Flavius Josephus

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Josephus, Flavius

(flā`vēəs jōsē`fəs), A.D. 37–c.A.D. 100, Jewish historian and soldier, b. Jerusalem. Josephus' historical works are among the most valuable sources for the study of early Judaism and early Christianity. Having studied the tenets of the three main sects of Judaism—Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees—he became a Pharisee. At the beginning of the war between the Romans and Jews, he was made commander of Galilee, despite the fact that he had opposed the uprising. He surrendered to the Romans instead of committing suicide when the stronghold was taken. He won the favor of the Roman general Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus) and took his name, Flavius. He lived in Rome under imperial patronage, where he wrote the Greek-language historical works for which he is renowned. He wrote The Jewish War; the famous Antiquities of the Jews, a history of the Jews from creation to the war with Rome; Against Apion, an exalted defense of the Jews; and his autobiography, or apologia. His complete works have appeared in English editions.


See H. St. John Thackeray, Josephus (1929, rev. ed. 1968); T. Rajak, Josephus (1983); L. H. Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1984); L. Feldman and H. Gohei, ed., Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (1987); F. Raphael, A Jew among Romans (2013).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Josephus, Flavius


(Hebrew name, Joseph ben Matthias). Born A.D. 37 in Jerusalem; died after 100 in Rome. Ancient Jewish historian.

Born into a priestly family, Flavius Josephus became thoroughly acquainted in his youth with the teachings of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, all of which he described. Supporting the religious and political trends of the Pharisees, he was active in political life. At the outbreak of the Jewish War (66–73), Josephus was appointed a military commander in Galilee, but after the defeat at Jotapata he turned traitor and surrendered to the Romans. He acted as an interpreter during the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, after which he settled in Rome, became a Roman citizen, and was appointed historiographer of the Flavian dynasty, whose family name he took.

Josephus left four works (in Greek). History of the Jewish War describes events from 167 B.C. to A.D.. 73. (Originally written in Aramaic, it was first published in Russian translation in 1900. A translation into ancient Russian by N.A. Meshcherskii was published in 1958 under the title Josephus Flavius’ History of the Jewish War: Researches and Text.) Antiquities of the Jews describes the period from the “creation of the world” to the beginning of the Jewish War (Russian translation, vols. 1–2, 1900). The work On the Antiquity of the Jews: Against Apion (Russian translation, 1898) is an apologetic polemic against the first-century Egyptian writer Apion, and Life, an autobiographical work, was Josephus’ attempt to justify himself against the accusations that were being leveled against him. Because he used and cited many valuable sources and documents that have not been preserved, Josephus’ works have been an important source for the study of the peoples of the ancient East and the Mediterranean. The basic tendencies of his works are a pro-Roman presentation of the Jewish War, attempts to justify his betrayal, and an apologia for the Jews.


Opera, vols. 1–7. Edited by B. Niese. Berlin, 1955.
Opera, vols. 1–9. Edited by H. St. H. Thackeray, R. Marcus, and L.H. Feldman. Cambridge, Mass., 1926–66. (Loeb Classical Library.)


Feldman, L.H. Scholarship on Philo and Josephus. New York, 1963.
Schreckenberg, H. Bibliographic zu Flavius Josephus. Leiden, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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