lethargic_man: (capel)
Seeing in my shul library a copy of the complete works of Josephus, as translated by Whiston, I picked it up to see what I hadn't read yet (apart from the obvious condidates—his autobiography, and Against Apion), and, seeing a "Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades", opened it to have a look what he says.

In the second paragraph, the author writes:
In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honour to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.
Aha, I thought: this is obviously where the idea in Christianity of the lake of fire* comes from; it's another one of those Christian concepts which derive from thoughts in contemporary Judaism, but which the latter religion has since moved on from. (Another example is the Christian view of the Devil as the source of temptation towards sin: Jewish texts from the first centuries CE, basing themselves on the Book of Job, talk about a being variously called either the Adversary (Hebrew haś-Śāṭān) or Prince Masṭémā ("Hostility"), which has this role, whereas more recent Jewish thought views every person as having a good inclination (יֵצֶר טוֹב) and an evil inclination (יֵצֶר הָרַע), i.e. the temptation to sin is of internal origin, not external.)

(Also noteworthy in the above quotation is the fact the lake of fire is empty now, awaiting the Great Day of Judgement; I don't know whether this is reflected in Christian theology, but one doesn't get that impression from those who invoke the fear of it.)

* It occurs to me to wonder whether the rock group Nirvana did a cover of the song "Lake of Fire" not because they liked it so much as because of the irony of a song with this theme being covered by a band with that name...

The essay goes on:
The just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the and of the just, which they see, always smiles them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.
Aha, I thought; another source of a Christian concept. In paragraph six, however, the text went on to read:
For all men, the just as well as the unjust, shall be brought before God the word: for to him hath the Father committed all judgment : and he, in order to fulfill the will of his Father, shall come as Judge, whom we call Christ.
"What!?" I thought. Now, I know the text of Josephus has been diddled with by Christians, but the diddlings-with in Antiquities at least present Josephus as a Jew trying to make sense of what was reported about Jesus of Nazareth, not as a believer in out-and-out Christian theology. So at this point I abandoned the text, and headed off in search of answers.

William Whiston, the eighteenth-century theologian whose translation of Josephus was used in both the book I read the above passage from, and my Wordsworth Classics edition of Antiquities, states that this essay was written when Josephus was bishop of Jerusalem. Cue one further "what!?" from me, and a heading off to Wikipedia, which informs me that though the text was "erroneously attributed to the Jewish historian since at least the 9th century, it is now believed to be (at least in its original form) the work of Hippolytus of Rome." Which, I have to say, is a damning indictment of Western scholarship between the ninth century and some time after the eighteenth.

Wikipedia adds: "As Whiston's translation is in the public domain, it appears in many present-day English editions of Josephus' work without any noting of its questionable attribution." Quite.
lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

As is well-known, early in the revolt against Rome, El`azar ben Ya'ir led a band of Sicarii to occupy the fortress and rock of Masada in the Judaean desert, from which he led raids on the surrounding countryside. The Romans came and besieged this fortress, which was regarded as pretty much unconquerable—it's located on a fragment of rock splintered off the western wall of the East African Rift Valley, with sheer sides, and inhospitable desert at its foot—but the Romans conquered it anyway by building a ramp up to reach it. When El`azar ben Ya'ir saw that defeat was imminent, he made a long speech in which he talked his followers into mass suicide, in which he makes the following interesting comment upon suicide in contemporary Indian religion (VII.8):

Read more... )

I wonder what religion he's referring to. A glance at Wikipedia does not indicate any of the major Indian religions with a positive attitude towards suicide nowadays. I wonder whether what we have here is a slightly garbled account, rather, of suttee (though Wikipedia states "few reliable records exist of the practice before the time of the Gupta empire, approximately 400 AD").


The Torah is very strong on the theme that G-d rewards and punishes. By the time of the Mishna, however, the fact that bad things happen to good people, and vice versa, was troubling Jewish theologians, and they wrestled with the issue. In some places in the Talmud and Midrash the problem is stated in stark terms but left unsolved; in others the solution is given that reward and punishment does not occur in this world but is deferred to the World to Come.

Nowadays only the most dyed-in-the-wool Orthodox would claim reward and punishment happens in this world: the idea that all of the five million six hundred thousand murdered by the Nazis—including the children, including the babies—were morally responsible for the "punishment" that was brought upon them is morally repugnant to most people. However, less than a century before R. Akiva stated the doctrine of deferred reward and punishment, you still had one man, at least, firmly believing in the concept of reward and punishment in this world:

After spending an entire book describing the horrors of war and all the people justly or unjustly killed, enslaved and exiled, Josephus concludes his work by telling of a Jew and a Roman who conspired to blame a late Sicarian revolt upon upright citizens, and then went on to have anyone who might put the lie to this accused and peremptorily executed. Eventually Vespasian smelled a rat (as Williamson puts it) and has the Jew executed. The Roman, Catullus (not the poet!)

for the time being profited by the lenience of [Vespasian and Titus] and received no more than a reprimand; but soon afterwards he succumbed to a complicated sickness beyond remedy and died miserably, not only chastened in body but suffering from a much more terrible disease of the mind. He was tormented by terrors, constantly calling out that he saw the ghosts of those he had murdered standing before him; and losing control of himself he would spring from his bed as if he himself was being tortured and burnt. His malady grew rapidly worse and worse, and his bowels were eaten through and fell out. Such was his end—proof, if ever there was one, of the providence of God, who executed judgement on the wicked.

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

In Exodus 25:31-40, the Torah relates G-d's instruction to make a lampstand (Menorah) for the Temple, in a shape apparently inspired by that of the plant, Salvia palaestina (a member of the sage genus). From the late Second Temple period onward, the menorah became a Jewish symbol and representations of it are to be found. However, Sean Kingsley argues in his book God's Gold that there's no evidence whatsoever for the existence of a lampstand in this period during the First Temple period: no representations of it have been found, and none of the surrounding peoples had anything remotely similar. He concludes the original menorah was a cultic lampstand in a single piece, like a thick column, with seven oil lamps sitting on the flat top.

