"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 13, Number 12, December 2010
“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;
Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.
I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.
will show partiality to no one. Nor will
I flatter any man.”
“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”
Earl of Kent
Shakespeare’s King Lear
Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34
[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com. You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address. Back issues sent on request. All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org
All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only. Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand. Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given upon request.]
Bland and Ordinary Holiday “Specials”
In their unimaginative and perfectly predictable way, program schedulers for the major television networks offer the same old shop-worn, insipid holiday “specials” each December, year after year. Their motivation for following this path is easy to imagine. First, these productions, some of which are as much as three, four, even five decades old, are already “in the can” and therefore require no monetary outlay and incur no production costs. The networks are out only the standard royalties, if that (the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” due to a failure to renew the copyright in the 1970s, is in the public domain and can be shown, reproduced and sold freely). Then, these specials are “safe,” that is, they ignore the “elephant in the room,” namely, what are you going to do about the whole issue of Jesus at Christmas? Virtually without exception, they completely ignore Him, focusing rather on such dull fiction as Frosty, the Grinch, Rudolph, Grandma’s misfortune of being run over by reindeer, whether an angel will succeed in getting his wings, and whether a New York lawyer can prove that Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus. Anything and everything but Jesus. Judged from a merely literary or artistic perspective, this is very poor fare. Judged from a Biblical perspective, it is appalling.
Consider perhaps the two most famous supposedly Christmas-themed movies, namely “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” both originally made in the 1940s. Of the former, unless I am mistaken (and it has been several years since I viewed it), the birth of Christ is not mentioned at all; rather, a disillusioned little girl is led back to “faith” in Santa Claus. And “It’s a Wonderful Life” mentions the birth of Christ only once. At the very end, after a couple hours filled with lots of perfectly acceptable casual alcohol consumption by just about everybody (as well as some bad theology--people do not become angels, nor do angels earn their wings, nor do they consume alcohol), as a seeming afterthought, the assembled cast closes the show with a rousing singing of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” A mere sop thrown to an audience that might actually think Christ had something to do with Christmas!
One, but only one, Christmas special attracts my attention and viewing on a regular basis, and that is, of course, the late cartoonist Charles Schultz’ magnum opus, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (I think none of Schultz’ other seasonal specials merit viewing twice, most not even once, but this one is different). Of course, this is the only Christmas special that actually mentions, even focuses in on--and quotes Scripture to prove its point--the birth of Jesus as the real reason for the season, and not as a mere baby, but as a “Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
With the materialism, unconcealed greed and selfishness evident all around him, Charlie Brown cries out in a moment of frustration, “Isn’t there ANYONE who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus immediately replies: “Sure, Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He then takes center stage, calls for the stage lights, and recites Luke 2:8-14.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Hearing these words has an immediate and transforming impact on the once-disillusioned Charlie Brown. His Christmas now has focus, purpose, meaning, and at the end of the program, when the assembled children sing, with turned up noses, the first two verses of Charles Wesley’s “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” it is a perfect complement to the program, not something merely tacked on to make the show somehow “Christmas-y.”
When this special first aired in 1965 on CBS, the programming executives were so fearful that they would get a strongly negative reaction for airing a program that so blatantly inserted Jesus into the Christmas season (!), that they almost pulled it from their schedule at the last minute, but having nothing to put in its place, they reluctantly let it air as scheduled. They did, as expected, get a very swift and very strong response from the millions of viewers, overwhelmingly POSITIVE, and now, 45 years later, though the network broadcasting it has varied over the years as have the advertising sponsors, it is still shown annually. And it is still worth seeing, because it alone grasps and presents the timeless message of Christmas: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.”
It is reported that a young boy went with his parents to the Mall during the holiday shopping season (I expressly did not say Christmas shopping season, since I see no connection between Christ and the year-end spending frenzy that characterizes American culture). He saw a long line of children with their parents, waiting excitedly and expectantly for a chance to sit on Santa’s lap. The boy in absolute but profound innocence asked his parents, “Where’s the line for people waiting to see Jesus?”
The Poisonous Lust for Revenge: Demanding One’s “Pound of Flesh”
A decade ago, we ran an article (see As I See It 3:9) regarding the poisonous consequences of stewing and scheming and plotting revenge on one’s enemies, citing the Biblical teaching on the matter, plus examples from history and literature, most notably Captain Ahab’s unbridled vehemence to repay the white whale for the injury inflicted on him (in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, of course). We had wanted to include another example from literature, but either oversight or lack of space at the time (at this distance, I forget which it was) prevented it.
