Zechariah 14- Part 8- How Josephus’ Record of AD 70 Matches Zechariah 14!

Zechariah 14, Part 8 (Zechariah 14:12-15)
Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr (October 6, 2023)
Ron Cuzzort (Editor)
All Rights Reserved

“Now this will be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples who have gone to
war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will
rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth.    And it will come about on that
day that a great panic from the Lord will fall on them; and they will seize one another’s hand,
and the hand of one will be raised against the hand of another.   Judah also will fight at
Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be gathered, gold, silver, and
garments in great abundance.    And just like this plague, there will be a plague on the horse,
the mule, the camel, the donkey, and all the cattle that will be in those camps” (Zechariah
14:12-15)

As the New Jerusalem rose up, 1 the Old Jerusalem would be torn down and reduced to rubble. 2
Those inside the city would suffer greatly in their vain attempt to save it. These verses speak to
the sad reality that befell them as they clung to that which was fading away rather than
embracing the new reality materializing through Jesus Christ. The popular approach of our day
doesn’t see it this way, however. Instead of Zechariah’s words describing horrors of the past,
today’s pop-prophecy pundits spin these verses as horrors still awaiting our future. Fittingly, the
scenario they describe is very much like a futuristic sci-fi thriller – or even a horror movie.

Nuclear War, End Time Zombies, and The Big Screen

1 The idea of the New Jerusalem “coming down” in Revelation 21:2 speaks to its origin, it is heavenly rather than earthly. Neither the New Jerusalem’s rising in Zechariah 14:10 nor it’s coming down in Revelation 21:2 are physical, directional movements. It is a spiritual reality with its source or origin being heaven itself as it rises, grows, and fills the earth.
2 From the progressive revelation of the New Testament, we understand that there were two Jerusalems (Gal.4:25-27; Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 21). This would not have been apparent in Old Testament times and it explains how Jerusalem could simultaneously be presented as being destroyed and rescued at the same time, in passages such as Zechariah 14. The Messianic profile, along with the full disclosure of His work, was kept veiled and cryptic until Jesus’ resurrection (Lk. 24:45). If God’s enemies would have known the plan, the crucifixion and all the ensuing events associated with it would not have happened (1 Cor. 2:6-7). From history we understand that old, earthly Jerusalem was destroyed. The new, heavenly Jerusalem was rescued and remains to this day. God’s New Covenant People are all a part of it. The distinction between the two Jerusalems awaited the further revelation of the New Testament.

In his article “Zechariah Prophecy & The Neutron Bomb,” Marshall Beeber informs us: “This
prophecy seemed like a horrific fantasy until the dawn of the nuclear age. In the 1970s Samuel
Cohen, a nuclear physicist, invented a new tactical nuclear weapon called the ‘neutron bomb’
which would have the exact effect that Zechariah's prophecy stated.” 3
What is extremely relevant for those seeking to truly understand Zechariah’s prophecy in its
historical context is just how extremely irrelevant the prophecy would have been to Zechariah’s
original audience – if Beeber is correct. More the point, it was apparently irrelevant to anyone
living prior to the 1970s!

The real irony here is that those who argue that Zechariah foretells a nuclear war also argue
that the New Testament’s time statements 4 merely mean that Jesus could come “at any
moment,” rather than meaning that He would come in the first-century. As the popular lingo of
our day goes, Christ’s return has been “always imminent.” 5 By this, they mean that Christ could
have come back at any time during the last 2000 years – stretching right up to the present.
But how could His return have been “always imminent” before the predicted nuclear wars were
even a possibility? How could He have come back before the technology was in place? How
could it have happened before the 1970s?

Undaunted by this somewhat obvious contradiction, this remains one of our Dispensational
friends’ favorite passages because it seems to play right into the sci-fi sensationalism that
characterizes their approach. Dr. Roger Barrier says that Zechariah 14:12 “mirrors the incredible
melting of human bodies that results from the intense heat produced by a nuclear bomb.” 6 One
popular website opens its treatment of this verse with these words: “Anyone who has seen
Raiders of the Lost Ark recalls a most incredible scene when the Germans open the Ark of the
Covenant and their flesh melts. Eyes and tongues are destroyed, making them unable to see or
to speak!” 7 Shelby Hunt thinks the movie World War Z is a better fit than Raiders of the Lost
Ark and claims this verse is describing end-time “Zombies” in the last days. 8

Interpreting the Bible in light of feature film isn’t the best hermeneutical approach. We don’t
need movies starring Harrison Ford or Brad Pitt, or even a nuclear explosion to help us figure
out this verse. And how would Zechariah’s original audience have even made heads or tails out
of it if this were the case? The truth is, there are better ways to understand the passage than catapulting it thousands of years into the future of the original audience, and onto the big
screen or news headlines of our own time.

