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ACT II, SCENE i
My heart is boiling with grief, nor can my mind, intolerant of a colleague, bear restraint. I shall never allow Schimeon to rule in the city, nor shall I let him be given any share of the government. This is the rule of the throne: allow no shared rule, and believe that everything is permissible to you alone. Let all my obstacles be swept aside by the sword. What manner of madness is it freely to spare men whom I suspect, and to nourish enemies in my bosom? You must believe that this is the greatest maxim of government, never to conceal fear behind a false optimism. Honest dealings are scarcely advantageous when your subjects hate you. Private citizens may be upright men, but a ruler gauges his alliances in terms of self-interest, and men who hold the government by violence must not be gnawed by suspicion. Tyrants always fear uncertain threats as if they were assured.
While Schimeon is arming himself against the Romans, not suspecting any traps to be laid against himself, why should I foolishly hesitate to occupy the Temple by my trickery and smash the captain’s strength by my artifices? [To his men.] You must clothe yourselves with cast-off cloaks, so that nobody will suspect that you are armed. Presently the priest in his vestments will immolate the victims. For only a few good men are sacrificing to God. Suddenly throwing off your cloaks, attack everyone and cut them down. Let your swords rage down all the Temple aisles and let all the soldiers who side with Schimeon fall indiscriminately. Next you must hasten to occupy all parts of the Temple. But see, hateful Schimeon is approaching. [Enter Schimeon.]
SCHIM. After I was summoned to the holy city and joined forces with you, I have been unafraid of that sword of yours, and the fact that our camps are conjoined has given me no extra encouragement. For I am sufficiently armed with my ancestors’ traditional virtue, just as you are by the glory you have won in battle. I am pleased to subdue the city’s fractious spirits, and to use my sword for quelling the citizens’ rebellious impulses. But we are vainly trying to purge this recalcitrant evil, as long as Eleazer remains our ally. Forbid him to follow our standards or to draw his sword in our war.
JEH. Schimeon, distinguished by your outstanding ancestry, I gladly allied myself with you so that we might repress these contumacious spirits. But to Eleazer is due no small measure of credit for this enterprise. He boldly risked his head amidst all these dangers, so as to remove the yoke of servitude from his nation’s tender neck. It is a bad deed, unworthy of a captain, and it is also dangerous to the city, to condemn his great loyalty.
SCHIM. Are you his patron, protecting an enemy with your affection?
JEH. He is the man who first threw out the Romans by his courage.
SCHIM. A man whose father was a rebel and betrayed Jerusalem?
JEH. A man who gave you Acrabatene to govern.
SCHIM. Why did he order me into exile?
JEH. You force me to speak of your crime.
SCHIM. You don’t question my loyalty?
JEH. Why did you flee from Acrabatene and invade Masada?
SCHIM. With his weapons Anani compelled me to do so.
JEH. While the priest was responsible for the nation’s safety.
SCHIM. Do you think my effort in the war was a small thing?
JEH. I returned your captive wife to you.
SCHIM. You did so because you were compelled by my strength.
JEH. No cowardly fear ever shakes my heart.
SCHIM. You fled, abandoning Gischala to our enemies.
JEH. Because it is more advantageous to defend the holy city.
SCHIM. I trace my birth to a noble pedigree.
JEH. Do you fabricate praises for yourself on the basis of your pedigree?
SCHIM. The virtues of his forebears confers extra distinction on a man.
JEH. My own glory alone ennobles me.
SCHIM. Ancestral glory shines in descendants.
JEH. You are praising something that belongs to somebody else.
SCHIM. Do you spurn my noble birth?
JEH. I commend inherited glory — but I commend one’s own all the more.
SCHIM. I was never a beggar, selling oil for money.
JEH. I did that because I did not want to be a robber-chieftain, stealing for a living.
SCHIM. Is this Jehochanan’s courage?
JEH. Whom threats never frighten.
SCHIM. Behold the robber-chieftain!
JEH. Are you reminding me of your theft of Masada?
SCHIM. You will learn what my anger can accomplish.
JEH. Puffed up, you idly flaunt your arrogant spirits.
SCHIM. You will die.
JEH. My sword is singing a different prophecy. [Exit.]
SCHIM. He is gone. My heart is in a great upheaval, my mind burns with rage. A rival, Jehochanan has disturbed my government. I know his wily mind, his wild nature. You cannot avenge any wrong unless you prevail. But here comes Jacob bar Sosa. [Enter Jacob.]
