Excerpts from Josephus

These excerpts are provided to give the general reader a knowledge of Josephus' writings on various subjects. I have added my own commentary to provide context. These excerpts are a work in progress and are not meant at any time to include all that Josephus has to say on a subject.

References are given in the form of Book, Chapter, and Paragraph of the Whiston edition together with the Section number of the Greek (Loeb) edition. So "Ant. 18.1.6 23" indicates Book 18, Chapter 1, Paragraph 6 in Whiston, and in the Loeb edition, Book 18, Section 23. - G. Goldberg

Causes of the War Against the Romans
   The Jewish Revolt of 66 to 70 AD/CE had its origin in several different troubles identified by Josephus. At various points in his work he specifically names different events as "the" cause of the war, either as an immediate trigger or as a fundamental motive. These include: 
  • the involvement of governor Albinus with criminal gangs 
  • the removal of rights of Jews in Caesarea 
  • the pollution of the synagogue of Caesarea
  • the murder of High Priest Jonathan 
  • the murder of High Priest Ananias 
  • the refusal to sacrifice to the Emperor 
  • the Fourth Philosophy that held divine assistance would come to a rebellion: "the infection which spread from them among the younger sort, who became zealous for it, brought the public to destruction."
  • the criminal acts and abuse of authority on the part of  governor Gessius Florus 
  • a conspiracy on the part of Florus
  • a certain ambiguous oracle (War 6.5.4) 
From these specific incidents the chief causes of the war in Josephus' eyes can be identified. Emphasized throughout his work is the cruelty and corruption of the the Roman administrators, particularly those serving under Emperor Nero. Next in importance, judging by the amount of attention Josephus gives, was an extremist party that mixed nationalism with a religious ideal: to free the Holy Land from the powers of the world so that it would be only under the governance of Heaven. Between these two opposing forces there played themes of class and ethnic conflict which polarized the nation. The  repeated robberies, riots, and uprisings these caused were kept in check by the harsh actions of the administrators, which in turn caused resentment among the populace, forming the familiar cycle of protest/response/protesting the response,  common to the escalation of rebellions. 

   These are the specific elements Josephus stresses in his works. There is a larger context, some of which is indicated in the introduction to the War. The empire had grown weak in the last days of Nero. The corruption of the governors directly reflected the flaws in their emperor. Judea was not the only province to revolt; but its war was the longest and bloodiest. And the problems of religious nationalism and class and ethnic struggle had its roots in the long history of the Jews and the unresolved problems of  the correct form of religious observance and the place of the powerful non-Jewish nations in the divine plan. 

   Over the years commentators have scrutinized these causes and have written much on the subject. Readers who become familiar with what Josephus says in the following extracts will enjoy reading these modern works. 



"No Ruler But the Almighty:" Religious Nationalism

     Herod, The Rabbis and The Golden Eagle (4 BCE) 
     Flash Revolt At Herod's Death (4 BCE) 
    Judas the Galilean Founds the Revolutionary Fourth Philosophy (6 CE) 
              The Census of Quirinius 
               Description of the Fourth Philosophy 
     A Path in the Wilderness: Promises of Signs from Heaven 
     Prophets and Revolutionaries Work Together (54-60 CE) 
     Omens Interpreted by the Seditious 
     The Inviolability of Zion (70 CE) 
     The Reason Above All Others: A Messiah 

Class Conflict

    Class Conflict Between Sadducees and Pharisees 
    Among the Priests 

Ethnic Conflict

    Ethnic Rioting 
    Rights Annulled at Caesarea (60 CE) 
    Greek Sacrifice at Synagogue of Caesarea:  The War Begins (66 CE) 

Corruption of the Procurators

    Natural Avarice of Governors 
    Felix Arranges the Assassination of High Priest Jonathan 
    Nero Fails to Punish Felix (60 CE) 
    The Cooperation  of Albinus with Criminals and Rebels (62-64 CE) 
    Excesses of Florus (64-66 CE) 
    Florus Provokes War to Avoid Punishment 
    Florus Takes Treasure from the Temple  (66 CE) 
    Josephus Decides War was Necessary 

"And This was the True Beginning" (66 CE)



"No Ruler But the Almighty" 