3 https://www.messianic-literary.com/neutron.html
4 e.g., Matt. 10:23; 16:27-28; 24:34; etc.
5
http://jimbomkamp.com/Luke/Luke12p3.htm#:~:text=In%20our%20theology%2C%20we%20as%20God%E2%80%
99s%20people%20through,His%20church.%20Jesus%20could%20return%20at%20any%20moment.
6 https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/ask-roger/does-the-bible-predict-nuclear-war.html
7 https://www.preceptaustin.org/zechariah-14-commentary
8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtZnawPWpw

Famine in the City During the War

Zechariah describes the plague as follows: “…their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet,
and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongue will rot in their mouth.” While
Zechariah’s prophecy isn’t about our own day and age, this horrific scene is something that is
unfortunately common to every day and age. Consequently, it’s not difficult to figure out what
is going on in this verse. The prophet gives a very apt description of the effects of starvation
upon the human body.

We’ve all seen pictures of emaciated individuals in the Nazi death camps during the time of
Hitler and the forced Ukrainian Famine under Stalin. Sadly, these images align strikingly with
Zechariah’s portrayal. During starvation, there are not “enough calories of any sort to keep up
with the body’s energy needs,” and the “body’s reserve resources are depleted.” 9 This results in
a “wasting away of the body’s tissues” 10 which, among other things, causes the eyes to sink
back into the starving person’s eye sockets. 11 Uncoincidentally, this is in fact the sad fate that
ensued upon so many who chose to remain inside the doomed city.

As Gary DeMar writes, “There was a famine during the siege of Jerusalem. A woman was found
cooking and eating her child. A tactic of warfare is to wait out the enemy by surrounding the
adversary and starving them out. ‘Jerusalem was isolated from the rest of the nation, and
factions within the city fought over strategies of defense. As the siege wore on, people began
dying from starvation and plague. The high priest’s wife, who once basked in luxury, scavenged
for crumbs in the streets.’ Their emaciated bodies would look like rotting corpses. Plagues often
follow starvation and the stench and disease of literal rotting corpses.” 12

Likewise, Darrell G. Young informs us: “The Jewish zealots, reacting in opposition to Caligula’s
campaign began a revolt against Rome, a revolt which led to Roman legion soldiers from Syria
destroying the food stocks of the Zealots and the local Jewish population. The inhabitants of the
city of Jerusalem died in great numbers via starvation.” 13 Additionally, it is a commonly known
fact that the Jewish Zealots themselves burned stockpiles of dry food within their own city in
order to “induce the defenders to fight against the siege, instead of negotiating peace.” 14 This
resulted in “many city dwellers and soldiers” dying “of starvation during the siege.” 15

9 https://www.cpr.org/2016/01/20/what-happens-to-the-body-and-mind-when-starvation-sets-in/
10 Ibid.
11 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starvation#:~:text=As%20starvation%20progresses%2C%
12 Gary DeMar, “Making Prophetic Sense of Zechariah 14” (Unpublished Work in Progress, October 1, 2020), pp. 55-
56.
13 http://focusonjerusalem.com/thefallofjerusalem.html
14 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Jewish%E2%80%93Roman_War; see: Josephus, Wars, 5.1.4.

In short, Zechariah’s description of the plague (Zech. 14:12) matches the results of starvation
and malnourishment, and this was unfortunately what awaited many who remained within the
city’s walls during that time.

This, however, raises the question of whom the plague was to befall. An English reading of the
text seems to indicate that the intended victims were those who went to war against Jerusalem
rather than those who went to war for Jerusalem. How can we square this with the text if in
fact Zechariah is describing the starvation of those who remained in the city, desperately
fighting on its behalf?

Upon Whom Did the Plague Fall?

Even among those who understand this passage in terms of past fulfillment, the tendency is to
equate the plague with Jerusalem’s attackers rather than her defenders. In this case, it would
have been the Romans, instead of the Jews, who suffered the judgement of Zechariah 14:12.
From history, however, we know that the Romans did not experience starvation in the
aftermath of the war.

This being so, some see verse 12 as describing the effects of the volcanic eruption of Mount
Vesuvius upon the Romans, in 79 AD, rather than the starvation of the Jews inside the city,
during the siege of 66-70 AD. For example, in his excellent sermon on the book of Zechariah,
Phil Kayser says, “The surge was so hot (some volcano experts estimating about 1000 degrees
Fahrenheit) that it would have consumed the soft tissues of anyone found within a certain
radius before their bodies even hit the ground. This is a literal fulfillment.” 16 While this is
entirely plausible and an intriguing take on the passage, is it necessary? Is this the only way to
understand Zechariah’s words? Is another approach possible?

