sephus as historian.
first work, Bellum Judaicum (History of the Jewish War), was
in seven books between AD 75 and 79, toward the end of
reign. The original Aramaic has been lost, but the extant
version was prepared under Josephus' personal direction. After
sketching Jewish history from the mid-2nd century BC, Josephus
a detailed account of the great revolt of AD 6670. He
the invincibility of the Roman legions, and apparently one of
purposes in the works was to convince the Diasporan Jews in
who may have been contemplating revolt, that resistance
arms was pure folly. The work has much narrative brilliance,
the description of the siege of Jerusalem; its fluent Greek
sharply with the clumsier idiom of Josephus' later works and
the influence of his Greek assistants. In this work, Josephus is
hostile to the Jewish patriots and remarkably callous to their
The Jewish War not only is the principal source for the Jewish revolt
is especially valuable for its description of Roman military tactics and
Josephus had been granted citizenship and a pension. He was
at the courts of the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and
and he enjoyed the income from a tax-free estate in Judaea.
divorced his third wife, married an aristocratic heiress from
and given Roman names to his children. He had written an official
of the revolt and was loathed by the Jews as a turncoat and
Yet despite all of this, Josephus had by no means abandoned
Judaism. His greatest work, Antiquitates Judaicae (The Antiquities of
Jews), completed in 20 books in AD 93, traces the history of the
from creation to just before the outbreak of the revolt of AD 66
It was an attempt to present Judaism to the Hellenistic world in a
light. By virtually ignoring the Prophets, by embellishing
narratives, and by stressing the rationality of Judaic laws and
he stripped Judaism of its fanaticism and made it appealing
cultivated and reasonable man. Historically, the coverage is
and shows the fatigue of the author, then in his middle 50s. But
sources are preserved that otherwise would have been
and, for Jewish history during the period of the Second
the work is invaluable.
Antiquities contains two famous references to Jesus Christ: the one
XX calls him the so-called Christ. The implication in the
in Book XVIII of Christ's divinity could not have come from
and undoubtedly represents the tampering (if not invention)
later Christian copyist.
to the Antiquities was a Vita (Life), which is less an
than an apology for Josephus' conduct in Galilee during
revolt. It was written to defend himself against the charges of his
Justus of Tiberias, who claimed that Josephus was responsible
the revolt. In his defense, he contradicted the account given in his
trustworthy Jewish War, presenting himself as a consistent
of Rome and thus a traitor to the rebellion from the start.
appears in a much better light in a work generally known as
Apionem (Against Apion, though the earlier titles Concerning the
of the Jews and Against the Greeks are more apposite). Of its
books, the first answers various anti-Semitic charges leveled at the
by Hellenistic writers, while the second provides an argument for
ethical superiority of Judaism over Hellenism and shows Josephus'
to his religion and his culture.
Against Apion mentions the death of Agrippa II, it is probable that
lived into the 2nd century; but Agrippa's death date is
and it is possible that Josephus died earlier, in the reign of
sometime after AD 93.
historian, Josephus shares the faults of most ancient writers: his
are superficial, his chronology faulty, his facts exaggerated,
speeches contrived. He is especially tendentious when his own
is at stake. His Greek style, when it is truly his, does not
for him the epithet the Greek Livy that often is attached to his
Yet he unites in his person the traditions of Judaism and
provides a connecting link between the secular world of
and the religious heritage of the Bible, and offers many insights
the mentality of subject peoples under the Roman Empire.
Josephus was vain, callous, and self-seeking. There was not
of heroism in his character, and for his toadyism he well
the scorn heaped upon him by his countrymen. But it may be
in his defense that he remained true to his Pharisee beliefs and,
no martyr, did what he could for his people.
JK: This last assessment of Josephus is inaccurate.
Since there is
source on him, we must turn to the internal character of his
self-assessment. If we accept that he opposed the rebellion
and believed that it was doomed, but was drawn into it by his
position in the community, then his actions after capture do not
a cause he never supported. As for scorn heaped upon him by
countrymen there is no external source. I assume that the scorn
not be for his actions during the war, for there is nothing that we
of that deserves scorn, but rather for being Romanized. The Jews
divided between those who adopted Greco-Roman ways and the
orthodox. There were riots in Alexandria over this falling away from the
(of the Torah). As a orthodox leader of the highest station, to
Roman would be the cause of scorn. Finally, Josephuss works
into English, during the 17th and 18th centuries was one of
4 most widely read books in this country.]
Gary William Poole
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