Jeremiah 7 and Flavius Josephus on the First Jewish War

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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Study of Josephus’ interpretation of the Bible has focused on the paraphrase in Antiquities, but Josephus continued to engage Scripture in his post-biblical history. This article contends that Josephus, like the authors of the synoptic gospels and later Jewish exegetes, saw the events of 66-70 C.E. through the lens of Jeremiah’s temple sermon (7:1-34). The accounts of Jesus ben Ananias and Josephus’ speech before the city walls, among other examples, show recourse to Jeremiah 7.

Jeremiah 7 and Flavius Josephus on the First Jewish War

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




Peter Höffken“Eine Reichsteilung bei Josephus Flavius: Beobachtungen zu seiner Auffassung von Daniel 5,” JSJ 36 (2005): 197-205 at 205 observes: “Josephus kann angesichts kollidierender Aussagen entschlossen für die prophetische Ankündigung als das gewissere Geschichtsfaktum plädieren.” Apion 1.37-43 provides the logic. Höffken aptly calls the Josephan prophet “der Historiker der Zukunft” in “Propheten und Hermeneutik des Prophetischen bei Josephus” 111.


See e.g. Louis Feldman“Josephus’ Commentary on Genesis,” JQR 72 (1981-1982): 121-31. Also noteworthy is the unpublished dissertation of R. B. Sobel “Josephus’ Conception of History in Relationship to the Pentateuch as a Source of Historical Data” (PhD diss. Hebrew Union College 1962) which catalogues divergences from the Bible.


So Christopher Begg“Isaiah in Josephus,” in Josephus und das Neue Testament (ed. Christfried Böttrich and Jens Herzer; Tübingen: Mohr2007) 233-44; Gerhard Delling “Die biblische Prophetie bei Josephus” in Josephus-Studien: Untersuchungen zu Josephus dem antiken Judentum und dem Neuen Testament Otto Michel zum 70. Geburtstag gewidmet (ed. Otto Betz et al.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1974) 109-21 esp. 115.


F. F. Bruce“Josephus and Daniel,” ASTI 4 (1965): 148-62 lists this case and several others where War appears informed by Daniel. See also Steve Mason “Josephus Daniel and the Flavian House” in Josephus and the History of the Greco-Roman Period: Essays in Honor of Morton Smith (ed. Fausto Parente and Joseph Sievers; StPB 41; Leiden: Brill 1994) 161-94.


Cf. Amaru“Land Theology,” 222: “Josephus applies the Biblical prophecies to particular happenings and events in Jewish history. Moreover, when the Biblical prophecy is not a perfect match, Josephus makes the necessary adjustments in it.” See also Louis Feldman, “Josephus’ Biblical Paraphrase as a Commentary on Contemporary Issues,” in The Interpretation of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity: Studies in Language and Tradition (ed. Craig A. Evans; JSPSS 33; SSEJC 7; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press2000) 124-201esp. 159-61.


Cf. Höffken“Propheten und Hermeneutik” 115; idem “Josephus: Wie man mit Niederlagen umgehen kann: Zu Lebensgeschichte und Auslegung alttestamentlicher Uberlieferungen im Bellum Judaicum” in Kontexte: Biografische und forschungsgeschichtliche Schnittpunkte der alttestamentlichen Wissenschaft. Festschrift für Hans Jochen Boecker zum 80 (ed. T. Wagner et al.; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 2008) 23-38 at 24; Helgo Lindner Die Geschichtsauffassung des Flavius Josephus im Bellum Judaicum (Leiden: Brill 1972) 28; Clemens Thoma “Die Weltanschauung des Josephus Flavius: Dargestellt anhand seiner Schilderung des jüdischen Aufstandes gegen Rom (66-73 n. Chr.)” Kairos 11 (1969): 39-52 at 46 (discusses breaking the Sabbath electing new priests and other “Verbrechen gegen Kult und Gesetz”). For more subtle cases where it appears that Josephus’ interpretation of the law informs his narrative compare: Ant. 18.23 and 20.172 with Ant. 4.187 (on the Zealots); War 4.562 and Ant. 4.301 (on men acting like women).


