Chapter 2. Toward a Poetics of Embedded Letters

Josephus’ competent readers would have been familiar with the practice of embedding letters, as discussed in Chapter One. By describing epistolary embedding in detail, this chapter will argue that Josephus’ readers would have been quite prepared to apprehend the various ways in which embedded letters interact with their surrounding narratives. Josephus’ portrayal of Herod’s use of letters to convict his sons before a Roman court provides a useful introduction to several important components of this poetics of embedded letters.


In Antiquitates Judaicae 16, Herod reads a letter (τὰ γραφέντα) before a Roman council (συνέδριον) in the trial of his sons Alexander and Aristobulus. [1] Rather than allowing the council to read the evidence (τοὺς ἐλέγχους, 16.363), he exaggerates the contents of the letter. The narrator asserts that, while Herod uses the letter to present charges, evidence of a plot or a betrayal has not been included in the letter Herod reads. The letter itself only indicates that the princes intend to flee, and it contains some remarks that have been deemed offensive to Herod (16.363). Josephus is claiming knowledge that is beyond that of the internal audience, those present at the trial: Herod has deceived the Roman council by hoarding the letter, withholding it from audience scrutiny. Just before Herod reads the letter aloud, Josephus portrays him as not allowing the council to “examine the evidence” (τούς τε ἐλέγχους οὐκ ἐπιτρέπων καταμαθεῖν, 16.363). [2] The reader is led {51|52} to believe that, if only the council members could view the documents themselves, the messages would show Herod to be accusing his sons falsely. [3] If we regard Herod as a sort of “messenger” who is performing the letter, he proves ultimately irresponsible and dishonest. Josephus’ presentation of this view is oblique: events never allow the internal or external audiences to confirm whether the narrator is telling the truth. In any case, the reader is left with the impression that Herod, as “messenger,” is lying.
Josephus’ method for handling the epistolary material and message becomes clearer when one contrasts the parallel account of this episode in Bellum Judaicum 1. Herod delivers his case against his sons at 1.540, but in this account there are no letters with which to manipulate the material record. Rather, Herod strains himself (his voice?) as toward those who are present: ὡς πρὸς παρόντας διετείνετο. His accusation is weak (κατηγόρει τε τὴν μὲν ἐπιβουλὴν ἀσθενῶς), as one typically is when at a loss for evidence (ὡς ἄν ἀπορούμενος εἰς αὐτὴν ἐλέγχων), despite the fact that, in this case, Herod may very well have a legitimate charge. Legitimacy of charge is not an available interpretation in the Antiquitates Judaicae: the materiality of the letter provides the means by which Herod’s deception is revealed to the external audience by the narrator. As we will see below, [4] this strategy of revealing a letter, which is unavailable to an internal audience, to the external audience is used at other times by Josephus. The significance of Josephus’ use of a letter here is that it communicates a fault in Herod’s character, one that is not so clear in the Bellum Judaicum. [5]
Concerning the function and nature of letters, this episode raises several important issues that will be introduced in this section and noted in the texts analyzed in following chapters. First, to function: the letter is a device that performs two functions, developing the reader’s understanding of character through the letter’s use in the plot and serving as evidence in a legal proceeding. In some cases, the contents of a letter reflect the motivations of the epistolary author, who can be a character in the narrative. In other cases, as here in Antiquitates Judaicae 16, the narrator uses a character’s handling of a letter to illustrate a particular attribute of that character. Josephus uses this technique extensively, especially as it relates to letters’ use as evidence {52|53} in the Herod narratives. These functions of letters will be discussed further in Chapters Three and Four.
The above episode also points to a number of issues dealing with the nature of letters, associated as they are with writing, reading, and speaking. The letter’s most obvious characteristic in the text is its writtenness (τὰ γραφέντα). While the terms typically used to refer to an epistolary document are not explicitly used in this episode, it is difficult to imagine an alternative document being used in this trial. Thus the episode illustrates the flexibility of epistolary terminology, and perhaps even of the definition of a letter itself, despite a fairly standard terminology in Josephus. The epistolary idea emphasized in this narrative is writing; even if letter writing is not part of a narrative, a letter’s writtenness is implied when the document is sealed, sent, intercepted, delivered, and/or read by at least one literate person, whether it be the recipient, an interceptor, messenger, or some combination of these. When a letter is both written and read, its relationship to the epistolary author’s speaking is often apparent, creating an interplay between letters and speech. In Antiquitates Judaicae 16, the presentation of the letter, not in direct quotation but summarized, is odd enough to give a reader pause. The reader knows the contents of the letter only as they contrast with Herod’s speech. In other words, Herod’s speech raises a problem for understanding what is really going on, and the narrator attempts to correct the reader’s understanding by summarizing the letter’s actual contents. The presentation of the letter by another writer in an embedding text both complicates and simplifies its appearance in the text: it complicates the letter by adding summarizing material, directly attached frames that alter meaning, and constructing a broader context that colors the perception of the letter; it simplifies the letter by making it physically one with the text. In these ways, an embedded letter is substantively different from a singular, documentary letter, though some documentary letters play with this distinction.
For readers of this Antiquitates Judaicae 16 episode, embeddedness potentially raises the question of how Josephus becomes aware of the letter’s content. In the text, the actual letter is contrasted with its presentation by Herod. Can Josephus only have known what the letter says by having looked at it? Perhaps Josephus’ source, in this case probably Nicolaus of Damascus, was present and had looked at the letter, perhaps even quoting or summarizing it in his own narrative. This certainly is a possibility, since Nicolaus was Herod’s courtier and was probably present. Nicolaus’ text could even have archived the letter {53|54} in a more complete way than Josephus presents it. Theoretically, the letter could also have been preserved in an archive with other letters or documents, and a reader unfamiliar with Josephus’ literary source may wonder whether the author has consulted such an archive. In any case, whether representing a literary or documentary source, the archive would have presented the true content of the letter, in contrast to Herod’s speech performance. The issues raised here—questions of epistolary terminology, the difference between embedded letters and speeches, the presentation of letters, and the nature of archives—will require further explanation.


As seen in the survey above, the terminology Josephus uses to refer to a letter consists of ἐπιστολή and γράμματα, used interchangeably, as well as a range of epistolary verbs: πέμπω, γράφω, ἀντιγράφω, and ἐπιστέλλω. [6] How does this compare with other authors? With few exceptions, this is the typical semantic range for Greek literature in the Roman Republican and Imperial periods, and is used by Polybius, Dionysius, Diodorus, Nicolaus of Damascus, Xenophon, Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, Plutarch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Ἐπιστολή is usually used in the singular to refer to a single document—Aristotle uses the term to refer to Iphigenia’s letter in Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris [7] —though Euripides Iphigenia in Tauris (589, 732) and Thucydides (8.51.1–2) use it in the plural (ἐπιστολαί) to mimic the use of the plural γράμματα, apparently to refer to a single letter. In 1 Maccabees, the term ἐπιστολαί usually refers to one quoted letter (5:9–13, 14; probably 9:60; 10:3–6, 7, 17) in much the same way that the plural γράμματα is used to refer to a single document, but this is not always the case (11:29, 30–31, 32–37; 12:5–23). [8] In Herodotus, ἐπιστολή is used twice; γράμματα is the more common term, but Herodotus also uses βύβλιον and δέλτος, terms which are not used to refer to letters in Josephus, though the Greek translation of 2 Samuel, part of which Josephus {54|55} retells, uses βίβλιον. 1 Maccabees also uses βιβλία (1:44). [9] Δέλτος and its derivatives are also used by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Plutarch. [10] Another term that does not appear in Josephus is πεύκη ‘hinged tablet’, which Euripides uses (Iphigenia in Aulis 39). The Greek orators, especially Demosthenes, use both ἐπιστολή and γράμματα to refer to letters; the point at which a letter is to be inserted, if it is not quoted in the text, is indicated with ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ in the text. Thus, with Plutarch’s usage as an exception, it would appear that the range of terms used by Josephus, following Greek historians, is common for historians of his period, while more obscure, apparently older terms such as δέλτος, πεύκη, and βίβλιος/βύβλιον had more or less fallen out of use.
These latter, more infrequently used terms suggest flexibility in the definition of ‘letter’. Independent letters have been the focus of scholarly literature concerned with identifying a document as epistolary in nature. The introduction to Michael Trapp’s collection of 76 letters—42 in Greek, 33 in Latin, one in both languages—identifies six criteria used to determine whether a letter should be included in the collection:
A letter is a written message from one person (or set of people) to another, requiring to be set down in a tangible medium, which itself is to be physically conveyed from sender(s) to recipient(s). Formally, it is a piece of writing that is overtly addressed from sender(s) to recipient(s), by the use at beginning and end of a limited set of conventional formulae of salutation (or some allusive variation on them) which specify both parties to the transaction … [T]he need for a letter as a medium of communication normally arises because the two parties are physically distant (separated) from each other, and so unable to communicate by unmediated voice or gesture; {55|56} and … a letter is normally expected to be of relatively limited length. [11]
Trapp acknowledges that the criteria can be tricky to apply, noting that the letters in his anthology “either have these characteristics, or somehow play at having them.” He observes “family unity” but “a very considerable diversity.” [12] This diversity is possible because some of the criteria are necessarily open-ended, especially the “addressed” quality of letters. Such open-endedness has been exploited by Derrida, who argues that the letter is “not a genre but all genres, literature itself,” [13] which may even lead one to assert that all communication, even all of life, is in some sense ‘epistolary’ because it is semiotic, it transmits a message from a sign producer to a sign receiver. [14] Gibson and Morrison explore the boundaries between the letter and other genres by “experimenting” with a Greek verse epistle, Theocritus Idylls (11, 13, and 28), which meets Trapp’s criteria in a broad sense, with the exception of an epistolary greeting, and Cicero De Officiis, which meets the criteria except for short length. Their study invokes Wittgenstein’s idea of family-resemblance [15] to say that diverse texts resemble each other in important ways, and so letters share certain features with non-epistolary texts. They emphasize the effect of these resemblances on the reader, though they do not develop the idea, and challenge the motivation of defining a letter in order to seal it off from other genres, a process that leads to the question of whether a particular instance can be considered a ‘letter’. This question, Gibson and Morrison argue, is itself problematic, since “often the character of an individual text is guaranteed by its place within a larger group of epistolary texts, {56|57} such as in a letter-collection.” Indeed, they argue for the importance of justifying “borderline epistolary poems … by parallel, or more explicit, examples,” because it “hints at the significance of the letter-collection.” [16] So one should be inclined to ask, are these letters? The letter-collection can “guide [the] reader as to the need to read its constituent texts as letters … The letter is not a type of text devoid of formal, structural, and thematic connections with other types of text.” [17] It is unclear what critical, practical difference it makes to read the collection when one is assessing or appreciating a particular letter that is unattached to a collection or is embedded in a narrative that makes the ‘letter’ stand out as different.
Embedded letters are ‘letters’ because they share characteristics with other instances considered to be ‘letters’ and are considered to be different from the rest of the text by the authors who embed them and surround them in that text with verbal and nominal tags or clues, hints about the separation of the two communicating parties, or the absence of a speaking messenger. This means that embedded letters are different from embedded speech, and Herod, as a messenger mis-performing the ‘real letter’ in his hand, highlights this difference.

