Monday, April 6, 2015

The Use of the Works of Josephus as Evidence

My journey to understand the origins of the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) turned quickly from searching for answers within the text to searching for answers outside of it.  Why?  Because, in spite of the admonition in Deuteronomy to neither add to nor subtract from the Law, there is much evidence that the Old Testament was subject to many redactions and interpolations, i.e., the Old Testament was continuously altered over many decades, if not centuries.  There is no way to definitively extract the original text from what we have today.

One of the first, natural stops after the text of the Old Testaments is the body of work allegedly authored by Flavius Josephus (usually referred to simply as "Josephus"),  As will be detailed below, that work, too, has clearly been subject to interpolation (a kind word for "forgery").

Josephus: the Author

Before turning to the work of Josephus, who exactly was he?  According to the Yale Anchor Bible Dictionary:

JOSEPHUS (PERSON). A 1st-century Jewish politician, soldier, and historian, whose writings constitute important sources for our understanding of biblical history and of the political history of Roman Palestine in the 1st century c.e. 
Josephus was born in 37 c.e. and was given the Hebrew name Joseph ben Mattathias. His mother was a descendant of the Hasmonean family that had ruled Jerusalem a century earlier, and by birthright he was a priest. In Jerusalem he received a superb education, and at the age of 27 (in 64 c.e.) he led a delegation to the court of the Roman emperor Nero. Two years later he was pressed to serve as the general of the Jewish forces in Galilee in the revolt against Rome. He was captured and afterwards became a Roman citizen and pensioner of the Flavian emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. He is most widely known by the Roman name he then acquired, Flavius Josephus (or simply “Josephus”). 
In Rome Josephus resided in an apartment within the emperor’s house and devoted much of his time to writing. In part his works were addressed to his fellow Jews, justifying to them not only Roman conduct during the Jewish War, but also his own personal conduct in switching loyalties. However, his writings were also designed to justify Jewish culture and religion to an interested and sometimes sympathetic Roman audience.
Of course, everything we know about Josephus was told to us by Josephus in one of his works, i.e., Vita.  The Yale Anchor Bible Dictionary entry continues:
The earliest of [Josephus'] extant writings is the Bellum Judaicarum (or Jewish War), which was apparently drafted initially in Aramaic and then translated into Greek 5 to 10 years after the 70 c.e. destruction of Jerusalem. His second work, Antiquitates Judaicae (or Jewish Antiquities), was published more than a decade later; it was much longer, and recounts Jewish history from creation to the Jewish War, and contains some valuable historical information. His last two works, probably published shortly before his death, include the Vita (or Life), an autobiography intended primarily to defend his conduct during the Jewish War 30 years earlier, and Contra Apionem (or Against Apion), an apologetic defense of Judaism against a wave of anti-Semitism emanating from Alexandria. Josephus probably died ca. 100 c.e., several years after Trajan had become emperor in Rome. His writings, while generally ignored by fellow Jews, were preserved by Christians not only because they chronicled generally and so well the “time between the testaments,” but also because they contained specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus’ brother James.
And, as it turns out, the earliest manuscripts we have of Josephus' work are actually quite late and were preserved by the Catholic church for apologetic purposes.  The Yale Anchor Bible Dictionary entry on Josephus continues:
