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«Edited by Mladen Popović LEIDEN • BOSTON © 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV CONTENTS List of Figures and Tables Preface List of Contributors The Jewish ...»

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Those are much larger investigations: this is a very limited and preliminary study of one part of one author’s evidence, offered as an example of the much larger problems, though limited to one stage of the historical process. Nevertheless, it turns up some preliminary problems that must be dealt with by those who embark on those larger investigations.92 Although this has been clear in my mind and I tried to state my aims unambiguously, some scholars have been entirely puzzled. Some have understood me to be abandoning history from some purely literary and narrowly Josephan interests, while others have imagined me trying to settle historical problems on the cheap, focusing only on Josephus as though his account were free of bias and therefore settled the past—though I believe that I have done as much Ibid., 84.

S. Mason, Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2009), 241, reprinting a 2007 essay: “The Essenes of Josephus’s Judaean War: From Story to History,” in Making History: Josephus and Historical Method (ed. Z. Rodgers; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 219–61. I had made similar comments in my first effort on this subject (http://orion.huji.ac.il/orion/programs/Mason00-1.shtml): “My principal aim in this essay is not to meddle in such a famous... [Qumran-Essene] marriage. I want to ask, very simply, what Josephus says about the Essenes in the Judean War. I want to ask this chiefly because the question has not yet been answered, or even been unambiguously posed to my knowledge. We need to read Josephus’s Essenes in the contexts he provides. As a corollary (only), I shall ask how any fair reading of Josephus’s Essenes in the War bears on the Qumran-Essene question.”

© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV what is history? 195

as anyone to undignify that approach. I can only understand these criticisms on the assumption that my interlocutors have no place for the independent interpretation of evidence such as Josephus.

Of those who have doubted my historical interests altogether, Freyne concludes a frankly disappointed Review of Biblical Literature review of my book

on historical “methods and categories” (emphasis added):

Yet not everyone, I suspect, will be prepared to accept Mason’s artful and literary Josephus to the exclusion of any interest, however partisan, in the historical events that his texts evoke and reflect.93 Of course I nowhere suggest that Josephus was not interested in events. To the contrary, I devote several chapters to exploring his position as a historian.

Precisely because he was an ancient historian, however, it would be difficult to show that he was ever interested in clarifying events for their own sake, absent their moral meaning. Does Josephus ever get embroiled in discussions of dates, locations, events, motives, or sequences for the sake of getting the facts straight, and not for moral purposes? Does he not, between the War and the Antiquities-Life parallels, show a cavalier disregard for the mere details of what actually happened, rewriting stories at will? As for my own interests, a basic problem I addressed throughout that book was what we as historians can do with Josephus’ narratives, given that he demonstrably felt such great freedom in rewriting events to suit his rhetorical-moral agendas, and where his accounts are uncorroborated.

With reference to my chapters on Josephus’ Pharisees and Essenes, Freyne

elaborated his conclusion (emphasis added):

A discussion as to how these sources [sc. the other accounts of Pharisees and Essenes] corroborate or differ from Josephus’s accounts would have provided Mason with the opportunity to formulate hypotheses about the historical realities that could be tested with appeal to both literary and (at least in the case of the Essenes) archaeological evidence. Yet he is so intent on his new perspective that, disappointingly, he chooses not to go down that route, one suspects, because in his view this would be entering a blind alley.

Not necessarily a blind alley, but a different one. My inquiry concerned the historical understanding of Josephus’ descriptions: their audiences, structures, language, and contextual interpretation. Those were my stated problems.

There is no way to move from what Josephus says or does not say to conclusions about real Pharisees or Essenes. That sort of inquiry would be different, with its own kind of evidence and criteria. For the Essenes, it would require a thorough treatment of all Josephus’ portraits (not only in B.J. 2) as well as Review of Biblical Literature 11/27 2009: http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=7010&CodePage=4130,6945,7010,1649,4648,481.

