The son of high priest Mattathias ben Theophilus?
In his work Vita, Josephus has the following to say about his ancestry:
THE family from which I am derived is not an ignoble one, but hath descended all along from the priests; and as nobility among several people is of a different origin, so with us to be of the sacerdotal dignity, is an indication of the splendor of a family. Now, I am not only sprung from a sacerdotal family in general, but from the first of the twenty-four (1) courses; and as among us there is not only a considerable difference between one family of each course and another, I am of the chief family of that first course also; nay, further, by my mother I am of the royal blood; for the children of Asamoneus, from whom that family was derived, had both the office of the high priesthood, and the dignity of a king, for a long time together. (Emphasis added.)
Josephus claims to be a descendant of the Hasmoneans. That's significant when one considers that Herod killed all the known Hasmoneans living in Palestine except those married into his own family. Might a few lower level Hasmonean priests survived the civil war culminating in King Antigonus' execution by Marc Anthony in 37 BCE? Yes, I think that is possible. Thus, either Josephus was a member of Herod's family or his ancestors were lower level Hasmonean priests who somehow survived the civil war. Given Josephus' later alliance with the Romans, one has to wonder if he was not a Herodian. Interesting in that Josephus has lots of negative things to say about Herod's family. Of particular note is the following:
I have now a mind to describe Herod and his family, how it fared with them, partly because it is suitable to this history to speak of that matter, and partly because this thing is a demonstration of the interposition of Providence, how a multitude of children is of no advantage, no more than any other strength that mankind set their hearts upon, besides those acts of piety which are done towards God; for it happened, that, within the revolution of a hundred years, the posterity of Herod, which were a great many in number, were, excepting a few, utterly destroyed. One may well apply this for the instruction of mankind, and learn thence how unhappy they were.
Antiquities, Book XVIII 5:3.
Beyond generally describing himself as descending from a family of priests and the royal Hasmoneans on his mother's side, Josephus gives specifics regarding his birth and that of his father as well as other immediate ancestors, he lists.
See Josephus, Vita Book I, 1:1. A cursory inspection leads one to believe that Josephus omitted several generations of his ancestors. For instance, his grandfather Joseph supposedly fathered Matthias when he was 72 years of age. I submit this is highly improbable and, more likely, Josephus omitted an ancestor at this spot (and probably two or more). Also, there is a 67 year gap between Matthias Curtis and Joseph (Josephus' grandfather). Again, another missing relative or two. See Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts, and Apologetic Historiography by Gregory E. Sterling (Brill Academic Publishers, 1997) at page 229, footnote 13: "There are missing generations in [Josephus'] genealogical tree." Why would Josephus omit individuals from his ancestry? One can only assume that the omitted individuals were of sufficient stature to be known by the public in Jerusalem and, further, that there was something in the biography of the omitted individuals that Josephus wished to hide.
- Josephus -- born first year of the reign of Caius Caesar (37 CE)
- Matthias -- born in the 10th year of the reign of Herod Archelaus (6 CE)
- Joseph -- born in the ninth year of the reign of Queen Alexandra (67 BCE)
- Matthias Curtis --- born the first year of the government of Hyrcanus (assume he means John Hyrcanus I which would make the year 134 BCE)
Let's examine further Josephus' father listed as "Matthias". Mattathias was the name of a righteous Levite priest and patriarch of the Hasmonean dynasty. Josephus tells us he descended from priests and, also, high priests. Also, that he was a Hasmonean. In the days of Josephus' ancestors listed above (Matthias, Joseph, Matthias Curtis), there were three high priests with the name Matthias: two were named "Mattathias ben Theophilus" and third was "Mattathias ben Ananus". The first Mattathias ben Theophilus was high priest for a short period: 5-4 BCE in the last days of Herod the Great. He was deposed by Herod for failing to control a Jewish riot that ensued when Herod placed Roman eagles made of gold on the gate to the temple. The second Mattathias ben Theophilus was also deposed after a short period in office (65 to 66 BCE). Mattathias ben Ananus (37 CE) was a son of the famous Ananus, high priest mentioned in the Bible whose five sons served as high priest.
Can we connect any of the known high priests to ancestors of Josephus?
