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ACT III, SCENE i
KING AGRIPPA, THE TRIBUNE POLITIANUS
AGR. When I left behind me Rome, that lofty glory of the wide-ranging world, and Nero’s palace, I lingered at the kingdom of Pharus so that I could enjoy Alexander’s hospitality. So Nero commanded. But now, Jerusalem, I have returned and gladly see your spires, the house of our great Lord. But the tribune Politianus approaches. [Enter Politianus.]
POL. May God grant you a long reign.
AGR. Why have you come to Jamnia?
POL. Your thrice-noble sister Beronice, who is absent from Jerusalem, wrote to Cestius apprising him that Jerusalem is seething with internal discords; she begged help for the afflicted Jews, beseeching that he suppress the troublemakers’ ferocity. The priests, in conjunction with the leading citizens, wrote in the following vein: Florus was menacing them with his unholy massacre, the people were enraged, the Temple was swimming with blood, all legalities were thrown into chaos. On the other hand, Florus besieged Cestius with missives: the rebellious citizens were up in arms, were no longer willing to tolerate Nero’s rule; Jewish hands were dripping with Roman blood. Such grave news disturbed Cestius, and he convened his military commanders to consult about the city’s desperate affairs. Some advised him to move against Jerusalem with full force, arguing that the longer evils drag along, the more it rages. Others discouraged him from undertaking the matter in such a rash way. They advised that he should first investigate the damage. So Cestius has commanded me to visit Jerusalem and provide an accurate report of developments.
AGR. I approve Cestius’ decision, wholesome for the city. Why has this numerous assembly of priests, accompanied by a band of leading Jews, assembled? [Enter priests and prominent citizens, with Manasche their spokesman.]
MAN. Thrice-noble King Agrippa, this venerable band of holy fathers, and this long procession of leading citizens, has poured forth in order to pay the customary duties to its prince, and the city wishes you a happy return.
AGR. I am duly grateful to you for having come from Jerusalem to meet me at Jamnia.
MAN. Receive the grave complaints of David’s city, magnanimous prince, and forgive the legitimate grievance of your subjects. Pity the house of Jacob, oppressed so long. I do not now speak about the looting, the debauchery, the killing. Now the altar is drenched with blood, the priest can scarcely obtain permission to go on living. Soldiers profane the inner sanctum of the Temple with their feet. The enraged people, compelled by such wrongdoing, took up arms. Then the Romans routed their armed bands with the sword. Stop this foul destruction of your subjects, nor allow yourself to witness our nation’s final ruin. The city herself is visibly collapsing. Grief for our afflicted city compels us to mourn, but it is expedient for our citizens to remonstrate more mildly. If they happen to become swollen with vain belligerence, you will never manage to repress their rebellious ferocity.
AGR. Distinguished assemblage of our powerful city’s magnates, why do you bemoan the bloody massacre of your fellow citizens and assault your governor with denunciations? This crime was not the Romans’ doing. If the city were well advised, it would condemn its own impudence, not the Procurator’s. It has not peaceably accepted Nero’s government and it has stubbornly refused to pay taxes to the Romans. What blind sorrow agitates your hearts, or what rage throws your unhappy souls into confusion? If your noble minds cannot tolerate such a notable disgrace, if so many evils compel you to grieve, what is the point in trying to heal your wound with the greatest of crime, or in always applying the harshest medicine to your malady? Is it not profitable for Rome’s majesty, which is second only to that of heaven, to make an impression on you? Is not profitable for you to be swayed by the capital of the world, a source of awe for all peoples? Even though our sacred city is built on the peaks of mountains and boasts of the great strength of its soldiers, being rich in previous victories, who dares overcome Roman swords or tries to rout their standards? How many cities have seen bodies strewn everywhere, laid low by Roman javelins? How many proud towns has the Proconsul overthrown, their walls pulled down? Even if David’s city were to rival the Romans in courage and holy Zion were to compete for the glory of war, although its proud citizens were to climb the Tarpeian rocks in order to occupy the steep heights and Rome were finally to retreat to its high citadel, no amount of money could equal the worth of my citizens’ lives. But if the heavenly Power chooses to ordain things as they are, and wishes Rome to rule the world, you cannot alter the thread spun by Fate. We ought to refer our contention to Caesar, so that he can moderate this quarrel, applying the fair restraints of the law, so that the guilty might pay a suitable penalty.
MAN. Although the King’s rebuke is stinging, it is full of his good-will and love. Mercy often hides behind a gruff exterior.
AGR. Why is such a large throng of citizens hastening here? [Enter a crowd of Jews, including Manneh, Saboch, Alkim, and Channa.]
MANNEH Long life to you, Agrippa. Have pity on these supplicants. The infant boy is torn from his mother’s embrace and slaughtered.
SAB. The father, stabbed, lies dead in the Temple.
ALK. The daughter is raped while her mother looks on.
CHAN. The bridegroom lies slain in the very Temple.
AGR. What good does it to you to issue these vain complaints when you ought better condemn your own insolence? As long as your mind rages with this blind sorrow, in its inquietude it knows not how to evaluate things. Your spirits are borne aloft, carried high on the wings of arrogance, and, unbridled, rashly wander afar: they cannot easily collect themselves. When the impulsiveness of your roiling minds calms down, your spirits will be free to return to themselves, and will temper your desires with a wholesome moderation.
