And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. (Mark 13:1-2)
“…to plunge so deep takes more than any sword: such gaping wounds belong to civic hands.” — Lucian
The Conspiracy To Kill Josephus And Control Judea
Of civil wars and enmities, of unsatisfied strife, of pride in one’s tribe, of blood shed from patriots under the hands of countrymen; of religion and madness, of crimson carnage bespattering the earth amidst the shadows of fellow religious; of zeal and hysteria, of ideals in the face of guile, of feigned piety in the presence of betrayal; of reverence and edifices, of temples stained with the blood of fellow worshippers; of madness that manifests unexpectedly, of peace that is disrupted to the clamor of ambushes, to the grey clouds of hades permeating the air; such are the things of man, such is his end in his transient existence. Of flesh and souls, such is man, only to see in finite time, the longing for eternity.
Everyone has heard of the destruction of the Temple; how the Jews revolted against Rome, and how the Romans destroyed their most cherished edifice. But what is almost never said is that before the Roman hand devastated the Temple, it was the fanatical madness of the Jews that ruined it, flooding its floors with blood. The Jews did not always raise their arms to the Roman troops, but many times lifted their swords to slaughter their kinsmen. Jew murdered Jew, and a multitude of innocent people were slain without any remorse on the part of the killers. In fact, prominent Jewish men were slaughtered naked, with mockery and to the laughter of the murderers, just as Christ was murdered naked to the glee of scoffers. Today there is a common accusation that the New Testament is “antisemitic” or “anti-Jewish” because it describes the Jews demanding for the death of Christ. But in the writings of Josephus — as we will see soon — we find the Jews doing the same things. The revolution of the Jews did not begin just as defiance to Rome, but with Jews killing one another, revolting against each other. The destruction of the Temple did not begin with Roman hands, but with a faction of Jews — the Zealots — making a pact with an army of Arab Jews to slaughter their own people within the city, and they indeed made a horrific slaughter of thousands of people, before the Romans even entered the city. This is a story of not just revolt, but of horror and the absence of compassion, and of a rebellion the depths of which were entrenched in the shadows of the abyss; this is a story written to demonstrate just how sinister Judea was, to show the dark world that crucified Christ.
In the horrors of the Roman-Jewish conflict, there were two factions, one that was in power and another that wanted to take the power from the other. The former was that of Josephus, who ruled over Galilee before he became the famous historian he is known as today. The latter was the faction of John, a marauder and thief who sought to use the pharisees and the Sanhedrin to overthrow Josephus and set his Zealot movement to dominate the Jews. He tried to persuade the people of Tiberias, Sepphoris and Gabara, to revolt against Josephus since these were the greatest cities of Galilee, promising that he would be a better commander than Josephus. John wanted to be the hero in the war with the Romans, and one of his actions to prove this was the erecting of the walls around his hometown of Gischala, which would become one of the biggest battlegrounds for the war with the Romans. John sent his brother, Simon, and one Jonathan — the son of Sisenna — with a hundred armed men, to Jerusalem in order to persuade Simon the son of Gamaliel to remove Josephus from power over Galilee and to give that authority to John. Josephus describes Simon the son of Gamaliel as a Pharisee and “a man of great wisdom and reason,” who was once his friend but had a dispute with him.
So, when he was given the chance to get back at Josephus, he took it. Simon the son Gamaliel told the high priests, Jesus the son of Gamala, and one Ananus, to cut down Josephus from power. But Ananus advised that it would be difficult to accomplish this, because many of the priests and members of the ruling classes supported Josephus and viewed him as a good general. When Simon heard this he knew that Ananus could be a hinderance to the conspiracy, so he had John’s brother (the other Simon) overwhelm Ananus with gifts to bribe him. The plan worked, and Ananus joined the side against Josephus. The conspirators had four members of the religious class join their side: three Pharisees named Jonathan, Ananias and Jozar who was also a priest, and a priest named Simon. These religious leaders were to follow a band of six hundred armed men to pressure Josephus by telling him that if he would lay down his arms they would send him alive to Jerusalem, but if he opposed them they would murder him. They also gave orders to the cities of Sepphoris, Gabara and Tiberias to get ready to war against the forces of Josephus. Jesus, the son of Gamala, told Josephus’s father of the plan to kill his son, and he told his son — to his own dread — of the conspiracy. “I was very much troubled,” writes Josephus, “as discovering thereby that my fellow citizens proved so ungrateful to me, as, out of envy, to give order that I should be slain”. (Josephus, Life, 40).
