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Great Jewish Revolt One

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History Of Judaism


Great Jewish Revolt: Siege And Destruction Of Jerusalem
Author: Josephus

Part III.

So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with
their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its
progress and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper
rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the
lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also
and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled
with the famine, and fell down dead wheresoever their misery seized them.
As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it;
and those that were hearty and well were deterred from doing it by the great
multitude of those dead bodies, and by the uncertainty there was how soon
they should die themselves, for many died as they were burying others, and
many went to their coffins before that fatal hour was come. Nor was there
any lamentations made under these calamities, nor were heard any mournful
complaints; but the famine confounded all natural passions, for those who
were just going to die looked upon those that were gone to rest before them
with dry eyes and open mouths.

A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night, had seized upon the
city; while yet the robbers were still more terrible than these miseries were
themselves, for they brake open those houses which were no other than graves
of dead bodies, and plundered them of what they had; and carrying off the
coverings of their bodies went out laughing, and tried the points of their
swords in their dead bodies; and, in order to prove what metal they were made
of, they thrust some of those through that still lay alive upon the ground;
but for those that entreated them to lend them their right hand and their
sword to despatch them, they were too proud to grant their requests, and left
them to be consumed by the famine. Now every one of these died with their
eyes fixed upon the Temple, and left the seditious alive behind them. Now
the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the
public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But
afterward, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the
walls into the valleys beneath.

However, when Titus, in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them
full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a
groan; and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that
this was not his doing; and such was the sad case of the city itself. But
the Romans were very joyful, since none of the seditious could now make
sallies out of the city, because they were themselves disconsolate, and the
famine already touched them also. These Romans besides had great plenty of
corn and other necessaries out of Syria and out of the neighboring provinces;
many of whom would stand near to the wall of the city and show the people
what great quantities of provisions they had and so make the enemy more
sensible of their famine, by the great plenty, even to satiety, which they
had themselves.

In the mean time Josephus, as he was going round the city, had his head
wounded by a stone that was thrown at him; upon which he fell down as giddy.
Josephus soon recovered of his wound and came out and cried out aloud, that
it would not be long ere they should be punished for this wound they had
given him. He also made a fresh exhortation to the people to come out upon
the security that would be given them. This sight of Josephus encouraged the
people greatly and brought a great consternation upon the seditious.

Hereupon some of the deserters, having no other way, leaped down from
the wall immediately, while others of them went out of the city with stones,
as if they would fight them; but thereupon they fled away to the Romans. But
here a worse fate accompanied these than what they had found within the city;
and they met with a quicker despatch from the too great abundance they had
among the Romans than they could have done from the famine among the Jews,
for when they came first to the Romans they were puffed up by the famine and
swelled like men in a dropsy; after which they all on the sudden overfilled
those bodies that were before empty, and so burst asunder, excepting such
only as were skilful enough to restrain their appetites, and by degrees took
in their food into bodies unaccustomed thereto.

Yet did another plague seize upon those that were thus preserved, for
there was found among the Syrian deserters a certain person who was caught
gathering pieces of gold out of the excrements of the Jews' bellies, for the
deserters used to swallow such pieces of gold, as we told you before, when
they came out, and for these did the seditious search them all; for there was
a great quantity of gold in the city, insomuch that as much was now sold [in
the Roman camp] for twelve Attic [drachmas] as was sold before for
twenty-five. But when this contrivance was discovered in one instance, the
fame of it filled their several camps, that the deserters came to them full
of gold. So the multitude of the Arabians, with the Syrians, cut up those
that came as supplicants, and searched their bellies. Nor does it seem to me
that any misery befell the Jews that was more terrible than this, since in
one night's time about two thousand of these deserters were thus dissected.

When Titus came to the knowledge of this wicked practice, he threatened
that he would put such men to death if any of them were discovered to be so
insolent as to do so again. Moreover, he gave it in charge to the legions,
that they should make a search after such as were suspected, and should bring
them to him. But it appeared that the love of money was too great for all
their dread of punishment, and a vehement desire of gain is natural to men,
and no passion is so venturesome as covetousness. Otherwise such passions
have certain bounds and are subordinate to fear. But in reality it was God
who condemned the whole nation and turned every course that was taken for
their preservation to their destruction. This, therefore, which was
forbidden by Caesar under such a threatening, was ventured upon privately
against the deserters, and these barbarians would go out still and meet those
that ran away before any saw them, and looking about them to see that no
Roman spied them, they dissected them and pulled this polluted money out of
their bowels, which money was still found in a few of them, while yet a great
many were destroyed by the bare hope there was of thus getting by them, which
miserable treatment made many that were deserting to return back again into
the city.

