Josephus -- historian or novelist?

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by Phillip, Jan 15, 2005.

  1. Phillip

    Phillip
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    What are the thoughts of Josephus?

    I have heard it said that the story that Josephus tells of the Romans building the road up to the city (wow, can't remember the name...blank) anyway, the ancient Jewish city where everybody committed suicide and the final people cast lots, down to the last man, etc. was fiction created by Josephus.

    True? Not true?

    Was Josephus a good historian?

    Thoughts?

    Also, links containing info would be nice.
     
  2. Daniel David

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    He was propoganda for the Romans. Um, they did pay him to write their history.

    What is really sad is the number of so called belivers who use Josephus as their commentary on Scripture.
     
  3. Phillip

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    True.

    I honestly did not realize that the Romans paid him to write their history. (..guess ya gotta make a livin'). Well, in reality I should have known they would have paid him.

    How much of his works were sanctioned by the Romans? All of it? Just parts of it? If so which parts?

    The reason I ask this is that so much of his works appear to be the origin of the Jewish race (very similar to the OT) that I would be surprised the Romans would care about that.

    Can you tell us more about why and how his writings actually took place--regarding the Roman connection, etc.?

    I am NOT a historian and sadly I hated history in school. Now, I wish I had paid attention. It is such an interesting subject. I think some teachers just know how to make it a "miserable" subject. One high-school teacher I knew made the students memorize 30 dates every single day. Not ONE of those kids could stand history, and although it probably strengthened their "memorization muscles" it obviously did little for future learning.
     
  4. rsr

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    "I have heard it said that the story ... was fiction created by Josephus."

    Possibly. The striking similarity of the Masada tale and his own story (a a Jewish general, he and other rebels took refuge in a cave and took a suicide pact; for some reason, he survived) has raised some eyebrows.

    However, it is the only account extant, so it's the one we have to deal with. It is not a notably sympathetic account of the Zealots and pictures them not only as doomed but as murderous raiders of other Judean villages.

    Josephus has the distinction of being hated by the Jews in rebellion (who considered him a traitor) and mistrusted by Romans. Did that color his history? Possibly; but much of what he writes

    As a historian he is generally ranked among the better classical writers, such as Herodotus, Thucydides and Tacitus, which is pretty good company. (I would rather read Josephus than Herodotus, BTW. Fewer elements of the fabulous.)

    Historian Shaye Cohen has analyzed the Josephus account of Masada:

    "I conclude, then, that Josephus attempted to be reasonably accurate in matters which were verifiable by Silva and the Romans. He refrained from inventing glorious military actions for the Sicarii, and, we may assume, had some basis in fact for the ascription of murder-suicide to them. At least some of the Sicarii killed themselves rather than face the Romans. This fact was exaggerated and embellished. Silva could not object — Livy had done worse.

    We do not know what happened on the summit of Masada on the fifteenth of Xanthicus in 74 CE. The archaeological discoveries of Professor Yadin show that Masada was besieged by the Romans in the fashion described by Josephus, but they do not tell us how the defenders of Masada were killed. For this and for all the other details of Masada's history, we are dependent upon Josephus alone.

    ... Sitting in his study in Rome, Josephus improved on this story. He wanted Eleazar, the leader of the Sicarii, to take full responsibility for the war, to admit that his policies were wrong, to confess that he and his followers had sinned, and to utter the blasphemous notion that God had not only punished but also had rejected his people. Condemned by his own words, Eleazar and all his followers killed themselves, symbolizing the fate of all those who would follow in their footsteps and resist Rome. This was the work of Josephus the apologist for the Jewish people and the polemicist against Jewish revolutionaries. Josephus the rhetorical historian realized that the murder-suicide of some of the Sicarii at Masada would be far more dramatic and compelling if it became the murder-suicide of all the Sicarii. (Many historians before Josephus had similarly exaggerated collective suicides.) Josephus modeled the Masada narrative in part on his own description of the Jotapata episode, in part on the Greco-Roman historiographical tradition. Inspired by the former, he gave Eleazar a second speech, an antilogos to the speech which he claimed to have himself delivered at Jotapata, and invented (or exaggerated) the use of lots in the suicide process. Inspired by the latter, he had each Jew kill his wife and children (a motif derived from Greco-Roman stories of one pattern) and contribute his possessions to one large pile which was then set ablaze (a motif derived from stories of another pattern). Most important, Josephus learned from the (Greco-Roman tradition that collective suicide was to be an object of amazement, almost admiration, an attitude he failed to reconcile with his condemnation of the Sicarii. Out of these strantis-historical truth, a fertile imagination, a flair for drama and exaggeration, polemic against the Sicarii, and iliterary borrowings from other instances of collective suicide-Josephus created his Masada story."