Given the above, I was curious to see the following in Josephus's description of the temple built by Onias IV at Leontopolis, in Egypt:

He made the structure of the altar in imitation of that in our own country, and in like manner adorned with gifts, excepting the make of the candlestick, for he did not make a candlestick, but had a [single] lamp hammered out of a piece of gold, which illuminated the place with its rays, and which he hung by a chain of gold.

A bit of context: Immediately prior to the Hasmonean revolt, Antiochus IV Epiphanes took the High Priesthood away from its rightful incumbent, Onias III, and gave it to his brother Jason, and then later to their brother Menelaus. It was at this point that Antiochus entered the Temple and plundered it of its vessels, including the Menorah, as described in 1 Maccabees 1:21 (and probably somewhere in Antiquities too, could I be bothered to dig out the reference). 1 Maccabees 4:49 states that when the Hasmoneans reconquered the Temple, "they made also new holy vessels, and into the temple they brought the candlestick, and the altar of burnt offerings, and of incense, and the table." How did they get those, if the old ones were taken by Antiochus into Syria? Possibly here is where a new Menorah was made. It's perhaps not insignificant that I don't think we have representations of the Menorah from before the Hasmonean period, i.e. after this.

That said, even the staunchest of Bible critics would concede that the Torah reached its current form by the time of Ezra, centuries earlier, and it does give clear indications that the Menorah is to be in the form of seven branches. OTOH, it also clearly says that it is to be made of a single piece of gold, which would be rather tricky to do with a seven-branched candelabrum. Might it have been the case, do you think, that the original Menorah could have been of a single piece, like a thick column, with the representation of the classical, sage-inspired, design in bas-relief on the front?

And, as one final note on this: It's interesting to see how the form Onias gave to his menorah, hanging by a chain from the ceiling, evokes that of the Eternal Light in many synagogues today.

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

Moving temporarily out of chronological sequence, I mentioned earlier that there are passages pertaining to Jesus in Josephus that bear evidence of later, Christian tampering. There's also longer passages in the Slavonic version of War, which are now thought to be ninth-century interpolations. However, they're interesting to read anyway, given that they're the product of a Christian arguing pro-Christianity but supposedly from the pen of a Jew:

Read more... )
And so on in that vein. Later:
Read more... )

Half of this reads convincingly as an intelligent and sceptical but not prejudiced observer; the other half is blatant Christian apologetic. Why on earth would a Jew even consider the possibility of G-d taking human form, especially given that the Torah takes pains (Deut. 4:12) to say that G-d did not have form (albeit that it also uses some anthropomorphic imagery)? And why on earth would the Romans and Jews both have posted so many guards around his tomb? It's to counter the anti-Christian argument that the body was spirited away by his friends... though Williamson, ever the believer, and who considers these passages to be genuine, comments here (adducing it as evidence of Josephan authorship), "The exaggerated numbers are in the best Josephan style".

I was surprised to see in VII.5 an early version of the mystical river Sambatyon, beyond which the ten lost tribes were exiled, and which is impassable on account of the ferocity of its waters and the boulders they carry with them, except on Shabbos, when it is calm but the Israelites may not travel. In Josephus's version, the river's behaviour is the other way around:

Read more... )
Martin Goodman claims in his book Rome and Jerusalem that Roman and later Christian antisemitism had its origins in the Destruction of the Temple, and Vespasian and Titus's need to use that victory to prop up their imperial claims. Josephus, however, argues otherwise. When Titus passed through Antioch after the Destruction, the citizens clamoured for the expulsion of the Jews, however Titus would have none of it (VII.5):
Read more... )

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
Here is the basis for one of the things we mourn on the minor fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz (VI.2) Read more... )

The other date we associate with this period is that the Destruction of the Temple, of course, the ninth of Av (VI.4):

Read more... )
Hang on a tick: the tenth of Av? Perhaps then it was the First Temple which was destroyed on the ninth of Av?
2 Kings 25:8-9 מלכים ב כה ח-ט
And in the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month, which is the nineteenth year of king Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, unto Jerusalem: And he burnt the house of the LORD, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire. וּבַחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בְּשִׁבְעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ הִיא שְׁנַת תְּשַׁע־עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה לַמֶּלֶךְ נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל בָּא נְבוּזַרְאֲדָן רַב־טַבָּחִים עֶבֶד מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל יְרוּשָׁלִָם׃ וַיִּשְׂרֹף אֶת־בֵּית־ה׳ וְאֶת־בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֵת כָּל־בָּתֵּי יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְאֶת־כָּל־בֵּית גָּדוֹל שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ׃
Maybe not, then: The Book of Kings seems to claim it was the seventh of Av. But Jeremiah also wrote an account of that. What date does he give?
Jeremiah 52:12-13 ירמיהו נב יב-יג
Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, which served the king of Babylon, into Jerusalem, And burned the house of the LORD, and the king's house; and all the houses of Jerusalem, and all the houses of the great men, burned he with fire: וּבַחֹדֶשׁ הַחֲמִישִׁי בֶּעָשׂוֹר לַחֹדֶשׁ הִיא שְׁנַת תְּשַׁע־עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה לַמֶּלֶךְ נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל בָּא נְבוּזַרְאֲדָן רַב־טַבָּחִים עָמַד לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ־בָּבֶל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם׃ וַיִּשְׂרֹף אֶת־בֵּית־ה׳ וְאֶת־בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֵת כָּל־בָּתֵּי יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְאֶת־כָּל־בֵּית הַגָּדוֹל שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ׃

He says it was the tenth! So where on earth does the traditional date of the ninth come from? I've heard the rabbis of the Talmud said Jeremiah was so upset at the Destruction he put the wrong date down, but that's no answer to satisfy me! This page pointed me at the Talmud's answer:

Taanit 29a א כט תענית
How then are these dates to be reconciled? Read more... ) ותניא אי אפשר לומר בשבעה שהרי כבר נאמר בעשור ואי אפשר לומר בעשור שהרי כבר נאמר בשבעה׃ Read more... )

My feelings are with Rabbi Yoḥānān on this issue.