Embedded letters and speeches

How letters relate to speech is an important topic to explore further. Ancient epistolary theorists regarded letters as somewhat similar to speech, whether “monologue” or conversation. [18] Between the first centuries BC and AD, [19] Demetrius quotes the editor of Aristotle’s epistolary collection as saying that a letter should resemble dialogue {57|58} since it forms one of the two sides of a dialogue: δεῖ ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ τρόπῳ διάλογόν τε γράφειν καὶ ἐπιστολάς· εἶναι γὰρ τὴν ἐπιστολὴν οἷον τὸ ἕτερον μέρος τοῦ διαλόγου (De Elocutione 223). Demetrius agrees to a point, but says that a letter, because it is written, should be “more elaborate,” [20] not chatty like dialogue (De Elocutione 224–225), and that a letter should be an expression of character, moderate in length as well as style (De Elocutione 228–229): [21] not long and stylistically elevated but appropriate to the audience. Letters should be distinct from long, discursive works, unlike Nicias’ letter in Thucydides (De Elocutione 228, on Thucydides 7.11.1–15.2)! Cicero and Seneca—perhaps roughly contemporary with Demetrius—agree and unequivocally emphasize that letters are like speech. Cicero feels that writing letters to Atticus is like talking to him. [22] Seneca notes that his correspondent complains that his letters are “carelessly written.” Seneca retorts that he wishes for his letters to be “just what my conversation would be if you and I were sitting in one another’s company or taking walks together—effortless and easy.” [23]
For these authors, letters are similar to comfortable, extemporaneous speech, rather than to formal rhetoric with proper disposition (οἰκονομία) for ceremonial, forensic, or political purposes. Letters did, however, have their place in Greek rhetoric, and the rhetors distinguished them formally from speeches, while at the same time demonstrating that letters and speeches could usefully be made to work toward a rhetorical goal. Letters appear throughout Demosthenes, sometimes {58|59} embedded by quotation, [24] other times only signaled but not quoted. [25] In De corona, Demosthenes defends himself against the accusations of Aeschines, arguing that he had consistently opposed Philip of Macedon (18.17). Delivering the speech in 330 BC, Demosthenes marshals as evidence an Athenian decree and a letter from Philip: Βασιλεὺς Μακεδόνων Φίλιππος Ἀθηναίων τῇ βουλῇ καὶ τῷ δήμῳ χαίρειν. The letter is formally different from both the speech and the decree, but more like the speech than the decree. The decree is in the third person, includes dates, and is bookended by εἶπε. Like the speech, the letter is in the first person and, while it of course includes the greeting formula χαίρειν, also uses a deliberative, almost conversational tone, evident especially in Philip’s use of μοι δοκεῖτε (“you seem to me”) and ἐὰν μὴ ἐμμένητε τοῖς ὡμολογημένοις, οὐδὲν προτερήσετε ἔξω τοῦ ἐφθακέναι ἀδικοῦντες (“if you do not stick to your agreements, you will not have an advantage outside of being an aggressor”). The latter conditional presents what seems to be an option for the Athenians, which is much different from the style of Callisthenes’ decree. In addition, the public decree’s distribution seems to contrast strongly with that of the letter. As Demosthenes argues, though Philip addresses the letter to the Athenians, it carries for the Thebans and Thessalians (18.40) the message that Philip is acting against the will of the Athenians and that they can join him. This points not only to the broader intended distribution of the letter, but also to the multiple interpretations made possible through such distribution, which distinguish it in this case both from the decree and the speech.
Though written, Demosthenes’ speech would presumably have been memorized, and the letter read aloud. This blurring between the written and spoken occurs also in Aristotle, who, in his Rhetoric, distinguishes between the style (λέξις) of a written work and of extemporaneous debate (οὐ γὰρ ἡ αὐτὴ γραφικὴ καὶ ἀγωνιστική, 1413b4). Aristotle argues that the written style is ἀκριβεστάτη ‘most finished’ [26] {59|60} and the spoken style is ὑποκριτικωτάτη ‘most capable of being delivered’. [27] Written material seems too confined (στενοὶ) when read—just as the formal epistolary greeting would have during the reading of a letter inserted into a speech—and extemporaneous material seems awkward or unprofessional (ἰδιωτικοὶ) when read (1413b). The categories remain vague, though, depending on the extent to which delivery (ὑπόκρισις) is important, which determines how little finish (ἀκρίβεια) is needed (1414a16). The degree to which ἀκρίβεια is required depends on the size of the audience. For a large audience in the public assembly (δημηγορικὴ), ἀκρίβεια is “superfluous and produces an inferior impression” (περίεργα καὶ χείρω φαίνεται, 1414a9). [28] Aristotle distinguishes this from a judicial court, which requires more finish, and a court with only one judge. With an audience of one judge, a speaker need include only what is relevant to the case (1414a11). In a discussion that has its focus on differentiating the categories between writing and speaking, a letter’s capacity for conversational, unfinished tone and the possibility of its broad distribution make for an interesting case.
What about the experience of an auditor or reader? Quintilian, a Roman contemporary of Josephus, addresses the different experiences of listening and reading: [29] reading allows one to have clearer judgment, whereas listening allows one to be influenced by all the resources at a speaker’s disposal, such as “voice, grace of gesture, and (perhaps the most powerful factor in oratory) delivery adapted to the requirement of each particular passage.” [30] Similarly, Quintilian notes that a speech is continually proceeding, so one must keep up rather than going back and pondering its contents. By contrast, reading allows one to review and even memorize the text. He uses the metaphor of eating; rereading is like chewing food and digesting it (Institutio oratoria 10.1.19). [31] In this {60|61} way, a reader can see through the compositional choices and techniques used by a speech writer and can better understand various sections after the entire speech has been read (Institutio oratoria 1.10.20–21). Quintilian does not suggest that the writer and the speaker present different content, but rather that the receiver’s experience is different because of the oratorical tools employed by a speaker versus the opportunity for a text to be reviewed. [32] Based on Quintilian’s formulation, a reader of a letter can certainly take the contemplative approach offered by texts. However, his experience might be slightly different if he could listen to a letter; it is different again if he could listen to and read a letter, as the discussion on messengers will show below.
Whether from the perspective of the writer or the reader, letters resist neat categories for Greeks and Romans. In so doing, letters mirror the act of writing itself, which Plato famously distrusts in the Phaedrus, because, he says, it will displace the use of memory in the pursuit of education and true wisdom (Phaedrus 275a). [33] In his view, writing only presents an image of thought and does not respond to questioning or defend itself (Phaedrus 275d–e), so it should only be used for amusement or as a reminder (Phaedrus 276d). For communication, a wise person ought to prefer discussion, by which he can help himself and his interlocutor, as well as bear fruit for generations (Phaedrus 276e–277a). [34] A letter writer, of course, could hope for a reply, which may or may not arrive, as will be evident in Chapter Three, but if this ambivalence toward writing generally persists in the ancient record, embedded letters could reflect it as well.
This discussion of letters and speech hints at the ongoing discussion, in the Western intellectual tradition, of the difference between speaking and writing. Structuralist and post-structuralist criticism wrestles with the concept still: {61|62}
The physical presentation of a text gives it a stability which separates it from the ordinary circuit of communication in which speech takes place, and this separation has important implications for the study of literature … To think of the written word as simply a record of the spoken word is but one version of a “metaphysics of presence” which locates truth in what is immediately present to consciousness with as little mediation as possible. Thus, the Cartesian cogito, in which the self is immediately present to the self, is taken as the basic proof of existence, and things directly perceived are apodictically privileged … Interpretation, on this model, is a matter of making present what is absent, of restoring original presence which is the source of truth and of the form in question. The tendency is thus to treat a text as if it were spoken and to try to move through the words to recover the meaning which was in the speaker’s mind at the moment of utterance … However appropriate this model may seem to speech, the written word cannot be thought of in this way. Plato condemned writing because the written word was cut loose and liberated from the communicative presence which alone could be the source of meaning and truth. But this distance, this independence of the written word, is one of the constitutive features of literature. [35]
Culler discusses the deconstructionist Derrida, for whom meaning is not “present at the moment of production” and thereafter waits for its truth to be uncovered, but “the series of developments to which [a sentence] gives rise, as determined by past and future relations between words and the conventions of semiotic systems.” [36] Thus, for Derrida, writing involves “difference,” and the “written word is an object in its own right: different from meanings which it defers in a play of differences … with no positive terms.” [37] Derrida argues that the signified “is never present in and of itself, in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself. Essentially and lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by means of the systematic play of differences.” [38] This Derrida calls différance. So, simply put, texts can mean many things, and Derrida wants to apply the “play of differences” to speech, {62|63} inverting the subsumption of writing to speech that epistolary theorists seem to have maintained. Culler notes that “within Western culture there are crucial differences between the conventions of oral communication and those of literature which deserve study whatever their ideological basis.” [39] To have writing “engulf” speech “is to lose the distinction which translates a fact of our culture. Communication does take place. Many instances of language are firmly situated in the circuit of communication.” [40] Hence, one must “concentrate on the conventions which guide the play of differences and the process of constructed meanings.” [41] While this study is not interested in using Derrida or deconstructionism to interpret Greek embedded letters, many others have perceived letters as providing a launching pad for much linguistic, literary, and philosophical discussion. The concern of this study is much more practically focused on ancient historiography and experience.
The ancient notion of letters—inscribed material—as speech from the writer constitutes a hybrid: as writing it “appears symbolic” with conventional codes, [42] but as speech it proffers as direct a communication as possible over temporal and spatial distance. This hybrid model affects how letters are presented by Josephus and other ancient historians, who embed them in their narratives in ways similar to how they present speeches. Of course, this is not the whole story. If letters can embody both symbolic codes and also direct, informal communication, then the process of embedding letters into a narrative text opens up many avenues for exploration.

Intratextual presentation of letters 

Like presenting a speech, an embedded letter allows a historian to introduce substance that he explicitly credits to a source other than himself. [43] This does not necessarily mean that the author introduces a voice other than his own; the narrator still uses his own voice if he {63|64} summarizes a speech or the contents of a letter. [44] However, regardless of whether the mode of presentation is diegetic or mimetic, [45] he is using ideas that are not his own—he is transparently culling them from another source, purportedly the text of a speech or a letter, whether they are newly consulted in written form or remembered from first-hand experience of a speech or letter.
The way in which historians present other voices in their narratives, [46] by oratio recta or oratio obliqua, is a subject that has been discussed extensively. Thucydides’ explanation of the method he uses to present speeches (1.22) has been hashed and re-hashed. [47] Josephus’ speeches have been analyzed as well, though not as extensively as Thucydidean or Polybian speeches. [48] Speeches in Josephus, as in most Graeco-Roman historians, are rarely placed into the text without transitions, such as preambles or summarizing conclusions, [49] which allow the author to interweave them explicitly with the themes of the surrounding narrative. Because of this relationship with the broader text, embedded letters function much like speeches in the broader narrative.
The modes of hearing or reading letters and speeches at the time of presentation are the same. Like speeches, letters can be presented in direct discourse, indirect discourse, or as a ‘reported speech act’, an extremely brief mention that epistolary communication has occurred. [50] The formulas for signaling quotation or summary are also {64|65} similar. [51] Letters can be introduced, like most Thucydidean speeches, with τοιάδε: Thucydides uses τοιάδε to introduce the long letter of Nicias (7.10–15). But τάδε, though not predominately used to introduce speeches, is used by Thucydides to introduce official documents given in oratio recta (5.17.2) and letters between Pausanias and Xerxes (1.128.7, 129.3). [52] Josephus similarly uses τοιάδε to introduce an incriminating letter, purportedly from Herod’s son Antipater (Bellum Judaicum 1.620; but cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 17.93). When a letter is summarized with indirect speech, as is often the case in Bellum Judaicum 1, the gist of the letter is often presented with a participle and infinitive (e.g. Bellum Judaicum 1.174)—a participle that apparently reflects the request of the letter [53] —a prepositional phrase with a noun indicating the subject of the letter, [54] or a relative pronoun and an indicative verb. [55] Alternatively, an epistolary means of conveying a message might be in a prepositional phrase that, if removed, would only imply that a letter had been used to communicate a message across distance. [56] Or the letter could be the subject of the sentence and carry out the action of accusing, explaining, and so forth. [57] The most ostentatious way of introducing a letter calls attention to the fact that it is attached below, as in: ὧν ὑπετάξαμεν τὰ ἀντίγραφα μαρτύρια τῆς διαθέσεως, ἣν ἔσχον ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἄνωθεν οἱ κρατοῦντες (“of which we attach below a copy as a witness of the disposition our previous rulers held about us,” Antiquitates Judaicae 16.161). The writer of 1 Maccabees presents many copies of letters (11:31, 37; 12:5, 7, 19; 15:24); the first ἀντίγραφον is of the letter that Jonathan writes to the Spartans (1 Maccabees 12:5, 6). Jonathan’s letter refers to other letters from Darius to the high priest {65|66} Onias, ὡς τὸ ἀντίγραφον ὑπόκειται (“as is set below,” 1 Maccabees 12:7). After finishing the quotation of Jonathan’s letter, the narrative presents a copy of a letter from Areus of Sparta to Onias. Whether the methods for referring to letters are as direct as these latter examples or more subtle, they clearly indicate the existence of documents in the background.
However, comparing an embedded letter to its surrounding parent-text is not a primarily extra-textual exercise, in the sense of determining the different sources used or surmising facts about the archive in which the historian or his predecessors may have located such a written text. [58] This does not mean that the issue of sources will not be discussed in this study, or that the author necessarily made up letters. However, as the several detailed discussions of texts from Josephus developed throughout this book demonstrate, Josephus often presents epistolary material appearing in parallel episodes of his Antiquitates Judaicae and his earlier Bellum Judaicum as alternative accounts. [59] This means that he does not simply play the role of copyist, shifting from one source to the next for some episodes. Instead, consonant with the view of his exercise of controlled intellect in shaping narratives following Greek style [60] —even if the result is unevenly satisfactory to modern readers [61] —Josephus typically varies his presentation of epistolary material in harmony with the logic of the narratives in which they are nested. Such variation in epistolary presentation opens up possibilities for how an embedded letter relates in interesting ways to the parent-text, as we will see.
So this is an intratextual study, which, generally stated, is another way of saying that the study commonsensically takes letters to be parts of a larger text. [62] To be sure, the observation that embedded letters {66|67} relate to the broader text is not quite novel. It has fueled much of the discussion of the documents quoted in the Antiquitates Judaicae about “Jewish rights” under late-Republican and Imperial Rome. And simple intuition allows that by quoting letters Josephus could have been working toward his overall literary goals. The concept of intratextuality, however, facilitates a consideration of the relations of parts of a text with other parts of that text and with the text as a whole. Framing the discussion in this way can reveal the interaction between this one “type of part” of Josephus’ texts—epistolary material as “intratextual text” [63] —and other parts and wholes, which allows us to “put their relationship more firmly on the [literary-] critical map.” [64] Indeed, as Sharrock notes,
[i]t is the hypothesis of intratextuality that a text’s meaning grows not only out of the readings of its parts and its whole, but also out of readings of relationships between the parts, and the reading of those parts as parts, and parts as relationship (interactive or rebarbative): all this both formally (e.g. episodes, digression, frame, narrative line, etc.) and substantively (e.g. in voice, theme, allusion, topos, etc.)—and teleologically. It follows that distinctions, whether between frame and inset, or between direct and ironic language, or between reading strategies of unity and fragmentation, should not be seen in isolation from each other, nor in isolation from such distinctions between one text and another … [An important element of intratextuality is] that sometimes parts don’t relate to each other in tidy and significant ways, but stick out like sore thumbs. Intratextuality is about how bits need to be read in the light of other bits, but it is also about the bittiness of literature, as uncomfortable squareness-in-round-(w)holeness. [65]
Intratextuality concerns how a text is divided into parts. Letters embedded within a text, which allow the intrusion of a voice other {67|68} than the narrator’s, [66] provide one fairly clear way of subdividing a text. They can give texture, or “self-advertising bumpiness,” [67] to what may be an otherwise smooth narrative. The evident seams in a narrative, such as those surrounding quoted letters, often lead scholars on an extra-textual adventure, turning over fragments and mining documentary material for possible sources. And even if a scholar believes that a letter is nothing but a creation of the author, the extra-textual concern persists, requiring a search to ascertain whether the author adheres to the proper “form” for a period letter, as determined by documentary letters from roughly the same period. As another way of looking at embedded letters, an intratextual reading of letters clarifies the relationship between the accumulating narrative details and the letter itself, regarding, say, a character’s culpability and an ostensibly “objective” demonstration of guilt by letter. A letter may not always incriminate one who is supposed to be guilty; in some cases, the letter appears ironically to juxtapose the embedding text in that it does not implicate the character in the way that the audience may expect or other characters may claim. Examining letters’ intratextual relationship to other textual parts and the whole also involves reading episodes and works for theme, texture, “digressions,” and framing, reading strategies I will explore further in the course of the following discussions.


