Some historians are scholars, others are propagandists, and still others live the history that they go on to record. Yosef ben Matityahu, better known as Flavius Josephus (or just Josephus), was all three.
Born around 37 CE, Josephus was the second son of a wealthy priestly family of Jerusalem. His first journey to Rome occurred in 63 CE, when he was sent to secure the release of some Jewish priests imprisoned in Rome. When he returned from his mission, the Jewish people were on the brink of revolt. Although Josephus later asserted that he was a moderate (inferring that he did not advocate revolt), he was appointed the commander of the Galilee. The Galileans, however, already had a local leader, and many attribute the defeat that followed to the two men’s inability to work together.
The great turning point in Josephus’ life took place at Yodfata. Facing defeat, Josephus ordered his troops to flee. The men made a suicide pact (a common act at the time as capture by Rome often meant Crucifixion or enslavement), but Josephus deviously positioned himself to be one of the last to die. Instead, he himself surrendered to the Roman general, Vespasian. He then told Vespasian that the general was ordained by prophecy to become the Roman emperor. This saved Josephus from crucifixion, but he remained a prisoner until Vespasian did, in fact, become emperor (c. 69 CE).
Josephus then joined Vespasian’s son, Titus, on his campaign against Jerusalem (serving as a translator). After the fall of Jerusalem, Josephus settled in Rome. Over the course of the next 30 years, Josephus wrote his famous histories. His works have shed significant light on life at the end of the Temple era.
Although Josephus is villainized for joining the Romans, it is believed by many scholars that he continued to live a Jewish life.
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