April 6th, 2014

(relatively) recent

"Josephus's Discourse To The Greeks Concerning Hades"

Seeing in my shul library a copy of the complete works of Josephus, as translated by Whiston, I picked it up to see what I hadn't read yet (apart from the obvious condidates—his autobiography, and Against Apion), and, seeing a "Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades", opened it to have a look what he says.

In the second paragraph, the author writes:
In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honour to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.
Aha, I thought: this is obviously where the idea in Christianity of the lake of fire* comes from; it's another one of those Christian concepts which derive from thoughts in contemporary Judaism, but which the latter religion has since moved on from. (Another example is the Christian view of the Devil as the source of temptation towards sin: Jewish texts from the first centuries CE, basing themselves on the Book of Job, talk about a being variously called either the Adversary (Hebrew haś-Śāṭān) or Prince Masṭémā ("Hostility"), which has this role, whereas more recent Jewish thought views every person as having a good inclination (יֵצֶר טוֹב) and an evil inclination (יֵצֶר הָרַע), i.e. the temptation to sin is of internal origin, not external.)

(Also noteworthy in the above quotation is the fact the lake of fire is empty now, awaiting the Great Day of Judgement; I don't know whether this is reflected in Christian theology, but one doesn't get that impression from those who invoke the fear of it.)

* It occurs to me to wonder whether the rock group Nirvana did a cover of the song "Lake of Fire" not because they liked it so much as because of the irony of a song with this theme being covered by a band with that name...

The essay goes on:
The just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the and of the just, which they see, always smiles them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.
Aha, I thought; another source of a Christian concept. In paragraph six, however, the text went on to read:
For all men, the just as well as the unjust, shall be brought before God the word: for to him hath the Father committed all judgment : and he, in order to fulfill the will of his Father, shall come as Judge, whom we call Christ.
"What!?" I thought. Now, I know the text of Josephus has been diddled with by Christians, but the diddlings-with in Antiquities at least present Josephus as a Jew trying to make sense of what was reported about Jesus of Nazareth, not as a believer in out-and-out Christian theology. So at this point I abandoned the text, and headed off in search of answers.

William Whiston, the eighteenth-century theologian whose translation of Josephus was used in both the book I read the above passage from, and my Wordsworth Classics edition of Antiquities, states that this essay was written when Josephus was bishop of Jerusalem. Cue one further "what!?" from me, and a heading off to Wikipedia, which informs me that though the text was "erroneously attributed to the Jewish historian since at least the 9th century, it is now believed to be (at least in its original form) the work of Hippolytus of Rome." Which, I have to say, is a damning indictment of Western scholarship between the ninth century and some time after the eighteenth.

Wikipedia adds: "As Whiston's translation is in the public domain, it appears in many present-day English editions of Josephus' work without any noting of its questionable attribution." Quite.

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