Josephus and the Sages

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According to his own testimony, Josephus was a Jewish general who surrendered to the Romans and became a prominent intellectual in Rome. Was he a traitor or a victim? Is he an accurate representative of rabbinic Judaism or a deviant? Surprisingly, the Talmud offers no opinion about him. R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Kinos Mesoras Ha-Rav, pp. 279-280) offers the following explanation of the Talmudic attitude toward Josephus:

The Jews under Josephus’ command fought heroically, but gradually the garrison of defenders was isolated and decimated by hunger. With no hope left, the warriors under Josephus’ command entered into a suicide pact rather than surrendering and falling into enemy hands. They drew lots and killed themselves one by one. Rather than committing suicide, however, Josephus surrendered to the Romans. He was taken prisoner and ultimately became a Roman citizen and was close with the Roman imperial family.

I would not say that Josephus lacked the courage to commit suicide. From a halakhic point of view, Josephus may not have been permitted to do so. The Midrash clearly says (Bereshit Rabba 34:13) that committing suicide is an act of murder. The case of King Saul causing himself to be killed is explained by some as an exception to this prohibition because Saul realized that the enemy would kill him imminently in any event. Therefore, if Josephus realized that he was not in imminent danger of being killed by the Romans, he would not have been halakhically permitted to kill himself. Nonetheless, one could argue that even though halakha may not have required Josephus to commit suicide, under halakha, one may commit suicide to avoid surrendering to the enemy. If so, such discretion would have been available to Josephus as well. In summary, I am not certain that Josephus committed an act of betrayal. He may have been acting in accordance with the prohibition against suicide.

It is interesting that Josephus is not mentioned at all in the Gemara, although Rashi does refer to him (Bava Batra 3b, s.v., hekhi). Our sages make no mention of the incident despite their extensive discussion of the events of the Second Temple period. It is hard to know what the attitude of our sages was, but I suspect that while they disapproved of what Josephus did, they felt that they did not have the right to condemn him. As a result, they ignored him. The Gemara would have mentioned him if it considered him a traitor.

UPDATE: I found the following alternate view by Louis Feldman, Judaism and Hellenism Reconsidered, p. 313:

Perhaps the silence of the Talmud about [Josephus] is due to the fact that he was an “outsider,” although Brull has attempted to find a hidden reference to him in a minor Talmudic tractate (Der. Er. Rab 5, Pirke Ben Azzai 3) which mentions a visit of several sages to a nameless (to be sure, pagan) philosopher in Rome seeking his intercession with the Emperor Domitian.”

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. It really makes no sense that neither the Bavli or the Yerushlami doesn’t mention him at all. However, I find it very interesting that in Gittin the Gemara that discusses Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zachai having a conversation with Vespasian (56a-56b I believe) miraculously tells the same story that Josephus does, except Josephus was the one to have the conversation and not RYBZ.

    My guess is that the Gemara is an ahistorical text and finds no value in discussing history unless it has something to do with teaching a lesson and usually will distort history to coincide with a lesson or a teaching of some sort. I am not familiar with any other historical text that the Gemara discusses. Are there any?

  2. In what context does Rashi (Bava Batra 3b) refer to Josephus? And does he refer to him by the name “Josephus”?

  3. e-man: What’s so difficult? Althpough the Gemora was codified in the completed written form we have it today about 400 years after Josephus, the fact of the matter remains that the incidents mentioned in the Gemora were known to Chazal long before that. For instance, the incident between R. Yochanan Ben Zachai and Vespasian was known to Chazal from the time it occurred. It was also known to the general Jewish population at the time, which would include Josephus.

  4. The reference in Rashi is not to Josephus, but to Sefer Yosifon, a psudeopigraphic work from 10th century Italy. It’s based partially on Josephus, but partly on other sources.

  5. There is a word missing from the third to last sentence.

  6. The Rav’s approach to history is cute. It isn’t in the Gemorah. So just guess or make it your own opinion. ex: I think that since the Rav didn’t mention same sex marriage, he was probably ambivalent.

