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Swoboda, Sören


Tod und Sterben im Krieg bei Josephus. Die Intentionen von Bellum und Antiquitates im Kontext griechisch-römischer Historiographie.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2014. XVI, 601 S. = Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, 158. Lw. EUR 174,00. ISBN 978-3-16-152828-6.


Jan Willem van Henten

Sören Swoboda is DFG researcher at the Theological Faculty of Jena. This monograph concerns his adapted dissertation submitted at Jena in 2012. One of its aims is to point out how Josephus articu-lates the theme of death in comparison to Greek and Roman historians, starting with Herodotus and ending with Cassius Dio (who died after 229 C. E.).
S.’s study is a content-based survey of all the passages in Josephus’ Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities that are relevant for the four motifs of death and dying in a military context discussed in chapters 2–5. The introductory chapter explains S.’s motivation, purpose and methodology. First S. searches for corresponding motifs in a wide selection of Graeco-Roman histories (see pp. 18–25). He surveys the occurrence of these motifs in all relevant Graeco-Roman authors (position in the text, frequency, semantic em­phasis, linguistic means) as well as 1 and 2 Maccabees. Next he analyzes the function of the four motifs in their literary context in Josephus. In the final chapter he also offers an analysis of the overall purposes of War and Antiquities as a kind of check for his ana-lysis of the four motifs and a synthesis of his results.
Chapter 2 deals with the numbers of casualties in Josephus. There are no significant differences between Antiquities and War in this respect. War includes fifty-six references with casualties (Anti-quities sixty-three), and this relatively high number follows from the considerable number of battle reports in War as well as Josephus’ role as eyewitness and his knowledge of Roman reports. This may explain why Josephus gives less round numbers in War (i. e. numbers rounded up to hundreds or thousands). The high numbers of Jewish casualties during the war against the Romans (e. g. War 3.296; 4.326–333) stand out. They result in a total of 1.100.000 (War 6.420). Josephus comments that this was the highest number of casualties ever of a destruction caused by heaven or by humans (6.429, a correct comment, 69–71). War matches Roman conventions in several respects, but Antiquities differs from non-Jewish authors because the numbers of casualties are often not part of a résumé of a long battle. In Antiquities the numbers confirm Josephus’ message that who remains faithful to God will be supported by him. In War the numbers highlight the enormous suffering of the Jewish people in the war against the Romans with the aim to arouse compassion among the readers. Chapter 3 concerns final words and final deeds. The ca. thirty relevant passages in War (Antiquities ca. 32, of which only seven are set in the context of a battle) mainly de-scribe final deeds of Jews and their form and context differ widely. Most of the protagonists are anonymous. In both works the relevant passages highlight the virtues and steadfastness of those who are about to die. Sometimes they offer an explanation of the events in the context, such as the cries of lament of the prophet Jesus (War 6.300–315). They also emphasize the amount of suffering that befell the Jews. The high number of these passages in War is striking and certain details show close correspondences with Tacitus. Both Josephus and Tacitus assess a person’s behaviour before dying and both apply direct speech to the same extent. Both authors connect final deeds and words with punitive acts of the divine. Josephus’ War stands out for the great number of gruesome descriptions of persons dying (thirty elaborate passages out of a total of sixty), espe-cially in books 4–6 (chapter 4). These descriptions point to the persons who caused the outbreak of the war, besides a Jewish minor-ity of rebels also wicked Roman individuals like Gessius Florus. They also highlight two other important motifs: the courage and steadfastness of the Jews as well as their tremendous suffering, depicted in dramatic scenes (e. g. the mother who eats up her own child out of hunger, War 6.201–213). Chapter 5 deals with motiva-tions for accepting a violent death and attitudes towards death. In contrast with the military superiority of the Romans and their discipline the Jews distinguish themselves in War by their courage and readiness to die. Motifs explaining this readiness concern the Jewish laws and customs, glory as well as eternal life. In Antiquities the motivations focus on faithfulness to the Jewish religion and laws if it concerns groups and on a virtuous character if individuals are referred to. Chapter 6, finally, connects the results of the pre-ceding chapters with Josephus’ overall aims in War and Antiquities. Josephus attempted to attract Jewish readers, but he mainly wrote for Greeks and Romans who were interested in Judaism. The main points of his message in War are: (1) only a minority of Jews was responsible for the outburst of the war, (2) the defeat was a punishment by God for the unlawful acts of this minority and its profanation of the Temple, (3) the Jews are a courageous people, holding death in contempt, and (4) the detailed and dramatic description of the suffering of the Jews should lead to compassion among these readers – the Jews had suffered enough. Antiquities conveys a dif-ferent message for the same primary readers: (1) the Jews have the best constitution, (2) many of them live a virtuous life in line with this constitution, and (3) God punishes and rewards humans on the basis of their deeds.
The comparison of Josephus with Greek and Roman histories results in several differences. The readiness to die out of faithfulness to the Jewish laws is in Josephus much more prominent than the motif of the willingness to die for the laws in Greek and Latin authors. Another difference concerns religion as a motive for accept-ing a premature death, which is prominent in Josephus. Josephus uses dying scenes as a tool for communicating a complex message. He combines a moral mission with the aim to evoke compassion among his readers.
S.’s wealth of information is enormous. His observation that Josephus focuses almost always on final words and not on deeds before dying may be true, but an important exception should be noted: Mariamme I, Herod the Great’s wife, undergoes her execu-tion in an impressive and dignified way, without saying a word, which contrasts sharply with the histrionic behavior of her mother (Ant. 15.232–239). S. sharply distinguishes between the articulation of noble death as martyrdom as found in 2 Maccabees (6:18–7:42; cf. 14:37–46) and Josephus’ elaboration of last words and deeds before death, because Josephus’ passages are often ambiguous (137 f.; cf. 310–311, 381–383; 390; 4.424 f.). This distinction is useful, but one should acknowledge that there are also many correspondences be-tween Josephus and Graeco-Roman noble death passages. The twenty-one motives for being ready to kill oneself (372) can be expanded with the motive to save one’s people: Eleazar Avaran gave his life to save his people and to achieve an everlasting name for himself (1 Macc. 6:43–46). The question reminds what determines whether a passage has a high or low text-pragmatic relevance, which is important for S.’s assessment of passages. He concludes, for example, that glory as a motive for willing to die has little text-pragmatic relevance in Josephus’ War (316; cf. 357 about Antiquities), but how do we know this? These details and questions do not alter the fact that S.’s book is a substantial and highly recommended contribution to the study of Josephus as well as to Graeco-Roman liter-ature in general.