Josephus, a Jewish writer and historian (37 – ca. 100 CE), claimed both royal and priestly ancestry, and to have been taught by Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and a hermit called Bannus.
Aged 26, he served on an embassy to Rome on behalf of Jewish priests. He became Jewish general in Galilee against the Romans, defended Jotapata, survived a suicide pact, and was captured by the Romans. He impressed Vespasian (Roman general who became Emperor 70-79 CE), and became the spokesman of Titus (Vespasian’s son and successor, who captured Jerusalem) to the Jews besieged in Jerusalem. After the war Vespasian gave Josephus a house in Rome and an estate in Judea. Josephus embraced two cultures and allegiances. He argued that Roman incompetence and Jewish extremism drove the Jews to rebel. He respected Roman power and ability, opposed Jewish extremists, and wrote to demonstrate the virtues of Judaism to the gentile world, and the benefits of the pax Romana to the Jews. In Rome, Josephus wrote several works.
(1) The Jewish War, Bks I-VII (written ca. 75-79 CE). Writing for Roman readers, Josephus describes the background to the war, Vespasian’s campaigns in Galilee (including the capture of Josephus at Jotapata), the factional in-fighting in Jerusalem, and Titus’ capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
(2) The Antiquities of the Jews, Bks I-XX (completed 93-94 CE). In the first half, Josephus paraphrases and expands the historical books of the Old Testament; in the second, he uses Hellenistic and non-biblical Jewish sources to describe Jewish history from the Persian to the Roman periods, from Cyrus the Great to Nero. This massive Jewish apologia to the Graeco-Roman world emphasises Judaism as a way of life leading to virtue through its laws.
(3) Against Apion (written shortly after the Antiquities) counters gentile disbelief in Jewish antiquity and the anti-Jewish polemic of the Alexandrian writer Apion.
(4) The Life (apparently intended as an epilogue to the Antiquities) is an autobiography concerned to justify Josephus’ military and political activity in Galilee at the beginning of the war with Rome (66-67 CE).
Antiquities XVII. 63-64 famously contains a passage (the ‘Testimonium Flavianum’) describing Jesus. It is generally agreed that the original core of this passage has been enhanced by a later Christian interpolator.
Rajak, T. Josephus: Josephus, the Historian and his Society. London: Duckworth, 1983.
Thackeray, H. St J., R. Marcus, A.Wikgren, and L. H. Feldman, eds. Josephus, Greek text with English translation. 9 vols. Loeb Classical Library. Heinemann: London; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926-55.
Whiston, W. The Works of Josephus. 1737. Reprint.
Williamson, G. A. Josephus: The Jewish War. Rev. by E. M. Smallwood. London: 1981 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1959).