From Josephus to Josippon and Beyond
Time & Location
About the Event
Flavius Josephus (37 - 10? CE) was a first-century Jewish priested-turned-war general during the Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 CE. During that war, Josephus eventually surrendered himself to the Romans, led by the Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus. After serving as a captive/diplomat-in-residence for the rest of the war, Josephus lived out his days in Rome writing some of the most important historical works of all time. First he wrote (in Greek) a seven-book account of the Jewish/Judean war with Rome. Then he wrote a twenty-book history of the Jewish people (an "archaeology"), the Antiquities of the Jews, which began with the ancient Hebrews and Israelites and went down to his own time. To this was appended a short autobiography, the Life of Josephus. Then, probably after the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE), he wrote an apologetic work called Against Apion, which defended Jewish history and culture against slanders made against it by several ancient equivalents of public intellectuals.
This conference is about the fated afterlives of these extant works of Josephus long after he wrote them. They were preserved and read almost exclusively by Christians for the first millennium of the Common Era. Beginning in the 4th century CE at least, these works began to be translated into Latin, and some inspired major revisions: the work called "Pseudo-Hegesippus" or On the Destruction of Jerusalem (De Excdio Hierosolymitano) rewrites Josephus' Jewish War, resulting in a work of five Latin books that radically transforms the meaning of the Jewish War and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple for the Jewish people. This polemical work itself eventually sparked a response. In the early 10th century, or thereabouts, a Jewish author penned a Hebrew work now called Sefer Yosippon, pseudonymously attributed to Joseph ben Gurion. This work was considered by some to be the original Hebrew/Aramaic version of Josephus' Jewish War, which he claims to have written before the Greek version. It is not. However, it is one of the most important works of medieval Jewish historiography.
Beginning with the Table of Nations from the Book of Genesis, Sefer Yosippon recounts a history of the Jewish people whose latter half mirrors the narrative of Pseudo-Hegesippus. In fact, Sefer Yosippon is a kind of Jewish response to that Christian work: whereas Pseudo-Hegesippus saw the destruction of Jerusalem as marking the ultimate end of the Jews -- with God abandoning and cursing them for killing his son, their would-be messiah, Jesus Christ -- Sefer Yosippon casts it as one tragic turning point within the larger history of a generally noble people. In other words, Pseudo-Hegesippus and Sefer Yosippon, along with Josephus himself, represent a centuries-long contest between Jewish and Christian historians over the meaning of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the character of the Jewish people and their culture, and the place of Jews within divinely-orchestrated history. And this is not even the end of the story. Sefer Yosippon itself was translated into a host of other languages, including Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, and Ethiopic (Ge'ez).
This conference is a cooperative, international scholarly endeavour to explore aspects of this multifaceted literary legacy. Several dozen experts, men and women, junior and senior scholars, from over a half dozen different countries will come together to share their work within this corpus, from Josephus to Josippon and beyond. Join us as we explore new facets of Josephus and his reception and (re)consider his significance as one of the most influential historians the world has ever seen.