And, indeed, why do I relate these particular calamities? while Manneus,
the son of Lazarus, came running to Titus at this very time and told him that
there had been carried out through that one gate, which was intrusted to his
care, no fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty
dead bodies in the interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus
(Nisan), when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of
the month Panemus (Tamuz). This was itself a prodigious multitude; and
though this man was not himself set as a governor at that gate, yet was he
appointed to pay the public stipend for carrying these bodies out, and so was
obliged of necessity to number them, while the rest were buried by their
relations, though all their burial was but this, to bring them away and cast
them out of the city.

After this man there ran away to Titus many of the eminent citizens and
told him the entire number of the poor that were dead, and that no fewer than
six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates, though still the number of
the rest could not be discovered; and they told him further that when they
were no longer able to carry out the dead bodies of the poor they laid their
corpses on heaps in very large houses and shut them up therein; as also that
a medimno of wheat was sold for a talent; and that when, a while afterward,
it was not possible to gather herbs, by reason the city was all walled about,
some persons were driven to that terrible distress as to search the common
sewers and old dunghills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there,
and what they of old could not endure so much as to see they now used for
food. When the Romans barely heard all this they commiserated their case;
while the seditious, who saw it also, did not repent, but suffered the same
distress to come upon themselves, for they were blinded by that fate which
was already coming upon the city, and upon themselves also.

And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting
together their materials, raised their banks in one-and-twenty days, after
they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the
city, and that for ninety furlongs round about. And when the banks were
finished, they afforded a foundation for fear both to the Romans and to the
Jews, for the Jews expected that the city would be taken unless they could
burn those banks, as did the Romans expect that, if these were once burned
down they should never be able to take it, for there was a mighty scarcity of
materials, and the bodies of the soldiers began to fail with such hard
labors, as did their souls faint with so many instances of ill-success.

The Romans had an advantage, in that their engines for sieges cooperated
with them in throwing darts and stones as far as the Jews, when they were
coming out of the city; whereby the man that fell became an impediment to him
that was next to him, as did the danger of going farther make them less
zealous in their attempts; and for those that had run under the darts some
of them were terrified by the good order and closeness of the enemies' ranks
before they came to a close fight, and others were pricked with their spears
and turned back again. At length they reproached one another for their
cowardice, and retired without doing anything. This attack was made upon the
first day of the month Panemus (Tamuz).

So when the Jews were retreated the Romans brought their engines,
although they had all the while stones thrown at them from the tower of
Antonia, and were assaulted by fire and sword, and by all sorts of darts,
which necessity afforded the Jews to make use of, for although these had
great dependence on their own wall, and a contempt of the Roman engines, yet
did they endeavor to hinder the Romans from bringing them. Now these Romans
struggled hard, on the contrary, to bring them, as deeming that this zeal of
the Jews was in order to avoid any impression to be made on the tower of
Antonia, because its wall was but weak and its foundations rotten. However,
that tower did not yield to the blows given it from the engines; yet did the
Romans bear the impressions made by the enemies' darts which were perpetually
cast at them, and did not give way to any of those dangers that came upon
them from above, and so they brought their engines to bear. But then, as
they were beneath the other, and were sadly wounded by the stones thrown down
upon them, some of them threw their shields over their bodies, and partly
with their hands and partly with their bodies and partly with crows they
undermined its foundations, and with great pains they removed four of its
stones. Then night came upon both sides, and put an end to this struggle for
the present. However, that night the wall was so shaken by the battering
rams in that place where John had used his stratagem before, and had
undermined their banks, that the ground then gave way and the wall fell down

When this accident had unexpectedly happened, the minds of both parties
were variously affected, for though one would expect that the Jews would be
discouraged, because this fall of their wall was unexpected by them, and they
had made no provision in that case, yet did they pull up their courage,
because the tower of Antonia itself was still standing; as was the unexpected
joy of the Romans at this fall of the wall soon quenched by the sight they
had of another wall, which John and his party had built within it.