While I will be concerned primarily with literary techniques and textual issues, the epistolary form presupposes a document, which could have raised the possibility in ancient readers’ minds of an archive. For the analysis of embedded letters, two issues concerning archives are important: what constituted an archive in the ancient Mediterranean world, and did historians consult them when writing their narratives?
One of the first public archives on record is the Metroön in Athens, established at the end of the fifth century BC in the old council house and used to store decrees and official documents of the boulē and assembly. [68] Josephus concerns himself with showing that Jewish record keeping was much older than Greek systems, probably demonstrating Josephus’ respect for Hellenic practices by attempting to apply a Hellenic standard to Jewish cultural practice and to show how Jewish methods surpassed even the highest standard. Those who doubted {68|69} the antiquity of the relationship between Tyre and the Jews could, for instance, check the Tyrian archive for the letters (Contra Apionem 1.111) or see the letters in their sacred texts. Other historians mention similar archives. [69] Josephus also mentions that the public archives (ἀρχεῖα) containing private credit records were burned by rebels when they captured part of Jerusalem in AD 66 (Bellum Judaicum 17.426–427). He claims that genealogical records regarding priests’ families were kept in Jerusalem and that the records covered 2,000 years of priestly families (Contra Apionem 1.31–35). The Judaean desert also reveals hoards of private documents, such as the Babatha Archive, a collection of receipts, deeds, and legal documents all dealing with a woman named Babatha, who likely gathered her important documents, stowed them in a leather pouch and wrapped them in cloth, as they were found. [70] Similar collections of documents, including letters, have been found in Egypt. [71] Some papyrus letters from Oxyrhynchus indicate that the letter writers expected their recipients to possess and therefore be able to forward letters they had previously received. [72] Even if archival practices were widespread, which is difficult to know from existing evidence, those practices do not imply that historians used or would have accessed public, let alone private, documents.
The question of whether historians used archives is significant. Embedding letters in a narrative introduces a level of complexity to discussions of other external voices in a narrative, such as that of a speech, because, by definition, there is potentially a written record of the utterance. While verbal speech may occur in private and thus not be “recorded”—making the rendering of a private conversation implausible to a modern audience—a letter could be, by its very nature, immediately archivable. A letter would not require memory, extra inscription (i.e. scribbling down a speech as an orator talks or copying the speaker’s delivery text or notes), [73] or even an omniscient narrator, since it might in principle have been intercepted or obtained from an archival collection through research. This potential “archivability” of letters makes them unique as an external source in a narrative. {69|70}
How much difference does a letter’s writtenness make? Given the presence of archives, however unique, in the ancient Mediterranean world, would readers or authors be primed to give letters extra authority? If so, would the intimation, disingenuous or not, of a genuine letter in the background make a difference as to how an embedded letter was read and how far it was trusted? Such questions indicate the importance of considering the extent to which ancient historians used documentary sources. [74] J. Marincola discusses historians’ limited use of non-literary written evidence. [75] Though some historians rhetorically valued written evidence contemporary with the events about which they were writing, Marincola points out that they did not do so in a systematic fashion. W. V. Harris makes this same point in his study on ancient literacy: [76]
Herodotus consulted some books while preparing his history, and to a certain extent he appreciated the usefulness of epigraphic texts for one who is reconstructing the past. However, documentary research was not a major part of his undertaking … , and he freely invents texts—not only speeches but even texts which had in fact been written down in their original forms … Writing twenty or thirty years later, Thucydides treated documents with somewhat greater respect. He still preferred oral testimony to written, and “it could never occur to him that written records were the primary source for history.” [77]
Rather than consulting archives, inscriptions and obscure contemporary documents, ancient historians generally used literary material, Marincola argues, making it their practice “to consult the tradition, what previous writers had handed down.” [78] {70|71}
Nonetheless, regardless of the source, Herodotus and Thucydides refer to documents as evidence, demonstrating the value they placed on them in their histories. Josephus follows this Hellenic pattern, and we can test it, in particular, with regard to letters. Some of the epistolary acta, quoted in Antiquitates Judaicae 14 and 16, are referred to as having been deposited in archives, though these, like other letters to which Josephus refers, are not noted as having been consulted by Josephus in archives, even though on other occasions he reveals alternative accounts turned up in his investigation of other written sources (e.g. Antiquitates Judaicae 15.174). True, Josephus does in two parallel accounts—Contra Apionem 1 and Antiquitates Judaicae 8—refer to an archive that his readers, particularly skeptics, could consult for letters exchanged by Solomon and the Tyrian king Hiram. In this case, his readers could also have consulted the LXX or even the Hebrew Bible, [79] where the letters also appear, as Josephus does for this first half of the Antiquitates Judaicae. The second-century BC Jewish historian Eupolemus, whose fragmentary work is extant in eight sections directly attributed to him in the first-century Clement and fourth-century Eusebius, [80] also includes letters between the Tyrian king and Solomon. If Eusebius has attributed and preserved the excerpts accurately, the letters are presented as having been from a Tyrian king called Σούρων, rather than Χειρὰμ or Εἴρωμος, as the LXX and Josephus have the name, respectively. The content, Hiram making collaborative plans to assist Solomon in building the temple, is the same. [81] Thus it appears that the letters, to whomever they were attributed, may have been fairly well known and widely distributed, at least among a Jewish audience. In any case, Josephus seems to have considered his argument, designed in Contra Apionem to demonstrate the antiquity of the Jews, to be more convincing if letters were on deposit in the foreign city’s ancient archives. [82] However, his qualifications about consulting {71|72} the archive are notable in both texts: in the Antiquitates Judaicae, after referring to the Tyrian archive, Josephus embarks upon a digression of eight lines (in the Niese text) explaining that he recounts these things in full (διεξῆλθον) only, in Hellenic fashion, to give the truth with demonstrations and strong proofs (μετὰ ἀποδείξεως καὶ τεκμηρίων ἰσχυρῶν); in Contra Apionem he quotes an “accurate” Phoenician history (ἱστορίαν ἀκριβῆ), which attests his previous statements (τῶν προειρημένων … μεμαρτύρηκεν).
These texts make explicit reference to archives, which makes clear the assertion of letters as material documents. Do other references to the materiality of letters appear even when an “archive” is not directly invoked? That discussion will involve an analysis of several more embedded letters in Josephus. Therefore, before returning to the question of materiality, an overview of those letters is provided below.

Overview of letters in each work

Bellum Judaicum

Josephus’ first work, a history of the first-century war between Judaea and Rome, includes a considerable amount of historical background material in its first book. In its first section, Josephus calls the work Περὶ τοῦ Ἰουδαϊκοῦ πολέμου, and it is now commonly called the Bellum Judaicum, the Jewish War, or the Judaean War. It is traditionally thought that Josephus wrote the work between AD 75 and 79, since he mentions the completion of the Templum Pacis, which occurred in 75, and he gives a copy to “the emperors,” usually presumed to have been Titus and Vespasian. Vespasian died in 79, so the work must have been completed by that year, [83] and, according to Josephus, it followed a previous version written in his native language (Bellum Judaicum 1.3). [84] {72|73}
The Bellum Judaicum’s thirty-section prologue contains features that appear elsewhere in Greek historiographical prologoi, such as its criticism of previous historians, [85] argument for the importance of the work’s subject matter, [86] characterization of the work as a memorial of successes, [87] stressing of the importance of personal experience, [88] and appealing to truth. [89] After the prologue, the first book of the Bellum Judaicum covers the period from the Seleucid conquest of Jerusalem through the death of Herod the Great. The second book narrates Herod’s successors and the subsequent institution of direct Roman control, as well as the unrest throughout Judaea and the institution of a rebel government. Book 3 introduces the involvement of Rome and of Vespasian and Titus, figures from whom Josephus would benefit greatly. The Roman general Vespasian’s campaign begins in Antioch with a march south to take Galilee, which the Romans conquer (3.110–4.120) before taking districts outside Jerusalem (4.410–490). At this point, in AD 68, the final Julio-Claudian emperor, Nero, commits suicide, and Vespasian speeds off to Rome to make a bid for the principate in the famous “year of four emperors.” Meanwhile, factional wars in Judaea lead to the eventual victory of Simon bar Giora. Vespasian is proclaimed princeps and sends Titus to finish the war (4.657–663), now an essential part of his dynastic legitimacy. In Book 5, the conquest of Jerusalem begins (5.39), and a siege wall is built around the city. In Book 6, Titus takes Jerusalem, burns the temple, and destroys the city. Book 7 covers the fallout of the conquest, the triumph—the fullest {73|74} extant description of a triumph in the Imperial period, in fact [90] —and the conquest of the last holdouts at Machaerus and Masada.
Letters appear throughout the Bellum Judaicum narrative. Pre- Herodian business with Rome is conducted in part through letters (1.137, 1.174), and many more appear in the narratives about Herod (e.g. 1.230). Letters are represented as reliable, yet are susceptible to manipulation. Herod learns, through an unspecified source, that the Parthians are attempting to arrest him. Letters carrying that message are intercepted, but prove superfluous: Herod presumably learns of the plot from an informant, who tells him about the letters (1.261). The trials of Herod’s sons (1.456) also prominently feature letters, including several of a conspiratorial tone (1.528, 573, 604, 608, 641–644), some that are reliable (1.536, 537, 609, 644, 661), and others that are forgeries (1.601, 603). The rest of the Bellum Judaicum includes several letters regarding internal Judaean politics, Judaean relations with Rome (2.614–616, 3.140, 4.228), and Roman foreign relations (7.82, 7.220). Letters are also part of the military operations in the work (e.g. 5.322); Josephus uses letters to obtain supplies by sneaking messengers through a gully unsecured by Roman legions while Vespasian besieges Jotapata (3.191–192). Josephus communicates with Judaean leaders with letters during his generalship in Galilee (3.138–140). Vespasian communicates his elevation to the principate, which is announced by reading Vespasian’s letter in Alexandria (4.616–617), and conducts other imperial business with letters at the end of the war (7.82, 212, 220, 433). Finally, Eleazar addresses the besieged Jews at Masada, telling them that Indians facing death receive letters (ἐπιστολάς) that are addressed to their loved ones who have died (7.353).
The terms used in the Bellum Judaicum to refer to epistolary documents are γράμματα and ἐπιστολή, and the verbs πέμπω ‘send’ and γράφω ‘write’ are also used, often without γράμματα or ἐπιστολή. The verb ἐπιστέλλω is frequently used, but it is not always clear from the context whether it means that an order has been given or that an order or communication has been made in a letter (e.g. 1.185).

Antiquitates Judaicae

Josephus’ second work is the much longer Ἰουδαϊκὴ Ἀρχαιολογία, comprised of 20 books and covering the period from “the beginning” to the end of Nero’s reign (AD 68). The work, known as the Antiquitates Judaicae or the Jewish Antiquities, is unique in that “[o]f all the Jewish writing which survives from the Roman Imperial period, only Josephus’ {74|75} Antiquities embodies the conscious conception of Jewish history and experience as a continuity from the Creation to the present.” [91] Finished in 93/94, [92] the work can be divided into halves, with roughly the first half (Books 1–10) covering the period making up the Hebrew Bible, and the other half from that period forward. As a general overview, Feldman, adapting Bilde, proposes this outline: [93]
  1. Introduction (1.1–26)
  2. Part I: First Temple (1.27–10.281)
a. The lawgiver’s establishment of the constitution (1–4)
b. First Phase: Senate, kings, and high priests of Eli’s descent (5–8)
c. Second Phase: Decline through corruption of the constitution (9–10)
CENTRAL PANEL: Fall of the First Temple; the priest-prophet Jeremiah and prophet Daniel assert the Judaean God’s control of affairs and predict the Roman era; decisive proof of the Judaean code’s effectiveness (10)
    3. Part II: Second Temple
a. Re-establishment of the aristocracy through the glorious Hasmonean house; its decline (11–13)
b. Monarchy writ large: Herod (14–17)
i. The end of the Hasmoneans; Roman intervention in Judaea; Herod’s rise to power; benefits to Judeans (14)
ii. Herod’s conquest of Jerusalem; building projects and dedication of the Temple (15)
iii. Herod at the peak of his power; his domestic conflicts (16)
iv. The end of Herod’s life; his son Archelaus (17) {75|76}
c. World-wide effectiveness of the Judaean constitution (18–20)
i. Judaea becomes a province; Judaeans in Rome; Roman rule to Agrippa I; Herod’s descendants; Gaius’ plan fails and he is punished; Asinaeus and Anilaeus in Babylonia (18)
ii. Detailed description of Gaius’ punishment; promotion of Claudius; career of Agrippa I; Judaeans in Alexandria (19)
iii. From the death of Agrippa I to the eve of the revolt; concluding remarks (20)
The central themes of the outline, and of Feldman’s summary of the Antiquitates Judaicae, are the Jews’ ancient lore (ἀρχαιολογία) and political constitution (διάταξις τοῦ πολιτεύματος, Antiquitates Judaicae 1.5). [94] The work has been likened to the Roman Antiquities of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, [95] but also to the works of Eastern historians, such as Manetho and Berossus, and Hellenistic Jewish historians, such as Demetrius and Artapanus, [96] who, like Josephus, are said to have written “apologetic historiography.” This has been defined by Sterling as “the story of a subgroup of people in an extended prose narrative written by a member of the group who follows the group’s own traditions but Hellenizes them in an effort to establish the identity of the group within the setting of the larger world.” [97] The books of the Antiquitates Judaicae put much focus on key characters, as Kraus has suggested: {76|77}
with their emphasis on history as told through the lives of prominent individuals both Jewish and Roman, [they] show similar characteristics [to Tacitus, who “chooses the traditional form of annales but moulds their ultra-republican format to fit imperial time …”] and, despite an arguably concentric structure, build up to the Roman elite (and to Josephus [himself], in the appended Vita). [98]
The Antiquitates Judaicae makes extensive use of letters using the same terms as the Bellum Judaicum. They appear in the Herod narratives that parallel the Bellum Judaicum in Antiquitates Judaicae 14–17. Though not nearly as extensively as in the Bellum Judaicum or Antiquitates Judaicae 11–20, letters in Antiquitates Judaicae 5–10 are used to develop Israel’s foreign relations (8.356, 8.50, 8.358, 10.15–16) and domestic affairs (5.354, 6.100, 7.136, 9.99, 9.125). They appear much more frequently concerning the Jews’ relations with Persia beginning in Book 11 (11.7, 12, 21, 26, 29, 59, 93, 97, 104, 117, 122, 131, 166, 270), and one even appears from Alexander to the high priest (11.317). From the Hasmonean period, letters also appear in relation to the Ptolemies (12.26, 39, 51, 219; 13.64, 70, 107), Seleucids (12.135, 147, 199), and Romans (13.259, 265; 14.52, 147, 170, 224, [99] 306). The narrative of Herod’s tenure is filled with letters to and from Rome (15.30, 195, 345; 16.85), as well as those regarding domestic affairs (15.18, 24, 74, 168) and household matters (16.53, 111, 256, 318, 324, 332; 17.104, 134–145). After Herod’s death, a letter he wrote to his troops is read aloud at the amphitheater in Jericho thanking them and asking them to give their allegiance to his primary chosen successor, Archelaus (17.194). Herod’s successors also correspond with Rome (17.228; 18.161, 188, 234–235, 300; 19.341; 20.1, 10, 203).


A work that has some connection to the Antiquitates Judaicae is the Vita. [100] It appears to have been completed after or concurrently with the Antiquitates Judaicae, so between AD 93 and 95, since it mentions {77|78} Domitian, who was assassinated in 96. [101] The Vita is presented as an autobiography, though this generic categorization has been questioned, [102] and it focuses on Josephus’ military career: his early life, up to about AD 67, is given in the first 29 chapters, the latter part in approximately the last 17. So we find chapters that detail his time in Galilee as a general (30–413), then his time in Vespasian’s camp (414–421), his life in Rome (422–429), and a conclusion (430). [103]
Biography has its roots in fifth-century BC Greece, with historiography, genealogical trees, Ionian autobiographical travel books, and interest in the personalities of Hesiod, Homer, Aesop, Heraclides, Pericles, and the Seven Wise Men. [104] The fourth century, “a time of strong, self-willed personalities which offer plenty of good opportunities for biographers,” [105] produced the anecdotal examples of virtue from Aristotle and the Peripatetics, as well as the first full biographies and autobiographies as written by Xenophon, Isocrates, and Demosthenes (De corona). [106] Momigliano argues that Plato, rather than a later follower, wrote the Seventh Letter and that, although the “exact place of Plato’s letter in the history of ancient autobiographical production” is not clear, “one vaguely feels the Platonic precedent in Epicurus, Seneca, and perhaps St. Paul.” [107] Whether pseudepigraphic or not, the Seventh Letter suggests that autobiographical narrative was deemed an appropriate subject for the epistolographic form. Josephus {78|79} reverses the picture, fitting dozens of letters into an autobiographical form. Apparently, Greek authors considered the two a good fit.
The Vita contains many letters from Josephus to various people (62, 86, 225, 235), several he received (85, 90, 101, 186, 217), and some he even intercepted (245). It features sustained epistolary exchanges in a way that the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae do not; the latter works’ embedded letters are more episodically isolated than those in the Vita. Josephus’ conflict with John son of Levi is the best example. When he introduces John, Josephus foreshadows a major political conflict that reportedly starts as an interpersonal one based on John’s jealously of Josephus’ power as a general in Galilee. [108] That power struggle involves numerous epistolary exchanges, through which Josephus characterizes himself as a master of letters: intercepting them, reading them aloud, and replying to them, a characterization that comports with his literary style in the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae .

Contra Apionem

Contra Apionem, or Against Apion, is probably Josephus’ last work, since he explicitly refers in it to his Antiquitates Judaicae (1.1). Most scholars argue for its date in the 90s, “probably before the death of Domitian.” [109] The work is a two-book defense of the antiquity of the Jewish people and historiography (e.g. 1.1–3) and the superiority of Jewish law (e.g. 2.220–286). [110] Barclay has recently noted that the work is, “as a number of scholars have noted, a subtly Roman piece of argumentation, which transposes Jewish thematics into a specifically Roman key.” [111]
In the work, Josephus argues for the superiority of Jewish culture over Hellenic culture, and references to letters between Solomon and the king of Tyre (1.111) provide one item in a series of evidence attesting to the greater age and sophistication of Jewish culture. [112] He involves letters in another maneuver around his interlocutor Apion by chastising him for not reading the correspondence and other documents of Alexander and Ptolemy regarding the rights of Jews (2.37). In neither epistolary appearance does Josephus quote a letter, nor in this {79|80} one does he clarify which letters and documents he may have had in mind.

Effects of Embedded Letters as Documents

The emphasis Josephus places on documents points us back to the topic of archives discussed above. In his narratives, one of the defining characteristics of letters, their materiality—the connotation that a document existed somewhere, without necessarily considering its storage or archiving—creates notable effects that we should explore before analyzing in the next two chapters how letters function.

To enhance drama

One of the salient effects of focusing on a letter as a document is to enhance the drama of an account. For example, in Euripides epistolary material can be personified for dramatic effect: Theseus exclaims that the tablet that hangs by Hippolytus’ hand (Euripides Hippolytus 856–857) cries aloud in horror: βοᾶι βοᾶι δέλτος ἄλαστα (877). [113] Epistolary material and its composition also allow for ‘dramatic business’ in Euripides and/or Greek tragedy in general. The prologue of Iphigenia in Aulis presents the Old Man, [114] Agamemnon’s attendant, observing Agamemnon writing a letter to cancel his earlier request, also by letter, that his daughter Iphigenia come to Aulis to be sacrificed (34–41, 108–114). The Old Man describes his “writing a letter (δέλτον) by the gleam of lamplight” (34–35), and he addresses Agamemnon as follows: “The words (γράμματα) you have written you erase, you seal, and then break the seal, throwing the pine frame (πεύκην [115] ) to the ground, weeping copious tears” (37-40). The letter is the physical reflection of Agamemnon’s angst at the potential consequence of sending for his daughter. The focus of dramatic action on the physical aspects of the letter (seal, frame, letters, erasing the surface) allows Euripides to present Agamemnon’s internal conflict. [116]
Plutarch uses a letter when the Senate hears of the conspiracy of Catiline. [117] Cato and Caesar stand together, and a note [118] is passed to Caesar from outside (ἔξωθεν). When Caesar reads the note quietly (τὸν {80|81} ἀναγινώσκειν σιωπῇ, Brutus 5.3), Cato charges that he has been receiving letters (γράμματα) of instruction from the enemy (in Brutus 5.3) and that he should read the letter aloud (in Cato Minor 24.2). Caesar hands over the note (τὸ δελτάριον, Brutus; Cato Minor 24.2), and when Cato sees it is an unchaste note (ἐπιστόλιον ἀκόλαστον, Cato Minor 24.3; ἀκόλαστον ἐπιστόλιον, Brutus 5.4) from Servilia, Brutus’ mother and Cato’s sister, he throws it at Caesar. This missive-turned-missile contrasts with other serious letters in Brutus. One letter carries instructions from Cato (Brutus 3.1), and Brutus’ own letters are quoted twice to demonstrate the remarkable style of his Greek composition (Brutus 2.3–2.5). [119]
Thus there is a strong precedent set by the Graeco-Roman tradition, for Josephus to use letters to raise dramatic effect. At the end of the long trial of his eldest son Antipater (Bellum Judaicum 1.608–646; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.93–146), Herod discovers what seems to be the full extent of Antipater’s treacherous crimes. To try his son, Herod asks Varus to preside over a council with him. Herod, his courtier Nicolaus, and others accuse Antipater before Varus, and Antipater attempts to defend himself. Varus is not satisfied with Antipater’s plea and tests the poison allegedly involved in Antipater’s failed parricide. When it kills a prisoner, Varus rules against Antipater. Following the trial, a letter (ἐπιστολή) addressed to Antipater (Antiquitates Judaicae 17.133) is intercepted from a certain Antiphilius, and then quoted by the Antiquitates Judaicae after being opened by Herod (τάδε ἐδήλου, 17.134). This letter refers to a letter from Acme, a servant to Augustus’ wife. Herod searches for that letter, but the messenger denies having it. Although Herod finds himself at a loss (ἀπορίας), a certain one of his friends (τῶν φίλων τις τῶν τοῦ Ἡρώδου) sees a patch sewn onto the messenger’s tunic. When this patch is removed, the other letter is revealed. It is also quoted when they take it (ἐγγεγραμμένα τε ἦν ἐν αὐτῇ τάδε, 17.137). That letter, from Acme to Antipater, refers to another letter, allegedly from Salome to Acme’s δέσποινα, Livia, Augustus’ wife. The letter quoted (τοιάδε), strangely, is from Acme to Herod. The quotation refers to a letter from Herod’s sister Salome to Augustus’ wife, [120] in which {81|82} Salome allegedly reveals her desire to marry Syllaeus, an Arab who has disgraced Herod by refusing to marry Salome because, to do so, he would have to be initiated with Jewish rites (17.225). For some reason we do not read the letter from Salome to Livia; the proof of that letter is contained in this quoted letter. Because she fears the consequences she might suffer at the hands of Livia, she requests that Herod tear up the letter (κατάσχισον … τὴν ἐπιστολήν, 17.139). The narrator then states that Acme also writes to Antipater to tell him that she has written to Herod to make him think that Salome is planning intrigues against him. The narrator seems to repeat that Acme sends Antipater a copy of the letter from Salome to Livia. [121] The reader learns that Antipater had bribed Acme to participate in his plot, a crime that adds to Antipater’s mounting guilt (17.141).
The drama of this account becomes clearer by noting the differences from the parallel account at Bellum Judaicum 1.641–643. In the Bellum Judaicum account, the idea that Antipater has forged the documents comes through more clearly (1.642–643); [122] in the Antiquitates Judaicae, Acme admits to forging the documents (17.137). The same letters come to light, but not in such a dramatic way. There are not any letters sewn behind patches in tunics. The Bellum Judaicum account takes fewer words—about 12 lines in the Niese Bellum Judaicum, compared with 32 lines in the Antiquitates Judaicae. The dramatic “business” surrounding the letters—extensive quotation, instructions to destroy after reading, uncovering a concealed communication, bribery for participation in this epistolary deception, danger of death for participation in the letter exchanges—all seems to build the case against Antipater. That case consumes most of the first 187 sections of Book 17, a sad chapter in Herod’s quest to secure a successor, which he finally does before his death five days after having his son Antipater executed (17.191).
This Antiquitates Judaicae episode reveals that letters in Josephus’ text can increase dramatic effect when it serves a rhetorical purpose. The multiplicity and layering (one referring to another referring to {82|83} another) of letters compound Antipater’s guilt by impressing on the reader’s mind the extent of his treachery. More particularly, the quest for the letter concealed in Antiphilius’ slave’s tunic, secured through bribes by Antipater, embodies Herod’s struggle of succession. Herod has spent most of his later life protecting himself, or so he had thought, from plots against him by his family and sons. Like their denial of devising schemes, the messenger denies that he has another letter, but Herod does not believe him. He looks for the letter, but it is not visible (οὐ μὴν φανερά γε ἦν, 17.135). Though, as he often is in this part of his life, he is at a loss for what to do, he finally discovers the illuminating letter, and, like (and through) the letter, the invisible plot becomes visible, as plots have throughout Books 16 and 17 of the Antiquitates Judaicae. Furthermore, it is not only the incriminating content—the message—of the letter that is important for the Antiquitates Judaicae account, although that is certainly important for Antipater’s conviction. It is the “business” of the letter’s materiality—spotting a patch, surmising a hidden letter, discovering it (literally), taking it, and reading it—that adds to the gravity of Antipater’s guilt by allowing the reader not only to hear, but to visualize the extent of Antipater’s villainy (Antiquitates Judaicae 17.142).

