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THE FIRST ACTION
Jerusalem, once the capital of nations, the jewel of flourishing Asia, an object of envy, on behalf of which contended heaven’s thunder, a rain of stones, a gaping of the earth, for whom the sun stood still in mid-course in order to view the massive destruction of her enemies; for whom the sea hung on both sides like a wall, making a way through the waters as the Jews fled the hostile sway of the Nile’s Pharaoh; for whom the heaven opened up and rained down huge rains of birds, like so much hail, and the clouds, pregnant with quail, opened up and filled the fields with birds; for whom the stricken rock poured forth water for the Jews to drink in the barren desert! When at long last (alas) the Romans waged war on her inhabitants from abroad, and at home they exhausted themselves with internecine strife, at a time when there was no respite from fighting or interval of peace, when no place was free from danger, when there was no time for taking counsel, but when everything was full of horror, full of cruelty, and when the shrieks of women, the lamentations of the elderly, the groans of the dying, the despair of the living were everywhere to be heard, when nature’s laws were scorned and the son cheated the starving mouth of his father, the mother snatched food from her son’s jaws, and when (I shudder to say it) a mother hacked her child into bits so she might feed on his flesh with her wicked mouth, when the Temple burned with crackling flames, when the walls had long been pounded by the ram, this pitiable city, worn out by pillage and murder, collapsed and was laid prostrate.
When I have set forth each one of these things for you to see, in the first Action how the people of Jerusalem, long beset by the thievery and plunder of its governor, took up arms against the Romans under the leadership of Eleazar, son of Anani the High Priest, who happened to be military commander that year, and expelled them from their territory, and in the second and third Actions how the Romans invaded Judaea to avenge the massacre they had suffered, how the city was beset by civil discord, as the rebel leaders fought among themselves for supremacy, and how this city, partially worn out by internal strife, and partially besieged by external forces, when it had long been oppressed by murder, pillage, arson and famine at the hands of Titus, son of Vespasian, beset by fighting on all sides, was entirely overthrown, will be shown to you.Florus, Procurator of Judaea, had long harassed the people with his thieving and depredations, used every manner of torment to provoke them to revolt so that, when they had taken up arms to resist the Roman people’s arrogance, he might easily conceal his own wrongdoing. When the people could not tolerate his great cruelty, they complained to King Agrippa, returning from Rome, about the many injuries they had received, and requested his assistance in suppressing Florus’ tyranny. Although in a speech Agrippa sought to calm their angry minds, saying that they ought to put up with the Procurator’s savagery until their complaint had been brought to Nero’s attention, the people, burning with anger, drove the King out of the city by stoning. But when afterwards the High Priest and the other leading Jews used their authority to calm this commotion, Florus was upset by the people’s patience and did not cease afflicting them with the gravest insults, until under the leadership of the daring young captain Eleazer, who was the commander of the army that year, they attacked the Romans. The emperor Nero, seeing that such a seditious uprising could not readily be put down, sent presents to the city and sought to assure the citizenry by the most agreeable peace terms, but they rejected his gifts and did not desist from the rebellion. In order to avenge this great insult to the Romans, Cestius, Proconsul of Syria, laid siege to Jerusalem. And when he was on the verge of gaining control of the city, he was suddenly stricken by panic and retreated. After the rebels had chased him out of Galilee they returned to the city, laden down with much booty, and celebrated a triumph.
BERONICE his sister
ANANI the High Priest
ELEAZAR, MANAHEM leaders of the rebellion
AMMITAI, GAMALA, IEHOSHUE BAR THEBUTH priests
MANASCHE, JEHOCHANAN BAR SAKKAI,
SHIMEON leading citizens
PHILIP, SAUL, COSTOBAR leading citizens
MANNEH, SABOCH, ALKIM citizens of Jerusalem
CESTIUS Proconsul of Syria
FLORUS Procurator of Judaea
POLITIANUS OF NAPLES a tribune
CAPITO a centurion
METILIUS an officer
TYRANNUS a soldier of Cestius
NIGER OF PERAEA a Jewish military leader
ARSIMON, JEHUDA soldiers of Eleazer
SALAMUTH a high-born woman
JEHOSHUE BAR ANANI a peasant
A TEMPLE WARDEN
CHORUS OF CITIZENS, SINGERS, SOLDIERS
Oh You Who rules heaven’s radiant precincts by Your will, shaping the sky in its shining circuits, at length take pity on our afflicted nation. Mercifully support the collapsing house of Abraham, alas, at the sight of which the walls of Jericho fell down, their bonds rent asunder as seven trumpets loudly blew, and their works of war were laid low across the field; to whom the sluggish water of the sea made a way for their dry feet, when it piled up on both sides like a wall, fearing to touch the Jews; whose battle the sun watched in mid-heaven, forgetful of his daily travel, not leaving the sky vacant for the amazed moon before the Amorite nation had been defeated.
