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THE LAST REVOLT OF THE JEWS.
After staying in Jerusalem for two years, Hadrian got tired of doing nothing, and again began to think of his travels. First of all he paid a visit to Mauritania, and then directed his course for the second time to Greece and the East. He stayed at Athens for nearly a year, and consecrated the edifices that he had ordered to be erected during his first journey; and Greece had one long festival, and seemed but to 102live in him. In every direction classic recollections revived, and Hadrian made them durable by monuments and columns, and founded temples, libraries, and professorial chairs. The ancient world before dying made its pilgrimage to the places from which it had sprung, and seemed as if it were uttering its last eulogy. The Emperor presided like a pontiff at these innocent solemnities, which hardly amused anybody now but those who were empty-headed and idle.
The august traveller then continued his journey through the East, and visited Armenia, Asia Minor, Syria, and Judea. As far as outward appearances went, he was everywhere received as a guardian spirit, and medals which were struck for the occasion bade him welcome in every province. That of Judea is still in existence. Alas; what a falsehood. Below the inscription ADVENTVI AVG. IVDAEAE is to be seen the Emperor in a noble and worthy attitude receiving Judea with kindness, and she is presenting her sons to him. Already the Emperor has the handsome and gentle look of the Antonines, and seems to be the impersonification of calm civilisation educating fanaticism. Children go before him bearing palms, whilst in the middle a Pagan altar and a bull symbolise religious reconciliation; and Judea, a patera in her hand, seems to share in the sacrifice that is being prepared. This is how official optimism instructs sovereigns. The opposition between the East and the West was actually getting more and more accentuated, and the signs of this were so certain that the Emperor could not doubt them—his benevolent eclecticism was, however, at times singularly unsettled.
From Syria Hadrian went to Egypt by way of Petra. His discontent and his ill temper with the peoples of the East increased daily. A short time before Egypt had been in a state of great agitation. 103The ancient worships, which were springing into life again, caused a certain amount of fermentation, for it was so long since an Apis had been seen that these ancient chimeras were beginning to be forgotten, when suddenly a clamour arose; that miraculous animal had been found, and as everybody wished to possess it, all tried to get it from the others. The hold of Christianity over Egypt was not so strong as it was elsewhere, for many heathen superstitions were mixed up with it. All these follies only served to amuse Hadrian, and a letter which be wrote about that time to his brother-in-law Servian, has been preserved to us:—
I have found that Egypt, my dear Servian, which you praised to me, to be a very flighty country, hanging by a thread, turning round with every breath of fashion. There, those who adore Serapis are Christians at the same time, and men who call themselves bishops of Christ are devoted to Serapis. There is not a president of a synagogue, not a Samaritan, not a Christian priest, who does not supplement his functions by those of the astrologer, of the diviner, and the charlatan. The patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to adore Serapis, and by the others to adore Christ. It is a seditious, futile, and irrelevant education, and a rich and productive city, where nobody lives in idleness. Some are glassblowers, others papermakers, others again dyers, and all understand and practise some trade. The gouty can find something to do, the shortsighted can obtain employment, the blind are not without occupation, and even the one-armed are not idle. Money is their only god, the divinity which Christians, Jews, people of all sorts, adore. One regrets to find such a low state of morals in a city which by its manufactures and its grandeur is worthy of being the capital of Egypt. I have granted it everything; I have restored its ancient privileges, and given it new ones, and I forced them to thank me whilst I was there; but I had scarcely left when they began to talk about my son Verus, and to say, what no doubt you know, about Antinous. The only revenge that I wish to have is that they may always be forced to eat their own fowls, fecundated in a manner that I do not like to mention. I have sent you some glasses of prismatic colours, which the priests of the temple offered me: they are specially dedicated to you and to my sister. Have them used on festive occasions, only take care that our Africanus does not make too good use of them.104
From Egypt Hadrian returned to Syria, and there he found the people very badly disposed. They were getting bolder. Antioch gave him an unfavourable reception, and so he went to Athens, where be was worshipped. There he heard of some very serious events, for the Jews were having recourse to arms for the third time. Their attack of furious madness of the year 117 seemed as if it were about to recommence, and Israel disliked the Roman government more than ever. Every malefactor who revolted against the State was a saint, and every brigand became a patriot. It was looked upon as an act of treason to arrest a robber. “Vinegar, off-spring of wine,” said a rabbi to a Jew, whose business it was to arrest evil-doers, “why do you denounce God’s people?” Elijah also met this worthy public officer and exhorted him to give up his odious trade.
