Should Josephus Be Used in Biblical Studies?

I was going to save this post for a rainy day, but I am so excited about my new blog that I am in the mood to post it now. Let’s hope that I come up with new thoughts for future posts!

Allow me to give some background information for my question. On another forum, a skeptic argued that Ezekiel made a false prophecy about Tyre and Egypt. Ezekiel prophesied that Tyre and Egypt would fall to the Babylonians, that did not happen, and so Ezekiel was technically a false prophet according to Deuteronomy 18:22 (or so the skeptic argued).

I thought about this issue some more when I was doing my daily reading and meditation on the Book of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 43 and 46, Jeremiah predicts that Babylon under Nebuchadrezzar will conquer Egypt. My HarperCollins Study Bible, my Jewish Study Bible, and my Anchor Bible Dictionary all tell me that this did not happen, for Nebuchadrezzar failed in his attempt at conquest. On what do they base this claim? They do not say. But I did a search on the Internet (not that I rely on the Internet alone for my scholarly endeavors), and I found the claim that the Babylonians did not record that they successfully invaded Egypt. For many scholars, such an omission would indicate that they most likely did not, since conquerors in the ancient world tended to boast about their accomplishments.

But here is the interesting part: Josephus says that Nebuchadrezzar did succeed in his endeavor (Antiquities 10:182, 195). One may argue that Josephus was basing his account on the biblical prediction, but, in Against Apion 1:132-133, he says that Berosus presents Nebuchadrezzar as a conqueror of Egypt. According to Josephus, Berosus was a Chaldean who followed the ancient records of his nation in composing a history of Babylonia.

But the plot thickens: I can envision someone saying that neither Josephus nor Berosus can be trusted, since they lived long after the time of Nebuchadrezzar (at least that was a possible objection that entered my mind). But, in an article on “Edom” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, scholar J.R. Bartlett uses Josephus (along with other sources) to draw conclusions about the relationship between Babylon and Edom in the sixth century B.C.E. (ABD, volume 2, p. 293). Josephus lived long after that time, and yet at least one biblical scholar seems to think that his works can be helpful for biblical studies (at least on this occasion).

I have not done research to see how many biblical scholars use Josephus, but my question is: Is it acceptable? Why or why not?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Jeremiah, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Should Josephus Be Used in Biblical Studies?

  1. J. B. Hood says:

    Interesting comments, J. I think it’s instructive to remember not only the partial knowledge we possess, but the multiple dimensions open in this propehcy, seems to me…Jer. 46:26 implies it’s not complete destruction.

    Another option, one I’m loathe to throw out too often, is the conditional nature of biblical prophecy. Isaiah 38:1ff, 1 Sam 2:27-31, Jonah to Nineveh, probably the end of Haggai (if understood in covenant context), etc. are examples of “changes” God makes based on [implied] conditionality in his promises.


  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your response, J.B., and welcome.

    Complete destruction does not seem to be an issue regarding Egypt, but it is an issue for prophecies about Tyre and Babylon. For Egypt, the question is whether or not the Babylonians conquered it. And you may be write: there could be multiple dimensions of the prophecy. I find it interesting that older commentaries, such as John Gill, Keil-Delitzsch, and Jamiesson-Faussett-Brown, hold that a Babylonian-installed king (or puppet) did rule in Egypt in the sixth century. I am not entirely vouching for these commentaries, but I find that interesting.

    What you say about the conditional nature of biblical prophecy is more or less where I am on the subject. God can change his mind. As far as I know, we are not told the reasons that God would change his mind in the case of Egypt, but that would be one way for Jeremiah to be a true prophet and yet predict what did not come to pass.


  3. John says:

    Hi James!

    Welcome to the blogosphere! You certainly picked an interesting topic in this post.

    If you want to pursue the question further, you will want to look at Lundbom’s commentary, AB 21C, p. 208 (comment on Jer 46:13), and references there. You will also want to look at Herodotus 2.161-3, etc., and Edel’s article entitled “Amasis und Nebukadrezar” Goettinger Miszellen 29 (1978) 13-20. Short and sweet: there is evidence for an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, but not a conquest.

    On the larger question of unfulfilled prophecy, you might enjoy my series on the topic on my blog.


    John Hobbins


  4. J. B. Hood says:

    Thanks all,

    Also 2 Kings 24, which I happened to read this morning…check out verse 7 for some of the data on the severe constraints placed on Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar.


  5. James Pate says:

    Thanks for the references, John and J.B. I will check them out. 🙂


  6. Dr. Claude Mariottini says:


    You have asked a good question. Josephus sometimes wrote topics that raise questions about texts in the Bible. One issue that I need to do my own research is Josephus’ mention of Moses’ Cushite wife.

    Good post.

    Claude Mariottini


  7. James Pate says:

    Thanks, Dr. Mariottini. Sounds like an interesting topic.


Comments are closed.