Titus Flavius Josephus originally known as Joseph Ben Matthias was born in Jerusalem in AD 38 and died in Rome in AD 100. He was a researcher, historian who authored respected works on the earlier Jewish history, and a Jewish priest. Some of his major works are the "History of the Jewish War", "the Antiquities of the Jews", and "Against Apion". He was born in a noble priestly household which made him grow up as an intelligent person who was frequently looked up by high priests regarding the issues of Jewish law. When he was 16, Josephus undertook a trip to the wilderness and later joined the Pharisees after returning to Jerusalem. He was later sent to secure the freedom of various Jewish priests who were imprisoned in the Roman Embassy where he met Poppaea Sabina the second wife to Emperor Nero who fostered the successful completion of the mission (Stern, 2010). It is also during the visit that Josephus grew more attached to the Roman culture and sophistication as well as its military might which led to his military career in Jerusalem. On his return, Josephus ousted the procurator in Rome and developed a revolutionary government and was later appointed the Galileo's military commander. However, in AD 67, the Romans came to Galilee and broke the Jewish resistance which made Josephus and other diehards take refuge in a nearby cave. He later surrendered to the Romans and was imprisoned in the Roman camp for two years and later freed after his prophecy of Vespasian becoming an emperor came true. Though, from that time, Josephus became committed to the Roman cause and also adopted the name "Flavius" which was the Vespasian family name (Grafton & Sherman, 2016). Eventually, Josephus decided to reside in Rome after the destruction of the Roman temple and the fall of Jerusalem and devoted the final years of his life pursuing literary works under the imperial patronage. Hence, Titus Flavius Josephus aka "Joseph Ben Matthias" is crucial in history as his works are essential for historians since they contribute to the people's knowledge of early Jewish history.
The Works of Joseph Ben Matthias
The works of Joseph Ben Matthias are vital in the study of the early Jewish history. As a scholar, Jewish priest, and historian, Josephus wrote crucial literary texts on the earlier Jewish history as well as the Jewish Revolt and the subsequent Roman suppression including some mentions of the life of Jesus. Even now historians use the works of Josephus to help in the understanding of the early Jewish events such as the Roman attack of Jerusalem in 70 CE (Breisach, 1994). Josephus left four works which include "History of the Jewish War", "the Antiquities of the Jews", "Life" which is an autobiographical work and "Against Apion" which are particularly vital for the learning of the Jewish history.
"History of the Jewish War"
The "History of the Jewish War" is not just the principal source for the revolt of the Jews, but it is also valuable for the description of the military tactics and strategy of the Romans. It narrates the events that happened between 167 B.C. and A.D. 73 which was originally written in Aramaic and its first publication in Russian in 1900. The "Jewish War" however, is primarily a classical historiography work. In it, Josephus examines the reason God allowed the defeat of the Jews and the destruction of the temple (Goodman & Weinberg, 2016). Besides, according to Josephus, the rebellion was largely brought about by political revolutionaries who were primarily hostile towards the Jewish aristocracy and the class of Josephus. In the book, Josephus also defended his patrons and the Flavian emperors by suggesting that the intent of Titus when he captured Jerusalem was to spare the temple but it burnt down due to the actions of a Roman soldier who burnt down the sanctuary. Hence, this first book is typically a rhetorical speech with parallels in the Roman and Greek historiography.
"The Antiquities of the Jews"
Josephus later felt the need to shield the status and reputation of the Jews hence he wrote the book "the Antiquities of the Jews." This book was his greatest work as it is mainly about the history of the Jews. This literary work is a historical subgenre sometimes known as apologetic historiography which seeks to explain and defend the subject to the dominant culture. It is a much broader work than the first one as it traces the Judaism history from the time of its creation to the time the uprising erupted. According to Weiss (2016), historians widely consider the "Jewish Antiquities" as an effort to present Judaism to the Greeks and Romans in a positive light and to distance it from the fixated reputation it had attained due to the Roman-Jewish War.
Additionally, this work is fascinatingly important for the Jewish history as it comprises of references to Jesus Christ. Josephus refers to Jesus Christ as "the so-called Christ" and later refers to his divinity as something assumed by many to be added by a Christian copyist (Bond, 2000). It virtually ignores the prophets and embellishes biblical narratives. Furthermore, it puts emphasis on the shrewdness of the Judaic institutions and laws which made Judaism appealing to the reasonable man (Jay, 2015). The work preserved countless sources that could have been lost which makes it crucially important for the history of the Jews.
