Skip to main content

Josephus Flavius

JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS

JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS (c. 37–after 100 c.e.), Jewish historian and one of the chief representatives of Jewish-Hellenistic literature.

biography

Early Life

Born in Jerusalem into an aristocratic priestly family belonging to the mishmeret of Jehoiarib, through his mother Josephus was related to the Hasmonean dynasty. Josephus relates of himself that in his youth he was so renowned for his knowledge of the Torah that high priests and leading men of the city would come to consult him on matters of halakhah, and he was apparently distinguished in his youth as an aggadist. At all events, he was certainly not ignorant of the Torah, as many scholars have maintained. From the age of 16 he spent three years with a certain Bannus, who appears to have been a member of one of the many contemporary sects (but not necessarily an *Essene), who lived an ascetic life in the wilderness, wore clothes made of leaves, fed on wild herbs – like John the Baptist (Matt. 3:4) – and made ablutions in the morning and evening. In 64 c.e., at the age of 26, Josephus was sent on a mission to Rome to secure the release of some priests who had been seized and delivered to Rome by the procurator *Felix to render an account to the emperor for some offense they had committed. Josephus was probably selected for this mission because of his knowledge of Greek. With the help of the Jewish actor Aliturus he obtained an introduction to the empress *Poppaea Sabina; his efforts were crowned with success and the priests were released. The visit had a profound effect on Josephus, Rome making an indelible impression on him.

As Commander of Galilee During the Jewish War

At the outbreak of the Jewish War (66 c.e.), Josephus was appointed commander of Galilee, which was probably the most important military assignment during the first stage of the war. Despite this he seems to have belonged to the moderate party that had gained control after the victory over Cestius *Gallus, and it was hoped that he would exert his influence at a critical juncture to achieve a compromise settlement. Simeon b. Gamaliel could have found no one more suitable for this purpose than Josephus, since the latter was quite capable of outwitting his rivals until an opportune moment arrived to work for peace. However, it remains uncertain whether John of Giscala was actually ousted from the leadership in Galilee on explicit instructions from Jerusalem and overall command given to Josephus by the Sanhedrin, since his account of his operations in Galilee (contained in the Life) is extremely vague, and gives the impression that he conceals more than he reveals. Josephus may have acted on his own responsibility when he sought to supersede John. In any case there is no justification for the theory that Josephus was never sent to Galilee but seized control there against the wishes of the Sanhedrin even before the outbreak of the revolt. In fact Josephus seems to have come to Galilee only after Cestius Gallus' defeat, which marked the beginning of the revolt.

The position of the Sanhedrin's envoy was a difficult one, since the local Galilean leaders had no wish to accept a man who had been appointed over them by the central authority in Jerusalem. Because of this there was continuous strife, and clashes took place between Josephus and John and his Galilean supporters. John failed in his attempt to induce the Sanhedrin to recall Josephus, and the conflict in Galilee persisted until the arrival of *Vespasian in the spring of 67 c.e. The country, unprepared for hostilities, was wholly unable to wage an offensive war. The cities, which Josephus claimed to have fortified, were isolated from one another and could only defend themselves singly, without any cohesion or plan. The decisive battle took place around the city of Jotapata, to which Josephus had retired and which resisted for six weeks. When the city fell on Tammuz 1, 67, Josephus fled with 40 men to a cave. There each man resolved to slay his neighbor rather than be taken captive by the enemy. Josephus artfully cast the lots, deceitfully managing to be one of the two last men left alive and then persuaded his companion to go out with him and surrender to the Romans.

Josephus' "Prophecy" Regarding Vespasian

Josephus relates that when he appeared before Vespasian he foretold the greatness in store for the Roman commander, who spared his life, binding him in chains only. This is a very surprising account, for the Talmud tells a similar story except that there the prophecy was made by R. *Johanan b. Zakkai. In fact, there is some substance in both accounts. Presumably under no circumstances would Josephus have dared so brazenly to misrepresent the truth had the story been a complete fabrication, since The Jewish War was written under the patronage of the emperor and its contents sanctioned by the imperial dynasty. The emperor would hardly have assented to the account had it not contained a nucleus of truth, which led him to accept the fictitious element in the story as well. The primary fabrication was that the "prophecy" was not made by Josephus when he appeared as a captive before Vespasian, who received the rebel commander as a prisoner of war punishable with death. It was apparently Vespasian's intention to have him taken to Rome and there to execute him during his triumph, as he later did to *Simeon b. Giora. Josephus was held prisoner in the Roman camp for the duration of Vespasian's campaign until the news was received of Nero's death (68 c.e.). This information undoubtedly caused a stir in Vespasian's camp too, and the ferment increased greatly when word was heard of the death of Galba (69 c.e.), who had been proclaimed emperor. The officers and troops began to entertain the idea of appointing an emperor of their own.

