Flavius Josephus 37 - 101 A.D. 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 born into a priestly family and a descendant of the Hasmoneans, was well educated and at age 19 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 Wars 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 Is Josephus' recounting of Jewish history from Creation to first-century Roman Procurator Florus in a total of 20 books, broken into a number of chapters. The Jewish Encyclopedia indicates that it was 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 Christ, 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 Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3.3.63-64; Chapter 5.2.116-118; Chapter 9.1.200.
- The Wars of the Jews provides a general history of Jewish warfare and contains 7 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 to the sedition of the Jews at Cyrene.
Josephus on Jesus
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities XVIII, Chapter III, Para. 3: "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man; if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful works; a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross; those that loved him at the first did not forsake him. For he appeared to them alive again, the third day: as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."
This historical testimony attests to all the most important facts in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ: His divine Wisdom, His astonishing miracles, His lofty doctrine, His powerful preaching attracting men and women from all races and cultures; His crucifixion under Pilate and glorious resurrection in accordance with what the great prophets of Israel had written. It shows that all this was almost universally known among the Jews of the time, even those hostile or indifferent to the Gospel.
The testimony is so clearly Josephan that it throws all secular critics into the greatest and insuperable difficulties; they have no choice but to desperately plead that it is a forgery to maintain their atheistic secularism. But this is an absurd pretense. The passage fits perfectly with all we know of Josephus’s style and vocabulary; it has unique expressions as “tribe of Christians” and calls Jesus “a wise man,” etc. that occur nowhere else. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, moreover, “all codices or manuscripts of Josephus’s work contain the text in question; to maintain the spuriousness of the text, we must suppose that all the copies of Josephus were in the hands of Christians, and were changed in the same way.” Moreover, its authenticity was universally taken for granted for centuries. “Third, Eusebius (“Hist. Eccl”., I, xi; cf. “Dem. Ev.”, III, v) Sozomen (Church History I.1), Niceph. (Hist. Eccl., I, 39), Isidore of Pelusium (Ep. IV, 225), St. Jerome (catal.script. eccles. xiii), Ambrose, Cassiodorus, etc., appeal to the testimony of Josephus; there must have been no doubt as to its authenticity at the time of these illustrious writers.”
St. Ambrose and St. Jerome on Josephus
St. Ambrose wrote: "The Jews themselves also bear witness to Christ, as appears by Josephus, the writer of their history, who says thus: ‘That there was at that time a wise man, if (says he) it be lawful to have him called a man, a doer of wonderful works, who appeared to his disciples after the third day from his death, alive again according to the writings of the prophets, who foretold these and innumerable other miraculous events concerning him: from whom began the congregation of Christians, yet he was no believer, because of the hardness of his heart and his prejudicial intention. However, it was no prejudice to the truth that he was not a believer, but this adds more weight to his testimony, that while he was an unbeliever and unwilling, this should be true, he has not denied it to be so."
St. Jerome wrote: "Josephus, the son of Matthias, priest of Jerusalem, taken prisoner by Vespasian and his son Titus, was banished. Coming to Rome he presented to the emperors, father and son, seven books On the captivity of the Jews, which were deposited in the public library and, on account of his genius, was found worthy of a statue at Rome. He wrote also twenty books of Antiquities, from the beginning of the world until the fourteenth year of Domitian Cæsar, and two of Antiquities against Appion, the grammarian of Alexandria who, under Caligula, sent as legate on the part of the Gentiles against Philo, wrote also a book containing a vituperation of the Jewish nation. Another book of his entitled, On all ruling wisdom, in which the martyr deaths of the Maccabeans are related is highly esteemed. In the eighth book of his Antiquities he most openly acknowledges that Christ was slain by the Pharisees on account of the greatness of his miracles, that John the Baptist was truly a prophet, and that Jerusalem was destroyed because of the murder of James the Apostle. He wrote also concerning the Lord after this fashion: “In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things, both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from Him, exists to the present day."
- 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