Sunday, March 9, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 33

Into the War.

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.

I have just completed book 4 of the Jewish War and am, I believe, well on my way to finishing the book by the allotted time, which is a great relief to me, as I've no doubt I would be much lowered in the eyes of my readers if I was found to be unable to complete a book of a mere 1,100 pages in 40+ days.

Josephus was eye witness to much of what he describes in the War. In particular, he is quite detailed in the description of the siege of Jotapata, in which he was opposite number to General (later Emperor) Vespasian. At the end of the siege, when Jotapata was taken, Josephus pulled one of his more conniving stunts. Having hidden himself, with a number of others, in a hole in the ground, he desired to surrender to the Romans but was prevented by his companions, who preferred death and threatened to kill him. Josephus then convinced them all to make a suicide pact and slay each other. When the smoke cleared, Josephus and one other person were still standing. The two of them promptly surrendered to the Romans. Ah, Josephus, you sneaky bastard.

At the end of the present book, Vespasian has become emperor, and we are now getting ready for the siege of Jerusalem itself. The various factions at Jerusalem have been spending their time slaughtering each other so as to make the Romans' job easier. In particular, Josephus has many harsh words for a particular John of Gischala, on whom he lays almost all the blame for Jerusalem's destruction. In particular, John apparently had working for him a group of killer transvestites:

...and during this time did the mischievous contrivances and courage [of John] corrupt the body of the Galileans; for these Galileans had advanced this John, and made him very potent, who made them suitable repayment from the authority he had obtained by their means; for he permitted them to do all things that any of them desired to do, while their inclination to plunder was insatiable, as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich; and for the murdering of the men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them. They also devoured what spoils they had taken, together with their blood, and indulged themselves in feminine wantonness, without any disturbance, until they were satiated with it; while they decked their hair, and put on women's garments, and were besmeared over with ointments; and that they might appear very comely, they had paints under their eyes, and imitated not only the ornaments, but also the lusts of women, and were guilty of such intolerable uncleanness, that they invented unlawful pleasures of that sort. And thus did they roll themselves up and down the city, as in a brothel-house, and defiled it entirely with their impure actions; nay, while their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with their right hands; and when their gait was effeminate, they presently attacked men, and became warriors, and drew their swords from under their finely dyed cloaks, and ran everybody through whom they alighted upon. [War 4.9.10 (4.558-563)]

History is weird, man.
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