  7. I agree with chakira that the Rav’s approach to this issue seems a bit simplistic.

  8. Maybe (a much more likely possibility), the Gemara never mentioned him because his works did not circulate among Jews. (Indeed, his works weren’t even *intended* for Jews.) He wrote in Greek in lived in Rome, and died 400 years before the Bavli was written. It makes perfect sense that the Bavli would never mention him, simply because the Amoraim had never heard of him. And although the Yerushalmi was written in a Greek-speaking environment, a few hundred miles and a hundred years closer to his place and time, it makes perfect sense that they’d never heard of him either. I doubt most if any Tannaim had even heard of him. Rashi’s quote, as said above, is of a Hebrew “adaptation” of his works and (to answer the question) involves a detail of the Beit HaMikdash, on which he is considered reliable (as one of the few from whom we have eyewitness testimony).

    It’s not as if Chazal quote much of any “outside” sources in any event. Philo never comes up; the Apocrypha barely does (some lines from Ben Sira, not all of them in current copies, is all); the Gospels are not; Megillat Taanit gets some passing quotes; Homer is mentioned perhaps once and never quoted. It’s like asking why they don’t quote the Dead Sea Scrolls- which, interestingly, are perhaps mentioned. Add to that the idea (contra to Joe Hill) that Talmudic history is itself not too exact, and you have a simple explanation. Joe Hill: Would you rely on a history written over 400 years after the fact, based on no written sources that we can tell, in another country altogether, even if written today about something that happened in, say, 1580? Perhaps yes, but most wouldn’t.

  9. Nachum, I second your opinion. But I would argue that in Roman-Palestine there were other contributing factors; it wasn’t simply because of time and distance.

    There is more than one reference to Homer, especially if we consider the whole corpus of Palestinian writings. Regarding the dead sea scrolls, I know of a reference to their sect in Pesachim but where are the scrolls mentioned?

  10. @Nachum, there is a supposedly verbatim quote of the Sermon on the Mount in BT Shabbat 116ab. AFAIK, that’s from Matthew.

  11. Arie: Soncino agrees, Matthew 5:17. Now that you mention it, there may be one or two others- check the Soncino general index, in the “scriptural citations” section.

    Ephrayim: Every now and then someone claims to have found a scroll (or I think Tefillin) in the area of the Dead Sea. Of course, we can only speculate if there is a link.

  12. Again, while the Gemora was codified into its current form in approximately the 5th century CE, the Gemoras and Braisas themselves are much older.

  13. On Matthew 5:17 parallels to the Talmud, see The Jewish Annotated New Testament pp. 10-11 at

    There is also a relevant short essay by Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler on pp. 504-506 in which he discusses methodological similarities between the NT and contemporaneous Rabbinic literature: e.g. use of Ka’Katuv and Kal va’Chomer.

    There is also a short essay on Josephus by Prof. Shaye Cohen on pp. 575-577.

  14. Chakira et al: I don’t understand your criticism. The Sages spent a good deal of time on the lead-up to and aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple. R. Soloveitchik’s question is why they didn’t condemn the traitorous general whose soldiers all committed suicide but he just turned himself in and became a Roman citizen. It’s hard to believe that they didn’t know that story, even without the fact that Josephus went on to become a famous intellectual who wrote about Jewish history.

    Yes, R. Soloveitchik speculated. Hence his words: “It is hard to know what the attitude of our sages was, but I suspect that…”

    I will shortly update the post with a different opinion from Prof. Louis Feldman.

  15. Why would the Tannaim and Amoraim consider him important? Because we do?

  16. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make in this post. The Talmud(s)sometimes used historical events to make theological points; but they were not compiled to record history.

    Some of the Tanaim must have known him in Jerusalem given that he was a military leader of the Jews with a Hasmonean pedigree . But, to the extent the Amoraim were aware of Josephus, neither he nor his writings were relevant to their teaching — any more so than the NT — and, if they were aware, wouldn’t it have been within the frame of their ambivalent views of chochma yevanit?

  17. IH: That is precisely R. Soloveitchik’s answer – the Sages didn’t have a theological message about Josephus and therefore didn’t mention him.

