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The Polish Journal of Biblical Research 15, 2016

THE POLISH JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL RESEARCH

Vol. 15, No. 1-2 (29-30)

ISSN 1641-7224

January 2016

The Enigma Press, ul. Podedworze 5, 32-031 Mogilany, Poland; E-mail: enigma@post.pl

CLAUDE COHEN-MATLOFSKY
Institut Universitaire dtudes Juives
Paris

FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS THE MAN AND HIS AMBITIONS:


A PROSOPOGRAPHIC STUDY
This renewed prosopographic study on Flavius Josephus1 will allow
me to analyze in greater depth the personal life and ambitions of our
Jewish historian2. There are grounds to believe that he married four
times rather than three and that he had in mind a return of the Hasmonean
rule in his homeland, let alone he had planned for himself to become
a Hasmonean type of leader in Judea.
Furthermore, as opposed to what has been generally accepted,
Katell Berthelot, in her current thorough research on the books of the
Maccabees and especially in her recent article3, stresses that Josephus
had a largely positive vision of the Hasmoneans and that he sees their
wars in a positive light as well.
Therefore, my intention in this essay is to rehabilitate Josephus in
the eyes of his own people. He had ambitions for Judea and for himself.
I will attempt to decrypt in his writings, Josephus vision for his country:
a return to the ge dor of the Hasmonean rule. Between Hasmoneans
and Herodians, the choice is clear according to Josephus descriptions of
1

Josephuscorrect name is Flavius Josephus not Josephus Flavius: see infra.


Cf. also on this, W. Eck, Flavius Iosephus, nicht Iosephus Flavius, in Scripta Classica Israelica 19 (2000), pp. 281-283 and D.R.Schwartz, On Josephus Roman Name:
Flavius Josephus not Josephus Flavius, Flavius Josephus, Vita-Introduction, Hebrew
Translation and Commentary, Jerusalem, 2006, app.II.
2 See Claude Cohen-Matlofsky, Les lacs en Palestine dAuguste Hadrien: tude
prosopographique, Paris, 2001, pp. 94-100.
3 See K. Berthelot, La perception des hasmonens de Flavius Josphe, En mmoire
de Sophie Kessler-Mesghich, J. Baumgarten, J. Costa, J-P. Guillaume and J. Kogel,
(eds), Paris, 2012, pp. 37-52.

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both dynasties. My study will be based on prosopographic methodology


which will allow me, through Josephus filiation, his matrimonial status,
his children, his education and political role as described by himself in
his own writings, to decrypt his otherwise hidden ambitions. In other
words, I shall attempt to decode Josephus the man and his political ambitions in his own writings.
The literature on Josephuss account is quite abundant4. Most of what
we know about him comes from his own writings, except for very few
ancient authors passing references to him. Indeed, ancient authors very
rarely referred to each other in writing at that time. Among the ancient
authors who mention Josephus are: Antonius Julianus in Minucius
Felix, Octavius, 33:2-4, who considers him a Roman author, and
Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus 5:6 in Lives of the Caesars, who quotes
him as Vespasians prisoner of noble descent, to whom he predicted
a rise to power5. Appian, Roman History, F 17 and Cassius Dio, Historia
Romana 66, also mention Josephus prediction to Vespasian. Porphyry,
De Abstinentia, 4, 11, mentions that Josephus described three philosophical schools in Palestine.
The Rabbinic literature does not mention Josephus, it does not mention Philo of Alexandria, nor does it mention certain leaders of the Revolt
against the Romans such as Simon Bar Giora, Ioannes of Gischala and
Eleazaros son of Simon. Could it be because the purpose of the Talmud,
a compilation of rabbinic discussions, is neither historical nor philosophical? Why then, does the Talmud mention two unpopular figures
among the Jews: Herod the Great, and Titus? Does this mean that the
Talmud did not consider Josephus as a traitor? This question remains
unanswered. Nevertheless, some scholars read indirect allusions to
Josephus in certain passages of the Talmud6.
Flavius Josephus is himself mute on great figures such as Hillel and
Yochanan Ben Zakkay. The latter, along with Shim`on Ben Gamaliel
must have been among his Pharisee teachers. Josephus does not describe nascent Christianity or rather the Jesus movement as a movement with its own ideology while he spends time describing the other

schools of thought of Roman Palestine. In his writings he even tells us


that he was at turn initiated to all the other schools of thought of his
time in Palestine. He mentions the Christians of course in Ant. XVIII,
55-142 and XX, 197-223, but these passages are controversial7. Flavius
Josephus enjoyed a good reputation in Antiquity and in the medieval
Church, which almost made his work a fifth Gospel. Christian authors
enjoyed reading Josephus as an important source on the events of the
first century CE, but not the least, also as proof of the divine punishment
for the Jewish denial of Jesus as the messiah. As for the Jews, they disavowed him.
Whether he should be considered a traitor is a question that historians of all epochs have asked about Josephus. In the 19th century they
did perceive him as a traitor and modern historians were for most part
hostile to him. Tessa Rajaks8 depiction of Josephus as a man in conflict
with the Jewish society of his time provoked Daniel Schwartzs and
other scholars criticism. The latter are inclined to believe that Josephus
had no choice but to be under the dictation of the Roman Emperors and
wrote his books for the requisites of Roman history and, to a certain
extent, Roman society9.
Josephus must have been at least a protg of the Flavian Emperors.
Moreover, through his last wife, he must have been well acquainted
with the noble Cretan Jewish community in Rome. Among his honors, Titus10 and Vespasian11made Josephus a landlord in absentia in
Judea. Josephus was even given a pension by Vespasian12 and Domitian
exempted his property in Judea from taxation13. We do not know what
happened to his properties in Judea since there is no sign that he ever

