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For The Temple by G. A. Henty

Chapter 11: A Tale Of Civil Strife.

Towards the spring, Simon and his family were surprised by a visit from the Rabbi Solomon Ben Manasseh. It was a year since they had last seen him, when he called to take leave of them, on starting for Jerusalem. They scarcely recognized him as he entered, so old and broken did he look.

|The Lord be praised that I see you all, safe and well!| he said, as they assisted him to dismount from the donkey that he rode. |Ah, my friends, you are happy, indeed, in your quiet farm; free from all the distractions of this terrible time! Looking round here, and seeing you just as I left you -- save that the young people have grown, somewhat -- I could think that I left you but yesterday, and that I have been passing through a hideous nightmare.

|Look at me! My flesh has fallen away, and my strength has gone. I can scarce stand upon my legs, and a young child could overthrow me. I have wept, till my tears are dried up, over the misfortunes of Jerusalem; and yet no enemy has come within sight of her walls, or dug a trench against her. She is devoured by her own children. Ruin and desolation have come upon her.|

The old man was assisted into the house, and food and wine placed before him. Then he was led into the guest chamber, and there slept for some hours. In the evening, he had recovered somewhat of his strength, and joined the party at their meal.

When it was concluded, and the family were alone, he told them what had happened in Jerusalem during the past year. Vague rumors of dissension, and civil war, had reached them; but a jealous watch was set round the city, and none were suffered to leave, under the pretext that all who wished to go out were deserters who sought to join the Romans.

|I passed through, with difficulty,| the rabbi said, |after bribing John of Gischala, with all my worldly means, to grant me a pass through the guards; and even then should not have succeeded, had he not known me in old times, when I looked upon him as one zealous for the defense of the country against the Romans -- little thinking, then, that the days would come when he would grow into an oppressor of the people, tenfold as cruel and pitiless as the worst of the Roman tribunes.

|Last autumn when, with the band of horsemen, with steeds weary with hard riding, he arrived before the gates of Jerusalem -- saying that they had come to defend the city, thinking it not worth while to risk their lives in the defense of a mere mountain town, like Gischala -- the people poured out to meet him, and do him honor Terrible rumors of slaughter and massacre, in Galilee, had reached us, but none knew the exact truth. Moreover, John had been an enemy of Josephus and, since Josephus had gone over to the Romans, his name was hated and accursed among the people; and thus they were favorably inclined towards John.

|I don't think anyone was deceived by the story he told, for it was evident that John and his men had fled before the Romans. Still, the tidings he brought were reassuring, and he was gladly received in the city. He told us that the Romans had suffered very heavily at the sieges of Jotapata and Gamala, that they were greatly dispirited by the desperate resistance they had met with, that a number of their engines of war had been destroyed, and that they were in no condition to undertake the siege of a strong city like Jerusalem. But though all outwardly rejoiced, many in their hearts grieved at the news, for they thought that even an occupation by the Romans would be preferable to the suffering they were undergoing.

|For months, bands of robbers, who called themselves Zealots, had ravaged the whole country; pillaging, burning, and slaying, under the pretense that those they assaulted were favorable to the cause of Rome. Thus, gradually, the country people all forsook their homes, and fled to Jerusalem for refuge and, when the country was left a desert and no more plunder was to be gained, these robber bands gradually entered Jerusalem. As you know, the gates of the holy city were always open to all the Jewish people; and none thought of excluding the strangers who entered, believing that every armed man would add to the power of resistance, when the Romans appeared before it.

|The robbers, who came singly or in small parties from all parts of the country, soon gathered themselves together in the city, and established a sort of terror over the peaceable inhabitants. Men were robbed, and murdered, openly in the street; houses were broken open, and pillaged; none dare walk in the street, without the risk of insult or assault. Antipas, Levias, and Saphias -- all of royal blood -- were seized, thrown into prison, and there murdered; and many others of the principal people were slain.

