An assemblage of all occurrences of Passover descriptions in the works of Josephus.
INTRODUCTORY COMMENTThe Origin of Passover (c. 1200 BCE)Biblical Celebrations
The Law on the Celebration of the Passover
Josephus Attacks Hostile Versions of the Passover StoryThe Walls of Jericho Fall (c. 1200 BCE)Significant Events at Passover
King Hezekiah Reinstitutes the Celebration (c. 728 BCE)
King Josiah (c. 640 BCE)
The First Passover in the Second Temple (c. 515 BCE)Hyrcanus and Aretas Besiege Aristobulus (65 BCE)
Honi the Circle-Drawer: A Miracle Worker Executed at Passover
Archelaus Attacks Protesters (4 BCE)
A Samaritan Disturbance (9 CE)
Vitellius Visits after Removing Pontius Pilate (37 CE)
Roman Soldier Exposes Himself (c. 50 CE)
Protest against Procurator Florus (66 CE)
The Numbers that Gathered in Jerusalem for Passover (c. 65 CE)
Portents of Disaster (66 CE)
Rebels at Masada Raid En-Gedi (68 CE)
The Last Passover in the Second Temple (April, 70 CE)
Worshipers Trapped in the Devastation (September, 70 CE)
I have gathered here all of the stories of Passover celebrations found in the works of Josephus.
In the late Second Temple period, Passover offered an opportunity for political activism involving the great numbers of people who crowded into Jerusalem for its celebration. Josephus provides several examples where the festival turned violent.
There is also a political significance to the Passover as the anniversary of the deliverance of the Jewish people out of slavery into freedom, a fact emphasized by Josephus each time he mentions the holiday. The Roman occupation was seen as the equivalent of slavery to the rebels of Josephus' day, and so Passover was the perfect time, theologically, to attempt a new deliverance.
For Christian studies, this political meaning evidenced by Josephus provides a reason why the authorities would be quick to execute potential troublemakers at the time of Passover, such as Jesus of Nazareth:
On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?"
He said, "Go into the city to a certain man, and tell him the Teacher says, 'My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'
So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
Antiquities 2.14.6 311-317 (Exodus 11-12)
The Origin of Passover
When God revealed that with one more plague he would compel the Egyptians to let the Hebrews go, he commanded Moses to tell the people they should have a sacrifice ready and should prepare themselves on the tenth day of the month Xanthicus in readiness for the fourteenth (this is the month that is called Pharmuthi by the Egyptians, and Nisan by the Hebrews, but the Macedonians call it Xanthicus), and he should then lead away the Hebrews with all they had. He accordingly prepared the Hebrews for their departure and, having arranged them into companies, gathered them together in one place; and when the fourteenth day came and all were ready to depart they offered the sacrifice and purified their houses with blood, using bunches of hyssop to apply it; and when they had eaten, they burnt the remainder of the meat as would people ready to set off on a journey.
Therefore, to this day we still offer this sacrifice in the same manner, and call this festival Pascha [Hebrew Pesach], which means "passing over;" because on that day God passed us over and sent the plague upon the Egyptians. For on that same night destruction came upon the firstborn of the Egyptians. Many of those that lived near the palace then persuaded Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. Whereupon Pharoah summoned Moses and ordered him to be gone, surmising that once the Hebrews were out of the country Egypt would be freed from its miseries. The Hebrews were also honored with gifts, by some to get them to depart more quickly, and by others out of the friendship they had with them as neighbors.
So the Hebrews went out of Egypt, while the Egyptians wept and repented that they had treated them so harshly.
They took their journey by Letopolis, a place at that time deserted but where [the Egyptian town] Babylon was built afterwards by Cambyses when he laid Egypt waste; taking the shortest road, they came on the third day to a place called Beelsephon on the Red Sea. There was no food from the desert land, so they kneaded loaves of flour that was only warmed by a gentle heat, and this food they made use of for thirty days; but the supplies they brought out of Egypt lasted no longer than that, even though they rationed the food, giving to each only what was necessary but not enough for eating to satiety.
