Josephus was a priest, a
soldier, and a scholar. He is famous for being the most credible secular historian to record the existence of Jesus Christ outside of the New Testament.
He was born Joseph ben Mattathias
in Jerusalem in 37 CE, a few years after
the time of Jesus, during the time of the Roman occupation of the Jewish
homeland. In his early twenties he was sent to Rome to negotiate the release
of several priests held hostage by Emperor Nero. When he returned home
after completing his mission he found the nation beginning a revolution
against the Romans.
Despite his foreboding that the cause was hopeless,
he was drafted into becoming commander of the revolutionary forces in Galilee,
where he spent more time controlling internal factions than fighting
the Roman army. When the city of Jotapata he was defending fell to the
Roman general Vespasian, Josephus and his supporters hid in a cave and
entered into a suicide pact, which Josephus oddly survived.
Taken prisoner by Vespasian, Josephus presented himself
as a prophet. Noting that the war had been propelled by an ancient oracle
that foretold a world ruler would arise from Judaea, Josephus asserted
that this referred to Vespasian, who was destined to become Emperor of
Rome. Intrigued, Vespasian spared his life. When this prophecy came true,
and Vespasian became Emperor, he rewarded Josephus handsomely, freeing
him from his chains and eventually adopting him into his family, the Flavians.
Josephus thus became Flavius Josephus.
During the remainder of the war, Josephus assisted
the Roman commander Titus, Vespasian's son, with understanding the Jewish
nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries. Called a traitor, he
was unable to persuade the defenders of Jerusalem to surrender to the Roman
siege, and instead became a witness to the destruction of the city and
the Holy Temple.
Living at the Flavian court in Rome,
Josephus undertook to write a history of the war he had witnessed. The
work, while apparently factually correct, also served to flatter his patron
and to warn other provinces against the folly of opposing the Romans. He
first wrote in his native language of Aramaic, then with assistance translated
it into Greek (the most-used language of the Empire). It was published
a few years after the end of the war, in about 78 CE.
He was about 40 years old.
Josephus subsequently improved his language
skills and undertook a massive work in Greek explaining the history of
the Jews to the general non-Jewish audience. He emphasized that the Jewish
culture and Bible were older than any other then existing, hence called
his work the Jewish Antiquities. Approximately half the work is
a rephrasing of the Hebrew Bible, while much of the rest draws on previous
historians. This work was published in 93 or 94 CE,
when he was about 56 years old.
In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus published his lengthy history of the Jews. While discussing the period in which the Jews of Judaea were governed by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, Josephus included the following account:
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
- Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63
(Based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library.)
Josephus wrote at least two smaller books, including
his autobiography, in which he recounts his life from birth until the writing
of the Antiquities. The year he died is unknown.