Josephus, the Romans, the Jews, & Jesus.

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Ben C. Smith
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Josephus, the Romans, the Jews, & Jesus.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sat Oct 12, 2019 9:17 pm

The particular thought leading to this thread I have not given very much consideration, but I want to see whether it is worth pursuing any further.

Is there a pattern to the manner in which Josephus writes about the various colorful characters dotting the Palestinian landscape under Roman rule?

In Antiquities 14.2.1 §19-24, Josephus writes positively about Onias (= Honi the Circle Drawer), whom certain wicked Jews stoned to death. In Antiquities 18.5.2 §116-119, Josephus writes positively about John the Baptist, whom Herod Antipas beheaded.

In Wars 2.17.8 §433-434 and Wars 4.9.3-4 §507-513, Josephus writes negatively about Manahem and Simon ben Giora, both of whom the Romans opposed in the siege. In Antiquities 18.4.1 §85-87, Josephus writes negatively about the Samaritan prophet, whom Pilate put to flight. In Antiquities 20.5.1 §97-99, Josephus writes negatively about Theudas, whom Fadus beheaded. In Antiquities 20.8.6 §167-172, Josephus writes negatively about the Egyptian, whom Felix put to flight. In Antiquities 20.8.10 §188, Josephus writes negatively about an anonymous enchanter, whom Festus slew.

In Wars 6.5.3 §300-309, Josephus writes rather neutrally about Jesus ben Ananus, whom the Jews flogged and the Romans wound up killing with a siege engine.

In these examples, Josephus seems to be describing persons opposing (or opposed by) Rome negatively and persons opposing (or opposed by) the Jews positively. (And, in the last case, he describes a person opposed both by Rome and by the Jews neutrally.) Are there exceptions to this pattern? If so, what and how many are they? If not, or if the exceptions are not numerous, is there something to be said about the next example?

In Antiquities 18.5.2 §116-119 (= the Testimonium Flavianum), Josephus writes positively about Jesus, whom Pilate crucified.

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Re: Josephus, the Romans, the Jews, & Jesus.

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Oct 13, 2019 12:12 am

The pattern suggested here is built on a long and widely held assumption that Josephus should be interpreted through either a pro- or anti-Roman ideology. That assumption or interpretive framework is seriously challenged by Steve Mason in A History of the Jewish War A.D. 66-74, and if we accept Mason's analysis of Josephus's works then the pattern needs a fresh look -- perhaps through the revised perspective of Josephus that Mason offer us:
When we read Josephus, I suggest, we should likewise be impressed by the degree to which Judean leaders’ motives (as his own) lack reference to pro- or anti-Roman ideology, although this is what scholars often look for. Front and centre are rather the Polybian notions of honour, safety, wisdom, and the attitudes of statesmen toward their polis. Josephus’ assumptions draw from this common fund of elite conceptions. (p. 109)
Josephus shares the values of his class and place. He ridicules diadems and pretenders to thrones, whether they be shepherds and slaves, sons of Herod, or the later Hasmoneans, not sparing even Rome’s emperors. He typically characterizes political trouble makers as tyrants and would-be despots who like to surround themselves with a “spear-carrying” bodyguard. Some of them wear purple. (p. 457) Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

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