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Few authors of Antiquity had called for such a bibliography. Heinz Schreckenberg,
Bibliographie zu Flavius Josephus (Leiden: Brill, 1968), had attempted already to draw
a complete list of works on him. See of the same author, Josephus (Flavius Josephus),
Reallexikon fr Antike und Christentum 18 (1998), pp. 761-801.
5 War III, 400-401.
6 L.H. Feldman, Flavius Josephus Revisited: the Man, his writings and his Significance, ANRW, II, (1984), pp. 779-780.

There is an abundant bibliography on the issue of the so called Testimonium Flavianum, see in particular: Serge Bardet, Le Testimonium Flavianum, examen historique
considrations historiographiques, Paris, 2002.
8 Tessa Rajak, Josephus. The Historian and His Society, London, 1983.
9 Josephus role as a Roman historian has been a distinctive emphasis of Steve Masons since the mid-1990s. He put together an international conference in Toronto, on
the theme in 2001, precisely because no one had ever seriously treated Josephus as a
Roman historian (resulting book: J. Edmundson, S. Mason and J. Reeves (eds), Flavius
Josephus and Flavian Rome, Oxford: OUP, 2005). Many scholars still resist the notion,
including Tessa Rajak and Jonathan Price.
10 Vita 422.
11 Vita 425.
12 Vita 423.
13 Vita 429.

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went back to his native land14.


Son of Mathias15 Yoseph Ben Mathithyahu, Josephus, received his
tria nomina: Titus Flavius Josephus, as well as Roman citizenship
from the Flavian Roman Emperors. Therefore his Hebrew praenomen
Yoseph, became his Latin cognomen, while his Hebrew family name/
filiation Ben Mathithyahu disappeared in the process. Mathithyahu in
Hebrew, a recurring name in Josephus family was the name of his older
brother as well. This was not unusual in the Judean society of the time
to follow the custom of patronymy and /or papponymy that consisted of
naming a child by the father or the grandfathers name. In general, the
older son was named after the father. Thus Josephus has the same name
as his paternal grandfather: Yoseph, Iosepos in Greek, while his elder
brother was named after his father, Mathithyahu, Mathias in Greek.
Born in Jerusalem in 37-38, Josephus was (according to his own writings only) of sacerdotal aristocratic descent. He was a priest of the 24th
line of sacrificers on his fathers side, and Hasmonean on his mothers
side16. He became the first Jewish historian that we know of and the
best chronicler of the 66-74 Jewish War against the Romans. We owe
him the only complete description of the war of 66-74 including the fall
of Masada. Flavius Josephus is the only significant literary source for
that event, even though many scholars today would prefer the relatively
abundant archeological evidence for Masada.
Then Josephus became Titus propagandist in Rome. Although he
does not claim it specifically, Josephus could have been a perfect candidate for the restoration of a Hasmonean type of leadership: a Great
Priest-King. Steve Masons17 commentary on Josephus Life regarding
Josephus priestly filiation corroborates my argument here because the
commentary reflects implicitly the polemic that the Pharisees had raised
during the Hasmonean dynastys rule, a polemic which is also alluded to
in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This polemic concerns priesthood and kingship
pedigrees and the plurality of offices during the Hasmonean rule.
The following is an extract from Masons commentary # 13 on
Josephus Life:

Or in addition. The double conjunction appears to identify Josephus


maternal descent and consequent royal connection as something additional to
priesthood from his paternal line, such that only the royal side of his ancestry is
the new term. Yet there is evidence here and elsewhere that his claim to priesthood itself depends on the Hasmonean link, which comes from this mother...
On the one hand, the bible assumes that priesthood is passed from father to son
(Exod 40:15; Num 18:1-20), and so does Josephus elsewhere (Apion 1.30-6)....
On the other hand, in Ant. 16.187 Josephus plainly attributes his priestly status
to his connection with the Hasmoneans, and here in the Life that Hasmonean
heritage comes from this mother. Accordingly, he locates his priesthood in the
priestly course of the Hasmoneans (Ioarib). He has given enough material for
scholars to conclude that his prized membership in the priesthood derives only
from a Hasmonean link through a maternal ancestor (Rajak 1983:17)...

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14

Even though Y. Shahar argued that he did, and if so, this would add an argument
to my thesis.
15 See Cohen-Matlofsky, (2001) op. cit.
16 See Steve Masons discussion infra.
17 See discussion in commentary # 9 of Steve Masons Text and Commentaries of
Josephus Life in S. Mason, ed. Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, vol.2,
in 12 (Leiden: Brill, 2001).

