Mercer (1 Nov 2010)
"Flavius Josephus-Can we glean anything from this ??"

 
Doves,
 
This week I bought  the complete works of Josephus. Very very interesting if you have never read him. He lived while the apostles were still alive and was intent on writing the history of the Jews.
 
Here are his comments on the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and the "omens" years before. Can we apply to present day? Red text is present day commentary.
 

 Omens of Destruction 
Introductory Comment
    The third paragraph of the fifth chapter of  Book 6 of the War contains a fascinating series of omens that foretold the fall of the Temple well in advance of the beginning of the revolt. Josephus stresses the theme that the destruction had to was predestined. This destiny seems detached from the sins of the people, for these omens are not connected to any particular evil. They are:

        Star and Comet
        Light Around the Altar
        Cow Gives Birth to Lamb
        The Eastern Gate
        Miraculous Phenomenon of Chariots in the Air
        Sound of a Great Multitude
        Jesus son of Ananias: A Voice from the East

    Does this mean the war and destruction could not be helped, but were only parts of a predestined and mysterious plan? In a comment on these signs Josephus gives his view: these were warnings from the Deity, and if only the omens had been heeded, disaster could have been averted. I discuss this further below.
    This paragraph follows immediately upon Josephus' description of the burning of the Temple. It is the means by which he steps back from the awesome drama he has been relating and puts it in the context of world history and the philosophy of human folly.
 
 

War 6.5.3 288-309

    Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them.

Star and Comet
 

    Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.
 

Light Around the Altar
 
    Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan, April, about a week before Passover] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.
Cow Gives Birth to Lamb
 
    At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple.
The Eastern Gate
 
    Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner  temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again.
    This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.
Miraculous Phenomenon of Chariots in the Air

     Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Iyar, May or June] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities.

Sound of a Great Multitude

    Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence."

Jesus son of Ananias: A Voice from the East

     But, what is still more terrible, there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple [Sukkot, autumn, 62 CE], began on a sudden to cry aloud,

    "A voice from the east,
    a voice from the west,
    a voice from the four winds,
    a voice against Jerusalem and the Holy House,
    a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides,
    and a voice against this whole people!"

This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city.
    However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before.
    Hereupon the magistrates, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was,

    "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!"

And when Albinus (for he was then our procurator) asked him, Who he was? and whence he came? and why he uttered such words? he made no manner of reply to what he said, but still did not leave off his melancholy ditty, till Albinus took him to be a madman, and dismissed him.
    Now, during all the time that passed before the war began, this man did not go near any of the citizens, nor was seen by them while he said so; but he every day uttered these lamentable words, as if it were his premeditated vow,

    "Woe, woe to Jerusalem!"

Nor did he give ill words to any of those that beat him every day, nor good words to those that gave him food; but this was his reply to all men, and indeed no other than a melancholy presage of what was to come.
     This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force,

    "Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the Holy House!"

And just as he added at the last,

    "Woe, woe to myself also!"

there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately; and as he was uttering the very same presages he gave up the ghost.

 
Comment
    These astounding tales apparently circulated among Jews after the war and were then collected by Josephus. They show the need of the populace to make sense of the destruction as well as Josephus' own interest in prophecy, which he uses here to indicate to his non-Jewish readers that the Temple  and the City were not burned at the whim of the conquering Romans but were deliberately allowed, if not destined, to be destroyed by the Deity.
    The omens fall into interesting groups. The star and comet always accompany momentous events; one recalls the comet presaging the death of Julius Caesar and the star at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.The other omens are associated with Jewish festivals. The next six signs that are described occur within days of each other, in an unspecified year, but probably in the early 60s. Just before the Passover celebration three of these signs occur together, and just after it the chariots in the air appear. Fifty days after this same Passover, on Shavuot (Pentecost), the earthquake and strange sounds occur. And Jesus ben Ananias first makes his appearance at the festival of Sukkot.
    One notes that Passover is a spring festival, and Sukkot an autumn one, suggesting that these all occurred within the same year, which, by the clues given (Albinus as procurator, the duration of Jesus' lamentation), would have been 62. As it happens, Josephus was most likely in Rome in that year, not in Jerusalem (see the Chronology), so he is forced to report these signs at second hand.
     Students of the New Testament cannot fail to have noticed parallels in these passages with events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth. The fantastic events occurring at the Passover bring to mind those related at the death of Jesus thirty years earlier, also at a  Passover, when the curtain of the Temple was split in two, and the earth shook (Matthew 27:51). At the following Pentecost the apostles have a vision of Jesus and begin to speak in tongues, while at Josephus' Pentecost sounds and voices are heard -- there are auditory miracles  in both texts.
    The sad story of Jesus son of Ananias related by Josephus has a number of parallels with the New Testament, the first of which is the coincidence of a man named Jesus prophesying against the Temple. As the name "Jesus" (Joshua) is one of the most common held by men in Josephus' works, it should not be taken as significant in itself. But one wonders if the tales of the two Jesuses became intertwined by their tellers, with elements of one story creeping into the narrative of the other. For this hypothesis one notes several parallels.
    The major difference is that the nonresponding Jesus ben Ananias is let free in Josephus, and allowed to continue his woes against the city; Jesus of Nazareth was not set free, although Pilate was supposedly inclined in that way.  What is the difference between the cases?  Was it due to additional claims the earlier Jesus made about himself?
    An odd coincidence was that Jesus ben Ananias arose near the beginning of Albinus' governorship, very soon after the death of James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.

 
 

 Prophecy of the Square Temple

War 6.5.4 310-311

Now if any one consider these things, he will find that God takes care of mankind, and by all ways possible foreshows to our race what is for their preservation; but that men perish by those miseries which they madly and voluntarily bring upon themselves; for the Jews, by demolishing the tower of Antonia, had made their Temple four-square, while at the same time they had it written in their sacred oracles, -- "That then should their city be taken, as well as their Holy House, when once their Temple should become four-square."

Comment
    The source for this prophecy is unknown today.
    Josephus repeats once more his theme that the prophecies and omens are meant as warnings. This leaves the paradox: a prophecy that is a warning is not a prophecy, for it would never come to pass if the warning were heeded. Obeying divine warnings would thus remove the proof of the truth of divine speech. Then people who do good by their own accord would never find reason to have faith in holy writings. Perhaps this is the ultimate, if unintended, direction of Josephus' interpretation of history.
 

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