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Author of “Philo-Judaeus of Alexandria”





Josephus hardly merits a place on his own account in a series of Jewish
Worthies, since neither as man of action nor as man of letters did he
deserve particularly well of his nation. It is not his personal
worthiness, but the worth of his work, that recommends him to the
attention of the Jewish people. He was not a loyal general, and he was
not a faithful chronicler of the struggle with Rome; but he had the
merit of writing a number of books on the Jews and Judaism, which not
only met the desire for knowledge of his nation in his own day, but
which have been preserved through the ages and still remain one of the
chief authorities for Jewish history. He lived at the great crisis of
his people, when it stood at the parting of the ways. And while in his
life he was patronized by those who had destroyed the national center,
after his death he found favor with that larger religious community
which was beginning to carry part of the Jewish mission to the Gentiles.
For centuries Josephus was regarded by the Christians as the standard
historian of the Jews, and, though for long he was forgotten and
neglected by his own people, in modern times he has been carefully
studied also by them, and his merits and demerits both as patriot and as
writer have been critically examined.

It has been my especial aim in this book to consider Josephus from the
Jewish point of view. I have made no attempt to extenuate his personal
conduct or his literary faults. My judgment may appear somewhat severe,
but it is when tried by the test of faithfulness to his nation that
Josephus is found most wanting; and I hope that while extenuating
nothing I have not set down aught in malice.

Of the extensive literature bearing on the subject, the books to which I
am under the greatest obligation are Niese’s text of the collected works
and Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus. I
have given in an Appendix a Bibliography, which contains the names of
most of the works I have referred to. I would mention in particular
Schlatter’s Zur Topographie und Geschichte Palästinas, which is a
remarkably stimulating and suggestive book, and which confirmed a view I
had formed independently, that in the Wars, as in the Antiquities,
Josephus is normally a compiler of other men’s writings, and constantly
expresses opinions not his own.

My greatest debt of thanks, however, is due to the spoken rather than
the written word. Doctor Büchler, the Principal of Jews’ College,
London, has constantly assisted me with advice, directed me to sources
of information, and let me draw plentifully from his own large stores of
knowledge about Josephus; and Doctor Friedlaender, Sabato Morais
Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, has done me the
brotherly service of reading my manuscript and making many valuable
suggestions on it. To their generous help this book owes more than I can


Cairo, February, 1914.











The life and works of Flavius Josephus are bound up with the struggle of
the Jews against the Romans, and in order to appreciate them it is
necessary to summarize the relations of the two peoples that led up to
that struggle.

It is related in the Midrash that the city of Rome was founded on the
day Solomon married an Egyptian princess. The Rabbis doubtless meant by
this legend that the power of Rome was created to be a scourge for
Israel’s backslidings. They identified Rome with the Edom of the Bible,
representing thus that the struggle between Esau and Jacob was carried
on by their descendants, the Romans and the Jews, and would continue
throughout history.[1] Yet the earliest relations of the two peoples
were friendly and peaceful. They arose out of the war of independence
that the Maccabean brothers waged against the Syrian Empire in the
middle of the second century B.C.E., when the loyal among the people
were roused to stand up for their faith. Antiochus Epiphanes, anxious to
strengthen his tottering empire, which had been shaken by its struggles
with Rome, sought to force violently on the Jews a pagan Hellenism that
was already making its way among them. He succeeded only in evoking the
latent force of their national consciousness. Rome was already the
greatest power in the world: she had conquered the whole of Italy; she
had destroyed her chief rival in the West, the Phoenician colony of
Carthage; she had made her will supreme in Greece and Macedonia. Her
senate was the arbiter of the destinies of kingdoms, and though for the
time it refrained from extending Roman sway over Egypt and Asia, its
word there was law. Its policy was “divide and rule,” to hold supreme
sway by encouraging small nationalities to maintain their independence
against the unwieldy empires which the Hellenistic successors of
Alexander had carved out for themselves in the Orient.