It seems that the Roman authority also committed more than one mistake. Hadrian’s administration became more and more intolerant towards the Eastern sects, whom the Emperor made fun of. Several lawyers thought that circumcision, like castration, was punishable ill-usage, and so it was forbidden. The cases in which those who had practised epispasm, and had been forced by fanatics to be circumcised over again, would more especially give rise to these prosecutions; and we do not know how far imperial justice advanced along this difficult road which was so opposed to liberty of conscience. Hadrian was certainly not a man given to excessive measures, and in Jewish tradition all the odium of these measures rests on Tineius Rufus, who was the Legate Proprætor of the Province of Judea, and whose name the malcontents changed into Tyrannus Rufus.
These annoyances, which were so easily avoided in the only cases which were of any importance 105to pious families, namely, the cases relative to the circumcision of infants, were not the chief cause of the war. What really raised the Israelites to revolt, was the horror that they felt at seeing the transformation of Jerusalem, or, in other words, the progress that the construction of Ælia Capitolina was making. The sight of a Pagan city rising on the ruins of the holy city, the rebuilding of the profaned temple, those heathen sacrifices, those theatres raised with the very stones of that venerated building, those foreigners dwelling in the city which God had loved, all this appeared to them to be the very height of sacrilege and of defiance.
Far from wishing to return to this profaned Jerusalem, they fled from it like an abomination, whilst the south of Judea was more than ever a Jewish country. A number of large places had sprung up there which could defend themselves, thanks to the position of their houses, which were massed together on the summit of low hills. For the Jews of that district, Bether had become another holy city, and equivalent to Zion. The fanatics procured arms by a singular stratagem. They were bound to furnish the Romans with a certain number of implements of war, and so they manufactured them badly, on purpose that the rejected weapons might come to them. Instead of visible fortifications, they constructed immense tunnels; and the fortifications of Bether were completed by advanced works of broken stone, and all the Jews who remained in Egypt and Libya hastened to swell the number of the rebels.
We must do that justice to the clear-sighted portion of the nation that they took no part in a movement that presupposed enormous ignorance of the world, and complete blindness as to what they were doing. As a general rule, the Pharisees were defiant and reserved, and many of the doctors 106of the law fled into Galilee, and into Greece, to avoid the coming storm. Several did not conceal the fact that they were faithful to the Empire, and even attributed a certain legitimacy to it. Rabbi Joshua Ben Hanania seems to have acted in a conciliatory spirit up to his extreme old age; and after him, the Talmudists say, all prudent counsels were lost. Under these circumstances was seen again what had been continually seen for the last hundred years: a nation, which was easily duped at the slightest breath of Messianic hope, would go on in spite of the doctors; they only thought of their casuistry; and if they died, they did not die fighting, but in defending themselves from breaking the law.
The Christians resisted the temptation even better. Although revolt might gratify the hatred of some of them for the Roman Empire, a distinct distrust for all that proceeded from fanatical Israel stopped them on the dangerous descent. They had already chosen their part, and the form of their resistance to the Empire was not revolt but martyrdom. They were tolerably numerous in Judea, and, contrary to the orthodox Jews, they might even live in Ælia. Of course the Jews tried to gain over their quasi-compatriots, but the disciples of Jesus were already very far from all earthly politics, for he had buried for ever the hopes of a material patriotism and Messiah. Hadrian’s reign was far from being unfavourable to the Churches, and so they did not move; and some voices were even raised to foretell to the Jews the consequences of their obstinacy, and the extermination that awaited them.
Every Jewish revolt had, more or less, to do with Messianic hopes, but never before had any one given himself out for the Messiah; but this took place now. No doubt under the influence of Christian ideas, and in imitation of Jesus, a man gave himself out for the 107long-expected heavenly messenger, and succeeded in seducing the people. We have no clear history of that strange episode, for the Jews, who alone could have informed us what were the secret thoughts and the motive secret of these agitators, have left us nothing but confused pictures of them, like those of a man who has been mad. There was no Josephus then, and Barcochebas, as the Christians called him, remains an insoluable problem, and one on which even imagination cannot hope to exercise itself with any hope of reading the truth.
