People and Land of Israel: Jews After the Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus

 •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 11
1It must be evident to the believer that the Jew is of the last importance in God's history of the world. “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” The dispersion of the postdiluvians was not a casual chance-medley circumstance, but so ordered of God as to admit Israel as their earthly center. This has been verified in their past history, though suspended at present; but prophecy discloses that every jot and tittle of the divine scheme is to be fulfilled in the grand scenes of the last days.
The philosophic infidel does not of course see—probably may deride—the purpose of God as to His earthly people. Nevertheless, the Jew has haunted many all unbelieving mind, has broken in like a specter upon his dreamy materialism. The too celebrated Hegel often and long thought upon Hebrew history, often changed his thoughts: his life long,” says his biographer, “it tormented him as a dark enigma.” If Christ crucified proved to the Jews a stumbing-block, the Jews are to the Gentiles an abiding sign which the wisdom of this world vainly essays to fathom and expound.
Of the history of this people, terrible from their beginning hitherto, Dr. Edersheim has given us some instructive chapters, the first fruits of his studies in a department full of interest. After an introductory sketch of the Hebrew commonwealth, we are presented with a graphic yet touching picture, the “closing scenes of the Jewish war of independence.” Let the reader judge:-
“The stars twinkled just as they had done in happier days over the burning walls of Masada. Beneath rolled the Dead Sea—the monument of foreign wrath and war; in the distance, as far as the eye could reach, the desolate landscape bore the marks of the oppressor. Before them was the camp of the Roman, who watched with anxiety for his prey and the morrow. All was silent in Masada. Defense now seemed impossible, and certain death stared the devoted garrison in the face. Despair settled on the stoutest, heart, deepened by the presence and the well-known fate of the women and children. Naught was heard but the crackling of burning timbers, and the ill-suppressed moans of the wives and children of the garrison. Then for the last time Eleazar summoned his warriors. In language such as fierce despair alone could have inspired on his, or brooked on their part, he reminded them of their solemn oath—to gain freedom or die. One of these alternatives alone remained for them—to die. The men of war around him had not quailed before any enemy, yet they shrank from. the proposal of their leader. A low murmur betokened their disapprobation. Then flashed Eleazar's eye. Pointing over the burning rampart to the enemy, and in the distance towards Jerusalem, he related with fearful truthfulness, the fate which awaited them on the morrow—to be slain by the enemy, or to be reserved for the arena; to have their wives devoted in their sight to shame, and their children to torture and slavery. Were they to choose this alternative, or a glorious death, and with it liberty—a death in obedience to their oath, in devotedness to their God and to their country? The appeal had its effect. It was not sudden madness, nor a momentary frenzy, which seized these men when they brought forth, to immolate them on the altar of their liberty, their wives, their children, their chattels, and ranged themselves each by the side of all that had been dear to him in the world. The last glimmer of hope had died out, and with the determination of despair, the last defenders of Judea prepared to perish in the flames which enveloped its last fortress. First, each heaped together his household gear, associated with the pleasures of other days, and set fire to it. Again they pressed to their hearts their wives and children. Bitter were the tears wrung from these iron men; yet the sacrifice was made unshrinkingly, and each plunged his sword into the hearts of his wife and children. Now they laid themselves down beside them, and locked them in tender embrace—now the embrace of death. Cheerfully they presented their breasts to ten of their number, chosen by lot to put the rest of their brethren to death. Of these ten, one had again been fixed upon to slay the remaining nine. Having finished his bloody work, he looked around to see whether any of the band yet required his service. But all was silent. The last survivor then approached as closely as possible to his own family and fell upon his sword. Nine hundred bodies covered the ground.
“Morning dawned upon Masada, and the Romans eagerly approached its walls—but within was the silence of death. A feint was apprehended, and the soldiers advanced cautiously, raising a shout, as if the defenders on the wall implored the help of their brethren. Then two women, who, with five children, had concealed themselves in vaults during the murderous scene of the preceding evening, came forth from their retreat to tell the Romans the sad story. So fearfully strange did it sound, that their statement was scarcely credited. Slowly the Romans advanced; then rushing through the flames, they penetrated into the court of the palace. There lay the lifeless bodies of the garrison and their families. It was not a day of triumph even to the enemy, but one of awe and admiration. They buried the dead and withdrew, leaving a garrison. ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem that killest the prophets,' &c. ‘Therefore, behold, your house is left unto you desolate.'