Upon the fifth day of the month Panemus (Tamuz), twelve of those men
that were on the forefront and kept watch upon the banks got together and
called to them the standard-bearer of the Fifth legion, and two others of a
troop of horsemen, and one trumpeter; these went without noise, about the
ninth hour of the night, through the ruins, to the tower of Antonia; and when
they had cut the throats of the first guards of the place, as they were
asleep, they got possession of the wall and ordered the trumpeter to sound
his trumpet. Upon which the rest of the guard got up on the sudden and ran
away before anybody could see how many they were that were gotten up, for
partly from the fear they were in and partly from the sound of the trumpet
which they heard they imagined a great number of the enemy were gotten up.
But as soon as Caesar heard the signal he ordered the army to put on their
armor immediately, and came thither with his commanders, and first of all
ascended, as did the chosen men that were with him. And as the Jews were
flying away to the Temple they fell into that mine which John had dug under
the Roman banks. Then did the seditious of both the bodies of the Jewish
army, as well that belonging to John as that belonging to Simon, drive them
away; and indeed were no way wanting as to the highest degree of force and
alacrity; for they esteemed themselves entirely ruined if once the Romans got
into the Temple, as did the Romans look upon the same thing as the beginning
of their entire conquest.

So a terrible battle was fought at the entrance of the Temple, while the
Romans were forcing their way, in order to get possession of that Temple, and
the Jews were driving them back to the tower of Antonia; in which battle the
darts were on both sides useless, as well as the spears, and both sides drew
their swords and fought it out hand-to-hand. Now during this struggle the
positions of the men were undistinguished on both sides, and they fought at
random, the men being intermixed one with another and confounded, by reason
of the narrowness of the place; while the noise that was made fell on the ear
after an indistinct manner, because it was so very loud. Great slaughter was
now made on both sides, and the combatants trod upon the bodies and the armor
of those that were dead, and dashed them to pieces. Accordingly, to which
side soever the battle inclined, those that had the advantage exhorted one
another to go on, as did those that were beaten make great lamentation. But
still there was no room for flight nor for pursuit, but disorderly
revolutions and retreats, while the armies were intermixed one with another;
but those that were in the first ranks were under the necessity of killing or
being killed, without any way for escaping, for those on both sides that came
behind forced those before them to go on, without leaving any space between
the armies.

At length the Jews' violent zeal was too hard for the Romans' skill, and
the battle already inclined entirely that way; for the fight had lasted from
the ninth hour of the night till the seventh hour of the day, while the Jews
came on in crowds, and had the danger the Temple was in for their motive; the
Romans having no more here than a part of their army, for those legions, on
which the soldiers on that side depended, were not come up to them. So it
was at present thought sufficient by the Romans to take possession of the
tower of Antonia.

In the mean time the rest of the Roman army had, in seven days' time,
overthrown [some] foundations of the tower of Antonia, and had made a ready
and broad way to the Temple. Then did the legions come near the first court
and began to raise their banks. The one bank was over against the northwest
corner of the inner temple; another was at that northern edifice which was
between the two gates; and of the other two, one was at the western cloister
of the outer court of the Temple; the other against its northern cloister.
However these works were thus far advanced by the Romans, not without great
pains and difficulty, and particularly by being obliged to bring their
materials from the distance of a hundred furlongs.

They had further difficulties also upon them; sometimes by their
over-great security they were in that they should overcome the Jewish snares
laid for them, and by that boldness of the Jews which their despair of
escaping had inspired them withal.

In the mean time the Jews were so distressed by the fights they had been
in, as the war advanced higher and higher, and creeping up to the holy house
itself, that they, as it were, cut off those limbs of their body which were
infected, in order to prevent the distemper's spreading further, for they set
the northwest cloister, which was joined to the tower of Antonia, on fire,
and after that brake off about twenty cubits of that cloister, and thereby
made a beginning in burning the sanctuary; two days after which, or on the
twenty-fourth day of the forenamed month [Panemus or Tamuz], the Romans set
fire to the cloister that joined to the other, when the fire went fifteen
cubits farther. The Jews, in like manner, cut off its roof; nor did they
entirely leave off what they were about till the tower of Antonia was parted
from the Temple, even when it was in their power to have stopped the
fire - nay, they lay still while the Temple was first set on fire, and deemed
this spreading of the fire to be for their own advantage. However, the
armies were still fighting one against another about the Temple, and the war
was managed by continual sallies of particular parties against one another.

Now of those that perished by famine in the city the number was
prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable, for if so much
as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear a war was commenced
presently, and the dearest friends fell a-fighting one with another about it,
snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would men
believe that those who were dying had no food, but the robbers would search
them when they were expiring, lest anyone should have concealed food in his
bosom and counterfeited dying, nay these robbers gaped for want, and ran
about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the
doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress
they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and
the same day. Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable that it obliged
them to chew everything, while they gathered such things as the most sordid
animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length
abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their
shields they pulled off and gnawed; the very wisps of old hay became food to
some; and some gathered up fibres and sold a very small weight of them for
four Attic [drachmas].

