Titus Flavius Josephus is a tough figure to classify. Was he a cultural aristocrat? A theologically minded Pharisee? A politician? An author? A historian? In Josephus we find all of these things—and more.
Josephus was born into the Jewish priestly order of Jehoiarib, the first of twenty-four priestly divisions organized by King David (1 Chronicles 24:7). Growing up, Josephus surpassed his peers in his study of Jewish law. After studying under the Pharisees, Essenes, and the Sadducees—the three major religious factions in first-century Jerusalem—he affiliated himself with the Pharisees.
Jerusalem was a powder keg. With a constant disdain for Jewish ideals, Rome inflamed their already tense relationship with the Jews. Between liberal use of Roman soldiers against Jewish citizens and Messianic Jewish factions who taught that the world would be ending soon, a number of factors were coming together to create the perfect climate for conflict. By the time Jospehus had returned from a trip to Rome to negotiate with Nero for the release of imprisoned priests, his nation was in revolt.
Despite skepticism about an uprising, Josephus took the post as military leader in the region of Galilee. Not all of Galilee was supportive of revolution, and insurgents hoped to use Josephus’ birthright and successful negotiations with Rome as inspiration to the hesitant Galileans. Josephus found himself fighting a defensive war against an overwhelming force while simultaneously trying to quell conflict within Jerusalem.
Josephus Supports Rome?
This is where Josephus’ story takes a strange turn and why many consider Josephus an opportunist and a traitor.
The Galilean city of Jotapata had fallen, and Josephus had found himself trapped in a cave with forty other Jewish supporters. Fearing the worst, and not wanting to fall into Roman hands, a suicide pact was decided upon. They all agreed, standing in a circle each second man would kill the third. Josephus considered it the providence of God that he and one other man were the last living. He convinced his fellow soldier they should give themselves over to the Romans.
Many modern scholars accuse Josephus of orchestrating this outcome. (In fact, the Josephus Problem has become a mathematical problem where a person must decide where to stand in this circle in order to be the last one living.)
Josephus began to work for the Romans giving them information on the insurgence. Rome also put him to use trying to convince the rebels to surrender. Jerusalem would not heed the warnings of this traitor however, and an agreement was never reached.
In 70 A.D., Josephus was eyewitness to the siege of Jerusalem. Rome destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem was sacked. According to Josephus, over 1,000,000 people were killed during the siege, with another 97,000 taken hostage. The death toll was high and the loss of the Temple dealt a destructive blow to both Jewish identity and their ability to rally. The revolution was brought to a swift end.
Josephus Writes His Histories
After becoming a Roman citizen, Josephus was commissioned by Caesar Vespasian to write an account of the Jewish revolt against Rome. Josephus finished The War of the Jews in 78 A.D. By the year 93, Josephus had finished his second major work The Antiquities of the Jews (a landmark history of the Jews from Creation through the occupation of Palestine). In the latter part of his life he wrote Against Apion and his autobiography The Life of Flavius Josephus.
Flavius Josephus remains one of our best sources of first century history as well as an essential resource for Old Testament textual criticism.
Josephus Resources from Logos
Not only can you get the complete Works of Josephus–as well as Josephus in Greek: Niese Critical Edition with Apparatus—from Logos, but there are many more great references to help you get a grasp on his life and works.
Brill Academic has published many works on Josephus’ writings. The Brill Josephus and the Bible Collection (currently on Pre-Pub) contains four volumes full of enlightening research:
- Studies in Josephus’ Rewritten Bible
- Josephus, Judaism and Christianity
- Josephus, the Bible and History
- Passover in the Work of Josephus
If you are interested in what Josephus can bring to your Bible study and understanding of first century history, the Brill Josephus and the Bible Collection is a good selection to pick up while it is on Pre-Pub at over 50% off!
Other Great Resources
If you are still looking for some books on Josephus check out:
- Brill Josephus and History Collection (2 vols.)
- Josephus and the New Testament
- Flavius Josephus Collection (5 vols.)
- Flavius Josephus: Life of Josephus
- Genesis and the “Jewish Antiquities” of Flavius Josephus
- Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, Volume 3 Judean Antiquities Books 1-4
- Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, Volume 4 Judean Antiquities Books 5-7
- Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, Volume 5 Judean Antiquities Books 8-10
Leave us a comment and tell us how exposure to Josephus as improved your understanding of the New Testament context.