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.

Chapter 1. Introduction: Tragedy, Authority, and Trickery; A Greeting

[In this on-line version, the page-numbers of the printed version are indicated within braces (“{” and “}”). For example, “{69|70}” indicates where p. 69 of the printed version ends and p. 70 begins. These indications will be useful to readers who need to look up references made elsewhere to the printed version of this book.]

Book 6 of the Iliad presents one of the most memorable letters in literature, though it is not unique. Anteia, accusing a certain Bellerophon of attempting to rape her after he had refused her advances, demands that her husband Proteus, the king of Tiryns, near Argos in the Peloponnese region of Greece, punish him. Because Proetus does not wish to kill Bellerophon with his own hands, he contrives a letter that will initiate Bellerophon’s demise much more cleverly. Proteus sends Bellerophon with “murderous symbols / which he inscribed on a folding tablet” (ὅ γε σήματα λυγρὰ γράψας ἐν πίνακι πτυκτῷ …, Iliad 6.168–169; cf. Diodorus of Sicily 6.9) [1] to Iobates, father of Anteia and king of Lycia in southern Asia Minor. The king of Lycia reads the letter and sends Bellerophon to kill the fire-breathing Chimaera (Iliad 6.168–190). When Bellerophon is not killed by the beast on the dangerous mission, the Lycian king offers him his daughter in marriage (Iliad 6.191–193). Homer never remarks on whether Bellerophon, bearer of the letter containing his own death sentence, [2] is ever aware of {1|2} its contents, [3] and to judge only from his completion of the delivery, Bellerophon most probably is ignorant of his suicidal mission. Homer uses the embedded letter to create a tragic scene, to allow his characters to convey authority, and to complicate his plot by creating a trick in the epistolary exchange.

Whether the Iliad uses Near Eastern texts such as the Enuma Eliš, the Epic of Gilgamesh, [4] or the Hebrew Bible as sources of some kind, [5] or whether the poem springs from Greek mythopoeia has been widely debated. [6] The reference to letter writing is unique in Homer, as M. L. West comments:

Interestingly, an earlier Sumerian myth links a letter and death. The text is translated from Akkadian thus: [

In those days, writing on clay certainly existed, but enveloping tablets did not exist.
King Ur-Zababa, for Sargon, creature of the gods,
with writing on clay—a thing which would cause his own death—
he dispatched it to Lugal-zagesi in Uruk. {2|3}

Though the point is much discussed by Assyriologists, it seems that the text can be interpreted to mean that king Ur-Zababa writes a letter to Lugal-zagesi and sends the letter with Sargon of Akkad, and that the letter is intended to cause Sargon’s death. Bendt Alster suggests that, in addition to the language used, the extremely condensed nature of the text indicates that the story alludes to a “theme which was perhaps already then in circulation.” [
9] Sargon has knowledge of the letter’s contents, and that knowledge has been gained despite the epistolary innovation that the text highlights: the first envelope, made of clay. Sargon opens the clay envelope and changes the contents so that Lugal-zagesi will kill someone else. [10] This contrasts, of course, to honorable Bellerophon, who does not know the content of the letter he carries. Regardless of the origin of this story in Homer, the epistolary motif is one employed by the Greeks in their literature and life for centuries, and one with which the Greeks influenced many other cultures. And it is one that involves a good deal of moral wrestling, since the tendency toward deceitful communication arises often and provides opportunities to display the strength (or weakness) of one’s moral virtue.

The first-century historian Josephus includes a story that is similar to the Iliad’s tale of Bellerophon, a story that he may well have known; Josephus presumably takes his story from a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, in which David, the king of Israel, sends his soldier Uriah to certain death by stationing him at the front line of battle (Antiquitates Judaicae 7.130–144; 2 Samuel 11; 2 Regnorum 11). David had impregnated Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and in order to comply with her wishes that he make arrangements to conceal what they had done, he arranges to have Uriah brought home from battle. David orders him to go home to his wife so that Uriah will be considered the father of Bathsheba’s child. Uriah will not go home, however, while his fellows are on the battlefield, so David writes (ἔγραψε, 7.135) to Uriah’s commander with instructions to place him in the most dangerous part of the field and to order Uriah’s fellow soldiers to retreat in battle. Having written and sealed the letter, he gives it to Uriah to carry to his commander (ταῦτα γράψας καὶ σημηνάμενος τῇ αὑτοῦ σφραγῖδι τὴν {3|4} ἐπιστολὴν ἔδωκεν Οὐρίᾳ κομίσαι πρὸς Ἰώαβον, Antiquitates Judaicae 7.136). David’s orders are carried out with the intended results. Josephus slightly rephrases the fact that Uriah carries the letter (cf. ἀπέστειλεν ἐν χειρὶ Ουριου, 2 Regnorum 11:14). Here, Uriah, an unwittingly suicidal “messenger,” delivers the letter that essentially seals his death. The unsuspecting messenger dramatically draws attention to the message, which effects the death of the messenger, and that transgressive message is brought into even greater relief with the visit of the prophet Nathan, who visits upon David the displeasure of God himself (Antiquitates Judaicae 7.147–154).

Embedded letters present a divergence from the “parent-text.” [17] This divergence is recognizable to competent readers, ancient or {5|6} modern, because of their familiarity with the daily use of letters. Ancient readers, like modern ones, would likely have recognized the signals surrounding an embedded letter (e.g. “The letter read as follows …”). These signals can vary or even be absent. Letters are not always quoted when present. They may be summarized in indirect speech (“The letter said that …”; “He wrote to Augustus to obtain permission to …”) or simply referenced (“He wrote to him to that effect”). Regardless of how a letter has been embedded, and I will return to the various styles of embedding, it is important to realize that embedded letters would have been recognized as reflective of daily life, to some degree representing historical phenomena in the ancient Mediterranean world. That letters embedded in literature reflect daily life does not mean they should be read in the same way as actual correspondence written on papyrus and accidentally preserved in Egypt. Embedded letters inform modern readers about ancient cultures and about literary styles and innovations on conventions. This material provides the opportunity to learn, not only about the relatively widespread epistolary activity around the ancient Mediterranean, but also about literature at an early stage, potentially yielding insights instructive for comparatists interested in a diaspora of literary traditions influenced by the Greeks, as well as for those interested in delving deeply into particular authors of antiquity. [18]

A study that hopes for such insights might thoroughly analyze most letters appearing in Classical and Late Antique literature. However, providing that depth of analysis creates difficulties as to the length of this particular study. Though I have read other historians’ and authors’ texts and contextually analyzed many of their embedded letters, it has not been possible to complete a thorough study of every possible author whose texts, influences, or heritage might touch Josephus’ thought world or the reading experience of his readers. Another approach would be to start with a particular lens, a corpus through which other authors’ practices can be viewed and assessed. That corpus would need to be carefully chosen to demonstrate letters’ interpretive potential. An author writing before certain epistolary patterns had been established in a literary tradition would not force enough explanation of subsequent developments on the important Hellenic pioneers. On {6|7} the other hand, an author writing after embedded letters had become commonplace could be both overwhelming and mundane. [19] Ideally, we could capture embedded epistolary use in a period of extensive activity and in an author who admits of the variety of usage types in Classical and early-Late Antiquity. I propose that the Jewish historian Josephus is the author whose work presents us with the opportunity to do so. An elite provincial with Roman citizenship living in Rome in the first century, Josephus participated in a thought world gathered from a few prominent streams, including Classical Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman literature, as well as Hebrew and Jewish literature, which emanated from the Near East and drew increasingly on Greek literary practice.

Josephus may seem a strange choice, certainly one outside the mainstream of Classical or Late Antique literary analysis. Noting that Josephus has been generally overlooked, [29] the classicist Mary Beard has commented on the profession’s lack of interest in Josephus: [30]

Despite [the importance of Josephus’ work for understanding the Flavian dynasty], the Bellum Judaicum is a text that has rarely attracted much notice in mainstream classical studies. In fact, with only a few notable exceptions, most classicists have passed Josephus firmly by on the other side … For disciplinary policemen, who so effectively patrol the frontiers of ‘Classics’ and the various sub-disciplines of Mediterranean history, have been hard at work here. Just as they once ensured that no ‘classicist’ would count the Acts of the Apostles as a ‘classical’ source, and for a long time managed to cordon off the history of Egypt as if it were the preserve of ‘Egyptologists’ alone, so they have allowed Josephus to be claimed by (or cavalierly left to, depending on your point of view) students of Jewish history, religion, literature and culture. {8|9}

Indeed, among the few major works that discuss letters in Greek historiography at all, one neglects Josephus entirely, even though he is heavily influenced by and imitates the great Greek historians. [
31] This leaves much material to investigate. Before exploring the poetics of embedded letters, the use of letters by literary authors should at least be contextualized with some observations about those in the ancient Mediterranean world who could read and write them.

Epistolary History

Because this study focuses primarily on the effect of epistolary texts on readers, I assume that ancient literacy, the literary competence of those who might have sought out Josephus’ (or another author’s) texts, is not a major concern. However, it is worth commenting that the range {9|10} of literacy in the ancient Mediterranean world in a given period has been much discussed. One approach has been to estimate the percentage of the literate population as a percentage based on remaining evidence and limits to the spread of mass literacy, such as available technology. The most prominent argument along these lines has been by W. V. Harris, who estimates that, from the 480s BC, five percent or more of the adult population of Athens was literate. In the Roman republic, probably no more than ten percent of adults were literate before 100 BC. [35] In a study on the Vindolanda writing tablets, Bowman expresses perhaps more optimism, noting that “[t]he standardisation of particular forms emerges from a literate milieu which is characterised by a breadth of practice …” [36] Another approach has been to stress “text-oriented events embedded in particular sociocultural contexts.” [37] Those taking this approach are uncomfortable talking about “percentages of ‘literates,’ for that presupposes a certain definition of literacy, one that irons out variety and complexity,” [38] so an attempt is made to identify “literacies” or sub-genres of literacy based on types of written text and the literacy presupposed by those texts, as well as literacy levels and uses. Rosalind Thomas, for example, identifies “peculiar habits in their exploitation of the written word” related to banking in Athens; civic and other duties that required one to be able to write a name; private commercial activity that was possible if a trader or merchant could make records, write contracts, and construct lists of names, goods, and monetary sums; various public concerns that required publicly posted lists of various items, such as debtors, traitors, citizens, and benefactors; and the functions of public office as would be required of officials for decrees and other public business. [39] In contrast, Roman culture has been noted for its more unified, nonspecialized literacies. [40]

The idea of “literacies” can be thought of as common cores of knowledge that a person can be said to have possessed in varying degrees. For instance, the basic ability to form characters would have been necessary to write one’s name, even if one did not use the correct {10|11} case or spell the name correctly. Still, scholars apply a standard to analyze how well one practiced “name literacy.” Among those who had an opportunity, individuals may have been able to function in society with minimal knowledge of grammar, but a grammar existed by which one could shape an illustrious career. This does not redefine literacy; it simply suggests that there might be a continuum on which to place persons in a society: some could write or read declamatory speeches, others lists of goods for market, others only their names.

Regardless of the percentage of the population literate during Josephus’ time or the literacies that can be identified, Josephus’ audiences, and indeed the senders and recipients of letters or their assistants, were apparently literate enough to understand these texts. Furthermore, even those who could not read the texts or the letters those texts contained would have understood enough to grasp the concept of epistolary correspondence and could have appreciated the complex situations facilitated by epistolary exchanges represented in literature.

