How accurate is the writing of Josephus? Can we rely on any of his writings to establish authentic Jewish practices or in areas of halacha?

  • 2
    I feel like those are separate questions.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 18:23
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/12311/… Commented May 15, 2012 at 18:43
  • 1
    @msh210 Books of Jewish History don't count as jewish-books?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 20:47
  • 1
    @msh210 I prefer consensus to edit wars.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 20:58
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    @Wad Cheber - Josephus says there WERE survivors - women and children who hid during the carnage. That being said, Josephus DOES continue the tradition of historical writers of his time by placing speeches in the mouths of various figures that emphasize whatever trait he feels appropriate (heroism, mercy, cruelty, etc) to make a better(or worse) storv/reputation of his subject. A close look at any of those speeches reveals how unlikely they were to be accurate. That was just the way they wrote history/biographies/etc at that time - custom-tuned for their audience, basically.
    – Gary
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 17:31

3 Answers 3


The Shulchan Aruch Harav says that one is allowed to read Josephus on Shabbos as it contains words of "Mussar and Yiras Shamayim".

However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe says that

With regards to reliability of Josephus' and precision, many pointed out [the issues], and even thou 'there is much Mussar and Yiras Shamayim' [in his sefer], no one has ever called him "Rabbi Yosef".

The Lubavitcher Rebbe brings an example where his description of the Beis Hamikdash disagreed with the description in the traditional sources.

However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that this could have been a mistranslation into Hebrew.


R. Chaim Knoller (Dvar Yom Beyomo, entry for 17 Iyar) comments, regarding Josephus' sympathetic portrayal of Titus, that as a member of the imperial household he was compelled to falsify history in this regard. (He also gives an interesting homiletic rendering of the phrase in Mikvaos 10:1, "the inkwell of Yosef the kohen had a hole in its side": it hints at the flaw ("hole") in the writings of Josephus, brought about by his living "at the side" of the Romans.)

Doros Harishonim takes an even more hard-line view. He argues that Josephus tendentiously rewrote history in order to portray the Jews as uncivilized rebels, and to whitewash the actions of Agrippa II (in his view, Josephus' collaborator in this effort) that provoked the revolt.

  • IIRC, Rashi quotes Josephus's history to explain how Sinas Chinam destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. So does Ya'aros Devash by Rav Yonasan Eybeshutz.
    – N.T.
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 7:13

Rashi brings him down in arvey pesochim. I think it's daf 119a.

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