Wednesday, June 29, 2011
In case any of you wondered why there haven't been any book reviews lately, it's because I've been reading Josephus. My friend Janna had two copies of The Complete Works of Josephus, and she gave me one. I'm a bit of a history buff, and she thought I might like it.
Well, believe it or not, I do like it. A good part of the book is pretty dry, but it has these bits of interesting stuff stuck in there. Like insights into the behavior of the various kings, ceasars, and tetrarchs. It's a little like being a mouse in the corner of the castle listening to all the court gossip. I'm about two-thirds of the way through The Works now.
Flavius Josephus, born Joseph the son of Matthias the year Caligula assumed control of the Roman empire, didn't start out in life as a writer. He joined the Pharisees after spending a few years with the Essenes. He traveled to Rome to try to secure the release of some Jewish priests, and while there discovered the Romans to be too strong to either defeat or defied. He spent most of the rest of his life working for peace--that is, until the Jewish revolt.
Josephus spent a few years as a soldier, as as a ruler, and finally, at the direction of Emporor Vespasian, a historian. He wrote first in Aramaic and then attempted to translate it into Greek. Apparently, he thought of a few more things he should add and a few to delete, because the two versions didn't really match that well.
He might have been a Christian, although some of the theologians reading over the most popular translation concluded that someone put words into Josephus's mouth. In one of the books, Antiquities of the Jews, he said, "He [Jesus] was the Christ." (Book XVIII, Chapter III, Section 3) All of Section 3 would have to be taken out in order to support the supposition that Josephus didn't write it. My point of view is that Josephus did believe Jesus is the Christ, for whatever it's worth.
I'll possibly do a review of the book after I've finished it, but my goodness, how in the world would I put in a hook to entice people to read this history of the Jews? Either you're crazy interested in history, or you're not. Most people, NOT!
Do I recommend this author? Weeellllll, let's just say he's okay. Maybe I would think differently IF I could read Aramaic and Greek and could lay hands on the original manuscripts. However, it seems the man had an ego problem. Or maybe it's only that he wanted to convince Vespasian it would be worth his while to keep paying Josephus for the histories. But his book is plumb full of I's, me's, myself's, and my's.
So--what am I saying here? Run out and buy a copy? Maybe. But before you do, visit your local library and check it out. But be careful of your propensities to write in the margins...