|Then the robbers proceeded to further lengths. They took upon themselves to appoint a high priest; selected a family which had no claim whatever to the distinction and, drawing lots among them, chose as high priest one Phannias -- a country priest, ignorant, boorish, and wholly unable to discharge the function of the office. Hitherto, the people had submitted to the oppression of the Zealots, but this desecration of the holy office filled them with rage and indignation; and Ananus -- the oldest of the chief priests, a man of piety and wisdom -- was the head of the movement and, calling the people together, exhorted them to resist the tyranny which oppressed them, and which was now desecrating the Temple -- for the Zealots had taken refuge there, and made the holy place their headquarters.

|The people seized their arms, but before they were ready for the attack the Zealots, learning what was going on, took the initiative and fell upon them. The people were less accustomed to arms than their foes, but they had the superiority of numbers, and fought with fury. At first the Zealots gained the advantage, but the people increased in numbers. Those behind pressed those in front forward, and the Zealots were driven back into the Temple, and the Quadrangle of the Gentiles was taken.

|The Zealots fled into the inner court, and closed the gates. Thither their wounded had already been carried, and the whole place was defiled with their blood. But Ananus, having the fear of God before his eyes, did not like to attack them there and, leaving six thousand chosen men on guard in the cloisters, and arranging that these should be regularly relieved, retired.

|Such was the state of things, when John of Gischala arrived. He at once professed complete agreement with the party of Ananus, and was admitted into all their councils; but all the time, as we afterwards learned, he was keeping up a secret correspondence with the Zealots, and betrayed to them all that took place at the council. There was some distrust of him but, in addition to the party that had entered the city with him, he had speedily gathered together many others and, distracted as we already were with our troubles, none cared to add to the number of their enemies by openly distrusting John -- who took many solemn oaths of fidelity to the cause of order.

|He at length volunteered to enter the inner Temple, on a mission to the Zealots; and to persuade them to surrender, and leave the city. But no sooner was he among them than he threw off the mask, and told the Zealots that the offers to allow them to depart in peace were blinds, and that they would at once be massacred if they surrendered. He therefore advised them to resist, and to send for assistance without -- recommending them especially to send to the Idumeans. Eleazar and Zacharias -- the chiefs of the Zealots -- felt sure that they, above all, would be sacrificed if they surrendered; and they embraced John's counsel, and sent off swift-footed messengers to the Idumeans, urging them to come to their assistance.

|The Idumeans had, since their conquest by Hyrcanus, been incorporated with the Jews. They were a fierce and warlike people -- of Arab descent -- and, immediately the messengers of the Zealots arrived, they embraced the proposal, anticipating the acquisition of great plunder in Jerusalem. Marching with all speed, they appeared, twenty thousand strong, before the walls of Jerusalem.

|Although taken completely by surprise -- for none knew that messengers had gone over to the Idumeans -- the people manned the walls; and Jesus, a colleague of Ananus, addressed the Idumeans. He asked them to take one of three courses: either to unite with the people, in punishing the notorious robbers and assassins who were desecrating the Temple; or to enter the city unarmed, and arbitrate between the conflicting parties; or to depart, and leave the city to settle its own difficulties. Simon, the leader of the Idumeans, answered that they came to take the part of the true patriots, against men who were conspiring basely to sell the people into the hands of the Romans.

|At this answer Jesus left the wall, and we held debate upon the situation. Before the arrival of this new enemy, we felt certain of overpowering the Zealots; and Ananus would, ere long, have been persuaded to lay aside his scruples and attack them for, as they were desecrating the sanctuary, it would be better to shed their blood there and, when these wicked men were slain, to offer up atonement and purify the Temple -- as had been done before, in the days of the Maccabees, after the Temple had been defiled.

|We redoubled our guards round the Temple, so that none could issue out thence to communicate with the Idumeans. At night a terrible storm set in, with lightning, thunder, and rain, so that the very earth seemed to shake. A great awe fell upon all, within and without the city. To all, it seemed a sign of the wrath of God at the civil discords; but though, doubtless, it was the voice of the Almighty, it was rather a presage of further evils.

