Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Apocalyptic? #26: The Plague of “Darkness”: Josephus


The Plague of Darkness in Egypt Transformed into War Terminology              

Before we are able to move historically to the FROGS plague (the #6 Bowl/Plague, which we will consider next), we should introduce it by explaining the prior Bowl/Plague (#5): DARKNESS (a sign which, incidentally, also shows up in Revelation as Seal #6 and Trumpet #4, but Seal #6 and Trumpet #4 actually refer to entirely different events, altogether).  Revelation 16:10 (NKJV) describes the Bowl/Plague #5: Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.”  Moses’ plague of darkness involved literal DARKNESS (in nature), but John’s darkness is a war reference.  John is writing the Apocalypse IN THE MIDST OF THIS SPECIFIC PLAGUE.  While the other plagues are visited upon the “Land” of Israel, THIS PLAGUE is poured out on the “Throne of the Beast.” i.e., it is a plague on “the throne” that exists in ROME ITSELF, but with rather significant implications for the Jews living in Jerusalem (and in Asia Minor, I might add).  Vespasian, as the General whom Nero had commissioned to crush the Jewish Uprising in 66 A.D., had been systematically demolishing Jewish cities and territories throughout the Land of Israel, slaughtering the people.  A summary of events is in order.  The “throne” of the Beast was not in “darkness” when the following events happened (Nero was firmly in charge):

War Begins
.  According to Josephus (Wars II.XVI.1): “Florus [the Roman Procurator in Judea from 64 to 66 A.D.] contrived [a] way to oblige the Jews to begin the war [with Rome] and sent to Cestius [a Roman general] and accused the Jews falsely of revolting [from the Roman government].”  Herod Agrippa II (who had, years earlier, told Paul, in Acts 26:28, that he was almost “persuaded” to be a Christian) attempted to mediate between Florus and the Jews in order to avert the war in 66 A.D. (Wars II.XVI.4).  Knowing that the Jews’ primary Roman antagonist was the Procurator Florus, Agrippa (who, as when he was with Paul, was very interested in “persuasion”) “attempted to persuade the [Jewish] multitude to obey Florus, until Caesar [Nero] should send one to succeed him” (Wars II.XVII.1).  Nevertheless, war broke out.  The war started at Masada in 66 A.D. and would end at Masada in 73 A.D., seven years later.  Josephus writes:

[S]ome . . . [that wanted to] go to war, made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada . . . and slew the Romans that were there.  . . . At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, . . . who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated . . . to receive no gift or sacrifices for any foreigner.  And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans:  for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar (Wars II.XVI.2).


The city of Cesarea, in allegiance to Florus, promptly massacred 20,000 Jews “and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants” (Wars II.XVIII.1).  Likewise, Scythopolis killed 13,000 (Wars II.XVIII.3), “Askelon slew two thousand five hundred [2500] . . . Ptolymais two thousand [2000] . . . Tyre also put a great number to death . . . those of Hippos and . . . Gadara did the like . . . as did the rest of the cities of Syria  . . . [except] the Antiochians, the Sidonians, and Apamians” (Wars II.XVIII.5).  Even the city of Alexandria (in Egypt), which had long been a safe haven for Jews in the Roman Empire, attacked (with two Roman legions) and killed 50,000 Jews (Wars II.XVIII.8).

The Romans Retreat
  Then, Cestius took the twelfth legion out of Antioch and marched to “Cesarea, but sent part of his army before him to Joppa” where they “plundered and burnt the city [recall the “mountain burning with fire cast into the sea” of the previous blogpost].  The number of the slain was eight thousand four hundred [8400].  Cestius also sent troops to the toparchy of Narbatene where they “slew a great multitude of its people” and he sent the commander of the twelfth legion into Galilee where they killed more than 2000. (Wars II.XVIII.10-11).  Finally, still in 66 A.D., Cestius moved his troops to within six miles of Jerusalem.  The Jews in Jerusalem, anticipating the impending attack, proactively attacked Cestius’s troops, killing 515 Romans, while losing only 22 of their own (Wars II.XIX.1-2).  Cestius, then attacked the city, but, as Josephus put it: “without any reason in the world,” he retreated (Wars II.XIX.7).  Emboldened, the Jews pursued the Romans until they “had slain five thousand three hundred [5300] footmen and three hundred and eighty [380] horsemen (Wars II.XIX.8-9). 

The Christians Escape
?  This defeat of Roman forces, while it brought consternation to Nero, provided an opportunity for “many of the most eminent of the Jews [to swim] away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink” (Wars II.XX.1-2).  This would also have been an opportunity for the Jewish Christians who were in Jerusalem and Judea to heed the warning of Jesus: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her” (Luke 21:20-21 NKJV).  The Jews who persisted in staying in Jerusalem and Judea, then, chose their TEN KINGS, whom I listed in my prior blogpost APOCALYPTIC? #24:  The “Land” of “Ten Kings”: Josephus.  Then, in February of 67 A.D., Nero deliberated concerning “to whom he should commit the care of the East . . . and who might be best able to punish the Jews for their rebellion . . . .   [H]e found no one but Vespasian equal to the task . . . and . . . he had his sons [Titus and Domitian] as hostages for his fidelity to himself, and that the flourishing age they were in would make them fit instruments under their father’s prudence” (Wars III.I.2-3).

