Sunday, 2 August 2015

Jerusalem Fallen AD 70

“The Voices of Masada” by David Kossoff is an extraordinary book. It is an imaginative reconstruction of the events of the fall of Masada, beginning with the end of the siege, and told by one of the women who survived, the one Josephus described as “superior to most women in prudence and learning”.

The story then is interspersed with tales telling the story of the revolt, the fall of Jerusalem and the events leading up to the end of the siege of Masada.

Kossoff was well known at the time of publication in 1975 for his dramatic retellings of Bible Stories from the Old Testament on ITV’s “Stars on Sunday”.

This is a vivid tale, and sadly only available in second hand copies. I hope that one day, it might get a Kindle release and be available to a wider audience. I’d recommend it to anyone. I first read it in the 1970s, and re-read it recently, and was struck by how the same powerful impression it made on me back in the 1970s is still present now.

Here is an extract, which gives something of the feel of the book, and the way in which it brings the ancient world to life in a way that no dry scholarly paper can ever do, although Kossoff was well read and in touch with archaeologists excavating. In this extract, the survivors of Masada make their way back to the city of Jerusalem, destroyed after a siege by the Romans in AD 70 at the end of the Jewish War.

Reading it today, the buildings in rubble, one cannot help be reminded of the rubble strewn remains of buildings to be found in nearby Gaza. Perhaps the past can become a way for those on both sides bound up in that conflict to feel the pain of the other, for empathy is at the heart of reconciliation.

The Jews who returned to Jerusalem were able to stay there until the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–136, when the Emperor Hadrian tore down most of what remained of Jerusalem, and founded a Roman colony city, Aelia Capitolina. Jews - which meant in practice all all circumcised men were banned from entering the city on pain of death.

The Fallen Jerusalem

The last part of the trek to Jerusalem was hard. There is no way to avoid the hills, from the south. As we climbed we grew more silent, each with memories and fatigue enough to halt speech and bring tears near.

And when we saw Jerusalem we did weep. Here was beauty raped and ravished beyond description.

We came it through what was left of the Gate of the Essenes, in the, past my favourite way into the city, for there to left., and right had been the perfume factories and their flower gardens, the air full of beautiful scent. Now many of the small factories were in ruins and in the gardens grew vegetables, tended by sad-looking people and ragged children.

To every side, as we walked up through the Lower City, past the pool of Siloam, were smashed buildings or rubble, strewn open spaces where houses had stood. The great Stadium near the Temple South: Wall looked shabby and damaged. To our right, low in the South Wall were the Gates of Huldah, where Sarah had lost her family in the Passover Massacre: and the great walls themselves were rent and torn.

We stopped at the corner of the Temple Mount, where the South and Western Walls made their right angle. Below, the Crates of Huldah the ground fell away to the-plain of 'Ophel where Menahem was stoned to death. It looked desolate; a mourning place, in its soil the blood of a special man.

Leaving the others, Sarah and I made our way with the children up the broken steps to the gate in the Western Wall. Four helmeted Roman soldiers stood guard and looked at us searchingly, but saw no danger in two women and five children all in need of clothes and a good wash. We passed through them into the familiar wide open space, where we had fought so desperately three years before.

The twins said it first, in the same breath, the same words.

`The Temple's gone'

Who can describe the sight? Who can put down in words the stopping of the heart, the disbelief of the eyes the feeling that the world had changed. As surely as the mind knew that our Temple had been the work of men, so did the soul know that God had guided those men, that God had had a hand in it, that God had lived there. In the Holy of Holies, unseen but there. Who could doubt it? Our mothers-had- told us so, our fathers, our teachers.

Now the Temple was a wasteland of rubble, wherein old men sat and wept into their beards.' Where did God live now? Who could tell, in the vast field of ruin, even-where the Holy of Holies had been? Where the great Altar, where the towering pillars of the Sanctuary, where the beautiful Gates of Nicanor, where the lovely Courts and' Chambers had been? Did God himself now sit in the dusty stones, weeping?

Sarah stood close to me, her jaw like iron. Judith stood at my other side, with Simon's hand in hers. The twins were a little in front of us, silent. Little Sami, feeling that this was no time to be carried, wriggled and was put down, to stand, with serious grubby face, wordless.

I looked around.. The colonnades which had edged the Temple Area, which had looked :as if they would last for centuries, had great gaps, and in :their remains people were living, in holes, like animals,

We picked our way along, the twins darting ahead. Ahead of us, at the end of the Western Wall, was the wreckage of the Antonia fortress. Impregnable, uncrushable Antonia. Mighty, blockhouse. A ruin.

The twins, atop a heap of rubble in a gap of the wall, shouted and. pointed into, the city. We climbed, up after them and looked down and across Jerusalem. Little impeded our view. The palaces; were gone, even our last stronghold, the Palace. of Great Herod, which had stood to the left of the Three Towers he'd built-to his brother Phasael, to his friend Hippicus and to poor tragic Mariamne, the wife he'd truly loved-and killed.

The Towers remained. Untouched. Left by the Romans to show future: generations how noble a city had been humbled by them. The Towers stood; as though to point how little else stood. Whole streets were gone. The graceful Theatre, the monuments of Hyrcanus, of Jannaeus, of Huldah: gone. Many of the beautiful villas of the wealthy, in the Upper City, damaged in the war were now, like the Temple, entirely destroyed. They lay, hills of debris, in their own overgrown gardens.

Again from the twins in unison: `Where have all the people, gone?' Indeed where, for ;we of Jerusalem were used to crowds, a teeming population of many tongues. Jerusalem was where the, world came to worship and gasp. In the War people fled to Jerusalem-and the siege packed us even tighter..

The teeming, crowds were gone, No worshippers, no sightseers, no pilgrims. No procession of priests, no royal guards, no merchant caravans swaying through.

No comments: