I am in the midst of reading completely though all of Josephus’s works this summer. You might find this a great book for the beach, though at about 1500 pages of double columns it can be a little heavy. For those of you who are not familiar with the works of Josephus, he was a historian who wrote from around 60 a.d. until about 95 a.d.
His works are varied, with two of them being very important to the student of the New Testament. His Antiquities is a history of the Jewish people from the creation of Adam to the Roman Empire’s takeover of Israel. In this text he is very dependent upon the Hebrew Bible as well as upon other apocryphal works. It is important because it helps the reader understand how the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was understood during the second temple period. While much of the information comes from the writings of the OT, a good bit of it also comes from other sources, particularly when he is dealing with the history of the time between the Old and New Testaments.
The second very important work is called The Jewish War and deals with what has been called the Maccabean rebellion, the Roman takeover and the eventual destruction of the temple. Without this writing, we would know much, much less about what happened during the period between Antiochus IV (Epiphanies) and the destruction of the temple. It has been said, “all philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato.” It can just as reliably be said, “The history of the second temple consists of footnotes to Josephus.”
Josephus is available very inexpensively today both in print, on the Internet, and through www.logos.com (my go to Bible study software). If you want to really understand the history of the time before and during Christ’s time here on earth, there is no substitute for reading Josephus.
This is not to say that he is always accurate, or even always honest. It is true; nonetheless that much of what Josephus has to say has strong historical backing and can be very helpful in understanding both New Testament backgrounds as well as the times of the New Testament itself.
One of the most controversial items in Josephus is his mention of Jesus Christ (there are about twenty different people named Jesus mentioned in Josephus, one reason that there is no need to get excited when a tomb of Jesus is found, it is much like a tomb of John Smith being found today). What we have in the current version of Josephus in which he speaks of the Jesus of the New Testament sounds as if Josephus considered him to be the messiah. In reading the rest of Josephus’s work, it is clear that this is not the case (Jesus Christ is only mentioned twice, once in passing).
This problem has led many to argue that the mention of Christ is an interpolation, that is a Christian insertion. While this is possible, it is unlikely. What is more likely is that Christian copyists who preserved these works have altered this passage. This is a complex issue and I will leave you to your own study, but I hope that I have encouraged you to, at the very least, find a copy of the works of Josephus and do a little reading. It will help your understanding of the Bible very much.