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A Roman portrait bust said to be of Josephus
Born Yosef ben Matityahu
37 AD
Jerusalem, Roman Judea
Died c. 100
Spouse(s) Captured Jewish woman
Alexandrian Jewish woman
Greek Jewish woman from Crete
Children Flavius Hyrcanus
Flavius Simonides Agrippa
Flavius Justus
Parents Matthias
Jewish noblewoman

Titus Flavius Josephus (;[1] 37 – c. 100),[2] born Joseph ben Matityahu (Hebrew: יוסף בן מתתיהו, Yosef ben Matityahu),[3] was a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer, who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.

He initially fought against the Romans during the First Jewish–Roman War as head of Jewish forces in Galilee, until surrendering in 67 to Roman forces led by Vespasian after the six-week siege of Jotapata. Josephus claimed the Jewish Messianic prophecies that initiated the First Roman-Jewish War made reference to Vespasian becoming Emperor of Rome. In response Vespasian decided to keep Josephus as a slave and interpreter. After Vespasian became Emperor in 69, he granted Josephus his freedom, at which time Josephus assumed the emperor's family name of Flavius.

Flavius Josephus fully defected to the Roman side and was granted Roman citizenship. He became an advisor and friend of Vespasian's son Titus, serving as his translator when Titus led the Siege of Jerusalem, which resulted—when the Jewish revolt did not surrender—in the city's destruction and the looting and destruction of Herod's Temple (Second Temple).

Josephus recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the first century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, including the Siege of Masada.

His most important works were The Jewish War (c. 75) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94).[4] The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Roman occupation (66–70). Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective for an ostensibly Roman audience. These works provide valuable insight into first century Judaism and the background of Early Christianity.[4] (See main article Josephus on Jesus).


The Galilee, site of Josephus' governorship, in late antiquity

Josephus introduces himself in Greek as Iōsēpos (Ιώσηπος), son of Matthias, an ethnic Hebrew. He was the second-born son of Matthias. His older full-blooded brother was also called Matthias.[5] Their mother was an aristocratic woman who descended from the royal and formerly ruling Hasmonean dynasty.[6] Josephus’ paternal grandparents were Josephus and his wife—an unnamed Hebrew noblewoman, distant relatives of each other and direct descendants of Simon Psellus.[7] Josephus' family was wealthy. He descended through his father from the priestly order of the Jehoiarib, which was the first of the 24 orders of priests in the Temple in Jerusalem.[8] Josephus was a descendant of the high priest Jonathon. Jonathon may have been Alexander Jannaeus, the high priest and Hasmonean ruler who governed Judea from 103 BC–76 BC.[8] Born and raised in Jerusalem, Josephus was educated alongside his brother.[9]

He fought the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War of 66–73 as a Jewish military leader in Galilee. Prior to this, in his early twenties, he traveled to negotiate with Emperor Nero for the release of several Jewish priests. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he was drafted as a commander of the Galilean forces.[10] After the Jewish garrison of Yodfat fell under siege, the Romans invaded, killing thousands; the survivors committed suicide. According to Josephus, he was trapped in a cave with forty of his companions in July 67. The Romans (commanded by Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus, both subsequently Roman emperors) asked the group to surrender, but they refused. Josephus suggested a method of collective suicide: they drew lots and killed each other, one by one, counting to every third person. The sole survivor of this process was Josephus (this method as a mathematical problem is referred to as the Josephus problem, or Roman roulette),[11] who surrendered to the Roman forces and became a prisoner. In 69 Josephus was released.[12] According to his account, he acted as a negotiator with the defenders during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70, in which his parents and first wife died.

