First Century History You Didn’t Learn about in Church or Synagogue
Updated: May 11
Jerusalem as seen looking west from the Mount of Olives. The modern city is in the background. Jewish burial boxes fill a cemetery in the foreground. In between lies Mount Mariah of Ancient Jerusalem, upon which today lie the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Golden Dome shrine within the retaining walls of the Temple Mount. So much history that has impacted the world has occurred here over the last three thousand years.
Much of Jewish history involves the city of Jerusalem, and Christian history got its start there. The first century CE was a pivotal time. Much is written in the New Testament of the years between 30 and 60 CE, but nothing afterward. Josephus was an avid Jewish historian who witnessed the last half of the first century and wrote volumes on the events of the day. His two largest works are the “Antiquities of the Jews” and the “The Jewish Wars”. The latter repeats much of Old Testament history but also adds that period after the Jews returned from Babylon up to the reign of King Herod. The latter recounts the history from King Herod until the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus was not just a passive observer. He was involved intimately in those last years. As a member of the ruling class, and with his experience of visiting Rome, he was put in charge of the defense of Galilee against the Romans in 67 CE. There he was captured and kept in chains for years while the Romans planned the final siege. During the siege he stood on the walls pleading with the citizens to surrender and avoid the destruction of the city and the temple. But the plea fell on deaf ears. The worst happened. And Josephus became known not as the savior of Jerusalem, but the traitor who aided its demise. In his later years, Josephus’s experiences, and his willingness to write down history was recognized by the generals (who had become emperors), Vespasian and his son Titus. They hired Josephus to write down histories and even allowed him to stay in an apartment in their own estate. This did not help his reputation with much of the Jewish population--despite the fact he was the single recorder of this crucial era of Jewish history.
If you have ever seen the full book entitled the “Works of Josephus” you will likely have been intimidated by the length and denseness of the writing. Written originally in the same Greek as the New Testament, Its length is similar in scale to the entire Bible. Many have seen some of his quotes concerning Jesus and early Christians. It does not help that the most widely available English translations are from over two centuries ago. That makes reading of these textbook-style books even more onerous. But there is a more modern translation of “The Jewish Wars” available by the author Bob Beasley. It was this version I picked up and began to skim through and then eventually read many parts in detail. So many dramatic details are recorded about those years. Especially during the siege, the personal stories are many and shocking. I was amazed that having lived in a Judeo-Christian culture for decades that I had never heard these stories. I think for many, especially the Jews, the stories are just too painful to want to recount in detail. But it seemed these accounts had so much potential for a full telling. It seemed a series of novels covering this period would be of great interest to so many potential readers. So my project was born, and the series is now titled “Cry of Jerusalem”. The drama and passion and conflicts are being brought to life. Book three is nearly written now, and the final book, four, is well planned out. An audiobook of book one is out, and more audiobooks will follow.