From Academic Kids

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 later settled in Rome. He was originally known as Yosef Ben-Matityahu (Hebrew: יוסף בן מתתיהו) which means Joseph, son of Matthias.



Josephus fought in the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-73 CE/AD, acting as a military leader in Galilee. However, in circumstances that are somewhat unclear (see also Josephus problem), Josephus surrendered to the Roman forces invading Galilee in July, 67, and he became a prisoner and provided the Romans with intelligence on the ongoing revolt. The Roman forces were led by Flavius Vespasian and his son Flavius Titus (both subsequently Roman emperors). In 69 Josephus was released, and in 71 he returned to Rome with Titus, becoming a Flavian client, and taking from them the Roman praenomen Flavius. He was granted space in Vespasians former home, Roman citizenship, land in conquered Judea, and a decent, if not extravagant, pension. It was while in Rome, and under their patronage, that Josephus wrote.

Josephus's life is beset with ambiguity. For his critics, he never satisfactorily explained his actions during the Jewish war — why he failed to commit suicide in Galilee in 67 with some of his compatriots, and why, after his capture he co-operated with the Roman invaders. Hence, many have viewed Josephus as a traitor and informer and questioned his crediblity as an historian — dismissing his works as Roman propaganda or as a personal apologetic, aimed at rehabilitating his reputation in history.

Nevertheless, he was unquestionably an important apologist in the Roman world for the Jewish people and culture, particularly at a time of conflict and tension. He always remained, in his own eyes, a loyal and law-observant Jew. He went out of his way both to commend Judaism to educated pagans, and to insist on its compatibility with cultured Graeco-Roman thought. He constantly contended for the antiquity of Jewish culture, presenting its people as civilised, devout and philosophical.

Significance to scholarship

The works of Josephus provide crucial information about the Great Jewish Revolt. They are also important literary source for understanding the context of the Dead Sea Scrolls and post-Second Temple Judaism. He is also regarded by scholars of formative Christianity as their most important background source outside of the New Testament itself.

Josephus offers information about individuals, groups, customs and geographical places. He makes references to the Sadducees, Jewish High Priests of the time, Pharisees and Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quiriniuss census, and to such figures as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Agrippa I and II, John the Baptist, James (the brother of Jesus) and a brief and highly disputed reference to Jesus himself. Along with Philo of Alexandria, he is an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism and early Christianity.

See also the "Testimonium Flavianum"


The Jewish War

His first work in Rome was account of the Great Jewish Revolt addressed to the Jewish community in Mesopotamia in the Aramaic language. He then wrote a seven-volume account in Greek known to us as the Jewish War (Bellum Iudaicum). This covered the period from the Maccabees to the fall of Jerusalem — and includes references to Josephuss own part in the later events.

Rome cannot have been an easy place for a Jew in the wake of the suppression of the Jewish revolt. Josephus would have witnessed the marches of Tituss triumphant legions leading their Jewish captives, and experienced the popular presentation of the Jews as a bellicose and misanthropic people.

It was against this background that Josephus wrote his War, and although often dismissed as pro-Roman propaganda (perhaps hardly surprising given where his patronage was coming from) he claims to be writing to counter anti-Judean accounts. He disputes the claim that the Jews serve a defeated god and are naturally hostile to Roman civilization. Rather, he blames the Jewish War on unrepresentative and over-zealous fanatics among the Jews, who led the masses away from their natural aristocratic leaders (like him), with disastrous results. He also blames some of the governors of Judea, but these he presents atypical Romans: corrupt and incompetent administrators. Thus, according to Josephus, the traditional Jew was, should be, and can be, a loyal and peace-loving citizen. Jews can, and historically have, accepted Romes hegemony precisely because of their faith that God himself gives empires their power.

Jewish Antiquities

Josephus is next encountered in his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews, completed in the last year of Flavius Domitian (93). He claims that interested persons have pressed him to give a fuller account of the Jewish culture and constitution. Here, in expounding Jewish history law and custom, he is entering into many philosophical debates current in Rome at that time. Again he offers an apologia for the antiquity and universal significance of the Jewish people.

Beginning with the story of Creation he outlines Jewish history. Abraham taught science to the Egyptians, who in turn taught the Greeks. Moses set up a senatorial priestly aristocracy, which like that of Rome resisted monarchy. The great figures of the biblical stories are presented as ideal philosopher leaders. There is again an autobiographical appendix defending Josephus's own conduct at the end of the war when he cooperated with the Roman forces.

Against Apion

Josephus' Against Apion is a final two-volume defence of Judaism as classical religion and philosophy, stressing its antiquity against what Josephus claimed was the relatively more recent traditions of the Greeks. Some anti-Judean allegations by the Greek writer Apion, and myths accredited to Manetho are also exposed.

List of works

External links

de:Flavius Josephus es:Flavio Josefo eo:Jozefo Flavio fr:Flavius Josphe he:יוסף בן מתתיהו it:Giuseppe Flavio ja:フラウィウス・ヨセフス nl:Flavius Josephus pl:Józef Flawiusz pt:Flvio Josefo sv:Josefus


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