Letters in the ancient world

Letters could be written on inexpensive wooden tablets covered with wax, [45] wooden leaves, [46] clay, [47] ivory, [48] metal, [49] or, later and most often, on papyrus. [50] Aside from an apparently entirely anomalous epistolary delivery on a slave’s scalp, [51] rarer manifestations included a σκυτάλη, a stick around which a narrow piece of leather was wrapped; the leather was inscribed with a message that would become decipherable again when the recipient wrapped it around a stick of the same size. This ploy was used, for example, by the Spartans to convey a covert message to recall Pausanias. [52] The most common material in the Imperial period, papyrus, was relatively inexpensive; a papyrus roll, which would have provided a writing surface for many letters, may have cost one- or two-days’ wages, perhaps five- or six-days’ for a laborer. Naphtali Lewis notes that, “Accordingly, in social milieux more elevated that that of a prosperous Egyptian villager, the purchase of papyrus is not likely to have been regarded as an expenditure of any consequence,” [53] and, quoting T. C. Skeat, that “books in the ancient world were not very expensive, at least for the sort of people likely to need them. They would certainly be too dear for the lowest classes of {12|13} society, but they would probably be illiterate anyway.” [54] In any case, only a small portion of a papyrus roll would be needed for a letter, which meant that scraps could be used, sheets could be reused by washing off the ink, or whole rolls could be purchased for multiple uses. [55]

Letters could sometimes be given to travelers. In the second or third century AD, a certain Harpalus writes a letter to Heras with these instructions: συνεχῶς μοι γρά[φ]ε διὰ τῶν ἐρχομένων πρὸς ἐμὲ (“continually write to me through those who are coming my way”). Harpalus requests that Heras send a certain letter, from Evangelus (ἐπιστολὴν Εὐαγγέλου), through a safe man (δι᾽ ἀσφαλοῦς), probably a premium safe-delivery method for a valued document. [69] Another arrangement, especially for those in rural areas, might be to send a letter with a traveler who could relay it to a second messenger, who would then take it to its recipient. This was probably the arrangement made by a fourth-century correspondent, Judas, who writes ἀπόδος συμ[μάχωι] (“deliver to an assistant”), along with approximately 50 additional characters, on the back of his letter. The detail would not {14|15} have been necessary if the messenger had known the recipient or had received instructions directly from the writer. However, Judas’ lengthy address would be necessary if he were forced to rely on a stranger who might then pass on his letter to an official delivery person. [70] Letters were often folded and addressed on the side opposite their contents. An address on the back of a letter could be very short, naming only the recipient or the recipient and the writer, either of which would imply that the writer knew the messenger. [71] They sometimes also included the name of a profession, such as in a letter from the first half of the fourth century stating that it was sent by “Horion the pastry-cook” (Ὡρίωνος κλειω[ανέως], P.Oxy. 65.4493.24). Or they could be even more specific: the author of a letter from AD 217/218 is addressed to “Eutyches who distributes branches under the gateway of the Serapeum by the great image” (P.Oxy. 43.3094). The messenger(s) apparently did not know the recipient, but, thankfully, the recipient must have been stationary. Despite relatively few instances of specificity, addresses were usually conventional, including the recipient’s name and sometimes the sender’s name.

Though the style of private papyrus letters tended to be quite dry—with standard greeting and concluding formulas—some exceptions, with unique style and a personal touch, have been preserved. [72] For example, a second-century letter regarding agriculture from Diogenes to Apollogenes reads as follows:

μ̣υ̣ρ̣ι̣ά̣κ̣ι̣ς̣ [γ]εγραφὼς ἐκκόψαι τὰ πρὸς τῶι Φάι αμπε[..]. ὡς ἔδοξεν Δημητρ[ί]ωι τῶι γυμνασιάρχωι καὶ Ἀδρά̣στωι καὶ Σώται πά̣λ̣ιν σου ἔλαβον ἐπιστολὴν σήμερον πυνθανομένου τί βούλομαι γενέσθαι. πρὸς ἣν ἀντιγράφω ἔκκοψον ἔκκοψον ἔκκοψον ἔκκοψον ἔκκοψον. ἰδοὺ πλειστάκις λέγω

P.Oxy. 42.3063.3–9

Nonetheless, as the general topic of this letter would suggest, subjects were usually relatively mundane, such as commerce, bureaucratic business, or routine, personal business. [
74] A letter from AD 194 tells the addressee to “Meet your friend when the Moon is in Sagittarius, at the 4th hour …” [75] One of the most interesting personal business letters on papyrus is sent by Apollonius and Sarapis, who express regret that they cannot attend a wedding. [76] However, they say they have made arrangements to send roses and narcissi. Since they can only send 1,000 roses, they say they are sending 4,000 narcissi instead of 2,000. “Write us about anything else you want” (περὶ ὧν ἄλλων θέλεις γρ[ά]ψο[ν ἡμ]ῖν, lines 21–22), they say, concluding with a formula: ἐρρῶσθαί σε εὐχόμεθα, κυρία (line 28). The conclusion is written in a second hand, most likely by the sender, and, according to the editor, in a “practiced and rapid cursive.” A second hand for the concluding ἔρρωσο is not unusual and probably indicates that a scribe wrote the main text and the author personalized the document. [77]

Embedding in papyrus letters

As evidenced by an example letter from Oxyrhynchus, dated AD 128 (P.Oxy. 43.3088), the transition from a primary letter to an attached copy can be abrupt. In that text, whether a clear indication of the copy exists in the primary letter is difficult to tell, since only four full lines of the whole text are preserved, including only three characters of its first line. The letter’s author is not known, since its first lines have been lost. It includes a copy, denoted by ἀντίγρ[αφον], of a letter from Flavius Titianus, prefect of Egypt. The copy may be further indicated by a date (“Year 12 of Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, Phamenoth 25”), but the date may belong at the bottom of the primary letter rather than to the ἀντίγραφον. The first letter (lines 1–4) ends with Ἐρρῶσθαί ὑμᾶς εὔχομαι. Between lines 4 and 5, the papyrus has a horizontal line on the left side, hanging slightly to the left of the text and indicating a break. The line is below the two-line date, perhaps indicating that, if it does belong with the ἀντίγραφον, it was not in the original letter, though this depends on the rigorousness of the author. [83] The prefect’s letter is addressed to Oxyrhynchus (“the city”) {17|18} and gives permission to carry out a public works project (on the baths). As suggested by the editor, J. R. Rea, the primary letter may be from a lower-ranking official, and the author has enclosed a copy of the prefect’s letter to lend authority to his own. The ἀντίγραφος concerns a public bath that the prefect says he permits to “equip.” The back of the papyrus has an address that has been partially lost, but may be to the Hereacleopolite nome in Oxyrhynchus. Rea proposes that the project may have required stone from a quarry there, so the author of the first letter is seeking assistance with the request. The attached letter appears to be intended to lend authority to the lower-ranking official’s request to the people of Oxyrhyncus.

In keeping with similar practices in contemporary literature, epistolary authors occasionally quote parts of previous letters. One letter, dated later than AD 259, quotes in this manner: ν̣[ῦν δ]έ̣ [γ]ρ̣άψας ὅ τι ἦν πρὸ μηνῶν δύο, γ̣ράφε̣ι̣ς, “ἐκομισάμην σου ἕτερα γράμματα ὅπου [οὐδ]ὲ̣ν̣ γράφεις” (“But now, although I wrote what the matter was two months ago, you write, ‘I have received other letters from you in which you write nothing.’”). [84] Unless a letter is explicit, whether other letters it refers to were enclosed as copies is sometimes now unclear. [85] For example, a letter from the second or third century AD, from Harpalus to Heras, refers to “tying up” another person’s letter: συνέδησα ἐπιστο̣λήν μοῦ καὶ ἄλλην τοῦ ἐνθάδε νομικοῦ πρὸς τὸν παρὰ σοὶ νομικόν (“I have tied up [with the letter] a letter of mine and another from the notary here to the notary who is with you,” lines 4–7). [86] The letter also requests that a note (ἐπιστόλιον) regarding credit that was sent on (διαπεμφθέν) to him be sent by a safe messenger. Another letter from Harpalus to Heras requests that Heras send a letter from Evangelus that Heras apparently possessed: μνήσθητι πέμψαι μοι δι᾽ ἀσφαλοῦ̣ς̣ τὴν ἐπιστολὴν Εὐαγγέλου (“Remember to send me Evangelus’ letter by a safe man,” lines 11–13). [87] {18|19}

History of Research on Embedded Letters

More recently, P. A. Rosenmeyer [91] has argued against such a distinction by asserting that all epistolary authors, whether writing informal or formal, “real” or “artful” letters, construct a certain persona and a certain truth, projecting in writing whichever image or personality they wish from letter to letter: [92]

All letter writers consciously participate in the invention of their personas; there is no such thing as an unself-censored, ‘natural’ letter, because letters depend for their very existence on specific, culturally constructed conventions of form, style, and content. A letter precludes any sense of objective truth such as might be produced by the presence of an external commentator who establishes ‘reality’, such as the narrating poet in epic, or by the interaction of voices, found in choral {19|20} response or dialogue in drama. The letter writer thus is free to present himself in whatever light he wishes (within the limits of probability or believability), and he is most likely to offer a picture which will have a specific targeted effect, whether negative or positive on his reader, in the same manner as an orator … Letter writing is inherently ‘fictional’ in that the writer can create himself anew every time he writes.

Indeed, Rosenmeyer’s reflections on letter writing could apply, as she no doubt would agree, to any literary work. [
93] Any author—ancient or other—could invent a persona by, for example, choosing a particular voice for his narrator. The style, form, and content of any work of literature are “culturally constructed” (i.e. presumably reflect the culture from which the author comes), making these hardly unique characteristics of letters. Rosenmeyer is rightly attempting to avoid the Deissmannian dichotomy of “real” and “fictive” letters. However, she seems to overstate her argument slightly in terms of historiography. Appropriating the 1931 article on epistolography by Sykutris, Rosenmeyer puts the embedded letters reviewed in her study in Sykutris’s fifth category of letters: [94]

defined primarily by its fictiveness: the fictive prose letter …, letters whose writers or receivers are inventions, but who use the standard prose of a ‘real’ letter. This includes embedded letters (in, for example, historical prose, drama, or the novel), pseudonymous letters composed in the names of famous people, epistolary novels, imaginative love letters, and mimetic letters …

Rosenmeyer goes on to say that “[e]very letter is also an artifact purporting to be historically authentic, striving for chronological accuracy.” [
95] But because letters are fictive, she says, it is better not to ask whether “Ovid’s Sappho writing to Phaon (Heroides 15) represents the ‘real,’ historical poet of Lesbos, but rather what rhetorical effect Ovid achieves by representing her voice through the medium of a letter.” [96] The question of the rhetorical effect of a letter is the {20|21} significant, soluble problem regarding its use in a literary text. But an exploration of the effects of embedded letters is not necessarily the best line of exploration simply given an a priori assumption about the nature of letters themselves as “fictive.” Perhaps in addition to any a priori assumption that might be made, we can analyze embedded letters on a generic basis, noting the kind of literature in which they are embedded. This analysis can then help us grasp the literary effects of the letter by indicating how an author may have been playing on reader expectations of a letter’s reliability, its usefulness as evidence, its vulnerability to interception, and so on, while also allowing that letters embedded in historiographical prose are by generic affiliation portrayed as providing a representation of the communications of actual historical figures. The issue here is neither whether embedded letters actually are ‘true’, in the sense that they correspond with actual communications by actual persons, [97] nor that historical accounts containing letters are ‘untrue’ according to a modern standard. It is merely that when writing history—whether hewing strictly to ‘what actually happened’ or not—historians are by definition attempting to represent what happened and describe how it came about. In this sense, an ‘imaginative letter’ exchanged by fictional characters created solely by the author is not qualitatively the same as one from Herod to Augustus, even when the latter is found embedded in a historical narrative.