His Exploitation of Circumstances Surrounding Nero's Death

Josephus was determined to exploit this new state of affairs to his own advantage, shrewdly perceiving it as an opportunity for obtaining his freedom – and perhaps even more – if only he was able to make proper use of the favorable turn of events. He was fully aware of the prophecy, which was widespread in Judea and throughout the east, that the ruler of the world was destined to come forth from Judea. An echo of it even reached the Romans. The basis of the prophecy was undoubtedly messianic, and Josephus, when mentioning it in The Jewish War, adds that the Zealots interpreted it as referring to the Messiah. It was then that Josephus, having decided to make use of the belief to gain his freedom, gave it added force by dilating on the prophecy. To convince the Romans, Josephus attributed to himself the qualities of a diviner, which gave great encouragement to the soldiers. It may be asserted that Josephus' "prophecy" was uttered between January 15, the date of Galba's death, and July 1, 69 c.e., the day on which Vespasian was proclaimed emperor in Alexandria, Egypt. The role played by Josephus is somewhat similar to that of Agrippa i at the time of Claudius' accession, and in both instances the intermediary was richly rewarded by the victor. Vespasian undoubtedly learned of Josephus' share in the propaganda on his behalf and, bearing it in mind, awaited coming events.

While all this was taking place in Vespasian's camp, the conquering army advanced still nearer to Jerusalem, a move made necessary by the appearance of Simeon b. Giora and his troops. The whole of Judea was now taken, except for Jerusalem and its immediate environs. The proximity of the Roman army spread the knowledge in the city of events in the enemy camp. Realizing immediately that Vespasian would become emperor, R. Johanan b. Zakkai reasoned that a new ruler, confronted as he would be with weighty problems, might be prepared to reach a peaceful solution, and would be disposed to bring this provincial war to a speedy conclusion.

In Jerusalem with Titus

When Vespasian was proclaimed emperor at Caesarea, Josephus, who was with him there, was released from his chains. From there he went to Alexandria, and when *Titus was given command of the army with orders to take Jerusalem, Josephus accompanied him. Josephus tried several times to induce the rebels to lay down their arms, but they treated him with contempt, and during one of his exhortations injured him. Nor was his position an enviable one in the Roman camp, for the Romans suspected him of being a spy and would have killed him had he not enjoyed Titus' protection. He continued to accompany Titus after the capture of Jerusalem. When Titus permitted him to remove from the ruins of Jerusalem whatever he wished, he took a Sefer Torah. His estate in the neighborhood of Jerusalem was confiscated by Titus and instead he received land in the valley of Jezreel.

Favored by Roman Rulers and Hated by Jews

Josephus left to settle in Rome where he was granted Roman citizenship and a pension by the emperor, who allowed him to live in his palace. He never again saw his native land. Although generally a favorite among the members of the courts of Vespasian and Titus during their lifetime, Josephus' position vis-à-vis the Jews was wretched in the extreme. Both in and outside Rome, they despised and hated him for his past and tried to harm him at every turn. After the suppression of the revolt of the *Zealots, who had escaped to Cyrene, the rebels accused him of having been the organizer, but Vespasian refused to believe them.

Inauspicious Family Life

Josephus' family life, too, was inauspicious. In all he was married four times. His first wife died during the siege. The second, whom he married on the advice of Vespasian, left him. In Alexandria he took a third wife who bore him three children, of whom one son, Hyrcanus, born in 72/73 c.e., survived. Having divorced this wife, Josephus married an aristocratic woman from Crete who bore him two sons, Justus and Simonides-Agrippa. The year of Josephus' death is unknown, but it was probably after 100 c.e.

works

The Jewish War

It is very probable that Josephus' decision to become the historian of the Jewish War stemmed primarily from the fact that he was subject to the emperor's wishes and obliged to support his political aims. His history was probably the price exacted by the emperor in return for the grant of freedom and property. Fully appreciating Josephus' talents, Vespasian knew that the freedman could be of use to him in both his foreign and internal policy. After the events in the east and west of the Roman Empire, the fate of the entire state hung in the balance and Vespasian found himself obliged to warn the still powerful enemies of Rome that she could destroy any foe who intended to renew the war.

lost aramaic version

In the introduction to The Jewish War Josephus clearly mentions that he wrote two versions of "the war of the Jews against the Romans," first "in my vernacular," that is, in Aramaic, "for the up-country barbarians." These were the Aramaic-speaking peoples in the lands of the Parthian kingdom, principally the Jews living in Babylonia, who, contrary to the rebels' hopes, had played no considerable part in the war but who were likely to flock to join the fighting should hostilities break out afresh. In this version, which unfortunately has not been preserved, Josephus undoubtedly included material not found in the extant Greek rendering. It presumably also contained factual accounts different from those in the Greek version. At the beginning of the century the German-Baltic scholar Behrends published an ancient Slavonic translation of The Jewish War, which he claimed was based on the original Aramaic version, a contention, however, without foundation; nor did Robert Eisler succeed in substantiating it in his great work (see bibl.).

