Bridging the gap: some reflections on teaching Josephus

As I mentioned earlier, I spent the last week taking a small group through some selections of Josephus’ Antiquities.

In the course of doing so, it again struck me the great gap there is between training in Greek grammar and fundamentals, and reading actual texts. This was highlighted in the case of Josephus because there are so few actual resources to help the reader of the Greek. Indeed, I suspect that apart from Early Christianity scholars who dip into select passages for contextual purposes, most of Josephus doesn’t get read much in the Greek. It is far easier to rely on the translations by Thackery and Whiston, both of which are quite dated and so readily available. Josephus is quite long, and he is not in the ‘canon’ of classical texts.

If a student goes on to read a canonical text (Biblical or otherwise, I speak of the well-trod road of favoured classical texts to read), there are usually boundless helps available. For example, the student desiring to read Iliad book VI may well turn to the Bristol Classics Edition which will have invaluable aids, or the beloved Green and Yellow series of Cambridge, which will include more technical and literary commentary, or Steadman’s more recent volume with Vocabulary and Grammar notes.

The student who wants some commentary on Josephus could perhaps purchase one of the Brill commentary volumes, which retail for $100+ and cover at most 4 books from a work. While Feldman’s work is undoubtedly top-notch, it will not make it into the hands of many students, and few people are likely to read Josephus in any case. They certainly will not be encouraged to do so by the publication of these volumes.

I suspect the ‘old school’ mentality was that scholars would just ‘keep on reading Greek’, and consult their reference works, and figure out everything for themselves. But for anyone who hasn’t obtained this mastery with 15 years of reading and work, the gap remains too large, too difficult to leap by one’s own ability. All that is needed is a little bridging, a note here and there on usages that are unfamiliar, vocabulary that is odd, constructions that are difficult to understand, and students (and journeymen too!) could be reading a lot more texts, a lot more fluently.

4 responses

    • I did use the PACE website, but found its interface somewhat frustrating. And in any event, it didn’t cover the sections I was looking at.

      Thanks very much for the comment, I had overlooked that the PACE website is in fact the Brill volumes.

  1. Seumas — I have in front of me a copy of “Religion and Resistance in Early Judaism: Greek Readings in 1 Maccabees and Josephus.” It is the kind of intermediate reader you describe.

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