So it is that, in memory of that time of want, we keep a feast for eight days, which is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
There are some differences from the Biblical book of Exodus that Josephus is here retelling.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is here said to last for eight days. As given more correctly in Ant. 3.10.5, there are two holidays, the sacrifice of Passover and the Feast of seven days; but Josephus' own usage throughout his work combines the two, as is commonly done today, using either name for the entire eight day period.
The route through Letopolis and Egyptian Babylon does not appear in the Bible, which describes instead a journey from Ramses to Succoth (Ex. 12:37). Josephus' version serves to ground the route in places known in his day, and hence lends credibility to his account, but we don't know where he got his information; it seems likely he was depending on the best scholarship of his day to locate the Biblical route.
The Bible states that the Israelites left Egypt
"company by company." Josephus uses an odd Greek word, phatria, for "company,"
and uses the same word to describe the celebration of Passover in his own
day in stating that the dining on the sacrifice was organized in companies,
as he describes in Antiquities 3.10.5 248: "and so we celebrate this passover
in companies, keeping nothing of the sacrifice for the following day."
Antiquities 3.10.5 248-251 (Lev. 23)
The Law on the Celebration of the Passover
Summary: Josephus relates the laws of celebration specified in Leviticus. Details of the celebration. The Passover sacrifice is on the 14th of the first month of the year, Nisan, "when the sun is in Aries," and is celebrated "in companies, leaving nothing of what we sacrifice to the following day." The Feast of Unleavened Bread starts on the fifteenth of Nisan and lasts for seven days; on each day two bulls are killed, one ram, and seven lambs, as offerings. The second day of the feast is for the offering of first fruits, when a selection from the first harvest of grain is offered to the Lord, "after which they may publicly or privately reap their harvest."
Against Apion 1
Josephus Attacks Hostile Versions of the Passover Story
Note: In Against Apion, Josephus vigorously criticizes the work of several contemporary anti-Jewish writers. The following are just some of the excerpts from his lengthy argument.(ch. 25, sec. 223) The libels upon us originated with the Egyptians. To gratify them, certain authors undertook to distort the facts; they misrepresented the circumstances of the entry of our ancestors into Egypt, and gave an equally false account of their departure.(ch. 26, sec. 228) The first writer on whom I propose to dwell at some length is one I have made use of a little before in giving evidence of our antiquity -- I mean Manetho. This author, having promised to interpret the Egyptian history out of their sacred writings, begins by stating that our people came to Egypt in tens of thousands, and subdued its inhabitants; and then admits that we afterwards went out of that country and settled in what is now called Judaea, and there built Jerusalem and its temple.Now thus far he followed his ancient records. But then he permits himself, under the pretext of recording fables and reports circulating about the Jews, to introduce incredible stories, as he pretends that a crowd of Egyptians who had leprosy and other diseases became mixed up with us, and these were condemned, he claims, to be banished from Egypt. He produces a king Amenophis, a fictitious name, the date of whose reign he therefore dared not set down (which he had accurately done for the other kings he mentions), and then ascribes certain myths to this king. […] He states that this king was desirous to see the gods, just as had Orus, one of his predecessors in the kingdom, and that he communicated this desire to one who was also named Amenophis, the son of Paapis, who seemed to be of a divine nature because of his wisdom and his knowledge of future events. This namesake told him that he might see the gods if he would clear the whole country of the lepers and of the other impure people. The king was pleased with this, and so he banished everyone that had any physical defects out of Egypt.(ch. 28, sec. 254) Now, what gods, I pray, did the king desire to see? If he meant the gods whom their laws ordained to be worshipped, the ox, the goat, the crocodile, and the baboon, he saw them already. But for the heavenly gods, how could he see them? […] The prophet whom the king thought would fulfill his desire was thought to be a wise man; if so, how could he not know that such a desire was impossible -- for in fact he did not succeed. And what pretense could there be to suppose that the gods would not be seen due to people being injured or leprous? For the gods are not angry at the imperfections of bodies but at wicked practices.
