1. THOSE who undertake to write histories, do not, I perceive, take that trouble on one and the same account, but for many reasons, and those such as are very different one from another. For some of them apply themselves to this part of learning to show their skill in composition, and that they may therein acquire a reputation for speaking finely: others of them there are, who write histories in order to gratify those that happen to be concerned in them, and on that account have spared no pains, but rather gone beyond their own abilities in the performance: but others there are, who, of necessity and by force, are driven to write history, because they are concerned in the facts, and so cannot excuse themselves from committing them to writing, for the advantage of posterity; nay, there are not a few who are induced to draw their historical facts out of darkness into light, and to produce them for the benefit of the public, on account of the great importance of the facts themselves with which they have been concerned. Now of these several reasons for writing history, I must profess the two last were my own reasons also; for since I was myself interested in that war which we Jews had with the Romans, and knew myself its particular actions, and what conclusion it had, I was forced to give the history of it, because I saw that others perverted the truth of those actions in their writings.
2. 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. And indeed I did formerly intend, when I wrote of the war, to explain who the Jews originally were, – what fortunes they had been subject to, – and by what legislature they had been instructed in piety, and the exercise of other virtues, – what wars also they had made in remote ages, till they were unwillingly engaged in this last with the Romans: but because this work would take up a great compass, I separated it into a set treatise by itself, with a beginning of its own, and its own conclusion; but in process of time, as usually happens to such as undertake great things, I grew weary and went on slowly, it being a large subject, and a difficult thing to translate our history into a foreign, and to us unaccustomed language. However, some persons there were who desired to know our history, and so exhorted me to go on with it; and, above all the rest, Epaphroditus, a man who is a lover of all kind of learning, but is principally delighted with the knowledge of history, and this on account of his having been himself concerned in great affairs, and many turns of fortune, and having shown a wonderful rigor of an excellent nature, and an immovable virtuous resolution in them all. I yielded to this man’s persuasions, who always excites such as have abilities in what is useful and acceptable, to join their endeavors with his. I was also ashamed myself to permit any laziness of disposition to have a greater influence upon me, than the delight of taking pains in such studies as were very useful: I thereupon stirred up myself, and went on with my work more cheerfully. Besides the foregoing motives, I had others which I greatly reflected on; and these were, that our forefathers were willing to communicate such things to others; and that some of the Greeks took considerable pains to know the affairs of our nation.
3. I found, therefore, that the second of the Ptolemies was a king who was extraordinarily diligent in what concerned learning, and the collection of books; that he was also peculiarly ambitious to procure a translation of our law, and of the constitution of our government therein contained, into the Greek tongue. Now Eleazar the high priest, one not inferior to any other of that dignity among us, did not envy the forenamed king the participation of that advantage, which otherwise he would for certain have denied him, but that he knew the custom of our nation was, to hinder nothing of what we esteemed ourselves from being communicated to others. Accordingly, I thought it became me both to imitate the generosity of our high priest, and to suppose there might even now be many lovers of learning like the king; for he did not obtain all our writings at that time; but those who were sent to Alexandria as interpreters, gave him only the books of the law, while there were a vast number of other matters in our sacred books. They, indeed, contain in them the history of five thousand years; in which time happened many strange accidents, many chances of war, and great actions of the commanders, and mutations of the form of our government. Upon the whole, a man that will peruse this history, may principally learn from it, that all events succeed well, even to an incredible degree, and the reward of felicity is proposed by God; but then it is to those that follow his will, and do not venture to break his excellent laws: and that so far as men any way apostatize from the accurate observation of them, what was practical before becomes impracticable and whatsoever they set about as a good thing, is converted into an incurable calamity. And now I exhort all those that peruse these books, to apply their minds to God; and to examine the mind of our legislator, whether he hath not understood his nature in a manner worthy of him; and hath not ever ascribed to him such operations as become his power, and hath not preserved his writings from those indecent fables which others have framed, although, by the great distance of time when he lived, he might have securely forged such lies; for he lived two thousand years ago; at which vast distance of ages the poets themselves have not been so hardy as to fix even the generations of their gods, much less the actions of their men, or their own laws. As I proceed, therefore, I shall accurately describe what is contained in our records, in the order of time that belongs to them; for I have already promised so to do throughout this undertaking; and this without adding any thing to what is therein contained, or taking away any thing therefrom.