Josephus determined to leave Galilee. But he found himself surrounded by his countrymen, with their wives and children, begging him to stay, not exactly out of love for him, but out of terror that the other Jews would slaughter them without Josephus’s protection. He ordered five thousand of them to accompany him armed, and ordered the rest to return to their homes. With these men, alongside an army of three thousand foot soldiers and eighty horsemen, he faced the Roman commander Placidus who kept his distance from the Jewish force and eventually made a retreat upon perceiving that the Jews were so ernest to come to battle. It was upon this time that Jonathan sent a letter to Jospehus in order to deceive him with the utmost of guile. He wrote in his letter that he was actually on Josephus’s side and had actually come to rebuke John the tyrant. He exhorted Josephus to come to him to a certain village with only a few men, “for this village will not contain a great number of soldiers.” Josephus knew it was a trick, and was aware what trap John had: if he came with little to no soldiers, he would have been at their mercy, but if he came with an army then there would be blood.
Jonathan would later request from Josephus that he meet him in a village called Gaboroth “without any armed men” so that he could state his charges against John. When Josephus arrived at Gaboroth he was met with a multitude of armed men who declared that he was the “savior of the country”. But Josephus did not wish for bloodshed, and told these fighting men to not unsheathe their swords to any man and nor to pillage or spoil. As soon as Jonathan and his acolytes heard that Josephus was coming to Gaboroth, they resided in a castle owned by a man named Jesus where they contrived the plan to invite Josephus and when he would enter, to lock up all the entrances and take him hostage. When night came, the conspirators thought that they could snatch Josephus as he slumbered.
Josephus pretended to sleep, knowing full well that his own people were out to destroy him. As Jonathan and his men made their way to their prey, a whole crowd of Galileans appeared and cried out that they did not wish to be ruled by anyone else than Josephus. The man who was conspired against, the one who would later become one of the most infamous historians, arose and walked right to the crowd and saw the men who wished him dead. The people saw him, and expressed their thanks to him. The conspiracy was no longer conspiracy; it was known, and its reality ubiquitous within the minds of the masses, demarcating deeper the manifestation of the struggle within the land that would lead to blood. Still the strife continued, still the provocation went on, and like a river of gore, it never ended with its ominous sight. In the town of Proseucha, Jonathan tried to provoke a revolution by declaring to the people that they needed a better ruler, and that Josephus was not him. Jesus, one of the conspirators and the ruler of the town then exclaimed: “O fellow citizens! it is better for you to to be in subjection to four than to one; and those such as are of high birth, and not without reputation for their wisdom;” he then pointed to Jonathan and his colleagues, expressing to the people that these should be their rulers. The revolution was occurring, it was ongoing and stirring, but was it to succeed? What was to be the denouement of such strife? Josephus arrived at Proseucha, and to this were Jonathan and his men thrown to a disorder.
They needed to make a snare for Josephus, so Jonathan made up a lie that Roman forces were seen at the borders of Galilee, and exhorted Josephus to rush to defend the land. They knew that Josephus would comply; for if he didn’t, they would make the claim that he did not care for the defense of the people. Josephus went to the place where it was claimed that Roman soldiers were positioned, and saw nothing. Knowing that it was a trap, he rushed as fast as he could back to the town, where he saw the conspiracy manifested before him.
An entire council had been assembled, wherein Jonathan and his men were declaring accusations against Josephus, that he was one “who had no concern to ease them of the burdens of war, and as one who lived luxuriously.” The people listened to these accusations and believed them, and roared their rage towards Josephus. Josephus responded by saying that he was willing to comply with their demand and go to war against the Romans, and informed them that the Romans were planning to attack on four different places, and thus the Jews needed to break their forces into five divisions. The mob, hearing this advise, changed their mind about Josephus and now saw him as an ally. Such is the temperament of the fickle minded. And then there came a man named Ananias who Josephus described as “a wicked man” “and very mischievous”. Ananias ordered that a fast should be observed the next day, and that they should come together to worship without any weapons in their possession. This had the appearance of piety, but underneath it all was a trap.
Because this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men (Isaiah 29:13)
Ananias called for a fast and ordered that nobody had weapons, that way Josephus would not be armed and thus open for killing. Jonathan, exuberant for blood, wrote to the man who was even more thirsty for carnage, John the thief, exhorting him to bring a great army to seize Josephus. While the schemers spoke highly of religious duties, piety was merely a front for greed. In the middle of prayers, an uproar against Josephus was made by the conspirators who accused him withholding public funds. The multitude broke out in outrage against his accusers.
