Citations:

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]

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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 #8796

Tacitus. The Complete Works
[Bk. 5 Verse 13 ]

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  1. Prodigies had occurred, but their expiation by the offering of victims or solemn vows is held to be unlawful by a nation which is the slave of superstition and the enemy of true beliefs. In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. Few people placed a sinister interpretation upon this. The majority were convinced that the ancient scriptures of their priests alluded to the present as the very time when the Orient would triumph and from Judaea would go forth men destined to rule the world.1
  1. Tacitus is giving a general background of the history of the Jewish War and doesn’t give a date for these events.

Text #8797

Eusebius of Caesarea. Church History
[Ch. 8 ]

For before the setting of the sun chariots and armed troops were seen throughout the whole region in mid-air, wheeling through the clouds and encircling the cities.

Text #8799

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Taking into account the various renderings of the Greek text of Josephus: chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities; chariots were seen in the air over the whole country, and armed battalions speeding through the clouds and encircling the cities; 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; chariots and armed troops were seen throughout the whole region in mid-air, wheeling through the clouds and encircling the cities; we find running, speeding, hurtling, and wheeling through clouds as the first principle element, and the second surrounding, encircling, encompassing cities.

One gets the impression that what was seen was a serious shower of meteorites; one that possibly included at least small impacting bodies falling all around. According to Josephus, this event happens around the time of Passover.1 The subsequent event, the quaking, the great noise, and voice, occurred about 40-some days later at Pentecost. Is there a possible connection between the two events.

In his Questiones Naturales, in his section on comets, Seneca describes several of them, one of which is particularly interesting in relation to this issue of a connection between a comet and an earthquake, at least in terms of a temporal relationship. The relevant excerpts extracted from his text are:

Book 7 (6.1) “There are two kinds of comet,” says Epigenes. “Some spread their brightness in all directions and do not change position2; others extend their scattered fire in one direction, like hair, and move in relation to the fixed stars” (two of this sort have appeared in our own day). … (17.1) We should not think that the same comet was seen in Claudius’s reign as we saw in Augustus’s, nor that the one that appeared in Nero Caesar’s reign and did away with the ill repute of comets was similar to the one that emerged after the departure of the deified Julius at the games of Venus Genetrix at around 5 P.M.3 (21.1) The comet that we have seen in the most fortunate principate of Nero remained visible for six months, traveling round in the opposite direction to the Claudian comet. For the earlier one, rising from the north toward the zenith, made for the east, growing dimmer all the time; the recent one started in the same quarter, but as it made for the west, it turned south, and disappeared from view there. (28.1) Aristotle says that comets indicate stormy weather, with severe winds and rain. … The comet that appeared in the consulate of Paterculus and Vopiscus4 did what was predicted by Aristotle and Theophrastus; for there were violent, continual storms everywhere, while in Achaea and Macedonia cities were destroyed by earthquakes.

Tacitus, writing around 116, mentions two comets: AD 60: “It was during this that a comet gleamed out, on which the opinion of the public is that it portends a change for kingdoms.” (Annales 14.22) Followed a few paragraphs later by: “In the same year one of the illustrious cities of Asia, Laodicea, which had collapsed from an earth tremor, recovered by means of its own resources without any remedy from us.” (Annales 14.27)

Later, around 64 AD, Seneca wrote a tragedy, Octavia, about the events of of 62 where he says in scene II, lines 230-4, “we have seen a comet, a blazing radiance in the sky, spread out its hostile torch where slow Bootes guides his wagon in the endless turning of the night.” One wonders if this comet was retrojected into the play, but was actually seen in 64 since Tacitus reports one for that year: “At the end of the year publicity was given to prodigies announcing looming calamities: the discharge of lightning at no other time more frequent, and a comet, something always expiated by Nero with illustrious blood…” (Annales 15.47) Halley’s Comet also was seen in 66, but full coverage of that year in the Annals has not survived.

Because both Seneca and Tacitus refer to a comet in 60 AD that is followed by an earthquake and Seneca adds that there were violent, continual storms everywhere, it appears that we should date the Passover and Pentecost events described by Josephus to this year. Seneca says that the comet of that year was visible for 6 months which Josephus expands to an entire year. The “star” standing over the city, resembling a sword, was probably just an additional description of the same phenomenon.

  1. The Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which typically falls in March or April of the Gregorian calendar. Passover is a spring festival, so the 15th day of Nisan begins on the night of a full moon after the northern vernal equinox

  2. Epigenes was probably referring to supernovae.

  3. 54, 14, 60 AD and 44 BC respectively.

  4. 60 AD, i.e. the reign of Nero.

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