A War Chronology
Part 1:
Revolt in Jerusalem
August - September 66 CE

                            by G. J. Goldberg

The Factions
Map of Jerusalem
Chronological Table


Two types of forces drove the start of the revolution: the practical and the religious. As described in the Causes of the War, the lack of a strong central authority in Rome under the incompetent Nero left Judaean society exposed to many dangers: crime and terrorism, exploitation by corrupt governors, and anti-Jewish violence in the surrounding multicultural cities. 

In this environment, some of the wealthy and powerful of Jerusalem, particularly the younger generation, felt the situation required they take governance into their own hands, while the rest of the aristocracy preferred to maintain the status quo. 
The same weakness of the central government was felt across the Roman Empire, causing several provinces to revolt. But Judaea also had another factor: the belief that there was a religious duty, indeed a destiny, to overthrow the occupying government and assist a king anointed by Heaven -- a Messiah -- in renewing a pious Jewish state. 

This  belief had been a cause of sporadic insurgency among the lower classes beginning with  Judas the Galilean at the time of the registration of Quirinius in 6 CE. Descendants of this same founder took part in the opening phase of the revolution, one of whom, Menahem, took the role of the Messiah for himself.

The Factions

The Revolutionaries

Eleazar son of Ananias -- Captain of the Temple, led the officiating priests in revolting against Rome. The Captain was the "Chief Operations Office" of the Temple and second in authority to the High Priest.

Menahem son of Judas the Galilean -- (founder of the Fourth Philosophy) - the war's would-be Messiah. From the point of view of the movement begun by Judas the Galilean at the time of Quirinius, the beginning of the revolt was the culmination of all their hopes and efforts. The movement evidently felt one of their own number would be the anointed King, for Menahem, who was Judas' son or grandson (Josephus is sometimes loose in such descriptions), instantly took on this role. This "Messiah" did not last long however, and in the first days of the war was killed by his opponents.

The Sicarii -- knife-wielding assassins -- and the robbers, lower class citizens whom Josephus describes as opportunists seeking to gain wealth and power from the chaos. Some of these, but not necessarily all, are under the command of Menahem.

As Martin Goodman argues in The Ruling Class of Judaea, revolution could not have taken place without the active participation of the upper classes. Josephus is highly reluctant to name the aristocratic instigators of the revolt, most likely because they were friends and acquaintances, and perhaps also because he wanted to disguise his own active participation. But there is no mistaking the fact that the revolt was driven by the priests of the Temple.

The Anti-Revolutionaries

Unnamed wealthy and powerful men of Jerusalem -- These are whom Josephus calls the dunatoi, translatable as the "powerful ones", "leaders", or "wealthy."

Ananias son of Nedebaeus, the former High Priest (47CE - 59(?)CE), supported by other important priests. One of his sons, Eleazar, led the revolt (see above); another son, Simon, was sent to ask assistance from Florus. (Ananias is mentioned in the New Testament as the prosecutor of the case against Paul, Acts 23:2-5, 24:1.)

 King Agrippa II - Great-grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamme. He cooperated with Rome, which had made him king of over territories east of Galilee (an area including the Golan Heights). He had the power to appoint the High Priest, and many of the wealthy and powerful of the nation are his supporters.

Costobar, Saul, and Antipas - Prominent members of the royal family, loyal to the King.

Florus - the Roman Procurator of Judaea, and his soldiers. Florus, however, shows little interest in suppressing the revolution.

The Moderates

Between the two extremes were the ones Josephus calls the "moderates," who tried to temper the worst excesses but were also willing to assist whichever group was dominant at the moment. In this group are a number of people of the upper classes, including, he claims, Josephus himself.

Further Reading
The Ruling Class of Judaea, by Martin Goodman (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

"Menahem in Jerusalem," by Richard A. Horsley, Novum Testamentum 27 (1985) 334-48


Reference: Model of Second Temple Jerusalem at the Holyland Hotel


Click on the  map to add/remove battle lines

Chronological Table 1: Revolt in Jerusalem

August - September 66 CE

To untangle the chaos it is helpful to identify the different threads of activity taking place; thus in the right-hand columns of the table are indicated the participants in each incident. The column labels are:
E = Eleazar son of Ananias

M = Menahem; a question mark in the column indicates the Sicarii or robbers are mentioned in the text, but Menahem is not mentioned by name.