As will be demonstrated in Chapter Two with a survey of Josephus’ texts, letters feature prominently in Herod’s domestic and foreign affairs in Bellum Judaicum 1 and Antiquitates Judaicae 16–17, though they are mentioned only in passing in, for instance, P. Richardson’s monograph on Herod. [102] Other scholars make similar omissions, despite the fact that letters often feature in contexts involving intrigue. The majority of letters involving Herod’s sons are explicitly presented as forgeries, spurious and deceitful, with the most notable exceptions being important imperial correspondence written by Herod soliciting advice from Augustus. Several “forgeries” are presented in oratio recta, including a letter at Bellum Judaicum 1.643, which, Josephus reports, is one of a number that are a result of Antipater’s bribe of Acme, a servant of Livia Drusilla, Augustus’ wife. Acme says she found letters from Herod’s sister Salome to Livia in Livia’s papers. The letters allegedly contain abuse toward Herod. Another quoted letter (Antiquitates Judaicae 16.317–319) is one supposedly from Alexander, Herod’s son by Mariamme I, petitioning the commander of the fortress at Alexandrion, between Samaria and Judaea, to give shelter to Alexander and his brother Aristobulus after they commit some act. Details of the accounts in the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae differ (Bellum Judaicum 1.528–529; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.317–319). The Antiquitates {22|23} Judaicae quotes the letter, though it is unspecific regarding the intended action of Herod’s sons; the Bellum Judaicum summarizes the letter but gives more details. The Antiquitates Judaicae says Herod’s secretary is to blame for forging the letter with the help of Antipater, while the Bellum Judaicum says that Antipater is the culprit. In his biography of Herod, Michael Grant says that much of our interpretation “depends on” the reader’s estimate of the letter, [103] but he does not specify further what the reader should make of the differences in the accounts regarding the letter. How the letter appeared, to what extent it actually would have been necessary to influence Herod, why there are differences between the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae, and so on are all open questions. [104]

A number of Coleman’s conclusions may be disputed, but in general they are quite straightforward. For example, he concludes that there are three “shortcomings of the letter as the lifeline of imperial Rome,” one of which is the fact that it was “subject to delay.” [115] Certainly this was true in some instances, but Coleman’s example is Gaius’ letter stranded at sea for three months, without any further elaboration on the epistolary resolution of that delay: another letter made the journey and told of Gaius’ death, thus voiding the orders in the letter carried by the messengers stranded at sea. Coleman is also “surprised” that Josephus does not comment on whether it would have been difficult for his opponents to initiate an epistolary campaign to “every city in Galilee.” [116] Coleman takes this as a sign that letters were easily “mass produced” and that “reproduction of letters by hand, though time-consuming, did not seem so problematic to first-century persons as it would to modern copyists.” [117] However, Josephus had not commented on earlier similar events, such as when Pompey ordered Aristobulus to write letters ordering surrender in his own hand to his commanders. Thus, what still appears to be needed is a literary analysis that examines Josephus’ embedded letters in their narrative context, [118] as well as a study that assesses broad themes and reveals the importance of Josephus’ treatment of letters to our understanding of the whole of his texts. {25|26}

Jewish literature

Several commentaries on 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees discuss the letters that appear in those texts, and a few articles have been published about the letters. They mostly focus on the letters’ authenticity, such as in an article by B. Z. Wacholder (1978) that focuses on the second letter that appears at the beginning of 2 Maccabees (1:10–2:18). Through {26|27} detailed textual analysis, he determines that the letter was written soon after the death of Antiochus IV, though perhaps approximately a year later (163 BC) than had been assumed. [125] An article by F. O. Francis (1984) considers the plausibility of parallel letters in 1 Maccabees and Josephus, but also notes the letters’ embeddedness. For example, the letter from Areus to Onias (Antiquitates Judaicae 12.226–227; 1 Maccabees 12:20–23) is considered as

In other words, embedding a letter, according to Francis, makes it less ‘real’ because the author attempts to relate the details of the letter to the necessities of the surrounding narrative events and themes.

Other Greek authors

Rosenmeyer’s book (2001), also discussed generally above, [138] explores a broad range of Greek authors, from Homer to Euripides to the second sophistic. [139] Her discussion of letters as they appear in historiography is restricted to Herodotus and Thucydides as representatives of the genre, an understandable focus given the diversity of literary types that Rosenmeyer reviews. Acknowledging that these authors’ letters have a “less overtly fictional format” than those letters appearing in other authors’ texts, [140] Rosenmeyer highlights the underhanded behavior associated with letters, especially in Herodotus. Thucydides, in contrast,

Rosenmeyer characterizes Thucydides’ use of letters as “documentary,” rather than as tools to “enliven the narrative.” [
142] She notes that letters are the cause of mischief, especially in Book 8, and that, in general, Thucydides uses letters “to bolster his historical arguments,” Herodotus, “to enliven his narrative.” [143] Both use letters as “external reassurances” of the “quality of their work,” and both “follow the pattern of epistolary {29|30} treachery established by Homer.” [144] Except that they are not overly specific, these generalizations seem basically acceptable—though, of course, bolstering and enlivening need not be mutually exclusive [145] —and they will appear again in subsequent chapters.


Classical and Hellenistic historians embed letters with the same basic functions: altering or maintaining relationships and closing space and time. A poetics of embedded letters pertains to many Greek authors, as letters are found occasionally in Herodotus and Thucydides, and are ubiquitous in later historians such as Polybius, Diodorus, and Dionysius. They also appear in fragmentary historians, though of course their frequency is impossible to determine, in Jewish historians, and in Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible. This book attempts to advance a poetics of embedded letters, a theory of reading letters in narratives. [146] To that end, it will describe letters’ basic functions, the framing that links them to the parent-text, the implications of their intratextuality and intertextuality, their documentary nature, and their reliability, as well as account for their presence in the text. Chapter Two introduces a poetics of embedded letters and provides an overview of letters in Josephus’ works. The similarity of a major part of Josephus’ epistolary poetics to that of other Greek authors is explored in Chapter Three. Chapter Four examines the use of embedded letters for attestation—evidence for a particular point—which is not confined to cases where the embedded letters are used by characters in the narrative episode: the historian’s use of letters outside of the episode, for the benefit of the reader, is a Hellenic technique Josephus seems to use more acutely than other authors.

The overall thrust of many embedded letters in Josephus is to demonstrate that the Jews are a loyal, peaceable people. Letters provide the opportunity to characterize relationships with rulers by direct means, the presentation of the “real letters,” and Chapter Five uses the metaphor of light refraction and draws on information economics, a field of modern microeconomics, to help to explain Josephus’ unique use of embedded letters. The fifth chapter then describes the implications of this study for Josephus studies and ancient epistolography. {30|31}


This study examines all of Josephus’ extant works. I focus primarily on how embedded letters ‘interface’ with the main narrative, so from a survey of all the letters I have selected examples from Josephus’ historical narratives. Chapter Two provides an overview of the letters that appear in the Bellum Judaicum, Contra Apionem, Antiquitates Judaicae, and Vita. Josephus’ narratives in the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae contain many parallel texts that narrate (nearly) the same events, often with interesting—if sometimes inexplicable—variations. [147] Such variations in presentation occasionally are relevant to my discussions of embedded letters, and I have examined these cases in detail, at times exploring the text more closely than I have with other non-parallel narratives. In some cases, detailed analyses of parallel texts in Josephus have not been attempted before, so the passages have been provided fully in Greek with English translation and commented on as expansively as space allows. The passages are laid out in a two-column table to aid comparison of consistencies and alterations from one version to the other. The parallel accounts do not appear to be entirely independent of one another, perhaps because Josephus had the Bellum Judaicum version of an episode to hand as he wrote the Antiquitates Judaicae or Vita, [148] and he consciously employed different techniques in most phrases and narrative structures. He may have had an additional source for the later Antiquitates Judaicae versions of parallel stories, as some authors have argued, [149] but I will attempt to show that such assumptions are not necessary to explain variationes. [150] {31|32}

Consider three very different kinds of close contextual examples, two of which are sources for Josephus, Nicolaus and Aristeas, and one of which—Diodorus—is temporally and stylistically close. Josephus retells how the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek. The story’s origin is the Letter of Aristeas, a pseudepigraphical work written in the second century BC, [155] which demonstrates the literary sophistication of the Jewish author with detailed descriptions (83–120), [156] an ethnographic excursus (128–170), references to intellectuals, and an intel- {32|33} lectually confident tone. [157] The Letter has it that the translation was made for Ptolemy Philadelphus II’s library at Alexandria. [158] Narrated from the perspective of Aristeas, one of Ptolemy’s courtiers, the text states that Ptolemy’s librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, wants to collect all the books in the inhabited world, among which he desires to include the writings of the Hebrew Bible (9). When Demetrius tells Ptolemy about the Jews’ writings, Ptolemy orders that they be translated into Greek (10-11). Despite its modern name, the book does not take a thoroughly epistolary form. [159] With appearances of first-person forms, the book has the name of the addressee in the vocative (ὦ Φιλόκρατες, 1, 322), [160] and the title of the book, ΑΡΙΣΤΕΑΣ ΦΙΛΟΚΡΑΤΕΙ, with the recipient’s name in the dative, conforms to common epistolary usage in antiquity. Meecham asserts several other epistolary features of the work apart from the embedded epistolary material, including the use of διασαφεῖν (51, 171, 297, 306; cf. P.Lond. 42, 8) and δηλοῦν (4, 5; cf. 2 Maccabees 2:23) to mean ‘explain (by letter)’, and σημαίνειν (33, 120) to mean ‘inform by letter’. [161] The title is not preserved by ancient authors who refer to the work; they prefer to characterize it rather than to use its title. [162] Indeed, the term ἐπιστολὴς to refer to the work appears in a fourteenth-century manuscript, so does not date to antiquity. [163]

In addition, Josephus probably follows Nicolaus’ style, which included using letters, as shown above. Indeed, several letters can be found in Nicolaus’ fragments. One of the most notable letters is one from Octavian’s mother Atia informing him that Julius Caesar has been killed. With a heightened dramatic quality, it vividly describes the messenger who had been sent by Octavian’s mother and who comes to him at Apollonia carrying the letter (ἐπιστολὴν κομίζων); [170] the messenger is disturbed and in a state of despondency (ἀπελεύθερος {34|35} τεταραγμένος καὶ πολλῆς ἀθυμίας μεστός, F 130 (101) / 38), Nicolaus records. [171] The letter is introduced with a preposition and a pluperfect (ἐν ἧι ἐγέγραπτο ὡς …) and summarized in oratio obliqua, followed by ἠξίου ‘it seemed best …’, and then by a series of infinitives; this is quite a sophisticated summary and fairly rare as an epistolary construction. The letter reports to Octavian that Caesar has been murdered in the Senate by Cassius and Brutus’ entourage and tells him that she thinks he should return to her, seek counsel (cf. 41–43), and act as fortune and opportunities require. [172] Nicolaus marks the conclusion with a summarizing sentence in which he varies his epistolary terminology but apparently purposefully denotes that it is the same letter, i.e. the one from Octavian’s mother: Τοιαῦτα ἐδήλου τὰ παρὰ τῆς μητρὸς γράμματα. Nicolaus notes the similarity of the messenger’s oral report to the letter itself (Ὅμοια δὲ καὶ ὁ ταῦτα κομίζων ἀπήγγελλεν, F 130 (101) / 39), and explains in indirect speech additional details: that he was sent immediately after Caesar’s murder, that Caesar’s relatives are in danger, and that the murderers comprise a large group who have been killing Caesar’s partisans. Nicolaus rounds out the epistolary interaction by describing the reaction of those who hear the message; they are in a state of much confusion: Ταῦτα ἀκούσαντες, ἐν πολλῷ θορύβῳ ἦσαν (40).