Now (I shudder to say it) the chosen race of Abraham has been made great prey for the arrogant gentiles and has lamentably submitted its neck to the yoke of servitude. But I mourn old things. We have already grieved for Zion and the shamed towers of prostrate Jerusalem. Albinus, how many plunders, robberies, murders of citizens have you set in motion? Why have you stained your hands with the blood of our citizens, when Nero gave you the fasces and proclaimed you governor of Jerusalem? But why in my misery should I rail at Albinus? No, he was a pious man. He denied his thieving, nor did this secret worker acknowledge his crime. For no good reason he was timid about his wrongdoing: that unjust governor craved to seem dutiful. But Florus, alas, boasts openly of his misdeeds. There is nothing, no matter how serious, which his anger excludes. In his greedy insanity he seeks to invent new crimes, nor does our undisguised hatred restrain his onrush. He rages everywhere, giving orders to robbers. It is legal to steal others’ goods with impunity, as long as Florus is given a large share of the loot. Whatever wretch cannot pay a handsome price for his life is throttled with a noose before the very altars. With a harsh hand the bashful virgin is snatched from her mother’s lap. The citizens assault heaven with helpless voices, calling down crime-avenging torches from the sky. This Italian adulterer cheats chaste marriage-beds. Good men fawn on the wicked with eager dutifulness, in the hope that they can evade their bloody hands. But baleful fear has persuaded many to go into exile, timorous flight has scattered our thunderstruck citizens. The populace, gaping in silence, has grown numb, and their voice sticks in their throats when terror forbids them to lament their sorry fate.
When Caesar gave Cestius the territory of Syria to rule, so that he would administer the law in that province, nobody dared accuse the Procurator before Cestius. When it was time for the priest to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Cestius happened to travel out of Syria to the city. Three hundred thousand citizens approached him at one time, begging that he would notice the misfortunes of the city, so long afflicted: the Hebrews had suffered dire things, and feared worse. They begged that he free their race from the great tyranny of the troublesome Procurator. Then, even though Florus stood in the people’s sight, clinging to the governor’s side as a companion, the citizens’ sorry complaints failed to move him and he sneered at their lugubrious laments. For Cestius spoke kindly words and mollified the citizens’ irate minds. He promised them a gentler Procurator. Next, having left Jerusalem, he made his way to Antioch, and Florus attached himself to him as a traveling-companion. He filled Cestius’ ears with his lies, which Cestius passed on to Caesar. As often as Florus touched on the subject of our honorable city, he injured the Hebrews with false slander, striving to kindle the torches of war against the city. To this end he bent every effort to stir up hatred against the name of Rome, so that the Hebrews would take up arms. By this pretext he hoped easily to conceal his great crimes. If the loyal Jewish subjects kept the peace, soon they would report to Caesar the many crimes of this wicked Procurator, and accuse him of wrongdoing. But if rebellious Jews were forced to enter into an armed uprising, shaking off Nero’s yoke, then this greater evil would erase the odium of his own comparatively minor misdeeds. For blind anger is satiated by revenge: it punishes evildoing but does not weigh rights and wrongs.
For many nights a drawn sword, burning with horrible fire, has threatened the city, drawing a long path with its menacing flame. It has hung ambiguously, dripping bloodstains. The trail of this great star has burned for as long as the day-star has threaded his way among the twelve signs of the Zodiac, bringing his risings and settings. For that length of time, alas, this cruel portent has troubled our wounded minds. Just as in the past, when the sardonyx affixed to the High Priest’s left shoulder has cast its rays afar whenever victims have been laid on the holy altars, or when the rectangular arrangement of precious stones gleams on the essen when the faithful priest sacrifices one row of victims after another, so Zion shines with this ruinous splendor, this dire omen. [Enter Jehoshua bar Ananias.]
JEH. Woe to you, Jerusalem! Woe to you!
MAN. What shouting strikes my ears?
JEH. A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four quarters of heaven!
MAN. But it is Jehoshua, Ananias’ son, a man from the countryside.
JEH. Woe to new brides! Woe to new bridegrooms! Woe to you, Jews who dwell in Jerusalem! [Exit.]
MAN. What dire portents frighten my mind? Oh, you noble sons of ancient Abraham, you who boast of your descent from Isaac, where do the Fates so harshly lead you, secure as you are? Now four winters have deposited their snows and for the fourth time the reaper has cut the crops with his sickle, since the time when the High Priest was celebrating the solemn feast (our forefathers named it the Feast of Tabernacles), and the altar was smoking with the sacred fire, when Jehoshua stood by paying close attention. Suddenly great madness overtook this rustic fellow,and since then he has not ceased proclaiming great evils for the city. [Enter the Temple Warden.]
