«Edited by Mladen Popović LEIDEN • BOSTON © 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV CONTENTS List of Figures and Tables Preface List of Contributors The Jewish ...»
Mt. Asamon, they could be dispatched without endangering or further provoking the major cities, such as Sepphoris, which Cestius needed to keep calm and loyal as far as possible. On this hypothetical scenario Cestius’ violence was all to be directed to small and open places, where the Romans had clear control. It would have been foolish to take the same fight into the Judaean hills, where his cavalry would be immediately neutralized, his infantry exposed, and things in general would become much less predictable. Cestius had no intention of doing so.
On the contrary, he hoped to have removed the most energetic rebel leaders in the open countryside.
Continuing in the same vein: Cestius’ purpose in going up to Jerusalem after this effective lightning raid was (let us imagine) to conclude the whole operation in a suitably peaceful and respectful way by strengthening the hand of the city’s leaders. He still had every reason to think they were unwavering in their loyalty, and of course he would punish any remaining troublemakers they identified. Such a motive would explain why he first moved his force up to Scopus and waited there for three days, and then, when there was no movement to admit him, brought the army into the new city and camped there, outside the upper city, burning and destroying as he went. That is, he had expected to be admitted while still sitting above the city, as his legions’ armour flashed brilliantly in the Mediterranean sun, thoroughly intimidating any would-be rebels in the city while giving his friends the encouragement they needed to open the gates. When no one came out to invite him in, he moved right up against the upper city’s wall, where the wealthier residents lived. Surely, this would stiffen the spines of those leaders, now just tens of metres away from him, and put the rebels to flight. Josephus claims indeed that the city’s leaders came very close to letting him in at this moment, and that he could have entered if he had seized the moment, but there was some miscommunication and the rebels took the opportunity to prevent this from happening.
On this scenario, then, Cestius was simply shocked to discover that things had deteriorated so rapidly, and that he was not to be admitted after all. In that case he did not fail as a commander, but carefully constructed and executed a plan based on what he had every reason to think was reliable current intelligence. The rapid strengthening of the resistance may even have been an unintended consequence of his troops’ arrival outside the city, after their indiscriminate bloodshed along the coast, combined with the rebels’ initial successes in attacking his force on its ascent. Perhaps the rebels were able to move many of
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those who were wavering with outrage at the recent bloodshed, threats that Cestius would bring more on them, and evidence of divine support for their resistance. Rather than feeling good will towards the thousands of Romans arrayed on Scopus, perhaps large numbers of people had become instantly radicalized against them as they got word of the atrocities, and the daring successes of the rebels combined with Jerusalem’s thick walls to make them defiant. Against such a surge of popular feeling, those who did want to admit the Romans may have been in a perilous position as perceived traitors.
If something like this happened, though we have no evidence of any of it, it would not be difficult to imagine Josephus producing the account we have. His story would not be wrong, but nor would it tell much of the story that interests us, in response to our questions. For his Roman audience and given his narrative interests, he saw no need to explore Cestius’ political situation under Nero or his relations with the Senate and Corbulo (if he knew much about them), and there was no reason for him to be concerned with Cestius’ political and military strategy. Nor yet did he think it significant to describe the terrain around Beit-Horon with precision, allowing himself perhaps to exaggerate the peril—real enough though it was—of falling from the road.
He was interested in portraying this pivotal event in his story of key moments that constituted the beginning of the war. It was all tragic in the classical sense, as the best-prepared soldiers executed a wellplanned campaign but were dramatically undone in an afternoon by forces utterly beyond their control. This was Fortune (τύχη) making her dreaded presence felt.
From his later perspective, understandably enough, Josephus could not get over the opportunity that was lost, if only Cestius had known how close those inside the city had come to admitting him. If only he had persevered and been ready to move instantly when his moment came (and quickly passed). Josephus will make a similar comment about Titus, when he quickly takes Jerusalem’s second wall just a few days following the first: if only he had pressed his advantage immediately he could have destroyed the city “by the law of war” (5.332; see further below) and ended things there, without further loss—perhaps to the temple. Histories of the First and Second World Wars are filled with such “if only” moments, which are entirely predictable in hindsight but were not understood by those acting at the time.
