This tale follows the adventures of John of Gamala during the years of Roman occupation, political infighting, and lawlessness that resulted in the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. It puts the reader at the heart of the conflict between Rome and the greedy political groups and robber bands of Palestine. Although fighting a losing struggle, John keeps his integrity and honor intact, even overcoming slavery and eventually becoming a procurator after the struggle.
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John's troops had pursued precisely the same tactics as in the previous year and had contented themselves with harassing the Romans whenever the latter entered difficult country and in preventing them from sending out small foraging parties. John himself would not have called his men under arms, as he saw that no real advantage was gained, but the men were eager to go, and he saw that there was a considerable advantage in their continued practice in arms, in the quickness with which they worked together, and in the confidence which they had in themselves.
The company suffered but slight loss in the operations, but John himself had an adventure which nearly cost him his life. Vespasian, with the bulk of his army, was encamped at Hebron, while Titus was at Carmelia, near the Dead Sea. John's company were in the hills near Hebron, and he, wishing to examine the Roman position at Carmelia and the road between the two towns, started by himself. He carried, as usual, his buckler, two light javelins, and a sword. The road led down a series of precipitous valleys, and John, knowing that he could instantly gain the hills out of reach of danger, did not hesitate to descend into it.
He was now nineteen, strong, active, and sinewy. The position in which he had been placed had given him the habit of command, and the heavy responsibility which had devolved upon him had added two or three years to his apparent age. He was taller than most of his countrymen, broad across the shoulders, and a match for any single man under his command. As he walked along, he heard the sound of a horse's footsteps coming up the valley. He sprang a short distance up the craggy hillside and then paused as a single horseman came in sight.
As he came a little nearer, John saw by the splendor of his armor and that of the horse he was riding, that he was an officer of rank and distinction. John scorned to fly before a single foe and stood quietly watching him till he came nearly abreast of him. The horseman reined up his charger and, without a word, seized his javelin and hurled it at the armed figure standing on the hillside some thirty feet above him. John sprang lightly aside, and the missile struck the rock with a sharp clang close to him. In return, he threw a javelin at the Roman, which struck him on the armor and fell blunted.
"Well thrown!" the Roman said calmly and hurled a second javelin. The stroke was too swift to avoid, but John threw up his buckler so as to receive it at an angle, and the javelin glanced off and flew far up the hillside. This time, John sprang down the rocks with the activity of a goat till within a few feet of the Roman. Then he threw his javelin at the horse, with so true an aim that it struck at a spot unprotected by armor, and the animal fell.
With an exclamation of anger, the Roman threw himself off as the animal sank beneath his legs. He had already drawn his sword as John approached, and stood at once on the defensive. Without a moment's hesitation, John sprang at him, and the combat commenced. John trusted to his activity, while the Roman had an immense advantage in his heavy armor, John being unprotected save by his buckler. The Roman stood calm and confident while John attacked, moving quickly round and round him, springing in to deliver a blow, and then bounding out of reach of the sweep of the heavy Roman sword.
For some time the combat continued. John had received two or three severe wounds, while, although the Roman was bleeding, his armor protected him from any serious hurt. Suddenly John sprang in at the Roman, throwing himself with all his force against him; he partially warded with his sword the blow which the Roman struck at him as he came in, but his weapon was beaten down, and the Roman blade cut through his thick headdress. But the impetus of his spring was sufficient. The Roman, taken by surprise by this sudden attack, tottered and then fell with a crash, John falling on the top of him.
John was almost blinded by the blood which streamed down his forehead from the blow he had last received, but he dashed it aside, seized his long knife, and in another moment would have slain his enemy had not the latter exclaimed:
"Strike, Jew! I am Titus."
John was confused by the last blow he had received, but a thousand thoughts whirled in his brain. For an instant he grasped the knife more firmly to slay the son of the chief enemy of his country; then the possibility of carrying him away a captive occurred to him, but he saw that this was out of the question. Then another thought flashed across his brain.
"Swear," he said in Greek, for he was ignorant of Latin, "by your gods, to spare the Temple, or I will kill you."
There was a moment's hesitation. The knife was already descending when Titus exclaimed in the same language:
"I swear to do all in my power to save the Temple."