the extant greek version

The extant Greek version, which was adapted by Josephus from the Aramaic work, was divided into seven books by the author himself. However it seems that at first it was intended to comprise only six books, up to the destruction of Jerusalem, as attested by the title "The Capture" (ἄλωσις) given to the work in most manuscripts. The Greek version also served the internal political purpose of bolstering the dynasty which had recently acceded to the throne. Through it the emperor sought to prove to the Roman aristocracy, who despised the Sabine peasant who had risen to eminence, that although he and his sons were homines novi in the Roman polity their merit was by far the greater. Since Josephus' Greek rendering of The Jewish War was intended to serve as the new dynasty's mouthpiece in Rome, Vespasian and Titus consented to accept the text of the work from him and to sanction its contents. This approval was used by Josephus as proof that he had told the truth and only the truth.

principles professed by josephus and defects in the work

In his introduction the author declares that he has described the war without bias. Unlike other writers, who had not been eyewitnesses of events and whose obvious intention was to flatter certain persons, he, a native of Jerusalem, had himself fought against the Romans as long as resistance was possible but afterward had become reconciled to the enemy; hence his account was credible. His undoubted aim was to give his work a pragmatic character in keeping with the theory developed by Polybius, in particular, which, rejecting historiography, espoused "truth" and "accuracy." Although Josephus advocated these principles, he cannot be said always to have applied them in practice. As well as being subject to the imperial dynasty, he had a personal interest in revealing some things and in concealing others, better passed over in silence. His own reprehensible actions are shrouded in obscurity or completely evaded. There is no hint of his incompetence on the battlefield, and instead there is boasting based on obvious lies. The Romans' methods of warfare are always portrayed as pure and unsullied. Titus and Vespasian act only under constraint for which they deserve no censure. They refrain from excessive cruelty and are anxious to save the Jews, but the "bandits" are responsible for deterioration in the situation. The Jewish people did not want war at all; it was forced on them by the "robbers." An entirely different picture of the complete participation of the whole people, both men and women, in the war is presented by the anti-Jewish Tacitus, but every historical fact likely to support this view is deliberately omitted by Josephus. In one passage only – Titus' speech to the Zealots – does he have the former voice a comment which was undoubtedly current, namely, that the Jews were always the sworn enemies of Rome. A more serious defect is his distortion of the messianic movement in Judea and its role in fanning the flames of war, doubtless an intentional perversion of the state of affairs in order to represent the Jewish War as the action of limited circles, with the aim of exculpating the nation as a whole in the eyes of the Roman administration.

its literary and historiographic value

These defects naturally diminish the value of Josephus' work as history and in this respect it must be treated with considerable caution. Nonetheless it must be emphasized that the excellence of the work, in both its literary and historiographic qualities, earns it an honorable place in Jewish and in general literature. Its literary skill is considerable: the descriptions are epic in the full sense of the word, scenes are plastically and impressively portrayed, the horrors and the vast spectacle of war are graphically depicted, culminating in one great panorama with the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple. Much of The Jewish War derives from the author's personal observation. This is especially true of the description of the actual siege. Josephus noted everything he saw, and in addition made use of evidence obtained from those who defected to Titus' camp. These details have a documentary or semi-documentary value.

Great significance attaches also to some descriptions of the war which are almost certainly based on Roman military reports, their Roman origin being apparent in their style, which is concise, dry, and devoid of all rhetorical embellishment. Official material on the stationing of Roman garrisons throughout the kingdom can be discerned in Agrippa's great speech. In this passage, Josephus apparently used an official document made accessible to him from the imperial archives: the speech is a remarkably fervent recapitulation of official propaganda by a lackey of the lord of the Roman Empire. In addition, Josephus made use of works compiled by other writers on the Jewish War. The book is constructed in three sections, with the account of the war as the principal, central one. The first section opens with the events that preceded the revolt of the Maccabeans and continues with a description of the history of the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties up to the outbreak of the Jewish War (bk. 1 and about half of bk. 2). The second section recounts various episodes of the war, such as the siege of *Masada and the final death agonies of the Jewish people's opposition, as well as several important details about the kingdom of the Parthians. Josephus' sources for the material in the introductory section were a work on the Hasmonean dynasty written originally in Hebrew and Nicholas of *Damascus' great work which provided him with the information on the Herodian dynasty recounted in this section.

its language and style

The Greek of The Jewish War is often excellent, but very probably the style was largely the result of polishing by Josephus' literary assistants. According to his own testimony his accent was defective, and his insufficient command of literary Greek is attested by his large work Jewish Antiquities, the language of which is poor, sometimes even labored, largely artificial, and much inferior to the clear, flowing style of The Jewish War. The careful attention paid to the style of this latter work probably resulted from its official character. It was, moreover, Josephus' first production, the one which would gain him a place in the literary world in Rome. Among the auspicious circumstances of the work was his comparatively youthful age when he wrote it, for he was about 40 years old when it was published, whereas he completed the Antiquities at the age of 56. Furthermore the Antiquities, unlike The Jewish War, was written with the aim of enlightening the non-Jewish world about the nature of Judaism, that it might understand the extent to which it was mistaken in its judgment of the Jewish people.

