lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
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Josephus' latest definition of the Pharisees (XVIII.1.12) shows both similarities and differences to how I had perceived them:
Now, for the Pharisees, they live meanly, and despise delicacies in diet; and they follow the conduct of reason; and what that prescribes to them as good for them they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe reason's dictates for practice. They also pay a respect to such as are in years; nor are they so bold as to contradict them in any thing which they have introduced; and when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it hath pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done, but so that the will of man can act virtuously or viciously.* They also believe that souls have an immortal rigour in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again; on account of which doctrines they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people; and whatsoever they do about Divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they perform them according to their direction; insomuch that the cities give great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses also.

* Or as R. Akiva succintly put it the following century: הכל צפוי והרשות נתונה: everything is foreseen, but the authority to choose a path is given to us. This also ties in with the modern Jewish view of everyone having both a יצר הרע, an evil inclination, and a יצר הטוב, a good inclination. It's interesting to see this idea coming up here, because Judaism of the time often veered more towards the Christian notion of people doing evil being the result of an external tempter (the Devil in Christianity, "Prince Mastema" in Judaism, both being identified with the Biblical Satan ("the Adversary")) rather than innate human nature.

† Nowadays Judaism holds that only the wickedest of the wicked are punished in Gehinnom eternally; the rest get out after a year. "Under the earth" seems a strange place to locate the afterlife; I think, though, he's being influenced here by the Greek concepts of Hades and the Elysian Fields.

We tend to think of the Jews of the period being divided between Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes (and then in the last decade before the Destruction of the Temple, the Fourth Philosophy too, which may or may not have been that of the Zealots); however it appears this division is not at all even, as there are few Sadducees:

This doctrine [of the Sadducees] is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity. But they are able to do almost nothing of themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them.
...and Essenes:
There are about four thousand men that live in this way, and neither marry wives, nor are desirous to keep servants; as thinking the latter tempts men to be unjust, and the former gives the handle to domestic quarrels; but as they live by themselves, they minister one to another.
XVIII.2.32 reveals a different way of looking at things to us:
After him came Annius Rufus, under whom died Caesar, the second emperor of the Romans, the duration of whose reign was fifty-seven years, besides six months and two days (of which time Antonius ruled together with him fourteen years; but the duration of his life was seventy-seven years); upon whose death Tiberius Nero, his wife Julia's son, succeeded. He was now the third emperor;

For us Augustus (whom Josephus calls Caesar here, as he was the adopted son of Julius Caesar) is universally recognised as the first emperor, but Josephus seems to consider that to have been Julius Caesar himself.

[livejournal.com profile] curious_reader warned me that the text of Josephus we have, which has been transmitted to us by the Christians (as the Jews were largely too disgusted with him, considering him a turncoat) has been diddled with. Here's the first of the diddled-with passages (XVIII.3.81):

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man ; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

No way would Josephus have said some of those things. He might have said the others, though. Wikipedia concurs with me here, and points out that the Syriac and Arabic translations of Josephus read "Pilate condemned him to be crucified" in place of "at the suggestion of the principal men among us," and "he was believed to be Christ" rather than "he was [the] Christ". "Drawing on these textual variations," says Wikipedia, "scholars have suggested that these versions of the Testimonium more closely reflect what a non-Christian Jew may have written."

Contrast this with Josephus' description of John the Baptist, in XVIII.5.118, which comes across as more objective:

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.

There's also a couple of interesting, and quite different, passages about John in the Slavonic version of The Jewish War:

At that time a man was going about Judaea remarkably dressed: he wore animal hair on those parts of his body not covered by his own. His face was like a savage's. He called on the Jews to claim their freedom, crying: "God sent me to show you the way of the Law, so that you can shake off any human yoke: no man shall rule you, but only the Most High who sent me." His message was eagerly welcomed, and he was followed by all Judaea and the district around Jerusalem. All he did was to baptise them in the Jordan and dismiss them with an earnest exhortation to abandon their evil ways: if they did so they would be given a king who would liberate them and master the unruly, while himself acknowledging no master. This man was derided by some but believed by others.

The man was brought before Archelaus and an assemblage of lawyers, who asked who he was and where he had been. He replied: "I am a man called by the Spirit of God, and I live on stems, roots and fruit." When he was threatened with torture if he did not stop behaving and talking like this, he retorted: "It would be more to the point if you stopped acting so disgracefully and submitted to the God you profess to worship."

Simon, a scribe of Essene origin, sprang up and exclaimed angrily: "We study Holy Writ every day; you have just come out of the forest like a wild animal; and do you dare put us right and mislead the people with your damnable nonsense?" Simon then rushed at him to tear him to pieces. But the man replied with a warning: "I will not reveal to you the secret that is in your midst, as you have refused to listen and so have brought immeasurable disaster upon your own heads." Then off he went to the other side of the Jordan, where he resumed his work unmolested.

Later on we read (this is an excerpt from the full passage):
He was a strange creature, not like a man at all. He lived like a disembodied spirit. He never touched bread; even at the Passover Feast he would not eat the unleavened bread or pronounce the words "In thankfulness to God, who delivered the nation from slavery, shall you eat this; it was given for the flight, because the journey was made in haste." Wine and other strong drink he would not allow to be brought anywhere near him, and animal good he absolutely refused—fruit was all that he needed. The whole object of his life was to show evil in its true colours.