Also criticized are the authors Chermon, Lysimachus,
and the title target, Apion. These give accounts with the same basic idea
as Manetho's, i.e., that the Jews were expelled out of Egypt. With much
fervor, Josephus points out the conflicts of the various authors, their
unauthenticated sources, the intrinsic implausibility of their explanations,
and their obvious biases, thus testifying both to the type of anti-Jewish
prejudice existing in his day and his own commitment to his people.
Ant. 5 20 [Joshua 5:10.]
The Walls of Jericho Fall (c. 1200 BCE)
So the Hebrews went on fifty stadia further and pitched their camp ten stadia from Jericho. And Joshua built an altar using the stones which the heads of the tribes had taken from the river at the command of the prophet, and this altar was to be afterwards a memorial of the dividing of the river. Upon it they offered sacrifice to God, and in that place celebrated the Passover, with great plenty of everything that they had lacked until now. They reaped the ripened grain of the Canaanites and took animals as prey. It was then that their former food, which was manna, that they had eaten for forty years, ceased.
Joshua resolved to besiege the Canaanites; so on the first day of the Feast, the priests, guarded by some of the armed men, carried the ark, blowing with their seven trumpets, and exhorted the army to be of good courage as they circled the city, with the council following them; and did nothing more but return to camp. They did this for six days. On the seventh, Joshua gathered all the armed men and the people together and told them that the city would now be taken, as God would on that day give it to them by causing the walls to fall down…
When he had said this, he set his army in order and brought it against the city. They went around the city again, the ark going before them and the priests encouraging the people to be zealous in the work; and when they had gone round it seven times, and had stood still a little while, the wall fell down, while no instruments of war nor any other force was applied to it by the Hebrews.
In the Book of Joshua, the Jordan was crossed
on the tenth of the month, while Passover was on the fourteenth [Joshua
4:19; 5:10]. Then, according to Josephus, the walls of Jericho fell on
the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. But the Bible itself is
not so clear. There is an unspecified time between the Passover celebration
at verse 5:10 and the taking up of the ark in 6:8. Josephus may be following
a contemporary interpretation, guided by the concept that Passover is the
time for significant events to occur.
Ant. 9.13.1 260-273
Hezekiah Reinstitutes the Celebration (2 Chron. 30:1)
When Hezekiah began to reign in Jerusalem, he thought that nothing was more necessary or more advantageous than to worship God…The king sent a proclamation to the regions that were under his rule and called the people to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, for it had been left unobserved a long time, out of the wickedness of the previous kings.
…In addition to what the multitude sacrificed themselves, the king bestowed on the two thousand bulls and seven thousand other cattle…And this festival had not been so well observed from the days of King Solomon as it was now first observed with great splendor and magnificence; and when the festival was ended, they went out into the country, and purged it and the city of all the pollution of the idols.
The editorial remark that the festival "had not been so well observed since Solomon" is not a remark by Josephus, but is actually from his Biblical source (2 Chron. 30:26).
This is an example of how careful one must be
when reading Josephus. One is tempted to ascribe assorted comments and
opinions to the author, when in fact he may be merely transmitting the
words found in his source.
Ant. 10.4.5 70
King Josiah (2 Kings 23; 1 Esdras 1`)
And after King Josiah had thus sanctified all the country, he called the people to Jerusalem, and there they celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover. He also gave the people for paschal sacrifices thirty thousand lambs and young kids of the goats, and three thousand oxen for burnt offerings…And indeed there had been no other festival thus celebrated by the Hebrews from the time of Samuel the prophet, and because there were plenty of sacrifices, everything was able to be performed according to the Laws of their forefathers.