Jewish Antiquities

The work was the outcome both of the objective circumstances of Jewish life in the Diaspora, and of Josephus' personal conclusions drawn from his experience in Rome, where he saw the Jewish people living in a non-Jewish environment and yet preserving its character and observing its religion.

its purposes: enlightenment of the gentiles; proof of the antiquity of the jews

For the first time he came face to face with the gentiles' hatred of the Jews and it appeared to him that nothing but their ignorance of the religion of Israel was responsible. Feeling that if only the gentiles knew and understood the light that permeated Judaism, they would certainly forsake their capricious behavior and cease their hostility toward the Jews, Josephus drew the clear and simple conclusion: he had to teach the non-Jews a lesson in Jewish history so as to show them the error of their ways. The title, Jewish Antiquities, was apparently chosen by him on the analogy of Antiquitates Romanae by Dionysius of Halicarnassus who lived during the reign of the emperor Augustus; but it also hints at the chief aim which Josephus set himself in this work: to prove the antiquity of Jews and to dispel the slander that the Jewish nation was not an ancient one.

hellenistic, aggadic, and halakhic aspects

He recounts the biblical events, but not as they are given in the Bible. Josephus' approach is that of a Hellenistic writer who, never forgetting his audience, adapts his writing to their taste. A Hellenistic flavor is often added to the narrative, as, for example, in the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. The Jewish reader, too, is rewarded with aggadic statements which, taken from literary sources, embellish biblical tales. Some of Josephus' aggadic Midrashim are known from existing sources, others have not been preserved in the extant literature and Josephus is their only source. In these passages he reveals himself as an outstanding aggadist. Nor were halakhic subjects alien to him. Book 4 of his great work contains halakhot which are not in agreement with the existing halakhah, which should not be interpreted as ignorance on Josephus' part but rather as a halakhic tradition no longer extant, either because it was rejected or because it was forgotten in the course of time.

hellenistic sources for biblical narratives

In his version of the biblical narratives Josephus preserved many quotations and notices from Jewish-Hellenistic and also from general Hellenistic literature insofar as the latter touches on Jewish subjects, including such writers such as *Artapanus, *Cleodemus Malchus, Berosus, *Manetho, *Menander of Ephesus, and others. There are divergent views on the sources of Josephus' information, some maintaining that he had read the authors in the original, others that he had only an indirect acquaintance with them. In all probability the former view is correct, at least with regard to an author such as Berosus. Fora recently published, new Babylonian source, a chronicle of the days of Nebuchadnezzar, reveals Josephus' accuracy on the events preceding the destruction of the First Temple, making it clear that he could only have derived his remarkably precise knowledge from Berosus' work itself. He undoubtedly also used compilations such as that of Alexander Polyhistor as an important source.

use of the septuagint for biblical narratives and for the persian period

There is no basis for the contention that Josephus was ignorant of Hebrew and did not read the Bible in the original. Nevertheless he used mainly the *Septuagint, in a version significantly different from the existing one, as several clear indications testify, notably the personal names found primarily in the Antiquities. As stated, Josephus' first work was written in Aramaic and only later, at the request of the imperial court, in Greek. His progress along the path of Hellenistic literature, so completely strange to him, was not easy. It is reasonable to assume that his original draft was in Aramaic and that assistants helped him to give it a Greek garb worthy of the name. In the course of time however there naturally came a change for the better, since there is no doubt that with his talents Josephus had ample opportunities in Rome to improve his knowledge of the language. Yet from his own evidence, referred to previously, it may be concluded that Greek remained a strange tongue to him throughout his life. Using the Septuagint apparently made it easier for him to cast the biblical narratives in a Hellenistic mold than following the Hebrew original, though the language of the Septuagint, which was the Greek spoken by the Jewish masses in Egypt and the rest of the Diaspora, was not agreeable to the fastidious Atticist taste of the public in Rome. Nevertheless, copying the biblical narratives on the basis of the Septuagint version made matters somewhat easier for him, a consideration that presumably played a part in his decision to use it. There is however not a single reference to the prophetical books in the work. This omission apparently resulted from the fact that Josephus wrote for a non-Jewish public, to whom the figure of Moses was familiar, while the Prophets were, it seems, completely unknown to the enlightened Hellenistic world.

