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An Ecclesiastical History To The 20th Year Of The Reign Of Constantine by Eusebius

LET us, then, with the fifth book of Josephus’s history again in our hands, go through the tragedy of events which then occurred. “It was equally dangerous,” says he, “for the more wealthy to remain. For under the pretext of desertion, a man was slain for his wealth. But the madness of the rioters increased with the famine, and both kinds of misery were inflamed from day to day. Provisions were plainly nowhere to be had. Hence they burst into houses to search for food, and if they found any, they would scourge the owners as if they intended to deny they had it; but if they found none, they tortured them as if they had carefully concealed it. The bodies of the poor wretches, however, were evidence enough whether they had or had not. Some of them, therefore, that were yet sound in health, they supposed to have an abundance of food, but those that were wan and pallid they passed by; for it seemed absurd to kill men that were soon likely to die for want. Many secretly exchanged their property for a single measure of wheat, if they happened to be the more wealthy; of barley, if they were of the poorer sort. Then locking themselves in the most retired parts of their houses, some, from excessive hunger, ate the grain unprepared; others, however, baked it according as necessity or fear directed. As to a table, there was none set any where; but taking the food from the fire, they tore it asunder yet crude and raw. Wretched indeed was the fare, and a lamentable sight it was, where the most powerful grasped after all, and the weaker were constrained to mourn. For famine surpasses all other evils, but it destroys nothing so effectually as shame; for that which would otherwise demand some regard is contemned in this. Thus wives tore away the food from the very mouths of their husbands, children from their parents, and what was most wretched of all. mothers from their infants; so that whilst their dearest children lay wasting in their arms, there was not shame enough to prevent them taking away the very drops that supported life. And even in doing this, they did not remain undiscovered; for whenever they saw a door locked, this was a sign that those within were taking food, and then immediately bursting open the doors they rushed in, and choked them, almost forcing the morsels out of their very throats. Old men were beaten that held back their food, and women were torn by the hair, if they concealed what they had in their hands. Nor was there any pity for gray hairs or for infants; but taking up the infants while clinging to the morsels, dashed them to the ground. But they were much more cruel to those who anticipated their entrance, and were devouring what they wished to seize, just as if they had been wronged by them. They also devised terrible modes of torture, to discover where there was any food. For by cruel devices to prevent every relief of nature, they caused the unhappy individual to suffer such torment, that the very recital makes one shudder at what he would endure, before he confessed that he had one loaf of bread, or that he had a single handful of wheat concealed. The tormentors themselves, however, suffered no want; for it might have been some palliation, if necessity had compelled them thus. But they did it with the view to exercise their ferocity and to provide for themselves for the following days. When any crept forth at night to the outposts of the Romans, for the purpose of collecting wild herbs and grass, these tormentors would go out to meet them, and when they seemed just to have escaped the hands of the enemy, the oppressors robbed them of whatever they brought. And very often, though they entreated them, and conjured them by the most awful name of God, to give them some part of that for which they had risked their lives, they notwithstanding gave them nothing. It was a happy circumstance yet, if, in addition to robbery, they were not also slain.” This same author, after a few particulars, also says: “But with the hope of egress was cut off all hope of safety to the Jews, and the famine now penetrating deeply, was consuming the people by houses and families. The houses were filled with women and children that had thus perished; the byways with the dead bodies of old men. But the boys and young men, swelling up, tottered and reeled like shadows through the markets, and then falling down, lay wheresoever the malady had overtaken them. The sick were not even able to bury their dead, and those yet in health and strength were loth to do it, both on account of the number of the dead, and the uncertainty of their own fate. Many, indeed, fell down and died upon those they were burying; many went to the sepulchres, even before they were overtaken by the struggles of death. There was, however, neither weeping nor lamentation, for the famine prevailed over all affection. With tearless eyes did they who were yet struggling with death, look on those that had gone to rest before them. A deep silence and deadly gloom pervaded the city. But more oppressive than all these, were the robbers that broke into the houses, now mere sepulchres, and spoiling the dead, and tearing off the garments of their bodies, went off with a laugh. They would also try the points of their swords in the dead bodies, and some of those that were lying yet alive, they thrust through, in order to try the edge of their weapons. But those that prayed them the relief of their arm and sword, they contemptuously left to be destroyed by the famine; whilst those expiring died with