Text #2268

Josephus. The Complete Works
[Joseph. BJ. 6.5.3--6.5.4. Translated by William Whiston. Christian Classics Ethereal Library pp. 1484--1486]



Thus there was a star1 resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.

Thus also before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus,2 [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple.

Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner3 [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.

Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.45

Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, * “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!”* And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him. Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come. This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!” And just as he added at the last, “Woe, woe to myself also!” there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.

4 Now if any one consider these things, he will find that God takes care of mankind, and by all ways possible foreshows to our race what is for their preservation; but that men perish by those miseries which they madly and voluntarily bring upon themselves; for the Jews, by demolishing the tower of Antonia, had made their temple four-square, while at the same time they had it written in their sacred oracles, “That then should their city be taken, as well as their holy house, when once their temple should become four-square.” But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, “about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. However, it is not possible for men to avoid fate, although they see it beforehand. But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction.

  1. Whether Josephus means that this star was different from that comet which lasted a whole year, I cannot certainly determine. His words most favor their being different one from another. [OF]

  2. Since Josephus still uses the Syro-Macedonian month Xanthicus for the Jewish month Nisan, this eighth, or, as Nicephorus reads it, this ninth of Xanthicus or Nisan was almost a week before the passover, on the fourteenth; about which time we learn from St. John that many used to go “out of the country to Jerusalem to purify themselves,” John 11:55, with 12:1; in agreement with Josephus also, B. V. ch. 3. sect. 1. And it might well be, that in the sight of these this extraordinary light might appear. [OF]

  3. This here seems to be the court of the priests. [OF]

  4. Rendered in Chilton as follows: A supernatural apparition was seen, too amazing to be believed. What I am now to relate would, I imagine, be dismissed as imaginary, had this not been vouched for by eyewitnesses, then followed by subsequent disasters that deserved to be thus signalized. For before sunset chariots were seen in the air over the whole country, and armed battalions speeding through the clouds and encircling the cities. (Jerusalem Under Siege, David Chilton, M.Div., Ph.D. (1987)

  5. Loeb translation: On the twenty-first of the month Artemisium [the last day of the 2nd Passover season In A.D.661, there appeared a miraculous phenomenon, passing belief. Indeed, what I am about to relate would, I imagine, have been deemed a fable, were it not for the narratives of eyewitnesses and for the subsequent calamities which deserved to be so signalized. For before sunset throughout all parts of the county [everywhere throughout Judea] chariots were seen in the air and armed battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities” (War,VI.5.3 or Loeb VI.298)

Text #6206

Editorial comment by palinurus

About the dating problem

The star resembling a sword, which stood over the city could have been a nova or supernova. Tacitus dated the comet to 64 AD [Annales, 15.47]. The only really reliable dates are those in Kronk. Cometography: A Catalog of Comets. Series: Cometography. Vol. 1 [pp. 31--32] about the comet X/60 P-1 (ranging from 60 to 62), and the years in which Albinus was procurator in Judea, 62-64 AD. These latter years allow us to set the seven years five months period of prophesying by Jesus ben Ananus from about 62 - 69/70 AD. The other events could have happened somewhere between 60 AD, and 66 AD when the war really started in earnest. Josephus gives festival names but no certain years.

About the cited oracles.

The first oracle quote is from an unknown source which hasn’t been traced as far as I know.

The second oracle quote stems from the Bible (Numbers 24, 17 as was already cited above), but the interpretation given belongs to Josephus only and isn’t common ground elsewhere. So Josephus is the original author of this interpretation as far as I can tell. He already used it once before in his narrative when he got captured after the siege of Jotapata (Yodfat) in 67 AD and foretold Vespasian that he would become emperor according to this oracle – which indeed happened two years later.

There was a prophecy in the book of Numbers (24.17) that ‘a star shall come forth out of Jacob, a scepter shall rise out of Israel’, which was commonly taken to be a prediction of the Messiah. At the end of 64, there had been a comet (Tacitus, Annals, 15.47), which must have made a discontented populace even more discontented. Source:

Text #8801

Kronk. Cometography: A Catalog of Comets. Series: Cometography. Vol. 1
[pp. 31--32]

X/60 P1: This is yet another Roman comet which is not precisely dated by any historian. However, once again, there are reports of a comet in Asia which seem to match the few details given by the Roman writers.

The Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote Quaestiones Naturales no more than three years after this comet’s appearance. Seneca said, “this last comet ran across half the sky in only six months.” He added, “this recent comet started its motion in the north and passing through the west it arrived in the southern region and its orbit passed out of sight as it was rising.” Later, Seneca said, “The comet which appeared in the consulship of Paterculus and Vopiscus did what was predicted by Aristotle and Theophrastus: for there were very violent and continuous storms everywhere, and in Achaia and Macedonia cities were destroyed by earthquake.” The consulship of Paterculus and Vopiscus was in 60.

Around 64, Seneca wrote the Roman tragedy Octavia. Covering events that occurred in 62, it states in scene [1, lines 230—4, “we have seen a comet, a blazing radiance in the sky, spread out its hostile torch where slow Boötes guides his wagon in the endless turning of the night.”

The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote Annnles around 116 and noted for the year 60, “A comet having appeared, in this juncture, that phenomenon, according to the popular opinion, announced that governments were to be changed, and kings dethroned.”

The astronomical chapter of the Chinese text Hou Han shu (445) says a “broom star” appeared on 60 August 9. The comet “was seen at the north of T’ien-Chhuan [α, γ, δ, η and μ Persei], measuring about 2°.” The date and location indicate the comet could have been visible throughout the night. lts altitude would have been only 10-30° following sunset, but would have steadily increased to 65-80° by sunrise. Being best situated in the morning sky, the actual date of this comet sighting may have been August 8.8 UT. The comet’s solar elongation was probably near 100°.

The Hou Han shu added that the comet “moved slightly to the north and arrived south of Khang [ι, κ, λ and φ Virginis]. After 135 days it went out of sight.” This period of visibility, when added to the date of discovery, implies a final observation of December 21. Considering the date and constellation, the comet was probably in the morning sky, implying a UT of December 20.9.

The Chronicle of Silla, contained in the Korean text Samguk Sagi (1145), reports that a “sparkling slar” appeared sometime within the month of 59 lune 30 to July 28. It was seen at T’ien-Chhuan. Ho Peng Yoke (1962) suggested this comet was the same as that seen in China in 60, and added that Korean accounts were inaccurate during this period.

Seneca’s account in Quaestiones Naturales bears some resemblance to that of the Chinese. Seneca stated this comet was first seen in the north and passed through the western sky as it headed for the southern regions. It was visible for six months. The Hou Han shu states the comet was discovered in Perseus, moved slightly northward, and then moved to a position south of Virgo. It was visible for 4.5 months Perseus is situated in the northern part of the sky, while Virgo is in the southern part. Virgo was in the western sky during August and most of September. Interestingly, the sun passed through Khang during late September and early October, and from that point through December 21, this Chinese constellation was in the morning sky. Thus, the comet was in the moming sky when last seen.

The comment in the Octavia about the comet spreading its tail “where slow Boötes guides his wagon” is an interesting one. If the comet’s path irom Perseus to Virgo was a fairly direct one it would have passed quite close to Boötes. According to one of the legends, Boötes “guides his wagon” in the endless pursuit of the Great Bear, or Ursa Major, if it is assumed that this reference means the comet was in or near Boötes with a tail directed toward Ursa Major, it is possible that the observation was made sometime in October or November.

A. G. Pingré (1783) gave the year of Seneca’s comet as 62. He also gave the date of the Nero comet as 64. J. Williams (1871) gave the duration of visibility as 185 days. George F, Chambers (1889) placed Seneca’s comet in 64.

Full Moon: July 31, August 30

Sources: Quaestiones Naturales, book 7, pp. 262-3, 270-1, 286-9; Octavia scene II, lines 231-4, p. 48; Annales, book 14, section 22; Hou Han shu, p. 149; Samguk Sagi, p. 149; A. G. Pingré, pp. 285, 582; J. Williams, pp. 11-12; G. F. Chambers, p. 557; Ho Peng Yoke, p. 149; A. A. Barrett, pp. 99-100.

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