“The Rabbis and Herod’s Golden Eagle” – an Excerpt from Flavius Josephus, War 1. 646-656 – (First Century CE)
…Now Herod’s distemper became more and more severe to him, and this because these his disorders fell upon him in his old age, and when he was in a melancholy condition; for he was already almost seventy years of age, and had been brought low by the calamities that happened to him about his children, whereby he had no pleasure in life, even when he was in health…There were two men of learning in the city [Jerusalem], who were thought the most skillful in the laws of their country, and were on that account held in very great esteem all over the nation; they were, the one Judas, the son of Sepphoris, and the other Matthias, the son of Margalus. Now when these men were informed that the king was wearing away with melancholy, and with a distemper, they dropped words to their acquaintance, how it was now a very proper time to defend the cause of God, and to pull down what had been erected contrary to the laws of their country; for it was unlawful there should be any such thing in the temple as images, or faces, or the like representation of any animal whatsoever. Now the king had put up a golden eagle over the great gate of the temple, which these learned men exhorted them to cut down: and told them, that if there should any danger arise, it was a glorious thing to die for the laws of their country; because that the soul was immortal, and that an eternal enjoyment of happiness did await such as died on that account…
…a rumor was spread abroad that the king was dying, which made the young men set about the work with greater boldness; they, therefore, let themselves down from the top of the temple with thick cords, and that at midday, and while a great number of people were in the temple, and cut down that golden eagle with axes. This was presently told to the king’s captain of the temple, who came running with a great body of soldiers, and caught about forty of the young men, and brought them to the king. …the king was in such an extravagant passion that he overcame his disease [for the time], and went out and spake to the people… and ordered those that had let themselves down, together with their rabbis, to be burnt alive; but delivered the rest that were caught to the proper officers to be put to death by them. After this, the distemper seized upon his whole body, and greatly disordered all its parts with various symptoms; for there was a gentle fever upon him, and an intolerable itching over all the surface of his body… Besides which he had a difficulty of breathing upon him, and could not breathe but when he sat upright, and had a convulsion of all his members; insomuch that the diviners said those diseases were a punishment upon him for what he had done to the rabbis. (Flavius Josephus, War 1. 646-656)
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