their eyes fixed upon the temple, and left the factious to survive them. These, at first, not bearing the effluvia from the dead bodies, ordered them to be buried out of the public treasury; afterwards, when they were not able to continue this, they threw the bodies from the walls into the ditches below. As Titus went around these, and saw them filled with the dead, and the deep gore flowing around the putrid bodies, he groaned heavily, and raising his hands, called God to witness that it was none of his work.” After some additional remarks, Josephus proceeds: “I cannot hesitate to declare what my feelings demand. I think that had the Romans lingered to proceed against these guilty wretches, the city would either have been swallowed up by the opening earth, or overwhelmed with a flood, or, like Sodom, been struck with the lightning. For it bore a much more impious race than those who once endured such visitations. Thus, by the madness of these wretches, the whole people perished.” In the sixth book, he also writes thus: “Of those that perished by the famine in the city, there fell an infinite number. The miseries that befel them were indescribable; for at every house, wherever there was a shadow of food, there was war. The nearest relatives contended with one another, to seize the wretched supports of life. There was no belief that hunger was the cause, even when they saw the dying; but the robbers would search them whilst yet breathing, lest any one should pretend that he was dying, whilst he concealed food in his bosom. But the robbers themselves, with their mouths wide open for want of food, roved and straggled hither and thither, like mad dogs, beating the doors as if they were drunk; and for want of counsel, rushing twice or thrice an hour into the same houses. Indeed, necessity forced them to apply their teeth to every thing, and gathering what was no food, even for the filthiest of irrational animals, they devoured it, and did not abstain at last even from belts and shoes. They took off the hides from their shields and devoured them, and some used even the remnants of old straw as food; others gathered the stubble, and sold a very small weight of it for four Attic drachms. And why should we speak of the excessive severity of the famine as displayed by eating such inanimate objects? I am going to relate a piece of wickedness, such as is not recorded either by Greeks or barbarians. It is horrid to relate, and incredible to hear. And indeed, lest I should appear to deal in marvellous stories, I would cheerfully pass by this occurrence, if I had not innumerable witnesses still living. I should also deserve but cold thanks from my country, if I should pass by in carelessness what she in reality did suffer. A woman that dwelt beyond the Jordan, named Maria, the daughter of Eleazar, of the village Bathezor, signifying ‘the home of hyssop,’ distinguished for her family and wealth, having taken refuge at Jerusalem among the rest of the multitude, was shut up in the city with them. The tyrants had already robbed her of all her other possessions, as much as she had collected, and brought with her from beyond the river into the city. But as to the relics of her property, and whatever food she provided, the ruffians daily rushing in, seized and bore it away. A dreadful indignation overpowered the woman, and frequently reviling and cursing the robbers, she endeavourecd by these means to irritate them against herself. But as no one either through resentment or pity would slay her, and she was weary of providing food for others, and there was now no probability of finding it any where; the famine now penetrated the very bowels and marrow, and resentment raged more violently than the famine. Urged by frenzy and necessity as her councillors, she proceeded against nature herself. Seizing her little son, who was yet at her breast, she said, ‘Wretched child! in the midst of war, famine, and faction, for what do I preserve thee? Our condition among the Romans, though we might live, is slavery. But even slavery is anticipated by famine, and the assassins are more cruel than either—come, be thou food to me, Fury to the assassins, and a tale for men, the only one yet wanting to complete the miseries of the Jews.’ As she said this, she slew her son; then, roasting him, she ate one half herself, and covering over the rest, she kept it. It was not long before the murderers came in, and perceiving the fumes of the execrable food, they threatened immediately to slay her if she did not produce what she had prepared. She answered she had reserved a fine portion of it for them, and then uncovered the relics of her son. Horror and amazement immediately seized them. They stood mute with the sight. ‘This is my own son,’ said she, ‘and the deed is mine. Eat, for I too have eaten, be not more delicate than a woman, nor more tender than a mother; but if you are so pious, and reject my offering, I have already eaten half, and let the rest remain for me.’ After this, they indeed went trembling away, cowardly at least in this one instance, and yet scarcely yielding to the mother even this kind of food. Forthwith the whole city was filled with the dreadful crime, and every one placing the wickedness before his eyes, was struck with a horror as if it had been perpetrated by himself. Thenceforth the wretched people, overcome with hunger, only strove to hasten death; and it was a happiness yet for those who died before they heard and saw miseries like these.” Such, then, was the vengeance that followed the guilt and impiety of the Jews against the Christ of God.

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