Episode 29 (Josephus Flavius)

JOSEPHUS FLAVIUS (I c. BC)

Flavius is the most known ancient Jewish writer. He was born around the year 36 in Jerusalem, which means just a few years after Jesus Christ was crucified. His real name was Yosef Ben Matatiah andhe descended from a royal and clerical Judaic family. He was a member of the Pharisees and was a well-known member of the Jewish society. Even though he had Roman friends, he participated in the Jewish rebellion against the Roman reign, after which he was imprisoned. The Roman emperor Vespasian freed him, and as gratitude, Joseph took his family name – Flavius. He spent his last days in Rome, writing about the history of the Jews. His works include “Jewish Antiquates” which he wrote in 20 tomes, and “Flavius Josephus Against Apion”, a work in which he opposed the Hellenistic historians of the time, who mockingly wrote about the Jews. He even wrote his autobiography. Flavius (even though he was a Jew and a Pharisee), as a historian, left extraordinary historical data for the activities of Jesus Christ, and left testimonies about the activities of St. John the Baptist. Josephus Flavius left a lot of valuable information about the life of the Macedonians in the Holy Land, not only from the time when they completely ruled Palestine (after being conquered by Alexander the Great of Macedon), but from much later as well.

After describing the conquering of the Holy Land by Alexander the Great of Macedon (for whom he writes in a positive tone), Flavius continued to describe the events that happened after the death of Alexander the Great. It is known that the Macedonian dynasty Seleucids still reigned over the Holy Land. It was a dynasty formed by Alexander’s general Seleucus. In the middle of the II century BC, because of the bad behaving of Antiochus IV from this Macedonian dynasty against the Jews, they started a rebellion led by the family of Maccabees and in the end succeeded and founded their own independent state. When Josephu­s Flavius writes about the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty, he very clearly states that the Jews actually fought for their freedom from the slavery imposed by – the Macedonians. While writing about the death of the Jewish leader Judas Maccabee, Flavius says:

“Judas… left behind him a glorious reputation and memo­rial, by gaining freedom for his nation, and delivering them from slavery under the Macedonians.” (SOURCE: “Jewish Antiquities”, XII, 11,2).

Referring to the successes of the rebellion leader Judas Maccabee against the Macedonians Seleucids, Josephus Flavius writes:

“…The nation of the Jews recovered their freedom when they had been brought into slavery by the Macedonians.. .(SOURCE: “Jewish Antiquities”, XIII, 1,1).

Flavius wrote that the Jews were“under the government of the Mace-donians” (meaning the Seleucids) in his 19th book (“Jewish Antiquities”, XIX, 6,2), but in many other places as well.

Flavius also writes about the concern he expressed about the Macedonian army leader Bacchides, when he found out that the killed Jewish leader Judas Maccabee was replaced by his brother Jonathan. Here too, Flavius calls the Seleucids “Macedonians”:

          “When Bacchides heard this, and was afraid that Jonathan might be very troublesome to the king and the Macedonians, as Judas had been before him, he sought how he might slay him by treachery.” (SOURCE: “Jewish Antiquities“, XIII, 1,2).

Flavius calls the Seleucids “Macedonians” when he writes about the request that the Jews made to the Egyptian king Ptolemy Philometor (another Macedonian), in which they asked for his permission to build a Judaic temple in Alexandria. This request was made by the son of a Jewish high priest called Onias:

“When this Onias saw that Judea was oppressed by the Macedonians and their kings, out of a desire to purchase to himself a memorial and eternal fame he resolved to send to king Ptolemy and queen Cleopatra, to ask leave of them that he might build a temple in Egypt like to that at Jerusalem…”(SOURCE: “Jewish Antiquities“, XIII, 3,1).

All of this information is very important especially because in a lot of world encyclopedias and other works it is untruthfully written that the Seleucids supposedly spread “Greek culture and language” in their state, that they built “Greek cities” etc. It is true that their state had a lot of elements from various countries, including the Greek, but that doesnot mean that they were “Greeks”. Besides, we can see from the testimonies that Flavius himself made the Jews completely aware that they were under Macedonian (and not Greek) slavery.

Flavius calls the Seleucids Macedonians in his book “War of the Jews” as well. Here too he writes about the fight of Simon Maccabee against the Seleucids, saying:

“Simon… freed the Jews from the dominion of the Macedonians, after one hundred and seventy years of the empire (of Seleucus)”. (SOURCE: “War of the Jews, I, 2,2).

Flavius describes the founding of the independent Jewish state by Simon Maccabee as:

“But Simon, who was made high priest by the multitude, on the very first year of his high priesthood set his people free from their slavery under the Macedonians…” (SOURCE: “Jewish Antiquities”, XIII, 6,7).

So, this is another affirmation made by Flavius about the ethnic Macedonian character of the Seleucids, even 200 years after the Macedonians firstly moved into the Holy Land!

In his book “Flavius Josephus Against Apion”, Flavius mentions the Macedonians as citizens of the Egyptian city Alexandria. In the second part (6), he writes that:“Grecians and Macedonians who were in possession of this city…”.

Josephus Flavius mentions the Macedonians from the Greeks separately on other places as well.  For example, while writing about the Jewish migration in the Asia Minor cities by the Macedonian ruler Seleucus Nicator, Flavius writes:

          “The Jews also obtained honours from the kings of Asia when they became their auxiliaries; for Seleucus Nicator made them citizens in those cities which he built in Asia, and in the lower Syria, and in the metropolis itself, Antioch; and gave them privileges equal to those of the Macedonians and Greeks, who were the inhabitants…” (SOURCE: “Jewish Antiquities“, XII, 3, 1).

Practically, Josephus Flavius is another ancient historian, whose works oppose the modern Greek propaganda.