It is our object to write a book which may serve as a historical account, complete so far as it goes, of the principal events with which Jerusalem is concerned, from the time when its history, as connected with the Bible, ceases, till the present; that is to say, from the year A.D. 33 downwards. But it is difficult to take up the thread of the story at this date, and we are forced either to go as far back as Herod the Great, or to begin our narrative with the events which preceded the siege of Jerusalem by Titus. No date seems to us more ready to our hand than that of the death of Herod Agrippa. Even then we may seem beginning to tell a thrice told tale. The revolt of the Jews, their defeat of Cestius, the siege of Titus, are surely, it may be objected, too well known to require telling again. They are not well known, though they have been told again and again, and told with ten times the force, the vigour, the originality which we can put into these pages. But they are told here again because our central figure is Jerusalem. We have to show her first, in all her pride, the joy of the Jews, the visible mark of their greatness; and then we have to follow her through two thousand years of varying fortune, always before the eyes of the world,—always the object of tender pity and reverence,—always the centre of some conflict, the scene of some religious contention. Frequent as were the sieges of the city in the olden days, they have been more frequent since. Titus took Jerusalem, Barcochebas took it, Julius Severus took it, Chosroes, Heraclius, Omar, the Charezmians, Godfrey, Saladin, Frederick, all took it by turns,—all after hard fighting, and with much slaughter.
There is not a stone in the city but has been reddened with human blood; not a spot but where some hand-to-hand conflict has taken place; not an old wall but has echoed back the shrieks of despairing women. Jew, Pagan, Christian, Mohammedan, each has had his turn of triumph, occupation, and defeat; and were all those ancient cemeteries outside the city emptied of their bones, it would be hard to tell whether Jew, or Pagan, or Christian, or Mohammedan would prevail. For Jerusalem has been the representative sacred place of the world; there has been none other like unto it, or equal to it, or shall be, while the world lasts; so long as men go on believing that one spot in the world is more sacred than another, because things of sacred interest have been done there, so long Jerusalem will continue the Holy City. That this belief has been one of the misfortunes of the human race, one of the foremost causes of superstition, some of the pages which follow may perhaps help to show. But, in our capacity as narrators only, let us agree to think and talk of the city apart, as much as may be, from its sacred associations, as well as from its ecclesiastical history.
The fatal revolt of the Jews, which ended in the fall of their city and the destruction of their Temple, was due, among many other causes, to the teaching of Judas the Galilæan acting on minds inflated with pride in the exaggerated glories of the past, looking to national independence as the one thing needful, and wholly ignorant of the power and resources of the mighty empire which held them in subjection. Judas, himself in spirit a worthy descendant of the Maccabæans, had taught that Jehovah was the only King of the Jews, who were his chosen people; that submission to a foreign yoke involved not only national degradation, but treason to the lawful powers; that tribute, the badge and sign of slavery, ought to be refused at any cost. “We have no Lord and master but God,” was the cry of his party. With that cry he and his followers assembled to do battle against the world: with that cry on their lips they died. But the cry and its idea did not die; for from that time a fourth sect was among the Jews, more powerful than all the rest put together, containing the great mass of the people, who had no education to give them common sense, and whose ignorance added fuel to the flames of a religious enthusiasm almost without parallel in the history of the world. The Pharisees and the Sadducees still continued for a time in the high places; the Essenes still lived and died apart from the world, the Shakers of their time, a small band with no power or influence; but all around them was rising a tide destined to whelm all beneath the waves of fanaticism. The followers of Judas became the Zealots and the Sicarii of later times: they were those who looked daily for the Messiah; whom false Christs led astray by thousands; who thought no act too daring to be attempted in this sacred cause, no life too valuable to be sacrificed: they were those who let their countrymen die of starvation by thousands while they maintained a hopeless struggle with Titus.