Of course, it's not only the Temple that was destroyed in these fateful days; it's heartbreaking also to read of the destruction of the towers that had for so long marked the Jerusalem skyline: Read more... )

As I mentioned in my review, Josephus has the brand that set the Temple alight hurled by a soldier in defiance of Titus's wishes, and Titus then try and have the flames put out, only for his orders to go unheard in the hurly-burly. He concludes (VI.4):

And thus was the holy house burnt down, without Caesar's approbation.

I'm of the opinion, however, that Titus was at the absolute least concupiscent in the destruction of the Temple; Josephus lies here, because Titus is his patron by the time he's writing this, and he can't risk offending him.

Afterwards (VI.6):
All the soldiers had such vast quantities of the spoils which they had gotten by plunder, that in Syria a pound weight of gold was sold for half its former value.

The Colosseum in Rome was built with the proceeds from the plunder of Judaea. That building is a monument to the death and exile of countless Jews and the wrecking of their homeland, and it makes me very angry to walk into it nowadays and see a big crucifix commemorating the Christian martyrs whose death their at the hands of wild beasts there is not a shred of evidence for. (There is in other amphitheatres, but not the Colosseum).

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
Josephus interrupts his narrative at points with long expositions on the geography of Judaea and the Galilee; Williamson separates these out into Excursuses at the end, which is how I missed out blogging this when I was doing Book IV:
The fruits of Sodom have a colour as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes. )

This sounds like something from Sir John de Mandeville, but I've actually seen this fruit growing near the Dead Sea. It's called a Sodom apple, and looks vaguely apple-shaped from the outside, but if you open it up, it's like dandelions seeds inside.

[fruit]     [seeds]

About missiles from Roman catapults, Josephus writes (V.6):

Read more... )

For "THE STONE COMETH", Williamson translates rather, "Baby on the way!" Turns out the original Greek (i.e. the translation Josephus had made of his original Aramaic) reads "ὁ υἱὸς ἔρχεται", meaning "the son cometh". The online commentary, which seems perhaps to have been written by Samuel Burder (1773–1836) has a rather impenetrable footnote caused by OCR of Greek characters (ΥΙΟΣ, ΥΙΟΣ and ΠΕΤΡΟΣ), as Latin (you can view a scan here) that suggests it does indeed say "son" in the original. I rather like Williamson's creative handling of it, then.

When the Romans came to besiege Jerusalem, they brought Josephus to try and negotiate a settlement. Josephus tries to argue the people are fighting not the Romans but the will of God, and gives a long list of how with God on their side, their ancestors had always prevailed, at one point saying (V.9):

Read more... )

We know Josephus is (or at any rate, would be by the time he wrote Antiquities) knowledgeable in Jewish history; I can only assume here he's playing on the people's ignorance. Sarai was taken by Pharaoh (with no mention of any armies) when Abram had gone down into Egypt; this did not happen in Jerusalem at all, which had no significance as yet for Abram. Nor would it yet until after the war of the four kings and the five kings, when he met its king Melchi-Ṣedeq, and later on when God called on him to sacrifice his son on the mountain then above Jerusalem, and now at its heart. It's also not until the war of the four kings and the five kings that we learn he had three hundred and eighteen servants (not captains of armies!), and from the lack of mention of them anywhere else, the Midrash concludes that these three hundred and eighteen were but one person, Dammeseq Eliezer (the gematria of whose name reaches that figure). The description of Sarah as "queen", however is not literal; it refers to her name, which means "princess".

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
Describing Lake Ḥula, Josephus says (IV.1):
Lake Semechonitis is thirty furlongs in breadth, and sixty in length; its marshes reach as far as the place Daphne,* which in other respects is a delicious place, and hath such fountains as supply water to what is called Little Jordan, under the temple of the golden calf, where it is sent into Great Jordan.

* Apparently a mistake for Dan, as no such place Daphne is referenced there anywhere else.

Temple of the golden calf!? The answer lies, astonishingly, one thousand years back in Israelite history:

Read more... )

It is impressive that this temple had lasted throughout all the ructions that had overtaken the nation since.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the Zealots invite the Idumaeans into the city. Anan, the High Priest, bars the gates against them, and Yeshua, the deputy High Priest, gives a speech to them. At one point, he says (IV.4):

Read more... )

I'm surprised to see wearing of black as a sign of mourning; it's not present in Judaism nowadays.

Skipping past a great deal of internecine warfare and atrocities, to where Shim'on bar Giora is about to take control of the city, Yoḥanan of Giscala and the Zealots being hemmed up in the Temple, we encounter (IV.10):

[The Zealots] erected four very large towers aforehand, that their darts might come from higher places, one at the north-east corner of the court, one above the Xystus, the third at another corner over against the lower city, and the last was erected above the top of the Pastophoria [priests' chambers], where one of the priests stood of course, and gave a signal beforehand, with a trumpet at the beginning of every seventh day, in the evening twilight, as also at the evening when that day was finished, as giving notice to the people when they were to leave off work, and when they were to go to work again.
This echoes the siren sounded in Jerusalem to mark the advent of the Shabbos today; I wonder whether it directly influenced it. The commentator in the online edition says:
This beginning and ending the observation of the Jewish seventh day, or sabbath, with a priest's blowing of a trumpet, is remarkable, and no where else mentioned, that I know of. Nor is Reland's conjecture here improbable, that this was the very place that has puzzled our commentators so long, called "Musach Sabbati," the "Covert of the Sabbath," if that be the true reading, 2 Kings 16:18, because here the proper priest stood dry, under a "covering," to proclaim the beginning and ending of every Jewish sabbath.

I'm surprised the announcement of the Sabbath is not known to be mentioned elsewhere (or was not when this commentary was written); after all, we know the Temple had a herald (Sheqālim 5:1) with a voice loud enough (yeah, right!) to allegedly be heard from Jericho (Tāmid 3:8).