But John turned to the crowd and declared that Josephus deserved death “by his desire to tyrannizing, and by cheating the multitude of the Galileans with his speeches, in order to gain the dominion over them.” Once he said this, an explosion of violence sparked; the conspirators charged at Josephus with the intent of killing him. Josephus’s men took out their swords and threatened that if they continued in their charge that there would be a slaughter. The multitude, out of their love for Josephus, took up stones and were getting close to throwing them at Jonathan, but Josephus was able to escape before the bloodbath could transpire.
Such was the atmosphere of blood and rapine. The tension was building and was soon going to blow up. Josephus invited two of the co-conspirators, Joazar and Simon, to see him. Joazar, knowing that it was a trap, did not go. But Simon did, and Josephus walked with him, and suddenly he handed over Simon to his armed men. The tension had been building up, simmering and then boiling, and then it all erupted. Josephus made the order to his soldiers to attack Tiberias. The fight was bloody, and Josephus prevailed over the Jews there, and they begged him for mercy which he had granted. But the enmity between Jews was still unquenched, and while they were in the midst of a war with the Romans, they still took much time to kill one another.
There were tensions between Galilee and another Jewish city, Sepphoris. A bloody rage was in the air, and soon a conflagration would explode. Sepphoris rose up against Josephus who, seeing how the people of this city had made a pact with the Roman governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, he launched a war upon them. The people of Galilee, seeing their chance to indulge in their violent desires, went down the spiral of carnage and partook in every horrific thing they wished to do. “So they ran upon them,” remembers Josephus, “and set their houses on fire, as finding them without inhabitants; for the men, out of fear, ran together to the citadel. So the Galileans carried off everything, and omitted no kind of desolation which they could bring upon their countrymen. When I saw this, I was exceedingly troubled by it”. Josephus ordered them to stop their atrocities, but they did not listen. So he came up with a rumor that the Romans were attacking the other part of the city, and so believing this, they ceased with their destruction. “Thus were the inhabitants of Sepphoris unexpectedly preserved by this contrivance of mine.” Such was an image of the things to come.
Part 2: The Beginning of Jerusalem’s Destruction
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)
After the Romans vanquished the Jews in the battle over the city of Gischala, the rebels and opportunists who made war against Rome fled to the city of Jerusalem where they began to not just prepare to have a battle with their gentile enemy, but to also slaughter the Jews that were not conforming to their will. When John, the rebel leader who conspired to murder Josephus, arrived to Jerusalem, he began to puff up the pride of the young men so as to ready them for war. Meanwhile the older people, those who had more prudence and experience, when they saw such riling up of the youth, knew exactly what was going to happen — the Romans were going to come and destroy Jerusalem — “and made lamentation on that account, as if the city was already undone.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.3.2).
It was not as though the Jews were united together in one cause, holding up the Law of Moses to express their moral fortitude. In the land of Judea civil wars abounded; Jew butchered Jew in the midst of a war which was sparked out of a zeal for Israel. In the words of Josephus: “There were besides disorders and civil wars in every city; and all those that were at quiet from the Romans turned their hands one against another.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.3.2) This brings to mind what it says in Isaiah: “each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom” (Isaiah 19:2).
The fighting between two kingdoms — Rome and Judea — was over who was going to rule the land. The fighting between neighbors and cities, was a struggle of war versus peace. The Jews who were desirous of peace were butchered by those who wanted blood. The young rose against the old, the hands of thieves looted and pillaged, and nothing was sacred; “so that seditions arose everywhere,” wrote Josephus, “while those that were for innovations, and were desirous of war, by their youth and boldness, were too hard for the aged and the prudent man; and, in the first place, all the people of every place betook themselves to rapine; after which they got together in bodies, in order to rob the people of the country, insomuch that for the barbarity and iniquity those of the same nation did no way differ from the Romans; nay, it seemed to be a much lighter thing to be ruined by the Romans than by themselves.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.3.2) Jerusalem became “a city without a governor,” (Ibid, 4.3.3), thus it was in a state of lawlessness. “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12).
It was the utter instability within the city that led to its demise; the Romans merely finished the job. The mob saw both how much they could rob and murder as measurements of courage. In the words of Josephus, the mob “omitted no kind of barbarity; for they did not measure their courage by their rapines and plunderings only, but proceeded as far as murdering men, and this not in the nighttime or privately, or with regard to ordinary men, but did it openly in the daytime, and began with the most eminent persons in the city” (Josephus, Wars, 4.3.4). This was a revolution of the have-nots working to murder the eminent citizens, or those who had wealth.
