shameful acts. He forcibly abducted his wife Domitia from the bed of Aelius Lamia, and he had an adulterous relationship with Julia, the daughter of Titus, who was to become his wife according to the Flavian family council, perhaps also with the intention of binding her to his side as an ally against his brother’s interests.
Vespasian remained, while tempering the jubilation of the Neronian era with his thriftiness and good sense, the open and jovial freeman of the Sabine land; only this frankness and openness had taken on the imperial form of affability. The doors of his imperial residence, which no soldier guarded, were not closed to anyone. It was all over with the brilliant society of Nero, which was brought to life by men such as Lucan, Petronius, and Seneca, and electrified by their brilliant antitheses and judgments about the men of the civil wars and the early imperial period. Instead, a comfortable and familiar togetherness had emerged, and the emperor set an example with his mood and humour at his table, and did not take offence if someone paid him back in the same coin after harmless jokes about others. Titus wanted to see everyone happy and felt uncomfortable when someone left him with a sad face. The day was lost to him if he did not show kindness to someone. He loved a cheerful and entertaining table and teased himself, without harming his majesty, with the people through shouts during the combat games.
On the other hand, Domitian rarely left his seclusion. If he ever hosted a banquet, it was only out of formality and ceremony, which were agreed upon like in a hunt. He himself was taciturn and others could not please him with a single word. That saying of Juvenal’s (4, 87): “if a confidant even spoke about the weather, his life was at stake,” is just an exaggeration. It was actually more often like this. Brooding, closed, lurking, he sat there. No word found an echo; nothing could elicit a friendly expression or a sound of approval from him. The speaker groped for satisfying phrases and, in his embarrassment, could not find any that he believed would please. Cassius Dio called Domitian “quick-tempered and irritable, but also deceitful and treacherous.” Both sides of his character had an inner connection. The treachery was the interweaving of envy and hatred, which concealed his passive and lurking demeanor; but when the capricious, always dissatisfied nature in his chest had filled up with nourishment from the world that displeased him until it overflowed, then it broke out with thunder against the outside world, and the silent brooder stood there as a hot-tempered person.
The death of his older brother was a slow decline. Popular belief attributed his illness, which had often afflicted him since he reached manhood, to the fact that he had drunk from the poisoned cup that was supposed to have killed Britannicus at Nero’s table. Others attributed his exhaustion to excessive indulgence in pleasure; probably a burning thirst for achievement was also consuming him. Such an association of rewarding excitements, as war, exercise of power, and love had offered him in the East, did not come again for Titus under the peaceful rule of his father; nevertheless, he yearned for something great and felt an emptiness within himself for which he searched for a filling.
Along with his yearning and longing for the unattainable greatness, there was also an oversaturation with possessions, and his generosity and liberalism were ultimately just expressions of his jadedness: “here, take everything!” He appeared publicly for the last time at the hundred-day festivities for the inauguration of his father’s Colosseum and wept on the last day in front of the entire people. His life and yearning had exhausted him.
Certainly, the pressure from his brother contributed to the depletion of his strength. Suetonius is very credible this time when he writes, according to one of his sources: “Domitian did not stop pursuing him, almost incited the army against him publicly, and thought of fleeing. Titus could not bring himself to kill him or remove him or even honor him less, but persisted in publicly respecting him as his successor and co-ruler from the first day of his reign, and sometimes begged him earnestly and with tears to finally have the same feelings towards him.” This pressure from the lurking one was too much for the one who wanted nothing from all of it and for himself in the long run.
So now Domitian stood alone and could say in the Senate (Sueton. Domit. cap. 13): “he had given his father and brother the reign, and they had only given it back to him,” and the epigram by Martial quoted by the Scholiast to Juvenal (4, 38): “the third of the imperial Flavians had taken so much from the first two that it was almost as good as if they had never been there,” expresses the true sentiment of the new emperor.
