Josephus, also known as Flavius Josephus (c. 37–c. 100) was a 1st century Jewish historian of priestly and royal ancestry who survived and recorded the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and settled in Rome. He was originally known as Yosef Ben-Matityahu (Matthias in Greek).
His Life and Works
As a young man, Josephus participated in the Great Jewish Revolt of AD 68-70, acting as a military leader in Galilee. However, in circumstances that are somewhat unclear, Josephus chose to be captured rather than follow through with a suicide pact. He became first the prisoner, and then the client of the Roman Generals (later Emperors) Flavius Vespasian and Flavius Titus; taking the Roman name Flavius Josephus. Josephus followed Titus back to Rome after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. He was granted Roman citizenship and a pension in Rome and was well accepted at the courts of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.
He wrote an account of the Great Jewish Revolt addressed to the Jewish community in Mesopotamia in the Aramaic language. He then wrote a history in Greek covering a broader period - from the Maccabees to the fall of Jerusalem. This book, Jewish War, appeared by 79. The majority of the book is based on the events of his own life, including those of his own administrative and military experience.
The Jewish Antiquities, (written c. 94 in Greek) is a history of the Jews from the Creation to the outbreak of the war in the late 60s. There is an autobiographical appendix defending Josephus' own conduct at the end of the war when he cooperated with the Roman forces. His account, while parallel to the Old Testament, is not identical to it. There has been speculation that the differences are due to Josephus' access to ancient texts (perhaps going back to Nehemiah) which survived the destruction of the Temple, however, few scholars would credit this.
Josephus' Against Apion is a defense of Judaism as classical religion and philosophy, stressing its antiquity against what Josephus pointed out was the relatively more recent traditions of the Greeks. Some anti-Semitic allegations by Apion, and myths as old as Manetho's are exposed there as well.
Josephus is an ambiguious character. He was unquestionably an important apologist in the Roman world for the Jewish religion, particularly at a time of major upheaval. He remained, in his own terms, a loyal Jew. He went out of his way both to commend Judaism, and to insist on its compatibility with cultured Graeco-Roman thought. He blamed the Jewish War on unrepresentative and over-zealous fanatics among the Jews, and the atypical tyranny of a few Roman governors. (His works, unsurprisingly, flatter his Roman patrons.) Nevertheless, his personal conduct during the war is a point of contention, which he never properly explains.
His history of the Great Jewish Revolt, though questionable, contradictory or self-serving in many places, is an important source of information for the events of that time, and is particularly useful as a background to the New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He make reference to Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes and to such figures as Pontius Pilate, Herod, John the Baptist, James (the brother of Jesus) and a brief and highly disputed reference to Jesus himself. Along with Philo of Alexadria he is an important source for studies of early Christianity and post-Temple Judaism.
See also the "Testimonium Flavianum"
Last updated: 10-14-2005 15:03:58