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The Antiquities of the Jews, Volume 4

By: Flavius Josephus

Antiquities of the Jews is a 20-volume historiographical work, written in Greek, by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the 13th year of the reign of Roman emperor Flavius Domitian which was around AD 93 or 94. Antiquities of the Jews contains an account of history of the Jewish people for Josephus' gentile patrons. In the first ten volumes, Josephus follows the events of the historical books of the Hebrew Bible beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve.

Josephus' Judean Antiquities is a vital source for the history of the Intertestamental period and the Jewish war against Rome.

 

In the preface of Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus provides his motivation for composing such a large work. He writes:

 

Now I have undertaken the present work, as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks worthy of their study; for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government, as interpreted out of the Hebrew Scriptures.

 

Josephan scholar Louis Feldman highlights several of the misconceptions about the Jewish people that were being circulated in Josephus' time. In particular, the Jews were thought to lack great historical figures and a credible history of their people. They were also accused of harboring hostility toward non-Jews, and were thought to be generally lacking in loyalty, respect for authority, and charity. With these harsh accusations against the Jews fluttering about the Roman empire, Josephus, formerly Joseph ben Matthias, set out to provide a Hellenized version of the Jewish history. Such a work is often called an "apologia," as it pleads the case of a group of people or set of beliefs to a larger audience.

 

In order to accomplish this goal, Josephus omitted certain accounts in the Jewish narrative and even added a Hellenistic "glaze" to his work. For example, the "Song of The Sea" sung by Moses and the people of Israel after their deliverance at the Red Sea is completely omitted in Josephus' text. He does mention, however, that Moses composed a song to God in hexameter—a rather unusual (and Greek) metrical scheme for an ancient Hebrew. Josephus also writes that Abraham taught science to the Egyptians, who in turn taught the Greeks, and that Moses set up a senatorial priestly aristocracy, which like Rome resisted monarchy. Thus, in an attempt to make the Jewish history more palatable to his Greco-Roman audience, the great figures of the biblical stories are presented as ideal philosopher-leaders.

 

In another example, apparently due to his concern with pagan antisemitism, Josephus omitted the entire episode of the golden calf from his account of the Israelites at Mount Sinai. It has been suggested that he was afraid that the biblical account might be employed by Alexandrian antisemites to lend credence to their allegation that the Jews worshiped an ass's head in the Temple (cf. Apion 2:80, 114, 120; Tacitus, Histories 5:4). He also made discredited allegations that the Ancient Egyptians forced the Jewish slaves to build the pyramids, writing “They [the Egyptian taskmasters] set them also to build pyramids.”.

 

Josephus also adds a short account of his personal life, Vita, as an appendix to the Judean Antiquities.

 

Antiquities of the Jews contains a good deal of valuable, sometimes unique, historical material. This applies, for example, to the history of the Hellenistic states, Parthia, Armenia, the Nabatean kingdom. Roman power, to the history of Rome's conquest of the states of Western Asia. It is no accident that in the Middle Ages and in modern times this book of Josephus was considered one of the most important sources in ancient Roman history, along with the works of Titus Livius, Tacitus, Suetonius, and one of the most erudite Christian authors of the 4th–5th centuries, Jerome called Josephus Flavius "Titus Livius of the Greeks".

 

The extant copies of this work, which all derive from Christian sources, contain two disputed passages about Jesus. The long one has come to be known as the Testimonium Flavianum. If genuine, it is an early extrabiblical record of Jesus, and as such is sometimes cited as independent evidence for the historical existence of Jesus.

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

English

Published In

1544

Author

Titus Flavius Josephus was a first-century Romano-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem—then part of Roman Judea—to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestr...

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