So far as we can tell, all the writings of Josephus have been preserved, thanks to the interest of the Christian Church. There are 133 manuscripts of some or all of his works; but the earliest of these dates from the 11th century; and the text, especially of Ant, is often in doubt. Only one papyrus fragment of his works has been found (of JW 2.20.6–7 §576–79; and 2.20.7–8 §582–84), but it consists of only 38 complete words and 74 words in part. The fact, however, that there are no fewer than nine places (several of them, to be sure, based on somewhat shaky conjectures deriving from the number of letters in a line) where the fragment differs from known manuscripts leads one to think that the text of JW, which is in much better shape than that of Ant, is even less secure than has been supposed. The fact that the papyrus agrees now with one group of our extant manuscripts and now with another leads one to suggest that a century ago the editor of the definitive text of Josephus, Benedictus Niese, relied excessively on one family of manuscripts. Hence, for example, in the famous episode at Masada (in JW 7), we should now have less confidence in the reliability of the text. Another clue to the unreliability of the text that we possess may be found in the fact that the Church Fathers of the 3d and 4th centuries (Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome) declare that, according to Josephus, Jerusalem was destroyed because of the murder of James the Just, a statement nowhere to be found in our present text of Josephus. While such statements may represent tendentious writing, they may also reflect a text different from ours. Similarly, as Shlomo Pines has noted, there are statements in the 10th-century Arabic historian Agapius allegedly drawn from Josephus which are not in our texts (1971: 49–63). 
The best modern edition of the Gk text remains the editio maior of Niese (7 vols., 1885–95), which has a much more conservative and full apparatus criticus than his editio minor (6 vols., 1888–95). Of the complete or partial Gk mss mentioned by Schreckenberg (1972), 50 were unknown to Niese, though only 2 of these are apparently of any major significance. Naber’s edition (1888–96), which appeared almost simultaneously with that of Niese, has a smoother and more readable text than that of Niese but is too free with emendations and has numerous errors in the apparatus criticus.
If the earliest extant manuscripts of Josephus' works present problems, the various translations are perhaps more problematic:
For many years the standard translation of Josephus’ works into English was that of William Whiston in 1737, which has been reprinted at least 217 times. The translation has undoubted virility, but is based on Haverkamp’s inferior 1726 text, is full of outright errors, and in its notes has such strange notions as that Josephus was an Ebionite Christian and a bishop of Jerusalem. 
The Loeb Classical Library edition, by Henry St. J. Thackeray et al. (originally in nine volumes, now reprinted in ten volumes [London, 1926–65]) contains an eclectic Greek text which is dependent on Niese and Naber, with relatively few original emendations. The translation is often rather free, the commentary (frequently indebted to Reinach’s French edition) is increasingly full, and there are a number of useful appendixes, especially bibliographical, in the last four volumes. Geoffrey A. Williamson’s 1959 translation of JW (revised by E. Mary Smallwood in 1981) is popular and readable, having removed passages which appear to interrupt the narrative. Gaalya Cornfeld’s 1982 translation of JW is often closely related to Thackeray’s Loeb version; it has an extensive commentary and lavish illustrations but contains many errors.
Citation: Feldman, Louis H. “Josephus (Person).” Edited by David Noel Freedman. The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Josephus: the Works

