708 Of the 3 forbidden activities, only the first is relevant to the story. The others show how comprehensive and damaging the custom was, since it prevented Judeans from earning a livelihood or fulfilling social responsibilities.
λειτουργία (“public service”) represents the civic duty of the rich; cf. Philo,
Somn. 1.123-26 for Roman exasperation with Alexandrian Judeans on this point. The scriptural injunctions against work on the sabbath (e.g. Exod 20:8-11; Num 15:32-36) were difficult to apply in time of war. There is evidence that the issue became contested among Judeans at the time of the Maccabean revolt (Jub. 50.12; 1 Macc 2.32-41; cf. Bar-Kochva 1989: 474-93). Josephus elsewhere uses this point to criticise parties in the Revolt (
War 2.312-14, 456, 517) but otherwise shows sympathy with the Mattathias-compromise, that one may bear arms on the sabbath, but only in self-defense under attack (
Ant. 12.277; 14.63; cf.
Ant. 18.319-23). There is no opportunity here to qualify Agatharchides’ comment. The ban was apparently known to Romans (
Ant. 14.226; cf. note to “custom” at 1.210).