BMCR 2020.12.27

Josephus Latinus. De Bello Iudaico Buch 1

, Josephus Latinus. De Bello Iudaico Buch 1. Palingenesia, 119. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2019. Pp. 256. ISBN 9783515124300 €54,00.

Many scholars would be surprised to learn that we possess no fewer than three different Latin versions of works of Josephus, dating from the fourth to the sixth centuries AD. One is a translation of the Jewish Antiquities and the Against Apion in 22 books realised under the direction of Cassiodorus, and there are also two separate versions of the Jewish War. One is a Christianising reworking and appropriation of Josephus known as pseudo-Hegesippus; it is more an original work than a translation. The other version, pseudo-Rufinus, translates Josephus much more directly. All three works were popular in medieval western Europe, where the decline in knowledge of Greek made them the main way to approach Josephus. They are thus, in addition to being interesting documents in their own right, highly important for the history of the reception of Josephus. Each contains much to interest students of late antique historiography, Greek-Latin bilingualism and translation, and Late Latin.

Today, however, they are rarely read or even mentioned. The chief factor here is inaccessibility. Their former popularity means that we have hundreds of manuscripts containing one or more of these translations. This makes the task of their would-be editors arduous, and few have taken it up. The Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum series does offer old critical editions of the Against Apion and pseudo-Hegesippus, while the first five books of the Jewish Antiquities can be found in Franz Blatt’s edition of 1958.[1] There was previously no critical edition, however, of any of pseudo-Rufinus, the other, closer translation of the Jewish War. This has made it scarcely examinable. Consulting Frobenius’s printing of 1524—the option generally adopted—is plainly unsatisfactory.

In a most welcome initiative, tBernd Bader presents the first critical edition of some of pseudo-Rufinus, covering book I (of seven). The edition is on the whole well-realised, and Bader accompanies his text and apparatus with roughly seventy pages (in German) discussing textual matters, and forty on the language of the translation.

We first get a concise introduction of three pages on the translation’s history. Little is known about the work’s origin. A comment by Cassiodorus is the only near-contemporary reference to the translation, and Bader helpfully quotes the passage in full. Bader is likely right in reading this as a reference to Pseudo-Rufinus’s version of the Jewish War, but it could have been noted that some argue Cassiodorus is speaking about Pseudo-Hegesippus.[2] Either way, outside of Cassiodorus we have little to go on when considering the translation’s origin. Bader therefore refrains from speculating at length on this, a prudent decision, and simply adopts the designation “Pseudo-Rufinus” from the ThLL. He then sketches the work’s popularity in the Middle Ages and summarises the small body of modern research on its text.

This book is a critical edition before all else, and Bader dedicates much space to textual matters. He usefully lists all the manuscripts he has examined and gives copious details for each. The details very often go beyond the basics of origin and dating. The various hands detectable in individual manuscripts are carefully separated, and the origins of corrections well analysed. Bader makes the interesting observation that even the aforementioned printing of 1524, thought to be the last edition free of changes made to render the Greek text more closely, may indirectly reflect knowledge of the Greek. He also points out an intriguingly early use of Arabic numerals in one Veronese manuscript. Much hard work and time has clearly gone into the study of the manuscripts.

Bader has not examined every manuscript that contains a full text. These potentially number 300 by Bader’s reckoning, an immense figure. He does not attempt to reconstruct a full stemma, either, although much attention is dedicated to grouping. These facts mean that this edition cannot be the last word; we cannot be certain that every manuscript of worth has been considered. Still, it is easy to agree that a text founded on a selection of good manuscripts is a clear improvement on the previous situation of no critical edition.

Bader builds on previous research on the text of Pseudo-Rufinus to establish manuscript groups that seem of particular importance. The classification of the manuscripts convinces, and there is much subtle analysis of the many different factors that can lead to textual corruption. A crucial passage is 1.30, which is deeply varied in the textual tradition—but, with the help of the Greek text and the unique reading of a tenth–eleventh-century manuscript, Bader reconstructs an original text and explains the developments of the various corruptions. This manuscript is accordingly given a central role in Bader’s construction of the text, and the siglum A. Judging a manuscript as central on the chief basis of one passage seems precarious, but he briefly lists some other passages where A helps settle the reading, and he could also have mentioned 1.7, where only A has Bader’s favoured reading atquin.

