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Early Years of Christianity: The Apostolic Era.
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§ I. Destruction of the Holy City.

THIS period opens with a signal catastrophe, the consequences of which were most momentous to the Christian Church. Jerusalem, the Holy City, the religious center of Judaism, is reduced to ashes, and the Temple is but a smoking ruin. With it passes away the whole theocratic and priestly system of the old dispensation. Until this time the Church has been, so to speak, overshadowed by the Temple. Henceforward it has nothing more than a historic connection with Judaism, and a new era commences in its history.

The Jewish people, as we know, never consented to bow beneath the yoke of their conquerors. There was a natural antipathy between the two nations, founded, perhaps, on a certain obstinacy and invincible determination common to both. The Jews could not submit with the softness of the Asiatic, or the suppleness of the Greek, to foreign domination. They displayed as much perseverance in resistance as the Romans in conquest. Their patriotism assumed the character of fanaticism, from its connection with their religious views. Their beliefs, which had become identified with earthly hopes and closely bound up with national pride, so far from inspiring them with patience and resignation, fostered rebellion in their hearts. It must be acknowledged, also, that to them the Roman dominion appeared only in its most hateful aspects. They had a succession of governors who were veritable brigands; it seems that Judæa was regarded as a worthless province, and was given in prey to men laden with debts and vices, whose only object was to make a gain of a despised people. The Roman policy, usually so wise, and wont to deal considerately with the national faith and customs of a conquered people, was abandoned in the case of Judæa. Felix and Festus had indulged without restraint in all the caprices and violences of a tyrannic rule, and their successors had outdone even the abominations of their government. Albinus, who succeeded Festus, made shameless traffic of the administration of justice, selling impurity to the most notorious criminals. "There is no manner of evil unpracticed by him,"492492Οὐκ ἔστιν δὲ ἥντινα κακουργίας ἰδέαν παρέλειπεν. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," II, xiv, 1. says Josephus. Gessius Florus surpassed even Albinus. "It seemed," says the same historian, "as though he had been sent as an executioner to put to death condemned criminals."493493Ὥσπερ ἐπὶ τιμωρίᾳ κατακρίτων πεμφθεὶς δήμιος.. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," II, xiv, 2. The nominal kingship of Herod Agrippa laid no kind of check on these acts of injustice. It was not possible that under such a rule peace should long be preserved. A circumstance, in itself unimportant, occasioned a terrible explosion, which had long been threatening and had already thrown out sparks in previous insurrections. The synagogue of the Jews at Cæsarea had been profaned by the Greeks of that city. Gessius Florus justified the act, and the Jews at Antioch and at Jerusalem immediately rose in a rebellion, which spread far and wide. It was stifled in the blood of thousands of Jews at Alexandria, at Damascus, and at Cæsarea. At Jerusalem the Roman garrison was massacred, and Eleazar, the son of the high priest, persuaded the Levites not to receive the offering of any stranger. This was to forbid the sacrifice for Cæsar, and such an act was equivalent to a declaration of war.494494Τοῦτο δὲ ἦν τοῦ πρὸς Ῥωμαίους πολέμου καταβολή. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," II, xvii, 2. The rebellion was scarcely organized when Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, marched upon Jerusalem; but he failed to enter the city, and was compelled to make an ignominious retreat. This triumph stimulated the fanaticism of the Jews, and carried it to its culminating point. Thenceforward it was beyond all control. Rome could not tolerate such contempt of her power. She sent Vespasian, one of her best generals, with a large army to avenge the insult offered to the Roman eagles; and Galilee, after a sanguinary struggle, was subdued.

The death of Nero and the elevation of Vespasian to the throne gave the Jews a momentary respite; but the combat recommenced with augmented vigor, under the conduct of Titus, the son of the Emperor, (A. D. 68.) Jerusalem soon became the center of attack, and the siege of that city was laid by the most skillful general of the Roman armies. Thousands of Jews, who had assembled in the interval to celebrate the Passover, were shut up within the walls of the Holy City, and the presence of such numbers contributed to render the defense more difficult, and the final catastrophe more fearful.

Every feature of this siege attests it to be a judgment of God. It is not an ordinary event of history; all the attendant circumstances are marked by an aggravation of suffering and woe; men appear to be led by a mysterious hand, which urges them on to commit acts not within their original intention. They are the instruments of a chastisement as tremendous as was the crime to be visited. Even those who were its victims seem to have felt that it was so. The Jewish historian enumerates the omens by which the catastrophe had been foretold. Many of these are obviously the puerile fables and inventions of popular superstition; but that very superstition reveals a strange presentiment of coming woe. According to Josephus, the Levites officiating in the Temple at the Feast of Pentecost heard a voice, which cried, "Let us depart from this place."495495Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," VII, v, 3. Four years before the war, when the city was enjoying profound peace, a man named Jesus, the son of Ananias, a simple inhabitant of the country, was heard crying in the Temple, at the Feast of Tabernacles: "A voice sounds from the east, from the west, and from the four winds of heaven. This voice is against Jerusalem and the Temple; against husbands and wives; this voice is against the whole nation." They tried to silence him; he was scourged and variously ill-treated; but still the words burst from his lips, "Woe, woe, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem!" He never ceased his terrible denunciations till the war had broken out. In the siege he fell a victim, still uttering his melancholy cry of woe.496496Αἰ, Αἴ. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," VI, v, 3.

