Interviewer for the World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea.
Hi, everyone. I was sitting in an inn in Jerusalem a week and a half ago. At the table next to me was Herod’s personal translator. I sort of did a double take, I said, hi, how are you? I knew the guy. I’d known him for years and years. I said, are you okay? Fine, fine no problem, he was having a bread and wine with friends. He walked out. This is the same inn that later on I saw Pontius Pilate walk into with several special forces men to protect him and his guests for dinner. I have to ask myself sometimes what’s going on.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer example of an army that thought it was an army of liberation, and has become an army of occupation. It’s important, perhaps, to say that some of those soldiers attached to the tenth legion had a pretty shrewd idea of what was going on. You got different kinds of behavior from Romans soldiers. You got this very nice guy, Gallus, who had been a baker, very sensitive towards people, didn’t worry if people shouted at him. He remained smiling. He just said that if people throw rocks at me or stones at me, I give them salt to lick. There was another soldier who went up to a middle aged man sitting on a seat and he said, “If you don't clear out of that seat, I’ll break your neck”, and there was quite a lot of language like that as well. There were good guys as well as bad guys among the Romans as there always are in armies, but the people who I talked to, the centurions and tribunes and so on, most of them acknowledge that something had gone wrong, that this was not going to be good.
One guy said to me, every time we go down to the river here—he was talking about the river area in Jordan—it runs into the Dead Sea—it’s like the German forest down there. You always get shot at and you always get stoned—I mean, have stones thrown at them. Some of the soldiers spoke very frankly about the situation in Jerusalem. One man told me—I heard twice before in Jerusalem itself, once from a Greek schoolmaster and once from a fairly senior officer in what we now have to call the Jerusalem Authority, the authority that’s hanging on there until they can create some kind of Jewish kingdom—they all say that the road into Jerusalem now comes under nightly bandit attack from the surroundings from Jews. Two of them told me that every time a military squadron comes in at night, it’s attacked. In fact, some of the Roman outriders are now going back to old Gallic tactics, they’re hounded so much. There is a very serious problem of security.
The Romans still officially call them “the remnants of Judas the Galilean” or just “terrorists”. But in fact, it is obviously an increase in the organized resistance and not just people who were in Judas the Galilean’s forces, who were in the Zealot Party or Judas the Galilean’s rebels. There was also increasing anger among the Herodean community, those who were of course most opposed to Judas the Galilean, and I think what we’re actually seeing, you can get clues in Judea, is a cross fertilization. Herodeans who are disillusioned, who don’t believe they have been liberated, who spent so long in Perea, they don’t like the Romans anyway. Essenes who feel like they’re threatened by the Herodeans, Herod’s former acolytes who’ve lost their jobs and found that their money has stopped. Samaritans who are disaffected and are beginning to have contacts, and that of course is the beginning of a real resistance movement and that’s the great danger for the Romans now.
Interviewer for The World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea. There’s a rumour in Rome that legionaries in Judea are stalked by faceless enemies at night, and Josephus writes about how organized the resistance is, how it seems to come alive at night and that what’s clear, he says, is some attacks are premeditated, involve cooperation among small groups of fighters including a system of signaling the presence of Roman forces: talking about the use of secret messages when forces come and then the attacks begin.
Yes, I’ve heard this. I also know that in Bethphage, for example, there’s a system of placing water jars on a prominent rooftop. When the legions approach, the Roman convoy approaches, there’s a water jug on the highest point of the roof. When the last legionary goes by the same spot, the jug is taken down, and the purpose is to work out the time element between the jug going up and the jug coming down because by that, they know how big is the convoy and whether it’s small enough to be attacked. That comes from Simon Peter's mother, who joined the rebels and was taking part in an actual operation.
One of the problems with the Romans I think is that the top people in imperial circles and the Senate always knew that this wasn’t going to be human rights abuses ended, flowers and music for the soldiers, and everyone lives happily every after and loves Rome. You may remember when Pompey first came to Jerusalem, something your Emperor didn’t dare to do in the end, he came with a massive escoprt of legionaries.
