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Swoboda, Sören


Leben nach dem Tod. Josephus im Kontext antiker Geschichtsschreibung.


Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk 2019. 166 S. = Stuttgarter Bibelstudien, 245. Kart. EUR 28,00. ISBN 978-3-460-03454-9.


Jan Willem van Henten

This monograph is closely connected with Sören Swoboda’s major study »Tod und Sterben im Krieg bei Josephus« (2014, see ThLZ 3/141 [2016], 185–187). It ultimately goes back to the so far unpublished final chapter of his 2012 dissertation. It confirms S.’s argument in his study from 2014 about Josephus’ aims and his intended audience in the Jewish War and the Antiquities. It focuses on the pas-sages about the afterlife in connection with the Jewish attitude to­wards death as presented by Josephus. S. offers an encompassing discussion of the relevant passages in Josephus, which he compares, after a detailed survey, with the relevant Graeco-Roman passages about the afterlife, starting with Herodotus and ending with Cassius Dio (who died after 229 C. E.). He also offers brief discussions of 1 and 2 Maccabees and concludes his analysis of Josephus’ passages about the afterlife in the context of ancient historiography with a brief discussion of the relevance of his outcomes for the study of the New Testament, in particular the eschatology in Luke-Acts.
The survey of the relevant Graeco-Roman passages is concise but nevertheless almost complete (except from Diodorus’ many refer-ences to the afterlife). It offers a fine overview with useful observations, pointing, for example, to the ambiguities in Diodorus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus concerning the connection between eternal fame and an afterlife of the soul that would allow for one’s enjoyment of this fame.
The chapter about Josephus’ passages includes a good survey of previous scholarship on the afterlife in Josephus, and he conveni-ently summarizes the main results on pp. 72–74. Josephus takes the concept of a soul living in the body (sometimes as a part of God, see BJ 3.372–373) for granted, in line with Hellenistic-Roman views. The soul leaves the body after a person’s death without an intermediary stage, either to a kind of underworld (sometimes called Hades) or to a heavenly location, depending on one’s behaviour during life. Josephus implies that a Jewish way of life leads to a virtuous life, and as a consequence to a reward in the afterlife (e. g. AJ 17.354). S. concludes that Josephus seems to reckon with the possibility of a transmigration of the soul to another body for those who lived in a positive way. Explicit references to a bodily afterlife are missing, which is one of the striking contrasts with Luke-Acts, but S. consid-ers the possibility that Josephus avoided to discuss this view be-cause it would be unfamiliar to his intended audience.
Josephus does not offer coherent discussions of the afterlife, his passages serve other purposes. The belief of the Essenes in a posthumous life, for example, serves the motivation to be ready to die (BJ 2.151–153). Four other passages in Bellum, including 6.33–53 and 7.341–356, would also highlight such a motivation in a military context and they are part of Josephus’ argument that this willingness to die points to the collective braveness of the Jewish people. S. definitely has a point here, but his category of five of such passages seems a bit arbitrary. He includes BJ 1.650–653 about the demoli-tion of Herod’s golden eagle in this list, because of the correspondences with the other passages, but he acknowledges that the context of this passage is different (no war), and I would add that the assessment of the perpetrators is not entirely positive in this pas-sage. BJ 3.361–382, the famous passage about Josephus who surrend-ers himself to the Romans, raises questions which call for further discussion: one of the reasons in Josephus’ vehement argument against suicide is his finding that there was no military need for it because the Romans were not attacking his group and did not in­tend to kill them (3.365).
The comparison of the Graeco-Roman and Josephan passages from a text pragmatic perspective shows that both Josephus and Graeco-Roman historians connect views about the afterlife with a readiness to die, foremost concerning foreigners (e. g. Indian sages in Strabo 15.1.59 and 73). However, this theme is far more prominent in Josephus, who may have wanted to present the Jews as a foreign nation in order to enhance the interest of his intended readers. Josephus’ passages differ in still other ways from the Graeco-Roman parallels: the protagonists try to motivate others to be ready to die or argue against that; these motivations are central to the passages, and Josephus mostly supports the view of the protagonists in his comments, which implies that he is unique as a his-torian because he identifies himself and his people with these views about the afterlife. In short: this is a readable, well-argued and most welcome new study into the afterlife in Josephus.