[Footnote 1: Lev. R. xiii. (5), quoted in Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic

Theology, p. 100.]

At the bidding of the Roman envoy, Antiochus Epiphanes himself,
immediately before his incursion into Jerusalem, had slunk away from
Alexandria; and hence it was natural that Judas Maccabaeus, when he had
vindicated the liberty of his nation, should look to Rome for support in
maintaining that liberty. In the year 161 B.C.E. he sent Eupolemus the
son of Johanan and Jason the son of Eleazar, “to make a league of amity
and confederacy with the Romans”[1]: and the Jews were received as
friends, and enrolled in the class of Socii. His brother Jonathan
renewed the alliance in 146 B.C.E.; Simon renewed it again five years
later, and John Hyrcanus, when he succeeded to the high priesthood, made
a fresh treaty.[2] Supported by the friendship, and occasionally by the
diplomatic interference, of the Western Power, the Jews did not require
the intervention of her arms to uphold their independence against the
Seleucid monarchs, whose power was rapidly falling into ruin. At the
beginning of the first century B.C.E., however, Rome, having emerged
triumphant from a series of civil struggles in her own dominions, found
herself compelled to take an active part in the affairs of the East.
During her temporary eclipse there had been violent upheavals in Asia.
The semi-barbarous kings of Pontus and Armenia took advantage of the
opportunity to overrun the Hellenized provinces and put all the Greek
and Roman inhabitants to the sword. To avenge this outrage, Rome sent to
the East, in 73 B.C.E., her most distinguished soldier, Pompeius, or
Pompey, who, in two campaigns, laid the whole of Asia Minor and Syria at
his feet.

[Footnote 1: I Macc. viii. 7. It is interesting to note that the sons
had Greek names, while their fathers had Hebrew names.]

[Footnote 2: I Macc. xii. 3; xiv. 24.]

Unfortunately civil strife was waging in Palestine between the two
Hasmonean brothers, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, who fought for the throne
on the death of the queen Alexandra Salome. Both in turn appealed to
Pompey to come to their aid, on terms of becoming subject to the Roman
overlord. At the same time, a deputation from the Jewish nation appeared
before the general, to declare that they did not desire to be ruled by
kings: “for what was handed down to them from their fathers was that
they should obey the priests of God; but these two princes, though the
descendants of priests, sought to transfer the nation to another form of
government, that it might he enslaved.”

Pompey, who had resolved to establish a strong government immediately
subject to Rome over the whole of the near Orient, finally interfered on
behalf of Hyrcanus. Aristobulus resisted, at first somewhat
half-heartedly, but afterwards, when the Roman armies laid siege to
Jerusalem, with fierce determination. The struggle was in vain. On a
Sabbath, it is recorded, when the Jews desisted from their defense, the
Roman general forced his way into the city, and, regardless of Jewish
feeling, entered the Holy of Holies. The intrigues of the Jewish royal
house had brought about the subjection of the nation. As it is said in
the apocryphal Psalms of Solomon, which were written about this time: “A
powerful smiter has God brought from the ends of the earth. He decreed
war upon the Jews and the land. The princes of the land went out with
joy to meet him, and said to him, ‘Blessed be thy way; draw near and
enter in peace.'” Yet Pompey did not venture, or did not care, to
destroy or rob the Temple, according to Cicero and Josephus,[1] because
of his innate moderation, but really, one may suspect, from less noble
motives. It was the custom of the Roman conquerors to demand the
surrender, not only of the earthly possessions of the conquered, but of
their gods, and to carry the vanquished images in the triumph which they
celebrated. But Pompey may have recognized the difference between the
Jewish religion and that of other peoples, or he realized the widespread
power of the Jewish people, which would rise as a single body in defense
of its religion; for he made no attempt to interfere either with Jewish
religious liberties, or with a worship that Cicero declared to be
“incompatible with the majesty of the Empire.”

[Footnote 1: Cicero, Pro Flacco, 69, and Ant. XVI. iv, 4.]

