This graph of Josephus'
lineage [right column] is a historical reconstruction based on information
in the opening paragraph of his autobiography & other works. He claims
to have recorded his genealogy "as I have found it described in the
public records" [Life 1].
But when coordinated with historical information about the
Hasmonean dynasty that he himself reports in his other works [left four
columns] there are some obvious major generational discrepancies in his
family tree. Josephus' count of his ancestors' generations would make him
a fourth cousin of Herod's 2nd wife,
who died sixty-eight years before he was born! Josephus' reports of his
own experiences make it more probable that he was at most a sixth
or, more likely, a seventh cousin of his near contemporary Herod
Agrippa II, who was king of Iturea [southern Lebanon] in the decades
surrounding the Jewish-Roman war of 66-70 CE.
Either Josephus' memory or his family
records were clearly confused. He begins by claiming: "My
grandfather's father was named Simon, with the addition of
Psellus," but goes on to represent this Simon
Psellus as his
great-grandfather. Even so, he does not list enough generations
between himself & Simon's grandson [Matthew
Curtus], if he is correct
in claiming that the latter was born the first year that Johanan Hyrcanus
was high priest. According to Josephus' dating, this Matthew's
"son" Joseph would have been born when Matthew was 66. While not
impossible, it is more likely that Josephus or some previous scribe
overlooked a generation "in the public records" of the priestly
courses of Judea. This would have been particularly easy to do,
Curtus' son & grandson were both named Joseph.
Josephus was probably correct in recalling
that his own grandfather was named Joseph. But he is just as probably
mistaken in identifying his grandfather with Matthew Curtus' son (or
grandson) Joseph. There is no good reason to question Josephus' report
that his own father, Matthew,
was born in the last year of Archelaus'
reign (6 CE).
But in order for this Matthew to be the son of a
Joseph who was born in the last year of Queen Salome's
reign (68 BCE),
the father would have been 74 years old when he sired a
son. While not beyond biological credibility, it is more likely that at
least one or, more likely, two generations were dropped in Josephus' hasty
recounting of his family's history at the beginning of his apologetical
autobiography. Since Josephus recalled that his family repeatedly
named fathers & sons alternately, Matthew & Joseph---witness
himself & his
father & Matthew
Curtus & his
"son"---it is quite possible that Josephus forgot or overlooked
such a pair in his reckoning. One advantage of this solution to the
chronological questions raised by Josephus' family tree, is that it allows
Josephus to be put in the same generation as his chronological
There are three ways to interpret Josephus'
report of his family history: skeptically, literally, or genealogically.
Given the chronological gaps & Josephus' penchant for defending
himself, it would be easy to reject his family tree as folklore or
fabrication. But his insistence that he based it "on public
records" makes this the least likely solution. Priestly lineage was
zealously preserved by Jerusalem's conservative ruling aristocracy. Before
the Jewish-Roman war, it was the basis of a priest's job & social
position; and it was used to regulate the priestly courses for more than a
century after the destruction of Jerusalem's temple. If Josephus was known
not to be of Hasmonean lineage, it is unlikely that he would have
dared to have publicized himself as such in writing to his contemporary
detractors, who were vocal & many.
While a literal interpretation of Josephus'
family tree is not beyond belief, it stretches the biological imagination
& raises biographical questions that are historically unanswerable.
Did the males of Josephus' family marry late or often? Did they remain
sexually active in old age? Did Josephus come from a line of priests that
was orphaned young? If so, who raised & trained them? If Josephus'
forebears had such exceptional longevity when compared with the Hasmoneans
& Herodians he uses to date their birth, why does he fail to mention
While the revised genealogical
reconstruction of Josephus' ancestry presented above is beyond historical
proof, it at least makes historical sense out of the information he
presents. My experience in tracking down & filling in gaps in the
family genealogy that I inherited from my own grandmother convinces me
that this is the most plausible interpretation of Josephus' family data.