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"There is a fire
And motion of the soul which will not dwell
In its own narrow being, but aspire
Beyond the fitting medium of desire;
And, but once kindled, quenchless evermore,
Preys upon high adventure, nor can tire
Of aught but rest."

Childe Harold.




CHAPTER I



It is necessary now to carry the reader forward twenty-one years,
to the beginning of the administration of Valerius Gratus, the fourth
imperial governor of Judea--a period which will be remembered as
rent by political agitations in Jerusalem, if, indeed, it be not
the precise time of the opening of the final quarrel between the
Jew and the Roman.

In the interval Judea had been subjected to changes affecting her
in many ways, but in nothing so much as her political status. Herod
the Great died within one year after the birth of the Child--died
so miserably that the Christian world had reason to believe him
overtaken by the Divine wrath. Like all great rulers who spend
their lives in perfecting the power they create, he dreamed of
transmitting his throne and crown--of being the founder of a
dynasty. With that intent, he left a will dividing his territories
between his three sons, Antipas, Philip, and Archelaus, of whom
the last was appointed to succeed to the title. The testament was
necessarily referred to Augustus, the emperor, who ratified all its
provisions with one exception: he withheld from Archelaus the title
of king until he proved his capacity and loyalty; in lieu thereof,
he created him ethnarch, and as such permitted him to govern nine
years, when, for misconduct and inability to stay the turbulent
elements that grew and strengthened around him, he was sent into
Gaul as an exile.

Caesar was not content with deposing Archelaus; he struck the people
of Jerusalem in a manner that touched their pride, and keenly wounded
the sensibilities of the haughty habitues of the Temple. He reduced
Judea to a Roman province, and annexed it to the prefecture of Syria.
So, instead of a king ruling royally from the palace left by Herod
on Mount Zion, the city fell into the hands of an officer of the
second grade, an appointee called procurator, who communicated with
the court in Rome through the Legate of Syria, residing in Antioch.
To make the hurt more painful, the procurator was not permitted to
establish himself in Jerusalem; Caesarea was his seat of government.
Most humiliating, however, most exasperating, most studied, Samaria,
of all the world the most despised--Samaria was joined to Judea as
a part of the same province! What ineffable misery the bigoted
Separatists or Pharisees endured at finding themselves elbowed
and laughed at in the procurator's presence in Caesarea by the
devotees of Gerizim!

In this rain of sorrows, one consolation, and one only, remained to
the fallen people: the high-priest occupied the Herodian palace in
the market-place, and kept the semblance of a court there. What his
authority really was is a matter of easy estimate. Judgment of life
and death was retained by the procurator. Justice was administered in
the name and according to the decretals of Rome. Yet more significant,
the royal house was jointly occupied by the imperial exciseman, and all
his corps of assistants, registrars, collectors, publicans, informers,
and spies. Still, to the dreamers of liberty to come, there was a
certain satisfaction in the fact that the chief ruler in the palace
was a Jew. His mere presence there day after day kept them reminded
of the covenants and promises of the prophets, and the ages when
Jehovah governed the tribes through the sons of Aaron; it was to
them a certain sign that he had not abandoned them: so their hopes
lived, and served their patience, and helped them wait grimly the
son of Judah who was to rule Israel.

Judea had been a Roman province eighty years and more--ample time
for the Caesars to study the idiosyncrasies of the people--time enough,
at least, to learn that the Jew, with all his pride, could be quietly
governed if his religion were respected. Proceeding upon that policy,
the predecessors of Gratus had carefully abstained from interfering
with any of the sacred observances of their subjects. But he chose
a different course: almost his first official act was to expel
Hannas from the high-priesthood, and give the place to Ishmael,
son of Fabus.

Whether the act was directed by Augustus, or proceeded from
Gratus himself, its impolicy became speedily apparent. The reader
shall be spared a chapter on Jewish politics; a few words upon
the subject, however, are essential to such as may follow the
succeeding narration critically. At this time, leaving origin
out of view, there were in Judea the party of the nobles and
the Separatist or popular party. Upon Herod's death, the two
united against Archelaus; from temple to palace, from Jerusalem to
Rome, they fought him; sometimes with intrigue, sometimes with the
actual weapons of war. More than once the holy cloisters on Moriah
resounded with the cries of fighting-men. Finally, they drove him
into exile. Meantime throughout this struggle the allies had their
diverse objects in view. The nobles hated Joazar, the high-priest;
the Separatists, on the other hand, were his zealous adherents.
When Herod's settlement went down with Archelaus, Joazar shared
the fall. Hannas, the son of Seth, was selected by the nobles to fill
the great office; thereupon the allies divided. The induction of the
Sethian brought them face to face in fierce hostility.

In the course of the struggle with the unfortunate ethnarch,
the nobles had found it expedient to attach themselves to Rome.
Discerning that when the existing settlement was broken up some
form of government must needs follow, they suggested the conversion
of Judea into a province. The fact furnished the Separatists an
additional cause for attack; and, when Samaria was made part of
the province, the nobles sank into a minority, with nothing to
support them but the imperial court and the prestige of their
rank and wealth; yet for fifteen years--down, indeed, to the
coming of Valerius Gratus--they managed to maintain themselves
in both palace and Temple.

Hannas, the idol of his party, had used his power faithfully in
the interest of his imperial patron. A Roman garrison held the
Tower of Antonia; a Roman guard kept the gates of the palace;
a Roman judge dispensed justice civil and criminal; a Roman
system of taxation, mercilessly executed, crushed both city
and country; daily, hourly, and in a thousand ways, the people
were bruised and galled, and taught the difference between a
life of independence and a life of subjection; yet Hannas kept
them in comparative quiet. Rome had no truer friend; and he made
his loss instantly felt. Delivering his vestments to Ishmael,
the new appointee, he walked from the courts of the Temple into
the councils of the Separatists, and became the head of a new
combination, Bethusian and Sethian.

Gratus, the procurator, left thus without a party, saw the fires
which, in the fifteen years, had sunk into sodden smoke begin to
glow with returning life. A month after Ishmael took the office,
the Roman found it necessary to visit him in Jerusalem. When from
the walls, hooting and hissing him, the Jews beheld his guard
enter the north gate of the city and march to the Tower of
Antonia, they understood the real purpose of the visit--a full
cohort of legionaries was added to the former garrison, and the
keys of their yoke could now be tightened with impunity. If the
procurator deemed it important to make an example, alas for the
first offender!





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
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