John's knife fell from his hand. He tried to rise to his feet; then everything seemed to swim round, and he fell insensible. Titus rose to his feet; he was shaken by the fall, and he, too, had lost much blood. Panting from his exertions, he looked down upon his prostrate foe, and the generosity which was the prevailing feature of his character, except when excited in battle, mastered him.
"By Hercules," he exclaimed, "that is a gallant youth, though he is a Jew, and he has well-nigh made an end of me. What will Vespasian say when he hears that I have been beaten in fair fight and owe my life to the mercy of a Jew! How they think of their Temple, these Jews! Why, I would not injure it were it in my power to do so. Have not our emperors sent offerings there? Besides, we war not with the gods of the people we conquer. Ah, here come Plancus and the others! This will be a lesson to me not to trust myself alone among these mountains again. It is the first time I have done so, and it shall be the last."
A messenger had, in fact, arrived at Carmelia with an order from Vespasian for him to go to Hebron, as he had a desire to speak with him, and ordering Plancus, a centurion, to follow with his troop, Titus had sprung on his horse and ridden off at once. The Romans were soon upon the spot and were loud in exclamation of surprise and grief at seeing their commander covered with dust and bleeding from several wounds, while his horse lay dead beside him. To their inquiries whether he was seriously wounded, Titus replied lightly:
"I am more dirty than hurt. Though, had it not been for my armor, there would have been a different tale to tell, for these Jews fight like demons. As you see, he first slew my horse with his javelin and then we fought it out on foot."
"Was there only this one?" the centurion asked in surprise, pointing to John's body.
"Only that one," Titus said, "and he nearly got the best of it. Fighting with these Jews is like fighting with wild cats, so fierce are they in the attack and so quick are their movements. I tell you that for a moment my life was at his mercy. See if he is dead, Plancus."
"No, he breathes," Plancus said, stooping over him.
"Let four of the men make a litter with their spears," Titus said, "and take him down to Carmelia and let my own leech attend him. I would gladly save his life if I can. I began the fray, and, truly, he has shown himself so gallant a young man that I would not that he should die"
Accordingly, when John opened his eyes, he found himself lying in a Roman tent where an old man was sitting by his couch and a Roman sentry pacing backward and forward before the entrance of the tent.
"Drink this," the old man said, placing a cordial to his lips. "You need have no fear, you are in the camp of Titus, and he himself has ordered that all attention shall be paid to you."
John was too weak from loss of blood and confused from the effects of the blow on his head even to feel the sensation of wonder. He drank the potion and closed his eyes again and went off into a sleep which lasted for many hours. It was not until the next day that he thoroughly awoke. The leech continued to attend him, and, at the end of the four days, he was able to sit up.
In the afternoon, he heard a clash of arms as the sentry gave the military salute, and a moment later Titus entered, accompanied by one whom John instantly recognized as Josephus. John rose to his feet.
"I told you he was but a young man," Titus said to Josephus, "but now that I can see him more nearly, or, at any rate, more calmly, I can see that he is little more than a lad, and, yet, as you have heard me say, he is a man of valor and defeated me in fair fight."
"I seem to know his face," Josephus said and then addressed John in Hebrew.
"Who are you, young man?"
"I am that John whom you saved in the storm on the Sea of Galilee and who fought with you at Jotapata."
"Is it possible!" Josephus exclaimed in surprise. "I thought that I alone was saved there."
"I lay hidden with the boy Jonas, who told us of the track down to the water," John said quietly, "and have since then been fighting the Romans. While you-"
"While I have been their prisoner," Josephus broke in. "I know that all my countrymen are enraged against me, but truly without a cause." Josephus then translated to Titus what John had told him, adding that the young man had served him with zeal and devotion and that he had an affection for him.
"Then I am the more glad that he has not lost his life," Titus said courteously. "And now, my antagonist," he said in Greek to John, "I would tell you that I bear you no malice, though you have shed my blood and brought somewhat of disgrace upon me, for, truly, it is a disgrace for a Roman soldier in heavy armor to be overthrown by one who carries but a light buckler as his protection. But I love a brave man, even though he be a foe, and I honor those who are fighting for what they believe to be the cause of their country. If I let you go free, will you promise me not to bear arms again against Rome?"
