Continuing in this series, I want to highlight the history surrounding the final siege of Jerusalem, which Eusebius describes as "Divine vengeance" that "did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against the Christ of God." Most noteworthy are the explicit references to Matthew 24 and Luke 21 (and their parallels with Mark 13, describing the same prophecies by Jesus), which illustrate how common and obvious these "fulfillments" of prophecy were understood to be in the first few centuries of the early Christian church. And as I will show in future posts in this series, Eusebius was definitely not alone when he interpreted Matthew 24 and Luke 21 as being fulfilled in the first century.
Describing the final siege of Jerusalem, the promised famine1 which oppressed the economy of the Jewish nation, the predictions of Jesus, and the signs which preceded the Jewish war, Eusebius says:
After Nero had held the government about thirteen years, Galba and Otho reigned about a year and six months. Vespasian, who had become illustrious in the campaign against the Jews, was then proclaimed sovereign in Judea, receiving the title of emperor from the armies there. Directing his course, therefore, immediately to Rome, he commits the care of the war against the Jews, into the hands of his son Titus; for after the ascension of our Saviour, the Jews, in addition to their wickedness against him, were now incessantly plotting mischief against his apostles.
First, they slew Stephen by stoning him, next James the son of Zebedee, and the brother of John, by beheading, and finally James, who first obtained the episcopal seat at Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour, and was slain in the manner before related. But the rest of the apostles, who were harassed in innumerable ways, with a view to destroy them, and driven from the land of Judea, had gone forth to preach the gospel to all nations, relying upon the aid of Christ, when he said, “Go ye, teach all nations in my name.”2 The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city,3 and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here, those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea: the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles, finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evil-doers from the earth.
But the number of calamities which then overwhelmed the whole nation; the extreme misery to which particularly the inhabitants of Judea were reduced; the vast numbers of men, with women and children that fell by the sword and famine, and innumerable other forms of death; the numerous and great cities of Judea that were besieged, as also the great and incredible distresses that they experienced who took refuge at Jerusalem, as a place of perfect security; these facts, as well as the whole tenor of the war, and each particular of its progress, when, finally, the abomination of desolation,4 according to the prophetic declaration, stood in the very temple of God, so celebrated of old, but which now was approaching its total downfall and final destruction by fire; all this, I say, any one that wishes may see accurately stated in the history written by Josephus.
It may, however, be necessary to state, in the very words of this writer, how about three hundred thousand that flocked from all parts of Judea at the time of the passover, were shut up in Jerusalem as in a prison. For it was indeed just, that in those very days in which they had inflicted sufferings upon the Saviour and Benefactor of all men, the Christ of God, destruction should overtake them, thus shut up as in a prison, as an exhibition of the divine justice. Passing by, then, the particular calamities which befel them, such as they suffered from the sword, and other means employed against them, I may deem it sufficient only to subjoin the calamities they endured from the famine. So that they who peruse the present history may know, in some measure, that the divine vengeance did not long delay to visit them for their iniquity against the Christ of God.Let us, then, with the fifth book of Josephus’s history again in our hands, go through the tragedy of events which then occurred. “It was equally dangerous,” says he,
“for the more wealthy to remain. For under the pretext of desertion, a man was slain for his wealth. But the madness of the rioters increased with the famine, and both kinds of misery were inflamed from day to day. Provisions were plainly nowhere to be had. Hence they burst into houses to search for food, and if they found any, they would scourge the owners as if they intended to deny they had it; but if they found none, they tortured them as if they had carefully concealed it. The bodies of the poor wretches, however, were evidence enough whether they had or had not. Some of them, therefore, that were yet sound in health, they supposed to have an abundance of food, but those that were wan and pallid they passed by; for it seemed absurd to kill men that were soon likely to die for want. Many secretly exchanged their property for a single measure of wheat, if they happened to be the more wealthy; of barley, if they were of the poorer sort. Then locking themselves in the most retired parts of their houses, some, from excessive hunger, ate the grain unprepared; others, however, baked it according as necessity or fear directed. As to a table, there was none set any where; but taking the food from the fire, they tore it asunder yet crude and raw.
Wretched indeed was the fare, and a lamentable sight it was, where the most powerful grasped after all, and the weaker were constrained to mourn. For famine surpasses all other evils, but it destroys nothing so effectually as shame; for that which would otherwise demand some regard is contemned in this. Thus wives tore away the food from the very mouths of their husbands, children from their parents, and what was most wretched of all. mothers from their infants; so that whilst their dearest children lay wasting in their arms, there was not shame enough to prevent them taking away the very drops that supported life. And even in doing this, they did not remain undiscovered; for whenever they saw a door locked, this was a sign that those within were taking food, and then immediately bursting open the doors they rushed in, and choked them, almost forcing the morsels out of their very throats. Old men were beaten that held back their food, and women were torn by the hair, if they concealed what they had in their hands. Nor was there any pity for gray hairs or for infants; but taking up the infants while clinging to the morsels, dashed them to the ground. But they were much more cruel to those who anticipated their entrance, and were devouring what they wished to seize, just as if they had been wronged by them.