The Jews, however, were henceforth the clients, instead of the allies,
of Rome. Though Hyrcanus was recognized by Pompey as the high priest and
ethnarch of Judea, and his wily counselor, the Idumean Antipater, was
given a general power of administering the country, they were alike
subject to the governor of Syria, which was now constituted a Roman
province. Moreover, the Hellenistic cities along the coast of Palestine
and on the other side of Jordan, which had been subjugated by John
Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus, were restored to independence, and
placed under special Roman protection, and the Jewish territory itself
was shortly thereafter split by the Roman governor Gabinius into five
toparchies, or provinces, each with a separate administration.

The guiding aim of the conqueror was to weaken the Oriental power (as
the Jews were regarded) and strengthen the Hellenistic element in the
country. The Jews were soon to feel the heavy hand and suffer the
insatiate greed of Rome. National risings were put down with merciless
cruelty, the Temple treasury was spoiled in 56 B.C.E. by the avaricious
Crassus, one of the triumvirate that divided the Roman Empire, when he
passed Jerusalem on his way to fight against the Parthians; even the
annual offering contributed voluntarily by the Jews of the Diaspora to
the Temple was seized by a profligate governor of Asia. The Roman
aristocrats during the last years of the Republic were a degenerate
body; they regarded a governorship as the opportunity of unlimited
extortion, the means of recouping themselves for all the gross expenses
incurred on attaining office, and of making themselves and their friends
affluent for the rest of their lives. And Judea was a fresh quarry.

A happier era seemed to be dawning for the Jews when Julius Caesar
became dictator. At the beginning of the civil war between him and
Pompey, Hyrcanus, at the instance of Antipater, prepared to support the
man to whom he owed his position; but when Pompey was murdered,
Antipater led the Jewish forces to the help of Caesar, who was hard
pressed at Alexandria. His timely help and his influence over the
Egyptian Jews recommended him to Caesar’s favor, and secured for him an
extension of his authority in Palestine, and for Hyrcanus the
confirmation of his ethnarchy. Joppa was restored to the Hasmonean
domain, Judea was granted freedom from all tribute and taxes to Rome,
and the independence of the internal administration was guaranteed.
Caesar, too, whatever may have been his motive, showed favor to the Jews
throughout his Empire. Mommsen thinks that he saw in them an effective
leaven of cosmopolitanism and national decomposition, and to that intent
gave them special privileges; but this seems a perverse reason to assign
for the grant of the right to maintain in all its thoroughness their
national life, and for their exemption from all Imperial or municipal
burdens that would conflict with it. It is more reasonable to suppose
that, taking in this as in many other things a broader view than that of
his countrymen, Caesar recognized the weakness of a world-state whose
members were so denationalized as to have no strong feeling for any
common purpose, no passion of loyalty to any community, and he favored
Judaism as a counteracting force to this peril.

His various enactments constituted, as it were, a Magna Charta of the
Jews in the Empire; Judaism was a favored cult in the provinces, a
licita religio in the capital. At Alexandria Caesar confirmed and
extended the religious and political privileges of the Jews, and ordered
his decree to be inscribed on pillars of brass and set up in a public
place. At Rome, though the devotees of Bacchus were forbidden to meet,
he permitted the Jews to hold their assemblies and celebrate their
ceremonials. At his instance the Hellenistic cities of Asia passed
similar favorable decrees for the benefit of the Jewish congregations in
their midst, which invested them with a kind of local autonomy. The
proclamation of the Sardians is typical. “This decree,” it runs, “was
made by the senate and people, upon the representation of the praetors:

“Whereas those Jews who are our fellow-citizens, and live with us in
this city, have ever had great benefits heaped upon them by the people,
and have come now into the senate, and desired of the people that, upon
the restitution of their law and their liberty by the senate and people
of Rome, they may assemble together according to their ancient legal
custom, and that we will not bring any suit against them about it; and
that a place may be given them where they may hold their congregations
with their wives and children, and may offer, as did their forefathers,
their prayers and sacrifices to God:—now the senate and people have
decreed to permit them to assemble together on the days formerly
appointed, and to act according to their own laws; and that such a place
be set apart for them by the praetors for the building and inhabiting
the same as they shall esteem fit for that purpose, and that those who
have control of the provisions of the city shall take care that such
sorts of food as they esteem fit for their eating may be imported into
the city.”[1]

[Footnote 1: Ant. XIV. x. 24.]