Governor Pontois Pilatus made a speech which I thought was very interesting, rather sinister, in the big hall at the Antonia Tower. He said we still have to fight the remnants of Judas the Galilean and the terrorists in Judea, and I thought, hang on a minute, who are these people? And it took me a few minutes to realize, I think, what he was doing. He was laying the future narrative of the opposition to the Romans. That is, when the Romans get attacked, it could be first of all laid down to remnants of Judas the Galilean, as in remnants of the Parthians who seem to be moving around in Mesopotamia now in cohort strength—but never mind. It could be blamed on the Zealots, so Rome was back fighting its old enemies again. This was familiar territory.
If you were to suggest that it was a resistance movement, that would suggest the people didn’t believe they had been liberated, and of course, all good-natured, peace loving people have to believe they were liberated by the Romans, not occupied by them. What you’re finding for example is a whole series of blunders by Pontius Pilatus, the Roman head of the occupation authority in Jerusalem.
First of all, he marched into the temple with his legions’ standards. Well, I can’t imagine any army that better deserves to be dissolved. Then, he took the temple corban, the central funds that pay the wages and fund the rituals. It means that all but the richest priests of the many priestly families are deprived of their welfare and money. Now if you have thousands of educated Jews who suddenly don’t get paid any more, and they all know each other, what are they going to do? They are going to form some kind of force which is secret, which is covered. Then they will be called terrorists, but I guess they know that, and then of course they will be saying to people, why don’t you come and join us.
It was very interesting that in Arimathea, a young man came out to see me from a shop just after the Roman searches there had ended and said some people came from the resistance a few nights ago and asked him to join. I said, what did you say, and he said, I wouldn’t do that. But now, he said, I might think differently. I met a Herodean Jewish family in Jerusalem who moved into the former home of a Galilean spook. This family had been visited three nights previously by armed men who said, you better move out of this house. It doesn’t belong to you unless you want to join us. The guy in Arimathea said that the men, the armed men who came to invite him to join the resistance, had weapons, showed their knives to identify themselves as Sicari, and said, we’re still proud to hold our weapons for Yehouah and ha Eretz. So, now you have to realize that Arimathea and other towns like it are very unlike Caesarea, are very much pro-Judas the Galilean. Arimathea is the site of great resistance activity by the Zealots, it gives people massive employment. They all loved Herod in the way Romans love their emperors or go to prison otherwise. They’d rather not, but now there is a serious resistance movement.
On top of this, you can see the measure of what I think is basically desperation. I’ve been thinking about this, and Pontius Pilate now asked the legal side of the Jerusalem authority to set up the machinery of Jewish torture. In other words, Jews are going to be tortured and murdered. “Controlled”, I think, is the official word they use, but it means tortured and killed. That is the kind of language that Herod used. Jews are used to torture and death. After all, they lived with it for more than 40 years under Herod and his son. Now when you question the Romans about it, first of all they deny it. Then the bolder ones accept it, then other people involved in the administration say, well, it’s probably true, yes, it is true.
But the problem is the wild rumours appearing in Judea. Now, of course there’s no tradition of Philosophical fairness in Judea. There are those that say it’s a good idea, no tradition for example of letting the other side have a say, checking the story out, going back on the ground and asking the other side for their version of events, Socratic method. It doesn’t exist. It’s a little bit, but not much. What you get after saying that Romans are going with Jewish prostitutes, Roman troops are chasing Jewish women, that Jewish women are being invited to marry Pagan foreigners, is that this is worse than it was under Herod the Great. Other rumours are of of Roman beatings. There are also rumours of “I was Herod’s double”, and the opening of the mass graves of children. They’re not totally one sided against the Romans.
But you can see how the occupation forces, let’s call them by their real name, are troubled by this kind of news because it seems to them to provoke or incite animosity towards the liberators of Judea, which it is not meant to do. But of course the problem is that the Rabbis in the synagogue are saying the same thing about the Romans. Now, the last quote I read from Roman official bulletins said that it may be necessary to control what the Rabbis were saying in the synagogues. Well, this is preposterous. I sat on Solomon’s Portico in the Temple a few weeks ago and listened to a speaker teaching a sermon there. I think he was saying the Romans must leave immediately, now. Well, under the new rule presumably he’s inciting the people to violence. What are we going to do? Arrest all the Rabbim in the synagogues, arrest all the scribes who won’t obey, close down the synagogues? I mean what Jewish scribes need are courses in democracy from Greek philosophers brought up in real democracies.
