By Flavius Josephus
Translated by William Whiston
Translated by William Whiston
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Antiquities of the Jews contains an account of history of the Jewish people, written in Greek for Josephus' gentile patrons. In the first ten volumes, Josephus follows the events of the historical books of the Hebrew Bible beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve. The second ten volumes continue the history of the Jewish people beyond the biblical text and up to the Jewish War.
This work, along with Josephus's other major work, The Jewish Wars (Bellum Judaicum), provides valuable background material to historians wishing to understand 1st-century AD Judaism and the early Christian period.
Josephus was born Joseph ben Mattathias in 37 C.E. in
of a priestly and royal family. He excelled in his studies of Jewish law and
studied with the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Essenes, eventually aligning
himself with the Pharisees. In 62 C.E. he went to Rome to free some imprisoned priests. After
accomplishing this mission through the intercession of Nero's wife, Poppaea, he
returned to Jerusalem in 65 C.E. to find the
country in revolt against Rome.
Although Josephus had deep misgivings about the revolt, it became inevitable, due to reasons he discusses in his history, primarily the abuses of the Romans; this spurred the growth of fanatical Messianic Jewish movements which believed that the world was coming to an end shortly. In 66 C.E. the Masada was seized by the Zealots and the Romans were on the march; Josephus was appointed the commander of
Josephus had to fight a defensive war against overwhelming force while refereeing internecine squabbles in the Jewish ranks. In 67 C.E. Josephus and other rebels were cornered in a cave during the siege of Jotapata and took a suicide pact. However, Josephus survived, and was taken hostage by the Romans, led by Vespasian.
Josephus shrewdly reinterpreted the Messianic prophecies. He predicted that Vespasian would become the ruler of the 'entire world'. Josephus joined the Romans, for which he was branded a traitor. He acted as consultant to the Romans and a go-between with the revolutionaries. Unable to convince the rebels to surrender, Josephus ended up watching the second destruction of the
and the defeat of the Jewish nation.
|A leaf from the 1466 manuscript |
of the Antiquitates Iudaice
(Antiquities of the Jews)
His prophecy became true in 68 C.E. when Nero committed suicide and Vespasian became Ceasar. As a result, Josephus was freed; he moved to
and became a Roman citizen, taking the Vespasian family name Flavius. Vespasian
commissioned Josephus to write a history of the war, which he finished in 78
C.E., the Jewish War. His second major work, the Antiquities
of the Jews, was completed in 93 C.E. He wrote Against Apion
in about 96-100 C.E. and The Life of Josephus, his autobiography,
about 100. He died shortly after.
Despite his ambivalent role, Josephus was an eyewitness to history, and his writings are considered authoritative. These texts are key to understanding a pivotal point in world history, which has tragic repercussions even to this day.
An excerpt of interest: “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”