Is Josephus' account for the length of the Jewish War generally accepted as correct?

Is Josephus' account for the length of the Jewish War generally accepted as correct?

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  • In Josephus' famous work on the subject, the First Jewish-Roman War is depicted as lasting a full number of years,1 inasmuch as it is presented as starting in the month of Artemisius (II Wars 14:4), and ending in Xanthicus (VII Wars 9:1), with the siege of Masada.

  • Furthermore, a plain reading of the text itself suggests a span of seven years,2 consistent with the (poetical) description of the same events, as related in the biblical book of Daniel (9:24-27), highly praised by Josephus in his other writings (X Antiquities 11:7).3

Now, though it is not entirely unheard of for wars to last an almost exact number of years,4 it is not all that common either, thus leading me to suspect a certain artifice, be it stylistic, mnemonic, or religious, being employed by the renowned historian.5

My question would be whether other authorities in the field have voiced similar concerns, and, if so, what were their doubts and conclusions on the matter ?

1 Since Xanthicus and Artemisius are consecutive months, roughly corresponding to the first two lunar months of the Jewish and Babylonian calendars.

2 I am, of course, aware that modern scholarship proposes an eight year time span for the aforementioned events, based on coins found among the ruins of Masada dating to AD 74, rather than AD 73; I can't escape, however, the feeling that seven is the text's intended reading, inasmuch as for an entire year-and-a-half to have passed from the Gorpaeus (autumn) of one year to the Xanthicus (spring) of the year-after-next, and for the ever-so-careful Josephus to have failed to whisper even as much as a single word about it, in order to alleviate any possible misunderstanding(s) on the part of his readers, seems rather unlikely, to say the very least.

3 Further pertinent information on a possible relationship between Daniel and Josephus can be found in a 1994 article by Professor Steve Mason, from the York University of Toronto, published in the forty-first volume of the Studia Post-Biblica, entitled Josephus, Daniel, and the Flavian House, pages 161-191.

4 Thus, the Second World War, for instance, is generally reckoned as starting on September 1, 1939, with Hitler's invasion of Poland, and, from an American perspective, ending on September 2, 1945, with the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender.

5 And by no means the only such (incredulous) artifice; indeed, in yet another chapter, he not only has the Second Jerusalem Temple being burned down on precisely the same date as the former (VI Wars 4:8), but also attempts to provide an (arguably far-fetched) explanation for such a remarkable coincidence, by having the Jews themselves intentionally burn their own holy place to the ground (VI Wars 4:5), since the invading pagan Romans obviously could not have been familiar with, nor particularly interested in, either the events of Jewish history, or the exotic, non-Roman calendar according to which their commemoration was reckoned.

I doubt that anyone has been bothered by this coincidence because it's not terribly unlikely.

If there are 12 months in the year and if wars last a random amount of time, one war in twelve will end in the same month it started, and one in four will end in the same or an adjacent month. So unless the opposing sides actively collude to avoid it, a war ending in about the same month (though a different year) than it started is not especially unlikely.


  1. Doumuro

    It is easier to tell, than to make.

  2. Shaktijinn

    Until what time?

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