"I could not promise that, Titus," John said quietly, "even were you to order me now to be taken out and slain. It is the first duty of all Jews to fight for the Holy City, and, so long as I live and the Holy City is in danger, so long I must fight for her. These are the commands of my religion, and I cannot, even to save my life, disobey them."
"I will not press you to do so," Titus said, "though Josephus here will tell you that Rome is not an unkind lord even to those who have most withstood it. When you are well enough to leave us, you shall go unharmed, though, could you have seen your way to desist from hostility to us, I would have been a good friend to you and have promoted you to posts of honor, and that in countries where you would not have been opposed to your countrymen. But if you will not have it so, you are free to go, and remember that at any time you have a friend in Titus and that when this war is over and peace restored, if you come to me, I will repeat the offer that I have now made. Moreover, you may rely upon it that in the last extremity I will do all in my power to save the Temple, and, indeed, in no case would I have injured a building so venerable and holy."
Titus then left the tent, but Josephus remained for some time talking with John.
"I suppose you, like all others, have looked upon me as a traitor, John?" he began.
"Not so," John replied. "I knew that you fought bravely at Jotapata and risked your life many times in its defense. I knew, too, that you from the first opposed the revolt against the Romans, and it is not for me to judge as to your position among them."
"I am a prisoner," Josephus said. "I am kindly treated, indeed, and Vespasian frequently asks my opinion of matters connected with the country, but surely I am doing more good to my countrymen by softening his heart toward them than if I had died at Jotapata; still more, if I had been, like John of Gischala, a scourge to it. I trust even yet that, through my influence, Jerusalem may be saved. When the time comes, Vespasian will, I hope, grant terms, and my only fear is that the madness of the people will lead them to refuse all accommodation and so force him into taking the city by storm, in which case it cannot but be that terrible misery will fall upon it and that vast numbers will lose their lives. And, now, tell me how you are at home and what you have been doing since I last saw you."
John thought it as well not to mention to Josephus the prominent part which he had taken among those who had so harassed the Romans, but he said that he had joined the bands raised in Galilee and had been among those who had hung upon the Roman flank and rear wherever they marched.
"The Jews have behaved with prudence and valor," Josephus said, "and I now see that it would have been far better had I trusted more in mountain warfare than in fenced cities, but it would have been the same in the end. I know the Jews. They would have fought bravely for a time, but the thought of each would have turned to his farm and his vineyard, and they would never have kept the field for any length of time. The Romans, therefore, would in the end have tired them out, and perhaps the fate which has befallen the cities that resisted would have fallen upon all the land. And now remember that, although but a prisoner, I have much influence with Vespasian and that, at any time, should you fall into their hands again, I will exert that influence in your favor."
John remained about ten days at Carmelia. Titus had several interviews with him, and at the last of these said:
"I have conceived a strong friendship for you, young man, and would willingly do you service. Take this signet ring. At all times and in all places it will pass you to my presence. If a Roman sword be raised to strike you and you show this ring, it will be lowered. That you should fight against us to the last is, as you believe, your duty, and, as I myself would so fight for Rome, I seek not farther to dissuade you, but, when resistance is at an end and it is useless any longer to hold the sword, your death cannot benefit your country. Therefore, when that time comes, if not before, use this ring and come to me, and I will grant you not only your own life, but that of such friends as you may wish to save. I do not forget that you had my life in your hands and that you spared it. It is a life that may yet be valuable to Rome, and, though even now, when I speak of it, my cheek flushes with humiliation, I am none the less grateful. It pleases me to see that, in the conversation you have had with my officers, you have borne yourself so modestly and have made no mention of this, for, although I myself do not hesitate to speak of the mishap which befell me, it is pleasant for me that it is not spoken of by others. Believe me, then, that at all times you will find a sincere friend in Titus."