To highlight situations deviating from normal communication

In addition to enhancing the dramatic effect of a story, emphasis upon epistolary materiality can be used to highlight circumstances that require deviations from normal communication. This function of epistolary texts does not appear explicitly in Josephus; however, I will discuss one situation in which Josephus deviates from normal communication, though less overtly than authors employing direct manipulation or exploitation of epistolary material. In Josephus, media manipulation does occur, such as the imitation of a seal or forgery of handwriting, tricks to which we will return shortly. Craftier still, perhaps, is the concealment of a message within the medium of the letter itself. For example, from Susa, Demaratus wants to send word of Xerxes’ plan to attack Hellas, so he scrapes the wax from a double tablet (δελτίον δίπτυχον), [123] inscribes his message on the wood beneath the usual surface, and melts the wax back onto the tablet. This done, the messenger (φερόμενον κεινὸν τὸ δελτίον) will not receive trouble {83|84} on his journey and can safely transport his covert message. Trouble only comes when the Spartans cannot figure out the trick. Eventually Gorgo, daughter of Cleomenes and wife of Leonidas, discovers the secret and enlightens her fellows, and, the cunning message received, the Spartans send the letter on to the rest of the Greeks (Herodotus 7.239). [124] Herodotus’ emphasis on the material of communication draws attention to the extraordinary nature of the situation, which calls for an extraordinary mode of correspondence, a manipulation of the epistolary convention of writing on the surface of the medium.
In the parallel material in Bellum Judaicum 1.133–37 and Antiquitates Judaicae 14.48–52, Josephus draws attention to epistolary documents from Aristobulus to highlight a somewhat extraordinary situation that requires deviation from normal epistolary communication. These texts tell the story of Pompey’s Judaean campaign in 63 BC (Antiquitates Judaicae 14.66). The parties involved in the internal dispute for Judaean power are the sons of Alexander, Jannaeus (104–78 BC) and Alexandra (78–69 BC). After the queen falls ill, the younger and apparently more ambitious Aristobulus commences to take certain strongholds throughout his mother’s kingdom to secure power for himself (Antiquitates Judaicae 13.422–429; 14.4–7). The queen dies before she can set matters straight; Hyrcanus, her heir, is defeated by his brother in a battle around Jericho. To avoid further complications, Hyrcanus abdicates (Bellum Judaicum 1.120–121) to enjoy his riches in private life (Antiquitates Judaicae 14.6), and the brothers exchange houses (Bellum Judaicum 1.122; Antiquitates Judaicae 14.7).
Before the episode is over, however, Aristobulus complies with a Roman order to write letters in his own hand to his commanders telling them to give up their resistance. This turn of events is aided by a certain Idumaean, Herod’s father Antipater, who begins to stir up dissension between the brothers (Bellum Judaicum 1.123; Antiquitates Judaicae 14.8). Antipater advises Hyrcanus that his life will be in danger if he remains in Judaea, and that therefore the elder brother should flee to the protection of the Nabataean king Aretas. After some cajoling, Hyrcanus agrees, and with Antipater, flees to Aretas. Aretas marches on Jerusalem and defeats Aristobulus. However, with the threat of Roman intervention, Aretas flees, and Hyrcanus and Antipater seek Roman favor. Each brother appeals to the Romans, first to Scaurus and then to Pompey. When Aristobulus does not immediately receive his request, he hides out in the Alexandrion citadel. After a series of trips away from his stronghold, {84|85} Aristobulus gives himself up. It is Pompey who requires Aristobulus to write letters in his own hand to all his commanders. In the end, Pompey conquers Jerusalem and establishes Judaea as a Roman tributary.
Before discussing the letters involved, Table 1 [125] (pages 86–87) lays out the parallel texts of the letters involved, allowing for side-by-side comparison. [126]
The process by which Aristobulus finally submits to Pompey and complies with his order to write disingenuous letters to effect the surrender of his commanders is slightly different in these texts. In the Bellum Judaicum, after being commanded by Pompey to come down, Aristobulus descends, and “after having made a defense for a long time concerning his ruling legally (his legal right to rule), he returned to the fortress” (135). His brother then asks him to come back down, so Aristobulus returns and after arguing about his lawful claims, he withdraws, not being prevented from doing so by Pompey (136). He goes up and down the citadel an unspecified number of times, according to Bellum Judaicum. In Antiquitates Judaicae, Aristobulus comes down at the command of Pompey, and after arguing against his brother about the office, he ascends again with Pompey’s consent. Aristobulus, proving to be quite stubborn, performs this routine two or three times until Pompey makes a decisive move.
In general, the Antiquitates Judaicae narrative treats the duration of the events in a more indefinite way than does the Bellum Judaicum. At Antiquitates Judaicae 14.50, Pompey commands Aristobulus to come down from his stronghold, which he does. The events are paratactically structured: Pompey commands, Aristobulus obeys, without any indication as to the length of the gap between the events (49–50). In the Bellum Judaicum account, however, Pompey summons Aristobulus to come down; the narrative indicates that he receives the order and then deliberates about his response. His first reaction is not to comply (135), but he looks at the people who are afraid and his friends advise him to look carefully at the irresistible power of the Romans. Because he is persuaded by these things, he goes down to Pompey. The Antiquitates Judaicae does mention the counsel’s appeal not to make war against the Romans (14.50), but the information is not verbally tied to a reasoning process that Aristobulus considers. The time the Bellum Judaicum {85|88} account covers is not specified, but it is clear that some time elapses while Aristobulus weighs his options—the outcome is not inevitable.
Table 1.
Bellum Judaicum 1 Antiquitates Judaicae 14
[133] Πρὸς ταῦτ’ ἀγανακτήσας Πομπήιος πολλὰ καὶ τῶν περὶ Ὑρκανὸν ἱκετευόντων ὥρμησεν ἐπ’ Ἀριστόβουλον, ἀναλαβὼν τήν τε Ῥωμαϊκὴν δύναμιν καὶ πολλοὺς ἐκ τῆς Συρίας συμμάχους. [134] ἐπεὶ δὲ παρελαύνων Πέλλαν καὶ Σκυθόπολιν ἧκεν εἰς Κορέας. ὅθεν ἡ Ἰουδαίων ἄρχεται χώρα κατὰ τὴν μεσόγειον ἀνιόντων, ἀκούσας συμπεφευγέναι τὸν Ἀριστόβουλον εἰς Ἀλεξάνδρειον, τοῦτο δ’ ἐστὶν φρούριον τῶν πάνυ φιλοτίμως ἐξησκημένων ὑπὲρ ὄρους ὑψηλοῦ κείμενον, πέμψας καταβαίνειν αὐτὸν ἐκέλευσεν. [135] τῷ δ’ ἦν μὲν ὁρμὴ καλουμένῳ δεσποτικώτερον διακινδυνεύειν μᾶλλον ἢ ὑπακοῦσαι, καθεώρα δὲ τὸ πλῆθος ὀρρωδοῦν, καὶ παρῄνουν οἱ φίλοι σκέπτεσθαι τὴν Ῥωμαίων ἰσχὺν οὖσαν ἀνυπόστατον. οἷς πεισθεὶς κάτεισιν πρὸς Πομπήιον καὶ πολλὰ περὶ τοῦ δικαίως ἄρχειν ἀπολογηθεὶς ὑπέστρεψεν εἰς τὸ ἔρυμα. [136] πάλιν τε τἀδελφοῦ προκαλουμένου καταβὰς καὶ διαλεχθεὶς περὶ τῶν δικαίων ἄπεισιν μὴ κωλύοντος τοῦ Πομπηΐου. μέσος δ’ ἦν ἐλπίδος καὶ δέους, καὶ κατῄει μὲν ὡς δυσωπήσων Πομπήιον πάντ’ ἐπιτρέπειν αὐτῷ, πάλιν δὲ ἀνέβαινεν εἰς τὴν ἄκραν, ὡς μὴ προκαταλύειν δόξειεν αὑτόν. [137] ἐπεὶ μέντοι Πομπήιος ἐξίστασθαί τε τῶν φρουρίων ἐκέλευεν αὐτῷ καὶ παράγγελμα τῶν φρουράρχων ἐχόντων μόναις πειθαρχεῖν ταῖς αὐτογράφοις ἐπιστολαῖς, ἠνάγκαζεν αὐτὸν ἑκάστοις γράφειν ἐκχωρεῖν, ποιεῖ μὲν τὰ προσταχθέντα, ἀγανακτήσας δὲ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ παρεσκευάζετο πολεμεῖν πρὸς Πομπήιον. [48] Ὀργίζεται δ’ ἐπὶ τούτοις ὁ Πομπήιος, καὶ τὴν ἐπὶ τοὺς Ναβαταίους ἀναλαβὼν στρατιὰν ἔκ τε Δαμασκοῦ καὶ τῆς ἄλλης Συρίας ἐπικουρικὰ σὺν τοῖς ὑπάρχουσιν αὐτῷ Ῥωμαίων τάγμασιν ἐστράτευσεν ἐπὶ τὸν Ἀριστόβουλον. [49] ὡς δὲ παραμειψάμενος Πέλλαν καὶ Σκυθόπολιν εἰς Κορέας ἧκεν, ἥτις ἐστὶν ἀρχὴ τῆς Ἰουδαίας διεξιόντι τὴν μεσόγειον, ἐνταῦθα εἴς τι περικαλλὲς ἔρυμα ἐπ’ ἄκρου τοῦ ὄρους ἱδρυμένον Ἀλεξάνδρειον Ἀριστοβούλου συμπεφευγότος, [50] πέμψας ἐκέλευσεν ἥκειν πρὸς αὐτόν. ὁ δὲ παραινούντων πολλῶν μὴ πολεμεῖν Ῥωμαίοις κάτεισιν καὶ δικαιολογησάμενος πρὸς τὸν ἀδελφὸν περὶ τῆς ἀρχῆς πάλιν εἰς τὴν ἀκρόπολιν ἀναβαίνει Πομπηίου συγχωρήσαντος. [51] καὶ τοῦτ’ ἐποίησεν δὶς καὶ τρίς, ἅμα μὲν κολακεύων τὴν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ περὶ τῆς βασιλείας ἐλπίδα καὶ πρὸς ἕκαστον ὧν κελεύσειεν Πομπήιος ὑπακούειν ὑποκρινόμενος, ἅμα δὲ ἀναχωρῶν εἰς τὸ ἔρυμα ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ καταλύειν αὑτὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸ πολεμεῖν ἀφορμὴν αὑτῷ παρασκευαζόμενος, δεδιὼς μὴ τὴν ἀρχὴν εἰς Ὑρκανὸν περιστήσῃ. [52] κελεύοντος δὲ Πομπηίου παραδιδόναι τὰ ἐρύματα καὶ τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἐπιστέλλειν τῇ ἑαυτοῦ χειρί, παραδέχεσθαι δὲ ἄλλως ἀπείρητο, πείθεται μέν, δυσανασχετῶν δ’ ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ἐν παρασκευῇ τοῦ πολεμεῖν ἐγίνετο. [53] καὶ μετ’ οὐ πολὺ Πομπηίῳ στρατιὰν ἐπ’ αὐτὸν ἄγοντι καθ’ ὁδὸν ἀφικόμενοί τινες ἐκ πόντου τὴν Μιθριδάτου τελευτὴν ἐμήνυον τὴν ἐκ Φαρνάκου τοῦ παιδὸς αὐτῷ γενομένην.
Indignant at these actions, and yielding to the urgent entreaties of Hyrcanus and his friends, Pompey started in pursuit of Aristobulus, with the Roman forces and a large contingent of Syrian auxiliaries. Passing Pella and Scythopolis, he reached Coraea, at which point a traveler ascending through the interior enters the territory of Judaea. There he heard that Aristobulus had taken refuge in Alexandrion, one of the most lavishly equipped of fortresses, situated high on a mountain, and sent orders for him to come down. At this imperious summons Aristobulus felt disposed to brave the risk rather than obey; but he saw that the people were terrified, and his friends urged him to reflect on the irresistible power of the Romans. He gave way, came down to Pompey, and after having made a defense for a long time concerning his legal right to rule, he returned to the fortress. He descended again on his brother’s invitation, discussed the rights of his case, and withdrew, unimpeded by Pompey. Torn between hope and fear, he would come down determined by importunity to force Pompey to deliver everything to him, and as often ascend to his citadel, lest it should be thought that he was prematurely throwing up the case. In the end, Pompey commanded him to evacuate the fortresses and knowing that the governors had orders only to obey instructions given in Aristobulus’ own hand, insisted on his writing to each of them a notice to quit. Aristobulus did what was required of him, but indignantly withdrew to Jerusalem and prepared for war with Pompey. But Pompey, who was angered by these actions, took the army that he had prepared against the Nabataeans, and the auxiliaries from Damascus and the rest of Syria, as well as the Roman legions already at his disposal, and marched against Aristobulus. After passing through Pella and Scythopolis, he came to Coraea, which is the beginning of Judaea as one goes through the interior, and from there sent to Aristobulus, who had taken refuge in Alexandrion, a very beautiful stronghold situated on the top of a mountain, and commanded him to come to him. Thereupon Aristobulus, whom many of his men urged not to make war on the Romans, came down and after arguing with his brother about his right to the throne, again went up to the citadel with Pompey’s consent; and this he did two or three times, for partly fawning with respect to hope concerning receiving the monarchy from him—and so played the part of obedience regarding each of the things that Pompey would command—and partly retiring to the fortress for the sake of not deposing himself, and also procuring for himself the means with a view to making war, fearing that the office might be handed over to Hyrcanus. Pompey, however, commanded him to deliver up his strongholds and give the orders therefore to his garrison commanders in his own handwriting—for they had been forbidden to accept orders in any other form—and so he obeyed, but retired resentfully to Jerusalem and set about preparing for war. And not long afterward Pompey led his army against him; and on the way there came to him messengers from Pontus, who informed him of the death of Mithridates at the hands of his son Pharnaces.
Time is also not much of a factor in the Antiquitates Judaicae narration of Aristobulus’ negotiations. The text simply states that he performs his ascent-descent routine two or three times. Apparently some time passes, but defining the number of events does not give a precise impression about the duration of the sequence. In the Bellum Judaicum, however, the number of events is not defined, but the impression of the duration, while indefinite, is that the time involved is longer than the Antiquitates Judaicae indicates. This is accomplished with the use of imperfects in the Bellum Judaicum (κατῄει, ἀνέβαινεν), whereas the Antiquitates Judaicae narrates the first event in the sequence and then states (with the aorist ἐποίησεν) that it happens a few times. Thus the effect on the reader’s impression of the sequence’s duration is quite different; by referring to repeated actions, the Bellum Judaicum account creates a definite and substantial duration with an indefinite time specification.
Pompey’s intermediate tactics—his actions between requesting Aristobulus’ compliance and demanding that he write the letters—are also timed slightly differently in the narratives. The immediate result of Aristobulus’ actions at the end of our texts is Pompey’s encampment at Jericho. The Antiquitates Judaicae account has Aristobulus withdraw to Jerusalem to make battle preparations (14.53). Not long after this (μετ’οὐ πολὺ), Pompey begins his military campaign (14.53). The events are punctiliar—there is no duration indicated: questions about how long Aristobulus takes to make preparations or Pompey takes to mobilize are not considered. (Interestingly, the duration of Pompey’s march is acknowledged by the next sentence: on the way there, Pompey receives a message.) However, in the Bellum Judaicum, there is a definite durative connection between Aristobulus’ withdrawal and the commencement of Pompey’s campaign: οὐ … ἐδίδου χρόνον ταῖς παρασκευαῖς (1.138) and again, εὐθέως εἵπετο (“he pursued straightaway”). Further examples of durative specification in the Bellum Judaicum from the passage’s context could be given. [127] Hence, these accounts show that driving Aristobulus to a position of submission, at which he will write letters whose message will not align with his will, is not a quick solution to Pompey’s need to subdue Judaea. {88|89}
Another aspect of the narrative that helps to understand the letter is characterization. The Bellum Judaicum narration characterizes its dramatis personae, particularly in terms of implication, more than does Antiquitates Judaicae. Such characterization gives a good indication of the human dynamics involved in the exchanges. For example, Bellum Judaicum 1.133 presents Pompey as irritated by “these things,” referring to Aristobulus’ exit from Pompey’s assize. This is the same as Antiquitates Judaicae 14.48. But the Bellum Judaicum chapter has a notable addition: added to Aristobulus’ action is a psychological element, which in turn affects the reader’s impression of Pompey. The Bellum Judaicum states that Aristobulus thinks ill of acts of service and will not suffer being a slave to the services (of Pompey) in a more lowly fashion than his own form (σχήματος) merits (1.132). In other words, paying court to the Roman general is beneath Aristobulus.
This characterization allows the reader to see the effect of Aristobulus’ high opinion of himself on diplomacy with Rome and to understand the characterization of Pompey: Pompey is not simply angry because Aristobulus leaves (as in the Antiquitates Judaicae). He is indignant that his own pride would be insulted by a snub from a small kingdom’s ruler whom he obviously regards as inferior. Aristobulus’ Realpolitik obtrudes when he succumbs to his own fear of Pompey’s approaching forces. The implication of this narrative fact is that Aristobulus is not the type of ruler who heedlessly charges into battle. Like Hyrcanus and Antipater, who featured earlier in the narrative, Aristobulus, too, can count the cost and ally himself properly. It simply takes Aristobulus a while; but this fits with his explicit characterization by the narrative as more ambitious and courageous than his brother Hyrcanus (1.120)—he is willing to stand against Pompey longer. Likewise, the Antiquitates Judaicae can be said to imply these character traits in Aristobulus because he had taken several fortresses, but this action was performed because he feared the Pharisees would usurp power after the death of his mother due to the inability of his brother to hold power (13.243). [128] Thus, in the Antiquitates Judaicae, the conflict over power has more to do with dynastic succession than with the reasons the Bellum Judaicum gives—the ambition and audacity of Aristobulus. {89|90}
The Antiquitates Judaicae account also gives more detail about Aristobulus’ motivations, though the basic thrust is the same in both texts, i.e. hope and fear. In Bellum Judaicum 1.136 the description of motivation is compressed (μέσος δ’ ἦν ἐλπίδος καὶ δέους), while in Antiquitates Judaicae 14.51, more material is added. In the Antiquitates Judaicae, the narrator takes a descriptive pause after this punctiliar action (καὶ τοῦτ’ ἐποίησεν δὶς καὶ τρίς, 51) to explain that Aristobulus does this “partly fawning with respect to hope concerning (receiving) the monarchy from him” (ἅμα μὲν κολακεύων τὴν ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ περὶ τῆς βασιλεὶας ἐλπίδα). Thus Aristobulus’ actions are “playing the part of obedience regarding each of the things that Pompey would command” (51), and (the δὲ clause) “he did … partly retiring to the fortress for the sake of not deposing himself, and also procuring for himself the means with a view to making war, fearing that the office might be handed over to Hyrcanus.
After Pompey’s patience has run out, he orders Aristobulus out of the citadel (Bellum Judaicum 1.137; Antiquitates Judaicae 14.52), and, because Pompey knows that his garrison commanders are only to obey orders given in Aristobulus’ own hand (Bellum Judaicum: μόναις πειθαρχεῖν ταῖς αὐτογράφοις ἐπιστολαῖς), [129] he requires that Aristobulus write letters (ἐπιστέλλειν τῇ ἑαυτοῦ χειρί) to each of his commanders telling them to surrender. Given the duration of time and the development of Aristobulus’ obstreperous character, which are both woven into the narrative, the significance of the deviant details about this epistolary communication is even more striking. Aristobulus’ fastidiousness regarding the way in which his commanders should respond to epistolary communication containing orders fits well with his characterization as stubborn, calculating, and shrewd. He has obviously prepared for a mutinous situation. In this context, Josephus’ explicit focus on Aristobulus’ “autograph” flags it as unusual: normally, on Josephus’ account of this era, letters giving orders to Judaean commanders would be a reflection of Aristobulus’ intent precisely because they could be judged to be authentic, based on the receivers’ knowledge of their superior’s handwriting. In this episode, despite the built-in safety mechanism, the letters are representative not of Aristobulus’ intent, but of an extraordinary political and military situation in which Aristobulus’ very mode of normal communication is exploited. {90|91}