The reference in Kings is:

2 Kings 16:18 מלכים ב טז יח-טז יח
And the covert for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king's entry without, turned he from the house of the Lord for the king of Assyria. וְאֶת־מיסך (מוּסַךְ) הַשַּׁבָּת אֲשֶׁר־בָּנוּ בַבַּיִת וְאֶת־מְבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ הַחִיצוֹנָה הֵסֵב בֵּית ה׳ מִפְּנֵי מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר׃
Meanwhile, in Rome, civil war was raging in what has become known as the year of the four emperors. Right at the end of this, we read (IV.10):
Read more... )

Martin Goodman argues, in his book Rome and Jerusalem, that for the Romans to destroy the Temple of Jerusalem was unprecedented; the Romans had respect for temples. As we see here, however, that's not true. It might have been an unruly mob of soldiers who destroyed the temple (presumably that of Jupiter; the narrative just says "the Capitol") where Sabinus was holing up rather than its destruction being a state decision, but they still did it.

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
When Nero hears about the defeat of his army in Judaea, he gives the command to take the country back to the best of his generals, Vespasian. What I hadn't realised is what Vespasian had done beforehand (III.1):
he was also a man that had long ago pacified the west, and made it subject to the Romans, when it had been put into disorder by the Germans; he had also recovered to them Britain by his arms, which had been little known before whereby he procured to his father Claudius to have a triumph bestowed on him without any sweat or labour of his own.

I'd associated Claudius himself with the conquest of Britain; as we see here, Claudius was already at the time taking credit for Vespasian's work.

The Romans have a reputation for making their roads dead straight, going straight over any hill in the way, rather than round them for easier travelling as other road-making cultures do. Amusingly, III.6 says (in Williamson's wording):

After them came the pioneeers to straighten out bends in the highway, level rough surfaces, and cut down obstructive woods, so that the army would not be exhausted by laborious marching.

(Whitston simply says "to make the road even and straight" rather than to straighten out bends; but I found Williamson's wording amusing.)

Skipping a good deal, after the Romans had retaken Galilee and the siege of Yotapata, from which the Romans had prevented Josephus escaping, had ended with the city's conquest and destruction, Josephus took refuge in a cave with some others, but a woman from his party was captured and gave away his location to the Romans. Those with him urge them all to commit suicide; in his argument against this, Josephus says some interesting things about the contemporary views on the afterlife, resurrection and suicide (III.8):

Read more... )

When Josephus is taken prisoner, and brought before Vespasian, he says (III.9):

Read more... )

Given that R. Yoḥānān ben Zakkai would later say something similar to him when he too was taken before Vespasian, one wonders how much these two put the idea into Vespasian's head of proclaiming himself emperor, or of accepting it when his men tried to proclaim him such.

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
In II.20, we learn that "almost all of" the wives of the people of Damascus had converted to Judaism; as all too often in War, the context in which we learn it is not pleasant:
Read more... )
With the Romans temporarily driven from the land, Josephus is appointed governor of Galilee, where he first encounters John of Gischala, "the most unprincipled trickster that ever won ill fame by such vicious habits" [Williamson]. After John has tried to induce towns to revolt against Josephus, and came within a squeak of assassinating him (Josephus only escaped by taking a flying leap onto a boat and making for the centre of Lake Tiberias), he tried to get the authorities in Jerusalem to impeach Josephus. Josephus ignores the impeachment attempt, and retakes the towns that go over to the other side, but then Tiberias revolted again, calling in King Agrippa and being taken by Roman cavalry.

Josephus is at the time in Tarichaeae, and has no soldiers with him, having sent them all out in search of food; but he still manages to retake the city through an amazing tactic:

Read more... )

[Please comment at my collected Book II notes post, on Dreamwidth for preference, or on LiveJournal.]

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

In II.16, King Agrippa II delivers a lengthy speech to try and dissuade the Judaeans from revolting against Rome. I had assumed it to be another case of Josephus putting his own words into other people's mouths; this commentator suggests it was actually Agrippa's own words, given by him to Josephus, with whom he was friends. In the middle of this I was amused to discover a reference in Williamson's translation to "Britain, that land of mystery"; Whitson's translation is more prosaic: "such British islands as were never known before".

Not only did Agrippa argue against revolting, but (II.17) he lent help to try and put the revolt down in its earliest stages, after the insurgents had persuaded the priests to discontinue the sacrifices for Rome and the Emperor, which, amounting as it did to sedition, made a Roman response inevitable.

Read more... )

II.17 gives us a minor Jewish festival, of which few I suspect have heard nowadays:

The next day [the fourteenth of Av]* was the festival of Xylophory [Williamson: Feast of Wood-carrying]; upon which the custom was for every one to bring wood for the altar (that there might never be a want of fuel for that fire which was unquenchable and always burning).

* This Thursday, this year.

Funnily enough, I came across a reference to this somewhere completely elsewhere at around this time, probably in Eliyahu Kitov's The Book Of Our Heritage, but I can't check as my copy of Volume III is now six hundred miles away.

The Romans having sent Cestius Gallus to put the revolt down, he got as far as the gates of Jerusalem, then, strangely, retreated (II.19):

When Cestius was come into the city, he set the part called Bezetha, which is called Cenopolis, [or the new city,] on fire; as he did also to the timber market; after which he came into the upper city, and pitched his camp over against the royal palace; and had he but at this very time attempted to get within the walls by force, he had won the city presently, and the war had been put an end to at once; but Tyrannius Priscus, the muster-master of the army, and a great number of the officers of the horse, had been corrupted by Florus, and diverted him from that his attempt; and that was the occasion that this war lasted so very long, and thereby the Jews were involved in such incurable calamities.

See my previous post for why Florus wanted war. Florus and Priscus have a hell of a lot to answer for, then; had it not been for them, the revolt would have been put down, the Temple remained standing, and hundreds of thousands of Jews not killed, enslaved or driven into exile.

Josephus says:
And now it was that a horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.
Williamson's translation is stronger:
I think that because of those scoundrels God had already turned His back even on the Sanctuary, and would not permit that day to witness the end of the war.