They also devised terrible modes of torture, to discover where there was any food. For by cruel devices to prevent every relief of nature, they caused the unhappy individual to suffer such torment,* that the very recital makes one shudder at what he would endure, before he confessed that he had one loaf of bread, or that he had a single handful of wheat concealed. The tormentors themselves, however, suffered no want; for it might have been some palliation, if necessity had compelled them thus. But they did it with the view to exercise their ferocity and to provide for themselves for the following days. When any crept forth at night to the outposts of the Romans, for the purpose of collecting wild herbs and grass, these tormentors would go out to meet them, and when they seemed just to have escaped the hands of the enemy, the oppressors robbed them of whatever they brought. And very often, though they entreated them, and conjured them by the most awful name of God, to give them some part of that for which they had risked their lives, they notwithstanding gave them nothing. It was a happy circumstance yet, if, in addition to robbery, they were not also slain.”
This same author, after a few particulars, also says:
“But with the hope of egress was cut off all hope of safety to the Jews, and the famine now penetrating deeply, was consuming the people by houses and families. The houses were filled with women and children that had thus perished; the byways with the dead bodies of old men. But the boys and young men, swelling up, tottered and reeled like shadows through the markets, and then falling down, lay wheresoever the malady had overtaken them. The sick were not even able to bury their dead, and those yet in health and strength were loth to do it, both on account of the number of the dead, and the uncertainty of their own fate. Many, indeed, fell down and died upon those they were burying; many went to the sepulchres, even before they were overtaken by the struggles of death. There was, however, neither weeping nor lamentation, for the famine prevailed over all affection. With tearless eyes did they who were yet struggling with death, look on those that had gone to rest before them. A deep silence and deadly gloom pervaded the city. But more oppressive than all these, were the robbers that broke into the houses, now mere sepulchres, and spoiling the dead, and tearing off the garments of their bodies, went off with a laugh. They would also try the points of their swords in the dead bodies, and some of those that were lying yet alive, they thrust through, in order to try the edge of their weapons. But those that prayed them the relief of their arm and sword, they contemptuously left to be destroyed by the famine; whilst those expiring died with their eyes fixed upon the temple, and left the factious to survive them. These, at first, not bearing the effluvia from the dead bodies, ordered them to be buried out of the public treasury; afterwards, when they were not able to continue this, they threw the bodies from the walls into the ditches below. As Titus went around these, and saw them filled with the dead, and the deep gore flowing around the putrid bodies, he groaned heavily, and raising his hands, called God to witness that it was none of his work.”
After some additional remarks, Josephus proceeds:
“I cannot hesitate to declare what my feelings demand. I think that had the Romans lingered to proceed against these guilty wretches, the city would either have been swallowed up by the opening earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or, like Sodom, been struck with the lightning. For it bore a much more impious race than those who once endured such visitations. Thus, by the madness of these wretches, the whole people perished.”
In the sixth book, he also writes thus:
“Of those that perished by the famine in the city, there fell an infinite number. The miseries that befel them were indescribable; for at every house, wherever there was a shadow of food, there was war. The nearest relatives contended with one another, to seize the wretched supports of life. There was no belief that hunger was the cause, even when they saw the dying; but the robbers would search them whilst yet breathing, lest any one should pretend that he was dying, whilst he concealed food in his bosom. But the robbers themselves, with their mouths wide open for want of food, roved and straggled hither and thither, like mad dogs, beating the doors as if they were drunk; and for want of counsel, rushing twice or thrice an hour into the same houses. Indeed, necessity forced them to apply their teeth to every thing, and gathering what was no food, even for the filthiest of irrational animals, they devoured it, and did not abstain at last even from belts and shoes. They took off the hides from their shields and devoured them, and some used even the remnants of old straw as food; others gathered the stubble, and sold a very small weight of it for four Attic drachms.*
And why should we speak of the excessive severity of the famine as displayed by eating such inanimate objects? I am going to relate a piece of wickedness, such as is not recorded either by Greeks or barbarians. It is horrid to relate, and incredible to hear. And indeed, lest I should appear to deal in marvellous stories, I would cheerfully pass by this occurrence, if I had not innumerable witnesses still living. I should also deserve but cold thanks from my country, if I should pass by in carelessness what she in reality did suffer.