The sad complaints of my subjects greatly stir me, and your sorrow touches my inmost being. But our joint deliberations will go farther towards curing this matter. It is necessary to go on tolerating Florus, albeit he is a hard man, until I wrote to Caesar and request that he deem it proper to give the Jews a new Procurator.
SAB. Politianus, we implore you: travel through our sprawling suburbs so you might see for yourself the wicked crimes the Procurator has committed against our citizens.
ALK. Thrice, four times noble Agrippa, we beg you to request this of Politianus, that accompanied by a single servant he go about the city, so that he might bear witness to this terrible massacre.
AGR. Politianus, you ought to agree to this request.
POL. I shall eagerly comply with the citizens’ legitimate petition.
ACT III, SCENE ii
THE COUNTRYMAN JEHOSHUA, THE TRIBUNE POLITIANUS, MANASCHE
JEH. [Offstage.] Woe, woe to Jerusalem! Woe, woe to Jerusalem!
POL. What howling do I hear?
MAN. That is Jehoshue, son of Ananias, a rabid dog who cannot bear the thirst, rushing here and there, a stranger to peace. Thus rustic fills the air with such lamentations wherever he runs. As he shouts, threats or whippings hold no fear for him, even if his body is covered with great welts from the lash. Rather, in his enthusiasm he cries out all the more and redoubles his words, nor does his voice ever become worn out from hoarseness. This stubborn fellow never gives you answer, if you ask him who he is, why he is shouting, what all this horror is about. All he does is spew out his prophecy. [Enter Jehoshue.]
JEH. Brought by the Souldiers. Woe, woe to Jerusalem! Woe, woe to Jerusalem!
POL. What did your father name you?
JEH. A voice from the east! A voice from the west! A voice —
POL. Why are you bawling about evil for the city with your unclean mouth?
JEH. What voice resounds from the four quarters of the world?
POL. Why do you stubbornly deny me answers?
JEH. Woe to marriage-beds! Woe to bridegrooms!
POL. Excruciating pain will wring the truth from you.
JEH. Woe to everybody who dwells in Jerusalem!
POL. The dungeon’s awful cavern will overmaster your body.
JEH. Woe to Jerusalem! Woe, woe to Jerusalem!
POL. The torturer will flay your back with his scourge.
JEH. A voice from the east! A voice from the west! Woe to the Temple! Woe to you, city-dweller!
POL. This crazy countryman hurls his pointless threats. Why should I waste my breath talking to thin air? While in his dementia his headstrong frenzy rages, he refuses restraint, swells with rage against whoever seeks to caution him. Although he is now afire and does not allow us to touch his wound, he will abate and be more receptive to advice. But if, in the throes of his sacred madness, he shouts out these statements and sets forth this baleful doom as God’s prophet, who can be so insane as to obstruct his holy forays?
ACT III, SCENE iii
Sun, who scatters the night with your beautiful face and, shining, gives back to the world its day, illuminate our minds with your kindly light. Ease our hearts, obsessed by protracted evils. Finally the sound of the blowing trumpet grows silent. Now the fretful night-watchman does not keep his vigil. Now the wife does not fear for her armed husband, nor do ashen mothers worry for their dear children. Happy peace, summoned back, finally returns to Jerusalem. King Agrippa is here, our famous sovereign is here. Although he is worn by years, we can capture the attention of his bald head. Sometimes fortune falls out right, even though she is treacherous. By nature she is the least unjust of stepmothers, and has never deprived us of the hope of future good. Our fates, which always preoccupy us, are exceedingly grim. But why does this soldier come running? [Enter Arsimon]
ARS. Alas, a dire omen oppresses my mind.
SAB. What sad portents terrify you?
ARS. When the deep shadows descended from the mountains and Phoebus plunged his panting horses into the ocean, horrible chariots wheeled through the clouds as if battalions were fighting against battalions. The skies resounded with a terrific shouting. Swords mixed with swords, shield clashed against shields and rang, nor did heaven seem to lack its wound, an omen for its life. Why should I hesitate to recount these things to our fellow citizens? [Exit.]
SAB. Angry heaven foretells the torches of battle. Likewise it foreshadows bloody fighting. The sky is aflame with cruel war, urging us to avenge ourselves on our enemies. God teaches us to get revenge, and to avenge ourselves by war and vengeful steel, greedy for blood. Now Roman madness can be extinguished by bloodshed alone. Let the slaughter of his fellow citizens atone for the cruel crime of this Procurator. We must follow wherever our sad fates lead us. [Enter Alkim.]
ALK. The tribune has gone back to Cestius.
SAB. Tell me in a few words what happened in the city.
ALK. After the tribune had disentangled himself from the crowd, he inspected the city, accompanied by a single servant. Here he saw a body pierced by a sword. That man’s head had been removed by a bloodied sword, and a sword was lodged in a wound between another man’s ribs. Another poor fellow lay, transfixed by a lance, scarcely breathing his last, drumming his heels on the earth. Here a man lay outstretched, gasping with a fixed stare. The tribune could scarcely bear to see these things, horrible sights which often forced him to retreat. Then the people demonstrated to him their quiet, how anxiously they were cultivating peace. After Politianus had seen this terrible evil, he sought the Temple and convened a popular assembly. He lavishly praised their loyalty to Rome, and admonished them to keep the peace dutifully. Then, paying his devotions to God in that place reserved by our forefathers for the gentiles, he hastened back to Cestius.