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the interpretation of Philo, Pliny, and perhaps Synesius’ Dio on the Essenes.94 Bringing Qumran into the picture (assuming a particular conclusion about Essenes?) would require a study of that site as well as relevant issues in the Scrolls. The investigator would need to weigh possible interpretations of each of those bodies of evidence separately before assessing possible connections among all three (Qumran site, Scrolls, and Essene portraits). Should I have done all of that in an essay? I do not understand why, if I had something new to contribute concerning the Essenes in the context of B.J. 2, a question on which no one else had worked in any detail, it should be so terribly disappointing that I decided to publish that instead of joining the army of scholars who have worked on Qumran-Essene assumptions and connections.





In the same general vein Monika Bernett, who cites a number of my publications without engaging any, imagines me studying Josephus in reductively literary ways and thereby marginalizing his importance for the history of Judaea.95 I am alleged to represent a movement holding that “alle Geschichte Konstrukt sei”96 and so one finds in Josephus only another story, to be interpreted in itself but not for the realities of ancient Judaea. I supposedly depend upon doubtful propositions about Josephus’ Roman situation (she does not discuss actual issues or arguments) and so I am compelled ( gezwungen) to reduce the complexity and inner tensions of Josephus’ narratives to certain narrow theses. What those might be she does not say.

In any case, these dismissive charges expose a rich confusion.

a. It is true that part of my research programme involves trying to understand Josephus’ narratives in the context of Flavian Rome. I have done that because it was a neglected and promising line of inquiry. But my aim has been to help us to understand Josephus better, not least for the study of Roman Judaea. Such research does not prevent or inhibit that use.

b. Over against all “thesis” approaches to Josephus’ narratives—e.g., that he was a Flavian mouthpiece or wanted to protect priests from war guilt or promoted the Pharisees-rabbis in his later works, or that the differences between his works could be explained by a comprehensive biographicalpolitical criterion—which were the dominant scholarly views as I was writing, I have always argued for the complexity and rhetorical freedom of his work, on the basis of many examples and comparanda from his ancient environment. Instead of looking for theses, I have traced various thematic I have for the first time attempted to sketch such a historical study, which should appear in P. W. Flint and K. Baek, eds., Celebrating the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Canadian Collection (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011).

Bernett, Der Kaiserkult in Judäa, 20–21.

It is undeniable that all history, as I have defined it, is a process of mental construction. Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ work, and Bernett’s own study, are of course constructs. What else could they be? But none of this makes history less than a serious effort to get to grips with the real past, as far as possible, on the basis of surviving evidence, in which some arguments are better than others.

© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV what is history? 197

clusters that run through it while allowing for all sorts of ironic, digressive, and subsurface possibilities yet to be explored.

c. For such reasons, I have rejected simple attempts to extract historical facts or identify untouched source material on the basis of tensions in Josephus—precisely because he writes complex narratives.

d. All of this has not only been historical investigation in itself (embedding Josephus in a realistic ancient environment, trying to understand how he “published,” using only appropriate emic categories, and looking to ancient rather than modern political values); it has also been oriented toward the use of his narratives for our inquiries about Roman Judaea.97 e. In this last regard I have tried to establish at least three main points. First, Josephus is often corroborated by archaeology, but mostly in connection with scenic elements and not for specific events, actors, and motives. Second, these latter issues are more likely to find corroboration, if at all, in other literary sources (e.g., Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio). Where we have such independent perspectives we might hope to make some limited progress in reconstructing what really happened. But third, we are mostly dealing with Josephus alone, and the artistry and malleability of his narratives (i.e., where he tells the same stories differently) drive home what we should know as historians anyway: that uncorroborated evidence must leave us uncertain about what really happened. While writing often about the complexity of Josephus’ narratives, I have been assuming the incomparably greater complexity of real human life, and that is the reason for rejecting any simple connection between Josephus’ story and the lost reality of lives actually lived.

