The Siege of Jerusalem

From:Josephus and the Bible

A. J. Pollock

Scripture prophesied the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans as far back as some six centuries before Christ was born into the world. We read in very precise language, "And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood." (Dan. 9:26).

"The prince that shall come " refers to what is yet future, even to the advent of the Head of the revived Roman Empire, which seems even now to be in its birth throes, mentioned in Rev. 13:1-9, as the beast rising out of the sea, who will act like Antiochus Epiphanes in causing the sacrifice and oblation of the Temple service to cease, and who will cause " the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, [to] stand in the holy place." (Matt. 24:15).

But note carefully it is "the people of the prince that shall come," who are said to destroy the city and the sanctuary. The prince is still future. The destruction of the city and sanctuary has already passed into history.

Our Lord definitely prophesied that the Temple should be destroyed. When some spoke of the Temple, and how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, our Lord replied, "As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down... And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." (Luke 21:6 and 24).

Josephus lived to see this prophecy come true about forty years after it was uttered. It is well known that when Titus captured Jerusalem, he was most anxious that the Temple, with its magnificence and religious associations, should be spared. The question was, Should the word of Titus, a successful general, at the head of a powerful army flushed with victory, stand: or should the prophecy of our Lord forty years before come true? Hear what happened:- "The direful day arrived, the destruction of the Temple by the power of Rome. A soldier, then, upon the shoulder of a comrade, succeeded in casting a torch through the door in the wall, which led to the chambers on the north side of the Temple. Titus would have avoided this, for he was reluctant to destroy what was the glory of the whole world. The conflagration, spread, however, fanned by a tempest; in the flames besieged and besiegers, locked in the final struggle, perished—their bodies against the very altar, and the blood ran down the steps. The ground could not be seen for the dead. The furious priests brandished for weapons the leaden seats and spits of the Temple service, and, rather than yield, threw themselves into the flames. Titus and his captains, entering the holy place, found it beautiful and rich beyond all report. The fire fastened upon all but the imperishable rock; the Roman standards were set by the Eastern gate, and Titus received the salute of the legions as Emperor."—The Jews—Ancient, Mediaeval And Modern, Hosmer, p. 118).

Thus literally was our Lord's prophecy fulfilled, that one stone should not be left upon another.

Josephus tells us that no less than 1,100,000 perished by the sword. Only 97,000 survived. An immense number of Jews had flocked to the ill-fated city to celebrate the feast of the Passover, hence the large numbers involved.

Rather than run the risk of many prisoners-of-war, the Romans crucified their captives, till the multitude of victims were so great that in the words of Josephus "room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies." The forests for miles round Jerusalem were denuded of timber to make crosses on which to impale these victims of war. Forty short years before the Jews had erected three crosses outside Jerusalem, and on the center cross had crucified' their Messiah. Now, outside Jerusalem, were seen thousands of crosses on which were impaled multitudes of Jews. Was there no connection between the two events? Was not one the sowing when the Jews so light-heartedly cried out to Pilate, " His blood be on us, and our children"? (Matt. 27:25). And behold! here was the awful reaping.

Since that day to this the Jews have been scattered among the nations and Jerusalem has been trodden down of the Gentiles. Surely in this we can see the finger of God.

What happened to Josephus in all this turmoil? He was captured and taken prisoner during Vespasian's campaign in Galilee, and was afterward with Titus during the siege of Jerusalem. Vespasian was minded to send him to the Emperor Nero, but Josephus drawing Vespasian to one side told him the day was not far distant when he would be proclaimed Emperor, which turned out to be true in a little while. Nero committed suicide. His successor, Galba, was assassinated in the Roman market place seven, months after he was proclaimed the wearer of the imperial purple. Otho succeeded him, but shortly after was defeated in battle, and committed suicide, after reigning for three months and two days. Then the victorious legions in Palestine proclaimed Vespasian as their Emperor.

When Joseph us went to Rome, Vespasian received him with every mark of respect, honored him with the privileges of a Roman citizen, bestowed upon him an annual pension, and appointed him an apartment in his own house, which he had occupied before he became Emperor. When his son Titus became Emperor, he showed Josephus continued kindness, presenting him with lands in Judaea. When Domitian succeeded Titus as Emperor he too showed kindness to Josephus. And thus we say goodbye to this extraordinary man. We are indeed indebted to him for his writings, and believe they were permitted of God for a special purpose of which we have sought to take advantage.


What follows now is quite outside the scope of this pamphlet, but we came across a remark in the writings of Josephus, which we would like to pass on to our readers. We all remember how God said to Abraham, " Take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest." (Gen. 22:2), when all the time God knew full well that Ishmael was a son of Abraham. How then could Isaac be his "only son"? The explanation generally given is that the term, "only," and "only begotten," is intended to convey that the one so spoken of is specially dear to the one thus speaking. We read in Scripture of God's "only-begotten Son." (John 3:16), meaning His dearly Beloved.

It is interesting that Josephus used the term, "only-begotten" (Greek monogenes) in exactly the same way. He writes, He [Monobazus, king of Adiabene] had indeed Monobazus, his [Izates] elder brother by Helen also, as he had other sons by other wives besides. Yet did he openly place all his affections on his ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, Izates, which was the origin of that envy, which his other brethren, by the same father, bore to him."—Antiquities B. 20, C. 2.

The learned translator of the works of Flavius Josephus, the Rev. William Whiston, A.M., puts a footnote to this:- "Josephus here uses the word, monogenes, an only begotten son, for no other than best beloved, as does the Old and New Testament; I mean where there were one or more sons besides. Gen. 22:2; Heb. 11:17."


It is interesting to see this in Josephus, as showing how this expression was used in Bible lands in those days. It is interesting, too, to know that Queen Helena, the mother of King Izates, renounced with her son idol worship, and embraced the Jewish religion. She made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and when she got there it was to find a famine raging, which she generously sought to alleviate by gifts of large quantities of wheat, and other foodstuffs. This was the very famine that Agabus prophesied should come to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 2:28). She was evidently a woman of deep piety. When she died she was buried at Jerusalem in a great sepulcher, which she had erected for the purpose of receiving her remains. The location of this is not known to-day. Thus God worked in those far-off days.