Josephus - A Most Amazing Man Indeed

How Josephus Corroborates The Great Flood, the Ministry of Jesus and the Destruction of Jerusalem...

The Jewish historian Josephus (who lived from AD37 to circa AD105) was unquestionably a most amazing man.


A Pharisee who was related to the Jewish royal line, he eventually became a Roman citizen. As a Roman citizen he became known as Titus Flavius Josephus. In his chronicles of the events which he witnessed, he mentions Jesus and the early Church and he records the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. His writings also confirm for us that the knowledge that a great worldwide flood had occurred was a widespread knowledge in his day - obviously doubted by no educated person. This poses a problem for many modern admirers of this man (numerous histories which had once been available for our children's education and perusal during much of the earlier twentieth century, and which pointed to the truth of the biblical record, have been quietly disappearing from school libraries and 'historical reading lists' during the last 50-70 years, undoubtedly under pressure from anti-religious secularists within education authorities). But it is harder to reject or undermine Josephus because so much of what he wrote is still deemed to be so highly reliable. Having said that, this man has been under some attack for several years but there are now signs of a renaissance in his popularity - undoubtedly causing many secularists to shudder!

Josephus's two most important works are The Jewish War (c. 73-78) and Antiquities of the Jews (c. 95). The Jewish War recounts the Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73), while Antiquities of the Jews recounts the history of the world from a Jewish perspective. These works provide not only invaluable and amazing insight into the background of first century Judaism and early Christianity, but reveal many common views among the educated Jews of his day.

Josephus was no historian who stayed firmly on the sidelines and simply wrote, rather he often played a part in some of the momentous events of his day.

During the first part of the Jewish War, Josephus had stood with the Jews but he seemed to have a change of heart when he considered that it could be argued that the rebellion was bringing unnecessary suffering on ordinary Jews. This reminds one of Jeremiah who, during the 6th century BC Babylonian sieges of Jerusalem, the Lord had warned not to weep over, nor to assist the Jews, because the Lord was using the Babylonians to carry our His will. The Lord had even warned Jeremiah not to pray for his people as the Babylonian threat loomed ever larger. See Jeremiah 7:16;11:14;14:11 for examples of this.

Originally imprisoned by the Romans, Josephus developed a good relationship with Vespasian in the days before he became emperor. In fact, Josephus had actually predicted that Vespasian would become Roman emperor. The success of this prophecy made the General more sympathetic towards Josephus and the Jews than he might otherwise have been, and Josephus became his official translator. This gave Josephus some access to the suffering Jews whom he repeatedly warned about the consequences of their rebellion. But he would have had no access, and little influence but for his prophecy that Vespasian would become emperor. Since this plainly came to pass, the indications must be strong that God Himself gave this prophecy to Josephus in furtherance of working out His divine will. This bought the Jews much time until Vespasian was recalled to Rome to become emperor and his son Titus was sent to complete the conquest and destruction of Jerusalem.

Jesus and the Early Church

Josephus' writings cover a number of figures familiar to Bible readers. There is mention of John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the High Priests, and the Pharisees. In Jewish Antiquities Josephus refers not only to Jesus and to Christians but also to the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus. There are two references to Jesus in Antiquities.

Firstly, in a section in Book 18 dealing with various actions of Pilate, the extant texts refer to Jesus and his ministry. This passage is usually known as the Testimonium Flavianum,

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.

Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3

Secondly, in Book 20 there is what looks to be a reference to Jesus in a paragraph describing the murder of Jesus' brother, James, at the hands of Ananus, the High Priest.

But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1

The record of Josephus is more than sufficient testimony that Jesus was no figure of fiction but a truly influential Jewish religious leader of the time and place which the New Testament records and his writings also confirm the strong early spread of Christianity.

The Great Flood

It is also interesting that Josephus makes it clear that the Great Flood was an actual world event which had certainly occurred and which was well-corroborated in his day. Josephus wrote this,

6. Now all the writers of barbarian histories make mention of this flood, and of this ark; among whom is Berosus the Chaldean. For when he is describing the circumstances of the flood, he goes on thus: "It is said there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans; and that some people carry off pieces of the bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs." Hieronymus the Egyptian also, who wrote the Phoenician Antiquities, and Mnaseas, and a great many more, make mention of the same. Nay, Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: "There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote."

The Antiquities of the Jews, 3:6.

This account can be read in full here:

What Josephus writes must be regarded as highly significant, for here was an obviously very intelligent man who would not have been easily fooled. Not content to simply record the biblical description of the Great Flood, rather, he was able to cite other historical sources which were obviously available in his own day to authenticate the biblical account.

This testimony is important because, as in the case of Jesus and the Apostles, Josephus plainly records what may be known in his own day but without showing favour or partiality in any particular direction - how modern revisionist historians with their liberal biases could learn from this! The frequent emotional disengagement from the things which Josephus records is one of the reasons that he has continued to enjoy great respect.

In AD71, Josephus arrived in Rome in the entourage of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem. He became a Roman citizen and a Flavian dynasty client (being later referred to as Flavius Josephus). In addition to Roman citizenship he was granted accommodation in the conquered Judea, and a decent pension. But it was while in Rome, and under Flavian patronage, that Josephus wrote all of his known works.

Jewish Animosity Towards Josephus

Without question, many Jews continue to view Josephus as a traitor for assisting the Romans against the Jews at the siege of Jerusalem, however, this appears to be a long way from what actually happened! Josephus initially stood with the Jews, possibly until it became plain to him that God was using the Romans to punish them - similar (as already mentioned), perhaps, to the experience of Jeremiah, but when he could see that 'the die was cast' against the Jews, as a highly-educated man, he became keen to speak to the Romans and to act as mediator wherever he could, even though, in the end, he could do little. Some Jews also remain bitter that Josephus pulled out of an earlier suicide pact with other Jewish prisoners but, as a Pharisee, Josephus knew that the law of God did not allow for suicide; it is perfectly possible that he was only playing for time in entering into such an unwise pact. Of course questions will remain about his behaviour but no such questions should mar or distort the fact that this man found himself in a most amazing position to be able to record some momentous periods of history, and also to provide testimony to the common educated view among the people of his day towards such things as The Great Flood.
Robin A. Brace, July, 2008.