That other classic example from literature of the poisonous lust for revenge in action and its self-destructive consequences is Shylock, the greedy money-lender in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (my favorite Shakespeare play, with King Lear a close second). Shylock has loaned a large amount of money to his arch-enemy Antonio, with the hope that Antonio will default on the loan, and at last, he (Shylock) can inflict his long-cherished revenge. Shylock’s only legal demand on Antonio is that if he should default, Shylock would be entitled to “a pound of flesh” taken from Antonio’s body. When, by the turn of events, it appears that Shylock will be able to legally demand his “pound of flesh,” a friend of Antonio, one Salarino, challenges Shylock:
Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take his flesh: what’s that good for?
To this, Shylock replies at length:
To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies: and what’s his reason? I am a Jew! Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
Act III, scene I, lines 47-69
Shakespeare here condemns the inconsistent, unethical, malicious Christian as much as he condemns the unbridled greed of Shylock, and manages to present Shylock as a nevertheless sympathetic figure who has more than ample justification for his contempt for self-professed Christians, who have continually affronted him with disdain and abuse.
In the end, Shylock is denied his bond on a legal technicality, loses his money (and his daughter--another subplot in the play), and is publicly humiliated by a forced conversion to Christianity (a scene that always makes me cringe when I read it)--all the unintended but inevitable consequences of an unrestrained lust for personal vengeance.
Melville and Shakespeare wrote fiction, though true-to-life fiction. There is something unspeakably worse than reading of such consequences in the life of a fictional character. It is to see--or experience!--in the real world the grief the unforgiving vengeful spirit inflicts on itself: a Haman whose scheming to slaughter the Jews because of his unbridled hatred for Mordecai (see the Biblical book of Esther) results in his own downfall and death. Or the years’ long feud, famous in American folklore, between the Hatfields and the McCoys in which some 17 living, breathing, made-in-the-image-of-God people died in a violent dispute reportedly over ownership of a pig worth a mere few dollars.
May we be good students of this instruction, and learn from both literature and life that “revenge” (retribution) for wrong done is God’s concern, not ours (Romans 12:19, 20), and that he who plots revenge commonly plots nothing more than his own destruction.
God “Rocks”: Regarding the Translation of Isaiah 44:8 Once Again
In As I See It 13:8, we discussed at length the difference at Isaiah 44:8 in translating the Hebrew word tsur between the KJV, which has “God,” and the NIV, et al., which has “Rock,” and showed that here the NIV is a literal rendering of the Hebrew Masoretic text, while the KJV is at best a paraphrase, if it can be called even that, of the Hebrew (the original KJV margin notably gives the literal translation “rock”).
We wrote that:
the puzzling KJV “translation” of the Hebrew tsur by “God” is a case of adopting for their rendering that found in the Geneva Bible, and only the Geneva Bible, against all (apparently) other versions ancient or modern consulted by them, encompassing all other English versions, including the Bishops’ Bible, which was their base text and which they were to leave unrevised as far as faithfulness to the Hebrew would allow.
But exactly who or what influenced the Geneva Bible translators in their “translation” of tsur by “God” eluded our discovery at that time. However, we think we have now found it. Matthew Poole (1624-1679), 17th century English author of a deservedly-famous 3-volume English commentary on the whole Bible, had, previous to his English commentary, compiled a massive 5-volume, folio, Latin commentary on the whole Bible, Synopsis Criticorum, in which he, along with his own comments, provides a digest of the published interpretations and explanations of numerous scholars, commentators and translations. At Isaiah 44:8 (vol. III, column 424 in the edition I consulted), he notes, in part, among a variety of sources:
Ve’yn tsur bal yadati] et non petra, non novi? Mo Et quod non fit fortis (vel, Deus, i.e. qui se Deum dicat [y]), quem non noverim P. sim. Calv.
The first four bold-faced words of this quote are my approximate transliteration of the original Hebrew phrase (literally renderable as, “and there is no rock which I do not know”). The next five words-- et non petra, non novi?--are the Latin translation of the phrase by Roman Catholic scholar Arias Benedictus a.k.a. Montanus, 1527-1598 (the “Mo” in Poole’s heavily-abbreviated text), in his revision of Pagninus’ 1528 Latin version. Montanus’ Latin, literally Englished, is: “and no rock, did I not know?”
