Friday, February 8, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 3



One book gone and still going strong.

New Complete Works of Josephus, translated by William Whiston and edited by Paul L. Maier. Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids): 1999. ISBN: 0-8254-2924-2. 1142 pages. $24.99.


The Vita is now behind us and I have just finished Book 1 of Jewish Antiquities, putting me just about where I need to be on Day 3. In other words, we're right up to speed.

Is it just me, or does the edition I'm using have the world's ugliest cover?

The Antiquities, in its first several books, is an outline of biblical histories with some interpolated material. For someone who's read through the Old Testament multiple times, Josephus's version makes for a nice, fresh angle. He tends, like some other ancient historians, to give the characters lengthy speeches, which are fun. He also attributes a great deal of astronomical and mathematical knowledge to the Patriarchs; of particular interest to me are the two pillars containing astronomical data, supposedly constructed by the Sethites before the Flood. A little tidbit like that sparks the imagination of a fantasist.

Also fun are translator William Whiston's footnotes. Whiston comes across as a congenial, credulous, and slightly verbose man of letters. Barely able to contain his own eccentric theological ideas and fond of quoting various texts that he apparently accepts uncritically, he makes for an entertaining guide to Josephus's writings. In particular, Whiston is of the strange opinion that Josephus converted to Christianity. Paul L. Maier, editor of this volume, usually adds no comments to Whiston's rambling footnotes, but at that one, he steps in to mention that Josephus's conversion is attested in no source whatsoever.

Maier's own commentary is quite sparse and appears in a few boxes placed at intervals through the text. So far, he has merely summarized what Josephus says and has sometimes added a few historical details.

Book 1 of the Antiquities ends with the death of Isaac. Tomorrow, I will start in on Book 2, which begins with Esau and Jacob dividing their inheritance and continues with the story of Joseph in Egypt. Biblically, we're still in Genesis.

Who else out there is reading? Tell us where you're at.
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