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Steve Mason
Josephus and the New Testament

"Jewish apocalypticism is generally made up by a prophetic revealer figure, by his revelatory message, by a social group receiving the message, by an ideology constructed on the basis of the revelatory message, and, in some cases, by the specific type (genre) of literature containing all these elements."

  • Understanding Josephus: Seven Perspectives (1998) "Josephus's thirty volumes (more consulted than read) are considered the ultimate reference work for Judaism in the Graeco-Roman period. Even the more sceptical, who would wish to read between the lines, must often resort to arbitrary techniques because it is not apparent where the 'lines' are. This volume of essays by seven prominent scholars-John Barclay, Per Bilde, Steve Mason, Tessa Rajak, Joseph Sievers, Paul Spilsbury and Gregory E. Sterling-is another step in the effort to change the way we look at this most famous/notorious ancient Jewish historian. It introduces him as a rational being, a first-century author, and a thinker, with his own literary and social contexts-on the premise that he is worth trying to understand. Three essays deal with his Jewish Antiquities, two with Against Apion, and two with the larger themes of afterlife and apocalyptic in his writings. An up-to-date assessment of Josephus and his modern scholarly interpreters, for expert and non-expert alike."

"Without question, however, the most compelling source of Josephus' appeal to early Christians was his detailed description of the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 68 - 70."

"It has been a standard feature of Christian preaching through the ages that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 was really God's decisive punishment of the Jewish people for their rejection of Jesus, who had died around the year 30."

"The earliest Christian sermon we posses, outside the New Testament, is largely a tirade against the Jews for their treatment of Jesus. Melito, Bishop of Sardis in the late 100's, declares that the Jewish people and its scripture became an "empty thing" with the arrival of Christianity and the Gospel (Passover Sermon 43); only those Jews who believe in Jesus have any ongoing religious validity."

"Not long after the year 200, Bishop Hippolytus of Rome reflected in the same vein:

Quote: "Why was the temple made desolate? Was it on account of the ancient fabrication of the calf? Or was it on account of the ancient idolotry of the people? Was it for the blood of prophets? ..By no means, for in all these transgressions, they always found pardon open to them. But it was because they killed the Son of their Benefactor, for He is co-eternal with the Father (Against the Jew 7)." Unquote.

"Origen, who taught in the early 200's, pointedly restated the theme:

"I challenge anyone to prove my statement untrue if I say that the entire Jewish nation was destroyed less than one whole generation later on account of these sufferings which they inflicted on Jesus. For it was, I believe, 42 years from the time they crucified Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem.For they committed the most impious crime of all, when they conspired against the Savior of mankind, in the city where they performed the customary rites which were symbols of profound mysteries. Therefore, that city where Jesus suffered these indignities had to be utterly destroyed. The Jewish nation had to be overthrown, and God's invitation to blessedness transferred to others, I mean to the Christians, to whom came the teaching about the simple and pure worship of God."  (Origen, Contra Celsum)

"Eusebius, a Christian author of the early 300's, made the same sort of claims in his "Ecclesiastical History", which became an extremely influential document for subsequent generations of Christians; his history fixed many aspects of the Christian understanding of history until the modern period. Speaking of the fall of Jerusalem in 70, he asserts that Christians fled the city so that "the judgment of God might at last overtake them for all their crimes against the Christ and His Apostles, and all that generation of the wicked be utterly blotted out from among men" (Eccl. History 3.5.3).

"Similar sentences are found in such notable authorities as Minucius Felix, John Chrysostom, and Augustine, not to mention many lesser figures."

Note: Obviously not ALL Jews were destroyed, but the author adds:

"But the church fathers spoke of the death or destruction of the Jews for symbolic reasons: to support their contention that God's grace had passed from Judaism to the church. Far from being an incidental event in history, the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans provided a critical foundation for Christian self-understanding."

"The common interpretation of Jerusalem's fall as God's punishment of the Jews continued to flourish throughout the Middle Ages."

So - although Josephus didn't make any connections between Jesus' death and the fall of Jerusalem, his writings provided detailed corroboration of the horrors that the Jews suffered 40 years after Jesus' death.