  18. But Gil: Where would they even mention him? The Mishna doesn’t deal with history much; the Amoraim wouldn’t have known him, and although Tannaim are quoted in the Talmuds, Midrash, and so on, it can’t be everything they ever said. So maybe it just was left out…which I guess is your point. 🙂

    Actually, I wonder: Is it claimed that we *do* have- between all the various works- a complete set, so to speak, of Tannaic statements?

  19. That’s an interesting question, Nachum. In some sense the answer is yes, we do have a complete set, so to speak, of Tannaic statements, since the selection of who is considered a Tanna was established later (by the Amoraim, I think).

  20. OK, but that’s circular. To refine it, then: Do we have every halakhic statement made by, say, Yehuda Hanasi? Logic would say stuff was lost along the way, but we just have so much. To put it another way: Has every single baraita been preserved, in one place or another? Have collections ever been made?

  21. more precisely: …the selection of what is considered a Tannaitic statement was established later…

  22. Nachum,I thought you meant that the Talmud mentions the dead sea scrolls. That they found tefilin in Qumran is hardly saying anything close to that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a reference to some general ideas

    BTW they did find tefilin in Qumran, see Yigal Yadin’s book Tefilin from Qumran. To the extent that these tefilin followed rabbinic halacha see David Nachman מקומראן וההלכה של חז”ל. IIRC he says that some were imported from the rabbinic camp and those did follow Chazal (but could hardly be considered contemporaneously kosher, Cf. R’ Goren’s article concerning tefilin from Midbar Yehudah)

  23. Forgot to finish the sentence in the last comment. I meant to write
    “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a reference to some general ideas found in Sefer HaYovlim. Some think that the Tovalei Shacharin is a reference to the Essens which some think included the Kat HaYachad; regardless the dead sea sect also went to mikvah many times a day. Actually the reference is more likely intended to the Jewish Baptist sects around in the 2nd century.”

  24. r’ gil – there is no reason that chazal in their literature should quote josephus. chazal does not quote (or acknowledge) any non-biblical text except for ben sira. we know that christian writers were aware of josephus’s text – or that it was floating around.

    we are pretty sure that the talmud was aware of josephus because of the yochanan ben zakai story around the destruction is josephus’s story with some embellishments – the story doesn’t make sense otherwise. plus, there is no other known source for the story except for josephus (vespesian was already emperor by the time of the destruction). they may lifted other stuff from him but you can always counter there may have been other sources.

    on the halachik analysis – why do you think josephus would be following halacha (its questionable that he was a pharisee)? especially if we do not know what it was at the time? i am all for lumdus but from josephus?

  25. Ruvie: Again, the question is not why Chazal don’t QUOTE Josephus but why they don’t condemn him for his actions in leading up to the Churban. R. Soloveitchik’s answer is that perhaps his actions were not halakhically worthy of condemnation.

  26. Lots of points, I hope my phone doesn’t get in the way.
    one. If the suicide pact was to prevent slavery and Josephus did not have a risk of being a slave, why should he have killed himself?
    Two. Josephus was from the Galilee. The Talmud often quotes the rulings of r. Joseph the Galilee, his positions tend to be lenient if I remember correctly. Do we know that the two are unrelated? 🙂
    Three. Since the Talmud mentions R. Yose of the Galilee, is it possible that they just had little contact with the people who lived up north, even if they were ‘important’ people? Why else would they name someone based on where they lived?

  27. R’ gil – did they condemn any other traitor about the destruction? Or somebody else who didn’t committ suicide? Is there a parallel where they comment on someone else but are silent here so there is a reason for commenting on his behavior? We need to establish an appropriate question to their silence first, no?

  28. IH: OK, even within the (later) definition of the word, then.

    Ephrayim: Sorry, I left out a word or two: There places where a Tanna (or Amora) claims to have found a scroll (or tefillin) in the area of the Dead Sea, and attempts, successfully or not, to use that as a proof. I remember learning this but can’t remember the exact source or context.