The condition of the city at this time was indeed one of misery almost without a parallel. Pressed by foreign armies without, it was torn within by three hostile factions, each working for its own ends on popular fanaticism. It had first the faction of the Zealots, under the conduct of Eleazar, who, as their name imported, claimed to be the zealous defenders of the national cause, and under this pretext gave themselves up to all kinds of brigandage.497497Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," IV, xiii, 9. For a time this faction was strengthened by the Idumeans, whom Eleazar engaged to fight against the high priest Ananias; but these in the end separated from their allies, and turned against them. John of Giscala, who had fled to Jerusalem after the taking of his native city, and had at first joined the party of Eleazar, in his turn also organized a rival faction.

The unhappy city, closely encompassed by the legions of Titus, became the scene of the most frightful civil war. It was pillaged and sacked by its own sons. That which one faction spared, fell into the hands of another, and the contending parties agreed only in crime. "Such was the terror among the people," says Josephus, "that no one dare mourn for the dead or bury them. Tears must flow in secret, groans must be stifled, for such tokens of lamentation were visited with death. A little earth was hastily thrown over the corpses by night."498498Ἠν δὲ τοσαύτη τοῦ δήμου κὰταπληξις ὡς μηδένα τολμῆσαι μήτε κλαίειν φανερῶς, μήτε θ̨πτειν. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," V, iii, 3. "O wretched city," adds the historian, "what cause of reproach hast thou against the Romans, who have but purged thee from thine abominations! Thou wast no more the city of God, and thou couldst never again be such, since thou wast become the tomb of thy slaughtered children."499499Τί τηλικοῦτον, ὧ τλημονεστάτη πόλις, πέπονθας ὑπὸ Ῥωμαίων, οἷ σοῦ τὰ ἐμφύλια μύση περικαθαροῦντες εἰσῆλθον. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," V, i, 3. Josephus knew not that Jerusalem was expiating a yet darker crime, and that its soil, once sacred, had been stained by the blood of God.

To the horrors of civil war those of famine were soon added. The small store of food was quickly consumed by the brigands, who went from house to house, laying hands on all they found, and roughly treating those who had nothing to give, in order to make them betray the supposed place of concealment. On the roofs were to be seen women and children, wasted with want, and uttering heart-rending groans; the young people walked about the street pale and lifeless as specters, and constantly sinking to the ground from exhaustion. Deep silence settled over the city; night after night the dead were numbered by thousands, and all these sufferings were slight compared with the atrocities enacted by the brigands.500500Βαθεῖα δὲ τῆν πόλιν περιεῖχε σιγὴ καὶ νὺξ θανάτου γέμουσα, καὶ τούτων οἱ λησταὶ χαλεπώτεροι. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," V, xii, 3.

Natural feeling seemed extinguished, and the spectacle-horrible even to the vilest criminals—was seen of a mother killing and eating her own child. The close of the drama was at hand. The city was almost completely invested by the Roman legions, who had erected an encompassing wall, and who, despite the fierce resistance of despair, daily gained ground. The outer city wall was broken down; the fortress Antonina, to the north of the Temple Mount, carried by assault. Both attack and defense were now concentrated on the Temple itself. At length the day came when the conquering eagles floated from the Most Holy Place, and the sacrifices and ceremonies of the ancient law were for ever done away. This was on August 10th, A. D. 70. The people had crowded together in thousands on the holy hill, on the delusive promise of a false prophet, that that very day a sign of salvation should be given in the Temple.501501Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," VI, xxv-xxx. The carnage only ceased when the victors were weary of slaying.

The Temple, contrary to the orders of Titus, was destroyed by fire. A soldier threw into it a burning brand. He did the audacious deed unauthorized, and actuated, says Josephus, by some demoniacal impulse.502502Δαιμονίῳ ὁρμῆ ὑλης. We know that that impulse had a higher cause, and that this obscure soldier was the minister of the justice of God. In vain Titus gave orders for the fire to be extinguished; no one listened; on the contrary, every one pressed forward to feed the flames, and they spread with alarming rapidity. Even Roman soldiers, "moved to madness by the demon of war,"503503Πολεμική τὶς ὁρμὴ λαβροτέρα. forgot their stern discipline. Who cannot see the hand of God in this strange accomplishment of a righteous retribution? The roaring of the flames mingled with the cries of the dying, and from the height of the temple hill and the magnitude of the conflagration, the whole city appeared wrapt in fire. The lamentations of the Jews, as they witnessed the burning of their temple, were loud and terrible beyond description, says Josephus. The cry was proportioned to the greatness of their grief.504504Τοῦ πάθους ἀξιά. Josephus, "Bell. Jud.," VI, iv, 5. In the miserable remnant of God's ancient people was thus fulfilled the mournful prophecy, which but a short time before they had treated as madness. The wailing of a city left desolate was the echo of the words, "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!" The prayer of the murderers of Christ was heard; his blood was upon them, upon their children, and upon the ruins of their temple. God himself had pronounced the final sentence of Judaism.505505See Tacitus, "Historia," V, x, 14.

According to Eusebius and Epiphanes, the Christians had left the Holy City at the commencement of the troubles, and retired to Pella, in Perœa. Some of them returned into the city after its sack, when the storm was past.506506Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.," iii, 3; Epiphanes, "De ponderibus et mensuris," c. xviii.


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