Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
John2
Posts: 4309
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by John2 »

No way. I don't know if I've ever exactly thought of Josephus as a "turncoat," but I've always been aware that he is commonly viewed that way. But what makes his version of Judaism any less authentic than the Fourth Philosophy he abandoned? I think he had a better grasp of geopolitical reality than those fighting against Rome for their "true" form of Judaism. I wish the position of people like Josephus and ben Zakkai had prevailed and peace was made with Rome and Jerusalem wasn't destroyed. Then Jews could have continued to live in the Land of Israel with some measure of autonomy waiting for a Messiah that will never come.

Anyway, curious to see what's out there, I stumbled upon this article by Peskowitz ("Meeting Josephus Head On and Humanly, a Historian's Transgression"), who concludes:

Everything was gone, and still, Josephus wrote and wrote about the vanquished Jews, reanimating them. Without him, we'd have four relatively blank centuries of Jewish life in Judea and elsewhere, from 300 BCE to nearly 100 CE, to add to the other times and places about which we know so little ...

Josephus's Jerusalem and Judea were destroyed, Jewish people were spread out everywhere, sometimes free, sometimes enslaved. He alone, it turns out, had the capacity to reach into the past and commit the Jewish stories to the written word. He believed in the Judean and Jewish past, in accomplishments and ordinariness, in the specialness of the Jewish Torah and in the unremarkable, just-like-everyone-else, quality of the Maccabean and Herodian royal families. It didn't matter that the Jews hadn't produced philosophers as Greece had or military legions like Rome. They were his people, they'd been destroyed, and it was going to be by his hand that they'd be saved, finally and for all time.


http://perspectives.ajsnet.org/transgre ... sgression/

Yeah! Where the hell would we be without him? Josephus was no more a "turncoat" than ben Zakkai and other moderate Jews. The Fourth Philosophy was like the Taliban. If I had lived in Jerusalem when they took over, it would have sucked.

And how cool would it be if Jerusalem had not been destroyed and the Temple was still standing? Fourth Philosophic Jews should have toned it down like ben Zakkai and Josephus and enjoyed living in the Roman Empire in peace. And there is no "Messiah," it's all just crazy talk, so it doesn't matter who anyone thinks it was or could be.
Last edited by John2 on Sat Mar 09, 2024 6:13 pm, edited 4 times in total.
John2
Posts: 4309
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by John2 »

And while he was given an apartment in Rome, Josephus was also given land in Judea and lived there and had a family, like the OT tells Jews to do. That sounds like a better way of life than fighting against Rome or seeking to die like Jesus over the "Messiah" idea.
StephenGoranson
Posts: 2430
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:10 am

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by StephenGoranson »

Miriam Peskowitz does have a good point: that Josephus presented Judaism, especially the Pharisee variety which was no threat to Rome, as an ancient and honorable religion and tradition.
That, however, does not erase the evident fact that he switched from fighting Rome to urging accommodation with, surrender to, Rome, hence the terms turncoat and opportunist appear to have some basis--without even taking sides on which choice was better.
I'm not at all persuaded, by another thread, that Christianity was part of the Fourth Philosophy. He didn't write anything remotely such. Plus, Christianity was small then; no threat to Rome; so no harm to mention, if he did, which is, at least, possible.
On one detail I'd question what smart and talented Miriam (former colleague at Duke) wrote: the claim that Josephus also wrote in Latin. Maybe confusing later translations?
Last edited by StephenGoranson on Sun Mar 10, 2024 9:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
Secret Alias
Posts: 18641
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by Secret Alias »

If Josephus can be believed to have mastered Attic Greek on his own why not Latin or Chinese? Why not inventing a helicopter? These debates aren't even serious anymore. Josephus wrote to counter the effects of Justus's still extant account of Josephus's transgressions during the war. It is ridiculous to see it as an "honest" account where it could be "so honest" that he managed to confess his "interest" or admiration in a young man named Jesus. But again, for most people history isn't the objective of their "historical research."
User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 3432
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by DCHindley »

It is possible for individuals to evolve their thinking over time as they encounter and at least at times overcome challenges to their notions of how "things worked."