It was while being confined at Yodfat (Jotapata) that Josephus claimed to have experienced a divine revelation, that later led to his speech predicting Vespasian would become emperor. After the prediction came true, he was released by Vespasian, who considered his gift of prophecy to be divine. Josephus wrote that his revelation had taught him three things: that God, the creator of the Jewish people, had decided to "punish" them, that "fortune" had been given to the Romans, and that God had chosen him "to announce the things that are to come".[13][14][15]

In 71, he went to Rome in the entourage of Titus, becoming a Roman citizen and client of the ruling Flavian dynasty (hence he is often referred to as Flavius Josephus—see below). In addition to Roman citizenship, he was granted accommodation in conquered Judaea and a decent, if not extravagant, pension. While in Rome and under Flavian patronage, Josephus wrote all of his known works. Although he uses "Josephus", he appears to have taken the Roman praenomen Titus and nomen Flavius from his patrons.[16] This was standard practice for "new" Roman citizens.

Vespasian arranged for the widower Josephus to marry a captured Jewish woman, who ultimately left him. About 71, Josephus married an Alexandrian Jewish woman as his third wife. They had three sons, of whom only Flavius Hyrcanus survived childhood. Josephus later divorced his third wife. Around 75, he married as his fourth wife, a Greek Jewish woman from Crete, who was a member of a distinguished family. They had a happy married life and two sons Flavius Justus and Flavius Simonides Agrippa.

Josephus's life story remains ambiguous. He was described by Harris in 1985 as a law-observant Jew who believed in the compatibility of Judaism and Graeco-Roman thought, commonly referred to as Hellenistic Judaism.[4] Before the nineteenth century, the scholar Nitsa Ben-Ari notes that his work was shunned like that of converts, then banned as those of a traitor, whose work was not to be studied or translated into Hebrew.[17] His critics were never satisfied as to why he failed to commit suicide in Galilee and, after his capture, accepted the patronage of Romans.

The historian E. Mary Smallwood writes:

[Josephus] was conceited, not only about his own learning but also about the opinions held of him as commander both by the Galileans and by the Romans; he was guilty of shocking duplicity at Jotapata, saving himself by sacrifice of his companions; he was too naive to see how he stood condemned out of his own mouth for his conduct, and yet no words were too harsh when he was blackening his opponents; and after landing, however involuntarily, in the Roman camp, he turned his captivity to his own advantage, and benefited for the rest of his days from his change of side.[18]

Author Joseph Raymond calls Josephus "the Jewish Benedict Arnold" for betraying his own troops at Jotapata.[19]

Josephus scholarship

The romanticized engraving of Flavius Josephus appearing in William Whiston's translation of his works

The works of Josephus provide crucial information about the First Jewish-Roman War and also represent important literary source material for understanding the context of the Dead Sea Scrolls and late Temple Judaism.

Josephan scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century became focused on Josephus' relationship to the sect of the Pharisees . It consistently portrayed him as a member of the sect, and as a traitor to the Jewish nation—a view which became known as the classical concept of Josephus.[20] In the mid-20th century a new generation of scholars challenged this view and formulated the modern concept of Josephus. They consider him a Pharisee, but restore his reputation in part as patriot and a historian of some standing. In his 1991 book, Steve Mason argued that Josephus was not a Pharisee but an orthodox Aristocrat-Priest who became part of the Temple Establishment as a matter of deference, and not by willing association.[21]

The works of Josephus include material about individuals, groups, customs, and geographical places. Some of these, such as the city of Seron, receive no mention in the surviving texts of any other ancient authority. His writings provide a significant, extra-Biblical account of the post-Exilic period of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean dynasty, and the rise of Herod the Great. He refers to the Sadducees, Jewish High Priests of the time, Pharisees and Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius' census and the Zealots, and to such figures as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Agrippa I and Agrippa II, John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and to Jesus (for more see Josephus on Jesus).[22] Josephus represents an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism and the context of early Christianity.

