Of my childhood in Galilee; and how I gave myself wholly to the study of the Law
Too Long; Didn't ReadMy former name was Joseph the son of Simeon, and I was born in Sepphoris, the metropolis of Galilee, in the twentieth year of the reign of the Emperor Augustus, about four years before the death of King Herod. In those days Israel was grievously afflicted, and tribulation befell the righteous. Satan put it into the heart of the rulers of the land to move the people to the worship of false gods, and the Lord God had not yet raised up a Redeemer for Israel.
In my fourth year my father’s brother, the Rabbi Matthias, was burned alive by Herod for causing his scholars to cast down the golden image of an eagle which the king had set up over the gate of the temple of the Lord. Not many months afterwards, the Romans marched through Sepphoris in order to bring succour to Sabinus, who was hard beset by the men of Jerusalem in the fortress called Antonia; and we fought against them, and my father was taken captive and crucified by Varus. Now as concerning my father and my father’s brother, [pg 2]how they were slain, perchance I remember their deaths rather from my mother’s often mention of them in after times than from what I heard then: but this thing can I never forget, for I saw it with mine own eyes: namely, how, when my mother brought me forth from the caves of Arbela whither we had been sent for refuge, behold, where Sepphoris had stood, there was not now one house standing; and I saw also the bodies of many of my kinsfolk, which lay unburied and crying unto the Lord for vengeance. Yet the Lord sent no avenger.
After this came tidings that the Parthians, which went with Varus, had laid waste the country in the south far and wide, and had slain our brethren with the sword; and that Varus had taken two thousand of my countrymen in Jerusalem and had crucified them, and among them Eleazar, the youngest and dearest of my mother’s brethren. Then my mother led me to a rocky place not far from Sampho. There was a cave there, and only one path led to it, and that so narrow that no multitude of men could force an entrance, if one brave man withstood them. When we were come thither, my mother lifted up her voice and wept, and pointing to the cave she said, “In former times this cave was held by my mother’s brother, Hezekiah by name. Six children he had; and he fled from Herod the King with them and with his wife, and here they took refuge. Now when the king could by no means drive Hezekiah hence by force, he offered much gold unto him if he would come forth from the cave quietly. But when Hezekiah refused, the king began to let down armed men by ropes from the top of the hill, with firebrands in their hands, to kindle fires at the mouth of the cave. Then when [pg 3]no hope of safety remained, behold, my mother’s brother brought out his children, and slew the youngest with his sword in the sight of the king. Afterwards he laid his hands on his second child. But Herod, perceiving his intent, stretched out his right hand and besought Hezekiah to spare his children and to come forth in peace. But he slew the second also, heaping reproaches on Herod as an usurper and a son of Edom, sitting on David’s seat; and he slew the third and the rest likewise, even to the sixth, and last of all his wife; and then he cast himself down the steep place and perished.” Then spake my mother unto me and said, “The Lord do so unto thee, my son, and more likewise, if thou avenge not the blood of thy kinsfolk and of thy father.” So it came to pass that, even from a child, I hated the very name of a Gentile with an exceeding hatred; insomuch that I should have accounted him blessed who should have taken the children of Rome (according as it is written) and dashed them against the stones.