WARD. Now let each man proclaim his vows of gratitude and let incense from Sheba give off its fumes. Let a victim fall for our great God.
MAN. Why should our altars grow warm with blood?
WARD. A generous God has opened up the Gate of Good Men and the everlasting Lord ordains that the Temple should be open with free access to the offspring of Abraham.
MAN. What unheard-of benefit to the city are you talking about?
WARD. When the time came around for the celebration of the holiday called by our ancestors the Feast of Unleavened Bread since the time when the Jews fled Pharaoh’s fields, as they were opposed to his harsh laws, when their stammering leader led them through the trackless places, the great east gate of the Temple opened, which receives Phoebus’ darts, rigid with bronze and reinforced by bars, of a sort which can cheat the effort of twenty men, redoubled in vain, and frustrate their hard exertions. It pivots on a resistant hinge whenever it is opened, performing the office of a gate, although its joints are burdened by great bars and on the inside it is locked with great bolts. Afterwards, after the coming of the quiet night, a great noise was heard, although nobody was touching the gate, and with a great shudder it quickly sprang open of its own volition. Suddenly (marvelous to say) the doors were open. When the bars of the gates were completely broken, the citizens were awakened. Trembling, they rushed about with frantic minds. Amazed mothers pressed their shivering children to their breasts. Citizens of all ages were equally terrified. But when they collected their shattered wits and pondered more deeply with calm minds, their hearts leapt with joy. Now God has opened our hearts and inspired us with a new spirit. [Exit.]
MAN. It always pleases God to warn humanity about great catastrophes, and He does not inflict public disasters on a world to whom His angry person has not given a prior warning of danger. These great portents have not moved our gaping multitude, which does not believe the threatening heaven. I predict that the Temple sanctuary has of its own volition unlocked itself for our enemies. But Manneh approaches. [Enter Manneh.]
MANNEH Now the happy city is thrilled with great applause. Of its own will, dark night has shed a golden light. The radiant Father of the universe raises His head from the courts of His heavenly palace, so that His face may enlighten us with its splendor.
MANASCHE What kind of joy can Zion hope for?
MANNEH When dark night had buried the day in its murky shadows, and returning rest was now scattering peace upon whatever was worn out by the day, on the holiday when the priest made ready the festival and the thronging crowd besieged God with their prayers in the manner of their ancestors, a bright heaven-sent light soon surrounded the altar, brighter than that of the radiant morning sun. Lo, this strange glow of the silent night bathed the entire Temple. He Who governs the recesses of the celestial palace will bless the Temple with the light of His holy countenance. [Exit.]
MAN. Where are the blind Fates whirling Jerusalem? The populace, a blind master, gladly manufactures an empty hope of joy for itself and, like a panderer, shamefully seduces itself with its pretensions. [Enter Gamala the priest.]
GAM. Why do the altars to which I sacrifice remain angry? Why is the incense cast abroad displeasing? God does not yet take pleasure in the entrails of the victims.
MAN. But He is generous in His forgiveness.
GAM. While I, as a priest, was offering up blood-sacrifice, and when the snow-white bull was now standing before the holy altars, this male animal gave sinister birth to a lamb, a marvelous offspring for its father, born by no mother. Species were confounded, an alien womb produced unfamiliar offspring. Nature, being turned about, changed her function. This doubled victim urged a double rite. They were sacrificed at the same time, but this single offering was not pleasing. Twofold crimes demand double altars. [Exit. Enter Jehoshua bar Thebuth.]
JEH. On the Day of Pentecost when the divine spirit came from His supernal citadel and placed Himself in the hearts of His chosen people, flowing like fire, giving off shimmering flames, when the priest was already making the nocturnal sacrifice, a great nose suddenly occurred. In the midst of this uproar a voice was heard saying, “Let Us go hence. This place is not faithful enough to Me.” God, outraged, abandoned His temple and deserted the altars built in His name. [Exit.]
MAN. What manner of evil do these heavenly signs portend? What kind of slaughter do these downpours from the sky announce? No prophet consoles us lost one, nor solves these enigmas wrapped in shadows. Ruler of the universe, why do You snatch us up in the conflagration of burning madness? If You, a harsh Judge, visit us with penalties, who would not shudder at the bitter outcome of Your wrath?.
CHORUS [Offstage.] Oh, Caesar! Oh, Caesar! Oh, Caesar!
MAN. Why do the people suddenly appeal to Caesar. Jehochanan bar Sakkai approaches. [Enter Jehochanan bar Sakkai.]