|Under shelter of the storm -- which drove all the guards to take refuge -- some of the Zealots cut asunder the bars of the gate, and crept along the street to the wall. Then they sawed through the bars of the gate that faced the Idumeans, who were trembling with terror in the storm. Unseen by anyone, the Idumeans entered the gate, marched through the city, and approached the Temple. Then they fell upon our guards, while the Zealots attacked them from behind.

|Furious at the hours they had passed exposed to the tempest, ashamed of their fears, and naturally pitiless and cruel, the Idumeans gave no quarter; and a terrible carnage took place among the ten thousand men who had been placed in the outer court of the Temple. Some fought desperately, others threw themselves down from the wall into the city and, when morning dawned, eight thousand five hundred of our best fighting men had been slain.

|As soon as it was daylight, the Idumeans broke into the city, pillaging and slaying. The high priests, Ananus and Jesus, were among those who were slain; and in that terrible night were extinguished the last hopes of saving Jerusalem.

|Ananus was a man of the highest character. He had labored unceasingly to place the city in a posture of defense; believing, and rightly, that the stronger were its walls, and the more formidable the resistance it could offer, the better chance there was of obtaining favorable terms from the Romans. Ananus was the leader and hope of the peace party, which comprised all the respectable classes, and all the older and wiser men in Jerusalem. His death left the conduct of affairs in the hands of the thoughtless, the rash, and the desperate.

|The massacre continued for days, the Idumeans hunting the citizens in the streets. Vast numbers were killed, without question. The young men of the upper classes were dragged to prison, and were there scourged and tortured to force them to join the Zealots, but not one would do so. All preferred death. Thus perished twelve thousand of the best and wisest in Jerusalem.

|Then the Zealots set up a tribunal and, by proclamation, assembled seventy of the principal citizens remaining to form a court; and before it brought Zacharias, the son of Baruch -- an upright, patriotic, and wealthy man. Him they charged with entering into correspondence with the Romans, but produced no shadow of evidence against him. Zacharias defended himself boldly, clearly establishing his own innocence, and denouncing the iniquities of his accusers. The seventy unanimously acquitted the prisoner, preferring to die with him, to condemning an innocent man. The Zealots rushed forward, with cries of rage, and slew Zacharias and, with blows and insults, turned the judges out of the Temple.

|The Idumeans at length began to weary of massacre, and were sated with pillage and, declaring that they had been deceived by the Zealots, and that they believed no treason had been intended, they left the city; first opening the prisons, and releasing two thousand persons confined there, who fled to Simon the son of Gioras, who was wasting the country toward Idumea.

|The Zealots, after their departure, redoubled their iniquities; and seemed as if they would leave none alive, save the lowest of the people. Gorion, a great and distinguished man, was among the slain. Niger of Peraea, who had been the leader in the attack on the Romans at Ascalon -- a noble and true-hearted patriot -- was also murdered. He died calling upon the Romans to come to avenge those who had been thus murdered; and denouncing famine, pestilence, and civil massacre, as well as war, against the accursed city.

|I had lain hidden, with an obscure family, with whom I had lodged during these terrible times. So great was the terror and misery in the city that those who lived envied the dead. It was death to bury even a relative, and both within and without the city lay heaps of bodies, decaying in the sun.

|Even among the Zealots themselves, factions arose. John of Gischala headed one party, and that the more violent. Over these he ruled with absolute authority, and occupied one portion of the city. The other party acknowledged no special leader. Sometimes, then, the factions fought among themselves; but neither side ceased from plundering and murdering the inhabitants.

|Such, my friends, was the condition of Jerusalem when I left it; having, as I told you, purchased a permission from John of Gischala to pass through the guards at the gates.