Their measurement of manliness — how many people they could murder and rob — was a manifestation of the evil that King Solomon described: “let our might be our law of right” (Wisdom 2:11). They appointed John the son of Tabitha — “the most bloody minded of them all” — to be the executioner, and he took the eminent citizens and the principal men of the country, and slit their throats under the charges that they were conspiring with the Romans. The rebels then began to appoint their own priests, and they appointed members of the uneducated rabble to be in the sacerdotal position. The rebels took over the Temple and “the sanctuary was now become a refuge and a shop of tyranny.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.4.7). Regardless of their sacrilege, these rebels called themselves Zealots, as if they were the truest followers of the laws of God. One of the legitimate priests of the Temple, Ananus the son of Ananus, stood in the midst of the people, and with tears rushing down his cheeks, and cried out:
“O, bitter tyranny that we are under! But why do I complain to the tyrants? Was it not you, and your sufferances of them, that have nourished them? Was it not you that overlooked those that first of all got together, for they were then but a few, and by your silence made them grow to be many; and by conniving at them when they took arms, in effect armed them against yourselves? … When houses were pillaged, nobody said a word, which was the occasion why they carried off the owners of those houses; and when they were drawn through the midst of the city nobody came to their assistance.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.3.10, ellipses mine).
Ananus then mentioned something quite remarkable: the Temple contained donations from the Romans, and as these Zealots were butchering and plundering their own people, committing atrocities that the Romans themselves would have been disturbed by:
“How then can we avoid shedding of tears, when we see the Roman donations in our temple, while we withal see those of our own nation taking our spoils, and plundering our glorious metropolis, and slaughtering our men: from which enormities those Romans themselves would have abstained.” (Ibid, 4.3.10)
The rebel was worse than the ones he opposed. Such is the nature of revolutions. The people look up to the rebel, believing that he will bring them above their current state which they deem so poorly; and they never think that the one who is leading them to revolt is merely using them to get rid of the establishment so that they could become the established power. The road to rebellion consists of its followers suffering more than when they were in obedience. We read from Josephus that John, the rebel leader, “pretended to be of the people’s opinion” (Ibid, 4.3.13), and by this he got the masses to follow him. He pretended to be very close with Ananus, but in truth he conspired against him behind his back.
He knew that Ananus would not side with him in his fanatical war against Rome, and thus the high priest needed to be disposed. But John knew that he did not have the numbers to fully take over the city and needed to get outside forces to assist him in his revolution, so he requested help from the Arab Jews of Idumea (Edom, modern day Jordan); these were Arabs who had converted to Judaism. He wrote a short letter to the Arab Jews, stating that Ananus was giving Jerusalem up to the Romans. This had incensed the Arabs who gathered together an army of 20,000 warriors. Soon they were in front of the city, demanding to be allowed entry. The second highest of the priests, Jesus, thought that he could reason with the Arabs and came before them and made a speech: “these men who have invited you, if you were to examine them one by one, every one of them would be found to have deserved ten thousand deaths.” He then detailed the atrocities and crimes committed by the rebels:
“They are robbers, who by their prodigious wickedness have profaned this most sacred floor; and who are to be now seen drinking themselves drunk in the sanctuary; and expending the spoils of those whom they have slaughtered upon their unsatiable bellies. … For they have seized upon men of great eminence, and under no accusation, as they stood in the midst of the market place, and tortured them with putting them into bonds; and, without bearing to hear what they had to say, or what supplications they made, they destroyed them. You may, if you please, come into the city, though not in the way of war, and take a view of the marks still remaining of what I now say; and may see the houses that have been depopulated by their rapacious hands; with those wives and families that are in black mourning for their slaughtered relations. As also you may hear their groans and lamentations all the city over. For there is no body but hath tasted of the incursions of these profane wretches.”