Oh famous Jacob, son of Sosa, whose loyalty has always been proven in my eyes and whose virtue shines from afar, scattering its rays, loyal comrade in difficult times, Jehochanan, that arrogant and treacherous captain, seeks the sole rule of the city for himself. But what kind of a man is he? What merits make him a king? He derives his base-born ancestry from a humble pedigree, and this disloyal spawn outdoes his ancestors in knavery. Poverty-stricken, he scraped out a living, rejoicing in earning coins as an olive-monger. A poltroon, he betrayed Gischala to the Romans and left his fellow-townsmen to be butchered by our enemies. What kind of slaughter has he achieved in the city? What citizens has he put to death? I call you Jews to witness this, you who were deeply ashamed by the downfall of David’s city. But who is he? A clever sophist, to whom nothing is sacred or faithful. A man who uses his tricks and devices to cheat anybody gullible enough to believe him.
JAC. After the Zealots invited our forces to join them in this war, gladly I came to their aid, so that I might restore the city to its former glory. After Jehochanan openly strove to steal everything according to his whim, and to make his way to the throne by means of all that killing, I was not disposed to let him use my sword as he wanted, nor to fight to overcome all the city’s leading citizens, so that he might batten on their persons with impunity with me an accomplice to his crimes. So I straightway decided not to let him join forces with us or fight under his auspices, as long as he was an armed captain who judged everything according to whim. If anybody ought to rule in this city, your distinguished ancestry declares that you are royal, as does the glory you have so often achieved in battle. The holy city has given you power over itself and has elected you its leader.
SCHIM. Now, Jacob, I require your help and your loyalty. We must subdue Jehochanan’s troublesome spirit and put a bridle on his corrupt ambition. I can achieve this better if you join forces with me as my loyal comrade.
JAC. I shall gladly follow you as my leader in this fight. My followers amount to ten thousand. They will obey your orders. [Exit. Enter Alkim.]
ALK. Great virtue is habitually too trusting, not fearing the base trickery of its enemies. Put an end to the foul killing of your soldiers.
SCHIM. But who would dare lay violent hands on my men?
ALK. Fierce Jehochanan. That treacherous captain Jehochanan has murdered your followers in the Temple, nor has this leader spared his victims in his savage wrath.
SCHIM. Describe the slaughter of my men.
ALK. After the scoundrel-captain had selected some bold lads of proven loyalty, he armed them and dressed them in cast-off cloaks lest anybody suspect his aggressive scheme. When each one of these had been sufficiently instructed about the ruse, they sought to mingle with the other citizens who were then worshipping the Lord with pious sacrifices. While the suppliant priest stood before the altars, clad in his vestments, offering his prayers to God, and while the twitching victim lay, bound with cords and filling the air with its frequent lowing, vainly trying to break its bonds, the fierce band suddenly cast off their cloaks and leapt forward. They ran about the Temple. Whoever chance put in the way of their fury was laid low. The priest killed the bull, the soldier killed the priest. They cut off the Jews’ hands, stretched out to God as they complained about the outrage. They used their swords to open the citizens’ pious hearts. Your followers were especially sought out for the killing. Their pacifism scarcely helped those who remained quiet, nor did their silence aid those who held their mouths; no kind of self-restraint was of any use to those being slaughtered. The people thought that this ambuscade had been aimed at the entire populace, but the Zealots believed it directed against themselves alone, and took to their heels. After Jehochanan had forcibly recovered all the points of the Temple, and when all its furnishings were in his possession, he let the others go and turned his hands against your people alone.
SCHIM. Did Eleazer tolerate such a great outrage?
ALK. At first he was furious that his people too were being dragged to their death, but this treacherous captain struck an infamous bargain with Jehochanan.
SCHIM. Now I shall take up arms. Bring up your support, Jacob. [Exeunt, leaving Alkim alone.]
ALK. Civil war tolerates no restraint, nor can the rebels’ harsh intentions be turned aside. This lunacy is not limited to the Zealots. He is safe who kills somebody else first. Everyone pretends to be a Zealot so that he might destroy his enemy, using the chieftains’ feud as an excuse for private murder. [Sounds of offstage fighting.]
But the sad sound of fighting strikes my ear. You Who governs the universe and everything contained with in the two poles’ arching embrace, oh God, tenaciously mindful of the Covenant, pity the house of Isaac, afflicted so long. Soften, I pray, the robbers’ hard hearts. But see, Saboch makes his sad way here. [Enter Saboch.]
