Josephus Flavius – Historian and a Warlord

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Josephus Flavius was a famous Jewish historian and a military leader.

Josephus is famous for the works that have come down to us in Greek – “The Jewish War” (about the uprising of 66–71) and “Antiquities of the Jews” (which sets out the history of the Jews from the creation of the world to the Judean War).

Like the treaty “Against Apion,” they aimed to familiarize the ancient world with the history and culture of Jews and debunk persistent prejudices against these people.


Josephus was born in the first year of the reign of Gaius Caligula, that is, in 37. On his father, he belonged to a noble priestly family (he was a priest of the “first line”), and his mother came from the royal family of Hasmonaeus-Maccabees. Joseph received a brilliant education – both Jewish and Greek.

He joined the Pharisees when he was 19. At 26 years old (circa 64), he traveled to Rome as a defender of several noble Jews, accused by the procurator Felix and sent in chains to Rome. Here Joseph, thanks to the Jew Aligur, the court actor of Nero, met the wife of Nero Poppea and through her, achieved liberation for these Jews.

The power and cultural superiority of the Romans made a great impression on young Joseph. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he discovered that the Jews were preparing to rebel against Roman rule. Aware of the danger of the struggle with Rome, Joseph first joined the peace-loving party of the Pharisees. Still, soon, he was entrusted with the defense of Galilee.

There he gathered about 10 thousand troops, fortified Yotapata (Yodfat), Tiberias, Gamala (Gamla), Tarichea, and some other settlements. When Vespasian entered the borders of Galilee in 67, and strong fortresses almost without a fight passed into the power of the Romans, Joseph and his detachment locked themselves in the fortress of Yotapata.

However, neither the courage of Joseph and his troops, nor military tricks saved the fortress. After surviving the 47-day siege, Yotapata fell. Joseph himself managed to hide with 40 comrades in a deep cave. Roman soldiers have discovered this shelter, and Vespasian, through the military commander Nikanor, exhorted Joseph to surrender, promising him complete safety.

Joseph agreed, but could not persuade his comrades who attempted to kill him for treason. Then he proposed by lot to gradually kill each other. In the end, only Joseph and his comrade survived, whom he persuaded to surrender to the Romans.

Brought to the Roman camp and introduced to Vespasian, Joseph predicted imperial power for him. Vespasian initially considered Joseph’s prediction to be a crafty invention. However, when he learned about the death of Nero and Galba and the struggle between Otton and Vitellius, he believed Joseph and showered him with gifts.

To save his life, Joseph offered Vespasian his services, and he, leaving for Rome, left Joseph in the retinue of his son Titus as a translator and gave him freedom.

Since that time, Joseph began to bear the second name of his master – “Flavius.” He had to take this other name because, according to Rome’s customs, any alien immigrant, especially of Jewish descent, was viewed by the empire’s practices and laws as an enemy equated with people outside the law. Killing and robbing these aliens had no legal consequences.

An exception to this rule was for those who were “necessary” to Rome and its elite. In this case, a public act of “patronage” was legalized: a foreigner or freedman was given an official letter equal to a modern passport, which stated that the individual was in the metropolis (Rome) under the protection of a specific person and his life and property were guaranteed not by Roman law, but by the arbitrariness of a particular representative of the elite, and was considered a privilege that could be taken away at any moment. The term “Flavius” in his name, therefore, is not a surname, but merely a sign of belonging to a particular patron.

During the siege of Jerusalem, Joseph spoke several times as a parliamentarian, convincing his compatriots to surrender to the Romans, begging them to do so even “with tears”. After the capture of Jerusalem in 70, Titus, at the request of Joseph, gave him the holy books and freed 190 people who were locked in the Temple.

Joseph spent the last years of his life at the court of the Roman emperors. Vespasian elevated him to the rank of a Roman citizen, gave him estates in Judea, and gave him premises in Rome in his former palace. Titus and Domitian continued to patronize Josephus. Spending a quiet life at the court of the Roman emperors, Josephus engaged in literary work. The year of death of Josephus is unknown.

The significance of the writings of Josephus Flavius

The historical significance of the writings of Josephus Flavius ​​lies mainly in the fact that his works are almost the only source of Jewish history from the Maccabean era to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans.

The presentation of Josephus Flavius, distinguished by clarity and brilliant style, suffers from a lack of objectivity in those places where he talks about the Romans, which he is trying to please, and where it is a question of protecting himself, as a participant in the Judean War.

Christian teachers of the church, like Theophilos of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, as well as church writers Eusebius, Jerome, and others, praise Josephus, referring to him as a recognized authority.

In 1544, the first Greek edition of the writings of Josephus Flavius appeared.

There are translations of the works of Josephus Flavius into Latin (of very ancient origin) and many European languages.

Josephus About Christianity

The works of Josephus were cited as evidence of the death of John the Baptist (Antiq. XVIII, 5, 2), stoning of Jacob, brother of Jesus (Antiq. XX, 9, 1), as well as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (Antiq. XVIII, 3, 3) , in particular:

“Jesus lived around this time, a man of wisdom if he could even be called a man. He did wonderful deeds and became the mentor of those people who perceived the truth willingly. He attracted many Jews and Hellenes. It’s been Christ. Pilate sentenced Him to the cross at the behest of our influential people.

Those who used to love Him, though, have not stopped loving him now.

On the third day, as the inspired prophets announced about him and many of his other miracles, He appeared alive to them again. To this day, there are still so-called Christians who call themselves in this way by His name.”

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Josephus Flavius – Historian and a Warlord

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