    From "Masada, Literary Tradition, Archaeological Remains, and the Credibility of Josephus," by Shaye Cohen in the Journal of Jewish Studies, Spring-Autumn 1982.

    A complicating factor in analyzing Josephus' works is that there may have been emendations to the latter parts, including the Testimonium Flavianum, the only First Century reference to Jesus in secular literature. It has widely been argued to be a later addition (by a Christian.)
     
  5. Phillip

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    Wow, rsr. THAT is good. I certainly appreciate this. THANK YOU!!!
     
  6. Turpius

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    I agree, part of the problem with Josephus is that his is the only account we have concerning certain parts of Jewish history, so we're kind of stuck with him, like it or not. I would also agree witht rsr's assessment.
     
  7. Phillip

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    I notice Josephus spends a lot of time explaining his blood-line and qualities of his ancestors. Do you think this was just egotistical glorification; or was this something a historian would have done during this time-period to qualify his writings? (Or maybe some of both.)
     
  8. Turpius

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    I think a bit of both. Being a Jew, Josephus knew the importance of ancestry in his culture, but there is enough in his writings that shows an ego too.
     
  9. Phillip

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    Isn't it somewhat odd that the Christian movement is not major story told by Josephus since it apparently made such an impact during that period of time?

    What is the actual time that Josephus did most of his writing and how certain are we of the time? Could this be a reason for the answer to my first question?
     
  10. Turpius

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    Not for sure, but I think most of Josephus' writing was in the late 70's and 80's AD; he began shortly after the end of the Roman-Jewish War trying to justify himself to the Jews who considered him a traitor. Then to the Romans to justify his Jewish Heritage. I'm sure if you do a Google on Josephus, some site should have an approximate chronology.
     
  11. rsr

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    The Jewish War was published circa A.D. 78, Antiquities of the Jews circa A.D. 93. His defense and autobiography came later.
     
  12. Phillip

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    Why the lack of Christianity during part of its major growth?

    Possibly due to the unpopularity on both sides? (Jews and Romans)
     
  13. rsr

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    Some speculations:

    1. Christianity was so small as to not be noticeable or, worse, critics who contend Christianity is a second-century invention are correct. (The latter is a popular among some Jewish scholars, who reject the authenticity of both references to Jesus within the "Antiquities of the Jews."

    2. Josephus was working largely from official or Jewish-sanctioned sources and was largely concerned with the causes of the Jewish War during the period. Christians would be unlikely to be prominent in official sources and, presumably, either they played no part in the war or were subsumed in other Jewish groups.

    3. Many Palestinean Christians fled the province when hostilities began and thus would not be noticed during the course of the war.

    4. Josephus, watching his back, would not want to make too much of a sect that worshipped a Jew who had been executed for making himself equal to Caesar.

    5. Josephus, watching his back, would not want to make too much of a sect that worshipped a Jew who had been executed for making himself the equal of God.

    6. Josephus, Hellenist and Romophile that he was, didn't have much interest in the new sect, which existed in circles far from his interests and, for part of the period at least, would have seemed to be part of one of the larger divisions of Judaism.
     
  14. Benfranklin403

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    I am not entirely sure but I believe I have read that the ramp built by the Romans at Masada is still there, as it was made of earth and stone.
     
  15. Phillip

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    The historical onslaught of the Romans against Masada is well established. What exactly happened inside the city is another story.

    Josephus tells a very detailed story of the suicide of the inhabitants, where it went down to a few people killing each other and casting lots to determine who would have to kill himself, etc. This is the part that is being questioned.

    Yes, I think you are correct, and an interesting side note: All Israeli soldiers finish their training in the military by taking a trip to Masada and making an oath; "Never Again."

    Whether or not the inhabitant were actually killed by the Romans or committed suicide (probably a combination of both) it doesn't matter to the Israelis, their oath is to say they will never allow defeat again.
     
  16. Dr. Bob

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    I've visited Masada a dozen times. The ramp is there. The ruins of Herod's Palaces and the Jewish fortifications are still there. It is real.

    Modern revisionist historians (won't believe ANYTHING of history) say it was a battle site, but people lost, surrendered and were enslaved. They blow off Josephus as fanciful. No proof except their own thinking. Typical of liberal mindset.

    Every Israeli military recruit, after basic training, climbs Masada. On top, with a 20' menorah holding 7 torches, they are sworn in as soldiers. The last words of their oath is "Masada shall not fall again".
     

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