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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Allow me to introduce myself.  The pseudonym Josephus was chosen carefully as the original man was something of an adapter, he shaped himself and his ideas to circumstances.  I have been a friend and colleague of the Monk for nearly 20 years and have debated many of the issues written about here over the years.  Often we agree, frequently we have different perspectives on a common theme and occasionally we vehemently disagree.  That is how debate between intelligent people should be.

Some information on the original Josephus:

Josephus was a priest, a soldier, and a scholar.  He is famous for being the most credible secular historian to record the existence of Jesus Christ outside of the New Testament.

        He was born Joseph ben Mattathias in Jerusalem in 37 CE/AD, a few years after the time of Jesus, during the time of the Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland. In his early twenties he was sent to Rome to negotiate the release of several priests held hostage by Emperor Nero. When he returned home after completing his mission he found the nation beginning a revolution against the Romans.

Despite his foreboding that the cause was hopeless, he was drafted into becoming commander of the revolutionary forces in Galilee, where he spent more time controlling internal factions than  fighting the Roman army. When the city of Jotapata he was defending fell to the Roman general Vespasian, Josephus and his supporters hid in a cave and entered into a suicide pact, which Josephus oddly survived.

    Taken prisoner by Vespasian, Josephus presented himself as a prophet. Noting that the war had been propelled by an ancient oracle that foretold a world ruler would arise from Judaea, Josephus asserted that this referred to Vespasian, who was destined to become Emperor of Rome. Intrigued, Vespasian spared his life. When this prophecy came true, and Vespasian became Emperor, he rewarded Josephus handsomely, freeing him from his chains and eventually adopting him into his family, the Flavians. Josephus thus became Flavius Josephus.

     During the remainder of the war, Josephus assisted the Roman commander Titus, Vespasian's son, with understanding the Jewish nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries. Called a traitor, he was unable to persuade the defenders of Jerusalem to surrender to the Roman siege, and instead became a witness to the destruction of the city and the Holy Temple.

      Living at the Flavian court in Rome, Josephus undertook to write a history of the war he had witnessed. The work, while apparently factually correct, also served to flatter his patron and to warn other provinces against the folly of opposing the Romans. He first wrote in his native language of Aramaic, then with assistance translated it into Greek (the most-used language of the Empire). It was published a few years after the end of the war, in about 78 CE. He was about 40 years old.

 Josephus subsequently improved his language skills and undertook a massive work in Greek explaining the history of the Jews to the general non-Jewish audience. He emphasized that the Jewish culture and Bible were older than any other then existing, hence called his work the Jewish Antiquities. Approximately half the work is a rephrasing of the Hebrew Bible, while much of the rest draws on previous historians. This work was published in 93 or 94 CE, when he was about 56 years old.

 In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus published his lengthy history of the Jews. While discussing the period in which the Jews of Judaea were governed by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, Josephus included the following account:
 About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.  - Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3. 63 (Based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library.)
 (Thanks to the Reluctant-Messenger for details.)

I well remember the  thrill when visiting the "Timmer Merkat" in the Castlegate, Aberdeen one Friday in the 1980s.  I saw a thick, hand-bound book on a small folding book-press, pasting on my best poker face and breathing deeply I approached the stall and in a manner that would make David Barbie appear a soft touch beat the stall-holder down to £2.50.  My excitement was palpable, if I had identified the volume from 25 yards away, it must have been quite a book.  Clutching my new copy of  Whiston's "Wars and Antiquities of the Jews" I took the bus home rather earlier than I would usually have done.

Technical Detail:
The reluctant messenger, the source for my biography above, chooses to use the time frame 'CE' i.e. current era.  I chose, on first use, to add 'AD' i.e. Anno Domini; in the year of our Lord.  I do not find these terms in any way antagonistic.  I was brought up with 'AD' and it makes sense to me in the way that feet and inches do, however, as the Monk discussed recently, pinning the birth of Christ to a precise year is almost impossible, notwithstanding the Julian / Gregorian date changes of 1582, when at least we do know the date and author (Gregory XIII) almost the only certain statement we can make is that Christ was not born on Christmas day, year zero.  The term CE is therefore technically an exact dating system using the generally acknowledged date of AD, but not being open to the frequent criticisms.  If anyone feels uncomfortable about that, then I shall follow the lead of my mentor and do as Flavius Josephus would have done.

This post is dated; 16th Tevet, 5772

1 comment:

  1. Welcome. And I look forward to future posts!