The second section of the Antiquities, which begins near the end of book 11, opens with an account of the period of Persian rule in Ereẓ Israel. From this account it can be seen that few of the sources extant at present were available to Josephus. Using the Septuagint, he filled out the gaps in the Book of Esther, which he regarded as historical.

possible samaritan source for persian period

In addition, book 11 contains an extract from an unknown source with regard to the murder committed in the Temple in Jerusalem during the rule of the Persian governor *Bagohi, which Josephus may have taken from a Samaritan source that probably included the description of Alexander the Great's arrival in Ereẓ Israel and the foundation of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. That there is a historical background to this account of the murder can be seen from the *Elephantine papyri which mention two of the men who figure in it: Bagohi, the Persian governor, and Johanan, the high priest. Thus for the obscure Persian period, too, great importance attaches to the scanty material furnished by Josephus.

treatment of the ptolemaic period and evidence of josephus' weakness as historian

He was however almost entirely ignorant of the rule of the Ptolemies in Ereẓ Israel, filling in the void with the Letter of *Aristeas and with the story of Joseph the Tobiad, the tax-collector, which has at least a historical background and substance (see *Tobiads). Instead of revealing his importance as a transmitter of historical information, Josephus here demonstrates his weakness as a historian. The story about Joseph the tax-collector undoubtedly refers to the time of Ptolemy iii and Ptolemy iv, that is, up to the end of the third century b.c.e. Josephus however tells the story as though it took place after the conquest of Ereẓ Israel by Antiochus iii, that is, after 200 b.c.e., and resolves the incongruity between the contents of the story and its insertion within the context of the Seleucid conquest by the comment, which has its origin in propaganda for the restoration of Ptolemaic rule in Ereẓ Israel, that Ereẓ Israel and the cities of *Coele-Syria were given by Antiochus iii as a dowry to his daughter Cleopatra on her marriage to Ptolemy v, the king of Egypt.

Josephus' lack of awareness of the contradiction attests to his weakness as a historian. He was guilty of inaccuracy, and many passages indicate that his critical sense was not highly developed. He skims over the surface of events rather than penetrate into their inner significance. He gives scant attention to the events preceding Antiochus iii's conquest of Ereẓ Israel without mentioning anything of the development in Judea on the eve of the conquest. In this respect he is far inferior to the later *Porphyry whose brilliant analysis of the historical background of the Book of Daniel is incorporated in *Jerome's commentary on that book.

three documents from the ptolemaic period

Josephus quotes three extremely important documents: the first is Antiochus iii's proclamation in favor of the Temple in Jerusalem; the second prohibited unclean animals from being brought within the limits of the holy city; while the third decreed the transfer of 2,000 Jewish families from Babylonia to Phrygia and Lydia as military colonists, who were charged with preserving law and order in those countries, then in a state of rebellion following the revolt of Achaeus (see: *Antiochusiii).

the maccabean and hasmonean period

The account of the Maccabean and Hasmonean period commences in the middle of book 12. Josephus' source for this period is primarily i Maccabees, but there are indications that the history of the Hasmonean dynasty up to the death of *Salome Alexandra, or perhaps only to the end of Alexander *Yannai's reign, was copied by him from a comprehensive work written originally in Hebrew and later translated into Greek. The contention of some scholars that Nicholas of Damascus was the source of Josephus' information on Salome Alexandra is untenable.

nicholas of damascus as source for herodian period

Nicholas' share in Josephus' work is to be found in books 14–17, that is, from the end of the Hasmonean dynasty to the establishment of the rule of the procurators in Judea in 6 c.e. The main part of this lengthy section describes Herod's accession and his great achievements during his rule in Judea, though Josephus undoubtedly adopted a critical attitude toward Herod's rule and did not accept all Nicholas' statements about him. For example, he rejects the story of Herod's Babylonian origin, regarding it as expressive of Nicholas' flattery of Herod who wished to free himself from the disability of being a "half-Jew" and to be considered as descended from those Jews of pure descent who came back from Babylonia. Against Nicholas, Josephus declares that Herod throughout his life craved honor and that it was this craving that prompted him to squander his money with the aim of acquiring a great reputation in the Hellenistic-Roman world. Josephus regards the murder of Herod's sons as an abhorrent deed, which onlya man with the soul of a murderer could perpetrate.

information on diaspora communities in roman times

Because of his admiration for Rome, Josephus included in his work a number of documents, most of them in book 14, which testify to the favorable attitude of the Roman Empire toward the communities in the Diaspora. Although preserved in a state that is far from satisfactory, their importance is inestimable. The view put forward in the 19th century that these documents are forgeries has now been discarded. They reveal the position of the Jewish communities in Hellenistic society, the pent-up hatred of the gentile world for the Jewish religion, and the suspicions that accompanied the Jews everywhere, even to the extent of the wish to extirpate them. On the other hand they show how the Roman administration endeavored to act impartially and to protect the Jews from the attacks of the more populous nations. They also mirror the struggle of the communities for the observance of the precepts of Judaism and their loyalty to Jerusalem, as a result of which they aroused the anger of the gentiles. The documents are also important for the information they provide on the many privileges granted to the Jews by the Roman administration, first and foremost exemption from military service for religious reasons. The source from which Josephus obtained these documents is not known. He may have copied them from Nicholas of Damascus' work, but more probably they came from special collections of documents dealing with the rights granted to the Jews, which were to be found in large communities, like Alexandria, Ephesus, Rome, and great cities in the empire such as Cyrene.