As it happens, Priscus got his due punishment: He was killed by the Jews during the Romans' retreat, even before their subsequent massacre at Beth-Horon.

[Please comment at my collected Book II notes post, on Dreamwidth for preference, or on LiveJournal.]

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
It is now Tisha BeAv, the anniversary (to a first approximation) of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and the Second by the Romans, and I spent last night listening to אֵיכָה (the Book of Lamentations) and קִינוֹת (dirges), by candlelight in a ruined synagogue.

A few days, out of the blue, I got an email from someone in Melbourne, who was preparing a talk on the Destruction of the Temple by the Romans, asking what I thought of the following BBC dramatisation of The Jewish War:



My response:

Bearing in mind I am by no means an expert on this period of history: having read Antiquities and War, I remember only bits:

It seems mostly accurate (and I've just noticed Martin Goodman's name appears on the closing credits), but there are bits that are elided, and in so eliding, change the perspective. For example, the cause for the outbreak of war was not taxation, but antisemitism by the Gentiles of Caesarea, building a factory mostly blocking access to the local synagogue, then having a man sacrifice animals on an large overturned pot in front of the entrance on Shabbos. The Jews complained to Florus, the procurator, but Florus was only interested in manufacturing excuses for war. That was when he broke into the Temple in Jerusalem and seized their funds.

Another example: Josephus was not captured immediately after the Romans took Jotapata, as portrayed in the programme, but three days afterwards, by which time they had destroyed the city. And though he was given away by a woman of his party captured by the Romans, as shown in the programme, he had supplies to last for many days (though these were, in truth, prepared by the other people he found there: he came across them by chance).

The Roman defeat at Beth-Horon early in the war only occurred after the Romans had conquered much of the countryside, and reached the outskirts of Jerusalem. If Cestius Gallus had pursued his advantage and besieged Jerusalem there and then, much of what later happened could have been avoided—after all, the moderates were still in charge of the Jerusalem government, not yet having been killed by the zealots. But for unknown reasons, he did not, and withdrew, and it was on his withdrawal that his troops were massacred at Beth-Horon.

The only other thing that struck me notably about it is that the Second Temple never contained the Ark of the Covenant, which you see the Romans removing at the end. That vanished the best part of a thousand years earlier. (I think it's supposed to be the Ark of the Covenant; it's got what look like cherubs on top, and it's too bulky to be the Table of the Shewbread. It might just be the incense altar, though.)

Also, historians are divided as to whether the Temple was really destroyed against Titus's orders, or whether this was just Josephus trying to paint Titus, who was by now his patron, in a good light.

[Josephus] Josephus notes
lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

(No, you haven't missed two installments; I'm counting my book review as the first two posts, and I'm not covering Book I and the first half of Book II, because they repeat material from Antiquities.)

In War II.8.163, Josephus attributes to the Pharisees the belief that only good people get to be reincarnated:

They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, - but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.

This is, of course, completely the opposite way around to Indian religions today!

As for Judaism today, it is mostly not so hot on reincarnation, but there are some who say that there are only a certain number of souls going around, which have to be reused after they run out. The question is: as the Earth's population increases, what happens when the living outnumber the dead? And, indeed, has this already happened? Find out )

War makes use of the term "rabbi", as do the Gospels, which were written at the same time. I have heard that this is anachronistic, though: the term "rabbi" was not in use at the time of Jesus—and is not used of any of the Sages of that time—but only came into use in the mid first century.

I had vaguely heard before I started reading this work of the kings Agrippa I and Agrippa II. What I hadn't realised was that Agrippa II wasn't actually king of Judaea! II.11:

Read more... )
An insight into the city that proved the cause of the conflict, Caesarea (II.13):
Read more... )
That said, he then almost immediately says (II.14), in the context of increasing lawlessness and corruption and financial oppression of the people in Jerusalem:
Upon the whole, nobody durst speak their minds, but tyranny was generally tolerated; and at this time were those seeds sown which brought the city to destruction.
The problem was largely due to the procurator, Gessius Florus:
Read more... )

One should be absolutely appalled by this.

(As for the figure of three million, Josephus is given to exaggeration, and Williamson comments "Josephus has surpassed himself this time!" However, the Talmud (IIRC, though possibly it was Antiquities—the book I'd check this in is six hundred miles away!) talks about the priests setting aside, one year, one kidney from every Paschal sacrifice, which, on counting afterwards, they discovered there was something like a hundred thousand. Given the size of the typical family group for the Paschal meal (which had to be large enough to consume the entire animal), this meant there would indeed have been over a million pilgrims in Jerusalem at the time.)

In II.16, King Agrippa II delivers a lengthy speech to try and dissuade the Judaeans from revolting against Rome. I had assumed it to be another case of Josephus putting his own words into other people's mouths; this commentator suggests it was actually Agrippa's own words, given by him to Josephus, with whom he was friends. In the middle of this I was amused to discover a reference in Williamson's translation to "Britain, that land of mystery"; Whitson's translation is more prosaic: "such British islands as were never known before".

Not only did Agrippa argue against revolting, but (II.17) he lent help to try and put the revolt down in its earliest stages, after the insurgents had persuaded the priests to discontinue the sacrifices for Rome and the Emperor, which, amounting as it did to sedition, made a Roman response inevitable.

Read more... )

II.17 gives us a minor Jewish festival, of which few I suspect have heard nowadays:

The next day [the fourteenth of Av]* was the festival of Xylophory [Williamson: Feast of Wood-carrying]; upon which the custom was for every one to bring wood for the altar (that there might never be a want of fuel for that fire which was unquenchable and always burning).

* This Thursday, this year.

Funnily enough, I came across a reference to this somewhere completely elsewhere at around this time, probably in Eliyahu Kitov's The Book Of Our Heritage, but I can't check as my copy of Volume III is now six hundred miles away.

