The Defeat of Cestius Gallus, A.D.66

S. G. F. Brandon describes how the Roman legate faced the problems of a Jewish Revolt.

In the summer of A.D.66 the priests of the great Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem suddenly refused to offer the daily sacrifice for the wellbeing of the Emperor and people of Rome. These sacrifices had become the accepted token of Israel’s loyalty to Rome; for the Jews were excused, because of their religious principles, from sacrificing to the deities of the Roman state. Refusal to offer their form of ‘loyal’ sacrifice was, therefore, tantamount to an act of rebellion on the part of the Jews.

The priests who made this refusal were the lower clergy of the Temple, on whom the daily maintenance of the cultus of Yahweh, the god of Israel, devolved. Though holding the sacerdotal office, these lower priests were a depressed class. The control of the Temple and its great wealth were in the hands of a priestly aristocracy, who belonged to the conservative party of the Sad-ducees. Intent on preserving their ‘establishment’, they co-operated with the Roman government of their land, the high-priest being a nominee of the Roman procurator or of the pro-Roman Herodian dynasts. The lower clergy were infected by Zealotism, which constituted the ‘resistance’ to Roman rule and those Jews who co-operated with it. The Sadducean aristocracy had reacted by reducing or cutting off the stipends of these insubordinate priests.

In the year 66 the lower clergy had suddenly acquired a dynamic leader. A young aristocrat, Eleazar, the sagan or captain of the Temple, abandoned the interests of his own class and persuaded the priests to stop the daily sacrifices for the Roman emperor and people. What caused his defection is unknown; but history does provide similar cases of repudiation of family ties and cultural background.

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