To foreground the messenger

Messengers carry the epistolary material itself, as when, to take a commonplace example, Antiochus transmits a message to the Judaeans by sending βιβλία in the hands of messengers (ἐν χειρὶ ἀγγέλων, 1 Maccabees 1:44). [130] Similarly, Herodotus has Histiaeus send letters (ἔπεμπε βυβλία) to the Persians at Sardis through a messenger (δι ̓ ἀγγέλου, Herodotus 6.4). Josephus often applies this conventional mode of delivery. For instance, after Antipater’s trial, Herod sends letters both to Augustus (ἐκπέμπει γράμματα) about Antipater (περὶ αὐτοῦ) and to men who would instruct Augustus by word of mouth on Antipater’s wickedness (τοὺς ἀπὸ γλώσσης [131] διδάξοντας τὸν Καίσαρα τὴν κακίαν τοῦ Ἀντιπάτρου, [132] Antiquitates Judaicae 17.133). This instance is interesting because the subject of the letter and the speeches of the messengers are presumably the same. Does the persuasiveness of a letter, even from a frequently trusted client-king, need the “verbal underlining” of a messenger or group of messengers?
The New Testament book of Acts tells of a letter sent from apostles and elders of the Jerusalem church to the Gentile Christians in Antioch (Acts 15:23). [133] Church leaders in Jerusalem were not requiring Gentiles to be circumcised or to observe many other Jewish laws (15:1–21), but to observe a few basic strictures (15:29). Those in Jerusalem communicated their decision by letter and messengers. The letter has a formulaic greeting (15:23) and conclusion (15:29), and it is sent with Paul and his colleague Barnabas, but Paul and Barnabas are not the messengers. {91|92} Though the authorities write (διὰ χειρὸς αὐτῶν, 15:23) to Antioch, [134] they send their letter with two messengers (15:22), Judas and Silas, who are named in the letter as being sent to relay through speech the same content as that in the letter (αὐτοὺς διὰ λόγου ἀπαγγέλλοντας τὰ αὐτά, 15:27). The messengers deliver the letter (ἐπέδωκαν τὴν ἐπιστολήν, 15:30) after gathering the church. The people of the church read it (ἀναγνόντες, 15:31), though the process is not specified. Then the messengers, Judas and Silas, who are called “prophets” (15:32), speak to encourage and strengthen the church (διὰ λόγου πολλοῦ, 15:32) and spend time with the people (15:32–33). The letter apparently is important to the church in Antioch, but the role of reiterating the message in the document is vital for the messengers in this episode.
In contrast, Diodorus Siculus (2.18.2) says that Semiramis, queen of Assyria, read the Indian king’s letters, even though the king had sent messengers, which may suggest, in this perhaps unusual instance, that letters were more important than oral messages. In any case, messengers carrying letters are usually presented as being aware of their content. The presence of a knowledgeable messenger allows that he might serve to underline the message of the letter. For example, Xenophon has Cyrus send a Median officer to update the Persians on the recent events he has just recounted (λέγειν ἃ καὶ πρόσθεν ἐν τῷ λόγῳ δεδήλωται) and to deliver a letter (ἀποδοῦναι τὰ γράμματα) to Cyraxes. Cyrus says that he wishes for the courier to read his letter (ἀναγνῶναι τὰ ἐπιστελλόμενα) so that he can answer questions about it (Cyropaedia 4.5.26–33; cf. Thucydides 7.10).
Similarly, Polybius tells of C. Popilius being sent by the Senate with a letter to Antiochus (29.27). Popilius does not respond to Antiochus’ welcome, but gives him the letter (τὸ δελτάριον). Antiochus reads it and says he will think about withdrawing from Egypt and give his answer later. Popilius, apparently knowing the urgency of the Senate’s demand, draws a circle with his staff around Antiochus, and tells him that he must decide before he leaves the circle. Antiochus complies, and the messenger and his letter are efficacious (cf. Diodorus Siculus 31.2.2).
Antiquitates Judaicae 12 provides a parallel account to Polybius’ version. There, Josephus tells the story of Roman intervention in the Seleucid general Antiochus Epiphanes’ military activities. When he arrives at this part of the Antiochus narrative (Antiquitates Judaicae {92|93} 12.244), Josephus says that the Romans παραγγειλάντων ‘transmitted a message’, which could be construed even as vaguely as ‘instructed’, for Antiochus to keep away from Egypt. On Josephus’ telling, the Romans apparently intervene in Antiochus’ affairs with an epistolary document, though further details, such as a messenger or the medium employed, are not included. In this spare version of the story, a letter alters the state of affairs for the Seleucid dynast. The way in which the letter develops the narrative is not specific—the Romans simply transmit a message or instruct him, and he complies with the Senate’s directive.
The absence of details regarding the way in which this letter alters events may perhaps seem an omission only to one who is actively looking for epistolary details in a study such as this one. However, the decision appears to be self-conscious on Josephus’ part: immediately following his mention of Roman intervention, Josephus editorializes that he has already related the story “somewhere in an earlier text” (καθὼς ἤδη που καὶ πρότερον ἐν ἄλλοις δεδηλώκαμεν, [135] Antiquitates Judaicae 12.244). Having signaled a transition to an exact (ἀκριβές) account of Antiochus’ conquering of Judaea and the Temple at Jerusalem, Josephus recalls that he only gave an account of the conquest in summary form (κεφαλαιωδῶς) in his first work (πρώτῃ μου πραγματείᾳ, 12.245). Josephus’ vague recollection of his own work and his reluctance to consult his previous volumes may combine with his memory of other texts to produce the false confidence that he has already explained Rome’s intervention in Antiochus’ affairs. [136]
In fact, the omission of details about the way in which the letter alters Seleucid affairs seems to be a major slip. As Josephus launches into his detailed account of Antiochus’ intrigues in Judaea, he observes a causal link between Antiochus’ decision not to attack Egypt out of fear of the Romans (διὰ τὸ παρὰ Ῥωμαίων δέος, 12.246) and his march on Jerusalem. Antiochus’ attack on Jerusalem turns out to be a major assault, and it leads to one of the cardinal offenses by a foreign power {93|94} against Judaea in all its history. [137] Two years after he has conquered the city, on the pretense of offering a treaty, Antiochus desecrates the Temple by carrying off its furniture as plunder and sacrificing pigs on the altar (12.250–251), which, according to Levitical law, [138] are ritually unclean animals. [139] For this sacrilege, Josephus says—and not for impious deeds in Persia—Antiochus is killed by divine vengeance. Significantly, Josephus’ disputatious position on the circumstances of Antiochus’ death involves Polybius, whose character Josephus lauds, but whose account Josephus finds amazing (θαυμάζειν, Antiquitates Judaicae 12.358). [140]
That Josephus is aware of the details of Polybius’ Antiochus biography is especially significant with regard to Rome’s intervention in the tyrant’s activities, since Polybius narrates Rome’s interaction with Antiochus in more detail than Josephus’ spare account presents. This may mean that Josephus remembers from Polybius the details of the event that led to Antiochus’ involvement in Judaea, for he clearly remembers the vagaries of Polybius’ story of the death of Antiochus, which was directly linked, Josephus reports, with the tyrant’s desecration of the Temple at Jerusalem. In any case, his direct reference to Polybius here opens a literary history on how a letter altered the state of affairs between Rome and Antiochus. [141]
Concerning the same events, the apophthegm in Moralia 202 F [142] tells of C. Popilius (cos. 172 BC) being sent to Antiochus carrying a letter from the Senate (Γάιος Ποπίλλιος ἐπέμφθη πρὸς Ἀντίοχον ἐπιστολὴν παρὰ τῆς συγκλήτου κομίζων). [143] The letter commands him to withdraw his army from Egypt and not to interfere with Ptolemaic politics: [144] κελεύουσαν ἀπάγειν ἐξ Αἰγύπτου τὸ στράτευμα καὶ μὴ σφετερίζεσθαι τῶν Πτολεμαίου τέκνων ὀρφανῶν ὄντων τὴν βασιλείαν. {94|95} Antiochus personally and graciously welcomes Popilius (ἀσπασαμένου τοῦ Ἀντιόχου φιλοφρόνως) while he is still far away, but Popilius does not return the greeting. He simply delivers the letter from the Senate (οὐκ ἀντασπασάμενος τὸ γραμματεῖον ἀπέδωκεν). Antiochus reads (ἀναγνοὺς) the letter and responds, saying that he will think about his answer. Popilius, apparently neither amused nor interested in delaying, draws a circle around Antiochus with his staff and tells him: “While you stand there, deliberate and answer” (ἐνταῦθα τοίνυν ἑστὼς βούλευσαι καὶ ἀπόκριναι). Everyone is astounded, and Antiochus complies. Only then does Popilius welcome and embrace him (οὕτως ἠσπάσατο καὶ περιέπτυξεν αὐτὸν ὁ Ποπίλλιος, 203 A).
While this story can be found in many surviving texts in addition to the Antiquitates Judaicae and others reviewed here, [145] the apophthegmatic version contains interesting epistolary details, compared to those of Josephus and Polybius. The apophthegm adds an ἐπιστολή to Polybius’ version of the story. In contrast, Polybius has Popilius deliver the senatus consultum on a δελτάριον. The effect is the same, of course, since the focus is on the impact of the Senate’s message on Antiochus. But Plutarch frames the account slightly differently by explicitly saying that Popilius delivers a letter, a device with a long history, as this study is attempting to show. Polybius could well have referred to the senatus consultum as a letter or in some other way: elsewhere he uses the terms ἐπιστολή and γράμματα to refer to communication, and he refers in other places to δόγματα συγκλήτου without referring to their media, whether letter or tablet.
Plutarch associates a letter with the Roman Senate in only one (other) place, in the Pompey, where Pompey receives γράμματα from Sulla and, apparently at the same time, a δόγμα συγκλήτου ordering him to attack Domitius in Africa. [146] There, however, Plutarch’s deliberate choice is to have a consultum from the Senate not specifically delivered as a letter.
Returning to the earlier text, in the apophthegm at 202 F, the messenger reflects the message of the letter to bring about a change in the story line. Probably reflecting the apophthegmatic form and its focus on the oratio recta, [147] the apophthegm is inexplicit about {95|96} Popilius’ response to Antiochus’ extension of “the conventional sign of friendship.” [148] It may seem obvious, but Polybius [149] explains that Popilius does not respond because he must wait to see whether he is to be regarded as a friend or an enemy (πότερα φίλιος ἢ πολέμιός ἐστιν, 29.27.2). [150]
Popilius’ presence in this episode is apparently what makes the demand for a response dramatic and unavoidable for Antiochus. In a sense, the messenger embodies or even personifies the letter itself; Popilius gives the letter a human face, as it were. The letter demands Antiochus’ compliance, so Popilius’ demeanor reflects the gravity of his missive. [151] Essential to this effect is the offer of and refusal to offer greetings. Though Popilius does not read or recite the letter, he might be considered to have “performed” it by offering a frosty greeting. Plutarch’s description of Popilius’ “acting”—the nature of his physical presence—may offer an insight into the way epistolary communication can be amplified to reflect its importance for the story line.
Antiochus need not write a reply saying that he has complied with the Senate’s instruction. Popilius witnesses Antiochus’ act of response, which obviates the need for such a letter. The presence of an authoritative messenger as an embodiment of the letter lends a different nuance to Plutarch’s episode than exists in other episodes in which a letter is delivered.
Rosalind Thomas’s discussion of performance and written texts, in which she posits a “fluid connection” between text and performance, [152] is helpful for understanding the way in which letters can be read intratextually. Thomas discusses how the written text represents only one element of Archaic and Classical poetry, with which music and dance should also be included. Furthermore, Thomas considers whether {96|97} Herodotus, in addition to an “earlier ‘oral’ age,” might have performed or recited his work since “this was a world where performance was the most effective way of making your work known.” [153] Perhaps in this world, messengers could “present” the material letters they carried by “performing the message” with their bodies. [154] This may have been the case especially with letters that altered relationships. As epistolary theorists indicate, letters to friends stand in for face-to-face conversation. Perhaps, then, a messenger bearing a letter of friendship could be presented with the comportment appropriate to the missive he bore. The significance of body language, [155] and thus of the “performance” of embedded letters, seems to be borne out by the fact that greetings are offered and withheld repeatedly in the episode, culminating in an embrace between Popilius and Antiochus.
This chapter has framed components of a poetics of embedded letters, exploring those issues essential to interpreting letters in narratives. Those issues included boundaries between epistolary texts and the parent-text in which they are embedded, the ways in which letters compare to speech, the dynamics of the intratextual presentation of letters, and the archival nature (or not) of letters. The chapter also explored how letters as documents in a narrative enhance drama, highlight deviation from normal epistolary communication, and foreground the messengers that physically carry and somehow deliver the message. Because they are integral to narratives that contain embedded letters, these issues will arise many times throughout the remaining discussion. In the next chapter, that discussion will add the basic epistolary functions that letters perform in Josephus’ narratives before moving, in Chapter Four, to a consideration of the reliability of letters to perform these basic functions. {97|}