But why do I describe the shameless impudence that the famine brought on
men in their eating inanimate things, while I am going to relate a matter of
fact, the like to which no history relates, either among the Greeks or
barbarians? It is horrible to speak of it and incredible when heard. I had
indeed willingly omitted this calamity of ours, that I might not seem to
deliver what is so portentous to posterity, but that I have innumerable
witnesses to it in my own age; and besides, my country would have had little
reason to thank me for suppressing the miseries that she underwent at this

There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary;
her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezob, which signifies "the House
of Hyssop." She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away
to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged
therein at this time. The other effects of this woman had been already
seized upon, such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and
removed to the city. What she had treasured up besides, as also what food
she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards,
who came every day running into her house for that purpose. This put the
poor woman into a very great passion, and by the frequent reproaches and
imprecations she cast at these rapacious villains she had provoked them to
anger against her; but none of them, either out of the indignation she had
raised against herself, or out of commiseration of her case, would take away
her life; and if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for
others, and not for herself; and it was now become impossible for her any way
to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and
marrow, when also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself;
nor did she consult with anything but with her passion and the necessity she
was in. She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son,
who was a child sucking at her breast, she said: "O thou miserable infant!
for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition?
As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives we must be slaves.
This famine also will destroy us even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet
are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on: be
thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a byword to
the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us

As soon as she had said this she slew her son, and then roasted him, and
eat the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this
the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food,
they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not
show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a
very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her
son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and
stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them: "This is mine own son,
and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food, for I
have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a
woman or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous and do
abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be
reserved for me also." After which those men went out trembling, being never
so much affrighted at anything as they were at this, and with some difficulty
they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was
full of this horrid action immediately; and while everybody laid this
miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this
unheard-of-action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus
distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead
were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or
to see such miseries.

This sad instance was quickly told to the Romans, some of whom could not
believe it, and others pitied the distress which the Jews were under; but
there were many of them who were hereby induced to a more bitter hatred than
ordinary against our nation. But for Caesar, he excused himself before God
as to this matter, and said that he had proposed peace and liberty to the
Jews, as well as an oblivion of all their former insolent practices; but that
they, instead of concord, had chosen sedition; instead of peace, war; and
before satiety and abundance, a famine. That they had begun with their own
hands to burn down that Temple which we have preserved hitherto, and that
therefore they deserved to eat such food as this was. That, however, this
horrid action of eating an own child ought to be covered with the overthrow
of their very country itself, and men ought not to leave such a city upon the
habitable earth to be seen by the sun wherein mothers are thus fed, although
such food be fitter for the fathers than for the mothers to eat of, since it
is they that continue still in a state of war against us, after they have
undergone such miseries as these. And at the same time that he said this, he
reflected on the desperate condition these men must be in; nor could he
expect that such men could be recovered to sobriety of mind after they had
endured those very sufferings, for the avoiding whereof it only was probable
they might have repented.

And now two of the legions had completed their banks on the eighth day
of the month Lous [Ab]. Whereupon Titus gave orders that the battering rams
should be brought and set over against the western edifice of the inner
temple; for before these were brought, the firmest of all the other engines
had battered the wall for six days together without ceasing, without making
any impression upon it; but the vast largeness and strong connection of the
stones were superior to that engine and to the other battering rams also.
Other Romans did indeed undermine the foundations of the northern gate, and
after a world of pains removed the outermost stones, yet was the gate still
upheld by the inner stones, and stood still unhurt; till the workmen,
despairing of all such attempts by engines and crows, brought their ladders
to the cloisters.

Now the Jews did not interrupt them in so doing; but when they were
gotten up, they fell upon them and fought with them; some of them they thrust
down and threw them backward headlong; others of them they met and slew; they
also beat many of those that went down the ladders again, and slew them with
their swords before they could bring their shields to protect them; nay, some
of the ladders they threw down from above when they were full of armed men.
A great slaughter was made of the Jews also at the same time, while those
that bare the ensigns fought hard for them, as deeming it a terrible thing,
and what would tend to their great shame, if they permitted them to be stolen
away. Yet did the Jews at length get possession of these engines, and
destroyed those that had gone up the ladders, while the rest were so
intimidated by what those suffered who were slain that they retired; although
none of the Romans died without having done good service before his death.
Of the seditious, those that had fought bravely in the former battles did the
like now, as besides them did Eleazar, the brother's son of Simon the tyrant.
But when Titus perceived that his endeavors to spare a foreign temple turned
to the damage of his soldiers and made them be killed, he gave order to set
the gates on fire.

