Tour Through Time
Titus Flavius Josephus
Scribe in the Custos Gnaritas
Josephus introduces himself in Greek as Iōsēpos (Ιώσηπος), son of Matthias, an ethnic Jew, a priest from Jerusalem" in his first book. He was the second-born son of Matthias and his wife, who was an unnamed Jewish noblewoman. His older brother, his full-blooded sibling, was also called Matthias. The mother of Josephus was an aristocratic woman who descended from royalty and of the former ruling Hasmonean Dynasty. Josephus’ paternal grandparents were Josephus and his wife, an unnamed Jewish noblewoman. His paternal grandparents were distant relatives of each other, as they were both direct descendants of Simon Psellus. Josephus came from a wealthy, aristocratic family and through his father, he descended from the priestly order of the Jehoiarib, which was the first of the 24 orders of Priests in the Temple in Jerusalem. Through his father, Josephus was a descendant of the High Priest Jonathon. Jonathon may have been Alexander Jannaeus, the High Priest and Hasmonean ruler who governed Judea from 103 BC-76 BC. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Josephus was educated alongside his brother.
He fought the Romans in the First Jewish-Roman War of 66–73 as a Jewish military leader in Galilee. Prior to this, in his early twenties, he traveled to negotiate with Emperor Nero for the release of several Jewish priests. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he was drafted as a commander of the Galilean forces.11 After the Jewish garrison of Yodfat fell under siege, the Romans invaded, killing thousands; the survivors committed suicide. According to Josephus, he was trapped in a cave with forty of his companions in July 67. The Romans (commanded by Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus, both subsequently Roman emperors) asked the group to surrender, but they refused. Josephus suggested a method of collective suicide: they drew lots and killed each other, one by one, counting to every third person. The sole survivor of this process was Josephus (this method as a mathematical problem is referred to as the Josephus problem, or Roman Roulette), who surrendered to the Roman forces and became a prisoner. In 69 Josephus was released. According to his account, he acted as a negotiator with the defenders during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70, in which his parents and first wife died.
It was while being confined at Yodfat that Josephus claimed to have experienced a divine revelation, that later led to his speech predicting Vespasian would become emperor. After the prediction became true he was released by Vespasian who considered his gift of prophecy to be divine. Josephus wrote that his revelation had taught him three things: that God, the creator of the Jewish people, had decided to “punish” them, that “fortune” had been given to the Romans, and that God had chosen him “to announce the things that are to come”.
In 71, he went to Rome in the entourage of Titus, becoming a Roman citizen and client of the ruling Flavian dynasty (hence he is often referred to as Flavius Josephus — see below). In addition to Roman citizenship, he was granted accommodation in conquered Judaea, and a decent, if not extravagant, pension. While in Rome and under Flavian patronage, Josephus wrote all of his known works. Although he uses “Josephus”, he appears to have taken the Roman praenomen Titus and nomen Flavius from his patrons.This was standard practice for “new” Roman citizens.
Josephus’ keen intellect caught the eye of the Akkadian and he was embraced into the practices of the Custos Gnaritas. It was some time before he became a truly active member as he felt he must continue his studies but is now a very busy and talented Scribe of the Custos.