According to Lampridius in the Life of Alexander Severus (chap. 43), Trajan, who distinguished himself as a capable general in the Jewish War under Vespasian and commanded the army on the Rhine during the last years of Domitian’s reign, said of the last Flavian emperor, “that he was indeed a very bad ruler, but had very good state officials.” He ruled for fifteen years and kept the vast empire in order, that is, until the wild frenzy of his later acts of revenge against the great families, with the traditional policy of his earlier predecessors, to divert the city populace and keep the Senate in check, was barely maintained. He continued the foreign policy in the conservative direction initiated by Augustus and could not use the funds consumed by buildings, spectacles, and public entertainments for conquests. The recall of Agricola from the British theater of war, which incurred the wrath of Tacitus, was necessitated by lack of funds and dictated by the same recorded policy that no longer tolerated any civilian triumphator and feared conquerors of the empire’s borders as candidates for the imperial throne. Domitian’s weak campaigns on the Rhine and on the Lower Danube and his German and Dacian triumphs do not deserve the ridicule of Tacitus and the younger Pliny for the splendor distorted by “tame” and implanted prisoners. At that time, one could still believe in maintaining peace at the borders through a ceasefire. Trajan and Marcus Aurelius were already forced by the growing unrest among the border enemies to sustained campaigns, and when in the third century the succession of old enemies was broken and strengthened by pressing hinterland peoples, a group of great generals, throne aspirants, and emperors emerged, who once again helped the empire in its life-threatening situation and at the end of this military era neither cared about the masses in the capital nor the decadent Senate.
Trajan’s statement about Domitian also emphasizes that, with the advice of his capable ministers, he “did not make himself as hated as the inherently good Claudius, who had left the state to his unworthy favorites, as it is easier to tolerate one than many villains.” Domitian wanted to be an autocrat; his ministers were only servants to him, and he did not allow the rule of freedmen to emerge. He considered the rule of his father and brother unproductive (Suetonius and Dio’s reports of his attacks on his predecessors are reduced to this), and he wanted to leave behind a Rome that bore the stamp of his mind. But inwardly poor and hollow, and without sympathy or empathy for the internal movements of society or even for the new life forces that it carried in its womb, he could not envision a higher ideal than that of order and external symmetry, and could not devise any rule other than that which was laid down in the ancient laws and state statutes.
He punished recent or previously overlooked offenses of some Vestal Virgins against the purity of the hearth they guarded, tightened the supervision required by law over marital fidelity, renewed the Scantinian law against mixing with one’s own sex, and with his law against the mutilation of the male sex, he aimed to preserve in Rome the sanctity of manhood against the encroachment of Asian customs. Furthermore, he wanted Rome to be visible in its uniqueness and dignity, amidst the influx of nationals from all over the world, by restoring the dress code on the streets and the old legal grouping of social classes in the amphitheaters. The ban on theater singing and ballet was also a reaction against foreigners, especially the Orient, which had sent skilled performers of sensual dance.
This architect, who carried the plan of renewed Rome in his mind and put it into action, also cut through the issue hovering between the emperors and the Senate with his sense of authority, an issue that cost Nero his life and that Vespasian and Titus dealt with gently and courteously towards the Senate. Just as he once lowered the majesty of the people with a word when the audience at the Capitoline games unanimously called for the reinstatement of a senator he had dismissed and commanded the herald to silence them, he also stripped the Senate of its sovereignty and alone appropriated the title of Lord, through which the imperial treasury became lord over all that “flees and creeps” and swims in the sea. Juvenal’s story of the enormous sea bream (Satire 4), which a fisherman caught in the Adriatic Sea and brought to the emperor, the sole landlord, in his Alban villa, is again only a poetic specialty, and the whole affair, how the emperor summons the great men of Rome and consults with them whether the bream should be served whole on the table and whether a giant bowl must be made by the potter, is nothing but an invented farce.
And this lord, before whom the people and the Senate bowed, to whom the empire belonged and to whom the bordering peoples paid homage, was not only attributed the crown of divinity by his court poet, but also by the peoples who did not understand the mechanism that held the vast empire together, as long as his rule was felt, he was dedicated a form of religious veneration. To the Romans, he is closer as a god and leader than Jupiter (Statius, Sylv. V. 1, 37-38); he is “Rome’s Jupiter” (Martial, 9, 28), the thunderer of the imperial palace (ibid., 9, 86), the father of the world, the first and only salvation of the world, the god that the Dacian Dagis is happy to see in Rome, while his brother Decebalus only worships him from afar (ibid., 9, 6, 8, 66, 5, 3). He himself believed in his divine glory and established the formula “our lord and god commands” for the decrees of his procurators in the provinces. Martial introduced the formula into his poetry (9, 66).
