Josephus, Flavius

views updated Jun 11 2018


Jewish historiographer and cultural apologist whose main works, The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities, are of great value for the history of the Jews; b. Jerusalem, between Sept. 13, a.d. 37 and March 16, 38; d. place and date unknown, probably c. 101.

Life. Josephus [in MSS 'Ιωσηπ(π)ος or 'Ιωσιπ(π)ος] was the son of Matthias, a "priest of the first course," who was himself descended from the Hasmonaeans in both the paternal and the maternal line. He was educated for public office from an early age; between his 16th and 19th year he acquired personal experience of the doctrines and practices of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, and also spent some time in the wilderness of Judea with an ascetic solitary. On his return to Jerusalem, he became a member of the Pharisee group and entered public life. He went to Rome, c. 6364, on a successful embassy and made friends in Nero's circle and even with the pro-Jewish Empress Poppaea. Upon returning to Palestine on the eve of the Jewish revolt, Josephus appears to have supported his party's position on the inexpediency of revolt. However, to maintain power after Cestius Gallus's defeat, the Pharisees had to show signs of militancy, so they sent Josephus to take command in Galilee. For this period there are two inconsistent accounts. In The Jewish War (De bello Judaico, hereafter, B.J. ), he portrays himself as the general in command of the revolt in Galilee. In his autobiography (Vita ), written years later, Josephus replies to Justus of Tiberias, who accused him of causing the revolt of Tiberias against Rome, and explains that he was sent to restrain, not to command, the revolt; in this account, the relationship between his actions and his motives is more complex. He organized the defense of the region but temporized with both Zealot and Roman; when, however, Vespasian started subjugating Galilee, Josephus opposed him resolutely. He skillfully defended Jotapata for a while and finally, by an unprepossessing stratagem, surrendered to Vespasian. The prisoner then prophesied that Vespasian would become emperor, which helped his chances of survival.

If his earlier motives are unclear, subsequently at least, he was sincerely convinced that Rome would conquer and that it would be better that the Romans should destroy only the Jewish zealots, not the whole people and religion, of which he remained a sturdy apologist. In Vespasian's entourage, as a prisoner and talisman, he observed the subjugation of Galilee and Judea. On Vespasian's departure from Alexandria for Rome, Josephus returned to Palestine in the suite of Titus, and witnessed the siege of Jerusalem, taking notes, interrogating deserters, and helping in negotiations between besiegers and besieged. From the final carnage he succeeded in saving several friends and relatives and some scrolls.

After the war he received compensation for the loss of his property in Jerusalem by the gift of other estates in Palestine. However, he followed Titus to Rome, became a citizen, and devoted himself to literary studies. Vespasian dismissed a charge that he was implicated in a Jewish revolt in Cyrene. Josephus received a pension and seems to have become the official war historian. Between 75 and 79, he composed The Jewish War, which he offered to Vespasian; Titus praised it and ordered its publication. Henceforward, under Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, his life was one of ease.

He was married at least three times, and twice divorced. It is not clear whether he already had a wife, left in Jerusalem during the siege (B.J. 5.419), but in any case he married, at Vespasian's command, a captive Jewess from Caesarea. Later, a lady from Alexandria bore him three children, of whom one, Hyrcanus, survived. These women being each in her turn divorced, a Cretan Jewess of distinguished family bore him two further children, Justus and Simonides Agrippa.

Under Domitian, Josephus had a literary patron, one Epaphroditus, who was either a freedman of Nero who died in 96, or a grammarian who, according to the Souda, lived until the days of Nerva. In either case, Josephus's literary activity ceases about this date; the latest events implied are the death of Agrippa (between 92 and 95) and the 13th year of Domitian (a.d. 94). The circumstances of his death are not known. Eusebius's (Ecclesiastical History 3.9.2) tells us that a statue was erected in Rome in Josephus's honor. Perhaps this still survives (in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen).

