Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Honora Howell Chapman, Zuleika Rodgers (ed.), A Companion to Josephus. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Pp. xvi, 466. ISBN 9781444335330. $195.00.

Reviewed by Matthew Kraus, University of Cincinnati (

Version at BMCR home site


The publication of this "first introductory companion, or scholarly guide" (p.1) to Josephus marks the seismic change in Josephan scholarship over recent decades. In addition to the Brill Josephus Project, whose translations and detailed commentaries on the Josephan corpus are already replacing the Loeb editions for serious scholars, innovative approaches to traditional topics and new areas of research now permeate the Josephan landscape.1 No longer reduced to being the cherry-picked companion to the Jewish and Christian experience of the Greek and Roman worlds, he properly merits his own handbook considering him an author in his own right. The volume, ably edited by Honora Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers, draws on an international team of Josephan experts, including several contributors to the Brill translation and commentary. It updates the current status of research and provides a foundation for future advancements.

While we find the expected articles on traditional topics such as individual works (The Jewish War, The Jewish Antiquities,2 The Life, and Against Apion), New Testament, Hasmoneans, Herod the Great, Bible, Testimonium Flavianum and Jewish sects, we are also introduced to untraveled avenues of investigation, including "Josephus and Greek Imperial Literature," "Josephus as a Military Historian," "Josephus on Women," "Josephus and the Priesthood," and "Josephus and Halacha." Especially unique and useful are the eleven pieces in the final section on "Transmission and Reception History" that treat the Greek manuscript tradition, the Latin, Hebrew, Slavonic and English translations of Josephus, Christian reception in Patristic Literature, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and "Josephus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Scholarship." Many of these essays provide background that is often inaccessible because the information may be limited to the Latin prefaces of critical editions or buried in obscure articles or collections.

The Companion consists of thirty essays grouped into four sections: "Writings," "Josephus's Literary Context," "Themes", and "Transmission and Reception History." The division aptly reflects the various approaches and applications of the Josephan corpus. Each of his works has singular features that impact the assessment of Josephus as an historian and historical figure. The recent reevaluation of Josephan rhetoric and his Flavian environment are particularly responsible for transforming Josephus from simply an historical source for Jewish life in the Greek and Roman periods to a Greek author of literary interest. The final section not only contributes to a usually neglected aspect of Josephan studies, it underscores the impact of reception history on the other three topics. The essays are relatively brief, most about ten to twenty pages and most include a helpful bibliography of works cited as well as recommendations for further reading. Space prohibits commenting on every essay, so I will focus on a few that illustrate both the strengths and weaknesses of this collection.

The contributions of Steve Mason, Eran Almagor, Jonathan Roth, Erich Gruen, James McClaren and Daniel Schwartz ably demonstrate contemporary trends in the study of Josephus. Mason, in his chapters on Josephus's The Judean War," The Life, and "Josephus as a Roman Historian," highlights the Greek and Roman character of Josephus's work. Rejecting the view that The Judean War is merely Flavian propaganda or a defense of the Judean people, he argues that the atticizing style, classical allusions, and Hellenistic framework and political logic derived from a Josephus facile in Greek culture and capable of shaping his sources. For example, while the speeches represent a Greek historiographical technique, they need not represent Josephus's own view. Not only does he include opposing speeches, he also is suspicious of demagoguery and considers speeches a tool of last resort. Since oratory is a Greek, not a Judean skill, argues Mason, Josephus employs this Thucydidean technique without endorsing it. In his introduction to The Life, Mason likewise shows how both Josephus's own concern to explain himself and a rhetorical structure similar to Tacitus's Agricola account for the unique character of his so-called biography. These assessments correlate with Mason's conclusion to his final contribution "Josephus as Roman Historian": Josephus "chose his material and language first of all as a communicative bridge between his Judean values and those of his Greek-educated public in Flavian Rome" (p.103). This explains why he appealed to Flavian Roman elites by incorporating annalistic features, Greek rhetoric, and a moralizing history through biography while advocating the Judean preference for aristocracy instead of hereditary monarchy. Almagor, in "Josephus and Greek Imperial Literature" extends the implication of situating Josephus in a Flavian context and considers him part of the Greek Renaissance from which he had been excluded by previous scholars. Both the sophistic character of his oratorical elements and his mimesis, in the Greek sense, of Dionysius's Roman Antiquities mark him as a Greek insider. By also representing himself as a partially Hellenized outsider, however, Josephus may be counted among the Second Sophistic Greek intellectuals who were "mediators between the imperial center and the periphery" (p.108).