SAB . But I suppose the people did not quiet down then because of his address?
ALK. The people, not yet pacified, turned their faces to the King. They earnestly besought him that a messenger be sent to Nero, so that he might know of the criminal murder of our citizenry. The city’s silence (their spokesman argued) makes its loyalty seem doubtful and, as long as they remain mute in their grief, convicts them of treason. Caesar will think that our priests were the first to arm themselves and begin the fight, that our disloyal citizens were the first to take up weapons, unless they first apprise Caesar of their complaint about the great slaughter created by the Proconsul, and about how many evils he has been responsible for. Unless a legate from the city relates these things, they said, the people will hardly calm down. Agrippa, considering these arguments in his wily mind, reflected how invidious it would be to accuse Florus at Rome, but how personally inconvenient it would be for him to spurn the people when they were on the verge of open warfare. So he soon summoned an assembly at the Xystus, and here the people have come quickly thronging. [Agrippa appears on the palace roof. He takes his seat on the dais, with his sister Beronice at his side.]
AGRIPPA’S SPEECH TO THE PEOPLE AND TO THEIR LEADERS
AGR. If everyone were bent, headlong, on waging war, and if a larger and more honest number of you had rejected peace, there would be no need for me to address you. Who forces a mind which has rejected the useful to pursue it? Who drags an unwilling man? But since the warlike among you are drawn on by their youth, inexperienced in bad things, an empty hope of liberty excites them. Others are kindled to rise by their proud minds, many want to throw everything into confusion, since they desire a revolution. Some are disgruntled by Florus’ unjust crimes. In this speech I want to admonish you, lest the wayward schemes of some unsavory citizens lead the rest of you to perdition. If anybody incites you, you ought to punish him. Why do you extol freedom with such praise? Even if servitude is harsh, you complain against your governors in vain. If the Romans have held the reins of the city loosely in their hands, has it really been hard to serve them in the past? You yourselves should reflect in a reasonable frame of mind how trivial is our pretext for going to war.
This lawless Procurator’s crimes vex you: we should seduce our governors with amiable dutifulness, not heap slander upon them. You flee a judge, but acquire an enemy. I say it is easier to put up with a judge than with an enemy, even a just one. The judge typically pronounces sentence, while the armed enemy destroys everything. Perhaps the judge oppresses his subjects secretly, but the enemy always does his harm in the open, and he is only pleased with your ruination. If anybody retaliates against insignificant injuries with insults, the Procurator will blaze with great anger. He becomes bent on revenge, nor can the majesty of Rome tolerate being made a laughingstock in the eyes of its subjects. In the past, this governor has been ashamed to harm you openly, and the furtive wrongdoer dissimulates his crimes. But now he will furiously attack you with a hostile onset: he will openly boast of his evildoing.
Softening patience wears down fierce minds. Not being able to bear an injury makes it all the worse. To incite war’s torches is a dangerous thing. The state of war is harmful, no matter whom you are fighting. Against the Romans it is the worst of all. Whichever of you escapes them, when you are unable to prevail, must abandon the entire wide world. Here no place of refuge remains.
But wicked governors oppress you. The Roman people and Caesar do you no harm at all. What is the point in rashly taking up arms against them? The Romans, who are far away, harbor no suspicions, nor by their order does any wrongdoer govern. Nor do they know about the injuries received by Jerusalem. Here Phoebus, returning from the eastern waves, raises his head, shining his light on the world. Hence, driving his chariot at full speed, he brings the fleeting day. Departing, he bathes his locks in the waters on the other side of the world. Even if Rumor were to dwell in a high citadel and add a thousand chambers to her palace, and were to whisper carelessly everywhere about current affairs, she does not immediately penetrate to the Romans. To wage war against a powerful enemy, who expects no evil to result from such an insignificant quarrel, is excessively harsh. But there exists a remedy that can immediately be applied to this evil. Do you really think that Caesar will always confer the governance of this city on knavish men? Do you think all our future governors will be similar to Florus? You can neither begin a war nor bring it to a conclusion without suffering great losses. He who is greedy for the good things conferred by freedom ought first to ensure he does not lose what he already has. It is a very hard thing to endure the yoke of slavery when you are unaccustomed to it. If you are a free man, you may legitimately fight a war lest you be subjugated. But if a man has already endured a master’s government and contumaciously strives to shake off the familiar yoke from his neck, he is an upstart slave, not a son of liberty.
You ought to have undergone all the dangers of war previously, when the proud Roman army first entered our province. Neither were you strong enough to contend against superior forces, nor did your ancestors rival them in martial glory, or ever dare to oppose the Italians, though they had routed Persian Xerxes’ forces. The Persians, although they proudly traversed the desert and walked over the ocean with dry feet, and though the sea scarcely sufficed to hold their fleet, do not think it troublesome to obey the Romans. Perhaps you have been able to overmaster the Egyptians or the Arabs, but the whole world does not suffice for this people. Britain, previously unknown, has yielded to their fasces, as the wealthy Gaul, the warlike inhabitant of the Bosphorus, and the ingenious Greek.The cities of Asia bow to the Romans. Why should I remind you of the savage Thracian race, the Lydians, Cilicians, the rebellious Dalmatians? I shall not mention the Spaniards, the Cyreneans, the Nasamonians, the Numidians, the region which adjoins the Pillars of Hercules, the Red Sea, the Caspian Sea. What nation does not tremble before Roman power? Therefore, holy descendants of our holy forefathers, you chosen people of God, I adjure you by the everlasting Father of this great universe, before Whom the entire host of nations of this great world stand in amazement: do not unjustly take up arms to harm the Romans, do not hand over your cities to be trampled by the gentiles. Why expose your heads to Roman weapons? If only the previous capture of this city would move you!