A woman that dwelt beyond the Jordan, named Maria, the daughter of Eleazar, of the village Bathezor, signifying ‘the home of hyssop,’ distinguished for her family and wealth, having taken refuge at Jerusalem among the rest of the multitude, was shut up in the city with them. The tyrants had already robbed her of all her other possessions, as much as she had collected, and brought with her from beyond the river into the city. But as to the relics of her property, and whatever food she provided, the ruffians daily rushing in, seized and bore it away. A dreadful indignation overpowered the woman, and frequently reviling and cursing the robbers, she endeavourecd by these means to irritate them against herself. But as no one either through resentment or pity would slay her, and she was weary of providing food for others, and there was now no probability of finding it any where; the famine now penetrated the very bowels and marrow, and resentment raged more violently than the famine. Urged by frenzy and necessity as her councillors, she proceeded against nature herself. Seizing her little son, who was yet at her breast, she said, ‘Wretched child! in the midst of war, famine, and faction, for what do I preserve thee? Our condition among the Romans, though we might live, is slavery. But even slavery is anticipated by famine, and the assassins are more cruel than either—come, be thou food to me, Fury* to the assassins, and a tale for men, the only one yet wanting to complete the miseries of the Jews.’ As she said this, she slew her son; then, roasting him, she ate one half herself, and covering over the rest, she kept it.
It was not long before the murderers came in, and perceiving the fumes of the execrable food, they threatened immediately to slay her if she did not produce what she had prepared. She answered she had reserved a fine portion of it for them, and then uncovered the relics of her son. Horror and amazement immediately seized them. They stood mute with the sight. ‘This is my own son,’ said she, ‘and the deed is mine. Eat, for I too have eaten, be not more delicate than a woman, nor more tender than a mother; but if you are so pious, and reject my offering, I have already eaten half, and let the rest remain for me.’ After this, they indeed went trembling away, cowardly at least in this one instance, and yet scarcely yielding to the mother even this kind of food. Forthwith the whole city was filled with the dreadful crime, and every one placing the wickedness before his eyes, was struck with a horror as if it had been perpetrated by himself. Thenceforth the wretched people, overcome with hunger, only strove to hasten death; and it was a happiness yet for those who died before they heard and saw miseries like these.”
Such, then, was the vengeance that followed the guilt and impiety of the Jews against the Christ of God. To these accounts it may be proper to add the sure prediction of our Saviour, in which he foretold these very events as follows:
“But woe to them that are with child and those that give suck in those days; but pray that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the Sabbath. But there shall be then great distress, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither may be.”5
The historian, adding up the whole number of those slain, says, that eleven hundred thousand perished by famine and the sword, and that the rest, the factious and robbers, mutually informing against each other, after the capture, were put to death. Of the young men, the tallest, and those that were distinguished for beauty, were preserved for the triumph. Of the remaining multitude, those above seventeen were sent prisoners to labour at the mines in Egypt. But great numbers were distributed to the provinces, to be destroyed by the sword or wild beasts in the theatres. Those under seventeen were carried away to be sold as slaves. Of these alone, there were upwards of ninety thousand.
All this occurred in this manner, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, according to the predictions of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who by his divine power foresaw all these things, as if already present at the time, who wept and mourned indeed at the prospect, as the holy evangelists show in their writings. These give us the very words that he uttered, when he said to this same Jerusalem,
“If thou didst know, even thou, in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace, but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days will come upon thee, and thy enemies shall cast a trench around thee, and shall encompass thee around, and shall every where shut thee in, and they shall level thee and thy children with the ground.”6
Afterwards he speaks as if of the people:
“For there shall be great distress upon earth, and wrath upon this people, and they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and they shall be carried away captive to all nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the nations, until the times of the nations shall be fulfilled.”7
“When ye shall see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that her desolation has drawn near.”8
On comparing the declarations of our Saviour with the other parts of the historian’s work, where he describes the whole war, how can one fail to acknowledge and wonder at the truly divine and extraordinary foreknowledge and prediction of our Saviour?
