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Josephus
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Who was Josephus?
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Highlights
Translation

THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2018

SUNDAYS
Advent
Christmastide
Lenten Sundays
Sundays of Easter
Ordinary Time (A)
Sundays, 1-34, Year A
Ord.Time (Year B)
Sundays, 1-34, Year B
Ord.Time (Year C)
Sundays, 1-34, Year C

WEEKDAYS
Advent
Lent
Eastertide
Ordinary Time
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)
Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)
Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

OTHER
Solemnities
Funerals
Weddings


Patristic
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Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria



Who Was Josephus?

The Jewish priestly aristocrat, Josephus ben Matthias (37-95 A.D.), who in his latter years adopted the name Flavius while living in Rome under the patronage of the Flavian imperial family, is "without doubt the most important witness to ancient Judaism from the close of the biblical period to the aftermath of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E." (Louis Feldman, 2004). His life needs little introduction, since he has thoughtfully provided his own autobiography, a carefully crafted apologia to defend himself against the expected criticisms of his fellow Jews, for defecting to the Romans during the disastrous Jewish war. Not long after his arrival in Rome as guest of the emperor, he began work on his detailed and moving account of the Jewish War, in seven volumes, having himself been a significant participant in its early stages. He can affirm that the truth of his account of the war was attested by emperors Vespasian and Titus, as well as by Herod Agrippa, all of whom had themselves taken part in it.

In his greatest work, the massive, 20-volume Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus re-tells much that is in the Old Testament, adding many moral and philosophical reflections of his own by way of commentary, and carries the Jewish story up to the 12th year of the reign of Nero (65 A.D.), that is to say, to the very threshold of the ill-fated Jewish uprising against Roman rule. To it he appended a short Autobiography, to further justify his own behaviour as leader of Galilee in the critical years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. He consistently presents himself as a lover of Jewish religion and culture, whose efforts to prevent his nation's chaotic slide towards the disaster of 70 A.D. met with failure, through a combination of malice and miscalculation on the part of others.

These important writing achievements are complacently listed in the final paragraphs of the Antiquities (Ant. 20.11.2-4 = Book 20, chapter 11. paragraphs 2-4) where he makes the less-than-humble but probably true claim, that no one else was as qualified as he, to write the full story of his people. Josephus came from a distinguished priestly family in Jerusalem, and was a morally serious young man, drawn early to the Pharisees' ideal of strict adherence to the Law of Moses. He tells how in later years he married a Jewess from Crete, by whom he had two sons; how he received Roman citizenship from Vespasian, the Roman general who spared his life early in the Jewish war. At the time of writing the Antiquities (completed in the 90's of the first century,) he was living in comfortable retirement in Rome, by grace and favour of the Flavian ruling family, whose imperial competence and generosity he duly praises in his commentary [Bk 12, ch.3] . He admits that while as a Pharisee he should live in frugal simplicity, his ownership of large estates in Judea made him the object of envy to many. Many details about his part in the turbulent years A.D. 66-70 are in his earlier account (the Jewish War,) written during the 70's, also in Rome, already as a pensioned retainer in Vespasian's household. The defensive tone of Josephus' Autobiography is explained by his need to justify himself both to the Romans and the Jews. The Romans must be told how he had, in the first place, tried to prevent the Jewish revolt and once it was under way, how moderate and fair his conduct of the war in Galilee had been, once he found himself, almost against his will, in charge of the Jewish resistance there. His fellow Jews must be shown why Josephus did not die in battle like so many other rebels, and especially why he became the companion and confidant of the Roman general Titus, Vespasian's victorious son, who did such devastation in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., when the very temple itself was burned to the ground.

In his defence, Josephus appeals to the divine guidance that ruled and shaped his life. He presents himself as a man of wisdom and foresight, able to meet the changing needs of tricky situations, and uniquely placed to plead the cause of his endangered nation, after their inevitable defeat by the Roman armies. Despite appearances, he remains a loyal Jew and spends his retirement in Rome, studiously writing his histories and commentaries to commend his people's ancient culture and religion to the respect of fair-minded, educated Roman citizens. The value of Josephus' histories is great. He is our main, indeed almost our only source, for the events of Jewish history in the first century B.C., and our main source (outside the New Testament) for those of the apostolic age (up to the 70's A.D.) It is to him we owe many supplementary details about Old Testament personalities and events, and almost our entire knowledge about Herod the Great (his statecraft, his building achievements and his violent family hatreds,) and the explanation of how Judea came to be under a Roman procurator, as it was in the days of Jesus. His account of the Jewish war is given in colourful, sometimes confusing, detail, and his account of the heroic and hopeless defence of Masada (War, 7:8.1-6) shows his great skill as a narrator. He describes the magnificent Herodian Temple in Jerusalem as it appeared in its heyday, before the Jewish War (War, 5:5.1-7). By his several accounts of the Four Philosophies (in Autob. 2., and Ant. Jud. Bks. 13.5.9 and 18.1.2-4), Josephus provides a useful sketch of Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots that throws light on various biblical passages. This makes absorbing reading for Christians as well as for Jews. Of particular interest to Christians is Josephus's reference to Jesus, in the "Flavian Testimony" which says:

Jesus, a wise man-if it be lawful to call him a man-for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such people as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those who loved him at first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named after him, are not extinct at this day. (Ant. 18:3.3.)