The next Latin phrase, up to the parenthesis, and the next three words after (up to the “P”) are the Latin wording in Pagninus’ aforementioned Latin version (sim. Calv. means “similarly Calvin”). Pagninus’ Latin may be put into English as: “And that it does not become strong, and I shall not have known it.” All ho-hum so far, you may be thinking. Granted; in taking note of these things, we are merely cutting away the rind to get to the heart of the melon, so to speak.
What interests us here in this connection is what is in the parentheses, namely, “vel, Deus, i.e. qui se Deum dicat [y],” which translates as, “Or, God, that is, who calls himself God.” This is an aside, further indicating or explaining the supposed meaning of fortis, “strong (one).” We find here, out of all the Reformation-era versions and fathers that Poole ordinarily references the only one that suggests that the meaning or sense of the Hebrew tsur is actually “God.” This most likely is, by elimination of all other apparent possibilities, the source of the Geneva Bible’s paraphrastic rendering of tsur in Isaiah 44:8, and, in imitation of the Geneva, that of the KJV.
The “y” in Poole’s commentary (which I have placed in brackets, out of necessity) was in Poole’s original actually a superscript letter indicating a marginal note. Marginal note “y” has simply “V.” This stands for “Vatablus,” that is, Francois Vatable (d. 1547), a Catholic scholar but with Protestant leanings, who was professor of Hebrew in the College Royal in Paris. Paris printer Robert Estienne (Stephens) published in 1545 (second edition 1547, and others later) an edition of the OT that contained the Latin Vulgate version, the Latin version of Leo Juda, and notes by Professor Vatable, taken down from his lectures by one of his auditors. The original date of publication allows that these notes were readily available to the men of the Geneva version, and very likely are indeed the source of the Geneva--and KJV--rendering at Isaiah 44:8. The well-known strong connection of printer Estienne to the Protestant community in Geneva merely adds confirmatory support to this conclusion.
So then, the translation (really paraphrase) of the Hebrew word tsur by “God” rather than the literal “rock”--a rendering limited to the Geneva Bible and KJV, and only to these,--is to be explained as coming through the influence of the notes of Vatable on this passage, and from no other apparent source, including the Hebrew text itself, which the NIV--and KJV margin--give quite literally.
“World Without End”:
The Anatomy of an Odd Biblical Phrase
I heard the other day a pastor reading from the latter part of Ephesians chapter 3 in the old King James Version, and was struck with the quaintness of a phrase found at the end of verse 21: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end.” [emphasis added]. Quaint and frankly, obscure in meaning. Certainly not contemporary English. I decided to trace the origin of this peculiar English phrasing to satisfy my own curiosity.
I could not with Strong’s concordance locate this phrase anywhere else in the KJV, though I did discover through other sources that this is the translation found at Ephesians 3:21 in three English versions preceding the KJV, namely the Great Bible (1540 edition; also known as “Cranmer’s Bible,” though Miles Coverdale was the chief laborer in this revision of Matthew’s Bible), the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 (1602 edition) and the Roman Catholic Rheims NT of 1582, so the KJV’s rendering is neither unprecedented nor unparalleled.
Other early English versions read [wording in question in boldface]:
“to all the generations of the world”--Wycliffe
“throughout all generations from time to time”--Tyndale, Cranmer 1539
“throughout all generations forever and ever.”--Coverdale 1535 NT, and 1538 Diglott Latin-English NT
“throughout all generations forever”--Geneva
(For these versions, I consulted The English Hexapla [London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1841]; and The New Testament Octapla, edited by Luther A. Weigle [New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, n.d.]; with direct consultation in a few cases of facsimile reprints. The text of Coverdale 1535 is that found at www.studylight.org).
Later English translations have rather consistently the same early rendering as Coverdale 1535 / 1538: “forever and ever”--ERV, ASV, NIV, NASB, ESV, and HCSB--though some few retain the old Great Bible / Bishops’ / Rheims / KJV rendering, including the American Bible Union (Baptist) revised NT of 1867 (though not the later “improved edition” of circa 1891); and, rather surprisingly, the NKJB.