A careful reading of Josephus' writings and years of excavation allowed Ehud Netzer, an archaeologist from Hebrew University, to discover what he considered to be the location of Herod's Tomb, after a search of 35 years. It was above aqueducts and pools, at a flattened desert site, halfway up the hill to the Herodium, 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem—as described in Josephus's writings.[23] In October 2013, archaeologists Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas challenged the identification of the tomb as that of Herod.[24] According to Patrich and Arubas, the tomb is too modest to be Herod's and has several unlikely features.[24] Roi Porat, who replaced Netzer as excavation leader after the latter's death, stood by the identification.[24]

Manuscripts, textual criticism and editions

For many years, printed editions of the works of Josephus appeared only in an imperfect Latin translation from the original Greek. Only in 1544 did a version of the standard Greek text become available, edited by the Dutch humanist Arnoldus Arlenius. The first English translation, by Thomas Lodge, appeared in 1602, with subsequent editions appearing throughout the 17th century. The 1544 Greek edition formed the basis of the 1732 English translation by William Whiston, which achieved enormous popularity in the English-speaking world. It was often the book—after the Bible—that Christians most frequently owned. A cross-reference apparatus for Whiston's version of Josephus and the biblical canon also exists.[25][26]

Later editions of the Greek text include that of Benedikt Niese, who made a detailed examination of all the available manuscripts, mainly from France and Spain. Henry St. John Thackeray used Niese's version for the Loeb Classical Library edition widely used today. William Whiston, who created perhaps the most famous of the English translations of Josephus, claimed that certain works by Josephus had a similar style to the Epistles of St Paul (Saul).[27]

The standard editio maior of the various Greek manuscripts is that of Benedictus Niese, published 1885–95. The text of Antiquities is damaged in some places. In the Life, Niese follows mainly manuscript P, but refers also to AMW and R. Henry St. John Thackeray for the Loeb Classical Library has a Greek text also mainly dependent on P. André Pelletier edited a new Greek text for his translation of Life. The ongoing Münsteraner Josephus-Ausgabe of Münster University will provide a new critical apparatus. There also exist late Old Slavonic translations of the Greek, but these contain a large number of Christian interpolations.[28]


The works of Jewish historian, Josephus (37-100 ca), are major sources of our understanding of Jewish life and history during the first century.[29]

The works of Josephus translated by Thomas Lodge (1602).

The Jewish War

His first work in Rome was an account of the Jewish War, addressed to certain "upper barbarians"—usually thought to be the Jewish community in Mesopotamia—in his "paternal tongue" (War I.3), arguably the Western Aramaic language. He then wrote a seven-volume account in Greek known as the Jewish War (Latin Bellum Judaicum or De Bello Judaico). It starts with the period of the Maccabees and concludes with accounts of the fall of Jerusalem, and the succeeding fall of the fortresses of Herodion, Macharont and Masada and the Roman victory celebrations in Rome, the mopping-up operations, Roman military operations elsewhere in the Empire and the uprising in Cyrene. Together with the account in his Life of some of the same events, it also provides the reader with an overview of Josephus' own part in the events since his return to Jerusalem from a brief visit to Rome in the early 60s (Life 13–17).

In the wake of the suppression of the Jewish revolt, Josephus would have witnessed the marches of Titus's triumphant legions leading their Jewish captives, and carrying treasures from the despoiled Temple in Jerusalem. It was against this background that Josephus wrote his War, claiming to be countering anti-Judean accounts. He disputes the claim that the Jews served a defeated God, and were naturally hostile to Roman civilization. Rather, he blames the Jewish War on what he calls "unrepresentative and over-zealous fanatics" among the Jews, who led the masses away from their traditional aristocratic leaders (like himself), with disastrous results. Josephus also blames some of the Roman governors of Judea, representing them as atypically corrupt and incompetent administrators. According to Josephus, the traditional Jew was, should be, and can be a loyal and peace-loving citizen. Jews can, and historically have, accepted Rome's hegemony precisely because their faith declares that God himself gives empires their power.

Jewish Antiquities

The next work by Josephus is his twenty-one volume Antiquities of the Jews, completed during the last year of the reign of the Emperor Flavius Domitian (between 1.9.93 and 14.3.94, cf. AJ X.267). 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.