The name of his father, or of the place where he was born, was Coziba, and he was always called “the son of Coziba” (Bar or Ben-Coziba), but his real name is unknown. Perhaps his partisans were induced to conceal his name, and that of his family, purposely in the interests of his part as Messiah. He seems to have been a nephew of Rabbi Eleazar of Modin, an Agadist of the highest renown, who had lived very much with Rabbi Gamaliel II. and his companions. One asks oneself whether the recollection of the Maccabees, who were still living at Modin, did not excite Bar-Coziba’s patriotic enthusiasm. There can be no doubt as to his courage, but the scantiness of historical information prevents us from saying more than that. Was he serious? Was he a religious enthusiast or a fanatic? Was he one of those sincere believers in the Messiah who came on to the scene too late? Or are we only to see in this equivocal person a charlatan, an imitator of Jesus, with a totally different object, a common impostor, even a criminal, as Eusebius and St Jerome assert? We cannot tell, for the only circumstance in his favour is that the principal Jewish Doctor of the Law at that period was in his favour, a man who, from his habit of thought, would be far removed from the dreams of an impostor, and that was the Rabbi Aquiba.108
For many years he had been the chief authority amongst the Jews, and he was compared to Esdras and even to Moses. As a general rule, the doctors were not at all favourable to popular agitators. Taken up with their own discussions, they thought that the destinies of Israel, dependent on the observance of the Law and Messianic dreams, were limited for them to the Mosaic ideal which those who were scrupulously devout realised. How could Aquiba incite the people, whose confidence he enjoyed, to commit a veritable act of folly? Perhaps the fact of his having sprung from the people, and his democratic tendency to contradict the traditions of the Sadducees, may have helped to lead him astray, and perhaps also the absurdity of his exegesis deprived him of all practical rectitude. One can never with impunity play with common sense, or put such pressure on the springs of the intellect as may threaten to snap them. At any rate the fact appears certain, though it is difficult to believe it, that Aquiba recognised Bar-Coziba’s Messianic character. After a fashion he invested him with it before the people when he gave him the commander’s baton and held his stirrup for him when he mounted his war-horse to inaugurate his reign as Messiah. His name of Bar-Coziba was an unhappy one, and lent itself to all kinds of unfortunate allusions. Looking on the bearer of it as the predestined Saviour of Israel, it is said that Aquiba applied the verse from Numbers xxiv. 17: “A star shall arise out of Jacob,” a verse which was supposed to have a Messianic sense to him, and so his name of Bar-Coziba was changed into Bar-Kokaba, “the son of the star.”
Bar-Coziba being thus recognised as the man who, without any official title, it is true, but in virtue of a sort of universal acceptance, passed as the religious guide of the people of Israel, became the chief of the revolution, and war was decided on. At first 109the Romans neglected the foolish popular agitations. Bether, in its isolated position, far from the great highroads, did not attract their attention; but when the movement had invaded the whole of Judea, and the Jews began to form threatening bands in all directions, they were obliged to open their eyes. They began to attack the Roman forces, and to lie in ambush for them in a murderous fashion. Besides this, the movement, as happened in 68 and in 117, had a tendency to spread over the rest of the East. Arab brigands who lived near the Jordan and the Dead Sea, who were in a state of anarchy through the destruction of the Nabatæan kingdom of Petra, thought they saw a chance of pillage in Syria and Egypt. The confusion was general. Those who had practised epispasm to escape the capitation tax, submitted anew to a painful operation, so that they might not be excluded from the hopes of Israel; and some thought so surely that the time of Messiah had arrived, that they thought themselves authorised to pronounce the name of Jehovah as it is written.
As long as Hadrian was in Egypt and Syria, the conspirators did not let their plans be seen, but as soon as he had gone to Athens the revolt broke out. It appears that the report was spread that the Emperor was ill and attacked by leprosy. Ælia, with its Roman colony, was strongly guarded. The Legio Decima Fratensis was still in garrison there, and no doubt the road between Ælia and Cæsarea, the city which was the centre of the Roman authority, also remained open, and thus ælia was never surrounded by the insurrection. It was easy to keep communications open, thanks to a circle of colonies which were established in the east and north of the city, and especially owing to such places as Nicopolis and Lydda, which were assured to the Romans.