We checked both the Latin Vulgate and Luther’s 1534 Bible, each of which often influenced the phrasing of English versions in the 16th and 17th centuries, and each of which was early enough in date to have potentially influenced the Great Bible in its (apparently) precedent-setting translation of the phrase in Ephesians 3:21. Both the Vulgate and Luther’s 1534 Bible give literal translations of the Greek phrase in question, and can be categorically excluded as the source of the Great Bible’s wording.
The Oxford English Dictionary does have an entry--which takes no note of the Great Bible reading--for the phrase “world without end” (on pp. 3,821-2 of vol. II of The Compact Edition). We discover there that the phrase is of considerable antiquity in English, with the earliest citation from a document dating A. D. 1305. After some 15th century citations, we are informed of its presence in the 1548-9 edition of Anglican Book of Common Prayer (no doubt that is the source of its wide dispersal and persistence in English, given that book’s near universal use in Anglican Church services for subsequent centuries). It is to be noted that for the Book of Common Prayer, its Bible readings from the NT were taken from the Great Bible, the earliest Bible with the translation in question at Ephesians 3:21, until a change of translation was made in 1662, at which time the KJV was substituted (see A. S. Herbert, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525-1961, p. 25). It is small wonder, then, that this quaint phrase, made familiar to millions through exposure to the Book of Common Prayer, persisted in those Bible revisions made under the auspices of, with the sponsorship and sanction of, and for the express use of the Anglican Church--the Bishops’ Bible (1568) and the KJV (1611).
The phrase “world without end” is reportedly to be found in Shakespeare, Milton, and even later into the 18th and 19th centuries, but with increasing indications of its obsolescence. The OED gives for its meaning, as an adverbial phrase, “endlessly, eternally”; as an adjectival phrase, “perpetual, everlasting, eternal”; and as a substantival phrase “eternal existence, endlessness, eternity.”
The Greek phrase here (no variants among printed “textus receptus,” “majority” and “critical” Greek texts) is “eis pasas tas geneas tou aionos ton aionon,” literally “unto all the generations of the age of the ages,” a Greek idiom, one of several found in the NT, meaning “forever, endlessly,” etc. This precise entire phrase does not occur in its totality, as far as I can discover, elsewhere in the NT. Indeed, nowhere else in the NT can I find the singular “age” followed by the plural “ages” as occurs here. Rather, we find two singulars, literally, “unto the age of the age” (uniquely at Hebrews 1:8) or two plurals, “unto the ages of the ages,” as it is some five times in Paul’s writings, and sixteen times elsewhere, including all thirteen occurrences in Revelation. (I must here forego on this point a wider search into the Septuagint, early Christian literature, and secular Greek for other occurrences). I can discern no semantic difference among these and similar, phrases in the Greek NT, all meaning “forever.”
In summary: “World without end”--is a quaint and now obsolete phrase first found in the Bible in English in a Great Bible edition of 1540. It was perpetuated and popularized by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1548-9ff, which used the Great Bible for its Scripture text), and accordingly was retained in the Bishops’ Bible (1568) and the KJV (1611), with adoption by the Catholic translators of the Rheims New Testament (1582) as well. The great majority of recent English versions have opted to return to the still-current English translation of Coverdale, “forever and ever,” first introduced into the Bible in English in 1535.
Note: In the previous issue, we reviewed the now-out-of-print Don’t You Believe It! Poking Holes in Faulty Logic by A. J. Hoover. We were informed by a reader that this delightful little book is available on line complete at: http://members.core.com/~tony233/Dont_You_Believe_It!.htm
Pirke Aboth: the Sayings of the Fathers, English translation revised by B. Halper. New York: American Jewish Book Co., 1921. 111 pp., hardback.
This little volume is one of numerous published editions of Pirke Aboth, the single most widely-read and known section of The Mishnah, which is a compilation of Jewish legal tradition (it might be characterized as codified Phariseeism), made by Judah han-Nasi circa A.D. 200. Pirke Aboth forms part of the tractate Nezikin.
