A Question I Was Asked:

In What Way - If Any - is Josephus Authoritative on the Old Testament?

In what way - if any - is Josephus authoritative on the Old Testament?

UK Apologetics Reply:

The Jewish historian Josephus (37AD-100AD) was not a Christian believer as far as one knows yet he is rightly regarded as a very honest and authoritative historian of his day.

Some Points About His Life

Josephus was born of a priestly and royal family. He excelled in his studies of Jewish law and studied with the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Essenes, apparently eventually aligning himself with the Pharisees. In 62AD he went to Rome to free some imprisoned priests. After accomplishing this mission through the intercession of Nero's wife, Poppaea, he returned to Jerusalem in 65AD to find the country in revolt against Rome.

Josephus always had deep misgivings when the Jews revolted against Rome, yet he felt compelled to at least loosely side with his own people. The abuses of the Romans combined with the stubborness of the Jews spurred the growth of fanatical Jewish Messianic movements which believed that the world was coming to an end back in the first century AD. They were not entirely incorrect; a 'Coming' in judgement upon the Jews certainly occurred in 70AD. Josephus was actually appointed the commander of Galilee in 66AD.

It fell to Josephus to fight a defensive war against overwhelming force while refereeing continual squabbles within the Jewish ranks. In 67AD Josephus and other rebels were cornered in a cave during the siege of Jotapata and they unwisely took a suicide pact. However, Josephus survived, and was taken hostage by the Romans, led by Vespasian. For this reason, and because the Romans generally admired him, today many orthodox Jews still view Josephus as a traitor. Whatever the rights and wrongs of all this, Josephus is widely viewed to be the truly outstanding historian on Jewish matters of his day.

Are New Testament Personalities Mentioned by Josephus?

Josephus included references to Jesus and the origins of Christianity in his 'Antiquities of the Jews,' written around 93–96 AD, this includes two references to the biblical Jesus Christ in Books 18 and 20 and a reference to John the Baptist in Book 18. In Chapter 3, 3 of the 'Antiquities,' he states that 'Jesus the Messiah was a wise teacher who was crucified by Pilate.' Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the 'Antiquities' also refers to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James." Though from a Pharisee background overall, he never critiqued Christianity.

Josephus Corroborates the Old Testament Canon

Apart from the fact that Josephus considered the Deluge and Noah's Ark to be established history, he backs up several other things. As Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt have pointed out (source here.):

a. He had the actual Temple scrolls in his possession as a gift from Titus. We should therefore conclude that Josephus should be considered more authoritative than the Talmud regarding the first century view of the canon. Josephus was no fool.

b. Josephus - back in the first century AD - had the same Old Testament canon that we have today. This shows that there are no lost Old Testament books' (as some have incorrectly claimed). He stated that there were 22 books in the canon of the Old Testament (see "Against Apion" 1:8, where he mentions the 5 books of Moses, 13 Prophets, and 4 Writings). This corresponds to our 39 books. Following typical Jewish tradition, he recognized Jeremiah and Lamentations as one book, as he also did Judges and Ruth, I Samuel and 2 Samuel, I Kings and 2 Kings, I Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra and Esther. The 12 Minor Prophets were also recognized as one book, called "The Book of the Twelve." A quick calculation will show that this is exactly what we have today.

c. He included Daniel in the Prophets instead of in the Writings, which refutes an important part of the liberal claim on the claimed late-dating of Daniel (that is, that it was never intended as prophecy).

d. Josephus also indicates that there was an unbroken succession of prophets from Moses to Malachi, and that the histories written since Malachi were not inspired, because there had been no succession of prophets since the time of Malachi. This reflects the consensus in Israel that the Apocryphal books were not canonical, just reference works for facets of Jewish history.


So the work of Josephus establishes the authenticity of the Bible in every way even though he might never have had this intention. Many believe that a major reason that Josephus is now somewhat out of favour is because his work stands and falls with the integrity of the Bible, this is not easy for liberals to tolerate.

Robin A. Brace. November 9th, 2017.