[ back ] 1. For a summary of Herod’s relationship with his sons, see Schürer 1973–87:1.321–324 and Smallwood 1976:100–101.
[ back ] 2. Cf. the usage at Thucydides 1.135, where Themistocles is charged with the same crime as Pausanias on the basis of evidence discovered at his trial (ὡς ηὕρισκον ἐκ τῶν περὶ Παυσανίαν ἐλέγχων, 135.2). Interestingly, this “evidence” includes letters, τὰ γράμματα, 133.1.
[ back ] 3. Cf. Vita 255, 283.
[ back ] 4. See my discussions of extra-episodic letters, especially those involved in the episodes about Herod’s successors, p184.
[ back ] 5. Many have noted this; for a recent and thoroughly investigated example, see Landau 2003:163–164.
[ back ] 6. Luiselli 2010:83–84, with notes, examines papyrological evidence and provides a useful discussion of verbs used with ἐπιστολή in the first through seventh centuries AD with examples of papyrus letters that were corrected for variation.
[ back ] 7. Aristotle Politics 1452b7 and 1454b33.
[ back ] 8. The plural form ἐπιστολῶν at 1 Maccabees 12.5 could refer to either the single letter quoted from Jonathan to the Spartans or that quoted letter and the attached copy at 12.20–23. If it refers to the latter, then the plural form does refer to more than one letter; if not, then it simply refers to Jonathan’s letter.
[ back ] 9. But note also the mixing of delivery modes in 1 Maccabees 5:10–13: the Jews who flee to Dathema send letters (ἀπέστειλαν γράμματα, 10) to Judas about threats, and while the letters are still being read (ἔτι αἱ ἐπιστολαὶ ἀνεγινώσκοντο, 14), messengers (ἄγγελοι ἔτεροι) bring a verbal message (ἀπαγγέλλοντες κατὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα, 14); it is most likely a verbal message because there is no mention of a letter and because ὡς ἤκουσεν (16) marks its reception, but n.b. the same formula at 10:46, where a letter is definitely being sent. Interestingly, it is not clear whether the first letter has been read completely, but the narrative reads as if the newly arriving messengers interrupt the reading and are probably especially distracting because they have torn their clothes (διερρηχότες τὰ ἱμάτια, 15) in distress.
[ back ] 10. Plutarch uses diminutives not widely used, such as δελτάριον, γραμματίδιον, and ἐπιστόλιον.
[ back ] 11. Trapp 2003:1.
[ back ] 12. Trapp 2003:1.
[ back ] 13. Derrida 1987:48.
[ back ] 14. Sebeok 1994: “Thus, physics, biology, psychology, and sociology each embodies its own peculiar level of semiosis. The genetic code governs the exchange of messages on the cellular level; hormones and neurotransmitters mediate among organs and between one another (the immune defence system and the central nervous system are intimately inter-wreathed by a dense flow of two-way message traffic); and a variety of non-verbal and verbal messages conjoin organisms into a network of relations with each other as well as with the rest of their environment … Note the message traffic in four out of five kingdoms is exclusively non-verbal; verbal messages have been found only in animals and there surge solely in one extant species, Homo sapiens sapiens. The most distinctive trait of humans is that only they, throughout terrestrial life, have two separate, although, of course, thoroughly commingled, repertoires of signs at their disposal: the non-verbal—demonstrably derived from their mammalian (especially primate) ancestry—and a uniquely human verbal overlay” (6–7).
[ back ] 15. See Wittgenstein 1958:17 and 2009:35–37.
[ back ] 16. Gibson and Morrison 2007:9.
[ back ] 17. Gibson and Morrison 2007:16.
[ back ] 18. While there are obvious differences between a ῥῆσις ‘speech’ (e.g. Herodotus 4.127.4 summarizing 4.127.1–4; Thucydides 5.85), found in history and drama, and διάλογος ‘dialogue’ or ‘conversation’ (e.g. Plato Protagoras 335d), found in philosophy, the point here is that they are both ‘speech’ as opposed to text: “[t]he dialogue … displays … a directness and charm in its conversation” (Lesky 1966:513). In Demetrius’ parlance, dialogue (like speech) mimics αὐτοσχεδίασμα, while a letter is γράμμα (γραφή, De Elocutione 224).
[ back ] 19. The dates of Demetrius are, of course, notoriously hard to place. Russell 1972 places him in the first century BC, a dating “consistent with the evidence of language and style,” and especially with the fact that Demetrius seems to have been unaware of Dionysius’ “elegant account on word arrangement” (172). By contrast, Lesky 1966:689 places him in the first century AD; but note now the argument of Paffenroth 1994, who dates him to the same period because of his mention of “rounded roofs,” an architectural feature she interprets as “domes,” which were “not widely known in the west before the first century C. E.” (280). This seems to be a rather weak argument since periphereis stegas could be “vaulted ceilings,” as many have suggested (280, 280n3), and because the argument is not without qualification (“domes were not widely known”).
[ back ] 20. ὑποκατεσκευάσθαι πως μᾶλλον τοῦ διαλόγου τὴν ἐπιστολήν; Russell 1972:211.
[ back ] 21. Demetrius says: γελοῖον γὰρ περιοδεύειν, ὥσπερ οὐκ ἐπιστολήν, ἀλλὰ δίκην γράφοντα; Russell 1972 translates: “It is ridiculous to build periods as if you were writing a speech, not a letter” (211). However, δίκην seems not to refer to ‘speech’ in the broadest sense, but perhaps to the instrument of those involved in the pleading of suits at court.
[ back ] 22. Ego etsi nihil habeo quod ad te scribam, scribo tamen quia tecum loqui videor (“Although I have nothing to write to you, I write all the same because I feel that I am talking to you,” Epistulae ad Atticum 12.53, trans. Shackleton Bailey 1965–1970[5]:163); cf. Epistulae ad familiares 12.30.1 and, for a compilation of Cicero’s comments on the nature of letters, Malherbe 1988:21–27. The first chapter of White 2010 argues that Cicero believed that epistolary writing drew more on the style and objectives of live conversation that did other kinds of classical writing.
[ back ] 23. Malherbe 1988:28–29; Qualis sermo meus esset, si una desideremus aut ambularemus, inlaboratus et facilis, (ix) 75.1.
[ back ] 24. For example, Demosthenes 18.37, where the speaker introduces an ἐπιστολὴ that is requested again at 39 (Λέγε δὴ τὴν ἐπιστολὴν ἣν ἔπεμψε Φίλιππος … ΕΠΙΣΤΟΛΗ) and thereafter quoted: Βασιλεὺς Μακεδόνων Φίλιππος Ἀθηναίων τῇ βουλῇ καὶ τῷ δήμῳ χαίρειν.
[ back ] 25. For example, Demosthenes 23.115: ἀναγνώσομαι δ’ ὑμῖν τὴν ἐπιστολὴν …; the letter at 23.151 and then especially the six letters commented upon and requested but not embedded in 23.159–164 illustrate the prominent place letters could have in rhetoric. Isocrates has one cued letter that is not embedded (17.52) and summarizes letters another time at 7.81: ὡς δὲ βασιλεὺς ἔχει πρὸς ἡμᾶς, ἐκ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν ὧν ἔπεμψεν, ἐδήλωσεν (“The king made clear his opinion of us in the letters”).
[ back ] 26. Russell 1972:155.
[ back ] 27. Russell 1972:155.
[ back ] 28. Russell 1972:155.
[ back ] 29. Alia vero audientis, alia legentis magis adiuvant (“Listeners and readers profit from different things,” Institutio oratoria 10.1.16, trans. Russell 2001 [LCL]).
[ back ] 30. Russell 1972:383; commodata ut quisque locus postulabit pronuntiandi vel potentissima in dicendo ratio (Institutio oratoria 10.1.17).
[ back ] 31. Lectio libera est nec ut actionis impetus transcurrit, sed repetere saepius licet, sive dubites sive memoriae penitus adfigere velis. Repetamus autem et tractemus et, ut cibos mansos ac prope liquefactos demittimus quo facilius digerantur, ita lectio non cruda sed multa iteratione mollita et velut [ut] confecta memoriae imitationique tradatur (“Reading is independent; it does not pass over us with the speed of a performance, and you can go back over it again and again if you have any doubts or if you want to fix it firmly in your memory. Let us go over the text again and work on it. We chew our food and almost liquefy it before we swallow, so as to digest it more easily; similarly, let our reading be made available for memory and imitation, not in undigested form, but, as it were, softened and reduced to pap by frequent repetition,” Institutio oratoria 10.1.19, trans. Russell 2001 [LCL]).
[ back ] 32. Morgan 1998:238 notes that the distinction is not between reading and listening but between linguistic and non-linguistic communication.
[ back ] 33. Finkelberg 2007:294–296 argues this in Phaedrus 274b–277a and the Seventh Letter (341e), at least from an immediate circle of Plato’s disciples: “Plato’s elitism is rather characterized by downgrading the value of writing, an attitude which is obviously due to his firm intention to control the transmission of higher knowledge”; see also Lowrie 2009:9–11. For a comparison the attitude to writing in Phaedrus and the Seventh Letter, see Yagamata 2005:122–125 and Edelstein 1966:83.
[ back ] 34. Antisthenes and the mathematician Oenipides have similar opinions, as noted in Thomas 1989:33.
[ back ] 35. Culler 1975:131–132.
[ back ] 36. Culler 1975:132.
[ back ] 37. Culler 1975:133.
[ back ] 38. Derrida 1982:11.
[ back ] 39. Culler 1975:133.
[ back ] 40. Culler 1975; for the much deeper philosophical and theological issues at stake in modernism, which are beyond the scope of this book, see Steiner 1989:131–134.
[ back ] 41. Culler 1975.
[ back ] 42. Culler 1975:134, not referring to epistolary material per se and quoting Barthes 1972: “Ce qui oppose l’écriture à la parole, c’est que la première paraît toujours symbolique” (18).
[ back ] 43. Whether the author copies out the speech or letter from a source, or whether he composes the letter or speech, is inconsequential. The point here is that the author has the narrator presenting words ascribed to another “speaker.”
[ back ] 44. For a rich discussion of the “reading voice,” see Svenbro 1988:44–63.
[ back ] 45. For a discussion, see Rimmon-Kenan 2003:107–109.
[ back ] 46. Here I am excluding the incorporation of literary sources not directly quoted, such as Josephus’ use of the account of Nicolaus of Damascus.
[ back ] 47. One of the more recent discussions is Laird 1999:143–152; and see now the summary in Pelling 2000b:114–122, followed by Pelling 2009c:176–187.
[ back ] 48. The most recent example of speech analysis is of the set speeches in the Herod narratives of the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae in Landau 2003:131–137 and 184–207. See also Varneda 1986:89–117, who counts “more than one thousand quotes” and sees a difference between speeches in the Bellum Judaicum, which are “the longest and most elaborate” and “have a greater degree of concern for the art of rhetoric” than speeches in the Antiquitates Judaicae, which “for the most part are in indirect speech … more lax, and at the same time are no more than a reproduction of the speeches already contained in the biblical texts which Josephus paraphrases” (92); “laxity” surely mischaracterizes speeches in the Antiquitates Judaicae, which might more accurately be described as employing a different style that is reflected in other parts of the narrative, such as letters, as we will see. See also Thackeray 1929:41–45; Swain 1944; Zeitlin 1969:186–197; Chapman 1998:87–89, esp. on speeches in the Bellum Judaicum delivered by women.
[ back ] 49. On this feature in Thucydides, see Pelling 2000b:121.
[ back ] 50. For these categories, see Laird 1999:87–110; see also Beck 2008 for a helpful exposition contrasting direct and indirect speech, in Homeric poetry, based on “expressivity.”
[ back ] 51. The similarity between letter and logoi has, of course, been noted before (e.g. West 1973:5n1).
[ back ] 52. Westlake 1989:7–8, who makes the case that Thucydides reproduces a text for these two letters, and therefore does not create them, as he does speeches. On the improbable idea that Thucydides is denoting a technical difference between speeches introduced with different formulas, see Hornblower 1987:53–54.
[ back ] 53. Bellum Judaicum 1.528: τις … ἐπιστολὴ … παρακαλοῦντος (“summoning”), ἵνα …; cf. 1.607 with γράφω, 2.203 with ἀντιγράφω, 2.333 with ἐπιστέλλω. Josephus also presents letters as dialogue with little reference to characteristically epistolary activity; one of the rare examples is Bellum Judaicum 1.230.
[ back ] 54. Bellum Judaicum 1.609: τὴν περὶ τῆς Φερώρα τελευτῆς ἐπιστολὴν; cf. 2.39.
[ back ] 55. Bellum Judaicum 1.667: τὴν … ἐπιστολήν, ἐν ᾗ … παρεκάλει; cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 16.250.
[ back ] 56. Bellum Judaicum 2.23: Συνήργει δ’ αὐτοῖς εἰς τοῦτο καὶ Σαβῖνος δι’ ἐπιστολῶν κατηγορήσας μὲν Ἀρχελάου παρὰ Καίσαρι; incidentally, this is a beautiful passage to read in the fifteenth-century MS Baroccianus 151 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Cf. Bellum Judaicum 2.614
[ back ] 57. See e.g. Antiquitates Judaicae 16.296.
[ back ] 58. The typology of letters, e.g. ‘letters of invitation’ or ‘letters of recommendation’, which is often used to indicate authenticity, is not significant for this study, even though the subject will be raised. On typology, see Stowers 1986 and references in Stirewalt 1993:1n1.
[ back ] 59. Following variations in the Antiquitates Judaicae might be considered by some to be extra-textual in the sense that it involves working through the Bellum Judaicum parallel; however, since Josephus no doubt used the Bellum Judaicum as a source for the Antiquitates Judaicae and their close relationship is often observable both verbally and in terms of content, I do not view it that way.
[ back ] 60. This approach is used in a growing body of scholarship: e.g. Landau 2003:66–67, esp. 67nn47–48.
[ back ] 61. See e.g. Goodman 1987:20–21.
[ back ] 62. As my previous paragraph indicates, this study also carefully considers relations between parallel narratives, which presents a question of intertextuality insofar as the term can be used for material consulted as a source.
[ back ] 63. I include the second text to capture the use of Laird 2000:146, whose cognate of intratextuality, “intratext,” refers to “the shape of a text as it appears to the reader.” Note the phrase “intratextuality of letters” used by Leach 2004:110.
[ back ] 64. Sharrock 2000:6.
[ back ] 65. Sharrock 2000:6–7 (emphasis in the original); note the observation, in Hardie 2001:225, that “‘intratextual’ can be used of any relationship within a text, for example imagistic and thematic structures of coherence and continuity beloved of the New Critical tradition, and given new life through structuralist criticism, or the relationships of discontinuity highlighted by post-structuralist reading practices.”
[ back ] 66. For the degree of presence or intrusion as a way of classifying speeches, see Laird 1999:139–140.
[ back ] 67. Sharrock 2000:8.
[ back ] 68. For a discussion of the evidence, see Thomas 1989:38–40.
[ back ] 69. E.g. Diodorus of Sicily 18.48.2.
[ back ] 70. For a fuller discussion of archives in Roman Palestine, see Hezser 2001:150–160.
[ back ] 71. Bagnall and Cribiore 2006.
[ back ] 72. E.g. P.Oxy. 41.2984: μνήσθητι πέμψαι μοι δι᾽ ἀσφαλοῦς τὴν ἐπιστολὴν Εὐαγγέλου (“remember to send me Evangelus’ letter by a safe man,” lines 11-13); cf. P.Oxy. 41.2983.
[ back ] 73. These are issues especially with the Lyons tablet, an inscription of a speech given by Claudius that varies from the same speech as reproduced by Tacitus; see e.g. Griffin 1982.
[ back ] 74. On the point of narrative, rather than documentary or anthological, sources being used for narratives, note the argument regarding Cassius Dio and Cicero, in Millar 1964:54–55, that in recording Cicero’s speech in Cassius Dio 45–46, “Dio makes use of a number of details which derive from the Philippics [the first eight, ‘especially the Second, Third and Fifth’] but are not to be found in his own narrative.” Millar notes the hardly avoidable conclusion that “Dio read the Philippics for the express purpose of composing this speech … If so, this illustrates a curious, but important, feature of ancient historiography—while it was possible to use Cicero’s speeches for putting together a speech ‘by Cicero’, it was not possible to use them to provide evidence for the main narrative; that was supplied by the narrative sources alone.”
[ back ] 75. Marincola 1997, esp. 103–107.
[ back ] 76. Harris 1989:80–81.
[ back ] 77. Harris 1989:81n76, quoting Momigliano 1966:5.
[ back ] 78. Marincola 1997:105; on Thucydides’ sources, see Morrison 2004:97–100.
[ back ] 79. I frequently use LXX/Septuagint to refer to Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible; I recognize that it would be most appropriate to use “LXX,” reflecting that there was not a standard version in this period; see Steyn 2008.
[ back ] 80. Sterling 1992:210.
[ back ] 81. See FGrH 723 F 2 (b) 33, 34.1 = Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica 9.33–34; interestingly, the greeting formulas in Eupolemus contain χαίρειν (33, 34.1); cf. 31, 32 = Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica 9.31–32, embedded letters exchanged between Solomon and the “king” of Egypt. Josephus does not include this greeting.
