Josephus was a Jewish historian of the 1st Century. He was born in Jerusalem in 37 AD and lived until about the year 100 AD. He was born into a well to do family; his father was a priest and his mother was descended from the royal Hasmonean Dynasty that ruled Judea until the Romans moved in in the middle of the first century before Christ. Josephus was highly educated and while in his 20s was part of a diplomatic mission to the Emperor Nero to secure the release of some Jewish priests being held by the Romans.
When the Jews launched their ill-fated rebellion against Roman occupation in the mid-60s AD, the ruling Sanhedrin in Jerusalem appointed Josephus military governor of Galilee, where he led a spirited and innovative campaign against both Jewish rivals and the invading Roman army of future emperor Vespasian until he surrendered himself after a six week city at the Galilean city of Jotapata in 67 AD. He then served as interpreter for Vespasian until word arrived that the emperor had died and Vespasian was elevated to the throne by his army. Josephus then served as interpreter to Vespasian’s son Titus during his campaign in Judea proper that culminated in the capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Josephus then went to Rome and was made a citizen, and began writing his histories.
Josephus’ primary writings that survive include:
The Jewish War, published around 75 AD and detailing the history of Judea leading up to the failed rebellion against the Romans and the sack of Jerusalem;
The Antiquities of the Jews, published around 94 AD and covering Jewish history from the Creation to the middle of the first century;
Against Apion, published late in Josephus’ life and which served as a defense of the history and antiquity of the Jewish people;
and My Life, which is his autobiography, of course.
Josephus was most likely a member of the party of the Pharisees, and it is through his writings that we possess most of our knowledge about the three major sects in Judea at the time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the monkish Essenes who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls. Josephus also provides us a great deal of historical information regarding Israel from the building of the second temple until 70 AD, including the long years ruled by the Macedonian heirs of Alexander the Great, the successful rebellion led by the Maccabees and the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty, and the ascension of the Idumean Herod the Great to the throne and the tumultuous rule of his dynasty. In his “Antiquities”, Josephus gives us non-Biblical references to John the Baptist, James the Just (brother of Jesus), and Jesus Himself, although in fairness I must point out that most modern scholars believe those references were added by later, Christian writers. (These, however, are the same scholars who dispute nearly everything about the Bible in an attempt to discredit it.) It is widely believed that Josephus became an Ebionite Christian late in his life, although Josephus himself does not state so in his writings. I’ve read translator William Whiston’s notes on that possibility and he builds a strong case based on what Josephus and others wrote in the early Christian period.
Josephus was an important writer for the Christian faith (even though he did not plan it that way and in fact wrote largely for the Romans) simply because he preserved for us a wealth of information concerning the history of the Jewish people that our Savior came out of that we otherwise would not have. He includes much information that was not included in our Old Testament but which corroborates it. He gives us most of our available information about the years between the building of the second temple in Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, an event which he saw as Divine punishment for many sins, especially the murder of James the Just. Whiston was convinced that Josephus drew from the library of sacred writings gathered in Jerusalem by Nehemiah at the time of the return from Babylon. Without Josephus we would know next to nothing of the Pharisees and the Sadducees other than what the Gospels state. His works provide a treasure trove of background information regarding the Judea and Jerusalem and Galilee that Jesus knew and loved. His writings may not qualify as light reading for anyone, but if you have an interest in the history of ancient Israel up to and through the time of Christ and the apostles, Josephus is well worth spending time with.
“And now, ‘O most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy intestine hatred! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou longer continue in being, after thou hadst been a sepulchre for the bodies of thine own people, and hadst made the holy house itself a burying place in this civil war of thine!'” Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter 1 Section 3.
Grace and peace to you all from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.