The main part of the book is the text itself. Each page is split, half text and half apparatus (in smaller font). The text is well-edited and seems sound: most decisions are immediately comprehensible. Those issues that require more explanation receive it either in the apparatus—with useful citations of other Latin literature and the ThLL—or in the section on textual commentary that follows the text. Here several tricky passages are discussed judiciously, with the many relevant factors always kept in mind. The reading of the manuscripts is rightly given the most importance, and very few conjectures are offered. For a few points it would have been useful to examine the practice in the other six books unedited here. The manuscripts vacillate, for example, between precari and deprecari; Bader concludes that the translator used precari for solemn requests and deprecari in the negative sense of wishing something away, but one wonders if this distinction holds throughout the entire work.

We have an expansive apparatus, and a wide variety of manuscripts (and corrector hands) are cited. Bader declares that he aims for a “middle way” between an accumulation of “ballast” and merely giving the most important readings. He also states that his goal is to get as close as possible to the assumed single Urtext of Pseudo-Rufinus, not to present the medieval tradition. The apparatus frequently, however, gives detail superfluous for this purpose. 1.75, for example, reads in Bader’s text in castello Bari ante, post autem Antonia cognominato. Bari ante is the reading of nearly every manuscript: but we are told that two manuscripts read barisante, and one uariante. Especially in light of the Greek text (ἐν τῇ βάρει πρότερον αὖθις δ᾽ Ἀντωνίᾳμετονομασθείσῃ), it seems very clear that barisante and uariante are corruptions of Bari ante, and these readings are of little value for reconstructing the original text. Still, as the first edition of pseudo-Rufinus, more information on the textual tradition is certainly welcome. On this, it is a shame that quotations of sections of the work in other authors are not noted in the apparatus. 1.84, for example, appears in a slightly modified form in Petrus Comestor, Historia scholastica, II Maccabees 5. But overall the apparatus is extensive, useful, and clear.

After the text and apparatus Bader discusses a number of textual cruxes at length, as discussed above. Following this comes a section on translation technique, with several interesting observations. The translation is close to the Greek, but also exhibits some attention to Latin style, aiming for the high register of Latin historiography. Pseudo-Rufinus often heightens Josephus’s rhetoric: thus ἀνελεῖν “to do away with” is thrice rendered with obtruncare “to cut into pieces.” It could be commented that some of the changes seem to be for the prose-rhythm. Thus Bader notes that at 1.165 [“Antony had been a distinguished commander in the past…”] οὐδαμοῦ δ’οὕτως “but never in that way” becomes tunc etiam suum uicit exemplum “that time he even surpassed his own example”, but Bader simply ascribes this change to a flair for the flowery. Uicit exemplum, however, provides a desirable clausula both on quantitative and on accentual principles.

There is a brief section on the orthography and language of Pseudo-Rufinus and the manuscripts. Bader gives a list of interesting spelling deviations in manuscripts, although some are more noteworthy than others. We then have a list of linguistically interesting usages, from which the common causal use of pro to mean “because of” and the very productive use of verbs prefixed with ob– stand out. Bader ends with half a page on the dating and identification of Pseudo-Rufinus, which notes two usages that have parallels in writings securely attributable to Rufinus and three associated with late Latin usage (the most interesting is cum to express agent rather than ab). These points are all well-noticed, but Bader himself acknowledges that they only constitute starting points for a possible discussion. This is followed by an index verborum notabilium, which covers a wide range of rare Latin usages, and bolds three words (adingressio, confactio, frumentatus, -ūs) not in the ThLL; and an index locorum listing passages cited in Bader’s introduction and commentary.

Overall, this edition at long last makes accessible the first book of a work that has much to contribute to several disciplines. Bader has, on the whole, executed a difficult task well, and we should hope that this edition of book I will be followed by the edition of the entire work. Indeed, book VI is currently being edited by the scholars Levenson and Martin, and a project looking at the Latin translations of Josephus began at the University of Bern in April 2019. We are finally seeing a renewal of scholarly attention to these curious yet scarcely examined translations, and Bader’s edition makes important progress.

There are few errata. The scholar Heinz Schreckenberg is throughout referred to as Schreckenberger, at 1.120 the Latin text has “summöa” for summo, and p. 245 directs to Kapitel K rather than Kapitel J. The apparatus can also become slightly unwieldy: occasionally we have the apparatus for a section on one page but the text of that section on another, necessitating flicking back and forth.


[1] C. Boysen (1898), Flavii Josephi Opera ex Versione Latina Antiqua ·Pars VI, De Iudaeorum Vetustates sive Contra Apionem, CSEL 37, Vienna; V. Ussani & C. Mras (1932–1960), Hegesippi qui dicitur historiae libri V, CSEL 66.1–2, Vienna; F. Blatt (1958), The Latin Josephus. I: Introduction and Text: The Antiquities, Books I–V, Copenhagen.

[2] See E. Schürer (1973–1987), The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (rev. and ed. Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar and Martin Goodman, Edinburgh, pp. 58–59.