Jewish Antiquities – a glimpse into ancient times (1)


No serious study of the Jewish History and/or Early Christians one can be done skipping the works of Flavius Josephus a Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer.

Flavius Josephus

Jewish Antiquities

Translated by William Whiston

Introduction – by Brian McGing; Trinity College, Dublin

In the chapter about Josephus life he goes through the general view of the historical context and in the following paragraph speaks about Pontius Pilate the one time prefect of Judea (i.e. Rome’s representative on the spot):

‘Pilate remained in office for some ten years, during which time he antagonised his subjects on a number of occasions; although probably not, it should be noted, when he ordered the execution of a Jewish man named Jesus: this was scarcely controversial at the time and barely, if at all, makes into Josephus’ account (AJ 18.63-4, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum, which may be in part, or in whole, a later Christian interpolation).’

An interesting stage in Josephus’ life:

‘When he was sixteen he set out on a sort of spiritual odyssey to learn more about the three Jewish sects, Sadducees, Pharisees and Essene, so that he might choose the best. Having also spent time in the desert eating very little and taking frequent cold showers as the disciple of an ascetic guru named Bannus, Jospehus returned to the mainstream of Jewish life and began to conduct himself as a Pharisee.’

About the importance of his books as almost the only source of information on a certain period in the area:

‘The fact that we have no other substantial account of the Jewish revolt against Rome, and very few parallel sources for much of the material in the later books of the Antiquities, makes Josephus a historian of exceptional importance for the period from about 150 BC to AD 74. But it also means that we have very little evidence against which to ‘check’ what he tells us about this period; that is to assess his historical reliability.’

And a short, with humorous accents, note on the translator:

‘William Whiston, astronomer, philosopher, mathematician, theologian, believed, among other unwise notions, that a new millennium would begin in 1766, when there would be no more gaming tables in Tunbridge Wells or infidels in Christondom. Not surprisingly the Dictionary of National Biography (vol xxi, p.13) describes him as belonging ‘to a familiar type, as a man of acute but ill-balanced intellect’.

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