So Per Bilde“Josephus and Jewish Apocalypticism,” in Understanding Josephus: Seven Perspectives (ed. Steve Mason; JSPSS 32; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press1998) 35-61 at 47. Cf. Joseph Blenkinsopp “Prophecy and Priesthood in Josephus” JJS 25 (1974): 239-62 at 244; Cohen Josephus in Galilee and Rome 98 (“latter day Jeremiah”) 232 (“a Jeremiah redivivus”); idem “Josephus Jeremiah and Polybius” History and Theory 31 (1982): 366-81 at 368; David Daube “Typology in Josephus” JJS 31 (1980): 18-36 at 26; Marinus de Jonge “Josephus und die Zukunftserwartungen seines Volkes” in Betz et al. Josephus-Studien 205-19 at 207 (“Josephus sich . . . implizit mit Jeremia vergleicht”); Louis Feldman “Prophets and Prophecy in Josephus” JTS 41 (1990): 386-422 at 388 421-22; Rebecca Gray Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus (New York: Oxford University Press 1993) 71; Robert G. Hall Revealed Histories: Techniques for Ancient Jewish and Christian Historiography (JSPSS 6; Sheffield: JSOT 1991) 27-28; Höffken “Josephus: Wie man mit Niederlagen umgehen kann” in Kontexte 34 (“ganz ähnlich” and even “eigentlich identisch”); Lindner Die Geschichtsauffassung 26 32; Gregory E. Sterling Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos Luke-Acts and Apologetic Historiography (Leiden: Brill 1992) 237; Willem C. van Unnik “Die Prophetie bei Josephus” in Flavius Josephus als historischer Schriftsteller (Heidelberg: Schneider 1978) 41-54 at 53 (Josephus found “seinen Prototyp”).


For discussion see Christian WolffJeremia im Frühjudentum und Urchristentum (TU 118; Berlin: Akademie Verlag1976) 11-12 189. Important here is the assumption that Josephus’ view on the Bible changed little between the writing of War and Antiquities. Seth Schwartz Josephus and Judean Politics (CSCT 18; Leiden: Brill 1990) 23-57 argued it did: War shows little acquaintance with the Bible and Antiquities is the fruit of much scriptural study in Rome. His argument essentially rests on two claims: (1) Josephus does not refer to the Bible much in War; (2) when he does the allusions diverge so radically that one can only postulate unfamiliarity as an explanation. But (1) is an argument from silence (granting the questionable assumption that allusions to the Bible in War are so thin) and (2) not only pays insufficient attention to Josephus’ paraphrastic style it is much too subjective to be a reliable criterion. In addition his argument is counter-intuitive: why should we think a period of scriptural study and illumination would come after Josephus moved away from Jerusalem and settled in Rome? Is it not much more likely that he was already well acquainted with the Scriptures before he began War as he claims himself in Life 8-12?


Cf. Delling“Die biblische Prophetie bei Josephus” 116; Wolff Jeremia im Frühjudentum und Urchristentum 15.


Cf. A. Siedlecki“Jeremiah, Book of, Interpretation Through the Nineteenth Century,” in Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation A-J (ed. J. H. Hayes; 2 vols.; Nashville: Abingdon 1999) 1:564-69; Wolff Jeremia im Frühjudentum und Urchristentum.


Cf. BentwichJosephus71; Lindner Die Geschichtsauffassung 132-41; Steve Mason “Josephus Daniel and the Flavian House” 178.


Also noted by Steve Mason“Josephus and the New Testament, the New Testament and Josephus: an Overview,” in Josephus und das Neue Testament15-48 at 43. See also Cohen Josephus in Galilee and Rome 37.


See Tucker S. Ferda“John the Baptist, Isaiah 40, and the Ingathering of the Exiles,” JSHJ 10 (2012): 154-88esp. 178.


Martin HengelThe Zealots (trans. David W. Smith; Edinburgh: T&T Clark1989) 24-26.


Cf. Per Bilde“The Causes of the Jewish War According to Josephus,” JSJ 10 (1979): 179-202; Lindner Die Geschichtsauffassung 142 (“So liegen auch Versündigung und Gericht primär auf der Ebene des Kultus”); Thoma “Die Weltanschauung des Josephus Flavius” 47. The rabbis would later debate which particular sin was the cause of the destruction. See b. Yoma 9a; b. Šabb. 119b; Mek. Exod 19:1; Lam. Rab. 46b-47a.

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