Josephus Flavius (37 – c. 101 CE), born in Jerusalem to an aristocratic priestly family, was a Jewish priest, scholar, and historian of the first century. He composed several important works including History of the Jewish War (75–79 CE), The Antiquities of the Jews (93 CE), and Against Apion (c. early second century). These works provide valuable historical information on the Romans, Jewish history, the Jewish revolt, and first 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 tactics and strategy. Antiquities of the Jews was Flavius’ way of presenting Judaism to the Hellenistic world and is a compendium of twenty books chronicling the history of the Jewish people from creation to just before the revolt of 66-70. This work is important to historians looking into early first century Christianity because it mentions biblical figures, the most famous of them being Jesus Christ. One reference to Jesus is a later Christian scribal interpolation although many historians conclude that it contains a genuine and accessible pre-interpolated historical nucleus. The other reference to Jesus and his brother James is considered genuine.
Finally, Against Apion is an apologetic work in which Flavius defends Judaism and Jewish philosophy from the Apion, an Egyptian grammarian of the first century.
Flavius was a Pharisee meaning he was a devout religious Jew who adhered to a strict observance of the Torah. What makes Flavius interesting is that he aligned himself with opposing forces during his life, first siding with Jewish rebel as their head against the Romans. Flavius defended the fortress of Jotapata until their defeat and surrender to the Romans in 67 CE. Having lost that battle, Flavius took refuge with forty survivors in a nearby cave and was the last to survive before being captured and taken before Roman emperor Vespasian.
During this appearance, Flavius played the role of a prophet and predicted that Vespasian would soon become Roman emperor, which happened after the death of Nero in 68 CE. This prediction ultimately saved Flavius’s life.
He remained a prisoner in a Roman camp for two years and when Vespasian became emperor decided to align himself with the Romans. He joined their ranks under the command of Vespasian’s son and successor, Titus. Flavius was hated by the Jews and viewed as an apostate. He also received some mistrust from the Romans.
After the battle of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Flavius lived in Rome where he was granted citizenship and a pension. There he composed most of his works.