The Reliability of Josephus: Can He Be Trusted?

The author Joseph ben Matthias ha-Cohen, like most members of the Judean upper class, lived in several worlds at once. Born in A.D. 37 to an aristocratic family of priestly lineage, Josephus was ostensibly connected with the Hasmonean family that had ruled Judea between 165 B.C. and 38 B.C. His native language was Aramaic, although he was well versed in Hebrew, which by his time was largely a liturgical language. He was an observant Jew whose religious interests led him to affiliate with the three major schools of Judaism—the Sadducees, Essenes, and the Pharisees.

Nevertheless, Josephus was educated in Greek literature and was comfortable with the Hellenistic culture that then dominated the eastern Mediterranean. He was also familiar with Roman civilization, not only from the Romanizing efforts of the Herodians and the subsequent direct Roman occupation, but also from his own visits to the imperial capital. When he finally wrote the works that immortalized him, he had, by some surprising turns of events, become a Roman citizen and had taken the name Flavius Josephus.

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