Josephus Flavius (Jewish Historian, 1st Century)

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Josephus Flavius (37 – c. 101 AD), born in Jerusalem to an aristocratic priestly family, was a Jewish priest, scholar, and historian of the 1st century. He penned several important works including History of the Jewish War (75–79 AD), The Antiquities of the Jews (93 AD), and Against Apion (c. early 2nd century). These works provide valuable historical information on the Romans, Jewish history, the Jewish revolt, and 1st century Christianity.

History of the Jewish War is the main source for the four year revolt of 66-70, and is historically valuable in its descriptions of Roman military as well as Roman tactics and strategy. Antiquities of the Jews, which was Flavius’ means of presenting Judaism to the Hellenistic world, is a compendium of 20 books chronicling the history of the Jewish people all the way from creation to just before the commencement of the revolt of 66-70. This work is of significance for historians looking into early 1st century Christianity as it mentions numerous biblical figures with the most famous of them being Jesus Christ who is mentioned twice. One reference to Christ is clearly a later interpolation by a Christian scribe although many historians believe that it contains a genuine pre-interpolated historical nucleus. The other reference to Christ and his brother James is genuine. Finally, Against Apion is an apologetics work in which Flavius defends Judaism and Jewish philosophy from the Apion, an Egyptian grammarian of the 1st century.

Flavius was a Pharisee which means he was an intensely religious Jew who adhered to a strict observance of the Torah. What makes him particularly interesting is that he aligned himself with opposing forces during his life. He initially sided with Jewish rebels, as their head, against the Romans. With the rebels, Flavius defended the fortress of Jotapata before being defeated and surrendering to the Romans in 67 AD. Having lost that battle, Flavius took refuge with 40 survivors in a nearby cave, and was the last to survive before being captured and taken before Vespasian. During his appearance to Vespasian, Flavius played the role of a prophet and predicted that Vespasian would soon become Roman emperor, which occurred after the death of Nero in 68 AD. This prediction ultimately saved Flavius’ life after which he remained a prisoner in the Roman camp for two years. Eventually Vespasian became emperor and Flavius chose to align himself with the emperor and the Romans. He joined their ranks under the command of Vespasian’s son and successor, Titus. As a result, Flavius was hated by the Jews and viewed as an apostate although he too received some mistrust from the Romans.

After the battle of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Flavius, yet still remaining a Jew, would go on to live in Rome where he was granted citizenship and a pension. While there he penned most of his works.

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