Caesar’s decrees marked the culmination of Roman tolerance, and the Jews
enjoyed their privileges for but a short time. It is related by the
historian Suetonius that they lamented his death more bitterly than any
other class.[1] And they had good reason. The Republicans, who had
murdered him, and his ministers, who avenged him, vied with each other
for the support of the Jewish princes; but the people in Palestine
suffered from the burden that the rivals imposed on the provinces in
their efforts to raise armies. Antipater and his ambitious sons Herod
and Phasael contrived to maintain their tyranny amid the constant
shifting of power; and when the hardy mountaineers of Galilee strove
under the lead of one Hezekiah (Ezekias), the founder of the party of
the Zealots, to shake off the Roman yoke, Herod ruthlessly put down the
revolt. But when Antigonus, the son of that Aristobulus who had been
deprived of his kingdom by Hyrcanus and Pompey, roused the Parthians to
invade Syria and Palestine, the Jews eagerly rose in support of the
scion of the Maccabean house, and drove out the hated Idumeans with
their puppet Jewish king. The struggle between the people and the Romans
had begun in earnest, and though Antigonus, when placed on the throne by
the Parthians, proceeded to spoil and harry the Jews, rejoicing at the
restoration of the Hasmonean line, thought a new era of independence had

[Footnote 1: Suetonius, Caesar, lxxxiv. 7.]

The infatuation of Mark Antony for Cleopatra enabled Antigonus to hold
his kingdom for three years (40-37 B.C.E.). Then Herod, who had escaped
to Rome, returned to Syria to conquer the kingdom that Antony had
bestowed on him. He brought with him the Roman legions, and for two
years a fierce struggle was waged between the Idumeans, Romans, and
Romanizing Jews on the one hand, and the national Jews and Parthian
mercenaries of Antigonus on the other. The struggle culminated in a
siege of Jerusalem. As happened in all the contests for the city, the
power of trained force in the end prevailed over the enthusiasm of
fervent patriots. Herod stormed the walls, put to death Antigonus and
his party, and established a harsher tyranny than even the Roman
conqueror had imposed. For over thirty years he held the people down
with the aid of Rome and his body-guard of mercenary barbarians. His
constitution was an autocracy, supplemented by assassination. In the
civil war between Antony and Octavian, he was first on the losing side,
as his father had been in the struggle between Pompey and Caesar; but,
like his father, he knew when to go over to the victor. The master of
the Roman Empire, henceforth known as Augustus, was so impressed with
his carriage and resolution that he not only confirmed him in his
kingdom, but added to it the territories of Chalcis and Perea to the
north and east of the Jordan. Throughout his reign Herod contrived to
preserve the friendship of Rome as effectually as he contrived to arouse
the hatred of his Jewish subjects. “The Imperial Eagle and some
distinguished Roman or other,” says George Adam Smith,[1] “were always
fixed in Herod’s heaven.” He ruled with a strong but merciless hand. He
insured peace, and while he turned his own home into a slaughter-house,
he glorified the Jewish dominion outwardly to a height and magnificence
it had never before attained. Yet the Jewish deputation that went to
plead before Augustus on his death declared that “Herod had put such
abuses on them as a wild beast would not have done, and no calamity they
had suffered was comparable with that which he had brought on the
nation.”[2] Beneath the fine show of peace, splendor, and expansion, the
passions of the nation were being aroused to the breaking-point.

[Footnote 1: Jerusalem, ii. 504.]

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