JOHN OF GISCALA (Johanan ben Levi):

Native of the small Galilean city of Giscala ( ), who took an important part in the great war against Rome (66-70). He was originally poor, weak in body, and not at all eager for battle; but the vices that Josephus ascribes to him, saying that he was covetous and bloodthirsty, a cunning and ready liar, and greedy for glory ("B. J." ii. 21, § 1; iv. 2, § 1; comp. ib. vii. 8, § 1), may have been strongly colored by that writer, his mortal enemy. Josephus says also that John was so unwarlike and unambitious that he endeavored to persuade his native city to remain loyal to the Romans; but when the city was attacked and burned by the Gadarenes, the Baraganeans, and the Tyrians he called together his fellow citizens, armed them, conquered the invaders, and rebuilt Giscala so that it was more beautiful than before. He also built walls for future protection (Josephus, "Vita," § 10; comp. ib. § 38), but not at Josephus' command, as the latter says in another passage ("B. J." ii. 20, § 6).

Gathers Troops.

Four hundred fugitives from Tyrian districts gathered about John (ib. ii. 21, § 1), their number quickly increasing to between 4,500 and 5,000 (ib. § 7; "Vita," § 66). He realized large sums of money from the sale of his oil to Jewish customers in Cæsarea Philippi; and this money he used in paying his soldiers ("Vita," § 13). He asked permission of Josephus, at that time governor of Galilee, to seize the grain stored for the emperor; and when Josephus, unwilling to break with the Romans, refused, John took the grain with the permission of Josephus' fellow ambassadors, and built the walls of Giscala with the proceeds. These coambassadors, therefore, who were very prominent men and loyal patriots, had confidence in John. This was the beginning of the conflict between John and Josephus, which grew still more serious.

Conflict with Josephus.

Josephus takes false credit for having refrained from injuring John when the latter was in his power (ib. § 15); for at first the enmity between the two men was not deep enough to call for any act of violence; and later on John was always on his guard. Among the cities of Galilee, Tiberias and, later, Taricheæ were especially devoted to Josephus, while Giscala and Gabara sided with John (ib. §§ 25, 45). When John asked Josephus' permission to use the warm baths of Tiberias, Josephus not only granted the request, but also provided lodgings and ample food for John and his companions (ib. § 16). This happened after the affair of Josephus with the youths of Daberath (ib. § 26; "B. J." ii. 21, § 3); for it was then that John first became suspicious of him. As Josephus was at that time absent, John seized the opportunity to persuade the people of Tiberias to secede from Rome, and was much alarmed at Josephus' unexpected return. The latter now began to exhort the people; but when he heard that John had picked out, for the purpose of killing him, the most reliable men from among the 1,000 that he (John) had with him, he immediately fled to Taricheæ ("Vita," §§ 17-18). John, seeing his scheme frustrated, returned to Giscala, and wrote to Josephus, withmany protestations, that he had not instigated the attack.

Measures Against Josephus.

John now began an agitation against Josephus in Jerusalem itself. He sent his brother Simon and Jonathan, son of Sisenna, with 100 armed men to that city to demand the recall of Josephus. Simon b. Gamaliel, the leader of the Pharisees, was John's friend; Josephus, on the other hand, was supported by the high-priestly families. The priests, however, decided to recall Josephus. The latter had intercepted letters in which John had attempted to incite the people of Galilee against him ("Vita," § 46). John and the envoys of the government of Jerusalem had assembled at Tiberias in the house of Jesus b. Sapphia, which was strongly fortified, hoping to take Josephus prisoner there; but this attempt also failed; and John finally returned to Giscala. According to Josephus' account, the Galileans desired to seize John and turn him over to his enemy; but Josephus prevented them, as they would thereby have occasioned a civil war.

Josephus, however, was again in great danger, as John marched against him at Tiberias with an army, obliging him once more to fly to Taricheæ (ib. § 59), whereupon John returned to Giscala. The latter, however, had succeeded in inciting the people of Tiberias against Josephus, sending them a detachment of his men. Josephus was compelled to subdue Tiberias with an armed force (ib. § 63), John's 4,000 followers (3,000 according to "B. J.") surrendering, and he himself retaining only 1,500 men (2,000 according to "B. J."). Thenceforward he remained at Giscala ("Vita," § 66; "B. J." ii. 21, §§ 7, 8).

