1. The practice of rewriting texts and offering the retelling as an authorial composition was common in antiquity. Historians of events situated in the distant past often made a virtue out of necessity by rewriting existing literary sources. (Were the historians fabricating or were they telling downright lies? Did they quote supposed authors who had no sources?)
2. Imitations of a past author's style or spirit was acceptable: slavish reproductions were open to the charge of plagiarism. (So imitating a past author's style or spirit was acceptable; really! And if you could get away with it so were slavish reproductions or plagiarism)
3. Eastern peoples also rewrote texts although not always for the same reasons as their counterparts in the West. (And even westerners were not innocent! Well! Well!)
4. These traditions converge in the Jewish Antiquities of Josephus. (This is academic speak for its all there in Josephus. Apparently, Josephus calls his retellings a "translation from the Hebrew", would you believe)
So now you know how the writings attributed to Josephus were produced. The Christian Gregory Sterling has educated us. And Steve Mason, another Christian, has given his blessing to what Gregory wrote. May be they are not blinded by their faith after all. But it has a modern day ring. For isn't that how much theological stuff is produced, by professors and their Ph.D students alike, building a packs of cards citing one another?
Mason Has Done a Runner
Mason's 'Critical Understanding'
So long as it doesn't contradict his Christian beliefs! Typically, his beliefs get in the way of truth, as with most Christian scholars. He has not picked-up on the many fabrications in the writings attributed to Josephus presented as real history. Like most other commentators with a faith background he takes events in that literature literally. He joins Martin Goodman, Barbara Levick and many others. Although Mason often qualifies what he says with the ubiquitous "according to Josephus", in Understanding Josephus, he believes and promotes what Josephus wrote in Antiquities:
- King Agrippa II was genuine
- Berenice was Titus's lover
- She committed incest with her brother Agrippa II
- Her supposed husband was Marcus Alexander son of Julius Alexander
- Julius Alexander was once governor of Judea
- Josephus was a captured enemy soldier
- Agrippa II wrote 62 letters to Josephus
- Agrippa II and Berenice were important friends of Josephus. They brokered Josephus's War with provincials, Vespasian and Titus in Rome
- Epaphroditus pursued Josephus because the former was curious about Judean history
- The high priest Eleazar of bygone days agreed to the request of Ptolemy II who was eager to have a copy of the Judean laws in Greek
- The proper constitution of Judea was a priestly aristocracy led by the high priest and a senate of priests
- The high priests were all listed down to Josephus's own time
- Moses was the instigator of this aristocracy
- When the prophet Samuel was asked by the people to appoint a king he was profoundly upset because he was strongly committed to the aristocracy of priests
- The aristocracy of priests fell into corruption and a king was appointed resulting in civil war
- A letter from Antiochus III identified the senate of priests as the governing body of the Jews, and the Hasmonean Johnathan wrote as high priest in response, on behalf of the priests
- The early Hasmoneans up to John Hyrcanus continued with this form of government
- The Hasmonean Aristobulus changed the government into a monarchy
- The Hasmonean house fell, and the Roman Gabinus restored high priestly rule which remained up until Josephus's own time, despite the following
- King Herod, an exception, was only a half Jew, being half Idumean. Herod's life served as an example of what happens when God's laws (political constitutions) are disobeyed. Herod's personal miseries and horrible death was God's punishment for his evil.
- Mason forgot to mention king Agrippa I
- The Pharisees on the one hand and rebels on the other lead the people into catastrophic courses
- The Emperor Gaius had a mad plan to install his statue in the temple. Gaius's assassination was God's punishment
- Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes were schools of Jewish philosophy
- Queen Helena and her son Izates converted to the Jewish religion
- Antiquities was written to give a full account of Judean politic (its origins, philosophy, principles, history) to interested Gentiles in Rome
- No one else would have been able to write Antiquities
When was Antiquities Written? Was there an Earlier Version?
On page 64 of Understanding Josephus, Mason asks a number of questions, which he rather arrogantly claims he is asking for the first time: "For whom did Josephus write, and what did he mean to tell them? How can we match what is in his works to the particular social situations in which he wrote? How did his first hearers and readers in Rome understand his lengthy treatise?"
It didn't occur to Mason to ask when Antiquities was written? Given Gregory Sterling's comments about the way historians rewrote ancient texts, this is a fair question for such a large work. According to Note 3 to the Preface, it was published in CE 93 about 18 years after War. When would someone have had that sort of time?
Greeks had been in Rome for a long time and, Greek although despised by the Roman elite, was well understood by them. So had a request been made by someone in the Roman elite for a history of the Jews before Josephus produced his version? Did Josephus do what many ancient writers did, and edit or rewrite someone else's Antiquities? And was the purpose of an original Antiquities similar to the version produced by Josephus, but different in some way? Because of the length of time it would have taken to write, an earlier version would have been written well before any war with the Romans.