But the words of Jesus did not suffice for the Arabs. Their fanaticism was sparked, and they went into a rage. One of the Arabian leaders, Simon the son of Cathlas, exclaimed: “We that are Idumeans will preserve this house of God”. From Jerusalem to the Kaaba, the Arabs have had a militant fanaticism to defend their house of God. So thus this legacy stood in its antiquity, with the vibrancy of an impenetrable face, but with a torrent of blood. A storm had hit Jerusalem, and so turbulent was it that Ananus had the guards of the city go home. Ananus believed that the storm had come from God to keep the Arab army out, but little did he know that it gave the opportunity for the zealots to saw the gates open and allow the Arab army entry into the city. The Zealot fighters rushed out of the Temple and commenced the slaughter of their fellow Jew. The Jewish soldiers, believing that it was just the Zealots who were around, fought confidently, knowing that their numbers were small. But it was not within their awareness that the Arabs were present within the city, in the tens of thousands. Suddenly, the guards turned their heads to see a multitude of Arabian warriors, armed with their swords, filled with a bloodlustful zeal. In the midst of the storm, now there was a storm of invaders; in the midst of thunder, there were cries for mercy, cries of death, cries of torment; in the midst of heavy rains, there was a sudden tempest of carnage; as the glee of the murderers hit the souls of the hunted, those who were hunted were overtaken by horror.
What fury, citizens, what anarchy of iron? — Lucian
Those who were once asleep were now stricken by utter fear, and they went back to sleep only to never awaken again, their eyes wide open with a tension that strikes those pierced with terror, streams of blood running throughout the ground. The cries of the slaughtered filled the air, their plaintive cries conquering the souls of those hoping to survive, as their city was being conquered by their own people. A howling was heard, mixing in with the cacophony of murder’s orchestra; it was coming from the womenfolk, crying and wailing due to the great number of dead. The Idumeans cried out their ululations as they spilt blood; the zealots, too, had their own cry of slaughter. The song of murder played to the background noise of the cries of women, filled with sorrow at the nightmarish phenomena they were now in. Men begged for mercy, and with pleas asked the murderers to remember that they were all Jews, and that there was no need for such killing. The bone chilling cries did not enter the souls of the murderers who ran through with their swords those who urged for mercy. “And now the outer temple was all over it overflowed with blood; and that day, as it came on, saw eight thousand five hundred dead bodies.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.5.1)
The Arabs then began their looting. Every home they entered, they robbed; every person that crossed their paths, they butchered. As the Arabs butchered and killed, the Zealots had their eyes on the high priests, Ananus and Jesus, and slew both of them, standing on their naked dead bodies, their mouths frothing with vicious mockeries. Darkness had taken over all of Jerusalem; it was a spirit that hated good, that loved evil; it inundated the land and possessed the souls of the people. Those who called themselves Zealots were in reality the haters of God, using their zeal as a cover for their diabolical spirit. Murder and thievery was seen as a measurement of manliness, and the scoffer was in power. “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53) They warred against Christ, and now they warred against one another. The sun was blocked upon the death of Christ, and the darkness had taken over all of Judea. Truly the darkness had not left, but remained in the soul of the nation. The destruction of the Temple did not begin with the warring hand of the Roman, but rather with the sanguinary hearts of the Jews, as they butchered one another, as they butchered their own high priests. As Josephus explains:
“I should not mistake if I said, that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city: and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs; whereon they saw their High-priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city. He was on other accounts also a venerable, and a very just man: and besides the grandeur of that nobility, and dignity, and honour, of which he was possessed, he had been a lover of a kind of parity, even with regard to the meanest of the people. He was a prodigious lover of liberty; and an admirer of a democracy in government: and did ever prefer the publick welfare before his own advantage: and preferred peace above all things. For he was thoroughly sensible that the Romans were not to be conquered. He also foresaw that of necessity a war would follow: and that unless the Jews made up matters with them very dextrously, they would be destroyed.”