However, this glory, as Caligula and Nero had already experienced, wavered as the state treasury dwindled. The games for the people, the armies, and the campaigns had cost a lot, and perhaps Titus’s generosity had also somewhat diminished Vespasian’s full treasury. Domitian, who initially tried to do without the help of those power-hungry men and had expelled the informants of the Neroan era, was finally forced to use those tools for confiscations and to use the competition of the senators, each of whom feared being left behind by the zeal of their competitors, for his own enrichment. The real reign of terror began in the twelfth year of his reign (93 AD) when Lucius Maximus suppressed the rebellion of Antonius in Upper Germany but also burned the papers of the defeated and thereby left the emperor in the dark about the intricacies of the conspiracy. The following year targeted the teachers and followers of Stoic philosophy and cleared out among the senators who admired Nero’s philosophically educated victims and were considered followers of the doctrine of the Hall.
The series of victims concluded in the first week of the year 96 with Flavius Clemens.
The emperor had adopted his two sons and designated them as his successors, entrusting the education of them to the learned Quintilian. Clemens had just completed his year as consul (95 AD) when his execution was ordered. Domitian, who sought to restore ancient Rome, saw his work threatened by his closest relative, whose crime consisted of nothing less than the surrender of imperial Rome to the invading East. Suetonius, who failed to appreciate the significance of the decline, says that the emperor killed his cousin “for the slightest suspicion.” Cassius Dio, on the other hand, states that along with Clemens, who was executed, his wife Flavia Domitilla, a relative of the emperor, was also banished to Pandateria, citing contempt for the gods as the crime attributed to them and adding that many others who leaned towards Judaism were sentenced to death or forfeiture of their property for the same offense.
The simple fact as presented in this note was later confused by Christian theologians a hundred years later. They needed early predecessors of their faith, as well as models for their opposition to powerful pagan Rome, and finally prototypes of the endurance in the struggle to which they felt called. Flavius Clemens is the only one who is specifically listed as a martyr for oriental devotion by pagan historians, so it was inevitable that church writers would include him among the martyrs, whom the legend and poetry of the second century had created. In this sense, Irenaeus and Tertullian transformed the events of the last year of Domitian’s reign into a persecution of Christians. Melito, one of those alleged apologists who attributed their defenses to the philosopher on the throne, Marcus Aurelius, and never sent them, is cited by Eusebius as a witness to the Christian confession of Clemens and his wife, and Lactantius (De Mort. Persecut. cap. 3) makes Domitian, following the example of Nero, the second enemy of the Christians, who brought about his own downfall by rising up against the Lord of the Church.
The newer apologists, no less than their gray-haired predecessors, require a very early prehistory and chronicle of suffering for Christianity, and dare to use only the text of Cassius Dio to prove the Christian character of Clemens and his fellow sufferers, since the accusation of atheism (aðeótytos) made against them corresponds exactly to the charge for which Christians of the third century suffered. However, this reference to later language usage has no greater value than the appeal to the testimony of the early Church for the Christian confession of Clemens. Atheists in the sense of Roman state officials existed even before the proclamation of the Gospel could gain a foothold in Rome. Lucretius was such an opponent and denier of the gods in his poem on the nature of things, and the Romans who embraced Judaism could not have been unaware of the war and ridicule that the apocryphal writings of the Old Testament directed against the gods of the nations. Moreover, Tacitus’ usage of language comes to our aid, according to which those who turn to the Jewish way of life are led to despise the gods and renounce everything patriotic (hist. 5, 5).
If we free the event of Domitian’s last year from the disturbing reflexes that are imposed on it by a later time and diction, the only question that can occupy us is whether the executed Flavius submitted to all the national demands and consequences of the law to which he paid tribute in terms of its wisdom and spiritual discipline. Here Suetonius comes to our aid. He relates that in the frenzy of his last days, Domitian (cap. 12) had the Jewish tribute of a double drachma, which Vespasian had assigned to the Roman fiscus from the destroyed temple of the holy city, collected with the utmost severity and searched for both those who evaded the tax by concealing their origin and those who lived their lives according to Jewish customs without openly professing Judaism (improfessi).
There were therefore adherents of the Jewish teachings who did not submit to all the consequences of the law, above all to circumcision.
