lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
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In Book XX Chapter 10 of Antiquities (hah, you thought I'd finished with that, didn't you?), Josephus gives a chapter about the High Priests, which mentions how much time various periods covered. I thought it would be good to see how much time I think these periods covered, to learn how Josephus comes up with such differing figures for the total period of time covered by his book from me.

First, let's cover the ground before the first High Priest. I've already mentioned how his date for the Flood comes up as only two years out (less than) that in The Living Torah; so it looks like he's totting up the year counts in the Bible and coming up with the same figures as we do. He gives Abraham's birth as 291 years after the Flood (I.6.148), as against 290 in The Living Torah, and (II.15.318) the Exodus as 430 years after Abraham came into Canaan, which is five years later than in The Living Torah. Hence the chronology from the Creation to this point is roughly accurate.

Now the number of years during the rule of these thirteen [High Priests], from the day when our fathers departed out of Egypt, under Moses their leader, until the building of that temple which king Solomon erected at Jerusalem, were six hundred and twelve.

That's a long period. The chronology at the back of the Hertz Chumash gives the thirteenth century BCE as the date of the Exodus, though some try and link it with the eruption of Thera two or three centuries further back. Given that Jerusalem not so long ago celebrated the three thousandth anniversary of its conquest by King David, that doesn't leave enough time for the figure Josephus gives.

So what does the Bible actually say? The Israelites spent:

  • 40 years under Moses
  • 30 years under Joshua
  • 8 years servitude under Cushan-rishathaim
  • 40 years under Othniel
  • 18 years servitude under Eglon
  • 80 years under Ehud and Othniel
  • 20 years servitude under Sisera
  • 40 years under Devorah
  • 7 years servitude under Midian
  • 40 years under Gid'on
  • 3 years under Avimelech
  • 23 years under Tola
  • 22 years under Ya'ir
  • 18 years servitude undeer the Philistines and Ammonites
  • 6 years under Jephthah
  • 7 years under Ivṣan
  • 10 years under Elon
  • 8 years under Avdon
  • 40 years servitude under the Philistines
  • 20 years under Samson "in the days of the Philistines"
  • 40 years under Eli
  • ? under Samuel (let's call it 50 years)
  • 2 years under Saul
  • 40 years under David

This totals 612 years, the same as Josephus gives. It's worth noting, though, that many of the figures here, partly the 40s and the 80s, are round numbers. (The reign of David is not, as it's divided into seven years and six months rule over Judah, and thirty-three years over all Israel.) Secular scholars, such as pay any credence to the historicity of this period of the Bible at all, try to reconcile the discrepancy between the portrait in Joshua of the Israelites conquering the whole Land of Israel, and that in Judges of them coexisting with Canaanites, by saying the events of the two books took place in parallel, not one after the other. (Traditional Jewish commentators said the Israelites conquered the territories described in Joshua, but then subsequently lost them and had to reconquer them as described in Judges.)

All that notwithstanding, 1 Kings 6:1 says the construction of the Temple began 480 years after the Exodus, and lasted seven years starting from the fourth year of Solomon's reign. This evidently indicates that the round figures in the list above are generally overestimates, and cannot be taken literally, as Josephus does. Either way, they are irreconcilable with a thirteenth century date for the Exodus, but let's not go too far into that, as the Exodus is impossible to pin a fixed date to. Let's instead start our fixed dating with David's conquest of Jerusalem in 1000 BCE.

After those thirteen high priests, eighteen took the high priesthood at Jerusalem, one in succession to another, from the days of king Solomon, until Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made an expedition against that city, and burnt the temple, and removed our nation into Babylon, and then took Josadek, the high priest, captive; the times of these high priests were four hundred and sixty-six years, six months, and ten days, while the Jews were still under the regal government.

How long do other sources say the Temple lasted for? I can't be bothered to go through the Bible again looking for further dates. According to Wikipedia, Seder Olam Rabbah ascribed it a length of 410 years.* I have here a half-incomplete note "387 years according to the en". The Temple was destroyed in 587 BCE, so the above date for its construction would make it last 372 years from its completion. Once again, then, Josephus's dates are overestimates.

* Though it notes that this is in 364-day years, so over periods of centuries will be a year or two out.