While the new insights of Mason and Almagor correlate with the old issue of Josephus between Jerusalem and Rome, the contributions of Roth, Gruen, McClaren, and Schwartz introduce new techniques and consider neglected topics. Roth, in "Josephus as a Military Historian" not only examines the Jewish general's eyewitness accounts of warfare, he innovatively subjects the biblical paraphrase of Jewish Antiquities to military analysis. Roth also convincingly argues that repeated topoi such as suicides and starvation are not necessarily inventions of the author, but typical of military histories because they reflect the reality of long sieges. In a particularly fine chapter, Erich Gruen, in "The Hasmoneans in Josephus," wisely notes that Josephus has very little interest in two primary issues that concern scholars of Hasmoneans: their role in the interaction between "Hellenism" and "Judaism" and what motivated their "expansionism, imperialism, and forced assimilation of neighboring peoples" (p.223). Josephus avoids analyzing political and military events deeply or glorifying the Hasmoneans even though they are "his professed ancestors" (p.223). Therefore, the contradictory presentation of the Hasmoneans may reflect their actual complexity as well as Josephan ambivalence. In "Josephus and the Priesthood," McClaren addresses an oft-neglected topic despite the significance of the priesthood in 1st century CE Judea and his own frequent claims to authority based on his priestly status. This connection to the priesthood accounts for his prophetic and dream-interpretation skills, his knowledge of the Bible, his theology of divine providence, and the portrayal of priests as almost always opposed to the war against the Romans. Finally, Daniel Schwartz's "From Masada to Jotapata: Josephus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Scholarship," a translation of an article originally published in Hebrew,3 brilliantly shows that the changing assessment of Josephus the Jew and historian corresponds to developments in Israeli history and culture and the piecemeal appearance of his works in Hebrew translation. For example, in the 1930s, despite the defense of Josephus's character in the translation of The Jewish War in 1923 by Jacob Naphtali Simchoni, the dominating ideology of heroic bravery articulated in Isaac Lamdan's poem "Masada" produced a hostile contrast to Josephus and his surrender at Jotapata. Translations of the first half of the Jewish Antiquities in 1940-1946 combined with the realities of the British Mandate led to reevaluating the prevailing Zealot position in favor of a moderate political stance toward the ruling power. The focus on Antiquities drew more attention to his relationship to midrashic traditions and his Jewish bonafides rather than the more complex considerations of his behavior during his own times. One of the fascinating tidbits provided by Schwartz to illustrate this sea-change is his discovery in the Hebrew University archives that Abraham Schalit omitted from his application for a position at the University a Hebrew article that he had published that referred to Josephus's "degenerate character" (p.421).

While as a whole, the articles more than admirably fulfill their purpose "to present the latest approaches to the study of Josephus in his original context as well as the uses of his texts in later ages" (p.8), a few contributions were disappointing. While "Josephus and the Archaeology of Galilee" by Zeev Weiss offers a very impressive survey of recent archaeological evidence from the Galilee, it addresses the relationship to Josephus only in passing. It would have been helpful to explain how the material record complements, counters, or clarifies Josephus rather than give the impression that the Josephan corpus and archaeology having little to say to each other. In this regard, Tal Ilan in "Josephus on Women" does a much better job dealing with the relative insignificance of Josephus for understanding Jewish attitudes toward women and their social history by showing how an analysis of women in his work contributes to our understanding of Josephus himself. In "Josephus and the Halacha" David Nakman convincingly identifies several examples of comparable legal content. However, claims such as "Josephus's halakha matches that of the rabbis" (p.284) give the erroneous impression that rabbinic law influenced Josephus. I do not think that this is Nakman's position, but his early dating of rabbinic halakha can be problematic. For example, he cites a passage from Ant. 3.261-269 as possibly sectarian because it parallels the Temple Scroll (48:14-17), but not rabbinic tradition. It is a matter of debate, however, whether the Temple Scroll represents "the sectarian halakha of the Qumran community" (p.287) and it more likely reflects Sadducean, not sectarian law.4 Therefore, Nakman's claim that a rabbinic-pharisaic/Josephan parallel represents normative law and a Temple Scroll/Josephan parallel indicates sectarian legislation is questionable.

I did notice a number of significant typographical errors, including: p.199, 2.34-405 should be 2.345-405; p.230, 1.57-19 should be 1.57-60; p. 366, JTS 5:539-624 should be JTS 52:539-624. Also, p.206 "Numbers 14-16" referring to Ant. 4:11 should be Numbers 16-18. One would hope for fewer errors of this sort in a handbook.