A = Agrippa, Ananias, and their anti-revolutionary supporters

All references are to the War unless specified otherwise. Exact Hebrew calendar dates are derived from Josephus; the modern calendar equivalents are estimates based on Benedict Niese as cited in the Loeb edition.

    E M A
August 66 CE -- Three actions occur "at the same time":  King Agrippa gives up his efforts to hold the revolutionary movement in check, and, having decided to let the Roman Procurator Florus handle his own problems, leaves Jerusalem. (2.17.1 407)

The captain of the Temple, Eleazar son of Ananias, persuades the priests to suspend the twice-daily sacrifice for the Roman Emperor. (2.17.2 409)

Revolutionaries take the fortress of Masada and kill the Roman garrison there. (2.17.2 408)

X ? X
  There is widespread elation in Jerusalem at the prospect of revolt from Rome. (Life 17 4)      
  The powerful men of the city with some of the high priests and the leaders of the Pharisees attempt to persuade the dissidents to restart the sacrifices for the Emperor. Failing this, Simon son of Ananias, Costobar, Saul and Antipas are sent to Florus and Agrippa for assistance. Florus does nothing but Agrippa sends 3000 cavalrymen. (2.173-4 411-421)

Josephus joins in the efforts of the high priests to persuade the people not to rebel. (Life 19)

Av 6-13/ August 26 - Sept. 2 66 Seven days of bloody battles take place between the rebels and the pro-Roman parties in Jerusalem. Eleazar and the rebels hold the lower city and the Temple; the dunatoi party and the King's soldiers and Roman garrison hold the upper city and try to take the Temple. X   X
Av 14/Sept. 3 66 The Sicarii and lower-class citizens force their way into the Temple and join themselves with the revolutionary priests (2.17.6 425) Together they force the royalists out of the upper city; the troops and Ananias take refuge in Herod the Great's palace

The rebels burn the houses of Ananias and the palaces of Agrippa and Berenice, along with the Record Office, destroying the records of outstanding debts.

X ? X
Av 15/ Sept. 4 66 -- The Antonia fortress is captured by the rebels and the Roman soldiers stationed there slain. Herod the Great's palace is besieged by the rebels.

Josephus takes refuge in the Temple, afraid of being taken for one of the pro-Roman party. (Life 20)

X ? X
  Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean, breaks into the armory at Masada and gives arms to his own people as well as to the "robbers". He returns to Jerusalem "as a king" and takes command of the revolutionary forces and the siege of the palace (2.17.8 434).   X  
Elul 6/ 

Sept. 25 66 

Menahem and his supporters allow the King's men and other Jews to leave Herod's palace; but the Roman soldiers flee to the neighboring towers. The palace is burned. (2.17.8 440)    X X
Elul 7/ 

Sept. 26 66

The former high priest Ananias and his brother Hezekiah are killed by the "robbers" (2.17.9 441). As a consequence, Menahem regards himself as absolute ruler. Eleazar and his supporters argue to the populace that if the Romans were overthrown because they were to have "no master but the Lord", then that should apply also to Menahem, who could not lead particularly as he was of a low class. X X X
  Menahem, continuing to regard himself as an anointed King, enters the Temple in royal robes, surrounded by armed guards. He is attacked by Eleazar and his followers, and, after many tortures, Menahem is killed. X X  
  Josephus leaves the refuge of the Temple and rejoins the high priests and leading Pharisees to discuss what can be done. Seeing no alternative, they join the rebels. (Life 21)     X
A Sabbath day The besieged Roman soldiers surrender to Eleazar and are subsequently put to death. (2.17.10 454) X   X
  The city awaits the Roman reaction.

"Seeing the grounds for war to be now beyond remedy, and the city polluted by such a stain of guilt as could not but arouse a dread of some visitation from heaven, if not of the vengeance of Rome, they gave themselves up to public mourning; the whole city was a scene of dejection, and among the moderates there was not one who was not racked with the thought that he would personally have to suffer for the rebels' crime."

- Josephus, The Jewish War 2.17.10 455. 
(See also Life 5 22-23)

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