So, we have a priestly Judean aristocrat who, like most folks within a state government, does their duty when called upon. At first, since he had some contact with Roman military circles when defending some Judean scholars (apparently Roman citizens or why Rome?) who had ben sent to Rome for trial of some kind. They were eating fruits and nuts in order to carefully avoid eating any non kosher foods, so they were ultra nationalists in a religious sense. These may have been Josephus' first exposure to the "4th Philosophy" he describes in his works. Josephus probably had to defend them against their will as a damage control officer, but he likely had conversations with them about their beliefs and how the emperor could see these as threats to his authority. Look at Josephus' statements about the 4th philosophy (see my earlier PDF upload of a comparative table of all the significant movements by about a half dozen writers, from Philo, to Josephus, Origen, Hippolytus, Eusebius & everyone's favorite Epiphanius) for a resume of what he appears to have learned about the 4th philosophy from his interviews.

Anyhow, he is initially with the High Priestly affiliated party when the Temple Captain refused to offer the customary sacrifice for the emperor, this engaging in rebellion to Rome as the leader of the empire to which Judeans were subject. It was akin to Alexander Kerensky's "Provisional Revolutionary Government" that was run by moderates to conservatives in opposition to the radical Bolshevik revolution.

What Josephus may not have been aware of was that his idol, HP Ananas son of Ananus, was using him, a brash young but very naïve politician on the rise, as a willing pawn in his own agenda of creating a situation where Josephus would set the stage for Ananus to approach the Romans to surrender on terms.

I think Ananus expected Josephus to fall flat on his face, overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, but use that to forcing the rebellious part of the population to reconsider supporting a negotiated surrender. Josephus proved a bit more resiliant than Ananus and his counselors had assumed, and in time they decided they did NOT want Josephus to actually make any sort of effective resistance to the Romans swooping down from Syria. Since he was refusing to resign his commission, he had to be sacrificed. They sent a unit to locate and arrest him (fancy talk for kill) which he never learned about until after researching his Autobiography.

All this while, he is trying to rationalize the circumstances he and the Temple state he was a functionary of were facing, his successes, his failures. He apparently was not afraid to seize resources and use it to finance his efforts. I'm sure he found some sort of "legal" precedent to justify it.

I think he was convinced that their unique history made conflict inevitable, and I think he was sincere in his desire to save lives, as he was well aware of just how powerful the Roman military was after getting to know Roman officers in Rome, maybe seeing their training close up. He likely wrestled with how he could do so, as all seemed lost. Then his ability to gamble effectively was pressed into service and he was able to escape the suicide agreement and surrender to a Roman soldier he happened to know. Now it was just a matter of playing the generals (Vespasian & Titus) until events changed. If he was right, and Vespasian & Titus would rise to the top in Roman politics, he might have a chance.

Josephus acknowledges that he was a man who sometimes had to live by his wits, some of which he was not proud of, but he says he did it for the the pipples. He also acknowledged that some things done in the war were not in good faith on part of Romans (accepting surrender with promise of life for one town and then turning around and slaughtering them because they could not take a chance that rebels were still among them, soldier "accidentally" sets fire to the inner court of the temple and Titus says "let it burn out" rather than save it, but again, they believed that if they did not do so, the temple would remain a rallying point for rebels.

DCH
Secret Alias
Posts: 18641
Joined: Sun Apr 19, 2015 8:47 am

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by Secret Alias »

If the question is did the historical Josephus "turn" on the Jewish revolutionary movement he was a part of during the Jewish War of 66 - 70 CE? Of course. No question.
StephenGoranson
Posts: 2430
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:10 am

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by StephenGoranson »

Yes, Josephus was a turncoat.

added: though not only that.
User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 3432
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by DCHindley »

Secret Alias wrote: Mon Mar 11, 2024 7:09 am If the question is did the historical Josephus "turn" on the Jewish revolutionary movement he was a part of during the Jewish War of 66 - 70 CE? Of course. No question.
Seems that "Of course" should be followed by an "aarrgghh!"

