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Jesophus, Historian of the Jews, including the period of J.C.

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Josephus as historian.

Josephus' first work, Bellum Judaicum (History of the Jewish War), was written in seven books between AD 75 and 79, toward the end of Vespasian's reign. The original Aramaic has been lost, but the extant Greek version was prepared under Josephus' personal direction. After briefly sketching Jewish history from the mid-2nd century BC, Josephus presents a detailed account of the great revolt of AD 6670. He stressed the invincibility of the Roman legions, and apparently one of his purposes in the works was to convince the Diasporan Jews in Mesopotamia, who may have been contemplating revolt, that resistance to Roman arms was pure folly. The work has much narrative brilliance, particularly the description of the siege of Jerusalem; its fluent Greek contrasts sharply with the clumsier idiom of Josephus' later works and attests the influence of his Greek assistants. In this work, Josephus is extremely hostile to the Jewish patriots and remarkably callous to their fate. The Jewish War not only is the principal source for the Jewish revolt but is especially valuable for its description of Roman military tactics and strategy.

In Rome, Josephus had been granted citizenship and a pension. He was a favourite at the courts of the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, and he enjoyed the income from a tax-free estate in Judaea. He had divorced his third wife, married an aristocratic heiress from Crete, and given Roman names to his children. He had written an official history of the revolt and was loathed by the Jews as a turncoat and traitor. Yet despite all of this, Josephus had by no means abandoned his Judaism. His greatest work, Antiquitates Judaicae (The Antiquities of the Jews), completed in 20 books in AD 93, traces the history of the Jews from creation to just before the outbreak of the revolt of AD 66-70. It was an attempt to present Judaism to the Hellenistic world in a favourable light. By virtually ignoring the Prophets, by embellishing biblical narratives, and by stressing the rationality of Judaic laws and institutions, he stripped Judaism of its fanaticism and made it appealing to the cultivated and reasonable man. Historically, the coverage is patchy and shows the fatigue of the author, then in his middle 50s. But throughout, sources are preserved that otherwise would have been lost, and, for Jewish history during the period of the Second Commonwealth, the work is invaluable.

The Antiquities contains two famous references to Jesus Christ: the one in Book XX calls him the "so-called Christ." The implication in the passage in Book XVIII of Christ's divinity could not have come from Josephus and undoubtedly represents the tampering (if not invention) of a later Christian copyist.

Appended to the Antiquities was a Vita (Life), which is less an autobiography than an apology for Josephus' conduct in Galilee during the revolt. It was written to defend himself against the charges of his enemy Justus of Tiberias, who claimed that Josephus was responsible for the revolt. In his defense, he contradicted the account given in his more trustworthy Jewish War, presenting himself as a consistent partisan of Rome and thus a traitor to the rebellion from the start.* Josephus appears in a much better light in a work generally known as Contra Apionem (Against Apion, though the earlier titles Concerning the Antiquity of the Jews and Against the Greeks are more apposite). Of its two books, the first answers various anti-Semitic charges leveled at the Jews by Hellenistic writers, while the second provides an argument for the ethical superiority of Judaism over Hellenism and shows Josephus' commitment to his religion and his culture.

Since Against Apion mentions the death of Agrippa II, it is probable that Josephus lived into the 2nd century; but Agrippa's death date is uncertain, and it is possible that Josephus died earlier, in the reign of Domitian, sometime after AD 93.


*  [Comment by JK].  This is not accurate.  He portrays himself as first counseling the Jews against rebellion because he believed that they were to weak and thus the rebellion would fail.  He then describes how, as being a leader of the Jews, he was out of duty drawn into supporting his people as a military leader.  He was captured when the rebels he was leading failed to hold the city of Caesarium.  

#20 Josephus, the Christian interpolations

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