Josephus: The Essential Writings

A new translation by Paul Maier.

This is a condensed version of Antiquities and The Jewish War. What it lacks at times in thoroughness, it makes up for with Maier’s excellent comments and illustrations. To be honest, Josephus can be somewhat wordy in Antiquities. This makes for an excellent background volume on the New Testament.

The first part of Antiquities is a summary of Old Testament history. There isn’t much of interest, except at parts where Josephus provides an indirect commentary on the biblical narrative. For example, in Daniel the beast is not the Roman Empire, pace many Jewish and later Christian interpreters, and that for obvious reasons.

The second part of Antiquities is a background to the Jewish War of 66-70 AD. The Jewish War would make a good film, albeit a highly propagandized one. That might not be entirely fair to Josephus. He was not simply a turncoat. He fought valiantly for the Jewish people (or at least as he tells the story). He also realized that the Jewish leadership was corrupt and there was only one way this would end. Moreover, at least on his telling, Rome never wanted to remove Israel or even destroy the Temple. The Zealots pushed them to that.

Notes of Interest:

Josephus calls Nabal “a bad-natured cynic” (116).

He believes the witch of Endor actually summoned the spirit of Samuel from Hades, whether she intended the actual Samuel or not (117).

Josephus reminds us of a key point in David’s disastrous census. Taking a census was never against God’s law. Rather, if one took a census, a half-shekel should be paid to God for every person (133; cf. Exodus 30:12ff).

During his career Daniel actually build a fortress at Ecbatana (186).


The narrative begins slowly but picks up the pace and drama. Highly recommended.


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