Let me be clearer, then. When I observe that uncorroborated evidence does not give us a sound basis for drawing conclusions about the real past, this is not an abandonment of historical interest. On the contrary, it is the cold steel of historical method. History has no mandate to provide consoling stories, and there is no point in pretending that ingenuity can compensate for our profound lack of knowledge. Monika Bernett, having dismissed my call for interpreting Josephus’ narratives as though this were a purely literary pursuit, E.g., “Contradiction or Counterpoint? Josephus and Historical Method,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 6 (2003): 145–88; “Flavius Josephus in Flavian Rome: Reading On and Between the Lines,” in Flavian Rome: Culture, Image, Text (ed. A. J. Boyle and W. J. Dominik; Leiden: Brill, 2003), 559–89; “Of Audience and Meaning: Reading Josephus’ Bellum Iudaicum in the Context of a Flavian Audience,” in Josephus

and Jewish History in Flavian Rome and Beyond (ed. J. Sievers and G. Lembi; Leiden:

Brill, 2005), 70–100; “Figured Speech and Irony in the Works of T. Flavius Josephus,” in Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome (ed. J. Edmondson, S. Mason, and J. Rives;

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 243–88; “The Greeks and the Distant Past in the Judean War of Flavius Josephus,” in Antiquity in Antiquity (ed. K. Osterloh and G. Gardner; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 93–130; “Of Despots, Diadems, and Diadochoi: Josephus and Flavian Politics,” in Writing Politics in Imperial Rome (ed.

W. J. Dominik, J. Garthwaite, and P. A. Roche; Leiden: Brill, 2009), 323–49.

© 2012 Koninklijke Brill NV198 steve mason

proceeds to use those narratives without visible constraint. To take only the most surprising example, she quotes a speech that Josephus writes for King Herod a century later as though it were the King’s Greek, illuminating his real aims and outlook.98 There are sound historical reasons for interpreting our evidence before we use it for other purposes.

On the opposite pole, the assumption that in treating Josephus’ evidence I was trying to settle larger historical questions: I met this perplexing criticism after the appearance of Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees. Because that study, in trying to understand Josephus’ portraits of the Pharisees, challenged certain readings of Josephus that had been used to restrict the Pharisees’ real influence on society (e.g., the notion that his later works promote the Pharisees in light of Yavneh), some scholars understood me to be supporting the position they were writing against, that the historical Pharisees ran everything in pre-70 Judaea. But this modern problem played no role in my effort to understand Josephus.99 In a similar way, Kenneth Atkinson and Jodi Magness have recently devoted a Journal of Biblical Literature article to challenging my putative effort to undo the Qumran-Essene hypothesis, missing my stated purposes (above).

They imagine that I wish to speak for “the opponents of the Qumran-Essene hypothesis” and present my argument thus: “he criticizes the use of Josephus’s accounts of the Essenes to establish the identity of the Qumran sectarians.”100 They suppose that when I argue from contextual clues for interpreting Josephus, I do so in order to show that the Scrolls and Josephus’ Essenes should not be linked. On that basis they devote most of their article to confronting their readers yet again with Qumran archaeology and the helpful observation that not everything Josephus says should be taken as representative of reality.101 Bernett, Der Kaiserkult in Judäa, 153. Key Herodian terms include eudaimonia, Bernett proposes, on which see Mason, Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees, 85–89.

I had interpreted Josephus’ statement about having returned to the polis of Jerusalem to engage in public life (politeuesthai), deferring to the school of the Pharisees (ἠρξάμην τε πολιτεύεσθαι τῇ Φαρισαίων αἱρέσει κατακολουθῶν; Vita 12), on strictly literary-contextual and philological grounds—grammatically meaning that this public life entailed some deference to the Pharisees, contextually matching his earlier claim that even Sadducees, though of high social standing, were unable to follow their own programme but “whenever they reach positions of leadership they must therefore embrace what the Pharisee says, albeit unwillingly and by necessity, because otherwise the masses would not put up with them” (A.J. 18.17). This was all interpretative, with

backing and warrants from Josephus’ narrative alone. E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 bce–66 ce (London: SCM, 1992), 532 n. 9 responded, however:



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