Flavius Josephus of the Antiquities of the Jews - Preface (1)

1. Those who undertake to write histories, do not, I perceive, take that trouble on one and the same account; but for many reasons, and those such as are very different one from another. For some of them apply themselves to this part of learning to shew their great skill in composition; and that they may therein acquire a reputation for speaking finely. Others of them there are, who write histories, in order to gratify those that happen to be concerned in them; and on that account have spared no pains, but rather gone beyond their own abilities in the performance. But others there are, who of necessity, and by force are driven to write history; because they were concerned in the facts: and so cannot excuse themselves from committing them to writing, for the advantage of posterity. Nay there are not a few, who are induced to draw their historical facts out of darkness into light, and to produce them for the benefit of the publick, on account of the great importance of the facts themselves with which they have been concerned. Now of these several reasons for writing history, I must profess the two last were my own reasons also. For since I was myself interested in that war which we Jews had with the Romans, and knew my self its particular actions, and what conclusion it had, I was forced to give the history of it, because I saw that others perverted the truth of those actions in their writings.

2. Now I have undertaken the present work, as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks (2) worthy of their study: for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government; as interpreted out of the Hebrew scriptures. (3) And indeed, I did formerly intend when I wrote of the war, (4) to explain who the Jews originally were; what fortunes they had been subject to; and by what legislator they had been instructed in piety and the exercise of other virtues; what wars also they had made in remote ages, till they were unwillingly engaged in this last with the Romans. But because this work would take up a great compass, I separated it into a set treatise by it self, with a beginning of its own, and its own conclusion. But in process of time, as usually happens to such as undertake great things, I grew weary, and went on slowly. It being a large subject, and a difficult thing to translate our history into a foreign, and to us, unaccustomed language. However, some persons there were, who desired to know our history, and so exhorted me to go on with it: and, above all the rest Epaphroditus, (5) a man who is a lover of all kind of learning; but is principally delighted with the knowledge of history; and this on account of his having been himself concerned in great affairs, and many turns of fortune; and having shewn a wonderful vigor of an excellent nature, and an immoveable virtuous resolution in them all. I yielded to this man’s persuasions; who always excites such as have abilities in what is useful and acceptable, to join their endeavours with his. I was also ashamed my self to permit any laziness of disposition to have a greater influence upon me, than the delight of taking pains in such studies as were very useful. I thereupon stirred up my self, and went on with my work more chearfully. Besides the foregoing motives, I had others which I greatly reflected on; and these were, that our forefathers were willing to communicate such things to others; and that some of the Greeks took considerable pains to know the affairs of our nation.

3. I found therefore that the second of the Ptolemies, was a King who was extraordinary diligent in what concerned learning, and the collection of books; that he was also peculiarly ambitious to procure a translation of our law, and of the constitution of our government therein contained, into the Greek tongue. Now Eleazar1 the High Priest, one not inferior to any other of that dignity among us, did not envy the fore-named King the participation of that advantage: which otherwise he would for certain have denied him; but that he knew the custom of our nation was, to hinder nothing of what we esteemed our selves from being communicated to others. Accordingly I thought it became me, both to imitate the generosity of our High Priest, and to suppose there might even now be many lovers of learning like the King. For he did not obtain all our writings at that time;(6) but those who were sent to Alexandria as interpreters, gave him only the books of the law. While there were a vast number of other matters in our sacred books. They indeed contain in them the history of five thousand years. (7) In which time happened many strange accidents; many chances of war, and great actions of the commanders, and mutations of the form of our government. Upon the whole, a man that will persue this history may principally learn from it, that all events succeed well, even to an incredible degree, and the reward of felicity is proposed by God; but then ’tis to those that follow his will, and do not venture to break his excellent laws: and that so far as men any way apostatize from the accurate observation of them, what was practicable before, becomes impracticable; (8) and whatsoever they set about as a good thing, is converted into an incurable calamity. And now I exhort all those that peruse these books, to apply their minds to God; and to examine the mind of our legislator; whether he hath not understood his nature in a manner worthy of him; and hath not ever ascribed to him such operations as become his power; and hath not preserved his writings from those indecent fables which others have framed: although by the great distance of time when he lived, he might have securely forged such lies. For he lived two thousand years ago. (9) At which vast distance of ages the poets themselves have not been so hardy as to fix even the generations of their Gods; much less the actions of their men, or their own laws. As I proceed therefore I shall accurately describe what is contained in our records, in the order of time that belongs to them. For I have already promised so to do throughout this undertaking; and this without adding any thing to what is therein contained, or taking away any thing therefrom.

