Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A Composition-Critical Study

Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A Composition-Critical Study

Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A Composition-Critical Study

Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A Composition-Critical Study


Mason has answered the call of scholars for a new, critical history of the Pharisees. Required is a careful analysis of each sources evidence as a prior condition of historical judgements. By analyzing Flavius Josephus portrayal of the group, this study clarifies some of the crucial evidence that any hypothesis must explain. Josephus writes about the Pharisees in three of his four extant works, describing their actions under the Hashmoneans, Herod the Great, and during his own tenure as Galilean commander of the revolt against Rome. This study tries to show how his discussions of the Pharisees contribute to his literary aims. With the help of K. H. Rengstorfs new concordance, the author explores the ten pertinent passages in their contexts, supplying also introductory chapters on the Jedean War, the Jewish Antiquities, and the Life. This analysis yields the conclusion that, although the Pharisees were the most popular party in first-century Judaism, Josephus was consistently hostile toward them for reasons peculiar to his own situation. Please note that Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees was previously published by Brill in hardback (ISBN 90 04 09181 5, no longer available).


A discussion of previous interpretations of Josephus on the Pharisees will demonstrate the need for a new attempt, for none of them yet satisfies, and most do not claim to satisfy, the requirements set forth in Chapter 1. Nevertheless, the previous research is extremely valuable. First, it points up some of the factors that complicate any literary study of Josephus. Second, it highlights the particular problems that must be addressed in a comprehensive study of Josephus's Pharisees. The resolution of these particular problems will become part of the larger task of the following study.

Since almost every writer on the Pharisees includes some discussion of Josephus's testimony, and since most authors on Josephus have cause to mention his connections with and information about the Pharisees, the number of scholarly references to Josephus's portrayal of the Pharisees is very large indeed. It is neither practical nor desirable to review each instance here. The following survey describes rather the most complete and most programmatic discussions of Josephus on the Pharisees that have appeared since the mid-nineteenth century.

One word of explanation: the two matters of Josephus's descriptions of the Pharisees and of his own relationship to the group are often discussed together in the scholarly literature, and both will be important in the present study. Nevertheless, the determination of Josephus's relationship to the Pharisees involves many factors other than his actual descriptions of the group—such as his views of the Law, of fate and free will, and of immortality. To raise those issues in this survey would require many deviations from the main point, which is to assess the previous analyses of Josephus's portrayals of the Pharisees. The question of his own relationship to the Pharisees will suggest itself naturally in Part IV, with reference to a particular passage in his autobiography (Life 1012). I propose, therefore, to leave until then a discussion of the various ancillary factors that bear on the question. For the present, our concern is with scholarly treatments of Josephus's descriptions of the Pharisees.

One can gain some impression of the number of potential references to Josephus's Pharisees by perusing H. Schreckenberg, Bibliographie zu Flavius Josephus (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), the Supplementband thereto (1979), and L. H. Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1937–1980), ed. W. Haase (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1983).

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