John showed himself a true patriot and hero in open war with the Romans much more than in the petty strife with Josephus. When Josephus had been conquered and Galilee was in the hands of the Romans, Giscala still held out ("B. J." iv. 2, § 1). Titus, commissioned by his father, Vespasian, to reduce the city, attacked it with 1,000 horse. John did not dare to engage in battle, having probably only his countrymen, peaceful tillers of the soil, about him. On the pretext that the Sabbath was approaching he asked for a truce of one day, which Titus granted. But John left the city secretly in the night; and the next day the citizens opened the gates. Titus was so angry at this deception that he sent men in pursuit; but John found refuge in Jerusalem ("B. J." iv. 2, §§ 2-5).

John at Jerusalem.

The second stage of John's activity began at Jerusalem. Here he persuaded the people that it was better to repulse the Romans from behind strong walls than to die to no purpose in the small towns of Galilee. His followers, several thousand strong, who passed in Jerusalem under the name of "Galileans," distinguished themselves by wild bravery; more than 2,000 men from Tiberias alone were in the city ("Vita," § 65). Josephus accuses them of plunder and rape. John made himself the tyrant of Jerusalem, then rent by parties; and to the end he remained a chief personage of the war. His head-quarters were at first on Ophel ("B. J." iv. 9, § 11); and from this position he forced the Zealots back into the Temple. He was joined by the Idumeans that had remained at Jerusalem. The peace party of Jerusalem now called Simon bar Giora and his army into the city; but this was to their detriment, as they now had two tyrants over them (ib. § 12; comp. ib. v. 13, § 1). Another party now arose, Eleazar b. Simon seceding from John's command and occupying the inner court of the Temple (ib. v. 1, § 2; Tacitus, "Hist." v. 12). This step must have materially weakened John's power, especially as the Idumeans he had called to his aid were no longer in the city. The latter had murdered the high priest Anan b. Anan, a deed for permitting which John must be blamed; and Eleazar's defection proves that likewise after that event he did not hesitate to commit acts of violence. Circumstances almost justified John in seizing the dictatorship ("B. J." iv. 7, § 1; comp. 9, § 10).

The three parties in Jerusalem now fell upon one another. John fought both with Bar Giora and with Eleazar. He repulsed the followers of the former from the colonnades of the Temple; and the missiles that the Eleazarites hurled from the Temple he stopped by machines, in the construction of which he used even the timber that had been provided for alterations to the holy house (ib. v. 1, § 5; comp. vi. 3, § 2). On the occasion of the last Passover that the Jews ever celebrated in the Temple Eleazar admitted the country people into the building; but John's followers pressed in among them with concealed weapons and attacked them (ib. v. 3, § 1). When Eleazar disappeared from the scene, John took possession of the Temple. He now had 8,400 followers, including 2,400 Zealots. They burned the part of the city lying between the forces of John and those of Simon that they might be better able to fight; and John and Simon bar Giora did not unite until the Romans were at the gate. Then they so arranged matters that the followers of John defended the part of the wall at Antonia and the northern stoa of the Temple, while the followers of Simon defended the rest (ib. 7, § 3; comp. 9, § 2).

John's End.

When the engines were brought, John had from within undermined the space that was over against the tower of Antonia, as far as the banks themselves, and had supported the ground over the mine with beams laid across one another, whereby the Roman works stood upon an uncertain foundation. Then he ordered such materials to be brought in as were daubed over with pitch and bitumen and set them on fire; and as the cross-beams that supported the banks were burning, the ditch yielded on the sudden, and the banks were shaken down and fell into the ditch with a prodigious noise (ib. v. 11, § 4).

As the people had nothing more of which they could be robbed, John laid hands upon the vessels of the Temple. All being nearly lost, John was asked to surrender; but even now he reviled Josephus—who had been commissioned by Titus to make the demand—still hoping that the city would not be conquered. After the Temple fell John succeeded in escaping to the upper city, and when again asked to surrender he demanded free retreat with his arms. As this request was not granted the fighting was continued. In Elul, 70, the upper city also fell into the hands of the Romans: theleaders, however, did not surrender, but hid in subterranean passages. John was finally forced by hunger to give himself up to the Romans. Condemned to lifelong fetters, he was reserved for the Roman triumph of Titus, and he probably died in a prison at Rome (ib. vii. 5, § 3).

  • In addition to the sources cited in the article, Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., iii. 478-546;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 608 et passim;
  • Wellhausen, I. J. G. 4th ed., pp. 370 et seq.
G. S. Kr.
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