Monday, August 16, 2010

Which 'Josephus' is Closer to the Original? Pseudo-Hegesippus Book 3 Chapter 18 or Bellum Judaicum Book 3 Chapter 8?

The next section in our chronological comparison between Pseudo-Hegesippus and Jewish War is the entirely fictitious narrative about the how the forty witnesses to Josephus's betrayal to the Romans all killed each other off. As I said this narrative reminds me of some cheesy Saturday morning cartoon I used to watch in the seventies. Let me say it again - not only didn't this ever happen, the real Josephus of history would never have attempted to include this in his historical narrative because it would have compromised the believability of the rest of his apologia. 

The Pseudo-Hegesippus narrative reads:

These things Josephus laid out, by which he voided the vindication of voluntary death. But those who had once vowed themselves to death, because they were unable to oppose their words, with their swords stood around the man as if they were about to strike immediately unless he should think he must acquiesce. But he surrounded called back one by the authority of a leader by the consciousness of courage he approached another with a severe gaze. He withdrew his right hand, he turned aside the wrath of that one, he soothed them with the wholesomeness of his counsel. By various methods he twisted away the irrational fury of each. And indeed although a last lot had twisted away the dignity of the conquered, he had not completely destroyed their respect. And so gradually their hands were withdrawn, their swords were sheathed, however their purpose persisted. When he saw himself to be held alone beset by many, he thought that by some chance or plan he should reduce the number of those opposing. 'Let us commit,' he said, 'the order of dying to a lottery, so that no one withdraws himself, since the lottery applies to all. The agreement of a lottery of this sort is, that he who will die by chance will be killed by him who follows.' And therefore it was that the lottery adjudged each to death, not his own will. 'Let each stand therefore beneath the lottery as the judge without sin and free from captivity, so that he does not quicken his future death by the decision of another or avoid it by his own. No one will be able to refuse the outcome, which either chance will have inflicted or the will of god will have designated.' An offering established faith and the agreement of everybody assented to the lottery. Each was chosen by chance, he provided death to the man following. And so it happened that all the rest having killed Josephus with one other remained for death. It necessarily remained that he would either be condemned by the lottery, or certainly if he should survive the slaughter he would be defiled by the blood of a comrade. He proposes that they should reject the lottery. Thus he escaped a domestic fight and by Nicanor was escorted to Vespasian. [Pseudo-Hegesippus 18]

The parallel section in Jewish War reads:

Now these and many the like motives did Josephus use to these men to prevent their murdering themselves; but desperation had shut their ears, as having long ago devoted themselves to die, and they were irritated at Josephus. They then ran upon him with their swords in their hands, one from one quarter, and another from another, and called him a coward, and everyone of them appeared openly as if he were ready to smite him; but he calling to one of them by name, and looking like a general to another, and taking a third by the hand, and making a fourth ashamed of himself, by praying him to forbear, and being in this condition distracted with various passions, (as he well might in the great distress he was then in,) he kept off every one of their swords from killing him, and was forced to do like such wild beasts as are encompassed about on every side, who always turn themselves against those that last touched them. Nay, some of their right hands were debilitated by the reverence they bare to their general in these his fatal calamities, and their swords dropped out of their hands; and not a few of them there were, who, when they aimed to smite him with their swords, they were not thoroughly either willing or able to do it. However, in this extreme distress, he was not destitute of his usual sagacity; but trusting himself to the providence of God, he put his life into hazard [in the manner following]: "And now," said he, "since it is resolved among you that you will die, come on, let us commit our mutual deaths to determination by lot. He whom the lot falls to first, let him be killed by him that hath the second lot, and thus fortune shall make its progress through us all; nor shall any of us perish by his own right hand, for it would be unfair if, when the rest are gone, somebody should repent and save himself."This proposal appeared to them to be very just; and when he had prevailed with them to determine this matter by lots, he drew one of the lots for himself also. He who had the first lot laid his neck bare to him that had the next, as supposing that the general would die among them immediately; for they thought death, if Josephus might but die with them, was sweeter than life; yet was he with another left to the last, whether we must say it happened so by chance, or whether by the providence of God. And as he was very desirous neither to be condemned by the lot, nor, if he had been left to the last, to imbrue his right hand in the blood of his countrymen, he persuaded him to trust his fidelity to him, and to live as well as himself. Thus Josephus escaped in the war with the Romans, and in this his own war with his friends, and was led by Nicanor to Vespasian. [Jewish War 3.8.6 - 8]

The two accounts are obviously related after a long section where the accounts diverged from one another. The core idea of Josephus escaping from the cistern by means of a lottery must be as old as the common text. The story does not appear in Vita but that does not mean that the editors of that text weren't aware of it. They may have chosen not to include it. Once again though, the story is completely unhistorical and I have strong doubts that it originates with Josephus. It was rather added to the text as a way of changing the date and place of his capture from the early part of the Jerusalem siege in order to (further) obscure his role in the massacres of Gamala and Sepphoris.

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