SAB. Titus, why hesitate to destroy this sinful city? With your sword you will sweep aside the wrongdoing, of a kind to which the victor’s anger cannot put a stop. You will purge Jerusalem of evil. Have no fear that you will be committing a crime. Do not sit and watch us be cut down by our own hand. It is the lesser evil for us to die by your wounding. Four times blessed and yet more is he who has stained the walls with his blood. Our leaders wear each other out with fighting and our people have been caught in the middle, no matter who the victor may be. As the prize of battle, our poor people is tossed to and fro, for the winds of war are wont to be various. External war rages often, but civil strife constantly breaks upon the city and is all the more serious because it is fed by the Roman war, and feeds it in turn. When Jehochanan and Schimeon vied for control of the city, our unhappy populace, caught in the middle, was not anxious about servitude: it feared lest it be forced to bear an even harsher master.
ALK. But did the external war have no deterring effect?
SAB. Even though they know Titus is standing beneath our very walls, they prefer domestic infighting. Their madness takes greater pleasure in shedding their neighbors’ blood. While the Romans strive for victory by surmounting the walls, the defend them vigorously. But as soon as the enemy breaks off his attack, they quickly return to their domestic killing, always delighting in the latest bloodshed. It suffices to ward off the enemy. Bathing their hands in their fellow citizens’ blood is a small thing. They are plotting even worse crimes. They are only having a contest to see who can do the most damage to our Jewish fighting forces.
ALK. Meanwhile what is Titus doing?
SAB. He does not hesitate to lay siege to the city walls in that place where the city faces Jehochanan’s tomb. Josephus approaches. The old man is sitting on the ground, tearing his hair, pouring ashes on his head.
ACT II SCENE ii
JOSEPHUS’ SPEECH TO THE CITY
How can you languish, deprived of your citizens, a city once blessed with so many inhabitants? Why do you succumb, overcome by your own weapons? Why are your armed bands turned against yourself in self-destruction, you who were accustomed to conquer so many enemies without arms and defeat the gentiles without any battle? Heaven’s angels fought on your behalf, victory was gathered for you by the hand of God. A pregnant cloud burst in a hail of stones, the rage of the thundering heaven scattered our enemies, and others were swallowed by the gaping earth. Jerusalem, Roman arms have never inflicted so many woes as your own people have brought on you. Why should you have sought to harm nations stronger than yourself in battle? The Romans want to save you, the Jews to ruin you. The Romans are saving you so that you will rage against yourself. It is impious for the gentiles to rule in the Temple of God. But now you are scarcely God’s Temple or God’s city. You have become a mortuary and a tomb for those of your own people whom you have barbarously slain, not of citizens lost to the enemy. Why boast that you are a house of life, when you want to be a doleful charnel house, a den of thieves, a pit? Anani, outstanding in his piety, and Jehoshue, both leading priests, lie in you without burial. See how these men, who recently were to be seen in their robes, objects of veneration to the marveling gentiles, lie in their deformity. The greedy vultures are tearing at them with rapacious beaks, the cruel beasts are ravaging them with their fangs. The result is that to mourn such a great insult suffered by God’s holy Name appears to be an old-fashioned form of piety. Indeed, recently it seems like a deformity of religious duty, which is done only for show.
Oh, the barbaric crime! But what crime did the unfortunate priest commit? He committed the wrong of rebuking the people because they would not take up arms to defend God’s Temple, he complained about the corrupt state of the city, he forbade the trampling of what remained of our ancient holy places, he lamented the fact that our altars flowed with blood. Arise, horned Moses, once the leader of the Jewish host, look at this people of God, for whom the waters once parted as they were crossing the sea, when the waters hung back to give them a dry way though the sands, for whom in their famine a dense rain of birds fell from the sky like hail; the rock poured forth water from its wound, in the midst of the dry desert giving the thirsty to drink. Because of their faith, God fed these starving people in the wilderness. Because of their folly, however, although they are kept apart from no ocean, although they are held captive by no Pharaoh, the present-day Jews are victims of severe famine. Where is that beautiful devotion of their ancestors, who did not fight to the death on behalf of their wives and children more than they did for God’s Temple? Who can preserve his own peace who scorns the peace of God? One people has become divided into several. […] What the holy Spirit has joined together, your people have set asunder, taking pleasure in its destruction. They prefer to see the weapon they have aimed against their own vitals become bloodies, rather than see it strike their enemies. Let the cruelties they have not yet accomplished be ascribed to their weakness, this is accounted their reverence for God. This is a kind of pious mercy that cannot be free of sin.
Why do I vainly trouble them with my words? Until now they have not wished to learn of their wretchedness.
Go to Act III of the Third Action