|As I traveled here, I learned that another danger threatens us. The sect called the Assassins, as you know, seized the strong fortress of Masada, near the Dead Sea, at the beginning of the troubles. Until lately, they have been content to subsist on the plunder of the adjacent country but, on the night of the Passover, they surprised Engaddi, dispersed all who resisted, and slew seven hundred women and children who could not escape. They carried off the contents of the granaries, and are now wasting the whole region.

|What hope can there be of success, my friends, when, with an enemy close to their gates, the Jews are slaying more of their fellow countrymen than the Romans themselves? Did ever a country present so humiliating and terrible a spectacle? Were such atrocities ever perpetrated by men upon their brothers? And yet, the madmen still believe that the Almighty will deliver them -- will save from destruction that Temple which they have polluted, the altars that they have deluged with blood.|

When the rabbi had finished his narration, there was a long silence. Martha was in tears, at the recital of the misery which was endured by the inhabitants of Jerusalem; Simon sat with his face covered with his hands; John had scarce moved, since the rabbi had begun his story, but sat with a heavy frown on his face, looking straight before him; while Mary anxiously watched him, to see the effect of the recital upon him.

Simon was the first to speak.

|It is a tale of mourning, lamentation, and woe that you have told us, rabbi. Not even in the days of our captivity in Babylon were the Jewish people fallen so low. Let us to bed now. These things are too terrible to speak of, until we have laid them before the Lord, and asked his guidance. I wonder not, now, rabbi, that years seem to have rolled over your head since we last met.|

The others rose. Mary, as she passed John, laid her hands on his shoulder with a caressing action -- which was very rare to her, for she generally behaved to him as to a brother, holding any exhibition of greater affection unmaidenly, until the days of betrothal were ended. The action seemed to recall John from his gloomy thought, and he smiled down at her anxious face; then, when the others went off to their apartments, he went out into the night air and stood for hours, nearly immovable, with his eyes fixed on the stars.

In the morning, Mary joined him in the garden; as had come to be their custom, this being the only time in the day when they were alone together.

|Well, John?| she asked.

He understood her question.

|I have thought it over, Mary, in every way; but I cannot see that my duty is changed by what we heard last night. Affection for you, and my parents, would keep me here; and I wish that I could see that my duty could go hand in hand with my wishes. I have been sorely tempted to yield -- to resign the struggle, to remain here in peace and quiet -- but I should never be happy. I do not believe that I am, as so many think, specially called to be a deliverer -- though God has assuredly specially protected and aided me -- but, did I draw back now, it would be a grievous discouragement to many. I have put my hand to the plow, and cannot look back.

|God has permitted these miseries to fall upon Jerusalem, doubtless, as a punishment for the sins of the people. It may be yet that his wrath will be abated, and that he will remember the mercies of old. He has suffered his Temple to be profaned, but it may not be his purpose to allow it to be destroyed, utterly. The evil doings, therefore, of evil men do not release us from our duty; and it has always been held the chief duty of all Jews to die, if need be, in defense of the Temple. Never, so long as that stands, can we say that the Lord has wholly turned his face from us -- that he purposes another period of exile, and captivity, to befall his people.

|Therefore, Mary, I shall go on as I have intended; warring against the Romans, and doing what I can to hinder their advance against Jerusalem. I think that the war may last longer than I had expected. Vespasian will have heard -- from those who, like the rabbi, have escaped from Jerusalem -- what is going on within the city; and knowing the great strength of its walls; and judging, from what he saw at Jotapata and Gamala, how desperate would be its resistance, were he to appear before it, he may well decide to leave it for the present; suffering the population to prey upon each other, to consume their provisions and waste their strength till, when he marches against it, there will be no longer men left to man the walls.|

|I thought you would decide so, John,| Mary said, quietly; |and much as I love you -- for I do love you, John -- I would rather part with you so, never to see you again, than that you should draw back now. I set you up on a pedestal, before I knew that it was you who was my hero; and I would not have it said that he, of whom such high hopes were cherished, drew back from the enterprise he had taken up. Rather would I mourn for you, all my life, than that men should say of you:

