Josephus’ Family and the New Testament

02 Feb

I have always found JOSEPHUS a very interesting history. I don’t mean to imply that I read him every day or have read his entire works, but I have studied some parts of his works as they apply to the New Testament. I recently discovered an interesting point while reading the works of Joseph Raymond, but unfortunately his website is no longer available. While I do not agree with the majority of Mr. Raymond’s conclusions, two articles he publishef on his website directed me to something I had never considered about Josephus, namely that he was a descendant of Annas, the powerful high priest of the 1st century, who was so influential in the trial and execution of Jesus.

Josephus mentions in his Life of Flavius Josephus that one of his forefathers married the daughter of Jonathan, the Hasmonean high priest. He begins his genealogy with a priest named Simon (called Psellus). He had nine sons, and one son, Matthias (called Ephlias) married the daughter of Jonathan, the first Hasmonean High Priest. This Matthias had a son in the first year of John Hyrancus’ government, and his name was Matthias (called Curtus). This man had a son named Joseph in the ninth year of the reign of Alexandra, Joseph’s “son” was called Matthias who was born in the 10th year of the reign of Archelaus (6 CE), and of this last Matthias, Josephus, himself, was born in the 1st year of the reign of Caius Caesar, or 37 CE [JOSEPHUS: Life of Flavius Josephus, paragraph 1]. Moreover, Josephus makes the point in his autobiography that he is not only the descendant of priests, but of high priests and implies that his own father was one of those high priests. Notice:

Now, my father, Matthias, was not only eminent on account of his nobility, but had a higher commendation on account of his righteousness; and was in great reputation in Jerusalem, the greatest city we have… [JOSEPHUS: Life of Flavius Josephus, paragraph 2]

On the face, there is nothing here that would prove Josephus’ line runs through Annas, but Mr. Raymond makes the point that Josephus skips a few generations in his genealogy to hide the obvious to the unobservant reader. For example, there is a gap of about 72 years between Josephus’ named grandfather, “Joseph,” and Josephus’ father Matthias, implying a missing generation or two. (I’ll speak more of this below). In other words by the end of the 1st century the priesthood of Annas was not very popular among Jews or Christians, so Josephus may be hiding what would be obvious for most people, while giving enough information to others to show his true nobility.

Josephus recorded two incidents occurring near the end of the Jewish war with Rome that sheds more light upon his genealogy. Notice:

Accordingly, Simon would not suffer Matthias, by whose means he got possession of the city, to go off without torment. This Matthias was the son of Boethus and was one of the high priests… (Simon) had him then brought before him and condemned to die for being on the side of the Romans, without giving him leave to make his defense. He condemned also his three sons to die with him; for as to the fourth, he prevented him by running away to Titus beforeThey also kept Josephus’s father in prison. [JOSEPHUS: Wars of the Jews; book 5, chapter 13, paragraph 1] (parenthesis and emphasis mine).

We can see from what Josephus records here that the high priest, Matthias son of Boethus, was executed with three of his sons just before the end of the Jewish war, but this Matthias was not Josephus’ father, because he says further that these men kept that Matthias in prison. Notice now what Josephus wrote further on when he was with Titus just outside of Jerusalem. Josephus made a public appeal for his people in the city of Jerusalem to surrender:

As Josephus spoke these words with groans, and tears in his eyes, his voice was intercepted by sobs… (John and others in Jerusalem) were desirous to get Josephus into their power, yet did that discourse influence a great many of the better sort… watching for a proper opportunity (they) fled to the Romans, of whom were the high priests Joseph and Jesus, and of the sons of high priests three, whose father was Ishmael, who was beheaded in Cyrene, and four sons of Matthias, as also one son of the other Matthias, who ran away after his father’s death and whose father was slain by Simon, the son of Gioras, with three of his sons, as I have already related: many also of the other nobility went over to the Romans together with the high priests. [JOSEPHUS: Wars of the Jews; book 6, chapter 2, paragraph 2] (parenthesis and emphasis mine).

Mr. Raymond makes the point that Josephus never mentions the fate of his father, but it should be understood that, after Josephus’ discourse outside the city walls, his father would have been executed. Probably, Josephus knew this would occur, but made his appeal to save the greater part of his family—his four brothers.

Although nothing is laid out with certainty, it can be reasonably assumed that the Matthias mentioned in Wars 6.2.2 is Josephus’ father who was kept in prison at Jerusalem (Wars 5.13.1) and the four sons of Matthias who escaped are Josephus’ brothers.

Personally , I like how this Matthias, son of Theophilus, fits Josephus’ “generation-gap” in his Life of Flavius Josephus. Moreover, it seems probable that, if Matthias was forcefully removed from the office of high priest (which was indeed the case), he probably would have been imprisoned, even though other former high priests would have been permitted freedom within the city of Jerusalem. So, the evidence seems to point to Matthias, son of Theophilus, more than any other Matthias we find in Josephus’ works. He was the last high priest to reign before the Jewish war and the father of Josephus. And, as I mentioned, Mr. Raymond assumes for good reason that there are at least two missing generations in Josephus’ genealogy between Joseph, born in the ninth year of Alexandra and Matthias, born in the tenth year of Archelaus. He concludes they were Theophilus (Josephus’ true grandfather) and Annas (Josephus’ great-grandfather). Mentioning either one in Josephus’ autobiography would have alerted any interested reader to his true genealogy. One may view Josephus’ genealogy chart HERE. I have it is based upon a chart from the “Into His Own” website, but I have made a few changes.

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Posted by on February 2, 2010 in Religion


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