The Jewish War. Immediately after the Jewish revolt Josephus composed, in Aramaic, an account of it for the Jews of Adiabene and Mesopotamia and for the native populations of Parthia, Babylonia, and Arabia, in order to dissuade them from attacks on Rome. Between 75 and 79, he finished the seven books of his work on the same subject in Greek.

Josephus wrote The Jewish War for diffusion in the GrecoRoman world to show the greatness of the Roman victory and the folly of further sedition. He joined with these congenial emphases the theme that it was the "Jewish tyrants," i.e., the Zealots, who were responsible, an exculpation that was very timely for both the Pharisees and the Jews of the Diaspora. Josephus insists that his account of the fighting, in contrast with other histories now lost, is that of an eyewitness who took notes on the doings of both sides during the war. He further acknowledges the help he derived from the field commentaries of Vespasian and Titus and from critical remarks by King Agrippa. His relationship to his rivals' histories is not clear. This main part of his work is of great historical value. He prefaced it with an ill-proportioned history of the Jews from the days of Antiochus Epiphanes until the start of the war. This may be divided, on bases of style, content, and sources, into three parts. The first covers events from 170 b.c. until Archelaus's deposition in a.d. 6. Until the rise of Antipater, Herod's father, the account is brief, but from then until the accession of Archelaus the fortunes of that dynasty are detailed. Here Josephus uses the Universal History of Nicolaus of Damascus, a nonJewish, proHerodian source composed before a.d. 14. Josephus, or some intermediary, has reworked this source, especially in its account of the Maccabean period. The second part is the account of the three Jewish sects. This derives from a Jewish ethnographic writing used by Philo and perhaps Hippolytus. The third part is an account of the procuratorial period that is jejune up to the time of Felix (a.d. 5260) but thenceforward abundant.

The Jewish Antiquities. The 20 books of the 'Ιουδαϊκ 'Αρχαιολογία were modeled, in their title and number, on The Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The Jewish Antiquities is a history of the Jews from Creation to the start of the Jewish revolt, and a piece of cultural propaganda showing the Greeks how the Jew's Godgiven constitution made their nation prosper. This apologetic motive accounts for numerous modifications and additions that the Biblical sources undergo, and for a sustained anti-Samaritan note. A 21st book, Life, a revised account of Josephus's conduct in the Galilean campaign with introductory and concluding biographical material, was appended to The Jewish Antiquities. The entire work was finished after Agrippa II's death. The date of completion given, a.d. 94, may refer to this edition of The Jewish Antiquities or to an earlier one finished before the Life, in its present form, was projected. The value of The Jewish Antiquities depends on the value of the sources available to its author. In delimiting these, however, certainty has not yet been attained. Some scholars see Josephus as an academic historian critically selecting details from several sources, although occasionally revealing his own bias. Others hold that he merely abridged the offerings of some two or three late sources, which already reflected selectivity and bias in dealing with the events. This latter solution, in itself probably extreme, merely shifts the question of value to the sources of Josephus's putative precursors.

Specifically, in the period covered by the Hebrew OT it is possible that Josephus had not read all the numerous Hellenistic historians whom he cites. He will have found many citations from them in one or two Jewish historical school texts, and these texts could also be the source of the Alexandrian exegetical material that he uses. But almost certainly he used the Hebrew OT and Greek Septuagint (often in the Lucianic texttype) directly and not merely in such a school text's adaptations of the paraphrases of Demetrius or Artapanus. Again, Josephus's clear stylistic affinity with such historians as Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Nicolaus of Damascus implies that he read them; he could surely utilize their contents as well as their style. Besides, his own education would have familiarized him with much of the traditional Jewish material that he used. Josephus, or his immediate source, clearly lacked information about the period from the end of the Persian empire to the start of the Maccabean revolt. Little but the Alexander Romance, the Epistle of Aristeas, and Polybius was drawn upon. For the revolt itself, he had a shorter form of 1 Maccabees; but not, it seems, 2 Maccabees. Thereafter, Strabo and Nicolaus of Damascus, together with Jewish tradition, whether oral or written, are his ultimate sources.