As with the Hezekiah passage, it is not Josephus'
own comment that this was the best festival since "the time of Samuel the
prophet," as this remark is based on the Bible (1 Esdras 1:20), which compares
it less specifically to the time of the Judges. Josephus' details concerning
the number of sacrifices do not appear in the known Bible, but rather he
infers them from the statement that the feast was held according to the
Ant. 11.4.8 109-112 (Ezra 6:22; 1 Esdras 7:14)
The First Passover in the Second Temple (c. 515 BCE)
The construction of the [Second] Temple was with great diligence completed as prophesied by Haggai and Zechariah, according to God's commands and by order of the kings Cyrus and Darius…
As the Feast of Unleavened Bread was at hand, it being the first month, which the Macedonians call Xanthicus but we call Nisan, all the people streamed out of the villages to the city to celebrate the festival in a state of purity with their wives and their children, according to the law of the fathers. They offered the sacrifice which was called the Passover, on the fourteenth day of the same month, and then feasted seven days. They spared no expense, but offered whole burnt offerings to God and performed sacrifices of thanksgiving, because God had led them again to the land of their fathers and to its laws, and had disposed the mind of the king of Persia favorably toward them. So for these reasons the men offered the largest sacrifices and used great magnificence in the worship of God. They dwelled in Jerusalem, making use of an aristocratic form of government that was mixed with oligarchy, for the high priests were at the head of their affairs -- until a monarchy was established under the Hasmonean dynasty.
The Jews of Babylon were allowed by the Persian kings to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the destroyed Temple. The Second Temple was completed on the twenty third day of the twelfth month, Adar, only three weeks before the passover; thus the first passover celebration in the new Temple was
Ant. 14.2.1. 21-28 (65 BCE)
Hyrcanus and King Aretas of Arabia Besiege Aristobulus in Jerusalem
After Hyrcanus made these promises to Aretas (King of Arabia)…Aretas made an assault upon the Temple with his entire army and besieged Aristobulus inside. The people supported Hyrcanus and assisted him in the siege, while none but the priests supported Aristobulus.
As this happened at the time when the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which we call Passover, was celebrated, the principal men among the Jews left the country and fled into Egypt.
[At this point, the miracle-worker Onias is stoned to death; see Honi the Circle-Drawer. ]
… While the priests and Aristobulus were besieged, it happened that the feast called the Passover was come, at which it is our custom to offer a great number of sacrifices to God. But those that were with Aristobulus wanted sacrifices and desired that their countrymen outside would furnish them with such sacrifices and assured them they should have as much money for them as they should desire; and when they required them to pay a thousand drachmae for each head of cattle, Aristobulus and the priests willingly undertook to pay for them accordingly, and those within let the money down over the walls and gave it to them. But when the others had received it they did not deliver the sacrifices but arrived at the height of wickedness as to break the assurances they had given and to be guilty of impiety towards God by not furnishing those that wanted them with sacrifices. And when the priests found they had been cheated and that the agreements they had made were violated they prayed to God that he would take vengeance on their countrymen. Nor did he delay their punishment, but sent a strong and vehement storm of wind that destroyed the fruits of the whole country, til a modius of wheat was then bought for eleven drachmae.
Ant. 17.9.3 213 (War 2.1.3 10)
Protest against Archelaus (4 BCE)
Now came the festival at which Jews serve unleavened bread according to their ancestral custom. It is called the Passover and is a memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt. They observe it with enthusiasm, and it is their custom to slaughter sacrifices in greater number than at any other festival. An innumerable multitude of people come out of the country, and from abroad also, in order to worship God.