My observation that "most government workers naturally attempt to do their duty for the governments they work for" (or thereabouts) was intended to convey the idea that he can change his mind after a while. "I didn't sigh up for this!" realization that what was happening was sending the Judean people on the road to ruin. He fully supported the cause at first, as best as he was able, lionizing the aristocrat's HP hierarchy as the most reasonable around. However, to surrender on terms, they had to bloody up the Roman's nose. In the areas of Idumea, Samaria, Galilee and Perea, there were all sorts of militias roaming about, but not very unified. He at least entertained the Romans by putting up an "interesting" defense of Jotapata, employing all sorts of psychological tricks and the ideas that would soften blows of battering rams, burn the attackers with hot oil, and such. After surrendering himself, and going to work for Vespasian & Titus, he had to watched his idols, the High Priestly aristocracy he admired so much, get bowled over by revolutionaries much more radical than he ever was.

I suppose to eventually learn he had been set up as a patsy was a blow to him psychologically. I think when he wrote his books he was honestly trying to rehabilitate Judaism's image from the taint left by the revolution of 66 CE, and admitted (with Vespasian & Titus's approval) that there had been excesses in response to threats, real or perceived, by Romans as well as Judeans in the various elements of the revolt.

DCH
User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 3432
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by DCHindley »

Secret Alias wrote: Mon Mar 11, 2024 7:09 am If the question is did the historical Josephus "turn" on the Jewish revolutionary movement he was a part of during the Jewish War of 66 - 70 CE? Of course. No question.
Seems that "Of course" should be followed by an "aarrgghh!"

My observation that "most government workers naturally attempt to do their duty for the governments they work for" (or thereabouts) was intended to convey the idea that he can change his mind after a while. That "I didn't sigh up for this!" moment of realization that what was happening among the more radical types was sending the Judean people on the road to ruin.

He fully supported the (moderate damage control government) cause at first, as best as he was able, lionizing the aristocrat's HP hierarchy as the most reasonable around. However, to surrender on terms, they would have to give the Roman's a good bloody nose. In the areas of Idumea, Samaria, Galilee and Perea, there were all sorts of militias roaming about, but not very unified. Josephus at least entertained the Romans by putting up an "interesting" defense of Jotapata, employing all sorts of psychological tricks and the ideas that would soften blows of battering rams, burn the attackers with hot oil, and such.

After surrendering himself, and going to work for Vespasian & Titus, he had to watched his idols, the High Priestly aristocracy he admired so much, get bowled over by revolutionaries much more radical than he ever was.

I suppose to eventually learn he had been set up as a patsy was a blow to him psychologically. I think when he wrote his Judean Antiquities and his Autobiography, he was honestly trying to rehabilitate Judaism's image from the taint left by the revolution of 66 CE, and admitted (with Vespasian & Titus's approval) that there had been excesses in response to threats, real or perceived, by Romans as well as Judeans involved in the the revolt and its subjection.

DCH
John2
Posts: 4309
Joined: Fri May 16, 2014 4:42 pm

Re: Was Josephus a Turncoat?

Post by John2 »

I don't think Josephus was a turncoat to his nation (which is how I mean it) anymore than ben Zakkai. Each did what they had to do to save Judaism by disavowing Jewish messianism and proclaiming Vespasian king or governor of the habitable earth, and each benefited from it (Josephus got adopted, an apartment in Rome and land in Judea, and ben Zakkai got Yavne and other fsvors). And each one did what they could to keep Judaism going post-70 CE.

If Josephus and ben Zakkai said Vespasian was "the Messiah" (or a powerful figure predicted by the OT) and got favors from him for it, why is Josephus a "turncoat" and not ben Zakkai? I don't think either of them were turncoats, just realists who found a way to be Jewish and honor Jewish history post-70 CE.
Last edited by John2 on Wed Mar 13, 2024 12:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post Reply