Famed Jewish historian Josephus Flavius was born in Jerusalem in AD 37 or 38, not long after Christ's crucifixion. The son of a priest, he became a Pharisee, a military commander in the Jewish resistance, and an eyewitness to Jerusalem's destruction in AD 70. Eusebius, the first church historian, calls him "the most famous Jew of his time" and tells of a statue erected in his honor in Rome.
For two millennia Christian scholars have preserved and studied Josephus's works, especially his account of the Jewish revolt (The Jewish War) and a complete history of God's people from creation to the first century (Antiquities of the Jews). Pastors often incorporate details from Josephus in their sermons without even realizing they came from him. But should we trust his works?
A Valuable Eyewitness
While every historian is fallible and must be read with care, historians can be very helpful, especially when they report firsthand knowledge. As a teenager, Josephus spent time with various Jewish sects and knew them well. He later observed the Jewish revolt from the front lines. When he was captured, he got to see the other side. In fact, he won the favor of the general, Vespasian, by accurately predicting his rise to the throne of the empire. Josephus ultimately switched sides and received Roman citizenship, even adopting Vespasian's imperial family name, Flavius. He now had access to the emperor’s libraries, military reports, and court records from Herod and other rulers in Palestine.
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