You can come along and say, look, by all means criticize the Romans and put the boot in if you want to, but make sure you get it right. And if you also do that you have to look at your own society and what is wrong in it and how Herod the Great ever came about. He didn’t just come about because Rome supported Herod, which my goodness they did. But Pilate is not interested in this. What Pilate wants to do is control, control the scriptures, control the Rabbis, and it doesn’t work. A lot of the incidents taking place now, the violent incidents are not being divulged.
Interviewer for The World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea. Josephus, you were just talking about a lot of the attacks we’re hearing about—what seems like a good number, a lot of the attacks—on Roman forces are not being reported.
Right, I have a colleague, for example, who went down to Arimathea before the incident I was describing to you earlier, after two pikemen, one Roman had been killed in the sword fight, he reported, I spoke to both sides. On his way back he was traveling past the town of Herodian a rather sinister place where the huge prison is where Herod executed so many prisoners, including a well known Baptizer back in the late 20’s. As we were, as the colleague was passing by the town, he saw a young man come up and throw a spear at a Roman centurion leading on a horse. The spear missed them and hit a donkey carrying a Jewish mother and children, wounding two small Jewish children, a very clear account of what happened. No bulletin ever emerged that this incident had occurred.
Now, over and over again we keep seeing things, seeing small incidents occur, soldiers threatening people outside custom’s houses because people are trying to jump the line and escape without paying. And it just doesn’t make it back into the Roman record of what’s actually happening in Judea. The danger here is not so much that we’re not being told about it because we can see and find out for ourselves. The danger is that the Roman leadership in Jerusalem, and of course, especially back in the Capri and Rome is also not being told about it. Or if it is, information is only going to certain people who can deal with that information.
It’s very easy to say, well Judea’s been a great success we’ve got rid of a dictatorship, an unruly people are being pacified under Roman rule or whatever interpretation you want to put on that. Human rights abuses have ended, certainly the Herodean kind. But if you try and if this information goes up the ladder every bit of it to people like Pilate, I’m not sure it all is—I think it should be—then you can see how the authority doesn’t represent the reality.
One of the big problems at the moment is the Romans and, to some extent the Greeks, particularly the Romans in Jerusalem. They’re all ensconced in this chic gleaming marble palace, largest, most expensive palace. There they sit with their advisors trying to work out with Rome how they’re going to bring about this new democracy in Judea. They rely upon for the most part former Jewish exiles who never endured Herod the Great, who are hovering around making sure that they get the biggest part of the pie possible. When they leave the palace, when they go into the streets of Jerusalem, the dangerous streets of Jerusalem, they leave in these military convoys with legionaries in the front and back, soldiers, plain clothes guys with turbans and weapons.
One Jew said to me the other day, “who did you think was the last person we saw driving through town like this?” I said, Herod the Great? They all burst out laughing, of course, they said, exactly the same.
We are used to this just like they’re used to censorship. I think it’s difficult—you need to be in Jerusalem to understand the degree to which there’s been this slippage of ambition and slippage in the ideological war. I was in small hotel called the Angel the other day—it has a cool bath, slaves continuously fanning the air. Just going to have a meal in the evening, I came across two westerners, each with drawn swords passing me in the hallway.
I said, “Who are you?”
He said, “Well, who are you?”
“I’m a guest in the hotel. You have swords. Who are you?”
He said, “We work for D.O.D”
“Department of Defense, right?” (But he was obviously Greek—he had a Greek accent.) “Hang on a second you’re not Roman.”
“No, we’re a Greek outfit hired to look after D.O.D. employees in Jerusalem. That’s why we’re armed.”
I said, “Who gives you permission to have weapons?”
He said, “The Jerusalem Authority, we’re here protecting them.”
Now, how often have Jews seen armed plain clothes men moving in and out of inns, they have for more than 20 years, now seeing them again. Well these guys are not going to string them up by their fingernails and electrocute them in torture cells. But again, the image, the picture is the same. The armored escort, war horses in the street, soldiers kicking down the doors searching for, “terrorists”. The censorship plans. Plain clothes armed men going into an inn asking who you are immediately by asking them who they are, same system as before. It has this kind of ghastly ghostly veneer of the old regime about it. The Romans are not Herod the Great, they’re not gratuitously murdering first born children, they’re not lining up people at mass graves, of course they’re not. But if you see through the eyes of the Jews, it doesn’t look quite that simple.
