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Colautti, Federico M.


Passover in the Works of Josephus.


Leiden-Boston-Köln: Brill 2002. XII, 277 S. gr.8 = Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 75. Lw. Euro 78,00. ISBN 90-04-12372-5.


Tamar Landau

The title of this book could not have been more precise: Colautti's detailed study investigates the instances where Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions Passover in his historical works, The Jewish War (JW) and The Jewish Antiquities (Ant.). C. aims to "identify and analyse the passages in FJ's writings which deal with this feast" (1), and proposes an overall view on Josephus' presentation of Passover. His study shows that indeed, a "comprehensive vision" (ibid.) can be detected in the Jewish historian's presentation and explanation of Passover, and that this vision is connected with both his historical method and his political agenda. The latter assumption, however, is not spelled out quite as clearly as it could. C.'s examination is as erudite and detailed as can be, but it seems to lack a more decisive reiteration of Josephus' mastery of rhetoric, political agenda and awareness of his prospective audience.

C. divides his study into three parts: the first looks into the presentation of Passover in the Old Testament and in Josephus' paraphrase of the bible (Ant. 1-10). Part two examines the celebrations of Passover during Josephus' account of the Second Temple period, from the Hellenistic period until and during the Jewish Revolt in the first century C. E. Part three sets the results in a threefold context: literary, historical and social.

The conclusions are often illuminating, occasionally baffling, but generally not at all surprising (in the positive sense) for those who accept the current views concerning Josephus' pronounced political engagements and his highly skilled historical and rhetorical method. On the face of it, biblical and literary passages concerning Passover might not be the best material for historiographical manipulation. Indeed, C. offers synoptic readings of parallel passages of Josephus and his sources that show, in most cases, only small changes. However, it is clear that Josephus operates carefully and consciously within his limits, and does everything to harness the material to his agenda.

Concerning the biblical paraphrase, C. limits his conclusions to the technical and religious aspects and concludes that Passover indeed gains significance for Josephus, although his descriptions of the feast tend to be incomplete. The changes Josephus makes might express his religious sensitivities and political agenda. As far as religion is concerned, C. points out that "by apparently diminishing the role of God in the revelation of the Law and enhancing the task of its mediators, Moses and Joshua, FJ seems to express a very unusual view of revelation, namely, that God reveals himself through history" (77). This certainly befits a historian as intercultural and as dedicated to his profession as Josephus.

The conclusions for part two take a more political turn. When discussing the recent historical past and contemporary events that led to the revolt, Josephus clearly makes a connection between political deterioration and Passover. Of course, that might have had a historical reason: mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem in times of unrest might have sparked as few flames. But there is more to Josephus' account than mere historical coincidence: it seems that the close proximity between Passover feasts in Jerusalem and political catastrophe are not coincidental but providential. C. asserts that "the fact that FJ links - it seems intentionally - the beginning and subsequent failure of the war with the feast of Passover, indicate[s] that FJ saw this event in the light of a commemoration which celebrated exactly the opposite, namely, the liberation of Israel ... the impression conveyed is that FJ adopts and develops the idea of Passover as the antithesis of the events of war ..." (128). C. clearly recognizes Josephus' intricate methods and ever-present political agenda. While these conclusions are convincing, there are a few open questions left that could have been answered - or at least discussed - within the scope of C.'s research: more discussion of Josephus' rhetoric (and implementation of rhetorical tools) would have enriched such an extensive study of texts.

This seems especially important because the art of Josephus' gentle coaxing of sources into his independent mold lies not in the literal paraphrase but in the internal rearrangement of material. He places short discussions of Passover in close proximity to accounts of political events, and creates an affinity (antithetical or not) between Passover, the feast of liberation from the Egyptian yoke, and events like the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah, the anti-Herodian uprising, and, of course, the chain of unfortunate events that led to the outbreak of the Revolt. The Revolt itself, undoubtedly a key event - perhaps the event that determines the mood of Josephus' entire historical corpus - is clearly connected with Passover feasts and their contemporary political and social implications.

Part three aims at setting the context for the results obtained. C. rightly perceives the context in its widest meaning and divides it into three parts: literary, historical and social. On the literary level, he (rightly) does not detect any clear dependence between Josephus and other Jewish sources (be they literary, historical or other), but points out that there are a few general similarities concerning the treatment of Passover. These, he asserts, are probably a result of common cultural and religious background. Following an extensive examination of many different texts, the conclusion seems somewhat short. C. states his results but does not attempt to turn them into a broader statement. Perhaps this is impossible, given the fragmentary nature of the works. Nevertheless, the reader is left with a taste for more.

The conclusions of the examination of the historical context leave the reader somewhat perplexed: it is quite surprising to read on p. 217, that "FJ depicts a somewhat distorted image of the real events, by attempting to free Passover of any political implication that it almost certainly had". This conclusion is perplexing because it comes after clear and repetitive earlier demonstrations that Josephus not only does not free Passover from its political implications but takes much effort to emphasise them. The general conclusions repeat the initial conclusions, so it seems safe to say that indeed, the initial observations are correct. These are concerning the centrality of Passover in Josephus' works, its deep political meanings which transcend the religious aspects, and Josephus' skilled reworking of his sources into a new and independent agenda. Perhaps this puzzle could be avoided by clearer and less tentative phraseology.

In summary, Passover in the Works of Josephus is another link in the recent chain of studies on Josephus that reveal a complex, highly skilled and politically-engaged historian. For Josephus, Passover was much more than a religious celebration. It served him well in demonstrating the close connections between Jewish religion, social structure and politics throughout the ages. The accounts of Passover were perhaps another means for Josephus to convey both his emotions (cf. JW 1.9-12) and his political agenda.

C.'s study demonstrates with a careful eye and great detail that Josephus' blend of methodological, religious, historical and political considerations are expressed in almost every level of his writing. However, let me stress again that in the light of current research, a more decisive assertion of the observations and conclusions of this study might have served it well. What would have also contributed to this publication is a more fluent translation (the dissertation was originally written in Spanish) and careful editing. In addition, the book contains far too many involuntary spelling mistakes. If it is to be printed again, it is advisable that these be corrected.