    It’s possible that the Qumran sect simply had tefillin, not that they imported them. They weren’t Tzedukim- they had a Torah Shebeal Peh, albeit one of their own.

    Gil, that still begs the question: You assume that Chazal knew he existed at all.

  29. Jesse A is correct. Rashi does not refer to Josephus, but rather to Yosifun Ben Gurion. According to wikipedia,although Yosifun ” professes to be the old Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus”, the work was actually written in the 10th century. Therefore, Rashi might have thought that he was referring to the real Josephus, but in fact he was not.

  30. “vespesian was already emperor by the time of the destruction”

    Even the Talmud agrees that Titus destroyed the Temple. The story is about the siege of Vespasian, the one that preceded the capture of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple.

    While most academics do think the story of Yochanan ben Zakai was adapted from Josephus’s story (see, there is no reason to believe that they are not both true. At the time it was neither Josephus’s or R’ Yochanan ben Zakai revelation that predicted Vespasian would be emperor. Actually Suetonius writes that at the time there was a ubiquitous prophecy going around that said Vespasian would be the next emperor . So both of the wise Jews capitalized on this already known prophecy to save their lives. By the time of R’ Yochanan this “prophecy” was just a educated guess, since at the time Nero was already dead, and Vespasian was a contender for the throne.

    Getting back to the point, there does seem to at least be some inaccuracy in the Talmud’s story. According to the story in the Talmud, as Vespasian and R’ Yochanan were conversing a messenger entered to announce the death of Caesar. Like I wrote before Nero was dead already and what actually happened is that in Egypt he was declared emperor. It is also not certain that Vespasian ever laid siege to Jerusalem, although he was certainly operation in the vicinity at the time. See the above cited article from Tropper about the likely influences for the R’ Yochanan story.

  31. Nachum, of course they had there own tefilin, see the article I cited. You can read it here

  32. From Wikipedia (I posted a question on this “history” on Avodah last week”
    After the death of Nero in 68, Rome saw a succession of short-lived emperors and a year of civil wars. Galba was murdered by Otho, who was defeated by Vitellius. Otho’s supporters, looking for another candidate to support, settled on Vespasian.

    According to Suetonius, a prophecy ubiquitous in the Eastern provinces claimed that from Judaea would come the future rulers of the world. Vespasian eventually believed that this prophecy applied to him, and found a number of omens, oracles, and portents that reinforced this belief.[14]

    He also found encouragement in Mucianus, the governor of Syria; and, although Vespasian was a strict disciplinarian and reformer of abuses, Vespasian’s soldiers were thoroughly devoted to him. All eyes in the East were now upon him. Mucianus and the Syrian legions were eager to support him. While he was at Caesarea, he was proclaimed emperor (1 July 69), first by the army in Egypt under Tiberius Julius Alexander, and then by his troops in Judaea (11 July according to Suetonius, 3 July according to Tacitus).

    Nevertheless, Vitellius, the occupant of the throne, had Rome’s best troops on his side — the veteran legions of Gaul and the Rhineland. But the feeling in Vespasian’s favour quickly gathered strength, and the armies of Moesia, Pannonia, and Illyricum soon declared for him, and made him the de facto master of half of the Roman world.

    While Vespasian himself was in Egypt securing its grain supply, his troops entered Italy from the northeast under the leadership of M. Antonius Primus. They defeated Vitellius’s army (which had awaited him in Mevania) at Bedriacum (or Betriacum), sacked Cremona and advanced on Rome. They entered Rome after furious fighting. In the resulting confusion, the Capitol was destroyed by fire and Vespasian’s brother Sabinus was killed by a mob.

    On receiving the tidings of his rival’s defeat and death at Alexandria, the new emperor at once forwarded supplies of urgently needed grain to Rome, along with an edict or a declaration of policy, in which he gave assurance of an entire reversal of the laws of Nero, especially those relating to treason. While in Egypt he visited the Temple of Serapis, where reportedly he experienced a vision. Later he was confronted by two labourers who were convinced that he possessed a divine power that could work miracles.