Hegesippus, who translated Josephus' works into Latin, acknowledges Josephus' usefulness, but claims he was too Jewish in his outlook, thereby unable to see the correct meaning of the AD 70 destruction. He was:

Quote: "an outstanding historian, if only he had paid as much attention to religion and truth as he did to the investigation of facts and moderation in writing. For he show himself to be sympathetic to Jewish faithlessness even in the very things he sets forth about their punishment (1.1)." Unquote

"In other words, although Josephus wrote the "Jewish War" to explain the causes of the temple's destruction, he failed to see the true (i.e. Christian) interpretation.

"To summarize thus far: Josephus' writings were preserved from antiquity by the Christian church for several reasons. They provided a lot of useful background information, a paraphrase of the Old Testament, a valuable model for apologetics, and even some brief references to key figures in the birth of Christianity. But the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR was their detailed description of the atrocities that accompanied the Jewish revolt against Rome and the destruction of the temple. Josephus' vivid account of the war seemed ample proof of the Christian belief that the Jews had become God's enemies by rejecting Christ and persecuting his followers. Eusebius' role in the preservation of Josephus was thus pivotal, for he made him the key "outside" witness for his Christian interpretation of history. We know that other accounts of Jewish history and Palestinian geography survived the first century and that some even lasted to the ninth century."

"Jewish eschatology ought to be defined as a wide category referring to the future hopes of the Jewish people, either immanent or transcendent.  These hopes were cherished by actualizing interpretations of the prophetic oracles in the Bible about the coming of the Messiah to liberate his people from foreign political domination, to re-establish the Davidic kingdom as the supreme power in the world and the create justice and piety in the Jewish people.  However, eschatological hopes are also found in the rather few and isolated texts expressing the hopes of the resurrection of the death, the final judgment and everlasting reward and punishment of the just and the wicked." (Understanding Josephus, p. 40)

"According to John J. Collins and many others, Jewish apocalypticism is primarily a literary category." (p. 40)


HUMA 6108 3.0/ HIST 5022.03
The Judean-Roman War, 66-73/4 CE – Steve Mason
Fall Term – Mondays 4:00-7:00 p.m.

Aim and Scope of the Course

This course examines one of western history’s programmatic conflicts, the war between Judea and Rome in 66-73 CE, from a variety of perspectives. This conflict was singularly important: for the Romans, in legitimizing the new regime of the generals, Vespasian and Titus, who had conquered Jerusalem; for the Judeans/Jews, because it involved the destruction of the main temple in Jerusalem and the (eventual) reconstruction of a cult-less Judaism under rabbinic leadership; and for the Christians, in providing material for their self-understanding as the legitimate heirs of a heritage allegedly squandered by the Judeans. Because of what would happen to all three groups in the third and fourth centuries, the destruction of Jerusalem came to play an increasingly important role in their assessments of themselves and the others. The destruction of Jerusalem remained a Christian reference-point through the Middle Ages and into the modern world.

This course tackles the enormous subject of the war from a variety of angles. A primary task is to read through the “master narrative” by Flavius Josephus (The Judean War) with both literary-interpretative and historical-critical mindsets. Because this account is the only one to survive, understanding it in its whole and its parts, “on its own terms,” is fundamental to any historical analysis of the conflict. The first hour of each seminar is devoted to reading and discussing the War. We maintain the dialectic between story and history, however, by devoting the second hour to a variety of historical issues: the Roman context—the Roman elite’s approach and response to the revolt; the archaeology of Galilee, Jerusalem, and Masada relevant to the war period, as well as the surviving coins; sociological and economic questions pertaining to the conflict; the major scholarly-historical syntheses; and the role of the war in Jewish and Christian circles in the following centuries. Obviously, the constraints of a twelve-week seminar permit only a sampling of such problems. At the very least, however, successful completion of the course will result in a first-hand knowledge of the major primary source, substantial awareness of the main historical issues and scholarly approaches, and detailed familiarity with the subject of one’s own research paper.

Reading List (Required)

  • Andrea M. Berlin and J. Andrew Overman, eds., The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN: 0 415 25706 9 (cloth).

  • Neil Faulkner, Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt against Rome, AD 66-73. Charleston SC: Tempus, 2002. ISBN 0 7524 1968 4 (cloth).

  • Martin Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judaea: The Origins of the Jewish Revolt against Rome, A.D. 66-70. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1987. ISBN 0 521 44782 8 (pbk).

