The Ancestry of Josephus

Allo Tim, tout suit ...

Quoting from Steve Mason's Josephus and the New Testament (p 38):

"In Life 2, he [Josephus] asserts that his royal heritage comes from his mother, who descended from Hasmoneans ... But the genealogy that follows in support of this claim goes through his father, not his mother. He now says that it was his great-great-grandfather on his father's side who married into the Hasmonean line (Life 4); no further mention is made of his mother ... The dates that he gives for his ancestors do not compute. Josephus puts his great-grandfather Matthias's birth at 135 B.C.E, his son Joseph's at 70 B.C.E, and his son Matthias's at 6 B.C.E. That his forebears should have sired children at sixty five and seventy-six years of age, respectively, is not impossible, but it would require back-to-back feats of Abrahamic proportions. It is expecially problematic in view of the short life expectancy in Greco-Roman antiquity. We may leave aside such additional problems as why Simon's son Matthias was 'known as the son of Ephaeus' (Life 4)"

Josephus' Life was written in the manner of a Roman autobiography. Although it appears to the modern reader as proud and cavalier, this is what Romans expected. Josephus even seems to wink at the reader when he says that his lineage was established by public record, as Josephus elsewhere reports that such public records (if they ever really existed) had long been destroyed - first by Herod the Great and later by the Romans. The obvious self-contradictions in Josephus signal the informed reader concerning the "truth". To wit, for a quintessential aristocrat, which Josephus strove to be, truth involved the ability to skillfully create and use propaganda.

Steve Mason states (pp 123-124): "... it [Life] is written in a rather sloppy style and with obvious disregard for historical precision ... he blithely contradicts the earlier account [Wars of the Jews] at every turn. This almost aggressive carelessness may in fact be a deliberate clue to his purposes. Notice that within the Life itself, he makes a theme of his deception and duplicity, constantly alerting the audience to the games he is playing." Consistent with this, Steve Mason concludes that the genealogy of Josephus is bogus and politically motivated.

In Life, Josephus describes his journey to Rome on behalf of accused priests, and even as a mythic odyssey. He states that these priests had been sent to Rome by Felix over a petty charge. However, the actual timing of the trip (62/63 A.D. - when Josephus was 26 years old and Festus was governor) indicates that the real issue was the wall erected in the Temple by the priests to prevent Agrippa II and Berenice from observing the sacrificial offerings from their palace balcony.

According to Antiquities [Chapter VIII], the priests won their appeal to Nero with help from Poppea, however the High Priest Ismael son of Phiabi and temple treasurer Helcias were detained by Nero. It appears then that Josephus actually joined (as a junior associate) an embassy sent to gain the release of Ismael and Helcias. Helcias was father of Julias Archelaus, a prominent Herodian and later a fellow pensioner with Josephus in Rome. This embassy was also successful, although Ismael was not restored as High Priest.

The involvement of Josephus in the mission to free Ismael suggests that Josephus was related to Ismael and a member of the Phiabi family. However, in Antiquities (Chatper X), Josephus asserts that the family of Herod had not appointed any true Hasmonean heir as High Priest, nor had the Romans. That would obviously negate any priestly claim of Josephus from his father's line. We have to instead take a closer look at the neglected female line of Josephus.

At the time of Josephus, there were four (royal) priestly families that imposed its authority over the Temple and its courses of middling priests. At times, more than one High Priest is recognized simultaneously, probably reflecting the parity of this four-family system. Josephus claims that his was the foremost priestly family, but this is debatable. The majority of High Priests came from the family of Annas, a.k.a., the Alexanders (family of Philo/Theophilus) in Egypt. Their priestly line dated back through "Honi the Circle Drawer" to the Persian Era. The second in importance seems to have been the family of Boethus, with whom Herod the Great intermarried in a strategy to gain control over the Temple.

Herod the Great also had two (surviving) sons and two daughters by Hasmonean Mariamne. The sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, and their families would have had the strongest claim to the priesthood. However they were prevented from taking this franchise by the Romans who limited their powers to kingship. The male descendants of Salampsio and Cypros, the Hasmonean daughters of Herod would also have had a "legitimate" priestly claim. Salampsio was married to Herod's nephew Phasael, by which she had three sons. The name Phasael becomes Alphaeus ("succession") in the Gospels, which would then relate more to priestly than kingly birthright. The name Alphaeus also connects well to the name variants of Ephlias/Ephaeus (Apphus/Aphaeus) given by Josephus for his own priestly lineage. The name Apphus/Aphaeus also easily transposes to Phi-ap/Phiabi.

Matthias/Matthew (father of Josephus) can therefore be associated with Antipater the eldest son of Phasael/Alphaeus. Josephus mentions that he also had a full-brother named Matthias. The name Matthias is equivalent (in significance) to John. That brother in question would then have been one and the same as John son of Levi/Matthew of Gischala, who became his rival in the Jewish Revolt.

The fourth major priestly family is considered to be the "House of Kamith/Kamithus/Cami" This family could be that of Cypros who was married to another of Herod the Great's nephews, Antipater son of Herod's sister Salome. However, the name Kamithus indicates that this might instead have been a branch of the Boethus line, that is, through the son Boethus called Cantherus. If so, then the actual fourth priestly family may have been that of Nedebaeus, whose son Ananias became High Priest, or Damnaeus, whose son Jesus became High Priest. Josephus also mentions a rebel Eleazar son of Dineus who was captured and sent to Rome by governor Felix.