Thursday, September 16, 2021

Apocalyptic? #31: Armageddon III--The Plague of Famine: Jesus, John, Josephus


The Plague of Famine Transformed into War Terminology

When Jesus opened the first four Seals in Chapter 6 of Revelation, he outlined the development of the Battle of Armageddon as four men riding horses.  As I commented in an earlier post, conquest, war, and death are easily seen as war terminology, but “famine” could easily be taken as a “natural disaster.”  I promised, in that earlier post, to eventually demonstrate, by citing from Josephus, how “famine” became one of the greatest killers of Jews in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 A.D.

1.      The first horseman was conquest, as the second horseman, war between the Romans and the Jews, was touched off by Jews wanting to conquer Rome at Masada.  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.  . . .  And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans” (Wars II.XVI.2).

2.      The third horseman, famine, followed shortly after the war began, and the fourth horseman was “Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth [land], to kill with sword, with hunger, with deathand by the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:8 NKJV).

The Prediction by Jesus
:  In the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:7 (NKJV):

And Jesus . . . said to them: ‘. . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.’”


The Prediction by John:  In Revelation 6:5-6 (NKJV), John describes:

He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” 


Defining Famine
: In Matthew 20:2, a denarius was a day’s wage for a farm worker and in John 12:5, three hundred denarii equals a year’s wage.  Working all day long for just a quart of wheat indicates famine.

Famines in Various Places: Even before the siege of Jerusalem, Jews in Judea were dying as a result of famine.  The sieges of the Romans on the various cities of Judea had the effect of producing famine.  For example, Josephus writes of the famine in Jotapata (Wars III.VII.11).  The Romans had destroyed the crops as they invaded the land of Israel. Josephus writes further: “[T]he people of Gamala . . . the more infirm perished by famine” (Wars IV.I.9), so it happened as Jesus had said: “there will be famines . . . in various places.”  But none of the prior famines compared to the famine in Jerusalem during the Battle of Armageddon.

The Prediction by Niger:  When the zealots managed to kill (one of the ten kings) Niger—in the civil war in Jerusalem—Josephus comments: “Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides that they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another, all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them” (Wars IV.VI.1).  Niger’s prediction came true as the Zealots who killed Niger participated in the civil war activity that produced the famine.

Famine in the Civil War in Jerusalem:  The intemperate behavior of the various factions in the Jewish civil war in Jerusalem had the effect of producing famine.  Having arrived in Jerusalem after losing to the Romans in Gischala, John of Gischala joined in a civil war against other Jewish factions.  A bloody civil war broke out in the city between John, the zealot party, the Idumeans, and Simon son of Giora.  Josephus writes: “[T]hey were an unprofitable and a useless multitude, they spent those provisions beforehand, which might otherwise have been sufficient for the fighting men . . . they were the occasion of . . . famine therein” (Wars IV.III.3). Recall that Simon son of Giora had “enlarged many of the caves . . . as repositories for his treasures, and . . . the fruits that he had got by rapine” (Wars IV.IX.4) in his ransacking of the Acrabattene toparchy (Plague of the Locusts).  Meanwhile, the zealots had “seized upon the inner court of the temple . . . and . . . they had plenty of provisions” (Wars V.I.2).  Since “Simon had his supply of provisions” (Wars V.I.4), his adversary John of Gischala attacked Simon’s supplies:

[T]ill he set on fire those houses that were full of corn and of all other provisions.  The same thing was done by Simon . . . as if they had on purpose done it to serve the Romans, by destroying what the city had laid up against the siege . . . all the places . . . about the temple were burnt down, and . . . almost all the corn was burnt which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years.  So they were taken by means of the famine (Wars V.I.4).


Meanwhile, Josephus was using the famine to try to persuade inhabitants of Jerusalem to surrender: “For the Romans are not unacquainted with that famine which is in the city, whereby the people are already consumed” (Wars V.IX.3).

Famine Worsens: “Those that went out into the valleys to gather food,” as described by Josephus, did so because “the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that . . . they should be taken by the enemy” (Wars V.XI.1). Josephus describes the worsening state of the famine:

[T]heir famine . . . inflamed more and more . . . no corn . . . appeared publicly . . .but the robbers came running into . . . private houses . . . they saw that they would very soon die of themselves for want of food.  Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were the richer sort; but of barley, if they were poorer.  When these had so done, they shut themselves up in the inmost rooms of their houses, and ate the corn they had gotten . . . they snatched the bread out of the fire, half baked, and ate it very hastily . . . children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating, out of their very mouths . . . so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing . . . they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives . . . the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten . . . the women[‘s] . . . hair was torn . . . they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels . . . and shook them down upon the floor (Wars V.X.2-3).


Eating Old Cow Dung
: Josephus describes the thousands who died in the famine: “Manneus . . . [told] Titus . . . that no fewer than one hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies” were carried out of Jerusalem through a single gate he was guarding in just a few days.  Manneus had been tasked with keeping an accurate count.  After that:

[M]any of the eminent citizens . . . told [Titus] that no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates . . . and . . . 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; and also that a medimnus of wheat [=1 ½ bushels] was sold for a talent [=100 lbs. of either gold or silver] . . . some persons were driven to . . . the common sewers and old dung-hills of cattle and to eat the dung which they got there . . . now used for food (Wars V.XIII.7).


Eating Anything Chewable: When food was virtually gone, “those that perished by the famine . . . their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything . . . girdles and shoes; and . . . the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed . . . wisps of old hay” (Wars VI.III.3).

Eating Their Own Babies
: In what Josephus called “horrible” (Wars VI.III.3):

[T]here was a certain woman [whose] name was Mary [who had fled to Jerusalem when her town Bethezub was attacked but now] it was . . . impossible for her . . . to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow . . . .  She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, “Oh thou miserable infant! For whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine . . . be thou my food . . . she slew her son and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed” (Wars VI.III.4).

Burning the Victims of Famine
: After burning down the temple, Titus “gave orders to the soldiers, both to burn . . . the city . . . also . . . burnt down . . . were . . . those houses that were full of the dead bodies of such as were destroyed by famine(Wars VI.VI.3).  Josephus concludes:

Accordingly, as the people were now slain, many . . . deserters were caught . . . and were all slain; for these were too weak, by reason of their want of food, to fly away from them; so their dead bodies were thrown to the dogs [note the "beasts of the earth” reference in Revelation 6:8].  Now every sort of death was thought more tolerable than the famine . . . .  Nor was there any place in the city that had no dead bodies in it, but what was entirely covered with either those that were killed by the famine or the rebellion; and all was full of the dead bodies of such as had perished, either by that sedition or by that famine (Wars VI.VII.2).


“[W]hen [the Romans] were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine” (Wars VI.VIII.5).  The Four Horsemen had arrived:  Conquest, War, Famine, and Death.

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