Romanticized image of Josephus which appeared in William Whiston's 18th century English translation of his works.

Flavius Josephus (37 - 101 CE) was a Jewish general and historian who took part in the Jewish revolt against the Romans and later worked for a Roman patron. Josephus would become close friends with the emperors Vespasian and Titus, taking their family name, Flavius. Josephus was born into a priestly family and a descendant of the Hasmoneans, was well educated and at the age of nineteen he became a Pharisee.


A prolific writer, Josephus' works, in ancient Greek, not only include his own biography but also The Antiquities of the Jews and The War of the Jews. His writings, especially concerning events of the first century, are considered of particular interest as they provide extra-biblical references to key events recorded in the Bible and are considered to provide additional insight into Jewish thought, background and history of the ancient world.

The Antiquities of the Jews

The Antiquities of the Jews Is Josephus' recounting of Jewish history from Creation to first-century Roman Procurator Florus in a total of twenty books, broken into a number of chapters. The Jewish Encyclopedia indicates that Josephus' motive in writing the history was to both glorify the Jewish people and their history in the eyes of the Greco-Roman world and to counteract what he considered to be false histories being circulated that degraded the Jewish nation.

Surviving early copies and translations of his writings make some references to the life and death of Jesus, John the Baptist and Jesus' brother James the Just.

A few modern scholars are skeptical of the passages in Josephus' writings that refer to Jesus, believing they were inserted by copyists during the middle ages. While the longer passage (the "Testimonium Flavium") most probably contains at least a few interpolations, the passage for the most part is considered genuine by most scholars. A copy of the Testimonium was found in Agapian that contained no signs of interpolation. The citation about John the Baptist, and about James the brother of Jesus, are considered to be genuine.

The War of the Jews

The War of the Jews provides a general history of Jewish warfare and contains seven books, broken into a number of chapters. The history covers the time from Anitochus Ephiphanes taking Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees to the taking of Jerusalem by Titus and the sedition of the Jews at Cyrene.


  • Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times,Peter Lang Publishing (2003).
  • William Whiston, The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. (1987)
  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Josephus

External links

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