The various editions of Pirke Aboth consist sometimes of simply an English translation of the original Hebrew text; sometimes both the original Hebrew as well as an English version; and sometimes with both Hebrew and English, accompanied by an explanatory commentary on the text. Pirke Aboth in the famous volume, The Mishnah by Herbert Danby (Oxford University Press, 1933) is of the first kind; Philip Blackman’s multi-volume Mishnayot (New York: Judaica Press, 1963; 7 vols.) is of the second kind; Pirkei Avoth by Marcus Lehman and Eliezer Prins (Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1992) is of the third kind. The little volume here under review, which I got from a synagogue library sale, is tri-lingual--the Hebrew text, an English version, but also a Yiddish one, in parallel columns. It also contains brief biographical sketches of the rabbis quoted in the body of the work.
Unlike the rest of the Mishnah, which is taken up with extended presentations of legal technicalities governing all aspects of Jewish life and conduct, Pirke Aboth consists of aphorisms and sage remarks from a company of Jewish religious teachers spanning from the last century B. C. until about A. D. 200. The sayings give insight into the theology and thinking of “the best” in ancient rabbinic thought. The careful reader will notice several points of contact with NT phraseology, teaching and themes, sometimes in harmony with them, and sometimes in conflict. This is a good place to start if one wants to study traditional ancient Jewish literature, or to delve into rabbinic Hebrew, with its similarities--and differences,--in comparison with the Biblical dialect.
Some quotations from Pirke Aboth:
1:1 “Moses received the Torah on Sinai, and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah.” 1:1
[While this may seem to be describing the providential Divine transmission and preservation of the written Law from Moses to the post-OT era, it is actually expounding the transmission of the so-called oral law, that body of Jewish tradition which had been added layer upon layer to the written law, supplementing, altering and even contradicting it, and which Jesus so severely denounced in His encounters with the Pharisees (see Matthew 15; 23). To give an aura of “authority” to their traditions, this fiction of origin with and transmission from Moses (and God) at Sinai was created.--editor]
1:5 “The sages say: whoso engages in much gossip with women brings evil upon himself, desists from the study of the Torah, and will in the end inherit Gehenna.” [This attitude may explain the disciples’ surprise in finding Jesus speaking with the woman of Samaria in John 4]
1:6 “Joshua the son of Perahiah and Nittai the Arbelite received the tradition from the preceding. Joshua the son of Perahiah said: Provide thyself a teacher, and get thee an associate, and judge all men in the scale of merit.” [This endless citing and crediting of some earlier rabbi is in contrast to Jesus who “taught the people as one having authority,” Matthew 7:29]
2:15 “Rabbi Eliezer said, . . .repent one day before your death.”
3:8 “. . . and thus it says ‘in David’, . . .” [see the same phrase, Hebrews 4:7]
4:1 “. . . Happy art thou in this world; and it shall be well with thee in the world to come. . . .”
5:9 “Ten things were created on the even of the [first] Sabbath [i.e., at the end of the work of creation], in the twilight: the mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korah], the mouth of the well [which provided water in the desert for 40 years, according to rabbinic tradition], the mouth of the donkey [that rebuked Balaam], the rainbow, the manna, [Moses’] staff, the shamir-worm, the written characters [alphabet], the writing [on the commandment stones], and the tablets [of the law]. Some say also the destroying spirits, the grave of Moses, Abraham’s ram [Genesis 22]; and others add [the first] tongs [for blacksmithing].”
5:21 “Whoever makes the many righteous, . . . .” [same phrase, Romans 5:19]
5:23 “. . . to do the will of your Father who is in heaven. . . .” [see Matthew 6:9, 10; 7:12; 12:50; 18:14; etc.]
5:23 “. . .May it be your will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, that the temple be speedily rebuilt in our days, . . .” [So they have prayed for 1,900 years!]
6:5 “. . . let your works exceed your learning; . . .”
6:7 “Great is the Torah, which gives life to those that practice it in this world and in the world to come. . . .” [contrast Romans 3:19, 20; Galatians 3:10, 11]
Josephus: the Life; Against Apion, translated by Henry St. John Thackeray. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1926. 425 pp., hardback.
This handy little volume contains the two briefest and latest genuine works of Josephus (ca. A. D. 37 to after A.D. 100), namely his Life, and Against Apion, his apologetic for the Jewish people and religion. The original Greek text of Josephus (with a small portion in Latin where the Greek original is not extant) is presented in parallel--on facing pages--with a new English translation, superceding the old and sometimes unreliable 18th century version of William Whiston. This is the first of nine volumes, all part of the large Loeb Classical Library series of ancient Greek and Latin authors, which give the complete works of Josephus, with accompanying translations by Thackeray, Ralph Marcus, Allen Wikgren and Louis Feldman.