While the assertions in bold print-viz. that Jesus was the Christ, and that he appeared alive after his death,-seem to indicate some devotional manipulation of the text at a later stage by Christian copyists, it remains that "shorn of of later additions, it tells of Jesus' astonishing deeds and teaching, and that Pilate condemned him to death" (Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, N.Y., Doubleday, 1997, p. 835). Brown comments later: "Suspect is such fulsome praise of Jesus when we reflect that Josephus was a Pharisee of priestly descent who courted Roman favor and who lived in Rome after Nero's persecution of the Christians and was writing in the time of the distrustful Domitian... [But] even if few scholars today would argue that Josephus wrote the whole passage as quoted, most would contend that Josephus wrote a basic text to which Christians made additions. In vocabulary and style large parts of it are plausibly from the hand of Josephus, and the context in which the passage appears in Ant. is appropriate. The passage that follows it speaks of another arbitrary or outrageous action, thus indicating Josephus' attitude toward the treatment of Jesus by Pilate. Although some statements in the Testimonium are fulsome and fit a Christian pen, other statements would scarcely have originated with those who believed that Jesus was the Son of God, e.g., "a wise man" seems an understatement. Granted how Christians came to vituperate the Jewish authorities for their role in the death of Jesus, "upon indictment of the first-ranking men among us" seems bland. Moreover, we have no evidence of Christians in the 1st cent, referring to themselves as a tribe or clan. The Testimonium... may have been known in some form in the early 3d cent, by Origen, who discussed the fact that Josephus mentioned Jesus without believing that he was the Messiah." (The Death of the Messiah vol. 1, p. 374). John Meier also gives a cautious acceptance to this "Testimony", since its location, at a distance from the story of John the Baptist, and so contrasting with the Gospels' linking of Jesus and the Baptist, would be "simply inconceivable as the work of a Christian of any period" (A Marginal Jew, N.Y., Doubleday, 1991, vol.1, p. 66.) Earlier in vol. 18, Joseph writes about

John, who was called the Baptist: for Herod killed him, who was a good man and ordered the Jews to practice virtue, both concerning righteousness towards one another and piety towards God and so to come to baptism. For that washing would be acceptable to him, if they used it, not for the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body; thinking that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. When others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved by hearing his words..." (Ant. 18:5.2.)

He goes on to tell of John being killed by Herod Antipas, in terms quite parallel to those of the Gospels. Many other details in book 18 are vital for our historical picture of events in Palestine at the time of Jesus, as is indicated by the multiple references to Josephus in any work on the historical Jesus (e.g. Meier's work, work referred to above). Josephus probably wrote in Aramaic, but supervised the translation of his works into Greek. His own knowledge of Greek was sufficient to allow him communicate with general Vespasian at the time of his surrender, and express his prediction of the Vespasian's later ascent to the imperial command. But he admits that the study of foreign languages was not encouraged in the Palestine of his youth, and that he had come late to the study of Greek. This also throws some light on the probable (minimal) level of Greek known by the first followers of Jesus. How did Josephus retain so much detailed information about conditions in Palestine fifty and more years before the time of his writing? Had he a phenomenal memory, or, more likely, did he keep notes (for the Jewish War), and supplement them with visits to the best libraries in the imperial city. We may discount the idea that Josephus had read the Gospel of Luke, but he would have had easy access in Rome to the archives of imperial administrators in the Provinces.

In particular, his information on the trial of Jesus may well derive from some administrative record, since "granted the obsessively suspicious nature of Tiberius in his later years, a desire for detailed reports from provincial governors on any trial that smacked of possible treason... would not be surprising" (Meier: A Marginal Jew, I., p. 67). Of the shorter works of Josephus, the more interesting is his apologetic work Against Apion, where he debunks some misconceptions about Jews that were current in late first-century Rome. His Discourse on Hades against the Greeks is a little tract in just 8 paragraphs, insisting on the divine justice in the afterlife, and on the Jewish belief in a personal, bodily resurrection. For him, Hades is "where the souls of all people are confined until a proper time which God has decided, when he will make a resurrection of all people... which you Greeks... do not believe" (par. 5)-a statement that helps to explain St. Paul's failure to convert those at Athens, who shared in that same disbelief. Josephus, still an earnest Pharisee, is calling on the "Greeks" (i.e. pagans generally) to change their ways while there is still time, for "Whoever has lived wickedly and luxuriously may repent; however, there will be need of much time to conquer an evil habit." While this message is surely a worthy one, it is as an apologist and historian of his people that we see Josephus at his best.