These criticisms are minor. More to the point, by itself, "Part IV: Transmission and Reception History" makes this companion essential. The manuscript discussions are excellent and up to date. Especially noteworthy is the survey of ancient Latin translations by David B. Levenson and Thomas R. Martin. Scholars no longer have to turn to Franz Blatt's The Latin Josephus. I. Introduction and Text. The Jewish Antiquities: Books I-V (1958) and will be aided by the list of manuscripts including those available online. Saskia Dönitz "Sefer Yosippon (Josippon)" offers a superior English introduction to this oft-ignored Hebrew Josephus and the chapters by Sabrina Inowlocki on "Josephus and Patristic Literature" and Karen Kletter on "The Christian Reception of Josephus in Late Antiquity in the Middle Ages" are particularly insightful.

Josephus attracts attention from many directions—biblical interpretation, Jewish history, New Testament Studies, archaeology, Greek and Roman history, the Dead Sea Scrolls—all of which require a general, accessible overview. This companion fills a much-needed lacuna for Josephan scholars and scholars relying on Josephus. The editors are to be commended for their fine efforts organizing this work, which, along with the Brill commentary, belongs to any twenty-first collection of Josephan scholarship.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Honora Howell Chapman and Zuleika Rodgers
Part I Writings 11
1 Josephus's Judean War, Steve Mason
2 Many Sources but a Single Author: Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, Daniel R. Schwartz
3 Josephus's Autobiography (Life of Josephus), Steve Mason
4 Against Apion, John Barclay
Part II Josephus's Literary Context
5 Josephus as a Roman Historian, Steve Mason
6 Josephus and Greek Imperial Literature, Eran Almagor
7 Josephus and the Bible, Paul Spilsbury
8 Josephus and Philo in Rome, Maren R. Niehoff
9 Josephus and the New Testament, Helen K. Bond
Part III Themes
10 Josephus and the Archaeology of Galilee, Zeev Weiss
11 Josephus as a Military Historian, Jonathan P. Roth
12 Josephus on Women, Tal Ilan
13 The Hasmoneans in Josephus, Erich S. Gruen
14 Herod the Great in Josephus, Jan Willem van Henten
15 The Herodian Temple in Josephus, David A. Kaden
16 Josephus and the Jewish Sects, Albert I. Baumgarten
17 Josephus and the Priesthood, James S. McLaren
18 Josephus and Halacha, David Nakman
19 Josephus and Rabbinic Literature, Richard Kalmin
Part IV Transmission and Reception History
20 The Text of the Josephan Corpus: Principal Greek Manuscripts, Ancient Latin Translations, and the Indirect Tradition, Tommaso Leoni
21 The Ancient Latin Translations of Josephus, David B. Levenson and Thomas R. Martin
22 The Testimonium Flavianum, Alice Whealey
23 Josephus and Patristic Literature, Sabrina Inowlocki
24 The Christian Reception of Josephus in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Karen M. Kletter
25 Sefer Yosippon (Josippon), Saskia Dönitz
26 The Slavonic Version of Josephus's Jewish War, Kate Leeming
27 Josephus in Renaissance Italy, Silvia Castelli
28 A Note on English Translations of Josephus from Thomas Lodge to D. S. Margoliouth, Gohei Hata
29 From Masada to Jotapata: On Josephus in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Scholarship, Daniel R. Schwartz
30 Josephus Comicus in Monty Python's Life of Brian and History of the World, Part 1, Honora Howell Chapman


1.   Brill Josephus Project, 2000-2014. Steve Mason edits the entire project and to date seven volumes of the translation and commentary have been published: Judean Antiquities 1-4 (Louis Feldman, 2000), Life of Josephus (Steve Mason, 2001), Judean Antiquities 5-7 (Christopher Begg, 2005), Judean Antiquities 8-10 (Christopher Begg and Paul Spilsbury, 2005), Against Apion (John Barclay, 2007), Judean War 2 (Steve Mason and Honora Chapman, 2008), and Judean Antiquities 15 (Jan Willem van Henten, 2014). Judean Antiquities 11 (Paul Spilsbury and Chris Seeman) is scheduled to appear in November, 2016.
2.   There is a vigorous debate whether to render Greek Ioudaios as Jewish or Judean. See the forum in Marginalia. Chapman and Rodgers gave discretion to the authors which explains why Steve Mason uses The Judean War and Daniel Schwartz uses The Jewish Antiquities.
3.   Daniel Schwartz, 2009, "War and Antiquities between Masada and Jotapata: Josephus in Hebrew Scholarship from the 1930s to the 1990s," in Remembering and Forgetting: Israeli Historians Look at the Jewish Past, Albert Baumgarten, Jeremy Cohen, and Ezra Mendelsohn, eds. (Jerusalem: Historical Society of Israel = Zion 74), 45-63 (in Hebrew).
4.   Lawrence Schiffman, 1994, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society), 257-271.

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