Thursday, September 20, 2012

Jacob Watts

Memoirs of The Destruction is the second manuscript that Jacob Watts left with my mother, Audrey Helen Watts, in 1954 or 1955. Portions of one of the narratives that is interwoven here were written originally in German, which was translated by my father more than fifty years ago. My mother believed that another version of the manuscript, perhaps entirely in German, was left with an Anglican rector in Winnipeg. To date I have not been able to verify this.

As with The Sailing of Isis, two perspectives tell the story, this one of the revolt of AD 66 to 70 and the final days of the Second Temple. One narrative is that of a physician in service to Queen Berenice, one of the last of the Herods, who with her brother, usually called Agrippa II by historians, was in Jerusalem at the beginning of the revolt and tried to stop it. The other narrative is that of a boy from a minor priestly family who becomes a rebel but escapes the final conflagration. Mahli son of Zabdi in time joins the Pharisees and others who begin those debates on the law that a century later would produce the Mishnah and eventually the Talmud. I do not believe there is any historical basis for either character but, not being multilingual as was my uncle, my access to the historical sources is minimal.

John Ensminger, November 11, 2009

Synopsis of the Historical Period Covered in the Narratives

The burning and collapse of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70 is sometimes known in later Jewish sources as The Destruction.  This catastrophic event came at the end of four years of war in Judaea and Galilee.  Although the revolt began in AD 66 because a Roman procurator entered the temple treasury in order to collect tribute that was in arrears, the anger of the Jews at the Romans was so great and long-festering that the resistance continued even after Agrippa, great-grandson of Herod the Great, had restored the wealth of the temple treasury.  Some of the great priestly families, seeing the temple once again secure, were willing to end their resistance to Rome, but many of the younger priests objected to any accommodation either with Rome or with Agrippa.  As the fighting continued, more radical factions gained control of the rebellion, though there was never a unified leadership and some of the factions fought each other in intervals when the Roman threat was distant.    

Rome also transformed during the progress of the war.  When the Jews revolted, the governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, moved south to end the disturbance and gained control of part of Jerusalem before retreating in disgrace, perhaps because a fall storm was choking his supply lines, perhaps in part because of unfavorable omens.  Nero then sent Vespasian to command the eastern legions.  More careful than Gallus, Vespasian began to prosecute the war by methodically destroying every city in which rebels could be found.  He was preparing to advance on Jerusalem when several generals revolted against Nero. 

Unpopular because of his excesses, Nero fled Rome and committed suicide.  Galba, a general in Spain was declared emperor by the Senate.  Soon after his arrival in Rome, Galba was assassinated by Otho, who had purchased the loyalty of the praetorian guards in exchange for being made emperor.  Vitellius, a general in Germany, also declared himself emperor and moved on Rome, defeating Otho’s forces near Cremona in northern Italy.  Vespasian had suspended operations in Judaea and was saluted as emperor by the legions in Alexandria.  The governor of Syria, Mucianus, supported Vespasian’s cause and one of his generals, Antonius Primus, defeated Otho’s forces, also near Cremona.  The civil wars came to an end.

Vespasian appointed his son, Titus, commander of the eastern legions and Titus resumed the war to suppress the Jewish rebellion.  The rebel forces had lost most of Judaea and were concentrated in Jerusalem, many expecting that armies of angels would give victory their increasingly desperate cause.  The siege of Jerusalem was one of the longest and bloodiest in Roman history, but Titus gradually controlled most of the city and began to pound the temple with large catapults before entering the precinct in bloody fighting while the temple structures burned.  The destruction of the temple ended the revolt for most of the Jews who survived, though some rebel elements escaped to Masada, which was only captured several years later.  Although the Jews were allowed to remain in Judaea and Galilee, their temple was never rebuilt. 

A Roman temple was built on the location of the Jerusalem temple during the reign of Hadrian.  This became a church after the triumph of Constantine.  A  Mohammedan mosque was built on the site after the advance of Islam, which remains to this day.  

John Ensminger, November 11, 2009