John replied in suitable terms, thanking Titus for the promises he had made and disclaiming any merit in his success, which was but the last effort of a beaten man and was the result of a sudden surprise and not of any skill or bravery. Upon the following morning, Titus furnished him with an escort far beyond the confines of the camp, and then, taking to the hills, John rejoined his companions, who had long since given him up as dead. They could scarce credit him when he told them that he had been lying wounded in the hands of the Romans, and were still more surprised at hearing that he had been engaged in a personal encounter with Titus. Of this, John gave no details beyond the fact that after throwing their javelins the horse of Titus had fallen, and they had fought hand to hand, until at last he had fallen bleeding from a severe wound and that Titus himself had been wounded.
"But how was it he did not slay you?" was the question. "It seems almost a miracle, especially after wounding Titus himself."
"Doubtless the Lord put it into his heart to spare me," John said. "Titus only said that he preserved my life as that of a brave foe. The Romans esteem bravery, and, as I had withstood Titus for some time, he was pleased to think that I had done well."
"Ah, if you had killed him, what rejoicings there would have been in the land!"
"No," John said earnestly, "there would have been mourning. You may be sure that Vespasian would have avenged his blood upon all the people. It would have been a misfortune, indeed, had Titus fallen. It is well that it ended as it did."
John was, however, far too weak to be able to accompany his band upon its rapid marches and, therefore, for a time resigned its command to one of his captains. He determined to go, until his strength returned to him, to a small community of which he had heard as dwelling in an almost inaccessible valley on the shore of the Dead Sea. He was told that they took no part in the commotion of the times and that they lived in such poverty that even the robbers of Simon had not cared to interfere with them. They practiced hospitality to strangers and spent their lives in religious observances. As John had often heard from his father of this sect, which was at one time numerous in the land but had been sorely persecuted by the priests and Pharisees, he determined to stop for a time among them and learn somewhat of their doctrines.
Accompanied by Jonas, he made his way across the mountains to the valley where they dwelt. As wounded and a stranger, he was received without question among them, and a little hut, similar to that in which they all lived, was placed at his disposal. These huts were ranged in a square, in the center of which stood a larger building, used as their synagogue. Here John remained nearly a month and was greatly struck by their religious fervor, the simplicity and austerity of their lives, and the doctrines which they held. He learned that the more rigorous of the sect abstained altogether from the use of meat and wine and that celibacy was strictly enjoined. Those who married did not separate themselves from the sect, but were considered as occupying an inferior position in it.
Their food was of the simplest kind and only sufficient to sustain life; the community raised the grain and vegetables necessary for their use. But it was the religious doctrines which they held which most greatly surprised John. They attached no importance whatever to the ceremonial law of the Jewish Scriptures, maintaining, in the first place, that the Scriptures had a spiritual signification wholly apart from the literal meaning alone understood by the world and that this spiritual meaning could only be attained by those who, after long probation, were initiated into the inner mysteries of the sect.
In the second place, they held that the written law had been altogether superseded by the coming of the great prophet, Christ, who had been put to death by the Jewish priests. John learned that there were already large numbers of Jews who had accepted the doctrines taught by this Christ, although they did not all embrace the strict rules and modes of life of the ascetics. John was greatly struck with their doctrines, although he did not hear enough to do more than to dimly understand their meaning. He determined, however, that if he went safely through the war, he would inquire further into these mysteries. At the end of the four weeks, his strength being comparatively restored, he took his leave of the community and rejoined his band.
Table of Contents1. The Lake of Tiberias
2. A Storm on Galilee
3. The Revolt Against Rome
4. The Lull Before the Storm
5. The Siege of Jotapata
6. The Fall of the City
7. The Massacre on the Lake
8. Among the Mountains
9. The Storming of Gamala
11. A Tale of Civil Strife
12. Desultory Fighting
13. The Test of Devotion
15. The Siege Is Begun
16. The Subterranean Passage
17. The Capture of the Temple
19. At Rome Glossary
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Henty has surpassed himself with this genius piece of work. This story of the fall of Jerusalem to Titus and the Roman Army is magnificent in every aspect and deserves full credit. The words eloquent and flowing. The battle scenes real and exciting. A very well researched book taken directly from Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, who wintessed the siege himself. Although the speeches sometimes become rather long they are perfect examples of the way one might think in their position. The entire book is graced with stories of courage, love, greed, and God making it the crown of Henty's masterful writing.