Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 Lenten Read-a-Thon Day 45

Wait a 45?

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.

Ever feel like you've gotten more Lent than you signed up for? I'm kidding, of course; I know how it all works: it involves numbers and stuff, which means I don't want to deal with it.

Speaking of which, finishing this book is like finishing a doctoral dissertation: sheer pain. Things were going fine while we had J Dawg himself giving us the lowdown on the history of the Jewish people, but after that's all said and done, translator William Whiston has to step in and offer a verbose selection of essays, the longest of which is (*shudder*) "Dissertation 5: Upon the Chronology of Josephus." This might not sound so bad until I remind you that Whiston was, by trade, a mathematician. I'd tell you what this essay is about, but I remember not a word of it. Not a word.

The other essays aren't nearly so bad. Indeed, watching Whiston argue his bizarre positions based on scanty evidence is quite amusing. I was particularly entertained by his argument that Josephus became an Ebionite Christian and wrote the fragment of a homily on Hades. Whiston has not a leg to stand on, but he still fills a few pages on the subject. He also convinces himself, and tries unsuccessfully to convince me, that Josephus had access to a set of scriptures laid up in the Temple by Nehemiah, and that these scriptures were better and more accurate than all our extant copies, and that this explains most of the differences between the Old Testament and Josephus's Antiquities. Especially, Whiston spends a good deal of time arguing that the phrase "until this day," which appears many times in the Old Testament but fewer times in Josephus, are later interpolations. In response, I point out that Josephus paraphrases and summarizes the texts rather than copying them exactly. Furthermore, he would naturally leave most occurrences of this phrase out of his history, since most of them would no longer apply after the Romans had destroyed Israel. Besides that, Josephus has clearly worked later commentary into the text and changed parts that might embarrass him before a Gentile audience.

So there you have it: our final reflection on the book. Barring mishap, I'll come back tomorrow with a review.
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