The last part of the Antiquities, consisting of books 18–20, presents a difficulty both in its sources and the manner in which the events are recounted.

controversial passage on jesus

One of the great riddles of the work, and perhaps of ancient history in general, is the well-known passage about Jesus of Nazareth in book 18 which scholars have not yet succeeded in elucidating. Some regarded it as a Christian forgery of the third century c.e., others still consider it as historical evidence of the activities and death of Jesus; but the passage contains statements which could not have been made by a Jew such as Josephus, as Schuerer recognized. Around the 1930s–1940s there was a change in scholarly outlook, the passage being regarded not as a forgery, but as Josephus' original statement tampered with by a Christian. The foremost proponent of this view was Robert Eisler (see bibliography) who even made an unsuccessful attempt to reconstruct the original version. For the period from the procurators to the reign of Agrippa i, Josephus apparently used material from the Roman archives and the works of other authors, but on the whole he writes as a contemporary eyewitness.

favorable account of agrippa i

The account of Agrippa i which occupies part of book 18 and the whole of book 19 gives the impression of a uniformity that undoubtedly proves that it had a single source. The division of the material seemed reasonable to Josephus, desirous as he was of giving an account of Agrippa's reign in relation to the events which took place in the days of the emperors Gaius Caligula and Claudius. In this part of the Antiquities, it is very likely that Josephus copied the work of his rival *Justus of Tiberias ("On the Crowned Kings of Judah" as it is to be translated, in contradiction to Schuerer, who understands στέμματα as meaning "pedigree"). In it Justus gave an account of the Jewish kings up to Agrippa i, apparently on the instructions of Agrippa ii, who wishing to glorify the memory of his father, assigned to his secretary, Justus of Tiberias, the task of writing a work describing the activities of Agrippa i. Clearly the account had to be favorable; and indeed Agrippa i is depicted in the Antiquities in a decidedly complimentary light.

accounts of the two babylonian jews and of the adiabene royal house

A large part of book 18 consists of the gripping story of two Babylonian Jews, the brothers Anilaeus and Asinaeus. Book 20 contains the remarkable episode of the proselytization of the royal house of *Adiabene. The two events took place in adjacent regions in which Aramaic was the vernacular. What prompted Josephus to incorporate them in his work? He apparently used the story of the two Babylonian brothers for Roman propaganda purposes aimed primarily at the Jews throughout the Roman Empire, in order that, in the days following the destruction of the Second Temple, they should not entertain any further idea of rebellion, since Rome was ultimately the empire of law and justice with which, unlike countries beyond its borders, it was possible to negotiate. The account of the proselytization of the Adiabene royal house was apparently included by Josephus in book 20 (which deals with the 22 years prior to the outbreak of the Jewish War) because of the part played by the Adiabene royal family in the final days of the Second Temple in general and in the Jewish War in particular. Josephus describes the events contained at the end of book 20 as an actual eyewitness. This book concludes with a list of the high priests from the time of Alexander the Great until the Jewish War, the source for this being, at least from the days of Herod onward, the genealogies of the priests in general and of the high priests in particular which were kept in the Temple archives. Josephus' list is far from clear: much in it is obscure, and the problems it raises have not been satisfactorily solved.

The Life

Finally, there are Josephus' last two works, the Life and Against Apion. The former was written in response to the attacks of Justus of Tiberias, who accused him of misconduct in Galilee before the arrival of Vespasian and his army, charging in particular that he belonged to the war party, was an enemy of Rome, had suppressed the peace party in Tiberias, committed acts of brigandage, and violated women. Such allegations were highly unpalatable to Josephus, in his position of access to the upper circles in Rome. Josephus' defense conceals more than it reveals, clearly evading any straightforward answers and thereby indirectly confirming Justus' accusations. The testimony of King Agrippa, intended as evidence in his favor, is so worded that it is actually tantamount to an indictment. The Life apparently appeared as an appendix to the Antiquities, which was published in 93/94 c.e., according to Josephus' own testimony. It seems that Justus' accusation became current shortly before, and Josephus took the first available opportunity to answer him. The Life, then, was written either in continuation of, or soon after, the Antiquities but before it appeared on the book market in Rome, that is, in 93/94 c.e. or, as held by Laqueur (see bibliography), together with the second edition of the Antiquities, between 93/94 and 100 c.e.

