In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Flavius Josephus

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Essay Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Sources and Influences
  • As Historian and Author
  • Reception

Jewish Studies Flavius Josephus
Steve Mason, Eelco Glas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0049


When scholars speak of the history of Judaea in the early Roman period, they invariably depend on the work of Flavius Josephus. He is our main source for the later Hasmoneans, Roman administration of the region, the notorious King Herod, and figures of importance for the study of the New Testament such as Pontius Pilate or the high priest Caiaphas. Born in the year of the Emperor Caligula’s accession to the throne, Josephus (b. 37–d. c. 100 CE) lived through the extraordinarily important decades before Jerusalem fell to Roman armies (70 CE). As a thirty-year-old member of Jerusalem’s priestly elite, he was commanding Galilee’s defenses against the Roman onslaught in early 67 CE, when he was besieged and forced to capitulate. After spending the rest of the war in Roman custody and assisting the enemy with military intelligence, he was granted his freedom and maintenance in the city of Rome. There he began to write the history of his people—first, of the recent war and its causes (seven volumes on The Judaean War), and later, of Judaean history, law, and culture (twenty volumes on Judaean Antiquities plus an essay in two volumes known as Against Apion). To the longest work (Antiquities) he appended an autobiography, which, in the ancient fashion, focused on his personal status, character, and military-political achievements during the crisis with Rome.

General Overviews

As Bilde 1988 observes, the extensive use of Josephus’s works in Western history did not entail studying them as whole compositions. They were valued mainly for their sources and data, such that, until 1988, little scholarship existed to match the systematic analysis otherwise accorded classical and biblical authors, dealing with a work’s structures, themes, sources, date, occasion, and audience. We still lack a traditional Einleitung (systematic introduction) to Josephus’s works, but the studies in this section prepare the ground. Niese 1914 offers a survey of Josephus’s works in the classical mode, with much attention to sources though balanced by sage observations. Laqueur 1970 (cited under As Historian and Author) marks the first comprehensive effort to explain Josephus as a thinking author, over against the established view of his works as anthologies. Thackeray 1967 served as the main textbook for most of the twentieth century; the author publicized in English many of Laqueur’s ideas. Shutt 1961 attempts balance in coverage but mainly interacts with Thackeray 1967. Attridge 1984 reflects Cohen 1979 (cited under As Historian and Author), which portrayed a basic shift in Josephus’s perspective, while making a first attempt to outline the works in a general way. Feldman 1984 focuses on developments in evidence and scholarly interest since Thackeray 1967. Rajak 2002 calls for understanding Josephus in light of his social type. Bilde 1988 was a watershed, carefully evaluating all scholarship until then and calling for a new appreciation of Josephus as author. Mason 2003 offers a new, comprehensive sketch of Josephus’s life and works in Roman context. Chapman and Rodgers 2016, a carefully designed collection, provides the best overview of Josephus’s life and writings, including text-critical and reception-historical issues.

  • Attridge, Harold W. “Josephus and His Works.” In Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus. Edited by Michael E. Stone, 185–232. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1984.

    A valuable survey of Josephus’s life and works by a pioneering specialist, which reflects the prepossessions of the time. Josephus’s works are read less as compositions than as products of his sources tempered by his apologetic “tendencies.” Nevertheless, the author makes an original effort at identifying general themes and structures. The notion of a fundamental shift from War (for the Romans) to Antiquities (rapprochement with fellow Jews) remains prominent.

  • Bilde, Per. Flavius Josephus between Jerusalem and Rome: His Life, His Works and Their Importance. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988.

    This is the closest work we have to a monograph introduction to the current field. Bilde covers Josephus’s life and writings, modern research, and the interpretation and proper use of Josephus. Mainly summarizing massive amounts of research to date, Bilde criticizes the “classical conception” for its arbitrary use of Josephus. He advocates (but lacks the space to develop) a critical use of the author based on careful interpretation.

