Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book review - The Works of Josephus.

So the reason I haven't posted a review in awhile is because it took me quite a bit of time to read The Works of Josephus as translated by William Whiston. Of course the original author is the Jewish historian Josephus but Mr. Whiston has collected his writings and translated them into english.

Josephus wrote much of his history during the reigns of the Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. His two main works cover history in general up to that time and the Jewish wars against Roman occupation. There are other smaller books covering his own biography, his take on Jesus, Hell, and other topics, and a refutation of a rival historian.

The Antiquities of the Jews follows the Biblical account of creation as it starts out. Some additions are made and a few things left out. It isn't until after the Babylonian Exile that it strikes off from where the Old Testament leaves off. The accounts of the return and the wars of the Maccabees are very interesting as is the rise of Herod the Great and the takeover by Rome. The account then dovetails back in with the New Testament for a short time before moving past that period of history. It ends with the beginning of the Jewish revolt against Rome.

A History of the Jewish Wars covers some of the same ground the Antiquities ends with and then moves into an account of the revolt against Rome. Vespasian scores some early successes and then is called to Rome to become Emperor. His some Titus takes over and completes the taking of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple. He then returns to Rome. The taking of Masada and a few small actions then occur and the war is finished.

All in all I found this book to be fascinating. The historical context for the Bible alone makes it worth the read. The additional history is also well worthwhile. It is a bit slow though and somewhat confusing as Josephus writes in a slightly disordered way at times and seems to be a bit prone to exaggeration. There are places where it is hard to connect individual events to the overall picture. Of course, there is a Roman bias. This is needed both to explain Josephus' survival after taking part in the revolt and to keep him in the emperors' favor and ensure his continued survival. I found it interesting that Josephus himself mentions this on several occasions. The translation and occasional notes by Mr. Whiston seem to be well done.

I would recommend this book with the caveat that one needs to be prepared to take the time to read it. It isn't easy reading but it is very informational, enlightening and well worth the time.

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