“Thus terminated the war of Jewish nationality. Various causes conspired to make this contest one of the most obstinate ever witnessed. The Roman legions were led by the ablest generals of the empire, and instigated by the recollection of the shameful defeat which they had sustained at the commencement of the war, and by the obstinate resistance now made by a small and unwarlike race whom they had long affected to despise. Nor was the issue of the struggle unimportant to the Roman state. Defeat under any circumstances would have been the first step in the decadence of an empire whose provinces bore so disproportionate a relation to the dominant country. Besides, Roman rule had never been firmly established eastward of Judea, and on that account the latter country presented an important military position. Finally, the triumph of the Jews would have been fatal to the prestige of Rome in the East, and probably become the signal for a general rising in the neighboring provinces. On the other hand, the Jews fought for national existence, for political and religious liberty, for their lives, for their hearths and homes. Flushed at first by victory, relying on the zeal and enthusiasm of the whole nation, and defending themselves in their own country, and among its fastnesses against the foreign invaders, the Jews fought with the despair of men who knew what awaited them in case of defeat. Besides, they relied on promised succors from their brethren in the East, or at least on a diversion in their favor.
Nor was this contest merely one for national independence; it was essentially also a religious war. Jerusalem was not only a political but also a religious capital. In fighting for their country, the Jews fought also for their religion, which, indeed, was almost inseparable from the soil of Palestine, and hence, as they thought, for the name and cause of their God. Were it requisite, proofs could be readily adduced of this. Even after they had been defeated, it was stated by the theological expositors of popular sentiment, that since the day of the destruction of the temple, God had mourned for the fate of his people, and that joy had become a stranger in the celestial mansions. Hence they constantly reckoned all along on the Divine assistance. The Maccabees had in former times, with a mere handful of men, defied the Syrian hosts, and why should not similar success be vouchsafed to them under more advantageous circumstances? And even if it turned out otherwise, surely it could only happen in judgment, and for a season, that their God had left His covenant people, His special favorites, for whose sakes even heaven and earth had been created, and who alone fulfilled the end of their being by glorifying their Maker. Whatever, then, might be their divinely appointed fate, to conquer or to die, the Zealots were ready to meet it in such a cause. These views were indeed intimately connected with the whole of the carnal tendency in their religion to which we have already, and shall by and by more fully advert. To belong outwardly to the chosen race constituted a person a member of the kingdom of God. The place and rites of the temple were identical with acceptable worship; outward observances, and a mere logical development, became substitutes for spiritual apprehension of the truth, for love and devotedness. Thus as the form was being more and more cultivated to the neglect of the spirit, it appeared also more and more precious, and its final destruction, by an overthrow of the Jewish commonwealth, seemed almost impossible. Nor were the expectations entertained about that time of the sudden appearance of a Messiah, who, long hid, would suddenly come forth to deliver his people from the enemies which threatened them, without their effect on the minds of the people. Though the life and death of the blessed Savior had too lately taken place for the leaders of the people lightly to risk the safety of the Synagogue, by bringing Messianic views prominently forward, as they did in an after period in the war under Bar-Cochba, in order to inflame the zeal of their followers, such considerations must no doubt have had some influence. At times these hopes seemed about to be realized. More than once did the balance tremble in favor of the Jews—the Roman generals were in imminent danger—the Roman engines destroyed—the Jews successful—the legions panic-struck or dispirited. Yet the scepter passed finally and irrevocably from Judah, by the same hand which had at first placed it there. Calculating merely the first probabilities of the case, we would say that the war was begun at a most favorable time; and that notwithstanding the various mistakes and disadvantages of the Jews, had there not been treason in the Jewish camp, or had there not been factions and bloody revenge amongst themselves, or had their eastern allies made a diversion in their favor, they would have obtained the object of their desires, or at least have had a greater measure of success in their defense. But true it is that ‘the history of the world is the judgment of the world.'
“About the same time that the Jewish war terminated, Rome attained the climax of her grandeur. Hostile movements had taken place in other provinces, but these had now been suppressed, and Vespasian opened once again the temple of peace. But this prosperity was of short duration. We do not mean to connect the destruction of Jerusalem and the decline of Rome's Empire as cause and effect; but it is certain that the former immediately preceded the latter event. The insurrections in the northern parts of the empire were only quelled for a time, the fire still smoldered under the ashes—it speedily burst forth anew, and destroyed that mighty engine with which the Lord had, in fulfillment of prophecy, punished His people. So it has ever been: the rod of His vengeance, after having served its purpose, has always been speedily broken in pieces.” (pp. 42-47.
Neither our author nor our readers will have reason to regret so long an extract: it is a fair and favorable sample of the volume, and well illustrates both manner and subject-matter. Chapter iii. furnishes a good deal of curious information as regards the dispersed of Israel.