But then, on the next day, Titus commanded part of his army to quench
the fire and to make a road for the more easy marching up of the legions,
while he himself gathered the commanders together. Titus proposed to these
that they should give him their advice what should be done about the holy
house. Now some of these thought it would be the best way to act according
to the rules of war [and demolish it], because the Jews would never leave off
rebelling while that house was standing; at which house it was that they used
to get all together. Others of them were of opinion that in case the Jews
would leave it, and none of them would lay their arms up in it, he might save
it; but that in case they got upon it and fought any more, he might burn it;
because it must then be looked upon not as a holy house, but as a citadel;
and that the impiety of burning it would then belong to those that forced
this to be done, and not to them.

But Titus said that 'although the Jews should get upon that holy house
and fight us thence, yet ought we not to revenge ourselves on things that are
inanimate, instead of the men themselves"? and that he was not in any case
for burning down so vast a work as that was, because this would be a mischief
to the Romans themselves, as it would be an ornament to their government
while it continued. So Fronto and Alexander and Cerealis grew bold upon
that declaration, and agreed to the opinion of Titus. Then was this assembly
dissolved, when Titus had given orders to the commanders that the rest of
their forces should lie still; but that they should make use of such as were
most courageous in this attack. So he commanded that the chosen men that
were taken out of the cohorts should make their way through the ruins and
quench the fire.

Now it is true that on this day the Jews were so weary and under such
consternation that they refrained from any attacks. But on the next day they
gathered their whole force together, and ran upon those that guarded the
outward court of the Temple very boldly, through the east gate, and this
about the second hour of the day. These guards received their attack with
great bravery, and by covering themselves with their shields before, as if it
were with a wall, drew their squadron close together; yet was it evident that
they could not abide there very long, but would be overborne by the multitude
of those that sallied out upon them, and by the heat of their passion.
However, Caesar seeing, from the tower of Antonia, that this squadron was
likely to give way, sent some chosen horsemen to support them. Hereupon the
Jews found themselves not able to sustain their onset, and, upon the
slaughter of those in the forefront, many of the rest were put to flight.
But as the Romans were going off, the Jews turned upon them and fought them;
and as those Romans came back upon them, they retreated again, until about
the fifth hour of the day they were overborne, and shut themselves up in the
inner [court of the] Temple.

So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia and resolved to storm the
Temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp
round about the holy house. But as for that house, God had, for certain,
long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to
the revolution of ages. It was the tenth day of the month Lous [Ab] upon
which it was formerly burned by the king of Babylon; although these flames
took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them, for
upon Titus' retiring the seditious lay still for a little while, and then
attacked the Romans again when those that guarded the holy house fought with
those that quenched the fire that was burning the inner [court of the]
Temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight and proceeded as far as the
holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for
any orders and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an
undertaking and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat
out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another
soldier he set fire to a golden window through which there was a passage to
the rooms that were round about the holy house on the north side of it.

As the flames went upward the Jews made a great clamor such as so mighty
an affliction required and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared
not their lives any longer nor suffered anything to restrain their force,
since that holy house was perishing for whose sake it was that they kept such
a guard about it.

And now Caesar was no way able to restrain the enthusiastic fury of the
soldiers, and the fire proceeded on more and more. He went into the holy
place of the Temple with his commanders and saw it, with what was in it,
which he found to be far superior to what the relations of foreigners
contained, and not inferior to what we ourselves boasted of and believed
about it. But as the flame had not as yet reached to its inward parts, but
was still consuming the rooms that were about the holy house, and Titus
supposing what the fact was, that the house itself might yet be saved, came
in haste and endeavored to persuade the soldiers to quench the fire, and gave
order to Liberalius the centurion, and one of those spearmen that were about
him, to beat the soldiers that were refractory with their staves and to
restrain them; yet were their passions too hard for the regards they had for
Caesar, and the dread they had of him who forbade them, as was their hatred
of the Jews, and a certain vehement inclination to fight them, too hard for
them also. Moreover, the hope of plunder induced many to go on, as having
this opinion, that all the places within were full of money, and as seeing
that all round about it was made of gold. And besides, one of those that
went into the place prevented Caesar, when he ran so hastily out to restrain
the soldiers, and threw the fire upon the hinges of the gate, in the dark;
whereby the flame burst out from within the holy house itself immediately,
when the commanders retired, and Caesar with them, and when nobody any longer
forbade those that were without to set fire to it. And thus was the holy
house burned down without Caesar's approbation.

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