Josephus, born less than a decade after the crucifixion of Christ, was by birth a Jewish priest, by religious association a Pharisee, by the flow of circumstances first a military leader in Galilee at the beginning of the war against Rome and then a collaborator with Rome, and finally a historian of and apologist for the Jews. His Life recounts how he as a teen explored all three Jewish sects--Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes--and after three years as the follower of a religious hermit, chose Phariseeism. He briefly notes his three marriages, his several children, his first trip to Rome in 63/64 (in which he suffered shipwreck, akin to that described in Acts 27, but with much loss of life) to plead for the release of some Jewish priests, and his appointment by the Sanhedrin as the military leader of Galilee in A. D. 66 which he describes in considerable detail. This is the focus of the great bulk of The Life--serving as a defense and vindication of his actions there, until captured by the Romans in 67 (he also gives considerable attention to these same personal events in his first major work, The Jewish Wars). He became a collaborator with the Romans and an eye-witness of the siege and conquest of Jerusalem. He befriended, or was befriended by, Roman generals Vespasian and Titus, both later Emperors, was taken to Rome, granted citizenship and given a pension and other financial considerations. There he wrote first The Jewish Wars (in Aramaic, then had it translated into Greek), chronicling events in Jewish history from the Maccabean period in the mid-2nd century B.C. until the end of the war with Rome in A.D. 73. He later wrote Antiquities of the Jews which follows, more or less, OT events, with numerous omissions, supplements and sometimes dubious interpretations and explanations from Genesis to the Persian period, from which time he traces the history up to A.D. 66, employing a variety of mostly now-lost ancient written sources along the way.
His apologetic work, Against Apion, is a valuable defense of the Jewish people, their religion, and their sacred Scriptures against charges, accusations and misrepresentations by several Gentile writers, particularly in comparison with Greek history, culture and literature. One section, 1:7, 8, is especially important on the subject of the canon of the OT, and the Jewish view of the prophetic gift and divine inspiration of Scripture.
Josephus’ works collectively are perhaps the single most valuable source from antiquity for illuminating the historical, political and cultural context of the New Testament in general and the Gospels and Acts in particular. For example, he provides us with detailed information about the Herod family through four generations, from Herod the Great through Agrippa II, accounts without which it would be impossible to trace the relationships of the various NT Herods to each other. He also mentions by name John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and Jesus Himself, in a passage that unfortunately bears the earmarks of having been “retouched” by some Christian scribe (F. F. Bruce in Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, which, by the way, is a really outstanding little book, has an excellent treatment of this passage in Josephus). Every chapter, and practically every paragraph of the Gospels and Acts (and much in the epistles) can be illustrated or illuminated by incidents, words, descriptions and people found in Josephus. I wonder that he is apparently so little read and little known among conservative Christians today.
A brief selection of sources, chronologically arranged (oldest first), of information about Josephus:
Alfred Edersheim, “Josephus,” in A Dictionary of Christian Biography. Literature, Sects and Doctrines During the First Eight Centuries, edited by William Smith and Henry Wace. London: John Murray, 1882. vol. III, pp. 441-460. Excellent; by a master of ancient Jewish literature.
J. H. Worman, “Josephus,” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, edited by John M’Clintock and James Strong. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1981 reprint of Harper Brothers 1867-1887 edition. Vol. IV, pp. 1022-1025.
Henry St. John Thackeray, “Josephus,” in A Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1904. Extra volume [V], pp. 461-473. The author was the outstanding Josephus scholar of his era.
E. Schuerer, “Josephus, Flavius,” in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by Samuel Macauley Jackson. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1963 reprint of Funk and Wagnalls edition. Vol. VI, pp. 234-236
H. Schreckenberg, “Josephus, Flavius,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982. Vol. two, pp. 1132-3.
Louis H. Feldman, “Josephus,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Vol. III, pp. 981-998.
Reading two or three (or more) of these articles--in conjunction with actually reading from Josephus’ works themselves!--will give the reader an adequate introduction to the man Josephus and his importance to Biblical studies. The total scholarly literature on Josephus is vast. Each of these sources listed will have selected bibliography, directing the reader to additional sources of information.