  33. How widely known was Josephus in his day? Are there contemporary accounts by others that mention him? Is it possible that Chazal were simply not aware of him and his story — or, at most, that they were aware of him but (due to the language barrier) knew very little about him?

  34. Chazal dont discuss Josephus because they were likely unaware of him. THe reason why chazal don’t quote any Greek is because they didn’t read any Greek books. Very few of chazal even knew how to read Greek.
    THe NT was translated into aramaic so in theory they might have been able to know about that. There is a guy at JTS who holds that davka in Bavel chazal knew about Josephus, but iam skepticaal/

  35. Since we dont have Bavli or Yerushalmi on all of shas and presumably all of the various mesechtot were studied in the times of the amoraim, its not illogical to speculate that Josephus is mentioned in a mesechta that was either not redacted or lost

  36. Is there any talk in the Talmud about Masada?

  37. “Very few of chazal even knew how to read Greek.”

    That seems an odd thing to say considering the greek puns and other greek words in the Talmud. Afikomen, Sanhedrin etc.

  38. Moshe, How could you think that? Did you ever read a mishnah? Maybe you should pick up Hayim Lapin’s new book “Rabbis as Romans” and learn how acculturated the Palestinian rabbinate were.

  39. Ephrayim: I know all about their tefillin. I just meant to suggest that they didn’t necessarily “copy” from the Perushim.

    “presumably all of the various mesechtot were studied in the times of the amoraim”

    That’s a big “presumably.” The likelihood is the opposite. (It certainly wasn’t true in the centuries following.) On the other hand, the Rambam says he saw a Yerushalmi on Kodshim, so there’s that.

    avi: The *only* source for Masada is Josephus, until 19th and 20th Century archaeology filled in some blanks.

  40. >Three. Since the Talmud mentions R. Yose of the Galilee, is it possible that they just had little contact with the people who lived up north, even if they were ‘important’ people? Why else would they name someone based on where they lived?

    More likely because there were several R. Yossi’s

  41. To echo Avi: Isn’t the question about the Talmud’s silence on Josephus basically the same question as the Talmud’s silence on Massada?

  42. Nachum, it really depends how you view the history of rabbinic Judaism. In all likelihood the dead sea sect was somehow a brake off of Rabbinic Judaism, whether they were first associated with the Essenes or the Sadducees; they claim to have secluded themselves because they did not agree with the ongoings in the Temple. Both groups despite their claims to Sola scriptura actually were heavily influenced by rabbinic oral teachings. While Philo and later biblical expositors understood tefilin homiletically, this group adopted the rabbinic tradition, so historically tefilin comes from rabbinc Judaism. But you are right that did have some different customs. It was more like a more liberal approach to halacha and in their tefilin they would add extra verses and weren’t scrupulous in copying the exact text. Since they essentially took the rabbinic tefilin as it is, they were fine with taking parshiyos from the perushim.

  43. While you could have chosen a myriad of things that don’t appear in Chazal that would be expected; Masada is a bad choice. While Josephus did write about it, and some historians took after him; the consensus among scholars is that the story never happened. There was a book written about this called “The Masada Myth”.

  44. The question of how much Greek was known by EY-based Chazal is most recently discussed in R. Sperber’s 2012 book reviewed here:

    He starts the book quoting Mishna Avoda Zarah 3:4:

    Proklos the son of Philosophos asked Rabban Gamliel in Akko while he was bathing in the Bathhouse of Aphrodite, and said to him: “It is written in your [book of] law. ‘And there shall cleave nought of the devoted thing to thine hand’ [Deut. 13:18]. Why then do you bathe in the Bathhouse of Aphrodite?” He answered: “One may not reply in the Bathhouse” [i.e. speak words of Torah while naked]. And when he came out he said: “I came not within her limit, she came within mine!” They do not say, “Let us make a bath for Aphrodite,” but “Let us make an Aphrodite as an adornment for the Bathhouse.” Moreover, even if they would give much money you would not enter before your goddess naked or after suffering a pollution, nor would you urinate before her! Yet this goddess stands at the mouth of the gutter and everyone urinates in front of her. It is written: “Their gods” [Deut 12:3] only; hence, that which is treated as a god is forbidden, but what is not treated as a god is permitted.