Once again, the entire meaning of a verse hinges greatly upon the translators’ choice of words.
One single word can completely change the whole dynamic of what’s being said. In this case,
it’s The Hebrew preposition עַל (‘al). In English, the passage reads, “this is the plague that will
strike those who have gone to war against Jerusalem,” but there is nothing in the raw grammar
of the verse that necessitates that this word must mean “against.” Regarding this particular
Hebrew preposition, the context determines the nuance of the word, and many times it means
the exact opposite of “against.” For example:

Exodus 18:19 says that “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to
Israel.” 17 Deuteronomy 4:21 says, “Now the Lord was angry with me, on account of you.” 18
Deuteronomy 9:18 says, “I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin.” 19
Likewise, Ruth 1:19, “The city was stirred because of them.” 20
Nehemiah 1:6 says, “I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of
Israel.” 21

15 Ibid.
16 , Zechariah: Sermon by Phil Kayser on 2020-03-08 p. 17. BB Research | Zechariah (kaysercommentary.com)
17 https://biblehub.com/lexicon/exodus/18-9.htm

If we were to plug any of these possible meanings into Zechariah 14:12, the verse would look
like this: “Now this will be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples who have
gone to war over Jerusalem,” “on account of Jerusalem,” because of Jerusalem,” or “on behalf
of Jerusalem.” In this case, it is not those who are attacking the city upon whom the plague
falls, but those who are defending it. In other words, the plague of verse 12 hits Zealots and the
people whom they persuaded to stay behind and fight – rather than flee to the mountains as
Jesus instructed. These are the ones who would experience the plague of starvation, which
would in turn contribute to the internal fighting among those inside the city.

Panic and Conflict Within the City

In the verses that follow, Zechariah says, “And it will come about on that day that a great panic
from the Lord will fall on them; and they will seize one another’s hand, and the hand of one will
be raised against the hand of another. Judah also will fight at Jerusalem…” (Zech. 14:13-14a).
This seems to be a fitting depiction of the infighting within the city as the Zealot factions and
their respective followers were at odds with one another. 22 Additionally, these verses tend to
rule out nuclear war or even a volcanic eruption. Simply put, there wouldn’t be anyone left
alive to fight amongst themselves after such catastrophes. Starvation, on the other hand, would
precipitate just such a conflict as the inhabitants of the city fought over whatever remaining
food sources could be found.

This is in fact what happened during the siege. Starvation gripped those inside the city while
their enemies paraded their wealth roundabout Israel’s decimated capital.

18 https://biblehub.com/lexicon/deuteronomy/4-21.htm
19 https://biblehub.com/lexicon/deuteronomy/9-18.htm see also: Deut. 29:25
https://biblehub.com/lexicon/deuteronomy/29-25.htm
20 https://biblehub.com/lexicon/ruth/1-19.htm
21 https://biblehub.com/lexicon/nehemiah/1-6.htm
22 On this, see: Josephus, Wars, 5.6.1 zealots were fighting each other even while under siege from the Romans
5.1.4. Three treacherous factions, 5.3.1. Zealots tortured innocent temple worshippers, 5.8.1 Zealots threatened
death, cut throats of those who wanted peace. Many thanks to Patricia Bailey, of https://preteristpapers.com/, for
these references in Josephus.

Titus’ Payday Parade

Amid Jerusalem’s internal conflict, Zechariah then says, “…the wealth of all the surrounding
nations will be gathered, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance” (Zech. 14:14b). As
history would have it, Josephus recounts how the Romans openly flaunted their wealth while
“poverty” had “seized” those inside the city “and a great many had died already for want of
necessities.” 23 Zechariah’s prophecy and Josephus’ history are very much like mirror images of
each other, with Zechariah peering forward to the events of the Roman-Jewish War while
Josephus looked back upon them.

The flaunting of the Roman wealth occurred after Jerusalem’s second wall was demolished. 24 At
that point in time, Titus resolved to “relax the siege for a little while” in order to “distribute
subsistence money to the solders” and “give every one of the soldiers their pay.” 25 This lasted
for “four days,” 26 with the Roman soldiers in full battle array. Even the Romans’ horses were
adorned “in their fine trappings.” 27 Steve Mason describes this extravaganza as one of the ways
in which the “Romans used every opportunity to exploit the appearance of their superbly
equipped army, massed in rank and file.” 28 As Mason explains:

