Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview
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FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

(37 C.E.-c. 100)

Paul Archambault


BIOGRAPHY

The details of Josephus's youth are related in the opening pages of his autobiography (Bios), written in his advanced years. He was born Josephus Ben Matthias in Jerusalem in 37 C.E., the year of Caligula's accession to the Roman imperial throne. “My family is no ignoble one, he writes, exuding a remarkable self-confidence, “tracing its descent back to priestly ancestors…. With us a connexion to the priesthood is the hallmark of an illustrious line. Not only… were my ancestors priests, but they belonged to the first of the twenty-four courses—a peculiar distinction—and to the most eminent of its constituent clans. Moreover, on my mother's side I am of royal blood” (Bios, 1-2). Educated with his brother Matthias, Josephus, the son of one of the most noteworthy men in Jerusalem, was soon known throughout the city as an outstanding student, remarkable for both his memory and his understanding. When he was fourteen, the chief priests and the leading men of the city could consult him on some particular detail of the city ordinances. Between sixteen and nineteen he studied with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes, successively, looking for a disciplined rule of life. Not satisfied with this experience, he spent three years with a certain Bannus, living an ascetic life in the wilderness, after which he decided to govern his life according to the rule of the Pharisees.

In the year 64, at the end of his twenty-sixth year, he was sent to Rome to obtain the liberation of some Jewish priests who had “on some trifling charge” been arrested and taken to Rome to render an account to Emperor Nero. Shipwrecked in the middle of the Adriatic, Josephus, with a company of six hundred, had to swim all night before being rescued. Having arrived safely in Rome, he obtained an audience with Poppea, Nero's wife. Josephus pleaded the case of the Jewish priests successfully and secured their liberation, as well as unspecified “other large gifts” from Poppea. He returned to his homeland convinced of the

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