I got very excited when I read this, because it is thought the Passover Seder we have today arose in reaction to the destruction of the Temple, preventing the fulfilment of the Toraitic command of eating the Paschal lamb sacrificed in the Temple. Beforehand there would have been a Yom Tov meal, and the consumption of the פֶּסַח and חֲגִיגָה offerings, but no formal liturgy for the meal beyond kiddush, הַמוֹצִיא and bentshing. Yet here, it seemed, was a record of what was said at the Passover meal in the first century, whilst the Temple still stood—and not only that but it is different to anything in the relevant Torah passages or Seder today.

Then, sadly, I went to Wikipedia which told me that this is passage is now not regarded as authentic, but a product of the eleventh-century ideological struggle against the Khazars (a Turkic people and kingdom whose nobility and royal family converted to Judaism). Nonetheless it's interesting to read.

Robert Graves, in I, Claudius, relates a minority, probably apocryphal, story of the death of the Emperor Tiberius died: that after he had died, Caligula took the ring off his finger and proclaimed himself emperor, only for a slave to run out after him crying, "he's still alive!" Macro says "It's probably just the wind moving him, giving that impression." The slave replies, "No, he's really still alive; he's asking for his supper." Caligula and Macro go back in, smother Tiberius with his pillow, then go back out again and announce that Tiberius is definitely dead.

[murder of Tiberius from _I Claudius_]

Considering this, I was interested to see what Josephus had to say on the matter. He doesn't repeat this story, but you can still see from it how the other story arose.

When the Romans understood that Tiberius was dead, they rejoiced at the good news, but had not courage to believe it; not because they were unwilling it should be true, for they would have given huge sums of money that it might be so, but because they were afraid, that if they had showed their joy when the news proved false, their joy should be openly known, and they should be accused for it, and be thereby undone. For this Tiberius had brought a vast number of miseries on the best families of the Romans, since he was easily inflamed with passion in all cases, and was of such a temper as rendered his anger irrevocable, till he had executed the same, although he had taken a hatred against men without reason; for he was by nature fierce in all the sentences he gave, and made death the penalty for the lightest offenses; insomuch that when the Romans heard the rumour about his death gladly, they were restrained from the enjoyment of that pleasure by the dread of such miseries as they foresaw would follow, if their hopes proved ill-grounded.

Now Marsyas, Agrippa's freed-man, as soon as he heard of Tiberius's death, came running to tell Agrippa the news; and finding him going out to the bath, he gave him a nod, and said, in the Hebrew tongue, "The lion is dead;" who, understanding his meaning, and being ovejoyed at the news, "Nay," said he, "but all sorts of thanks and happiness attend thee for this news of thine; only I wish that what thou sayest may prove true."

Now the centurion who was set to keep Agrippa, when he saw with what haste Marsyas came, and what joy Agrippa had from what he said, he had a suspicion that his words implied some great innovation of affairs, and he asked them about what was said. They at first diverted the discourse; but upon his further pressing, Agrippa, without more ado, told him, for he was already become his friend; so he joined with him in that pleasure which this news occasioned, because it would be fortunate to Agrippa, and made him a supper. But as they were feasting, and the cups went about, there came one who said that Tiberius was still alive, and would return to the city in a few days. At which news the centurion was exceedingly troubled, because he had done what might cost him his life, to have treated so joyfully a prisoner, and this upon the news of the death of Caesar; so he thrust Agrippa from the couch whereon he lay, and said, "Dost thou think to cheat me by a lie about the emperor without punishment? and shalt not thou pay for this thy malicious report at the price of thine head?" When he had so said, he ordered Agrippa to be bound again, (for he had loosed him before,) and kept a severer guard over him than formerly, and in that evil condition was Agrippa that night; but the next day the rumour increased in the city, and confirmed the news that Tiberius was certainly dead; insomuch that men durst now openly and freely talk about it; nay, some offered sacrifices on that account.

Of course the Romans, celebrating the death of Tiberius, did not realise they had merely gone from the frying pan to the fire with the accession of Caligula. Josephus implies that Caligula's eventual assassination was divine punishment for daring to call himself a god (XVIII.7.256):

Now Caius* managed public affairs with great magnanimity during the first and second year of his reign, and behaved himself with such moderation, that he gained the good-will of the Romans themselves, and of his other subjects. But, in process of time, he went beyond the bounds of human nature in his conceit of himself, and by reason of the vastness of his dominions made himself a god, and took upon himself to act in all things to the reproach of the Deity itself.

* I.e. Gaius (= Caligula), the spelling going back to before the invention of the letter G.

King Agrippa, in the above passage, was in prison in Rome at the time of the death of Tiberius, having fallen foul of Tiberius; he remained in Rome afterwards (which seems strange for a king of Judaea!), and was there at the time of the assassination of Caligula too, in the events of which time he played a role, as described in frankly unnecessary detail, from the point of view of history of the Jews, in Book XIX.

[Josephus] Josephus notes


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