Vespasian Takes Galilee
.  Note that Nero had ALL THREE family members—Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian—in mind when he appointed Vespasian in 67 A.D. to be in charge of prosecuting the Jewish War.  This fact will be important as we consider the three “frogs” of Revelation in my next blogpost.  Vespasian took command of the Roman armies in Syria and “Vespasian sent his son Titus . . . to Alexandria [Egypt], to bring from thence the fifth and tenth legions” (Wars III.I.3).  The Jews fought the Romans at Ascalon (or Ashkelon), 65 miles from Jerusalem and 31 miles south of Joppa, but were defeated, losing 10,000 fighting men in one battle, and an additional 8000 in a second battle (Wars III.II.1-3). 

Vespasian then moved his army toward Galilee (where Josephus was the general/”king of the land”) and Vespasian met up with his son Titus and the troops from Egypt in Ptolemais—straight west of Capernaum, on the Mediterranean Coast (Wars III.IV.2).  When Vespasian moved into Galilee, he fought Josephus fiercely at the walled city of Jotapata, built on a precipice (Wars III.VII.7).  While he was fighting against Jotapata, Vespasian sent a commander to take a nearby city called Japha where the Romans killed 15,000 and carried the women and infants into slavery (Wars III.VII.31).  They also killed 11,600 Samaritans on Mt. Gerazim (Wars III.VII.32).  Eventually, in July 67 A.D., Vespasian took Jotapata and killed 40,000 there (Wars III.VII.36).  Josephus devised a way to surrender to Vespasian, and thus save his own life, becoming an ally of sorts to the Romans, constantly attempting to persuade the Jews in every city to surrender to Rome.  He even took Vespasian’s family name (Flavius) as a part of his own—hence, he is called:  Flavius Josephus.  He was accused by many of the Jews of being a deserter, a traitor, and a coward (Wars III.VIII; III.IX,6).  (Remember John’s description of the “ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast [i.e., ROME]” in Revelation 17:12-13 NKJV.)  Josephus correctly foretold, WHILE NERO WAS ALIVE AND STILL THE EMPEROR, that Vespasian and his son would be Emperor, and even called him Caesar at that time (Wars III.VIII.9). 

Next, Vespasian sent troops to Joppa and turned the sea to blood, killing 4200, and then proceeded to Taricheae on the Sea of Galilee, killing 6500 in the bloody lake, plus an additional 1200 “old men” and “useless,” and selling a remaining 30,400 as slaves, as described in my previous blogpost (Wars III.IX.1-4; III.X).  After the bloodbaths at Jotapata and Taricheae, many other Galilean cities and towns surrendered to the Romans, but Gischala, Gamala, and those who seized Mount Tabor resisted.  Vespasian moved his troops to Gamala, near Taricheae, a difficult city to attack because “it was situated upon a rough ridge of a high mountain.”  Josephus, as governor/king in Galilee, had made it even stronger by building a wall around it. (Wars IV.I.1).    The mountain had two humps, resembling a camel.  The term “Gamala” in Hebrew means “camel.”  While he was sieging Gamala, Vespasian sent Placidus with 600 horsemen to Mount Tabor and “slew a great number of them” that were in Mount Tabor, with the rest of the Jewish fighters fleeing to Jerusalem (Wars IV.X.8).  Titus returned to Gamala where the Romans slew 4000, but an additional 5000 committed suicide, so that “blood ran down over all the lower parts of the city, from the upper” (Wars IV.I.10).  Titus then took Gischala, with relative ease, but slew “six thousand of the women and children” (Wars IV.II.5), when a notorious Jewish rebel named John escaped to Jerusalem, and the women and children attempted to follow him.  Josephus reports: “And thus was all Galilee taken” (Wars IV.II.5).

Vespasian Waits for Civil War to Destroy Jerusalem
.  Having arrived in Jerusalem, John of Gischala became no friend of the Jewish inhabitants.  Instead, a bloody civil war broke out in the city between John, the zealot party, and the Idumeans.  The high priest Ananus (king of the land #2 from my earlier blogpost Apocalyptic?  #24:  The “Land” of “Ten Kings”:  Josephus), with the same attitude as Josephus, tried to turn Jerusalem over to the Romans.  Writes Josephus: “Ananus . . . prevailed with the people to send ambassadors to Vespasian to invite him to come presently and take the city” (Wars IV.III.14).  (Remember John’s “ten kings who . . . will give their power and authority to the beast [i.e., ROME]” in Revelation 17:12-13 NKJV.)  Nevertheless, according to Josephus, Ananus was killed by the Idumeans who “sought for the high priests . . . and . . . slew them . . . the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city” (Wars IV.VI.2). This civil war will be covered more fully in a later blogpost.  While Vespasian was waiting for the civil war to accomplish his ends in Jerusalem, Vespasian “was obliged first to overthrow what remained elsewhere” (Wars IV.VII.3).

