Tragedy, Authority, and Trickery: The Poetics of Embedded Letters in Josephus

  Olson, Ryan Scott. 2010. Tragedy, Authority, and Trickery: The Poetics of Embedded Letters in Josephus. Hellenic Studies Series 42. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


This book began as my D.Phil. thesis at Oxford, where I had the rigorous and pleasant experience of being supervised by Professor Martin Goodman and Professor Chris Pelling. They taught me much and continued to be generous with their help even after I took my degree. I especially thank Professor Pelling for reading the entire book manuscript and providing wise advice. Professor Steve Mason of York University (Toronto) generously co-supervised me for a year while Professor Goodman was on sabbatical. My thesis examiners, Professor Tessa Rajak (of Reading) and Dr. Teresa Morgan (of Oxford), provided a wealth of feedback and insight, all of which has been of enormous help in preparing this book. As a developing thesis it also benefited at various points by comments and insights from Professor Christina Kraus, now of Yale University, and Professor Fergus Millar and Dr. Tim Rood of Oxford. Professor Greg Nagy and Professor Lenny Muellner of the Center for Hellenic Studies enthusiastically encouraged me to submit the manuscript for consideration before I thought it was ready, and it then was much improved with the help of the CHS editors and a reader appointed by the CHS. Scott Johnson has at many points offered the benefit of his sound advice. Errors and shortcomings are entirely my responsibility and no doubt are the result of failing to follow these and other colleagues’ advice carefully enough.

Of course, Oxford has been invaluable. Researching there has been truly a privilege, one that I have appreciated especially while examining Roman coins at the Ashmolean Museum and reading Milton’s copy of Euripides, papyrus fragments in the Papyrology Room at the Sackler Library, or fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Josephus manuscripts in the Duke Humprey’s Library at the Bodleian.

For the opportunity to study in such a place I have the privilege of thanking many family, friends, and colleagues. Professor David Nystrom originally inspired me to explore academia while I was an undergraduate and subsequently provided wise advice, as did Professor Scot McKnight. Professor Jim Houston of Regent College (Vancouver) provided timely personal counsel and the inspiration for my interest in personal communication. At Durham, I was greatly helped in many ways by my supervisor, Professor David Brown, now of St. Andrews, and later by Professor Ann Loades. Several friends and family members in Charlottesville, Vancouver, Durham, Oxford, Muskegon, Midland (Michigan), and southeast Wisconsin have provided support in many stages along the way.

Josephus first interested me because he provided a bridge from my initial academic training in theology. My interest was sustained because of my deep respect for Greek language and culture, and Josephus’ attempt to carry on that culture and to apply it to the Roman Near East. Letters in Josephus caught my eye as a Greek literary convention, one that is closely tied in with the Greeks’ lived experience in war, commerce, foreign relations, and domesticity, as letters were also linked with Josephus’ experience.

This book and the thesis were completed while my professional work was being undertaken outside universities. Therefore, I have had the opportunity to converse about this book with non-specialists, as well as with interested and uninterested family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. I thank them for their engagement; it has helped me to clarify my interests and their intersection with other fields, as well as to reflect more deeply on the importance of classical education in contemporary life far beyond the often narrowly defined interests of many in universities.

Finally, but certainly not ever fully enough, I express my deep and profound thanks to my family—especially to my wife, Kelly, and also to our three children, Nina, Anders, and Nora, who on countless evenings and weekends allowed me to work on my thesis and then this book. Kelly’s untiring love and support at 50 Great Clarendon and in many places beyond have carried me through many a struggle and provided much joy and meaning. My family has rooted me in reality, which at times seemed beyond grasping while I was immersed in esoteric details. My paternal grandfather and grandmother, George and Rose Olson, have been so very generous to me. My grandfather’s reluctantly told stories of his experiences in World War II on a B-24 Liberator and as a POW are what first animated history for me, as did the few short letters to his parents from Stalag Luft IV that my grandfather penciled before the forced march he survived. I only wish I had worked more quickly so he could have held this book in his hands. My greatest debt of gratitude is to my parents, Garry and Charlotte, who for so many years have supported me in more ways than I could ever list. Without them, these relationships and opportunities would have been unreachable. To them I dedicate this book with profound thanksgiving.

For my parents,Garry and Charlotte