Josephus was born Joseph ben Mattathias in 37 C.E. in Jerusalem of a priestly and royal family. He excelled in his studies of Jewish law and studied with the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Essenes, eventually aligning himself with the Pharisees. In 62 C.E. he went to Rome to free some imprisoned priests. After accomplishing this mission through the intercession of Nero’s wife, Poppaea, he returned to Jerusalem in 65 C.E. to find the country in revolt against Rome.Although Josephus had deep misgivings about the revolt, it became inevitable, due to reasons he discusses in his history, primarily the abuses of the Romans; this spurred the growth of fanatical Messianic Jewish movements which believed that the world was coming to an end shortly. In 66 C.E. the Masada was seized by the Zealots and the Romans were on the march; Josephus was appointed the commander of Galilee.
Josephus had to fight a defensive war against overwhelming force while refereeing internecine squabbles in the Jewish ranks. In 67 C.E. Josephus and other rebels were cornered in a cave during the siege of Jotapata and took a suicide pact. However, Josephus survived, and was taken hostage by the Romans, led by Vespasian.
Josephus shrewdly reinterpreted the Messianic prophecies. He predicted that Vespasian would become the ruler of the ‘entire world’. Josephus joined the Romans, for which he was branded a traitor. He acted as consultant to the Romans and a go-between with the revolutionaries. Unable to convince the rebels to surrender, Josephus ended up watching the second destruction of the Temple and the defeat of the Jewish nation.
His prophecy became true in 68 C.E. when Nero committed suicide and Vespasian became Ceasar. As a result, Josephus was freed; he moved to Roman and became a Roman citizen, taking the Vespasian family name Flavius. Vespasian commissioned Josephus to write a history of the war, which he finished in 78 C.E., the Jewish War. His second major work, the Antiquities of the Jews, was completed in 93 C.E. He wrote Against Apion in about 96-100 C.E. and The Life of Josephus, his autobiography, about 100. He died shortly after.
Despite his ambivalent role, Josephus was an eyewitness to history, and his writings are considered authoritative. These texts are key to understanding a pivotal point in world history, which has tragic repercussions even to this day.
Antiquities of the Jews
Book I — From Creation to the Death of Isaac
Book II — From the Death of Isaac to the Exodus out of Egypt
Book III — From the Exodus out of Egypt to the Rejection of the Generation
Book IV — From the Rejection of that Generation to the Death of Moses
Book V — From the Death of Moses to the Death of Eli
Book VI — From the Death of Eli to the Death of Saul
Book VII — From the Death of Saul to the Death of David
Book VIII — From the Death of David to the Death of Ahab
Book IX — From the Death of Ahab to the Captivity of the Ten Tribes
Book X — From the Captivity of the Ten Tribes to the First Year of Cyrus
Book XI — From the First Year of Cyrus to the Death of Alexander the Great
Book XII — From the Death of Alexander the Great to the Death of Judas Maccabeus
Book XIII — From the Death of Judas Maccabeus to the Death of Queen Alexandra
Book XIV — From the Death of Queen Alexandra to the Death of Antigonus
Book XV — From the Death of Antigonus to the Finishing of the Temple by Herod
Book XVI — From the Finishing of the Temple by Herod to the Death of Alexander and Aristobulus
Book XVII — From the Death of Alexander and Aristobulus to the Banishment of Archelaus
Book XVIII — From the Banishment of Archelaus to the Departure of the Jews from Babylon
Book XIX — From the Departure of the Jews from Babylon to Fadus the Roman Procurator
Book XX — From Fadus the Procurator to Florus
War of the Jews
Book I — From the Taking of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes to the Death of Herod the Great
Book II — From the Death of Herod till Vespasian was sent to subdue the Jews by Nero
Book III — From Vespasian’s coming to Subdue the Jews to the Taking of Gamala
Book IV — From the Siege of Gamala to the Coming of Titus to besiege Jerusalem
Book V — From the Coming of Titus to besiege Jerusalem to the Great Extremity to which the Jews were reduced
Book VI — From the Great Extremity to which the Jews were reduced to the taking of Jerusalem by Titus
Book VII — From the Taking of Jerusalem by Titus to the Sedition of the Jews at Cyrene