JEHOCH. Illustrious Manasche, glory of your country, what hope of safety do we have left? This protracted evildoing knows no limits, and gathers new strength.
MAN. Jehochanan bar Sakkai, noble sir, it often helps us to hear about our sad calamities.
JEHOCH. The Jews in Caesarea were performing their sacred rites, and at the same time the gentiles were worshipping the deceiving gods which Error, with her unholy hand, placed among them. Here a synagogue occupied a large strip of ground adjoining a gentile’s nearby farm. This alien farmstead scarcely permitted access to the holy building. In order that a larger entrance could facilitate free access to the shrine, the Jews besieged this freeholder with entreaties that he should sell them the farm at a handsome price. But he stubbornly refused to enter into this pious bargain. In his hostility this fellow began to erect some small buildings on that part of his property where the path led to the synagogue. The Jewish youth could not tolerate such an insult, and prevented the construction work from proceeding immediately, telling the gentile that he must undertake some other enterprise. At that point Florus forbade them to disturb the building project. But the the leaders of the Jewish community persuaded their people that they should attempt to bribe the Procurator, so that he would assume responsibility for this affair and prohibit the arrogant work from going forward.
So, with dire lamentations, they counted out eight talents for Florus and begged his help. He refused them nothing, agreeing to their requests. Then Florus, having already accepted the money, abandoned the city in contempt of his agreement and betook himself to Sebaste, three hundred miles removed from the city, as if he had sold them some time for waging war freely. On the following day the sun rose on the Sabbath, which the Jews, worshipping God in their ancestral way, were accustomed to celebrate. A certain devotee of pagan cults placed a Samian vase in the entrance of the temple in order to block the Jews, and he sacrificed birds to his strange gods. Abraham’s progeny could not stand such an insult, or tolerate seeing their laws shamed and the place polluted by such a sin. The leading upper-class Jews tried to persuade them to bring the matter before a judge and settle it by fair litigation, but the race of Abraham could tolerate no delay. Burning with anger, they craved revenge. Immediately Jehochanan, the cavalry commander, arrived. Ordering the removal of the vase, he strove to pacify this civil uprising, but he strove in vain. Routed by their enemies, the Jews immediately fled to Narbata, a town three hundred miles away from the city. Out of fear, they took their copy of the Torah with them. But twelve leading Jews, accompanied by Jehochanan, sped to Sebaste. They complained about the violence lately inflicted on themselves by the gentiles and begged for help in their affliction. Tactfully, they reminded him of all those talents. But Florus, burning with anger, ordered them to be subdued with harsh chains. As a pretext for his anger, he alleged that they had removed the Torah from the city without his permission. Now Jerusalem is in a great uproar.
MAN. Why are the people shouting so loudly for Caesar?
JEHOCH. In order to kindle the torches of war all the greater, Florus ordered that seventeen talents be given him from the Temple treasury. The people mutter, dash here and there, rush to the Temple. Here with a great shout they appeal to Caesar that he should benevolently free them from the Procurator’s great tyranny. Others heap disloyal insults on Florus. One fellow pretends to be a beggar, limping along with the aid of a crutch, and holds out a cup begging for alms for Florus, as if he were a very needy man. But Florus, having taken the money, treacherously neglects to quell the riot or put out the fire of this nascent war. Rather, his greedy mind broods on loot as he returns to Jerusalem in the company of a large army, so that he might oppress the cowed city and join new cohorts to those he already has, in case there is any necessity of fighting.
MAN. Why has such a great crowd assembled?
JEHOCH. The populace, hoping to pacify the impetus of raging Florus, has hastened to pour itself out, in order that it might honor the Procurator with public reverence and greet the soldiers in the traditional way. [Enter Capito, accompanied by soldiers.]
MAN. Florus is not approaching. Capito, the cavalry commander, is returning, accompanied by a large army. But what’s this? He averts his gaze, insults them to their faces, shakes his head. What baleful things is this avenger planning?
CAP. Cease mocking Florus with your sham honors, whom you insult with your wanton talk about bribes. What citizen does not spew forth bitter insults against the Procurator? Who has not hurled awful slanders at him? You should be men, arming your breasts with new strength. Curse Florus to his face. Proclaim your freedom as bold soldiers, and do not fear for your courage. If the Procurator should happen to grow angry, avenge your wrongs with steel. [To his men.] They are quaking with fear. Draw your swords, men. Sow ruin everywhere. [To himself.] They are taking to their heels. Florus has secretly stolen into the palace lest he show his face to the people. As a captain I shall cut down whomever I meet, if the city pours forth and pays court to the Procurator with public honors, since it dares flay him with its wanton words. But why do I hesitate to report these occurrences to the Procurator?
Go to Act II of the First Action