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Josephus (Flavius Josephus): Profile & Biography of Josephus


Who was Josephus?:

Josephus is also known as Flavius Josephus and Joseph Ben Matthias (Yosef Ben Mattityahu). Josephus was a leader of Jewish Revolt who was captured by the Romans at Jotapata in 67 CE and quickly ingratiated himself with Vespasian. Josephus predicted that Vespasian would become emperor; this happened in 69 and Josephus was subsequently released.

When did Josephus live?:

Josephus was born during the first year of the reign of Roman emperor Gaius, so either in 37 or 38 CE, and died around 100 CE. He was part of a priestly family and claimed to be descended from the Hasmonean dynasty.

Where did Josephus live?:

Josephus was leader of Jewish forces in Galilee, so it’s likely that he spent much of his early adult life there. As a teenager, he spent time living with the Essenes in the Judean wilderness, though. After being captured by the Romans he traveled with their headquarters for the duration of the war and then spent the rest of his life living in Rome.

What did Josephus do?:

When Josephus was young he was a diplomat in Rome and then led Jewish forces against Rome. After he was captured, though, Josephus willingly served Roman authorities. First he acted as an interpreter for the Romans during the war. Afterward, he lived in Rome and wrote books about the war and the history of the Jews.

Why was Josephus important?:

Josephus wrote a number of important books about the Jews and their war with the Romans, books which continue to provide invaluable insight on the times and people. His first, The Jewish War, was obviously about the war itself. His second, The Antiquities of the Jews, is a 20-volume work about the Jewish scriptures and their post-biblical history. He wrote others, but these are the most famous and important — they are quoted time and time again by historians and religious scholars.

What was Josephus’ position on the Jews and their relations with Rome? Josephus was in a difficult situation: he was a Jew and never ceased to be loyal to Jewish interests; at the same time, he was dependent upon the good graces of Roman authorities. Throughout his works Josephus sought to encourage sympathy both for the Jews and Judaism; at the same time, though, he also didn’t hesitate to attack “extremists” among the Jews who encouraged revolution against just Roman control.

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