For his account of King Herod it has been suggested that Josephus used Nicolaus of Damascus only indirectly, in an anti-Herodian Jewish redaction. Josephus himself, however, especially after Agrippa II's death, could well be responsible for some of these antiHerodian elements. It is doubtful that he had direct access to Herod's Memoirs or to the biography, sympathetic to Herod, of a certain Ptolemy. The differences between the account of Herod in The Jewish Antiquities and that in The Jewish War show that Josephus either secured new sources or made different use of the old ones. In favor of his direct use here of Nicolausand this would affect the analysis of the sources of all the second half of The Jewish Antiquities it is significant that, after the point where Nicolaus's History stops, Josephus's information is scanty until he reaches the period of Agrippa I. Thenceforward he is better informed. Some material will have come from Agrippa II; some, from what Josephus himself had seen and heard. In Rome he had access to Roman decrees; not all those that he cites will have been found in his sources. His account of Gaius's assassination, the accessions of Claudius and Nero, and of Parthian and Adiabenian history follows closely that of a Roman patrician historian, probably Cluvius Rufus.

The Jewish Antiquities contains a much discussed passage, the socalled Testimonium Flavianum, seemingly one of the earliest nonChristian references to Jesus Christ. Internal arguments for a lack of authenticity are inconclusive, but formal and external evidence suggests that it has undergone glossing [see j. p. meier, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1991) 76103]. The Greek text of The Jewish Antiquities, of which a Byzantine Epitome also exists, was translated into Latin at the order of Cassiodorus, but there is no evidence for any Latin translation of the Life.

Against Apion. This inadequate but now standard title derives from Eusebius and St. Jerome. Origen (C. Celsum 1.16, 4.11; ed. P. Kotschau, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 1.68, 281) and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.9.4., etc.; ed. E. Schwartz, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, 2.222, etc.) usually call it "On the Antiquity of the Jews " and this title is supported by the text of the work. Porphyry [De Abstinentia 4.14 (ed. A. Nauck, Teubner ser., 251)] says Against Apion came in part from Josephus's To the Greeks. It was composed after The Jewish Antiquities, but still during the life of Epaphroditus; Josephus wrote it, in two books, in reply to criticism of Antiquities. It presents and refutes the antiJewish propaganda current in the Hellenistic world (see antisemitism). First, the relatively greater antiquity of the Jews is demonstrated, and the silence of certain Greek writers on this subject is explained. Then, current accusations against Jewish history, religion, and morals are refuted, and finally there is a brief exposition of Moses and his laws, and a comparison with Greek law and theology. The value of Against Apion as a source of observations on Jewish history by lost historians and especially of fragments of the antiJewish polemicistsManetho, Chaeremon, Lysimachus, Apollonius Molon, and Apion himselfis inestimable. In its day, however, its originality must have been small. It shows traces of deriving from an Alexandrian Jewish tradition of academic polemic, and many of the citations may have been commonplaces of this tradition.

In his apologetic works, Josephus appears to represent no one school of Judaism. His own training was Pharisaic and Palestinian, but his apologetic, haggadah, and halakah, contain many characteristics of Alexandrian Judaism. His relationship, literary and ideological, with Philo merits further study.

Recent Developments. The last quarter of the 20th century was a period of especially intensive activity in Josephus scholarship. In that period appeared two important research tools: a complete concordance to Josephus's I writings and a compendious, annotated bibliography of the relevant secondary literature. New translations of commentaries on the historian's works in English, French, and German were in progress. L. H. Feldman authored numerous studies on Josephus's depiction of Biblical characters as compared with their portrayal in Scripture itself and elsewhere in JewishChristian tradition. Authors like T. W. Franxman and C. T. Begg investigated the Josephan reworking of selected Scriptural segments in detail. In line with a wide tendency in Biblical studies, Josephus's stance toward women has likewise underwent considerable scrutiny in these years. Several volumes of collected essays were published in the 1980s and 1990s, offering investigations of a wide range of special questions in the Josephan corpus. All indications were that the renaissance of Josephus studies that marked the end of the second millennium would continue into the third.