  • Flavius Josephus, Jewish War. Loeb Classical Library, vol. numbers. 283 (War 1-2; ISBN 99568-6), 487 (War 3-4; ISBN 99536-8), and 210 (War 5-7; 99569-4). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, various dates.

  • Susan Mattern, Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. ISBN

  • Tessa Rajak, Josephus: the Historian and his Society. 2nd. edn. London: Duckworth, 2002. ISBN 0 7156 3170 5 (pbk.

On-Line Reading

  • Nahman Avigad, “Jerusalem in Flames—the Burnt House Captures a Moment in Time,” BAR Nov-Dec. 1983.

  • Shaye J. D. Cohen and Michael Satlow, “Roman Domination: The Jewish Revolt and the Destruction of the Second Temple,” BAS on-line (Ancient Israel 1999).

  • Louis H. Feldman, “Financing the Colosseum,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2001.

  • [Ed.] “Gamla: the Masada of the North,” BAR Jan/Feb 1979.

  • Steve Mason, “Will the Real Josephus Please Stand Up?” BAR 23 (1997).

  • Yaakov Meshorer, “The Holy Land in Coins,” BAR March 1978—final paragraphs on Iudaea Capta coins.

  • Danny Sion, “Gamla: Portrait of a Rebellion,” BAR Jan/Feb 1992.

Reading List (Recommended)

  • Martin Hengel, The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement etc. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989. ISBN 0 567 29372 6 (pbk)

  • Gottfried Mader, Josephus and the Politics of Historiography: Apologetic and Impression Management in the Bellum Judaicum. Leiden: Brill, 2000. ISBN 90 04 11446 7 (cloth)

  • Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 2nd edn. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003.

  • Jonathan J. Price, Jerusalem under Siege: the Collapse of the Jewish State, 66-70 CE. Leiden: Brill, 1992. ISBN 90 04 09471 7 (cloth)

  • Shimon Applebaum, “The Zealots: the Case for Reevaluation,” The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 61. (1971), pp. 155-170.

  • Victor d'Huys, “How to describe Violence in Historical Narrative,” Ancient Society 18 (1987), 209-50.

  • Richard A. Horsley, “Josephus and the Bandits,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 10(1979), 37-63.

  • David D. Laitin, “National Revivals and Violence,” Archives Européennes de Sociologie 36 (1995), 3-43.

  • Steve Mason, “Figured Speech and Irony in the Works of T. Flavius Josephus,” “Contradiction or Counterpoint: Josephus and Historical Method,” Introduction to the Judean War, commentary to War 2.1-166

  • James S. McLaren, “The Coinage of the First Year as a Point of Reference for the Jewish Revolt (66-70 CE),” Scripta Classica Israelica 22 (203), 135-52.

  • Fergus Millar, “Last Year in Jerusalem,” in Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome, ed. Edmondson, Mason, Rives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 forthcoming.

  • Brent D. Shaw, “Bandits in the Roman Empire,” Past and Present 105 (1984), 3-52.

  • van Hooff, A. J. L. (1988). "Ancient Robbers: Reflections Behind the Facts." Ancient Society 19 (1988), 105-24.

  • Adam Ziolkowski, “Urbs direpta, or How the Romans Sacked Cities,” in John Rich and Graham Shipley, War and Society in the Roman World (London: Routledge, 1993), 69-91.

GS/HUMA 6123.03 /GS/HIST 5030 3.0 – Steve Mason
Greek Politics and Culture under Roman Rule

Winter Term. – Mondays 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Location TBA

Course Description:

From the early second century BCE, the Greek cities of the eastern Mediterranean and their elite representatives had to come to terms with increasing Roman domination. Options ranged all the way from eager submission to the new superpower to fierce rebellion, with many mediating possibilities. Factors to be considered included preservation of the national dignity (ancestral traditions, laws, constitution, “religion”), economic welfare of the subject populace, strategies for keeping the masses quiescent, prospects for fulfillment of elite ambitions, relations between the local aristocracy and Roman officials, and the meanings (both ideal and plausible) of “freedom” and “autonomy” under foreign hegemony. This course explores the range of responses to Roman rule by a careful examination of crucial texts (e.g., by Polybius of Megalopolis, Diodorus of Sicily, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Nicolaus of Damascus, Flavius Josephus, Plutarch of Chaeronea, Dio of Prusa, Aristides of Mysia) in their historical contexts, with special attention to the postures toward Rome that they reveal—whether in advocacy, denunciation, reportage, or ironic treatment. We also consider the changing and varied views of Greece among Roman elites from the late Republic and changing treatment of the Greek cities by emperors such as Nero, Vespasian, and Hadrian. A methodological aim of the course is to help develop a historical sensitivity to the differences between ancient and modern political categories (e.g., nation, ethnicity, religion, law, democracy, empire) along with related ethical questions.