Josephus' third work was "Life" which was intended to be a shield against the accusations of Justus who was a rival historian. It is an autobiography as well as an apology for the way he conducted himself in Galilee during the uprising. The main intent of writing it was in defense of the charges brought against him by Justus of Tiberias who accused him of being responsible for the rebellion (Henderson, 2006). Thus in his defense, Josephus contradicted the account he gave in "the Jewish War" where he presented himself as a reliable Roman partisan hence a traitor to the revolt. He, however, appears to be in a much better light in his next work "Against Apion" which answers the anti-Semitic charges towards the Jews from the Hellenistic writers and provides an argument for the virtuous superiority of the Judaism over Hellenism showing the commitment of Josephus to his culture and religion.
Josephus final work "Against Apion" was meant to be a protection of the Jewish religion. It is a two-volume Judaism defense piece of work which emphasizes its antiquity, religion, and philosophy (Weiss, 2016). It addresses the tradition of the Greeks and some anti-Judean allegations and myths accredited to the Egyptian priest and historian known as Manetho.
Josephus aims to reconstruct the record of human activities that took place in the earlier in the lives of the Greeks and Romans. He makes this evident in his style of writing that is based on the crucial examination of sources and the selection of specific details from the materials that help in narrating his stories. This assessment is evident in the works of Josephus as it briefly outlines the Jewish history and gives a detailed account of the war between the Romans and the Jews. The seven-volume literary work also describes in fine detail the siege of Jerusalem while depicting the invincible strength of the Romans. The books are also vital in analyzing the causes of the rebellion and highlight the inevitability of the backlash due to the life brought about by the Roman rule. Hence, the works of Josephus is perfect historiography detailing the events that affected the Greeks and Romans in the early years.
Titus Flavius Josephus aka "Joseph Ben Matthias" was a controversial figure in the history of the Jews who were at that time depicted as a self-serving traitor. Nonetheless, his works were crucial in providing significant insight into the most important period of history. Josephus is the main source for the history of the Jews and is also valuable for the knowledge of geography. Moreover, many distrust him as a historian since they view him as a traitor, but he is not more affected by a human error like others of his time. These four works were the attempts by Josephus to justify himself against the accusations against him. But since he used and cited various cherished documents and sources that are not preserved, the works are of great significance to the study of the Mediterranean and the ancient East. Besides, the basic tendencies of these works are a presentation of the Jewish war in the Roman viewpoint, the attempts to justify the disloyalty, and an apology for the Jews. These works may have had occasional instances of exaggeration and cases of recognizable bias due to the writer's beliefs as a Pharisee, but have been and are still crucial in helping the modern historians to piece together the connection between the Roman Empire and Judaism.
Bond, H. K. (2000). New Currents in Josephus Research. Currents in Research: Biblical Studies, 8, 162.
Breisach, E. (1994). Historiography, Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, 2nd Ed.
Goodman, M., & Weinberg, J. (2016). The Reception of Josephus in the Early Modern Period. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 23(3), 167-171.
Grafton, A., & Sherman, W. (2016). In the Margins of Josephus: Two Ways of Reading. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 23(3), 213-238.
Henderson, P. (2006). The Josephus Flavius' problem. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 38(2), 17.
Jay, J. (2015). Sculpting Idolatry in Flavian Rome: (An)Iconic Rhetoric in the Writings of Flavius Josephus. Review of Biblical Literature, 17, 185-188.
Kaden, D. A. (2011). Flavius Josephus and the Gentes Devictae in Roman Imperial Discourse: Hybridity, Mimicry, and Irony in the Agrippa II Speech (Judean War 2.345-402). Journal for the Study of Judaism: In the Persian Hellenistic & Roman Period, 42(4/5), 481-507.
Mason, S. (2003). Contradiction or Counterpoint? Joseph and Historical Method. Review of Rabbinic Judaism, 6(2/3), 145-188.
Stern, P. (2010). Life of Josephus: The Autobiography of Flavius Josephus. Journal for the Study of Judaism: In the Persian Hellenistic & Roman Period, 41(1), 63-93.
Weiss, J. (2016). Flavius Josephus, 1492. International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 23(3), 180-195.
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