4. But because almost all our constitution depends on the wisdom of Moses, our legislator, I cannot avoid saying somewhat concerning him beforehand, though I shall do it briefly. I mean because otherwise those that read my books may wonder how it comes to pass, that my discourse, which promises an account of laws and historical facts, contains so much of philosophy. The reader is therefore to know, that Moses deemed it exceeding necessary, that he who would conduct his own life well, and give laws to others, in the first place should consider the divine nature; and upon the contemplation of God’s operations, should thereby imitate the best of all patterns, so far as it is possible for human nature to do; and to endeavour to follow after it; neither could the legislator himself have a right mind, without such a contemplation; nor would any thing he should write tend to the promotion of virtue in his readers: I mean unless they be taught first of all, that God is the Father and Lord of all things; and sees all things; and that thence he bestows an happy life upon those that follow him; but plunges such as do not walk in the paths of virtue into inevitable miseries. Now when Moses was desirous to teach this lesson to his countrymen, he did not begin the establishment of his laws after the same manner that other legislators did; I mean, upon contracts, and other rights between one man and another: but by raising their minds upwards to regard God, and his creation of the world; and by persuading them that we Men are the most excellent of the creatures of God upon earth. Now when once he had brought them to submit to religion, he easily persuaded them to submit in all other things. For as to other legislators, they followed fables; and by their discourses transferred the most reproachful of human vices unto the gods: and so afforded wicked men the most plausible excuses for their crimes. But as for our legislator, when he had once demonstrated that God was possessed of perfect virtue, he supposed that men also ought to strive after the participation of it. And on those who did not so think, and so believe, he inflicted the severest punishments. I exhort therefore my readers to examine this whole undertaking in that view: for thereby it will appear to them, that there is nothing therein disagreeable either to the majesty of God, or to his love to mankind. For all things have here a reference to the nature of the universe: while our legislator speaks some things wisely, but enigmatically; and others under a decent allegory: but still explains such things as required a direct explication plainly and expressly. However, those that have a mind to know the reasons of every thing, may find here a very curious philosophical theory: which I now indeed shall wave the explication of: but if God afford me time for it, I will set about writing it (10) after I have finished the present work. I shall now betake my self to the history before me: after I have first mentioned what Moses says of the creation of the world: which I find described in the sacred books after the manner following.


(1) This preface of Josephus’s is excellent in its kind; and highly worthy the repeated perusal of the reader, before he set about the perusal of the work it self.

(2) That is, all the Gentiles, both Greeks and Romans.

(3) That Josephus never followed the Septuagint, nor any other Greek version, in these his antiquities, or other works, but only the Hebrew original: and this so punctually through all his known writings, as to make use of none of the sacred books but those that were written in Hebrew, and belonged to the Jerusalem catalogue: See proved, Essay on the Old Testament, pag. 184–195. and Supplement, pag. 45, 46.

(4) We may seasonably note here, that Josephus wrote his seven books of the Jewish War, long before he wrote these his Antiquities. Those books of the War were published about A.D. 75, and these Antiquities A.D. 93, about eighteen years later. See Fabricius apud Havercamp, pag. 58, 59.

(5) This Epaphroditus was certainly alive in the third year of Trajan, A.D. 100. See the IVth Dissertation, which is upon the chronology of Josephus, § 1., and the Note on the L. I against Apion, § 1. Who he was we do not know. For as to Epaphroditus, the freed man of Nero, Tacit. Annal. XV.55., Nero’s, and afterwards Domitian’s, Secretary, Sueton in Neron. § 49. who was put to death by Domitian in the 14th or 15th year of his reign, Sueton. in Domit. § 14. he could not be alive in the third of Trajan.

1 This Eleazar was High Priest, and the brother of Simon the just. XII.2.4.

(6) That the publick translation under Ptolemy Philadelphus went no farther than the Pentateuch, as Josephus says here; and who they were that translated the other books of the Old Testament about the same time: See the Literal Accomplishment of Prophecies, Appendix, pag. 117–152.

(7) That this Josephus’s chronology agreed neither with the Masorite Hebrew, nor with the present Septuagint, but almost always with that of the Samaritan Pentateuch, and contained not very much less than 5000 years, see Essay on the Old Testament, pag. 195–203. which is here recommended by Fabricius to the consideration of the reader, ap. Havercamp, pag. 59.

(8) Josephus here plainly alludes to the famous Greek proverb, Θεοῦ παρόντος πᾶν ἄπορον πόριμον. If God be with us, every thing that is impossible, becomes possible.

(9) Of Josephus’s chronology both here and hereafter the reader is not to expect much account in these Notes; because it is all distinctly stated and determined in the IVth Dissertation. However, he is to observe, that tho’ the numbers at the beginning of every book are translations from the last editions of Josephus, and so imperfect; yet that those in the margin {presented in this online edition occasionally in [brackets] in the text or as notes, when I feel like it} are my own numbers, as they are more perfectly discovered and stated in the chronology, and my chronological table, published A.D. 1721. Josephus often corrected his own chronology, and for want of Ptolemy’s Canon, and of the knowledge of the years of Jubilee, which are sure guides to me in this matter, was often mistaken; so I choose rather to give the Reader in the margin the true chronology, than to perplex him with such a chronology as we now know to be not seldom, nor a little erroneous.

(10) As to this intended work of Josephus’s concerning the reasons of many of the Jewish laws, and what philosophical or allegorical sense they would bear; the loss of which work is by some of the learned not much regretted; I am inclinable, in part, to Fabricius’s opinion, ap. Havercamp, pag. 63, 64, that “We need not doubt but, among some vain and frigid conjectures derived from Jewish imaginations, Josephus would have taught us a greater number of excellent and useful things; which perhaps no body, neither among the Jews, nor among the Christians can now inform us of. So that I would give a great deal to find it still extant.” So says Fabricius.

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