Antiquities of the Jews – Judean Antiquities

Antiquities of the Jews is a 20-volume historical composition, penned in Greek, by the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus in AD 94 during the 13th year of the reign of Roman emperor Flavius Domitian. In the foreword of Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus tells why he wanted to do this work. He writes:

“Now I have undertaken the present work, as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks worthy of their study; for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government, as interpreted out of the Hebrew Scriptures.”

The book consists of a record of history of the Jewish society for Josephus’ gentile cohorts. In its first 10 volumes, Josephus describes the stories of the Hebrew Bible commencing with the creation of Adam and Eve. The next 10 volumes outline Jewish history beyond the scriptural text and up to the Hebrew War, or the First Hebrew–Roman War, 66 to 73 CE. This publication, along with Josephus’s other notable work, The Jewish War (De Bello Iudaico), contributes valuable cultural knowledge for historians trying to learn 1st-century AD Judaism and the early Christian era.

The Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus

Antiquities of the Jews incorporates an abundance of exclusive, and treasured, ancient information. This includes the history of Armenia, the Hellenistic states, Parthia, the Nabatean kingdom and Rome’s subjugation of the territories of Western Asia. Scholars regard this work of Josephus as one of the most influential publications in classical Roman history, along with the writings of Suetonius, Tacitus and Titus Livius. Jerome, one of the most knowledgeable Christian writers of the 4th–5th centuries, referred to Josephus Flavius as “Titus Livius of the Greeks”.

Titus Flavius Josephus

Louis Feldman, a Josephean scholar, pointed out several falsehoods about the Hebrews that were being propagated during Josephus’ day. They believed that the Hebrews had no outstanding historical leaders and no solid history of their societies. It was believed that they held hostility toward non-Hebrews, and were disloyal and unpatriotic. It is because of these sentiments throughout the Roman Empire that Josephus decided to produce an “apologia” of the Hebrew past.

Josephus omitted many stories in the Hebrew narrative. For instance, the “Song of The Sea” chanted by Moses and the Israelites after their salvation at the Red Sea is eliminated from Josephus’ work. Likewise, owing to his apprehension with pagan antisemitism, Josephus eliminated the full incident regarding the golden calf from his version of the story of Israelites at Mount Sinai. Other Hebrew scholars have proposed that he feared that the scriptural account could be used by Alexandrian anti-Semites to add credence to their charge that the Hebrews worshiped an ass’s head in the Temple (cf. Apion 2:80, 114, 120; Tacitus, Histories 5:4).

Josephus writes that Abraham himself educated the Egyptians in science, and they likewise educated the Greeks, and that Moses established a parliamentary clerical nobility which resisted sovereignty, like Rome. Josephus presented the major characters of the scriptural stories as philosophical leaders to make the history of the Hebrew’s more acceptable to his Greco-Roman advocates.

The surviving copies of this book, which all stem from Christian sources, includes 2 disputed verses about Jesus. They call the lengthier one the Testimonium Flavianum. If legitimate, it is one of the earliest nonbiblical accounts of Jesus, and is often pointed to as proof of the factual existence of Jesus.

In the 9th–10th centuries, a Hebrew translation known as the “Josippon”, appeared in Italy. It depicted Hebrew history and the major events throughout the earth from the time of the construction of the Tower of Babel to the seizure of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. This work was a truncated translation of Jewish Antiquities and The Jewish War, but Joseph ben Gorion was declared the author. With the advent of printing, Jossipon was actually published before the work of Josephus Flavius in1476, making it just as popular as the major work Antiquities of the Jews.

Ancient Jerusalem, before destruction by Titus, painting by James Fuller Queen, 1852

The first Greek translation of Antiquities of the Jews in Greek occurred in 1544. Other publications followed in 1611 and 1634 (Cologne), 1687 (Oxford), 1691 (Leipzig), 1700 (Oxford), 1726 (Leiden), etcetera. They translated Antiquities of the Jews into French, Italian, German and Spanish during the 15th – 16th centuries. It has been published in contemporary languages, Latin and Russian.

The best-known rendition of the Antiquities of the Jews was completed by William Whiston in 1737. Whiston’s version has been in publication since then. A cross-reference hierarchy for the Works of Josephus and the Biblical canon exists also.

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