Representative Bibliography:

  • Aalders, G. J. D. (1982). Plutarch's Political Thought. Amsterdam; New York: North-Holland Pub. Co.

  • Birley, A. R. (1997). Hadrian: the restless emperor. London: Routledge.

  • Blois, L. de (2004), ed. The Statesman in Plutarch's Works: proceedings of the sixth International Conference of the International Plutarch Society, Nijmegen, Castle Hernen, May 1-5, 2002. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill.

  • Borg, B. E., Ed. (2004). Paideia: the world of the second sophistic. Millennium Studies in the culture and history of the first millennium C.E. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

  • Bowersock, G. W. (1969). Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Bowie, E. L. (1974). "The Greeks and their Past in the Second Sophistic." Past and Present 46: 3-41.

  • Bowman, A. K. et al, eds. (2002). Representations of Empire: Rome and the Mediterranean World. Oxford: Oxford University Press (for the British Academy).

  • Cartledge, P. and A. Spawforth (1989). Hellenistic and Roman Sparta: a Tale of Two Cities. London: Routledge.

  • Cunliffe, B. W. (1988). Greeks, Romans, and Barbarians: spheres of interaction. New York: Methuen.

  • Delia, D. (1991). Alexandrian Citizenship During the Roman Principate. Atlanta, Scholars Press.

  • Eckstein, A. M. (1990). "Josephus and Polybius: A Reconsideration." Classical Antiquity 9: 175-208.

  • Eckstein, A. M. (1995). Moral Vision in the The Histories of Polybius. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Edmondson, J., S. Mason, J. Rives, eds. (2005). Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Ferris, I. M. (2000). Enemies of Rome: barbarians through Roman eyes. Stroud: Sutton.

  • Gleason, M. W. (1995). Making Men: sophists and self-presentation in ancient Rome. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

  • Goldhill, S. (2001). Being Greek under Rome: cultural identity, the second sophistic, and the development of empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Green, P. (1990). Alexander to Actium: the historical evolution of the hellenistic age. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Gruen, E. S. (1984). The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Isaac, B. H. (2004). The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Jones, C. P. (1971). Plutarch and Rome. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Jones, C. P. (1978). The Roman World of Dio Chrysostom. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

  • Jones, S. and S. Pearce, eds. (1998). Jewish Local Patriotism and Self-Identification: in the Graeco-Roman Period. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

  • Martin Nagy, R. and North Carolina Museum of Art. (1996). Sepphoris in Galilee : crosscurrents of culture. Winona Lake, Ind.: North Carolina Museum of Art; distributed by Eisenbrauns.

  • Mattern, S. P. (1999). Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Oliver, J. H. (1953). The Ruling Power: A Study of the Roman Empire in the Second Century after Christ through the Roman Oration of Aelius Aristides. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

  • Ostenfeld, E. N. (2002). Greek Romans and Roman Greeks: studies in cultural interaction. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

  • Sacks, K. S. (1990). Diodorus Siculus and the First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Shaw, B. D. (1995). “Josephus: Roman power and responses to it.” Athenaeum 83(2): 357-390.

  • Sievers, J. and G. Lembi (2005). Josephus and Jewish History in Flavian Rome and Beyond. Leiden: Brill.

  • Speller, E. (2003). Following Hadrian: a second century journey through the Roman Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Swain, S. (1996). Hellenism and Empire : language, classicism, and power in the Greek world, AD 50-250. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Swain, S. (2000). Dio Chrysostom: politics, letters, and philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Walbank, F. W. (1979). Polybius: the Rise of the Roman Empire. London: Penguin Books.

  • Whitmarsh, T. (2001). Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: the politics of imitation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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20 Nov 2004


it suits christians to explain away josephus account of jerusalems destruction. God would not wait 40 years.



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