The Romans having sent Cestius Gallus to put the revolt down, he got as far as the gates of Jerusalem, then, strangely, retreated (II.19):

When Cestius was come into the city, he set the part called Bezetha, which is called Cenopolis, [or the new city,] on fire; as he did also to the timber market; after which he came into the upper city, and pitched his camp over against the royal palace; and had he but at this very time attempted to get within the walls by force, he had won the city presently, and the war had been put an end to at once; but Tyrannius Priscus, the muster-master of the army, and a great number of the officers of the horse, had been corrupted by Florus, and diverted him from that his attempt; and that was the occasion that this war lasted so very long, and thereby the Jews were involved in such incurable calamities.

See my previous post for why Florus wanted war. Florus and Priscus have a hell of a lot to answer for, then; had it not been for them, the revolt would have been put down, the Temple remained standing, and hundreds of thousands of Jews not killed, enslaved or driven into exile.

Josephus says:
And now it was that a horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.
Williamson's translation is stronger:
I think that because of those scoundrels God had already turned His back even on the Sanctuary, and would not permit that day to witness the end of the war.

As it happens, Priscus got his due punishment: He was killed by the Jews during the Romans' retreat, even before their subsequent massacre at Beth-Horon.

In II.20, we learn that "almost all of" the wives of the people of Damascus had converted to Judaism; as all too often in War, the context in which we learn it is not pleasant:
Read more... )
With the Romans temporarily driven from the land, Josephus is appointed governor of Galilee, where he first encounters John of Gischala, "the most unprincipled trickster that ever won ill fame by such vicious habits" [Williamson]. After John has tried to induce towns to revolt against Josephus, and came within a squeak of assassinating him (Josephus only escaped by taking a flying leap onto a boat and making for the centre of Lake Tiberias), he tried to get the authorities in Jerusalem to impeach Josephus. Josephus ignores the impeachment attempt, and retakes the towns that go over to the other side, but then Tiberias revolted again, calling in King Agrippa and being taken by Roman cavalry.

Josephus is at the time in Tarichaeae, and has no soldiers with him, having sent them all out in search of food; but he still manages to retake the city through an amazing tactic:

Read more... )

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

In Book XX Chapter 10 of Antiquities (hah, you thought I'd finished with that, didn't you?), Josephus gives a chapter about the High Priests, which mentions how much time various periods covered. I thought it would be good to see how much time I think these periods covered, to learn how Josephus comes up with such differing figures for the total period of time covered by his book from me.

First, let's cover the ground before the first High Priest. Yadda )

Hence the chronology from the Creation to this point is roughly accurate.

Now the number of years during the rule of these thirteen [High Priests], from the day when our fathers departed out of Egypt, under Moses their leader, until the building of that temple which king Solomon erected at Jerusalem, were six hundred and twelve.

That's a long period. The chronology at the back of the Hertz Chumash gives the thirteenth century BCE as the date of the Exodus, though some try and link it with the eruption of Thera two or three centuries further back. Given that Jerusalem not so long ago celebrated the three thousandth anniversary of its conquest by King David, that doesn't leave enough time for the figure Josephus gives.

So what does the Bible actually say? The Israelites spent:

40 years under Moses, 30 years under Joshua, etc under lots of Judges you've never even heard of, to 40 years under David )

This totals 612 years, the same as Josephus gives. It's worth noting, though, that many of the figures here, partly the 40s and the 80s, are round numbers. (The reign of David is not, as it's divided into seven years and six months rule over Judah, and thirty-three years over all Israel.) Digression as to historicity )

All that notwithstanding, 1 Kings 6:1 says the construction of the Temple began 480 years after the Exodus, and lasted seven years starting from the fourth year of Solomon's reign. This evidently indicates that the round figures in the list above are generally overestimates, and cannot be taken literally, as Josephus does. Either way, they are irreconcilable with a thirteenth century date for the Exodus, but let's not go too far into that, as the Exodus is impossible to pin a fixed date to. Let's instead start our fixed dating with David's conquest of Jerusalem in 1000 BCE.

Josephus says the Temple lasted 466 years, 6 months and 10 days )

How long do other sources say the Temple lasted for? 410 years, or 372 )

Once again, then, Josephus's dates are overestimates.

Josephus gives dates for Second Temple history until the Hasmonean uprising )

According to Wikipedia, Jonathan officiated as High Priest for the first time on Succos in 153 BCE. This gives 434 years between the Fall of the Temple and this event, as against 494 by Josephus.

This is considerably better than the (later) traditional Jewish dating, which loses 163 years in the Second Temple period. Wikipedia explains the reason for this; the years seem to get lost from the Persian period, which the traditional chronology counts as having lasted eighteen years—it was actually 189. Though Josephus errs in this direction too, by conflating Sanballaṭ I (mid to late fifth century BCE) with Sanballaṭ III, making the Biblical Sanballaṭ contemporaneous with Alexander the Great's conquest in 332 BCE.

For the rest of Second Temple history, Josephus is only out by five years )

The Living Torah gives the date of the Exodus as 2448 AM. This then puts the date of the Destruction of the Second Temple according to Josephus at 4240 AM, I reckon—an overestimate of 410 years. This is rather less than I was expecting, so it looks like he's being a bit disingenuous when he tells us his book contains the history of five thousand years.

Well, either that or he suffered from dyscalculia.

[Josephus] Josephus notes

lethargic_man: (serious)

When I mentioned to my father I was reading Josephus, his instant reaction was "He was a turncoat!" Williamson says:

'The traitor of Jerusalem', as Dr Cecil Roth calls him, has damned himself for all time by his own accounts of what he did at Jotapata—surely the most appalling story of cowardice, duplicity and treason ever penned.

Williamson continues further in that vein, so I was expecting the sympathy for Josephus I had built up as a reader of his to evaporate when I got to the point when he went over to the Romans. To my surprise, it did not. Indeed, I would go so far as to say I would have done what he did! It's true that he did suggest defecting during the siege of Jotapata, but he was talked out of this, and continued trying to defend the city until the bitter end.

