Antiquities of the Jews ends immediately prior to the outbreak of the First Revolt against the Romans, in 66 CE. I was going to take a break after reading this, but couldn't leave it on such a cliffhanger, so went on to read The Jewish War as well. However, though I studiously post-it-ed this book's bloggables too, I'm disinclined to put the effort into turning them into blog entries, due to the thin response of my blogging of Antiquities. Furthermore, whereas with Antiquities, the translation I was reading was centuries old and available on the web, allowing easy quotation of passages, the edition I have of War is a twentieth-century translation, and with its own chapter breakdown, rendering locating passages to quote in the online Whitston translation much more difficult.
On the other hand, there's only about thirty post-its in the book (as the first third, outlining the background to the war, "precapitulates" material Josephus would later cover in Antiquities), so maybe I will make the effort. Demand voiced here might persuade me, though I will expect more feedback from you lot if I do, even if just reponses saying "Very interesting, I didn't know that!"
In place of detailed notes for the time being, here's an overview and book review. Here's the start of G.A. Williamson's introduction to my edition:
History, we are told, is the record of the crimes and follies of mankind. Anyone reading The Jewish War will certainly feel this to be true. It is a tale of unrelieved horror—of brutalities committed by Herod and other Palestinian kings, by provincial governors, by the most enlightened and reasonable of the Roman emperors, by the leaders of the Jewish insurgents, and by Josephus himself. It is a tale of hopeless revolts, of suicidal strife between rival gangsters and warring factions, of incredible heroism achieving nothing but universal ruin and destruction. It is a tale, too, of a country filled with such a wealth of architectural and artistic splendour as has perhaps never been seen elsewhere since the world began, and reduced by crimes and follies to a desert, a mass of shapeless ruins.
The book is half the length of Antiquities, and moves much faster; it therefore comes with a higher recommendation from me (unless of course you're interested in Josephus's take on all of Jewish history). The following passage, describing the outbreak of the Hasmonean revolt exemplifies the difference between War and Antiquities (I use Williamson's translation, for added drama, as it is generally more gripping than Whitston's):
Matthias (son of Asamoneus), a priest from the village of Modin, raised a tiny force consisting of his five sons and himself, and killed Bacchides with cleavers. Fearing the strength of the garrisons, he fled to the hills for the time being, but when many of the common people joined him, he regained confidence, came down again, gave battle, defeated Antiochus' generals and chased them out of Judaea. By that success he achieved supremacy, and in gratitude for his expulsion of the foreigners his countrymen gladly accepted his rule, which on his decease he left to Judas, the eldest of his sons.
This is told at almost eight times the length in Antiquities, and moreover Bacchides does not come into it at all! He only turns up on the scene later, after the death of Mattithyāhu, and far from being killed by Yehudhāh hamMaccabi, he subdues the Jews, and later kills Yehudhāh hamMaccabi himself!
The two accounts not always agreeing well is typical of Josephus, though it is often not clear why. Maybe it is an early example of Jewish revenge through pen and ink (often the only way the Jews could take revenge on the more powerful nations who had done them wrong).
Other times the reason for the divergence is more clear. I have mentioned beforehand how sometimes Josephus puts speeches into people's mouths. That he does this becomes particularly overt when you compare War with Antiquities: sometimes, dissatisfied with the speech in the first, he will replace it with a completely different one in the second, for example, War I.19.373/Antiquities XV.5.127.
Williamson has taken it upon himself in his translation to render all measurements into modern units. Sometimes this does make things a bit clearer, but often it does not: Where Josephus writes about a certain number of talents of gold, Williamson will give a figure in pounds sterling, but as these are 1959 pounds, the figure requires almost as much conversion for the present-day reader as Josephus's figures.
Even more annoying is what he's done to the dates. Josephus gives dates in the Macedonian calendar. Whilst month names like Hyperberetaeus are meaningless to us, they correspond one-to-one with the Jewish months (in this case Tishri). Williamson, however, writes:
All readers of the gospels know the difficulty of determining 14th Nisan. The simplest thing would have been to leave Josephus' wording alone; but I cannot bring myself to inflict on my readers names that have no meaning for them; so in every case I have substituted the name of the English month most nearly corresponding, leaving the day of the month unaltered. This at least has the merit of being intelligible, and if as is likely my dates are in some cases as much as a fortnight out, the general effect is not misleading.
Well, it might not be for you, Mr Williamson, but it is for Jewish readers such as myself. For me, 14th Nisan is meaningful, and erev Pesach (the day before Passover) to boot, on which all observant Jews are ridding their houses of leaven and cooking for the festival to come, as much in Josephus' day as ours. And the Temple was not destroyed on the ninth (or tenth, according to Josephus) of August, but on the ninth/tenth of Āv, on which day it is still commemorated today with fasting and recitation of the Book of Lamentations and dirges. This year Tishā BeĀv falls on Sunday the 29th of July; it most definitely does not fall on the ninth (or tenth) of August. Indeed, there's no way of telling for certain on which date in the Gregorian calendar the Temple was destroyed, because the Jewish calendar was not then yet algorithmically defined, and the date could have varied by a month and a day, depending on whether an intercalary leap month had been added that year, and when the new moon had been observed in Jerusalem.