Translated by William Whiston

Flavius Josephus

Josephus' first work, Bellum Judaicum (History of the Jewish War), was written in seven books between AD 75 and 79, toward the end of Vespasian's reign. The original Aramaic has been lost, but the extant Greek version was prepared under Josephus' personal direction. After briefly sketching Jewish history from the mid-2nd century BC, Josephus presents a detailed account of the great revolt of AD 66-70. He stressed the invincibility of the Roman legions, and apparently one of his purposes in the works was to convince the Diasporan Jews in Mesopotamia, who may have been contemplating revolt, that resistance to Roman arms was pure folly. The work has much narrative brilliance, particularly the description of the siege of Jerusalem; its fluent Greek contrasts sharply with the clumsier idiom of Josephus' later works and attests the influence of his Greek assistants. In this work, Josephus is extremely hostile to the Jewish patriots and remarkably callous to their fate. The Jewish War not only is the principal source for the Jewish revolt but is especially valuable for its description of Roman military tactics and strategy.

In Rome, Josephus had been granted citizenship and a pension. He was a favourite at the courts of the emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, and he enjoyed the income from a tax-free estate in Judaea. He had divorced his third wife, married an aristocratic heiress from Crete, and given Roman names to his children. He had written an official history of the revolt and was loathed by the Jews as a turncoat and traitor. Yet despite all of this, Josephus had by no means abandoned his Judaism. His greatest work, Antiquitates Judaicae (The Antiquities of the Jews), completed in 20 books in AD 93, traces the history of the Jews from creation to just before the outbreak of the revolt of AD 66-70. It was an attempt to present Judaism to the Hellenistic world in a favourable light. By virtually ignoring the Prophets, by embellishing biblical narratives, and by stressing the rationality of Judaic laws and institutions, he stripped Judaism of its fanaticism and made it appealing to the cultivated and reasonable man. Historically, the coverage is patchy and shows the fatigue of the author, then in his middle 50s. But throughout, sources are preserved that otherwise would have been lost, and, for Jewish history during the period of the Second Commonwealth, the work is invaluable. 

Read more