The Image of the Jew in Flavius Josephus' Paraphrase of the Bible

By McLaren, James S. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The Image of the Jew in Flavius Josephus' Paraphrase of the Bible


McLaren, James S., Journal of Biblical Literature


The Image of the Jew in Flavius Josephus' Paraphrase of the Bible, by Paul Spilsbury. TSAJ 69. Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1998. Pp. xiv + 286. DM 148.00.

This valuable monograph is a revision and expansion of a doctoral dissertation completed under the supervision of William Horbury at the University of Cambridge in 1994. Drawing on Jewish Antiquities 1-11 to explore Josephus's construction of the ideal Jew, Spilsbury provides important insights for the study of the late first century CE and Josephus.

In a lengthy introduction (pp. 1-50) Spilsbury engages with contemporary scholarship on a number of important subjects and outlines the approach adopted in the work. The reader is briefly introduced to Josephus, whom Spilsbury labels as a "Roman Jew" (p. 7), and to the issue of Jewish self-definition as a real concern of the post-70 C.E. era. While acknowledging the need for "proper caution" in the analysis of Josephus's writings regarding his own career, Spilsbury urges the reader to ensure that all interpretations are based "on the content of what he wrote taken as a whole" (p. 7). In such a context Spilsbury presents Josephus in a somewhat positive light as a Jew personally concerned to defend his people and make their customs "as a whole intelligible to the Greco-Roman world" (p. 11) in his selective paraphrase of the Bible. Next Spilsbury seeks to clarify the manner in which his monograph stands apart from the textual comparative work of such scholars as T. W. Franxman and C. Begg and the "portrait" studies of L. Feldman. Spilsbury points out the difficulty in establishing what written and oral materials Josephus drew upon. His work is primarily concerned with constructing an overall picture of the ideal Jew from the entire biblical paraphrase. Here again, Spilsbury presents an important contribution to the interpretation of Josephus: he did not only write "what his audience wanted to hear" (p. 34); he "had his own views on what it meant to be a Jew" (p. 34).

In order not to impose categories onto the biblical paraphrase, Spilsbury adopts a chronological approach. The net effect is the production of a cumulative portrait, noting repetitions, developments, and refinements in the image of the Jew contained in Jewish Antiquities 1-11. Yet even with this approach Spilsbury makes choices regarding what to examine, with the focus being placed on "the principal characters, the main events and speeches" (p. 35). There is a useful brief excursus in the introduction on Josephus's use of "Jew," "Hebrew," and "Israelites" (pp. 36-42). A second excursus on "Jewish Identity in the Diaspora-Some Perspectives from Social Sciences" (pp. 42-50) is used by Spilsbury to identify appropriate terminology by which to describe Josephus's Jew. Spilsbury signals that the terms "assimilation," "acculturation," and "accommodation- as defined by J. M. G. Barclay (Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 1996) will be the framework within which Josephus's image of the Jew will be placed.

Chapter 1 ("The Patriarchs") covers Jewish Antiquities 1-2.200. Spilsbury examines the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Reuben, Judah, and Joseph. …

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