“Opportunities were few during a siege, but Josephus describes Titus using such a tactic
just after taking Jerusalem’s second wall. Instead of continuing the assault immediately
against the city’s innermost, oldest, and strongest wall, he staged an elaborate payday
parade over four days. Legionaries were paid three times per year, and this may simply
have been the scheduled time, but Josephus portrays it as a tactic to intimidate. The
legions parade in full uniform, their polished swords drawn. Even the horses are decked
out in armor and shiny decorations, the bright sun giving the whole scene an
otherworldly radiance. ‘The broad area in front of the city gleamed with gold and silver,
and nothing was more exhilarating than this spectacle to themselves, or more terrifying
to the [Judaean] enemy’ (War 5.348–55). The city’s north wall is crowded with
spectators craning their necks, and Josephus characteristically reads their minds: ‘dire
consternation overtook even the most daring, as they observed this force all massed
together and the fineness of the weapons and the good order of the men.’ He has the
Jerusalemites admit that they would have surrendered right then and there, had they
not gone too far to expect clemency.” 29

23 Wars, 5.8.2.
24 Josephus, Wars, 5.8.1.
25 Wars, 5.9.1.
26 Wars, 5.9.2
27 Wars, 5.9.1
28 Steve Mason, A History of the Roman Jewish War: AD 66-74 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016), p.
190.
29 Ibid.

Josephus’ reference to the Romans’ horses being elaborately arrayed is fitting considering
Zechariah’s words in verse 15: “And just like this plague, there will be a plague on the horse, the
mule, the camel, the donkey, and all the cattle that will be in those camps” (Zech. 14:15). The
starvation of those who camped inside the besieged city would have befallen their animals as
well as the people themselves, while even the Romans’ horses were in full health and vigor. The
contrast could not be greater. The wealth of the “surrounding nations” was “gathered” in
“great abundance” (Zech. 14:14) while those inside the city wasted away (Zech. 14:12) along
with their animals (Zech. 14:15).

Roman Victory Parades

Apart from Titus’ Payday Parade, a possible further fulfillment of verse 14 might be found in the
Roman victory parades following the destruction of Jerusalem itself. Josephus speaks of “Titus’s
and Vespasian’s Triumph” in which they “exhibited magnificent shows in all the cities of Syria”
and beyond. 30 During these displays, Titus “made use of the captive Jews as public instances of
the destruction of that nation.” 31 When he left Antioch and made his way to Zeugma,
messengers from “Vologeses king of Parthia” met him “and brought him a crown of gold upon
the victory he had gained over the Jews.” 32 Journeying in to Egypt with the captive Zealot
leaders, 33 Vespasian and Titus were “crowned with laurel” and “clothed” with “ancient purple
garments” as they sat down upon “ivory chairs” accepting shouts of victory. 34
Josephus says that “it is impossible to describe the magnitude of the shows as they deserve and
the magnificence of them all.” 35 He speaks of “the variety of riches” and “rarities of nature,”
“admirable and all costly in nature,” and “all brought together” to demonstrate “the vastness of
the dominions of the Romans” during these elaborate celebrations of their victory over the
Jews. 36 He elaborates, “For there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and
ivory, contrived into all sorts of things” carried along “in a pompous show” and “running along
like a river.” 37 “Some parts,” he says, “were composed of the rarest purple hangings” and
accurately represented the embroidery of “the Babylonians.” 38 Josephus speaks of “precious
stones,” “crowns of gold,” “very costly materials,” and “purple garments” that were
“interwoven with gold.” 39 This all accords quite well with Zechariah’s words: “…the wealth of all the surrounding nations will be gathered, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance” (Zech.
14:14b).
30 Wars, 7.5.1 ff.
31 Wars, 7.5.1.
32 Wars, 7.5.2.
33 Wars, 7.5.3.
34 Wars, 7.5.4.
35 Wars, 7.5.5.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid.

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Predicted, Fulfilled, and Recorded

All that Zechariah predicted in these verses was fulfilled and then recorded by Josephus after
the prophet’s words came to pass in the Roman-Jewish War of the first century. There is no
need to watch the latest apocalyptic thriller movie to understand Zechariah’s prophecy, but
there is a great need to acquaint ourselves with history in order to understand it. The answers
to our questions about Zechariah’s prediction lay in the distant past and not the future –
whether that be the near or far future.

Embracing Christ and following His admonition to flee the city would have saved everyone who
went down with the city. It would have also made them a part of the new city, the New
Jerusalem, 40 which began to rise and expand in the first century and continues to do so unto
this day (Zech. 14:10-11). Many chose to flee to the mountains as Jesus instructed, and many
chose to stay. Those who made the latter choice faced famine and defeat as their enemies were
victorious and prosperous. Zechariah’s words in verses 12-15 speak to these events and
Zechariah aptly portrays the contrast between the fate of the old, earthly Jerusalem and the
destiny of the new, heavenly Jerusalem depicted in the previous verses.

Source: Don K. Preston