Vespasian Takes the Rest of Judea
.  While Jerusalem was in the process of self-destruction, Vespasian and his commander Placidus plundered Gadara and chased the Jews to Jericho and all the way to the Jordan River where they killed 15,000 and further filled the Jordan with dead bodies.  Crossing over the Jordan into Perea (east of the Jordan and north of the Dead Sea—territory originally apportioned to the tribes of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben in the time of Joshua), Placidus took the towns of “Abila, and Julias, and Bezemoth, and all that lay as far as [the Dead Sea] . . . and slew such as had fled to the [Dead Sea], insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans”  (Wars IV.VII.6).  Vespasian, on the west side of the Jordan, led his army “from Cesarea to Antipatris [in Samaria] . . . laying waste and burning all of the neighboring villages . . . the toparchy of Bethletephon.  He then destroyed that place and the neighboring places, by fire and . . . when he had seized upon two villages in the very midst of Idumea . . . he slew” more than 10,000, and came to Jericho, then on to Sodom, by the Dead Sea (Wars IV.VIII.1-2).  On then to Gerasa, where he slew 1000.  He was “getting ready with all his army to march directly to Jerusalem [when] he was informed that NERO WAS DEAD.” Nero had committed suicide (Wars IV.IX.1-2).   

Up to this point, the Romans had killed more than 227,000 Jews in the war, not counting the huge number that died of famine and civil war, which we will discuss in a future post.  Compare that number with the 6,000 Americans who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars or with the 47,000 Americans who died in the Viet Nam War or with the 53,000 Americans who died in World War I or with the 215,000 (counting both Union and Confederate) who died in the Civil War or with the 292,000 Americans who died in World War II.  Remember that the Jewish state was a tiny one, approximately 1350 square miles (about the size of Rhode Island), and one-half of it was desert.  Vespasian and the Romans were totally crushing Judea . . . and then . . . .

The Plague of Darkness Upon the “Throne” of the Beast                 

Nero’s death plunged the Roman Empire into darkness
!  Nero was the last in the family of Caesar to hold the office of emperor.  There was no other true “Caesar” available to claim the “throne.”  Civil War in Rome broke out as various would-be emperors vied for the title.  Nero had died in 68 A.D., and in the next year (69 A.D.) no fewer than FOUR would-be emperors emerged to replace Nero (Vespasian being the fourth).  As I wrote concerning the seven-becomes-eight heads of the Beast in my blogpost Apocalyptic?  #10:  They are Digging in the Wrong Place Rev. 1:4a, “Since Julius [Caesar] was never officially an emperor, it seems more likely that Augustus is head one, and that Galba who reigned only in 69 A.D. is head six.  [If Tiberius is considered] head one . . . Otho who reigned only in 69 A.D. is head six.  Skip Tiberius as head one and you have Vitellius who reigned only in 69 A.D. as head six.  . . . It appears that John is claiming that the book is being written around 69 A.D.”  This year of 69 A.D. (in which John is writing) is the year of DARKNESS regarding the occupant of the “throne” of the Roman Empire.  No one knew for certain who was going to be in charge of the Empire. Everyone was IN THE DARK.  Galba was a brutal, vicious emperor who reigned from Nero’s suicide, in June 68 to January 69, when his closest ally, Otho, assassinated him.  Otho then became emperor in his place and reigned from January to April 69.  Nero had earlier carried on an affair with Otho’s wife and Nero had had Otho banished, but upon Nero’s suicide, Otho returned and allied himself with Galba to wrest control of the empire, ultimately murdering Galba.  Otho’s control of the Empire met resistance from Vitellius who had led Roman forces in Germany.  The armies of Otho and Vitellius met in battle, resulting in 40,000 casualties.  Otho, then, committed suicide and Vitellius claimed the Emperorship.  Meanwhile, Vespasian had put his campaign against Judea and Jerusalem on hold, awaiting the outcome of this darkness regarding who would occupy the “throne” of the Beast. 

The “throne” of the Beast was plunged into darkness for one year—precisely, the year that John claims to have written Revelation.  John’s audience was living through this specific plague.  Josephus summarizes: “Nero . . . slew himself . . . and . . . Galba was made emperor . . . and slain by treachery . . . at Rome, and Otho was made emperor; with his expedition against the commanders of Vitellius, and his destruction thereupon; and . . . Antonius Primus and Mucianus slew Vitellius” (Wars IV.IX.2).  Enter, now, the three “frogs” of John’s prophesied plague of the frogs—which is the focus of the next blogpost.

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