After the city had fallen and the Romans were destroying it, Josephus hid along with forty VIPs in a cave, where the Romans found him when his location was given away. They offered him safe conduct if he surrendered; Josephus, sceptical about their intent, was reassured when they sent a friend of his to talk him out, and was about to surrender when the others hiding with him raised a stink, demanding he kill himself instead. When Josephus lectured them about Judaism's abhorrence of suicide, they all bar killed him themselves. Eventually he persuaded them to draw lots to kill each other, and somehow managed ("shall we put it down to divine providence or just to luck?" he says, though many suspect he fiddled the lots) to be one of the last two, at which point he persuaded the other survivor to surrender with him.

Choosing to die rather than surrender at this stage would have achieved nothing: the battle was already lost. As for being a traitor, Josephus did not go on to become a military commander for the enemy; his role for the Romans was limited to trying to persuade his countrymen to surrender. In that how was he any different from, say, King Agrippa II, who delivered a speech trying to talk the Judaeans out of war immediately before its start, and continued doing so on the Romans' side throughout the war?

If only the Jews had done as Agrippa urged! There was no way the Jews were going to hold off the might of the Roman Empire* in the best of circumstances—but these were not the best of circumstances: Rather like in Iraq in the last decade, the political instability led to religious fundamentalists trying to take over society. As I mentioned in my last Josephus post, at this point the Romans could almost have stood back and let the Jews get on with destroying their own society.

It's heartbreaking to read. The Talmud talks about the Second Temple being destroyed through שִׂנְאַת חִינָם, baseless hatred, and that's certainly the case. The fundamentalists took over the government in Jerusalem by means of killing the moderates, forced those that would have waited out the Roman siege to fight by burning all the supplies, leading to conditions of appalling deprivation, then waged a civil war against each other whilst the rest of the country was falling to the Romans city by city.

"Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land", the festival Mussaf Amidah says; and you don't even need to believe in God to see how true that is. Every Jew should read this account, as a indication of what lack of unity amongst the Jewish people can lead to, so that we pull back from the brink and never let anything like this happen to us again.

* King Agrippa II's abovementioned speech on this subject (II.18.376) amusingly references both my nationality and [livejournal.com profile] aviva_m's:
Who is there among you that hath not heard of the great number of the Germans? You have, to be sure, yourselves seen them to be strong and tall, and that frequently, since the Romans have them among their captives everywhere; yet these Germans, who dwell in an immense country, who have minds greater than their bodies, and a soul that despises death, and who are in rage more fierce than wild beasts, have the Rhine for the boundary of their enterprises, and are tamed by eight Roman legions. Such of them as were taken captive became their servants; and the rest of the entire nation were obliged to save themselves by flight. Do you also, who depend on the walls of Jerusalem, consider what a wall the Britons had; for the Romans sailed away to them, and subdued them while they were encompassed by the ocean, and inhabited an island that is not less than the [continent of this] habitable earth; and four legions are a sufficient guard to so large an island.

† Indeed, the culture in first century Judaea had more in common with that of contemporary Arab society than that of the Israel of today: the images we see in our media of large crowds of vocal protesters liable to turn rowdy at the drop of a hat recur again and again in Josephus. No orderly camping in Tel Aviv city centre here to try and sort out society's problems!

[Josephus] Josephus notes

lethargic_man: (Default)

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. Yadda yadda yadda. )

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!

Read more... )

[Josephus] Josephus notes

lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

We have now entered into the three weeks leading up to the ninth of Av, on which date both the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Second Temple by the Romans. Conventionally it is explained the First Temple was destroyed as punishment for the Jews' idolatry, and the Second Temple through שנאת חינם, baseless hatred—which last didn't need G-d's intervention to lead to the Destruction of the Temple; as The Jewish War makes clear, the Romans could pretty much have stood back and let the Jews destroy themselves. Anyhow, here's why Josephus thought G-d brought the Destruction of the Temple upon the Jews (XX.8.165): (Jonathan was the High Priest.)

Read more... )
The trigger for the revolt of the Judaeans against the Romans, which led eventually to the Destruction, was a clash between the Jewish and Greek ("Syrian") residents of Caesarea. The seeds of this clash were sown a little while in advance (XX.8.163):
Read more... )

[Please comment at my collected Book XX notes post, on Dreamwidth for preference, or on LiveJournal.]

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

Jewish tradition says that in the last century of the Second Temple, the office of High Priest was corrupt, and was bought for money. These high priests were not spiritually worthy of the office, the story goes, and when they went into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, G-d would strike them dead, and they would have to be pulled out by the rope attached to them.

According to Josephus, the office of High Priest was indeed, transferred to man to man during the Second Temple period, rather than bequeathed from father to son; and he is incensed at the cause of this (XIV.2-3):

Read more... )

* This is Hyrcanus II, who had been High Priest, but had had his ears cut off by his nephew, Antigonus, rendering him ineligible to serve as High Priest.

However, though the high priesthood was often transferred from person to person afterwards, it was always for political reasons, not money; e.g. (XX.1):

Herod also, the brother of the deceased Agrippa, who was then possessed of the royal authority over Chalcis, petitioned Claudius Caesar for the authority over the temple, and the money of the sacred treasure, and the choice of the high priests, and obtained all that he petitioned for. So that after that time this authority continued among all his descendants till the end of the war Accordingly, Herod removed the last high priest, called Cimtheras, and bestowed that dignity on his successor Joseph, the son of Cantos.

XX.5.115 tells of an incident which is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (where the perpetrator is named Apustumus), is deemed to have happened on the seventeen of Tammuz and is still counted amongst the incidents mourned on that day (which falls this year this Saturday, though it will be commemorated on Sunday instead):

A Sefer Torah was ripped up by a Roman soldier )

[Please comment at my collected Book XX notes post, on Dreamwidth for preference, or on LiveJournal.]

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)
XX.1.4 refers to a Jew with a very odd name:
Read more... )

"Ḥanniba`al" means the Ba`al [the Master] is gracious, referring to the ancient pagan gods of the Phoenicians. One does not expect to see a Jew bearing that name, any more than today a name like Christopher. (As an aside, in [livejournal.com profile] papersky's books The King's Peace and The King's Name, the Phoenicians were at an early stage converted to Judaism (this is all well off-screen); at my suggestion she gave the name Elḥanan (G-d is gracious) to the Hannibal equivalent in that world.)