Weigh my kindly advice in your mind. If you want to confirm the happy bonds of peace, I refuse no task. But if your fierce spirits insist on war, I shall never insanely be a partner in your madness.
MANASCHE [In the crowd.] Tears moisten Agrippa’s cheeks. He sadly averts his face. The pugnacious crowd mutters. The people look at each other, hang their heads. Agrippa has broken their ferocious enthusiasm. His sister’s face is likewise drenched, nor can you remain dry-eyed listening to our sovereign.
SAB. [To Agrippa.] We have scarcely injured the Romans by fighting. But the people cannot tolerate Florus’ depredations, the foul slaughter of our citizens. They can no longer stand the rule of such a treacherous man.
AGR. But your deeds prove you are waging war against the Romans. Wickedly you withhold taxes from Caesar, and Antonia’s portico is burning as the result of your arson. You can lull your impudence and confirm the loyalty you have already sworn to Rome, if you consent to rebuild Caesar’s portico quickly and henceforth pay your taxes to a Procurator who is not a treacherous man. Whatever your tax is, it is not that man’s money: it is owed to Caesar, and no portion is reserved for Florus. Roman soldiers garrisoned Antonia, no soldier is Florus’ own. The Procurator does not rule — Caesar is king. So it behooves you to heed my admonitions. I am going to the Temple. Let us construct a new portico and nominate suitable men who can collect the tribute denied to Rome.
ACT III, SCENE iii
What are you doing now, Eleazer? You see your homeland afflicted with evils, you see our arrogant enemies sporting with your blood. The law is mute, the people are stupefied, the Sanhedrin is in mourning, the entire nation is muttering, weeping rivers of tears. Are you going to permit the virgin to be snatched from her mother’s embrace? Our children to endure slavery when our nation is demolished? Our citizens’ hands to be bound behind their backs? If you are ashamed to remove the bonds from the Jews’ necks, will you allow God’s Temple to be polluted by unspeakable murders? Our holy priests to be stricken with bloodthirsty steel? The Temple sanctuary to lie open for gentiles, you disgraceful offspring of Abraham?
The people looks to you alone, calls you alone its leader in war, the father of your country. Free your nation from tyranny, happily stir up a just war for your people. Why permit them to enter into a peace with the Romans? Banish unclean sacrifices from the Temple of the Lord.
But loyal Manahem approaches. [Enter Manahem.]
MAN. King Agrippa is not safe enough in the city. Fearing the people’s violence, he has fled in panic to his kingdom.
EL. What compelling reason did he have for his departure?
MAN. After the King’s friendly speech had pacified our tumultuous citizens, Agrippa went up to the Temple accompanied by his sister Beronice, with the populace surrounding them. Everybody strove to obey the King’s commands. The portico immediately arose as Antonia was rebuilt. Suitable men spread out through all the villages to collect the taxes. They immediately gathered forty talents (for that was the money that had been lacking). Then the fierce people seemed to grow gentler. At this point Agrippa gained courage. What did he not dare to do? He urged the people to tolerate Florus’ government until he was replaced by a new Procurator. Immediately the people, impatient with this speech, began to grumble and dared level cutting insults against the King. And not just insults — a large part of the crowd threw stones at him. Agrippa reacted badly to such an uproar, and did not hope that he could restrain such an outrage. He complained about the insult he had received, that a sovereign should be attacked with such great slurs. Next he jailed the leaders of this atrocity. He quickly sent powerful citizens to Florus, asking that he select men from among them who would collect tribute for Caesar. Soon, panic-stricken, he fled to his kingdom.
EL. Oh Manahem, my loyal comrade in war, you zealously display your piety. You can scarcely bear to witness Florus’ tyranny and you condemn the great wantonness of those citizens who forbid us from shaking off slavery’s yoke. Our homeland bids us place weapons in our hands very soon, and summons the authors of this crime. Unless you take pleasure in seeing our city burning with our enemies’ flames and seeing its walls leveled to the ground by steel, rouse your warlike people to arms. Use steel to overturn Roman standards. Since the arrogant capital of the universe cannot tolerate such an outrage and craves revenge, the Romans will soon reject peace. Furthermore, I shall induce our holy priests to ban Caesar’s sacrifices from the Temple and forbid the sacred altars gentile gifts, since Caesar has introduced his hateful standards. At the same time our citizens will be compelled to arm themselves.
MAN. The sad Underworld will be joined to heaven, and the sun will raise his gleaming head at night, bringing the day to his sister, inconstant nature will change her ways, before I break the oath I have sworn to you. [Exit. Enter Gamala the priest.]