|'This is he of whom we said, he is the deliverer; but who shrank from the dangers of battle, and threw down his country's sword.'|

|Thank you, Mary. I am glad to hear you say so. I thought that I was right, but it was very hard so to decide. And, now that you agree with me, my chief cause for hanging back is removed. Henceforth, I shall trouble no more over it. My conscience tells me that I am right to go. You say go, also. Therefore now, whatever betides, I shall not blame myself; but shall feel that I could not have taken any other course.|

|I have faith, John, that you will come back to me, when the troubles are over. I believe that, whatever may happen at Jerusalem, you will be spared to me. I think that it was either for the country, or for me, that your life was spared, alone of all those that fought at Jotapata; and I mean to keep on thinking so. It will keep up my spirits, while you are away, and will help me to cheer our mother.|

|If the Romans do not move upon Jerusalem, I may be able to be often at home. Our policy will be to strike a blow; and then, when the Romans gather in force, to scatter and disappear; so that I may often be home, until the time comes when the enemy gather round Jerusalem.

|But at any rate, Mary, I shall try and believe that your hope is well founded; and that, in the end, I shall return alive to you. Certainly I shall not spare my life; for, when one takes up the post of a leader of his fellows, he must never hang back from danger, but must be always in the front. At the same time, I shall never forget that you are thinking and praying for me, and will never throw away my life recklessly; and if the time comes when I see that all is lost -- that fighting is no longer of avail -- I will neither rush into the enemy's ranks to die, nor will I throw down my arms and die unresisting, nor will I slay myself with my own weapons; but I will strive, in every way, to save my life for your sake, having done all that I could for our country, and the Temple.|

|That is all I ask, John. I am quite content to wait here, until the day comes that you shall return; and then, though our cause be lost, our country ruined, and God's Temple destroyed, we can yet feel that God has been good and merciful to us -- even if we be driven out of our home, and have to become exiles, in a far land.|

A week later, the news came that the Romans were preparing to take the field. The young men of the village at once started, as messengers, through the country. At night, a vast pile of brushwood was lighted on the hill above Gamala; and answering fires soon blazed out from other heights. At the signal, men left their homes on the shores of Galilee, in the cities of the plains, in the mountains of Peraea and Batanaea. Capitolias, Gerisa and Pella, Sepphoris, Caphernaum and Tiberias -- and even the towns and villages almost within sight of Caesar's camp, at Caesarea -- sent their contingents and, in twenty-four hours, eight thousand armed men were gathered on the slopes of Mount Galaad.

Each man brought with him grain, sufficient for a week's consumption; and all had, according to their means, brought money, in accordance with the instructions John and the other commanders had issued. For John held that although -- as they were fighting for the country -- they must, if necessary, live upon the country; yet that, as far as possible, they should abstain from taking food without payment, and so run the risk of being confounded with the bands who, under the cloak of patriotism, plundered and robbed the whole country.

The bands assembled, each under their leaders. It was easy to see that they had come from different localities. Tarichea and Tiberias had both sent two companies, and the aspect of these differed widely from that of the companies of peasants, raised in the villages on the slopes of Hermon or among the mountains of Peraea; but all seemed animated by an equal feeling of devotion, and of confidence in their young leader.