Now the rebellious who lamented Judas and Matthias, the interpreters of the laws [killed by Herod in the golden eagle protest], gathered in the Temple gaining recruits for their faction. Archelaus was afraid that something dangerous would spring up from their fanaticism, so he sent a company of legionaries under the command of a chiliarch to suppress the violent efforts of the rebels before the whole crowd was infected with their madness. And he gave orders that if they found any more actively rebellious than the others they were to bring them to him. But the rebellious followers of the teachers and the people were outraged at this, and with loud cries and exhortations they made an assault upon the soldiers and, surrounding them, stoned most of them to death, although some of them and their commander ran away wounded. After they had done this, the rebels took up their sacrifices again.
Now Archelaus thought there was no way to save everything except by eliminating those who inflamed the crowd, so he sent in the entire army; even the cavalry was used, to prevent those that encamped outside the walls from assisting those that were within the Temple and to kill those that escaped the foot-soldiers and thought themselves out of danger. Three thousand men were killed by the cavalry, while the rest escaped to the neighboring hills. Then Archelaus issued a proclamation that everyone should retire to their own homes. So left the festival and went away fearing worse was to come, although they were still bold due to their undisciplined state.
For more information about the affair of the golden
eagle and the rabbis who were the source of this protest, see Causes
of the War.
Ant. 18.2.2 29
A Samaritan Disturbance (9 CE)
During the governorship of Judaea by Coponius, who, as I have said, had been sent with Quirinius, the following incident occurred. As the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which we call Passover, was being celebrated, it was customary for the priests to open the Temple gates just after midnight. This time, when the gates were first opened, some Samaritans who had secretly entered Jerusalem threw human bones about in the porticoes and the entire Temple. On this account, the priests excluded everyone from the Temple, which they had not customarily done, and took other measures to watch the Temple more carefully.
Ant. 18.4.3 90
Vitellius Visits after Removing Pontius Pilate (37 CE)
And so Pilate, after he had been ten years in Judaea, hastened to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, which he dared not defy. But before he reached Rome, Tiberius had died.
Vitellius, on reaching Judaea, went up to Jerusalem, at the time of the festival called the Passover. There Vitellius was magnificently received; he released the inhabitants of the city from all sales taxes on agricultural produce, and gave them permission that the vestments of the High Priest with all the ornaments be under the custody of the priests of the Temple, as they had formerly done.
Ant. 20.5.3 106 (War 2.12.1 224)
Roman Soldier Exposes Himself (c. 50 CE)
While Judaean affairs were under the administration of Cumanus there occurred an uprising in the city of Jerusalem in which many of the Jews perished. I shall first explain the cause from which it was generated. When the feast called the Passover was at hand, at which time our custom is to serve unleavened bread, a great multitude gathered together for it from all parts. Cumanus was afraid lest an attempt at resolution by prompted by their presence, so he ordered one company of soldiers to take their weapons and stand guard in the porticoes of the Temple to repress any attempts of rebellion that might begin. Indeed, this was what previous procurators of Judaea had done at such festivals.
But on the fourth day of the festival, a certain soldier displayed his uncovered genitals to the multitude. This action put those that saw him into a furious rage, and made them cry out that it was not an insult to them, but an impiety against God. Some of them even reproached Cumanus, and asserted that the soldier was prompted by him. When Cumanus heard this he was himself not a little provoked at such reproaches laid upon him, yet he merely advised them to cease their desire for revolution and not to ignite a riot during the festival.
But when he could not induce them to be quiet, for they continued their insults toward him, he ordered the whole army to take full armor and come to Antonia, which was a fortress, as I have said before, that overlooked the Temple. The multitude, when they saw the soldiers, became frightened and hastened to flee; but as the passages of the exits were narrow, and as they thought their enemies were pursuing them, they were crowded together in their flight, and a great number were pressed to death in those narrow passages. Indeed, the number that perished in this tumult was calculated to be twenty thousand. So they had mourning instead of festivities; and all of them forgot their prayers and sacrifices, and took themselves instead to lamentation and weeping. Such were the sufferings produced by the lewdness of a single soldier.