EL. Oh Gamala, as a priest pleasing in the sight of God you daily immolate victims. As long as we are a holy and pure race, and worship the Lord in the proper way, no nation has such celestial rites. Why do you allow the gentiles’ tainted offerings to be burned on God’s altar? He detests the gentiles’ unclean rituals. You must defend the things deemed holy in the mystery of the Law. The Law forbids a bull and an ass to be yoked together for plowing, it forbids us to wear clothes made out of threads of different kinds. A lamb cannot be offered up if his wool is defiled by blotches, and our consecrated bread must be unleavened. God, intolerant of all kinds of intermixture, is displeased by diluted wine. So it causes me no little pain that Judea has become bread of many hues. And this same care inspired our prophets, consecrated to the Lord. Daniel, so that he would not have a profane name given him, cheerfully went without food and drink. But we, on the other hand, immolate profane victims at the altars and the asses of the gentiles to the Law’s mysteries. We have cast off the yoke of our eternal Law. This is to confound holy acts of piety with polluting profanation, to mix wool with linen, to add yeast to the bread. Once Nehemiah was set against this, when he alone opposed Tobias lest he make a tranquil dwelling-place for himself in the House of God. But we make the Temple and its altar a receptacle for unholy victims. Now Agar’s posterity and Sarah’s will become co-heirs. Though I am ashamed to have to say so, the walls of this Temple have now embraced both Jacob and Esau, even if their mother’s womb scarcely could contain them when they were fighting against each other. Therefore you must free this Temple, defiled by unclean mixing. Set aside for God those things which belong to Him alone. Thus the old-time majesty of this place will return.
GAM. Eleazer, son of Anani the High Priest, it does not escape me that God is to be worshipped in a pure manner, just as the sacred precepts of Moses ordain. But it is not inconsistent with the writings of the holy Law that we receive offerings or sacrifices piously dedicated by gentiles. For our holy edifices are decorated with these, and it redounds to the glory of the Temple and God most high, if a gentle nation has the devotion to reverence God and God’s Temple. Add to this the old custom, approved by so many of our forefathers, so many holy men, who set the example for observing the Law narrowly. And if gentile victims are to be excluded and we likewise ban Roman offerings, and also exclude the very Caesar for whom we offer prayers, how many misfortunes will beset us, on whom Nero will visit hardships because of such an insult?
EL. We should scarcely place any weight on what our forefathers did out of fear or ignorance: the sin rebounds on the doer. Let us be innocent and forbid bad customs. Nor look to our ancestors. The better man the wrongdoer is, the worse the evil. But if fear deters you from speaking your mind freely because of Caesar, and you do not want to provoke Agrippa’s power, you may safely allow the altars to go without victims for a little while. Thus the Romans will have no cause for complaint.
GAM. I do not hesitate to obey your commands. [Exit Eleazer, leaving Gamala alone.]
What are you doing now? Eleazer is the High Priest’s boy, a son held in highest honor, and he has been elected captain of the soldiers in the city. All the citizens look to him, they call him their leader. And Gamala should do his bidding. [Enter Jehochanan bar Sakkai.]
JEH. Dire rebellion sweeps our citizens along. The fickle mob has begun new rioting and by its fighting injures the capital of the world. The Jewish people, who have so often submitted to the yoke, are aflame with war frenzy. You, who ought to be offering victims to God, must seek a remedy for this evil. In the Temple are seen the copious gifts of the gentiles. Our forefathers never rejected foreign donatives, and from this source the Temple’s splendor grew, so today it is resplendent with the greatest gifts. In the future what will happen to these gentile contributions, such as the nations have generously given in the past, if the priest henceforth forbids gentle offerings in the Temple? Why are they pressing on us a novel law about a strange form of piety, unknown to our ancestors? It is a foul crime to forbid the Temple to gentiles, to make innovations in our ancestral cult. If only Judea offers sacrifices, the institutions of our holy forebears, old-fashioned tradition, the ancient cult of God will be violated. No religious scruple forbids the offering of holy things. Are things which seemed holy to our forebears to strike latter-day men as profane?
But if you are to exclude only the Romans from the sacrifice, which have been open to all the other gentiles, and if Caesar is to be considered profane, then if Nero finds out that his gifts are rejected, soon his noble heart will be aroused in fury and he will level our proud walls. The day, turned black by ashes, will shudder as the sun refuses to look upon such an outrage. A private citizen could not tolerate having has sacrifices spurned — can Caesar bear it? So let your prayers for our rulers never cease beleaguering the Ruler of heaven. Do not reject the victims sent by Caesar, which he offers on behalf of his people, for his personal welfare, for his empire. At Masada many Romans have recently died by Jewish treachery. Oh, the disloyal crime, the terrible outrage!
GAM. True religion never permits the intermingling of worship. This is a crime for us, whom the Ruler of the world cherishes as His chosen people, and He has consecrated us to Himself with His unique ritual, with the commandment that He alone be worshipped at this place. Victims tainted by gentile corruption and Caesar’s lavish gifts are displeasing in His sight. [Exit.]
JEH. He has departed. Ah, where are the Fates dragging us unhappy wretches? Of our own volition we are inviting the Italians’ threats. [Enter Manasche.]
MAN. The first evil begets a greater one.
JEH. To what begetting of evil do you refer?