    I’m still in the middle of the book, having gotten sidetracked by some of the fascinating footnotes.

  45. The Israel Museum has a statue of Aphrodite from a bathhouse in the Galil, and has that Mishna accompanying it. (Or did once in a special exhibit.)

    “the consensus among scholars is that the story never happened. There was a book written about this called “The Masada Myth”.”

    Consensus *was*, until they discovered the Roman camps at the base of the mountain and the remains (notably, the “Ben Yair” pottery) at the top. It’s unclear if they committed suicide, and it’s possible/likely Josephus made up a lot of details, like the speech, but the essence of the story seems to be true.

    Interesting points on the tefillin. Karaites, of course, don’t wear them, so so much for the “between the eyes” myth.

    In the times of the Mikdash, travel between the Galil and Judea was limited due to the Samaritans between them. Jesus seems to have been to Jerusalem twice, once for his Bar Mitzvah and once at the end of his life.

  46. “Jesus seems to have been to Jerusalem twice….”

    You mean he didn’t celebrate it on Masada? 🙂

  47. By it, I meant his bar mitzvoh.

  48. moshe shoshan – “Very few of chazal even knew how to read Greek.”

    didn’t the rabbis have a working knowledge of greek as arbiters or for documents like marriage contracts? one assumes if they were part of the society which meant the structure of that society dealt with greek written documents.

  49. Commenters here seem to assume that the gemara quotes Matthew. I would think it’s rather more likely that common rabbinic sayings made their way into the Christian bible.

  50. I haven’t looked into it recently, but I haven’t heard that they found the amount of bodies that should have been found. Also were the camps found where they were supposed to be found? Could ben Yair have been a common name back then? Even if it refers to eliezer ben yair, we still don’t know how many people were there?

  51. ephrayim – “The story is about the siege of Vespasian, the one that preceded the capture of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple.”

    vespasian was not at the siege of jerusalem he was already emperor. do we know that he was even in the vicinity if he was already emperor? story doesn’t make sense if it was yochanan ben zakai – it fits better if its josephus. according to shaye cohen – don’t have the article link – details not in eicha rabah that ended elsewhere in rabbinic literature (bavli) was lifted straight from josephus.

    thank you for the link to tropper’s article – don’t know him or his reputation as a scholar.
    there seems to not be two sources here but an adaptation of older source that changes. doesn’t mean josephus’s story is true about his prophecy but at least we know josephus surrendered and lived in vespasian’s home.

    moshe shoshan – i assume you are referring to richard kalmin at jts.

  52. Re Massada: Wow, what a surprise! Another event that the cynics decided never happened actually did happen. Let’s add that to the battle of Troy and the existence of the Baal Shem Tov. Really, academics ought to adopt more humility. It would become them.

    (And really, how could Josephus have gotten away with making up the story of Massada? The Romans — his readers — would have known he was lying.)

  53. First the Romans and then the Church (when Rome became Christian and the Church became the State function) were the sole custodians of Josephus’ writings for hundreds of years.

    And we know the Church modified Josephus’ writings, embellishing it in various places. The most famous of which is where Josephus’ supposedly testifies that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah.

  54. Ruvie, seems like you didn’t understand me. Lets start again.

    We don’t know when the story with R’ Yochanan happened, except that it was sometime close to the destruction of the temple. We don’t know if this was the final siege, or a different siege that preceded the siege in which the city was destroyed. We do know that Vespasian became emperor in 69. His son Titus laid siege to Jerusalem and eventually captured the city and destroyed the Temple in 70. We do know that Vespasian was a general operating in Palestine from 66 until his appointment as emperor. We do know that he operated in the vicinity of Jerusalem right before he was announced emperor. He even had horsemen that reached the city gates at one point. All I said was that maybe the siege referred to in the gemarah is a different siege than that of Titus. Maybe it was short lived and therefore it was not recorded by Josephus.