 Religious Nationalism and The Redemption of Zion 

 Introductory Comment 
   Since the time of Moses the Jewish people held the ideal of conducting themselves according to the laws set by the Ruler of the universe. Their earthly rulers often had different notions. During the Roman period this conflict became formalized in an extremist revolutionary party  that asserted violence was an acceptable means of achieving the goals of Heaven, and that martyrdom would be well rewarded in the World to Come. 
   This party showed itself in early form while Judea was still under the rule of its own king.  Herod the Great was named king of the Jews by the Roman senate in 40 BC/BCE , displacing the dynasty of the Hasmoneans (the descendants of the Maccabees of the Hanukah story). While he protected himself from religion-based attacks  through his rebuilding of the Temple into one of the greatest structures in the Empire, yet his tyranny and weakening  of Jewish social institutions gained him many enemies among the populace.  He once said that he knew the Jews would celebrate his death with a festival. 
   When Herod was ill and approaching death near the age of seventy, two Rabbis  seized the opportunity  to preach a rebellious act and martyrdom for the sake of the divine Law, the Torah. 
Herod, The Rabbis and The Golden Eagle (4 BCE) 
War 1.33.2 648-655  
   To Herod's other troubles was now added an insurrection of the populace. There were in the capital two men of learning with a reputation as profound experts in the Laws of their country, who consequently enjoyed the highest esteem of the whole nation; their names were Judas, son of Sepphoraeus, and Matthias, son of Margalus. Their lectures on the Laws were attended by a large youthful audience, and day after day they drew together quite an army of men in their prime. 
   Hearing now that the king was gradually sinking under despondency and disease, these teachers threw out hints to their friends that this was the fitting moment to avenge God's honour and to pull down what had been erected in defiance of their fathers' Laws: for although it was unlawful to place in the Temple either images or busts or any representation whatsoever of a living creature, the king had nonetheless erected over the great gate a golden eagle. It was this these teachers now exhorted their disciples to cut down. They told them that if any danger should arise, it was a glorious thing to die for the Law of one's country; for the souls of those who came to such an end attained immortality and an eternal enjoyment of happiness; it was only  the ignoble, uninitiated in their philosophy,  who clung in their ignorance to life and preferred death by disease to that of a hero. 
   While they were discoursing on this, a rumour spread that the king was dying; the news caused the young men to throw themselves more boldly into the enterprise. At mid-day, accordingly, when numbers of people were perambulating the Temple, they let themselves down from the roof on stout cords and began chopping off the golden eagle with hatchets. The king's captain, to whom the matter was immediately reported, hastened to the scene with a considerable force, arrested about forty of the young men and conducted them to the king. Herod first asked them whether they had dared to cut down the golden eagle; they admitted it. 
   "Who ordered you to do so?" he continued. 
   "The Law of our fathers." 
   "And why so exultant, when you will shortly be put to death?" 
   "Because we shall enjoy greater happiness after our death." 
   This provoked the king to such fury that he overcame his disease...he ordered those that had let themselves down from the roof, together with the teachers, to be burnt alive; the remainder of those arrested he handed over to his executioners.
   Josephus presents these Rabbis and their followers as sincere people  rectifying an unlawful action of Herod. When describing  a similar  philosophy under the Roman administration, however, Josephus  attacks the motives of the leaders and excoriates their extremism. One difference is that the affair of the eagle is not seen as directed against the Romans, Josephus having failed to mention that the eagle is a symbol of, among other things, the Roman Empire. And the eagle affair was a non-violent protest, not requiring his condemnation; yet within months, at Herod's death,  the philosophy behind it would provoke an extremely bloody revolt. 
Flash Revolt At Herod's Death  
War 2.1.2 6 
[Herod has died and his son Archelaus has claimed the throne]. 
Towards evening, however, a large number of those who were bent on revolution assembled on the same spot, and, now that the public mourning for Herod was ended, began a lamentation on their own account, bewailing the fate of those who had been punished for cutting down the golden eagle from the gate of the Temple. This mourning was in no subdued tones: there were piercing shrieks, a dirge directed by a conductor, and lamentations with beating of the breast which resounded throughout the city; all this in honour of the unfortunate men who, they asserted had in defence of their country's laws and the Temple perished on the pyre. These martyrs ought, they clamoured, to be avenged by the punishment of Herod's favorites.

War 2.1.3 10 
And now the feast of unleavened bread, which the Jews call Passover, came round...The promoters of the mourning for the teachers stood in a body in the temple, procuring recruits for their faction. ...Archelaus now felt that it would be impossible to restrain the mob without bloodshed, and let loose upon them his entire army...the soldiers, falling unexpectedly among the various parties busy with their sacrifices slew about three thousand of them and dispersed the remainder among the neighboring hills. 

  This clash, instigated by the followers of the two Rabbis, was the beginning of a series of violent confrontations over the course of weeks, with escalating force on both sides; the Roman legion at Jerusalem was caught up in the warfare until the commander was surrounded in his fortress. At last, two legions from Syria under the command of Varus were able to put down the insurrection and round up the guerillas in the hills, crucifying two thousand of them. 
  To calm the populace's fear that Archelaus would be another tyrant like his father,  Emperor Augustus divides the Jewish lands among all of Herod's children,  reducing Archelaus' portion to Judea (the area immediately around Jerusalem), Samaria, and Idumaea. The resistance is held in check by Archelaus' cruelty for nine years, until, due to the denunciations of the people, the emperor at last removes Archelaus and places Judea under direct Roman administration.   
   Now Judea would be a province, not a kingdom, and ruled by foreigners as governors, not by  king of its own; and the people would pay taxes directly to the emperor. This set the stage for the next level of resistance -- as well as  the backdrop for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.. 

 Judas the Galilean Founds the Revolutionary Fourth Philosophy (6 CE)

The Census of Quirinius (6 CE) 
Antiquities 18.1.1  3-10 
(See also War 2.8.1)  
Now Quirinius, a Roman senator..was dispatched by Caesar to be governor of  Syria, and to take an account of their property...He came into Judea, which had now been  annexed to the province of Syria, to take an account of their property, and to liquidate Archelaus's estate. Although the Jews at the beginning  took the report of a  taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion of the high priest Joazar,  son of Beethus. So they, being convinced  by Joazar's words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute about it. 
   The census of Quirinius appears to be the same as that described by Luke in 2:2, which caused Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem where Jesus would be born. However, if so, there is a discrepancy with the other gospel accounts that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great: the census occurred in 6 CE, while Herod died in 4 BCE. Attempts to reconcile these statements have produced a large scholarly literature, to which the reader is invited to turn. 
Taxation is Slavery
   Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite of  a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, threw himself into the cause of rebellion. They said that this taxation was nothing less than the beginning of slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty. If successful they would procure themselves security  for what they possessed, while if they failed they would earn honor and glory for their lofty goal. They also said that God would be assisting them to no lesser end than the furthering of their enterpri