The three following chapters are occupied with the political and religious state of the Jews, and with the history of the synagogue before and subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem. Next is given a stirring narrative of the last Jewish war under Bar-Cochab, with a sketch of the state of the synagogue afterward. Chapters 9, 10, and 11 have evidently involved no little labor and research, and convey much which cannot be found elsewhere in our language; they are devoted respectively to an account of the social condition, arts and sciences, theology and religious belief of Palestine. The historical thread is again resumed with a notice of the patriarchate under the last pagan Emperors, till its extinction and the final scattering of the Jews. All is wound up with an appendix on these heads: 1, Jewish Calendar, 2, the Wisdom of Ben Sira, 3, Alexandrian Jewish Poetry, 4, Geographical Nations of the Rabbins, and 5, Rabbinical Exegesis.
The following extract from chapter. 11. (Theological science and religious belief in Palestine) will show our readers some of the interesting details in which the latter part of Dr. E.'s volume abounds.
“From internal evidence, and from the accordance of the Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch with that of the Samaritans, it has been inferred that both were originally derived from an old Aramean Targum, to which allusions are made in Jewish writings. It has also been argued that the present LXX was of very gradual origin, while from the frequent variations, the existence of different editions, if not translations, has been inferred. Leaving out of view the mistakes, additions, or emendations by copyists, and its frequent interpolations, there is an internal relationship between the spirit which the LXX breathes, and that of the version of Onkeloz, and of the Targum of Jonathan. Many passages show clearly that the translation was made under Hagadic influences.2 The learned reader will notice, that the Greek of Josh. 13:2222Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them. (Joshua 13:22) becomes only intelligible by the Hagada, that Balaain had by magic flown into the air, but that Phineas had thrown him to the ground and killed him in the fall. The translation of 1 Sam. 20:3030Then Saul's anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do not I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother's nakedness? (1 Samuel 20:30) is explained by the Hagada, that Jonathan's mother was one of those maidens of Shiloh (Judg. 21) and had of her own accord gone forth to offer herself to haul. The reading in 1 Sam. 28:1919Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 28:19) depends upon the legend that apparitions of ghosts were generally in an inverted posture of body, while that of Samuel had come up in the ordinary or straight position. Numerous similar instances might be quoted. Again we find clear traces in the Halacha,3 as in the translation of Lev. 11:4747To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten. (Leviticus 11:47). Similarly, the rendering of Lev. 19:6, 76It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire. 7And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted. (Leviticus 19:6‑7), which has commonly been imputed to Alexandrian peculiarities, becomes plain by the Halacha which applies the passage to the intention of those who offered the sacrifice to eat it on the third day, and enjoins that, under these circumstances, the sacrifice may no more be offered. Similarly, the version of Lev. 23:1111And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the sabbath the priest shall wave it. (Leviticus 23:11) is explained by a reference to the Halacha. However, the version of Leviticus is the best in the Pentateuch. It would be easy to multiply instances from other parts of the Bible. Considerable Hagadic additions also occur. Thus, we have in Prov. 6:88Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:8), praise of the diligence of the ant; in Josh. 24:3030And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash. (Joshua 24:30), a Hagadic story about the knives with which Joshua circumcised the Jews, in imitation of a similar Palestinian Hagada about Moses; numerous additions to the book of Esther; an addition to Hag. 2:99The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts. (Haggai 2:9), &c. Sometimes verses were left out, or even whole passages transposed. It is well known that the pronunciation of Palestine proper, or Judea, favorably differed from that of Galilee; and this is also transferred to the LXX, which follows more closely the dialect of Palestine. Passing over grammatical and other blunders, contractions, amplifications, and attempts at circumlocution, we notice that sometimes verses are translated in one and left untranslated in another place, as the word “plains” (in one version) in Josh. 11:1616So Joshua took all that land, the hills, and all the south country, and all the land of Goshen, and the valley, and the plain, and the mountain of Israel, and the valley of the same; (Joshua 11:16), and again in 12:8; or the “children of Solomon's servants,” in Ezra 2:5555The children of Solomon's servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Sophereth, the children of Peruda, (Ezra 2:55), while in verse 58 we read the “children of Abdeselma,” &c. Sometimes prepositions are treated as if they formed part of the appellative, while evident traces of having been translated from the Arameau are found in Psa. 60:1010Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies? (Psalm 60:10), &c.” (pp. 452, 426.)
There are views, particularly in the opening chapter, from which we must dissent, but they are in no way such as affect the general bearing and value of the work: perhaps we are bound to add that they are the current coin of the religious world. As a history of the Jewish nation, and as far as it has gone, we cannot withhold our strong commendation. It is a clear, compact, spirited and withal conscientious production, well deserving a place on the shelf of the Christian student, and a large circulation among those who take pleasure in the stones of Zion and favor the dust thereof.