John of Gischala

John Of Gischala, son of Levi, named after his native place, SEE GISCHALA, was one of the most celebrated leaders of the unfortunate Jews of Galilee in their final struggle with the Romans, A.D. 66-67. Of his personal history we know scarcely anything. The only writer to whom we can go for information – Josephus — is prejudiced, because John of Gischala proved the most formidable rival of the renowned Jewish historian, and he is on that account depicted by Josephus in a very disparaging manner. His deeds, however, indicate to every fair-minded person that he belonged to that class of men who, for the defense of their country, readily ignore all other duties. We are furthermore encouraged to give credence to the noble picture which Grätz (Gesch. der Juden, 3, 396) has drawn of John, when we remember that the virtuous and learned Simon ben-Gamaliel was a devoted and life- long friend of our hero. (By this it must, however, by no means be inferred that we are ready to accept Grätz's views on the character of Josephus, for which we refer our readers to the art. JOSEPHUS.) Though by nature Josephus' superior, more particularly in the art of warfare, he readily submitted himself to the commands of the man whom the Sanhedrim had seen fit to invest with superior authority. Not so patriotic was the conduct of Josephus, who, in his jealousy, hesitated not to put every obstacle in the way of John, so as to prevent the success of his noble and patriotic efforts. This impolitic conduct of Josephus towards all who seemed to present any likelihood of becoming rivals in office continued until the people's attention was directed to it, and their anger against him was so great that his very life was in danger. Instead, however, of profiting by this sad experience, Josephus, in his vanity and blindness, continued, so soon as he felt that the danger had passed, his animosity towards his colaborers, especially towards John of Gischala, whom he hesitated not to accuse even of having headed the attacks upon his life (Josephus, Life, 18, 19), a reproach which was not in the least deserved by John, who, however great his disappointment in Josephus, never sought relief by violent measures. It is true that, when he found the people's confidence in Josephus restored, he sent messengers to Simon ben-Gamaliel and to the Sanhedrim to remove the man in whom public confidence was so misplaced. Ordered to the defense of his native place, John did everything in his power to strengthen the fortification of Gischala, and when, after a long siege from the experienced troops of Titus, he found it impossible to hold the city with his handful of countrymen, more accustomed to the ploughshare than to the sword, he made his escape by a game of strategy which his enemy could never forgive him. Having obtained an armistice from the Romans on pretense that the day was their Sabbath, he improved the opportunity to make his escape with his forces to Jerusalem. The sacred city was at this time unfortunately divided of itself, anarchy reigned within the walls, and it was with great difficulty that John succeeded in rallying the people to their defense against a common enemy. He actually aroused them to sally forth against the Roman invaders, and succeeded in destroying the first works erected by them to besiege the city. Not so happy were they in their future undertakings. Defeat after defeat finally obliged John to seek refuge in the tower of Antonia. Soon after followed the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), and John now sought refuge in a neighboring cave, determined not to fall into the hands of Titus. But hunger soon proved even a more formidable foe than the Romans, and John gladly went forth from his hiding place to surrender himself to them, who, in their pride and the savage state of that age, hesitated not to increase the mental agonies of the poor Jew by marching him, with 700 other fellow countrymen, at the head of the victorious legions to the Eternal City, to enhance the magnificence of his public triumph. The grand spectacle over, John was imprisoned at Rome, and died in a dungeon of broken heart. Not so lucky, even, was his brother in arms, Simon bar-Giora (q.v.), who was dragged through the streets of Rome by a rope; and finally executed, in accordance with Roman custom which demanded a human sacrifice in honor of a victory gained over their enemies. See Josephus, War, 4, 2 sq.; Grätz, Geschichte d. Juden, vol. 3, ch. 14 and 15; Raphall, Post Bibl. Hist. of the Jews, 2, 416 sq. (J.H.W.)

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