He outlines Jewish history beginning with the creation, as passed down through Jewish historical tradition. Abraham taught science to the Egyptians, who, in turn, taught the Greeks.[30] Moses set up a senatorial priestly aristocracy, which, like that of Rome, resisted monarchy. The great figures of the Tanakh are presented as ideal philosopher-leaders. He includes an autobiographical appendix defending his conduct at the end of the war when he cooperated with the Roman forces.

Against Apion

Josephus's Against Apion is a two-volume defence of Judaism as classical religion and philosophy, stressing its antiquity, as opposed to what Josephus claimed was the relatively more recent tradition of the Greeks. Some anti-Judaic allegations ascribed by Josephus to the Greek writer Apion, and myths accredited to Manetho are also addressed.

Literature about Josephus

  • The Josephus Trilogy, a novel by Lion Feuchtwanger
    • Der jüdische Krieg (Josephus), 1932
    • Die Söhne (The Jews of Rome), 1935
    • Der Tag wird kommen (The day will come, Josephus and the Emperor), 1942
  • Flavius Josephus Eyewitness to Rome's first-century conquest of Judea, Mireille Hadas-lebel, Macmillan 1993, Simon and Schuster 2001
  • "The 2000 Year Old Middle East Policy Expert", a chapter from Give War A Chance by P. J. O'Rourke[31]
  • Josephus and the New Testament: Second Edition, by Steve Mason, Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

See also


  1. ^ "Josephus" entry in Collins English Dictionary, HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Josephus refers to himself in his Greek works as Ἰώσηπος Ματθίου παῖς, Iōsēpos Matthiou pais (Josephus the son of Matthias). Josephus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek.
  4. ^ a b c Stephen L. Harris, Understanding the Bible, (Palo Alto: Mayfield, 1985).
  5. ^ Josephus, Flavius Josephus: translation and commentary p.p.12-3
  6. ^ Nodet, A search for the Origins of Judaism: From Joshua to the Mishnah p.250
  7. ^ Josephus’ Lineage, History of the Daughters
  8. ^ a b Fergus Millar, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ pp. 45–6
  9. ^ Josephus, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, p.13
  10. ^ G J Goldberg. "The Life of Flavius Josephus". Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  11. ^ Cf. this example, Roman Roulette.
  12. ^ Jewish War IV.622–629
  13. ^ Rebecca Gray, Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus, pp. 35–38 (Oxford University Press, 1993). ISBN 0-19-507615-X
  14. ^ David Edward Aune, Prophecy In Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, page 140 (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991; first published 1983). ISBN 0-8028-0635-X
  15. ^ Robert Karl Gnuse, Dreams & Dream Reports in the Writings of Josephus: A Traditio-Historical Analysis, pages 136-142 (E. J. Brill, 1996). ISBN 90-04-10616-2
  16. ^ Attested by the third-century Church theologian Origen (Comm. Matt. 10.17).
  17. ^ : a case of manipulative translation"Ben-HurNitsa Ben-Ari, "The double conversion of , Target, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2003, pp. 263–301, Quote: "The converts themselves were banned from society as outcasts and so was their historiographic work or, in the more popular historical novels, their literary counterparts. Josephus Flavius, formerly Yosef Ben Matityahu (34-95), had been shunned, then banned as a traitor.", accessed 28 November 2011.
  18. ^ Josephus, Flavius: The Jewish War. Translated by G. A. Williamson, introduction by E. Mary Smallwood. New York, Penguin, 1981, p. 24.
  19. ^ Herodian Messiah: Case For Jesus As Grandson of Herod (Tower Grover Publishing 2010) at page 222.
  20. ^ Alan Ralph Millard, Discoveries From Bible Times: Archaeological Treasures Throw Light on The Bible, p. 306 (Lion Publishing, 1997). ISBN 0-7459-3740-3
  21. ^ "Flavius Josephus and the Pharisees". Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  22. ^ "In the sixteenth century the authenticity of the text [Testimonium Flavianum] was publicly challenged, launching a controversy that has still not been resolved today", in Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times (Peter Lang Publishing; 2003). ISBN 978-0-8204-5241-8
  23. ^ Catherine M. Murphy, The Historical Jesus For Dummies, page 99 (Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2008). ISBN 978-0-470-16785-4
  24. ^ a b c Nir Hasson (October 11, 2013). "Archaeological stunner: Not Herod's Tomb after all?". Haaretz. 
  25. ^ Clontz, T. E. and J., "The Comprehensive New Testament", Cornerstone Publications (2008), ISBN 978-0-9778737-1-5
  26. ^ Rick Bennett. "New Release: Comprehensive Crossreferences". Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  27. ^ Josephus (1999). "Appendix: Dissertation 6 (by Whiston)". In Maier, Paul L. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Kregel Academic. p. 1070.  
  28. ^ Steven Bowman, "Josephus in Byzantium", in Louis H. Feldman, Gōhei Hata (editors), Josephus, Judaism and Christianity. p. 373 (Wayne State University Press, 1987). ISBN 90-04-08554-8
  29. ^ Bart D. Ehrman. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Kindle Locations 848–849). Kindle Edition.
  30. ^ Louis H. Feldman, Josephus's Interpretation of The Bible, p. 232 (University of California Press, 1998). ISBN 0-520-20853-6
  31. ^ O'Rourke, P. J. Give War a Chance. Vintage, 1993.