So there is no great problem understanding how Josephus came up with his story, and we have no reason to doubt its sincerity. But it is
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surely a mistake to try to transform it into a mirror of real events, to make it the starting point for a historical understanding of Cestius and his campaign in Judaea, to spend our time debating whether this wonderful story is “reliable” or the opposite. Certainly it does not answer the questions that we would need to answer to make historical sense
of the episode. The alternative scenarios I have suggested are only that:
alternatives to show how differently the same evidence might be both interpreted and explained, against readings that draw military conclusions from Josephus’ dramatic story. The process of thinking these through is history. Since we have only Josephus’ story, we lack the means of narrowing our options. Any number of things might have happened to motivate Cestius and shape his campaign. We have no idea of all of those possibilities.
II.2. Titus and the Destruction of the Temple A consequential example of the importance of method concerns Titus’ role in the burning of the temple. Even scholars who have found it unproblematic to treat Josephus’ narrative as basically factual have made exceptions when it comes to his portraits of either his curriculum vitae or his Flavian patrons in action. His alleged prediction of Vespasian’s rise to power (B.J. 3.399–408) seems the most pungent of these bad-smelling passages, as it fuses a highly controversial moment in his career with obsequious regard for his patrons—with a claim to supernatural gifts in the bargain. In the case of Titus, Josephus tells the story of a war council in which the Roman commander flatly rejects his subordinates’ call for the temple’s destruction, insisting that he will spare the sacred site no matter what (B.J. 6.238–643). Critical minds have often doubted this version of events, on the assumption that it supports one of Josephus’ obvious biases: to absolve his young patron of guilt for the shrine’s destruction. Here is where the methodological stakes get interesting, for doubters have in this case been able to flee to the arms of another account, which has Titus eager to destroy the temple—even if it was composed by a Christian monk of the early fifth century. I shall argue that beginning a historical inquiry with the question of whether we may rely on Josephus, or on someone else instead, is misguided. Nevertheless, we need to begin with a survey of the standard approaches and the reasons for them.
In a passage that should invite source criticism because of the doublet in its first and last sentences, Josephus describes how Titus came
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to order the extinguishing of the fires around the temple gates that he himself had recently authorized, after abandoning his earlier inclination to spare the shrine (B.J. 6.228, 232). Charting the twists and turns—or carrots and sticks—in Titus’ efforts to conquer Jerusalem, he gives the first half of a μέν... δέ construction at 6.235: the ordered fires burned for
one day and the following night. Then comes the other half:
(236) But on the next day Titus directed a part of his force to extinguish the fire and to clear a path for the easier access of the legions up through the gates, while he himself assembled the commanders. (237) And when they had gathered—six of the highest-ranked: Tiberius Alexander, prefect of all the forces, Sextus Cerealius leading the Fifth Legion, Larcius Lepidus the Tenth, and Titus Frigius the Fifteenth, (238) and with them Fronto Haterius, camp commander of the two legions from Alexandria as well as Marcus Antonius Iulianus, procurator of Judea; after these were assembled the various procurators and tribunes—he established a consilium concerning the shrine.
(239) To some of them it seemed fitting to resort to the law of war, for the Judaeans would never stop their rebellious activities as long as the shrine remained, to which they were rallying from everywhere. (240) Some advised, on the other hand, that if the Judaeans should abandon it and place no weapons in it he should preserve it, whereas if they climbed up on it to wage war he should burn it down, because then it would be a fortress and no longer a shrine—and in the sequel the impiety would belong to those who had forced [this outcome], and not with themselves [the Romans]. (241) But Titus declared that even if the Judaeans should climb up on it and wage war he would not take vengeance on the inanimate objects instead of the men. And there was no way that he would burn down such a great work as this (τηλικοῦτον ἔργον), because that would only bring harm to the Romans themselves, even as it would be an ornament to their power [or imperium] as long as it remained. (242) Full of confidence now, Fronto, Alexander, and Cerealius quickly sided with this opinion.
