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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter IX

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter IX.—Josephus and the Works which he has left.

1. After all this it is fitting that we should know something in regard to the origin and family of Josephus, who has contributed so much to the history in hand. He himself gives us information on this point in the following words: 667 “Josephus, the son of Mattathias, a priest of Jerusalem, who himself fought against the Romans in the beginning and was compelled to be present at what happened afterward.”

2. He was the most noted of all the Jews of that day, not only among his own people, but also among the Romans, so that he was honored by the erection of a statue in Rome, 668 and his works were deemed worthy of a place in the library. 669

3. He wrote the whole of the Antiquities of the Jews 670 in twenty books, and a history of the war with the Romans which took place in his time, in seven books. 671 He himself testifies that the latter work was not only written in Greek, but that it was also translated by himself p. 144 into his native tongue. 672 He is worthy of credit here because of his truthfulness in other matters.

4. There are extant also two other books of his which are worth reading. They treat of the antiquity of the Jews, 673 and in them he replies to Apion the Grammarian, who had at that time written a treatise against the Jews, and also to others who had attempted to vilify the hereditary institutions of the Jewish people.

5. In the first of these books he gives the number of the canonical books of the so-called Old Testament. Apparently 674 drawing his information from ancient tradition, he shows what books were accepted without dispute among the Hebrews. His words are as follows.



B. J.,Preface, §1. We have an original source for the life of Josephus, not only in his various works, in which he makes frequent reference to himself, but also in his autobiography, which was written after the year 100. The work was occasioned by the Chronicle of Justus of Tiberias, which had represented him as more patriotic and more hostile to the Romans than he liked, and he therefore felt impelled to paint himself in the blackest of colors, as a traitor and renegade,—probably much blacker than he really was. It is devoted chiefly to an account of the intrigues and plots formed against him while he was governor of Galilee, and contains little of general biographical interest, except in the introduction and the conclusion. Josephus was of a priestly family,—his father Matthias belonging to the first of the twenty-four courses—and he was born in the first year of Caius Cæsar; i.e. in the year beginning March 16, 37 a.d. He played a prominent part in the Jewish war, being entrusted with the duty, as governor of Galilee and commander of the forces there, of meeting and opposing Vespasian, who attacked that province first. He was, however, defeated, and gave himself up to the victors, in the summer of 67. He was treated with honor in the camp of the Romans, whom he served until the end of the war, and became a favorite and flatterer of the Vespasian house, incurring thereby the everlasting contempt of his country men. He went to Rome at the close of the war, and lived in prosperity there until early in the second century. His works are our chief source for a knowledge of Jewish affairs from the time of the Maccabees, and as such are, and will always remain, indispensable, and their author immortal, whatever his character. He was a man of learning and of talent, but of inordinate selfishness and self-esteem. He was formerly accused of great inaccuracy, and his works were considered a very poor historical source; but later investigations have increased his credit, and he seems, upon the whole, to have been a historian of unusual ability and conscientiousness.


Eusebius is the only one, so far as we know, to mention this statue in Rome, and what authority there is for his statement we cannot tell.


In §64 of his Life Josephus tells us that Titus was so much pleased with his accounts of the Jewish war that he subscribed his name to them, and ordered them published (see the next chapter, §8 sqq., where the passage is quoted). The first public library in Rome, according to Pliny, was founded by Pollio (76 b.c.–4 a.d.). The one referred to here is undoubtedly the imperial library, which, according to Suetonius, was originally established by Augustus in the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, and contained two sections,—one for Greek, and the other for Latin works. It was greatly enlarged by Tiberius and Domitian.


Ιουδαϊκὴ ᾽Αρχαιολογία, Antiquitates Judaicæ. This work, which is still extant, is Josephus’ most extensive work, and aims to give, in twenty books, a complete history of the Jews, from the time of Abraham to the beginning of the great war with Rome. The object of the work is mainly apologetic, the author aiming to place Judaism before Gentile readers in as favorable a light as possible. It contains much legendary matter, but is the main source for our knowledge of a long period of Jewish history, and as such is invaluable. The work was completed, according to his own statement (XX. 11. 2), in the thirteenth year of Domitian (93–94 a.d.), and frequently corrects erroneous statements made in his earlier work upon the Jewish war.


Ιστορία ᾽Ιουδαϊκοῦ πολέμου πρὸς ῾Ρωμαίους, de Bello Judaico. This work, in seven books, constitutes our most complete and trustworthy source for a knowledge of that great war, so momentous in its consequences both to Judaism and to Christianity. The author wrote from personal knowledge of many of the events described, and had, besides, access to extensive and reliable written sources: and the general accuracy of the work may therefore be accepted. He says that he undertook the work for the purpose of giving a true narrative of the war, in consequence of the many false and distorted accounts which had already appeared in various quarters. He presented the work, when finished, to Vespasian and Titus, and obtained their approval and testimony to its trustworthiness: and hence it must have been written during the reign of Vespasian, probably toward the end of it, as other works upon the war had preceded his (B. J., Preface, §1).


The work, as Josephus informs us (B. J., Preface, §1; and contra Apion. I. 9), was written originally in his own tongue,—Aramaic,—and afterwards translated by himself into Greek, with the help of others. Eusebius inverts the fact, making the Greek the original.


The full title of this work is the Apology of Flavius Josephus on the Antiquities of the Jews against Apion (περὶ ἀρχαιότητος ᾽Ιουδαίων κατὰ ᾽Απίωνος, De Antiquitate Judæorum contra Apionem). It is ordinarily cited simply as contra Apionem (Against Apion). It consists of two books, and is, in fact, nothing else than an apology for Judaism in general, and to a less extent, a defense of himself and his former work (the Antiquities) against hostile critics. The common title, contra Apionem, is rather misleading, as he is not once mentioned in the first book, although in the first part of the second book he is attacked with considerable bitterness and through him a large class of enemies and detractors of Judaism. (Upon Apion, the famous Alexandrian and the bitter enemy of the Jews, see above, Bk. II. chap. 5, note 5.) The work is Josephus’ best effort from a literary point of view, and shows both learning and ability, and in spite of its brevity contains much of great value. It was written after his Antiquities (i.e. after 93 a.d.), how long afterward we cannot tell. These three works of Josephus, with his autobiography already mentioned (note 1), are all that are extant, although he seems to have written another work relating to the history of the Seleucidæ (cf. Ant. XIII. 2. 1, 2. 4, 4. 6, 5. 11) of which not a trace remains, and which is mentioned by no one else. The other works planned by Josephus—On God and his Essence (Ant. XX. 11. 3), and On the Laws of the Jews (ibid. and Ant. III. 5. 6, 8. 10)—seem never to have been written. (They are mentioned also by Eusebius in the next chapter.) Other compositions attributed to him are not from his hand. The best edition of the works of Josephus is that of Benedict Niese (Berlin, 1885 sq.), of which the first two volumes have been already issued, comprising ten books of the Antiquities. A good complete edition is that of Dindorf (Paris, 1845–47, 2 vols.). That of Bekker (Leipzig, 1855, 6 vols.) is very convenient. The only complete English translation is by Whiston, unfortunately uncritical and inaccurate. Traill’s translation of the Jewish War (London, 1862) is a great improvement, but does not cover the remainder of Josephus’ works. Upon Josephus and his writings, see the article of Edersheim in the Dict. of Christ. Biog. III. 441–460, and compare the literature given there.



Next: Chapter X

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