Bibliography: Editions, Translations, Commentaries, Tools. Opera, ed. b. niese, 7. v. (Berlin 188795) ; Eng. tr. h. st.j. thackeray et. al., 10 v. (Loeb Classical Library; 19261965) ; Fr. tr. e. nodet (Paris 1990 ). s. mason et al., Commentary on Flavius Josephus (Leiden 1999). l. h. feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship (19371980 ) (Berlin 1984); Josephus: A Supplmentary Bibliography (Berlin 1986). k. h. rengstorf, A Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus, 4 v. (Leiden 19731983). Studies. h. w. attridge, The Interpretation of Biblical History in the "Antiquitates Judaicae" of Flavius Josephus (Harvard Dissertations in Religion 7; Missoula, MT 1977). c. t. begg, Josephus' Account of the Early Divided Monarchy, (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium 108; Leuven 1993) 212420; Josephus' Story of the Later Monarchy (Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium 155; Leuven 2000). p. bilde, Flavius Josephus between Jerusalem and Rome (Sheffield 1988). c. a. brown, No Longer Be Silent: First Century Jewish Portraits of Biblical Women. Studies in Pseudo Philo's "Biblical Antiquities" and Josephus's "Jewish Antiquities" (Louisville 1992). s. j. d. cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome: His Vita and Development as a Historian (Leiden 1979). l. h. feldman, Studies in Josephus' Rewritten Bible (Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period Sup 58; Leiden 1998); Josephus's Interpretation of the Bible (Hellenistic Culture and Society 27; Berkeley, CA 1998). l. h. feldman and g. hata, eds., Josephus, The Bible and History (Leiden 1989). l. h. feldman and j. r. levison, eds., Josephus' "Contra Apionem": Studies in Its Character & Context with a Latin Concordance to the Portion Missing in Greek (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 34; Leiden 1996). r. k. gnuse, Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writings of Josephus: A TraditioHistorical Analysis (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 36; Leiden 1996). k.s. krieger, Geschichtsschreibung als Apologetik bei Flavius Josephus (Tübingen/Basel 1994). b. mayerschÄrtel, Das Frauenbild des Josephus: Eine social-geschichtliche und kulturanthropologische Untersuchung (Stuttgart 1995). s. mason, Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A CompositionCritical Study (Leiden 1991). s. mason, ed., Understanding Josephus: Seven Perspectives (Sheffield 1998). e. nodet, Le Pentateuque de Flavius Josephus (Paris 1996). f. parente and j. sievers, eds., Josephus & the History of the GrecoRoman Period: Essays in Memory of Morton Smith (Leiden 1994). b. schrÖder, Die "vaterlichen Gesetze', Flavius Josephus als Vermittler von Halachah an Griechen und Römer (Tübingen 1996). s. schwartz, Josephus and Judean Politics (Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition 18; Leiden 1990). p. spilsbury, The Image of the Jew in Flavius Josephus' Paraphrase of the Bible (Tübingen 1998); g. e. sterling, Historiography and Self-Definition. Josephos, LukeActs and Apologetic Historiography (Novum Testamentum Sup 64; Leiden 1992). e. c. ulrich, The Qumran Text of Samuel and Josephus (Harvard Semitic Monographs 19; Missoula, MT 1978). p. villalba i varneda, The Historical Method of Flavius Josephus (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 19; Leiden 1986).

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Josephus, Flavius

views updated Jun 11 2018

Josephus, Flavius (ad 37–100) Jewish leader and historian. A Pharisee, he took part reluctantly in the revolt against Rome (66–70) and was captured. He found favour with Vespasian and settled in Rome in ad 70.

Flavius Josephus

views updated May 21 2018

Flavius Josephus (c.37–c.100), Jewish historian, general, and Pharisee. His Jewish War gives an eyewitness account of the events leading up to the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66, in which he was a leader. His Antiquities of the Jews is a history running from the Creation to 66.