Nicolaus apparently used many other letters that have not survived in whole texts but have been transmitted in fragments by other authors, and, as such, it is difficult to analyze Nicolaus’ style with much precision. However, some observations can be made if we assume the authors who preserved Nicolaus’ history were transferring details from his text to their own, not fabricating their information. Strabo, for instance, preserves a report from Nicolaus (15.1.72 = F 100) about an embassy from India that had been sent to Augustus. The letter (τῆς ἐπιστολῆς) includes the number of the embassy; the letter’s material and language are described (Τὴν δ’ ἐπιστολὴν ἑλληνίζειν ἐν διφθέρᾳ γεγραμμένην), as are its author and purpose. Strabo summarizes by invoking Nicolaus again (Ταῦτα μὲν ἔφη λέγειν τὴν ἐπιστολὴν), perhaps a form of Nicolaus’ own summary, and providing Nicolaus’ description of the appearance, smell, and cargo of the ambassadors. If the extant fragments of Nicolaus’ works preserved in other authors are representative of his original corpus, Nicolaus embedded letters in his narratives extensively. {35|36}

As a third contextual example, letters throughout Diodorus’ narratives are used to convey agricultural information (1.36.11), as well as for bureaucratic administration (1.70.4), foreign relations, [173] and military operations, which probably explains the greater prominence of epistolary material in Book 11, when the Persian tyrant Xerxes began his campaign in Greece, and the narrative use of letters in subsequent battles. Other operations and intrigues in Diodorus are also assisted by letters. Diodorus says that when the Spartan Dionysius, initially a scribe (γραμματέως, 13.96.4), receives by letter a request for troops from Gela (Diodorus Siculus 13.93), he sees an opportunity to become tyrant of Syracuse. Dionysius declares war on Carthage by giving a messenger a letter addressed to the Senate (ἐξέπεμψεν εἰς Καρχηδόνα κήρυκα, δοὺς ἐπιστολὴν πρὸς τὴν γερουσίαν · ἐν ταύτῃ δὲ γεγραμμένον ἦν ὅτι, 14.47.2). The Persian king Artaxerxes sends letters (ἔπεμψεν ἐπιστολὰς) to all his cities and satraps announcing that Tithraustes has been appointed commander. Under Artaxerxes’ orders, Tithraustes hunts down Tissaphernes, whom Artaxerxes considers to be responsible for the war, and kills him. With a verb that echoes the term used for Artaxerxes’ letter to the cities, Diodorus records that Tithraustes dispatches his own missive, the head of Tissaphernes: τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀποκόψας ἀπέστειλε πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα (14.80.8). Embedded letters of this sort are part of the cultural milieu in which Josephus works, even though they may not act as historical sources for his material.

The close context represented by these three examples is a rich background against which to explore Josephus’ own epistolary motivations. However, the close context will not be adequate to understand fully Josephus’ use of letters, since those texts that are part of his context are part of a larger literary context on which the texts known to Josephus may have been based. This does not rule out the likelihood that Josephus was directly familiar with much older literature, such as Herodotus and, of course, Thucydides, whom Josephus imitated. The inclusion here of discussions on Euripides or Xenophon does not mean that Josephus necessarily had those authors or texts in mind. Examining such “distant” authors’ use of letters does allow for an exploration of how Josephus adapted the literary style of his predecessors, based on how his predecessors adapted their predecessors, so that we may better listen for the Hellenic echoes Josephus’ readers may have heard when reading him. {36|37}

In other words, many of the ways Josephus related embedded letters to the broader narrative were in the air when he wrote; Josephus had “literary affinities” with certain authors. [174] This reveals the close relationship between intratextuality—a sophisticated term for the commonplace idea that letters in Josephus relate to other parts of his texts and to the texts as wholes—and intertextuality—the idea that readers may have related Josephus’ narratives to a web of other texts or performances. These ways of employing letters could presumably have been expected by his readers, [175] since both an author and reader presumably live in a world of reading texts or watching performances, as Sharrock notes:

The possible relationship between a nexus of other texts and Josephus’ texts can relate not only to modern readers’ responses but also to those of ancient, immediate audiences. [
177] It is more difficult to define this relation when an author does not directly refer to another author or allude to another author: [178] the relationship to another text, intertex- {37|38} tuality, is always tenuous because it depends on the reader, [179] and it is difficult enough to determine what a modern reader may see in a text, let alone an ancient one.

Furthermore, intertextual arguments may have a different purchase on the criticism of a text depending on the experience of different readers. Three hypothetical readers of Josephus serve as examples. ‘Reader A’ might be extremely knowledgeable and well-read, and may in reading Josephus pick up on a particular passage in, for instance, Thucydides: comparison of the texts may be providing a model, even if it is imprecise, of what might go on in Reader A’s mind, whether it is conscious or unconscious. A second hypothetical reader, ‘Reader B’, may miss the exact comparison of texts, but might be aware enough of the genre to have expectations of how such texts usually function: this is enough for Josephus’ variations to be noted by the reader as variations, and perhaps to be articulated as variations. ‘Reader C’ may not be aware of the process of intertextual reading at all, but even in view of such a reader, the exercise of comparing texts is useful as exactly that, a comparison: comparison here is more author- than reader-based—Josephus doing things that, say, Dionysius did not do or not doing things that Dionysius did do—but as Josephus was at least aware of the tradition, we can be reasonably certain that comparing Josephus with other texts may elucidate Josephus’ choices regarding what—and what not—to do. As these examples illustrate, when the concept of intertextuality moves beyond the wholly subjective and seeks to reconstruct or direct the experience of any other reader, ancient or modern, it must deal in uncertainties. {38|39}

The nexus of intertexts for Josephus’ works may not have exclusively involved those texts from the same genre. First it is important to note that an ancient audience could have some possible generic expectations. If we understand genre in terms of Conte’s explanation of it as a “means of signification incorporated into the text to give form and meaning to the discourse and instructions to its readers,” then “the genre is in fact the horizon marking the boundaries of its meaning and delimiting its real possibilities within the system of literary codification.” [180] Take Josephus’ body of work as an example. That Josephus’ readers were reading history in the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae [181] delimits the possibilities for how letters could relate to the parent-text. However, while in most cases Josephus handles letters in ways that are similar to the treatments they receive in the hands of authors of earlier and contemporary Greek works of history, in some instances his readers could have recognized letters being used in ways that generally differ from many uses in that genre. Ancient readers could have noted the dissonance between the dubious role of letters in trials in Josephus’ Herod narratives and their presentation by Josephus as sound evidence for the reliability of his texts or for Jewish political relations in the Roman world. [182] They could also have noted their use for narrative advancement in Jewish literature and could have contrasted Josephus’ use of letters with other authors writing Greek from such narratives as trial scenes in, for example, Xenophon and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who seem to have used letters as reliable evidence for events and the character of defendants. The latter authors, however, differ again from other historians who illustrated letters’ variable reliability within the genre of history, and even these episodes are to some extent ‘tainted’ with this dubiousness. Thus, like arguments about intertextuality, arguments about genre must be left somewhat tenuous, as Barchiesi has observed: [183]

Just think about how many delicate steps are involved in generic interpretations: we construct one or more ideal audiences with their own horizons of expectations; they make guesses for us on the poet’s positioning within genres; the poet is now constructed as author and enters into a dialogue {39|40} with a generic matrix. This is all very complicated, and some are tempted to jettison the whole issue, but then we hear Horace’s voice lamenting ‘I decided to write satire because I was not good enough at war epic, bucolics, and comedy’ …

Josephus’ audience?

Mason has done seminal work on the identity of Josephus’ audience, arguing for an entirely Roman audience for the Bellum Judaicum, a claim I now summarize and discuss. In his most systematic argument for a solely Roman audience, Mason presents five pieces of evidence. The first two deal with the “social” and “local” nature of writing and “publishing.” [186] Mason argues (1) for the point in general, using mostly elite Roman authors as examples, and then (2) that “specific evidence for the publication of the War seems indeed to require that he followed the normal practices.” [187] Here he offers two points. First, references in the Vita to letters exchanged with Agrippa II during the publication of the Bellum Judaicum show that Agrippa was familiar with Josephus’ work in progress, and not only as a finished product. He also suggests from this that Josephus had personal meetings with Agrippa in addition to the letters, which were “brief and pointed; serious discussion was reserved for face-to-face encounters, which must therefore also have occurred easily enough.” [188] Mason posits that the letters served a “limited function” and that “Josephus and Agrippa were close enough geographically that they could exchange such notes easily.” [189] Yet the very earliest Greek letter we possess, on lead found at Berezan on the Black Sea, [190] is in line with many extant letters that suggest that epistolary communication was used primarily to communicate over great distances. As Harris has observed: [191]

[M]ost surviving letters were intended to cover a considerable distance: they seem not to have been used much for communicating with someone in the same city (as, before telephones dominated, they once were). This applied even to the letter-loving Pliny. Acknowledging a letter of recommendation, he says casually: “I would have recommended him to you, if you had been at Rome and I had been away.” In other words, the {41|42} act of recommendation had been put into letter form only because the author was out of town: otherwise he would have done the recommending in person … Letters of invitation preserved on papyri are also relevant here: not only are they rather few in number, they are often not self-contained—either the sender or recipient or both are left unnamed or are incompletely named. The natural conclusion for this evidence is that invitations, generally being local messages, were for the most part oral, but that an accompanying letter of invitation might also be used to add a dash of style. This restriction in the way letters were used did not result from the lack of public postal service, for the well-to-do overcame this difficulty for the purposes of long-distance correspondence and could have done so on a more local level. The reason is, rather, that the natural way of conveying a message was still [in the late Roman republic and the high empire] to a considerable degree by word of mouth.

Moreover, it is especially curious that Agrippa and Josephus would have exchanged letters about his progress on the Bellum Judaicum—and that those letters should be used as evidence of that quasi-collaborative activity—if the emphasis was on “face time” during which Josephus could receive the feedback apparently characteristic of oral communication. In any case, as Mason rightly observes, the letters may be suspect anyway, since they are clearly intended to impress upon Josephus’ readers that he had authoritative reviewers. Even on this point, though, one must wonder why Agrippa should have been to a Roman audience a particularly impressive critic from whose examination Josephus might have benefited. Although in some senses an important person, Agrippa was, after all, Judaean, and, while he was a Roman citizen, he like other Jews was not a senator, [
192] nor was he considered by elite Romans to be of equal ilk. [193]

Josephus himself says that he distributed his work to Jews in addition to elite Romans (Contra Apionem 1.51, Vita 361-62). [198] Mason asserts that the Jews to whom Josephus sold his work were “distinguished Roman citizens, they spent much of their time in the capital, and they were fully conversant with Greek culture. We have no reason, then, to imagine massive sales of the War to Judeans around the Mediterranean—a technically implausible project in any case.” [199] Even if we question, as Mason seems to, whether the Jews who were friendly with Rome represented a “Jewish” component to Josephus’ audience—odd since, for example, Agrippa II had been steward of the Temple in Jerusalem—we need not think of a Jewish audience as being far-flung in diasporic regions other than Rome, though that may well be a possibility. The Jews in Rome, who had lived there since at least the mid-first century BC, [200] need not have been of Agrippa’s status to have been “conversant with Greek culture.” Indeed, evidence, mostly epigraphic though some literary, likely indicates that Jews to some extent had integrated into Roman urban society, [201] and perhaps had a dual sense of identity. [202] This is not a surprising trend, given the limited extent of Hellenization of even Jews in Judaea and the diaspora over generations, [203] and integra- {43|44} tion in general, [204] and does not mean they assimilated more fully by adopting Graeco-Roman valuation of wealth as status symbol, [205] or were not marginalized for other reasons, such as religious belief. [206]

A number of examples of Jewish literature employing embedded letters will be reviewed in this book, and the accumulation of that evidence will suggest that Josephus’ Jewish audience would have known the epistolary embedding practice well. Two examples to illustrate the idea now will be useful: 2 Maccabees and the Greek New Testament.