  • M. Fergus, S. Emil & V. Geza, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135), Continuum International Publishing Group, 1973
  • É. Nodet: A search for the origins of Judaism: from Joshua to the Mishnah. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1997
  • The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged New Updated Edition Translated by William Whiston & A. M. Peabody, M. A. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1987. ISBN 0-913573-86-8 (Hardcover). ISBN 1-56563-167-6 (Paperback).
  • Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. Edited by Steve Mason, 10 vols. in 12 Leiden: Brill, 2000–).
  • Pastor, Jack, Stern, Pnina, Mor, Menahem (ed.): Flavius Josephus: Interpretation and History. Leiden: Brill, 2011. ISBN 978-90-04-19126-6. ISSN 1384-2161
  • Bilde, Per. Flavius Josephus between Jerusalem and Rome: his life, his works and their importance. Sheffield: JSOT, 1988.
  • Shaye J. D. Cohen. Josephus in Galilee and Rome: his vita and development as a historian. (Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition; 8). Leiden: Brill, 1979.
  • Louis Feldman. "Flavius Josephus revisited: the man, his writings, and his significance". In: Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 21.2 (1984).
  • Mason, Steve: Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: a composition-critical study. Leiden: Brill, 1991.
  • Rajak, Tessa: Josephus: the Historian and His Society. 2nd ed. London: 2002. (Oxford D.Phil. thesis, 2 vols. 1974.)
  • Marian Hillar, "Flavius Josephus and His Testimony Concerning the Historical Jesus." Paper published in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism, Vol. 13, 2005, pp. 66–103 (Washington, DC: American Humanist Association.

External links

  • PACE Josephus: text and resources in the Project on Ancient Cultural Engagement at York University, edited by Steve Mason.
  • works by Flavius Josephus at Perseus digital library - Greek (Niese) and English (Whiston) 1895 editions
  • Works by Josephus at Project Gutenberg (lacks Loeb numbers)
  • Works by Flavius Josephus at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • The Works of Flavius Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (Whiston, lacks Loeb numbers)
  • De bello judaico digitized codex (1475) at Somni
  • Flavius Josephus Home Page, G. J. Goldberg
  • Josephus's Lineage
  • Flavius Josephus The Jewish History Resource Center — Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Flavius Josephus, Judaea and Rome: A Question of Context
  • Flavius Josephus at
  • Flavius Josephus at Jewish Virtual Library
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