Friday, June 8, 2012

Josephus, Witness to Jerusalem's Fall in 70 CE: First Media Reporter About Judah and Jews

Nadene Goldfoot
Josephus was his Roman surname but was born as  Joseph ben Matthias, born in the time of Caligula acceding to the throne of the Roman Empire of 37 CE and died after 100 CE.  He was born into a priestly Jewish family and had a Hasmonean mother and boasted of having royal blood.  He wrote his autobiography "Life and Wars of the Jews."

 Who were the Hasmoneans?  Remember Judas Maccabee, the Hammerer?  Simon Maccabaeus was his brother and had set up a dynasty 20 years after the Maccabean Revolt where Judas had defeated the Seleucid army, giving us reason to celebrate Chanukah.  This created the Hasmonean ruling dynasty of Judea from 140 to 116 BCE but was conquered eventually by the Romans.  They had finally yielded to the Romans in the end.  Herod the Great married a Hasmonean princess, Mariamne to secure his position, and I doubt if she had any say in the marriage.  

The first part of the book  told of his life as a Jewish priest and becoming a prisoner of the Romans.  The 2nd half of the book told of his life in a reserved style of being Flavius Josephus, the Roman citizen and author.

Though he was living by the grace of being hired by the Romans to write history, he was a Jewish man and was trying to write to honor his fellow countrymen and to defend Judaism.  It is he that wrote about the Romans entering the Masada and finding that all 900+ had committed suicide over being captured and slaughtered by the Romans.

He had evidently been one of these very precocious Jewish boys and tells of rabbis coming to him for advice at the age of 14. By 16 he learned all about the 3 major sects of Judaism and spent time with each in order to learn about them.    He liked Banus, evidently an Essene and lived that type of life for 3 years.  At 19 he joined the Pharisees where he remained.  The Sadducees received the littlest coverage.

In 64CE, at the age of 26, he went to Rome to try to get the release of priests who were sent there by Felix to be tried by Nero.  He was in a ship-wreck on the way there, something that is repeated in history.  Paul also had this happen to him.  That was the year of the burning of Rome.  By 70 CE Jerusalem would fall to the Romans.  Not knowing this, of course, his visit to Rome made him realize that Jews could not defeat Rome and wanted to work for peace.  So perhaps he was also the first peacenik as well.

The Roman governor of Syria, Florus, was interested in encouraging hatred and turning it into wanting to go to war in Jerusalem and Caesarea, where the seat of the governor lived.  By 66 CE Cestius Gallus was governor who led a Roman force against Jerusalem which ended in a retreat with the Jewish forces chasing the Romans out of town.  This Roman 12th Legion was put to rout in the autumn and was in disgrace of which it never recovered.  Vespasian's forces arrived in the spring of 67 CE when Josephus was in the Galilee, either as a general of the Jewish forces (Wars of the Jews, II,xx,4) or as an arbitrator to pacify those who were wanting war.   Vespasian advanced and Josephus found himself deserted and withdrew to the fortress of Jotapata, standing against a siege for 6 weeks.  Then he had to surrender to the Romans in July 67 CE.

When Vespasian became Emperor, Josephus was freed and went with him to Alexandria, Egypt.  He had to take the Roman name of Flavius, the family name of Vespasian.  I imagine that he was made to feel that he owed his life to him.  However, the war against the Jews continued then and Josephus returned to Jerusalem with the Emperor's son, Titus and was there to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  The Jews came to hate him for working with the Romans as he had been walking around the walls calling for "surrender."  At the same time the Romans thought he may be guilty of treachery.  It's thought today that he was trying to act in the interests of his own people.  .

Josephus was given a piece of land near Jerusalem after the destruction, which was in line with how the Romans paid off their soldiers.  He didn't retire but instead returned to Rome with Titus, became a Roman citizen and was commissioned to write the history of the Jewish people.  He worked under several emperors but when Titus died, his writing showed he became an apologist for the Jews instead of being impartial as a historian is thought to be.  This writer of history is thought to have been an egotist and opportunist but had redeeming qualities.

We must realize that today's reporters of current events will be no better than Josephus.  They too, write with a slant showing who they favor.  Finding someone impartial without a bent towards one side of an issue is almost an impossibility.  Remember that when you research an issue.  Everyone has an agenda.    When it comes to reporting about Israel, more reports are coming out with a negative take on the events than not.  Just who are they writing for, one must think.

Book:  Josephus:  complete works, translated by William Whiston, AM, by Kregel Publications 1960

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