War 2.14.3 280
Protest against Procurator Florus (66 CE)
While Cestius Gallus was governor of Syria nobody dared do so much as send an embassy to him against Florus; but when Cestius came to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the people came out to him in number not less than three millions They pleaded with him to alleviate the miseries of their nation and cried out against Florus as the bane of their country. But Florus, who was standing next to Cestius, laughed at their words; but Cestius, when he had quieted the multitude, assured them that Florus would hereafter treat them in a more gentle manner. Then he returned to Antioch.
For more information about Florus and the events subsequent to the protest to Cestius, see Causes of the War.
War 6.9.3 422-427
The Numbers that Gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover
Cestius, desiring to inform Nero, who was inclined to condemn the nation, of the power of the city, requested the high priests to take a count, if possible, of the entire population. So these high priests did so upon the arrival of their feast which is called the Passover. On this day they slay their sacrifices from the ninth hour until the eleventh, with a company [phatria] of not less than ten belonging to every sacrifice -- for it is not lawful for them to have the feast singly by themselves -- and many of us are twenty in a company. These priests found the number of the sacrifices was two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred; which, if we assume no more than ten feasted together, amounts to two million seven hundred thousand and two hundred persons; but this counted only those that were pure and holy, for as to those that have leprosy, or gonorrhea, or women that have their monthly periods, or persons that are otherwise polluted, it is not lawful to be partakers of the sacrifice, nor indeed for any foreigners either who come here to worship.
"No one believes the largest of these figures," writes E. P. Sanders in Judaism: Practice and Belief 63 BCE - 66 CE (p. 126). Using various means, Sanders estimates the actual number of attendees to be 300,000 to 500,000.
Josephus gives these numbers as an aside, in order to estimate the number of those killed when the Romans took Jerusalem. For "the entire nation was now shut up as in a prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world." He estimates that the number killed was one million one hundred thousand. It is often difficult to know the accuracy of Josephus' numbers; for example, in the above passage, he seems unable to multiply by ten (or else the text is corrupted).
War 6.5.3 290-296
Portents of Disaster (66 CE)
Summary: At the Passover before the start of the war, a brilliant light shines around the altar, a heifer gives birth to a lamb, and the heavy eastern gate of the Temple opens by itself.
For the complete passage, see Causes of the Destruction.
War 4.7.2 402
Rebels at Masada Raid En-Gedi (68 CE)
There was a fortress of very great strength not far from Jerusalem, which had been built by our ancient kings both as a repository for their possessions in case of war and for the preservation of their bodies at the same time. It is called Masada.
Those that were called Sicarii had taken possession of it some time before, but now they invaded the neighboring areas. At first their aim was only to procure necessities for themselves, as their fear prevented further ravages; but when they were informed that the Roman army was not acting and that the Jews were divided by sedition and tyranny, they boldly undertook greater matters. And so at the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which the Jews celebrate in memory of their deliverance from the Egyptian bondage when they returned to the land of their fathers, they came down by night without being discovered by those that could have prevented them, and overran a certain small city called En-Gedi.
In this expedition they fell upon the citizens who could have stopped them before they could arm themselves and fight, chasing many of them out of the city. Of those that could not run away, the women and children, over seven hundred were slain. Afterward they carried everything out of the houses and seized all ripe produce, and brought their spoil to Masada.
The defenders of Masada are honored by Josephus and Israelis today for their brave last stand against the Roman army at the end of the war. But Josephus also testifies that these defenders were some of the worst cut-throats of the rebellion, the sort who Josephus bitterly blames for the ultimate destruction of his nation. The attack on the beautiful oasis of En-Gedi, which lies halfway between Masada and Qumran on the Dead Sea, is all the more cruel for occurring at the time of Passover.
However, if these rebels were indeed the religious
extremists they seemed to be, they may have justified their actions by
the fact that the righteous people of the town should have been at Jerusalem
at the time celebrating; hence anyone left deserved to die as apostates
that could weaken the divine favor, which the rebels needed in order to
defeat the Romans.