Josephus also made clear that it was God Who was punishing Jerusalem with destruction:
“And I cannot but think, that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these their great defenders, and well wishers. While those that a little before had worn the sacred garments, and had presided over the public worship, and had been esteemed venerable by those that dwelt on the whole habitable earth, when they came into our city, were cast out naked; and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts. And I cannot but imagine that virtue itself groaned at these mens case; and lamented that she was here so terribly conquered by wickedness. And this at last was the end of Ananus and Jesus.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.5.2)
But the horror did not end. This was only the beginning. The Zealots, alongside their Arab allies who had just been indulging in pillaging, commenced a wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants “as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats” (Ibid, 4.5.3). The ordinary folk were killed without mercy, but the nobleman and the youth were kept alive so as to pressure them to join their side. They tortured these men, trying to get them to acquiesce to their demands and join their party. But they refused, and the torture was so excruciating that they would die from the wounds. “Those whom they caught in the day time were slain in the night: and then their bodies were carried out, and thrown away; that there might be room for other prisoners.” (Ibid, Wars, 4.5.3). The horror continues:
“And the terror that was upon the people was so great, that no one had courage enough either openly to weep for the dead man that was related to him, or to bury him: but those that were shut up in their own houses, could only shed tears in secret; and durst not even groan, without great caution, lest any of their enemies should hear them. For if they did, those that mourned for others soon underwent the same death with those whom they mourned for. Only, in the night time, they would take up a little dust, and throw it upon their bodies; and even some that were the most ready to expose themselves to danger, would do it in the day time. And there were twelve thousand of the better sort, who perished in this manner.” (Ibid)
There was a man known for his righteousness, Zacharias the son of Baruch, who they wanted dead. They forced him to be tried by their seventy judges on the charge of betraying Jerusalem to the Romans. But even when these judges affirmed that they found no fault with this man, the Zealots broke out in an outage in the middle of the trial, and two of the most murderous of the Zealots slew him right there. “Thou hast also our verdict,” they said to Zacharias’s corpse, “and this will prove a more sure acquittal to thee than the other.” They took his corpse and cast it into the valley below the Temple. After the Arabs had left Jerusalem, the Zealots at this point had taken full control over the city. They began to execute the prestigious members of Jerusalem, including those who were known warriors. One of these was Niger, a man who had fought the Romans. The Zealots seized him, and he knew he was going to be killed. He begged for a proper burial, but this they denied him. And as they were hacking him to death, Niger cried out that God was going to curse the Jews with famine, disease and civil war. (Josephus, Wars, 4.6.1).
And this is exactly what would consume all of Judea. Notice that this man, Zacharias, was put through trial on false charges, and when nothing could be found on him, the Jews murdered him anyway. We read this history and cannot help but reminisce on the death of Christ: He was put through trial, on charges of blasphemy, and when nothing could be found on Him, the mob used pressure to have the Roman state crucify Him. Pondering on this parallel, we think of today’s accusation against the New Testament, that it is “anti-Jewish” or “antisemitic” because it portrays the Jews as demanding the death of Christ; whereas here in the writings of Josephus — a Jewish priest — we find the Jews doing the same thing to a man named Zacharias, who was praised as a righteous man. Is the New Testament’s account on the trial and execution of Christ “antisemitic” or was it merely recording the vicious ways of a dark era? Reading through the accounts recorded by Josephus, it is quite obvious that the world in which Christ lived was a dark place, ruthless and filled with cruelty, reflecting the words of Christ when He described the people of His day: “this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:45). This evil generation, from the time when darkness overshadowed Mount Golgotha touched by the blood of the Crucified One, spiraled into an insatiable madness.
The land was cursed with hysteria when the Jews butchered each other after the Arabian invasion, to the point that “if any one came with boldness, he was esteemed a contemner of them. And if any one came as aiming to oblige them, he was supposed to have some treacherous plot against them. While the only punishment of crimes, whether they were of the greatest or smallest sort, was death.”
The spirit of the French Revolution was here, in this moment of far antiquity. In France, the smallest thing was considered worthy of death —such as owning a book with the word ‘king’ in it —; but what lingered in the 18th century was slithering through the earth, whispering into the ears of Judeans seventy years after there was darkness over all the land (Matthew 27:45) in the midst of the One Whom they crucified. In the French Revolution, according to one eyewitness account, men’s intestines were “cut out and worn as turbans” and “bleeding human flesh devoured.” In the Jewish revolt, as we read in Dio Cassius, Jews were “destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would cook their flesh, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood, and wear their skins for clothing.” Be it in the lands of the Seine or of the River Jordan; be it in the 18th century or just decades after the Crucifixion, the shades of darkness remained and persisted, moving through the souls of men, stirring them to rage, its dimensions staying the same, its results, its chaos and hysteria, being fulfilled in its consistency.
In 18th century France, religion was mocked, and it was no different in the revolt of Judea. As Josephus described the Zealots: “These men therefore trampled upon all the laws of men; and laughed at the laws of God: and for the oracles of the prophets they ridiculed them, as the tricks of jugglers.” (Josephus, Wars, 4.6.3). They call it the Jewish revolt against Rome, but truly it was a revolt against law, against goodness, against God Himself. What madness was witnessed in Judea; it was as if God had left this land after the people there murdered His Son. They spiraled into an inescapable bloodlust, commencing from the rejection of Truth incarnate. “There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” (Mark 5:45-46) So here we see the rebellion pointed out by the One they murdered, by the One to Whom they revolted, and such a revolution only went downward, treading towards the abyss. From antiquity to the modern era, this violence is not confounded to one people, it can be seen in a plethora of nations, in the Jew, in the Frenchmen, and whoever plunges themselves into the sea of the demonic.