Flavius Josephus, Nehemiah, and a Study in Self-Presentation

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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Scholars have frequently noted that in his writings, Josephus consistently styles himself as standing in the tradition of the biblical prophets and that he remodels his retelling of the prophets’ narratives to align them more closely with himself. What scholars have largely overlooked, however, is the fact that in his autobiography, Josephus minimizes the prophetic allusions, including instead subtle details that are reminiscent of Nehemiah and his actions. This paper, therefore, offers a new approach to the relationship between Josephus and Nehemiah: rather than comparing Josephus’ presentation of Nehemiah in his Jewish Antiquities 11.159-183 with the various extant literary traditions, this paper discusses those passages in the Vita subtly alluding to Nehemiah. The results of this analysis will impact on our understanding of how Nehemiah was perceived by later authors, and argue that the relationship between Josephus and Nehemiah was more profound than a mere retelling in the Jewish Antiquities.

Flavius Josephus, Nehemiah, and a Study in Self-Presentation

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




Louis FeldmanStudies in Josephus’ Rewritten Bible (Leiden: Brill1998) 489-99. Cf. Hugh Williamson Israel in the Books of Chronicles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1977) 23-25. Williamson also argues that Josephus used the canonical account although he deliberately shortened and rewrote it wanting to avoid repetition and the long lists of the Nehemiah-account. Seth Schwartz Josephus and Judaean Politics (Leiden: Brill 1990) 32 notes a parallel case concerning Josephus’ account of Jeremiah in which he also misses out on several details. Schwartz here suggests that Josephus either purposefully altered the account or perhaps that he recounted the passages from memory and thus missed out on details from the canonical account.




HöffkenJosephus Flavius178. For a discussion of these passages see ibid. 121-32.


Bergren“Nehemiah” 261.


Theodore A. Bergren“Ezra and Nehemiah Square Off in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” in Biblical Figures Outside the Bible (ed. T. A. Bergren and M. Stone: Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International1998) 340-66; cf. Bergren “Nehemiah.”


Ulrich KellermannNehemia: Quellen Überlieferung und Geschichte (Berlin: Alfred Töpelmann1967) 141; see further Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann Studien zum Dritten Esra: ein Beitrag zur Frage nach dem ursprünglichen Schluss des Chronistischen Geschichtswerk (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1970) 114-26 who highlights a.j. 11.165 196 as evidence that Josephus was not using the canonical account. See also above. It is surprising that Bergren appears to not be aware of this tradition read into the Josephus-narrative.


Bergren“Ezra and Nehemiah” 361; Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley “What Did Nehemiah Do for Judaism?” in A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Sean Freyne (ed. Z. Rodgers with M. Daly-Denton and A. Fitzpatrick-McKinley: Leiden: Brill 2009) 93-119 esp. 99. They also conclude that the period probably saw several Nehemiah-traditions in circulation cf. Kellermann Nehemia.


Fitzpatrick-McKinley“Nehemiah” 98-99.


Note the dispute between Jacob L. WrightRebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and Its Earliest Readers (Berlin: De Gruyter2005) and Fitzpatrick-McKinley “Nehemiah” on whether these opposition narratives were original to the Nehemiah memoir (below) or later interpolations. Contrary to the theory suggested by Wright that these opposition narratives in which we see Nehemiah opposed by other local potentates such as Sanballat are later insertions reflecting local tension Fitzpatrick-McKinley “Nehemiah” 98 instead argues that as Samaria was an administrative centre in the Persian Period opposition against their ambitious neighbours “was a normal aspect of relations between local rulers.” See also Kellerman Nehemia 7-8 166-173 who sees the narratives focusing on Nehemiah’s opponents as integral following a strict sequence including biblical legal terminology which imposes on the Nehemiah-source below the character of a legal document.


See also Fitzpatrick-McKinley“Nehemiah” 99; Lisbeth S. Fried The Priest and the Great King: Temple-Palace Relations in the Persian Empire (Winona Lake Ind.: Eisenbrauns 2004) 193-212 in general on the power struggles faced by Nehemiah and other governors of Yehud.


For the epilogue as prologue see MasonLifexiv-xv.


Lester L. Grabbe“Triumph of the Pious or Failure of the Xenophobes?” in Jewish Local Patriotism and Self-Identification in the Graeco-Roman Period (ed. S. Pearce and S. Jones; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic1998) 50-65at 88 sees a “pure Nehemiah tradition” as the source for 2 Maccabees independent of the canonical Nehemiah.


WilliamsonEzra and Nehemiah18-19. A similar theory has been suggested by Richard Laqueur Der jüdische Historiker Flavius Josephus: ein biographischer Versuch auf neuer quellenkritischer Grundlage (Giessen: Münchow’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung 1920) to explain the composition of Josephus’ Life; he suggests that Josephus reworked an earlier report to the Jerusalem authorities to expand it to its present form.


KellermannNehemia144-45; Stern “Life of Josephus” 64-65.


Curran“Flavius Josephus” 73 77.


Mason“Should Any Wish to Enquire Further” 79.

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