Ch. 2 tells the story, which I had previously come across in Ancient Jewish Novels and elsewhere, of the royal family of Adiabene, a kingdom in present-day Iraq, which (royal family) converted to Judaism, and bestowed a large amount of money towards the Temple in Jerusalem.

XX.2.20:

Read more... )

How can Izates be his only begotten son when you've just told us about his elder brother Monobazus! The online commentary explains:

Read more... )
XX.4.95:
Read more... )

The pyramids of Jerusalem!? Apparently so: the online commentary says:

These pyramids or pillars, erected by Helena, queen of Adiabene, near Jerusalem, three in number, are mentioned by Eusebius, in his Eccles. Hist. B. II. ch. 12, for which Dr. Hudson refers us to Valesius's notes upon that place.—They are also mentioned by Pausanias, as hath been already noted, ch. 2. sect. 6. Reland guesses that that now called Absalom's Pillar may be one of them.

Jewish tradition says that in the last century of the Second Temple, the office of High Priest was corrupt, and was bought for money. These high priests were not spritually worthy of the office, the story goes, and when they went into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, G-d would strike them dead, and they would have to be pulled out by the rope attached to them.

According to Josephus, the office of High Priest was indeed, transferred to man to man during the Second Temple period, rather than bequeathed from father to son; and he is incensed at the cause of this (XIV.2-3):

Read more... )

* This is Hyrcanus II, who had been High Priest, but had had his ears cut off by his nephew, Antigonus, rendering him ineligible to serve as High Priest.

However, though the high priesthood was often transferred from person to person afterwards, it was always for political reasons, not money; e.g. (XX.1):

Herod also, the brother of the deceased Agrippa, who was then possessed of the royal authority over Chalcis, petitioned Claudius Caesar for the authority over the temple, and the money of the sacred treasure, and the choice of the high priests, and obtained all that he petitioned for. So that after that time this authority continued among all his descendants till the end of the war Accordingly, Herod removed the last high priest, called Cimtheras, and bestowed that dignity on his successor Joseph, the son of Cantos.

XX.5.115 tells of an incident which is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud (where the perpetrator is named Apustumus), is deemed to have happened on the seventeen of Tammuz and is still counted amongst the incidents mourned on that day (which falls this year this Saturday, though it will be commemorated on Sunday instead):

A Sefer Torah was ripped up by a Roman soldier )

We have now entered into the three weeks leading up to the ninth of Av, on which date both the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the Second Temple by the Romans. Conventionally it is explained the First Temple was destroyed as punishment for the Jews' idolatry, and the Second Temple through שנאת חינם, baseless hatred—which last didn't need G-d's intervention to lead to the Destruction of the Temple; as The Jewish War makes clear, the Romans could pretty much have stood back and let the Jews destroy themselves. Anyhow, here's why Josephus thought G-d brought the Destruction of the Temple upon the Jews (XX.8.165): (Jonathan was the High Priest.)

Read more... )
The trigger for the revolt of the Judaeans against the Romans, which led eventually to the Destruction, was a clash between the Jewish and Greek ("Syrian") residents of Caesarea. The seeds of this clash were sown a little while in advance (XX.8.163):
Read more... )

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


lethargic_man: "Happy the person that finds wisdom, and the person that gets understanding."—Prov. 3:13. Icon by Tamara Rigg (limmud)

XIX.7.326

As for the walls of Jerusalem, that were adjoining to the new city [Bezetha], he repaired them at the expense of the public, and built them wider in breadth, and higher in altitude; and he had made them too strong for all human power to demolish, unless Marcus, the then president of Syria, had by letter informed Claudius Caesar of what he was doing. And when Claudius had some suspicion of attempts for innovation, he sent to Agrippa to leave off the building of those walls presently. So he obeyed, as not thinking it proper to contradict Claudius.

One wonders if history might have turned out different had Agrippa succeeded in what he had started. (Innovation here, and in Josephus generally, means political innovation, i.e. overturning the established order.)

I, Claudius relates how Agrippa, from having been a lifelong friend of the Emperor Claudius, eventually rebelled from him, but died before the rebellion had a chance to get going. Josephus makes no mention of this, though.

I'd heard the following story, which I am quoting from Wikipedia, before, but thought it was about Herod, worrying about his Idumaean ancestry. Turns out, it was about a Herod, but Herod Agrippa (= Agrippa I), rather than Herod the Great:

The Mishnah explained how the Jews of the Second Temple era interpreted the requirement of Deuteronomy 31:10–13 that the king read the Torah to the people. At the conclusion of the first day of Sukkot immediately after the conclusion of the seventh year in the cycle, they erected a wooden dais in the Temple court, upon which the king sat. The synagogue attendant took a Torah scroll and handed it to the synagogue president, who handed it to the High Priest's deputy, who handed it to the High Priest, who handed it to the king. The king stood and received it, and then read sitting. King Agrippa stood and received it and read standing, and the sages praised him for doing so. When Agrippa reached the commandment of Deuteronomy 17:15 that “you may not put a foreigner over you” as king, his eyes ran with tears, but they said to him, “Don’t fear, Agrippa, you are our brother, you are our brother!” The king would read from Deuteronomy 1:1 up through the Shema (Deut. 6:4–9), and then Deuteronomy 11:13–21, the portion regarding tithes (Deut. 14:22–29), the portion of the king (Deut. 17:14–20), and the blessings and curses (Deut. 27–28). The king would recite the same blessings as the High Priest, except that the king would substitute a blessing for the festivals instead of one for the forgiveness of sin. (Mishnah Sotah 7:8; Babylonian Talmud Sotah 41a.)

The reason the people told him "you are our brother" is of course because Hyrcanus I conquered Idumaea and gave the inhabitants the choice of exile or converting to Judaism.

[Josephus] Josephus notes         Jewish learning notes index


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