War 5.3.1 98-105
Passover 70 CE: The Last Passover in the Second Temple
As now the war outside the walls ceased for a while, the factional violence within was revived. When the Feast of Unleavened Bread came on the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus, when it is believed the Jews were first freed from the Egyptians, Eleazar and his party opened the gates of the temple court and admitted into it any of the people who desired to worship God. But John [of Gischala] made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs and armed the lowliest of his own party, the majority of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple in order to seize it. When these armed men had gained entrance they threw their garments away and quickly appeared in their armor. At this there was a very great disorder and disturbance about the Holy House, while the people who had no part in the rebellion supposed that this assault was made against all without distinction, while the zealots thought it was made against themselves only. The latter left off guarding the gates and leaped down from the battlements to avoid a battle and fled away into the subterranean caverns of the Temple, while the people that stood trembling at the altar and about the Holy House were rolled on heaps together and trampled upon and beaten without mercy with both wooden and iron weapons. Also there were others with their own private scores to settle who out of enmity slew many quiet persons as though they were opposing the rebels, and anyone that had ever offended any of these plotters were now identified and led away to the slaughter. And when they had done an abundance of horrible deeds to the guiltless, they granted a truce to the guilty and let those free that came out of the caverns. These followers of John now seized the inner Temple, and upon all the engines of war there, and then ventured to attack Simon [son of Gioras].
And thus that rebellion, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two.
The parties nonetheless turned their own factionalism into a trick against the Romans: pretending that one faction was going over to the Romans, they lured the soldiers into a trap at the gate to Jerusalem, much to the shame of Titus. This story is told in the remainder of Chapter 3 of Book 5 of the War.
Did the Romans, who at the time had four legions
encamped by Jerusalem, allow Passover celebrants entry into the city, promising
safe passage? Then this could have been the source of the "lull in
the fighting" cited here by Josephus.
War 6.9.3 421-435
Worshipers Trapped in the Devastation (September, 70 CE)
Now the number of those that were taken captive during the whole war was calculated to be ninety-seven thousand, and those that perished during the siege one million one hundred thousand. Of these, the greater part were indeed of the same nation but did not live in the city itself, for they had come up from throughout the country to the Feast Unleavened Bread and were suddenly shut up by an army, which immediately occasioned so great distress among them that there came a pestilential destruction, and soon afterward a famine that destroyed them even more swiftly.
[…] But now the entire nation was shut up by fate as in a prison, for the Roman army surrounded the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly the multitude of that that perished within exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world. For when everyone in sight had either been killed or taken captive, the Romans began to search the subterranean passages, broke up the ground and killed everyone they met; they also found over two thousand people dead, some slain by their own hands, some by one another, but chiefly by famine; the ill odor of the dead bodies was so horrible to those that discovered them, that many withdrew immediately, while others were so greedy for gain that they would go in further, treading among the corpses that lay in heaps; for a great deal of treasure was found in these caverns, and the hope of gain made every means of obtaining it esteemed lawful.
Also brought out from underground were people imprisoned by the tyrants, for even at the end they did not abandon their barbarous cruelty. Yet God avenged himself upon both of them in a manner agreeable to justice. For John [of Gischala] was in these caverns with his brethren, and, in need of food, he now begged that the Romans would give him their right hand as a promise of his security, which he had often before proudly rejected; and Simon [son of Gioras] struggled hard with the distress he was in, until he was forced to surrender himself, as we shall relate later. So Simon was reserved for the triumphal parade, to be later slain, while John was condemned to perpetual imprisonment.
And now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its walls.
And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on the eighth day of the month Gorpiaeus. [September 26 / Elul 8, 70 CE].
Although Josephus does not and would not say so, it was likely a deliberate tactic on the part of the Romans to trap the Passover celebrants within the city, thus ensuring a swift famine.
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