    Of course I myself have a hard time believing the story at all, like I mentioned before. Anyhow, afterwords I went to the gemarah and looked it over again and I realized that a second siege is untenable in the account of the gemarah. According to TB Gitin Vespasian laid siege for 2-3 years, so it would have definitely been mentioned by the historians of the time. Also I realized that the Talmud’s recollection of the burning of the store houses is the same burning recorded in Josephus that occurred in Titus’s siege. It is also not clear in the Talmud how the war progressed from Vespasian to Titus. All it says it that he sent for his son to finish the job. I would seem that this all happened in the same siege, although it is not clear.

  55. Ephrayim, I’m a novice in Roman history, but you say “it would have definitely been mentioned by the historians of the time.”

    Wouldn’t the Romans want to leave out that lack of ? I mean a mighty empire trying to conquer a small city for 3 years. Who said the historians even knew about it. Considering the Egyptians were told they were winning the 6 day war, why would the empire let their citizens about a lost battles?

  56. Rafael: Hee! I’ve always thought that Jesus was suffering from an early case of Jerusalem Syndrome- he finally makes it to a place he hasn’t seen in twenty years, about whom his parents tell him stories (“When you were in Yerushalayim for your Bar Mitzvah, you wandered off and debated the Sanhedrin!”) and it drives him a little bonkers. Kind of sad, if you think about it.

    Ephrayim, of course many of the details may not add up, but it seems pretty clear that the story is essentially true. Some of the archaeology doesn’t paint a pretty picture of them, though, e.g. their massacre of a nearby Jewish town.

    David: It’s true, but a good scholar can pick through what’s real and what’s not.

    As we’ve discussed earlier, of course, Titus didn’t die by having an insect eat his brain. 🙂

  57. Josephus-Yochanan ben Zakai .both were willing to surrender the sovereignty of the state to preserve the religion.One is considered a traitor the other a hero .see “Jewish Theocracy ” by Gershon Weiler


  58. Interesting is the difference in R’YBZ’s requests:
    1.gittin – given 1, he asks for 3 -yavneh,line of r’gamiliel,health of r’tzadok
    2.eicha rabbah-Jerusalem (denied), leave western gate open till a certain time and don’t kill those who leave (granted)
    3.avot d rabbi natan-yavneh so I can daven (or make tzitzit) and do all the mitzvot

    imho there’s a lot to conjecture about the different versions.

  59. Zvi, there are are other reasons why a 2-3 year was isn’t possible.

    Firstly, Josephus writes (Wars of the Jews IV Chp. 6:2 also see Chp. 9) that Vespasian argued with his fellow Romans that it wasn’t wise to attack the city just yet. He further records that there were many Jews they saw that deflected from the city, evidence that there was no siege.

    Secondly, we know that Vespasian was in other places in the 2-3 years before he was appointed as emperor.

    Thirdly, I already wrote that there are identifying details which indicate that the siege recorded in the gemarah is the same siege of Titus that was successful.

    In regards to your question, let me remind you that Sennacherib lead a failed siege against Jerusalem but still recorded it himself in his own palace. All you need to do to avoid the embarrassment of a loss is to ascribe a different reason for pulling out. Also Josephus does record that the Romans lost some a battles. It’s also hard to equate the censorship possible nowadays with the historians in Roman times.

    Nachum, I am not sure why it is so clear to you. Considering that there is a tendency in early Jewish writings to create ideological tales how do we know that this is not another one of them?

  60. Because evidence was found that *something* happened there.

  61. That *something* might have been a *nothing* important.

  62. I was assuming you were referring to Masada in my last comment, although in my comment from 9:35 I was referring to the R’ Yochanan story.

  63. Ephrayim- “Josephus does record that the Romans lost some a battles”, do they include battles led by the current emperor?

    “Josephus writes (Wars of the Jews IV Chp. 6:2 also see Chp. 9) that Vespasian argued with his fellow Romans that it wasn’t wise to attack the city just yet”, that wouldn’t carry weight against the assumption that he was covering up for the emperor.