The Preface to Antiquities
Josephus says in the preface to Antiquities:
1. "since I was myself interested in that war which we Jews had with the Romans, and knew myself its particular actions, and what conclusion it had, I was forced to give the history of it, because I saw others perverted the truth of those actions in their writings."
Josephus speaks of "we Jews" as though he was speaking for all Jews. We know that certain groups of Jews have argued for centuries. He cannot be speaking for all Jews. The "others" obviously had a different opinion of what happened. After all, the main extant written evidence for the war is from Josephus. Was Josephus's War fabricated? There is no archaeological evidence of any war in Galilee which is what Josephus says. The only place where there is archaeological evidence is Judea. Yet Josephus claims he knew of "its particular actions" mostly in Galilee where he supposedly organised defences. Was the war different from what Josephus said it was? Was he writing what he had been told to by his Flavian masters? Did the Romans want to conceal what really happened? Did Vespasian misclaim a great victory over the Jews? He arranged a misclaimed victory for Claudius in Britain. Who were the 800 or so Jewish prisoners that Vespasian took to Rome for his triumph? Why so few Jewish prisoners? I say they were prophets who had defended the temple and tried to prevent its destruction. Why didn't Josephus write about the wealth and power that Vespasian gained after his destruction of the temple? There must have been a mutual agreement that suited both the Flavians and the priest Josephus (whoever he was)? The Romans would surely not have allowed the Jews develop their religion completely independently. The aim of both parties was to eliminate the prophets from history.
2. "And indeed I did formerly intend, when I wrote of the war, to explain who the Jews originally were, what fortunes they had been subject to, and by what legislature they had been instructed in piety, and the exercise of other virtues, what wars they also they had in remote ages, until they were unwillingly engaged in this last with the Romans."
In the short space of the two pages of the preface, the words law, or lawgiver or legislator occur 12 times. Josephus's aim is clear. He sees the legislator Moses as the dispenser of Gods' laws which if a person obeys he will have "perfect virtue". But he wasn't of the tribe of Aaron and therefore not a high priest which Josephus supports. Moses not only legislated for priests but prophets also. In his books Understanding Josephus and Josephus, Judea and Christian Origins, Mason doesn't mention prophets once. What did happen to the prophets? Moses said, "I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them" (Num.11.29). And "he (Moses) took the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again" (Num.11.25). The footnote has: or, "they prophesied and continued to do so". "Moses placed the gold altar in the Tent of Meeting in front of the curtain and then burned incense on it." (Ex.40.26). I suggest that the prophets have been written out of history by Josephus with the mutual agreement of the Romans. Josephus favoured the priests and hated the prophets. The prophets knew that the war had been on a much smaller scale with Nero's army defeating the priests at Qumran, Machaerus and Masada in 66 CE. The Flavians hated the prophets because they had resisted the destruction of the temple five years after Nero had left Judea for his Greek holiday. The prophets knew that Vespasian's war was misclaimed and completely false.
In writing his version of Antiquities, Josephus says that he was imitating the generosity of the high priest Eleazar who supposedly shared the Jewish laws with the Egyptian king Ptolemy II. But Eleazar didn't appear that generous, because Josephus says the interpreters that Eleazar supposedly sent to Alexandria gave Ptolemy "only the books of the law" ("while there were a number of other matters in our sacred books"). So this was how Josephus was going to imitate the generosity of "our high priest". This is inconsistent with the actual story in Antiquities. It is also clear that Josephus is a supporter of high priests. The whole story is a pack of lies. There were tens of thousand Jews living in Egypt at the time. Many would have understood Hebrew and Greek and be able to translate from one language to the other. Also there was a temple at Leontopolis in Egypt which presumably was different in some way from that in Jerusalem. There would have been Jews there who were capable translators. In the text of Josephus, it is quite clear that the Jews of Egypt (supporters of prophets) and the Jews of Judea (supporters of priests) were enemies. Josephus probably didn't like to think that the Jews of Egypt could translate the Jewish bible.
Again we have the all inclusive "the Jews". But was it a particular group of Jews who really were unwilling to engage with the Romans? In War, Josephus has the zealots only too willing to do so, especially those who defended Jerusalem. Yet here there is no evidence of any siege activity. In fact the only archaeological evidence of Roman attacks anywhere is at Qumran, Masada and Machaerus.
Then he started to write Antiquities. But because it was a large subject and difficult to translate into a foreign language which he was unaccustomed to, the work went slowly. This is strange. Greek was supposed to have been well understood by priests and Jews in general, and they had the Jewish bible in Greek. Then Epaphroditus encouraged him to get on with it as he and other Greeks were keen to know the history of "our nation". I only know one such Epaphroditus who was Nero's secretary. He was Tiberias Claudius Epaphroditus.
Does this all sound somewhat suspicious?