Now Suetonius gives us a note that shows that Domitian’s cousin was by no means in the mood or state of mind to understand the full activity of the legal Jew. The chronicler of the first twelve emperors recounts that Clemens (Domit. cap. 15) showed the most contemptuous laziness (inertia). Because of this characteristic attributed to him, the man who had just completed his year as consul was not suspected of neglecting any of his official duties. But he was not fully committed to the formalities that were incumbent upon him. When he had finished his daily work, which was not significant for a consul at that time, he devoted himself to thoughtful reflection and contemplation.
He loved to be by himself; if he couldn’t avoid the court circle, it was evident from his demeanor that he was preoccupied with himself and preferred the company of the quiet people of the countryside who had withdrawn from public life. He had detached himself from the commanding, haughty Roman lords who viewed the world as their prey.
Such silence in the land had existed in Rome since the beginning of the civil wars. Lucretius was their illustrious ancestor. Asinius Pollio’s words to Octavian when he urged him to join the decisive struggle against Antony, “Let me stay out of your quarrel and be the spoils of the victor,” are rightly called memorable by Vellejus Paterculus (2, 86). Similarly, Titus Pomponius Atticus said to Sulla, on his return from Asia, who had been enchanted by the grace, amiability, and scholarly education of the young man and urged him to join the march to Italy: “Stop it, I beg you, don’t insist on leading me against those with whom I have no desire to take up arms against you and from whom I only wanted to escape when I left Italy (and withdrew here, to Athens).” Consider in Cornelius Nepos’ biography of this man the picture of his kindness, his impartial sympathy for the battling factions of the civil wars, his active demonstrations of love for the victims of party strife, his belief in a human destiny beyond the noise of the forum and the weapons, his consistent abstention from the courts, which he neither took up in his own affairs nor as a participant in an accusation, and you will find that the description of these un-Roman spirits who sought to rise above the historical task of the Roman as the gentle and quiet people in the land is not unjustified.
Those noble descendants of the old families whom Horace, not without some insistence, urged to rid themselves of the concern about what the Cantabrian or Scythian is plotting, and whom he invited to come out with him onto the grass under the pine and to the Falernian wine and girls, would have looked at him favorably if they did not feel for themselves quite well that the weapons of civil war have entrusted one with the concern for the state. Among the last victims of Domitian’s slaughters was such a political refugee, Herennius Senecio, who had not only described the life of Helvidius Priscus, Thrasea’s son-in-law and Stoic opponent of Vespasian but was also suspected because he did not seek any further office after his quaestorship.
Clement’s father, Flavius Sabinus, who was torn apart by the people on the street after the fire of the Capitol, was also considered sluggish (segnis, according to Tacitus hist. 3, 75) after a thirty-five-year service in civil and military positions; many believed him to be moderate and too sparing in terms of citizen blood, because he did not intervene energetically enough when the balance swung between Vitellius and Vespasian. Perhaps there was a certain inclination towards laissez-faire in the family, which Vespasian, until the gods and legions called him, ennobled in his loyalty and later cleverly used in his intimate and jovial dealings with the Senate and people, which then in the form of dissipation and worldliness undermined and consumed Titus, and which finally transformed into world disdain in Domitian out of dissipation, causing him to be carried away by the autocratic idea of reshaping Rome according to a plan he had designed.
Clement was world-weary and already lived in his thoughts in that upper world where, according to the final sentence of the first book of Philonic Allegories of the Law, the soul, removed from the body, leads its own life. If this renouncing Judaism, for which elegiac poetry had relocated a school to the fortress of Masada, had not penetrated to Rome itself, its emergence from the mixture of the law with ascetic stoicism was just as natural and inevitable here as its birth in Alexandria from the combination of revelation with the mysticism of Heraclitus. From this mixture, especially in the soul of the world-weary Roman, arose that contemptible laziness which drove his relative Domitian into a rage and which, as Tertullian reports (Apologet. 42), still in the year 200 provoked the ridicule of the world over the “uselessness” of Christians “for business.”
By the way, Judaism had peace again after the fall of Domitian. One of the first decrees of his successor, Nerva, stipulated (Cassius Dio 68, 1) that “no one should be brought to court anymore for their Jewish way of life.”
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