Josephus continues:

But after the term of seventy years' captivity under the Babylonians, Cyrus, king of Persia, sent the Jews from Babylon to their own land again, and gave them leave to rebuild their temple; at which time Jesus, the son of Josadek, took the high priesthood over the captives when they were returned home. Now he and his posterity, who were in all fifteen, until king Antiochus Eupator, were under a democratical government for four hundred and fourteen years; and then the forementioned Antiochus, and Lysias the general of his army, deprived Onias, who was also called Menelaus, of the high priesthood, and slew him at Berea; and driving away the son [of Onias the third], put Jacimus into the place of the high priest, one that was indeed of the stock of Aaron, but not of that family of Onias.

Now when Jacimus had retained the priesthood three years, he died, and there was no one that succeeded him, but the city continued seven years without a high priest.

But then the posterity of the sons of Asamoneus, who had the government of the nation conferred upon them, when they had beaten the Macedonians in war, appointed Jonathan to be their high priest,

According to Wikipedia, Jonathan officiated as High Priest for the first time on Succos in 153 BCE. This gives 434 years between the Fall of the Temple and this event, as against 494 by Josephus.

This is considerably better than the (later) traditional Jewish dating, which loses 163 years in the Second Temple period. Wikipedia explains the reason for this; the years seem to get lost from the Persian period, which the traditional chronology counts as having lasted eighteen years—it was actually 189. Though Josephus errs in this direction too, by conflating Sanballaṭ I (mid to late fifth century BCE) with Sanballaṭ III, making the Biblical Sanballaṭ contemporaneous with Alexander the Great's conquest in 332 BCE.

Back to Josephus:

[Jonathan] ruled over them seven years.

And when he had been slain by the treacherous contrivance of Trypho, as we have related some where, Simon his brother took the high priesthood; and when he was destroyed at a feast by the treachery of his son-in-law, his own son, whose name was Hyrcanus, succeeded him, after he had held the high priesthood one year longer than his brother [i.e. eight years].

This Hyrcanus enjoyed that dignity thirty years, and died an old man,

leaving the succession to Judas, who was also called Aristobulus, whose brother Alexander was his heir; which Judas died of a sore distemper, after he had kept the priesthood, together with the royal authority; for this Judas was the first that put on his head a diadem for one year.

And when Alexander had been both king and high priest twenty-seven years, he departed this life,

and permitted his wife Alexandra to appoint him that should he high priest; so she gave the high priesthood to Hyrcanus, but retained the kingdom herself nine years, and then departed this life.

The like duration [and no longer] did her son Hyrcanus enjoy the high priesthood; for after her death his brother Aristobulus fought against him, and beat him, and deprived him of his principality; and he did himself both reign, and perform the office of high priest to God. But when he had reigned three years, and as many months, Pompey came upon him, and not only took the city of Jerusalem by force, but put him and his children in bonds, and sent them to Rome.

That takes us to 153-7-8-30-1-27-9-3, i.e. 68 BCE according to Josephus; 63 BCE in reality, which is possibly accurate given rounding errors in each of those numbers; and Josephus is accurate to within a year in the rest of his timeline:

He also restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus, and made him governor of the nation, but forbade him to wear a diadem. This Hyrcanus ruled, besides his first nine years, twenty-four years more,

when Barzapharnes and Pacorus, the generals of the Parthians, passed over Euphrates, and fought with Hyrcanus, and took him alive, and made Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, king; and when he had reigned three years and three months,

Sosius and Herod besieged him, and took him, when Antony had him brought to Antioch, and slain there. Herod was then made king by the Romans [...].

Accordingly, the number of the high priests, from the days of Herod until the day when Titus took the temple and the City, and burnt them, were in all twenty-eight; the time also that belonged to them was a hundred and seven years.

The Living Torah gives the date of the Exodus as 2448 AM. This then puts the date of the Destruction of the Second Temple according to Josephus at 4240 AM, I reckon—an overestimate of 410 years. This is rather less than I was expecting, so it looks like he's being a bit disingenuous when he tells us his book contains the history of five thousand years.

Well, either that or he suffered from dyscalculia.

[Josephus] Josephus notes


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