THE RHETORIC OF JOSEPHUS
Donna R. Runnalls
McGill University, Montreal, Canada
While in modern usage rhetoric is most frequently understood to be the study of the effective use of language, it would be impossible in a short chapter on the writings of Josephus to cover all aspects of his usage. In order to limit the scope of this study I will generally restrict the definition of rhetoric to what it was considered to be at the time of Josephus, the art and power of persuasion in its public character.1
Josephus wrote with an apologetic intention. Nonetheless, he fol lowed the tradition of the classical authors whose purpose in writing history was to give pleasurable instruction not only in political theory, but in religion and ethics. Since the implications which such authors wished the readers to see in the events they related were not explic itly part of the narrative sequence, they frequently inserted passages in which they attempted to persuade readers of the correctness of the writer's point of view. Following the practice of Thucydides, one of the forms such expression took was the inclusion of speeches, at appropriate points, constructed according to the commonly recognized rules of rhetoric and set in the mouths of leading characters in the narrative. In both the Jewish War (BJ) and the Jewish Antiquities (AJ) Josephus followed this practice of inserting speeches in the mouths of individuals who played a significant role in the events being narrated.
Because the Jewish War was an account of events contemporary to the historian and had the particular purpose of persuading his Greco Roman readers that only the radical rebels were responsible for the
1 Recent scholarship suggests that the rhetoric of such historical writing as that of
Josephus can only be understood if the sociopolitical and religious location of the
author of the text, and his or her audience, are elucidated and contextualized. Here
consideration is limited to the literary character and construction of the rhetoric.