And your emperor only mildly, rather pathetically and rather cowardly, criticized the Authority for an alleged atrocity. This was an attack which was meant to kill the political head of the Essenes. And in the ghastly role which the Jews and Romans play in their bloody and useless conflict, I can understand why the attack was made in that context.
But that attack did not kill the Righteous Teacher, it killed a little child of five and a young woman. Now your leader said that that was "troubling". That isn’t troubling that’s a shameful act, that’s a despicable thing to do. But there was no strong condemnation from Tiberius, he just said it was troubling. If an Essene had attacked Roman forces or a Roman political leader involved in encouraging violence, had killed a little Roman girl, and a young innocent Roman woman Mr Tiberius would not have called it troubling. He would have said it was a shameful, terrorist act, which it would have been. How can it work when the most powerful emperor of the most powerful state in the world, Rome, can be so gutless and cowardly in condemning the killing of two innocent people.
It is not troubling. It is an outrage that those two innocent people died. Just as it would be if the Jews had done it. Just as it is when the Jews do do it. For Tiberius it is not an outrage. Not a tragedy. Not shameful. It is merely troubling. Like a flood is troubling or a heavy rainfall that kills people or a storm is troubling. In that context how can this new peace possibly work.
It’s called a Roman road map, who invented the phrase road map? I suppose the poor old Senate and all the historians dutifully used the word Roman road map. They can’t use “peace process” because to bring peace they have to create a desert.
At large and continuing to expand Roman settlements, the Romans and Roman retired soldiers only in occupied Jewish land. What have the Jews done? Caiaphas says I’m going to finish terrorism, there’s going to be no more violence by the Jews and, bang, there immediately is. We have the three main violent groups, Essenes, Zealots and Galileans immediately carrying out the banditry.
And then praised by Jesus, I remember thinking, he’s praising them, that’s against the Roman road map so Romans have got a green light to knock him off and they tried and failed. I remember interviewing Jesus along similar lines about six months ago in Galilee, as I was talking to him I saw a Roman equestrian pass by the window and his body guard, Simon, looked around very nervously and I thought, oh, no, please go away and so I finished the interview.
But I always thought he was a target, he always had two sicari with him all the time. That’s not the point. Jesus is a very tough Jew, a very ruthless Jew. He was one of the Jews who was driven from Galilee into Tyre and Sidon in 0-20. I actually met him there in southern Tyre in the hills, when he was living rough, months after months on Mount Hermon.
This is a very rough character, very tough guy—grew up the hard way in guerrilla warfare as well as politics.
But when you’re going to have a situation where you have an Roman Governor who doesn’t want to end the settlements, who is indeed the creator of the settlements, and a Jewish High Priest who can’t stop the holy war and a Roman emperor who is so gutless he can only call a killing of a woman and a child troubling, what chance is there for a Roman road map or peace process or any other kind of agreement in eastern marches?
I wanted to end, back in Judea. Joseph Caiaphas who has addressed the Sanhedrin is saying that Jesus the Galilean is moving in an arc around the Jordan River starting northeast of Jerusalem. He said finding Jesus the Galilean would just be a matter of knowing whom to talk to. He says based on information from credible sources, he believes the Jewish rebel wants revenge and has obtained two awords for attacks on Roman forces. Caiaphas says Jesus the Galilean is paying bounty for every Roman soldier killed. Your response?
I long ago gave up putting any credit in anything that Joseph Caiaphas says. The real issue is not where is Judas the Galilean, he could be sitting in Athens or Ecbatana or he could be sitting in Lydda or in the Jewish countryside somewhere. Obviously there were plans to hide him in advance. You know this goes back to another issue of the degree of real effort to find him. Just look back, the Romans wanted to arrest Cleopatra and bring her to Rome. We were going to capture Simon Peter, he’s still on the loose. We were going to capture James the Less, a dwarf, not difficult to identify. But he’s still on the loose. We can’t get John in Judea or Simon, the sons of Judas the Galilean. We can’t get Jesus the Galilean himself. We only got Judas Iscariot because he killed himself.
Joseph Caiaphas says that Jesus the Galilean is moving in an arc, he maybe moving in a circle or square for all I know but it’s clear he’s still alive. That’s the point.