Flavius Josephus Early Jewish and Roman History: Historical Resources

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

Flavius Josephus, was born Joseph the son of Matthias, in Jerusalem in 37­ CE. His autobiography tells of a three-year period living in the desert as a hermit studying the three main Jewish political and religious movements current at the time, Sadducees, Essenes and Pharisees.

However modern historical thinking tends to discount this as being impossible in the time scale mentioned by Josephus.

Jewish Revolt

During the Jewish Revolt he became commander of Jewish forces in Galilee and fought against Emperor Nero’s Roman legions. However in 67 CE, Josephus’s forces were defeated and in controversial circumstances, still the subject of considerable debate today, he surrendered to Roman General Vespasian.

Perhaps in an act of self-preservation Josephus changed sides and joined the Romans. It seems he then managed to persuade Vespasian that a prophecy predicting he (Vespasian) would become ruler of the “entire world” would come true.

He was given the role of go-between or mediator to try to persuade the Jews to give up their fight. but was unable to do so and consequently in 70 CE he watched the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

Emperor Vespasian

After Nero committed suicide and Vespasian became Emperor of Rome, Josephus became a Roman citizen and took his Roman name. He spent the rest of his life, mainly in the Flavian court, writing about the war, the history of Judea and to large extent writing about himself. He died c 100 CE.

The Jewish War

His first work, originally written in Aramaic then translated into Greek, was the Jewish War, published c 75 CE. Its seven volumes tell the story of the first Jewish revolt against Rome 66–70 CE and are based on the memoirs of Vespasian, letters from King Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, and his own notes of the period.

Books 1-7 cover the following historical periods

  • From the Taking of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes to the Death of Herod the Great
  • From the Death of Herod ‘till Vespasian was Sent to Subdue the Jews by Nero.
  • From Vespasian’s Coming to Subdue the Jews to the Taking of Gamala.
  • From the Seige of Gamala to the Coming of Titus.
  • From the Coming of Titus to Besiege Jerusalem, to the Great Extremity to Which the Jews Were Reduced.
  • From the Great Extremity to Which the Jews Were Reduced, to the Taking of Jerusalem by Titus.
  • From the Taking of Jerusalem by Titus to the Sedition at Cyrene.
  • Antiquities of the Jews

His other major work, The Antiquities of the Jews, published c 93 CE, covered in 20 volumes a huge historical range from the Creation to the Jewish Revolt.

The extensive range includes:

  • Book 1: From the Creation to the Death of Isaac.
  • Book 12: From the Death of Alexander the Great to the Death of Judas Maccabeus.
  • Book 20: From Fadus the Procurator to Florus.

His other works are:

  • Flavius Josephus Against Apion
  • Josephus’s Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades

Much of Flavius Josephus’s work has now been translated into English and is available in hard copy and on a number of web sites.