[ back ] 82. Contra Apionem 1.111; for the Antiquitates Judaicae version of the letters, see 8.53–54; LXX: 3 Regnorum 5:15–23; note that Josephus mentions the existence of the letters in both Antiquitates Judaicae 8.55 (Διαμένει δὲ ἄχρι τῆς τήμερον τὰ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν τούτων ἀντίγραφα οὐκ ἐν τοῖς ἡμετέροις μόνον σωζόμενα βιβλίοις ἀλλὰ καὶ παρὰ Τυρίοις) and Contra Apionem 1.111 (σώζονται δὲ μέχρι νῦν παρὰ τοῖς Τυρίοις πολλαὶ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν ἃς ἐκεῖνοι πρὸς ἀλλήλους ἔγραψαν).
[ back ] 83. The 75–79 dating has recently been questioned by Barnes 2005, whose basic argument is that Titus alone ordered the publication of the work (Vita 363), Josephus refers to Titus in loftier terms than Vespasian (Bellum Judaicum 5.88), and he is more generous regarding Domitian’s role in Vespasian’s early principate than is Tacitus (Historiae 4.85–86), which Barnes takes to mean that Domitian is probably emperor by that time. This would put completion of Book 7 after 24 September 81. It is not clear why Titus would still be referred to hyperbolically if Domitian were princeps before the work was published.
[ back ] 84. That is, Hebrew or Aramaic, though he probably knew both: Rajak 2002:230–232. Most scholars assert either that the first version of his account of the Jewish War was Aramaic (Bilde 1988:76) or that he never wrote such a version because we have no evidence for it aside from his own statement (Mason 2005b). Forte 2005 argues against an Aramaic original based on linguistic analysis of Bellum Judaicum 1.
[ back ] 85. Bellum Judaicum 1.6–7; Thucydides 1.21.1; Sterling 1992:344 also connects this with Hekataeus (FGrH A 1); cf. Polybius 1.4.3–11; Polybius 12; Diodorus 1.1.1, 1.3.1–4; Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.6.1–3, 7.1.
[ back ] 86. Bellum Judaicum 1.4–5; Thucydides 1.23.1–3, on which, see Jones 2005:202, but cf. Sterling 1992:241n70. On Josephus’ prefaces, see Rajak 2002:5, 79–80; Bilde 1988:200–205.
[ back ] 87. Bellum Judaicum 1.16: τὴν μνήμην τῶν κατορθωμάτων; cf. ‘great achievements’ (trans. Thackeray 1929 [LCL]); cf. Herodotus praef.: ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά; cf. Thucydides 1.22.1, τὰ ἔργα τῶν πραχθέντων: see Hornblower 1991:1.33–34; but note first person in Josephus (Bellum Judaicum 1.16: ἀνατίθημι; cf. Herodotus praef.: Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἀπόδεξις ἥδε; Thucydides 1.1).
[ back ] 88. Bellum Judaicum 1.18: κατ’ ἐμαυτὸν; cf. Thucydides 1.22.2: οἷς τε αὐτὸς παρῆν and the second-century Jewish historian Eupolemus (FGrH 723), who, according to Sterling 1992:207–209, is probably the same Eupolemus who went on an embassy for Judas in Rome (1 Maccabees 8:17).
[ back ] 89. Bellum Judaicum 1.16: ἀληθές; cf. Thucydides 1.20.3, 22.1, 23.6. For a summary of how Josephus attempts to establish his literary authority by using Graeco-Roman historiographical conventions, see Mason 2009:7–13.
[ back ] 90. Millar 2005:101.
[ back ] 91. Millar 1993:339.
[ back ] 92. Antiquitates Judaicae 20.268: he defines (ἥτις ἐστὶν) the “present day” (τῆς νῦν ἐνεστώσης ἡμέρας) as his year 56, Domitian’s thirteenth year as princeps.
[ back ] 93. Feldman 2000:xxii; Bilde 1988:91–92; I have made a few typographical changes to make the outline easier to read and have omitted sub-headings for Antiquitates Judaicae 1–13. See also Attridge 1976:43–70.
[ back ] 94. Feldman 2000:xxiii–xxviii.
[ back ] 95. See Sterling 1992:284–290, who concludes that, although their aims were different (“Dionysios wrote as a Greek to other Greeks trying to persuade them to accept the Romans because in reality they were Greeks!” [289]) and because a “literal translation was both doomed to failure and contrary to Josephos’ historical instincts,” Josephus “needed a model of how to write an Ἀρχαιολογία in Greek,” and “Dionysios—or the historiographical tradition he represents—served that role admirably.” He thus “exploited [him] or the school he represents formally … but maintained his distance when he was forced to declare his own allegiances” (290). For a summary of the scholarly discussion, see Sterling 1992:285n247. See also Jones 2005:203.
[ back ] 96. See Sterling 1992:256–310.
[ back ] 97. Sterling 1992:17. We should be hesitant if the implication is a uniform first-century Judaism: Goodman 1987:21 and 2000. Sterling is careful to note, however, that the self-understanding implied in the definition is restricted to denote “the attempt of the author to provide identity for the group to which the author belongs in contrast to outside perceptions. It is not intended to convey the impression that the author’s proposal was normative for the group, but that the author offered it as a normative understanding” (17).
[ back ] 98. Kraus 2005:185n11; bracketed quote from 185. For examples, see the detailed analysis of key Antiquitates Judaicae figures in Feldman 1998:223–657; Feldman 2005.
[ back ] 99. This letter begins the acta pro Iudeis, which will be discussed below.
[ back ] 100. The characterization of the connection involves a number of debates, which are untangled by Mason 2001:xv-xix, who concludes: “What does seem inescapable is that Josephus wrote the Life as an author’s supplement to the Antiquities, maintaining the rough style he had adopted in Ant. 20. He intended the Life to be read as a natural partner to, and outgrowth of, the Antiquities” (xix). See Bilde 1988:104–105.
[ back ] 101. Edmondson 2005:6; a date following AD 100, based on the notion that the Antiquitates Judaicae and Vita imply they were published after the death of Agrippa II, which Photius puts at AD 100, has been disproven by Rajak, who notes that Photius, in addition to being late (ninth century), “is generally hasty and quite vague in his description of the work (or works) of Justus [a historian who wrote an alternative history of the Jewish War (Schürer 1973:34–37)] which he had seen” (2002:238), and an inscription (OGIS 426 = IGR 3.1127) dates the latest mention of Agrippa’s reign in 92/93 (Rajak 2002:238n7). See also Jones 2005:208, who dates the death of Agrippa II to about 90 and, about Josephus, notes that “[t]here is no certain indication that … [he] outlived Domitian, who died in 96.”
[ back ] 102. See a summary in Bilde 1988:108–110, who concludes that the Vita is an “autobiography of a very special kind, one which is concentrated on the decisive events in the life of an author”; see Rajak 2002:12–13, 12n4.
[ back ] 103. For a more complete summary, see Bilde 1988:106–107.
[ back ] 104. Momigliano 1993:23–42.
[ back ] 105. Momligliano 1993:47.
[ back ] 106. Momigliano 1993:43–64; see also Mason 2001:xli-xliii, which emphasizes Hellenistic autobiography, Aristotle, and Cicero.
[ back ] 107. Momigliano 1993:62; note his reference also to lost autobiographical letters, such as the letter of Timonidas to Speusippus referenced as a source by Plutarch Dio 35.3–4.
[ back ] 108. For this motif in Roman literature, see Mason 2001:97n838.
[ back ] 109. Edmondson 2005:7.
[ back ] 110. For a summary, see Bilde 1988:113–118; Levison and Wagner 1996.
[ back ] 111. Barclay 2005:316.
[ back ] 112. Note that Barclay 2006, in the comment on Contra Apionem 1.111 observes that the fact that Josephus does not quote the letters to which he refers is “striking” (http://pace
[ back ] 113. On 877–880, Barrett 1964:332 comments: “the tablet’s message is a song, a μέλος, and the voice it sings with is the letters incised on it.”
[ back ] 114. On whether this is Euripidean, see Bain 1977 and Kovacs 2003:80–83.
[ back ] 115. So also England 1891:13n39; Cavander 1973:80.
[ back ] 116. On changes of mind as central to Iphigenia in Aulis, see Sorum 1992:528.
[ back ] 117. On the provenance of this reference, see Pelling 2002:51.
[ back ] 118. γραμματιδίου μικροῦ, Brutus 5.3; δελτάριόν τι μίκρον, Cato Minor 24.1.
[ back ] 119. τὸ μὲν οὖν τῶν παρασήμων γένος ἐπιστολίων τοιοῦτόν ἐστιν, Brutus 2.5.
[ back ] 120. For an example of reference in one letter to another letter, see 2 Maccabees 9:25 (γέγραφα δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν τὰ ὑπογεγραμμένα), part of a letter from Antiochus Epiphanes to the Jewish people, which happens to be another letter of dubious intentions that the narrator of 2 Maccabees criticizes in the following narrative (9:28). In New Testament letters, reference in one letter to another (previous) letter or occasion of writing is not unusual; see, e.g., Philippians 3:22; Corinthians 2:3–4 (referring to the present letter occurs as well: Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, 2 Thessalonians 3:17). As Klauck (2006:309) comments: “Second Corinthians reflects the history of a very conflicted relationship between Paul and his congregation. New opponents have gained a foothold in the church since his founding visit and departure. He has therefore made a second ‘painful visit’ which went poorly (2 Cor. 2:1) and has written a ‘tearful letter’ from Ephesus in response…, on which he repeatedly reflects (e.g., 7:8, 12).”
[ back ] 121. The codices all have αὐτῇ, which does not quite make sense—why would Acme send an incriminating letter to her mistress or to Salome? The Latin text omits the indirect object; Niese and Marcus logically correct with the masculine personal pronoun, referring to Antipater. This makes the mention of sending a copy to Antipater at 140 a repetition of the earlier mention at 137, as noted by Marcus and Wikgren 1963 (LCL).
[ back ] 122. Pelletier 1975:169n2.
[ back ] 123. The inclusion of this word as one of a number that are “late or rare” in this chapter causes Macan 1908:352–353 to doubt the chapter’s authenticity; the point is not important here because the Testimonia date the text “a long way back.”
[ back ] 124. The narrative is discussed more extensively below, beginning on p100.
[ back ] 125. Translations quoted but adapted from Thackeray 1927 and Marcus 1943 (LCL).
[ back ] 126. In extended Greek quotations throughout the book, the parts of the texts discussed in detail are underlined.
[ back ] 127. E.g. Bellum Judaicum 1.139 vs. Antiquitates Judaicae 14.54; Bellum Judaicum 1.142 vs. Antiquitates Judaicae 14.58; but note Antiquitates Judaicae 14.47 vs. Bellum Judaicum 1.132.
[ back ] 128. There is no such connection to the Pharisees in the Bellum Judaicum; cf. Bellum Judaicum 1.110, 117, 120; the mention of Hyrcanus’ weak character at Antiquitates Judaicae 14.44 is still in connection with the realism of Aristobulus’ concern over dynastic succession.
[ back ] 129. The Antiquitates Judaicae notes that the commanders are forbidden to accept orders in any other way.
[ back ] 130. But note also the mixing of delivery modes in 1 Maccabees 5:10–13: the Israelites who fled to Dathema send letters (ἀπέστειλαν γράμματα, 10) to Judas about threats, and while the letters are still being read (ἔτι αἱ ἐπιστολαὶ ἀνεγινώσκοντο, 14), messengers (ἄγγελοι ἔτεροι) bring a verbal message (ἀπαγγέλλοντες κατὰ τὰ ῥήματα ταῦτα, 14); it is probably a verbal message because there is no mention of a letter and because ὡς ἤκουσεν (16) marks its reception, but n.b. the same formula at 1 Maccabees 10:46, where a letter is definitely being sent. It is not clear whether the first letter has been read completely, but the narrative reads as if the newly arriving messengers interrupt the reading and will probably be especially distracting because they have torn their clothes (διερρηχότες τὰ ἱμάτια, 1 Maccabees 5:15) in distress. Here the dramatic actions of messengers appear to distract from a letter and to draw attention to an oral message.
[ back ] 131. Compare the same prepositional phrase in Thucydides 7.10.1 regarding the oral report of messengers accompanying letters.
[ back ] 132. The difficulty with the text at the end of section 133 (omission/addition in some manuscripts of a phrase after Ἀντιπάτρου—included in the Niese edition but not that of Marcus and Wikgren) does not affect my point.
[ back ] 133. On the episode, see Klauck 2006:420–429 and Coleman 1994:81–201.
[ back ] 134. Conventional words for writing and an epistolary document are not used here as they are at Acts 23:25 (γράψας ἐπιστολὴν); on this letter see Coleman 1994:201–208.
[ back ] 135. The word could also here be taken as ‘I think’, which would yield the same sort of vagueness as ‘somewhere’, though perhaps would “let him off the hook,” so to speak, if he actually had not covered the subject. A vague cross-reference could be possible, since Josephus does cross-refer elsewhere.
[ back ] 136. Note the discussion in Schürer 1973:56–57 about similar phrases that also do not have corresponding fuller accounts; other such citations use a more general citation formula—καθὼς καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις δεδηλώκακεν, or the passive καθὼς καὶ ἐν ἄλλοις δεδήλωται—and in this case “the writer speaking immediately before or afterwards in the first person is certainly Josephus himself” (Schürer 1973:57).
[ back ] 137. Its significance is marked in part by Josephus’ copious dating of the event: Antiquitates Judaicae 12.248.
[ back ] 138. Leviticus 11:27.
[ back ] 139. For a discussion of dietary laws, sacrificial practices with pigs in antiquity, and the history of offenses against the Jews vis-à-vis pigs, see Milgrom 1991:649–653; the author inexplicably neglects the Antiquitates Judaicae in his discussion, though he briefly discusses other Greek authors.
[ back ] 140. Walbank 1957–1979(3):474.
[ back ] 141. For the broader issue of Josephus’ knowledge and use of Polybius, see Cohen 1982 and Eckstein 1990.
[ back ] 142. Questions of authorship are not relevant to my discussion of the episode: the author could be Plutarch or someone else; see Pelling 2002. In general, I avoid attribution of the apophthegmata in this study.
[ back ] 143. For a historical background, see the commentary on Polybius’ narrative of Popilius’ visit to Antiochus (29.2.1–4) in Walbank 1957–1979(3):361–363.
[ back ] 144. For the historical context, see Walbank 1957–1979(3):403–404.
[ back ] 145. Walbank 1957–1979(3): “The ultimatum given to Antiochus was famous” (404); see Walbank’s list of texts (404).
[ back ] 146. Plutarch Pompey 11.
[ back ] 147. It may also have to do with the influence of his predecessors: Pelling 1992 argues that as Plutarch is “chary of alluding to Thucydides’ text at the most obvious and familiar moments, so he is reluctant to echo Thucydides’ insights at the points where the audience would already know them: that would be too old-hat” (19). The same point would explain his treatment of Polybius, especially given the wide reception of this story in many authors, both Greek and Roman. At the same time, it seems to fit with Plutarch’s “streamlining” of his source material (Pelling 1995:126–130), though this does not quite fit the categories of conflation of similar stories, compression of distinct events, displacement of chronology, or transfer of one story from an extra character.
[ back ] 148. Walbank 1957–1979(3):405§3.
[ back ] 149. Compare Polybius’ δελτάριον to Plutarch’s ἐπιστολὴν and γραμματεῖον.
[ back ] 150. Explanation of human behavior is essential to Polybius’ historical method, as Derow 1994 states: “for Polybius human behavior requires human explanation” (89).
[ back ] 151. The letter reflects an interesting constitutional phenomenon, as well. It is delivered by the consul, one of the two Roman executives, and reflects the will and demand of the Senate.
[ back ] 152. Thomas 1992:124; the following discussion draws on that book, esp. 123–127.
[ back ] 153. Thomas 1992:125; see also Thomas 2000: “the energetic, polemical first-person style of Herodotus, the language of demonstration and argument, was not simply akin to early medicine/science, [which involved the “spectacle of a doctor standing up before a fifth-century assembly and attempting to persuade the citizen body of his skill” (249)], but … belonged to the style of the live performance of the latter part of the fifth century” (259). Note also Flower and Marincola 2002:3.
[ back ] 154. Note a stimulating discussion along the same lines in Steiner 1994:105–109, which states: “The term charaktēr, used in much later sources for the letters of the alphabet, frequently describes the ‘cast’ or imprint of a person’s features, and deserves close attention as a visible index to his origins and nature … A person’s features may be a flawed guide to what lies within, but at least the marks are visible” (106). A twist on the presentation of a messenger is to have a letter act as a live messenger by referring to the author in the third person: see Trapp 2003:196–197 and Letter 1.
[ back ] 155. Underlining the point is the notion that body language is especially significant in Josephus’ narratives, as demonstrated persuasively by Gleason 2001.