Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book Review: The New Complete Works of Josephus

A not quite ideal presentation of the great work.

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.

It is of course pointless for me to review the works of Josephus. They are, for obvious reasons, among the Great Books. Only serious historians can presume to critique Josephus, so I will leave that up to them. William Whiston's translation, too, is the most readily available in English, so a review of it would be likewise presumptuous and unnecessary. I will only mention that his style is slightly archaic and for that reason enjoyable, and then move on to discussing the Kregel edition specifically.

The Kregel hardback edition of Josephus's complete works appears to be well constructed; it withstood the abuse I gave it during this reading, the paper is opaque and of a good weight, and the text, though not exactly large, is no smaller than what can be found in a typical well-printed Bible. On the whole, it is a handsome edition (though shame on Ragont Design's cover art).

It could, however, use some improvements. Several photographs and a few maps appear throughout, but the photos are frequently blurry and the maps are usually unhelpful. The few maps that are present are general maps that do not serve to illustrate the text or help the reader locate most of the places Josephus mentions. An edition with better photographs and more helpful maps is in order. Also, a table of figures and illustrations should appear after the table of contents to make these features easier to find.

This edition is replete with typos. I expect a few typos in a volume this size, and if I only noticed two or three, I wouldn't mention them, but I noticed typos every five or six pages. Usually, they come in the form of single incorrect letters that change whole words (such as bad for had), which in turn make hash out of Whiston's already complicated sentences.

Probably the only thing that could make this edition of Josephus more attractive than another hardback edition is Paul L. Maier's commentary. The commentary is, however, quite sparse, and Maier usually does little more than summarize Josephus's information on certain subjects. He also fails to deliver on at least one promise: the book is supposed to contain a reconstructed version of Josephus's section on Jesus (Ant. 18.63), which contains Christian interpolations. This reconstruction never appears in this volume, though Maier does present it in the appendix to his translation of the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius.

On the whole, this is a good edition, but it needs to be more carefully edited and could benefit from a few improvements.

And that, finally and at last, ends the 2008 Lenten Nonfiction Read-a-Thon. You may now return to your pulp literature.
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