By January 15, 2008 Read More →

Josephus, War, Preface 6-16: Writing the History of the Jewish War

ColosseumIn the preface to the Jewish War, written in Rome between 75 and 79 C.E., Josephus sets forth the principles on which he proposed to write on accurate history of the Jewish war with Rome. From it we learn much about his concept and attitude as a historian. Apparently, the work was written to correct other accounts which Josephus regarded as false.

(6) I thought it an absurd thing to see the truth falsified regarding affairs of such great consequence and to take no notice of it, but to allow those Greeks and Romans who were not in the wars to be ignorant of these things, and to read either flatteries or fictions, while the Parthians, the Babylonians, the remotest Arabians and those of our nation beyond the Euphrates with the Adiabenians by my means knew accurately both whence the war began, what miseries it brought upon us, and how it ended. 129

(7) It is true that these writers have the confidence to call their accounts histories, but they seem to me to fail at their own purpose as well as to relate nothing that is sound. For they have a mind to demonstrate the greatness of the Romans, while they still diminish and lessen the actions of the Jews,

(8) as not discerning how it cannot be that those must appear to be great who have only conquered those who were small. Nor are they ashamed to overlook the length of the war, the multitude of the Roman forces who so greatly suffered in it, or the might of the commanders—whose great labors around Jerusalem will be deemed inglorious if what they achieved be reckoned to be only a small matter.

(9) However, I will not go to the other extreme out of opposition to those men who extol the Romans, nor will I determine to raise the actions of my countrymen too high. But I will faithfully relate the actions of both parties with accuracy. Yet I shall suit my language to the passions I am under, as to the affairs I describe, and must be allowed to indulge some lamentations upon the miseries undergone by my own country.

(10) For it was a seditious spirit of our own that destroyed it, and it was the tyrants among the Jews who brought the Roman power upon us, who unwillingly attacked us, and occasioned the burning of our holy temple. Titus Caesar who destroyed it, himself a witness during the entire war, pitied the people who were at the mercy of the revolutionaries and often voluntarily delayed the taking of the city and allowed time to the siege in order to let the culprits have the opportunity for repentance….

(15) But then, an undertaking to preserve the memory of what has not been before recorded, and to represent the affairs of one’s own time to those who come afterwards, is really worthy of praise and commendation. Now, he is to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest not who does no more than change the disposition and order of other men’s works, but he who not only relates what had not been related before, but composes an entire body of history of his own.

(16) Accordingly, I have been at great charges and have taken very great pains [about this history] though I be a foreigner, 130 and dedicate this work, as a memorial of great actions, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians. But for some of our own principal men, their mouths are wide open and their tongues loosed presently for gain and lawsuits, but quite muzzled up when they are to write history where they must speak the truth and gather the facts together with a great deal of effort. So they leave the writing of such histories to inferior people and to such as are not acquainted with the actions of princes. Yet the real truth of historical facts shall be preferred by us, no matter how much it may be neglected among the Greek historians.

129. Josephus is explaining his decision to issue War in Greek after an earlier edition, most probably in Aramaic, had circulated.

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