Concerning the events, then, that befel the Jews after our Saviour’s passion, and those outcries in which the multitude of the Jews refused the condemnation of a robber and murderer, but entreated that the Prince of Life should be destroyed, it is superfluous to add to the statement of the historian. Yet it may be proper to mention, also, what things occurred that show the benignity of that all-gracious Providence that had deferred, their destruction for forty years after their crimes against Christ.9 During which time the greater part of the apostles and disciples, James himself, the first bishop there, usually called the brother of our Lord, still surviving, and still remaining at Jerusalem, continued the strongest bulwark of the place. Divine Providence yet bearing them with long-suffering, to see whether by repentance for what they had done, they might obtain pardon and salvation; and beside this long-suffering, it also presented wonderful prodigies of what was about to happen to those that did not repent; all which having been recorded by the historian already cited, it well deserved to be submitted to the view of our readers.Taking, then, the work of this author, read for yourself the account given by him in the sixth book of his history. “The wretched people,” says he,
“at this time were readily persuaded to give credit to the impostors and liars against God, but they neither believed nor paid regard to the significant and wonderful events that prognosticated the approaching desolation. On the contrary, as if struck with stupidity, and as if they had neither eyes nor understanding, they slighted the declarations of God. At one time, when a star very like a sword stood above the city, as also a comet that continued to be seen a whole year; at another, when before the rebellion and the commotions that preceded the war, whilst the people were collected at the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth of the month of April, about the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone around the altar and the temple, as to seem a bright day. And this continued for half an hour. To the ignorant this appeared a good omen, but by the scribes it was immediately judged to refer to the events that took place at the issue. At the same festival also, a cow struck by the priest for sacrifice, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. The eastern gate also of the inner temple, which was of brass and immense weight, and which at evening was scarcely shut by twenty men, and resting on iron-bound hinges, and secured with bolts very deeply sunk in the ground, was seen in the sixth hour of the night to open of itself.But not many days alter the feast, on the twenty-first of the month of Artimisinm, a wonderful spectre was seen, which surpasses all belief. And indeed, that which I am about to tell would appear a prodigy, were it not related by those who had seen it, and unless the subsequent miseries had corresponded to the signs. For before the setting of the sun there were seen chariots and armed troops on high, wheeling through the clouds around the whole region, and surrounding the cities. And at the festival called Pentecost, the priests entering the temple at night, according to their custom, to perform the service, said they first perceived a motion and noise, and after this a confused voice, saying, ‘let us go hence.’ But what follows is still more awful.One Jesus, the son of Ananias, a common and ignorant rustic, four years before the war, when the city was most at peace and well regulated, coming to the festival, at which it was customary for all to make tabernacles at the temple, to the honour of God, suddenly began to cry out, ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the temple, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against all people.’ This man went about crying through all the lanes, night and day. But some of the more distinguished citizens, being offended at the ominous cry, and enraged at the man, seized him, and scourged him with many and severe lashes. But without uttering a word for himself or privately to those present, he still persisted in the cries he had before uttered. The magistrates therefore, judging what it really was, a more than ordinary divine movement in the man, conducted him to the Roman governor. Then, though he was scourged to the bone, he neither entreated nor shed a tear. But, lowering his voice in as mournful a tone as was possible, he answered to every blow, ‘Woe to Jerusalem!’ ”
The same historian relates a fact still more remarkable. He says,
“that an oracular passage was found in the sacred writings, declaring that about this time a certain one proceeding from that region would obtain the sovereignty of the world.”
This prediction, he supposed, was fulfilled in Vespasian. He, however, did not obtain the sovereignty over the whole world, but only over the Romans. More justly, therefore, would it be referred to Christ, to whom it was said by the Father,
“Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”9 Of whom, indeed, at this very time, “the sound of the holy apostles went throughout all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”10
Continuing a few pages later, Eusebius adds:
It was also said that Vespasian, after the capture of Jerusalem, commanded all of the family of David to be sought, that no one might be left among the Jews who was of the royal stock, and that in consequence another very violent persecution was raised against the Jews.
1 In Matthew 24:7, Jesus says that "Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famine and earthquakes against places (κατά τόπος)"
2 Matthew 28:19
3 In Luke 21:21-22 (c.f. Matt 24:15-17), Jesus says that "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that her desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country stay out of the city, for these are the days of vengeance to fulfill all that is written."
4 In Matthew 24:15-17, Jesus says that "So when you see standing in the holy place the Abomination of Desolation described by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), then let those in Judea flee to the mountains..."
* The passages that we have here thrown into one, are thus given by Valesius: ‘Nam miseris hominibns ipsos quidem genitalium meatus ervis obturabant, podicem præacutis sudibus transfigebant.’
* Attic drachms. The drachma was a coin of about 7½d. Some make it more. Shorting, in his translation, has computed the four drachms to be half a pound sterling, and refers to his note on Bk. I. ch. viii. He there states very correctly, that four Attic drachms equal one ordinary shekel, and the shekel to be 2s. 6d., but by some unaccountable oversight, makes the four drachms equal to ten shillings! He appears to have substituted the value of the shekel for the drachm, as the reader will readily see. But what is still more surprising, this error has been transcribed by Reading in his accurate edition of Valesius. See Reading’s edition in loc.
* Fury or vengeance. The Erynnes or Furies, according to the belief of the ancients, were among the tormenting fiends of Tartarus.
5 Matthew 24:19-20
6 Luke 19:42-44
7 Luke 21:23-24
8 Luke 21:20
9 Psalm 2:8
10 Psalm 19:4
Valesius. (1847). Life of Eusebius Pamphilus. In Parker S.E. (Trans.), An Ecclesiastical History to the 20th Year of the Reign of Constantine (pp. 104–115, 118). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.