The book of 2 Maccabees provides an important reference point for a Jewish audience. Its importance for the subject of epistolarity derives not from the extent of its distribution and popularity, which has been doubted, [211] but from the fact that its Jewish author or epitomator has embedded much epistolary material in the book. The presence of this epistolary material suggests that the author considered embedded letters to be a relevant literary convention, one that helped him accomplish his literary goals with a Jewish audience. The first sections of the book, 1:1–2:32, include extensive epistolary material. The lack of introduction to the two epistolary greetings initially calls into question whether the greetings—both the formulaic Greek greeting (χαίρειν, 1.1) and the more distinctly Jewish one (εἰρήνην ἀγαθήν; cf. )—should be applied to the whole book rather than only to the letters themselves. The writers of the first letter are the Jews who wrote to the Egyptian Jews about Jason rebelling from the Seleucids, and since this is the story on which the rest of the book focuses, the introductory letters could be seen as a loosely coupled preface to the book. But the material at 2:19–4:6 provides a lengthy introduction to the Jason story, suggesting that, unless the book is meant to have two long introductions before getting to its primary focus at 4:7, the epistolary material should probably be understood as a frame for the book. [212] The very long letter (1:10-2:18) that abruptly follows the first contains a more common greeting formula than the {45|46} first letter in 2 Maccabees (1:10), and, like the first letter, does not include a standard epistolary conclusion. [213]

Epistolary usage in 2 Maccabees has prompted several debates among scholars: how many letters comprise the epistolary material (one, two, or three); [214] when the narrative and the letters were joined; whether the author of the second letter was familiar with the narrative that was (eventually) attached; and whether the material about Antiochus Epiphanes may have been interpolated in the letter while the original text referred to Jason. Regardless of the outcomes of these debates, attaching the narrative to two apparently relevant letters created a unique text, one that could have been known, as it stands, by Josephus. [215] Schwartz argues that the epistolary material and the narrative are connected through the use of an obscure verb in the first letter that also appears several times in the text, the first letter’s interest in cultic details, and the apparent reference in the first letter to the book itself. [216] While Schwartz’s arguments regarding the connections between the letters and the attached narrative are convincing, these connections are not stylistically linked to the narrative that follows in the robust ways in which Josephus’ letters are embedded in his narratives. In any case, 2 Maccabees presents the unique case of a narrative being subordinated to letters, rather than narratives embedding letters, the focus of this book. Other works, such as many of the New Testament books, take the forms of letters, but none starts with such an introduction and transition to narrative; however, the apparent uniqueness of this material should be counterbalanced with the fact that many works in antiquity adopted epistolary mannerisms by addressing patrons or others. That said, the non-epistolary content of the book is appended to the letters, reversing the usual relationship between narratives and letters.

Three of the four references to letters before Chapter 11 of 2 Maccabees also include epistolary actions. The letter at 9:18 reports that Antiochus wrote (ἔγραψε) the attached letter (τὴν ὑπογεγραμμένην ἐπιστολὴν) to the Jews (πρὸς τοὺς Ἰουδαίους). The reference at 2:16 implies that an epistolary document was created, but refers only to the action of writing (ἐγράψαμεν). The action here follows a series of references to the sacred writings of Jeremiah (2:2–12) and of Nehemiah (2:13), who also founded a library and collected various works from prophets and kings, including the kings’ letters concerning the holy gifts (ἐπιστολὰς βασιλέων περὶ ἀναθημάτων). Though not in so many words, Judas Maccabeus creates an archive similar to that created by Nehemiah, and the epistolary author exhorts his immediate audience to send (ἀποστέλλετε) someone to retrieve the archived material he has gathered (2:14).

Paul and some other authors of the New Testament documents provide a second example of literature written by Jews that contains embedded letters and other epistolary practices. One prominent example will suffice for now: letters play a significant part in the narrative of Paul’s conversion. The book of Acts includes the narrative twice: when the conversion happens (Acts 9:1–19) and when Paul tells the story (Acts 22:2–21). The book of Acts records that when Paul himself recounts the story to a Jewish audience in Rome (22:2–3), he recalls that he had obtained letters from the high priest in Jerusalem so he would have the authority to arrest Christians in Damascus (Acts 22:5). In the narrative of Paul’s conversion, Acts says Paul asks for letters (ᾐτήσατο … ἐπιστολὰς, Acts 9:2; 22:5) and implies that he is carrying the letters when he sees a bright light (Acts 9:3; 22:6). Acts says that Jesus speaks to a certain Ananias, telling him to go to Paul to give him instructions; perhaps to allay Ananias’ fear of Paul as a persecutor of Christians, Jesus tells Ananias that Paul will carry Jesus’ name to the Jews and Gentiles. Thus, as Paul had been carrying letters of persecution, Paul would now carry Jesus’ name as an evangelist (Acts 9:15; 22:15). The narrative is inexplicit and subtle, but Paul’s conversion, recounted twice, is pivotal literarily in the progression of Acts and historically in the spread of Christianity.

The questions of audience, genre, and intratextuality recall the example with which this chapter began. David’s letter with the order to station Uriah on the front lines of battle, carried by Uriah himself, would no doubt have been recognized by Jewish readers, who could recall the original, biblical story, perhaps in Hebrew and Greek. The episode might also have struck some Graeco-Roman (and some Jewish?) readers as a Homeric echo or anticipator of Bellerophon. And in the Uriah and Bellerophon stories, it is through the embedding of letters bearing royal authority that the trick of having condemned men carry their own sentence can create such a tragic situation. Bellerophon and Uriah are but two examples. A world of embedded letters awaits. {49|}


[ back ] 1. Translation by Lattimore 1951:157; cf. Kirk 1990: “He bestowed on him baneful signs, inscribing many life-destroying things in a folded tablet” (181). The composition of the tablet and the characters used upon it, as discussed by e.g. Schmidt 1920, are not relevant here, except to say that the story assumes Bellerophon cannot see the content because it is a folding tablet, and so, argues Berkert 1983, “presupposes writing on a Phoenician-Greek δέλτος” (52).

[ back ] 2. Regardless of the meaning of ‘signs’ or ‘symbols’, we are here dealing with communication by tablet, which I am considering an epistolary message. The argument of Foley 1999:3, that “[t]o translate sêma as merely tablet or whatever is scratched on it [but note that there are words for both the medium and the form of the message in the text] is not merely inadequate; worse yet, such a view obscures an ancient technology of representation by converting it into our own dominant technology of communication,” misses the fundamental point that Bellerophon’s tablet is intended to communicate, to convey a message, whatever its mode of doing so. For his discussion of the episode, see Foley 1999:1–3, 277n3, 278n6.

[ back ] 3. Dissenting from previous opinion, which she discusses, Rosenmeyer 2001:41–42 concludes that “Proteus deceptively exploits a familiar situation, that of the token of hospitality or ‘letter of recommendation,’ to send an altogether different message, namely one of guest-murder” (42).

[ back ] 4. West 1997:334–347.

[ back ] 5. The echo of Bellerophon is noted also by West 1997:365–367, which lists the episode among miscellanea orientalia. Burkert 1983 makes much of it: the motif being first attested in 2 Samuel 11; the presence of a “femme fatale,” though, he points out, she reflects Potiphar’s wife more closely; and the Chimaera, “which in at least two of three elements agrees with Late Hittite iconograhy as attested at Carchemish and Zinjirli” (52). He also notes that Uriah is Hittite, incidentally. Burkert prefers to date the Bellerophon episode early because, he argues, it is popular in Greek art in the first half of the seventh century, “and this was the period of Greek-Lycian conflicts on the coast of Asia Minor, [so] it is advisable to envisage a corresponding date even for an Orientalizing novella in Homer” (53).

[ back ] 6. Rutherford 1996:7–8 allows for the idea, even if he expresses skepticism about references to the Achaeans in Hittite texts as Ahhijawa (2).

[ back ] 7. West 1997:366.

[ back ] 8. The translation, noted in West 1997:366, is from Alster 1987:171.

[ back ] 9. Alster 1987: “One must always bear in mind that a Sumerian literary composition may contain phrases which carry with them a load of allusions beyond the plain lexical and grammatical meaning. Only by comparing contexts in which the various attestations occur, may we hope to penetrate into the meaning of passages which, unless parallel texts can throw some light upon them, remain unintelligi4rdble to the modern reader” (172–173).

[ back ] 10. Alster 1987:172–173.

[ back ] 11. Note the discussion in Hornblower 1994b:12–13, which refers to “the chronological priority over Greece of the source (10th century BC?) of the sixth-century ‘Deuteronomist’ author of some of the early narrative parts of the Old Testament [including the David-Uriah story].”

[ back ] 12. This is not as comprehensive a definition as that in Finley 1942:289 of Thucydides’ “thought.” Since I refer only to direct and indirect reference, Finley’s search for Thucydides’ assumptions that are “the foundation beneath the actual structure of expressed ideas” (1942:289) may or may not be part of what is actually expressed in the literary work.

[ back ] 13. Finley 1938. Chapman 2009:320 and 320n7 mention several Classical Greek authors (including Herodotus, Euripides, and Sophocles) and scholarship that argues for varying degrees of influence on Josephus.

[ back ] 14. See the use by Baynes 1947: “Will you ask yourself the question: Why are histories of the Byzantine Empire as they have been written in the past such heavy going? … Because they are so exclusively concerned with diplomacy and politics, because these histories are so full of wars and invasions and revolutions: in Professor Collingwood’s phrase they give you the outside of an event, the inside of an event being that which can only be described in terms of thought. The historian, Collingwood wrote, is investigating not mere events but actions, and an action is the unity of the outside and the inside of the event” (4). See also Collingwood 1999:94–98. Of course, scholars are much more skeptical today about understanding a writer’s or actor’s “thought” than they have been in the past; while much of that skepticism is extreme, the idea of thought world can be made more concrete by noting reference to particular persons or quotations or presuming influence by extension.

[ back ] 15. E.g. Demosthenes 4.37, 7.1, 18.37–39; for a list of references, see Stirewalt 1993:73–74. This has been suggested in Rajak 2003 as a way of reading the acta in Antiquitates Judaicae 14 and 16.

[ back ] 16. Trapp 2003:33–34; Costa 2001:xiv refers to the same category of letter by saying that it “forms a part of fictional and historical narratives.”

[ back ] 17. My term “parent-text” is similar to “master-narrative” in Pelling 2004:404, which refers to the broader narrative in which the narrator allows other characters to nest stories. I could have simply used the term “text”—and I do where it is unmistakably precise—but have generally avoided doing so because the referent could easily become confused in several contexts in this study, since letters are “texts.”