4. But because almost all our constitution depends on the wisdom of Moses, our legislator, I cannot avoid saying somewhat concerning him beforehand, though I shall do it briefly; I mean, because otherwise those that read my book may wonder how it comes to pass, that my discourse, which promises an account of laws and historical facts, contains so much of philosophy. The reader is therefore to know, that Moses deemed it exceeding necessary, that he who would conduct his own life well, and give laws to others, in the first place should consider the Divine nature; and, upon the contemplation of God’s operations, should thereby imitate the best of all patterns, so far as it is possible for human nature to do, and to endeavor to follow after it: neither could the legislator himself have a right mind without such a contemplation; nor would any thing he should write tend to the promotion of virtue in his readers; I mean, unless they be taught first of all, that God is the Father and Lord of all things, and sees all things, and that thence he bestows a happy life upon those that follow him; but plunges such as do not walk in the paths of virtue into inevitable miseries. Now when Moses was desirous to teach this lesson to his countrymen, he did not begin the establishment of his laws after the same manner that other legislators did; I mean, upon contracts and other rights between one man and another, but by raising their minds upwards to regard God, and his creation of the world; and by persuading them, that we men are the most excellent of the creatures of God upon earth. Now when once he had brought them to submit to religion, he easily persuaded them to submit in all other things: for as to other legislators, they followed fables, and by their discourses transferred the most reproachful of human vices unto the gods, and afforded wicked men the most plausible excuses for their crimes; but as for our legislator, when he had once demonstrated that God was possessed of perfect virtue, he supposed that men also ought to strive after the participation of it; and on those who did not so think, and so believe, he inflicted the severest punishments. I exhort, therefore, my readers to examine this whole undertaking in that view; for thereby it will appear to them, that there is nothing therein disagreeable either to the majesty of God, or to his love to mankind; for all things have here a reference to the nature of the universe; while our legislator speaks some things wisely, but enigmatically, and others under a decent allegory, but still explains such things as required a direct explication plainly and expressly. However, those that have a mind to know the reasons of every thing, may find here a very curious philosophical theory, which I now indeed shall wave the explication of; but if God afford me time for it, I will set about writing it after I have finished the present work. I shall now betake myself to the history before me, after I have first mentioned what Moses says of the creation of the world, which I find described in the sacred books after the manner following.
This preface of Josephus is excellent in its kind, and highly worthy the repeated perusal of the reader, before he set about the perusal of the work itself.
That is, all the Gentiles, both Greeks and Romans.
We may seasonably note here, that Josephus wrote his Seven Books of the Jewish War long before he wrote these his Antiquities. Those books of the War were published about A.D. 75, and these Antiquities, A. D. 93, about eighteen years later.
This Epaphroditus was certainly alive in the third year of Trajan, A.D. 100. See the note on the First Book Against Apion, sect. 1. Who he was we do not know; for as to Epaphroditus, the freedman of Nero, and afterwards Domitian’s secretary, who was put to death by Domitian in the 14th or 15th year of his reign, he could not be alive in the third of Trajan.
Josephus here plainly alludes to the famous Greek proverb, If God be with us, every thing that is impossible becomes possible.
As to this intended work of Josephus concerning the reasons of many of the Jewish laws, and what philosophical or allegorical sense they would bear, the loss of which work is by some of the learned not much regretted, I am inclinable, in part, to Fabricius’s opinion, ap. Havercamp, p. 63, 61, That “we need not doubt but that, among some vain and frigid conjectures derived from Jewish imaginations, Josephus would have taught us a greater number of excellent and useful things, which perhaps nobody, neither among the Jews, nor among the Christians, can now inform us of; so that I would give a great deal to find it still extant.”