I've decided to narrow in on the later Mattathias ben Theophilus because this Mattathias is of the same generation as the father of Josephus who, also, happens to be named Matthias. It's very disjointed and convoluted but here is what Josephus tells us about Matthias ben Theophilus (high priest 65-66 CE), Josephus' father, and the events surrounding the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Analysis of the foregoing:
- The high priest at the time of the revolt (66 CE) was Matthias ben Theophilus. Antiquities, Book XX 9:7.
- Matthias son of Boethus was one of the high priests (at the time of the revolt). Simon the zealot executed Matthias son of Boethus and his three sons in Jerusalem but one son escaped to the Romans outside the city walls. Jewish Wars, Book V, 13:1.
- Josephus' father is thrown into prison in Jerusalem by Simon. Jewish Wars, Book V, 13:1.
- In giving a list of the high priests and their families who escaped Jerusalem upon the call of Josephus for defectors while the city was besieged by the Romans, he lists "four sons of Matthias, as also one son of the other Matthias, who ran away after his father's death". Jewish Wars, Book VI, 2:2. Josephus never specifically mentions his own family of Hasmonean descent with high priests in the family tree (nor even the fate of his own father then in prison in Jerusalem). We know Josephus had at least one brother and probably more.
We know the name of Josephus' father was Matthias. Josephus never tells us directly what happened to his father then in prison in Jerusalem. However, Josephus tells us that when he showed up at the city walls with the Romans to plead for surrender, the zealots wanted to get their hands on him to kill him. Surely they killed his father named Matthias then in prison within the city walls. Josephus had such a high standing with the Jewish people that he was given military command of Galilee during the revolt despite his relatively young age at the time of the revolt (29 in 66 CE) and lack of military experience. Josephus said he trained as a priest in his 20s having spent 4 years in the desert as an ascetic.
- The "other Matthias" = Matthias ben Boethus. Josephus only describes the death of one Matthias who was high priest during the siege of Jerusalem in Jewish war--Matthias ben Boethus. This Boethus also had a son who ran away.
- "Four sons of Matthias" must refer to the four sons of Matthias ben Theophilus, the only other Matthias known to be high priest at the time. Jewish Wars, Book V, 2:2. By calling Matthias ben Boethus "the other Matthias" while listing the fates of the high priests and their families, it is clear Josephus is discussing two separate Matthiases who were high priest. The two Matthiases Josephus has named as being high priests at the time the Romans took Jerusalem are Matthias ben Boethus and Matthias ben Theophilus.
- Josephus tells us the names of all the high priests and their families who got out of Jerusalem prior to the Romans taking the city. Jewish Wars, Book VI, 2:2 Josephus' father (also named Matthias) and Matthias ben Theophilus are omitted from the list. Implication: both Josephus' father and Matthias ben Theophilus died in the siege of Jerusalem, almost certainly they were executed by Jewish zealots for sympathizing with the Romans.
Conclusion. Matthias, father of Josephus, of Hasmonean descent and from a family of high priests who was killed in Jerusalem by the zealots during the Roman siege and who's status was so great that his #2 son was given command of Galilee is one in the same with Matthias ben Theophilus, high priest 65-66 CE. He was removed from office by zealots and most likely killed by zealots during the Roman siege of Jerusalem for being sympathetic to the Romans. This helps explain the venom in the writings of Josephus for the Jewish zealots.
Related article: Details of Josephus' comments upon the two Mattathiases
FN1 Yes, the full name of the high priest in question is Matthias ben Theophilus yet Luke refers to him as "Theophilus", the name of the father of this individual. Seems a bit unusual on its face. However, Luke does exactly the same thing in refering to the high priest Caiaphas. His full name is Joseph ben Caiaphas yet Luke calls him merely Caiaphas. Luke 3:2. See wikipedia, Note: I confess to having authored the following addition to this wiki: "A minority view identifies Theophilus as a later high priest: Mattathias ben Theophilus who served from 65-66 CE. Note that Luke refers to high priest Joseph ben Caiaphas simply as 'Caiaphas'. Thus, the reasoning goes, Luke used this pattern when addressing Theophilus."