“The Good Fight” (2 Timothy 4:7)
The Last Days of Paul can be reconstructed as follows. After being exonerated at least conditionally by Nero, Paul posted again in Jerusalem with fellow Herodians named by Josephus as Costobarus and Antipas (possibly corresponding to Luke/Lucas and Timothy). Prior to this return, the Judean Governor Festus had died and James the brother of Jesus was stoned and clubbed to death by instigation of the High Priest Annas (son of Annas) before a new governor could arrive. For the sake of appearances, Annas was removed for this as High Priest but lost none of his power or favor with the Romans. Also consistent with this, the new mission of Paul in Jerusalem was the same as the old: to resume a program of inciting zealots to rebellion (including it seems any followers of the deceased James that might be of that inclination). This was, as before, not entirely effective. The new Roman Governor Albinus, successor to Festus, was recalled by Nero, yet not before releasing all but the most notorious dissidents from prison back into society.
About this time a devastating fire ripped through Rome, and certain Christians were singled out for horrifying deaths on account of it. Subsequently, Nero also kicked to death his pregnant wife Poppea, a ‘worshipper of God.’ Undeterred, Paul is placed by Josephus at Jerusalem once more in 66 A.D. According to Josephus, Albinus had agitated the Jews discretely, but beginning in 64 A.D. the next governor, Flores, began to do so openly and far more perniciously. The Jews were finally provoked to full-blown wrath. Josephus places the blame for revolt squarely on the final Roman governors and the likes of Saulus. The obvious desire of Caesar to make this happen is left for the reader to discern. There were certain things that Josephus (like the author of Acts) could not spell out.
“A Trap, and a Stumbling Block, and a Recompense unto Them” (Romans 11:7)
Josephus has Paul and his cohorts Costobarus and Antipas acting as peacemakers in 66 A.D. (rather than antagonizing the populace as they had in 63 A.D.). These “eminent men” prevail upon Agrippa to send in the cavalry under his General, Phillip. However, Phillip only manages to escalate the violence and anarchy. Next, a Roman legion under the Syrian governor Cestius set up camp about 6 miles from Jerusalem during a major festival (of Tabernacles). Incensed, the men of the city rushed out on the Sabbath to strike. The Romans suffered over 500 hundred casualties and made little effort to counterattack. Instead they allowed the rear of their army to be plundered as they withdrew to Beth-horan.
After three days delay, Cestius returned to harass Jerusalem once again. However, Josephus actually laments that Cestius lacked the resolve to take and occupy the city and put the revolt to a speedy end. Instead, and ‘for no reason in the world” Cestius began another leisurely withdrawal toward Beth-horan. This time his army was pinned down, deliberately it seems, and Cestius had to escape in the night with only the main part of his force. The remainder was abandoned. The Jewish Patriots naturally claimed a great victory. Jerusalem was in an uproar.
Revolution fever, the intended effect, gripped the land. A full complement of military leaders, including Josephus himself, were then elected and sent out to take command of the various Jewish territories. Upon hearing this “good news,” Saulus, Costobarus, and, Phillip did not go back to Agrippa, but slipped away from riotous Jerusalem to the Romans. They were then sent immediately to Nero in Corinth to report on the situation, and are said to have been eager to do so.
For the freedom fighters that situation very quickly turned for the worse. Two of their leaders had already been lost in the initial attack on Cestius. Two more were killed when they tried clumsily to sack a Roman garrison at Ashkelon. Josephus son of Matthias/Matthew whines that he also was opposed in his territory of Galilee not so much by Romans but by a fellow officer, John son of Levi, probably his own brother. When three Roman legions arrived under Vespatian they met little resistance in the open areas of the north. Josephus was besieged and captured at Jopata. However, John son of Levi fled from the city he was defending to Jerusalem. From there, he summoned Jewish warriors from Edom to help capture the temple mount and put Ananias the High Priest and other rival leaders to death.
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.