Paper on IV Maccabees: Some Josephus Passages

Today, I want to look at the Josephus passages that I colored red in my post, Paper on IV Maccabees: Other Challenges to Politeia. The red quotes are from BibleWorks, and the others are from William Whiston’s translation.

Antiquities of the Jews 6:85 after which they returned to their former government, they then permitting themselves to be judged by him who appeared to be the best warrior and most courageous, hence it was that they called this interval of their government the Judges.

I was wondering about this quote because it says the Israelites returned to their former government. What was it like when they didn’t have it? Basically, Josephus is talking about the chaos that existed right after the death of Joshua, and before the time of the Judges.

Antiquities of the Jews 15:281 but still some of them continued in their displeasure against him, for his introduction of new customs, and esteemed the violation of the laws of their country as likely to be the origin of very great mischiefs to them, so that they deemed it an instance of piety rather to hazard themselves [to be put to death], than to seem as if they took no notice of Herod, who, upon the change he had made in their government, introduced such customs, and that in a violent manner, which they had never been used to before, as indeed in pretence a king, but in reality one that showed himself an enemy to their whole nation;

267 says Herod corrupted the constitution by introducing foreign practices. According to Josephus, the consitution is supposed to be kept inviolable from foreign practices. Another problem he cites is that the Jewish religious observances were neglected.

268 specifies some of what Herod did: “he appointed solemn games to be celebrated every fifth year, in honor of Caesar, and built a theatre at Jerusalem, as also a very great amphitheater in the plain. Both of them were indeed costly works, but opposite to the Jewish customs; for we have had no such shows delivered down to us as fit to be used or exhibited by us[.]”

Here, we may see an example of what Bickerman says in God of the Maccabees: that sports were against Jewish law, or, more accurately, custom.

Josephus continues to talk about how foreigner came for the athletic contests. He makes a point to mention that they performed their exercises naked (270). That reminds me of something I read in John Collins’ essay, “Cult and Culture: The Limits of Hellenization in Judea,” Hellenism in the Land of Israel, ed. John J. Collins and Gregory E. Sterling (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001) 47: Jubilees 3:31 condemns nudity. It states, “On this account, it is prescribed on the heavenly tables as touching all those who know the judgment of the law, that they should cover their shame, and should not uncover themselves as the Gentiles uncover themselves” (see here). Since Jubilees was most likely written in the second century B.C.E., it very well may relate to Jews exercising naked in Jason’s gymnasium.

But back to Josephus. Whiston says the following in a footnote:

“These grand plays, and shows, and Thymelici, or music greetings, and chariot races, when the chariots were drawn by two, three, or four pairs of horses, etc., instituted by Herod in his theatres, were still, as we see here, looked on by sober Jews as heathenist sports, and tending not only to corrupt the manners of the Jewish nation, and to bring them in love with paganish idolatry and paganism conduct of life, but to the dissolution of the law of Moses, and accordingly were greatly and justly condemned by them, as appears here and everywhere else in Josephus.”

Whiston seems to present what Herod was doing as a slippery slope. I wonder if there’s a way to see it as an actually challenge to the Jewish politeia. One thing I noticed yesterday as I read Collins’ book was that some of the contributors were trying to make Jason’s gymnasium look Jewish, probably because they wonder why Jews did not revolt against it (47). But Jews did not always revolt over every transgression of the law. In AJ 7:10, Josephus narrates how Herod’s sister divorced her husband, which was contrary to the law. The Gospels present John the Baptist telling Herod that he acted unlawfully to take his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). There was no revolt in those cases. The Jews could tolerate challenges to their politeia.

But, moving on in Josephus, AJ 15. 275-276 is quite telling: “It appeared also no better than an instance of barefaced impiety, to throw men to wild beasts, for the affording delight to the spectators; and it appeared an instance of no less impiety, to change their own laws for such foreign exercises: but, above all the rest, the trophies gave most distaste to the Jews; for as they imagined them to be images, included within the armor that hung around them, they were sorely displeased at them, because it was not the custom of their country to pay honors to such images.”

I doubt that Jason’s gymnasium threw people to wild beasts. I wonder how Josephus thinks the laws were changed for foreign exercises. Maybe “Thou shalt not kill” is a possible law that was thrown to the wind in that example! The images may be important. As I noted in a past post, Tcherikover denies that the images in the gymnasium would have been idolatrous (see Paper: IV Maccabees). But that’s not necessarily how everyone would have perceived them.

277 has, “they would never bear images of men in their city, meaning their trophies, since this was disagreeable to the laws of their country.” But Herod manages to dissipate the agitation of many Jews, though not all.

Antiquities of the Jews 18:9 Such were the consequences of this, that the customs of our fathers were altered, and such a change was made, as added a mighty weight toward bringing all to destruction, which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together; for Judas and Sadduc, {c} who started a fourth philosophic sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundations of our future miseries, by this system of philosophy, which we were before unacquainted with,

The context here is that Caesar imposed a tax, and a group of Jews revolted. I’m not sure what brings about the change in customs. 8 says that the temple was burnt down, so perhaps that’s what led to the change. I don’t know.

My agenda for tomorrow: I want to look up “Athletics” in the Jewish Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia Judaica. Maybe I’ll look up other things there as well.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in History, IV Maccabees, Papers, Politeia Paper. Bookmark the permalink.