Josephus: Confessions of an evil tyrant

It is often said that history is written by the winners.  Josephus, who wrote the history of the Jewish war, is perhaps the most striking exception.  As the high priest of Galilee Josephus led an army to war against the Romans and commanded the defence of Jotapata.  He lost, he surrendered to Vespasian, he served Vespasian and he wrote a history of the events involved in the war.

My natural expectation was that Josephus would try to present himself in a good light and whilst he praises his own ability he describes the most deplorable actions which he himself took.  He lied, stole, cheated, decieved, tortured and murdered and boasted about how clever he was for doing it, and these are only the things which he admits to is his history.

When a large mob, many of whom were from Taricheae, were stirred up against Josephus, accusing him of using the ill gotten gains of the people of Dabaritta for his own ends he claimed to have deluded them by saying that he had intended to spend it for the benefit of the town of Taricheae, thus splitting the mob into two factions and turning them against each other.

When a mob of 2,000 men descended on his house he claimed to be unable to understand what their demands were because of the confused noise of the crowd and promised that if they sent him some spokesmen he would comply with their demands.  The spokesmen, on entering his house, were captured whipped until every one of their inner parts was showing and then cast out from the house, to terrify the crowd.

Since he maintained his power through fear and lies it is hardly surprising that his forces deserted him as soon as the Roman legions appeared.  During the siege of Jotapata he tried to make plans to flee and save himself, but the populace refused to allow him to abandon them and did not believe his claim that by leaving he would draw off the Romans and raise an army to lift the siege.

When at last the city fell and his hiding place was located the men with him wanted to die rather than surrender and would not allow him to betray them by surrendering to the Romans.  He talked them into drawing lots to take turns killing each other, because of the need to cut off their hands if they were to commit suicide, and somehow arranged to be one of the last two allive, at which point he ran away and surrendered to the Romans.

Without doubt Josephus was an extremely evil, manipulative, cowardly tyrant and it is through his eyes that we get the most detailed insight into the Biblical lands in the years after Jesus, outside of the New testament.