MAN. Induced by his rage, Eleazer, the young hothead of our times and commander of our soldiers, besieges the priesthood with his proclamations, that they should reject the gentiles’ offerings. He forbids the Levites worshipping in the Temple to pray for foreign rulers, and orders that henceforth Caesar’s victims be driven from the altars. Disturbed by this growing problem, the leading citizens advised the priests to observe our ancient rites and not reject Caesar’s magnificent gifts. The crowd, swept up in this mad whirlwind, trusted in its numbers and rejected good counsel. Disreputable citizens craved rebellion, ready to do Eleazer’s bidding. When the holy priests saw the nation being tossed in such waves, beset by such storms, they convened a public meeting at the second gate of the Temple, the so-called Brazen one. They vigorously complained about the riot, which was stirring up the torches of war against our homeland. Relying on weighty arguments, they made their case. They said that our fathers of earlier centuries decorated the Temple with gentile offerings and burned foreign victims. Why should someone foist on them a custom which was at once novel for the city, repugnant to themselves and unknown to our ancestors? They urged that the Jews henceforth accept Roman victims, and that a calf brought from a Latin stable be offered up at the altar, before the rumor of this insult fly to Rome and Caesar hear of such a disgrace. Experts in ritual matters were produced, and they pronounced that our forefathers used to accept gentile gifts. This pious advice had no effect on the Zealots. But why should I call them Zealots? The have never made public use of their resources to support the priesthood.
JEH. What new plan have the priests adopted?
MAN. When they realized that the riot was becoming more tumultuous, that the crowd could not be broken up by their force, and that the Roman onslaught would fall on themselves most especially, they met in secret. They were primarily concerned with eliminating the provocation to war. Then they sent chosen spokesmen to the Proconsul. Schimeon bar Anani was a leader of this delegation. Antipas son of Agrippa, Saul, and Costobar, a close relative, went along as representatives of the leading citizens. Schimeon requested of Florus that he come up into the city with a select squadron of soldiers in order to suppress the rioters, lest this stubborn evil grow worse because of delay. But in the interim the leading citizens and those who favored a peace policy for our nation secretly gathered arms. They requested aid both from the King and from Florus, asking that these men join forces with their own militia. But here comes Schimeon bar Anani. [Enter Schimeon.]
SCHIM. Florus is unmoved by the city’s misfortune.
JEH. What response did the hateful governor give?
SCHIM. Sent by the city to Florus, I described the sorry condition of the city of David. I told how the city was ablaze with civil strife. I indicated the savage ferocity of the rebel forces, the serious complaints of our people. I asked his help in this difficult situation. But he scarcely opened his mouth or gave any answer, as if he were a mute. Nor did regret for our collapsing city make any impression on him. He seemed to be glad about this great evil and to scorn the city’s simple request, as if he were scarcely troubled that new torches of war are afire and that civic unrest is increasing.
JEH. Greed’s madness is kindling his fierce mind. The High Priest is coming out of the Temple. I shall urge my friends to take up arms. By the same token, you must arm your followers. [Exeunt. Enter Anani, alone.]
AN. While I was offering up incense to God on high, I heard a horrible clash of arms. The rebels formed a militia and took down the eagles. The people tore down the standards planted in the ground. Liberty was immediately proclaimed by a chorus of voices, and they cried that the Procurator, ignorant of these evil proceedings, should be put to death. The citizenry is unconcerned about the penalty of breaking a peace treaty. Eleazer, my beloved son, alas, what insane frenzy impels you? What blind desire drives you headlong? Put an end to this foul ruination of a shipwrecked mind. What kind of war are you waging? Win or lose, you will bring ruin on your nation. Are you unable to tolerate Roman arrogance. You should have borne it rather than do harm yourself. Victory in war is uncertain, but wrongdoing is not. Why do harm by fighting when you can easily win by yielding? Why mix a bitter salve for this wound, when you ought to apply a gentle touch? Does it please you to see Jerusalem going up in smoke? Or to see the walls red with the blood of your fellow citizens? Why do we fear the Romans? Our domestic enemies can wreak sufficient ruin on us. Is it not enough for the Temple to burn with our enemy’s fire? But Philip comes here from the King. [Enter Philip.]
PHIL. King Agrippa desires to show mercy to the rebels, but he has always especially favored those citizens whom the rebel army is attacking, and he wants to spare the Jews for the Romans and spare the Temple and their nation for the Jews. Nor does he consider this uprising to be in his interest. The noble prince has dispatched three thousand horsemen from Trachontis, Aurantis, and Batanaea, that they may join forces against the troublemakers.
AN. The citizens offer thanks to Agrippa worthy of such a great prince, since he is now ready to help our city, afflicted by evil, with his own soldiers and mercifully to support us in this difficult time.
PHIL. Describe the situation in the afflicted city.
AN. The city is troubled on all sides by the worst strife.
PHIL. What part of the city are the armed Zealots holding?
AN. The rebels hold the Lower City. The citizens are trying to keep everyone else out of the Temple.
PHIL. Do they place no limit on their mischief-making?
AN. No, the poison is increasing.
PHIL. Sorrow for this afflicted city grips my troubled mind.
AN All the me our agitated minds should take counsel.
PHIL. By forming what plan?
AN. Our leaders are occupying the Upper City. .