It is therefore probable that the revolt in its northward progress did not go beyond Bether, and 110did not reach Jerusalem, but all the smaller towns of Judea which had no garrisons proclaimed the independence of Israel. Bether, in particular, became a sort of small capital, a prospective second Jerusalem side by side with the great Jerusalem which they hoped to conquer soon. Its situation was very strong, as it commanded all the valleys of the revolted country, and was made almost impregnable by means of tremendous outworks, the remains of which may be seen even to this day.
The first case of the insurgents was the monetary question. One of the greatest punishments of the faithful Jews was to be obliged to handle money bearing the effigy of the Emperor, and idolatrous figures. For religious purposes, above all, they either sought for coins of the Asmonean princes, which were still current in the country, or else those of the first rebellion, when the Asmonean coinage had been imitated. The new insurrection was too poor and too badly provided with machinery to issue coins of a new mould. They were satisfied with withdrawing the coins bearing the stamp of Flavius and Trajan, and impressing them anew with an orthodox stamp which the people knew, and which had a national meaning for them; and perhaps some ancient coins had been found which facilitated the operation. For this imitation, the handsome coins of Simon Maccabæus, the first Jewish prince who coined money, were especially selected. From their date, which was that of the liberty of Israel or of Jerusalem, those coins seemed to have been struck for the very purpose, and those on which was to be seen a temple surmounted by a star, and those which bore only the impress of the two trumpets which were destined, according to the Law, to summon Israel to the Holy War, were more appropriate still. The stamp upon stamp was done very roughly, and on a great number of coins the first Roman impress is still visible. This 111coinage was called the money of Coziba, or the money of the revolt, and as it was partly fictitious it lost much of its value later on.
It was a long and terrible war, and lasted for over two years, whilst the best generals seem to have worn themselves out in it. Tineius Rufus, seeing that he was outnumbered, asked for assistance, and though his colleague Publicius Marcellus, Legate of Syria, hastened to bring it him, both failed. In order to crush the revolt, it was necessary to summon the first captain of his period, Sextus Julius Severus, from Britain. He received the title of Legate of the Province of Judea, in the place of Tineius Rufus, and Quintus Lollias Urbicus was his second in command as Hadrian’s legate.
The rebels never showed themselves in the open country, but they were masters of the heights, on which they built fortifications, and between their embattled towns they dug out covered ways, subterranean communications, which were lighted from above by air-holes, which gave air as well as light. The secret passages were places of refuge for them when they were driven back, and enabled them to go and defend another point. Unhappy race! Driven from its own soil, it seemed as if it preferred to bury itself in its bowels rather than leave it, or allow it to be profaned. This war of moles was extremely murderous, and fanaticism reached the same height as in 70. Nowhere did Julius Severus venture to come to an engagement with his adversaries, for, seeing their number and despair, he feared to expose the heavy masses of the Romans to the danger of a war of barricades and of fortified hill tops. He attacked the rebels separately, and, thanks to the number of his soldiers, and to the skill of his lieutenants, he nearly always succeeded in starving them out, by surrounding them in their trenches.
Bar-Coziba, driven into a corner by impossibilities, 112became more violent every day, and his rule was that of a king. He ravaged the surrounding country, and did not recoil before the grossest imposture in order to sustain his part as Messiah. The refusal of the Christians to receive him as such, and to make common cause with him, irritated him greatly, and so he resorted to the most cruel persecutions against them. The Messianic character of Jesus was the denial of his own and the principal obstacle to his plans. Those who refused to deny or to blaspheme the name of Jesus were put to death, scourged, tortured. Jude, who seems to have been Bishop of Jerusalem at that time, may have been one of the victims. Enthusiasts looked upon the political indifference of the Christians, and their loyal fidelity to the Empire, as a want of patriotism; but it seems that the more sensible among the Jews openly gave vent to their displeasure. One day when Aquiba, seeing Bar-Coziba, cried out, “Here is the Messiah!” the Rabbi Johaman ben Torta replied, “Aquiba, the grass will be growing between your jaws before the son of David comes.”