(243) So he dissolves the council and, after directing the commanders to rest the other forces, so that he would have reinvigorated men at his disposal in the battle lines, he ordered the select men of the [auxiliary] cohorts to clear a path through the ruins and to extinguish the fire.
Josephus’ presentation no doubt suits his literary aims, but we should take care in assessing those aims. The War cannot be understood, for example, as a simple expression of commissioned Flavian propaganda.115 This view was widely assumed in the late nineteenth century and seemingly
established early in the twentieth (R. Laqueur, Der jüdische Historiker Flavius Josephus:
Ein biographischer Versuch auf neuer quellenkritischer Grundlage [Giessen: Münchow,
Josephus consistently asserts both that Titus destroyed the temple, as everyone knew anyway, and that he did not wish to do so. Both claims appear together in the War’s prologue (1.10, 27–28; cf. 5.444;
6.266; A.J. 20.250). In Josephus’ account it was really the Judaean God who had purged his shrine of the bloodshed arising from the civil strife (stasis) that had polluted the sanctuary in the final phases of the war—a principle any ancient audience could understand. Far from being impotent, as the destruction of his shrine might suggest, this God had used the Roman legions as his cleansing agents, and this is what Titus’ unsuccessful efforts to save the temple from destruction demonstrate.116 Titus did destroy it, as advertised in Rome, but there was more to the story. He could not have destroyed the edifice by his own force even if had wished to do so.117 Stubbornly distancing the young Flavian from the thing for which he was most famous, Josephus makes Titus admit that the victory was not his own doing (6.410–413;
Josephus’ Titus is not merely prudent and strategic, as Cestius was in rejecting his commanders’ reflexive call for harsh treatment of the Judaeans (above); he thematizes “the clemency of Titus,” not always to flattering effect. When the temple finally does go up in flames he portrays Titus resting in his quarters, then impotently flailing about and yelling at soldiers who blithely ignore his orders (6.254–258). This is not easy to match with any image that Titus could have wished to present in Rome. It does fit with Josephus’ line that his young friend was extraordinarily kind and forgiving. If also capable of harsh punishment at times, he was not as wily as the Judaeans or, indeed, as our writer himself.118 The language of the story is also typically Josephan. He likes to describe councils (cf. that of Cestius above and 2.25), and another such council convened by Titus at the siege of Jerusalem has also been described (5.491–501). Josephus is the biggest known user of the 1920], 126–27; W. Weber, Josephus und Vespasian: Untersuchungen zu dem jüdischen
Krieg des Flavius Josephus [Berlin: Kohlhammer, 1921]; H. St. J. Thackeray, Josephus:
The Man and the Historian [New York: Jewish Institute of Religion, 1929], 27–28) and
has remained remarkably durable. The single most important study laying the groundwork for its demise was T. Rajak, Josephus: The Historian and his Society (London:
Duckworth, 1983), e.g., 180–85.
B.J. 6.249–266, 346.
E.g., B.J. 6.220–228, 411.
Cf. Mason, “Figured Speech and Irony.”
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phrase “law of war” invoked by some of those present at the council (6.239).119 It was an 1861 study by Jacob Bernays, the brilliant philologist of Bonn and Breslau, that finally gave respectability to the late alternative narrative. In a comprehensive analysis of Sulpicius Severus’ Sacred Chronicle (ca. 400 c.e.), Bernays argued that Severus’ very different version of this war council (Chron. 2.30.6–8) was more reliable than that of Josephus, even that it originated with a participant in that council. Here is that account. Please note the italicized phrases.