[ back ] 18. The term “Mediterranean” here and throughout this study is meant to refer to the geographic region rather than to a common identity or “mediterraneanism”; for the specific problems of applying the term to Jews, see Schwartz 2010:21–44.

[ back ] 19. Josephus predates the Greek epistolographers of the Second Sophistic, which are thus beyond the scope of this book; for epistolography of that period, see Hodkinson 2007.

[ back ] 20. Josephus reported that he was born in the first year of Gaius’s principate (Vita 5) and that he was 56 years old when he finished the Antiquitates Judaicae (Antiquitates Judaicae 20.267). For details, see Schürer 1973:43n2. On the lack of a death year, see Rajak 2002:223; on publication dates, see below.

[ back ] 21. On Josephus’ embassy to Rome, see Goodman 2007b:81–82; for a full discussion of his early-life biography, see Rajak 2002:11–45. See also Chapman 2009:319–324.

[ back ] 22. For this, see Goodman 1987:183–185, 224–225; Rajak 2002:99–133; for relevant texts, see Bilde 1988:36–37.

[ back ] 23. For more details, see Rajak 2002:194–195; he was among other foreign elites living at Rome during the Flavian period; see Bowersock 2005.

[ back ] 24. Josephus’ works may be the only ones in Greek emanating from Flavian Rome, if Josephus remained in Rome throughout his literary career and if they all are Flavian; see Jones 2005:201, and the whole essay for a discussion on other Greek literature of the Flavian period, which also mentions the First Epistle of Clement as perhaps another such Flavian work.

[ back ] 25. For a brief summary of collections from the early Roman Imperial period, see Goodman 1997:5.

[ back ] 26. See the various volumes of Cicero’s correspondence with commentary by D. R. Shackleton Bailey and the excellent discussion in Hutchinson 1998, esp. 1–24.

[ back ] 27. See Sherwin-White 1966.

[ back ] 28. See Morrow 1962; on whether the letters are Plato’s, see now Rosenmeyer 2001:202.

[ back ] 29. Also noted by Chapman 1998, who allows, however, that interest in Josephus from the field of classics may be growing (7n19); see also Edmondson et al. 2005:15–16 and Mason 2008:94–95.

[ back ] 30. Beard 2003:544, 545.

[ back ] 31. Rosenmeyer 2001:45–60; because it covers several genres and periods, Rosenmeyer’s study is more far-reaching than this one, so the fact that she takes Herodotus and Thucydides as ‘representative of the genre’ would explain her omission of an author normally considered to be of peripheral importance to classical scholarship.

[ back ] 32. Harris 1989:229–231.

[ back ] 33. Hutchinson 2007:17.

[ back ] 34. Cribiore 2001:215–219; on letters between children and parents, 108–123.

[ back ] 35. Harris 1989; responses to Harris listed in Woolf 2009:46n1.

[ back ] 36. Bowman 1994:87.

[ back ] 37. Johnson 2009:3.

[ back ] 38. Thomas 2009:14.

[ back ] 39. Thomas 2009: on banking, 17–18; names, 18–24; commercial, 25–30; civic lists, 30–36; officials, 37–41. Note Thomas’s important point that these “literacies” were not static: “What worked as ‘functional literacy’ in the democracy of the 470s was not so functional two generations later … [T]he elite stayed well ahead: literary education developed in turn; the truly ambitious needed to learn the skills of oratory” (42).

[ back ] 40. Woolf 2009:61.

[ back ] 41. “Everyday” letters from other places are mostly available through epistolary collections, such as those of Cicero and Pliny, and they provide a different picture than the more mundane topics of the papyrus letters; for a summary of the place of letters in the lives of Roman aristocrats, see Hall 2009:15–25 and the first chapter of White 2010. I thank Professor P. White of Chicago for allowing me to read a pre-publication version of his book.

[ back ] 42. See e.g. letters from students in Waddell 1932.

[ back ] 43. E.g. P.Oxy. 46.3291; see the collection of several dozen letters in Bagnall and Cribiore 1996:97–406.

[ back ] 44. Bagnall and Cribiore 1996:8–9, though some letters are preserved from the lower portion of the upper strata, such as e.g. P.Oxy. 40.2926, which is notable for its misspellings, but makes its point.

[ back ] 45. Harris 1989:95 observes that wooden tablets are mentioned often by tragedians, but cautions that, although they seem to have been commonplace, we should not assume they “were easily accessible to everyone.”

[ back ] 46. The writing tablets at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall in Roman Britain, the first of which were discovered in 1973, included about 100 that were hollowed out and filled with wax; however, the majority are written on thin, postcard-sized leaves of wood, inscribed with ink and folded: see Bowman 1994:15, who notes that the tablets were “cheap and easy to make, especially in places where military technology was readily available.”

[ back ] 47. Perhaps the material envisaged in the memorandum (ὑπόμνημα) of Cyrus (2 Esdras 6:2–5), originally in Aramaic in the Hebrew Bible; Bickerman 1976:73–74.

[ back ] 48. Rosenmeyer 2001:22–23.

[ back ] 49. On the late sixth-century Berezan letter on lead, see Miller 1975; for a letter on bronze, 1 Maccabees 8:44: τῆς ἐπιστολῆς … ἐπὶ δέλτοις χαλκαῖς.

[ back ] 50. Locus classicus for a description is Pliny Nautral History 13.21.68–13.27.89; for text, translation, and commentary, see Lewis 1974:35–69; see also Rosenmeyer 2001:22–23 with notes, the comments of Harris 1989:94–95, and Muir 2009:13–18. For a catalogue of extant Greek papyrus letters, see Kim 1982:107–112. For the historical origins of writing materials, see Powell 2002:114–115 and the summary in Clarysse and Vandorpe 2008:719–724.

[ back ] 51. This unusual “letter” appears at Herodotus 5.35, where a message is branded into a slave’s scalp.

[ back ] 52. Thucydides 1.131.1: πέμψαντες κήρυκα οἱ ἔφοροι καὶ σκυτάλην εἶπον τοῦ κήρυκος μὴ λείπεσθαι, εἰ δὲ μή, πόλεμον αὐτῷ Σπαρτιάτας προαγορεύειν. The message is conveyed by a herald; the narrative summarizes the essence of the message on the epistolary device.

[ back ] 53. Lewis 1974:133–134.

[ back ] 54. Lewis 1989:41.

[ back ] 55. P.Mich. inv. 1655.8–9, by a scribe, records the purchase of χάρτης εἰς τὴν ἐπιστολήν, a papyrus roll for the letter, which Lewis 1989:40 takes to indicate that the unit of sale for papyrus was a roll, the purchase of which in this third-century AD case was necessitated by wanting to write a letter.

[ back ] 56. White 1972:7–66.

[ back ] 57. Trapp 2003:34–35; it was a formula established early; see Buzón 1984:5 on papyri from Ptolemaic Egypt.

[ back ] 58. Examples are: BGU 1.164, 261; P.Ant. 1.43; P.Tebt. 2.414 (with alternative πλῖστα, line 4); P.Erl. 13.2; P.Oslo 2.56.

[ back ] 59. The closing could be lengthened to, for example, ἐρροσθαί σε εὔχομαι (“I pray you are in good health”) or something similar, as in P.Oxy. 38.2860; P.Tebt. 2.411; P.Oslo 2.52. The closing could be expanded still more, as in P.Oxy. 41.2982: ἐρρῶσθαί σε εὔχομαι εἰς μακροὺς αἰῶνα (“I pray you are in good health for a long time”), which in the introductory note the editor calls “characteristic of the second or third centuries.”

[ back ] 60. Trapp 2003:37–38; White 1986:189–191.

[ back ] 61. McDonnell 1996:470–472 disputes Harris’s (1989:249) point that nonprofessional writers often used scribal slaves and had poor handwriting. McDonnell cautions against judging legibility, which was probably more intelligible to contemporaries; while there may have been uniformity among professionals, writing skills varied among amateurs, as demonstrated by Cicero’s praise of Atticus’ handwriting (Letters to Atticus 7.3), by variable legibility within the same document, and by the formulaic nature of certain writing that would have been easily recognizable despite a poor script. McDonnell’s argument cannot be conclusive because the question requires a paleographic analysis, as he acknowledges (472).

[ back ] 62. E.g. P.Oxy. 41.2983; P.Oxy. 38.2860, 2862.

[ back ] 63. See e.g. P.Oxy. 42.3063.

[ back ] 64. Jenkins 2006:37–50; Klauck 2006:60–65.

[ back ] 65. Nicholson 1994 notes that private letter carriers could travel up to 50 miles a day, depending on weather.

[ back ] 66. P.Mich. 8.499; the -σζ- also appears in 499.6.

[ back ] 67. P.Oxy. 41.2980; P.Tebt. 2.315; P.Mich. 3.208; cf. P.Mich. 3.217, a letter from AD 296: Paniskos writes to his wife Ploutogenia and provides a direct quote from the ἐπιστολοφόρος, who had told Paniskos that he tried to get a letter from Paniskos’ wife, but that she did not give him one. On the theme of unresponsiveness, see Luiselli 2010:83 and 83n35.

[ back ] 68. P.Mich. 3.203.2–3, in which Saturnilus also expresses concern that the letters he might carry to his mother could be taken by the prefect on the road, causing him to lose money (lines 7–12); the meaning is obscure; Koskenniemi 1956:111–112. Note also these variant expressions of frustration with epistolary silence in P.Mich. 3: [οὐδ]εμίαν μοι ἀντιφώνησιν ἀντέγραψας (208 or, similar but with the verb ἔπεμψας, at 209); πολλάκις σοι ἔγραψα … συ οὐδὲ ἅπαξ μοι ἐδήλωσας περὶ τῶν ὄντων πραγμάτων (213); and οὐδὲ μίαν μοι ἐπιστολὴν ἔγραψας (221).

[ back ] 69. P.Oxy. 41.2984.7–9, 11–13.

[ back ] 70. P.Oxy. 46.3314; the explanation for the long address is offered by the editor, who notes that the rest of the address has been damaged.

[ back ] 71. A relationship or title could be included, as in e.g. BGU 1.33 (Ἀπολλωνίωι τῶι υῖωι). A certain Ptolemy in the second or third century included an abbreviated greeting in his address: Ἀβοῦτι οὐετρανῶι χ[αίρειν] π[αρὰ] Πτολ[εμαίου] υἱοῦ (BGU 1.93).

[ back ] 72. Turner 1968:130.

[ back ] 73. Editor’s translation. For a study of directives in Greek letters found at Mons Claudianus, which gives linguistic context to this letter, see Leiwo 2010.

[ back ] 74. Examples from the vast number of possible instances: bureaucratic business, P.Oxy. 42.3061, 3062; routine business, P.Corn. 50, P.Oxy. 42.3058.

[ back ] 75. P.Oxy. 65.4483.

[ back ] 76. P.Oxy. 46.3313.

[ back ] 77. Cf. e.g. P.Oxy 38.2860, 2862; P.Oxy 41.2983.

[ back ] 78. For characteristics of documentary letters in Greek, see White 1982b (papyrological material), Welles 1934 (epigraphic material); note Welles’s point that the official letter, like the private letter, was apparently uninfluenced by rhetorical schools (xlii); for Aramaic (various media), see Fitzmyer 1982, Dion 1982.

[ back ] 79. See Eilers 2003, a study of the “archival tags” included with the documents in Antiquitates Judaicae 14 and 16.

[ back ] 80. E.g. the possible confusion of Julius Caesar with Augustus in Antiquitates Judaicae 14.189: Ben Zeev 2003:8–9. (n.b. I cite Ben Zeev 2003 throughout my discussion, but the substance of that article also appears as Ben Zeev 2006.) See also Smallwood 1976:261n18.