  • Chapman, Honora Howell, and Zuleika Rodgers, eds. A Companion to Josephus. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.

    Matching Josephus’s four works in thirty volumes, this volume has thirty chapters under four headings: Writings, Josephus’s Literary Context, Themes, and Transmission and Reception History. “Context” includes Josephus’s Greek and Roman worlds as well as his connections with the Bible, Philo, and the New Testament. “Themes” are both Josephan foci (military matters, Hasmoneans, Herod, sects, temple, priesthood) and issues of interest to scholars that he did not formulate (archaeology, women, halacha, rabbinic literature). The fourth category is vast (Greek manuscripts, Latin Josephus, testimonium flavianum, patristic use, medieval reception, Yosippon, Slavonic version, Renaissance Italy, Thomas Lodge, modern Hebrew, and Monty Python’s Life of Brian). Because the essays were invited from experts, coverage is both full and authoritative.

  • Feldman, Louis H. “Flavius Josephus Revisited: The Man, His Writings, and His Significance.” In Halbband: Religion (Hellenistiches Judentum in römischer Zeit: Philon und Josephus [Forts.]). Vol. 21.2 of Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung. Edited by Hildegard Temporini and Wolfgang Haase, 763–862. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1984.

    As the title suggests (anticipating Bilde 1988), Feldman updated the work of Thackeray by surveying the most important developments in related areas. The diversity of these developments (on the 10th-century Yosippon, the Arabic version of the passage on Jesus, Josephus’s Bible, and textual issues) anticipated the broad coverage of two essay volumes edited by Louis Feldman and Gōhai Hata (Feldman and Hata 1987, cited under Reception, and Feldman and Hata 1989, cited under Essay Collections).

  • Mason, Steve. Josephus and the New Testament. 2d ed. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003.

    Aims to displace the customary use of Josephus (as a source of background data), arguing that Josephus’s works need to be interpreted first according to their situations and aims. The first three chapters deal with Josephus as an author, offering an interpretation of each work (chapter 3). With Bilde 1988, those chapters may serve as a provisional introduction to Josephus.

  • Niese, Benedictus. “Josephus.” In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol. 7. Edited by J. Hastings, 569–579. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1914.

    A succinct overview by the classicist who created the Greek text we still use. His essay contains much, for example, on the unity of Josephus’s works and his basic control over his source material—that would later be sidelined, to be recovered in recent decades. Based on Benedictus Niese, “Der jüdische Historiker Flavius Josephus,” Historische Zeitschrift N.F. 40 (1896): 193–237.

  • Rajak, Tessa. Josephus: The Historian and His Society. London: Duckworth, 2002.

    As the title suggests, chiefly interested in Josephus as a member of the priestly aristocracy, a type matched by other Mediterranean elites, with the complexities and contradictions that suggests. On the one hand, drives a wedge between Josephus’s narrative and historical reality; on the other, rejects dismissals of Josephus’s claims because of the contradictions. Reprint of 1983 original.

  • Shutt, R. J. H. Studies in Josephus. London: SPCK, 1961.

    Although the work formally covers Josephus’s life and his three main works, the somewhat haphazard choice of interests justifies the title. Coverage of the War includes occasion, method (not dependent on Roman sources), and historical reliability. Both in this material and in the Antiquities chapters, Shutt argues against Thackeray’s assistant theory by showing consistency throughout. For the later Antiquities volumes, he highlights influences from Hellenistic historians.

  • Thackeray, Henry St. John. Josephus: The Man and the Historian. New York: Ktav, 1967.

    These 1926 lectures functioned as the main textbook for more than fifty years. According to Thackeray, the War was essentially Roman propaganda, albeit meshing with Josephus’s convictions, whereas the later writings were efforts at reintegration with his Jewish roots. Antiquities was padded to match the twenty volumes of Roman Antiquities of Dionysius. In spite of views that now seem eccentric, concerning slave ghost writers, the lost Aramaic, and the Slavonic Josephus, this remains a classic.

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