PHIL. I follow your leadership in this struggle.
AN. [Seeing Eleazer approach.] But my son is surrounded by an armed bodyguard.
PHIL. Being his father, why do you not admonish him?
AN. Madness despises anyone who offers good advice. [Exeunt. Enter Eleazer]
ELEAZER Alone, with many Cittizens stirring unarmed.
My stout-hearted soldiers, sacred descendants of your ancestors, are you thus to remain idle after so many crimes, after the great sufferings of our fellow citizens, after all right has been destroyed? Oh, for the virtue of our ancestors, so praiseworthy, who used their strong right hands to suppress Antiochus, raging within the sacred precincts! Is your hand afraid to remove this thief? Judea used to be happy, which once was in captivity but removed the King of Assyria’s yoke from its neck — that unfortunate nation, which ordered our exile but suffered exile itself. But, alas, Florus rages against our backs, impelled by a novel madness: in his bitterness there is nothing that he does not dare. He orders anything at all. Shall we always provide booty for the Romans, as cattle which are wont to graze over the Hyrcanian fields are submissive, fearing the tiger, or like birds, lesser than the eagles? What palace can supply the infinite wealth that could satisfy the huge hunger of this rapacious nation? Even if the Pactolus should contribute all its sand or the Tagus, rich in gold, even if the Red Sea should pledge all its gems, you will never quench the thirst of this greedy governor. Which of our citizens does this bottomless hole, this pit of a governor, not despoil?
But I am complaining about small matters. No manner of killing is too cruel for this man, he has inflicted no kind of punishment on our citizens sufficient to satisfy himself. But let each of you attack the Romans with drawn sword — this is the prime honor of our city. See what a large crowd will follow you. It will be a fair day that sees the ground stained with his dark blood, removing arrogant Rome’s shameful yoke from our holy race and restoring the city to herself. The greatest honor lies in defending the holy shrine, in possessing zeal for God on high.
Now we should occupy the holy Temple. The vine which God planted with His own hand, bidding it spread its tendrils over the cedars and to extend its blessed shoots to the salt sea, it is your duty to defend from the savage boar, nor should you suffer it to be plunder for the wandering stranger who desires to trample it underfoot. God will strengthen your spirits. In the midst of the slaughter of a thousand corpses, He will guard you and confirm you in your strength. [Enter Arsimon.]
ARS. The High Priest has captured the Upper City by force, together with the leading citizens, the royal militia, which has joined him in this war, and the remaining Romans.
EL. The fighting summons me. You, Arsimon, must resist, if in the meantime anybody revolts against us and attacks the Temple. [Exit.]
Let their bee sounding of Trumpets and other noyse of warr after Eleazer bee of the stage.
ARS. Ruler of Heaven’s court, suppress the rebellious spirits of the city, lest they open the Temple for unclean enemies and disrupt the sacred rites. Strengthen the Zealots with Your supernal courage. If our sins warrant condign punishments and we cannot purge ourselves by sacrifice, then You should chastise us, although we are always devoted to You. Let not proud Rome nor its gentile ruler inflict punishment for You, nor let the profane sword have the power in Your camp. Rather, You Yourself should take vengeance and hurl Your missiles at us, lest our fierce enemy, who cultivates a fruitless branch, pollute Your rites by introducing his unclean sacrifices. [Enter Manahem.]
MAN. When unlucky Masada, swiftly overcome by fighting, surrendered herself to me, I seized Agrippa’s armory so that I could arm all my soldiers who had faithfully served me in the war, to surround me like a royal bodyguard. Arsimon, loyal Zealot, what is happening?
ARS. The High Priest has used force to occupy that part of the city where the Upper City rises above the rest and provides a panorama of our proud buildings. Eleazer the Zealot besieges this part and the two sides are throwing stones at each other. Light feathered arrows fly back and forth and slings, whistling in the air, are inflicting wounds.
MAN. Why do I hesitate to join forces with Eleazer? [Exit.]
ARS. The citizens are now preparing to bring a mass of wood to the Temple, in order to provide a year’s worth of fuel for burning the victims. I shall not allow them to approach the Temple. [Enter Manneh, carrying an armload of wood.]
Go away. Where are you bringing that wood, unclean fellow? God rejects the polluted offerings of anybody who would open up the sacred precincts to gentiles.
MAN You forbid me to observe the ritual of carrying the wood?
ARS. Concern for defending the Temple from barbarian pollution, neglected by you, has us Zealots in its grip. Take away your wood. You cannot enter the sanctuary.
MAN. The Temple is denied me. These seditious men control it and prevent us citizens from celebrating the rite of the wood. To what evil does this wrongdoing give birth? [He exits. Shouting offstage.]
ARS. Why are the soldiers raising a shout to heaven? But here comes Agrippa’s steward at a run. [Enter the steward.]
ST. Whatever fighting man fears lest his nation receive an injury, let him defend Agrippa’s palace! The rebels attack it with all-consuming fire. Torches eagerly rage through the entire court, and his sister’ noble apartments burn with crackling flame. Beronice’s home billows with smoke, like a cloud. Her chased vases, her purple-dyed garments, her proud riches lie in ashes. And the home of Anani was set afire. Was their anger satisfied by this arson? No, their sense of outrage scarcely relaxed in the face of fear; rather, it gathered strength.