[ back ] 81. For the practice, see White 1986:217–218, including five translated examples: P.Mich. 1.10 (= White no. 12), P.Cair.Zen. 1.59075 (= CPJ 1.5, White no. 17), P.Yale 36 (= White no. 27), P.Tebt. 1.33 (= White no. 51), and PSI 5.502 (= White no. 18, a third-century letter from Panakestor to Zenon that quotes two letters); all are third or second century BC. The practice is of course familiar, too, from Cicero’s correspondence; see e.g. Letters to Atticus 7.23, 8.6, and 9.6. Letters to Atticus 9.11a is a copy of the letter to Caesar to which Cicero referred at the end of Letters to Atticus 9.11 (exemplum litterarum mearum ad Caesarem).

[ back ] 82. PSI 5.502.

[ back ] 83. Note that similar lines are used in P.Oxy. 67.4624, a first-century letter from Dius to Sarapion. The six lines, which the editor calls a “distinctive feature” used to signal changes in topic rather than additional letters, hang slightly to the left of the text; the longest is about two centimeters.

[ back ] 84. P.Oxy. 67.4624.

[ back ] 85. E.g. P.Oslo 2.60: Ἔπεμψα δέ σοι καὶ τὰ παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ γράμματα.

[ back ] 86. P.Oxy. 41.2983.

[ back ] 87. P.Oxy. 41.2984; D. A. Traill, the editor of these papyri, notes that a document found with these concerning a return of deposit, P.Oxy. 41.2975, may be referred to in 41.2984; this is, of course, too tentative to suppose that it may have been the one “tied up” with that document.

[ back ] 88. White 1986:5.

[ back ] 89. See Görgemanns 2002: “Deißmann wollte dies auf den Privatbrief beschränken, aber es gilt sicher auch vom lit. Brief” (1167).

[ back ] 90. Campbell 1994:6–8; for a discussion of later New Testament and other early Christian letters, Watson 1997:650–655. For a summary of the background and major issues of New Testament epistolary forms, see Klauck 2006.

[ back ] 91. Rosenmeyer 2001, whose work is also discussed below, beginning on p29.

[ back ] 92. Rosenmeyer 2001:10–11.

[ back ] 93. The point is also made by Trapp 2003: “Too blunt a contrast between ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ ignores the fact that no letter is a simple, direct transcript of ‘reality,’ a wholly transparent window, any more than any other piece of writing can be” (4).

[ back ] 94. Rosenmeyer 2001:11.

[ back ] 95. Rosenmeyer 2001:11.

[ back ] 96. Rosenmeyer 2001:11.

[ back ] 97. Note the comment about truth, literary texts, and historical investigation in Pelling 2000b:viii.

[ back ] 98. E.g. Mader 2000, but see the review by Gruen 2001, particularly his objection that Mader’s “effort to show that Josephus’ audience would have been closely familiar with Thucydidean language and motifs confines itself to little over three pages (pp. 152–156) and consists essentially of quoting Josephus’ own comments about his anticipated readership,” which Gruen says is “simply inadequate.”

[ back ] 99. For a summary of the development of research on Josephus, see Mason 2003b; for perhaps the most recent study of Josephus’ relationship to earlier historiography, Landau 2003, esp. 79–114.

[ back ] 100. See Marincola 1997:103, which includes Livy with Josephus in a ‘written = reliable’ group. He traces the origins of this value to Ephorus (if Diodorus 1.9.5 = FGrHist 70 F 105); see 103, including citations (notes 200–202).

[ back ] 101. For the whole argument, see Contra Apionem 1.7–59. The work is, of course, polemical, but Josephus clearly does use the Jewish scriptures in composing the first half of the Antiquitates Judaicae; Schürer 1973:48–49.

[ back ] 102. Richardson 1999.

[ back ] 103. Grant 1971:199.

[ back ] 104. For an extensive discussion, see the section beginning on p81.

[ back ] 105. Mason 2001:51n288.

[ back ] 106. Zeitlin 1965; for more discussion, see below p147.

[ back ] 107. The acta are discussed beginning on p200.

[ back ] 108. Hezser 2001:259–267.

[ back ] 109. Hezser 2001:267–288.

[ back ] 110. Hezser 2001:9.

[ back ] 111. Hezser 2001:10.

[ back ] 112. He includes Thucydides because of his relevance to discussions of “Lukan historiography,” and he analyzes the Hebrew Bible, excluding the LXX, on which Josephus and others must have drawn to a great extent for source material (80–118). Strangely, he does not compare differences between “parallel canonical equivalents” and the LXX (160–162).

[ back ] 113. On Josephus, see Coleman 1994:147–179.

[ back ] 114. Coleman 1994:176; but note that he recognizes that letters also “function as important plot devices for Josephus. In the epistolary cycles of Life, War, and Antiquities, one could follow much of the story by reading the letters alone, with no reference to the connecting narrative” (177).

[ back ] 115. Coleman 1994:178.

[ back ] 116. Coleman 1994:179.

[ back ] 117. Coleman 1994:179.

[ back ] 118. Though this is not unheard of; note Schwartz 1989, a study of Antiquitates Judaicae 13.48–57, which relates the letter from Demetrius I to Jonathan to its narrative context, analyzes differences between Josephus’ version and 1 Maccabees 10, and draws tentative conclusions about the literary and historical implications.

[ back ] 119. Alexander 1984:579–582; these include letters in 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees, Josephus (he counts 37 letters; I count many more), Eupolemus, the Letter of Aristeas, Greek Esther, Daniel, Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, Paralipomena Ieremiae, and rabbinic literature. The dating of rabbinic literature to AD 200 and later, despite attribution of letters to rabbis in periods relevant to the one under review here, precludes its inclusion as intertextual material in this study. Other texts to which Alexander 1984 refers have been discussed throughout the study.

[ back ] 120. Note Pardee 1978 on Hebrew epistolography.

[ back ] 121. Alexander 1984:579n1; these include letters later than Josephus, from the Bar Kochba revolt (AD 132–135), with letters from Bar Kochba himself (DJD 27.103–104, fig. 18, plate XX; the letter begins: Olson image 1a |  Olson image 2a [ back ] To Shimvon son of Kosibah, prince of / Israel, from Shimon … [lines 1–2]), much like Greek letters in Josephus and in other texts; see also the letters reproduced as P.Yad.(β) 49 through P.Yad.(β) 63 (two, P.Yad.(β) 52 and P.Yad.(β) 59, are in Greek).

[ back ] 122. Alexander 1984:585–588.

[ back ] 123. Alexander 1984:586.

[ back ] 124. Alexander 1984.

[ back ] 125. Wacholder 1978.

[ back ] 126. Francis 1984:172, 174.

[ back ] 127. Nisula 2005.

[ back ] 128. Nisula 2005:205.

[ back ] 129. Nisula 2005:217.

[ back ] 130. Nisula 2005:217.

[ back ] 131. Nisula 2005:218.

[ back ] 132. Nisula 2005:219.

[ back ] 133. On Polybius, see Harris 1989:128n60, which cites five deceptive letters from Book 5; on deceptive letters in Polybius, see also Coleman 1994:22–23.

[ back ] 134. Van den Hout 1949:25–41.

[ back ] 135. Westlake 1989a:7–8, with notes; see also a brief comment to the same effect at Hornblower 1991:214. For a brief discussion about Nicias’ letter in Thucydides, see Costa 2001:xiv.

[ back ] 136. Hornblower 1991: τοιάδε ‘as follows’ is Thucydides “most usual formula for introducing speeches” (74), but cf. 3.29.2 for τάδε (411) and 1.85.3 for ὧδε (130).

[ back ] 137. Coleman 1994:180–234; Klauck 2006, especially 299–434 for New Testament material.

[ back ] 138. See above, p19.

[ back ] 139. Note also Griffiths 2007:281–283.

[ back ] 140. Rosenmeyer 2001:14.

[ back ] 141. Rosenmeyer 2001:54.

[ back ] 142. Rosenmeyer 2001:55.

[ back ] 143. Rosenmeyer 2001:60; van den Hout 1949:28.

[ back ] 144. Rosenmeyer 2001.

[ back ] 145. Rosenmeyer herself does not argue for as strict a distinction as she asserts; her discussion of the letters in Book 8 is brief, and does not attempt to show whether that series of letters, which “lie, defame, and betray at every turn” (2001:56), is meant to enliven the narrative or bolster Thucydides’ interpretation.

[ back ] 146. For “poetics” as “essentially a theory of reading,” see Culler 1975:128.

[ back ] 147. For a side-by-side, two-column layout of parallel narratives throughout sizeable portions of the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae, see Landau 2003:256–275.

[ back ] 148. This will be seen in some verbatim quotation of—or a new version with several close verbal similiarities to—his earlier version; cf. Moehring 1957:23, 97.

[ back ] 149. E.g. Schwartz 1990.

[ back ] 150. Cohen 1979:233 is rightly aware of Josephus’ sloppiness, but notes that, following “Greek practice,” Josephus “was expected to vary the diction of his source, to embellish the narrative, to create something new.” Creating “something new” should not be considered, of course, always to entail original substantive material beyond alteration of details, but rather of rhetorical, stylistic features; cf. Marincola 1997:106, on a writer producing a non-contemporary history: “His guide, above all, had to be what already existed in the tradition,” and he, “therefore, was not as free as the historian of his own times to shape the tradition (since it was already established)”; although he “may reject this or that detail, … he does not abandon the framework already established by his predecessors.” And note also pre-Hellenistic scribal culture as described by Van der Toorn 2007:109–141, who argues that such culture allowed scribes to be creative with traditions and texts, compiling, expanding, or adapting them while also revering them.

[ back ] 151. De Jong 1991:41.

[ back ] 152. See Landau 2003:95–114 on Josephus and Graeco-Roman historiographies, and 81–95 on Jewish historiography.

[ back ] 153. Chapman 1998:8–10; on the Antiquitates Judaicae in particular, see Feldman 1999:3–12.

[ back ] 154. See van der Toorn 2007, which calls into question the idea of “books” and “authorship” before the Hellenistic period and argues that the writing, production, and elevation as revelation and canon of the Hebrew Bible should be explored with reference to a scribal elite modeled on the Mesopotamian and Egyptian scribal classes; cf. Polack 2009, whose criticisms include whether scribal culture centered on, not only the Temple, as van der Toorn argues, but also the palace, as 2 Kings 18:26, Isaiah 36:11, and 1 Kings 20:2–5 suggest, and thus reflects cooperation.

[ back ] 155. For bibliography on date, see Gruen 2008:134n1.

[ back ] 156. Honigman 2003:1–2; Bartlett 1985:18–20.

[ back ] 157. Gruen 2008:141–143; see Honigman 2003:17–27 on digressions, and 29–35, 65–91 on Greek historiography. Notwithstanding the emphasis on Hellenic reflections, note the importance of Judaism as emphasized by Rajak 2008:182–185.

[ back ] 158. On the mythico-historical nature of the Letter of Aristeas, see Rajak 2009:24–63. On the library, see Too 2010:31–38.

[ back ] 159. Honigman 2003:1–2. Rajak 2009:31 notes that the diversity of Greek literary letters creates space in the epistolary classification for the Letter of Aristeas.

[ back ] 160. Meecham 1935:170 notes that the book is “typical in that the name of the addressee in the vocative is inserted near the beginning of the Preface and also in the Epilogue …”; while this may be typical of addressed literature, the vocative here does not present a well–attested epistolary form.

[ back ] 161. See Meecham 1935:167–168; for epistolary material in general, 164–168.

[ back ] 162. As Meecham 1935:169 notes: Josephus uses τὸ Ἀρισταίου βιβλίον (Antiquitates Judaicae 12.100); Eusebius says Περὶ τῆς Ἑρμηνείας τοῦ τῶν Ἰουδαίων Νόμου (Praeparatio evangelica 9.38); and Epiphanius refers to the σύνταγμα of “Aristeas” (De mensuris et ponderibus 9).

[ back ] 163. According to Meecham 1935:169, the fourteenth–century manuscript (Q, Codex Regius) uses επιστολης Αριστεως προς Φιλογρατην εκφρασις.

[ back ] 164. On quoted documents in the work, see Honigman 2003:71–74.

[ back ] 165. Wasserstein 2006:45–50; Pelletier 1962; Johnson 2004:57.

[ back ] 166. Toher 2003:428n4 for standard bibliography; Bellemore 1984:xvi; Goodman 2007a:xiv–xvii.

[ back ] 167. See Schürer 1973:30–31 for descriptions of the extant fragments, which are preserved by Josephus, Athenaeus, and the Constantian Excerpts de virtutibus and de insidiis; on these summaries produced from AD 945–959, see Bellemore 1984:xvii–xviii.

[ back ] 168. F 130 runs about 23 pages in Jacoby; F 125–129 runs about six. On the title, see Bellemore 1984:xx–xxi, which proposes: τοῦ αὐτοῦ περὶ Αὐγούστου Καίσαρος ἀγωγῆς.

[ back ] 169. For comparison, the remains of this whole work number seven Jacoby pages.

[ back ] 170. Scardigli 1983:118 provides historical context: “La notizia dell’assassinio di Cesare deve essere giunta ad Apollonia tra il 20 e il 25 marzo (Drumann–Groebe, Geschichte I, p. 425 sg.; Becht, Regeste , p. 85), presupponendo che il messo sia partitio immediatamente da Roma e abbia fatto il viaggio senza fermarsi mai (cfr. [section] 39) e che la traversata Brindisi–Apollonia sia durata non più di due, tre giorni.” Cf. Bellemore 1984:91 on [section] 38, who suggests ten days based on Cicero Brutus 2.4.1.

[ back ] 171. Bellemore 1984:91 notes that the “very personal detail” suggests that Augustus himself was the source of the Nicolaus’ description; Hall 1923:80.

[ back ] 172. This closely follows Bellemore 1984:18.

[ back ] 173. Diodorus Siculus 1.95.3, 2.18.2, 8.7.6, 18.57.3, 18.58.1–2.

[ back ] 174. I adapt the term from Hornblower 1987:110–111, who discusses Thucydides’ “intellectual affinities”; see also Pelling 2002:111n27, who endorses the same idea.

[ back ] 175. Josephus clearly positions his own work in the genre of history, and more particularly within the genre of narrative history (Bellum Judaicum 1.2–3; Antiquitates Judaicae 1.5–7); on narrative history as a genre within history, see Marincola 1997:1–2.

[ back ] 176. Sharrock 2000:24; on the relationship between intertextuality and intratextuality, see Sharrock 2000:24–25. As Hardie 2001:226 briefly puts it, the relationship between intratextuality and intertextuality “is close in other ways: … relationships within a text are often continuous with relationships between texts.”

[ back ] 177. Martin 2000: “Unity, cohesion, continuity, and cohesion cannot be textually determined. Instead, they flow from a speech-community’s sense of appropriate, genre-bound behaviors. Without a sense of these internal boundaries, i.e. a cultural poetics, we are working in the dark” (53). Hardie 2001:225 calls this “reader-response criticism … historicized in terms of the cultural expectations of the original audiences.”

[ back ] 178. Hinds 1998:21–25.

[ back ] 179. Laird 1999:34–43. “The very detection of an intertext—no matter how palpable, demonstrable and well attested—is in the end ideologically determined. Thus, if we are capable of identifying an intertext, we ought always to be capable of saying what (we think) it is doing there” (37). Laird 2000:145 sees the same “ideological” influences involved in the apprehension of intratextuality. For intertextuality in Greek historiography, Hornblower 1994b:54–72; Rood 1999, esp. 142–144. Note that intertextuality has often been conflated with notions of allusion, though Kristeva conceived of intertextuality as more pervasive: “any text is a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (1980:66); thus “[w]hat allows a dynamic dimension to structuralism is [Bakhtin’s] conception of the ‘literary word’ as an intersection of textual surfaces rather than a point (a fixed meaning), as a dialogue among several writings: that of the writer, the addressee (or the character), and the contemporary or earlier cultural context” (65). Culler 1975:140 summarizes “five ways in which a text may be brought into contact with and defined in relation to another text which helps to make it intelligible”: the “real world,” shared cultural knowledge, generic conventions, a claim that one is breaking generic conventions, and one work as “point of departure or basis” for another (“specific intertextuality”); for discussion of the five levels, see Culler 1975:140–160.

[ back ] 180. Conte 1989:442.

[ back ] 181. I exclude the Vita here because it is usually taken to be of a different genre, perhaps ‘autobiography’.

[ back ] 182. See p23, p200.

[ back ] 183. Barchiesi 2001:154; see also Marincola 1997 and Pelling 1999.

[ back ] 184. Conte 1989:442n3.

[ back ] 185. For a more expansive summary of the evidence in Josephus, see Chapman 1998:11–13.

[ back ] 186. My examination of Mason’s second point takes up the bulk of this discussion; for points three through five, see p44.

[ back ] 187. Mason 2005b:84.

[ back ] 188. Mason 2005b:85.

[ back ] 189. Mason 2005b:85.

[ back ] 190. SEG 26.845.3 = Trapp 2003:50.

[ back ] 191. Harris 1989:229–230. See also Acts 28:21, which indicates the Roman Jews’ expectation of regular and presumably easy epistolary communication between Judaea and Rome.

[ back ] 192. Goodman 1987:49.

[ back ] 193. According to Goodman 1994:338, Juvenal considered him a barbarus (Satires 6.158), and under popular pressure, Titus sent away his lover Berenice, Agrippa’s sister (Cassius Dio 66.15.4; Suetonius Titus 7.1–2).

[ back ] 194. Mason 2005b:88 (emphasis mine).

[ back ] 195. Goodman 1994:352; for Josephus’ standing among Romans, see the summary of arguments in Chapman 2009:323–324.

[ back ] 196. However, cf. the at-least-agnostic position of Cotton and Eck 2005 vis-à-vis Josephus’ contacts with elite Romans.

[ back ] 197. Goodman 1994:336–337.

[ back ] 198. Cohen 1979:130–131.

[ back ] 199. Mason 2005b:87.

[ back ] 200. Goodman 1994:327.

[ back ] 201. Goodman 1994:330; Gruen 2002:15–53.

[ back ] 202. Goodman 1994:330–331.

[ back ] 203. See Millar 1993:8–10 on Josephus’ consciousness of “the impact of Hellenisation on place-names, ethnic terminology and political structures in the Near East”; Rajak 2000:1–9.

[ back ] 204. Rajak 1984: “There is no doubt that the Jews, as organized communities, were often at odds with their Greek neighbors and eager for Roman backing which could forestall or terminate trouble. To say this is not to suggest that relations were always and everywhere bad, nor to deny the existence of Greeks who were well-disposed; there was also successful integration of individual Jews into their environment (even without apostasy), and even a degree of cultural assimilation by most Jewish groups” (122). See also Gruen 2002:4–5, 69.

[ back ] 205. Goodman 1987:125–133.

[ back ] 206. Goodman 1987:238–239; Gruen 2002:42–52.

[ back ] 207. And, notably in the Antiquitates Judaicae, he apologizes to his Jewish readers (4.197); for other arguments that Josephus assumed a partially Jewish audience, see Sterling 1992:306, with notes.

[ back ] 208. For a brief summary, see Wandrey 2002: “Die sprachlichen Voraussetzungen waren in der Diaspora selbstverständlich, aber auch in Palaestina erfüllt: Griech. wurde in den meisten Ländern zur Muttersprache der jüd. Bevölkerung …” (288–289).

[ back ] 209. One odd omission in the discussion is Josephus’ narratives about Agrippa I’s role in the accession of Claudius (Bellum Judaicum 1.204–213; Antiquitates Judaicae 19.236–247, 265), whose details are unparalleled in any other Roman historian. Though admittedly not a strong argument because it is from silence, the impression that Josephus does not draw attention to the story in the Bellum Judaicum, in which he presents Agrippa’s role as more substantial than in Antiquitates Judaicae, thus ostensibly augmenting Roman imperial history, seems strange. Elsewhere, Josephus does not refrain from commenting upon the degree to which a story is familiar to his audience (e.g. Bellum Judaicum 4.496), and this is a rare occasion in which an important Jewish figure substantially influences imperial politics. Dio 60.8.2 says Agrippa happened to be in Rome, helped Claudius become princeps, and received a consular rank (τιμὰς ὑπατικὰς).

[ back ] 210. One distinction that might be made is between the ‘implied’ or ‘constructed’ audience and the ‘real’ audience. It could be argued that an author constructs an audience, say a powerful, elite Roman one, to communicate to the broader, ‘real’ audience, everyone who might be imagined by the author to read a work. Having such a constructed audience may communicate to the ‘real’ audience that the author, and perhaps his comrades, has an important message for those brokering power. That argument, however, would require thorough development, and the burden of proof is on those who want to make the case that the implied or constructed audience is different from the real audience.

[ back ] 211. Momigliano 1993:45–47 argues that 2 Maccabees was not read extensively by a private audience, used for festivals, or referred to by important authors such as Philo and Josephus, but note the book’s potentially close relationship with Jerusalem, as noted by e.g. Rajak 2009:221, because of its focus on the temple, albeit a nuanced focus (Schwartz 2004:59–60).

[ back ] 212. For discussion of chronology and theology in the letter, see Klauck 2006:263–267; dating, Schwartz 2008:522–525, who argues for 148 BC.

[ back ] 213. Including an epistolary excerpt, without conclusion, is not uncommon in Josephus’ works: e.g. Bellum Judaicum 1.643, Antiquitates Judaicae 11.17, Vita 366 (but cf. Vita 365).

[ back ] 214. Schwartz 2008:519–529, an excellent, extended discussion of the initial letters in 2 Maccabees.

[ back ] 215. Josephus’ use of 2 Maccabees is usually denied; however, note the similarities in Antiquitates Judaicae 12.257–264, 274, Bellum Judaicum 1.41, and 12.384–385 to 2 Maccabees 6:2, 11:4, 13:3–5, 14:1, and 7:1, as noted by Schwartz 2008:86n200.

[ back ] 216. Schwartz 2008:525–527.

[ back ] 217. It is possible that the term refers to more than one letter, and perhaps that Lysias attached Judas’ letter to his own, mentioned at 2 Maccabees 11:15; Schwartz 2008:403–404.

[ back ] 218. Note also the reference in a much later text (maybe as early as the third century AD and probably not later than the sixth; Charles 1969:472) of an epistolary author to the letter itself: “Therefore, my brethren, I have written you …” (2 Baruch 82.1 [trans. Charles 1969:522]). The 2 Baruch text is a Syriac translation of a Greek version (2 Baruch praef.), which is thought to be a translation of a Hebrew version (Charles 1965:472–473).

[ back ] 219. Plutarch shows that biography and history could be very similar (Plutarch Alexander and Caesar 1.1–2): see Pelling 2009b:254–255 and Pelling 2009a:507n1.

[ back ] 220. See above, p38.