Indeed Masons discussion here about priesthood coming either


from paternal or maternal lines in ancient Judaism is quite interesting.
Nonetheless, in the case of Josephus, in my eyes, the fact that apparently, our ancient historian insists on his Hasmonean lineage for both royal
and priestly status, is rather significant. This shows his pride in being
of Hasmonean descent more than anything else. Furthermore, this element in Josephuss narrative, given the fact that the Hasmonean dynasts
eventually cumulated the pedigrees of kingship and priesthood, serves
my purpose when it comes to decrypt Josephuss hidden ambitions in
the present study of mine. Indeed Josephus was most likely nostalgic
about the Hasmonean rule and had planned to become a Hasmonean
leader for his country.
Mason continues in the same commentary:
In that case, one of his ancestors must somehow have assumed priestly
status on the basis of Hasmonean connections. According to rabbinic literature
(Abot R. Nathan 35 [p.105]; t. Yoma 4.20; y. Yoma 1.38d; b. Yoma 47a; Pesiq.
Rab Kah. 26.10 [p. 398]; cf. Stern 1987:608-9), the priestly family came from
a maternal ancestor. Alternatively, it would be a remarkable coincidence if his
father was heir to paternal priestly line, from the Hasmonean course Ioarib,
and his mother was also a descendant of Hasmoneans. This would also create
further problems, since his fathers ancestry goes back to a female connection
with the Hasmoneans. However his family came into the priesthood, Josephus
was evidently a proud, practicing priest...

I disagree that Josephus was a practicing priest. Josephus was keen


on relating himself to the Hasmonean dynasty, even with their turbulent
priestly course. Starting with his fathers name, Mathias, the Greek version of the Hebrew Mathithyahu, the name of the man who began the

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Hasmonean revolt (I Macc. 2, 1-70). Josephus then tells us that he named


his eldest son Hyrcanos18; the very name of two of the Hasmonean dynasts, and that Hyrcanos was the only one of his three children from
his Alexandrian wife, to survive. Furthermore, he never mentioned any
daughters. Did he have any or were they just not worth mentioning?
Significantly, even his mother, important to Josephus claim to nobility, is nowhere given a name. Nor are his four wives named. Yet all his
closest male relatives are named. Josephus reflects the general lack of
interest in womens names, exemplified in Rome, where women simply bore the name of the gens, but also in Judean society of Roman
Palestine. The largely attested patronymical filiation especially in the
funerary inscriptions on ossuaries, tend to prove that while matrilineality was respected in Judea like in Rome (because in times of war one can
only be sure of the mother), the name of the father was important for
transmission, and by extension, were all males names19.
It seems that Josephus mentions his sons only as future heirs of his
intended dynasty: after all he did have five sons like the five Hasmonean
kings. Thus Josephus did have three sons from his second or rather third
wife (to be expanded upon below), an Alexandrian woman: the eldest of
these being called Hyrcanos, the second Ioustos, and the third, Agrippas.
He then divorced from this wife and married a Cretan woman of noble
Jewish descent, as his fourth wife, and she gave him two sons: Ioustos
the elder and Simonides surnamed Agrippas20. He named his new sons
after his dead sons as per the custom at the time. For instance in the
Tomb of the Goliath family excavated at Jericho the name Yeho`ezer
keeps on recurring because of infantile death of the persons bearing this
name21.
Josephus mentions a woman he left behind in Jerusalem during the
war22. One may deduce from this information that Josephus was married when he took command in Galilee. He must have gotten married
when he was eighteen years old in Jerusalem. Even though it is not
mentioned anywhere else in Josephus writings, this information is cru-

cial for the understanding of Josephus private life and ambitions. This
woman in Jerusalem could also have been only his betrothed, or just a
woman he befriended and whom he was particularly fond of, though
most likely, she was his first wife. The Mishnah Avot, 5, 21, sets the
age of marriage at 18. The funerary inscriptions as well as the archeological material found in the rock cut tombs in Roman Palestine could
confirm this. In the family tomb of the Goliaths of Jericho, for instance,
the evidence leads us to believe that Yeho`zer, son of El`azar Goliath,
was a grandfather of ten if not 14 at the age of 35 when he died in 10
CE23. Moreover, Josephus does not devote much effort to describing
this woman in Jerusalem because he does not devote much effort to
describing any of his female relatives, including his wives. He mentions
his mother only to position himself in the Hasmonean lineage. Had this
woman in Jerusalem been his mother, or sister (assuming he had any),
even sister in law, he would have at least mentioned the familial link.
Nevertheless, he does not explicitly identify her as his first wife because
he is writing his books as a Roman Historian and for several reasons
(which I shall explain below) Josephus had only rather briefly mentioned his first wife that he left in Jerusalem.
His first wife must have died in the siege of Jerusalem. Later on, the
Romans freed him24. Then he followed Vespasian to Alexandria where
the latter was proclaimed Emperor and where Josephus married for the
third time.
Josephus tells us25 that during his captivity he was forced by
Vespasian to marry a prisoner, but since he was a priest, Jewish Law forbade him from marrying any woman but a virgin, and a prisoner was assumed to have been raped. Therefore as soon as he was freed he repudiated this wife (or she left him?). There is a discussion in Steve Masons
commentaries on Josephus Life on the issue26. While I agree with Steve
Masons inclination to replace Josephus works in the context of Flavian
Rome audiences, I disagree with Masons methodology. In my view,
and with respect to Masons mastering of the ancient Greek language,
grammar cannot explain everything, especially when it comes to the
works of ancient authors and when the authors in question were not
native speakers of Greek. For Josephus one still has to consider a whole

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18 Ioannes Hyrcanos I, 135-104 and Hyrcanos II, 67-63, both Hasmonean sovereigns
in Judaea.
19 See Joseph Mlzes article Pre ou mre aux origines de la matrilinarit juive
in Le monde de Clio, April 2003.
20 Vita 426-427.
21 R. Hachlili and P. Smith, The Genealogy of the Goliath Family, BASOR 235
(1979), pp. 67-70.
22 War V, 419.

23

See C. Cohen-Matlofsky, Les Lacs, p. 167, n. 633.


War IV, 623-629; V, 114, 256-257, 261, 325.
25 Vita 414-415.
26 Which I quote in part infra.
24

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middle-eastern civilization behind the translation of his works into the


Greek language. For example when I say that Josephus was forced by
Vespasian to marry a prisoner, forced is to be understood as Josephus
justifying himself for accepting as a cohen (priest in Hebrew) to marry
this woman. Then when later he says that in fact she was a virgin
it is again for him a way to justify his actions, all because among his
audiences in Rome, there also was an affluent Jewish community from
which he found his last wife of Cretan Jewish origin.
How many times did Josephus take a woman as a wife? How many
of them were Jewish?
First of all one has to note that Josephus states27 that this captive
woman (his second wife) from Caesarea Maritima was in fact a virgin and moreover, that she left him once he was freed from captivity.
We know that some pagans did take part in the insurrection in Galilee
where they were numerous. So the one he married under Vespasians
command, whom we know to have been a prisoner, must have been
a pagan. Josephus states himself:

There is every reason to deduce from the above that this caesarean
captive Josephus was forced to marry was in fact a gentile. Josephuss
lineage would not have permitted him to marry a non-Jew. Moreover, he
was already about 30 years old therefore most probably, (according to
the normal age of marriage for men at the time) already married and to
a Jewish woman from Jerusalem. Moreover, since he was of Pharisaic
obedience at the time of the war, in light of a largely accepted ideal of
monogamy among this group30, Josephus could not have been happy
to be a bigamist. Josephus was probably hoping that his first wife was
still alive in Jerusalem. Indeed, only when he began to doubt this, had
he decided to marry the Alexandrian women (his third wife) after his
freedom from captivity in 69 BC.
For all these aforementioned reasons, Josephus informs us that he felt
forced by Vespasian to marry this prisoner from Caesarea, precisely
because Josephus was in fact already married to a Jerusalem woman and
could no longer respect the principle of ideal monogamy observed by
at least the aristocrats and sovereigns at the time and especially by the
Hasmonean rulers.
Therefore indeed the most important underlying question one should
ask when reading Josephus Vita 414 is why Vespasian commanded him
to marry this Caesarian prisoner? Was it common for a Roman conqueror to command a prisoner, privileged or not, to marry another prisoner?
Did Vespasian have a secret goal in doing so, such as erasing Josephus
priestly descent? Did this Roman Emperor to be, knowing that a cohen,
a priest, could only marry a Jewish virgin, force Josephus to take this
prisoner as a second wife in order to make sure that Josephus could no
longer assume a position of leadership among the Judeans? Or even
more importantly, did Vespasian do so in order to impede him from
claiming a Hasmonean type of leadership, a Great Priest-monogamous
Kingship? And who else other than the future Emperor would have
known better of Josephus ambitions?
Mason argues:

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...Caesarea-on-sea, one of the largest cities of Judea with a population consisting chiefly of Greeks...28

On the population of Caesarea there is a whole discussion29, which is


quoted in part below:
....Caesarea was a pagan not a Jewish enclave (War 2.223-27; Ant. 19:36566)...In 60 CE a legal debate broke out over the nature of the city: Jews claimed
that from the citys inception it was Jewish, since Herod, its founder, was
Jewish; non-Jews claimed that it was not Jewish, that Herod had built the city
specifically for non-JewsJosephuss account implies that Caesareas Jewish
population was wealthy and well established, while the rest of the population
was supported by military units from Syria (War 2. 266-70; Ant. 20.173-78)
The wealth and position of the minority Jewish population was sufficient to
argue for preferential treatmentJosephus also reports another slaughter
of Caesareas Jews in 66 CE, when 20,000 were killed. The rest of its Jews
were taken prisoner and kept in the navys armory (War 2.457) Following
these events and the consequent absence of Jews in the city, Caesarea became
a strong Roman military base during the first revolt (War 3.409-13; 4.88)....

27

Ibidem.
War III, 409.
29 See the mcmaster.ca web site.
28

What Josephus actually says is: ...Among the Romans finally I was kept
under guard with every consideration: Vespasian supplying me with all the
marks of honor. In fact, when he so directed [or at his direction, arrangement,
provision] I even took a certain virgin for myself, a native/local from among
30

See Claude Cohen-Matlofsky, Flavius Josphe: les ambitions dun homme, Paris,
2012, pp. 45-61 and also A. Schremer, How much Jewish Polygyny in Roman Palestine, in Proceedings of the AAJR vol. LXIII (1997- 2001), pp. 1-42.

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the prisoners who were seized at Caesarea... Josephus did the choosing and
marrying, as he uses the standard verb (middle of age) for the description. He
is illustrating the honors and privileges granted by Vespasian. It was extraordinary that a prisoner of war should be permitted to take a wife -- especially a
virgin. Such a privilege could only occur at the direction of ones master, effectively the enslaved prisoners owner. The construction is of course a genitive
absolute. This construction separates two persons actions31

mander to direct a captive of his, as part of the latters privileges, to get


married, and was it so urgent for Josephus to take a wife. Moreover,
Josephus says that she left him, so was it common for a woman to abandon her spouse? But these questions all remain unanswered. Therefore
the only logic I see here is that Josephus, as a once affluent Judean, had
specific ambitions, was in fact already married to a Jewess in Jerusalem,
was keen on respecting the ideal of monogamy, and wanted to justify
himself of his past experience in order to make tabula rasa for future
endeavors.
Let us dwell a moment on the principle of monogamy that seems to
have been the wise ideal at a time of war in Roman Palestine, for at
least financial reasons32. I refer the reader again to Adiel Schremers,
extensive study on the issue, quoted above in note 30. There are numerous examples of polygamy or rather polygyny first in the Hebrew Bible
and then again in the middle ages since Rabbi Gershoms herem (ban in
Hebrew), prohibited the Ashkenazi Jews from bigamy, proving that it
did exist at some point. However among the Jews of Roman Palestine it
looks like polygyny probably existed only in exceptional instances. As
proof, the rock-cut tomb inscriptions and archeological material, including bones gathered, showing husbands and wives buried together in the
same coffins or ossuaries but always as one wife with one husband33. It
is accepted that the ossuaries were widely used by Pharisees. As well,
most Rabbis of the Talmud were monogamist. Monogamy was the norm
among the Hasmonean leaders.

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In my judgment one should consider here the fact that Josephus is


writing in Rome, as a roman historian. Therefore the most important
element in his narrative is his description of the good treatment he was
granted by the roman emperors. This being said, whether Josephus did
the choosing of the captive woman to marry, is irrelevant here. Rather,
what is hard to believe is that this captive could have been a virgin.
Therefore I am inclined to believe that this element is an addition of
Josephuss, as a proud cohen, keen on preserving the privileges inherent to priesthood among his people, one of them being to only marry a
virgin.
Mason continues in the same commentary:
... Josephus took a virgin for himself, from one of the Caesarean captive ...
But in the context he is illustrating the privileges and considerations extended
to him by Vespasian, and so makes clear that (of course) Vespasian had to authorize this. There is nothing here about Vespasian ordering Josephus to marry!
If there was any ordering going on it was directed toward (a) his soldiers and
assistants, to find someone suitable, and (b) toward the poor virgin in question,
who may (being a captive) have had little say in the matter...I think that order
is too strong, which is why I avoid that translation in my commentaries. Trying
to keep to the same term in English as often as possible, Ive settled on direct
(i.e., provide the impetus to make something happen)...The sense is much more
that Vespasian privileged him, even in captivity (=chains), by making possible
this prisoners marriage, and to a virgin. Again, if anyone was ordered, she
was

I disagree with this argument because firstly, one has to bear in mind
that Josephus wrote his books under the dictation of the Flavian emperors, therefore had no choice but to flatter them and praise the way they
treated him. Secondly, as I mentioned earlier in this study, Josephus uses
the term forced and virgin because he felt compelled to justify himself to the affluent Jewish community of Rome to say the least.
Therefore, I reiterate my questions: was it common for a Roman com31

See Steve Masons Text and Commentaries on Josephus Life, (2001) op. cit.

32

There is no mention otherwise: neither in written contemporary sources nor in


archeological material of the period. As a matter of fact, the funerary inscriptions and
bones found in ossuaries of early Roman Palestine, indicating that husband and wife
were sometimes buried together are another evidence of monogamy at the time of Josephus. Here are some examples: El`azar and Shappirah, Hananyah and Mariah, see in
Cohen-Matlofsky, (2001) op. cit., notes number 167; 238; 387 and 527.
33 See Rachel Hachlili, Jewish funerary Customs Practices and Rites in the Second
Temple Period, (JSJSup 94; Leiden: Brill, 2005); see also Hannah Cotton-Paltiel and
al. (eds.), Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae,vol. I, Jerusalem Part 1, (Berlin/
New York: De Gruyter, 2010); L.Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the
Collections of the State of Israel (Jerusalem: The Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel
Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994); Amos Kloner and Boaz Zissu, The Necropolis of Jerusalem in The Second Temple Period (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient
Culture and Religion 8; Leuven: Peeters, 2007) and C. Cohen-Matlofsky, The Imperfect Tomb of Jesus and Family, in The Tomb of Jesus and His Family, Exploring
Ancient Jewish Tombs near Jerusalems Walls (ed., J. H. Charlesworth; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2013), pp.76-107.

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As for Josephus, he insists each time that he divorced or repudiated the


previous wife before he married again.
Furthermore, the reasons behind Josephus choice for pharisaic ideology which I shall expand upon in the following lines, reinforce the
thesis I am attempting to develop in this study, that Josephus had the
ambition to restore the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty for his people,
perhaps with him as a leader.
From early youth, with Mathias, his elder brother, Josephus was
brought up in the love of letters. We know nothing about the beginning
of his life until age 14. He tells us that he had a phenomenal memory
and was very perspicacious. When he was barely 14 the chief Priests
and affluent people of Jerusalem would call upon him for questions of
law34. At age 16 he joined successively the three different schools of
thought in Palestine: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. But
since he was of aristocratic descent, the school he really should have
approached first should have been the Sadducees. However it is hard
to say for sure, and it seems that he was not eventually satisfied by any
one school in particular35.
The evidence seemingly suggests that Josephus rallied at times to the
Pharisees movement for political reasons exclusively, an additional trait
that relates him to the Hasmoneans.
Josephus also tells us that he spent three years in the desert with someone called Bannous36, a nazir (ascetic man) living on natural products
of the earth and, for reasons of purity, bathing in cold water. Josephus
then tells us that he ended his relationship with Bannous because it was
time for him, Josephus, to start his political career in Jerusalem37, while
in fact he had informed us that he had done so at age 14, as mentioned
above.
Moreover, Bannous is not a name attested in the onomastic of Roman
Palestine38. Josephus does not present Bannous as an Essene, and assuming that Bannous was a nickname, this man had probably ended
up rallying the nationalist Sicarii movement of Eleazaros which had

fled Jerusalem in 66 and settled in Masada and were later joined by the
Zealots after the siege of Jerusalem.
This encounter with Bannous is quite questionable for all the reasons
stated above. Moreover, at age 16, Josephus was too young for this type
of experience in the desert. It is doubtful that his parents would have
given him that much freedom. Therefore, while I am not excluding the
possibility of punctual encounters with someone called Bannous, I do
not see enough persuasive merit in Josephus writings to support this
three-year experience in the desert. Josephus was most likely about to
get married in Jerusalem at the time, and therefore could not have left
the city for such a compelling experience.
Why did Josephus periodically appear to have chosen the Pharisees
if his familial origin should have pushed him towards the Sadducees?
One of the answers to this question is, Josephus prominent features:
opportunism and ambition. The Pharisees had much popular political
influence. Josephus seems to have chosen their obedience for the same
reasons the Hasmonean sovereigns finally did.
Some examples of his opportunism and ambitious personality will be
considered here. Josephus, apparently as a Sadducee and at the head of a
delegation of priests, accepted the honor of traveling to meet Nero. Then
he accepted the honor of commanding as a general against the Romans
in Galilee, agreeing with the Pharisees that the war was urgent self-defense. Josephus then turned to the Romans again instead of committing
suicide when he was in command in Galilee.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to identify all priests of that time
as Sadducees. Some, like Josephus family, it seems, (as well as someone called Ioazros, of priestly descent in Jerusalem)39 could have been
of Pharisaic color for their culture, political orientations and ideology. Moreover, Josephus search for the best philosophy was typical of
Greco-Roman culture. For example Justin Martyr40, disappointed by
the Peripatetic, Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies, tells us how he
finally converted to Christianity. Galen and Lucian also went on search
for a philosophy to suit their convictions.
Then again Josephus does not provide us with any information about
his personal life from the age of 19 to approximately 28, when apparently, as he claims, he came back to Jerusalem from the desert. At this point

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34

See Vita 9.
See Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: a Composition-Critical
Study (Leiden: Brill 2001). As well, of the same author, Flavius Josephus and the Pharisees, http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/Flavius_Josephus.shtmlarticle
36 Vita 11.
37 Vita 12.
38 C. Cohen-Matlofsky, Les lacs.
35

39

Vita 197. See also the list of Pharisees priests in Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem au
temps de Jsus, Paris, 1967, p. 344.
40 Dialogue with Tryphon 8.

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The Polish Journal of Biblical Research 15, 2016

of his life, as mentioned above, he traveled for the first time abroad in
an embassy of delegates, of apparently Sadducean obedience, sent to
Rome in the year 66 during the Revolt. Josephus was accompanying
a delegation of sacrificers. They reached Puteoles where Josephus met
a Jewish comedian named Aliturus that Nero greatly favored. Josephus
was then introduced to Poppaea. It is from this judeophile Empress that
he obtained gain de cause for the sacrificers41.
As for the rebels, after they managed to push away the Syrian governor Cestius Gallus, they rallied the pro-Romans to their side and then
they recruited extra generals, including priests, to direct the war. Among
them were Ananos, the Great Priest, John the Essene and Josephus. The
latter was in charge of upper and lower Galilee42. Upon his return from
Rome, Josephus tried to dissuade the insurgents, reminding them of their
inferiority to the Romans43. Then Josephus, along with the chief of the
priests, and as a leader of the Pharisees, decided that the war was urgent
if only for self-defense. He sent his two colleagues to Jerusalem, gathered some weapons and reinforced several towns44. He then befriended the affluent people of Galilee and forced the inhabitants into military service, subjugating Tiberias and Tarichea. He failed at Sepphoris
which had been fortified by his forces and which was abandoned by his
troops to Vespasian. He organized the resistance in Jotapata besieged
by Vespasian. He was subject to the insults of certain Galilean Jews
like Ioannes of Gischala who had sent a delegation to Jerusalem to ask
for his replacement. Once the city was taken, Josephus took refuge in a
cavern and decided to surrender to the Romans rather than take part in
a collective suicide as recommended by his companions. Since then his
fate was very much tied to the Romans45. Jewish soldiers wanted him
killed. In Jerusalem the first reaction was to grieve for him and later,
when it was understood that he had surrendered, to curse him as a traitor. Josephus went back to Jerusalem and encouraged the inhabitants to
surrender during the siege of Titus, but without success.
What one may conclude about Flavius Josephuss personality is that
he was eager to learn, he was hungry for power and prestige and that he

was an opportunist. Ignoring his lineage, he did not hesitate to adhere at


times to the Pharisaic movement. Even after the success of his expedition to the Roman Emperor, he did not hesitate to take command against
Rome in Galilee for having finally surrendered to his enemies. After the
war, he traveled with Titus back to Rome and stayed at the palace of
Vespasian. He also received an allowance from the Emperors and provoked the jealousy of the Jews throughout the Empire but he remained,
nonetheless, Romes protg. He was, as most influential Jews of the period were, both a conformist to Jewish laws and cult (while apparently
picking and choosing from the three different Jewish schools of thought,
like Philo did) and was a cosmopolitan of general knowledge.
Let us expand upon Josephuss intellectual behavior. In his article,
Eyal Regev46, tries to address the following issues:

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1 - to what extent did Philo and Josephus follow Pharisaic, Sadducean


and Qumranic Halakhah?
2 - where there three different schools of Halakhah, Pharisaic,
Sadducean and Qumranic?
3 - was there a Qumranic legal system?
4 - what was the extent of the greco-roman laws influence on the
rabbinic Halakhah?
Regev suggests that Josephus followed Pharisaic Halakhah in seven cases, while Philo followed it in five. Josephus followed Sadducean
Halakhah in three cases, while Philo in two, and Josephus followed
MMT47 and Jubilees48 in six cases, while Philo followed Qumranic
Halakhah in five cases.
This being said, one has to bear in mind that the Sadducean Halakhah
has been brought to us exclusively through discussions in Rabbinic and
Qumranic documents when they oppose the Sadducean views.
Nonetheless, without entering here the debate on the origin of the
Dead Sea Scrolls, it seems at least from the above, that there was not
any consistent Halakhic choice in neither Philos nor Josephus intellectual behavior. Moreover, this probably reflects the reality among other
individuals in the Hellenistic and Roman Palestine and the diaspora.

41

Vita 16 says that Flavius Josephus was the ambassador of a group of prisoner
priests traveling to Rome to ask the Emperors favor.
42 War II, 562-565.
43 Vita 17-19.
44 War XII, 569-576.
45 War II, 577-584, 614, 646; III, 60-63, 111, 129, 131, 135-140, 141-339, 340-408,
410, 434-439, 464; IV, 9, 56.

46

See E. Regev, From Qumran to Alexandria and Rome: Qumranic Halakhah in


Josephus and Philo, The Halakhah in Light of Epigraphy, JAJ Sup. 3 (2011), pp. 43-63.
47 Miqsat Ma`ase Hatorah, also called the Halakhic letter of Qumran.
48 Of the Qumran Library.

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Therefore, if not by way of Halakhah, what factors determined the


identity or rather self-identification, of a person as a member of the
Pharisees, Sadducees and Qumranites at the time?
It seems that in the first century CE of Roman Palestine at least, some,
perhaps many, intellectual Jews made individual decisions concerning
their legal orientation.

This was the first book he wrote in 71 and which was edited in 7579. Then in a largely apologetic tone he wrote the Jewish Antiquities,
published in 93-94; this is a history of the Jewish people from their
origin until the beginning of the Jewish war of 66. Books 12 to 22 of
the Jewish Antiquities constitute a development of the two first books
of The Jewish War. The Life, his autobiography, was also published in
93-94. There he mostly discusses the accusations he had to face some
twenty years after the Jewish war concerning his surrender. Therefore
The Life is not really an autobiography. One may wonder whether it
was Josephus himself who decided to title this writing Vita, The Life. It
seems rather, that The Life is an appendix to his Jewish Antiquities, and
a second version of the third book of his Jewish War. Eusebius quotes
Vita calling it Antiquities49. This would mean that in the 3rd and 4th century Vita did not have a proper title. Josephus himself, at the end of the
Jewish Antiquities, expresses his wish to talk about his life and career,
in order to respond to an attack against his family. Finally the Contra
Apionem, where he responds to Apion, the greatest anti-judean author
of Alexandria, was released in 96. In this work, Josephus goal is to
counter-attack Apion mostly by proving Judaisms great antiquity.
Originally written in Aramaic and Greek, Josephuss works were later translated into Latin, Syriac, Slavic, then English, French, Italian,
Modern Hebrew and Japanese. The linguistic imperfections in Greek reveal Josephuss Jewish nature. However Josephus was not the worst of
the Hellenizing historians who had migrated to Rome and wrote about
Roman politics and the military history of the contemporary sovereigns.
Among them were Polybius, Dionysos of Halicarnasses, Appian, Arrian,
Cassius Dio, etc. According to Henry St. John Thackeray50, Josephuss
works were written by many different hands. This statement is based
on the fact that Josephus himself mentions, in Contra Apionem1. 50,
that he used assistants for the Greek language in writing The Jewish
War, but not for his other works, which were written twenty years after he had been immersed in the Hellenized environment in Rome.
Moreover, Josephuss use of Thucydides and Sophocles expressions
was common practice with first century authors. Therefore it is natural
that Josephus wanted to try different styles in his writings. Among his

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This individual choice, if indeed it was a phenomenon beyond exceptional


cases writes Regev, corresponds with the individualism in Judean society as
demonstrated in my studies on Pharisaic Halakhah, non-priestly purity, burial
in ossuaries, restriction of burial to the nuclear family and the decoration style
of some ossuaries from the Second Temple Period.

Regevs study provides the answer for why Josephus was not satisfied
by any of the Jewish schools of thought at the time and did not make a
clear philosophical choice for any of them.
The Josephus who ended up in Rome, had the intellectual baggage
of a Jerusalemite, and was fluent in Hebrew and Aramaic and knew
some Greek, yet he did not devote much time to interpreting the Hebrew
Bible. Josephus came from a Palestine Hellenized ever since the days
of Alexander the Great but which had made efforts to preserve Judaism
with its political, social and educational institutions. He had been a politician, then soldier and finally a writer. Had he succeeded in restoring
the Hasmonean rule in Palestine, following some of the Hasmonean
sovereigns, he would not have hesitated to base his political power on
Pharisees grounds. Flavius Josephus belonged to a native Hellenized
urbanite elite that had spread all over the Empire, among them: priests,
landlords, dynasts, etc.
In Antiquity it was important that the historians personally witness
the events they described. Stringent examples include Herodotus,
Thucydides, Polybius, Sallust, etc. Josephus wrote his Books while in
Rome. These Books are the main sources for the rise of the Flavian
Emperors as well as the History of Palestine in the first century of the
Common Era. Above all, much of the information given in his books
has been authenticated by recent archeology. There is no indication of
the date of his death.
In his writings, he was at times biased and concerned about presenting himself and his role in the events under the most favorable light.
In The Jewish War, the Roman power is described as overwhelming
and Josephus praises the power of Rome while criticizing Zealot nationalism, which he sees as responsible for the ultimate catastrophe.

49

Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiastica 3, 10.


Henry St. John Thackeray, Josephus, the Man and the Historian (New York: Ktav
publishing House 1929). This author composed a dictionary of the vocabulary and the
style of Josephus.
50

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opponents was Ioustos of Tiberias, another Jewish historian, a contemporary of Josephus, who was also implicated in the Jewish war against
the Romans, and whose writings were not published.
Josephus Flavius political perspicacity led him to conclude that the
Jewish religion developed better under Pax Romana than under complete independence in Judea. He was not the only one to have had
such a conviction. Yohanan ben Zakkay, followed by Yehoshuah Ben
Hannanyah also thought so and in this regard were closer to the prophet
Jeremiah or the authors of the Acts.
In conclusion there are no doubts that Josephus is a controversial figure of Second Temple Jewish history. Nevertheless, there are grounds to
believe that Josephus had four wives rather than three and that he had
planned to become a leader of Hasmonean type in Judea.
Josephuss reflection on the long glory of the Hasmonean house in
Vita 1-4 matches in tone his summary at Jewish Antiquities XIV, 490-91.
He could have been a Great Priest-King, a Hasmonean on his mother
side and a priest on his fathers (at least). He tells us that his fathers
name was Mathias, a recurrent name in his family and the name of the
instigator of the Maccabean revolt and the father of the five leaders of
this revolt and rulers of the Hasmonean Dynasty. He named his eldest
son: Hyrcanos51, the name of two Hasmonean sovereigns in Judea. This
son Hyrcanos was the only one to survive. Josephus never mentions
daughters, because even if he had any they would not have been included in his intended Hasmonean type of dynasty that would have started
with himself as a sovereign. He stated that he was forced by Vespasian
to marry a prisoner because a prisoner was not a virgin. Vespasian
knowing that a cohen, could only marry a Jewish virgin commanded
Josephus to marry a pagan prisoner in order to impede him from claiming a Hasmonean type of leadership. Josephus was already married,

since age at marriage was around 18, and had been made a prisoner in
his early thirties, and there was an ideal of monogamy amongst priests,
Pharisees and Hasmonean sovereigns.
Josephuss first wife was a Jewess from Jerusalem, the second one was
a pagan captive from Caesarea and the third was probably a pagan from
Alexandria (he would have mentioned otherwise like he mentioned that
his fourth wife was Jewish). He married the Alexandrian woman after
his first wife had most likely died in the siege of Jerusalem and after he
had repudiated his second wife. He eventually divorced from his third
wife and married for the fourth time, in Rome, with a noble Jewess of
Cretan origin. Again we see through the above the ideal of monogamy,
since Josephus insists every time on the fact that he separates from the
previous wife before he marries the next.
It is obvious that Josephus had a vision. He was disappointed by
the Herodian style of leadership. He depicts Herod the great and the
Herodian sovereigns in rather negative terms. However Josephus was
not very popular among the Judeans of that time. Thus he sought the
help of the Romans, like his ancestors (in particular Yehudah, son of
Mathithyahu, surnamed Maccabee) did (I Macc. 8, 17-18), in order
to eventually establish a Hasmonean type of government of which he
would have been leader. And as a cohen and Hasmonean he had to take
a Jewish wife of noble descent, like his last Jewish Cretan wife, the only
one that he did not repudiate and of whom he talks with great pride.

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51 See commentary 22 of Steve Masons Text and Commnentary on Josephus Life:


Thus John Hyrcanus I (high priest: 135/4-104 BCE), the son and successor of Simon.
Although 1 Maccabees ends with only a brief albeit laudatory notice of Hyrcanus
term (1 Macc 16:16-24), Josephus presents his tenure as the apogee of Hasmonean
administration and piety: War 1.54-69; Ant. 13.230-300. See Thoma (JHGRP:127-40).
It is no surprise that Josephus should name his oldest son Hyrcanus (? 5) or that he
should wish to date his familys ancestry from just this point. In the earlier narratives he
clearly distinguishes this high priest from Hyrcanus II, whose unfortunate and irregular
term after Alexandra Salomes death was fraught with violence (Ant. 13.407; 14.17079, 292-93, 365-66; 15.182)....it seems likely that he called this son after his favorite
Hasmonean prince.....