Full name: Josephus Flavius
Original name: Yosef Ben Matityahu
(Ca. 37-ca. 100) Jewish historian, famous for giving the first recorded accounts on Jesus, but his importance rests mainly in describing early Judaism.
He was a moderate Jew in a time of strong schisms and conflicts. His early sympathies were with the Pharisees, who represented non-nationalistic Judaism. Apparently he opposed the militant Zealots and other groups that objected in principle to Roman control of Judah.
What we know about Josephus is from himself, but in some works he defends himself against accusations, accusations that indirectly emerge as alternative sources. The most crucial incident in his life, during the First Jewish revolt, makes one wonder. He claims to have been most reluctant to the rebellion in the first place, still he was appointed military commander of Galilee. Why would the Jews appoint a man who was not only as young as 29 but also outspokenly reluctant to the whole cause?
Of quite some interest are the accusations of Justus of Tiberias, who said that Josephus was nothing less than the one responsible for the revolt.
From his life story, Josephus appears as vain, callous and self-seeking. He was also a man of great charm and wit, marrying 4 times and gaining access to the elite in Rome. He is, of course, from a Jewish perspective considered a traitor. Yet, he remained true to the Judaic faith all his life, and his assessment that a struggle against Rome was futile, appears both pragmatic and sensible.
His main works are History of the Jewish War, The Antiquities of the Jews and Against Apion. The year of publishing for the latter is unknown, it could have been a few years before, or after, 100.
History of the Jewish War
This work was published 75-79. It was originally written in Aramaic, but a Greek version was made under his supervision. Only the Greek has survived.
The book has clear elements of trying to convince its readers about the invincibility of the Roman military, probably aiming especially at Jews living in Mesopotamia to prevent them from starting their own revolt. By this, Josephus gives us much valuable information about Roman warfare and tactics.
The Antiquities of the Jews
This work was finished in 93, and is an attempt to present Judaism without its extreme sides, making it favourable to the Hellenistic world. Although the actual quality of the book is poor, with many historical glitches, it is still our only source to much information about Judaism. The work also mentions Jesus, calling him "so-called Christ".
37 or 38: Born into an aristocratic priestly family in Jerusalem.
53: Begins a 3 year stay in the wilderness with the hermit, Bannus, one of several ascetic Jews common to this time.
56: Returns to Jerusalem, joining the Pharisees.
64: Sent to Rome to ask for the release of imprisoned Jewish priests. In this task he succeeds, after making good relations with the the second wife of Emperor Nero.
66: Outbreak of the First Jewish revolt, Josephus becomes military commander of Galilee, and oversees the fortifying of of important towns.
67: Roman general, Vespasian, attacks Josephus' strongholds, quickly gaining ground.
Hiding from the Romans in a cave, Josephus' men commit suicide, but he surrenders to the Romans. As Josephus appeared as a prophet, stating that Vespasian would become the next Roman emperor, he is imprisoned instead of executed.
69: Vespasian becomes emperor, and Josephus is freed. Josephus joins Vespasian, even adopts the name Flavius, the family name of Vespasian.
70: Joins the Roman forces at the siege of Jerusalem.
71: Following the destruction of the Temple, he moves to live permanently in Rome, where he is granted Roman citizenship and a pension.
79: Completes his History of the Jewish War.
93: Publishes The Antiquities of the Jews.
Around 100: Dies in Rome. The actual year is uncertain.