    “I already wrote that there are identifying details which indicate that the siege recorded in the gemarah is the same siege of Titus that was successful”, the same as above, if he tried being a good Roman and cover for the emperor, he’d have to transfer the details of Vespasian’s seige.

    “let me remind you that Sennacherib lead a failed siege against Jerusalem but still recorded it himself in his own palace”, surely you are’nt saying that that’s always the case. Kitchen writes it’s generally not the case.

    Moreover as a former enemy general, would recording the emperor’s failing against his Jewish brothers, further being a Roman in Rome?

    With regards to Chazal, we know they didn’t rely on the many of the ברייתות for Halacha unless they were known to be reliable. I never saw that they disregard less reliable ברייתות with regards to aggadah. Thus even according to the Talmudic tradition itself, the story doesn’t have to be be inaccurate.

  64. Zvi, you didn’t refute my second proof. Further your proposed resolution entails rewriting *recent* history, something Josephus would have been unlikely to do. Were not talking about merely omitting but creating something that didn’t happen.

    I noticed that you are under the assumption that the history recorded in the Talmud is simply reproduced from earlier brsaisot, but that is not necessarily true. While that does happen sometimes, such as when the Talmud excerpts whole passages from the Scholion, but these passages are preceded by phrases such as ת”ר. A lot of the time it is possible to tell if the discussion is native or imported. The particular passages in BT Gitin seem from their language to be an original Bavli narrative. As such, it should be assumed that the history recorded is history that were passed down orally. Naturally oral transmission is liable to inaccuracy as it was passed down through the ages. What kind of exactitude can we expect from history recorded 500 years after it happened. It would seem logical that as far as history issues are concerned we should believe the history recorded closer to its happening, notwithstanding the preeminence of the Talmud.

  65. Ephrayim, “Zvi, you didn’t refute my second proof”, I didn’t respond because I didn’t know the details about the report that Vespasian was in other places? Could he have been sent from one job to another? Were the other jobs recorded as being more successful? Was it Josephus who wrote about it?

    “Further your proposed resolution entails rewriting *recent* history”, not exactly rewriting, it’s omiting a faliure of the emperor and then by default the context of another event(s) changes.
    “something Josephus would have been unlikely to do” this is a quote from Wikipedia “It was against this background that Josephus wrote his War, and although this work has often been dismissed as
    pro-Roman propaganda (hardly a surprising view, given the source of his patronage).”

    Also didn’t you post about the Masada myth above.

  66. Yes, I know that Josephus had a agenda and was even sometimes uncareful with his history. But I still think that in the year 75 in Rome it would too much of a lie to rewrite. But my opinion is compounded with my view on the historical exactitude of the stories in the Talmud. If I had better reason to think Josephus lied maybe I would think like you.

  67. Imagine a Jew today told to defened a city by Rav Shteinman. He abandons it, changes his last name to Achmadinejad, and starts acting like a Tokyo Rose. He then writes a history, and says that the biggest Anti-Semites back his version of history up. How would you view his history?
    How much would you trust it?

    Josephus “Flava Flav” “Flavius” was appointed to defend Yodfath by Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel. He then becomes a turncoat, and adopts the surname Flavius, the surname of the family that destroyed the Temple (Vespasian, Titus, Domitian). The Flavian Ampitheater is not named after Josephus. He writes that Titus and Aggrippa II (NOT the good Aggrippa) back up his history. How much should he be trusted?

  68. shachar haamim

    I would think that condeming Josephus as a traitor would paint RYBZ in a bad light – which is not what chazal (or at least the folks in charge of that sugya in Gittin) wanted to do.

    Appropo of the history of the destruction – Joel Rich’s quote from wikipedia above mentions the Roman general Tiberius Julius Alexander. He was a Jew – and was pretty eager to get rid of the Temple too.

  69. The Tannaim and Amoraim didn’t ever read Josephus. His writings were deposited and held by the Roman government. That story Josephus’ relates was well known by the Jews even outside his writings.

    That being said, Josephus was a fine and upstanding Jew who fell into the jurisdiction of the Romans and followed their rule after his defeat as a General.

  70. David source please

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