ARS. Why did anger suddenly stir up their minds?
ST. Why need I say more? What do these irate victors not do? Beset by the soldiers and the angry mob, the panic-stricken royal cohort abandoned the Upper City. The furious Zealots will soon come rushing this way, putting everything in their path to the sword. Those responsible for the public archives took to their heels, grabbing up the public records. For the rebels wanted to destroy all documents pertaining to loans, so that there would be no records of credit or debt. So that the rebels could gather them into the fold, they gave the poor the opportunity of freely committing violence against their wealthy creditors. Thus in their anger they destroyed the public records. Soon the Zealots set fire to the empty building and furiously beset their enemies. First arrows whizzed hither and thither, and the two parties did injury to each other by hurling rocks. Although the king’s forces had the advantage of military training, the other side overwhelmed them by their numbers. For a long time our people resisted the Zealots’ attack. Finally they gave way and turned their back to the enemy .
ARS. Where are your leaders? Where did the High Priest flee?
ST Wherever luck happened to give him a safe refuge. [Exit. Enter Jehuda.]
JEH. Arsimon, loyal follower of Eleazer, do you see Manahem’s arrogance? Although Eleazer put an end to our enemies’ tyranny and struck the yoke of slavery from our necks, this fellow wants to monopolize the war’s glory and lays claim to other men’s honors. But what sort of person is he? Since he is born of lowly parents, his humble birth forbids him from boasting. If henceforth any man is to govern his fellows in this city, let someone occupy the throne who far surpasses Manahem in dignity. This man lately captured Masada by arms and plundered Agrippa’s armory and arsenals, so that he could be surrounded by a bodyguard, like a king. He goes about with his head in the clouds, swollen with pride, glaring with a fierce expression. Did Eleazer conquer and forcibly eject our enemies so that Manahem the tyrant could gain control? The people did not put up with Rome’s arrogant rule so that he could wield the scepter in his right hand.
ARS. Noble Jehuda, dear friend, my mind cannot bear the great arrogance of this base-born captain. When, under his leadership, Anani and his brother Ezechias had been routed and the fighting was brought to a successful conclusion, his monstrous pride uplifted him. Because of this stiff neck of his, his cruelty makes this swollen condition all the worse. He does whatever he wants. We must find a cure for this great evil.
JEH. But see, Manahem makes his way to the Temple. While he is there, fearing nothing, intent on the rites, I shall immediately stab his hateful guts.
ARS. It is a great crime to defile the Temple.
JEH. The death of a hateful man is a pleasing sacrifice to God.
ARS. The irate public will riot again.
JEH. In its great anger the public will turn against this tyrant.
ARS. The upper class will provoke the commons into fighting.
JEH. No, they are hoping that rioting will deprive us of our leader.
ARS. I shall share your undertaking and help you gladly. [Exeunt. Enter Manahem with his bodyguard.]
MAN. I am not a member of the upper class, boasting of my ancestry, nor do I have a lengthy pedigree. My innate courage and the glory earned by my accomplishments ennobles me. Why should one swell with pride because of the virtue of his lineage? He is like a child, always calling for his father, always decorating himself with another bird’s plumage. A father cannot confer honor on a degenerate son. Although I am a subject, my great virtue has lifted me aloft and carried me to the very pinnacle. Then Fortune heaped the greatest good things on me, nor do arms fail me. It is no longer suitable for me to remain a private citizen, government alone pleases me. A large bodyguard protects my side, the public gapes at me. Now I shall enter the Temple in order to offer up incense to God and splash the holy altars with wine, in token of my gratitude.
As soone as he is of the stage and his followers, let there be some stirring in the Temple and resisting one the other. [Enter Alkim.]
Alas, Manahem is cast down, criminally driven off. Two followers of Eleazer were responsible for this attempted murder. When the enraged people saw hands laid on Manahem, they joined in and stoned him, claiming that he was responsible for this rebellion. At first his bodyguard put up a resistance. When they saw they were outnumbered, they ran away. Meanwhile the terrified Manahem hid in Ophlas. There the populace beset him with horrible outrages. Absalom and certain other leaders are killed […] Oh the crime! [Exit.]
Then let diverse runn out of the Temple with bloudy heads and wounds, especially the souldiers which followed Manehem. [Enter Eleazer.]
The morale of my upstart enemies is shattered. The crowded ranks of his brave soldiers are of no avail, either to shoot arrows from their Scythian bows or to send crashing rocks flying. Massacred bodies fill up the suburbs in their heaps. Greedy vultures feed on the flesh, and the Romans pay penalties worthy of their crimes. Gorion, son of Nicomedes, Jehuda bar Jonathas, and you, Ananias, the conquered Romans hope to lay down their arms and whatever else they have under a truce. They only beg that their lives be spared. Give the following message to the Romans. I swear by God Himself, the Avenger of crime, I will give each man his life, but only if they abandon the royal citadel. But when they are defenseless captives in your hands, then let the cruel steel probe their guts, let ravening dogs gnaw their limbs. Metilius has begged for his life. Since he used to worship his ridiculous gods because of the errors from which he has now been liberated, and because now he pledges to obey the rites of the sacred Covenant and desires to be numbered among the citizens of this holy city, let him enjoy his life, granted him by Eleazer.
Go to Act IV of the Third Action