Against Apion

In Against Apion (or, On the Antiquity of the Jews, the original title of the work), which consists of two parts, Josephus lashes out against various antisemites and seeks to refute their accusations with logical arguments and with biting derision. The work reveals outstanding literary skill and great persuasiveness. The first part, a lengthy series of extracts from works no longer extant, in particular from the Egyptian Manetho, is especially significant since it is the only record of a whole body of literature which would otherwise have been completely unknown. This part constitutes a negative defense of the Jews, i.e., it sets out to refute the contentions of the antisemites. The purpose of the positive defense in the second part was to reveal the inner value of Judaism and its ethical superiority over Hellenism. In this part especially Josephus appears as a Jew completely committed to his people and his religion. Here the true Josephus is revealed, not the one who acted treacherously toward his comrades to save his life, but Josephus the Jew who fights his people's fight, and suffers with them.

evaluation of josephus

As a Jew

On this subject there are opposing views. By some he is regarded as a traitor who, deserting his people in their hour of need, defected to the enemy, and acting as the apologist of the Romans, distorted the facts. A more charitable view contends that he was essentially a Pharisee who acted in conformity with this outlook, had faith in the future of the Jewish people whose survival depended on submission to Rome, and sordid though the manner was in which he saved his life, he did so in order to devote himself to the highest interests of his people.

As a Writer

As for his merit as an author, it may be said that in point of literary talent Josephus ranks among the leading writers in world literature. His style is epic, his portrayals plastic, his gift of description captivates the reader alike by its fidelity and its colorful presentation. All these qualities apply to what, from the literary aspect, is his principal work, The Jewish War, which is marked by a complete identity between the author and his calamitous subject. The reader believes the writer as he mourns over the city, becomes an actual eyewitness as he presents the dramatic picture of the burning of the Temple or the tragic bravery of the heroes of Masada. The pathos inherent in the occasion communicates itself to the reader.

As a Historian

Not so, however, is his merit as a historian. Josephus is, of course, not to be judged according to the criteria of a modern historian. The expression "historical science" does not apply to ancient historiography, for in ancient times the historian was a writer and his craft part of general literature. This aspiration of the historian proved his misfortune, since the requirements of literature did not accord with the demands of historiography, and most often the writer prevailed over the historian. Josephus shared all the defects that characterized contemporary and earlier historians. Nonetheless, he occupies a place of prime importance also as a historian, an importance which is greatly increased because his work is the only surviving source and without it little would have been known of the history of the Second Temple nor would it have been possible to write such a history.

The historian must be grateful to the Christian Church for preserving this treasure. As early as in the first centuries the Christians eagerly translated the writings of the "Greek Livy" into Latin – Antiquities and Against Apion were translated through the efforts of Cassiodorus in the sixth century c.e. and The Jewish War apparently already at the end of the fourth. A distinction must be made between the accurate rendering, ascribed to Rufinus, of The Jewish War and the freer version known as Hegesippus or Gegesippus. The first edition of the Greek text of Josephus' writings was printed in 1544 by Frobenius and Episcopus in Basle. The new, scholarly edition, that of Niese, was begun in 1887 in Berlin. The main English editions of Josephus are Josephus: Complete Works (1969), translated by W. Whiston; The Jewish War (1959), by G.A. Williamson; and the Loeb Classical Library edition translated by H. St. John Thackeray, R. Marcus and L.H. Feldman (1926–65).

[Abraham Schalit]

