Vespasian’s Invasion, Simon bar Giora’s Messianic Complex

Map of Roman Palestine with the Decapolis citi...
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This only a portion of my exegesis paper…

Josephus records the actions of the soon-to-be Roman Emperor advancing on the Jewish rebels in and around the Sea of Galilee so that in the space of about three months, Vespasian captures both Gerasa and Gadara. Understanding Vespasian’s actions here, and who also is connected with Gerasa, is important to understanding Mark’ telling of the demoniac and Jesus and the Gospel not only providing a mimicking account of the historical situation, but also a dual with Vespasian in which Jesus is clearly seen as the victor (and thus the proper Messiah).  Briefly, and then we will examine it more closely, we find that at the end of March 68, Vespasian was marching on the town of Gadara, on his way to Jerusalem. As we will see the leading, wealthy men, of the city would send an embassy to Vespasian for peace. They have a “desire for peace and from concern for their property, for Gadara had many wealthy residents.” Thus, they surrendered, but only after the pro-war crowd and brutally left.

What is of note in Josephus’ account is the details which are provided and which resurface later by another author. The ancient propagandist gives two accounts of Gadara’s invasion. In Wars 3.132-134, Josephus notes that Vespasian invaded the city of Gadara and with great ease, due to the lack of fighting men, was able to extract revenge due to the ‘iniquity’ of the city and in doing so seemingly laid waste to all the cities of the Decapolis. Later, in Wars 4.400-437, the tale is repeated with much more detail and indeed, a different ending. During the waste of the land, which Vespasian had caused, Josephus tells of the capital city, Gadara, and what amounts to appeasement. Those of the anti-Roman party were besieging the city, killing those who escaped; however some did and asked that Vespasian come and save them. On the 4 Adar (21 March 68), Vespasian entered the city as he was asked to do by the wealthy men of the city. Of course, not all of the city wanted to surrender to Vespasian.

The anti-Roman party, who Josephus already reports as seditious and brutal, decided that they could not take the surrendering of the city and decided to flee; however, they decided that blood must be drawn to preserve their honor. To do this, they found a young man by the name of Dolesus who was of the city’s nobility and acted as a leader of the pro-Roman party, sending the embassy to Vespasian. Josephus reports that the anti-Roman party ‘slew him, and treated his dead body after a barbarous manner, so very violent was their anger at him, and they ran out of the city.’ The ‘lovers of peace’ however, was able to secure the peace with Vespasian and preserve their wealth and property. On the other hand, Vespasian sent Placidus after the rebels and in a very bloody, end, they met their doom. At the final battle of the Gadarenes, the Romans killed fifteen thousand, ‘while the number of those who were unwillingly forced to leap into the Jordan was prodigious.’ The remaining two-thousand two hundred were taken prisoners, Josephus reports.

The town of Gerasa provides for us several connections to Mark’s story. First, Gerasa was itself conquered by Vespasian who slaughtered 1000 young men and plundered what was left. He did so with the might of the Tenth Legion which was represented by the image of a wild boar, swine, and stationed at the city of Hippos. This city is located on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Further, the town of Gerasa is the birthplace Simon bar Giora, a Jewish militant during Vespasian’s march. Josephus wasn’t too kind to bar Giora, saying that he lacked cunning, but had strength and courage. He was successful at first, but due to his popularity, the religious leaders at Jerusalem refused to award him a command position in fear that his popularity would outweigh them. Already, he was promising liberty to the slaves and a reward to the free, which allowed him to raise over 40,000 men. After being invited into Jerusalem by the Jewish religious leaders and heralded as savior and guardian, he claimed himself king, wore purple in the Temple, and minted coins with the legend ‘The Redemption of Zion’. He, like Vespasian, claimed to be the Messiah, although unlike Vespasian, bar Giora only did so passively (Wars 4.486-504; 7.26-32). After the invasion and destruction of Gerasa, Vespasian learned of the death of the Emperor. He then retreated to Caesarea where he awaited the new Emperor, Galba. Caesarea would be a turning point for both Vespasian and bar Giora, but that is of a different topic.

Evans, Craig A. (2006). “Messianic Hopes and Messianic Figures in Late Antiquity”. Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 3: 9–40.

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