Let's be clear.  I would not have taken the time to investigate Josephus or the provenance of his works, if I had not detected serious problems in the English translations of his works, which many people take at face value.  In his Introduction to the English Edition of his A Search for the Origins of Judaism: From Joshua to the Mishnah, Etienne Nodet articulated some of the issues of Josephus' works that had concerned me:
The present enquiry developed on the margins of a French translation and commentary on the Jewish Antiquities of Flavius Josephus. The enquiry was initiated as a result of two surprises and one particular question in regard to the history of Judaea and Judaism.

It is striking how poorly informed we are on the history of Israel for most of the period which extends from the destruction of Jerusalem (587 BCE) with the deportation of the inhabitants to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar down to the installation of the Hasmonaeans about 150 BCE. However, this period of more than four centuries encompasses the Exile, the Return, the rebuilding of the Temple, the beginnings of Judaism and the putting into writing of a great part of the Hebrew Bible; the contrast with what we know of the four following centuries is surprising. 
We are well informed, however, about the great empires that ruled that part of the world during this period, thanks to the Greek historians and the discoveries of archaeologists. How is it then that the cultural history of Palestine for the Persian and Hellenistic periods has not managed to extricate itself from a dense fog, or that the elements for a synthesis amount to no more than a few isolated points that constantly give the impression of being shaky or arbitrary? Josephus is no better informed than we are and we often have the feeling that he is deliberately drawing out a meagre documentation in order to fill up centuries that are especially empty. Since by Graeco-Roman cultural standards the only thing that counted was that which was ancient, Josephus's explicit concern, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, is to show the antiquity of his nation, especially using the Bible to begin with (Jewish Antiquities), then by putting it up against the external testimony of historians (Against Apion). He even tries to give precise chronologies, going so far as to suggest that Moses was the most ancient of all law- givers. His non-biblical sources are for the most part lost, but, given his purpose, we may credit him with not having left out any important document, at least voluntarily. The balance sheet on his investigation, however, is disturbing. With regard to the history of Israel and Judah, the sources cited from before the second century BCE do not agree with the Bible, and later sources, when they do agree, are really dependent on it. Frequently the suspicion arises that he is aware of the weakness of his proofs, taken individually, and tries to substitute a heavy barrage for accuracy of aim. Several centuries later, in his Preparation for the Gospel, Eusebius of Caesarea undertook a comparable project for similar reasons, but his results are no more conclusive. This is the first surprise.
Professor Nodet's concerns, to me, are obvious, and he misses some more fundamental concerns that arise from understanding the history surrounding Josephus' works.  For example, Josephus allegedly wrote Against Apion in 90 C.E., by which time Apion had been dead for almost forty years.  Apion had been a contemporary of Philo of Alexandria, and the two allegedly argued to Emperor Nero over the propriety of Jewish activities in Alexandria circa 40 CE. Yet Against Apion treats Apion as a living opponent, which most likely was a literary device meant to underscore the long-lived nature of Apion's arguments that Judaism was a relatively new phenomenon, not an effort to be duplicitous.

Why, in circa 90 C.E., did Josephus feel compelled to defend the antiquity of the Jews?  More importantly, how is it that he could have failed so miserably, in hindsight and with the modern archaeological record now at our disposal?

Most biblical scholars avoid these questions, and many seem to assume/argue that the antiquity of Judaism was well-accepted by the time of Josephus, and that Josephus merely argued questions of antiquity as a literary device.

I am sorry, but I find it impossible to imagine that Josephus would engage in a debate with a dead man unless the dead man held the high ground, that his arguments continued to carry the day even forty years after his death.

Another way to put this is that, in a strictly legal sense, one of the few things hearsay (which Josephus's works are) can be used to prove absent the availability of the person who uttered it is the person's then present state of mind.  Josephus' clearly was motivated to write an apologetic work for a reason.

Josephus: the Interpolations

Scholars have identified many interpolations in the works of Josephus, and the most controversial allegations relate to Jesus Christ, but I am not concerned about those.  My issue is with the text identified by "Josephus" as allegedly being found in Manetho's lost work Aegyptica.

From Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt by Gerald P. Verbrugghe and John Moore Wickersham, p. 115-118:
Manetho’s History of Egypt is a lost work, in that it has not been preserved through its own tradition of copying and recopying in manuscript. Instead we have the references to Manetho and citations from Manetho made by other writers in their own works, which have indeed been transmitted through a manuscript tradition (see chap. 9, table D.) These are the texts presented in translation here (in chaps. 6 and 7), and we are totally dependent on these for our knowledge of Manetho and his writings. 
We say that our knowledge of what Manetho wrote depends on indirect tradition. All of the remains of Manetho’s writings come to us indirectly, and the fact that none of it has been transmitted directly must warn the student to be on the alert for errors and distortions that might give a false picture of what Manetho actually wrote. There are in fact severe difficulties with the fragments. In the first place, Manetho’s work became involved in a serious polemic that occurred during the Hellenistic period: various barbarian cultures of the newly Hellenized kingdoms made claims to being older than Greek civilization and to having contributed significantly to the formation of Greek culture. Hellenes were on the whole not averse to viewing their culture as an import from some venerable non-Greek source—lawgivers, for example, were normally said to have gained wisdom abroad, as the Athenian Solon was supposed to have visited Egypt and stayed at Sebennytos (which was, by coincidence, Manetho’s birthplace).51 Leading contestants in this battle to appropriate the origins of the ruling Hellenic civilization were the Egyptians and the Jews, and there is a body of literature representing the claims of one party or attacking the claims of the other.52 The consequence for Manetho was that his work as a whole was lost in antiquity—one cannot say just how early—and replaced by sets of excerpts designed to be used in the polemic. 
The excerpts from Josephus’s counterpolemic contra Apionem (Against Apion) found in F9-F12 are not in fact a genuine quotation from Manetho’s whole work but citations from a set of altered and distorted excerpts. We cannot give a thorough discussion here, but the reader can easily see problems in Josephus’s text: the foundation of Avaris is described twice (F9 §§78, 86-87); Osarsephos is introduced twice (FI2 §§238, 250); the citation at the beginning of F10 gives a mere list of seventeen rulers and their lengths of reign, with no narrative for any—only with the eighteenth does narrative begin; furthermore, this same ruler-list gives no indication of which dynasty is meant, and it actually runs two of Manetho’s dynasties (Dynasties XVIII and XIX) together without a break. Certainly this is not genuine Manetho. It is truly unfortunate that this sort of material bulks so large in the supposed quotations from Manetho. It is also unfortunate that Josephus, who furnishes these texts, is the earliest to cite from “Manetho.” 
Several scholars have attempted to analyze the citations in Josephus, attributing some portions to pro-Jewish publicists, others to anti-Jewish writers, others to a Greek whose interest was academic rather than polemical—and even some sections to Manetho. But the different scholars have offered different allocations, and none has proven authoritative. The problem of seeing genuine Manetho in these fragments has been called the most difficult problem in Classics, and so it remains. 
The student must not, therefore, be quick to accept the anti-Jewish material (such as in FI2 §§232-51) as Manetho’s writing. Similar material (the unclean lepers and misfits) is found in other writers, such as Lysimakhos of Alexandria,54 and it may have been injected into Manetho from outside. Manetho, writing his History of Egypt in the early third century B.C., was perhaps too early for the rising wave of polemic. He may or may not have mentioned the Jews and the Exodus; and, if he did, we cannot be certain as to his point of view. 
Besides being embellished, altered, and excerpted, Manetho’s work was also converted—probably from the altered version—into a condensed version, an epitome, in at least one edition. Again, we cannot say when the epitomizing was done or who did it. The results can be seen in F2a: the narrative was almost entirely cut out, leaving the succession of dynasties with the names of the rulers and the lengths of their reigns—an outline very similar to what Manetho may have begun with.

, , ,
The student needs to be careful in using the epitome, no less than with the excerpts from Josephus in F9-F12. As our presentation in F2a shows, there are many serious discrepancies in the different versions we have received. The version that comes by way of Africanus is considered by most to be generally better than the one used by Eusebius, but this is no guarantee that it is better in all cases, and there are many spots where we remain unsure what Manetho actually wrote. 
To summarize and illuminate these warnings, we present figure 1, showing the history of Manetho’s History of Egypt, how it was adapted rather than preserved and transmitted. The bulk of what remains for us to examine has come the route illustrated in figure l.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence is that Eusebius in one of his works quotes at length from Manetho and cites the work directly, but in that work, when discussing the so-called anti-semitic portions of that book, Eusebius explicitly refers to "Josephus quoting from Manetho," i.e., the language Josephus quoted was not found in Eusebius' version of Manetho's text.  Verbrugghe and Wickersham attempt to attribute this "inconsistency" to the idea that all Eusebius had available to him was an "epitome," but that's a fiction intended to maintain the mutual honesty of two notorious apologists, Josephus and Eusebius, as actual historians.

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