Make your own free website on Tripod.com
SEIZURE OF THE TEMPLE-TRIBUTE

Jerusalem

Three days ago, early in the morning, I seized the Temple-tribute. Not all of it - admire my moderation. I did not raid the treasury in the Temple itself, for that would have meant a pitched battle and casualties which I could not afford. You will excuse my diffidence, I think, when you remember the circumstances of my more fortunate exemplars: Crassus had occupied Jerusalem with a great army when on his way to Parthia, while Sabinus actually took the Temple by storm. Both my pretensions and my methods were more modest.

The Temple-tribute is brought to Jerusalem from the foreign Jewish communities about this time every year.* Egypt, Asia Minor and the Euphrates region are the largest contributors. Most of it comes in coin, but there are also the rich gifts of the pious: plate for the Temple service, jewels and ornaments, gold to be melted down. Egypt's contribution, alas! reached the Temple safely a week ago, but that from the Asiatic cities was waiting at Caesarea for an escort and that from the Euphrates (it is included a fine bar of solid gold, the gift of Ctesiphon) was under escort a few miles from Jerusalem. The Jews, I should explain, send guards of their own, but within the province the governor provides a military escort. The chest which had arrived at Caesarea I confiscated without more ado. The Jews could not resist; they went off, howling, to Jerusalem, and found on arrival that the same fate had befallen the Euphrates caravan. That required some arranging. We doubled the escort on the last night and when the caravan arrived at the neighbourhood of the Temple in the early morning Marcius sallied out from the Antonia with a full cohort and literally ran the whole procession into the citadel. The sight was really comic. Our men enjoyed it thoroughly. It was all done so quickly that the Jewish guards, who included some highly dignified officials, could hardly believe their eyes when they saw the gates of the Antonia shut behind them and my men methodically counting and carrying off the chests. One or two were foolish enough to offer resistance but we soon cured that. No bloodshed, but they had some bruises to show their countrymen.

*In the early spring.

The uproar over the images in my first year - you remember that regrettable incident? - was nothing compared with what happened now. All Jerusalem turned out within an hour. They shouted and screamed, they threatened to tear down the aqueduct, they beat on the walls of the Antonia with their fists. The priests packed themselves in a dense mass round the Temple-treasury lest that also should be attacked by me. The loss of money touches them on the raw. I was not minded, this time, to let them demonstrate for days. I had dressed up a large part of my soldiers in ordinary clothes, beneath which their arms were hidden. Some I slipped out of the Antonia before daybreak. Another large contingent was concealed in Herod's palace. They were all Samaritans and Idumaeans, so that they could disguise themselves easily without fear of recognition. There were about a thousand of them. They gathered on the outskirts of the crowd and took part in the shouting. From what I know of some of them I should say that they did all they could to stimulate the mob. In the afternoon I came out on the tower above the gateway. I announced that the money would be used by me for their benefit in the way that I thought fit. I then ordered them to disperse. Redoubled tumult; threats against the sacrilegious governor, curses, and even stones. A trumpet blew, and my fine fellows, disclosing their weapons, fell upon the mob. The cry of rage and terror that went up might have been heard at Rome. The crowd fled pell-mell, but the crush was so great that many could not escape into the narrow streets and the arms of the soldiers were weary with striking. I have no idea how many were killed, for the dead were carried off quickly by their friends, but the number is large. Everything has been quiet since. I ought to tell you that I strictly forbade my men to pursue the crowd into the Temple and the order was obeyed. I have seen nothing of Annas and Caiaphas, not because they did not come but because I refused to have anything to say to them. They are sending the usual deputation to Rome, but I am not nervous about the result. The principal contractors, whom I have already paid with the Temple-money, are good friends of Sejanus and they have no doubt that with a judicious expenditure among his freed-men all will be well.

So I am satisfied. The aqueduct will shortly be finished and there is money and to spare to pay for it. I have settled some of my accounts with the Jews and especially with their religion-mongering priests. They have had a sharp lesson - let us hope that they will profit by it. Yet I fear that the tone of this letter will not be pleasing to you, my dear Seneca. I will therefore make a suggestion. You complained bitterly of Rome in your last letter to me: of the noise, the exorbitant rents, the dearness and badness of the food. Visit me, then, in Judaea, and revive your wearied spirit. Do you say, with the admirable Horace, that those who cross the sea change only their climate and not their mind? Ah, but cross to Judaea and see whether your liberal-minded tolerance does not undergo a striking change. I know I am disposed to gird against the Jews; it is a just reproach. But then I live among them, you only see their shops and synagogues from a safe distance as you hurry past in your litter to a cause celebre or a gathering of the wits.


24--A LESSON TO GALILEANS: --next letter of LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE
LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE: --back to table of contents
WISDOM CALLS: --back to homepage