In the Arts

The Jewish historian and his writings made an imprint on art and literature. In the 11th century, an East Slavonic version made Josephus' Jewish War a popular source of legend in the Slav lands and later influenced Russian heroic literature. The rediscovery in the 15th century of the writings of Josephus created a vogue in Western Europe for dramas about the Maccabees and the Herodians. After early translations of Josephus into Latin (1481), German (1531), French (1558), and Italian (1574), the English poet Thomas Lodge (1558–1625) produced the first complete edition in English, The Famous and memorable workes of Josephus, a man of much honour and learning among the Jewes… (London, 1602). While there was practically no early fiction about the Jewish historian, there were many 17th-century English dramas dealing with subjects such as *Herod and Mariamne and the fall of Jerusalem which acknowledged their indebtedness to "Josephus, the learned and famous Jew." English dramatists anxious to exploit such themes on the stage found in Josephus a convenient post-biblical authority, enabling them to circumvent Puritan objections to dramatization of the Bible. There was a renewal of interest in these subjects during the Restoration era, and Josephus' account of the destruction of Jerusalem, for example, continued to attract the attention of English playwrights well into the 19th century. In general, however, Josephus himself became significant in fiction only toward the end of the 19th century. The Jew's need to fight for equality was stressed by the Russian author Vladimir Galaktionovich *Korolenko in his tale Skazaniye o Flore, Agrippe i Menakheme syn Yegudy ("Tale of Florus, Agrippa, and Menahem ben Judah," in Ocherki i Razskazy, vol. 3, 18942). Practically all of the works dealing with the theme in the 20th century were written by Jews. They include Az áruló ("The Traitor," 1923), a historical drama by the Hungarian author Lajos *Szabolcsi; Yehiel Yeshaia *Trunk's Yiddish short story Yosepus Flavius fun Yerusholayim (1930); Julius Wolffsohn's German play Joseph ben Matthias (1935; staged in 1934); and Yerushalayim ve-Romi: Yosifus Flavius (1939), a Hebrew drama by the writer Nathan *Agmon (Bistritski). The outstanding work on the subject was the German novelist Lion *Feuchtwanger's Josephus trilogy: Der juedische Krieg (1932; Josephus, 1932); Die Soehne (1935; The Jew of Rome, 1936); and Der Tag wird kommen (1941; The Day Will Come (U.S. ed., Josephus and the Emperor), 1942). After World War ii, the Israel writer Shin *Shalom published his play Me'arat Yosef (in Ba-Metaḥ ha-Gavoha, 1956) and Naftali Ne'eman the Hebrew novel Beino le-Vein Ammo (1956–57). Josephus also appears in a number of interesting works of art. A striking first-century marble bust (found in Rome and formerly in the Carlsberg Glyptotekat, Copenhagen) has been thought to represent the Jewish historian because of its pronounced "Semitic" features. Two outstanding French manuscripts that have survived are copies of his works. The first, a late 12th-century Josephus text (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), contains stylized figures and elongated, convulsive forms resembling those of French Romanesque sculpture of the same period. In one illustration Josephus is shown presenting his work to Vespasian. The emperor sits enthroned like a medieval monarch, while Josephus – complete with the notorious "Jew's hat" – is depicted in the stance of one of the four Evangelists. Assembled behind Josephus is a group of Jews also wearing the obligatory pointed headgear. The second manuscript, a masterpiece of illumination, is the French Antiquités judaïques with miniatures by Jean Fouquet (1415–1480; Bibliothèque Nationale). Painted toward the end of the Middle Ages, these freshly colored works betray the influence of the Italian Renaissance, although the soft landscape backgrounds are those of 15th-century France. In this work Fouquet, a master of grouping, action, and drama, interpreted biblical scenes such as David lamenting the death of Saul and Solomon building the Temple. The Antiquities also inspired Altichiero and Avarizi to paint a series of triumphs for the great hall of the palace at Verona (c. 1377). These later served as models for Renaissance masters seeking to evoke the glory of Rome, notably Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506), whose Triumph of Caesar (1484–92) is now at Hampton Court Palace, near London. Many printed editions of Josephus' works have also been illustrated by well-known artists.

bibliography:

N. Bentwich, Josephus (1914, 1945); H. St. J. Thackeray, Josephus, the Man and the Historian (1929, 1967); F.J. Foakes-Jackson, Josephus and the Jews (1930); S. Zeitlin, Josephus on Jesus (1931); S. Belkin, The Alexandrian Halakah in Apologetic Literature of the First Centuryc.e. (1936); Baron, Social2, index; W.R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus (1956); R.J.H. Shutt, Studies in Josephus (1961); G.A. Williamson, World of Josephus (1964); M. Duschak, Mar Deror, Josephus Flavius und die Tradition (1864); H. Bloch, Die Quellen des Flavius Josephus… (1879); J. Destinon, Die Chronologie des Josephus (1880); idem, Die Quellen des Flavius Josephus (1882); A. Schlatter, Zur Topographie und Geschichte Palaestinas (1893); Niese, in: Historische Zeitschrift, 76 (1896); 193–237; Buechler, in: rej, 32 (1896), 179–99; 34 (1897), 69–93; Schuerer, Gesch, index; A. Schlatter, Wie sprach Josephus von Gott? (1910); idem, Die hebraeischen Namen bei Josephus (1913); idem, Die Theologie des Judentums nach dem Bericht von Josefus (1932); E. Norden, Josephus und Tacitus ueber Jesus… (1913); Hoelscher, in: Pauly-Wissowa, 18 (1916), 1934–2000, no. 2; R. Laqueur, Der juedische Historiker Flavius Josephus (1920); W. Weber, Josephus und Vespasian (1921); R. Eisler, Jesus Basileus on Basileusas…, 2 vols. (Ger., 1929–30); S. Rappaport, Agada und Exegese bei Flavius Josephus (1930); S. Pelletier, Flavius Josèphe adaptateur de la Lettre d'Aristée (1962); Josef b. Mattityahu, Kadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim, ed. by A. Schalit, 1 (19552), xi–lxxxii; A. Schalit, in: Klio, 26 (1933), 67–95; idem, Koenig Herodes (1969), passim; idem, Namenwoerterbuch zu den Schriften des Flavius Josephus (1969). add. bibliography: U. Rappaport (ed.), Josephus Flavius: Historian of Eretz Israel in the Hellenistic-Roman Period (1982), extensive bibliography; T. Rajak, Josephus (1983); M. Broshi, "How to Recognize A Jew," in: The Israel Museum Journal xi (1993), 81–84; Y. Shahar, Josephus Geographicus: The Classical Context of Geography in Josephus (2004).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Josephus Flavius." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2019 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Josephus Flavius." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/josephus-flavius

"Josephus Flavius." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved May 25, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/josephus-flavius

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.