As usual, Rome prevailed in the end, and in turn each centre of resistance fell. Fifty improvised fortresses, which the rebels had built, and nine hundred and fifty-five market towns were taken, and turned into ruins. Beth-Rimmon, on the Idumæan frontier, was the scene of a terrible slaughter of fugitives. The siege of Bether was particularly long and difficult; the besieged endured the last extremities of hunger and thirst, and Bar-Coziba was killed there, though nothing is known of the circumstances of his death.
The massacre was terrible. A hundred and eighty thousand Jews were killed in the various engagements, whilst the number of those who perished from hunger, by burning, and from sickness, is incalculable. Women and children were murdered in cold blood.113Judea literally became a desert, and howling wolves and hyenas entered into the houses. Many towns of Darom were ruined for ever, and the desolate look which the country wears even now is still a living sign of the catastrophe that happened seventeen and a half centuries ago.
The Roman army had been sorely tried. Hadrian, writing to the senate from Athens, does not make use of the ordinary preamble which emperors were in the habit of using: Si vos liberique vestri valetis, bene est; ego quidem et exereitus valemus. Severus was rewarded as he deserved for this well-conducted campaign, for, at Hadrian’s suggestion, the senate decreed him triumphal ornaments, and he was raised to the dignity of Legate of Syria. The army of Judea was overwhelmed with rewards, and Hadrian was hailed as Emperor for the second time.
Whatever was not killed was sold at the same price as the horses, at the annual fair of the 'I'erebinthe, near Hebron. That was the spot where Abraham was supposed to have pitched his tent when he received the visit of the three Divine Beings. The field in which the fair was held, carefully marked out by a rectangular enclosure, exists still. From that time forward a terrible memento was attached to that place, which, up till then, had been so sacred in their eyes, and they never mentioned the fair of the Terebinthe without horror. Those who were not sold there were taken to Gaza and there put up for sale at another fair that Hadrian had established there. Those unfortunate wretches who could not be got rid of in Palestine were taken to Egypt, and many suffered shipwreck, whilst others died of hunger; others, again, were killed by the Egyptians, who had not forgotten the atrocities which the Jews committed in the same parts eighteen years previously. Two brothers who still kept up the resistance at Kafar-Karouba were killed, with all their followers.114
The subterranean works of Judea, however, still contained a crowd of unfortunate beings, who did not dare to leave them for fear of being killed. Their life was terrible; every sound seemed to herald the approach of the enemy, and in their mad terror they rushed at and crushed each other. The only means they had of assuaging their hunger was by eating the bodies of their neighbours who had died. It seems that, in certain cases, the Roman authorities forbade the burial of corpses, so as to make the impression of their chastisement even greater. Judea was like a vast charnel-house, and those wretches who succeeded in reaching the desert looked upon themselves as favoured by God.
All certainly had not deserved such severe punishment, and in this instance, as happens so often, wise men paid for fools. A nation is a solidarity, and the individual who has contributed nothing towards the faults of his compatriots, who has even groaned under them, is punished no less than the others. The first duty of a community is to check its absurd elements; and the idea of withdrawing from the great Mediterranean confederation that Rome had created, was absurdity itself. Just as history ought to sympathise with those gentle and pacific Jews who only desired freedom to meditate on the Law, so also our principles oblige us to be severe towards a Bar-Coziba who plunged his country into a abyss of ills, and towards an Aquiba who upheld popular follies by his authority. Every one who sheds his blood for the cause which he considers righteous, is deserving of our respect; but we owe him no approval for that. The Jewish fanatics were not fighting for their liberty, but for a theocracy, for liberty to harass the Pagans, and to exterminate everything that appeared to them to be bad. The ideal which they sought after would 115have been an unsupportable state of affairs. Analogous, as far as intolerance went, to the miserable Asmonean period, it would have been the reign of zealots, radicals of the very worse sort: it would have been the massacre of unbelievers, a Reign of Terror. All the liberals of the second century looked upon it like that. A very intelligent man, who, like the Jews, belonged to a noble and conquered race, Pausanias, the antiquary, expresses himself thus:—“In my time there reigned that Hadrian who showed such respect for all the gods, and who had the happiness of his subjects so much at heart. He undertook no war without being forced to it; and as for the Hebrews who border on Syria, he subjugated them because they had revolted against him.”
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