John, after carefully inspecting his own band, visited the camps of the other companies; and was everywhere received with acclamations. He addressed each company in turn -- not only urging them to show bravery, for that every Jew had shown, who had fought against the Romans -- but pointing out that far more than this was required. While they must be ready to give their lives, when need be; they must be equally ready to shun the fight, to scatter and fly, when their leaders gave the orders. It was not by bravery that they could hope to overcome the Romans; but by harassing them night and day, by attacking their camps, cutting off their convoys, and giving them no rest. Above all, obedience was required.

|Look at the Roman soldiers,| he said. |They have no wills of their own. They advance, or retreat; they attack, when they know that those who first attack must die; they support all hardships and fatigues; they accomplish marvels, in the way of work; they give themselves up, in fact, to obey the orders given them, never questioning whether those orders are the best, but blindly obeying them; and so it must be, here, if we are to fight the Romans with a chance of success.

|The most useful man here -- the man who will do best service to his country -- is not he who is strongest, or bravest, but he who is most prompt in his obedience to orders. The true hero is he who gives up his will and, if need be, his life, at the order of his leader. You have chosen your own officers, and I have confirmed the choice that you have made. It is for you, now, to give them your support and assistance. There will be hardships, these must be borne without complaint; there will be delays, these must be supported with patience; there will be combats and dangers, these must be met with confidence and courage -- believing that God will give you success; and that, although the issue of the strife is in his hands, each of you should do his best, by his conduct and courage, to gain success.

|We shall not act in one great body, for we could not find food, in the villages, for so large a number. Moreover, to do so would be to give the Romans an opportunity of massing their forces against us, of surrounding and destroying us. On great occasions, and for a great object, we may gather together and unite our forces. At other times, although acting upon a general plan, and in concert with each other, each company will work independently. So we shall elude the Romans. When they strike at us, we shall be gone. When they try to inclose us, we shall disperse. When they pursue one body, others will fall upon them. When they think that we are in one part of the country, we will be striking a blow in another. When they fancy themselves in security, we will fall upon them. We will give them no rest, or peace.|

John's addresses were received with shouts of approval. By the great majority of those present, he was now seen for the first time; but his appearance, the tone of authority with which he spoke, his air of confidence, and the manner in which he had evidently thought out the plans of action, and prepared for all contingencies, confirmed the reports which they had heard of him; and the conviction that he was a specially appointed leader was deepened, and strengthened. How otherwise could one who was a mere youth speak with such firmness, and authority?

The memories of the Jews were stored with legends of the prowess of Judas the Maccabean, and his brothers; and of other leaders who had, from time to time, arisen and enabled them to clear their country of oppressors; and they were thus prepared to accept, willingly, those who appeared to them specially sent as leaders, and the question of age and experience weighed but little with them. Moreover, as none had been trained as soldiers, there were none who had to set aside superior claims.

Samuel had been chosen as a child, Saul was the youngest of his brethren, and David a lad when he slew the champion of the Philistines. Such being the case, the youth of John was no drawback, in the eyes of his followers; and indeed the fact that, being still a youth, he had yet escaped from Jotapata, where all his elders had died; and that he had inflicted a heavy blow upon the Romans, when all others who had opposed them had perished, seemed in itself a proof that he was under special protection.

John probably believed in himself less than did any man among his followers. Piously and devoutly brought up, he saw in the two escapes that he had had, from death at the hands of the Romans, signs of a special protection of God. But, while he hoped that he might be able to do the Romans much harm, he had not any conviction that he was destined to deliver his country. He had none of the fervent enthusiasm of men who are convinced that they have a divine mission, and that miracles would be wrought in his favor.

He had seen the tremendous strength of the Roman army, as it defiled from the mountains before Jotapata. He had learned the power of their war engines, and had evidence of their discipline, their bravery and perseverance; and had no idea that such a force as that gathered round him could cope with the legions of Rome. Still, that firm and pious belief, which was so deeply ingrained in the heart of the Jews, that God specially interested himself in them -- that he personally directed everything that befell them, and intervened in every incident of their history -- had its natural effect upon him.

His training taught him that he was an instrument in God's hands and, although he hardly even hoped that he was destined to be a deliverer of Jerusalem, he thought that God might intend him to do great things for his people. At any rate, while never claiming any special authority -- or to have, more than those around him, any special mission -- he was careful not to damp the enthusiasm of his followers, by disclaiming the mission they attributed to him; knowing how much such a belief added to his authority, and to the efficiency of the force under his command.

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